II. FILM DIRECTOR AND FILM MATERIAL
Part I THE PECULIARITIES OF FILM MATERIAL
THE FILM AND THE THEATRE
In the earliest years of its existence the film was no more than an interesting invention that made it possible to record movements, a faculty denied to simple photography. On the film, the appearances of all possible movements could be seized and fixed. The first films consisted of primitive attempts to fix upon the celluloid, as a novelty, the movements of a train, crowds passing by upon the street, a landscape seen from a railwaycarriage window, and so forth. Thus, in the beginning, the film was, from its nature, only “living photography.” The first attempts to relate cinematography to the world of art were naturally bound up with the Theatre. Similarly only as a novelty, like the shots of the railway-engine and the moving sea, primitive scenes of comic or dramatic character, played by actors, began to be recorded. The film public appeared. There grew up a whole series of relatively small, specialised theatres in which these primitive films were shown.
The film now began to assume all the characteristics of an industry (and indeed a very profitable one). The great significance was realised of the fact that from a single negative can be printed many positives, and that by this means a reel of film can be multiplied like a book, and spread broadcast in many copies. (28) Great possibilities began to open themselves out. No longer was the film regarded as a mere novelty. The first experiments in recording serious and significant material appeared. The relationship with the Theatre could not, however, yet be dissolved, and it is easy to understand how, once again, the first steps of the film producer consisted in attempts to carry plays over on to celluloid. It seemed at that time to be especially interesting to endow the theatrical performance — the work of the actor, whose art had hitherto been but transitory, and real only in the moment of perception by the spectator—with the quality of duration.
The film remained, as before, but living photography. Art did not enter into the work of him who made it. He only photographed the “art of the actor.” Of a peculiar method for the film actor, of peculiar and special properties of the film or of technique in shooting the picture for the director, there could as yet be no suspicion. How, then, did the film director of that time work? At his disposal was a scenario, exactly resembling the play written for the Theatre by the playwright; only the words of the characters were missing, and these, as far as possible, were replaced by dumb show, and sometimes by long-winded titles. The director played the scene through in its exact theatrical sequence; he recorded the walkings to and fro, the entrances and exits of the actors. He took the scene thus playedthrough as a whole, while the cameraman, always turning, fixed it as a whole upon the celluloid. The process of shooting could not be conceived of otherwise, for as director’s material served these same real persons—actors—with whom one worked also in the Theatre; the camera served only for the simple fixation of scenes already completely arranged and definitely planned. The pieces of film shot were stuck together in simple temporal sequence of the developing action, just as the act of a play is formed from scenes, and then were presented to the public as a picture. To sum up in short, the work of the film director differed in no wise from that of the theatrical producer.
A play, exactly recorded upon celluloid and projected upon a screen, with the actors deprived of their words—that was the film of those early days.
THE METHODS OF THE FILM
The Americans were the first to discover in the filmplay the presence of peculiar possibilities of its own. It was perceived that the film can not only make a simple record of the events passing before the lens, but that it is in a position to reproduce them upon the screen by special methods, proper only to itself.
Let us take as example a demonstration that files by upon the street. Let us picture to ourselves an observer of that demonstration. In order to receive a clear and definite impression of the demonstration, the observer must perform certain actions. First he must climb upon the roof of a house, to get a view from above of the procession as a whole and measure its dimensions; next he must come down and look out through the first-floor window at the inscriptions on the banners carried by the demonstrators; finally, he must mingle with the crowd, to gain an idea of the outward appearance of the participants.
Three times the observer has altered his viewpoint, gazing now from nearer, now from farther away, with the purpose of acquiring as complete and exhaustive as possible a picture of the phenomenon under review. The Americans were the first to seek to replace an active observer of this kind by means of the camera. They showed in their work that it was not only possible to record the scene shot, but that by manoeuvring with the camera itself—in such a way that its position in relation to the object shot varied several times—it was made possible to reproduce the same scene in far clearer and more expressive form than with the lens playing the part of a theatre spectator sitting fast in his stall. The camera, until now a motionless spectator, at last received, as it were, a charge of life. It acquired the faculty of movement on its own, and transformed itself from a spectator to an active observer. Henceforward the camera, controlled by the director, could not merely enable the spectator to see the object shot, but could induce him to apprehend it.
It was at this moment that the concepts close-up, mid-shot, and long-shot first appeared in cinematography, concepts that later played an enormous part in the creative craft of editing, the basis of the work of film direction. Now, for the first time, became apparent the difference between the theatrical producer and his colleague of the film. In the beginning the material with which both theatrical producer and film director worked was identical. The same actors playing through in their same sequence the same scenes, which were but shorter, and, at the most, unaccompanied by words. The technique of acting for the films differed in no respect from that of stage-acting. The only problem was the replacement, as comprehensibly as possible, of words by gestures. That was the time when the film was rightly named “a substitute for the stage.”
FILM AND REALITY
But, with the grasping of the concept editing, the position became basically altered. The real material of film-art proved to be not those actual scenes on which the lens of the camera is directed. The theatrical producer has always to do only with real processes—they are his material. His finally composed and created work—the scene produced and played upon the stage—is equally a real and actual process, that takes place in obedience to the laws of real space and real time. When a stage-actor finds himself at one end of the stage, he cannot cross to the other without taking a certain necessary number of paces. And crossings and intervals of this kind are a thing indispensable, conditioned by the laws of real space and real time, with which the theatrical producer has always to reckon, and which he is never in a position to overstep. In fact, in work with real processes, a whole series of intervals linking the separate significant points of action are unavoidable.
If, on the other hand, we consider the work of the film director, then it appears that the active raw material is no other than those pieces of celluloid on which, from various viewpoints, the separate movements of the action have been shot. From nothing but these pieces is created those appearances upon the screen that form the filmic representation of the action shot. And thus the material of the film director consists not of real processes happening in real space and real time, but of those pieces of celluloid on which these processes have been recorded. This celluloid is entirely subject to the will of the director who edits it. He can, in the composition of the filmic form of any given appearance, eliminate all points of interval, and thus concentrate the action in time to the highest degree he may require.
This method of temporal concentration, the concentration of action by the elimination of unnecessary points of interval, occurs also, in a more simplified form, in the Theatre. It finds its expression in the construction of a play from acts. The element of play-construction by which several years are made to pass between the first and second act is, properly, an analogous temporal concentration of the action. In the film this method is not only pursued to a maximum, it forms the actual basis of filmic representation. Though it is possible for the theatrical producer temporally to approach two neighbouring acts, he is, none the less, unable to do the same with separate incidents in a single scene. (29)
The film director, on the contrary, can concentrate in time not only separate incidents, but even the movements of a single person. This process, that has often been termed a “film trick” is, in fact, nothing other than the characteristic method of filmic representation.
In order to show on the screen the fall of a man from a window five stories high, the shots can be taken in the following way:
First the man is shot falling from the window into a net, in such a way that the net is not visible on the screen (30); then the same man is shot falling from a slight height to the ground. Joined together, the two shots give in projection the desired impression. The catastrophic fall never occurs in reality, it occurs only on the screen, and is the resultant of two pieces of celluloid joined together. From the event of a real, actual fall of a person from an appalling height, two points only are selected: the beginning of the fall and its end. The intervening passage through the air is eliminated. It is not correct to call the process a trick; it is a method of filmic representation exactly corresponding to the elimination of the five years that divide a first act from a second upon the stage.
From the example of the observer watching the demonstration pass by on the street, we learned that the process of film-shooting may be not only a simple fixation of the event taking place before the lens, but also a peculiar form of representation of this event. Between the natural event and its appearance upon the screen there is a marked difference. It is exactly this difference that makes the film an art. Guided by the director, the camera assumes the task of removing every superfluity and directing the attention of the spectator in such a way that he shall see only that which is significant and characteristic. When the demonstration was shot, the camera, after having viewed the crowd from above in the long-shot, forced its way into the press and picked out the most characteristic details. These details were not the result of chance, they were selected, and, moreover, selected in such a way that from their sum, as from a sum of separate elements, the image of the whole action could be assembled. Let us suppose, for instance, that the demonstration to be recorded is characterised by its component detail: first Red soldiers, then workmen, and finally Pioneers. (31) Suppose the film technician try to show the spectator the detail composition of this demonstration by simply setting the camera at a fixed point and letting the crowd go by unbroken before the lens, then he will force the spectator to spend exactly as much time in watching the representation as he would have needed to let the crowd itself go by. By taking the procession in this way he would force the spectator to apprehend the mass of detail as it streamed past. But, by the use of that method peculiar to films, three short pieces can be taken separately: the Red soldiers, the workmen, and the Pioneers. The combination of these separate pieces with the general view of the crowd provides an image of the demonstration from which no element is lacking. The spectator is enabled to appreciate both its composition and its dimension, only the time in which he effects that appreciation is altered.
FILMIC SPACE AND TIME
Created by the camera, obedient to the will of the director—after the cutting and joining of the separate pieces of celluloid—there arises a new filmic time; not that real time embraced by the phenomenon as it takes place before the camera, but a new filmic time, conditioned only by the speed of perception and controlled by the number and duration of the separate elements selected for filmic representation of the action.
Every action takes place not only in time, but also in space. Filmic time is distinguished from actual in that it is dependent only on the lengths of the separate pieces of celluloid joined together by the director. Like time, so also is filmic space bound up with the chief process of film-making, editing. By the junction of the separate pieces the director builds a filmic space entirely his own. He unites and compresses separate elements, that have perhaps been recorded by him at differing points of real, actual space, into one filmic space. By virtue of the possibility of eliminating points of passage and interval, which we have already analysed and which obtains in all film-work, filmic space appears as a synthesis of real elements picked out by the camera.
Remember the example of the man falling from the fifth floor. That which is in reality but a tenfoot fall into a net and a six-foot further leap from a bench appears upon the screen as a fall from a hundred feet high.
L. V. Kuleshov assembled in the year 1920 the following scenes as an experiment:
1. A young man walks from left to right.
2. A woman walks from right to left.
3. They meet and shake hands. The young man points.
4. A large white building is shown, with a broad flight of steps.
5. The two ascend the steps.
The pieces, separately shot, were assembled in the order given and projected upon the screen. The spectator was presented with the pieces thus joined as one clear, uninterrupted action: a meeting of two young people, an invitation to a nearby house, and an entry into it. Every single piece, however, had been shot in a different place; for example, the young man near the G.U.M. building, the woman near Gogol’s monument, the handshake near the Bolshoi Teatr, the white house came out of an American picture (it was, in fact, the White House), and the ascent of the steps was made at St. Saviour’s Cathedral. What happened as a result? Though the shooting had been done in varied locations, the spectator perceived the scene as a whole. The parts of real space picked out by the camera appeared concentrated, as it were, upon the screen. There resulted what Kuleshov termed “creative geography.” By the process of junction of pieces of celluloid appeared a new, filmic space without existence in reality. Buildings separated by a distance of thousands of miles were concentrated to a space that could be covered by a few paces of the actors.
