Persistent illusions of time and space in film and television

Using the example of Richard Linklater’s "Before Sunset"

Seminar Paper, 2007

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. The theoretical frame
2.1 Definitions of illusion
2.2 Film and television as institutions of illusionary worlds
2.3 Technical bases for the creation of illusions

3. Filmic illusions of time and space
3.1 Mise-en-scene in space and time
3.2 Illusions of time
3.3 Spatial illusions

4. Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset
4.1 Content
4.2 Creation of temporal and spatial illusions
4.3 Intentions



1. Introduction

In film and television production, most of the multiplicity of rendered effects are ultimate results of cleverly devised composition and camera techniques. To entertain in cinematic terms means to attract the viewer’s attention by affecting him at the very core of his being. Very personal and intimate feelings must be evoked to achieve such visual awareness and therefore producers and directors of television shows and feature films are utilizing the entire technology’s capacity. Most of the time, the usage of cinematic techniques comes along with heavy losses of such elements that are still realistic and original. Illusions of time and space are created and spectators are regularly deluded.

The main concern of this term paper is to provide the reader with an as broad as possible overview of the technological trends that occurred in the past centuries and are of fundamental importance for the creation of illusions. Specific attention will at this juncture be turned to the manipulation of space and time, as well as to the director’s intentions that were followed by it. In the second part of the paper in hand, the established principles of media-theoretical terms will be transferred to Richard Linklater’s Before Sunset, a follow-up to the 1994’s success Before Sunrise. A film which consists of long-take tracking shots and evokes the illusion of realism in terms of time and space that are passed, which is why it is almost predestined for a closer analysis like this.

2. The theoretical frame

2.1 Definitions of illusion

The etymology of the term illusion starts with a reference to several subordinate meanings such as “to delude”, “to betray”, “to deride”, but also to more broader denotations like “to play” or “to monkey about”. There is, thus, a strikingly high variation of meaning of the word illusion, but the fundamental term to which each and every one of them relates to an either greater or lesser extent is the term of reality. According to the etymological reading, the creation of illusions generally implies an error of judgement concerning reality. One either misjudges a situation or is taken in by an intentional deception – a game, a trick. Wherever deception is given, there must be room for correction – otherwise, there would not be anything real or true from which the deception or error as such could be distinguished (Voss 2006, 74).

If the concept of illusion is restricted to this predominantly deceptive-theoretical meaning, film can definitely not be classified as a medium of permanent creation of illusions. This is because perception of film does normally neither lead to a break-in of the reality concept nor to a revision of our own empiric comprehension of reality. Even though cinema does not belie reality, it yet deals in a very substantial way with the creation of illusions. Therefore, an alternative definition of the term illusion is required. A more suitable perspective can be found in lexical and psychiatric definitions of the term. Both definitions distinguish the illusion from the so to say completely levitated hallucination. Corresponding to that, medical-psychiatric dictionaries define illusion as a distorted perception of entitative objects or rather as an adding of wrong perceptions to the actual real one in such a way as that objects of reality appear modified to the subjective eye. Thus, in the case of illusion there exists – in contrast to hallucinations – at least a sensory stimulus which is subjectively misinterpreted, though (Voss 2006, 74 f.).

A last and probably also the most suitable definition for cinematic illusions was established by the Austrian writer Robert Musil who tried to alter the whole concept of illusion by choosing a completely different approach to it. Musil analyzed the illusion with special regards to its function in the context of aesthetics (Voss 2006, 75). He neither interprets the aesthetic illusion as a misapprehension nor does he understand it as an intentional deception of real facts. He rather tries to establish a constructive meaning in the process of understanding and perceiving art:

Man ist zwar gewohnt, die Wirkung des Kunstwerks als gehobenen, wohl auch als einen erleichterten Lebenszustand beschrieben zu finden, früher nannte man ihn gern Phantasie und heute Illusion, aber man trifft selten oder nie auf die Auswertung der Möglichkeit, dass diese Illusion bei aller Verschiedenheit eine Analogie zu dem ist, was die Psychiatrie unter einer Illusion verstehen, also eine Störung, bei der Elemente der Wirklichkeit zu einem unwirklichen Ganzen ergänzt werden, das Wirklichkeit usurpiert (Musil 1981, 1140).

