Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Because Our Eyes Are Imperfect

 Two things, seemingly unrelated except in time. 

  1. I am reading the transcript from the trial where my client was sentenced to be killed.
  2. The great French film director Jean-Luc Godard died.

But the mind works as it does.  And while the transcript contains no reference to Godard or any of his films or the French New Wave or much of anything else on its face relevant . . . . As I said, the mind works as it does.

Throughout the trial, the prosecutors play body cam video and surveillance camera video and the like.  And I'm reminded that as the jury watches those things on the Mondopad, which is essentially a giant video monitor, the video the jury sees, like the you see on any screen, is not actually what it appears.  There is on the monitor what's known as the refresh rate.  It's the speed (typically 60 Hz or 120 Hz) at which one picture on the screen is replaced by the next.  Because those speeds are way faster than the eye/brain can separate the images, what we see is continuous, is motion. 

But it's not.  It's a series of still images.  (I'm oversimplifying the technology, but not in way that changes the point here.)  So with film.  Not the kind of photographs that came from the sill cameras with the rolls of film that we took to the drugstore to have developed or that we stood in line in our uncomfortable dress clothes to have taken by the guy with the tripod and lights for the high school yearbook or the ones on old Wanted posters.

Those still pictures, capture a moment, a scene, something specific.  Perhaps blurred, subject to being doctored in the developing proceess or otherwise, but the camera sees something and makes an image of it.  What it saw is what you see.

Film is different.  What the film shows (and if you've ever looked at a movie real you know this) is a series of those pictures, played too fast for the eye to differentiate them as individual photographs.  What we see is not motion.  What we see is a series of still pictures. But the blur of them replaced so quickly that we can't differentiate. It's the illusion of motion.  

Which brings me to Godard who famously said, that while "photography is truth," film is something a little different.  it's truth "at 24 times a second."  And what he didn't say, but what follows, is that there are gaps. The camera, the film, misses what happens between those shots.  It's a series of truths, if you will, but not truth itself.

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