Tuesday, 20 September 2011

An Auspicious Beginning to the New School Year SEK is departing from an undisclosed location in the Pacific Northwest. He saunters up to the Alaska Airlines counter. SEK: Hi! I'm four-and-a-half hours early for my flight to Orange County. TICKET AGENT: Can I see your ID? (SEK hands it to her.) Here you go sir, enjoy your time in Seattle. SEK: Seattle? TICKET AGENT: You better hurry up, sir. Your flight's already started boarding. SEK: But I'm not going to Seattle. (Checks his boarding pass.) Why am I going to Seattle? TICKET AGENT: Your flight was overbooked, sir. SEK: So you're sending me to Seattle? TICKET AGENT: Yes sir. SEK: You realize that's in the opposite direction of Orange County, don't you? TICKET AGENT: I'm sorry, sir, but you need to hurry or you'll miss your flight. SEK stands there, dazed, in front of the Alaska Airlines counter. Right there, completely flabbergasted, in front of the Alaska Airlines counter. SEK: Will I be able to find a flight to Orange County from Seattle? TICKET AGENT: It will cost $100 to transfer the ticket, but you can take care of that when you get there. SEK: You can't just send someone somewhere and then charge them a transfer fee. What kind of airline is Alaska Airlines anyway? TICKET AGENT: Sir, if you miss your flight, you'll need to transfer two tickets. SEK considers his options. The flight to Orange County from his undisclosed location is overbooked four-and-a-half hours before check-in. Seattle has a more robust airport ... so he rushes to and through security and boards a tin-can-of-death to Seattle, where he currently sits typing this on free Google wifi. Will he make it home? Only time will tell.
Heroic Abeyance (On Donner's Superman) [The complete list of my visual rhetoric posts can be found here.] Richard Donner knew that Superman needed a powerful entrance in Superman (1978), but he also knew that the one element that it would necessarily lack was surprise. The audience knows who Clark Kent is and knows that Lois Lane won't actually plummet to her death, and Donner knows that the audience knows that. Because he can't rely on the narrative to carry the weight of the scene, he must resort to using spectacle to carry the weight of the narrative. The scene begins innocently enough, with an extreme long shot (in deep focus) of Lois Lane approaching a helicopter parked on a skyscraper: Why go with the extreme long shot? Because he needs to establish the relation of the helicopter to this mischievous cable: How do we know it's mischievous? Because he cut to a close-up of it. The audience may not know why they are being asked to pay attention to this cable, but they know it will play some role in the narrative about to transpire. Donner then cuts back to the original shot to show Lane entering the helicopter: Note the deep focus here: even though the camera remains positioned exactly as it had been in the first shot, the scale of this would be considered medium long. Why? Because the most important element of a shot helps define what a shot is. It could be argued that the helicopter is more important in the first shot, in which case it would have been a medium shot of a helicopter with Lane visible in the background. But I'm going to argue that Lane is more significant than the helicopter 1) because she occupies the central position in both shots and 2) because her yellow jacket contrasts both the black to the left and the red to the right. Besides, if Donner wanted the helicopter to be the central element, he would've just done this: An even more extreme long shot of the helicopter pad works as a re-establishing shot. Because of its scale and the lack of on-screen movement, this shot imparts a calmness to the proceedings. Everything is going according to plan. It is now safer for the audience to join Lane in the helicopter: Donner situates the audience immediately behind Lane, but the shallow depth of field results in the back of her head being out of focus. This shot is uncomfortable because it's contradictory: her centrality indicates the very same importance the focus diminishes. Everything may not be going according to plan: By cutting from the cockpit shot to this close-up of the cable, Donner is momentarily disorienting the audience in a manner that mimcks the disorientation about to be felt by Lane and the pilots. Where is that cable? Where is moving? What is snapping? Maybe these guys know: Probably not. From that distance, a black cable on a black helipad would be well-night invisible. At least until it snaps and...

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