Realism has become an integral part of cinema and certain techniques have been adopted to convey realism to the audience. In Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan there is a lot of emphasis put into the portrayal of realism especially for the scene of the D- Day landings where Spielberg wanted avoid the “romanticism of earlier World War Two films” (Turnock). Here we can see a lot of techniques used in an attempt to express the feeling of realism to the audience.
Firstly, and most obviously, is the use of handheld camera. Handheld has become a major factor in the portrayal of a realistic shot or scene. The main focus being that what we see everyday is never perfectly framed or smooth and working with the confinements of the cameras view we are presented with a rigid shot which as an audience we have become used to seeing. However the handheld sequences almost express a sense of point of view, transporting the viewer into the scene as a third person more so than static shots. The handheld and p.o.v shots are almost conventions of realism and are a technique used in many films for various effects. For example the p.o.v is usually linked with the slasher film such as Halloween and is particularly effective in these types of film as it puts the viewer in the shoes of the murderer so that they take part in his scopophilic acts heightening the tension. In Saving Private Ryan it is also used to create a faster moving more up tempo action feel as the audience is aware of the carnage going on around, the rough jerky movement adds the feel of action and even a little fear.
Colour is often another major effect on the portrayal of realism in cinema. We tend to believe that the less vibrant and more gritty colour scheme is a much more realistic one. Unlike, for example, the flamboyant colour tones of Singing in the Rain, the colours in Saving Private Ryan are bleak having the saturation turned down to 60 percent so that the reds become more brown and everything is generally bleached out.
Spielberg also used some D- Day veterans and amputees as bomb victims in the film adding even more to the element of realism.
Man Bites Dog is another film in which a form of realism is crucial to the story. Basically a mock- umentary Man Bites Dog tells the story of a serial killer followed by a documentary crew. The documentary element is the main factor for involving the audience and getting them to view the film in a more realistic manner so that it can deal with its more lurid content without venturing into the ridiculous. As Richardson(2006) states in Surrealism and Cinema “documentary tends to be linked fundamentally with realism”
This is a technique that has been used and semi used in many films the most popular probably being the Blair Witch Project. However we can see examples of films using “documentary” footage within the film in many 70’s exploitation films such as Cannibal Holocaust. Here the use of a documentary style supposedly adds to the gritty nature of the film. Another parallel between Man Bites Dog and Cannibal Holocaust is the breakdown that the documentary crews experience. At first the crews set out to film this amazing film about a taboo subject, serial killing in M.B.D and cannibalism in C.H, but towards the end of each film the crews cease to remain impartial and involve themselves with what is going on each resulting in graphic scenes of rape. This is both a shock tactic and a social commentary, especially in Man Bites Dog, where the viewer is questioned about what they are watching and at that moment the film ceases to be fun but seems to get all too real.
The fact that Ben the lead character is being followed by the camera crew allows him to do piece to camera throughout the film. This is another clever technique as it really feels as though Benoit is talking directly to the audience. The way that the dialogue is arranged is fantastic as he is explaining his work as though you would expect someone to explain to you in real life. One thing that always amazes me about the film is the language barrier is never an issue and every expression, tone and movement all feel natural making you believe the character is a real person.
As the film is presented as a documentary we once again see the appearance of handheld camera practically throughout. At some points we see the same technique used in Saving Private Ryan where the handheld movement adds to the feeling of tension and action such as when Benoit and the crew are chasing a man through a factory. However the handheld camera coupled with the ” natural lighting and its locations… often urban or industrial” (Film Education) really gives the feel of a documentary and often the audience can lapse into forgetting they are watching a film..
Each film portrays realism in slightly different ways and for greatly different effects. In Saving Private Ryan the realism is there to remind the audience that war isn’t a beautiful or romantic thing and the main reason for the realism seems to enhance the portrayal of violence in war. It seems realism is used here to enhance the horror of what we are seeing.
However in Man Bites Dog the realism isn’t there to enhance the violence in fact the audience tend to forget about it or view it in a more comical way. The realism is integral to Man Bites Dog and without it the film would not be so controversial or anywhere near as meaningful. The realistic aspect is key as it is important that the audience are drawn into and feel like they are taking place in what happens on the screen. This allows the filmmakers to turn this around on the audience and force them to reflect on what they have seen. Is anything portrayed in Man Bites Dog any worse than what we can see in newspapers, magazines or on the news?