THE MATERIAL OF FILMS
We have now established the chief points in the difference between the work of the film director and that of the theatrical producer. This difference lies in the distinction of material. The theatrical producer works with real actuality, which, though he may always remould, yet forces him to remain bound by the laws of real space and real time. The film director, on the other hand, has as his material the finished, recorded celluloid. This material from which his final work is composed consists not of living men or real landscapes, not of real, actual stage-sets, but only of their images, recorded on separate strips that can be shortened, altered, and asembled according to his will. The elements of reality are fixed on these pieces; by combining them in his selected sequence, shortening and lengthening them according to his desire, the director builds up his own “filmic” time and “filmic” space. He does not adapt reality, but uses it for the creation of a new reality, and the most characteristic and important aspect of this process is that, in it, laws of space and time invariable and inescapable in work with actuality become tractable and obedient. The film assembles the elements of reality to build from them a new reality proper only to itself; and the laws of space and time, that, in work with living men, with sets and the footage of the stage, are fixed and fast, are, in the film, entirely altered. Filmic space and filmic time, the creation of the technician, are entirely subject to the director. The basic method of filmic representation, this construction of the unity of a film from separate pieces or elements, the superfluous among which can be eliminated and only the characteristic and significant retained, offers exceptional possibilities.
[page86] Everyone knows that the nearer we approach a regarded object, the less material appears simultaneously in our view-field; the more clearly our investigating glance examines an object, the more details we perceive and the more limited and sectional becomes our view. We no longer perceive the object as a whole, but pick out the details with our glance in order, thus receiving by association an impression of the whole that is far more vivid, deeper, and sharper than if we had gazed at the object from a distance and perceived the whole in a general view, inevitably missing detail in so doing. When we wish to apprehend anything, we always begin with the general outlines, and then, by intensifying our examination to the highest degree, enrich the apprehension by an ever-increasing number of details. The particular, the detail, will always be a synonym of intensification. It is upon this that the strength of the film depends, that its characteristic speciality is the possibility of giving a clear, especially vivid representation of detail. The power of filmic representation lies in the fact that, by means of the camera, it continually strives to penetrate as deeply as possible, to the mid-point of every image. The camera, as it were, forces itself, ever striving, into the profoundest deeps of life; it strives thither to penetrate, whither the average spectator never reaches as he glances casually around him. The camera goes deeper; anything it can see it approaches, and thereafter eternalises upon the celluloid. When we approach a given, real image, we must spend a definite effort and time upon it, in advancing from the general to the particular, in intensifying our attention to that point at which we begin to remark and apprehend details. By the process of editing the film removes, eliminates, this effort. The film spectator is an ideal, perspicuous observer. And it is the director who makes him so. In the discovered, deeply embedded detail there lies an element of perception, the creative element that characterises as art the work of man, the sole element that gives the event shown its final worth.
To show something as everyone sees it is to have accomplished nothing. Not that material that is embraced in a first, casual, merely general and superficial glance is required, but that which discloses itself to an intent and searching glance, that can and will see deeper. This is the reason why the greatest artists, those technicians who feel the film most acutely, deepen their work with details. To do this they discard the general aspect of the image, and the points of interval that are the inevitable concomitant of every natural event. The theatrical producer, in working with his material, is not in a position to remove from the view of the spectator that background, that mass of general and inevitable outline, that surrounds the characteristic and particular details. He can only underline the most essential, leaving the spectator himself to concentrate upon what he underlines. The film technician, equipped with his camera, is infinitely more powerful. The attention of the spectator is entirely in his hands. The lens of the camera is the eye of the spectator. He sees and remarks only that which the director desires to show him, or, more correctly put, that which the director himself sees in the action concerned.
In the disappearance of the general, obvious outline and the appearance on the screen of some deeply hidden detail, filmic representation attains the highest point of its power of external expression. The film, by showing him the detail without its background, releases the spectator from the unnecessary task of eliminating superfluities from his view-field. By eliminating distraction it spares the spectator’s energy, and reaches thereby the clearest and most marked effect. As example we shall take some instances from well-known films in which notable directors have attained great strength of expression.
As example, the trial scene in Griffith’s Intolerance. Here there is a scene in which a woman hears the death sentence passed on her husband, who is innocent of the crime. The director shows the face of the woman: an anxious, trembling smile through tears. Suddenly the spectator sees for an instant her hands, only her hands, the fingers convulsively gripping the skin. This is one of the most powerful moments in the film. Not for a minute did we see the whole figure, but only the face, and the hands. And it is perhaps by virtue of this fact that the director understood how to choose and to show, from the mass of real material available, only these two characteristic details, that he attained the wonderful power of impression notable in this scene. Here once more we encounter the process, mentioned above, of clear selection, the possibility of the elimination of those insignificances that fulfil only a transition function and are always inseparable from reality, and of the retention only of climactic and dramatic points. Exactly upon this possibility depends the essence of the significance of editing, the basic process of filmic creation. Confusion by linkage and wastage by intervals are inevitable attributes of reality. When a spectator is dealing with actuality he can overcome them only by a given effort of attention. He rests his glance on a face, then lets it glide down the body until finally it rests attentively on the hands—this is what a spectator has to do when looking at a real woman in real surroundings.
The film spares this work of stopping and downward-gliding. Thus the spectator spends no superfluous energy. By elimination of the points of interval the director endows the spectator with the energy preserved, he charges him, and thus the appearance assembled from a series of significant details is stronger in force of expression from the screen than is the appearance in actuality.
We now perceive that the work of the film director has a double character. For the construction of filmic form he requires proper material; if he wishes to work filmically, he cannot and must not record reality as it presents itself to the actual, average onlooker. To create a filmic form, he must select those elements from which this form will later be assembled. To assemble these elements, he must first find them. And now we hit on the necessity for a special process of analysis of every real event that the director wishes to use in a shot. For every event a process has to be carried out comparable to the process in mathematics termed “differentiation”— that is to say, dissection into parts or elements. Here the technique of observation links up with the creative process of the selection of the characteristic elements necessary for the future finished work. In order to represent the woman in the court scene, Griffith probably imagined, he may even have actually seen, dozens of despairing women, and perceived not only their heads and hands, but he selected from the whole images only the smile through tears and the convulsive hands, creating from them an unforgettable filmic picture.
Another example. In that filmically outstanding work, The Battleship “Potemkin” (32) Eisenstein shot the massacre of the mob on the great flight of steps in Odessa. (33) The running of the mob down the steps is rendered rather sparingly and is not especially expressive, but the perambulator with the baby, which, loosed from the grip of the shot mother, rolls down the steps, is poignant in its tragic intensity and strikes with the force of a blow. This perambulator is a detail, just like the boy with the broken skull in the same film. Analytically dissected, the mass of people offered a wide field for the creative work of the director, and the details correctly discovered in editing resulted in episodes remarkable in their expressive power.
Another example, simpler, but quite characteristic for film-work: how should one show a motor-car accident?—a man being run over.
The real material is thoroughly abundant and complex. There is the street, the motor-car, the man crossing the street, the car running him down, the startled chauffeur, the brakes, the man under the wheels, the car carried forward by its impetus, and, finally, the corpse. In actuality everything occurs in unbroken sequence. How was this material worked out by an American director in the film Daddy? The separate pieces were assembled on the screen in the following sequence:
1. The street with cars in movement: a pedestrian crosses the street with his back to the camera; a passing motor-car hides him from view.
2. Very short flash: the face of the startled chauffeur as he steps on the brake.
3. Equally short flash: the face of the victim, his mouth open in a scream.
4. Taken from above, from the chauffeur’s seat: legs, glimpsed near the revolving wheels.
5. The sliding, braked wheels of the car.
6. The corpse by the stationary car.
The separate pieces are cut together in short, very sharp rhythm. In order to represent the accident on the screen, the director dissected analytically the whole abundant scene, unbroken in actual development, into component parts, into elements, and selected from them—sparingly—only the six essential. And these not only prove sufficient, but render exhaustively the whole poignancy of the event represented.
In the work of the mathematician there follows after dissection into elements, after “differentiation,” a combination of the discovered separate elements to a whole—the so-called “integration.”
In the work of the film director the process of analysis, the dissection into elements, forms equally only a point of departure, which has to be followed by the assemblage of the whole from the discovered parts. The finding of the elements, the details of the action, implies only the completion of a preparatory task. It must be remembered that from these parts the complete work is finally to emerge, for, as said above, the real motor-car accident might be dissected by the onlooker into dozens, perhaps indeed hundreds, of separate incidents. The director, however, chooses only six of them. He makes a selection, and this selection is naturally conditioned in advance by that filmic image of the accident—happening not in reality but on the screen—which, of course, exists in the head of the director long before its actual appearance on the screen.
EDITING: THE LOGIC OF FILMIC ANALYSIS
The work of the director is characterised by thinking in filmic pictures; by imagining events in that form in which, composed of pieces joined together in a certain sequence, they will appear upon the screen; by considering real incidents only as material from which to select separate characteristic elements; and by building a new filmic reality out of them. Even when he has to do with real objects in real surroundings he thinks only of their appearances upon the screen. He never considers a real object in the sense of its actual, proper nature, but considers in it only those properties that can be carried over on to celluloid. The film director looks only conditionally upon his material, and this conditionally is extraordinarily specific; it arises from a whole series of properties peculiar only to the film. Even while being shot, a film must be thought of already as an editable sequence ofseparate pieces of celluloid. The filmic form is never identical with the real appearance, but only similar to it. When the director establishes the content and sequence of the separate elements that he is to combine later to filmic form, he must calculate exactly not only the content, but the length of each piece, or, in other words, he must regard it as an element of filmic space and filmic time. Let us suppose that before us lie, haphazard on the table, those separate pieces of material that were shot to represent that scene of the motor-car accident described above. The essential thing is to unite these pieces and to join them into one long strip of film. Naturally we can join them in any desired order. Let us imagine an intentionally absurd order—for example, the following:
Beginning with the shot of the motor-car, we cut into the middle of it the legs of the man run over, then the man crossing the street, and finally the face of the chauffeur. The result is a senseless medley of pieces that produces in the spectator an impression of chaos. And rational order will only be brought into the alternation of pieces when they are at least conditioned by that sequence with which a chance observer would have been able to let his glance and attention wander from object to object; only then will relation appear between the pieces, and their combination, having received organic unity, be effective on the screen. But it is not sufficient that the pieces be united in definite order. Every event takes place not only in space, but in time, and, just as filmic space is created, as we saw, by the junction in sequence of selected pieces, so must also be created, moulded from the elements of real time, a new filmic time. Let us suppose that, at the junction of the pieces shot to represent the accident, no thought has been given to their proportionate lengths; in result the editing is as follows:
1. Someone crosses the street.
2. Long: the face of the chauffeur at his brake.
3. Equally long: the screaming, wide-open mouth of the victim.
4. The braked wheel and all the other pieces shown similarly in very long strips.
A reel of film cut in this way would, even in correct spacial sequence, appear absurd to the spectator. The car would appear to travel slowly. The inherently short process of running-over would be disproportionately and incomprehensibly drawn out. The event would disappear from the screen, leaving only the projection of some chance material. Only when the right length has been found for every piece, building a rapid, almost convulsive rhythm of picture alternation, analogous to the panic glance, thrown this way and that, of an observer mastered by horror, only then will the screen breathe a life of its own imparted to it by the director. And this is because the appearance created by the director is enclosed, not only in filmic space, but also in filmic time, integrated from elements of real time picked from actuality by the camera. Editing is the language of the film director. Just as in living speech, so, one may say, in editing: there is a word—the piece of exposed film, the image; a phrase—the combination of these pieces. Only by his editing methods can one judge a director’s individuality. Just as each writer has his own individual style, so each film director has his own individual method of representation. The editing junction of the pieces in creatively discovered sequence is already a final and completing process whose result is the attainment of a final creation, the finished film. And it is with this process in mind that the director must attend also to the formation of these most elementary of pieces (corresponding to the words in speech), from which later the edited phrases—the incidents and sequences—will be formed.
