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Daily Dose of Darkness #4: Over a Barrel (The Opening Scene of Dark Passage)


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 -- Do you feel this film's use of first person POV in this scene was successful or not successful?

 

I'm not a huge fan of the use of the first person POV, it seems a little hokey to me, however, I did enjoy the end of this clip when the driver figures out that he's picked up the wrong passenger.

 

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The first person POV was mainly successful--even with having to shoot one section as if seen by a third person through a barrel that had no bottom (talk about suspending your disbelief!)--in that it gave it both a sense of urgency and empathy with Vincent Parry you might not have gotten any other way. 

 

I saw the shots as being through the open top of the barrel. Parry is in it head-up, as we see in the first shot when his fingers emerge.

 

That, by the way, is a great opening shot. Reminds me of the fingers emerging from the street grate in The Third Man. It's startling and unexpected. A human is clawing his/her way out of a tight, desperate place.

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I don't like character POV when it's used in this sense. Too much of it is overkill,and makes me feel cheated and bored. Which needless to say,I'm not a fan of The Lady in the Lake or a good portion of Dark Passage. Honestly,if it wasn't for Agnes Moorehead and the great Taxi ride scene...I would have taken this DVD out of my box set...and thrown it in the trash.

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I don't generally like this kind of POV if it goes on too long. However in this instance I think it added to the anxiety and desperation of the character. It was especially effective once the character is picked up by the driver. We get to see the growing realization on the face of the driver that the person beside him is not just an ordinary hitchhiker. Although it would have been interesting to see the anxiety on the face of Bogart as he gets frustrated with the questions and his eventual "outing" by the radio announcement, I feel the expressions on the drivers face were sufficient to prepare me for the action about to happen next.

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I think the use of the first person POV was successful. It's a hook. It is an intentional choice to draw you in and keep you interested as well as make the movie stand out and be different. It was also necessary due to the plot of the movie. I'm glad, however, that I am only in the first person for a short period, as opposed to Lady in the Lake. It takes a marathon runner to stay that engaged in a movie for so long. As a viewer, I need a break. I need time to turn around, read the body language of my character and assess the situation from a different POV. ...like any good detective. 

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I haven't seen the whole film, so I can't comment on anything other than the opening sequence but I think the POV shot works well. It didn't make me feel like I was IN the film, though I'm not sure this was the point. Bogart's character just escaped from San Quentin, and the cops are closing in on him. Surely this is enough to make us feel anxious for Bogart's character. However, the fact that we can only see what he sees heightens our anxiety because we know the cops are right behind him but we can't see them closing in unless he turns around. While we want him to turn around so we can see just how close the cops are, we also don't want him to turn around because this will inevitably slow him down.

 

It's like the feeling one gets after getting spooked in a dark room. When you head for the door to exit the room, you get the feeling that something is behind you (though this often isn't the case). You want to turn around and check but you also get the feeling that you have to get away from whatever is behind you. I get a similar experience watching the opening sequence of this film, and I'm sure this isn't a coincidence but that the filmmaker meant to elicit this experience in the audience. 

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The use of first-person POV is quite effective in some cases, such as its recasting what is a familiar driving scene in a tenser light simply by contrasting the confinement of being in the vehicle to the comparative openness and freedom of the surrounding countryside, but overall the images that are most striking to me in their visuals and meaning are non-POV shots intermingled in, such as the gradual expansion of the image displayed in the frame, from the (POV) shot of the smaller circle as we see the landscape bouncing around outside, to the larger circle we see in a (non-POV) shot of Bogart from behind as he exits the barrel.  The first-person POV sometimes makes too obvious what is often subtly conveyed, such as when we are given a POV shot of Bogart looking over his shoulder in the car; whereas other noirs would find more subtle ways to portray the constantly looming threat of San Quentin to the rear, DARK PASSAGE just seems to hit you over the head here by foregrounding this fear, almost in the same way that a voiceover leaned on too heavily can actually counterintuitively manage to reduce the intimate feeling of films, despite the theoretically increased intimacy of exposure to a character's thought process.  That said, it is refreshing to spend the entire conversation in the car without the benefit of shot-reverse shot editing; playing like the inverse of the car scene with Brandt and the two Lebowskis in THE BIG LEBOWSKI (where we are instead denied any reaction shots as we merely watch the Dude fumble his way through a disjointed monologue), this rejection of conventional film grammar keeps the audience expecting to see the reverse shot, producing a unique tension that is never relieved.

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This opening scene from "Dark Passage" really did make my stomach lurch with that barrel roll! Each shot demanded that I watch carefully, as I had no distance frame of reference, so it was unfolding as "I" watched it. I knew "I" was going to punch that driver--and "I" did!

I liked that POV, but I don't think I'd want to see a whole movie like that. What comes next?

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The first time I saw this film I was annoyed by the POV technique. Seeing it again ......still annoyed. I thought it might add to the film, but realized it was just too much of a gimmick. I suppose that might be because of all the film noir I've watched over the years. I guess sticking to what's been proven to be successful is best. But, then again, this was a fairly new genre so trying something different was a bold move.

