crimewave

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  1. 1. No question the moving or tracking POV shots in Downhill put me in the position of both characters especially because the shots are from each character’s POV. In this scene of accusation, it not only drew me into the drama but also heightened, in this case, the dread and anger of the characters. I agree with others who state that the moving POV is Hitchcock’s signature piece of camera work. Think Scotty following Madeleine/Judy in Vertigo. 2. Hitchcock uses the moving POV shot because it’s not static and is so effective at creating additional screen time to allow the character’s emotion to develop. Additionally, it can serve as a number of shots without editing as, for example, the shot can start in a long shot, stay in a long shot as the character walks toward the camera and then allow the characters to walk into their own close-up by stopping the dolly. Or, it is simply what a character sees from where they are standing/sitting/walking, etc. The viewer becomes the character. 3. Thematically, there is an accusation and or “wronged man” story that we see in The Lodger. There is sexual desire or the result of sexual desire that we see in The Pleasure Garden, The Lodger, The Ring and Downhill. There is the use of double exposure in both Downhill and The Ring. There is a shot of the woman and the two students seen from behind the students. She stands directly before them. We cut to a two shot of the students and the woman is not in the shot, although where she’s standing in the previous shot suggests she should be. It reminds me of Cary Grant’s hands when they embrace Eva Marie Saint when she is against the wall of the train berth in North By Northwest. The literal impossibility of the shot is tossed aside in favor of a different or more desired composition.
  2. 1. A montage begins at the 3:05 mark where the party dissolves into the extended piano keys, the musical instruments, and the spinning 78 LP, ending with the kiss. It’s used to show the source and impact of the music as well as the dark jealous imaginations of the boxer. The super imposed shot at the 2:30 mark of the champ and the boxer’s girlfriend that pans and drifts across the shot of the promoter is an example of both creative cinematography and editing. 2. Both POV shot and shot/ reaction shot create a look into the mind and psychological state of the character. Hitchcock uses various reaction shots for the boxer, his fickle or would be girlfriend, the partygoers, and the promoters. 3. The set design of the hallway mirror works to both separate the boxer from his girlfriend and rival and at the same time connect them. This allow for voyeuristic scheming, jealousy and concern to reveal the various states of mind of the characters.
  3. 1. In terms of the similarities and differences between The Pleasure Garden and The Lodger, the films are different in their dramatic styles. The opening of The Pleasure Garden is comical while the opening of The Lodger is frightening. Despite these genre differences both films open with visually arresting images that instantly grab the viewer’s attention. Both films use a large group of people as a reaction shot to what is occurring (the men watching the dancing review and the group of onlookers to the murdered woman). However, The Lodger uses a beautiful blue toned night scenes and sepia toned interior scenes while The Pleasure Garden is straight black and white. Both films use title cards where necessary. Both films have dressing room scenes of the women performers. Both films have characters whose actions create some form of doubt or suspicion. Both films have characters that are attracted to performers. Both films use music to underscore and heighten the evolving beats of the film although I prefer the score in The Lodger to The Pleasure Garden. BTW, is the score, credited to Ashley Irwin on IMDb a restored version of the original score? It appears it was created in 1999. Some confusion here but, in any event, the music at the 1:52 point is eerily similar to Bernard Hermann’s music in the climactic scene of Taxi Driver. 2. The “Hitchcock Style” is evident in the opening scream. It’s evident in the entire performance of Ivor Novello’s title character. He is not what he is thought to be and is a man wrongly accused. As for moments of excessive emotion, this seems to be a trait in many silent films. I don’t know if this was the preferred acting style of the day, or directors were still finding how much emotion could be subtly conveyed, especially in close-ups (for comparison, see Robert Donat’s brilliant performance in The 39 Steps), or the style is a holdover from stage acting where the actor needs to project to the back row so to speak. At the 1:21 point the woman who discovered the murdered woman is “big” in her distraught shock. I’m not sure if this is a Hitchcock Style but I love following the newspaper delivery truck at the 3:27 mark. The heads framed in the back windows is brilliant. The effect is the back of the truck is like a face that is looking at the viewer. This continues with the subsequent cut to the inside of the truck silhouetting the driver and passenger while establishing a POV shot of the street activity. I see this kind of shot coming up in They Live By Night (Nicholas Ray) and Guncrazy (Joseph H. Lewis). 3. The scream works well because it is shot from a high camera angle. We’ll see this again in The 39 Steps and Psycho.
