Thursday, July 31, 2014
VIPudokin. Film technique. Translator, Ivor Montagu. Vision Press. 1914. 01. The Film scenario and its theory.
I. THE FILM SCENARIO AND ITS THEORY
The scenarios usually submitted to production firms are marked by a specific character. Almost all represent the primitive narration of some given content, their authors having apparently concerned themselves only with the relation of incident, employing for the most part literary methods, and entirely disregarding the extent to which the material they propose will be interesting as subject for cinematographic treatment. The question of special cinematographic treatment of material is highly important. Every art possesses its own peculiar method of effectively presenting its matter. This remains true, of course, for the film. To work at a scenario without knowing the methods of directorial work, the methods of shooting and cutting a film, is as foolish as to give a Frenchman a Russian poem in literal translation. In order to communicate to the Frenchman the correct impression, one must rewrite the poem anew, with knowledge of the peculiarities of French verse-form. In order to write a scenario suitable for filming, one must know the methods by which the spectator can be influenced from the screen.
The opinion is often met with that the scenarist has only to give a general, primitive outline of the action. The whole work of detailed “filmic” adaptation is an affair of the director. This is entirely false. It should be remembered that in no art can construction be divided into stages independent of one another. Already that very general approach involved in the fact of a work being thought out as a substantial future presupposes attention to possible particularities and details. When one thinks of a theme, then inevitably one thinks simultaneously, be it hazily and unclearly, of the treatment of its action, and so forth. From this it follows that, even though the scenarist abstain from laying down detailed instructions on what to shoot and how to shoot it, what to edit and how to edit it, none the less a knowledge and consideration of the possibilities and peculiarities of directorial work will enable him to propose material that can be used by the director, and will make possible to him the creation of a, filmically expressive film. Usually the result is exactly the opposite—usually the first approach of the scenarist to his work implies in the best cases uninteresting, in the worst insurmountable, obstacles to filmic adaptation.
The purpose of this study is to communicate what is, it is true, a very elementary knowledge of the basic principles of scenario work in their relation to the basic principles of directorial work. Apart from those considerations specifically filmic, the scenarist, especially in the field of general construction, is confronted with the laws governing creation in other allied arts. A scenario may be constructed in the style of a playwright, and will then be subject to the laws that determine the construction of a play. In other cases it may approach the novel, and its construction will consequently be conditioned by other laws. But these questions can be treated only superficially in the present sketch, and readers especially interested in them must turn to specialised works.
Part I THE SCENARIO
THE MEANING OF THE “SHOOTING-SCRIPT”
It is generally known that the finished film consists of a whole series of more or less short pieces following one another in definite sequence. In observing the development of the action the spectator is transferred first to one place, then to another; yet more, he is shown an incident, even sometimes an actor, not as a whole, but consecutively by aiming the camera at various parts of the scene or of the human body. This kind of construction of a picture, the resolving of the material into its elements and subsequent building from them of a filmic whole, is called “constructive editing,”and it will be discussed in detail in the second part of this sketch. As a preliminary it is necessary only for us to note the fact of this basic method of film-work.
In shooting a film, the director is not in a position to do so consecutively—that is, begin with the first scene and thence, following the scenario, proceed in order right up to the last. The reason is simple. Suppose, for argument’s sake, you build a required set—it nearly always happens that the scenes taking place in it are spread throughout the whole scenario—and suppose the director take it into his head, after shooting a scene on that set, to proceed immediately with the scene next following in the order of the action of the developing scenario, then it will be necessary to build a new set without demolishing the first, then another, and so forth, accumulating a whole series of structures without being able to destroy the preceding ones. To work in this way is impracticable for simple technical reasons. Thus both director and actor are deprived of the possibility of continuity in the actual process of shooting; but, at the same time, continuity is essential. With the loss of continuity, we lose the unity of the work—its style and, with that, its effect. From this derives the inevitable necessity of a detailed preliminary overhauling of the scenario. Only then can a director work with confidence, only then can he attain significant results, when he treats each piece carefully according to a filmic plan, when, clearly visualising to himself a series of screen images, he traces and fixes the whole course of development, both of the scenario action and of the work of the separate characters. In this preliminary paper-work must be created that style, that unity, which conditions the value of any work of art. All the various positions of the camera—such as long-shot, close-up, hot from above, and so forth; all the technical means—such as “fade,” “mask,”and “pan”—that affect the relation of a shot to the piece of celluloid preceding and following it; everything that comprises or strengthens the inner content of a scene, must be exactly considered; otherwise in the shooting of some scene, taken at random from the middle of the scenario, irreparable errors may arise. Thus this overhauled “working”—that is, ready for shooting—form of scenario provides in itself the detailed description of each, even the smallest, piece, citing every technical method required for its execution.
Certainly, to require the scenarist to write his work in such a form would be to require him to become a director; but all this scenario work must be done, and, if he cannot deliver a “cast-iron” scenario, ready for shooting, nevertheless, in that degree in which he provides a material more or less approaching the ideal form, the scenarist will provide the director not with a series of obstacles to be overcome, but with a series of impulses that can be used. The more technically complete his working-out of the scenario, the more chance the scenarist has to see upon the screen the images shaped as he has visualised them.
THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SCENARIO
If we try to divide the work of the scenarist into, as it were, a succession of stages, passing from the general to the particular, we get the following rough scheme:
1. The theme.
2. The action (the treatment). [I combine these two as one for the purposes of a short sketch, but this is not technically exact. (Author’s note.)]
3. The cinematographic working-out of the action (filmic representation).
Certainly, such a scheme is the result of the dissection ofan already completed scenario. As already remarked, the creative process can take place in other sequence. Separate scenes can be imagined and simultaneously find their position in the process of growth. But, none the less, some final overhaul of the work on the scenario must take into account all these three stages in their sequence. One must always remember that the film, by the very nature of its construction (the rapid alternation of successive pieces of celluloid), requires of the spectator an exceptional concentration of attention. The director, and consequently the scenarist also, leads despotically along with him the attention of the spectator. The latter sees only that which the director shows him; for reflection, for doubt, for criticism, there is neither room nor time, and consequently the smallest error in clearness or vividness of construction will be apprehended as an unpleasant confusion or as a simple, ineffective blank. Remember, therefore, that the scenarist must always take care to secure the greatest simplicity and clarity in the resolution of each separate problem, at whatever moment in his work it may confront him. For convenience in elucidation we will discuss separately in order each of the separate points of the scheme outlined, that we may establish the specific requirements set by the film in the selection and application of different materials and the different methods of their treatment.
