PAUSE IT: What do you see? In Robert Altman’s That Cold Day In the Park, Sandy Dennis stands arms crossed in her posh living room. Outside, rain streaks down the windowpane and the chilly winds blow. Posed in the left of the frame, Dennis’s stationary presence imbues the moment with a feeling of remove. The shot is simple, unadorned, but in it we really come to know her character. In it we come to sympathize with her predicament. Dennis is alone, maybe even desperate, crying out for even the slightest bit of human contact. Note here how the frame’s right side is left largely vacant. Except for a lone lamp used to balance the composition Dennis’ gaze is allowed to wander off into nothingness. The weather, color palette and production design all help to create a lonely mood, but it is Altman’s use of empty space that sells the scene.

That Cold Day In the Park (1969)
Director: Robert Altman
Director of Photography: Laszlo Kovacs
Cast: Sandy Dennis, Michael Burns, Susanne Benton
Available from Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

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