STAGECOACH (1939, USA)
directed by: John Ford

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IMDB link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0031971

Submitted by Matt Hauske on 2006-11-07

Matt Hauske's comment:
The distinction is between Inside and Outside the titular stagecoach. As I started the measurement, I realized this could be taken a number of ways, but the way I did it was any shot in which the camera was positioned inside the stagecoach counts as "Inside." So even if someone is standing outside the door and looking in, and the camera is positioned on the floor looking straight at the character outside, this is an inside shot. The distinction was suggested by Yuri, to give a rough idea about ASL and shot scale, under the presumption that all of the shots inside the stagecoach would be either medium shots or closeups. This is more or less accurate.


Name:
Inside
Outside
Number of shots:
111
542
Length(min):
12.15
83.7
ASL(sec):
6.6
9.3
MSL 4.8 6.6
MSL/ASL
0.73
0.71
StDev 6 8.3
Min 0.8 0.9
Max 37.2 65.9
CV 0.91 0.9
Display?
Color    
Loading...

Step: Vertical resolution: Height:
Degree of the trendline: Moving average : Color code?


Users' comments:

Author: Matt Hauske Date: 2006-11-07

I admit I was stunned that this film hadn't been measured yet, given its centrality to classical Hollywood style. Aside from its place in the canon, I measaured STAGECOACH because of its (perhaps apocryphal) relation to CITIZEN KANE. Welles claimed to have screened STAGECOACH around 40 times in preparation for his directorial debut. He also said John Ford was his favorite director, and when asked who the three greatest directors were, Welles answered "John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford." (I haven't been able to track down these quotes, so I could be mis-remembering, but the general principle is the same: Welles loved Ford.)

STAGECOACH and Ford's influence on CITIZEN KANE and Welles interests me a great deal because of the apparent differences between the two films. STAGECOACH is the prototypical Western, and seems to be also a prototypical action film, while KANE is definitely not an action film, and thus we would assume that its dynamic profile would be drastically different. Of course, they are, but what's surprising to me about STAGECOACH's graph is the remarkable flatness of the trendline at degree 1: the ASL throughout the film hardly deviates from the overall 8.8 ASL. This is borne out by the very smooth curve of the trendline at 6, which shows the classic two-hump curve, and even higher, at 12, which shows a very stable ASL until the climactic battle with the Apaches.

The presumption that ASL would be lower inside the stagecoach than outside is clearly borne out by the numbers, and the biggest exceptions are truly exceptional: the long take at about 75:50 is the famous shot of Hatfield about to shoot Mrs. Mallory rather than allow her to fall into Apache hands. The second longest Inside shot (39:15) occurs when the stagecoach is trying to make it through the cold mountain pass and Doc Boone finishes off one of Mr. Peacock's whiskey bottles and passes out.

The longest shot of the film, by the way, occurs during the table scene analyzed by Nick Browne. It is the two-shot of Dallas and Ringo at the table just after Mrs. Mallory, Hatfield, and Gatewood have moved to the other end of the table.

Author: Yuri Tsivian Date: 2006-11-09

Glad you did it. This graph is quite telling. I suggest four guidelines for further talking about this.

1) when I turned the color code on I was surprised to see that inside shots are so few. If I were asked to name the first thing I rememeber about this movie I would probably say: people talking inside the coach. But: as becomes clear from looking at the graph and numbers, this mental picture is not based on how often we see people inside the coach, for it is only 1/5 of the entire number of shots that are set inside the coach. Then, why do these shots loom large in our minds? Is it the "more is less" law at work? Is it because the film's title cues the Stagecoach? Is it because this is where the social drama unfolds?

2) another thing that surprises me is the trendline. I expected the film to be taking up pace, but it shows no slope whatsoever. Now, if you unclick "inside" the trendline shows ASL diminishing from 10 to 9, so ouside the coach the tempo becomes faster; if you do the contrary, the tempo falls from 4 to 9. Let's think about possible explanations for this.

