Cinematic tool tips
November 5, 2005 5:16 PM   Subscribe

Help me improve my film-watching skills...

I know a bit about films, but would like to have a more nuanced knowledge of how filmmakers communicate situations/ideas. An example could be: when something blocks the screen from the main action (a tree branch, passerby, etc.), it's a tool meant to convey a voyeuristic feel, and thereby creates tension. Can you think of others?
posted by hellbient to Media & Arts (38 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
Good filmmakers (or filmic storytellers) tell the story with the cut. Shot A juxtaposed with Shot B communicates C to the viewer. The simple and famous example is a shot of a hand holding a gun. Cut to a flock of pigeons who simultaneously take flight. Viewer understands the gun has gone off. No sound necessary.

Another example: Shot of a foot stepping on a twig. Shot of a deer looking up. Viewer understands "danger" or "alertness".

The alternative to this kind of filmmaking is to show everything with the shot. It's a more a hackneyed approach and that of the rookie, imo. For instance, suppose you wanted to convey that a child had been hit by a car. The rookie has a shot of the car running over the child. The pro has a shot of the child on his bike, a shot of a driver's foot slamming on a break, a shot of the bike lying twisted in the gutter.

Is this the kind of thing you're looking for or am I misunderstanding the question?
posted by Manhasset at 5:28 PM on November 5, 2005


Oh, and just to give it a name, the above theory of storytelling is called Eisenstien's Theory of Montage as it was developed (or at the least, codified in print) by Sergei Eisenstein.
posted by Manhasset at 5:32 PM on November 5, 2005


you got it, Manhasset.
posted by hellbient at 5:38 PM on November 5, 2005


An example could be: when something blocks the screen from the main action (a tree branch, passerby, etc.), it's a tool meant to convey a voyeuristic feel, and thereby creates tension.

I heard Robert Wise say that a tree stump filling the shot in any of his films indicates that he was covering up an awkward transition. He claims to have hauled the same stump around in his car on all his movies.
posted by bingo at 5:41 PM on November 5, 2005


And by the way, I laud your use of the term 'filmic storyteller. ;)
posted by bingo at 5:42 PM on November 5, 2005


I heard Robert Wise say that a tree stump filling the shot in any of his films indicates that he was covering up an awkward transition. He claims to have hauled the same stump around in his car on all his movies.

I have a filmmaking friend who is fond of saying, "When in doubt, cut to seagull." His way of saying, sorta, what Wise is saying and explains many inserts in many a movie. Robert Rodriguez used the trick in his first feature except he used a Pit Bull instead of a seagull and he did it whenever he had to cover dialogue that was out of sync with the picture.

hellbient, in order for your theory of the tree to be correct (and I think it's a stretch), you'd probably have to add movement to the camera. A stationary shot in the same place would not necessarily communicate voyeurism or that the camera was representing a character's point of view.

re: filmic storyteller, I just didn't want to give all the credit to the director. The writer or editor could be responsible for a specific instance of what I was referring to. Did you add it to your profile pre- or post- my post? :)

Also, hellbient, this may not be what you're looking for as it's technical, but something cinematographers and directors use a lot is to compress space with long lenses. For instance, if I wanted to shoot a person dodging out of the way of a truck, I could put down my camera with a long lens and point it at an actor and then behind the actor have the truck coming towards him. The long lens flatten the distance between the director and actor making them appear closer together. As a result, when it looks like a close call, there's actally plenty of room.

A famous example of this technique is the end of The Graduate when Ben's car runs out of gas and he has to run the length of a block. Cinematographer Robert Surtees used a 500mm lens which flattened the visual plane and makes it look shorter. Then, Hoffman, though obviously giving a lot of effort, appears to be fighting an uphill battle. "Look how fast he's running and he's still not there!" thinks the viewer's subconcious.
posted by Manhasset at 6:05 PM on November 5, 2005


> The long lens flatten the distance between the director and actor

Should read "truck and actor".
posted by Manhasset at 6:07 PM on November 5, 2005


If you want a list of visual references that have been used often enough to become cliche, you could try Ebert's Little Movie Glossary.
posted by MsMolly at 6:23 PM on November 5, 2005


Great question! There are so many answers (imagine asking a novelist this same question).

-- Woody Allen, who most people don't think of a a great filmmaker in terms of visual technique, has a really cool process that I rarely see used in other people's films. He allows his actors to walk our of the frame in the middle of a scene. This really confused Michael Caine, who pointed out that the cameras weren't trained on him while he left the room for a minute. Allen told him, "Don't worry, the audience knows you're coming back." And he's right.

For me, this technique does creates two simultaneous effects. It creates a feeling of realize -- like I'm sitting on someone's sofa listening to them (if they go to the kitchen for minute to get something, I don't follow them. I listen to them, knowing they'll come back into the room in a second).

It also creates tension. And Allen wisely tends to use this technique during scenes when characters are fighting. See the fight scene between Michael Caine and Mia Farrow in "Hannah and Her Sisters."

-- Some directors avoid any tricky camera moves. Others love them. I love Scorsese, but I sometimes feel that his camera tricks are gratuitous -- they seem more about showing off what he can do with the camera than they further the story.

However, there's a lovely camera move/special effect in "Age of Innocence" [MILD SPOILER:] Daniel Day Lewis's character is at a dinner party, trying to act casual, but he has a secret in his pocket -- something he plans to give to his mistress. Rather than rely on clunky dialogue or a voice-over, Scorsese starts with a shot of Lewis sitting at the table, then the camera swoops in close to his pocket; then (special effect) it seems to swoop INSIDE his pocket and inside an envelope that's within his pocket where it lands on a shot of a small key -- the key he's planning to give his mistress so she can meet him.

I generally don't like this showiness, but in this case it furthers the story and and even mimics the lyrical style of the novel the movie is based on.

On the other hand, Billy Wilder hated tricks like this. He didn't want to risk you thinking of the director. ("Oh wow! Cool camera trick!") He wanted to simply get involved with the story. So he purposefully kept his shots simple.

An interesting choice to debate, along these lines, is Spielberg's decision, in "Schindler's List" [SPOILER:] to film in black & white yet colorize one little girl. He was trying to make you aware of one specific victim in huge, complicated war scenes. Most people really liked the way he chose to do this.

I thought it was BRILLIANT -- but I hated it. (Hemingway said "You need to kill all your darlings." I thought this was a "darling" that Spielberg should have killed.) My problem is that before that moment, I am lost in the movie -- forgetting that it is a movie. But when the colorized girl appears, I think "cool effect!" and I start thinking about Spielberg. I think a "Billy Wilder" approach would have worked better here. But I'm in the minority.

--["All About Eve" SPOILER] There's a WONDERFUL in freeze-frame near the beginning of "All About Eve." Scorsese steals this effect in "Goodfellas," but I like it better in "Eve."

The movie starts with a flurry of voice-over narration. Many characters are introduced very quickly, and you don't have time to feel very much -- you're just taking information. Then Eve appears and suddenly the movie stops. The image just freezes on her while the music sweels. This moment always sends chills up my spine.

-- Kubrick once talked about how he hated all transitions except the cut. (I.e. he hated wipes -- can you imagine what he thought about PowerPoint?). I generally agree with him. To me, using all sorts of fancy transitions is the filmic equivalent of a hack writer who tries to find different verbs for "he said" after each piece of dialogue (he quoted, he intoned, he queried, he smirked...). Cutting is straightforward, gets the job done, and doesn't call attention to itself.

But Kubrick admitted that he occasionally used dissolves. He wasn't crazy about them, but he thought they were the most economical way to show that time had passed between two shots.

I agree with him, but why does a dissolve make it seem like time has passed? It does, but I don't get the psychological mechanism.

-- Speaking of Kubrick, I generally agree with Manhasset about the power of the cut. And I know what he meant about the hacks who try to show everything, rather than letting the audience create the connection between the two images in their minds.

But there are times when it works to let the cameras roll, capturing a long scene without cutting (or cutting infrequently). This is a great way to capture an actor's performance and also to create tension (the camera, just like the audience, can't look away!). Think about the big confrontation scene between Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson in "The Shining." Woody Allen tries this (for performance reasons) in "Husbands and Wives" (Juliet Lewis in the taxi cab).

-- There's a really subtle sort of edit called an L-cut (also sometimes called a J-cut or a split edit). This happens when, say, two characters are speaking. The camera is cutting from speaker A to speaker B. Let's say this is the dialogue:

A: How are you today?
B: I'm fine.

When do you choose to cut from A to B? You could to a straight cut:

[CAMERA on A]
A: How are you today?
[CUT to B]
B: I'm fine.

But here's a more interesting approach:


[CAMERA on A]
A: How are you [CUT to B] today?
B: I'm fine.

