American Beauty is one those rare movies you can watch again and again and still find something new every time you watch it. Not a single word, sound, body movement, edit or camera setup is wasted opportunity to tell a story of a man going through a life change. There is intent, purpose and deeper meaning behind everything.
In this article, we’ll look at camera angles that help to portray the change of Lester Burnham, who, from a gigantic loser, becomes a man in control over his life.
Camera angles do basically two things – they show someone’s:
- power (and/or)
Now, let’s look what these angles generally do on the emotional and psychological level (the following three picture are print screens from Clash of the Titans 2 trailer):
High angle shot reduces the height of a character; this makes the character seem smaller and inferior. It seems like the character is belittled, looked down upon, helpless and insignificant.
Characters viewed from low angle seem to be superior, dominant, bigger, powerful or ominous. Low camera angle gives them a symbol of authority and respect.
High and low angles work also on the emotional level – the audience tends to (most of the time) identify with the inferior character, that is, the one viewed from high angle.
However, it is important to mention, that this works only when the camera is placed around the eye level. You could place the camera on the ceiling to get high angle (or on the floor to get a low angle), but this would be perceived as a creative camera placement, rather than portrayal of someone’s status or power.
American Beauty – examples
So let’s start from the beginning, I’ll show you pairs of opposite pictures and hopefully, you’ll be able to tell, who dominates the story at that point:
Lester starts to be in control over his life…
…and guess what happened… 🙂
This change is also nicely portrayed and documented in body language of Lester Burnham – thanks to amazing performance by Kevin Spacey!