See the moving picture


The Pan Shot as Spectacle

Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse (Aladdin or the Marvelous Lamp)

Albert Capellani, Pathé-Frères, France, 1906

Shown here are six images from a single shot—namely, a left-to-right pan shot from the third intertitled episode of Aladin ou la lampe merveilleuse (“À la Recherche de la Lampe”). Having stuffed his pockets with coins from the magic urns in the first chamber of the underground grotto, Aladin spies a portal leading to another chamber (1). Apparently astonished only by the discovery of the portal, he passes through (2), the camera following him as he notices trees bearing silver fruit (3). As he pauses and begins to pluck booty from the trees, the camera continues panning to reveal the golden lamp in an alcove that Aladin obviously hasn’t noticed despite its proximity (4). Only when he turns does he discover the lamp (5), whereupon he finally mounts the stairs and seizes it (6). A right-to-left panning shot follows him as he retraces his steps back to the first chamber of the grotto. Interestingly, Capellani does not use the pan to underscore the significant moment when the character sees and moves toward the titular object located in offscreen space. Aladin apparently notices nothing in particular through the portal, and the pan simply follows him as he passes, out of mere curiosity, into the second chamber, where the camera continues to pan in order to locate the lamp despite the determination of character interest and action in the opposite direction: Aladin not only stops short of the staircase and alcove but turns his back on them. In this case, it seems clear, the panning shot is used more as a “special effect” than as a cinematic enhancement of narrative detail.

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