Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Notes: Knock on Any Door

I just finished watching Nicholas Ray's Knock on Any Door, which featured Humphrey Bogart in the lead as a lawyer defending a young boy from the slums accused of shooting a cop. Typical of Ray's work, the film takes the stance that context is responsible for action: society dictates who is good and who is bad. Both Bogart's character and the young boy remind me of older and younger versions of other Ray protagonists: Farley Granger in They Live by Night, James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause, Robert Mitchum in The Lusty Men. They all share a common fate, one they had no choice over. Their tough guy lifestyles were the result of survival, not of an inherent nature.

Ray's last shot is so telling of the forces behind the characters, of the moral constructs that alienate people into disparate situations, elevate some to great heights, and abandon others to desolate lives. After the young boy has confessed to murdering the cop he is sentenced to death. It is a long shot, with Bogart standing in the foreground off to the side, and with the words THE END superimposed over the single, long take. The boy is center frame, being led down a jail corridor to an open door at the end, where he is to be executed. In the open door is a bright light, something that escapes the exposure of the camera. The bring light at the end of the tunnel uses the same iconography so often associated with heaven. Ray's visual connection highlights the presence of morality that lies behind the situation: hypocrisy and judgment, antipathy and abandonment. Ray's final visual critique, much like Bogart's final statement, is a denouement of contemporary morays, and a call for a reassessment of our values.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

In Memory of...

In the past week three important film figures have passed on.

1) Ernest Lehman, another screenwriter who collaborated with Hitchcock on films such as North by Northwest and Family Plot.

2) Italian film director Alberto Lattuada, who's most famous film was his collaboration with Fellni, Variety Lights.

3) Evan Hunter, screenwriter who most famously collaborated on The Birds with Alfred Hitchcock.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Essay: Walkabout

Walkabout (1971)
Directed by Nicolas Roeg

"Symbols and Trophies of the West"
by Cullen Gallagher

Nicolas Roeg opens his film Walkabout (1971) with a father doing field research in the Australian outback, with his son playing with toy cars and guns, and his daughter preparing a picnic. The father seemingly goes mad and begins shooting at his children before setting fire to the car and shooting himself. The children, sans parents and sufficient food, are left to wander the outback alone. While this is certainly a surreal way to open a movie, it can be analyzed in a very symbolic way, which ties it in well with the rest of the movie. If we dehumanize and objectify the father, making him an object, like the gun in his hand, or the car that he drives, his absence from the children’s lives takes on the significance of other Western signs absent from the majority of the movie.

On a broad symbolic level, the sudden change of character for the father can be seen as a mechanic malfunction, something akin to a car dying or a gun jamming. In essence, the opening scene symbolizes the backfiring of Western civilization and introduces the idea of societal discontentedness. The opening picnic then is a collection of Western comforts, things that have been given value and deemed necessity: bottled lemonade (not even water), a packed lunch, a blanket to spread the food on, a vehicle to travel with, a gun for protection – from what it is unclear, as there is nothing dangerous in these surrounds lest each other and their own inability to survive with luxuries.

Therefore the disrobing of Western civilization, so to speak, is necessary is in film’s narrative for the son and daughter to leave behind in order that they become, superficially, on the level of the aborigine they are to encounter. In opposition of such films as The Gods Must Be Crazy (1980) (where a !Kung tribe is thrown for a loop when they mistake a Coca-Cola bottle as a present from the gods), it is not “the uncivilized man” that cannot make sense of “the civilized world” but vice versa: the “civilized” man is stripped of all that is familiar to him and he must adapt quickly to survival on his own.

Roeg also uses dialectics to compare the landscapes of the two different words: modern city life and the outback. Roeg begins the film with a shot of an apartment building near the sea. It is a picturesque shot, one that explains the place of nature in modern times: a scenic view from a window. The framing of the shot is important, however: the edge of the apartment building is flush alongside the right edge of the screen, occupying only a quarter of the screen. The remaining seventy-five percent of the screen is the ocean, which collides into and off of the left-hand side of the screen.

