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About agalvan

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    Los Angeles
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    Cinephile, Bibliophile, Francophile
  1. What's truly fascinating about this Lumière Bros. film is that it is unequivocally a genre film i.e. slapstick comedy. Funny how these two pioneers of cinema who actually believed that this new art form was ultimately a "fad" that would dissipate and soon become unpopular would actually take the time to make a comedic film or a film with a storyline. Maybe they did see the potential films or moving pictures could have on audiences all over the world --the fact that this art form could take on new subjects/genres and styles.
  2. Kiss Me Deadly offers an incredible opening that forcefully hurls the viewer into Christina and her troubles. No time is wasted! The mix of the pitter patter of her feet on the asphalt and her nearly crashing into the camera in crash zoom fashion captures her overwhelming anxiety and breathlessness. Her desperation is visceral, to the point that she is even willing to put herself in harm's way as she surrenders in the middle of the busy road. The headlights of Mike Hammer's car function as a beacon of hope, a form of escape from where she's been. The disorder of the opening credits create a disorientation in the viewer, matching Christina's own disorientation at the start. Her hyperbolic gasps mixed with Nat King Cole's smooth, gentle jazz voice are an anomaly and severely incongruent. We get an amalgamation of acute groans and gasps, verging on the sexual and the neurotic (as Prof. Edwards states) and Cole's soothing voice. Something isn't right. The opening credits' sequence feels schizophrenic, much like the imbalanced culture of the postwar 50s amid the Red Scare, Cold War annihilation, excessive consumerism and 50s family ideals. With Cole's singing overhead and her gasps bathing together, fear and distress are being masked and are attempting to be smothered by cool, laidback jazz. But we are certainly not being fooled.
  3. This sequence masterfully sustains the power of the camera to capture reality and a surreality. The introductory shot of Cotton walking along cobblestone streets and petite, forked alley ways capture an authentic Vienna. The woman in the apartment stretching her head out of the window conveys an everyday reality as she angrily bares her grievances and irritation with Cotten's belligerent yelling. This is quotidian living. The zither music also functions as a character in itself throughout the film. The music provides fidelity to the Viennese locale. The non-diegetic score fully immerses us into the city of Vienna, Austria. We see the sights and hear the sounds, thus giving us the notion of realism. The formalism comes through with the canted camera angle facing a darkened facade with merely a spotlight upon Lime's (Welles) glossy black shoes along with an unsuspecting feline companion. The tilted camera and stark shadows embody the formalist tendency which also carries on in the next few scenes as Cotton runs after Lime. Harry Lime's entrance is perfection. He need not say a word, just a look and smirk will do. We see and sense his slyness and ego. His silence and cunning look effectively capture Lime's persona. Whereas in all the other clips we've seen this week, our noir protagonists are saturated with words and ideas, here Lime's essence is summed up in his artful look and shadowy presence. What an iconic entrance!
  4. Frank (Garfield) is our everyman; he's cordial, easygoing and optimistic. Adventure is only around the corner, even though it may be a dark corner. His entrance is shot in high key lighting or rather natural sunlight. We see him and feel like we know him because he is like any one of us. He doesn't know Fate is about to throw a major curve ball towards him in the form of an itty bitty compact lipstick. The gentle, smooth rolling of the lipstick seals his Fate and infatuation with Cora Smith. Lana Turner's (Cora) entrance is taken automatically from the male gaze. She is introduced to the audience using the male gaze, thus signaling her appeal and substance as an object rather than a subject. She's a thing before she ever becomes Cora (at least that's how Frank and the audience initially views her). The tracking shot and slight high angle of her legs suggests this notion seamlessly. Frank is taken by her. The white headwrap acts like a false halo. Form fitting and white implying purity and innocence but we know that this woman is no angel. The close-up shot in true MGM house style lures us into the glamour and beauty of Lana Turner's star face but the shaded lighting which casts a slight shadow accents that while beauty reigns supreme, there appears to be something lurking behind that sultry stare. A rough intensity, maybe implying pride and ego, but nonetheless dominance. She knows what she's got and she's not afraid to use it, as the full shot suggests.
  5. The noir elements are apparent in the dialogue as well as the actors' body language. Kathie's bouts of silence and sultry glances evoke the femme fatale persona we know well but also add to her mystery and intrigue. A woman who appears from a white, angelic and heavenly light into the cool, dark shadows of a lowly cantina in an exotic location. Jeff's dialogue oozes with deep existentialist musings about human existence and the desperate need to overcome loneliness and isolation (mirrored in the film's title sequence of an isolated mountain town). These individuals are both lone rangers and independent in their own right but they are inherently lonely and very isolated emotionally. Every true noir character suffers from true emotional intimacy, living with a constant mistrust of others and ultimate loyalty to themselves alone. Self-interest (which does not equate self-love, to be clear) reigns supreme in the noir universe, even to the detriment of these characters.
