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Daily Dose of Darkness #11: Crossing Over (Opening Scene from Border Incident)


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  • What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

 

To me, I believe that the mood or atmosphere being established through the visual design and the voiceover narration of this realistic documentary sequence is an educational tone but still cynical and twist like most noir films.

 

In addition to this, I also believe that the sequence’s visual design and voiceover narration also adds darker undercurrents and ominous overtones of fate to this film’s mood.

 

  • What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style?

 

I believe that the documentary realism gives noir films the ability to make their antagonist non-human characters to increase the range and evolution of the film noir style.

 

For example, I believe that this documentary’s realism sequence describes “Bigger and Better Business” as the overall antagonist of this film noir.

 

To me, this approach allows the audience to learn that there are actually several guilty parties involved in these dark undercurrents of the business world.

 

  • In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

I believe that the opening of Border Incident can be considered an important contribution to the film noir style because it is educational, but it is also cynical and twisted at the same time through the use of visual design and voiceover narration.

 

For example, it allows the audience to see the darker undercurrents of America’s workforce in regard to the California-Mexico border and the nefarious characters that consist of that world of business.

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"Someone will doubtless find reason to comment on the renewed relevance of the problem of illegal aliens. No such parallel can exist. Again, I think it's still all about noir:"

 

Bruno Anthony, I do see a huge similarity. Even if the similarity is only that 65 years on, "the problem of illegal aliens" continues. canadians are not immune from having few if any solution to our social issues.

 

As for noir and the real world, Cornered, one of my favourites, dealt with residual justice from WW2. A number of other films of the period, noir to the bone, were fed and nourished by unresolved issues flowing out of that war.

 

I agree with you.   I was kind of shocked when I saw this film 8 or so years ago,  that after so many decades the root causes and issues associated with illegal immigrations were still unaddressed.     Not to get too political but these root issues impact the lives of those from all (both) sides of the border.   e.g. the exploitation of illegal immigrants by ruthless U.S. employers.     

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Photograph of John Alton is excellent... even though it is a natural environment... the image of the border, and the fence of barbed gives a touch of drama to the film, close to the language of the noir


John Alton worked in the 1930s in Argentina, collaborating in the realization of many films in the early Argentine cinema

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Daily Dose of Darkness #11: Crossing Over (Opening Scene from Border Incident)

What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

With each shot it seems we’re getting closer and closer to the story of one incident (although it is a composite based on several incidents). The voiceover narration gives all the background details, and each shot gives us examples of what the narrator mentions: the waterway along the border between California and Mexico, the agricultural fields in the Imperial Valley of California, braceros waiting to cross the border, several small figures running for the border. The diagonal lines in each shot lead our eyes into the next shot, as does the camera diagonally up from left to right and along the lines in the shots. The movement going up is broken when the camera shows us the braceros, and the narrator starts discussing the illegal activity along the border that generates human suffering.

—What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style, and how is the opening of Border Incident an important contribution to the film noir style?

Documentary realism gives any story grittiness. Audiences tend to believe that what they’re seeing in a documentary is true, even though documentary film is edited and shows us only what it wants to show us, and even if the narrator tells us that what audiences are seeing is a composite based on many factual stories. The opening of Border Incident reminds me of The Naked City (both the film [1948] and the television show [1958–1963]) and even Route 66 (another television show [1960–1964]). Instead of a camera hovering over the city (as in The Naked City), successive shots in Border Incident lead the audience into the story and complement the voiceover narration.

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I think that the voice-over and method of presentation would have been familiar to cinema viewers of Pathe News and similar and was possibly designed to lull the viewer into a false sense of complacency.

 

As the clip continues, the scene, tone and message gets almost imperceptibly darker: contrast the brightness of California and it's orderly fields at the beginning and it's grimy underbelly highlighted by the crush of people at the border fence and the talk of bandits at the end.

 

I can't say as the clip gripped me...but it's another film to add to those I want to watch, if nothing else to see where we go from here.  

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The opening segment shows barbed wire and uses dramatic music to indicate possible conflict forthcoming. Alton's camera pans over the geometrical fields of the Imperial Valley in an informative non threatening manner. The narrator uses a journalistic tone to explain how the US is dependent on Mexican labor. He goes on to emphasize that this army of workers works to harvest food for our tables!! Next, the camera moves in to give a close-up of the forlorn "braceros" waiting to obtain a legal work permit.  The next frame shifts everything by bringing back the barbed wire and the narrator dramatically tells us of the human suffering, injustice and the criminal "braceros. The scene closes with a shot of the prohibitive signs from both borders. The message thus far seems to be that there are many culprits, villains and abusers in this story.