The theme is a supra-artistic concept. In fine, every human concept can be employed as a theme, and the film, no more than any other art, can place bounds to its selection. The only question that can be asked is whether it be valuable or useless to the spectator. And this question is a purely sociological one, the solution of which does not enter the scope of this sketch. But mention must be made of certain formal requirements, conditioning the selection of the theme, if only because of the present-day position of film-art. The film is yet young, and the wealth of its methods is not yet extensive; for this reason it is possible to indicate temporary limitations without necessarily attributing to them the permanence and inflexibility of laws. First of all must be mentioned the scale of theme. Formerly there ruled a tendency, and in part it exists to-day, to select such themes as embrace material spreading extraordinarily widely over time and space. As example may be quoted the American film Intolerance, the theme of which may be represented as follows: “Throughout all ages and among all peoples, from the earliest times to the present day, stalks intolerance, dragging in its wake murder and blood.” This is a theme of monstrous extent; the very fact that it spreads “throughout all ages and among all peoples” already conditions an extraordinary breadth of material. The result is extremely characteristic. In the first place, scarcely compressed into twelve reels, the film became so ponderous that the tiredness it created largely effaced its effect. In the second place, the abundance of matter forced the director to work the theme out quite generally, without touching upon details, and consequently there was a strong discrepancy between the depth of the motif and the superficiality of its form. Only the part played in the present day, in which the action was more concentrated, produced the necessary, effective impression. It is especially necessary to pay attention to this forced superficiality. At the present moment film-art, still in its infancy, does not possess means enabling it to embrace so wide a material.
Note that most good films are characterised by very simple themes and relatively uncomplicated action. Bela Balazs, in his book “Der Sichtbare Mensch,” quite correctly remarks that the failure of the majority of film adaptations of literary works is to be ascribed mainly to the fact that the scenarists concerned strove to compress a superabundance of material into the narrow confines of the picture.
Cinematography is, before anything else, limited by the definite length of a film. A film more than 7,000 feet long already creates an unnecessary exhaustion. There is, it is true, a method of issuing a long film in several so-called serial parts. But this method is possible only to films of a special kind. Adventure-films, their content consisting chiefly of a series of extraordinary happenings in the career of the hero, little connected with one another after all, and always having each an independent interest (stunts—either acrobatic or directorial), can naturally be shown to the spectator in several episodes of a single cycle. The spectator, losing nothing in impression, can see the second part without acquaintance with the first, the content of which he gathers from an opening title. The relationship between the episodes is attained by crude play upon the curiosity of the spectator; for example, at the end of the first part the hero lands into some inextricable situation, solved only at the beginning of the second, and so forth. But the film of deeper content, the value of which lies always in the impression it creates as a whole, can certainly not be thus divided into parts for the spectator to see separately, one each week. (1) The influence of this limitation of film length is yet increased by the fact that the film technician, for the effective representation of a concept, requires considerably more material than, let us say, the novelist or playwright. In a single word often a whole complex of images is contained. Visual images having an inferential significance of this nature are, however, very rare, and the film technician is therefore forced to carry out a detailed representation if he desire to achieve an effective impression. I repeat that the necessity to limit the scale of the theme is perhaps only a temporary one, but, having regard to our actual store of means of filmic representation, it is unavoidable.
Meanwhile, the other requirement, conditioned by the basic character itself of filmic spectacle, will probably exist for ever—the necessity for clarity. I have already mentioned above the necessity for absolute clarity in the resolution of every problem met with in the process of working on the film; this holds true, of course, for the work on the theme. If the basic idea that is to serve as backbone to the scenario be vague and indefinite, the scenario is condemned to miscarry. (2) True that in the examination of the written representation, it is possible, by careful study, to disentangle one’s way among the hints and unclarities, but, transposed upon the screen, such a scenario becomes irritatingly confusing.
I give an example; a scenario-writer sent us an already completed scenario on the life of a factory workman in the days before the Russian revolution. The scenario was written round a given hero, a workman. In the course of the action he came into contact with a series of persons—hostile and friendly: the enemies harmed him, the friends helped him. At the beginning of the scenario the hero was depicted as a rough, ungoverned man; at the end he became an honest, class-conscious workman. The scenario was written in well-drawn, naturalistic environmental colours, it undoubtedly contained interesting, live material witnessing to the powers of observation and the knowledge of its author, yet none the less it was turned down. A series of slices of life, a series of chance meetings and encounters bound together by no more than their sequence in time, is, after all, no more than a group of episodes. The theme as basic idea, uniting in itself the meaning of all the events depicted—that is what was lacking. Consequently the separate characters were without significance, the actions of the hero and the people round him as chaotic and adventitious as the movements of pedestrians on a street, passing by before a window.
But the same author went through his scenario, altering it in accordance with the remarks made to him. He carefully reconstructed the line of the hero, guided by a clearly formulated theme. As basis he set the following idea: “It is not sufficient to be revolutionarily inclined; to be of service to the cause one must possess a properly organised consciousness of reality.”The merely blustering workman of the opening was changed to a reckless anarchist, (3) his enemies thus stood in a clear and definite front, his contacts with them and with his future friends assumed clear purpose and clear meaning, a whole series of superfluous complications fell away, and the modified scenario was transformed to a rounded and convincing whole. The idea defined above can be termed that theme the clear formulation of which inevitably organises the entire work and results in a clearly effective creation. Note as rule: formulate the theme clearly and exactly—otherwise the work will not acquire that essential meaning and unity that conditions every work of art. All further limitations influencing the choice of theme are connected with the action-treatment. As I have already said, the creative process never takes place in schematic sequence: thinking of the theme involves, nearly simultaneously, thinking of the action and its treatment.
THE ACTION-TREATMENT OF THE THEME
The scenarist, in the very first stages of his work, already possesses a given material later to be disposed in the framework of his future creation. This material is provided for him by knowledge, experience, and, finally, imagination. Having established the theme, as basic idea conditioning the selection of this material, the scenarist must begin its grouping. Here the persons of the action are introduced, their relations to one another established, their various significance in the development of the plot determined, and, finally, here are indicated, given proportions for the distribution of the entire material throughout the scenario.
In entering the province of the action-treatment of the theme, the scenarist first comes into contact with the requirements of creative work. Just as the theme is, by definition, a supra-artistic element, so, contrastingly, the work on the action is conditioned by a whole series of requirements peculiar to the given art.
Let us first approach the most general aspect—let us determine the character of the work on the action. A writer, when he plans out a future work, establishes always a series of, as it were, key-stones, significant to the elucidation of the theme and spread over the whole of the work in preparation. These key-stones, as it were, mark the general outline; to them belong the elements characteristic of the various persons, the nature of the events that bring these persons together, often the details conditioning the significance and strength of the elements of crescendo and diminuendo, often even just separate incidents selected for their power and expressiveness.
