We Cant Stop – Visual Forces in Film

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Only took 2 and a half times watching it to find a shot that barely makes it relevant.

In Chapter 7 of Herbert Zettl’s Sight, Sound and Motion: Applied Media, we learn about the visual aesthetics that constitute a frame (whether that of a film, advertisement, etc.) and the ways in which the forces surrounding those aesthetics contribute to meaning and help shape perceptions.

Throughout the chapter, Zettl talks a lot about camera techniques used in film and television. One such technique involves tilting the camera along the horizontal axis to create instability within the frame, and this is known as “canting” (hence the terrible Miley Cyrus pun above). Through the use of this technique, filmmakers attempt to create a jarring, often disorienting effect. As Zettl states, “Our normal and hence secure upright position on a level horizontal plane is threatened by what we perceive. As the horizon starts tilting, we lose our usually reliable and stable reference – earth” (103). This technique is seen frequently throughout film noir, a style of film that emerged in the 1940s and that is generally defined as Hollywood crime drama with heavy visual ties to German-Expressionism. The cant angle is one of these ties, and noir directors use it to convey, as Zettl discusses, “dynamism” (“energy, activity, progress”) and, more importantly to film noir, the “physical or mental stress” that is prevalent in the fatalistic worlds of noir characters (103).


Another technique Zettl discusses is “superimposition” in which one image is superimposed onto another to create ambiguity in the “figure/ground relationship” (114). As Zettl states, “It is often difficult to determine which of the two superimposed images is the figure and which is the ground,” and, consequently, it is “no wonder that superimposition is such a popular effect when suggesting dream sequences” (114).

One movie that really came to mind as I read this was Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, and, more particularly, a scene in which the main character, Nina, dances in a club after taking ecstasy. Watching it at normal speed, it’s hard to pick up on all the subliminal superimpositions and hidden images in the scene. However, when watching it frame by frame, its easier to detect images like the ones below that work to comment on Nina’s ever-distorted perception of reality and the constant struggle she faces with the duality of being.


P.S. Tis the season so couldn’t leave out this classic superimposition from Hitchcock’s Psycho:


Happy Halloween!

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Be safe.


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