KolkStud - Minds 1 f[f H I l[1,47(141 é/fé I’A‘ J...

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Unformatted text preview: Minds 1/ f [f H I! l.../ [1,47% (141/ é/fé, I’A‘ . J 4’ ‘ 1 , 1; [Li LDQ’Q/ (tits/sf Defining the film text What do we mean when we talk about a film? The answers to this apparently straightforward question are not simple, not at all based in common sense, and go to the heart of the complexities of the institu— tions, the practices, and the viewing of movies. The terms themselves suggest our uncertainties. Cinema, as Christian Metz (1977/1982: 5—9) suggests, implies the entire institution of filmmaking, film distri— bution, film exhibition, and film viewing. In England, the cinema usually refers to the place Where a film is shown. ln the United States, ’movies’ replaces ’cinema’, and the word ’film’ is reserved for serious intent. In Hollywood, the people who make films some— times call them ’pictures', and once referred to them (some still do) as ’shows'. ls everyone talking about the same thing? And what is the ’thing’? As we try to untangle a definition of the film text, l will use ’film' instead of’movie' (reserving my right to be serious) and will try to restrict the term The fiim text and film form Robert P. Kolker ’3 ,~ /'1‘"/, ,, / i”;/c~al.w//<‘ ( lwts' ' up - ’cinema' to Metz’s definition ofthe encompassing insti— tution of production, distribution, exhibition, and reception. But that will be the easiest part ofthe untan— gling process. Film and the cinema are such a regular part of our lives, that defining, differentiating, and analysing them are not only difficult, but also difficult for many people to accept. Indeed, there are some things we would rather were left alone, and the movies are one of them. The preference to think of a film as a kind of self-constructed presence, full of story, charac— ters, and emotion, is strong. A film is there, complete, full, and waiting forourgaze.Why make it more difficult than it appears? Precisely because it appears so simple and because the influence of film on our lives is so great. Our first response to the question ’What is a film?’ might be: 'A film is what we see when we go to the cinema (or the movies) or watch a videocassette or a television broadcast of a film'. A direct enough response, but one that actually responds to different things. Or, more appropriately, different, but closely CRITICAL APPROACHES related, texts. We can define a text as a coherent, delimited, comprehensible structure of meaning. A text is something that contains a complex of events (images, words, sounds) that are related to each other within a context, which can be a story or narrative. All of the parts of a text cohere, work together towards a common goal of telling us something. ln ordinary par— lance, a text is also something physical, like a novelora book of poems. We all know about a textbook. But a painting is also a text. So is a television show, and the entire process of watching television. ln fact, any event that makes meaning can be called a text if we can isolate and define its outside boundaries and its inter- nal structure—and our responses to it (for a text to be completed, it must be seen, read, heard by someone). lf we think of this in relation to a film, we begin to see how hard it is to define the film text—or texts—which are physical, narrative, economic, and cultural, and which include production, distribution, exhibition, and viewing. The physical presence of a film constitutes one aspect of film's textuality: the five or six reels of 35mm plastic ribbon containing photographic images that are projected onto the screen in the theatre, orthe videocassette we rent from the video store with its hundreds of feet of magnetized plastic coating con— tained in the cassette. A videocassette shown on a television set is notthe same as thetheatrical screening of a 35mm print. On the most obvious level, the con— ditions of its viewing are not the same. The kind of concentration made possible in a darkened cinema where a high—resolution image is projected on the screen is not the same as the bright busy living—room, or the comfort of the bedroom, where a small, low— resolution image is projected from behind ontoa cath- ode ray tube. The image and the ways in which we attend to it are different. The television or videotaped image are not only smaller, but also more square. The sides of the image are lost on most transfers of film to video (almosttwo—thirds ofthe image ifthe original was filmed in anamorphic wide screen and then ’pan and scanned’ for videotape). The difference in size, resolu— tion, and response creates a different textual construc— tion for televisual as opposed to theatrical viewing. We can extend these differencesfurther. ln theatrical exhibition the size, proportion, and resolution of the [film image are no longer under the control of the film- makers or the audience. They are controlled by the physical circumstances, resources, and commitment of the exhibitor. For a number of years the size of the screen in any given theatre has been determined by the size of the theatre, not by a standard ratio for recording and projecting the image. While a standard ratio did exist from the early 1930s to the early 19505, the advent of different widescreen formats, the small shopping-mall theatre, the need to compose the image ultimately to fit on television, makes image size and composition inexact and undependable for any given film. The film text, in its physical, visible sense, is therefore subject to architecture, to theatre management, to the exigencies of broadcast and videotape conventions. Almost every videotape released in the United States comes with two warnings: one from the FBI, warning us about copyright restric— tions; the other telling us that ’this film has been for— matted to fit yourtelevision'. Physical textuality, like so much else in the creation and reception of film, is sub* ject to external forces that make it difficult for us to define it as some essential, unchanging thing. Ultimately, the physicality of film, even the forms of its projection, are less important than the effect it has when we view it. Watching a film is more than any of its physical parts: it is an event that occurs when the phy— sical thing becomes activated by human perception through some kind of projection or broadcast. As soon as a thinking, feeling person is present—viewing the film—that person’s experience is brought to bear on the film’s images, sounds, and narrative. The viewer's experience is itself informed by the culture in which he or she lives. A person’s beliefs, understandings, and values are all activated within the context of film view— ing. That is true for the people who created the film as well. They, too, are a major part of the text. Their beliefs, their understanding of what a film should or should not be, the economic constraints that allow them to say and do