Killer Opening Shots – ‘The King’s Speech’

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“The King’s Speech” (2010, dir. Tom Hooper, photographed by Danny Cohen, BSC) opens with an image that is a visual metaphor for George’s central obstacle: intimidation and anxiety at his lack of speaking ability, represented by the microphone in this opening shot.

The low angle combined with the heavy distortion of the shot (created by the use of a wide angle lens with a close subject), contorts the curves of the microphone, making it seem as if it’s leaning forward into the camera, giving it a domineering and imposing presence.

The lens choice also accentuates the size of the microphone relative to the room.  It visually fills the entire graphic space from ceiling to floor, making it an massive and pervasive presence that can’t be ignored or escaped. Adding to this, the shot is composed such that the perspective lines of the room converge on the microphone, demanding the full graphic attention of the frame.

It’s worth noting that this shot is really a triumph of lens selection. The key elements that make this shot an effective storytelling device (the distortion and graphical arrangement of the microphone relative to the architecture) would have been impossible on a longer lens.

 

 

 

Killer Opening Shots – ‘Stranger Than Paradise’

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Stranger than Paradise‘ (1984, dir. Jim Jarmusch) is a film about desolation and disillusionment.

Eva has just arrived in America, and is presumably waiting to be picked up. In the opening shot, she’s shown in a static wide shot of a dirt embankment overlooking an airport runway. The composition is devoid of major depth cues: the irregular shapes of the terrain provide no perspective lines or contrast of size that would indicate depth, and the black and white image is inherently devoid of color depth cues. Other than the size of the airplanes indicating that the runway is in the deep background, there are no other visual hints about the geography.

The light and dark values are also absent of any information: the terrain and sky create alternating bands of light and dark values criss-crossing the image, creating a disorienting texture. The net result of the lack of depth cues is that Eva becomes lost in a sea of graphic ambiguity, giving a sense of disorientation.

The foreground of the composition is dominated by featureless dirt. The only source of visual excitement in the frame comes from the movement of the planes in the background. However, Eva, who is graphically entrenched in the ambiguity of the foreground, feels disjointed from the activity of the background. This introduces her new reality in America: complete and utter desolation.

 

 

Killer Opening Shots – ‘Terminator 2′

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While I am still working on long form posts, much of my time has been monopolized working on several film projects. In the interim, I wanted to share some shorter form thoughts on a more regular basis.  The result of this is the first Killer Opening Shots entry.

Opening shots are of paramount  importance because they’re the gateways to the story. They’re the first taste of the themes and tone of the film, and sometimes are a critical tool in characterization. A well made film can accomplish more storytelling in the opening shot than a poor one can in its opening scene.

An opening shot doesn’t have to be flashy or showy. It just has to be powerful. That’s why I chose something very understated and deceivingly simple to kick this off:

 

 

The opening shot of Terminator 2 is a wide shot of cars slowly flowing down a crowded freeway. It would be easy to dismiss this as a generic shot of traffic, but there are several specific decisions made with the lighting and composition of this shot to subtly introduce one of the main themes of the film.

The shot is composed such that the sea of the cars extends past all four sides of the frame, creating an boundless current of vehicles that gives a sense of an unyielding force. The desaturated color palette, combined with the repetition of similar car shapes is reminiscent of a legion of identical, chrome plated Terminators (the complete success of this opening shot arguably relies on a previous viewing of the first installment of the franchise). The specular reflections of the sun on the backlit cars create sharp, blue-ringed specular reflections on each car, also reminiscent of the specular reflections from the Terminator’s chrome skulls.

The net effect of the shot is a visual comparison of an advancing column of cars (humanity in the present) with an unyielding, endless army of Terminators (the coming demise of humanity), creating a visual metaphor the human race’s futile march forward to its downfall at the hands of the machines that it created. It’s a subtle introduction of one of the key themes of the film: fate versus free will. For a shot of traffic, it’s really doing a lot of storytelling.

© 2012 Benjamin Kantor. All rights reserved.