As the Americans say; “first impressions are the most lasting” and that’s why you only have one opportunity to introduce a character in a movie. If you do it properly the audience will have these images along the way. Spielberg uses action and fraction to convey a very strong message to the audience. Characters don´t say they are evil, they simply show how wicked they are. Sometimes you don´t have to show too much to the audience about the villains; just the carnage they have inflicted upon the victims.
Spielberg also uses the method of fraction to communicate; he does that in Indiana Jones and the crystal skull. In ET we don´t see the bad guy, we just see his keys. Spielberg focuses on his keys signaling the audience to pay attention. The keys and the man stick together trough the film. The keys are the villain identifier. Only by following the keys the director keeps the mystery surrounded the character and only 1.20 minutes into the film Spielberg reveals the antagonist face.
Using the method of fraction, the spectator feels that the anticipation of danger is more terrifying than danger itself. I am talking, of course, about the same method used in horror movies. Alfred Hitchcock used fraction in Psycho to create effect. If we had seen Norman in drag in the first scene, we would never have been so scared.
In Schlinder list, for instance, we only see the character bit by bit; we learn that he´s wealthy, powerful and a member of the nazi party. He then moves to a fancy party where we only see his back and we learn more about him from the way he´s treated by others. This is the anticipation of the revealed.
Spielberg most iconic introduction is Indiana Jones in his first movie; Raider in the lost ark; we see his calm when others got scared. He moves forward in the face of danger and when his life is threatened by betrayal he reacts with his unique whip to defend himself. Only when his attacker flees he steps into the light and reveals himself; 3:15 into the film are enough for Spielberg to communicate with the audience, showing only what he wants us to see and making his hero looks larger than life.
In Rear window, Hitchcock makes pure cinema; in the opening scene is a visual storytelling and not a single word is spoken. But it tells us everything we need to know or where we are, or why the character is in that particular situation. Alfred uses his camera as it was the viewer eyes. This way he engages us to figure out what the story may be. The thing is that the master of suspense always preferred visual storytelling over dialogue, partly because he directed nearly 100 silent films. Hitchcock used to say that multiple photographs of people talking had nothing to do with the art of cinema whatsoever. In his movies, dialogue is another sound among all the others, so we must treat just as that. But the important information is given to us trough visuals.
Suspense is when the audience is given full information before the start so we know more that the characters themselves. This way, you keep the audience at the edge of their seats and they can worry about the outcome. That is suspense.
These techniques can be applied to any film today but unfortunately, most of the filmmakers don’t use them anymore. In other words, directors don’t put characters through the brink of failure, like the master of Suspense used to do, partly because all their movies are completely failure. Sad but true.
Sergio Calle Llorens