THE NECESSITY TO INTERFERE WITH MOVEMENT
The organising work of the director is not limited to editing. Quite a number of film technicians maintain that editing should be the only organising medium of the film. They hold that the pieces can be shot anyhow and anywhere, the images must only be interesting; afterwards, by simply joining them according to their form and kind, a way will be found to assemble them to a film. (34) If any unifying idea be taken as basis of the editing, the material will no doubt be organised to a certain degree. A whole series of shots taken at hazard in Moscow can be joined to a whole, and all the separate shots will be united by their place of taking—the town of Moscow. The spacial grasp of the camera can be narrowed to any desired degree; a series of figures and happenings can be taken on the market-place and then finally in a room where a meeting is being held, and in all these shots there will undoubtedly be an organising embryo, but the question is how deeply it will be developed. Such a collection of shots can be compared to a newspaper, in which the enormous abundance of news is divided into sections and columns. The collection of news of all the happenings in the world, given in the newspaper, is organised and systematised. But this same news, used in an article or a book, is organised in an even higher degree. In the process of creating a film, the work of organisation can and must extend more widely and deeply than the mere establishment of a hard and fast editing scheme of representation. The separate pieces must be brought into organic relation with each other, and for this purpose their content must be considered in the shooting as a deepening, as an advancement, of the whole editing construction into the inner depth of each separate element of this construction.
In considering certain of our examples, we have had to deal with events and appearances that take place before the camera independent of the will of the director. The shooting of the demonstration was, after all, only a selection of scenes of real actuality, not created by the director, but picked out by him from the hurly-burly flow of life. But, in order to produce an edited representation of a given action, in order to take some piece of reality not specially arranged by him in editable form, the director must none the less, in one way or another, subordinate this action to his will. Even in the shooting of this demonstration we had, if we wished to render as vivid as possible a scenic representation of it, to insinuate ourselves with the camera into the crowd itself and to get specially selected, typical persons to walk past the lens just for the purpose of being taken, thus arbitrarily interfering with the natural course of events in order to make them serve for subsequent filmic representation. (35)
If we use a more complex example we shall see even more clearly that in order to shoot and filmically represent any given action we must subject it to our control—that is, it must be possible for us to bring it to a standstill, to repeat it several times, each time shooting a new detail, and so forth. Suppose we wish editably to shoot the take-off of an aeroplane. For its filmic representation we select the following elements:
1. The pilot seats himself at the controls.
2. The hand of the pilot makes contact.
3. The mechanic swings the propeller.
4. The aeroplane rolls towards the camera.
5. The take-off itself shot from another position so that the aeroplane travels away from the camera as it leaves the ground.
In order to shoot in editable form so simple an action as a take-off, we must either stop after the first movement of the aeroplane, and, having quickly changed the position of the camera, placing it at the tail-end of the machine, take the continuation of the movement, or we must unavoidably repeat the movement of the aeroplane twice; once let it travel towards the camera, and, the second time, changing the set-up, away from the camera.
In both cases we must, in order to obtain the filmic representation desired, interrupt the natural course of the action, either by stopping or by repetition. Almost invariably, in shooting a dynamically continuous action, we must, if we wish to obtain from it the necessary details, either stop it by interruption or repeat it several times. In such a way we must always make our action dependent on the will of the director, even in the shooting of the simplest events that have nothing to do with “artistic” direction. If we chose not to interfere with the natural unfolding of the real event, then we should be knowingly making the film impossible. We should have left nothing but a slavish fixation of the event, excluding all possibility of using such advantages of filmic representation as the particularisation of details and the elimination of superfluous transitory points.
ORGANISATION OF THE MATERIAL TO BE SHOT
We now turn to a new side of directorial work — namely, the methods of organisation of the material to be shot. Suppose the director to be concerned only in making an industrial film (the work of a factory, large workshop, or institution), a subject which would appear to consist only in the fixation of a number of processes not requiring his interference as director, even so his work consists of something more than the simple setting up of the camera and shooting the machines and people at work from various angles. In order to finish up with a really filmically clear, editable representation, the director is, with each separate process he shoots, inevitably compelled to interrupt and interfere, guided by a clear perception of that editing sequence in which he will later project the pieces on the screen. The director must introduce into his work the element of direction, the element of a special organisation of every action shot, the goal of which organisation is the clearest and most exact possible recording of characteristic details.
But when we go on to the shooting of so-called “dramatic” subjects, then naturally the element of direction, the element of organisation of the material to be shot, becomes yet more important and indispensable. In order to shoot all the essentials of the filmic representation of the motor-car accident, the director had many times to alter the position of his camera; he had to make the motor-car, the chauffeur, and the victim carry out their separate and essential movements many times. In the direction of a dramatic film very often an event shown on the screen never had existence as a whole in reality. It has been present only in the head, in the imagination of the director, as he sought the necessary elements for the later filmic form.
Here we come to the consideration of that which must be shot in the limits of one uninterrupted piece of celluloid, in the limits of one “shot,”as the technical term has it. Work in the limits of one shot is naturally dependent on real space and real time; it is work with single elements of filmic space and filmic time; and is naturally directly conditioned by the cutting later to be carried out. In order to arouse in the spectator the necessary excited impression, the director, in editing the motor-car accident, built up a disturbed rhythm, effected by the exceptionally short lengths of each single piece. But remember, the desired material cannot be got by merely cutting or abruptly shortening the pieces of celluloid; the necessary length into which the content of each piece had to fit must have been borne in mind when it was shot. Let us suppose that it is our task to shoot and edit a disturbed, excited scene, that accordingly makes necessary quick change of the short pieces. In shooting, however, the scenes and parts of scenes are acted before the lens very slowly and lethargically. Then, in selecting the pieces and trying to edit them, we shall be faced by an insuperable obstacle. Short pieces must be used, but the action that takes place in the limits of each separate piece proves to be so slow that, to reach the necessary shortness of each piece, we must cut, remove part of the action; while, if we preserve the shots entire, the pieces prove too long.
Let us imagine that the camera, embracing in its view-field a wide area, for example two persons talking to one another, suddenly approaches one of the characters and shows some detail important to the development of the action and, at the given moment, particularly characteristic. Then the camera withdraws once more and the spectator sees the further development of the scene in long-shot as previously, both persons of the action being found again in the field of view. It must be emphasised that the spectator only derives an impression of unbroken development of the action when the transition from long-shot to close-up (and reverse) is associated with a movement common to the two pieces. For example, if as detail concerned is selected a hand drawing a revolver from a pocket during the conversation, the scene must infallibly be shot as follows: the first long-shot ends with a movement of the hand of the actor reaching for his pocket; in the following close-up, showing the hand alone, the movement begun is completed and the hand gets out the revolver; then back to the long-shot, in which the hand with the revolver, continuing the movement from the pocket begun at the end of the close-up, aims the weapon at its adversary. Such linkage by movement is the essential desideratum in that form of editing construction in which the object taken is not removed from the view-field at a change of set-up. Now, all three pieces are shot separately (technically, more correctly, the whole of the long-shot is taken uninterruptedly, from the hand-movement to the threat to the adversary; the close-up is taken separately). It is naturally obvious that the close-up of the hand of the actor, cut into the long-shot of the handmovement, will only be in the right place and only blend to a unity if the movements of the actor’s hand at both moments of actual recording are in exact external correspondence. (36)
The example given of the hand is extremely elementary. The hand-movement is not complicated and exact repetition not hard to achieve. But the use of several set-ups in representing an actor’s work occurs very frequently in films. The movements of the actors may be very complicated. And in order to repeat in the close-up the movements made in long-shot, to conform to the requirements of great spacial and temporal exactness, both director and actor must be technically highly practised. Yet another property of films conditions exactness of spacial directorial construction. In the preparation of the material to be shot, in the construction of the work before the camera, in the choice and fixation of one or other movement form—or, in other words, in the organisation of these tasks—not only are bounds set to the director by the considerations of his editing plan, but he is limited also by the specific view-field of the camera itself, which forces all the material shot into the well-known rectangular contour of the cinematograph screen. During his work the film director does not see what takes place in front of him with the eye of a normal spectator—he looks at it with the eye of the lens. (37) The normal human gaze, widely embracing the area in front of him, does not exist for the director. He sees and constructs only in that conditioned section of space that the camera can take in; and yet more—this space is, as it were, delimited by fast, fixed boundaries, and the very definite expression of these boundaries themselves inevitably conditions an inflexibility of composition in the spacial construction. It is obvious that an actor taken with a fairly close approximation of the camera will, in making a movement too wide in relation to the space he occupies, simply disappear from the view-field of the camera. If, for example, the actor sit with bended head, and must raise his head, at a given approximation of the camera, an error on his part of only an inch or two may leave only his chin visible to the spectator, the rest of him being outside the limits of the screen, or, technically, “cut off.” This elementary example broadly emphasises once again the necessity of an exact spacial calculation of every movement the director shoots. Naturally this necessity applies not only to close-ups. It may be a gross mistake to take instead of the whole of somebody, only two-thirds of him. To distribute the material shot and its movements in the rectangle of the picture in such a way that everything is clearly and sharply apprehensible, to construct every composition in such a way that the right-angled boundaries of the screen do not disturb the composition found, but perfectly contain it—that is the achievement towards which film directors strive.
THE ORGANISATION OF CHANGE MATERIAL
Anyone who knows anything of painting knows how the shape of the canvas on which the picture is painted conditions the composition of the design. The forms presented upon the canvas must be organically enclosed in the boundaries of its space. The same is true of the work of the film director. No movement, no construction is thinkable for him outside that piece of space, limited by a rectangular contour and technically termed the “picture.” (38) It is true that not always does a film director happen to deal with subordination as direct as that of actors receiving orders easily obeyed. He often encounters happenings and processes that cannot be directly subordinated to his will. For the director strives ever to seize and use everything that the world around can offer him. And far from everything in this world obeys the shouting of a director. For instance, the shooting of a sea, a waterfall, a storm, an avalanche: all this is often brought into a film, and, forming a firmly integral part of the subject, must consequently be organised exactly as any other material prepared for editing. Here the director is completely submerged in a mass of chance happenings. Nothing is directly obedient to his will. The movements before the camera develop in accordance with their own laws. But the material required by the director —that is, out of which the film can be made—must none the less be organised. If the director finds himself confronted with a phenomenon that is chance in this sense, he cannot and must not give in to it, for otherwise his work will change itself to a simple, unregulated record. He must employ the adventitious phenomenon, and he does so by constantly inventing a series of special methods. Here comes to his help that possibility of disregarding the natural development of the action in real time, of which I have already spoken above. The director, alertly watching with his camera, finds it possible to pick out the material required and to unite the separate shots on the screen, even though they may in reality be separated from one another by wide temporal intervals. Suppose he require for a film a small stream, the bursting of a dam, and the flood consequent on the catastrophe, he can shoot the stream and the dam in autumn, the river when in spate in spring, and secure the required impression by combination of the two sections. Suppose the action take place on the shores of a sea with a continuous and tempestuous breaking of the surf, the director can only take his shots when the waves are high after a storm. But the shots, though spread out over several months, will represent on the screen perhaps only a day or an hour. Thus the director utilises the (natural) repetition of a chance happening for the required filmic representation.
