"Space and time in cinema are constructs" -- -- Cinema is a medium, a realistic device through which the spectator looks at the objective reality. A filmmaker may represent this objective reality in an apparently objective way; or he may foreground his authorial presence, or the spectator's presence, or the camera's presence in various ways. Generally, in a fiction-film the frame acts as a window through which real life is portrayed. Here, a particular type of suture is made where the characters' look inside the frame is equated to the spectator's look; thus involving the spectator in the flow of events inside the frame. In some experimental films this suture is broken through frontal address and foregrounding of the cinematic device [as in The Man with the Movie camera (Diga Ver tov, 1928) ]. In such cases, either the spectator's look onto the screen or the camera's look onto the profil mic is given prominence.
In most of the documentaries the first happens, while the second happens only in a certain type of self-reflexive films. However, in all these cases, both space and time are manipulated in the presentation of objective reality. Indeed, any space on the cinematic frame is a presented / constructed space, a limited and defined boundary of vision -- -- an illusion of reality. And time is also largely manipulated even in a film with minimal editing. All the five times -- -- real time, running time, screen time, psychological time and shooting time -- -- are never completely equated.
There may be found two types of film-makers in a cinematic world -- -- (1) Montage filmmakers: -- -- who uses photographic images as raw materials from which art is constructed. They may be called constructivists; and they manipulate space-time severely through excessive editing. All Hollywood commercial filmmakers fall in this category. (2) Mis-en-Scene filmmakers: -- -- who uses photographic images as raw materials in which art is found.
They like to retain space-time as much as possible, with minimal editing. Some documatarists, exponents of Direct Cinema and some Neo-Realist filmmakers liked this stance. However, almost no filmmaker chooses such extreme paths and generally a filmmaker vacillates between these two modes of film making (though being dominated ideologically by one mode or another). Space, in a film is constructed in various ways -- -- (1) Through the tone produced by the film-stock: -- -- A faster film produces more grainy and high-contrast images than a low-speed film.
For reality effect such high-speed films may be used even in proclaimed fiction features like The Battle of Algiers (Gill o Pontecarvo, 1966). However, a film generally uses varying film stocks to produce contrast of mood between its different sequences. [Antonio ni used a drab colour in the portrayal of the cityscape in his Red Desert (1964), and vivid primary colours in the industrial apparatti and other props in the industrial area to comment on the industrialization of mind]. (2) Through the use of black-and-white/ colour film stock: -- -- The use of black-and-white or colour film stock is largely dependent on the context of the film. Generally, the monochrome refers to days past to the educated viewer (associated with the black-and-white cultural space of the old albums, newsreels and newsprint photos). However, in this case too, monochrome film may be spliced with colour film stock to evoke a contrast in mood in the different phases of the film narrative.
For example, in Buch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (George Roy Hill, 1969), the film's present tense makes a suture with the spectator in its use of bright, warm colour in a fine-grain, low speed colour film stock. But, from time to time the film reverts to a high-grain, high-speed sepia tinted monochrome stock that distancia tes the spectator giving him a jerk, and creates in his mind an image of distant past. (3) Through the lighting scheme: -- -- Film space, much more than in the theatre, is a construct of selective lighting. In a three-point lighting scheme the lights are placed, balanced and moved in various ways.
The play of light and shadow in the same sequence, variation of light (either through the light-source movement or through the aperture-shift of the camera) in the same or juxtaposed shots, and altogether different lighting scheme and colour temperature in different sequences of a film produce a variety of emotions which seem very realistic. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrico, 1961) the opening and ending sequences use a low-contrast film and a very cold lighting scheme that produce a late-autumn effect and a chilly reality on screen. However, the dream-sequence is made in vivid, warm light and makes use of a slow-speed film stock that produces a joyous effect. The jerk produced by the return to reality in this film is largely dependent on this lighting scheme. In horror films and thrillers, uncanny and fantastic spaces are mostly formed by selective lighting. And even in social genres different type of spaces (For example, that of an untainted countryside and a malicious town) is contrasted by the lighting plan.
The scheme of the light and shadow in the frame also plays a large part in generating the meaning that the authorial message possesses. In Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) the lighting around the central character conspicuously changes as the film progresses. In the sequence where Charles Foster Kane is seen signing the Declaration of Rights a shadow suddenly creeps to his face while the other members present remain in light. This shadow gives the viewer a premonition of Kane's future misdeeds. (4) Through composition in the frame: -- -- This is the mis-en-scene sans lighting. This may be done in a very constructed way or more randomly.
