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photography and film – facts, ideas, values

FILM Reflections and mirrors in film






Reminded of the classic uses of mirrors in film, such as those in Renoir’s Regle du Jeu, by looking at Darren Hughes’ clever ‘movie still’ in his profile page in the new version of Long Pauses. The page I was reading was his post on Fred Brakhage. {wiki:Stan Brakhage}

In Regle du Jeu, I thought there was a mirror shot within the complex tracking shot involving the opening and closing of a wardrobe door, a corridor and two rooms, but as yet can’t find it!

There is one like that in The Million Pound Note. Though according to this, there is one scene where the cameraman can be seen in the mirror.

In another shot in Le Regle du Jeu , a pan involving the Countess, Christine de la Cheyniest, played by Nora Gregor, coming out of one door and entering another on a landing, the mirror is used to extend the shot. There is no need to move the camera to do a shot of the maid: the maid moves into view in the mirror on the right as Christine moves towards the mirror on her left. Then her maid, Lisette, is seen with Christine on the landing without her reflection. Christine moves to a door with a flunkie standing outside, leaving Lisette with the dog in the foreground. She enters. As she does so, we can see the closed door of the room she has left.

At the end of La Regle du Jeu, Octave is getting ready to leave. Again Renoir uses a mirror to extend the shot, showing the door behind him through which he is about to leave. Within the shot he walks towards the camera to get his hat and returns to the set position. While he does, we can see him getting his hat in the reflection. Towards the end he can be seen looking at his own reflection in the mirror: staring in a sudden realisation, over the shoulder of Lisette.

Without the mirror, walking out of shot towards the camera won’t look right. With the mirror there is no need to set up another shot to show him unhooking his hat.

Came across this forum in MUBI [formerly Auteurs] with quite a few examples of stills and movie sequences sent in by the debaters. The topic is ‘reflections and mirrors’  which slightly widens it out a bit.  Please post in any films with reflections you like.

The one at the top is from Regle du Jeu.  One can always make obvious remarks and seem slightly naive about film-making, but I can see in my mind’s eye the image being noticed by Renoir as he looks for the first time at  the set up created for him by the cinematographer. He has asked for the maid (in black) to seem to be the reflection of the Contess, but when he sees what has been done for him, sacred blue, he is impressed.

Godard talked about guns and girls, but this is surely as much why men and women nearly kill themselves to make films.





O.k. this is Berman – you get the idea.  In fact you more than get it: you’ve seen films, or documentaries of films being made, in which directors look at the cinematographs set-up and start enthusing.

There is also that thing about a cinematographer catching a light effect while filming a shot which is seen by director for the first time in the rushes. “Wahddisdat? BriiilliaNt! Cut it in ” [THICK GUTTERAL GERMAN-AMERICAN  ACCENT]

A real chateau was used for Regle du Jeu. It would be interesting to know if the interiors were sets or chateau. If chateau, there would have been a time when, on arrival and initial shufti, the possibilities of the mirrors became apparent and were probably included in the working script. If he chose the chateau partly for its mirrors before the script was written, then he really was a clever chap.

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Below a cut and paste of photo a quoter quoting a book:





Film noir often uses mirrors as symbols of a person’s dual nature.

Quote from Dev Anand: Dashing Debonair by Alpana Chowdhury (p.43).

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P D Smith reviews what looks like a must have for the generally curious, film mirror lovers and narcissists:

Mirror, Mirror: A History of the Human Love Affair with Reflection
by Mark Pendergrast 404pp
Basic Books, £19.99

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August 6, 2010 Posted by | cinematography, cognitive illusion, cognitive science, culture, director of photography, film directors, film narrative, film still, film techniques, Fred Brakhage, perception, Renoir | , | Leave a comment

PHOTOGRAPHY FILM: Between four and nine pictures

Mogan Meis’s essay in The Smart Set, Quite Ripples – Capturing the moments indifferent to being captured, plucks a chord  for me: a harpsichord –and not clavichord or pianoforte — kind of moment. Meis moved from an idea from Thales to a quote from Hericlatus (‘You can’t step into the same river twice’), followed by Plato’s, ‘ if the nature of things is so unstable as that, you can’t even step in the same river fronting an explanation of a photographer’s art.

A clear litte expansion on the philosophical background from Siva Prasad might help at this point.

The photographer he looks at is Paul Graham: his exhibition, A Shimmering of Possibility, at MoMa, the perfect excuse for Meis to deliver two killer paragraphs:

..human beings have been trying to figure out what makes one thing one thing and another thing another thing. In very general terms, there have always been some people who are more comfortable with Being and some people who are more comfortable with Becoming. The Being people get excited about how identity remains stable, how a chair is always a chair, a table always a table. The Becoming people are fascinated by the gray areas, the things you can’t quite categorize, the fleeting, the indefinite.

