Today, I'm going to talk about foreshadowing and we're only going to talk about one movie here: The opening three or four minutes of Spike Lee's heist/mystery/thriller movie, Inside Man.
This is a movie I am going to probably follow throughout all the elements of plot, because it is a masterpiece of plotting, and the more I look at it, the more I find. I really recommend that you find it and watch it.
This is also going to be a little bit of a review, since we haven't talked about this movie yet -- but we're going to focus today on Foreshadowing.
Opening Image, Character Intro, AND Foreshadowing
Inside Man is a heist mystery. The tagline for it is "You can't judge a crime by its cover." This is the story of a perfect bank robbery that was designed to go wrong from the start. Nothing about this crime is what it seems.
And the opening sets us up for that. It's an incredible and efficient opening.
As with Fargo the filmmaker gives us a verbal opening that grabs our attention and makes us sit still through the images of the credits.
In this case, the picture actually starts before the opening image -- over the studio logos, we hear the music begin. Unless you know the song or the language, it just sounds like some mournful, eery, Middle-eastern music.
Then bam, we are in close up on Clive Owen. He's looking us in the eye, addressing us directly. He is calm, precise, and you get the feeling he is a man very much in control. He seems, in essense, like a master criminal or terrorist, filming a statement or manifesto for the world.
"Pay strict attention to what I say because I chose my words carefully and I never repeat myself."
He gives us the who, where, what, when. why and how of the story. We understand that this is filmed in retrospect, from "what could most readily be described as a prison cell" -- but he tells us right off that even that is not exactly what it seems.
But I want you to watch more than that, because the credits themselves are a part of the story.
So... We have the opening imsge. We have an introduction of the antagonist of the story, though at this point, it is really unclear whether he might be the protagonist. He's more than just a thief, but what, we don't know. That will be the puzzle of the story.
And he has already given us all the back story we need to understand what happens next: we're seeing the preparations for a perfect bank robbery. We see the team being picked up by a gray van. We may not know yet that they are on their way to the robbery, but we know they're getting ready.
We see the setting. Post-9-11 New York. We start in Brooklyn -- I presume that is Coney Island, but not inside the park. This isn't tourist New York. This is diverse, real-people New York. The city of immigrants. The music we hear is Bollywood music.
Bollywood music with an orchestra added. This is important because this is where "Foreshadowing" starts to come into it.
Throughout the credits, we get shots of sculptures and archetectural elements. Nearly all of these are from one building: 20 Exchange Place, a gorgeous art-deco building down in the financial district. This building is standing in for the fictional bank that will be robbed. Neither the fictional bank nor the real building is in Brooklyn -- but we start seeing these shots even before the van crosses the Brooklyn bridge.
So this is the target. This is where they are headed.
We get a feeling for this because we know this is about a bank robbery, and we get a couple shots of the name of the bank -- including a medallion that says when the bank was founded. This will be important but we don't know that.
But I said the music was important in the foreshadowing. It is. When we first see these sculptures and plaques, the music adds a deep, ominous layer of orchestra: particularly brass and strings. One note, then two notes, then a mini-fanfare. This ominous fanfare is used throughout the movie to represent authority. Whenever the camera pans across the police presence, we'll get that fanfare.
Because it becomes more and more clear that the robbers are the antagonists. And they aren't nice guys and gals. Furthermore, the hero of this story is a police negotiator. And the police are universally displayed as imperfect good guys here.
But it's their side that gets the ominous fanfare.
However, that fanfare does not play for them as individuals. It only shows up when the movie shows them as an overall impersonal force. The police as an army. The police as an arm of the powers that the bank represents.
(EDITED TO ADD: I just rewatched this and realize that the very first moment we get the fragment of fanfare is when Jodie Foster's name appears on screen -- which really seriously fits with this idea of what the fanfare represents.)
This is foreshadowing, at its most subtle and wonderful: the music is giving us this Pavlov's bell effect. It's training us to remember and react to authority and power as maybe not such a great thing.
There is more subtle foreshadowing in this credit sequence: like those monumental sculptures of the figures looking down, with the water stains that make them look like they are weeping.
I don't know the allegory they are supposed to represent, and I don't know which way Spike Lee intended to use them: but they look kind of medieval, don't they? Almost ... old testament. But whichever way you look at them, they are art deco -- representations of a mythic past done in the 1930's. I suspect this is a subtle foreshadowing of some things revealed in the movie's midpoint, and I'll talk about that when we get there.
The Sign on the Truck
And another more obvious bit of foreshadowing, that you didn't get a clear look at in the clip, but there is a better shot in the part of the credits that were cut:
The side of the dusty gray van sports a bright red sign. It says, in large letters:
"Perfectly Planned Painters."
Since the lead robber already said his robbery was perfectly planned, we know this is him being clever. However, there is a slogan under that title:
"We NEVER leave until the job is DONE."
This is foresahdowing of what the mystery of the story will be: the robbers will prove themselves oddly uninterested in leaving. Furthermore, there will be another meaning to that by the time we get to the end.
Okay, that's as much as I have time for this week. Next week I'm going to talk about the rest of the first fifteen minutes of Inside Man, and also about some things I skipped over when talking about In the Heat of the Night. This will concern a very basic kind of storytelling set up that Blake Snyder emphasizes: setting up "What Is Wrong" with the base situation of the story.
All of these other things we've talked about, especially the character introductions, will probably set up much of what is wrong. But I do agree with Snyder that it doesn't hurt to think consciously about this element. It's the thing that will give form the others. And it will also bring us up to the thing that ends the "set up" and gets the story going - the inciting incident. Because that, in some sense, is the Big thing that is wrong.
See you in the funny papers.
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