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How much of our dread is self-manufactured?


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I got to thinking, after reading some of the discussions:  how much of the creepiness/dread we assign to the film is due to our pre-knowledge that Peter Lorre won acclaim for his acting in this role and that it is this role, some say, that caused him to be typecast as a "creep"? Are we expecting creepiness just because we know about Mr. Lorre and/or because we read the review of the film?

I think I might try to limit my advance knowledge of some of these films (except of course for the well-known classics) and see how that goes.

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I think it's a theme in the film itself, regardless of what you know of it. I was fairly unaware of the plot to this film when I first saw it, and its effect was much the same. Watching it again with a more analytical eye I think it's a very conscious attempt on Fritz Lang's part to make us uneasy. From the very first frame he connotes play with death, as the kids make a game out of a string of recent child murders. But then look at the way he films the interior of the building. Once the mother leaves the frame the shot continues for 10 seconds. 10 seconds with no one on screen, so that we begin to anticipate what is about to happen. Then he cuts to an empty stairway, and the shot is held for another 6 seconds with no one on screen. It's a very effective way of getting us anxious that something important is about to happen.

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I had a similar thought watching this the second time through.  "If I hadn't been told this was a noir film, and if I hadn't read a synopsis already, would this still feel unsettling and suspenseful?"  The answer was yes, and then I spent some time thinking about the elements that created that feeling.

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as someone has very little knowledge about the movie, the sense of dread is mostly liking coming from the way its filmed with useo f setting, sound, etc. the children song going on the background when th mothers are talking gives the scene a fast pulsing feeling. as one learns more about whats going on one realized something bad will happen. 

i get feeling of dread when i watch certain tv shows.

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I got to thinking, after reading some of the discussions: how much of the creepiness/dread we assign to the film is due to our pre-knowledge that Peter Lorre won acclaim for his acting in this role and that it is this role, some say, that caused him to be typecast as a "creep"? Are we expecting creepiness just because we know about Mr. Lorre and/or because we read the review of the film?

 

I think I might try to limit my advance knowledge of some of these films (except of course for the well-known classics) and see how that goes.

It's a very good point you brought up. I think its best not to delve into the films too much before viewing,so one can have a fresh take on the subject.
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It's a very good point you brought up. I think its best not to delve into the films too much before viewing,so one can have a fresh take on the subject.

It's almost impossible to come to films without some knowledge of subject, and the industry works to create a mood in advance of seeing the film. The design of posters, the content of trailers, the perfomers and film makers, reviews, ratings, and even the title all set our expectations. So we are expecting creepiness. The question then becomes, how well does the film meet our expectations of creepiness? I find if a film seems creepy despite advance knowledge and repeated viewings, that is evidence that it comes from the film itself.              

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I think there are definitely elements that convey creepiness aside from the knowledge we bring to the film - the extreme angles, the dialogue/song the kids are singing, the harsh lines and shadows - but I do think we bring some of it with us. A few people, including myself, have noted the lack of score as ominous, but it's pretty typical of early 1930s films to not have scores, so I'm not sure it's meant to be creepy in this case. The intrusion of very intentional and strident sound effects are, though, I think.

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I anticipated an ominous occurrence from the outset - this is film noir, after all. I was shocked how much the random clothespins on the laundry line looked like barbed wire. As little Ellie Beckman bounced the pretty ball down the street I shouldn't have anticipated anything as pedestrian as an automobile striking the child. Given the wariness related to the kidnappings I was surprised by how freely Ellie offered her name to the creepy stranger.

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It's almost impossible to come to films without some knowledge of subject, and the industry works to create a mood in advance of seeing the film. The design of posters, the content of trailers, the perfomers and film makers, reviews, ratings, and even the title all set our expectations. So we are expecting creepiness. The question then becomes, how well does the film meet our expectations of creepiness? I find if a film seems creepy despite advance knowledge and repeated viewings, that is evidence that it comes from the film itself.

I'm talking about the films we are viewing. Say,if you haven't seen the film...it's best not to dig into it before viewing,for a real first impression. A lot of films,where I've gone over the production background...it has completly changed my perception on it,and the viewing experience as a whole. That's all I'm saying.
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  • 2 weeks later...

There seems to be a class issue raised in the sequence as well, which creates the dread around the lives of the mothers and children. Elsie's mother is not among the well-heeled looking parents outside the school waiting for their kids. Instead, the mother has to stay home and work, which she leaves Elsie on her own and in peril, from cars, and then the killer.

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Also, in response to one of the two discussion questions in the first email, Lang's roving camera sets up a sense of watchfulness, which contributes a sense of some implacable force or fate following these people.

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