“Cinematography IS the story”?

The film Family Time (screened in the week 6 lecture) is another great example of how the cinematography transcends the script. Coming away from the film I remember the shot of the mother framed by the passover in the wall, and the son, all cramped up in his room. I don’t remember the dialogue. And I had to stop and think about how the ending came about.

Unfortunately, because I have been struggling to stay on top of things recently my last answers to the questions posted for Week 5 were submitted too late (cue the obligatory bashing of keyboard to express frustration “sfbwlbgg;g;ahgptiptangngnwphmhrhofjp”). After writing about Family Time I was reminded of that work I did (and my 30% from the quiz! – again: “eobgsbwogwgbigbgogrbe”) SO, I thought, I’ll post my answers in my blog!

Q: My assertion that “the cinematography IS the story” is wrong-headed.  That a film’s meaning is both inherent in, and influenced by, its cinematography is probably more accurate.  But this might be no more true of the cinematography than it is of the film’s sound, production design and performances.  What do you think?  How might a film’s content transcend the script/text on which it’s based?  Can you think of any examples from your own film viewing?  Might your project do this in some way?  How?

A film’s meaning is inherent in the cinematography for me because when I come away from an amazing film, I am left thinking about that amazing scene, where this happened, or we saw this, and not that line where person x said x to person y. 

I feel like it can also depend on what way you decide to go about creating your film. Do you start with an overall idea of genre, and style, or is there a specific character you want to explore? Or, do you purely want to create a film that has a narrow depth of field in every shot? and then work from there. All elements (cinematography, sound, performance, production design) come together to produce an effective film, but there are cases in which the film has a very strong visual effect and the cinematography plays a big part in. Epics such as Apocalypse Now (1979, Francis Ford Coppola) truly incorporate the sound design and cinematography to achieve the overall effect. This film transcends its script through the detailed and highly thought out production design, amazing performances and careful editing. The cinematography stands out in scenes where images are superimposed over one another. The film is rich in action and offers so much for the audience to look at.
The cinematography in Scorsese’s 1993 film The Age of Innocence is influenced by the mise-en-scene. With sets that are so full of objects (food, paintings etc), slow camera movement is necessary in order to appreciate the film’s mise-en-scene. It is also befitting – you really want to look at what is there. I came away from my first viewing remembering the visual effect rather than what actually happened.

These are two examples that I feel demonstrate a film’s story can be inherent in its cinematography.

In our group project, we don’t want to rely on script to dictate the narrative. In fact we don’t want to rely on dialogue at all. We hope that the mise-en-scene will be rich and carry weight in the overall style of the film and developing the characters (their background, lifestyle etc.) We hope to achieve this through thorough planning and gathering of a range of props to create a very engaging design. The van in which our two characters live needs to be full of stuff in order for the audience to understand that they live their lives there. There needs to be a shot (like one of Scorsese’s slow pans in The Age of Innocence) so that the audience can see, and understand their lives, in order to connect with them. .

Q: Select from one of the readings from week 5 and briefly describe two points that you have taken from it. Points that excite you, something that was completely new to you.

Scorsese writes “I love the restrictions of the frame” – this contradiction intrigues me. I have always considered more so what I can put into the frame rather than what I can hide outside of it. But this is an element directors and cinematographers would use all the time. I always wanted to think simply about how I could fit all the important information inside the frame.

For me this statement really opens up a new way of storytelling, one more about withholding information (visually rather then simply within the plot). It is something that I have seen take place when watching films, but I have never really thought about how I would or could use it in my own work.

Secondly, Scorsese’s concept that a master shot is just for him is also an interesting idea and follows on from his quote that the frame’s limits can be used creatively. The idea that we could exclude an establishing shot from the beginning of a scene seems totally unconventional, and as a film student, I do not intend to let that happen to my group project. However, I can see how no establishing shot can create a new level of engagement and add a layer of mystery and intrigue (if the other shots are executed correctly).

On the other hand, tightly framed close-up shots (without any establishing shot), can also be effective in creating a close connection with characters and putting the audience right in the action, in the moment.


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