Chaos Theory and editing rhythm
It's all about 1/f, whatever that is. A cognitive pyschologist claims that chaos theory explains our reaction to Hollywood movies. Read for yourself. http://www.psychologicalscience.org/onlyhuman/2010/02/our-household-is-roll...
Interesting article, Bob. His 1/f Ratio formula has a companion that also determines the success of a film, it's called The Sequel.
I think the article proves one fact beyond a doubt: psychologists need to get a life!
Films are edited according to the rhythm of the story and the sensibilities of the editor and director. Over time new editing styles are introduced, copied and become part of the craft. It stands to reason that over the decades cutting has become faster. Michael Mann is often credited with bringing faster editing to TV, and possibly to films.
I too find modern action sequences almost impossible to watch. I am a fan of Paul Greengrass, but the fight sequences in the recent Bourne movies are just too fast. Each punch seems to be a cut. Makes one dizzy - maybe that is the intention. On the flip side, look at the Rocky movies. They showed boxing matches as you would see them on tv - cut to show motivation, not cut to overemphasize the action - the action takes care of itself.
I think enough cutting to tell the story is the rule. Too much and you are calling attention to the editing, which you generally do not want to do. The exception is when editing is used to transition scenes, such as the Guy Ritchie quick montage technique, or an edit used to compress time or change location.
But analyzing films looking for a theory of technique sounds like trying to make something out of nothing.
[Mike Cohen] "But analyzing films looking for a theory of technique sounds like trying to make something out of nothing."
On the contrary, filmmakers spend a lot of time thinking about things in explicitly mathematic terms, tied explicitly to human perception, and have from the very beginning. As the author points out, this goes back to the Renaissance and even earlier, for a very simple reason - it is the inevitable fate of art to become more like reality over time...except to the extent that it doesn't of course. :-) But that's where the Golden Ratio comes from - an explicitly mathematic ideal for visual art.
(Music has been even more explicit about this for obvious reasons - music IS math in every aspect.)
One of the most famous books about film is "In the Blink of An Eye" by Walter Murch, which argues that the ideal length of a shot is the space between blinks. He makes pretty elaborate arguments for this, but the foundation is that it's the most psychologically resonant pattern. Now, the fact is that Murch is an intentionally retro stylist, or has been since The Conversation, where his audio edits were far, far faster than his visual edits, and the out-of-sync-ness was part of the psychological storytelling -- reflecting the character's internal state, the story's own internal vertigo, and an attempt to keep our own mental state entirely unbalanced throughout.
And that's the thing. There's a pull between realism and formalism that has existed from the beginning of all visual art, which you can oversimplify as "not calling attention to itself" in an attempt to reflect reality, and constantly calling attention to the medium itself - you can't forget that you're watching a movie, because it MAKES you KNOW that you're ONLY in a movie.
If you think about it, the entire nature of an edit is perched on the precipice. On one hand, you mostly look at the world in cuts, not zooms. On the other, there's nothing more UNrealistic in a movie than the most basic conventions of a cut - the over-the-shoulder shot, indeed, any change in perspective at all including dollies, cranes. The best storytelling uses these things for a reason, and not just because they can - and not one of them has anything to do with the story itself, but an intent to create a specific response in the viewer -- which is in fact an inherently, and explicitly, psychological choice.
You might disagree, but listen to DVD commentaries, read the articles these guys write, listen to them talk to each other - filmmakers talk about this stuff ALL THE TIME, and again, have from the very beginning of film. And the ones that don't are still driven by the same impulses - how do I create a reaction? The movies that work best are the ones that are most fundamentally aligned on a psychological level.
Which is why the study's author ultimately favors 50s noir - one of the absolute pinnacles of formalist storytelling, where virtually nothing about the visual or verbal style, or the general story arc, has even a vague connection with reality. So why does it work? Because it is internally psychologically balanced in a way that intentionally elicits an specific internal state in the viewer. The psychological "truth" transcends the unreality of everything else - but does so through style far more than substance...because the substance is inherently unreal.
So as much as people like to say "it's all about the story," to most filmmakers, that's only marginally true in their approach to the storytelling process.
The overall point is that, stereotypes notwithstanding, any conversation about psychology sounds like mumbo-jumbo to anybody who has never tried to articulate themselves in this way. Film theory sounds like mumbo-jumbo to somebody who hasn't made a narrative film. All of these conversations are well-established and have gone for over 100 years of filmmaking, 600 years of visual art, and nearly 2000 years of dramaturgy. Rejection of the language doesn't change the principle, which has been easily demonstrated for as long as there has been visual art. This guy's study is just one attempt to articulate it by studying a lot of specific examples.
[Tim Wilson] "On one hand, you mostly look at the world in cuts, not zooms."
ENTIRELY in cuts. I love the studies of how men and women look at great works of art. They take little snapshots of various details, darting around the canvas to totally separate views of the whole (As you can guess, there's a difference between where men and women look first.)
Zooms in movies tend to put me off, unless they are done for effect. (aside: I remember getting into a ferocious argument with a professor in college, who said the camera "zoomed" down the center of the dining table. I had to point out that the camera tracked, not zoomed, and that the psychological effect of entering and moving through the space, rather than magnifying one part was vastly different. This professor taught me a whole lot about the films of John Ford, but this whole "zooming" thing was a blind spot.)
Mike, the study wasn't about the speed of cutting, but rather about the ratio of the various shot lengths to the average length. Films that obey the 1/f ratio can be either fast-cut or slow. But to be honest, I'm not sure; I was just hoping somebody would dig up the original article and explain it to me.
Tim, I have to reread your post when I have more time to digest it. I think I agree with you, but I don't understand all of what you said. I do agree that we have to theorize, and re-theorize, relentlessly, if only to make an attempt to get past our gut reaction to what is, after all, a highly emotive art form. On top of its innate form, film is such a new and chimerical art, that we're only beginning to have any true esthetic grasp of it. Any list of the "greatest films of all time" really says more about one's cultural background and individual psychology than anything else. But we gotta keep making those lists anyway, and trying to justify them the best we can. If theorizing about visual perception helps, great.
Damn it Tim!!! I was going to say exactly what you said, almost word for word.
Okay, not really, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
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