Author Archives: Nick Redfern

Yet more visual illusions

We haven’t had any visual illusions on this blog for a while, and since the poster recently released for Ram Gopal Varma’s Bhoot Returns depends on a visual illusion this seems as good as time as any.

It’s surprising that more films do not choose to use visual illusions in their marketing materials, but some  nice examples based on Disney films by Rowan Stocks Moore can be found here. The Peter Pan and Snow White posters in particular stand out.

Archimedes Lab has many different illusions and oddities from Gianni Sarcone and Marie Waeber, which  you can access here. There is also a great selection of vintage illusions dating back 2500 years.

The finalists for this year’s Illusion of the Year contest can be found here, with attractive celebrities that turn ugly and a great interactive demonstration of the wagon wheel illusion. There is also an illusion inspired by the infamous twisting neck scene from The Exorcist which you can see below if you’re brave enough. The effect is much more eerie than anything you could do with CGI.

io9 has a dedicated illusions channel, which has lots of different examples of visual illusions and articles covering a range of issues including the art of anamorphic illusions and why our pupils contract when looking at illusions that are not bright lights.

This last example comes from the pages of Akiyoshi Kitaoka, and you can find details of his latest work here.

Finally, a good collection of illusions, including some of those listed above and in my other posts on this topic (here and here), can be found in New Scientist’s ‘Friday Illusion’ column.

Some notes on cinemetrics V

This post addresses some issues raised by Mike Baxter as part of the ‘cinemetrics conversation’ at the Cinemetrics website (and is the post I would have produced last week had I been able to remember which bit of software had the right command to create the necessary graph). You can find an introduction to the conversation here and my first response to some of the issues raised here.

I want to address two issues: first, the nature of outliers in shot length distributions and better methods of representing such distributions than I have used up to now; and, second, the straw-man the median shot length has become in Baxter’s comments.

Baxter’s comments in response to the earlier can be found in the second tab under his name here. In section 2 Baxter questions my use of the term ‘outlier’ and the definition used to identify such shots.  This is fair enough – we wouldn’t get very far if such definitions weren’t questioned. In the examples of Lights of New York and Scarlett Empress, Baxter argues there is no evidence of outliers since

it’s difficult to identify any point at which ‘extremes’ begin, or discontinuities in the distribution of the kind I think are needed to assert, with any confidence, that you are dealing with ‘outliers.’

Baxter never defines what such a discontinuity would look like and so his argument is vague. (Arguably this is the semantic version of a slippery slope).

Figure 1 shows the kernel density and box plot of Lights of New York. There is a 12.2 second gap between the five shots of longest duration and the sixth longest, presumably the sort of discontinuity Baxter refers to and he does concede he might be prepared to accept five shot lengths as extreme values (though he does not say on what basis). From Figure 1 we can see there are in fact several such discontinuities, and that the kernel density is zero at several points in the upper tail (indicating the kernels do not overlap), particularly above 30 seconds (which corresponds to the 22 extreme outliers identified using this type of box plot). However, a limitation of this boxplot is that it does not take into account the skew of the distribution and so over identification of outliers is a problem.

Figure 1 Kernel density and boxplot of shot lengths in Lights of New York (1928)

Figure 2 presents the same data using an adjusted boxplot that takes into account the skewed nature of the data. This method uses the med-couple, a robust measure of skewness, to identify outliers. The adjusted boxplot can be generated using the adjbox() command in the R package robustbase.

The number of outliers in Figure 2 is much less than in the original boxplot: in the upper tail 10 shots greater than 55 seconds are identified as outliers (or 3% of the total).  Nonetheless, there are still some values which are sufficiently removed from the rest of the data to be classed as outliers even when accounting for the asymmetry of the distribution. Whether or not Baxter would accept this definition would depend on the interpretation of his use of the term ‘discontinuity,’ which he does not define.

Surprisingly, this method identifies three outliers in the lower tail of the distribution (which I wasn’t expecting and will have to think about more).

Figure 2 Kernel density and adjusted boxplot of shot lengths in Lights of New York (1928)

The following article describes the adjusted boxplot and its calculation:

Vandervieren E and Hubert M 2008 An adjusted boxplot for skewed distributions, Computational Statistics and Data Analysis 52 (12): 5186-5201. An ungated, earlier version of this paper can be accessed here.

Even if we accept Baxter’s argument that there are no outliers in Lights of New York it remains necessary to be aware of the problems caused by outliers in data sets and to check the distribution of shot lengths so that we  are not be fooled by non-robust statistics. Certainly more effort will have to be devoted to defining what is or is not an outlier (in either statistical or filmic terms) in research if this type. (But it is much easier when you remember which bit of software to use).

Finally, I wish to address a misrepresentation that has taken a hold at this early stage in the ‘cinemetrics conversation.’

Baxter writes

the use of either the ASL or median as the statistic for attempting to summarise ‘style’ doesn’t make much sense (as Salt observes) [original emphasis].

This argument is a straw-man.

I have never stated that the median shot length is the statistic for describing film style. I have argued that the median shot length is better than the mean shot length for describing film style, and should therefore be preferred for the following reasons:

  • the median is conceptually simple and easy to calculate, and is certainly no more difficult than the mean.
  • the median shot length has a clearly defined meaning and the difference between two median shot lengths is also meaningful, whereas the meaning of the mean the difference between two mean shot lengths is not clear in either case (and seem to change every time I raise an objection against them).
  • the median shot length is not affected by a monotone transformation (the median of a data set is the same as the median of the logarithmic transformation of a data set), while the possibilities for confusing the arithmetic and geometric means are endless.
  • the median locates the centre of a distribution irrespective of its shape, whereas this is not true of the mean.
  • the median is not affected by outliers or extreme values (however you choose to define them), whereas this is not true of the mean.
  • interpretations of film style based on the median shot length are consistent with graphical methods and (it turns out) with dominance statistics (Cliff’s d, HLΔ), while those based on the mean shot length are not.

But I have always argued that it is important use a range of statistical methods to get a full understanding of the nature of film style.

As far as I am aware I am the only person writing about film style to even consider the dispersion of shot lengths in a motion picture and the appropriate methods to use this. I am also the only person to use a range of graphical methods (probability plots, boxplots, empirical cumulative distribution functions, kernel densities, order structure matrices, running Mann-Whitney Z statistics, rank-frequency plots) to describe film style. I am the only person in film studies to employ confidence intervals, statistical hypothesis tests, effect sizes, or even to describe the methodologies I use in studying film style. (Others working outside films studies in disciplines where quantitative methods are commonplace also use such tools as a matter of routine, and those within film studies would do well learn by their example).

I am also the only person who has attempted to describe these methods so that others may try to analyse film style for themselves. I am the only person who has brought to the attention of researchers in film studies the availability of free learning resources and software for statistics. I am the only person to look outside film studies for empirical research on film style and to bring it to the attention of film scholars. I am the only person to address the issue of statistical literacy in film studies (here and here).

