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DC SURFERGIRL

Daily Dose of Darkness #8: Seeing You for the First Time (Scene from Mildred Pierce)

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DCR, 

 

i have only one issue with what you're saying. we have limited time in this course and can't have broad definitions for anything. We could go back and forth forever discussing the merits of Veda being or not being a femme fatale. She certainly doesn't fit the role in your definitions, but she does in mine. We're all going to have biases, but in the end it's probably best to start another thread on this discussion rather than have it here.

 

By the way, I would highly recommend Undercurrent with Kathryn Hepburn if you want to watch her do noir.

My definition of a femme fatale is not broad.  And my definitions are not mine per se.  I looked up the words, I know what they mean in French and how they are applied in English.  She if a woman of fate, who brings about a person's fate, and fate usually has a negative connotation,  One can infer that from the definitions I gave.  So you have a definition that is not mine, according to what you say.  This poses a question: what is your definition and on what do you base it?  It also poses a problem, if we cannot agree on terms, we are speaking two different languages.  If up to you means down to me, we aren't talking about the same thing.  So finding common definitions are important.  And since the definition I use does not come from me, it is not mine per se, it comes from dictionaries and scholars, at least I have a basis for how I am using the term.  What is yours?

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Daughter, relaxed, reclining versus Mother, intense standing.

 

The varied positions the power of facial stone faces up close, show how "far" apart these characters are in terms of morals, while they stand face to face.

You make a good point, but here is my problem: in terms of the standard social morality of the 1940s (and 50s and somewhat in the 60s), is the mother any more moral than the daughter?  The mother slaps the daughter for a transgression, the daughter later slaps the mother.  The daughter seems to ape what the mother does, to be an exagerrated version of the mother.  The mother is concerned about money, the daughter is obsessed with it.  The mother want her daughters to be high class, Veda is ardent in her desire to of the privileged class.  The daughter mother has an affair, while still married, with her "investor" and is fooling around with him while her youngest daughter is dying and later marries him; the daughter has an affair with him, hoping to marry him, but then kills him.  And I haven't even mentioned her father's blatant adultery and inability to find a job to provide for his family.  Certainly Veda is horrible an immoral.  But whom was she modeling?  Who were her models?  Veda was not created in a vacuum. 

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Hayworth is the perfect counterbalance for the straight laced Ford. She doesn't hold back and she has a ferocity to her performance that is daring and in some ways groundbreaking. As weird as it sounds, it is different seeing the lead female being drunk in a film rather than a male character. She then turns on a dime into a vulnerable character.

 

There are some interesting inferences about marriage and 'obeying' your husband. There is the challenging of conventional behavior as well in than Gilda, despite all of her intensity as a performer is trapped in a marriage where she is not happy. It's also a closeted abusive

relationship which was prevalent in the pot war period.

 

Music has always been a framework for noir. It's use has always heightened action on TV. Here it does an exceptional job of framing the scene. Jazz goes hand in hand with this.  Jazz was pivotal in setting mood, tone and also provided both a relief in tension and a way to exacerbate tension.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I saw HBO's "Mildred Pierce" miniseries when it aired several years ago. Rachel Evan Wood's Veda and Guy Pearce's Monte Beragon look like Sunday school characters. Without the censorship code and 1940s sensibilities the HBO version offers a take-no-prisoners approach leaves you wondering if the film-noir classic and miniseries were cut from the same cloth. I haven't read James Cain's novel, but my sense is that the miniseries offers a closer interpretation to the book. I hate to use the grossly overrated warning SPOILER ALERT, but I do so in the event that somebody wants to watch the miniseries. In the 2011 version it's clear that Veda and Monte are having a sexual relationship. There's a devastating scene in which MIldred sees Monte and Veda in bed. Without conveying any sense of embarrassment or shame, Veda gets out of bed and, without pulling the sheet over herself, walks to the vanity where she sits and brushes her hair. Monte covers Veda with a robe. Does Mildred lose it? No doubt.

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Not related to "Mildred Pierce", but I remember a spontaneously hilarious moment when I saw "The Women" years ago at a wonderful theater that showed double features. I don't know what played with "The Women", but the tell-all Joan Crawford book and movie "Mommie Dearest" were released. There's a scene in which Crawford's character Crystal takes a bubble bath while her stepdaughter (Virginia Wielder) reluctantly comes in the bathroom so Little Mary can say a forced goodbye at the end of the custodial visit. The stepmother and stepdaughter have no love for each other, and Crystal resents the child referring to her by her first name. Crystal asks something to the effect of what was Little Mary is supposed to call her. Somebody in the audience shouted, "Mommie Dearest!" The place broke up.

