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Gaining Cinematic Technique Literacy

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All story is manipulation…

-from Ken Burns:On Story

I admit that I’ve never really thought much of cinematic techniques in play when watching movies, nor how much I have been manipulated into liking a movie through these techniques (e.g., such as orienting the viewer).  This DS106 section on “Reading Movies” has been an eye-opener. I feel I’ve gained some literacy in cinematic techniques! Of the 12 short videos on filmmaking, I watched the following five:

I found Kubrick’s one-point perspective interesting and creepy at the same time. The one-point perspective is when the movie is seen from one perspective, the viewer’s. As the viewer, I felt that I was the only static entity there; everything else happened around me. It gave me a feeling of helplessness and being out of control, as the camera angle seemed to trap me in place and I could not move to avoid uncomfortable scenes. I appreciate how effective this technique is  in making creepy movies. I have not seen many of Kubrick’s work but from what I’ve read about him (in websites and magazines, not movies :-)), this is just the type of cinematic technique he would employ.

I may be the last person on earth who has not seen The Shining. I have seen stills of the movie, especially that iconic one of Jack Nicholson peering through a crack in the door, but I have not seen the entire movie. As such, without context from the story, I could not appreciate the zooms employed as cinematic technique in the montage I watched.

I enjoyed viewing both the Top 20 Cinematic Techniques and the Camera Angles and Techniques videos.  Both provided me as a view with different perspectives, however the terms cinematic technique terms included assumed that one was familiar with them. I had to look each of them up to fully appreciate the value they added to the films. I did a Google search and found the following resources helpful:

I selected only six of the 20 videos from Top 20 Cinematic Techniques to analyze below, specifically, the movies I had previously scene, having the context helped me appreciate the cinematic techniques employed the selected scene:

Film Technique/Camera Angle Value
Children of Men (2006) Long Take, Doggicam With the doggicam technique, the camera moves freely 360 degrees and shows the rioting on the street from the perspective of each of the four characters trapped in the car. The camera also allows the view to see each of the character’s reaction to the chaos.
Children of Men (2006) Long Take, Tracking Shot The tracking shot allows the view to see the chaotic scenery from the perspective of one character (Clive Owen) as he observes first from a window, then through a doorway, until he eventually unsteadily crosses the street while dodging danger.
Ato)nement (2007 Long Take, Steadicam With the steadicam technique, the camera becomes the perfect observer as it moves freely like a person through a scene. However, unlike the doggicam, the movement is one-directional. The long take in this scene shows the landscape.   Because of the steadicam, instead of focusing on the two characters walking forward, the viewer’s eyes (and emotions) are riveted towards the background scene where the horses are being shot point-blank
Star Wars IV (1977) Extreme Establishing Shot Shows the “distance” the spacecraft, the Millenium Falcon, traveled, past a few planets. One shot shows Earth (blue planet) in the distance then the planet gets larger. The Millenium Falcon enters earth, hover over Tikal National Park in Guatemala, and landing by a Mayan pyramid
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (2001) Establishing Shot The scene shows Hobbiton, with the sun shining and a gentle breeze blowing over its green hills, as Gandalf arrives at Frodo Baggins’s house. It establishes Hobbiton as an idyllic place that Frodo will eventually leave to go on his quest.
Cowboys and Aliens(2011) Pan The camera pans through a chaparral landscape that seems abandoned (completed by audio of insects) and the viewer is lulled into thinking that it is a peaceful scene, until Daniel Craig’s character is jolted awake (and so is the viewer)

 

In April 2009, I visited the Tik’al Mayan ruins in El Peten, Guatemala. The national park’s claim to fame has always been being in Star Wars IV (see 01:35-02:04 of the Top 20 Cinematic Techniques video). Having been on the same spot on top of Temple IV as that Rebel in 01:57-02:01 of the  video, I can further appreciate the cinematography involved. Those ledges are narrow! I’m sure George Lucas and his film crew used all sorts to equipment to get the camera shots they wanted. What damage to pre-Columbian Mayan temples caused by modern equipment during filming, I hope was offset by the fact that Tikal National Park was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, two years after Star Wars IV was released. I’d like to believe that the film contributed to Tikal being listed. If George Lucas had used the wrong cinematic technique, would it have taken Tikal National Park a few more years to make it to the UNESCO World Heritage list?

Film and Travel is a great site that highlights places around the world that have been featured in TV and movies. There’s a post on Star Wars IV and Tikal National Park, but I thought I’d post my own photos to this blog:

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One thought on “Gaining Cinematic Technique Literacy

  1. Pingback: Week 6 and 7 Summary | chronicwnderlst

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