The Scene in Cinema Assignment 3
Basic Research Project
For my research project I wanted to explore something that I felt very unsure of. I had been watching a lot of films by Robert Bresson recently, thinking that some were very underwhelming while others were amazing. This was interesting to me as I couldn’t really pick out why I liked one over the other exactly, and Bresson’s style didn’t vary much from film to film. So I decided to look a little bit into his form. A particularly useful video that I found was one by David Bordwell where he compared the different methods of analytical editing and constructive editing. Analytical editing was the method of introducing a space through an establishing/master shot and then going in to closer shots of that same space and ‘analysing’ them. Constructive editing didn’t use the master shot, and instead usually had a bunch of closer shots build off of one another, with the assumption that the audience could create meaning and link one shot to the other. It was a method that was pioneered in early American and Soviet cinema but it was the use of constructive editing by Bresson that I found interesting as he would use the opportunity of tighter shots as a tool to place emphasis on unconventional aspects of the body such as the face and legs as opposed to the face. Constructive editing was also a good way for Bresson’s films to constantly be invigorating, as the lack of a master shot meant that each shot had to ‘progress’ into another, without any safety net of a master.
With all this in mind, I wanted to do something along these lines for my own research project. I didn’t think I could achieve the sophistication of constantly progressing and compounding one shot into another in the way that Bresson and Renoir did so I just tried to simplify it a little bit into this specific goal: Create a scene without a master shot.
I chose the simple action of two people eating almonds as I wanted an action where the actors would be able to use their hands – keeping in mind Bresson’s utilisation of the hand – and picking up and eating almonds seemed like a good choice.
I knew that to make a scene without a master shot I had to understand a few things. One was that the audience will be able to fill in a lot of the gaps through common sense and understanding eyelines and screen direction. I also thought it would be easier to follow if I established some rules (or habits) of screen direction. For example, a hand comes in from the right of frame to pick up an almond, the next shot is a man eating that almond in profile faced towards the left of frame. Although we don’t see the plate and the face in the same frame ever, we now know where the actor is placed in relation to the space. The same goes for the other actor in reverse.
I thought that as I was already relying so much on eyelines to help orient space, and with so much focus on them, that I would take the chance to double up and think of a scene in which the eyes had to communicate a lot. There is only one word spoken in the scene and I think I tried to make the rest of the information be communicated through the hands and the eyes.
A few things that I think I could have improved with the scene would be to direct my actors’ eyes more. I found that because I didn’t tell either of them that much about how to control where there eyes look and how long they should be looking, that I was limited a lot in editing. There were a few moments in which I wish I had Ryan’s character look for a little longer.
I also don’t really know if this is a mistake exactly but I tried something which I was not entirely sure would work in the end. This was that Kerry’s close is a lot more front on than Ryan’s. My reason for doing this at the time is that Kerry holds the only word and therefore the most dramatic moment of the scene, and that I thought he deserved a slightly more intense framing than Ryan’s, who is covered from an angle that is further from the middle, and therefore less in-your-face. In the end I don’t find the difference in angle distracting as eyelines still match but I wonder if others watching find it off-putting.
Exercise 10 Reflection
This was probably the most satisfied I’ve been with a group exercise. Things went smooth the entire time and the group came in with a plan of what they wanted already. Sophia was the one who had written a storyboard already so she naturally fit into the role of director. She made many good decisions that I don’t think I would have thought of. One of them was for Brigid’s character to cross over to Isaac to pick up the landline. I had originally though to just have the landline be right next to her cellphone and bag as I thought it would be more convenient if she didn’t have to move much, but seeing Sophia’s way, the added reason to move made the scene much more dynamic in terms of blocking, and at little extra cost (a simple pan). I also liked that there was an insert of Brigid going through her phone settings. I have a natural tendency to want to leave things in the master shot, as I usually don’t think cutting in all the time makes that much of a difference, so my original thought was to just have Brigid check her phone in the master and then just do the crossover past Isaac. Seeing the edited version with the insert I think it worked much better and got rid of any possible confusion as to why she checks her phone and puts it back into her bag.
I think that the insert worked for this because the scene had already made several cuts. It starts on a close up of Isaac doing the crossword and also has the closeup of Brigid looking out of the window. I think my natural aversion to the insert happened only because I was thinking as if the entire scene was shot how I usually would like – in one master – only with the insert included. This would have been very wonky and jarring as the entire scene would have been consistent in the master only with this one close up insert sticking out badly. In the realised product the coverage had already been established and therefore the insert worked fine.
