ANATOMY OF A SCENE: Mise-en-scene in the Safdie Brother’s GOOD TIME

Good Time: A Luddite Robot Conversation - Luddite Robot
photo courtesy of Luddite Robot

The Safdie Brothers’ Good Time is an excellent film that is rich in the use of mise en scene. One example that I thought was very strong was the sequence right after the brothers Nick and Connie rob the bank and begin to make their getaway. This scene, through the use of sound, composition, and hair and makeup, grabs the audience’s attention and puts them in the middle of the intensity felt by the two main characters.

Immediately after dumping their clothes and masks, Nick and Connie emerge from an alley and wait for their getaway driver to pick them up. From the moment he enters the film in the first five minutes, Connie, played by Robert Pattinson, is in control. The scene begins with a close up, shot seemingly from across the street with a zoom lens, of Connie nervously talking to the driver on his cellphone. It is an extremely tight shot on his face and there is no mystery as to how he is feeling as we are able to see the anxiousness in his eyes. The scene then cuts to a wider shot of Nick wandering away before Connie calls him back. The close ups then continue as the driver shows up and the brothers get into the car.

The scene inside the car was very reminiscent of the opening scene of Bresson’s A Man Escaped. Similar to Bresson’s film where Fontaine is being transported to the prison in the back of a car, we see the main characters, Connie and Nick shot in close up sitting in the back seat of the car. The close ups once again are very tight so we can barely see the windows behind their faces. Even the driver is shown in close up with a shallow background so we don’t really know where he is going. Inside the car is where the sound becomes extremely important. As they ride away we hear police sirens in the background. Without seeing flashing lights we still know that the sirens are close because of the volume. When the sirens fade away, the brothers, and the audience get a moment of relief. Connie then smiles at Nick and asks if he wants to hold the bag of money. Feeling like it is a victory lap, Connie hands Nick the bag, which we see in close up. Immediately upon receiving the bag, Nick rests it on his lap as a high-pitched beep is heard. Cut to the driver in close up asking nervously, “What’s that sound?” We then cut back to Connie as he looks at the bag nervously. Once again the close up is very effective as the tight shot of Connie’s expression tells us that he knows what is about to happen.

The next shot is a close up of the bag combined with a long hissing noise. The bag slowly bursts into a cloud of pink dust. A cut to a tight close up of Nick’s face until the dust explodes and all we see is pink. The pink covers the screen creating a type of black out. We cannot see the brothers anymore. We can only hear their screams of panic as the car is engulfed in the dust. Then we cut outside of the car to a wide shot of the car spinning out of control and smashing into a parked car. The sequence inside the car ends with a close up through the windshield of the driver’s lifeless hands resting on the steering wheel covered in a pinkish hue. Although we only see the hands, the use of the pink dust covering everything lets us know why the car crashed.

I believe that close ups are essential to a film because not only do they give us a window into the thoughts and feelings of our characters but they can also create tension in space and setting. The Safdie brothers’ use of close ups in the car heightened the tension of the film not just by showing emotion but also creating a claustrophobic and trapped feeling for the characters once the pink dust exploded and all hell broke loose.

John Hughes, Cameron, and the “Heart” of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

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photo courtesy of Shrink Tank

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is a classic comedy. Make no mistake about it. The story of a teenager ditching school & going on an adventure in the city of Chicago, packing more fun into a single day than most kids would need a summer vacation for is timeless. Writer/Director John Hughes was a true master at capturing the lives, hopes, dreams, & emotions of teenagers and in Ferris Bueller he was firing on all cylinders.

It is this writer’s opinion that John Hughes is the most underrated filmmaker of all time. His movies like “The Breakfast Club”, “Pretty in Pink”, and “Weird Science” all mix the absurdity and seriousness of our teenage years. “Ferris” is exceptional in this aspect. The absurdity of Ferris’ day off almost makes “Star Wars” look realistic in comparison but is done so well that we accept it. It also comes off as Hughes’ love letter to the city of Chicago. Shot almost entirely in wide angle, we see sweeping aerial shots of the skyline as well as several wide angle close ups of the main characters. Ferris, Cameron, and Sloane all appear childlike in these shots with the large city landscape looming around them.

One scene sprinkled in between all of the hilarity of the day off really gives the movie so much heart & depth. It involves Cameron. The scene at the Art Institute of Chicago is truly a masterpiece. Set to “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want” by The Dream Academy, it is a silent montage of the 3 friends roaming through the halls of classic art masterpieces. At one point they even join a line of children about a decade younger than them as they hold hands touring the museum. The scene concludes with Cameron facing Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.” In a wide shot Cameron stares at the painting. Then in alternating close ups we see he is staring at the child in the painting who is in turn staring back at him until the shot is an extreme close up of Cameron’s eyes. The scene then cuts back to an extreme close up of the child’s eyes until it fades to the next scene. In these close ups actor Alan Ruck does an incredible job of bringing out all of Cameron’s emotions. His facial expressions juxtaposed with the painting convey Cameron’s anger, sadness, & anxiety about his life at home. After this scene we no longer see Cameron as just a worry wart who is inferior to Ferris but we see him as someone who has so much potential but is really drowning in the pain caused by his dysfunctional relationship with his father.

John Hughes knew teenagers and he knew comedy. But he also knew how to tell a story about real human emotions felt by teenagers. Something that no has done as well before or since his run of movies in the 1980’s.

How was HAL9000 portrayed as human in 2001: A Space Odyssey?

