Visual Review: Music Video

Kadebostany’s Castle in The Snow is a unique video that consists, for the most part, of a single camera movement, a pan, around a single subject, the lead singer of Kadebostany.

The music video starts with an overhead shot in black and white of a woman surrounded by what looks like shards, she rotates 90 degrees from 3 o’clock to a 12 o’clock position. The next shot is of a projection behind a pillar that shatters into what resembles the shards in the shot before; additionally a burst of focused light points to the top middle third of the frame. The entirety of the music video is in black and white for the duration.

In the succeeding shot the silhouette of the lead singer of Kadebostany is shown and the camera rotates around her along the same orbit for the rest of the music video. The source of light that was making her silhouette a focused light pointing right up toward the top half of her body. She is positioned in the center of the frame but interestingly there was an active choice to use a more cinematic aspect ratio with narrow black bars at both the bottom and top of the screen. About halfway through the rotation the source of light changes to one that speckles light onto her black dress. When the drums are introduced in the song the lights match the rhythm and flash independently from each other onto her. Before the song really gets going the light, of which there are three, dim before displaying an array of different patterns onto the subject.

There are a lot of specific choices with light in this that if nothing else should give a lot of inspiration to someone who is looking at it from a cinematic perspective. There are so many different angles used in the lighting and just as many different styles of lighting that have a strong effect with the music and independently from the music. While the camera moves are simple and fairly steady. The use of lights flashing in varied rhythms are a strong indicator of how important lighting is. There is lighting that flashes quickly and sporadically that, with the help of a small wind machine, the creators were able to give a very intense sense of motion. The camera moving at the same speed it had been moving at with only a change in the lighting is the technique used throughout this music video.

Although there are too many images to go over in under 500 words there is also another technique i learned from this video when I watched it a couple years ago. Transitioning with/without light. The use of light can be beneficial when transitioning from one bright scene to the next or, as demonstrated here, from a dark shot to another dark shot.  Occasionally the light would be pointed directly at the camera and the transition would happen there where only light filled the screen. The dark shots as transitions are what impress me more because there are far more blatant, and it isn’t as if they were transitioning from a black screen to another black screen, the transitioned from a low lit scene to another low lit scene. The change in what was on the screen is visible but also ignored because of how the timing allowed the dark shot to transition.

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Visual Review: Movie Poster

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It is pretty common to have someone’s, especially the protagonist or antagonist’s, face plastered with makeup and Photoshop in their theatrical costume  then pasted onto the poster and that’s the end of it.

The Silence of the Lambs poster takes the normal methodology and give it a bit of a twist. There is certainly Photoshop involved but this time not to remove impurities; Photoshop is used to enhance the focus of the photo and the rest of the poster.

The base picture of Jodie Foster was either initially black and white or made to seem black and white. Her skins is ghost white which on the left side of the poster makes only her eye stand out as well as part of her eyebrow. The rest of her blend into that side of the poster which is completely white except for the bottom which is left dark blue; this is likely so that the text below Jodie Foster’s chin is legible.

The right side of the poster is filled with shadows which I believe demonstrates the dark parts of herself that Dr. Lecter leads her to through conversation and in her job while she works with him closely. The shadows show the features in her face in more detail, especially her nose, eye socket area, and cheek. Although only apparent on one side, we would clearly be able to know what Jodie Foster looks like assuming symmetry. The shadow is so strong that I might argue it is made to look like it is taking over her face.

Her eyes are a dark deep red which alludes to Hannibal Lector’s eyes and in turn possible the bloodshed that is happening while she tries to find Buffalo Bill and his next victim. Dr. Lector’s eyes are mentioned as maroon and reflect the light in pinpoints of red which more closely resembles the eyes pictured here in the poster than Jodie Foster’s eyes would’ve.

The moth and more specifically, the death’s-head hawkmoth, is positioned right above Jodie Foster’s mouth is important for two reasons. First because it is symbolically silencing her and second and most importantly because of it’s important in the movie’s plot. The moth is very symbolic of two things, the moth itself is symbolic of the pursuit and eventual capture of Buffalo Bill but in the poster it serves another purpose. Picture right in the center of the moths back where there is normally something naturally resembling a skull as those moths are attributed to have. The opposite is true, a photo by Salvador Dali, In Voluptas Mors, which is actually several naked women pictures as a skull takes its place. This is important because of it’s subtlety and it’s importance as a reference to the victims of Buffalo Bill who are all young women.

