Thursday, May 30, 2013

Composition: Good Tangents Part 1; The Matrix

Back in March of 2012 I posted about tangents.  Most of the time in my classes, students are so busy  creating an image that they tend to loose track of lines and the resulting tangents flatten the intended space and makes the image confusing.  As we continue to cover composition, I am posting screen grabs from two great films that use tangents to their advantage.  This post  focuses on the 1999 blockbuster, The Matrix.  Huge props go out to the directors, The Wachowski Brothers, Director of  Photography, Bill Pope, Editor, Zach Staenberg and the crew who put this together.  My favorite sequence isn't one of the action sequences or 'super hero' nature of the "bullet time" effects but the interrogation scene involving Agent Smith and Morpheus.  Hugo Weaving's performance is fantastic here and everything comes together quite well in this moment and the tangents in it act as divisions between the characters.  You will find these 'divisions' throughout from start to finish especially in sequences that describe Neo's education in the world of the Matrix.  The "Morpheus is fighting Neo" (better known as the "I know Kung Fu") scene is full of these divisions and is a lot of fun to watch from a cinematographic stand point, but the interrogation of Morpheus is the best part IMO.
 The Scene starts will the pulling of a metal chair.  (Everything in the Matrix is harsh and non-organic, especially interrogation chairs.) Camera tracks and dollys with the chair to cut on Morpheus.  Note the seam in the paneled wall behind Morpheus, it sits forcibly between Morpheus and Smith.
 Smith sits casually, quite comfy in the metal chair, very much in control.  But Morpheus is shot at exactly the camera length and height as Smith.  They have equal weight at this point and this it's an even battle of wills.  We do cut away at this point , but luckily we come back quickly.
 The Virus dialogue.  Despite it all, one could say Smith is pretty correct in his observations about humans and viruses.  The two still have equal weight.  Smith leans in on Morpheus and almost breaks that division.
 The lean in allows for a new shot setup; a close up with a slight low angle on Smith followed by nearly the same setup on Morpheus. Cut away again.
 Cut back to "The Serum isn't working" "Maybe we are asking the wrong questions." Leading Smith to get up and move across the room to a new division.  "Leave me with him...Now"  Smith has been allowed to establish a new position in space, he is on the opposite side of Morpheus and new divisions can be seen.
 Cut to Morpheus in frontal,slightly lower than his eye line to show his strength and also to visually complete the cross of space.  large black frames in the window as well as the rhythms of the building in the background act as bars in Morpheus' 'cage'.
 Morpheus is in a dark place, camera is higher on him now, he is slowly loosing the fight, still divided by the background from Smith.  Cut to Smith (in the light though hinting at the darkness) who pulls off his glasses and the ear piece. He is going to bare all in an attempt to win the struggle.
Camera still slightly higher off Morpheus' eye line as we OTS off the very close Smith. Cut to Smith, the camera is lower than his eye line, giving him a little more power, he is pushing in on the division.  Building on the tension, that dark line is an implied, weak force field separating Smith from what he wants.
 Smith gets closer, still, to the tangent division.  Another thing that is happening here is Smith's dialogue; the only one who is telling truth or giving anything away is Smith at this point.  "I hate this place, this prison"  High on Morpheus OTS Smith now very close, tension mounts.
Morpheus is about to loose this battle of the minds, he is very low in the shot as Smith looms over him.  Smith's finger enters shot and "breaks" the line as the Matrix "twinkle"sound is heard, Smith's hand passes or CROSSES the line, the last barrier to get inside Morpheus' head.
 OTS off Smith on Morpheus, Smith's hand on Morpheus' head, his shoulder trapping Morpheus, almost cradling Morpheus head.  Cut to Smith, crossing the division almost completely.
 He takes Morpheus' head, as Morpheus' struggles, division-less.
 Finally Smith in Extreme Close Up, OTS off of Morpheus.  His head overlaps Smith, their foreheads visually touching, begin the 'mind meld'...only to be interrupted by the other Agents...and a helicopter...

Stay tuned for the second look at 'good' tangents, coming soon.  Thanks for stopping by.

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