The close-up shots of James Gray

Les gros plans chez James Gray

After having analysed the different films of James Gray’s I propose this time we focus in particular on the figure of the big plan recurrent in the works of this filmmaker.

In fact, James Gray uses all the values of the plans in his various films, large and (especially for filming New York, the city he was particularly fond of) to very tight (very large plans), seeking to stick to more close to his characters. So, that is the big plans that are going to interest us more specifically here, since the filmmaker uses them for many different effects. I therefore propose to analyze a few uses of this value of plans in the work of the filmmaker.


The identification with the characters

The big plan is an approximation of the camera to a face, an object, a detail. Get closer a character is to allow the viewer to be able to carefully read every detail of his face, able to perceive minute movements. Since the big plan will be registered in time, it gives to see the changes of the same face in the course of time. . James Gray, as a lot of filmmakers, tent, thanks to the big plans, to make us penetrate to the interior of the same character : by a face, an exteriority, we would be able to have access to her interiority. The face, including the eyes, then, becomes the part of the body the more expressive she is the more revealing of the inner condition of a character.

Thus we can take the example of the zoom-in James Gray, especially in Little Odessa, movie, with few large plans in relation to other feature-length films of the filmmaker. During a rendez-vous between Akardy and his mistress, the man comes to discuss his son. A plan chest is the director chooses to access the close-up of the character. It is an approximation for a return home in the privacy of her character. The zoom in allows you to access little by little to the big plan, to capture the interiority of the character.

The framework is done in a first-time broader : it is a plan chest, and integrates the man and his mistress. The conversation at the beginning is quite light. However, when the subject is more serious, the filmmaker chooses to get closer to his character. With this zoom it is now more possible to read the “thoughts” of the character, to emphasize his remorse vis-à-vis its children. Movement trace of the face, especially the eyes, allow you to do this. The filmmaker chooses also focusing on it to isolate it, his mistress is no longer included in the framework : it is an intimate moment, that belongs only to the father. The big plan is also a means of focusing the attention on the word of the man, who speaks with severity of his relationship with his son. The choice of a zoom in, to bring us gradually to the big plan, therefore, is indicative of a desire of the filmmaker to gain access to the interiority of his character. To enable this it is also seeking a phenomenon of identification : the spectator understands the pain of this father, and feels with him of the penalty.

The big plan is also a figure privileged of James Gray in the case of scene very intense. The director makes the choice, rather surprising from sticking to the faces of his characters in scenes of action pure, rather than focusing on the stunts and effects set the scene.

In this way we can take the example of the pursuit of The night belongs to us, is representative of this. The plans are very short, alternate regularly between the outside of the car, and inside. When it comes to indoor shots the camera does not leave the characters : this is for James Gray to bring life to the viewer that lives on its characters.

The approximation of the camera plays on the intensity of the scene. The plans of the larger (exterior, plan chest on Boby’s profile…) seem like short moments of breathing. When the danger is on the contrary much more of this James Gray adopts a framing much tighter. The camera is also much more moving, struggling to keep the character inside the frame. The “climax” of the scene will happen when the father of Boby is assassinated in front of his eyes. James Gray is therefore the choice here of a very close up on the eyes of Joachim Phoenix to play entirely on the intensity of the scene and reveal the horror of what comes to see Boby.


The big plan, and its relationship to beauty

The big plan for this film-maker is also in connection with the question of the intimacy between the two characters. Filming inside of the same two characters in close-up, it is the sign most often in an intimate relationship. The processing of the image, and, in particular, work on the color, the calibration also comes into account when it comes to James Gray to highlight the proximity of its characters. And the scenes in bed are often treated in pastel colors, creating a sort of cocoon, a space that is soft to the characters. The big plan, consisting of, therefore, often an approximation to the face of an actor, therefore, is in James Gray’s the symbol of reconciliation emotional when it comes to two characters.

In We Own The Night the scene in the bed between Boby and Amada, where he asked her to marry, is filmed in this way : it is the close, loving relationship, which is here filmed.

The close-up of Amada does not isolate it from the frame : the face of Boby is visible on the left. Then the two are filmed in profile and will share almost evenly the space of the frame. The light is soft, seems to caress the characters, while an ochre dominates the scene. This way of filming the characters, from the register in a single frame, implies a close of course spatial, but also relational. The use of the large plan sets in this example an intimate relationship between the characters. It is a scene on the feeling of love that James Gray filmed here, the choice of the big plan is not made so as to cause the identification, but to emphasize the intimacy between these two characters.

