Reverse (cinema)

The reverse is a fixing or rigging obtained once directly to the shooting on photosensitive film, obtained today demand digital image, sometimes performed on the photosensitive film through an optical machine rig (in France, the TruCa ), the effects of which the effect produced on viewing is an inversion, photogram after photogram, of the direction of unfolding of a filmed action.


Before the first films of the cinema , made between 1891 and 1895 , the optical toy, or toy salon, was intended to educate children wealthy families, optical phenomena, including the decomposition and the return of a movement. It presents itself as a succession of vignettes drawn – about generally recreational – whose rotation produces a very brief spectacle, from one to two seconds at the most. This show can be slowed down, even immobilized, for educational purposes, to understand how the movement of an object or a living being is perceived by the brain as a series of information whose rapid succession allows it to distinguish the movement and interpret it as a signal of movement of the observed subject ( phi effect ).

It was also possible to rotate the toy in the opposite direction, and the owners of a phenakistiscope , a zootropic , a zoopraxiscope or a praxinoscope , and even more humbly a flipbook , knew, 60 years before the invention of cinema, the spectacle of the reversal of movement, that is to say of the reverse.

The machines invented by the American Thomas Edison and his electrical engineer William Kennedy Laurie Dickson , the Kinetic , the first camera of animated photography, and the Kinetoscope , a device for individual viewing by eyecup, have shown to a paying public the first films shot. The English word film has been adopted by Thomas Edison for the imprinted photosensitive film reel, in 35 mm formatwide, developed by his team, with 2 sets of 4 rectangular Edison perforations per frame. Both machines were driven by electric motors whose rotation could not be reversed. Even the system of intermittent advance of the film behind the lens of the kinetograph, a ratchet wheel, or ratchet gear wheel, prohibited any unwinding upside of the film 1 .

This was not the case of the luminous pantomimes of the French Émile Reynaud , presented to a paying public in the basement of the Musée Grévin , with the help of his Optical Theater , as early as 1892 . His machine projected on the big screen the first cartoons of the history of the cinema , directly traced and colored on a support of 70 mmwide, made of gelatin squares, protected from moisture by a shellac coating, assembled in strong and flexible paper frames (identical to the slide frames) joined on each edge by a set of thin flexible metal strips covered with fabric. He drew the characters on one side and then colored them on the opposite side, as in the technique of cellulos, which will be developed much later. His wife put black paint on the outside of the characters, so that the light could only cross (and project) the drawings. The continuous- motion mechanism including image-by-image projectionwas obtained by a ring of mirrors in rotation, could also turn in one direction or the other, allowing the passage at any time from the forward to the reverse, and therefore the reversal of movement. For example, a dog barked several times with the drawings of a single bark that a series of front steps and rear steps transformed into a succession of barking. In the same way, a diver came out of the water with his feet forward and plunged immediately, to get out again 2 …

When the Lumière brothers in their turn presented to a paying audience projections of “animated photographic views”, as Louis Lumière called his reels of photosensitive film in the format of 35 mm wide, with 2 sets of 2 round perforations Light per frame (To avoid being in forgery of Edison films that had the proof of their anteriority), an operator had the idea of ​​rewinding a view by turning the crank in the opposite direction and this without interrupting the luminous flux of the lantern. The reverse worked with the intermittent drive system adopted by the Lyon brothers and their engineer Charles Moisson, an eccentric cam system that could rotate in one direction as well as in the other. After this providential projection, the public success was such that Louis Lumière decided to make several subjects that were particularly suitable for reversing. This is how Auguste Lumière played (it was not the first time) in a view quite extraordinary for the time, a demolition of a wall , where a team of masons, under the direction of their foreman shake and then crumble a brick wall. When the operator reverses the rotation of the projector, the wall emerges from the dust, miraculously recovers, then the bricks scattered resume their place 3. There were also divers backwards. And many other subjects, which were in turn copied by other directors …

In 1901 , Frederick Armitage , a director working for the Biograph Company , had the idea to concentrate in less than two minutes the demolition and reconstruction of the Star Theater ( Demolishing and Building Up the Star Theater). During the few weeks that this operation lasts, the camera remains in the same place, well stalled, filming through the window of a building placed directly in front. Through camera starts and stopssuccessively, the filmmaker takes a few views every half-hour of the day (he excludes the evening, the night and the early morning, whose lights are not enough actinic to obtain a correctly exposed image). At the projection, the demolition takes place in 1 min 30 s, the materials are taken from a kind of destructive madness, shadows swirl, pedestrians activate like insects, the store of a nearby shop s’ opens and closes at an infernal pace, the floors of the Star Theater disappear one after the other. It was at this moment that behind his audience, the operator respected the announcement of the title: demolition and reconstruction, and he rewound the film using the projection device without turning off the lantern. The Star Theater was reborn from its ruins and rose again in New York by the magic of the reverse 4 …

