L13FC: Movement in Film

Welcome back to the Lucky 13 Film Club. On this lucky day, a co-host joins me and we spend the day discussing a topic of the film industry. The more the merrier, so please share your thoughts. I am happy to introduce this month’s co-host, Sharon Wilharm from Nashville, a seasoned Indie filmmaker. Please check out her blog at faithflixfilms. 

This month’s topic is how motion elevates a film to a visual art form.  

Every frame a painting” edited and narrated by Tony Zhou explains how to recognize and understand movement in film. Which director does it best? Arguably, Akira Kurosawa. 

Sharon’s thoughts: 

I love the movement in films, especially when it’s done unexpectedly. I like how Akira used weather to create movement when there might not be any otherwise. I also appreciate the beginning, middle, and end of each of his movements. Each shot tells a story on its own.

The first film that comes to mind when I think of subtle movement is  Forrest Gump. For a full minute, all we see is a feather fluttering through the wind, contrasted with the lack of movement everywhere else. The clouds are still. The trees are seemingly frozen. The cars are parked. But then slowly the feather flutters towards the town and everything comes to life. Pedestrians walk to work. Cars drive past. And the feather comes to rest at the feet of Forrest Gump.

Albert Lamorisse 1956 short film, THE RED BALLOON

The Red Balloon follows a similar technique with a boy following (or being followed) by his red balloon. Both use basic movement to communicate the simplicity of the characters.

For more complex movement I love the choreography in Butterfly Circus (2009). I love all the circular movement of the carnival rides and the circus performers, the constant movement of the camera and the cars and the characters. The tightly planned choreography combined with the precise editing, makes this movie such a delight to watch.

Cindy’s perspective

 

Movies all have some type of movement. War movies, chase scenes, and musicals instantly come to mind when I think of the orchestration of a scene which requires intensity and precision. However, like Sharon, I like to consider the subtle ways filmmakers engage the audience with movement. For example, the 2002 film The Four Feathers has its issues, but the movement is exceptional by director Shekhar Kapur. I find myself liking his films (Elizabeth, Elizabeth: The Golden Age) simply because he understands how to use nature, costumes, and his environment to create stunning, moving scenes. When nature is stationary and the character walks across or through it, I find the simple movement engrossing and loud. A walk on the apex of a sand dune or mountain top shows the heroic fortitude and audacity of the character. The journey of life. I never tire of shots like those.

THE PRESTIGE (2006)

Christopher Nolan is another director who understands how to compose art by movement. He can be loud and jaw-dropping by employing the technology available to him and moving the entire setting in ways never seen before like Inception or Interstellar but he can also be subtle and graceful like the concentration he elicits in us as we follow the magic trick in The Prestige.

 

When you think of your favorite directors and favorite films, is it the movement that captures you? What scenes can you recall where movement is expertly done?  

Thank you, Sharon, for co-hosting today! 

60 thoughts on “L13FC: Movement in Film

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  1. Interesting topic. I guess I like the way “movement” is employed in Alfred Hitchcock films. The camera in his films is also always very clever. Other person which comes to mind is the director Steve McQueen – I just love the movement in his film “Shame”, for example. One of my favourite scenes there is Brandon going jogging, and the camera follows him, being in parallel – powerful enough, in my opinion.

    1. Welcome DB. Steve McQueen is an interesting director. He’s diverse–his mastery of stills (monologue in ‘Hunger’) and use of movement in ’12 Years a Slave’ and as you aptly suggest, the jogging scene in ‘Shame’.

      1. Wow! What an amazing location they chose for this shot. All the incredibly interesting lines. I can’t comprehend how they managed to handle the changes in lighting going into complete darkness then back into light, most of the time with backlight. And for the first 3/4 of the shot, he’s really the only thing moving. It’s not until he gets to the traffic light, and he stops running, that we see cars in motion. What a great shot!

    2. As far as Hitchcock goes, yes, with the dolly he practically invented and his use of movement is outstanding. ‘Strangers on a Train’ is a perfect example. The tennis match scene, the carousel scene at the end–brilliant stuff.
      Another classic director who comes to mind who’s awesome with movement is Vincente Minnelli .

