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“The Artist”, The Artistic Use of the Academy Aspect Ratio

Ahmad Alasti
University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran
Behrooz Mahmoodi-Bakhtiari
University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran
Navid Darvishzadeh
University of Tehran, Tehran, Iran

Abstract However, to face “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius,

2011) requires a different viewpoint, because it
Since the dawn of Renaissance, visual composition combines all styles mentioned above. Some factors
has always been a major case of discussion in the visual that detach “The Artist” from other movies, should be
arts. But when it comes to the art of cinema, it will not considered. Fist, This movie narrates a story which
be exaggerating to call it an oppressed issue. Bordwell, happens in the transitional period from silent to talkies
Staiger & Thompson (1985) are among the scholars and recounts the story of a famous silent movie actor
who cared about this issue and allocated a part of their (George Valentino) who motivates a young girl (Peppy
book, The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & miller) to pursue her acting career. He loses his social
Mode of Production to 1960, to this topic (they have status by development of sound in cinema, and then
also mentioned chief principles of visual composition Peppy, who is a celebrity now, supports him to regain
in the classical cinema). Since visual composition it. Notice that in addition to what was said in the recent
almost includes all factors of cinematography, a good paragraph, “The Artist” is technically a silent movie.
composition can lead to a good cinematography. In It is almost totally silent (except few sequences to
this Article, According to the achievements of the silent show George’s nightmare about development of
movie “The Artist” (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) in the sound and to conclude the movie) and the only
different fields, especially as in cinematography, we sound companying the movie, is its music. The last,
are going to discuss how this movie has imitated the but not the least factor, is visual composition. Movies
principles of composition in the classical cinema such such as “Singin’ in the Rain” which were preceding
as centering, balancing, frontality, and depth (mentioned the vast incursion of modernism in cinema, didn’t
by Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985)) to make itself need to make any effort to simulate the classical
visually closer to the movies of the silent era. composition, because they were made in the classical
era. Other movies which were made after 1960 and
Keywords: Cinema, The Artist, Composition, Classical intended to refer to the silent era, scarcely showed any
Rules. tendency to use academic aspect ratio (the dominant
aspect ratio in the silent era) in order to simulate
Introduction the classical composition (for instance, not only was
“Silent Movie” filmed in widescreen aspect ratio, but
By the advent of the movie “The Jazz Singer” also it was colored by De Luxe). In fact, “The Artist”
(Alan Crosland, 1927) as the first valued part-talky doesn’t overuse the sense of humor to captivate its
(according to Thompson & Bordwell (2003)), movies audience; instead, it draws them by a good narration
which could present the synchronized voice of actors and establishing a well composed scene.
as a complementary to their images, it was believed In order to discuss composition in cinema, first,
that silent cinema has come to its end. However, we should skim through the meaning and history of
after this great alteration in cinema and during the composition in the visual arts especially in painting
transitional period from silent to talkies, due to inertia, (Visual Composition in the Visual Arts). Afterward, a
as a natural reaction of a conservative system against skin-deep look through compositional relationship
applied changes, some members of this mature between cinema and painting (Cinema and Painting),
society, especially actors who had made a vast will make us able to talk about cinematic composition
progression in acting and transferring their moods and (Visual Composition in Cinema). At the end, we will
emotions thorough mere facial mimics, struggled to discuss classical compositions in cinema based
hold the fort. Numerous silent movies were produced on composition rules discussed by Bordwell,
during this transitional period, and each one attempted Staiger & Thompson (1985) and compare them with
to allure its lost audiences back to the theaters, but compositions used in “The Artist” (some principles of
the majority of them failed. A quarter a century later, visual composition in the classical cinema).
some movies were made by famous directors to pay It can be noted that, the term visual composition is
tribute to this crucial evolution made in the cinema more accurate than composition. Using composition
(for instance “Singin’ in the Rain” (Stanley Donen & instead of visual composition, may be misleading into
Gene Kelly, 1952)). Some years later, few movies were music composition or literary composition. However,
produced that were a little bolder in paying tribute to many sources have used composition instead of visual
silent era; they were indeed silent movies (for example composition. Therefore, these two terms will be used
“Silent Movie” (Mel Brooks, 1976)). interchangeably in this article.

