Flicker and Motion in Film

  • Bill Nichols
  • Susan J. Lederman


If the cinema differs from still photography in its ability to create the impression of motion, how is this effect achieved? — a simple question to which hoards of film books give a simple answer, ‘persistence of vision’.


Apparent Movement Motion Picture Real Movement Linear System Analysis Stroboscopic Movement 
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  1. 1.
    L. F. Johnson, Film, Space, Time (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1973), p. 3.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    James Monaco, How to Read a Film (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 73.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Positive after-images are usually followed, perceptually, by negative afterimages. These reverse brightness and colour relations: that is to say, bright becomes dark, colours become their complement (for example red shifts to blue-green). Such a phenomenon is only rarely observed in film: it is clearly not central to the perception of movement. For a treatment of these and other phenomena, see Clarence H. Graham (ed.), Vision and Visual Perception (New York and London: John Wiley and Sons, 1965).Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Graham, op. cit., pp. 69–70. See also Lloyd Kaufman, Sight and Mind: An Introduction to Visual Perception (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), for an explanation of visual flicker utilising linear systems analysis.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Leo Ganz, ‘Vision’, in B. Scharf (ed.), Experimental Sensory Psychology (Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1975), p. 240.Google Scholar
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    Don V. Kloeptel (ed.), Motion-Picture Projection and Theater Presentation Manual (New York: Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, 1969), p. 28.Google Scholar
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    J. O. Robinson, The Psychology of Visual Illusion (London: Hutchinson, 1972).Google Scholar
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    E. Sigman and I. Rock, ‘Stroboscopic movement based on perceptual intelligence’, Perception vol. 3 no. 1 (1974), p. 9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    M. Wertheimer, ‘Experimentelle Studien uber das Sehen von Bewegung’, Zeitschrift fur Psychologie 61 (1912), pp. 161–265.Google Scholar
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    Other effects can be achieved, though in most films they are considered an annoyance. Certain image sequences involving overly large gaps between the successive locations of the stimulus can produce apparently discrete or saltatory (abrupt or jumpy) movement of the object. Sometimes rapid movements in a shot or jump cuts produce this effect as a result of crossing a perceptual threshold (partly dependent upon the visual angle subtended by the successive stimulus locations at the spectator’s eye). For further treatment, see Edward Levonian, ‘Perceptual threshold of discrete movement in motion pictures’, Journal of the Society of Motion Picture Engineers 71 (April 1962), pp. 278–81. Some film-makers have deliberately explored questions of apparent movement. Ray Gun Virus by Paul Sharits, for example, produces gamma movement of the entire frame, one aspect of its investigation of the flicker phenomenon, while David Rimmer’s Surfacing on the Thames sets out to eliminate the possibility of beta movement by an elaborate process of freeze frame printing and lap dissolves.Google Scholar
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    W. Neuhaus, ‘Experimentelle Untersuchung der Scheinbewegung’, Arch. ges. Psychol. 75 (1930), pp. 315–458, summarised in Graham, op. cit., p. 582.Google Scholar
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    J. Beck, A. Eisner and C. Silverstein, ‘Position uncertainty and the perception of apparent movement’, Perception and Psychophysics vol. 21 no. 1 (1977), p. 33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    J. Beck and A. Steven, ‘An after effect to discrete stimuli producing apparent movement and succession’, Perception and Psychophysics vol. 12 no. 6 (1972), p. 482.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited and Teresa de Lauretis and Stephen Heath 1980

Authors and Affiliations

  • Bill Nichols
  • Susan J. Lederman

There are no affiliations available

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