Exactly the same process occurs certainly in the work of the scenarist. To consider the action abstractly is impossible. It is impossible to plan merely that at the beginning the hero is an anarchist and then, after meeting with a series of mishaps in his efforts at revolutionary work, becomes a conscious communist. A scheme of this kind is no advance on the theme and brings us no nearer the essential treatment. Not only what happens must be perceived, but also how it happens; in the work on the action the form must already be sensible. Imagining a reform in the cosmic philosophy of the hero is still very far from creating a climax in the scenario. Before the discovery of a definite concrete form that, in the scenarist’s opinion, will affect the spectator from the screen, the abstract idea of a reform has no creative value and cannot serve as a key-stone in the constitution of the action; but these key-stones are necessary; they establish the hard skeleton and remove the danger of those blank gaps that may always occur if some important stage in the development of the scenario be treated carelessly and abstractly. Neglect of this element in the work of final filmic polishing may occasion inexpressive material, unsuitable for plastic treatment, and thus may destroy the whole construction.
The novelist expresses his key-stones in written descriptions, the dramatist by rough dialogue, but the scenarist must think in plastic (externally expressive) images. He must train his imagination, he must develop the habit of representing to himself whatever comes into his head in the form of a sequence of images upon the screen. Yet more, he must learn to command these images and to select from those he visualises the clearest and most vivid; he must know how to command them as the writer commands his words and the playwright his spoken phrases. (4)
The clarity and vividness of the action-treatment directly depends on the clear formulation of the theme. Let us take as an example an American film, naive, certainly, and not especially valuable, issued under the name Saturday Night. Though its content is slight, it affords an excellent model of a theme clearly outlined and action simply and vividly treated. The theme is as follows: “Persons of different social class will never be happy when intermarried.” The construction of the action runs so. A chauffeur spurns the favours of a laundress, for he falls in love with a capitalist’s daughter whom he drives every day in his car. The son of another capitalist, chancing to see the young laundress in his house, falls in love with her. Two marriages are celebrated. The narrow garret of the chauffeur seems an absurd dog-kennel to the daughter of the mansion. The natural desire of the chauffeur to find a meal at home ready for him after a hard day’s work encounters an invincible obstacle in the fact that his wife has no idea how to make a fire or manage the cooking utensils; the fire is too hot, the crockery dirties her hands, and the half-cooked food flies all over the floor. When friends of the chauffeur visit him to spend a jolly evening, they behave themselves so crudely, by the standards of the spoilt lady, that she stalks demonstratively out of the room and bursts into an unexpected fit of hysterics.
Meanwhile, no better fares the ex-laundress in the mansion of the rich. Surrounded by scornful servants, she plumps from one embarrassment into another. She marvels at the lady’s-maids who help her to dress and undress, she looks clumsy and absurd in her long-trained gown, at a dinner-party she becomes an object of ridicule, to the distress of her husband and his relatives. By chance the chauffeur and the former laundress meet. It is obvious that, influenced by disappointment, their former mutual inclination re-awakens. The two unhappy couples part, to reunite themselves in new and happier combinations. The laundress is brilliant in the kitchen, and the capitalist’s new wife wears her dresses faultlessly and is marvellous at the fox-trot.
The action is as primitive as the theme, but none the less the film can be regarded as highly successful in its clear, well-thought out construction. Every detail is in place and directly related to the pervading idea. Even in this superficial sketch of its content one senses the presence of vivid, externally expressed images: the kitchen, the chauffeur’s friends, the elegant clothes, the guests at dinner, and, again, the kitchen and the clothes in another form. Every essential element in the development of the scenario is characterised by clear, plastic material.
As counter-model I shall reproduce an extract from one of the many scenarios that pour in every day: “The Nikonov family is reduced to direst poverty, neither the father nor Natasha can find work—refusals everywhere. Often Andrei visits them, and seeks with fervent words to encourage the despairing Natasha. At last, in despair, the father goes to the contractor and offers to make peace with him, and the contractor agrees on condition that he shall receive the daughter in marriage, and so forth.” This is a typical example of filmic colourlessness and helplessness in representation. There is nothing but meetings and talkings. Such expressions as “Often Andrei visits them,” “with fervent words he seeks to encourage” “refusals everywhere,” and so forth, show a complete lack of any connection between the work on the action and that filmic form the scenario is later to assume. Such incidents may serve, at best, as material for titles, but never for shots. For the word”often”means, in any case, several times, and to show Andrei making his visit four or five times would seem absurd even to the author of this scenario; the same applies to the expression “refusals everywhere.”
What is said here is not being pedantic about a word. It is important to realise that even in the preparatory general treatment of the scenario must be indicated nothing that is impossible to represent, or that is inessential, but only that which can be established as clear and plastically expressive keystones. To express externally the character of a scene showing direst poverty, to find acts (not words) characterising the relationship of Andrei to Natasha—this is what will provide such key-stones. It may be argued that work on plastic form belongs already to the next stage and can be left to the director, but to this I emphasise once again that it is always important to have the possible plastic form before one’s eyes even in the general approach to the work, in order to escape the possibility of blank gaps in the subsequent treatment. Remember, for example, the word “often,” already mentioned as one entirely unnecessary and incapable of plastic expression.
Thus we have established the necessity for the scenarist always to orientate himself according to the plastic material that, in the end, must serve as form for his representation. We now turn to the general questions of concentration of the action as a whole. There is a whole series of standards that regulate the construction of a narrative, of a novel, of a play. They stand all, undoubtedly, in close relation to scenario work, but their transcription cannot be compressed into the narrow limits of this sketch, (5) Of the questions of general construction of the scenario, mention must be made here only of one. During work on the treatment the scenarist must always consider the varying degree of tension in the action. This tension must, after all, be reflected in the spectator, forcing him to follow the given part of the picture with more or less excitement. This excitement does not depend from the dramatic situation alone, it can be created or strengthened by purely extraneous methods. (6) The gradual windingup of the dynamic elements of the action, the introduction of scenes built from rapid, energetic work of the characters, the introduction of crowd scenes, all these govern increases of excitement in the spectator, and one must learn so to construct the scenario that the spectator is gradually engrossed by the developing action, receiving the most effective impulse only at the end. The vast majority of scenarios suffer from clumsy building up of tension. As example one may quote the Russian film The Adventures of Mr. West. The first three reels are watched with evergrowing interest. A cowboy, arrived in Moscow with the American visitor West, lands into and escapes from a series of exceedingly complicated situations, the interest steadily increasing with his dexterity. The dynamically saturated earlier reels are easy to look at and grip the spectator with everincreasing excitement. But after the end of the third reel, where the cowboy’s adventures came to an unexpected end, the spectator experiences a natural reaction, and the continuation, in spite of the excellent directorial treatment, is watched with much diminished interest. And the last reel, containing the weakest material of the whole (a journey through the streets of Moscow and various empty factories), completely effaces the good impression of the film and lets the spectator go out unsatisfied.
