Shot scales in 1920s French cinema

Earlier posts have looked at shot scales in Hollywood and German cinema (here and here), and the films of Max Ophüls (here) and Alfred Hitchcock (here). This post follows those up with a quick look at French cinema of the 1920s using data from Barry Salt’s database (which can be accessed here).

The mean relative frequencies for a sample of 18 silent French films released between 1920 and 1929 (inclusive) are presented in Table 1, and Figure 1 is the rank-frequency plot for this data. The slope of the linear trendline in Figure 1 is -0.0456 (95% CI: -0.0682, -0.0231) and the intercept is 0.3254 (95% CI: 0.2245, 0.4263). From Figure 1 it is clear that this trendline is a poor fit for this data ( = 0.8440, SE = 0.0464). Exponential ( = 0.9580) and logarithmic ( = 0.9685) trendlines give a better fit.

Table 1 The mean relative frequencies of shot scales in French cinema of the 1920s (n = 18)

Figure 1 Rank-frequency plot of shot scales for French cinema of the 1920s (n = 18). The error bars are the 95% confidence interval.

Comparing these results with those of 1920s Hollywood cinema and German cinema (available here), we can see that the poor fit for the linear trendline French cinema is consistent with German films ( = 0.8606, SE = 0.0505) but different from Hollywood cinema ( = 0.9902, SE = 0.0106). Like German cinema of the 1920s, a single shot scale dominates the style of these films while other shot scales occur much less frequently. For German films of the 1920s the mean relative frequency for the first-ranked shot scale is 0.3804 (95% CI: 0.3181, 0.4428) – an estimate that is clearly in line with that of the French films described here. By contrast, the equivalent figure for Hollywood in the 190s is 0.2967 (95% CI: 0.2697, 0.3166). Elsewhere I have argued that the change evident in the rank-frequency plots for Hollywood cinema occurs with the introduction of continuity editing and the change representation of on-screen space in the classical style. We may infer from these results that 1920s French cinema did not break down space in the same way as contemporary Hollywood films, and that they held onto the same pre-classical style as German filmmakers. The dominance of a single scale in French cinema is evident in the summary given in Table 2 and in Figure 2. The long shot is the first-ranked scale in 17 of the 18 films included in the sample; and for the only film where this is not so, the medium long shot is the most frequently occurring. Although Barry Salt’s data on shot scales does include many French films of the 1930s, it covers a narrower range of directors than for the 1920s (which is useful in different ways), and so any analysis for this period will reflect that limitation rather than a broader historical style. We cannot be certain that, as in Germany, the French cinema went over to a classical Hollywood style in the 1930s, but it is worthy of further research. to determine if there is a European-wide lag in the take-up of Hollywood’s style or if this true only for some countries. Interestingly, Hitchcock’s British films of this period are consistent with Hollywood cinema in this respect.

Table 2 The mean relative frequencies of shot scales in French cinema of the 1920s (n = 18)

Figure 2 Normalized sample medians of shot scales in French cinema of the 1920s.

About Nick Redfern

I am an independent academic with over 15 years experience teaching film in higher education in the UK. I have taught film analysis, film industries, film theories, film history, science fiction at Manchester Metropolitan University, the University of Central Lancashire, and Leeds Trinity University, where I was programme leader for film from 2016 to 2020. My research interests include computational film analysis, horror cinema, sound design, science fiction, film trailers, British cinema, and regional film cultures.

Posted on February 17, 2011, in Cinemetrics, Film Analysis, Film Studies, Film Style, French Cinema, German Cinema, Hollywood and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Congratulations, you have discovered what was already obvious just by looking at the Scale of shot graphs of those results of mine that you are using. And indeed I have mentioned those conclusions many times over the decades, in “Film Style and Technology”, and elsewhere. And it is obvious from looking at lots more European films not recorded that the process of adoption of the various features of American continuity cinema was gradual.
    As for statistical treatment, the sample available is too small and too non-random to be worth sophisticated statistical processing, in my opinion.
    Incidentally, Scale of Shot is a continuous variable — since it is the ratio of the height of the shot to the height of an average human figure — and hence the use of histograms rather than bar charts is justified.
    And even more incidentally, I believe the use of confidence intervals in analysing samples of ASLs is unjustified, since nearly all the samples available are definitely non-random.

  1. Pingback: Bioscope Newsreel no. 13 « The Bioscope

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