This week I watched the creepy and fantastic Nosferatu: Phantom der Nacht (which is a German version of Dracula). The first 5 minutes of the film got me to thinking about how contrast works in art.
This version of Nosferatu opens with long, lingering shots on desiccated corpses. After some minutes, my stomach started to churn. Just when I couldn’t take it anymore, the scene switched: first to surreal video of a bat in flight, then to Mrs. Harker waking up from a bad dream…then to a pair of kittens playing together!
The kittens were a great relief–but also emphasized the lifeless, dead, and creepy aspect of the opening shots. (Another blogger has noted the contrast and posted an illustrative photo!)
Another movie that’s excellent at displaying scene contrast is Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. It’s constantly juxtaposing scenes with different emotional polarities.
For example, the rousing song Gaston is set in the warm tavern packed with characters. But by the time the song ends, the camera is outside of the tavern, pulling away as we watch Belle’s father Maurice thrown out in the cold winter storm.
Here’s another example of contrast from Beauty and the Beast. Contrast the soaring music with the abrupt horse scream (and just after this clip, a smash cut to the dark castle of the Beast).
Putting happy next to sad intensifies both emotions for the audience; having a space devoid of movement in your painting will heighten movement seen in different areas. Notice what’s going on overall in your structure–and when you see opportunities to contrast, bring them out!
As a means of contrast with the sublime, the grotesque is, in our view, the richest source that nature can offer. — Victor Hugo