Elements of Film Structure (Part 3)


Time and Space in Cinema

The time component of movies has several aspects:

Running Time Designates the duration of a film, the amount of time it takes to watch the film from beginning to end. Feature films, most commercially released films, normally run from 90 to 120 minutes. Some films, however, are much longer. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2004), in its theatrical release, was 201 minutes long, and the director’s extended version on DVD runs even longer, 251 minutes.

Beside Running time, a film has what we call Story time. It designates the amount of time covered by the narrative and this can vary considerably from film to film. In Fred Zinnemann’s western, High Noon (1952), the story spans 1.5 hours, roughly equivalent to the running time of the film itself. Story time, on the other hand, can span many epochs and centuries, as in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), which goes from the dawn of the apes well into the age of space travel.

Internal structural time, a third distinct aspect of cinematic time, arises from the structural manipulations of film form or technique. If a film maker edits a sequence so that the length of shots decrease progressively, or become shorter, the tempo of sequence will accelerate. In Open Range (2003) and Dances with Wolves (1990), the editing imposes a slow pace on the story by letting many shots linger on screen for a long time. Director Kevin Costner felt that a slow pace suited those stately epics about an era when horse and wagon were major modes of transportation. By contrast, contemporary action films like Mission Impossible series (1996, 2000, 2006) race a breakneck speed, rarely pausing long enough for an audience to catch its breath.

 

Source: Movies and Meaning an Introduction to film fifth edition (Pearson, Stephen Prince, 2010)

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