Change is not one outside but inside our mind

Unlike Baudry’s article which felt to fly far over my head upon reading it, but makes quite a bit more sense after our class dissection of it, I thoroughly enjoyed Hugo Münsterberg’s “Why We Go to the Movies”. It was interesting to read how the photoplay emerged from stage performances and became its own entity.  At first thought, I found an incredible amount of similarity between theater and the “mere imitation of the theater” (movies) but reading farther into Münsterberg’s discussion the differences and the reasons behind the differences became clear. Unlike a live production, Münsterberg explains that “moving pictures allow a rapidity in the change of scenes which no stage manager could imagine.” After a certain point, the stage becomes limited while the ability of film can stretch much farther. A relatable example Münsterberg uses is the effects needed to portray a believable fairy-tale and an illusion of magic. While it is clumsy and unbelievable on stage, in a film we have the ability to see a “man transformed into a beast and the flower into a girl” and accept it as simply part of that world.

I found an important quote to be on page 14: “The stage can give us only changes in the outer world; but if we suddenly neglect everything in the room and look only at the hand which carries the dagger, the change is not one outside but inside our mind. It is a turning of our attention. We withdraw our attention from all which is unimportant and concentrate it on that one point on which the action is focussed.” While viewing “La Nuit Américaine” (or “Day For Night”), directed by Francios Truffaut, I noticed this came into play.  One of the first images of the film was a panning shot showing a small park with people of all ages wandering around. The shot is continuous and speeds up and slows down depending on what the camera is focussing on. While the shot pans it is difficult to find a central focal point, but as it slows and falls in motion with Alphonse (Jean-Pierre Léaud), it is comfortable to focus on his actions and ponder about his intentions. This is an example of the concentration that Münsterberg describes in the above quote, even though the article was written in 1915 and the film premiered in 1973.

This “crowd scene” was especially impactful on me because once the scene was complete we heard the director’s voice. Then the same scene was shown again but this time there was a voice overlay by the director telling actors where to go and what to do. Finally, the scene was shot for a third time but this time we are witnessing it from above and the audience is able to see the film equipment around the scene used for shooting. The assumption by Münsterberg gave an interesting lead to a few paragraphs explaining how the human mind works and how memory can be paralleled in film. Story lines overlap and actions, thoughts, and events, both past and present, jump around each other in random order, mimicking our natural mental play. Many films, including “La Nuit Américaine” popped into my head upon reading this.

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