Minority Report Stills

Thursday, December 19, 2013

I Was Framed

Thus far we've been thinking about shots in terms of focal length (the distance of the subject from the camera) and the angle of the shot (the height of the subject relative to the camera).  

In last week's post you analyzed a still image from Minority Report, identifying the type of shot, how the image advanced the plot and themes of the movie, and how small details within the shot all contribute to the meaning of the image.  
This week we'll consider the composition of shots -- how we understand the subject of an image within the context of the camera frame.  Framing photographs can give the subject a context; they can add layers of depth (foreground, background, or both); and perhaps most importantly they can lead the viewer's eye toward the main focal point.  
Introduction to Framing:

The frame of a shot is where the subject is located in the frame of the camera. In order to understand this, consider the frame—what area of the picture you see—overlaid with a tic-tac-toe grid of 9 squares. The middle frame is what photographers and directors call the lazy frame—it’s where professionals usually don’t want their subjects to end up. Instead the subjects are most often placed on one of the interstices—the places where two lines meet, usually left or right, top or bottom of the lazy frame.  Notice the photos below:

The subjects—the middle of the chihuahua's head and also the bee’s head are to the right of the lazy frame. While part of the body lands in the middle frame, it’s not the part of the subject we are most interested in. This concept is called the rule of thirds. Compare to this still from Minority Report (Spielberg,  2002):

Notice the hands on the tie are to the left and below the middle "square," but on the lower horizontal line. The subject’s eyes are above the middle frame.

Another concept important to framing is foreground and background. Notice in the Minority Report still, the background provides a rich shot filled with detail that the viewer can see and helps to define character. It also balances the subject so that the subject is framed within the frame, between the woman tying his tie and the table and lamp.

Consider how individual shots in film are framed—and how a character is framed within it. The frame helps define the character, creates a sense of place, and guides us to what the director wants us to understand about the scene.

Your Turn:  Photo Assignment

With a digital or phone camera take several different pictures placing your subject on the intersections around the middle frame. Experiment with capturing both foreground and background. Then frame your subject within the frame of the camera— i.e. find objects to create a frame within a frame. As you take your own shots consider how background and foreground inform your subject, and how their placement in the frame changes how we understand the situation.Take 5-10 pictures and post them to your blog with a short description for each that explains an effect of your framing.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Prisoners -- a sort of review

On Saturday my son and I saw the movie Prisoners at Northbrook Court.  Despite the audience (the average age of the audience was around 117!), we both really liked the film.  It's a study in mood, and every scene is shot in bleak, color-bled hues:  gun metal greys; chestnut browns; rust.  (You know the color scheme is pronounced when a color blind guy like me can see the palette!).

In this two shot, the oppressive colors are present everywhere -- the bare trees, the weathered siding of the house, the grey skies, and even the dark colors of the two most prominent characters.  (Not exactly the kind of shot you'd see in a travel brochure or, say, a brochure advertising a college campus).  The atmosphere is so bleak and so heavy, it becomes a sort of ... prison.  

Even though the movie is shot in sharp focus, everything seems to be seen through a sheath of fog, mirroring the uncertainty and despair of the grieving parents whose children have been abducted and the sensational Jake Gyllenhaal, who plays the lead detective on the case.  Everything is right there in front of them, and yet the world remains opaque, impenetrable.

A scene from the movie might help show this.  Here's a link to a weekly feature in The New York Times.  What's nice about this feature -- and there's an archive spanning the last year or two -- is that the director makes a comment on his or her own movie, helping us see the "authorial intention" of the scene.  This might be cool to check out every now and then.  

See how grey, how murky -- visible and invisible at the same time?  

The New York Times and the New Yorker both reviewed the movie when it came out and both spent a good deal of time talking about the photography and the color palette in the movie.  Namely, the NYT reviewer (A.O. Scott) says that "an uncontained atmospheric menace broods over this wintry landscape. "  The New Yorker reviewer (David Denby) says, "Dreariness has its own kind of poetry—it certainly colors the mood of this harrowing tale, which is set in a Pennsylvania suburb. It’s a seemingly normal, quiet place, where fervid religion and rage against God exist side by side; it also has a history of missing children."

