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Exploring the Artefacts #15: Slavko Vorkapich's Golden Lessons Part 4


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







Released in 1941, Slavko Vorkapich along with fellow filmmaker John Hoffman (1904 - 1980) made the short film Moods of the Sea set to the music of Felix Mendelssohn's "Fingal's Cave". There is no narrative here. Instead, the film acts as a tone poem that represents what Vorkapich most valued: carefully choreographed shot composition fluently edited to create a simple but transcendental experience. The film's artistic achievement lies in its ability to elegantly amagamate the two mediums of music and imagery into a unique poetic expression of its own design.             



This clip from MGM's 1936 film San Francisco contains the famous earthquake sequence created by montage artist Slavko Vorkapich. Even with the budgetary and special effects constraints at this rather early developmental stage of cinema, Vorkapich with his stylistic ingenuity is able to give the audience a vividly visceral account of that harrowing event. 


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

Golden Rule #4

Never "pan" (or swivel) the camera more that a few feet since what the cameraman sees will not translate effectively to what the audience experiences on the screen. For example, If a camera pans around a room, the area's dimensionality will be lost as the imagery becomes flattened. For the spectator, this promotes disorientation. The way to avoid this distraction is to "dolly" or move the camera set-up as well, during the pan which on a purely visual level provides a greater sense of spatial proportion and therefore promotes the viewer's (even if only subconscious) engagement. 

To illustrate this dynamic, here is the famous 360 degree panning shot from The Manchurian Candidate whereby as the camera pans, there is little indication that we are in fact travelling "around" anything, more from "side to side"... that is until the camera somewhat awkwardly returns to its original starting point.    

Perhaps if a filmmaker has such a creatively inspired narrative to work with such as director John Frankenheimer had in this film, such a stylistically bold and purposeful photographic technique would overcome its transpositional weakness. Still, as a practical device, this visual "rule" would be wisely adhered to.