• Charles Breach

Term 1 - Week 2 - Film Language

Todays LENGTHY session covered in detail some of the concepts we were introduced to in our previous film language session. Today was less about writing down, and focused more on analysing examples and understanding the minutiae with which we could analyse even a the shortest clips provided the film maker/s had placed the detail there. That said, details too small, cluttered or badly timed are likely to go unnoticed, or perhaps create a stilted reaction in the viewer (which may or may not be desirable). The point being that there is a balance in the detail you want the audience to perceive, either knowingly or unconsciously. We analysed what was perhaps a 2 minute clip from Wallace and Gromit - The Wrong Trousers, which we must have spent a good hour discussing, without even touching on every potential aspect.

We discussed how Gromit's performance intends to relate with the audience, breaking the 4th wall, but more importantly, how his line of movement, and eye line inform the audience. His eye line is incredibly mobile, both creating character and emotion for Gromit, and creating space in his environment. By following Gromit's gaze during this scene, we learn the placement of expository material. This is also accomplished by his line of movement, using multiple camera positions as well as his direction of movement to generate the space in our minds, without us even actively thinking about it. Exposition was another large part of this scene, as a result of Nick Park's approach, there was no holding back on information. It was possible to derive the entire plot of this particular film from the title sequence- not in a fashion that imparted everything to the viewer, but just enough that you knew the characters were Wallace and Gromit, in their home, and along with the title 'The Wrong Trousers' and a silhouette, what the main item of interest would be. This was coupled with a almost horror style monochromatic colour palette, a shifting camera angle, progressively sinking music, and spooky cliche typeface for the movie title, to set the mood and expectations. Later occurrences and gags are also set up in a similar expository fashion, such as our initial introduction to Gromit, where he places bread in a toaster, then quickly pushes it aside, initially the audience may dismiss this as simply: he is going to make toast, but later, Gromit launches jam from one of his and/or Wallace's contraptions, the jam is caught by the popping-up of the very same bread Gromit had placed a minute or so earlier in the scene. This attention to detail and exposition is employed throughout this scene, and later throughout the film, on top of other references to real world notions, as well as previous Wallace and Gromit films, keeping the audience up to date with everything they need to know when they need to know it.

With this project in mind, I am presently reading 'The Secret Language of Film' by Jean Claude Carriere. The introduction speaks of how French Colonial administrators in Africa, following the first world war, would frequently put on film shows, to amuse, entertain, and demonstrate the supremacy of their nation. That is beside the point however, the African nobles and dignitaries they invited did not watch film as a result of their strict Muslim traditions and beliefs that forbade them from depicting the human face and form, God's creation. But the "less intransigent" who did sometimes watch the films had a difficult time understanding what was happening in these films. Film was of course silent at this time, and though they did recognise subjects on screen, perhaps a car, woman, or man, they did not connect them. Raised in a rich and vital oral tradition, the story eluded them. A man positioned near the screen, an 'Explicador', explained what was occuring in the film, in order for them to understand. I paraphrase shortly exactly what Jean Carrier describes during the early pages of this book. When I was young, I similarly had to learn to understand the language of film, and of course am still learning. I didn't really start to understand films with a proper grasp until I was maybe 13, give or take a few years, yet when I was even younger, perhaps 7-10 years old, I recall understanding the concepts specifically in The Wrong Trousers with a weird clarity. I feel this is due to the shear attention to detail, and method of exposition, that the clarity with which information is provided to the viewer, even a child could reasonably fathom the story they intended to tell. I wonder if perhaps, individuals in a similar position to the African nobles and dignitaries, could have grasped what was happening in the this scene of The Wrong Trousers, Cultural differences and futuristic technology aside, had the films they watched in post World War days been crafted with a similar care, even lacking sound and an explicador, would they have understood?

We also discussed how the editors used cut on action, as well as the multiple angles and shots for this, generate a dynamic space for the viewer. although perhaps I could discuss this in another addition to my blog, as I would like to include stills from the film, but don't yet know where I can find a copy of the film.

On top of today's focus on the exposition of Wallace and Gromit, we also covered briefly American and British methods for formatting film and TV. In particular the differences between: NTSC and PAL, and Interlaced and Progressive formats. NTSC and PAL referring to the American and British standards for broadcasting television respectively, these same standards were employed in other countries too. The main differences I could find between NTSC and PAL are the frames per second each they displayed in, and the reliability of the signals under certain conditions. The reasoning behind these different standards is actually more detailed than I would have thought, being attributed to things like the frequency of outlets in each regions homes, which was unexpected for someone less acquainted with the technology of TV. Although nowadays these differences matter less on modern screen technologies, which can interpret the different signals and compensate accordingly; NTSC would refresh at 60hz, and PAL at 50hz, according to the outlet frequency, however as a result of bandwidth restrictions, the screens showed 30fps and 25fps respectively. Only half an image could be produced on a screen every half a second, as a result of this limitation. Instead of showing the top half of an image one set, and the bottom half of an image the next set, the video was interlaced, which meant on the initial scan, every other line of pixels spaced across the screen would show half of the image, then the odd lines in between these would display the other half of the image the next refresh. This would result therefore in 60 lines appearing on an NTSC screen per second, and 50 for PAL screens. I say that half an image is shown, then the other half of the image, however this is wrong, the first set of scan lines will show one frame of the video, and the next set of lines will show the next frame, meaning two different halves of two different images will appear on an NTSC or PAL screen every second. This again was a more relevant concept back when analogue TVs were made to view these low bandwidth images. TVs nowadays can deinterlace footage, and through coding trickery, combine interlaced media into a progressive image. Progressive scanning produces ALL of the lines of an image on the screen, instead of half of every other line of an image, like interlacing does. and advantage PAL had over NTSC was that it inverted the phase of its colour wave every half a second, which was what made it more reliable than NTSC for producing an image, and instead would produce saturation artefacts on screen, rather than complete changes in hue like NTSC would with disrupted information.

I THINK I for the most part understand the concept of these different media formats. Interlacing is only really relevant to TV, and only becomes an issue on progressive screens when shows like sports are being viewed, where the deinterlacing method produces weird artifacts on screen for fast moving objects, like a ball. Again, in the modern age, things are viewed more and more frequently over the internet, or on other higher bandwidth mediums, where media can be shown progressively, and interpreted as such by our progressive screens, creating no need for deinterlacing, and allowing for 4K and above resolutions on our media without weird movement and colour artefacts.

I used these links to figure out everything I typed regarding NTSC, PAL, interlacing, and progressive scanning:





It was interesting to see how interlacing was applicable to things like video games, and how this affected the experience when playing a game produced on a 60hz standard, on a 50hz outlet frequency. This, however, is definitely a topic for another day.

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