  4. I’m just getting going on the class and I’m focused on catching up. If I mention something that others have already said, please excuse me, I haven’t read through all the TCM posts yet. 1. In The Pleasure Garden, the “Hitchcock Touch” is evident in the opening staircase shot and we’ll see it again in Vertigo, Psycho, and Foreign Correspondent. Also, the general pace of the storytelling is an approach Hitchcock is very adept at. He knows when to speed the film along and when, to heighten tension, slow the film down. 2. As for themes and approaches, the theater stands out as a recurring theme in Hitchcock’s work. We’ll see performers and audiences in The Lodger and The 39 Steps. Also, I’ve always found Hitchcock to be a master of crowd shots. The action, reaction shots are done very well in the shots of the dancers and then the front row of men but, in fairness, this kind of film grammar is hardly unique to Hitchcock. Lastly, for now, Hitchcock uses the high camera angle that we see in the establishing shot of the theater stage in many of his films. 3. Sure, there are limitations due to the lack of spoken dialogue. If the absence of dialogue were a non-issue then we wouldn’t need title cards to explain what is going on. However, I feel Hitchcock learned how to tell a story without the aid of dialogue in these early silent films. Despite the, at times, “clunkiness” of silent films, Hitchcock is mastering where to place the camera for maximum story telling effect.
  5. 1. Hitchcock uses sound design, specifically by breaking with the literal recording of all the sounds that one could possible hear in the scene, to establish more of what the character Alice is thinking and feeling. For example, for the first two minutes or so of the clip the sound design pretty much records what we see and hear on the screen. No, it’s not as developed or extensive as films today, but we hear what we see. However, at the 2:07 mark in the clip, the sound design changes from literal to subjective. The voice of the friend/customer turns unintelligible with the exception of the word “knife." Knife becomes a sort of highlighted repeating key word that heightens Alice’s distraught and nervous demeanor. This style of sound design continues until the 2:29 point of the cut back to the master shot where the sound returns to being literal. Then again, at the 3:19 mark the sound of the dinging bell rises and continues for far longer than one would expect (reminds me the extended final chord in the Beatles song A Day In The Life) until we return to normal sound at the 3:26 point where he father says, “Another customer, Alice.” In both uses of subjective sound, the shot is a medium close up of Alice wherein she is compositionally isolated from all the other characters in the scene. 2. The shot where the knife flies out of Alice’s hand is set up by having the word knife be uttered as the loudest sound of all the uttered “knifes” and it occurs exactly on the cut back to the master shot. The jolting combination of loudness and picture change is startling and underscores Alice’s fragile state at this point in the clip. 3. I think the reason that sound design in today’s movies is not as subjective or, let’s call it expressionistic, is because the subjective sound design in Blackmail runs the risk of taking the viewer out of the story. Most films aim at not breaking the aura of being in a world for the entire length of the film. Anything from too flashy camera work, too many edits or camera placement resulting in cuts with improper screen direction, sound that can’t be heard, nudity, inappropriate language and even genre breaking plot design run the risk of even subconsciously taking the viewer out of the performance and thus the story. There can be a fine line between, say, startling the audience and losing the audience. My guess is most producers will say the star of the film is the lead actor/actress, not the sound design. Now, having said that, there are sound designers who heighten their sound designs that make the sound even more real than it actually is. Typically the sound is not out of the realm of reality, just “sweetened.” Here I’m thinking of the sound designer Skip Lievsay’s work on the Coen Brothers films.
