Part II: Robert Ebert’s Tips & Tricks of The Trade

After reading Robert Ebert’s article entitled “How to Read a Movie,” I applied his techniques to each of the three video clips that I watched. The three clips that I analyzed were “Kubrick//One Point Perspective,” “The Shining//Zooms,” and “Tarantino//From Below”. The first video showed clips from movies such as The Shining that featured a clear example of a one-point perspective. Essentially, this means that the scene in the movie creates an image of exact symmetry for the viewer; all angles of the shot converge at a single point in the middle of the object that is used to create the perspective, such as the end of the hallway in the shining, of the two twins in the movie standing next to each other in a different scene of the same movie. That being said, I found that the first clip did not directly apply to any of the techniques in the article. However, the idea of analyzing a film by stopping at specific scenes chosen by the audience, like what he did with his college students early in his career, could prove effective when analyzing, examining, and discussing the impact of one-point perspectives in a specific movie and in practicing recognizing and deconstructing its implications and relevance. Because The Shining was included multiple times in this one video, this movie would be an excellent example of what a college professor such as Ebert could use to interact with his students. The students have the autonomy to identify the scenes featuring a one-point perspective and detail how they think it impacts the movie, such as immersing them further into the plot or allowing them to focus on a central, ominous object in the distance that influences their viewpoint of the film. Therefore, this analytical technique of Ebert’s could be effective when focusing on specific elements of film and repeatedly working with them, in this case being a one-point perspective. 

The second video that I analyzed, “The Shining//Zooms,” again featured The Shining, as implied by the title of course. One thing that I noticed right away in most of these scenes was that there was typically only one character in the frame when the zooming was occurring. To me, this would typically imply that they should be important to the audience at that moment. I also noted that they were almost always centered on the screen. Using the physical placement of actors, or characters, in a movie directly related to The Golden Ratio, or The Rule of Thirds, as discussed in Ebert’s article. He goes into detail about why the “intrinsic weight” that objects or people on the screen have is incredibly impactful on how the audience feels about something or someone when watching a film. He explained that, when a person is centered in the middle of the screen, the audience typically views them more like objects than elements of interest to them. He specifically states that “A centered person will seem objectified, like a mug shot” (Ebert, 2008) in reference to how placement sways the viewer’s opinions and feelings. Therefore, when I was watching each of these scenes that included the zooming in and out effect, I was able to see the lone actor in the scene from a different viewpoint. I looked at them more in terms of what was surrounding them; they seemed to blend into the ‘background’ of the shot, so to speak. The character was second to what was occurring around them, which is usually not the case when there is a living, breathing person featured in a movie. Because of my ability to see these clips differently than I would have before Ebert’s advice, I believe that his technique of using positioning to determine the positivity, negativity, or objectivity of a character is effective. I believe using this technique would be universally effective as well due to how intrinsic weight inherently functions when used intentionally be a filmmaker.

The third and final video clip that I examined called “Tarantino//From Below” featured a collection of movie clips in which the audience was viewing the action from a very low angle.  We were intended to look upwards towards the somewhat ominous figures above us. The technique of captivating the audience with a perspective in which we as the viewers look upwards is referenced in Ebert’s article. He explains that, as one might assume, when a camera is pointed upward from a point below the characters in the scene, they are meant to be perceived as dominant. He specifically says that “extreme high-angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods” (Ebert, 2008). Because I had this context going into this video, I focused on what the characters were doing in the scenes as opposed to where I was placed as a viewer based on the camera angle to enhance the effect of said angle. For most of the shots, the characters ‘above’ me were exerting control over something or someone out of our line of sight, but conveniently on top of us and below them. An example of this was one scene where a group of mourners sporting all-black outfits was viewing what I believe was an open casket; they have the power over that person because they possess the one thing that the deceased cannot have: a viable life. I would not have viewed the scene this way if I had not been exposed to Ebert’s explanation of the techniques before watching. I also noticed that the characters above my placement often had a physical weapon and were trying to cause someone physical harm or attempting to impose intimidation. This again reinforced Ebert’s narrative of the characters at that higher angle being perceived as ‘gods’. Therefore, considering the effect that Ebert’s suggestions had on my viewing experience and the fact that it could be applied across a wide variety of scenes in a one-and-a-half-minute clip alone, I believe that analyzing this element of perspective is effective when critically viewing a film.

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