  6. Right off the bat, we see the heavy influence of German Expressionistic lighting with strong shadows and low-key lighting in the diner but especially in the Swede's room. Swede (Lancaster) is bathed in complete darkness, sheer and utter mystery. The shadow of the young man warning him is beautifully curved above Swede: hanging gently above him (appearing gentle yet slightly menacing). I find the diner scene reflects bits of Expressionistic lighting with the stark shadows of leaves and across the men's faces, making them appear sinister. While the diner scene relates to a more cinematic realism, with the camera peering through the front store window (a direct theoretical relation to realism as "looking out/in via a window" "window onto the world" à la Hopper's Nighthawks painting.), Swede's room shifts to a formalistic style with heavy, protruding shadows and total darkness to create a mood of suspense and mystery. Interestingly enough, the store front window introduces us to staunch realism in the diner and then a low angle shot taken from a window throws us into "another world" (Swede's bedroom). Both window shots swiftly transport us from a realist to a formalist universe.
  7. What is really captivating about this musical sequence is its duality: there is the illusion and idealized vision of Gilda, a sexy and confident woman men grovel at, as viewed by the audience (and us the spectators as well) and then there's Gilda's own insecurity and her broken down image at the end of this scene. The close-ups exude Gilda's hyper sexuality with the hair whips and slow, sensuous removal of her glove. She is teasing the audience, luring them in true femme fatale fashion. Her exuberance implies confidence but by the end of the scene we know that it is a mask for her insecurity and her attempt to lower herself to "prove" Johnny Farrell right: that she is a loose woman who used her feminine wiles to manipulate him. This sequence is insecurity, regret and resentment lusciously wrapped in silky confidence and sexuality. Jazz, in all its improvised sensuality and freedom, is her mask. It is the tool that grants her confidence or rather audacity for a brief moment.
  8. I find the shot composition in this scene from Mildred Pierce particularly interesting. It really speaks to the tumultuous dynamic between Veda and Mildred at this point. Though young and child-like before, Veda now stands proudly and defiantly. The staircase scene puts Veda at a slightly higher elevation than her mother (if but for a brief moment), thus connoting the extent of Veda's manipulative power and assertiveness that she possesses over her mother's more melodramatic and submissive nature. The noir elements really pop out to me through the dialogue. Veda assumes this unmistakable femme fatale aura and presence. She comfortably and unabashedly uses her feminine wiles to corrupt and manipulate others in an effort to attain money and power. At some points early on in the scene, Veda and Mildred are shot in medium shot to showcase a very intimate and leveled tête à tête between the two women. Veda is no longer a child; she carries her own weight and cannot be chastised by her mother any longer. At this moment in medium/close-up, they both can hold their own in an argument. The wardrobe also speaks volumes: the black dresses add to a darker tonality in the subject matter. Though this scene does not display high contrast and stark shadows, the noir sensibility is felt in the ambience or rather animosity between the two women. We have a femme fatale and a menaced woman here, both staples of the noir tradition.
  9. The swinging pendulum in Ministry of Fear functions in the same way as the children's nursery rhyme and the cuckoo clock in M: it relays impending doom. The massive pendulum (which reminds me greatly of Edgar Allan Poe's own macabre tale entitled, "The Pit and the Pendulum,") sways heavily back and forth almost similar to a noose hanging above a thick tree branch (a bit morbid, I know). The deep, stark shadows add to this gloomy ambience. Although the clock's chimes of noon signal the protagonist's countdown to freedom, the feel is more sinister and ominous than liberating. It feels more like a countdown to annihilation and a descent into darkness than to something eliciting emancipation. The clock face and its embellishments are so overwhelming and cumbersome, it feels more like the sound of a knell than a regular clock. The ticking is maddening as well. Another similarity to M is the sleek use of the tracking shot. Lang uses a fantastic full shot to show both the doctor, protagonist and the clock all in the line of vision. The clock's off center position in the frame implies that time is always present. It is always a factor in everything we do and time or rather Fate is something that is inescapable. One may choose to forget, ignore or even attempt to change Fate, but it is an impossible feat. Time and Fate are omniscient and omnipresent. While the clock in Laura lulls us back to the past, even a dark past, this clock tells us that doom and darkness is coming, that "the end is nigh."
