Shine Directed by Scott Hicks, the drama Shine is a formalist masterpiece. Writing the piece as a fiction film gave the author license to alter the events in the story of David Helfgott, a real musician who had a nervous breakdown on his way to magnificence. Geoffrey Rush’s portrayal gave life and believability to David, and Rush won an Academy Award for his realistic method acting. He had not only to provide depth to the character, but had additional physical demands placed upon him due to David’s irregular speech and his tendency to twitch. Both setting and costume are unobtrusive, allowing the audience to focus on the characters rather than their adornments.
The formalistic style allows for manipulation of time, and the film begins in medias reas, jumping back and then foreward as it progresses. The structure is highly fragmented, and much of the action is cyclical. Every element of film composition is elegantly intertwined in this picture, mingling together to form connections and patterns out of seemingly separated things. The film opens with a close shot side-view of the protagonist’s face as he smokes a cigarette, smoke drifting up from his lips and into the surrounding darkness. He is talking, but that soon is faded into the sound of rainwater.
The rain becomes visible as it replaces David’s face in a fade technique, and David enters the frame and walks from the right of the screen to its left, suggesting change and action. He arrives at a restaurant window, peers in, and falls into a strange conversation with the employees. This is now the chronological middle of the story, and, while common in Medieval literature, is a highly unorthodox place to begin a picture. Though this film is more easily classified as a formalist piece, it has outstanding avant garde elements throughout. The transition from the restaurant to the car is masked by the dialogue covering it.
Since the acting overrides editing as a way to convey meaning in Shine, Hicks employs many sound motifs to ease editing transitions and make them seem more natural. As the discussion fades and the rain again takes auditory prominence, the scene darkens and the water becomes the clapping of many hands. In this way David eases into a flashback of his childhood. He walks small and silent to the stage for his first competition, and a long shot is used to emphasise the fright and anxiety of the boy. Other transitory devices include David’s glasses, his hands on the piano keys, and sometimes a change in his costume, such as when he first plays the restaurant in rags. When he stands to receive his applause, he is dressed much more nicely, now an employee of the establishment. Hicks also employs classical cutting techniques, which depend on the content curve (the moment when the audience has had a chance to assimilate all information presented but not analyse or become bored with it) to determine breaks in scenes.
One example of this technique is after David presents his professor with the Rack III and asks “Am I mad enough?” The scene is cut before the professor answers, and the following scene is the professor intensively training David on the very piece. Cutting for continuity is commonly used to condense time while maintaining a sense of the actions taking place between two major events. Preparations for one of David’s concerts are edited in such a manner, making a ritual out of the ordeal while not wasting too much time on it. Besides editing, relationships can be suggested through film devices such as proxemic ranges, angles, and reaction shots. After David loses his first competition, his father stares at the ground while walking well ahead of the boy.
His father is disappointed, and David is rather unaware of any problem as he innocently plays hopscotch as he follows. The reactions of David’s father and his instructor are shown through parallel editing when the announcement of the National Champion does not coincide with their hopes for David. Both are displeased, but Mr. Helfgott simmers with barely restrained anger. Since he was denied music as a child, he forces it upon David and demands greatness from him.
Later in the film, David is filmed standing on the second floor of a library balcony as his father calls to him from below. The low angle used when the scene is shot from the father’s point of view suggests his decrease in power and his growing respect for his son. Moments before they walked down the hall to the room, the father’s arm wrapped protectively and proudly around David’s shoulders. This relationship reverts to its former, however, as David’s father beats him for wanting to leave the family and study in America. Though no oblique angles are used, the effect of the handheld camera is enough to effectively portray the violence and confusion of the scene.
This feeling is reinforced by the overlapping dialogue of the family and the tight framing. David is released and retreats into the pounding rain, but is unable to locate his teacher and so returns home. David sits crouched in the bathtub as time stops due to a combination of the silence and the slow motion of the scene. Water, as it drips from the faucet and David’s hair, is the only sound, until his father arrives and fills the air with his pointless talk. In the middle of David’s biggest recital, all sound is blanked out and the scene slows down, and only David’s sweat-soaked hair and his fingers provide movement.
This lack of sound and action serves as a tension-building device, since an audience is unaccustomed to and unsettled by silence. Further than that, however, is the fact that the silence makes clear the distinction between David’s art and his reality. He has put such a great amount of time and effort into his playing that he no longer can even hear it; he has lost all enjoyment. At the end of the beautiful and perfectly played piece, the tragedy foreshadowed by the silence comes to pass and David falls to the floor from a nervous breakdown. His glasses slide and rest away from him; the next scene opens with David in a mental institution, lying on the floor, gazing at his glasses.
They are photographed at an o …