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AstridEWP

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  1. -- How Hitchcock's rhythm and purposes are different from other films noir such as Kiss Me Deadly or The Hitch-Hiker: Rather than beginning with a shocking event to throw the senses of the viewer off-kilter (such as a woman throwing herself in front of a car or a madman pulling a gun on a driver), Hitchcock begins SOAT with upbeat music and a routine daytime setting, with familiar, repeated sound patterns (footsteps, train wheels on rails) rather than with foreboding music and jarring noises, making his approach far more subtle than either KMD or THH. Setting the story in a busy train terminal and comfortable rail car the underscores the fact that what will unfold “could happen to anybody,” which brings its own sense of discomfort as the story unfolds. In many noir films, it’s clear from the opening frame—or even before the credits—that danger is afoot, but here the danger is not readily apparent. This may echo the threat of Communism and the widespread belief that the Communist threat could be “hidden in broad daylight.” -- The noir elements I notice in the opening of this film?: The unconventional perspective of showing only the feet and legs of the main characters is one element, and use of framing (the taxis) in architecture and blinded windows (on the train) is another, and the fact that two people from different classes/backgrounds (as is evident from their clothes and shoes) are being brought inexorably together; but the most effective is the shot of the train tracks from the front of the train. The tracks are in a clear pattern, forming an X or criss-cross, and the train tellingly switches away from the track we’d expect to follow and on to another course, suggesting that events will unfold that are not what we expect either (except of course that we expect suspense from the master of suspense). It’s great. -- Why Hitchcock should be considered a "special case" in discussion of film noir: In addition to the fact that as English director working with a uniquely American film tradition (I’m dutifully trying to avoid the terms genre, type or category), Hitchcock nevertheless elevated noir to new heights of both style and substance, he should be considered a special case because of his subtlety and carefully crafted approach to noir. He deftly combines noir style (light, shadow, framing, camera position) and substance (discomfort, paranoia, claustrophobia, confusion) but without hitting viewers over the head with any of it; to the contrary, he deftly presents a noir that viewers don’t even suspect is noir, so the joke is on us…yet another Hitchcock twist. I was already a fan of Hitchcock (he just made great movies, with tight plots), and I appreciate his work all the more after viewing this film’s opening within the context of this course.
  2. --Parallels in the opening scenes of the latest films: I see parallels in all three re: the use of the pre-credits and credits to start the story and establish mood (all start on a road and involve moving vehicles, but this is a less important point). More significant is the perspective and camera movement, showing in this case the back of O’Brien’s head as he moves purposefully through a series of hallways and doorways. The perspective is reminiscent of the scene from the back of the car in The Hitchhiker, and the motion is reminiscent of the vehicle in Caged, in which we move continuously forward through space while concentrating on a singular point. It's as though the characters are hurtling through the world without the ability to interact meaningfully with it. -- Some noir themes and motifs that are being explored in this opening scene: The attempt to establish control and purpose in the midst of a situation beyond the the hero’s control is underscored in this scene. The mood is much more purposeful than most we’ve seen, and the intense music makes what’s unfolding seem important as well as foreboding; the rhythm matches O'Brien's footsteps and lends his character agency and a temporary sense of control as he marches into the police headquarters straight to the homicide division. In fact, as we are about to learn, he has none, and is instead at the mercy of events in a world apparently devoid of morality or justice. Once we find that he is in fact the victim of a murder, this temporary sense of control breaks down; Bigelow's body shifts uncomfortably, and he looks physically very different from the front than he has appeared from behind, clearly ill and unable to help himself in a universe of chaos. A closely related motif is the threat of imminent death; Bigelow's story is much more significant, poignant and tragic when we know, as he says, that he “doesn’t have much time.” -- How the style and substance of this opening reinforces feelings of pessimism or hopelessness in Frank Bigelow: I feel that the music, the camera’s perspective, and Bigelow’s march down the hallway offsets pessimism and hopelessness, only to see them disintegrate once he reveals his situation. However, both feelings are reinforced by the panning of the camera from the top of the giant building down to Bigelow's small silhouette in the street, suggesting he occupies a tiny place in the world of events that are ultimately much larger than he. His march down the hallway can be seen as a long journey in which the hero tries yet appears to fail to make any progress, as though what he needs to attain is perpetually out of reach; and when he reaches his destination at last, it is, of course, too late for him to save himself.
