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It seems that the release of a Malick film is somewhat of an occasion, given that Mailck has only released five feature films in just short of 40 years. So when Tree of Life won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, my ears pricked further. Tree of Life was released on the 8th it seemed logical to go and see it.

I made the jaunt to Newcastle, to the Tyneside Cinema to see this film; it was the only place locally that was showing it. Had never been there before until yesterday and can thoroughly recommend it. If you are ever in the North East of England and want to see an independent film look them up, http://www.tynesidecinema.co.uk/

So after watching the film, which was quite a bewildering experience due to the gravitas of its content, I set about the difficult task of reviewing it in 15 words. If you are already aware of its content or have seen the film you might appreciate the difficulty of this task, but that is the challenge. My fifteen carefully chosen words are;

Visually stunning, powerful and beautiful. Abstract. Celestial. Dinosaur. Actively thought provoking. VFX tour-de-force.

Do I like it? The jury is still out. What I can say is that if the rumours of a six hour directors cut are true, I won’t be watching it.

If you have seen it or plan to, I’d be interested in your opinion.

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What is Framing?

Framing is one of the many elements of cinematography, the frame can be defined as the edge of the shot, the rectangular shape created by the cameras perspective. Choices are made as to what elements to include within this area. This is known as framing. There are several elements of framing, crucial areas to consider are angle, level, height and distance.

Angle

There are an infinite number of angles that could be used by a director, however there are generally three angles that are commonly used, the straight on angle, the high angle (looking down at material within a frame) and the low angle (looking up at material within a frame).

Level

Level in framing is often straight forward. It is more often than not parallel to the horizon. On the occasions it is not i.e. tipped to one side or the other, it is cantered. This technique is rare, but can be seen in Wong Kar-wai’s Fallen Angels.

Height

Used to give a sense of being stationed at a particular height in relation to objects or characters. Important to note that whilst it is related to angle, there are distinguishable differences.

Distance

Whilst this element can be considered as framing, camera distances such as, medium close-ups and extreme long shots are worth explanations in their own right and will be at a later date.

Open Framing

Open framing is the idea that an object or character is shot within the frame surrounded by space, in which to move freely in.

Closed Framing

A contrast to open framing. A character for example framed in a door way appears restricted, closed in if you will.

Functions

Framing is like most cinematic codes a useful tool for generating meaning. However there is no hard and fast way to suggesting something. For example a cantered camera angle in Inception may suggest that reality is out of kilter, but it will not always mean that from film to film. The context of a film determines the functions of meaning.

The King’s Speech motivated this entry on framing and is a useful case study for application of the outlined areas. Framing is used in this film to create a multitude of meaning and emotions. Firstly let’s consider angle. The picture below demonstrates the use of a low angle shot looking up. The shot conotates the intensity of the situation but importantly lets the audience know how small and weak King George VI (Firth) is feeling. There is no doubt that this affect is enhanced by the use of a super wide lens but none the less the same emotion is conveyed.

The images that follows is a prime example of closed framing. We, the audience look upon Firth through the microphone. His face is partially obscured by this object and cropped. Distance also important here, the proximity to him exaggerates the emotion. Consequently we sense his anxiety and how trapped he is, thus creating empathy amongst viewers.

This final shot is perhaps the most interesting. It demonstrates both open and closed framing. Firth sits in a wealth of space, but is not a visual metaphor for agency but for his isolation. He is trapped by the sofa on which he sits, crammed in a corner unable to move, you may think it is a stretch, but the framing one could argue is closed. Distance in this shot is also important, if we were any closer as an audience we would not get the sense of isolation in the on screen space. This shot also highlights how the film constantly broke a cinematographic convention, the rule of thirds. The idea that the frame is split equally into thirds both vertically and horizontally. It is accepted that characters eyes are often on or in the highest third of the frame. The image below shows quite the opposite, perhaps another way of compounding the characters lack of power.

Comments welcome.

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Gave the King’s Speech a re-watch tonight. Saw it at the cinema upon release and I always feel that generally most films are better with a second viewing. In fifteen words here it is;

A pertinent script, both intense and humorous. The interplay between Firth and Rush is outstanding.

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Do Look Now.

Last week Nicolas Roeg’s classic art horror was released in a digitally restored Blu-ray version. It came with a shinny blue sticker noting that this very restoration had been ‘supervised and approved’ by Nic Roeg himself. How re-assuring I thought, despite the fact that I had already decided to buy it.

The film once again got me thinking about imagery and psychology in film and recalled some reading I did into Jungian analytical psychology. In relation to this it was once said that “Film is the art of seeing in the dark.” As cinema goers we are all well aware of the notion of sitting in a dark room and becoming immersed in someone else’s life. An analogy between cinema and dreaming has long been drawn, films appearing to us as dream-like, while our dreams are experienced – at least to our waking minds – like movies. The blurred boundaries between film and dream allow film to be a platform for seeing in the dark.

Jungian psychology is a psychology of images, for this very reason it is important to consider the theory in relation to cinema, it itself a world of images. With this in mind the concept of ‘seeing in the dark’ is neatly linked with the ideas of dreaming and the unconscious mind. One can propose that the ‘dark’ can be related to part of the unconscious mind and that dream offers the ability to see. Building on this the representations of dreams in film and film as dream-like, can suggest films to be a light in the unconscious dark.

