Arthur Cantrill discusses Dziga Vertov

vertov

“Our eyes see very little and very badly – so people dreamed up the microscope to let them see invisible phenomena; they invented the telescope…now they have perfected the cinecamera to penetrate more deeply into the visible world, to explore and record visual phenomena so that what is happening now, which will have to be taken account of in the future, is not forgotten.”

Here I’ve put together a comp of Arthur Cantrill’s commentary for A Man with a Movie Camera (later I’m going to do one with Yuri Tsivian’s comments)

Dziga Vertov was one of the first pioneers of montage and cinematic language in general, along with Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Kuleshov. This is a screen-specific video along with Cantrill’s insights into the philosophy of Vertov and his theoretical writings.

Vertov’s theories have largely inspired the French Cinéma vérité documentary movement, but not limited to.



If you have not seen A Man with a Movie Camera you can watch it below with The Cinematic Orchestra score


cinematic.orchestra


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Color: Vol. 1

For those who haven’t yet read my analysis of color and the look of films, you can check it here

What I’ve got here is the first of many visual image compilations of color in films. Color isn’t just a grade – it’s the color of production design, costumes, lighting and sometimes a color grade all together. Here’s one that’s got a lot of bluish grey palette in films. I will be doing one on various other hues and combinations. Click the image for the high resolution version.


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Introducing: Movements

This is the first of a long series of vids, concentrated on camera movements. Study the movements, the first video does not have any subtitles – on purpose. Watch the movements and get the feel for why they’re used.


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Movements 001 is a selection of all the movements executed by one of the greatest — and largely to the general audience, unknown — Soviet cinematographer of all time. He’s responsible for shooting films of Kalatozov; The Cranes are FlyingSoy CubaLetter Never Sent, etc.


MOVEMENTS 001: Sergei Urusevsky – The Forty First (1956)

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A Passage from Film Technique

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THE METHODS OF THE FILM

The Americans were the first to discover in the film-play the presence of peculiar possibilities of its own. It was perceived that the film can not only make a simple record of the events passing before the lens, but that it is in a position to reproduce them upon the screen by special methods, proper only to itself.
Let us take as example a demonstration that files by upon the street. Let us picture to ourselves an observer of that demonstration.

In order to receive a clear and definite impression of the demonstration, the observer must perform certain actions. First he must climb upon the roof of a house, to get a view from above of the procession as a whole and measure its dimensions; next he must come down and look out through the first-floor window at the inscriptions on the banners carried by the demonstrators; finally, he must mingle with the crowd, to gain an idea of the outward appearance of the participants. Three times the observer has altered his viewpoint, gazing now from nearer, now from farther away, with the purpose of acquiring as complete and exhaustive as possible a picture of the phenomenon under review.

The Americans were the first to seek to replace an active observer of this kind by means of the camera. They showed in their work that it was not only possible to record the scene shot, but that by manoeuvring with the camera itself — in such a way that its position in relation to the object shot varied several times — it was made possible to reproduce the same scene in far clearer and more expressive form than with the lens playing the part of a theatre spectator sitting fast in his stall. The camera, until now a motionless spectator, at last received, as it were, a charge of life. It acquired the faculty of movement on its own, and transformed itself from a spectator to an active observer. Henceforward the camera, controlled by the director, could not merely enable the spectator to see the object shot, but could induce him to apprehend it.

It was at this moment that the concepts close-up, mid-shot, and long-shot first appeared in cinematography, concepts that later played an enormous part in the creative craft of editing, the basis of the work of film direction. That was the time when the film was rightly named “a substitute for the stage.”


Pudovkin and real life

Just a reminder: Some of you reading these may have known this or grasped it a long time ago, so if this isn’t new information to you – you can skim over it. For those who aren’t that well versed in the language of cinema, this might be an insightful read.

film-techniqueSo in the past two weeks or so I’ve been actively reading Pudovkin’s Film Technique book. For those who are pretty noob, or want to better grasp cinematic language – read this book. What you see today – 99% if not a full 100% – is largely based on the writings of Pudovkin’s, Eisenstein’s, Kuleshov’s film theory writings. Obviously there have come many more theorists after them who have influenced cinema – such as Andre Bazin (McTiernan was clearly influenced – I love using him as an example because not only is he a great filmmaker, he really grasps the cinematic language. Well, all the successful filmmakers grasp it too, but indulge me on always bringing him up. I guess I’m biased) Kubrick actually made the transition from photography to film after reading Pudovkin’s Film Technique, believe it or not — well, you’ll believe it after you read what the man himself has said…

kubrick

“The most influential book I read at that time was Pudovkin’s Film Technique. It is a very simple unpretentious book that illuminates rather than embroiders. It certainly makes it clear that film cutting is the one and only aspect of films that is unique and unrelated to any other art form. I found this book much more important than the complex writings of Eisenstein.”