This shot is juxtaposed with a tracking shot that begins in a similar fashion to the previously discusses shot. A concrete wall begins on the left side of the screen, taking the place of the sea; frame right, the remaining quarter of the frame is an open shot of desert. The camera dollys right, exchanging the wall for a glimpse of the father in his car, doing research.

These two shots are important because of their visual similarities and their implications, which are very ironic. The portrait of modernity is distinguished by the presence of the sea, and the outback is introduced through a barren wall, seemingly pointless and lost in the terrain. But these characteristics are important, however. The sea is very tame next to the apartment building, it is not ferocious or wild; it appears as though it were a painting. One can imagine the inhabitants looking out their window the way they would look in the mirror or at an open closet. Contrarily, the wall is out of place in the outback, abandoned and solitary, much like the children feel at first. The two shots, then, summarize the typical interaction of the two worlds: they co-exist in such close proximity, yet they are separate and segregated.

Roeg embraces these incongruous neighbors; he destabilizes their isolation by presenting them together, in their greater contexts. Marshall McLuhan, in the book The Medium is the Massage (visualized by Quentin Fiore), addresses this notion of isolation as having vanished in contemporary society. Technology perpetuates knowledge. Print, paint and photography have plasticized knowledge, making it traversable, and the idea of truth can no longer seen as two sided: the “other” side of the story has given way to a whole circle of new truths, all equally viable (68-69). “Survival is not possible if one approaches his environment, the social drama, with a fixed, unchangeable point of view – the witless repetitive response to the unperceived” (10).

The environment McLuhan speaks of can be compared to the opening juxtapositions (and subsequent ones) in Walkabout. The dolly shot of the desert that begins with the wall on the left of the screen, and the small portion on the right with the desert. The camera tracks to the right, exchanging the wall for a larger view of the desert. These perspectives are changing, and these images (that represent places, ideas, people) are not static and separate – they form a greater whole, and they must be placed in a constantly evolving perspective. To quote Marshall McLuhan once more:

Our time is a time for crossing barriers, for erasing old categories – for probing around. When two seemingly disparate elements are imaginatively poised, put in apposition in new and unique ways, startling discoveries often result. (McLuhan and Fiore 10)

Works Cited
McLuhan, Marshall and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage. New York, London and Toronto: Bantam Books, 1967.

Editorial: A Revisionist Consideration of the Studio System

My brother proposed to me something initially frightening: “In thirty years are we going to actually think that these mediocre Hollywood films are great the way we think 50’s Hollywood films are?” I immediately compared In Good Company to something like On Dangerous Ground. On one hand, it’s not a fair comparison, because the latter film had veteran director Nick Ray (compared to the newbie camp of Paul Weitz), as well Robert Ryan in the lead, an actor that is underappreciated these days, and one whom I can think of no contemporary comparison - the only thing that comes to mind is that Ryan is the actor Al Pacino wants to be: handsome yet brutal in all his beauty, with a calm, intense composure, a sort of internal combustion. Even the stories are incomparable. The former film is a story of cheap ironies: a young exec falling for the daughter of the older executive he is about to replace. The latter film is a story of moral and ethical collapse: a police officer resorts to brutal interrogation methods when both crime and bureaucracy prove too much. To cool down, he is sent to a small, northern town to investigate a child murder, where he ends up falling in love with the murderer’s blind sister. Here, too, there is irony, but it is not so cheap as in its current-Hollywood comparison, rather it is used to explore conceptions of piety and pity in the hardened-heart of Robert Ryan.

The main reason for comparison is that On Dangerous Ground was by no means the best film of its year (Strangers on a Train, The River, A Place in the Sun, Ace in the Hole and A Streetcar Named Desire all came out in 1951), but is there any Hollywood as strong as it from 2004? (This does not even take into account the sheer number of solid movies produced by major studios in 1951.) The answer is: no. In Good Company is both the average and the best Hollywood can offer.

