supersize me language and style

Presentation 3: Language and Style
Technical/cultural codes
What are the principal elements of documentary
discourse? (Corner, 1996)
Image modes: observation (minimal intervention with
profilmic event); interaction (coding through mise-enscène, composition, shot type, framing, editing …);
illustration (supporting verbal discourse); association
(juxtaposition of images)
Speech modes: overheard exchange; testimony;
voiceover; to-camera address.
Sound modes: expressive/commentative/illustrative use of
How do images and sound interact?
Expressive: is the sound and/or mise-en-scene
expressive of the action? e.g. reflecting the inner
states of the characters
Commentative: does the sound and/or mise-enscene comment on the action? e.g. ironic
comments/music, distanciation
Illustrative: images may be used to illustrate the
argument in the voiceover
Language features (1)
Maps and graphics identify the fattest cities and states in
the US.
Statistics tell the audience that ‘two thirds of American
adults are either overweight or obese and almost forty
percent of teenagers have too much fat in their bodies’.
Interviews with health officials, doctors and school
administrators reveal alarming trends and also function
as a dynamic counterpoint to the rapid deterioration in
Spurlock’s physical condition.
Jump cuts help speed up interviews and maintain the
documentary’s fast pace.
There is a funny and informative animated sequence about
chicken nuggets.
Language features (2)
Music complements the images (eg. ‘Fat Bottomed Girls’ by
Queen is played over images of fat Americans), or is
used to counterpoint them (eg. the ‘Blue Danube Waltz’
is played over footage of surgeons performing a gastric
‘Super Size Me’, the song, was cowritten by Spurlock and
mocks the jargon associated with fast food.
Footage of Ronald McDonald rocking with children to the
tune of Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Pusherman’ reinforces the way
McDonald’s marketing targets children.
Frequent shots of big bottoms and large McDonald’s
workers reinforce the message that obesity is at
epidemic rates in the US.
Language features (3)
Still photographs used in a ‘who do you know?’ competition
for children illustrate the effectiveness of McDonald’s
marketing: they are more familiar with Ronald McDonald
than Jesus.
Shots of vomiting and a close-up of a black hair found in
McDonald’s yoghurt evoke strong responses from the
audience and provide memorable images.
Fly-on-the-wall footage of a school kitchen shows the vast
amounts of processed foods used in schools.
Internal body footage of a gastric by-pass operation
emphasizes the obesity problem in America.
Documents back up the film’s messages, eg. transcripts
from a court case.
Language features (4)
Repeated shots of the McDonald’s arches makes them
seem ubiquitous.
Unanswered phone calls to McDonald’s demonstrate the
company’s refusal to acknowledge Spurlock’s concerns.
Titles announce different chapters of the documentary.
Low-angle close-ups with a handheld camera make the film
feel personal and immediate (eg. in the car with
Video diary of Spurlock describing how he feels gives a
personal touch and works as a continuity device that
links all the sequences together in the film.
Quick, sharp editing of the many images, graphics and
interviews gives the film its fast pace.
Language features - activities
Which techniques used in the film are most
effective in highlighting Spurlock's views? (Give
reasons for your answers)
How do camera angles, lighting, music, narration,
and editing contribute to creating an atmosphere
in the film?
How do you think Spurlock wanted the audience to
respond? (Explain why you think this)
Write a one-page language analysis of
Supersize Me, focusing on the key areas
of language:
- Signs and codes used. What are their
- Motivation (reasons) for using signs/codes
- Polysemy and anchorage
- Ideologies and myths explored in the film
- Conventions on documentary used