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John Thornberry

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About John Thornberry

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  1. It hadn't occurred to me before rewatching this film tonight, but who *is* the protagonist of the piece? Most will say the gardener--he's referenced in the title (depending on the translation you choose), and is the first character encountered, so it appears to be his story. But, translate this scenario forward 40 or 50 years.... Elmer Fudd is watering his garden, and Bugs Bunny sneaks in to play a prank. Now whose story is it?
  2. The opening of The Letter is a study in contradictions and oppositions: servants and laborers next to owners; poor and rich as we start out. The moon is revealed and hidden, so light comes and goes. Organic jungle quiet is shattered by rapid pistol fire, intense and mechanical, which counterpoints the slow, languorous rhythm of edits and camera work. Surrounded by life, a dead, bullet-riddled body lies on the ground. Amidst all the men we've seen, a lone woman stands over the body--the woman who pulled the trigger, over and over. And this is our unexpected connection to film noir: Bette Da
  3. The opening scene of La bete humaine is, on its surface, more cinema verite than film noir, but certainly contains elements of both. The sleek sexuality of noir is absent, but there are (literally) flashes of heavy chiaroscuro as the train in this sequence hurtles in and out of tunnels. The diagonal ironwork of the bridges foreshadow the iconic Venetian blinds of later masterpieces like Double Indemnity. The twin structures of the terminus reach out for the viewer with an inescapable embrace. And throughout, there is a sense that the engineers are feeding the train as cogs in a system over whi
  4. It's a real treat to see the opening of "M" again. I've taught the film previously, but primarily for its contributions to the beginnings of synchronized sound in cinema. Watching the opening this time, what drew me was not only Fritz Lang's judicious use of sound, but his juxtaposition of offscreen sound with his camera work. Listening to the timbre of the recorded voices and the actual quality of the recording itself as Lang's camera tilted away from the unseen children to the balcony over their courtyard, I realized he was foreshadowing the children's absence. Simultaneously, he was in a wa
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