Camera Movement in Narrative Cinema: Towards a Taxonomy of Functions

    Research output: Book/anthology/dissertation/reportPh.D. thesis

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    Just like art historians have focused on e.g. composition or lighting, this dissertation takes a single stylistic parameter as its object of study: camera movement. Within film studies this localized avenue of middle-level research has become increasingly viable under the aegis of a perspective known as ‘the poetics of cinema.’ The dissertation embraces two branches of research within this perspective: stylistics and historical poetics (stylistic history).

    The dissertation takes on three questions in relation to camera movement and is accordingly divided into three major sections. The first section unearths what characterizes the literature on camera movement. The second section of the dissertation delineates the history of camera movement itself within narrative cinema. Several organizational principles subtending the on-screen effect of camera movement are revealed in section two but they are not organized into a coherent framework. This is the task that section three meets in proposing a functional taxonomy for camera movement in narrative cinema. Two presumptions subtend the taxonomy: That camera movement actively contributes to the way in which we understand the sound and images on the screen, and that a given camera movement may activate one or more of the proposed functions at any given moment. Six main functions are proposed and defined:

    1) Orientation: orienting the viewer spatially.
    2) Pacing: contributing to the cinematic rhythm of the film.
    3) Inflection: inflecting shots in a suggestive, commentative or valuative manner.
    4) Focalization: associating the movement of the camera with the viewpoints of characters or entities in the story world.
    5) Reflexive: inviting spectators to engage with the artifice of camera movement.
    6) Abstract: visualizing abstract ideas and concepts.

    In order to illustrate how the functions may mesh in individual camera movements six concrete examples are analyzed.

    The analyses illustrate how the taxonomy presented can substantiate analysis and interpretation of film style. More generally, the dissertation - and particularly these in-depth analyses - illustrates how cinematic poetics and interpretive criticism sensitive to style may gain from each other. There is no reason why stylistically informed interpretive criticism cannot be considered within a functional framework and there is no reason why one should not use a functional taxonomy as a basis on which to launch interpretations of film style. There is a limit to how much one can say about camera movement without a full understanding of the range of functions that they operate within but there is also a limit to how far functional analysis can take us towards establishing the contribution of a particular camera movement.
    Original languageEnglish
    Place of publicationAarhus Universitet
    Number of pages326
    ISBN (Print)87-92052-25-8
    Publication statusPublished - 2007


    • camera movement, style, aesthetics, cinematography, film theory, film history


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