Penny Marshall’s Techniques as a Director

When analyzing different films the director plays a huge role in how the actual movie is structured and what roles the characters play in the production. The director/author has the vision of what the movie should display, and without them the overall idea is lost. The specific title for the director in film terminology is auteur. The auteur is the author of the film in which they present a unified vision as to what the viewer sees on the screen.

If one looks at particular movies of the same auteur, they are able to find similar techniques in each film of the author and the viewer becomes accustomed to these signature moves of the author. Penny Marshall has had the opportunity to direct six movies so far in her career. Most people are familiar with Penny Marshall as the actress from the popular movie “Lavern and Shirley,” where she played Lavern De Fazio. Her director debut was called “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.” The film didn’t have any success, however she soon found her credibility.

Penny Marshall first had her success when she directed the movie “Big.” Tom Hanks received a nomination for best actor in this picture. This film is what got Penny her start, however the movie “Awakenings” was what got her the first nominations for Best Picture, and Best Adapted Screenplay. Penny’s preferred type of genre is comedy, most likely because of her comedic background, however the movie “Awakenings,” isn’t a comedy; it’s considered a drama. Her films tend to deal with more contemporary ideas with a coming of age flare, much like her movie “Big.” Even though Penny Marshall’s movies are not multi-million dollar affairs loaded with special effects, they allow the actors to portray her meaningful work through their abilities to act.

When looking at the behind the screens of the movie, there are a few items to keep in mind with a film author. The auteur must remember that this movie is how they envision a story, which also includes how they plan to shoot the particular scenes within the movie. They must be able to re-write the script, focus on the stars, focus on the characters, and focus on working with all of the actors. They have to know how to block out individual scenes and have a unified vision to their whole entire movie.

If one were to analyze a film from the author’s perspective, they must first understand the elements to the movie itself. Movies have themes to them. Some of these items include who are the central characters, what do the characters represent in relation to each other, how do the actors create a story, and does the story emphasize the benefits of change or endurance, and what do you feel at the end of the movie? When analyzing the film, and then writing about it, the writer must understand that you need some critical language of the literary and visual arts. The particular literary and visual arts to look at deal with plot and character in both film and novels, the critical voice of painting, literature, and movies all in one. The borrowed terminology allows critics to make important connections with other fields.

Along with the borrowed terminology from the other fields, one must look at the images inside of the film itself. Film image is what distinguishes film from drama. It is related for an important part of the dimension of the movie. A single image you see on screen before the film cuts to a different image is referred to as a shot. After shooting the film, editing has a key role to the final product. Editing is the link of two different pieces of film. This follows some of the logic of development or what is meant to make a statement inside the movie. And last, but not least, sound. Sound is used and edited with as much complexity and intelligence as the image.

There are a few different perspectives that one can choose to write from when writing about film. In this particular case, Narrative, character, and point of view were chosen. When looking at Penny Marshall’s work, this perspective seems to fit almost every single one of her films, however, the particular movie that I decided upon was “Big,” and this perspective applies to the movie almost perfectly. Without the main character of Josh, played by Tom Hanks, the movie wouldn’t make any sense at all. The movie centers itself around the idea that a young boy wants to have the chance to live in the grown up world and see what being big is truly all about. The coming of age point of view applies to this movie in the fact that Josh is in his young adolescent years and has a curiosity about grown up life. In terms of the narration, the story takes you through Josh’s everyday life as a child, and then allows you into the life of him as an adult. Without the characters, narration, and point of view, Penny Marshall’s film wouldn’t have the ability to evolve and make sense to the viewers.

The basis for choosing the film “Big” is because most of Penny Marshall’s films deal with some type of coming of age situation. Whether that be the dawning of WWII in the movie “A League of Their Own,” or wanting to grow up faster than what we are supposed to in “Big,” her movies are based around important situations in life or in society. In particular, “Big” is a perfect example of Penny Marshall’s ability to take a somewhat childish idea and create a major motion picture out of a simple idea. In the movie, the main action of the entire picture is centered around Josh going to the fair and wishing to be big, in which his wish is granted and the following morning he wakes up the size of an adult. However, his maturity level is still that of a 12 year old.

Throughout the film, Josh faces struggles both on a personal and professional level. Marshall uses loose framing, which allows for Tom Hanks to play out his physically comedian character. Now that he is looked at as an adult, he must find a job. However, due to his inexperience and immaturity, finding something that is worthwhile to him is rather difficult. Thankfully he gets a job working for a toy corporation and eventually becomes promoted to someone who is able to create toys. All the while though, his childhood best friend feels left out from Josh’s new life and slowly but surely, Josh starts to forget about his best friend. In the end, Josh realizes that being an adult isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and finds his way back to the Three Wishes machine to undo his original wish.

In terms of the unified vision throughout the movie, Marshall continues to use the same three act structure that she used in “Awakenings, ” focuses on the acting abilities of Tom Hanks, and focuses on the little details in each scene in order to create a better motion picture. Much like her other films, Marshall is focused on the use of color within this film in order to convey the youthfulness that still embodies Tom Hanks’ character. Even though her use of sound and color differs slightly in “Awakenings,” she still focuses on the use of genre and actors. Marshall has always focused her films on the ability of the actors and how they fit into her specific storyline and film.

It doesn’t matter what type of movie Penny Marshall is directing, her main focus will always be the ability of the actors. She sticks to her classic ways of genre and point of view she wants her films to encompass. As Planet Papers says, “The best thing about her movies is the fact that they are enjoyable, and is that not what we are looking for anyways?”

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