Maria Falconetti

Les Miserables and Joan of Arc

What is the very best way to use of the close-up? Is it best to save close-ups for the emotional arcs of a film, or to introduce a character? Can too many close-ups leave audiences feeling claustrophobic, and can too few prevent us from properly identifying with characters? Much has been made of Tom Hooper’s controversial use of the close-up for Les Miserables. The lack of critical consent over the film’s close-ups could be a major reason why Hooper has been on few shortlists for directing awards, even as the film garners attention fin other categories. Hooper’s use of the close-up perhaps reaches its apex early on, in an extended shot of Anne Hathaway as Fantine singing “I Dreamed a Dream,” a sequence that has been generally celebrated as the film’s strongest moment and ostensibly ensured Hathaway’s lock for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar. But Hooper’s isn’t the first filmmaker known for implementing the close-up liberally and controversially. How does Hooper’s use of the close-up for a film musical compare to one of cinema history’s most famous close-up-structured films, Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece The Passion of Joan of Arc?

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Passion of Joan of Arc

Looking for any excuse, Landon Palmer and Cole Abaius are using the Sight & Sound poll results as a reason to take different angles on the greatest movies of all time. Every week, they’ll discuss another entry in the list, dissecting old favorites from odd angles, discovering movies they haven’t seen before and asking you to join in on the conversation. Of course it helps if you’ve seen the movie because there will be plenty of spoilers. This week, they gush over the brilliant courtroom drama from Carl Theodor Dreyer that pitted Joan of Arc and her passion against judges hell bent on sending her to the next life. The Passion of Joan of Arc is a stunning piece of work, and there’s good reason to think of it not only as a horror film, but the most well-respected horror film ever made.

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Criterion Files

The inevitable day eventually comes in film school in which one learns the famed and much-debated Kuleshov Effect. It basically goes like this: In the 1910s and 20s, Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted a series of experiments in which he used a shot of a person’s expressionless face and juxtaposed it with a series of other images, going back to the same expression on the same face, then to another image. A bowl of soup. A little girl. A child-size coffin. Each of these were juxtaposed with the same footage of the same blank face, yet each time the expression on the face appears different by the act of juxtaposition alone: when the face was juxtaposed with the bowl of soup, audiences concluded that the person was hungry, and when the face was juxtaposed with the coffin, audiences got the impression that the face was sad or in mourning. But the face was, in fact, the same throughout. The impression of difference was audience inference based on the juxtaposition, a projection predicated upon what the subjectivity of the audience member carries with them. The same face. Different images following it. Different meanings derived from each juxtaposition. The conclusion of the experiment was that juxtaposition creates meaning that doesn’t exist in either image alone. A face is a face. A bowl is a bowl. But together, they represent an emotion or an idea. I can’t help but think of the experiment when watching Carl Theodor Dreyer’s silent masterpiece, The Passion of […]

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