Film Analysis #2

December 5th, 2010

For my analysis, I decided to analyze the ending scene of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” in which Dr. Miles Bennell, who is now the last human in Santa Mira, tries to warn people on the highway that they are in danger. “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” directed by Don Siegel and released by Allied Artists Pictures on February 5, 1956, is the first of four films based on the novel “The Body Snatchers,” by Jack Finney. At first glance, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a sci-fi film, which provokes fear in the audience. The film, and the ending scene in particular, portrays a fear of humans, and Miles in particular, being turned into controlled masses. This theme related to the fear that Americans had in the 1950’s related to Communism and McCarthyism. It was thought at the time that if Americans were not vigilant to the perceived threat, our own democracy would be overthrown for the Communist ways, and our individuals turned into “zombies” unable to act on their own.

There are, in my opinion, four parts of the scene. The first part is with Miles and his love interest, Becky Driscoll, together in a cave. The first shot is of Miles clutching Becky, trying to keep her awake. As they kiss, they portray a unified front as it is them against the rest of the town. Then, all of a sudden, very sinister background music starts playing, and the camera focuses on Miles’ face as he realizes that something is wrong. The next shot is of Becky, who is now a pod, opening her eyes as if she has been reborn, and the shot after that is of Miles’ eyes widening in fear. Interestingly, when Becky awakens as a pod, she gives a calm and beautiful impression, especially as compared to Miles’ filthy and frightened appearance. Next are a variety of shots of Miles, Becky’s double, and both of them together, in which Becky’s double tries to convince Miles to stop resisting the Pod People, which he refuses. The background music then shifts from a sinister tone to an almost sad and resigned tone. After he refuses, Becky’s double starts yelling for the other pods, at which point Miles starts running.

The second part of the scene shows Miles running away from the Pod People. At this point, he is completely alone, having just lost his love and only companion. The first shot of this part of the scene is of Miles running out of the cave, which from the outside looks pitch black. It looks as though he is running out of the darkness and into the light. The next shot is of Miles running down a cliff, while dozens of pods chase after him. This scene is a wide shot in which the viewer sees the massive cliff, and Miles looks small and alone against the massive and sinister view of the darkened cliff. A few shots later, Miles finally manages to get to the highway. Throughout the chase, the pod people appear in the background, but the camera shot clearly focuses on Miles, the protagonist attempting to save the world. The lighting is interesting in that as Miles runs out of the cave, he emerges from darkness into some light, but as he runs to the road, he appears to run into the darkness and at that moment, he appears as the only light in the scene. In this part of the scene, the background music picks up speed and has an exciting, nerve-wracking feel. At that point, the Pod People stop chasing him, with one of them saying that they should just let him go, and that nobody’s going to believe him.

The third part of the scene shows Miles in the middle of the highway, desperately trying to convince the people driving along that they are in danger. This part of the scene begins with a variety of shots of Miles walking in the middle of the road, screaming and trying to stop the passing cars. Miles is always in the central focus, though the scene has the cars moving quickly around him. The scene is dark, and the pinpoints of light emerging from the headlights appear as his only hope for salvation. No one is listening to him; they all think he is either crazy or drunk. At some point, there is a shot of the Pod People watching from the distance. They seem to be watching in amusement (that no one is listening to him) and anticipation (that all the people who will not listen will soon join them). After one more shot of Miles trying to stop one of the cars, there’s a shot of him climbing onto the side of a truck, and begging the driver to pull over. The driver pushes him off, and in the next shot, Miles seems to be rolling along the side of the truck. Again the shot pans in such a way that Miles appears small compared to the larger truck, as if to infer that this role of saving the world is too large for this solitary figure. It also shows him against the truck which has in large lettering “Los Angeles – San Francisco – Seattle”, inferring that the “problem” is no longer local. In the next shot, Miles runs after the truck, planning to jump on the back. The next shot is the point of view from the inside of the truck, showing Miles climbing onto the back of the truck. His eyes widen in fear, and in the next shot, we see what he sees: the truck is filled with unhatched pods. The next shot shows Miles falling off the truck, and getting out of the way of the car behind it, ending up back in the middle of the road.

In the fourth and last part of the scene, Miles seems to have given up on trying to convince them, and is now just screaming hysterically. This part consists of three shots. The first shot is of Miles screaming at no one in particular that the Pod People are coming for them. The camera focuses on the top half of Miles’ face and body as he waves his arms and screams, his face clearly frightened and frantic. The second shot is a severe close up of Miles’ face as he screams “They’re here already! You’re next!” The way the camera focuses only on his face and he looks directly at the camera makes it clear that he is speaking straight to the viewer and warning the audience. The last shot almost appears as if Miles is falling backwards as he runs through the traffic, warning, “You’re next!” At the end, there is no background music; the viewer hears the sound of traffic, as the people around him remain oblivious to the danger.

