Sofia Coppola’s films have already been featured on my blog several times. Both Lost in Translation and Somewhere contained gorgeous cinematography and prompted me to write about some of the best shots in those films. And honestly, films like The Virgin Suicides or Marie Antoinette may definitely end up being featured on One Shot in the future. Coppola’s films, in my eyes, are some of the most visually arresting and gorgeous films I’ve seen in recent years. She consistently creates these dreamlike images that contain a lyricism and atmosphere that’s entirely unique and recognizable.
So I’m not ashamed to say that Coppola is up for round no.3 on my blog with another One Shot. I’ve chosen a shot of The Bling Ring, Coppola’s 2013 movie about the group of teenagers who managed to break into several celebrity-villa’s in LA and steal tons of their stuff. Again filmed by the late Harry Savides (assisted by Christopher Blauvelt, who finished the production after Savides became ill), who also lensed Somewhere, I find The Bling Ring to be easily as gorgeous to look at as Coppola’s previous films.
Though, in keeping with the theme and subject-matter of the movie, the movie look less dreamlike and more blunt than, for example, Lost in Translation, it’s still filled with inventive shots, visual flourishes and a recognizable style.
The Superficial Gaze
The movie follows a group of youngsters who are basically voyeuristic thiefs, obsessed with sneaking in and attaching themselves to the lives (and lifestyle) of their chosen celebrity-victims through partying in their houses and wearing their clothes and jewelry.
The youngster appear emotionally empty and superficial and even though the film doesn’t overtly criticize them or make a moral stance on the actions portrayed in the film, it’s clear that Coppola suggests that there is problem with these kids in that there is something missing inside while the kids only focus on the outside.
And that theme of wanting to get in without ever actually getting in (figuratively speaking) is translated to the visual style of the movie as well. Blauvelt and Savides never really pull the camera close to the actors, and even in the occasional close-up, the framing looks very stylized. There is a strong focus on stationary camera-positioning. Think tripods, but also security cameras, and webcams. We, as an audience, are constantly gazing at the action from a non-participatory position, in a sense becoming voyeurs of the voyeurs (the kids). We gaze at them with a slow, deliberate stare, as they gaze slow and deliberately at the lifestyle of the celebrities. It’s a nice droste-effect that elevates the movie and turns it into a sort of mirror for the audience.
Probably one of the most talked about shots in the film is the one where the group breaks-in and enters the house of Audrina Patridge and scavenge her rooms for clothes and other valuables. The camera remains outside at a distance, completely stationary, save for a slow zoom-in. The shot lasts close to 2 minutes and is almost completely silent (save for some cricket-noises).
I cannot deny the power of that single shot. It perfectly encapsulates the visual theme I described earlier. We stay outside, but we stare inside. We are spying the kids as they break in and the camera simulates our tendency to slowly lean forward in full attention as it zooms in. But I do have a problem with that shot, and that is that it feels too self-contained. Visually it fits within the context, but it’s such a long and unique shot, it breaks the rhythm of the movie. Mind you, it’s not a deal-breaker, and I was really, really impressed with the shot in and of itself but looking back at it, it feels too self-conscience and too detached from the context (come to think of it, self-conscience and detachement are strong themes throughout the movie, so in that sense it fits).
All things considered, though I really like it, it’s not my favorite shot of the film, and thus, it’s not the shot I want to name my One Shot. That honor belongs to a shot that appears 20 minutes later in the movie as the gang robs Lindsay Lohan’s place.
To me, this shot best visualizes the themes of the movie. And even though it’s a strongly emphasized image, it doesn’t feel as detached from it’s context as the slow zoom of the breaking in. As a matter of fact, stylistically it fits with half a dozen shots scattered throughout the movie, where time slows down and for a brief moment (20-30 sec.) the camera lingers on a subject. Often, that subject is Rebecca, the alleged leader of the ‘Bling Ring’. This fits in with the storytelling perspective Coppola maintains throughout the film, as we experience the tale from the perspective of the shy Marc, who gets pulled into orbit of Rebecca at the start of the movie. As much as the other girls seem obsessed with the celebrity lives, Marc seems most focused on the companionship and apparent friendship he receives from the girls, especially Rebecca. Thus he gazes upon her in an almost reverent way throughout the film. Hence, the repeated motiv of the slow-motion gaze in the shots is often focused on her.
But in the shot I chose, it’s not just us, as Marc, gazing at Rebecca, it’s Rebecca gazing at herself. She’s in the house of Lindsay Lohan and has put on some jewelry while she checks herself out in a large mirror. Then she grabs a bottle of perfume and sprays herself. The perfume seems to have an almost transformative effect on her as we see her smell it on herself. It is as if she’s turned into her object of obsession (a celebrity) for a brief moment. The following stare at herself in the mirror suggests a state of euphoria. Yet it also looks as if she’s on the verge of crying.
This might be my own interpretation but I read that shot as a moment in which Rebecca comes closest to fulfilling her wish of becoming a celebrity, and it is at this moment that see she’s the reflection of her own face, maybe realizing the fiction of her wish. Or, maybe she just thinks she’s never felt or looked more like a celebrity and she simply feels she’s achieved her goal for a moment. Either way, the scene works in intimately showing the obsessed gaze of Rebecca.
Stylistically, what I love about the shot is the beautiful way in which it underlines the moment with such an obsessed attention to details. We don’t hear noise or party music, but just a tense sustained note which suggests danger and suspense, making us lean forward towards the image even more. And the way it is lit, with the soft light enveloping Rebecca and letting her melt into the background. There seems to be no sharp distinction between her figure and her environment. Both in light and color she seems to fit.
And then we see her eyes sparkling with the reflections of the lightbulbs. It reminds me of the way cartoon characters, who look at a treasure, have these exaggerated glassy eyes with sparkles in them, making them blind to everything else. Just as Rebecca appears to be blind to anything besides her own appearance. And also; the bright light of the bulbs makes her gaze more watery, therefore suggesting the presence of some form of tears.
These kind of shots are so valuable in a movie as they literally elevate the entire narrative. It’s like a lens that turns into place to bring clear focus to character, narrative and theme and encapsulate it into a single, non-verbal, image. As it does so in this instance while also suggesting an honest sort of emotion in a character who is largely seen as being vapid and superficial, I respect it even more.
The Bling Ring can be a cold movie in it’s objective telling of a story of a couple of very amoral and unsympathetic characters, but this One Shot provides an intimacy and ambiguity that breaks through the coldness and brings depth and dimension to the movie. Great stuff.