As an interesting example of opposite and correct regulation of increasing elements of tension in the action may be instanced the films of the well-known American director, Griffith. He has created a type of film-ending, even distinguished by his name, that is used by the multitude of his successors up to the present day. Let us take the present-day part of the film Intolerance, already instanced. A young workman, discharged owing to participation in a strike, comes to New York, and falls in straightway with a band of petty thieves; but, after meeting the girl he loves, he decides to seek honest employment. Yet the “villains” do not leave him in peace. Finally they involve him in a trial for murder and he gets into prison. The proofs seem so incontestable to thejudge and jury that he is condemned to death. At the end of the picture his sweetheart, meanwhile become his wife, unexpectedly discovers the real murderer. Her husband is already being prepared for execution; only the governor has power to intervene, and he has just left the town on an express train.
There ensues a terrific chase to save the hero. The woman rushes after the train on a racing-car whose owner has realised that a man’s life depends upon his speed. In the cell the man receives unction. The car has almost reached the express. The preparations for the execution are nearing their end. At the very last moment, when the noose is being laid round the neck of the hero, comes the pardon, attained by the wife at the price of her last energy and effort. The quick changes of scene, the contrasting alternation of the tearing machines with the methodical preparations for the execution of an innocent man, the everincreasing concern of the spectator—“will they be in time, will they be in time?”—all these compel an intensification of excitement that, being placed at the end, successfully concludes the picture. In the method of Griffith are combined the inner dramatic content of the action and a masterly employment of external effort (dynamic tension).
His films can be used as models of correctly contrasted intensification. A working out of the action of the scenario in which all the lines of behaviour of the various characters are clearly expressed, in which all the major events in which the characters take part are consecutively described, and in which, last but not least, the tension of the action is correctly considered and constructed in such a way that its gradual intensification rises to a climactic end—this, in fine, is a treatment already of considerable value and useful to the director in representation. Written though it may be in purely literary phraseology, such a treatment will provide the libretto, as it were, of the scenario; and, in the hands of the specialist director, it will be transformable into a working script the more easily the more that orientation on plastic material, ofwhich I spoke above, has been taken into consideration in working out the action.
Already the next stage in the work of the scenarist is the specific cinematographic overhaul of the action. The scenario must be divided into sequences, these into scenes, and the scenes into the separate shots (script-scenes) (7) that correspond to the separate pieces of celluloid from which the film is ultimately joined together. A reel must not exceed a certain length—its average length works out at from 900 to 1,200 feet. The film consists usually offrom six to eight reels, and the scenario-writer desirous of endowing his work with specific filmic treatment must learn to feel its length. In order correctly to feel it he should take into consideration the following facts. The projector at normal speed runs through about one foot per second. Consequently a reel runs through in under fifteen minutes, and the whole film in about an hour and a half. If one try to visualise each separate scene as a component of a reel, as it appears upon the screen, and consider the time each will take up, one can reckon the quantity required as content of the whole scenario. (8)
A scenario worked out to the elementary and preliminary extent of division into a series of reels, sequences, and separate scenes looks as follows (9):
Scene 1 .—A peasant waggon, sinking in the mud, slowly trails along a country road. Sadly and reluctantly the hooded driver urges on his tired horse. A figure cowers into the corner of the waggon, trying to wrap itself in an old soldier’s cloak for protection against the penetrating wind. A passer-by, coming towards the waggon, pauses, standing inquisitively. The driver turns to him.
Title: “Is it far to Nakhabin?”
The pedestrian answers, pointing with his hand. The waggon sets onward, while the passerby stares after it and then continues on his way.
Scene 2.—A peasant hut. In the corner on a bench, lies an old man covered with rags; he breathes with difficulty. An old woman is busying herself about the hearth and irritably clattering among the pots. The sick man turns himself round painfully and speaks to her.
Title: “It sounds as if some one were knocking.”
The old woman goes to the window and looks out.
Title: “Imagination, Mironitch; the door rattles in the wind.”
A scenario written in this way, already divided into separate scenes and with titles, forms the first phase of filmic overhaul. But it is still far from the workingscript, referred to above, already fully prepared for immediate shooting. Note that there is a whole series of details characteristic for the given scene and emphasised by their literary form, such as, for example, “sinking in the mud,” “sadly the driver,” “a passenger, wrapped in a soldier’s cloak,” “the piercing wind”—none of these details will reach the spectator if they are introduced merely as incidentals in shooting the scene as a whole, just as it is written. The film possesses essentially specific and highly effective methods by means of which the spectator can be made to notice each separate detail (mud, wind, behaviour of driver, behaviour of fare), showing them one by one, just as we should describe them in separate sequence in literary work, and not just simply to note “bad weather,” “two men on a waggon.” This method is called constructive editing. (10) Something of the kind is used by certain scenariowriters in interpolating into their description of a scene a so-called “close-up”—thus, “a village street on a church holiday. An animated group of peasants. In the centre speaks a Comsomolka (11) (close-up). New groups come up. The elders of the village. Indignant cries are heard from them.
Such “interpolated close-ups” had better be omitted—they have nothing to do with constructive editing. Terms such as “interpolation” and “cutin” are absurd expressions, the remnants of an old misunderstanding of the technical methods of the film. The details organically belonging to scenes of the kind instanced must not be interpolated into the scene, but the latter must be built out of them. We will turn to editing, as the basic method ofinfluencing the spectator effectively from the screen, when we have given the necessary explanations of the basic sorts and selection of plastic material.
If the scenarist wish to communicate to the spectator from the screen the entirety of his concepts, he must approximate his work as closely as possible to its final shooting form, that is to say, he must consider, use, and perhaps even partly discover, all those specific methods that the director can later employ. He must watch films attentively, and, after seeing them, must try to express various sequences, endeavouring to represent their editing construction. By such attentive observation of the work of others can the necessary experience be gained, I will give an example ofan already prepared scenario sequence, its editing constructed and ready for shooting.
Title: The rising of the workers is crushed.
1.Slow fade-in.—The ground strewn with empty cartridge-cases. Rifles lying about.
2. Slow panorama.—A long barricade passes the lens, on it lie strewn the corpses of workmen.
3. Part of the barricade. The corpses of workmen. A woman with her head hanging over backwards lies among them. From a broken flagstaff hangs a torn flag. Mix.
4. Closer.—The woman with her head hanging back, her eyes staring at the lens. Mix.
5. The torn flag flutters in the wind. Slow fade-out.
This is an example of a slow, solemn, introductory sequence. The mixes^re used to emphasise the slowness. The”pan”gives the same effect, and the fades separate the sequence into a separate independent motif.
Now an example of a dynamic sequence in heightened editing tempo.
1. From the corner rushes a crowd of workmen. They run towards the lens; the figures flee rapidly past it.
2. A workman leaps over a great crowbar and runs on. He suddenly stops, and calls:
Title: “Save the first shop!”
