Deep Focus

May 14, 2011 04:22 pm | Updated 04:22 pm IST

Citizen Kane uses Deep Focus to show mother (inside) and son (outside)

Citizen Kane uses Deep Focus to show mother (inside) and son (outside)

WHAT it is...

A technique that brings objects located at various distances from the camera into focus simultaneously. Thus, a deep chunk of space, encompassing multiple ‘planes’ of film, remains in focus within the shot, which can be both liberating and unsettling.

WHY it is special...

Like the zoom, Deep Focus is an ‘unnatural’ composition in that there is no ocular equivalent to it. The human eye can focus only on one particular point in space at a given time, while the others remain hazy. The camera, being the artificial eye, overcomes this limitation through Deep Focus.

WHEN it is deployed...

The use of Deep Focus has indeed become a very rare sight in contemporary mainstream filmmaking. One reason might be that the technique produces complex, ambiguous images that often call attention to themselves. Given how much of an anathema that is to mainstream filmmaking, which usually tends to demystify the image for the audience, it is not surprising that contemporary filmmakers prefer having only key characters and objects in focus and the rest of the universe blurred out.

WHERE to find it...

In Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane (1941), in the scene where young Charlie is to be taken away from his mother. Both Charlie, who is standing outside in the snow, and his mother, who is sitting inside the house, are presented in focus simultaneously, thus providing us the liberty to observe both the innocent Charlie and his imminent deracination.

HOW it is used

Viewer Freedom…

Few film techniques embody the politics of film craft as directly and powerfully as Deep Focus does. Having only specific regions of a scene in focus might replicate the workings of the human eye, but it deprives the audience of the freedom to choose what to focus on. The employment of Deep Focus, in that sense, is a highly democratic gesture in how it respects the viewer’s intelligence and enables her to form her own opinion about an image.

Spatial Realism…

Given this synthetic nature of Deep Focus, it is rather ironic that it has become the poster boy for realist filmmaking. French film critic and theorist André Bazin, a champion of cinematic realism, endorsed Deep Focus photography and long-shot cinematography over the then-dominant, editing- intensive modes of filmmaking. This is because Deep Focus keeps the spatial tension between distant objects intact, without resorting to cheap reaction shots and associative cutting.

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