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The most obvious feature of this scene is the staging of the two women, Veda and Mildred.  Mildred starts the scene at the highest eye level, while Veda is lounging and reclining.  As the motion carries on, both women stand side by side at full profile.  Eventually Veda climbs the stairs and takes a dominant position to her mother.  Then Mildred slaps her daughter and takes dominance back.  Notice the women's dress and silhouettes as well.  The style of dress is very similar, dark fabric and similar cuts of garment suggest a similarity (even though Crawford has those shoulders, also showing her dominance).  Vida's outfit is tailored however, while Mildred's is less form fitting suggesting a more age appropriate style of clothing.  This also heightens when Vida call her mother a "frump."  Vida even has a flower on her jacket as an accessory.  This can suggest youth as well, or a detail showing that Veda cares more about aesthetics and "beauty," while Mildred is a more hardworking woman who is practical and less concerned with frivolous things.

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- The music foreshadows and punctuates critical elements of the
  dialogue.  It rises on the music scale and in volume until Mildred
  discovers there is no baby.  Different music adopts the same pattern
  on the discussion of the money, and so forth.

- While Mildred is standing and tries to exert authority over Veda.   
  Veda, however is nonchalant, and despite framed lower in the
  beginning of the scene speaks to her mother as a supervisor would to
  a subordinate.  When they are both standing and framed equally, Veda
  talks to Mildred as if they were equals.  When Veda is forced into
  the child role in the dialogue, she moves to the stirs and is framed
  higher than her Mother who is now taking charge.  Some built in
  paradox in this scene.

- Mildred is a female protagonist and unique for the time.  She is
  both good and bad while trying to maneuver through the situations of
  life, not unlike Marlowe in “Murder My Sweet.”

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I think the “cynical and twisted” noir influence that was most glaring to me from this scene was that even the most seemingly lovely, adorable person on the outside as in the case of the daughter could be so ugly and toxic and sociopathic on the inside.  As has been noted about the noir style, “not everything is as it seems” and this is a prime example.  We expect the girl to be sweet and good because of her petite size and how she looks when very shockingly and harshly we (along with her mother) discover that she’s as evil as any of the worst monsters we could imagine in our nightmares.  And what makes this scene even more compelling is we’re witnessing Mildred’s  realization of the kind of person her daughter really is in this exact moment.  There can be no more excuses made about the actions of this girl, no more denial, no more hiding from the truth. (I haven’t seen the movie, so in reading the postings of others, to learn that Veda has been made this way by Mildred makes the scene even more heartbreaking.) When evil is wearing this kind of a human mask it's much more scary, horrifying and disturbing then any made up monster in a horror movie. 

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I found it interesting that Mildred is continually closing the gap between them (physically), while Veda keeps widening it by turning or walking away.  When Veda finally confronts her mother directly, she does move in, but it's only for a few seconds, then she moves away again to the stairs.  And after slapping her mother, the scene ends with Veda running up the stairs.  Even though Veda is the "aggressive" one in the scene, you know that Mildred holds the power.  I guess the Mother will always have control, especially if your mother is Joan Crawford.

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It feels like a night scene but is not.  Both women are dressed in what appears to be deep black.  Their silhouettes are stark, sharply cut.  The scene is about power.  We start with a CU of Veda, shot at a slant from above, then tilt up to a 2-shot with mother and daughter seemingly warring with the stark contrast of positions, Mildred tightly upright occupying 1/3 of the shot while Veda lolls on the couch, but somehow she seems more powerful than Veda.  Mildred’s body is smaller in scale than is Veda’s.

The actors are very carefully blocked, moving in and out of position in the first, long take.  They do tight curved crosses and stylish turns for a variety of facings and relative positions that display the shifting power dynamics.  A series of  MCU’s and over-the-shoulder shots and two-shots are smoothly edited while the framing gets ever tighter.  Then, after Veda lets loose, there is a sudden, sharp edit before they move to the stairs and up them.  Combination 2-shots, CU’s until the slap and the reaction (nice rhythm).  Both get CU’s, Veda moves up the stairs, we remain with Mildred – dolly in to tight CU. Cut.

