Cours d'Annie Bourgois
Film space and Image
Combining shots: the sequence
How we see the image, how close or far, how much of it we see, whether it is stationary or moving: it is a matter of choice among alternative technique.
Types of shots.
A shot is what is recorded by a single operation of the
1) Shots can be determined in terms of distance:
· Does the camera appear to be close to the subject, the shot is a close-up (CU).
· If we see the head and shoulder, it’s a close shot (CS).
· A specific part of a whole, a detail (metonymy, synecdoche), it’s an extreme close-up (ECU).
· A full shot or long shot: a complete human figure + some of the background.
· The camera is far away and the result is a broad
panoramic view: it’s an extreme long shot.
A n establishing shot defines the whole setting: an area location, a whole room, a place with all its characters.
A shot that is neither a close shot nor a long shot is a medium shot, showing the subject from head to waist or waist to feet.
2) Shots can also be defined by what they contain:
· A two shot includes two characters.
· A three shot includes three characters.
· A shot /reverse shot is the principle of alternating shots of characters in a conversation so that first one character is seen then the other.
Close-ups and long shots.
Godard used to say that the close up was invented for tragedy, the long shot for comedy ( in America, long shots, extreme long shots are frequent in Western) At least what he suggests is that the choice is significant, depending on the kind of scene is shot and the impact you mean it to produce : a close-up can reveal an emotion, catch a sign which was meant to be inconspicuous, trap a character, a long shot cannot. The close-up is a means of emphasis. It is ideal to focus on objects (a glass of milk in Suspicion, 1943, a bottle of champagne in Notorious, 1946, a telephone in Dial M for Murder, all films by Hitchcock), objects that are essential for the plot and cannot pass unnoticed. Hitchcock also uses extreme close-up : the famous shower scene in Psycho, ECU on Marion’s screaming mouth and staring eye.
· ECU are standard in horror films ( the eyes of
the killer spying on the prospective victim through a peephole, in Psycho).
The ECU is not a pure matter of ornament or, at least should not be but that,
it’s a rhetorical device : like a synecdoche ; it’s a matter of
stress, emphasis, foregrounding. Ex. ECU on a letter, a diagnosis of terminal
state, a scar, a shoe to identify the so far unknown killer. It may also point
up the intense emotion of tragedy.
· Paradoxically enough, a long shot can also be used to stress a tragic event ; to shoot a death, it may lend to the scene the formalized beauty of the Fall of Icarus (Breughel) as is the case in The naked dawn, E. Ulmer, 1955, to shoot the death of Santiago.
· Western filmmakers favour long shots (LS), extreme long shots (ELS), because these shots make the subject part of the environment in addition to conveying the vastness and awesomeness of nature. Ex. My Darling Clementine, J. Ford, 1946, the hero bids farewell, rides off, the woman merges into the landscape.
High- angle and low- angle shots
Shots are also defined by the position of the camera in
relation to the subject.
· In a high-angle shot, the camera is positionned above, high above, suggesting a bird’s / god’s eye view , an omniscient ,unseen presence looking down on the subject.
· A low-angle shot is shot from below, even sometimes from below floor level (Orson Welles in A touch of Evil). It either makes the subject loom longer than it actually is or suggest dominance and power. Conversely the HAS makes the subject appear smaller, helpless. Sometimes the high or low angle shot may serve the focalization : the point of view, subjective camera . In The Dead, John Huston, 1987 Gabriel is waiting for a woman at the foot of a staircase : the woman is seen through a LAS, the angle matches the angle of vision of the seeing character.
· It’s a matter of Who is seeing ( or looking at) who. The camera may be said to be subjective or objective : the former shows you what a character sees , the latter what the camera sees ( in this last case one may wonder whether the camera stands for the eyes of the director) .
· Ex. of subjective camera : in The Grapes of Wrath, by J. Ford, the Joads arrive into Hooverville, the residents are looking straight ahead. At whom are they staring ? The Joads who are not seen, therefore also at us, ; we have been placed in the position of the Joads the better to experience from within poverty through their eyes.
