In cinema, good composition is everything. Since film is fundamentally a platform for visual storytelling, the placement of the camera and subsequent arrangement of images in any given scene imbues the film itself with its own special kind of meaning.
2015 brought us some sterling examples of visual composition in the form of Todd Haynes’ mid-century American reverie “Carol,” Lenny Abrahamson’s dark horse awards season powerhouse “Room,” and a little movie you may have heard of called “Mad Max: Fury Road” — that’s just naming a few. And now we have a new video essay titled “Composition in Storytelling” that examines, yes, just that, and cites a century-spanning range of examples in doing so.
The video touches upon many interesting points, including the effects of artificial control over a scene versus what is called “primal control,” in addition to non-orthodox examples of creative framing and also the famous “frame within a frame,” that longtime cinematic staple that’s in pretty much everything, from John Ford’s “The Searchers” to Bong Joon-Ho’s more recent “Memories of Murder.” Channel Criswell’s essay is jam-packed with a wide-ranging spectrum of examples: the films of both Paul Thomas Anderson and Steve McQueen are cited multiple times. This is not surprising, given the rigid adherence to formalism that both directors tend to exhibit in their work, but it’s still very much worth noting.
In any case, the point is a valuable one to pore over: it forces us to examine how we choose to tell the stories we do, and why they are worth telling in the immersive visual realm. 2015 was a year where directors like George Miller, Alejandro Innaritu, Spike Lee, Hou Hsiao-Hsien and Laszlo Nemes pushed forward towards a new kind of radical visual language, which makes “Composition in Storytelling” very much worth a watch. Check out the video below.