Essential Viewing: Forget 3D, Have a Look at 6D
The movie industry’s fickleness with its multi-billion dollar attempts at innovation couldn’t be more different than the simple wonders of an astonishing fan video.
In his latest Noisemaker column, filmmaker and Keyframe regular Alejandro Adams speculated on the probable abandonment of 3D theatrical projection by the film industry, just as he and other moviegoers have come around to embrace the technology. It seems that a mere few years after the likes of James Cameron and Jeffrey Katzenberg declared that 3D would revolutionize (if not save) the movie theater business, the industry is willing to pull stakes on the grand 3D venture before both filmmakers and audiences, in Adams’ words, “have exhausted its potential for movie-going magic.”
The movie industry’s fickleness with its multi-billion dollar attempts at innovation, as reported by Adams, entered my mind while watching an astonishing video I found on Vimeo. Aitor Gametxo, a 22 year-old film studies graduate in Barcelona, took the entirety of D.W. Griffith’s seminal short film The Sunbeam and rearranged the footage according to the physical location of each shot, all taking place in a single house. The results reveal that Griffith shot the entire short using five camera setups, which Gametxo arranges according to their proximity to each other within the house; he includes a sixth space for the intertitles. Behold, a movie viewed simultaneously in six dimensions of space, all unfolding in real time:
When I asked Gametxo what gave him the inspiration to make this video, he replied:
When I saw for the first time The Sunbeam I realised that the whole clip was edited in a non-linear way. Griffith started a new way of making films, based in sequences, and I wanted to “deconstruct” (analyse and discern) this effect.I decided to make a variation in real time action of this classic work, so that we were able to appreciate what happened in that moment without any mediator.
The result is a new way of looking, not just at this film, but at films in general. Imagine this multi-dimensional, real-time approach being applied to footage from other films, as a way of not just mapping out scenes in a movie, but also gaining insight into filmmaking technique. (I’m already pondering what other films I’d want to give the “6D” treatment). By my count, Griffith’s original has 76 shots in its 15 minute run time; in Gametxo’s remix, multiple shots play at once, bringing the run time down to 10 minutes; but what’s truly remarkable is that it has no more than 35 shots, over 40 less than the Griffith version, even though it uses all of the original footage!
What accounts for the disparity? Gametxo’s version removes all of the intercutting between scenes found in Griffith’s original, re-establishing the real-time, uncut completeness of single shots. The disparity makes Griffith’s intercutting (a technique he pioneered and that we now take for granted) all the more remarkable in that he could turn 35 shots into 76, using his cuts to connect different spaces, while also establishing a brisk narrative rhythm to keep the viewer engaged.
WATCH THE SUNBEAM ON FANDOR:
Gametxo’s video defines the remix video at its best: illuminating the qualities of its source while adding new pleasures and insights. I especially love the 1:10 mark in Gametxo’s video, when mischievous kids tie together two doorknobs, and we see the comic results in a way that is completely different than how Griffith depicted the scene using his non-linear approach.
But to bring this back to Adams’ critique of the movie industry and their noncommittal stance towards 3D, I see a vivid contrast in that a film student editing found footage on a home computer can open our eyes to a new way of making and looking at films that’s just as resourceful and illuminating as all that expensive technology. Maybe those industry naysayers have a point after all: how can they compete when movie watchers have the means to create and innovate without them? (This, incidentally, is a point made by another Noisemaker column by Adams.) As Gametxo puts it, “We are able, as human beings and as “creators” to take this material which is unnconected to us and remodel it, so that another art piece or work is born.”
I found Gametxo’s Sunbeam video on the Audiovisualcy channel on Vimeo, a curated repository for creative critical video content on film and visual media. Also watch Gametxo’s remix of a scene from the Million Dollar Weekend into an amusingly absurdist conversation. More videos can be found on Gametxo’s Vimeo page. Gametxo’s blog http://aitorgametxo.blogspot.com/
Learn more about D.W. Griffith’s legendary impact on film editing in this Keyframe video essay.
Addendum: Curious to learn if work similar to Gametxo’s video had been done before, I asked film scholar David Bordwell, proprietor of the indispensable blog Observations on film art, if he knew of predecessors. His reply:
Several Griffith Biograph films survive only in a form that is like the one Gametxo made: ie, all shots from the same camera setup are bunched together. The Biograph company sent the footage out this way to the U.S. Copyright Office, before final cutting was done. I think a lot of scholars who’ve analyzed Griffith have dismantled his finished films in similar fashion, though usually just by taking stills.
In addition, I once knew a filmmaker who did this for the Odessa Steps sequence in Battleship Potemkin. That was a much tougher job! He also recut the footage so that all the shots at the same time of day were put together (judged by the length of the shadows)!
Finally, I’ve done something like this in analyses of Ozu and Mizoguchi films, but only with stills. It allowed me to gauge slight changes of setup, something that Ozu loved to try. In my book Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema (now downloadable for free) , have a look at the shots from his films A Mother Should Be Loved and A Hen in the Wind. My book Figures Traced in Light does this with some Mizoguchi silent films, in which the intertitles break up shots from the same setup. There I wanted to show that Mizoguchi was using long takes even when he didn’t have sound.
Kevin B. Lee is the Editor of Keyframe on Fandor. Follow him on Twitter.
WATCH FILMS OF D.W. GRIFFITH ON FANDOR