Isaac Wright-Lichter

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Everything posted by Isaac Wright-Lichter

  1. I really love Fritz Lang, so I'm most looking forward to "The Blue Gardenia", "While the City Sleeps", and "Beyond a Reasonable Doubt", because they're his "newspaper Noir" trilogy. I already own and have seen "The Big Heat", which is also a really great movie but I'm really excited to add three more of his films to my collection. A great way to take the sting out of Summer of Darkness's ending.
  2. The opening to "Strangers on a Train" suggests there is a lot of truth to the idea that what we wear says a lot about our personalities at least as far as movies are concerned. The way the two men's feet are filmed, it gives the impression that they are walking towards each other. Bruno's shoes are very idiosyncratic, while Guy's are more plain. From this early scene in the film, we can tell Bruno is a little strange, and probably a bit of an operator judging by how he begins talking to Guy, moves to sit next to him, and then says he isn't much of talker. Right away at this point in the scene, I wondered what Bruno was up to.
  3. This is a great opening for a film about a prison. We the audience feel caged inside what we learn to be a prison vehicle full of convicts. All we see are the small bits of light coming through the window and we hear the motor. I personally wasn't sure where we were till a few moments later. The next nice touch was when the women look at the world through the gate, knowing it would be a long time before they saw it again.
  4. The lighting in this scene is brilliant. When the hitch-hiker gets into the car, his face is completely in the shadows. When he pulls the gun out and points it at the two guys in the car, he leans forward into the light. Aside from these points, the lighting is shadowy with the majority of the two men's faces in the light but also shrouded in shadow. The tension in the scene escalates when the hitch hiker draws the gun, but when he raids the car's trunk and discovers one of them likes shooting he smiles, believing he has found a good pair of "companions". Before having seen the film, this scene was enough to really hook me into wondering what would happen next.
  5. I find "D.O.A." really fascinating for a variety of reasons. I think the premise is very interesting--a man is poisoned and only has a limited time to solve his own murder. I can only imagine how Frank would be feeling, and thinking of myself in that situation filled me with a lot of the dread that Porfirio wrote about in his article. This one and the scene from "The Hitch-Hiker" I could feel the most dread watching. In both scenes these men's lives are in danger, but the men in "The Hitch-Hiker" have a chance of surviving. We know that Frank is going to die no matter what.
  6. I think that the backwards opening crawl was a very nice touch here. It signifies that everything happening here is backwards, and not exactly what it seems. We don't know what or where Christina is running from, but we know that she is desperate to get away from it to the point of jumping in front of Hammer's car to get his attention. When we learn that she has recently escaped from a mental institution, she manages to convince Hammer to keep from turning her over the highway police by holding and caressing his hand. Hammer submits to her charms, with tragic results later in the scene. From this scene we can tell Hammer is ultimately a sympathetic man, who is vulnerable to being charmed by strangers supposedly escaped from mental institutions.
  7. Isaac Wright-Lichter

    British Noir

    Have you seen Christopher Nolan's "Following" (1998)? It's his first feature length film, and a good Neo-Noir film. It's told mostly in flashback, and is about a writer who takes to following strangers to see where they go, what they do, and other details about them partially to get inspiration for his characters. One day he follows a man who turns out to be a thief involved with some pretty bad people. Give it a watch! I think you can probably find the whole thing on YouTube...
  8. "The Third Man" has always been one of my favorite movies. It's beautifully filmed, extremely well written and acted, and brilliantly directed. Its cinematography captures the devastation and ironic beauty of Post War Europe, in this case Vienna, in a similar way that Fellini would film Italy in his films, or Truffaut would film France in "The 400 Blows". The tilted angles the city is filmed from in certain scenes suggests how off balanced everything was in this turbulent time. This particular scene is one of the most important, as it the first time that it is revealed to Holly (and to the audience) that Harry Lime (Orson Welles) is not dead. Holly cries out and taunts the figure in the shadows, before the light from a nearby window reveals that it was Lime. Holly is shocked, but Lime smiles, indicating that he thinks this is all terrific fun. Holly runs to him, and nearly is hit by a car, the same way that Lime had allegedly been killed. One thing that I never noticed before came a moment later when Holly tries to convince Calloway that he had seen Lime. He says "I chased his shadow", which also interestingly enough speaks to the fact that he's been unknowingly chasing Lime's "shadow", or rather the people overshadowed by Lime and his crimes, throughout the whole film.