Baxter writes that

the accessibilty of computational power, and essential simplicity of important statistical ideas (however mathematically complex) is a hobby-horse of sorts.

I am glad to hear this, because it means that if someone else is prepared to devote some time and effort to explaining statistical concepts and methods to film scholars then I won’t have to do it on my own.

However, as Baxter presents the argument I am interested in the median shot length only while Barry Salt apparently does not have a narrow attachment to a particular statistic of film style and embraces a pluralistic approach. However, I am not aware of any forum in which Salt has made any concession to his view that the mean shot length is the only appropriate statistic of film style. In fact, I am unaware of any other statistics of film style used by Salt besides the average shot length and the histogram (while his odd comments on the calculation of kernel density estimates indicates he may not properly understand other methods).

Baxter has his argument back to front here: you won’t find methodological ecumenism in the statistical analysis of film style in the work of Barry Salt.

Cinema and cartography

As a rule I try to keep posts that curate a small set of links to papers on the cinema arising outside film studies to the last Thursday of the month, but we need to bring this one forward by a week to give me time to do some other things for subsequent posts.

More excitingly, it gives me a chance to link my interest in the cinema to my interest in cartography. I am obsessed with maps (and satellite images and aerial photography too), and will quite happily spend hours looking an atlas. They are simply fascinating things. If you want to see map-making at its most fascinating then check out the Warren-Bachelder maps of the battle of Gettysburg here.

The best place to start is this introduction to a special issue of The Cartographic Journal.

Caquard S and Taylor F 2009 What is cinematic cartography?, The Cartographic Journal 46 (1): 5-8.

Maps are ubiquitous in movies. They appear constantly and in a variety of forms: hung on the wall of a classroom, framed in an office, and unfolded by gangsters on a table. In movies maps serve a variety of purposes: They serve as decoration, as a means of location, to aid narration, as metaphors as well as to increase the dramatic tension of a sequence. They can play a prominent role in the unfolding of the action or appear only for a split second behind a closing door. They can serve to address the audience or as a mean of interaction between characters. They can be classic and static, or unique and dynamic. This pervasive presence of diverse cartographic artifacts in films contrasts dramatically with the marginal impact that cinematographic techniques, concepts and artifacts have had on cartography over the course of the last century. There has been substantial use of cartography in cinema but this has had very limited impact on the theory and practice of cartography.

From the same issue we have Sébastien Caquard’s article on digital cartography and its relation to cinema.

Caquard S 2009 Foreshadowing contemporary digital cartography: a historical review of cinematic maps in films, The Cartographic Journal 46 (1): 46-55.

Through an historical review of cinematic maps – or ‘cinemaps’ – this paper argues that contemporary digital cartography was conceptualized in films. This argument is first developed through a discussion of the emergence of animated maps in docudramas of the 1910s. These early cinemaps were followed by more sophisticated examples that foreshadowed the structure and design principles of ‘modern’ cartography. The cinemap that appears in the movie M (Fritz Lang, 1931) can be considered the first ‘modern’ map as it prefigures many of the current functions of contemporary digital cartography such as the combination image/map, use of sound, shifts in perspective and spatial analysis. The remaining functions of digital cartography, including zooming and live data rendering, were conceptualized in cinema by the 1960s, as illustrated by examples from movies such as Casablanca, Dr. Strangelove and Goldfinger. When professional cartographers were creating their first animated maps, most of the functions of contemporary digital cartography had already been implemented in cinema. Building on these results, the paper anticipates the future incursion of mapping technologies into interpersonal, confidential and private spaces through the study of contemporary cinemaps.

From a leter issue in the same volume we also have an interesting dialogue between a catrographer (Caquard) and a filmmaker (Amelia Bryne).

Caquard S and Bryne A 2009 Mapping globalization: a conversation between a filmmaker and a cartographer, The Cartographic Journal 46 (4): 372-378.

This paper is an edited version of a written dialogue that took place between the fall of 2008 and the summer of 2009 between a filmmaker (Amelia Bryne) and a cartographer (Sébastien Caquard) around the issue of representing globalization. In these conversations we define some of the key means for representing globalization in both mapmaking and filmmaking discussing local/global, strategic/tactical, data/narrative, and unique/multiple perspectives. We conclude by emphasizing the potential impact of new media in ushering in hybrid digital products that merge means of representation traditional to filmmaking and cartography.

And now for some other papers:

Barnet M-C 2011 ‘Elles-Ils Islands:’ cartography of lives and deaths by Agnès Varda, L’Esprit Crateur 51 (1): 97-111.

My article will analyze some of [Agnès Varda’s] latest projects, the (nomadic, international) art installations that she invents, modulates, and thoughtfully adapts or alters, according to different spaces and cities. They follow therefore the location-scouting process of her films, driven by discovering places and people. I will focus on her relatively “new waves” and (mis)directions given in L’Île et Elle, her monumental efforts to recreate her world linked to the Île de Noir-moutier, if not to say the big expanse of the Atlantic ocean, around the twenty kilometre-long island, off the Western coast of France, which was her major exhibition at the Fondation Cartier in 2006, with echoes of her touring exhibitions of sea huts and portraits in Sète (2007) and Basel (2010).

Lukinbeal C 2010 Mobilizing the cartographic paradox: tracing the aspect of cartography and prospect of cinema, Digital Thematic Education 11 (2): 1-32.

Understanding the contrast and challenge of cinematic cartographies may lie in querying what John Pickles (2004, p.89) calls the “cartographic paradox.” The cartographic paradox is that linear perspective and projectionism inform cartographic practice. Yet, these two scopic regimes are both complementary and contradictory. The cartographic paradox has been mobilized by montage, animation and motion pictures. The penultimate technology of linear perspective is cinema, whereas the penultimate technology of projectionism is GIS and animated cartography. I argue that understanding the mobilization of these scopic regimes may lead to the production of affective geovisualizations.

Patch AM 2010 Nicolas Roeg/Chromatic Cartography, unpublished Ph.D thesis, University of Exeter.

The aim of this thesis is to analyse the function of colour in film through three films by British director Nicolas Roeg. To this end, this thesis has the following three correspondent aims: first to consider the theoretical relationship between colour and film within film studies as a discipline. Second, to propose a means of discussing film colour outside the dominant approach of restoration and degradation. Third to explore how Roeg’s implements colour within three of his films Performance, Don’t Look Now, and finally Bad Timing, and the ideological and aesthetic questions that emerge through a consideration of colour in these works. By looking at colour and Nicolas Roeg this thesis will not only present a critical response to the research question but it will also fill a small gap in the current dearth of work that exists on both colour and British cinema in the 1970s.

Statistical Resources: Free Statistics Lectures

The truly great thing about the internet is the amount of really good stuff you can get for free, and one of the best things if you want to learn something new is the availability of lectures from universities via media sites. YouTube has a large number of statistics lectures available for you to peruse: searching for “statistics lecture” returns 641 hits, and searching for specific topics in statistics and probability will return much more.

