Tuesday, March 13, 2012

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest

This film is on nearly everyone's favorite films list, and for good reason. When I first saw this movie, many years ago, I thought it was about something else entirely. I had the naive belief that it was more of a comedy about a revolt at a mental institution, led by the charismatic McMurphy. Watching this movie now, I realize that it's more of a drama, a story instead about McMurphy's defeat. A human story.

I hadn't previously thought about the cinematography of this film, as there weren't many epic, complex shots. I realize now, however, that the simplicity of the cinematography is where the beauty of this film lies.   Draining the asylum of color and life, Wexler does a nice job of portraying what this place would have looked like to his prisoners. Utilizing some nice filters, and also making the whites really glow and pop, the focus remains on the characters in this character-driven story. Also, the camera shots seem to focus on reactions: the reactions of each character to the scene and what's happening to them in it. I love this. The characters' emotions, reactions, and feelings are the heart of this story. Simple but intentional focus gives power to their plight.

This story has a common theme for the time period-a fight against the establishment. However, this movie takes this theme to a more engaging level by focusing on who these characters really are, and how they really feel, versus just on their mental illness and their alienated state.

Apocalypse Now

Apocalypse Now succeeds on many levels. On an emotional level, we connect with its message of the futility of war. On an entertainment level, the script does a fine job of keeping the audience engaged and interested throughout. Where I believe this movie succeeds the most, however, is on a cinematic level. By using very specific shot angles, this story, the setting, and the characters remain unforgettable.

The most common shot angle that I recognized was a high or very high angle. We are continuously looking down on the island, as if we are riding along the sky inside one of the helicopters with the soldiers. This not only determines how we will view and remember the island, but also solidifies our involvement with these characters. This high angle shot also causes a diminution of the villagers. We see them scatter throughout the island, attempting to fight back. When Colonel Kilgore and his men blow up the village, we see from above the power, aggression and devastation that Napalm and weapons of mass destruction can cause.

One of the most powerful shots of this movie is near the end, when Willard finally meets Kurtz. This mysterious man remains fascinating, as he shown in partial darkness, with just a little bit of light on his face. This haunting image was perfectly crafted. Utilizing just a bit of light to show us enough of his features to be intrigued, but keeping him in partial darkness, is a perfect tangible metaphor for the man Kurtz has become-steeped deep in the darkness of the jungle, but enlightened to the worlds' atrocities.

Apocalypse Now is another great example of a movie carefully crafted, wherein every single shot was done with full intention and made a definitive impact in the telling of the story.