This past summer, we featured a shot-by-shot breakdown of several sequences in Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris by filmmaker and video essayist Antonios Papantoniou. Solaris, as well as the rest of Tarkovsky’s oeuvre, has given and will continue to give detail-oriented cinephiles a seemingly infinite amount of material to break down, scrutinize, and explain the genius of.
But what of big Hollywood films? Do they have nothing of interest to offer? Papantoniou clearly doesn’t think so: his other Shot by Shot video essays include looks, and very close looks indeed, at Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, Martin Scorsese’s remake of Cape Fear, and even the mother of all blockbusters, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.
These three auteurs, all of the same generation, came up in the 1970s cohort of filmmakers who brought about the “New Hollywood,” a movement wherein young directors like Spielberg, De Palma, and Scorsese (as well as Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Paul Schrader, and many others) changed the rules of classical cinema, introducing a host of subjects and techniques previously unheard of in mainstream American films. Yet they still did make mainstream American films, which required a kind of hybridization of cutting-edge sensibilities with silver-screen expectations. Papantoniou specifically examines how these directors accomplish it through the kind of shots they capture and how they cut them together.
Papantoniou’s analyses identify the visual evidence of Spielberg’s “appetite for nonstop dynamic filmmaking,” De Palma’s “own unique post-modern style” expressed through techniques like point-of-view-shots, and of how “Scorsese distincts [sic] himself by adopting more rebellious techniques.” You might get the sense of a slight awkwardness in the language here, but the images selected speak for themselves — and besides, if you took film studies classes in college, you no doubt had at least one or two professors who compensated for their odd turns of phrase with their rigorous love of cinema, and from whom you ultimately learned a great deal. Video essays like these have increasingly made it possible for anyone, without going back to college or even going in the first place, to do that kind of learning — and, whether watching Tarkovsky or Spielberg, to never watch them inattentively again.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.