Category Archives: Film Analysis

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Film Clips

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  2. (Dubbed French)
    Clip 2

 

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Introduction
    What This Guide Covers
    How this Guide Is Organized
    Navigating the Guide
    Conventions Used in this Guide
    Additional Resources
    Feedback
    Credits
1 Basic Terms
    auteur
    diegesis
    editing
    flashback flashforward
    focus
    genres
    mise-en-scene
    story/plot
    scene sequence
    shot

2 Mise-en-scene
    I Decor
        rear projection
    II Lighting
         three-point lighting
         high-key lighting
         low-key lighting
    III Space
         deep space
         frontality
         matte shot
         offscreen space
         shallow space
    IV Costume
    V Acting
         typage

3 Cinematography
    I Quality
         color
         contrast
         deep focus
         shallow focus
         depth of field
         exposure
         racking focus
         rate
         telephoto shot
         zoom shot
    II Framing
         angle of framing
         aspect ratio
         level of framing
         canted framing
         following shot
         reframing
         point-of-view shot
    III Scale
         extreme longshot
         longshot
         medium longshot
         medium close-up
         close-up
         extreme close-up
    IV Movement
         crane shot
         handheld camera, steadycam
         pan
         tilt
         tracking shot
         whip pan

4 Editing
    I Devices
       a) Transitions
              cheat cut
              cross cutting, aka parallel editing
              cut-in, cut away
              dissolve
              iris
              jump cut
              establishing shot/reestablishing shot
              shot/reverse shot
              superimposition
              wipe
       b) Matches
              eyeline match
              graphic match
              match on action
       c) Duration
              long take, aka plan-sequence
              overlapping editing
              rhythm
    II Styles
         continuity editing
         montage
         elliptical editing

5 Sound
    I Sound editing
         sound bridge
         sonic flash
    II Source
         diegetic/non-diegetic
         direct sound
         nonsimultaneous
         offscreen
         postsynchronization: dubbing
         sound perspective
         synchronous sound
         voice over
    III Quality

6 Analysis

Il grido (Michelangelo Antononi, Italy, 1957)

The final sequence of Antonioni’s Il grido. Began as documentarist in this region, interested in landscape earlier features were melodramas, here returns to Po valley, last film before famous trilogy: L’avventuraL’eclisseLa notte(1960-63). Antonioni’s first color film, Red Desert (1964) sealed his reputation as a high modernist, a reexamination of same topics as Il grido, but greater shift from neorealist observation to modernist reflexivity. Story of film: Aldo, industrial worker and his growing alienation from other people (workers, lovers), final realization of the physical and spiritual emptiness that surrounds him. This sequence contrasts social agitation of factory workers struggling with police against the lonely journey of one worker, followed by Elvira, one of his mistresses…

 

IMAGE
SHOT DESCRIPTION
ANALYSIS
Editing: shot#1
Cinematography: ELS, extreme high angle establishing shot. grey tone: low contrast black and white images.
Sound: people running and shouting
Mise-en-scene: Misty landscape – never get clear shot in film.
Aerial view. Familiar from landscape documentaries. People lost in / vanishing into the landscape. Problem of individual consciousness reaches climax in this film. Po valley, famous neorealist location, from end of Paisa (1946).
Editing: shot#2, match in action of the protesters going off the road
Cinematography: LS, camera descends to eye level
Sound: sounds gets louder, as demonstrators clash with the police
Mise-en-scene: silhouettes against the sky; even if far away, the caps allows to tell policemen apart
Police and protestors as two vectors across the landscape. Depersonalized forces.
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: LS, tracks down the steep, following the people as they get off the road
Sound: shouting keeps getting louder
Mise-en-scene: same as above
Graceful camera movement that mimics the terrain.
Editing: shot#3, quick cut
Cinematography: ELS, pans left following Aldo as he enters the factory through the side door
Sound: sudden change to total silence; we only hear Aldo’s footsteps
Mise-en-scene: Aldo approaches and grasps prison-like fence; individual vs. modern/industrial building constrasted with groups/ nature of previous scenes
Contrast w/ Aldo – single figure, returning to the deserted factory LS; The bars on the grate are like a prison. Aldo wants to get away from the world. Washed out images in this sequence: low contrast black and white as corrolary to vitiated emotions. time of day usually unspecific in this film. Season is late autumn/winter.
Editing: same shot (long take).
Cinematography: LS, pan continues and tracks forwards (or zooms?) onto Aldo, turns into a MLS
Sound: Aldo’s footsteps, which grow louder or softer as he stops or quicken his pace
Mise-en-scene: stresses Aldo’s isolation, deserted factory. Shift from landscape to factory.
Dead time: actions not simply achieved but constantly obstructed, derailed. Challenging for the viewer too…
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: camera stops panning at the fence and follows Aldo as he goes further inside, goes from MLS to LS to ELS
Sound:
Mise-en-scene: bare tree, deserted sugar refinery, grey buildings against grey sky.
Lack of contrast in the image reduces the distinction between landscape and factory. Landscape drab, so is factory, so are people. One of Antonioni’s main themes is the denaturalization of the landscape.
Editing: shot#4, abrupt cut, back to the demonstration.
Cinematography: LS, camera pans slightly right, taking the curve and following a woman who steps out
Sound: again, abrupt change in dynamics, loud, fast footsteps of many people running
Mise-en-scene: woman singled out by her running across the screen
Looks like she’s part of running group, but separated in image. we realize that she is Elvira, whom we have seen in the previous sequence running after Aldo.
Editing: shot#5, another quick cut, by now we know this is parallel editing; an eyeline match to something above is suggested as Aldo lifts up his eyes, but we can’t see what he is looking at (tower, already important in the diegesis).
Cinematography: MS
Sound: again, change to total silence
Mise-en-scene: Aldo looks up at tower.
Tower is significant in this film: this is where Aldo worked. Film refuses to show us Aldo’s perspective, or even his eyeline match to the tower that we realize he is looking at. Like the relations between the characters, all linkages in this film are tenuous.
Editing: shot#6, cut back to the road
Cinematography: LS of a woman (Elvira?); track/pan as she separates herself from the protesters and runs toward the factory fence
Sound: now her sound is matched to Aldo’s, softer, only one set of footsteps
Mise-en-scene: Elvira separated from the group, moving toward factory.
Parallel construction of the editing between Aldo and the woman who is chasing him is emphasized by contrast of loud/quiet sound of feet.
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: MLS of Elvira (always tracks along with her) as she presses herself againts the fence
Sound: silence
Mise-en-scene: deep space, we realize this is Aldo in the background
The fence and the dark shape of the earth bank correlate with the emotional separation between these characters, part of the emotional background that leads to the conclusion of the film.
Editing: shot#7, match in action/eyeline match, as Elvira was looking at Aldo walking away
Cinematography: MS. tracking Aldo, as he stops and starts
Sound: Aldo’s footsteps, slowing, as if in doubt
Mise-en-scene: Framing constantly changes, Aldo framed against buildings for most of this sequence.
Again, notice that time slows down with Aldo; he is the only one not running, and he is shot in longer takes with minimal sound. This is not the cause-and-effect chain of plot but the dead time of story. He just wanders around, looking at the deserted buildings.
Editing: same shot (long take)
Cinematography: MLS, camera stops tracking as Aldo stops to look a the tower.
Sound: silence, then louder footsteps as Aldo makes up his mind and goes towards the tower
Mise-en-scene: Now Aldo ventures into central compound, we see refinery tower where he worked in the background.
The tower. This was the place where Aldo is first shown in the film, before descending and running out through the gate. The recapitulation of that scene in reverse suggests that the story is coming full circle.
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: LS, tilt that brings the top of the tower on screen and leaves Aldo off screen.
Sound: footsteps
Mise-en-scene: Tower dominates the composition. Another solitary composition in the film.
We realize the tower, like Aldo, is a marker of solitude. Aldo is associated with the tower as elements that physically stand apart from their surroundings.
Editing: shot#8 cut, real time: cut to HA shots
Cinematography: LS, high angle, crane (tracks upwards)as Aldo goes up the stairs
Sound: silence, Aldo slow but firm steps
Mise-en-scene: rails and metal surfaces of the tower.
Real time / dead time. The time Aldo is absent from the previous shot seems approximately equal to the time it would take for Aldo to reach the tower — the film insists of the real time of action, at the expense of drama.
Editing: same shot (long take, we get to see each step on the stairs)
Cinematography: MS, as Aldo gets neare to the camera, which keeps craning (not a tilt) and reframing on him.
Sound: steps
Mise-en-scene: Aldo looking out, no idea what he’s looking at.
Film narration is uncommunicative in not letting us know what characters see or even what they are about to do: we have to reconstruct their field of view in retrospect and are constantly surprised by what they do.
Editing: shot#9, cut as Aldo leaves frame in previous shot
Cinematography: mirrors Aldo entrance (reinforces parallel construction), from ELS to MS as Elvira approaches the camera
Sound: hurried footsteps
Mise-en-scene: recognize factory landmarks
Same scale as Aldo before, LS, then she gets nearer, etc. but she is running, and we don’t see her whole movements (much shorter takes) each character has a different time signature. The film establishes different rhythms for different characters. This is a more important structureal principle than the typical narrative arc.
Editing: shot#10, cut
Cinematography: MLS, camera pans/tilts, keeps following Aldo’s ascent
Sound: light footsteps
Mise-en-scene: continues following Aldo’s actions from shot #8
Before, we had an opposition between the longer shots of Aldo and shorter shots of Elvira following. Now the length of the shots becomes similar, but the pace within the shot is still contrasted: Elvira always runs, while Aldo moves slowly.
Editing: shot#11, cut
Cinematography: ELS
Sound: silence (footsteps in the distance)
Mise-en-scene: again, Elvira retraces Aldo’s path
Elvira’s urgency is contrasted to Aldo’s previous pensive mood. She does not care for the buildings, does not belong there, as Aldo does. The longer takes emphasize Aldo’s connection with the factory, which is not so significant to Elvira. Accordingly, Elvira’s scenes in the factory are significantly shorter than Aldo’s.
Editing: shot#12, eyeline match, as shot#11 end with Elvira looking up
Cinematography: ELS; unbalanced framing
Sound: silence (footsteps in the distance)
Mise-en-scene: striking modernist composition, de-centered, as Aldo and the tower become one.
Aldo goes further and further away from the world, becomes more and more insignificant.He has been associated with the tower from the beginning of the film and now he returns to it. The movement hints at a spiritual aspect of the film: Aldo is portrayed as a kind of “holy fool” who hasn’t adapted to the modern world.
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: MS of Elvira as she comes into the foreground, ELS of Aldo.
Sound: loud and near as Elvira steps in
Mise-en-scene: use of offscreen space; as soon as Elvira comes in, she balances the frame
The composition of this shot reinforces the paired relation between Aldo and Elvira, in their simultaneous similarity and opposition. They are present to each other but out of reach. False POV shot: seems like the tower is seen from Elvira’s perspective, as shown in shot#11, but then she walks into the frame. This ambiguous setup is common to Antonioni: the arrangement of camera, subject, and object is understood retrospectively, in contrast to the piecemeal style that leads a viewer through the significant elements of a scene.
Editing: same shot (long take)
Cinematography: ELS as Elvira runs towards the side of the tower, slight tilt downwards to follow her
Sound: hurried, sudden footsteps running away; first word of the sequence, as she shouts his name.
Mise-en-scene: Elvira is again dwarfed by the tower
Contrast between puny human figure and the monumental tower and buildings; sense of hopelessness of her cause is nowhere more evident, as her cry pierces the empty space. The tower looks increasingly “alien” — less an industrial machine than a space ship.
Editing: shot#13, cut. Reaction shot as Aldo starts, hearing Elvira’s call.
Cinematography: MLS
Sound: Elvira’s voice, Aldo’s footsteps
Mise-en-scene: gesturing; Aldo looks baffled, as if awakening from a trance
Notice that Aldo is more and more often shot from the back, stressing his alienation/indifference to everything around him. This is the last time we will clearly see his face; almost as if he is taking his leave. The last frame after he exits is empty, again reinforcing the feeling that “he is no longer there”. Contrast of shot scale between the end of shot 12 and the beginning of shot 13 marks an emphatic break. The sequence is accelerating to its conclusion. 
Editing: shot#14, match in action as Aldo enters the frame
Cinematography: MS of Aldo, ELS of Elvira, high angle. Unusual, high angle over-the-shoulder shot.
Sound: Elvira’s voice
Mise-en-scene: deep space, deep focus, contrast in size of figures
Contrast of size underlines sense that Aldo is removed from emotional contact with his ex-mistress. Also from the human scale of objects on the ground.
Editing: shot#15, match in action as Aldo waves his hand; and a suggested POV shot from Elvira’s perspective.
Cinematography: LS, low angle. Space seems flattened: Perhaps a telephoto lens?
Sound: silence
Mise-en-scene: Staircase traps Aldo.
Aldo is now definitevely trapped in a narrow space, after traveling across so many open, empty spaces. End of the road, with nowhere to go. Again, POV is understood only retrospectively, when we see the following shot of Elvira.
Editing: shot#16, eyeline match on object of Aldo’s gaze
Cinematography: MCU
Sound: she utters a cry, as she notices Aldo’s swaying, then anguished silence
Mise-en-scene: wintry, industrial scene. Inexpensive, nondescript clothing — Elvira is a housewife.
First close-up of Elvira, thus allowing her some individuality/ feelings. Meshing of nature and factory into modern, inhuman space. Tree in the background as unexpected intrusion of nature into factory compound. Will recur later.
Editing: shot#17, shot/reverse shot with shot#18, same as shot#14 and shot#15
Cinematography: MS of Aldo, ELS of Elvira, high angle
Sound: total silence
Mise-en-scene: deep space, deep focus, contrast in size of figures, same camera placement as shot#14
Scene is extended in duration but sense of dead time replaced by sense of anxiety. What will happen? Repeated shot reinforces sense of trance-like repetition in this scene that is a culmination of Aldo’s almost somnambulist procession around the countryside in this film.
Editing:shot#18, shot/reverse-shot, graphically matched to shot 12 but from another position
Cinematography: MLS of Elvira, ELS of Aldo, low angle
Sound: total silence
Mise-en-scene: deep space, deep focus: we see Aldo start to fall
Tension between graphic pattern and spatial dislocation. Elvira has been running through the whole sequence but not she stands and watches.
Editing: shot#19, cut. reaction shot of Elvira as she looks at Aldo
Cinematography: MS
Sound: sudden, desperate cry of Elvira (“il grido”) as Aldo falls; we hear him crashing to the ground offscreen
Mise-en-scene: Violent gestures of surprise and anguish
Shot scale: this is the first MS of Elvira in the sequence. She screams: this is “Il grido” (the scream) of the title, a (possible) connection to Munch’s painting of the same name and same theme (modern alienation). Melodrama reappears when she screams/gestures but is at the same time attenuated by the dubbing (sound comes from somewhere else and it shows) and thematically as well since this is not the “important” woman; more a casual witness, really. Plus, we don’t see Aldo falling, only a thud as he crashes. Desperate gestures, which seem all the more brutal when contrasted with the emotional monotony of the film.
Editing: same shot
Cinematography: slow crane movement sideways and to lower level, from MS to LS. Same angle.
Sound: silence; at the end of the scene soundtrack music starts playing, for the first time in the sequence
Mise-en-scene: Elvira walks up to and kneels besides Aldo’s body. Prostrate body, kneeling body, tree in background. Deep space, frontal blocking
Quasi-religious associations with Pieta; she is the more motherly of all three women (2 children, and Aldo). Never see his face in the final moments, either too far away, or shot from the back. Further non-identification (opposite of melodrama) She kneels beside him, silent. Soundtrack music starts, first time in the whole sequence, sounds odd, almost vulgar. A waltz (played with some electronic instruments, sounds a bit mechanical). Incongruous conclusion to the film.
Editing: shot#20, cut
Cinematography: ELS of the empty factory, high angle
Sound: soundtrack music
Mise-en-scene: deserted factory, deep space, we still see people & horses on the road, in the background
Very unexpected ending, further modernist detachment, but also reserved in its refusal to show gruesome spectacle. The film reworks vulgar melodramatic intimacy in its respect for the suffering of the characters and their fundamental impenetrability. People passing onthe road in the background remind us that life goes on, indifferent to individual suffering.
Editing: same shot.
Cinematography: camera pans and tilts down to include the two figures, ELS, high angle. The End appears
Sound: soundtrack music
Mise-en-scene:
Fine

