Diagonal of the field

The field of a fixed or moving camera lens is determined on the ground by a trapezoid , the smallest of the parallel bases being the width of the photogram on the film itself (or on the digital sensor) and the most large, the width of the terrain seen by the lens at the edges of the sharpness of the image.

The diagonal of the field is one or the other of the two diagonals of this trapezium.

In both documentary and fiction, the filmmaker can compose the frame of a shot in which a subject moves, schematically according to three possibilities:

  • the shooting perpendicular to the movement of the subject, called frontal ,
  • the shooting in the axis of the movement of the subject in the depth of field ,
  • shooting where the movement of the subject takes place along one or the other of the diagonals of the field.

Shown at the practical level of shooting in the cinema, the diagonals of the field are determined by an imaginary line between the point of entry or exit of field as close as possible to the camera, as well on the right as on the left of the frame , and the point of entry or exit of field in the distance, this time as well on the left as on the right of the frame, with thus a crossing of the frame from left to right or from right to left. By geometric definition, each diagonal is longer than either of the two bases. Moving the subject diagonally across the field is the longest path the subject can take in relation to the camera frame.

Of course, the director has the opportunity to mix the three modes of movement of the characters in his shots, and this is usually the trend in contemporary cinema and current cinema, especially through the shot sequence .


The primitive cinema (1891-1907)

The three ways of filming were spontaneously and separately used by early film directors.

In 1891 , from the first movie film 1 , William Kennedy Dickson frame his subjects frontally, what determines a lateral displacement of the characters in all his films (known as the producer Thomas Edison that diverts the word English movie to designate its reels impressed film). This shift is explained by the all-photographic habit of full-length framing, and also by a relative smallness of the first film studio, the Black Maria, a small, light building of wood and tar paper, which was turned on a circular rail to follow the rotation of the sun. The movements of the characters were limited by the surface of the stage, rectangular like a scene stage, closed at its bottom by a matte black coating, identical to the backgrounds used by portrait photographers.

In 1895 , the first fiction filmed on film, L’Arroseur watered , a “comic view” according to its director Louis Lumière , is framed frontally, according to the arrangement of the garden hose that crosses the screen from right to left. The continuation of the chenapan by the watered gardener proceeds according to this disposition. This lateral displacement is copied on the aesthetics of the theatrical scene, a rule that will follow later, almost without exception, Georges Méliès .

“Too inclined to give the Lumière brothers paternity of an invention that was nevertheless not theirs, historians and critics have sometimes lacked enthusiasm to praise staff engineering Louis Lumière 2 . ”

Indeed, in his “animated photographic views”, Louis Lumière immediately adopts what his experience and his talent as a photographer inspired him: the displacement in the diagonal of the field. “Better than anyone, he knew that the most logical and elegant way of filming a moving vehicle, or a galloping horse, or a regiment of proud soldiers marching past, or a team of tedders handling the rake, was to cautiously stand on the side and frame the three-quarter topic, recording his move in a vanishing line. This is what he applied with The arrival of a train in La Ciotat station, where the spectator can admire the convoy which advances then stops, and detail in the row of the quay the movement of the travelers and the attendants 3 . ”

The Chase Films 

The use of the diagonal of the field by Louis Lumière is school in the British, but they will apply it to the fiction. The difference is significant, because in a documentary, it comes easily to the idea of ​​the director that he must place his camera outside the trajectory of the subject filmed. This is how when Louis Lumière films Dragons crossing the Saone on horseback, or The Ostrich Walk in the Jardin des Plantespulling prams where toddlers sit, it is obvious that he will not settle in obstacle in front of his subjects. It is placed ¾ face or back, freeing space and taking advantage of a thread that increases in duration and details the show, compared to a shooting that would simply film the passage of the subject, with an entry and an orthogonal field output, this passage at 90 ° from the axis of a fixed shot would offer the spectator’s view only a brief and frustrating moment of spectacle. A panoramicwhich would follow the movement of the subject would have improved the readability of this passage, but at the beginning of the cinema, the camera viewfinders only worked when the camera was stopped, the frame being made simply by the direct observation of the window camera in front of which the operator had a fragment of veiled film on which the image was formed, before loading the blank film after the framing determined. But to operate the crank while rotating the camera on its axis required at least three hands, it was necessary to adapt the tripods to the execution of these movements and wait for the development of a system of sight during the shots. Also, until this invention, only the shooting of a moving subject along the diagonal of the field offered a satisfactory show.

