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Daily Dose of Darkness #10: Nighthawking (A Scene from The Killers)


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The use of light and shadod and music to strengthen the suspense is obvious from the start. The steady beat of the music early in the clip reminds one of the music in  t v  weekly crime show "Dragnet". It is not the same music but very similar. When the young guy is running to tell Swede about the killers looking for him the music changes to a much faster tempo interjecting  even more urgency into the story. The scene in the diner is a contrast of stark whites( the owners jacket) against black(the overcoat of one of the killers). Some camera angles are tilted and the shots are mostly mid range shots. This suggests German expressionism. The dialogue, especially from the killers is typical noir-sharp, biting,and sarcastic in tone. The setting is almost stage like suggesting the theatre and a live performance. This reflects cinamatic realism.

 

The scene in the bedroom of Swede is all cimematic formalism with the hidden face of Swede, a scene of mystery and pessimism. Only his voice gives information about the person he really is. He is resolved to his fate. Not willing to get help from the police, not wanting to even identify the killers. I did something bad "once" Swede says and is willing to take the consequences for it. He even seems to welcome it in a self destructive mood that seems to define him. What is his personality profile?  He does not think about redemption or forgiveness-- much less whether he derserves it. Coulde he be redeemed, and start over? Only the harsh black and white, unbending reality of LIFE is present here. What could he have done ? Why has he given up on life?

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Q: What are some of the influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas (such as German expressionism) or other art forms? For example, consider this scene in relation to the work of Fritz Lang (who also worked at UFA).

A: The opening shot of the outside the diner has the camera positioned low and tilted at an angle. The realistic tough-guy dialogue and the interesting shot of the toughs leaving the diner and walking across the street to their car.

 

Q: How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede’s room?

A: When Nick runs from the diner to the Swede’s room, the camera angle switches from Nick running at street level to a shot of him from the Swede’s bedroom window. The camera then pulls into the bedroom, where we see the Swede on his bed in the dark. The camera continues to pan across the room to the front door where we see Nick enter. The lighting and shadows emphasize the Swede’s isolation and desperation. It’s a small space that makes him seem like a prisoner in his own room. 

 

Q: In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

A: As already mentioned, the clever camera work, the lights and shadows, the realistic dialogue, and the sense of gloom and dread that all of the above creates.

 

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I totally missed the aspect of the position of the radio in the scene with the Swede when his friend come to tell him 2 men are looking to kill him.  And it is an odd position, but something I have seen in reality.  I did notice the sharpness of the cinematography as he burst through the door of the Swede's apartment and the use of the shadow.  Realism is when they are in the diner and it changes when he enters the Swede's room to formalism.

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Watched the clip and now have something (slightly) more substantive to say than just "Eeeeee! The Killers! OMG, so good!"

 

To begin with, I really like the way that when we first see Lancaster, his head is entirely in shadow. There is a lamp right by his head, but he doesn't even bother to turn it on when Nick enters the room or as he's talking to him. Even his arm doesn't move. For all intents and purposes we're really looking at a man who is totally done running, or even caring.

 

His line "I did something wrong . . .once" totally sums up the fatal trajectory of so many noir characters. How often do we meet mostly normal men or women who, for love or greed or who knows what, commit just one wrong deed that sets them on a deadly path? What sets his character apart, to me, is that his character isn't full of blustering self-justifications. A lot of noir characters will defend their actions, even clearly immoral ones, literally to the grave. We see that not only has this man done something wrong, it has already cost him his will to live, and we can imagine that he's already paid some high price for it.

 

On a lighter note, I love that the diner owner leaves Nick tied up as he gets Sam a glass of water. And I couldn't help but smile and think of Hot Fuzz  ("What's the matter? Never taken a shortcut before?") as Nick was nimbly hopping fences.

Yes, I thought that was interesting too, that he untied his cook and got him a glass of water before untying the other man. (Although he did get him a glass of water too, plus the cook was his employee.)

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I won't claim to know much about formalism, but the house scene was clearly dramatically different visually from the other sequence. But what really makes this clip is the music..it adds that sense of urgency and rising danger in a deep and intense fashion. 

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It´s notable that a common scenario of police movies, (two killers going after his victim) turns into a terrifying atmosphere, where the lights and shadows (hardly seen the face of the Swedish) and background music, framing the despairing final words who expected resigned his imminent death, by "did something wrong... once". ( it´s a great noir heroes's own epitaph)

We then see elements of the German Cinema of the 1920s, especially the lighting... and the formalism to create that atmosphere so dark..., own cinema action and police American literature... and, if you add other elements of this film even though we don't see them in this show, as the flashback, an archetypal femme fatale, the things that go wrong..., to cite some examples, we find the essence of noir

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Music is an important part of this scene and makes such an impact on drama for the second part. The shift shows more of the German Expressionism with lighting contrast, shadows and wonderful camera angles. I love the high angle of the camera when he run through the yard from the diner.