  3. -- How the opening is appropriate for a film about females at a women's state prison/How the design of this scene makes the audience as "caged" as these characters: Like in The Hitchhiker, the position of the camera inside the vehicle emphasizes the confined, cramped space from which there is no escape. The effect is even stronger here, because the only window to the outside is barred, and more significantly still, the window is very small—taking up only a tiny portion of the screen. The feeling of confinement is appropriate not only because the women in the police vehicle are confined in the physical space, but because women in this time period were confined socially and politically as well. -- How Warner Bros.' house style is appropriate for this subject matter: The sound of the siren and other street noises, the narrow view of city streets through the window (the fact that the first view is from inside a vehicle), and the sarcastic comments of both the police officers and the female prisoner all are reminiscent of Warner’s house style. The dark, gritty, urban, “B-movie” feel works well here because this is unexplored, uncomfortable territory, and the view isn’t pretty, literally or metaphorically. The woman’s face we see is contorted with misery, dread, and fear, like an animal’s. It’s a powerful, evocative image, and I felt more sympathy for this woman than for any other character we've seen in these clips so far. -- How film noir might influence this film's realism about life behind bars/why the "substance of noir" is appropriate for this story: This is serious subject matter, touching on themes that would make anyone uncomfortable today, let alone in the highly gendered, strictly defined society of the 1950s. As film noir, Caged emphasizes the realism inherent in the dark side of female experience that most would prefer to think simply doesn’t exist—a reality entirely at odds with the symbol of the American housewife as moral center of the family. A women’s prison, and all it suggests in terms of crime, sex, violence, anger, and desperation, is in stark contrast with the sunny, responsible, domestic, sociable, idealized housewife. Like the female prisoners, we are not allowed to escape the fact that we have been driven to a place from which we might never return or recover.
  4. -- Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence: Fear, mistrust, bleakness, loss of innocence, betrayal, and paranoia are along for the ride in THH. Today no one picks up hitchhikers anymore for fear of precisely this kind of horrifying situation, but in the 1950s, it was much more common. The underlying idea that someone you may be trying to help out of a bad situation can turn on you in the most ruthless way is deeply unsettling, and for it to happen in a car, a confined space, is even worse. Cars are supposed to help people escape, and here the car is a prison in motion. -- How lighting and staging both work to reveal the underlying substance of film noir: The car's headlights are the first lighting we see, reminiscent of a searchlight, honing in on the hitchhiker coming out of the darkness. The spotlight effect inside the car, on the men in the front seat and then the flashlight effect on the madman in the back seat, distorts faces disturbingly. This coupled with the switch in perspective from the front of the car (as if we're on the hood) and the back (as if we're behind the back seat), creates a noir-ish sense of foreboding with a psychological bent...we quickly feel the discomfort of O'Brien and his friend; in fact, we feel it before they do, because we see the feet and legs of the hitchhiker in the first few seconds, observe his face awash in shadows in the back seat, and hear his faceless voice. The effect is both creepy and realistic. -- What is similar between The Hitchhiker and Kiss Me Deadly, what is different, and why these openings both work as excellent examples of how to open a film noir: The openings of KMD and THH are similarly effective in setting, style and mood: they both begin on a dark, lonely road at night, both establish tension quickly as a stranger is introduced into the small, confining space of a car, both use lighting and shadow to heighten the sense of dread, confusion, and uneasiness, and both incorporate sound, music and dialogue to underscore the sense of fear and paranoia. THH is missing the sexual tension of KMD, and is a lot darker and more scary. We get the sense that the characters in KMD are up to no good, but in THH real terror is lurking in the backseat. As discussed both films establish the shock and confusion of film noir very quickly, and use lighting, staging, sound, music, and dialogue to excellent effect.
