SchoolArts Room

Co-Editor's Letter: Movement

By David Gran, posted on Apr 13, 2020

As a film teacher, I find myself thinking a lot about movement. There are countless ways that meaning is created through the language of film, but few that I find are as unique to the cinema as kinesis. Perhaps this isn’t surprising because the Greek word kinesis is also the root of cinema.

Co-editor David Gran’s daughter explores movement on a trip to theClark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts. On display are four sculptures modeled in the 1880s by Edgar Degas and later cast in bronze (1919–1921).

Kinesis refers to movement both within the image of the film as well as the movement of the actual filmstrip itself. Combined with the other elements of cinema, it’s possible that kinesis is the key ingredient to what we mean when we refer to something as cinematic. 


It’s this illusion of movement film provides that not only communicates action, but gives the audience a sense of nowness, pulling you into the artwork and giving you the feeling that you’re part of what’s happening. It’s this sense of movement that I’ve been wondering about: How can something that is taken for granted in cinema to the point of its invisibility be so elusive in just about any other form of art?


Filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky seems to choreograph his actors, props, and camera movements together as if in a dreamlike dance. In Tarkovsky’s Mirror (1975), a glass bottle rolls off a table as the camera slowly tracks backwards through a house, then follows the young protagonist Aleksei outside to witness a barn burning in the rain. Every movement seems infused with meaning.


On the other hand, comic filmmakers, from Charlie Chaplin to Edgar Wright, understand how movement can be used to great comic effect. Jacques Tati is able to pull off a great comic moment in Playtime (1967) in which he watches a chair cushion he sat on slowly reinflating. Movement can also have a subtlety and nuance—for example, the way that Barry Jenkins almost imperceptibly pushes the camera in on Little as the waves roll in the distance in the last shot of Moonlight (2016). Little turns his head as the words of his adult revelations seem to hauntingly echo in his own past.


When we talk about movement as an element of art, we tend to think about how the composition moves your eye around the page, but I’m also captured by images that, even in their stillness, appear cinematic. It may feel odd to apply that word to a sculpture like Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne, but walking around it, you witness a moment that seems to be captured in time through a combination of subtly suggested movements. He moves towards her, she twists away, her hair flying up as she begins to transform into a tree.


More than just as a compositional element, the idea of movement can be laden with meaning. Looking at films and animation can help students understand how movement, actual or implied, can impact their art. It’s my honor to introduce this issue, which includes articles that describe how educators have used movement in ways that engage students and impact their audiences in a variety of exciting ways. I’d like to stress yet another kind of movement that you’ll read about in these articles—a movement forward.


You’ll read about how teachers are creating lessons around movement that move forward in their innovative use of technology, in the way they engage their communities and in the way that they aim to make the world a better place. There lies, perhaps, the most significant kind of movement that we as art teachers can work towards.


David Gran teaches innovation, design, and IB film at Shanghai American School in Shanghai, China, and is a contributing editor for SchoolArts.


View this article in the digital edition.