Narrative and style

Style in and of itself can contribute to the narrative or it can undermine the narrative if it is not clearly dramatically purposeful. The elements of style most obvious to the viewer, are compositional elements—camera placement, movement, the juxtaposition of foreground and background people or things, the light, the sound, and, of course, the editing. Whether the filmmaker relies on the editing, the pace, to explain the narrative, or she avoids editing, moving the camera, using the planes within the frame to explain the narrative. More often style is associated with composition—naturalistic or stylized; however, editing, as I hope we've illustrated in this book, has its own style—ranging from directly expository to elliptical and metaphorical.

Two filmmakers who use a distinct style that serves the narrative well are Max Ophuls and George Stevens. In Caught (1949), Ophuls uses camera composition to create a style that beautifully fleshes out the narrative. A young woman, Leonora (Barbara Bel Geddes), wants to marry rich and she does. She marries Smith Ohlrig (Robert Ryan). He proves to be sadistic and cruel. She runs off and works for a Dr. Quinada (James Mason), in a poor, urban district of New York. They fall in love and the triangle is set. Will she find happiness or be destroyed for her original goal, material wealth? Ophuls uses the composition of Leonora and Smith at the outset to show his power over her. Whenever they are together the composition suggest control rather than love. Early in the film, Ophuls uses a similar composition where Smith is seeing his psychoanalyst. But here the power position in the composition belongs to the analyst. In the scene, Smith is so upset by an allegation that he wouldn't marry the girl, that he in fact calls and arranges the marriage. He will leave analysis and enter marriage to show the analyst that he himself is in control, not the analyst. The composition affirms the contrary.

Later in the film when Leonora leaves her husband, she works for Dr. Quinada. One evening, he takes her out for dinner. They dance and he proposes marriage. She tells him she loves him but that she has to clarify issues in her life (Ohlrig and the pregnancy she has just discovered). The commitment to and a visual rendering of the quality of the relationship is recorded in a single shot. Ophuls moves the camera as the lovers, in close-up, dance on the crowded dance floor. This gentle, elegant shot communicates everything about the future of this relationship.

The following shot uses three planes. In the foreground, Leonora's desk, as we pan to the left from the desk we see one partner, the obstetrician in the office, panning to the other side, Dr. Quinada. The two men talk about Leonora's disappearance and about Quinada's proposal. The obstetrician, knowing she is pregnant, suggests Quinada forget about her. The camera pans one direction or the other at least twice, but all the while Leonora's desk is in the close-up or middle-ground of the frame. Consequently, whatever the dialogue, we never forget what is being spoken about—Leonora. These two shots use movement, placement, and composition to create a sense of an entire relationship. This is style in brilliant service of the narrative purpose.

In George Stevens's A Place in the Sun (1951), the agenda is more complex. George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) comes east to take a job with his rich uncle. His own parents were religious and poor. He comes from a different class in spite of sharing the name Eastman. Early in the film, George is invited to the Eastman home. Having just arrived in town, he buys a suit. He then goes to see his mentor-to-be and his family. The wife and the two grown children are totally snobbish about their poor cousin. In order to create the sense of status or lack thereof, Stevens has George Eastman enter what seems to be a cavernous room. In the foreground, the wealthy Eastmans are seated. The patriarch is the only one to offer him a hand. In a series of carefully staged images, Stevens portrays the separateness of George Eastman from his relations. Stevens uses camera placement and a deep focus image. George Eastman is at the back of the frame. They also occupy the center while George is often placed to the side. When another guest arrives, she, Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor) sweeps into the room not even seeing George Eastman. By the staging, and using the planes of the composition,

Stevens suggests George Eastman is the forgotten man. He simply does not have the status to be a "real" Eastman. Again, the compositonal style underscores the theme of the narrative.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook


Post a comment