After reading esteemed film critic Roger Ebert’s article, How to Read a Movie, we were to analyze a classic movie scene in three different ways: visually, without sound; audio analysis without looking at the screen; then watching and listening.

The movie scene I chose was the scene from Dracula (1931) in which Renfield makes his journey to Carfax Abbey and meets Dracula for the first time.

Here are the notes that I took while watching and/or listening to the clip:

Watching Without Sound:

  • Starts off showing the driver of the carriage in the middle left and Renfield in the middle right; the driver is mostly silhouetted and Renfield is somewhat lit up
  • Cuts to driver looking at Renfield as he gets into the carriage, only his face is lit up
  • Carriage goes from the right diagonally away from the camera
  • Long, winding road up to Carfax Abbey, Renfield’s carriage comes into view from the bottom left and continues up the road
  • Cut to Renfield in the carriage, carriage is moving up and down and side side
  • Camera on the ground with the front gate in view and the carriage bridges it and goes through the gate
  • Camera pointed to the right and carriage comes in then follows the carriage until it stops in front of the front doors, dimly lit light on Renfield and the house and the front of the carriage, horses are silhouettes 
  • Cut to closer shot of Renfield again addressing the driver by getting out and going to the front, the carriage continues moving, but there is no driver
  • Cut to the right front huge door slowly opening
  • Cut to a diagonal shot of the front steps and Renfield, whose hat is the only thing that is lit, enters from the lower, but not bottom, right and slowly walks up the stairs
  • Cut to a high up shot of the foyer of the abbey, the only light is “natural” light coming in front he windows, moonlight presumably, Renfield enters the shot at the middle bottom, emphasizing how large the house is 
  • Cut to silhouetted shot of bats flying outside of a pre-Romanesque window
  • Cut to a shot with one of those columns in the middle foreground and Dracula holding a candle in the left background 
  • Cut back to Renfield walking backwards in the right third, and Dracula coming down the stairs in the middle third, walk towards each other unbeknownst to Renfield
  • Renfield turns around to see Dracula on the steps and the shot cuts to Dracula in he middle third
  • Cut back to Renfield from a high-ish angle in front of him looking up a Dracula, the light coming through the window cast out on the floor, again dwarfing Renfield
  • Cut back to Dracula from a low angle speaking to Renfield 
  • Both men walk up the staircase, Renfield in the right third and Dracula in the middle/left third, they walk and stop in tandem
  • Dracula walks through spiderwebs without touching them, good visual way to allude to his paranormal abilities without seeming like there’s a narrator 
  • Cut to Renfield in the center, zoomed out a little more than previous shots of him, making him seem smaller, literally and figuratively—he gets “smaller” the more powerful we realize Dracula is
  • As he is watching Renfield deal with the webs, Dracula is lit up only by the candle that he’s holding in his right hand
  • More shots of Dracula from a low angle and Renfield from a high angle—power dynamic
  • Most of the light in the room is from the flickering fire
  • The men in the center of the room are framed 

Listening Without Visuals:

  • Carriage door opens and shuts
  • Carriage on the Road, metal rattling, horses hooves on pavement
  • Renfield  talking to the driver, then stops himself short
  • These sounds gets distant when the shot is farther away 
  • Can tell that the surface of the road changes
  • Door creaks slowly
  • Long pause
  • Animals squeaking
  • A sound I can’t identify. Rustling maybe?
  • Long pause
  • “I am Dracula”
  • Renfield speaks hesitatingly 
  • “I bid you velcome
  •  Wolf howling
  • Long pause
  • Renfield responds hesitatingly to the weird things that Dracula says
  • Door creaks
  • Men speak

Watching With Sound:

  • Renfield talking to the driver then cuts himself off because he sees the driver not there, but there is a bat there instead
  • These sounds gets distant when the shot is farther away 
  • Long pause as Renfield takes in the house
  • the squeaking animals were bats flying around outside a window
  • Still cannot identify the rustling sound
  • The next long pause is while Dracula walks through the spiderwebs to emphasize how dumbfounded he is

It was really interesting to see what I could and couldn’t deduce was happening with only the visual or with only the sound. I could figure out most of what was happening, but there were somethings that I didn’t put together until I watched the video with sound.

It didn’t take long to that I remember reading about in the Ebert article. For instance, how the angle of the shot affects the viewers’ perception of the character(s) in the shot. Most of the shots with just Dracula in them while he is talking to Renfield on the stairs are shot from below him, making him seem more powerful than Renfield. During the same conversation, the shots with Renfield in them are shot from above, making him seem smaller, literally and figuratively, than Dracula.

I also read this article about camera work and how they affect the perception of the character or landscape. One example I noticed was the “extreme long shot, in which the character is so far away they’re nearly lost in the frame or obscured by their surroundings.” This kind of shot is employed when Renfield for the first shot inside the abbey around 1:32 in. Most of this shot is comprised of scenery, the grand foyer of the abbey, and then Renfield comes into frame at the middle bottom, is almost unnoticeable at first, emphasizing how not only how big the abbey is, but also how figuratively small Renfield in the story of Dracula.

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