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Right in the Thick of It

Updated: Feb 5, 2018

Director Profile on Christopher Nolan

source: Variety


Christopher Nolan. He is the Hollywood director who has mastered the art of the blockbuster movie. He’s known for his gems such as Inception, Interstellar, Dunkirk, and of course, The Dark Knight. Each of these films was a huge blockbuster hit, yet Nolan is able to create something within each of them that is uniquely different. Although Nolan creates movies meant for the most grandeur of audiences, he always manages to tell a very intricate, intimate story. Known for focusing on every little detail in all aspects of the movie from pre to post production, Nolan packs his movies with perfectly planned moments of suspense and emotional tension.


One characteristic visual feature of Christopher Nolan films is the format he chooses to shoot in. While many directors have switched to filming in digital format today, Christopher Nolan prefers to shoot with film--and not just any film, but IMAX film. IMAX film (in a brief nutshell) is special 70mm film (compared to the typical 35mm you see in theaters) that shows up much larger and wider on the big screen. There have to be special theaters built for screening IMAX film, which may be the reason that you’ve travelled some distance to go see some of your favorite movies screened in this unique format. All of Christopher Nolan’s films are digitized as well, but I’m sure if he had the choice, he would implement an IMAX theater in every town across the world. He prefers the texture and the granularity of film in comparison to the 2D plane of a digitized movie.


source: PremiumBeat


Additionally, Nolan is particular with sound. After Interstellar came out, theaters had to post signs outside their buildings stating that there was nothing wrong with their sound equipment, but rather to take it up with Christopher Nolan himself. People were calling in to complain that they couldn’t hear what the actors were saying. This is because when some of the booms, crashes, and explosions took place, the audio would drown out the character’s voices. He responded to this by saying that this was intentional and that this is more in line with what you would hear in reality. He wants the audience to feel like as if they were actually there in the movie with the characters, rather than just a third party watching from behind a screen. It isn’t always about the dialogue, but the feelings each particular moment invokes.


Recently Vox did a video articulating the use of Christopher Nolan’s obsession with Shepard tones. Nolan specifically focuses on a Shepard-Risset Glissando tone, which sounds like a constant ascending or descending pitch that goes on forever. This sound can create the feeling of everlasting tension in the background of movies. This pitch not only contributes to the mood of the overall setting, but also in itself, is a musical illusion. Three of the same pitch at three different octaves are rising, falling, or remaining constant at three different volumes. It can be looked at like a chronological illusion, something that most of all Nolan’s movies plot lines surround. No wonder the Shepard tones are basically the entire background noise for his latest film, Dunkirk.



source: Warner Bros Inc. (^me after walking out of my last exam^)


Aside from the Dark Knight Trilogy, Christopher Nolan became obsessed with how he can manipulate time in his movies, hence something as simple as implementing Shepard tones to extend time. In Memento, for example, the audience follows two different plot lines. One plot line is moving forward chronologically, where as the other plot line is in reverse. In Inception, we never quite know exactly where we are. The puzzling time-warp ending of Inception was so intriguing to fans, that there are cult fan pages online dedicated to analyzing the movie for clues. It’s a neat trick of Nolan’s, making us follow a specific plot line only for us to realize later that something that happened earlier actually occurred at a much different time in the movie. It makes us feel dislocated, just as the characters might feel within the movie.


All that aside, Nolan always has the audience in mind. His big blockbuster movies, if they are to be successful, have to appeal to the lowest common denominator. He knows that a 10-year-old kid isn’t going to be interested in the way he tries to manipulate time, but rather the ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ of the pictures moving on the screen. Although he packs his movies with intricacies for the movie buffs to understand, each of Christopher Nolan’s movies can be enjoyed regardless of film knowledge. Simply, each movie is always wildly entertaining and beautiful.


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