To begin, my current photographical work is related to the subject of dreams. I want to use digital compositing technique and create images that are representing my interpretation of the stage between reality and dreams. I am currently working with two or more suggestive images related on the theme of dreams and composite them in one frame. As the final outcome I am looking to collect a series of fixed, ambiguous transition based images that display the composited content between spaces and objects. However, this is only the initial phase and further in my work, I am interested to explore more how the shift between reality and dreams can be visualized not only in photography but also in moving images. But in order to do this in praxis, I need first some theoretical and historical insights into this theme.
On this matter, cinema can be seen as a visual language that shapes our perception of reality and fantasy, everything what is around us and also inside of us. However, film only presents the illusion of the reality. Dreams are also partly an illusion of reality that is constructed by our sub consciousness appearing as detailed memory reflections during the sleep; hence representations of dreams in cinema can be regarded as illusions within illusions. The shift between reality and a dream can be interpreted very differently but representation of it is more or less limited by possibilities of compositing and cinematographic tools, it is therefore important to know these tools of visual story telling in order to represent stories and ideas. All the techniques and methods of filmmaking are adding layers of meanings to moving image content. (Brown, 2012)
Against this backdrop, the primary purpose of this essay is to get some insights and influences for my future work in moving images. I believe this can be achieved by both self-reflection and “technical investigation” of what has been done previously in this subject. For this reason, in the first part of this essay, I will introduce and reflect on how I have come to be interested in the subject of dreams in images. To continue, in the second part, I will try to explore how the representation of the shift between reality and dreams, and the content of dreams in moving images are displayed and how it has changed over time, with respect to technical and technological solutions. In order to discuss this question I have chosen separate sequences from several moving images each representing a different time period. These films include Un Chien Andalou (Bunuel, Dali, 1928), Spellbound (Hitchcock, 1945), Vertigo (Hitchcock, 1958), Twin Peaks, Episode Two, Coopers Dream (Lynch, Frost, 1990) and Inception (Nolan, 2010). Finally, I will try to arrive at some conclusions about the changes in representation of dreams in cinema and the employability of my findings in my future work.
References in photography and my work
On this matter, I started my research of photographers and I am truly inspired by Duane Michals innovative use of photo-sequences. He avoids the conventional photographical language and system of signs, constructing his own visual language with its own grammar of visual tricks such as shutter blur, compositing, dodging, overlying and adding text to photos that examine philosophy and emotions. He composites images sequentially as a comic in fixed order, making up short story lines about love, fears, disappointment, homo sexuality, death and also dreams. His work is photography but can be viewed with a cinematic eye. Barthes argues, “ In photography something has posed in front of the camera and stays there forever, and in cinema something passes in front of the camera, the pose is swept away and denied by the continuous series of images...” (1993, p. 67)
My theme was set the representation of dreams, but I was still looking for something specific in the content that I could speak about in my photographs because dreams can be really subjective and broad topic. At first, I made a sequence of single photos that created a narrative, how a person is falling asleep into a dream. The result of it looked too obvious with a linear story line and it missed the suggestive part for the viewer. My second influence photographer Harry Callahan also worked in a similar way with multiple exposure technique. He relished the idea that, “the flux and indeterminacy of the universe could not necessarily be contained in a single image.” He argued, that double exposure is able to dematerialize fixed notions of time, space and identity and to reconfigure them in a new reality.” Thinking about this quote, I decided to experiment with digital compositing technique, trying to explore the possibilities and visualize my interpretation of dreams by creating a series of composited images. I chose to work with models as subjects and landscapes as space. Models are able to show different kind of positions and emotions that describe happiness, satisfaction, excitement, self-confidence and confusion. Landscapes were mainly shot when it was foggy or dark because fog creates emptiness and absorbs details in the same way as darkness. In the images I was looking for suggestible content, interesting spaces, compositions and color that could be composited.
The third composited image was becoming interesting if with in the composited image natural objects were changing the proportions, light interacted in between two spaces or foreground mixed esthetically with background. The separate images absorbed details one from each other and created ambiguous, suggestive space physically or psychologically, depending on content.
These practical conclusions induced me to think more about provisional photographs that I would like to create and which would fit with my subject. Currently, I am working on a series of photographs, my future plans imply creating a short video on the same subject. Therefore, I am interested to explore the vocabulary of visual tricks that are used in moving images to make somebody believe that they are looking into a dream.
Representation of dreams in moving images
By selecting moving images that I am describing, I was searching for story content that is displaying dreams and ones presenting an innovative use of technical approaches from different periods of time. It is interesting to find out if representations of dreams have changed during time and what is in common in it.
Un Chien Andalou (1928) is a bizarre and surreal moving image sequence that has mostly no explanation. The script was made by two men: Bunuel and Dali dreams, and written as surreal as possible. Seductively scenes are composited according to associations, where objects from one shot before reappear in the upcoming, it occurs a process of associations within the short narrative illusion. As Dali explained, the intention of the film was, “To disrupt the mental anxiety of the spectator,” and one of the easiest ways to do this is to thwart the viewer’s ability to logically interpret proceedings. (Bunuel, 1975) In this film is an obvious dislocation of time and space the same as in dreams. The disruption of time mainly occurs through cuts and the use of the titles that are displayed between several transitions. The dislocation of space happens occasionally, referencing to a dream representation, there is no beginning or end of a scene. It is interesting how successive scenes are composed with the graphic match technique that creates metaphorical associations. Similar compositional elements are creating continuity between frames as well as long transitions.