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

2. Visual Composition in the Visual Arts is the product of the highest subject evaluation of
elements and their relationships. [...] A construction,
Studying visual arts is a vast and an old field in on the other hand, strives toward a known objective,
the art history. Therefore, in this section we will take through predetermined technical and intellectual at
a brief look at composition in visual arts and mostly every point of its existence” (Moholy-Nagi, 1947: 31).
focus on painting. The meaning of the term visual
composition, has been unstable over the centuries. 3. Cinema painting
Garvey-Williams (2014: 11) simply defines composition
as the arrangement of pictorial elements. Composition Film historians have always admitted that
in general can be defined as bringing elements together filmmakers have been inspired by composition
to establish a reciprocal relationship. Freeburg (1923: of paintings. Directors and cinematographers
18) considers composition as a form and believes constantly imitated composition of famous paintings.
that by such assumption, it should be revealing Marcel Carne -one of the key practitioners of the
and expressive at the same time. Canaday (1958) school of poetic realism in cinema- once said “One
examining composition in two and three dimensions, must compose images as the old masters did their
as a flat pattern and as structure concludes, no matter canvas, with the same preoccupation with effect and
what, it is always an expression. “Composition is expression” (Giannetti, 2002: 43). From the very first
directed by an unconscious sense of order in regard to years of cinema, painting has exerted its undeniable
the relation of color , shape, position, etc, and often by effect on this nascent art. “Aspects of self conscious
a geometrical correspondence of elements” (Moholy- artistry emerged as early as 1896 when George
Nagi, 1947: 71). Composition has always been “one Melies realized the potential of narrative language and
of the basic and essential parts of the art of painting augmented his narrative with painted backdrops of
since Alberti’s Della Pittura of 1435” (Puttfarken, 1986: fantastic imagery” (Cook, 1996: 15). Notwithstanding
156). Puttfarken also discusses two different chief that classical Hollywood cinema strove for imitating
approaches toward composition as concerning it with the visual composition of famous classical paintings
the composing the figures and their interplay in a (for instance DeMille (1976: 168) declares that he was
narrative or dramatic scene (as Leon Battista Alberti inspired by Dore, Van Dyck, Corot, and Reubens), “the
faced it), and as a procedure for endowing figures and complex and the dynamic equilibrium of great western
objects with different degrees of visual value or weight, painting is usually lacking in Hollywood compositions,
according to their position within the overall appearance [and] overall balance and an avoidance of distractingly
of the picture (as French Roger de Piles did). perfect symmetry generally suffice” (Bordwell, Staiger
The need for composition in all art forms is inevitable. & Thompson, 1985: 51).
Every painting must have some kind of organization, Cinema and painting may establish various
whether that organization is an effective one or an relationships between each other. Poulton (1999)
ineffective one . Roberts (2008) states that whether discusses the ways, Painting has been used in film,
or not a painter believes in composition, it effects the and classifies the co-occurrence of painting and film
success of every painting he creates. Dunning (1991) in sixteen categories (Some of these categories has
classifies the six methods of climax that most painters been taken from Doss (1983) and Sitney (2002)).
since the Renaissance (until the invention of all-over Films that directly quotes paintings is one of these
style by Jackson Pollack as an alternative climax) categories in which “The direct quotation of a painting
have structured their paintings with them (these six saturates the frame or the sequence of the film with
methods of climax can be found in Raphael’s Portrait multiple meaning” (Poulton, 1999: 10). Tashiro
of Angelo Doni): Climax by transition from large to (1996: 33) calls these movies Blasphemous. Some
small shape, climax by transition from flat to volume, examples of movies which directly quote paintings
climax in dark and light, climax in focus and blur, are: “Viridiana” (Luise Bunuel, 1961) that its famous
warm and cool climax, and climax in depth. Moholy- scene relies on Leonardo’s The Last Supper, “The
Nagi (1969) discusses the color composition and ten Commandments” (Cecil B. DeMille, 1923) which
representational composition. The difference is that “quoted paintings primarily from south” (Poulton, 1999:
“color composition carries its subject within itself, in its 51), “An American in Paris” (Vincente Minnelli, 1951)
color” (Moholy-Nagi, 1969: 14). in which “Pollack’s method of dripping paint over the
Mastering composition is a method in which one canvas [...] can be compared to Minnelli’s reliance
must acquire the power “to see the shapes and forms on dance and color, camera movement and music”
of objects, textures, lines, masses [...] as well as their (Vacche, 1996: 31), “Nostalgia” (Andrei Tarkovsky,
relationship to each other”. (Zakia & Page, 2011: xv). 1983) that “makes use of Della Francesca’s paintings”
Roberts (2008) considers mastering composition as an (Everett, 2007: 15), and “Barry Lyndon” (Stanley
habitude to see abstractly, and then defines abstract Kubrick, 1975), that imitates the visual composition
as “to draw away from” (Roberts, 2008: 8). Roberts of paintings like John Constable’s Malvern Hall, and
also states that composition is not an intellectual idea William Hogarth’s The Tete a Tete.
to apply, but it is the basis, on which all of the great Light is a Fundamental determinant in cinema.
representational paintings repose. It can be noted that, Hollander (1989) discusses the Northern European
composition differs from construction. However they and Southern European artists, and discloses some
are “the aspects of the same problem. [...] Composition information about lighting that can be useful when


