In David Cronenberg’s most recent films, there is an eerie deliberation over dialogue. It might well be that this is just stilted direction, cutting by rote between speakers and holding the camera on a face for the duration of a line reading. But it creates an undeniable tension that the careful placement of shot next to shot, action followed by action will be interrupted by something terrible. It’s the montage equivalent of a game of Jenga – it’s intriguing to watch the build-up, but it can’t go on indefinitely. This is most obvious in the languid, quiet opening of A History of Violence, where the aftermath of a massacre is played out like a lazy Sunday afternoon. The same eggshell-treading editing characterises Eastern Promises, Cronenberg’s nasty leer inside the Russian mafia in London. Continue reading
The rules of Randomisation:
1. Select a film on DVD. Eclectic choices are encouraged.
2. Using a random number generator, select three frames from the film. So, if the film is 100 minutes long, enter the numbers 1 and 100 into the randomiser and it will select three figures. Capture the frames which occur on the DVD on the minute mark. You might want to cut out the titles and end credits if they’re just text.
3. Use the three frames as a starting point for discussing the film. Focus on the composition of the image, the content of the frame and, if you’re familiar with it, how it might fit into the rest of the film’s narrative or visual style. The random selection of frames will hopefully force you out of habitual preoccupations and selective analysis and make you focus on points of the film you might otherwise have ignored. Sometimes the frames will be very revealing and illustrative of the film’s central themes, and sometimes they will seem inconsequential, but you will always find something to say about them, even if it wasn’t what you instinctively wanted to say about the film in the first place.
What fun for the Easter holidays. A trilogy of randomised posts, and since these are extended editions of the films, I’ll be using four frames from each instead of the usual three. This time, the numbers that have come up are 4, 19, 117 and 223. Should be a good spread, but you don’t know until you take out the DVDs and get started…
The Return of the King begins with a prologue in which Sméagol kills his friend Déagol for possession of the Ring. Their rhymed names, the soft lighting, pastoral setting and friendly joshing between them creates a strong vision of lost paradise; the playful squabble over the ring tips over from pushing, shoving and rough-and-tumble into a stranglehold that can’t be misinterpreted as playfighting. The Ring works fast, worming its way into Smeagol’s brain and turning him into Gollum. From this point, his onscreen representation will switch to the grotesque, digital figure, grotesquely wasted away. Serkis’ performance here is crucial in establishing him as inhabitor of both roles: you are invited to see the similarities between the facial expressions of Serkis in his pre-digitised form and the later, monstrous, shrivelled version. The determined, middle-distance stare in his eyes is chilling. In a film piled high with corpses, this is a close-quarters, intimate murder. The camera backs away from it in sorrow. Although the Hobbits are their own race, we tend to identify with them as a quasi-human, rustic peasantry, embodiments of the films’ nostalgic defence of traditional indigenous cultures: their home is fixed in time and place, while the forces of darkness are depicted destructively absorbing neighbouring territory.
In case you need proof that these Randomised posts are spontaneous, I can honestly say that I’m not sure what is going on in this picture. I haven’t rewatched the film to remind myself of where this moment fits in to the overall fabric of the film. Yep, I’m stumped. So let me take an ill-educated guess, and I’m happy to be corrected by a shoal of piranhic Ringers. Aragorn (Viggo Mortensen) is drinking not a joyous swig of ale but a sombre toast to the fallen people of the Rohirrim. The weight of responsibility is heavy upon him – note how he raises his cup out of synch with the others, his eyes directed at some spectral memory rather than focusing on the salute at hand. The shallow focus, and the wide eyes single out Aragorn as isolated within the composition. The slight diagonal framing tips the eye down to his face. But, something interesting will happen when you skip ahead to the fourth frame in this randomised selection. Almost exactly the same action is caught in the freeze frame…
At the siege of Minas Tirith a catapulted boulder descends into a crowd of Orcs. In a dizzying aerial tracking shot, we follow its course from launch to landing. Throughout the trilogy, Peter Jackson has linked locations with aerial views, repeatedly taking panoramic overviews of his Middle Earth to show its expanse, and to offset the sense of a set-based fabrication: we believe in this place because we’ve seen it from so many angles, from a distance and in extreme close-up. This technique carries over into shots like this, another extreme, perspectival journey. Jackson is an expert at finding these mad angles, putting his camera amidst the action is if it is driving and urging on the flight of the boulder into the ranks of the enemy. The digital soldiers are scattered by its impact, but we don’t look close enough to see pulverised bones, mangled limbs that might encourage even a glimmer of sympathy for the Orcs. Their annihilation must never be questioned, and their arrangement as computer-generated, game-sprite skittles supports this aim nicely.
… Note how this moment references the earlier drinking scene (see second image above). A more relaxed ritual, a pint after the extruded adventure of three long films. Surely every film should finish with a beer. Except perhaps The Seventh Seal. Frodo, like Aragorn before, is out of synch with the others. He is the one most deeply affected by the quest he has fulfilled, his life deadened by the intensity of what he has seen and felt. They are back in Hobbiton, and it should be a return to the start, a restoration of a pastoral equilibrium, but for Frodo he can’t achieve the same high. In the background (the staging in depth corrals the eye towards it), some other hobbits are rejoicing in the fruitful plenty of a giant pumpkin yield. There is no plenty for Frodo. Drink should be marking a celebration, echoing the revelry that occurred near the start of the journey in The Fellowship of the Ring, but instead, for Frodo at least, it is a marker of deathly memories, just as for Aragorn it was a gesture for the fallen, a sweet taste that reminds the living that they still have a foot in the sensual world and all of its simple pleasures.
Lord of the Rings official site.
Fansite The One Ring.
Kristin Thomson’s The Frodo Franchise website.
The Lord of the Rings Fanatics Network.
Erik Davis, “The Fellowship of the Ring” at Wired.
Suzanne Scott, “The Scouring of the Saga.“
CADAIR: Lord of the Rings research at the University of Aberystwyth.
Lord of the Rings articles at The Guardian.
Adaptation analysis at Books to Box Office.