Re-Presentations of Space in Hollywood Movies: An Event-Indexing Analysis

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Abstract

Popular movies present chunk-like events (scenes and subscenes) that promote episodic, serial updating of viewers’ representations of the ongoing narrative. Event-indexing theory would suggest that the beginnings of new scenes trigger these updates, which in turn require more cognitive processing. Typically, a new movie event is signaled by an establishing shot, one providing more background information and a longer look than the average shot. Our analysis of 24 films reconfirms this. More important, we show that, when returning to a previously shown location, the re-establishing shot reduces both context and duration while remaining greater than the average shot. In general, location shifts dominate character and time shifts in event segmentation of movies. In addition, over the last 70 years re-establishing shots have become more like the noninitial shots of a scene. Establishing shots have also approached noninitial shot scales, but not their durations. Such results suggest that film form is evolving, perhaps to suit more rapid encoding of narrative events.

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