League of Legends: Untold

 

Split screen appears in abundance in contemporary moving image genres such as film, television, art galleries and even in video games. In each of these mediums, split screen is used differently: it may allow the filmmaker to manipulate time and space, represent a re-mediation of technology in film, permit an increase in the use of multi-layers and multi-dimensions in cinema and arguably represent the current era of surveillance when paired with the long take. As Maria Walsh writes, “split screens evince a desire for a simultaneity of events that appears to parallel the a-chronological impetus of temporal experience in advanced capitalist societies.[1]” This is interesting in terms of documenting current technologies and their unique ability to connect spaces through transparency and this inevitably poses questions regarding surveillance. These are some ideas which feature in my film experiment; the film documents the lives of three gamers who play an online game called League of Legends and their story is expressed through a manipulation of space, documentary realism and providing an awareness of the combination of the long take and split screen.

Hagener, in her article regarding how split screen re-mediates technology, recognises that the split screen has acted as a record for the developing technology and lifestyle in society and the cinema. For example, the telephone in Pillow Talk (1959), car culture in Grand Prix (1966) and the computer in 21st century films such as Timecode (2000), Hulk (2002),  Minority Report[2]  (2002) and Ocean’s 13 (2007).  Within my film I have attempted to demonstrate the different uses of split screen as for example, I have utilised the way in which Grand Prix uses ‘split screen to underline the multiplicity and seriality of Formula One racing[3]’ thus the purpose of the split screen has a predominance of  the exhibitionist nature of a window. I have exercised this convention in my film to show the spectator the many aspects of the video game including images of actual game play, the real world and close-ups of the mouse and keyboard as a way of showcasing rather than presenting a serialised nature of events. In similarity with Grand Prix again, is the employment of multiple protagonists and how they demonstrate certain principles of narrative such as repetition, alternation and difference. Raymond Bellour defines alternation as “a structure of opposition between two terms, which develops through the return of either one or both terms according to a process of more or less limited expansion: a/b/a’, a/b/a’/b’, and so on[4]”. This is present during the film in that the protagonists are different and have different stories to tell, but the overall problem or concern is the game itself; thus an opposition is presented via split screen in the opening moments of the film (the real life protagonists and their online personas) and we then observe the film dipping into either the real life and the game, until finally merging together at the end. If we return to look at Grand Prix we can recognise that the split-screen ‘visually evokes the sensation of being at a racetrack where the sound of cars and the excitement of the crowd all contribute towards a transformed perception[5]’ and this is present within my film through the game play footage. What is shown onscreen and what can be heard (diegetic game sounds) within the medium of the film is simultaneously what the spectator would see if he was playing the game himself. Therefore, the way in which the split-screen is able to evoke such a sensation of real-life is through its ability to be simultaneous which is a very realistic quality, and is otherwise hard to obtain. Thus, the split-screen may at first glance be labelled as ostentatious and as a mere visual pleasure but in fact it provides closer insight into realist cinema because of its ability to show the spectator many aspects of the same moment, allowing them to choose where they look.

The reason behind my choice of a video game as the subject of my film relates primarily to the way in which cinema re-mediates other forms of technology, as Bizzocchi writes “cinema’s rivals for ascendancy within popular culture are more varied now than ever before- video games, the internet, high definition home theatre, a variety of mobile video platforms- with more combinations appearing every year.[6]” Initially, I begin with the most popular form of split-screen- a two-way split which references its use in the cinema and also the way it is used in video games: for two players. However, as the film develops I introduce more layers of screens and this is to echo the currently unstoppable development of new internet technologies, such as tablets, laptops and iPads. These devices offer us a multiplicity of windows although they may not always exist in relation to each other[7], I have attempted to demonstrate this within my work through the use of framing the same moment in different ways as depicted by Sergei Eisenstein in his diagram of variable framing of branches[8]. This occurs during the final moment of the film whereby the separate screens are about to join together, we see close-ups of the two other characters using their keyboards and then knocking on the third and final characters door- we also see this moment via a different shot and thus we observe a multitude of windows which all aim to demonstrate the same moment.

Split-screen filmmaking offers a fascinating glimpse into spatial relations in the cinema as it is able to both present two (or multiple) uniquely distinct spaces and yet still be connected. This depicted through the use of mise-en-scene and reactions between the characters in Pillow Talk (1959) whereby the colours of the two screens are connected and so is the space i.e. the bathtub. Similarly, Legends: Untold uses the same method in that it displays split screen with different people, yet the spaces are identical with very minor detailing such as the bed covers and personal items in the bedroom. The idea behind this is to provide the spectator with clues as to the final result of the film: are these characters leading separate lives, or are they connected in some way? John Lewis’s recent advert Never Knowingly Undersold (2012) demonstrates this also via its method of presented two completely differently worlds while still being rather closely related this is both due to the mise-en-scene working symmetrically and the interaction between the split of the screen. However, even though there is evident interaction between the screens in this advert, the characters never actually touch. I did not incorporate the use of interaction between the screen within my film, and this is something I would change given more time, as I feel that this is one of the most interesting uses of the split-screen.

