Today “For Love of the Screen” celebrates phat tracking shots. For non-filmmakers, a tracking shot is where the camera moves along with one or more characters for a period of time to reveal several layers of information in a story before cutting away to another point of view in that scene, or onto the next scene.
One of the highlights of going to film school in New York in the 80s was going to revival houses to check out some of the scenes we’d just studied in class on a big screen. High on that list of memorable moments was watching Scorsese’s pool hall brawl in MEAN STREETS. Covering a fight scene between neighborhood gentlemen after one is called a ‘mook’, the scene is comprised of a some wonderful fluid moves by both actors and camera to convey inner and outer chaos of the characters. It’s a wonderful display of using the camera to communicate both text and subtext in visual storytelling.
To this day, I salivate when I see a director use his camera to dig deeper into the story or into characters’ lives. One tracking shot that continually gives me the fever is the sequence in LA VIE EN ROSE when Edith Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard) learns that her lover Marcel has been killed in a plane crash. This single shot – almost two and a half minutes – is choreographed to the centimeter and millisecond. I’ve no doubt that it is Ms. Cotillard’s performance in this scene that helped win her the Oscar. The camera’s movement unveils layers of denial, revelation, desperation, devastation and ultimately survival. When the camera arrives at its final position of the sequence, it reveals the contrasting identity that the character, as she grasps onto the only bit of life she can embody: performing.
What’s the last film you saw where the camera revealed a story so masterfully?