Obliteration of time and space

In order to create feeling states and to downgrade plot and its importance, the filmmaker must also undermine the gestalt impulse—to make sense of what we see. To put in another way, the viewer will organize a pattern of sounds and images into a progression of thought, an applied linearity, even if one is not available on the surface.

To counteract the impulse to organize those images and sounds into the narrative that may not be present, the filmmaker must challenge the impulse more deeply. She must undermine the sense of time and space in the MTVstyle film or video.

To understand how this is done, we must back up to some issues raised in Chapters 8, 9, and 10. In the work of Kurosawa, we saw him visually play with the idea that the truth was relative, that it was influenced by whoever was telling the story (Rashomon, 1951). In Resnais's work memory, the past and its intervention posed the question about time and its continuum. If a character is gripped by events of the past, what does this mean for their current conduct and perception (Hiroshima, Mon Amour, 1960)? Fellini went even further to suggest not simply the past, but the character's fantasy/fantasies about the past overshadowed the present (81/2, 1963). In the case of Antonioni, place and the environment overwhelms character and perception. Place obliterates the time gestalt of thinking and replaces it with the objective power of place. Will, an expression of character's goals, is replaced by will not, cannot; place replacing time in importance (L'Eclisse, 1962).

Peter Brook poses questions about reality through his exploration of performance, and his understanding of history (Marat/Sade, 1966). Again, time and place are reconfigured. They become relative and less important. Herzog and Wenders both challenge the notions of personal history and objective reality (The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser, 1974; Paris, Texas, 1984).

Together these filmmakers and numerous others have challenged conventional notions of time and place in their work. Their artistic advances in turn opened up options for those working with the MTV style. Central to that style is the obliteration of a conventional sense of time and place. Even though Tony Scott's Top Gun has a location for the story (the Southwest) and a time (the 80s, the last phase of the Cold War), its actual dream state— the marine pilot as invincible hero and lover—actually bears little resemblance to training, to the history of the 80s; rather it resembles a cartoon, a piece of advertising. To succeed, Scott has to pay lip service to time and place but little more.

By focusing on the feeling state, by mixing dream and fear, by obliterating history, and replacing it with a new mythology, Scott uses style to move us into a less narrative experience, a more sensation experience. And he succeeds because of the work of Fellini, Antonioni, Kurosawa, and Brook in their challenges to our sense of time and place.

What we haven't focussed on yet, but now turn to, is the mechanical editing choices that help the filmmaker obliterate time and place. The first choice is to use many more close-ups than long shots. This choice withdraws the context that, when present, lends credibility to the sequence. The second choice is to emphasize foreground over background in the frame. Whether this is done by using telephoto shots rather than side angle or through the crowding of the character into the front of the frame, which can, with a wide-angle shot, distort the character, both choices yield the same result—withdrawal of visual context. Add the art direction—lighting choices that move away from realism—the sepia of Top Gun, the gauzed images of Flashdance, the hot reds alternating with the cool blues in Tony Scott's Crimson Tide (1995), all when combined with the oversize of the close-up and of the foreground image, undermine context. Add the use where possible of the jump cut and the overuse of pace and we have the mechanical editing repertoire of the obliteration of time and place.

Film Making

Film Making

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