Back when I was writing up the posts on Shot Flow (here and here) in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I watched Bad Day at Black Rock on Turner Classic Movies. I was in the mode of analyzing how shots hooked up, and I noticed something kind of amazing. Director John Sturges and cinematographer William Mellor (and an uncredited storyboard artist?) used screen direction to define character polarity. That is, if a character moved from screen left to right, he was good. If he was bad, the orientation was right to left (and I say ‘he’ because there’s but a single token female in the entire movie).
We know this ‘polarity’ information is frequently conveyed via musical cues, color, camera angles, and so on. A touch of ominous music or a subtly repeated musical phrase subliminally tells us who’s good and who’s bad. Or ‘cold’ colors predominate in scenes with the heavy, and ‘warm’ colors predominate scenes with the protagonist. Bruce Block lectures about how virtually any film-making element, if used consistently, can have storytelling properties like this. But I’ve never seen it done with screen direction. It just strikes me as counter intuitive, to say nothing of how difficult it is to stage virtually every scene to be consistent with such a self-imposed rule.
I broke down Bad Day at Black Rock scene by scene right after I watched it, and made some photo-montages to illustrate what I’m talking about. I’ve held off posting until the film came back on the TCM schedule, and they’re playing it tomorrow (June 17 at 6:45 pm PST, and again August 31). Take a look, it’s a pretty good movie (and if there’s interest, I might also discuss why I think it’s only good, and not great). After the TMC showing of the film I’ll post up the montages illustrating the use of screen direction.