Walter Murch’s use of space and time in “Tetro”

Francis Ford Coppola’s “Tetro” (2009) is, unfortunately, a not-very-good film that is an absolute pleasure to look at. It’s filmed in gorgeous, rich black and white (for the most part, there are some things in color which I’ll get to later in the post), and it shows that while Coppola’s film may be blobby and formless in terms of its narrative (also, the dialogue is incredibly expository and a little purple in places, though that fits with the film’s overall theatrical/operatic tone), Walter Murch’s editing is as tight and exemplary as ever. As the film begins Alden Ehrenreich’s character, Benny, reunites with his estranged brother Angelo ,- now calling himself Tetro – played by Vincent Gallo. Benny, Tetro, and Tetro’s girlfriend Miranda (the excellent Maribel Verdu), occupy the apartment space, beginning in a three shot:

This establishes what will become a complex series of relationships between the three characters, as they all occupy the same space in the beginning of the conversation, but when the subject of the conversation narrows in focus, the next shot compresses in space, becoming a two shot of Benny and Tetro at the table:

This motif recurs throughout the film, as much of the film consists of conversations between the various characters, usually recounting past events in order to reveal things to both the audience and other characters within the film. Time, space, and characters are compressed or expanded as needed. One rather ingenious moment comes during a flashback, where Miranda is wistfully describing the first time she heard Tetro speak. Within the flashback we cut to a claustrophobic shot of Tetro, wherein he looks at a fluorescent bulb that shines into lens flares, still in black and white until the lens flairs become the headlights of a car, and the film is suddenly in color for this flashback within a flashback. Here’s the sequence:

PS: I used Netflix and the Macbook Grab application for these screenshots, in case anyone’s wondering.

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~ by frankmc5 on January 23, 2011.

One Response to “Walter Murch’s use of space and time in “Tetro””

  1. Insightful post. And the screenshots are things of beauty.

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