 

 

Rocco and his Brothers (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1960)

In the beginning of the film, the working-class Parondi family has just migrated to Milan from southern Italy. Unable to stay with the oldest son and his Milanese in-laws, they relocate to a housing project.

IMAGE
SHOT DESCRIPTION
ANALYSIS
Editing: shot#1 fade in (can’t see it in this clip)
Cinematography: LS establishing shot becomes MLS as characters move toward camera
slight pan to the right, following the characters
slight refraings all the way through to keep characters centered
Sound: street noise
Mise-en-scene: gate, lines across image, rainy street, mist, reflective
Rocco and his family (Parondi) moving into new lodging, in a housing project in the outskirts of Milan. We see the family through the fence; their new home is visually like a prison. The day is rainy — typical of a Milanese winter but new to the family. They are not dressed for the weather and shiver against the cold. Drab, low-contrast image.
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: MLS, widescreen, black figures on light background
Sound: suddenly loud: Rosaria calls for the porter. offscreen sound (high reverb) of porter’s response
Mise-en-scene: gesturing: cold; clothing: low class, immigrants (not winter clothes)
Mom speaks, even if she has many grown up sons. She’s the boss. Even if they are actually entering (that is, outside), her cries holding the fence brings prison images to mind, calling for help/guards (that is, from the inside). Or rather, animals in the zoo, an association later reinforzed by the neighbors’ malicious gossip (ie: Africans = southerners = animals). The family huddles together — a group against an unfriendly northern society.
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: MLS
Sound: dialogue, two different dialects (Milanese and Southern)
Mise-en-scene: porter appears from offscreen space;
Porter speaks in Milanese; communication is difficult, lot of gesturing. [Native informant note: This is not dialect but accent -- the film makes an effort to establish linguistic differences but at the same time seeks to make that difference comprehensible to a general audience]. Post-synchronized dialogue detaches voices from the space of the image. Widescreen: good for extended families, group portraits. Visconti heavily pictorial, his aristocratic education allows him to draw compositions from royal group portraits, ironically applied to this family. Reinforces the “epic” nature of the film.
Editing: Shot #2, match on action as gate opens
Cinematography: LS, pan following characters
Sound: dialogue continues
Mise-en-scene: reflections of rain, gestures for communication
Wider shot: the lens “opens up” with the door. The camera remains detached from the characters: no POV shot, no eyeline match, not reverse shots of the family. Instead the shot stresses the relation of the family to the overwhelming municipal architecture.
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: LS
Sound: noise of footsteps
Mise-en-scene: cart, imposing postwar housing project, passing woman turns to look.
We get a better look at the cart: ready for war, with mom as general; or exodus imagery. This family in exile from its traditional home. Camera cuts, now showing the family from the back, dwarfed by the architecture. The path looks like a corridor in a prison block, the identical apartments are like cells. They have been sent to the basement: a slow descent into hell. This is registered in the bodily attitude of the family members, dressed in black.
Editing: shot#3, match on action as the woman keep walking and meets the porter
Cinematography: ELS of family; closer shot of gossiping couple,grey tone, ends with fade to black
Sound: postrecorded close-up dialogue between the two Milanese women, make fun of the immigrants
Mise-en-scene: big housing project, all houses are the same. Deep space connects commenting women to family.
Again, the family is dwarfed by the prison-like project. The separation of the family in extreme background from the gossiping women in extreme foreground mirrors a cultural separation between north and south, even though they all belong to the same social class.
Editing: Shot #4; fade in
Cinematography: darker image, slight track left then pan right across basement apartment to window; it is snowing
Sound: silent
Mise-en-scene: religious imagery, family photographs, simple food, no curtains, bare walls
New scene: the objects indicate the low class and lack of education of the Parondi family. The objects associated with the family take over the function of dialogue in this long tracking/panning shot. The images indicate the importance of religion and the family, and their elementary eating and sleeping arrangements. The low key lighting in the image gives us a sense of the drabness of their existence in their new lodgings. The shot of the windows shows that they are buried underground. It is not yet dawn; they spend all the daylight hours working. The film shows that immigrants from the regions are even “lower” than the local working class.
Editing: shot #5, cut
Cinematography: crane shot rises with Rocco then tracks right with him as he walks across the room to the second window. Mirror of shot #4. Lights come on in the background.
Sound: silent
Mise-en-scene: Same objects we see in shot #4. gesturing: it’s cold.
Rocco wakes up first and sleeps alone; he is different from his brothers; the most responsible, serious. As in the title, the film here visually singles out Rocco for special attention. The track back across the room reveals that he is sleeping in the “kitchen”. We see that it is snowing.
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: track and pan left, as Rocco retraces his steps across the room. camera obstructed by pillar.
Sound: window opening, voices of people waking up in the neighborhood
Mise-en-scene: bottles of oil or wine in window, more of basement apartment
Rocco opens the and realizes it is snowing (probably first time for the whole family). Neighbors are waking up too, to go to work: lights, noises; one gets the idea most people in the apartments share a similar social standing. The obstruction of the camera indicates the “reality” of the setting: the space is not arranged for optimum visibility but seems to exist “prior” to the filming (even though this may be a set).
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: MCU, as Rocco approaches the camera
pan stops as Rocco reaches for the light switch
Sound: click of light switch, Rocco calls to his brothers
Mise-en-scene: bare bulb lights up room. bulb in image. heavily shadowed face.
The harsh sidelighting on Rocco is part of a visual rhetoric that impresses on us the harshness of their lifestyle. In general the film is structured by strong contrasts: north/south, modernity/backwardness, city/country, education/ignorance and, ultimately, good and evil. The MCU starts to bring us closer to Rocco in the narrative: earlier he has been seen as part of his family; now the camera contemplates him alone. Alain Delon here is cast strongly against the romantic type he had established in France.
Editing: (same shot)
Cinematography: MS as Rocco walks away from the camera into the adjacent room
Sound: Rocco calls his brothers to wake up
Mise-en-scene: family photograph on wall, whitewashed walls.
The other brothers are in the next room. Later in the scene we’ll see the whole basement where the many Parondis live, virtually one on top of each other. The architectural / social characterization begun in this scene will continue in the following sequence. The bare bulb as another mark of poverty and improvisation, along with the bare walls and the hanging herbs etc. They were expecting to stay with the oldest son’s in-laws. Instead, they find themselves in this dungeon.

