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bjanicas

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  1. I see a lot of similarities between today's and yesterday's daily dose films, specially in what concerns the depiction of violence. In this scene from Jules Dassin's Brute Force, Wagner's music in the soundtrack joins the parcial darkness in the image to go beyond the limits of figurability of violence: we see the beating being prepared like a ritual by the prison's chief of security, as if not only he did those same actions everyday but also took pleasure on it; first, he puts the classic music on (the tone of grandiosity and apotheosis contrasts with the brutality and lack of morality of his acts), then he closes the shutters one by one to darken the office and shows his victim the instrument with which he will perpetrate the beating, and at some point he actually puts the music louder to increase the violence. When the shutters are closed, the office where the scene is set becomes more menacing as it is filled with expressionist shadows and darkness. Differently from Anthony Mann's Desperate, here in almost all the shots we see the two characters together, even if power-submission relationship is still aluded by their physical postures and by the low position of the camera. Watching the scene, it made me think about how the classical soudtrack and the darkness are complices of the violent acts commited: outside the Captain's office, a bunch of officers wait while playing cards, and even if they seem slightly uncomfortable with the beating sounds and the loud music coming from the other room, they do nothing about it. Once again, it's only by sound that we get to feel the desperate feeling of the action taking place off-screen. Brute Force isn't an existencialist film only because of its depiction of law forces as brutal and inhuman; it's also because it shows that truth doesn't beat corruption nor violence, and speaking the truth can't save us from those brutal and inhuman acts. The same prison officers that beat to unconsciousness their prisoners are the ones who clean their own hands, lie and forget all about it as soon as they're done.
  2. The swinging overhead light is the key motif and central device of the film noir cinematography developped by George Diskant in this violent scene from Anthony Mann's Desperate: it's its movement that determines what is shown and what is withheld, what's visible in the image and what happens only in the off-screen. Instead of diminishing the effect of violence, this lighting device emphasizes it and makes it's even more brutaly visual: darkness is the stuff our deepest fears are made of, and it's in the dark that the most violent actions take place; during the scene, we're constantly surprised by the hitting and hurting sounds corresponding to the actions off-screen, as if these actions were even more deadly in the absense of images, precisely because what we don't see can be as violent as our imagination wants it to be. I would suggest that this formalist lighting device, contributing to represent violence beyond the limits of visibility, makes psychologic violence, rather than physical beating, the main theme of this scene. Besides, it's clear that point of view shots are being used to heighten the tension and the power relatioships among the characters: in one hand, most of the shots of Walt and his men are low-angle shots, as they represent Steve's approximate point of view (the perspective of a subordinated and desperate man who can't even help himself because he's severely injured, which explains the images sometimes distorted and blurred in an expressionist way); in the other hand, most of the shots of Steve are high-angle shots, as if he saw him through the eyes of the aggressors' leader and bully Walt, looking down on him with contempt and perversity (it's rare that we have both characters in the same shot, as Walt distances himself from the actual agressors, and observes them "doing they thing", only intervening when absolutely necessary). Walt's only two direct interventions are shown through two extremely close-up shots, one of his fist when he punches Steve in the beginning of the scene, and the close-up of the broken bottle he uses to threaten him to disfigure his wife if Steve doesn't confess the crime. We clearly identify with the victim of the beating and, in these close-up shots, it is as if his suffering almost stroke us "in the face", bringing the actual horror of the threat, both physical and psychological, directly to the viewer.
