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August 1996, Week 3


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Pip Chodorov <[log in to unmask]>
Thu, 15 Aug 1996 05:28:36 -0400
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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Peter S. Latham writes:
>I suggest that "slow-mo" is most often used to prolong a climatic scene -
>as when the hero (in almost any thriller) finally dispatches the
>villain. You see a building blowing up and up and on and on... Another use
>is to heighten the sense of helplessness when, for example, a hero tries in
>vain to prevent someone from falling. You see the hero running towards the
>victim crying "Noooooo" as the victim falls.
In these two cases, the slow motion, then, tends to act for you as a modifier
(such as the adverb 'very' intensifies a verb). What then can you say about
slow motion in non-narrative film or experimental film, where there would
seem to be no verb?
Can you think of any counter-examples to these uses? I think the Kubrick
"2001" examples I gave a few days ago (Hal murders Frank; Dave enters through
airlock) are moments in which a highly climactic event is filmed in
*accelerated* motion (these scenes are also silent). Another example may be
"THE OCCURENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE" (Robert Enrico, 1961), in which the hero
is walked out onto a bridge to be hung and the entire film takes place during
his fall. Only at the end do we realize that the film which shows his
adventurous escape, his fall into the river, swimming, running, dodging
bullets, finding his home and his wife, only ends in the rope tightening; he
has imagined all this during the fraction of a second it takes to fall six
feet. The last shot is rather quick, which serves to make this a
counter-example; here the time is dilated or expanded so that of the 27
minutes the film lasts, 24 minutes of film time represent one second of real
time (a ratio of 1440:1, the equivalent of shooting at 34560 frames per
second). However, the climatic scene in this film is the last shot, by which
we understand the whole film, and the last shot is short, and film time is
back to 1:1.
>If the slo-mo provides "microscopic" perpsective of a process, what is the
>function of the freeze-frame ending? Is it to provide a "macroscopic"
Again, see my last post. I don't think freeze frame and slow motion are
opposite, if anything a freeze frame is the ultimate slow-motion. Often, as
in sporting events, a slow motion decelerates to a freeze frame. This is
where death comes in; I introduced THELMA AND LOUISE, in which the last shot
portrays their car shooting off a cliff, and they are slowed down by the
optical printing lab, slower and slower until they are frozen. Their certain
death is metonomized by film's death (film moves by definition); yet they are
immortalized as each frame reproduces them ad infinitum.  This is why it is
so fascinating to see, in Kubrick's THE SHINING, that Jack is literally
frozen at the end - an utterly still shot of him in the snow with icicyles
hanging from his nose and eyebrows - and that this serves as a transition to
seeing him in a photograph on the hotel wall, taken at a 1921 ball. Kubrick
seems to have incorporated all these ideas (freeze-frame=death+eternal
immortalization+time regression) neatly into the last two shots of his film.
I think for there to be a sound theory of temporal figures of rhetoric in
film, a serious study of all types of slow- fast- and stopped motion need to
be analyzed. For each example which seems to show one meaning, a counter
example must be found, for there are many, and only then may we begin to
understand in just what ways slowing down or speeding up time alteres the
meaning a film shot creates for the viewer. In semiological terms, a change
in the signifier produces a change in the signified - what changes in the
signified occur when the signifier is stretched, squeezed, pushed, pulled,
stopped, chopped up, etc. (This is analogous to the study of neurological
disorders and brain lesions to understand the 'normal' brain: a hole in the
brain invokes a hole in behavior; linking brain sites to behavior advances
our knowledge of how the brain functions.)
Interestingly, the rarest of all occurences in film time is 1:1; that is, a
film which lasts 90 minutes that represents 90 minutes of real time
(Hitchcock's ROPE is full of theatrical time elipses, and even Warhol had to
stop to load his camera when filming EMPIRE). Any ideas on this?
-Pip Chodorov
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