Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Youssef Chahine Podcast: No. 36 – Al-Karnak (Ali Badr Kahn, Egypt, 1975)

Richard returns! We discuss the famous Al-Karnak (Karnak Café) directed byAli Badr Kahn in 1975. A political film, a critique of the previous regime, based on a novella by Naguib Mahfouz, and a ‘model of de-Nasserfication’. The film is pulpy, melodramatic, sensationalist, a box-office smash. A very interesting work to discuss in relation to Chahine’s The Sparrow (1972), which deals with similar subject matter but in a a very different way. Ali Badr Kahn and Mahfouz had previously collaborated with Chahine as well so the film is an interesting focal point to a whole series of issues that intersect with Chahine’s work.

 

 

José Arroyo

 

José Arroyo in Conversation with Dr. Fiona Cox on Ammonite (Francis Lee, UK, 2001)

I’m joined by Dr. Fiona Cox also known as Kitty Mazinsky, celebrated songbird of international renown, for a wide-ranging discussion of Francis Lee’s fascinating follow-up to God’s Own Country. We talk about landscape, the film’s focus on hands and work, the love scene, the beautiful shot where Kate Winslet as Mary Anning is framed as a painting, the film’s dramatisation of class and patriarchal relations, the place of the museum, and the significance of the ending. The podcast can be listened to here:

 

José Arroyo

The Greeks Had a Word For Them (Lowell Sherman, 1932)

Smart wise-cracking pre-code, with the always vivacious Joan Blondell and Ina Clair giving an expert performance in a role that should have made her a star. I here just want to register the opening title cards for future reference:

José Arroyo

An Egyptian Perspective on the Cinema of Youssef Chahine Part IV

Hussein returns for a fourth episode to offer us a fascinating Egyptian perspective on the last epoch of Youssef Chahine’s career, beginning with Cairo as Seen By Chahine (1991) and talking us through The Emigrant (94), Destiny (1997), The Other (99). We also touch on The Choice (1970), Silence, on tourne! (2001) and other of his works, though they do remain peripheral to this particular discussion. Hussein offers us a historical and cultural perspective on these later works and also tells us about their reception in Egypt. At the end of the podcast, Hussein presents  us with an extended discussion on what he sees as recurring concerns in the cinema of Youssef Chahine: The first can be characterised as labour but is inclusive of Labour unions, the worker, the ‘ordinary person’, the downtrodden; another recurring concern, appearing sometimes as a main subject, sometimes as a throwaway is The Algerian War; lastly, a third major strand is the concern with travel, displacement, immigration, liminality: an exploration that takes on different shape within different films. We are very grateful to Hussein for fleshing out so many of these ideas for us, articulating them so clearly, and giving us many more things to think about when considering Chahine’s ouevre. 

The discussion on The Emigrant with Martin Stollery referred to in the podcast can be found here

Also, Hussein provides us with the following links referred to in the podcast:

The song from Destiiny

The song performed by Mounir just a few weeks ago on a popular Egyptian tv program
The emigrant sound track, one of Hussein’s favorites in any Chahine film
Enjoy!

José Arroyo

Coutinho at the 2021 Video Essay Film Festival

 

Many thanks to Michael Temple for the brilliant and stimulating Eduardo Coutinho day yesterday at Birbeck. I hope if and when we return to normal, we continue to do events like this digitally. I wouldn’t have been able to attend otherwise and it was a real privilege to see the Coutinho films and hear Lucia Nagib, Victor Guinmarães, and Cecilia Sayad talk about Cabra marcada para morrer/ Man Marked for Death.  It wasn’t just how the discussion expanded and enhanced my understanding of the film, not only as a political documentary but in its inventiveness with form and also, as the film unfolds,  its transformation from a sociological documentary to a self-reflexive essay film. I also loved all the asides in the chat function, where subsequent films on the same family could be found, what other films to see, different kinds of contexts and links, Coutinho being a bridge between the CPC and Cinema Novo, etc. The second talk by Fabio Andrade, drawing on the Coutinho archive, was also brilliant. And I was able to listen and participate whilst trying out a new version of the ginger/ pear cake for that evening’s dinner. I was sad to have to miss the final session of the day and I will be very sad if these events don’t continue digitally or at least with a digital component. Many thanks to all involved.

