Essay, Research Paper: Shine


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Directed by Scott Hicks, the drama Shine is a formalist masterpiece. Writing the
piece as a fiction film gave the author license to alter the events in the story
of David Helfgott, a real musician who had a nervous breakdown on his way to
magnificence. Geoffrey Rush's portrayal gave life and believability to David,
and Rush won an Academy Award for his realistic method acting. He had not only
to provide depth to the character, but had additional physical demands placed
upon him due to David's irregular speech and his tendency to twitch. Both
setting and costume are unobtrusive, allowing the audience to focus on the
characters rather than their adornments. The formalistic style allows for
manipulation of time, and the film begins in medias reas, jumping back and then
foreward as it progresses. The structure is highly fragmented, and much of the
action is cyclical. Every element of film composition is elegantly intertwined
in this picture, mingling together to form connections and patterns out of
seemingly separated things. The film opens with a close shot side-view of the
protagonist's face as he smokes a cigarette, smoke drifting up from his lips and
into the surrounding darkness. He is talking, but that soon is faded into the
sound of rainwater. The rain becomes visible as it replaces David's face in a
fade technique, and David enters the frame and walks from the right of the
screen to its left, suggesting change and action. He arrives at a restaurant
window, peers in, and falls into a strange conversation with the employees. This
is now the chronological middle of the story, and, while common in Medieval
literature, is a highly unorthodox place to begin a picture. Though this film is
more easily classified as a formalist piece, it has outstanding avant garde
elements throughout. The transition from the restaurant to the car is masked by
the dialogue covering it. Since the acting overrides editing as a way to convey
meaning in Shine, Hicks employs many sound motifs to ease editing transitions
and make them seem more natural. As the discussion fades and the rain again
takes auditory prominence, the scene darkens and the water becomes the clapping
of many hands. In this way David eases into a flashback of his childhood. He
walks small and silent to the stage for his first competition, and a long shot
is used to emphasise the fright and anxiety of the boy. Other transitory devices
include David's glasses, his hands on the piano keys, and sometimes a change in
his costume, such as when he first plays the restaurant in rags. When he stands
to receive his applause, he is dressed much more nicely, now an employee of the
establishment. Hicks also employs classical cutting techniques, which depend on
the content curve (the moment when the audience has had a chance to assimilate
all information presented but not analyse or become bored with it) to determine
breaks in scenes. One example of this technique is after David presents his
professor with the Rack III and asks "Am I mad enough?" The scene is
cut before the professor answers, and the following scene is the professor
intensively training David on the very piece. Cutting for continuity is commonly
used to condense time while maintaining a sense of the actions taking place
between two major events. Preparations for one of David's concerts are edited in
such a manner, making a ritual out of the ordeal while not wasting too much time
on it. Besides editing, relationships can be suggested through film devices such
as proxemic ranges, angles, and reaction shots. After David loses his first
competition, his father stares at the ground while walking well ahead of the
boy. His father is disappointed, and David is rather unaware of any problem as
he innocently plays hopscotch as he follows. The reactions of David's father and
his instructor are shown through parallel editing when the announcement of the
National Champion does not coincide with their hopes for David. Both are
displeased, but Mr. Helfgott simmers with barely restrained anger. Since he was
denied music as a child, he forces it upon David and demands greatness from him.
Later in the film, David is filmed standing on the second floor of a library
balcony as his father calls to him from below. The low angle used when the scene
is shot from the father's point of view suggests his decrease in power and his
growing respect for his son. Moments before they walked down the hall to the
room, the father's arm wrapped protectively and proudly around David's
shoulders. This relationship reverts to its former, however, as David's father
beats him for wanting to leave the family and study in America. Though no
oblique angles are used, the effect of the handheld camera is enough to
effectively portray the violence and confusion of the scene. This feeling is
reinforced by the overlapping dialogue of the family and the tight framing.
David is released and retreats into the pounding rain, but is unable to locate
his teacher and so returns home. David sits crouched in the bathtub as time
stops due to a combination of the silence and the slow motion of the scene.