  6. Great lists above as well as the noir tropes. In terms of settings, I wholeheartedly agree that nighttime urban settings are the default noir location, but would it be fair to add desolate or rural landscapes, the kind found in: Nightfall 1956, Jacques Tourneur; ​They Live By Night 1948, Nicolas Ray; On Dangerous Ground 1951, Nicolas Ray; High Sierra 1941, Raoul Walsh; The Hitchhiker 1953, Ida Lupino and the more modern Fargo 1996, Coen Bros., film and TV series? Modern or Neo-Noir also include suburban locations: Blue Velvet 1986, David Lynch; Brick 2005, Rian Johnson. There are also several southwest locations and or films that take place in Mexico, notably Out of The Past 1947, Jacques Tourneur; Touch of Evil 1958, Orson Welles as well as, Ride The Pink Horse 1947, Robert Montgomery.
  7. +1 on the idea that Batman Begins has noirish elements but at its core is still a comic book hero crime fighting vehicle. It has the past/future mix of art direction like Blade Runner, and of course a lot of the pre-Robin style found in Detective Comics 27-37. In these issues, Batman is human, vulnerable, capable of being wounded type superhero. He's a wealthy vigilante of sorts, carries a gun and isn't put in the position of having to save Robin. In some respects, similar to The Shadow pulps. Noir's roots are more with detective pulps than detective superhero comics. In terms of the Clute and Edwards podcasts, it smartly pays for them to have a broad definition of "neo-noir" as, along with more content, it prompts more discussion. -Mark
  8. Rififi

    Marianne, I completely agree on the likability of Sterling Hayden's character Dix in The Asphalt Jungle. In Rififi I see Tony's (Jean Servais) rescue of Tonio (Dominique Maurin) as being out of character in a good way. Yes, for most of the film Tony is a no-nonsense type of figure, but his gruff and merciless behavior adds a seriousness and danger to the film that I find compelling. Tony's character design seems intentionally opposite the unfocused, more romantic, even sometimes goofy behavior of Mario (Robert Manuel) and Cesar (Jules Dassin). At the end of each film both Dix and Tony are driving cars in a race against death. Dix wants to get back to the purity of Kentucky. Dying in a field surrounded by horses is cleansing. Tony's fatal decision to rescue the kidnapped Tonio is based on friendship, loyalty and sentiment. His final act is to reunite Tonio with his mother. Both Dix's and Tony's actions reveal character and are positive, but Dix's goal was known for most of the film, while Tony's action was never a goal early on in the film, rather a reaction to the heist unravelling and a now revealed sense that a child should never be caught up in the work of the underworld. Dix and Tony are different characters with wildly different backstories. But, there are similarities. They are very capable, involved in a heist, have strong opinions about what is acceptable behavior, and become mortally wounded. I find them very well drawn. Both films are wonderful and fantastic examples of the heist genre. Thanks for the reminder of Dassin's interview on the DVD. -Mark
  9. Rififi

    Marianne - thanks for your post on excellent French noir film Rififi. The "silent film" aspect of the Mappin & Webb jewelry store break in gets a lot of attention, however I see your point in terms of the boredom side of the heist. I wonder if audiences today will accept a lengthy rehearsal of the heist and then watch the actual heist without feeling like they've seen it all before and thus the boredom. My guess is the rehearsal was included to show the ingenuity of the robbers as well as set a point for something significantly different to occur between the rehearsal and the actual event. For example, all the planning in the world won't work because there's always the unexpected to screw up the best laid plans. You see this in Bob Le Flambeur and Asphalt Jungle as well. Personally, I would be fine with seeing just the heist, no rehearsal. If things go wrong, you can assume they weren’t rehearsed (oops - unless the “wrong” is part of the plan a la The Sting). In terms of your point about Tony beating Mado for being unfaithful while he was in prison, how did you feel about Tony killing Cesar (played by Dassin) for giving the jewelry to Viviane? Much of Tony’s code of ethics is revealed with how he handles Mado and Cesar. When Tony humiliates Mado it is brutal and shocking but it also quickly establishes what he’s willing to do. From that point forward you keep an eye on him and there isn’t a fiercer, more competent character in the film. Yes, he’s unforgiving, but is that necessary when it comes to relying on a group to commit a crime? In other words, if someone drops the ball you could end up in prison for a long time, or dead. What I find interesting about heist films is that in real life I rarely root for bank robbers (or prison escapees). But, in movies I root for them all the time. Chalk it up to the power of cinematic point of view to create sympathy with people you might not otherwise admire. -Mark
