Introduction to Film
Paper Assignment #2: Cinematography

English 2450/Communications 2010, section 5
Steven Shaviro
Paper due on Wednesday, October 19, 2011.

"The pictures they make these days are all MTV. Cut, cut, cut. The opening shot of Touch of Evil was six and a half minutes long... He set up the whole picture with that one tracking shot... I hate all this 'Cut, cut, cut!'"

You will be watching the 8-minute-long sequence shot that opens Robert Altman's film The Player (1992). In this single long take, the camera roves through the parking lot (and some of the offices) of a Hollywood studio, following different groups of people engaged in different sorts of conversations. In a sort of self-referential joke, one of the conversations in fact involves a discussion of the difference between the sequence shots of Touch of Evil and other older films, and the "MTV" style of heavily edited film footage ("cut, cut, cut") that became popular in the 1980s and 1990s (and is still very common today). Altman starts his film with precisely the sort of bravura cinematography that his characters say isn't being done any more.

Your task is to describe and analyze Altman's cinematography in this scenes. Be sure to take into account both framing and camera movement. Consider the movement (and also, at times, the stillness) of the camera. How are the characters framed, and how are they are placed in relation to one another? How does the camera move between different groups of characters? What sort of space does the camera explore, and what do we learn about this space? How does Altman's cinematography relate to the conversations between the characters that we overhear in the course of the sequence? Everybody is talking, in one way or another, about movies and the movie industry. What sort of characteristics of movie-making are discussed? What impressions do we get of the Hollywood movie industry?

After you have described the scene, consider what is gained by shooting it in one continuous take, as a sequence shot. How would the impression be different if Altman had broken up the sequence in a more conventional manner, with multiple shots, cuts from one character to another, alternations between close-ups and longer shots, and so on? What sort of impression is conveyed by the sequence shot, that could not have been conveyed any other way?

The film clip is available for viewing here:
If the video clip does not stream, you may need to download it to your hard drive first, and then watch it. If you cannot view the clip in your computer's regular video program, you should try watching it with the program VLC Media Player (available for download at: