Repetition – Time compression and dilation (Part 2)

Loosely speaking, the passing of time and suspension of time could be considered as extensions to the concepts of time compression and time dilation respectively. These two effects have a lot in common as they both make time an abstract concept. Now if you wonder what repetition has to do with those topics, this article is for you, read on.


Repetition for the passing of time

Repetition can act in a variety of ways in supporting the concept of extreme time compression. In Conan the Barbarian (J. Milius, 1982), the passing of time is suggested by repeatedly alternating shots of the character and time context.

Now instead of alternating between the subject and the context, one could choose to focus exclusively on one or the other. In the TV series episode Sherlock – A Scandal in Belgravia (P. McGuigan, 2012), the passing of time is suggested by repeatedly trucking out on the character over and over. In Rumble Fish (F. F. Coppola, 1983), the passing of time is suggested by displaying a montage of context shots in quick motion. In all of those examples, repetition is key to conveying the desired effect.


Repetition for time suspension

Surprisingly, repetition is also second to none in conveying extreme time dilation. For instance, a succession of still context shots have been edited together to emphasize the peaceful moment following Lola’s crisis on the phone in Run Lola Run (T. Tykwer, 1998).

Here again, one could choose to focus on characters instead of the context, as is the case in both following excerpts from Once Upon a Time in the West (S. Leone, 1968) and House of Flying Daggers (Z. Yimou, 2004). Note: In the second excerpt, parts of some images have been blurred to lessen the violence of their contents.

Another way to convey a time suspension effect is to focus on the action itself. Look how repetition emphasizes the fall of a subject in both following examples from The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995) and Birdy (A. Parker, 1984) — although one is symbolic and the other is not. In all those examples, the time suspension effect relies heavily on repetition.


Time suspension sequences

Repetition is so efficient at slowing time down that entire scenes can be built upon it. The final three-man duel of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (S. Leone, 1966) is a great and straightforward demonstration of its abilities. Note: Only a small part of the 4-minute long sequence is shown here.

Besides, different approaches to time suspension could be used together in long sequences. In the following excerpts from The Usual Suspects (B. Singer, 1995) and The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (P. Jackson, 2003), repetition of subject, context and action have all been combined in two memorable scenes. Note: The first example is made of two different parts from the same scene stitched together (the missing parts will be used in an upcoming article). Also, I have substituted drawings (tracings, actually) to lessen the violence of their contents and avoid spoiling the story.


What’s up?

The passing of time and suspension of time are two opposite concepts that have a lot in common: They both make time an abstraction. This is where repetition can play a key supporting role. Cycles of shots of characters and time context — either in sequence or alternation — are great at suggesting the passing of time. Series of shots of characters, context or action are equally great at supporting time suspension, so much so that full sequences can be built upon that use of repetition.

In next article, we will study repetitive actions for their hammering and comparative power.


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