May 17, 2012

Ejection and projection

I have written that fiction that includes passage into an instance of unreality highlights the perspective of the passenger, thus emphasizing an element that makes the travel metaphor seem particularly apt. There are exceptions, such as the shifted passage technique, which has the function of verifying that passage has actually happened in the world of a fiction (in our examples, these fictions were all movies). But on the whole, the perspective of the character who makes the trip is closely attended to.

A further characteristic that is sometimes in line with the travel metaphor and sometimes not is this: the character who does the trip sometimes fully departs from his world, vanishes physically, and at other times remains there, albeit oblivious of, and incapable to interact with his surroundings for the duration of the trip. In order to have some labels, let's say that a character sometimes leaves his world in the mode of ejection, and at other times in the mode of projection.

Thus in the clip from Die Einsteiger we have a clear case of ejection: the two travelers vanish from their own world for the duration of their trip. Shifted passage is used to demonstrate this to the audience; but the fact is also often referred to in the course of the movie, when the trips get more and more extensive and some characters even decide never to return from the fictional worlds they have entered. In contrast, in Dreamscape we have seen a typical example of projection (the word 'project' is actually used in the film itself as a term for the act of entering dreams of other people).

Entering dreams or memories seems to suggest projection mode more than ejection mode, perhaps because it allows closer modeling on the (real) dream state, which is very similar to projection: you're asleep, you physically remain in your room, though oblivious to your environment, and the only sense in which you're 'there' in the dream world is mentally, even though it may not look and feel that way to you while you're immersed. On the other hand of the spectrum, trips into fictional worlds and time travel seem to suggest ejection more strongly. (In particular time travel stories would struggle to use projection mode: it's rather counterintuitive to suggest that a character can be a two different times at once, whatever 'at once' can mean in this context. Remember that all passage stories, time travel not excluded, have to keep up the metaphor of traveling, and that requires a sequential personal time for the traveler, even as she jumps from one spacetime-location to the other.)

There can be hybrids: in the extract from Sherlock Jr. the protagonist doesn't simply enter the world of a movie, he dreams that he enters a movie. So we have a more complicated setup: there is the world of the Buster Keaton movie itself, then nested inside it the world of the dream, which allows passage into movies, and then again nested inside that dream world the world into which he steps when Buster walks into the movie screen. The latter is a clear case of ejection, for the in-dream-Buster vanishes from the world surrounding the movie screen when he walks in. But then there is also the dream itself, which is a case of projection. (The sleeping body of the projectionist remains visible for us, the audience, unresponsive to the surrounding world, but not physically away.) Probably the motivation for this complicated setup was a hesitation to make the movie too phantastic. It's one thing to create a fiction in which people dream (not unusual in the real world, too), but another to create one in which people walk into fictional worlds through a movie screen. (To wrap the more extravagant elements of a fiction into a dream is a time-worn device, just think of the epilogue of A Midsummer Night's Dream.)

Note that there is no difference in the experience of the passenger between ejection mode and projection mode. The passenger is immersed in what happens at the destination location. The only difference is what an additional observer would see at the origin location during the time of passage.

Yet shifted passage neither implies ejection nor projection. We have seen ejection in the clips that included shifted passage, but as I have noted, there could easily have been shifted passage in Dreamscape, where we're clearly in projection mode. Likewise, in The Dutch Master, there's no shifted passage, which I argued is by design; yet both ejection and projection might be in play here — the movie leaves it open, thus allowing both interpretations, but this very fact shows that there might be both cases in which we have no shifted passage and projection and cases in which we have no shifted passage and ejection. So the distinction between use of shifted passage or not on the one hand and projection mode vs. ejection mode on the other are completely orthogonal.