As mentioned previously, many of the symbolism of this film relate to Communism and the Cold War. As opposed to an actual military war, this enemy sneaks up on its enemy as they are sleeping and attacks one person at a time. The fear of becoming a pod person was similar to the fear that Communism, if it took over, would turn our citizens into people, all alike and unable to think or act on their own. I have several theories on who Dr. Miles Bennell represents. Perhaps he is the entire country of the United States or in my preferred theory, he represents Senator Joseph McCarthy. McCarthy was tremendously fearful of the spread of Communism, and made many accusations of Communist infiltration within America. According to that theory, Miles sees the danger that no one else seems to see; he foretells the spread of the aliens outside the small town and throughout the country. He looks for allies everywhere, but he is alone as a solitary figure and all of the cars turn him away. McCarthy also looked to others to help his with his fear of the spread of Communism, but in the end, he was turned away when the Senate censured him in 1954, just a few years prior to this film’s production.

“Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is a great film, whether it is taken as an enjoyable sci-fi film or analyzed on its greater themes. The many film elements, such as the lighting, camera angles, and music tell a story beyond its actual story. This scene has much to be analyzed and represents a significant time in American History.

Psycho

November 13th, 2010

I consider myself to be a big film-buff, so the fact that I’d never seen a film by Alfred Hitchcock was embarrassing. That’s why I was really looking forward to seeing “Psycho”. However, now that I’ve seen one of Hitchcock’s films, I don’t think I ever want to see another one again.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I thought the movie was bad (far from it). It’s just that it, for lack of a better term, scared me half to death. A very dear friend of mine said to me that Alfred Hitchcock was like “the Stephen King of that time.” Quite frankly, I can see why. The suspense that occurs on the screen, combined with Bernard Herrmann’s score, might be able to give someone a heart attack.
Speaking of the music, in my opinion, Bernard Herrmann’s score is one of the scariest elements of the film. As the professor said, the audience can’t hear any stabbing noises during the shower scene; it’s almost as if the music is what’s stabbing Marion. To be quite honest, the score really does seem powerful enough to stab someone; and, as we learned from “Written on the Wind”, sometimes music can appear to have an effect on someone’s death.
During the film, I noticed a lot of voyeurism. An obvious example would when Norman watches Marion through a peephole. Some not-so-obvious examples would be when Arbogast looks in the window while Sam and Lila are talking, and when Norman looks out the window at Sam and Lila arriving at the Bates Motel. Also, I agree with what the professor said, about how the audiences of a movie are voyeurs. I mean, we’re watching these characters, and they don’t know we’re there.
I believe that Hitchcock is an auteur, that there’s a uniqueness to his movies which makes it clear to the world that these movies are his. I don’t know exactly what it is, whether it’s the frequent use of shadows, or the chilling musical score, or even the numerous shots of birds. But I do know that there’s some kind of signature he leaves on all his movies.
Also, I consider “Psycho” to be somewhat legendary. According to the Thomson article, prior to the release of “Psycho”, movies made audiences feel safe. This was the first film to make audiences feel unsafe. According to another friend of mine, at the time of the film’s release, women were afraid to take showers.
Do you agree? Can this movie scare someone almost to death? Can music really appear to kill someone? Are film viewers voyeurs? Does Hitchcock leave a signature on his films?

Written on the Wind

November 7th, 2010

Before we saw “Written on the Wind” in class, I looked it up online. To be perfectly honest, I did not understand the significance of this movie, which made the professor choose to show it in class. Then, during the professor’s lecture, I realized that the significance of the movie was its director. Douglas Sirk is an amazing director; from the way he portrays characters, to the way his movies end. I really like the way his characters are one extreme or the other, either very good or very bad.
Kyle Hadley is a drunk, paranoid, who is overly concerned about his ability to father children. His assumption, when told the good news that his wife is expecting their child, that he is not the father, makes him unlikable. His further actions of attacking her and causing her to lose their child, clearly makes him a villain. His sister Marylee is promiscuous, who is obsessed with marrying her childhood friend Mitch who does not love her. Her blackmail of Mitch to marry her or she will turn him in makes her equally evil.
I’m sure there are people out there who don’t think “Written on the Wind” had a happy ending, but I do. In my opinion, Kyle and Marylee Hadley were bad people, and they deserved what they got. I know it may seem a bit cruel of me to say that someone deserved to get shot, but even though I think death is very tragic, I just can’t bring myself to feel sorry for him.
On the other hand, I do feel a little sorry for Marylee, but only because of her epiphany at the end. In the end, though she begins to testify against Mitch, she decides to do the right thing and tell the truth. It is unclear to me, whether she is not truly evil or did she see the wrong in her ways?
Do you agree? Did Kyle and Marylee get what they deserved? Were they evil, or does everyone have some good and bad within them?

