Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Close-Up (revisited) by Bela Balazs

“The Close-Up” by Bela Balazs, breaks down the importance and poetry of the cinematic close-up. In the days of the silent films, the close-up revealed hidden things of life that we thought we already knew so well. From a general to a particular, the close-up transforms. The close-up deepens and widens our vision of life, while revealing new things and the meaning of old things. Emphasis can be found in the quality of a gesture, a speechless face, or an object and it’s importance in a visual life. The close-up has a “lyrical charm” that effects the heart perception rather than visual. They can be used for dramatic revelations for what is happening underneath the appearance. It shows us the facial expression as more subjective then speech or grammar. Balazs believes that “most subjective and individual of human manifestations is rendered objective in he close-up.”

Physiognomy is the dimension an isolated face can take us, when taken out of space and consciousness of space. We see not the make up of facial construction as much as moods, emotions, intentions and thoughts. The psychological effect of a facial expression are picture like, yet seem outside space. Like a “silent soliloquy”, it “speaks instinctively and subconsciously.” An uncontrolled and unsuppressed language, the face reveals what is concealed. Through the close-up, film can offer the possibilities of an expression that the stage cannot. We can see the bottom of the soul through tiny movement of facial muscles or the moisture in an eye. Deeply moving tragedy can be expressed through the “microphysiognomy” of the close-up. Near the end o the silent era, the human face had grown more visible and more expressive. We saw conversations built of facial expressions and gestures. We could follow duels and attacks through the faces of the combatants. The silent film close-up presented drama in a subtler and more realistic way than that of stage play.

In response to my last post of the close-up, I agree with you Prof. Herzog that Andy Warhol’s Screen Tests are VERY hypnotic, and mesmerizing. Though Epstein may agree with me on a film like Walkabout, I’m still a fan of other films that take on a more tourist quality. Most Italian films of the 70s took on qualities of travelogues and to nice effect. Landscape like the face takes on different guises throughout the years, and it’s nice to see how things once were, just as seeing the youthful expression of a once beautiful actor or actress. In response to Msbeatty, I myself have not given up on the long-shot either, for I still believe that both are needed for cinematic balance. I agree that Leone did both to perfection, hence why all his films are masterpieces of cinema. Like the films of Michelangelo Antonioni, I never tire of the director’s gaze when illustrating the pain, wonderment or psychology of a great actor. It is then that the close-up is at it it’s most lyrical and poetic.

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