Hollywood Action Films and Spatial Theory

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Spatial patterns are frequently constructed by the use of an establishing shot , generally an initial long shot that establishes the setting and orients the viewer in space to a clear view of the action. The standard practice of filming a conversation involves a close shot of both characters, and following that with a shot of the person speaking before cutting to the other person in the conversation. The degree rule is a conventional rule of continuity editing in which the camera must film the action of a scene from one side of an imaginary line called the axis of action.

The degree rule specifies that a shot should only be followed by another shot taken from a position greater than 30 degrees from that of the first. Editing is one of the chief ways that temporality is manipulated in the time-based medium of cinema. Story chronology can be manipulated through flashbacks or, more rarely, flash forwards. In the classical model of Hollywood filmmaking, the temporal relations among story segments are usually clearly indicated.

However, in certain art cinema practices story temporality can be purposely ambiguous to suggest subjective or psychological conceptions of time. Duration denotes the temporal relation of shots and scenes to the amount of time that passes in the story.

Hollywood Action Films And Spatial Theory - Nick Jones

In addition to temporal and spatial narrative patterns, editing may link images according to more abstract similarities and differences that make creative use of space and time. Here we distinguish among three abstract patterns in editing: graphic editing, movement editing , and rhythmic editing. Often these patterns work together to support or complicate the action being shown. A twisted chain of events is set off when Mrs. Discussion Questions After watching the clip from Chinatown , consider the questions below.

Do a shot-by-shot breakdown of this scene by counting the number of shots and noting the subject, camera distance, and camera movement in each.

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How is the spatial relationship between shots established by editing? What is the motivation behind each cut? If you notice a change in the pattern of cutting, what do you think it signifies? Discussion Questions After watching the clip from The General , consider the questions below.

Count and then time the shots in the sequence. How is the gag set up by editing? Moulin Rouge! Discussion Questions After watching the clip from Moulin Rouge! How does the editing of the film exemplify the idea of postmodernism as a pastiche of styles, periods, and genres? In this renowned and horrifying conclusion to Bonnie and Clyde Arthur Penn, , the editing is both subtle and complex. Discussion Questions After watching the clip from Bonnie and Clyde ,consider the questions below. How do these patterns complicate and enrich the meaning of the sequence?

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How does the editing rhythm of the sequence make this more than simply the description of an ambush and a killing? The camera then pulls back as she turns right to look in a mirror. This is followed by a cut on action as she stands and looks back over her shoulder to the left in a medium shot and then by another cut on action as she drops to her bed, her face visible in a close-up through the bed frame which she petulantly punches.

She pulls herself up and looks out between the bars of the bedframe. This central character is described by a series of jerky shots: her boredom and frustration are also built into the editing through cutting on action.

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The two-shot of the characters together is delayed. The way this introduction is handled emphasizes the inevitability of their pairing.


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Its stop-and-go rhythm is probably one of the most striking features. As the Barrow gang flees from the police in one car chase, shots alternate between the police and the gang. Intercut, as a parallel action, are interviews with witnesses to the robbery who brag about having been part of a Bonnie and Clyde caper. The influence French New Wave storytelling and editing is apparent in this ironic counterpoint. It is, in fact, two discrete scenes—distinguished by changes in action.

But it is the changes in pacing in these two scenes that leave viewers feeling as if they too have been ambushed. In the first scene, Bonnie and Clyde pull up beside the broken down truck of the man who has been sheltering them.

Bonnie and Clyde are each shown following his gaze in eyeline matches. Then the shooting begins. It heralded the beginning of a new, youth-oriented film market—one that revisited film genres of the past with a modern sensibility. In it, the bystanders who have come to cheer on the sailors aboard the ship are brutally massacred by Cossacks. Discussion Questions After watching the clip from Battleship Potemkin , consider the questions below.

Why is the pacing of the editing and the movement within shots critical to the meaning of the sequence? How are our perceptions of space and time shaped and altered by editing in the sequence?

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Pay attention to variations in angle and shot length. Eisenstein's theories of montage are here displayed in full force, as a quiet afternoon in Odessa turns into a bloody massacre at the hands of Czarist forces. The spatial conflicts between figures crashing into each other, as well as the graphic conflicts in composition, underscore the conflict between power and powerlessness. We see in a shot of a similar distance, the child fall. Narrator: In the midst of the fleeing crowd, a grandmother hears her call and urges the crowds to approach the oncoming soldiers and convince them to stop shooting.

The mother, carrying her child, continues to walk towards the soldiers. This tragic outcome is heartbreaking, and the soldiers' ruthlessness spurs our outrage. The crowds disperse in terror, and the Cossacks arrive, setting up the second, even more famous endangered child sequence. The crowds flee the relentless onslaught of the marching troops and the mounted Cossacks at the foot of the stairs.


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  • Eisenstein intersperses wide shots of the chaos and devastation with suspenseful close-ups of the dying mother, the carriage teetering at the top of the steps, and the footsteps of the soldiers. Modern audiences understand these rhythms of anticipation and delay, because of decades of use of editing techniques inspired by Eisenstein's montage. We see that the baby is crying.

    Her research interests include Singapore cultural studies and representations of trauma and memory in Cambodian, Indonesian, and Thai cinema. Daniel Herbert is an assistant professor in Screen Arts and Cultures, where he teaches classes on adaptations, apocalyptic film and television, the contemporary film industry, film history and film theory. He is an editorial board member of the journal Studies in Spanish and Latin American Cinemas, and an advisory board member for the International Journal of Iberian Studies.

    Ann Branan Horak is the Director of Religious Studies at the University of Texas at El Paso where she teaches classes on major world religions, gender and religion, and religion and sacred space. She teaches online editing courses for the University of California San Diego Extension and works in communications for a global company. He has published on post-postmodern theory, SF and contemporary TV comedy. His main research interests are contemporary theory, visual culture, genre cinema and popular culture.

    Beyvers, FM 7. Cristina Johnston is Senior Lecturer in French at the University of Stirling and has published widely on questions of gender and sexuality in contemporary France and on French cinema. David T. Johnson is an assistant professor of English at Salisbury University, where he teaches courses in film studies.

    His ongoing research concerns the overlapping aesthetic, historical, and political registers of experimental cinema, documentary, art history, performance, and popular music within American culture. Serban, FM 3. Jess Keiser is an assistant professor of English at Tufts University. Tauris, Catherine Kevin lectures in Australian history, body politics and memory at Flinders University. Catherine has recently edited Feminism and the Body: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and is currently working on a monograph entitled Great Exp ectations: A Political History of Pregnancy in Australia since His areas of specialization include documentary studies, avant-garde and experimental film, and cinema and the city.

    His dissertation explored the commercial crossover of Andy Warhol and other experimental filmmakers in New York City in the late s. Kedar A. Kulkarni provided mentorship for this article while a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University; this piece was originally written for his seminar on Bollywood.