S/cene [3]: The Crown – Beryl (Episode 4)

S/cene [1]: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/scene-1-the-social-network/

S/cene [2]: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/scene-2-fight-club/

 

The idea of S/cene is to break films down a little more closely and see how nuanced the art of film-making can be.  This time I’ve chosen a short scene from Episode 4 (Beryl) of The Crown.  It’s a stunning TV series that has the production values of a big movie.  I enjoyed the first season (though I did have some problems with it, found here: https://robsfocuspull.blog/2017/07/03/defusing-the-tension-in-drama/).  This second season, however, is a real triumph and each episode is made with gorgeous precision.  As soon as I saw this particular scene I knew I could write about it…

 

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Shooting Princess Margaret

To give this moment some context, it occurs around 37 minutes into episode 4.  This episode is where the season diverts from Queen Elizabeth to branch out to the other characters surrounding her.  It focuses on her sister Margaret who is having a torrid time romantically.  She is one of the most interesting characters of the series because of her ability to be more open with the way she acts.  I also think she is played superbly by Vanessa Kirby, who makes her both vulnerable and fearsome.  Recently, at some lavish (though slightly left-field of the monarchy) party, she met photographer Tony Armstrong – Jones, who is played by Matthew Goode.  It’s casting brilliance because Goode fits perfectly into this world, and has a striking look for a striking character.  The pair have an instant, if jagged, chemistry and when Tony offers to take a photo of her she takes it up – desperate for some fresh air.

The scene opens with Margaret pensively coming into Tony’s studio alone.  Outside the door window is a bright natural sunlight, somewhat symbolising the safety Margaret is leaving.  There’s a non-diegetic soundtrack on the go that is ticking, which is increasing the tension like a thriller would.  Tony shouts: “Upstairs” as soon as she opens the door, indicating very quickly just who is in charge here.  She passes a photograph of several men huddling around and staring at a singular woman.  This background image echoes Margaret’s life in the spotlight and the constant criticism she receives.  It then cuts to her sat waiting under the lights for Tony, and the soundtrack fades away.

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Next, Tony strolls in.  Unlike Margaret (who has a dress on), he is dressed casually with a loose tie and light coloured trousers.  His face is extremely thin, drawn out but still pleasant.  It’s this peculiarity in his looks that makes the camera draw to him, and make us follow his every move.  He says nothing as he enters and then retreats away.  Suddenly the light is on her, and off him.  He’s in the dark, adding more to the mystery of his character.  Purposefully he is making noise to unsettle her and it cuts between them.  They light a cigarette at the same time from different rooms, showing their connection and obvious chemistry.  Margaret gets up to look outside – perhaps thinking of an escape.

Eventually Tony returns to the room and removes his shoes, which enumerates more calmness to his nature.  He starts casually taking photos, and Margaret is clearly fond of him as she smiles.  Despite this effort at a bond from her, his dialogue is sharp – making sure he stays on top of this exchange.  Tony brings up her former lover Peter Townsend who she was forced away from, and the conversation becomes passive aggressive.  He’s edging closer; awkwardly pushing his camera forwards as the sexual tension grows.  The ticking soundtrack begins again.  It cuts to the side of them, almost a wide, in one of my favourite shots I’ve seen for a while.  The screen is split in almost two, her on the left out of the light and the camera on the right in the light.  He is invading her life as he moves the camera into the frame – breaking down her insecurities.  Standing over her, you can’t see his face as he moves her, then slightly pulls down her dress.  It’s a move of total power dominance, yet also sensuality as she gasps.  Tony has walked right into her world and taken over it.  The camera then follows him back and he says: “Do you miss him?” and she replies: “Sometimes”.  He takes the picture.

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This scene is excellent because it reveals so much about the characters in a short space of time.  Like the rest of The Crown it’s wonderfully executed – the lighting is warm, the camera moves gently and the acting is captivating.  Director Benjamin Caron really makes the scene engaging with all the subtle choices he makes, and allows this relationship to be fun to watch.  The Crown is so great because of how it’s made, not necessarily because of its content.  It’s the style of the show that makes it standout, and hopefully it’s been a good example of how the techniques of film-making (tv-making) are what creates the enjoyment of watching.

