Open and Closed Form in Film

Films present the visible world in two major ways, the closed (Lang style) and open (Renoir) form. These two possibilities are to be understood as ideal types. The closed form relies par≠ticularly on pictorial and architectural traditions; the open form on theatrical and novelistic origins.

The two modalities involve different ways of seeing the world, different ways of experiencing and feeling.

Closed Film Open Film
- world of film is all that exists - world of film is a momentary frame around an ongoing reality
- everything is determined by a larger design and has a formal function - things seem to have an existence independent of the film narrative
- an object's meaning is its function in a larger whole - an object's meaning goes beyond the film's story
- frame totally defines the world, in the manner of a picture frame - the frame is like a window, opening a view on a world in which other views are possible
- geometric, architectural - character is more important than architecture
- director creates a space - director discovers a space
- director constructs a world - director shares a found world
- camera moves between total omniscience and claustrophobic perspectives - camera is not identifiable with any one character
- viewer feels constrained, gripped - viewer made to feel comfortable, expansive
- enclosed and self-sufficient meaning - many possible meanings
- God is the head of a spy ring - God is a chief gardener
- audience is pulled or lured into the film - audience is invited into the film
- voyeurism (mix of freedom and compulsion) - participatory gaze
- moral judgments - generosity and laissez-faire

- teaches us about ourselves

- teaches us about the rest of the world
- schematic patterns - inconclusive, ambiguous endings

"The motion picture frame of a closed film makes a statement about the inconclusiveness of the film. All the characters and all the objects in such a film are controlled by outside forces, ultimately by the director himself . . . In the closed film there is no escape from the logic of actions and events, while in the open film characters may well walk off the frame to some section of the world the camera specifically does not define . . . .

"The films of Lang and Hitchcock are filled with deadly coincidences, and the entrapment of innocent bystanders. The closed film director does not elicit order from the world; he imposes order upon a world perceived basically as a chaos of people and things. The imposition may resemble ritual, allegory, fantasy, romance--or dreams . . . .

"The counterpart in closed films . . . is the involuntary enclosure, the physical prison and the prison of the self. Both Lang and Hitchcock are fascinated by the courtroom, the closed context of judgment in which the audience and the jury are identified. . . . The accused in the courtroom, the traveler in the haunted house, the innocent in the prison or the insane asylum are all variations of the basic closed-film situation. Like such characters, we in the audience are trapped without the possibility of transcending or understanding why this has all happened, unless we identify with the director who has brought this world into being."

(from Leo Braudy, The World in a Frame [Garden City: Anchor Books, 1977])