The avant-garde cinema, in the years following the War of 14-18 and before the arrival of the film speaking, uses with a certain enjoyment the various special effects of the cinema. “At the time, a whole current of cinema is linked to artistic movements like Dadaism and later surrealism , which refute the conception of narrative cinema. The films should not take up the traditions of the bourgeois theater and the novel but instead turn their backs and seek their meaning through multiple images mounted randomly, without any concern to create a story with a beginning, a middle and a end, and without psychology 5 . ”

Dziga Vertov is one of the last great artists who passionately set out to support a new Soviet social order , sincerely believing that their formal research would also change the world. He refutes the concept of fiction cinema and advocates the cinema of the real , as the only valid moral form of this entertainment. The new men must look at the new men, it is a sufficient and edifying spectacle, that of the Cine-eye . In his famous documentary Man with the Camera , Dziga Vertov uses all the means of narration of the cinema, that the silent cinema , but sound, already possessed in 1928 . He thus composes areverse sequence .”An activist posterist quickly composes an illustrated panel of newspaper clippings. His skill does not come from Marxism-Leninism, which he must certainly handle with conviction, but from the backwards, because during the shooting the activist did not place the cuts in one go, which would have asked for time and precision. In fact, they were already on the panel and he just took them back, which required much less time and skill. Of course, the camera recorded the scene in reverse … In the same premises, activists play chess and they install their parts in one gesture. At the shooting, they actually swept the game with a backhand, the reverse did the rest. The leap forward is not for today 6 ! ”

Contemporary uses

In the film of Sergei M. Eisenstein , Alexander Nevsky , in the great battle on the frozen lake, one sees the infantry Teutonic retreat in disorder and reform once flawless forehead, tight shields and spears strained forward. It was impossible to maneuver impeccably dozens of extras, even military. The plane was turned in reverse, the soldiers were motionless, spears pointed in front of them. At the signal, they all raised their weapons together, and individually, breaking ranks, they moved forward shuffling their feet. With reverse, the effect of crowd then lowering movement spears of the same momentum is surprising 7 .

“We can also make fun of the army and the military. Thus, Sacha Guitry uses derision to reverse in Confessions of a Cheat , where it scrolls irreverently in reverse and then forward, pretty soldiers opérette the Principality of Monaco 8. ”

Today, the reverse would seem to be obsolete, but this is only an impression, because it is often used without the viewer can not notice. It does not appear as such. ”  Jim Abrahams , from the credits of Hot Shots! , sow gags in a film that is an antimilitarist pastiche of Top Gun . We notice a jet fighter who performs in reverse a superb slot to park on the tarmac of the aircraft carrier. The planes, as everyone knows, have no gearbox and reverse, but the cinema, it has one! Just shoot the outgoing plane normally its parking so forth, and getting the plan obtained by reverse 8 . ”

More subtle, these uses of the reverse that reveals the book Grammar of the cinema  : it is about showing prisoners, sent by a penitentiary to maintain the ballast of a railway way, in reflection on the glasses of one of their heavily armed guards, in the credits of the 48-hour movie . “This shot was shot in reverse, the man first stuck in the position where his glasses perfectly reflect the scene, then he looked away. Doing the opposite, relying on a random search of the right position by a head movement, would have required countless shots, it was easier to film in reverse with a guaranteed result and without any loss of time and film 9. ” In Million Dollar Baby , when the young woman, who won a boxing match with a fierce adversary and bad loser, is struck by treachery and falls on a stool that broke his cervical vertebrae, the plan was filmed in reverse For safety reasons. The actress has been relieved of her position of arrival, and the use of the rigging of the reverse is undetectable because the director Clint Eastwood took the precaution of using at the same time another trick: the idle , which hides all improper effect of reversing 9 .

Notes and references

  1. ↑ Marie-France Briselance and Jean-Claude Morin , film grammar , Paris, New World ,, 588  p. ( ISBN  978-2-84736-458-3 ) , p.  41
  2. ↑  [ archive ] . Description and operation of the Optical Theater reconstructed by the Cinémathèque française, with excerpts from the 40-minute documentary Birth of the Cinema by Roger Leenhard ( 1946 ).
  3. ↑ | Heritage Light | The Cinematograph
  4. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  40
  5. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  405-406
  6. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  168
  7. ↑ Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  385-386
  8. ↑ a and b Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  386
  9. ↑ a and b Briselance and Morin 2010 , p.  387

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