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How to Read a Film: The Art, Technology, Language, History, and Theory of Film and Media

3.81  ·  Rating Details  ·  667 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Looking at film from many vantage points, Monaco discusses the elements necessary to understand how a film conveys its meaning, and more importantly, how the audience can best discern all that a film is attempting to communicate. "An astute and thoroughgoing analysis".--"Publishers Weekly". 425 illustrations. 544 pp.
Paperback, 560 pages
Published June 11th 1981 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published 1977)
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Oct 22, 2012 Danny rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book touches upon pretty much every topic within cinema, as we get history, technique, film theory and whatnot. It's something that probably makes this the must-read book that it is, but it's also what's stopping this from being the kind of insightful book I'd hoped to get.

It's incredibly harsh - cause we're looking at one heavy read otherwise - but everything is pretty much quickly touched upon rather than actually examined. There's also the matter of it actually lacking quite a bit in th
May 12, 2009 Emir rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Big qualification: I only read two chapters from this book. My chapter of interest was on semiotics ("The Language of Film: Signs and Syntax") since I used "How to Read a Film" as a reference for a paper I was writing on semiotics and motion design. In fact, Monaco's description of how semiotics can be investigated in film is astute and served as my primary reference. Monaco describes signifiers and signifieds, the trope, indexes, metonymy, and the gap that semiotic inquiry is trying to bridge b ...more
Dylan Popowicz
Published in The Sacramento Book Review (

Since the publication of its first edition in 1977, this book has been applauded-and rightly so. Monaco magically mingles art history, critical theory, and opinion on so many varieties of media (all within the focus of the single notion of “film”) that what looks like a text book in fact stands as a delightful read in itself. In delving into each facet of film study, it results in catering for all aspects of film in
Alex Cook
Incredibly researched and theory presented expertly while technology and theory behind was elucidated and then illustrated with informative graphics. As someone studying film for the next three years I'm definitely going to be read it 3-5 more times as it has such as wealth of information that one has to revise and reprocess on a second or third reading as i often skimmed paragraphs, through this is a book that grabs your interest and those provide answers for your studies. To anyone studying a ...more
Dan Binns
Whilst I still think Bordwell and Thompson's 'Film Art' remains the quintessential book on film technique, Monaco's work offers a counter-point in the form of a simply laid-out, very comprehensive and accessible book about how film works. The summaries of key film theories were particularly useful to me, but the rest of it is excellent.
Aug 07, 2007 Vikram rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: all those trying to demystify Cinema
Level 1 Bible for all students of Cinema.
Even for those who want to decipher hidden visual metaphors.
Can lull one into believing they know all about Cinema having read this book.
But, as the first line says... LEVEL 1.
Jan 03, 2011 Jared rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you are a beginner in the studies of film it is a great overview with many references that can point you on the way to further study. By the way I am a beginner.
Al Bità
My rating for this work needs clarification. If you think this book will deal with the more popular appreciation of film (i.e. dealing with film stars, glitz and glamour, etc,) then one could rate this book one star only (i.e. you’ll be very much disappointed!). If, on the other hand, one were to duly note the sub-title of this fourth (completely revised and expanded) edition of a classic work (“Movies, Media and Beyond. Art, Technology, Language, History, Theory”) then you have in your hands a ...more
An excellent introduction to film and film theory. Monaco starts with both a brief history of film in the US and with a clear introduction to how film technically works. His application of critical theory is lucid and accessible. (Note: this book was my first introduction to many of the ideas in contemporary theory, long ago in my Lost Youth, and I remember the expositions fondly) Very much recommended for anyone beginning a study of how film works and how it works on its audience.
Jun 26, 2008 Meghan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has so much information about film. The chapters are very long though, and its a bit hard to read. The author jumps from ideas to ideas and not always in chronological order. Many of its films of reference are French or older films from the 40's and 50's. It made me want to go see more older films. I had to read this book for my English class. I don't think I am going to sell it.
Ekin Hazal
Oct 26, 2012 Ekin Hazal rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: finished
I would recommend this book to all cinema enthusiasts and wants to take their part in this sector to read and study on this book, carefully.
lol James Monaco thinks Crash is a good film
NJ Wong
Feb 03, 2016 NJ Wong rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a very thick book, and it took me almost 4 months to complete it. However, I must say it is pretty comprehensive. I learnt a lot of things from this book, from the history of film, to technical stuff about film media and cameras, as well as to philosophical and literary aspects of film etc.

