… what writers can glean from cinematographers …

Like writers, filmmakers manipulate time. They take a story apart and re-assemble it.

Robert Bresson, inquisitor and humanist, stimulated filmmakers and enriched the experience ofrobert-bresson2 viewers. With a tiny leap of the imagination his ‘Notes on the Cinematographer,’ publ. by Quartet Books in 1986, transl. from the French by Jonathan Griffin, also offer inspiration to writers of stories. Here are a few  brief notes I collated during my vocational film degree in the early 90s:

An image is transformed by contact with other images as is a colour by contact with other colours. A blue is not the same blue besides a green, a yellow, a red. No art is without transformation.

For the writer – this would apply to action and reaction, resonance or dissonance, anything that develops the dynamic interactions of a narrative.

img108 adjustedTo create is not to deform or invent persons or things. It is to tie new relationships between persons and things which are, and as they are.

This equally holds for writing. Characters discover themselves through relationships.

Something that failed can, if you change its place, be a thing that has come off.

If a writer’s darling idea distracts in one place, in another place it may earn its stay.

One dismantles and puts together till one gets intensity.

This reminds me of a Goethe quote … Dich im Unendlichen zu finden, must unterscheiden und verbinden … To find yourself in infinity you must differentiate and combine … Details works best if they have a purpose in the protagonist’s quest, especially when it comes to turning points.

An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.

This is what creativity is all about. Entrepreneurs seem to grok this.

What is for the eye must not duplicate what is for the ear (within.)

This serves as a reminder not to overwhelm a reader with sensual information.

The cause which makes him/her say this sentence or makes that movement is not in him/her, it is in you. The causes are not in the models. On the stage and in films the actor must make us believe that the cause is in him.

A one-up on the ‘show don’t tell’ writing mantra. Both telling and showing have their place, though we connect to a character more intimately through being shown the interactions with him/her self and others.

The omnipotence of rhythms – nothing is durable but what is caught up in rhythms.

We love rhythm. It measures time and gives coherence, while a counter rhythm can surprise and quicken our heartbeat. In film as in writing this might be the repetition of quirky character traits, tone of voice, tempo, mood, atmosphere, or reoccurring shifts in style and perspective, in the way we enjoy how adagio and presto in music enhance each other.

P1090890 - Copy (2)Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing.

This ventures into the domain of poetry …  the ongoing challenge to find ways to express in words or images what rushes past us in daily life, but nevertheless affects us deeply.

The eye is (in general) superficial, the ear profound and inventive. A locomotive whistle imprints in us a whole railway station.

This is about trusting the imagination of the viewer, or reader.

Let the cause follow the effect, not accompany it or precede it.

Robert Bresson shares: The other day I was walking through the gardens by Notre-Dame and saw approaching a man whose eyes caught something behind me, which I could not see: at once they lit up. If, at the same time I saw the man, I had perceived the young woman and the child towards whom he now begun running, that happy face of his would not have struck me so; indeed I might not have noticed it.

Build your film on white, on silence and on stillness.

Profound. Allowing a unique story to emerge requires intuition, and an inner kind of listening.

*     *     *

A touching interview of R Bresson. And some video clips relating to cinema, including hand gestures R Bresson used in film.

As writers, how do we move a story from one setting to another?

In film, a sudden jump of scene is kind of lazy, unless intended to shock. In writing, too, there are more elegant ways to transit from one place, or time, to another, mainly through matching parallels or correspondences. This could be: A keyword in a dialogue repeated in the next scene, or a similar action, direction of movement, speed, light, colour, shape, sound or mood. It could also be an artificial device, featuring a narrator, or a recurring (out of time) interlude which can form the spine for the narrative.

I have time-jumps in my novels (yet to be publishend.) It remains to be seen whether they work.

Regarding spatial/temporal suspensions of linearity, I remember the beginning of the film Space Odyssey 2001. A victorious ape, having discovered a bone can be a weapon, spins his tool high into the air … time leaps … and next we see a spinning space station, shaped like the femur bone.

More recent, in the TV series The Last King – 1st episode, a time leap works well … The Saxon boy, Uhtred, captured by Danes and taken under the wings of Earl Ragnar, is pushed by him playfully into a river with the words ‘You’re as a son to me.’ In the next scene Uhtred steps out of the river as a grown man, albeit with conflicting localities.

*    *    *

On a personal note, as my life’s narrative is concerned, having made professional sacrifices ten years ago, in order to write, I wish I could shift to a scene and time that did not involve worrying about keeping my roof over my head.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “… what writers can glean from cinematographers …

  1. Reblogged this on philipparees and commented:
    Very insightful points from a one time cinematographer turned writer. Especially likes the image of the train whistle to convey all that train, plus station, plus a journey would do for vision- relatively superficial. The one thing that both book or film lack is the deepest evocation and the most ephemeral- smell.

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s interesting to me, that when I think of the atmosphere in a particular place I lived in as a child, the smell of cinnamon becomes almost palpable. Seems if one sense is strong enough it tends to evoke others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think smell and the reptilian experience lies in the deepest of memory which is why the other senses invariably follow, built around it, later. The smell of a certain brand of floor polish summons up not only those school corridors but a sense of fear that I now recognise was always there but so constant it was like a second skin. Revisiting it is terrifying and I wondered that I survived such constant apprehension!

        Liked by 2 people

        • Huh. Some smells can make us feel physically sick, often by association.

          One I remember is a kind of desinfectant polish encountered first in a Swiss hotel my parents took me too, high up on a mountain. Then there is the sweet and cloying smell of so-called air fresheners in some care homes I visited during my stint at Social Services.
          Among the scents that lifts my spirit are the ones of rosmary and oregano warmed by the sun on Mediterranian islands.

          Liked by 2 people

  2. Reblogged this very insightful post!

    Like

  3. Wonderful insights here thanks so much Ashen. It is poetry in my view and inspiring that a writer can look at his/her craft in the highlighted ways you say e.g. ‘Translate the invisible wind by the water it sculpts in passing’. They’re all gems actually.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ah, thanks Jooe. New Yorker doesn’t give me the whole ’cause I’m not a subscriber. Must find the read though. Fascinating.

    Like

  5. Excellent, insightful post. Sharing.

    Like

  6. Lee Coleman

    Hi Ashen

    I have been meaning to tell you how much I enjoyed this post. I found it particularly rich and full of significance. Thank you!

    Lee-Hye

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 1 person

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