analyzing lighting as a part of composition in cinema. pictorial emphasis, they sought to guide the viewer’s
Vacche (1996) by applying an intertextual and a eye by means of composition and staging” (Bordwell,
thematic approach, and bringing up some examples, 2013: 31). “The art of plastic composition consists in
compares the mood of some movies with their leading the spectator’s attention through the exact path
corresponding paintings. and with exact sequence described by author of the
composition” (Eisenstein, 1943: 148).
4. Visual Composition in Cinema Esteem of visual composition, has caused some
famous directors to comment on it. Hitchcock’s rule
Good composition in cinema cannot easily be relates that, “the size of an object in the frame should
defined in a single sentence, because its controlling equal its importance in the story at the moment”
elements are more immense than those of composition (Hawkins, 2005: 3). Alfred Hitchcock also cared for
in other arts. One way of defining composition in cinema shapes as a part of visual composition and stated that
states that “the distribution, balance, and general “drama emerges from the emotions, expressions, and
relationship of masses and degrees of light and shade, thoughts portrayed in the character’s face.[...] The
line, and color within a picture area” (Luccitti, 1995: principle task of the filmmaker is the organization of
130). Conveying emotion is one of the most significant those oval shapes within the rectangle of the screen”
parameters in the narrative cinema. Therefore, “the (Smith, 2013: 181). Robert Bresson who had a keen
best cinematic composition is that arrangement of sense for cinematography, once said, “The exchanges
elements in a scene or succession of scenes which that are Produced between images and images, sounds
enables us to see the most with the least difficulty and and sounds, images and sounds, give the people and
the deepest feeling” (Freeburg, 1923: 18). Harmony the objects in your films their cinematographic life and,
between different elements of a movie to serve under by a subtle phenomenon, unify your composition”
superintendency of narration, is the key point in (Bresson, 1977: 24).
classical cinema, and composition is not exempt from
this rule. Hence, a Good cinematic composition is 5. Some Principles of Visual Composition in
“arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified, the Classical Cinema
harmonious whole” (Mascelli, 1965: 197).
One of the factors that supports complexity of Although, as was related before, it is not fully
composition in cinema, is the parameter of time. accommodating to claim a definite theory for visual
Painting or still photography “deals in space relations composition in cinema, there are some common
only” (Mascelli, 1965: 198) while motion picture “is compositional principles regarded in the classical
composed in both space and time [and] The time cinema. “Hollywood’s practices of composition
dimension is just as important as linear dimensions continue some very old traditions in the visual arts”
and placement of pictorial elements within the (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 51). Viewer’s
frame “ (Mascelli, 1965: 198). Another reason which attention should be concentrated on the action,
makes cinematic composition more complex is that, player, or object most substantial for the narration at
composition in a movie “is dealing not only with shape of the moment. Mascelli (1965: 197) notes that among
people and objects, but the shape of motion” (Mascelli, all rules that create motion picture, compositional
1965: 198). The importance of visual composition is rules are the most flexible. Due to anthropocentric
due to the fact that, the “right combination of framing dedication of cinema, it’s time and space principles will
and composition helps the continuity of the sequence” fully intend for continuity and psychological causality.
(Ablan, 2003: 33), subsequently, provides the Composition in classical cinema, as other factors like
continuity in the whole movie which is the basis of the editing, sound, and etc, is used to provide the best
classical cinema. basis for story to be narrated in the best way possible.
Composition is derived from personal taste. It is In other words, All “narrational strategies encourage
originated from nature of human being and “most us to read filmic space as story space” (Bordwell,
of us are inherently good at composition” (Sawicki, Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 54).
2011: 1). Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 50) Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985) classify
believe that classical spatial system is arbitrary. composition into four major categories which
There are some rules of visual perception, some of somehow overlap. These four chief categories
which are mentioned by Arnheim (1982) and Arnheim are centering, balancing, frontality, and depth.
(1974) such as distance increases visual weight, as Scrutinizing these four major categories due to
it decreases attraction, weight increases attraction, Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson’s (1985) statements,
the higher an object is in pictorial space, the heavier will get us to sixteen extended, minor and more
it looks, and etc. However, some pioneer directors practical following categories.
such as Georges Melies and David Wark Griffith didn’t 5.1. Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 51) by
perform experiments on visual perception and Gestalt referring to Post Renaissance paintings, claim that
psychology was not flourished by that time to help them classical cinema provides a chief standard of framing
develop their ability of controlling visual composition to by locating the faces of erect human bodies, at the
get the desired result . So, they naturally knew how upper section of the picture frame. Nowadays, since
to lead viewers’ eyes to their desired portion of the it seems to be too obvious, examples of this rule can
scene. “ Using common-sense assumptions about be easily seen in almost every movie. frames 1, 2,