Early Summer

October 24th, 2010

I’m a big fan of Japanese culture, and I was really excited to watch “Early Summer.” It was a really great movie. I loved the opening credits, and the first scene, with the family eating breakfast together. There was a peaceful feeling, but some suspense that something might occur to break them apart. This came true when Noriko marries and moves away from her family.

It’s interesting that the movie is about a woman who is forced to marry. It’s somewhat reminiscent of the fact that there were new laws in Japan at the time, which dictated how films were to be made. These laws prohibited certain subjects, and favored others; and those who broke these laws were deemed “war criminals”.

However, despite these laws, most Japanese filmmakers thought that things were better under the Occupation Forces than they had been under their own military. They believed that they were given freedom of creation, even with these strict new laws. To me, that parallels the fact that, at the beginning of the movie, Noriko doesn’t really complain about her arranged marriage, even though it feels very restrictive to the viewer. It is interesting that though Noriko seems to be okay with her arranged marriage in the beginning, that she, in the end, marries a man of her choosing. It feels like in a country that would consider those who broke the laws pertaining to filmmaking as “war criminals, that her family would object more to her non-arranged marriage.

I was also struck by the  extreme misbehavior of the two boys. They seemed to disregard their parents completely. Even the most innocent request of washing their faces was not obeyed. I was especially fascinated by the scene when the younger boy, Isamu, told the older relative that he loved him for candy, and when he was finished giving him candy, he told him bluntly that he hated him. It felt to me that the film was making a stark contrast within one family between the obedience of Noriko and the disobedience of the boys.

Do you agree? Do you see parallels between the Japanese censorship laws and Noriko’s arranged marriage? Do you feel there was a specific message to the story of the boys’ misbehavior?

Film Analysis

October 22nd, 2010

For my analysis, I decided to use the flashback scene from “Citizen Kane,” in which Mrs. Kane grants custody of her son to Mr. Thatcher. Citizen Kane, released on May 1, 1941, is the product of Orson Welles’ contract with RKO Pictures, giving him total control of the movie. It is considered by many to be one of the greatest films of all time. In my opinion, there are a lot of themes in the movie, some of which are shown in this scene, which relate to World War II. There is a sense of isolation and loneliness, as well as poverty. During the scene, Mrs. Kane is relinquishing control of her child, and the impression is that Charles’s childhood is coming to an end. All of these themes would have been familiar in the early 1940’s to those dealing with the effects of the war.

The scene starts with a young Charles Foster Kane playing in the snow, a solitary dark figure completely surrounded by whiteness. The camera  effects used in the first shot give the impression of a blizzard. This  gives the impression of the solitary figure all alone in the chaotic blizzard. Then, the action cuts to a long shot, which starts outside and then pans across the Kane’s house. Interestingly, when the camera pans across the room, the table splits open so that the camera can go through it, and then is put back together in time for it to show up in the shot. That’s why, if you look very closely, you’ll notice that, as they sit down, Mr. Thatcher’s hat shakes. In this shot, Mrs. Kane signs the papers, despite near constant protest from her husband.  Before  she signs the paper, the camera shoots her as she gulps. The viewer now feels that she is not sure of her decision. In the next shot, which is another long shot, Kane’s parents explain to him that they’re sending him away to live with Mr. Thatcher, to which he responds very negatively.  In the next shot, there is a close-up of Kane; which is done for dramatic effect, as the viewer feels his pain and anger at being sent away. In the  last shot of the scene, the viewer sees Charles’ sled, as it remains in the snow, and is buried and forgotten.

One of the interesting shooting techniques is that in the middle of the scene, though the parents and the banker are the central action , the window always remains in the middle of the shot. In that way, the camera makes the boy, though he is outside of the room, the central character. It is also fascinating, how the parents open and close the window several times, alternating between showing the mother’s concern for their son and the father closing the window, and as such turning his back on him.

As I re-watched the scene, one element became clear. In the first long shot, Mr. Kane is wearing light clothing, whereas Mrs. Kane and Mr. Thatcher are wearing black. This gives the impression that Mr. Kane is a good guy, and the others are not-so-good guys. In the next shot, Mr. Kane has put on a black jacket and hat, and Mrs. Kane has snow in her hair. This kind of reverses the portrayal of the characters. I believe that the 2nd long shot is done as young Kane’s point-of-view, how he sees the other characters, and it is clear that he does not see his mother as the villain, his father is more the villain.

