Shot scales in the films of Fritz Lang

Fritz Lang’s career spans both European and Hollywood filmmaking, and the coming of sound cinema. We may ask of Lang’s films which of these changes impacted on his style – if, indeed, they had any impact at all; and this study explores this question by analysing the frequency of shot scales in the films of Lang in two contexts: (1) the frequency of shot scales is analysed by country; and (2), the frequency of shot scales is examined in light of the shift from silent filmmaking to sound.

Methods

Data on shot scales was taken from Barry Salt’s database (Salt n.d.), and was sorted by country of registration (either Germany or the US) and if the film was silent or sound.  Salt defines seven shot scales – big close-up (BCU), close-up (CU), medium close-up (MCU), medium shot (MS), medium long shot (MLS), long shot (LS), and very long shot (VLS) – and this data is normalised to the figure that would have occurred if the film was made up of 500 shots (see Salt 2006).

Statistical analysis

All statistical analyses were carried out using PAST v1.89 for Windows, and the frequency of shot scales in the German and US films was analysed using a Mann-Whitney U test. A two-tailed P-value of less than 0.05 was considered significant.

Results

A total of 22 feature films directed by Fritz Lang were selected from Salt’s database, of which 11 were produced in Germany between 1919 and 1933 (including nine silent films between 1919 and 1928) and 11 were produced in the US between 1936 and 1956 (see Table 1).

Table 1 Sample of films directed by Fritz Lang (n = 22)

table-1

There is a significant difference between the German and US films for the number of close-ups (U = 25.5, P = 0.0235), medium close-ups (U = 3.5, P = 0.0002), medium shots (U = 3, P = 0.0002): the frequency of these shot scales is greater in the US films. There is also a significant difference in the number of long shots (U = 3, P = 0.0002) and very long shots (U = 22.5, P = 0.0138), the frequency of which are greater in the German films. There is no significant difference in the number of big close-ups (U = 54, P = 0.6936) and medium long shots (U = 44.5, P = 0.3088). The differences in sample medians for shot scales are represented in Figure 1. Overall, these results indicate a shift in the style of Lang’s films, with the US films typically using closer framing than the German films.

figure-1

Figure 1 Sample medians for shot scales (normalised per 500 shots) in the films of Fritz Lang by country

In comparing Lang’s silent films (n = 9) with his sound films (n = 13) from the same sample, there are significant differences between the frequency of medium close-ups (U = 14.5, P = 0.0037), medium shots (U = 4, P = 0.0003), and long shots (U = 9, P = 0.0011). The same trend over time that is evident in the shift from Germany to Hollywood is evident, with an increase in the number tighter shots and a decrease in long shots with the transition from silent to sound. In contrast, close-ups (U = 38.5, P = 0.1929) and very long shots (U = 30, P = 0.0615) are not significantly different when Lang’s films are divided into the categories of silent and sound films, while they are significant when divided by country. There are no significant differences in the number of big close-ups (U = 37, P = 0.1608) and medium long shots (U = 55, P = 0.8412), and this is consistent with the results above. Figure 2 presents the differences in sample medians for these categories.

figure-2

Figure 2 Sample medians for shot scales (normalised per 500 shots) in the silent and sound films of Fritz Lang

Discussion

The shift towards tighter framing in Lang’s Hollywood era is consistent with changes in the frequency of shot scales of other filmmakers who have spent part of their career in Europe in the 1920s and 1930s and part in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1960s (Redfern unpublished). This indicates that this change may be a fundamental difference between the industrial contexts of European and Hollywood cinema in terms of shot scales, and the decrease in very long shots and the increase in close-ups support this conclusion. However, for medium close-ups, medium shots, and long shots this argument is less clear cut as the move to tighter framing may also be considered a result of the development of sound film rather than a change in industry. Lang directed only two sound films in Germany before moving to France for Liliom (1934) and then onto Hollywood, and the limited amount of data this affords poses an obstacle in determining whether industry or technology is the decisive factor for this change. A broader study of filmmakers who made a greater number of silent and sound films in Europe and Hollywood (e.g. Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophuls, Ernst Lubitsch, etc.) is needed to explore this issue. Unfortunately, the flow of filmmakers has been in the one direction from East to West, and so identifying American filmmakers who move to Europe at this time and could provide further data for comparison is extremely difficult.

The medium long shot is consistent in all categories and is not a distinctive indicator of film style. This result is consistent with other findings that show medium scale shots can be invariant (Redfern unpublished). Unlike other shot scales that have been subject to critical attention (especially close-ups), the use of medium scale shots (MS, MLS) is at present little understood in film studies and there is no theoretical context in which this result may be interpreted.

The use of BCUs by Lang is also independent of industrial and/or technological contexts but occurs infrequently, and is probably motivated by the specific formal and aesthetic needs of a particular film rather than being an indicator of a particular style.

References

Redfern, N. (unpublished) Cinemetric analysis of shot types in the films of Alfred Hitchcock.

Salt, B. (n.d.) http://www.cinemetrics.lv/saltdb.php, accessed 18 February 2009.

Salt, B. (2006) Moving into Pictures: More on Film History, Style, and Analysis. London: Starwood.

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About Nick Redfern

I graduated from the University of Kent in 1998 with a degree in Film Studies and History, and was awarded an MA by the same institution in 2002. I received my Ph.D. from Manchester Metropolitan University in 2006 for a thesis title 'Regionalism and the Cinema in the United Kingdom, 1992 to 2002.' I have taught at Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire. My research interests include regional film cultures and industries in the United Kingdom; cognition and communication in the cinema; anxiety in contemporary Hollywood cinema; cinemetrics; and film style and film form. My work has been published in Entertext, the International Journal of Regional and Local Studies, the New Review of Film and Television Studies, Cyfrwng: Media Wales Journal, and the Journal of British Cinema and Television.

Posted on March 5, 2009, in Cinemetrics, Fritz Lang. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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