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in Filmmaking
on Mar 2, 2010

There’s a fascinating article in the New York Times’ Science section today called “Bringing New Understanding to the Director’s Cut.” It details a scientific study in which the shot length of films over the decades were analyzed and it was determined that as cinema has progressed its editing rhythms have been more closely resembling a natural frequency found in the brain as well as in in “natural and artifactual surroundings.”

From the piece:

According to the new report, the basic shot structure of the movies, the way film segments of different lengths are bundled together from scene to scene, act to act, has evolved over the years to resemble a rough but recognizably wave-like pattern called 1/f, or one over frequency — or the more Hollywood-friendly metaphor, pink noise. Pink noise is a characteristic signal profile seated somewhere between random and rigid, and for utterly mysterious reasons, our world is ablush with it. Start with a picture of Penélope Cruz, say, or a flamingo on a lawn, and decompose the picture into a collection of sine waves of various humps, dives and frequencies. However distinctive the original images, if you look at the distribution of their underlying frequencies, said Jeremy M. Wolfe, a vision researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “they turn out to have a one over f characteristic to them.”

The article, by Natalie Angier, posits that this rhythm is what allows a contemporary film to feel life-like and engaging even if its acting and story are poor.

If you are interested in this type of story, check out David Bordwell’s blog, as he writes a lot about how editing has changed our perception of cinema over the years.

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