The Oxford History of World Cinema

The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online Page B

Book: The Oxford History of World Cinema by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith Read Free Book Online
Authors: Geoffrey Nowell-Smith
    conventions but through previously held information related to the pro-filmic event: ideas
    of spatial coherence; the unity of an event with a recognizable beginning and end; and
    knowledge of the subject-matter. During the transitional period, films began to require the
    viewer to piece together a story predicated upon a knowledge of cinematic conventions.
    The work of the two most important French producers of this period, the Lumières and
    Mélièlis, provides an example of the textual conventions of the one-shot film. Perhaps the
    most famous of the films that the Lumières showed in December 1895 is A Train Arriving
    at a Station ( L'Arrivé d'un train en gare de la Ciotat ), which runs for about fifty seconds.
    A stationary camera shows a train pulling into a station and the passengers disembarking,
    the film continuing until most of them have exited the shot. Apocryphal tales persist that
    the onrushing cinematic train so terrified audience members that they ducked under their
    seats for protection. Another of the Lumières' films, Workers Leaving the Lumière
    Factory ( Sortie d'usine ), had a less terrifying effect upon its audience. An eye-level
    camera, set far enough back from the action to show not only the full-length figures of the
    workers but the high garage-like door through which they exit, observes as the door opens
    and disgorges the building's occupants, who disperse to either side of the frame. The film
    ends roughly at the point when all the workers have left. Contemporary accounts indicate
    that these and other Lumière films fascinated their audiences not by depicting riveting
    events, but through incidental details that a modern viewer may find almost unnoticeable:
    the gentle movement of the leaves in the background as a baby eats breakfast; the play of
    light on the water as a boat leaves the harbour. The first film audiences did not demand to
    be told stories, but found infinite fascination in the mere recording and reproduction of
    the movement of animate and inanimate objects.

    Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery ( 1903)
    work, which depicted events that might have taken place even in the camera's absence,
    this famous film stages action specifically for the moving pictures. A gardener waters a
    lawn, a boy steps on the hose, halting the flow of water, the gardener peers questioningly
    at the spigot, the boy removes his foot, and the restored stream of water douses the
    gardener, who chases, catches, and spanks the boy. The film is shot with a stationary
    camera in the standard tableau style of the period. At a key point in the action the boy,
    trying to escape chastisement, exits the frame and the gardener follows, leaving the screen
    blank for two seconds. A modern film-maker would pan the camera to follow the
    characters or cut to the offscreen action, but the Lumières did neither, providing an
    emblematic instance of the preservation of the space of the pro-filmic event taking
    precedence over story causality or temporality.
    Unlike the Lumières, Georges Mélièlis always shot in his studio, staging action for the
    camera, his films showing fantastical events that could not happen in 'real life'. Although
    all Mélièlis's films conform to the standard period tableau style, they are also replete with
    magical appearances and disappearances, achieved through what cinematographers call
    'stop action', that is, stopping the camera, having the actor enter or exit the shot, and then
    starting the camera again to create the illusion that a character has simply vanished or
    materialized. Mélièlis's films have played a key part in film scholars' debates over the
    supposed theatricality of early cinematic style. Whereas scholars had previously thought
    that stop action effects required no editing and hence concluded that Méliès's films were
    simply 'filmed theatre', examination of the actual negatives reveals that substitution
    effects were, in fact, produced

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