Project 8: Balance – Viewing


Look back at some of the work you have already produced. You may well find that you were
already following these rules subconsciously. Try to identify:
• where you followed the rule of thirds.
• where you changed the composition and what effect this had.
The Id Girl
In 2005 I made a short film, The Id Girl, which was inspired by the real life would-be assassin John Hinckley Jr, who in 1981, tried to murder Ronald Reagan to garner the attention of his obsession, actress Jodie Foster.
I centred my story upon a professional hitman, who happens to be obsessed with a glamour actress, telling the story via his disturbing hypnotherapy sessions. The film, which spent most of its scenes in the half-conscious state of the antagonist, required plenty of fantastical imagery and visuals of a dream-like nature.
Upon re-visiting this film recently, I noticed various examples of following the rule of thirds, although, probably at the time, I was not particluarly focusing on that.
Actors: Shaun MacNamara and Ailsa Ilott.
Watch almost any television or film. (Beware: films on TV or even DVD may have been
cropped and/or panned and scanned. In this case the original composition will be
compromised. Ensure you are watching in the original aspect ratio.) Notice that regardless of genre you can see the rules of composition and balance being applied. Pay special attention to the reasons behind the occasions when the rules appear to have been broken.
Look for interesting examples and make notes on your blog explaining what is happening in each. Try to find:
• examples of frames composed according to the rule of thirds
Top: Heaven’s Gate ( 1980, dir. Michael Cimino )
Centre: The Deer Hunter ( 1978, dir. Michael Cimino )
Bottom: The Exorcist ( 1973, dir. William Friedkin )

heavens-gate-1980-pic-11deerhunter01FullSizeRender (6)

Three good examples of the rule of thirds being applied.
In Heaven’s Gate ( Top ), we see the panaramic view of the lake with the two loving characters appreciating the vista in the bottom right hand third of the frame. A shot that symbolises the director of photography Vimos Zsigmond eye for breathtaking framing. Again, Zsigmond is responsible for The Deer Hunter, centre pic. Framing in mid-close up with Robert De Niro’s character Mike forced to play Russian roulette ( ironically at gunpoint ) to the left third with his captor facing him from the right third. Allowing the centre ground to show the threat of one of the captor’s AK-47 barrel and in the background with the picture of Ho Chi Minh ( political leader of North Vietnam ) looking on. A frame that captures many emotive points.
The bottom pic is the iconic framing from The Exorcist, a shot that was used as the advertising image for the movie’s posters, billboards and subsequent video covers. Max Von Sydow arrives at the house of the alleged possession to begin the exorcism. Its late autumn and the foggy weather adds a brooding atmosphere. A light beams from the bedroom window of the distressed young girl, onto the stranger that has arrived, beckoning him inside. Dark blue hues and plenty of shadow, a sinister invitation.


• examples of composition balanced between shots
Blood Simple ( 1984, dir. Joel and Ethan Coen )

As used in my previous exercise for mise en scene, here is the same scene from Blood Simple. The characters face each other over an office desk, and the two balanced frames indicating Marty in the left hand third of his frame, and the Hitman in the right hand third of his frame gives a clear balance to allow the viewer to engage the important conversation between the two characters.

• examples of the rules being broken
Left: Close Encounters of the Third Kind ( 1977, dir. Steven Spielberg )
Right: Full Metal Jacket ( 1987, dir. Stanley Kubrick )

The scene in Close Encounters of the Third Kind shows the alien space craft landing above the human reception. The frame is almost symmetrical, with the landing underbelly of the craft being the focal point of the scene, brightly lit at the centre top of the frame. Although still in conjunction with the rule of thirds, it is almost seen as central to the frame. I picked this sequence to show a fantastic depth of field as the long shadows gives the impression of depth. It is an extremely hypnotising sequence, both in visual and audial structure.
R Lee Ermey as Gunnary Sergeant Hartman in Full Metal Jacket, the movie’s pivotal and most powerful character. Central to the frame and the film, all other characters are reduced to insignificance, as that is the desire of the sergeant and the organisation he represents. There are multiple frames similar to this throughout the first half of the movie, as the imposing drill instructor breaks down every character’s resistance and individuality. This is effective powerfully, as upon watching these scenes, the audience is almost dragged into the line of men, almost broken down to accept the terrifying ethos of the United States Marine Corps’ doctrine. When we reach the second half of the film, we totally empathise in the soul-less hell that the war zone dictates. The troops are mere numbers, their characters irrelevant, whatever different backgrounds they have. Even though we can differenciate the personalities of individuals in the platoon, they mean nothing to the war effort.

• tension created by upsetting the balance
Three frames from Salvador ( 1986, dir. Oliver Stone )
The sequence of the assassination of Archbishop Romero ( played by José Carlos Ruiz ) during Holy Communion is a pivotal part of the film. The film’s protagonist, reporter Richard Boyle ( played by James Woods ) witnesses the murder and is drawn further into the politics of the country and thus deepens his documentation of the conflict. The sequence shows the archbishop administering the eucharist meal to various characters, before reaching his assassin, who breaks the balance by spitting upon the archbishop’s hand, insulting him and finally shooting him at almost point blank range through the heart. The scene descends into chaos. The tension, already ignited beforehand by a passionate sermon from Romero and the packed church infiltrated by sinister looking plain clothes policemen and army personnel, we know that Romero’s scathing remarks against the oppressive regime is likely to turn the scene sour. Oliver Stone then leads us into a false sense of harmony, as the communion gets under way with the line up of those receiving the ritual. But then, just as calmness appears likely, the assassin strikes.
• other distinct meanings suggested through visual balance.
Balance is important to show interplay between characters, be it for tension, harmony, friction, romance, terror, lust etc. By giving visually clear indications of whatever emotion or scenario is happening, the balance allows us to become empathic with what is occurring. By disrupting the balance, sudden changes in the status quo can create an incredible suspense to the dramatic flow of the film.
Peter O