Kuroneko (1968)
Dir. Kaneto Shindo

Arne Niklas Jansson has an incredible (work-in-progress) guide to pixel artwork, but it’s a resource that’s just as applicate to visual effects, web illustrations, animated GIFs, or any art form with severely limited constraints.

“In a way, pixel art is like analog art scaled down, but the pixel space can force certain exaggerations, detail reductions, alignments, graphical simplifications and iconographies. It has to be adapted so it’s readable, but a lot of the functionally effective ideas and wisdoms from analog art (be it more abstract graphical ideas or realistic-ish painting styles) can be ported and applied, I think.”

In Coen Brothers films, there’s a unique tension between what we see, what we hear, and how we feel. There’s an eerie sensation in the opening credits of ‘Miller’s Crossing’; the sweet music, those trees, the hat blowing away – it works, and yet it’s disquieting somehow. Throughout ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’, the score is almost entirely comprised of folk music that’s played by characters onscreen, and even still, it finds ways to emotionally venture out of what one might expect to find in those restrictions. What’s happening here? The Coen Brothers’ long-time composer Carter Burwell speaks about this, in reference to a scene in ‘True Grit’:

“When you hear something that’s so different than what you’re seeing […] – film is full of so many stimuli that when they contradict each other, you get a very rich experience because you’re – I personally love states of confusion, and this is a bit confusing at first. Why are we doing this?”

Joel Coen, expanding on that idea:

“There’s often a discussion that we have when Carter’s doing his score, which is […] whether or not the music is essentially emphasizing or actually playing counterpoint to what’s going on, which has a completely different psychological effect, and this is counterpunctual […] It’s not fighting the image, but it’s not underlining the psychological moment, necessarily.”

Tonally inappropriate music for ironic effect in horror films might be the most well known kind of counterpoint in cinema, but the kind Joel Coen is discussing here is subtler, harder to pin down, and has nearly unlimited emotional nuance.

It’s economical for the Coen Brothers to use the folk music played by Llewyn Davis to bring us closer to him and his story, but they consistently find new ways to fold that music against the obvious emotional grain of the scenes, sometimes going in both directions at the same time. They’re not just counterpointing individual moments – they built an entire film around the technique.

Manhunter (1986)
Dir. Michael Mann

Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Dir. Roman Polanski

Tinker, Tailor, Solider, Spy (2011)
Dir. Tomas Alfredson

In the pantheon of unusual main character introductions, this might take the cake. In his words, Tomas Alfredson wants to paint Gary Oldman’s Smiley as “someone you would immediately forget if you saw him on the street.”

We first see Smiley briefly in a wide, then out of focus in Ciarán Hinds’ coverage, followed by the back of Smiley’s slowly turning head, until we finally see a closeup of his face. It’s odd, deliberate, filmmaking that trains us to meet the film at its very peculiar pace, and also plays with our expectation of how we’re going to meet this character.

Ashes and Diamonds (1958)

Dir. Andrzej Wajda

A 1995 photo collage taped to a school locker – this is some of the endearing, intricately detailed ‘production design’ in the story exploration video game ‘Gone Home’, by The Fullbright Company.

Are you kidding me with this title sequence for HBO’s ‘True Detective’?

Directed by Patrick Clair, through Elastic.

Martin Scorsese’s sound editor, Skip Lievsay, on sound mixing shots that are inserts (typically a close-up detail of an object or person) in Scorsese films:

“He almost never uses a close-up without a discrete, distinct sound. So you know for some of those close-ups you need something big. He’s doing the same thing with picture and we’re doing with audio, where you have the big scene, then he zooms in for a close-up on a certain word. The idea is that you’re in a big environment and can still be pulled in for something very intimate. That’s really the best way to get the most mileage out of a track.”

This is a part of what makes Scorsese’s sound mixes distinctive and alive. The choice to show the audience an insert with an equally specific sound is tactile and emotional, sometimes even frightening.

“I really love the black spaces. It makes me think about the geography of the painting, where the figure sits in the world. I quite like the paradoxical nature – the more he removes (the less he tells you about what’s out there), the more I find myself thinking about what’s in that dark space behind. Because you never have the resources to fully create the world that you’re creating, you’re leaving a lot of voids, you’re leaving a lot of gaps, and so part of what you start trying to do is using those necessary gaps intelligently so that where you’re not showing sometimes, it’s helping you rather than feeling the limitations of the world.”
— Christopher Nolan discussing filmmaking inspiration from paintings by Francis Bacon. Part of a short video series of filmmakers by Tate.