Visual Review: Title Sequence

A stand out title sequence for me has to be the Watchmen (2009) title sequence. Regardless of how the movie was received by critics and fans alike the title sequence is unarguably fantastic and set the movie up well in the short 6 minute span. It not only gives some backstory that alludes to events played out only in the comic or talked about by the characters in the comics but it also interjects the characters into some historic events they weren’t originally a part of that establishes the divergent reality that the story is set in. One where the minutemen have fallen, Nixon is elected for a third term, and the Watchmen are rising, but not for long.

The sequence opens with a slow motion sequence that shows all the Minutemen in their prime, action is important in these slow motion sequences, a gun goes off, a camera bulb flashes, all while the Minutemen are protecting in their prime. There is a shot with all the minutemen taking a picture together that, at the end of the title sequence is replicated by the Watchmen. This is important both in showing how time passes but also that their acts become cyclical.

The use of popularized events or captured moments in history changed by the characters put in it like in times square after Japan surrenders the nurse who is kissed by a sailor is instead kissed by Silhouette. The shots after show how the minutemen have all fallen in different ways, death, confined to an asylum, or simply retirement.
It then goes on to show JFK’s death after showing Dr.Manhattan meeting him. It turns out that the comedian is the one who shot him. Each of these historical instances are not only integrating the story with a reality we are familiar with but they are also composed and framed meticulously in the same way that people have seen them in. When JFK is shot we see his car from the same angle as the infamous video of his death. If then uses the same techniques to show how the Watchmen have been affecting the timeline as we know it. Dr. Manhattan takes a picture of the american astronaut on the moon.

The sequence also shows the moving through time, a significant theme in Watchmen, through news outlets of many sorts. For the Japanese surrendering a close up of a news paper is shown before the kiss is. To show that Nixon has been elected for a third term we dolly out from a television set into an angry mob outside the store window. Then a molotov is thrown into the window and a burst of flames fills the screen.

Lastly but certainly not the least important, the music. Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin” is used to perfect effect. The song plays steadily throughout the sequence and the lyrics however simple remain incredibly relevant as the titles sequence takes the audience on a ride of ups and downs through a long period of time landing in a world which we have only just become familiar with because of the title sequence.

 

Visual Review: Alien

Alien is space’s best horror film. It has a completely sci-fi setting, with the production design by H.R. Giger, and a completely sci-fi focused plot but is very much in it’s tone and visual choices a horror movie. With just the opening shots you get the feeling that it fits within the horror genre much more than it does in the sci fi genre; this becomes a running theme in Alien.  The first six minutes of the movie dictate the tone. The score slowly draws you in with nondescript noises and tones that are akin to fingers on chalkboard.  The only written information given after the title screen is

commercial towing vehicle ‘The Nostromo’

crew: seven

cargo: refinery processing 20,000,000 tons of mineral ore

course: returning to earth

Which comes at 2:11 and serves as a brief introduction to the ship and basic motivation for the seven crew members. While text on the screen is a simple tool it’s important that it doesn’t come off as out of place and I think this is a good example of where it doesn’t, it’s just after seeing the word ALIEN form at the top of the screen and it comes right at the beginning of the film. Once in the ship there are a series of shots that lead to the emergency helmet sitting infront of the control desk, quick and subtle foreshadowing.

Later we are led to the “sleep chamber” which is when the tone and lighting change completely, but not for long. It’s important to note that the way the ship is depicted when people are alone and when the people are together is completely different. When alone the shots presented are slower and ususally set under low lighting, in the mechanical workings of the ship or when the ship actually loses power and that iconic siren sounds almost indefinitely.

There is always a buzz either a low or high pitched tone that is supposed to originate from the ship. This often sets the mood and very subtly rises tension over long scenes.

