In a new video essay supercut, contributor Sean Michael Duffy looks at heavy use of frame-within-a-frame shots in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1974 classic Ali: Fear Eats the Soul.
The most startling thing about seeing Ali: Fear Eats the Soul for the first time a few months ago was just how relevant it is over forty years later. Issues of race and immigration have been very important in the turbulent climate of the 2016 United States Presidential Election, as well as in Europe, and much of the same dynamics are in play in Fassbinder’s film.
At the same time, Fassbinder’s approach to cinematography and construction of mise-en-scene seems to have been lost over the years. The framing in Ali never lets the viewer to get too close to the characters and the action, but it’s distance and sometimes heavy-handed construction is a technique Fassbinder takes advantage of to force audiences to look at the characters through a more broad, political lens, similar to Brecht’s concept of epic theatre.
In this short video essay supercut, I take a specific look at Fassbinder’s use of building frames-within-frames. It’s still a common technique, but rarely is it used as often — and as beautifully — as it is in Ali. It’s not just an aesthetic choice either. The shots are constructed to force the aforementioned distanced perspective, as well as to convey the different degrees of division and entrapment faced by the characters in the film.
Watch on Vimeo below.
Sean Duffy is a writer and filmmaker. He has won awards for screenwriting and poetry, and his films have screened at The College Town Film Festival, Driftless Film Festival, the NJ QFest, and Chicago Filmmakers. He has one of those website things. This spring he is the Editorial Intern at Facets.