Monday, October 28, 2013

American Splendor: Cinematography reflecting the comic book style

"American Splendor," based off of the highly acclaimed comic book series, follows the average-everyday-man character of Harvey Pekar and spreads light upon how facing everyday struggles can amount to your average joe being a, well, hero! The cinematography of the film reflects the original form and nature of the story: the comic book-style.

In an article conducted through CreativePlanet, the cinematographer of American Splendor, Terry Stacey, talks about how he manipulated the film stock to give it a grittier 70s pop kind-of-feeling to reflect the style of a comic book. On top of that the colors are quite dull throughout the film, reflecting on the fact that this is the story about a real, normal, (occasionally somewhat dull) guy.

The color scheme of the film focuses on dulled out shades of the primary colors red, blue, and yellow. Occasionally in the film there were moments where they popped a bit more. For example, in Harvey's work place all of the files are lined with those colors and it amps up the monotony of his life. These primary colors are very reminiscent of your standard comic book.

The film occasionally cuts back to the documentary-style footage of the real Harvey Pekar. The setting is in a white room, amplifying the contrast of realty versus the retelling of reality. In the article the cinematographer stated:

"Eventually we decided it would be more interesting to shoot this material on 24P HD and composite it as if it were in a real comic book, with 'reality' floating in a white frame. It was a more sharp, surreal world, with that comic strip depth of field where everything's in focus."

Through the shot design we are continuously shown a contrast of the self-reflexive nature of a comic book. A few times in the film we see interludes that take place as a comic book and then real footage, again, showcasing the conversion of comic to film.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Queen: The Old Ways Versus The New

The Queen, a 2006 film directed by Stephen Frears, follows the struggle of the Queen to maintain and uphold her appeal to her people during a time of grief: Princess Diana has died. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, does his best to direct her towards a more modern approach. The main theme of this film is about letting go of old ways and making room for modern change. This is reflected quite well in the dichotomy of setting: the royal fancy lifestyle (The Queen's home) versus the public normal lifestyle (Tony Blair's home.)

The Queen lives in the royal palace, a large, expansive, proper home. Because of it's size, we get a feeling of just how sparse and lonesome it is to live there. In fact, that largeness which conveys loneliness reflects how the Queen is stuck in the same mindset of her childhood: she was destined for this lifestyle and has followed through with it, unchanging, and never knowing anything else.  At one point in the film the Queen states that hiding her feelings is all she has ever known. The concept of "being proper" and how it is reflected into the setting of the Queen's home can be paralleled to hiding her true self in order to appeal to onlookers. She is trapped in only knowing one way and she is hiding herself in her large, "protective," dominating home.

Tony Blair lives in your everyday middle class home. The setting is slightly cramped and chaotic due to his family lifestyle: he has a wife and kids. The interactions between the children and the home setting are much more natural and clumsy, but Tony and his wife are lenient towards this. This setting reflects how most people live and accentuates the disconnect between the Queen and her people. Additionally, the children who live in the royal palace are much more controlled- we never really see a crazy childlike moment present itself with the royal children. This is because they are confined with the properness (or in other words, confined by the inability to adapt). A home of slight clutter and disarray is comparable to a collection. When one collects, they continue to add new things, expanding their knowledge on a given topic or item. For Tony Blair and the rest of the public, their homes and lives are essentially collections of the adapting ways and cultures. Because the Queen is stuck in a forever unchanging home, it is hard for her to grasp on to the new way. 

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dogville: Setting and Theme

Dogville, directed by Lars von Trier in 2003, is a dark film focusing on the immorality and complexity of all people and situations. Utilizing a unique setting style, the director chose to have the set be completely staged on a sound stage. There are no walls, nor completely furnished rooms- everything is to the bare minimum. Not only does this desolate and scarce setting reflect the poverty and isolation of the town and people of Dogville, but it additionally opens up opportunities to shed light on the strange dynamics of the town: although everyone has the ability to know everything about everyone, the people choose to remain ignorant to the injustices of immorality directed towards Grace as they arise.

Upon the first instance of Grace being raped, we see wide shots of the whole town, with poor Grace in the background of the shot helplessly being taken advantaged of. Without the openness of the set, we would not get this same effect. For instance, Tom Edison is right outside the door from where Grace lays- we see them both in the same shot- but he is unaware of her state of being. It is a sad moment, but it reflects the mindset of the people of Dogville:  they are obscuring their own sight of being aware of the way they behave and the things that are happening around them (despite it being quite morally obvious).

Because they are confined only to their town, the people of Dogville are living in a warped reality of their own "morals" and values. This is reflected in the use of a limited set. By keeping us entrapped in this one soundstage we are able to suspend our disbelief and indulge in the idea that this is how their world is. When Grace tries to escape our longing to have a glimpse of the greater world grows and our curiosity becomes uncontrollable, only for her to be brought right back to Dogville. Upon seeing the limited and scarce town of Dogville again, the sense of entrapment is amped up.

Overall Dogville effectively utilizes this unique setting. In most cases I don't think this set would work to the advantage of the filmmaker, but because it clearly reflects the themes of this film, I think it is a perfect fit for what the filmmaker was going for.  Whether I would suggest this movie or not?... well, that's up to you.... do you want to be emotionally battered? If yes, take a watch!