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Adam Frisch FSF

Over-use of close-ups.

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As I get older, I find myself trying to stop "making" things be funny, and just "letting" them be funny. Make sense?

 

I don't advocate pandering, with camerawork. We see a lot cinematography in comedies that tells you it's a comedy--bright colors, high key lighting, the aforementioned "funny" angles, etc. I think it's alright to not do that stuff, and just let the comedy "be."

 

Sorry if that's a little off topic.

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I remembered this topic and just wanted to bring it up again because I realized how predominant the over-use of close-ups has become. I watched the last battle scene from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" and "Batman Begins" back-to-back on a large screen, and while both were visually interesting, they were both covered way too close. Especially the fight-scenes, I'm growing tired of how everyone covers fights in exactly the same way; really close and really loose. There's got to be another way to do it.

 

"Lord of the Rings" even in the wide shots never felt really "composed" to me because of all the CG elements. But these are two movies that everyone loves, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about...

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My guess is that the fight scenes you've mentioned don't look convincing enough in wide shots, although I agree that they look too claustrophobic in the way they're presented.

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Do you feel the other LOTR fights look the same way?

 

I agree that much too many films use this kinda-NYPD style, but the last battle concerns a boxed-in group of heroes being practically over-run. Previous battles had large sweeps of crowds and locations, but this was all about being too penned in. Of course they also had a huuuuuge plot alteration that hadnt worked so they probably scrapped a lot of the wider stuff shot.

 

Producers love this style, i think, cause they can easily use stuntmen for all the bodyshots and avoid as much talent risk as possible.

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Eisentein and Griffith are the enemies of current American cinema. Not them, per se, their "inventions", "theories", "innovations" are being used as weapons by dimwits, unknowingly destroying the shape of cinema and creating a "pop" film theory. A "plug-in" style.

 

Of course genre carries wieght in this debate.....that cannot be understated.

 

But, well, take a look at films like "bourne whatever". Nothing but close-ups and quick cutting. Where is the environment? What am I watching? Where is the "passing of 'TIME'"...?

 

This is a basic question of theory. I'm not rejecting any particular one here...just the bombardment of one monolithic theory not in print because it doesn't exist as true aesthetic. That is the hollywood template of "action". Not action films, but the difference between montage and frame. What happens within frame these days? I mean, what happens within frame that you can look at long enough at to actually "reinvest" into the image? Hence, the meaning? Are we watching for affect or effect? Do you make for affect or effect?

 

I know there are holes to be punched in my comments...I'm kind of on a jazzy, freeflow thing writing this. I find theory discussion very interesting. Very! I had to join in the fun. It's not a right/wrong discussion, IMHO.

 

Anyway, thats all I have to say right now. Lets keep this thread going, I love it. POST!

 

-Jonnie

 

Oh, I forgot to mention. I generally agree with your comments, Mr. Frisch.

Edited by Jon-Hebert Barto

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I think use of the close-up makes for a very strong story,action with some scripts but not all.

I'm sure we are all aware of the power of the master shot,medium close-up. The master shot

can simply tell us visually for example where our story is taking place. Off the top of my head

I'm thinking about the film "Giant" and its probably not the best example. Would we really like

"Law and Order" if we took all the close-ups away or thinned them out? Would we be tinkering with

the royalty of the editor in his kingdom? Correction,his/her kingdom.

 

Greg Gross

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I beg to differ with your comment regarding the wide shot, which is the truth of convention.

 

It not only serves as a "map", but can also be used in metaphorical terms of story element not to mention give "ultimate" purpose to preceeding shots, where you already know the environment. Kurosawa, Tarkovsky, Kubrick.....All of 'em used the "wide" for reasons other than to "simply tell us visually for example where our story is taking place.." The classic Bergman shot in "The Seventh Seal" of death taking the folk for a walk in silhouette on the ridge...

 

Which begs another question regarding "wide". Does this merely mean the focal length of the lense or of the covered environment within the frame? Kurosawa, for example, was a master of showing "wide" shots with a long lens. He showed the environment in telephoto quite well...Seven Samuri? The shot of all the rice planters in the feild, flat but three dimensional due foreground/backround characters. Brilliant!!!

