Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 6

Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 6

On the Structural Use of Sound

screengrab from 


The Crucified Lovers

 Robert Bresson - on his own film practice said,

"sound, because of its greater realism, is infinitely more evocative than an image, which is essentially only a stylization of visual reality. "A sound always evokes an image; an image never evokes a sound...that he replaces an image with a sound whenever possible, thus remaining completely faithful to the principle of maximum bareness and spareness underlying his creative method." (p90)



 - Twice a Man



 - Sorrows

Agnes Varda's

La Pointe course

Part 1

Orson Welles in his



- Part 1


The Crucified Lovers

Part 7/7


The Crucified Lovers


Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 4

Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 4 - The Repertory of Simple Structures


Alain Resnais - Marienbad (1961)

Partial Opening scene excerpt with english subtitles

Full film youtube link:

See also information at criterion collection - also short excerpt

Filmmakers listed

L'Herbier, Gregory Markopoulos, Eisenstein, Romm - Boule de suif, Germaine Duluc, Jean Epstein, Abel Gance, Marcel L'Herbier

L'Herbier - El Dorado

sharp focus v soft focus

Eisenstein, Dovzhenko, Romm, Boris Barnett

Yasujiro Ozu - The Only Son


see also:


Alain Resnais - Hiroshima mon amour (1959)

Georges Melies - Le voyage dans la lune (1902)

- hand coloured

Le papillon fantastique (1909) - Georges Méliès

Abel Gance Napolean

Excerpts with commentary

Three screen excerpt youtube

Resnais - Night and Fog

Part 1/3 excerpt

Part 2/3:

Part 3/3:

Monique Lepeuve - Exemple Etretat

Kurosawa - High and Low

critics pick New York times commentary

Jean Luc Godard's - Deux ou trois choses que je sais d'elle

Coffee Scene

criterion collection link:

Dovzhenko, Jean-Pierre Melville, Bresson

Stan Brakhage - Reflections on Black

Bruce Conner - A Movie

Ken Jacobs  - Blond Cobra

Dziga Vertov - Man with the Movie Camera

Extract with music soundtrack by Michael Nyman

Dziga Vertov - Man with the Movie Camera

Full version with cinematic orchestra soundtrack

Chris Marker - La Jetée

Part 1 - Excerpt - English Narrator

Part 2 - link:

François Truffaut - Jules and Jim

Part 1

Criterion collection link:

11 parts on playlist at:

Emile Cohl

Karl Zeman - The Fabulous World of Jules Verne

Part 1

Andre S Labarthe = Cineastes de notre temps series

Part 1

Jean-Luc Godard -

Une Femme mariee


Goddard - Pierrot le fou

Part 1/10


Agnes Varda - Opera Mouffe

Part 1

Vilgot Sjoman I am Curious (Yellow)


William Klein Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee

Joseph Sternberg - The Salvation Hunters

Marcel Carné 

- Le Jour se leve

Jean-Marie Straub - Nicht Versohnt

Robert Bresson - Diary of a Country Priest

Robert Bresson - The Trial of Joan of Arc

Renoir - Diary of a Chambermaid

Jean Renoir - La Regle du jeu

Jacques Tati - 

Mr Hulots Holiday

Jean Vigo - Zero de conduite

Joseph van Sternberg - The Blue Angel

link to full film: 

Kon Ichikawa - The Actor's Revenge

Alain Robbe-Grillet - Trans-Europe-Express

Georges Bataille - Bleu du ciel


Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 3

Chapter 3 - Editing as a Plastic Art

Screen Grab from Eisenstein's The General Line

Films and filmmakers dicussed in chapter 3


ergei Eisenstein - 

The Battleship Potemkin -

Odessa Steps sequence

Sergei Eisenstein - 

The General Line


Religious Procession scene

Sergei Eisenstein - 

Ivan the Terrible

Cubism Artist: 

Juan Gris



Rouben Mamoulia






La Notte

Orson Welles 


Filmmakers references: 

Sam Fuller's films, 

Abel Gance, 

Germaine Dulac, 

Jean Epstein, 

Marcel L'Herbie, 




Juan-Antonio Bardem

Michael Cacovannis

Woman in Black, 1956, by Michael Cacoyannis


Akira Kurosawa

High and Low

(1963) - Excerpt

Mikhail Romm

Boule de suif  

(1934) - Excerpt


Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 2

Chapter 2 - Nana, or the Two Kinds of Space

EXAMPLES  discussed by Burch in this chapter

Jean Renoir - Nana (1926) - excerpt

Ewald Andre Dupont - Variety (1925)

Extensive use of off-screen space

Excerpt below

Excellent video essay available on youtube by Kristin Thompson

Excellent article at:

Full film

(at around 67 minutes the fight and knife scene)

The film is famous for its extensive use of off-screen space.  Burch discusses the particular scene.