In all the diner shots everything is very clear and straightforward but when they are in the Swedes room it is very mysterious and shadows are everywhere. It is taken one step further by never showing Burt Lancaster's face and the way he talks with the man, who is there to warn him, is so cool and matter of fact.

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This sequence from "The Killers" is by far one of the most richest scenes in film noir. I have never seen this movie, but I loved the way it transitions in form. You can definitely see the influence of the German Expression film style. I definitely think of Lang's "M" with the close-up shots which mainly this scene was shot. The beginning of this scene is filmed in true noir style. You have the sketchy men in bulky coats and fedoras delivering their lines in a straightforward kind of way. But what makes it more realistic is the softness of the camera giving the spectator that view realistic view as if they were right inside the diner. Once Henry runs to tell the Swede about the men, the shot frame becomes something different, which was a nice transition. The director uses the shadows/darkness to make that transition. I absolutely loved the Lang style of silhouettes in the dialgoue with Henry and the Swede. There is nothing, but complete darkness. The Swede's face is completely shadowed in darkness as Henry talks to him. I actually like the dark and light comparison between the characters through the aesthetics  of this scene. It's definitely a play on their characters and visual decision of the director. 

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The Killers’ Real Nighthawk

 

The only one not worried about hit men gunning for The Swede appears to be The Swede himself. In fact, the utter quiet of Burt Lancaster, as he lies motionless on the bed, his face in deep shadow, caused me to wonder if the killers had already done their worst.  After long seconds, Lancaster finally speaks, and his voice is flat, resigned. The entire scene of the prone man, the looming shadow on the wall, and the anxious friend leaning over him, could be a photographic still. It would not have looked out of place in the files of New York photographer Arthur Fellig—better known as “Weegee.”

 

Fellig, who prowled the “mean streets” of New York City’s Lower East Side from 1935 to the ‘60s, reportedly worked only at night, listening to police scanners for news of fresh crime scenes. Some even claimed Fellig could sense a crime before it happened. Hence, his nickname—like the old “fortune teller” board game.

 

From the stills I’ve seen, Weegee’s style looks like pure film noir, with its stark, graphic black and white images and interesting angles. They capture poignant scenes of poverty—a cluster of young children sleeping on a rickety-looking fire escape, as well as photos of crime, death, and other dark calamities.

 

Although Weegee dealt in realism, the subject matter and his photographic style give his work an eerie, other-worldly quality that might be formalistic as well. Or maybe the strangeness comes from our wish to deny and look away from the grim images.

Even Weegee acknowledged the contradiction, and he summed things up in a quotation that sounds straight from Sam Spade/Bogie’s mouth:

 

“Sure. I’d like to live regular. Go home to a good-looking wife, a hot dinner, and a husky kid. But I guess I got film in my blood. I love this racket. It’s exciting. It’s dangerous. It’s funny. It’s tough. It’s heartbreaking.”

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The Killers has a lot of UFA influence on it in how it has center action with action above or at the side of it as well. It also utilizes the same lightning techniques for lighting characters, or not lighting them in the case of Lancaster when he is lying in bed. the us of moving cameras is also similar to Lang.

 

It goes from a lit seiner to darkness to a even darker lit room. The sequence utilizes three distinct settings, each with its owning lighting, sound and movement. It is interesting how you can hear all of the main characters in the film but when Burt Lancaster speaks it is very subdued and nuanced. The different edits and camera movements are reminiscent of several different styles all mixed together here.

 

This dialogue has a strong noir quality to it. The use of object placement, lighting and use of musical score all have the genre's qualities to them. There is a grime to these characters that is also of the noir style.

 

Phil Brown who stars as Nick Adams was Uncle Owen in the first Star Wars film. He was a working actor until he was blacklisted in the HUAC hearings. He did have a nice career though in films and TV.

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The Killers by director Robert Siodmak is considered great Film Noir. Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner were new comers in this film. After the film was released Lancaster became an overnight star. Gardner's performance was widely acclaimed and she won Look magazine's award for the best newcomer of the year. The film also established Siodmak as an A grade director. The movie doesn't really explain the motives behind all killings. The Killers was based on Ernest Hemingway's short story of the same name. And in that story also the killing and the motives behind are not explained.