Here is a selection of introductory statistics lectures that are freely available on YouTube that you might want to try if you are interested in applying statistical methods in film studies and don’t have easy access to a statistician.

Possibly the best place to start is Daniel Judge’s Statistics Lecture from the Department of Mathematics at East Los Angeles College. This lecture is clearly delivered and starts with a focus on data. A good feature is that unlike some other available, this lecture is broken up into bite size chunks so its much easier to manage. Subsequent lectures in the series look at describing data numerically and graphically, probability theory, and the normal distribution.

Here’s a great introductory lecture that uses baseball to explain (amongst other things) the difference between parameters and statistics  and samples and populations (which I have commented on elsewhere), and which also explains why a batting average isn’t an average. A common problem in the use of statistics in film studies is that statistical terms are used without any proper understanding of what they mean, and this lecture goes to great lengths to explain what is meant by categorical data or relative frequency.

Math Doctor Bob has a whole series of video lectures available covering a very wide range of topics in mathematics, including statistics and probability. I’ve found his lectures on matrix algebra very useful. This is probably not the place to start if you’re a beginner since the lectures cover specific demonstrations of individual topics and often assume some knowledge of maths but they are very clear and easy to follow. Here is a lecture on how to do a two-tailed hypothesis test.

Finally, here is part 1 of Hans Rosling’s BBC programme The Joy of Stats from the Open University which is worth taking some time to watch (even if you only want to know which part of England had the highest rate of bastardy in 1842). The other parts of the programme can be accessed at the OU’s stats playlist here.

Sequels and remakes in European cinema

In recent years there has been increasing interest in remakes and sequels in the cinema such as Constantine Verevis’s Film Remakes (2006), Anat Zanger’s Film Remakes as Ritual and Disguise: From Carmen to Ripley (2006), and the essays in Andrew Horton and Stuart Y. McDougal’s Play It Again Sam: Retakes on Remakes (1998) and Jennifer Forrest and Leonard R. Koos’s Dead Ringers: The Remake in Theory and Practice (2002) on the one hand and Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s Film Sequels: Theory and Practice from Hollywood to Bollywood (2009) and the essays in Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Constantine Verevis’s Second Takes: Critical Approaches to the Film Sequel (2010). See my earlier post on Hollywood remakes and sequels here.

In this post I look at the number of remakes and sequels to make the top 50 grossing films in France, Germany, and the UK from 2006 to 2010 (see here for a description of the sample).

To take remakes first the first thing we notice is that there are so few of them: seven in Germany, five in France, and nine in the UK. Given that the sample used here covers 250 films over a five-year period, it is clear that remakes constitute only a small proportion of the highest grossing films in these countries. Three action and adventure (AAD) films are common to each country (Casino Royale, Clash of the Titans, and The Karate Kid), while of the comedy (COM) films The Pink Panther features in both Germany and the UK. The Departed made the top 50 in all three countries, while Fun with Dick and Jane achieved a high-ranking in Germany and the UK in the crime and thriller genre (CTH). Only one Fantasy and Science Fiction (FSF) remake made the top 50: the 2008 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still. The 2007 version of Hairspray made the top 50 in the UK. Interestingly, there are no remakes in the drama (DRA) genre. It is notable that these remakes are all Hollywood films. The only remake to make the top 50 in any of these countries that was not a Hollywood film was St. Trinian’s, which ranked in the UK only.

Sequels account for 62 films in the total sample for Germany and the UK, and 54 in France. Figure 1 shows the percentage of sequels in each genre for each country. What is immediately apparent from Figure 1 is that sequels account for a large proportion of film in some genres but not others, and that the proportion of sequels in each genre is similar in each country with the exception of films classed as ‘other’ (OTH).

Figure 1 Percentage of sequels in eight genres in the top 50 grossing films from 2006 to 2010 in three European countries

Sequels account for between 43 and 52 percent of action and adventure films, and these are all Hollywood franchise films (The Dark Knight, Spider-man, Mission Impossible, Die Hard, Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers, etc). Similarly, between 26 and 31 percent of fantasy and science fictions are sequels from Hollywood franchises (Harry Potter, Terminator, The Chronicles of Narnia, etc). Although many of the films in these genres are Hollywood productions produced in Europe (and can thereby classed as some sort of co-production), there are no sequels in the top 50 of these countries that can classed as domestic productions.

Sequels also account for a substantial proportion of family films in these countries (between 26 and 34 percent). In France and Germany this includes some domestically produced films that belong to franchises (e.g. Asterix and Arthur in France and Die Wilden Kerle in Germany), though the majority of the sequels are films from Hollywood series (Garfield, Ice Age, Shrek, Toy Story, Madagascar, etc). In the UK family films that are sequels are all Hollywood films and there are no domestically produced series of family films.

Sequels account for a much smaller percentage of the other genres. Comedy film sequels in Germany and the UK are dominated by Hollywood films, but in France there are some domestically produced sequels (Camping 2, the OSS 117 series). Crime and thriller sequels are all Hollywood films (Ocean’s Thirteen, The Bourne Ultimatum) in each country. The single drama sequel in Germany and the UK is Elizabeth: The Golden Age. The sequels in the romance genre are exclusively Hollywood films (mostly Sex and the City and Twilight films), with the exception of Zweiohrküken in Germany. France has a much smaller percentage of sequels in the ‘other’ genre due to the lack of horror films and dance films. In both Germany and the UK films from the Saw and Final Destination franchises made the top 50, as did films such as Step Up 2 and Step Up 3D.

In summary, remakes comprise only a small proportion of films to make the top 50 in France, Germany, and the UK between 2006 and 2010, while genre is clearly important in understanding the frequency with which sequels occur in these countries. Though there are some remakes and sequels of European origin the overwhelming majority of these films are from Hollywood and this accounts for the consistency of the proportion of films across the different countries. Some European films have produced sequels but many have not and it is a key area of research on this type of film to understand why not. Another question to address is the lack of European remakes: why is that Hollywood is able to remake both its own films as well as films from other countries while European film industries can do neither? It is perhaps the absence of European remakes and sequels that is the most interesting thing about them.

Analysing film style using dominance statistics

UPDATE: An article using the ideas introduced in this post has now been published as Comparing the Shot Length Distributions of Motion Pictures using Dominance Statistics, Empirical Studies of the Arts 32 (2) 2014: 257-273. DOI: 10.2190/EM.32.2.g. It can be found here.

Statistical comparisons of film style have been based on the average shot length (either the mean or the median), so that, for example, given the ASLs of two films the one with the greater average is said to be edited more slowly.

In his first contribution to the Cinemetrics conversation, Mike Baxter argued that in some circumstances neither the mean nor the median were useful statistics of film style. In this post I look at how we might compare the shot length distributions of two films or two groups of films beginning with an average shot length. The methods used are Cliff’s d statistic, which measures the stochastic dominance of one sample over another, and the Hodges-Lehman median difference, which measures the average distance between. Results produced by these methods are then compared to the interpretation of film style using average shot lengths, measures of dispersion, and graphical methods. This will also provide us with an opportunity to consider Baxter’s further claim that it makes little difference which average was used since either would lead to the same interpretation of film style.

