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Lee’s geometrics

That’s one fancy, intriguing, vaguely theoretical title down…

Every time I watch Do the Right Thing I’m reminded again of what an eye Spike lee has for geometry and the good it does for the visual tenor of his films. All movies abide by some sort of geometry. They have to, given the parameters inherent in the rectangular format of film strips, camera sensors, and television/cinema screens. Set in relation to the rectangle therefore, everything projected or displayed responds geometrically to the boundaries of the screen. Though the most common recognition of this condition of the medium comes in the form of the infamous and often underdeveloped rule of thirds rule, which generally holds that images make the most aesthetic sense when their subject of interest appears 1/3 of the way into the frame, either from the top or from the bottom. Like diagonal lines that lead the eye, bold colors that parse contrast, or forms that generally complement one another, the rule of thirds speaks generally, rather than objectively to the way we look at (and have been trained to look at) photographic images.

Spike Lee knows and appreciates such nuances in many of his films, but his execution of and transgression of this rule comes across so clearly in Do The Right Thing, that I think it deserves some attention here. After a quick once-through, I’ve included below some screenshots that I hope will illustrate some of the geometric genius I’m talking about:

By completely transgressing the rule of thirds and putting Buggin' Out front, center, large, and from below, mouth agape, Lee underscore, highlights, outlines, and stars Buggin' Out's outrage.

By completely transgressing the rule of thirds and putting Buggin’ Out front, center, large, and from below, mouth agape, Lee underscore, highlights, outlines, and stars Buggin’ Out’s outrage.

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This entry was posted on May 18, 2013 by in posts and tagged , , , , , , .
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