  5. Major themes and/or ideas introduced in the opening sequence: The theme of escape is the most prevalent, here, and at first we make the assumption that Hammer does: that Christina has escaped from a person rather than from a place. The two also "escape" from the police blockade. Christina might well be escaping from more than an asylum; she could be attempting to escape the constricting role of womanhood. Wearing nothing underneath her trench coat, she appears at once vulnerable and sexual, poised to reveal herself both physically and symbolically, and underscoring the tension between disclosure and concealment. What we learn or discern about the characters of Christina and private eye Mike Hammer: Both characters are presented as risk takers; Christina throws herself in front of a car to get a lift, and Hammer offers passage through a police blockade to a strange woman he's never seen before. Although Christina is desperate for a ride, her face doesn't show panic or distress as she runs along the highway, which is curious until we learn where she's come from. She is used to using her wiles to manipulate men, and she is successful with Hammer as she grabs his hand and pleadingly looks at him for protection. Hammer is cynical and cranky and quick to size up Christina, but he surprises us by just as quickly agreeing to act as her cover without saying a word; if he is a true noir private eye, he won't let some dame's sob story get in his way, yet there he is going along for the ride; he must have an adventurous side. I haven't seen this film, and I'm very curious to know what happens next. How the opening scene is a contribution to the development of film noir: The bizarre, psychological twist elements of film noir are carried into the pre-credit sequence and the credits themselves, both visually and audibly, and it's hard to decide which is more disturbing, the inverted credits or Leachman's heaving gasps (my vote's with the breathing; it became annoying, but I imagine that in a theater it is more compelling). The shock factor is used very effectively here, before the film has even begun--except, of course, that it has begun, which adds one more layer of dark noir disconcerting trippiness.
  6. -- What makes Lime's "entrance" so effective: Where to begin? Is there a more effective entrance in a film noir? I'm tempted to say it's Orson Welles that makes Lime's entrance so effective, so I will. Lime comes out of the shadows literally and figuratively, and the noir elements in this scene come together perfectly: he is framed in an archway and in the shadows of the window pane; his face is illuminated suddenly as the camera pulls in to a closeup; and best of all, we are reminded of the nefarious car accident as Cotten is himself nearly run over in the same spot Lime was supposedly killed. The zither swells, the woman's angry voice and her light puncture the night and Lime's cover, Welles smirks, and we're hooked. -- How the scene is both deeply realistic and highly formalistic: I'm always impressed with the crispness of the film quality in The Third Man, especially in the night scenes. Every wet cobblestone is visible, every edge of paper; there is an incredible amount of visual and audial detail. The sound is crisp; the scraping and pounding of shoes on pavement is especially (and appropriately) heightened. The on-location shooting and depiction of Vienna as a nearly empty, soulless shell of a city are just two more elements of realism, but I especially like the dialogue and expressiveness of the actors. (This also is true in the rest of the film; the female lead is perfectly soft, sad and burdened; Cotten's character perfectly confused, determined, and crestfallen). Even the woman leaning and scolding out of her window is true to life, and the omission of captions underscores her authenticity (this too adds to the unnerving atmosphere; few things are as disconcerting as hearing German spoken angrily). There is little to add to the curator's evaluation of TTM's "dazzling display of formalist techniques: distorted angles, tilted cameras, zither music, low-key lighting, and one highly noticeable key light." The oft-lauded zither music is virtually a character itself, and lends more strangeness to the mood (it is so loud it can't be ignored, or in any way mistaken for background music; it gets into our heads and under our skin, as though if we were involved in as bizarre a situation as Cotten finds himself, we'd have that crazy music playing over and over in our brains, too). Meanwhile, Welles' character's death to life switch is a compelling twist on the typical noir flashback. -- Ways this scene can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style: I think The Third Man is one of the very best examples of film noir, period, and thus is itself arguably the most important contribution. That a British film made such an impact, and Reed made such good use of resources available to him on both sides of the pond, is both impressive and significant (think here of how TTM exemplifies the "heist" metaphor we've been using throughout the course). The collaborative nature of the project, including but not limited to the use of high profile American actors and producer, a British director, and an Australian cinematographer and filming in both Britain and Vienna underscores the importance of production in the making of a brilliant noir piece.
