The Hogmanay Intertitle

1. OK, that’s the intertitle (from THE GOLD RUSH).

2. Now for the film grammar lesson. It’s said that, because we read from left to right, the positioning of characters in frame has a dramatic meaning that depends on which direction they’re pointed in. A character aimed right is going somewhere, a character aimed left is, ahem, strong and stable, has arrived where they were going. Presumably in other cultures like Japan where they read right to left, this is reversed, but I haven’t gotten around to checking.

I was a little skeptical of this idea when Robert McKee said it in a close analysis of a scene from CASABLANCA — every time McKee talks, I will him to be wrong. But it seems to hold up. And it doesn’t seem to matter how skilled the filmmaker is, it appears to occur unconsciously/automatically. Which makes it, I guess, a lesson you can’t do anything with, unless you’re a director and you get paralysed by doubt in setting up a scene: it might unblock your blocking. The complacent Mr. Sheldrake isn’t going anywhere, physically or spiritually.

Miss Kubelik doesn’t know it yet, but she has a visit to pay.

3. OK, that’s the film grammar bit. Now for the mash-up —


4. Now for the benediction: whichever of these images most closely resembles your New Year’s Eve activities, may the new year bring you peace and wisdom and kindness and joy.

And movies!

4 Responses to “The Hogmanay Intertitle”

  1. Re: your comment on facing left or facing right, I just watched Godard’s LA CHINOISE for the first time, and I noticed that almost every political speech is delivered facing right (usually to a hostile or dispassionate audience), EXCEPT for Francis Jeanson on the train, who is facing left as he questions her methodology and planning re: the assassination of the Russian minister.

    I thought it was an interesting application of film grammar, allowing Godard to present the (sometimes sympathetic but childish) viewpoint of his protagonists, while undercutting their rhetoric.

  2. That sounds like him! And of course “right” and “left” have further significance in the political spectrum (where did that start, anyway? I remember as a kid it baffled me, but I ought to be able to Google the answer now…)

  3. From what I remember (and Wikipedia bears it out, for what that’s worth) the term originated with the seating arrangements of the National Assembly in France during the Revolution. The liberal deputies sat on the left side and the nobility sat on the right.

  4. Thanks! I’ve always felt more sinister than dexterous, personally.

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