Location & Framing

As we gear up for Sophie & Martin’s Day In The Sun, I was asked to write a piece describing some of the tactics we are to use during the production by the actress slated to play Sophie.  I hope this is helpful to her, and interesting to the rest of you.

Sophie & Martin’s Day In The Sun is another character study, though quite different in all respects to The Little White Bird and How Is One To Live?  Unlike our two previous shorts, Sophie & Martin’s Day In The Sun is much more reliant on its location and peripheral photography in painting an engaging portrait of the character Sophie.  I find the best strategy available to myself, in terms of articulating my meaning, is to discuss two films, which utilize such tactics: The Passenger and The Thin Red Line.

Firstly, lets examine this technique at work in Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1975 film The Passenger.

The film follows Jack Nicholson’s character Locke all over Western Europe and North Africa during the course of its narrative.  Antonioni is very careful to photograph his lead actor in locales that both capture the local color as well as reflect the psychology of the character.  In one of the first scenes, Nicholson’s jeep breaks down in the middle of a desert.  Antonioni places the camera far away on top of a dune, composing a wide shot in which Nicholson appears isolated and insignificant, dwarfed by the vast landscape which inhabits the remaining frame.  The use of locale and framing are hallmarks of Antonioni’s work, but in The Passenger, with its exotic locales, he elects to exaggerate them beyond the confines of his pervious work.  There is another scene latter on which takes place on a rooftop in which the Nicholson character Locke is lost in the frame, surrounded by chimneys, parapets, and telephone wires.  The use of such framing becomes informative to the audience in so far as it reflects the character’s own isolation in the world (Locke has assumed a new identity, having traded places with a dead man, and is therefore shut off from his own life).

Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line deals with what I have been calling “peripheral photography”.  “Peripheral photography” is when the film cuts away from the narrative to capture a piece of visual information that does not further the plot, but instead favors metaphor and atmosphere.  Malick has been developing this technique since his first two features in the seventies, Days Of Heaven and Badlands.

Yet, of all his films, The Thin Red Line makes the best use of this formal strategy.  Throughout the film, Malick cuts to shots of birds in trees, a fish in water, water rolling over rocks, a tree in the wind, etc,  All these cut-aways begin to reveal in finite detail the island on which the film takes place.  It is equally important to Malick that as an audience we understand the narrative’s setting as we do the narrative itself.  He is of the opinion that by understanding setting, one will begin to understand the characters that inhabit it better.

This differs from Werner Herzog’s use of landscape in his films (which I wrote about here before in a piece titled The Landscape Of Obsession).

Herzog perceives the location as a separate character that informs the narrative, not the characters contained within.  Notice, Herzog favors framing that is wide and all encompassing of his location (Fitzcarraldo for instance) the way Antonioni does, as opposed to Malick’s enlarging of minute details and actions

However, in Sophie & Martin’s Day In The Sun I hope to bring the two strategies together to enhance the film and the portrayal of Sophie.  Final location scouting will commence in two weeks, so I’ll know better then if my lofty ambitions are obtainable or not, here’s hoping.

-Robert Curry


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