Dec 6, 2009

Intro of Oscar Schindler part1

Recently I re watched Schindler's List: directed by Steven Spielberg, based on a book (which of course is based on a true story) by Thomas Keneally, screenplay by Steven Zaillian, edited by Michael Kahn, cinematography by Janusz Kaminski, and scored by John Williams. The film undertakes one of the more complex sensitive subjects, and transports the audience to WWII Poland to retell one of the most powerful stories in human history. The film follows dozens of characters who don't seem to have much screen time at all, yet, as they are seen at different points in the plot, we feel like we learn their entire life story.

Schindler's List was shot in black and white, the main purpose of which was to legitimize all of the documentary style footage. The main character moments, where shot with a more fancy, cinematic approach. Of these, I really enjoyed the introduction of the the leading character Oscar Schindler (Liam Neeson), and wanted to understand why I liked it. So I thought I'd analyze the storytelling and visual mechanics of this sequence and share it here.

We are introduced to Oscar through a series of close ups. In the very first shot we see a man's hands pouring a large shot of vodka. Perhaps to calm the nerves? The composition includes a radio, and a newspaper suggesting that this man has been keeping up with current events. There is a tea pot and cup; He's been indoors for a while. Was he doing research? Taking notes in the small notebook by the radio? The wall seems a little dirty and old suggesting that he is not wealthy.

The close ups that follow consist of the man picking out of 3 suits and ties (most people don't own 3 suits, so this tells us he cares greatly about his appearance). He picks out the right cuff link for his shirt, which again reinforces his class level. He puts a handkerchief in his breast pocket, and taps his chest which feels like "yeah, everything is just right". The next couple of close ups focus on him collecting stacks of money from various drawers in the apartment. He also gathers other valuable collateral like a watch, probably with the intentions of selling it. I guess this is all of the money this man has, and he needs to use it all now (thus the glass of vodka). The sequence ends with him attaching a pin representing his political party. The duration of this shot is considerably longer than all the others, thus putting emphasis on this point. It is also the closest of the preceding close ups.

The following is a continuous steady cam shot:

The camera stays behind this character, not showing his face. I suppose this is similar to the intro of Indiana Jones.
The man enters to the lobby of a nightclub and is greeted by the maître d' who seems impressed by the tall visitor.

The mysterious man whispers something into the maître d's ear and hands him a neatly folded bill. Probably no one would ever pass a bill this high over one's shoulder, but it works so well in composition that we just buy it. We stay behind the shoulder of our character, and the older gentleman looks up with a welcoming smile. Notice that Oscar is always higher than everyone in every frame. Everyone looks upwards at him, which makes him high status and important.
The maître d' leads him to the newly "purchased" table and seats him. This is still all in one shot, and now the camera begins to follow the maître d' as he walks around the table and back to his post. As he circles the table, he glances at Oscar as if he is interested to know more about his mysterious guest. The camera spins around following the maître d', and stops at the now sitting Oscar Schindler. This one continuous shot now ends on this up shot, which again makes him higher in frame than anyone else (even though he is sitting). The camera lingers here for a longer period of time creating contrast with the rest of the shot thus placing more emphasis one this particular part. The director tells you this man is important, look at his face. He sits like an emperor, and lets off a little smile of satisfaction "yeah, they think im badass, and I got away with it".

Now the camera cuts for the first time. We see the maître d' entering back to the lobby, yet he cant help but keep looking back at Oscar. As he goes around the window, we see two more waiters looking at Oscar. They say "Do you know this man?" No one knows him.

He is now a part of the crowd, and is free to maneuver within the club, which I will try to breakdown for a later post. Gotta to run, I'll leave this here for now.

This was fun though! Cheers