Photography, since its invention in the 19th century, has always played the role of a double agent. On one hand, photography fixes time, a notoriously shifty and ever-changing phenomenon. But photography grabs time and sits it down. You could say that photography freezes moments of essence. This pleases the Being people. A photograph has a sliver of forever inside it.

and two killer sentences:

The old saying tells us that a picture is worth a thousand words. Graham, however, thinks you need somewhere between four and nine pictures.

Meis dissects the notions of  being and becoming a bit more, but it was something else that occured to me: somehow the great filmmakers are and were quite aware of this ‘between four and nine pictures’.

Recently I saw an interview with Truffaut in which he was talking about 8 frame freezes: the maximum was 12 frames: more obtruded into the movie shots either side: the viewer was aware it was a still. Somehow at the optimal 8 frames, the stillness of a face amongst action is more a psychological stop than a physical one. Is the 8-frame an artifical construct of film with no parallel in real life? Perhaps an equivalent; is the sensation of a person talking to you suddenly having her sound off as one’s concentration goes from the words to the expression, and suddenly back again as some process in the brain decides to switch the sound back on, which hasn’t been off at all (so to speak).

In film we are being shown this 8-frame phenomenon as a stylisation. It has been used time and again by many directors. So why are cinematographers like Truffaut obsessed with it? For me, it runs right back to the simple pleaure of a flick book:; bored in a school classroom on a hot summer afternoon, teacher droning on, we idly draw a matchstick man in the top corner of the text book and make him move: the 8-frame splice is a reverse flicker book. It is a little bit ‘because it was there’, but it has a serious purpose, noneless.

No film-maker gets over the way film works: 24 fps. Even a photographer who has run off a rapid set of shots of a face, now finds it possible, with digital technology, to make the head move up and down with a loop of two photographs. There is something mesmerising about creating movement from stills.

Many filmmakers use a sequence of photographic stills or frames from a movie shot – in lieu of tight montage sequences – because they come to the conclusion that these stills — simply a short set of consecutive frames — played slower than 24 fps by digitally chosing say 1-3 seconds which is the poor man’s; still creating the necessary movement both in cinematographic and perceptio-cognitive (narrative) terms.

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In a short documentary I am making, after much playing around with one sequence of  someone arriving on a train, decamping, and walking back up the station to where I, the cameraman, am standing, I came to the slow conclusion it was more effective as film not just to show the sequence at normal speed (the edited shot with only a few seconds taken off each end), but also a repetiton of the same shot in single frames at an optimal fps to produce an inexorable slow movement forward, which at the same time was seen as a set of ever changing stills.

Such a design is always self-reflexive: that is so much what the fun of filmmaking is. In some cases, the auteur seems to be almost solely concerned with cinematographic  reflexivity. No crime. The medium itself has it built into its DNA. The films such people make are as much about the pressure and satisfaction in the making as any subsequent viewing by a third party. True of all creative art.

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In the process of running a sequence of screen grabs, one is consciously aware that this is what it must have been like for the first filmmakers – and their enchantment with the new medium – as they ran their celloid through a projector. The movie made of stills or screen grabs, though often run quite slow, is smoother than the flickering of those films at less than otpimum speed. One is fully aware, as all this happens, that one is watching how movie works, but also fully conscious immediately, or in slow stages, what it can and can’t do.

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If I was teaching film (not likely) these are aspects of film-making I would emphasise: practical exercises with HDV cameras, each student would be told to go out and film and bring to class to work on: a few tricks to encourage the enjoyment of the filming such as how to film continuously, panning and zooming at the places where they envisioned cuts for example, to prevent them wasting too much time switching the camera on and off (and missing some of the action in the process) in the attempt to create ready made and editable shots.

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Creating movie sequences from stills is quite a laborious process, involving grabbing maybe as many as 50 – 100 digital ‘frames’ for a 20-30 second shot. It is only when the slow motion sequence is played and replayed that it can become apparent how other elements such as music can subtly but radically alter the images.

In this specific case, I found quite quickly – almost by chance – a backing track from music site Jamendo that moved forward at the same speed as the slow movement of the stills. This sequence lasts about 30 seconds, which would be considered incredibly long by some ‘default’ filmmakers. But the slow pace of the figure moving up the station platform, facial expression slowly changing, physical actions – the posture of the body in relation to limbs – is enhanced by the perfect matching of the pace of the film with the music.

April 19, 2009 Posted by | cinéma-vérité, cinematography, cognitive illusion, cognitive science, consciousness studies, documentary, film analysis, film directors, film editing, film narrative, film theory, film [its techniques] | | Leave a comment

The Secrets of Storytelling



The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn

By Jeremy Hsu

Scientific American September 2008



August 7, 2008 Posted by | cognitive science, neuroscience | , | Leave a comment