  7. How entrances are staged for Garfield and Turner/What each entrance reveals about their character: Garfield is presented both literally and figuratively as a man in motion; a hitch hiker, he's getting out of a vehicle before he's even finished his latest story, and makes it clear to everyone he's not long for any one place. He's framed in a car window. In glaring contrast is Turner's slow "entrance" framed in a doorway; the only place she's headed for is trouble, which her deliberate dropping of the lipstick and petulant retrieval of it makes plain; her manipulative flirtation hasn't worked with this guy....yet. Whereas Garfield is happy-go-lucky, Turner is spoiled and entitled, and we can tell immediately that a union between the two will be disastrous. Her closing of the door accentuates the sexual tension building in the scene, and dares him to open it and cross the boundary into forbidden territory. As has been suggested, the "man wanted" sign serves her as much as it does the business. Noir elements in this sequence: The voice-over narration and flashback format are the first obvious noir elements. Even though the opening scene is filmed in daylight, the shadows of venetian blinds and lattice work make their way into the lunch kitchen, as does the overhead spotlighting and intense music. The unsettling, unexpected police siren foreshadows problems to come, and of course we already can see that Turner's character, clothed in stark white, is entirely out of place in her surroundings and up to no good. MGM "house style" elements: Using two big stars for the main characters is one thing, but the clearest MGM trademark here is the treatment of Turner, who literally glows in soft focus. Her ethereal beauty and effortless grace is underscored in striking contrast to her humble surroundings. Big MGM-ish "wow" effect.
  8. Difference in entrances: Lorre enters at a medium range and the camera follows him from one door (elevator) to another (apartment), and his face is lit continuously from above, whereas Greenstreet appears at long range and in dark silhouette against a light background, framed in a doorway (we also see him framed in the mirror behind him). The effect suggests the difference in each actor's character: neither is morally scrupulous, but Lorre is presented as being more forthright, while Greenstreet is presented as ominous. We are clearly meant to sympathize with Lorre. Changes in the scene as characters interact: The camera moves closer to each actor's face as they interact; the slow, low-angle closeup on Greenstreet underscores his menacing, predatory nature--this is most effective and powerful camera movement in the scene. The way the camera lingers on his face while his expression changes, even though Lorre is the one speaking, is excellent. The effect of the camera placement behind each character as the other speaks, filling half of the screen, is also significant; it suggests they are equally distrustful of each other. Elements of noir style: The music, darkness, silhouetted figures, lighting, repartee, camera angles and placement, closeups, and framing all make this scene one of the most stylistically effective examples of noir we've seen in the Daily Doses. Similarities and differences with scenes from The Maltese Falcon: I revisited a single scene in TMF when Spade visits Gutman for the first time ("let's talk about the black bird"; they both feature entrances through doorways and Greenstreet's priceless banter), and I found that the camera work in each are similar and significant, whereas the differences in lighting and music are less important. The low camera angle and the slow rising close up into Greenstreet's face is the same in TMF and MOD, heightening Greenstreet's characters' ominousness and looming presence. The shift from full characters and an even camera angle to facial closeups as the characters interact is similar also (the camera pulls back as soon as Spade and Gutman hit a verbal impasse). The lighting and the music are different in both scenes, but not to a degree that is highly significant to me, as the camera work is more important in telling a similar story. In the TMF scene, the characters appear very dark in a light-infused room (a kind of ambient lighting coming from the windows) and they are both lit from above, whereas in the MOD scene, the characters are lit from above in a darkened room with punches of bright light behind them. In the TMF scene, music is foreboding but low, while in MOD, it is very intense and heightens a sense of panic.
