28 Feb
2010

The Real Story of the Shining in 6 Frames

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Much love to the bava.

14 Feb
2010

Reading Mulvey

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For Tuesday I’ve asked you to read British film theorist Laura Mulvey‘s hugely important and influential 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Since the copy we have is all marked up, you can download a clean version from another source here. It’s also available in HTML at the Brown University Wiki.

As I noted in class, this is a very challenging essay. It relies heavily on psychoanalytic theory and can seem confusing at first, but it is logically organized and reasonably argued. While some of the concepts Mulvey works with may be difficult and unfamiliar, a careful, attentive reading will reveal an interesting and provocative argument that makes sense whether or not you agree with it. So go slowly and make note of what you don’t understand, want to discuss, or would like clarified further. You may not totally grasp every idea Mulvey raises right away, but you should be able to get a pretty good sense of her overall argument — enough to give us a lot to talk about in class on Tuesday. This is a well known and controversial essay that has been discussed, debated, refuted and refined by film students, scholars and filmmakers for the last 35 years and now we’re going to join the conversation.

At it’s most basic, Mulvey’s argument is that the perspective of Hollywood films has historically been a male one, predisposing viewers to identify with men onscreen and to see women in the movies merely as passive objects, there to be looked at by by both the male characters and the spectator.  The “gaze” Hollywood films offer, she argues, is a male one so that when we watch a movie, we look with the men, but look at the women.

Grace Kelly and James Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window (1954)

I am looking forward to our discussion on Tuesday and to establishing explicit connections between Mulvey’s argument and the films we’ve seen so far, particularly the noirs we’ve been watching for the last two weeks.

If you have questions you’d like to pose before our discussion (or even after), feel free to post them here in a comment.

11 Feb
2010

Fear, Paranoia, and Anxiety in M

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First of all, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed this movie. I am not a big fan of black and white films and I think that is because I grew up watching color films and never had the motivation to watch black and white films. In this film especially, I noticed that the dark colors added to the sense of fear and paranoia in certain scenes. One scene where the use of lighting adds to the sense of fear for the viewer is the scene where the criminals are looking for the killer in the attic. The killer shuts off the lights so as to not be seen and the viewer has no idea what to expect, instilling a sense of fear within the viewer.

One of my favorite scenes in the movie was the scene in the office building. Being a very big fan of heist movies, this scene looked like it would be a perfect scene in a heist movie such as “Heat.” It had many elements of a heist movie including several criminals, a very devious motive, and it gave the viewers a sense of paranoia. I found it very ironic that I, as the viewer, found myself biting my nails throughout this scene while many of the crooks, who went into the building to capture the killer, did not seem to portray any sense of fear of the situation they were in; after all, they were chasing a killer. They seemed to walk into the building without any worries of being caught by the police. Once inside the building, the crooks freely walked around the building looking for a murderer. In the midst of all the fear and paranoia within that city, the criminals seemed to be focused on their mission to get rid of the killer in an effort to resume their “business.”

-Minhaj

10 Feb
2010

"Double Indemnity"

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I really enjoyed watching “Double Indemnity.” It captures the theme of film noir, which is darkness and shows the “bad” in people. Film noir means, “black film” and typically there is some kind of corruption, deception and crime. In this story there is definitely a lot of that happening. Mrs. Dietrichson doesn’t love her husband and wants to murder him but only after making sure he has an insurance policy. She uses her beauty and seduces Mr. Neff, since he works at an insurance agency, to get him to help her with the insurance. At first he doesn’t want to get involve, but eventually gives up. I found this kind of funny. He has just met her and is “mad about her.” He even comes up with the plan of the murder, betraying his morals (since at the beginning he opposes the idea) and even the people he works with, especially Keyes whom you could see appreciates Neff. It’s sad, but it’s a reality I guess of that time and even now, that people will go after their self-interest and don’t think about how it will affect others. I am not saying everyone is like this, but it just reinforces what film noir is all about.

One could feel the anxiety and fear that goes on in this film and even paranoia, in the process of planning the murder and after. Neff is very cautious and it’s on the constant lookout for any error. Though he doesn’t get caught, one can feel the intensity of all the events, especially after Keyes is convince it wasn’t an accident and figures out how everything happened. Neff is afraid that the truth will be revealed. He is also afraid of what might happen to Lola, Mr. Dietrichson’s daughter. He cares for her since he gets to know her well. He wants her to be happy. One could say he becomes paranoid, just by the fact that he decides to confess. After killing Mrs. Dietrichson, he could have just gone away. There wasn’t any evidence against him. He also narrates the story in a strong tone and even though he is somewhat composed, there is still a feeling that he has lost it. Overall I liked the movie, but I expected to see more elements of film noir that Schrader talks about, “in film noir, the central character is likely to be standing in the shadow” (219). Yes, there was darkness in some scenes, especially when Neff was hiding in the bushes, but I feel like it could have been more stricken. I say this thinking about “Gilda” and especially a scene in which Mr. Mundson’s profile is shown in complete darkness and covers half of the screen. That really struck me because that’s what I pictured film noir to be like. I think it has a great effect.

10 Feb
2010

The Timelessness of a Classic

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The term classic, by definition, implies its longevity and its everlasting mark on culture and society. I agree with this statement, and I thoroughly enjoy a good Austen novel or Hitchcock film. But after watching the handful of assigned, classic movies thus far, I can’t help but strongly feel the generation gap. For example, I really liked D.O.A. , and even as a contemporary viewer with a generation Y-er lack of patience, the movie kept my attention. But there were certain parts where I found myself laughing at the dramatic shots, or the way Paula, Frank’s girlfriend, says “I’m gonna get a permanent to make myself all pretty for you.” Or, my favorite line of the movie, “If I wear a man, I’d  punch your dirty face in,” spoken by Marla Rakubian, the infamous “femme fatale.” (It’s funny how she can be one of the movies villains but can’t punch a man). Yes, after reading Schrader on Film Noir I have a deeper understanding of the style-genre-time period (whatever it may be) and the themes- crime, psychosis, murder, backstabbing, etc. of Film Noir transcend time, but I must admit there is an aspect of movies made over 50 years ago that is unreachable to the modern audience.

