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Exploring the Artefacts #7: Slavko Vorkapich's Golden Lessons Part 3

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 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.

(For a further introduction to Slavko Vorkapich please see: Exploring the Artefacts #1


I'd like to begin this third part of the series by showing a short film made by noted filmmaker Hilary Harris in 1967 entitled Nine Variations on a Dance Theme. Vorkapich highly praised this wordless film for its focus on the visual artistic capabilities unique to cinema, which here practically transport the viewer into a whole new dimension of time and space. Harris achieves this by utilising a steady but fluid camera, perfectly synchronised to the graceful choreography of his subject, and by increasing the sophisticated cuts of that photographed movement as the dancer continues her exercise. Note the stunning effect of the overlapping shot, an editing technique under-utilised by filmmakers in the past and present.



Next is a most topical example of what our learned teacher considered a "visual mistake", likening it to a writer's disregard for punctuation.

Golden Rule #3

Never overuse a hand-held camera especially for a prolonged period of time.

We look to the film L'Avventura for a clear example of what happens when filmmakers misguidedly use this device. Today it's often liberally used to convey "realism" especially in action films, where instead, it only promotes nausea.

The following scene clearly demonstrates that any unwanted or unnatural movement resulting from an unsteady camera causes the photographed subject (in this case the island) to rock n' roll.




Here is another example of how a "shaky-cam" appears to exaggerate movement in what it photographs from Jean Luc Goddard's A Bout de Souffle (Breathless):


This principle can also apply to a hand-held camera used during a prolonged chase scene: Everything shown jumps, rocks, and blurs, shakes, rattles and rolls. This results in a confused and downright annoyed audience. The filmmakers may have thought the exaggerated motion would be viewed as the character's experience when in fact it's transferred to all of the things we see, tossed like a salad, from that person's point of view.



Next Time: In Part 4, I'll present another of Vorkapich's Golden Rules, a short film he made that demonstrates his strong visual acuity and his famous "earthquake" sequence he designed for San Francisco (1936).