  3. The "unnamed city" were the action of this John Huston's film takes place has no name not because it doesn't exist but because it can be any industrialized American town from the post-war period. It isn't depicted as an imaginary dystopian scenario, through expressionist and formalist techniques (more present in other scenes of the film), but rather as a potentially real place, through a documentary-style realistic approach, at the same time evoking the visual motifs of the devastation of European cities during the WWII depicted by italian neo-realistim (that, we know, has largely influenced films noir from the 50's). We know that war didn't took place in America as in Europe, but that it affected American citizens' mentality, injecting people with feelings of constant fear, nihilism and existencialism. In consequence, the desolation and the destruction that are shown to us in the opening of The Asphalt Jungle stand for moral devastation and loss of hope in civilization, rather than for material destruction and misery itself. The "unnamed city" is not "designed for living", it's a no-man's land, as it is depicted as a ruined, deserted, disordered town, that invites doom, crime and corruption. I agree with both arguments presented in some of the comments above: that e city has the energy of an actual character that is complice of the heist that has been commited (a corruptive energy, that covers crime and makes impossible for law, order and justice to prevail), and that the jungle to which the title refers is no more than the city itself, a jungle made of brick and cement instead of trees and plants, and inhabited by criminals instead of wild animals. Speaking of animals, these first scenes also put in place an ambiguous contrast between policemen and criminals, predators and preys, as it is difficult to understand (and, in the last scene of the clip, even to recognize) the motives of the ones who search and of the ones who are searched: we have doubts about the hability of law forces to prevent crime and we can't distinguish among the mass of the citizens the rotten individuals. These ideas are dramatized in the scene of the police line-up, but what I think it's the most interesting in that scene is the way it presents the characters, specially one of the major characters of the film (Dix): it's somewhat irrealistic that the three suspects for the same crime can be so physically different, and that the identity of the only one who matches the description is denied by the same witness who gave this description; at the same time, we listen that Dix's occupation is listed as "none", but judging by his lengthy criminal record, we're almost sure he's the one who commited the crime. Yet, this is a noir film, so we can't trust any evidence before going deeper in the labyrintic and obscure streets of the Asphalt Jungle.
  4. Louis Malle's Elevator to the Gallows is one of my favourite pre-Nouvelle Vague French films. The film begins already plunged into drama: Jeanne Moreau's extreme close-up, the tears in her eyes, her voice whispered against the phone, talking to her lover, saying all those things that we don't usually say "in the real life". In fact, we understand they're talking about the plan to murder her husband without them even have to say it. In a noir inspired film, we know that that's the kind of action that will lead characters to damnation, and yet they keep saying that they will be more miserable and domned if they don't commit the crime than if they do it. This sequence has two tracking shots that accompany the soundtrack: the first moving away from Moreau's face (making her seem more real), the other getting even further away the lover seen through the window (making him seem almost insignificant). Concerning the window framing device, I've to say that, as I believe in the genuineness of Jeanne's character's feelings, I wouldn't interprete it as the male character being "framed" by a femme fatale only to deliberately lead him to his perdition, but rather as a visual motif to foreshadow the feeling of claustrophobia and fatalism that will dominate the film. Of course the jazz soundtrack by Miles Davis underscores this typical noir atmosphere. Even though it is an improvisation, instead of feeling the freedom and the experimentation within the music, it's another kind of downbeat energy that resonates from it. While accompanying title sequence, the music emancipates itself from the credits on the screen as the voices fade out and take over the whole scene, as if it was talking in the same madly-in-love-doomned-and-fatalistic language the characters were talking on the phone: sometimes one musical phrase lingers as a declaration of love, other times it rushes as if it had a deadline, a scheduled time to be done.
  5. It only took me these first three minutes of Harry Horner's Beware, My Lovely to understand that Robert Ryan's character is not a common man. Maybe his acting style is too much for the role, making us confound his circumstancial disturbance with a deeper kind of histeria, or maybe he actually is a mentally deranged person, a dangerous man who's even capable of killing. We can find this type of character - "an alienated man bordering on psychosis" - in a lot of films noir. Other noir elements, such as visual motifs belonging to the noir imagery, are the insistence of framing devices such as windows, mirrors and doorways, suggesting that we should put this apparently normal character into perspective (I actually was amazed by two shots in the opening of the film: when Ryan's character puts the framed in the window - as "framing himself" to the viewer - and obcessively tries to clean a dark spot, and the one where we see Ryan putting his coat on, with the door blocking the view and the image only being projected in the mirror behind him); we also have an escape without explanation - he runs away without motif, because he is in shock, or he actually is guilty of the murder? - running over the train rails shown through bird-view shots with a lot of smoke, making the image more difficult to understand. Well, even if we don't know if he's guilty, where's smoke, there's fire. I don't know much about the Salvation Army, but someone pointed out somewhere in this message board an idea that made a lot of sense for me: that, being the Salvation Army a charitable organization that aids those in need, the shot transition in the begining of the film, from the Salvation Army's street setup to Ryan's character helping around a woman's house, while this band's music is still audible as he does the housework, puts in place a contrast that plays with stereotypes. Even if he is what is called a "handyman", prepared to do the kind of physical housework a woman can't easily do, there's something too feminin in his careful and perfectionist way to handle things. Besides, I think it's rather interesting that, instead of being among the other men, he's in the place where women should be. The film's being set in 1918 but having been made in 1952 is also relevant, if we consider that both times were post-war, and consequently we can transpose some of the negative feelings that are typical noir themes of the 1950's (social malaise, masculinity crisis, fear of foreign and fear of another war, disillusionment and persecution) to the 1918's setting.
