The classical cinema some formal definitions

Implied in the cultural definitions above is the recognition that the Hollywood cinema's 'impression of reality', i.e. to pass off as natural something which is historical or ideological, is actually not so much a matter of how real that is which is being filmed (the documentary value or veridical status of what is before the camera) but how formally elaborated and how culturally ingrained the codes, norms, or conventions are that govern cinematic representation. It is not 'reality' that makes things appear real on the screen, but a rhetoric, a formal system which also transports a cultural logic. Among some of the indices are:

• Character-centred causality, based on psychological traits. Non-psychological forces are discounted as causal agents unless they can become metaphors of the protagonist's psychological conflicts, e.g. wars, revolutions, natural disasters, alien intrusions are made to mirror inner dilemmas, as we saw above in the case of John McClane's dilemma in Die

Hard. 'The classical Hollywood film presents psychologically defined individuals who struggle to solve a clear-cut problem or to attain specific goals. ... The principal causal agent is thus the character, a distinctive individual endowed with an evident, consistent batch of traits, qualities and behaviors.' (Bordwell, in Rosen 1986: 18). This contrasts, as indicated, with the functionalist and relations-based, essentially a-causal and instead more complexly 'logical' and 'semantic' structuralist and post-structuralist model of character and causality.

• Repetition/resolution (underlying the formation of the couple): 'a ... fundamental effect, proper to many American classical films, [is that] the textual volume multiplies and closes off doubly the field of its own expansion. The systematic accumulation of symmetries and dissymmetries throughout the filmic chain, decomposed by the work of a generalized segmentation, constantly mimics and reproduces (because the one produces the other) the schema of family relations which founds the narrative space' [... and] which makes of the segmental the textual condition for a happy slide from the familial to the conjugal' (Bellour, 2000: 205-6). What Bellour here indicates is that the sophisticated formal system of classical Hollywood is in the service of category shifts and logical transformation, which in turn is necessary for the ideological 'work' that makes Hollywood an important institution of ideological reproduction in the US, and increasingly so also in the rest of the world.

• Continuity editing (which creates a spatially consistent visual field and single diegesis by means of the following editing conventions: the 180 degree rule, the shot/reverse shot pattern, staging in depth, eyeline matches, cutting only within a 180/30 degree radius, match on action cuts) prevails over montage editing (multiple diegesis, discontinuity of shots in time and space, juxtaposition of shots). In the classical film, the fictional, world is homogeneous: discontinuity and juxtaposition can always be reintegrated by the viewer at another level of coherence which does not violate the (generically defined) standards of verisimilitude and plausibility, with regards to either action, character motivation, or coherence of place/space. What this means in practice, as we shall see, is that everything in a classical film is motivated and serves a purpose, while the 'rules' of continuity editing ensure smooth, invisible (because either expected or retrospectively explicable) transitions from shot to shot and from segment to segment.

• Narration (variable distribution of knowledge .among characters and between characters and audience). Narration is not primarily a matter of style or mode (melodramatic vs realistic or serious vs comic) but a question of how information reaches the audience and is mentally or emotionally processed. It is thus a key factor in how a film addresses, involves, implicates, activates, and manipulates the spectator. The function of filmic narration is to guide the eye and cue the mind, which might involve either an optical or cognitive centring of the spectator, drawing him or her into the picture, or a manipulation of the spectator's position of knowledge, playing either with his/her desire to see and observe (voyeurism, visual pleasure, scopophilia) or on his/her desire to know and to infer (exploiting ignorance, anticipation, or superior knowledge vis-à-vis the characters).

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