In consideration of the above mentioned definitions, it is now possible to turn to the more specific focus on the various ways in which film and television create illusions.

2.2 Film and television as institutions of illusionary worlds

Regarding the filmic illusion as an aesthetic one, its close connection to the phenomena of sense and perception gets rather evident. Illusions are special representatives of our aesthetic world, the world of perception. The question of reality is almost as old as the famous Plato’s Cave Allegory in which people are forced to interpret the cast shadows on the cave’s wall as the objective reality. Clearly, this perception is of an illusionary character and the shadows on the wall are merely representatives of the actual real world. In that way, the illusion can be classified as a way to explore reality in a more systematic manner, as a philosophical taskmaster who gives us broader understanding of what is true and what is not (Emrich 2006, 39).

The cinematic illusion, however, differs completely from the above mentioned metaphor of Plato, for every film-goer knows exactly that he or she is witnessing an artificial work of moving pictures that is solely displaying real or possible worlds (Emrich 2006, 39). The viewers are aware of the fact that they are dealing with fiction, and yet, in the act of perception, they are believing in the seen action in such a strong manner that it is actually able to emotionally touch them. The filmic illusion does not force a misjudgement in regard to the empiric world upon the viewer, but it is only meant to be accepted in the very moment of its actual appearance. This acceptance is again quite vital for the working of film and television (Koch 2006, 53). In a succeeding case of film perception, the viewer attributes a form of reality to the displayed events on screen and is therefore directly affected by them. Succeeding film perception also requires a high willingness to provide each appearing character with his own biographical experiences and memories. It also requires the ability to mentally adjust the afore fragmented – because mounted – narrative arrangement of a film plot into some logical structure (Voss 2006, 72-78). Ernst Pöppel, a German Professor of Medical Psychology, made the case: “Das Gehirn ist kein passiver ,Filter’, sondern […] hat gestaltende Kraft. Daß [sic!] Wahrnehmung ein aktiver Prozeß [sic!] und nicht nur passive Datenverarbeitung ist, lässt sich an vielen Beispielen […] zeigen.“ (Pöppel 1993, 227-246). One of these examples is the realm of film and television productions.

The reality of a filmic picture is of pure rhetoric character. It is nothing more but a dream, a best-case scenario that can not be carried out in practice:

Film is itself a jerky mechanical ballet of flicks that yields a sheer dream world of romantic illusions. But the film form is not just a puppetlike dance of arrested still shots, for it manages to approximate and even surpass real life by means of illusion (McLuhan 2001, 317).

Hence, each and every spectator of film and television must aim to strive for a personal reality, since the general one cannot be achieved. Only out of the sum of a multiplicity of differently natured films by different directors, the individual can then obtain a relatively real, in its tendency quite extensive idea of the modern world with all its solicitudes and problems. An idea that after all conveys this universal experience to the modern human being, which he is missing. Especially in this respect, film can – just as every other kind of art can – fulfill an extremely important function to the modern world (Tarkovskij 1989, 99). A function aside from the rather base motive of mere entertainment: “[Film] offers an inward world of fantasy and dreams. The film viewer sits in psychological solitude like the silent book reader.” (McLuhan 2001, 318).

Sentiences of acting figures – that are mere deceptions on the screen – can only release emotional impulses if the particular viewer is situated in a complete affective status. In no case does the acceptance of momentary truth concern the displayed emotions on screen. The spectator is aware of the actor’s reality. The illusion applies only to the process of perception and viewing; to a particular period in time in which the spectator’s desire for discursive, if not narrative, coherence can be allured by the conscious arrangement of deceptions (Kappelhoff 2006, 179).

“The film audience […] accepts mere sequence as rational. Whatever the camera turns to, the audience accepts. We are transported to another world.” (McLuhan 2001, 312). Film and television, so to conclude, can – through the effectiveness of their narratively mounted audio-visuality – appear “real” to the observing spectator, inasmuch as they are able to put the viewer in a status of high affective-mental resonance (Voss 2006, 78).