Because during a fight scene that soon became famous, Emil Jannings and his rival roll on the ground, leaving the screen momentarily empty. A hand with a knife in it then enters the frame from below and immediately plunges out of frame again to deliver the fatal blow. Jannings then rises up and into frame all by himself . . . and several generations of film historians applauded this "magnificent understatement.""(p24)

Nicholas Ray - They Live by Night


off-screen space came to be used almost exclusively as a way of 


events when directors felt that simply showing them directly would be too facile...

In this gangster movie, all violence systematically occurred off screen or was simply "elided," thus creating what was undeniably a very odd sort of "intense understatement."(p24)

Yasujiro Ozu - The Only Son (1936)


understood how important the existence of two distinct kinds of space is. He was also perhaps the first director to have really understood the value of the empty screen and the tensions that result from leaving it empty." (p24)


Ozu was doubtless the first to vary the 

relative length of time

in which the screen was left empty, sometimes leaving it empty before an entrance, but more frequently after an exit...


The Only Son, 

the empty screen is used as a means of creating a whole maze of off-screen spaces, often made concrete in an entirely original way by showing some purely decorative, almost abstract, nonlocalized detail within the set or location, these shots generally occurring just after someone has exited from a shot or before a character enters the next shot.

" (p24-25)


The longer the screen remains empty, the greater the resulting tension between screen space and off-screen space and the greater the attention concentrated on off-screen space as against screen space...


The Only Son

and his other films immediately following it, Ozu uses this tension as a variable parameter, the duration of empty screen shots varying from several twenty-fourths of a second to quite a few seconds. The variations in tension thus created provide him with a formal means of structuring his

découpage." (p25)

Excellent overview and stills from the film

Robert Bresson - A Man Escaped (1956)

This trailer near the end of the excerpt shows the particular scene discussed by Burch


The shot in A 

Man Escaped

 in which Fontaine kills the sentry is a quite striking example. A rather tight shot shows Fontaine in three-quarter profile hugging the wall just short of the corner, on the other side of which the sentry is standing. Mustering all his courage, Fontaine moves forward, exits frame right, immediately circles around and re-enters, crosses the frame again, and re-exits to the left just beyond the corner of the wall. The screen now remains empty and quite neutral as the sentry is presumably killed (there is no sound from off screen, however), and then Fontaine enters once again." (p26)

off-screen space is brought into play, "but in a complex and "syncopated" manner"

See also:

Robert Bresson - Pickpocket




the empty screen plays a much broader role. Here, Bresson achieves what might be called an orchestration of space rigorously controlling the moments when the screen is left empty and the duration of these moments and establishing the precise extent of the surrounding off-screen space through his use of sound (the shots in which the pickpocket leaves his room, then exits from frame, with the sound of his footsteps then being heard as he makes his way down the stairs come particularly to mind )." (p26)

Burgh notes,


Off-screen sound, however, 


brings off-screen space into play"

Michelangelo Antonioni - 

Cronaca di un amore


Michelangelo Antonioni is another great orchestrator of movements into and out of frame, particularly in his first film, which remains his masterpiece, 

Cronaca di un amore. 

It has often been noted that there are only two hundred or so separate shots in the entire film; most of them are very long, and all of them give proof of an absolutely unprecedented degree of visual organization. The principal structural factor in the film is movements into and out of frame, used mainly for rhythmic effect but also serving to bring into play, in an extremely complex manner, the spatial segments immediately adjacent to the frame lines, particularly those on the right and left. " (p27)


The bridge party sequence comprising two or three shots and running for some three minutes is built around Clara's repeated entries and exits, on the one hand, and those of a plump, ludicrous-looking woman with her dog cuddled in her arms, on the other. Because of the camera movements and the characters' movements off screen, these entrances and exits always occur at unexpected places and unexpected moments."

youtube playlist of scenes from film

Michelangelo Antonioni - La Notte (1961)


In his later films, Antonioni uses the empty frame quite extensively, in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Bresson. In 

La Notte

, however, he introduces on several occasions a totally novel technique, whereby the "real" dimensions of whatever is visible on the empty screen are impossible to determine until the appearance of a human figure makes the scale obvious."


