Sunday, 23 November 2008


Over the course of the last year, I have become more interested in the formal aspects of cinema. This has always been an interest of mine to some extent. But I think it has been heightened because of the years spent on my dissertation, which is not stylistic but rather contextual in nature. Thus re-engaging with form has been both a type of procrastination (always popular) as well as a way to connect with an initial love of cinema. As a result, I have contributed 27 entries to the Cinemetrics database over the last year or so. This site provides a tool for counting the number of shots of each film. Average shot length (ASL) has always interested me, partly because of its statistical nature. I first encountered the term in the work of film technology historian Barry Salt, and then later in the scholarship of Colin Crisp on Jean Renoir. What was appealing was the ability to point to something concrete in terms of stylistic differences in films. Of course, this is just one element of form and it can be overemphasized because of its tangible nature. Nevertheless, it is a useful factor to consider.

But I would make another argument for using the cinemetrics shot counting tool to view films. To me, watching a movie using cinemetrics is similar to reading with a highlighter. Whenever I'm reading anything remotely scholarly, I like to use a highlighter, not so much for what I highlight but more to make me concentrate. I tend to remember and think more critically about what I read. The same is true with cinemetrics. The focus needed to count shots turns me into a better, more critical viewer. The next time I teach an introductory film course (or any course where style is a major element) I will probably include assignments requiring students to use cinemetrics to sharpen their viewing skills. While it is certainly not for every film or even for every viewer, I do think it is valuable for anyone wanting help with his or her atttentiveness. It is especially useful for home viewing, which tends to be less focused than the theatrical experience.

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