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(A separate table of contents for FILM ACTING appears at the beginning of that volume.)
Introduction by Lewis Jacobs
Introduction to the German Edition
I. The Film Scenario and Its Theory
PART I. THE SCENARIO
The meaning of the”shooting-script”—The construction of the scenario—The theme—The action-treatment of the theme—Conclusion.
PART II. THE PLASTIC MATERIAL
The simplest specific methods of shooting—Method of treatment of the material: structural editing—Editing of the scene—Editing of the sequence—Editing of the Scenario- Editing as an instrument of impression: relational editing.
II. Film Director and Film Material
PART I. THE PECULIARITIES OF FILM MATERIAL
The film and the theatre—The methods of the film—Film and reality—Filmic space and time —The material of films—Analysis—Editing: the logic of filmic analysis—The necessity to interfere with movement—Organisation of the material to be shot—Arranging setups—The organisation of chance material—Filmic form —The technique of directorial work.
PART II. THE DIRECTOR AND THE SCENARIO
The director and the scenarist—The environment of the film—The characters in the environment—The establishment of the rhythm of the film.
PART III. THE DIRECTOR AND THE ACTOR
Two kinds of production—The film actor and the film type—Planning the acting of the film type—The ensemble—Expressive movement—Expressive objects—The director as creator of the ensemble.
PART IV. THE ACTOR IN THE FRAME
The actor and the filmic image—The actor and light.
PART V. THE DIRECTOR AND THE CAMERAMAN
The cameraman and the camera—The camera and its viewpoint—The shooting of movement —The camera compels the spectator to see as the director wishes—The shaping of the composition— The laboratory—Collectivism: the basis of film-work.
III. Types Instead of Actors
IV. Close-ups in Time
V. Asynchronism as a principle of sound Film
VI. Rhythmic Problems in My First Sound Film
VII. Notes and Appendices
A. GLOSSARIAL NOTES 175
B. SPECIAL NOTES
C. ICONOGRAPHY OF PUDOVKIN’s WORKS
D. INDEX OF NAMES
The numerals in the text refer to Appendix B.
There are few experiences more important in the education of a newcomer to motion pictures than the discovery of V. I. Pudovkin’s Film Technique and Film Acting. No more valuable manuals of the practice and theory of film making have been written than these two handbooks by the notable Soviet director. So sound are their points of view, so valid their tenets, so revelatory their analyses, that they remain today, twenty years after their initial appearance, the foremost books of their kind.
First published abroad in 1929 and 1933 respectively, Film Technique and Film Acting brought to the art of film making a code of principles and a rationale that marked the medium’s analytic “coming of age.” Until their publication, the motion picture maker had to eke out on his own any intellectual or artistic considerations of film craft. No explicit body of principles existed upon which the film maker could draw with confidence. Film technique was a more or less hit or miss affair that existed in a kind of fragmentary state which, in the main, leaned heavily upon theatrical methods.
These pioneering books made clear at once that movie making need no longer flounder for a methodology or for its own standards. They elucidated what were the fundamentals of film art and defined the singular process of expression that distinguished it from all other media. Now film theory and practice could be attacked with greater assurance and efficiency. The film maker now had at his disposal a consolidated and concrete source of information and knowledge that could shorten his own creative development. It is not surprising therefore that these books soon became the “bibles” for film artists.
Film Technique, in particular, had an acute and immediate effect. It came out at a climactic period in film history—just when the American cinema was catching its breath over the exciting innovations and new contributions that had been introduced first by the German film importations, then the French and finally the Russian. The originality of these foreign pictures had stirred up a wealth of film theory and criticism which was valuble and passionate but without a generally accepted reference point. A criteria on which to construct, judge and evaluate a motion picture was sorely needed. Film Technique fulfilled this need and was greeted with hearty applause. Film theory and film making was lifted out of the gossip and “personal opinion” category and into a more conscious and defined art form. The concepts contained in this slim book stimulated and sharpened awareness of what was basic and true to the film medium. All films and writings that followed—whether they agreed with its edicts or not—have had to take cognizance of its principles and contributions. Film makers and critics to the pres ent continue to borrow from its rich deposit of ideas, implications and conclusions.
