HOW it is used...
Along with equally manipulative scores,
Reaction Shots are used to guide the audience's
reactions. The success of a comic
moment depends on reactions to a large
extent, since they are the ones that decide
the comic texture of the scene and even
whether the action that has just taken place
is funny or not. The case is more delicate in
the case of drama, where reactions run the
risk of over-determining the tone of the
scene. Few things are as fatal as Reaction
Shots in the hands of amateurs.
A startling change in attitude of the filmmaker
and the audience towards a particular
event or line could be achieved by doing away
with a Reaction Shot. We would, then, be
asked to assume full responsibility of the
scene and choose our own position with respect
to it. Conversely, a director might linger
on just a particular reaction without presenting
its source. Such a gesture might be done
either to increase suspense or even to make a
passage character-driven instead of
WHAT it is.
As the name suggests, a Reaction Shot is
one that presents a character's response
to a piece of action or dialogue. Traditionally,
the Reaction Shot is a close up of the
reacting actor's face, though modern filmmakers
seem to prefer two shots, medium
or even long shots. Sometimes, a Reaction
Shot could, in turn, become the inciting
event for another Reaction Shot.
WHEN it is deployed...
A single Reaction Shot could potentially
make or break a scene. A minor change in its
parameters - framing, duration, lighting
and expression - may cause significant
change in the audience response. A great
filmmaker can elevate Reaction Shots to the
realm of the spiritual and the sublime
whereas a mediocre one can just use it as a
filler (cue: TV operas) that makes sure even
the furniture knows what's going on.
WHERE to find it...
Abbas Kiarostami's Shirin (2008) consists
of nothing but 90 minutes of Reaction
Shots of traditionally clad women watching
a period romance in a cinema hall.
Kiarostami, like a composer working on a
single motif, is keen on the variations and
he harnesses the gap between the multitude
of reactions and the common sound
(from the unseen story onscreen) in wondrous
WHY it is special...
The Reaction Shot is one of the most basic
building blocks of cinema. By associating disparate
images of action and reaction, a filmmaker
could arrive at a binding relationship between
them, take a moral stance towards the action and
reveal various facets of the characters involved
without exposition. If the edit does not illustrate
the necessary meaning of the association, the
Reaction Shot most definitely will.
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