Moving Image Theory: Ecological Considerations

By Joseph D. Anderson; Barbara Fisher Anderson | Go to book overview

Part One

Information Available in Moving Images

THE CONCEPT OF information is central to ecological psychology. It is a precise term that denotes arrays of energy that are patterned and quantifiable; a discussion of the information available in moving images seems an appropriate place to begin.

James E. Cutting in “Perceiving Scenes in Film and in the World” notes that movies are not really very much like the world. Movie space and time are different, and things are arranged differently. In Hollywood-style movies, all elements are arranged to support the narrative. A number of techniques have been developed to minimize our awareness of the way the film is constructed and to maximize our attention to the story. “To go unnoticed, ” Cutting says, “these techniques must mesh with the human visual system.” He offers nine sources of information and then demonstrates how each has been manipulated for a desired effect. For example, in Notting Hill (1999) and Rope (1948), occlusion is used to hide the cuts. In Twelve Angry Men (1957), height in the visual field is varied to manipulate objects in space. He notes that in Vertigo (1957), Hitchcock combines a dolly shot with a zoom-out to manipulate relative size and distance. “This procedure keeps the near steps the same size, but dilates the space changing the apparent depth by changes in the relative size of farther objects but not nearer ones.” He also notes that shadows and lighting are used to the advantage of narrative in The Lady Vanishes (1938) “where a handwritten message in the condensation on the interior of a train window is invisible in daylight but appears when the train is in a tunnel.”

With regard to space from the viewer's point of view, Cutting defines three regions— “vista space (that beyond about 30 m) for a pedestrian, action space (from 30 m inward to about 1.5 m), and personal space (closer than about 1.5 m).” He argues that action space is the primary space of the movie. Vista space may be occasionally employed in a wide shot of a landscape, and more importantly, he claims “that part of being a viewer of the action in a film is contingent on not having things enter one's personal space.”

Cutting also observes that many violations of continuity editing will be tolerated by an audience if the narrative is sufficiently powerful, as in the cutting back and forth between shots with a blue sky and shots with an overcast sky in the boating scene in The Sound of Music (1965). But he also points out that neither filmmakers nor editors nor psychologists know for sure in advance which discontinuities will be accepted by an audience and which will not. He goes on to observe that the 180-degree rule may not be as inviolable as some have thought, and that “such cinematic `rules' are not, as often proposed, like a `grammar' of film.” Recalling that we did not evolve to watch movies, he marvels that they work so well and offers that the reasons for film's success stem from our biological endowment, how it constrains and does not constrain our cognitive and perceptual systems in dealing with space and time.

Robert E. Shaw and William M. Mace in “The Value of Oriented Geometry for Ecological Psychology and Moving Image Art” distinguish between direct and indirect

-7-

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