Film Acting, which appeared shortly after the introduction of sound, never had the same deep influence or stirred up the same amount of excitement. This is probably because the problem of film acting was basically another aspect, an extension of the problem of acting in general—an art which already had a great body of tradition and analysis in print, while film technique although utilizing many of the other, older crafts, was nevertheless a new and distinct medium of expression about which very little was known and which had acquired only the beginnings of a tradition.
No more authoritative and knowing person could have been chosen to write these books than V. I. Pudovkin, acknowledged internationally as one of the greatest of film directors. His early pictures—Mother, The End of St. Petersburg, Storm Over Asia—along with those of other Soviet directors, burst upon the American scene between the years of 1927-1930, provoking tremendous excitement, controversy and admiration. Intellectuals, artists and film makers argued hotly about the merits of what they were forced by these films to concede to be an art. Cries of “propaganda” were mingled with cheers for the pictures’ dynamic forcefulness, high imagination and profound cinematic skill. When all the excitement had simmered down, it was agreed that the films of Pudovkin and his countrymen had ushered in a new era in screen artistry.
The End of St Petersburg (1927) and Storm Over Asia (1928), were the two pictures which made Pudovkin’s reputation in the United States. Mother was not shown in this country until years later, and then only to limited audiences. The End of St. Petersburg was so popular that it had the distinction of being the first Soviet film to appear in Broadway’s largest movie theatre, the Roxy. It played there for a number of weeks after an initial two-a-day run at Hammerstein’s legitimate theatre—an uncommon event for that day.
The End of St. Petersburg dramatized through the eyes of a peasant the social upheaval in St. Petersburg, with a sweep and richness of detail comparable to the best efforts of Griffith and Eisenstein. Its warm human feeling for character, its atmosphere of the Russian countryside, its innumerable satirical touches and its portrait of a bewildered peasant who finally emerges from perplexity to an understanding of his country’s upset, were rendered in a quick, staccato style that emphasized the intensity of the period and carried the spectator away by the sheer force and dynamic quality of its filmic construction.
Some of the film’s sequences were considered so extraordinary cinematically that they have since become celebrated in film history. In the stock exchange sequence for instance, Pudovkin portrayed in extreme close shots the hysteria of the Czarist war profiteers, then cross cut these images to another kind of hysteria —soldiers in battle being mowed down by bursting shells, freezing in dug-outs, killing and being killed. He forced the spectator to draw his own conclusions from the cross cutting of the pictures. Such a use of editing was typical of the film throughout. The theory that was the basis for this method can be found in his manual.
Storm Over Asia had many things in common with this film. Its protagonist, as the hero in The End of St. Petersburg, was also a bewildered peasant, who in the social upheaval becomes awakened and leads his fellow men against their oppressors. Structurally simpler than its predecessor, it also revealed a cinematic style of dexterity and originality. The film was permeated with the same deep regard for the precise image, the exact pace, the significant psychological angle, and displayed an equally profound use of editing.
The closing sequence of the picture illustrates forcefully what Pudovkin called, “implanting an abstract concept into the consciousness of the spectator,” through cinematic symbolism. The Mongol hero (mistaken heir of Genghis Khan) who has fiercely fought his way out of his enemy’s headquarters, is pursued by them as he rides across the desert. A windstorm begins. The Mongol raises his ancient sword and cries out, “O My People!” Suddenly as if in answer to his cry, the desert begins to fill with hundreds, then thousands of mounted Mongols. Again he calls:”Rise in your ancient strength!”The screen fills with tens of thousands of his tribesmen, riding furiously as though to battle behind their leader. Once more the Mongol calls out: “—And free yourselves!” Now the mounted warriors blend with the fury of the storm and sweep every thing before them—their enemy, their enemy’s trading posts, trees—in a tempestuous hurricane symbolical of their united strength and the imminent storm over Asia.
