Monday, 28 November 2011

How the great and mighty dress themselves. (This be another one of them posts.) Remember that post I wrote at the beginning of the quarter about the first episode of the fifth season of Doctor Who? Of course you don't: it's still in my draft folder. The whole point of that post—which I'll briefly recapitulate here—is that there's something unusual about a man sporting tweed and bowtie playing the cultural equivalent of Superman. Spandex and tights? That's American. But tweed and a bowtie? That's academic, and surely no one wants the weight of the world resting on academic shoulders. Unless, of course, you're English. In which case it makes perfect sense. So, to begin that post I never posted, here's Superman coming out of the closet and into his own: Note that Richard Donner's American version of making manifest the hero's heroism involves stripping in public, entering a random office building, and emerging in jammies and a cape. The English version of this scene maps particularly well onto its American equivalent, with the one exception that director Adam Smith attempts to out-America America and film it in the sort of long tracking shot Scorsese favors. I'm only going to show the end of the first (Fig. 1) and the end of the second (Fig. 7) tracking shot, because the reaction shots in between are actually more crucial: What are the point of the tracking shots? First, watching men get changed isn't an inherently interesting activity, so the long tracking shots add some dynamism to an otherwise static scene. The fact that the shots are long hammers this home: a long shot holds the whole body in frame, so even if something interesting's going to happen, the audience'll already be privy to it—which is precisely why Smith interrupts the long take with a series of close-ups and reverse shots on the Doctor and Amy. Note that in the Fig. 2 Amy's aghast expression is purely a function of the Doctor's insanity: the Doctor's vanquished the alien Atraxi and won the day, so she's understandably surprised he decided to star-sixty-nine them. Smith kept the focus shallow so Amy's bewilderment occupies the entire frame—at least until the Doctor pops back into the foreground (Fig. 3) being very naked. What had been a close-up on her becomes a close-up on him—presumably the BBC has standards and practices—and she and Rory dissolve into the blur. But only momentarily. Smith then cuts to a medium close-up whose sole purpose is to put the clean minds of the audience into Amy's prurient state (Fig. 4). Amy's eyeline match corresponds with the naked body of the Doctor, whereas Rory's terminates somewhere down and left there on the floor. Smith then returns to the close-up on the Doctor that previously blurred Rory and Amy, but there's a difference: Amy is no doubt still blurry, but she now occupies the dead center of the frame. Don't take my word for it: If not the dead center, then, close enough. Let me explain: as Michael Land and Benjamin...

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