  9. Like many of the other daily doses of darkness, this one seems to be in flashback. Garfield says over the voice over that he had hitch-hiked a ride. When he gets out, he seems to be a polite, cheerful, idealistic young man, eager to find where he really belongs in the world. He also seems to be rather enjoying the journey. Turner's entrance however, beginning with her feet suggests that she is going to a larger than life, even otherworldly figure. The first shot of her we see is of her feet, implying she will walk all over and overshadow someone, possibly Garfield. Right away we see how Garfield is taken with Turner, and we know that this drifter may have found what he has been looking for.
  10. Peter Lorre's entrance is calm and comparatively normal. He steps out of the elevator, talking to himself, and enters his room. The soundtrack tenses up, so we know something is about to happen. Sure enough, the room has been ransacked, and Sydney Greenstreet walks out and holds Lorre at gunpoint. They begin a conversation regarding what their "games" are regarding this mysterious mask. Lorre also retains his understated and very funny delivery of his lines in the moment when he says that he can concluding that Greenstreet is either a thief or a drunk, before leaning towards Greenstreet and asking softly, "Are you drunk?" From what I gather from this scene, Lorre and Greenstreet retain their personalities from "The Maltese Falcon". Lorre seems twitchy and nervous, while Greenstreet is calm, well spoken and extremely polite. What's more, they both seem to be looking for this mask of Dimitrios, although they seem to be trying to find it before the other one does, rather than looking for it together as the had done with the falcon.
  11. This scene from "Out of the Past" exhibits many of the hallmarks of a Film Noir. It's a flashback, with Jeff telling Ann about his history with Whit. When he sees Kathy, who turns out to be a superb example of a treacherous Noir femme fetale, we see fairly quickly that he is attracted to her. She is resistant to him, although we see that she may yet see Jeff. After telling Jeff about the other cantina he can go to, he tells her to wear the earrings he tried to give her, and she says, "I go there sometimes." These characters don't engage in the verbal fencing matches as Bogart and Bacall in "The Big Sleep" or MacMurray and Stanwyck do in "Double Indemnity", but the immediate intentions of both characters are more or less spelled out in this scene.
  12. In these early moments of "The Big Sleep", we see that Humphrey Bogart's Philip Marlow is perceptive and well informed by how much he already knows about General Sternwood and his family prior to visiting them. We also see that he has a sense of humor from his encounter with Carmen Sternwood. She throws flirtations at him--"you're not very tall, are you?"--and he throws them right back at her--"well, I tried to be." These factors make him feel much more approachable than Sam Spade. Spade ultimately does the right thing and all, but his character is cold, detached, and intimidating. We don't get those vibes from Marlowe. We understand he's probably strict as he is a private detective AND played by Humphrey Bogart, but he feels much more likable than Spade.
  13. The dark shadows certainly suggest German Expressionism. The scene where he's telling "The Swede" that there are two men looking for him to kill him, the room is dark, and the Swede's face is completely surrounded in shadow. The only sign of life from him is the sound of his voice. Another nice touch to the scene was the shadow of the lamp, and the other guy in the scene on the wall. It reminded me of the opening scene in "Ministry of Fear", where Ray Milland is sitting in the shadows watching the clock ticking away until he can be released from the asylum. This film was also made by a German emigre filmmaker and veteran of the German film industry, the one and only Fritz Lang. As for the transition from realism to formalism, both of the sets--the diner and the apartment--look very realistic. My thought was that the diner was a real diner and the apartment was a pre-made set. Or if it was a real apartment then it was least specifically stylized for the purpose of being The Swede's residence.
  14. The first thing that comes into my head seeing this is that Gilda is either a). drunk, b. attention seeking, or c). both. Either way, by scene's end we see that there is going to be trouble when she is brought to Johnny who slaps her face. The song she sings "Put the Blame on Mame" is about a amorous woman named Mame, who's activities, particularly her koochee-koo (spelling?) dance, caused not only the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, but the shooting of Dan McGrew as well. I haven't watched "Gilda" yet, but I know a little about the plot. I'm wondering if this is intended to be a parallel of Gilda herself, as being a dangerous woman who has a destructive influence on the gangsters and gamblers she hangs around, particularly those who fall in love with her. Looking forward to seeing the film soon!
