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An Archaeology of the Cinema

May 4, 2014
I learned the rules of the game from The Rules of the Game. – Robert Altman

Talking TV versus movies led me back through the archeology of cinema as I learned it, back to my own favorite “ur-texts”, Jean Renoir’s magical and ever elusive Rules of the Game, Orson Welles Citizen Kane, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and Yasujirô Ozu’s Tokyo Story. John Ford’s The Searchers and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai could just as easily be on my list. And then there’s my current favorite, Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard. Needless to say, there’s lots more…

In all these pictures, each director allows the viewer to discover something fresh and revealing in the frame. They refrain from underlining scenes. Their cameras are constantly exploring, amazed sometimes even at what they’ve set in motion.

I used to call this the passive camera, but upon reviewing, their cameras are anything but passive. Rather, it is a conscious camera, conscious, surprised, often delighted at what’s happening right before its very “eyes”.

Too often in TV the use of the long shot is broken up by close-ups, one character on screen at a time. I think TV is a reductive medium consistently in service to the story and its characters. Though recently, through bigger budgets, TV has attempted to emulate movies.

I think the great movies transcend story, ultimately celebrating the medium itself.

Back to Griffith – we are the ones who play with light.

And light, pulsing through the universe contains the history of our universe.

(When people reference Renoir’s The Rule of the Game they consistently cite the Hunt scene…Skip the add by going to the upper right of the screen for the Hunt clip.)


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  1. Dr. Image permalink

    It seems to me that the issue at hand is how much the viewer will be an active participant in the viewing process. I always liked the idea of long shots, long takes, so that the viewer can do their own exploring…Bazin comes to mind when I re-visit these questions. Also, for me, TV seems to work best as an information exchange but I am an old fart.


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