May 16, 2012

Shifted transfer

In the extracts from passage scenes in movies that I have given in my recent postings, I have identified a technique which I called shifted transfer. The idea is that when a character makes a trip into an unreal world, such as the world of a movie-within-the-movie, or the world of a painting, there may be a difference between the perspective of the character himself and the perspective of the audience. The audience can remain at the origin location while the character already has been transferred to the destination location. (The audience is transferred later than the traveler, hence 'shifted' transfer.) Thus in Die Einsteiger, we're still there, in the now empty room, while the two travelers are already inside the video film; in Sherlock Jr. we can see the large movie screen into which the protagonist has stepped even when the character himself is already inside, and thus no longer in the room which contains that screen. We have seen, though, that not every film that includes passage into some instance of unreality uses the technique of shifted transfer. In The Dutch Master, the perspective of the audience and the perspective of the protagonist who steps into an old painting remain closely tied to each other. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, the protagonist is drawn into a memory which is dramatized as if in a holographic 3D-film, and the point of view is strictly that of the character, there is no lingering of any kind for the audience when the character moves.

In the latter cases, the subjective element is emphasized, while in the former cases we (the audience) are more in the mode of observers, objective onlookers. This makes shifted transfer a cinematic means to achieve a double-check on whether passage has actually happened. What would you do if you were the inventor of a device that lets you enter movie or dream worlds? You would probably set up an experiment that lets you verify, from some good, external vantage point, both that the traveler has arrived at the destination and that he has vanished from the origination location. That would convince you, as the inventor, that the device does enable such a trip. Shifted passage has exactly the function to convince the audience, in exactly the same way. Where the film wants to keep the question open (such as in the stepping into a painting in The Dutch Master), shifted passage is consequently not employed. Where the subjective experience of the passenger is to be emphasized (as in the passages into memories in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and into dreams in Dreamscape), it's also avoided.

May 15, 2012

Passage as travel

Let's begin to clarify some notions. I have introduced the idea of traveling into an instance of unreality, such as the fictional world of a movie, or a dream. The use of 'traveling' is highly metaphorical, of course: if you travel, that means a change in location, usually going from some origin location to a fairly distant destination location; and the act of traveling itself typically takes time. Obviously, in the normal use of 'traveling', both the origin and the destination locations are places in the real world, to be reached by some means of transport. Another element of the meaning of 'traveling' has to do with what one experiences: broadly speaking, you're widening your horizon, see new and unfamiliar places, strange customs (strange, that is, to you, not to the people in the places you visit).

The trips I have illustrated in my recent series of posts can be metaphorically described as 'traveling' into an unreal world, because some of these meaning elements still apply: there is an origin location and a destination location, which is removed and distant. The process of passage itself doesn't take much time, but the trip as a whole occupies a span of time during which the passenger cannot interact with the origin location any more. There are strange and unusual things going on at the destination location, making for a new and stimulating experience. (That's the point, after all, of using passage as a dramatic device in fiction. The movies from which I have extracted some excerpts for demonstration all rely on passage to get some central plot lines going.)

There's an important difference, too. The distance between the origin and the destination is not a spatial difference, as the distance between two places in the real world is. Rather, it's the gap between the real world and an unreal world — the difference (however it is conceived) between reality and fiction, or reality and dreams, reality and memories, and so on. I have used the term 'metaphysical apartness' before: just as the metaphorical use of 'passage' and 'trip', that term also suggests some kind of gap or distance — and the gap or distance is taken to be metaphysical, that is, to be described in terms of reality and unreality (metaphysics being the study of what, in general, makes up reality).

Describing something as a journey adds another important element: it suggests a continuous, linear structure. There is a departure (possibly some preparation before), then there are the events of the trip itself, including the actual travel, the arrival at the destination location, the events there, and then in reverse the trip back with its final arrival at the origin. All these events typically form a continuous process with an ordered structure. Even more important, this structure is tied to the experience of a traveler: it only makes sense to bring events in that order with reference to someone who undergoes the process. Without a traveler from whose point of view there is a time-ordered series of events, there is no such thing as a journey.

In all the illustrations I've given, the perspective of the passenger (one or more characters in the movie) is crucial. That is why the plot usually follows the perspective of the character who undertakes the journey very closely. The only deviation from this principle is the technique I have called 'shifted transfer'.

