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From Cinematic Space To Mental Space

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Film Studies
Wordcount: 5465 words Published: 25th Apr 2017

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Space is an the unlimited three dimensional expanse in which all objects exist or it is the interval of distance and time between two points, objects or events. [1] 

The concept of the term “space” evolved with time. Initially this term strictly had a geometrical meaning evoking the idea of an empty space which is “Euclidean”, “isotropic”, or “infinite”, basically a mathematical concept. [2] 

Physical space is often conceived in three linear dimensions, although modern physicist usually consider it with time to be a part of the boundless four dimensional continuum known as

“Space-time”. [3] 

According to the Wikipedia information, the concept of “space” has been discussed throughout history. Plato has discussed about this concept of space in one of his treatise “Timaeus”, where he reflects on what the Greek called: “Chora/ Khora” (that is space).

Aristotle has dealt with space in Book IV, Delta, in the definition of “topos” which means place.

In a discourse on place (Qawl fi al makan) by the eleventh century Arab Polymath Ibn al _Heythum (Alhazan) discusses geometrical conceptions of place as “space qua extension”.

Aristotelian tradition had held that space and time were those categories which facilitated the naming and the classing of the evidence of the senses”. On the other hand, the thinker, Descartes was taken to be important in shaping the concept of space and the key to its matured form. According to most historians of the Western thoughts, he has brought an end to the Aristotelian tradition.

As the Cartesian logic evolved, space was considered to be absolute. It became dominant containing both the subject and the object.

Science and mathematics has defined this concept of space in their own way respectively and later even the philosophers. Some scholars has studied and analyzed the relationship of time and space.

The metaphysicist Immanuel Kant defined space and time as elements of systematic framework that humans use to structure their experience.

In his “Critique of Pure Reason”, he said that space is a ‘subjective pure a priori form of intuition. Therefore its existence depends on the human faculties. [4] 

The Kantian space has revived and revised the old notion of space. Here space is relative, a tool of knowledge, and a means of classifying phenomenon, separated from the empirical sphere. It has a transcendental and ungraspable structure. [5] 

According to Henri Lefebvre, the mathematicians, quite contrary to philosophy, has identified space as –

“Non-Euclidean spaces, curved spaces, x-dimensional spaces( even spaces with an infinity of dimensions), spaces of configuration, abstract spaces , spaces defined by deformations or transformation, by the topology and so on.” [6] 

Though the mathematicians has defined and constructed the term spaces, classifying in various ways and measured them, what philosophy did as Leonardo da Vinci had said, is that it helped in the formation of the ” mental thing” that is the mental space.

According to Isaac Newton space exists independently and permanently even without the presence of any object in it and therefore it is absolute.

On the other hand naturalist philosophers thought that space was a collection of relations between objects given by their distance and direction from one another. The 18th century philosopher and theologian George Berkely attempted to refute the visibility of spatial depth in his essay “Towards a new theory of vision”.

Initially time and space was viewed as independent dimensions. Einstein’s discoveries showed that due to relativity of motion, our space and time can be mathematically combined into one object “space-time”. One can freely move in space but not time.

In the middle of the 19th century, psychology first began to study the way space is perceived.

Psychologists analyzed the perception of space and were concerned about how the recognition of an object’s physical appearance or its interactions is perceived. The philosophy of space and time are inspirations to and central aspect of early analytic philosophy. There are questions related to whether time and space exist independently of the mind and each other.

From the theory of logic, space has transcended to nature, practice and theories of social life which unfolds in space. [7] 

The modern field of enquiry has the notion that space has acquired the view of ‘mental thing’ or ‘mental space’. This concept of mental space has no generalization and even no clear account.

We hear of different spaces like literary space, ideological spaces, the space of the dream, psychoanalytic topologies etc.

Michel Foucault said that knowledge (savoir) is also the space in which the subject may take up a position and speak of the object with which he deals with in his discourse. [8] 

But he neither explained the spaces nor defined their distinctions. The linguist Naom Chomsky has given the idea that a mental space has certain specific properties with orientations and symmetries but completely ignores the gap between linguistic mental space and social space.

