Mar
10
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 10-03-2010

One cannot categorize film noir. To label it as a genre would demean its importance, for it is a pronounced style that revolutionized the way we watch film. It’s realist approach by injecting cinema with cynicism and powerful compositions. The lighting and extensive use of shadows reflects the deceitful nature of the characters in the film as well as illustrates the dark subtext that these films carry. A film like Double Indemnity shows the underlying provocative nature of the noir film. While on the surface it seems quite funny because the dialogue and elements that make up the characters reflects a pulpy detective novel, it’s just frosting for a darker visage. Freud describes everybody as having an unconscious desire for self destruction, called the thantos. While noir style is regarded as being more realist oriented because of its use of real locations, I propose that films like Double Indemnity are more stylish reflecting a dreamlike landscape where doom is inevitable. It explores the unconscious desires of men to die as well as women’s repressed sexual nature that runs rampant. Like a dream the character’s aren’t in control of their own lives as illustrated by strong compositions and a camera moving around the subjects rather that the characters behaving more theatrically as in earlier films of the period (pre-WWII). When we dream, what we experience is based on the past. Any anxiety we have regarding fear, anger, and sexual frustration is manifested in the images we conjure up, yet none can be taken at face value. We see that dreams about teeth breaking represent unresolved anxiety and anger, just as dreams of a cigar represent a phallus. This is the latent meaning of the dream. Noir style is constructed with lighting that obscures the subjects hiding a deeper meaning. The characters themselves, specifically the Femme fetal, aren’t what they appear to be. And like the dreamer, the protagonist, as I said, is often not in control of his fate. While film is supposed to transpose reality onto the screen, pre-WWII films have a very optimistic quality that renders them superficial. The grittiness of the noir film is appealing because it reflects the crappy aspects of life and fears that we are all subject to, yet it is reflected in a very distorted state.
I find it ironic that the noir style is largely an American icon while it is actually the progeny of German expressionism. Film is meant to be expressive and engender critical thinking and I feel that the emergence of this style has allowed filmmakers to dig deeper into our psyche and manifest our deepest anxieties. This rarely happens when everything is presented in a world where bad guys don’t prosper. Why not? Upon explaining the “duplicitous” nature of women in the film noir to a friend he commented “That’s how it is in real life”.
I think it’s interesting to note the new age noirs which have infiltrated the cinema from filmmakers such as Coen Brothers films, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Batman. The style has since Double Indemnity, transcended the crime genre and permeated every category. Its popularity has increased not only because of its provocative visual style but it also suggests a darker, more mysterious side of humanity.

Mar
05
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 05-03-2010

I am first and foremost a supporter of the film auteur theory. I believe that a director leaves a unique imprint on the film he creates. Having seen Citizen Kane multiple times as well as Touch of Evil, I can make a distinct connection between the two pieces as works of the same artist. Wells is a very technical director always utilizing new ways to tell his story. Kane is history as it’s the archetypal film. It shows breakthroughs in technical staging as well as profound deep focus photography, yet no one will argue that these two films are variations of the same thing. Whereas some directors such as Dario Argento, produce films that are literally replicas of each other. It has nothing to do with using the same crew. Gregg Tolland was the cinematographer on Kane, while Russell Metty was the director of photography on Touch of Evil. Argento used various cinematographers between films yet the degree of variation is far less. A director cannot make a great movie by himself, or even controlling every aspect of the shooting in a fascist manner. From reading about the relationship between Orson Wells and Gregg Tolland, I realize that the success is in their collaboration.
Tolland had a distinct style that the author traces back to a few of his previous films. Being that Tolland and Wells both were advocates of new technical feats in film, it was only natural that Wells made sure to enlist him in the film. A director must not only have a vision, he must encompass the ability to spot talent he needs to utilize to realize his motion picture. The ability to actually harness that talent, I believe is the key to a successful film. Where like a machine that hums, all its components work harmoniously to create a valuable product.
I have noticed trends in successful directors. David Cronenberg, for one, is known for making “Family” films, in that he works consistently with the same crew that allows him to produce consistently intriguing and disturbing work. Spielberg consistently uses composer John Williams, and editor Michael Kahn, and has consistently good films. (That is with the exception for Munich, and Indiana Jones 4). Not every director off the bat finds a compatible crew they work with this may be a reason that some directors must go from studio to studio, working with countless crews before they make a film that can galvanize his creativity.
Some can make consistently good films with different crews, but I propose that if Gregg Tolland didn’t work on Citizen Kane, we would have a significantly different movie today which might not have surpassed the standards of filmmaking at the time.