 

 

Part 6: Analysis

EXAMPLES OF FILM ANALYSIS
Click on the links below to see extremely rudimentary examples of shot breakdown and close analysis of sequences from various films. You should aim to go beyond these examples in the precision and cogency of the analyses in your assignments.

Rocco and his Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli, Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1960)

Il Grido (Michelangelo Antononi, Italy, 1957)

Part 5: Sound

Section I – Sound Editing

Sound in the cinema does not necessarily match the image, nor does it have to be continuous. The sound bridge is used to ease the transition between shots in the continuity style. Sound can also be used to reintroduce events from earlier in the diegesis. Especially since the introduction of magnetic tape recording after WWII, the possibilities of sound manipulation and layering have increased tremendously. Directors such as Robert Altman are famous for their complex use of the soundtrack, layering multiple voices and sound effects in a sort of “sonic deep focus.” In this clip from Nashville (1975), we simultaneously hear a conversation between an English reporter and her guide, a gospel choir singing, and the sound engineers’ chatter.


SOUND BRIDGE

Sound bridges can lead in or out of a scene. They can occur at the beginning of one scene when the sound from the previous scene carries over briefly before the sound from the new scene begins. Alternatively, they can occur at the end of a scene, when the sound from the next scene is heard before the image appears on the screen. Sound bridges are one of the most common transitions in the continuity editing style, one that stresses the connection between both scenes since their mood (suggested by the music) is still the same. But sound bridges can also be used quite creatively, as in this clip from Yi Yi (Taiwan, 2000). Director Edward Yang uses a sound bridge both to play with our expectations. The clip begins with a high angle shot of a couple arguing under a highway. A piano starts playing and the scene cuts into a house interior, where a pregnant woman is looking at some cd’s…

…finally, the camera pans to reveal a young girl (previously offscreen) playing the piano. It is only then that we realize the music is diegetic, and that the young girl was looking at the window at her best friend and her boyfriend. The romantic melody she plays as she realizes they are breaking up in turn introduces a now possible future relationship for her — which eventually happens, as she starts dating her best friend’s ex-boyfriend later in the film.


SONIC FLASHBACK

Sound from one diegetic time is heard over images from a later time. In this example from Kurosawa’s No Regrets for Our Youth (Waga seishun ni kui nashi, Japan, 1946), the heroine Yukie hears the voices of her dead father and executed husband, voicing the aspirations that sustain her continuing struggle.

Sonic flashback often carries this kind of moral or emotional overtone, making a character’s motivation explicit.


Section 2 – Source

Most basically, this category refers to the place of a sound in relation to the frame and to the world of the film. A sound can be onscreen or offscreen, diegetic or nondiegetic (including voice over), it can be recorded separately from the image or at the moment of filming. Sound source depends on numerous technical, economic, and aesthetic considerations, each of which can affect the final significance of a film.


DIEGETIC/NON-DIEGETIC SOUND

Any voice, musical passage, or sound effect presented as originating froma source within the film’s world is diegetic. If it originates outside the film (as most background music) then it is non-diegetic.

A further distinction can be made between external and internal diegetic sound. In the first clip from Almodóvar’s Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, 1988) we hear Iván speaking into the microphone as he works on the Spanish dubbing of Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954). Since he is speaking out loud and any other character could hear him, this is an example of external diegetic sound. This clip has no non-diegetic sounds other than the brief keyboard chord that introduces the scene.

 

Sound and diegesis gets more complicated in the next clip, from Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy, 1996). As Anna looks at Paolo Uccello’s famous painting of the Battle of San Romano(c1435), we begin to hear the sounds of the battle: horses whimpering, weapons clashing, etc. These sounds exist only in Anna’s troubled mind, which is highly sensitive to works of art. These are internal diegetic sounds (inside of a character’s mind) that no one else in the gallery can hear.

On the other hand, the Ennio Morricone eerie score that sets up the scene and mixes with the battle sounds, is a common example of non-diegetic sound, sounds that only the spectators can hear. (Obviously, no boom-box blasting tourist is allowed into the Uffizi’s gallery!)


DIRECT SOUND

When using direct sound, the music, noise, and speech of the profilmic event at the moment of filming is recorded in the film. This is the opposite of postsynchronization in which the sound is dubbed on top of an existing, silent image. Studio systems use multiple microphones to record directly and with the utmost clarity. On the other hand, some national cinemas, notably Italy, India and Japan, have avoided direct sound at some stage in their histories and dubbed the dialogues to the film after the shooting. But direct sound can also mean something other than the clearly defined synchronized sound of Hollywood films — the Cinéma verité, third world filmmaking and other documentarist, improvisatory and realist styles that also record sound directly but with an elementary microphone set-up, as in Abbas Kiarostami’s Taste of Cherry (Ta’m e Guilass, Iran, 1997).

The result maintains the immediacy of direct sound at the expense of clarity. Furthermore, incidental sounds (street noise, etc) are not mixed down, but left “as it is”. Impression and mood are favored over precision: not every word can be made out. The final sonic picture is blurred and harder to understand, but arguably closer to what we perceive in real life.


NONSIMULTANEOUS SOUND

Diegetic sound that comes from a source in time either earlier or later than the images it accompanies. In this clip from Almodóvar’s Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, Spain, 1988) Pepa adds the female voice to the dubbing of Johnny Guitar, the male voice having previously been recorded by Pepa’s ex-lover Ivan. (You can see Ivan’s dubbing here)

While Pepa’s voice is diagetic and simultaneous, Ivan’s voice is also diegetic, and yet it is nonsimultaneous, since it comes from a previous moment in the film. Almodóvar uses nonsimultaneous sound to establish a conversation that should have taken place but never did (Ivan is not returning Pepa’s calls and she is becoming desperate) when, with a perverse melodramatic twist, he has the jilted lovers repeating the words of another couple of cinematic jilted lovers. As in this example, nonsimultaneous sound is often used to suggest recurrent obsessions and other hallucinatory states.


OFFSCREEN SOUND

Simultaneous sound from a source assumed to be in the space of the scene but outside what is visible onscreen. In Life on Earth (La Vie sur Terre, Abderrahmane Sissako, 1998) a telephone operator tries to help a woman getting a call trough. While he tries to establish a connection, the camera examines the office and the other people present in the scene. Yet, even if the operator and the woman are now offscreen, their centrality to the scene is alway tangible through sounds (dialing, talking, etc).

Of course, a film may use offscreen sound to play with our assumptions. In this clip from Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, Pedro Almodóvar, 1988), we hear a woman and a man’s voices in conversation, in what it looks like a film production studio. Even if we do not see the speakers, we instantly believe they must be around. Gradually, the camera shows us that we are in a dubbing studio, and only the woman is present, the man’s voice being previously recorded. Moreover, theirs is not a real conversation but lines from a movie dialogue.


POSTSYNCHRONIZATION DUBBING

The process of adding sound to images after they have been shot and assembled. This can include dubbing of voices, as well as inserting diegetic music or sound effects. It is the opposite of direct sound. It is not, however, the opposite of synchronous sound, since sound and image are also matched here, even if at a later stage in the editing process. Compare the French dubbed, or post-synchronized, version of Mission: Impossible 2 (John Woo, 2000), with the sychronized original.

You can hear the original English version here.


SOUND PERSPECTIVE

The sense of a sound’s position in space, yielded by volume, timbre, pitch, and, in stereophonic reproduction systems, binaural information. Used to create a more realistic sense of space, with events happening (that is, coming from) closer or further away. Listen closely to this clip from The Magnificent Ambersons (Orson Welles, 1942) as the woman goes through her door and comes back.

As soon as she closes the door her voice sounds muffled and distant (she is walking away), then grows clearer (she is coming back), then at full volume again, as she comes out. We can also hear hushing remarks that gives us a sense of the absent presence of a whole web of family members in the house. The stronger the voice, the closer his/ her room. Sound perspective, combined with offscreen space, also gives us clues as to who (and most importantly, where) is present in a scene. Welles’ use of sound in this scene is unusual since Classical Hollywood Cinema generally sacrifices sound perspective to narrative comprehensibility.


SYNCHRONOUS SOUND

Sound that is matched temporally with the movements occuring in the images, as when dialogue corresponds to lip movements. The norm for Hollywood films is to synchronize sound and image at the moment of shooting; others national cinemas do it later (see direct soundpostsyncronization) Compare the original English version of Mission: Impossible 2 (John Woo, 2000),

with the French dubbed version.


