Visual Review 10: Among the Sierra Nevada, California

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Among the Sierra Nevada, California by Albert Bierstadt

Among the Sierra Nevada, California has been my favorite piece of art in the Smithsonian American Art Museum for as long as I can remember. Since I am from a part of Maryland that borders DC, I have been to nearly every art museum in the area a countless number of times. This painting has, for a very long time, stuck out far beyond other exhibits to me.

The initial trait of the painting that draws viewers to it, and makes it so spectacular, is the manner in which it is displayed in the museum. The painting, which can be found on the east side of the second floor, is absolutely massive.

 

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Photo Credits: flickr user andertho


In addition to its sheer size, the painting is displayed alone in its own nook of the gallery, and is surrounded by giant red velvet curtains. There is one seat in front of it, which is different than in the above photo, currently a large round velvet cushion, which adds to the extravagant display.

 

The display is reminiscent of how the artist used to display his works. Prior to motion pictures, Albert Bierstadt and many other artists would display their creations to crowds of people behind large curtains, and open them as a reveal. This display truly brings out the vast beauty of the actual painting.

The painting itself is so visually enticing to me due to many artistic choices the painter made. The scene is based off of Bierstadt’s image of the American wilderness in the 1860s. However, Bierstadt painted the work in Rome, so he was creating the scenery purely based off of artistic imagination.

The image projects an ethereal, almost heavenly tone through lighting, hue, texture and saturation choices . In the top center of the painting, the clouds are painted in a manner that is so light and airy that it feels like there could be a real sun peeking behind them. Additionally, the darker hues from the mountains surrounding the clouds creates a dynamic contrast between the two that serves to further accentuate the lightness of the clouds. The shading gets progressively darker going to left of the clouds, enhancing the dominatingly massive cliffside and balances out even the lightest portions of the painting.

The textures of nature in this painting are incredibly intricate, making the image feel like it was created with intense precision and detail, while also giving viewers a vast, nearly surreal landsacpe that they can become visually lost in. For example, the lake’s reflection of the mountain is so clear and smooth, while towards the shore, viewers can clearly see small, real-to-life ripples from the contact with land, giving the painting a dynamic sense of life. Viewers can also see the jagged edges of a log painted to look worn down, contrasted with carefully textured green moss growth,

This painting is so massive that it cannot help but be noticed by everyone who passes by, but to truly appreciate its grandeur,you must get up close and observe all that it has to offer. I have personally spent nearly a full half hour just trying to take in all of the detail and beauty.

Visual Review 9: Music Video

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MGMT- Kids

“Kids” by MGMT was one of the first music videos to come into mind when seeing this assignment. It is a piece of visual art that simultaneously engages, enrages, and entertains viewers through unique visual techniques.

The video begins with a near-sepia colored colossal flame billowing in the background, and neon transparent font to indicate the artists and song name. This credit-like sequence is followed by a Mark Twain quote in the same alien-like font. The sequence ends and transitions into the video through the sepia flames creating intense texture and then a fade transition into the music.

The actual music portion begins in complete rhythm with sharp cuts between images and bright moving colors with wide varieties of hues, in stark contrast to the flowing movement and low color variation in the introduction. This sequence has a slow fade into a child in a crib in a very low-lighting environment with lighting coming onto the child from an angle above him. Creatures are behind the child in the lower third, and then the perspective shifts from birds eye to worms eye, as the viewers take on the child’s perspective. The camera does quick, unpredictable panning as the creatures grab at the child, and then pan slowly up and to the side in order to follow the creature’s movement.

Suddenly, normally lit hands come from the top left, pulling the child, with the camera panning at an angle to follow him, out of the screen.

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Last image before cut
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Following Scene

The director makes an interesting decision with every inch of this transition. The choice to use an almost-shocking quick cut as opposed to fading out, combines with the sudden color, subject and lighting shift to show the change in an off beat way. These two choices to make a significant visual jump are complimented nicely by the manner in which the subjects leave the previous scene out of the left side at an upwards angle, and seem to appear right in the equivalent location in the next scene, which develops fluidly into a tracking dolly shot, following a displeased looking, well-dressed mother and her child from the front, at eye level. This allows viewers to stare at the subjects in a manner that feels nearly face-to-face, except the woman does not look anywhere near the camera, and barely even glances at her child.

