In this essay, I will be explaining how filmmakers have used film techniques and styles to create meaning and engage the audience. I will be writing about cinematography and sound while analysing the films ‘my darling clementine’ and ‘north by northwest’.
What patterns of cinematography are evident in My Darling Clementine and how do they serve the purposes of that film?
The structure of the film is straightforward and symmetrical. the movie starts with an ill-fated encounter between the Earps and the Clantons and the movie ends with a firefight and an unguaranteed promise to return.
Ford and his cinematographer, Joseph P. McDonald, have been able to portray Wyatt Earp as the contemplative loner using many beautiful long shots of contrast.
In the final gunfight, Ford uses extreme wide shots of the deserted town, the menacing sight of the three diminutive statures approximating while the camera captures a visual commotion of flying dust and running horses.
Ford also expresses the landscape in an artistic manner by using low-key lighting giving a higher contrast - making the character’s face darker and adding more light in the background to convey a dramatic and mysterious mood in the shot.
The lighting adds to the gritty and harsh nature of the landscape, the town, and the characters in John Ford's Western My Darling Clementine (1946). For dramatic effect, the filmmaker Joseph MacDonald relies heavily on source lighting. Much of the movie is filmed for the same purpose as low-key lighting without using a lot of fill power. There are also strong signs of light direction, indicating where the source is located. Day-for-night photography is used for many of the night outdoor scenes, which adds dramatic effect and sometimes makes the night sky look on fire.
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The film is structured on contrasts, and similar visual contrasts are created by the low-key lighting: the theme of the film is the coming of civilization to the West. Throughout Ford's poetic movie, the western city of Tombstone becomes the point where wild forces (the wild landscape, the rugged backdrops of the Monument Valley, the violent Clantons, the Mexican whore of Chihuahua) and civilised forces (the urban barbershop, the dining room, the new church and school, the' respectable' Earps, the cultivated education of Doc Holliday, Clementine the schoolmarm) meet (Dirks).
The opening sequences demonstrate the use of philtres to take out Monument Valley sky and clouds as the Earps drive their cattle across the valley floor. The lighting through most of this opening sequence evokes a film that uses only natural sunlight as a source, adding to the scene's authenticity and contributing to the landscape's gritty and rugged look. The West and its denizens are not prettified by this Western. Instead, the West here is approached by Ford as a hard place to live and a place populated by hard people. Those who seem to be "belonging" to this environment will be contrasted with Clementine, who does not belong, especially in Wyatt Earp's eyes.
Throughout the film, he uses lighting and camera shots to portray the character’s emotional state in different occasions. For example, in the shot above it was underexposed and using a low angle shot on purpose to illustrate Chihuahua’s point of view. In this case, chihuahua finished her procedure and by covering most of Doc’s face in order to emphasise that she’s half-conscious.
The first wide shot of the town (Tombstone) couldn’t appear darker, however, we can determine the contours of the town and therefore the superficial lighting from the indoors creates a peculiar spectrum of evanescence. It ought to be engulfed up by a large pitch-black void.
Either way, the town appears, at the same time, strong and precarious, substantial and weak. In the encompassing darkness that appears throughout the film; Ford’s visual principle, whether inferred or explicit, is to have a clear purpose.
Focusing on North by Northwest, I will be explaining how film sound functions to dramatize the story narrated by the film.
In movies, narratives alone are often unable to describe the feelings of a character or are unable to indicate the desired emotions as a whole. That's why good use of the soundtrack is key to a good film, and Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann do impeccable work in this regard.
The different songs that play during the more than two hours of film are perfectly selected and fit first with what they want to transmit to us. Herrmann used a musical structure based on motifs associated with specific themes or characters, so that the music was not a mere adornment of the images but introduces relevant narrative content into the narrative.
The clearest example of this is seen in the sequence of the plane, where we notice before the plane arrives, that something is going to happen.
The intervention of music in " North by Northwest" is a masterful example of how a film composer puts into practice the technique of variation at the highest level of development, as Adorno and Eisler mention in his work "Composing for the Films".
The material used by Bernard Herrmann in this film, which originally is not very extensive, is subjected with great skill to all kinds of transformations to adapt to the character and purposes pursued in each sequence of the film.
Herrmann's score composed for this film thus becomes a true treatise on film composition, where the aforementioned technique of variation is masterfully exploited over and over again.
The musical material consists of four main themes, the first of which is the one that generates the main motif, we could say almost ubiquitous in most of the scenes, appearing alternately to the other tracks, also subjected to various transformations of the characters.