To answer my brother’s question: no, I don’t think in thirty years I will change my opinion. This raises another oft-discussed question: what happened to Hollywood? I believe that Marshall McLuhan’s phrase “the medium is the massage” has something valuable to offer in that it emphasizes the notion of relaxation and passivity. McLuhan argued that different mediums (print, photography, cinema, telephone, etc) have affect the way we communicate, and that advances in technology accustom us to certain conveniences that affect our day-to-day interaction with other people. His argument about medium can be expanded to criterion, as well: audiences become accustomed to a certain type of movie, and if diversity isn’t pursued then a steady level of mediocrity perpetuates and quality declines.

Allow me now to illustrate this former hypothesis through revisionist historicism that deals with the studio system. Before its breakup in the early 1950s (a government decision against monopolies in 1948), the studios had it made: they owned not only the production means, but also the theaters that would distribute them. This vertical integration assured studios that their was an outlet for all their pictures, regardless of whether audiences liked them or not (or whether the studios thought they were sellable or not). It was an assured market: audiences always went to the movies as there was no television, and even if they went to see an ‘A’ film, there would always be that ‘B’ film before the feature.

The breakup of the studio system is the separation between studio and theater: companies like MGM and Warner stuck with making movies, while Loews stayed with the theaters. With the assured distribution of their movies rendered unsure, studios were left without the guarantee that theaters would purchase their movies. The result, as I see it, is that studios had to find some way to guarantee exposure and profit, the easiest way being to always appeal to the audience’s taste. Being the manufacturers that they were, Hollywood began pouring more money into similar movies, making them “bigger” and “better” than its last reincarnation, in hopes that audiences wouldn’t mind seeing the same thing over an over again. In the wake of this “economical genius” (that proved more deadening than anything) was the dissolution of the multitudes of films a studio would make.

Studios were pouring their money into films with lavish effects, huge action, childish humor and garish sexuality (bordering on the ethics, more so than the visuals, of pornography) in order to appeal to the widest demographics. There was no longer room for the adventurous producer, and with the costs of films rising incessantly, they found themselves in a money trap: audiences had become accustomed to movies with large budgets and found themselves uncomfortable with minimal production. Only films with large budgets would draw in crowds, money begets money, and thus the budgets of films began increasing (and still are to this day).

If I have left out the criterion of films, it is because such artistic attributes have no place in contemporary Hollywood studios: sophisticated writing alienates audiences that have been desensitized to degraded writing. Camera direction that does not pander to fulfilling the quick-to-cum fantasies of the audience is unfashionable.

Television, home video, and now the Internet have made the popular cinema more unstable than ever, not that such mediums are in anyway “evil” or responsible for the degrading of the Hollywood studios. Rather, it is that the studios lost their nerve. This is perhaps the result of the separation of the role of producer and director, the division between art and economy (not that the two are innately opposites). Perhaps Jean Renoir had the right solution back in the 1950s when he, too, saw the rising budgets of Hollywood studio films (where he made The River in 1951) as disastrous for the freedom of filmmakers. He suggested that the only solution is to lower the budgets: with less money spent, there is less pressure to make it back (and less to make back, at that). Only then can the studios begin to produce quality material without the fear of going bankrupt.

But how will audiences respond to such a change? Have their sensibilities become so accustomed to pornographic proportions that subtlety is no longer acceptable? Or, hopefully, it is to movie-going that they have become accustomed to, and that after a while, they will accept anything.