The choice of the big plan thinking about the beauty. Approach a face that is the set value, or the disfigure. Faithfulness leads to the magnification, and thus allows to reveal the beauty, or to emphasize the defects. The treatment of the faces of the female characters of the Two Lovers (or also that of Amada in We Own The Night) showcases their beauty. Of course, the actresses lend their traits to the characters, but James Gray takes care of the place even more in value. Women, Amada in We Own The Night, and Sandra Two Lovers, represent a sweetness, a peace, the opposite of the male characters. James Gray uses to access this a particular way of staging, working on the figure of the big plan.

We can, however, point to differences in the treatment of the faces of Sandra and Michelle in Two Lovers. The first represents a sort of ideal woman, kind, gentle, the one to which the family of Leonard pushes him to go. It sort of embodies the ” reason “. A contrario, Michelle, the blonde, would be ” the passion “, a woman almost idealized by Leonard as it is inaccessible (she lives a relationship with a married man). This difference is noticeable in the last scenes that pass Leonard with the one and the other.

The face of Sandra appears soft, beautiful, very happy in that final scene. The ochre of the image gives it a warm character. The face of the actress is highlighted in this way, it is its beauty, its sweetness, that James Gray wants to show us in this final sequence. It may be compared to the treatment of the face of Amada in We Own The Night, during his scene in bed with Boby, previously analyzed.

Conversely, the face of Michelle appears to be less “beautiful” in her final scene shared with Leonard. His face is sad and immersed in a blue light. It is the coldness that dominates this sequence, the sadness of separation. The staging is so different, even if James Gray chooses to shoot in both sequences his actresses in close-up.


The insert

The big plan concerns not only the faces or the details of the body : in James Gray’s the insert, the close-up object, holds a great importance. In this director the insert can, just like the large plane face, be a powerful vehicle for emotions. Approach this way to a subject that, obviously, is to enlarge its place in the frame, and thus the set value, increase the impact it may create on the viewer.

Thus, James Gray chooses, when the assassination attempt on Joseph in We Own The Night, to do a close up on the gun from the shooter.

Here there is a repetition on the weapon, that is seen as a first step in a larger plan. The plans on the spray gun is intersected by two times by close-ups on Joseph’s face, avoiding the effect of a jump, but also in allowing us to read both the surprise on the face of the victim, and his fear. The close up on the weapon is present two times, so we have three plans on the pistol, once in the wide shot, a two-time close-up (the second time being that the shot was fired). This effect of repetition created a shock in the viewer. Choose the big plan here is to force the viewer to see the weapon of the crime, to read the fear on the face of Mark Walhberg, and to assist, helpless, to his death. The foreground object has thus in this excerpt an emotional impact strong in the viewer. Just like the large plane face the fastener can thus convey strong emotions. Even if it is no longer here to enter the interiority of a character with close up face, but a simple approximation to an object, James Gray manages to place the viewer in the same position of helplessness that his character (this being accentuated by an effect of repetition).

The repetition in the insert is a special case of the use of this figure by James Gray. More generally, the filmmaker chooses the close-up object to provoke an emotion or intensify it. In this way we can talk about the choice of the insert in the stage of infiltration of We Own The Night, The sequence already analyzed previously. We have seen that James Gray is attached to stay very close to his main character in order to create suspense, and contaminate the viewer the fear of Boby. The use of inserts by the filmmaker in this scene also goes in this direction.

We see a weapon in the sleeve of Boby twice. With this big plan, the filmmaker puts us once again close to the character of Boby. We know with him what the other characters do not know, to know that he is armed, and he was terribly afraid of getting caught. In the same way James Gray choose to show us in close up the lighter when the dealer handles it. We are in on the joke with Boby : we know that the lighter has a micro hidden, and so that Boby can be unmasked at any moment. It is a plan almost subjectivized, since returning to the look of Boby, who knows he is in danger. The impact of the insert is safe, since with a process of identifying important.

The big plan, therefore, is an essential part of the filmography of James Gray. It is a figure ubiquitous (especially in these last three films), the values varied. This little tour d’horizon of the various uses of this figure is obviously not an exhaustive list.

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