How does Martin Scorsese deliver dramatic moments with such impact? Why do Jackie Chan’s kicks and punches, even those performed in service of jokes, land with such impact? And why do Michael Bay movies, despite their near-fetishistic inclusion of things crashing into other things, seem to lack any kind of impact at all (apart from that on audience adrenaline and box office numbers)? Questions like these keep cinephiles, filmmakers, and cinephilic filmmakers up at night, and they also apparently drive editor and video essayist Tony Zhou to make his series Every Frame a Painting. At the top of the post, you can watch his analysis of Scorsese’s use of silence; below, of how Jackie Chan does action comedy; and at the bottom, how Michael Bay crafts his unique brand of cinematic “Bayhem.”
Michael Bay, you might incredulously ask — the guy who directed the Transformers movies? Indeed. But as Zhou puts it, “Even if you dislike him (as I do), Bay has something valuable to teach us about visual perception.” His video essays aim to learn from all films, drawing lessons from those that succeed at every level (as some say several of Scorsese’s do) to those that exemplify a kind of highly specialized mastery (as Jackie Chan’s best surely do), to those that fail at even their own aims (as Jackie Chan’s American productions tend to do), to those that aggressively and successfully pursue questionable aesthetic ends (as, well… perhaps you can guess).
Having watched these three videos and thus come to understand what situations bring on a Scorsesean silence, why Hong Kong money allows Jackie Chan to perfectly kick a bad guy down a staircase, and which traditions Michael Bay exaggerates to achieve his brand of visual maximalism, you’ll want to move on to Zhou’s other analyses, which break down the techniques of directors like Edgar Wright, David Fincher, and Steven Spielberg. Evidently a fan of both East Asian cinema and animation, he also looks hard at what working outside live reality allows Japanese director Satoshi Kon to do, and what superstar Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho gets out of telephoto profile shots in Mother. “There’s actually a lot of great videos on the internet analyzing movie content or themes,” he says in the latter essay, “but I think we’re missing stuff about the actual form — you know, the pictures and the sound.” Every Frame a Painting shows us exactly what we’re missing.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.