  10. Jamesjazzguitar, Thanks for reading my post and your thoughtful reply. Your tabulation of the percentage of noir films with positive or negative endings got me thinking. Off the top of my head I would have guessed that the percentage would skew heavily towards negative endings, as that would seemingly fit into the noir sensibility. However, the more I consider your point, you’re right, a film can be very dark and still have a “happy ending” a la Kiss Me Deadly. I also like your example of The Sweet Smell of Success to make the case for ambiguous endings. However, your bringing up His Kind of Woman really jumped out at me. I’ve seen the film a half dozen times or so and in all honesty I’ve come to enjoy it because I no longer expect to see film noir. I find it entertaining despite the fact that the film is so disjointed about it’s own identity genre-wise. Dan Milner’s (Robert Mitchum) dilemma is solidly noir, a guy set up to take a fall, and the scene with the card playing thugs at the six minute mark is very noirishly done. However, large sections of the film are either centered around Mitchum’s relationship with Lenore/Liz Brent (Jane Russell), or Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price), or various subplots involving the other hotel guests that, while revealing different shades of Mitchum’s character, really have very little to do with Milner taking action to solve the story problem. The writing and direction of Mark Cardigan (Vincent Price) is where the film loses its identity. While Clute and Edwards on their podcast enjoy how well Price plays his character, and their point certainly has merit, the entire performance undercuts the film’s ability to be noir. Price’s farce/comedic performance of a narcissistic, aging matinee idol seeking something, anything, to change the course of his life is an interesting study but I can’t help but ask myself why is this character and this performance in this film? The climactic last quarter of the film crosscuts the Shakespeare quoting Cardigan in zany, over the top scenarios (the sinking rescue boat in three feet of water) with the very real and violent torture of Milner (whipped with a belt buckle). These scenes are so impossibly different that it’s hard to reconcile what genre the film thinks it is. The viewer is put in the position of having to switch genre gears each time the film cuts back to Milner or Cardigan. In essence the film has two leading men to the detriment of Mitchum and the noir sensibility. Clute and Edwards like the script. I agree that the dialogue is snappy and very quotable. Many of the scenes, when taken alone, are well constructed. However, I think the writing lost its way when viewed as an entire film. Perhaps the writing choice to make Milner (and the audience) wait at Morro’s Lodge to learn the details of why he was hired inadvertently created a second act vacuum that had to be filled with random subplots and more importantly, the larger than life Mark Cardigan. Mitchum waiting at Morro Lodge structurally reminds me of Casablanca, The Wages of Fear and Kansas City Confidential where the main character(s) wait for the decisive action to heat up and the audience learns about the other characters’ stories and subplots. On the Warner Brothers DVD there’s commentary by UCLA professor Vivian Sobchack. She cites script rewrites showing that Raymond Burr’s character, Nick Ferraro, was added after principal photography was finished and they had to go back and shoot virtually all his scenes. Also, producer Howard Hughes loved Vincent Price’s Mark Cardigan character and wanted it increased, thus the rather lengthy (for film noir) 120 minute run time. I was curious about which parts of the film the two directors, Richard Fleischer and John Farrow each directed. In Sobchack’s commentary she states that Fleischer directed all the scenes on Farrow’s yacht as well as the reshoots with Burr. With His Kind of Woman it’s hard to know to what was originally intended versus how it ended up due to rewrites, a new director and actor, and the additional shooting. I’m open to looking at the films that fall outside the textbook examples of film noir. Times change and it makes sense that artists want to explore, experiment, and push boundaries rather than just repeat what came earlier. If in fact the finished film follows the writer(s) original intent, experimenting with writing a noir and farce/comedy in the same script is a little unexpected, but okay, let’s see what happens. In the end, however, if it’s categorized as noir then it’s fair to look at it in terms of whether or not it successfully fits, or expands, or redefines, etc., that genre. Personally, I find the film an oddity, with its unusual mix of writing, character design, acting styles, and conflicting genres. While His Kind of Woman certainly has its charm and is entertaining, the use of ceiling shots and venetian blind lighting doesn’t necessarily turn it into a noir film. Consequently, if you’re watching a lot of noir films and are conscious of the various noir elements, His Kind of Woman is a great film to watch because it does raise the question about whether or not it should be considered an example of film noir.
