The Burning Images of Rescue Me

Dylan Hintz

CMAT 332

Dr. Moeder

The Burning Images of Rescue Me

The language of film is told through the use of production techniques. Whether it is a simple movie trailer or a full length epic, the use of mise-en-scene, camera work, and editing all play a part in telling the story. Many television shows contain title sequences used to set a tone for the audience. These sequences set a mood to help in the transition of their viewer’s lives into that of the new world they are about to enter. Title sequences will tend to follow a style of production techniques similar to the tone of the show they belong to, such as the firefighter drama, Rescue Me. Using bleak lighting and empty framing, a hand-held camera approach, and time-manipulating edits, the title credits to Rescue Me are used to sink a viewer into the world of the characters.

The mise-en-scene of a film defines the way that the space in a frame is filled up and what it is filled with. The first few opening shots to Rescue Me’s title sequence influence the viewer’s perspective on the location in which the show is about to take place. Beginning with an extreme long shot of Manhattan and continuing through the streets of New York City, this first-glance at the show provides a bleak look at The City That Never Sleeps. The use of this mise-en-scene plays on the idea of a dreary, dead place with very little hope. The show, mostly about firefighters and their day-to-day issues, correlates with the tone set up in other similar “empty” shots. To emphasize the importance of the character’s and their occupation to the show’s story, the mis-en-scene also capitalizes on this emptiness by taking all other people and most moving objects out of perspective throughout the sequence. The only people actually seen clearly throughout the entire sequence are the firefighters themselves rushing to prepare and go on the run for an emergency. When they are not in frame other people are not seen, instead shots of objects that symbolically relate to firefighters such as hoses and hats, and the inner locations of the firehouse occupy the space of the frame. Two close ups are used on possible show characters: the only person to be clearly seen is the show’s star, Denis Leary as his firefighter character Tommy Gavin, riding in the Engine, looking down the street briefly as the whole world seems to pass him by. Another man can be seen, his features unclear but his actions visibly portraying a movement of mourning or angst. To sum up the use of mise-en-scene in the sequence, the final shot is once again that of New York City from its island perspective, this time with the sun setting as a day in the life of a firefighter has come to an end. The use of these specific shots and their similar-but-different looks of night and day define that the show is going to be a day-in-the-life drama about firefighters and their moral dilemmas. How these sequences are filmed emphasizes the tone of these shots further.

The camerawork of Rescue Me is almost completely based around hand-held cameras and a documentary style. This is made clear in the opening credits, in which every shot moves tumultuously, barely focusing on anything particular. This adds to the sensory perception of certain things in the frame, such as bright red colors in the cinematography, the static credits which shoot across the screen in a smoke-based animation, and the blinking lights of the fire trucks as they pass from the firehouse to their destination. Though this sounds somewhat backwards, it is actually incredibly effective in portraying the chaos of the show and the character’s lives: Not only is everything shaky because of the handheld nature of the camera, but the only noticeable objects are seen predominantly through blurs and flashes of light, and because of that the most notable images are the alarms and trucks. The look of the show throws substantial information at the viewer through moving shots, and it is up to their sensory perception to decipher the drama at an intense and thrilling pace. Through the camera work, Rescue Me’s opening credits feel like a high-speed chase, with the last third of the sequence maintaining many quick tracking shots edited together violently from the perspective of the fire trucks.

Editing is the most important part to the language of a film. In the opening credits, the show edits together these images of contrasting mise-en-scene and wild camera work to quickly draw the viewer into the manic life of a New York City firefighter. The opening frame has a dark tone in its cinematography, gray and smoky, and it is hard to tell whether it is day or night. It cuts closer into a long shot of one of the city’s many crowded streets; the next frame provides an almost tourist-like perspective— looking up at the buildings, past the traffic, and at the George Washington Bridge. The next two shots follow this same feel with low angles staring up at tall buildings, never quite seeing the sky and always maintaining the dark cinematography. From long shots cutting into close ups of items in the firehouse, the perspective of the first half of the opening credits is that of arrival— entering New York, then the firehouse, and then the lives and occupation of these men. After a few quick cuts to the various objects, the editing then becomes even more mobile with the tracking shots in the car, constantly going in the same direction to lend towards a feeling of racing to the scene. The cuts are quick and jostled, but the maintained movement helps keep the energy of the show, most likely in an attempt to pump the audience up for another exciting episode. This is even further enhanced by the use of time-manipulating editing, in which the speed of the frames tends to increase and then slow down to emphasize a major point of action, such as when the door to the firehouse opens revealing the truck for the first time. The door opens in a slow dramatic fashion, and as soon as the truck is revealed it zooms out of frame in a very action film styled speed up. Most powerful about the editing is the syncopation it keeps with the music at all times. A song simply titled “Come On” is used for the titles has a high pace, and the video footage is edited in time with the instruments and lyrics to add a great deal of style to the opening. It becomes catchy, emotional, and can hook a viewer even in-between channel surfing. It is because of the breakneck energy of the title sequence that the show can garner the expectations of action and excitement, even if it is a drama at its core.

In analyzing these techniques, each part of the art form’s language is implemented to tell a different thing to the audience, working in unison to provide an over all feel. The mise-en-scene dedicates itself to the purpose of the show. Images of firefighters, their tools, and the city they live in shines a bleak but honest light on what the stories are likely to be about. The use of a handy-cam system and camera style provides the show with its tone of gritty realism and a voyeuristic look into the lives of these men. Finally, the editing ties everything together, and while it is chaotic and jumbled, it maintains a highly energetic pace that contrasts with the bleakness of the editing and the realism of the camera work. This contrast pulls the viewer into the overall style of the show and the truly artistic part of its storytelling— many things going on at once, with a nonstop flow that just catches the viewer in a maelstrom of stories and action. With that said, based on the title credits alone of Rescue Me, it will most likely provide some cinematic experiences that are not soon to be forgotten by its viewers.

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