I was doing some research on Film Noir online, as I was curious to see what films today can be classified as such, and I came upon a critic that was bold enough as to characterize one of my favorite movies, Memento, as a current Film Noir. For those that don’t know, Memento, directed by Christopher Nolan, is a modern masterpiece about a man with a memory disorder that is on a quest to find his wife’s killer. The genius of the movie lies not in its plot but in its composition- the scenes work backwards, playing on the audiences’ memories. A second or third viewing of the film is not even sufficient to fully grasp its hints and clues splattered throughout. I would give a spoiler to the film but its too good of a movie to ruin : ) So here’s the trailer for those not familiar.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/0vS0E9bBSL0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

Even from the trailer, you can see there are aspects of the film that are synonymous with Schrader’s definitions of Noir- the dark scene in the beginning, feelings of psychosis (not knowing where he is, his memory loss), even the running around, trying to find the killer, is very similar to the action in D.O.A.  I think classifying Memento as a modern-day Film Noir is a pretty accurate description, and perhaps one that today’s audiences can relate to more easily.

*I really do love old movies! I was just observing that there are really differences in movies made for a contemporary audience. Just putting that out there.

9 Feb
2010

Fear, Anxiety, and Paranoia in D.O.A.

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This movie was truly littered with these themes. The concept alone is a model of them. What’s more frightening and anxiety inducing than suddenly finding out death is near? But, through various techniques, D.O.A. actually amplifies and ratchets up those feelings. From the outset, we’re presented with a flash forward. Of course, you could also look at everything coming after that scene as being a flashback instead. Regardless, I love the device and find it to be enormously effective. It gives every scene this ominous, foreboding feel. Those otherwise mundane scenes preceding his drink being poisoned are allowed to take on more meaning. So it not only sets the tone but puts a bit of a jolt into everything. And as Schrader mentions in the reading, this is one of the elements noir films are known for. The how and why take precedence over the what. Most of the intrigue lies in the journey of Frank ending up at point B, walking into the police station seemingly drained of life reporting his own murder, from point A, preparing to go on vacation and relatively happy.

When he finds out about the poisoning, at first he’s obviously very distraught but it doesn’t take long for him to come to terms and refocus. Discovering who did it and why is really all he has left and because there’s a limited time to do so, he becomes a man on a mission and the movie reflects that well. Just the pacing of everything from this point gives off paranoia and anxiety. We’re taken nonstop from place to place and person to person in an effort to realize the connection between them all and get the truth. It actually reminded me quite a bit of the first half or so of a “Law and Order” episode.

And then there’s Frank’s demeanor. He’s about as paranoid as a sane person can get and who can blame him? Everyone’s a suspect to him and he doesn’t attempt to hide that. When trying to get information from Mr. Halliday, Frank snaps at him after he apologizes that he had to make the trip for no reason. He wants to know how Halliday knows he made a trip. And when he speaks to the secretary, she says something that makes him think she’s being informed about conversations between him and Eugene’s brother. He even questions how Eugene’s wife knows something about what he’s doing.

Getting back to fear and anxiety, the scenes with the gangsters evoked that pretty well also. It wasn’t so much the fact that he was ordered to be killed but the fact that Chester, the lead henchman, was insane. He had a pretty convincing psychotic look in his eye in that car with Frank. And then there’s the scene where their car is tailing the bus he boarded.

Finally, as he concludes his journey, it becomes clear that he really does love Paula and will miss her. “Paula” was his last word. So, increasingly, there’s a fear of losing love as well. This probably could’ve been brought out better than it was but I do think the element is there nonetheless.

9 Feb
2010

First Impressions

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First to post….quite daunting….as is the task of figuring out HOW to post when you’ve never blogged before….here it goes nonetheless….

Before this class, I’ve never heard of film noir, nor have I seen any.  So I decided to read the notes about film noir prior to watching DOA.  I was surprised to find that not many of the recurring techniques outlined in the reading were used in DOA.

First off, for a film noir, the movie set was pretty light.  Most of the movie took place during the day as he was doing his detective work.  There was no rain nor any wet streets.  And the movie followed a simple chronological order.

In line with the reading, the movie employed compositional tension rather than violence.  As the main character was (interestingly) solving his own murder, the  tension was definitely felt.    But is that enough to make it a film noir?

As a ps though, what I did find in the movie was a lot of irony.  The man solving his own murder case, standing by “Life” magazine right after the doctors pronounced him dying,…

8 Feb
2010

Fritz Lang: Behind the Scenes

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Hey guys, so I found this, I don’t know article? post? not sure, today about Fritz Lang, the director of “M” and “Metropolis” and i figured I share it with the class. It just has some background on Fritz Lang and his life. Here’s the link: http://www.fanboy.com/2010/02/fritz-lang.html

Reading Mulvey

Reading Mulvey

For Tuesday I’ve asked you to read British film theorist Laura Mulvey‘s hugely important and influential 1975 essay, “Visual Pleasure

Blogging Assignment and Posting Schedule

As I noted on the syllabus, participation on this blog, both posting and commenting, counts towards your participation grade. So,

Welcome to ENG3940H

Welcome to ENG3940H

Welcome to the online home of ENG3940H: Topics in Film: The Cinema of Fear, Anxiety and Paranoia. Make yourself at