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Watching you watch There Will Be Blood
February 14, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

"The result is almost unprecedented in film studies, I think: an effort to test a critic’s analysis against measurable effects of a movie." - Watching You Watch There Will Be Blood

Tim Smith's blog, "Continuity Boy". Via Roger Ebert.
posted by brundlefly (41 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite

 
Cognitive theory. Boo.
posted by Menomena at 3:25 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I TOTALLY NOTICED 7 CONTINUITY ERRORS WHAT DO I WIN
posted by nathancaswell at 3:27 PM on February 14, 2011


I TOTALLY NOTICED 7 CONTINUITY ERRORS WHAT DO I WIN

Everything.

Wait, no, the opposite.
posted by kmz at 3:29 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Excellent article, thanks.
posted by mek at 3:33 PM on February 14, 2011


I'd like to see this done with some of Michael Bay's movies, because I never have any idea where I'm supposed to be looking for most of his action sequences.

You could probably rig up a pretty fun test with any given Russ Meyer film as well.
posted by Strange Interlude at 3:35 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Some of these people are moths.
posted by rog at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2011


Continuity is boring.
posted by koeselitz at 3:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is interesting, however. Heh.
posted by koeselitz at 3:40 PM on February 14, 2011


This just sets the stage for my forthcoming paper "watching you watching me watch watching you." Groundbreaking.
posted by shothotbot at 3:43 PM on February 14, 2011


I will say, however: the notion that you can "test" a critic's impression of a film by taking the aggregate of where peoples' eyes focus throughout is quite interesting. I am looking through this, but I don't see anywhere in this very intriguing discussion where he mentions this point. Is the purpose of a film critic to predict an audience's response?
posted by koeselitz at 3:43 PM on February 14, 2011


Menomena: "Cognitive theory. Boo"

Keep me out of this, thanks.
posted by boo_radley at 3:53 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I always feel happier about my own fuck-ups (in film and elsewhere) when I see a boom mic bobbing in the corner of the frame, in something that actually had a budget and professional crew. So far:

- Atom Egoyan's Speaking Parts
- this one episode of Gilmore Girls
posted by Beardman at 4:01 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I've just spent three months in an edit suite on a job. Believe me, after that I see nothing but continuity errors.

That said, the other day we flipped a scene (left to right) to make it flow better. The one downside is that an actor now has an earring in the wrong ear, but I'd rather have one person notice than the whole audience feel that the scene wasn't quite working.

It's also worth noting that sometimes the best trick you have in the edit is to play with the way people read a frame. For example, in the great film Wait Unitl Dark, there's a great scene where the blind Audrey Hepburn has killed the intruder. She gets to her feet but she's framed bottom left, leaving the centre and all the right side of frame empty, and as a viewer you just know, you feel that something has to fill that space, and sure enough it does because she didn't kill the intruder...

That's when editing is fun.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:02 PM on February 14, 2011 [13 favorites]


On average, each fixation is about 300 milliseconds in duration. (A millisecond is a thousandth of a second.) Amazingly, that means that each fixation of the fovea lasts only about 1/3 of a second.

SCIENCE!
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:04 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


This is awesome.

(Somewhat related: We comic book folk have a theory that some people just don't know HOW to read comic books and strips, as they may never have acquired the tools. It fascinating to track where your eyes flow when reading comics, and the real masters of the craft make reading comics effortless and almost intuitive. Or something. I'm not a scientist, just a comic book seller.)

Anyway, great post. Thanks!
posted by Ron Thanagar at 4:13 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


That said, the other day we flipped a scene (left to right) to make it flow better.

A lot of times I'll flop a shot for some reason or another and the shot will suddenly feel wrong. Everything about it should work but it doesn't. I've always assumed it's cause in the west we read left to right and therefore like our information to be presented that way.

I've often wondered how action/screen direction read to Israeli viewers. I think action almost always flows better left to right, and heavily weighted compositions generally feel better weighted left rather than right. OTS right shoulder (back of head and neck on left) feels OK but OTS left shoulder (back of head and neck on right) feels weird. A cursury Google search seems to show most of the image results are over the right shoulder.

Also I feel like I notice a lot of symmetric composition in Japanese films which would support this theory. Could be confirmation bias though.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:19 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Watching me watch "There Will Be Blood" would have been either entertaining, or incredibly boring.

