Routledge
Textual Analysis

Textual Analysis

Control film trailer

Introduction to the Unit 1 ‘Investigation Media’ Examination

There is a comprehensive description of the Unit 2 ‘Creating Media’ assessment in Chapter 13 of our book AS Media Studies: The Essential Introduction for AQA. There is also more information on how to plan and produce practical production work for AS on our website here.

Unit 1 (MEST1) ‘Investigating Media’ of AQA's specification for AS level Media Studies is assessed by one two hour written examination. The examination is divided into two sections:

Section A carries slightly more marks and aims to test your ability to analyse a previously unseen text.

Click here to see an example of how you might respond to such a test using the trailer for the film Control as an example of the unseen text.

In Section A the examination paper asks you to respond to four questions based around the unseen text, so in this case the questions would be:

  1. Media Forms: Discuss the use of codes and conventions used in the construction of this film trailer.
  2. Click here for Author's Comments

    The trailer, like the film itself is in black and white and although this is an important sign and generates a particular set of connotations we discuss this further in Q.2 dealing with Representation.

    We get very little information about the film except that it is about Ian Curtis and Joy Division. The Control trailer assumes from the start that we, the audience, is familiar with the story of Ian Curtis and Joy Division or least familiar enough with the band and its history to recognise the music and to have some idea of Ian Curtis's problems and early death. There is no mention of the actors who play the key parts and the director, Anton Corbijn, is only given a small name check towards the end of the trailer. In this respect the Control trailer fails to meet some of the key objectives we discuss in Chapter 13, namely to show off the stars of the film and to give details about the production team. There is a brief shot of the main credits at the very end of the trailer but it seems unlikely that anyone is supposed to be able to read, let alone absorb, any of this information. It seems to be there for contractual reasons rather than as a means of publicising the film.

    In this way the trailer for Control can be seen to challenge some of the common codes and conventions for film trailers. Yet there are also many similarities with mainstream Hollywood trailers, for example the reliance on music and quick editing to generate a sense of excitement. It also gives away enough of the film's narrative for viewers to understand what the film is about but hopefully also creates enough suspense and enigmas to make the potential audience want to see the entire film to see how these are resolved. This is quite a difficult task when you consider that we are already familiar with how the story ends.

    Another similarity with more mainstream film trailers is the use of quotations from newspaper and magazine reviews, although it is perhaps doubtful the extent to which these work on sophisticated media audiences who are often sceptical about the way in which these quotes are taken out of context or manipulated to give a false impression of the quality of a particular film; for example the quote “Extraordinary” from The Independent could have several possible meanings.

    There are other similarities with the list of key characteristics and functions of trailers that we mentioned earlier, for example the trailer does (hopefully) generate interest in the film, although this will to some extent depend on when and where the trailer itself is shown and the extent to which these showings match the film's target audience (see the answer to Question 4).

    Another common convention of film trailers is the use of extracts of dialogue from key scenes and key characters. These ‘snatches’ of conversation are taken out of context in the trailer but it is possible to identify a linear narrative that runs through the trailer and replicates that of the film's own narrative.

    The narrative of the film is based on a period of Ian Curtis's life and so we are shown particularly significant characters and moments such as when Ian meets and marries his wife, his ‘lover’ and his child as well as specific musical moments and glimpses of the scenes where he is shown in distress. The film Control can be seen to belong to the bio-pic genre and so the scenes shown in the trailer replicate various stages in Ian Curtis's own life and show him as ‘troubled’.

    These scenes perform two functions; they provide someone who is not familiar with the story of Ian Curtis with a sense of the overarching narrative of the film and, for someone who is familiar with the story of Ian Curtis, they act as a reminder of the main features of his biography. In both case it is hoped by the film's makers that this will stimulate the trailer's audiences sufficiently to want to see the film.

    At this stage it might be useful to look at the mark scheme and see what it says you are required to demonstrate:

    “Thorough, in depth knowledge and understanding of a number of generic conventions … demonstrated by specific reference to the details of the text and confident use of media terminology. At the top of this level candidates may widen the discussion to include other media ideas and issues in their response…”

    Do you think the answer above meets this criteria? If not, how could it be improved?

  3. Media Representations: Consider the representations of people and places in this film trailer.
  4. Click here for Author's Comments

    The film Control is about the film and death of Ian Curtis and in many ways fits into a familiar category of the ‘tortured artist’ where someone's creativity and ‘vision’ for their craft makes them unable to fit into the patterns of a normal life and ultimately leads to their destruction (real or otherwise).

    One of the key ways in which the subject of this film is represented is through the use of black and white rather than colour. This use of black and white can be seen to have various connotations. It refers to the ‘seriousness’ and ‘realism’ of documentary films that were once made in black and white although today it is as likely that it is a fictional film that aims, like Control, for a documentary style realism and seriousness.