May 14, 2012

Passage illustrated V - the shared dream

We have looked at fictions and memories; let's now examine something you get when these two are combined: dreams.

Already in 1984,[1] the movie Dreamscape had people enter other people's dream worlds, by means of a combination of technology in the sleep lab and rather obscure 'psychic' abilities of the passengers themselves. (One character learns, over the course of the film, to 'project' into others' dreams by means of pure concentration.)

Some subtle setup is going on in the dialogue before the actual trip: the protagonist mentions that the test subject (the other man whose dream he is about to join) is a steel worker; then we recognize that the projection has worked in part by the character of the setting, a construction area on top of a skyscraper. A familiar scene for a steel worker, though it's probably not something in most other people's everyday experience. The recognition is supported by a short verification dialogue after the trip back as well, when both dream subjects recall what they've experienced and it matches. (A more serious scientific verification would have both participants record their recall separately from each other, but understandably this has been contracted for the purposes of the dramatization.)

There is a rather elaborate departure sequence. The film tries to establish an authentic-looking scientific setting, drops some references to actual sleep science (such as entering REM phases), and then also visualizes the process of passage into the dream in a manner that fits descriptions of dream subjects falling asleep (such as the hypnagogic imagery, the feeling of falling through a tunnel onto the dream scene, and random sound effects). Just as all the other movies I've discussed so far (with the exception of Sherlock Jr.), there is a clear suggestion of the character being drawn into the unreal world he enters. Compared to all that, the arrival sequence is very brief — the protagonist looks around for a moment, but then is quickly absorbed in the action.

Just as before, no shifted transfer here, although we could easily imagine how it might have been staged. There could have been a shot of the scientists who monitor the sleepers, or of the sleeping characters themselves, interleaved with the dream sequence itself. Of course, there would have been little benefit to such an interruption of the dream sequence. Especially when presenting dreams, movies tend to replicate the grip they have on us in our real lives by leaving such sequences uninterrupted. (Look out for this when you next see a dream sequence in a movie: they are very rarely interleaved with any other plot elements.)
[1] That is, long before Inception; of course, the idea is much older. Dreamscape itself was based on a 1966 novel by Roger Zelazny entitled The Dream Master.

May 13, 2012

Passage illustrated IV - the dramatized memories

Let's widen the scope a little. The spectrum of unreal worlds is not restricted to those created in fiction.

Harry Potter (in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) encounters a magic item called the Pensieve, which can be used to externalize memories. That way, one can re-examine what one has experienced before; and it is suggested that this works without the effects of fading or distortion that our memories in the real world suffer. When Harry gets close to the Pensieve, he is drawn into the memories of its owner (Dumbledore, the headmaster of the school).

There is no interaction between the protagonist and the past world; Harry is just watching. This seems appropriate if we remember that what the movie presents us with is a memory from the past, which is supposed to be unchangeable, since it already has happened; moreover, it is someone else's memory — so it's doubly removed from any possible outside influence.

We have here short, but discernible departure and arrival sequences. Is there also a setup-recognition structure? Yes there is: Harry (and we, the audience) can recognize both the room in which the memory scene takes place and some of the key players in the scene (apart from Dumbledore himself, the camera also catches 'Mad Eye' Moody, Ivan Karkaroff, Barty Crouch, and Rita Skeeter); and Harry (and we) can do so because there was a scene earlier in the movie in which he was in the exact same room in a similar situation (formal hearing), and all the key players involved were of course introduced already in the exposition of the story. Thus we can recognize that we must be in a memory (played in a kind of holographic cinema) from several clues that were carefully prepared beforehand.[1]

There is, however, no shifted passage, and it also appears that the character is not physically away from the origin location. Harry is mentally fully absorbed in the scene which he experiences, but he remains in the room with the Pensieve. It's comparable rather to getting immersed in a dream (in which case you're still physically there, lying asleep somewhere) than to actually travel, where you fully depart from the origin location. Again, this seems appropriate if we consider the nature of the departure location; after all, this is a memory, a mental item, so it seems natural to get immersed mentally, but not drawn in physically. (Compare this with the instances in my earlier post, where the destination locations, such as scenes in movies or a painting, were fictional worlds we are supposed to imagine as 'being there somewhere'.)
[1] Strictly speaking, it would be necessary to distinguish whose recognition is the relevant one in setup-recognition-structures: that of the passenger, or that of the audience? That's an interesting question, but let's collect some more samples before we go deeper into it.

