Perspective, Perspectives

Film is a great medium to venture through on the course of education. The greatest learning occurs when we are active and engaged, film has a huge potential to instill this in viewers. Hitting every sense simultaneously, we cannot help but be engulfed in what we are seeing. Visual imagery has immense power to not just create emotion but to pull emotion out of our cores, make us feel even more vividly what was already within us. But video can also wash over us passively, letting us soak up what we’ve seen like a sponge, with equal potential to let it all go again.
I love that Ebert says that he became a teacher as part of his own path of education in film, there is no better way to learn than to teach. As a teacher, you are forced to truly believe that there is information to be interpreted and analyzed. You can’t allow what you study to come over you passively. Ebert speaks of “intrinsic weighting” in film, the tendency of visual imagery to spontaneously have a certain impact. The creator of the content need not manipulate imagery directly or intentionally in order to have a specific effect. But despite the passive means by which these effects take place, fully conscious attention is required to recognize these effects and what elements of the film caused their occurrence.
It is compelling for me, as a neuroscience student, to believe that the intrinsic weighting phenomenon of visual art, and the ubiquitous patterns seen regardless of the culture that produced the film, has something to do with how we all use the same basic neural processes to understand the simplest parts of our visual world. The neurons that make up our visual cortex are designed in a hierarchical system which combines individual sensory stimuli into more complex representations of our world. We have been able to demonstrate through single cell recordings that there are neurons which respond solely to vertical lines, and neurons which respond solely to horizontal lines. Both of these neurons will then, perhaps, converge onto a single neuron which will recognize the corner that is formed by the perpendicular lines. That images in the foreground are stronger than those in the background, and the imagery on top is considered dominant over what lies beneath it is reflective of how we take in the world around us. These are some of the most rudimentary processes of visual perception, and they apply unanimously to all normal, sighted people.

The impacts of these process are retained at much more advanced levels of visual interpretation. These simple steps in perception are a part of how we interpret film, and the intrinsic weighting of the films we watch are nearly universal because these rudimentary perceptions influence our overall perception. So even though some of us may think that the scene was a metaphor for the fragility of existence and others may think it was a political commentary on the devaluation of human life, we will all interpret the foreground as dominant.
When I think of the movies I’ve seen that really qualify as cinematographic art, I think of Wes Anderson, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers. Although I really do consider these directors to be true artists, I know that I am missing out on some of the most brilliant artists in the film industry. But the intrinsic weighting Ebert talks about is most certainly used in the films of these directors. The Grand Budapest Hotel is the first film that comes to mind.

Throughout this film, the characters stand in almost unnatural rigidity, their position within the frame is obviously deliberate. Anderson uses intrinsic weighting in the scene above in particular to give M. Gustave an authoritative appearance. He often stands to the right on set drawing the eye towards him, and he also is found in the foreground, appearing dominant.

Perhaps one of the most impressive methods in cinematography is the “long take.” These are clips that are uninterrupted sequences of acting, the camera follows the action of the film as if from the point of view of one of the characters or as an omniscient presence that is not interrupted, distracting the viewer from the fiction of the story. This is an impressive method for several reasons, but especially due the coordination that it requires. Every member of the scene must remain entirely in character and respond to the actions of their counterparts with the proper timing. As impressive as these scenes are, I often find that they are so unlike every other scene in a film that they can seem out of place. The long take is exhibited in the first three techniques analyzed by Oscar Feivan in this video:

I have seen the shining several times, but have never truly noticed the use of zooms in the film. This is a wonderful element for creating suspense, but with the sound effects and music score of the shining it has the effect of being extremely unsettling. The scenes move when they seem as if they should remain still, conveying a sense of imbalance and uncertainty. It’s as if you might suddenly slip, but you only drift slowly back from the scene, moving without gaining any distance, never quite reaching safety.

The Shining – Zooms from Ian Kammer on Vimeo.

The use of point of views from below is pervasive in the films of Quentin Tarantino. This could have the effect of making the viewer feel small, insignificant and childlike or it could convey the point of view of a character on lying on his back (as is often the fate of many of Tarantino’s poor characters). However, I think that Tarantino so consistently incorporates this effect into his films because he wants to place his viewers in a position that they generally do not occupy when enjoying a film. This angle is not particularly flattering of the actors or comfortable to the viewer, and placing his viewers in discomfort seems like one of the greatest goals of Tarantino.

Tarantino // From Below from kogonada on Vimeo.

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