Examine The Styles Of Cinematography in Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015) And M (Lang, 1931).

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To what extent do you think they are indicative of genre?

George Miller’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” (2015) and Fritz Lang’s “M” (1931) are two incredibly different films made over eighty years apart. Miller’s Fury Road is a high-octane action-adventure movie with a dystopian science-fiction backdrop and Lang’s M is an early, slow-burning crime-drama rooted in reality and set in Berlin. However despite their differences, the two films are the epitome of their respective genres; Fury Road having a repertoire of material to imitate and draw from; and M initially laying the groundwork for the crime, drama, mystery, and thriller genres with techniques that Directors have utilised and borrowed from ever since.

Examining and comparing the styles of cinematography in these two films - made decades apart - offers a valuable insight into the evolution of genre, the influence of genre on audience members, and the significance of genre within the industry.

Francesco Casetti, an Italian film and television theorist, deems genre “a collection of shared rules that allows the filmmaker to use established communicative formulas and the viewer to organise his own system of expectation”.

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It is a means of broadly labelling a film in order to liken it to similar pieces and attract a broader audience; and it is also a means of stimulating an audience with the use of tried and tested cinematic techniques in order to achieve a desired effect. This is something, I believe, contributes to the critical and financial success of Miller’s Fury Road as he fuses characteristics from a variety of genres in order to attain broader appeal, concoct a unique visual style, and play to the audience’s expectations.

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Miller draws from the road, action, western, and science-fiction genres (to name a few) and this is evident throughout. For example a noticeable trait of Miller’s cinematography in Mad Max is the use of “zoom” shots; occurring initially the moment Max starts up his V8. We are propelled from a medium shot of the engine to an extreme close-up. Instead of zooming with a lense, the camera physically moves towards the subject - interlaced with fast cuts this builds tension and suspense prior to climatic moments, notably cars colliding and explosions. This technique is repeated throughout: when Max is used as a blood bag on the front of Nux’s Chevrolet we pull into the back of his head from a long shot, when a vehicle speeds up considerably we either pull into the Driver’s face from a medium shot of their vehicle or pull into the vehicle's speedometer. This technique is a more refined incarnation of a technique seen in classic Spaghetti Westerns such as Sergio Leone’s “A Fistfull of Dollars” (1964) in which we see this several times prior to the climax of sequences, often on Character’s squinting eyes or pistols as they are drawn. Notably, in the third act of Leone’s western, Joe’s (Clint Eastwood’s) pistol is drawn and Leone zooms from a medium-shot of Joe to a still close-up of his pistol as he begins to pull the trigger.

Millers decision to use this technique on vehicles, alongside the sudden diegetic roar of an engine (increasing in volume), communicates the power of these post-apocalyptic machines and alludes to the scale of destruction they can cause. This is significant to the films action sequences as Miller intends for his audience to understand the danger that his characters are in whilst speeding after one another, colliding with each other’s vehicles, and throwing themselves from the roof of one exploding vehicle to the next. He has borrowed this technique in order to

achieve the same effect as Leone; to push suspenseful moments suddenly and successfully into their climax - a very useful technique to utilise in an action film and one of many techniques that helps to create the unique style of cinematography in Miller’s Fury Road.

The influence of the western genre on Fury Road is also evident in the setting, the film’s moral landscape and the film’s third act in which our protagonists and antagonists race back to claim the undefended “Citadel” as their own. There are similarities between the shots used, themes touched upon and sporadic shot-lengths in iconic Western movies, including: the chase scene in John Ford’s “Stagecoach” (1939) where rifles are fired from coach windows and juxtaposed with, inside, a mother comforting her baby; and the opening segment of Robert Hossein’s “Cemetery Without Crosses” (1969) in which a long-shot depicts silhouettes on horseback chasing three cowboys. This long shot is repeated when Immortan Joe’s (Hugh Keays-Byrne) fleet of vehicles are silhouetted by the sun as they chase after Max Rockatansky (Tom Hardy) and our group of protagonists.

The cinematography, iconography, themes and various cinematic techniques that we now recognise and associate with a genre, we do so because of the effects they have on us as audience members and the effect they have had on audience’s throughout the history of film. If something successfully makes an audience scream, for example a sudden cut accompanied by a loud noise (a jump scare) then it will be recycled again and again in films made with the intention to scaring their audience. As a result, the jump scare has become synonymous with the horror and thriller genre and, if inclined, you would be able to trace its origins throughout the history of cinema. The evolution of genre is very much a “play of repetitions and variations” (Cinema Genre, Raphaëlle Moine), everything we see on screen today is borrowed and built upon.

Whilst Miller draws his inspiration from well-established genres, Lang unknowingly pioneered genre in the early days of filmmaking. For example, in M, Lang characterises the camera with voyeuristic qualities. This is a directorial decision that stems from the core conflict of the narrative: there is somebody out there watching and waiting for their moment to strike and claim another innocent victim. During the film’s second act we cut to the “Beggars Organisation” where we are presented with a high-angle close-up of a Beggar’s collection of cigar nubs on a table. It is as if we are seated opposite him. We pan up and study the Beggar before panning right and across the room in a point-of-view-like manner without the camera embodying a character. The camera rises as if we are standing, before moving towards, panning down and zooming in on another table’s contents. The camera continues to snoop, passing through a glass window and studying a variety of beggars with medium shots as we pan between them. The point-of-view-like motion of the camera informs the audience that the killer could be anybody anywhere and this style is continued throughout the film as the camera lurks behind bushes, beneath desks, tracks isolated characters or studies their daily routines with long shots. The unnerving tone that this creates is enforced by the duration of the shots, they are long and continuous in order to allow the tone to intensify and tension to build.

