Thursday, October 15, 2009

Blink once for yes...

I was intrigued by this recent segment on Radiolab, a science-for-dummies-show on public radio:

In it, esteemed film editor Walter Murch contends that although we have been taught that the blinking your eyes is to moisten the eyeball, in actuality it corresponds to a unit of information and thought, which we punctuate or "hit save" by blinking our eyes. This seems to be confirmed by the work of scientists in Japan who filmed people watching a movie and summarized their conclusions as follows:

Blinks are generally suppressed during a task that requires visual attention and tend to occur immediately before or after the task when the timing of its onset and offset are explicitly given. During the viewing of video stories, blinks are expected to occur at explicit breaks such as scene changes. However, given that the scene length is unpredictable, there should also be appropriate timing for blinking within a scene to prevent temporal loss of critical visual information.

Here, we show that spontaneous blinks were highly synchronized between and within subjects when they viewed the same short video stories, but were not explicitly tied to the scene breaks. Synchronized blinks occurred during scenes that required less attention such as at the conclusion of an action, during the absence of the main character, during a long shot and during repeated presentations of a similar scene. In contrast, blink synchronization was not observed when subjects viewed a background video or when they listened to a story read aloud. The results suggest that humans share a mechanism for controlling the timing of blinks that searches for an implicit timing that is appropriate to minimize the chance of losing critical information while viewing a stream of visual events.

Murch has long contended that a cut, or an edit in a film, corresponds roughly to a blink, and has anecdotal evidence to support that. (He even titled his book about film editing, In the Blink Of An Eye.) If that is true, then film editing is not just a matter of creative syntax or grammar, but an actual physiological need, or at least, desire, to create a satisfying film-viewing experience.

Appropriate thought as our Film Studies class begins to consider the subject of editing.

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