Later, lying stretched out on a couch waiting for his wife to return, Marcello Mastroianni raises his eyes and looks out of the window (off screen). A shot of some sort of rectangular surface follows. His previous eye movements suggest that this surface, of as yet undetermined scale, is something he is looking at through the window, but when Jeanne Moreau walks into this new shot at the very bottom of the frame she looks very tiny. We then realize that the rectangular surface is actually the huge facade of some windowless multistoried building.

" (p28)


One other problem we must consider is camera movement, deliberately left for the last here, because it is much more resistant to analysis in terms of "two kinds of space" than are static shots.

" (p29)

Marcel L'Herbier - L'Argent (1928)


This film, made in 1927, was the first to systematically use camera movement to establish the basic rhythm of the film's 


Enormous stylized sets designed by Lazare Meerson invite L'Herbier's camera to dolly around frequently, unfolding new vistas of off-screen space at every turn. Spatially, the film is in a constant state of flux, this plus the fact that the editing of the film is fully as rigorous as the camera handling, gives it an altogether original dynamic dimension.

 " (p30)



As we have seen, the possibilities of articulating the relationships between screen space and off-screen space in an orderly fashion, of organizing them structurally above and beyond the simple orchestration of movements into and out of frame (which in itself is very seldom attempted), are even more complex than were the possibilities implicit in the structuring of the spatiotemporal articulations between shots. These possibilities become even more complex when we consider that the articulations of imaginary and concrete space described above also have a part to play.



Reading Noël Burch Theory of Film Practice - Ch 1

Gathering together examples referenced in Noël Burch's Theory of Film Practice, chapter 1

The most profound aspect of this chapter for me is near the end when Burch urges for filmmakers to:


develop new "open" forms that will have more in common with the formal strategies of post-Debussyian music than with those of the pre-Joycean novel.


Burch discusses the potential for a third meaning (beyond shooting script and technical plan ) for 



 no longer referring to a process taking place before filming or to a particular technical operation but, rather, to the underlying structure of the 



Formally, a film consists of a succession of fragments excerpted from a spatial and temporal continuum.


in its third French meaning refers to what results when the spatial fragments, or, more accurately, the succession of spatial fragments excerpted in the shooting process, converge with the temporal fragments whose duration may be roughly determined during the shooting, but whose final duration is established only on the editing table.


Burch classifies the possible ways of joining together spatial and temporal spaces and to join together two shots as 


where spatial and temporal join together "

to create a single articulated formal texture




1. Absolute temporal continuity - 

absolutely continuous

2. Temporal ellipsis or time abridgement


presence of a gap between the two shots

3. Indefinite ellipsis 

4. Time reversal

5. Indefinite time reversal



apart from, and independent of, temporal articulations, even though they have obvious analogies to them.

1. Spatial continuity

2. Spatial discontinuity - spatial orientation

3. C

omplete and radical spatial discontinuity.


This vocabulary dealing with spatial orientation brings us to a key term, one of some concern to us here: the "match" or "match-cut." 


1. Example of absolute temporal continuity


the clearest example of this sort of temporal continuity is cut from a shot of someone speaking to a shot of someone listening with the dialogue continuing without a break in voice-over"

(also - straight match cut and reverse angle shot)

2. Example of temporal ellipsis


a part of the action might be omitted when these two shots are joined together...

In shot A someone might perhaps start up a flight of stairs, and in shot B he might already be on the second or even the fifth floor."

2 a - measurable time-span


The occurrence and the extent of the omission are necessarily always indicated by a more or less noticeable break in either a visual or an auditory action that is potentially capable of being completely continuous."


"A continuous temporal-auditory action, verbal or otherwise, occurring in conjunction with a discontinuous temporal-visual action, as in Jean-Luc Godard's 


and Louis Malle's 

Zazie dans le Metro."

Jean-Luc Godard's 


 Louis Malle's 

Zazie dans le Metro

3 Example of indefinite temporal ellipsis 

(also second kind of time abridgment)


It may cover an hour or a year, the exact extent of the temporal omission being measurable only through the aid of something "external"--a line of dialogue, a title, a clock, a calendar, a change in dress style, or the like."

4 Example of time reversal


In the example of someone walking through a door, shot A might have included the entire action up to the moment of going through the door, with shot B going back to the moment when the door was opened, repeating part of the action in a deliberately artificial manner"

(can be called short time reversal or overlapping cut)


What we are referring to now, however, no longer involves simple mental deception--that is to say, making an action that is not visually continuous convey a "spirit" of continuity--but the actual physical deception of the eye."


