Film Discussion 10: 12 Angry Men
As always, another great movie and another great discussion! Above you'll find the recording of our discussion, and below you'll find the show notes that either inspired some of our topics, or offer more to think about as you digest the film. Hope you can make it to our next discussion on the Toy Story films!
Show Notes1. 12 Angry Men on Wikipedia Cool description of how the director used lenses and the camera to help tell this story:
At the beginning of the film, the cameras are positioned above eye level and mounted with wide-angle lenses to give the appearance of greater depth between subjects, but as the film progresses the focal length of the lenses is gradually increased. By the end of the film, nearly everyone is shown in closeup using telephoto lenses from a lower angle, which decreases or "shortens" depth of field. Lumet, who began his career as a director of photography, stated that his intention in using these techniques with cinematographer Boris Kaufman was to create a nearly palpable claustrophobia.
Equally nameless, and far more distant, is the teenager with his appointment with the electric chair. Does he realize that his life is in the hands of a jury composed of men so easily given to prejudgment? Forget reasonable doubt—they won’t even give him the benefit of the doubt. Without fancy stagecraft, 12 Angry Men portrays the American jury system as tragic opera.
The film captured the American legal system in a way that had never been done before. There are no preening, cagey lawyers or craggy, wise judges. The jury is where justice resides—with common men who apply common sense and ultimately do what’s right, in spite of extreme prejudice. The hero, juror 8, doesn’t know if the teenager is innocent or guilty; he simply wants to believe that the system is capable of delivering justice, and he doesn’t want to be complicit in compounding an injustice. The jury becomes the repository of America’s faith that the law can get it right. But, at the same time, the film provides a civics lesson on the frightening implications of the legal system’s getting it all wrong.
12 Angry Men, in particular, illuminates the richness of what can happen when the interior lives of human beings are projected onto a screen. Shooting in black and white, in a tiny room overrun with emotional complexity, Lumet worked movie magic simply by changing the focal length of his lenses, from wide-angle to telephoto, manipulating the depth of the frame and, in so doing, providing the viewer with a greater depth of feeling as the camera zooms in on the faces of these twelve once angry, but finally subdued, and forever immortalized, men.
4. "12 Angry Men" by Roger Ebert
The movie plays like a textbook for directors interested in how lens choices affect mood. By gradually lowering his camera, Lumet illustrates another principle of composition: A higher camera tends to dominate, a lower camera tends to be dominated. As the film begins we look down on the characters, and the angle suggests they can be comprehended and mastered. By the end, they loom over us, and we feel overwhelmed by the force of their passion.
5. "Deliberation and Dissent: 12 Angry Men Versus the Empirical Reality of Juries" by Valerie P. Hans, p. 585
A law professor's take on the movie's relation to reality:
The movie 12 Angry Men starts by showing lay participation at its worst. The discussion is cursory. The jurors exchange insults and put-downs. the comments about the trial and the defendant reflect snap judgments and prejudice. In short, the men are really bad jurors. But the deliberation transforms the men into thoughtful jurists who consider the evidence more deeply and reason through it to their collective verdict.