Cliff’s d statistic

Cliff (1993, 1996) introduced the stochastic difference

d = P(X >Y) – P(X<Y)

as a nonparametric method of measuring the extent to which two samples (X and Y) overlap. This means we find the probability that an observation in the sample is X is greater than an observation in sample Y, and from this we subtract the probability that an observation in Y is greater than an observation in X. Ties are not included in the calculation. Cliff’s d statistic can be calculated as a linear transformation of the probability of superiority:

d = 2PS – 1

where PS is equal to the Mann-Whitney U test statistic divided by the product of the sample sizes (PS = U/nm) (see Delaney & Vargha 2002). Since PS = P(X > Y) + 0.5P(X = Y), ties are accounted for. The value of d ranges from -1 (when every observation in X is less than every observation in Y) to 1 (when every observation in X is greater than every observation in Y); and stochastic equality occurs at 0 (when there is complete overlap between the distributions).

This statistic has several advantages for comparing two distributions:

  • It is not based on any assumptions about the data
  • it is robust against outliers and unequal variances
  • it is invariant under monotonic transformation
  • it provides a more direct answer to the sort of questions researchers often wish to ask of data: ‘if one’s primary interest is in a quantification of the statement “Xs tend to be higher than Ys,” then [d] provides an unambiguous description of the extent to which this is so’ (Cliff 1996: 125).

The stochastic dominance of one sample over another can be visualised graphically since d measures the extent to which one population distribution lies to the right of another.

Hodges-Lehmann median difference

Although we can use Cliff’s d to discover if the shots in one film tend to be shorter than the shots in another it cannot tell us how much shorter those shots tend be. For this we need another statistic. The Hodges-Lehmann median difference (HLΔ) for two samples is the median of all the pairwise differences between every observation in X and every observation in Y:

HLΔ = med{xiyj}

In other words, subtract the length of every shot in film A from every shot in film B and then find the median of the n × m differences. HLΔ is a measure of the average distance between observations in and X and observations in Y.

Comparing the style of two films

As a first example let’s use the example of Lights of New York and Scarlet Empress I used in my own contribution to the Cinemetrics conversation. Basing our interpretation on the median shot lengths we see that Lights of New York has a median of 5.1 seconds and that Scarlet Empress has a median of 6.5 seconds, indicating that the former is edited more quickly than the latter. In contrast, an interpretation based on the mean shot length implies that both films are cut equally quickly since each film has a mean shot length of 9.9 seconds.

To calculate d we first need to perform the Mann-Whitney U test, which gives us U = 88188, and then we derive the probability of superiority by dividing by the product of the sample sizes (338 and 601):

PS = U/nm = 88188/(338 × 601) = 0.4341.

From this we can calculate the stochastic dominance between the two distributions:

d = 2PS – 1 = (2*0.4341) – 1 = –0.1318.

Therefore, we conclude that shots in Lights of New York tend to be of shorter duration than those of Scarlet Empress. This can be clearly seen in Figure 1, which shows the empirical cumulative distribution functions of the two films.

Figure 1 The empirical cumulative distributions of Lights of New York and Scarlet Empress (KS Test: D = 0.12, p = <0.01)

The function of Scarlet Empress tends to lie to the right of that of Lights of New York indicating that it has shots of longer duration, except for the very upper tail where the presence of a few unusually long takes in Lights of New York, which account for only ~7% of the shots in this film. It is this handful of shots that pulls the mean away from the mass of the data, and if we remove the 24 longest shots from the distribution of Lights of New York we see that the mean shot length falls to 6.4 seconds. This is clearly a very influential group of outliers as just this 7% of the total number of shots leads to a 33% difference in the mean equivalent to a 3.5 second increase. It takes an act of wilful perversity to claim that there are no outliers present in this data, that the mean of not greatly influenced by those outliers, and that the mean shot length is an accurate description of the style of this film.

For these two films HLΔ = -1.0 (95% CI: -1.6, -0.4), which means that on average a shot in Lights of New York is 1 second shorter in duration than a shot in Scarlet Empress.

The interpretation of the difference in the style of these films based on Cliff’s d and HLΔ is consistent with that based on the median shot length but not with the conclusion derived from the mean shot length. The difference in these statistics indicates that far from leading to the same conclusion they lead to contrary and incompatible conclusions, and so Baxter’s argument that the choice of statistic is irrelevant does not hold in this case.

Comparing the style of two groups of films

Comparing the style of two groups of films we use the same methods described above and calculate the pairwise statistics for all the films in both samples. We can then take the median value of the n × m d statistics and of the n × m HLΔ statistics as estimates of the differences of the

To illustrate this I use the example of the Laurel and Hardy short films I discussed in an earlier paper. In this study I compared the median shot lengths of a sample of silent films and a sample of sound films starring Laurel and Hardy produced between 1927 and 1933, and concluded that there was a statistically significant difference between the two samples of medians but that it was a small difference reflecting the continuity of a mode of production, of creative personnel, and of a style of comedy with the introduction of sound technology. The difference in the median shot lengths was estimated to be HLΔ = 0.5 seconds (95% CI: 0.1, 1.1) and PS = 0.2333. (I also compared statistics of the dispersion of shot lengths in these films but I won’t discuss these here).

If this analysis had been conducted using the mean shot length then I would have reached a different conclusion, with HLΔ = 1.5 seconds (95% CI: 0.8, 2.3) and PS = 0.1188. This result would appear to indicate that the introduction of sound technology had a large impact on the style of Laurel and Hardy films and would lead us to conclude there is no continuity from the silent to the sound era. Again, there is a difference in the interpretation of the style of these films indicated by the different statistics: the estimate of the impact of sound technology based on the means is 300% greater than that based on the medians. Again, Baxter’s argument that the choice of statistic does not matter simply doesn’t hold water.

What conclusion do the dominance statistics lead to? As we have a sample of 12 silent films and a sample of 20 sound films we need to perform a total of 12 × 20 = 240 calculations. Table 1 presents the pairwise comparisons for Cliff’s d, while the pairwise HLΔ statistics are in Table 2.

The median of the pairwise Cliff’s d statistics is -0.0957 (95% CI: -0.1192, -0.0723). This indicates that shots in the silent films of Laurel and Hardy tend to be of shorter duration than those of their sound films, and that this effect is relatively small.

Table 1 Pairwise Cliff’s d statistics for silent and sound films of Laurel and Hardy. (This table is very large so click on it to see it full size).

The median of the pairwise HLΔ statistics is 0.4s (95% CI: 0.3, 0.5), which again indicates a significant if small difference between the samples with the shots in the soundtending to be of slightly longer duration on average than those of the silent films.

