Basic Film Techniques: Slow Motion

Slow motion is the technique through which time appears slowed down. The slow motion technique regularly used in cinema is the process of “overcranking” which entails a camera capturing an image at a rate faster than it will be projected. The slow motion technique used in sports replays tends not to use this method, as it requires cameras set up to film entirely in the slow motion method. Slow motion replays tend to be regularly recorded footage replayed at a slower speed. Films use the “overcranking” method because of the clarity and superior image reproduction. The aesthetic quality of the “replay” method is much lower however much more adaptable and sensible for live television. The logistical efforts required to use the “overcranking” method make it non-viable financially however cricket has occasionally used the “overcranking” method to analyse a bowlers or batters technique in depth. This slow motion analysis has revealed the extent a bat spins in the hands of the batsman when they strike a cricket ball and has come as a great surprise to many cricket coaches. The slow motion technique has been adapted and used in many films to produce contrasting readings concerning similar ground. I noted that one distinct reading is found in Cross Of Iron (1977) ‘The hyperbole of violence, normal in all war films, is brought to the foreground… by the repeated use of slow motion’. The film’s use of slow motion ensures ‘we as viewers are not permitted to ignore the ignoble truth of every bullet’. Slow motion in Cross Of Iron is used to produce an anti-war message; slow motion is used to critique violence. The technique of slow motion however is often used for converse reasons as indicated in many action films, one such film I looked at was The Defender (1994). ‘The technique of the slow motion is used not to expose the violence as shocking but rather so that the audience can wonder and understand the fast movements and skillful attacks’. The slow motion technique in The Defender ‘produces a sense of invulnerability and brilliance in the one character who continuously dishes out punishment rather than receives it’. Slow motion is used to facilitate enjoyment and wonder at the brilliance of the central protagonist – a reading contrary to that which is intended in Cross Of Iron. The slow motion technique can be used for numerous readings. The technique highlights physical movements facilitating the audience to concentrate on such things as the underlying horror of an action or the brilliant or exceptional abilities of a character.

Slow Motion in Sam Peckinpak’s Cross Of Iron

Cross Of Iron (1977)

In Sam Peckinpak’s war film (anti-war) Cross Of Iron we see the use of slow motion. The hyperbole of violence, normal in all war films, is brought to the foreground in Cross Of Iron by the repeated use of slow motion. The slow motion shots delay the conclusion of violence, robbing it of its ability to be a momentary action; the consequence of shooting reverberates longer than it normally does because of the slow motion style. And we as viewers are not permitted to ignore the ignoble truth of every bullet. The consequence and bloody violence is drawn out by the use of slow motion.

However there is a danger that comes with the use of slow motion; namely that the violence obtains a sort of fetishistic stage where the audience intensifies its status as voyeurs enjoying the exploitation of blood letting. To avoid this the structure around the violence must inform the film’s position and communicate a sense of anti-violence and anti-war – because if that doesn’t then the film appears to enjoy and delight in the blood shedding.

Cross Of Iron communicates its anti-war sentiment by highlighting the worn-down attitude of the German soldiers. The wish to allow the captured Soviet boy return symbolises. The fresh ambitious Prussian officer Hauptmann Stransky demands the shooting of the Soviet boy; his adherence to the rulebook indicates how broken and disaffected the other German soldiers really are. The lack of any clear distinctive military targets and aims also communicates a sense of confusion which supplements the feeling that all war is aimless slaughter. Because these elements are highlighted the slow motion retains the critique of violence.