 

This is all very interesting. I love all your guys opinions... :) We should have more threads like this.

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but the last battle concerns a boxed-in group of heroes being practically over-run.

 

No I'm talking about one of the big sweeping ones, it's called "The Battle of Something Field." The one with the elephants. The sequence kind of fell flat for me...like I remembered it doing in the theatres. The whole thing felt like it didn't have any "meat." I don't know how else to put it, it felt lacking of dramatic function. Contrast this with the concluding battle sequence in the first LOTR where Boromir dies - filled with powerful dramatic function.

 

Sure, that sequence in the fields had its wide shots, but I think because of the ridiculous amount of CGI, they lacked focus. Still, it was covered very close. I wish I had the dvd handy so I could give a specific instance...but I really think this era of cinema will be remembered as "the time of the close-ups." Unless, of course, it progressively moves even closer in the future. (or we never move back out.)

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Your point was well taken sir. I did not mean that the wide or master was to be used exclusively

for defining the location of the story. Only that location of story could be conveyed with a wide or

master shot. A wide open shot of the NYC skyline followed by a taxi driving down a crowded street

pretty much tells us where we are at. Of course one's imagination may make any choice it wants.

I once heard Sydney Lumet say he could not understand why some people wanted to open up to

so much space. He said he was comfortable working in confined spaces with close-ups and had no

problem telling the story. Of course he was use to working in confined spaces. I enjoyed your post

sir. This turned out to be a great topic for forum discussion. I've learned a lot from everyone here.

See "The Verdict".

 

Greg Gross

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Lets not forget that the individual filmmaker will make a decision what shots he wants to use

for the individual scenes. What we want or desire has no influence on his/her decision. How-

ever the editor make take issue with various scenes. In the end the filmmaker will shoot the

film as he/she desires. Personally in comedy I like to see some open spaces. I will always be

glad that I started out as a still photographer. I'll retain my free will to create as there are re-

ally no rules.

 

Greg Gross

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I remembered this topic and just wanted to bring it up again because I realized how predominant the over-use of close-ups has become. I watched the last battle scene from "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King" and "Batman Begins" back-to-back on a large screen, and while both were visually interesting, they were both covered way too close. Especially the fight-scenes, I'm growing tired of how everyone covers fights in exactly the same way; really close and really loose. There's got to be another way to do it.

 

"Lord of the Rings" even in the wide shots never felt really "composed" to me because of all the CG elements. But these are two movies that everyone loves, so maybe I don't know what I'm talking about...

 

I've already had this argument with friends when we just saw Batman Begins on an Imax screen.

 

Some accused Nolan of covering shots for DVD release, but its actually his style - tight shots, often for a psychological impact and often fights are covered very closely to give a more random, out of control feel, which is actually what a real fight is like (a few months before seeing this film I saw a guy being beaten into a coma and even though I was witnessing this from a good 100 yards away, you don't really know where to look with the action, watching the fights in Batman Begins really reminded me of this experience.) Its a far cry from the beatifully composed fight scenes in Kill Bill - which have a complete falseness to them.

 

I remember Nolan saying one of his favourite movies was the off-beat James Bond film On Her Majesty's Secret Service - all the fights scenes in that film are stages the same way.

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Question regarding fast, multiple, close-up cuts in fight scenes and its relation to the phycological impact on the viewer...

 

 

"Does this style of "forced-perspective" actually limit the spectator as to their psychological response, which would be confusion? Is this ultimately good for the narrative?"

 

Basically I'm asking, "Does this style of directing force the spectator into submission?"

 

My answer would be "Yes, by design", which we all know. However I'm still open to the BIG question of an audiences psychological investment into a picture....It's overall participation.

 

This begs another question, "Is an audiences reaction to a films images ultimately determined by what they bring to it psychologically?" Beyond the "if you have a bad day, your mind is more prone to confusion" stuff. We know that, I'm talking about their overall knowlegde of film grammar.

 

Please tell me what you guys think about it...

