1.2.2 Rich Mise en Scène – Video Structure Meaning

producers and a few privileged users (e.g., athletic coaches, law enforcement, scientists) whose work
enabled them to purchase expensive playback machinery. Videotape, then various digital media,
have made it possible for virtually any user to view the collection of still images making up the
movie in almost any manner they like. For the majority of situations the standard playback rate is
still the default mode, but examination and re-examination of individual frames and sets of frames
is not only possible but also essentially trivial to achieve.
In either case, simple passive viewing or highly interactive viewing, it is the case that pho-
tocutionary acts are taking place. In the passive, single viewing it is unlikely that most viewers of
a half-hour documentary or a two-hour feature lm will recall every image in its prescribed order.
Some images will be more striking and more memorable; some will be remembered out of context
or out of order; some will likely be misremembered. After the viewing, there will be, in eect, an-
other collection of images. is one will be the viewers collection, constructed and arranged by the
viewers individual criteria.
So we might say of a movie that it is, in the most general model, a collection of still images
structured rst and foremost by the mechanical necessities of reproduction. e actual number of
still images is large1,800 frames per minute of viewing time. Ordinarily, a viewer comes to such
a collection to see the whole collection, not simply a few particular images. So, we might say that
a moving image document is a collection of images that is intended to be viewed as a single docu-
ment, so it pushes the boundaries of the denition of a collectiona collection of one.
Mise en Scène 1: 1962 in a high school football team meeting room
Coach Hall: Jack, see how he gets a step on you right there?!
Run the projector back and go slow motion …stop! See?
Right there.”
In 1962 I was in my second year of high school when
Coach Hall came to me with a Bolex 16 mm movie camera
and asked if I could gure out how to make it work and make
some game lms for the team to study. I was an avid photog-
rapher and I had a library card, so I said “Yes, sir!” Pointing
the camera, pushing the motor button, and even developing
a short test roll of lm were all quite like making still pictures. In fact, it was making still pictures,
lots of them!
Figure 1.3: Quote from How to Make Good Coaching Movies (Kodak, 1964) with inset photo of Brian.
In the rst team meeting where we watched the rst game lm, I was fascinated, almost
shocked. e projector could stop the lm and hold a single frame on the screen, it could run for-
ward and reverse, and the speed could be slowed to about half normal speed. I had been “projector
boy in school for many years, so I was quite accustomed to movies, yet they had always been shown
in school just as in the theater and on televisionthe movie started and played to the end without
stopping. e audience experience was one of passive viewing. e football coaching lm was in-
teractiveunder the control of the viewer.
Structure of the actual lm document was signicant and quite dierent from movies and
TV shows of the day. An entire game was represented on roughly 12 minutes of lm. ere was no
audio because there was no need for it for coaching; only the time from the snap of the ball until
the paly was whistled dead was recorded. As Coach Hall said: “No cheerleaders, no close shots, no
band—only plays!” e coaching function only required the plays and would have been hampered
by any additional material, no matter how entertaining or artistic. e structure of the coaching lm
was imposed at two signicant points: during the actual recording of the game and dynamically
during the coaching session viewings. Both points of structuring were critical to the meaning of the
lm. e meaning of the lm was to present good and bad moves by the players and enable incre-
mental and repeatable presentation essentially step-by-step, literally. e meaning for the players
was becoming better at their sport. Very simple structure of images combined with re-structuring
enabled by slow motion and multiple viewings yielded meaning for coaches and players
Nowadays, almost anyone can pick up smartphone or a tablet and view games or individual
plays in the palm of the hand; the mechanisms of viewing have almost completely dissolved. Yet,
it remains the case that moving pictures of any sort are made up of still photographs, lots of them.
e best lms ever taken of a game are
of little value if the coach cant properly analyze
them because his projector is not adapted to this
sort of work.
e school’s sound projectors are just not
designed for this job. A specially constructed
projector is needed, one that is rugged enough
to withstand the hard abuse it receives during
the season
Silent 16 mm lm was often shot at just about the threshold for the illusion of motion to avoid
frequent reloading of the camera and to save some money for the high school; 16 mm lm with
sound was shot at somewhat higher speed because of the mechanics of the sound system; digital
video is generally shot at a little higher rate. us, every minute of silent 16 mm requires 1,080 still
photographs; every minute of sound 16 mm requires; and every minute of digital video requires
1,800 still photographs.
Figure 1.4: Analog viewing mechanism and digital viewing mechanism.
It would be hard to overstate the impact of mechanism on the functionality of motion pic-
tures in the analog era, on representation for access and analysis, and so, on meaning.
Mise en Scène 2: A class of six undergraduate students studying the Roman poet Catullus
In 1966 I was studying Greek and Latin literature and dabbling in the very early days of program-
ming in BASIC (Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code) and spending a great deal
of time in the lm society and the local movie theater. Discussing Catullus we compared his brief
poems with the epic heroic tales of the canon, especially Vergil’s Aeneid. Where Vergil sang of gods
and heroes, Catullus wrote of his love for a woman and things in daily life that caught his attention;
where Vergil used 9,896 lines for his great work, Catullus used only 2 for one of his greatest works;
where Vergil used dactylic hexameter, Catullus crafted his two-line piece as an elegiac couplet, in
which the use of individual letters literally embodied the anguished passion when the lines were
spoken. Here was the beginning of my understanding of crafting meaning with more than words
and rules of grammar.
Not long afterward I had the opportunity to participate in some of the early computational
analysis of Greek and Latin works in the days of punched paper tape and punched 80 column
cards. What was fascinating to me in this was the use of the blank space as a way of marking where
clumps of letters were bounded, together with the notion that each characterletters, other marks,
and even blank spaces each had an address in the document.
Of more signicance than I would know for some time, I watched the lms of, listened to,
and worked for one afternoon with experimental lm luminary Stan Brakhage. His work seemed
to me quite like that of Catullus, for it was terse, personal, and highly worked at the frame level to
express notions beyond linear narrative. is culminated in a senior project in which I argued that
Catullus and other neoteric poets stood in relation to Vergil in much the same way that the exper-
imental lm artists of the 1940s–1960s stood to Hollywood. e descriptive prose of the piece was
sucient to make the primary argument, yet I had not been able to make the argument in terms of
the poetry and the lm styles. e tools existed for analyzing
the poetry, but not for the lms.
Mise en Scène 3: Immersion in structure
A decrepit neighborhood with roach-infested, crumbling
rental properties—walking with residents to document con-
ditions for a program sponsored by a War on Poverty agency.
How could we present an emotional hook for the report of
statistics and graphs in a paper report prepared by the same
agency? A 30-minute collage of exterior and interior images
with a soundtrack collage of voices of residents with no “ex-
pert narrator (the residents were the experts of their own lives) emerged and played widely on
television, in a U.S. Senate committee, and as a training lm for VISTA volunteers.
Film editing studio in a university art department—working on a graduate degree in lm I
viewed classic works of documentary and experimental lms over and over while planning my port-
folio lms. Immersion in the documentary and art lm worlds of the New York City area meant
proximity to lmmakers and their explanations of why they did what they did; as well profound
critiques of my own experiments. HP and Riefenstahl—Canyon Cinema 24,000 views on YouTube.
Federal Reserve Ninth District headquarters in Minneapolis—how to design a 30-min-
ute lm on the workings of the Fed 200 hours—3
hours—10 days; 30 minute—6 months. 199 hours
into the dumpster.
Mise en Scène 4: Filmic representation
Engagement with lm meandered from production
of documentary and art lms to graduate studies at
UC Berkeley, working on lm and representation.