So I’ve been reading up a little on media aesthetics and trying to apply it to my favourite films of all time as I go along, and here’s the warm-up.
BREAKING BAD (2008) – Cinematographer: Michael Slovis
I’d heard a lot about this series, now on the verge of its final season, but only started watching it earlier this month. I’ve watched the first two seasons in as many weeks. It’s one of the last few television series to be shot on film at the moment, and it shows. I’m blatantly repeating a lot that’s already been said before out there but it would be wrong not to.
The story is about the almost sudden moral decline of an intelligent, mild-mannered secondary school teacher, Walt,who decides to start cooking crystal meth for money after he is diagnosed with cancer. The explosions of drama, suspense and action surrounding his attempts to deceitfully preserve his outwardly upright and mundane existence are really well written and acted. The soundtrack is pretty awesome too. But it’s all the experimental film play that’s really addictive. The first thing I noticed in season one was the luxurious 35-mm wide-angle shots and blowouts of the breath-taking New Mexico vast lands:
Then there are the potentially haunting but oh-so-engaging 10-60 second close-ups with no people, no voices, just sounds and images:
And sometimes there are worm’s-eye-views of dead people
The extreme long shots (XLSs)of the landscapes somehow articulate the desolation, isolation and sheer desperation of the protagonists during their wild episodes in the desert.
Also, the colour pallet and lighting really push the envelope. There are a million examples in every single scene so I can’t even begin to talk about that. But there are two main effects in general:
1) Mise En Scene (“Arranging the scene”): The colours encapsulate the mood in every scene, from the simple charred pink teddy bear in a monochromatic background (Danger? Crime? The innocence of a little girl? I don’t know yet) to Jesse’s bed and those yellow sheets (yellow=happy), to the graffiti on the wall that Jesse leans on during his internal psychological turmoil about whether he can really turn his back on his life of dealing drugs, to the unusually saturated hues and unashamedly dark scenes with ambiguous light sources in the indoor/night scenes.
2) Emotional Provocation: There’s this sense of intimate proximity to the characters, for example from the directional forces, camera placements and points of view. Sometimes it actually feels like you’re watching everything through the crystal meth tainted lenses of a tiny winged, breathing, living thing
a la Peep Show, assuming crystal meth generally makes the colours bolder and the music more poignant. (Did I SERIOUSLY just imply that Peep Show and Breaking bad had anything in common?) There is simply no illusion that anything the camera shows you was down to chance, but it FEELS as surreal as it looks, so that you don’t even mind enduring the longer, slower, everyday-life scenes and Walt’s chemistry class.
Back to colour filters, I realized a main feature in almost all the movies I love for their “great cinematography” is yellow:
GATTACA (1997)- Cinematographer: Sławomir Idziak
The unreal depth of field (and all the pretty yellow flowers) in the scene below made remember the movie long after I forgot the storyline…
… and says a lot about the recent leaps and bounds in advancement of DSLR cinematography.According to Herbert Zettl’s Media Literacy Model, “… we need to know how the basic aesthetic building blocks are used to create and shape our cognitive and affective mental maps”. I’m feeling so literate right now.
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