Axial cut

In a recent post Bordwell provides some nice examples of what he calls the axial cut. This reminds me of a section of my camera movement paper which I paste it below.

On the surface camera movement and editing present two mutually exclusive options for the filmmaker in a given situation. From an establishing shot we can either track in to a tighter composition, or we can simply cut to it. Camera movement decisions come in the profilmic scenario, whereas montage decisions exist in the postfilmic. This means there is a limit to which the editing room can deal with camera movement. Montage, with all its power, cannot change a shot with fixed framing to a shot with mobile framing. It can divide a shot with camera movement into pieces, but it cannot construct a camera movement out of shots that have no camera movement in them (except for an illusion of it). Yet from the perspective of filmic experience these two do have an interesting overlapping, which we shall discuss in the following.

Perhaps it would be instructive to start from a term: plan-séquence. The term was coined by French postwar critics, including notably Andre Bazin. Whereas the idea of shot (plan) initially refers strictly to a field of view, that is, a spatial construction, the notion of sequence adds a temporal dimension to it. For this very reason Jean Mitry believes it is a monstrous terminology because the two are incompatible[1]. But what Mitry takes as the reason of this apparent incompatibility is exactly its path of reconciliation. What is important here is not that the term implies a camera movement, but rather, it designates the camera movement as a sequence of successive shots, where the principle of montage takes effect. In other words, if we define a sequence as an assemblage of shots, then the sequence shot could be regarded as an in-camera assemblage.

To regard camera movement as a form of montage is far from my whimsical invention. Many have recognized Rope as a practice of implicit editing, with unfavorable results. Bazin, for example, sarcastically remarks that “each time we are struck by his [Hitchcock] effectiveness, it is because he has managed, at the cost of a thousand hardships, to create the impression of shot and reverse shot or a close-up where it would have been easy to use a single take like everyone else.”[2] Reisz and Millar, too, criticize that “the camera movement does not contribute to the [dramatic] effect, it merely delays it by a meaningless—and psychologically inappropriate—device.”[3]

Conversely, the result achieved from montage to motion continuity often yields commendation. To everyone’s praise Eisenstein uses three successive shots of stone lions for an illusion of motion continuity. An example of montage as a form of camera movement can be found in The Birds (1963). When Lydia Brenner comes into a room pillaged by intruding birds, the discovery of the body of this unfortunate farmer is presented as three shots in rapid succession, one closer than the other, riveting our attention to his empty eye sockets. Now imagine the alternatives: a camera movement, a track in. The impact, the sense of violence would be considerably weaker (A quick zoom sits in between the two). Nevertheless it can be argued that these three shots are taken out from a camera movement and in our perception of this montage we mentally reconstruct such a movement (recall our discussion of Serene Velocity). The shock, therefore, comes from a violent suppression of the intermediary images.


And another small passage:

Serene Velocity (1970) essentially shows the same sensation. Only here the sense of movement is achieved by zooming, or to be precise, by the discrete use of a zooming lens, for what is involved here is rather an illusion of zooming. The case exemplifies an extreme of what we have been discussing here—camera movement as the continuous change of perception. One might object with good reason that this movement is not continuous at all. In fact, as the film proceeds, the distance between the two focal lengths increases, so that this discontinuousness is made more and more salient. Nevertheless if we still perceive this movement as a “compression” of space (instead of two distinct spaces), then its unfolding is still continuous in a sense. Our knowledge of its discreteness is therefore counter-perceptual. Also, what this case shows us is that there is no clear boundary between camera movement as a spatial trajectory and as sensation. If in Serene Velocity the discontinuousness creates sensation, the sensation in its turn dilates this discontinuousness by perceptually gluing two incongruent poles together and builds in our mind an imaginary trajectory between them—a process no different from the essential one of cinema to render 24 still frames into movement. Wavelength, on the other hand, dilates the continuousness and by doing so transforms camera movement as a spatial perception into a temporal perception.

[1] Mitry, The Aesthetics and Psychology of the Cinema, 64.

[2] Bazin, The Cinema of Cruelty, 114.

[3] Reisz and Millar, The Technique of Film Editing, 234.



edison said...

Montage, with all its power, cannot change a shot with fixed framing to a shot with mobile framing.

Do you mean "can't connect a shot with fixed framing to a shot with mobile framing ?"

Dong Liang said...

I mean transform, or else I would have said change from

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