2.3 Technical bases for the creation of illusions

Every form of art is not only dominated by the politics, the philosophy and the economy of a society, but also by its technology. As long as artistic impulses cannot be put into practice with the aid of this or that technology, no piece of art can be produced. The major artistic contribution of the Industrial Age – namely film, sound recording and photography – depends basically and essentially on a complex and constantly developing technology. It is simply not possible to compass the way in which these forms of art achieve their results without acquiring a basic understanding of both the required technique and the science that forms its basis (Monaco 2000, 66 f.).

Film is a series of twenty-four pictures per second – the gradual transport must put the film into the right position to illuminate a picture, it must retain it in a motionless status for about ½ 4 of a second and then put the next picture into the right position. The transport mechanism is in a manner of speaking the “heart” of the cinema, for it “pumps” the film through the camera or the projector. The secret of success of this system that records and replays a series of pictures and thereby gives the impression of a continuous movement, lies in what Ingmar Bergman likes to call an error of the human eye: the Nachbildwirkung. The brain saves a picture longer than it is actually visible; thus, it is possible to construct a machine that projects a series of pictures fast enough to melt them in the human brain and simultaneously produce the illusion of movement (Monaco 2000, 88). The crucial point at which the term of illusion starts to bestir, is the very point at which the series of single pictures, set into motion through projection, let us see movement. In terms of psychological perception, we are dealing with what is called an objective illusion here. An optical illusion that emerges regardless of whether the viewer wants it or not and is fundamental for the fact that the viewer perceives single pictures as continuous movement. We are seeing single pictures of a real movement that actually took place in the pre-filmic space of shooting film. These single pictures of a real movement are supplemented again in the stage of filmic projection – both through the technical and the psychological apparatus of perception – into one continuous motion (Koch 2006, 56). In a technically mature film, subjective movements – meaning such movements that the viewer is asked to do by himself – find themselves in a constant challenge with objective movements. The viewer is bound to identify himself with the swivelling, up and down moving or rolling camera that is supposed to draw attention to both stagnant and moving objects. A suitable arrangement of pictures can also mean to make the viewers rush through vast areas of time and space in such a way that they are almost able to witness events in different periods of time and at different places simultaneously (Kracauer 1964, 61).

In professional filmmaking, the working process is subdivided into three different phases: preproduction, shooting production and postproduction phase. Every phase changes what went before. The first phase mainly involves basic preparations such as writing the script, casting actors and hiring technicians, working out shooting schedules and budgets. The phase that involves, however, the by far highest use of technology is the shooting production phase (Monaco 2000, 126). Amongst others, the following techniques are being used in this phase:

The ability of the frame to be mobile is usually referred to as camera movement. Basically, there are two different types of camera movement: The camera can either center one of its three – imaginary – axes of rotation or it can move from one place to another. Using the pan or tilt operation, the camera constantly follows the moving or changing object; using the roll axis, it is not the object that changes, but only its positioning in the picture. In contrast to this, the camera moves – while shooting tracking or crane shots – in a horizontal or vertical level; at this, the object is static or moving. These different types of camera movement and their miscellaneous combinations have wide influence on the relation between object and camera (and thereby on the viewer); thus, the camera movements inhere extreme importance as determinates for the content of the film (Monaco 2000, 93).

The speed of camera also features a small set of useful variables: slow motion (the more frames per second shot, the slower the screen action) and fast motion (the fewer frames per second shot, the greater the acceleration of the screen action) effects (Bordwell 2004, 235). Hence, film can apply to time in a similar way as telescope and microscope apply to space. By the use of slow and fast motion effects, events that tend to run either too slow or too fast for the human eye are being visualized (Monaco 2000, 91). In scientific terms, the realm of cinematography is not only of outstanding importance because it helps analyzing vast numbers of time phenomena, but also because it is a medium that is able to record reality in a comparatively objective way (Monaco 2000, 92).


Excerpt out of 19 pages


Persistent illusions of time and space in film and television
Using the example of Richard Linklater’s "Before Sunset"
University of Cologne
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Persistent, Richard, Linklater’s, Before, Sunset
Quote paper
Stephanie Preuthen (Author), 2007, Persistent illusions of time and space in film and television, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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