Andrew J. Austin

There is Rarely One Perfect Shot

One Perfect Shot is a feed dedicated to “honoring cinema’s past frame by frame”. The idea is interesting and the concept of a film having one perfect shot is not flawed — I just think the feed falls short of its namesake.

The altering of mediums — essentially translating a shot from cinematography to photography — is a neat exercise. There is much to be learned about composition and design by studying a single frame and there are a number of inherently beautiful images to be shared from film stills. However, if we are considering a single shot Perfect, I would like to see it held to a higher standard.

Cinematography and photography as narrative devices are both intrinsically concerned with telling a story or crafting a vision to enhance a story. Photography is generally predicated on the notion of representing a slice — meaning a photograph in isolation can only take the story so far. Despite these limitations, it can possess emotional, thematic, and even character elements in and of itself.

My biggest hangup with One Perfect Shot is this idea of distilling a “perfect shot” from a film without concern for the film as a whole. So many of these images being posted are truly gorgeous, but I would not consider them Perfect, because they do not inherently represent the heart or thematics of the film. A Perfect shot should, at bare minimum, hold a notion of the themes at play in the movie and ideally this shot would hint towards plot points and character posturing. This is very, very difficult to do in one shot. That is not at all to say impossible, but I think it is likely that many films — even masterfully composed films — would not have a Perfect shot by this definition.

Jarhead, 2005

The feed’s entry for Jarhead provides a nice example of a not-so-perfect shot. Shown first here, there is no question the shot — beautifully composed by Roger Deakins — is striking and heroic. But absent any context, it misses the heart of Jarhead, which utilizes the image as satire. There are no heroics in this film — it is instead concerned with the boredom, loneliness, misplacement, and madness of a soldier during the Gulf War. The first image does not speak to this at all. It looks like an action movie. My proposal would likely be the second shot, which contains a lot of these elements at the core of Jarhead. There is a soldier, obviously not in combat, sitting alone in front of a latrine. The santa hat works towards his absurdity and out-of-place nature. While not as individually compelling a shot, I think this image speaks more clearly about the ideas of its film.

As a positive example let us look at Drive. The film is a noir fairy tale — a violent love story that forces the issue of the duality of man (the Jungian thing), looking at contemporary “heroes” and the consequences of their actions. One Perfect Shot has three entries for this film(as far as I can tell).1

Drive, 2011

The second shot from the feed (shown here) is awfully close to being Perfect by my scoreboard. The light/good in the elevator is on Irene’s side and the thug is in the shadows on the right — both of these poles are split through the middle by the driver who is attempting to shelter Irene from all of it. It really is a great shot that speaks to some of the resonant themes of Drive and touches on the relationship between key characters.

The point of all this is not to pick on One Perfect Shot or even criticize the entries too harshly. I am probably being too hard and overthinking all of this. But words — like all things — possess a meaning and names are important. I think One Perfect Shot could more fully live up to its namesake and better contribute to a discussion of film.

  1. The irony of a feed named One Perfect Shot featuring three shots from a film should not be lost.