ByAndrew Fasnacht, writer at
Pretty movies make me pretty happy. Soccer and brownies have the same effect.
Andrew Fasnacht

Books offer quality, well-told stories. Music is a treat for your ears. Movies are, first and foremost, a visual medium. This continues a series focusing on that element of filmmaking: the art of cinematography. The following is a collection of my favorite shots from Rush. [may contain spoilers]

Rush is the only Ron Howard film that I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching. Prior to its release, the word I had heard most associated with Howard’s individual efforts was probably “safe.” There was allegedly nothing flashy or exceptional about his movies; they were adequate, if not a bit low-key. So when he was announced as the director responsible for bringing a Formula 1 story to the big screen, I wondered if he was an appropriate choice. Could Ron Howard, his reputation preceding him, possibly deliver the adrenaline and tension necessary in a racing movie? Perhaps I had heard wrong about him, because my answer to that question is a resounding yes.

Admittedly, I was a tad worried about the look of the film going into it. The trailers showed as many pretty colors and interesting angles as they did spotty CG work. When it came to the final product, however, Rush staked its claim as my second favorite movie of 2013 (more on that at the end of February). [cinematographer: Anthony Dod Mantle)

That shot of the garage is a tricky piece of time-lapse photography. We’re witnessing a transition from night to day, but instead utilizing the more expected approach of photographing for eight or so hours across the time the sun rises, the events on screen happen in real time while the night dissolves into early morning. It actually appears to be two separate tracking shots, with a seam that I didn’t even spot until my third or fourth time watching the sequence. The adjacent shot is simply nice landscape stuff. Let’s call it filler and move on.

We’re shown this record playing while the career of Chris Hemsworth’s character, who is seen in the background, is in disarray. The camera placement subtly reflects that, resting at an odd angle despite residing on the surface of a table that we can safely assume is properly level.

The racing sequences in Rush are frequently accompanied by informative graphics placed over the images. My favorite instance was this one introducing the Monaco race. It starts with a freeze-frame, but the camera is moving around to keep the energy up. The shot abruptly abandons any stillness by following a racecar (can’t deny an opportunity to use a palindrome) at full speed out of the tunnel. And to think I was worried Mr. Arrested Development* didn’t have the skill set to do a racing movie justice. For further evidence, see the next series of shots: each one at an intriguing angle, cut together quickly, ratcheting up the intensity with every frame.

A shot (I’m going to need to find some good synonyms) can be made memorable by merely placing a camera somewhere cameras don’t often go. In this case, that rarely-trodden territory is the inside of a character’s helmet. This position is taken full advantage of by putting the focus on one of Daniel Bruhl’s unmoving eyes, while the background is composed almost entirely of people in motion. These choices appropriately convey where the character’s mind is at: in the moment, subduing any fear, preparing to avoid repeating previous mistakes.

From one protagonist’s head to another's, here we enter the mind of Hemsworth’s James Hunt. He’s just entered one of his lowest lows and is about to turn things around. The camera is placed as close to Hunt’s head as possible while still allowing the viewer to recognize whose head this is. Then we’re taken inside the car, metaphorically representing the inside of the character’s head; parts are moving, thoughts are being processed, and Hunt subsequently makes a pass and moves up in the race... the race of life. Sticking with symbolism and whatnot (math was my best subject, not language arts), the last shot here captures James Hunt through the bars of a bird cage. It almost looks as if he is in a cage. More literally, he has been in one of those low points that I touched on earlier. Then a phone rings (you’ll have to trust me on that) and Hunt turns to go answer it, turning his back on the cage and leaving it behind. The answers he finds on the phone bring him out from behind bars.

The end. If you made it this far, thanks for reading and having apparent interest in things that make me happy. If you only glanced at the gifs and read nothing, I apologize (but to what purpose if you’re not reading this?) because their quality alone falls just short of doing justice to Rush’s true beauty. With next week’s The Cinematography of... I will either make amends for speaking negatively about Roger Deakin’s in my The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo post, or I’ll feature Ender’s Game. Feel free to push me over to either side of the fence in the comments below.

*Ron Howard is the narrator in Arrested Development.


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