Saturday, March 23, 2013

Exercise: Camera angles

I have tried to find a few good examples of camera angles used to create atmosphere or alter the meaning of a scene of shot.  This will be an ongoing process as I watch films in future.  

It is important to consider whether the angle affects:

Viewpoint – does it indicate a specific POV?
Relationship – does it change your relationship with the characters on screen?
Status – does it indicate the status of the character on screen?
Suspense – does it create suspense, tension or expectation? How?
Mood – does it create a particular feeling or mood?”

A well-chosen camera angle should:

  • Deliver information (context or detail)
  • Create impact
  • Facilitate editing
  • Enhance performance of the actors

Rain Man (dir Barry Levinson, 1988)

Probably one of the most well known images from Rain Man - this is a powerful moment in the film and quite different from a lot of the claustrophobic scenes throughout.  This is showing the two characters as equal in status and the camera angle has helped to create that. These brothers have different histories, skills and demeanours but both have dignity and power in this image.  It also suggests they are a partnership, as they are walking in step and side by side.

A Single Man (dir Tom Ford, 2009)

Single ManThis camera angle - the over the shoulder shot - suggests, without quite being a POV subjective shot, that we are seeing Kenny from George's point of view and simultaneously seeing how Kenny looks up to the professor. There is attraction and fascination. The film has lots of quite extreme close-ups, particularly of eyes. One interpretation is that is to portray the heightened awareness of a suicidal man.  It also emphasises the emotional connections he makes during that time.  There have also been suggestions that the pupil dilation in the movie is a deliberate indication of sexual attraction.  Some also say the eye close-ups are to do with him feeling invisible - a commentary on the homophobic culture and his advancing age compared with the other people he encounters.

In the same film, when George gets the phone call to say that Jim has been killed, the camera lingers on him excruciatingly - close enough that we feel involved but perhaps not so much that we feel manipulated:

EDIT: Fellow student Stuart has just pointed out that over the shoulder shots also create a sense of depth.  He has encouraged me to read Grammar of the Shot ...

Goodfellas (dir Martin Scorsese, 1990)

The Copacabana clip in Goodfellas is another famous sequence which uses a shot from behind, with the photographer using a Steadicam to follow the actors into the room in one single shoot.

This adds to the message that Henry is seamlessly part of this world, that he fits in, that doors are literally opened for him.  Very effective.

At Close Range (dir James Foley, 1986)

This scene in At Close Range uses a camera angle to show what is happening from a specific POV which is as Sean Penn's character is seeing things.  This gives him (and us viewers) an insight to the ruthlessness of Brad Whitewood Snr (played by Christopher Walken). I think the long shot also gives us a sense of helplessness during the murder:

Seven Psychopaths (dir Martin McDonagh, 2012)

This camera angles is from Sharice's POV - she has lost Charlie's dog and he is planning to kill her.  It enhances the sense of his status (he has all the power) and creates suspense.  It also helps to establish his psychopath credentials.

Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels (dir Guy Ritchie, 1998)

This end of the card game scene is a brilliant portrayal of a man who has just lost everything - we get a strong sense of his feelings of dizziness and nausea and the camera angle pulls us right into that, really adding tension.

Guy Ritchie uses a lot of creative camera angles (for instance often using the dutch angle for flashbacks) and some quirky editing techniques which are not to everyone's taste but he does have a very distinct style that seems to work with his scripts and characters.

The Passion of Joan of Arc (dir Carl Theodor Dreyer, 1928)

This film uses lots of close-ups to bring us into the action and get caught up with the characters - we see every emotion with great intensity - it feels relentless which adds tension and leaves us feel very unsettled.

Tarantino - low angles:

These pretty much tick all the boxes of viewpoint, relationship, status, suspense and mood.

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