These important and masterful motion pictures had been made by Pudovkin while in his early thirties. Yet he had never thought of making motion pictures his career until he was twenty-seven. Up to that time his vocational interest had been chemistry. He was about to graduate from the Moscow University with a degree in physics and chemistry when the first world war broke out. Enlisting in the artillery, he was wounded and taken prisoner. The years 1915-1918 were spent in a Pomeranian prison camp; 1919 saw him back in Moscow installed once more in a chemist’s laboratory.
But the post-war restlessness seized him. He became so interested in the theatre that he decided to forsake his previous profession and passed the examination which admitted him to work in one of Moscow’s theatre workshop groups. Then he saw D. W. Griffith’s film Intolerance. This work made such a deep impression upon him that there was no longer any doubt for him as to where his path lay. “After seeing it (Intolerance), I was convinced that cinematography was really an art and an art of great potentialities. It fascinated me and I was eager to go into this new field.”
He applied at once to the State Film School and was accepted. Here during the next two years he served an apprenticeship acting, designing sets, improvising scenes and learning the business aspects of movie making. After this he went on to the film workshop of Kuleshov, who had the reputation of being the most stimulating and inspiring teacher in his country— a reputation not unlike that of Professor Baker in this country who made his theatre workshop at Harvard so famous. Under Kuleshov, Pudovkin discovered the medium’s true nature and its creative resources. Pudovkin learned that in every art there is a material and a mode of organizing that material in terms of the medium. Through experiment and practice he discovered what Melies, Porter and Griffith had instinctively fallen upon many years earlier: that the basic means of expression which is unique to motion pictures lies in the organization of the film strips—the shots—which in themselves contain the elements of the larger forms — the scenes and sequences—and which in relationship motivate the film’s structural unity and effectiveness.
Toward the end of 1925, he directed his first featurelength picture: Mechanics of the Brain. During a lull in its production he collaborated with Nikolai Shipkovsky in the direction of a comedy based on the International Chess Tournament then being held in Moscow: Chess Fever. This picture brought him critical attention and the admiration of other film makers. It also won for him the opportunity to direct a much more ambitious undertaking, Mother, based on the novel by Maxim Gorky, which was destined to bring him international acclaim and place him in the front row of directorial talents. The film itself was hailed as a”masterpiece”and ranks as one of the classics in film history. It is considered by many to be his greatest work.
It was during the production of Mother that Pudovkin wrote the first of these two books as part of a series of manuals on film making for use in the State Cinema Institute. The first manual, originally containing 64 pages, was called The Film Scenario; the second, 92 pages long, was called The Film Director and Film Material. So large was their circulation in Russia that they were translated and published abroad in a single handbook entitled Film Technique.
Pudovkin later amplified many of the ideas in this manual in a lecture at the Cinema Institute. At the suggestion of the State Academy of Art Research, he expanded this lecture into a third book which subsequently was called Film Acting. Both books, Film Technique and Film Acting, became standard international reading almost immediately, accepted and proselytized far beyond their author’s expectations.
Early in his career, Pudovkin discovered that the human eye does not see things in a mechanical way. That is, the eye seldom focuses on anything from the point of view squarely in front of it except by the merest chance. Instead it is more natural for the eye to perceive things at some angle—either from below, above or from the side. Also, the eye does not focus on an object for a long period of time, but constantly shifts around in a succession of swift impressions. With the aid of the brain these impressions are instantly registered as texture, light and shade, size, weight, etc.