In 1900 , British filmmakers, inventing the chase film, Chase Films , have a more difficult approach than that of Louis Lumière. At the same time, they must forget the traditions of photography and theatrical staging. A pursuit requires linear space to lengthen its duration, and the trajectory of the characters according to the diagonal of the field is essential, as well as the division of the scenes in several planes, to describe a single action taking place in several places.

The first historical example of the Chase Films is shot by a filmmaker from the Brighton School , James Bamforth , in 1900  : We Mock the Gardener ( The Biter Bit or A Joke on the Gardener ), a remake of The Sprinkler Watered. The film of Louis Lumière, since it is not a documentary view but a fiction, is composed in imitation of an identical action performed on a stage theater or music hall, with the comedians moving side by side from right to left and vice versa. James Bamforth, contrary to this theatrical principle, structures his film on the diagonal of the field. First, instead of being arranged frontally in front of the camera, the garden hose winds along a diagonal that comes from the off-field at the bottom right of the film frame and joins the flowerbed in the center of the framing, where the gardener operates. Basically, a second gardener mows the lawn, whose role is to stretch the space in the depth of field. Then, the character of the joker, rather than making a field entry on the same level as the gardener, out of the field near the camera and advances to his future victim along the other diagonal, from left to right. Observing the carousel of the worker, the joker turns to laugh at the camera and takes the audience part, adding another dimension, that of the character compared to the spectators, a dimension that is always theoff- camera in the axis of the camera. The following of the joke is known. But when the gardener pursues the offender, the two men turn around a shrub planted in the center of the framing, then the pursuer manages to catch the jester, back to the pipe and the shower copiously. The sprinkler sprinkles diagonally close to the camera and makes a pitiful exit to the right, while the gardener, who does not fool, out of turn from the field near the camera, on the left.

“The diagonal staging allows the redoubling of the action that appears to us then richer, and especially longer than the pursuit and spanking of Louis Lumière. And yet both films have exactly the same duration 3 . “

In 1903 , two striking Chase Films use the diagonal of the field. Both are prosecutions between offenders and police, and are marked by the death of a prosecutor. The first bold burglary in daylight (Daring Daylight Burglary) is carried out by Frank Mottershaw and comprises in its 5 minutes a chase and a fight on a roof, in which a policeman killed falling. His colleagues manage to stop the thief after having pursued him in places described according to the diagonal of the field, and after having missed it a first time, when he climbs in a train at the beginning. Here too, as in The arrival of a train in La Ciotat stationwe see the row of the platform, but instead of a wandering of travelers, takes place an action that will become a staging standard in the cinema: the race of the pursued who gets on the train already rolling, and the arrival of the pursuers, powerless to restrain the convoy, who see their prey escape them. But at the next station, assisted by a railway employee, another policeman, probably warned by telegraph, belt the burglar, roll with him on the platform and handcuffs him, in front of real travelers who look at this fact. various, incredulous, not knowing that they are filmed.

The second hard two poachers Combat ( Desperate Poaching Affray ), directed by William Haggar , includes not only panoramic following certain phases of the pursuit of two poachers by game wardens, but many structured plans on moving in diagonal of the field of the characters. “The passage of the actors in tight framing, just as they enter the field or when they go out, can be read on their faces their determination and their desperation when they are arrested 4 . “The dramatic effectiveness of the set of shots used by W. Haggar ensured the success of this film, which influenced the American action film and the comic pursuit films of French cinema, notably with Ferdinand Zecca and Alice Guy . Most of the time, the funny accumulation of the pursuers is favored by the use of the diagonal of the field which makes it possible to show one by one the passage of a series of ridiculous characters. This lesson will even be the basis of the success of a certain Mack Sennett who will export it to the United States and will amplify the recipe, creating his famous “gangs of cops” Keystone Cops that Roscoe Arbuckle will have to flee thenCharles Chaplin , and other great comedians.

