Cinematic Convolutions: How to do Politics

I don’t know a thing about educational reform.

I have no clue how to balance the nation’s budget.

I could not for the life of me make sense of foreign or domestic policy.

But I do know that I LOVE House of Cards.

It seems like a conundrum, I have absolutely no interest or passion for politics, yet that didn’t stop me from marathoning all three seasons of Netflix’s House of Cards across three days, neglecting all homework or responsibilities.

So how did House of Cards wrap me up in its political entanglements?

One man is the answer, and its not Kevin Spacey, though his performance will be remembered forever, its that good.

No, the man I’m talking about is David Fincher, an executive producer and the Director for the first two episodes of the series.

When you watch House of Cards, you quickly take notice of the style and tone of the series, there is no flair, or fancy camera moves, it is a very locked down and simplistic, with a darker color correction that fits perfectly with the themes of the series. Great soundtrack perfectly accents the scenes and provides a great background for the drama in the series.

And when we talk about House of Cards, that’s what really draws people, like me, in, despite no interest in politics. While it is about politics, House of Cards isn’t about politics, instead, it uses politics to push drama for the audience, and we all understand drama.

And that’s what David Fincher’s style depends on. He relies on drama to push the cuts and the editing of the series. His shots and angles might not be fancy or complicated, but by framing and blocking each one based on the drama, everything is perfectly focused, and the plot never breaks off or gets lost in itself.

Just take a look at this scene:

This is a powerful introduction of two characters to each other, as they both try and test each other. Frank Underwood, the ruthless and cunning Democratic Whip, and Zoe Barnes, the headstrong writer burdened by political correctness in her office. Each one knows things about the other, and it is that reveal of dramatic information that Fincher cuts the scene. In the first initial “dirty” over the shoulder shots, its simple shot reverse shot, but when one character reveals info about the other, Fincher goes to the close up to emphasize the importance of the scene, especially when Zoe reveals she knows Underwood was not chosen for Secretary of State, and he holds the close up of Underwood to fully show the drama and the shift of power in the scene.

But its not just Fincher’s cuts and his simple but effective film style, House of Cards does something that pushes it out from the crowed: breaking the fourth wall as a thematic tool. Its an interesting way to convey information to the audience, literally just telling them. It bypasses many issues that may bog down a scene in exposition and is also used for comedic purposes.

Here it is used perfectly to intro our main character , plot, and setting of the entire series in the first scene of episode 1:

Without breaking the fourth wall, heavy exposition and crucial time would have be wasted in order to establish the plot. But speaking to the camera directly, solves all these problems, while creating an intrigue with the audience. The audience will ask themselves, how does this character know we are watching? Do other people here him talk? Does he know its a show? Is he speaking to us or one collective person? Its a very thought provoking way of giving information, and is perfectly suited for this type of series because the simple cut style focuses on going directly to the point and by breaking the fourth wall any exposition can be clearly stated to the audience.

But it also serves another purpose: character development. House of Cards is an incredibly complex and intricate show with many characters. Yet it is only Frank Underwood that speaks to us, revealing his thoughts, secrets, and plans. That is how the show allows us to connect to him because he’s talking to us and it clearing says, “Hey, this is the main character, pay attention.”

I hope you enjoyed my analysis for House of Cards and a little bit on David Fincher, one of my favorite directors who I’ll write a whole post about soon.


One thought on “Cinematic Convolutions: How to do Politics

  1. iluvtoday March 23, 2015 / 10:30 am

    i must agree with everything you said 😀


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