Intro to the Course and Study Skills


Week 1, 2008, at the University of Kent. This week’s lecture delivered by Dr. Alex Clayton for Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema is titled “Intro to the Course and Study Skills”.

Classes Begin


Undergraduate classes begin today at the University of Kent. In the Autumn term I shall be teaching Introduction to Narrative Cinema 1: American Cinema and supervising six Long Essay students.

Katharine Hepburn with Two Leopards


Bringing Up Baby (1938).

A Continuous Image of Music


Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within”.

An excerpt from my MA dissertation, “Melodies of the Visible: Diversity in Music Video”:

It is easy to forget the role of editing in regard to videos that employ a single long take and that almost do not make use of editing effects like those described above. Christina Aguilera’s “The Voice Within” (2004) is an excellent example of this role. It opens with the image of a slate and clapboard. These boards are used in film production to identify the takes so as to aid the post-production. These images are usually left out of the final edited version of the film. A video such as “The Voice Within” might not have cuts between shots but it had to be edited: that is, the filmmakers had to choose where the take begins and ends. The choice to include the image of the slate and clapboard has to do with the option to film the video in a sequence shot. It has to do with a notion of bareness and with an attempt to establish its elements in their transparency. Christina sings directly to the camera, recognising its presence as the opening did. She looks as if she was in a bedroom preparing to lie down and fall asleep: she is barefoot and dressed in a nightgown. Her intimate image seems to be at odds with the context. But she walks from an empty backstage, a private space, to an empty street, a public space. In the street, she lies to rest in a bed of light. When the song is over, a crane movement frames the bed and then the camera tilts up to the sky to catch a falling star seen in the nocturnal sky — the only post-production effect of the video. This concrete and symbolic movement, from the backstage to the street, from the bed to the star, is related with the solitary relation of the singer with her voice in the video, and with the cultural relation of the audience with her voice through the video — as she sings, “Just trust the voice within / Then you’ll find your strength”. The video is in black and white, which adds to the effect of its concentration on something essential: her singing and the image of that occurring — a concentration that the colour or any extras might distract from. The editing choices regarding the beginning and the ending of the shot are interesting as they are related with the direct tone of the video and with its allegorical elements. In the opening, the clapboard is shown. In the closing, the white bed is connected with the falling star, linking a possible dream to a fulfilled wish.

“The Voice Within” is also a good example of how a video can be formally related with the structure and progress of the song without the use of cuts that accompany the alterations of the music — the most common cases, studied by Vernallis. In this uncommon video, since space and time are continuous, these changes are reflected not in the cutting but in the mise en scène, more precisely in the three meticulous camera movements during the song. They are all tracking movements in which the base position of the camera changes. But their relation with the singer differs as much as her performance and the song. In the first part, the camera moves away from Christina, from her face to her body. She is seated on a brick. Her immobile posture suggests the slow opening of the song, also conveyed when her eyes open in the first seconds. In this part, the expression comes from her face — hence the camera movement. When the camera moves away diverts the attention to the edges of the screen, so in the second part, the camera rotates around her. Now she is standing up. She basically stays in the same place, but follows the camera so as to remain at every instant looking at it and addressing it. During this part, the motion and gestures of her arms are the expressive elements that convey the variations in the song and the intonation of the lyrics. The third and last part corresponds to an increase in the tempo of the song, underlined by the introduction of a choir. Throughout this part, the camera follows her or, more precisely, is pushed by her to move as she walks to the street to lie down on the bed, when the song ends as slowly as it began.