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Sunday, July 09, 2006


Ja, Herr Direktor?

I was drinking a lot last night and watching Mission Impossible 2 at my Aunt & Uncles'. I kept noticing that in one of the later scenes the light was completely inconsistent from side to side. Tom Cruise was in the same location, unable to move because all the evil henchmen were shooting at him. However, every time the camera cut back to him the light was either shining on the left or the right side of his face. It was always blue but it kept changing source location, as if shot at different times (pickups?).

So now I'm wondering how important it is to be obsessed with absolute lighting continuity. Is it just better to not be distracting, to make sure that what needs to be lit stays lit? The scene played out fine and I will admit I was specifically looking for the lighting.

But what I did notice about that weak-storied movie is that every aspect contained tension. Contrast in color (characters moved quickly from very bright to very dark), contrast in music (loud, quiet, loud, quiet) and contrast in pace of cutting (constant speed up & slow down). They made up for a lacking story with a very tense style that led to simple payoffs.

I'd really rather be analyzing something better but this has been on my mind since last night.

The loud/soft dichotomy as a means of heightening tension -- that's a common device used in orchestral music since... well, pretty much as long as we've had orchestras. Rock and folk have pretty much abandoned this, which is a shame. Radio stations compress the hell out of everything to the point that you wouldn't hear this even if it were used.

Of course, much of it is left over from the vinyl era, when a quiet passage meant that the music was being overshadowed by clicks and pops. But CDs and their brood have overcome this, and modern classical albums take full advantage of it. It's a shame popular music hasn't caught up.

Many films -- particularly action and scifi films -- are afraid to have passages that are too quiet as well, which robs the work of scope and dimension.

It's a public speaking maxim that a good way to get a crowd's attention is to speak lower. They'll strain to hear you a little, and pay more attention to eke meaning out of your not-quite mumbling.
Creating dramatic tension for all the senses involved in watching a movie always makes for a better movie. Tension and contrast in light, color, sound, music, volume, pacing, story, character, etc., has to be considered every single moment of screen time without it becoming an obvious burden on the audience.
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