This knowledge aided Pudovkin’s formation of film theory. His writing is larded with pertinent observa tions of the behavior of the eye and mind. He points out that the principles of film technique have much in common with the principles of the eye and the brain. That is, the eye does not simply act as a mechanical recorder, but is an instrument (not unlike the lens of the camera) whose impressions are linked to and qualified by the brain. For what the eye sees the brain appraises, computes and arranges in an organized summation or concept. This activity of selection and rearrangement for the purpose of implanting an idea or emotion or concept is the secret of film construction. Many vivid examples from Pudovkin’s own and other films make the application of his method and the working cause and effect enlightening, practical and stimulating.
At all times it is the practitioner talking, not the critic or theorist. Pudovkin grapples with the specifics of craft problems that confront every film maker and the principles he formulates flow from much study and practice in the laboratory and studio. At first glance, Pudovkin’s approach may seem to some, unfeeling, doctrinaire or even mechanical. Yet his films prove that when construction and action are understood in terms of the screen medium, the results are as human and as full of feeling as the director can make them.
Film Technique and Film Acting can in no way be considered in the category of manuals which teach movie making in twelve easy lessons. Nor are they intended for the amateur film hobbyist—although a knowledge of the contents of Pudovkin’s books can greatly improve his work. They can provide such hobbyists with an insight into the medium such as they never dreamed of and thus enable them to enhance their own pleasure by raising them from dabblers to creative craftsmen.
There is so much that is touched upon in these books that is of grave significance, that they merit continuous reading and study. Other writing on film art may go into the subject at greater length, examine more thoroughly more aspects, include wider discussions of more technical problems more recently arisen, but no book speaks with greater authority, nor has captured with greater simplicity and comprehensiveness the basic issues of film structure. Because of its laconic treatment and compactness, important details are sometimes missed or oversimplified. It is important to note for example that Pudovkin says, the foundation of film art is editing. He does not say, as many of his readers have said later, that the art of film is editing. Together, Film Technique and Film Acting constitute an anatomy of film art. Their reappearance in an American edition after many years of being out of print is an augury that holds much promise for the future.
INTRODUCTION TO THE GERMAN EDITION
The foundation of film art is editing. Armed with this watchword, the young cinema of Soviet Russia commenced its progress, and it is a maxim that, to this day, has lost nothing of its significance and force.
It must be borne in mind that the expression “editing” is not always completely interpreted or understood in its essence. By some the term is naively assumed to imply only a joining together of the strips of film in their proper time-succession. Others, again, know only two sorts of editing, a fast and a slow. But they forget—or they have never learnt—that rhythm (i.e., the effects controlled by the alternation in cutting of longer or shorter strips of film) by no means exhausts all the possibilities of editing.
To make clear my point and to bring home unmistakably to my readers the meaning of editing and its full potentialities, I shall use the analogy of another art-form—literature. To the poet or writer separate words are as raw material. They have the widest and most variable meanings which only begin to become precise through their position in the sentence. To that extent to which the word is an integral part of the composed phrase, to that extent is its effect and meaning variable until it is fixed in position, in the arranged artistic form.
To the film director each shot of the finished film subserves the same purpose as the word to the poet. Hesitating, selecting, rejecting, and taking up again, he stands before the separate takes, and only by conscious artistic composition at this stage are gradually pieced together the “phrases of editing,” the incidents and sequences, from which emerges, step by step, the finished creation, the film.
The expression that the film is “shot” is entirely false, and should disappear from the language. The film is not shot, but built, built up from the separate strips of celluloid that are its raw material. If a writer requires a word—for example, beech—the single word is only the raw skeleton of a meaning, so to speak, a concept without essence or precision. Only in conjunction with other words, set in the frame of a complex form, does art endow it with life and reality. I open at hazard a book that lies before me and read “the tender green of a young beech”—not very remarkable prose, certainly, but an example that shows fully and clearly the difference between a single word and a word structure, in which the beech is not merely a bare suggestion, but has become part of a definite, literary form. The dead word has been waked to life through art.