· It does not imply that the point of view should be consistently the same throughout the same film. Ex. Marnie, Mark is seated at his desk and looks straight at the camera ; we do not see Marnie, we see through her eyes. But it is nearly impossible to shoot a film from a one-sided view, having a single focus which would be intradiegetic or homodiegetic. One Ex. of this extreme choice is Lady in the Lake, R. Montgomery, 1946, Philip Marlowe, the main character can only be seen when he happens to stand in front of a mirror ; the camera is Marlowe : when a woman kisses him, she purses her lips into the lens, if she lights his cigarette she thrusts the lighter into the lens. In most films it is restricted to specific scenes ( a boxer is getting blind : the image is blurred etc.). Dark Passage, Delmer Davis, 1947 : the plot requires some subjective shots in the opening sequences. Humphrey Bogart escapes from San Quentin where he has been for a murder he has not committed, he wants to track down the real killer, but his picture is in every newspaper so he chooses to have plastic surgery. The director had two alternatives : either use another actor for the opening sequence or choose the subjective camera which implies that the hero is never seen , since we see exclusively through his eyes. Bogart escapes in a barrel, the camera is inside and it jostles as the barrel is handled and then when it falls from the lorry , then the camera peeps out to see whether the way is safe, later, when he takes a shower, we see a hand turning the tap open, when he is wary, the camera darts in the direction , a telephone rings, the camera swings around.
· Related to the Subjective camera is the point of view shot showing what the character sees . Ex. An unmasked murderer aims a gun first at his accuser then turns it around to fire at himself. The close-up of the gun is a POV shot.
Framing the shot. (Pb. of limits, composition)
· Tight –framing (corresponds to close-up)
The camera tracks in for a close-up and stops, the character is enclosed, confined within the frame. There is no hint of off-screen space. The face is trapped, as if fate was closing in on him (atmosphere of fatalism).
· The frame should be slightly asymetrical :
- Whatever or whoever is to be emphasized should occupy a position of prominence, not in the centre.
- If the character is placed in the middle (dead centre), all sense of depth is lost, as if the character was merely stamped on, stuck on the screen.
- For an unusual, disorienting effect the extremity of the screen may be used.
° Vertical and horizontal compositions : solidarity. Diagonals and oblique compositions : tension. Ex. Potemkin , Eisenstein 1925. The shadows of the shooting soldiers draw ominous diagonals cutting the horizontal lines of the stairs, the diagonals destroy the unity.
° Canted shots ( Dutch angle shot): results in an oblique composition in which the frame looks lopsided. E.g.. the canted shots in The Third Man, by Carol Reed, 1949, imply a world askew ; it may also suggest the madness of the character as in Psycho, Norman Bates ; in Carrie, Brian de Palma, 1976, during the violent argument between the daughter and the mother, the frame looks as if it will top over.
° Vertical framing : strong verticals may imply a strongly organized world ; it may also suggest prison bars , entrapment, it is often correlated to a feeling of mystery, exclusion, coming danger.
° Geometrical compositions can be symbolical : the circle may suggest unity, communality ; triangular arrangement may comment upon the relationships of the characters ( Jules et Jim, Truffaut, 1961)
° Iconography and allusions, references and parody.
Ex. Parody of the last supper in M.A.S.H, Altman 1970
The way to the Cross, to cavalry have often being used.
Mars Attack ! is full of references to other films.
° The angle at which the subject is viewed is determines
by two factors : narrative logic and symbolic implication.
High angle-----à power, dominance, superiority.
Low angle -----à Inferiority defeat, oppression.
These are the traditional connotations, codified by the first great American and Russian filmmakers, it is obvious that the codes may be reappropriated and the signification altered by the montage, the context and the general tone of the film, such as irony and parody, oblique references to previous films.
° The focus : it depends on how much, are far is see n within the frame :
Deep focus means that foreground, middle ground and background are equally clear. E.g.. Citizen Kane, Orson Welles used deep focus systematically to refer to the extensive power of Kane ruling over his entire realm ( E.g. the discovery of the suicide of his second wife) deep focus allows to do without cuts, hence the shot takes all the characters and it is their position within the frame that is telling. In Deconstructing Harry, W. Allen, one single character is blurred within a deep focus shot signalising his mental state and failure to fit in.
- Shallow focus the foreground is emphasized and the background is blurred.
- The technique of the rack focus reverses the two previous device :
1) the background is a blur, the foreground is sharp
2) then the background is sharp while the foreground is blurred.
Ex . in Time after Time, Nicolas Meyer, 1976, someone is behind the heroine, but his face is a blur, then the face comes into focus and we realise that it is Jack the Ripper.
