Blogs » Yes to Establishing Shots, No to Visual Cliché’s

Yes to Establishing Shots, No to Visual Cliché’s

  • Yes to Establishing Shots,
    No to Visual Cliché’s

    Isn’t the Eiffel Tower symbolic of the ever-romantic Paris? Or is the clock tower of Westminster, the only symbol of London and British sophistication? In Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather, The Statue of Liberty in New York is shown as a beacon of welcoming immigrants into the Unites States of America.

    How many times in American films have you seen the typical opening shot of an automobile crossing a bridge and then the car coming to a halt, in a suburban neighbourhood and the protagonist coming out of the car and getting into the house? The Great American obsession for the automobiles and their cities results in shots that have become visual clichés. The establishing long shots in films are not just images representing a location; they also set the mood of the film. Some shots rise above the ordinary, like the Brooklyn Bridge and the two lovers seated below in Woody Allen’s Manhattan – a truly classic

    In films, the grand long shots of iconic structures are used to establish the location (geography), the socio economic status and mood of the script. Shooting these clichéd structures or edifices to establish the location becomes a necessity for the cinematographer to reveal the setting. For he or she has to quickly tap into the collective sub conscious memory of the audience and yet make them appreciate his or her, unique artistic take on the cliché.

    So how did this collective memory come into being? Initially, countries introduced postage stamps as a way to display their country’s culture and heritage. These images spread far and wide, long before the Internet and Google.

    To reproduce an image in two-tone, it had to be simple and symmetrical, yet compositionally strong to make an impact even in a flat perspective. Subsequently, another form that had a great influence was a post-card of tourist destinations – which were initially hand drawn, then lithography and eventually color photographs. These stamps and post-cards were mostly symmetrical (balanced and proportionate) images and they contributed immensely into creating a sense of déjà- vu and invoking a feeling like, “I have seen this before!” when we see these sites in real life.