Look, Listen, Analyze: To Serve Man

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This week in the DS106 we are focusing on video, and our first assignment was to watch a scene from “The Twilight Zone” and “read” it three different ways.  I chose to analyze the opening scene from the episode “To Serve Man.”  The reason I chose this scene was because after watching, “Nightmare at 20,000 feet,” I immediately found the camera work more compelling.  It was also short and the audio and visual were very distinct.

Analyze the Camera Work:

So I began the episode with the audio off to just focus on the camera work. The scene begins with a fade in from an image of outer space and the camera quickly zooms in on the face of a man laying down smoking a cigarette.  The camera then pans down and then rotates up to reveal a flashing light on the wall which draws the mans attention. As the man sits up, the camera follows his action and shadows are are seen on both sides of the room – the room is dimly lit but there are light sources coming from the left and right sides of the room.  The camera continues to follow his action and then cuts to an image of the man rubbing out his cigarette.  The camera again cuts but this time just to the flashing light on the wall, it cuts again to the man, and again back to the wall, and again back to the man.  As he gets up from his cot the camera stays mostly in the same position but then zooms in on him as he opens a mirror – this is a really interesting frame because you can see his reflection in the mirror looking back at the camera.  The camera pans down as he opens a drawer revealing a sink and then quickly cuts to the flashing light on the wall again. It cuts again and the camera is zoomed out to reveal most of the room.  The camera remains still and then pans up as the man lays back down on his cot, after a short conversation the man seems to be having with himself the scene ends how it started with the camera zooming in on the man smoking a cigarette, the image becomes blurry and the room fades out in to the next scene which is a totally different location.

Analyze the Audio Track

I “watched” the scene again, but this time without any visual. The scene begins with the sound of a mans sigh and then a robotic-like sounding man calling “Mr. Chambers, Mr.Chambers” asking about a man’s preference for food.  There is a rustling sound and the robotic voice scolds the man for improperly disposing of his cigarette.  A loud, frustrated voice is heard. The man and the robot go back and forth a little until only the sounds of a room can be heard, the sigh of the man, the opening of a drawer.  The robot voice says “please conserve water” and splashing can be heard.  The two have a conversation about the time and what time it is on Earth. Most notably in this scene are the sounds of the man sighing and moving around the room.   There is a distinct difference in volume between the robot voice and the man – the robot voice is quieter and calmer while the other man’s voice is frantic and loud.  It sounds like they are a distance away from each other.

Put It All Together

Together the audio and visual components of this scene make it really interesting.  The camera cutting to the light and then the man make it seem like the flashing light is who he is having a conversation with.  The camera cutting to him rubbing out the cigarette along with the sound of it is very compelling and you definitely can’t tell what he is doing just from listening to the audio. Another interesting thing that can’t be appreciated without both elements is the smoke of the cigarette it’s so calm compared to the man’s attitude and is also very visually compelling.  It makes no noise, but with the other audio effects added back in it’s a stark contrast to the scene.

Robert Ebert’s Guide

There were a few things from Ebert’s guide that definitely resonated in this scene:

– “I have the impression that more tilts are down to the right than to the left”

– “Left tilts to me suggest helplessness, sadness, resignation.” –  The camera cut to the light up on the left

– “A POV above a character’s eyeline reduces him; below the eyeline, enhances him.” – Definitely seen in the scene, character seemed a lot larger at the beginning of the scene when the camera was below the cot looking up at him then when it was above looking down.

– “Within the context, you can seek the “dominant contrast,” which is the area we are drawn toward.” – I definitely noticed the stark contrast between the shadows on the left and right hand sides of the screen which I noted when I initially watched the scene without audio.

A Short Clip From the Scene:

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