Dancers without Portfolio: Towards a Theory of Motion in Motion Pictures (*)

By Spiegel, Alan | West Virginia University Philological Papers, Fall 2000 | Go to article overview

Dancers without Portfolio: Towards a Theory of Motion in Motion Pictures (*)


Spiegel, Alan, West Virginia University Philological Papers


My general subject is Kinetics. I'll be talking about everything that moves at the movies: animals, people, machinery. And everything that inscribes, and often embodies, motion: the camera, the editing--the tools of the film-making process. There will be a little theory--because finally to talk about motion is to talk about the ontology of film itself--and a lot of examples. Some of these examples I'll try to put into words, and some we'll look at on the screen (and then try to put into words).

The subject is both all-inclusive and definitive. In other words, it's a subject too big for one lecture--or perhaps even very many lectures. If we're lucky, maybe we can begin to appreciate the fact that such a subject exists, and maybe get a hint of just how big it is.

But first--before I get to all that-I want to start by talking about the way this topic recently impressed itself upon me.

Not so long ago, the satellite people came and hooked my television to a dish and all at once I stopped going out to the movies. Instead, I found myself logging in a lot of long, serious, fairly relentless hours supine at the box. I downed just about everything, most of it for the first time, including a lot of regular network stuff that, with hardly any effort, I could have learned about locally without buying the whole global village to find it. In a few months, as one might imagine, the novelty wore off: going from a few channels to a few hundred being not that much different from replacing one's private garbage disposal with a public dump. But not before I discovered something many millions of television regulars must have known for years: and that is, that some of the most fascinating movies in the world--the most informative and poetically satisfying--are being made exclusively for television. The theater-screen may dwarf the home-screen in just about every way, but movie-house loyalists never get to s ee the best of those beautiful science and wildlife films aired regularly by the National Geographic Society, and just about weekly by the PBS Networks, and just about daily on the Discovery Channel. Here you can see an infinity of marvels with a camera and a special lens that you could never see for yourself--not with your human eye, and not if you camped for a lifetime on the Etosha plains, or set up house in a diving bell at the bottom of the Adriatic.

It isn't hard to lower the volume on the shallow universalism and humanist bromides of the spoken commentary--or even to ignore the not infrequent and degrading anthropomorphism of boxing seals, wrestling monkeys, or the mickey-moused antics of pogo-sticking kangaroos. Much of the time, these animals go at their own gait and evoke their own form of regal and impersonal emotion that cannot be represented by literal-minded musicians and beggars any form of clinical description. At their best, these television wildlife films, along with the educational rap and informational displays, restore the kinds of aesthetic pleasure that one usually found in the most imaginative and concentrated forms of film fiction. Here you see how the whole natural kingdom looks when it's on the move, and that means the most powerful and lyrical forms of locomotion to be seen anywhere.

I recall one thrilling sequence from a documentary about the animal life on the Etosha Plains that literally took me out of my seat. In a single shot above the thronged backs of a herd of watering gazelles, in the upper third of the frame, we see a pack of cheetahs loping over the rim of the horizon line--a raggedy, straggling bunch, spread out in casual disarray, some glancing back over their shoulders, a couple scuttering down the slope in sideways advance; all of them looking scrawny and disreputable, moonfaced and faintly comical; none of them so much as sneaking a peek at the gazelles, just as the gazelles never seemed to acknowledge the presence of the cheetahs. This one shot, cheetah and gazelles caught in single frame, is held for a long two or three seconds; and for at least one of those seconds, these two groups seem so blissfully unaware of each other that you think maybe the gazelles will keep watering and the cheetahs trot on by.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Dancers without Portfolio: Towards a Theory of Motion in Motion Pictures (*)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.