SCREEN-L Archives

December 1997, Week 1


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

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

Print Reply
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Donald Larsson <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 2 Dec 1997 10:22:07 -0600
TEXT/PLAIN (50 lines)
Darragh Barnett wonders:
> Then it happens.  The power is cut from the outside of the electricity in
> the house.  And my gut sank, thinking, oh no, am I going to have to sit
> through the rest of the movie squinting to make what is going on?  And
> within two minutes or so I found that the answer was NO.  Somehow, and I
> can't tell from this first viewing how he did it, it was not difficult to
> view the characters in the dark  Like some kind of inner glow of the
> characters desire to live was being mimicked by the technical lighting on
> the set.  (Mind you, I didn't think this when I watched the film, it came to
> me today.)  Also made me think that if this is the subtle work of a
> mastermind director, then WOW.  (Leonard Maltin rates this film ***1/2)
> Any like or contrary thoughts out there?
The effect you describe isn't all that unusual.  There are many
nighttime scenes, where the characters can supposedly see little or
nothing but we can see them pretty clearly.  The obvious reason is that
in most mainstream movies, the audience *expects* to see something (as
you did while watching ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13) and would get pretty
annoyed if they could not.
A somewhat early example turns up in Keaton's THE GENERAL, when Keaton
and Mabel Mack are running around the woods at night.  They are not
supposed to be able to see anything (save through an occasional flash
of lightning), but we can see them pretty well.  Or consider Cary
Grant's "drunk driving" scene in NORTH BY NORTHWEST.  We know that we
can see the road (through his eyes) because of the car headlights, but
why can we clearly see his face and the landscape in back of the car?
Again, the answer is that we *expect* to.
BTW, I think that such nighttime scenes help to explain the bias
students often have against black-and-white films.  Not only is a
great deal of the picture resolution lost on TV and video, but when
they are watching these darkened scenes on a small TV set, it becomes
almost impossible to see anything.  The many subtle effects of a film
like CITIZEN KANE are almost literally impossible to see in that format.
Don Larsson
Donald Larsson, Mankato State U (MN)
[log in to unmask]
Online resources for film/TV studies may be found at ScreenSite