PAUSE IT: What do you see? That all too familiar feeling of being watched. The hairs on the back of Connie Wyatt’s (Laura Dern’s) neck stand as she turns to find that she is ensnared in the lustful gaze of an older man, Arnold Friend (Treat Williams), in director Joyce Chopra’s Smooth Talk (1985). His sinister hand outstretched, he points at her making his at-one-time blurred intentions clear. Though broken into three stills for demonstration purposes, the above triptych actually represents the unbroken moments of a single take. Here, Chopra employs the beautiful simplicity of a rack focus (sometimes called “pulling focus”). A rack focus is a photographic technique wherein the portion of the frame that is in sharpest focus shifts from foreground to background or visa-versa. Note, here, how it is Dern and the foreground that are at first emphasized before the camera racks to shift our attention to the background of the composition and the leering eyes of Arnold Friend. This photographic shift in emphasis comes to mirror our collective psychological shift as we identify first with the watcher (Williams) and then the watched (Dern). Sensitively handled and beautifully realized, this story about the intensity of adolescent emotion turning, at the pulling of the focus ring, to something far darker and more perverse.
Smooth Talk (1985)
Director: Joyce Chopra
Cinematography by: James Glennon
Cast: Treat Williams, Laura Dern, Mary Kay Place
Available From Olive Films on DVD and Blu-ray.
Pause It Archive:
March 8, 2017