Lefebvre believed that the modern thinkers had fetishized the philosophico-epistemological notion of space and that the mental realm envelopes the social and physical ones. The quasi-logical presupposition of an identity between mental space (the space of the philosopher and epistemologists) and the real space creates a gulf between the mental sphere on one side and the physical and social spheres on the other.

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He said that there cannot be a fixed knowledge of space and without it we transfer to a level of discourse-the level of mental space – a large portion of the attributes and properties of what is actually social space. Between the sixteenth and nineteenth century, he said that space was not only read but there existed a code which is architectural, urbanistic and political, with a specific language which is common to all strata of people.

He said that anything like leisure, work, play, transportation etc., can be spoken of in the spatial terms in an artist’s or writer’s world. Therefore there is an indefinite multitude of space around us.

He questions whether space can be nothing more than the passive locus of social relations. In general he talks about three kinds of spaces:

1. The physical space – nature, the cosmos.

2. The mental space with its logical and formal abstractions.

3. The social space.

What he is concerned with is the “logico-epistemological space, the space of social practice, the space occupied by sensory phenomenon, including products of imagination such as projects and projections, symbols and utopias.” [9] 

There are certain specializations of space. When we think of a space, we are immediately concerned with what occupies the space and how it does so along with the energy present within the space. Without energy, the physical space has no reality.

This space is always associated with time.

” space considered in isolation is an empty abstraction.” [10] 

According to Fred Hoyle’s theory, space is a product of energy. Henri says that multiplicity of particular spaces, yet diverse are offered by this universe.

Apart from the concept of physical space, mental space and social space, he dealt with the minute elements in space like ‘ideal space’ related to ‘mental space’ and ‘real space’ associated with ‘social space’ These two spaces are in a way related to each other. He said that philosophy has played an important role in the development of the “abstract (metaphysical) representations of space, where the Cartesian notion of space became significant due to its homogeneous, isotropic character which helped it to become absolute and infinite and divine.

But space is even beyond this. Plato talks about the cosmic space, where the space of the city is a reflection of the Cosmos.

Literature too reveals different spaces to us. But the problem is that the space here is enclosed, described, projected, dreamt off and speculated about.

When we talk of a particular space, we distinguish it and not isolate it. Various kinds of space comes together to produce a space. In relation of language, Henri questions whether a language follows or accompanies a social space. Many people have explored “space” in different ways. In his work, George Bastille has played with the space on inner experience on one hand and the space of physical nature on the other and social space.

Through Hegelian viewpoint, space is considered to be a product and residue of historical time. Though Hegel had the idea of a concrete universe.

Social space is a social product and when produced serves as a tool for thought and action. As said by many thinkers, it is difficult to distinguish social space as distinct from mental space and even physical space.

Every society produces a space of its own. The Asiatic mode of production of space is different from the Western mode. There are multitudes of intersection in space. The way certain spaces are represented by the society, lead to the ‘representations of space’.

‘Representational spaces’ on the other hand deals with spaces associated with its images and symbols. These spaces represent something of their own. It overlay the physical space, making symbolic use of its objects.

Even though they are abstract, the “representations of space”, has a role in social and political practice. They have a role to play in the established relations between objects and people, following certain rules. This is not the case of representational spaces. It is filled with symbolic and imaginary elements. According to Henri Lefebvre, a psychoanalyst or anthropologists are students of representational spaces. Childhood memories, dreams are all part of this representational space.

The gap between representations of space and representational spaces is culture. Therefore what can be concluded is that the producers of space are related to the representations of space while the users of a space are related to their representational space.

Here I conclude that space with its original and represented identity occupies a part of our physical and mental self and even helps in the identification of these self.

Each physical space creates a mental space, a space with certain intimate values.

A house can be used for the “phenomenological study of the intimate values of space”. [11] All inhabited space bears the essence of the notion of home. Thoughts and experience is not the only thing that sanctions human values. We will deal more with this later in the thesis.

After dealing with the basic idea of space with the help of the views and ideas of Henri Lefebvre, I want to connect this idea of the concept of space in dealing with the cinematic space.

