Thursday, April 19, 2012

Road To Perdition

Sam Mendes is a favorite of mine, stemming from his work on my favorite film, American Beauty. This movie was my inspiration into filmmaking, due in large part to Alan Ball’s adept storytelling style and Mendes’ beautiful depiction of emotional frailty and violence. He carries this style into Road To Perdition, focusing heavily on the emotional impact of the story by using imagery to do the talking, keeping dialogue to a minimum.

Mendes is a storyteller in themes. In American Beauty, Mendes creates beauty in simple, mundane objects, such as a plastic shopping bag, which is used to help the audience realize that there “is so much beauty in the world…” that we fail to notice. In Road To Perdition, he creates beauty by setting the lighting and coloring in such a way that you feel as though you’ve stumbled into a great painting, versus a crime film. This film actually lacks standard coloring, instead focused on shades of brown, with hints of greens and blacks mixed in.

Mendes uses water as a constant theme in most of his movies. Water equals death. However, a key fact to note is that water is always flowing and changing and moving, and cannot be restrained. My guess is that Mendes was also attempting to state something to the effect of “fate cannot be controlled or managed. It is a benevolent force. No matter how hard we try to pull fate into the direction we want it, it will take the course that it determines, just as water does.” I think in this film, while water represents death, it can also represent fate.

The word Perdition is also a theme. Perdition has been used as a term for hell, and Sullivan Sr. is stuck in contradiction-he is literally leading his son to the city of hell, but also wants to protect him from it.

The cinematography in this film is some of the best you will see as a moviegoer. Atmospheric is the way that I would describe the lighting. This movie is filled with soft shadows that often fall off into nothingness. However, the scene with the boy standing on the beach is my favorite-the brightness of the sky meshes with the water and the beach in a way that reminded me of what heaven must be like…utter brightness. This then melds into white snow and a bike riding through it. Lighting for bright scenes, such as snow, is no easy task. To be able to create such a beautiful scene, taking the audience from standing at the edge of the water with this boy, not in an overly colored or saturated scene, but rather in starkness, then transform into snow, is nothing short of skilled brilliance.  

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Man With A Movie Camera

This film was a complete, head to toe lesson in cinematography, not only how to visually make a film, but how to visually look at the world around you. The first thing I noticed and the last thing that stuck with me were the beautiful frames of each scene. Vertov does not simply show a building perfectly framed in the center of the lens. Instead, we see rows and rows of windows rising above from a low angled shot. Or we see strong, steel, straight beams of the top of a building cut through the frame as another lower building below is just inside the lower thirds of the frame. I'm assuming that Vertov had very little to no time to set up each shot, which speaks to his brilliant, artistic, cinematic mind. I found myself realizing that while he is aiming to paint a true to life portrait of a single day in Russia, his work actually showing us how we SHOULD look at the world, not how we DO look at the world. Even though it flew by with a flash, my favorite shot was of a trolley car sliding vertically along the same axis of the camera, while another trolley car crisscrossed horizontally in front of the frame. Seeing the two trolleys flow against each other in such a way was absolutely beautiful. It's a way that I wouldn't have looked at them, but it showed me what I'm missing by not stepping into another vantage point.

I don't believe that Vertov's goal was to depict what daily life looks like, I think rather he was showing us how daily life is depicted through the lens of a camera, when we step outside our minds' eye to look at life from another perspective. We as humans do not often crouch low to look at train wheels speeding by. We don't often peer out over the city we live in, looking at the shadows cast by a low hanging tree. We don't often catch the beauty of following a reflection in glass versus staring at the subject itself. But we should.

Showing the eyeball in the lens, showing the camera sliding into the frame, is a great representation of  an ever-present eye. He calls it the "truth-eye." However, this film helped me realize that cameras don't always capture what we see. They don't always record what we witness. Instead, if the person behind the camera is aware enough, cameras capture events in life from the angles in which we wished we could have seen them.