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Fellow Traveler

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  1. Chase scenes have almost always instantly engaged me, mainly because I imagine that it's me being chased. It doesn't matter if it's a prison escapee in a film classic or Indiana Jones being chased by a huge boulder. I'm in it. So using the first person POV is a great tool for this opening scene. It puts me in Bogie's shoes, wet and all, and contributes very much to the tension. I like it. As the curator's note suggested, cinematic experimentation is a big part of film noir. I don't know how often first person POV was used before, but it works here.
  2. The film begins almost listlessly. We know already that we're not in an urban setting but rather in a remote rubber plantation in Singapore at the very end of what was probably a long day of hard, physical labor. We are getting drawn into the atmosphere. Dreamy music is playing, a number of workers are shown on hammocks getting ready for sleep, others quietly playing games. The camera moves so slowly that we too are being lulled into drowsiness. Suddenly a gunshot disturbs the tranquility and the mood becomes very different - angry, violent, perhaps we're witnessing a fit of rage. Tranquility dissolves as the workers run to the manor house to see what has happened. Was I surprised at what I just saw? Of course, and very unsettled after seeing a human being murdered deliberately and at close range. But there's something wrong here. The person who we know committed the murder doesn't seem malicious, menacing, evil in any way. She's pretty calm, in fact, as if nothing wrong has happened, in command of her herself. Suddenly the focus moves from the deadly, malicious murder to something else. What made this woman perform this act and is it possible in any way that it was justified? This is yet another great beginning that we'll all remember. I will offer this as a contribution made to film noir: a deadly act isn't always the culmination of the suspense that led up to it, but just an introduction to the suspense which will follow. Can't wait to see the movie.
  3. This opening scene is almost a statement that you don't need dialogue to make beautiful cinema. Nothing in this opening segment, however, is beautiful in the conventional sense. Yet taken as a whole, it has great appeal. The powerful locomotive, the industrial plants spewing smoke, the urban landscape, even the engineers are visually captivating. Something not unlike urban decay photography. But there's more to this opening. As in M, the opening scene of La Bete Humaine establishes a mood. The mood in La Bete Humaine is not troubling as was the case in M, but yet it does instill a certain amount of fear in the audience. The train is powerful, noisy, dangerous, ominous. If something should go wrong, the result would likely be a calamity. Will something go wrong we wonder. Yet we humans are drawn in by it. What more could you ask for an opening to a film noire classic? I can't wait to see this movie! (My DVR is already set.)
  4. Film noire thrives on mood and Lang has established it from the very start, not just by revealing the nature of the crime we are to fear, but, in the tradition of German Expressionism, by symbolism as well. The opening scene is disturbing and also fatalistic. For most of us nothing is worse than contemplating children as the targets of violent crime. Just as we're already uncomfortable about what we know we're about to see, the inimitable Peter Lorre "casts his shadow." What other actor could have the same effect? After hearing his sinister character speak in this first scene, could anyone have not embraced sound as a huge addition to the art of cinema?
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