Shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema, 1910 to 1939

This week’s post presents a first draft of a piece on shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema from the 1910s to the 1930s. The methods applied have been discussed on this blog before, but this paper presents a more systematic use of a regression than has previously been the case. The file is available as a pdf here: Nick Redfern – Shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema, 1910 to 1939, and the abstract is presented below.

Shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema, 1910 to 1939

Statistical analysis is an important part of an inductive programme of research into film style enabling large groups of films to be analysed, identifying key trends, and identifying changes in film style between groups of films from different countries and time periods. In this paper, the use of shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema between 1910 and 1939 is analysed using linear regression of rank-frequency plots and nonparametric analysis of variance. The results show that Hollywood and German cinema underwent a similar change in the use of shot scales but that this change occurred at different times. The shift from a non-linear to a linear distribution of mean relative frequencies and the increased use of close-ups and medium close-ups for Hollywood cinema in the 1920s may be explained by formal and stylistic changes as the ‘classical’ Hollywood cinema superseded a more ‘primitive’ style, with the analysis of space through continuity editing replacing the distant framing and staging of an earlier film style. A similar change occurs in the style of German films but not until the 1930s, and this supports the argument that the development of film style in German cinema was influenced by that of Hollywood.

The results of this paper demonstrate what a simple and effective method the use of linear regression of rank-frequency plots can be: changes in film style over time and differences in nation style between Hollywood and German cinema were identified precisley where historical research said they should be.

I still haven’t solved the problem of the most consistent model from a nonlinear distribution of the mean relative frequencies of shot scales. One possibility suggested by the results presented here is that different models may work for different periods or groups of films.

One of the things I’m most concerned with here is analysing groups of films. Film scholars tend to focus on individual films (in the way literary scholars or art historians focus on individual paintings). This is fine but I think it is a limiting approach if not accompanied by the analysis of large groups of films, and statistics can make this process much quicker and easier by identifying patterns of film style. In the words of André Bazin from (‘La politique des auteurs’):

The American cinema is a classical art, but why not then admire in it what is most admirable, i.e. not only the talent of the this or that filmmaker, but the genius of the system, the richness of its ever-vigorous tradition, and its fertility when it comes into contact with new elements …

The same also goes for German cinema.

Feel free to point out any typing errors (I am the world’s worst typist).

Any suggestions on further research or where to get this published are also welcome.

UPDATE (5/10/2010): This file has been updated to correct a really obvious error in the presentation of the results, but is otherwise unchanged.

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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 August 27, 2009, in Cinemetrics, Film History, Film Studies, Film Style, Film Theory, German Cinema, Hollywood and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. One important typo I noticed is at the bottom of page 8, where you have “… the influence of American films of German films…”. One of those ofs has to be an on, and which one it is is important. I can’t spend time to check what Saunders is saying, but I expect you can deal with it.
    I am unhappy about the way you present your subject, because it gives the impression that David Bordwell thought of my research programme, which was consciously undertaken by me in the early ‘seventies, and its nature was described by me at the time. Bordwell had no interest in these things till I started to publish my results. And neither did anyone else. I didn’t use the phrase “research programme”, as I felt that would be too pretentious, but that is what it clearly was.
    And you don’t make it clear that I was the first person to note that the “Americanization” programme that the Germans were consciously undertaking in the middle ‘twenties was manifest in the Scale of Shot results that you are using.

  2. Oh, and my research is not “inductive”, it is “hypothetico-deductive”, like most scientific research. It follows the general basic nature of scientific research in starting with a hypothesis (or “conjecture”, if you want to be Popperian about it), and then sees how this fits with the data. My initial basic hypothesis was that at least some directors have individual styles, and that these could be recognized from the filmic variables that film-makers more or less consciously control. And there are other subsidiary hypotheses that arise and are tested along the way, and maybe discarded, such as my conjecture that in all successful commercial pictures the cutting rate would speed up between the first half and the second half. Which was mistaken.
    Curiously, Cinemetrics seems to be mostly inductive in its practice so far. The data is piled up, and then regularities are sought, without having much idea about what they might be.

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