Spotlight on Cinematography: Cyclical Skyviews
Remember that time I mentioned that once you see something that connects with you, you start to notice similar things elsewhere? Well, this is another stellar example of that! I had grabbed the below still from Spike Lee’s 2015 film Chi-Raq and set it aside, but had no idea what I was going to end up using it for. But once it was in my head, I started to see similar frames with similar compositions all over the place. I’ve been really excited to share this collection for a while, so thanks for looking!
Spotlight on Cinematography: Seeing Red
It’s no secret that I love red on the big screen. It’s my favorite color to watch be utilized, largely because it elicits such specific reactions from viewers, consciously or not. I just shared a post about the red dress in film, and how it can be used in such a variety of ways to achieve different thematic results. Someone recommended I do a similar post, but without the fashion aspect. So here we are! I have an extensive folder filled with my favorite red frames, so it was loads of fun to go through them and pick selections for this post. Enjoy!
Desire — Amélie
There was a summer of my life where I watched this movie on a weekly basis. I relate to Amélie on so many levels, and the whimsy that takes a front seat in the story truly delights me. While I’m not a huge fan of the overall color palette in the film, there are a couple of color choices that were really brilliant, and this frame is one of them. The overhead shot adds to the effect of Amélie being lost in a sea of red, which helps to increase the mood of aching desire that is so important throughout this movie.
Love — Captain Fantastic
This was one of my favorite films of the entire year, and I could honestly write an entire blog post about what made it so successful to me. It’s such a tender story about a father doing his very best by himself after his wife is no longer in their lives. It is clear from the very beginning how much he relied on her throughout his life and that they were two sides of the same coin. After their untimely (and unwanted) separation, we see Viggo Mortensen wearing his one suit—a red one. He wears it twice throughout the course of the movie, and both times are to bid her farewell. It was a stellar costuming choice, largely because it is such a visceral and vivid color, one we traditionally associate with romance and passion. As he tells her goodbye for the last time, his suit manages to feel like a torch, a beating heart, a love letter.
Longing — Atonement
I include frames from this movie so often in my cinematography posts, and with good reason. Seamus McGarvey is one of my favorite cinematographers, working on projects from Nocturnal Animals to We Need to Talk About Kevin. He has a real knack for setting up frames to convey varying emotions and moods (and in movies like We Need to Talk About Kevin, this is especially crucial). He’s a master of building tension through angles and symmetry, and the below frame is no exception. Atonement is one of the most heartbreaking films I’ve ever seen, with a plot twist that literally took my breath away. There is a tangible undercurrent of longing that the entire film is built upon is and relies upon, and I don’t think it would have been as successfully felt if not for McGarvey. Here, the pairing of the red curtains and the sliver through which the character is looking work together to emphasize the “outsider looking in” nature of the entire story. You can physically feel how badly she wants to be on the other side, to move forward.
Scheming — Big Eyes
This is a pretty recent viewing for me, and one that was largely fueled by Christoph Waltz’s presence (I’m not a big Amy Adams fan). He tends to just play variations of himself, but he’s one of my favorite villainous actors of all time because of his charismatic nature. There’s something extra sinister about a bad guy who comes off as so appealing. In this scene in Big Eyes, the character is not only lying in wait for potential clients, but he’s also about to pass off someone else’s art as his own. The red glow of the hallway makes the cheerful club seem a bit more ambiguous, and serves to hint to the viewer that someone is up to no good.
Passion — Chicago
I feel like this cellblock tango scene is probably on some “Top 100 Most Iconic Scenes” list somewhere. Even people who haven’t seen the movie can often recognize this frame. This entire song/dance number is lit in red light (with one important thematic exception) which ramps the sensual and passionate nature up to 100. It’s no coincidence that this scene is all about women murdering their husbands—crimes of passion, as it were. The red light helps to convey a lot of that important passion and heat to the viewer.
Anxiety — Neon Demon
For the sake of transparency, I’m going to come right out and say that I did not finish this movie. I found very little about it enjoyable, aside from some of the visuals. It’s the kind of movie that benefits from being watched in a theater—so much of it was shot in low lighting, making it hard to see on a smaller screen or brighter room. However, there are a lot of strobes and colored lights throughout the film, all of which serve to ramp up the discomfort and anxiety that the main character feels over her surroundings.
