Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Scene Analysis: There Will Be Blood

*********Contains Spoilers

I chose to analyze a scene from Paul Thomas Anderson's 2007 film There Will Be Blood. I chose this film for several reasons. Firstly, Robert Elswit returns as Paul Thomas Anderson's unofficial resident director of photography. Visually, there work together on films such as Boogie Nights, Magnolia and Punch- Drunk Love were nothing short of extraordinary, and I distinctly remember There Will Be Blood to be no exception. Throughout the film, Elswit and "PTA" liberally use wide angle shots with an extraordinary depth of field to show viewers the vast emptiness that was the American west in the beginning of the 20th century, a vast emptiness full of unfulfilled riches. By contrast, there are many close- ups of Daniel Day - Lewis's character of Daniel Plainview as the audience can easily see his descent into madness.

The final, climactic scene is of a dialogue between adversaries Eli Sunday and Daniel Plainview. After constant bickering, Eli approaches Plainview in his under construction private bowling alley. Eli offers to work out a business deal to get a coveted piece of land. Plainview convinces Eli to proclaim he is "a false prophet" and that "god is a supersition." After fulfilling his end of the bargain, Eli is then notified that there is in fact no more oil under the coveted property. Plainview explains this with his famous "I Drink Your Milkshake" tirade. (Now available in t-shirt form!). At this point Daniel Plainview has gone absolutely made and begins attacking Eli, ultimately bludgeoning him to death with a bowling pin.

For starters, one great choice PTA and Robert Elswit made was to omit any form of music from the entire scene. With this lack of music, every silence enhances the tension between the two characters and the scene in general. Furthermore, the scene takes place in an empty bowling lane so a feeling of real isolation is achieved.

In terms of appearance, Eli Sunday is well dressed and sharp while Daniel Plainview is haggard and worn. Plainview is also eating steak with his bare hands. Despite the contrast in appearance, Eli is a desperate man and Plainview is still business saavy despite his deteriorated state. I found the setting interesting as it takes place in an empty bowling lane in Plainview's mansions. We see characters pushed to the brink surrounded by the hollow riches brought on by oil.

The dialogue at the beginning of the scene generally features a standard shot/reverse shot technique with some unique twists. In some specific exchanges, the camera does not cut back to the person who is speaking but rather stays on the person listening. This effect tells the audience that the reaction is just as if not more important to what is actually being said. One example of this is when Eli first begins proclaiming that he is "a false prophet." Each time Eli makes his statement, Daniel Plainview encourages him to say it more passionately and louder. The camera never cuts back to Plainview. Instead we keep seeing Eli scream louder and louder.

Another interesting technique used occurs at the end of the conversation. Rather than focusing back and forth, we see both characters speaking to each other. Eli is sitting and Daniel is standing. Here: PICTURE PROOF. The characters are spaced to make the frame have axial balance, but the posture of Daniel Plainview creates an asymmetrical balance. I thought this was rather interesting.

During the fighting, my favorite part occurs while Daniel Plainview is throwing bowling pins at Eli as Eli tries to escape. The camera slowly moves into the end of the bowling alley but there are no cuts for several seconds. This reminded me of a stage play as the only movement is the characters but they are in a confined space much like a play. It seemed like a slight homage to Shakespearean tragedy as Daniel Plainview surely is a tragic figure.

When Daniel Plainview is bludgeoning Eli we see an asymmetrical distorted shot of Plainview shot from below. Plainview looks massive and frightening as the light does no favors in making him seem friendly. The use of shot angle essentially makes Plainview look like a monster.

Finally, the viewer sees an image of Eli Sunday lying face down on the floor with blood emerging from his head. (See above.) After the damage has been done, Plainview sits down right next to him. It is here that we really see them as equals, which they surely are. They both preached and lied to others to get what they wanted. Moreover, oil made both of them lose their morals.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Museum Of The Moving Image Trip

Several weeks ago I ventured to the Museum of the Moving Image in Astoria. I went on a Friday during free admission hours; perhaps the greatest deal of all time. Before proceeding I must first point out that the design and layout of the museum is rather impressive. The all white stairs and walls temporarily led me to believe I was way hipper than I actually am.

The one exhibit I enjoyed the most was the full length presentation of 1903's The Great Train Robbery by Edwin S. Porter. My reason for loving this presentation is the surroundings with which it is placed. In the museum there were video game exhibits, special effects exhibits, virtual movement exhibits and many more. While watching the film, I realized that simple bare bones film making like Porter's is what made any and all of these modern developments possible.

Something simple like cross -cutting in The Great Train Robbery really put the history of cinema into perspective. This simple tool has been fueling narrative films for the last 100 plus years. Furthermore, Porter developed this concept in 1903, years before groundbreaking narrative films such as Birth Of A Nation appeared.

Moreover, Porter set the tone early for what audiences want to see. A placard in the viewing room boasted how grand of a success The Great Train Robbery was. I would like to think this film was a precursor to the blockbuster. Porter established that spectacle and innovation were key to reeling in audiences; a fact that is still true today. Porter put his camera on top of a moving train and allowed the action to unfold on top of it. For a contemporary audience, this must have been leap years beyond Avatar in terms of spectacle. The gun fight in the woods was also rather effective. Here, the audience is clearly not on a set, but in the heart of the action as it is happening.

For the non-initiated, I would recommend a full viewing of The Great Train Robbery as a must. Viewing the other exhibits without seeing this film is like trying to be a rock star without first learning how to play guitar. While the costume designs and computer graphics exhibits were all great, it was the innovations of Edwin S. Porter in 1903 that truly were impressive.