Category Archives: Thoughts and Ideas

Look. Listen. Analyze. Prison Breaking

For this assignment, I chose the prison breaking scene from The Shawshank Redemption.

When viewing the scene without sound, first we see Andy looking defeated. He is cast in shadow, to emphasize this. Then, we see the poster. The shot zooms in on this, and Andy gets up, out of the shadow. This foreshadows the upcoming event. This change from dark to light is a common theme throughout this scene. When breaking his way into the sewer pipe, the camera is behind him while waiting for the lightning to strike. He looks at the window, which we see light up. Then, the camera moves to show his front as he strikes the pipe, his face illuminated by the lightning. Later, we have one of the most iconic moments in film history. At the movie’s climax, we see Andy finally escape Shawshank. Before the camera zooms out, it lingers on Andy, at a slightly elevated angle. This contrasts with the defeated look we saw at the beginning of the scene, bringing it in full circle.

When listening only to the sound, the tonal shift was more noticeable. The music starts of soft, then grows more tense. Red’s narration offers as a natural buffer for the music to grow more upbeat. Then, near the end of the scene, the music goes from dark to light as it evolves into a triumphant symphony.

Watching the clip in its entirety helps piece together the more subtle changes in tone. The lightning plays a large role in this. While Andy is climbing down to the pipe, we hear small, but noticeable, changes in the music. Here, the lightning represents the light that Andy is working towards. Probably the biggest change is the climactic point at the end of the scene. We hear the music become triumphant and upbeat as the camera begins to move away from Andy. The camera moves upward as Andy has finally left his problems behind, a message that is difficult to decipher without both picture and sound.

Reading Movies

Ebert’s post offers some good insight into reading movies. He often noted that breaking some of the “rules” of film making can, at times, prove fruitful. It is more important to know what effect these rules have on the audience rather than to simply follow them. A lot of the traditional film making techniques are designed to feel seamless, so the audience may feel uncomfortable when the conventions are broken. Sometimes, however, that’s what you want.

Stanley Kubrick makes good use of this concept. It’s rare for other types of movies to, for example, focus the character in the center of the shot or zoom during a shot, but it works well in his movies. He wants the audience to feel unsettled, so he breaks a few rules. It isn’t so obvious that the audience views these decisions as bad or sloppy, but rather works on a non-conscious level. Thus, simply throwing in a bunch of bad filming techniques wouldn’t produce the same effect. The key is to be subtle.

Sometimes using an unusual camera angle can also trigger psychological effects. Quentin Tarantino often makes use of shots angled upward. This shot has the effect of making a character look powerful or intimidating. This is an example where the camera angle can produce an effect that others would not. It is important not to use a specific angle because it looks cool, but because it produces the emotions the film makers desire.