SCREEN-L Archives

July 1997, Week 2


Options: Use Monospaced Font
Show Text Part by Default
Show All Mail Headers

Message: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Topic: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]
Author: [<< First] [< Prev] [Next >] [Last >>]

Print Reply
Dennis Rothermel <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Wed, 9 Jul 1997 15:50:29 U
Message Body (122 lines)
What a wealth of comparative insights Don has given us!  And I thank him in
particular for not pointing out that in my previous sending I misnamed the
female lead character in Goodfellas.
IÕll have to go look up the Chatman text, and IÕm sure itÕll clarify
much on the general topic.  But, prior to that enlightenment, I have two
thoughts about the significance of POV shots relative to what can be taken
for narrative structure in cinema more or less akin to first-person narrative
in literature.  (1) The POV is a narrative construction and not a
technical/grammatical device.  That an audience accepts this identification
of image with viewpoint is fully a function of not just general cinematic
convention but more importantly the specific cinematic context, i.e., the
sequence of images and sounds before, during and after the POV.  (2) That a
cinematic narrative may concentrate upon a single protagonistÕs experience,
feelings, knowledge, point of view, etc., is typically composed of much more
than POV shots, which do indeed tend to be rather obtrusive.
And thus instances that by technical description are very similar
nevertheless diverge widely in meaning.  Witness the difference between the
eery disembodiment of the intruding subject into the subjective view of
Vampyr vs. the dream-transformational drift of the Bamboo-Lounge sequence
shot in Goodfellas.  Similarly, Hitchcock can get away with the obtrusiveness
of the POV in both Rear Window and NNW in part by virtue of the context that
uses the POV to establish the pairing within the same frame of the voyeur
side-by-side with the reflected image of the object of the voyeurÕs
I think RingoÕs momentary POV in Stagecoach is incidental to what else is
going on in the sequence of last five shots in that scene.  Relative motion
directly toward and away from the camera figures in each of these shots.
This motion signifies danger, death and violence.  Each shot of the five
offers a different variation of that movement.  If we recollect RingoÕs
first appearance in the film -- a lurching, fast tracking shot into a
close-up of Ringo, showing the fear and apprehension of the young man just
escaped from prison -- we can add fear and apprehension to the list of
connotations of this motion.  DallasÕ rush to clutch the fence post
recaptiulates, by contrast, the stasis of rail-fence at the Stagecoach
station, where Ringo had proposed marriage, shyly and indirectly, but
honestly and romantically:  Ō... a half-built cabin, where a man could
live, with a woman ....Ķ  In the final scene, her fear that the
unbelievable redemption that has entered her life -- a promise of love and
happiness, may have just evaporated in the gunfight she has just heard -- is
reflected in that motion of her toward the camera, to halt, clutching
desparately at the stationary fence-post.  In the same emotive and cognitive
thrust, RingoÕs ambulatory POV echoes this same fear for the audience by
recapitulating in inverted form the motion of the immediately previous shot:
is perhaps Ringo, like Luke, mortally wounded, and about to fall dead?  But
when Ringo enters this shot, the camera halts, and so this moment brings to a
close the motion of the headlong dash of a stagecoach full of misfits into a
dangerous wilderness and futures frought with horrifying uncertainties.  When
Curly and Doc then shoo off the buggy carrying Ringo and Dallas to their new
life, it is a lateral movement that the buggy takes, out of the frame to the
right.  Though Ringo and Dallas rush headlong back into the wilderness, the
intimations of danger are gone.
FordÕs use of the POV here serves four or five rather clear narrative and
formal purposes simultaneously. It is an incidental though vital element
amongst others in the context of the impeding narrative purposes of this rathe
r complex scene.
Dennis Rothermel
California State University, Chico
To: [log in to unmask]
From: Film and TV Studies Discussion List on Tue, Jul 8, 1997 12:19 PM
Subject: Re: Adaptations/first-person narratives
Another thought about Dennis's comments on GOODFELLAS:
"The long sequenced shot introducing the
litany of Henry=D5s friends all collected in the Bamboo Lounge plays upon
coordination of Henry=D5s voice-over introduction of each character with
diegetic conversation, as they each address Henry by speaking to the camera
head-on.  At the end of the shot, Henry steps into view and the camera then
follows him -- and in that moment we see how interchangeable are the literal
transpositions of first- and third-person narrative structures from
literature to cinema.  The remarkable smoothness of that sequence shot,
however, barely disguises its physical impossibility as the diegetic
subjective view of Henry Hill.  The camera fleetingly stoops to knee-level,
tilts up slightly, and zooms in, to get a better view of a man sitting at a
table.  Just as quickly it drifts up above and over the bar, panning back
around to view the patrons at the bar.  One by one they speak to
who ostensibly saunters down the length of the bar from the bartender=D5s
side.  The convenient arrangement of the all of Henry=D5s old friends who
each speak to him, as he (in voice-over) speaks to us about them, along with
the dreamy, irreal flow of the sequence shot mark this scene as a *synthetic*
remembrance -- i.e., not a scene from Henry=D5s life, but how he remembers
all his old friends."
It's interesting how often this technique--of an apparently subjective shot
that includes the person who is apparently looking at the scene--shows up.
It is exploited in a very obvious way by Dreyer in VAMPYR but Scorsese
seems to pushing the limits of a fairly common Hollywood technique.
For example, in CROSSFIRE, the character of "Mitch" falls down in a
flashback but as he gets back to his feet, he stands up into the camera's
view.  Even in STAGECOACH, which has very few subjective shots, after the
shootout we see Dallas as the camera moves toward in a lurching gait,
that it is Ringo who is walking toward her, but he too walks into the
view at the end.  Yet these two examples have to be watched carefully to be
noticed, unlike the strangeness of Dreyer's film or even Scorsese's.
Don Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite
Screen-L is sponsored by the Telecommunication & Film Dept., the 
University of Alabama.