Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on how different directors make use of off-screen space.
One of the most interesting things about the movies is what we don’t see on-screen. And no, we’re not talking about the time-intensive labor that goes into costuming and makeup or careful, coordinated stuntwork. No, we literally mean what’s off-screen.
Unlike other forms of art (like, say, painting), viewers understand that a movie’s camera is pointed at something in the real world. Even if a movie is entirely shot on a green screen, that green screen exists and has limits of its own. In this way, off-screen space — what exists outside of what is visible in a given frame — is a medium-specific condition unique to movies. If cameras are an analogy between our eyes and the world, we understand instinctually that there’s always the existence of something more just out of view.
But, (and this is where things get spicy) off-screen space can also serve as an aesthetic technique. It can offer opportunities for rule-breaking comedy — jutting hands, emerging unexpectedly from just out of frame. It can suggest and emphasize shocking or violent action in horror films and thrillers. And it can violate our perceptual expectations in surprising and meaningful ways.
The video essay below touches on some of the ways in which filmmakers use off-screen space to create distinctly cinematic ways of communication. The essay focuses in particular on Robert Bresson’s A Man Escaped (1956), a historical prison escape film that uses off-screen space not just as a technique, but as a theme.
Watch “What is Off-Screen Space?”:
Who made this?
This video essay about off-screen space is by Jordan Schonig, who holds a Ph.D. in Cinema and Media Studies from the University of Chicago. They are a Film Studies lecturer and make video essays on, what else, film. You can subscribe to Schonig on YouTube here. And you can follow them on Twitter here.
More videos like this
- This video is the second part of a three-part series on cinematography and framing. Here’s the first part, on camera lenses and focal length.
- Here’s Schonig on what the 2014 cyber horror film Unfriended can teach us about André Bazin’s concept of cinematic realism.
- And here’s Schonig on how Alfonso Cuarón‘s Gravity walks the line between realistic and believable sound design.
- And finally, here’s Schonig on the narrative role of mise-en-scène in Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. That essay is a part of a three-part series on the film. Here’s an essay on what Coppola’s film can teach us about analyzing film acting. And here’s what it can teach us about film lighting.