What film techniques does Tate Taylor use to portray the real spirit of The Help?
Tate Taylor uses camera work to establish the spirit of the book. For example, when neighbors drop off toilets in front of Hilly's house (as Skeeter plays a trick on Hilly with the newsletter that she is editing and asks neighborhood women to bring toilets to Hilly's house), a long shot takes in all the toilets on Hilly's otherwise perfect and well-manicured lawn. This long shot establishes how ridiculous Hilly must appear to her neighbors and how humiliated she must feel that her perfect lawn is dotted with toilets.
Taylor also uses close-up shots to show the faces of characters such as Minny, an African American maid who detests Hilly and delivers her a feces-filled pie. When the viewer is able to see Minny up close, he or she understands the venom Minny feels towards the hateful Hilly. Another close-up shot captures Skeeter speaking to the New York editor about her book. The camera zooms from a mid shot to a close-up to show how ardently Skeeter feels about the book she is writing.
In addition, Taylor uses the technique of mise en scène, or the way characters are arranged in a scene. For example, there is a shot of Skeeter, dressed in blue, on the left of the frame, reaching her hands across to Aibileen, an African American maid, on the right of the frame. Minny, another maid, stands between them. This arrangement conveys the alliance between Skeeter, Minny, and Aibileen across the divide of race.
The setting is the key here. The film has to show the differences between the lives of white and black people in the Deep South of the 1960s. Aerial views of the large estates of the Holbrooks, Phelans, and Footes are juxtaposed against the darker ground views of small one-story houses where maids live. We see black people sitting in the back of the bus. We see a cab door marked “Whites Only.” The scenes of the black maids in uniforms getting on and off the bus to get to their jobs at the estates are subtle but evocative images that we don’t get a full sense of in the book. Most of these pictures seem to occur naturally because they are the history of this place in this time. The film can show more of these features and do so at a quicker pace than the book can, and without further explanation.
The film is also good at depicting the time period of the early 1960s in general. The cars are from the era. People smoke proudly, indoors and out. The Junior League women wear pearl necklaces, colorful knee-length dresses or capri pants, and bouffant hairstyles. Popular songs of the day are heard in the background. The mix of visuals and sounds take the viewers directly to this time and place, so we can understand its color divide as well. We know this is the way it WAS. As we watch the film we realize that for some, this is the way it still IS.