  2. I think the Dunkirk beach scene from Joe Wright’s movie “Atonement”, a 5 minute one camera scene following the main character, is a great ‘movement’scene, so much going on in the background while the story is played out with the chaps walking. Must’ve rewound that 10 times to take it all in!

          1. Nolan’s Dunkirk didn’t compare much at all to me. The best part of that movie was the flying scenes with Tom Hardy in the spitfire, but that’s CGI movement mostly I think. His beach scene was pretty sparse, and felt too neat, no chaos and quite unemotional, and he was using cardboard cutout men to give the impression of lots of soldiers! It showed.

          2. I think you make a valid point. I thought it was too clean and orderly.
            What do you think of Terence Malick? The opening scene of The Thin Red Line uses great movement.

            While his films are bizarre, he does concentrate on movement and I appreciate that. I’m also thinking of Lars von Trier’s ‘Melancholia’.

          3. Hi, Cindy and company:

            I still think the best depiction of the Dunkirk Rescue Operation was in the Noel Coward, David Lean directed WWII film, ‘In Which We Serve’. Where the destroyer crew takes care of the evacuee soldiers while the destroyer’s Captain and surviving Army Colonel calmly direct Counter Battery from the ships artillery turrets.

            Then deliver the soldiers for replenishment along the Thames.

    1. I’ve always been a big fan of long movement shots like this. We tried this in our latest movie and discovered how challenging it can be. Looking at all the massive amount of people who had to be choreographed with their movements together is just amazing! Thanks for sharing this shot.

      1. I love them too, one of the best I’ve seen is in the 2006 movie Children of Men, directed by Alfonso Cuarón, a 6 minute take where the camera man runs with Clive Owen (one of his better roles I think ) through gunfire and tank shells, you really feel the action. Sometimes the camera is right behind him, sometimes looking out from him to see what he sees, a masterpiece for long takes I think!

  3. (I do enjoy great films and film making, but my opinions are fearlessly unqualified).

    I’ve never Directed anything, though I often imagine myself in that chair. I’m an analytical chap but I wonder if I would compose scenes too intellectually – fear that they might become wooden. (Even though us Virgos are annoying perfectionists). I recently did however, watch Ford’s ‘My Darling Clementine’ again – and was mesmerized by his almost Rembrandt perfection in scene composition. Motion has great there impact simply because almost everybody else in the scene is static – and stark black and white. I couldn’t say if Ford was ever influenced – or even aware of Kurusawa – but his work is certainly brilliant. As well.

    I was disappointed in Nolan’s Dunkirk and feel it was over-rated. There are several things about the movie – apart from the Directing – that are bothersome. The aerial scenes were very well done though.
    (Damned by faint praise).

    1. Hi, jcalberta:

      Great catch with ‘My Darling Clementine”.

      Always thought the windy dust storm and jingling spurs build up to the actual Gunfight At The O.K. Corral was inspired for its ability to build tension and suspense!

    2. JC, Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think we film buffs have daydreamed about how we would direct a shot. Like anything, the great ones make it look easy. Ford was famous for his staging and nothing makes mothion look better than after a pause of stillness. As far as Dunkirk goes, I liked the characters on the boat and the dogfights in the sky best.

  4. Hi Cindy:

    I’ll open with a selection of tracking shots and opening credit scenes which are the films’ most intriguing use of celluloid, Set the mood and pace for the tale. And project fluid movement flawlessly:

    #3: Sweet Smell Of Success:

    #2: The Player:

    #1: Touch Of Evil:

    Jack.

    1. Touch of Evil opening is crazy good. Your link wouldn’t open. I’ve put in another here in case someone else had the same issue.

      The flow and seamless movement is beautiful to watch.

      As far as classics go, who could beat out the kings Buster Keaton or Charley Chaplin for movement!

      1. No one could plan, plot, rehearse and execute a gag like Buster Keaton. His work in ‘The General” is Masterful!

        Harold Lloyd would be a second for his extended, one shot and always in frame gags.

        While Chaplin focused mainly on close up and fluid gags.