Ava Gardner had been under contract with MGM since 1941, and though she had been married to Mickey Rooney. And she had not appeared in any memorable roles before. According to Gardner, Hemingway considered The Killers the best of all the many films based on his tale.

In the opening scene, two hit-men Max (William Conrad) and and Al (Charles McGraw) come to a small town to kill “the Swede". The Swede's cop-worker at a gas station warns him but, strangely, he makes no attempt to flee, and they kill him.

In the final scene, Jim Edmond (Edmond O'Brien), the astute investigator and Lt. Sam Lubinsky (Sam Levene) are waiting in the Bar and when the hit-men enter the Bar, they recognize the hit-men during shootout and kill them.

 

The Killers is an acclaimed Film Noir, but it's not my favorite film.

 

 

 

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1.)  You can see the influence of German expressionism is the stylistic choices made in this scene from The Killers.  Camera angles are canted as in the opening shot when the annoyed customer leaves the diner.  Canted camera angles and sharp angular shadows are reminiscent of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The high contrast black and white shots inside the diner are familiar to many of the shots from Fritz Lang's M.  In many of Lang's compositions such as the openings scene from M,  characters are shown only partially or in deep shadow such as the killer's shadow on the wanted poster. The scenes inside of Burt Lancaster's apartment recall imagery from Fritz Lang' s Metropolis.  Metropolis uses many objects in its mise-en-scene that have sharp edges and angles.  The influence of painting is also highly visible in the scene in Lancaster's characters apartment.  Many paintings show scenes in shadow with details of the scene illuminated by pools or shafts of light.  The shaft of light comes from the open door. 

 

2.)  The opening scenes in the diner are filmed in much the same way that a documentary about a diner may have been photographed.  The scenes is well lit with high contrast and attention to detail.  Everything in the diner and what's on the counter is clearly visible. The characters faces are well lit and their dialogue is delivered with vitality.

 

         As the scene shifts from the diner to the Swedes room, the lighting becomes noticeably darker.  Scenes have high shadows.  When the man enters the Swede's room,  there is only the light from the hallway to light his room and yet his face is completely in shadow.  Unlike the scene in the diner,  the Swede's dialogue is delivered without energy, without care.

 

 

3.   This film can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style because it wa one of the first Hollywood  films to blend seamlessly German expressionism with the hard-boiled crime film.

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Right off the bat, we see the heavy influence of German Expressionistic lighting with strong shadows and low-key lighting in the diner but especially in the Swede's room. Swede (Lancaster) is bathed in complete darkness, sheer and utter mystery. The shadow of the young man warning him is beautifully curved above Swede: hanging gently above him (appearing gentle yet slightly menacing). I find the diner scene reflects bits of Expressionistic lighting with the stark shadows of leaves and across the men's faces, making them appear sinister. While the diner scene relates to a more cinematic realism, with the camera peering through the front store window (a direct theoretical relation to realism as "looking out/in via a window" "window onto the world" à la Hopper's Nighthawks painting.), Swede's room shifts to a formalistic style with heavy, protruding shadows and total darkness to create a mood of suspense and mystery. Interestingly enough, the store front window introduces us to staunch realism in the diner and then a low angle shot taken from a window throws us into "another world" (Swede's bedroom). Both window shots swiftly transport us from a realist to a formalist universe. 

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Film Noir as the melding of realism and formalism.

 

The shots of the diner and the dark light city streets elicit reflections of Weegee's night photography and Hopper's Nighthawks; this film, like its influences, paints a lonely urban landscape of isolation and intrigue.  As the saying goes, "Nothing good happens after midnight" (unless it's a baby being born), and the viewer gets this feeling that the two thugs who question the diner worker are up to no good.  Each frame of this film clip could be a photograph or a painting.  Like Fritz Lang's movies, The Killers deals in the shadows and the dim lights of the dismal and desolate.  The film goes from realism to formalism with the high and wide shots as the freed man from the diner goes to the Swede to let him know the news of the thugs' arrival.  These shots have a more surreal perspective, and when we arrive at the Swede's room we do not even see his face.  The Swede speaks but with such fatigue that we a s viewers almost think he is dead and speaking from the grave.  The scene from the Killers shows seamlessly how these two approaches to the movie can be combined, and this scene further exemplifies how film noir does stand in the middle of these two perspectives.

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I particularly like the sense of doom that pervades the sequence that begins with Nick running to warn the Swede.  

 

The introduction of Burt Lancaster's character - a "headless" body lying preternaturally still in the shadows - and the dull acceptance of his responses to Nick - "I'm through with all that running around" and "I did something wrong - once" - all of it is laden with a terrible, irrevocable fate. 

