The moving image is now one of the best ways of communicating thoughts and feelings
Directors can create a variety of moods and provoke a range of emotions in an audience. If the director uses effective lighting and visual effects, a varying pace and music then even when they shoot from the same location it can seem very different.
This is definitely the case when comparing Woody Allen’s ‘Manhattan’ with David Chase’s ‘The Sopranos’. Both opening sequences are filmed in New York but have a very different theme and show the city in a completely diverse light.
‘The Sopranos’ is a television drama series filmed in 2000 about Tony Soprano and his family involving the mafia. It definitely has a gangster feel about it. Whereas Manhattan, filmed in 1979 follows Ike Davis who is trying to “romanticize the city out of all proportion”. In both films the music is very significant. It sets the mood and tone for the whole film and also narrates the film. Also when comparing both The Sopranos with Manhattan it is important to notice that Manhattan was filmed in black and white which gives a totally different effect to colour, and the audience will be very different for each film.
David Chase’s ‘The Sopranos’ is the first ever television series created about the family life of the mafia. In the series the story lines include the mafia mythology of contract killings, depression and mobsters but also compare it with a dysfunctional family full of problems like impossible mothers, marital troubles and rebellious children.
Even in the introduction as Tony Soprano leaves the Lincoln tunnel and the impressive skyline comes into view there is definitely a gangster feel about it. And when he breathes out a cloud of cigar smoke, a timeless connection with the mafia and gangster image, this feeling is confirmed.
The camera angles are all from inside the car and aren’t on screen for more than one or two seconds each time. This maintains the very fast pace and makes you as a viewer feel that the driver isn’t taking notice of the view or the environment outside, it is like he drives the route day in day out. There is a lot of lens movement and the view is either from the driver or a passenger. The shots of Tony Soprano are either close up low angles or close up straight angles. But the shots of objects outside the car are long shots because the objects are more distant. The close ups are often on objects or places that are symbolic of Tony and the zoomed in shots make it very personnel and focus on him more. As Tony Soprano drives past the statue of liberty, a symbol of freedom and democracy you begin to understand that these are the very things that he is taking away from others. The irony of his father, an immigrant, being given safety and freedom only for his son, a gangster, involved in murders, gang wars, drugs and racketeering to remove the freedom of others.
The introduction starts in the city centre in the morning with the sun rising in the sky and ends at the soprano household. The journey would take a while in real life but the director manages to compress the journey from about forty minutes to about one hundred and forty seconds. He does this by using an ellipsis system. Chase cuts out all the intervening time between shots and leaves only relevant famous landmarks and important personal locations. The audience accepts this because they use what they already know about journeys and regard what has happened as a natural way of representing a sequence of events.
The music makes the time feel more real or concrete. And also narrates the visual image on screen. “Woke up this morning” by Alabama 3 is a good song to narrate the mood and tone of the introduction and the programme that will follow. The song talks about depression and blues “Woke up this morning, grab yourself a gun”. It talks about getting out of the ghettos and shinning brighter than everybody else. But it also talks about the darker side of the city; gangsters, drugs, violence and sex. The Sopranos definitely shows the reality of the city.
In Manhattan the mood is completely different to the Sopranos. Instead of showing the reality of the city, the director chooses only to show the audience the romantic areas of the city. It is important to notice that the film has been made in black and white. The film came out in 1979 so the director could have chosen to make the film in colour but decides that black and white makes the city timeless and appear more romantic as in all the classic movies.
The introduction starts with a jazzy trumpet solo of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody and Blues’ played by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. This gives a real sense of early morning time when the quiet early morning skyline is looming and the streets are empty because most people haven’t left their homes to go to work yet. It is at this point that Woody Allen who is playing Ike Davis starts grappling with the opening of his novel. “Chapter 1. He adored New York City. He idolised it out of all proportion ……” When Woody Allen ends his narration the music takes over and stops being background music and starts to tell us we are watching something spectacular, dramatic and romantic.
It seems that the Sopranos is a journey from the inner city to the outer city suburbs, past certain landmarks that are relevant to Tony Soprano, but in Manhattan it is more like a journey through time. Both clips are moving images but one is the introduction to a film and the other is an introduction to a TV drama series. This means that the audience will be very different for each clip. Both clips will have adult audiences. Because Manhattan was shown in the cinema in 1979 in black and white the film attracted views that wished to pay to see the film. So the film needed as much publicity as it could get to attract the crowds. Whereas the Sopranos is a TV drama series that contains explicit language, violence and sexual content, it is also filmed in colour. Because it is on TV it means that people don’t pay to watch it but it means that it needs to make the audience watch the next programme. It is shown after the watershed and so most of the audience will be adults.
Woody Allen chose to show the audience only certain shots so the city looks really romantic. He also shows clips of Manhattan throughout the year. This gives the effect that Manhattan is romantic all year round.
The Sopranos was filed in 1999 – 2000 in colour. This helps to show the reality of the city like the dreary colour in the derelict suburbs of New York and the desolate areas of wasteland. Watching the introduction it could be believed that an amateur with a small video camera filmed it. This is because there is a lot of lens movement so the shots look shaky.
There is a very fast pace which is maintained throughout the introduction and most of the shots are from inside the car. The shots only contain things relevant to Tony Soprano and are only shown briefly. The effect all of these give is that the programme shows the reality of the city and the introduction gives hints on what the following programme will involve.
Manhattan was filmed in black and white in 1979 also in New York. It was shown in black and white at the cinemas. Manhattan has quite a slow pace and the narrative by Woody Allen corresponds to the shots being shown on screen. The shots show busy streets and romantic spots in the city. Most of the shots are filmed from long high angles or long straight angles. This means that more people, cars, buildings and other objects can be fitted into each shot but it also means that you see the city in general and the shots aren’t as personal or intrusive as close ups.
Although the shots do not seem that personal, these are the shots that Woody Allen chose to show the audience because it makes Manhattan look romantic.
My lasting image of the Sopranos is a fast paced television drama series about the mafia and dysfunctional families showing the reality of New York. Manhattan is a film about a romanticised New York.
My personal favourite is the Sopranos because I prefer programmes with a fast pace and I am more interested in explicit language, violence and sexual content than romance.
New York is a good setting for moving images because of its diversity. It has so many different aspects and directors can show the city from totally different angles each time they shoot from the city. ‘Friends’ and ‘Will and Grace’ are other examples of popular television series set in New York which prove the diversity of the city.