S/cene [2]: Fight Club

(There is a serious David Fincher theme going on here)

The Middle Children of History

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This scene comes around about 70 minutes into the feature.  The club is established and we are past the insomnia and therapy session character introductions.  It is a turning point of the film, as from here the film begins to spiral into the franchise narrative.

It opens with a low angle shot looking up at Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) in the basement of the bar where they hold the club, and immediately we know who the king of this room is. He’s dressed in his usual casual attire and is smoking a cigarette.  The camera pans up.  He turns and says “I see a lot of new faces”.  The other men are revealed in the background out of focus, and they laugh at this.  It then cuts to close-ups of a couple of the guys and it goes silent when Tyler says: “Shut up”.  There is no doubt who is in control here.  The camera stays behind him for a few moments, with only up from his shoulders visible.  Still the men are out focus listening intently.  More cuts to close ups then back to Tyler as he starts pacing the room.  The lighting, like most of the film is dark, yet Tyler is illuminated over the others by his white T-shirt.

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He walks around, the camera following, as he spiels his ‘Middle Children of History’ speech.  Pitt is ferocious in his delivery as he discusses squandered potential and a loss of a male generation.  The camera stays still as he’s still and moves when he moves.  His relationship with the lens is kinetic and extremely intense.  Fincher is forcing you to pay attention.  The quotable lines are endless; “our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression, is our lives” is a personal favourite of mine.  As the last line of rhetoric comes the camera slowly moves into Pitt’s face, to emphasise the climax to the speech.  Fincher is closing on his message, and suddenly the other men are vocal as the camera cuts above Tyler.  He begins to repeat the Fight Club rules when the sound of the basement door is heard.

From here it cuts to a lovely focus pull from Tyler to the Narrator (Edward Norton) as they turn to look at who is entering the basement. We see two large men stumbling down the stairs, both dressed stereo-typically like Italian mobsters.  When they reach the bottom of the stairs one of the men is revealed to have a gun, and on this everyone in the room backs off, except for Tyler.  There is a great bit of dialogue where Lou states him self as a player in the scene by saying “There’s a sign above the bar that says Lou’s tavern, I’m fucking Lou, who the fuck are you?”.  It cuts between Lou and Tyler as they posture their Alpha male status.  Tyler is hanging, with some of his physique on show, and this is just one of many instances where Fincher (quite possible on purpose) sexualises his character.  Lou is speaking heavily but the camera does not move with him like it did with Tyler, simply because this is not his domain.  Tyler has all the respect here.  Lou punches him in the stomach and the Narrator flinches in the background, which if you know the film, is a subtle plot clue.

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Quickly the camera is looking up at Lou and down on Tyler, showing that violence breeds power in the scene.  Our first bit of blood comes as Tyler taunts Lou to hit him more.  Then, another lovely focus pull comes as the men approach in the background after one of the hits. The gun then comes into play in an almost point of view shot pointing at the men. They veer backwards and make the gun the most important object in the scene.  Will it be Checkov’s gun? Will it be fired by the end of the scene?  The tightness and tension of the scene is exaggerated by Fincher’s close ups of the men and the weapon.  No-one moves. Tyler’s cackling laugh is incongruous and echoing as he jesters to the Narrator to trust him.  More taunting from Tyler and more aggression from Lou as he beats Tyler to a pulp. Then the Dust Brother’s soundtrack begins, with the camera cutting erratically from Tyler to Lou.  Tyler joking, Lou beating.  More blood is apparent as Lou steps up to leave Tyler and the music quietens with him.  Then out of nowhere, Tyler leaps on top of Lou spraying blood all over him.  The sounds and visuals are repulsive as Tyler rubs his face in Lou’s repeating “You don’t know where I’ve been Lou!”.  It is both disgusting and humorous, a line that Fincher often stands on.  Men are being sick in the background as the cuts get quicker and quicker, Lou is squirming.  He finally gives in to Tyler’s onslaught and leaves him riling on the floor.

I love this scene because it’s balanced so well.  We go from deep philosophical thought to an all out visceral attack on the senses.  This to and fro and fluttering between genres is one of the many reasons this is one of my favourite films of all time.  Fincher’s attention to detail is unmatched and this scene highlights that.  Everything is perfect from the lighting to the costumes and every shot is just so dense with flavour.  The homework scene follows and that is brilliant in a totally different way.  Fincher really is the master, but also I believe this is Brad Pitt’s finest moment.  He is breathtaking in this scene and shows a real sense of intensity and range.  I encourage anyone to take a closer look at this scene, and the entire film, because there is so much to find.