  6. As other films noir, Richard Fleischer's The Narrow Margin begins already in movement, as we can see in the opening credits shown over shots of railway wagons. When the train arrives to the station, two men descend from the carriage: both men are detectives, but they have contrasting appearances, for one is a fat good-natured old man ("Nobody loves a fat man!", a pun two times repeated in the film) and the other is a grumpy hard-boiled detective, much more suited for the film noir style. However, as Foster Hirsch pointed out, it's in their dialogue itself that can be noticed the first evidences of a parody of the hard-boiled school and a fading out of the noir style: as one man says to the other, "Your cigar is dead.", and maybe noir's flame is also starting to die. This hard-boiled parody is reflected by the apparent lack of seriousness with which the detectives seem to regard their mission: they'd rather talk about brands of cigarettes, make jokes about their luggage or make bets about their work, than hurry to get it done. Nevertheless, the character played by Charles McGraw seems more self-confident and commited to his role - we don't need to recognize the actor to understand, only by his acting style, that it will be him the main character, the true hard-boiled detective in the film; similarly, there's already in this dialogue the shadow of a major female influence over the film's story. For those who have already whatched the film, it is particularly interesting to notice what Charles McGraw says about her - that he doesn't have to wonder how she looks like, because he already knows. Well, we'll see. Considered the model B movie of the 50's, The Narrow Margin shows other major noir elements, already present in the film's opening, that wew determined by the low budget and, consequently, the economy in the film's directing: the choice of real shooting locations, dimly lit scenes filmed at night, few non-star main actors, and the parsimony in the film spaces (as almost everything is set inside of a train).
  7. By calling attention to questions of time and timing in the staging and editing of this scene, Phil Karlson makes time the main subject of the opening of his film, Kansas City Confidential. We've been able to observe how in other noir films time is always a major player: no matter how mathematical we are when planning our lives, our actions, our moves, in the fatalistic universe ruled by randomness typical of film noir, it only takes one second to change the course of everything, to ruin the characters' lives, to put a common citizen in a extreme situation that can make him a whole different person, maybe even become criminal. However, in this scene, time is shown on the service of evil: it is by rigorously controlling, observing and calculating time to the second, that the character of Tim Foster will carry out his "perfect crime". Other film noir elements besides the treatment of time are present in the opening of the film: themes such as crime, fate and daily life in a American town, as well as the documentary realist style used to represent the actions in the film, and particularly the POV shot device through which the character observes through the window the temporal accuracy of the actions taking place in the street in front of the bank at 10 hours sharp, to name a few. Of course, a heist is a good subject for a crime film to tackle, but when fate gets involved it becomes a matter of the noir universe. Besides, in Kansas City Confidential, the "mastermind" behind the criminal operation is even more perverse than the men that actually commit the robbery. Corruption, abuse of power and vengeance are the real motives behind the crime from which the other men will be accused and framed for, and the legal authorities are incompetent, unable to distinguish the innocent from the guilty ones.