The flashback is a more usual form of time reversal."

Examples of short time reversal and overlapping cuts in the following three films

"Overlapping cut, such as Sergei Eisenstein used so often and to such striking advantage--as in the bridge sequence in 

October (Ten Days That Shook the World)"

Sergei Eisenstein - October (Ten Days That Shook the World)

Time Reversal

François Truffaut's 

La Peau douce

Time Reversal

Luis Buñuel's 

The Exterminating Angel

5 Example of Indefinite time reversal


which is analogous to the 

indefinite time ellipsis 

(the exact extent of a flashback is as difficult to measure without outside clues as is the extent of a flashforward) and the opposite of a 

measurable time reversal."


The reason why the flashback so often seems such a dated and essentially uncinematic technique today is that, aside from its use by Alain Resnais and in a few isolated films such as Marcel Carné's 

Le Jour se lève 

and Marcel Hanoun's 

Une Simple histoire, 

the formal function of the flashback and its precise relationship to other forms of temporal articulation have never been understood. Like the voice-over, the flashback has remained little more than a convenient narrative device borrowed from the novel, although both have recently begun to assume other functions.


Examples of excellent use of Flashbacks

Marcel Carné's 

Le Jour se lève

more clips at:

link to description of flashbacks in film


Marcel Hanoun's 

Une Simple histoire

Alain Resnai and 

Last Year at Marienbad

"perhaps comes closer to the organic essence of film"


1. Example of spatial continuity


Any change in angle or scale (matching shots, that is, taken from the same angle but closer or farther away) with relation to the same camera subject or within the same location or the same circumscribed space generally establishes a spatial continuity between two shots."

2. Example of spatial discontinuity


This discontinuity, however, can be divided into two distinct subtypes bearing a rather curious resemblance to the two distinct subtypes of time ellipses and reversals."

2 a - spatial proximity -  whole range of spatial orientation 


While showing a space different in every way from the space visible in shot A, shot B can show a space that is obviously in close 


to the spatial fragment previously seen (it may, for instance, be within the same room or other closed or circumscribed space). "

3 Complete and radical spatial discontinuity

second kind of spatial discontinuity - not dealing with proximity



This vocabulary dealing with spatial orientation brings us to a key term, one of some concern to us here: the "match" or "match-cut." "Match" refers to any element having to do with the preservation of continuity between two or more shots."

Examples of match-cut

1. "

Props, for instance, can be "match" or "not match.""

2. "

"Match" can also refer to space, as in eye-line matches, matches in screen direction, and matches in the position of people or objects on screen."

3. "

 There are also spatiotemporal matches, as in the door example, where the speed of movement in the two shots must "match," that is, must 


to be the same."

History of match-cut

Burch discusses the history of the match cut, starting with  "

film-makers started bringing their cameras up close to the actors and 


the "proscenium 



 of theatrical real space


to maintain the illusion of theatrical space, a "real" space in which the viewer has an immediate and constant sense of orientation (and this was, and still remains, the essential aim for many directors), certain rules had to be respected if the viewer was not to lose his footing, to lose that instinctive sense of direction he always has in traditional theater and believes he has in life.


In order then to preserve viewers eye, sense of orientation and to avoid confusion for the viewer.  By breaking down the "action into shots and sequences" the following continuity rules were developed.


their underlying aim, to make any transition between two shots that were spatially continuous or in close proximity 


1. eye-line match

2. matching screen direction

3. matching screen position.

1. Eye-line match


Eye-line match and matching screen direction concern two shots that are spatially discontinuous but in close proximity."

Two people looking at each other


person A must look screen right and person B screen left, or vice versa"

2. Matching screen direction

"film-makers also discovered the principle of matching screen direction: Someone or something exiting frame left must always enter a new frame showing a space that is supposedly close by or contiguous from the right."

3. Matching screen position

"that in any situation involving two shots preserving spatial continuity and showing two people seen from relatively close up, their respective screen positions as established in the first shot, with one of them perhaps to the right and the other to the left, must not be changed in succeeding shots."

However the zero point of cinema style meant some filmmakers use of cuts and matches not considered desirable, such as


the overlapping cuts in 


were viewed as "bad" matches, and the 


of Alexander Dovzhenko's 


was thought to be "obscure"".

Sergei Eisenstein's



Alexander Dovzhenko's 


cuts not neccesary?

