Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Contrast and Montage

In the clip below, made of Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's piece - Now We Are Free - there is superb use of montage effect and equally fine use of contrast. In fact the whole video is a treasure trove of sophisticated visual language.

Note how most of the shots feature a key contrast:
  • size - large against small
  • motion - movement against stillness
That level of contrast allows successive shots where there is minimal movement, but the key elements in the shot are moving against each other. This is an important facet of any form of storytelling, movement is always in relation to something.

I sometimes see student work where everything is moving quickfire, tension rises to a fever pitch and holds it. But continuous rapid movement needs to be against something that isn't rapidly moving, or it's like glancing across at another car next to you on the motorway, going at the same speed. Even though you're moving against the background, you're not against each other, you're still. A story which is nothing but constant movement, can actually flatline.

At 0:08 in the clip our eye focuses both on the boy's face and the water, because of their contrast. The effect of each is intensified because of what it is and what it isn't.

A writer can apply this process of contrast to many story elements:

  • light/shade
  • movement/stillness
  • dialogue/narrative description
  • spoken dialogue/body language 
  • a scene of intense emotionality/writing in extreme plainness
  • present/flashback
  • realistic representation/dreams
  • text/subtext
In the video below the use of contrast reaches its peak with the exquisite sequence from 1:00 to about 1:17 with the children running beneath the elephant's face in the rain. It takes an eye of some discernment to spot the angle to shoot from that intensifies that contrast, and these film-makers possess it.

Another thing that strikes me is the use of montage, where individual shots are layered one after another, and the glue between them is in the viewer's experience, the carry-over from one scene to the next. This is a facet of the reality of modern film. In the silent movies of the 1920's each scene was joined together by inserting a piece of written text that told something of the narrative. (e.g. ... meanwhile, the dastardly villain had kidnapped the heiress and taken her to his lair...) These insertions are a form of transition, corridors and lobbies in the story to take the reader from one scene to the next. Writers often insert these moments into the text, between scenes. e.g:
  • meanwhile, on the other side of town...
  • two weeks later, once he'd returned home from his trip...
  • the following year, they...
Or my particular favourite, from war stories:
  • That night, somewhere in Germany...  (usually written in old fashioned manual typeface)

But as readers and viewers we're capable of constructing such transitional moments in our heads, almost unconsciously, by making our own connections. We can and should be given space to do this.

In the Now We are Free filmclip they use the continuous stream of the music to glue the individual shots together, accentuated by the use of a single colour palette (variations of sepia.)

There are clips available on the 'net now, often created via a montage of 'found' materials that feature more artistry in a few minutes than many films have in 2 hours. Here's another example - also using the music of Lisa Gerrard. The shot of the 4 elephants standing up out of the water is stunning.

This is film-making so alive it breathes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment