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Exploring the Artefacts #1: Slavko Vorkapich's Golden Lessons Part 1


Slavoljub "Slavko" Vorkapić (March 17, 1894 – October 20, 1976)

Slavko Vorkapich arrived in Hollywood in 1921. He was an actor, painter, film artist, editor and director but most importantly to movie lovers and students who knew him, a Film Educator.

He also made a number of noteworthy documentaries and experimental films.

Vorkapich is probably best remembered today for his exceptional montage work on Hollywood films such as Viva Villa (1934), David Copperfield (1935), San Francisco (1936), The Good Earth (1937) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). These montage sequences often appeared as a notation in Hollywood scripts of the 1930s and 40s as a "Vorkapich" due to his mastery of the dynamic visual montage sequence using a variety of editing techniques and camera movements. He used kinetic editing, lap dissolves, tracking shots, creative graphics and optical effects for his stunning montage sequences, for both the previously mentioned features and Crime Without Passion (1934), Manhattan Melodrama (1934), Maytime (1937) and Meet John Doe (1941) amongst others.

He was appointed chair of the Film Department at the University of Southern California from 1949-1951. Toward the end of his life, Vorkapich gave a series of lectures there and at U.C.L.A. where he demonstrated the art of "pure cinema." He also addressed what NOT to do when putting a film together, often by showing scenes from motion picture "classics." 

Here is the montage sequence he created for Crime Without Passion (1934):









In this series, my intention is to share some examples of what this learned teacher considered "visual mistakes", likening them to a writer's disregard for punctuation. Additionally, I will include some clips of what Vorkapich thought were cinema's most praiseworthy works. He hoped these works would inspire both audiences and film makers alike by highlighting the medium's potential for visually communicating an artist's thoughts and ideas. Some of the techniques used in achieving this enhanced visual storytelling will be explored as well.  


The first example from Akira Kurosawa's Rashomon (1950) seems most appropriate since:  

A) It demonstrates a deep understanding and appreciation for visually transcendent storytelling achieved by skillfully utilizing some highly sophisticated photographic and editing techniques.  

B) There's what Vorkapich identified as a "visual mistake" occurring at the end of this alluring scene.  

Golden Rule #1 

Whenever a character is shown looking intently at something, the very next shot should be from the point of view of that character, i.e. what he or she sees since it is naturally what the viewer anticipates.

In the following example, the woodsman stops and notices something. The film cuts to a shot with a woman's hat in the foreground and the woodsman in the background. It's as if he's looking at himself, thus causing the viewer to be momentarily confused and distracted.


Kurosawa's visual flaw hardly diminishes his mesmerising display of cinematic composition. Vorkapich also considered Rashomon to be one of only two feature length motion pictures (he disliked the word "film" implying it was too static) to fully realise the medium's capability of producing a pure cinematic masterpiece.


Next Time: another golden rule, and a scene from the "other" theatrical masterpiece Slavko Vorkapich treasured in his Golden Lessons Part 2.