-Cullen Gallagher

Friday, July 08, 2005

Essay: An Autumn Afternoon

An Autumn Afternoon(1962)
Directed by Yasujiro Ozu

"Chance and Fare in Ozu’s An Autumn Afternoon"
by Cullen Gallagher

When Yasujiro Ozu made his final film, An Autumn Afternoon, 1962, it was not the first time he had approached its subject matter. Late Spring (1949) and Late Autumn (1960) all deal with a daughter’s reluctance to marry, and her single parent’s (father in Late Spring and An Autumn Afternoon, mother in Late Autumn) unselfish decision to get them to marry. The bond between parent and daughter in these films is one of immeasurable strength, and the parent’s decision to help arrange the marriage is arrived at with great difficulty. They do not want their children to leave them, and they do so only in knowing that if their children stayed with them, they would miss the opportunity to lead a full life, and end up staying forever and, inevitably, being lonely. Ozu has explored such bonds between children and their parents in countless films, including Passing Fancy, Early Spring and Equinox Flower (which also deals with a daughter’s marriage, this time against her father’s will.) Any consideration of other aspects of An Autumn Afternoon would undoubtedly appear in many other films. Clearly, there is a repetition throughout Ozu’s oeuvre.

Any amount of predictability in his films is limited to certain situations, emotions, and the inevitable conclusion of loneliness. As Paul Schrader pointed out, “it’s roots [do] not stem from a lack of initiative or originality, as it does in the films of some directors, but rather from the primitive concept of ritual in which repetition is preferred to variety (Schrader 22).” Repetition is key to Ozu’s films. Kathe Geist reminds us that “his frequent uses of not ‘impose their will’ on Ozu’s plots: they are his plots (Geist 94).” It is this, the formulation of plot from motif, which distinguishes each Ozu film from the others, regardless of story, character, or conclusion similarities.

An Autumn Afternoon develops from a motif of chance and fate, two seemingly oppositional characteristics. One reason for this juxtaposition is that, “in Ozu’s mind Japanese life had resolved into certain opposing forces which he repeatedly demonstrated in his films (Schrader 19).” This opposition will become the driving force of the father’s dilemma of his daughter’s marriage. A better reason, perhaps, is that by examining both ends of the spectrum Ozu is able to represent the gamut of our indecision.

The use of chance and fate in the film can be broken down into four main categories. Firstly, as a narrative function used in the construction of the story; secondly, as a means of comedy, a mainstay in any Ozu film; and finally, as two themes that reappear in each of the characters: opportunity and fatalism.

I. Narrative Functions
In the opening scene, Hirayama is in his office. His friend Kawai visits him to talk about a marriage prospect for Hirayama’s daughter, Michiko. Hirayama is hesitant to marry off his daughter because he thinks she is too young. Michiko does not want to leave her family, as well. Kawai thinks otherwise, claiming that if Michiko doesn’t marry now, she’ll grow old and never have another opportunity at marriage. He spends much of the rest of the movie trying to convince Hirayama and his daughter to change their minds.

The question of whether or not this is a good chance (or the last one) for Michiko to marry forms the frame of the movie. Within this global frame of chance, there are many subplots also dealing with chance.

At a dinner one night, Kawai, Hirayama and their friend Horie discuss a chance meeting with their old professor on a train. As it turns out, Hirayama has been living near “the Gourd” (their old nickname for him) for many years, never running into him before. The friends plan a dinner with their professor, which introduces a parallel between Hirayama and the Gourd. The Gourd tells of his daughter, whom he allowed to stay with him after his wife died, instead of getting married. Now she is too old to marry, and both she and the Gourd are lonely, even though they live with each other. He was faced with the same dilemma that Hirayama is, and he chose not to separate himself from his daughter.

Hirayama also has a son, Koichi, who is introduced when he is given a great opportunity to purchase Macgregor golf clubs at a cheap price, which he still cannot afford. So, he goes to his father to borrow the money. Later in the film, when Koichi is bargaining with the middleman of the Macgregor deal, Miura, Michiko comes to pay a visit. After the deal is closed, Miura goes to leave, and Michiko follows. This is the first indication that Michiko has a romantic interest in anyone. The possibility of a marriage between Miura and Michiko comes to nothing because Miura already has a fiancée. This prospect, though, according to Kathe Geist, is a major foundation of the theme of the “missed opportunity (99)” which permeates the entire film, and will be explored in greater detail in the “Opportunity” segment of the paper.

