Pudovkin and the Classical Hollywood Tradition
The cinema through camera placement and editing enjoys the power to do so, to give battle to the indifference of the spectator and thus to educate the individual to the nature of this world. Pudovkin
This text by Vance Kepley, Jr. is an analysis of Pudovkin's debt to Hollywood cinema, its vices and influences on him as a filmmaker. I will analyze some of Pudovkin's theories and how they apply to the films we have seen in class, and also criticize some of his narrow minded theories of film production. Pudovkin says, "The filmmaker assumes the responsibility to transform and subdue reality." Therefore he did not have a close communion for the 11 naturalistic" film style, or what we would come to know it today as the documentary. They to him were simply everyday actualities such as Arrival of the Train at La Ciotat (Lumieres 1895). Pudovkin continues to say: "To show something as everyone else sees it is to have accomplished nothing." I hardly think that the Lumiere brothers accomplished nothing. In 1895 this was accomplishing a lot. If the same film were to come out today Pudovkin would be right. A better way to shoot and edit this film today would be like A. Razutis' Lumiere's Train, yet even this film would break a lot of Pudovkin's rules such as continuity editing. There is no invisibility in the cut. There is no story, we are only aware of the mechanics of film and what it is capable off. Art for Pudovkin exists in the difference between "the natural world and its appearance on screen." The film The Birds (Alfred Hitchcock 1963). Here there is a big difference between the natural world and the world that Hitchcock has created in Bodega Bay. We have an almost fanstastique story about birds waging a war against humans. Yet through using classical editing for the everyday story sequences of the film and then to use Eisenstenian montage for the violence Hitchcock was able to create tension and suspense by differentiating these two separate parts of the film by using different editing techniques for different parts of his film. For example a classically edited scene from The Birds would be the meeting between Mitch and Melanie in the pet shop. The conversation is cut as follows: We have an over the shoulder shot of Mitch in the left foreground and Melanie is framed in a medium shot in the background. We then cut to an over the shoulder shot of Melanie in the right foreground and Mitch in a medium shot in the left background. A perfect opposite of the previous shot. The eye line match is flawless. An example of an Eisenstenian montage in The Birds is the children's escape from the Bodega Bay School. The entire sequence is composed on close ups and medium close ups. Hitchcock creates tension through the close up of screaming children; an ~then in a true Eisenstenian style Hitchcock cuts to the running legs of the children. He is interested in the "mechanics" of the moving legs, almost like they were parts of a machine. The following shot suggests graphic montage because we see birds flying in the sky. A direct opposite of the' children's running legs on the ground is: flapping wings in the air. I
Pudovkin also praises the eye line match. Nosferatu (F.W. Mumau, 1922) is not a classically edited film but at times uses classical elements to add to the expressionistic style of the film. For example an eye line match is rare, yet one of the first ones we see in the film is when Nosferatu and the woman sense each other, even though they are continents apart. Nosferatu is looking screen right and his love interest is looking screen left giving us a perfect eye line match. Using classical editing even in a non-classical film can prove useful. Here Murnau has provided the audience with a connection between these two characters. Pudovkin was also for lessening the spectator's labor during the actual viewing experience. He also states that "continuity as the central tenet of his theory and the key to intelligibility in cinema is that continuity is essential and that it must remain at the director's primary concern throughout the filmic process." So a film like Ritual in Transfigured Time (Maya Deren, 1945) to a spectator would be incomprehensible. This film contains abstract emotions so it is normal to see abstract montage. Continuity is not followed; in fact it is so broken that scenes are repeated multiple times symbolizing the character not being able to get out of a trap. Just like in L'annee Demiere a Marienbad (Alain Renais, 1961). We repeatedly see the same scene of men playing cards throughout the film giving us the impression that this couple is frozen in time, doomed to relive the same experiences over and over again. Pudovkin loved the Hollywood stvle of shooting yet he himself would hardly use the establishing shot. For example in Storm Over Asia (Pudovkin, 1928) the establishing shot is used only a few times. When he does give us one it is very flat and unrevealing. For example at one point Pudovkin gives us an establishing shot of the desert. We only see a fragment of an environment; so his establishing shot is almost like a close up; it reveals a very specific detail, yet it gives away nothing at the same time. Pudovkin wants to control what the viewer sees, how much he sees and when. He believed in the linkage of desire (what the viewer needs to see to understand the story). Although Pudovkin preached the classical Hollywood rules he did not adhere to them to the letter himself He often contradicted himself from one essay to another. Yet we have to understand his background, as a scientist and his natural attraction to the Hollywood model since it was so precise, almost like a science itself Yet at least one of his theories apply to any film we see today and all films that we will see tomorrow.