The recording of the animals that so often appear in films affords a further instance of the use of special methods in organising the adventitious. It is said that an American director spent sixty working hours and the corresponding amount of celluloid in order to get on the screen the exact spring that he needed of a kitten on a mouse. In another film a sea-lion had to be recorded. (39) The timorous animal swam rapidly and irregularly around its pond. Of course, the simple method would have been to take in the whole pond, setting up the camera the required distance away, and enabling the spectator to follow the movements of the sea-lion just as a given observer standing on the bank would have followed them. The camera could not, and had not, to watch thus; it had before it a number of separate problems. The camera had to observe how the beast glided swiftly and dexterously over the surface of the water, and it had to observe it from the best viewpoint. The sea-lion had also to be seen from closer, making close-ups necessary. The editing-plan, that preceded the taking of the shots, was as follows:
1. The sea-lion swims in the pond towards the bank—taken slightly from above, the better to follow the movements of the beast in the water.
2. The sea-lion springs out on to the bank, and then plunges back into the water.
3. It swims back to its den.
Three times had the viewpoint of the camera to be altered. Once the photographing had to be from above, then the camera had to be placed so that the beast, springing on to the bank, would happen to be very near it, and the third time the sea-lion had to be taken swimming away from the camera, so as to show the speed of its movement. At the same time, the whole material had to be shown in connected form, so that, on the screen, in the apprehension of the spectator, the three separate shots of sea-lion should blend to the impression of one continuous movement of the animal, despite the fact that they were taken from different points. One cannot command a beast to swim in a desired direction or to approach a camera; but at the same time its movement was exactly prescribed in the editing-plan, with which the construction of the whole picture was bound up. When the sea-lion was being taken from above, it swam—tempted by the throwing of a fish—several times across the pond until it came by chance into the view-field of the camera in the way the director required. For the close-up, the bait was thrown again and again until the sea-lion leaped on to the right place on the bank and made the necessary turn. Out of thirty takes made, three were chosen, and these gave on the screen the desired image of continuous movement. This movement was not organised by direct prescription of the work required, but attained by approximate control of adventitious elements and subsequent strict selection of the material gathered. The chance is synonymous of real, unfalsified, unacted life. In fifty per cent of his work the director encounters it. Organisation and exact arrangement— this is the basic slogan of film work, and it is chiefly accomplished by the editing. The editing-plan can exist before the moment of shooting, and then the will of the director transforms and subdues reality in order to assemble the work out of it. The editingplan can appear during the process of shooting, if the director, come upon unforeseen material, use it simultaneously orientating his work according to that feasible future form that will compose, from the pieces shot, a united filmic image.
So, for example, in The Battleship “Potemkin” the brilliant shots taken in the mist by the cameraman Tisse are cut beautifully into the film with striking effect and organically weld themselves to its whole, though nobody had foreseen the mist. Indeed, it was the more impossible to foresee the mist because mists had hitherto been regarded as a hindrance in film-work.
But, in either case, the shooting must be related organically to the editing-plan, and consequently the paramount requirement of an exact spacial and temporal calculation of the content of each piece remains in force.
When, instead of making a simple fixation of some action that takes place in reality, we wish to render it in its filmic form—that is to say, exchange its actual, uninterrupted flow for an integration of creatively selected elements—then we must bear invariably in mind those laws that relate the spectator to the director who edits the shots. When we discussed a haphazard, chaotic ordination of shots, we laid it down that this would appear as a meaningless disorder to the spectator. To impress the spectator is correctly to discover the order and rhythm of the combination.
How does one hit upon such an ordination? Certainly, generally speaking, this, like any other creative artistic process, must be left ultimately to the artist’s intuition. None the less, at least the paths that approximately determine the direction of this work should be indicated. We have already made comparison above between the lens and the eye of an observer. This comparison can be carried very far. The director, as he determines the position of the camera in shooting and prescribes the length of each separate shot, can, in fact, be compared to an observer who turns his glance from one element of the action to another, so long as this observer is not apathetic in respect to his emotional state. The more deeply he is excited by the scene before him, the more rapidly and suddenly (staccato) his attention springs from one point to another. (The example of the motor-car accident.) The more disinterestedly and phlegmatically he observes the action, the calmer and slower will be the changes of his points of attention, and consequently the changes of set-up of the camera. The emotion can unquestionably be communicated by the specific rhythm of the editing. Griffith, the American, richly uses this method in the greater part of his films. Here belongs also that characteristic directorial method of forcing the spectator to insinuate himself into the skin of the actor, and letting him see with the latter’s eyes. Very often after the face of the hero looking at something, the object looked at is shown from his viewpoint. The greater part of the methods of editing a film yet known to us can be linked to this regarding of the camera as observer. The considerations that determine changes of glance coincide almost exactly with those that govern correct editing construction.
But it cannot be claimed that this comparison is exhaustive. The construction of filmic form in editing can be carried out in several ways. For, finally, it is the editing itself that contains the culmination of the creative work of the film director. Indeed, it is in the direct discovery of methods for use in the editing of the material filmed that the film will gain for itself a worthy place among the other great arts. Film-art is yet inks period of birth. Such methods as approximation, comparison, pattern, and so forth, that have already been long an organic preparatory part of the existing arts, are only now being tested fumblingly in the film. I cannot here refrain from the opportunity of instancing a brilliant example of an unquestionably new editing method that Eisenstein used in The Battleship “Potemkin”
The fourth reel ends with the firing of a gun, on board the rebel battleship, at the Odessa Theatre. This seemingly simple incident is handled in an extraordinarily interesting way by Eisenstein. The editing is as follows:
1. Title: “And the rebel battleship answered the brutality of the tyrant with a shell upon the town.”
2. A slowly and deliberately turning gun-turret is shown.
3. Title: “Objective—the Odessa Theatre”
4. Marble group at the top of the theatre building.
5. Title: “On the General’s Headquarters”
6. Shot from the gun.
7. In two very short shots the marble figure of Cupid is shown above the gates of a building.
8. A mighty explosion; the gates totter.
9. Three short shots, a stone lion sleeping, a stone lion with open eyes, and a rampant stone lion.
10. A new explosion, shattering the gates.
This is an editing construction that is reproduced in words only with difficulty, but that is almost shatteringly effective on the screen. The director has here employed a daring form of editing. In his film a stone lion rises to its feet and roars. This image has hitherto been thinkable only in literature, and its appearance on the screen is an undoubted and thoroughly promising innovation. It is interesting to observe that in this short length of film all the characteristic elements peculiar and specific to filmic representation are united. The battleship was taken in Odessa, the various stone lions in the Crimea, (40) and the gates, I believe, in Moscow. The elements are picked out and welded into one united filmic space. From different, immovable stone lions has arisen in the film the non-existent movement of a filmic lion springing to its feet. Simultaneously with this movement has appeared a time non-existent in reality, inseparably bound up with each movement. The rebel battleship is concentrated to a single gunmuzzle, and the General’s headquarters stare at the spectator in the shape of a single marble group on the summit of their roof. The struggle between the enemies not only loses nothing thereby, but gains in clearness and sharpness. Naturally this example of the lions instanced here cannot be brought into relation with the use of the camera as observer. It is an exceptional example, offering undoubted possibilities in the future for the creative work of the film director. Here the film passes from naturalism, which in a certain degree was proper to it, to free, symbolic representation, independent of the requirements of elementary probability.
THE TECHNIQUE OF DIRECTORIAL WORK
We have already laid down, as the characteristic property of filmic representation, the striving of the camera to penetrate as deeply as possible into the details of the event being represented, to approach as nearly as possible to the object under observation, and to pick out only that which can be seen with a glance, intensified to eliminate the general and superficial. Equally characteristic is its externally exhaustive embrace of the events it handles. One might say that the film, as it were, strives to force the spectator to transcend the limits of normal human apprehension. On the one hand, it allows this apprehension to be sharpened by incredible attentiveness of observation, in concentrating entirely on the smallest details. At the same time, it allows events in Moscow and nearly related events in America to be embraced in a nearly simultaneous comprehension. Concentration on details and wide embrace of the whole include an extraordinary mass of material. Thus the director is faced with the task of organising and carefully working out a great number of separate tasks, according to a definite plan previously devised by him. As instance: in every, even in an average, film the number of persons in the action is seldom less than several dozen, and each of these persons —even those shown only shortly—is organically related to the film as a whole: the performance of each of these persons must be carefully ordered and thought out, exactly as carefully as any shot from the part of a principal. A film is only really significant when every one of its elements is firmly welded to a whole. And this will only be the case when every element of the task is carefully mastered. When one calculates that in a film of about 4,000 feet there are about five hundred pieces, then one perceives that there are five hundred separate but interlocked groups of problems to be solved, carefully and attentively, by the director. When one considers yet again that work on a film is always and inevitably limited by a given maximal time duration, then one sees that the director is so overloaded with work that successful carrying through of the film with direction from one man alone is almost impossible. It is therefore quite easily comprehensible that all notable directors seek to have their work carried out in a departmentalised manner. The whole work of producing a film disintegrates into a series of separate and, at the same time, firmly interrelated sections. Even if one only enumerates the basic stages superficially, one gets, none the less, a very impressive list. As follows:
1. The scenario, and its contained treatment.
2. The preparation of the shooting-script, determination of the editing construction.
3. The selection of actors.
4. The building of sets and the selection of exteriors.
5. The direction and taking of the separate elements into which incidents are divided for editing, the shooting-script script-scenes.
6. Laboratory work on the material shot.
7. The editing (the cutting).
The director, as the single organising control that guides the assembling of the film from beginning to end, must naturally make his influence felt in each of these separate sections. If a hiatus, a mishap, creep into the work of but one of the stages listed, the whole film—the result of the director’s collective creation—will inevitably suffer, equally whether it be a matter of a badly chosen actor, of an uneven piece of continuity in the treatment, or of a badly developed piece of negative. Thus it is obvious that the director must be the central organiser of a group of colleagues whose efforts are directed upon the goal mapped out by him.
Collective work on a film is not just a concession to current practice, but a necessity that follows from the characteristic basic peculiarities of films. The American director is surrounded during his directorial work by a whole staff of colleagues, each of whom fulfils a sharply defined and delimited function. A series of assistants, each provided by the director with a task in which the latter’s idea is clearly defined, works simultaneously on the many incidents and parts of incidents. After having been checked and confirmed by the director, these incidents are shot and added to the mass of material being prepared for the assembling of the film. The resolution of certain problems—such, for instance, as the organised shooting of crowd-scenes including sometimes as many as a thousand persons—shows quite clearly that the director’s work cannot attain a proper result unless he has a sufficiently extensive staff of colleagues at his disposal. In fine, a director working with a thousand extras exactly resembles a commander-in-chief. He gives battle to the indifference of the spectator; it is his task to conquer it by means of an expressive construction of the movement of the masses he guides; and, like a commander-in-chief, he must have a sufficient number of officers at his disposal to be able to sway the crowd according to his will. We have said already that, in order to attain a unified creation, a complete film, the director must lead constant through all the numerous stages of the work a unifying, organising line created by him. We shall now examine these stages one by one, in order to be able to represent to ourselves yet more clearly the nature of the work of film direction.
Part II THE DIRECTOR AND THE SCENARIO
THE DIRECTOR AND THE SCENARIST
In production, affairs usually take the following course: a scenario is received, handed over to the director, and he submits it to a so-called directorial treatment—that is to say, he works over the entire material submitted him by the scenarist according to his own individuality; he expresses the thoughts offered him in his own filmic speech —in the language of separate images, separate elements, shots, that follow one another in a certain sequence he establishes.
