Film, primarily, is a visual medium. The etymology of the word cinematography literally means “drawing motion.” So it’s no wonder that for as long as people have been making films there has been discussion, debate, and experimentation to determine the meaning of composition and the effect that it has on the human brain. For instance, it’s long been known that a character the camera looks up to appears powerful and important, while one the camera looks down upon appears weak and unimportant. Yet, while many aspects about a shot’s composition are clearly understood and acknowledged, there is still much left for film scholars and filmmakers alike to parse apart and understand in the decades to come.
A new video essay is here to help us dive into one such aspect: lateral movement. Now You See It’s “Which Way Did He Go? Lateral Character Movement In Film” takes an in-depth look at a new study that has proven that the direction a character moves across the screen has an impact on how the audience views them. From left to right roughly equates to good, and from right to left to bad. The study also found that it wasn’t just movement, but also placement on the screen, with the right side of the screen being good and left being bad. Filmmakers seem to have at least had an idea of this notion for decades (which might simply have been based on the western world’s comfort with left to right movement and how it equates to the movement of time); Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Orson Welles, and many others clearly had a basic understanding of the concept, as their films are littered with character movement and placement that coincides with the new data.
All in all ‘Which Way Did He Go?’ serves as a nice reminder for just how young film is. Certainly there have been masters of the medium, but much about the form, especially the science behind it, is still being experimented with. So, maybe even in the world of franchises, sequels, and IP there is still something to be excited about.
Check out the video below and weigh in with your thoughts in the comments.