Frame splitting – Dividers (Part 1)

After ‘compression strips’ and ‘frame blockers’, here come ‘frame dividers’. A divider is a prop or a part of the set that splits the frame in two or multiple parts, segmenting screen space in ‘compartments’ where characters can live apart. Naturally displayed as an obstacle between characters, it is meant to keep them separated for reasons we will explore in this series.


Separate worlds

At the beginning of Rambo: First Blood Part II (G. Cosmatos, 1985), Colonel Trautman visits John Rambo in a labor camp prison to offer him a ‘job’ in exchange for his release. The screen is divided by the top of the fence in this high angle shot showing the characters face to face in their respective worlds.

“I’ve seen worse.”

“Yeah, you have, haven’t you?”

In The Matrix (A. & L. Wachowski, 1999), IT engineer Neo is being blamed for being late by his boss. In this shot, the glass door jamb in the background acts as a frame divider, keeping characters separated in their respective worlds. This brings out that Neo won’t fit with the big business mold represented by his boss on the right half of the screen.

“You believe that you are special, that the rules do not apply to you.”

In Kill Bill Vol. 1 (Q. Tarantino, 2003), ‘the Bride’ has a score to settle with her murderers. She visits the first one, Vernita Green, at her place. In the first snapshot, the screen is horizontally divided by the ‘top’ of the open kitchen wall to keep the enemies separated in two different spaces. A moment later, both characters are involved in a dialog in profile, once more using the open wall as a frame divider, acting as a barrier to communication. Maintaining a divider throughout a scene prevents characters from literally finding ‘common ground’.


“This Pasadena homemaker’s name is Jeanne Bell. Her husband is Dr. Lawrence Bell. But back when we were acquainted, four years ago, her name was Vernita Green. Her code name was Copperhead. Mine, Black Mamba.”


“So when do we do this?”

“It all depends. When do you want to die?”

Face to face

In The Lord of the Rings – The Return of the King (P. Jackson, 2003), Elrond talks Aragorn into using his newly reforged sword to raise an army of a very special kind. The sword is displayed as an apparent and dynamic frame divider, keeping characters in their own screen half. What is at stake depends on it, so it has to be clearly displayed. At the same time, the screen looks as though is was composed of two opposite shots stitched together, where both characters face the wall, bound to reach an agreement (read more in Off-centered characters – Facing the wall (Part 1)).

“The man who can wield the power of this sword can summon to him an army more deadly than any that walks this earth.”

In Paris, Texas (W. Wenders, 1984), Walt has driven a long way to see his brother interned in a clinic just to be faced with an improbable doctor who tries to extort money from him in the middle of nowhere. A pole divides the screen in roughly two halves in which characters confront each other. Note that although a pole divides the screen, the trailers in the background link the characters’ faces as though they were thinking: “We both know this place has nothing to do with a clinic.”

“Must be in a kind of jam.”

“I don’t know, I haven’t seen him in over 4 years.”

“Is that right? Well, a lot can happen to a man in 4 years. All kinds of trouble. Bits of trouble.”


Linking divider

When the frame divider is large enough, it can act as a link between characters. In The Fearless Vampire Killers (R. Polanski, 1967), Professor Abronsius is being reported unusual events by his assistant Alfred. In this case, the frame divider is a large light reflection on the central axis of the spiral staircase the characters are climbing. It separates the one who asks from the one who knows as much as it links them, for the divider is large enough to bind their faces together as opposed to the dark areas near the frame borders. And here, it is quite true that the characters are collaborating as much as they face each other.

“And, well, I was alone, yet he was by my side, but nothing from him. No reflection. Nothing. Blank.”

“Not even his clothes?”

“Not even his shirt.”

“I`d love to have seen that.”


What’s up?

In part 1 of this article, we saw how using frame dividers could split the screen in two different areas where characters can live apart, either to indicate their differences or their opposition. In part 2, we will witness the impact of the ‘compartment’ size on the characters and play with divider staging.


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