DVP210 – Session 3: The Untouchables (1987)

In Brian de Palma’s The Untouchables, the use of cinematographic techniques in particular scenes allows for a more gripping, unique telling of the story and helps to convey tension, mood and emotion.

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The use of space in the now famous Union Station scene helps create a sense of vastness, seclusion and size. To use an establishing extreme wide shot, this makes the main characters appear small, but as the scene continues, this changes…

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After the tracking shot comes in close towards George Stone walking down the stairs, it tilts up towards Elliott Ness, but in a low-angle shot. This gives off a sense of height and power, but also indicates that Ness has a good vantage point to see out above the large scale of the station. This shot continues for a short while, but is mixed in with a different style shot: a POV shot.

The use of point-of-view (POV) shots for this scene give the viewer a better sense of scale and allows us to get a better understanding of the situation that Ness faces.

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From shots of the station entrance and the clock, to the vast empty station hall, it gives the scene a sense of seclusion, but also increases the tension as Ness and Stone expect their enemies to arrive at any given moment. These constant, sharp cuts of shots, which last no longer than around 10 seconds, heighten the drama.

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This particular shot, however, of the lady attempting to carry luggage and her baby down the steps is a unique example of space. As it appears most of the passengers entering the station are walking on the other side of the railing, away from the lady, it gives off a stark contrast, making the lady seem small or helpless as the commuters walk down the other side of the stairs hurriedly.

As Ness offers to help bring the pram up the stairs, the amount of POV shots increase, along with the sudden sharp movements and cuts, which again ramp up the tension as Ness begins to believe he’ll be attacked. This sudden change in shot selection gives the viewer a look at how the mood drastically changes from suspense to fear as Ness brings the pram up the stairs.

The usage of dutch tilts, slow motion and low angle shots during the ensuing shootout helps to create tension. In addition, much of the colour scheme – plenty of dark whites and greys from the columns, hard lighting with strong shadows and plenty of darker coloured costume choices – gives off a very bleak, moody and somewhat dangerous feel to the mise-en-scene.

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