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Water droplet Part 1 - Book-ends   Part 2 - Pull-focus   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 3 - Reflections

Reflections – in mirrors, windows, water, whatever – are often used creatively by cinematographers and directors.

A simple but fine example is seen in Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante (1934). Juliette, a country girl has married bargee Jean. After a frustrating journey on the barge to Paris (only the river banks to admire) she is drawn, toute seule, to the city itself, and especially to the shops. In a wordless scene she admires a dress in a window display. Angles and lighting allow cinematography to show her reflection ‘wearing’ the dress behind the window; and her emotions are niftily made clear.
The cinematographer was Boris Kaufman, later to film On the Waterfront, Twelve Angry Men and many others.

In the more recent Easy Virtue (2008) director Stephan Elliott and/or director of photography, Martin Kenzie, create some stylish images to suggest ideas. One aspect of the film is the conflict between American ‘blonde bombshell’, Larita Huntingdon, and her recently-acquired ‘aristocratic’ English in-laws. The family has clearly had more affluent times but endeavours to hide its shabby and straitened circumstances. The relationship between Larita and her mother-in-law, Veronica Whittaker, is fraught from the start but Larita tries to show willing by cooking a meal for the family.
The scene begins with a reflected image, a shot of the Whittakers gathered together, mirrored but distorted, in the antique cover of a platter, waiting to see what’s within. When Larita, facing the camera, and the family, lifts the cover she reveals….. a huge turkey.
“It’s Thanksgiving!” says Larita. (“Thanksgiving for what?” asks frosty mother-in-law (Kristin Scott-Thomas).
The economy and the metaphor of the composition is much more eloquent than this description could be. It’s Larita v. the family; it’s New World v. Old World; modern v. ancient. Pure cinema.
Later Veronica continues to show her skills at bitchiness and a similarly ruthless way with a billiard cue. After a successful shot a ball returns up the table towards the camera coming to a stop close enough to the camera to frame, within the circumference of the ball, the reflection of Veronica smiling in a triumphant, maybe sinister way. It’s the black ball of course.

Internet Movie Database entry for L'Atalante   |   Wikipedia entry for L'Atalante   |   Great cinematographers - Boris Kaufman   |   Easy Virtue website

Pure cinema: Part 1 - Book-ends   Part 2 - Pull-focus   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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