II. Comedy
Another chance meeting is between Hirayama and an old war buddy, Sakamoto. They run into each other and go to a bar, getting extremely drunk and talking about the war. They discuss their own fate since the war, the hardships they endured, and what it would have been like had Japan had won. Sakamoto fantasizes of living in New York, with all the Americans wearing dark wigs and playing on traditional Japanese instruments. Hirayama, realizing the absurdity of such an image, comments: “It’s lucky then we lost.” Not only does he accept fate, but he seems glad of it, as well. Even though they suffered greatly because of the war, Hirayama believes their fate was the right one.

This scene serves little to further the plot: it is just a chance meeting with a character that never appears in the story again. The scene’s importance, though, resides in its subtler means: the ability to strengthen the motif of chance and fate, as well as provide comic relief. This combination of masquerading deeper character traits and the contemplation of fate through comedy is a commonplace in the film.
During dinners between the trio of friends, Hirayama, Kawai and Horie, combinations of fate and comedy appear constantly. While talking about the sad fate of The Gourd, Hirayama speaks up: “I lived by him all this time and I never knew.” Horie realizes that, “Such is the hand of fate, as in my own case,” referring to his marriage to a younger woman, two years older than his own daughter. This purpose of this juxtaposition is to link fatalism into the ‘lighthearted’ moments of the film, those where people are supposed to be laughing, leaving them vulnerable. Ozu uses this vulnerability to further implement chance and fate into yet another aspect of the film.

It is important to remember, though, that Ozu does not dwell on the ‘heaviness’ in these ‘lighthearted’ scenes. Above all else, these scenes of comedy are in the film as breathing room, much like Ozu’s own use of transition shots, and the pillow words in Haiku.

III. Opportunity
The basic outline of An Autumn Afternoon had been filmed over a decade earlier as Late Spring (1949). In both films, Ozu does not let the daughter marry whom she wants to. But the reason why they don’t marry is very different in both films, and this difference helps to clarify the individual themes of the films.

Late Spring suggests that the heroine misses marrying the man she loves and she does so more because the two discover each other too late than because he was ready when she was not [as is the case in An Autumn Afternoon.] Thus “missed opportunity” is uniquely central in An Autumn Afternoon, and the baseball game is our first indication (Geist 91).”

The aforementioned baseball game comes at the beginning of the film. After Kawai discusses a marriage prospect for his daughter, Hirayama asks him if he is coming to dinner that night. Kawai responds that he has tickets to a baseball game that he wouldn’t pass up. The next shots are exteriors of the baseball stadium, complete with the sound of an announcer giving play-by-play commentary. Following these are shots of the game as shown on a television set, proceeded by three men at a bar watching the TV. A waitress walks by them carrying a tray. The camera follows her down a corridor and into a room where Hirayama, Horie and Kawai are seated. He did skip the game: he gave up the opportunity. Such a series of shots not only establishes a sense of temporality, but also their independent destinies: everything operates independently. After Horie skips out early on the dinner to go home with his new wife, Kawai’s bitterness comes out: “I gave up the night game to come here.” Horie’s shrug let him know that that’s the way things turn out sometimes.

A subtler example of missed opportunity is one that also draws binding ties between Michiko and her family. Hirayama comes home late: he has missed dinner. Michiko informs him that their maid has quit, and that the whole family will have to do more work around the house. Hirayama says he is leaving early tomorrow morning and doesn’t have the time; his youngest son says he is sleeping in, as well. Michiko is miffed, and orders the two men to do the dishes now. The next shot is of her doing the dishes.

This sequence develops a complex relationship of dependencies within the family. The men are dependent on Michiko to clean the house, the cook the food, and so forth. But, at the same time, Michiko is feigns a dependency on the men in her family in that she allows them to arrange a marriage for her.

The marriage proposal is one of many possible opportunities found in the everyday life of the characters in the film. Koichi has the prospect of golf clubs that he’s always wanted. And as Horie stresses to his older, widower friends: if you get the chance to marry a younger woman, take it.

IV. Fatalism
The combination of chance and fate can at times be contradictory. One of them offers choice, and the other a lack of choice. But both of these elements are apparent in An Autumn Afternoon. Ozu’s decision to this reflects the dual nature of the characters in the film: one that resists fate, as well as one that accepts it.