The creatively planned location, angle, and timing of when subjects exit and enter the frame is an ongoing visual theme throughout the video. It is implemented really creatively, and timed just right, so that when the camera tracks the subject off the frame, viewers begin to expect a scene change or turning of a corner. However, the style is even more creative due to how they vary the arrival and exit of different subjects. The style creates a fun surprise with how viewers can feel like they are just following someone into the next frame, but entirely different subjects also appear right at the angle where the other subject would be walking. This is a sort of high-end artistic homage to children’s cartoon characters, like Scooby-Doo, running in and out of various doors with different people and monsters coming out.

The music is well-flattered by this  delicate balance of grotesque and refined themes and visuals, because it is an incredibly free-form representation of an already quirky song, by an incredibly eccentric group.

Visual Review 7: Title Sequence

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The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (2011) has an incredibly visually interesting title sequence. The Swedish film, directed by David Fincher and Tim Miller, covers various dark topics from the angle of a dramatic mystery. The title sequence manages to touch on many overall themes of the movie, while concurrently setting a continuous and flowing tone of violence, struggle, and conflict.

The film focuses on the story of a rebellious female hacker with a rough and painful past, and her various pathways to vengeance. The main running themes and visual trends of the film include feminism, sexual assault, abuse, violence, technology, fire, and leather. The title sequence manages to give the audience a hint of every major concept while being nearly monochromatic throughout, and continuously cutting to different shots. Despite the continuous sharp cuts, the sequence maintains a running sense of fluidity and interconnectedness.

The font featured for the credits was created by Neil Kellerhouse specifically for the film. The font creates a nice contrast to the intensity of the sequence through its fairly delicate yet sharp style, as well as the grey-white color of it over the incredibly dark sequence. It also manages to not distract from the scenes at all by being stationary and to the left or right of the screen every time the text appears. Additionally, the font is an homage to the style original typography of the novel that the film is based off.

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Text credits in the sequence

 

The sequence mainly features a viscous liquid flowing from cut to cut and surface to surface, with a female cover of “Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin as the title sequence song. The fluid takes on a life of its own as the dominant feature of the sequence, with nearly the entire color scheme of the sequence coming from the metallic greenish-black substance, which goes on to envelop and blend over every object or person in much of the sequence. This creates intricately captivating textures and reflections of minimal lighting, while also enabling the sequence to foreshadow the contents of the film.

 

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Liquid going over what is assumed to be a leather surface

The sequence develops tone, a fractured narrative, and tone by incorporating technology, violence, and fire in a visually innovative style. The main character, Lisbeth, is a hacker and uses technology to empower herself and to ruin those who have wronged her. This is shown in a series of cables and wires tangling in on themselves and twisting in a life-like, almost possessed manner. Violence is directly incorporated via scenes of bondage, hands struggling and gripping at air and each other, and direct fist-to-face up close contact. Fire is a huge component of Lisbeth and her backstory, and it is incorporated through the lighting of a match in intense detail, and a large enveloping flame coming from it.

This title sequence is one of the most memorable, visually engaging ones that I have seen. In fact, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo was the first film that came to mind when I saw the assignment. It does an amazing job of both being a well-composed introduction to the film that follows and a standalone visual composition with its own narrative and tonality.

 

Visual Review 6: Pulp Fiction

 

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Credit: miramax.com/movie/pulp-fiction/

As one of the most well-known and well-liked films among my generation, Pulp Fiction (1994) is known and lauded for creativity in almost every aspect of filmmaking, from the fast and witty script, to the near perfect casting choices. Much of the film’s distinctiveness comes from stylistic decisions and complete comfort when integrating popular culture and gritty criminal behavior in a light-hearted manner. This style has made the film a pop-culture icon without feeling outdated, even to those too young to understand certain references. Most importantly the director, Quentin Tarantino and cinematographer, Andrzej Sekuła place a huge focus on the intricacies of cinematography and camera movements as a means of storytelling and as a way to focus or distract the viewers. The film focuses on the intersecting lives of two hitmen, Jules Winnfield and Vincent Vega, their boss and his wife, Marsellus and Mia Wallace, two small-time robbers Ringo and Yolanda, and a boxer named Butch Coolidge.

