The basics of the film language are just that, basics. You've got your wides and mediums and close-ups, and all sorts of variances in between. You've got OTS shots and 2-shots, and of course some cutaways. Then you've got the insert, the simple, lowly insert. Usually inserts are used to provide a closer look at some detail in a scene. However, when the insert shot becomes an instrumental part of a film's individual language, some interesting things can happen. For instance, David Fincher's masterful and suspenseful thriller Zodiac makes extensive use of the insert shot, and it has a profound and meaningful impact on how the film's language interacts with and supports the characters and story.
First and foremost, for those of you who haven't seen Zodiac, I can't recommend highly enough that you watch it, as it's arguably David Fincher's most accomplished film to date. For the time being, here's the trailer.
So now on to the film's use of the insert shot. Josh Forrest recently put together an excellent supercut of every insert shot in Zodiac, and when these shots are viewed back to back, it becomes very easy to see how the film is so deeply unnerving.
For a little bit of background on the film, it's based on a character named Robert Graysmith, a newspaper cartoonist who becomes obsessed with the case of the Zodiac killer. It's something that literally consumes his life and destroys his relationships. He scours every piece of evidence, again and again, obsessing over the smallest of details to the point of near insanity.
The repeated use of insert shots provide the audience of the film with a similar feeling. These shots allow the audience an opportunity to examine the details for themselves, thus making the audience active participants in the case of the Zodiac killer. Not only do we get to watch Robert Graysmith sink into a detail-fueled delirium, but, through the persistent use of insert shots of important details, we get an insider's view of his obsession, while being able to obsess over the details ourselves.
It's an absolutely genius use of a simple technique. Zodiac serves as a prime example of how the basics of the film language can be manipulated in a masterful way in order to serve the story and drive the emotional impact home to the audience.
What do you guys think of the use of the insert shot in David Fincher's Zodiac? Let's hear your thoughts down in the comments!
[via Filmmaker Magazine]