VOICE OVER

When a voice, often that of a character in the film, is heard while we see an image of a space and time in which that character is not actually speaking. The voice over is often used to give a sense of a character’s subjectivity or to narrate an event told in flashback. It is overwhelmingly associated with genres such as film noir, and its obsessesive characters with a dark past. It also features prominently in most films dealing with autobiography, nostalgia, and literary adaptation. In the title sequence from The Ice Storm (1997) Ang Lee uses voice over to situate the plot in time and to introduce the subject matter (i.e., the American family in the 1970s), while also giving an indication of his main character’s ideas and general culture.

While a very common and useful device, voice over is an often abused technique. Over dependance on voice over to vent a character’s thoughts can be interpreted as a telling signal of a director’s lack of creativity –or a training on literature and theater, rather than visual arts. But voice over can also be used in non literal or ironic ways, as when the words a character speaks do not seem to match the actions he/she performs. Some avant garde films, for instance, make purposely disconcerting uses of voice over narration.


Section 3 – Quality

Much like quality of the image, the aural properties of a sound — its timbre, volume, reverb, sustain, etc. — have a major effect on a film’s aesthetic. A film can register the space in which a sound is produced (its sound signature) or it can be otherwise manipulated for dramatic purposes. The recording of Orson Welles’ voice at the end of Touch of Evil (1958) adds a menacing reverb to his confession.

The mediation of Abbas Kiarostami’s voice through the walkie-talkie and the video quality of the image in the coda of Taste of Cherry (Ta’m e Guilass, Iran, 1997) underscore the reflexivity that is characteristic of his films.

 

Part 4: Editing

Section 1 – Devices

a) TRANSITIONS

The shot is defined by editing but editing also works to join shots together. There are many ways of effecting that transition, some more evident than others. In the analytical tradition, editing serves to establish space and lead the viewer to the most salient aspects of a scene. In the classical continuity style, editing techniques avoid drawing attention to themselves. In a constructivist tradition such as Soviet Montage cinema, there is no such false modesty. Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparatom, USSR, 1929) celebrates the power of the cinema to create a new reality out of disparate fragments.


CHEAT CUT

Cheat cut. In the continuity editing system, a cut which purports to show continuous time and space from shot to shot but which actually mismatches the position of figures or objects in the scene. In this sequence from Meet Me in St. Louis (Vincente Minelli, 1944) the editing sacrifices actual physical space for dramatic space. As we can see in the first shot, there is a wall behind the telephone.

   

However, that wall magically disappears in the third shot in order to show both the telephone and the family seated around the dining table (an important element in the film) from an angle that would had been impossible in an actual room. Cheat cuts were also often used to disguise the relatively short stature of leading men in relation to their statuesque female co-stars.


CROSSCUTTING, aka PARALLEL EDITING

Editing that alternates shots of two or more lines of action occurring in different places, usually simultaneously. The two actions are therefore linked, associating the characters from both lines of action. In this extended clip from Edward Yang’s Yi Yi (Taiwan, 2000), father and daughter go out on dates at presumably the same time, and go through the same motions, even if the father is in Japan and the daughter in Taipei.

To further stress the similarities, the father is actually reliving his first date with his first girlfriend (whom he has just met again after 20 years), while his daughter is actually on her first date! Yang uses parallel editing across space and time to suggest that history repeats itself, generation after generation.


CUT-IN, CUT AWAY

An instantaneous shift from a distant framing to a closer view of some portion fo the same space, and vice versa. In Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark ( Denmark, 2000) Selma and Bill have a dramatic conversation in Bill’s car that is framed by a cut-in and a cut-away.

The two cuts neatly bracket Bill’s anguished confession as a separate moment, private and isolated, that only Selma knows about. This editing-constructed secrecy will ultimately have drastic consequences for Selma.


DISSOLVE

A transition between two shots during which the first image gradually disappears while the second image gradually appears; for a moment the two images blend in superimposition. Dissolves can be used as a fairly straighforward editing device to link any two scenes, or in more creative ways, for instance to suggest hallucinatory states. In this series of shots from The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento, 1996), a young woman becomes so absorbed by Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus that she actually dives into the painting’s sea! (at least in her imagination, in “real life” she faints).


IRIS

A round, moving mask that can close down to end a scene (iris-out) or emphasize a detail, or it can open to begin a scene (iris-in) or to reveal more space around a detail. For instance, in this scene from Neighbors (Buster Keaton, 1920), the iris is used with the comic effect of gradually revealing that the female protagonist is 1) ready for her wedding and 2) ready for her not-too-luxurious wedding.

Iris is a common device of early films (at at time when some techniques like zooming were not feasible), so much so that when it is used after 1930 it is often perceived as charminlgly anachronistic or nostalgic, as in Truffaut’s Shoot the Piano Player (1960).


JUMP CUT

An elliptical cut that appears to be an interruption of a single shot. Either the figures seem to change instantly against a constant background, or the background changes instantly while the figures remain constant. See also elliptical editingsteadicam.Jump cuts are anathema to Classical Hollywood continuity editing, but feature prominently in avant-garde and radical filmmaking.When the French Nouvelle Vague films of the 1960s made jump cuts an essential part of their playful, modern outlook, many directors from around the globe started to use jump cuts –either creatively or in a last ditch attempt to become “hip”. More recently, jump cuts are more commonly associated with music videos, video or alternative filmmaking, like Lars Von Trier’s Dogma films. Here is an example from Dancer in the Dark (Denmark, 2000).

    

Jump cuts are used expressively, to suggest the ruminations or ambivalences of a character, or of his/her everyday life, but they are also a clear signifier of rupture with mainstream film storytelling. Rather than presenting a film as a perfectly self-contained story that seamlessly unfold in front of us, jump cuts are like utterances that evidentiates both the artificiality and the difficulties of telling such a story.


ESTABLISHING SHOT/REESTABLISHING SHOT

A shot, usually involving a distant framing, that shows the spatial relations among the important figures, objects, and setting in a scene. Usually, the first few shots in a scene are establishing shots, as they introduces us to a location and the space relationships inside it.

In the initial sequence from Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Honk Kong,1986), director Tsui Hark uses three shots to establish the locale. In the first one, three musicians are shown against a fireplace in what looks like a luxurious room. Our suspicions are confirmed by the second establishing shot, which shows us the other half of the ample room (shot/ reverse shot) and reveals a party going on.

   

After this introduction, the camera moves forward with several close-ups of both the musicians and the spectators. At the end of the sequence, Hark shows us the entire room in a larger shot. This final establishing shot is called areestablishing shot, for it shows us once again the spatial relationships introduced with the establishing shots.


SHOT/REVERSE SHOT

Two or more shots edited together that alternate characters, typically in a conversation situation. In continuity editing, characters in one framing usually look left, in the other framing, right. Over-the-shoulder framings are common in shot/reverse-shot editing. Shot / reverse shots are one of the most firmly established conventions in cinema, and they are usually linked through the equally persuasive eyeline matches. These conventions have become so strong that they can be exploited to make improbable meanings convincing, as in this sequence from The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy,1996). Director Dario Argento has his protagonist Anna looking at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus (c1485)…

…but with the use of successive shot/ reverse shots, eyeline matches and matching framings, it soons begins to look as if Venus herself is looking at Anna!


SUPERIMPOSITION

The exposure of more than one image on the same film strip. Unlike a dissolve, a superimposition does not signify a transition from one scene to another. The technique was often used to allow the same performer to appear simultaneously as two characters on the screen (for example Son of the Sheik), to express subjective or intoxicated vision (The Last Laugh), or simply to introduce a narrative element from another part of the diegetic world into the scene. In this clip from Neighbors (Buster Keaton, 1920), the resentful father of the bride looks at the wedding ring and immediately associates in his mind with a five and dime store. The subjective shot gives us a clear indication of his opinion of his soon to be son-in-law.

    


WIPE

A transition betwen shots in which a line passes across the screen, eliminating the first shot as it goes and replacing it with the next one. A very dynamic and noticeable transition, it is usually employed in action or adventure films. It often suggest a brief temporal ellypsis and a direct connection between the two images. In this example from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (Sichinin No Samurai, Japan, 1954), the old man’s words are immediately corroborated by the wandering, destitute samurai coming into town.

As other transitions devices, like the whip pan, wipes became fashionable at an specific historical time (the 1950s and 1960s), so much so as to became stylistic markers of the film of the period.


b) MATCHES

Editing matches refer to those techniques that join as well as divide two shots by making some form of connection between them. That connection can be inferred from the situation portrayed in the scene (for example, eyeline match) or can be of a purely optical nature (graphic match).


EYELINE MATCH

A cut obeying the axis of action principle, in which the first shot shows a person off in one direction and the second shows a nearby space containing what he or she sees. If the person looks left, the following shot should imply that the looker is offscreen right. The following shots from Dario Argento’s The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy, 1996), depict Anna looking at a painting, Brueghel’s The Fall of Icarus. The scene takes place inside Firenze’s most famous museum, the Uffizi Gallery.

 First we see her looking… then we see what she looks at.

As her interest grows, the eyeline match (that is the connection between looker and looked) is stressed with matching close-ups of Anna’s face and Icarus’s falling into the ocean in the painting.Again, this implies that Anna is looking directly at Icarus’s body.

Ironically, even if Argento managed to film inside the real Uffizi gallery, the painting he wanted to use, The Fall of Icarus, is not part of the museum’s collection! The painting that we see is probably a reproduction, shot in the studio, and edited together with Anna’s shots in the Uffizi to make us believe that they are both in the same room. As this example demonstrates, eyeline matches can be a very persuasive tool to construct space in a film, real or imagined.


GRAPHIC MATCH

Two successive shots joined so as to create a strong similarity of compositional elements (e.g., color, shape). Used in trasparent continuity styles to smooth the transition between two shots, as in this clip from Women On The Verge Of A Nervous Breakdown (Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios, Almodóvar, 1988).

   

Graphic matches can also be used to make metaphorical associations, as in Soviet Montage style. Furthermore, some directors like Ozu Yasujiro use graphic matches as an integral part of their film style.


MATCH ON ACTION

A cut which splices two different views of the same action together at the same moment in the movement, making it seem to continue uninterrupted. Quite logically, these characteristics make it one of the most common transitions in thecontinuity style. Here is an example from Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000)

A match on action adds variety and dinamism to a scene, since it conveys two movements: the one that actually takes place on screen, and an implied one by the viewer, since her/his position is shifted.


c) DURATION

Only since the introduction of editing to the cinema at the turn of the 20th century has not-editing become an option. The decision to extend a shot can be as significant as the decision to cut it. Editing can affect the experience of time in the cinema by creating a gap between screen time and diegetic time (Montage and overlapping editing) or by establishing a fast or slow rhythm for the scene.


