Monday, September 23, 2013

Analyzing Camera Work in 'I Love Sarah Jane'

**Contains spoilers**

I love Sarah Jane, by Spencer Susser, follows a pre-pubescent boy living in a zombie apocalypse whose only care is for his crush on teenager Sarah Jane. The short film introduces the viewer to the mellow, despairing mood of the film by starting off with the sound of a rickety bicycle over a blank screen. The scene opens to a foggy street full of garbage and debris, and here we meet the backside of a boy on a bicycle, Jimbo. The grey sky, mellow/sad music, and garbage-strewn ground indicate that something bad is happening in the world this boy lives in. In a long shot of Jimbo riding through the street, these suspicions are proven correct when we see a turned-over car and a torn-apart body, to which Jimbo gives no reaction.

When Jimbo reaches his destination, two techniques are used to distance the viewer from Jimbo's story: First, Jimbo is shown in an extreme long shot from behind a fence, and second, when Jimbo is looking at a picture of Sarah Jane, we see a close up of his face from an angle that prevents the viewer from seeing any emotion, with his cheek as the dominating feature of the shot. Jimbo and the bully boy are shown walking along a road from an extreme long shot, leaving the viewer with an ominous feeling, for the fog continues, the sky is cloudy grey, and a small field containing piles of debris stands between the boys and the camera, further distancing the viewer from these boys' lives.

Though these boys' entire existence is threatened by the zombie apocalypse, it is the bully boy who is depicted as a savage. Upon arriving at the yard that contains a zombie, the boy takes off his hat and shirt, throwing them to the ground, and proceeds to shove and tease the zombie, riling him up. Later, Susser makes a point to show the viewer the cuts and wounds on the boy's naked chest, indicating is savagery and passion for violence. When we are introduced to Sarah, she is sitting in front of a window, the sunlight shining on her. This, as well as her light-colored hair and shirt, make her the brightest thing in the film, as well as the most hopeful thing in Jimbo's hopeless life. Throughout Sarah and Jimbo's tension-filled conversation, every shot of each character has something between the character and the camera, distancing us from the emotions of the characters. We are finally invited into the emotion when we are shown a non-disrupted close-up of Sarah's reaction to Jimbo's news that his family is dead. The camera lingers on Sarah's face as her anger and pain increases the longer she looks at Jimbo, inviting the viewer to share her pain. The moment the viewer is given with Sarah is interrupted when Jimbo stands up and blocks Sarah's face. Jimbo steals the moment back from the viewer, once again making it his own.

Jimbo and Sarah's moment is interrupted by the sound of an explosion, and the light from the window shines on Sarah's face as she looks outside, again illustrating her as the brightest character. The camera follows Sarah and Jimbo outside, where Sarah reveals that the zombie being tormented is her father. The camera reflects Sarah's anger and distress as it quickly swivels back and forth between characters as they argue, never focusing on one character for long.

In the conclusion of the film, Sarah stands over her zombie father with a shovel. She is reluctant. Her pent-up emotions rise in this moment, and we see a pained expression on her face. This is shown in a medium-shot of her profile, with her arm slightly blocking her face, telling the viewer that his is Sarah's moment, and we are not welcome, we are nearly invading.

If you like Susser's work in I Love Sarah Jane, you can check him out more in his first feature-length film, Hesher, starring Joseph Gorden-Levitt and Natalie Portman, and Lana Del Ray's music video for "Summertime Sadness."

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