I don't smoke cigars because I can't think of anything I like to do for more than 20 minutes at a time. I watch movies in this manner. One 40 minute TV show can take me days to watch.

Sometimes it's because I am bored. Othertimes it's because I get completely overwhelmed. Like books I usually have half a dozen movies or shows going at any given time. One fight scene in "Deadwood" took me three attempts to watch. If you know "Deadwood" you probably know the scene. Anyway, I found "There Will Be Blood" to be oddly paced. For a movie spanning decades it seemed to move along at a fairly good clip. I did fairly well with this movie, clear up until Daniel Day Lewis got old. Then I felt like I should start it over, since I'd obviously stopped it too many times. Then he's beating someone to death and screaming about a milkshake. Oh yeah, and then credits.

I felt cheated.

"No Country for Old Men" took me a month to watch. I liked them both, have no intention of seeing either again.
posted by cjorgensen at 4:27 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like how sometimes the viewers are looking off into the spaces between the characters. I suppose the eye wanders around a bit in scenes to take it all in. But introduce an attactive woman into a scene and I'm guessing the results would be different.
posted by Rashomon at 4:32 PM on February 14, 2011


But introduce an attactive woman into a scene and I'm guessing the results would be different.

Did you notice what happened when he sits down and they reveal that there is another character in the scene? Awesome.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:35 PM on February 14, 2011


Oh, and to ciderwoman's point about the conspicuously empty frame, well made horror films do this a lot... David Lynch absolutely crushes this technique. There are like 5-6 shots in Mulholland Drive I can think of just off the top of my head where he follows a character in an oddly framed OTS shot and you just know that something scary is going to fill the space. Then nothing does and the tension just builds up in you for later. I would LOVE to watch this technology on a well-crafted horror/suspense film like Alien.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:39 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I like how sometimes the viewers are looking off into the spaces between the characters. I suppose the eye wanders around a bit in scenes to take it all in. But introduce an attactive woman into a scene and I'm guessing the results would be different.

Or a gorilla.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:39 PM on February 14, 2011


This just sets the stage for my forthcoming paper "watching you watching me watch watching you."

Ah-haa.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


nathancaswell, we flipped the shot because I find it's good to mix up the angles, if you keep coming in on the same angle it can feel dull and repetitive so changing the angle here makes it feel fresh and gives the whole scene more impetus than it had before. Variety, rather than just right to left, is key, I feel.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:40 PM on February 14, 2011


... and you're right about horror films in general using this technique, it's a winner. Another great example is in the opening of American Werewolf, where the main character falls, which you think is the big shock, but when his friend bends in to pick him up you know that wasn't it.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:42 PM on February 14, 2011


This might work as a kind of dailies for editors. They finish a long editing session, then go home to sleep. When they come in the next morning they see how fresh viewers, as opposed to themselves who have over-saturated on the material, read the scene.

I did some work analyzing the "talking presidents" sequences from Forrest Gump for LucasFillm, and there was a weird effect that the first time you saw them, they looked slightly "wrong," but with each repeated viewing they looked more and more "right," and it was impossible to retrieve the original "wrong" impression. Something like this could maybe guard against that.
posted by StickyCarpet at 5:10 PM on February 14, 2011


I can't find the scene I really want (where the body gets discovered) but this terrifying scene in Mulholland Drive uses a weighted 2 shot that leads into the 2 empty POVs, then third time's the charm. I want to see the gaze data on this!
posted by nathancaswell at 5:12 PM on February 14, 2011


"There was this table with beer bottles and some dishes and an ashtray on it, and we had shot the scene from one side and were going to shoot it from the other side when [Director Yasujiro] Ozu came up and began shifting the objects around. I was so shocked that I said that if he did that he would create a bad break in continuity, that everyone would notice that the beer bottles were not on the right and the ashtray on the left. He stopped, looked at me, and said: 'Continuity? Oh, that. No, you're wrong. People never notice things like that – and this way it makes a much better composition.' And he was right, of course. People don't. When I saw the rushes I didn't notice anything wrong with those scenes."
– Masahiro Shinoda, assistant director on Late Autumn [1960]

posted by koeselitz at 5:16 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Funny, Ozu is exactly who I was thinking about when I said the thing about Japanese symmetrical/balanced compositions. Tokyo Story in particular.
posted by nathancaswell at 5:19 PM on February 14, 2011