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

and 3 show some example of this principle in “The some scenes filmmakers locate characters heads in a
Artist”. Another point that can be noted here is the somewhat horizontal line, via other technique (which
fact that the taken snapshots of “The Artist” contain will be discussed in following sections) detach the
an unneeded black region at two sides of the frame desired character from others. see frames 4 and 5.
in order to compare the academy aspect ratio with the At times, this method is utilized to lay emphasis on a
new fashioned common aspect ratios. certain character. In frame 6, the woman standing at
the left side of the frame is more dominant than the
man, due to her higher place in the frame. Note that, in
this frame, Peppy is in the center of interest (its reason
will be discussed in section 5.7).

Frame 1- Placing the faces of erect human bodies at the upper

part of the frame. The principle of horizon line isocephaly.

Frame 4- Although the principle of horizon line isocephaly

applies here, the frontality puts George in the center of interest.

Frame 2- Placing the faces of erect human bodies at the upper

part of the frame. The principle of horizon line isocephaly.

Frame 5- Although the principle of horizon line isocephaly

applies here, the frontality rule, sets George in the center of

Frame 3- Placing the faces of erect human bodies at the upper

part of the frame; The principle of horizon line isocephaly.

5.2. One of the compositional precept that the

classical cinema barrows from Post Renaissance Frame 6- Violating the principle of horizon line isocephaly, the
painting is “the principle of horizon-line isocephaly, lady in left dominates the man standing in the right.
which guarantees that figures’ heads run along a
more or less horizontal line” (Bordwell, Staiger & 5.3. Another conspicuous influence of painting
Thompson, 1985: 51). Filmmakers often use the on classical cinema, comes from landscape painting
principle of horizon-line isocephaly when they want to tradition, where “Extreme long shots tend to weight
keep all characters at a same level of interest and don’t the lower half of the image” (Bordwell, Staiger &
intend to separate a certain character from others, as Thompson, 1985: 51). See frames 7, 8, and 9.
seen in frames 1 and 3 from “The Artist”. Although in


with the body still crossing the (opposite) frame line”

(Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 51). As seen in
frames 15, 16 and 17, this technique is very influential
in maintaining the continuity. Note that, frame cut has
another application in this scene. First shot is cut just
before George leaves the frame, and the next shot
is frame 16, in which there is an empty place that
is planned for George’s accession (this technique
will be discussed in section 5.6). In other words, not
only is frame cut used in this scene to supply a fluid
continuity, but also it provides the vacancy to be filled
Frame 7- Weighting the lower section in extreme long shots. for the next shot.

Frame 8- Weighting the lower section in extreme long shots.

Frame 10- Favored T-shaped space.

Frame 9- Weighting the lower section in extreme long shots.

Frame 11- Favored T-shaped space.

5.4. Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 51) note

that in the classical cinema, most shots work with a
favored portion of screen space analogous to a T: The
upper one-third and the central vertical third of the
screen constitute the center of the shot. See frame 10,
11, and 14.

