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About MichaelPicarella

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  1. Discuss the role of time and timing in this scene.Time and timing is everything in a criminal caper. Crime, after all, according to at least one character in the movie "The Asphalt Jungle," is only a "left-handed form of human endeavor." These are professionals depicted here in "Kansas City Confidential," and they carry out their duties diligently to a T. What are the film noir elements (style or substance) that you notice in the opening of this film?The claims at the beginning of the film remind me of the doc footage in the "Border Incident" clip we watched in this series -- it sets the tone for something very real. Why is a heist a good subject for a film noir to tackle? Put another way, how or why might a film that involves a heist affect or change what we think about criminals and/or criminal behavior on screen?To me, film noir is about dark passion. What are you willing to do if you become so desperate? The characters that people these noir films live in a world of desperation, and a criminal plot might seem like the perfect response to feed the passion that lies beneath.
  2. One moment. There's a section of business I particularly love in this scene. After the Garfield character picks up whatever it is the Turner character dropped, and he holds it out for her to come and get, Turner holds out her hand so he'll bring it to her and Garfield leans back on the bar, as if to say, "No, I'm not bringing it to you. You come and get it." All that in two simple gestures. Great! It's been quite some time since I've seen this film, and while I remember loving it, I remember feeling it was maybe a bit more upbeat than other films noir (in the execution, of course, not in plot). I think that has to do with MGM, which was the song and dance studio of the time. I'm going to revisit the film this Friday, however, and make sure that observation still holds true for me. I do highly recommend the unauthorized Luchino Visconti adaptation of this story, "Ossessione." It's also been some years since seeing it, but I remember feeling Visconti's version was more emotionally charged. Below is a link to the entire picture on YouTube:
  3. Sparring match. The Peter Lorre character enters the scene almost whimsically, with his guard down. The Greenstreet character flies in with his guard definitely up . . . and his gun, too. The great scene that it is, the power shifts among the two. Greenstreet eventually sits and Lorre, ironically, towers over him. But Greenstreet still holds the power in the scene -- he's got the gun and the suspicions, Lorre is on edge. It's not until Greenstreet lowers his weapon that Lorre can relax. He not only sits, but then he practically lays back. The power shift as Lorre realizes what this is all about. By the way, love the low angle push-in on Greenstreet.
  4. Black and white. This scene is all about the contrasts. The black widow is in the white dress. She comes out of the light and into the dark shadows. She hints that she's not interested in the Mitchum character, tells him about a place he should go to get lost, then adds that sometimes she goes there. Mitchum comes off as someone who's not going anywhere soon. Here's a guy who waited days to casually bump into the Greer character, and he's bold enough to just sit down and suggest sharing a sunset together. And while I've seen this picture many times, I think anyone can tell from this scene that the Mitchum character is going to be a short leash from then on. I LOVE this movie. It's got everything you want in a film noir, from Musuraca's amazing low key black and white photography and the punchy dialogue and voice-over narration, to the dark alleys, seedy bars and characters with dark passions. Definitely one of the best noir films I've ever seen.
  5. BANG! BANG! BANG! I'm seeing a common thread among the clips in this series so far. Each sequence has shown us daily routines in somewhat ordinary worlds, and each film will eventually take a turn down a dark alley into Dark City. Eddie Muller, author of the book "Dark City," wrote that noir films "weren't trying to lull you or sell you or reassure you -- they insisted that you wake up to the reality of a corrupt world. Quit kidding yourself. Stand up, open your eyes, and be ready for anything. Prayers go unheard in these parts." Many years back, I rented William Wyler's 1940 film "The Letter" because I was watching a film noir montage on YouTube and was mesmerized by the shot of Bette Davis coming out of that house and blasting that poor schlub. There's something about Davis' intensity, her conviction and those eyes, juxtaposed with how well she's put together in that dress, that's so haunting, so disturbing. I had to see this film. Whether I was shocked with the cold-blooded murder as it interrupts that amazing opening tracking shot of the people on a sleepy rubber plantation, I'm not so sure. All I know is the image of Davis firing that gun with those big, crazed eyes is burned into my memory forever. In fact, when I think of film noir, that image is always right there. I'd go as far as to say that the image of Davis with that gun on the porch defines film noir. The Louis Calhern character in John Huston's 1950 film "The Asphalt Jungle" says, "Crime is a left-handed form of human endeavor." And that's just what that shot of Davis is -- she's doing what, in her mind, she knows is necessary for her progression. Ah, noir! SIDE NOTE: A good exploration of the "left-handed form of human endeavor" idea is Dan Gilroy's 2014 film "Nightcrawler."
  6. Professionalism. There's something about watching a skilled professional do his or her thing. Observing the railroad engineers in the opening of Jean Renoir's 1938 film "La Bete Humaine" reminded me of the train sequences in John Frankenheimer's 1964 film "The Train" (my personal favorite train movie of all time) and Fritz Lang's 1954 film noir "Human Desire," and I get caught up in all the procedural details. I have no idea why that is or what that means. Maybe it's why we're attracted to sports -- we're drawn to people who exhibit great skill. I've never seen this movie and I didn't read the synopsis, so I don't know where it's heading, but I know I'll be watching it this Friday to see what it's all about. Until then, I can only assume that since this is a film noir, the lead engineer seen in the beginning is going to use his great skill for criminal endeavor (think Walter Hill's 1978 neo noir "The Driver") or maybe he'll lose all he's got in an accident a la Robert Wise's 1949 classic "The Set-Up." Maybe he'll just throw away all his years of work as a train professional for a woman who will lead him astray. I'm probably joking here. Maybe I'm not. Then again, maybe we're simply seeing a professional in what is a mundane world to him, and that will be the reason to escape it for something more attractive, which, in Dark City, is always going to be more dangerous. BONUS CONTENT: See this scene from "The Train":
  7. Doom is near . . . The opening of Fritz Lang's 1931 film "M" is filled with long takes. Lang lets his frames go empty, and he hangs on them, makes his viewers wait for, wonder, fear what's going to enter. Happy kids sing a "cursed" song in a playful game, but as long as the adults hear them, one mother says, at least they know they're there. Cuckoo clocks, church bells, a little girl's close call with a passing automobile in the street . . . And then Doom finally fills the frame in the form of a shadow. The aforementioned sequence exemplifies Lang's mastery of design.
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