Tony Zhou’s video essay “Joel & Ethan Coen – Shot | Reverse Shot” starts with Zhou describing the basic editing/structuring of dialogue heavy scenes through the convention of shot-reverse shot. Before he is able to elaborate on the technique he is interrupted by diegetic sound (sound which emanates from the onscreen images). A scene from the Coen Brother’s 2013 film, Inside Llewyn Davis, is shown as one of the first examples of the Coens’ use of shot-reverse shot. Zhou is delivering voice-over while the scene quietly shows two characters – one eating a bowl of cereal, the other propping himself up on an elbow from where he had been sleeping on the ground – when suddenly the scene and the voice over are both interrupted as the character who had been eating cereal noisily slurps the surplus milk from his bowl. After this unexpected interruption, Zhou clears his throat and continues with his narration. This interruption is especially impactful and representative of the overall use of diegetic dialogue and sound in the video as Zhou responds to the disruption by clearing his throat. This simple acknowledgement establishes the role of diegetic sound in the video – it acts as a contribution and extension of Zhou’s commentary, existing in space where both Zhou and the audience are aware of the thoughts voiced by the characters onscreen. An example of the symbiotic use of diegetic dialogue and voice over comes just as Zhou begins to get in to the meat of his video. A character from the 2009 film A Serious Man (directed by the Coen brothers) invitingly asks: “Can I share something with you?”, before Zhou ends the introduction to his video by saying: “So today, let’s reconsider shot-reverse shot.” Another example is found when Zhou makes a point about the Coens’ filming their shot-reverse shot sequences through close-ups. This point is emphasized when an onscreen character from The Big Lebowski (1998) asks; “Do I make myself clear?” This line is not simply for emphasis though, instead Zhou restates his point saying; “In other words, they (the Coen brothers) shoot a lot of singles.”
Zhou’s use of diegetic dialogue helps to drive his voiceover, and explicitly links the onscreen examples pulled from the Coens’ films to the points which are being presented. Not only did this style help sustain my engagement with the video, but it also felt reflective of the style of dialogue use by the Coens’. That is to say that the interruption and interjections by onscreen characters worked to be both informative (as was the case when Zhou used sound and footage from interviews with the Coen brothers) and comical (in case with the character drinking milk). This blend of humor and substance mirrored the final point made by Zhou – that the Coen brothers use their unique approach towards shot-reverse shot to capture and thereby blur the lines between tragedy and comedy.
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