Documentary realism allows for true to life situations and stories to be unfolded for others to witness and learn. In film noir, it is a combination of a real news story with drama. it is an opportunity for film noir to originate from reality as opposed to literary fiction and for movie makers to offer their opinion on real situations

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After watching this clip from "Border Incident" I played it back again imagining I was in the theatre. I most likely saw the poster outside the theatre and have an idea what the movie is about having read a critic review and/or seen the trailer.

 

I realize almost as soon as the narrator begins talking, that he speaks outside the film because he sounds like a reporter talking directly to me- not as a character in the film about to guide me through it.

 

Narrators in film noir normally are characters in the movie and they talk in the first person- we see the movie through their eyes- its their story. Here the narrator sounds more like an instructor informing us and/or giving us background information in order to improve our understanding of the film we are about to see. the are not part of the story.

 

in this clip, the information is presented so well and in such a manner as to make one believe that we are ready to see the drama.  

 

The aerial camera gives us a view we are not accustom to. I remember seeing World War II footage taken from the sky and how it felt like I was an eyewitness. Another example of outside influence on film noir.

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Although having a narration similar to Pathe News clips draws viewers in, I didn't find this opening to be very gloomy or to convey a very film noir tone. The only aspect that seemed to hint at something darker was the cinematography, where Alton's images seemed to consistently move to darker and darker, both in composition and in theme.

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The opening narration is journalistic and matter of fact. This suggests that the story to follow will likewise be realistic and believable. I haven't seen the film yet, but if it is like most of the films shown so far on TMC, it will probably strain credulity. This opening is like the modern equivalent of the phrase "based on a true story," which seems to precede about half of the current films I see, and after the film I'm usually thinking "truth is indeed stranger than fiction." Further, the narrator sounds like a reporter who is providing a framing device for the film which distances us from the action to come.

 

The photographic angle of the fields and canals from above and from a distance produces an almost abstract geometrical composition which is really quite beautiful in a stark sort of way. The subsequent geometric images of the chain link fence and barbed wire, however, is anything but beautiful. It's threatening and oppressive, which puts us in territory more familiar in noir.

 

I'm looking forward to this film. Interesting to note how the immigration issue stretches back in California history.

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I have not seen this movie but look forward to the screening this week. The visual styling by John Alton is interesting and I am curious to see how this movie plays out in a noir fashion; I can only imagine something along the lines of --but not nearly as twisted as-- "Touch of Evil". ;)

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I havent seen Border Town in years but its an excellent film, The opening is like The Naked City and the Killing. When I first watched those two movies i thought yawn- fest.. boy was I wrong, and like some one else said- that narrator had the monopoly on narrating films :lol:

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The opening narration is journalistic and matter of fact. This suggests that the story to follow will likewise be realistic and believable. I haven't seen the film yet, but if it is like most of the films shown so far on TMC, it will probably strain credulity. This opening is like the modern equivalent of the phrase "based on a true story," which seems to precede about half of the current films I see, and after the film I'm usually thinking "truth is indeed stranger than fiction." Further, the narrator sounds like a reporter who is providing a framing device for the film which distances us from the action to come.

 

The photographic angle of the fields and canals from above and from a distance produces an almost abstract geometrical composition which is really quite beautiful in a stark sort of way. The subsequent geometric images of the chain link fence and barbed wire, however, is anything but beautiful. It's threatening and oppressive, which puts us in territory more familiar in noir.

 

I'm looking forward to this film. Interesting to note how the immigration issue stretches back in California history.

I also couldn't help but notice the shapes and lines in this clip. There were so many straight lines and very little deviation, until we get to the linked fence. The fence most definitely provided an ominous presence in this clip, and I believe Mann and Alton envisioned something symbolic about oppression with these men essentially behind a cage. There was no warmth, only coldness in every sense of the word "cold." 

 

A general question for all -- who does the voiceover for this clip? It sounds like James. A FitzPatrick to me; he was known as "The Voice of the Globe" from around the 1930s until the 1950s or so, and his "TravelTalks" shows are on TCM quite often. If it is him, then he adds some definite weight to the documentary realism discussed in today's Daily Dose. If it isn't him, kudos to Mann for finding someone with a similar voice. 