Table 2 Pairwise HLΔ statistics for silent and sound films of Laurel and Hardy. (This table is very large so click on it to see it full size).

Both these results are consistent with my analysis based on the mean shot length. Neither of these statistics is compatible with the interpretation based on the mean shot lengths.

A problem with applying Cliff’s d and HLΔ in this way is that as the sample sizes grow the number of pairwise comparisons becomes very large. For example, if we wanted to compare the style of two groups of films with 100 films in each sample we would have to perform 100 × 100 comparisons. That’s a total of 10,000 Mann-Whitney U tests, and while we are interested in film style I don’t think we’re that interested. It is here that the consistency of Cliff’s d and HLΔ with the median shot length is valuable. It is quick and easy to perform even a very large number of pairwise comparisons of median shot lengths simply by copying formulas across a range of cells in an Excel spreadsheet, for example. We can use the median shot length in the place of the dominance statistics thereby greatly speeding up the analytical process while allowing us to remain secure in our interpretation of the data. We cannot use the mean shot length in the same way since this method is not consistent with any of the others.


Based on the above discussion we can arrive at the following conclusions:

  • The claim that it does not matter which statistic of film style we use since using either the mean or the median will lead to the same interpretation is clearly not true and the choice of statistic will affect the size of any effect. In turn, this will have a direct impact on our conclusions about the nature of film style.
  • We can analyse the style of films using dominance statistics that do not require any average shot length. Cliff’s d and HLΔ are. The meaning and interpretation of these statistics may correspond more closely to questions we wish to ask of film style than using average shot lengths (though we still need descriptive statistics and graphs to provide information about the shot length distribution).
  • It may not be practical to use dominance statistics for comparing large samples of films due to the very large number of pairwise comparisons required. Mike Baxter indicated that an average shot length could be thought of as a ‘proxy statistic’ of film style, and the median shot length can certainly be used in this sense by virtue of its consistency with Cliff’s d and HLΔ.
  • The mean shot length is not robust in the presence of outliers and leads to fundamentally flawed interpretations of film style. It is not consistent with either  Cliff’s d or HLΔ, and cannot be used to answer the question ‘do the shots in film A tend to be longer than the shots in film B.’


Cliff N 1993 Dominance statistics: ordinal analyses to answer ordinal questions, Psychological Bulletin 114 (3): 494-509.

Cliff N 1996 Ordinal Methods for Behavioural Data Analysis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Inc.

Delaney HD and Vargha A 2002 Comparing several robust tests of stochastic equality with ordinally scaled variables and small to moderate sample sizes, Psychological Methods 7 (4): 485-503.

Research on slasher films

Across a number of posts I have looked at the editing style of some slasher films (see here for example), and there is a large amount of research freely available on this most disreputable of genres. This research comes in many forms from to studies of narrative structure and representation to economic analyses of the place of the slasher film in the film industry to sociological research on the perception of violent and sexual scenes. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that the slasher film is one of the most extensively studied genres in the cinema, and so this week I collect some articles on this topic. I do limit my selections to slasher films proper and I do not include so-called ‘torture porn’ films because while I love slasher movies and their dreadful sequels I can’t stand films like Hostel or Saw.

Christensen K 2011 The final girl versus Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street: proposing a stronger model of feminism in slasher horror cinema, Studies in Popular Culture 34 (1): 23-47.

This study will first provide background on the Final Girl, as well as other elements of Clover’s work on gender in slasher horror (namely, the masculine killer, the “Terrible Place,” and the phallic weaponry of the films). Then this study will seek to revise two possible misconceptions about the Final Girl and the slasher genre. The first misconception is that the Final Girl is inherently a feminist figure. The second misconception, which will be challenged in the bulk of this study, is that Laurie Strode, the Final Girl of John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), is the superlative model of feminism in the slasher genre; instead, this study will detail why Nancy Thompson, the Final Girl of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, is the stronger model of feminism in classical slasher horror cinema.

Lizardi R 2010 ‘Re-imaging’ hegemony and misogyny in the contemporary slasher film remake, Journal of Popular Television and Film 38 (3): 113-121.

Recently, cinema has been inundated with 1970s/1980s ‘slasher’ horror canon ‘re-imaginings,’ such as Halloween (2007). Comparing remakes to original, the texts allegorically address contemporary concerns and power structures. Cultural implications of slasher remakes include hyperemphasis of the originals’ hegemony and misogyny. Ironically, the remakes contain optimistic endings, pointing to hegemonic, misogynistic futures.

Murphy J 2012 Re-Presenting Fear: The Slasher Remake as Cumulative Hypertext, MA Thesis, University of Otago.

This thesis argues that the slasher remake functions as a cumulative hypertext, incorporating content not only from the original film, but also the many sequels and intertexts that exist between original and remake. In doing so, it expands analyses of the film remake beyond issues of fidelity to the original, and shows that sequels and intertexts are a crucial consideration when analysing remakes of franchise or previously adapted films.

The first chapter surveys the slasher sub-genre’s history and place within genre theory (with specific reference to theories of horror), highlighting the fact that the implication of sequels, cycles and series for genre theory, and subsequently, the remaking of genre films, is an area which has been commonly overlooked. The second chapter looks at the history of remake studies, and uses Robert Stam’s concept of the cumulative hypertext (drawn from Gerard Genette’s work on intertextuality) as a theoretical framework within which to consider how the slasher remake draws content from each slasher franchise’s sequels and intertexts, as well as the original film. The third and fourth chapters analyse three slasher remakes, Halloween (2007), Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010) in terms of how they have retained and adapted content from the original franchise, in order to affirm and explicate their function as cumulative hypertext.

Nolan JM and Ryan GW 2000 Fear and loathing at the Cineplex: gender differences in descriptions and perceptions of slasher films, Sex Roles 42 (1-2): 39-56.

This study investigates gender-specific descriptions and perceptions of slasher films. Sixty American undergraduate and graduate students, 30 males and 30 females, were asked to recount in a written survey the details of the most memorable slasher film they remember watching, and to describe the emotional reactions evoked by that film. A text analysis approach was used to examine and interpret informant responses. Males recall a high percentage of descriptive images associated with what is called “rural terror,” a concept tied to fear of strangers and rural places, while females display greater fear of “family terror,” including the themes of betrayed intimacy and spiritual possession. It is found that females report a higher level and a greater number of fear reactions than males, who report more anger and frustration responses. Gender-specific fears as personalized through slasher film recall are discussed with relation to socialization practices and power-control theory.

Sopolksy BS, Molitor F, and Luque S 2003 Sex and violence in slasher films: re-examining the assumptions, Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly 80 (1): 28-38.

A content analysis of popular 1990s slasher films found such films contain more acts of violence than similar films from the 1980s. Recent slasher films rarely mix scenes of sex and violence. This finding calls into question claims that slasher films portray eroticized violence that may blunt males’ emotional reactions to film violence. Slasher films feature males more often as victims of violence. However, the ratio of female victims is higher in slasher films than in commercially successful action-adventure films of the 1990s. Finally, females are shown in fear for longer periods of time.

