Monday, August 24, 2015

Tangerine (2015)

The use of widescreen can be tricky. In the early days of CinemaScope, many great directors were rendered impotent by that long skinny frame. How to fill it? Where to place the camera? Can it move? Many of the early "epics" just sit the camera there and stuff just happens in front of it. To this day there are filmmakers who couldn't liven up a scope frame if their lives depended on it. Thankfully, Sean Baker is not one of those filmmakers.

By virtue of the fact that it was shot on an iPhone, Tangerine is fairly limited in its photographic options. Zooming is difficult and there are only about three lenses to choose from. Yet magically, Baker and co-cinematographer Radium Cheung were able to turn these limitations into an asset. By shooting the entire film in wide shots through wide angle lenses, you get to see EVERYTHING. Even a close-up cannot help but bring the outside world into play.

Parts of Los Angeles that seldom get seen on screen are suddenly given their time in the flared sunlight. Through this literal lens, an average donut shop is effortlessly transformed into a stage on which frantic melodrama unfolds and a drive-thru car wash makes for one of the most epic sex scenes imaginable. It's fitting that a film about marginalized groups (transgender prostitutes, Armenian cabdrivers, etc.) gets to be filmed in such a manner. A wide lens that allows audiences to notice things they normally would have ignored, used to tell a story about people who are constantly ignored. Pretty damn smart.

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