Imagine you were in the room, watching this conversation. You're standing so close to A and B that you can't watch them both at once. The question is, when do you turn to look at B? My guess is that, but the time A gets the the word "you", you already know how is sentence is going to end, and you're anticipating B's response. So you'll turn then and look at B. Making the cut here ensures that the audience doesn't get ahead of the movie. It's good when a movie anticipates its audience.

On the other hand, there are many other choices. Maybe we should never cut to B. Maybe we should cut to B earlier.

With this in mind, spend an hour watching a simple dialogue scene over and over. Think about how many of these decisions the director and editor (generally the editor) had to make. Think about other possible decisions they could have made.

I find these tiny, everyday little cuts much more interesting than then big showy effects. I think they are much more challenging to get right.

That's it for now. I'll try to think of more examples.
posted by grumblebee at 6:58 PM on November 5, 2005 [1 favorite]


The writer or editor could be responsible for a specific instance of what I was referring to. Did you add it to your profile pre- or post- my post? :)

Ah, memories...
posted by bingo at 6:59 PM on November 5, 2005


A shot filmed from above a character or a relatively high angle, can imply that the filmmaker wants you to think the character is weak or make the viewer (or character whose point of view the shot is from) be the more powerful in the scene. Similarly, a low angle shot (filmed from the floor) can make the subject seem powerful or superior.

The progression of the camera's position relative to a character from a high angle to a low angle can change over the course of a sequence or a whole film. This is a method that can be used as an additional narrative device to show the shift in a character's demeanor, emotional status or relative force in the story. For instance, the camera can show him/her as powerful/domineering presence at the beginning of the film with a low angle shot, and by the end of the film, a high angle shot may show him as a crest-fallen coward.

I can't think of any famous films that use this technique, but a good current example is "The Dying Gaul", which is being released this weekend I believe, and you see the director has used the device throughout the film to show the change in relative status and control between the characters. It's a great, acting-driven film, with powerful performances and plot twists - highly recommended.
posted by DannyUKNYC at 7:50 PM on November 5, 2005


DannyUKNYC, I haven't seen the film for years, but I think the angle technique was used in "Twelve Angry Men."
posted by grumblebee at 8:24 PM on November 5, 2005


The technique DannyUKNYC refers to is used fairly obviously in one scene in Mean Streets, in which one of the characters has a realization, and effectively becomes less naive before your eyes...as it's happening, the camera drops so that you go from looking down on the character to looking up at him.

Of course, the problem with this question is that, like all artistic devices, there are only descriptive rules illustrating what has worked so far. But if you see any of these rules in effect, they aren't necessarily being used the way they're described here...after all, if they're used effectively, you shouldn't need an explanation, you have only to be affected in the way the director intended. It's true that you might not understand exactly how you're being manipulated, and that can be frustrating, but that's also part of the whole point.
posted by bingo at 8:26 PM on November 5, 2005


On post-view: actually, grumblebee's example is exactly the sort of thing I'm talking about. The camera angle changes in Twelve Angry Men could be perceived as corresponding to our changing judgement on the characters. But according to the director, Sidney Lumet, in his book, the angles are all about creating an increasing sense of claustrophobia. By the end of the movie, (not a spoiler) you're seeing the ceiling in most of the shots, whereas in the beginning you hardly saw it at all.
posted by bingo at 8:31 PM on November 5, 2005


grumblebee is correct about Twelve Angry Men. Lumet shot the first third from a high(er) angle, the middle third straight-on and the last third from a low angle. The ceiling therefore is more present in the final third, when most tense, so we feel more claustrophic. He also used longer and longer lenses throughout to add to the claustrophobia (chairs get closer to walls, ceilings to actors' heads, etc.).

At the same time, you can look at the film angle as representing our own perspective. Over the course of the film our regard for the characters changes and is represented by the angle.

So, which is it? Was angle chosen for claustrophobia or character appeal? It doesn't necessarily have to be one or the other but this is the problem, which bingo points out, with trying to come up with hard and fast "rules", rather than just techniques (such as Eisenstein's theory of montage).

