Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

Posted in Assignments on December 4th, 2011 by lyoung101

The Materiality of Film

The scene, which I will be analyzing, comes from Jean-Luc Godard’s “Breathless.” In this scene, Michel, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, arrives at the entrance of a movie theater where he will be seeing “The Harder They Fall.” The 1956 film noir features Humphrey Bogart, Michel’s favorite actor. The scene contains only one word, “Bogey,” which sums it up perfectly, and says a good deal about Michel. Michel walks up to the theater entrance and before entering, pauses and stares at the film’s poster. He utters the word “Bogey” and takes off his sunglasses. Michel takes a drag of his cigarette and the viewers see a close-up of Bogart’s face, now shrouded in Michel’s cigarette smoke. Michel then rubs his thumb across his lips, puts his shades back on, and enters the theater. Instead of seeing Michel walk through the theater doors, the camera lets Michel walk off-screen and presumably through the doors on the right side. We then see the reflection of the two policemen searching for him in the glass doors on the left side. It appears that they are across the street in front of the theater. There is an iris-in on a pair of glass doors that shows the audience the two bumbling policemen, the iris closes, and the scene ends.

“Breathless” is a movie that is very conscious that it is indeed a film. Throughout its brief 87 minutes, we are hardly given a chance to suspend our disbelief, and Godard makes sure we are unable to. This Humphrey Bogart reference poses as a subliminal reminder that while Michel is a character in a movie that is about to watch a movie, we too must remember that we are also people who happen to be watching a movie. Many times as viewers, we associate the worlds in movies as separate worlds, separate realities but we forget this due to their not being references to our own world, the real world. In “Breathless” however, a shot of Humphrey Bogart, who we all know is a real person, is a reminder of “our” own world, and we realize that Michel MUST live in it as well.

In the film, Michel is seen as a cynical petty thief and thug and once we see his blatant admiration for Bogart, we can safely assume that he idolizes the characters he plays in his films and tries to emulate them in real life. We can also assume that Godard himself admires noirs and that the film isn’t really about a petty thief who tries to act like a Humphrey Bogart character, but about deconstructing the genre conventions of noirs as well as the deconstruction of the chain-smoking cynical characters that Bogart usually played. In that sense, the entire film can be seen as one huge reference. The film has all the hallmarks of a noir, and maintains the tradition to an extent, but it does it in a very different and round-abut way, changing the setting to contemporary Paris and also being very thin plot-wise. In the end of the scene, we also see an iris-in, which is another reminder that we’re watching a film. In theater for example, we can become so engrossed in what we are watching that we can forget that we’re looking at a stage and props. If the same thing happens here, Godard reminds us that in real-life there are no irises.

Filmmakers of the French New Wave rejected the classical forms of story-telling and found the films in that mold to be tired, old, boring, and too reminiscent of the theater as many were  screen adaptations of plays and literature. Godard, and several other founders of the French New Wave were at one point critics, so it is understandable that they would be quite knowledgeable on film, its conventions, and traditions and also critical of them as well. Godard spent much of the 1960s trying to re-invent the film medium and defy just about every convention the medium adhered to, to potentially realize the medium’s full potential, which he thought many French filmmakers prior to the New Wave weren’t attempting to do. He criticized French cinema’s “Tradition of Quality” and was more concerned with films being experimental and innovative. Breathless can be seen as a work striving for both poetic and political significance, and the film’s impact cannot be understated. Besides the structure of the film only barely resembling that of a noir, it is political in the sense that Godard is clearly concerned with or desires changes to an already established system. He poses the film as a “stylistic” call to action. The film can be seen as a critique of French cinema up to that point as well as both a critique and love-letter to the Hollywood noir.

The film is a landmark in the history of cinema, similar to Citizen Kane, in that they serve as wake-up calls to other filmmakers and the film industry to be new and daring. For first-time viewers of the film, watching “Breathless” can be a frustrating experience. The film so blatantly dis-regards movie conventions that many viewers pre-conceived notions of what a film is supposed to look like will be confronted head-on. This is exactly what Godard was aiming for and it can safely be concluded that he succeeded. The influence of his films can be seen in many other directors’ work from Fassbinder to Scorsese to Jarmusch and several of his innovations have become commonplace in films of today. To many, “Breathless” is thought of as the “real” launching point for the French New Wave and arguably the period’s most famous work. It seems clear to me that Godard achieved what he wanted to achieve with this film, considering the reputation it has garnered, as well as it’s position in the canon of great films.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_V0Kbf203JQ&feature=player_detailpage

Analysis Project #1: Shot-by-shot breakdown of a scene (Citizen Kane)

Posted in Assignments on October 9th, 2011 by lyoung101

Scene

This scene is from Citizen Kane. In this scene, several reporters sit in a viewing room after watching the Kane newsreel and decide that they will try to find out the meaning of “Rosebud.” (1:53 seconds)

SHOT 1 (28 Seconds)   

Framing: Long Shot

Camera Placement: High Angle

Composition: Camera is placed on the right side of the viewing room next to the screen so we see the men from the press looking in our direction. Mr. Ralston moves from the back of the room to go stand on the left side of Mr. Thompson who is sitting on the edge of a desk in the front of the room.

Lighting: Two bright white beams of light shine from the projectors onto the screen, which isn’t in view. Within their path is the desk Thompson is sitting on and the right side of the desk at which Mr. Ralston continually stands. The rest of the room isn’t lit at all, causing high contrast lighting. Mr. Ralston is illuminated briefly by walking into the beam on his way to go stand next to Thompson.

Depth of Field: Shallow

Camera Movement: Mr. Ralston walks from the back of the room into one of the light rays and stops on the left side of Thompson.

