Film Clip Analysis – The prestige: “Hello Stanley”

I’m going to consider for this analysis the section of the clip of “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons that I call “The prestige” that runs from 2 mins 14 seconds to 2 mins 52 secs. A title for this part of the narrative might be “Hello Stanley”. You can view the music video clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5tWYmIOWGk. For a word document version of much better presentation and formatting than what is shown here email me at angus@gbdeducation.com.au.

This analysis aims to make explicit:
• how the images are composed and used to match the music and advance the narrative
• how film elements are used to construct frames and sequences
See http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w5tWYmIOWGk and http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/imaginedragons/ontopoftheworld.html

The reason I call this section “The prestige” is because the preceding scenes present a set up to engage us in an amazing story, but when the boom knocks the astronaut off the ladder of the moon capsule, all is revealed to be a stage-trick. In magic and illusion, each trick has three parts; the pledge, where the audience is presented with an ordinary object; the turn, where the object is turned into something extraordinary; and the prestige, where the ordinary object is brought back. Similarly, the band members of Imagine Dragons in the orientation are presented as ordinary people going to work, then turned and transformed into the heroic astronauts of Apollo 11, then (in the section here under analysis) the characters and the audience are brought back to Earth again with a thud. The audience here enjoys the revelation that this narrative is presenting not the historical moon landing, but a depiction for an historical hoax moon landing.

The prestige enjoys a great build up of suspense through preceding shots of the cast audience watching the 1969 broadcast with great interest. As such, we are encouraged to also experience great anticipation. In the first shot for the prestige, the absence of the music and the overlay sound effect of empty whistling , the impact of the boom and added crashing sound effect, and the flailing of the actor’s arms as he hits the ground like a flopping fish, all combine to achieve humour. Consequently there is a release at the prestige for those watching the clip of pent up emotion, as well as surprise – we laugh! When compared to the actual broadcast footage of the landing of 1969, the staging of this shot enjoys contrasting qualities of focus, framing, lighting and colour (and gravity!), so we can easily see for ourselves what is presented as a hoax event.

The title of “Hello Stanley” for this section comes because of the clever and unusual shot used to introduce this pivotal historical character. The shot in which the camera zooms in upon the mask of the downed astronaut to reveal a human figure who is not wearing a protective suit greatly increases both our sense of curiosity and our sense of delight. Most audience members here will have figured out the trick, but in case we were in any doubt a clap-board appears before the camera to affirm that this is the “Hollywood” hoax shoot. I really don’t know how the director of this music video clip managed to capture the reflected image of the cast director in the mask: either the lighting and shooting of the scene was exceptionally well done, or they added the image in with CGI – I observe the former in this case but suspect the latter. It’s very appropriate though that “S.K”, as recognised on the clap-board, appears upside-down in relation to the prone astronaut. This effect, though framing, camera angle and staging, is really clever, and amplifies the dualistic symbolism of reality/unreality in the metaphor of the reflection in the mask. Indeed, maybe it is this very narrative element of something that shouldn’t be upon the mask of an astronaut in space that inclines me to suspect that Stanley’s image was added in production, such that I’ve been captured by the illusion.

Also for the prestige, the Hollywood hoax and the historical broadcast are easily amalgamated through a sequence of two shots, and the referential historical elements of the narrative are further developed and toyed with. In one shot we view an extremely significant scene for the hoax shoot, where the symbolic planting of the flag is framed by two astronauts saluting the country on Earth they serve. The colour of the image then dissolves to present the features of old footage, and the camera zooms back to realise the frame within a 1960’s TV set. Accordingly, in the subsequent cut to the second shot of the sequence, the cast audience gathered to watch the TV set outside the shop window go wild cheering.

We then cut to a mid-shot that presents a rather unfamiliar character. We have seen him in the reflection of the astronaut’s mask: a connection that is mostly made possible only because of the distinctive orange coloured lining of his costume and jacket. This character’s body language, as achieved through the furrows presented in his facial expression and his slumped “thinker” pose, is extremely unhappy with whatever he is looking at. These negative feelings seem in stark contrast to the tone of the music and the delighted atmosphere presented by the cheering public – whoever this guy is, he must be a real grump!

The frame is then expanded in a straight cut to a long shot of six actors, and we quickly recognise the characters and its context. Unlike the light and colour of the earlier outside shot of the watching public, this shot has a very dark background to suggest that we are now inside. Further mise-en-scene elements, including: the clap-board operator with her prop on the left of the frame; the production assistant with her prop of a clip-board on the right of the frame; and the three stage lights in the background, combine to inform us that we are back on the Hollywood set.

The most prominent character in this long shot is flanked by two expressionless men costumed in black suits and sunglasses. This character is presenting an historically famous hand gesture of “V” for victory in response to the planting of the American flag, and he has facial features that are famous and recognisable that have been enhanced with make-up and a pointed prosthetic nose. The characters in the background, the hand gestures, the casting and make-up of the central character, and ultimately the fictional context of the hoax Hollywood shoot, all serve to identify this character as former President of the USA: Richard “Tricky Dicky” Nixon.

Even more important, however, is the overshadowed character seated to Nixon’s right. He is slumped, inactive, grubby and seemingly fuming. As such, this unappealing character might have escaped the notice of the audience in this shot. Instead, the sequence of frames of a preceding close-up of him positions this unappealing character firmly in our perceptive field. In other words, he seems like the least important character in this shot, and yet the preceding frame establishes him as the main character. Indeed, he is for us even more relevant to the narrative than the President who punches him on the shoulder in a display of unreturned camaraderie. This character is the director of Hollywood hoax shoot. A multitude of connotative clues throughout the film clip would and do enable us to identify him as Stanley Kubrick, even if the conspiracies of history did not suggest to their readers that he was the director of a staged moon landing. Hello Stanley!

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