Creative Writing of Academic Prose Papers: Doing a Lot with a Little
The typical undergraduate student writing a paper on Michael Curtiz' Casablanca might have the time and patience to watch the film twice all the way through, relying on fast-forward and rewind research, and the film's script, to gather more precise evidence. A really thorough student might watch the film three or four times, stopping frequently to analyze shots and to re-watch important scenes or shot sequences. In addition to this evidence, both students might have watched perhaps ten to twenty films that might be called "comparable" or "contrasting" so that their experience could be used as evidence when interpreting Casablanca. To the best of my knowledge, no undergraduate researcher will have watched, as Barry Salt did, 250 films, specifically studying all of them for the frequency of "reverse-angle" shots as a percentage of all the shots in the film. Salt's data on Casablanca, when compared with data from many other films, can help the creative student to write about how Michael Curtiz uses the shot-reverse-angle-shot sequence to shape the viewers' experience of the film.
Salt discusses point-of-view (POV) shots as ways of establishing the "POV" character's mental focus, and the reverse-angle shot's relationship to "voyeuristic" films by Alfred Hitchcock, where the first shot lingers on the unwitting subject of the voyeur's obsession before the second shot reverses the angle to capture the voyeur's obsessed face. Salt does not extend this analysis to other ways a film might use reverse-angle shots, but the creative student researcher could do so. For instance, when a main character's judgment is being tested, perhaps as the character observes a series of people or the same person he is trying to evaluate, the shot-reverse-angle-shot pattern might often occur. How else to explain the frequency of reverse-angle shots found in Casablanca? (Actually, there is another Curtiz film in Salt's data set that has a similarly high frequency, but a little research into its plot will explain the similarity and might even help us to better understand Casablanca.)
How was such an article found? My search was "dumb," not well-constructed. JSTOR's "Film Studies" database was asked for "Casablanca" with hits stacked from most recent to oldest, and in the third page of 147 hits, Salt's article appeared. I was clicking on "Page of First Match," which took me immediately to his evidence table, and Casablanca's reverse-angle shot frequency stood out. Had I known what I was looking for, I could have added the words "shot" and "angle" to the film title, and that would have given me Salt's article as second in order of relevance out of thirteen hits. "Shot" and "angle" and "Casablanca" occur 87 times in Salt's article, but a click on "View list of pages with search terms" from the top of the first page of the article gives me just eleven pages to scan, and the sixth of those is page 51, which contains the data table.