    Other representations that come from the use of black and white could include the band themselves, Joy Division, as many of their artefacts and promotional material were produced in black and white, see for example the album covers for Unknown Pleasures and Closer or the promotional video for the single Atmosphere

    Perhaps another representation could be Macclesfield and the Manchester music scene during the 1980s. There is therefore an intertextuality between the images of the band, their products, their music and the film and its trailer. The trailer uses a common representation of bands, that of being ‘anarchic’; for example the reference to a “big dog's cock” in the extract where Joy Division are about to appear live on television.

    When considering representations it is always useful to think about who or what is emphasised or missing, for example the trailer features the two main female characters who appear in the film but they could be seen as secondary (and stereotypical?) to the main (male) character Ian Curtis. The focus of the trailer (and the film?) is on Ian Curtis as a tortured artist with the rest of the band and the two leading female characters as secondary sets of characters. There are no authority figures or black people represented in the trailer which might be understandable in the context of when and where the film Control is set but perhaps it is still worth noting.

    In the marking scheme you are asked to demonstrate a:

    “Thorough knowledge and understanding of how representations are constructed and conveyed analysing relevant sections of the text with confident application of media terminology. At the top of this level candidates may widen the discussion to include other media ideas and issues in their response…”

    Again do you think the answer above meets this criteria? What else could be included to gain top marks?

  5. Media Institutions: What does this film trailer tell us about the institutions involved?
  6. Click here for Author's Comments

    The film itself is different to most mainstream films in that it is a British independent production produced outside of the Hollywood Studio system with a relatively unknown director and stars. For example compare the names of the companies involved in the production and distribution of the film Control and featured in the trailer (Momentum Pictures, Northsee and Becker International) with those mentioned in the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (Paramount Pictures, Lucasfilm ltd and Industrial Light and Magic). The British companies are probably unknown outside of a select group of insiders and have no marketing ‘clout’ and probably have very limited financial backup and resources for publicity, marketing etc. compared to the Indianan Jones film.

    As we discuss in chapter 8 of AS Media Studies: The Essential Introduction the certification that a film receives from a country's regulatory body such as the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC) is an important factor in the size of a film's potential audience and its financial success. In Britain both the film and the DVD of Control are rated 15. Control was certified ‘R’ (Restricted) in USA because of bad language, some sexual activity and drug taking and this will have affected the size of the audience and the perception of the film amongst some film goers; in contrast Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is rated 12A in Britain and so is available to a much wider cinema-going audience. In America Control was only shown on one screen during the all-important opening weekend, whereas in Britain it was showing on 71 screens. You can find more information on how films are distributed in the UK at http://www.launchingfilms.com/.

    Trailers will often have a different classification to the film itself so that, for example, the trailer for an 18 rated film will be edited to give a 12A certificate and can be shown alongside other main 12A rated main features as well as being used for clips on television film shows where there is possibly a wider audience than that intended for the film itself.

    By Hollywood standards Control was a cheap film to make and although it did not make the many millions of dollars at the box office that films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull has Control is likely to have made a profit especially when world-wide sales are taken into account for both the film and the DVD. A planned spin-off from the film will include increased sales of music by Joy Division and New Order as well as, hopefully, increased sales of Deborah Curtis's biography.

    “Thorough knowledge and understanding of concepts of institution and its values giving detail of how the institution portrays and presents itself … supported by detailed reference to the text and with confident application of media terminology. At the top of this level candidates may widen the discussion to include other media ideas and issues in their response…”

    Again consider the extent to which the answer above meets the criteria. Again suggest ways in which the answer could be improve.

  7. Media Audiences: Explore some of the ways in which this film trailer communicates with its target audiences.
  8. Click here for Author's Comments

    It is unclear the extent to which this film would be targeted at audiences outside of Britain although it has been distributed in many countries. It is also part of a mini-industry based on the Manchester music scene in the 1970s/80s that includes other films such as Twenty-four hour Party People (2002) and Joy Division (2007) as well as television programmes, releases of compilation albums and much memorabilia.

    So the audience is on one hand fairly obvious, it is the fans of Joy Division and those who want to see more about the Manchester music scene in 1970s/80s. This to some extent is borne out by the fact that the majority of the people who voted for the film on the IMDB website are by far males in the 18–44 age range. This age range shows us that the audience will be those now in their 30s and 40s who may be nostalgic about the music of their own youth, as well as those now in their late teens and early 20s who are ‘rediscovering’ the music of the 1980s.

    The comments on YouTube also give some idea of the way fans remember the band and Ian Curtis and what they think of the film: “great film, love joy division”, “damn good movie about the life of Ian Curtis. Sam Riley has done a good job” or “Ian Curtis was a miracle (sic).THANKS” although there are also some dissenting comments “This is such BS. what a total trivializing his life. the is going to be another movie like ‘the doors.’ it manifests Ian Curtis as some sort of larger than life person. he was just as real as you or me, which is a far more beautiful sentiment than this crap.” The comments seem to be equally from men and woman and so it is a little difficult to judge whether the film, or the trailer, are specifically aimed at men or women.