Lumet did something similar in Prince of the City. The story of a cop who informs on his fellow police officers, the first third has rather busy frames (lots of people in the background), second third less people, final third, almost without exception the main actor is always alone in the frame, reveailing his sense of isolation.

bingo is also correct in what he's saying. One of the worst things about learning the hows and whys of any artform or craft is that the knowledge can detract from your enjoyment. I have cinematographer friends who, rather than, as an average filmmaker, asking, "What happens next?" (the goal of any good writer or director) while watching a scene, will instead ask herself, "Where are the lights?" or "How's it lit?". I find it very difficult to watch any film and not think about how it may have been written.

grumblebee also commented that editing can draw attention to itself and take one out of the film. The same can happen, however, without cutting. People discuss ad naseum the opening shot of Welles' Touch of Evil. The scene, done in a single shot, draws attention to itself and takes one out of the story ("I can't believe it's the same shot!"). However, you could argue that it being the first shot in the film, you're not into the story anyway. Robert Altman both pokes fun at and applaud's the shot with his own opening shot in The Player, where two characters discuss the Welles opener. (Incidentally, Altman's opener is twice as long as Welles').

Another recent example is the film Birth. It has a very long shot (2.5 minutes) just of Nicole Kidman's face. There is no dialogue in the shot which makes it seem even longer. The camera slowly cranes in on her until it's very close, and it's near impossible to see the film and not be taken out of the story at this point. Myself, I rewound it and timed it! Not the goal of a good filmmaker, though interesting nonetheless.

On preview, bingo beat me to some of this.
posted by Manhasset at 8:43 PM on November 5, 2005


I can't believe I put a ' on applauds. Good christ.
posted by Manhasset at 8:46 PM on November 5, 2005


Huh. I saw Birth and I don't even remember that.
posted by bingo at 8:56 PM on November 5, 2005


Really? So much for absolutes. :)
posted by Manhasset at 9:08 PM on November 5, 2005


I don't really notice these things unless they're utterly obnoxious. The Lucas style wipes in all the Star Wars movies, for example. Why someone would spend millions on CG effects and then use a transition better suited for a high school video yearbook has never made any sense to me.

That said, I've always been blown away by the camera angles Orson Welles used in Citizen Kane. It's not something you realize at first, but on a second watching you notice that the camera is below the level of the floor, making Kane loom incredibly large.

And though its a bit cheesy, I'm still fond of Hitchcock's "uninterrupted" shot in Rope. Though the edits are fairly obvious, the idea of a single, contiguous scene is quite neat. Were it not for the physical limitations of how much film could be held in a single camera (about 10 minutes at the time) I think he could have pulled it off for real.

In fact, this kind of long format shot is far more impressive to me than clever editing, framing or camera tricks.
posted by aladfar at 10:03 PM on November 5, 2005


I don't really notice these things unless they're utterly obnoxious. The Lucas style wipes in all the Star Wars movies, for example. Why someone would spend millions on CG effects and then use a transition better suited for a high school video yearbook has never made any sense to me.

I always thought the wipes are there in Star Wars to reinforce the sense of watching a pulp-serial. Like in a comic strip where you might go to the next panel and have a caption that says "meanwhile, on the other side of town..."
posted by juv3nal at 11:53 PM on November 5, 2005


Here's a guide entitled "How to Watch Movies Intelligently and Critically." It is written by the guy who runs "Filmsite.org," which Ebert has raved about.
posted by JPowers at 12:07 AM on November 6, 2005


I don't really notice these things unless they're utterly obnoxious. The Lucas style wipes in all the Star Wars movies, for example. Why someone would spend millions on CG effects and then use a transition better suited for a high school video yearbook has never made any sense to me.

The wipes were an homage to Kurosawa, who used wipes in many (most?) of his films. Star Wars itself is an homage to Kurosawa, check out "The Hidden Fortress" for the really barebones plot of the first Star Wars.
posted by zardoz at 12:38 AM on November 6, 2005


Grumblebee said: On the other hand, Billy Wilder hated tricks like this. He didn't want to risk you thinking of the director.

I was talking to an old-school director the other day. (Ronnie Neame -- directed 20-odd films including The Poseidon Adventure and The Odessa File among others.) He was saying that when he was learning technique, back in the 1930s and 40s, most directors were taught that the camera should be unnoticeable. For example, if you were shooting a party scene and you wanted to move from one group of people to another, the camera would pick up on and follow someone walking between the two. These days, he said, the camera is almost like another actor.
posted by littleme at 7:25 AM on November 6, 2005


By the way, for an amazing edit that is both noticeable and completely unpretentious, see The French Lieutenant's Woman. I won't say what part of the film it's in, because it works better as a surprise.
posted by bingo at 8:18 AM on November 6, 2005


...most directors were taught that the camera should be unnoticeable.

