Thursday, September 13, 2007

Cinematic Language

The following article is from the American Film Institute. It includes a brief introduction to the fathers of cinematic language. Lilian Gish, a famous actress during the silent era (popular for her strong performances in D.W. Griffith films), once said of D.W. Griffith: "He gave us the grammar of filmmaking." Understanding the origin of cinematic language will increase your appreciation for the complexity of modern cinematic language. This article does a good job at giving a succinct introduction to the development of early film and its language --- a language full of cuts and close-ups.

Artistry and Business,
Picture this: In a movie, the first shot shows the main character stepping into an elevator, then cuts immediately to that character stepping out of the elevator four floors below. Although the camera has not stayed with the character while riding the elevator down the four floors, the audience understands that the activity has taken place; the viewer, accustomed to cinematic editing, does not feel jarred or confused by the leap in space and time.

That type of visual shortcut did not always exist, however. Someone had to originate the first temporal cut, and in so doing create a language unique to cinema. In the early 1900s, filmmakers were still treating movies like moving photographs. The camera position remained fixed and there was little manipulation of the images, aside from some rudimentary special effects. It took a few innovative minds to develop the visual grammar that viewers now take for granted in Hollywood films.