INHERIT THE WIND (1960, Kramer)
Today’s memorable shot is in honor of the premiere of my friends Aeden Babish and Kevin Fall’s new TV show, Franklin & Bash, June 1 @ 9PM/8c on TNT. Hope you’ll watch Wednesdays; Mark Paul Gosselaar and Breckin Meyer are hilarious. Congrats Kevin & Aeden!
So, speaking of judicial battles, Inherit the Wind. There’s a whole lot to be said about how Stanley Kramer could make a courtroom scene so interesting. Indeed, he did it so successfully in this film that he was soon brought right back before the bench with the star-studded Judgement at Nuremberg. Today’s shot involves Spencer Tracy in one of the most powerful moments of one of his most memorable performances.
When your action is stuck in a room, the major challenge is to make the proceedings visually dynamic, to convey, in a visual way, the tensions and excitement that’s going on dramatically, while never making your visuals a distraction. How do you tighten the screws while keeping out of the way?
Kramer Keeps it Moving
To this day there is controversy over how Kramer’s legacy will be remembered, be it as master or…otherwise. Nevertheless, Inherit The Wind stands the test of time, I think, as much for its crackling script as for its engaging camera work and direction. I’m not familiar enough with all his work to fairly chime in, so I’ll side-step the controversy and talk about just one very specific element that I know I love about his work.
In this moment below, we’re in the climax of Tracy’s pivotal oration on free speech; if he doesn’t get his way here, he’s quitting the case, or so he threatens. Kramer knows that our eyes and hearts are glued to Tracy, and a single cut would deflate what he’s building to. Not only does Kramer and his editor not cut, but the camera energetically paces with Tracy back and forth, until we stop dead, Tracy facing the camera, stepping into it as he “power-wags” his finger and goes for the jugular. (And how about the beautifully-placed, fanning crowd in the background heightening the tension throughout the whole shot?!) I even love how the framing gets a little squirrelly, cutting off Tracy’s chin – adds to the exciting energy.
Imagine how less interesting this moment would have been with a standard, static CU. I object!
This type of camera & actor blocking accentuates to the Nth degree what the actor’s delivering, and it gets me every time. The moment is at 1:29, but the whole clip is something to behold, complete with its final glimpse of one future Col. Sherman Potter.