The pace of Alien is dictated by the frequency with which the shots change, and they are very frequently changed. Slow and fixed shots are used as transitions and usually have a calming effect, however, when placed in the middle of a scene surrounded by quick shifting shots of chaos the effect is very unnerving. It leaves the audience questioning what they aren’t seeing.

Lighting plays into tension well, often under low lighting. A particular scene when the ship “crash” lands to try and follow the signal supposedly sent out by intelligent life forms has a lot of lighting that, along with the score, help to raise tension if only for a few moments. The chaotic flicker of lights that come from the ships control panels emit all over the actors faces and in addition the shaky camera movement and the emergency signals going off together make a whole scene which confuses and throws the audience off.

When the story takes a step back and tries to slow down it usually does so under a well lit setting. Panic sets itself in the dark like in the scene where they find the Alien. This scene starts with only a moon and the headlights on the helmets of the people searching for the signal. For this scene a fog sets in which diminishes the lighting even more. The radio and video communications between those on the ground and on the ship also bring an important sporadic element when the audience is shown what is on the monitors in the ship and it shows the comms breaking up but making out only one image of the lost ship that the crew ends up exploring. Often the lighting is also aimed directly at the camera even if only for short bursts to try and break the focus of what is on screen. Headlamps, moonlight, control panel lighting and flickering lights all contribute to setting the mood for any given scene with rising tension or chaotic content.

The slow pan and dolly all lead to suspicion or mystery. In the ship they play an important role for showing where people are in relation to each other but also play a role in leading to important figures. often first showing the architecture of the interior of the ship when the shot reaches someone it is important to remember them in a coming scene. When there is a slow pan to Ash working at a station attached to a wall it turns out he play an integral role in the coming scenes when he both takes care of and monitors, with suspicion, the “disease” that infected Kane. Even at the table when they are having their last meal before they go back to sleep Ash is shown looking directly at Kane before his internal expulsion.

Once the Alien bursts from Kane abdomen all bets are off. The tagline “In space no one can hear you scream” really rings true. Prior to the Alien being shown for the first time there are mostly low angle shots or even shots being used. Then we occasionally get a high angle perspective which is also the Alien’s perspective. When Brett searches for the cat he enters a room with a lot more chaotic noise. Other than the usual heartbeat of the ship there are chains being tinkered with and the sound of droplets hitting metal. Once he is killed all that is left is some light chain clinking.

In the last moments of the movie Ripley faces off with the Alien and the shots start to differ a little bit. The shots are close ups of both the Alien and Ripleys faces. After she gets into the suit with a lot of close ups and low angle shots she sits in a chain and there is a slow zoom up to her face until the Alien reacts. When she finally defeats the Alien (by firing up the engine) the light from the engine falls inline with the uses throughout the movie, calm is restored and Ripley is the last survivor.

 

 

Visual Review 5: Commercial

Most commercials have some semblance of a story to try and entice you and make itself more relatable, often it comes off as very cheesy and that’s just part of the game to try and get you to buy their product. Often the case is also that, if the company selling the product is big enough, they will hire someone with prominence in the public eye to try and give the viewer more of a sense of trust with the product.

In the case for this Coke commercial from the 90’s they hired Matt LeBlanc, one of the six stars from the popular T.V. show, Friends. Coke commercials have a strong disposition to creating basic scenarios where they believe the consumer would be inclined to drink a Coke.

Here, Matt LeBlanc, is sitting at a bus stop directly in front of a Coca Cola billboard in an unknown desert. On the screen the words Bus Stop are overlayed in the bottom third, Matt LeBlanc is centered and the billboard is in the backdrop. A somewhat jarring cut to put LeBlanc in the foreground  keeps the billboard as a major focus in the shot and shows LeBlanc sweating profusely as he waits for his bus. Another cut shows the deserted desert from behind the billboard at a tilted (dutch) angle, which I believe is used to invoke distress in the viewer. A couple cuts later and the first close up of Matt LeBlanc is shown as droplets of water drip on him from above. He looks up directly at the Coke bottle on the billboard and wipes his hand on it to show it’s condensation. There are a few more close up shots of his face until a low angle tilt from his shoes to his face is shown as he back up from the billboard. In this next shot that play with the perspective a bit he reaches his hand out to grab the glass bottle of coke on the billboard and with a quick progression of cutting back and forth between his face as he tries to grab the bottle and the billboard itself tension builds with the music that shifts from mood music to song music with someone singing. Using a miniature in the actual shot where he successfully grabs the coke was clever because the perspective of the shot was the same as those that came before it and when a cut is only about a second long it’s hard to tell exactly what you’re looking at in detail. Then of course the classic coke shot of a person triumphantly drinking the bottle in full and feeling completely relieved. LeBlanc’s bus comes to get him and the bottle is back on the billboard and he’s no longer insufferably sweaty, he also has a blazer on, curiously. The last shot is of the words ” You can’t beat the feeling”.

