The Continuity Style
The nearly perfect illusion of depth was what set motion pictures apart from all other methods of reproduction in the graphic arts at the turn of the century. The editorial and photographic strategies of Griffith, Porter and the other pioneer filmmakers built on this basic tendency of the motion picture viewing experience, avoiding any sort of technique that drew attention to the illusion itself. This was in keeping with their immediate artistic heritage, largely nineteenth century theater, literature, magazine and book illustration and photography. As it turns out, many of the basic strategies of the movies that we have come to call cinematic, or at least the conventions of what is known as the "continuity style," were developed or suggested in the popular art of the nineteenth century.
Today, the style has broadened to include some of the conventions of cinema verite, experimental and avant-grande film, but is largely faithful to the original storytelling strategies of the Hollywood movie, which by now is an international style. The ideas in this article are taken from this basic vocabulary of techniques, but filmmakers will find that learining this style should not inhibit experimentation. In fact, in the 1980s two other popular visual forms, the television commercial and the music video, borrowed a variety of techniques from avant-garde and experimental films and introduced them to a mass audience. In the future, this will probably permit filmmakers to further extend the range of the continuity style.
My expectation is that a filmmaker who learns the various framing and staging ideas of the continuity style will gain a heightened awareness of composition, editing patterns and three-dimensional design. Even if he chooses to reject every specific strategy that is outlined in the following session, hw will be better prepared to strike out on his own.