LONG TAKE, aka PLAN-SEQUENCE

A shot that continues for an unusually lengthy time before the transition to the next shot. The average lenght per shot differs greatly for different times and places, but most contemporary films tend to have faster editing rates. In general lines, any shot above one minute can be considered a long take. Here is an excerpt from the initial shot of Robert Altman’s The Player (1992) which not only runs for more than eight minutes, but it is in itself an hommage to another famous long take, the first shot of Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958).

Unless shot at a fixed angle, with a fixed camera and no movement, long takes are extremely hard to shoot. They have to be choreographed and rehearsed to the last detail, since any error would make it necessary to start all over again from scratch. Sophisticated long takes such as this one from The Player, which includes all kinds of camera movements and zooms, are often seen as auteuristic marks of virtuosity. Aside from the challenge of shooting in real time, long takes decisively influence a film’s rhythm. Depending on how much movement is included, a long take can make a film tense, stagnant and spell-binding, or daring, flowing and carefree.Indeed, directors like Altman, Welles, Renoir, Angelopoulos, Tarkovski or Mizoguchi have made long takes (usually in combination with deep focus and deep space) an essential part of their film styles.


OVERLAPPING EDITING

Cuts that repeat part or all of an action, thus expanding its viewing time and plot duration. Most commonly associated with experimental filmmmaking, due to its temporally disconcerting and purely graphic nature, it is also featured in films in which action and movement take precedence over plot and dialogue: sports documentaries, musicals, martial arts, etc. Overlapping editing is a common characteristic of the frenzied Hong Kong action films of the 80s and 90s. When director John Woo moved to Hollywood, he tried to incorporate some of that style into mainstream action films, such as Mission: Impossible 2 (2000).


RHYTHM

The perceived rate and regularity of sounds, series of shots, and movements within the shots. Rhythmic factors include beat (or pulse), accent (or stress), and tempo (or pace). Rhythm is one of the essential features of a film, for it decisively contributes to its mood and overall impression on the spectator. It is also one of the most complex to analyze, since it is achieved through the combination of mise-en-scene, cinematography, sound and editing. Indeed, rhythm can be understood as the final balance all of the elements of a film. Let us compare how rhythm can radically alter the treatment of a similar scene. These two clips from Deconstructing Harry (Woody Allen, 1997) and Cries and Whispers (Viskingar Och Rop, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden1972) feature a couple at a table, and both clips feature a moment of fracture between the two characters. Still, they could not be more dissimilar. Allen employs fast cuts (even jump cuts), pans, quick dialogue and gesturing, as he concentrates exclusively on the two characters, shot from a variety of angles but always in medium close-up and close-up.

Even if both characters overtly disagree with each other, there is an overall feeling of warmth and inmediacy between them, suggested by their proximity (established in short pans and close-ups) and in the tone of their speech. The quick camera movements and different camera placements suggest the uneasiness of both characters, as they budge on their seats.

Cries and Whispers, on the other hand, present us with a scene of horrifying stillness. Bergman accentuates the separation between man and woman by shooting them frontally and almost eliminating dialogue. In this context, even the smallest sounds of forks and knives sound ominous; a glass shattering resonates like a shot.

Furthermore, the mise-en-scene becomes as equally, if not more, important than the characters, reducing everything to dour red, black and whites. The feeling of claustrophobia is enhanced by the use of shallow space, having the characters become one with the austere backgrounds. Pace is deliberately slow, and it only quickes when the glass breaks and both characters lift up their heads, only to immediately return to normal. Bergman accelerates the rhythm for a second, punctuating the moment of the glass breaking so that a trivial incident is magnified into a clear signal of disaster.

Lastly, rhythm is, almost by definition, intrisically related to music and sound. Some of the most striking examples of the use of music as a film’s driving force occur in the (endlessly imitated) spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone, which were written in close collaboration with composer Ennio Morricone. In fact, sometimes the music would be composed first and then a scene that fitted that rhythm would be shot, thus reversing the customary order.

The prelude to the final shotdown of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo, Italy, 1966) runs for several minutes (of which we only see the last minute here), as three men face each other in a triangle, waiting to see who will take the first step. One of the film’s theme songs is played in its entirety, from a slow, elegiac beginning to a frenzy crescendo that is abruptly cut off by the first gunshot. The slow mounting crescendo is paralleled by an increase in the editing rate, and an intensified framing (the sequence actually begins on a long shot similar to the previous one).


Section 2 – Styles

The patterned use of transitions, matches and duration can be identified as a cinematic style. Editing styles are usually associated with historical moments, technological developments, or national schools.

CONTINUITY EDITING

A system of cutting to maintain continuous and clear narrative action. Continuity editing relies upon matching screen direction, position, and temporal relations from shot to shot. The film supports the viewer’s assumption that space and time are contiguous between successive shots. Also, the diegesis is more readily understood when directions on the screen match directions in the world of the film. The “180° rule,” shown in the diagram below, dictates that the camera should stay in one of the areas on either side of the axis of action (an imaginary line drawn between the two major dramatic elements A and B in a scene, usually two characters).

By following this rule the filmmaker ensures that each character occupies a consistent area of the frame, helping the audience to understand the layout of the scene. This sense of a consistent space is reinforced by the use of techniques such as the eyeline match or match on action. In this sequence from Neighbors (Buster Keaton, 1920), continuity is maintained by the spatial and temporal contiguity of the shots and the preservation of direction between world and screen. More importantly, the shots are matched on Keaton’s actions as he shuttles across the courtyard from stairwell to stairwell.

In the Hollywood continuity editing system the angle of the camera axis to the axis of action usually changes by more than 30 ° between two shots, for example in a conversation scene rendered as a series of shot/reverse shots. The 180° line is not usually crossed unless the transition is smoothed by a POV shot or a reestablishing shot.


MONTAGE

1. A synonym for editing. 2. An approach to editing developed by the Soviet filmmakers of the 1920s such as Pudovkin, Vertov and Eisenstein; it emphasizes dynamic, often discontinuous, relationships between shots and the juxtaposition of images to create ideas not present in either shot by itself. Sergei Eisenstein, in particular, developed a complex theory of montage that included montage within the shot, between sound and image, multiple levels of overtones, as well as in the conflict between two shots. This sequence from October (Oktyabr, USSR, 1927) is an example of Eisenstein’s intellectual montage. The increasingly primitive icons from various world religions are linked by patterns of duration, screen direction and shot scale to produce the concept of religion as a degenerate practice used to legitimate corrupt states.

Soviet Montage proved to be influential around the world for commercial as well as avant-garde filmmakers. We can see echoes of Pudovkin in The Grapes of Wrath (John Ford, USA, 1939), Mother India (Mehboob Khan, India, 1957), and The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, USA, 1973). In a famous sequence from the latter film, shots of Michael attending his son’s baptism are intercut with the brutal killings of his rivals. Rather than stressing the temporal simultaneity of the events (it is highly unlikely that all of the New York Mafia heads can be caught off guard at exactly the same time!), the montage suggests Michael’s dual nature and committement to both his “families”, as well as his ability to gain acceptance into both on their own terms — through religion and violence.


ELLIPTICAL EDITING

Shot transitions that omit parts of an event, causing an ellipses in plot and story duration. In this clip from Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000), a drug party is rendered through elliptical editing (achieved with a plentiful use of dissolvesand jump cuts) in order to both shorten the time and suggest the character’s rambling mental states.

Elliptical editing need not be confined to a same place and time. A seven-minute song sequence from Hum Aapke Hain Koun (Sooraj Bartjatya, India 1994) dances us through several months in the life of a family, from a cricket match to a ritual welcoming a new wife.

   

from scenes of the newlyweds’ daily life… to the announcement of Pooja’s pregnacy,

   

from a gift shower for the upcoming baby… to multiple scenes of celebrations, as Pooja’s approaches her ninth month.

   

 

Part 3: Cinematography

Section 1 – Quality

This section explores some of the elements at play in the construction of a shot. As the critics at Cahiers du cinéma maintained, the “how” is as important as the “what” in the cinema. The look of an image, its balance of dark and light, the depth of the space in focus, the relation of background and foreground, etc. all affect the reception of the image. For instance, the optical qualities of grainy black and white in Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo, Maarakat madinat al Jazaer, Algeria, 1965) seem to guarantee its authenticity. On the other hand, the shimmering Technicolor of a musical such as Singin’ in the Rain (Stanley Donen, 1952) suggests an out-of-this-world glamor and excitement.

 


COLOR

Early films were shot in black and white but the cinema soon included color images. These images were initially painted or stencilled onto the film but by the 1930s filmmakers were able to include color sequences in their films. Apart from the added realism or glamor that a color image could provide, color is also used to create aesthetic patterns and to establish character or emotion in narrative cinema.

In Federico Fellini’s extravagant Juliet of the Spirits (Giulietta degli Spiriti, 1965) colors separate the bourgeois reality and the fantasy daydreamings of the title character, who partyhops between black and white and reds and purples.

   

Juliet of the Spirits was the first Fellini film in color, and he intended to make full use of it. In order to further enhance the contrast with his previous work, he cast his favorite actress and wife Giulietta Massina, the protagonist of Fellini’s earlier successes such as Nights of Cabiria (Le Notti di Cabiria, 1957) in which she plays a destitute hooker in a grim suburban environment. Now Fellini has the same actress play a rich housewife in luscious technicolor, obviously signaling a clear turning point from his early Neorealism-inspired films.

   

Contrary to popular belief (and Goethe), colors do not necessarily carry exclusive meanings. Compare the use of red in Ingmar Bergman’s Cries and Whispers (Viskingar Och Rop, 1972),

   

and Zhang Yimou’s Ju Dou (1990), for example.

   

While Zhang exploits red as a cliched signifier of unrestrained passion, Bergman associates the color with stagnation and contaminated blood.


CONTRAST

The ratio of dark to light in an image. If the difference between the light and dark areas is large, the image is said to be “high contrast”. If the difference is small, it is referred to as “low contrast” Most films use low contrast to achieve a more naturalistic lighting. High contrast is usually associated with the low key lighting of dark scenes in genres such as the horror film and the film noir. A common cliche is to use contrast between light and dark to distinguish between good and evil. The use of contrast in a scene may draw on racist or sexist connotations.

