Reflection: Robert Ebert & Cinema Techniques

Robert Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie” takes the reader through various different cinema concepts that we have all seen before, whether we knew it or not. Concepts like the golden ratio or the rule of thirds. If you aren’t sure about these two concepts here are two Wikipedia articles: Golden Ratio & Rule of thirds. These are techniques that we have seen all around us our whole lives. Ebert explains in simplistic terms that, “Right is more positive, left more negative”. This is why you will often see the main character shot on the right side of most scenes in which they intend to draw contrast. For example, they could have the antagonist on the left part of the screen in the background while the protagonist is on the right side of the screen in the foreground. Another method noted by Ebert is that, “Extreme high angle shots make characters into pawns; low angles make them into gods”. This method makes complete sense to me, it is easy as the reader to picture this. If the camera is pointed way down toward a character it minimizes them into some character just taking part in the game. If the camera is from a low angle it exaggerates their frame making them so much more powerful than they actually are. Here is an example of an excellent low-angle shot:

Here is an example of a well done high-angle shot:

The difference between these two picture is drastic. In the picture of the Joker, you can tell he is in control. This type of shot carries with it a very specific visual language to the audience. It is powerful. Now on the other-hand, the high-angle shot is done to minimize the characters. It is showing that even though they are super heroes they are vulnerable, just like everyone else.

The Shining – Zooms

As the scene starts the camera is zooming along with the car, almost as if the director is drawing the audience in to the next part. It seems that in The Shining zoom is mainly used in order to build suspense for the audience. A zoom outward or inward in combination with suspenseful music can create quite a spooky atmosphere. They often use zoom to do one of two things in this movie. Firstly, they start very close to the subject an zoom outward until you’re able to see the entire environment. Secondly, they start in a big landscape and slowly zoom into the subject. A good example of this is to watch every zoom on Dick Hallorann.

Tarantino – From Below

This is a great example of the low-angle shots that we were referring to earlier. Quentin Tarantino is a master of the low-angle shot. He is forcing the audience to think of the subject matter as strong or powerful. This technique is very effective at building characters in movies.

I learned a lot by reading Robert Ebert’s “How to Read a Movie” and reviewing some of the techniques in the videos above. I had no idea how prevalent all these concepts are in nearly every movie. I think I will come away from this week with an new appreciation for good directors that are able to do so much with only cinema techniques. It is a way for them to communicate with the audience without outright just telling them information. It makes the audience feel like they are coming to the conclusion themselves.

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