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Mishka

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About Mishka

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    Keene, Ontario
  1. As much as I love watching Robert Ryan, this is the first Daily Dose that's hard to swallow. The story is so set on setting up noir conventions - finding a body, the overflowing water, running from the law, hopping a train - that it overlooks some obvious holes. First, Ryan opens the closet to get his coat - but doesn't see the body. I presume that's so he can discover it with his coat on, enabling him to run. Second, he puts his coat on before filling the bucket of water, so that when he runs we can see the bucket overflowing, symbolically hammering home that something is awry. (Who puts on their coat before cleaning a bucket and putting away a mop??) Third, he puts the mop away and NOW he sees the body?? And, um, she blinks. (Thankfully Hitchcock had his wife, Alma, to spot Janet Leigh's blink in Psycho before it was released.) I'll put aside the obvious question about why he doesn't call 911, at least anonymously, since I haven't seen the film and don't know anything about the character. But the part where he runs across the train tracks is definitely noir on steroids - so many tracks, so little time! But a train just happens to be going by at the exact right moment, at a speed slow enough for him to hop on board and escape. Phew!
  2. One of my favourite devices of film noir is the reveal of a main character. Not showing us his or her face right away, but creating intrigue, interest, and importance by holding off, even for a few seconds. All 4 films this week begin with a reveal. In addition, all 4 of the revealed characters have a sense of doom and desperation surrounding them. They are all in situations that they did not choose, trapped by circumstances or bad choices. The darkness, the lighting, the audio, and their expressions all contribute to the sense that something very bad has happened. Something that we don't yet understand but is so compelling that we must continue watching to find out. Our morbid curiosity is then complicit in this existential world view.
  3. Sometimes simplicity has the most impact, as evidenced by all 3 film openings this week. As a viewer watching the opening of today's film clip, not being able to see clearly out the back window of the moving vehicle, not having any peripheral view, and not knowing where we were going and why, all created an immediate sense of being trapped and feeling anxious. When the guard says, "Pile out you tramps," the sense of doom and foreshadowing is heightened. These women aren't going to be treated like human beings. They're worse than criminals, they're female criminals. They've not only broken the law, but the social order. Women are meant to behave. For me, Eleanor Parker represents us, the viewers. She has been thrown into this unfamiliar and frightening world, and so she is able to convey our thoughts and feelings in her expression and body language. What am I doing here? What am I in for? How will I handle this? I feel unsafe, uncomfortable, and caged.
  4. This is one of my favourite films noir. A clever and relevant story with a heinous crime and memorable characters all excellently portrayed. The reveal of Harry Lime is so smart and dramatic. Without the usual slow pan or tilt, his face (and only his face) is revealed in a sudden burst of light from an apartment window above the street. His expression tells us everything about him. He is confident and even cocky, more than mischievous, and even smug. He doesn't even flinch or show any remorse at what he's put his friend through, but acts as if it's all a game. Orson Wells is so talented that he can convey all this with his face and his powerful stillness. It's wonderful to see a European setting put to noir use - the archways in the architecture, the narrow, cobbled streets, the deserted squares. They add a new flavour to the conventions of American noir. And the music! Few films have such an iconic score. Developed on a haunting musical phrase repeated throughout the film, the score is unique in that it is not jazz or anything remotely American. It has distinctly cultural roots, but (as far as I can tell) not specific to one European country. (Though I'd love to hear from someone knowledgeable about music.) It's so unlike the sinister scores we're accustomed to, that in the beginning, it seems almost upbeat and playful. It serves to throw us off balance and, in this scene, is played with an almost frantic force. Finally, the choreography of the 3 men in the square is masterful. The camera is still as they move around the frame, one in the foreground, 2 in the back, crisscrossing, switching places - but each in focus and within view. There must have been a lot of marks to hit!
