Cinema as a Language

July 12, 2017 General Studies

Cinema as a Language Silence film had reached its artistic peak by 1928. It seemed like cinema had developed into an art most perfectly with silence. The realism that sound would bring could only be seen as chaos. However, the sound proved that it didn’t come to destroy; on the contrary, it had a responsibility and it came to fulfill its mission to the cinema. The point is whether the technical revolution formed by sound track actually the aesthetic revolution. Considering editing, we cannot see a huge gap between the silent and the sound film.

On the contrary, when comparing the directors before 1928 and after that time, it can be truly seen that there is an evidence that shows the close relationship. Certain cinematic values were carried over from the silent film to the sound film. However, the more important issue is to contrast certain styles and different concepts of cinematographic expression. According to Bazin, in the cinema between the years 1920 and 1940, there was two opposite trend; directors who followed the path of the “image”, and the directors who followed “reality” in their films.

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Image in here means everything represented on the screen is attributed to the object that is represented. Image can be seperated to two headings; those that related to the plastics of the image and the resources of montage. Plastic image is about the composition. It is the style of the sets, make-up, and the performance; lighting and the framing of the shot. Montage sets the film apart from the “animated photography”. It brought a new point of view to the cinema as an art, and it created a language. Scenes are broken down just to analyze an episode according to dramatic logic of the scene.

What montage conceals is this fact of the analyze, so the spectator naturally have the same viewpoint with the director when considering the action. The developing process of the montage can be seen when analyzing it as parallel montage, accelerated montage and montage by attraction. Parallel montage gives the impression of the simultaneity of two actions taking place at a geographical distance by means of alternating shots from each. It is the cutting back and forth between different lines of action. D. W. Griffith introduced parallel montage to the cinema. It is also used by Eisenstein.

An accelerated montage is composed of shots of increasingly shorter lengths. In one of his films, D. W. Griffith created the illusion of increasing speed of a locomative without using any image of speed; just having lots of long shots. Montage by attraction is the creation of Eisenstein. It is the association of one image with another arbitrarily chosen image not necessarily part of the same episode. Eisenstein used this technique in his first film “Strike” by creating images independent from the action to create a maximum psychological impact on the spectator. He used shapes (e. . ellipses) and objects (e. g. wheels) and associated them to strengthen the impact. Bazin thinks that even if montage creates a sense not proper to the image, it derived from their togetherness. It doesn’t show the event clearly, but it alludes it. However, the point is the ordering elements of reality rather than their objective content. Concrete elements and the abstract result have something in common: They suggest an idea with the result of the association of two. There is an aesthetic transformer between the scenario that contains the object and the pure image.

So, the spectator doesn’t search the meaning in the image, it is already projected by montage in the spectator’s mind. If the art of cinema consists in which plastic and montage adds to reality, silent film was a masterpiece. Sound can only contribute to cinema as a subordinate and supplementary effect. In some silence films the lenght of the action, the waiting period can be suggested by montage. In “Ballet Mechanique” of Fernand Lege, parts of body like eyes, lips and legs were used as icons, which is the intellectual montage technique. Also the film has a rhtym that is not related to the sound.

Another example from “Ritual in Transfigured Time” of Maya Daren, Deren used montage as a means of creating a uniqely cinematic time and image. For her, countershot dominates the montage. In a silent film, the image is evaluated not according to what it adds to reality but what it reveals of it. But in the latter art the silence in a film was a drawback because it is believed that it deprived reality of one of its elements, the sound. The cinema that is believed to have died of soundtrack is no longer the cinema. As a consequence, it can be seen that there are two controversial viewpoints about silence film when considered aesthetically.

From the years 1930 to 1940, a common language for cinema had been formed. In Hollywood, there existed several major kinds of film. They were comedy, dance and vaudeville, burlesque, crime, drama, horror and fantasy, and western. During that time French cinema has reached its peak level. Jean Renoir was one of the most important name of this era. He was at the stage from the silent era to the end of the 1960s. In France sound film was well-balanced and reached its maturity. It was as content and form. Photography and editing were adapted to their subject. There was a complete harmony of image and sound.

Years between 1940 and 1950, there existed a dazzling display of the Italian cinema and English cinema that is apart from the influence of Hollywood. The phenomenon was to regard “subject” over the “style”. The idea that art is for art’s sake wasn’t welcomed. On the other hand, what film is trying to say is to know how it is saying it, which leads us to subject needing form. By 1940s in France and United States cinema had reached classical perfection. As a result different kinds of drama developed in part inhereted from silent film. The 1930s were the years of panchromatic film. But after the year 1940 it turned visuality upside down.

It could be eliminated the soft-focus background. But, Jean Renoir used deep focus creatively in his films. It can be perfectly seen in his film “A Day in the Country”. Deep focus is one of those which made his films a unique film noir quality. There was an universal standard for editing in 1938. Silent films were considered to be based on the plastics of the image and the collision of montage. The trend was called as expressionist or symbolistic. There were certain points in common: the reality of space was always determined even there are close-ups, and the effects of cutting were dramatic or psycological.

And the sound image which is less flexible than the visual image, carry montage in the direction of realism by eliminating the plastic effect and the symbolic relation between images. Around 1938 almost all films were edited according to the same principle. Stories were unfolded in set-ups and there were dialogue scenes that contains shot-reverse-shot. Orson Welles for instance, expertly controlled the atmosphere of “Citizen Kane” through the heavy use of long take and conventional shot-reverse-shot passages. He used mostly large apertures producing shallow depth of field in Citizen Kane.

With wider-angleness everything from the foreground to the background was in focus. In Jean Renoir films, after composition there is a search for partial replacement of montage by moving camera when taking shots. Welles’ pictures are more difficult to analyze, because; in his films objects and characters are so related in each other that they put significance to the scene. The depth of focus brings the spectator closer into a relation with the image, and consequently its structure becomes more realistic. It can be said that montage by its nature, eliminates the ambiguity of expression.

If it is thougt that the accelerated montage that Welles used in Citizen Kane playes tricks with time and space, it actually reduces or summarizes the time. The sound film did preserve the essentials of montage, the discontinous description and the dramatic analysis of action. With the revolution of the realism, storytelling became capable of bringing together real time with the duration of the action. And it is only realism that can support the abstraction of montage. In the “silent” days montage evoked the director. Now film maker is no longer seemed as painter; he is the novelist, the real creator of his film.


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