May 11, 2012

Passage illustrated III - the Flemish painting

Who says that passage into the unreal is restricted to movies as destinations? Whatever generates its own fictional world is a candidate. It could be a painting, for instance:

This is from The Dutch Master, a 1993 film that was intended as the flagship production of a collection of erotic shorts. Whatever its credentials in that genre may be, it uses an old dramatic device, namely: the interpenetration of the real world and the world of some sensually stimulating piece of art.[1] But in contrast to, say, Flaubert's 1834 novella Omphale, in this film it is not a fictional character who steps out of an unreal world into reality — it's the other way round. The protagonist, Teresa (Mira Sorvino), walks into the painting.

Passage in this case is established in a gradual buildup: when she first encounters the painting, Teresa is just fascinated and pleased by it; later on, the picture seems to come to life for short moment, and one of the characters smiles at her; then further into the film there is a scene in which she is practically invited into the picture and then walks in; after that she begins to make the passage deliberately and from her own initiative.

1) From the three excerpts in the video above, it remains unclear whether Teresa actually walks into the painting or whether she remains physically in her everyday world. In other words, the story leaves it open whether she's not simply imagining or daydreaming to be inside the painting, while physically still sitting on the museum bench.

Whenever there are other people with her in the room at the museum, the painting remains just a painting. It comes alive (and invites her in, so to speak) only when she is watching it alone. So there is no way to decide, from what the film shows, whether we are supposed to think Teresa is 'just imagining' all this, or whether, in this film, things such as stepping into the world of a painting can happen. Needless to say, in the real world, such things don't happen anyway. It's only because we're already in a story, the story of the movie, that we can even ponder the possibility. What the question comes down to, then, is whether the world of The Dutch Master is just like the real world but contains a protagonist who is prone to daydreaming, or whether that movie world is a fantasy world in which people can travel between reality and paintings.[2]

The movie artfully leaves that question open until the end. While Teresa becomes more and more involved with the painting, her real-life friends and family become more and more irritated. (Though there is a notable lack of concern; they're just irritated, nobody's really worrying.) The climax of this conflicting development is reached when Teresa disappears at the day of her wedding, leaving her fiancé, her family, and the wedding guests waiting for her in front of the church. The final sequence of the movie then suggests that she has withdrawn into the painting for good. If Teresa remains missing, that is, if she in fact has vanished from the world outside the painting, then what we've got here is a fantasy world in which passage into the unreal is possible.

2) There is no interaction between Teresa and the characters in the painting; they simply ignore her. When she is inside the painting, it's like a holographic film. She stands in the middle of what's going on, but nothing she does seems to impact the scene in any way. She's watching from inside the room, but she's still only watching. On the other hand, the physical elements of the picture do seem to impact her: when one of the characters blows some smoke from his pipe towards her, she coughs.

It's different when Teresa is outside the painting. One of the characters smiles at her and invites her into the painting with a nod; and there is also a brief scene when Teresa steals into the museum by night and it's dark, and she points the flashlight to the painting. The people in the painting act bedazzled. So the rules of interaction are frustratingly limited: The fictional characters can communicate only with her, and only when she's outside; the real-world characters can't interact with the characters in the painting at all.