In short, if a film be compared with the scenario lying basic to it, it is possible to distinguish the theme, the subject treatment of the theme, and, finally, that imaginary filmic formation of the treatment that is worked out by the director in the process of production. Needless to say, these three stages of work must be directly and organically interdependent. None the less, it is evident that the work of the scenarist extends only up to a certain point, after which the share of the director begins. There is no art-form in which a sharp division between two stages ofwork is thinkable. One cannot continue a work from some point in its course, and not have been linked with it from its beginning. Therefore, as a result of the necessity for unification of two stages, the preliminary work of the scenarist and the subsequent directorial work, the following is inevitable: either the director must be directly associated with the work of the scenarist from the beginning, or, if this be impossible for some reason or other, he must inevitably go through the scenario, removing anything foreign to him, maybe altering separate parts and sequences, maybe the entire subject-construction. The director is ever faced with the task of creating the film from a series of plastically expressive images. In the ability to find such plastic images, in the faculty of creating from separate shots, by editing, clear, expressive “phrases,”and connecting these phrases into vividly impressive periods, and from these periods constructing a film—in this consists the art of the director. Not always can the scenarist, especially when he has not a clearly filmically thinking brain and is thus in some degree himself a director, provide in ready form the plastic material required by the director. Usually it is otherwise, the scenarist gives the director the idea, as such—the detached content of the image, and not its concrete form. But in a collaboration of this kind the welding together of the two colleagues, the scenarist and the director, is certainly of tremendous importance. It is easy to put forward ideas that will wake no echo in the director and must remain a pure abstraction without concrete form. Even the theme itself of the scenario—in other words, its basis —must inevitably be selected and established in contact with the director. The theme conditions the action, colours it, and thus, of course, inevitably colours that plastic content the expression of which is the chief substance of the director’s task. Only if the theme be organically comprehended by the director will he be able to subdue it to the unifying outline of the form he is creating.
Pursuing further, we come to the action. The action outlines a number of situations for the characters, their relations to one another, and, not least, their encounters. It prescribes in its development a whole number of events that already have, in some sort, feelable form. The action cannot be thought of without already some plastically expressive form. In most cases it is difficult for a scenarist, having graduated from the literary field, to steer his course by the conditions of externally expressive form. Already in planning the action the basic incidents that are to determine its shape must infallibly be mapped out. Here comes yet more clearly to light the inevitable dependence on the later directorial work. Even such a thing as the characteristics of a person of the action will be meaningless if not shown in a series of plastically effective movements or situations.
THE ENVIRONMENT OF THE FILM
To continue. All the action of any scenario is immersed in some environment that provides, as it were, the general colour of the film. This environment may, for example, be a special mode of life. By more detailed examination, one may even regard as the environment some separate peculiarity, some special essential trait of the given mode of life selected. This environment, this colour, cannot, and must not, be rendered by one explanatory scene or a title; it must constantly pervade the whole film, or its appropriate part, from beginning to end. As I have said, the action must be immersed in this background. A whole series of the best films of recent times has shown that this emphasis by means of an environment in which the action is immersed is quite easily effected in cinematography. The film Tol’able David shows us this vividly. It is also interesting that the effecting of the unity of this colour of a film is based upon the scarcely communicable ability to saturate the film with numerous fine and correctly observed details. Naturally it is not possible to require of the scenarist that he shall discover all these details and fix them in writing. The best that he can do is to find their necessary abstract formulation, and it is the affair of the director to absorb this formulation and give it the necessary plastic shape. Remarks by the scenarist such as, perhaps, “There was an insufferable smell in the room” or “Many factory-sirens vibrated and sang through the heavy, oil-permeated atmosphere” are not in any sense forbidden. They indicate correctly the relation between the ideas of the scenarist and the future plastic shaping by the director. It may already now be said with a fair degree of certainty that the most immediate task next awaiting the director is that very solution by filmic methods of the descriptive problems mentioned. The first experiments were carried out by the Americans in showing a landscape of symbolic character at the beginning of a film. Tol’able David began with the picture of a village taken through a cherry-tree in flower. The foaming, tempestuous sea symbolised the leit-motif of the film The Remnants of a Wreck.
A wonderful example, affording unquestionably an achievement of this kind, are the pictures of the misty dawn rising over the corpse of the murdered sailor in The Battleship “Potemkin.” The solution of these problems—the depiction of the environment — is an undoubted and important part of the work on the scenario. And this work naturally cannot be carried out without direct participation by the director. Even a simple landscape—a piece ofnature so often encountered in films—must, by some inner guiding line, be bound up with the developing action.
I repeat that the film is exceptionally economical and precise in its work. There is, and must be, in it no superfluous element. There is no such thing as a neutral background, and every factor must be collected and directed upon the single aim of solving the given problems. For every action, in so far as it takes place in the real world, is always involved in general conditions—that is, the nature of the environment.
The action of the scenes may take place by day or by night. Film directors have long been familiar with this point, and the effort to render night effects is to this day an interesting problem for film directors. One can go further. The American, Griffith, succeeded in the film America in obtaining, with marvellous tenderness and justness, graduations of twilight and morning. The director has a mass of material at his disposal for this kind of work. The film is interesting, as said before, not only in that it is able to concentrate on details, but also in its ability to weld to a unity numerous materials, deriving from widely embraced sources.
As example, this same morning light: To gain this effect, the director can use not only the growing light of sunrise, but also numerous correctly selected, characteristic processes that infallibly relate themselves with approaching dawn in the apprehension of the spectator. The light of lamp-posts growing paler against the lightening sky, the silhouettes of scarcely visible buildings, the tops of trees tenderly touched with the light of the not yet ascended sun, awakening birds, crowing cocks, the early morning mist, the dew—all this can be employed by the director, shot, and in editing built to a harmonious whole.
In one film an interesting method was used of representing the filmic image of a dawn. In order to embrace in the editing construction the feeling of growing and ever wider expanding light, the separate shots follow one another in such wise that at the beginning, when it is still dark, only details can be seen upon the screen. The camera took only closeups, as if, like the eye of man in the surrounding dark, it saw only what was near to it. With the increase of the light the camera became ever more and more distant from the object shot. Simultaneously with the broadening of the light, broader and broader became the view-field embraced by the lens. From the close-ups in darkness the director changed to ever more distant long-shots, as if he sought directly to render the increasing light, pervading everything widely and more widely. It is notable that here is employed a pure technical possibility, peculiar only to the film, of communicating a very subtle feeling.
It is clear that work on the solution of problems of this kind is bound up so closely with the knowledge of film technique, so organically with the pure directorial work of analysis, selection of the material, and its unification in creative editing, that such problems cannot, independently of the director, be resolved for him by the scenarist alone. At the same time, it is, as already mentioned, absolutely essential to give the expression of this environment in which the action of every film is immersed, and accordingly, in the creation of the scenario, it is indispensable for the director to collaborate in the work.
THE CHARACTERS IN THE ENVIRONMENT
I should like to note that in the work of one of the strongest directors of the present day, David Griffith, in almost every one of his films, and indeed especially in those in which he has reached the maximum expression and power, it is almost invariably the case that the action of the scenario develops among characters blended directly with that which takes place in the surrounding world.
The stormy finale of the Griffith film is so constructed as to strengthen for the spectator the conflict and the struggle of the heroes to an unimagined degree, thanks to the fact that the director introduces into the action, gale, storm, breaking ice, rivers in spate, a gigantic roaring waterfall. When Lilian Gish, in Way Down East, runs broken from the house, her happiness in ruins, and the faithful Barthelmess rushes after her to bring her back to life, the whole pursuit of love behind despair, developing in the furious tempo of the action, takes place in a fearful snowstorm; and at the final climax, Griffith forces the spectator himself to feel despair, when a rotating block of ice, on it cowering the figure of a woman, approaches the precipice of a gigantic waterfall, itself conveying the impression of inescapable and hopeless ruin.
First the snowstorm, then the foaming, swirling river in thaw, packed with ice-blocks that rage yet wilder than the storm, and finally the mighty waterfall, conveying the impression of death itself. In this sequence of events is repeated, on large scale as it were, the same line of that increasing despair — despair striving to make an end, for death, that has irresistibly gripped the chief character. This harmony— the storm in the human heart and the storm in the frenzy of nature—is one of the most powerful achievements ofthe American genius. (41) This example shows particularly clearly how far-reaching and deep must be that connection, between the content of the scenario and the director’s general treatment, that adds strength and unity to his work. The director not only transfers the separate scenes suggested by the scenarist each into movement and form, he has also to absorb the scenario in its entirety, from the theme to the final form of the action, and perceive and feel each scene as an irremovable, component part of the unified structure. And this can only be the case if he be organically involved in the work on the scenario from beginning to end.
When the work on the general construction has been finished, the theme moulded to a subject, the separate scenes in which the action is realised laid down, then only do we come to the period of the hardest work on the treatment of the scenario, that stage of work when, already concrete and perceptible, that filmic form of the picture that will result can be foreseen; do we come to the period of the planning out of the editing scheme for the shots, of the discovery of those component parts from which the separate images will later be assembled.
To bring a waterfall into the action does not necessarily mean to create it on the screen. Let us remember what we said regarding the creation of a filmic image that becomes vivid and effective only when the necessary details are correctly found. We come to the stage of utilising the pieces of real space and real time for the future creation of filmic space and filmic time. If it may be said at the beginning of the process that the scenarist guides the work — and that the director has only to pay attention so as properly to apprehend it organically, and so as, not only to keep contact with it at every given moment, but to be constantly welded to it—now comes a change. The guide of the work is now the director, equipped with that knowledge of technique and that specific talent that enables him to find the correct and vivid images expressing the quintessential element of each given idea. The director organises each separate incident, analysing it, disintegrating it into elements, and simultaneously thinking of the connection of these elements in editing. It is here of special interest to note that the scenarist at this later stage, just as the director in the early stages, must not be divorced from the work. His task it is to supervise the resolution to editable shape of every separate problem, thinking at every instant of the basic theme—sometimes completely abstract, yet current in every separate problem.
Only by means of a close collaboration can a correct and valuable result be attained. Naturally one might postulate as the ideal arrangement the incarnation of scenarist and director in one person. But I have already spoken of the unusual scope and complexity of film creation, that prevents any possibility of its mastery by one person. Collectivism is indispensable in the film, but the collaborators must be blended with one another to an exceptionally close degree.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RHYTHM OF THE FILM
The editing treatment of the scenario consists not only in the determination of the separate incidents, scenes, objects that are to be shot, but also in the arrangement of the sequence in which they are to be shown. I have already said that in the determination of this sequence one must not only have in mind the plastic content, but also the length of each separate piece of celluloid—that is to say, the rhythm with which the pieces are to be joined must be considered. This rhythm is the means of emotionally influencing the spectator. By this rhythm the director is equally in the position to excite or to calm the spectator. An error of rhythm can reduce the impression of the whole scene shown to zero, but equally can rhythm, fortunately found, raise the impression of a scene to an infinite degree, though it may contain in its separate, imagined, visual material nothing especial. (42) The rhythmic treatment of the film-scenario is not limited to the treatment of the separate incidents, to the finding of the necessary images comprising them. One must remember that the film is divided into separate shots, that these are joined together to form incidents, the incidents to sequences, these last to reels, and the reels together form the whole film. Wherever there is division, wherever there is an element of succession of pieces, be they separate pieces of celluloid or separate parts of the action—there everywhere the rhythmic element must be considered, not indeed because”rhythm”is a modern catchword, but because rhythm, guided by the will of the director, can and must be a powerful and secure instrument of effect. Remember, for instance, how exhausting, and how extinguishing in its effect, was the badly created, constantly confused rhythm of that big film, The Ray of Death; and, on the other hand, how clever was the distribution of material in Tol’able David, in which the alternation of quiet and tense sections kept the spectator fresh and enabled him to appreciate the violent finale. The editable preparation of the scenario—in which not only the exact plastic content of each separate little piece is taken into consideration, but also the position in rhythmic sequence of its length when the pieces are joined to incidents, the incidents to sequences and so forth—the establishment of this position, which is already completely decisive for the final form that the film projected on the screen will take, is the last stage of the work of the director on the scenario. Now is the moment come at which new members of the collective team enter the work of creating the film—in fact, those who are concerned with real men and objects, with the movements and backgrounds in which they are locked. The director now has to prepare the material in order to record it on the film.