The visuals of a commercial have a necessity to be quick and deliver a very clear message in a short period of time. Though at first it might seem easier to do because it’s a short and simple story it takes a lot more effort to be concise with visuals and story.

Matt LeBlanc Coke Commercial

 

Visual Review 4: Rear Window

The language in It had to be murder describes the neighbors windows often through describing the shades and the lights, both which continue to hold important through the movie as well. The majority of establishing shots in the movie are basic still shots of the windows and the inhabitants of the apartments. Added in are certain specific identifying elements for each of the characters that weren’t there in the short story. The couple who owns the dog is shown not through their window but on the fire escape sleeping outside ,with their alarm hanging on the railing, due to the heat. The courtyard is also an established setting that has a character of it’s own that plays an important part in the beginning and end of the film. It establishes how the salesman interacts with one of his neighbors and it establishes the garden as an important set piece. There is one camera pan that shows all the neighbors from the rear window that pans almost in a half spiral that ends up on Jeff’s face showing his sweat and establishing the heat in the city for a second time. Lots of details like these aren’t shown in It had to be murder. What is left out in some cases are the detailed facial expressions that are imperative to bringing more context to what Jeff sees through the windows of his neighbors. The subtleties of the facial expressions aren’t always captured in the film. Sometimes they hold for very little time whereas in the short story they are ingrained in your memory. Particularly the description of the salesman looking out at everyone else’s windows is described more in the dialogue than in his facial expressions. In the short it is allowed it’s own paragraph. “He was leaning slightly out, maybe an inch past the window frame, carefully scanning the back faces of all the houses abutting on the hollow square that lay before him. You can tell, even at a distance, when a person is looking fixedly. There’s something about the way the head is held. And yet his scrutiny wasn’t held fixedly to any one point, it was a slow, sweeping one, moving along the houses on the opposite side from me first”. There is a stark separation between what the short shows and what the movie shows. The short story goes into little to no detail about the interior of Jeff’s apartment and the movie makes a point of avoiding it for a while but slowly introduces it as an important piece through the camera’s view of it.

Inside Jeff’s apartment the camera movements are minimal, when they divert from the norm it is for good reason, like when Lisa and Jeff are kissing in his chair there is a close up on their faces with little view of anything else, the depth of field shows only their faces for good reason, even parts of Jeff’s pajamas are out of focus.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-05-25-pmAs the film progresses the interior of Jeff’s apartment has a lot of change with the lighting as it does in the short story. There are certain actions that occur, like the salesman looking into the window after Lisa has indicated she still has the wedding ring. Stella shuts the light off to hide away from the salesman’s gaze.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-10-18-38-pmWithin the first act peoples faces are normally shown, when Jeff first really questions himself his face isn’t shown, the shot framed so we might only see the back of his head, expressing his doubt. This is the kind of small detailed shot in context only achievable through film. In the short story a description of someones face in context would be required.

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-8-42-48-pmThe camera movements outside Jeff’s apartments more than naught pan to follow their subjects these are open even pan shots made with an easy camera sweep. Once the binoculars come into play for Jeffries as he peeps into the rear window when he suspects the salesman of foul play there is a vignette effect that is used with both the binoculars and the . Soon he switches to one of his cameras with a long lens and the perspective is more focused with a tighter vignette. Additionally the movement of the camera is more sudden, resembling a handheld movement following the subject, in this case the salesman, as it ought to be. Soon after, through the blinds, Jeffries sees the light switch on as a pair of shadows appear from behind the blinds. Lisa and Jeffries argue until Lisa is convinced when she looks out again an sees the salesman suspiciously wrapping up a large suitcase. The camera pushes in close on her face as she admits her suspicion to Jeffries theories.