Last point:  the movie makes a powerful statement against torture.  There is more on-screen torture in this film than in Zero Dark Thirty or maybe anything else I've ever seen.  And, just as in the "real world" (Guantanamo Bay torture, for example), brutality never leads to truth.

It's a great movie, my son and I agreed, but not one either of us wants to see again.  

Friday, August 30, 2013

Summer Reading Questions

Answer the following questions either typed or neatly handwritten to be turned in during the first week of class. Consider the questions and develop your answers thoughtfully. Much of the first weeks of school will be taken up with the play and the film, so be sure you have read and watched carefully!

  1. To what extent is Oedipus responsible for his own fate in the play? Be prepared to discuss at least two examples from the text which lead you to believe he is or is not responsible.
  2. How good a king is Oedipus?  In what ways does he excel as a leader?  In what ways does he fall short?
  3. Since Oedipus is considered the quintessential tragic hero, then what would you argue is his tragic mistake?  In other words, what in his own character/personality or what wrong-headed action does he take which leads him to his ultimate downfall? Choose a particular flaw or action and explain its relation to his disgrace and exile.
  4. If we agree that Oedipus the King is about the role of fate and humans’ inability to escape destiny, in what ways does Minority Report, and the character of John Anderton in particular, support or refute Oedipus’ notion of destiny?  Think of two scenes that support your position.
  5. The eyes are often associated not just with the act of seeing but also of revealing oneself to others. In the film, explain the different ways that eyes or the act of seeing are used for:  1. The Precogs, 2. John Anderton, 3. The culture of the world of the film.
  6. The story upon which the movie is based was written in the 1950's.  The movie came out in 2002 but is set in 2054.  How much of the events/the attitudes of the movie do you see in contemporary American culture?  Where will be in 44 years?  Speculate on the direction in which our country is headed.  What future contingencies are we preparing for?  To what extent does our attempt to prepare for certain future events determine our own fate? 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Summer Movies 2013

Movies I've seen this summer:

In theaters:

Star Trek: Into the Darkness
The Purge
The Conjuring
You're Next
Iron Man III

On dvd:

School Daze
Night on Earth
The Man Who Came to Dinner

In order to realize their futuristic vision of the year 2054, Spielberg and Co. called up experts in every field:  architecture, computers, law enforcement, education, engineering, etc.  At the time some of these futuristic features seemed very far off indeed, but according to recent stories from All Things Considered, that future may already be here.  You might also check out a provocative piece from the weekly podcast On the Media on the idea of augmented reality that is decades ahead of initial predictions.

Which, if any, of these features holds the most promise for our future?  Which, if any, is most terrifying to you in terms of personal interaction or governmental exploitation? How do recent revelations about the NSA (The National Security Agency) and the movie Minority Report?  How comfortable are you with the idea of the government monitoring our personal lives in order to maintain "order"?  Where would you draw the line?

Friday, March 1, 2013

Rear Window

Rear Window,
Alfred Hitchcock (1954)

Viewing Questions

1.       How does Hitchcock show us this is a film about voyeurism? Think about the way the camera moves to highlight this. 

2.        What does this opening day’s viewing suggest about the difference between sight and insight?

3.       Think about the two leading actors in the film:  Jimmy Stewart (Jeffries) and Grace Kelly (Liza).  How do their looks affect your judgment as a viewer?  Have the standards of physical beauty of changed for leading ladies?  For leading men?

4.       How is Jeffries and this whole film a metaphor for the movies?
5.       Consider side characters – Stella, Lieutenant Doyle, the other tenants.  What do they add to the story?  Do their lives mirror the plot in any way?  How does Hitchcock manage the pacing of the film?  Given the constraints of the location and the immobility of Jeffries , how does the director negotiate the suspense from beginning to end?