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Having this film start out as a documentry made it not feel like a film noir to me. Not until if showed the people at the fence. That's when it made me feel like a noir story was coming. The documentry feeling was a great way to start the movie by giving some background info. 

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I'm not sure why but I almost feel a similar scene could have played out in Breaking Bad.  This style of storytelling feels very modern - I could just see snippets of this cutting over to Gustavo Fring in Mexico.  It's a jarring but interesting way to draw the eye in, plus it gets the boring details out of the way to start the story you're about to tell. 

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If you sat down to watch this film in 1949 without knowing anything about it, you would probably think you were watching a newsreel. The documentary realism style employed in this opening scene is devoid of emotion. Facts are stated by a narrator in an official way, like he is reading from a script. "Nature never waits," he says. Manpower is needed and it comes from a vast army of neighbors to the south in Mexico. It is all very factual, almost cold. We are looking down at this vast land through a camera that is jittery, adding more to the realism.

 

This realistic style gives the filmmaker more tools to work with. By taking the action out of the city and using the landscape instead of the cityscape, the style broadens the scope for the noir filmmaker who now has a new world to explore. The realism distances the audience from movie but has the ability to pull us back in at any time. For example, Anthony Mann moved from impersonal overhead shots of the land to the tight shots of the migrant workers seemingly trapped behind the fence. Suddenly we are invested in what we are watching; then the narration finally informs us that we are about to watch a true story. It will be interesting to see where the film goes from that point and how it continues to use the documentary realism style.

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The opening scene of Border Incident sets up a threatening atmosphere. The V.O. provides the premise in telling how the vast farmland employs migrant Mexican farm workers (braceros), most of which abide by both the U.S. and Mexican laws. However, some braceros illegally come to the U.S., work, return to Mexico with their money, only to be robbed by bandits. Upon receiving this information there is a noticeable shift in lighting. Once the V.O. tells of ominous bandits and illegal workers, the film falls rather dark as we see three people running through the desert. The choice of words in stating the bandits "infest both sides of the border" references a bothersome species, such as roaches or rats. And people's use of proper protocol in ridding an area of an infestation is extinguishment.

 

I feel film noir infused with a documentary feel undoubtedly gives a sense of realism. Documentaries often bring about awareness to an issue or cause, therefore adding this effect can help create a mindset of "this could happen or is already happening". Given this added layer to film noir, audiences displeased with the genre/style preceeding 1946 could be drawn to the more realistic feel.

 

This opening scene shows the sweeping, American land. These images are reminiscent of our freedom and the ultimate price many had recently paid in WWII. The combining of said images play on emotions, especially when they are keenly accompanied by a V.O. talking of bandits crisscrossing the American border. Thus, the angst has returned, dread surrounds.

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The narration remained me of those educational films I watched in elementary school, butt I guess it needed to be a bit dead panned to establish context. The wide shots were like a travelogue, but context again. The noir aspect came in with the c.loseups of the braceros behind the fence waiting to go to work (they looked like prisoners) and the shot of the border. Both scenes were dark and shadowy and the music took a ominous turn.

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Film Noir and Documentary Realism--It really is real!

 

The mood or atmosphere at the beginning of the film is quite friendly and lively much like the format of a travelogue or informative film on agriculture, but then this mood changes to one of danger and intrigue with the appearance of the braceros waiting behind the tall chain link fence.  Now it almost seems like a prison type atmosphere, but the immigrant workers are wanting to get into the country.  The mood becomes even more dismal and desperate with the wide sweeping vista of a desert  edged by a barbed wire fence.  The film transforms to a docu-drama with the voiceover stating that the movie is an investigation into a composite case of wronged immigrant workers based on files from the US Naturalization and Immigration Office.

 

The utilization of documentary realism in the movie The Border Incident provides a dramatic yet factual context for the plot of the film.  We know that the actual characters are not real, but they are based on documented facts from a federal agency.  In short, the events of the film are believable to the audience and hence add authenticity to the topic at hand. 

 

Documentary realism is an important contribution to film noir given that it adds an extra level of gritty substance to the movies.  When the audience feels that the film is based on facts, then the viewers feel a deeper sense of horror and shock at the events that take place.

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The intro is full of contrasts, which provide tension or release:  The dramatic music during the title sequence followed by the matter-of-fact narrative (which brought to mind a TV show from the 50's called Industry on Parade), the farm land and fruit trees located in a desert region, the open and sparsely populated landscape shot from a distance vs the close up of humanity crowded at the border fence, the danger sign out in the middle of nowhere.

