Timeframing: The Art of Comics on Screens

Spatial Montage

Right after the section on loops in Manovich’s The Language of New Media comes a section about “spatial montage,” or split screen, and how the windows of our graphical user interfaces make way for what Manovich calls “a new cinema in which the diachronic [or serial] dimension is no longer privileged over the synchronic [or parallel] dimension.” Or, as Anne Friedberg noted in her fascinating book The Virtual Window, “On the computer, we can be in two (or more) places at once, in two (or more) time frames, in two (or more) modes of identity”.
Without mentioning digital comics explicitly, the relevance is clear, and we can learn a lot by looking at spatial montage and how its usage has changed over time. The split screen sequences of The Thomas Crown Affair, for example, were designed by Pablo Ferro and inspired by magazine layouts. Ferro has talked specifically about trying to mediate here between the temporality of reading, in which the user directs the pace, and the temporality of cinema.
Another well known example is the split screen sequences designed by Saul Bass for John Frankenheimer’s Grand Prix, which treat simultaneity in different ways as the movie unfolds, often as a kind of textural counterpoint.

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