Video/Cinema vs Stage terminogy

Mark D. Roberts mroberts37 at
Sat Aug 18 22:10:16 EDT 2007


In the so-called "primitive cinema" (e.g., Méliès), when the camera  
was often placed directly in front of the "stage" and the space of  
the theater was still generally understood as a model for cinema, it  
would make sense to use these terms in a more precise analysis of  
mise en scène, but with the introduction of montage, close-ups, and  
all the devices used in the modern narrative cinema, the camera  
becomes mobile and so the left/right orientation becomes relative  
rather than absolute.

If I might hazard a general observation, it seems that in the  
criticism of more recent decades, there is a tendency to speak of the  
type of "space" that is constructed via camera placement and  
movement, rather than any particular orientation between the actors  
and the pro-filmic space. In relation to the Japanese cinema, there  
is also a long discussion around the so-called 180° rule.

If you're interested in a discussion of the relation between on- and  
off-screen space, you probably couldn't go wrong to look briefly at  
Noel Burch's "Theory of FIlm Practice". If you're interested in a  
more focused discussion of the Japanese cinema, and how camera  
movement may be used to orient (or disorient) viewers, you could also  
look at: Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. "Space and Narrative  
in the Films of Ozu." in Screen 17.2 (1976).

Hope this helps.

M. Roberts

On Aug 19, 2007, at 8:33 AM, Bruce Baird wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> Aaron, thanks for the info on screenplays.  Also while I am at it,  
> I have a question about how to write about film and video.
> Its standard practice in dance and theater to employ the terms  
> stage left and stage right which imagine the stage as from the  
> perspective of the person on it, so stage left is the actor's left  
> and will look like the right side of the stage to the audience.   
> When writing about film and video, is there a standard practice to  
> talk about the right side of the screen or left side of from a  
> particular vantage point?  Is there an equivalent screen right and  
> screen left and do those correspond to what the viewer experiences  
> as the right and left side of the screen, or not?
> Best,
> Bruce
> Bruce Baird
> Assistant Professor
> Asian Languages and Literatures
> University of Massachusetts Amherst
> Butô, Japanese Theater, Intellectual History
> 717 Herter Hall
> 161 Presidents Drive
> University of Massachusetts Amherst
> Amherst, MA 01003-9312
> Phone: 413-577-4992
> Fax: 413-545-4975
> baird at

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