Saturday, May 22, 2010

THAS: Scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 #1

For Hooper, directing a scene is not about coverage. It's less about getting a scene from as many angles as possible, or from all angles which seem necessary, which is the method for so many filmmakers. Not to impose the idea that other filmmakers' approach to filmic construction is automatically inferior*, but there's something about Hooper's approach that is particularly refined, and ties him to the filmmakers who construct through careful selectivity and a restrained, grounded sense of physical POV (of the camera). Even at the service of low schlock, you can notice throughout his career Hooper's clear deliberateness as a director; the ordered restraint of his shots as they are assembled and metered.

* One thing I do not wish to do with this blog is put Hooper up against other filmmakers, whether in
advantage or disadvantage, for, in effect, it is neglectful of the fact of the sheer multitude of different
approaches and styles found in cinema artistry. As I value Hooper at a heightened degree, it certainly
does not mean I'd be happy in a world with only movies made the way he does. For instance, Lynch is
a filmmaker rather diametrically opposed to Hooper in matters of approach to craft, but lo be the day
I renounce the quality and substance of his bold, kitschy, irresistible sort of film melodrama.

One thing about Hooper is the way his camera is always moving, in ways outwardly ornate and aesthetically self-serving. It's not the art of illusion or fragments for him, and it shows in a heightened continuity between his shots (which speaks to how particularly selective he is with them). His scene construction takes on a structured and rhythmic quality, but, correspondingly, in contrast to Argento and others of the school of high style, Hooper's sense of symphony is less devoted to an extravagance or even visual intellectualism as it is purely to very subdued moods and lyrical sensitivities. If Argento is that fabulous creator of dark cinematic baubles, the way he orchestrates scenes being like fired, supple glass blown to create the hanging bauble's voluminous proportion (eye-catching due to their rotund shape), Hooper's cinematic structures, then, are more delicate and characterized by a beautiful fragility - it is the filaments in a piece of spun glass, woven and threaded, highly intricate in its forming.

Hooper's approach has a way of honoring other rich traditions of artistic practice, instead of just the smoke & mirrors manipulations of the cinematic. As counter-factual as it seems, especially in light of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre's committed verité aesthetic, he has a very old-fashioned, classical sensibility, one that makes his work seem to bridge a gap to the non-illusory arts (of pre-cinema). There are two overarching categories of such:

1) The practice of the stage, in which it is all a matter of blocking. It's a matter of how characters move, orbit, and exist around each other. How characters grace each other and perceive each other (or don't) by virtue of proximity. Hooper directs with the power of staging fixed firmly in his mind, directing by building around performance of movement, action, and observance, as stage directors in theater do. Take most any scene from his work and watch how carefully staged is the way characters enter and exit in or between shots.

Hooper is not a director caught up in using the tricks and quickness of cinema. His crafting of scenes is often steady enough that his observing camera, so capricious and colorful, becomes its own entity, taking in the world as, essentially, a non-manipulable continuity of time and space - that is, the world-as-stage, not showily assembled images.

2) The practice of fine art: every camera movement, for him, is a chance to compose something self-defining, to create something of self-encased dynamism and grace such that all the meaning it needs is in the gesture itself - like a painting, it is one "shot" that declares itself an achievement in itself, to be framed and taken in as a unit of worth and meaning without any necessary context. Emotion, movement, and visual texture, caught in the moment, while the narrative mechanism, unrestrained escapism, and constant stimulation of the audience is left the least concern.

#1 - Blocking - "I need your help, Missy."
A Sequence in 82 Frames

(The long strings of the smallest caps represent a continuous shot characterized by the movement of the camera)


"Now this is very hard to believe."

The "s"-like motion she seems to make in this shot is achieved through a camera carefully placed, multiple orbitals (an "s" is made up of two) suggested in what is actually a simple pan (maybe with some zoom) by Williams' alternating distance from the camera, through a path of walking blocked out for her.

"You want me to play the tape?"

"I wanna hear it on the radio. On your show."

Stretch swings beneath the railing of the stairs and sits besides Lefty, as the camera revolves:

Another elegant movement on character action. There is one major orbit, in the camera moving around to their front, but Stretch's swinging underneath the rail (which triggers the outward revolution) suggests a first, smaller orbit, made merely by virtue of Stretch swinging away from the foreground in the direction opposite of the camera's ensuing swing.

She rises from Lefty, in rebuff, leading to an abrupt and strikingly solitary match-in-action cutaway:

This works to structurally bisect the scene into two halves: the first half, in which Stretch is still in a state of non-investment, then the second, in which her involvement (her "in-the-middle"-ness, to echo her own words early in the film) is made thoroughly clear.

A carefully placed frontal close-up of Lefty.

"... because the killers are here."

Stretch, her body still in its disembodied field of vision, moves to Lefty's front in an orbit tracked by the camera.

"I need your help, Missy."


The camera again follows her as she serves as the one to move into his space - this is composition both tenderly considered and formally rigorous:

And the scene's culminating moment: Stretch's departure, a richly sustained shot that follows her up and away from Lefty, up the stairs in an ever-narrowing low-angle, until she disappears into the radio station. From the weightless circling of the camera as Stretch pauses to pick up her bag to the way the shot seems to cut short a breath when she briefly glances back, the shot is beautifully executed.

Lefty's tip-of-the-hat is left to be given away from the camera. The emotional moment is with Stretch, Lefty the figure of change and ambiguity.