5.5. Since the classical cinema has made his vows

to be an anthropocentric medium, it often strives to
put the human body in the center of narration and
in the center of interest . In order to keep this vow
in every moment, it uses the custom of reframing. Frame 12- George is going to sit down, and to reframe, camera
“A reframing is a slight pan or tilt to accommodate starts to tilt down...
figures movement. [...] After 1929, one out of every
six shots used at least one reframing” (Bordwell, 5.6. As mentioned in section 5.5 “in the classical
Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 51). This technique cinema, A vacancy in the frame space will be reserved
is utilized in frames 12, 13, and 14 to maintain the for the entry of a character; That figure will complete
most appropriate headroom for the character. The the balanced composition” (Bordwell, Staiger &
main alternative to this technique is called frame cut. Thompson, 1985: 51). This compositional technique
“In this technique, within a defined locale, a figure can be gained by fix camera and moving character
leaves the shot, and as the body crosses the frame (as seen in frame 17 and frame 12, or in frames 18
line, the cut reveals the figure entering a new shot, and 19), or can be obtained by the movement of both

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

character and the camera (frames 20 and 2). Note

that, camera movement here, can be considered
as reframing, because it is performed to keep the
character in the center of interest and to maintain the
best visual composition.

Frame 17- Frame cut. George enters from right section of

frame to fill the vacancy shown in the last frame.

Frame 13- as George sits down, camera tilts down ...

Frame 18- The vacancy in the left part of the frame is planned
to be filled by peppy’s figure in the next frame ...

Frame 14- When George’s position is stable the reframing ends.

Frame 19- The empty section fills with peppy’s figure.

Frame 15- Frame cut. George is leaving the frame from left part ...

Frame 20- By panning the camera to left, a vacant spot is

being prepared for George to fill.

5.7. Since facial expression could convey emotions,

visage is so important in classical cinema. Absence of
sound in the silent era, put the onus mostly on face
to transfer character’s mood to the audiences. Hence,
frontality occupies a substantial role in composition.
Frame 16- Frame cut. A vacancy to be filled by George’s figure ... In the classical cinema “the face is positioned in full,
three-quarter, or profile view; The body typically


in a full or three-quarter view. The result is an odd

rubbernecking characteristic of Hollywood character
position; People head may face one another in profile
but their body do not” (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson,
1985: 51). Frontality, for the sake of its importance in
transferring characters’ mood, is often used in “The
Artist”, but rubbernecking, is rarely seen in this movie.
Frontality is one of the key points in directing viewer’s
eye, because “when characters have their backs to us,
it is usually an index of their relative unimportance at
the moment” (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985:
51). See frames 4, 5, 21, and 22. It was cited in section Frame 24- The trinary group is shaping a half circle so that all
5.2 that, in frame 6, Peppy is in the center of interest. characters can gain at least a profile view.
One of the chief reasons of this visual perception is her
frontality. For more examples of frontality, see frames 5.8. Another cost, achieving frontality has imposed
23 and 24. upon classical cinema easily is seen in group shots.
Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 52) note that in
the classical cinema people rarely organize as they
would in real life and standing groups are organized
along horizontal or diagonal lines or in half-circles. In
frame 25, the reporter facing George has almost turned
his back to the camera, therefore he is not important
at the moment. However, the handsome young man
standing between them and his face is positioned
in a three-quarter view, thus he is more important.
frame 26 which comes two shots later, is a medium
shot focusing on George and the juvenile lad with the
unimportant reporter’s hand in the frame. This shot
Frame 21- Decentering peppy in over-the-shoulder/reverse sets out the reason for style of grouping characters
shot in favor of showing George’s facial expressions. in frame 25. Now suppose this trinary group were not
arranged in half-circle; instead, it were organized in a
full circle (that is, the unimportant reporter would move
to right facing the young reporter and turning his back
to the camera). Although this new arrangement makes
the scene look more real, the unimportant reporter
would block George and the young reporter. For more
examples, see frames 27, 28, and 24.
5.9. Although frontality is one of the most important
factors in composition in the classical cinema, it “Can
be lost if it is then regained” (Bordwell, Staiger &
Thompson, 1985: 52). The most conspicuous instance
for this precept is Over-the-shoulder/reverse shot.
Frame 22- Decentering George in over-the-shoulder/reverse See frames 21 and 22. In the first shot, Peppy turns
shot in favor of showing Peppy’s facial expressions.
her back to the camera and decenters herself which,
indicates her unimportance at the moment. While, in
the next reversed shot, she gains it once more.
5.10. Making the two dimensional screen to look
like a three dimensional space, by creating depth, has
always been one of the main factors in the classical
cinema. One of the ways to create various planes
is that, the “set designers painted sets in different
colors to create planes in depth” (Leisen, 1928: 76).
“Classical Hollywood space is created in planes
through various depth cues. To the usual cues of visual
overlap (the object that overlaps must be closer) and
familiar size, the classical image adds pattern, color,
Frame 23- Although George stands behind this dancing couple,
he is in the center of interest due to frontality. texture, lighting, and focus to specify depth” (Bordwell,
Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 52). The couple dancing
in front of George, dancing coupled behind him, chairs
and tables, and the music group in frame 23, have
significant influence on increasing depth. See frame
14, 19, and 29.