3. A second workman clambers on to a crane.
4. Steam streams upwards. A frenzied siren shrieks.
5. The workman on the crane bends over and looks downwards.
6. The running crowd of workpeople (taken from above).
7. The workman on the crane calls with all his strength: Title (in large letters): “SAVE THE FIRST SHOP!”
8. Shot from above.—The running crowd stops, stands for a moment, and then rushes on anew.
9. A section of the running crowd knocks over a woman.
10. Close-up.—The woman who fell raises herself, and clasps her head, swaying.
11. The running mass.
Here is shown the editing of quickly alternating pieces, creating the desired excitement by their rhythm. The increase in size of the title emphasises the increasing panic.
Of course, this form of scenario requires thorough, special training, but I repeat once again that only determined effort on the part of the scenarist to reach as near as possible to this technically correct form will turn him into a writer able to give in a general treatment material even usable in film work.
A scenario will only be good if its writer shall have mastered a knowledge of specific methods, if he know how to use them as weapons for the winning of effect; otherwise the scenario will be but raw material that must, to an extent of ninety per cent, be subordinated to the treatment of a specialist.
Part II THE PLASTIC MATERIAL
The scenario-writer must bear always in mind the fact that every sentence that he writes will have to appear plastically upon the screen in some visible form. Consequently, it is not the words he writes that are important, but the externally expressed plastic images that he describes in these words. As a matter of fact, it is not so easy to find such plastic images. They must, before anything else, be clear and expressive. Anyone familiar with literary work can well represent to himself what is an expressive word, or an expressive style; he knows that there are such things as telling, expressive words, as vividly expressive word-constructions—sentences. Similarly, he knows that the involved, obscure style ofan inexperienced writer, with a multitude ofsuperfluous words, is the consequence of his inability to select and control them. What is here said of literary work is entirely applicable to the work of the scenarist, only the word is replaced by the plastic image. The scenarist must know how to find and to use plastic (visually expressive) material: that is to say, he must know how to discover and how to select, from the limitless mass of material provided by life and its observation, those forms and movements that shall most clearly and vividly express in images the whole content of his idea. (12)
Let us quote certain illustrative examples.
In the film Tol’able David there is a sequence in which a new character—an escaped convict, a tramp—comes into the action. The type of a thorough scoundrel. The task of the scenarist was to give his characteristics. Let us analyse how it was done, by describing the series of following shots.
1. The tramp—a degenerate brute, his face overgrown with unshaven bristles—is about to enter a house, but stops, his attention caught by something.
2. Close-up of the face of the watching tramp.
3. Showing what he sees—a tiny, fluffy kitten asleep in the sun.
4. The tramp again. He raises a heavy stone with the transparent intention of using it to obliterate the sleeping little beast, and only the casual push of a fellow, just then carrying objects into the house, hinders him from carrying out his cruel intention.
In this little incident there is not one single explanatory title, and yet it is effective, clearly and vividly. Why? Because the plastic material has been correctly and suitably chosen. The sleeping kitten is a perfect expression of complete innocence and freedom from care, and thus the heavy stone in the hands of the huge man immediately becomes the symbol of absurd and senseless cruelty to the mind of the spectator who sees this scene. Thus the end is attained. The characterisation is achieved, and at the same time its abstract content wholly expressed, with the help of happily chosen plastic material.
Another example from the same film. The context of the incident is as follows: misfortune is come upon a family of peasants—the eldest son has been crippled by a blow with a stone; the father has died of a heart-attack; the youngest son (the hero of the film), still half a boy, knows who is responsible for all their ills—the tramp, who had treacherously attacked his brother. Again and again in the course of the picture the youngster seeks to be revenged upon the blackguard. The weapon of revenge—an old flint-lock. When the disabled brother is brought into the house, and the family, dazed with despair, is gathered round his bed, the boy, half crying, half gritting his teeth, secretly loads the flint-lock. The sudden death of the father and the supplications of the mother, clinging in despair to the feet of her son, restrain his outbreak. The boy remains the sole hope of the family. When, later, he again reaches secretly for the flint-lock and takes it from the wall, the voice of his mother, calling him to go and buy soap, compels him to hang the gun up again and run out to the store. Note with what mastery the old, clumsy-looking flint-lock is here employed. It is as if it incarnated the thirst for revenge that tortures the boy. Every time the hand reaches for the flint-lock the spectator knows what is passing in the mind of the hero. No titles, no explanations are necessary. Recall the scene of soap fetched for the motherjust described. Hanging up the flint-lock and running to the store implies forgetfulness ofself for the sake of another. This is a perfect characterisation, rendering on the one hand the naive directness of the man still half a child, on the other his awakening sense of duty.
Another example, from the film The Leather Pushers. The incident is as follows. A man sitting at a table is waiting for his friend. He is smoking a cigarette, and in front of him on the table stand an ash-tray and a glass half empty of liquid, both filled with an enormous number of cigarette ends. The spectator immediately visualises the great space of time the man has been waiting and, no less, the degree of excitement that has made him smoke nearly a hundred cigarettes.
From the examples quoted above it will be clear what is to be understood by the term: expressive plastic material. We have found here a kitten, a tramp, a stone, a flint-lock, some cigarette ends, and not one of these objects or persons yas introduced by chance; each constitutes a visual image, requiring no explanation and yet carrying a clear and definite meaning.
Hence an important rule for the scenarist: in working out each incident he must carefully consider and select each visual image; he must remember that for each concept, each idea, there may be tens and hundreds of possible means of plastic expression, and that it is his task to select from amongst them the clearest and most vivid. Special attention, however, must be paid to the special part played in pictures by objects. Relationships between human beings are, for the most part, illuminated by conversations, by words; no one carries on conversation with objects, and that is why work with them, being expressed by visual action, is of special interest to the film technician, as we have just seen in these examples. Try to imagine to yourself anger, joy, confusion, sorrow, and so forth expressed not in words and the gestures accompanying them, but in action connected with objects, and you will see how images saturated with plastic expression come into your mind. Work on plastic material is of the highest importance for the scenarist. In the process of it he learns to imagine to himself what he has written as it will appear upon the screen, and the knowledge thus acquired is essential for correct and fruitful work.
One must try to express one’s concepts in clear and vivid visual images. Suppose it be a matter of the characterisation of some person of the action—this person must be placed in such conditions as will make him appear, by means of some action or movement, in the desired light (remember the tramp and the kitten). Suppose it be a matter of the representation of some event—those scenes must be assembled that most vividly emphasise visually the essence of the event represented.
In relation to what we have said, we must turn to the question of sub-titles. The usual view of titles as an invading, adventitious element, to be avoided wherever possible, is fundamentally erroneous. The title is an organic part of the film and, consequently, of the scenario. Naturally a title can be superfluous, but only in the sense in which a whole scene can be superfluous. According to their content titles can be divided into two groups:
Titles of this kind give the spectator a necessary explanation in short and clear form, and thus sometimes replace a whole episode of the action in the development of the scenario. Let us take an example from Tol’able David. Three tramps, needed by the scenarist to create an opposing evil influence to the hero of the scenario, are introduced. Before their appearance on the screen comes a title: “Three convicts escaped from the nearest prison.” Naturally the escape itself could be shown ihstead of the title, but, as it is not the escape, but thp tramps that are important to the scenarist, he replaces the whole incident of the escape, as having no basic importance in the development of the action, by a title. The essential action—the appearance of the tramps—is shown on the screen preceded by a continuity title. This is correct construction. It is an entirely different matter for a title to replace an essential element of the scenario, where the subsequent action is, so to say, its result. For example: after the title “Olga, unable to endure the character of her hardhearted husband, resolved to leave him,” Olga is shown walking out of the front door. This is no good at all. The action is weaker than the title, and shows inability to resolve the plastic problem concerned.
