Breaking Bad – Use of Film and TV Visual Elements

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While watching Breaking Bad, having read Lury’s essay on “Image,” I was struck by the show’s employment of visual techniques once reserved mostly for film, like the wide aspect ratio and long shots. But the director also made use of television’s intimacy with well-placed close-ups.

The program’s wide aspect ratio, once reserved for film but now common on television, has a few advantages. First of all, it gives room for a more complex mise-en-scène. Take for instance the establishing shot at the beginning of the episode, where Jesse is framed by industrial metal and a train suddenly sweeps by in front of him. This is an important shot for establishing the mood of the episode, and would have been more difficult to compose with a standard television aspect ratio.

The director also uses long shots, which Lury notes were at one time sparsely used in television. The reasons for using this shooting scale varies from shot to shot, but one of the most impressive uses is when Walter and Carmen are talking in the school, and the camera creeps slowly towards them from a distance. This helps create a voyeuristic mood.

On the other end of the spectrum, the program makes good use of close-ups, which Lury notes are one of television’s hallmarks; the close-up is effective without seeming excessive on the small screen. The director of Peekaboo uses them to establish intimacy in the characters most emotional moments: for instance, when Walter is confronted again and again by his lies, and when Jesse is confronted by child neglect.

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