Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Yr3 Week 4 (Thurs 30 Oct - MDA3200 Film Theory - Formalism)

In today's sessions, we looked at Formalism (what type of form does a film take, as expressed through editing, cinematography, tone, style etc.) To begin with, in the lecture we watched Carl Dreyer's (we saw another of his film, the silent drama The Passion of Joan Of Arc, two years ago) religious drama from 1955, Ordet. A strange sort of affair, Ordet deals with issues of faith and belief as we focus in on the lives of a small farmer family in Denmark, and the trials they endure (from a marriage debate with another religious family, to the loss of one of their members and the crises of faith that creates in them). Very slow burn kind of drama, but still intriguing nonetheless (though the rather fantastical ending did leave some scratching their head,s while others just laughed).

Subsequently, after the screening and into the seminar thereafter, we discussed the form of this film; shot in black and white despite being from the 50s, long takes aplenty and even the rather deliberate movement, as well as placement, of the actors on screen. The distinctive lighting mixed with the monochrome and actor placement created scenes which visually, resembled Renaissance artworks, specifically sculptures (some said paintings, but the B&W made the performers look more like statues to me) that you would see around places like the Vatican, crafted by masters like Michelangelo and Raphael. Couple that with the long takes and slow pace which permit the viewer to dwell, and that approach gains a lot more credence. Furthermore, the slowness also allows the viewer to take in the film's sentiments on faith and belief, and really digest them and think about them as they watch the film, rather than jumping from scene to scene and taking in the story much more conventionally.

The notion of film manipulation to create a certain effect is hardly a new or even obscure principle, famously summarised as the Kuleshov Effect. As far back as the early years of more narrative oriented cinema, with the likes of Eisenstein and Battleship Potemkin, the combination of editing and image juxtaposition can create all sorts of effects, even if the objects are not necessarily in the same time or place (a close up on a neutral face can be juxtaposed with a shot of either a funeral or a birthday party, and the subsequent message to the audience about its meaning will change). This is of course known as semiotics, the signs of signs, which is composed of three key elements; the icon (what does it denote), the index (what sort of reference is it) and the symbol (what does it connote).

Of course, such a manipulation does invite the questioning of what is film realism, which Brecht famously challenged in his 'Defamiliarization Effect', arguing that 'realism' was a load of bunkum and that it doesn't invite the audience to be challenged nor engaged by a world/reality beyond or different to our own. 'Lay bare the device'/'Make it strange' as he put it. This then briefly lead into the debate of /continuity editing' vs. 'montage', and how the two are used in film (one is more about psychological reality, emotions and the actual content. The other is more intellectual and places a greater emphasis on how it is presented i.e. the form). In the end, though by this point this isn't exactly telling us as students a whole lot new, it is still important to draw attention to how something is presented, and what that can create on top of whatever story is being told. It certainly serves as a reminder of how important all our planning and the subsequent post production work we do can change how our intentions and ideas come across to an audience when we opt for one style or method over another.

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