José Arroyo

A very brief note on Jeremy Atherton Lin’s ‘Gay Bar: Why We Went Out’

Beautifully written, erudite; a book that feels very personal yet reaches out to history, sociology, evolving queer cultures and the changing role of gays bars within them. I think I’ve only been to a couple of the ones described but it doesn’t matter; it all connected to my experience and enhanced my understanding. Also, it’s a real joy to read such good writing.I loved the combination of depth/ breath of knowledge plus the beauty of expression. It has lines one wants to remember about things that matter and touch on one’ s understanding.

Here he is observing the crowds at Blackpool: ‘There, I glimpsed an Anglo national identity articulated on the esplanade and in karaoke bars — a dignity in mess, resilience, a binge-drinking stiff upper lip, the art of salting the chip on your shoulder.  What I hadn’t anticipated was how this identity could also e so gay (p.251) I highly recommend.

 

José Arroyo

 

The Youssef Chahine Podcast No. 33: Al-mummia/ The Night of Counting The Years (Shadi Abdel Salam, Egypt, 1969)

At the request of our listeners, we are expanding the podcast onto other instances of Egyptian cinema. We saw Shadi Abdel Salam’s Al-mummia/ The Night of Counting The Years in the wonderful version restored with the help of Martin Scorsese and the Cineteca di Bologna in 2009. It’s a truly great film: poetic, allegorical, about the past and the nation; people robbed, robbing others, robbing themselves, stealing their own past and rescuing it so that it might live in the present. But not without a cost: in one night a young man brings life to the past so it may have a future but in the process  loses his father, his brother, his tribe and his home; and that past he’s rescued is heading for the metropolis where he does not yet have a stake. He’s saved it for others of a larger tribe to which he also belongs. But he has himself lost it, at least momentarily. A very beautiful film that I’m sure will reward further viewing. Much of this podcast is a combination of appreciation and queries about what we don’t yet understand.

The New York Times Review we discuss in the podcast:

..and some other images from the film:

The date for the vilm is variously given as 1969 and 1970. Preponderance has led us to opt for 1969.

 

Photoshop Exercise 2: Kirk Douglas

Kirk Douglas in Young Man with A Horn with Hoagy Carmichael and Doris Day. I did notice that my previous choices were all in moments when Henry Fonda or the others were anguished or troubled or in pain, as if that was somehow the necessary factor to ‘queer’ them. So this time I took moments of pleasure and blissed them. It must be said however, that Kirk’s thin lips and macho stance made this much more difficult than some of the others

 

 

Youssef Chahine’s Career: An Egyptian Perspective Part III

We return for the third part of our conversation with Hussein, offering an Egyptian perspective on Youssef Chahine’s career, its contexts and its significance. In this episode we touch on ‘The Sparrow’, ‘The Return of the Prodigal Son’, ‘Adieu Bonaparte’ and ‘Alexandria…Again and Forever‘. We discuss how one of  the songs of The Sparrow was released before the film, and has seeped into Egyptian pop culture without people necessarily knowing its source, like the phrases discussed in our last conversation. We also discuss the famous Egyptian Actor’s Union Strike of 1987, the influence of Netflix, how Alexandria….Again and Forever might be under-appreciated…and more.

We will return for a final episode discussing the last stage of Chahine’s brilliant career beginning with ‘Cairo as Seen by Chahine’.