3) Check both boxes and change the trendline to 6. This is the most beautiful classical curve I've seen in Cinemetric's life. Starts slowly, ends peacefully, has 2 punches, one low, the other high (must be the Indian attack sequence). It's different for the inside-only shots however. Can we figure out why?

4) given that there is little business other than sitting inside the coach while all real action is taking place outside, it may be surprising that an ASL of inside shots is lower for the inside shots and higher for the outside ones. On the other hand, if we think about this, we may be able to offer a simple logical explanation. So, let's think.

Author: Charley Leary Date: 2006-11-10

Matt,

Quick question: your measurement of interior/exterior applies just to inside/outside the stagecoach, correct? I ask just for clarification as, while of course it is a Western and thus should be outside most of the time, there are other interior scenes, particularly the one you mentioned (and the one that I find the most memorable) the table seating at the inn...


Author: Matt Hauske Date: 2006-11-10

The inside/outside distinction just applies to inside or outside the stagecoach, not to inside any buildings. In other words, the famous table seating Nick Browne-analyzed scene would be included in "outside." I did it this way to look more easily at the relationship between shot scale and shot length: closeups and two-shots should be shorter than long shots and extreme long shots. In the case of the table scene and other interiors, there are a lot of long shots and more elaborate stagings. Inside the stagecoach, the camera is limited to closeups and two-shots, with the occasional 3-shot, and confines the characters within the range of medium shots to closeups.

This film would be great to analyze in the way you've done SHADOWS, using the number of characters in the frame.

As for the assumption that because it's a Western most of the shots will be exteriors, I might disagree with that. There are quite a few interiors, and the stagecoach tends to be a vehicle for getting the group from one town/building to another. The exteriors basically consist of the Indian attack and the many shots of Monument Valley that Ford puts in to punctuate scenes. Otherwise, you have the tea house where Mrs. Mallory rests and the sheriff's office where Curley joins Buck; the dining hall with the large table at their first stop; the long scene when Mrs. Mallory has her baby; and the saloon in Lordsburg where the Plummer brothers find out about Ringo. There are more that I forgot. This would be another interesting way to measure the film: just how much is the Western dependent on exterior shots?

By the way, as far as my Inside/Outside distinction for the stagecoach goes, when the camera shows Curley and Buck on top of the stagecoach driving the horses, I counted that as Outside. It might change things somewhat to extend the space of the inside of the stagecoach to include them, but this would probably only add a handful of shots: usually their scenes on top of the coach provide an opening and/or closing to a scene played out inside the coach, and are played in one shot.

Yuri, I'll address your questions later today.

Thank you for the comments!

Author: Matt Hauske Date: 2006-11-13

Yuri,

1) I would agree with your third hypothesis, that the shots within the stagecoach are more memorable because that's where editing and mise en scene combine to render the social drama in a cinematically dynamic way. Other settings in the film also provide spaces for the social drama to be played out: the table setting scene and the shack where Mrs. Mallory gives birth stand out most for me. But inside the stagecoach the geography of characters is hyperdefined and meaningful, and the staging of characters in medium, medium-close, and closeup shots magnifies the social drama that is played out across the faces of the characters. Mrs. Mallory and Dallas sit on one side, separated by Gatewood the banker; opposite them, Hatfield sits across from Mrs. Mallory with Mr. Peacock in the middle and Doc Boone, guzzling Peacock's whiskey, on the right. Finally, Ringo sits on the floor between the two rows. This hyper-defined geography creates hyper-meaningful character stagings within the shot: the play of the silver cup and water between Mrs. Mallory and Hatfield takes place over Ringo's head. Doc Boone's cigar smoke blows diagonally across the coach at Mrs. Mallory; he is separated from his Confederate enemy, Hatfield, by Peacock the whiskey drummer. The exasperated, embezzling banker Gatewood separate the proper Southern lady from the exiled Western hooker with a heart of gold, who offers her shoulder for Mrs. Mallory to rest her head on. Combinations of shots combining one, two, or three (I don't think four) figures allow Ford to dynamically render the social drama and delineate the multiple lines and alliances between and among characters. Charley Leary's method of measuring figures in the frame would come in extremely useful in this regard.

