Steve McQueen’s “Hunger” – visual storytelling perfected

There ate very little words spoken in Hunger. Found within the deafening silence is another form of language. Always right before your eyes, the visual vocabulary of films often makes itself invisible. Hunger, directed by steve mcqueen with cinematography by sean boppit, achieves a level of depth and magnitude in its materful visual articulatuon.

Scenes like the prisoners being ganges up on by armed guards, anally and orally probed with the same set of gloves or the degeneration of Bobby’s frame over the course of the hunger strike, and even the coordinated piss-spilling in the hallway – all of these scenes are wordless, but they speak volumes. The entire film carries an air of sophistication that may be undervalued when taken for granted.

I for one have a hard time paying attention to long and worst dialogue, and talking that fills the air throughout some films. Hunger, however, had my eyes and ears and mind linked and synced to every action on the screen. In a way I felt like I was reading a novel, albeit a visual novel, but the relation is that I was very much “reading” the story. Descriptions or updates or dialogue wasnt being fed to me, but with the right pair of eyes, which I’m sure many people have judging by the acclaim the film has gotten, every shot is a phrase and every scene is a chapter.

The film is absolutely polarizing. That we are sure of just from watching it but also from the reviews – the Tiff screening in 2009 inspired both walk-outs and standing ovations. Where the film may push boundaries the furthest is the 17.minute long uncut dialogue between bobby andi a priest. The scene is somewhat brutally minimalist and focused, reflecting the surroundings of the prison and the overall tone of the film. What makes it special is that it pays off. If someone doesn’t like it, they can walk out, but for the others who have the faith, audacity, or self-control, whatever it takes to stick around for just. While longer, one can find themself invested in the story.

The feeling of enjoying Hunger is not unlike being swept up in a novel so good that the only option is to power through it in one sitting.

Anything learned from this film in regards to telling a story visually should be highly valued.

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Montage Assignment: Skinface Gets A Date

Skinface Gets A Date is on the surface a tale about an ugly monster who manages to score a date with a hot piece of pony. But deep down, it is also a tale about an ugly monster who manages to score a date with a hot piece of pony. Of course, we are art majors, so it is other things, too.

Image

With this assignment, I wanted to push myself to tell a narrative through cinematic language alone. This included first reducing the story to a single sentence, as seen above. From there followed a number of creative choices to ensure the viewer’s understanding.

I approached the film like a long sentence. Or a series of sentences. The same way that each word in a sentence relates, modifies, or gives context to another word, each still image (or shot)  in a film is a word in a visual vocabulary.

Sex

The word sex alone is very powerful. But it is not a story. To convey a specific idea about sex, it must be accompanied by the proper wordsmithing.

The big ugly monster had sex with the pink pony.

(For clarity’s sake, the above sentence does not reference Skinface Gets A Date)

Now sex has a context from the words around it. Every word in that sentence was crucial to locking down the idea that needs to be conveyed. The same is true for shots.

the gaze1

In Skinface Gets A Date, to show that the monster was lusting for the pony, I used a shot of him (right justified), juxtaposed with a shot of the ponies (more left justified). His eye line corresponds to the idea of “gaze”. Then I use a different angle of the pony (without breaking the axis) to convey their relational distance, both physical and metaphorical, and to set up the sense of space. Seeing the monster gazing from the distance also gives him that “lonely” and “creeper” feeling. He looks voyeuristic.

the gaze2

His gaze turns crazed and lustful, and then (from the same angle we recognize as his gaze from before) we see the pony looking back as well. We see the monster looking, and then quickly look away. This is a reaction shot, and through juxtaposition the audience understands that when the monster has the pony’s attention, he gets nervous.

the gaze3

The hope is that all of this comes across without me explaining it. The point was for the images to speak for themselves.

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The music helped a little bit, but the story works without it. This is a good test to make sure the images speak for themselves. Colors came into play to differentiate moods. Lighting to evoke feeling. Juxtaposition is very important in a project like this because there is no dialogue, and only still images, so each image has to “speak” to another. The meaning is not in the image itself, but in each image giving context to another. Just like the word sex is not very meaningful on its own, the juxtaposition of the words, “Consensual or not, sex happened between a monster and a pony” tells a story not in the words themselves, but in their context with each other.

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