Although I read the book version of this book, I think the contents of this book would be better presented as a multimedia e-book. Then, when the author describes certain filming techniques citing a pa
Sam Anderson
I read this book outside of any class, just some background in reading film critique.

The book covers a lot, and in general it was good enough to keep reading without much complaining, but it was seldom Good and rarely Great. The author does a solid job describing the technical parts of film and it's impact on film history. He then does admirably with an introduction to semiotics in chapter 3, but after that the book gets harder to recommend.

The History of Film chapter has a lot to get through, s
Apr 01, 2015 Runa rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent introduction to cinema and its jargon (which Monaco handles very well, by the way) - well-structured, comprehensive, and hugely benefiting from its little venture into semiotics. It hardly goes into detail about anything, though, and hardly *does* anything with the concepts it introduces; it gives you the ingredients without showing you how to actually prepare the dish. But that's not necessarily a bad thing.
May 14, 2016 jordan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film
A solid overview of history, theory, and criticism, with bonus chapters on new forms of media and multimedia. You have to get used to his opinions on films and his snarky asides, some of which an editor should have flagged by now in the 4th edition. E.g., "...color is a distinctly psychological phenomenon: one man's blue is another woman's green (but if you're gay, it may be teal)...". A bit of slack considering he wrote the first edition in 1977, but I'm not sure I'm prepared to read his though ...more
Kerem Sadi
Aug 22, 2015 Kerem Sadi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Film manyaklarına yönelik çok detaylı bir çalışma. Sinemayı her yönüyle ele alıyor.
Mohib Farhad
May 07, 2015 Mohib Farhad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
one of the great book about film. in this book you can find little bit of something of everything about film. and thats why this a big book. little too much book

good thing about this book: not detailed, but references from other book, not only understand film but also tv and print media. you will know the brife history of and redio

bad thing: not so much but can give some more detail about some important topic, sometime its less intaresting,didnt have to talk this much about analog syste
Lena Nechet
Oct 13, 2015 Lena Nechet rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For the first ~300 pages I thought it was a wonderful book. Then, after the huge poorly structured chapter about ethics of film, which messy dates and titles with occasional remarks of random value had little to do with ethics, I changed my mind. Later I was tempted to prompt to the author to review his methods of reasoning, deduction and induction concepts in particular. The montage theory part was too short, but fine (I learned only one new fact, but I am thankful for it).
Mar 29, 2009 Autumn rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A very shallow overview of all aspects of film, television, radio, and internet. The "How to Read a Film" title was misleading. I can imagine this would be a good read for anyone in the entertainment industry, but I felt it didn't go far enough into the subjects I was interested in, and covered too much of what I care nothing about.
Jan 06, 2013 Tommy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked it. Incredibly interesting when talking about the development of film through history and the technical aspects of movie making. I felt that it got a little too dense when dealing with film theory and slowed the narrative. I was also intrigued by the section on the impact of media on society. I'd recommend.
Jeroen Berndsen
I own a Dutch copy of this book but an older edition from 1984. It's a pretty good book for film students but when compared to Bordwell's books Film History and Film Art, How to Read a Film doesn't quite match up.... But it's quite a good read anyway.
p. tallon
Feb 24, 2010 p. tallon is currently reading it  ·  review of another edition
A bit of a museum piece at this point. Some added chapters on digital editing, but most of the books seems horribly out of date, which would not be so dire if it were not also fairly unreadable for undergrads (my projected readers).
Tiah Keever
Dry at times, but also entertaining, if you are really into cinema. Monaco seems to like many of the same movies as me, because clearly I have great taste in film...*cry* I didn't ask to be this way...:)
Josh T
Sep 17, 2007 Josh T rated it it was amazing
There is a good reason why film schools continue to enforce their students use this as text in their syllabi's ...
Nandakishore Varma
May 24, 2016 Nandakishore Varma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: film-theory
Quite an exhaustive book on film theory. Worth reading and rereading for the aficionado and the student.
Shannon McCue
Jun 01, 2007 Shannon McCue rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
i have an old used edition of this book, so it's a bit outdated, but if you like film theory...
Mar 31, 2013 Ashim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A definite for film buffs.
Nov 17, 2009 Justin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Decent ideas in some of this.
Adel added it
Aug 23, 2016
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James Monaco is a writer and publisher based in Sag Harbor, NY. For more information please see
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“No sensible person would prefer a computer screen to a well printed page for reading text” 1 likes
“Poetry is what you can’t translate. Art is what you can’t define. Film is what you can’t explain. But we’re going to try, anyway.” 1 likes
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