Welsh A 2009 Sex and violence in the slasher horror film: a content analysis of gender differences in the depiction of violence, Journal of Criminal Justice and Popular Culture 16 (1):

The slasher horror film has been the subject of frequent criticism based on the assumption that female characters in these films are more likely to be the victims of serious, graphic violence that is juxtaposed with explicit sexual imagery. The purpose of this study was to address limitations inherent in previous analyses of slasher films and examine whether gender differences exist in the nature of violent presentations. A content analysis of several indicators of violent and sexual content was conducted using a random sample of 50 slasher films that were released in North America between 1960 and 2007. Findings suggested that there are several significant gender differences in the nature of violent presentations found in slasher films. In general, female characters were more likely to be victims of less serious and graphic forms of violence, but were also significantly more likely to be victimized in scenes involving a concomitant presentation of sex and violence.

The Cinemetrics Conversation I

Over the past few months Yuri Tsivian at the Cinemetrics Database has been organizing myself and various other people interested in statistics into producing some short (and some long) pieces on this topic. (No mean task on his part I think you’ll agree). From this week they have started to appear on the Cinemetrics website, and you can access them here. I reproduce Yuri’s introduction to the area below so you can get an inkling of what has been going on.

This conversation brings together statistical scientists and scholars that study film. What gathers us are two things. First, we are driven by mutual curiosity about cinemetrics as a field. What can numbers tell us about films and how do films fit in with what we know about numbers? Another thing we hope to find out has to do with Cinemetrics as a site. What variables should Cinemetrics make available to its users and which statistical tools need to be added to Cinemetrics labs? We plan to tackle these questions in a series of notes posted here starting from now through spring 2013.

Let me start off by introducing the team. My name is Yuri Tsivian, I study film, teach it at the University of Chicago and, in tandem with computer scientist Gunars Civjans, run the site that hosts this conversation. Beside me are two film scholars, Barry Salt of London Film School who pioneered the discipline of film statistics in 1974 and whose personal database and multiple essays are found elsewhere on this website, and Nick Redfern whose own website features over 50 cinemetrics studies and reflections. On the other side are two academic statisticians, Mike Baxter of Nottingham Trent University who has been publishing in statistical archaeology and quantitative geography since late 1970s and whose more recent interest in film statistics resulted in 3 essays on the subject, and Vanja Dukic of the University of Colorado at Boulder who happened to be around when Cinemetrics was born in 2005 and to whose expertise this site owes its first statistical steps.

The way I would like this conversation to evolve is round by round. To give it a sense (or semblance) of direction I will start each round by posing a question about this or that aspect of statistical films studies which our four experts might use as a starting point. Here is an approximate plot which is quite likely to change as new questions arise in the course of the conversation.  My first question (of which more later) is about the role of ASLs, medians and outliers. This subject may well lead us to questions about log-normality tests which will ring in the second round. We may go on from there to the 3rd question which would relate to whether parametric or non-parametric statistics works better for films. The 4rth question might be about autocorrelation or other possible methods to establish cases in which shots tend to cluster, and if there is periodicity to this.  We may then want to discuss the uses of descriptive, inferential and experimental statistics in film studies; I would also be interested in learning more about best ways to establish possible correlations between different variables of film style. We might then go on to the question of how to visualize data, for instance, whether old good bar plots work well enough to represent the shot scale profile of a motion picture. Again, all this is just a scheme which we may either flesh out or send the way of all flesh.

So head on over there to find out what is going on. There will soon be comments boxes appended to the essays so you can join in the process.

The most important American film of the past four decades

The internet is of course a wonderful resource for researcher, providing access to an astonishing array of information. It is also a rabbit hole down which you can disappear for days on end following something that catches your eye. Consequently, this week’s post has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what I intended to write about. Instead, I found Loren Carprenter’s Vol Libre (1980) on vimeo and have spent the past week reading about CGI, animation, and fractal geometry. This film marks the birth of CGI rendering in Hollywood filmmaking making it possibly the most influential American film since Bonnie and Clyde (1967) kicked the New Hollywood and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) changed the way movies are released.

Mathematicians often produce images and even films to illustrate principles and demonstrate what maths can do. Benoit Mandelbrot (1988: 8) discusses making films based on fractal processes as early as 1972; while Richard F. Voss was one of the pioneers of fractal imagery based on his work on 1/f noise (which James Cutting and colleagues have discussed at length in his research on attention and editing in Hollywood cinema).

At the time of Vol Libre Carpenter was employed by Boeing but after premiering the film at a SIGGRAPH conference went to Lucasfilm to work on the ‘Genesis’ sequences for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, eventually becoming one of the co-founders of Pixar Animation Studios and its chief scientist. In an article for The College Mathematics Journal in 1984 Carpenter described creating fractal images for cinema:

The method I use is recursive subdivision, and it has a lot of advantages for the applications that we are dealing with here; that is, extreme perspective, dynamic motion, local control – if I want to put a house over here, I can do it. The subdivision process involves a recursive breaking-up of large triangles into smaller triangles. We can adjust the fineness of the precision that we use. For example, in ‘Star Trek,’ the images were not computed to as fine a resolution as possible because it is an animated sequence and things are going by quickly. You can see little triangles if you look carefully, but most people never saw them.

Loren Carpenter, along with Ed Catmull and Rob Cook, was awarded an Oscar for developing digital rendering systems in 2000.

Vol Libre does not appear very often in the film studies literature even though there are a lot of books on digital cinema. Stephen Prince discusses Vol Libre in Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality (see pages 22-23 and 54-55); and Issac Victor Kerklow mentions it in The Art of 3D Computer Animation and Effects (pages 16-17). A search on Google scholar for “Vol Libre” brings up many articles on digital imagery and the history of computing but nothing from films studies, although Tim Lenoir (2000) mentions Vol Libre in passing in an article on new media in Configurations. This raises the possibility that many film scholar are unaware of and have not seen this important film.

Fortunately, there are many useful resources available.

An article on Pixar, including a discussion on Carpenter’s work, by Tekla S. Perry can be found here.

Two papers co-authored by Carpenter can be found at the Pixar on-line library here.

An interview with Carpenter can be found at Vimeo here.


Kerklow IV 2004 The Art of 3D Computer Animation and Effects, third edition. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

Lenoir T 2000 All but war is simulation: the military-entertainment complex, Configurations 8 (3): 289-335.

Mandelbrot BB 1988 People and events behind The Science of Fractal Images, in H-O Pietgen and D Saupe (eds.) The Science of Fractal Images. New York: Springer: 1-19.

