Pink Noise at the Movies
NYT's Natalie Angier has a very poetic piece on some new research showing that over the last 50 years, the pacing of movies has tended toward the natural rhythm of the brain (and the universe). It's hard to summarize in a sentence, so Angier explains at length:
The basic shot structure of the movies, the way film segments of different lengths are bundled together from scene to scene, act to act, has evolved over the years to resemble a rough but recognizably wave-like pattern called 1/f, or one over frequency -- or the more Hollywood-friendly metaphor, pink noise. Pink noise is a characteristic signal profile seated somewhere between random and rigid, and for utterly mysterious reasons, our world is ablush with it. Start with a picture of Penelope Cruz, say, or a flamingo on a lawn, and decompose the picture into a collection of sine waves of various humps, dives and frequencies. However distinctive the original images, if you look at the distribution of their underlying frequencies, said Jeremy M. Wolfe, a vision researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital, "they turn out to have a 'one over f' characteristic to them."
Researchers analyzed the length of shots in films and noticed the trend, which Angier suggests may explain why movies are so captivating even when they aren't that good. The researchers also seemed surprised that a montage from Rocky IV showing Rocky and Drago training separately featured matching shots of equal length for each boxer. As with the golden ratio, it seems like pink noise is the sort of thing that artists and audiences figure out before scientists do.
An accompanying graph shows how various films align (or not) with the 1/f ratio, objectively and as compared to the average for its year of release. Of all the films analyzed, Back to the Future matched 1/f most closely. Even so, researchers noted that there is no consistent correlation between a film's adherence to pink noise principle and its popularity with viewers. --ADM