only so much in any given filme—j these become textualized. Is this any different from ourcontact with otherworks of the imagination? The German critic Walter Benja— min, wrote in his 1936 essay ’The Work ofArt in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' that film is unique among the arts because of the fact that it is not unique. Of all the arts, Benjamin wrote, film is without ’aura', without the singularity of the immediate experience of an artefact uniquely connected with a singular human creative imagination. Film seems to have no origin; it is there, whole and complete, ready for our enjoy- ment or the enjoyment of anyone else with the price of admission, a monthly cable fee, or money for ren— tal. For Benjamin, film’s lack of aura, lack offorbidding uniquer social ai world, F surgeor percept possibil cultural nation L it cleart assent t The t novel 01 Neither most of fully in become and ma to a ricf cultural most fil to the I; to apps commc ence. E makers often lit cultural One of i intercut Porter’s America 1rd uniqueness, and its ease of access makes it the most social and communal of the arts. Film addresses the world, pierces through the realities of daily life like a surgeon’s knife (1936/1969: 233) and, by opening perceptions of the ordinary to the many, holds the possibility of engaging an audience in a social and cultural discourse, a mass engagement of the imagi— nation unlike any other art form. (Benjamin also made it clear that film runs the risk offorging an authoritarian assent to the dominant ideology.) The textuality of film is therefore different from a novel or a painting. Less personal, butmore accessible. Neither unique nor intimate, yet closer to the world most of us live in, engaged in its dailiness, and power— fully in touch with the social. The text without aura becomes the text that resonates across many fields and many consciousnesses. in any film we are witness to a rich and often conflicting structure of imaginative, cultural, economic, and ideological events. Because most films are made for profit, they attempt to speak to the largest number of people, and by so doing have to appeal to what their makers believe are the most common and acceptable beliefs of a potential audi- ence. But audiences often respond in ways the film— makers don’t expect. The result is that the film text often lies at a nexus of expectation and response, of cultural belief and individual resistance, it is available One of the first films to intercut different scenes— Porter’s The Life of an American Fireman (1903) THE FILM TEXT AND FILM FORM and legible to many interpreters, whose responses are themselves part of its very textuality and form. The film text and authenticity Textuality and form include questions about “authenti— city'. Benjamin’s concept of the work without aura sug— gests that film removes authenticity from its text. However, despite Benjamin’s argument about the loss of aura, actual people do make films. But given the collaborative and commercial basis of filmmak— ing—so different from the individual creativity attribu— ted to the traditional arts—the creative authority ofthe filmic text has been at the core of theoretical and historical debate. One part of the debate involves the ability to find and identify authoritative texts for early cinema that would enable us to create a reliable history of early film. it is estimated that almost 75 per cent of the films made before and just after the turn of the century no longer exist. Those that do exist, from the early twen— tieth century up to the teens, are in questionable, often inauthentic forms. For example, Edward S. Por— ter's The Life of an American Fireman (1903) has been regarded as one of the earliest films to intercut differ~ ent scenes for the sake of narrative complexity. ~—___—_—'—“——“_fi____ CRITICAL APPROACHES Recently, it was discovered that the print with the inter— cut scenes (we will discuss intercutting and cross-cut— ting a bitfurther on) may have been put together years later by distributors. The speculation is that the original version of The Life of an American Fireman may have been constructed with less cross-cutting, depending more on a succession of shots, which was the norm of the period (Gaudreault 1 990). We do know that Porter’s other famous film, The Great Train Robbery (1903), went out to distributors with a shot that showed one ofthe train robbers pointing his gun at the camera and firing. The film exhibitor was given the choice whether to put that shot at the beginning or the end ofthe film. This ability ofthe distributorand exhibitor to alter a film parallels the contemporary problem we spoke of ear- lier, in which the size ofthe theatre or television screen determines the look of the film. As we move forward in film history, the authenticity of the early film text becomes closely related to the personality ofthe filmmaker. Eric von Stroheim’s Greed (1925) was brutally cut by MGM. Stroheim’s authority over his production was compromised when Irving Thalberg, head of production at MGM, refused to dis- tribute Stroheim’s original ten—hour cut, Thalberg caused Greed to be trimmed to two hours and destroyed the rest. Stroheim's film, and his career as director, were all but destroyed as well. Orson Welles's The Magnificent Ambersons (I 942), perhaps the most infamous example of an inauthentic text, was removed from Welles’s control before it was edited. The studio, RKO, reshot portions of it, changed the ending, and— as MGM did with Greed—destroyed the deleted foot- age. In both cases studio policy, personal dissension, and economic determinants conflicted sharply with the artistic endeavours of the filmmaker. What is the authoritative text of Greed or The Mag— nificent Ambersons: the films Stroheim and Welles made, or the films released by their studios? These are egregious examples ofa perpetual problem, which is intimately connected to the question of authorship. The assumption of auteur theory, for example, has been that we can identify the text with a person—the director. In doing so, it is argued, we can not only dis— cover the authoritative boundaries that give a per- sonal, textual legitimacy to a film, but authorize our reading of the film as well. But the auteur theory—— especially as applied to American film—has been based more on desire than fact. The reality is that the texts ofclassical American studio cinema were and are only rarely the products of an individual imagination, and the director’sjob was primarily to transferthe script to film: to make the shots and to coach the actors. In the end, the producer and studio head had the final say on how the film looked. Because it is so intensely a public, commercial art, film is authorized—or textualized—from a number of directions. No one person or event determines it. Dur- ing the studio period, a film emerged from the collec— tive work of a large staff under contract. Today a