Dynamic occlusion – Symbolism

In the previous article, we saw the effect of lens flares in motion. Now let’s put that in practice with all other sorts of moving overlays and obstacles. A ‘squeegee’ — think of a sweeping windscreen wiper — is a dynamic obstacle that moves in front of a relatively still character’s face, often as a symbolic threat to his or her very existence.

 

Menacing

In Godzilla (R. Emmerich, 1998), a mysterious Frenchman shows up in a hospital to question an old Japanese fisherman in a state of shock. In order to attract his attention, the Frenchman moves a lighter in the air, which seems to bring back painful memories. The flame waved sideways in front of the old man’s face is felt as a direct — although symbolic — threat to the character (read more in Obstacles – Representatives). Conversely, letting the flame move off the Frenchman’s face reinforces his position as an inquirer.

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FRENCHMAN
“What did you see,…”

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FRENCHMAN
“…old man”

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FISHERMAN
“Gojira,…”

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FISHERMAN
“…Gojira.”

In Platoon (O. Stone, 1986), a Vietnamese peasant watches US soldiers invade his village. As the soldiers walk towards the character, a rifle moves up and down over his face in the foreground. In The Lord of the Rings – The Fellowship of the Ring (P. Jackson, 2001), Boromir has fallen on his knees, brought down by the arrows of an Uruk-hai. A bow held horizontally in the foreground moves over the character’s face as he slowly raises his head. In both cases, the weapons moving across the characters’ faces symbolically threat them. Their movements merely reinforce the association between the victimized characters and the ‘representatives’.

In The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (P. Jackson, 2003), Éowyn — dressed as a man in armor — faces the Witch-King. The cloak and the mace in the foreground almost conceal her figure. Indeed, those symbolic occluders of the Witch-King’s physical superiority dynamically overshadow the frail character and seem to leave her no chance whatsoever.

 

Trashing

In Gladiator (R. Scott, 2000), Maximus enters an arena with the roaring applause of the crowd. In order to convey the brutality of the event, the character’s figure appears intermittently occluded by clapping hands or flags in the foreground, as can be seen from those two shots stitched together, showing the same effect from different viewpoints. So what it says is that although the character is cheered, he really is a victim of the crowd’s power.

In Raiders of the Lost Ark (S. Spielberg, 1981), Marion — who’s taking part in a drinking contest — begins to show signs of weakness. Instantly, handfuls of banknotes fill the screen and occlude her face until she takes over the situation again. In 9½ Weeks (A. Lyne, 1986), a woman attending a lunch with collaborators finds herself overwhelmed by their presence. When they raise a toast, their glasses almost entirely conceal her face, which brings out her feeling out of place. In both cases, the character appears belittled and violated by the symbolic overlay in the foreground (read more in Overlays – Translucency and opacity). The stillness of the character also contrasts with the movement of the overlay like moving particles.

What’s up?

‘Squeegees’ are nothing but moving ‘representatives’ in front of characters. Motion merely empowers such obstacles, especially when characters are relatively still in comparison. In next article, we will explore rhythmic ‘squeegees’ like fans or grids.

 

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