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There's a nice shot in Vanilla Sky where that car Cameron Diaz is driving (if I recall correctly), goes over the railing on the viaduct and crashes on the street below. Take a look at that - the impact is all done in one wide master. It's a powerful, resonating and shocking image. It would have been very easy to cover it Michael Bay-style with multiple crash-cams inside, endless angles, slo-mo and fireballs, but Crowe chose not to. This way it has much more impact.

 

Same goes for Jackie Chan fights - they work, they amaze and they engage because they're not cut frantically from close-up to close-up. That's also why the Batman Begin fights don't work, in my opinion. Or they work, but they don't engage.

 

David Fincher once said that the difference between Spielberg's storytelling and Kubrick's was that if a bum got beaten up in a dark alley, Kubrick would film it from afar, just registering it, whereas Spielberg would get right in there with a subjective camera and show the carnage close. Both ways are valid, it's just that everyone seems to go for the Spielberg version to tell stories, hence why that way after a while loses some of its impact.

This, I'm sure, is also why Kubrick's observational style has rendered him a filmmaker that perhaps levae films that impact more.

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Guest Tim Partridge
There's a nice shot in Vanilla Sky where that car Cameron Diaz is driving (if I recall correctly), goes over the railing on the viaduct and crashes on the street below. Take a look at that - the impact is all done in one wide master. It's a powerful, resonating and shocking image. It would have been very easy to cover it Michael Bay-style with multiple crash-cams inside, endless angles, slo-mo and fireballs, but Crowe chose not to. This way it has much more impact.

 

Not sure if it's been mentioned already, but the otherwise terrible ERIN BROCOVICH featured a similar shot. Soderbergh may have dropped the ball with choosing that project (certainly in my opinion, at least pre-Ocean's "franchise") but it just goes to show that you can't take good filmmaking away from INSTINCTIVE talent.

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What's even more interesting is the whole thing about editing. I think editing is very powerful and an underappreciated art, but just as lighting isn't about adding lights all the time, editing shouldn't be about adding shots. And if one wanted to take this thinking a bit further: think about it, editing is such an intrusive way in storytelling to begin with - it's actually amazing that we accept it as a rendition of thruth.

 

As individuals we only see one point of view, never multiple ones. Therefore the whole concept of an edited film is so far removed from reality for us, that it's contents maybe subliminally won't register as happening in real life (I'm specualting, of course). Therefore, as Crowe did in Vanilla Sky, an image that has such impact as a car crash, probably feels more 'true' if it isn't cut up - because that's how you would see a car crash if you were watching it.

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Adam,

 

Thats what Tarkovsky believed....And Eisenstien rejected his theory of montage (his own f"ilm sense") on his death bed!

 

This all goes to the idea of a "cut" being violence in-of-itself on two different levels. "Intrusive" and "natural".

 

Would the shower scene in PSYCHO be as effective if Hitchcock made salad of the preceeding scenes? Cutting up Marion Cranes actions of say, putting her rolled up paper down on the nightstand, into three different shots? NO. The cuts are "cuts" in the narrative, actual violence in the third eye...Both effective and affective.

 

Take RAGING BULL vs ROCKY. In ROCKY you have three cuts for the delivery of one punch, the wind-up, the follow through, and the impact. Lots of reversals for the "impact". RAGING BULL is quite a different story...

 

Too much cutting is a cheap trick employed in the attempt of keeping an audience "trained" on the action. Keeping the "pace" up, tempo...But what do these directors use as the metronome? Nothing, certainly not the script. Action within the frame is a lost art.... MTV! It's like a cheap, turn of the century carnival kaliedescope!!!

 

 

Of course this my opinion... :rolleyes:

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Jonathan,

 

Very good point!!! Like in an orchestra!!! Of course the pace starts with a script/music sheet. The very roots, no? Then comes interpretation? The filter? Director! How and why to pace in such and such a way. Motivation? Where is that...? Not existentailly "where".

 

Again, the psychology of where/why to place the "cut"? The motivation of the cut. Not just getting "coverage", beyond?

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I have one movie that I think fully justifies closeups: The Passion of Joan of Arc. If that film is wrong, than I don't wanna be right.