Yeah, I was thinking about him even before you made that comment, but he is the king of balanced composition.
posted by koeselitz at 5:23 PM on February 14, 2011


People aren't symmetrical, perfectly, anyway. How can you get away with flipping a scene? Something will always feel off in it.
posted by maxwelton at 5:33 PM on February 14, 2011


Cognitive theory makes me yawn so hard. In some ways it can be illuminating, like when experimental films are self-reflexive about the cognitive processes involved in watching films (e.g. Brakhage and many others) but most of the time, and especially when the big draw is "ooh look at how our minds work!" I really don't understand the appeal of this type of research. Especially when cognitive theorists, many like Bordwell do, go far too deep into it and are all like "yeah. This is what film studies is all ABOUT!" And it's like oh my god, no, thank GOD it's not all about that, because then the seventh art would be the most boring thing on the planet.
Mostly, I find this kind of stuff really simplistic and it relies far too much on cognitive psychology to make very simple points (and I say this as someone who studied psychology and find it really interesting in general). I have to run off to V-Day dinner but I'll post some links to other spectatorship theories later, for those who want to expand their horizons on this stuff...
posted by Menomena at 6:03 PM on February 14, 2011


People aren't symmetrical

Film actors are selected for symmetry. A college friend, who did not look abnormal, had an asymmetrical face. Several times when someone was driving and caught a glimpse of him in the rear-view mirror, they would gasp/scream. He would say, "Yeah, that happens all the time, no one can recognize me in a mirror."
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:26 PM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Somewhat related: We comic book folk have a theory that some people just don't know HOW to read comic books and strips, as they may never have acquired the tools.

This is very interesting to me as someone who frequently finishes reading a page of a graphic novel and, after fully taking it in, I realize that I've read frames in the wrong order, and the correct order is suddenly apparent. After this I always have a little moment of "Well, it certainly wasn't obvious from the placement.."
posted by odinsdream at 7:21 PM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


Watching me watch "There Will Be Blood" would have been either entertaining, or incredibly boring.

Watching me watch There Will Be Blood would've involved an hour of me wincing every time the score kicked in and then another hour-plus of looking off the the side, wondering how many people I'd stumble over if I finally just walked out.
posted by kittyprecious at 7:47 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


So did they get this idea from watching people watch "2 girls 1 cup"?

If so, then "I knew it. All your film studies people are frauds. You just like to watch tv and not read books".
posted by hal_c_on at 7:55 PM on February 14, 2011


I can't think of anything I like to do for more than 20 minutes at a time.

Don't miss Tarkovsky night at our place.
posted by ovvl at 8:00 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah with me they would have recorded some napping and a little hollering to my partner in the other room that no, it was not over yet, there will be boredom.

Cognitive science is cool but it's super nerdy and appeals to only people who really know enough about it and care enough to get into it. Lots of psychology is this way.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:20 AM on February 15, 2011


People aren't symmetrical, perfectly, anyway. How can you get away with flipping a scene? Something will always feel off in it.
posted by maxwelton


Oh you'd be surprised. If you didn't know you would never guess.
posted by ciderwoman at 4:41 AM on February 15, 2011


People aren't symmetrical, perfectly, anyway. How can you get away with flipping a scene? Something will always feel off in it.

Parts of Star Wars are flipped for this reason. Nearly half of Titanic was flipped. It was cheaper to build only one side of the ship and wear reversed costumes half the time.
posted by odinsdream at 5:11 AM on February 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


This is very interesting to me as someone who frequently finishes reading a page of a graphic novel and, after fully taking it in, I realize that I've read frames in the wrong order, and the correct order is suddenly apparent. After this I always have a little moment of "Well, it certainly wasn't obvious from the placement.."
posted by odinsdream


That could also be the poor storytelling skills of the artist. There are some comic book artists who are just REALLY HARD to read, and I tend to avoid their work. As a long-time fan, I can almost feel my eyes dancing across a well-designed and absorbing page, delightedly finding details as the story progresses... those moments are magic, and what I love about comic books. (Sorry to all for the OT.)
posted by Ron Thanagar at 1:44 PM on February 15, 2011


It's really sad how many people in this thread didn't read past the first paragraph. It's an amazing article that has nothing to do with continuity.
posted by DU at 7:16 AM on February 16, 2011


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