2) The simplest explanation for the increase in ASL inside the coach is that the longest shot inside the stagecoach is also one of the last: Hatfield's intention to sacrifice Mrs. Mallory rather than allow her to fall into the hands of the Indians lasts over 37 seconds and tends to dramatically drag down the Inside trendline. If you put the trendline for the Inside graph all the way to 12, you can see the effect of this extremely long shot on the mostly very short shots before it (the Indian attack). The Outside trendline shows a decrease in ASL because there are few grand panoramic shots of Monument Valley at the end and more quick shots of Indians on the warpath and the stagecoach travelers rushing to Lordsberg.

3) I don't have the movie with me, so I can't address this issue as carefully and accurately as I'd like, but clearly the Inside-only curve is influenced heavily by several shots that are far above the ASL of 6.6, and that appear beginning with the second major sequence of Inside shots, starting around the 30 minute mark. As we would expect, the Indian attack is shown in several short shots: it was quite difficult to keep up with the pace. Just before the Indian attack the stagecoach rushes to the river, and that also must be told in a lot of quick takes. However, something else must be happening in that second section inside the stagecoach with the man longer than average shots, but I can't remember just what happens in that section. Worth a second look. (By the way Yuri, thank you for the complement about the curve, but I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that John Ford may deserve at least part of the credit.)

4) Two sets of reasons spring to mind. First, the interior space of the stagecoach is cramped, limiting the camera to one-, two-, and three-shots with shot scales ranging from medium shots to closeups. These tend to be longer than shots in more open spaces where the camera and actors can move about, and it seems to be a growing fact that camera and character movement can provide similar rhythmic effects as editing. Second, as I mentioned before, the Outside shots also include Ford's signature grand, panoramic views of Monument Valley, as well as extremely long shots that track the stagecoach across the desert floor, i.e., shots of description rather than narration. The longest shot of the film, however, undercuts this explanation: it is a medium shot of Dallas and Ringo at the dining table. If we use the description/narration distinction here, we get an interesting mix: it is rather heavy with dialogue (typically a tool of narrative), yet it does little to advance the "A" plot. Rather, it serves to describe the relationship between Dallas and Ringo, while at the same time advancing the "B" plot of their romance. We seem to be getting closer to a more complicated matrix or mapping of narration/description in combination with the various plotlines that all classical films tend to develop (i.e., the action or A plot and the romance or B plot). Of course, it is the rare shot that can be said to belong solely to one or the other camp, but certainly each shot can be placed on a spectrum from one pole to another, as Deleuze has done with the closeup/affection image from Power to Quality. I wonder if this would be operative.

I feel I'm rambling now, so I'll stop and watch another John Ford movie.

Author: Yuri Tsivian Date: 2006-11-13

The four point are very helpful and give more food for further thinking. Thed idea of singling out and timing subplots separately, e.g. "A" plot and "B" plot as Matt suggests in his point 4 is a good idea (for this film in particular, for there are more subplots, oulined quite clearly). The difficulty I foresee is that there will be quite a number of "AB" shots, and you'll be confused. How about this technical solution: you copy the Stagecoach DVD first, subtitle shots with big "A," "B" and "AB" tags, and then use Cinemetrics for advance-timing the plots. In other words, there is a procedure that biologists and chemists reputedly use "preparing" their "bacterial soups" or solutions before the experiment is taken. We could even pre-tint shots for easier timing, right?

And yes, the Leary method should be of use as Matt suggests in his last phrase of point 1. If one looks at my comment under Shadows, however, one would probably have a second thought of calling body counting after Charlie Leary alone, for as this comment specifies the method has been used independently of Mr Leary something like ten years ago. Things like this happen in science, as in the famous case of Boyle/Marriotte Law. Why not follow suite and call body counting something like "Leary/Tsivian method?" Immortality has enough room for two!