The majority of the resistance of fate comes from Kawai. He makes three standout statements on this subject. First is the threat that he constantly tells Hirayama: marry your daughter off or you’ll end up like lonely and unhappy like “the Gourd”. The second is a conversation he has with Michiko when he tries to convince her to take up his prospect: She says she can’t get married because her family needs her. He says to her, “You’d give up a good marriage?” She replies, “It can’t be helped.” His response: “Yes it can.” He believes that we have control over our actions, that we do have a choice.

The final statement is an empathetic piece of advice he tells Hirayama after his daughter gets married: “It’s still a shock.” He is talking about the shock that comes from your daughter getting married and leaving you. This is very ironic, seeing how he was pushing for this marriage from the start of the film. It’s also ironic in that even though he acknowledges that daughters have to leave, he still doesn’t accept it. Donald Richie says that irony in Ozu’s films “is there for but one purpose: our detachment reveals a design of which the characters are unaware, and this makes us want to move closer to these warm and very human people (Richie 50).” The design that arises from this irony is the sealant that binds chance and fate as one struggle for the characters of An Autumn Afternoon.

Fate isn’t always fought against, though. Many characters constantly refer to fate in trying to find some reasoning for either uncanny good or bad luck. Horie describes his marriage to a younger woman as, “the hand of fate.” Koichi, after finding out that not only does Miura already have a fiancée, but that he had asked to marry Michiko before and that Koichi had said no, also says “the hand of fate.” The Gourd even says that he is “accustomed” to the loneliness that is his life. These characters accept their life as it is.

Hirayama is aware that even though the Gourd didn’t marry off his daughter that he is lonely. He is also aware that if his daughter leaves he will be married. These opposing forces, the ones that Schrader called attention to, lead to a great contradiction in An Autumn Afternoon. Even though he does have two distinct choices to choose from, the ultimate consequence is the same: an inevitable loneliness. The ultimate coalition of chance and fate is not a cheerful one: the illusion of choice is overshadowed by an inescapable fate. This fate is the end of almost every Ozu film: a father sitting alone.

Richie’s notice of chance in another Ozu film is reflective of the conclusion of An Autumn Afternoon, one that is a summation of the pointlessness of chance. “In Early Summer a character observes that life is like a game of chance. ‘Happiness is only a hope - hope more like a dream, like hoping you are going to win at the racetrack.’ (Richie 67)”

Works Cited
An Autumn Afternoon. Dir. Yasujiro Ozu. Perf. Chisu Ryu. Videocassette. New Yorker Films, 2001.
Geist, Kathe. “Narrative Strategies in Ozu’s Late Films.” Reframing Japanese Cinema: Authorship, Genre, History. Ed. Arthur Nolletti and David Desser. Indiana University Press, 1992. 91-94.
Richie, Donald. Ozu . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977.
Schrader, Paul. Transcendental Style in Film . Da Capo Press, 1988

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Essay: Strangers on a Train

Strangers on a Train (1951)
Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

"As Funny As It Is Frightening"
by Cullen Gallagher

“When I’m in the swim, I want to be with the goldfish.” – Clara Bow in It

Hitchcock’s famous anecdote about the bomb under the table, and how to create suspense one must let the audience know that the bomb is there in lieu of it suddenly exploding (in fact, after you inform the audience, Hitchcock mused, you must not let the bomb go off at all) lends a great insight into the master’s assembly of humor, as well. By keeping the audience both in the swim and with the fishes, Alfred Hitchcock is able to make wildly perverse turns on the most fiendish of situations. The essence of his performance is that he is able to make the audience laugh at what’s not funny at all; rather, he challenges the notion of couth humor and reveals the darker, unaffected side of comedy that glazes even the most unpleasant of events.