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

Frame 25- George is in the center of interest due to frontality, Frame 29- Increasing depth by perspective made by the table
but in the next frame ... and chair and also by light.

5.11. Lighting is one of the key factors to create depth

in the classical cinema. Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson
(1985: 52) believe that cinematographers by diffusing
the light on background, make them more granular
and add more depth to the picture. “Cinematographers
were careful to alternate planes in contrasting keys
and half-tones (A silhouetted foreground, a bright
middleground, a darker background) (Milner, 1930,
93). See frame 30. another example for this technique
is seen in frame 29. In this shot, lighting has made the
secretary room -which is see through the doorway-
Frame 26- The young reporter is in the center of interest due brighter. This brightened portion of the room contrasts
to frontality. with dark walls surrounding it and creates more depth.
Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 52) note that one
of the most common ways of the Hollywood filmmaker
to separate figures from background is back lighting.
“A pencil line of light around the body’s contour pulls
the figure forward” (Livingston, 1953: 70). See frames
31, 32, and 33.

Frame 27- The group is shaping almost a horizontal line.

Frame 30- Using light to create depth.

Frame 28- A curved line is shaped by these men so that they

can maintain frontality.

Frame 31- Back light helps to separate the sitting man from


Frame 32- Back light helps to separate the dancing couple Frame 35- Selective focus and frontality place George in the
from background. center of interest.

Frame 33- Selective focus helps to separate the sitting man Frame 36- Selective focus and back lighting and being closer
from background. to the camera place peppy in the center of interest.

5.12. Selective focus is one of the most common 5.13. Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 54)
technique used for creating depth in classical cinema. assert that Knee shots (also known as American
Selective focus is “an equivalent of aerial perspective shot) and medium shots, are the most common shots
in painting. In framing closer that medium shot, the in the classical cinema; “because They retain facial
characters are in focus while other planes are not” expressions and physical gestures -partially lost in
(Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson, 1985: 53). The main the long shot- and relate these, dramatically, to the
character in frames 33, 34, 35, and 36, is detached action involved” (Herman, 1952: 101). Let’s consider
from others by selective focus. Let’s consider frame 6, the sequence in which George and Peppy meet for the
once more. Selective focus in this shot, blurs Peppy first time in “The Artist”. In this sequence, nineteen out
and other characters are sharply focused. Note that of twenty-eight shots are Knee shots or medium shots.
selective focus here is assisting the narration. This That is, in a randomly selected sequence of this movie,
shot is a part of sequence in which Peppy’s career is almost sixty-eight percent of shots are knee shots or
flourishing step by step, and Peppy is not famous yet. medium shots.
In other words, bluring Peppy in this shot, is intended 5. 14. Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson (1985: 54)
to present her obscurity and to make her visible to also claim that Extreme facial close-ups -framing
audiences, viewers’ eyes are directed toward her by closer than full facial shot- are almost lacking in the
means of some other methods as vacancy to be filled, classical cinema, since cutting the face entirely free of
prior familiarity, frontality, and so forth. the background made the close-up too fragmentary.
However, in “The Artist”, There are more than eight
insert shots of mouths. Since the movie refers to the
transitional period of silence to talkies, the sound
parameter and it’s visual representation through mouth
is highlighted. See frames 37, 38, and 39.
5.15. Cinema has always striven to keep it as a three
dimensional medium. One of the most common ways in
silent era was a technique in which, “cinematographers
often darkened the edges of the image to avoid a glaring
contrast between the picture and the theater masking”
(Schlanger, 1938: 504). As Hochberg (1962) states,
since human being’s eyes look for consistency, when
Frame 34- Selective focus and being closer to the camera a three dimensional picture has a ostensible frame,
separate George from background. the represented space conflicts with the boundary of
the picture. This technique was commonplace in the
classical cinema, but since it disturbs the impatient

