When I turn on the television to watch a movie, I notice that I have a tendency to focus on the words of the characters, sometimes on the music in the background and how it relates to the overall scene, but as I watch what is in front of me I rarely tend to focus my attention to the colors, lines, textures or balance of the surroundings. Everything seems to be part of the big picture of the scene rather than visuals that stand out. Every day we are surrounded by visual elements, which are just as important as actual spoken words; sometimes even more important, as they force us as viewers to make beyond conscious predictions.
Whether it is the flow of lines in a painting, the choice of costume texture in a live production or the silent dull remarks of a character in a film, visual language forces the viewers to get into the head of the artist, actor or character and take mental notes. As I view the clip from Million Dollar Baby I can’t help but wonder how my perspective may vary from the next person’s perspective. After having viewed Rory Scanlon’s Visual Language presentation I realize that there are so many elements that play an important role in the way each viewer perceives a work of art.
I may scan a scene from left to right or catch a focal point more or less quickly than someone else. I may distinguish the tones of gray to be less intense than that of the person sitting next to me and the forms of balance may seem more relevant to me than another viewer. Scanning is a process that most of us use regularly. While driving, we are constantly scanning the cars ahead, we scan through books or magazines and then something pops out at us. Amongst all the cars on the road and all the words and photos in the pages, there is generally always a focal point that catches our eye.
As I watched the clip from Million Dollar Baby, immediately my eyes began to scan. My attention starts at the bottom left corner where the scene is dark, but there is enough of an image to catch my eye. I scan to the right and upward where the wall color lightens from a dark grey to almost white. Once my visual reaches the top of the wall, the foreground lights are turned off and I am immediately drawn to the illuminated circles on the ceiling, which then draws my attention to the back of the scene. In the distance, as the position of the camera changes, the focal point becomes a moving shadow-like image in the background.
As the angle changes again onto a closer image of the character, I am drawn to her face due to the positioning of the lighting. Almost directly behind the character I catch glimpse of a punching bag, it is clear that we are in some kind of boxing gym or rink. So how does the background affect the intensity of the scene? As I process the location, the camera pans from left to right I am quick to notice the light being captured only on half of the character’s face then as the character disappears behind the punching bag, the other character is lit up only from the shoulder area down.
This focuses on the importance of the character; the glow of the light on the female actor’s face shows an intense facial expression. The location makes the scene more intense than if it were set in a backyard, let’s say. The blending of the location with the image leads me to believe that the female character is letting out frustration or anger. She is focused merely on the target directly in front of her rather that what has caused her to be battling the punching bag. Colors have a way of creating visual, pulling our attention to different areas and can be used to signify various emotions.
The combination of bright colors may create happy thoughts, while a dark, monotone scene may portray fear or loneliness. In a black and white scene, certain colors may be distant or vague, but are noticeable enough to give an effect. In fields of black and white, especially in film and live performance, we depend on lighting to create a mood. There may be an extremely dark shade of color buried within a scene, such as the very unnoticeable deep red color of the boxing gloves in the Million Dollar Baby clip.
Likely, this will not be an eye-catcher to most in the audience, but along with balance, rhythm, and space just the right amount of color can peek-a-boo through to subliminally capture the viewer’s attention. In this clip, the lack of color creates an intense feeling for me. Rather than focusing on various colors (because there aren’t many) my focus is on the lighting, shadows, balance and space. For me, there is constant need for balance due to the grey scale factor is this clip. In the beginning, when the male character flips off the lights, there is a visual asymmetrical balance.
As the camera pans across the screen a balance is created, drawing my attention to a new focal point—the character at the punching bag in the back of the scene. Toward the end of the clip, in the close up of the female character at the punching bag and the male character in the background, there is a symmetrical balance. The punching bag lies almost directly in the center of the scene. Although the bag is at a slight angle, the spacing of the female on the left of the bag and the male on the right of the bag, combined with the amount of lighting on each side, the scene shows an almost perfect balance in this space.
Through the verbal silence of the clip, my eyes are constantly moving to catch any detail there may be on the screen. My mind is spinning like the mechanisms of a time machine. I never realized how many details go into such a short frame of a film in order to support the overall feeling and mood of a scene. Even without the posters on the wall in the background, that clip would not have had the same overall meaning.
As I look at the fine details and realize that with one slight alteration to the letters on the electrical box, the lit up exit sign, the shadows on the wall, or lines in the railing of the rink, this clip could have given me a different feeling. Even though there is lack of words through this Million Dollar Baby clip, with the help of perceptives, elements, and principles as demonstrated by Rory Scanlon in his Visual Language presentation, viewers like me are able to use visuals rather than verbal language to get a feeling for a piece of work.