• Charles Breach

Term 1 - Week 6 - Film Language

We focused on transitions this section. Transitions seem like a fairly simple concept on the surface, however I have come to learn that while this can be the case, there are many kinds of transitions, even within the fundamental set you could place all transitions into, and there are definitely better and worse ways to use them.

The main categories of cut fall under:

  • Cut - the most common form of transition.

  • Wipe - the most basic forms of wipe comes as vertical and horizontal wipes (famously used in the original Star Wars trilogy).

  • Fade - fades *fade* an image in or out from a block colour, most commonly black, although other colours can be used symbolise other things.

  • Dissolve - Similar to a fade, except a shot instead fades in or out from another shot. Multiple shots can be played in a kind of dissolve montage, where the current image is never fully clear. For example, 4 shots could dissolve over one another in sequence over the space of a few seconds, creating an effect called 'Feathering'. Dissolves can also be used as a cheesy kind of transformation/metamorphosis technique, having perhaps 4 shots of a subject in a changing costume dissolve from one to the next to create the illusion the subject is physically changing (less common now thanks to improved technology).

  • Morph - These are more commonly and easily done by animators, which have one shot physically transform into the next.

In the 4th week of film language, we saw a short called 'World In Motion', which utilised wipes as a form of 'hidden edit', which simply means that an object in the foreground moved across the screen, blocking the view of everything behind it, during which the next shot was brought into frame. This doesn't necessarily mean everything behind the object is hidden, and some parts of both shots can be visible at the same time, which makes the transition less blunt, and more natural/believable.

Cuts, again, are the most common form of transition. They are however, the technique with the most variety of sub terms and techniques. A cut could be described as an instantaneous change from one shot, to the next. The types of cut which we covered today, that come under this description, are:

  • Cut on action

  • Cut away

  • Matched cut

  • Jump cut

  • montage

  • Cross cut/Parallel edit

  • Smash cut?

We have seen studied of these types of cut previously in an opening sequence from Wallace and Gromit - the Wrong Trousers, which made effective use of cut on action. 'Cut on action' is used very commonly in all genres, and create a natural way of moving around a scene whilst an action is occurring, and when done properly, become unnoticeable to the audience, blending with the previous shot. I think this is done quite effectively in Kill Bill, which blends some pretty complex movements together through cut on action to create fluid, well timed fight scenes.

A 'cut away' cuts from a shot of the focus, to something else less important, and usually fairly unrelated to the focus, and is normally follow by a cut back to the focus. The cut away will usually take place in the same location as the focus. Cut aways are used to adjust the pacing of a scene, or conceal a jump cut, where instead of cutting out an unwanted shot of the focus would create this, and stitching the two ends together, a cut away would create a break between the two.

Perhaps the most famous/infamous match cut in cinema would be the sequence from 2001 a Space Odyssey, where the primate throws a bone in the air, and as it returns to earth, cuts to a space ship, that matches the shape of the bone. This wasn't the CLEANEST match cut ever, and doesn't really line up the two shapes, but hence infamous. Match cuts are often used as scene transitions, and are quite flexible on what exactly they constitute. Match cuts can match action, kind of like a cut on action between two different scenes, composition like the Space Odyssey space ship/bone match, or sound, where the next shot completes an action from the previous shot through a sound.

The introduction to Citizen Kane utilises match cuts by keeping the lit window of a castle in the same position in frame as the camera cuts closer and closer to the window, until we are eventually inside the castle, tieing the inside of the castle to the outside, transitioning us in a bizarre, but natural way.

We used a scene from Silence of the Lambs to illustrate 'cross cutting', or as it's sometimes referred to, 'parallel editing'. This entails cutting between to separate events, running in parallel, which can insinuate they are happening at the same time, or in the case of Silence of the Lambs that the events are happening in the same location. The effect of this kind of cutting in this case built tension in the viewer, and encouraged them to compare the shots that were happening between the two events, and whether or not this was actually the same event, becoming almost interactive by making the audience think more about what is happening.

'Jump cuts', like I referred to previously, tend to be "bad cuts" and can be the result of removing frames from a shot that are unwanted, making the focus jump from one position to the next with the removal of the inbetween frames. Jump cuts can however be utilised in other ways, signifying the passing of time perhaps. They can also signify urgency by compressing time down through successions of jarring jump cuts. They are often used in montages, where we don't want to witness the entire duration of a character/focuses change, and compresses this down into mere minutes or seconds.

Smash cuts are abrupt transitions between two scenes, usually from slow to intense, or the reverse, creating a jarring experience. Smash cuts are classically used as a character wakes up from a nightmare, to help convey the harsh nature of their own experience. They are however, used many other ways, but often still as a way of conveying the intensity of a situation, either by quickly jumping into the midst of the action, or cutting away to the aftermath from the action.

All the above transitions of course don't have to be used alone. They can be combined to increase their effectiveness, depending on the kind of movie you are going for. When I say combined, I mean that multiple types of transition can be used throughout a film, instead of sticking to one or two. This could of course be overdone, but when tastefully used, can really enhance a story, instead of simply being used to show the viewer from one place to the next. Montages, for example, could be a mix of cross cutting, smash cutting, jump cutting, cut on action, dissolves, and perhaps other transitions. Whole films can utilise differing transitions, although this should probably be done in tasteful amounts, rather than making the film about transitions more than the actual story. Edgar Wrights Scott Pilgrim vs The World utilises the mad diegesis as an excuse to implement perhaps less conventional transitions more frequently, to very effectively convey the main character's state of mind (of course not just through transitions, but effective camera movement, however I'd argue these go hand in hand, and you could not have one with the other, so still relevant to this topic of discussion).

As the video above describes, the main character, Scott, is drifting through life, where all the days merge together, was that day yesterday, or last week?? It really is the transitions that drive this feeling into the viewers. Frequently, wipes (hidden behind foreground objects like people or cars), work together with both audio, action, and compositional match cuts, which blur two separate scenes together, subtly changing the environment, making the two scenes seem for a moment like they are the same, which the viewer has to think about for a second to realise they aren't.

We looked then at a basic structure for introducing an environment, using The Backwater Gospel as an example. The second scene of the short opens with a wide shot a town, after the title screen, accompanied by a song. We then cut to a mid shot within the town, the music transitions here from non diegetic, to diegetic. It finally cuts to a mid close up of our "protagonist", the music reaching its diegetic peak, as he is playing the song. The basic structure follows a wid - mid - close up sequence.

Blade Runner, perhaps the most renowned sci fi of all time, utilises this basic affect, after the introductory scene. It establishes location, and naturally pulls the viewer into the midst of the scenario. This is done over a much longer period of time in Blade Runner than The Backwater Gospel, probably a result of the film length, but also allows for some diegetic audio in the medium shot over a public speaker to establish further the setting by describing the name of the city, amidst other effects.

this Dare music video uses a similar cutting technique, referred to as 'down the line', that cuts between different shots following a specific line of movement, which allows the audience to quickly get drawn into the location, similar to the wide - mid - closeup technique, without having their orientation confused. Although I think down the line would be limited in its use as it creates a very specific feeling, being almost POV for someone phasing into a house, in a ghostly abnormal manner, which I think they were going for in the Dare music video.

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