Dreams and Movies -Cuts

I produced this mind map to explore and document my research 


Despite my scathing review of Colin McGinn’s book, the Power of Movies there was a chapter in which I found fascinating and devoured the pages with interest. Dreams on Film (I only wish the whole book had been as insightful)

“By producing visual images in narrative form with an emotional theme, movies and dreams convert those repressed and free-floating emotions into visible form, giving them shape and definition. The visual becomes a way for the visceral ti channel itself, thus allowing for release. Both film and dream serve not just to represent and express emotion but to open the emotional valves to let emotion flow freely (and perhaps safely”

McGinn wrote that he believed dreams and movies were locked together in the same category. He wrote about the fractious nature of dreams always cutting and splicing, transferring oneself to a completely new destination within a second and the mind never questioning the improbability of the dream. “I can’t be being chased by a T-Rex they don’t exist,” never seems to cross my mind as I spend most of my night running for my life.  And I was interested to read that the same is in movies. No-one even questions the fact that we see someone getting ready for work in a movie then as they walk from the frame they are suddenly there. Life does’t work like that so McGinn questions why is there not an uproar, that’s not plausible, what’s going on?

Walter Murch (who also developed the theory of the cinema screen being like a giant wide window) provided an answer


So the fact that dreams and movies both interlink in that sense prove that dreaming and watching movies is a skill innate in all of us. As McGinn says young children who can follow a narrative take it in their stride, they don’t react to the cutting and changing, a fascinating fact, why aren’t they confused? I admit it’s something I’ve never even thought about. Perhaps it is like the research undertaken at Cambridge University.

“It deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a whole.”


“It doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be at the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not ready every letter by itself but the word as a whole.”

So perhaps this is like in films and dreams, we carry with us an innate problem solving talent to automatically fill in the gaps between elements that are not linked, the scrambled words, the cuts in movies, the spatio temporal discontinuity of dreams. It would seem so as an experiment was undertaken by Sermin Ildirar from Birbeck University of London and Stephen Schwan, Knowledge Media Research Centre in Tübungen, Germany,  to see if people who had never experienced TV before would understand film cuts. The experiment was undertaken in remote villages in Turkey and appointed local actors to act in everyday situations (so as not to confuse the villagers)

The villagers didn’t find it confusing, the shots were taken in their stride however intercutting shots, parallel action, flashing from one scene to the other and back again generated some confusion as the villagers tried to link them. So even if you haven’t watched TV before in your life your mind automatically fills in the gaps to explain everything. Which would imply that there was a connection between your dreams and watching a movie. Interesting further still I read this article here  written by the psychologist Jeffrey M Zacks, who noted that your eyes are continuously moving when you watch a movie. As an experiment he recommended filming yourself watching some footage which I did. At first I was very aware of eye movement as I was looking out for it but after a bit I relaxed into the movie and forgot about the project (being absorbed and removed from my immediate surroundings) I watched the video back and was amazed to see how my eyes flittered back and forth every second or so especially in moments of action or drama. Interestingly at the moment when the father supports his young son my head even tilted to one side something which I wasn’t aware of at the time.

“most of the eye movements we make are these jerky, ballistic movements called saccades. They take a little less than a tenth of a second and, while the eye is moving, the information that it is sending to your brain is pretty much garbage. Your brain has a nifty control mechanism that turns down the gain during these saccades so that you ignore the bad information”

Zacks goes on further to explain “ So, the signal that our brains are getting about the visual world is not like a smooth camera-pan around the environment. It’s more like a jittery music video: a sequence of brief shots of little patches of the world, stitched together. We feel like we have a detailed, continuous permanent representation of the visual details of our world, but what our visual system really delivers is a sequence of patchy pictures. Our brains do a lot of work to fill in the gaps, which can produce some pretty striking – and entertaining – errors of perception and memory.”

This would imply that we accept the transition of cuts in movies because it corresponds with the way in which we view the world. It could be an innate skill but also one which has been fuelled by our own vision. New born babies are born with huge eyes that are constantly taking in the world around them. Their eyesight teaches them about their surroundings, how to sit, crawl, how to walk and so much more. And for the first few days of their life they see upside down. So accepting cuts is pretty relaxed in comparison to this. “You may notice your newborn’s eyes wandering, as she hasn’t yet learned that she can fix her eyes on an object.”

However if we were to turn this theory on it’s head if we dream in such a fractious way and even day dream, perhaps it could be said that the reason dreams and films have so much in common is because we structure films to resemble that of our dreams.

I will conclude this study with the quote by Zacks,

“It’s not that we have learned how to deal with cuts. It’s certainly not that our brains have evolved biologically to deal with film – the timescale is way too short. Instead, film cuts work because they exploit the ways in which our visual systems evolved to work in the real world.”








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