Monday, October 28, 2013

France: News As Performance Art

After a typical Monday - pick up the halved pig carcasses at the abattoir, slice them into hams and rib sections and long sections of loin and bacony bellies and a few other random salable cuts and then separate all the rest of the usable meat out for sausage and salami, and then make the sausage and salami and hang them up on steel rods to air-dry for several weeks (the salami) or overnight - I went back up to the house with Florence, and waited while she did some billing and bookkeeping chores. Her father, Éloi, had finished feeding the pigs and was watching an evening news program with Marie-Louise, his mother, in the kitchen. I joined them, stretching my shoulders after the day's work (I also spent the morning completely rearranging and restocking the store), and was immediately caught up in the program, "C dans l'air."

But not because of what they were talking about.

No, what fascinated me was the constant change in camera angles and viewpoints, and the unusual angles and perspectives the editor decided would be interesting. And I mean constant change. Before I thought to get up and fetch my camera, I watched a three-minute stretch in which the longest unchanging shot lasted approximately five seconds. It wasn't just the speed at which the perspective changed, it was the choices made for that perspective that I found so intriguing, then somewhat disconcerting, then pretty damned funny.

You can see that this studio is full of all sorts of shiny surfaces, and the camera operators were even more into reflections than I am when I take endless pictures of puddles and lakes. The moderator with the reflected face of one of the guests behind him, or maybe just the reflection as seen from someone else's viewpoint, or even - in a particularly inspired shot that I unfortunately didn't get on film - the reflection of the reflection of two people talking. Most of those shots were also tilted, just in case the reflection wasn't enough.

It was like the camera operator was being directed by someone who really wanted to be an improv instructor when they grew up, but found themselves stuck in a television studio.

"Now the studio is on the Titanic, and it's sinking fast! Change! Make the audience think that they're only six inches tall by filming while you're lying on the floor! Change! You're a spy, and this is a top-secret conference you have to get on film - without being caught! Now we're going to work on expression, so don't show the whole person - make the audience really feel the emotions of the speakers, but only using their shirt collars and ties!"

Then there were the shots taken from behind an intern's forgotten coffee cup, or the ones from the rear of the host, who was seated in a chair that apparently has heaters built into it, but which looked like it was about to ignite and take off like a rocket ship. A few of the shots were taken apparently from underneath the clear table/counter where the panelists were seated, so that we got nice views up their nostrils. And by the time I left, the camera operator, or the improv instructor, had finally found something they wanted to focus on for a while - the rear end of one of the panelists. The camera held there, steady, with the guy's nicely-clad butt (side view) in the middle of the screen, as I walked out of the kitchen, giggling.

In this shot, you can see the medical emergency kit hanging on the wall of the hallway off the studio area. It'll come in handy when the moderator blasts off and the camera operator gets caught in the flames.

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