Props are foregrounded or back grounded with certain authorial purposes. In The Lady Vanishes (1938) Hitchcock experiments with inanimate objects like wineglasses through which we see the leading characters on the background. These wineglasses actually control the life and death of these human beings (as there is poison in one glass), and the film portrays this irony of fate through this type of object arrangement. (5) Film format and choice of lens: -- -- Viewing format (like 35 mm or Cinemascope), aspect ratio and the choice of lens -- -- all these things affect the emotion of the spectator in various ways. Authorial signatures are made by such choices too. John Ford liked to use wide-angle lens and dominating nature (a formidable sky on the 3/4 th upper part of the frame, for example) in his westerns.
Bergman used excessive close-ups in Persona (1966) to comment upon the psyche of the protagonist, while Carl Dreyer used close-ups to depict the change in spirituality in the protagonist in The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928). As for the film format the "battle in the sea " sequence and the "chariot race" sequence in Ben Hur (1957) lose almost all their grandeur if the format (Cinemascope, 70 mm) / aspect-ratio is changed. In this regard the deep-focus photography in Citizen Kane (1941) commenting on the surrounding space and the characters tell much of the story. (6) Through composition out of the frame: -- -- As cinema is essentially a medium that works synecdochically and metonymically, off-screen space gets as much importance in a film as the onscreen space. In building space gradually with tropes like shot - reverse angle shot, and the chain of close up - mid shot - long shot (i. e.
, shot-scale variation) cinema is markedly different from the proscenium stage. Sound also helps in suggesting offscreen space. In Koma l Gandhara (Rit wik Ghat ak, 1961) the rehearsal room is always full of ambient sounds mainly from the adjacent factory. Thus, we never forget its location and Bhrigu's relation with hard-earning labours. (7) Through camera position: -- -- Camera is never objective.
But it can look subjective or objective. Generally, camera angle is chosen as to comment of the stature of the character in the pro-film zone. An educated viewer, from his past experiences of viewing films and televisions and from the context, generates meaning from such subjective shots. High-angle and low-angle shots are used to create moods of vulnerability and dominance respectively. In Citizen Kane (Orson Wells, 1941), Charles Foster Kane is portrayed in high-angle while Susan Alexander is portrayed in low-angle in an eye-line match where they are in the same sequence.
Subjective viewpoint, however, always undergoes some shifts in a fictional narrative. This is done with the help of shot - reverse angle shot; and a fixed subjective viewpoint gets problematic for the credibility of the film [as in The Lady of the Lake (Robert Montgomery, 1947) ]. But, for a film to work certain subjective viewpoints are necessary. If the spectator could not find any subjective viewpoint the film produces a sort of anti-suture for him and gets irritating. Through construction of space in these ways cinema represents three-dimensional objective reality on a two dimensional subjective (i. e.
, Renaissance perspectival) plane. In such a plane, the spectator possesses some predetermined, privileged positioned. The vantage (or, vanishing) point on such a plane / perspective system is completely subjective and thus cinema loses its meaning (actually its very existence) in the absence of a spectator. (8) Through movement in the frame: -- -- Movement of characters and of light in the frame creates much effective space. It helps to provide a relation between objects in the frame and also comments on the associative space.
In the opening sequence in Strangers on a Train (Hitchcock, 1951) two legs are seen coming from the left of the frame which is then cross-cutter to another pair of legs moving from the opposite direction. These legs provide a wealth of information as classic example of synecdochical shots. The two pairs of legs are contrasting in every possible ways -- -- one is moving smoothly, the other is trotting; one is soberly shod, the other is ostensibly shod with decorative shoes; one is in a hurry, the other keeps normal pace. Each of them boards a cab going to the opposite directions (in a metonymical shot). Finally, each of the pair of legs goes down the respective cab before the railway station; approaches each other (or, centre of the frame) again from different directions; and meet at the centre of the frame before a stopped train. Only then the possessors of the legs are taken in mid-shot and long shots.
This whole sequence gives the viewer a premonition of the coming intrigue and intertwining of fate of the possessors of these pairs of legs. (9) Through camera movement: -- -- Griffith first successfully used the tracking shot in The Birth of a Nation (1915). But, he did this to portray the progress of his characters (the Klansmen) through space and time. In later movies, we have seen even inanimate objects talking through the movements of camera. First of all off-screen space becomes onscreen very naturally (without editing) with tracking shot, pan, tilt or crane shots. Intensity of emotions and significance of objects / characters may be provided by zooming (in and out) the camera.
