dancing till the world ends (lynnenne) wrote,

A Touch of Evil: Cinematic Analysis of "Conviction," Angel Season 5

upupa_epops is hosting this really cool meta-comment-a-thon over in her LJ. All fandoms! Everyone who enjoys meta should read it; you might find something that ignites your brain.


angearia posted the following prompt:

Film Analysis Challenge: analyze a scene based on its technical composition.... What makes certain scenes so emotionally resonant? Meaningful? Powerful? How is this expressed through the film medium?

One scene I have always loved is the long, establishing shot of the new Wolfram & Hart offices during "Conviction," the first episode of Angel Season 5. This one shot sets the tone and theme for the entire season. Here's how.

This is an important establishing shot for Team Angel's new home for Season 5. It's also one long, continuous take. Joss loves these shots; he has used them in both Serenity and The Avengers.They're his homage to Orson Welles, who famously opened A Touch of Evil with an epic, 3-minute crane shot that required insanely difficult timing. Yet it's more than a cinematic homage. As with most Whedon-directed episodes, the cinematography is primarily there to serve the narrative, and this shot does a great job of it.

The shot opens on a tight framing of an envelope in a mail cart, addressed to Angel, CEO of Wolfram & Hart. Exposition: Angel is now the CEO of the evil law firm that he's been fighting for four seasons. But the close-up is more than exposition. It's foreshadowing, because this is the same envelope that contains the amulet from which Spike will jack-in-the-box at the end of the episode. Dear Angel: We found your mirror. You left it at the bottom of the Hellmouth. Let's hold it up to you all season so you can see where you used to live, and maybe figure out how to get back there. Love, Joss.

Zoom out to show the guy pushing the mail cart: It's Number 5, the Mexican wrestler who will tell Angel a cautionary tale about heroism later this season. The camera follows him around a corner, and we can see that this place is big. Not just big, but confusing. A maze, in which many rats might get lost.

The camera follows Number 5 until it comes to rest on a set of elevator doors. They open on Fred, who's facing the wrong way. Clearly disoriented. She turns around, and we see that the elevator has doors on both sides. This is Corporate America; it talks out of both sides of its mouth.

Fred exits the elevators into the lobby. The camera follows her, panning up and showing the space from Fred's POV. It's huge, brightly light and gorgeous. Evil may be disorienting, but it sure is shiny.

Pan back down to Fred, who is joined by Wesley. Wes voices the question on everyone's mind, "Why are we here?" The camera circles around them as they have this conversation. More spinning, adding to the sense of disorientation. They don't know why they're there, because Angel made sure that none of them would. Talk about head-spinning.

Fred and Wes are joined by Knoxy, who can't remember how long he's been evil. He just mixes the potions. He also helps Fred find her lab. He leads her up the stairs - the same stairs she will later tumble down as she begins her descent into god-hood. Don't trust Knox, Fred! He'll lead you into places you can never come back from.

The camera circles around Wes nearly 360 degrees as he watches them ascend. That spinning feeling in his head tells him that Knox is bad news. The camera comes to rest with Gunn's shout of "Think fast!" and Wes gets hit in the chest with a basketball. Gunn walks into frame and adds, "You have to think fast in this place." Later in this episode, we'll learn just how fast Gunn can think.

The shot tracks them to adjoining offices, where Gunn and Wes discuss which ones they will choose as their own. Gunn is already staking out his territory, as he will later do in "Life of the Party" (in a much more animalistic fashion). He adds, however, that he feels like he doesn't belong, and that it will take them all a long time to adjust.

Pan over to Lorne, who is already quite well adjusted. He's talking on the phone to a Hollywood star about getting her a part in a big movie. He already has a stable full of horses' heads lined up to blackmail the producer (a reference to The Godfather, for those of you younger than me :). The camera tracks Lorne through the hallways of Wolfram & Hart. (We will see this framing again in "Life of the Party," where the camera follows Lorne and his assistant through the hallways as Lorne wheels and deals on juggling cell phones.) The shot is steady during this section, sure-footed and precise. This place is a maze, but already, Lorne knows exactly where he is going.

Not so Angel. The camera once again comes to rest on the elevator doors, and they open on Angel - who, like Fred, is facing the wrong way. Where are you headed, Angel? Which side are you on? You don't even know the answer yourself.

We follow him out of the elevators, and Gunn asks him, "Lost, boss?" Angel replies, "On a lot of levels." And this is the crux of the message, the whole point of this establishing shot, the episode and, indeed, the season: Angel lacks Conviction. He gave it up when he signed a deal to save his son's life; he lost it when he lost Cordelia, his mystical guide and strongest link to humanity. Yet he puts on a brave face, because Angel is nothing if not brave. He buttons up his jacket, strides forward with confidence that he doesn't have, and leads Wes and Gunn into his office, telling them, "We're turning this place inside out." But can you really turn a maze inside out? Isn't it still a maze? What does it get you, except more lost?

Angel swings through his office doors and finishes his thought with, "Everything must go. Starting with that." Pan over to reveal Eve, the liaison to the Senior Partners, lounging against Angel's desk. This is where the long take ends: the next shot is a mid-tight of Eve, followed by a more workaday edit of Angel and Eve in conversation. It's no accident that the long, maze-like shot ends on the earthly embodiment of the Senior Partners: this is the path that Angel has set upon, by signing on with Wolfram & Hart. All roads lead to Evil.

A Touch of Evil, indeed.
Tags: ats, meta
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