In the semi-fabricated world of the Kardashians, if a story needs to be told, it will get told with on the nose dialogue in a whiny voice, with cutaways to interviews with different family members adding their opinions. It hurts my ears and my eyes.
Compare that with Milo’s Forman’s masterful use of the cinematic image to tell a story in the musical film “Hair”. The last five shots are essentially a silent film with music. George Berger, wearing the uniform of his friend Claude Bukowski, disappears inside the gaping mouth of an army plane. Claude chases the plane, but it is too late, the plane has taken off for Vietnam. The next shot shows the rows of white graves, with the backs of Berger’s friends assembled singing in powerful irony, “Let the Sun Shine In.” Then, avoiding the dreaded ubiquitous “screen direction” error, the camera cuts to a close up of a grave with George Berger’s date of birth and date of death. The last shot before the giant be-in shows the friends from the front. Woof and Jeannie hold their baby, answering the question “whose baby is it?” Hud holds his child, standing behind his fiancée, who now wears her hair long in an Afro. This symbolizes that they have met each other halfway, as Berger would have wanted to see. Claude stands next to Sheila, implying that their romance is born out of the tragedy–again as Berger would have arranged it.
What a difference! Let me revisit the concept of screen direction for a minute. Anyone who went to Film school has this drilled into them. There is a line of sight and an arrangement of left and right that, when violated, causes a character to appear to be looking in the wrong direction…look it up. I am too tired to do the concept justice. Reality TV violates screen direction as a matter of course. To a cinephile, this is the visual equivalent of fingernails on a chalkboard. The term is sometimes called “crossing the line.”
I want to give a much-deserved nod to the editors of what is arguably the world’s best reality show, “Small Town Security.” They have learned how to tell a story with images, not whiny voices. They understand that a close-up of a pair of hands can both avoid the screen direction problem and further the story by highlighting the anxiety or exasperation contained in those hands.
Still, if you want to feast on powerful imagery, then watch a film by a master director. Reality TV is seldom more than visual bulimia.