Animated images: a new book analyzes the concept of movement in cinema

Movies movement. This is their defining characteristic, differentiating moving images from still photographs. Even the word cinema comes from this concept: it is rooted in the Greek movie theater, or movement.

If movement is at the heart of the medium, then why do film studies rarely analyze movement? This is a question that intrigues Jordan Schonig, lecturer in the Cinema Department, and which he addresses in his new book, The form of movement: cinema and aesthetics of movement.

Yes, theorists claim the illusory nature of cinematic movement, which involves the rapid succession of individual images at a rate of 24 times per second, he acknowledged. Almost all film studies textbooks also deal with the mental faculties that allow us to see this illusion, but this is not the same as viewing movement as an object of cinematic analysis.

“Of course, there could be an easy solution to this conundrum: we can’t analyze ‘movement’ in movies because we don’t watch movements, we watch ‘actions’ and ‘events’, ‘characters’ and ‘performances’, ”he said. “How can we analyze particular cases of what is literally always there on the screen? “

To this end, Schonig proposed the concept of ‘form of movement’: structures or patterns of movement that viewers can recognize both in the world and in movies. When we recognize a friend by the way they walk, we see a shape that only exists in motion, he explained. We can also see them in the iconic gestures of famous actors – Charlie Chaplin’s tramp walk, for example – or the camera effect known as the “dolly zoom”, made famous in movies like fear of heights and Jaws.

At their most basic levels, forms of movement are visual concepts – and you need concepts in place before you can transform a specific quality of an artistic medium, be it sound, color, or mood. movement, at the center of aesthetic analysis. Something similar happened with the analysis of sound in a movie; now a sub-discipline with hundreds of articles and books published, cinematographic sound studies only took off after the development of certain concepts involving sound and the differentiation of volume, pitch and timbre.

“Likewise, forms of movement are concepts that help us break down the entire visual tapestry of movement in a film into more discreet parts, that is, into ways of getting around,Schönig explained. “If we can learn to see ways of moving rather than just people and things, actions and events, then I think we can start making movement an object of cinematic analysis.”

Forms of movement

To understand forms of movement, it is important to recognize what they are not. Movement forms are not a way to categorize movement as involving people, objects, cameras, or a montage; it is not the things that move, but the manners let them move. This differentiation is essential for understanding Schonig’s work.

Each chapter of his book examines a particular form of movement, such as “contingent movement,” which names the chaotic movement patterns of natural phenomena such as floating leaves, swirling dust, and rippling waves.

“Such phenomena fascinated the very first moviegoers in 1895, and I try to explain that it was not just ‘nature’ that fascinated viewers – it was a particular form of movement that was amazing when captured in a moving image, ”he said.

Other forms of movement are crucial to understanding major stylistic trends in cinema, such as the daily body movements that Schonig calls “habitual gestures”. Many realistic post-war films, such as those by Vittorio de Sica and Robert Bresson, isolate these movements for visual contemplation.

Then there are “lasting metamorphoses”, or slow and gradual changes that lead to profound transformations, such as the movement of clouds or the darkening of the sky; “Spatial deployment”, effect produced by certain camera movements which suppress the illusion of bodily movement; “Trajective locomotion”, an effect produced by camera movements following the characters on foot from behind; and “bleeding pixels”, an effect produced by digital compression artifacts. To illustrate each, Schonig draws on multiple examples, from early films and classic Hollywood films, to CGI cartoons and experimental films from around the world.

Textual medium such as a printed book cannot properly capture forms of movement, even with the inclusion of still images. This is why buyers will also have access to a website with six video essays corresponding to each chapter. The essays visually demonstrate the forms of movement being discussed, but also function as stand-alone pieces, summarizing each chapter’s argument through the arrangement of image, text, and sound.

What technology is changing – and not changing

The processes and technologies used by filmmakers to capture motion have changed dramatically over time. The earliest examples are perhaps “optical toys” such as the 19th century zoetrope or phenakistoscope, portable devices that produced the illusion of movement through the rapid succession of still images. The first film cameras and projectors further mechanized this process.

One of the most significant changes was the introduction of digital compression algorithms, which only give “movement instructions” to small pieces of an image that have changed from the previous image, rather than a succession of whole images. This compression saves data, but also represents a fundamental change in cinematic motion technology that goes completely unnoticed by most viewers except when you see a “compression problem,” Schonig said.

Schonig, however, is also fascinated by everything that has remained the same in cinema, despite technological changes.

“For example, one of the key questions I study in the book is that early viewers were obsessed with the movements of swirling smoke and rippling waves, but in the 21st century many audiences and critics continue to focus on those same phenomena when they’re convincingly simulated with CGI in Pixar cartoons, ”he said.“ The technology here is absolutely different – one is a recording, the other a synthetic image – and yet the quality of the incredibly realistic movement projected on a screen seems to trigger a similar type of experience. “

Schonig hopes his book will give readers a glimpse of one way to categorize the film movement. Her own favorite books in film and literary studies over the past decade have been organized around individual categories, including the book by Sianne Ngai Our aesthetic categories and that of Kristen Whissel Spectacular digital effects.

These books invite readers to imagine new categories, a strategy Schonig uses in his classroom. Students in his Cinema in the Digital Age class come up with their own classifications of digital effects and justify their importance; in Gender, Sexuality and Romance, students identify “romantic tropes” and examine them through the lens of feminist and queer theory.

“What I love is the ‘aha’ moment that happens when someone shows you a category – a concept, a pattern, a shape, a shape – that is right under your nose”, a- he declared. “I hope I can give readers this ‘aha’ moment of my chapters, but more importantly, I hope my readers discover their own categories of movement, their own ‘forms of movement.’

About Ethel Nester

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