Prince S 2011 Digital Visual Effects in Cinema: The Seduction of Reality. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Research blogging in film studies

Earlier this year Catherine Grant asked me to write a piece on blogging and film studies for the first issue of a new on-line journal at the University of St. Andrews, Frames. Along with thirty-eight other academics I was asked to comment on how blogging related to the things I am interested in about the cinema and how it shaped what I do. This week I cross-post my article which was published on Monday. You can find the table of contents of the Issue 1 of Frames here, where you will discover all manner of things by people like Kristin Thompson, Adrian Martin, Pam Cook, Glen W. Norton, Adelheid Heftberger, and far too many others to list covering a range of subjects from fair use and the internet to film archives to video essays.

A couple of other things to note:

Luke McKernan of the British Library and The Bioscope (which puts all other film blogs in the shade) recently discussed why he writes a cinema blog in a post titled ‘So, how has the digital revolution been for you,’ which you can access here.

An article in recent issue of MedieKultur has also looked at the use of blogs in research, and I include the English abstract here though the article itself is in Danish.

Dalsgarrd C 2011 Mellem det personlige og det faglige – om forskerblogs [Between personal and professional – on research blogs] MedieKultur 27 (51): 146-168.

Based on an empirical study of 31 Danish research blogs, the article provides an analysis of personal publication on the Web. The blog is conceptualised as a media form characterised by personal publication through dated entries, continuous updates, reverse chronological order and the possibility of subscription. The study shows that Danish research blogs are characterised by serious, professional and personal publications. In particular, entries combining personal and professional content characterise the research blog and set it apart from other forms of publication. Further, the study shows that the researchers blog in different ways ranging from short, link-based entries to journalistic entries and to long, academic presentations. The article concludes that communication in research blogs can supplement traditional forms of communication and exchange between researchers.


I began writing my weekly blog Research into Film in February 2009, largely out of frustration with film studies in general, and with publication processes in the discipline in particular. The study of film is a fascinating and diverse subject that includes analyses of film industries and technologies, textual analysis of films, ethnographic analyses of audiences and film consumption, and cognitive-psychological research into how we watch and experience films. Naturally, such a varied field requires a wide range of approaches and methodologies and it is the opportunity to engage with all these different aspects of the cinema that attracts me to research in this area. I am much less interested in Film Studies, which I find to be a narrower subject, with journals publishing research limited in both format and subject matter, which fails to reflect the true scope of the discipline.

My dissatisfaction derives principally from the limited range of research in film journals I encounter, and my blog is a response to these problems. In my discussion below I set out some of the advantages of research blogging in film studies in overcoming the narrow range of research in film studies in three areas: the ability to support a wider range of research, the ability to distribute research better, and to overcome problems of access and peer-review.

1. Blogging supports a wider range of research than film studies journals

The major change in film studies publishing over the past decade has been the increase in the number of journals devoted to the subject. Although the proliferation of journals produces more research, that research is not necessarily of higher quality or more pioneering in its use of methods. Nor does it cover a more diverse range of topics. There is little distinction to be made between print and online journals, since the latter seem intent on emulating the former in the pursuit of status rather than being truly innovative publishers. Nor has there been any reduction in the cost of print journals, which remain prohibitively and unnecessarily expensive.

The expansion in the number of journals has not lead to an expansion in the types of research published, and, in my opinion, there are now too many journals that are too similar to one another. Film journals publish a narrow range of research forms, dominated by interpretative essays around 6000 words in length, and are characterised by a performative dimension in which they are little more than platforms for scholars to show off their work. There is very limited scope (if any) for publishing opinion pieces, shorter empirical studies, reviews of research, and methodological articles.

The lack of variety in research outputs constrains the type of work possible in film studies. The majority of film journals are unable to cope with new or different approaches to research, even if those approaches are elementary and routine in other disciplines. For example, it is incredibly difficult to get papers using statistical methods accepted into peer-review processes in film studies journals, let alone accepted for publication. On several occasions I have had research rejected on the grounds that it is not worth progressing to peer-review because the readership will not be able to understand the methods employed. This is not a healthy state of affairs. The most important quality of any academic journal is originality, and a film journal should be ahead of its readers with a mission to bring them interesting and challenging research. The unwillingness of the major journals in film studies to fulfil this role is symptomatic of the comfort-zone into which film studies has retreated now that it has become ensconced in academia. I, for one, am unhappy that research is potentially being kept from me because someone else thinks I might not be au fait with some method or topic. I would much rather be able to decide for myself.

The principal advantage of research blogging is that there is no limit on the kinds of work I can publish. I can publish work of any length, ranging from just a few hundred to several thousand words, depending on the needs of my subject matter and how I want to write about it. I can write about theory or produce empirical research, mixing different types of writing from formal research to journalist-style reports or personal recollections. I can express opinions about film policy, the state of film studies, or the relationship of film studies to media studies; or I can discuss research methodologies relating to statistical practice, modelling narrative logic and viewers’ beliefs, and the practicalities of genre research. I am bound by nothing more than my own desire to study film in any way that captures my imagination. The freedom of a blog is its greatest virtue for the researcher encouraging the ‘many-sided thinking’ that is better able to reflect the true scope of the discipline and the different types of research needed to explore such a varied field. This freedom extends to the reader whose exploration of film studies is not limited by the apparent low opinion of their readers held by journal editors. Blogs published either by individual researchers or hosted by universities or research centres are increasingly the first place of publication for new research, and so, not only can the reader find a wider range of research, they can access it long before it reaches the pages of a journal and for no cost.

2. Blogging fulfils a curatorial role in disseminating research

Catherine Grant has demonstrated with Film Studies for Free that a blog is the best method for collecting and disseminating research within film studies. Indeed, this is the original purpose of a web log. It is also the best method for bringing research produced outside film studies to the attention of film scholars. There is a great deal of research on the economics, psychology, sociology of the cinema that never makes its way into film studies. This has two consequences: first, much valuable research that could enhance our understanding of the cinema is overlooked; and second, film studies articles tend to be homogenous, presenting the same arguments supported by the same references, and do not reflect the true diversity of the subject. This includes research in economics, management, geography, neuroscience, physiology, communication studies, and marketing that falls within the ‘study of film’ but typically not within research in ‘film studies’.

One area in particular that has been overlooked is multimedia analysis. Since the early-1990s the need to manage sizeable databases of video material has produced a large body of research on summarising and indexing multimedia content that has direct relevance to film studies. On the one hand this research produced new methods and technologies for analysing films in terms of their editing, camera movement, use of colour, staging and framing, and sound. The use of statistical models in particular could have led to substantive advances in this research area in film studies. At the same time, attempts to create video indexing systems have required an understanding of the relationship between the attributes of films (i.e. its content and style) and the responses of viewers, and has focussed on the relationship between form and content (the ‘semantic gap’) and form and emotion (the ‘affective gap’). For example, Hanjalic (2006) provides an interesting overview of affective content analysis discussing the relationship between the extracted formal attributes of multimedia texts and the emotion-based terms used by viewers in selecting films, going on to illustrate how this can form a basis for enhancing recommendation algorithms used by video-on-demand companies in reaching their customers. Multimedia analysis thus combines formal analysis with attempts to model film spectatorship and links these to the economics and technologies of media companies.