film is often conceived by a scriptwriter who, with the help of an agent, sells his or her idea to a studio. The agent plays a key role, brokering actors and director. During these initial periods of conception and selling, many decisions about narrative, characterization, and com- mercial appeal are made. Also during this period intense economic negotiations are carried on in an attempt to sell the film to a studio. The shooting of the film by the director may involve some cinematic experiment, but, more often than not, because of bud— getary and scheduling restrictions, standard, conven— tional storytelling techniques predominate, as they will have during the scriptwriting process. Afilm is made for an audience and will survive only as. far as an audience finds it acceptable. Therefore, the creation of a film is, in part, a structure of educated guesswork and creative repetition. If audiences responded well to certain structures, stories, and char— acters in the past, they should be (most filmmakers believe) repeated, with some variation, in the new work. When that work is finished, the audience is put into negotiation with it. (During the studio days that negotiation process was fairly immediate, as studio executives and the filmmakers went to suburban Los Angeles theatres to watch a pre-release screening of their current film, and would then make changes to it, depending upon the audience’s response.) The nego— tiation process includes film reviews, familiarity with and responsiveness to the film’s stars, resonance with the narrative content of the film, willingness to accept the inevitable exploitation of sexuality and violence that are the major components of most films. The textuality of a film therefore becomes part of a resonantfield ofcreation and response,ltis a field that radiates from the film or videotape back to its making and forward into the environs of movie theatre or liv~ ing—room. It confuses the safe categories of authentic and inauthentic versions, and calls upon the entire cultural surround of the viewer and its creators It is encapsulated within other textual forms: the forms of production that drive the economy of a given culture ii which marke‘ In shOi only a ics, pc culture AnaI‘ the x The d reflect appro text is chang put it it. Itisr are m; conve ining ' image stories about Ana trates and ti when and 0 shot, expos the slr when anoth third e editin shape the te of filn cultur No teste< ofthe the b Eisen of a v elemr are rr wooc Sei script n the ay on al art, )er of . Dur- Dilec— ’ilm is sip of agent unng many com— eriod in an fig of hatic bud— wen- ayWill nWas 3,the :ated ances chap akers new is put sthat tudio n Los ng of ; t0 it, iego— 'wfih BVWth ccept lence t of a d that aMng or liv— ientic entire ;. It is ms of ulture which is as responsible for the way a film is made, marketed, and received as is the work ofany individual. in short, the ribbon of plastic that holds the images is only a part ofa large structure of imagination, econom- ics, politics, and ideology and of individuals and the culture as a whole. Analysing the film text: the shot and the cut The diverse critical approaches to the study of film reflect this complexity. But, no matter what the approach, it is now generally accepted that the film text is a plural, complex, simultaneously static and changing event, produced by the filmmakers who- put it together and the audience members who view it. it is unified by certain established ways in which shots are made and edited together. These structures are as conventionalized as the stories they create. By exam- ining the internal structure of film narrative, the way images are made and put together in order to tell us stories, we can discover a great deal of information about what films expect of us and we of them. Analysis of the form of the cinematic text concen— trates on the two basic building—blocks offilm, the shot and the cut, and on the structure that comes into being when the film is assembled, the combination of shot and cut that is the finished film. The first element, the shot, is the photographic record made when film is exposed to light. The second comes into being when the shot is interrupted, when the camera is shut off, or when one piece of film is cut and then fastened to another piece of film during the editing process. The third element is the completed structure of image and editing that communicates the narrative (or overall shape of the film). it is the initializing constituent of the text as we have defined it: the complex interaction of film and audience, structure, content, context, and culture. None ofthese formal elements are simple or uncon- tested. Controversy over the structure and importance ofthe shot and the cut, of the shot versus the cut, forms the bedrock of film theory. In the writings of Sergei Eisenstein and Andre Bazin, especially, and the work of a variety of filmmakers, belief in the priority of one element over the other has determined the way films are made and understood, at least outside of Holly— wood. Sergei Eisenstein was the great Soviet director of THE FILM TEXT AND FILM FORM films such as Battleship Potemkin (i 925), October (1 928), and Ivan the Terrible (1943). He theorized that the shot was only the raw material that the filmmaker used to construct the edifice of his film. For Eisenstein, a shot has no meaning until it is put in contention with another shot in a montage structure. Montage—a spe— cific kind of editing—is constructed out of shots that affect one anotherin particularways. One shottakes on meaning in relation to the shot that precedes and follows it. Spatial dynamics of the shot’s composition, the length of the shot, the rhythm achieved when different shots of varying visual and thematic content are juxtaposed, all contribute to a carefully calculated ‘montage of attractions’. For Eisenstein, montage was not merely the filmmaker’s most important tool, but the sign of his aesthetic and political control. The shot, by itself, is inert, he believed. Making the shot (and, with the help of his cinematographer Edward Tisse, Eisenstein filmed powerful and dynamic com— positions) was only craft. Turning the shot into a tem— poral structure of rhythmic, conflicting, kinetic montage was the director's art. For Eisenstein, editing not only created a visual dynamism of conflicting forms, but it had the potential of being a cinematic equivalent of Karl Marx’s theory of dialecticalmaterialism.Throughtheinteraction ofform and content between shots, by the way one shot deter— mined the meaning ofthe preceding orfollowing shot, Eisenstein believed he could create a third thing, a dialectical synthesis of idea, emotion, perception, that would, in turn, create an intellectual perception of revolutionary history for the viewer. Montage, in short, was a tool that allowed the filmmaker to address history, as well as art, in a dialectical way. Eisenstein believed so