  10. Powell's Philip Marlowe exudes and comports himself very differently from private detectives in past works through his fast talking, sexualized bravado. He always carries himself as though (and probably is) one step ahead of the cat-mouse game. His unabashed forwardness, falling on sexual lines, exemplifies the new detective of 40s noir: no-nonsense macho whose actions are questionable and thus, he is willing to take morally ambiguous steps to get to where he needs to go or to solve the crime. This detective model contributes to one of the most significant characteristics of the Film Noir style/genre/movement: a morally ambiguous male protagonist who, despite his controversial methods, evokes allure and intrigue on the part of the viewer. You root for a man who is not the beacon of hope or the unyielding, forthright moral compass, but a deeply complex man who is like the rest of us: self motivated yet compelled to do the greater good, in some form or fashion or at least...eventually. He is neither completely good or completely bad. He walks shakily in the middle of the road and is always on the verge of honor OR criminality.
  11. I found the POV shot in Dark Passage to be successful and quite an experimental shot for a time when the Classical Hollywood style reigned supreme and was the norm. The POV shot allows the viewer to feel all the bumps and jumps Bogie makes and in many ways, you feel like you escaped with him. Feels like an early precursor to handheld camera work done during the French New Wave and Hollywood Renaissance. You can feel the strain and exertion Bogie makes to get away from the police. The POV shot offered the greatest amount of tension when we are watching the driver react to the radio bulletin and seeing him unnerved as he listens to the escapee's physical description. We not only grasp his fear but also Bogie's unease, defensiveness and aggression as he proceeds to beat the man and steal his car. This sequence evokes noir in its usage of voiceover narration and the involvement in the protagonist's (criminal's) psychological state.
  12. Though the establishing scene did not feel as surprising or shocking (since I am an avid film noir viewer), what was surprising was having a female character be the film noir's protagonist, a genre dominated by male characters and voiceovers, their (mis) deeds and POVs. I love that none other than the incomparable Bette Davis was our introduction into this story of murder, deception, intrigue and exoticism. The sweeping shot and gorgeous chiaroscuro lighting were magnificent. The tropical locale reminded me of a particular scene from Out of the Past. The close-up shots of the moon strike me the most. In particular, the moon's symbolic role in this sequence. First of all, it's a full moon which signals the potentiality of instability and impending trouble. Specifically, the shot right after Leslie kills Hammond and then the moon is obscured by luscious clouds and she is bathed in darkness, an obvious implication and motif of her mental state and dark persona. She is malevolent and sinister. The darkness briefly hides her identity but also reflects that she is consumed by a dark, cold homicidal force. She is our femme fatale after all. Then the clouds dissipate and the moon shines upon her, essentially revealing her as the murderer but also exposing or literally, "bringing to light/highlighting" her malicious, vengeful deed. The light from the moon represents the light of Truth, a light of which she will never escape from. The moon and its phases foreshadow her ultimate Fate. The film's opening in both visual and thematic terms gestures a shift in Hollywood storytelling but also upholds the key motifs in film noir: the inevitability/inescapability of Fate, humans' duality or rather ambiguity (neither wholly evil or entirely good), low key lighting etc.
  13. I remember first seeing this film over a year ago and marveling at it being one of the longest opening sequences I had ever seen! Essentially, I find that our protagonist Lantier is personified by the train: a hurling, relentless, primal beast heading straight for ruin. No spoilers here for those who haven't seen it, but the film's ending is quite poetic. We get 4 straight minutes of this train barreling through towns, in many ways like a' bat out of hell' as a fellow peer stated. We don't know where we're going or what will appear at the end of the line so to speak but we instinctually know it will be a hell of a ride getting there. As for the cinematography, Renoir uses very interesting shots, many mounted camera shots to really relay not just the train zooming through but the train's **** persona. We become aware of Lantier's job and also get insight into him. The shots do feel documentarian more than noir, but I just love the shot while the train is approaching the end of the tunnel. There is a soft light at the end of the tunnel but before that totally darkness and obscurity! That is definitely noir and the ultimate question of Fate/Destiny. Plus, I noticed the final scene when approaching the station Le Havre (which translates to "The Haven") is intriguing. A beast rumbles through to literally and figuratively reach "A Haven". But as we seen the film, we can see that the name is truly ironic and a metaphor for what Lantier can never achieve. Tremendous film!
  14. Love the interplay and juxtaposition of silence and overwhelming, ominous sound of the bell, cuckoo clock and car horns! They truly signal a foreboding and inevitability of what happens next. I especially enjoy the establishing shot of the kids playing. The high angle camera shot provides a type of God's eye, omnipresent but non-interventionist view. And the final looming shadow of the murderer is masterfully done! Three words to describe it can only be: Ominous, Eerie and Arresting
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