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The freedom to creatively use a variety of techniques to produce the best piece of work exists in every form of art. The same is true for filmmakers, who experiment with various visual styles before settling on one that best conveys their message. Because of this, popular movies like Michael Curtiz's Casablanca and Orson Welles' Citizen Kane use the point of view, color, motion, focus, and contrast of the camera to tell their story. Filmmakers are aware of how viewers respond to visuals, and they display those images in a way that will elicit specific reactions consistent with the movie's topic. For that reason, screen control is necessary for every film because the manipulation of camera perspectives such as field of view, depth of field, focus, angles, the point of view, movement, speed, framing and aspect of ratio do tell the story.
Screen manipulation helps to bring the viewers’ attention a particular happening in the movie. For example, in one of the opening scenes of the film Casablanca, police shoot a suspect who tries to flee, and when the police bend to pick the papers that the man was holding. The documents appear to be gawkily angled towards the camera. That angling is intentionally made to make the viewer see and read the content of the papers and not view the documents from the characters eyes.
Controlling how the viewer sees the screen is also useful in introducing and explaining themes of a specific story. The given aspect can be achieved by employing camera effects which communicate a mood or which the viewer can make sense of without hearing the words of the characters in the scene. For example, in Citizen Kane, the cinematographer uses the deep focus technique to build on the theme of isolation because the art gives viewers a plain sight of the space that Kane is in control of as well as the space he has no control of. In other words, the larger area over which Kane has no power is the result of deep focus to show that the character has lost control of his life.
Framing subjects in film production has its effects on the audience and determine how the audience interpret the scene, situation and characters present within a frame. The framing used for television commercials and news is different from that employed in films. Movie shots apply the rule of thirds whereby the subjects are positioned off center and rarely look directly into the camera. That kind of framing is useful in presenting different moods and defining various situations within the movie. For example, framing characters in the center makes the viewer’s feel uneasy based on the circumstances within the film. In Casablanca, the characters shown inside Rick's Café Américain are framed in the center to serve a metaphorical purpose of symbolizing how entrapped and desperate the characters are in Casablanca. Furthermore, the framing of characters in Rick's also brings out the sense of peace or safety that characters derive by being in the café.
Screen control allows the movie makers to help prepare the viewers for the next action or a new character in a scene. For example, in the scene showing Ilsa's arrival in Casablanca and her move to speak with Rick, the shot after the flashback has the camera pan from right to left from Rick's face to his hand. The next shot features the camera pan in the opposite direction to follow Sam's movement to the right edge of the frame. Those two shots allow for the creation of open space in the center where a door is shown in the background and Ilsa walks in through that door. Thus, the visual staging is intentionally done to prepare the audience for action (Ilsa's entrance) that will take place in the center of the frame. The director and cinematographer of Citizen Kane also employs the use of camera movements to highlight the drama behind the scenes and present exciting filmic features to the audience. For example, the introduction of El Rancho has the camera move from a sign outside the restaurant, after which it ascends to the roof, then moves smoothly forward through the second sign towards a skylight. Once the camera moves to the window, the shot is dissolved to get to the shot of the inside of El Rancho. The dissolve employed in that scene is invisible thus brings out the effect of cutting through the glass window into the restaurant.
Further on aiding the audience in understanding situations of the movie, the use of different camera movements and framing are important. For example, the scene in Citizen Kane where Kane and his first wife are seated at the breakfast table is framed in a way that the distance between the two characters appear bigger yet they are using the same table. The technique of placing the two characters on the edge of the frames is a way of indicating their crumbling marriage. In the film, when subjects are almost out of the frame or when only their shadows are visible, the framing is done to suggest a pullout from the scene or a situation or to insinuate hidden actions of the actors. In the first scenes of Casablanca, there is a shot of Captain Renault talking to Rick against helping Lazlo. Rick is absent in the scene, but his shadow appears in the frame. That technique enables the audience to identify a dark side of Rick and his cold heart. And the shots that follow confirm the assumption by showing rick watch frigidly as Urgate is nabbed by the Nazi's.
Screen control can, in other words, be described as the technique of using the camera to create a cinematic film that effectively tells the story. It is the process of translating the plot of the movie to the audience. For these reasons, screen control remains an important aspect of communicating through art. It is the process by which the viewer is enabled to understand the characters, identify with them and even decide to follow the story to the end. Filmmakers who employ different tactics in controlling how the audience sees the screen often succeed in their mission. That is why Curtiz and Welles managed to produce the most memorable, best-selling and entertaining films in the 20th century. Furthermore, Citizen Kane, in particular, introduced to the movie industry some screen control applications that are used up to today. Therefore, the screen should be controlled because that is the art of filming.
Curtiz, Michael, director. "Casablanca." Warner Bros, 1942.
Welles, Orson, director. "Citizen Kane." Mercury Productions, 1941.
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