Another element that should be mentioned in the scene is the background music. As the scene begins, the only background sound is the snowstorm, but after the mother signs the papers, music with a sinister quality begins. At the end of the scene, when the sled remains, the music changes, and it almost sounds like there is screaming in the background. This music could relate to the pain or screaming of the young boy far away or perhaps to the victims of the war in Europe who were being killed.

As I said before, there are many themes in the scene that relate to World War II, which was occurring at the time of the film’s release.  The first starts at the very beginning of the scene when the boy is shown as a solitary figure in a huge backdrop of a blizzard. This relates to the chaos of the world, and the feeling of isolation felt by individuals and countries as the war waged on. Another central theme is of a mother signing away her child, a concept that is foreign to us today but in the time that this  film was distributed, during the Blitz  and the Holocaust, this happened fairly regularly. Parents were sending away their kids, and giving them to other families to save them. To the children, this may have caused the pain and anger the viewer sees on the child’s face, but in reality it was a sacrifice that the mothers were making to protect them. In the conclusion of the scene, the sled is abandoned and buried in the snow. This appears to be a reference to Charles leaving his childhood behind, and in fact the death of his childhood. This would be true of many who grew up in the 1940’s. The war took away their childhood, and as the toys lay abandoned, it meant that if they were fortunate enough to survive the war, they would need to shoulder adult responsibilities at too young an age.

In addition to the theme of the war, there is the  theme of the class system – the haves and have nots. In the scene, it is clear that the Kanes are poor people, from their clothing, their home, and the one toy which is the sled. In contrast, Mr. Thatcher in his high hat is portrayed to be quite wealthy and the divide between the two sides is great. I n 1940, the United States was experiencing tremendous unemployment with a rate of  14% unemployment, according to answers.com. Therefore , there would have been may who were experiencing poverty, and would have been interested in the difference in the worlds of the two classes.

Citizen Kane is a great film, which has endured for many years. There is a great entertainment and educational value in the film. Interestingly, there is also much to be learned from just one scene. In the flashback scene that I chose for the paper, there is a tremendous amount of relevance to the chaos of the times. The dilemma of this family is symbolic of  the troubles of an entire world.

Out of the Past

October 11th, 2010

            It is ironic that “Out of the Past” is considered one of the greatest film noirs of all time, because at certain points in the movie, it does not feel like a film noir. During the opening credits, it has a kind of “Gone with the Wind” feel to it; the credits are played over clips of the peaceful mountain community (very reminiscent of the southern plantation clips used in “Gone with the Wind”), and there’s a very beautiful, somewhat romantic soundtrack.

            However, for the majority of the film, it is exactly what I would imagine a film noir to be like. It employs all of the stylistics mentioned in Paul Schrader’s article, including the majority of scenes being lit for night, a large number of scenes involving water (There’s a scene at the beach, a scene where it’s raining, and the scene where Joe falls into the river.), a romantic narration, and a complex chronological order (there’s a use of flashbacks).

            Also, I found several points from Jenny Place’s article interesting. Whenever we see Anne, the ‘good girl’, there always seems to be a light on her (for example, watch “Out of the Past (1947) – Robert Mitchum” starting at about 1:15; notice how there’s a light on Anne’s face, whereas Jeff’s face is in shadow). On the other hand, when we first see Kathie, the ‘femme fatale’, she’s completely bathed in darkness, and you can only see her silhouette (as you can see at 0:20 of “Out of the Past 1947 introduction of Jane Greer”). The filmmaker clearly sends the message of good versus evil with his use of lighting.

            In my opinion, black and white is essential in making a good film noir. It really highlights the use of shadows, and it helps to illustrate the film’s dark themes.

            I also found one of the Professor’s points very interesting, about how the deaf-mute boy was an interesting framing device. As some of you may know, a framing device is the same single action, scene, event, setting, or any element of significance at both the beginning and end of a movie. It is interesting that a character that cannot talk is used as a framing device, because most of the film’s dialogue is lies. In that way, he is the one “truthful” character as he is unable to lie.

            Typically, I prefer films with happy endings. Though this film did not have a happy ending, I really enjoyed “Out of the Past”. It felt to me that the ending was the correct one, which matched some of the darker theme of the film. Do you agree or disagree with my opinions? Do you think that a good film noir has to be completely dark, or can there be some beautiful scenes?

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