I founded a theatre company based (partly) on this idea. When I was in drama school, the rage was (and still is) cool directorial flare. I grew to hate that style. But when I was really young, I loved it. It's a sort of egotistical style.

When I was a fan, I hoped audiences would leave my plays saying, "Wow! That was really cool the way the director created a steamship out of actor's bodies and chairs." Now, If I hear that sort of thing, I feel like a failure. Now I want the audience to leave without thinking of me at all. I want them to say things like, "Wow! That character really reminded me of my uncle!" or "I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what was going to happen next!"

It's really hard, when you're in creative mode, not to be lured by coolness. I still come up with cool effects all the time. I'm ruthless. I cut them all. Anything cool will point to me. So when I get the feeling that something is cool, I axe it and look for something simpler. This is really hard, because I still have a desire to show off. But I resist it.

The contemporary (popular) director who is at the other end of the spectrum in Tim Burton. Naturally, given my tastes, I hate his films (with the exception of the understated "Ed Wood.") No offense intended to the people who like Burton -- It's a matter of individual taste. But I always imagine Burton sitting around with his co-workers, saying, "You know what would be cool? A remake of 'Planet of the Apes,' only with blah blah blah..."

To be fair, it's not always a matter of ego. I seriously doubt that [SPOILER re: SCHINDLER'S LIST] colorized girl in "Schindler's List" was meant to pump up Spielberg and show off how cool he was. He was using an effect to further the story an an economical way -- which is probably the reason why many people like it. But regardless of his goal, I can't watch it without thinking, "cool effect!" And that thought removes me from my emotional connection with the film.

Sometimes a cool effect can heighten the emotion, so I don't mean to disparage all films that aren't simply shot. Kubrick and Felinni are probably my favorite directors, and they are anything but simple. I think it takes a master to fully integrate directorial flare into a film without it smacking, at least a little bit, of gratuity.

Hitchcock is also amazing this way. I know 99.9999% of people would disagree with me, but as much as I love Hitchcock, I HATE his cameos in his films -- for the same reason why I hate the Spielberg thing. I don't want to think about Hitchcock when I'm watching his movies. I want to think about the story and only the story.
posted by grumblebee at 8:51 AM on November 6, 2005


Hellblent,

Take a pad of paper. Put it in your lap. Write anything you 'notice' during the film that you find significant. Like "The camera is hiding behind the stump so we don't see the killer, just like the main character." Don't look at the paper. Just write. Better yet, do this with a laptop with the screen off.

This sort of active viewing enhancement will help reveal momentary insights during a film that you forget after the film is over.

Watch these two films back to back: Rope and then Citizen Kane.

Rope - one of Hitchcocks films, is "one shot" cleverly (or not so cleverly) hiding the cuts. It feels a bit too "stage play" for me....but it's worth watching. Now, watch Citizen Kane, where many of the camera styles, shot heights etc. that you are familiar with, derive from. There are other examples of this (grumblee has mentioned, for example), but the contrast of watching these two films back to back, *actively* will heighten your notice of details.

The key element you must forgive yourself for...is that every fine nuances of scenes are often lost on a single viewing. If film is 'art' running at 24 frames per second...and you'd visit a painting more than once and study the frame for long periods...you realize you have to give film the same latitude.

I have some other comments that differ a bit or elucidate upon some of the other answers, but again, to sum up:

1) Active viewing
2) Review of a film more than once.

Once you begin to think this way...you'll then learn it's hard to turn off. Let me know, I have some advice when this happens.
posted by filmgeek at 9:32 AM on November 6, 2005


I've always been blown away by the camera angles Orson Welles used in Citizen Kane. It's not something you realize at first, but on a second watching you notice that the camera is below the level of the floor, making Kane loom incredibly large.

The best one (?) is the shot with Kane and wife in deep background, where she has taken a bunch of sleeping pills, and the pill bottle taking up about half the screen in foreground.
How did Welles do it? The necessary lenses didn't exist at the time he made it.
Answer: he cheated! Look at the pill bottle, and it's been painted on the film! Apparently this was a mystery for a long time.
posted by Aknaton at 1:30 PM on November 6, 2005


Just wanted to interject that what you're largely talking about is the Mise-en-scene of a scene or a whole film. See Wikipedia.
posted by feelinglistless at 1:40 PM on November 6, 2005


