Film Genre Analysis
Touch of Evil (1958) directed by Orson Welles and Goodfellas (1990) directed by Martin Scorsese are both famous crime films. Touch of Evil is told from the point of view of Miguel Vargas, portrayed by Charlton Heston, who is a drug enforcement officer for the Mexican government. Goodfellas is told from the point of view of Henry Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta, a gangster in the Mafia. In addition to their renown as classic films, each film also has a famous long tracking shot. A long shot is when “the camera re-frames and repositions itself as the actors move within a scene. No editing is used and the film never cuts to a new image” (Vineyard, 58).
Goodfellas begins with three men in a car who upon hearing banging, pull over. It is revealed to the viewer that there is a brutally beaten man in the trunk, who one of the other men proceeds to stab multiple times, after which one of the others shoots him an additional several times. As this scene ends, Henry Hill’s narration begins; “As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a gangster.” The film continues as it moves back to Henry Hill as a boy idolizing the gangsters, who can come and go as they please and do not have to listen to anybody. While this arouses concern from his parents, he decides that it is the life he wants and is brought under the wing of the local boss, Paulie Cicero. Along with Jimmy Conway and Tommy DeVito, Henry begins earning respect within the family, and soon meets Karen, his future wife. The long tracking scene occurs when Karen and Henry go on a date to the Copacabana and Henry brings Karen in through the kitchen, all the while introducing her to the people he sees along the way. It ends as a new table is brought out for the two of them and the show begins. Karen is impressed and eventually attracted to the benefits of having a gangster for a husband. The movie continues to follow the rise and fall of Henry within the crime family until finally narcotics agents catch him for cocaine trafficking. Realizing later that he is going to be hit, he enrolls in the witness protection program and testifies against Paulie and Jimmy. The movie ends with Henry’s narration, describing himself as an “average schnook.”
Touch of Evil begins with the long tracking shot it is famous for; a bomb is planted in a car and the camera follows the car and then the young married couple, Miguel and Susie Vargas, as they repeatedly walk by the car, until finally the shot ends as it cuts to the exploding car. Vargas is interested in the case because of the effects the killing could have on United States-Mexico relations. Police Captain Hank Quinlan is in charge of the case and discovers sticks of dynamite that implicate a young man named Sanchez in the murder. However, Vargas had knocked over the box the dynamite was found in and realizes that the dynamite must have been planted there by Quinlan. Meanwhile, members of the Grandi crime family, one of which is about to be put on trial by Vargas, kidnap Susie. Quinlan then sets up Susie to take the fall for the murder of one of the Grandi’s, but is given away by his cane at the scene of the murder. In the climax of the movie Vargas records Quinlan admitting to planting evidence, before Quinlan is shot and killed as he threatens Vargas.
I have chosen to compare these two movies because of their similarities as crime films. Both feature a crime family, and their interaction with law enforcement. In each movie there are also corrupt police officers that work outside the law to achieve their own goals. They also offer different views of the interaction, one from the law enforcement and one from a member of the crime family. Finally, each movie features a famous tracking shot, which are the clips I will be critiquing. In each clip I will look at the angles, framing and blocking, and lighting. Angle is the position from which a scene is filmed and can change how a situation is viewed. Framing and blocking describe how a viewer’s focus is brought to a certain area, and how the characters move. Lighting is how shadows and lightness interact to influence a viewer’s opinion of a scene.
The long tracking shot from Goodfellas is a follow shot; the camera follows Henry and Karen as they leave the car and make their way through the back hallways and to their table. The couple is framed through the beginning portion of the shot by the narrow and twisting hallways that they walk down as they maneuver their way to the floor of the Copacabana. The couple is always moving forward, and always in the center of the frame; the action is focused around them, until towards the end of the shot where the table is brought out. Still here the camera is following the motion in the scene, it never remains stationary on a single spot. Alan Bacchus writes, “This shot’s serves to put the audience in the point of view of Karen, who is about to be swept off her feet by the temptation of the gangster lifestyle.” The constant motion of the shot and its following of the couple represents the bewilderment of Karen, who is just coming to grasp such an extravagant lifestyle. In the clip, the lighting becomes brighter and brighter as they walk through the Copacabana, as Karen realizes more and more about the privileges that her date Henry has and as she becomes more enthralled with his lifestyle.
The long take in Touch of Evil begins with a close up of a bomb as the timer is set to go off in roughly two and a half minutes. This provides the viewer with the information that something is happening right away in this movie. As the camera pans left and pulls out it can be seen that there is a man holding the bomb and hiding in the shadows, and watching a man and woman, telling the viewer that he is up to no good. The man’s back on the right and the wall on the left frame the couple, drawing attention to them. The camera then pans to the right to follow the man as he plants the bomb in the trunk. After the couple enters the car, the camera is revealed to be on a crane as it cranes up and enters a high angle wide shot and pushes left as it follows the car as it moves behind buildings and in and out of shadows, indicating the uncertainty of the car’s future. Still on the crane with a high angle shot, the camera pulls back as the car moves along the street. Once Vargas and Susie enter the shot, the camera begins to follow them, and they are initially framed by the lines of a crosswalk. As they continue walking the camera leaves its high angle to a more level angle and follows the couple as they are passed and then walk by the car with the bomb. The camera then pulls back into a wide angle shot to show the two couples approaching the border, one in the car, the other on foot, but side by side. As they walk across the border the camera once again focuses on Vargas and Susie. Lighting is used here to emphasize masculinity and femininity; Vargas is very dark, while Susie is very light. This is also a method to emphasize their different races; he is Mexican while she is American. Finally the long shot ends when the camera cuts to the exploding car. The length and continuity of the single long shot increase the tension of knowing that there is a bomb in the car. Bacchus writes, “The sheer length of the take heightens the tension for the payoff at the end.”
Although each of these films are from the same genre and each used a famous long shot, they were used for different reasons. In Goodfellas it was used to illustrate Karen’s introduction to the lifestyle of Henry and how she reacts. In Touch of Evil, the long shot built tension as the car drove around holding a bomb in its trunk, finally relieving the tension with a sudden cut and explosion. As such these two movies are useful in seeing how one technique can be used to convey different feelings, in one case a feeling of discovery and in another tension, along with the help of other techniques elements such as framing and blocking, and lighting.
Bacchus, Allan. “THE LONG TAKE – The Greatest Long Tracking Shots in Cinema.” The Best Article Every Day. Web. 12 Apr. 2011. <http://www.bspcn.com/2007/05/10/the-long-take-the-greatest-long-tracking-shots-in-cinema/>.
Vineyard, Jeremy. Setting up Your Shots: Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know. Studio City, CA: M. Wiese Productions, 2008. Print.