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Dark passage is a very good film, I like it so much, and, of course, Bogart was a great, great , great,  actor, but I think ,the resource of use the camera as though out the protagonist to resemble the story hard boiled novels, makes the beginning of the film appear so artificial.


The "noir" element of the film below, in my opinion, once Vincent takes on the face of Bogie

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Dark passage is a very good film, I like it so much, and, of course, Bogart was a great, great , great,  actor, but I think ,the resource of use the camera as though out the protagonist to resemble the story hard boiled novels, makes the beginning of the film appear so artificial.


The "noir" element of the film below, in my opinion, once Vincent takes on the face of Bogie

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With this opening POV shot the director kills two birds with one stone. He has the opportunity to experiment with an innovative, personal shot which helps the audience identify with the still unknown leading character. At the same time, the POV shot seems to be the only possible way the plot could unravel, as the character takes Bogart's face after a plastic surgery. It would certainly be impractical to have another actor playing Vincent Parry until he changes his face, so it was the only alternative they had. Some way to combine artistic innovation with a plot device!

 

OUr widely varying opinions whether firstperson POV works for us or not makes for lively discussion! Nice!

 

TonyZao put it well, it's a clever device that neatly solves the plot dilemma and at the same time forces us to be in Parry's shoes and head before we even know him. Being limited to what Parry sees and hears should make the viewer acutely sense the danger and the urgency of his flight.

 

I like the series of shots at the beginning that transition from third-person to first-person POV. Just enough establishing shots to let us know within seconds that we're looking at a red-hot prison escape.The fingers emerging from the precariously swaying barrell open the movie with a jolt of danger. Because of the back-and-forth cutting between POV's, it doesn't come as a surprise when the movie transitions into the first person view.

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The use of P.O.V. camera in today's clip reflects the first person narration that was often a feature of the hard-boiled novels that were an important precursor of (and inspiration for) film noir.

 

I think it works better in "Dark Passage," where it cuts back to a third-person view when necessary to make the narrative clear, than in the slavishly-devoted to first-person camera "The Lady in the Lake."

 

It's very difficult to make this technique more than a gimmick, except when taken in small enough doses to not call attention to itself.

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This seems to me to be "classic" noir.  There's a sense, with the wailing siren, of tension from the very start.  I like the first person POV of the camera, and the look of the driver's face.

This is definitely on my list to watch as soon as possible when get home to the DVR!

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A funny thing happened when I watched this clip.  The sound on the clip was muted; basically I could hear sirens and the radio voice-over, but everything else was too faint to be understood.  I tried several times, hoping it were just a bad server connection, or, I don't know--solar flares?  The result is that I watched it several times, basically in silence.  The funny thing is, I got a lot out of it.  So I can say that the first person POV was exceptionally helpful.  And amazing camera work.

We know there's been a prison break the second fingers appear on the rim of the barrel labeled San Quentin .  Daves immediately ramps up the tension with the prolonged barrel rocking (fall, already!), instills fear when the barrel starts rolling down a steep hill, and disorients us with the POV shot rolling down said steep hill.  Our disorientation is intensified by the use of an iris (the center of a wheel spins faster than its periphery).

The steady iris shot that follows has the opposite effect.  By limiting the field to our escapee, who thankfully survived the tumble, we get to reorient as we watch him doing it himself.

Watching him carefully hide his prison shirt (instead of just tossing it) and then look back at San Quentin, we see him realize that, yes, he's out.  Free, though?  We'll see.  He gets a reminder he's being chased; sirens, a quick pan, and motocycle cops coming around the bend tell the story.  He has to get out of here quick, and now he knows where the road is.  And which way San Quentin lies.

Low camera angles and tracking shots show that he is creeping along the fence by the road, waiting for a car going in the right direction, and keeping an eye out for cops.  When he sees the jalopy, he knows his chariot has arrived!  But he's not out yet.  He gets in the car, and the camera pans down to his muddy shoes.  Slightly suspicious to have wet shoes walking along a dry road, isn't it?  Just have to play it off, so pan back up to the driver's face, where the camera stays, as if we were glaring at him, looking for any sign he might be catching on.  He may be a chump, but he might not be stupid on top of it.  And those signs come through the facial expressions of the driver.  Where, of course, the camera stays trained until the driver asks a question the escapee doesn't want to hear.  The camera pans to the front; we break eye contact.  Oh, but wait.  Isn't that slightly suspicious as well?  He pulls it together, and the camera pans back to staring at the driver, as do we.  Hoping.

But this guy looks like he's getting more and more suspicious.  If he's going to need to do something drastic, he won't want any witnesses, so the camera pans to the back, to check on traffic.  Seeing none, the camera pans right back to the driver's face.  Clearly he suspects something is wrong here, but he doesn't know exactly what.  And we are in the same boat; we know what he doesn't know, but we also know something is wrong, not what it is, exactly.

So when the radio announcement comes (the only voice-over that was audible in the whole clip) and we see the road signs, we see in his face that he's figured it out.  So he has to go and we have to steal his car.  Next we see our fists pummeling the face we've spent the last few minutes glaring at.