Indeed camera movement renders to the spectator a feeling of the three dimensional space like nothing else. The irregular movement through empty space in Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) creates an uncanny atmosphere in the surroundings of Norman Bates' house and this also provides an a personal gaze of the house (where the house looks at the spectator). Like space, time in cinema is constructed in various ways -- -- (1) Compression through cuts and dissolve: -- -- Generally, "real time", in cinema, is much compressed to a suitable "reel" (i. e. , running) time. Cinema does almost never abide by the "Aristotelian" unities of time and place.
It emerged at the junction of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as the timely realistic of the bourgeoisie (even more effectively than photography) made the absent present. Generally, cinema represents life on screen, and we know life has been rolling on through millions of years; even a slice of an individual's life may range for a decade. This wide range of time has to be presented to the spectator within a suitable running time (generally ranging between one hour and a half and three hours for a fictional feature). This compression in time is done through various techniques such as shot-reverse angle shot, reaction shot, impact cut, direct cut and intermediate shots to jump short duration; and dissolve, fade in / fade out (with or without non-diegetic narration) to signify major lapse in time [as in 2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) where millions of years is the screen time for a ninety minutes running time]. Passage of a decade or more time may be conveyed by kinds of match-cut too. For example, in Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941) more than decade passes between the two Christmas shots (the growing up sequence of Charles Foster Kane) with the cue of Mr.
Thatcher's voice and words -- -- a sound montage by linkage. (2) Compression of time through dissolve and camera movements: -- -- Sometimes a movement of the camera juxtaposed with a subsequent dissolve produces a message of major time shift both literally and psychologically. In Citizen Kane (Welles, ! 941) Charles and Emily Kane's is compressed by a series of breakfast shots through a series of pans and abounding visual clues. (3) Compression of time through lighting and music: -- -- Time may be compressed by the proper use of change of light and diegetic / non-diegetic sound and music. In the first Benares sequence in Apar ajita (Satyajit Ray, 1956) a whole morning is portrayed through the device of light-change and change in music / ambient sound, spanning from the dawn through sometime before noon. (4) Expansion of time through cuts, insertions and repetitions: -- -- Sometimes, especially in horror films and thrillers, "real time" has to be expanded for psychological effect.
This is done by rapid cut of the same action and joining them through linkage type of montage. The classic example of this type of inter cutting is the Shower-sequence of Psycho (Hitchcock, 1960) where the real time is only about ten seconds, but the running time is about forty-five seconds. Moreover, this rapid-cut sequence with a proper ambience and music / sound gives the spectator the feeling of a much larger psychological time. Hitchcock used seventy-eight separate shots to convey the murder in this sequence. Another method of expanding screen time is the insertion of cutaway shots.
This, in fact, is a case of crosscutting. But the most common mode of time-expansion is the repetition of the same shot taken from multiple angles. To an experienced viewer this does not seem unnatural as he is here provided with a sort of God's eye-view. This type of shots is regularly seen in action-movies (especially in martial-art movies). However, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrico, 1961) has availed of such shots to produce a deeper psychological effect (in the escape sequence). (5) Expansion of time through camera movements and choice of lens: -- -- Time may be expanded with the help of proper camera-movements and choice of lens too.
A wide-angle lends restricts space and thus movements in frame seem much faster (and the speed of movement through space is nothing but the effective time). This compresses time really and, more often, psychologically. But in the case of a telephoto lens the space becomes open and any movement in this space can be going on forever. With the help of backward camera-tracking this kind of movement can be produced. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Enrico, 1961) we see such kind of fantastic ever going movement in the sequence where the man is running forever to meet his wife. This sequence uses time-expansion through repetition too.
The resulting psychological effect is fantastic and the spectator becomes certain that he is watching a dream-like sequence. (6) Simultaneity of time through Parallel Editing and Split Screen: -- -- Parallel editing / cross cutting technique first developed to convey the idea of simultaneity in diegesis. In the earliest silent multi-sequence films like Life of An American Fireman (1903) and The Great Train Robbery (1903) both by Edwin S. Porter, we see large usage of these techniques to produce the mood of simultaneity. Later, all films started to use these devices all around the world. A mere dramatic representation of simultaneity is made by the use of multiple-image / split-screen technique.