    2. Sweet Smell of Success – love this opening! The bustle of NYC is perfect. Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis. I haven’t seen this film, and I’m wondering why! Here’s a link of the opening that opened for me:

      1. Excellent choice, Cindy!

        The opening few seconds of the word “EXPIRED” builds up curiosity and Paul Newman’s Luke slowly decapitates the row of parking meters and waits for the cops.

          1. A choice contender for “Sweaty Men In Film”.

            With Paul Newman and George Kennedy. All the way down to Wayne Rogers, J.D. Cannon, Joe Don Baker, Harry Dean Stanton, Dennis Hopper and Anthony Zerbe and his Blood Hounds.

  5. Sorry for my lateness, Cindy. I love movement in film as it can signify so much. Whether that be a journey, emotions or physicality, it is a really good skill when used well in a movie. I love a good tracking shot.

  6. Being as I place myself in a film to watch it [my escape], I waited patiently for that feather to drop – I thought that was the best. But where would you put non-movement and silence such as in “2001”? Each time you see that still, black monolith, you know something of importance with soon erupt.

    1. I think that a contrast of movement and non-movement really grabs you. Same with music/noise and silence. In a workshop we watched with Shane Hurlburt he shared how in Crazy/Beautiful, they contrasted the two main characters through camera movement/lack of camera movement. Since she was being stifled in her home with her family, whenever they shot in her home, they had the camera on a fixed tripod with no movement. We liked that concept so in our latest movie, we tried it. The one girl is living with her mother-in-law who dominates over the young couple. So whenever we shot the scenes in her house, we kept the camera static. It will be interesting to see if anyone catches that.

      1. How intriguing. I admire directors who think of those kinds of details when they film. Nuances become super important to me as I grow older and, let’s face it, there are only so many plots. The nuances become the art I end up appreciating.

  7. Great post! I would mention animation as well, since every movement depends on the animators and literally nothing happens that is not intended in some way. I could think of any number of Disney or Ghibli films, but last year’s The Red Turtle really used motion well against the stillness of a tropical island, whether the main character working, some crabs walking, or trees blowing in the breeze.
    Since many people are talking about long tracking shots, I’d also like to bring up the introduction of the main cast in Serenity, where the whole crew and the ship itself were explored by the moving camera.

    1. Sorry, the response–swamped with family stuff.
      Welcome back and thanks for your comment! Animation is in a special class of its own and your suggestions are aptly put.
      I just watched (for the 10th time) Moana and I liked the motion of the water and how it even became a character. When the little girl walks out and the water separated and she was in an aquarium, I thought that was great. That’s only one of many where the movement was strong. Serenity–I haven’t seen it myself, but now I’m interested, and I will keep an eye out for the movement of the ship.

  8. Late to this after my holiday.
    No arguments about Kurosawa from me. He is the master of the sweeping panorama, swirling armies, colours and dust. ‘Ran’, with its fluttering banners, ‘Kagemusha’ with the soldiers rising slowly as the messenger arrives. Then the solo movement. Mifune strutting confidently in ‘Yojimbo’, the quiet hand movements as extras serve tea to seated lords, all just amazing to behold.
    I have other suggestions of course. When they arrive at the nightclub, in ‘Goodfellas’. Moving from the entrance to the table, nodding, waving, camera following their path. Superb work by Scorsese, one of the best tracking shots.

    And who can forget the crane shot that opens ‘Touch of Evil’? Welles at his most alluring.

    Bleated best wishes, Pete.

  9. Personally, I think it is Kurosawa and everyone else. I don’t know why, but I think Asians tend to be good at “composing movement.” Hayao Miyazaki’s animated films are also great examples of “movement in film.”

    Anyhow, Wong Kar-wai is another filmmaker who is fantastic at what you are talking about. His films are all about movement. You can clearly see it in the trailer of Kar-wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000).

    1. Welcome, Eric. The link wouldn’t open for me, but I agree, Asian filmmakers seem to be influenced by and focus on how to stage and implement motion in their films. The last fine Asian film I saw was 2015 “The Assassin”. What a beautiful film with superb movement.

    1. You are so right, Richard. I thought time was beautifully expressed in A Ghost Story. The A heavy, wonderful film. The guy at the table discussing the futility of humans was profound.

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