Scene study. Imdb.
Touch of Evil directed by Orson Welles (1958)
The setup :
After visiting an old acquaintance, Hank Quinlan accompanied by Pete Menzies joins Mike Vargas, the District Attorney and his assistant in a rundown industrial zone with oil derricks at the border of Mexico.
In the middle of the murder case, Hank and Mike are confronting each other’s police work styles. Hank’s frame and delivery takes precedence over his Mexican counterpart, isolated and in a defensive stance throughout the scene.
When Hank’s in the frame, he’s often shot below the horizon line giving himself a higher ground, his build is emphasizing the contrast against all characters, there’s no doubt he’s the boss, even on foreign soil (“back to civilization” end line). And in 2 or 3 shots over the shoulder setups, he takes a large portion of the screen, always pressing Mike.
While the metallic structures from the oil derricks around them do help with staging, it also helps framing Mike away from the crowd.
Behind Hank’s back is a radiating palm tree, if these aren’t full blown laurels giving him an imperial stance, what else could that be ?
All in all, it’s a fairly static scene, with the exception of one shot (2e) where Mike Vargas tries to leave the group (pulled back by Hank’s “intuition”), yet staged with strong visual cues on top of snappy dialogues for added intensity
It was my second viewing and somehow wasn’t as stoked about it than last time years ago. Yet, for the time I believe it must have been quite revolutionary.
While looking for a short scene to study between revisions, I remembered how fond I was of this particular one from The Grapes of Wrath.
Although it took place during the Great Depression, it still resonates with me since the 2008 crash so I wanted to see how it holds up on a cinematic standpoint.
The obvious is that it has a short shot count for a 2 minutes scene for today’s standards. A singular shot like the 5th one can hold multiple characters talking back and forth without much movement.
Overall, characters are fairly static until Muley’s monologue in the last shot, characters and camera move to close the scene dramatically.
What makes it still gripping in every viewing is the intensity of the dialogue and how the staging maintains tension, allowing clear delivery without movement.
First, there’s a visual contrast between the man in the car and the farmers, then the distance and barrier created by the car sheltering the man away with his cold delivery and lack of empathy while the farmers in desperation and lost are more lively.
Muley’s starting monologue doesn’t rub on the Man, he spits his cigar bits while Muley makes an argument about his family legitimacy to keep the land, then leaves before he finishes. It’s class contempt at its best.
That closing beat happens when the camera breaks the 180 consistency throughout the whole scene, yet not jarring and wide enough to make the transition and show the exit. I can’t think of any other reason, although it may work as a closing device but I wouldn’t speculate on that.
All in all, it’s a great example of economy serving a clear and intense moment. Shots, as simple as they are, show everything we need to know about the class condition of the farmers and the Man, they are well framed and even the crowd shots are neatly staged with depth.
A cinematic classic and a reality check for my generation.
Hold The Dark 2018 – Jeremy Saulnier
Quick scene breakdown (minor spoilers ahead) :
Russel scans the bleak living room.
Medora hands a cup of coffee to Russel and gets to the point : hunt the wolf that killed her son.
The book he wrote that she is holding is a token of trust, he’s the right man for the job. Somehow he seems distant from it, yet he’s here to offer his help.
He’s startled by the wolf’s mask on the wall.
We learn that his Daughter lives in Anchorage, and Medora’s comment that “it’s not Alaska” gets a strong reaction from Russel (gulps loudly his coffee).
This is followed by her comment about the darkness outside the windows getting inside herself. Beat.
Russel then asks about her husband serving in the military, he hasn’t been notified about the death of his son while in operation, Russel reassure Medora that he’s gonna help.
Medora’s getting ready to show her where the children were taken. Yet Russel’s not equipped.
Next we see him with of boots in the next shot. They look like ones worn by natives from the land.
This scene shows characters from distant worlds expect that “wolves” are what unite them. Apart from the tragedy, each of them have representations of wolves displayed in their homes (we also see that in an earlier scene in Russel’s home), we think grief is what makes her think there’s darkness in her.
Are there any other cues in that scene that tell us that there might be more to grief ? This scene’s very early in the movie, possibly the third one so there’s enough here to ease the tension and symbolism in for future recall.
Short sequence study with sweet match cuts from Jaws by Spielberg.