I wrote this a few years ago and I haven’t changed my mind.
Today is Armistice Day, also known as Remembrance Day, and it is the day which was set aside on the memory of those who died in the first world war. It is also used to honor those who died in the second world war and subsequent wars, because unfortunately, WW1 led fairly directly to these other wars. The first world war was a dreadful imperialist war that not only that ravaged the northern European landscape, and destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives, but also dragged huge numbers of people from around the colonial empires into the fray where they lost their lives. If we can concede that the Europeans who fought in the war perhaps did so to defend their home soil, which is understandable, we cannot see the sacrifice of the lives of the colonized is anything but a dreadful, pointless, meaningless and utterly cruel waste.
When we think…
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I was watching Intolerance and noticing how Griffith shot so much of the film using differently shaped frames. The normally-rectangular frame is masked and the frame becomes circular, triangular etc. Also sometimes Griffith uses dramatic lighting to create a frame. It’s quite dramatic and effective.
So I got to wondering exactly what is behind the iconic shapes that we respond to when we are composing a film frame: the rectangle, the circle, the triangle and so on. And why are diagonals “dynamic”?
Composition books don’t tell you the “why”, but I’ve been interested for a while in the idea of “sacred geometry;” this suggests some possible answers. I got interested in it when I read about the relationships between mathematics, optics and alchemy (developed well in Laura Snyder’s book “Eye of the Beholder.“)
“Sacred geometry” today sometimes seems to belong to the “New Age” tendency, and is rarely discussed in relation to art and never in relation to cinema. yet it has a long and very signficant history. It certainly goes back to ancient time, the Egyptians and the Greeks and others, and was also referred to in the Renaissance by da Vinci, Kepler and others.
Deleuze also talks about Griffith’s geometry, noting how “a very fine image in Griffith’s Intolerance cuts the screen along a vertical which corresponds to a wall of the ramparts of Babylon; whilst on the right one sees the king advancing on a higher horizontal, a high walk on the ramparts; on the left the chariots enter and leave, on the lower horizontal, through the gates of the city.” but he doesn’t offer any insight as to WHY these verticals and horizontals affect us.
Watching Intolerance the other day made me realise that perhaps it’s necessary for film studies to investigate and think about how geometry and the symbols it connotes pervade our visual culture and how they are employed in cinema without our being aware of it.
SACRED GEOMETRY BY MIRANDA LUNDY
A CLEAR AND PRACTICAL GUIDE
[this blog post is part of my think-process as I develop my current research proejct “Between Realism and the Sublime: History in Cinema and Painting” and follows on form my recent book Art History for Filmmakers (Bloomsbury 2016)]
Skinner, Stephen (2009). Sacred Geometry: Deciphering the Code. Sterling.
Hi everyone. If you are in London, come down to the Hackney Attic on August 28 at 7.30 pm. TAKING OVER THE KING’S LAND is screening at the Hackney Attic Film Festival alongside several other fine films in the Documentary Shorts programme. It will be a great evening! Best of all, it’s FREE!
Tickets bookable here: https://www.facebook.com/events/1256360871050516/