Ex. the focus may be erratic ( Point of view shots : the character is drunk : what he sees is out of focus)
° Use of a shaped mask within the frame ( POV S) : A character is peering through a pair of binoculars, telescope, microscope, keyhole : the next shot assumes the appropriate configuration.
° Frame within a frame, double framing. Ex. a character is framed by a doorway which duplicates the frame of the shot and screen. Such a device always reveal something about the character : the character. is trapped , remains an outsider ( End of The Searchers, J . Ford, 1956 : John Wayne , a loner and searcher has found the object of his search, he returns with her but , while the others go inside the house, he remains by the door.) Doorways, archways may suggest the proscenium arch of a theatre, thus framed the space evokes a stage. They are also the privileged means of passage and may be associated to initiations, degradations , all sorts of transformation of the hero.
° The long take ( more than one minute) can also be
A shot is a single run of the camera without any cuts ( An average shot lasts between 1O to 2O seconds.
- A famous long take is a 3 minute credits sequence in Touch of Evil, O. Welles, 1958.
- A bomb is put in the boot of a car.
- Two people get into the car and proceed down the street of a Mexican border town, it passes Mr. And Mrs. Vargas who reach the custom booth ; we learn he is an American narcotics agent, his wife is Mexican. The driver of the car is known by the custom officer, we hear the girl in the car complaining about a ticking noise . The Vargas acts as a newly wed couple and are about to kiss. The car crosses the border, drives a short distance, and explodes. Within this three minutes of camera movement we have had the credits sequence, been introduced to two main characters, learn that the plot involves drug trade and repression, a car has exploded : the world in which we have just been introduced is unpredictable, abnormal and threatening.
Generally a long shot framed with a camera continually running creates an atmosphere of restlessness.
Shots can be framed graphically in or iconographically, in terms of lines (horizontals, verticals, diagonals) they can be framed geometrically, in deep or shallow focus, from a high or a low angle, in a frame that may be partly masked or doubled.
The moving shot
- When the camera rotates horizontally on a fixed axis
from right to left or vice versa, it is a pan ; if it rotates vertically it
is a tilt. In these two cases the camera head moves ,not the camera itself.
- For mobile camera shots, the camera is on a moving vehicle : a dolly, a truck or a crane ;
- Pan shots need built tracks along which the dolly runs or a truck. Generally the shot moves from left to right in imitation of the reading eyes. Through panning, the filmmaker can have the camera comment on a situation, relate characters, make us discover the setting.
- A swish pan is a rapid panning that produces a blur. It can suggest
a sudden change or transformation. In Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mamoulian, 1932, there is a sudden swish pan after Jekyll has drunk the potion and becomes Mr. Hyde.
When the camera pivots vertically, the result is a tilt
shot ( a vertical pan : to pan up or down). Tilting also mimics the movement
of the eyes: to move up the face of a building, a cliff, down the list of names,
the tilt shot can approximate the silent spectator : a vampire leans down to
suck his victim’s neck, the camera may tilt up ( ellipsis, imagination)
In Citizen Kane, the camera tilts up to the entrance gate of Kane’s estate,
Xanadu, past the No Trespassing Sign. At the end of the film, the camera tilts
down the gate to the No Trespassing sign, as it returns to its starting point.
It can comment the words uttered by a character , visualize them, as it were
: in North by Northwest Hitchcock 1959, James mason has discovered that his
mistress is an American agent, he decides to kill her aboard a plane and says
‘ this matter is something that is disposed o at a great height (here
the camera tilts up to empty space.
Tilt pan and pan tilt combination are possible to direct the viewer’s gaze, to follow the character’s gaze.
Tracking shots, dolly shots, crane shots.
(verbs : to dolly in, out, to track in out)
Forward tracking shot.
Vertical tracking shot.
Diagonal tracking shots.
Zooms and Freezes.
- Many contemporary filmmakers prefer the zoom to the moving
shot because it’s more economical ( adjustable lens). You may zoom in
or out to single out a character in a crowd, to pinpoint a place, to catch an
expression. On the debit side, zooming flattens the image and creates an unreal
sense of depth . It fits if a 2-dimensional effect is desired :ex. In Barry
Lindon, (Kubrick) the camera zooms out of close-up to reveal scenes that resemble
- The freeze is an arrested motion , a still photograph ( famous end of Les 400 Coups, F.Truffaut, 1959 : the frozen figure of J.P. Leaud on the beach.)