There seems to be a parallel here between the indifference of the people in the painting towards Teresa and the lack of concern for her increasingly becoming distant in her everyday world. As I've observed above, none of her colleagues or her family seem really to worry, they're just puzzled. And while the narrative sometimes mentions something Teresa said or claimed, in all of the plot she doesn't utter a single word. (It's a romanticist cliché: the artist, or in this case simply the imaginatively gifted person, is estranged from her world, withdraws into a world beyond it which is associated with art and eros, but where real fulfillment isn't possible either as long as there are ties to reality etc. etc. But I don't really want to go into an interpretation of the story here. I'm only interested in the phenomenology of passage into an instance of unreality.)

3) We have now discussed two general questions: does the story involve passage into the unreal? and: what are the rules of interaction between the real and the unreal in this particular fictional world (i.e., the world of The Dutch Master)? Let's also take look at the elements of passage I have extracted in my previous postings about Die Einsteiger and Sherlock Jr.. I have identified three such elements: first, a setup-and-recognition structure; second, a departure sequence and an arrival sequence; and third, what I've called shifted transfer: the characters transfer into the instance of unreality at a different time than the audience does — while the characters have already arrived at the destination location, the audience's perspective is still at the departure location. Can we identify the same elements here, where the destination isn't a movie, but a painting?

Well, there is clearly some setup going on: the painting is explained in some detail by a museum guide, who fills the audience in on historical background and sharpens the eye for some detail that might easily go overlooked without a bit of experience. (Would you have noticed the statue of Mercury on the cupboard in the bedroom?) We also get some detail views of the painting before it comes to life, and when it does, the scene with the drunken woman rolls up once or twice as a kind of movie in a picture frame before Teresa actually witnesses it from inside the painted room. Many of these things are repeated in the passage sequences and clearly contribute to our understanding that we (together with Teresa) are now 'in the picture', thus they constitute the recognition end.

Moreover, since this is a painting we're talking about, there is a clear sense of a static frame present all the time, even when we're inside the artificial world. The number of rooms is limited to three, and most of them are already in sight at least partially from the viewer's perspective at the museum. The wooden, rectangular frames of the room and the windows, cupboards, and the like add to this sense of a mostly static, changeless room. All the animation comes from the people moving around in them. And even that seems to happen mostly in a scripted sequence that unrolls every time Teresa steps in. Thus even though she has now entered that fictional world, it is still somewhat different from the real world: it's in 3D, and it's animated — and yet it feels static and rigid to some degree.

It is more tricky to locate the departure sequence than to find the arrival sequence. That is mostly due to the gradual buildup I've mentioned. The departure sequence, I think, is distributed over several scenes in the movie. It begins when Teresa's fascination with the painting sets in and ends when she is drawn into the picture for the first time and sets her foot into the room inside the painting. The film marks the actual transfer with a simple fading of the museum setting into black, which then re-occurs on the trip back. Let's compare this with the corresponding departure sequence in Die Einsteiger, as I have analyzed it in my earlier post: it begins when the 'video integrator' device is switched on, then there is some blinking and beeping, a suggestion of the characters being drawn into the device, and finally they vanish. The corresponding marks in The Dutch Master are the first viewing of the painting, the smile and the nod of the man in the painting at Teresa, and finally her stepping in.

Compared with that, the arrival sequence is relatively short. It consists mainly of another iteration of the movements of the drunken woman (as they had happened before, when Teresa watched them from the outside). After this, Teresa makes another step forward and approaches the man with the pipe who remains seated in the room, and from that moment, we're immersed in a story that wasn't already visible on the painting when it was still frozen. The arrival sequence is over.

What about shifted transfer? This element is missing here. The perspective of the audience moves immediately into the destination location when Teresa gets up from the museum bench and the camera turns its direction into the painting. There is no discernible lingering of the audience's point of view outside. (There is no shot of the painting after Teresa has moved in, with her standing in front of the fictional characters, or some such thing.) So it seems that shifted transfer is not a necessary element in tales of passage. It might be featured, but it doesn't have to.

