Film Techniques – Shine
In the film Shine, Scott Hicks uses many different cinematic techniques to portray the remarkable events and turning points in the life of piano virtuoso, David Helfgott. Helfgott is an extremely difficult character to accurately represent. His strange and somewhat erratic behavior creates traits very difficult for an actor to display, but even harder for Hicks to direct. This makes this film such a benchmark for Hick’s work. Shine was Scott Hicks fifth achievement as a director, he has since go on to direct a larger budget film, Snow Falling on Cedar’s.
The film seems divided into two half’s. The first half is used to build up David’s life, examining his past, and the experiences that bring him to Moby’s. In the first half of the film we also experience some flashbacks and flash-forwards, this gives the audience an insight into David’s life. The second half is used more to tell how David regains his life after mental illness The character doesn’t age, but we are giving a very in depth look into his life and the people around him.
The film starts off with David running down the street in the pouring rain, he stops at Moby’s restaurant. Hick’s uses this intro to give us an insight into David at the worst point in his life. Hicks’ accents that this is a hard time by the use of lighting, music, and sound. When David is looking into Moby’s from the street, he is viewed through a blue filter with a red light flashing on him. This blue filter gives us the impression David’s life is very depressed, the red flashing light shows a sense of urgency in the scene. Continuing with this depressive theme, the background music is slow and played in a low key, as for other sounds, all we can hear is the rain, a reoccurring theme all through out the movie.
As David is being driven home, shadows cover half his face, once again the red light is used, showing that even when in the company of others David is still experiencing a very dark part of his life. As the car drives, we can hear the sound of the tires going over the ground; this makes a reoccurring sound of thump, thump, thump. Hicks’ uses this sound to continue on into the next scene at the community hall.
Another important turning point occurs after David is told he can not go to America. This scene, set in the Helfgott’s bathroom is extremely powerful. Hick begins this scene with a close-up of a dripping tap, the water flowing in slow motion. As the camera pans out to the rest of the bathroom we can see it is a dark a cold place, similar to the rest of the house. Once again the director has used shadows on David’s face to show his mood. When Peter discovers that David has excreted in the bath, he begins to beat him with the towel. The director creates the effect of quickly repeated hits by cutting between each hit. Then each hit is filmed from a slightly different angle, this is a very strong effect, and extremely well done. It gives the audience the impression that this is even more a brutal attack then is actually is. The scene finishes with a timid, shivering David sitting in the bath. Without looking to deeply into it, it could be said that even in this scene, the symbolism of water is still being used.
Katherine was an extremely influential character in David’s life, she was warm and kind, and through her actions gave David the strength to stand up to his father. Hicks’ has reflected Katherine’s personality through out the scenes where David and her are together. Her house is warm and inviting, soft lighting over soft colors, any panning or zooming is slow and well maneuvered, the soft sounds of the bush, or David at the piano the only interruptions in the dialogue between her and David. One more interesting symbolism explored within these scenes in which Katherine appears was the use of red. When we first meet Katherine at the Soviet Friendship Society, the theme of red is predominate. Bookshelves are covered in red books, the tablecloth has patches of red, and the cardigan worn by the girl who introduces herself to David is also red in color. When David tells Katherine that he is planning to go to England, she gives him a pair of red gloves. Perhaps this is symbolic of her association with the Communist movement in Australia back then.
Perhaps the most pivotal turning point in David’s life occurs when he moves to England to study at the Royal College of Music. Soon into the scene we discover that David has decided to play Rachmaninoff for his musical piece at the Concerto Medal. Through out the scenes to come, everything is viewed with some kind of urgency. Example of this include, the sound of the Rach 3 is ever present in the background. The camera work is frantic, one good example being when David is first seen to play the Rach 3. The camera pans up and down and from side to side. When Cecil is talking to David he uses many metaphors in his description of the Rach 3; he calls it a monster that has to be tamed. When these factors are combined with David’s erratic behavior, expressed in his sudden inability to dress himself or make a steady decision with out the influence of his friends, we can see that David is slowly losing his mind.
This comes to a head when he eventually plays at the Prince Albert Hall. As David starts playing the piece all we can see is the reflection of his hands in the piano, slowly the camera pans up onto his face. Hicks’ he filmed this in such a way we never see on aspect of David for to long, the camera continually moves from David’s face, to his hand, to the audience and the orchestra. Through out the scene there are cuts to David’s father listening to a recording of his son playing the Rach 3, this is an extremely clever editing technique as it appears that Peter is listening to David in real time.
As the music get more frantic, so does the camera work. What we see of David’s face is obscured by silhouettes, and never in frame. The camera runs across the keyboard almost as if it was trying to catch up with his fingers. At one point Hicks’ completely stops the sound of the music and put the scene into slow motion. This gives us the impression that we are seeing things from David’s point of view, the music has lost sound and meaning and now is nothing more than a dull thud on the keyboard.
The final filming technique used in this scene occurs right at the end. David finishes his piece and collapses, this is filmed with two camera’s the first is position to view David as he is sitting at the piano, when he falls off his chair onto the floor, another camera, lying on at a lower level, films the fall. The clever cutting sequence at this point is very effective.
The final, more uplifting turning point for David centers around his appearance at Moby’s towards the end of the film.
As David enters Moby’s we are shown the restaurant from a first person perspective, people turn to stare at him. Then the focus it on the piano, David sits down and starts playing. The three major shot used in the sequence during David’s performance of flight of the Bumblebee, include a framed close-up of David’s face and fingers, reaction shots of both Sylvia and Sam, and wide shots of the audience. Flight of the Bumblebee is the perfect choice of music for this scene, it is playful and quick, but also has such a degree of difficulty that it can highlight David’s talent.
As David finishes his performance, the audience starts to applause, everyone is on their feet with praise for his talent. The camera points this out by panning around the restaurant, as the camera pans back onto David, it glances over a poster on the wall, and it reads, “The classics at Moby’s, David Helfgott, Pianist”. When the camera reaches David we can see that he has changed completely, he is now wearing a suit, has his hair tied back, and is on the receiving end of a lot of attention.
Hicks’ uses this scene to hi-light a transition in David from the strange untidy weirdo that originally walked into Moby’s, to the star attraction at an extremely popular restaurant.
In Shine, it is plain to see Hicks’ took some risks with camera techniques, and you can be pretty sure much of the film ended up on the editing room floor. This is a good thing. The risks he decided to take definitely paid off. It is not often that we can appreciate an Australian film of this standard, just ask the Oscar selection committee, who gave Shine film 7 nominations.