  15. The opening for "Border Incident" doesn't necessarily feel like a Film Noir at first. It feels more like a travelogue. The bright scenery, and the cheery voice over narration does not feel particularly Noir-like at all. However, when we see and hear about the Mexicans trying to get into the United States, and then the ones who get in illegally, we get the sense that this is the primary source of drama in the film. It reminds me of "Casablanca", which opens with a very travelogue-like opening where the narrator talks about the refugee trail from Europe to Casablanca, and then mentions that many do not obtain an exit visa and are stuck. We get the feeling that this going to be a strong source of drama in the film. Or like Danny DeVito in the opening of "L.A. Confidential" saying that Los Angeles is sold through the media as heaven on earth, despite it being crime and scandal ridden. Although this is much more direct. DeVito's character is literally telling us that things are bad in spite of appearances, while "Casablanca" and "Border Incident" mention problems in paradise, but not that we as consumers are being taken for a ride. I like that the opening shots of "Border Incident" are aerial photography. It makes everything look so picturesque and beautiful from a distance, but, being a Film Noir, we know that closer up there is a much more sinister ugly side to this worker's "garden". The diagonal lines and angles that the camera captures the fields and canal from increase this feeling as well.
  16. Another great lecture! I think my favorite part of this one was when you talk about the influences of Noir, both European and American. I knew about some of what you were talking about, but there was a lot I didn't know. I knew filmmakers like Lang, Wilder, Ulmer and Preminger had come to the United States to escape the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s, and that they brought their tricks of the trade from working in the German film industry with them. But I'd never heard of European crime films like "Le Jour se Leve", and am really intrigued to see it. Learning about the European precursors to Film Noir--that we've explored in "M" and "La Bete Humaine"--has been one of my favorite parts of this course so far. It was also interesting when you raised the point about Films Noir borrowing a lot of style from the Universal Horror films of the 1930s, especially with regards to the German Expressionist-inspired shadowy and atmospheric cinematography. You also mention how horror filmmakers in the 1940s would go on to direct Films Noir, such was the case with Jacques Tourneur who went from "Cat People" (1942) to "Out of the Past" (1947). It's easy enough to see the intertextuality these films have with each other. In the film world, nothing happens in a vacuum. But it becomes much clearer that this was not an accident when you take into account that many of the directors of great Films Noir came from Europe, and many had also been veterans of the studio system during the 1930s. The other thing that really stuck with me was how you mentioned the difference between realism and formalism in filmmaking, which is also at the heart of yesterday's daily dose of darkness, and is something I'll be looking for in future Films Noir we watch throughout our course. Part of what make so many Films Noir interesting to me are their sets (bathed in shadows of course), such as the train in "The Narrow Margin" or the racetrack in "The Killing", and learning about how they put them together, and whether they were shot on location or in a studio. I'm looking forward to moving forward now with this knowledge into the rest of the course.
  17. Waldo has so many amazing lines. "Would you kindly continue this character analysis elsewhere? You begin to bore me." "Laura, I can't stand these morons any longer. If you don't come with me right now I'll run amok." Shelby: I haven't slept a wink since it happened. Waldo: Is that a sign of guilt or innocence, McPherson? Shelby: I didn't hear a note of the concert. I fell asleep. Waldo: Next he'll produce photographic evidence of his dreams. Basically every word that comes out of his mouth is gold...
  18. I know I'm really late, but here are my rankings of the films from June 5th. I didn't watch all of them, but here is what I thought of the ones I saw: 1. The Maltese Falcon--one of my all time favorite films (and books, too) and the film that made me really idolize Humphrey Bogart. Sure, he's not a very nice person, and his morals are out of whack, but he ultimately does the right thing in the end. He's also tough as nails, not afraid of anyone, and tells the police AND gangsters where to get off. And lives. As a 14 year old boy, this man was a god to me. 2. L.A. Confidential--one of my favorite Neo-Noirs. I think it captured the elements of a Film Noir--the multiple story-lines, complicated characters, mass corruption and crimes that don't matter as much as the motivation and actions of characters themselves--really well. It presented them in such a way so that didn't feel stale, or cliched. The performances all around are excellent--Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and James Cromwell all steal the show for me--the cinematography is beautiful, and the plot is gloriously episodic in true Chandler/Cain Noir fashion. 3. La Bete Humaine--Jean Renoir churns out another compelling character study of French society with characters as troubled as any characters in a Noir. 4. Stranger on the Third Floor--very early, experimental Noir, which is why I like this film. It's got a lot going for it, especially the nightmare sequence and the confrontation between Margaret Tallichet and Peter Lorre at the end. For me, the experience of watching this film is in watching how all the elements in play here would blossom in subsequent films like "The Maltese Falcon", "Out of the Past", "Double Indemnity", and any other number of classic Films Noir. 5. Born to Kill--Lawrence Tierney is great in this, enough said. Young or old, he scares the hell out of me... 6. The Letter--Great performance from Bette Davis, as usual! I found the story was a little predictable, but interesting and very suspenseful nonetheless. Like "Stranger on the Third Floor", which released the same year in 1940, the fun of watching this movie was in seeing how it presented elements--long shadows, a dangerous femme fatale, and a murder--that would reappear in later Films Noir. 7. Nora Prentiss--definitely the weakest of the ones I saw, but still enjoyable. Ann Sheridan's performance was strong in spite of the script, which I thought was fairly weak, and Kent Smith was not very convincing at all as the doctor. It's a good thing that the film is called "Nora Prentiss", because Sheridan is the strongest part of the film. Great first two weeks! Can't wait for next Friday!!!