profoundly in the basic, driv— ing aesthetic and ideological force of montage that he saw it developing in literature and the arts before film. Montage was an aesthetic event waiting to be politi- cized with the invention of cinema. Analysis of the form of the cinematic text concentrates on the two basic building-blocks of film, the shot and the cut, and on the structure that comes into being when the film is assembled, the combination of shot and cut that is the finished film. coo-cocoonoounooI-eo CRITICAL APPROACHES Andre Bazin was not a filmmaker. A critic and film theorist-who was active from the end of the Second World War until his death in 1958, he influenced a generation of directors and is considered to be the father of the French New Wave. Bazin’s film aesthetic is directly opposed to Eisenstein’s. For Bazin, editing was the destruction of cinematic form, indeed the destruction of the essence of cinema. For him, it is the shot, the unedited gaze of the camera onto the world before its lens, that constitutes cinema’s aes— thetic core. If Eisenstein’s aesthetic was political at its root, Bazin’s was religious and founded in the faith that the cinematic image could reveal the world in fact and spirit and confirm the temporal and spatial thereness of the world with the camera’s meditative eye. Editing, according to Bazin, denies that faith, because it cuts offthe filmmaker’s and the film viewer’s opportunity to see into the wholeness and continuity of time and space. Editing is manipulative; it forces us to see what the filmmaker wants us to see. The shot is reverential. Political, too. An uninterrupted shot, pre— ferably in deep focus (an effect of lens and lighting that makes everything in the composition, from the closest object in the frame to the farthest, appearto be equally clear) might create a kind ofdemocracy of perception. The viewer would be free to pick and choose what to look atwithin the frame, ratherthan have the filmmaker pick out what he or she considers important by cutting and foregrounding specific faces or objects. Bazin’s cinema is painterly. It depends upon compo— sition, lighting, and the profound revelatory effect of the camera's gaze. The construction of mise—en— scene—the complex articulation of space through composition, light, and movement—45 pre—eminent Does ‘the long take reveal the world to the viewer', as Bazin suggests? Wyler’s The Best Years of our Lives (1946) in Bazin painting and On! images terly cin Cubism contem} ence ist structiOI to roam asks the image 1 contem spond t in confli montag Eisen theory 2 French Americz waned. through who cre as San Washing long tal ence. B F.W. ML and the (Robert exampl of Bazir to Mich Greek ( filmmal depenc than ed it, their eviden< film the Hollyw< cinema cinema The ( tion of journal nal Mo' Raymox constiti France, ty of is to at is pre- that sest rally ion. it to iker ting PO‘ t of en— Jgh ent in Bazin's theory. ln fact, Bazin uses the example of painting to describe the prehistory ofcinema, the early and ongoing urge of the imagination to preserve images of the world. in a sense, Eisenstein’s is a pain— terly cinema too, a dynamic kinetic form analogous to Cubism and Russian Constructivism (an art movement contemporary with Eisenstein’s filmmaking). The differ— ence is that, for Bazin, the image and its complex con— struction is primary; so isthe spectator's gaze, liberated to roam the image and connect its internal parts. Bazin asks the spectator to look and put the parts of the image together, to achieve understanding through contemplation. For Eisenstein, the viewer must re— spond to the invisible space that is created by images in conflict. The spectator responds to the dialectic of montage and the revolutionary history it articulates. Eisenstein's concept of montage dominated film theory and some film practice for a brief period (the French avant—garde movement of the i920s and the American documentarists of the 19305) and then waned. Its only appearance in Hollywood cinema was through the work ofan editor named Slavko Vorkapich, who created ’montage sequences’ for such 1 9305 films as San Francisco (1936) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939). The Bazinian aesthetic of the long take had a broader history and a powerful influ- ence. Bazin looked to the work of Erich von Stroheim, F.W.Murnau,Jean Renoir,OrsonWelles,WilliamWyler, and the films of the postwar ltalian Neo-Realists (Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, especially) as examples of the cinema ofthe long take. The followers of Bazin, from Jean—Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut to Michelangelo Antonioni, Bernardo Bertolucci, the Greek director Theo Angelopoulos, and the British filmmaker Terence Davies (to name only a few), depend upon the complex gaze of the camera rather than editing to constructtheirmise—en—scene and, from it, their narrative. It can be said, with strong empirical evidence, that any filmmaker who sets out to make a film that is counter to the structure of the dominant Hollywood cinema turns not to Eisenstein, but to the cinema that Bazin applauded and championed, the' cinema of the long take, of coherent mise-en-scéne. 'The concept of mise-en-scene attracted the atten— tion of critics as well. Cahiers du cine'ma (the French journal Bazin helped found), as well as the British jour— nal Movie, along with writers such as V. F. Perkins and Raymond Durgnat, pursued the idea ofthe shot and its constituent parts as the defining elements of a film. In France, England, and the United States, study of mise— THE FlLM TEXT AND FlLM FORM en-scéne, hand in hand with the auteur theory, helped to found the field of cinema studies. A focus on mise— en—scene permitted an emphasis upon the elements of. film that made it distinct from other narrative forms and was used to explain how images, through composition, camera movement, lighting, focus, and colour, gener— ate narrative event and guide our perception through a film. Mise—en~scene analysis was also a way to connect personality, style, and meaning. Mise-en-scéne and auteur criticism were closely intertwined within the analysis of style, and style was often implicitly defined as the personal expression of mise—en—sc‘ene. When V. F. Perkins (1972: 84—5) for example, analyses the use of colour in Nicholas Ray’s Bigger than Life (1956), or Terry Comito (1971) talks about the vertiginous horizon in Welles’s Touch of Evil (1958); when any number of critics define F. W. Mur— nau’s use of moving camera, Otto Preminger’s long takes, or Hitchcock’s use of framing to describe his characters‘ states of mind, they are speaking of the ways in which the imagination of the auteur visualized their world in distinctly cinematic ways. Mise—en—scene criticism served many purposes: it helped concentrate the critical gaze on the formal structures of film; it explored the significance of style in a medium that few had ever