Mar
05
Filed Under (Uncategorized) by btrachtenberg100 on 05-03-2010

It takes a clever film such as “Lady Eve” to remind me of the striking differences between today’s risqué comedies and those of the glory days of cinema. I would go so far as to compare a comedy where constraints force the artist to find loopholes in what’s accepted to a low budget film. I have always been a massive fan of the low budget arena, particularly that of horror, not that “Lady Eve” is by any means frightening, but more scrutiny and meticulous care is used to execute it. Because of the relaxed standards of today’s cinema we find studios cranking out films that appeal to the teenage crowd and deal with romance in a rather perverse and direct way. Such as is the case with films like American Pie, Something about Mary, and Knocked up. This is not to say they aren’t massively entertaining, but that our standard for showing has caught up with our curiosity for knowing. It is this fleeting discrepancy in standards that has severed the imaginative cord between the build-up and the punch line.
I would also like to argue that Preston Sturges brief illustrious career blossomed because he happened to be at the right place at the right time. (Even if it did take him forty years to do it.) His attitudes regarding the restrictions in the Hollywood system is expressed in the satirical emphasis that he puts on the fine line between the moral and the taboo. “Lady Eve” is essentially the old boy meets girl coming of age story with one small catch; it’s a Preston Sturges film. He works around the Hollywood code by cleverly creating scenes that are thick with sexual tension and innuendo. In the scene where Barbra Stanwyck and Henry Fonda are lying cheek to cheek, the tension is so high because at the time an intimate kiss would be unthinkable and that expectation is what suspends the suspense and humor throughout the scene. Let us not forget either that this is supposed to be a coming of age story for Henry Fonda’s character. A man who studies snakes (the epitome of all phallic representations), as well as keeps losing the one that he keeps in a box. Like a filmmaker working with a restricted budget, Sturges finds creative ways to indirectly say what he wants to say while at the same time making fun of the Hollywood moral code.
When I think back to his other work “Sullivan’s Travels”, it becomes clearer that Preston Sturges was one of the pioneers in revolutionizing the content of the cinema. As the just mentioned film is also self reflexive in terms of its criticism of the way films were being made at the time, except it dealt with context more than the content of the cinema.
I would like to make another comparison between films like “Lady Eve”, a well made comedy, to “Psycho”, a powerful horror film. Most of the blood and terrifying images in “Psycho” are suggested. We see the knife and hear the stab, but don’t see it. Although if we think back to the scene, we imagine we did see gratuitous violence when there is no blood spilt onscreen. This element of audience participation in putting the pieces together makes for a more memorable image. We all know that a joke that requires explanation is inferior to the joke where our mind makes the connection. We all make the connection in our own unique way, so laughter is fused with a sense of personal satisfaction from successfully connecting the two. “Lady Eve” is one of those jokes. It always comes close to making those connections for you but the innuendo is much funnier than actually having it graphically depicted for us.
Today’s standards for what’s accepted as well as what’s expected, has created almost a new category of cinema. The contemporary pornographic comedy like a Farrelly Brothers film or a gorefest like “Saw”, accosts the senses, desensitizing us from things that would otherwise be shocking if meticulously crafted to allow participation of the audiences imagination.

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