Combining shots: the sequence
Definitions : whereas a scene is a unit of the action
taking place in the same location and made up of one shot or many shots, a sequence
is a group of shots forming a self-contained segment of the film with an inner
unity and coherence in terms of plot, characters and themes.
There are several kinds of sequences, two of which have already been discussed in this lecture: credits and precredits sequences We have seen that in some films the credits sequence sets the mood, indicates the genre, introduces a theme or a motif, provides important clues and orients the expectations of the spectators By the end of the credits , a drama in miniature may have already unfolded in the form of a sequence.
Sequences can be identified as linear, associative, and montage. These types of sequences are not mutually exclusive, but for the sake of clarity we shall deal with them successively.
The Linear sequence
In such a sequence, one action unfolds with a beginning, a middle and an end. The initial situation launches an action , triggers it, the middle sequence develops, complexifies, transforms it; the end follows and concludes it, bringing a temporary resolution or pause. The connections are often chronological, consequential and logical.
Some linear sequences, however may be elliptical. When some details have been omitted , the spectators are expected to infer them. The ellipsis is a rhetorical device that may, strangely enough, emphasize what is not shown., or at least alert the interest of the viewers, it may also delay, postpone the revelation of an enigma and arouse their curiosity.
The Associative Sequence.
In an associative sequence, the scenes are linked, connected by an object , a series of object, a visual motif, a gesture, a behaviour or any kind of other types of similarities. In Notorious it is a bottle of champagne in a famous scene that might be entitled:' the ruined dinner 'with three scenes: the bottle suggested, the bottle purchased, the bottle forgotten; a close-up on the bottle, when it is left behind by the hero, brings it into dramatic focus. A similar device is used by the same Hitchcock in Rebecca., in a sequence that might be entitled ' The Ubiquitous Rebecca ' with first a shot of her bedroom door guarded by her dog, then an embroidered napkin, finally a dining room table. In North by Northwest , a hand is a unifying image in a very smooth transition from Mt Rushmore to a train compartment;
The Montage Sequence.
When used to describe a sequence, montage can be defined as a series of shots arranged in a particular order for a particular purpose. In a montage sequence the shots are so arranged that they follow each other in rapid succession, telescoping an event or several events of some duration into a couple of seconds of screen time.( a dating montage). American montage, prominent in American films of the 30s and 40s, works from the same principle: time is collapsed as shots blend together, wipe each other away, or are superimposed on each other. A typical montage of this type may consist of calendar pages blowing away as superimposed headlines give the main events that happened during that period. A montage can also be unified by shots of various famous monuments or places to suggest a city or country, or the spirit of this country.
From Shot To Shot
In the context of this lecture, a cut is the joining of two separate shots ; there are five basic kinds of cuts: straight, contrast, parallel (cross), jump, and form.
In a straight cut, one image instantaneously replaces another. They are the most common kind. In a contrast cut, the shots are dissimilar in nature ( a close shot on the manacled feet of slaves followed by a shot on galloping hooves of horses, contrasting the enslaved and the free.) The parallel cut, or crosscut, presents two actions occurring simultaneously. A break in continuity that leaves a gap in the action constitutes a jump cut. A form cut is a cut from one object to another that is similarly shaped: one circular shape replaces another. Similar to the form cut is the match cut, in which one shot matches the other, following it so smoothly that there is no break in continuity. Often a match cut is similar in shape to the shot it matches; in 2001: A Space Odyssey ( S Kubrick, 1968) an ape hurls a bone into the air in one shot, and a space station in orbit appears in the next , the match condenses the history of evolution into two images.
In a cut there is no bridge between shots; one shot replaces the previous one. Transitional devices are used to bridge scenes. The following are the chief transitional devices in film.
The fade-out is the simplest kind transition: the light decreases, and the screen goes dark. The opposite is the fade-in, where the light increases as the picture gradually appears on the screen. Most fade-outs are but blank screen, yet some can be used skillfuly and bring an action to an artful close.( fading in and out with a close up on the same object)
A fade can also function as the curtain in the theatre, producing a dramatic rhythm. In Notorious, Hitchcock fades out on the back of a man and fades in on his face.
A fade can also be commentative; when a cut would break the mood, and spoil the virtual link between two shots, the fade may introduce a touch of dramatic irony only to be enjoyed by the spectator.
A fade denotes demarcation: it indicates the end of a narrative sequence. A dissolve denotes continuity by the gradual replacement of one shot by another. This kind of transition , in which the outgoing and incoming shots merge, serves a variety of functions. It may function as a coordinating link meaning either ' in the meantime' , 'later', ' no sooner said than done'.