To the group “continuity tides” must also be referred such titles as indicate an hour or place of the action—for example: “in the evening,” “at Ivan’s,” replacing by words those parts of the scenario the visual representation of which would uselessly spin out and burden the development of the action. To summarise what has been said about continuity titles we must emphasise once again the following: the continuity title is only good if it removes the superfluous from the scenario, if it shortly explains essentials to the spectator and prepares him for clearer apprehension of the subsequent action (as in the example with the tramps). A continuity title must never be stronger than the subsequent image of the action (as in the example of Olga leaving her husband) . (13)
This kind of title introduces living, spoken speech into the picture. Of their significance not much need be said. The main consideration affecting them is: good literary treatment and, certainly, as much compression as possible. (14) One must consider that, on the average, every line of title (two to three words) requires three feet of film. (15) Consequently a title twelve words long stays on the screen from twelve to eighteen seconds, and can, by a temporal interruption of this kind, destroy the rhythm, and with it the sequence and impression, of the current shots.
Clarity is as important for the spoken as for the continuity title. Superfluous words that may enhance the literary beauty of the sentence but will complicate its rapid comprehension are not permissible. The film spectator has no time to savour words. The title must “get” to the spectator quickly—in the course of the process of being read. To what has been said must be added that in construction of the scenario one must be careful of the distribution of the titles. A continual, even interruption of the action by titles is not desirable. It is better to try to distribute them (this is especially important with continuity titles) so that by concentrating them in one part I of the scenario the remainder is left free for development of the action. Thus work the Americans, giving all the necessary explanations in the early reels, strengthening the middle by use of more spoken titles, and at the end, in quicker tempo, carrying through the bare action to the finish without titles.
It is interesting to note that, apart from its literal content, the title may have also a plastic content. For example, often large, distinct lettering is used, the importance of the word being associated with the size of the letters with which it is formed. An example—in the propaganda film Famine there was an end title as follows: first appeared in normal size the first word “Comrades”; it disappeared and was replaced by a larger “Brothers”; and finally appeared the third—filling the whole screen—“Help!” Such a title was undoubtedly more effective than an ordinary one. Consideration of the plastic size of the title is undoubtedly very interesting, and this the scenarist should remember. (16) Yet more important than the plastic aspect of a title is its rhythmic significance. We have already said that too long tides must not be used. This is not all; it must be borne in mind that with the length of a title must be considered the speed of the action in which it appears. Rapid action demands short, abrupt titles (17); long-drawn-out action can be linked only with slow ones.
THE SIMPLEST SPECIFIC METHODS OF SHOOTING
Having learned the nature of plastic material, we must gain a knowledge of some of the purely formal methods used by the director and cameraman in shooting the picture. The simplest of these are as follows:
Fade-in (18): The screen is entirely dark; as it becomes lighter the picture is disclosed.
Fade-out: The reverse process—the darkening of the picture until it has disappeared.
The fade has mainly a rhythmic significance. The slow withdrawal of the picture from the viewfield of the spectator corresponds, in contradistinction to its usual sudden breaking-off, to the slow withdrawal of the spectator from the scene. One usually ends a sequence with a fade-out, especially when the scene itself has been carried out in retarded tempo. For example: a man exhaustedly approaches an armchair, lowers himself into it, drops his head in his hands—pause—slowly the shutter closes.
The fade-in is, on the contrary, equivalent to the purposeful introduction of the spectator to a new environment and new action. It is used to begin a film, or a separate sequence. In determining the general rhythm of the action one should indicate the speed of the fade: quick, slow. Often shots are bounded by a fade-in and fade-out—that is to say, the scene begins with the opening and ends with the closing of the shutter. By the use of this method is achieved the emphasis 6f an incident divorced from the general line of thk scenario—very often, for example, this method is used for a refrain (leitmotif) or a flash-back. The fade can take various forms. A common form, now old-fashioned, is the round iris. At an iris-in there appears upon the dark screen a spot of light, disclosing the picture as it broadens. (19) Other forms of shutter are, for example, an iris like a widening or narrowing slit, a falling or rising horizontal shutter, vertical side shutters, and so forth. It should be mentioned, however, that the frequent use of various irises and shutters (20) is unnecessarily trying to the spectator.
Shots in iris or in mask.—The screen is darkened except for a light opening in the centre, round or otherwise in shape. The action takes place in this opening. This is a so-called “mask.” Its employment has various meanings. The most common is its use to let the spectator see from the viewpoint of the hero—for example, the hero looks through a keyhole; there appears what he sees, shown in a mask shaped like a keyhole. A field-glass-shaped mask can also be used, and so forth.
It is interesting to note the special use of a small, round mask (a stationary iris), often used in American films. For example: (a) The hero stands on a hill and gazes into the distance, (b) A road taken from far off is shown in a little round mask; along the road gallops a horse. A dual object is attained with this kind of shot: in the first place, by the narrowing of the field of view the attention of the spectator becomes concentrated on that which the hero is looking at; in the second place, the small scale by which the impression of distance is maintained is not lost.
The Mix.—The transition from one section of the film to another is effected not by the usual cut, but gradually—that is to say, one image disappears slowly and another appears in its place. This method has also a mainly rhythmic significance. Mixes involve a slow rhythm. Often they are used in the representation of a flash-back, as if imitating the birth of one idea from another.
It is necessary to warn the scenarist against overuse of mixes. Technically, in making a mix, the cameraman, after having taken the one shot, must immediately begin to take the other, which is not always possible. If, for example, in a scenario the action is indicated as follows: the Spasskaia Tower (Moscow) mix to the Isaakievski Cathedral (Leningrad), it means that after taking the tower the cameraman must proceed immediately to Leningrad. (21)
The Panorama (Pan).—In shooting, the camera is given an even movement sideways, upwards, or downwards. (22) The lens of the camera turns to follow the object shot as it moves before it, or glides along the object showing various parts of it one after the other. This is a purely technical method, and its significance is obvious.
Forward or Backward Movement (Tracking or Trolleying).—The camera approaches or becomes distant from the object during the shot. This method is nowadays scarcely ever used. (23) It gives a gradual transition from long-shot to close-up, and the reverse.
