This year I am focusing on the role as cinematographer for
my dissertation project. A short film about a woman named Alice, home alone on
her 27th birthday trying to cope with a deep depression caused by
the death of her boyfriend. Throughout the story she tries to overcome the
trauma by revisiting the memory of the accident. Through the cinematography I
wanted to showcase this complex narrative with the rawest intentions. It is an
idea that has done before but in a stylistic notion with big budgets and heavy
effects which is why I want to delve into a different approach when it comes to
showing the characters psychological state in relation to the car crash that
takes place within the film. After weeks of discussing different theories, I’ve
come to a decision to focus on the theory of realism and how certain aspects of
it are in direct correlation with the ideologies behind the script. The script
itself was written with the intent to rely on performance and dialogue to mimic
that of real conversations and real people, to show a level of purity that is
often not seen in cinema. I will also be briefly touching upon how feminist
film theory had decisive part in how the protagonist is portrayed.
There are many ways to approach realism in cinema. There are
those who categorise art into “true realism” and “pseudo realism”. Andre Bazin,
a renowned film theorist believed in the use of techniques such as depth of
field and long takes to be truer to the realistic form that a person
experiences as opposed to the uses of montage editing. In his famous essay “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema” Bazin
says “The changes of point of view
provided by the camera would add nothing. They would present the reality a
little more forcefully, first by allowing a better view and then by putting the
emphasis where it belongs”. His perforation of long takes is to let the
audience experience the world as untouched as possible, there are no cuts in
real life and thus using them takes away from the realism you are trying to
create. Bazin believes that a technique like depth of field is similar to the
way a spectator experiences the real world. Our eyes can shift focus making us
aware of the background or foreground just as a lens would. For the
dissertation I have decided to take into account of factors that Bazin
describes as true forms of realism. Our film will consist of long takes
throughout the film to maintain a solid relationship between the protagonist
and the spectator and make them actively engage with the characters without
breaking their attention and to not make the film reflexive.
Bazin states that there are “those directors who put their faith in the image and those who put their
faith in reality”.
Bazin isn’t against the use of editing that is required to
link unconnected scenes together but is against the use of illusions such as
dissolves. Bazin’s argument is that if a cut does not add anything to the scene
then why add it. If the cut is to point out something within the same scene
then it is almost an insult to the audience’s intelligence. The audience should
be able to decipher the narrative themselves instead of being spoon-fed. Orson
Welles’s Citizen Kane is an example of bridging one scene to the next and
although it can be argued goes against Bazin’s use of optical illusions, it can
be countered that it is a required technique to illustrate the use of narrative
juxta-positioning. Welles uses the technique of temporal realism to bridge one
scene to the next in a superimposed juxtaposition, doing this creates a new
meaning and as previously stated can be argued that its takes away from the
realism as time is being manipulated from one scene instantly to the next. Bazin
argues that Welles is not trying to deceive the audience but is using the
technique to offer the audience a contrast by condensing time itself.
The genre of our film is a mix of thriller and drama. These
genres combine perfectly with realism as the narrative is designed to create
tension and make the audience have sympathy towards the protagonist. The
spectator follows the protagonist and experiences the flashbacks as she does
and we move around the location with the protagonist creating a bond. The long
takes following the protagonist makes the spectator feel like another character
in the room. The thriller genre plays well in the way that the narrative is
restricted. Just as in real life we experience events as they occur in a linear
motion, so will the characters in the film which will allow us to create suspense.
During the early stages of planning, I wanted the film to
have quick cut montages to show how mundane her life is post-accident. This was
because I had seen how effective it could be to show a character’s normal
activity in a compressed amount of time just as Edgar Wright does in most of
his films but particularly his 2007 film “Hot Fuzz”, where we see the
protagonist Nicholas Angel moving to his new job outside London in Sandford, we
as the audience see a sequence of rapid images of him getting into a taxi then
on a train, a shot of a mobile phone until eventually he arrives in Sandford in
a taxi. After analysing this scene, I began to realise that Wright did not
shoot the montage to show the character moving in a condensed amount of time
but to portray how far the character is moving and setting up the events that
follow towards the rest of the film. For example, when the protagonist
is on the train we see a shot of his mobile phone with full bars of signal.
As he travels further
out, we see another shot of his phone, this time with less signal and the shot
itself is closer.
Until eventually he
is in Sandford and has no signal at all and the phone is covering most of the
This not only adds to showing how far the character has
travelled in such a small amount of time but it also sets up the audience as
when the events begin to occur later within the film and the whole town is
after him, we as the spectator begin to realise just how isolated the
character. The montage adds meaning to the story whereas the purpose I wanted
to use it for was to showcase the character repeating her morning routine.
My original approach lacks the fundamental understanding of
why I wanted to use certain techniques. I approached the scene with what I wanted
the overall image to look rather than asking why I wanted it to look the way it
did. The standardised use of cuts that I was going to implement in my sequences
is far too distracting to convey what the director wants. Instead of using
close ups and medium shots for most of the apartment scenes, it would be better
to use long tracking shots, following the protagonists entering different rooms
and interacting with objects. Instead of using long static shots, the use of
long tracking shots will allow the spectator to take part in the process.
Instead of waiting for the scene to take place, they will be moving with the
scene giving the spectator the illusion that they are a part of that world.
Another theory that had a big part during the process of
deciding how to shoot our short was the feminist film theory but specifically
Laura Mulvey’s male gaze theory. Mulvey’s theory states that females in film
are depicted to be the spectacle whilst the men are the bearer of the look.
Throughout the history of film, women are often placed in roles of no control
and are portrayed to either be a damsel in distress or to be objectified. Although
our narrative consists of Alice suffering the aftermath of a tragic car
accident, I decided not to portray her as vulnerable. Fragile yes, vulnerable
no. It is unrealistic to assume that the entire film will be shot throughout in
only long takes, I do indeed plan to have a combination but shooting Alice is
one that I had to carefully think about. I do not want to portray her as anything
less than in control. That is why the shots of her will always be eye level or
at a high angle to show that she is the superior one and for the audience to
know that she is always in control. Only during the flashback sequences will I show
her as vulnerable as that is a tragic event and it only seems logical to show
her vulnerable, as human thus furthering the connection with the audience.
There are many ways that film theory has challenged my way
of shooting and depicting characters on screen. I feel that it has heavily
helped me to improve why I should use different techniques for meaning as
opposed to stylistic choices. Art is entertainment and all forms of
entertainment is escapism in one shape or form and what better way to provide
an audience with that illusion than to make them essentially the camera, to
make them feel like they are a part of the world I are trying to convey and to
give them the illusion of control that most don’t experience in the real world.
Bazin, A. (2005). What Is Cinema?. California: University of
Hallam, J. and Marshment, M. (2000). Realism and popular
cinema. Manchester: Manchester Univ. Press.
Offscreen.com. (2003). Introduction to André Bazin, Part 1:
Theory of Film Style in its Historical Context. online Available at:
http://offscreen.com/view/bazin4 Accessed 21 Jan. 2018.
Doughty, R. and Etherington-Wright, C. (n.d.). Understanding
film theory. 2nd ed. UK: Palgrave.
Wright, E., Wright, E., Pegg, S., Pegg, S., Frost, N. and
Freeman, M. (2007). Hot Fuzz (2007). online IMDb. Available at:
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0425112/?ref_=nv_sr_1 Accessed 21 Jan. 2018.