considered capable of manifesting style; and it helped to determine a field—cinema studies—— by proving that both artistic personality and style could exist in a mass art. Like auteurism, mise—en-scene criticism was a useful construct, a way of building a critical discourse. Even as it helped define film form and structure, it was some- thing ofan evasion, for ittended to repress the realities of the dominant Hollywood cinema, whose forms con— struct most of the films we see. Because of its place of origin, this form has come to be known as the classical form of Hollywood cinema or, more simply, the con— tinuity style. It is a remarkable form because of its persistence, its invisibility, and because we learn how to read it easily and without any more instruction than seeing the films themselves. The continuity style Eisensteinian montage and the long—take—deep—focus aesthetic advocated by Bazin are attention—drawing forms. They foreground cinematic structure and make them part of the narrative movement. They are intrusive in the sense that they make the viewer aware CRITICAL APPROACHES ofthe meaning—making apparatus; they ask the viewer to look at the way the world is being observed and constructed cinematically. Despite Bazin's insistence that the long take reveals the world to the viewer, what more often happens is that it reveals the cine- matic apparatus and its ways of looking. Montage, of course, is dynamic, intrusive: Eisenstein meant his moviemaking to have a shock effect, to raise the blood pressure and the intellectual temperature. He called it the ’kino fist’. The classical Hollywood style, on the other hand, asks that form be rendered invisible; that the viewer see only the presence ofactors in an unfold- ing story that seems to be existing on its own; that the audience be embraced by that story, identify with it and its participants. Unlike montage and the long take, the continuity style was neithertheorized nor analysed (not by the people who developed and used it, at least); its rules were developed intuitively and pragma— tically through the early years of filmmaking. The con— tinuity style developed because it worked, and its working was measured by the fact that it allowed film— makers to make stories that audiences responded to with ease and with desire. They liked whatthey saw and wanted more. We want more still. On the level of ideology, the classical Hollywood style is a capitalist version of Eisensteinian montage and a secular version of Bazin’s deep—focus, long—take style. (Eisenstein recognized this, and in his essay 'Dick— ens, Griffith, and the Film Today’, wrote about how the Hollywood style spoke the ideology of Western capit— alism.) lt is the form that placates its audience, fore- grounds story and characters, satisfies and creates a desire in the audience to see (and pay for) more of the same. lt is also a form that is economical to reproduce. Once the basic methodology ofshooting and editing a film became institutionalized—quite early in the twen— tieth century—it was easy to keep doing it that way. Although every studio during the classical period of Hollywood production (roughly between the late 19103 to the early 1950s) performed slight variations on the continuity style, its basics were constant and used by everyone. What this means is, when we talk about the classical style of Hollywood filmmaking, we are talking about more than aesthetics, but about a larger text of economics, politics, ideology, and stor— ies—an economics of narrative. The Hollywood studio system, which was the central manufacturing arm ofthe continuity style, developed as many other manufactur— inginstitutionsdid by rationalizingproduction,creating a division oflabour, and discovering methods by means of which all production parts and personnel would be on hand and easily put into place in order to create a product attractive to the greatest number of people. Eisensteinian montage and the long- take—deep-focus aesthetic advocated by Bazin are attention-drawing forms. They are intrusive in the sense that they make the viewer aware of the meaning- making apparatus. poo-0100.00.00... Given the fact that the classical style developed prior to the studio system, we can speculate that the struc— tures of narrative may have contributed to the rise of the economies of studio production. ln other words, the development ofa means to deliver narrative mean— ing through an economical visual construction created templates for the formation of an industrial mass pro- duction of narratives (Burch 1990). Early film consisted of a presentation of shots in series, each one of which showed something happening (as in the Lumiere brothers’ early film in which a train pulls into the station, or Edison's first efforts in which a shot showed a man sneezing or a couple kissing). Within a few years, dur— ing the turn of the century, such shots became edited together in the service of expressing stories. Georges Mélies made primitive narratives ofa trip to the moon or a voyage under the sea in which different shots succeeded one another. Porter’s The Great Train Robbery reflects a more complex process in which parts ofthe narrative that are occurring simultaneously, but in different spatial locations, are placed one after the other (Gaudreault 1983). One site where the pro— cess of establishing the continuity style can be observed is the series of films made by D. W. Griffith for the Biograph Company from 1908 to 1913. Griffith made more than 400 shortfilms during that period, and in them we can see the development of what would become the basic principles of continuity: an apparent seamlessness of storytelling; the movement of charac— ters and story that appear to be flowing in an orderly, logical, linear progression, with the camera positioned in just the right place to capture the action without being obtrusive; and, perhaps most important of all, an authority of presentation and expression that elicits precisely the correct emotional response at precisely the rigl which tt The k its abilitf make th to be te occurrei it possit intuitive and no develol: were dll out, anc experirr Tl el sl' st croutons-ocul- 56 There develop establis togethe that the action a the sarr create r structec one par of the v ters thrc then sh< these c straight break li prepare togethe narrativ‘ Althussi Griffit intercut equivalr tion—’r the sarr clues tf :lbe rte a )Ie. anor truc— ;e of )rds, ean~ ated pro— sted 'hich iiere tion, man dur— lited rges ioon ;hots Train Ihich rusly, after pro- ‘iffith ‘iffith , and 'ould arent arac— leflv )ned :hout ifaH, allCltS jsew the right moment, without showing the means by which the response is elicited. The key to the continuity style is its self—effacement, its ability to show without showing itself, tell a story and make the storytelling disappear so that the story seems to be telling itself. This legerdemain was not a natural occurrence The elements that came