In black & white film Spellbound (1945) Hitchcock wanted to break the cliché that dreams in cinema are represented blurry and hazy. His interpretation of the dream sequence was with great visual sharpness and clarity. He invited Salvador Dali to design the dream sequence set because he was the most convenient artist related to theme of dreams. Hitchcock argued that Dali’s work was very solid, with long converging lines of perspectives and dark black shadows, this is also how Hitchcock imagined his dream sequence. During a meeting with two doctors a man needs to remember his dream and talk about the content. The dream sequence is full of psychoanalytical symbols - eyes, scissors, curtains, playing cards (some of them blank), a man with no face, a man falling off a building, a man hiding behind a chimney dropping a wheel, and wings that are after the dreamer trying to catch him. (Hitchcock, 1984) Technically the shift between reality and the dream is when camera is flying from wide-angle shots into details, with a long zoom in, which fades from one moving image to another making a long transition. The lights are highly contrasted with sharp shadows. In some shots perspective is distorted by using a wide-angle lens. A long zoom out with panning is used to represent the transition between the dream set and waking life. During the long transitions images overly and make a suggestion to the viewer that a change of spaces is happening.
Another dream scene from Hitchcock was represented in Vertigo (1958). Dream-nightmare sequence starts with a portrait of a sleeping person. Light changes from moonlight to electro blue and purple. It is pulsing in the same rhythm as the sleeper breathes. The shift between reality and the dream is a transition between the sleeping person and beginning of an animation. Different short vision scenes from memory are occurring filtered with yellow light. Zoom in and straightforward dolly track has been used in the same style as in Spellbound (1945) dream sequence. Matte shot technique and dolly zoom is used to simulate how a man is falling from rooftop. That is a combination of two images where one of them is masked. With a fast cut from falling scene character awakes from the nightmare in his bed being shocked. Vertigo effect was a new type point of view shot that could illustrate distortions of perception. Zooming in and pulling out camera accomplished the effect. It represents ambiguous feelings of attraction and repulsion, which are our feelings towards the characters. It is interesting to explore the cinematic techniques that were innovative and used in films and movies within content of dreams. (Hitchcock, 1984)
Looking further for dream sequences I found attractive the episode of Twin Peaks, Cooper's dream (Lynch, Frost 1990) the part with the reversed dream. The scene is shot with dialogs that were recorded before, reversed and actors learned the reversed version. The dream sequence is played in reverse, what makes the difference between reality and dream in the episode. There are also used similar camera movements with zooming in and long transitions as discussed in previous films.
Slightly different approach more based on the story and special effects is in Inception (2010). In directors Nolan’s vision it was important that dream world intertwine with reality and reflects the same rules that are presented as reality. The difference between a dream and reality was achieved with a lot of special sets and effects. The aim was to create a feeling that dreams look as real as waking life. Inception is not rambling, surreal - or even very dreamlike as the symbolic sequences from Hitchcock’s films discussed before. It is an action movie. Dreams are illusions that are overlying within another dream but their constructed content is real as reality, sometimes even the main character is curious and does not know if he is dreaming or not. The actual difference between reality and a dream is that in a dream it is possible to construct reality depending on memories, that sometimes create distortions and it becomes visible that it is a dream. Cinematic tricks and special effects are used for to illustrate paranormal scenes with rebuilding environment, slow motion, time and perspective distortions. People are not more capable or endowed with paranormal strength. The complexity of this movie is in the story it self and in the edit of scenes how reality overlies with dreams, it is manipulating with spectators mind since the beginning.
Finding answer to the question, how the visual representation of dreams has changed in moving images is quite unclear. The content of dreams is subjective and usually is adapted to the story line. Technological possibilities of cinematic tools are developed tremendously. It is not possible to compare the technical aspects. Before digital era there were used more lens based and manual edit tricks for to achieve certain distortions of perception. Nowadays, with the digital technology and power of medium almost nothing is impossible to create and display. It is more about the idea than technology, because, actually it does not matter what tricks or technologies are used, what matters is only if they work with the concept. The common things in the sequences were different distortions of time, space and light, use of long transitions, dramatization of things and use of innovative techniques like Hitchcock’s dolly zoom effect or Twin Peaks backwards reverse.
Nowadays, technological possibilities shape our perception and allow us to visualize and imagine more than ever. The advantage of new technology is definitely the possibility to display dreams in any aspects, to visualize and represent them as real as possible with the help of technology.
The research of dream sequences from moving images did not influence much my present work. During the research I was working with photography medium using digital compositing technique. To sum up all the investigations, the technical, technological and aesthetic aspects based on the dream theme, it will help me to improve my work with moving images in the future and make me research more the subject.
1) Brown, B. (2012). Cinematography: theory and practice. Image making for cinematographers and directors. Oxford: Second Edition.
2) Truffaut, F. (1984). Hitchcock. Revised edition. New York: Simon & Shuster.
3) Barthes, R. (1993). Camera Lucida. London: Vintage.
4) Aranda, F., Buñuel, L. (1975). A Critical Biography, London: Secker & Warburg, p.64
2. Extracts From Moving Images described:
Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel, Salvador Dali (1929)
Spellbound by Alfred Hitchcock (1945)
Vertigo by Alfred Hitchcock (1958)
Twin Peaks, Episode Two by David Lynch, Mark Frost (1990)
Inception by Christopher Nolan (2010)