Hussein helped me find an Egyptian equivalent to imdb to name all the actors that appear in Alexandria Again and Forever as themselves in the depiction of the famous strike, and I include the cast list with the actors named and pictured below:

Hussein redresses some of the political aspects of the films that were quite overlooked in our earlier podcast. Most importantly, the strike by the Egyptian Actors’ Union of 1987. There are very scarce resources on this strike but thankfully Chahine did a whole film revolving around it. The Egyptian parliament had passed laws governing unions that would have allowed the term of each head of the union to run forever. One of the remarkable things about the film is how Chahine filmed the fictional strike in the exact locations where it had happened with the people who had participated in the strike, inserting footage of the actual strike, documentary footage from the union’s conference that was organized as part of the strike. The conference issued a declaration that eventually lead to the government backing down and rolling back the changes in the union law.

 

The extraordinary Taheyya Kariokka (above) at the height of her fame on the left, and managing the Actor’s Union on the right.

Chahine on the set of Return of the Prodigal Son

Michel Piccoli, Youssef Chahine, Mohsen Mohieddin and director Patrice Chereau, who played Napoleon for Chahine, at the time of Adieu Bonaparte.

We will continue with our fourth and final episode next week

 

José Arroyo

 

Sheep without a Shepherd – The Power of Montage by Yilin Duan: A Video Essay by Yilin Duan

Sheep without a Shepherd: The Power of Montage

A Video Essay by Yilin Duan

If you have committed a crime, how can you then prove your innocence? By a perfect alibi? By a witness? Or by public opinion? In the film Sheep without a Shepherd (Sam Quah, 2019), the main protagonist Li Weijie (Xiao Yang) creates all the evidence mentioned above to cover up the crime of his family through the idea of montage. Starting with the question of how to commit a perfect crime by montage, this video essay aims at exploring the effects of this widely used editing theory by comparing the murderer of the case Li Weijie to the director of a film, as montage is used both when Li Weijie tries to fabricate the evidence and when the director wants to affect audiences’ reading and perception of a film. What they both do is to arrange the footages to form a new meaning, so that the interrogators, or the audiences, can understand their thoughts clearly.

 

I have always been interested in technical post-production stage of films throughout my learning in film studies, and this is why I choose to analyse the power of montage. The style of editing is a very important element of the final film, and it is inseparable from the personal preference of the director. The idea of montage is developed by many former Soviet filmmakers, and one leading theorist among them is Sergei Eisenstein. Eisenstein’s contribution to montage editing technique is indelible, therefore he is a very important figure to refer to when talking about montage. I also prefer his theories, which I found very interesting and useful in the editing stage of the film, so in the video essay I used a lot of his quotes to apply to the films and examine the utility of montage. Following this I then also compared Sergei Eisenstein with André Bazin, because they have different opinions toward the style of editing, and each held a very enlightening editing theory, which both makes sense. Since my focus in the video is on montage, Bazin’s theory works as an evaluation of Eisenstein’s.

 

There are many reasons why I choose Sheep without a Shepherd in relation to this topic. Firstly, its editing aligns with Eisenstein’s theory. There are several different ways of montage used in this film, and I talked about mainly two of them in my video essay. Secondly, it is a very new film released in 2019, showing that even it was several decades ago when Eisenstein suggested his montage theory, until nowadays montage is still a very effective technique for the present cinema. And last but not least, I suspect most people have not seen any Chinese films or done much analysis before, so I am also more than delighted to introduce my personal film of the year, which although is a niche crime theme, but has gained huge success in China and achieved a box office of more than 1 billion RMB.

 

My video essay consists of mainly three parts. The first part is ‘what is montage’, which can be answered from two aspects: technical and functional. Technically, to create a montage sequence is as simple as ‘splices shots together and adds in sound effects’, which is said by Li Weijie in Sheep without a Shepherd to educate audiences the basic process of montage. But to make this sequence meaningful, the main function of montage must be taken into account. Therefore, I quoted from Eisenstein, that “the combination of two ‘representable’ objects achieves the representation of something that cannot be graphically represented.” (Eisenstein, 1949: 15). Therefore, montage does not simply mean adding any two or more shots together, but the aim is to form new meanings or add emotional effects to the sequence, which cannot be visually presented straightforwardly.