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

audiences of the third millennium, it is rarely used in 5.16. Appropriate camera height is one of the
“The Artist”. Some scenes that include the projected effective factors in a achieving good composition.
movies within “The Artist” (such as frame 40), bear this “Normal camera height, standardized at between 5
dark frame. or 6 feet, corresponds to a gaze from an erect human
body, a position canonized not only in art but also in
culture generally” (Bordwell, Staiger & Thompson,
1985: 54). Let us, once more, consider the sequence
in which George and Peppy meet for the first time. In
this sequence twenty-three out of twenty-eight shots
are taken in eye level, and the rest include two inserts
(taken in high angle, but the camera almost stands
at the human eye level), and two long shot and one
extreme long shot (taken in high angle). In other words
almost eighty-two percent of this sequence shots are
taken at eye level.
Although Bordwell & Staiger & Thompson,
Frame 37- Starting the movie (which is a silent one) with 1985, presented almost a comprehensive list of the
the extreme close up of characters mouth to accentuate the compositional principles of the classical cinema, this
importance of sound in the narrative. article believes that some important points are missing:
I. In classical cinema, when it is intended to show
a dream, anxiety, depression, or etc; these principles
come handy (not by keeping them, but by breaking
them). Technique like unbalancing the camera and
camera height (see frames 41, 42, and 43), using
wide angle lenses in the close-up shots (see frame
44), unusual camera movements (see frames 45, 46,
and 47), and etc, can be useful in the aforementioned
situations to create an unbalanced composition.

Frame 38- Using extreme close ups of mouth to emphasize

the crisis imposed upon the main character by advent of sound
in cinema.

Frame 41- Unbalancing the camera.

Frame 39- Using extreme close ups of mouth to emphasize

the crisis imposed upon the main character by advent of sound
in cinema.

Frame 42- Abnormal camera height and angle.

Frame 40- The darkened edges of the frame.


Frame 43- Abnormal camera angle and unbalanced camera. Frame 47- Unusual camera movement ends.


To recapitulate, we shall consider the main

principles of composition in the classical cinema as
four major categories of centering, balancing, frontality,
and depth. These major categories were extended to
sixteen minor precepts of composition in the classical
cinema. Examples of these sixteen minor precepts were
presented by snapshots from the case study movie,
“The Artist”. Unbalanced, but classic composition was
investigated in the case study, and it was declared that
Frame 44- Using wide angle lenses in a close up shot. in the classification of Bordwell & Staiger & Thompson,
1985, a main point as “aspect ratio”, which controls the
visual composition, is missing.
Filming “The Artist” in the academic aspect
ratio 1:1.33, has made it easier, to apply the
classical compositional rules to the movie. Applying
compositional precepts of the silent era to a movie
of second decade of the third millennium, brings it
closer to the well known movies of this era, therefore,
the result is a well composed classical silent movie,
which achieves numerous international successes in
the field of cinematography. Some academician may
find it exaggerating to impute the cinematographic
Frame 45- Unusual camera movement begins ... successes of this movie to good classical composition;
but this article strongly believes, since the composition
includes almost all elements of cinematography
(camera movement, camera height, camera angle,
lighting, camera lenses, color, and so on), it causes the
only difference between a good cinematography and
a bad one.
Since “the Artist” deliberately has gathered classical
compositional principles which were developed
during almost a span of three decades, It shall not
be exaggerating to claim that a familiar audience to
classical cinema would find almost all of unwritten rules
of classical cinema in “The artist”. Regarding all these,
Frame 46- Unusual camera movement continues ... “The Artist” has retrieved almost all of compositional
conventions in the classical era. The important point is
II. Aspect ratio may not seem so related to that these compositional conventions were not imitated
composition in the first sight; but as far as I am from a single movie, but each one was inspired by a
concerned, it is the most important factor in the classical cinematic masterpiece, and all were gathered
visual composition, since the aspect ratio controls the in a single movie produced in the third millennium.
composition. most of this compositional rules will be These principles include the tendency in classical
different when it comes to the widescreen aspect ratio. Hollywood cinema to locate the human head at the
upper section of the frame, the principle of horizon line
isocephaly, to weigh the lower part of image, favored
T-shaped space, reframing and frame cutting due to
anthropocentric vows of classical Hollywood cinema,

Capítulo I – Cinema – Arte

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