For instance, this shot from Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil (1958) employs high contrast to further emphasize racial differences between a blonde American woman and a menacing Mexican man.


DEEP FOCUS

Like deep space, deep focus involves staging an event on film such that significant elements occupy widely separated planes in the image. Unlike deep space, deep focus requires that elements at very different depths of the image both be in focus. In these two shots from Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958) Besieged (L’Assedio, Bernardo Bertolucci,1998) all of the different planes of the image are given equal importance through deep focus, not only to the characters (like the man peeking at the window in the first image), but also to the spaces (Shanduray’s basement room in the second).

   

While deep focus may be used occasionally, some auteurs use it consistently for they believe it achieves a truer representation of space. Directors like Jean Renoir, Orson Welles, Hou Hsao-Hsien, or Abbas Kiarostami all use deep focus as an essential part of their signature style.


SHALLOW FOCUS

A restricted depth of field, which keeps only one plane in sharp focus; the opposite of deep focus. Used to direct the viewer’s attention to one element of a scene. Shallow focus is very common in close-up, as in these two shots fromCentral Station (Central do Brasil, Walter Selles, Brazil, 1998).

 

   

Shallow focus suggests psychological introspection, since a character appears as oblivious to the world around her/him. It is therefore commonly employed in genres such as the melodrama, where the actions and thoughts of an individual prevail over everything else.


DEPTH OF FIELD

The distance through which elements in an image are in sharp focus. Bright light and a narrow lens aperture tend to produce a larger depth of field, as does using a wide-angle rather than a long lens. A shallow depth of field is often used as a technique to focus audience attention on the most significant aspect of a scene without having to use an analytic cut-in.

Depth of field is directly connected, but not to be confused, with focus. Focus is the quality (the “sharpness” of an object as it is registered in the image) and depth of field refers to the extent to which the space represented is in focus. For a given lens aperture and level of lighting, the longer the focal distance (the distance between the lens and the object that is in focus) the greater the focal depth. For a given focal distance, the greater the level of lighting or the narrower the aperture, the greater the focal depth. For that reason, close-up shooting and shooting in low light conditions often results in images with very shallow depth of field. An image with shallow depth of field, as this frame fromPeking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark , 1986), has some elements in focus, but others are not.


EXPOSURE

A camera lens has an aperture that controls how much light passes through the lens and onto the film. If the aperture is widened, more light comes through and the resultant image will become more exposed. If an image is so pale that the detail begins to disappear, it can be described as “overexposed”. Conversely, a narrow aperture that allows through less light will produce a darker image than normal, known as “underexposed”. Exposure can be manipulated to guide an audience’s response to a scene.

In his film Traffic (2000), Steven Soderbergh decided to shot all of the sequences in the Northern Mexico desert overexposed. The resulting images give an impression of a barren, desolated land being mercilessly burnt by the sun, a no-man’s land over which police and customs have no control.


RACKING FOCUS

Racking focus refers to the practice of changing the focus of a lens such that an element in one plane of the image goes out of focus and an element at another plane in the image comes into focus. This technique is an even more overt way of steering audience attention through the scene, as well as of linking two spaces or objects. For instance in this scene from Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark, Honk Kong, 1986), a connection is made between an activist in hiding and a police officer who is pursuing him.

Racking focus is usually done quite quickly; in a way, the technique tries to mimick a brief, fleeting glance that can be used to quicken the tempo or increase suspense.


RATE

A typical sound film is shot at a frame rate of 24 frames per second. If the number of frames exposed in each second is increased, the action will seem to move more slowly than normal when it is played back. Conversely, the fewer the number of frames exposed each second, the more rapid the resulting action appears to be. The extreme case of frame rate manipulation is stop-motion, when the camera takes only one frame then the subject is manipulated or allowed to change before taking another frame.

In this clip from Vertov’s Man with the Movie Camera (Chelovek s kinoapparatom, USSR, 1929) stop motion is used to give the impression than the chairs open up by themselves.

In Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (Shichinin no samurai, Japan, 1954), slow motion is used to contrast the emotional rescue of a child with the death of the man who kidnapped him.


TELEPHOTO SHOT

An image shot with an extremely long lens is called a telephoto shot. The effect of using a long lens is to compress the apparent depth of an image, so that elements that are relatively close or far away from the camera seem to lie at approximately the same distance. In this first shot from Payback (Brian Helgeland, 1999), we can clearly see there is a considerable distance beteen the fallen body and the red car.

Yet, when a telephoto lens is used for a close-up of Mel Gibson, his face looks like it is pressed against the car! Here a telephoto lens create a shallow space, which combines with extreme canted framing to suggest the physical and psychological disarray of a man who has been betrayed, shot, and left for dead.


ZOOM SHOT

The zoom shot uses a lens with several elements that allows the filmmaker to change the focal length of the lens (see telephoto shot) while the shot is in progress. We seem to move toward or away from the subject, while the quality of the image changes from that of a shorter to a longer lens, or vice versa. The change in apparent distance from the subject is similar to the crane or tracking shots, but changes in depth of field and apparent size is quite different. Zooms are commonly used at the beginning of a scene, or even a film, to introduce an object or character by focusing on it. In the initial sequence of The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento, Italy, 1996), the camera zooms from a medium long shot of people cueing up at a museum’s entrance to a medium close-up of the female protagonist.

Few cinematic techniques are used in isolation. Notice how the woman “helps” the zoom to achieve its purpose of singling her out by moving around.

In another clip from the same film, a zooms is used to offer a more detailed view of an object. Furthermore, as we move closer and closer to the painting (Caravaggio’s Head of Medusa, 1590-1600) , both our attention and tension are increased.

 


Section 2 – Framing

In one sense, cinema is an art of selection. The edges of the image create a “frame” that includes or excludes aspects of what occurs in front of the camera — the “profilmic event”. The expressive qualities of framing include the angle of the camera to the object, the aspect ratio of the projected image, the relationship between camera and object, and the association of camera with character. In Cruel Story of Youth (Seishun zankoku monogatari, Oshima Nagisa, 1960) the radical decentering of the character in relation to the frame marks their failed struggle to find a place in their world.


ANGLE OF FRAMING

Many films are shot with a camera that appears to be at approximately the same height as its subject. However, it is possible to film from a position that is significantly lower or higher than the dominant element of the shot. In that case, the image is described as low angle or high angle respectively. Angle of framing can be used to indicate the relation between a character and the camera’s point of view. Or can simply be used to create striking visual compositions.

Camera angle is often used to suggest either vulnerability or power. In The Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda,1999) the father, who rules absolute over his family, is often portrayed from a low angle, therefore aggrandizing his figure.

  

On the other hand, his blind son Mohammad and his elderly grandmother are often shot from a high angle, emphasizing their dependence and smallness. These interpretations are not exclusive, however. The relation between camera and subject can be rendered ironic, or it may suggest more the subject of perception than to the state of the object. The father in this film is so busy smiling at his fiancee that he falls off his horse, while Mohammed and her granny seen from above may also indicate that God is watching over them, and keeping them under protection.


ASPECT RATIO

The ratio of the horizontal to the vertical sides of an image. Until the 1950s almost all film was shot in a 4:3 or 1.33:1 aspect ratio. Some filmmakers used multiple projectors to create a wider aspect ratio whereas others claimed that the screen should be square, not rectangular. Widescreen formats became more popular in the 1950s and now films are made in a variety of aspect ratios — some of the most common being 1.66:1, 1.76:1, 1.85:1, and 2.35:1 (cinemascope).

Widescreen films are often trimmed for television or video release, effectively altering the original compositions. Some DVD’s have the option of showing the film in its original format and in a reduced ratio that fits the TV screen. Compare the same frame from Bertolucci’s Besieged (L’Assedio, 1998). Objects appear much more cramped with the reduced aspect ratio, giving an impression of physical (and psychological) space different from the theatrical release.

   


LEVEL OF FRAMING

Not only the angle from which a camera films but the height can also be a significant element in a film. A low-level camera is placed close to the ground whereas a high-level camera would be placed above the typical perspective shown in the cinema. Camera level is used to signify sympathy for characters who occupy particular levels in the image, or just to create pleasurable compositions. Camera level is obviously used to a greater advantage when the difference in height bewteen objects or characters is greater. In The Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda, Iran, 1999) Majid Majidi uses different camera height to emphasize the difference between Mohammad and his father.

   

In the first image, the camera concentrates on Mohammad as he recognizes his father’s hand, after patiently waiting for him for hours. The father is almost absent from the scene; only the part of him that Mohammad touches is visible, therefore increasing our empathy with the blind boy. On the second image, camera level is adjusted to the father’s size, making Mohammed a puny, defenceless figure in a world that overcomes him. The first shot is on Mohammad’s School for the Blind, while the second is on a shop in Tehran. Through different camera levels, the director makes clear where Mohammad’s fits and where he does not.


CANTED FRAMING

Canted Framing is a view in which the frame is not level; either the right or left side is lower than the other, causing objects in the scene to appear slanted out of an upright positon.Canted framings are used to create an impression of chaos and instability. They are therefore associated with the frantic rhythms of action films, music videos and animation.

Many Hong Kong films of the 80s and 90s blend elements of the genres mentioned above, for instance Tsui Hark’s Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, 1986). These films employ unconventional framings to achieve their signature dizzing, freewheeling style. Canted framings are also common when shooting with a Steadycam.


FOLLOWING SHOT

A shot with framing that shifts to keep a moving figure onscreen. A following shot combines a camera movement, like panningtrackingtilting or craning, with the specific function of directing our attention to a character or object as he/she/it moves inside the frame. In this shot from Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) the camera pans slightly to accompany a couple into the ballroom floor.


REFRAMING

Short panning or tilting movements to adjust for the figures’ movements, keeping them onscreen or centered. An important technique of continuity editing, thanks to its unobstrusive nature. The characters’ actions take precedence over the camera movements, as in this dancing scene from Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999)


POINT-OF-VIEW SHOT

A shot taken with the camera placed approximately where the character’s eyes would be, showing what the character would see; usually cut in before or after a shot of the character looking. Horror films and thrillers often use POV shots to suggest a menacing and unseen presence in the scene. Films that use many point-of-view shots tend toward dynamic and non-naturalistic style. In this clip from Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark, Hong Kong, 1986) the female impersonator’s fear of the soldier who attempts to procure him for his general is rendered comic by the cut to POV and wide angle.