Cinematic space is the represented space, selected, manipulated and projected as a finite field of vision. [12] As Henri Lefebvre has said that it depends on the producers of space. This space is what we see on the screen. This screen space is marked by a frame which acts like the borders in a painting. It is geometric and represents the space that we see on the screen. In this way it divides the screen space into onscreen and off-screen spaces. The frame acts as a window connecting u to the film space and on the other hand separating the space we inhabit from the film space. [13] We the spectators look through the frame.

According to Gilles Deleuse, the cinematic frame is a relatively closed system

“Which includes everything which is present in the image­- sets characters and props – framing” [14] .

The frame acts as a system providing us with all the information regarding the image and all these information acts like a data which are known as the elements in the frame.

Therefore the frame is inseparable from two tendencies –

“towards saturation or towards rarefaction”. [15] 

This image that the frame provides is not just to be seen, it is a message, and it gives us certain information, which are produced by the elements present in the frame (these elements are also some information}. This is how the space produces its own language. He said that the frame is a spatial composition of parallels and diagonals, helping to form equilibrium.

“the frame is conceived as a dynamic construction in act, which is closely linked to the scene, the image, the characters and the objects which fill it. [16] 

The frame cannot be separated from its rigid geometrical boundaries. It has certain limitations. Like many Western painters this has been explored by many film makers like Griffith, Eisenstein. Deleuze said that light too is a subject of geometrical optic, when it is divided into two parts forming light and shadow. [17] 

They help in the making of this space.

The presence of objects inside the frame creates secondary and tertiary frames like for example the house, doors, windows, mirror and even a fence. Therefore a frame is never fixed.

A gradual progression takes place which is physical and affects the viewers psychologically. Each object inside the frame has something to say, something to express and therefore have a meaning. Here geometrical divisions in the frame becomes insignificant.

The framing angle is also an important characteristic of the frame. Deleuze said –

“the frame is related to an angle of framing”. This is because the closed set is itself an optical system which refers to a point of view on the set of parts. Of course the point of view can be – or appear to be – bizarre or paradoxical: the cinema shows extraordinary points of view – at ground level or from high or low, from low to high, etc. but they seem to be subject to a pragmatic rule which is not just valid for the narrative cinema: to avoid falling into an empty aestheticism they must be explained ,they must be revealed as normal and regular – either from the point of view of a more comprehensive set which includes the first, or from the point of view of an initially unseen, not given element of the first set.” give an example if

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It is here that the frame becomes an optical system, logically justified. But this justification does not always work. In the conclusion of his essay, Deleuze says that the frame finally determines an out-of-field, in the outline of a larger set which extends it or in the figure of the whole into which it is incorporated. [18] 

In the book Republic, Plato talks about two modes of representation which are distinct and opposed to each other. These two modes are mimesis (imitation) and diegesis (narration). Theatre is related to imitation which shows us something whereas novel tells us a story. Cinema on the other hand incorporates both these characteristics. [19] 

In its early years, cinema followed the theatrical mode of representation. Here the frame is tableaux form, static and faces the audience. Therefore the cinema much influenced by the theatrical stage. The camera is static. The character enters the stage, performs and walks out. The camera does not follow the movement of the characters. Hence just fixed in the centre.

Traditional theatrical space is an architectural product, where beyond the proscenium it does not exist for the viewers. Classical narrative cinema has transformed this space into an illusorily continuous cinematic space. The cinematic film space is a figurative construction, resulting from medium specific techniques such as framing, camera movement and editing. [20] This space is linked to the codes of renaissance perspective, where the property of “centering” addresses to the subject whose position the space determines.

Classical Hollywood cinema gave lot of importance to the use of space. This “graphic space” of the image, that we see on-screen acts as the vehicle for the narrative development. [21] These films created an illusion of reality where the screen became just a transparent object and the frame became invisible. A powerful three dimensional space is represented through the use of lens, lighting, camera movement and angles and other techniques. The space became as important as the narrative structure.

So, what is the basic function of the frame?

The frame shows us the image and creates an illusion of reality. We already know that the Classical Hollywood films were highly inspired by visual art and as art has evolved, cinema has also evolved gradually taking inspiration from it.” Film studio” developed, taking inspiration from the workroom of artists and painters. There is a lot of similarity between classical Hollywood cinema and classical novels. Their style is influenced by the post Renaissance painting. Along with centering, the main aspect of this style is balancing, frontality and depth.