I think there is a good reason that this particular film doesn't use shifted transfer. I have remarked above that the movie leaves it open whether Teresa actually walks into the painting or whether she just imagines that she does. These two options are meant to remain open until the ending of the film, and shifted passage would have been a too strong indicator for one of them, shutting out the other. More precisely, if the director had used shifted passage, and the camera (and with it we, the audience) would have remained in the museum setting after Teresa had stepped in, then we would have seen either an empty museum room or Teresa inside the painting, both of which would have clearly indicated that she actually did step into the painting (as opposed to merely having daydreamed it). And that would have defeated much of the expositional strategy used in the plot of the movie. Compare this again with Die Einsteiger. There, the intention is exactly not to leave it open whether passage is possible in its fictional world. Passage into movies is the main plot device. So it's important to make it clear that it really happens.

[1] A painting that is a version of Pieter de Hooch's 'Young woman drinking', with the interior of the room very similar, but the people in the picture somewhat changed. (The painting is actually not in New York, but at the Louvre in Paris.)

[2] When the question is posed this way, some might reply that it is neither: it's a symbolic world, in which the museum, the painting, and the act of passage stand for an artistic or erotic inclination in the protagonist that is awakened. (And that may well be a sound interpretation of the director's intentions.) But even so: in order to understand a symbol, one needs first a grasp of its literal meaning, and this is what we're concerned with here. This is an investigation in the mode of phenomenology, where we're interested in the way things are presented, not in their symbolic meaning (if there is one). When we just look at what's manifestly happening (the analogue to looking at the literal meaning of a symbol), we're faced with the two options I've listed.

May 7, 2012

Passage illustrated II - the dreaming projectionist

An early forerunner of the geeks who traveled into movies in my previous post, in Die Einsteiger, is Buster Keaton, who does a similar trip in his 1924 film Sherlock Jr.

While the 1980s were a period in which the dramatic device of choice was a blinking and beeping machine, this earlier film from the 1920s uses a more traditional approach: the protagonist is just dreaming that he enters the movie world. Here's how it looks (watch until approx. 22:30):

Keaton plays the operator of a movie projector at a film theatre; he falls asleep while a picture runs and dreams that the characters in the film transform into people from his own life. He then walks up (still dreaming) to the screen and steps right into the scene that is being shown. In other words, he enters the world of the movie and starts interacting with its characters.

This is a very early example of how such a situation is staged. It's a comparatively prolonged and elaborate sequence, as the film tries to get the idea across that the main character is now entering a movie. But it includes all the elements I have discussed in my previous analysis.

Let's begin with setup and recognition. Before the actual passage happens, we are introduced to the world of the movie into which Buster is about to step. It is set in a villa and there's its owner, his daughter, and a young man (presumably her suitor). Each of the characters is briefly shown and then turns around and transforms into a person from the projectionist's world, noticed by the dreaming Buster. This is what I've called setup: elements of the destination world are introduced to us (the audience), as part of the departure sequence. Later on, in the arrival sequence, these elements are then used to show us that the traveler really has arrived there. In the case of Sherlock Jr., the plot of the movie into which the protagonist steps resumes in earnest (after a bit of slapstick comedy) with the daughter of the house and her suitor on the stage. This is supported by one or two cinematic tricks: one of them is a circle-open effect (as if we're opening our eyes to the scene); another is that the camera now zooms in so that the stage of the nested movie fills the entire frame. So far, we have watched the movie-within-the-movie on a cinema screen, with bits of the orchestra and audience visible. Now it has become exclusive: there is no intruding outside world any more, we're fully immersed in the nested picture's world. We have now moved into the recognition part: the elements that were introduced earlier, during the setup, are repeated so that we know we have arrived. (In this case, it's only we, the audience, who have arrived. Buster will follow, though he is already mentioned in absentia as "the world's greatest detective".) We witness a bit of interaction between the daughter of the house and the suitor, and then the villa's owner discovering the theft of the pearls. With the telephone call for Sherlock Jr. and Buster's subsequent appearance (not in this extract), the arrival scene ends.