This research also brings fresh eyes to old topics in film studies, as we can see in Brett Adams (2003) discussion of denotation and connotation in the production of meaning or in Chita Dorai and Svetha Venkatesh’s (2001) model of how relationships between primitive-level stylistic attributes create high-level semantic constructs. Though it may use methods utterly alien to film studies, this research clearly falls within the scope of the study of film and can make a substantial contribution to film studies. At present this is a valuable body of research ignored by film studies, and is even overlooked by cognitive film theorists.

One of the objectives behind Research into Film is to make this research available to film scholars who would not, as a matter of course, think to look in journals such as Multimedia Tools and Applications, IEEE Transactions on Multimedia, or IEEE Signal Processing Magazine. The vast majority of this research is available on the Internet, had anyone the time to look for it. It is a great failing of film studies that there is no systematic collection and distribution of this research and that it is left to individual bloggers to fill this gap. A more systematic, and better publicised, approach would make a substantial difference to the range and quality of research in film studies. We would be in a far better position to make advances in our understanding of the cinema if journals were amenable to accepting review articles of relevant research from outside film studies.

3. Blogging promotes better access and is more transparent than traditional journals

Social media threatens the role of traditional, offline, or subscription only journals. Their audience of these latter is limited by their very high price, and restricted availability, and also by their leaden-footed production processes based on peer-review practices that are obscure and very often of poor quality (even for the most respected of journals).

This can have a negative impact on the contribution of research beyond academia. In October 2011 I attended a symposium on research and policymaking for film in the UK. I’ve blogged about it at length, but one key point was repeated by several delegates: the time scales of academia are out of synch with the demands of industry and government, and the slowness of the publication process is a contributing factor to this. Academics need to publish research in respected journals in order to obtain employment, promotion, and status. Furthermore, it is now incumbent upon researchers in the UK when applying for research grants to demonstrate the public (i.e. economic) benefit of their research. But the ability of researchers to participate in a policymaking process is determined, in part, by the timeliness of our contribution, and the lengthy time lag between submission and publication of research can preclude the effectiveness of any intervention. Film journals are good places to discuss the history of film policy, but they are unable to play an active part in policymaking processes.

With a blog I can communicate with an audience quickly and directly, at a publishing cost to me of zero and in a form that is accessible to my readers for the same price. Crucially, a blog encourages participation in what is happening now, as well as being a forum for distributing longer-term research. It is a particular advantage of a blog that it is flexible with regard to a number of time domains — the ‘here and now’ and the ‘then’ — while journals are restricted to looking backwards. For example, my article on regional and global film production in the UK (Redfern 2010) was rendered obsolete days after publication by the announcement of the abolition of the UK Film Council. But by then, the draft version of that article on my blog had been available to read for over a year. The journal article goes on my CV, but it is the blog post that is distributed and discussed.

Blogs are an intermediate research forum – they are both personal to the author and publically accessible, existing somewhere between a first draft and the finished article. We should encourage such forums beyond blogging, too, as a means of rapid communication. For example, the Globalization and World Cities Research Network, hosted by Loughborough University, promotes rapid access to publication/submission versions of original research by allowing researchers to post their work on a website. This network does not replace academic journals but it solves many of the problems of too rapid ‘research obsolescence’, encountered in conventional publishing, that I outlined above. It allows researchers to move forward with research while gaining recognition for their work. While not actually a blog, this network formalises many of the attractive features of blogging (variety, curation, access, openness), and should serve as a model for developing and distributing research in film studies.

At the same time intermediate forums encourage a more open, flexible, and rapid peer review process while also allowing for post-publication peer-review. The peer-review process across all academic disciplines has been much criticised of late, and needs to be refreshed with the introduction of new ideas. In 2011 the U.K. House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology reported that,

despite the many criticisms and the little solid evidence on the efficacy of pre-publication editorial peer review, it is considered by many as important and not something that can be dispensed with. There are, however, many ways in which current pre-publication peer-review practices can and should be improved and optimised … Innovative approaches – such as the use of pre-print servers, open peer review, increased transparency and online repository-style journals – should be explored …

Much of this is fundamental to research blogging, and traditional academic publishers could learn a great deal from how bloggers go about publishing their research in an open and transparent manner that invites interaction, rather than the secrecy of blind peer-review with its potential for bias and conformity.

For example, it may be desirable for all research in film studies to be published alongside the comments of the peer-reviews. I have discussed the peer-reviews received for my research on my blog, both to illustrate the flaws in the process as well as to engage more deeply with issues raised by reviewers that I think are worth reflecting upon. Methods like these could make a substantial difference to the way in which the reader understands the quality of a piece of research, and are only possible through an online presence, such as a blog.

It may surprise the reader to find that I do not advocate abandoning academic journals altogether. Blogs are not a substitute for existing publication routes in film studies. But it is to be hoped that the impact of research blogging will lead to a transformation of the publication process in academia by speeding up their production process, adopting new forms of peer-review, promoting access, and reducing their prices. (1)

Research blogging certainly allows me the freedom to find what is interesting to me. It allows me to carry out original research without worrying about the limitations and demands of more traditional forms of scholarship, ones that do not necessarily coincide with what is good for research in film studies; to produce different types of research that engage with topics and use methods hitherto ignored within film studies; to reach a far larger audience than is possible with more traditional formats; and to do this in a way that allows the reader to share in those same freedoms. Sometimes it feels as if you are putting in a lot of effort for little reward. There is as yet no real recognition of blogging in professional, or research assessment, frameworks. And just because you write something doesn’t mean anyone will read it. (2) Of course, no one is (or should be) obliged to read your blog; from a distance, you may appear to others simply to be shouting into the wind. But this is true of most research, and of most journals. Research blogging is just more a liberating way of doing what we do anyway.


(1) Some interesting examples of how this may come about – including blogging – are discussed in Jaschik (2012).

(2) Arguably the most important piece I have published looked at the distribution of Arts and Humanities Research Council funding in film and television studies from 2003 to 2008 and the sudden drop in the proportion of female postgraduates receiving research grants in 2007 and 2008. No one, however, has chosen to comment on this still unexplained fact.


Addams B 2003 Where does computational media aesthetics fit?, IEEE Multimedia 10 (2): 18-27.

Dorai C and Venkatesh S 2001 Bridging the semantic gap in content management systems: computational media aesthetics, in C Dorai and S Venkatesh (eds) Media Computing: Computational Media Aesthetics. (Norwell, MA: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 1-9).

Hanjalic A 2006 Extracting moods from pictures and sounds, IEEE Signal Processing Magazine 23 (2): 90-100.

Jaschik S 2012 Kill peer review or reform it? Times Higher Education 9 January 2012.

Redfern N 2010 Connecting the Regional and the Global in the UK Film Industry, Transnational Cinemas 1 (2): 145-160.

Science and Technology Select Committee Peer-review in Scientific Publications, HC 2010-2012, HC856i.