 

As mentioned above, the second part of the video essay is the comparison between Eisenstein’s montage theory and André Bazin’s long take theory. While they are both very influential film theorists throughout the industry, their editing theories are completely opposite. Eisenstein believes that montage contributes to the plot and meaning of the film, but what Bazin pursues is realism, that the avoidance of editing, i.e., long take shots, is a form of realism of the cinema. Since the two held opposite opinions, I think it would be useful to compare and contrast them, to see what montage can achieve and what it cannot. Bazin himself also did the comparison in his book What is Cinema, arguing that montage ‘impose[s] its interpretation of an event on the spectator’ (Bazin, 1967-1971: 26), while his use of long take and depth of focus helps audiences ‘enjoys the reality’. (Ibid., 35)

 

The third part is examples of practical uses of montage. Montage can be used in many ways, and in this video essay I took two common montage techniques as examples, one is intellectual montage, the other one is parallel montage, and both are applied in the film Sheep without a Shepherd. Since intellectual montage is one of the most significant concepts suggested by Eisenstein, I therefore quoted from him as well, that intellectual montage means ‘not of generally physiological overtonal sounds, but of sounds and overtones of an intellectual sort: i.e., conflict-juxtaposition of accompanying intellectual affects.’ (Eisenstein, 1949: 82) I focused on the sequence when the police open the coffin. As I captured, on the left side there is only close-up shots of Li Weijie, and on the right side there is close-up shots of the coffin lid. I aim to use this sequence to show that a third meaning can be conveyed by two superficially irrelevant shots, so that Li Weijie’s mental activity can be inferred when he sees the bloodstain on the coffin lid.

To dig further into the idea of intellectual montage, one other function of it that I included in the video essay is to create visual metaphor. I use the scene of the stone lion from Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925) as an example of visual metaphor. To represent the rise of the people and the triumph of the revolution, Eisenstein spliced together the shots of the stone lion, from sleeping to waking up to rising, which indicates people’s determination to resist and fight for themselves. This use of montage can also create non-visual effects, as Ashley Brown argues that, ‘Sergei Eisenstein uses visual metaphor to teach audiences the benefits of cooperative action from all industries of production and defense.’ (Brown, 2018: 63).

Besides the stone lion, in Sheep without a Shepherd the director also uses goat as a visual metaphor. I took three similar scenes in the film of Li Weijie giving donation to the temple to point out that the emergence of goat is intentionally designed. The goat appears when Li Weijie does not commit the crime at the beginning of the film, and when he confesses the crime at the end, but does not appear when Li Weijie tries to cover up the crime. Though it is not a political propaganda use of visual metaphor, the goat here might stand for Li Weijie’s conscience and criticized him morally.

 

Finally, the film also uses parallel montage, and one significant scene is the Thai boxing scene, that while Li Weijie is watching the boxing match, his wife and daughter are hit by the son of the interrogator. This fast cross cut on the one hand shows the relevance of the two events, that the temporary faint of the boxer also hints that the son does not die immediately, and on the other hand, the contrast between Li Weijie’s excitement and wife and daughter’s fear also creates a tense atmosphere for the whole scene.

 

Now that we are aware of director’s ability to affect audiences’ reaction and perception of the film by montage, and finally I went back to the initial question of how does montage help commit a perfect crime. Surveillance footage became the protagonist Li Weijie’s footage, and he reordered them to create a new montage sequence to prove his innocence. Thus, the power of montage is huge, as it can affect the meaning and atmosphere of a story.

 

 

Filmography:

  1. Sheep without a Shepherd, 2019, China, Dir. Sam Quah. Main cast: Xiao Yang (Li Weijie), Chen Chong (Laoorn).
  2. Nuovo Cinema Paradiso, 1988, Italy, Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Main cast: Salvatore Cascio (Salvatore ‘Totò’ Di Vita – Teenager), Philippe Noiret (Alfredo).
  3. Citizen Kane, 1941, USA, Dir. Orson Welles. Main cast: Joseph Cotton (Jedediah Leland), Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane).
  4. Battleship Potemkin, 1925, Soviet Union, Dir. Sergei M. Eisenstein. Main cast: Aleksandr Antonov (Grigory Vakulinchuk), Vladimir Barskiy (Commander Golikov).