Here, in the composition of the image, the subject or the character is always in the centre, with all the attentions, in focus. With the coming of the Renaissance period, human thoughts became anthropocentric. It is no more centered on the religion, god. The importance of man as an “individual” identity instead turned out to be the thought of the period. There was a highlight on the facial expressions and the human body became the centre of attraction other than the narrative.

Like in the paintings, a balance is always maintained in the visual composition of the film. The characters are evenly distributed in the film space. Both these technique helps in the progress of the narration. The use of frontality is an influence of the Greek and Roman theatre. Through this technique the narrative action is addressed to the viewers. The depth is established through the use of lighting mainly 3 point lighting (the key, fill back lighting and etc.) and costumes. Sometimes the set is painted in different colour to create the various depths.

I think the use of sound to produce an illusion of depth came much later. By the establishment of depth, the film s tries to portray a perspective which is more or less linear, influenced by the ancient Greek Perspective, where the vision is organized around the static monocular observer, and in his vision all the parallel lines recede in the vanishing point. In this way, a personalized space is achieved, trying to conceal the flatness of the film space. The emergence of this classical narrative logic gives rise to cinematic subjectivity and the “isolation of the spectator”. [22] 

Classical Hollywood cinema places the spectator in an ideal position of intelligibility. [23] 

A film uses onscreen and off screen space to produce the diegetic world. Cinematic off screen space is different from the theatrical off stage space. The off screen film space has a pro filmic reference. The early films of Lumiere a Melies, had camera pointed at the action and remained static for the duration of the action. The early films acknowledged the space outside the frame, for example the workers leaving the Lumiere factory 1895, showed the people moving through the frame and off the edge.

The most important element of the film frame is mise-en-scene, a theatrical term. Both are depended on each other. It means everything which is put into the scene, or what we find in the film space. The frame along with the set design, camera and character movement, lighting and even sound, everything combined together form the mise-en-scene. And this mise-en-scene helps in the formation of the composition.

“Mise-en-scene can be defined as the articulation of the cinematic space, and it is only concerned about the space.” [24] 

On the film set it creates an illusion of the reality or fantasy. The setting of the film is an important aspect of the mise-e-scene. It includes the shapes, designs and color of the film set. Colour also helps in the development of the narrative. It is used as a symbol. A set can be artificially constructed for an indoor shot or manipulated in the outdoor shot. Apart from the design and colour, props play an important role, in the development of the narrative. In the absence of the actors, they even tell a story and which are not possible in a theatre. They express certain mood, and say what is unsaid by the film narrative.

“the elements of the setting turns into motifs” [25] 

Along with the props and costumes, the make up of the actors also furnishes the setting of the narrative.

The props and costumes are also used for the film publicity, and they even help to turn certain characters into cult figures.

Lighting is another aspect of the mise-en-scene, other than creating the illusion of reality, artificially producing light for an indoor shoot or ‘day for night’ shoot, light along with colour and sometimes the prop creates the mood of his film. In the shot composition light and shadow works together. It helps in the development of the film space, sometimes maintaining continuity when camera movement takes place within a space. And at other times, different lighting helps to distinguish various spaces used in the film. I must say here that along with lighting sound also plays the same role. Light, colour and sound combined or individually can create suspense, horror, happiness and even loneliness. Light creates texture.Four major features of film lighting can be isolated are: its quality, direction source and colour.

Light quality depending on its intensity creates a sharp or a soft image by diffusion. With the use of hard light the shadow becomes bold creating definite contours. Light along with the lens and camera angle can be used to manipulate the shape of an object to enhance a mood.

“the proper use of light can embellish and dramatize every object”

-Josef von Sternberg.

As earlier film makers used the frontality of the characters to highlight their presence, to give them a central position, similarly light is used to keep certain character at the centre of attention. This technique is also used in theatre.

The direction of light in the film space, creates the presence of an off screen space. This idea also developed from the influence of paintings from the Renaissance period.

“Every light has a point where it is brightest and a point towards which it wanders to lose itself completely.The journey of rays from that central core to the outposts of blackness is the adventure and drama of light. ” [26] 

Depending on the narrative, the film space is generally lit up by top lighting, backlighting, side lighting, and frontal lighting and under lighting.

