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Name: Dan Sallitt
Location: New York, New York, United States

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Point of View and "Intrarealism" in Hitchcock

In 1978, when I was 23, I wrote a paper for a UCLA class that argued against the idea that Hitchcock's point-of-view sequences create character identification. The paper proposed an alternative idea: that Hitchcock's point-of-view sequences were part of a more general Hitchcockian strategy to recreate the primitive sensation that the camera is part of the film universe, and subject to its laws. I coined the word "intrarealism" to describe this strategy.

I managed to get the paper published in 1980 in Wide Angle magazine, a theory journal out of Athens, Ohio. It lay dormant for nineteen years, until Susan Smith wrote about it in an article in Cineaction, and subsequently in her book Hitchcock: Suspense, Humour and Tone. She was critical of some aspects of my idea, but I'm grateful to her for taking the article seriously. Since then the article pops up in the occasional bibliography or university reading list.

Here's the article, in electronic format for the first time, with its tortured style and youthful arrogance intact. I still think the basic idea is useful, though I've given up the practice of coining words.



Blogger girish said...

Dan -- I'm sure you're too modest to mention that Bill Krohn cited this essay as one of his picks for 10 most influential works in cinema studies of the past decade in the Screening the Past survey.

Is the second piece of yours cited in the survey, the Buster Keaton round-table with J-P Coursodon and Brad Stevens, available anywhere other than in the DVD package?

January 17, 2008 1:15 PM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Girish - were the Screening the Past selections supposed to be influential? In my case, that would definitely be pushing it. I very much appreciated Bill and Craig's mentions, though.

The Keaton roundtable isn't available anywhere, I don't think, other than with the box set. Too bad, because that project turned out so much better than I could have expected.

January 17, 2008 2:09 PM  
Blogger girish said...

"Girish - were the Screening the Past selections supposed to be influential? "

Ah, my mistake, Dan. I meant to write "important" ...

January 17, 2008 2:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Youngish word-coining and a slightly muddled argument in the second part of the piece can't obscure the fact that, at 23, you were at long last putting some sense about subjective shots.
Much more than any sort of identification (in which case Hitch would be ceaselessly trying to make us identify with a lot of people, including of course the "bad guys"!), what point of view shots in Hitch strive to give us is precisely the point of view of each intervening character, which he felt necessary for the audience to have quite clear at all times in order to properly understand the film and follow the narrative.
Call it "intrarealism" or, as I would, merely "stylization", that's the way to convey such things in the cinema. At least, the directors who learnt their trade on the silent period knew how to do that.
Good to have your paper again on circulation, so it may be read (and let's hope recalled) before repeating again... what you can read most of the time on this subject.
By the way, has anyone ever "identified" with any screen character?. I must confess that not even in my earliest childhood. I rather identify, if at all, with the viewpoint which organizes the points of view: the filmmaker (when there is behind the camera someone deserving that name). Congratulations,
Miguel MarĂ­as

January 23, 2008 10:35 AM  
Blogger Dan Sallitt said...

Thanks, Miguel!

I still think the concept of intrarealism has meaning, but if I were writing today, I would try to put it in the context of film history. Early filmmaking seems to be intrarealistic by default - even after filmgoers learned that a train coming toward the camera wouldn't hit them. A film as accomplished as Feuillade's Fantomas operates under intrarealistic restrictions: Feuillade felt justified in cutting to closeup when one of his characters drew close to an object to see it better.

The system of classical decoupage that Griffith codified and popularized liberated filmmakers from this naive intrarealism. It established that the size of the shot, and the closeness of the camera, could change for purely dramatic reasons that had nothing to do with proximity within the film universe.

After this system became standard film language, the practice of once again binding the camera to the workings of the film universe became noteworthy. The gesture smacks of the primitive, and can have something of the power of the primitive. I don't think intrarealism had this power before Griffith's revolution.

As for whether identification exists, that's a vast topic that I haven't begun to fathom! On the a_film_by mailing list, Jean-Pierre Coursodon used to reproach us for throwing the word around casually: he doubted that it meant anything at all, and certainly we didn't use it with any kind of precision.

I believe that identification exists, in life and in art. I think there's a reason that audiences don't care much when a bit player dies (they even enjoy it sometimes), are a little sad when the hero's best friend dies, are very sad when the hero dies, and walk out when a dog or child dies. It's a phenomenon easy to relate to the everyday workings of our tribal little minds, and filmmakers know how to construct films to take advantage of it.

But we really need to be more careful when we throw that word around. For instance, I can think of at least one meaning of "identification" that is clearly different from what I'm talking about. When people say, "I identify with Holden Caulfield," they are referring to an explicitly subjective relationship of empathy between themselves and a fictional character. In this case, we would expect that different audience members would "identify" with different characters, depending on their own self-images. And there isn't a strong connection between this kind of identification and the artist's formal strategies.

All I'm able to do is throw out these few thoughts on the subject, without coming to firm conclusions.

January 23, 2008 6:00 PM  

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