Posts Tagged ‘image in television’

Hell on Wheels 103

November 22, 2011

Throughout its run, Hell on Wheels has always been visually stunning. The special effects are more consistent feature films rather than cable television. Additionally, the set pieces often appear to be shot on location rather than a Hollywood set. This makes Hell on Wheels aesthetically pleasing and separates it from most television programs.

One of the more visually, emotional scenes occurs when a fellow worker confronts Elem and accuses him of wanting to be white. The camera follows a line of black workers as they shovel dirt from the ground. The diegetic sound of some 100 workers digging into the earth provides an added authenticity to the scene. With each passing dig, the viewer can see the escalating frustrations of the workers. Finally, tensions reach a boiling point when a worker puts down his tools and refuses to continue. Elem quickly confronts the man in a face-to-face stare down. In the background, an explosion occurs, followed by a large cloud of black smoke. This visual serves as a representation of the explosive anger that both men feel and epitomizes the potential for damage that might ensue.  Here, the use of special effects adds another layer of richness to the story and helps establish the emotions of the scene.

Though Hell on Wheels remains a visual stunning program, the non-diegetic sound fails to add value to the program. As another blogger has stated, the soundtrack often feels like its playacting towards the audience’s emotions rather than to  “an honest relationship with the story being accompanied.” I agree that the result can take the viewer out of the story and often feels like the show is trying too hard to generate emotions for it audience by using a soundtrack. Thus, I believe, that if the show could introduce a more realistic sound from the era, the result could be a stronger reaction to what is depicted in the scene.

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Hell on Wheels 01.03 | Image

November 21, 2011

As Daniel pointed out, the teaser sequence stood out from the rest of the episode in terms of the way it managed to used mimetic image material (although, one might be able to argue for video montage to be cast as a form of diegetic narration) to add a huge scope of content to the story that we see unfolding. The further desaturated, hazy cast given to this series of shots intermittently dispersed between Cullen looking at this photograph immediately give the distinct impression of thought. However, while most “flashback” sequences take on a sepia hue, here, we see a cyan-bluish cast over the thoughts. While we know the first execution has taken place, it might be a ploy by the cinematographers at foreshadowing what is to come. Conversely, if we are to assume that these are indeed memories, it’s a very curious story-telling devise. This isn’t Don Draper having a flashback to his childhood to help us understand his current character. These would be full plot elements, potentially fitting for an entire season, or at least an arc, that the writers are imagistically throwing out.

I was also struck by the way that characters were developed hugely through image in this episode. For example, Reverend Cole, towards the end of the episode, says much more during the funeral by the mere turning of his back to the audience while Durant cries for war to the workers. It not only reads as a dismissal by cole of the whole lot to whom he preaches, but also a more symbolic turning of the back of god on the entire town, an imagistic foreshadowing that things will only get worse.