The Square (Edgerton, 2008)

Last post before Cinequest!

The Square is one of two Aussie features to come out of the short film Spider.  The other was the excellent Animal Kingdom by Edgerton’s Spider co-director, David Michod.  The Square reminds me a little bit of Red Rock West, a little bit of early Coen brothers (without the humor) and a little bit of…Animal Kingdom.

Classic murder/blackmail/infidelity plot that’s fast-paced, unpredictable at times (and very predictable at others), well-acted and interestingly shot.  Edgerton favors a camera that is fairly unmotivated.

Motivated vs. unmotivated camera.  A few ways to look at this.  Easiest way is that the camera moves in order to keep something in frame – it moves with action.  Action motivates the camera.  There’s emotional camera motivation (think of the classic vertigo shot in Vertigo, or Spielberg’s reinterpretation of the same technique in Jaws).  There’s camera motivated by plot – good example in a film recently written about: The Big Lebowski has a mystery of a missing toe.  Whose toe is it?  About 3/4 of the way through the film the Coens cut to the nihilists at a diner table.  The camera, with no motivation by action or emotion, cranes down to below the table and to reveal a female foot missing a pinkie toe.

These three – action, emotion, plot – are the most common.  Then there’s the unmotivated camera.  A camera that seems to move for no real reason.  Edgerton’s camera, while obviously (as in the large majority of films) moving for action-motivated reasons at times tends to stylistically hover between a plot-motivated and unmotivated camera.  The camera constantly pans away from characters, taking a reasonable amount of time to frame a reaction shot.  It often lingers on an empty frame, letting a character walk in and out of it (especially in some of the tight interiors).

So why all this movement?  What’s the point (I think I might rename this blog “So what’s the point?”)?  Well one, and an overlooked aspect of filmmaking, is the pacing.  Edgerton’s camera slows things down.  Makes this picture more of a slow-burner overall then the action-packed thriller it’s marketed as.  A good thing, in my opinion.

The camera’s roving eye also seems to function as deciding spectator.  It gives equal weight, and generally equal time to a range of characters.  It wanders and pans around to “consider” everyone’s motivations – to make everyone a suspect (for the viewer) and to make (imply that) everyone suspect everyone else (for those within the film).

Lastly, the camera moves as such to – another underrated aspect of filmmaking, particularly in tight quarters – open up the space and lay out spatial relationships.  What door do I go through to get there?  What room connects to what?  These become important in a film where characters continuously sneak around and behind each other’s backs.  It’s easy to assume that by simply placing the camera and showing the location any audience will be able to understand its layout, but the 2D/3D nature of cinema belies that idea.  A good director – I’ve mentioned him before in this blog, but Ozu is really the master at this – can direct around a space expertly and in only a few shots, leaving the audience to connect with the more important elements.

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About dcpfilm

Shooting, teaching, writing and watching the Phillies.
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