    If it is fans of the band and singer who are the main audience for this film it then becomes a little difficult to answer the question ‘why would they want to see this film?’ as they are already familiar with the events depicted in the film and there are several factual film and television programmes that provide ‘real’ footage rather than fictionalised material. Apart from fans of the band the other main audience is likely to be those who share the values implicit in a low budget, non-mainstream, independent film such as Control, those who go to see films in art houses rather than multiplexes. Coincidently it is likely that these people (of whatever age) will be familiar with Joy Division even if they are not active fans and they will have some sympathy with the values espoused by the band and Ian Curtis.

    To date Control has made gross revenue worldwide of $5,645,350 (US dollars), this can roughly be exchanged to £2,822,675. You can check the latest figures at http://www.the-numbers.com/movies/2007/CNTRO.php.

    The marking scheme asks for evidence that you have a:

    “Thorough knowledge and understanding of audience, detailing audience(s) and how it is addressed, supported by specific reference to textual details… At the top of this level candidates may widen the discussion to include other media ideas and issues in their response such as the application of audience theory.”

    Do you think the answer above meets this criteria? If not how could it be improved?

    Finally you might wish to go back to our suggested key objectives of film trailers and see the extent to which the trailer for Control has managed to meet them:

    • generate interest in the film
    • show off the stars of the film
    • show the film to its best advantage
    • create excitement
    • tell people what the film is about, e.g. the genre
    • not give too much of the plot away
    • showcase some of the best bits of the film
    • Give details about the production team. (p.304)

At the beginning of the examination you have 15 minutes of viewing/reading time and this will allow you to see the unseen text, in this case the film trailer, three times. In between each showing there will be a short break allowing you to take notes and reflect on your responses and ideas to seeing the film trailer. At this stage it is important to try and capture your initial responses, for example what is your main/first impression of the film trailer? Is it the music or perhaps the fact that it is in black and white? You may have been expecting an extract from a television programme or a Hollywood blockbuster so that the fact that it is a trailer for a small independent British film based on a ‘cult’ Manchester band may at first take you by surprise. You will need to spend a few minutes jotting down initial impressions and also thinking about the general context of the film Control and the role and purpose of film trailers before going into a more detailed analysis of the trailer itself.

This more detailed analysis you might do in the second viewing, thinking about the specific questions/key concepts you need to focus on (codes and conventions, representation, institutions and audience).

This is also a good point at which to consider which of your thoughts and responses belong under which of the four sections.

You might then use the third viewing to check, consolidate and further develop your ideas about the film trailer and the four specific areas. You should also spend a little time trying to think more generally about the film trailer and its relationship with other wider media texts, contexts and issues as this will help you gain the extra marks needed for a top grade.

It would be helpful at this stage if you could, for example, refer back to Chapter 13 ‘Production’ in the book AS Media Studies: The Essential Introduction for AQA where we discuss how to produce a film trailer, and perhaps more helpfully, identify some of the key functions and objectives of film trailers:

Identifying the precise function and objectives of a text is always a useful starting point in an analysis.

You can then start to ‘measure’ the trailer for the film Control against this check list and perhaps start to ask yourself questions about the ways in which the trailer does (or does not) meet these objectives and think about why, and the way in which, the trailer perhaps deliberately challenges some of these assumptions about the suggested objectives of film trailers. You might also find the worksheet Analysing the Marketing of Films or Television Programmes useful.

Conclusion

In Section A you will only have about 15 minutes per question to demonstrate your knowledge and understanding of media theory and your ability to apply it to an unseen text. This means that you will not have time to reflect and go back over what you have written, nor will you have the opportunity to consult websites such as IMDb. The examination is a test of memory, of your ability to remember what you have been studying so far in your course and your ability to apply it to a particular text.

This means that you are unlikely to be able to provide as full answers as we have included here but we hope that the example based on the trailer for the film Control gives you some idea of what is expected in Section A of the examination and has given you some tips on how you might approach writing your responses to the four questions.

In preparation for the examination it is important that you practice and rehearse writing examination answers as fully as possible in the (limited) time that you have available. No doubt your teacher will help prepare you but you might wish also to work with a fellow student and give each other ‘unseen texts’ to analyse and, using the mark scheme available at the AQA website, mark each other's work.

Activity: Comparison of the trailer for Control with the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.

It is interesting to compare the trailer for Control with other film trailers (see for example the trailer for the latest Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. There are several obvious differences in the way the Control trailer presents the film; for example unlike other film trailers the Control trailer does not start off by telling us who the stars are or who the director is. Unlike the trailer for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull there is no sense of the Control trailer trying to present this film as a follow up to a previously successful film, or series of films, by trying to create associations with a film star, previous films or a particular director.

Yet there are also many similarities with mainstream Hollywood trailers such as that for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for example the reliance on music and quick editing to generate a sense of excitement. It also gives away enough of the film's narrative for viewers to understand what the film is about but hopefully also creates enough suspense and enigmas to make the potential audience want to see how these enigmas are resolved.

Want to know more about the background to Control?