I claim that every object, taken from a given viewpoint and shown on the screen to spectators, is a dead object, even though it has moved before the camera. The proper movement of an object before the camera is yet no movement on the screen, it is no more than raw material for the future building-up, by editing, of the movement that is conveyed by the assemblage of the various strips of film. Only if the object be placed together among a number of separate objects, only if it be presented as part of a synthesis of different separate visual images, is it endowed with filmic life. Transformed like the word”beech”in our analogy, it changes itself in this process from a skeletal photographic copy of nature into a part of the filmic form.
Every object must, by editing, be brought upon the screen so that it shall have not photographic, but cinematographic essence.
One thus perceives that the meaning of editing and the problems it presents to the director are by no means exhausted by the logical time-succession inherent in the shots, or by the arrangement of a rhythm. Editing is the basic creative force, by power of which the soulless photographs (the separate shots) are engineered into living, cinematographic form. And it is typical that, in the construction of this form, material may be used that is in reality of an entirely different character from that in the guise of which it eventually appears. I shall take an example from my last film, The End of St. Petersburg.
At the beginning of that part of the action that represents war, I wished to show a terrific explosion, In order to render the effect of this explosion with absolute faithfulness, I caused a great mass of dynamite to be buried in the earth, had it blasted, and shot it. The explosion was veritably colossal—but filmically it was nothing. On the screen it was merely a slow, lifeless movement. Later, after much trial and experiment, I managed to “edit” the explosion with all the effect I required—moreover, without using a single piece of the scene I had just taken. I took a flammenwerfer that belched forth clouds of smoke. In order to give the effect of the crash I cut in short flashes of a magnesium flare, in rhythmic alternation of light and dark. Into the middle of this I cut a shot of a river taken some time before, that seemed to me to be appropriate owing to its special tones of light and shade. Thus gradually arose before me the visual effect I required. The bomb explosion was at last upon the screen, but, in reality, its elements comprised everything imaginable except a real explosion.
Once more, reinforced by this example, I repeat that editing is the creative force of filmic reality, and that nature provides only the raw material with which it works. That, precisely, is the relationship between reality and the film.
These observations apply also in detail to the actors. The man photographed is only raw material for the future composition of his image in the film, arranged in editing.
When faced with the task of presenting a captain of industry in the film The End of St. Petersburg, I sought to solve the problem by cutting in his figure with the equestrian statue of Peter the Great. I claim that the resultant composition is effective with a reality quite other than that produced by the posing of an actor, which nearly always smacks of Theatre.
In my earlier film, Mother, I tried to affect the spectators, not by the psychological performances of an actor, but by plastic synthesis through editing. The son sits in prison. Suddenly, passed in to him surreptitiously, he receives a note that next day he is to be set free. The problem was the expression, filmically, of his joy. The photographing of a face lighting up with joy would have been flat and void of effect. I show, therefore, the nervous play of his hands and a big close-up of the lower half of his face, the corners of the smile. These shots I cut in with other and varied material—shots of a brook, swollen with the rapid flow of spring, of the play of sunlight broken on the water, birds splashing in the village pond, and finally a laughing child. By the junction of these components our expression of “prisoner’s joy” takes shape. I do not know how the spectators reacted to my experiment—I myself have always been deeply convinced of its force.
Cinematography advances with rapid stride. Its possibilities are inexhaustible. But it must not be forgotten that its path to a real art will be found only when it has been freed from the dictates of an artform foreign to it—that is, the Theatre. Cinematography stands now upon the threshold of its own methods.
The effort to affect from the screen the feelings and ideas of the public by means of editing is of crucial importance, for it is an effort that renounces theatrical method. I am firmly convinced that it is along this path that the great international art of cinematography will make its further progress.
(Published in Filmregie und Filmmanuskript, translated by Georg and Nadia Friedland, Lichtbildbuehne, Berlin, 1928, and retranslated from German by I. M., in The Film Weekly, London, October 29, 1928.)