I watched this film the other night and I noticed a lot in the way this film was shot to tell the story. This film is basically about a day in the life of a racially diverse New York lower to middle class neighborhood in 1991. It’s a very hot day, so warm colors are dominant throughout the film until the sun sets at the end.
To illustrate racial prejudice and dominance among the members of the community, there’s a number of shots that are repeated throughout. There’s a lot of dynamic up shots, and a lot of dynamic down shots. When there’s no animosity between the characters, the horizon line is horizontal:
Also notice how the shots here are composed. Mama Sister is on the left of the frame, while Spike is on the right. One shot is predominately red, while the other is predominately green. Complementary colors and contrasting compositions.
When there is animosity the horizon line is rotated giving a more skewed or violent scene:
Radio Rahim dominates almost all of his scenes. He’s made to look big and mean with the use of close ups against medium shots:
Look at this great shot:
Here both parties are meant to look menacing and neither is dominant. Both use extreme up shots or horizontal shots:
Rahim’s up shot was a little more extreme, predicting a win of the music showdown
Coming back to a shot from above, look how it plays against the shots of the cops in this scene. This is total separation through color; Cool blue with warm lighting against hard red with cool lighting:
Now look at this scene where the main characters are having a discussion about race. Everything is relatively calm and both retain the same status:
…Until of course we get a “prejudice montage.” This is supposed to be aggressive, and put you in the shoes of the prejudiced. The shots are point blank and frontal with the actors breaking the fourth wall:
But the shots get more contrasted as the animosity increases:
Look at these great shots:
By the end of the film there is no more animosity between these two characters (see shots from above):
So the shots aren’t skewed, and the angles aren’t as extreme. It’s also not as hot out so the shots are cooler aesthetically (as well as emotionally).
Here the scene starts calm. Horizontal lines, mediums shots:
But that quickly changes as the hate builds up. Again the same conventions are used. It has to be this way, or we get confused as an audience. Once you pick a way to illustrate something, you’ve gotta stick to it. Notice how the skewed angles are also opposing each other, creating more contrast, and racial separation:
Characters with a lot of differences but not much animosity:
Look at the use of complementary colors in this shot:
The calmer the characters are the more flat and normal the shots are. There’s a lot of overhead shots and handy cam shots in this film also which further immerses you in this neighborhood. By the end of the film it feels like there nothing outside of this community, because there’s enough drama and controversy here for anyone.
I learned a lot watching this film. Check it out if you can.