Frame blockers – Single blocker

In the previous series, we saw how inserting large ‘bands’ in the frame could pressurize characters by eating up screen space. But usually, those ‘bands’ don’t play an active role in the story. So let’s go one step further with frame ‘blockers’, special kinds of ‘bands’ displaying the cause of the pressure in the frame.


The obvious

In Rambo: First Blood Part II (G. Cosmatos, 1985), Marshal Murdock feels uneasy telling John Rambo about his mission: to infiltrate a Vietnamese camp to take photographs of American prisoners of war without attempting to rescue them. But Rambo was ready for more, which is supported by the framing of his figure — the frame ‘blocker’ — putting pressure on Murdock. Whereas a ‘band’ would have only suggested Murdock’s discomfort by eating up screen space, displaying Rambo’s body as a frame blocker shows both his discomfort and the cause of this feeling.

“Under no circumstances are you to engage the enemy.”

In Max Payne (J. Moore, 2008), B.B. — a friend of Max’s — tells Detective Bravura about Max’s past in an attempt to help Max before he runs into more problems. Here, the clever use of the character’s back as a frame blocker puts pressure on his own reflection on the window pane, showing his mixed feelings. Whereas a simple ‘band’ would have put pressure on his reflection, using his own body as a blocker shows both his discomfort and the cause of this feeling: himself.

“A file can’t tell you everything.”

In Sherlock – His Last Vow (N. Hurran, 2014) (on the left), Watson finds it difficult to be apparently sidelined by Sherlock’s eager girlfriend. His figure is cornered in the background by Janine’s body as a frame blocker. Sherlock’s hand in the foreground carries even more meaning to the blocker. A similar effect is used in The Graduate (M. Nichols, 1967) (on the right), the first time Benjamin is sexually harassed by Mrs. Robinson, the wife of his father’s law partner. Not only Robinson’s naked shoulders corner Benjamin in the background but also act as an obstacle between Benjamin and the audience, bringing out his helplessness.


“[I haven’t told Mary] about this. I kind of [wanted to surprise her.]”


“Oh, my Christ.”

“If you won’t sleep with me this time, I want you to know that you can call me up any time you want, and we’ll make some kind of an arrangement. Do you understand what I’ve said?”

“Let me out.”

The less obvious

In Taxi Driver (M. Scorsese, 1976), Travis Bickle — a mentally unbalanced Vietnam Veteran working as a taxi driver in NYC — finds himself stalking Senator Palantine who is running for presidency. Throughout the film, the city is shown to play an active role in the character’s descent into hell. After a series of concept shots of skyscrapers, the following shot shows a reflection of the sky on the taxi’s windshield corner the character to one half of the screen, in the dark reflection of a building, symbolizing the city’s deadly influence over his mind.

“We, the people, suffered in Vietnam.”


What’s up?

Whereas ‘bands’ eat up screen space to put pressure on characters, frame ‘blockers’ add one more meaning to the shot: the reason for that pressure. In the next article, we will see the effect of using multiple frame blockers in a frame.

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