Shots Out of Focus.—In the latest American films one often notices sections (especially faces in closeup) taken so that the outlines appear slightly indistinct. (24) This method undoubtedly gives a special colour of softness and “tenderness,” especially in scenes of lyric character, but it must be considered as a specific aesthetic method devoid of general application.
Everything said here regarding simple methods of taking shots has certainly only information value. What particular method of shooting is to be used, only his own taste and his own finer feelings can tell the scenarist. Here are no rules; the field for new invention and combination is wide.
METHODS OF TREATMENT OF THE MATERIAL (Structural Editing)
A cinematograph film, and consequently also a scenario, is always divided into a great number of separate pieces (more correctly, it is built out of these pieces). The sum of the shooting-script is divided into sequences, each sequence into scenes, (25) and, finally, the scenes themselves are constructed from a whole series of pieces (script-scenes) shot from various angles. An actual scenario, ready for use in shooting, must take into account this basic property of the film. The scenarist must be able to write his material on paper exactly as it will appear upon the screen, thus giving exactly the content of each shot as well as its position in sequence. The construction of a scene from pieces, a sequence from scenes, and reel from sequences, and so forth, is called editing. Editing is one of the most significant instruments of effect possessed by the film technician and, therefore, by the scenarist also. Let us now become acquainted with its methods one by one.
EDITING OF THE SCENE
Everyone familiar with a film is familiar with the expression “close-up.”The alternating representation of the faces of the characters during a dialogue; the representation of hands, or feet, filling the whole screen—all this is familiar to everyone. But in order to know how properly to use the close-up, one must understand its significance, which is as follows: the close-up directs the attention of the spectator to that detail which is, at the moment, important to the course of the action. For instance, three persons are taking part in a scene. Suppose the significance of this scene consist in the general course of the action (if, for example, all three are lifting some heavy object), then they are taken simultaneously in a general view, the so-called longshot. But suppose any one of them change to an independent action having significance in the scenario (for example, separating himself from the others, he draws a revolver cautiously from his pocket), then the camera is directed on him alone. His action is recorded separately.
What is said above applies not only to persons, but also to separate parts of a person, and objects. Let us suppose a man is to be taken apparently listening calmly to the conversation of someone else, but actually restraining his anger with difficulty. The man crushes the cigarette he holds in his hand, a gesture unnoticed by the other. This hand will always be shown on the screen separately, in closeup, otherwise the spectator will not notice it and a characteristic detail will be missed. The view formerly obtained (and is still held by some) that the close-up is an “interruption” of the long-shot. This idea is entirely false. It is no sort of interruption . It represents a proper form of construction.
In order to make clear to oneself the nature of the process of editing a scene, one may draw the following analogy. Imagine yourself observing a scene unfolded in front of you, thus: a man stands near the wall of a house and turns his head to the left; there appears another man slinking cautiously through the gate. The two are fairly widely distant from one another—they stop. The first takes some object and shows it to the other, mocking him. The latter clenches his fists in a rage and throws himself at the former. At this moment a woman looks out of a window on the third floor and calls, “Police!” The antagonists run off in opposite directions. Now, how would this have been observed?
1. The observer looks at the first man. He turns his head.
2. What is he looking at? The observer turns his glance in the same direction and sees the man entering the gate. The latter stops.
3. How does the first react to the appearance on the scene of the second? A new turn by the observer; the first takes out an object and mocks the second.
4. How does the second react? Another turn; he clenches his fists and throws himselfon his opponent.
5. The observer draws aside to watch how both opponents roll about fighting.
6. A shout from above. The observer raises his head and sees the woman shouting at the window.
7. The observer lowers his head and sees the result of the warning—the antagonists running off in opposite directions.
The observer happened to be standing near and saw every detail, saw it clearly, but to do so he had to turn his head, first left, then right, then upwards, whithersoever his attention was attracted by the interest of observation and the sequence of the developing scene. Suppose he had been standing farther away from the action, taking in the two persons and the window on the third floor simultaneously, he would have received only a general impression, without being able to look separately at the first, the secpnd, or the woman. Here we have approached closely the basic significance of editing. Its object ii the showing of the development of the scene in relief, as it were, by guiding the attention of the spectator now to one, now to the other separate element. The lens of the camera replaces the eye of the observer, and the changes of angle of the camera—directed now on one person, now on another, now on one detail, now on another—must be subject to the same conditions as those of the eyes of the observer. The film technician, in order to secure the greatest clarity, emphasis, and vividness, shoots the scene in separate pieces and, joining them and showing them, directs the attention of the spectator to the separate elements, compelling him to see as the attentive observer saw. From the above is clear the manner in which editing can even work upon the emotions. Imagine to yourself the excited observer of some rapidly developing scene. His agitated glance is thrown rapidly from one spot to another. If we imitate this glance with the camera we get a series of pictures, rapidly alternating pieces, creating a stirring scenario editing construction. The reverse would be long pieces changing by mixes, conditioning a calm and slow editingconstruction (as one may shoot, for example, a herd of cattle wandering along a road, taken from the viewpoint of a pedestrian on the same road).
We have established, by these instances, the basic significance of the constructive editing of scenes. It builds the scenes from separate pieces, of which each concentrates the attention of the spectator only on that element important to the action. The sequence of these pieces must not be uncontrolled, but must correspond to the natural transference of attention of an imaginary observer (who, in the end, is represented by the spectator). In this sequence must be expressed a special logic that will be apparent only if each shot contain an impulse towards transference of the attention to the next. For example (1) A man turns his head and looks; (2) What he looks at is shown.
EDITING OF THE SEQUENCE
The guidance of the attention of the spectator to different elements of the developing action in succession is, in general, characteristic of the film. It is its basic method. We have seen that the separate scene, and often even the movement of one man, is built up upon the screen from separate pieces. Now, the film is not simply a collection of different scenes. Just as the pieces are built up into scenes endowed, as it were, with a connected action, so the separate scenes are assembled into groups forming whole sequences. The sequence is constructed (edited) from scenes. Let us suppose ourselves faced with the task of constructing the following sequence: two spies are creeping forward to blow up a powder magazine; on the way one of them loses a letter with instructions. Someone else finds the letter and warns the guard, who appear in time to arrest the spies and save the magazine. Here the scenarist has to deal with simultaneity of various actions ih several different places. While the spies are crawling towards the magazine, someone else finds the letter and hastens to warn the guard. The spies have nearly reached their objective; the guards are warned and rushing towards the magazine. The spies have completed their preparations; the guard arrives in time. If we pursue the previous analogy betwen the camera and an observer, we now not only have to turn it from side to side, but also to move it from place to place. The observer (the camera) is now on the road shadowing the spies, now in the guardroom recording the confusion, now back at the magazine showing the spies at work, and so forth. But, in combination of the separate scenes (editing), the former law of sequence succession remains in force. A consecutive sequence will appear upon the screen only if the attention of the spectator be transferred correctly from scene to scene. And this correctness is conditioned as follows: the spectator sees the creeping spies, the loss of the letter, and finally the person who finds the letter. The person with the letter rushes for help. The spectator is seized with inevitable excitement—Will the man who found the letter be able to forestall the explosion? The scenarist immediately answers by showing the spies nearing the magazine—his answer has the effect of a warning “Time is short.” The excitement of the spectator—Will they be in time?—continues; the scenarist shows the guard turning out. Time is very short—the spies are shown beginning their work. Thus, transferring attention now to the rescuers, now to the spies, the scenarist answers with actual impulses to increase of the spectator’s interest, and the construction (editing) of the sequence is correctly achieved.