  8. Effectively, the meaning of the contrast between cinematic and television styles in the shooting and staging of the boxing scene is much more ambigous that it may seem. We watch to the scene two times, but each time we experience it differently: first, it is as if we were the characters fighting, we're inside the scene, we're them (low angles, rapid editing, extreme close-ups and POV shots make us feel the rush of the moment, the strenght of the pain and the impact of violence); then, when the same scene is re-played on the television screen, we're not longer living it but we watch to the character that is re-living these same actions that he once executed and that marked his life; it is as if he could only feel the things he once felt by remembering it or living a second-hand experience through a technological intermediate. We may say that Phil Karlson was commenting on the limitations of television in the 1950's when compared to the dynamism of cinema, but I also understand the argument raised here in the board, suggesting that the option for the slow-motion pointed to an actual power of television to give the viewer something that cannot be seen without the aid of technology. However, we mustn't forget that even this ambiguity is only possible because it is alluded and developed throught cinematic means and devices: even when we're re-watching the slow-motion boxing scene in the television, we're still watching to a film, not to a TV program, and so it is cinema itself that questioning its own powers in relation to television. However, 99 River Street is not about the tension between cinema and television in the 50's. In what concerns the story of the film, what this scene primarly shows is a disillusioned male character that can't overcome his past failure nor rebuilt his life in the present (he's stuck to the "i could have been the champion"), and a resentful woman that can't forgive him for not being able to give her the life she wanted. This kind of social commentary is common in the postwar reality of the American society: insecure men, feeling castrated by more demanding and independent women, can't find a place for them in the new social order and consequently feel that they've lost their power and have to search other (illegal, criminal) ways to retrieve their dominance.
  9. This scene from Lewis Milestone's The Loves of Martha Ivers is really symptomatic of how in a film noir the apparently most respectable citizen is potentially always the most criminal - you just have to give him a little motive, for that, such as a glimpse of jealousy and suspicion (usually something that the male character feels menacing to his masculinity and power). In this scene, this growing impression is particularly conveyed by the acting and the staging of the two male actors, Van Heflin and Kirk Douglas, and the way their longtime interpersonal relationship is exposed and developed: elements from their past and their present get together during their dialogue, the subjects they talk about also change from present things to childhood memories, love relationships to criminal issues, and from this interminglement of different times of experience arises the tension in their encounter. In other films noir, sometimes characters are pursued by past issues that may lead to their ruin in the present, but here we'd rather talk about a less evident shadow of past over their present lives. Or course, that shadow, as in many other films noir, will be personified by a woman. The character of Martha Ivers, played by one of the most well-know noir femme fatales, Barbara Stanwyck, resumes in her appearence the motives to all this tension between the two men. Something (bad?) that happened in the past connects - or maybe even haunts - the three of them. Since she enters the room, we see the fascination in Heflin's eyes, the jealousy in Douglas's, the shadow of the confusion and then the bright of the recognition (when she listens the little whistling call) in Stanwayck's eyes: more than the emerging of a new love triangle, it's the shadow of past memories and lost love opportunities that's coming into the scene. It's here the moment where we feel that the respectable husband is menaced by the revival of Martha and Sam's relationship and that he will be able to do anything to separate them and save his mariage (and maybe some other deep secrets).
  10. When Too Late for Tears was made, the American society was still dealing with the consequences that the war had brought to its population: little consequences that influenced the mentalities and the daily life of specially common and innocent people. Citizens had lost faith in society and institutions; only fate could bring any change, good or bad, to their lives. As we had the opportunity to investigate, films noir depict situations from the later type. While in other film scenes previously analysed, a fateful twist happens usually by pure chance and randomness, perturbing the balance of the narrative world without the need of any specific action from the characters to justify what happens to them, in Too Late For Tears I would say that tension and instability are already evident in the opening of the film, and only changes its nature with the "help" of fate. From the begining we see the couple arguing in the car, and the woman's attempt to change the direction, putting them in danger, prepares what happens next. It is because of this incident provoked by the woman that they cross the other man's path and that their car is mistaken for his. They're not responsible if the bag of money ends in the wrong hands, but the fact is that that happens because of the woman's transgressive behavior. The woman is here depicted as the source of evil, by accident and on purpose, since her next move - running away with the money - is the result of an hasty decision that takes no account of the possible consequences, and for what they will probably be punished. Instead of running away from danger, she plunges into it and takes her husband with her.