Where exactly would we pinpoint the departure and arrival sequences? I'd say that the departure sequence spans the time from Buster falling asleep to the end of the slapstick intermezzo (where he is thrown into one location after the next). When he finally fades out of the picture, in the setting with the empty park bench (quite conceivably the front garden of the villa), he has entirely vanished from the surrounding setting in the movie theatre, has lost his presence in the outer movie's world, so to speak. He really has departed. The arrival sequence, on the other hand, somewhat interleaves with the departure sequence. In a sense, the arrival begins when he first steps into the frame of the inner movie. He is promptly knocked out of it again, and then needs another attempt to step in until it holds. When the departure sequence has ended, and the inner movie resumes its plot, this is made clear by the cinematic tricks I've mentioned above. A little later on (not in this extract any more), Buster appears in the role of Sherlock Jr. — at this point at the latest I think the arrival sequence is completed.

Finally, note that again there is a shifted transfer: when Buster has already entered the world of the inner movie, we (the audience) are still located with a perspective that includes both the outer and the inner world, the origin and destination locations. Only after Buster has completed the passage and is firmly located at the destination, the audience's perspective also changes to focus exclusively on the inner movie's world.

May 6, 2012

Passage illustrated I - the 'Video Integrator'

Let's start with a film I have mentioned before: Die Einsteiger. This one is in German, but I have added English captions in a couple of relevant places.

In a nutshell, this has all the elements of what I call a trip into an instance of unreality. In the film's world, there are movies (such as the Western that happens to be in the video tape recorder in this clip). Movies are instances of unreality — imaginary worlds which belong to a fiction. And one of the characters in the film is an inventor who has built a device that lets you travel into such imaginary worlds. (Just as in dozens of other movies people have invented machines to travel into the past or the future, or into dream worlds, as in Inception.) Of course we don't have a clue how the thing works. (Just as we don't have a clue how time machines or 'shared dreaming' technology work.) But whatever the technical detail, we are supposed to imagine that, in the world of this film, there is a device that lets you travel into films-within-the-film, fictions within the fiction.

How does the movie convey that such a passage into unreality has just happened? There is a lot of blinking and beeping going on, of course. More importantly, we can observe that the device is somehow acting on the two people in the scene: the funny rotating radar screen seems to be scanning them; then for a moment it looks as if some wind or airstream is ruffling their hair, as if something is drawing them towards the device; finally they vanish from the picture. Let us call this the departure sequence. Note that it is a real, physical departure. It's not just that the two travelers close their eyes and imagine (or dream) themselves into the world of the Western. We take it that they are actually, physically moved elsewhere, and that they are now 'there' (wherever 'there' is, in terms of the spatiotemporal universe we inhabit), and no longer 'here'. They have no physical presence any more in the room out of which they have just vanished. If anyone would walk into that room, he wouldn't see them. For the time of their trip, they have been 'beamed' elsewhere.

In the world of the Western, there is a counterpart arrival sequence. Beforehand, we get some idea of the basic inventory in the Western's world from the images we see on the video tape: the houses are there, some Western stereotypes are rolling off (riding, shouting, and shooting), and one of the characters who is to appear later is shortly visible: the tough guy who will insist on their hanging lights a match by scratching it on a wall (something he will repeat just a moment on, when the travelers have arrived). All this we can watch on the television screen before the departure of the travelers. Then, directly after they have vanished from the room, we can see their faces on the video screen. It is as if we, the audience, linger for a moment longer in the departure lounge while the travelers have already done their trip, verifying, as it were, that they have safely arrived, by checking up the video tape, on which we can now see them. Only then the camera moves us (the audience) into the arrival scene as well. Beginning from that point, we're all in the world of the Western, and the events there unfold now. And now, of course, the elements that were set up earlier are repeated, so that we recognize that we're now in the other world. The tough guy lights his match again, we see the houses, there are people shouting.

Thus there are several elements needed to make this kind of scene work. First, there is both a departure and an arrival sequence; second, we have a setup-recognition structure; and third, there's a shifted transfer.

(To be continued.)