Roger Ebert writes about a fascinating (at least to me) method of watching movies—essentially a shot-by-shot study of visual composition as another way to communicate emotions, story, character motivations, and so on. It reminds me of his commentary track on Citizen Kane, which although it spoils some of mystery surrounding the amazing special effects, does provide an enlightening new perspective of Welles’s masterpiece.
Ebert elaborates on the concept of “intrinsic weighting” in cinematic shots, where:
… certain areas of the available visual space have tendencies to stir emotional or aesthetic reactions. These are not “laws.” To “violate” them can be as meaningful as to “follow” them. I have never heard of a director or cinematographer who ever consciously applied them. I suspect that filmmakers compose shots from images that well up emotionally, instinctively or strategically, just as a good pianist never thinks about the notes. It may be that intrinsic weighting is sort of hard-wired. I am not the expert to say. I can observe that I have been through at least 10 Hitchcock films and not found a single shot that doesn’t reflect these notions.
You can see this to great effect in Kane (as Ebert discusses in his commentary as well as in his regular column), particularly in these scenes: