Mystery shots

Mystery shots

This is an interesting type of shot that I firstly noticed in Pulp Fiction. The camera focuses on characters’ back while making the rest out of focus. That means we don’t see the facial expressions (of our character in focus), we can’t read any emotional cues from his face. Now, it’s important to mention, that there is no counter-shot, we stay in this type of shot for the whole time – this builds a tension and bit of a drama.

Subconsciously you are asking yourself: Is he a good guy, bad guy? Is he harmless or threatening? You can guess by color and intonation in his voice, but still you are missing the visual cues.

The first example comes from introduction of Marsellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Since this is the first time we see his character, it’s quite difficult to guess what type of character he is and thus for several minutes he remains covered in mystery for us.. And by the way, I think this is one of the keys to a good storytelling – lay out questions and hold viewer’s curiosity as long as possible, reveal the answer (hopefully a surprising one and in a way that will be unexpected by the viewer), than lay out new questions and repeat the process…

Let the Right One In (2008)
Let the Right One In (2008)

The second example comes from Swedish movie Let the Right One In. We are in a classroom, where a policeman gives a short lecture. The only kid interacting with him is our main character Oskar. Again, his back are in focus, while everything else is out of focus. You would expect a rack focus on the policeman, or counter shot revealing the face of Oskar, but none of that happens.

Here this technique serves a different purpose, we saw his face already, so it’s not a mystery any more. I think that in this case this simply helps to build a tension in the classroom. (Later on, you’ll learn that Oskar gets often bullied.)

Do you know about any other examples? If yes, let me know, I’ll be more than happy to add them here…

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