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I have not seen this movie so I don't know the context of the scene, but it seems odd that both women are wearing entirely black.  Veda is wearing a beautiful white flower on her dress which is an unsettling contrast to her rotten personality and black dress.  Veda is positioned higher up on the stairs to try to give her more of a power stance.  The staircase itself is a gothic type wrought iron which adds a little haunting feeling.  It is hard for me to believe from the furnishings of the home that there are chickens and pies being baked.  I would definitely like to see this movie to resolve some of these odd juxtapositions.

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I've seen this film dozens of times.  I love it, but, like others here, I never considered it Film Noir.  A year or so ago I watched the miniseries (starring Cate Blanchette, I think), and now I know why the original film never seemed genuinely noir to me.  The miniseries was supposedly more closely based on the novel.  There are a lot of differences in the plot.  For one thing, the miniseries takes place in the 1930's, not '40's, and there's more sex in it.  I don't even think there's a murder. It's that different.  What I think happened was that they added plot lines in the original film to make it into what later came to be known as noir, because that was becoming popular at the time the film was made.  The whole film revolves around the murder. They added the murder to make it into a noir or noir-ish, but it's basically still just a female melodrama.  One thing that I could never understand about the movie was why Mildred ever divorced her husband in the first place.  That's what sets the action in motion, but just suspecting that he might be having an affair and his employment problems were not grounds for divorce, especially not in 1945, and most especially for a woman with no job experience. 

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Today's actress Anna Kendrick looks a little like the daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) in this clip. It's always interesting to me to see a connection between Hollywood looks 70 years ago and today.

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I think that the noir vibe is mostly in the scheming and deceit from the women. Also, the harshness of what happens (a daughter slapping her mother). Great scene BTW. Haven't seen the film.

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I think that the noir vibe is mostly in the scheming and deceit from the women. Also, the harshness of what happens (a daughter slapping her mother). Great scene BTW. Haven't seen the film.

 

So the movie The Women is noir?      Lots of scheming and deceit in that one.  ;)

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So the movie The Women is noir?      Lots of scheming and deceit in that one.  ;)

 

I didn't say that all films with scheming and deceit from women are noir. Just that that's where I got the noir vibe from in this case  :P

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I didn't say that all films with scheming and deceit from women are noir. Just that that's where I got the noir vibe from in this case  :P

 

Like Bogie in The Big Sleep I was just cracking wise.   Anytime I see 'the women' and 'scheming and deceit' in the same sentence,  I'm reminded of the movie.    A movie where there isn't one man in the cast,  but a lot of scheming and deceit.    Maybe the movie was practice for Joan Crawford and her future 40s noir work.    On a serious note, the film also helped launch the comedy career of Rosalind Russell.   

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I feel that there is real kinship between Mildred Pearce and Stella Dallas.  Though both are melodramas, I wouldn't consider the latter to be film noir.  One of the main hallmarks of film noir for me in this scene is the dramatic score.  What really makes this noir for me is that the scene really gets into the darkness and corruption of the human soul - a young woman who, as her mother points out, will do just about anything for money.  Where this has an interesting link with melodrama and Stella Dallas is the class issues, and the broader struggles of single moms.

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Mildred Pierce reminds me of Shakespeare's King Lear both he and Mildred are blind to the true characters of thier daughters and are shaken to the core with the shock of realization, (also the fate of the younger daughters who are true of heart).

 

1)How do you feel the noir influence operates in this scene from Mildred Pierce?

2)How does Curtiz arrange these two actresses to heighten the tension of the scene? Pay attention to how they move and how they are framed in the scene, especially the use of close-ups. 

3) In what ways can this scene from Mildred Pierce be considered as an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

I found it difficult to separate the answers they seem too intertwined~

 

When I compare this to the dramas of the '30s where Kay Francis is arguing with someone it's often in a medium shot, but Curtiz uses far more cuts and close ups making this scene feel more visceral and tense culminating with physical violence. To set a noir in a small town (shattering the wholesome image) is not that new, but to have the person falling for the lies of the gold digging femme fatal be a woman and for them to be mother and daughter is very unusual. They are painted as equals by thier similar hair and black suits, dominance shifts back and forth in thier power struggle, fighting with words instead of fists. Their movement around the room and in relation to each other flows like a well choreographed dance mixed with a fencing match- advances retreats. Excellent lighting and score are the finishing touches to this depiction of the blackness the human soul is capable of.

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The Noir influence is seen in the ruthlessness of the daughter who goes over the top in portraying a sinister personality - lying to her boyfriend to get money, being proud and happy about doing so, and then when confronted, verbally lashing out at her mother, and if that was not enough, striking her mother.

