I began looking farther into the movie Scent of a Woman the way any self-respecting college student begins their research – I checked out the Wiki article. If you read my prior post, you’ll remember that I had never seen nor heard of this movie prior to the ds106 assignment that lead me to it. Imagine my shock, then, when I realized that the character Al Pacino was playing was blind. I had no idea. It felt like just one more thing that changed the entire dynamic of the scene I reviewed. It kind of makes me glad I chose to review a scene from a movie I was unfamiliar with. Breaking it down this way, one aspect at a time, was a very efficient way to see the many ways different techniques can change the entire meaning of a scene.
The Wiki article says the movie is a remake of a 1974 Italian movie of the same name. The plot is similar, with a few changes, but the basic plot and dynamic between the two main characters appear to be the same. The Internet Movie Database doesn’t provide much more information on the production or the plot, either of the Italian version or the American.
According to Wiki, this movie is of the drama genre and the Internet Movie Database agrees. Wiki defines drama as ‘a film genre that depends mostly on in-depth development of realistic characters dealing with emotional themes.’ It identifies a defining aspect of dramas as having ‘a character or characters who are in conflict at a crucial moment in their lives.’ AMC defines dramas as ‘serious, plot-driven presentations, portraying realistic characters, settings, life situations, and stories involving intense character development and interaction.’ Based on these, I would have to agree that Scent of a Woman is a drama. It seems that the American version of the film minimizes the role of the woman in the main characters’ life as depicted in the Italian version, in favor of adding to the development of the main character’s assistant. As a result, both men are chronicled going through crucial moments in their lives – one deciding to commit suicide or not, the other making an ethical decision that could change the course of his entire professional career and hence, his life. But despite the greater dilemma being faced by the Colonel, and his completely miserable perspective on life at the moment, the Colonel serves as just the catalyst that his young assistant needs at this stage in his life, forcing him to make tough decisions and make a stand in more than one way, helping him define the kind of man he will be.
Here is a video I’ve put together to show how cinematography was used to help tell the story of the movie.
In the first clip, we see the camera switch back and forth between the two. Here, Pacino is light-hearted, working on loosening up O’Donnell. The camera is eye-level with both characters, showing they are equal. In the second clip, Pacino is viewed from below, to portray his dominance in the scene, and O’Donnell is viewed from above to show he is at Pacino’s mercy, yet O’Donnell uses the same flippancy and the same kind of points to soften Pacino’s character, and is wildly successful in doing so. I believe that Pacino is still to the right of O’Donnell here because this is one of the key scenes in the movie where Pacino is (inadvertently as it may be) pulling O’Donnell’s character forward in his development dramatically, via the situation he has placed him in – what will he do when placed subject to Pacino’s character, the PTSD-stricken, suicidal Colonel? He stands his ground, and uses what the Colonel has taught him to talk the Colonel down, and the clip ends with the Colonel beginning to loosen up in the same manner that O’Donnell’s character Charlie did at the end of the first clip.
Pretty neat use of simple techniques in a pretty powerful and effective way, I think.