The history of mechanised travel parallels the history of film, dating back to the popularity of “phantom rides”—panoramas filmed from rapidly moving trains—in early cinema. The discourse of Modernity is shaped by how the twinned technologies of cinema and vehicular transportation present a collapse of space. This thesis examines the history of this technological and spatial intersection through the investigation of the “travelling shot,” created by affixing a camera to a vehicle and filming what passes. Examination of the travelling shot has thus far been piecemeal. The aforementioned phantom rides have been studied as part of the “Cinema of Attractions” (Gunning; Gaudreault), which posited that early cinema prioritised demonstration over storytelling: the phantom ride is film demonstrating its ability to document a train demonstrating movement. Later study is found in the scattered textual analysis of films and genres with salient travelling shots.
This thesis contributes to the field by providing an overview of the travelling shot. Film and mechanised transport’s distinct presentation of space has not been studied in a sustained manner since the emergence of the travelling shot in early, pre-narrative cinema, hence the connections among vehicle movement and camera movement within narrative cinema remain poorly understood. This thesis corrects this by detailing how the initial meaning of the travelling shot has been altered by the everyday experience of travel and manipulated through film form. The first part of the thesis provides a survey of the travelling shot: from Panorama du Grand Canal pris d’un bateau (Promio 1896), the first example of a moving camera, to the CGI-enhanced impossible travelling shots of contemporary blockbusters such as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Yates 2009). The cognitive theories of narratologist David Bordwell are used with Martin Lefebvre’s consideration of landscape in film to develop a theory how audiences have developed a culturally acquired schema for associating the travelling shot with landscape appreciation, contemplation and point of view.
This thesis identifies two broad strands to the practice of the travelling shot, one derived from the concept of a Cinema of Attractions, the other derived from Charles Musser’s complementary concept of a Cinema of Contemplation. Using textual analysis, the second part of this thesis examines how travelling shots are a prerequisite of “intensified continuity” (Bordwell), demonstrate technological world-building in blockbusters, and encourage a contemplative regarding of the world in art films that acknowledge the travelling shot’s 1 distinct relationship with the real world. These two strands are drawn together through an analysis of the Road Movie genre, which sees world-building narrative context and culturally accrued expectations of the travelling shot re-configure the collapse of space originally enacted by both cinema and vehicle transport. Because the thesis develops an inclusive theory it examines films from a variety of filmmakers including: John Ford, Walter Hill, Abbas Kiarostami, Maurice Pialat, Hiroshi Shimizu and Apichatpong Weerasethakul.
This thesis argues that while some approaches to filmmaking such as blockbusters have continued the modern trend towards the collapse of space and globalisation, others such as art films and road movies have used moving landscapes and the context of narrative to emphasise duration and contemplation and to reverse modernity’s collapse of space through evoking the localised particularities of regions.
By building on the foundational work of Gunning and Musser to critically examine how filmmakers have adapted their use of travelling shots to accommodate initial meaning, prior meaning, the rise of narrative and the various trajectories of technology, this thesis examines how meaning shapes form. I question how the travelling shot’s connections to landscapes and to vehicles through the history of film invites contemplation and offers the pleasures of spectacle to the film audience in addition to giving rise to particular genres and modes of filmmaking. The overview offered by this thesis demonstrates the importance of artistic discourse in understanding the poetics of technology and space.