“It’s like a lot of films one sees today. Not that I see very many, but to me they are what I call ‘photographs of people talking.’ It bears no relation to the art of the cinema, and the point is that the power of the cinema in its purest form is so vast because it can go over the whole world,” Alfred Hitchcock once said. That dissatisfaction with seeing modern-day directors simply shooting actors and cutting between a multitude of shots is what motivated the fine folks over at Every Frame A Painting to take a closer look at Akira Kurosawa’s visual style in a new short video essay.
Running just over three minutes, “The Geometry of a Scene” focuses on a scene from Kurosawa’s 1960 corruption drama “The Bad Sleep Well,” and deconstructs how Kurosawa is able to derive tension from a relatively simple scene without cutting between multiple shots: instead, he uses blocking and camera moves to direct viewers’ eyes to constructed shapes within the frame. The video —edited and narrated by Tony Zhou— is apparently part of a long video essay on Kurosawa that has yet to be released, but is interesting and informative enough as such.
The shot economy that Kurosawa and other classic filmmakers employed is a quality that Paul Thomas Anderson has taken a shine to in the years since “Magnolia.” For proof, notice how his use of the long take has evolved from the tracking shot through the casino in “Hard Eight” to the great scene on the couch towards the end of “Inherent Vice” between Joaquin Phoenix’s Doc and Katherine Waterston’s Shasta that unfolds in one long take. That efficiency is something more filmmakers should strive for. As Anderson once told Time Out one of the worst things a director can do is “doing 40 shots for a scene that should take one or two.”
If you need a lesson on how to use one or two shots, watch “The Geometry of a Scene” below and study some more Kurosawa.