Written and Directed by Werner Herzog
Released in 1977
Synopsis: In Berlin, an alcoholic man, recently released from prison, joins his elderly friend and a prostitute in a determined dream to leave Germany and seek a better life in Wisconsin.
Scene: The main character, Bruno, a Berlin street singer, has just had his home towed away.
Camera angle: High-angle shot. The camera is positioned above Bruno and aimed downward, minimizing Bruno in a humiliating way. He is never depicted as in control of things in the film and never is it more evident than in this scene. This is also an aerial shot probably filmed from the top of a building. Herzog’s decision to not reveal Bruno’s face as his home is being taken away from him creates a sense of foreboding, emphasizing the isolation of the Wisconsin landscape where he is trapped.
Camera distance: Long shot. The camera captures the figure of protagonist Bruno from behind in his entirety. It could also be considered an extremely long shot as Bruno does appear very small in relation to the surrounding environment (a rural field in Wisconsin). This only occurs once his home is driven out of the shot by the repo man encouraging the viewer to step back from the character, though instead of distancing the viewer, we’re made aware of the distance this has created between Bruno and his dream, creating an even closer bond with the German.
Lens shot: Normal lens. In this shot, Herzog has chosen to approximate the vision and perspective of the human eye to great effect. No spatial distortions are apparent and the range of acceptable sharpness before and behind Bruno remains apparent and clear throughout the entire scene. Had he chosen to use a wide-angle lens, the viewer may have interpreted this as a foreshadowing of rapid progress coming Bruno’s way and it wouldn’t have had such a heartbreaking effect. A telephoto lens may have been effective in creating a shallow depth isolating Bruno even more from the background had Herzog had the money to afford one, but given his limitations, the scene works brilliantly.
Camera Movement: Crane shot. Though he almost certainly didn’t have access to a crane, the implication that this is supposed to be a crane shot is made apparent by what we see as sweeping, three dimensional movements. Only a crane shot could create such an unforgettable sight; Bruno left alone to stare at the forbidding winter Wisconsin landscape.
Color: Desaturated. The gray, pale and washed out colors of the shot suggest the alienation and confusion of Bruno at what is happening around him. Even from behind, his posture reveals that he is the type of man who has long been expecting the worst to happen.
Lighting: Natural-key. Because this scene occurs right after the auctioning off of Bruno’s home, high-key lighting would have been inappropriate due to the extraordinary amount of misfortune Bruno has had to deal with and low-key lighting would have diminished what the viewer sees in the shot, Bruno excluded, so important to establishing an atmosphere of emotional and psychological discomfort.
Framing: Extremely loose framing. There is a great deal of open space around Bruno suggesting his intense isolation after having been left by his girlfriend, Eva, after she has had enough of his drunken ramblings and after losing his most important possession, his home.
Foreground/Background relationship: Herzog does not attempt to put any emphasis on anything other than Bruno in this scene, whom is neither in the foreground nor the background but rather in the middle. If one had to choose, it would be more correct to say he is in the foreground and the imposing Fleetwood trailer home, briefly, is in the background. Once the trailer leaves, we do see a solitary black dog roaming around some unrecognizable rubbish in the background. Though this is probably merely a coincidence, for a director as hands-on as Herzog, the viewer can only be appreciative for this moment as cutting away from this scene any earlier would have diminished the visceral impact of this remarkable scene and hampered the film’s power.