FRANÇOIS LÉVESQUE - THE BIFOCAL "UNITES" SEEMINGLY SEPARATE FIGURES & ELEMENTS
At Le Devoir, François Lévesque discusses how the split-diopter, or bifocal lens shot, "constitutes a real balm at a time of social distancing." The bifocal "makes it possible to play with distance via the simultaneous development of two elements, however isolated, in the front and in the background," writes Lévesque.
The article, with the headline, "So far, so close, the secrets of proximity in the cinema," includes image frames from Brian De Palma's Carrie and Blow Out. Lévesque discusses De Palma as "the undisputed master of the bifocal" --
The key is there, in the juxtaposition. De Palma’s work is replete with examples where the bifocal has not only narrative but psychological value. In Carrie, you can see the reaction of popular student Tommy (William Katt) at the front of the classroom and that of the ostracized Carrie (Sissy Spacek) in the back after reading a poem. Here, the bifocal makes it possible to “unite”, literally and figuratively, two students who seemingly separate everything.
In Pulsions (Dressed to Kill), Peter (Keith Gordon) sits in the police station waiting room while, beyond the bay window behind him, Detective Marino (Dennis Franz) and Doctor Elliott (Michael Caine) discuss the murder of his mother. The teenager, using a listening device, hears everything that is said in the office, and De Palma visually expresses this sound concept by using the bifocal: in the foreground, Peter listens, and in the background, the two men distill useful information without the sequence appearing explanatory.
A similar scene and intent can be found in Blow Out when Jack (John Travolta) in the hospital listens to two hard-pressed political advisers. In the left part of the plan, the profile of Jack in close-up, and in the right part, the advisers who are plundering further: in the ambient hubbub, Jack concentrates on a conversation concerning him; we hear what he hears, we enter his head. Note: a great montage of fifteen bifocals that the film contains was produced by Vashi Nedomansky (vashivisuals.com).
In Mission: Impossible, there are several segments filmed in bifocal, but one of the most memorable is that where the operator of the computer kept in a Langley vault returns earlier than expected: we see him from below, in the foreground, while Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) hangs just above him. Will Hunt be caught in the bag? Suspense by amplified proximity...
In short, the bifocal gives more information in a single plane, in addition to highlighting the nature of the relationship between different characters, whether friendly or antagonistic. Or in love? Certainly. We think of the magnificent Paris, Texas, of Wim Wenders, and this sublime passage where Travis (Harry Dean Stanton), having found the elusive Jane (Nastassja Kinski), talks with her on the phone without her, on the other side of the peep show booth where she works, knowing who he is.