Dancer in the Dark
I had recently watched Dancer in the Dark for a second time. It is a movie that I think will elicit a strong reaction on either spectrum, and however unsure I was if I actually liked the movie or found it frustrating first time round, I think the second time I feel more confident in my admiration for the film. I think to explain why I’m talking about this film, and am so interested in it, and how it makes me ultimately think of courage, I want to talk about what I think or felt Lars Von Trier is going for (or what gimmick he is implementing if you are one of those who does not buy it).
Through most of the films I’ve seen of his, there is a huge emphasis placed on restriction, or rather, obstruction, and I think that he purposefully obstructs his films in the hopes that it will concentrate the attention on another aspect of the medium. For example, the handheld camera movements, the lack of clean audio transition between cuts and the absence of any altered lighting in his preceding film The Idiots is there so that you will pay attention to the performances and the story – two things which Von Trier values above all else. Von Trier hopes that because everything else is so horrible, you have no choice but to funnel your attention to the actors and the story. This is Von Trier’s gimmick. For me, I think The Idiots is a complete failure and a painful watch. The obstructions aren’t obstructions but simply distracting and bad, so much so that I don’t even care what merit the performances or story may have offered.
Dancer in the Dark inherits more or less the same principles but with perfect execution. It may be because it is not so extreme in its adherence to Von Triers philosophy, it is more than presentable in its aesthetic. To me, why the film is so successful in its impact is because all the restrictions and obstructions do bring out the most in the story and performance, but perhaps what I find so interesting about the film is that Von Trier is essentially letting the viewer know the entire film that everything is contrived and shoving the artifice of film right in the audience’s face. The plot is completely implausible on any realistic level and serves only to bring misery upon the main character, the dance numbers are filmed on stationary digital cameras that have a very ‘fake’ and ‘cheap’ look to them, and the editing is extremely jarring.
With all this Von Trier is upfront about his manipulation, as well as cinema’s inherent manipulation, and it is almost a joke that he plays to the audience that even though every bit of this film is so undeniably fake and manipulative, you are still going to care, and you are still going to be devastated by the end, and I guess the entire film kind of rests on this hope that the audience will care. At least to me, once I became aware of this, and once I bought into it and accepted the artifice, the film became so much more powerful. I asked myself why was this film so impressionable on me, and a lot has to be given to Bjork’s performance which gains so much power out of how sharply it clashes with the film’s aesthetic. It is pure and innocent while the film and Von Trier are conniving and manipulative.
Now to stop this from becoming simply a review I’ll try to circle it back to how the film takes these concepts and applies it to coverage. The most obvious thing to talk about is the editing and the lack of adherence to spatial continuity and convention, the 180 degree rule is broken throughout the entire film. But is a rule really being broken in this film, or is it simply following and establishing its own set of conventions? It is unlike the breaking of the line in The Shining where the rest of the film does not break the line and that the one shot that does is supposed to be incredibly jarring. Dancer in the Dark operates like this for the entire film, therefore it is less like it is breaking a rule and more as if it has never even acknowledged the rule. Perhaps this is why the film is so frustrating on first watch and easier to grasp on the subsequent viewings. In a way, the viewer on second watch has now been accustomed to convention, only its Von Trier’s specific conventions.
I know this didn’t have a great deal to do with coverage but I chose to write about this film because it excited me. It inspired me and although this style is so far removed from my own personal style it has allowed me to think greatly, and more valuably, feel even more. Von Trier doesn’t always pull off what he cleverly tries to go for but this is one where the gimmick works, which I guess means that it is isn’t a gimmick.
Thoughts and plans for Assignment 4
With Assignment 4 approaching I have been thinking about what I should do. It wasn’t too attractive to me to just go off and explore a completely new area of coverage, as that would essentially just feel like I’ve done two Assignment 3’s. So I’ve tried to think of Assignment 4 as more of a progression of Assignment 3, a more advanced version. In thinking along these lines and exploring constructive editing and the abolishment of the master I have thought a lot about Jean Renoir. The article that Paul Schrader wrote breaking down his coverage was incredibly interesting to me and Renoir has been a filmmaker that I have explored a lot of recently so it seems natural that I would try to study him in detail next. It kind of takes what I have tried to achieve in Assignment 3 a lot further. I wrote in my reflection for Assignment 3 that I didn’t think I was skilled enough to conjure up coverage that would progress and move through the scene, and opted for the conservative goal of simply showing a scene with no master shot, so I think this would be a good challenge for me to do next.
A large part of why this style is so attractive to me is that it very inconspicuous. The first time I watch The Rules of the Game it did not feel to me as if it had any style at all, and it was only the second time that I saw it as well as read up on it that I understood the intricacies of its form. This is a style that I would want to implement myself, something that is interesting, well-crafted without drawing attention to itself, and ultimately for the benefit of the entire film, and to take this on as an experiment will help me learn more about how to execute it myself in my own projects.