Only when the Lisa has broken into the salesman’s apartment and tried to show Jeff from across the courtyard that she has the salesman’s wife’s wedding ring does the focus turn from the rear of Jeff’s window to the interior of his window and furthermore into his apartment itself where the lighting again plays an enormous role in deriving tension from the scene. In this small sequence leading up to the salesman attacking Jeff a lot of the established camera angles and lighting themes are turned on their heads.

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The light is still shut off as Jeff hears ominous footsteps coming from down the hall.

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Here the light under the door plays an important role in showing Jeff exacltly when that someone coming up the stairs and down the hall to his door will actually enter his apartment if at all. He has no indicator of this when the light in the hall is shut off moments later.

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One of the first high angle shots of Jeff as he listens to the footsteps gaining presence, a great shot to draw a lot of tension.

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Jeff nears the door and tries to get up after realizing he can’t. The shadow cuts off at his neck showing that he’s trapped in a multitude of ways.

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The salesman makes his entrance in a shot the shows only part of his face and the darkness that surrounds him.

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Jeff is also covered in darkness, his face not shown, the light only shines a little on his wheelchair, again showing he is trapped, but this time the salesman knows it.

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The flashbulb comes into play as Jeff tries to slow the saleman down by blinding him.

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Possibly the most interesting color choice in the film is when the salesman’s eyes are recovering from the flash and he see entirely in orange as shown.

Visual Review #3

this-picture-that-won-legendary-photojournalist-eddie-adams-the-pulitzer-prize-in-1969-depicts-south-vietnamese-gen-nguyen-ngoc-loan-chief-of-the-national-police-as-he-fires-his-pistol-shooting-and-ki

A man pointing a pistol at another mans head isn’t an easy sight to behold, yet, behold. More than just pointing the pistol near the mans head: this photo was taken just after the shot was fired and as the bullet was lodged into his head. Taken by Eddie Adams during the Vietnam War this photo depicts the Chief of the National Police (left) firing a shot into Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (right) in 1968. 

The photo is strong enough on conflict alone. It looked to me like a man wincing as a pistol is aimed at his head. Though it is hard to see the face of the police chief his face seems somewhat nonchalant, maybe even dismissive. Aside from what I might speculate about this photo I do now know that this is the moment of death for this Viet Cong soldier. I don’t know that many people have had this intimate a look into someone else’s death, certainly not with someone they don’t know as well as they don’t know this man.

The photograph itself is surprisingly well photographed considering the circumstances. The rule of third is well in place; both the heads of the subjects are placed just below the upper third and their bodies are both in line with the first and third respectively. What’s very distinctly apparent to me after looking at it for so long is how symmetrical it appears at first, simply because of the placement of both men’s bodies. The longer I look the more the photo becomes disorganized and asymmetrical it seems to become. Both primary subject’s bodies are facing completely different directions. The police officer’s face is looking down his barrel and the facing the Viet Cong; While the Viet Cong soldier’s eyes are closing are pointed toward the camera. On the left side of the frame behind the officer there is a clutter of trees and that grimacing soldier which makes the left side very flat. Toward the middle of the photo, and as we look toward and past the Viet Cong soldier we get an extended view of the street and the city. It is very apparent that it is day and that there are people about the street which speaks much to the adaptation of people during war. It almost feels with the inclusion of the nonchalance of the officer that the devastation must’ve broken many people had they grown so accustomed to a life of death. Though there is a shallow depth of field, including only the 3 men whose faces you can clearly see, there is also a divide whether intentional or not that is drawn by that which is in focus and that which is not. Lastly, there is an abundance of liquid coming from off camera, specifically from the right side that, and out of suspicion I begin to fill in the gaps.

A lot of the reason this photo was so controversial was, aside from it seeming at first glance dehumanizing, it was also that it led to so much false speculation when so few people knew the story behind the photo and, like I did, began to fill in gaps that should’ve been left alone.