POV is one of the means by which audiences are encouraged to identify with characters. However, it is actually a relatively rare technique: identificatory mechanisms rely more on sympathetic character and the flow of narrative information than on simple optical affiliation.


WIDE ANGLE LENS

A lens of short focal length that affects a scene’s perspective by distorting straight lines near the edges of the frame and by exaggerating the distance between foreground and background planes. In doing so it allows for more space to enter the frame (hence the name “wide”), which makes it more convenient for shooting in a closed location, for instance a real room, rather than a three-wall studio room. In addition, a wider lens allows for a bigger depth of field. In 35mm filming, a wide angle lens is 30mm or less. See also telephoto lens.

Since a wide angle lens distorts the edges of an image, as in this frame from Yi Yi (Edward Yang, Taiwan, 2000), extreme wide lenses are avoided in naturalistic styles, or they are used in unrestrained or open spaces, with no converging lines around the edges of the frame.


Section 3 – Scale

If the same object were filmed at different shot scales it would often signify quite differently. Shot scale can foster intimacy with a character, or conversely, it can swallow the character in its environment.Orson Welles exploited divergent shot scales in Citizen Kane (1941) to demonstrate the changing power relationship between Charles Foster Kane and his lawyer. As a boy, his figure is lost in the snow at the back of the shot as the lawyer arranges for his adoption. As a young man he rebels against Bernstein’s oversight, rising in the frame as he asserts himself.

 


EXTREME LONG SHOT

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is very small; a building, landscape, or crowd of people will fill the screen. Usually the first or last shots of a sequence, that can also function as establishing shots.. The following examples of framing from Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) and A Summer Tale (Conte d’Été, Eric Rohmer, 1996) well illustrate the range of uses for this particular shot scale.

These two extreme long shots are also establishing shots. However, their primary function is different. Whereas Rohmer give us a standard establishing shot that introduces the locale where the main characters are about to meet, Kubrick uses the ballroom shot mainly as a brief transition between two more important scenes. While the two shots above have similar sizes, some extreme long shots can be significantly larger, particularly if shot from the air with the help of cranes or helicopters. This kind of extreme long shot is also called bird’s eye view shot, since it gives an aerial perspective of the scene.


LONG SHOT

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is small; a standing human figure would appear nearly the height of the screen. It makes for a relatively stable shot that can accomodate movement without reframing. It is therefore commonly used in genres where a full body action is to be seen in its entirety, for instance Hollywood Musicals or 1970s Martial Arts films.

Another advantage of the long shot is that it allows to show a character and her/his surroundings in a single frame, as in these two images from Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999) and A Summer Tale (Conte d’Été, Eric Rohmer, 1996).


MEDIUM LONG SHOT

Framing such than an object four or five feet high would fill most of the screen vertically. Also called plain américain, given its recurrence in the Western genre, where it was important to keep a cowboy’s weapon in the image.

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

A Summer Tale (Conte d’Été) France Eric Rohmer, 1996


MEDIUM CLOSE-UP

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is fairly large; a human figure seen from the chest up would fill most of the screen. Another common shot scale.

Eyes Wide Shut (Stanley Kubrick, 1999)

  A Summer Tale (Conte d’Été, Eric Rohmer, 1996)


CLOSE-UP

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is relatively large. In a close-up a person’s head, or some other similarly sized object, would fill the frame. Framing scales are not universal, but rather established in relationship with other frames from the same film. These two shots from Eyes Wide Shut and A Summer Tale can be described as close-ups, even if one starts at the neck and the second at the upper chest..

Framing scales are usually drawn in relationship to the human figure but this can be misleading since a frame need not include people. Accordingly, this shot from The Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda, Majid Majidi, Iran,1999) is also a close-up.


EXTREME CLOSE-UP

A framing in which the scale of the object shown is very large; most commonly, a small object or a part of the body usually shot with a zoom lens. Again, faces are the most recurrent images in extreme close-ups, as these images fromThe Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda,Majid Majidi, 1999),

The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento, 1996),

  

and My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari No Totoro, Miyazaki Hayao, 1988) demonstrate. With regard to the latter, it should be noted that while all of these film terms equally applies to animation, the technical procedure to achieve a particular effect can be very different. For instance this last frame is a drawing of Totoro’s teeth, not a zoom on his face, as it would have been the case in a live-action film.


Section 4 – Movement

There are many ways to move a camera: in fluid long takes, rapid and confusing motions, etc. that establish the rhythm and point of view of a scene.A film such as Man with the Movie Camera ( Chelovek s kinoapparatom, Dziga Vertov, USSR, 1929) features a full catalog of the creative possibilities open to the film camera. In one famous sequence, we get to see the cinematographer using a car as a mobile support for a tracking shot. Furthermore, one soon realizes that the whole process is probably being mirrored by a second car, in order to film the first one.

 

Scenes taken from both cameras are playfully incorporated into the film. Was this image of the car passing by taken by the first or the second car/camera unit?

 


CRANE SHOT

A shot with a change in framing rendered by having the camera above the ground and moving through the air in any direction. It is accomplished by placing the camera on a crane (basically, a large cantilevered arm) or similar device. Crane shots are often long or extreme long shots: they lend the camera a sense of mobility and often give the viewer a feeling of omniscience over the characters.

Crane shots can also be used to achieve a flowing rhythm, particularly in a long take, as in this clip from The Player (Altman, 1992)


HANDHELD CAMERA, STEADYCAM

The use of the camera operator’s body as a camera support, either holding it by hand or using a gyroscopic stabilizer and a harness. Newsreel and wartime camera operators favored smaller cameras such as the Eclair that were quickly adopted by documentarist and avant-garde filmmakers, notably the cinéma verité movement of the 1950s and 1960s. They were also used by young filmmakers since they were cheap and lent the images a greater feeling of sponteneity. At the time this challenge to prevailing standards was perceived as anti-cinematic but eventually it came to be accepted as a style. Whereas hand held cameras give a film an unstable, jerky feel, they also allows for a greater degree of movement and flexibility than bulkier standard cameras –at a fraction of the cost. Filmmakers now are experimenting with digital video in a similar way. Gyroscopically stabilized “steadicams” were invented in the 1970s and made it possible to create smooth “tracking” shots without cumbersome equipment. More recently, they are extensively used in music videos and in the films of the Dogme movement, such as Lars Von Trier’s Dancer in the Dark(Denmark, 2000)

Ironically, while today’s steadicams allow for a fairly stable image, Lars Von Trier and his accolites prefer to exacerbate the jerkiness and unstability traditionally associated with these cameras as a marker of visceral autorial intervention. In fact, combining steadicam shooting with aggressive reframings and jump cuts , or even by shooting on low definition formats, Dogme and other radical filmmaking movements attempt to create a new cinematic look as further away as possible from mainstream Hollywood.


PAN

A camera movement with the camera body turning to the right or left. On the screen, it produces a mobile framing which scans the space horizontally. A pan directly and immediately connects two places or characters, thus making us aware of their proximity. The speed at which a pan occurs can be expoited for different dramatic purposes. For instance, in a Mizoguchi or a Hou film, two characters may be having a conversation in a room, and after several minutes, the camera might pan and reveal a third person was also present, thus changing the whole implication of the scene. In a film like Traffic (Steven Soderbergh, 2000), on the other hand, pans are usually very quick, suggesting that characters have no time to waste, and that decisions must be taken fast, therefore contributing to the sense of imminent danger and moral urgency that the films tries to communicate.

In the clip above, the defense lawyer has just finished a long, clever speech, yet the judge has no second thoughts on his verdict, nor any pity for the (presumably guilty) accused and their rich legal cohorts. Lastly, a pan does not necessarily mean that the camera moves along an horizontal line. This clip from The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento,1996), illustrates what we could call a 360° pan.


TILT

A camera movement with the camera body swiveling upward or downward on a stationary support. It produces a mobile framing that scans the space vertically. Its function is similar to that of pans and tracking shots, albeit on a vertical axis. In this clip from Besieged (L’Assedio, Italy, 1998) Bernardo Bertolucci uses a tilt to establish the social (and even racial) distance between an African housemaid and her wealthy English employer.

A tilt usually also implies a change in the angle of framing; in this clip the camera starts with a high angle view of the woman and ends up on a low angle view of the man –which obviously reinforces the social inequality of their relationship. Lastly, a tilt is also a means of gradually uncovering offscreen space. This can be exploited for suspense, since a sense of anticipation grows in the viewer as the camera movement forces her/his attention in a precise direction, yet never knowing when it will stop, nor what will be found there.


TRACKING SHOT

A mobile framing that travels through space forward, backward, or laterally. See also crane shotpan, and tilt. A tracking shot usually follows a character or object as it moves along the screen. Contrary to the pan, which mimicks a turning head, a tracking shot physically accompanies the entire range of movement. It therefore creates a closer affinity with the character or object moving, since the spectator is not just watching him/her moving, but moving withhim/her. A standard tracking shot, as it was devised in the Classical Studio filmmaking, consisted in placing the camera on a wheeled support called a dolly, and moving it along rails or tracks to ensure the smoothness of movement associated with the continuity editing style. As cameras became lighter and steadier, tracking shots became more flexible and creative: bycicles, wheelchairs, roller skates, and many ingenious wheeled artifacts augmented the range of movement of tracking shots. In this clip from Central Station (Central do Brasil, Walter Salles, Brazil, 1998), one ininterrupted movement is rendered with two different tracking shots, linked by a match on action.

The first is a classic tracking shot, with the camera on rails sideways to the character that is moving, following the child as the trains departs. The second uses the train as a dolly, as it moves away from the running child. Indeed, tracking shots are one of the most suggestive and creative camera movements, one that can be accomplished in a number of clever ways. Not surprisingly, some auteurs like Max Ophuls or Orson Welles made virtuosistic tracking shots a staple of their films, often in conjuntion with long takes.


WHIP PAN

An extremely fast movement of the camera from side to side, which briefly causes the image to blur into a set of indistinct horizontal streaks. Often an imperceptible cut will join two whip pans to create a trick transition between scenes. As opposed to dissolvesaction or graphic matches, and fades –the most common transitions of the continuity style– whip pans always stand out, given their abrupt, brisk nature. Commonly used in flashy action genres such as kung-fu movies from the 70s, like Fists of Fury (Tang Shan Da Xiong, Wei Lo, Honk Kong, 1971).