Though both Griffith [in The Birth of a Nation (1915) ] and Abel Glance [In Napoleon (1926) ] used it to produce reality effect, a more subtle use of this technique is seen in Richard Flescher's The Boston Strangler (1968), the semi-documentary based on the life of a schizophrenic murderer. The murder sequences in this film are meticulously done by producing multiple viewpoints and simultaneity by use of split-screen technique. The schism in the thought-process of the murderer and his multiple-egos are metaphor ised by this technique too. However, to produce much less excitement to the spectator super-imposition and half-dissolve are sometimes used in conveying simultaneity. (7) Distorted /Subjective time through Montage by Composition: -- -- There may be subjective time (with some authorial message), dreamtime, fantasy time, memory or other kinds of non-realistic time present in a film. The stream of consciousness trope of literature can not be applicable to such cases as a film is a visual medium.
Only contextually a dream or a memory can be placed in a representational film. For this to be effective a certain kind of montage by composition was introduced by Eisenstein in his 1924 Classic Strike. Through the slaughterhouse sequence Eisenstein gave a context to the timeless tyranny of the kings and also rendered a portrayal of the contemporary time (the last days of the Czardom). (8) Stopped time through Montage by Repetition / Freeze frame: -- -- To produce an effect of eternity or blocked time the freeze frame technique is widely used.
In Truffaut's Les Quatre's Cents Coups (1959) we see such use of stopped time that signifies end of progression and choicelessness. But, the foregrounding of the editing process of repetition, which is done by crosscutting two images / shots repeatedly, may be more striking psychologically. In the Man running to his wife sequence of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Robert Enrico, 1961) this kind of repetition-montage is used. (9) Obviously constructed time through Montage by Rhythm: -- -- A kind fantasy time may be produced where each shot is assigned a fixed number of beats, and cyclically repeated (as in a point - counter point movement). In Fantasia (Walt Disney, 1940) this type of alteration of shots synchronized to music is seen. The man running to his wife sequence of An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (Enrico, 1961) uses this technique too.
(10) Metaphoric time through Montage by Content / Intellectual Montage: -- -- To render a codified message to the audience from a specific cultural milieu such type of metaphoric time and space was used in Soviet Silent Cinema. Eisenstein used it most effectively in Battleship Potemkin (1925) in the Odessa steps sequence. Hollywood sometimes used it to produce fantasy-time [as in the tramp turned chicken sequence in The Gold Rush (Charlie Chaplin, 1925) ]. Generally, eternal time and specific contemporary time are related together (the later being a particular example of the former) in these uses. The opening sequence of Chaplin's Modern Times (1934) also effectively used such technique of metaphoric time through the device of montage of ideas / intellectual montage. In all these ways (and more) time and space are constructed in a film.
Now, we shall study two sequences -- -- one from a 1947 Chaplin film in black-and-white (Monsieur Verdoux) and the other from a new-age 2001 movie made in Bombay [Dil Chaeta Hai (Far han Akhtar) ] -- -- in details. In each of the two cases we shall place the examined sequence in the context of the total narrative scheme and compare it to other similar or contrasting sequences from the same film. Monsieur Verdoux The film opens on a close up of a tombstone engraved Henri Verdoux, 1880-1937. Camera moves in a tracking pan, we see that the ambience is a graveyard.
An extra-diegetic, narrator ial voice in a polished, high pitched tone says, "Good evening! As you see my real name is Henri Verdoux." We get a shock (we know he is dead. Then who is talking? ) The narration continues and prepares us, viewers, for a flashback journey through the dead man's life and career of a blue beard in the pre World War II days of massive unemployment and starvation. The opening sequence is taken in soft natural light. All shadows are long shadows and that creates an impression of twilight or early morning. Later, in the diegesis of the film, we come to know that in his early life and also in the twilight of his career (before death) Verdoux was known to the public by his real name and occupation. This creates a contrast to his middle career of a swindling, makeshift husband; and unconsciously we start to justify his actions and stand for him in the court of conscience.
Our preferred sequence for dissection, however is the sequence in which Verdoux meets his wife Mona for the first time. The sequence is separated from the previous one in a Parisian restaurant by a railway wheels turning shot (signifying journey away from the previous location) accompanied by a sort of thriller music. After a cut we see a long shot of country house surrounded by trees in natural soft (morning / afternoon) light. After another cut, mid-close up a boy of about eight fills the screen. He is looking at something attentively. Then we come to see the object of the boy's look in a Point-of-View shot.
