cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Fear of death is intransitive becomes cutting on the action


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After a sudden inspiration, and a little consideration, it seemed a good idea to change the name fear of death is intransitive (which is, in any case, meant to be more motif than title) to cutting on the action to reflect my growing interest in and preoccupation with film and photography. Cutting on the action is often expressed as cutting on action, but it does not quite say what I want it to say beyond film technique.

Match cut means the same thing, roughly, but does not transfer out of film into other realms, as I like to think ‘cutting to the action’ does.

Cutting on the action is nicely explained in Basic training: cutting to action page in videomaker.com.

There are quite a lot of Youtube videos, such as Horrors of War EDITING 1 web doc, which also do it well. They don’t get the interpretative value of a good title when they post in YouTube. Here, Horrors of War refers to a film used to explain the technique not to the editing process. Genus => species => variety, guys – please – and all will be much clear. So first say what it is about, then what about is about.

~

Solzhynitsyn once defined an intellectual as someone who had an insistent and persistent concern with the spiritual, which I take to mean soul: what man is or thinks he could be. Whether that meant overall or if one could be obsessed with one little corner of how men act and think and feel,to some effect, who knows.

rubins-vase

fear of death is intransitive seemed like a good idea at the time – a word vase illusion: about how words are only as good at expressing what the author meant for them, as the care with which they were laid down one by one in a certain order – but the novelty has worn off now, and it is probably off-putting to many who think the blog might be focused on death: there must be an awful lot of people on the internet who have been looking for some way to overcome their fear of death who have ended up here reading about film and books and stuff.

The version of the vase illusion above appeals to me because it itself is more subtly designed than your average vase illusion and so flip-flops more readily. The bog-standard vase illusion in black and white often needs a bit of a perceptio-cognitive push to make it transform between faces and vase. And so, in a way, with words: sometimes they are so perfect they create a whole world without any help form the reader of them; sometimes just good enough to take you on a smaller, though not in itself not insignificant mental journey; often completely impenetrable and, in turn, in their way, as if created by a random sentence generator – or a deranged mind. Do they have a larger proportion of deranged intellectuals in France than elsewhere? (Reference to the myriad of totally impenetrable writers France seems to produce….)

girl-and-deer1

What photography and film are, can do, means has become overidingly important to me. You watch hundreds of films in a life time and then wham, something happens – you get it. You really see why the greats of the stills and movie camera were so obsessed with their crafts. Not unlike looking at cubist paintings for years and then realising that while, before, you understood one of the principles of cubism as showing different views at the same time, now you live the feeling you imagine Picasso had at getting to that point in his artistic journey.

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Cromer Pier 14 November 1993

The journey I have travelled to get to this point – reaching a sheer dazzlement at what film is and does – was not an epiphany out of the blue. I reached a similar point with photography 30 years ago. And somehow getting photography – though not how to take well executed photographs! – laid the ground for my much later getting of film, nurturing my ‘insistent and consistent’ desire to be a film-maker.

Girl and a Deer was one of the hundreds of duds on contact sheets which were never printed. Years later, once I had made up my mind this photo had really said something – would say something –  I spent several pleasurable hours framing and reframing it with sheets of white paper and paper clips to try to make the best of a bad job, and to make it mean to others what I saw one day in a second in a wildlife park in the lake district.

I sent it in to The Observer weekly competition. It was published the following sunday.

It was not well executed shot: I had not got the hang at all of using my then new toy, a semi-automatic Nikon. One day, many years after taking the photograph, I overcame my rejection of the shot, because it was a poorly exposed photograph, made a few prints at photography night class and cropped with a vengence. I sent an A4 photo with a neatly cut out of a sheet of A4 showing the crop, and was gratified to see they accepted the crop exactly.

The photograph was taken very quickly.  As they are.  I think I remember the deer approaching people, or at least not running away, and was drawn to the situation. With a Nikkormat there was control over shutter speed and aperture, but they were linked (as they are…) through the light meter. If you chose the speed route for shake (no slower thatn 1/60th.), aperture was then set by middling the light meter needle; if aperture was set (do you want depth of field or not?), the speed in its turn was fixed by metering. And, yes, you had to focus manually.

I am trying to re-imagine what I would have done: speed or aperture.  I guess speed. A professional can tell which I chose from the photograph: it should be possible to work it out now. The background is over exposed and out of focus. The smaller the f-stop number, the bigger the aperture. I might have known enough to set the focus to infinity for maximum depth of field, but because I didn’t know all the permutations at that stage, I probably relied on what in a digital camera at the press of a button sets shutter priority, hoping for the best. It was a very bright day but the two figures were under a tree, in shade. A no-win situation, as they say. You focus on figures 15 feet away and you get a bleached background.

I had wanted that arm round the deer at any price (I wondered later, looking at the image many times, if the deer did a little side line in posing with all the children…) so the technical element went out of the door. However, the people assessing the cropped A4 size photograph I sent in must have accepted it was “all in the eyes”,  like I had done, and were prepared to publish a poor shot for the sake of the greater art, so to speak.

When the girl suddenly put her arm round her new deer friend (I can’t help think she is a she), I saw the photograph and what I thought it meant before I pressed the button. This is sort of decoupage. A detailed ‘pre-planning’ of the result in three seconds rather than hours slaving over a timed script.

The conviction I had the photo right when I took it was confirmed a decade later when it was published so quickly: exciting, shocking and vindicating.

The shot of Cromer Pier was also a disaster. Couldn’t improve it with printing. I knew next to nothing of taking photographs with a fancy camera or developing and printing.

It seemed, from the numbers passing up and down the front, every professional and amateur in the area had honed in, as if by telepathy, on Cromer in atrocious weather on that particular November day. I was the unlucky sod who was duped into standing in a foreground shot for a professional: as I did so, a massive wave rose up, curled over the concrete rolled lip of the sea wall, and dumped itself on me and my precious Nikon, which I frantically swathed in kitchen roll to get the worst of the salt water off. Years later I had to have the internal mech. de-rusted. The water marks on my pier photo show I had already taken it before he got me to do his biding. After its soaking, I did not feel very confident to try winding the film on any further. I wonder who he was and what his photographs were like. And if he deliberately tried to ruin my camera, or really did need a foreground subject. Let me know if you are he and reading this.

In my mind that day, I was taking photographs like these by Richard Trim.

Today, with digital editing, an artistic smudge does wonders:

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April 1, 2009 - Posted by | blog name change, cinematography, cognitive illusion, culture, film editing, film [its techniques], photography |

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