 

Part 2: Mise-en-scene

Mise-en-scene

The representation of space affects the reading of a film. Depth, proximity, size and proportions of the places and objects in a film can be manipulated through camera placement and lenses, lightingdecor, effectively determining mood or relationships between elements in the diegetic world.


Section 1 – Decor

An important elememt of “putting in the scene” is décor, the objects contained in and the setting of a scene. Décor can be used to amplify character emotion or the dominant mood of a film. In these shots from 2001: A Space Odyssey(Stanley Kubrick, 1969) the futuristic furniture and reduced color scheme stress the sterility and impersonality of the space station environment. Later, the digital nature of the HAL computer is represented by the repeating patterns and strong geometrical design of the set.

   

In Senso (Luchino Visconti, Italy, 1954) décor emphazises the social difference between a wealthy married woman in her richly furnished apartment and her soldier lover in the barren military barracks. Ultimately, she finds the contrast so appalling that she ruins her reputation and financial standing in order to satisfy her lover’s desire for a luxurious lifestyle.

 

 


REAR PROJECTION

Usually used to combine foreground action, often actors in conversation, with a background often shot earlier, on location. Rear projection provides an economical way to set films in exotic or dangerous locations without having to transport expensive stars or endure demanding conditions. In some films, the relationship between scenes shot on location and scenes shot using rear projection becomes a signifying pattern. In other films, it’s just cheap…

Rear projection is featured extensively in Douglas Sirk’s lush melodrama Written On The Wind (1956). Specifically, almost every car ride is shot in this way, a common feature in Classical Hollywood films, due to the physical restrains of shooting in the studio. In addition, by speeding up the rate of the projected images in the background, or quickly changing its angle, rear projection allows for an impression of speed that involves no real danger.

 

Even if one of the protagonists of Written On The Wind is a fast-driving alcoholic millionaire (and therefore there are multiple instances of careless driving), rear projection is preferred to stunts both for economic and aesthetic reasons. For example, physical spectacle is not as important in a melodrama as it would be in an action film..


Section 2 – Lighting

The intensity, direction, and quality of lighting have a profound effect on the way an image is perceived. Light affects the way colors are rendered, both in terms of hue and depth, and can focus attention on particular elements of the composition. Much like movement in the cinema, the history of lighting technology is intrisically linked to the history of film style. Most mainstream films rely on the three-point lighting style, and its genre variations. Other films, for example documentaries and realist cinema, rely on natural light to create a sense of authenticity.


THREE-POINT LIGHTING

The standard lighting scheme for classical narrative cinema. In order to model an actor’s face (or another object) with a sense of depth, light from three directions is used, as in the diagram below. A backlight picks out the subject from its background, a bright key light highlights the object and a fill light from the opposite side ensures that the key light casts only faint shadows.

Illustration courtesy of http://www.tcf.ua.edu/TVCrit/
These shots from Written On The Wind (Douglas Sirk, 1956) demostrate the classical use of three-point lighting. Laurel Bacall and Rock Hudson are rendered glamorous by the balanced lighting. Compare this to the manipulation of lighting for expressive purposes on the high-key lighting and low-key lighting pages.

     


HIGH-KEY LIGHTING

A lighting scheme in which the fill light is raised to almost the same level as the key light. This produces images that are usually very bright and that feature few shadows on the principal subjects. This bright image is characteristic of entertainment genres such as musicals and comedies such as Peking Opera Blues (Do Ma Daan, Tsui Hark, Honk Kong, 1986)


LOW-KEY LIGHTING

A lighting scheme that employs very little fill light, creating strong contrasts between the brightest and darkest parts of an image and often creating strong shadows that obscure parts of the principal subjects. This lighting scheme is often associated with “hard-boiled” or suspense genres such as film noir. Here are some examples from Touch of Evil (Orson Welles, 1958.)


Section 3 – Space

The representation of space affects the reading of a film. Depth, proximity, size and proportions of the places and objects in a film can be manipulated through camera placement and lenses, lightingdecor, effectively determining mood or relationships between elements in the diegetic world.


DEEP SPACE

A film utilizes deep space when significant elements of an image are positioned both near to and distant from the camera. For deep space these objects do not have to be in focus, a defining characteristic of deep focus. Staging in deep space is the opposite of staging in shallow space.

Deep space is used throughout many Iranian films such as The Color of Paradise (Rang-e Khoda,1999). Director Majid Majidi likes to integrate the characters into their natural surroundings, to map out the actual distances involved between one location and another in order to emphasize just exactly how hard it is for a particular character (especially children) to move from one place to another.

In this composition, Mohammad’s father looks in apprehension at the school where his blind son is visiting.In the far background, Mohammad is playing with his sister and other “normal” children, but his father does not believe Mohammad should try to mingle with them since he could never be their equal, due to his disability. On the other hand, Mohammad enjoys the company of his new friends in the countryside much more than the School for the Blind in Tehran, where he spends most of the year. The distance between the two points of view, as well as the impossibility of communication between Mohammad and his father (the son is too respectful of his father, the father finds his son’s situation too painful), is reflected in the deep use of mise-en-scene.


FRONTALITY

Frontality refers to the staging of elements, often human figures, so that they face the camera square-on. This arrangement is an alternative to oblique staging. Frontal staging is usually avoided by the invisible style of continuity editing, since it supposedly breaks the spectator’s illusion of peeking into a separate world, by having characters look directly into the camera as if they were aware of the viewers’ presence. Some films may go even further and have the characters speak to the camera, in what is called a direct address. Accordingly, frontality is often used in films that are more willing to play with, or openly defy, the distance between the screen and the spectator. In this shot from The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Italy, 1996) Dario Argento exploits the iconicity of frontal staging in multiple ways.

First, he situates his characters on a parallel plane with the famous profile portraits of The Duke of Urbino and his wife by Piero Della Francesca. Then, he flattens the characters by making the space between them and the paintingsshallow with the use of a zoom lens, while keeping all planes in focus. As a reflexive auteur, Argento thus uses frontality to equate his characters with the paintings: both are fictional creations, the product of an artist’s work. As a final self-referential pun, Argento has his Japanese tourist taking a picture of us!


MATTE SHOT

A process shot in which two photographic images (usually background and foreground) are combined into a single image using an optical printer. Matte shots can be used to add elements to a realistic scene or to create fantasy spaces. In these four examples from Vertigo (1958), director Alfred Hitchcock uses all possible combinations. In the first image, the white belfry is a model added on the foreground of a shot of the roof; in the second image, the sky in the background is clearly a painting, with the purpose of making us believe the scene takes place on a bell tower’s top floor, rather than on the studio’s ground.

  

The other two shots belong to the fantasy sequence of Scottie’s dream. In the first one his face is superimposed over a campy “unconscious” image; the last one reverses the process, having a mixture of “real” and matted elements in the background (the roof and the belfry) with the added silhouette in the foreground.

    

Matte shooting is one of the most common techniques used in studio filmmaking, either for economical reasons (it’s cheaper to shot a picture of the Eiffel tower than to travel to Paris) or because it would be impossible or too dangerous to try to shot in the real space. Sometimes, as when animation and real figures interact, that space may not even exist. In recent years, however, special effects and computer generated images have taken over the function of matte shots.


OFFSCREEN SPACE

Space that exists in the diegesis but that is not visible in the frame. Offscreen space becomes significant when the viewer’s attention is called to an event or presence in the diegesis that is not visible in the frame. Offscreen space is commonly exploited for suspense in horror and thriller films, such as The Stendhal Syndrome (La Sindrome di Stendhal, Dario Argento, Italy, 1996)

As discussed in the offscreen sound entry, this scene from Life on Earth (La Vie sur Terre, Abderrahmane Sissako, Mauritania, 1998) explores the difficulties of establishing communication in a postcolonial space that still depends on the former colonial master for its technology and even its calendar.


SHALLOW SPACE

The opposite of deep space, in shallow space the image is staged with very little depth. The figures in the image occupy the same or closely positioned planes. While the resulting image loses realistic appeal, its flatness enhances its pictorial qualities. Striking graphic patters can be achieved through shallow space. In these frames from My Neighbor Totoro (Tonari No Totoro, Japan, 1988) Miyazaki fills the entire background with a lamp-eyed, grinning catbus. Shallow space creates ambiguity: is the cat brimming with joy at the sisters’ encounter, or is he about to eat them?

   

Shallow space can be staged, or it can also be achieved optically, with the use of a telephoto lens.This is particularly useful for creating claustrophic images, since it makes the characters look like they are being crushed against the background.


Section 4 – Costume

Costume simply refers to the clothes that characters wear. Costume in narrative cinema is used to signify character, or advertise particular fashions, or to make clear distinctions between characters.

   

In this example from Life on Earth (La Vie sur Terre, 1998) filmmaker and actor Abderrahmane Sissako uses “similar” costumes (long loose clothes, big hats) to further stress the cultural and psychological implications of a nomadic existence, split between the cold affluence of France and the colorful poverty of Mauritania.


Section 5 – Acting

There is enormous historical and cultural variation in performance styles in the cinema. Early melodramatic styles, clearly indebted to the 19th century theater, gave way in Western cinema to a relatively naturalistic style. There are many alternatives to the dominant style: the kabuki-influenced performances of kyu-geki Japanese period films, the use of non-professional actors in Italian neorealism, the typage of silent Soviet Cinema, the improvisatory practices of directors like John Cassavettes or Eric Rohmer, the slapstick comedy of Laurel and Hardy, or the deadpan of Buster Keaton and Jacques Tatí, not to mention the exuberant histrionics of Bollywood films.


TYPAGE

Typage refers to the selection of actors on the basis that their facial or bodily features readily convey the truth of the character the actor plays. Usually associated with the Soviet Montage school, these filmmakers thought that the life-experience of a non-actor guaranteed the authenticity of their performance when they attempted a dramatic role similar to their real social role. Typage is related to the use of stereotype in commuicating the essential qualities of a character. Although current casting practices can no longer be described as typage, the use of performers with experience in the role they played is common to most films, whether they rely on the star system, or on non-professional actors. In Pudovkin’s Storm Over Asia (Potomok Chingis-Khana, USSR, 1928), professional and non-professional actors are used alike. The cast was selected not on terms of their skills or reputation, but on their physical ressemblance to the following types:

   

the hero of the Mongol people… and the explotative English capitalist

   

the partisan’s leader, noble and stoic in his deathbed…and the pompous and greedy general

  

the partisan woman, strong mother and fighter… and the decrepit general’s wife with royal ambitions