Every Frame a Painting
If you haven't seen Tony Zhou's channel, Every Frame a Painting, you should definitely check it out. A few of his best videos have already gone viral, including this one about the comedy of Edgar Wright, and this one about "Bayhem." As Tony makes clear, whatever you think of Michael Bay's movies, and hoo boy- are they problematic,[ref] Sexual objectification of almost every female character, glorification of violence, fawning over the military-industrial complex, racial stereotypes, bloated running times- I could go on. [/ref] he is very good at what he does. This is the kind of film theory I enjoy, and find the most useful. Tony focuses on the tools filmmakers have at their disposal and how they use them. I had never heard of the four quadrant system of cinematography until I saw his video on Drive.[ref] Good movie. You should see it. Just don't expect The Fast and The Furious.[/ref] Now this tool is something I can watch for in other movies, and potentially use myself.
Even things like cell phones, which have already changed how people go about their daily lives, offer new ways to tell stories. This video goes into several ways people have tried to depict text messages: do we see the phone screen? A graphic of the text? There are several options. I'm partial to the simple graphics seen in Sherlock and Netflix's House of Cards,[ref] Oddly, House of Cards started with the graphics like Sherlock, but then switched to close ups of phone screens in later episodes. I think there was even less texting in the second season. Huh. [/ref]which I suspect will become more mainstream as time goes on.
I was especially pleased to see Tony talk about a topic I've mentioned on this site before: staging actors in longer takes with deep focus. This used to be commonplace, especially in the early silent era, and in the 1930s and 40s- think Citizen Kane. [ref] Which did not invent the idea by any means. [/ref] As cutting rates increased for a variety of reasons- the influence of television, digital editing systems, scotch tape[ref]Easier to hold pieces of film together than paste.[/ref]- the intricacies of staging fell by the wayside. Nowadays it's common to have the actors standing or sitting in one spot and cutting from close up to close up.
Most of what I know about staging comes from the work of film theorist David Bordwell, both reading his blog and his book, Figures Traced In Light, which looks at how different directors have used staging from the silent era through today. The scene Tony discusses, from The Bad Sleep Well, while using the geometric shapes he talks about, also includes several uses of what DB calls The Cross.
Fast cutting and close ups have their place, but I think it's important to look at all options available to an artist. When everyone is doing things the same way, it gives you a chance stand out by doing something different.