Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cinemastudies courtesy of Orson Welles (er, um, make that *George Barnes*??!?) - 3MB

For today's lesson we turn to the 1944 production of Jane Eyre, a beautifully-filmed movie brimming with incredible visuals and powerful (if sometimes over the top) acting. You know the drill by now if you've been a Darkmatters reader for any length of time... click the thumbnail to start the clip downloading in another window as you read this.

This film is on my Must-See list for any aspiring cinematographer or anyone wanting to learn how to tell a story with a movie camera. Every time I watch it I get new ideas for how to set up and execute shots. Orson Welles stars, and while he's not credited as such, he also played a large part behind the camera (for which he refused to take screen credit). I especially like the first 20 minutes, in which Peggy Ann Garner plays the young Jane and Elizabeth Taylor plays her friend Helen. Peggy totally embodies the strength and spirit that makes Jane Eyre so enduring, and for my money, she's far stronger in the part than Joan Fontaine, who plays the full grown Jane (rather blandly IMHO).

Anywho, that's not what led me to write up this entry. Rather it's about the cinematography, which really does bear the genius stamp of Mr. "We'll sell no wine before its time" Welles! As witness the shot posted above.

The above pic isn't a thumbnail to open another clip, it's just an image of the first frame in the shot I want to discuss.
First note the use of steam.... elements like steam, mist, sparkling water or trees moving in the wind always liven up a scene (in live action of course.... almost impossible in pure stopmo!). It's been backlit here to make it stand out and emphasize its translucency. But also it begins a diagonal arcing movement from right to left that will be the key element throughout the lengthy and complex shot. Watch the way the camera follows that arc to discover the doctor leaning over Lizzy Taylor in her sickbed. But it doesn't stop there, oh no! It continues, and he stands to remain in frame, until it finds evil Mister Brocklehurst. All this has just been lead-in, introducing the 3 people in the room briefly and their situations, before pausing on Brocklehurst for his little speech. Masterful I tell ya!!! The camera moves like a living thing... note the way it pauses on the group of two men for a second, then moves a little to frame B-hurst better as the other man walks out of frame - CONTINUING THE ARC THAT THE CAMERA BEGAN!!! Actually there's more to it than that.... I keep finding more little thingsas I watch in order to write this. When the camera begins its movement, there's just a little touch of Anticipation... it sort of wobbles just slightly like a little windup before it starts the arc. Probably the camera operator couldn't help it, but it adds a lot of life. I prefer this kind of move to a totally mechanical one. Then, it's almost dizzying when the doctor stands up as the camera moves past him... so much moving all at once... there's almost no solid frame of reference... until it finds Brocklehurst planted in his stolid stiffness like a pole in the center of the room. His rocklike solidity seems to stop the camera briefly, but when the doctor moves behind him it follows once again, awakened from the trance B-hurst put it under briefly. This shot is a masterpiece!

But amazingly enough, it's followed almost IMMEDIATELY by another prize-winner!!! A few seconds in, we come to THIS shot:

Here the camera finds the new positions of the two men after the shuffling that took place (partly) in the previous shot (and partly off camera). That in itself is cool.... sort of a visual puzzle solving itself. Plus we have an awesome example of a doorway being used as a framing device. This plus the light in the room and his overly religious attitude combine to turn Brocklehurst into almost a religious icon, some stiff-necked statue in a church or a cemetary, complete with droning sound! But.... get this.... that remarkable arcing action that began in the last shot (not counting the almost still shot of E.T. laying in her bed) isn't finished yet! Here it isn't the camera that's moving, but a character - and he's taking the light with him, and at the same time changing the set itself (by closing the door). It's almost like he's forcing the set to respond to his presence, removing the light that illuminated his private psuedo-religious niche and thus rendering it empty (it will soon be empty of life as well) AND closing the door, which in itself isn't that big a deal, except that it utterly transforms the deep-space (which is a trademark of Welles) tunnel-like set into a flat shallow space that now serves as a backdrop behind the two men in a mid shot:

.... The camera hasn't moved since the last pic I posted, and yet the two shots look completely different!

