The power of film composition

Here is the example I mentioned in class on Monday. First, the original trailer for the romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally:

Now, the mock horror / thriller movie of When Harry Met Sally:

Notice how changing elements of the composition completely changes the feeling or attitude or reaction to the movie (“style becomes content“). Change the music, change the font style, change the order of images to create a different juxtaposition of shots and the entire meaning and attitude changes. The scene where Meg Ryan lays on Billy Crystal who stares blankly into space is somewhat comical in the first trailer; in the second, his stare becomes creepy and a little chilling because it’s been juxtaposed to a different sequence of images. Simply rearranging the clips created a completely different meaning.

One of Eisenstein’s points is that this has to happen with “organic” composition. That is, a filmmaker must use images, conventions, styles, music, and so on that seem familiar and natural to the audience. Through repetition (or maybe “dull daily reinforcement”) we’ve come to understand the “knowledge” that certain types of music correspond to feelings like happy-go-lucky or fear or terror. A filmmaker must tap into at least some of the already existing cultural meanings and forms or else the audience won’t recognize or feel what the filmmaker wants them to to. (Remember that Goffman made a similar point about fronts and our own performances.)

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One Response to “The power of film composition”

  1. Chelsea Kaufman Says:

    I agree with these changes in style and content. You could do this with just about anything. For assignment 6 I used a Friends episode. Anybody who has ever seen a Friends episode could tell you there is no fear or terror in any episode they have. It is all comical and about the only background music or noise that is used is a crowd of people laughing in the background as they watch the scene being made. You could take any of the episodes though and add a little bit of scary music and take certain clips from the show and make a preview to people who have never seen it and they would think it was a scary movie or a thriller. I think the main thing for me is music in movies or tv shows. The music really sets the mood and you can tell almost by the opening scene what your mood is going to be for the rest of the movie.


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