Monday, May 24, 2010

The Landscape View

As a way of preparing the kinds of questions I want to include in a poll or survey for the specific film I am looking at (Terje Vigen/A Man There Was), I want to take look at a more modern (and accessible) film of at least equal acclaim. Enter Lawrence of Arabia.

This clip is about 3 minutes long, but you could get by on just watching the first minute and ten seconds. Lawrence of Arabia is acclaimed for its cinematography and beautiful setting. But is that all the natural elements are? Setting? Consider this quote from Martin Lefebvre:

"The birth of landscape should really be understood as the birth of a way of seeing, the birth of a gaze by which what was once in the margin has now come to take its place at the centre."

I argue that narrative prioritizes action and plot while consideration of aesthetics requires a pause, an introversion that steps aside from story. It is on the side of aesthetics that we should place landscapes.

But as you watch this clip from Lawrence of Arabia, does your mind stay aesthetically tuned? Or does it seek out plot as well?

Again, Martin Lefebvre says: "Landscape in narrative film possesses the peculiar ability to appear and disappear before the spectator's very eyes."

So, please watch this clip, and respond as you see fit. Gut responses are fine, because part of what I'm arguing is what landscapes do to us without us realizing it. If you'd like some question prompts, here are a few:

1. What do you think is the meaning of the clip in the first minute?
2. What attracts your attention?
3. Are you more or less engaged in the scene in the first minute, compared to the bits of plot that follow shortly thereafter?
4. What is the difference in your experience of watching the clip before the introduction of plot elements, and after?
5. What do you think about or wonder as you watch the first minute? What do you think about or wonder after the plot elements have been introduced?
6. Does your "view" or "gaze" change over time as the video clip plays?

Here is the video clip:

If you'd like to be able to watch the clip larger, here's the link to the youtube clip "Great Moments of movie music 2." The title obviously suggests I should also be thinking about sound and music...which you can also feel free to comment on.


  1. I watched the clip first with no sound, only focusing on the pictures. As "they" say, a picture's worth a thousand words and as I watched a thousand interpretations raced across my mind. The power of landscape in drama/video is powerful, for in it the symbolism is for the audience to discover (in your clip, what's the significance of the match being blown out yet the sun coming up? etc.) Setting/visual landscape= interpretation
    Enter: The Graphic Novel, A New Form of Literacy
    Interestingly enough, for my 420 class we just read a graphic novel, a form of literature I've never read, and the use of pictures in place of words or to ENHANCE words and dictate interpretation to a degree is amazing! Here's an interesting article I found about the graphic novel's use in classrooms and how its form seems to cater to our "digital native" youth:
    A litter "teaser"

    "In any subject area, studying a graphic novel can bring media literacy into the curriculum as students examine the medium itself. Students can explore such questions as how color affects emotions, how pictures can stereotype people, how angles of viewing affect perception, and how realism or the lack of it plays into the message of a work.

    I don't know if you even want to address this side of visual literacy but the graphic novel does base about 50% if not more of its communication through the landscape and setting. If this is totally unhelpful then delete now! = )

  2. I would have to agree that you have to step a foot or two away from plot or narrative to appreciate the aesthetic. As I watched the clip, the impression of the landscape was enhanced by the scarce dialogue and slow pace of the camels. There was time to appreciate the perspective.

    Most films which try to transplant viewers to another era or location, I would argue, use similar techniques. I rewatched Out of Africa lately, and it is also another example of a film which stops action entirely at points to transport viewers to another landscape.

    To respond so some of your questions, my perception did change following the dialogue between the two characters. In the first shots, you see only dark objects moving against the desert landscape. Following our introduction to the two characters, I not only saw two men, but as my understanding of them increased, my curiousity increaded also. Even with the encompassing landscape, I started wondering why they were traveling together, where are they from, what is their destination...? The landscape stayed the same, but my focus shifted after their dialogue.

  3. Neal! Me again, I re-read your post and have another thought. You commented "I think we should place landscape on the side of aesthetics" and while narrative prizes action, landscape prizes beauty which increases as the unchanging object continually develops beauty. Now, I you asked if at the beginning of the clip, did my mind stay aesthetically engaged with the landscape and yes, but because of the previous scene, a man blowing out the candle, and the movement of the rising sun changing the landscape. So in a way, the landscape did engage me, it made me intrigued at interpretation. A good artist (or film director) understands the necessary MOVEMENT of landscape. Look here at Da Vinci's "Study for Adoration of Magi" ( and look at how depending on the perspective the drawing takes on a different landscape as well as meaning. I really am trying to help, I hope it at least gives you something interesting to look at if nothing else! = )