Are you sure that's how he did it, Aknation? I could have sworn that I read somewhere that it was a double exposure. In other words he filmed the bottle at the right distance to keep it in focus. While filming it, he kept half of the lens covered, so that half of the image wouldn't get exposed. Then he wound the film back and covered the other half of the lens. He then filmed the bed in sharp focus.
posted by grumblebee at 1:41 PM on November 6, 2005


This usenet post, which sites a pretty authoritative source, implies that I was on the right track (though not exactly right):

The glass/spoon/Kane bursting in shot was an in-camera matte. Tolland lit the foreground elements, left the background dark. Rolled film, back-wound, let the foreground go dark (creating its own hold-out matte) lit, focused and shot the distant action of Kane bursting in through the door. The doorway is not a process screen. (see "The Making of Citizen Kane" Robert L. Carringer, Univerity of CAilf. Press, 1982, page 82 for documentation.)
posted by grumblebee at 1:49 PM on November 6, 2005


Are you sure that's how he did it, Aknaton?

No, I was just told that by a nonauthority, and damned if it doesn't look drawn on (when one's mind is open to that possibility). I bow before your documentation.
posted by Aknaton at 4:40 PM on November 6, 2005


For what it's worth...this was often done later with a split lens technique.
posted by filmgeek at 10:04 PM on November 6, 2005


Many good directors use the very first shot as a metaphor for the entire film. The examples are countless, it's simply part filmmaking do this. My favorite example is Silence of the Lambs. The very first shot, which utterly forgettable because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of the film, is of Starling climbing up a hill. If you think about what the rest of the film is about it makes a lot more sense.
posted by raaka at 2:48 AM on November 7, 2005


There's also the Forrest Gump feather: simple, beautiful, blown randomly to different places through the sky -- great metaphor.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:17 PM on November 7, 2005


Prolonged shots can be extremely effective devices. While there's no doubt that they draw attention to themselves simply by existing, they can communicate things cuts can't, whether it's to show ease of access in the restaurant scene in Goodfellas, the desperation in the fight scene in Oldboy, or the infamous traffic jam in Godard's Weekend (the sole reason to watch that movie, it was one of the most damned pretentious things I'd ever seen). One film I've seen recently that had a fascinating use of the long-take was Oasis, a Korean movie that used it to show off the incredible performances of its leads. What made Oasis interesting is that it used the long-take so much I actually stopped noticing it about midway through the movie.
posted by Ndwright at 7:39 AM on November 9, 2005


The character who gets the last close-up in a scene "owns" that scene, generally. Meaning that is the character that was most impacted or changed by what happened in that scene. It's most apparent in dialogue scenes, between two or three characters.
posted by surferboy at 8:22 AM on November 13, 2005


However, there's a lovely camera move/special effect in "Age of Innocence" [MILD SPOILER:] Daniel Day Lewis's character is at a dinner party, trying to act casual, but he has a secret in his pocket -- something he plans to give to his mistress. Rather than rely on clunky dialogue or a voice-over, Scorsese starts with a shot of Lewis sitting at the table, then the camera swoops in close to his pocket; then (special effect) it seems to swoop INSIDE his pocket and inside an envelope that's within his pocket where it lands on a shot of a small key -- the key he's planning to give his mistress so she can meet him.

Haven't seen "Age of Innocence", but this sounds like an homage to "Notorious."

Also, consider how a shot is framed. Things or people placed on the right side of the frame have more visual "weight" than things on the left. Same goes for top vs. bottom.

A lot of it has to do with audience expectations. Basically, all of us have been taught a fairly specific visual grammar from most of the movies and TV we've watched. A lot of the time, the expectation is that you won't see or notice the edits...so when an edit calls attention to itself (either by breaking the "invisible edit" style rules, or by doing something like a jump cut, long take, et cetera), it's being done to confound or otherwise manipulate the viewer's experience. I personally think the opening long shot in Touch of Evil is great, but part of what makes it great is the cut to the next shot, and the masterful timing of that cut.

Other examples of confounding viewers' expectations: crossing the vector line, playing with sound, mismatched sound and picture, disorienting camera moves (think "Vertigo"), etc. Watch "Band of Outsiders", particularly the cafe scene, and feel the weight of what a talented director can do with sound.

The movie edgecodes.com (decent flick, terrible title) does a good job of showing some of these effects. I'd also check out Roy Thomson's books Grammar of the Shot and Grammar of the Edit, and the great Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye.
posted by Vidiot at 10:39 PM on November 13, 2005


Excellent reading, all. Keep posting if it occurs to you. Thanks.
posted by hellbient at 7:48 AM on November 15, 2005


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