Dissertation: Quantitative Film Studies

Quantitative Film Studies

Regularities and Interrelations Exemplified by Shot Lengths in Soviet Feature Films

Schriften zur Medienwissenschaft, Band 44

Hamburg 2019, 310 Seiten
ISBN 978-3-339-10074-0

Comedy, Drama, Film studies, Filmwissenschaft, George Kingsley Zipf, Komödie, Media studies, Medienwissenschaft, Motion pictures, Paul Menzerath, Philosophy of science, Slawistik, Soviet Union, Sowjetunion, Spielfilm, Statistics, Statistik, Wissenschaftstheorie

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In statistical film analysis it is a common observation that shot length frequencies are not distributed haphazardly, but according to a particular pattern. Taking this as a starting point, the monograph focuses on two main questions. The first one is: Are shot lengths in Soviet feature films distributed regularly, and can these distributions be interpreted within a larger theoretical framework? The second question is: Is shot length an isolated entity in film or is it related to another formal filmic entity, film length?

These questions are asked in the light of research done in other semiotic systems, mainly in quantitative linguistics. It is assumed that film and language are controlled by similar underlying mechanisms. In linguistics, frequency distributions can be interpreted as being the outcome of the interplay of various forces and factors, such as the two Zipfian forces of unification and diversification.

The study of 70 Soviet feature films from the 1920s until the 1980s showed that the majority of the films’ shot length frequency distributions are distributed regularly and can be modelled using the Zipf-Alekseev function. This model again can be interpreted within larger theoretical contexts relating to, among others, general patterns of human behaviour (the principle of least effort) and psychophysics (the Weber-Fechner law).

The study of the second question provides an indication that shot lengths are not isolated but related to at least one other formal feature: film length measured in the number of shots. This relation can be modelled with a power function, which is known as the Menzerath-Altmann law in linguistics. This model also relates to a general principle of economy.

Taken together, this study has provided the first larger scale support for the assumption that the behaviour of filmic entities can be successfully studied within the larger framework of a synergetic theory.

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