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/
It’s sad that my first post of the year is a reflection on the passing of two of the most important artists of their generation: the cinematographers Haskell Wexler who passed on December 27, 2015 and Vilmos Zsigmond who passed on New Year’s Day.
The annals of art history will not mention these men , because cinematography is not considered an art form, and even cinema is omitted from due consideration of 20th century art. However if you look at their work, it soon becomes obvious that their mastery of storytelling through light shade and tone is as powerful as anything mastered by Rubens or Vermeer.
I was at Camerimage (in Łódź, Poland) in 2008 when Vilmos Zsigmond was an honoured guest, attending the screening of the fine film No Subtitles Necessary: Laszlo & Vilmos (2008) by James Chressanthis. The film tells the story of Zsigmond and his friend Laszlo Kovacs, the two Hungarian film students who fled the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary, ending up in the USA where they began their careers and changed film history. Their contribution of the look of cinema is immeasurable.
I had the honour to briefly meet Vilmos Zsigmond at the festival and I can say that he was absolutely lovely.
Film’s achievement is normally credited to the director, but it is a mistake to disregard the camera, since it is the camera alone which makes it a movie. How the camera reveals the image is key to what creates a powerful and memorable film moment.
‘bruise coloured sky’ Łódź, Poland digital photograph, ©Gillian McIver2008