Best,

Brian Rose, ASC (Wannabee)

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It's not about "abolishing" the close-up, so no justification is needed. Falconeti's face helped make the film. This is supposed to be a provoking discussion on the state of current theory and its practice. At least thats what I hope it is... :D Dreyer played out every nuance in carefully timed (paced?)close-up, not quick cuts. Thats where the emotion comes from...

 

Your point is very valid! Carl Th. Dreyer used it well, a text book for filmmaking...

 

What are your thoughts on the sequencing of these close-ups in the current hollywood model? Thats the basic question.

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Thats what Tarkovsky believed....And Eisenstien rejected his theory of montage (his own f"ilm sense") on his death bed!

 

I'd like to see the reference for that. Montage developed into an all inclusive theory.

The basic concept isn't close ups and cutting, rather two objects in juxtapositin create a new meaning.

He has an essay about deep focus, which is probably in Leyda's picture book 'Eisenstein at Work', in which he refers to deep focus as 'inframe montage'. The juxtaposition of the foreground and background create the montage. Certainly the Mexican movie is teeming with deepfocus imagery, ten years before 'Citizen Kane'.

'Ivan Groznii' is also loaded with framing and staging in depth. Wartime electricity rationing kept the movie from being true deep focus. Instead of merely cutting to close ups, often a character will walk into a close up, then lean into a tighter close up. In one such shot the Metropolitan then thrusts is hand foreward.

 

Academic dichotomies like Bazinian deep focus vs. Eisensteinian montage are kudu dung based on commentaries and not on actually looking at the films.

 

 

Incidentally I've had to crank through 'Vera Cruz' and 'The Grissom Gang' a number of times to do evaluations and fix ups. 17 years apart, different editors. Both often had 8 and 12 frame cuts in action scenes. Someone getting machine gunned in 'grissom' is done with intercutting 3 or 4 frame shots.

 

Aobert Aldrich is a Rockefeller, but cuts like a 20s Soviet.

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Very, very true. And even beyond just two images in "juxtaposition"... a single images meaning is determined by what preceeds it and what follows, creating a staccato psychological effect, a rhythm, for which the whole theory of montage now exists. My belief, as is Tarkovskys, is that editing does not engender or recreate a "new" quality. It releases the quality inherent in the frames it joins together.

 

The basics of Eisensteins montage are as essential and needed in film grammar as Griffiths "close-up". Deep focus and shallow(x close-up) should not be misrepresented in a discussion of such theory, and if I did so apologies go out to all. However I was trying to address the idea of TIME breaking down within the montage...This, I feel, cannot be ignored and furthermore, is the crux of this discussion. What exist "out of frame" in this theory of montage? Nothing is my answer, TIME is too "comressed" to escape this black-hole of "effect".

 

Reference for this is shakey to be sure!, and pehaps it was not warranted to make such a statement. However in Tarkovskys book "Sculpting In Time" this is addressed and there is a couple letters by Eisenstien himself. Here is a link to a fantastic site where Tarkovsky breifly mentions this "rejection".

 

http://www.acs.ucalgary.ca/~tstronds/nosta...cctoAndrei.html

Scroll down about half way and you'll find it in the questions regarding Eisenstein. I take Tarkovsky at his word.

 

The basic problem is one of time-truth. You can only cut up film so much before it turns into trickery rather thanexisting as "form".

 

Also, the idea of third images from succeeding shots created in the minds eye is one to be weighed against intent. What is put together on the editing table are streches of TIME. It all boils down to what is "presupposed" in the camera while shooting for the consumption of intellect(people).

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So i'm not going to sit here and hear that it's the editors fault. The editor has to do the best job he/ she can with the footage available. CU's are often used, because they are often shot. The reason is obvious the producers/ agency/ whatever has spent a large amount of money on the talent and they want that mug to be seen by everyone. The other predominant reason is that the continuity between cameras does not work and so a cu is used almost like a cutaway- ie you can then move to a different take more simply. So the answer is if you do not like the over use of cu's is work with a different team. use actors who hit the mark more often. or preferably shoot multicam, which will allow the editor to cut between shots that match.

 

finally i got a note back from the dp on my show the other day asking why i wasn't using the beautiful close ups he shot! so not everyone is towing the party line here.

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