 

 

References:

  1. André Bazin, The Evolution of the Language of Cinema in What is Cinema, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005, pp. 23-40.
  2. Ashley Brown: Visual Metaphors for the People: A Study of Cinematic Propaganda in Sergei Eisenstein’s Film in Elements, Spring 2018, pp. 61-72.
  3. David Bordwell, The Idea of Montage in Soviet Art and Film in Cinema Journal, Spring, 1972, Vol. 11, No. 2, pp. 9-17.
  4. Sergei M. Eisenstein, through Theatre to Cinema in Film Form: Essay in Film Theory, Orlando, Florida: Harcourt, Inc., 1949, pp. 3-17.
  5. Eisenstein, the Cinematographic Principle and the Ideogram in Film Form: Essay in Film Theory, 1949, pp. 28-44.
  6. Eisenstein, Methods of Montage in Film Form: Essay in Film Theory, 1949, pp. 72-83.

 

 

The Beaches of Agnes: A Video Essay by Meg Russell

 

The Beaches of Agnes – Cinécriture; memory and film – A Video Essay by Meg Russell

 

My video essay is concerned with auteur Agnes Varda and her documentary practices, constructed around the research question ‘How does Agnes Varda utilise Cinécriture to navigate the themes of memory and film in The Beaches of Agnes?’ I am interested in the aesthetic style of Varda’s filmography, specifically her documentary, and the ways that she injects charm and intimacy into her filmic portrait. The term coined by Varda herself can be defined as followed:

 

Cinécriture; (cinema-writing), meaning every aspect in her movies is included with meaning or message, something commonly used today in film.

 

Though commonly found in the film, Varda employs cinécriture in the picture by informing each image with her charming presence. This essay explores the many different conventions, both aesthetic and narrative-based, that Varda takes on to permeate the film with her enchanting charm. My essay illustrates examples of cinécriture from the film The Beaches of Agnes (2008) that translate Varda’s whimsical recollective style of memory and cinema.

 

The film opens on the Belgium beaches of her childhood as Varda begins to set up her life story that she is now ready to share, delving into the significance of the landscapes of her memories. Varda’s identity is key to her examinations of each memory, refusing to ever acknowledge the external critical labels that audiences continue to attach to her and her films. Varda is determined to tell her own story and define her own life. Delphine Benezet writes on the film; ‘What I find particularly interesting in Les Plages d’Agnès is that Varda presents her own identity as determined by the ever-shifting relationships that she has had with the beaches of her life. The philosopher Frank Kausch rightly calls it a ‘portrait en creux’ and foregrounds the elements that are in contact with and transforming Varda’s identity.’ (2014:94)

 

Varda tells her own story through these memories that she shares with us, showcasing significant people that she has met throughout her life but Varda ensures that she is the narrator of her story. It is evident that she dictates the retelling of her story with the same determined persona that aided her to elevate her artistic career that she explores later in the film. Despite Varda’s chatty and amiable storytelling of family, love, and traveling her independent and resolute role remains clear throughout.

 

Though her focus is on her own personal memories, she never fails to include her favorite subject, people. We are invited to see the world through Varda’s point of view who has an adoration for humanity and the community that she met throughout her life. As Kelley Conway has noted ‘Regardless of whether Varda draws upon the travelogue or the road film, her films continue to emphasize the specificity of “place” and to introduce an array of intriguing and often marginalized people. They also continue to offer a productive tension between a central organizational structure and elements of playful digression.’ (2015:109)

 

However, through Varda’s sustain of informative and reflective narrations, she does not prioritise a conventional sentimentality that attempts to define subjects by their personal lives and defiant struggles which can be found in many other examples of biography. My essay explores how instead, she navigates the juncture of her personal memories and her career, illustrating the ways that art and film have been her core drive in almost every aspect of her life. These stories of love and travel stem from her career as a photographer turned filmmaker who carved out her place as the ‘sister’ of the French New Wave in the 1960’s. Varda’s place as auteur and artist is explored through reflections on her many films, dissecting her development from creating her first film to where she found herself at the time of creating The Beaches of Agnes. Varda gleans memories of success like Vagabond (1985) and Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) to passion projects like Jacquot de Nantes (1991). Varda modestly strolls through her successes, acknowledging the significance of collaborators and community in her accomplishments.