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 2 (14 Seconds)

Framing: Medium Shot

Camera Placement: High Angle

Composition: Mr. Ralston stands on the left side of Thompson. We have a profile of Mr. Ralston’s right side. We see him from the waist up. Thompson is in the right side of the frame. We view his back and the back of his head. In the background between the two men are other press men who are out of focus. Mr. Ralston walks to the right side of Thompson, briefly speaks then walks out of the frame on the left side.

Lighting: The men in the background are visible but not lit. The left side of Mr. Ralston is lit and Thompson’s right shoulder as well. When Mr. Ralston walks to the right side of Thompson, his back is lit.

Depth of Field: Shallow

Camera Movement: Mr. Ralston walks to the right side of Thompson so there is a pan to the right. We now see Thompson in the left side of the frame and only his head this time. We get a better view of the reporters between the two men.

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to the next scene.

SHOT 3 (24 Seconds)

Framing: Long Shot

Camera Placement: Low Angle

Composition: We see the backs of two reporters heads. One on the bottom left hand side of the frame, the other on the bottom right hand side of the frame. Thompson sits on the right side of a desk in front of the reporter on the left. Mr. Ralston stands in the background between Thompson and the reporter on the right. For the first time we see the projection screen in the background which is a blank white. Mr. Ralston stands in the background under the screen then walks to the foreground to stand next to Thompson.

Lighting: Strong backlighting. No one is illuminated and everyone is in silhouette. Mr. Ralston becomes illuminated once he stands next to Thompson but his face is still in shadow.

Depth of Field: Deep

Camera Movement: Mr. Ralston walks into the foreground of the frame to stand next to Thompson

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 4 (7 Seconds)

Framing: Medium Shot

Camera Placement: Straight on angle

Composition: Thompson sits on the right side of the desk. He is in the left side of the screen. Mr. Ralston stands on the right side of the screen. The blank white projection screen between them is in the background.

Lighting: The back of Thompson’s body is in total darkness. Mr. Ralston’s upper torso is lit, except his face.

Depth of Field: Deep

Camera Movement: Mr. Ralston walks out of frame on the right side.

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 5 (7 Seconds) (Essentially the same as SHOT 1)

Framing: Long Shot

Camera Placement: High Angle

Composition: Camera is placed on the right side of the viewing room next to the screen so we see the men from the press looking in our direction. Mr. Ralston stands at the bottom right of the screen in the way of a light beam from the projector.

Lighting: Two bright white beams of light shine from the projectors onto the screen, which isn’t in view. Within their path is the desk Thompson is sitting on and the right side of the desk at which Mr. Ralston continually stands. The rest of the room isn’t lit at all, causing high contrast lighting. Mr. Ralston is put in silhouette by one of the beams he is standing in front of.

Depth of Field: Shallow

Camera Movement: None

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 6 (12 Seconds)

Framing: Medium Shot

Camera Placement: Low Angle

Composition: Thompson sits on the left side of the desk

Lighting: Mr. Ralston stands directly in front of one of the light beams from the projector, which causes extreme high contrast lighting. The light seems to explode once it hits him and his animated hand movements cut the burst, creating smaller beams that radiate from behind him.

Depth of Field: Deep

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 7 (10 seconds)

Framing: Long Shot

Camera Placement: High Angle

Composition: Camera is placed on the right side of the viewing room next to the screen so we see the men from the press looking in our direction. Mr. Ralston stands at the bottom right of the screen in the way of a light beam from the projector.

Lighting: Two bright white beams of light shine from the projectors onto the screen, which isn’t in view. Within their path is the desk Thompson is sitting on and the right side of the desk at which Mr. Ralston continually stands. The rest of the room isn’t lit at all, causing high contrast lighting. Mr. Ralston is put in silhouette by one of the beams he is standing in front of.

Depth of Field: Shallow

Camera Movement: Mr. Ralston walks to the left hand side of the screen to talk to Thompson.

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

SHOT 8 (10 Seconds)

Framing: Medium Shot

Camera Placement: Straight on angle

Composition: Thompson sits on the right side of the desk. He is in the left side of the screen. Mr. Ralston stands on the right side of the screen. The black white projection screen between them is in the background.

Lighting: The back of Thompson’s body is in total darkness. Mr. Ralston’s upper torso is lit, except his face.

Depth of Field: Deep

Camera Movement: Thompson stands up

Sound: Men talking

Straight cut to next scene.

Breakdown:

Welles masterfully uses lighting and framing to tell the story. He only lights what is necessary. The entire scene is filmed in smokey clouds from cigarettes passing through the light beams, expressing shades of gray and also highlighting the bright of the lights as well as the black of the silhouettes. The fact that we rarely ever see the face of Mr. Ralston isn’t by accident. He is essentially not an important character and the projection room scene is the only scene we see him in. He is a catalyst for Thompson, who also isn’t particularly important in the film. This can be proved because we rarely ever if ever, see Thompson’s face throughout the whole film. We see the back of his head in the right side of the frame and we see the person’s face that he is interviewing on the right side of the frame. This is a pattern we see constantly throughout the film. They are the ones who are important here, not Thompson and Welles wants to stress that. In the projection room scene, none of the other press men are lit and naturally because they do not factor into the story. During the famous scene where Mr. Ralston stands directly in front of a beam of light, he becomes a towering figure, one capable of intimidation, as he demands that Thompson find everyone who ever loved or hated Kane and try to find out what Rosebud is. Light is used expressively here because Ralston radiates authority within those brief 12 seconds and from the low angle shot, we see his towering black silhouette, which expresses power.

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