But during the film, this music will also be the predominant in the scenes of persecution and danger. A clear example is a scene in which the protagonists, Roger Thornhill, and Eve. While they try to escape from the villains Eve ends up falling down the cliff and Roger is desperately trying to save her life. The scene gets cut abruptly once he holds her hand and changes to the ending scene with the sound of the train.
The rhythm of the film is fast-paced from start to finish and changes to some extent the way of conceiving action scenes, without going further the mythical airplane scene (video above), it's daytime, outdoors and with hardly any dialogue or if you want sound, something that was totally inexperienced even at that time.
The theme is presented with a music with winds and percussion, rhythmic, abrupt and with very strong accents, which crescendo increasing the tension from the beginning of the film.
The theme is already marking the genre of the story, a tension that is caused by the constant ill-usage that the protagonist suffers attempting to flee from all the issues that he must face.
This Leitmotif of action, with certain variations, appears, in all those moments when the protagonist is at risk.
For example, the scene where Roger Thornhill gets drunk, and they put him in the car at full speed to fall on a cliff and thus get rid of him; when Vandamm's men appear in the hotel elevator and try to capture him; after the United Nations murder and everybody assumes that Roger was the guilty man and is forced to flee the building; After the plane crashes into the truck – a sequence in which it would be obvious that the leitmotif appeared, since the character is in danger, but that does not happen until the final climax, when the plane ends up colliding, creating a powerful explosion and finally in the mythical and final sequence that unfolds the chase on Mount Rushmore with the young Eve Kendall.
The theme of love between the protagonists Roger Thornhill and Eve Kendall may lead to another of the Leitmotifs created by the composer. It is a music orchestrated by string instruments with great romanticism and longing that emerges whenever the protagonists reveal their relationship of love.
The first time the leitmotiv appears is when they are chatting in the train car where a strong attraction develops between the two characters.
The leitmotif of love will close the final theme of the play when both characters manage to escape death after that endless chase on Mount Rushmore, thus concluding the story with the mythical "happy end".
This technique is used to override any trace of music at a time as crucial as the one that develops, is something experimental and modern that Hitchcock addresses in this magnificent masterpiece. The reason? The filmmaker wanted to "create tension through temporary exasperation, by making time known."
In this scene from the picture above, it starts with a conversation between Roger and the professor and then they start talking about their mission, but as soon as the audience is about to know what their strategy is to save Eve, a plane begins to depart, making a very loud noise interrupting the moment they announce their plan. The intention of this scene is to intrigue and make the audience engage more in the film.
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The vast majority of the mix in the music is predominant, this means that it gives great importance to the music in the actions of the narration, intensifying the emotions of the characters, and therefore, of the viewer as well. The music is in the foreground, without going so far as to cover the diegetic sound, but that Herrmann directs very well, controlling the intensity and levels in the high and necessary moments of the act.
In North by Northwest, extradiegetic music is used from start to finish, from the beginning of the work with a recurring theme music that will be present throughout the narrative. That is why its musical structure will be based on actions and characters in concrete, solving in an exceptional way the function of leitmotiv. It thus manages to underline events and even anticipate dramatic content in the audio-visual work.
It's my impression after an evaluation of the sound in this film that the sounds are very realistic. At this time, the software focused on making a film sound realistic. To make more of an emotional impact on the viewer, today's movies have more non-diegetic sounds. The suspensive music in this film refers to the film's theme. Thornhill's film is about trying to clear his identity and solve the mystery. There are scenes that also add to the theme of enigmatic music. Such two music styles also apply to the movie genre. Suspensive and slow / mysterious music contributes to a mystery thriller genre, which are the genres that fall into this movie.
In conclusion, the main points about my analysis that I think are pertinent to the issues regarding cinematography and sound are:
Cinematography is a science as well as an art. It may be difficult to seek to create scenes that elicit powerful emotional responses in viewers. The cinematography is very important because it involves a lot of elements – camera shots, angles, contrast, tonalities and exposures to illustrate a scene for a certain purpose in the film. For instance, overexposure is normally used in contemporary American films and tv series to showcase a symbolic for a magical effect.
In short, cinematography is important because without it, the story couldn't be told so easily. The music and sound can serve multiple purposes that are either essential on the movie's emotional aspect or enhance the storytelling.
Sound is a powerful technique because it makes the audience engage more and it spontaneously appeals to something deep in human perception. It also gives a new value to sound. By adjusting certain sound levels, it can give a bigger impact to the audience in different ways depending on the genre of the film, for instance, in a horror movie – a scary scene normally begins with a suspense; no sound at first but then a loud sound is abruptly introduced into the scene in order to frighten the viewers.
- Film Art: An Introduction 12th edition (pg. 160-215)
- Film Art: An Introduction 12th edition (pg. 263-302)
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