The importance of camera movements and the intricacies of the film’s cinematographic choices comes from the intersection of so many different story lines in the film. This intersection makes panning, cuts, perspective, and alternating wide, medium, and close-up shots essential to showing plot connections and to foreshadow and contextualize many plot points. Tarantino also popularized certain angles that were not commonly used prior to Tarantino, based simply on how he preferred the scene to be set up. For example, Tarantino is known to have a signature angle called a “trunk shot” in many of his films, which is a low-angle shot with characters looking down at an angle into the camera, at something the audience is unable to see immediately. The camera is actually located in the trunk of a car in the shot in

Tarantino also popularized certain angles that were not commonly used prior to Tarantino, based simply on how he preferred the scene to be set up. For example, Tarantino is known to have a signature angle called a “trunk shot” in many of his films, which is a low-angle shot with characters looking down at an angle into the camera, at something the audience is unable to see immediately. The camera is actually located in the trunk of a car in the shot in Pulp Fiction and serves to create a visual connection between the audience and characters, as well as contribute to a power balance among characters. This specific shot occurs as the two hitmen, Jules and Vincent, casually yet confidently take out and clean their guns from the trunk of their car, in preparation to go threaten and kill some people that owe their boss money. This low angle and casual mannerisms between the two men creates a sense of power and dominance of the men above their surroundings. This dynamic serves to further the point that the two characters are experienced and that this is not at all unusual for them. The trunk shot also utilizes negative space, lighting, and shadows to focus the scene on the nonchalant power of the two characters.

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Trunk Shot

In addition to shots that add personality and power dynamics, many of the most memorable shots from Pulp Fiction are those scenes showing the intersections of multiple different characters’ storylines. These intersecting scenes all tend to occur during suspenseful or climactic periods of the film, making the intersection even more dramatic. For example, Butch, the boxer, and Marsellus Wallace, the crime boss have intertwined stories in that Butch deceived Marsellus and then tries to skip town. The scene where Butch and Marsellus see each other again after Butch doesn’t follow Marsellus’s directions is amazingly composed. It starts with a close-up, eye-level shot of Butch casually driving, with the camera taking the role of a dashboard camera.

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Butch before seeing Marsellus

Just as Butch turns his head to look to the side, the scene makes a quick cut, and the camera literally seems to just flip to the opposite direction, at the same level, position, and angle, but facing outwards from the car, showing a crosswalk with Marsellus at the very edge, framed by the car’s dashboard. With the camera flip, despite being at a similar location, it becomes a medium shot from a lower angle.

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Marsellus seeing Butch

The intensity of the scene is enhanced by how slowly Marsellus turns his head, in comparison to the speed of the cars behind him. Viewers are almost able to see the gears turning in both characters heads when each finally notices the other in front of them. Marsellus’s expression immediately shifts to rage, while Butch’s immediately shifts to fear. The cuts in this scene are once again, incredibly important. In addition to the cut between watching Butch drive and watching the crosswalk, there is a sharp cut into Butch’s foot slamming on the gas, and another cut back to what is essentially Butch’s perspective. This new perspective shows Marsellus slamming into, and breaking the dash.

 

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Quick foot cut scene

This scene is similar to many other throughout the film where characters with intertwining stories intersect at various points. The skill and precision involved with sharp, fast cuts and transitions, as well as framing and point of view create an interesting ongoing trend for these certain encounters. This unique style is characteristic of Tarantino’s style as a director and filmmaker, by creating dynamic, oddly composed scenes by bending and manipulating common cinematographic techniques.

Pulp Fiction has won numerous awards including Best Screenplay from the Golden Globes, and Palme d’Or from the world renowned Cannes Film Festival, which is the top award. These types of awards are only given to films the have recognizably innovative or creative artistic merit. As such a complex film with a fairly simple central plot, Pulp Fiction combines painstakingly composed scenes with lighthearted characters attempting to fulfill specific tasks or social engagements. This dynamic is incredible, making sure that viewers can never be bored, as well as making sure the audience is focused on what Tarantino wants them to see, and unaware of whatever Tarantino wants to remain hidden.

 

 

Visual Review 5: Commercial

I chose a GoPro commercial that I have seen on Hulu a huge number of times, for many obvious reasons, considering it is a camera and video company. The advertisement is much longer than most but it was so well composed that I did not mind, and barely even noticed the length. One of the most artistically interesting photographic decision in the ad is how minimally the actual product is shown throughout the nearly five minute long commercial. It is instead filmed from the camera’s visual perspective and angles. This vantage point is both an amazing advertising tactic and artistically successful in keeping viewers visually entranced in the footage from actual users of GoPro’s products.

One of the most artistically interesting photographic decision in the ad is how unpresent representation of the actual products shown throughout the nearly five minute long commercial. It is instead filmed from the camera’s visual perspective and angles. This vantage point is both an amazing advertising tactic and artistically successful in keeping viewers visually entranced in the footage from actual users of GoPro’s products. There are many examples of bird’s eye, worm’s eye, and eye level shots throughout the advertisement, showing the product’s versatility when it comes to film choices.