The off-screen presence comes on-screen. A man is coming to the open gate of the garden (we somehow understand that this is the garden established in the first long shot of the sequence). The man comes closer (approaches the camera). with a suitcase in hand and a smile on the face -- the man is Verdoux.
A languorous, joyous music continues throughout this sequence. The boy addresses Verdoux as "daddy", and turns back to run to him. In the next shot after the cut we see the boy is running out of the room, then through a dark passage and then finally into the garden to Verdoux. We get an idea of the space in which the boy was standing before this. While the boy was running through the half-dark passage we see a woman seated in a chair in the background in deep focus. Now, after embracing the boy Verdoux goes along with him through the dark passage to the woman.
It is the other portion of the garden, but must be entered through the house proper. After a cut we see the woman's face in a soft light close up. She is looking down at something. It seems she is unaware of Verdoux's arrival. The boy addresses her as "mama." She still remains absorbed in her work and wants to know what is it without looking at the boy (she addresses him as Peter). The boy shouts in joy, "Look!" She looks up for the first time and is open-mouthed in delight and surprise.
She can only say, "Henry!" The music wanes to a stop. After a cut, we see a mid-long shot of the woman. 3/4 th of the frame is captured by nature (a vast sky on the background with leafy surroundings below) while the woman possesses the left 1/4 th of the frame. Her face is divided between light and shadow (obviously due to a light scheme where the backlight is above her head), and her nose casts a sharp, long shadow on her face. This gives us, the spectators, a premonition of her ominous future.
After the initial greetings we see Verdoux reaching the woman from an offscreen space (he enters the frame), simultaneously camera dollies forward. It seems, regarding movement Verdoux competes with the camera. The significance becomes clearer when in the next shot Verdoux embraces the woman, his wife (from the dialogue we come to know her name is Mona). In this shot the camera tilts down and we see Mona's braced legs and that she is sitting in a wheel chair.
In the shot the camera moves but Mona's voice continues: "Ten years! Wonderful!" Immediately we know Verdoux's undulating care for this invalid lady, and as a result we start to sympathize more with him (by justifying his blue beard acts). In the next shot Verdoux is seen handing down Mona a document as their wedding anniversary present. We come to know that this is a property-ownership document for the house and the garden. From the previous scenes in the Parisian outskirts villa we know that this property has been bought with the money of the hapless woman whom Verdoux liquidated (we still do not know whether he murdered her).
But, anyhow in this starving world of unemployed millions we begin to justify any act done for love. Next, in this sequence, Verdoux is seen sitting in a chair. Half of his face is darkened. This is in sharp contrast with the close up scheme in the Parisian sequences where his face is always heavily and uniformly lit.
However, such lighting of his face return in later sequences, specially in the sequence in which he invites the girl from the street to test his newly concocted poison on her, and in the last three sequences in the movie. Surely this lighting evokes a state of congeniality for Verdoux along with a prophecy of his ruined future. In the girl from the street sequence we see striking parallels with Verdoux meets wife sequence. Verdoux loves his invalid wife more than anything else in world while the girl from the street (actually from jail) loved her invalid husband most religiously.
That girl teaches Verdoux the philosophy of the religion of love that we know Verdoux already knows. Verdoux's concern for animals is highlighted throughout the film most ironically, [in the sequence of his Parisian Villa (the caterpillar), the sequence following his first film ic encounter with Mona (a cat whose leg Peter was twisting) ]; and in this regard too we find parallels between Verdoux and the street-girl. We start to identify with them both. The music changes from a frivolous chore (identical to the opening sequence music) to that of the Verdoux meets Mona sequence when Verdoux recognizes the sincerity of the girl. In the end of the present sequence we see Verdoux driving Mona through the dark passage to the inside of the house.
Verdoux is physically active and mobile all through this sequence in a sharp contrast to Mona who is tied to her chair. However, in later parts of the film we see Verdoux lose this mobility in a collision with the greater history of the masses. Through newspaper flashes changing economic situations are captured, while the political upheavals in Europe are marked through real life footage's (Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin and Churchill; the rise and forward march of the Third Reich). After that, time comes to a standstill for Verdoux until he goes once again to fulfil his destiny..