Part III THE DIRECTOR AND THE ACTOR
TWO KINDS OF PRODUCTION
In accordance with their acting, films can roughly be divided into two kinds. In the first group are included such productions as are based on one particular actor—the “star,” as he is called in America. The scenario is written especially for the actor. The entire work of the director resolves itself to the presentation to the spectator, once again in new surroundings and with a new supporting cast, of some well-known and favourite figure. Thus are produced the films of Chaplin, Fairbanks, Pickford, and Lloyd. To the second group belong those films that are underlain by some definite idea or thought. These scenarios are not written for an actor, but actors must be found for their realisation when written. Thus works David Griffith. It is not, therefore, remarkable that in several of his pictures Griffith rejects such brilliant names as Pickford, Mae Marsh, and others, a whole series of heroes and heroines whom, having used them for one or two films, he gives up to other hands. To that extent to which a film is basically inspired by some thought, by some definite idea—and not merely by the display of clever technique or a pretty face—the relationship between the actor and the material of the film receives a special and specific character, proper only to the film.
THE FILM ACTOR AND THE FILM TYPE
In order to create a required appearance, the stage actor tries to find and create the necessary make-up, altering his face. If he has to take the part of a strong man in the play, he binds muscles of wadding on his arms. Suppose, for example, it were proposed to him to play Samson, he would not be ashamed of erecting pasteboard pillars on the set, to overthrow them later with one push of his shoulder. Such deceit in properties, equally with make-up drawn upon the face, is unthinkable in films. A made-up, property human being in a real environment, among real trees, near real stones and real water, under a real sky, is as incongruous and inacceptable as a living horse on a stage filled with pasteboard. (43) The conditionality of the film is not a property conditionality: it changes not matter, but only time and space. For this reason one cannot build up a required type artificially for the screen; one must discover him. That is why even in those productions the pivot of which is the inevitable and necessary “star,”none the less the supporting actors for the second and third parts are always sought by the director from among many. The work of finding the necessary actors, the selection of persons with vividly expressive externalities conforming to the requirements made by the scenario is one of the hardest tasks of the director. It must be remembered that, as I have already said, one cannot “play a part” on the film; one must possess a sum of real qualities, externally clearly expressed, in order to attain a given effect on the spectator. It is therefore easy to understand why, in film production, a man, passing by chance on the street, who has never had any idea of being an actor, is often brought in, only because he happens to be a vividly externally expressive type, and, moreover, the one desired by the director. In order to make concretely clear this inevitable necessity to use, as acting material, persons possessing in reality the properties of the image required, I shall instance at random the following example.
Let us suppose that we require for a production an old man. In the Theatre the problem would be perfectly simple. A comparatively young actor could paint wrinkles on his face, and so make on the spectator, from the stage, the external impression of an old man. In the film this is unthinkable. Why? Just because a real, living wrinkle is a deepening, a groove in the face. And when an old man with a real wrinkle turns his head, light plays on this wrinkle. A real wrinkle is not only a dark stripe, it is a shadow from the groove, and a different position of the face in relation to light will always give a different pattern of light and shade. The living wrinkle lives by means of movement in light. But if we paint a black stripe on a smooth skin, then on the screen the face in movement will never show the living groove played on by the light, but only a stripe painted in black paint. It will be especially incongruous in cases of close approximation of the lens—that is, in close-ups.
In the Theatre, make-up of this kind is possible because the light on the stage is conditionally constant and throws no shadows.
By this example it may in some wise be judged to what degree the actor we seek must resemble his prescribed appearance in the scenario. It may be said, in fine, that in most cases the film actor plays himself, and the work of the director consists not in compelling him to create something that is not in him, but in showing, as expressively and vividly as possible, what is in him, by using his real characteristics.
PLANNING THE ACTING OF THE FILM-TYPE
Where the acting material is assembled in this way, the possibility of using a stock company, as in the Theatre, is naturally almost excluded. (44) In almost every film the director is compelled to work with ever new human material, often entirely untrained. But at the same time the work of the person being photographed must be strictly subjected to a whole series of conditions dictated by the film. I have already said that each piece shot must be exactly organised in space and time. The work of the actor being shot, as much as everything being shot, must be exactly considered. Remember that we have discussed the process of taking editable shots, whereby the same movements have to be repeated several times with great exactitude, in order to make it possible for the director to form into a single whole the incidents later composed by the junction of separate pieces. In order to work exactly one must know how, one must learn how, or at least be able to remember by heart. For the work of the film actor, or, if you prefer it, his acting, is deprived of that unbroken quality proper to the work of his colleague on the stage. The film image of the actor is composed from dozens and hundreds of separate, disintegrated pieces in such a way that sometimes he works at the beginning on something that will later form a part of the end. The film actor is deprived of a consciousness of the uninterrupted development of the action, in his work. The organic connection between the consecutive parts of his work, as result of which the distinct whole image is created, is not for him. The whole image of the actor is only to be conceived as a future appearance on the screen, subsequent to the editing of the director; that which the actor performs in front of the lens in each given piece is only raw material, and it is necessary to be endowed with special, specific, filmic powers in order to imagine to oneself the whole edited image, meticulously composed of separate pieces picked sometimes from the beginning, sometimes from the middle. It is therefore understandable why it was first in films that there appeared exact directorial construction of the actor’s work. (45) In most cases only the director knows the shooting-script so thoroughly and so well as to be able clearly to imagine it to himself in that shape in which it will later be transposed upon the screen, and therefore only he can imagine to himself each given part, each given image in its editing construction. If an actor, even a very talented one, allow himself to be inspired by a given separate scene, he will never be able, of himself, so to limit his work as to be able to give a part of his acting of exactly that length and that content later required by the editing. This will only be possible when the actor has entered as deeply and organically into the work of building the film creation as the director producing it. There are schools that maintain that the play of the actor must be ordered by the director down to its least details; down to the finest movements of the fingers, of the eyebrows, of the eyelashes, everything must be exactly calculated by the director, instructed by him, and recorded on the film. This school represents an undoubted exaggeration that results in unnecessary mechanicalisation; it is, none the less, not to be gainsaid that the free performance of the actor must be enclosed in a frame-work of the severest directorial control. It is interesting that even such a director as Griffith — who is distinguished by a special “psychologicality” that should, strictly speaking, preclude the possibility of hard and fast construction—none the less does undoubtedly plastically “create” his actor. Griffith has a peculiar feminine type of his own, pathetically helpless and heroic at the same time. It is interesting to follow how, in various of his films, various women express the same emotional states by the same external means. Remember how Mae Marsh weeps in the trial in Intolerance, how the heroine in America sobs over her dying brother, and how Lilian Gish sobs in the Orphans of the Storm as she tells of her sister. There is the same heartrending face, the same streaming tears, and the helpless, trembling attempt to show a smile behind tears. The similarity of method of many American actors who have worked under control of one and the same director shows markedly how far-reaching is the directorial construction of the actor’s work.
In the Theatre there exists a concept “ensemble” the concept implying that general composition which embraces the work of all the actors collaborating in the play. The ensemble undoubtedly exists also in the film, and the same may be said about it as has been said about the edited image of the actor. The fact is that the film actor is deprived of the possibility of himself directly appreciating this ensemble. Very often an actor, from beginning to end of his part in front of the camera, does not once see the performance of the actor opposite him in the film, and is shot separately. None the less, however, when the film is subsequently joined, the scenes of this actor will appear directly connected with those of the other, whom he has never seen. The consciousness of the ensemble, the relationship between the work of the separate characters, consequently becomes once again a task of the director. Only he, imagining to himself the film in its edited form, already projected upon the screen, already joined from its separately shot pieces—only he can appreciate this ensemble, and direct and construct the actor’s work in conformity with its requirements. The question of the bounds of the influence the director should exert on the work of the actors is a question that is still open. Exact mechanical obedience to a plan provided by the director has undoubtedly no future. But also a wavering free improvisation by the actor according to general suggestions from the director—a method hitherto a characteristic of most Soviet directors—is definitely inadmissible. Only one thing is still undoubted, that the whole image of the actor will only result when the separately shot pictures are united one to the other in editing, and the work of the actor in each separate shot has been firmly and organically linked to the clear understanding of the future whole. If such an understanding is present to the actor he can work freely, but, if not, then only the exact instructions ofthe director, the future creator of the editing, can correctly construct the acting work.
Special difficulties are encountered by the director with casually collected human material, but this casual material is, as we have said, nearly inevitable in every film; and, on the other hand, this material is of exceptional interest. An average film lasts an hour and a half. In this hour and a half there pass before the spectator sometimes dozens of faces that he may remember, surrounding the heroes of the film, and these faces must be especially carefully selected and shown. Often the entire expression and value of an incident, though it may centre round the hero, depends from these characters of second rank who surround him. These characters may be shown to the spectator for no more than six or seven seconds. Therefore they must impress him clearly and vividly. Remember the example of the gang of blackguards in Tol’able David, or of the two old men in The Isle of Lost Ships. Each face impresses as firmly and vividly as would a separate, clever characterisation by a talented writer. To find a person such that the spectator, after seeing him for six seconds, shall say of him, “That man is a rogue, or good-natured, or a fool”—this is the task that presents itself to the director in the selection of his human material.
When the persons are selected, when the director begins to shoot their work, they provide him with a new problem: the actor must move in front of the camera, and his movements must be expressive. The concept “an expressive movement” is not so simple as it appears at first sight. First of all, it is not identical with that everyday movement, that customary behaviour proper to an average man in his real surroundings. A man not only has gestures, but words also are at his disposal. Sometimes the word accompanies the gesture and sometimes, reversed, the gesture aids the word. In the Theatre both are feasible. That is why an actor with deeply ingrained theatrical training conforms with difficulty to the standards of the screen. In The Postmaster, Moskvin—an actor of undoubted exceptionally big filmic possibilities—none the less tires one unpleasantly with his ever-moving mouth and with petty movements beating time to the rhythm of the unspoken words. Gesture-movement accompanying speech is unthinkable on the film. Losing its correspondence with the sounds that the spectator does not hear, it degenerates to a senseless plastic muttering. The director in work with an actor must so construct the performance of the latter that the significant point shall lie always in the movement, and the word accompany it only when required. In a pathetic scene, when he learns from the godmother that the hussar officer has eloped with Dunia, Moskvin speaks a great deal and obviously, while at the same time, automatically and quite naturally, like a man accustomed to spoken business, he accompanies every word with one and the same repeated movement of the hand. During the shooting, when the words were audible, the scene was effective, and even very effective; but on the screen it resulted as a painful and often ridiculous shuffling about on one spot. The idea that the film actor should express in gesture that which the ordinary man says in words is basically false. In creating the picture the director and actor use only those moments when the word is superfluous, when the substance of the action develops in silence, when the word may accompany the gesture, but does not give birth to it. (46)
That is why the inanimate object has such enormous importance on the films. An object is already an expressive thing in itself, in so far as the spectator always associates with it a number of images. A revolver is a silent threat, a flying racing-car is a pledge of rescue or of help arriving in time. The performance of an actor linked with an object and built upon it will always be one of the most powerful methods of filmic construction. It is, as it were, a filmic monologue without words. An object, linked to an actor, can bring shades of his state of emotion to external expression so subtly and deeply as no gesture or mimicry could ever express them conditionally. In The Battleship “Potemkin” the battleship itself is an image so powerfully and clearly shown that the men on board are resolved into it, organically blended with it. The shooting down of the crowd is answered not by the sailors standing to the guns, but by the steel battleship itself, breathing from a hundred mouths. When, at the finale, the battleship rushes under full steam to meet the fleet, then, in some sort, the steadfastly labouring, steel driving-rods of the engine incarnate in themselves the hearts of its crew, furiously beating in tenseness of expectation.
