Film Theory By Cabiria Films Ltd.

The gaze to the lens.
By Micha Kovler. Translated to English by Noga Ariel.

One of the corniest, most used phrases in the cinema is the combination of the two words: "Cinematic Language".

Every director has cinematic language, every cinematographer has a cinematic language. The script writer, while writing, can see the shots in his imagination, at times even trying to 'direct' the director by filming instructions. There are rules of cinematic language.
But what is "Cinematic Language" exactly, or even "sort of"?

People talk of "Long shots". Of "Close ups". Of "Medium shots". And most of them know how to execute it. But the question only a few people can answer, is not how to execute one technique or another, but rather when is one technique most appropriate.
Not how, but why.

Why did the director use a long shot there, of all places? Why did he choose to use a close up here? Why did he choose parallel editing? Not how, but why? What is the optimal combination, the ideal merger between context and creation? When will a certain weapon, a tool, that the cinematic language has in stock, bring the context into maximum fulfillment, and allow it the strongest affect over the viewer's consciousness?

The ticket that was bought in the box office stands to serve as a contract between the director and the viewer. The director's part in the contract is providing the viewer with an imaginary progression, which in its best form also enriches him intellectually, culturally, aesthetically, or provides an emotional cathartic of a sort.

The fact that the camera is almost always positioned at either side of the actors is obviously not coincidental. It serves in strengthening the 'reality value' in the presented scene. The viewer, not involved, remains a voyeur.

The Voyeur
How emotionally involved the viewer chooses to be derives from the synthesis between the film's emotional weight and his own. The minute one of the heroes looks at the camera, hence to the eyes of the viewer and so onto his consciousness, he actually 'informs' the viewer of the fact that he, the hero, acknowledges him and is relating to him directly. The viewer at that moment becomes involved.

By that, the director of the film has actually "broken" the unwritten contract. The viewer is no longer a passive voyeur, but actively involved.

Using the technique
Some inexperienced directors, unaware to the "damage" they're causing to the anonymous experience of film viewing, use this technique thoughtlessly and terminates passive way of viewing.
On the other hand experienced directors would add this technique to their arsenal of cinematic language, hence capable of utilizing it in a most powerful way.

Federico Felini- "Nights of Cabiria"
In Fellini's nights of Cabiria, there is not even a single gaze to the lens through almost the entire movie.
And then, at the very end of the film, the heroin (Julieta Messini) looks straight into the lens.
Cabiria is a prostitute that had a very bad luck, the people she met betrayed her, the men she loved humiliated her, and we feel as if there's no hope for her, and that Felini is making a sad portrait of humanity.

And yet, at the end of the film, Cabiria looks straight at us, smiling, as if to show us that there's still hope for the future. That even at times it may seem like the end of the world, you can still find a meaning to life.

Felini respects the pact of 'the contract' up until he has earned the viewer's trust. The viewers which have escorted Cabiria are emphatic towards her, and by now are sharing her pain. At the end they are wishing for her to succeed, like we wish ourselves or our loved ones to, but still keeping the distance.

In that gaze Cabiria is acknowledging that kind of care in her look. She is promising, to our less confident self, or our parental "worried" side, that she will be okay, and so shall we. That gaze penetrates our consciousness, and diminishes the differences between us.

"It's okay to hurt", Cabiria says with this gaze, "Just don't forget that life is beautiful".

Alfred Hitchcock- "Psycho"
Any image captured by the camera is given life by light. Without light it is doomed to die. The light hits an image, bounces back to the camera and then, through the celluloid, to the eyes of the viewer. What is then, the faith of a gaze? What can it capture or state?

Hitchcock is trying to test the medium of the camera as the viewer's voyeuristic tool, and he uses it on Norman. How does he do that?

Let us focus on the scene when Norman is peaking at Marion taking a shower, a voyeuristic act, no doubt, just like the rush the viewers receive from watching films. Hitchcock emphasizes that. We are looking at Norman looking at Marion through a hole that resembles the roundness of the lens. Very quickly we are looking through Norman's eyes, and identifying with what he's seeing. Hitchcock warns us by that, by that identification, that evil lies within us all.

Norman returns to his house, walks through a classic Hitchcockian tunnel shot, sits down like one of his stuffed birds, ready for the hunt, near the table. Two strange clinking sounds signal that something unnatural is about to happen, and then for a quick moment- Norman gazes straight into the lens.

Norman is calling us to come and join him in his evil doings, encouraging the bad sides of us all, and then in the beginning of the next shot we see through Norman's eyes again! We have joined him in his voyeuristic adventure.

Another tool Hitchcock uses in this scene is shedding light on Marion's face, and capturing it on Norman's head. Norman is the camera - Marion is the image which has no existence without light, and so her image belongs to him. And the image in film is the reality of the character.

When Marion raise and goes to the shower, her image does not reflect in the mirror, which also uses light that bounces off. Marion's light belongs to Norman, and so her existence is in his hands.

The idea of communicating with the viewer in several ganre be a very powerful psychological tool.

It can be subtle, just to show an idea, pass on a message, most of the time the message is even more powerful when the gaze is rare, like in the classic movies examples we have shown above, but it can also be constant, thus enhancing the connection between the viewer and the performer.
We can see on television a common use of that technique when a politician is having a propaganda during elections, he is often shown telling his ideas on television, looking straight into the public's eyes, projecting confidence and intelligence. That helps to create an image. The public is watching and thinking that this person is trustworthy, he is "one of us", and for us, and the message is much more personal.

Another common use is in Video clips. There the artist is much like the politician, he is telling his fans he is their friend, he's there for them, to sing about things they both know of, things they can share (by listening to the artist's album).

Even in commercials, the business woman/house wife can identify with the woman talking to them over the screen, promising that a certain product will make their life a whole lot easier.
That kind of "eye to eye" communication says "I know what you're going through, I'm gong through the same things. Buy this product, BELIEVE ME, it works..." And so on and so on....

And so when a director chooses to use this tool in his project, he must think of the message he wants to bring to the audience, or the kind of feeling he wants to arise in the viewer.
After all, when we talk about a language, in this case a cinematic one, we must think of all the tools we have to make things as clear and believable as possible. Here lies another connection between form and context. Imagine someone who's having a conversation with you. His text is clear and accurate. He knows what he wants to say, and he says it very eloquently. But his body language says nothing. Sometimes it even contradicts the spoken words.
Will you believe this person, or even care to listen to him anymore?

Micha Kovler, Prague, 2001



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