  5. I love the noir convention of revealing a main character, rather than just seeing him/her right away. We see only Marlowe's hand, then hear his voice behind the large door, and then he steps into the scene as if stepping onto stage. In fact, the landing at Sternwood is like a stage, with its plush curtains on either side, and then a step down into the rest of the house. Marlowe's entrance is accompanied by a flourish of ominous music as he moves into the world of this troubled family. From the first moments, we learn that Marlowe is observant, flirtatious, witty, rebellious but at ease. He is smart and clever like Sam Spade, but, as they say, "Without the edge." Another convention used here is the angled lines of the greenhouse - on the doors, the ceiling, and the walls. There is a wonderful visual metaphor when he enters the room and we follow him behind the thick, jungle-like plants. He is entering a hot, dense world of what the Colonel describes as "the rotten sweetness of corruption." Delicious.
  6. The documentary style adds a heightened sense of realism, and therefore a heightened sense of importance to the story about to be told. The classic juxtaposing of good and bad is set out by the director through the voiceover, the visuals, and the music. The "goodness" of the daytime scenario, when the legal braceros cross the border, is demonstrated with shots of abundant, sunny, and orderly fields, along with cheery music. Even the workers are controlled and contained, waiting calmly behind 2 wire fences. But when the darkness comes, when the illegal workers cross, we see only barren fields, a few faceless men running randomly, and an ominous sky matched by the music.
  7. For me, the visual shift from realism to formalism happens as soon as The Swede's friend hits his property. We shift from an average neighbourhood, jumping over white picket fences viewed at eye level, to a high angle shot of almost gothic archways of ivy and architecture. This gives the sense of a large, looming threat. And then the round curves give way to the angular shadows and darkness in The Swede's room.
  8. What a great inquiry. For me, the Swede's facelessness signifies both his feeling of helplessness and the mystery of what he did…once. The Swede is overshadowed by the weight of his past. He has no say in his fate now that these men have caught up with him. And, we literally can't see him. Just as we can't see what has happened, what led to this. The Swede is cloaked in a dark mystery.
  9. The first time I saw this number I could hardly breathe. Rita Hayworth is so electrifying and stunning. Leading ladies in this era had a still, polished beauty. Their hair, makeup, wardrobe, and movements were perfect. Hayworth moves her hair and body with an abandon that mimics the recklessness of her actions in life. There is almost a growing desperation in her seduction of the audience. This sense of spinning out of control is a key element in the noir character's journey, and is demonstrated so viscerally in this short and iconic sequence.
  10. I can see why some people take issue with calling Mildred Pierce film noir. It is not an entire world of cynicism and pessimism, and the film's protagonist is essentially good - she wants the best for her children, even if her actions are sometimes misguided. But Veda is a typically noir character on an obsessive descent. For a life of luxury, lust, and money, she will cross her mother, essentially blackmail her fiancé, and…well, I don't want to spoil the reveal. Can the antagonist's journey classify a film as noir? In this case, I'd have to say yes. And, Mildred, the protagonist, has her own obsession - her children. And, ultimately, that does take her down her own destructive descent.
  11. Like M 13 years earlier, Lang uses lack of sound to captivate and disturb. The silence is eerie, broken only by the staccato ticking of the clock. Even outside, we hear only their footsteps, and then the creaking asylum door as the protagonist leaves. There is almost no ambient sound, as he leaves this stifled world. He wants to go to London to hear noise, talking and laughter. Voices signify life, silence is deadly.
  12. SPOILER ALERT…for those who have not yet seen the whole film. I'm always interested to see how the murderer in films is portrayed so as not to have us suspect him/her. In this case, Waldo's narration makes him the last person we suspect. He is too close, too intimate. The 'bad guy' is always out there, distant and removed from us. When he says, "I shall never forget the weekend Laura died," we assume it's because of his love for her. But in retrospect, how could he forget the weekend he committed murder? Clever.
  13. The protagonist's POV can be a gimmick, but in this case it's a clever way of disguising what will be his changed face, and introducing the importance of his face by not revealing it to us. Using this POV right away immediately has us side with him as well. We are put in the position of someone hiding, trying not to be seen, and running away. By the time we see the police motorcycles, we don't want him to be caught. We know he's an escaped convict, and yet we are naturally, and literally, drawn to his point of view.
  14. The first thing I noticed was the lack of a music score. Music is one of the clues that tells us how to feel, but with its absence, we're left with a sense of unease. It's an unsettling feeling and a brave choice for a director. I also liked the clothesline with the nightgowns hanging upside down with the arms raised over the heads, as if waving for help, or like an homage to the missing children.
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