There is a law in psychology that lays it down that if an emotion give birth to a certain movement, by imitation of this movement the corresponding emotion can be called forth. If the scenarist can effect in even rhythm the transference of interest of the intent spectator, if he can so construct the elements of increasing interest that the question, “What is happening at the other place?” arises and at the same moment the spectator is transferred whither he wishes to go, then the editing thus created can really excite the spectator. One must learn to understand that editing is in actual fact a compulsory and deliberate guidance of the thoughts and associations of the spectator. If the editing be merely an uncontrolled combination of the various pieces, the spectator will understand (apprehend) nothing from it; but if it be co-ordinated according to a definitely selected course of events or conceptual line, either agitated or calm, it will either excite or soothe the spectator.
EDITING OF THE SCENARIO (26)
The film is divided into reels. The reels are usually equal in length, on an average from 900 to 1,200 feet long. The combination of the reels forms the picture. The usual length of a picture should not be more than from 6,500 to 7,500 feet. This length, as yet, involves no unnecessary exhaustion of the spectator. The film is usually divided into from six to eight reels. It should be noted here, as a practical hint, that the average length of a piece (remember the editing of scenes) is from 6 to 10 feet, and consequently from 100 to 150 pieces go to a reel. By orientating himself on these figures, the scenarist can visualise how much material can be fitted into the scenario. The scenario is composed of a series of sequences. In discussing the construction (editing) of the scenario from sequences, we introduce a new element into the scenarist’s work—the element of so-called dramatic continuity of action that was discussed at the beginning of this sketch. The continuity of the separate sequences when joined together depends not merely upon the simple transference of attention from one place to another, but is conditioned by the development of the action forming the foundation of the scenario. It is important, however, to remind the scenarist of the following point: a scenario has always in its development a moment of greatest tension, found nearly always at the end of the film. To prepare the spectator, or, more correctly, preserve him, for this final tension, it is especially important to see that he is not affected by unnecessary exhaustion during the course of the film. A method, already discussed, that the scenarist can employ to this end is the careful distribution of the titles (which always distract the spectator), securing compression of the greater quantity of them into the first reels, and leaving the last one for uninterrupted action.
Thus, first is worked out the action of the scenario, the action is then worked out into sequences, the sequences into scenes, and these constructed by editing from the pieces, each corresponding to a camera angle.
EDITING AS AN INSTRUMENT OF IMPRESSION (Relational Editing)
We have already mentioned, in the section on editing of sequences, that editing is not merely a method of the junction of separate scenes or pieces, but is a method that controls the”psychological guidance”of the spectator. We should now acquaint ourselves with the main special editing methods having as their aim the impression of the spectator.
Contrast.—Suppose it be our task to tell of the miserable situation of a starving man; the story will impress the more vividly if associated with mention of the senseless gluttony of a well-to-do man.
On just such a simple contrast relation is based the corresponding editing method. On the screen the impression of this contrast is yet increased, for it is possible not only to relate the starving sequence to the gluttony sequence, but also to relate separate scenes and even separate shots of the scenes to one another, thus, as it were, forcing the spectator to compare the two actions all the time, one strengthening the other. The editing of contrast is one of the most effective, but also one of the commonest and most standardised, of methods, and so care should be taken not to overdo it.
Parallelism.—This method resembles contrast, but is considerably wider. Its substance can be explained more clearly by an example. In a scenario as yet unproduced a section occurs as follows: a working man, one of the leaders of a strike, is condemned to death; the execution is fixed for 5 a.m. The sequence is edited thus: a factoryowner, employer of the condemned man, is leaving a restaurant drunk, he looks at his wrist-watch: 4 o’clock. The accused is shown—he is being made ready to be led out. Again the manufacturer, he rings a door-bell to ask the time: 4.30. The prison waggon drives along the street under heavy guard. The maid who opens the door—the wife of the condemned—is subjected to a sudden senseless assault. The drunken factory-owner snores on a bed, his leg with trouser-end upturned, his hand hanging down with wrist-watch visible, the hands of the watch crawl slowly to 5 o’clock. The workman is being hanged. In this instance two thematically unconnected incidents develop in parallel by means of the watch that tells of the approaching execution. The watch on the wrist of the callous brute, as it were connects him with the chief protagonist of the approaching tragic denouement, thus ever present in the consciousness of the spectator. This is undoubtedly an interesting method, capable of considerable development.
Symbolism.—In the final scenes of the film Strike the shooting down of workmen is punctuated by shots of the slaughter of a bull in a stockyard. The scenarist, as it were, desires to say: just as a butcher fells a bull with the swing of a pole-axe, so, cruelly and in cold blood, were shot down the workers. This method is especially interesting because, by means of editing, it introduces an abstract concept into the consciousness of the spectator without use of a title.
Simultaneity.—In American films the final section is constructed from the simultaneous rapid development of two actions, in which the outcome of one depends on the outcome of the other. The end of the present-day section of Intolerance, already quoted, is thus constructed. (27) The whole aim of this method is to create in the spectator a maximum tension of excitement by the constant forcing of a question, such as, in this case: Will they be in time?—will they be in time?
The method is a purely emotional one, and nowadays overdone almost to the point of boredom, but it cannot be denied that of all the methods of constructing the end hitherto devised it is the most effective.
Leit-motif (reiteration of theme).—Often it is interesting for the scenarist especially to emphasise the basic theme of the scenario. For this purpose exists the method of reiteration. Its nature can easily be demonstrated by an example. In an anti-religious scenario that aimed at exposing the cruelty and hypocrisy of the Church in employ of the Tsarist regime the same shot was several times repeated: a church-bell slowly ringing and, superimposed on it, the title: “The sound of bells sends into the world a message of patience and love.” This piece appeared whenever the scenarist desired to emphasise the stupidity of patience, or the hypocrisy of the love thus preached.
The little that has been said above of relational editing naturally by no means exhausts the whole abundance of its methods. It has merely been important to show that constructional editing, a method specifically and peculiarly filmic, is, in the hands of the scenarist, an important instrument of impression. Careful study of its use in pictures, combined with talent, will undoubtedly lead to the discovery of new possibilities and, in conjunction with them, to the creation of new forms.
(First published as Number Three of a series of popular scientific film handbooks by Kinopetchat, Moscow and Leningrad, 1926.)