Sunday Nov 28, 2004

Lights, Camera, Nonlinear Action

A bias is often mistaken for a factual perception.

In the early days of silent movies, for example, it was thought that an audience wouldn’t be able to understand the story if one scene were cut to another without a middle part—a smooth transition.

Let’s say someone were getting ready to go to work and the next scene was a cut that showed him already at work. It was erroneously felt that the audience wouldn’t be able to follow the film if how he got to his job were not shown as well.

Another misapprehension of the times was that the audience would not be able to follow the story if there were a close-up on the actor; it was thought that seeing only the actor’s face, disembodied as it was, would be disorienting and confusing.

When talking pictures was introduced, many director’s mistakenly surmised that the audience did not want to hear the actor’s speak.

Of course, all this has to do with our sense of real time activity and linear perception. Eventually, directors introduced flashbacks, a proven age-old literary nonlinear device, into their films. Then, films such as Rashomon, Pulp Fiction, Memento, and 21 Grams, for example, explicitly challenged the audience to participate in solving a puzzle composed of a seemingly disjointed mosaic of images, where the chronology of events—memory and logic—are manipulated so that the story can unfold from any direction, from the past, future, and present into a satisfying conclusion.» 

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