Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Terms

If there’s one person I can think of who is qualified to produce a movie glossary, it has to be Roger Ebert. And you know what? He did, it was published, and I had no idea until just now.

Inspiring frequent light giggles and the occasional guffaw, Ebert’s glossary appears to have originated as an article/chapter in Roger Ebert’s Video Companion (that link leads to a probably-not-kosher mirror of the full section). An expanded version was later published as the standalone volume Ebert’s ‘Bigger’ Little Movie Glossary, with the wondrously descriptive subtitle of “a greatly expanded and much improved compendium of movie clichés, stereotypes, obligatory scenes, hackneyed formulas, shopworn conventions, and outdated archetypes” (and that link goes to the fairly extensive Google Books preview… for those of you who don’t want to buy it for the Kindle).

Five random terms that made me chuckle:

  • Dirt Equals Virtue: In technology movies, a small, dingy, cluttered little lab and eccentric personnel equal high principles; large, well-lighted facilities mask sinister motives.
  • First Law of Funny Names: No names are funny unless used by W.C. Fields or Groucho Marx. Funny names, in general, are a sign of desperation at the screenplay level. See “Dr. Hfuhruhurr” in The Man with Two Brains.
  • Obligatory M & M Shot: Every movie that features a scene in an Arab or Islamic country will begin the scene with a shot of a mosque tower (minaret), or the sound of the muezzin, or both.
  • Principle of Selective Lethality: The lethality of a weapon varies, depending on the situation. A single arrow will drop a stampeding bison in its tracks, but it takes five or six to kill an important character. A single bullet will always kill an extra on the spot, but it takes dozens to bring down the hero.
  • Unmotivated Close-up: A character is given a close-up in a scene where there seems to be no reason for it. This is an infallible tip-off that this character is more significant than at first appears, and is most likely the killer. See the lingering close-up of the undercover KGB agent near the beginning of The Hunt for Red October.



3 responses to “Ebert’s Glossary of Movie Terms”

  1. Logan

    For the love of God, don’t let him find out about TVTropes. He’ll be stuck there for days chasing the White Rabbit of hyperlinks and emerge with nothing to show for it but a slightly improved knowledge of manga.

  2. Haha, that’s great. Although I take it you’re not an Ebert fan?

    It’s also worth noting that this glossary pre-dates TV Tropes by at least ten years.

  3. Matthew Fallshaw

    No, seriously Lloyd, don’t go to TV Tropes. Logan is speaking the simple truth.