Stalking, in suspense films, is the most normal of events. In some cases the character being stalked is aware of their stalker, and even acknowledges their presence. To the audience, such a scene has one emotional track: suspense: they are awaiting the capture, the acquisition of the subject of desire, for even murder is the climax of a particular desire. Hitchcock has included such a scene in his Strangers on a Train. Bruno visits Metcalf and waits outside of Miriam’s house, the should-be ex-wife of his crush, tennis star Guy Haines. Miriam exits with two escorts and they go to the fair. Expertly (or psychopathically?) Bruno follows and, at the precise moment when she is out of the sight of her escorts, strangles Miriam to death.

This scene, through Hitchcock’s lens, is as funny as it is frightening. Through the collision of characters and their backgrounds humor still pervades (the pay-off for an audience that pays attention!). In his American Cinema, Andrew Sarris argues that, “Hitchcock requires a situation of normality, however dull it may seem on the surface, to emphasize the evil abnormality that lurks beneath the surface.” Though he does persist that there are levels of humor to Hitchcock’s work, one that makes the audience “laugh nervously” and another that manifests as “a lively comedy of manners,” Sarris does not go far enough. He could have continued his argument by saying that Hitchcock requires a situation of evil abnormality to emphasize the ironic humor that lurks beneath the surface (Sarris 57-58).

Miriam’s character culls several layers of deception, each one more childish and immature than the previous. When she exits her house to catch the bus, the sudden appearance of two escorts is unexpected. That both she and them look like teenagers is the first removal of her dignity. The next removal occurs when her suitors celebrate how much she eats: unbeknownst to them, she is pregnant (and with another man’s baby)! She turns and looks past the camera, licking her ice-cream cone (like so many Lolita images, the union of the innocent and the sexual). Her gaze meets up with Bruno, who has been staring at her for a long time now. Their sights now locked, their furtive glances now acknowledged, their attraction mutual. Just as joined now are the sexual and the murderous.

Like Miriam, Bruno is also disrobed of dignity. He comes across a little brat walking with a balloon and pops it with his cigarette. Such an action reeks of immaturity, but in a deeper sense, it identifies a childlike rationale with Bruno’s upcoming murder. Popping the balloon will have no long-term consequences; sure, the brat will cry, but balloon’s are a dime a dozen, and Bruno’s motivation is nothing more than a taunt or, if you will, teaching someone a lesson. There is no connection to the little boy, just as there is no connection to Miriam, which is how he justified the murder to Guy on the train. This moment is the reversal of the Hitchcock pattern I have been describing: beneath the comic exterior is the serious interior of a psychopath’s mind.

Over at the test of strength, Miriam’s suitors both fail, much like Penelope’s suitors all fail and are slain by Odysseus. Miriam eyes Bruno, who then decides to test himself, as well. Before he picks up the sledgehammer, he eyes his hands, marveling at his own strength. He looks over at Miriam and she glares provocatively back at him. The irony is that she is turned on by the hands that are soon to kill her! Bruno picks up the sledgehammer and hits it home: the bell rings, he wins the prize, and Miriam goes off into the tunnel of love with her suitors. Bruno, alone in his boat, follows.

The murder sequence is devoid of the humor that has marked the previous scenes; it is shown through the lens of Miriam’s glasses that have fallen on the grass, and the image is as distorted and perverted as the people in the reflection. They appear in silhouette, as if they have been stripped of the pretty boy and girl images they purported as their ultimate desires are met: his sadism and her masochism. Were the nature of her murder not so fascinating and complex it could seem moralistic, but Hitchcock is not interested in preaching; as much as morals and ethics interest him, it is never didacticism that interests him: it is the exhumation of our fascination with the unmoral and the unethical.

Works Cited
Sarris, Andrew. The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968. Chicago: University of Chicago Press,1968.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Cineholla pt.2

Lou's site is up - so hit it up! Keep posted for a collaboration between Jeff, Lou and I (and others yet unknown!) in the near future...


Just a head's up - I put a link to Jeff Smadbeck's "Sklog Blog" over in the links corner...check out his cinema blog, and be sure to give him a cineholla. And look forward to the LT Smadbeck's blog in the next few days...