 

My essay is interested in the ways that Varda illustrates these two areas of her life and the ways that she fragments memory and art. The colourful scrapbooks style of her cinema-writing injects the quirky persona that Varda is culturally known for, but this never detracts from the significance of her subjects, honouring each person involved in the memories that she handles. Though we get limited screen time with many different people from her life, Varda ensures each discussion and story that she shares that involves her friends and family are given the care that it deserves. As Claudia Gorbman has written, “The answer is clear: Varda remains the total master of her work and enjoys her cat-and- mouse game with each of us, in our relation with both Agnès the character and Varda, the elusive, always inventive author.” (2010)

 

The Beaches of Agnes is a mosaic of Varda’s memories that she carefully constructs through her cinema-writing. The success of the film comes from this distinctive, charming style and the presence of the auteur herself, who celebrates her own life and art, reflecting on her cinematic history and the communities she met along the way. Though she rejects the conventional closure of documentary, Varda tells her full story in this abundant cinematic pilgrimage of memory and cinema. The film is a bricolage-laden dedication to her memories, identity, and films. This is explored in my video essay which showcases Varda’s talent to force her audience to take an interest in all that she expresses. My essay hopes to explore the ways that Varda garners her memories in her love letter to life and art, memory and home. “Cinema is my home. I have always lived in it.” – Agnes Varda, 2008.

 

The film itself provides such a rich basis for research material and textual analysis, but due to complications from the current pandemic, I had little access to her other works and found a lack of research texts and sources that explore Varda’s cinécriture and documentary work. Her dramas have an abundant critical pool that explores her beginnings as a director, yet Varda herself seems the key source of discussions surrounding her cinematic career and artistic developments.

 

The Beaches of Agnes itself provides a rare, intimate view into the world of Agnes Varda, richer than any external critical works. To hear the auteur, recount her own life alongside her beautifully crafted cinema writing is a joy that is rarely found in other documentaries of its kind.

 

 

 

Song Used – Mozart clarinet quintet in A, K 581.

 

 

 

Bibliography

BARNET, M.-C. (2016). Agnès Varda unlimited image, music, media. Cambridge: Legenda, Modern Humanities Research Association.

BÉNÉZET, D. (2014). The cinema of Agnes Varda: resistance and eclecticism. London, Wallflower Press.

DEROO, R. J. (2018). Agnès Varda between film, photography, and art. University of California Press.

GORBMAN, C. (2010) Place and Play in Agnes Varda’s Cinecriture. http://archive.pov.org/ beachesofagnes/places-and-play/ .

JACKSON, E. (2010). The eyes of Agnès Varda: portraiture, cinécriture and the filmic ethnographic eye. Feminist Review. 96, 122-126.

KELLEY CONWAY. (2015). Agnès Varda. University of Illinois Press

MCNEIL, I. (2010) Memory and the Moving Image: French Film in the Digital Era. Edin- burgh University Press.

SMITH, A. (1998). Agnès Varda. Manchester, Manchester University. Press.

TORLASCO, D. (2011). Digital Impressions: Writing Memory after Agnes Varda. Discourse: Berkeley Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture. 33, 390-408.

 

Filmography

AGNES VARDA WOMEN IN FILM (9th September 2016) YouTube video added by TIFF Originals. [Online]. Available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zF-eX4Zwk3Q [29th January 2021].

Black Panthers. (1968) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Cleo from 5 to 7 (1962) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Daguerréotypes. (1976) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Faces Places. (2017) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Jacquot de Nantes. (1991) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Jane B. for Agnes V. (1988) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

La Pointe Courte. (1955) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Le Bonheur. (1965) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Parc Films.

