Every Frame a Painting

This is a fascinating series of videos.

The video blogger, Tony Zhou, digs into the art of the director and the cinematographer to talk about how they achieve their effects. For somebody like me, who is a dyed-in-the-wool narrative geek but doesn’t know the first thing about the craft of film, it’s like catnip: a chance to understand how one tells stories with images rather than words.

Mind you, I can’t quite follow everything he says. There are times where he’ll try to draw out a particular point, but its effect is subtle enough or he doesn’t unpack the idea enough or I don’t have enough basic grounding in film craft that I end up shrugging and thinking “okay, if you say so.” But many of them are just great, like “What Is Bayhem?”, wherein he dissects the work of Michael Bay. It isn’t about saying “oh, he’s such a genius” — he isn’t. Zhou’s thesis is that Bay imprinted on a couple of visual tricks and then BEATS THEM TO DEATH in every movie he makes. But it’s possible to identify what those tricks are, and to see he got them from or where other people try to copy him without understanding what he’s actually doing. It’s possible to put your finger on why you don’t like Michael Bay’s films (if indeed you do not like them) . . . because the man uses the same visual tricks without much regard for the material he’s using them on. It’s the equivalent of playing a piece of music all at one volume: there’s no dynamics, no contrast, just EVERYTHING IS EPIC ALL THE TIME. Even when the story itself is not actually being very epic at that moment.

I also loved the video on “Edgar Wright: How to Do Visual Comedy”. It hammered home for me some of the reasons why I find Wright’s movies to be a lot of fun, while a lot of other cinematic comedy bores me stiff. I’ve said before that the issue is one of content, and that’s true: I don’t find humiliation funny, I’m annoyed rather than amused by people acting so stupidly I’m not sure how they can even walk and talk at the same time, gross-out humour is just NO, and I’m very hit-or-miss with physical comedy. I like wittiness, and wittiness tends to be in short supply these days, at least in American comedy films. But it turns out there’s more to it than that. Zhou points out that so many movies have limited themselves to only one channel of humour, which is people standing around talking: they don’t use lighting or well-timed sound effects or matching scene transitions or soundtrack synchronization or things entering and leaving the frame in unexpected ways. (It was interesting, watching Galavant after seeing that video; I found myself noting the places where it employed a broader array of tools.) Using all those channels means you can vary your approach, make your point in different ways depending on the context.

Other particularly good ones: “Jackie Chan: How to Do Action Comedy.” “David Fincher: And the Other Way Is Wrong.” “A Brief Look at Texting and the Internet in Film.” All of them are interesting to watch, but I found those five the most comprehensible and eye-opening. If you have any interest in that sort of thing, they’re well worth taking a look at.

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