Wednesday, February 2, 2011


If faced with a pointed query in that direction, a lot of the great directors would confess to their biggest dilemma onset being the staging of a conversation. A dynamic, or for cinema’s purposes, let’s call it a kinetic object, can seldom present a challenge as overwhelming as a stationery one. Purely through the nature of the motion it is occupied in the performance of, the kinetic object will have already suggested its material and at most times, its psychological reality. Different aesthetic schemas applied, for instance, to the act of a character running cannot alter the basic fact of the shot: that the character is running. He exists in the state of a run, and no matter how one shoots him; the nature of his athletic feat is open to neither negation, nor affirmation. The most a cinema director can offer to answer (in psychological terms) is: what is the character running from? But even then, running is running, and cannot, even in the hands of a great director, suggest any other material state of being. 

When humans deposit themselves around a table for a conversation, however, they can become bundles of suggestion. Cinema is at its most fundamental, the art of gestures – those fleeting moments of supreme truth in which a character, if only for a transitory moment, lays out his entire being and makes it available to vulgar intrusion. The question for any great director, then, is to devise an aesthetic scheme that ensures that the camera does not fail to document any of these transient moments of revelation – a sideways glance, a restless leg, a quiver of the lip, a twitch of the nose. 

Ofcourse, cinema is a matter of what’s in the frame and what is not, but with a conversation with a number of characters sitting around the table, the more crucial matter is of who’s in the frame and who’s not. A conversation might, infact, be the toughest of scenes to shoot, because the reaction shot to each shot may contain a different emotional response, or each new line of dialogue may create varying levels of commotion around the table – therefore, each new line of dialogue or even a simple glance may demand its own camera angle, length of lens, and camera-subject distance. What may be revealed in a close-up may forever remain concealed in the recesses of a long-shot; also vice-versa. 

While kinetic motion may most literally fulfill the purpose of cinema, i.e. to capture moving objects, it is in the conversations that the real challenge for a cinema director lies. Because it is easy to shoot action, but it is darned difficult to suggest it.
Some conversations around tables,

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (1974)/ Martin Scorsese
Close-Up (1990)/ Abbas Kiarostami

Dancer in the Dark (2000)/ Lars Von Trier

I Walked with a Zombie (1943)/ Jacques Tourneur
In a Lonely Place (1950)/ Nicholas Ray

Whirlpool (1949)/ Otto Preminger
Castle in the Sky (1988)/ Hayao Miyazaki

In the Mood for Love (2000)/ Wong Kar-Wai

The Edge of Heaven (2007)/ Fatih Akin

1 comment:


    You should participate.

    Good post.