Here’s something very brief about how we talk about the interplay of art and craft in the cinematic shot.
I suppose this can be considered a less interesting follow-up to something I wrote, two years ago, regarding the function of the camera in animation. This is a reaction to these two tweets:
What br1anwuzhere says isn’t wrong, but it’s misleading due to a lack of specificity (though I know he meant well). It’s a formulation you see often in shorter blurbs about a shot’s meaning: “Dutch shots convey fear/irregularity” or “Long shots communicate emotional distance/estrangement.” Yes, but not exactly.
When talking about the cinematographic shot, the shot’s type itself has nothing to do with what it means or does—unless you mean to draw from an auteur’s idiosyncratic shot grammar. As anyone who has worked in film will tell you, most decisions over how to shoot a scene have to do with function, not art; one of these functions may be the artistry of said shot. In the end, however, the shot always revolves around The Prime Question: How do I convey the information I want to convey?
Pulling this shot from br1an’s first tweet: the high angle definitely communicates Arete’s sense of being trapped. However, it’s not the high angle that accomplishes this. The camera is simply a tool used to communicate information; in this case, what wants to be communicated is the resounding visual logic: I am trapped, I am trapped. How does it convey this feeling? By using the room.
Rooms—and the spaces we inhabit—are symbolic of circumstances that shape who we (think) we are and who others expect us to be. That’s why one of the most common creative writing prompts is “give a list of things you would find in your characters’ rooms/houses”; that’s why most expectant parents will (unfortunately) paint a room blue for a boy and pink for a girl.
The Prime Question: How can I make this room seem oppressive?
In this case, the high angle shows us the room Arete inhabits. Nothing more, nothing less. The camera is used as a tool, and the room, in combination with that cinematographic angle, gives us all the information we need to read I am trapped. The room’s strict and suffocating geometry. The blocking off on all angles through a clever manipulation of stage props and shadows. The only hope a false hope, a painting of a window. The massive, rigid floor, none of the lines of which, from Arete’s position, lead to a way out.
And a simple change in the elevation of the “camera” leads to this beauty, which plays off of the previous shot. The ray of hope wasn’t where Arete thought it was, at the window—it’s a different window, which in contrast to the floor of the previous shot, has a direct line (the rope) leading up to it. The previously closed off octagon of a room doesn’t seem so stifling, now; only half of the octagon remains, from this angle. There’s hope; and all it took for Arete to recognize that was a change in perspective.
But this is probably too much to include in a tweet, and I digress. I just mean to say that how we talk about shots is important.
—And some functional elements, but those are hardly relevant in anime—anime could do Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities with ease if it wanted to. I also recommend Emily’s post on Yurikuma (and Lulu’s room) over here.