So before I even began to read the book, I was aware of what to expect and around what “findings” Pudovkin formed the film theory and techniques. In that quote Kubrick mentions cutting – indeed Pudovkin makes a big case that a film is not shot, but built out of editing. Meaning, the actual film, the narrative aspect – what we all watch and understand what we see is happening on screen is largely a product of a construction and careful selection of the images that have been shot. Well, dur some of you say – but really it’s true. However it goes a bit deeper than that without becoming complex, and Pudovkin discusses editing in great detail in the book.

pudovkinBut there’s the other aspect of his film theory that was a lot more eyeopening to the world of cinematic language. It’s the fact that the camera are your eyes… it’s simple once you truly grasp it. Obviously I’m not going to summarize his writings in this post, it wouldn’t do service to him nor the actual theory. But I want to share this passage that I’ve read today and immediately grasped and saw later tonight. You really have to work your brain muscles when you study cinematic language, you can’t slack off, and you can’t half-ass it by reading something or analyzing something with having only one part of your brain active – you have to focus 100%.

Anyway.

In this passage, Pudovkin brought up an example of – say hypothetically – we imagine a bystander observing an action. He’s close to it, say, a few feet away from it all. He sees a man standing by the wall of a building, then the observer looks left and sees another man walking towards the man that’s standing by the wall…

The man by the wall shows the man opposite of him an object and begins to mock him.

The other man clenches his fists and lunges at the man mocking him. At this point a woman on the third floor above looks out and shouts “POLICE!”

The men who were going at each other disperse and run away in opposite directions.

He then writes; “How would this have been observed?


THE OBSERVATION


  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 himself on 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 second, or the woman. Here we have approached closely the basic significance of editing. Its object is the showing (illustration) 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”


Vsevolod-PudovkinThis was in essence the theory at play. He mentions editing here, but also it is closely interrelated with shooting. His theory was formed around how eye perceives what it sees. Essentially what Pudovkin has done is he replaced the eye with a camera lens. Afterall, it is a mechanical eye.

Take this passage that follows the above observation.

“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.”


So now this brings me to my own “A-ha” moment when I observed a scene consciously and truly grasped what he was talking about.

I was having dinner a few hours after having read this, and out of the blue my mind picked up on what I read and made me consciously observe and understand the writing. I’m not new to understanding how shots work and that they’re essentially words in a language – I mean just the acronyms themselves; CU, MS, MLS – read like some words of a language. And its vital to realize is that afterall cinema has its own vocabulary, its own language  that one must be fluent in.

However, what I saw today was that, really, the story is everywhere.

I was eating, and then as I reach towards a glass, I looked at it quickly…then at some point I looked at the plate, and the various objects and food that lay on the table. Then I began to look at the walls, and the mirror that was attached to the wall close by. And it really dawned on me — that concept of camera lens being your eyes.

Essentially the bigger picture of this was that — there was a story to tell, right there – at the dinner table. It doesn’t matter, the specifics of it – those things could get worked out. For instance, a theme (which is also crucial, a clear theme) – but it’s all there already.

pudovkin-camera

Many filmmakers, writers and directors and DP’s and just all people involved in making films use real life as a ground for inspiration. So for me to just sit there, having dinner and seeing with my eyes the surroundings. I could write a story around it, and by using my eyes as I have done just by having dinner I could translate that story through images, to the screen.

I can’t stress it enough though, you guys have to read Pudovkin’s writings on cinema, they’re the basis for what cinematic language is.

As an exercise, just be conscious next time of observing your surroundings and then visualize how you would translate what you’ve observed using a camera, and how you would construct those shots into some clear and cohesive. It’s actually not too complex once you grasp it. The complexities come in when you’re trying to be ambitious.

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[ Film Technique And Film Acting ]


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Terrence Malick aesthetic

UPDATE: Yeah that didn’t last long, they deleted the vids on Vimeo, I’m gonna try to just upload them to some kind of host for now
malickI put together this video back in August but couldn’t upload it to YT, though it’s now uploaded to Vimeo. I’ll be uploading screen-specific videos (more or less) to my Vimeo channel from now on, and general cinematic advice on my new youtube channel. So here it is. Cinematographer John Toll, production designer Jack Fisk, and producer Grant Hill talk about Terrence Malick’s approach to filmmaking.
Personal note: pay attention to the moment at 9:50 – this makes me think of people like John McTiernan and Tony Scott (a commentary I am currently compiling in the same way I have done one for McTiernan) and I’m seeing how each filmmaker has their own unique vision and approach to filmmaking. Their own voice so to speak. I think it’s very important to find that voice, or approach to how one constructs, approaches the filmmaking because it’s in essence the foundation of how you’ll be telling your story.

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