Presenting the camera as a character, despite having no physical presence, allows the audience active engagement as they attempt to identify the killer and ultimately further the plot. An advantage of this technique is that the director can easily create dramatic irony by informing the audience and not the characters. As dramatic irony has become essential within the crime-drama and thriller genres, Lang’s technique has been replicated in numerous incarnations since and has become a powerful tool within the genre and similar genres: in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954) the camera pans freely and watches neighbours for clues whilst our protagonist sleeps; the opening of John Carpenter’s “Halloween” (1978) places the audience in Mike Myers shoes as he stalks his sister, only revealing it to be a point-of-view shot when a knife is brandished; and in Nic Pizzolatto’s “True Detective” series (2014-) we are shown a six minute tracking shot in which the camera mimics a point-of-view motion whilst following our protagonist in order to have the audience unveil the mystery alongside him.

Lang’s use of limited omniscience has also become typical of the crime and thriller genres. In the opening act, he deliberately conceals the serial killer's identity in order to create suspense and enforce the idea that the killer could be anybody, anywhere. Lang does, however, reveal the killer’s silhouette accompanied by him whistling "In the Hall of the Mountain King" by Edvard Grieg. We see a close-up of a wanted poster that references a series of disappearances, all of which are children. Elsie (Inge Landgut), a young girl, bounces her ball against the poster and then the whistling shadow of a man appears against the sign (Hans Beckert, played by Peter Lorre). He leans in and asks Elsie’s name. The decision to frame the shot this way, excluding both characters is done for a multitude of reasons. Primarily to create a sense of mystery and keep the audience guessing at the killer’s identity, but most significantly Lang has done this to create dramatic irony. Elsie does not read the sign, she bounces her ball against it, but the audience does and we are made aware as to the intentions of this mysterious man.

Concealing the identity of an antagonist or a killer has since become a trope of the crime, detective, and mystery genres and similar techniques are used in Bryan Singer’s “The Usual Suspects” (1995) and David Fincher’s “Seven” (1995). In The Usual Suspect’s first scene, Singer keeps the killer (Kevin Spacey) cloaked in shadow and doesn’t cut to the killer’s face when he converses, he simply focuses on Keaton (Gabriel Byrne) and any shots of the killer are close-ups below the neck. In the on-foot chase scene in Seven, Fincher initially conceals John Doe’s (Kevin Spacey’s) identity by only placing his arms and legs in the frame but he treats the audience to a canted low-angle shot in which the killer is silhouetted against the sky. Lang’s use of shadows and limited omniscience through framing enhances the unsettling style of cinematography and the sense of mystery within the plot.

Miller’s use of framing in Fury Road stems from his pre-production process. Oscar Winning Director of Photography, John Seale came out of retirement to help bring Miller’s Fury Road to the big screen. In an interview with the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Seale explains that when he joined towards the end of pre-production he had no script to work from, but instead worked from over three-thousand-five-hundred panels of storyboards and likens the experience to working on an animated film. The panels frequently feature “KLUD” and “BOOM”

and the illustrations are reminiscent of 1960s black and white comic-books. Seale states that “the film was put together as a comic-strip” and that the film was “shot as per the storyboard”. Miller’s decision to draft his film in this manner has fed into the film’s unique style of cinematography as comic-strips are drafted without the monetary and more logical limitations that film instills. Doing this allowed Miller to work backwards, figuring out how to get those shots instead of figuring out how to adapt his script into engaging action sequences. The fast-cut, zooming and shaky style of cinematography that we see on-screen is the result of this process. I would liken this style of devising to working on a graphic-novel to film adaptation, something that is becoming increasingly more popular within the action genre. With the Marvel Cinematic Universe having hundreds of unique action sequences to draw inspiration from and with the critical success of Zack Snyder’s “Watchmen” (2009) and Frank Miller’s “Sin City” (2005) devising from storyboard to script seems a logical and intuitive decision for Miller to take when aspiring to create a film with such an ambitious style.

The Uses and Gratification theory (Elihu Katz, Jay G. Blumler, and Michael Gurevitch, 1974) assumes that audience members are not passive, but actively seek out media and apply media to their own lives based on their desires or to fulfill specific gratifications. The continuous evolution of genre in film allows us, as audience members, to actively seek out films that will meet our needs and desires. If we like a certain film for its visual style or because of the emotions it evokes, Genre gives us the ability to seek out similar media. As a contemporary viewer, Lang’s M and Miller’s Fury Road utilise a variety of aspects indicative of genre, right down to their unique styles of cinematography, and this is arguably their greatest strength as it gives them a broad appeal and a strong influence over their audience.

Updated: Feb 18, 2024
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Examine The Styles Of Cinematography in Mad Max: Fury Road (Miller, 2015) And M (Lang, 1931).. (2024, Feb 18). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/examine-the-styles-of-cinematography-in-mad-max-fury-road-miller-2015-and-m-lang-1931-essay

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