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eye level
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worm’s eye

Additionally, the advertisement alternates between wide angle lenses and fisheye lenses with their clips. The fisheye lens typically appeared more in sports and action related shots, while the wide angle lenses were used more for sweeping nature photos, aerials, and family videos.

GoPro did an incredible job with curating film that seamlessly incorporated a multitude of camera movements. The majority of the advertising was a nearly textbook example of the “track” camera movement, since most GoPro users attach the camera to an object or themselves, creating a consistent distance and motion between the viewer and the film clip subject.  Additonally, the “follow” movement was featured many times, mainly from GoPro photographers filming someone moving away from them. In many shots, the film would tilt at a steady angle. The ad at around 3:18 shows a good example of this choices. During wide angle nature shots, panning was heavily applied in order to adeqautely display a full motion view of the scenery. Obviously, the literal form of dollying or trucking  would have made no sense to be featured in the ad, since GoPro is meant to be a product that you can just carry along, without extra equipment. The movement, along with the upbeat musical choice, forms a very high energy and adventurous mood throughout the extensive duration of the ad.

One of the most unique aspects of the advertisement, aside from its vast collection of beautiful clips, is the choice not to show the products being used throughout. The actual new cameras being advertised, HERO5 and Karma, are never shown. Instead, GoPro barely even claims the ad itself, with their logo appearing once in the beginnning and once in the end. Instead of trying to show off all the frills and intricacies of a camera, the advertisers made the intelligent choice to just let their product do the talking, through visual representation.

Visual Review 4: Rear Window

 

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http://www.sundance.tv/films/rear-window

 

The 1954 film”Rear Window,” directed by Alfred Hitchcock, beautifully brings to life Cornell Woolrich’s short story “It Had to Be Murder.” The combination of the vivid imagery used in the short story with Hitchcock’s unique cinematic style makes this one of the most visually engaging films to come out of Hollywood. The adaptation of a first-person short story with nearly script-like dialogue into a symbolically and artistically rich feature length film was done nearly flawlessly, while still allowing for viewer interpretation. The original story’s succinctness also allowed for flexibility in Hitchcock’s content choices. This flexibility proved to be quite important, in that he was then able to create and include a bevy of new perspectives and artistic choices that made “Rear Window” the first and greatest of its kind.

The adaptation of a first-person short story with nearly script-like dialogue into a symbolically and artistically rich feature length film was done nearly flawlessly, while still allowing for viewer interpretation. The two have separate endings, and many differences throughout, but they perfectly compliment each other when looked at side-by-side. The original story’s succinctness also allowed for flexibility in Hitchcock’s content choices. This flexibility proved to be quite important, in that he was then able to create and include a bevy of new perspectives and artistic choices that made “Rear Window” the first and greatest of its kind.

The story is told from the vantage point of a photojournalist with a broken leg who is confined to a wheelchair in an apartment with a view of many other surrounding apartment windows. The film is visually creative in not only presenting the many residents’ daily lives but also in how the lives are seen. The latter is achieved through a variety of angles, lenses, lighting, compositional choices, and human perspectives seen from a single apartment. The viewer cannot see beyond what the main character and his various visitors may see. This choice on Hitchcock’s part is what defines the film’s progression, and allows him to make stylistic choices that would otherwise be difficult to achieve in a film with a more open set.

One of the most recurring creative choices Hitchcock implemented was framing. Viewers, as well as the main character, Jeff, saw each fragment of a resident’s life through the frame of an apartment window. The apartment windows varied in size, shape, and angle they were viewed at, but all served the same purpose of capturing a viewer’s focus.

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Example of Framing

 

The use of framing often served to make sure viewers maintain focus on an individual storyline, while occasionally functioned to intentionally distract viewers from an important event. In the above screenshot, the framing divides the man who is later suspected of murdering his wife, from his wife. This visual division creates distance between the characters, influencing viewers to more readily accept Jeff’s later belief that this character truly did murder his wife, despite never seeing the crime occur. Framing also served another very important purpose. Hitchcock seemed to intentionally frame the apartments and individual story lines in a manner similar to how a film screen is framed for a viewer. Through this and many other stylistic techniques, Hitchcock creates an intriguing feature-length metaphor relating to how viewers observe film and life.