Murals Murals. (1981) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

One Sings, the Other Doesn’t. (1977) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

The Beaches of Agnes. (2008) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

The Creatures. (1966) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Parc Films.

The Gleaners and I. (2000) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Uncle Yanco. (1967) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Vagabond. (1985) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

Varda by Agnes. (2019) Directed by Agnes Varda. France. Ciné Tamaris.

 

‘Drowning in Spilled Beans: The Method Behind the Madness in The Lighthouse’ — A Video Essay by Joel Hatton

 

 

Drowning in Spilled Beans: The Method Behind the Madness in The Lighthouse

 

Immediately after my initial viewing of The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019), I was certain it was going to enter the catalogue of my personal favourite films. However, while some of the merits of the film are immediately obvious, specifically the sensational performances and stunning cinematography, it was a decidedly difficult task to discern how the film was able to instil such a deep feeling of fear and dread. The narrative follows a character going mad, but the mere depiction of insanity is not altogether unusual. There is a multitude of films that deal with the topic of madness, but few of them can replicate the creeping unease Eggers creates in the world of The Lighthouse. Upon delving through the footage, it quickly becomes apparent that the film’s strength as a psychological character study lies not just in what it shows, but rather how it shows it.

A film that quickly became a key point for comparison was The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). The similarities between the two films are numerous and well documented – from thematic narrative links (such as the common idea of madness emanating from isolation) to visual links (such as the image of someone running away from an axe wielding maniac). However, a link less touched upon is the unusual use of form to convey madness. The Shining provides one of the most famous examples of the 180-degree rule being broken, during the interaction between the protagonist and a spectral waiter. The invisible plane in a scene that the camera never crosses is a rule adhered to by the overwhelming majority of modern films, and thus the breaking of it has to be considered both intentional and significant. In this scene it serves the function of disorienting the audience, the unusual and unexpected angle clearly conveying to the audience that something is amiss. Even if an audience member is not consciously aware of the rule, the idea is so deeply ingrained in standard editing and cinematography that the breaking of it will have a subconscious effect. While this idea is not directly replicated in The Lighthouse, there are multiple occasions where Eggers seems to toy with our assumptions regarding film editing and structure to create a similar effect.

The essay divides its points into two main categories; those related to the overall visual style of the film and those that are related to the use of perspective, both visually and narratively, with both sections touching upon the idea of subverting traditional cinematic conventions (based on a mixture of personal observations and the idea of continuity editing outlined by David Bordwell) in order to make the audience feel disconcerted. The first section was a critical inclusion simply because the visual style of The Lighthouse is so remarkably striking. The bold choice to shoot in monochrome as well as a seldom used 1.19:1 aspect ratio dominates the aesthetic experience of the film.

Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019) became a key point for comparison in this regard due to being another recent film that is shot in black and white while utilising an unconventional aspect ratio (4:3). In Bait, it seems clear that this was to cement the idea of time in the film’s presentation since the narrative heavily focuses on the conflict between modernity and tradition. It would be easy to come to a similar conclusion for The Lighthouse, since implementing unusual techniques in order to establish a historical setting is clearly something Eggers is not opposed to, based on his use of accurate historical dialogue in both of his feature films. He frequently uses primary historical sources in order to craft authentic dialogue, such as the diary of Cotton Mather (a key figure in the Salem witch trials) for The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015) and old nautical dictionaries for The Lighthouse.

Despite these compelling reasons for labelling the incorporation of these choices as an effort to accentuate the setting, there is reason to believe they serve another purpose by revealing details on Winslow’s feelings and state of mind. Firstly, there is the ambiguity brought on by the lack of colour and the claustrophobia aroused by the narrow frame, both of which serve as visual manifestations of Winslow’s mental struggle. Secondly, the fact the frame differs from the norm means it works to play with our assumptions, since we are used to having a much wider field of view. In The Lighthouse, this area of the frame is still vital in communicating meaning, precisely because we are accustomed to it being utilised. It is not empty space, but rather hidden space, an area that we would usually expect to be visible completely concealed by impenetrable black walls.

