If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably familiar with the way I do criticism: I’m interested in what a text says about how we live in the world, or how we ought to live in the world, or how we might end up living in the world. I’m an easy mark for a snappy exchange in dialogue, or a transcendent moment in prose. I have this idea that the best actors are masters of the corners of their mouths and eyes, I love the streak of young actresses going for action credentials, and I have a weakness for extremely handsome actors who make deep commitments to goofiness. And that’s just the beginning!
But obviously, it’s not the only way to go about doing things. And that’s why I’m enrolling in a series my friend Scott Eric Kaufman is writing for the AV Club, called Internet Film School. In his first installment, he’s talking about how framing affects our understanding of what’s happening on screen and how we’re supposed to feel about it. For one example, he uses the shots of Michael Corleone standing in his window as three men die:
Between the first two deaths, Coppola cuts back to Michael so we can see just how uninterested he is. The audience doesn’t feel how Michael does; we simply learn how he feels about them. The use of the long and extreme long shots prevents the focus from being on the faces of the dead and dying, so the composition inhibits our ability to become emotionally invested in their respective fates in the way we would if they were presented in close-up. We’re not complicit in these deaths—they happened because Michael wanted them to happen, and we’re unfortunate witnesses. Even Fredo’s death, one which should bother us, consists of little more than a slow zoom that, for a moment at least, keeps the revolver that ends Fredo’s life off camera.
The whole post is full of great examples, drawn particularly from Hannibal. And it was, in a good way, like trying to read a novel in a language other than English for me. So go check it out, and maybe we can goad him into doing a political example.