Archive for June 7, 2019

Vanishing Points

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , on June 7, 2019 by dcairns

A week ago today I was interviewing Bill Forsyth, for the second time in my life. I can now safely say I recommend the experience. Not sure I can reveal yet what the interview was about, though hints seem to have leaked out online.

This morning I’m off to the BF Archive, which should be fun. A secret mission to scan some mysterious polaroids whose very existence was unknown to their owner…

In preparation for meeting the Great Man I rewatched some of his films and visited one I’d never seen, BEING HUMAN, which is better than I’d heard — in fact, excellent. I’ll try to describe why later.

I also very much enjoyed HOUSEKEEPING, which I hadn’t seen since its release — once in a while I’d glimpsed bits of it on Film4 and thought, “That looks beautiful, I must watch it again.” A good thing about being a part-time critic is you get prompts to do the kind of things you want to do anyway.

I complimented Bill on the closing shot, which is absolutely beautiful and really haunting. “Darkness all around them!” said Fiona when she saw it. And Bill launched into a story, even though we were no longer filming. Here it is.

“We couldn’t find a bridge,” said Bill. They wanted a particular kind of railway bridge in a particular location. As with the town/beach combination of LOCAL HERO, it proved impossible. So they built part of one.

This worked fine for all the side views. But when it came to the end shot, there wasn’t enough length to make it dramatic. The characters just ran along for five or so seconds then had to stop.

In the cutting room, ace editor Michael Ellis said, “Don’t worry.”

So, what he did was, he duplicated the shot, reduced in size, and planted the miniature version in the centre of frame. Since it was a vanishing point kind of perspective, the angles matched up. The bridge now appeared to disappear into infinity.

When the two protagonists run down the bridge, they get masked out by the soft edge of the inserted reduced shot, then they run into view as miniature versions of themselves in that hidden frame-within-the-frame. What the audience sees is a kind of shimmer as the full-size figures dissolve into the smaller-size figures, but you can’t really make out enough to be confused. The effect is smooth: the two actors run off into infinity.

(So that HOUSEKEEPING’s ending is a brilliant innovation, a poetic rescue job, as was LOCAL HERO’s phone box ring.)

“You don’t get enough credit as a special effects filmmaker,” I told Bill, awestruck.

“It took Mike Ellis about a week to explain to me what he was going to do!”

Advertisements