How great films frame and block actors


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I like this, but I should point out that Sidney Lumet was not a “classically trained director.” This was his first film. He learned these framing techniques from directing live television shows.


In fact, I heard him say in an interview that he was so inexperienced at the time that he never considered that filming a movie in one room was a bad idea.


I always assumed it was an attempt to stick to the three dramatic unities (of plot, of time, and of location, only broken in the final scene outside). Off the top of my head, the only other film I can think of that does the same is Death and the Maiden (which also briefly breaks the unities, at the beginning and the end).


Yeah, I would assume most of today’s film director’s have had much more formal education in film making than did Lumet. Perhaps by classically trained he means in theater? Because Lumet absolutely did have classical training in theater.


Hitchcock’s Rope (1948) is another.


And education in explosions. Lots of explosions. Twelve Angry Men would never get greenlighted today. No franchise potential, no tie-ins…


A subtle thing the camera does in 12 Angry Men is that it starts above the actor’s eye-line and slowly lowers to below them by the end, which gives a feeling of increasing claustrophobia.


Well, the guy’s got Lumet pretty well figured out, except how to pronounce his name correctly. Hard T.


Yeah, somebody missed a bet by not selling (non-automatic) facsimiles of those knives as a merchandising tie-in. :smile:


That’s very interesting…It’s kind of like the saying that “when you’re blind, your other senses are heightened.” Because the medium of live television was one where he HAD to do his editing in camera and not in the editing room, and it forced him to use just one or two sets, he became good at carefully planning all his shots, and using framing and moving the camera around to add interest to a small set. I wonder how much better the cameramen had to be in the days of live TV drama. Now I want to watch this and Glenn Gary/Glenn Ross and compare how these plays in one room were adapted to film.


Well the federal switchblade act wasn’t passed until 1958…so an automatic knife would have made for a marketing tie-in in 1957.



Yes, Lumet had considerable experience directing live television drama (as had John Frankenheimer) and it was the restrictions of that form which lead them both to becoming strong visual storytellers throughout their careers. And yet, in this director-centric conversation we’ve been neglecting Boris Kaufman, the cinematographer on 12 Angry Men - along with On The Waterfront, East Of Eden, Baby Doll, Long Days Journey Into Night, The Pawnbroker and a pant load more. It’s his eye we’re seeing through - especially when he’s paired with a creative director used to taking chances.

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