Analysis of Cinematography in Silence of the Lambs

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Paramvir Singh
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Analysis of Cinematography in Silence of the Lambs

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Analysis of Cinematography in Silence of the Lambs

Jonathan Demme, the director of Silence of the Lambs, and Tak Fujimoto, ASC, the cinematographer, do an excellent job in portraying almost every aspect of cinematography to make this movie suspenseful and gripping. Various motifs of camera angle, shot duration, movement, point-of-view shots, on-screen and off-screen space, and framing allow the viewer to better feel the intensity and reality of the scenes. In addition to motifs, there were certain scenes in the film that portrayed Demme’s directing and Fujimoto’s cinematography skills.

There are many different camera angles throughout the movie. They are used to illustrate the height of a character, provide more on-screen and off-screen space, and symbolize power and suspense of certain characters. For example, when Clarice was in a room full of police officers, the camera was placed at a high angle looking down at all of the officers and other characters in the room. This usually occurred whenever the setting was a large, open room with many characters. It also occurred whenever a room was entered to show the off-screen space of the surroundings. The low angle shots were used whenever the camera was behind Clarice while she was talking with someone taller than her, for instance, Hannibal and Agent Jack Crawford. These shots were also used to symbolize the power and danger of Hannibal and Buffalo Bill. They seem taller and massive which adds more effect to their presence. To add suspense, the camera is sometimes positioned with the light to cast shadows on Hannibal as he is talking with Clarice in his cell. This makes it difficult to predict what may happen next because it hides the view of his eyes and body language.

Shot durations are manipulated throughout the movie in many different ways. For instance, one moment the time setting is daytime and a couple seconds later it is either evening or nighttime. This keeps a fast pace going while moving on to the next scene. Another example is when Clarice is investigating a murder scene one minute, and the next minute she is back at FBI headquarters training. There are also long take durations whenever Demme places the camera on an important object. These durations may only be a few seconds, but they are somewhat long because the actions and movements taking place at this time are more fast-paced. During the scene when the officers bring Hannibal his food, the camera pauses on his hands showing that he is holding a small, pin-like object. This gives the viewer a rush of anxiety that something is going to happen and that he may escape.

The point-of-view shots were very important framing aspects throughout the whole movie. They were used quite often and played a vital role in capturing the viewer’s attention by virtually placing them in a character’s position. This took place during the conversation scenes between Hannibal and Clarice. The camera would stay on Hannibal’s face whenever he would talk, and then it would switch to Clarice’s whenever she spoke. It was noticeable that whenever the camera was on Hannibal’s face, he was centered most of the time and it was a close-up shot. However, whenever the camera was on Clarice during the conversation, she was off center and it was more of a medium close-up. This was done to intensify Hannibal’s presence and Clarice’s fear that she felt while talking to him. When Hopkins and Foster both look and speak directly into the camera, it causes the viewer to feel as if they are being addressed which makes it even more emotionally gripping. Besides conversations, point-of-view shots were used at other times. For example, when Hannibal was attacking the police officer, the camera was placed at a low angle making it look like he was attacking the viewer. At the same time, the camera would switch to a high angle and give the audience Hannibal’s view as if they were the ones attacking. Buffalo Bill’s point-of-view shots were taken whenever he would look through his night vision goggles. One instance is whenever he was watching Catherine as she arrived at her apartment before he kidnapped her. Another instance, which happens to be a very exhilarating scene, is when Clarice was in Buffalo Bill’s basement whenever all the lights went out. The room was pitch black, but he could see her through his goggles while she could not see anything at all. Sometimes the camera was placed on him when there was just enough light for the audience to realize how close he was and to feel a sense of fear and closeness. Whenever he reached out for Clarice and later pointed the gun at her, his arm and pistol were visible through the infa-red vision. This gave the audience a better view and understanding of what was going on and brought more excitement into the scene.

The camera height and distance were used whenever the setting would switch to Buffalo Bill’s basement. There were a few instances when Demme placed an extreme close-up shot on Bill whenever he was applying make up and sewing. This was important because he was notorious for being a transvestite and sewing women’s clothes for himself. The height of the camera was noticeable whenever he was looking down at Catherine in the well and when she was looking up. It also gave more point-of-view shots between the two. This helped bring Catherine’s sense of hopelessness to the audience.

Camera movement was also well portrayed throughout the movie. During conversations between Hannibal and Clarice, the camera would follow or change positions whenever one of them moved. There was a good tracking shot whenever Hannibal was walking behind the bars while she was talking to him. This shot was used to keep her point-of-view. Reframing and following shots were used many times whenever Clarice was moving. In the beginning of the movie, the camera followed her as she was running, changing positions and giving the audience a different view wherever she went. This was a good way to show off-screen space and the rest of Clarice’s surroundings.

In addition to motifs, there were certain scenes in which Demme and Fujimoto used cinematography to trick the audience by cross cutting to a different scene. For example, when something reminded Clarice of her father, the setting would instantaneously change while she was having a flashback. For example, when she was in the house of the murder scene, she heard someone playing an organ in a different room. As she went to check it out, the scene changed to the memory of her father’s funeral. At first it was unnoticeable, until the camera changed views and the surroundings were suddenly different. Another example is towards the end of the film when it kept showing shots of Buffalo Bill, his house, and the SWAT team. As one of the officers rang the doorbell, it also showed Bill hearing a ringing noise. When he went to open the door, one would expect to see the officer, but instead it was Clarice. The SWAT team was actually at the wrong house, but it was not obvious until after he answered the door.

There were also a few scenes in which Demme did a spectacular job filming. One was when Hannibal was talking to Clarice while she had her back turned towards him. The reflection of his face appeared on the glass wall of his cell next to her. Another scene was when the officers discovered that he had escaped his cell. When they entered the room, it showed the other officer hanging from the bars with a bright light shining behind him. It looked similar to a crucifixion scene while the light added more awe. One last interesting detail is when the bars separating Hannibal and Clarice became unnoticeable towards the end of one of their conversations. This symbolized the closeness that Hannibal and Clarice sense at this moment since she has told him her childhood trauma.

Silence of the Lambs is an excellent movie for representing good cinematography. It portrayed almost every aspect of it, making it such a popular film. The various motifs bring the audience into the movie and intensify the reactions and feelings resulting from a certain scene. Camera angle, shot duration, movement, point-of-view shots, on-screen and off-screen space, and framing all play an important role in improving a movie and making it one of the best.
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