Since the beginning of film there have been many styles and genres that have been portrayed on the silver screen. Each style has it’s own distinct qualities, laced with the talented individual who created it. These styles have been evolving and changing according to the technologies and resources available at the time. One of the most prominent styles has always been realism. Realism in films has been around since the beginning of films and is still present and making a huge impact today.
Realistic filming style is very evident in a lot of the movies we watch today; the camera is generally kept still or slow panning, and shots are kept long, without cuts, allowing the action to progress like in real life. Scripts are also kept very realistic, with quick dialogue and natural humour. The storylines don’t necessarily always have happy endings, as the scriptwriters go for more realistic outlooks on life. The last and most prominent technique of realism is that the sets and costume are all kept realistic and quite easily portray the world around us.
The chief practitioners, and pioneers of film were definitely the Lumière brothers. The Lumière’s held their first ever screening of motion picture in 1895 with a series of ten short films, the first of which being “Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”. The short films showed exactly that – workers leaving a factory. There were several other films shown including “The Gardener”, and “Horse Trick Riders”. Many believe that this was the birth of realism in film, and the start of what would later become one of the biggest industries in the world.
Although most of the Lumière films were established as simple documentary, they also managed to show that stories could be told through realist situations. The short film “The Gardener” tells a story of a little boy who plays a trick on a gardener with his sprinkler. The whole 40 seconds of film is shown in one shot from start to finish, but here we can understand that a story is being told to us through the events we are seeing on the screen.
On the other end of the timeline of film we have Kathryn Bigelow’s “The Hurt Locker”. This is a real life insight into the lives of the men in Iraq risking their lives every day. The film centres on an army unit that is constantly kept on their toes by the fear that anyone could be an enemy, and any place could be rigged with a bomb. The movie is told from a real point of view, and is meant to be portraying real events in Iraq (don’t get me wrong, it’s not a documentary).
Camera wise this movie is seen mostly from the lens of a shaky cameraman who appears to be in the action at all times. This reminded me a lot of the Jason Bourne films (The Bourne Identity etc.) where to show that the action is real, the camera must be running behind them as if a cast member is chasing the action with it. This is a classic technique used in a huge amount of action movies and it works, but after a while there is always a feeling of dizziness in the viewer who I think wants to shout, “Hold the camera still!” The movie is another realist portrayal of American heroes doing what they do best – saving the world.
The major disappointment I had with this film from a technical point of view was how inaccurate it ended up being. This is a story about the US Army, a real organization, and yet there are scenes that are almost laughable. “Realism” means exactly that, and yet in this movie we see are vehicle explode in flames after being shot once. There are also many things that weren’t explained on screen – for instance to where are the soldiers reporting? I think if the characters know then we should too. For all the details that Bigelow put into the vehicles, weaponry, and uniforms it was disappointing to see that these little details let the film down.
“The Grand Illusion” directed by Jean Renoir in 1937 is a classic realist film. It tells a story of two men captured during World War 1, and placed in a...
References: Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory - Lumière Brothers (1895)
The Gardener - Lumière Brothers (1895)
Horse Trick Riders - Lumière Brothers (1895)
The Hurt Locker – Kathryn Bigelow (2008)
The Bourne Identity – Doug Liman (2002)
The Grand Illusion – Jean Renoir (1937)
Pearl Harbor – Michael Bay (2001)
Precious: Based on the novel Push by Sapphire – Lee Daniels (2009)
Slumdog Millionaire – Danny Boyle (2008)
A Single Man – Tom Ford (2009)
Avatar – James Cameron (2009)
Iron Man 2 – Jon Favreau (2010)
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