THE DIRECTOR AS CREATOR OF THE”ENSEMBLE”
For the film director the concept of ensemble is extraordinarily wide. Material objects enter organically into it as well as characters, and it is necessary once more to recall that, in the final editing of the picture, the performance of the actor will stand next to, will have to be welded to, a whole series of other pieces, which he cannot see, and of which he can know only indirectly. Only the director knows and gauges them completely. Therefore the actor is considered by the director, before anything else, as material requiring his “treatment.” Let us, in fine, also remember that even each actor separately who is, in real conditions, apprehended as something whole, as the figure of a human being whose movements are perceived as the simultaneous connected work of all the members of his body—such a man often does not exist on the screen. In editing, the director builds sometimes not only scenes, but also a separate human being. Let us remember how often in films we see and remember a character despite the fact that we saw only his head and, separately, his hand.
In his experimental films Lev Kuleshov tried to record a woman in movement by photographing the hands, feet, eyes, and head of different women. As consequence of editing resulted the impression of the movements of one single person. Naturally this example does not suggest a special means of practical creation of a man not available in reality, but it emphasises especially vividly the statement that, even in the limits of his short individual work unconnected with other actors, the image of the actor derives not from a separate stage of work, the shooting of a separate piece, but only from that editing construction that welds such pieces to a filmic whole. Take this as one more confirmation of the absolute necessity for exactness in working, and one more confirmation of the axiomatic supremacy of its imagined edited image over each separate element of the actual work in front of the lens. Also, quite obviously of course, the axiomatic supremacy of the director, bearer of the image of the general construction of the film, over the actor who provides material for this construction.
Part IV THE ACTOR IN THE FRAME
THE ACTOR AND THE FILMIC IMAGE
I have already spoken above of the necessity constantly to bear in mind the rectangular space of the screen that always encloses every movement shot. The movement of the actor in real three-dimensional space once again serves the director only as material for the selection of the elements required for construction of the future appearance, flat and inserted exactly into the space of the frame. The director never sees the actor as a real human being; he imagines and sees the future filmic appearance, and carefully selects the material for it by making the actor move in various ways and altering the position of the camera relative to him. The same disintegration as with everything in film. Not for one moment is the director presented with live men. Before him he has always only a series of component parts of the future filmic construction. This does not necessitate a sort of killing and mechanicalisation of the actor. He can be as spontaneous as he likes, and need not in any way disturb the natural continuity of his movements, but the director, controlling the camera, will, owing to the nature of cinematographic representation, himself pick out from the entire work of the living man the pieces he requires. When Griffith shot the hands of Mae Marsh in the trial scene, the actress was probably crying when she pinched the skin of her hands; she lived a full and real experience and was completely in the grip of the necessary emotion as a whole, but the director, for the film, picked out only her hands.
THE ACTOR AND LIGHT
There is one more element characteristic for the work of the director with the actor—that is light, that light without which neither object nor human being nor anything else has existence on the film. The director, determining the lighting in the studio, literally creates the future form upon the screen. For light is the only element that has effect on the sensitive strips of celluloid, only of light of varying strengths is woven the image we behold upon the screen. And this light serves not only to develop the forms—to make them visible. An actor unlit is—nothing. An actor lit only so as to be visible is a simple, undifferentiated, indefinite object. This same light can be altered and constructed in such a way as to make it enter as an organic component into the actor’s work. The composition of the light can eliminate much, emphasise much, and bring out with such strength the expressive work of the actor, that it becomes apparent that light is not simply a condition for the fixation of expressive work by the actor, but in itself represents a part of this expressive work. Remember the face of the priest in The Battleship “Potemkin” lit from underneath. (47)
Thus the work of the film actor in creation of his filmic image is bounded by a technically complex frame of conditions specifically proper to the film. The exact awareness of these conditions lies only with the director, and the actor can only enter creatively, sufficiently widely and deeply, into the work of creating the film when he is a sufficiently tightly and organically welded member of the team —that is, if his work be sufficiently deeply embraced in the sphere of the preparatory work of the director and scenarist. Thus we have arrived, at the end of this chapter, once more at a conclusion of the necessity for an organic team.
Part V THE DIRECTOR AND THE CAMERAMAN
THE CAMERAMAN AND THE CAMERA
When the actors have been chosen, and the scenes exactly and editably prepared—then begins the shooting. Into the work enters a new member of the team—a man armed with a camera, who does the actual shooting—the cameraman. And now the director has a new problem to overcome: between the collected and prepared material and the future finished work stands the camera, and the man working it. Everything that has been said about the composition of movement in the space of the picture, about light bringing out the picture, about expressive light, must in actuality be brought into conformity with the technical possibilities of shooting. The camera, which appears for the first time in shooting, introduces a real conditionality into film-work. First and foremost: the angle of its vision. Normal human vision can embrace a little less than 180 degrees of surrounding space—that is to say, man can perceive almost the half of his horizon. The field of the lens is considerably less. Its view-angle is equal roughly to 45 degrees and, here already the director begins to leave behind the normal apprehension of real space. Already, owing to this peculiarity, the guided lens of the camera does not embrace the entirety of optical space, but picks out from it only a part, an element, the so-called picture. With the help of a number of camera accessories a yet greater narrowing of this view-field can be attained; the frame itself surrounding the image can be altered, by means of a so-called “mask.”
Not only does the small view-angle set bounds to the space in which the action develops both in height and in width, but by a technical property of the lens the depth of the space picked out is also limited. An actor shot from very close has not only to fit his movements into the narrow frame of the picture in order not to overstep its bounds, he must remember also that he must not recede in depth or approach, for he would then go out of focus and his image would be unclear. At the same time, the camera, over and above those limitations that condition the movements of the material shot, has also a number of accessories which, far from limiting, on the contrary broaden, the work of the director. Remember, for example, in the pictures of Griffith, those lyrically tender moments that appear as if taken through a slight haze. Here we have a method that unquestionably strengthens the impressions of the scene shot, and it is carried out solely by the cameraman taking his shot through a light, transparent gauze or with a specially constructed lens. (48)
Remember the extraordinarily impressive shot in The Battleship “Potemkin” when the stone steps appear suddenly to rush up to meet the falling wounded. This effect could not have been attained without a special apparatus that enabled the camera to be tilted quickly from up downwards during the shot.
In the hands of the cameraman are those actual technical possibilities with the help of which he can transform the abstract ideas of the director to concrete. And these possibilities are innumerable.
THE CAMERA AND ITS VIEWPOINT
When the camera stands ready in position, the director does not now only orientate himself on the future screen image, as he did when working on the scenario or selecting and preparing the actor. He does not now only imagine or visualize it. Looking through the view-finder (a special appliance attached to the camera), the director sees on smaller scale the future picture that will later be projected on the screen. The scenario has been written, its special tasks exactly formulated. The prescription of the shooting of each scene, determining its plastic and rhythmic content, is ready, the cast is selected and ready for work, all preparation completed, and now the material thus prepared has to be fixed upon the celluloid. The camera when prepared for shooting embodies the viewpoint from which the future spectator will apprehend the appearance on the screen. This viewpoint may be various. Each object can be seen, and therefore shot, from a thousand different points, and the selection of any given point cannot, and must not, be by chance. This selection is always related to the entire content of the task that the director keeps in mind in aiming, in one way or another, to affect the spectator.
Let us begin, for argument’s sake, with the simple showing of a shape. Suppose we wish to shoot a cigarette lying on the edge of a table. One can so set up the camera that the opening of the cardboard cartouche of the cigarette exactly faces the lens; and as a result of the shot no cigarette will appear upon the screen—the spectator will see only the stripe of the edge of the table, and on it a small round black circle, the opening of the cartouche circled by its round white frame of cardboard. It follows that in order to enable the spectator to see the cigarette, it is necessary for the lens of the camera also to be able to “see” it. It is necessary, in shooting, to find such a position for the lens in relation to the object as will enable the whole shape of the latter to be seen with maximum clarity and sharpness.
If a torn cigarette is to be shot, the cameraman must so position the camera that the lens, and with it the eye of the future spectator, shall clearly see the tear of the paper, and the tobacco sticking through it.
The example with the cigarette is very elementary —it but roughly proves the substantial importance of the selection of a definite set-up of the camera in relation to the object shot. The problems solved by this selection, in actual practice, are many sided and provide one of the most important aspects of the joint work of director and cameraman.
Let us turn to the more complex. The task of the director may involve not only a simple representation of the shape of the given object, but of its relative position in this or that part of space. Let us suppose we have not only to shoot a wall-clock, but also to show that it hangs very high. Here the task of selecting the picture is complicated by a new requirement, and the cameraman, in choosing the set-up for the camera, either goes to a good distance, trying to get a part of the floor in the picture and thus show the height, or he shoots the clock from near but from below, bringing out its position by a sharp fore-shortening in perspective. If we take into consideration the fact that the material employed by the film director may be exceptionally complex in its form, it becomes clear how enormous a part is played by the selection of the camera-set-up. To shoot a railway-engine well implies to be able to select that viewpoint from which its complicated form will be most exhaustively and vividly apparent. A correctly discovered set-up determines the expressiveness of the future image.
Everything said so far has related especially to the shooting of motionless objects that do not change their position in relation to the camera.
THE SHOOTING OF MOVEMENT
The work becomes yet more complicated when movement is introduced. An object not only has shape, this shape in the image alters itself functionally with its movement, and, moreover, its movement itself has a shape and serves as object of shooting.
The previous desideratum remains in force. The camera must be so directed that every happening in front of it shall be visible in its clearest and most distinct form. Why does a shot of an army parade taken from above produce so vivid an impression? Because it is just from above that, with the fullest sharpness and clearness, the energetic, rhythmic movement of troops can best be observed. Why is the impression of a rushing train or a racing car so effective when the object is shot so that, having appeared in the distance, it charges straight at the camera, and dashes past near it? Because it is in the perspective increase of the approaching machine that the speed of the movement is most distinctly represented. If we are to shoot a car and a chauffeur sleeping in it, the cameraman will place the camera on the ground near the car. But if we are to shoot the same car winding through the traffic of the street, the cameraman will shoot the scene from the third floor in order the better to pick out the movement in its form and essence. The selection of the camera set-up can intensify the expression of the image shot in many directions. The shooting of a railway-engine charging straight at the lens communicates to an exceptional degree the power of the gigantic machine.