Water, as it drips from the faucet and David's hair, is the only sound, until
his father arrives and fills the air with his pointless talk. In the middle of
David's biggest recital, all sound is blanked out and the scene slows down, and
only David's sweat-soaked hair and his fingers provide movement. This lack of
sound and action serves as a tension-building device, since an audience is
unaccustomed to and unsettled by silence. Further than that, however, is the
fact that the silence makes clear the distinction between David's art and his
reality. He has put such a great amount of time and effort into his playing that
he no longer can even hear it; he has lost all enjoyment. At the end of the
beautiful and perfectly played piece, the tragedy foreshadowed by the silence
comes to pass and David falls to the floor from a nervous breakdown. His glasses
slide and rest away from him; the next scene opens with David in a mental
institution, lying on the floor, gazing at his glasses. They are photographed at
an oblique angle (completely perpendicular) in order to reveal David's
perspective through his eyes. Mise en scene also can be used as an effective
method of foreshadowing. When David goes to the mailbox and receives the letter
inviting him to America, he is caged in the foreground by the fence as the
family house ominously fills the background. Low, somber classical music plays
quietly, further reinforcing the reaction he will get from the letter. Another
example of layered frame construction is the first scene in which the audience
sees David at the college in America. Two professors discuss David's possible
talent as he flounders around after scattering papers far beneath them,
separated not only by the distance but by the pane of windowglass as well. Since
he is several stories beneath them, David is shot at an extremely high angle,
making the disparaging and doubtful remarks the first professor says about David
all the more possible. The very next shot has David standing above his peers on
a stairway as they call up to him, reversing the situation. The professors might
have been superior to David (at least at that particular moment), but he was far
more advanced than any of his contemporaries. During the scene cementing Mr.
Helfgott's admonition to disown David for leaving home he burns the newspaper
clippings he'd saved about the boy. This is one of the few extreme-close ups in
the film, and is repeated later when the same photograph is reprinted in another
paper and Mr. Helfgott sees it, deciding then to make amends. David gave the
same picture of himself to Katherine, his mentor, and receives it again in the
mail upon her death. The photograph serves as a connecting device and as a
reminder of the young man David once was, before stress set in and destroyed his
love and passion. The young David is associated with the sound motif of the
piano and the applauding audiences he played before, while the adult David
mostly is introduced by the melancholy sound of rain against a windowpane. At
the film's conclusion he is again able to hear the music as he once did, and he
is fairly healed. A piano, a violin, applause, and the voice of an announcer
melt together in a sound montage that creates tension as David, his father, and
his instructor await the decision on the National Champion. The sound is very
loud and powerful during scenes of change or major development, and understated
in more stagnant scenes or those dependent on audible dialogue. However, the
political standpoint of the film, or its ideology, is not quite so clear. Hicks
directed the film to be of implicit nature, wherein the protagonist and
antagonist represent opposing value systems. David's father is obviously a
rightist in his beliefs, since he places worth in religion, custom, competition,
and, above all else, family. While David believes in competition, he is not so
set in religion and custom (he lives for an amount of time in a Christian
church, while he himself is Jewish), he places the individual over the family.
In search of his own fortune, David leaves after expressly being told not to.
This one difference is strong enough to tear the family apart and create a
conflict around which the story can revolve. The irony of the situation is that,
while trying desperately to preserve his family, David's father actually
succeeds in alienating his son and putting undue stress on his relationships
with the other family members. The music he counted on to bring David and
himself together also split them apart. Until his breakdown, David had all but
adopted the old professor as his father because he understood David well and was
kind to him. The literary aspect of this film comes not from the fact that it
was adapted from a novel (since it was not), but from its strong basis in the
literary convention. For example, the motifs of rain and applause are a common
technique of literature, as is the shifting point of view. The story is told
from first a third-person limited perspective, then goes into personal
flashbacks from David's memory, and the remainder of the film switches back and
forth between the two. Also, the film is rife with imagery and symbolism, both
of which are favourite literary devices. Such symbols can be interpreted from
the viewpoint of the theories of Structuralism and Semiology. Water is the most
obvious of these symbols, and traditionally means cleansing, rebirth, and
calmness. However, rain means bad weather and difficulties, and dirtied water
(such as that in the bath) is poison. Just before David's first adult recital,
all of his pages float in clear blue pool water as clouds drift by above them.
This is finally the foreshadowing of a rebirth. While not a universal symbol,
the glasses signal David's dependency on things outside himself. Such things
eventually destroy him, since he is not able to break through the multitude of
walls and fences that fill the screen and live for himself. A lion appears
twice, first when David describes his father to Katherine and later when he
awakens at the base of a huge sculpture of one. Lions are typically strong and
powerful, the king of all they survey. The fact that David wakes up with one
behind him foreshadows his father's return and his support of his son. The medal
won for the recital of Rack III and the composition itself both become symbols
of the father that was so bent on having his child son play the impossible
piece. The fact that David chose that as his premiere work told of both his
lasting devotion to his father and his determination to please. When Mr.
Helfgott returned the medal he was recognising the accomplishment and forgiving
his disowned son at once. The closing shot is one of David and his wife as they
leave his father's grave and the cemetery, the camera pulling back on a crane as
the two become lost in the vast stretch. No longer is the audience involved; the
story is over. The main themes of this film- complications, deterioration, and
loss- are expertly portrayed through the harmony of all divisions of filmmaking.
Both Hicks and Rush are excellent, and, despite herself, this eclectic critic
enjoyed the film.
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