sinecine ISSN: 1309-5838

Film Literacy: Continuity Cinema as a Visual Communication System

Abstract

Making sense of films is an amazing mental and cognitive activity that requires the viewer to maintain a sense of continuity despite fragmentations in time and space and thus induces activation of several areas of the cerebral cortex. The continuity editing rules that emerged through trial and error by 1910 are the most dominant and common conventions that allowed viewers to effortlessly integrate the fragmented parts of a film. This achievement of continuity in cinema has been explained by its ability to mimic the course of natural active perception. From that perspective, films sufficiently resemble natural ways of viewing and therefore should be understood almost instantly without any film-specific literacy. Contrary to this perspective, films have also been considered as highly stylized and conventionalized ways of depicting scenes and events. From that perspective, in order to comprehend a movie, viewers would have to acquire some knowledge about the set of filmic rules and conventions beforehand, namely, to gain film literacy. This article will discuss the contributions of “natural perception” and “gained film literacy” to film comprehension, tracing the theoretical arguments and empirical studies on the subject from the fields of film studies, anthropology, and psychology.

Keywords: Film literacy, film perception, continuity cinema, film language, film grammar.