In The Battleship “Potemkin” the muzzles of the guns, looking straight at the spectator, are exceptionally threatening. In The Virgin of Stamboul the galloping horses are shot by the cameraman from a road-ditch looking up, so that the hoofs dash by soaring, as it were, over the heads of the spectator, and the impression of a mad gallop is increased to a maximum. Here the work of the cameraman ceases to be a simple fixation of an incident independently of the director working on it. The quality of the future film depends not only on what is to be shot, but also on how it is to be shot. This how must be planned by the director and carried out by the cameraman.
THE CAMERA COMPELS THE SPECTATOR TO SEE AS THE DIRECTOR WISHES
By selection of the camera set-up, director and cameraman lead the spectator after them. The viewpoint of the camera is scarcely ever the exact viewpoint of an ordinary spectator. The power of the film director lies in the fact that he can force the spectator to see an object not as it is easiest to see it. The camera, changing its position, as it were, “behaves” in a given mode and manner. It is, as it were, charged with a conditioned relation to the object shot: now, urged by heightened interest, it delves into details; now it contemplates the general whole of the picture. Often it places itself in the position of the hero and records what he sees; sometimes it even”feels”with the hero. Thus, in The Leather Pushers, the camera sees with the eyes of a beaten boxer rendered dizzy by a blow, and shows the revolving, swimming picture of the amphitheatre.
The camera can “feel” also with the spectator. Here we encounter a very interesting method of film-work. It can be said with completest safety that man apprehends the world around him in varying ways, depending on his emotional condition. A number of attempts on the part of the film director has been directed towards the creation, by means of special methods of shooting, of a given emotional condition in the spectator, and thus the strengthening of the impression of the scene. Griffith was the first to shoot tragic situations as if through a light mist, explaining it by his desire to force the spectator to see, as it were, through tears.
In the film Strike there is an interesting sequence: workers out for a walk outside the town. In front of the strollers is an accordion-player. After the closeup in which the accordion is seen opening and shutting follows a series of pieces in which the men strolling are shot from various, often very distant, viewpoints. But the playing accordion remains held through all the shots, become barely visible, transparent. The landscapes and the groups walking afar off are visible through it. Here has been solved a peculiar problem. The director wished, in representing the picture of the stroll, laying it in the wide background of the landscape, to preserve simultaneously the characteristic rhythm of music heard sounding from far away. In this he succeeded. He succeeded thanks to the fact that the cameraman was able to find a concrete method for the realisation of the director’s idea. To take this scene the accordion had to be swathed in black velvet, and it was necessary to calculate exactly the relative exposures of the shot with the landscape and of the separate shot of the accordion. A number of calculations had to be made, requiring a special knowledge of the craft of the cameraman and a technical inventive faculty. Here a complete blending of the work of director and cameraman was indispensable, and it conditioned the success of the achievement. The ideas of the director, in his work in making expressive the film image, only receive concrete embodiment when technical knowledge and the creative inventive faculty of the cameraman go hand in hand, or, in other words, when the cameraman is an organic member of the team and takes part in the creation of the film from beginning to end.
THE SHAPING OF THE COMPOSITION
The selection of the camera set-up is but a special case of the work of selecting location. In working on location (and, on the average, fifty per cent of every production is made on location) (49) the first task of the cameraman and director is to select that part of space in which the scene is to develop. Such selection—like everything in film work—must not be by chance. Nature in the picture must never serve as background to the scene being taken, but must enter organically into its whole and become a part of its content. Every background qua background runs counter to the basic laws of films. If the director require in a scene only the actor and his performance, then every background, with the exception of a flat surface inconspicuous to the attention, will steal a part of the spectator’s attention, and thus substantially nullify the basic method of film effect. (50) If something be brought into the picture besides the actor, this something must be linked to the general purpose of the scene. When, in Way down East, Griffith shows the lad Barthelmess knee-deep in thick grass, surrounded by trembling white daisies, bowing in the wind, in this picture nature does not serve as a chance background; it is true that it is done in a rather sentimental way, but it vividly supplements and strengthens the image shown. The work on the formation of the”essence”of the picture, the necessity for an organic dependence between the developing action and the surrounding, is so indispensable and important, that the finding and determination of the locations desired for exterior shots is one of the most complex stages in the preparatory work of the cameraman and director.
One of the first requirements set in the production work of the film director is exactitude. If, having thought out the filmic image of a scene, in taking it he desire to get that material out of which he can create what he has planned, he must inevitably think of each piece he is taking as an element of the future editing construction; and the more exact is his work on the components of each element being taken, the more perfectly and clearly he will reach the possibility of realising his thought. From this derives the peculiar relation of the film director to the actor, to the objects, to all the real matter with which he works in the course of his production. Each separate piece of celluloid used by the director in taking a required shot must be used in such a way that its length shall exactly conform to the requirements of that general task which forms the basis of the filmic treatment of any given scene. In every given piece a movement begins and proceeds to an exact required point, and the time required for this movement must be exactly determined by the director. If the movement be accelerated or slowed down, the piece obtained will either over- or under-step the necessary length. Such an element of an incident, in departing from the length prescribed for it, will, in the process of editing, destroy the harmony of the filmic image planned. Everything chance, unorganised, everything unsubdued to the editing construction planned by the director in representing to himself the filmic image of each given incident—all this will lead inevitably to lack of clarity, to confusion in the final editing formation of the incident. An incident will awaken an impression from the screen only if it be well edited. Good editing will be achieved when for it is found the correct rhythm, and this rhythm is dependent on the relative lengths of the pieces, while the lengths of the pieces are in organic dependence on the content of each separate one. Therefore the director must enclose every shot he takes into a harsh, severely limited, temporal frame.
Let us, for example, suppose that we are editably taking an incident with an actor. The incident is as follows: The actor sits in an armchair tensely awaiting his possible arrest. He hears that some one has approached the door; he watches intensely, sees the handle of the door beginning to move. The actor slowly takes out his revolver that he had hidden between the back and the seat of the chair; the door begins to open. He quickly aims the revolver, but, there enters unexpectedly, instead of the policemen, a boy carrying some puppies (from the film Beyond the Law).
The editing is written as follows:
1. The actor sitting in the armchair alters his position, as if he had heard a knock.
2. His tense, watching face.
3. Taken by itself: the moving door-handle.
4. Close-up—the hand of the actor, slowly and fumblingly drawing the revolver.
5. The slightly opening door.
6. The actor aims the revolver.
7. Through the door steps the boy with the puppies.
The elements of the incident, by means of which the attention of the spectator is turned now to the man, now to the door, now concentrates upon the moving handle, now upon the hand of the actor or the revolver, must, finally, blend upon the screen to the single image of an unbrokenly developing incident. Undoubtedly the director must, for the creation of a sharp break between the slowly increasing tension and the unexpectedly rapid dénouement, establish a definite, creatively discovered rhythm of editing. Every element of the incident has to be taken separately. And everything that the actor performs in the shooting of each piece must be exactly temporally limited. But it is not sufficient to set temporal boundaries; within these boundaries the actor must carry out the given series of movements, must saturate every piece with the given clear and expressive plastic content. If room for chance were left in the actor’s work, then not only a pause, a slowing down, but a superfluous movement on the part of the actor would already shatter those temporal limits that must infallibly be set by the director. This shattering, as we have already said, would alter the length of the piece, and thereby destroy the effect of the whole construction of the incident. We thus perceive that not only must temporal boundaries be exactly established, but also the movement form they enclose; the plastic content of the acting work in each separate scene must be performed exactly, if the director wish to attain a definite result in the creation of that filmic image of the scene that is to effect an impression on the spectator from the screen, not now in its real, but in its filmic form. The exactitude of work in space and in time is an indispensable condition, by fulfilment of which the film technician can attain a clearly and vividly impressive filmic representation.
The same striving for exactitude must govern the director and cameraman not only in scene-construction, but also in selection of the parts of location from which the space on the screen is to be constructed. It may appear to suffice that if a river or a wood be required for a shot, a “pretty” river or wood be found and then the shooting begun. In reality, however, the director never seeks a river or a wood, he seeks the required “pictures.” These required pictures, corresponding exactly to the problems of each scene, may be strewn over dozens of different rivers; they will, however, be blended to a whole in the film. The director does not shoot nature; he uses it for his future composition in editing. The problem set by this composition may be strict to such a degree that director and cameraman often forcibly alter and reconstruct a part of nature in trying to obtain the form required. The breaking away of interfering boughs, the felling of a superfluous tree, its transplantation whithersoever may be necessary, the damming of a river, the filling of it with blocks of ice—all this is characteristic for the film technician, always and by all means making use of natural material for the construction of the filmic image required. The employment of nature as material reaches its extremest expression in the construction of natural scenes in the studio, when from real earth, real stones, sand, live trees, and water, are exactly created in the studio just those forms required by the director.
The selection of the shooting location and the determination of the camera set-up, as a whole technically termed “selection of the picture” are always complicated by yet another condition. This condition is light. We have already spoken of the powerful influence of light. Light it is that finally creates that form which is transferred to the screen. Only when the object is lit in the required manner and to the required intensity is it ready for shooting. The appearance on the celluloid projected upon the screen is only a combination of light and dark specks. On the screen there is nothing but light, and it is quite obvious, therefore, that in controlling the light at the taking we are actually performing the work of making the future image. Feeling for the quality and intensity of light is inseparably bound up with the knowledge of that relation between the object and its later appearance upon the celluloid which belongs exclusively to the technique of the cameraman.
Everything that has been said already about the necessity for the close relation of all those collaborating in the production of the film relates also in full to the cameraman. Through the director, the work of whom on the various processes and happenings of reality he transforms to filmic material, the cameraman is bound to the other members of the team, the actor and the scenarist. He, in his turn, serves as the connecting link between the director and the technicians of the laboratory, the work of which is the next stage of working out the film material, directly following the shooting.
Only after the development of the negative and the printing of the positive does the director at last receive in pure form the film material from which he can assemble his work. Just as every other stage of film production, the work of the laboratory also involves more than the simple execution to pattern of standardised processes (chemical treatments of the exposed film). Its tasks are very often the continuation of the ideas originated by the scenarist and pursued by the director and cameraman. The Griffithian twilight in America could not have been obtained without a developer of the necessary synthetic properties and power. Only now, when before us appear all the pieces necessary for the creation of the film, at last in the shape of images printed on positive stock, only now ends the organic liaison between all the workers on the film production, that liaison which is an indispensable condition of the creation of a”real,”significant, finished work.
The director now begins to join his detached pieces to a whole. We now leave him engaged on that basic creative process of which we spoke at the beginning of this essay. (51)
COLLECTIVISM: THE BASIS OF FILM-WORK
This essay on the film director has covered all the collaborators in the production of a film. It could not have been otherwise. The work of filmmaking has all the properties of an industrial undertaking. The technical manager can achieve nothing without foremen and workmen, and their collective effort will lead to no good result if every collaborator limit himself only to a mechanical performance of his narrow function. Team-work is that which makes every, even the most insignificant, task a part of the living work and organically connects it to the general task. It is a property of film-work that the smaller the number of persons direcdy taking part in it, the more disjointed is their activity and the worse is the finished product of their work—that is, the film.
(First published as Number Five of a series of popular scientific film handbooks by Kinopetchat, Moscow and Leningrad, 1926.)