A Hypertext Resource for Literature
Styles of Directing
Montage vs. Long Takes
Since the shot and the cut are the most basic building blocks of films, it is probably not surprising that two schools of directing emerged that emphasize the two blocks to different degrees. Sergei Eisenstein wrote that films' meanings are created primarily by montage, or editing that uses cuts to place shots in conversation with one another. AndrÈ Bazin, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of long takes, where shots last for a long time and keep the elements of a scene in deep focus, letting the viewer choose his or her points of emphasis. The mise-en-scène, the design and arrangement of the shot, gains importance in this style of directing.
The defining characteristic of the "Hollywood style" is that it strives to make the reader forget the medium of film altogether. To achieve such invisibility of technique, directors will use shots and cuts that have become so familiar to film audiences that they no longer announce themselves as techniques at all. For example, we now expect to see dialogue in which cameras behind the shoulders of two speakers record the face of whichever character is speaking, switching back and forth to follow the developing dialogue. One would struggle to explain how that camerawork and editing is "natural," since the resulting perspective could not represent a realistic human perspective on the conversation. What is more important for the Hollywood style, however, is that the effect feels natural to experienced viewers of film. In this context, think back for a moment to auteur theory. By defining film history as the development of master directors who left recognizable signatures, auteur theory minimized or dismissed the role of the Hollywood style, which strives to erase signs of the director's artistic control.
The Brechtian Influence and Alternatives to Hollywood Style
Bertolt Brecht, a German poet, playwright, and dramatic theorist, argued from a Marxist perspective that dramatic productions should not strive to create a mystified environment in which the audience forgets (or agrees to provisionally forget) its environment. Instead, said Brecht, directors and actors should strive to remind the audience of the artifice and artistry of the performance, calling attention to the processes of acting and production that underlie the film. With the advantage of that detachment, the audience and performers can enact the kind of independent resistance to dominant ideology that fuels political resistance to established power. Whether or not they have shared Brecht's political reasons for their artistic choices, many film directors have countered the Hollywood style by employing Brechtian principles to create alienation effects that emphasize the artificiality of film and acting.
"A collective of film directors founded in Copenhagen in spring 1995," Dogme95 lashed out at the technological "trickery" of contemporary popular film and proposed a commitment to uniformity of approach and a discipline of rules: "we must put our films into uniform, because the individual film will be decadent by definition!" says the Dogme95 manifesto. That "uniform" is represented by the "Vow of Chastity," which articulates a kind of reactionary realism and which is available in full on the website linked at the beginning of this paragraphs (via a link in the "Manifesto").