         

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Photo Courtesy of FANDOM

         

The most significant character in Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey” is HAL 9000, the super computer in charge of the spaceship Discovery on its Jupiter Mission.  HAL is introduced at the beginning of the Discovery sequence in a television interview aboard the ship.  The words of the news anchor when describing HAL are the first subtle indication of the computer being regarded as a human.  First the news anchor states that HAL is the “6th member of the Discovery crew” and that his functions allow him to “reproduce most of the activities of the human brain.”  In the first part of the description HAL is portrayed to be another “member of the crew” just like Frank and Dave and the other 3 hibernating astronauts.  It is also stated that he can reproduce the same activity of a “human brain”, signifying that HAL was programmed to act and think like a human only with “greater speed and reliability.”  Towards the end of the interview Frank tells the anchor that “you can think of HAL as just another person.”  Kubrick uses these subtle hints like calling HAL another member of the crew or seeming to be just like another person in between the anchor explaining how powerful of a computer HAL is to create an image of HAL as a human.  The astronauts converse with HAL casually while at the same time HAL is in complete control of the success or failure of their mission.  This contrast of HAL’s power and humanity are typical of Kubrick’s narrative style.

Kubrick not only uses narrative clues to show HAL as a human but also uses simple composition to portray HAL’s human qualities.  A close analysis of the Discovery sequence shows that there are 27 Extreme Close Ups of HAL.  Close Up’s are defined as “framing in which the scale of an object is shown relatively large, most commonly a person’s head.” Close Up’s are also used to convey an identity or emotion in the subject.  Although HAL is just a lens with a red light in the middle, Kubrick gives HAL a face and an identity by using several close ups throughout the Discovery sequence.  Kubrick however, takes it a step further than just showing HAL in close up.  It is when and how he is shown in close up that makes it so significant.  Throughout the Discovery sequence HAL has several long conversations with both Frank and Dave.  Just as you would see in any other film, when two subjects are having a conversation they are shown in a shot-reverse shot sequence.  This is to give the audience the point of view of each person involved in the conversation.  While talking to either Dave or Frank, Kubrick lets us see HAL in close up while he is talking as well as a reverse shot of whomever HAL is talking to.  HAL is given a point of view just the same as his human counterparts.

Image result for hal 9000 lip reading
Photo Courtesy of http://www.phys.org

The climax of the Discovery sequence comes when HAL murders all of the crew members besides Dave, forcing Dave to counter and disconnect or “murder” HAL.  When HAL murders Frank and the hibernating astronauts, it is done very mechanically.  We never get to see any pain or emotion from the dying astronauts.  The hibernating astronauts are shown in close up, however, they never change their expression.  They die in their sleep.  In contrast, Kubrick allows HAL to beg Dave to spare him.  When Dave goes to HAL’s Logic Memory Center, even before he enters the room HAL begins to plead with Dave.  As Dave begins to disconnect HAL’s brain, HAL repeatedly begs Dave to “Please Stop.”  At this moment the audience knows that HAL’s pleas are futile and that Dave is going to kill HAL before HAL kills him.  With his final dying words HAL sings a sentimental love song called “Daisy Bell.”  Now it is portrayed as a feature of HAL’s program from when he was manufactured but Kubrick uses it to give HAL an emotional farewell, a type of “swan song” before dying.    These techniques used by Kubrick are what make HAL such a fascinating and interesting character.  Some would say more interesting than his human counterparts.

The best summation of HAL’s humanity comes from Kubrick’s Playboy Magazine interview when he stated:

“Eventually we will have to share this planet with machines whose intelligence and abilities far surpass our own.  But the interrelationship-if intelligently managed by man-could have an immeasurably enriching effect on our society.”[1] 

One can relate this quote to the crew’s treatment of HAL.  The crew did not trust HAL and thought he was just a machine that was malfunctioning and their instinct was to disconnect/or destroy the machine.  Although they originally saw HAL as “the 6th member of the crew” they immediately turned on him when he was disagreeing with them about the condition of the AE-35. This egotistical attitude of man is what ends up dooming the entire crew aboard Discovery. 


[1]  “Playboy Interview: Stanley Kubrick”-The Making of 2001: A Space Odyssey: Edited by Stephanie Schwam

Editing Analysis: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

 

Photo courtesy of Center for Creative Media

The opening scene of the classic “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is a master lesson in character introduction.  Shot in sepia with almost no dialogue, the shots and editing techniques are the foundation of the introduction of Paul Newman as legendary outlaw Butch Cassidy. After a black screen with the title “Most of what follows is true” the shot cuts to an exterior close up of a window.  Barely noticeable through the window, a slow focus pull reveals it to be a close up of Butch, the first of many in the scene.  There are not many edits in the first half of the scene.  We see Butch in close up walk across the street to a building.  As he scans the building up and down there are cuts to Point of View shots of the building.   It is when he gets inside the building that the real editing begins.  Inside the building we see close ups of Butch cut with several images that reveal this to be a bank.  There are close ups of a button behind a counter, a bell on the wall, bars on the counter, and a man carrying bags to a safe.  All of these are cross cut with close ups of Butch’s face.  During these cuts it is revealed that Butch is in a bank and a very well protected one at that.  As the scene comes to an end, a security guard emerges from the shadows. There is another point of View sequence of Butch watching the security guard closing the window shutters and barring them.  This scares Butch and he leaves the bank, complaining to the security guard about all of the new security features.

The use of the close ups as well as the Point of View cuts introduce Paul Newman as Butch Cassidy.  It is a very effective way of setting how Butch and Sundance’s world is changing and what are they going to do to adapt. Judging by the phenomenal facial expressions by Newman we can tell that he better think of something fast because even though it’s the opening scene, time is already running out for these two outlaws.