“If you combine the right motion, and the right emotion, you get something cinematic,” says Tony Zhou in his latest installment of “Every Frame a Painting”, his video essay series that examines various aspects of filmmaking and breaks down scenes of films to show how filmmakers use things like symmetry, angles, and technology to inform the narratives of their films.
Zhou’s latest video essay examines how filmmakers use movement to tell a story, and he has chosen Akira Kurosawa as his primary example throughout the essay. Zhou breaks down five different types of movement Kurosawa often used — the movement of nature, of groups, of individuals, of the camera, and of the cut — and selects one particular scene from Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai to show exactly what he means. The scene uses every one of the five types of movement Zhou highlights, sometimes all at once and sometimes with only a select two or three filling the frame, which works wonders in telling the story and doing so without expository dialogue.
In contrast, Zhou takes a look at a scene from Joss Whedon‘s The Avengers, which primarily uses dialogue, and not movement, to inform its narrative. This scene begins similarly to the one from Seven Samurai, with a camera move into an establishing shot, but then, “we get dialogue right away,” says Zhou, and “throughout this scene, the only things that move are the camera and Nick Fury.” The weather outside and the actors in the background are unfortunately unused and thus without purpose, and every single camera movement is the same slow sideways pan, whether in a close-up, medium, or wide shot.
Have a look at Zhou’s piece, it’s quite interesting and if nothing else it makes me want to crack open my Criterion edition of Seven Samurai and examine a few scenes to better see how Kurosawa uses movement to tell the story. I don’t normally catch these types of things when I’m watching a film, but I like that Zhou uses his “Every Frame a Painting” series to inform viewers of the ways filmmakers try to tell stories and keep us engaged in ways that aren’t as overt and that we might not consider without a closer look.