The Scene in Cinema Assignment 2

Exercise 3 Reflection

For Exercise 3 I was working with Sophia, and as I had already done Exercise 3 last semester in Robin’s studio I thought it would make more sense if Sophia controlled the camera and I could just help out if there were any questions. Instead of focusing the writing more on what I learned in this exercise, I thought an interesting way to look at it would be to compare it to how I did the exercise last semester.

One thing that I notice is that I am a lot more confident with the camera, and just the exercises in general. Last semester in the beginning I would always find the exercises intimidating, and the interesting thing is that I don’t think the confidence has come from knowing how to use the camera and knowing where all the buttons are, but instead just from the fact that I have always managed to get the exercises done. The familiarity with the idea of tackling a problem/exercise has made me confident more so than a practical understanding of the camera.

I actually liked the end result of the exercise more than how it turned out last semester. I think a large part of this has to do with the location that we chose. Last time we chose a library and it wasn’t so much that it was a bad location, it was more that the location that we chose this time was more interesting. The background had an electronic sign that really gave the frame more depth as well as being a good signifier or point of comparison between the deep and shallow depths of field. There was also a downlight that we thought looked interesting. We opted to go for the interesting downlight at the risk of underexposure and I think it turned out well.

Exercise 5 Reflection

For this exercise we were given one page of a script and then went outside to cover it. This was a fun and engaging exercise and after doing a lot of theoretical analysis, I felt prepared to apply it practically. Our group decided on the coverage by planning what we wanted beforehand, going through questions regarding what we need and want to show, as well as if we want clean shots or over-the-shoulder shots, and if we wanted a shallow or deep depth of field. We then calculated that we would need four set ups and then went outside to being shooting.

Perhaps the most difficult part of the entire exercise was finding a good location to film in. We went upstairs and into the main areas but found that there were either no unoccupied spaces or that it was too noisey or that there was difficult lighting.

The shooting went smoothly as everyone fulfilled their role well and we managed to finish 15 minutes early. This is most likely attributed to the fact that our group knew exactly how many shots we wanted and simply executed a plan.

We reviewed the final product in class today only to realise that there was a jarring edit regarding the action and screen direction. Lili had entered from the opposite side of the screen that Khang was looking at and it resulted in action that didn’t logically make sense to our eyes. This was valuable for Robin to point out as I really don’t think it would have ever been something that I could have picked out in the moment when filming and it was only ever something that I think I could have learned through making the mistake.

What do I think coverage means?

When I think of camera coverage the most instinctual and surface level definition that comes to my mind is simply what the director chooses to show as well as what they choose to leave out. In my mind as well I have always thought of it in a more strict story sense, as how to adequately cover what the story needs.

Robin had another perspective to coverage and giving it more thought and really thinking about it I should perceive it more as how to adequately cover a film. I never exactly thought of coverage as only strictly pertaining to the narrative but as that is how it is viewed in most of mainstream cinema it does tend to end up feeling like the standard, conventional and accepted definition of the concept.

So now I am thinking of this in more precise terms. That is, to think of how much – even in mainstream cinema – is not directly a realisation of the script, but how much of the film is just ‘film’ as opposed to narrative. I’m now thinking of all the asides and digressions that can be found in every film and how some may view these as the markings of self-indulgence.

Although it may not be mainstream cinema, the example that always comes to mind when thinking of coverage in a less narrative-focused way is to think of Yasujiro Ozu and what are called pillow shots, taken from pillow words used in Japanese poetry. These were shots that Ozu would use to bookend his scenes. These were often very well composed shots to just look at that did not contain any of the central characters in them, many times of nature and exteriors. They did not have any direct relation  or advancement to the plot, but were instead used as a form of punctuation, whether that means accentuating the emotion of the scene or just to give the audience a moment of breathing space. I like to think of coverage in this way. To think of a shot as not useful to a narrative but useful to the film.

Scene Analysis – The Scent of Green Papaya

I have chosen the film The Scent of Green Papaya, as I wanted to pick something that had coverage that wasn’t exactly concerned in a traditional narrative, and instead used coverage in more poetic means.

The scene that I have selected is a short one in which the main character, a young girl named Mui, picks a papaya from a tree in preparation for a family meal later on.

It begins with a hand in the centre of the frame gliding up a tree, eventually reaching for a papaya. This is a film that is concerned with translating a sensory experience. That is why throughout the film, and in this shot we see only the hand and not the face or rest of the body of Mui. There is a larger importance placed on hands and feet than the usual film, and perhaps director Tran Anh Hung finds that this helps achieve a more sensory experience much in the same way that Bresson (a noted influence on Tran) had an obsession with hands.

Also notable about this shot is that the hand moves very slowly, gliding up the tree. This is not a natural movement at all, people do not move in this way. To Tran, this does not matter, and the aesthetics of the hand gliding up the tree and the feeling it conveys is more important than adhering to naturalism. It also helps to not allow the audience to see the papaya until the very last moment, providing the shot with a build up and payoff, however small.

We are then taken out to a static wider shot of the tree branch by itself, and framed through a window, with a bird cage on the lower right hand side. There is a small focus pull from the tree branch to the bird cage as Mui appears into the frame. She gives a smile before we are taken to a cutaway of a papaya and a shoot with juice dripping off of it. In the same way that Ozu would use a pillow shot, Tran here punctuates the previous two shots with a close up that seems to convey the sensuality that can be found in the fruit, or food.

Then there is a cut to Mui preparing the papaya. It begins on a mid shot of her only to tilt as well as slightly pan to her chopping the papaya. A rhythm is also present in the soundscape – Mui chops the papaya at a fast tempo while a calm water drop can be heard in the background. They seem to play out a rhythm in the preparation of the food, liking it to a performance.

The camera has remained with the papaya, again showing that Tran is concerned with everything and not just the face. The grandmother of the family appears to take away what Mui has prepared. Again we only see the hand of the grandmother, the entire focus is on the papaya, it is almost a bridge and a connector between the two of them. The grandmother tells her to throw away the rest of the papaya but Mui decides not to. She begins to slice it open which is intercut with a close up of Mui. Now it is important for Tran to show Mui’s face. It is not that Tran is diminishing the power of the face throughout the film, rather he tries to find significance in everything, and the two shots of both the papaya and Mui’s face show that the two can be brought together in a harmonious manner, without one overbearing the other.

The last shot of the scene is an extreme close up of the inside of the papaya, and it is fitting that Mui’s finger enters the frame to gently touch the papaya, as this encapsulates all that Tran Anh Hung has been concerned with. Food and human together as well as gesture and sensuality.

Scene plays from 46:26 to 47:52.