If you were asked what John Carpenter’s They Live had in common with the campy 1980s sci-fi pastiche The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai Across the Eight Dimension, the first answer to come to mind might have something to do with aliens; I’m going to examine the way that a hidden truth, or additional story/film layer is exposed to some characters within the epistemic system of a film.
I suppose the moral here is: You must be careful what you pretend to be… because in the end you are what you pretend to be. - Howard W Campbell, Jr
There are many interesting facets of the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel about the fictional Howard W. Campbell, Jr, a self-described American spy who functioned as a Nazi propagandist during World War II; I’m going to focus on one particular series of scenes during the third act of the film.
Scorsese’s The Departed netted the venerable director his second “Best Director” Academy Award and only his first “Best Picture” Academy Award in his entire 20+ year career, despite being a remake of another film.
Many film critics and scholars have examined the film’s themes and visuals, but I would like to concentrate on a single character’s introduction and early visualization on the screen: Nicholson’s Frank Costello.
This is the second part of a series examining the “reveal” shots in “The Adventures of Baron Munchausen”.
The previous installment of this series is also available.
Terry Gilliam is, in my opinion, one of the great distinctive film directors of the latter part of the 20th century. Books have been written – literally – about his techniques and his rather unique style of filmmaking. I’m going to focus on one of my favorite films of his, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, to study Gilliam’s artful reveal shots.
This is a deconstruction of a single scene in Netflix’s House of Cards, from the fourth episode of the third season.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage, and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. - Macbeth, Shakespeare
We’ve become accustomed to viewing film, whether consciously or subconsciously, as a separate world with its own intrinsic epistemology. It represents a false world constructed within our own world – much like a play or other piece of narrative fiction.
Certain films exhibit a layering of realities – a “film within a film”, or “mise en abyme” – which can be used as a powerful narrative tool or as a metaphor for some larger concept. By interweaving stories within stories, a more complex tale can emerge which can be more intricate than the stories would be if told separately.
This continues the analysis from my previous article on epistemology in film. It makes more sense in the context of the first part.
Narrative exposition, or simply exposition, is the insertion of important background information within a story; for example, information about the setting, characters’ back-stories, prior plot events, historical context, etc. (from Wikipedia)
Within the confines of the skeleton of a film work (the script), there are many ways to impart information which would not otherwise be assumed by the viewer or implied by the filmmaker. I posit that the way in which expository information is imparted to a viewer via the medium of film is as important if not more important than the information which is being imparted.
As with any other aspect of film as an art form and medium, there isn’t a single “correct” way of doing anything. There isn’t one particular correct framing which needs to be used for a shot, not only a single focal length lens or camera brand which would have to be used to get the only valid shot possible – and in much the same vein, there are many different more-or-less-equally-correct methods of imparting that information. I’d like to explore the mechanisms and caveats of each of them.