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Water droplet Part 1 - Book-ends   Part 3 - Reflections   Part 4 - Left to Right is Right   Part 5 - Pan left to the past  Part 6 - Washington D.C.

PURE CINEMA -  a look at moments of cinematic technique that epitomise the unique, artistic and poetic quality of film-making.

In this series freelance film-lecturer Derek Wilson writes about magic moments from cinema old, and new.


Part 2 - Pull-focus

Pull-focus (sometimes called rack-focus or selective focus) has long been a quick and efficient way of adjusting the audience’s attention from one person to another, or from distance to foreground, or vice-versa. The speed of adjustment can also affect our understanding. Slow = thoughtful; fast = sudden would be the basic formula.
An artistic example occurs in The Prisoner of Shark Island (1936) directed by John Ford, a director who had grown up with cinema. The film tells a story of Dr Samuel Mudd, apparently imprisoned for giving medical treatment to John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.
An early scene shows the assassination in the Ford Theatre, Washington, Good Friday 1869. After the shooting the director inter-cuts between the escaping assassin and the turmoil in the theatre.
Although in reality Lincoln did not die till the following morning, Ford uses dramatic licence in showing the death in the theatre. We see a medium close-up of the President, slumped in his chair, eyes closed. A gauze curtain is then drawn across between us and Lincoln who is still in focus. Slowly the focus shifts from president to the gauze, leaving the familiar figure of Lincoln blurred - before a dissolve takes us to the next scene. Our attention has obviously not been shifted from man to gauze curtain (as in a conventional pull-focus) but into philosophical or emotional areas. The subtle and tiny pull-focus adjustment suggests not only the death or fading away of the life of Lincoln but for some viewers the movement is from life into history, legend or myth.

Internet Movie Database entry for The Prisoner of Shark Island   |   Wikipedia entry for The Prisoner of Shark Island

Pure cinema: Part 1 - Book-ends   Part 3 - Reflections   Part 4 - Left to Right is Right   Part 5 - Pan left to the past  Part 6 - Washington D.C.


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Page updated on 11 October 2011
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