It can be argued that Don’t Look Now depicts this idea of dream on film and film as seeing in the dark. The very beginning of the film up until John’s daughter Christine drowns can be accepted as reality. As her life edges closer to death, her brother cracks a mirror and John spills a glass of water. As well as this Christine is seen in the reflection of the water, she is upside down in the frame. Roeg uses these elements of mise-en-scene to imply dream or another world as glass and water have the ability to reflect a version of reality. It can therefore be suggested that the water and mirror are representative of transitional spaces between the real world and the dream world. This fact that Christine’s reflection is upside down creates the illusion that she is on the other side of reality. As John enters the water to save Christine he too enters a dream world. This is reinforced in the next shot the viewer sees a book on the couch that John was previously reading titled ‘Beyond the geometry of time and space’, which is again hinting at the notion of another world. This even further re-enforced as the rest of the film takes place in Venice, a world that is not John’s normal world, but one that seems as real, and one in which his dreams can manifest themselves. Wright (1974) concurs ‘the reality of one of those dreams whose circumstance we do not accept as part of our daily experience, but whose intensity seems to produce a conviction of reality superior to actuality itself.’ Therefore the film can be considered as a dream and dreams are gateways to the unconscious, consequently producing the ability to see in the dark.

If it can be accepted that the film provides the ability to ‘see in the dark’ through its interplay with the unconscious mind, we can begin to explore it further. The film is populated with the colour red and the girl in the red rain coat. The notion of the re-occurring figure in red is central to the film in terms of dream. This can be said to be because John feels guilt for his daughter’s death. He allowed her to play near the water, which Laura blames him for in the early scenes of the film. If any part of the film is to be related to dream it is the scenes that involve John chasing the ‘girl’ in red as the scenes relate to his guilt and grief over her death. These scenes relate to the notion that dreams provide the necessary corrective or compensatory images. In John’s case the compensatory image is that of his daughter, as his guilt is routed deep in his unconscious. Hockley (2001) notes that ‘The symbol comes from the unconscious and is a means of expressing a concept or truth that has been grasped by the intuitive part of the psyche, but that has yet to find conscious expression.’ The symbol of the red coat is one that is produced by the unconscious to help John morn his daughter’s death and accept it, in an attempt to return a balance to the psyche.

There is one particular section of Don’t Look Now that has several visual clues to suggest that John is in a dream world. At approximately 35 minutes into the film, John and Laura get lost in a labyrinth of alley ways in the dead of night. As John walks through one archway he appears bemused and states that he knows this place. The use of archways and alleys, by Roeg, can be seen as transitional spaces to John’s dream world, in which he sees the manifestation of his dead daughter. John find his way again and is no longer lost, after seeing the red coated figure, a possible compensatory image for his grief. John shouts to Laura ‘I’ve found the real world it’s down here.’ This asks the question, if that is the real world what world was he just in? Roeg uses dialogue to imply the dream world, John was in his unconscious. To finish this scene there is an incredible visual metaphor for the experience John just had. As they exit the alley onto the main street, the viewer can see with clarity, amongst the darkness, a neon sign that reads ‘Ottica’ with a pair of glasses underneath it. One can assume that this is an opticians and it is the only light in the dark alley. Therefore John’s dream world experience is a means of seeing in the dark.

Whether you choose to read into Don’t Look Now with Jungian Psychology or not, it will always be a mysterious and chilling film. The Blu-ray reboot is worth a purchase, with added interviews from Danny Boyle and Donald Sutherland, he still insists that the sex scene was acted, they add further intrigue to a film that is already excellent at leaving an impression.

Comments welcome.

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I haven’t been to the cinema recently so can’t pick a recent film, however a quick glance to the DVD collection and I see Brief Encounter starring back. So in 15 words;

Stifled middle classes, British identity and thwarted passion. Pantomimes in June anyone? A timeless classic.

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I woke up this morning partook in my usual routine. Granola, yoghurt and grapefruit juice. I sat down and there was Ken Loach on the BBC breakfast couch. Naturally my ears pricked and I came too a little quicker than normal (I’m not an early riser!), but what better than to stimulate morning thought than the state of the British Film Industry.

Prior to a report expected later this week the bright spark in charge of the country, our dear Mr Cameron made the following statement, “the film industry should support commercially successful pictures.” Great. Thats cool we’ll just pop over to the UK Film Council and get some funding. Oops, little bit of an issue there. What’s a little ironic is that Lord Smiths report is expected to look into ways to better support the UK film industry, financially being one of them. With a £4 billion contribution to the UK economy and an incalculable contribution to our culture, perhaps the government men have realised theres a worth while cause here.

However the catch is that the government are likely to propose that the way forward is to back mainstream films as the primary avenue of profit generation. Fair enough it’s credible that big budget films are likely to return big profits. The issue here though is that funding will be syphoned away from smaller scale independent films. Shame. With proper support these types of film can be just as successful and with smaller budget come greater profit margins, the small scale high impact film could be just a lucrative and probably more interesting.

So back to Mr Loach his point being, “What you need to do is fund a lot of different, varied projects and then you’ll get a really vibrant industry.” A healthy industry being more important than a commercial bottom line industry. So yes a big budget, international film shooting in the UK is a great thing for economy and workforce. Despite this the oversight is that there are loads of great British Films made every year yet only a fraction of them find them selves competing in cinemas. If anybody really wants to address the issue of the British Film industry exhibition and distribution, there in lies the answer.

Anyone remember the last time the conservatives had a good idea about the film industry? Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that The Iron Lady is on general release as Mr Cameron trots around Pinewood Studios sounding off his ideas.

Give me your thoughts people.

Update

I’ve recently been on holiday, so sorry for the lack of posts. I have however written an blog entry for the New Empress Magazines website. You can read it here;

http://newempressmagazine.com/2011/08/10/hollywood-and-its-world-influence-how-long-will-it-last/