  11. Talking about Hitchcock as the master of suspense goes without saying. But what is also characteristic of this English filmmaker, but nevertheless frequently overlooked, is that his art of suspense matches with a very specific cinematic universe that emerges from the perfect control he exerts on the viewers' expectations concerning the movie's plot, spiced up with a unique combination of dark humour and noirish style. So, the kind of disturbance Hitchcok wants to inflict on his audience is different from the unsettling effect we may find in other films noir such as Kiss me Deadly and The Hitch-Hiker: instead of wanting to make us afraid of what is going to happen, provoking in us the same feelings of danger, rush, paranoia and frenzy that the characters experience, through fast-paced scenes and well-known noir motifs, he'd rather make us his complices, playing with our emotions at a more complexe level, as if we were in a priviledge position where we know more than the characters but still can't do nothing about it. That's an ironic touch about this idea that I clearly identify in the opening sequence of Strangers on a Train and that I also find in the fatalistic ideology typical of the film noir. In this particular scene, Hitchcock achieves it through the cross-cutting from one man's walking to the other, highlighting the parallel between the shoes and the luggage as key-objects of the scene, and juxtaposing the symbolic image of criss-crossing railroad tracks to the shots of the characters in motion, in opposed, converging directions. However, I don't agree that the shot of the railroad seen from the train would be a POV shot of a character, but more an image that fonctions as a visual motif to the viewer, foreshadowing what's going to happen - the two characters' inevitable meeting - we just don't exactly when. Of course, they end up sitting at the same table... by chance or on purpose, that's what we don't know. Once again, Hitchcock strikes us with his strategies, in this case, of blurring the distintion between what happens by accident and what is intentionnal, by showing the first "contact" of the two male characters as a casual kick under the table.
  12. In this opening sequence of Rudolph Mate's noir film D.O.A. we're a step back from the subjectivity device used in the opening of Caged, that we analysed in yesterday's daily dose: it isn't exactly a POV shot since we don't actually see what the character sees, but only follow his back as he walks through the cold, desert, dimly lit corridors. Since the begining of the film we're in movement, but this movement is not conveyed by a vehicle (as in The Hitch-Hiker and in Caged), but rather by the character who's walking on screen (as the woman running in Kiss Me Deadly) and the way he is filmed, through ongoing, repetitive, long shots (this impression is given by the camera's continuous travellings and the masking of the editing through crossfades). I also find here resonances of the sequence of Dark Passage analysed in the Week #1, where we can barely see Humphrey Bogart's face: although it is more difficult to identify/empathize with a character in a situation like this, we feel somewhat complices , even if we don't know who he is or where he's headed to. Troubles of identity and identification are indeed in the core of this sequence, and in the core of the "substance of noir" we're trying to define here. The feelings of pessimism and hopelessness not only are experienced by the audience but they're also made evident in the character's defeated posture and slow way of talking: when we finally get to see Frank Bigelow's face, it's not a self-confident and pretentious face of an hard-boiled detective that is presented to us, but rather a dirty face covered with sweat, and fuzzy, vague eyes. This man seems extremely exhausted and confused, for he has lost something even more important than his life - even if he confusingly says that the reason why he came to the Homicide Division was to report is own murder - his identity. We get the impression that authorities in charge are no longer effective: they make mistakes that may lead to death and doom of innocent people. Following the thoughts of Robert Porfirio's article on Existential motifs, I would say that, in a way, identity is one of the ways one has to face the chaos and absurdity in the universe; if we're no longer certain of who we are, we fall into a nihilistic abyss where nothing makes sense.