Backlighting creates a dreamy; fantasy image similarly under lighting is used to create a horror image.

Different sources of light works together in the cinematic space to create the mental space of the spectators.

Generally during a shoot three point lighting is used with key light (primary), fill light (secondary, softens the shadow) and backlight which highlights the character and separates it from the background thus creating depth. We have already discussed earlier how this method of lighting is use in Classical Hollywood cinema. Along with the direction, the source of the light on the film space creates an impact. For out door shoot during the day, we get the sun light, the sky light and the reflected light from the objects around. The lighting is natural and therefore the look is also natural. This light can be manipulated to give a bluish tone with the use of 85 filter and the light can be further controlled with the use of neutral density filters to avoid over or under exposure of the film. In the case of indoor shooting, it is obvious that artificial light is to be used even to give the reference of a natural source of light. Light is continuously measured and blended to create the cinematic space. Here I want to say that though the basic reason for the use of lighting in a cinematic space is similar to theatrical space but the technique is different. This is because lighting in the theatrical space is more loud and dramatic whereas in the film space it is subtle.

From all the information that I have acquired and the knowledge that I have gained, I therefore say that light is a language through which we can also tell a story. Its use is dynamic and is very important in the cinematic space. Only through light, we can see the film space.

Mise-en-scene helps the character to express feelings and thoughts. The movement of the actors, their action, everything gets enhanced by the presence of the mise-en scene. Even acting in the cinematic space is different from the theatre. Cinematic space creates an illusion, where the screen frame acts as the window but the actors never stairs at the window; they do not stare back at the audience, unless and until it is required by the film narrative. So through the presence of the actors, the way they move, talk, behave provides the film with an illusory realistic space.

When we take a shot, the space in front of the camera is two dimensional when we take the shot, it remains the same but when the film is projected, and we see it on the screen, we see a three dimensional space and this space is enhanced through certain aspects of the mise-en-scene like colour, balance, size and movement. In a static set the movement of certain objects draws the attention. Colour can enhance certain mood. We know that it is used as a symbol. It can refer to different time space or change of space. The balance in placing the figure is also important. It determines the attention of the viewers. Size work in relation to the movement, colour and balance. The size of the objects creates the illusion of depth, where the objects in the foreground are generally larger in size and the objects in the background are small. The closer the object, it is more in focus. The depth creates a volume in the space. A different plane of the shot gets established due to the use of depth which creates the illusion of space.

A film suggests volume by the use of movement, shape and shading. [27] 

“Mise-en-scene can control not only what we look at also when we look at it.” [28] 

“It creates a sense of movement in time.

Mise-en-scene helps to compose the film shot in space and time.”

Inside the film space, therefore it is the mise-en-scene which creates the cinematic space using both the onscreen and off-screen space and it is this cinematic space which creates the illusion of a real world or a fantasy world.

The film narrative does not work with space alone but space and time. Time is ever changing and space also keeps evolving. Leaving aside, all the scientific reasons for the evolution of space, what I think that a space evolves with time only with the intervention of a man. It evolves in the imagination of the man. The cinematic space is an example of this space. Other than cinema this space can also be created through literature, music, dance, painting and even food.

We prefer more of this cinematic space other than where we belong to, because it incorporates our likes and dislikes, keeping in mind that it is our own creation.

In dealing with the space and time in a film, it is necessary to study their unity within a shot and between two shots. It is not possible to visualize time on a screen without any action or movement in the space.

“Movement in reality is continuous but movement on the screen is discontinuous and is achieved very quickly by a series of still photographs.” [29] 

In a film the dimensions of space and time cam be manipulated and this has become easier with the digital techniques. Slow or fast motion is used by changing the film speed. This manipulated space is artificial.

From the early years of human civilization, paintings, sculptures have evolved as a language. A visual language, which can preserve itself. It creates its own memory. With the coming of industrialization and modernity, photography became more popular. Its basic function or utility is to freeze a moment, capture it and create a memory. Cinema moves a step ahead. It not only captures a specific a moment, but a “period of time” [30] 

It is som


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