Luchino Visconti in 

La Terra trema

Alfred Hitchcock in 


Michelangelo Antonioni in 

Cronaca di un amore


Formal organisation of shot transitions and matches is the essential cinematic task.

15 basic ways of articulating shots - possible combinations of the 5 temporal and 3 spatial types of transitions


The time has now come to change our attitude toward the function and nature of cinematic articulation, both between individual shots and in the film over all, as well as its relation to narrative structure. We are just beginning to realize that the formal organization of shot transitions and "matches" in the strict sense of the word is the essential cinematic task. Each articulation, as we have seen, is defined by two parameters, the first temporal, the second spatial. There are, therefore, fifteen basic ways of articulating two shots, that being the number of possible combinations of the five temporal types and the three spatial types of transitions.


The time has now come to change our attitude toward the function and nature of cinematic articulation, both between individual shots and in the film over all, as well as its relation to narrative structure. We are just beginning to realize that the formal organization of shot transitions and "matches" in the strict sense of the word is the essential cinematic task. Each articulation, as we have seen, is defined by two parameters, the first temporal, the second spatial. There are, therefore, fifteen basic ways of articulating two shots, that being the number of possible combinations of the five temporal types and the three spatial types of transitions.

temporal 1 - spatial 1 - Absolute temporal continuity and spatial continuity

temporal 1 - spatial 2 - Absolute temporal continuity and spatial discontinuity

temporal 1 - spatial 3 - Absolute temporal continuity and radical spatial discontinuity

temporal 2 - spatial 1 - 

Temporal ellipsis or time abridgement and spatial continuity

temporal 2 - spatial 2 - 

Temporal ellipsis or time abridgement and spatial discontinuity

temporal 2 - spatial 3 - 

Temporal ellipsis or time abridgement and radical spatial discontinuity

temporal 3 - spatial 1 - Indefinite ellipsis and spatial continuity

temporal 3 - spatial 2 - Indefinite ellipsis  and spatial discontinuity

temporal 3 - spatial 3 - Indefinite ellipsis and radical spatial discontinuity

temporal 4 - spatial 1 - Time reversal and spatial continuity

temporal 4 - spatial 2 - Time reversal and spatial discontinuity

temporal 4 - spatial 3 - Time reversal and radical spatial discontinuity

temporal 5 - spatial 1 - Indefinite time reversal and spatial continuity

temporal 5 - spatial 2 - Indefinite time reversal and spatial discontinuity

temporal 5 - spatial 3 - Indefinite time reversal and radical spatial discontinuity


when you take the 15 possible temporal spatial articulations AND

changes in camera angle

changes in camera-subject distance

- deliberate discrepancies in eye-line angles or matching trajectories

camera and subject movement,

frame content 

frame composition



Although film remains largely an imperfect means of communication, it is nonetheless possible to foresee a time when it will become a totally immanent object whose semantic function will be intimately joined with its plastic function to create a 

poetic function. 

Although camera movements, entrances into and exits from frame, composition, and so on can all function as devices aiding in the organization of the film object, I feel that the shot transition will remain the basic element in the infinitely more complex structures of the future.


Refers to 12 tone music

15 formal objects then capable of

rhythmic alternation



gradual elemination

cyclical repetition

serial variation


I have just briefly outlined a set of formal "objects"--the fifteen different types of shot transitions and the parameters that define them--capable of rigorous development through such devices as rhythmic alternation, recapitulation, retrogression, gradual elimination, cyclical repetition, and serial variation, thus creating structures similar to those of twelve-tone music.


Fritz Lang



As early as 1931, Fritz Lang's masterpiece 

was entirely structured around a rigorous organization of the film's formal articulations, starting with sequences in which each shot is temporally and spatially autonomous, with time ellipses and changes in location playing the obviously predominant role, then gradually and systematically evolving toward the increasing use of the continuity cut, finally culminating in the famous trial sequence in which temporal and spatial continuity are strictly preserved for some ten minutes.


"The contemporary film narrative is gradually liberating itself from the constraints of the literary or pseudo-literary forms"

to free oneself from old narrative forms, a filmmaker needs to do a


systematic and thorough exploration of the 


possibilities inherent in the cinematic parameters



to explore an open form then filmmakers need to create

"a truly consistent relationship between a film's spatial and temporal articulations and its narrative content, formal structure determining narrative structure as much as vice versa. It also implies giving as important a place to the viewer's disorientation as to his orientation".


- summary of book 1. Spatial and Temporal Articulations