The following article is part of an ongoing series exploring visual homages, themes, and motifs. For the rest of the articles in this series, click here.
Way back in the last installment of It’s A Visual Medium, we discussed Guy Ritchie’s love of extreme angles throughout his 2000 sophomore film Snatch. This time, we’ll be talking about those angles again, but in relation to another important framing technique: Triangular Blocking.
“Blocking” in theatre terminology refers to the placement of actors and props within the confines of the stage itself. Whenever an actor moves upstage or to the side of another actor, that’s a change in the blocking. It means the same thing in film, but here it deals with the placement of actors and props within each frame. Since the pictures are moving, the filmmaker has a limited amount of time to direct the audience’s eye where they want it to go. One popular blocking technique is placing actors in triangular positions to one another, making a shape that you won’t pick up consciously, but is pleasing to your eye. This method of causing the audience’s eyes to dart around the screen is Triangular blocking or Triangular composition. Here are a few examples from the film The Incredibles, taken from Flooby Nooby’s must-read breakdown of that film’s cinematography:
Of course, in Snatch, Guy Ritchie employs this in pretty common fashion:
However, Ritchie doesn’t stop there. Because of the frenetic way that Snatch is shot, Ritchie only has a few seconds to get your eyes to be not only where he wants them now, but also where he wants them to be in the next frame. He accomplishes this with some clever framing. Take this shot for example, which is actually composed of two different triangles:
The primary triangle is the obvious conversation between Boris, Sol, and Vinny. But by placing them directly in front of the open doorframe, Ritchie creates an even more subconscious secondary triangle between Boris, Vinny, and the incapacitated Frankie. The reason for this makes sense in just a second….
Vinny holds up the diamond, which becomes the new focal point for the latter half of this shot. His arm and hand cover Frankie, and the diamond is now at the tip of the secondary triangle, which is now the primary triangle.
Ritchie likes doing this, and he likes playing with movement to get the audience where he wants them to go. In this next frame, we again see triangular composition, but one point of the triangle is moving a lot more than the other two, drawing more of our attention. That way, when he changes the focus to a person in the background, you’re already looking there. Here he uses it as a set-up for a gag, the punching-line leading the way to an actual punchline:
Another thing that Ritchie likes to do is use the shape of people or the contours of a gun to make points of a triangle. While this isn’t triangular blocking in the traditional sense, Ritchie’s obsession with hard angles and straight lines in this film make it pretty hard to see anything else:
Again, Ritchie prepares us for the shift in focal point by arranging the triangle so we’re already looking where he wants us to look.
In this shot, we’re again using the natural lines of Vinnie Jones’ intimidating figure. Note how his neck is craned downwards to point the audience’s eyes to Tyrone on the floor. Note also how in this case, the triangle is encircling the gun. (You could also make the case that the gun itself is the third focal point in this shot, not Vinnie Jones’ crotch as I’ve drawn here, but I like how this makes it into a perfect right triangle.) In any case, this is important to note, because the goal is to draw your attention from the head, to the man on the floor, then slightly up to see the gun. Because in a few seconds, the gun is going to rise up to face level.
I drew a secondary triangle in this one that may not actually exist, but given what we’ve talked about before about the themes of false security in Snatch, I feel like it’s important to note that there is a triangle in this shot made of two failed security devices, a dog and a gun.
All of these examples are leading somewhere, and that’s to this final shot, my favorite shot in the whole film, and the reason I wanted to do this series in the first place.
This shot is Peak Ritchie. A quick recap of what’s happening in this shot:
- We have one very obvious central triangle between three characters.
- One line of the triangle rides along the lines of a gun.
- It also runs along a character’s arm.
- In the film, one of these points (Dennis Farina) is moving a lot while the other is still, bouncing back and forth between the background and foreground, creating depth.
- The shot is at a harsh Dutch Angle, offset by the fact that one character’s head is at an opposing angle.
Every placement in Snatch is deliberate, getting the eyes to go where they need to be. But in this case, they need to be everywhere. This is at the height of the movie, too, so a lot of information is being thrown at the audience at once. The filmmaking makes it easier and more rewarding to be an engaged audience member, because 99% of the work has already been done for you . All you have to do to be an active viewer is pay attention and let your eyes and brain do what comes naturally.
That’s it for this three-part series on Snatch! Please submit ideas for future installments of It’s A Visual Medium on Twitter or via e-mail at email@example.com.
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