  11. After The Summer of Darkness course I re-watched Out of the Past, Criss Cross, and The Killers, three of my favorite noir films, with two of my favorite noir protagonists, Robert Mitchum and Burt Lancaster as well as the stunning and talented femmes fatales played by Ava Gardner, Jane Greer and Yvonne De Carlo. Prior to The Summer of Darkness course I had seen a fair number of films noir, some many times, and I consciously associated film noir with a twisty plot driven narrative that in part defined the film noir style. While I still believe that is true, one of my takeaways from the course is I’m now much more drawn to the relationships in the films. In prior viewings, while enjoying the relationships, for whatever reason the plot jumped to the fore. Perhaps after many viewings of the films, the plot becomes less important because, quite simply, you know what’s coming and aren’t surprised. With the above in mind, I now see many films noir as intensely dark and utterly adult “romance” movies devoid of dreamy happy endings. In thinking about the three films I found myself hesitant to criticize the The Killers because I truly believe The Killers is an A-list example of film noir. However, in the context of the relationships between the male protagonist and the femme fatale, Out of the Past and Criss Cross works better than The Killers. The three films have a fair amount in common but there are notable differences. In all three films the male protagonists are not criminals but are pulled into criminal activity due to their attraction to the female leads. In all three films there is a love triangle between the femme fatale, the male protagonist and the male antagonist. In Out of the Past and Criss Cross the femme fatale, loathes the male antagonist and is in love with the male protagonist. However, in The Killers, the love triangle is a ruse. Kitty Collins (Ava Gardner), unbeknownst to The Swede (Burt Lancaster) as well as the audience, is in league with Big Jim Colfax (Albert Dekker) for the entire film. Films usually benefit from having more than one source of conflict. The choice to portray Kitty as indifferent to The Swede diminishes the dramatic potential of the film. Had The Killers intensified the love triangle, the forces of conflict would correspondingly intensify beyond just the heist or insurance investigation by adding the volatile world of sexual possession where the male protagonist is swept up in the dynamic of, “where desire meets danger.” Of the three films, I find Out of the Past and Criss Cross more satisfying than The Killers in terms of the intensity of love and lust that threatens to undo the tenuous, uneasy trust between the male protagonist and antagonist. Unlike novels, films have a relatively strict 90 to 120 minute run time limit. According to IMDb, Criss Cross has a run time of 88 minutes. Both Out of the Past and The Killers have a run time of 97 minutes but I find there is a much deeper relationship developed between Jeff Bailey (Robert Mitchum) and Kathie Moffat (Jane Greer) in Out of the Past as well as Steve Thompson (Burt Lancaster) and Anna Dundee (Yvonne DeCarlo) in Criss Cross than The Swede and Kitty Collins in The Killers. The Killers, by nature of its Citizen Kane investigative style spends quite a bit of time on Jim Reardon’s (Edmund O’Brien) insurance sleuthing and in fairness, the Jim Reardon character does solve the mystery and does drive the climax of the film by bringing justice to the hired assassins that killed The Swede. However the emotional core of the film has to be what occurs between The Swede and Kitty. His attraction to her creates and fuels the forces of conflict and antagonism that prompts Reardon’s investigation. It’s fascinating when characters knowingly and willingly walk down a path that will lead to their destruction, but a certain degree of accepting that choice must occur for the audience to bond with a character making self-destructive choices. Frequently, this begins with the overwhelming sexual appeal of the female protagonist and then nicely devolves from there, as the male protagonist will do anything to be with the woman of his dreams. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting the audience to balk at accepting the ill-conceived decisions of the male protagonist and the way to avoid this potential problem is to develop the male/female relationship to the point where the audience not only accepts the male/female self-destructive choices but also acknowledges that, to a lesser or greater extent, somewhere within themselves exists a fine line between healthy and self-destructive behavior. Consequently, The Killers would be an even better film with about ten more minutes of The Swede and Kitty being together. This might deepen a bond between them after which they’re willing to throw caution to the wind. I want to see them doped up on love to the level where they can’t make wise choices. One point in the screenplay where this could have occurred