 

I looked up All American Canal, and found that it is considered by some to be The Most Dangerous Body of Water in the US.  Sounds Noir to me.

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I never really thought documentaries having a noir style, but as this course continues, I'm re-evaluating how I define film noir. I can see how this particular sequence utilizes the style. The straight lines moving across the scene replicates those we see in darker, crime/heist films. In this film, it's agriculture/nature; in others, it's shadows, buildings, i-beams. The panning consists of a crane effect filmed at a 45 degree angle; a staple in film noir.

 

As for the narration, I immediately thought of L.A. Confidential, which also began in a documentary narrative style about life in California. I can't recall any other film that does this, but I will definitely be more mindful as I watch and rewatch other films noir. At this film's onset, the speakers tone created a type of a positive mood; hopeful and dream like. However, upon mention of illegal immigration, I noticed the speaker's tone dropped lower, the picture itself was darker thereby creating a contrasting mood for the viewer.Now it is more dreary, scary, even cautionary. The background music also changed with this contrast from bracero to illegal immigrant.

 

I've never seen this film, but it will be on my must watch list.

Well said

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The Border Incident… by way of Chinatown

I confess that my first impression of The Border Incident had little to do with course work. I was struck by how differently this film would resonate with American and Mexican audiences of 2015 as opposed to those in the mid-1940s. For the latter, issues of water rights, drought, ruined farms, and immigration had not yet reached the hot-potato stage of controversy they are today.

I wrongly assumed that California’s Imperial Valley, touted in The Border Incident as a “flourishing garden,” would today be parched and lunar-like, judging by the talking heads on TV. Not so. It turns out that, thanks to the 1922 Colorado River Compact, the Imperial Valley (population approx. 175,000) is apparently still lush from 3.1 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado. Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, which serves 19 million people, receives only 1.1 million acres-feet of water. And now, during severe and prolonged drought, there are rumblings aplenty.

 

Once more, life imitates art and vice-versa. This free association brought to mind Roman Polanski’s classic neo-noir Chinatown, which centers on water rights in 1937 San Francisco. Though Chinatown is not vintage noir and is not presented as a documentary like The Border Incident, it shares a commonality in being based on actual events and characters. However, Chinatown’s plot is highly stylized fiction, while The Border Incident is highly stylized fact.

To extend the comparison, Chinatown’s Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) speaks in his signature nasal, bored-to-tears voice, typical of classic film noir PIs. The VO of The Border Incident sounds as if narrating global destruction and is augmented by a foreboding musical intro (directed by Andre Previn, known best now as a classical musician and conductor). As music and VO boom, ominous images of rain clouds and craggy rock formations appear. Then a CU of anxious faces pressed against double fencing, with razor wire looming overhead. It’s all a bit much, in my opinion. The topic is valid and serious, but it isn’t Armageddon. For me, documentary realism married to film noir seems contrived and awkward. But then to the survivors of the horrors of WWII, it may have seemed perfectly normal. Context, context.

So nice to read the reference to Chinatown! I'll never forget John Huston as the creepy old dad ;)

 

Those comparisons are really good and undoubtedly true to Polanski's inspirations of film noir. He must have thought of Border Incident when doing the ground work. Good one!

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What mood or atmosphere—through the visual design and the voiceover narration—is being established in this realistic documentary sequence?

 

The mood that I sense is desolation and a sense of desperation.  The land is so vast that it looks like it could easily swallow you up.  Large canals that do on forever.  And the scene with all the workers pressed up against the fence is extremely powerful.  It shows how desperate people are to make a living.  The narration is very matter of fact and thus makes the plight of the people very real.  

 

What do you think documentary realism adds to the evolution and increased range of the film noir style?

 

I think in this case it adds a sense of powerlessness.  The scenes are so matter of fact that it seems dismal.  As if the life depicted by the migrant workers is void of any emotion at all.  It feels like a life of constant struggle to survive.

 

In what ways can the opening of Border Incident be considered an important contribution to the film noir style?

 

The opening scene sets the stage for a certain lifestyle, one of struggle, fear and desperation.  In just a few scenes, we are drawn into the life of the migrant worker.  By giving us facts in a documentary style, all kinds of emotion cross your mind when you see the workers pressed against the fence.  Their faces seem void of emotion, except their eyes are looking forward as if just beyond the gate must be something better.  

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