  9. -- How the scene employs noir elements despite daylight: Several film noir elements are apparent: the voice over narration, the cynical perspective of characters, the light placement (overhead spotlighting), the shadows and silhouettes, unsettling music (“jarring” music coming from the theater next door), unpleasant ambient heat that underscores the chemistry between the two characters, and their witty repartee. Visually, it reminds me of a Mexican version Casablanca with everything from the-lone-man-at-a-table shots to the female lead’s hat; most of all, the low camera angles and framed doorways and windows are fantastic. Except that of course this is not a high-class joint; its grittiness is all noir, though thousands of miles removed from either Morocco or New York. -- What we learn about the characters: Neither character is uncomfortable being in a foreign locale; both exude a quiet confidence. Kathie would just as soon be left to her goal of catching a boat by herself (“I don’t need a guide”), but she’s willing to slip a little New York talk into the conversation (“sip bourbon, shut your eyes…it’s like a little place on 56th street”) to create the illusion of a bit of interest and allure (“I sometimes go there”). Jeff is characteristically prepared to use his romantic wiles to finish his job (“Nothing in the world is any good unless you can share it”), and it appears to be working. -- How Out of the Past contributed to the development of film noir: Similarly to the opening sequence of Border Incident, film noir is brought into the daylight here. All of the noir elements except literal darkness are in place: noir doesn’t have to be noir to be noir.
  10. Bogart established as Marlowe/What we learn about Marlowe: Bogart is established as Philip Marlowe by his unmistakable voice before we even see him; it can be no one else, and just hearing Bogart utter the words "My name's Marlowe" out of sight from behind the door is enough. He is dressed simply as himself rather than in a stylish light blue suit as the character Marlowe wears in the novel. We learn that Marlowe went to college; he is flirtatious, opinionated, straightforward, cynical, and observant and, most significantly (and unsurprisingly) insubordinate--and not in the least ashamed at having been fired from the D.A.'s office for it. Difference in Bogart's portrayals of Marlowe and Spade: I don’t see much difference in Bogart’s two portrayals. In The Big Sleep Marlowe seems a bit more polite and a less gritty than Spade in Falcon, and he has more of a sense of humor, but overall, “Bogartness” pervades both characters. (I find it interesting that in the novel, Carmen says to Marlowe, “Tall, aren’t you?” to which he replies, “I didn’t mean to be.” To fit Bogart, the line was changed to “You’re not very tall, are you?” to which he replies, “I try to be.”). The close similarity between the two characters was surely an advantage: Hawks seems to be purposefully and unabashedly trading on the audience's association of Bogart as hard boiled detective due to his prior turn in Falcon. Contribution to the film noir style: Bogart as the iconic private eye and Vickers as the troublemaking temptress set a noir tone immediately (in the book, she’s wearing slacks, not short shorts), as does the unsettling and oppressive heat of the conservatory. But while Hawks plays loose with the wardrobe, he wisely stays true to the text on which the story is based, and lets Chandler’s original writing lend all the appropriate dark undertones to the script. Consider these two great lines from the General: “I seem to exist largely on heat, like a newborn spider”; “[the orchids’] flesh is too much like the flesh of men…their perfume has the rotten sweetness of corruption.” (The original line in the book has “a prostitute” instead of “corruption"). TBS is a highly effective example of text influencing film.
  11. Mood/Atmosphere: The diagonal framings of the canal and farms, echoed by the diamond shapes in the chain-link fence, establish a sense of precarious order. The voiceover narration adds credibility, and also a sense of foreboding, in a stern, straightforward style; it sounds like those in a documentary or educational short, a kind of warning. It is very different from the opening credits, but the effect is as suspenseful. Use of documentary realism: The realism sets up a contrast between order and disorder. The effect is unsettling; we want to buy in to and be comforted by the success of the farming valley and its neat farms and smooth canals, but we sense that beneath the calm surface moves a dark and dangerous undercurrent. The fact that the film is based on real life events makes it even more absorbing and disturbing. Contribution to the film noir style: The realism in Border Incident draws noir out of the archetypical dark Eastern city and into the unlikely region of sunny Southern California, a kind of “heist” in itself: noir in broad daylight. It’s clear that noir themes are not constrained to a single setting or geographical region, and that the sense of foreboding, despair, and malaise are very much intact.
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