Taking Penalties – Part Two

I promise to get around to some actual football sooner or later in this series, but first, films.

And two scenes in particular.

Casablanca: Rick, drunk, listens to Sam, concerned and sober, playing “As Time Goes By” (you must have seen it). The scene is filmed in a warm monochrome, the sound is slow and lugubrious – it’s a love scene, without a love object. Sam and Rick are seen from close to, their faces taking up most of the frame. Behind them, you won’t see much depth of field. The room is in shadow, but these are soft, pillowy shadows, not the stark knife-edges thrown down by an interrogation lamp.

Star Wars: the toe-curling medal ceremony. We watch from high above, in conditions of stark, white light. The music is brassy, quick, urgent (and embarrassing, let’s admit). There’s huge depth of field, and in it, hundreds of people, all seen complete from head to toe. The focus is sharp, the colours stark but not cold. Everyone moves, when they move, quickly, but not smoothly – it’s a nervous and jerking kind of movement.

Casablanca was filmed in black and white as a result of deliberate decision.

Two scenes, then, both of which you are likely to have sat through at one time or another. Pushing to one side the traditional, and by now, thoroughly tedious blogger’s/blog reader’s cynicism and refusal to admit to reacting in predictable fashion – neither scenes directorial characteristics were chosen at random. And you could, of course, swap them around. The Star Wars medal ceremony could be filmed in warm monochrome, and the camera could zoom in on, say, the faces of Han and Luke; the soundtrack could be slowed and warmed, the background blurred out to reduce the depth of focus, the characters’ movements paced more gently and more easily. Likewise, Casablanca could have held that Rick/Sam scene in colour, with strong contrast instead of melting greys, the song could have been played at a higher tempo, and the camera drawn back to show Rick and Sam from head to foot in a larger room with a greater depth of focus.

Without changing the actors’ lines or performances in any way at all, you could transform the impact of either scene upon its audience just by making these few changes.

And you could predict how the impact would change. As the scenes were actually filmed, Casablanca is melancholy, reflective, complex and contemplative. Star Wars has such moments, but the medal scene is all triumph, brashness, energy and inevitability. (Is it the worst scene in the film? I think it might be..) As the scenes were actually filmed, that is how most audiences react – that’s how they feel: that’s how the director meant them to feel at that point, and the manner in which the scenes were filmed was specifically planned and chosen in order to provoke those feelings.

In films, the camera work, soundtrack, colour balance, storyboarding etc. are all intended to create a series of predictable emotional reactions in the audience. The sole reason that the audiences’ reaction can be predicted in some way is that we are, for the most part, emotionally alike: our minds respond to the same stimuli with the same inner feelings and outward emotion.
Presenting scenes in this manner provokes reactions in terms of feeling and emotion purely because that manner of presentation corresponds, in some way, to how the human mind interacts with stimuli. Consistently reacts, or else the whole exercise is pointless.

I’m going to leave it there today. Summary: directorial choices are made on the realistic basis that certain ways of presenting scenes produce predictable feelings and emotion in the audience. Have you noticed that neither Sky Sports or the BBC favour the wide-angle view of matches anything like as much as continental broadcasters? There’s a reason for that – which I might come to – which has a lot to do with the differences between, not just British and continental broadcasting, but the differences between British and continental written reporting of the game.