So why was so much time spent on the driver's face?  It's justified as a plot device, because an escaped convict would want to keep a close eye on someone who could potentially turn him in.  But I think it serves a few other purposes as well.  The most interesting character in a car sequence, by far, is the driver.  He is interacting with two worlds simultaneously; the road and the passengers. In this clip, the driver was even more interesting for the danger he (unknowingly) represents to this passenger.  Focusing on the driver's face allowed the background to float along peacefully, in counterpoint to the tension that every other element so far has built up.  It also contrasts with the road shot facing forward, with the background rushing past, heightening confusion and tension, and the shot to the back, with the world quickly receding.  And spending so much time on his face made the beating that much more jarring.

This opening incorporated noir elements we've seen in the previous three.  In M, we first see the evil protagonist as a shadow, just as here.  La Bette Humaine spent a lot of time showing the world from the POV of a locamotive.  And The Letter made ample use of gently flowing backgrouds to counterpoint dastrardly deeds and scheming.  They each ramped up the tension from 0 to 100 in the space of 4 minutes.  They each leave us with more questions than they answer, an irresistable need to answer those question, and certainty that those answers will not be pretty.  Still, we're going to watch.

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Today they could use CGI to make Bogie look different until he has plastic surgery. But I don't think this would improve the film. POV forces the viewer to (with some queasiness) root for Bogie. Sometimes the limitations of an art form lead to superior results. There is a lot of tension a bit later when one is waiting to see if Bogie's face is disfigured by the surgery.

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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. 

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The POV is very intense, making the viewer escape along with Bogart whether they want to or not.

 

We feel the tension in the air, go flying down the ravine with Bogart in the metal drum and get dizzy just looking at the world spinning about. The wailing sirens remind us we are now the hunted.

 

I have learned when it comes to film noir, you want to root for some characters, but it's best not to. I just sit back and watch them fall. But in this case, you have no choice. It could be YOU running away from something, risking your neck hitching a ride with a stranger, and you feel like YOU'RE the one delivering the fisticuffs when the breaking news bulletin announces your escape.

 

This was a good choice to start the film, to really get the viewer involved in the action.

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I liked the unusual opening of Dark Passage. We see Bogart`s slacks and shoes as he comes out of the garbage can. For the moment he is safer at creekside, but time is running short. Bogie runs up the hill to catch a ride. The first car stops and picks him up. The driver  starts to ask too many questions. The radio broadcasts a description of Bogie, and he has to move fast. I wanted to see if Bogie would be able to reach San Francisco before he is recoginized.

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This was an amazing opening to a movie! Haha I loved it, definitely brought me right in and I'm excited to see how this movie goes.

 

I think the POV style was very successful in that they did cut away when necessary and didn't force it the entire time but also I like the subtleness of it. They only showed Humphrey's hands and feet occasionally, not forcing the POV on us. At the end when he beats the man up after he's discovered really pulls you into the tension between the two men and makes it feel, with it's closeness, more real. Not like the quick shots today that can make it hard to follow at times.

 

The tension was really built by POV in this clip because you feel like you're the one hiding from the police, you're the one being grilled with questions and stared at by unsure eyes. I felt more immersed in this film than I did with the other ones. By not having a face to see for the actor it was easier for me to visualize myself in the scenario.

 

Not having great deal of knowledge of film noir prior to starting this course (and I suppose I still don't) immediately with the inner monologue I knew this was classic film noir. It was really appropriate too by being in the POV style but when I was younger and someone would ask 'what is film noir?' My initial response would be those dark movies where the characters narrate their thoughts. So with how well this was done and how it pulled me into the action I feel shows classic film noir style. Also I should say done well where you're not distracted by the narration but that it tugs you in.  

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Considering what Bogie is about to do before the film switches away from first person, that seems like an incredibly observant point.

The first circular framing was stark and harsh. Following close behind, the second subtly resonated the first and was, I think, carefully chosen for that reason.

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Apologies if someone has already touched on this, but the one shot that I liked in particular is where Vincent gets out of the barrel.  It begins as a POV shot but becomes more of a low-angle shot as he walks away.  The camera remains in the barrel and thus uses the barrel opening as a circular frame for the shot of Vincent's receding figure.  By enclosing Vincent within the circular frame, the shot sustains the sense of claustrophobia and entrapment created within the rolling barrel and foreshadows the sense of being a target that will burden Vincent throughout the film.

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Director Delmer Daves' Film Dark Passage:

 

The first scene of the film Dark Passage shows Bogart as convict Vincent Parry escaping from San Quentin. We don’t see his face, instead we see him escape. And we see whatever he sees. It is an interesting utilization of first person POV. The audience is watching this Film from the viewing angle of Bogart's head. The camera movements are such that the audience perceiving everything from Bogart’s eyes. Watching this film you feel like you are not just the audience but you are an escapee with him and that adds to tension. Making of this film requires great talent and creativity from the Director and his crew.

The Dark Passage is an important contribution to Film Noir, because of the use of POV and the camera movements.

 

Chai Vaidya

Film Noir Course

 

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