Film is not a new medium. Over the past century, film-makers have developed a solid understanding of how to portray subjects in a sympathetic and flattering light. Show them entering the frame and moving from left-to-right (the way our eyes move across a page). Film them from below to make them look large and authoritative, and from above to diminish them. When you cut, cut to a new angle instead of in-frame, or it confuses and agitates the viewer. Illuminate them with warm, soft lighting.
Some directors deliberately flout these conventions – like Jean-Luc Godard, with his famous ‘jump-cuts’, or whoever made the National Party’s opening address, which screened last night and contrived to make our most popular Prime Minister in modern history look sinister, elderly, weak and unwell. It took me back to National’s 2002 election campaign in which Bill English walked around a darkened, empty house warning about the dangers of crime while ominous, atonal music hummed in the background, the apparent subtext being that if you voted for the National Party, English would come into your home and harm your family.
The problems with Key’s opening address weren’t just technical. He’s a very popular politician, but National don’t seem to understand why he’s popular. The address showcased his powerful natural charisma and communications skills, but Key doesn’t actually have natural charisma or powerful communications skills. People like him because he’s like them, or, at least, presents to that effect. An address in which he gives scripted answers to patsy questions makes him look like an ordinary politician, and not a very accomplished one.
I haven’t seen the Green’s opening yet, and I caught about half of Labour’s – my impression was that it was exactly what it needed to be: an exercise in rebuilding the brand of the party, ie what they should have been doing for the last three years. I felt the high profile they gave to many of their new, high calibre at-risk, low list-MPs was a tacit admission that their party list was a huge strategic mistake. Everything else seemed pitch perfect.