Last week I happened to catch a few minutes of a film on TV that I had never heard of, Guns at Batasi, starring Richard Attenborough. I didn’t see enough to be able to judge the story, but I thought the compositions in the scene I saw were really quite striking, in part owed to the dance-like choreography of the actors. Have a look at this scene from the film:
I’m going to concentrate on the first two shots.
Look at how in the first shot the men are arranged in a sweep that ends on the bug on the bar. That bug is really quite small on-screen and not particularly high in contrast, and yet it’s unmistakable what the focus of the scene is at this point.
In the second shot where the men turn around to see Attenborough’s character enter, they arrange themselves to frame him and direct our attention to nowhere other than him.
Then as he walks over, the camera moves in and the officers subtly arrange themselves again to not only direct attention to Attenborough, but to also create a pleasing diagonal sweep across the screen.
The next bit is particularly interesting as the man second from screen-right moves around the group, and the others all rearrange themselves accordingly to never allow an unpleasant composition to be seen.
Then notice the man on the far left:
As the camera pulls right to reveal Attenborough, the man on the left moves himself over to add to the oppressive feel of the composition.
Study the rest of the clip, there’s load more lovely choreography like this. I really need to watch the rest of the film!