I could go on and on (as I'm sure you know by now... ), but I won't. Just watch the scene a few times, and marvel at the masterful camera moves, the way they work in relation to character movement and lighting. Then the reveal on little Jane and the way she reverses the movement.... breathtaking!!! If Brocklehurst was strong enough earlier to briefly arrest the arcing movement of the camera, Jane is strong enough (small and hidden though she is) to completely reverse it! Movement in the next succession of shots is now left to right, ending with the same teakettle, only from a different angle so that now even the steam is blowing left to right. Ah, I'm not worthy!!! Makes me want to steal the cinematography!!!

Seriously, watching excellent 'tography like this makes me think of ways I want to build sets so I can stage similar shots. And this brings up something I mentioned in an earlier Cinemastudies post.... great cinematorgaphy like this doesn't take place in simple rectangular sets. Here it's two rooms joined by a door, and by careful framing and successive camera placement the camera operator (I won't go into whether it was Welles or the actual DoP George Barnes) was able to create impressive artistic cinematography.

Well, like everything these days, this film has found its way to YouTube: Jane Eyre 1944. It's uploaded in several chunks, but with big pieces missing (and of course with that godawful YouTube compression!). So consider this a teaser for the newly released DVD, which includes two different commentary tracks (and is available through Netflix as well). When I first discovered this little gem in one of my latenight AMC sessions and was intrigued enough to go in search of, there was no US DVD available, so I have some kind of Malaysian or Indonesian import.


Anonymous said...

My post here represents, maybe about 500 lurkers, and so, your extensive keyboarding tapped-out observations & analysis, are of great 'Info Sponging' value :)


Darkstrider said...

Thanks LIO! And hey, tell your nephew I said hi.

I know, I did something here that almost ensures this post wouldn't get any reponses..... I debuted it in email to basically all the people who would otherwise have commented here on the blog... so they've already made their comments privately. So I really wasn't expecting to get any more comments. It's all good!

Paul (Vortex42) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paul (Vortex42) said...

Just made a concerted effort to remember my Blogger password so I could log in and drop you a note from the land of sauerkraut.

I thought your analysis of the sequence was passionate and insightful. The importance of each character really is detailed beautifully by the camera move. The veil of fog between the young girl and the lady in bed looks significant.

Enjoyed the sequence a great deal, and will endeavour to pick up the film at some point soon.

(I wish Blogger would just let you edit posts rather than having to delete them to make corrections... We are really spoiled over at the SMA boards).

Darkstrider said...

Thanks Paul!

Ah yes, I had comletely missed the symbolic significance of the steam!

Funny you said the "lady" in the bed... it's actually a very young Elizabeth Taylor.... I don't remember exactly, but maybe 13 or 14? Anyway, she does look quite a bit older.

Paul (Vortex42) said...

In honesty it had been a good while between seeing the clip and actually getting to reply, So for some reason I thought there was a Lady in the bed (was Liz Taylor ever not a Lady?). ;)

Darkstrider said...

Ah, so true, so true!!!

And wow, I can't believe I missed this before too, but the shadow of that mist falling across her pale little face.... amazing!!!

Funny how as blatant as this kind of symbolism is once we've ferreted it out, we often are utterly blind to it on first inspection (and second, and third.... ). But then, once having spotted it, it's there for good, and you can't NOT see it!

Paul (Vortex42) said...

I think that even when you don't outwardly notice it, the fact that it is there does have an emotional impact on your experience of the scene... Once you are actually aware of the device, it's emotional impact is married to an appreciation for the genius that implemented it.

I'm just about to rewatch the scene to make it a bit fresher in my mind.

Grant's Animation said...

Hey Mike,

How did you make those miniature liquor bottles?

Darkstrider said...

Sculpt in supersculpey, bake up and coat with gloss spray, then make silicone molds, pour castings in clear epoxy resin (Cast'ncraft's Easy Cast, nice 1:1 mix ratio and no odor). Then after cleaning up the castings spray them with clear gloss spray. It transforms them completley.

Darkstrider said...

Oh, and labels designed in photoshop and printed up in miniature. Lots of work, lots of work....

Anonymous said...

Hey Mike,

Speaking of new realeases, did you buy Barry Purve's book (Passion, {Process, Performance)? It's in stock on Amazon!

Darkstrider said...

Yeppers!!! My copy is sittin right next to me!

Anonymous said...

How is it? I want a full review!