togetherto make it possible began as arbitra'ry, imaginative, and usually intuitive choices. In early cinema there were no rules and no groups that set the standards that would develop into the classical style. The only arbiters were directors like Porter and Griffith who tried things out, and audiences, who responded favourably to the experiments and their refinements. The key to the continuity style is its self- effacement, its ability to show without showing itself, tell a story and make the storytelling disappear so that the story seems to be telling itself. Cutout-looouio There are a few basic formal components that were developed by Griffith and others in the early 1 9i Os that established the classical style. Narrative flow is pieced together out of small fragments of action in such a way that the piecing together goes unnoticed and the action appears continuous. Sequences that occur at the same time but in different places are intercut to create narrative tension. Dialogue sequences are con— structed by a series of over—the—shoulder shots from one participant in the dialogue to the other. The gaze of the viewer is linked to the gaze of the main charac— ters through a series of shots that show a character and then show what the character is looking at. The result of these constructions is that narrative proceeds in a straight trajectory through time. Any transitions that break linearity (flashbacks, for example) are carefully prepared for and all narrative threads are sewn together at the end. The spectator is called into the narrative and becomes part of the story’s space (cf. Althusser i977). Griffith was instrumental in establishing cross— or intercutting as a primary narrative device. The literary equivalent of this device is the simple narrative transi— tion——’meanwhi|e’ or ’in another part of town’ or ’later the same day’—and some films borrow these verbal clues through intertitles or voice—over narration. But THE FILM TEXT AND FILM FORM implying such transitions visually is more difficult. In early cinema there lurked the continual concern that such things would be misunderstood. Too much cut— ting would confuse or trouble the viewer. But these fears were rarely realized, and filmmakers as early as Edward Porter found that, as long as they contained some kind ofnarrative glue, scenes placed side by side would be understood as occurring either simulta- neously,‘ earlier, or later than one another. Shots of a woman held captive by a menacing male (or caught in some other dangerous situation) are intercutwith shots ofan heroic male figure purposively moving in a direc— tion that has been established as that of the menaced woman. The result is quite legible: the man is coming to save the threatened woman. The pattern comes from nineteenth—century stage melodrama, but Griffith was imaginative enough to realize that film could stretch its spatial and temporal boundaries (Fell 1974). His audience was imaginative enough to accept the illusion and substitute the emotional reality (sus— penseful expectation that the hero will conquer space and reach the heroine in time) forthe formal reality (two sequences actually occurring one afterthe other on the film strip, each sequence constructed in the studio at different times). The pattern stretches out time and narrows space, providing the viewer with a way to enter the narrative and be affected by it. Gender is clearly marked as the woman—like the viewer—becomes the passive figure, waiting for salvation, and the male the I active figure, redeemed by his heroism. (Griffith did reverse the roles in contemporary sequences of Intol- erance (1916), in which a mother moves to save her imprisoned son awaiting execution.) Even less com— plicated manoeuvres than the traversal of large areas of physical and narrative space required thought and practice. Take something as simple as getting a character out of a chair, on herfeet, and out of the door. In the Biograph films, Griffith worked through the structuring of this movement until it became invisible. What was the drive to develop such constructions? For one thing, they allow for a great manipulation of space and narrative rhythm. Much of very early cinema consisted of a kind of proscenium arch shot, the cam— era located at a point at which an imaginary spectator in an imaginary theatre would best see an overall gaze at the space in which events were taking place. This is a restrictive, monocular perspective, static and inflex- ible. But why create complex editing only to generate the illusion of a continuous movement? Eisenstein CRFHCALAPPROACHES didn’t. He cut into temporal linearity and restructured it. He would return to a shot of a person falling, for example, at a slighty earlier point than when he left it, so that the inevitable action is retarded, time manipu— lated. In the famous plate—smashing sequence in Potemkin, the single act of an enraged sailor is broken into eight separate shots, each less than a second long, which extends the act and emphasizes the fury behind it. Even Griffith wasn’t absolute in his own construction of linearity. ln films during the Biograph period, and sometimes later, there are occasional sequences of people rising from chairs in which the second shot is earlier in the trajectory of action than the first, and the person appears as if he were getting up twice. Despite Griffith's ’lapses’ in the continuity cutting he helped develop, the development of continuity in the early 191 Os continued to privilege an illusion of linear— ity and of unbroken movement across a series of edits. ' We can, finally, only speculate on the reasons after the fact. The continuity style developed as a way to present a story in fon/vard progression, not as a way to look at how the story was created. it generated its own econ— omy, in narrative as well as physical production. Film— makers developed formal methods that made shooting relatively quick and easy: shoot whatever scenes are most economical to shoot at a given time (shoot out of sequence when necessary); cover any given sequence from as many different angles as pos— sible and with multiple takes of each angle to give the producer and editor a lot of material to choose from; edit the material to create linear continuity, cut on movement, keep eyelines matched (maintaining the direction a person is gazing from one shot to the other). Make the story appearto tell itselfas inexpensively and quickly as possible No more interesting and enduring examples of the continuity style can be found than in the cutting of basic dialogue sequences. Even before dialogue could be recorded on a soundtrack, the following pattern emerged: the dialogue begins with a two-shot of the participants in the scene. The cutting pattern then starts as a series of ov'er—the—shoulder shots from one participant to the other. The pattern may be slightly altered. For example, shots ofjust one of the partici— pants listening or