  13. The title of this John Cromwell's film noir says it all: "Caged" is immediately associated with other themes and ideas that we usually use to define "the substance of noir", such as the feeling of imprisonment, entrapment and claustrophobia, all of them present in this brief sequence. Add them the fact that the film's narrative is set in a women's prison, and we'll see how other questions and hidden meanings will emerge, giving a whole new resonance to this subject matter. Through the use of the POV shot inside the moving vehicle, saving the visibility of the female bodies to the off-screen and keeping the first dialogues in voice-over, the audience's experience is set to the diegetic perspective of a female character yet to be revealed: first, we only get to see what she sees - she has a very limited view of the road through the framework of grids from which we can barely see the light outside, since the interior of the vehicle is completely dark -, then we distinguish, among the bodies of other women getting off the vehicle, her frightened, distressed and confused face, shown in close-ups and cutting to two shots from the imponent building facade the Women's State Prison. We ask ourselves how a young woman like this can end up in a place like that: caught in a trap? sentenced innocently? condemned for a crime of passion or doomed by fate's random choice? The male voice in over, saying "This is the end of the line", and the gesture of the women looking back the street outside the prison gate announces a point of no return, their loss of freedom and their entrance in a dark microcosmos: imagine a space to which all the noir "femmes fatales" and "fallen angels" were sent, one single space concentrating feelings of loneliness and rage, violent anger and sexual hunger, criminal past and hysterical present.
  14. Although both depicting a similar dramatic situation, the opening sequences of today's Ida Lupino's The Hitch-Hiker and yesterday's daily dose, Robert Aldrich's Kiss me Deadly, are very different in what concernes the stylistic treatment given to the scene. Kiss me Deadly opens with an explosion of madness and sexual contents that are overtly made obvious by the expressionist treatment given to the irrealistic respiration motif in the soundtrack and other formalistic elements such as the camerawork and the editing of the frantic running of the femme fatale. The Hitch-Hiker opens in a much more sober, realistic and disenchanted way. In one hand, this is a logical consequence of the low budget and limited ressources the director had for filming this film: that partly explains the low-key lighting, the natural shadows and the dominant darkness, that nevertheless fit the narrative context and operate as a key element in revealing (through a passage from darkness to light) the criminal's face in the back seat of the car; besides, dramatic and narratif elements are reduced to three male characters (none of them played by a Hollywood star actor), a car (such a small space for installing a camera and being innovative with it - and yet so perfect to develop the claustrophobic feeling that defines the noir atmosphere in many of these films), and fire guns (the only visual objects resuming the violence in tension and the feeling of dangerous menace that is being built up by the dry and hard dialogue of the men). Almost 20 years before, hitch-hiking had been used by Hollywood's director Frank Capra as a romantic comedy device in his most famous film It Happened One Night. But not always these encounters with strangers end up with a "happily ever after", and the two noir films mentionned here are not the only ones proving that. The theme of hitch-hiking in the noir universe actually introduces other major noir ideas such as randomness and chance (always with negative connotations) that stress out the contingency and absurdity of human lives, as well as the idea that we might find "problems" (temptation, violence, criminality, traps intended for others) everywhere, anytime, no matter what we do or don't do.
  15. From the very first moments of Kiss Me Deadly, Robert Aldrich is already playing with our expectations: at first, watching a woman running in panic towards the camera gives us the impression that she's being pursued by someone, that her life's in danger, instead of showing that she's actually running away from something (even if the first shot of the film only shows her legs running over the asphalt of the route, always moving forward; besides, the only moments when she looks back is when a car is passing by her and she failed stopping it). A couple of minutes later we'll be told by the police officer that a woman dressed just like her (and with nothing else under it) had just escaped from an asylum and, as we get to know that piece of information, we begin to re-interpretate her hurry not as simple fear but rather as hysteria on the loose. So, two major noir themes are introduced here simultaneously: escape and madness. A third one is added to these two, not precisely thematised but rather suggested by some visual and audio elements highlighted in the scene: it is, of course, sex. No need to talk about the sound of the woman's frantic respiration: the oddity of this effect is already noticeable in the opening of the scene because it isn't completely synchronous with the initial shots of the woman running, but it gets more obvious during the title sequence, because it doesn't fade with the musical motif, and it keeps on off-screen when we no longer clearly see the characters on the car. Concerning the characters, all these elements that I refered contribute to an open and dynamic characterisation: as I said, Christina Bailey quickly evolves from the idea of an endangered lady being pursuid to the idea of a potentially dangerous, hysterical (and extremely sexual) woman running away from the asylum. Even if nothing is told to us about the male character Mike Hammer, we can see that he doesn't feel intimidated by the woman when he listens to the officer; by lying to the authorities by his own decision, saying that she's his wife, he shows her that she can trust him, that he's willing to play her game, whatever it may be.
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