is the moment after the heist where The Swede and Kitty hole up in a hotel in Atlantic City. Since the film is structured on flashbacks that allow Reardon to recreate what happened, rather than starting with investigating The Swede’s suicide attempt and resulting mysterious insurance policy with Queenie (Queenie Smith), the script had every opportunity to show the Swede and Kitty alone together after she dupes The Swede to steal the heist money. Watching the film, we know Kitty is beautiful and we know that beauty instantly sends The Swede over the moon. What I want to see is Kitty enticing and possibly falling for The Swede as a means to achieve her and Big Jim’s grand plan to steal the heist money from the others participating in the robbery. Unfortunately, Kitty couldn’t care less about The Swede and I can’t help but feel that this was not only a missed opportunity, but also weakens the degree we care for the characters. If Kitty doesn’t care about The Swede and the film doesn’t really show why she cares for Big Jim, then why should the audience care about Kitty? The table was more than set for a big dose of love and betrayal and this might have propelled Kitty’s character from good to great. While I’m sympathetic to any screenwriter’s challenge of balancing character and plot development in under 120 minutes, I wish screenwriter Anthony Veiller had cut back some of the Edmund O’Brien scenes (especially repeatedly asking permission from his boss to continue working on the case) and given the time to further The Swede’s and Kitty’s relationship. -Mark
  12. No Certificate

    I did receive my certificate of completion in an e-mail from TCM. However, when I try to open the document it comes up as a scrambled pattern of black and white and turquoise horizontal lines. Any ideas? -Mark
  13. I'll definitely keep checking in on the Summer of Darkness board. As well as new posts, there are a lot of posts I haven't read. Also, I expect to have some further thoughts about many of the films we watched. -Mark
  14. I just finished watching Criss Cross again, only this time my viewing is at the end of our course. One thing that struck me is how self-aware Burt Lancaster’s character Steve Dundee is of his own descent. Below at the 22:00 minute mark of the film: Steve: Anna. We were married. About two years ago. It lasted seven months. A man eats an apple. Gets a piece of the core stuck between his teeth. You know. He tries to work it out with some cellophane off a cigarette pack. What happens? The cellophane gets stuck in there too. Anna. What’s the use? I knew one way or the other, somehow I’d end up seeing her that night. Having a character that is painfully aware of what’s happening to him or her and not really be able to do anything about it is fascinating. It’s the opposite of classic three-act story structure where protagonists are aware of their own dilemma and take actions (heroic) to rectify their problem. In a more traditional or classically structured story we may find a protagonist who vows to do anything possible to overcome every obstacle and let nothing stop him from winning the heart of the woman he loves. In noir, the protagonist is aware that his love might literally kill him but won’t take any action (anti-heroic) to alter his course. This especially underscores the futility of trying to control love. The doomed noir love story really defines what falling in love means. This fatalistic behavior has the effect of seeing a car wreck. You know it’s horrific but you can’t tear your eyes away from the carnage. I’ve also thought that the doomed noir protagonist, in this example a man, is never very far away from any other everyday citizen. In this respect, I’m always wildly sympathetic to fated characters, believing that whatever scenario I see on the screen could happen me. Consequently, noir stories are cautionary stories but that doesn’t mean once cautioned you can avoid the various pitfalls and dead-ends that are expressed in film noir, especially when your head is swirling with the intoxication of amour fou. Criss Cross is really well done and Miklos Rozsa may be my favorite noir composer. Burt Lancaster is fabulous at portraying the self-aware yet doomed character he also portrayed in The Killers. Yvonne De Carlo gives a very fine performance as the self-serving, head turning Anna. -Mark
  15. Professor Edwards, Thank you so much for creating the Into The Darkness: Investigating Film Noir course that was available to everyone for free. How generous of you. The course was so good, so informational, that I have spent way too much time and had way too much fun furthering my love for film noir. Additionally, integrating TCM and Eddie Muller really added an enormous extra dimension and made the course truly something special. As I wrote to one of the students earlier today, I hope enjoy the rest of your summer (of darkness)! Regards, Mark Penberthy “crimewave”

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