Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Choosing your lens...

This is my semi-cracked, unifying, socio-economic film theory of close-ups and long shots... It is an attempt to align the worldview of particular classes of people to certain types of camera lenses and cinematic compositions. It's a bit reductive and deliberate. Give me a break, I've got a nasty cold. I'll lay out the suitcases and you can unpack them.

Wealthy/Conservatives are all about the long shot. The way the unflinching rich live (and the conservatives who defend their lifestyle) requires the formal distance and indifference a wide field of view offers, where troubling details (such as the horror of poverty, death, and human suffering) are drowned out by grand, curated spaces and bedazzling vistas. And even when close ups are necessary, it's still a long way to look down one's nose, beyond one's entitlement and ideology.

Poor/Liberals are all about the close-up. Their world happens right in front of their eyes. Every pock mark, every flaw, every cruel detail is right there asserting a reality that won't go away. The way the poor live (and the liberals who fight for their rights) is typically about marginalization to less desirable and less spacious spaces. Pain, death and suffering are regular occurrences, immediate and intimate. The value of small things comes into sharp focus.

You can see this exemplified in thousands of movies, but I think the best is Rules of the Game or La R├Ęgle du Jeu, (1939, image above). Here in the legendary hunt sequence we first see the magnificent pageantry of the hunt: the grand estate, the tweedy costumes (a conservative form of drag), the endless rules and expectations, the chess board maneuvering through wilderness (with the underclassmen stirring the rabbits from hiding), and the ultimate lack of any real talent (the terrified rabbits are run straight into a wall of twittering houseguests armed with shotguns). Animals, tiny blips on the screen, are killed thoughtlessly while their murderers chit-chat and manage their petty intrigues and affairs. But then Renoir gives us an important break from all of this grand eye candy. He inserts close ups of the rabbits being shot, he stays with them as they draw their last breath and their muscles spasm and contract. We see the perspective that the pre-occupied guests have lost. In order for their system to work, they must be able to inflict death upon lesser creatures and think nothing of it. This requires lots of space to reduce the intensity of their actions.

By the way, I knew I'd seen Marcel Dalio, the actor who plays Robert de la Chesnaye in Rules of the Game, somewhere recently, and now I remember where.


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