But as it is true with all technical devices it may also be endowed with signification ,that is, it can be used by the director to convey a supplementary meaning in a sequence. When two images blend in such a way that their union produces a symbolic equation, the result is a metaphorical dissolve.(a visual equivalent of synecdoche or metonymy, two figures in which the part is replaced by the whole, a cause by its consequences etc). Such dissolves will illustrate a theme in the film, have a dramatic foreshadowing function or proleptic one ,in the sense that they prepare the audience for subsequent events: for instance, a dissolve may prefigure the fate of a character; conversely, a dissolve may recapitulate or condense several themes of a film.At any rate, a dissolve connects two images, two events thus transcending a simple chronological, causal link.
A line travelling vertically across the screen is a wipe, in the 30s and the 40s, this device can create a theatrical effect by rising or falling like a drop curtain. They can also complement each other: one wipe travels from left to right, the next one from right to left.
More fluid than a cut and faster than a dissolve, the wipe is ideal for presenting a series of events in quick succession. Frank Capra was a frequent user of wipes; he employed it in the opening sequences of It happened One Night (1934), Mr.Deeds Goes To Town (1936), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington ( 1939). R. Mamoulian uses it brilliantly in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1932) The wipe frequently opens like a fan, dividing the screen diagonally; it works as a parallel cut, the split screen is fitting to dramatise a double man.
Some filmmakers compare the wipe to a windshield wiper. Hitchcock uses it as such in Rebecca when Manderley is seen for the first time by the new bride through the windshield as the wipers clear the rain away. This technique is repeated in Psycho, when Marion descries the Bates Motel looming up through the pouring rain.
An iris shot is a masking shot in which everything is blacked out except for what is seen telescopically, through a keyhole, a crack in the hole, binoculars, a periscope depending on the shape through which the director means his audience to see the scene, or to. whose point of view they are supposed to identify.
In addition to the iris shot, there is what is known as irising in and irising out.. Irising in was a traditional and quite effective mode of opening a frame. Griffith used it very cleverly in Intolerance and Birth of a Nation, Welles, in The Magnificent Ambersons (1942), irises out into a fade to suggest finality and death , the iris gradually and the fade irrevocably.
Spielberg, Coppola, Scorsese understandably use this technique of the past , as well as wipes and fades not only to pay an homage to the first filmmakers , or add a touch of nostalgia to their films but also because of the efficiency of these devices.
Assembling the shots or Editing
The shots have to be assembled and arranged in such a way that the action proceeds in a logical and coherent manner . Editing involves selecting and joining the shots based on the following considerations: their place within the narrative, their contribution to the mood of a scene, their enhancement of the rhythm, their elucidation of the film's themes, their fulfillment of the director's purpose. The most common form of editing is continuity editing which entails a smooth and ongoing unfolding.
Montage is based on contrast and conflict: Eisenstein advocated that shots should not so much connect as collide so as to affect the viewer by their collision, without creating an actual series of cause and effect, montage relies on inference and association, symbolism and metaphors
Continuity editing is not a merely sequential arrangement of shots; it is based on other principles that concern rhythm, space, tone, and theme.
No film is rhythmically uniform, speed, movement, pace vary. The rhythm accelerates then decelerates (see the opening sequence of Citizen Kane compared to the frantic pace of the newsreel.
Parallel cutting makes it possible for two concurrent actions to be depicted on the screen, the editor simply cuts back and forth between them.. The same applies to the treatment of space.
The tone, which is generated by light, shade, colour and the soundtrack will vary in a film exactly as does the rhythm.
Editing plays an important role in the dramatisation of themes
Learning the technical terms, the definitions of the various devices, and their most obvious effect is the first step.. But you should not only be able to name them, to identify them, but also to appreciate their relevance, their import, their specific signification in a given context. and their impact on the spectator. To do so a good visual memory is needed, each technique which you have learned this year should correspond to a 'niche' in your memory, so that, whenever you see a film, you may store the illustrative shot or device or effect in the appropriate category. You will thus gather a good number of examples and develop a keen eye for pinpointing the interesting aspects of a shot, a scene, a sequence, an editing choice. Taking notes after having seen a film may prove
helpful.. The glossary of technical terms which I gave you at the beginning of this lecture will only become a useful tool when each entry is followed by adequate illustrations of your choice.