Dialectical Cinematography

Spike Lee also creates conflicts in Do the Right Thing through selfconsciously expressionistic cinematographic effects. These heighten the visual excitement of the action and add intensity to the slowly building plot tensions in a way that is reminiscent of, if not directly influenced by, techniques Eisenstein discussed nearly seventy years earlier in his essays on film form. Eisenstein wrote "Absolute realism is by no means the correct form of perception."13 By this he means that the representation of objects realistically, according to the proportions proper to them, is not nearly as emotionally expressive as when the artist departs from reality. The greater the disparity or perceived conflict between the expected pro portions and the artist's deviation from them, Eisenstein believed, the greater the emotional power of the work of art. Using the portraits of eighteenth-century Japanese artist Sharaku as an example, Eisenstein points out that the proportions are impossible: "The space between the eyes comprises a width that makes mock of all good sense. The nose is almost twice as long in relation to the eyes as any normal nose would dare to be, and the chin stands in no sort of relation to the mouth; the brows, the mouth, and every feature—is hopelessly misrelated." According to Eisenstein, Sharaku "repudiated normalcy" in his representations in order to better express the psychic essence of his subjects.14

Eisenstein even claims that the disproportionate depiction of an event is natural to us and has its roots in children's drawings. He points to an example of a drawing by a child of a stove being lit. The firewood, the stove, and the chimney are all represented fairly realistically, but in the center of the picture appear huge zigzag forms which turn out to be matches. "Taking into account the crucial importance of these matches for the depicted process," Eisenstein observes, "the child provides a proper scale for them." Eisenstein connects this process to cinematic form: "Is this not exactly what we of the cinema do temporally . . . when we cause a monstrous disproportion of the parts of a normally flowing event, and suddenly dismember the event into 'close-up of clutching hands' . . . 'extreme close-up of bulging eyes' ... in making an eye twice as large as a man's full figure?"15 In his essay "A Dialectical Approach to Film Form," Eisenstein lists additional ways a filmmaker can move beyond a realistic rendition of the world to add psychological expressiveness to the images depicted. Two of his methods are especially evident in the cinematography of Do the Right Thing: "Conflict between matter and viewpoint (achieved by spatial distortion through camera-angle)" and "Conflict between matter and its spatial nature (achieved by optical distortion by the lens)."16

Examples of expressive spatial distortions through the use of extreme camera angle abound in Do the Right Thing: numerous shots are taken from extreme high angles, low angles, and Dutch angles (when the cameraman tilts the camera so that the entire image looks askew or off-balance). Lee uses extreme high and low skewed angles for humorous effect when he photographs Da Mayor (Ossie Davis) from the point of view of Mother Sister (Ruby Dee). The camera looks down on him from on high, making him seem small in the frame, the visual expression of Mother Sister's disdain for the old drunk. Correspondingly, Mother Sister is photographed from an extreme low angle to give a heightened sense of her

Dutch Angle Shot The Right Thing
Figure 64. To increase the sense of menace, Ernest Dickerson shot Radio Raheem's face in a big close-up with an extreme (10mm) wide-angle lens. (Do the Right Thing, 1989, Universal City Studios.)

power as a supreme superego figure whose esteem Da Mayor tries to win throughout the film. Later in the film when he gains her respect, the extreme angles on Da Mayor and Mother Sister cease.

The most extreme camera angles in the film are used in the cinematic treatment of Radio Raheem. He is usually shot from both an extreme low angle—making his huge body seem even larger and hence more overpowering and intimidating—and from extremely askew Dutch angles, visual forewarnings of the destabilizing role his presence will play in the film's denouement. Moreover, Lee achieves the effect Eisenstein calls "conflict between matter and its spatial nature (achieved by optical distortion by the lens)" when he shoots Radio Raheem's face in a big close-up using an extreme (10mm) wide-angle lens. The effect is to distort his facial features in a way that adds to a sense of his menace. (See figure 64.)

In two separate incidents Lee distorts time in a manner reminiscent of Eisenstein's prolonging the action on the Odessa Steps in The Battleship Potemkin, by repeating the same shots. When Mookie visits his girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez) Lee overlaps the action of her opening her arms to embrace him so that she appears to embrace him twice. When Mookie throws the garbage can through the window of Sal's Pizzeria, the action also appears twice on the screen. First we see it from a perspective outside the shop, and then again from within. In both cases the overlapping editing gives heightened dramatic expressiveness and emphasis to these two important moments in his film. As Charles Musser observes: "Lee intertwines the styles of artifice and realism most forcefully in two privileged moments which twin all the principal oppositions around which the film is built. . . one attached to love, one attached to hate—one to the private world of family, one to the public world of work. It is at such moments that Lee's dialectics work most effectively."17

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    Do the right thing dutch angle?
    9 years ago
    Do the right thing cinematography effects?
    9 years ago

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