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Movie Terminology Definitions

Guest Author - Karen L Hardison

Much of filmmaking jargon is useless for the casual movie goer but a few concepts are actually useful to know and enhance your movie viewing enjoyment. For instance, the direction of the lines on the blanket that Eddie (Keanu Reeves) wraps Lilly (Rachel Weisz) in subconsciously relieves tension so you feel in your bones that the calamity will turn out all right. Knowing some of the following terms and their concepts will give you insider information.

DIRECT SOUND - Direct sound is recorded on set or on site while the action is taking place. The opposite of this is Dubbed Sound, which is recorded after the fact back at the studio. Dubbing is technically done in the same way as sound for animated movie, i.e., the actor watches the cartoon or film play and meticulously as an after-effect does the precise thing he or she did originally on set or on site. The first film ever to use direct sound was a Bing Crosby film called Riding High, co-staring Coleen Gray. Riding High isn't a musical movie but "spontaneous" songs play a large part in it, including "Sunshine Cake." It was a bold move to debut direct sound in a movie with "spontaneous," a capella, life-moment inspired songs.

DISSOLVE - A dissolve, short for overlap dissolve, is an editorial transition that fades one scene slowly into another, as opposed to changing scenes by way of a clean "cut." Fading one scene into the next in a dissolve is used to indicated passage of time. A "transformational dissolve," a specific type of overlap dissolve, is used to show relationships between characters or events.

FRAME - The term "frame" has two meanings. In the simple context it means the individual stills that comprise a motion picture film, like the strip of picture negatives you get back after having the film developed into pictures. The other meaning of "frame," used in the participle forms of "framed" or "framing," relates to a psychological concept used in filmmaking that adds to tension and suspense. The framing of a shot can be "open" or "closed." A shot with open framing includes views that are psychologically open, for example, windows with curtains blowing in the breeze, fields of sunflowers in bloom basking in the sun. The subconscious psychological impact of open framing is a sense of freedom and forward motion. The relevance of this is that as a viewer, when you see open framing you sense resolution even if the heroine is weeping in front of the open window with the gently blowing curtain. (Of course, a postmodernist film might use this to represent stark fragmentation and doom, but other symbols or events would have to signal the sense of doom.) Conversely, closed framing includes views that confine and restrict giving a psychological sense of entrapment and despair, for example, a villain who is in closed framing that shows him in close-up standing between two wooden beams. As a viewer, closed framing subconsciously suggests loss of freedom. One just hopes the hero doesn't show up in closed framing.

HORIZONTAL LINE: Horizontal lines are one of my favorites. These carry a subconscious meaning similar to open framing. When a hero or heroine is in dire straights or in deep sorrow or conflict and horizontal lines appear, a psychological sense of well-being and resolution manifests. Good examples are in Chain Reaction and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. In Chain Reaction, when Lily falls in the water of a frozen lake, she tells Eddie, "Eddie, I can't feel my legs." Eddie gets her to safety, finds fire and wraps her in a blanket with black, yellow and turquoise horizontal stripes. Intuitively, those horizontal lines are perceived as the resolution of tension and we feel that Lily will be alright, even though the black and yellow add their own tension. In Wonder Emporium, when Zack is having his confrontation with depression he is dressed in a white pull-over shirt with wide navy blue horizontal stripes. So we know he'll be all right in the end, even though he is lonely now. When Molly Mahoney has her crisis moment when Magorium says he is "leaving," she is dressed in a long sleeved T-shirt with multi-colored narrow horizontal stripes. These horizontals trigger an intuitive feeling that all will be well; and the profusion of color accentuates the upcoming end result.

VERTICAL LINE: Vertical lines have a subconscious psychological impact that is opposite of horizontal lines but similar to closed framing. Vertical lines produce a sense of being hemmed in, constrained, blocked, so tension is high and the feeling of danger and no escape is strongly sensed. Vertical lines would be well used in a production of Hamlet or on Shylock's robes or at Napoleon's Waterloo. Vertical lines bode no good end. As an example, using Chain Reaction again, the scene upstairs at Alistair's house after "eight city blocks are blown up" during which Lily gets the fake FAX from mainland China, the set decoration (the mise en scène) behind her has many traces of vertical lines; e.g., the tubular metal wind chimes hanging behind and to the side of her. Vertical lines, as well as closed framing, evoke the sense of having no way out.

DIAGONAL LINE: Diagonal lines are a psychological combination of horizontal (resolution) and vertical (conflict) lines and subconsciously evoke combined psychological feelings. Diagonals evoke a feeling that, yes, there is trouble ahead but there is also the real possibility that resolution and a happy ending could be in store.

These few concepts will add to your appreciation of and questions about films, for instance, was Mr. Magorium's dancing scene dubbed or filmed with direct sound? I suspect it was dubbed. Also, these concepts will lift a veil and let you delve deeper into the psychological feelings that films evoke and understand the inner magic of how some of it is accomplished.

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Content copyright © 2015 by Karen L Hardison. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Karen L Hardison. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Angela K. Peterson for details.


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