 

Although the literary source is Hemingway, you could be easily think - given the grim hopelessness of the situation - that Cornell Woolrich was the author. - Perhaps the screenwriters (credited and uncredited) owed as much to Woolrich as they did to Hemingway.

 

It doesn't get much more 'noir' than this!

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German expressionist films are some of my favorite. I can see their influence in many film noir films including The Killers. In this scene the first thing I noticed was the camera angle when looking into the coffee shop while the men were speaking to the man working the counter. It was angled to capture the all the action. Through out this clip, the camera captured a large amount of the set and action. Also, the lighting created large distorted shadows. The building where the young man was running past in the dark to tell the Swede the bad guys plan looked very expressionist with its dark arches.

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Wk 3 The Killers

 

 -- What are some of the influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas (such as German expressionism) or other art forms? For example, consider this scene in relation to the work of Fritz Lang (who also worked at UFA).  The first shot is voyeuristic and at a low angle: I feel as though I am sitting in my car in the parking lot watching what’s going on inside.  This is public.  Once the man leaves, so do I.  The next shot is from inside.  This is private.  There’s a hostage situation that no one can see from outside. Pronounced shadows on the ceiling of the diner. Overly dramatic music that pumps up the gravity. Long shadows as the man runs through the alleyway. Large shadow of the “messenger” on the wall.  “The Swede’s” face is barely visible in the darkness. 

 

-- How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room? The camera is relatively stable in all of the diner shots, both in front and in the kitchen.  It moves only to pan slightly left or right.  It doesn’t follow the proprietor through the door; the shot picks up in the next room. It is merely recording the action, not commenting on it.  Once we leave, the camera is moving seemingly as fast as the man who is running, giving us a sense that we are running too.  The camera actually gets there to the Swede’s room before the runner does.  Once the shot shifts to a high angle of the alleyway, we get an idea of how far he has come and still needs to go.  In the realisitc approach of the diner, we see it "lit up."  Once we are outside and in the Swede’s room, it seems that only diegetic lighting is used. Lighting to accent the filmmaker’s vision.  Here it is truly artistically, thematically "lit."

 

-- In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style? The tracking shot was pretty ambitious and at a very fast pace.  The camera is part of the action.  This particular tracking shot seemed to pull the runner along, not just follow along. It’s not static, and even when the camera is stationary, the angle or placement of it creates tension, e.g., after the thugs leave, the proprietor is watching them across the street through the window.  It creates tension from this perspective, seeing them over the observer’s shoulder.  Placing the camera high in the alleyway shot gives us a vertiginous feeling, similar to what the runner may have felt jumping over the fence. The music contributes as well, silences as well as crescendos and pulses.  It’s all about making the viewer feel like they are there.  Also, the big deal is, in Noir, you do bad, you get punished, that’s why the Swede is passively awaiting a fate that is unavoidable.

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Our opening view in the clip from The Killers starts outside the diner and I feel the visual design was to disorient the audience and by having the camera angle askew, we are made to see/feel something is not right.  This feeling is further emphasized by the frustrated customer being turned away from a meal as hit man William Conrad observes and intimidates the owner from the other end of the counter.  Once the camera moves inside the diner we shift to a straight (level angle) medium shot from the opposite side of the counter from the owner ("bright boy") as if we were customers witnessing the whole ordeal in a more realistic almost documentary style.  When Nick runs out of the diner to warn the Swede the camera follows along at a similar pace maintaining the urgency of the scene.  Only moving to a more formalistic view of the runner when the camera switches to a long shot which is actually through the Swede's window and then the camera casually pans over to the where Burt Lancaster is motionless in the dark shadows of his room.  This is a pretty smooth transition Siodmak's camera makes considering we were watching Nick running  the neighborhood obstacles in what seemed like "real time" and all of a sudden we are in the Swede's darkened room and in a brief amount of time joined by Nick, catching his breath as he gives his dire warning.  I believe the camera work and set design were all made to maintain the tension and reality of the scene/action by being so fluid, as to not draw attention to the technique but keep the focus on the drama which it does so well.

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In M you don't see the killer's face, just the body. In the Killers, you clearly see the killers. What you don't see is the proposed victim.  He's in the dark, and ke is calm. It is as if he doesn't care if he dies or he deserves to die. The two killers are rushed. They actively pursue him, while the victim just waits.

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What are some influences you see in this sequence from other cinemas or other art forms?

 

Having seen the clip from "M", I see the influence of Lang's work in the shadows and the overhead shot that follows Nick as he runs to Swede. Both techniques create suspense and urgency. When we meet Swede, we never see him. He is hidden in the shadow adding to the mystery, letting the audience know something is wrong. The shot instantly reminded me of our introduction to the "Man in Black" in "M".

 

How does this sequence shift its visual design from realism to formalism, as it moves from the diner to the Swede's room?

 

While the sequence shifts, the suspense is maintained. It's all very dark and mysterious with its shadows and the way the camera pans. The quick movements add to it.

 

In what ways can this sequence from The Killers be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

I love Burt Lancaster's line of "I did something wrong...once". It's a perfect setup for the storytelling that lies ahead for him and his character. What did he do wrong? What is his relation to the thugs? Just who is this man behind the shadow? When you think of the villain, you think of that person being hidden in a shadow for a big reveal, not the prospective victim so to have this happen in this film is a unique take. While noir films are mostly shot in black and white, the details and their narratives are a little more gray.

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The very first opening shot in this clip could pass for a Weegee photo. We are not sure what to look at, the angle is low but has multiple focal points; the inside of the diner, the lamppost, the door, etc. While documentary and journalist in style, the low angle is carefully composed. It's like we are taking a natural setting, and altering it to achieve a heightened tension. The diner is cramped, only room for those at the bar and those passing by it. It feels like an Edward Hopper painting in that it is empty and quiet. There is no room for two, or for any conversation here so grab your cup of coffee and get out. No chef equals no food. Nothing. Scram.

When we meet the main character, we really don't ever meet him. The room is entirely in the dark, sparking our curiosity. The chiaroscuro is all in the darker values, leaving a more subtle area to decipher clues in the room. Until..... that door opens and there's a sudden new stark contrast. It should be noted that we never see the man's face on the bed. This is very similar to both Dark Passage and M where we don't even get a glimpse of the main character's face until much later. Unlike Dark Passage and M, where both characters had a good deal of stress and movement from the top, the character in this film is almost asleep on the bed, horizontally positioned, with a very calm voice. This also mirrors Edward Hopper's quiet lonesome style. 

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The formalism of the Swede's room turns it into a viewing of the dead. The Swede lays there unmoving except for his head once, which is shrouded in shadow. The clock (the reaper's hour glass?) sets above his bed on the mantle, and his friend looks down over him like a mourner. It is a drastic shift from the well lit realism of the cafe.

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From the start you can see the similarity to Hopper's painting. In fact, it is like quite a few of Hopper's images where people are sparse, and when he uses them, they are archetypal. Hopper used locations, objects, and lighting to tell stories about the people who inhabited his structures. The same is true in noir. The settings are characters in themselves. The diner is a symbol of how easy it is for the inadvertent crossing of two paths. Thus changing fates all together.

 

The camera begins from outside looking in. Natural and unrehearsed. There is a candid quality to this angle as the customer comes in and is rejected. The shift to formalism comes next. What indicates the shift is how the camera behaves within its location. Outside the diner, the camera is a POV shot, as if it were an actual person. Inside the diner, the camera is positioned in places where a person wouldn't actually be able to reside in the environment naturally.  Furthermore, after the owner unties his employees, there is a very formal shot in which the camera is strategically positioned, framing the Killers in the distance,  but the frame also includes the owner looking out the diner window at the "killers". We see the Killers look back at the diner possibly noticing the cook was released. For all it's formalism, the camera behaves naturally here as if the viewer is being put in the shoes of a character. An interesting blur of style. 

The similarity to someone like Lang begins with the opening shot in the staging, but skips the formalist part and picks back up again as the camera tracks the young man looking for the "Swede". My favorite is the wide tilt shot looking down as the man hops a picket fence, then the camera pulls back into the room of the swede, pans across him lying down, then to the door opening as the young man comes in. One continuous shot.

The shadow work and framing are consistent with Lang as well. It is so quiet and the Swede is so unresponsive that you wonder if the Killers got him already, but then he finally breathes, you see his chest move, and he answers-an attempt to change his fate. 

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For the first question I don't have much experience with other forms of cinema but compared to M with Fritz Lang you see the contrast with the light and shadow and how that is used in the German expressionalism. I really felt the late night scene and set-up really was reminiscent of Nighthawks. Just the tension that can occur once the sun goes down in these diner type locations.

 

The scene starts much more realistic and we're building the tension in the interaction between the killers and the diner staff. As the character jumps the fences we move more and more into contrasting pictures with the deep shadows that can hinder our vision and open up the possibility of expressing emotions or interior passions/feelings.

 

This scene is a great tension builder and shows how so much can happen in a scene even if there is no real 'action' that occurs.

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