talking may appear in the course of the sequence. Butthe main series ofshots are over—the— shoulder cuts, back and forth, that conclude with a return to the original two-shot. A simple 'dialogue has, therefore, to be filmed many different times with numerous takes of the two—shot and the over—the— shoulder set—ups. it sounds complicated, but the economies are clear. As a normative process, everyone concerned with the making ofa film knows how to do it with dispatch. The use of over—the—shoulder shots means that one of the high—priced actors in the sequence does not have to be present all the time. A shot from behind the shoulder of a stand—in can be made to lookjust like a shot from behind the shoulder of the primary actor. The reverse shots of the over—the— shoulder sequence do not even have to be done in the same place! Cut together, keeping the eyelines matched, two spaces will look the same as one. The process results in many shots—many choices—avail— able forthe producer and the film editorto work with in a much less expensive environment than the studio floor. The result is standard patterns of narrative infor— mation, comprehensible to everyone from a technician in the studio to a member of the audience in the theatre. And the process provides a unifying structure. This is its great paradox. The fragments of over—the—shoulder dialogue cutting, or any other part of the continuity style, create unity out ofplurality, focus ourgaze, suture us into the narrative flow and the space between the glances ofthe characters. Theories have been set forth that the constant cutting across the gazes of the char- acters slips us into their narrative space because we are continually asked by the cutting to expect something more. Someone looks, and we are primed to respond, 'What is the character looking at?’ And the next shot inevitably tells us, by showing the person (or object) being looked at. This play of intercut gazes creates an irresistible imaginary world that seems to surround us with character and actions. it is as if the viewer becomes part of the text, reading the film and being read into it (Dayan 1992). It is this element of the irre- sistible, of desire and its satisfaction, that most clearly demonstrates the staying-power of the classical con— tinuity style. Alfred Hitchcock—to take one example—can create ovenNhelming emotions simply by cutting between a character looking and what the character is looking at. Early in Vertigo (1958), James Stewart's Scottie drives through the streets of San Francisco, following a woman he has been told is obsessed by someone long dead. The sequence is made up by a relatively simple series of shots and reverse shots. We see Scottie in his car driving, we see from his car window, as if from his point of view, Madeleine’s car. She arrives at a museum. Scottie looks at her, Hitchcock cuts to a poin1 being Scoti door ness shop but 5 later not 1 ence class us cl out ' illus disc tuat film covu styli sica det autl writ obx ricr spa tor the thn tun co< imi ass ste we ba th< 5P on fOI tic in« of ti( in ct th win for- :ian the isis der Jity ure the >rth war— are ing nd, hot ect) san i us wer. aing rre- arly :on— Bate an a ;at. ives g a one rely )1:th rom at a o a i i i i r; l i i i i i , point—of—view shot of her, looking at a painting, and being looked at by Scottie. She goes into a dark alley. Scottie follows, his gaze pursuing her to a door. As the door opens, and Scottie’s gaze penetrates it, the dark— ness changes to a riot of colourful flowers in a flower shop. Throughout the sequence we see with Scottie, but see (as he does) only a mystery, which, we learn later, is not a mystery but a lie. The woman he follows is not the person he thinks she is: both he and the audi- ence are fooled. The director uses elements of the classical style to manipulate our responses, to place us closeto the gaze ofthe centralcharacter, which turns out to be seriously compromised. We identify with an illusion. And as we identify with it, some of us want to discover how it has been constructed and perpe- tuated. Some of the most important work in recent film criticism has developed in the process of dis— covering the working of the classical Hollywood style. Bordwell, Staiger, and Thompson's The Clas— sical Hollywood Cinema (1985) is a massively detailed catalogue of the attributes of what its authors call ’an excessively obvious cinema’. Other writers have discovered that beneath or within this obviousness lies a complex form and structure, and a rich interplay between a film and the culture that spawns and nurtures it with its attention. Films speak to us and we respond with the price of admission or the rental of a video. its articulateness is created through a narrative economy in which narrative, ges— ture, composition, lighting, and cutting are tightly coded so that we understand the intended meaning immediately. But immediate comprehension often means simple assenting to the reproduction of gender and racial stereotypes. It is necessary, therefore, to analyse why we assent, to what we assent, and why we keep coming back for more. Theories of subject placement—how the viewer is fashioned by a film into a kind of ideal spectator who desires to see what is shown him or her on the screen—attempt to answer questions of how form creates attention, and attention faShions percep— tion. Critics such as Dana Polan (1986) have investi— gated the tight links between culture and film, indicating how history and our responses to it make of film an ideological mirror and an engine of affirma« tion. Others, like Mary Ann Doane (1987), have probed in detail the interplay between the American style and our given ideas of gender; or they have read against the grain to point out how films can question the con— THE FILM TEXT AND FILM FORM ventional wisdom ifwe look carefully and decode them with a knowing eye. Much has been done and much remains. Attention needs to be paid to the minute particulars of the clas— sical Hollywood style; more needs to be said about the way a gesture with a coffee cup, how a cut between two characters glancing at or away from each other, gen— erate meaning. The economy of style of the classical form may present apparent obviousnesses, but it is in fact a structural shorthand, a code book that keeps critics and viewers attentive and attracted. ln its very invisibility lie the structures ofdesire that make us want to see more and more. Contesting the Hollywood style The Hollywood style was and is the dominant style the world over. But there have been periods when some filmmakers consciously worked against its structures, rethinking its structural and semantic codes. These filmmakers favoured long takes (in the Bazinian man— ner), atemporal or non—linear narratives, and subject— matter that differed from the usual Hollywood stories of violence and melodrama. They called attention to their methods, exploited the possibilities of