Is there anyone with quite as much angst as the Kylo Ren? Rian Johnson did a splendid job of playing up Adam Driver’s acting chops by choosing to bathe so many of his scenes in red. The scene in Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room is a particularly apt example of this. In this scene, Kylo is fighting a mental battle on just about every level. He is trying to choose who to help, and pondering how that will change things moving forward. This frame shows him with a bowed head against a field of red. The huge amount of the bloody shade in this frame screams at the viewer that Kylo is facing a brutal struggle.
Spotlight on Cinematography: Faceoffs
For some reason, this was a challenging post to put words to. I want to talk about how impressive a character can seem if they’re framed properly, about how tension between two characters can be tangible if they’re framed properly, and how groups can be so imposing if– you guessed it– they’re framed properly. But words are hard today, so let’s just jump right in!
I’m going to start with a few frames featuring solo characters. I think this is a largely underrated and unnoticed aspect of film that many viewers might not pick up on, but there is so much potential to character introductions, and it feels rare to see that full potential being met. For that reason, I wanted to start with my all-time favorite first appearance: the one and only Marla Singer.
The below frame is a stellar example of showing instead of telling. We don’t really know anything about Marla at this point, but the instant the camera turns to her, it’s impossible not be in awe.
Straying away from first appearances, it probably comes as no surprise that I’m including a Donald McAlpine frame. The symmetry, shadows, and coloring of this character presentation all combine to work within the drama of the movie itself, and the tension of this particular scene.
The visuals of a character walking away from a fire/explosion/burning building is an age old technique. We see it in westerns, in spy flicks, in super hero movies, etc. But rarely do we see it paired with a femme fatale garbed in handmade haute couture. And boy oh boy does it work. What a force to be reckoned with.
Two people sharing a scene can run the gamut from stale to sensual. Characters can interact romantically, angrily, averagely, and so on and so forth. However, my favorite way for two people to share a frame is always when it’s charged with tension. This could be in a passionate way (a la cellblock tango in Chicago) or in a fearsome way (a la the xenomorph edging into a frame with a petrified Ellen Ripley).
The Handmaiden is an exquisite film, with every scene beautifully arranged and the characters perfectly positioned. But one of my very favorites moments was the one seen below. The repetition of the branches, the color juxtaposition of the costumes, and the locked eye contact all combine to create a tense and breathtaking scene.
Speaking of tense, how about this faceoff from the recent Black Panther? The tension is tangible between the two royals as they size each other up and stare each other down. Largely thanks to the negative space and forceful eye contact, you can feel the heat between the two of them.
It’s been a really long time since I’ve watched Hanna, and while I wasn’t over the moon for it back then, the final scene at the abandoned theme park has always stayed with me. This wide angle in particular is such a brilliant frame. Between the wolf head and the body language, the space between the two characters feels like a living thing, one Hanna is utterly determined to keep in existence.
Most of us have some sort of familiarity with standing in front of a large group of people. Either we are being watched, or we are doing the watching, and both carry with them their own sort of weight. It isn’t every day that a character is faced with a huge group of people on screen, which is part of why the below frames are so enjoyable.
In this frame from Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, using Alice’s POV was a brilliant choice. Paired with the sea of white clothes and blankly expectant faces fading into the distance, you can almost feel the panic setting in.
A Cure for Wellness is easily one of my most hated films. However, it is undeniably incredibly visually appealing. From start to finish, the movie focuses on repetition, reflections, and uncomfortable focal points to institute an undercurrent of unease. You can’t shake the feeling that something is off. This eerily centered frame is no exception. The color coordinated balls, the lines of the pool and staircases, and the razor sharp focus of the group in the pool combine to leave a tinge of discomfort with the viewer due to the unnatural perfection of it all.
While I wasn’t wild about the storyline, Girl Asleep (directed by Rosemary Myers) is another shockingly beautiful film. Based on the play of the same name, the film utilizes an almost constant feeling of being watched to inject tension and unease through the movie. Between the dark forest, characters in masks, mirrors, and clever framework during school scenes, you can feel the discomfort of our main character.
Spotlight on Cinematography: All Lined Up
My personal Instagram features many a photo of crisp clean lines. Whether it be rafters or sidewalks or warehouses, I am endlessly enamored by the orderliness and structure of long lines. It’s one of the things that always elicits verbal responses from me when watching a film, and I never get tired of seeing new ways they’re showcased. Below, I’ve gathered some of my favorite film frames that use lines to highlight something or someone. Enjoy!