The second finding concerned correlations between adjacent shot lengths. Nothelfer et al. found that adjacent shot-lengths were correlated, that is to say they tended to be of similar lengths. Erik Schills and Pieter de Haan (1993) have found comparable correlations between lengths of adjacent sentences in printed fiction.
Just as there has been historical development in written fiction, with writers inventing new methods to create new effects, the study of Nothelfer et al. is a pointer to parallel developments in film. The authors propose that sequences of short shots may be good for suggesting sequences of quick action. But perhaps other issues are involved as well.
One might use both quantitative measures like shot length and analysis of the content of the shots. Here, for instance, is my analysis of five shots from the 1925 film The battleship Potemkin, by the Russian director Sergei Eistenstein. The film's story is of a mutiny in 1905—a kind of prototype of revolution—of the sailors of the battleship against the ship's oppressive officers. Near the beginning of the film, sailors complain that a side of meat, which they will be given to eat, is rotten. An officer summons the ship’s doctor to inspect the meat. There follows a 12-second sequence of five shots (with the longest being Shot 2, which lasts 4 seconds).
- Close-up: Sailor’s face looking, partly shadowed by the side of meat, and partly obscuring a row of three other sailors’ faces also looking.
- Group shot: The side of meat in the middle of the frame with ship’s doctor to the left, another officer at the back of the frame, and a sailor to the right; doctor takes off his glasses.
- Close-up: The doctor’s hands fold his glasses so the lenses overlap to make a magnifying glass.
- Ultra-close-up: Glasses that have been folded into a magnifying glass (occupies one third of screen)
- Close-up: Folded glasses held over the meat by doctor’s hand, alongside which, needing no magnification, dozens of large maggots are seen to crawl on the meat.
Sergei Eisenstein (Director) (1925). The Battleship Potemkin. Russia.
Christine Nothelfer, Jordan DeLong & James Cutting (2009). Shot structure in Hollywood film. Indiana Undergraduate Journal of Cognitive Science, 4, 103-113.
Erik Schills & Pieter de Haan (1993). Characteristics of sentence length in running text. Literary and Linguistic Computing, 8, 20-26.