Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Grammar of Film

For this analysis I would like to take three shots from a very memorable scene of probably one of the most famous westerns and one of my favorites films of all time, I’m talking about the 5 minute standoff near the end of The Good, the Bad & the Ugly. I will take three shots from the scene and focus on their denotative and suggestive meaning, discussing how they work in relation to the whole scene.

First let’s consider the shot used when our three character’s the Good (Eastwood), the Bad (Van Cleef) and the Ugly (Wallach) get in their respective positions for the showdown. This is a Long Shot (LS) or sometimes referred to the establishing shot because it is at it farthest distance from the characters and the emphasis falls on the background, the location where the action is taking place.

In this case, the shot comes a little over 2 minutes from the start of the standoff, however by this time the location had already been established. But now as the music builds up and the characters position themselves in their standoff, this shot orients us in regards to where exactly each character is going to be located at and where in the graveyard they are going to be fighting. In this capture it is not very clear, but the individual in the middle is the Bad, the character at the far left is the Ugly and the Good is at the far right. This shot important since it establishes the position of all the characters in regards to each other and subsequently as the scene progresses this is very imperative since the films cuts back and forth from Close-ups of the character gazing at each other for any sudden moves and if it wasn’t for this shot it would have been difficult to spot right away who he is gazing at

Besides orienting us, this shot isolates our characters as well, they are reduced to three specks on-screen and the sweeping vistas take our attention. The mountains far in the background, the surrounding graves over power our characters and so their isolation is suggested. There isn’t anywhere they could run to if say one decides to avoid the standoff, also there isn’t anybody around that could alter the outcome. In other words these characters are alone.

Now at the other end of the spectrum we have the Close-up (CU). As the scene continues we will cut from close-up to close-up of each character and we as viewers will be able to appreciate more in detail their facial expressions and consequently understand their emotions.

For this example let’s concentrate on the Bad. In his close-up we appreciate his facial expression, his hard edge lines around his eyes as he squints. He is looking off-screen to the right of the frame and if we go back to the LS, we can deduce that he is looking at the Good. Judging from his face we could say that he is rather worried of that character and as a later shot shows his hand slowly advances from his pistol as he is afraid to make any sudden move that would cause the Good to draw. In a Medium shot (MS) such detail would have been lost. The facial expression wouldn’t have been clear and the slow movement might not have been registered by the audience.

Near the end of the scene the most predominant shot are Extreme Close-ups of the characters’ eyes.  With these eye level shots we enter the character’s perspective, at the subsequent shot we can deduce that we are seeing what the character is so sharply looking at. In other words, the purpose of these types of shot is for us to identified with the character and gain his perspective. In this case the same happens with the three characters and so we identified and we see what our three characters see as they approach the end of their standoff and its going to have to be draw or die.

In the end each shot literary presents us with information, either the spatial relationship between the characters, important details as their facial gestures and faint hand movements however they also suggest meaning when taken account with the rest of the film or scene. An LS isolates our characters in their showdown a CU stresses their emotions and their shots at eye level places the viewer inside their perspective.


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