S/cene [1]: The Social Network

This is an idea that has been sitting in my mind for a while.  Breaking down a film scene can be superficial and numbing, but can also open up film to a whole new realm of ideas. What I am going to attempt to do is break down a scene from a film shot by shot and admire the film-making behind it.  This means that instead of a surface review, I can really look at what the director is trying to do.  To start, I’m going to analyse one of my favourite scenes of all time from one of my favourite movies of all time; The Social Network.

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In context with the rest of the film, this scene comes after the cold open of Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenbeg) breaking up with his girlfriend Erica Albright (Rooney Mara). This has some significance because this is Zuckerberg’s direct reaction to that, a reaction to a key part of his character.

It opens with the camera tracking down a bus full of girls.  Dark lighting, like much of the film and following on with David Fincher’s typical green/brown boorish filter.  There is a non-diegetic soundtrack of a heavy techno beat. The camera moving and the music pumping is key to feel of the scene; instantly Fincher has your strapped in and engaged in the action. It is fast paced and the music is dragging you along to keep up.  Then it cuts to a time stamp ’10:17 PM’, cementing that pace.  Eisenberg’s trademark geeky voice is then heard to start the ball rolling: ‘Yea, it’s on’.  Suddenly the music is background and Zuckerberg is brought to the forefront of the scene as our narrator, taking our hand.

He then spats out lines and lines of a dialogue in a few seconds, that is expertly said and is totally gripping.  His arrogance is shining through and the Zuckerberg persona is being drawn. The camera is cutting between typing and the screen, focusing on Zuckerberg when it is present on the tangible world.  Fincher is doing a great job of keeping your attention on a series of copy and pasting.  ‘Let the hacking begin’ and it cuts to bouncer allowing the party bus in, bringing us as the audience to a new location.  The beat is ongoing.  Back to Zuckerberg, now the cuts are quick and frantic.  It goes from screen to typing to close up of Zuckerbergs concentration in seconds and the pace of the scene picks up even more. ‘Kids stuff’ and it cuts back to the party bus embarking.  A film student here would compare how Zuckerberg’s line represents his distaste for college life, how his fellow students are out partying while he is coding, and effectively tearing them apart. This is granted through the Kuleshov effect, the idea of editing two shots together to create meaning, and consequently allowing those themes to open up by cutting that dialogue to that shot of them leaving the bus.

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Even the cuts at the party are in a jump style, not giving the audience a chance to breathe or lose focus on the point of the scene.  From here some serious juxtaposition goes on, where the scene cuts from party to coding.  One second we are with Zuckerberg’s dialogue and fingers, then we are with the frat party dancing, drinking and taking drugs.  The scene takes a minute breather to allow one of the frat party leaders to give a speech about how exclusive the club is, a theme that will appear later on in the movie.  However the music quickly takes over again and the shots of the party are rich but slow, creating that hypocrisy felt by Zuckerberg as it cuts back to him.  He is talking faster and jumping over problems with his coding reaching its climax.

Finally, though it has only been a couple of minutes, the scene draws down to a toned down moment.  We are with Eduardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) as he enters Zuckerberg’s building. Again a film student would attribute this to Eduardo’s character, a calmer influence on Zuckerberg’s life.  The music is quiet now as he enters to room, firstly asking if Zuckerberg is okay post his break up and then reminding them that they are ranking fellow students not just ‘girls’.  Eduardo’s character and the relationship with Zuckerberg is key here, as it highlights his greater moral sense and therefore starts the ball rolling for Eduardo being the hero of the narrative.  This does not last long as Zuckerberg is repeating that he ‘needs the algorithm’. Then my favourite shot of the whole film occurs where Eduardo writes the algorithm on the window.  As soon as it cuts to outside the window looking in the music picks up again.  The shot is breathtakingly cool and there is this wonderful focus pull to inside the room when Eduardo is finished. Suddenly we are in awe of the pairs genius.

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This scene is not only exciting in every way, but also integral to the film.  It opens us up to Zuckerberg’s character, his ignorance conflicted with his brilliance and his relationship with Eduardo.  Fincher is a master at work here and makes a scene about a small computer program incredibly compelling.