Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Close-Up

In my mind there are certain moments in film that seem suspended in time, and put goosebumps on my arms when I think of them, and most of them are contained in a close-up.  The close-up demands your full attention.  It's what actors long for and dread all at once.  As a filmmaker, it's crucial to have the close-up in the arsenal as a powerful tool to draw the audience into the character's mentality as well as the actor's performance. 

The insane, yet disturbingly precise movements of Marlon Brando's insane gaze as he confronts Martin Sheen in Apocalypse Now.

The complete loss of hope in Maria Falconetti's eyes in The Passion of Joan of Arc.

The reluctant yet emotional declaration of guilt as Daniel Day-Lewis screams "I've abandoned my child!" in There Will Be Blood.

The next time you watch a film, pay attention to when the director elects to go into a close-up.  If done well, it's at a key moment that strikes a note about the character's involvement in the scene.  It grabs your attention as an audiences and tells us "this is important".  Pay attention to the amount of time the close-up is held.  The above shots are held for a long time and draw you in as a viewer.  I remember watching these moments and literally holding my breath, staring at the screen without blinking.

Do you have a favorite use of the close-up?


  1. I'm a big fan of the close-ups in Psycho. Both with the shower scene where she's lying dead on the floor, as well as Norman's scene at the end with his menacing eyes and demented expression.

  2. Or the wonderful close-up of the mother's rotting corpse! :)

  3. Yes ... closes-ups are one of the cinematic clues to the audience that says, "THIS IS IMPORTANT". There are other ways to but, as a filmmaker, how do I pick these points to emphasize? And when I find these points, how do I make sure the audience SEES it ... GETS it?

    This smacked me between the eyes when I was reading "The Lean Forward Moment" by Norman Hollyn. That's the point of the whole book. He covers each phase of film making; writing, planning, filming, editing; making sure you've got these moments in there ... making sure you know why they are there ... making sure you are drawing the attention of the audience to them.

    It's not complicated but, that's not to say it's easy.

    Congrats on having an Epic-M. Someday (soon?) I hope to have an X.



  4. Rob - I'll have to check "The Lean Forward Moment" out. Sounds like a good read!
    Are you a DP? If you're looking for an Epic-M in the future, you know who has one! :)