The cinema in his maturity (1908-2013) 5 , 6

Silent Cinema

In the silent cinema of the years 1908 – 1928 , the use of the diagonal of the field spreads very quickly, but is limited to the shots turned into natural exteriors. The variety of scenery offered by nature, by the cities as well, and the displacement necessary for the team to travel from one natural setting to another, favors the fragmentation into plans, and thus the emergence of an original language and specific to the cinema.

“The fragmentation of plans has no other purpose than to analyze the event according to the material or dramatic logic of the scene. It is its logic that makes this analysis invisible, the mind of the viewer naturally marries the points of view that the director proposes to him, because they are justified by the geography of the action or the displacement of the dramatic interest 7 . “

But when filmmakers shoot in studio, their films show a camera paralysis, imposed by the limits of the artificial decor built on the set. The return to the movement of the actors along a trajectory orthogonal to the axis of shooting is systematic.

Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin analyze in detail in their Grammaire du cinéma , how, in 1915 , a young American director, Reginald Barker , and his producer and co-director, Thomas Harper Ince , shoot a sequence of their joint film, A loose , achieving “an entirely innovative dramatic use of the diagonal field of the studio field, dramatic being taken here in its original sense of drama , action. During the Civil War, a young man from the South refuses to enlist in the army, supported in this decision by his mother. His old father comes back from the recruiting office where he has learned to his great shame that his son has lied to him  ” 8 , and that he has not engaged. He will have to overcome the shame of being the father of a coward by confronting his son and his wife who overprotects their child. Arrived in the vast vestibule of his mansion, the old man enters the field on the right and goes to a door to the left of the frame. In this crossing diagonally of the field,”He turns his back on the spectator – which reinforces the idea of ​​his shame – and goes to the bottom, the low shoulders. While moving away in the diagonal of the field, its image diminishes, it shrinks, which underlines symbolically the idea of ​​its disgrace 9 . ” The desperate father opened the door.

In the following plane, which is practically a symmetrical counter- field of the preceding field (the separating wall of the two parts being the axis of pivoting of the two fields), the old man stops before crossing the threshold. This time, he is in front, at the bottom right. His son collapsed with grief, leaning against a table to the left of the framing, close to the camera. The father “looks at his son and as he stands in the background, it always seems as small as depreciated 9 . ” . The father walks towards his son following the diagonal of the field, his height grows. When he joins his son, the two men face each other, they are face to face, the father has returned to his normal dimension. That’s when he takes out a weapon to force his son to enlist.”This reverse angle, which can be called psychological, symbolically describes the reversal of the state of mind of the father and the dramatic situation 9 . ”

The unspoken that is reflected in this division using a displacement of the character on two diagonals of the field, suffices beyond any word (whether it is written on an intertitle, or, later, after the arrival of sound cinema, that it be pronounced), to indicate us precisely the state of mind of a character.

Sound cinema

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  1. ↑ Georges Sadoul , history of world cinema from its origins to today , Paris, Flammarion ,, 719  p. p.  16
  2. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  101
  3. ↑ a and b Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  102
  4. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  104
  5. ↑ André Bazin , What is cinema? , Paris, Editions du Cerf, coll.  “7th Art”,, 372  p. ( ISBN  2-204-02419-8 ) , “The Evolution of Cinematographic Language,” p.  66
  6. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , Performer, the “Great” history to fiction , Paris, New World ,, 436  p. ( ISBN  978-2-36583-837-5 ) , p.  292
  7. ↑ Bazin 1994 , p.  64
  8. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  479-480
  9. ↑ a , b and c Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  479

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