Author: Matt Hauske Date: 2006-11-15

Yuri,

1) I would agree with your third hypothesis, that the shots within the stagecoach are more memorable because that's where editing and mise en scene combine to render the social drama in a cinematically dynamic way. Other settings in the film also provide spaces for the social drama to be played out: the table setting scene and the shack where Mrs. Mallory gives birth stand out most for me. But inside the stagecoach the geography of characters is hyperdefined and meaningful, and the staging of characters in medium, medium-close, and closeup shots magnifies the social drama that is played out across the faces of the characters. Mrs. Mallory and Dallas sit on one side, separated by Gatewood the banker; opposite them, Hatfield sits across from Mrs. Mallory with Mr. Peacock in the middle and Doc Boone, guzzling Peacock's whiskey, on the right. Finally, Ringo sits on the floor between the two rows. This hyper-defined geography creates hyper-meaningful character stagings within the shot: the play of the silver cup and water between Mrs. Mallory and Hatfield takes place over Ringo's head. Doc Boone's cigar smoke blows diagonally across the coach at Mrs. Mallory; he is separated from his Confederate enemy, Hatfield, by Peacock the whiskey drummer. The exasperated, embezzling banker Gatewood separate the proper Southern lady from the exiled Western hooker with a heart of gold, who offers her shoulder for Mrs. Mallory to rest her head on. Combinations of shots combining one, two, or three (I don't think four) figures allow Ford to dynamically render the social drama and delineate the multiple lines and alliances between and among characters. Charley Leary's method of measuring figures in the frame would come in extremely useful in this regard.

2) The simplest explanation for the increase in ASL inside the coach is that the longest shot inside the stagecoach is also one of the last: Hatfield's intention to sacrifice Mrs. Mallory rather than allow her to fall into the hands of the Indians lasts over 37 seconds and tends to dramatically drag down the Inside trendline. If you put the trendline for the Inside graph all the way to 12, you can see the effect of this extremely long shot on the mostly very short shots before it (the Indian attack). The Outside trendline shows a decrease in ASL because there are few grand panoramic shots of Monument Valley at the end and more quick shots of Indians on the warpath and the stagecoach travelers rushing to Lordsberg.

3) I don't have the movie with me, so I can't address this issue as carefully and accurately as I'd like, but clearly the Inside-only curve is influenced heavily by several shots that are far above the ASL of 6.6, and that appear beginning with the second major sequence of Inside shots, starting around the 30 minute mark. As we would expect, the Indian attack is shown in several short shots: it was quite difficult to keep up with the pace. Just before the Indian attack the stagecoach rushes to the river, and that also must be told in a lot of quick takes. However, something else must be happening in that second section inside the stagecoach with the man longer than average shots, but I can't remember just what happens in that section. Worth a second look. (By the way Yuri, thank you for the complement about the curve, but I would be remiss if I didn't suggest that John Ford may deserve at least part of the credit.)

4) Two sets of reasons spring to mind. First, the interior space of the stagecoach is cramped, limiting the camera to one-, two-, and three-shots with shot scales ranging from medium shots to closeups. These tend to be longer than shots in more open spaces where the camera and actors can move about, and it seems to be a growing fact that camera and character movement can provide similar rhythmic effects as editing. Second, as I mentioned before, the Outside shots also include Ford's signature grand, panoramic views of Monument Valley, as well as extremely long shots that track the stagecoach across the desert floor, i.e., shots of description rather than narration. The longest shot of the film, however, undercuts this explanation: it is a medium shot of Dallas and Ringo at the dining table. If we use the description/narration distinction here, we get an interesting mix: it is rather heavy with dialogue (typically a tool of narrative), yet it does little to advance the "A" plot. Rather, it serves to describe the relationship between Dallas and Ringo, while at the same time advancing the "B" plot of their romance. We seem to be getting closer to a more complicated matrix or mapping of narration/description in combination with the various plotlines that all classical films tend to develop (i.e., the action or A plot and the romance or B plot). Of course, it is the rare shot that can be said to belong solely to one or the other camp, but certainly each shot can be placed on a spectrum from one pole to another, as Deleuze has done with the closeup/affection image from Power to Quality. I wonder if this would be operative.

I feel I'm rambling now, so I'll stop and watch another John Ford movie.


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