PAUSE IT: What do you see? Actress Angela Lansbury, pictured here, co-stars alongside George Sanders in director Albert Lewin’s The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1946). Lansbury’s photo is prominently displayed in the lid of Sanders’ old-fashioned cigarette case. This magnified image is what is known as an insert shot. Traditionally, insert shots have been used to convey added visual information by highlighting the importance of a prop, accentuating an ongoing action, or revealing new or contradictory information. In the modern filmmaking vernacular the term “close-up” has all but replaced the now somewhat outdated insert shot. However, unlike the close-up (a phrase that historically has almost exclusively been reserved for faces) the insert’s (a.k.a. cut-in) primary function has been to draw an audience members’ attention nearer to “the point of the scene.” While, at times, this technique can be heavy-handed, or even clunky, when done tastefully an insert shot enriches the visual palette and deepens our investment in the story.

The Private Affairs of Bel Ami (1946)
Director: Albert Lewin
Cinematography by Russell Metty
Cast: George Sanders, Angela Lansbury, Ann Dvorak
Available From Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.

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