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Documentary

Power of the still

In both The Fog of War and Capturing the Friedmans still images play a very important role in the telling of each tale. The life of Robert S. McNamara was lived in the continual glare of publicity and his image in newspapers and magazines often features in the documentary alongside other archive material.

Robert S. McNamaraPhoto © Sony Pictures Classics Close-up of Robert S. McNamara's face

In Capturing the Friedmans, the filmmaker’s desire to explore the origins of a seemingly highly dysfunctional family means he often has recourse to key photographs depicting their family life together before the revelations about Arnold’s sexual interests and alleged abusive behaviour emerged.

To tackle the following tasks, you should have an understanding of image analysis.

1. You should try to describe each image as much as possible without explaining the shot. This is what is called describing the denotation of an image and you should try to spot everything in the image that is in the foreground, middle distance and background. Also, try to describe the physical properties of the shot too – whether it is black and white or colour, shot with an ordinary lens or at a long angle or very close to. Try to describe the dress and body language of the people shown as much as possible – as a Martian might do – without interpreting it.

2.  Establish the connotations that the image might contain. This is something you may have been tempted to do right at the start, since most of us are skilled at moving from what is in an image to what that image might mean. When you consider the connotations of still shots from the films, the key thing is to consider the relationships that exist between the people depicted.

Choose some still images from Fog of War and Capturing the Friedmans and try to analyse them in the same way as outlined here.