Hitchcock’s choice of camera panning also had a similar artistic effect to the former aspect of framing in that it only enables viewers to see what the camera enables them to see. Often the cameras pan in basic directions such as up, down, left, right, from apartment window to apartment window without spending much time on certain residents, and coming to a pause on other windows. This choice also further connects viewers to Jeff’s vantage point, since his isolation to a wheelchair limits his mobility in angles and direction of panning. The camera often pans left and right at similar levels in connection with the rolling motions of Jeff’s wheelchair. The panning changes when the perspective becomes that of Jeff’s many visitors, such as his nurse, his girlfriend, and the detective. When these characters are viewing through binoculars, the panning becomes slightly more natural and less isolated in motion.

The angle and choice of shot add to the connection between the viewer and the main character even further. Many scenes from the film are close-up and mid-distance shots of the main character, focused on him and what he is looking at during any given point in a scene. This reinforces viewers’ reliance on exactly what Hitchcock wants to be seen, projected through what Jeff and his visitors are able to see. Occasionally, this limiting factor adds to the suspense of the film, since viewers feel as helpless as a man isolated to a wheelchair during dramatic parts of the film. For example, when Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa is searching the suspected murderer’s apartment, viewers feel as helpless as Jeff when they see the man coming back to his apartment, and knowing Lisa cannot see that.Screen Shot 2016-10-03 at 2.11.00 AM.png

Lighting has a significant influence on the plot and cinematic creativity of the film. Lighting was used to begin and end each day, with sunsets and change in the scenes hue, as well as people turning on and off lights in each apartment. The scene with rain was darker and more dramatic, suggesting an important part of the film was occurring, and helping to lead viewers to dark conclusions. Lighting also served as Jeff’s only defense when he was finally discovered by the murderer. When the murderer arrived outside of Jeff’s apartment, both viewers and Jeff could see his dark shadow in contrast to the light from just a slight crack. Jeff was also only able to hide due to the presence of shadows in his apartment during this dramatic encounter. Finally, his only way to slow his attacker was to literally use the light from his camera flash bulbs to blind him. Hitchcock integrated this flash into the filter of the movie during these scenes, making them blurry and orange, as if viewers were in the room when the flash bulb went off.

Hitchcock used numerous artistic and psychological choices to develop a compelling story that intrigues viewers during every moment. This is an amazing feat due to the unique isolation that is incorporated into every aspect of the film.

Visual Review 3: Pulitzer Prize

http://www.pulitzer.org/winners/photography-staff-118stlouis2015               (Robert Cohen, St. Louis Post-Dispatch – November 14, 2014)

This photo was part of a collection of winning entries for the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 2015. The collection centers around the iconic Ferguson, Missouri protests. These protests were covered extensively by the news, which brought many photojournalists to the scene. Each image in the collection was incredibly moving and informative in its own way. This picture, however, is what I immediately was drawn to while viewing the series.

This image exemplifies the emotional torment and physical destruction that struck Ferguson after the killing of an unarmed black man by police, a story we continue to hear every day. The picture shows two people in front of one of twelve local businesses that were utterly destroyed by the which came after many days of peaceful protesting in Ferguson.

Visually, the photographer creates a compelling story through photographic techniques such as framing, rule of thirds, lighting, motion, and exposure. The image utilizes framing by having the remnants of the burning building surround the two people in front of it, at both their sides and overhead. This use of framing relays a sense of danger, confinement, and hopelessness from the scene of the destruction to those viewing the photo far away. The rule of thirds is incredibly noticeable in this photo, with the top of the burning building on the upper third horizontal line, the base and front walls of the building on the lower third horizontal, and one of the people along the third vertical line. The combination of framing and heavy reliance on the rule of thirds creates an incredibly well-balanced image in terms of structure and in the way it can focus the viewers’ eyes on many different important parts of the photo.

Lighting, motion, and exposure are used for the purpose of creating a sense of energy, anticipation, and fear within the photo. This effect is likely due to the similar feelings that Ferguson residents, as well as minorities around the country, were feeling during the events surrounding this image. The image is incredibly backlit, in a manner that is is difficult to pick out the features of either person in the image, which is likely intentional. Additionally, the fire’s brightness and intense color is intentionally allowed to overwhelm the image, which gives it an even more dramatic tone. Motion is utilized in that those viewing the photo can almost feel the wood and flames falling in the building, and the passion involved in one of the subject’s arms being opened up at their shoulders creates emotional energy through movement and the photo was likely taken at that exact moment to intentionally play up the intensity of the scenes. The lack of exposure in the photo makes it even more dramatic, as the less important details that could have been shown with more exposure are removed, and the darkness of that night is incredibly enhanced, especially when comparing the darkness due to less exposure with the intense brightness created by the fire. Overal

Overall this photo is one of the most beautiful and compelling images I have seen in quite a while.