 

Positioning: both characters present as tall figures dressed in black. Their movement was choreographed as each spoke to the other, ending with the violent scene that resulted in the mother banishing the daughter to a loud crescendo.

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A mother-daughter spat with a little higher stakes.

 

Rather unsettling music plays an important role in this scene where things are “spiraling” down and out of control; a seemingly innocent looking young girl with a sweet voice and pleasant smile suddenly turns savage.  But is it so "sudden?"  I should say not.  It’s pure, pent-up hatred (and, dare I say, unwarranted) released in climax.  

 

This severely ungrateful daughter lashes out at the only person who has stood by her.  Her mother, who has worked hard to raise them both out of a life of poverty, is shocked to finally see the truth.  Everything Mildred has done has been with her daughter in mind (and consequently, why she is a spoiled brat).  Mind you, nothing about their clothes, their mannerisms, or their house looks "cheap" to the audience, but this girl's face as she scrunches up her nose, along with her malicious and hate-filled words, reveals how it sickens her.  How she is filled with contempt for even her mother!

 

Notice the black dresses (almost as if in mourning)?  Something solemn and serious has just taken place, an occasion not to be treated lightly, but the addition of the flower on Veda lends a contrasting touch of gaiety.  A pregnant young girl (so she says) has connived for money from her fear-stricken young boyfriend and his rich family, yet she smiles and holds her precious trophy (the check) while gloating, victorious.  She couldn’t care less about the hurt and pain she has caused for all those involved.

 

As the tension heightens the two move closer together, though Veda is making it clear that she wants as much distance between the two of them as she can get.  Interesting.  A division is occurring, but the camera moves in.  It is here, while the daughter viciously makes her rant, that I have to wonder why Mildred isn’t the one doing the slapping.  The moment was perfect, but Joan is restrained.  Her only excuse must be in not yet having gotten over the shock.

 

And then that staircase!!!  Perfect, yet again!  That is the thing that stood out to me most, especially going into the scene with the words “cynical and twisted” in my mind.  That gothic, cold, wrought-iron staircase, the epitome of a “twisted” Veda, and the perfect landing for a slapped Mildred.  People say some pretty hurtful things when they’re mad, but Veda is beyond “the heat of the moment.”  Mildred finally sees this and retaliates, and it’s about time! 

 

As Eve Arden’s lovable, comedic self says, “Personally, Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea.  They eat their young.”

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Veda's just the worst person, isn't she? It takes a really strong character to make Joan Crawford seem vulnerable on screen.

 

Before film noir, there were stories of ungrateful children. But they were rarely as outright malicious and mean as Veda. She treats people like a flim noir thug treats a possible witness. I think it's basically the feel of a gangster movie transplanted into the story of a mother and daughter.

 

The stairs are a great way to even out the characters.When Mildred and Veda are standing next to each other on the floor, Mildred looms over her daughter. But once they're on the stairs, their positions are reversed and it's the daughter who's higher up than her mother.

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Generally the central role in noir movies is played by male characters, and here we have two women discussing about strongly female subjects (like pregnancy). But the tension on this scene is really well built-up. The dialogue is strong and well-marked by the original score. The cinematography always relies on the character with most dramatic tension, and Curtiz chooses close-ups to better point the most dramatic moments of the chatting. There's not much shadows on this particular scene, but the faces and all drama here envolved are all there.

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In the scene between mother and daughter in Mildred Pierce is film noir because of the daughter becoming femme fatale of the movie, only concern with giving money to get away from my mother.

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I found it interesting that Mildred is continually closing the gap between them (physically), while Veda keeps widening it by turning or walking away.  When Veda finally confronts her mother directly, she does move in, but it's only for a few seconds, then she moves away again to the stairs.  And after slapping her mother, the scene ends with Veda running up the stairs.  Even though Veda is the "aggressive" one in the scene, you know that Mildred holds the power.  I guess the Mother will always have control, especially if your mother is Joan Crawford.

 

Additionally, the stairs are used to enable staging that shows a shifting and pulling in the power relationship between the two - Veda stands from sitting and attempts to dominate, however Mildred is taller than Veda and 'stands above her (physically & morally) in when they are both in the living area "seeing you for the first time". Then the stairs are used effectviely to elevate Veda as she appears to 'get the upper hand' in the confrontation, however Mildred climbs the stairs and the two are shown at equal height briefly, right before the climactic slap and final expulsion when Mildred regains control.

 

Reminds me of the use of stairs in a key scene in Rebel Without a Cause where 'moral' power also shifts between the parents & the James Dean character.

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