  19. SPOILERS! IF YOU'VE NOT SEEN "MILDRED PIERCE" DO NOT READ!!!! I watched "Mildred Pierce" today for the first time in a couple of years. The first time I saw it, I was blinded by Veda's treachery, greed and selfishness. Watching it again, I was surprised to not feel very much sympathy for Mildred. She meant well, but she really wasn't a very good parent. She spoiled her children, particularly Veda, to the point where all she did was take from other people because that's all she knew how to do. Mildred never inspired her children to go out into the world and make something of themselves. She never instilled any kind of integrity or self reliance in them. Instead, she gave them everything they wanted because she "wanted them to have what she never had." Veda never has to work for one thing. Her mother buys her clothes, piano lessons, and a car for crying out loud! She proudly says her daughter was "becoming a lady of expensive tastes." It's not that I don't understand Mildred's love for her daughter, especially after Kay's sudden and untimely death, in spite of their complicated relationship, or her desire to give her everything she wants. Many parents feel this way about their children. But Mildred never offers Veda any kind of guidance, and so Veda begins to conduct herself horribly, and still Mildred does nothing. Even when Veda begins to behave truly abominably, borrowing money from other waitresses and swindling $10,000 under the pretense of being pregnant, Mildred always seems to forgive her. True, she threw her out of the house at one point, but once Mildred found Veda singing at that restaurant, she begs her to come home. She never changes, and returns home deceptive and selfish as ever, and finally murders her own stepfather after he refuses to marry her. And Mildred is preparing to take the fall for her? Even the most loving and devoted parents have to draw the line somewhere... Perhaps this was how we are supposed to feel about these characters, and I missed the point the first time I saw it. But I just didn't feel much for either of these characters. Veda is the primary villain of the piece, but I think Mildred is also partly to blame for the way she raised her and let so much of Veda's poor behavior slide. It does make it even more compelling as a Film Noir though, with the unbelievably morally inept and incompetent mindset of the two lead characters. And in the end, ultimately because of her blindness Mildred loses all she worked for--both her restaurant and her daughter. Yet the film implies that she has another chance with her first husband, though why he'd touch her with a fifty foot pole after he knows about her lapses in judgment, even calling her on it early in the film to the point where they separated, is beyond me.
  20. For anyone who lives in or around the Boston area, the Brattle Theater is doing a Repertory Series this week called "Sunshine Noir", showing several Neo-Noir films from "Chinatown" to "The Big Lebowski" and last year's "Inherent Vice". It's only running from June 5-11, however. I'm sorry it's such short notice, I only just found out about it. I'd also like to point out that Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye" (1973) is playing tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon and evening. It will also be featured in the Summer of Darkness festival sometime next month. If you'd prefer to see it on a big screen, here is your chance! Anyone who can should try to make it to at least one of these screenings! Here is the link:
  21. Great lecture, Mr. Edwards! You did a fantastic job explaining what Noir is, and providing background information about the genre. Something I really liked about it was your discussion of "The Maltese Falcon". I liked how you credited part of its success with John Huston's sticking the original source material which was itself a great work of fiction, in addition to the great casting and direction. I also really appreciated how you addressed it as often being cited as the "first" Film Noir, even though Noir had hidden in plain sight as you put it several years in films such as Hitchcock's "Rebecca" before critics began to realize that these new types of crime dramas were something different, something special. I also really like the way you address the linkage between Films Noir in the 1940s, and the pulp novels from the 1930s by writers such as Hammett and Chandler, that examined a different kind of criminal psychology, which is I think part of what makes Film Noir such an interesting sub-genre of crime film. Great introduction to Film Noir, and to the course! I look forward to next lecture.
  22. The clock, swinging back and forth, indicates that time is passing for something to happening. The shadows and darkness of the shot succeed in grounding it in a certain seriousness. But, as opposed to "M", this opening evokes more curiosity than dread. With "M", one got the feeling that something was flat out wrong by the creepy song the children were singing and the intense response of the housekeeper, but this is not the case in "Ministry of Fear". When the scene begins, we learn that Ray Milland's character is being released from the mental institution with the doctor's approval. Nothing seriously frightening about this, but it does make me curious to see what happens next. What will Ray Milland's next move be? And how successful will he be? We know he is going to London, despite the constant air raids. The doctor suggests this is not the best place for him to go, but Milland seems certain. Is this really the best decision for him, though? More answers to follow on Friday...
