DAVID BIANCULLI

Founder / Editor

ERIC GOULD

Associate Editor

LINDA DONOVAN

Assistant Editor

Contributors

ALEX STRACHAN

MIKE HUGHES

GARY EDGERTON

ROGER CATLIN

KIM AKASS

GERALD JORDAN

TOM BRINKMOELLER

NOEL HOLSTON

 
 
 
 
 
'Breaking Bad' from Below: TVWW Presents a Supercut Sampler
August 1, 2013  | By Eric Gould  | 1 comment
 

As the AMC series Breaking Bad reaches it final eight episodes at the center of an intense media spotlight, TVWW takes a look at, and pays homage to, one of its signature visual viewpoints... from the bottom of things.

Say what you want about Breaking Bad – the memorably drawn (and flawed) characters, the unsettling tale of a milquetoast high-school chemistry teacher turned meth kingpin after a terminal cancer diagnosis – any serious discussion of the show's content must include its rambunctious, cinematic style of filming.

That technique, much more derivative of film than of traditional television viewpoints, has separated it from all other current shows, with the arguable exception of its AMC sibling, Mad Men. From the very first scene of the very first Breaking Bad, creator Vince Gilligan and director of photography Michael Slovis have given viewers beautiful and haunting tableaus of the New Mexico desert, junk yards, meth parties and suburban streets.

Gilligan and Slovis also have gone, repeatedly, where the majority of shows have never ventured visually – inside electrical outlets and toilets, and under barbecue grills, for unique viewpoints of the Breaking Bad characters that have added glittering facets to their already rich characters studies.

It's hard to think of other TV series today so thoroughly dedicated to a visual style married to its narrative. It's a thing seldom achieved, as it was with HBO's The Sopranos and Six Feet Under (and, decades ago, with ABC's Twin Peaks).

To acknowledge, accentuate and further study that achievement, TV Worth Watching has strung together a lot of those ambitious Breaking Bad shots to examine the full effect of them in one place.

More on that in a bit.

But first, on Tuesday, Gilligan and the entire current cast of Breaking Bad assembled in New York City at the New York Times Center for a 90-minute panel discussion celebrating the kickoff of the final episodes of that landmark series. This summer, Breaking Bad will conclude the tale of the evolution of Bryan Cranston's Walter White "from Mr. Chips to Scarface," as Gilligan often has summarized it.

This summer's farewell tour of media and personal appearances has been a bittersweet occasion for  Gilligan, Cranston, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul (top), R.J. Mitte and Bob Odenkirk (below, with Cranston and Paul). They're saying goodbye to a type of show in which they may never again get to participate.

At Tuesday's TimesTalks, There was a particularly touching moment between Dean Norris and Betsy Brandt (who played Hank and Marie Schrader), both of them in tears and holding hands recalling a tender improvised scene between Hank and Marie that brought memorable depth to their performance.

Perhaps rightly, the discussion Tuesday night revolved around the complexity of these amazing characters and the dark, compelling tale of Walter White's descent into murder and crime – with the entire cast hinting about how epic the finale of the story would be, without, of course, giving away any details.

But there was little talk of the "vision" of Breaking Bad's brand of television until I got a chance, during the audience question period at the end of the panel discussion, to ask Gilligan about his method:

Given the striking visual style of the series, especially with the signature "up-shot" inside barrels and duffel bags, and others that peered from inhuman spaces inside walls, motor engines, etc., what was the motivation for the technique, and what did it mean to him?

"It's a good question that I don't have a hugely satisfying answer for, aesthetically speaking," Gilligan replied. "I just kind of liked them. In the pilot episode, which I was fortunate enough to direct, we did a shot inside a dryer ... we cut to black, and the door opens, and Walt reaches in, and he's been drying this money that he had to wash because it was all meth-encrusted. And it just seemed like a good way to open that little one-shot scene. It seemed like a fun place to put the camera.

"I'd be making it up," he continued, "if I gave you a sort of artsy aesthetic reason as to why I make those unique compositions. I don't know what they really speak to, story-wise. I like interesting compositions... wider stuff, punctuated with a little bit of salt on the french fries there -- punctuated by odd shots, like up from the bottom of the frying pan." [From Season 2, Episode 10, when Jesse is frying eggs and the viewpoint is from within the stove looking up through a glass pan.]

While Gilligan demurs, perhaps a little too casually, that it's purely a compositional tool to help render the series, it's nevertheless an unusual choice, and one that is oft repeated. An unofficial count of just the "up-shots" (straight up from the floor) through four-and-a-half seasons finds just under 10 for Season 1, with the number increasing dramatically the next year.

There are over 25 up-shots for Season 2, and more than 40 for Seasons 3 and 4. For the first half of Season 5, I counted roughly another 40, making for some 175 shots inside stainless steel tanks, swimming pools and underneath chicken fryers -- shots that require special set-ups and extra time, when time is one of the most precious commodities for a television series shoot.

So rather than just being fun things to do, these intricate forced-perspective shots clearly have more significance when you stack them together. That's just what TVWW has done, in its abbreviated four-and-a-half-minute super cut reel, "Breaking Bad: From Below." (We'll be coming out with a full-length version showing most, but not all, of the up-shots after the Season 5 Aug. 11 midseason premiere.)

These shots, while bringing an extraordinary, unusual style to the series – going inside microwave ovens and boiling pots of spaghetti – also seem to parallel the depth of the characters in Breaking Bad. As varied as these shots are, and as deeply they burrow beneath and inside surfaces, so too does the series itself excavate deeply into the crevices of its characters' complex personalities.

As Breaking Bad mines the hidden recesses of a devoted family man like Walter White, who co-exists quite comfortably with his alter-ego as a ruthless, sociopathic drug lord, we are taken into just as many unexpected and confining spaces with the show's photographic perspectives. Visually and narratively, Breaking Bad is digging deep. The story and the images, they really seem to fit together snugly.

"You try hard to make a TV show that has its own visual language," Gilligan conceded finally.

And he's succeeded. Breaking Bad has its own, hard-won visual style – an artistic choice well-worth the effort.

See for yourself. Here's the first video for our TV Worth Watching YouTube channel:



 
 
 
 
 
Leave a Comment: (No HTML, 1000 chars max)
 
 Name (required)
 
 Email (required) (will not be published)
 
 Website (optional)
 
PSKIT
Type in the verification word shown on the image.
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: 
1 Comments
 
 
You should really give props to Kogonada on the Breaking Bad POV work that he did in Jan of 2012. That is a really fine piece of work? and deserves credit.
Aug 7, 2013   |  Reply
 
 
 
 Page: 1 of 1  | Go to page: