Open & Closed Framing

“In our image-saturated culture it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate between open and closed forms since image makers of all types are fully aware of their popular meanings, often using them to deceive the viewer.” (Katz, 1991, pg 259)
Films present the visible world in two major ways, the closed and open form. These two possibilities are to be understood as ideal types. There are rarely films nowadays that are wholly open or closed. Although a contemporary exception to this is Bean Wheatley’s 2009 film Down Terrace which is almost entirely closed framed due to budget constraints. Image
Open framing implies that the world of the film is a momentary glimpse into a specific part of said world, hence the reason it is used heavily in documentaries so as to give the audience perspective and a greater sense of scale.  A film I have chosen to illustrate the open use of framing is Children of Men (2006) directed by Alfonso Cuarón. The shot, shown right, clearly exibits an outside world to give the viewer the feeling that more the world of the film is a momentary frame around an ongoing reality, which is the case in Children of Men.  The camera also does not focus on either one of these characters
Closed framing, on the other hand implies the world of the film is all that exists because the director has create this world, and he chooses what happens. The audience gets a sense of voyeurism upon there trespass into this world, so the camera movements and mise en scène reflects this. A particular scene from Training Day directed by Antoine Fuqua (2001) illustrates my point. The way the shot is composed, the clutter, the tattooed arms, the foreground enclose the main character, evoking a feeling Imageof confinement. You get a sense that you are also sitting at the table, that you are participating. “The most interesting aspect of open and closed framings is the way in which they are used to offer the viewer varying degrees of involvement and intimacy with the subjects on the screen. How the filmmaker uses this relationship the issue of aesthetic distance.”  (Katz, 1991, pg 259)
Aesthetic distance relates to the composition element of depth. A deep frame will accentuate the depth alone the z-axis, whereas flat framing seeks amplify two-dimensionality of the shot. “We can achieve a feeling of deep space by creating a mise en scène in which there are objects placed along the z-axis which define foreground, mid-ground, and background planes.” (Hurbis-Cherrier, 2007, pg. 41) Image
The shots shown on the right, taken from The Coen Brother’s No Country for Old Men. (2007) The first clearly highly aspects of deep framing. The shelves of food in the foreground of the shot provide clear lines of convergence that lead to the burning car this is situated in the background. This other shot from the same film features a car and two people in the foreground of the shot, but the long road that stretches fromImage the foreground far into the background serves to accentuate the z-axis, therefore resulting in a deep frame. Reducing the z-axis to limited number of planes gives us a diminished perspective. This is known as zero-point perspective, or flat framing. This can arguably lead to quite boring shots, but sometimes it is used to great effect. During a scene from Bryan Singer’s (1995) the characters are led into a line-up in a completely flat framed shot. This denotes a feeling of uneasiness because they have no idea why they’re there. But as the characters begin to loosen up the shooting angle is changed so that the horizontal lines recede into the distance creating a deep frame

Katz, Steven D, 1991 – Film Directing Shot by Shot: Visualizing from Concept to Screen, Michael Wiese Productions
Hurbis-Cherrier, Mick, 2007 – A Creative Approach to Narrative Film and DV Production
Down Terrace, 2009. [Film] Directed by Ben Wheatley, United Kingdom: Magnolia Pictures
Children of Men, 2006 [Film] Directed by Alfonso Cuarón, United Kingdom: Universal Pictures
Training Day, 2001. [Film] Directed by Antoine Fuqua, USA, Warner Bros
No Country for Old Men, 2007. [Film] Directed by Joel & Ehtan Coen, USA: Miramax Films
The Usual Suspects, 1995. [Film] Directed by Bryan Singer, USA: Spelling Films International


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