  23. I've seen "Mildred Pierce" once before, at the TCM Classic Film Festival in April, 2013. It was my first time seeing it, and it was with one of the most lively audiences I can recall. There was a lot of clapping and whooping and booing throughout the film, so there were a lot of details I missed. This is the one scene I always remembered though. I remember right after Mildred Pierce says, "Get out before I kill you", the entire theater erupted into thunderous applause that drowned everything else out for several moments. Seeing this scene again it is no less effective, but of all the things to make it stand out in such a memorable film as this, I'd say it's the performances from Joan Crawford and Ann Blyth. The framing and the background music all add flavor, but this scene, in my opinion, could have been only one shot and still have been effective. Perhaps not as effective, but still effective. Each of the two actresses play off of each other so well and create such a frightening portrait of a mother-daughter relationship that manage to dominate the entire film. I do not mean to ignore the framing, however. It does work terrifically well. The way it begins with the close up of Veda kissing the check, backs out to reveal the beginning of the fight with Mildred, and finally switches to medium shots that zoom into close-ups of the two yelling at each other, before the shot reverse shot close-ups of the heated exchange. One thing I really like about the start of the scene, its beginning on Veda kissing the check and pulling out to reveal the beginning of the argument between her and Mildred, is that it says a lot about the situation. It's originally about Veda's selfishness and deception, but ends up being about something much bigger. It's really about Mildred's and Veda's anger at each other. And that is a very common theme in Film Noir, something not being about what it seemed to originally. Especially with a manipulative, deceptive, morally inept person such as Veda. If you haven't seen "Mildred Pierce", do so, or set your DVR to record it, on Friday. It's a great film, and Veda is one of the most loathsome Noir villains you'll encounter. Joan Crawford is certainly great as the titular character, and the one we ultimately sympathize with, but Ann Blyth as Veda stole the show for me. She's the one you love to hate. To me, waiting for her to get what's coming to her is part of what makes the film so suspenseful.
  24. Not having seen "Murder, My Sweet", I can only respond to what I've seen in this clip. Frank's article discusses a new kind of private detective as being a protagonist, rather than a "thinking machine", and states, "The essential question is no longer 'who-done-it?' but how does this protagonist act?" Dick Powell's Phillip Marlowe seems to be very sly, savvy, and grounded, while still retaining a sense of humor. He sees through Grayle's lies that she is a reporter right away. At first he tries to ignore her, but when she asks a specific question regarding someone he knows, he gets her into office, with the intention of finding out who she really is. He does this by caressing her hands--points for flattery, "do you do your own typing?"--and thereby lulling her into letting her guard down, and lunging forward to her purse when she wasn't expecting it. He then toys with her as she angrily tries to leave his office. As she turns around and glares at him discovering the door was locked, he grins slyly at her holding up the key. Then pulls the phone towards him indicating he's through playing around, and is prepared to call the police on her. The rest of the scene he interrogates Grayle about a Jade that had been stolen that she had intended to interrogate him about. Powell's Marlowe definitely seems to fall in place with Frank's observations about this "new detective". We know what Marlowe is trying to do in this scene, but it's not half as interesting or entertaining as seeing how he goes about it.
  25. The opening of "Laura" suggests that this film will be told from Lydecker's perspective, just as "Double Indemnity" had been told from Neff's perspective earlier in 1944. While this turned out not to be the case, it is fitting because Lydecker arguably proves to be the most significant player in the film, apart from Laura herself, and not for the better. His opening sentiments about his grief over Laura's death implies that he is a more compassionate figure, when this couldn't be further from the truth. Not to spoil the film for anyone who's not yet seen it, but after we've seen the whole film we see that the entire opening monologue is nothing more than a fabrication, and a testament to his arrogance and possessiveness. His comment that he was the only one who really knew Laura is a perfect example of this. As the film progresses, we see that to him Laura was no more than one of those "priceless" items in the cabinet of his "lavish" apartment. It's easy to see why this film, along with "Double Indemnity" released earlier that same year, caught Frank's eye as being part of a new movement of American filmmaking. These two films show the murky psychology of the characters that would later come to be accepted as being a staple of Noir culture. They also have the voice over narrations, flashback sequences, and dark and contrasted cinematography that would also be deemed definitive traits of a Film Noir, ready formed and ready to be picked out and acknowledged by critics and moviegoers.

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