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The Parallax View (1974)


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#1 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 12:10 AM

Was watching this again tonight -- I'm amazed at how Gordon Willis composes for the anamorphic frame in this movie. Some examples:

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#2 James Steven Beverly

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 02:32 AM

I'm just curious David, what it is that amazes you about these shots in particular. Is it the use of geometric forms in composition, the interplay of shadow and light, the use of negative space? I feel I might learn something by hearing you talk in detail about what you feel makes these shots exceptional, if you would indulge me, sir. B)
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#3 Piotr Ciacka

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 08:50 AM

Haven't seen the movie yet, but sure as hell will have to! In the first picture, the inclusion of the curved wall on the right is pure Willis! They could have shot it "clean", with just the skyline, but that wouldn't be it, would it? The second frame, it's almost metaphysical. Even not being aware of the scene context, the clock above the guy's head and the dead body seem to say "your time will come too". The weighing scale is also symbolic. On the third picture the face on the right stands out.
I wonder why you don't get that much great frames in today's hollywood movies (partial answer is in the "Fight the close ups" thread, which opened my eyes :-) ). However I remember being very impressed with the framing in "Constantine", thought it was really outstanding in the use of negative space and symmetry. And "Flight plan" (while not having a very good plot) was also framed beautifully.

PS. Thanks to the recomendations form this forum, I finally saw "Klute" on dvd. Framing it that one (especially in the beginning of the movie) floored me, too.

Edited by Piotr Ciacka, 01 July 2007 - 08:52 AM.

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#4 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 10:17 AM

The strong sense of geometry in these framings, combined with often pushing the subject to the edges, is somewhat oppressive, especially in combination with modern architecture -- it fits the theme of the story, which is a secret corporation controlling lives through political murders. Man is powerless. The scope frame lends itself particularly well to the offbalanced frame.
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#5 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 01:11 PM

Parralax View is a composition reference for me, too. David, I've got almost exactly the same frames you published here in my moodboard/reference
files on my computer.

Nobody in my mind comes close to the sheer audacity and confidence Willis has (had?) in his compositions. He was lightyears ahead of his
time. In fact, composition has almost become a bit of a lost art, especially on TV. He's the king.

The only one who comes close is Spielberg in my opinion.
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#6 Keith Mottram

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 02:49 PM

I love this film, I have seen it many times and apart from the visuals I find the story quite inspirational (I am writing a political thriller currently). however I have to always wonder in topics such as this whether the DP should take credit for the framing (and other aspect of the shot). I am not talking about this as a specific example as I haven't watched much other pakula stuff of recent (apart from klute!), but do you know for sure that he is the kind of director to leave the framing to the cinematographer? I do not know of the top of my head, and I just think it seems a bit of a jump to give sole credit to the DP. on the occasions when I have directed I have discussed every focal length and t-stop and i certainly wouldn't dream of not specifying the exact frame. I know there are plenty of other directors who go the other extreme. in this film, and others, is it perhaps worth detailing why you think the director/ or DP deserves full credit for the shot?

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#7 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 08:18 PM

I'm not giving sole credit to Willis by any means, but Willis in particular is a DP famously known for his obsessive control over framing, to the point of hardly wanting to move the camera.

So in the case of the movies shot by him, you can see certain patterns in framing that appear independent of who is directing. "Paper Chase", "Godfather", "Klute" -- three different directors but similar attitudes in framing, choice of focal length, limited camera movement, etc.

So while I would say that obviously it's a collaborative process in general, and even on a movie shot by Willis, in this case, you're talking about the one DP most famous for his compositional discipline and control.

After hearing one crew member telling me about Willis having background boxes in a warehouse scene in "Devil's Own" moved around with forklifts many, many times until he found the right pattern in the background, I'd say it's evidence of the degree to which he cares about framing.
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#8 Nick Mulder

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 09:19 PM

Are we sure here that we aren't just appreciating the architecture/design itself here ? (excluding frames 3 and to a lesser extent 2)

A kinda "put any edgy haute-couture model in a rubbish bag and it - which is to say she, still - looks damn fine" thing.

Not necessarily my belief, just throwing it into the discussion...
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#9 David Mullen ASC

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Posted 01 July 2007 - 09:31 PM

I believe these scenes, other than the ones in Seattle, were shot in the LA area, location of countless TV shows at the time and even now - yet I can hardly recall any movie or TV show shot in LA that uses that architecture in such a memorable manner as this movie does. In fact, I scouted the big hotel used in the movie for a scene in "Big Love" (though we ended up elsewhere). So it's not enough to be surrounded by modernist corporate architecture; it's a matter of finding ways to make it seem oppressive and souless in the context of the story.

Anyway, Adam and I found this movie fascinating compositionally -- if you other guys think this stuff is easy to do, go and knock yourself out.
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#10 Adam Frisch FSF

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 01:13 AM

I do think Willis had a great say on composition. He was such an uncompromising DP that he, by his own admittance, made a lot of enemies. Perhaps not enemies, but at least no friends.

There's the famous story when Coppola asked for the top shot of when Don Vito gets gunned down on the street that Willis refused to do. He asked "who's point of view is that?" and Coppola said "I just thought it'd look nice from above when the oranges spill out". Coppola won, obviously (and rightly so, in my opinion), but they fought a lot over stuff like that on The Godfather. "It was touch and go with Gordon on the first one, it really was" as Coppola remenisced. On Part II they were more in sync and Gordon's style had gained greater acceptance.

There's genuine skill involved in being to able to strip each element that go into a frame to its bare element. Willis is so good at that. He's a mimimalist to a fault, almost. I don't always agree with his choices, but he has to be admired for fighting that corner.

I did just revisit The Devil's Own because I hadn't seen it since it came out, but a bit disappointedly I couldn't find much of the "old" Willis style in it. It's pretty nicely lit, but none of the forced compositions posted here are evident. By design, of course - it's an appropriately shot film for the subject, I suppose.
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#11 Alex Wuijts

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 03:59 AM

I love this movie, and I love typical Willis shots, like the long shot in Manhattan where Woody Allen walks down the stairs in his apartment on the far right of the frame towards Tracy lying on the couch on the far left, with just a few light spots in the frame. Another typical shot in the Parallax View is the long shot in the office of the paper he works for. A lot of negative space with the small bright room in the back.

The way he handled the fight at the dam is also very onconventional, I don't believe there's a single close-up in there.

Edited by Alex Wuijts, 02 July 2007 - 04:01 AM.

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#12 Douglas Hunter

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Posted 02 July 2007 - 11:29 PM

Bruce Block uses some of these exact images as example in his wonderful graduate class at USC. Flat space and rectangles are the main visual elements here, also good use of tonal contrast to shape the frame. The visual elements are very well controlled in this film; and it takes a lot more than just the DP to achieve this level of control. Everyone needs to be on board from pre-production to editorial. The film's look is no accident!

Edited by Douglas Hunter, 02 July 2007 - 11:32 PM.

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#13 Jon Rosenbloom

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Posted 06 July 2007 - 12:08 PM

The bit I remember from this film is the scene in the bar, just prior to the scene at the dam: So dark, but so perfect in tone.
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