Dynamic occlusion – Rhythm (Part 1)

Not only do ‘squeegees’ dynamically occlude characters, they can do it in rhythm. Gratings, fans, windshield wipers, pendulums, they all make for effective devices when it comes to chop up character faces and increase the stressing effect of obstacles or overlays.


Grate vibrations

In Terminator 2 – Judgment Day (J. Cameron, 1991), Sarah Connor tries to escape a detention center for the criminally insane. In this shot, she is shown watching a guard walking in one of the parallel wings through a grated window. In Love Actually (R. Curtis, 2003), Aurélia walks away from Jamie — her employer and loved one — at the airport. In both cases, a grating in foreground scrolls on the screen as the camera tracks the character walking behind. The fast scrolling of regular structures like gratings in the foreground accentuates the ‘caging’ effect of the stripes. This visual staccato brings out the violence of the characters’ feelings, empowering the guard and victimizing the woman. Note how a strobe effect makes the grating bars seem relatively still over the woman when the camera reaches a certain speed.

In Excalibur (J. Boorman, 1981), Merlin appears in Morgana’s tent before the final battle, and tries to trick her into undoing her spells. The camera tracks each character from the other’s viewpoint through an ornamental netting, alternately empowering Merlin and victimizing Morgana, for the reasons cited above. But gratings and nettings are not the only means to get that result, as demonstrated by The Host (J. Bong, 2006), when Gang-du is ordered to get back to the truck while his father walks to the river to hunt down the creature. The scrolling weeds acting as ‘transparent veils’ exacerbate the characters’ opposition and anxiety.

Your biggest fan

In Angel Heart (A. Parker, 1987), there’s always that strange feeling that a crime is in progress whenever fan blades start moving by themselves. Here, Dr. Fouler will be found dead in his bedroom, as suggested by the fan casting a dynamic shadow on his shoes. In Raiders of the Lost Ark (S. Spielberg, 1981), the dead body of a monkey on a carpet appears chopped up by the blades of a rotating ceiling fan. In both cases, rotating fan blades seemingly act like the Grim Reaper mowing down his victims.

The rhythm of rotating fan blades over characters don’t necessarily indicate death. In Born on the Fourth of July (O. Stone, 1989), Ron Kovic dreams of the young soldier he accidentally shot at the Vietnam war. The character is filmed through the rotating blades of a ceiling fan to convey the overwhelming guilt that continuously gnaw at him. In Cocoon (R. Howard, 1985), the passengers of a boat are filmed through the propeller of the helicopter that chases them. The visual staccato of the propeller blades over the characters can be seen as a symbolic instrument of coercion against them. This shot conveys their feeling of being taken over in a heavy-handed manner.

What’s up?

Regular structures in motion like scrolling gratings or rotating fans can be used as dynamic overlays over characters. The rhythm of their motion on screen exacerbates the action as well as the characters’ feelings, whether they are violent or violated. In part 2, we will explore different types of rhythmic ‘squeegees’ like windshield wipers and pendulums.


Recommended reading


Recommended watching