The beauty of multiple windows on screen is that they allow the filmmaker to present more information in a shorter space of time, or in one shot. In the case of my experiment I was able to portray the lives of three characters in a short space of three minutes which would not normally be feasible in a non-split-screen film. The use of multiple windows also offers the opportunity to explore the relationship between split-screen and the long take in contemporary cinema. The marriage of these two techniques serves as a critical viewpoint on today’s surveillance society. As Nadia Bozak writes, “when the two occur as a pair, the split screen and the long take can be theorised not only as symptoms of the post-industrial culture of excess from which they spring, but also as the result of a conflation between the technology that enables their occurrence and, in many cases, the surveillance systems which they service, and, by turn, aestheticize.[9]”  As an influence to this piece I looked at the documentary, The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters which looks at the lives of the champions of the arcade classic Donkey Kong. The documentary itself uses split-screen and the long take to tell its story and at moments the mere usage of these seems as though the viewer is playing a game, due to the multi-layered and rapid placement of images on the screen. The documentary medium is an interesting tool in terms of split-screen as it also looks at the notion of realism within its work, with the incorporation of the handheld camera as seen in Mike Figgis’ Timecode. The long take echoes the “visual dynamic of security systems[10]” in that they watch the same action from many different perspectives and what this does is present the way in which life is not only represented in Timecode, but it is also monitored and reproduced as a cinematic form. Legends: Untold adapts to this convention notably via its placement of the spectator into the world of the game. The split screen images offer the spectator the chance to be aligned with the problems of the characters in the film; as the game play that is shown on the cinematic screen is exactly the same as the game play which would be shown on their computer screen. This can be likened to the experiment undertook by Harun Farocki: Immersion which explored the “connection between virtual reality and the military- how the fictional scenarios of computer games are used both in the training of U.S troops prior their development in combat zones, and in psychological care for troops suffering battlefield trauma upon their return[11]”. This concept of Harun Farocki’s work influenced my piece in two ways: the way fictional scenarios of games can alter our inner beings, and the compositional split screen framing of his work.

In conclusion, Legends: Untold utilises various conventions of split-screen filmmaking in particular its focus on the remediation of technology such as the telephone and the computer.  From this experiment, we can recognise the many reasons why filmmakers use split-screen in their films: a way of presenting more information in the form of showcasing such as Grand Prix; it can also be employed as an aesthetic tool. Friedberg states that there is a “proliferation of overlapping windows in computer applications[12]” and it is this sense of “overlapping” or perhaps, different sized windows of the computer screen which led to my choices present in the film. I have also explored the combination of the long take and the split screen in terms of 21st century surveillance and the documentary. It can be argued that the split screen is one of the few modes which offer a close link to reality through its multi-channelled perspectives which are so closely linked to our perception of the world.

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

  • Bellour, R., & Penley, C. (2000). The Analysis of Film. Indiana University Press
  • Bizzocchi, J. (2009). The fragmented frame: the poetics of the split-screen.  Online at: http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/mit6/papers/Bizzocchi.pdf
  • Bozak, N. ‘Four Cameras are Better than One: Division as Excess in Mike Figgis’ Timecode’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/
  • Eisenstein, S. (1949). Film form: Essays in film theory (Vol. 153). Mariner Books.
  • Friedberg, A. (2006). The virtual window: from Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge, MA: Mit Press.
  • Hagener, M. ‘The Aesthetics of Displays: How the Split Screen Remediates Other Media’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/
  • Walsh, M. ‘The Double Side of Delay: Sutapa Biswas’ Film Installation ‘Birdsong’ and Gilles Deleuze’s Actual/Virtual Couplet’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/
  • Gordon, Michael. (1959). Pillow Talk. USA. Arwin Productions. Universal Studios.
  • Frankenheimer, John. (1966). Grand Prix. USA. Cherokee Productions. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
  • Spielberg, Steven. (2002). Minority Report. USA. Amblin Entertainment. Dreamworks Pictures.
  • Reed, Peyton. (2003). Down with Love. USA. Jinks/Cohen Company. 20th Century Fox.
  • Figgis, Mike. (2000). Timecode. USA. Screen Gems.
  • Never Knowingly Undersold (2012) John Lewis.
  • Farocki, Harun. (2012). Immersion

Filmography:


[1] Walsh, M. ‘The Double Side of Delay: Sutapa Biswas’ Film Installation ‘Birdsong’ and Gilles Deleuze’s Actual/Virtual Couplet’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/

[2] Minority Report (2002) offers split-screen in a more unconventional way, in that it splits the screen in an intra-diegetic manner via the use of post-production additions of computer technology.

[3] Hagener, M. ‘The Aesthetics of Displays: How the Split Screen Remediates Other Media’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/

[4] Bellour, R., & Penley, C. (2000). The Analysis of Film. Indiana University Press

[5] Hagener, M. ‘The Aesthetics of Displays: How the Split Screen Remediates Other Media’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/

[6] Bizzocchi, J. (2009). The fragmented frame: the poetics of the split-screen.  Online at: http://web.mit.edu/comm-forum/mit6/papers/Bizzocchi.pdf

[7] Friedberg, A. (2006). The virtual window: from Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge, MA: Mit Press.

[8] Eisenstein, S. (1949). Film form: Essays in film theory (Vol. 153). Mariner Books.

[9] Bozak, N. ‘Four Cameras are Better than One: Division as Excess in Mike Figgis’ Timecode’ in Refractory: Journal of Entertainment Media, vol. 14, 2008. Online at: http://refractory.unimelb.edu.au/2008/

[10] ibid

[12] Friedberg, A. (2006). The virtual window: from Alberti to Microsoft. Cambridge, MA: Mit Press.

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