mise—en— scene, and asked viewers to become aware that form creates content; that stories don't exist without the telling of them. One great period of such experimentation occurred during the 19605 and 1970s. Spawned by the French New Wave, extending to ltaly, England, the United States, and then, in the 19705, to Germany, the move— ment produced a body of work, and a series of imagi— native filmmakers who, briefly, changed some basic assumptions of cinematic form. The results were a ser— ies offilms that reconsidered American genre films in a form that stressed the long take and oblique cutting, an avoidance ofclassical continuity rules, and, in the case of French director Jean—Luc Godard, a cinema that questioned the form and content of the cinematic image itself. Godard and his contemporaries and fol- lowers—Alain Resnais in France; Michelangelo Anto— nioni, Pier Paolo Pasolini, the early Bertolucci in Italy; Rainer Werner Fassbinder and the early Wim Wenders in Germany; Glauber Rocha in Brazil; the filmmakers of ICAIC (the Cuban film institute) (to name only a few)— made films that took their own textuality as one oftheir subjects. They asked their viewers to think about the images they produced, the stories they told. Theirfilms CRITICAL APPROACHES questioned whether other images might be used, other stories be told. Many ofthese filmmakers worked in the tradition of the German playwright and theorist Bertolt Brecht, who demanded that a work ofart put the spec— tator in a speculative position, reveal its internal mechanisms, and show how the power of the imagina— tion can work with or against the power of a culture’s dominant ideology. Many of their films were passion— ately political, speaking the inquisitive and corrective voice ofthe left. ’ The Hollywood style was and is the dominant style the world over. But there have been periods when some filmmakers consciously worked against its structures, rethinking its structural and semantic codes. nnou-oau-oua-oton The structural principle of this modernist, reflexive movement was complexity and mediation, a recogni— tion that the film image and its editorial structure are not givens, certainly not natural, but the constructions of convention. And what is made by convention can 3e questioned and altered. The over—the-shoulder :utting pattern, naturalized in the classical American style, is not necessary; and most of the filmmakers of :his movement avoided it, using instead the Bazinian ong take, which permitted the image to be interro— gated, found false or adequate, but always only a 'epresentation. ’This is not a just image,’ Godard says. ’lt is just an image.’ Yet, no matter how much they used film as med— um of exploration, these filmmakers kept referring :0 their base of American cinema. Alain Resnais’s Last Year at Marienbad (1961) is a radical meditation 3n the conventions of past and present tense in film Editing, and a remake of Hitchcock’s Vertigo. Anto~ 1ioni, whose L’avventura (1960), La notte (1961), _’Fclisse (1962), Red Desert (1964), and Blow-up 1966) show an extraordinary commitment to the dea that filmic composition is an architectural :orm obeying its own rules of narrative logic, keeps )laying his work off against the conventions of 19405 American melodrama. Rainer Werner Fassbin- Iler, the most Brechtian filmmaker after Godard, and :he one director most committed to exploring the working class, bases his interrogations of form on the 19505 American melodrama of Douglas Sirk. Through these approaches they take the classical style into account, respond to it, and, finally, honour it by recognizing it as their base. For better or for worse, the classical style has survived, and absorbed, all of the responses to it. Everything else stands, finally, in dialectical relationship to it. This static, dynamic, dominant, and absorptive tex- tuality embraces the cultural surround and articu— lates the complexities of ideology. The film text becomes a rich and a complex event, reticent and boisterous, asking passivity from its viewers while provoking their desire, hiding itself while announ- cing its power in film after film. BIBLIOGRAPHY Althusser, Louis (1977), ’ldeology and the Ideological State Apparatuses', in Lenin and Philosophy, trans. Ben Brewster (New York: Monthly Review Press). *Bazin, André (1967), What is Cinema?, 2 vols, trans. Hugh Gray, i (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press). Benjamin, Walter (1936/1969), ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Illuminations, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books). Bordwell, David, Janet Staiger, and Kristin Thompson (1985), The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style and Mode of Production to 1960 (New York: Columbia Uni— versity Press). *Burch, Noel (1990), Life to those Shadows (Berkeley: University of California Press). *Cameron, Ian (1972), Movie Reader (New York: Praeger). Comito, Terry (1971), ’Touch of Evil’, Film Comment, 7/2 (Summer), Three Masters of Mise-en—Scéne: Murnau, Welles, Ophuls. Dayan, Daniel (1992), ’The Tudor—Code of Classical Cinema', in Gerald Mast, Marshall Cohen, and Leo Braudy (eds), Film theory and Criticism (New York: Oxford University Press). Doane, Mary Anne (1987), The Desire to Desire (Bloo» mington: lndiana University Press). *Eisenstein, Sergei (1949), ’Dickens, Griffith, and Film Today', in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt, Brace, & World). ———-—(1943), The Film Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (London: Faber & Faber) Fell, John (1974), Film and the Narrative Tradition (Nor- man: University of Oklahoma Press). Gaudreai Early C Griffith ——-— (199 of Cros (eds), l British I *Kolker, York: C on iirk. .ical our for and fing >it tex— jcu— text and Ihile aun- igical . Ben trans. ity of n the 3, ed. York: ipson e and a Uni— keley: eger). it, 7/2 urnau, assical :1 Leo York: (Bloo- :l Film :l. and ’orld). Leyda 1 (Nor- Gaudreault, Andre (1983), 'Temporality and Narrativity in Early Cinema 1895~i908’, in John Fell (ed.), Film before Griffith (Berkeley: University of California Press). —-—— (1990), 'Detours in Film Narrative: The Development of Cross—Cutting’, in Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (eds), Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative (London: British Film Institute). *Kolker, Robert Phillip (1983), The Altering Eye (New York: Oxford University Press). THE FILM TEXT AND FILM FORM —— (1988), A Cinema of Loneliness, 2nd edn. (New York: Oxford University Press). Metz, Christian (1977/1982), The Imaginary Signifier, trans. Celia Britten, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzetti (Bloomington: lndiana University Press). *Perkins, V. F. (1972), Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies (Harmondsworth: Penguin). Polan, Dana (1986), Power and Paranoia (New York: Columbia University Press). ...
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