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KS3 English: Manipulation (1991)

How is a character created without dialogue?

Main image of KS3 English: Manipulation (1991)
Author Elizabeth Humphries
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A cartoon character is drawn and then rubbed out. He reappears, tries to stay on screen and then tries to escape his creator's clutches.

We usually rely on speech as the most effective means of characterisation but in Manipulation (1991) our main character can't speak. This short film affords an opportunity to explore the way a character can be created without dialogue in film. It also throws up some interesting questions about the relationship between artists and the characters they create.

Students often struggle to see 'characters' as constructions of the author; speaking or writing about characters as if they are real people. In this lesson idea students are encouraged to reflect on the role of the author, or rather director, in creating characters and driving narrative. They are also asked to think about characterisation in film and the role of metaphor in moving images.

Lesson Objective

  • To explore how character is created without dialogue in film and consider the similarties and differences between characterisation on screen and on the page.


After watching the film through once, ask students to write down adjectives to describe the animated character? Discuss their thoughts asking students to explain how they arrived at their descriptions - how did they know the character was like this?


Main Attraction

Who's in control in this film? Despite his jumping around, the character is at the mercy of the man in the white gloves. Challenge students to answer the question: Whose hands are they? You might provide students with a range of statements to discuss and choose which one they most agree with (giving reasons for their choices):

  • The person in the white gloves is a magician.
  • The person in the white gloves is a doctor.
  • The person in the white gloves is an artist.
  • The person in the white gloves is the puppeteer.
  • The person is?

Delve a little deeper into the clip. Ask students to consider the connotations of the colour white and the associations we make with each of the jobs discussed above. What might the director be trying to tell us? What does it add to the film that we only see the person's hands?

Now it's time to consider how sound and image work together to create character in film. Listen to the film without watching it. Focus on turning pages, footsteps etc and then specific sound effects, burping etc. Is it funny? (Probably not!). Follow by watching the film without listening to it. Is it funny? Why? Finally, watch the clip with sound. How is humour conveyed through putting action and sound together?

Ask students to consider the conventions of slapstick humour. How have these been used by the director in Manipulation? What about the conventions of the double act (ie. the straight guy vs. the funny guy). Has the director employed these or adapted them at all?

Students should have been able to build up a solid awareness of some of the ways in which film creates character outside of the use of dialogue. Ask them to discuss in small groups the similarities and differences they identify between the techniques of an author and director in creating character?


End Credits

Ask students to think about the power relationship between the animated character and the off-screen character whose gloves we see. Do they think the film might be read as an extended metaphor, not just for created 'characters', but for mankind? What else in the film might add to this reading?


External Links

Video Clips
Extract (2:00)
Downloadable Teaching Resources

Related Films and TV programmes

Thumbnail image of Manipulation (1991)Manipulation (1991)

Read more about this film

See also