Does Tom Hooper nearly ruin Les Miserables with constant close ups?
When actors study their craft, be it the method, the Miesner technique, Adler, or any other of the many forms taught around the globe, they are taught to use their entire body. Movement, often dance is taught to the students so they will understand how important the use of their entire being is in any performance.
When Hannibal Lector makes his first appearance in The Silence of the Lambs (1991) he is standing erect in the middle of his cell, as if at attention, his entire body taut, ready for the meeting he already knows is going to happen, like a predator patiently waiting for its prey. That was a decision made by actor and director, knowing already that the audience had heard so much about the character, they decided how best to allow that first visual. There are close ups in the film, several of Lector’s face, up close and personal, but the director, Jonathan Demme also knew when to pull back, when not to move in so tight.
In Stanley Kubrick’s mesmerizing A Clockwork Orange (1971) so much of Malcolm MacDowell’s character, of what we think of him, is decided upon how he moves. The actor moves throughout the film with a jaunty step, almost cocky, until beaten down at the end only to rise again at the end, going back to his violent ways. Sure we see him close up as he relishes the idea of going back to his life of crime, but Kubrick had the wisdom to allow the actor to create so much of his character with his body, therefore shot at a distance. Edwin S. Porter began moving the camera in 1902 with a simple pan, something DW Griffith built upon when he and cameraman Billy Blitzer created many of the shots that are used to this day. Though it might seem primitive to us today, they were actually creating a cinematic language way back in 1908-1915, culminating in Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915).
The template they created for shots is the same used today with some small variations, and only the iris shot rarely used, though it is present in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights (1997) and Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011).
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