The second section focuses on perspective, namely how we are set up in alignment with Winslow and how the events that unfold are rendered much more affecting because of this alignment. The fact we follow him almost exclusively, combined with the cinematography used, results in a certain level of trust and sympathy from us as viewers. This works to create a great sense of unease when this character betrays this trust by acting in a deranged manner or making a surprising confession about his shady past (made all the worse by the fact images shown to us in his sexual fantasies appear to contradict his claim of innocence). Moreover, as the film progresses there a several instances where Winslow’s perception regarding the passage of time is brought into question. After previously setting us up in a position where we experience time as he does (cutting to black when he is rendered unconscious etc.) this revelation that large chunks of time may be missing from the narrative is highly distressing. Overall, this results in putting the audience in the uncomfortable position of being closely tethered to a man whose background, motives and state of mind have all been exposed as highly questionable.

In conclusion, this essay aims to shed some light on some overlooked elements of The Lighthouse and establish why those aspects work to make the film an effective psychological horror.

 

Bibliography

Bordwell, D. (2002). Intensified continuity visual style in contemporary American film. Film Quarterly, 55(3), 16-28.

Bordwell, D., Thompson, K., & Smith, J. (1993). Film art: An introduction (Vol. 7). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Haughton A. The Historical Accuracies of The Witch Part 3 (Dialogue) (2017) https://www.viddy-well.com/articles/the-historical-accuracies-of-the-witch-part3

Fleming, M. Z., Piedmont, R. L., & Hiam, C. M. (1990). Images of madness: Feature films in teaching psychology. Teaching of psychology, 17(3)

Magliano, J. P., Miller, J., & Zwaan, R. A. (2001). Indexing space and time in film understanding. Applied Cognitive Psychology: The Official Journal of the Society for Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, 15(5), 533-545.

Magliano, J. P., & Zacks, J. M. (2011). The impact of continuity editing in narrative film on event segmentation. Cognitive science, 35(8), 1489-1517.

Robinson T. ‘It was a learning curve for everyone’: Robert Eggers on The Lighthouse’s tech experiments (2019) https://www.theverge.com/2019/10/18/20921056/the-lighthouse-robert-eggers-director-interview-behind-the-scenes-robert-pattinson-willem-dafoe

Filmography

The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Community S2E20 (Tristram Shapeero, 2011)

American Psycho (Mary Harron, 2000)

The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, 2019)

Requiem for a Dream (Darren Aronofsky, 2000)

Midsommar (Ari Aster, 2019)

Bait (Mark Jenkin, 2019)

The Witch (Robert Eggers, 2015)

One Week (Buster Keaton & Edward F. Cline, 1920)

Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

Hereditary (Ari Aster, 2018)

Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994)

 

‘Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’: Video Essay by Adam Vincent

 

 

Inherent Vice: A Mellow Trip’ – Creator’s Statement

 

‘A Mellow Trip’ is, without doubt, a passion project. Stemming from my deep attachment to Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, Warner Bros., USA, 2014), the video-essay is an unashamed attempt at conversion. My own experience with the film can be characterised best by a growing sense of warmth and connection. Upon viewing the film for a second and third time, I felt myself gently drawn into its hallucinatory orbit, shaking off any initial irritation surrounding the film’s narrative obscurities. Subsequent revisits cemented this affection, leading me to the conclusion that Inherent Vice is a film which benefits greatly from multiple viewings. As a result, I want fans and detractors alike to re-watch and reconsider Inherent Vice in the light of the video-essay’s contextualisation. I would like viewers to approach the film with fresh enthusiasm, using the framework of subjectivity which I have proposed in order to advance their own interpretations. Although my video-essay does not directly reference a multitude of scholarly sources, I feel that it is resolutely academic in its attempt to inspire further research.

Further, I have also framed ‘A Mellow Trip’ in such a forthright manner because I see the video-essay as a singularly persuasive medium, offering an alluring blend of a film’s most arresting images and sounds. The potential to crystallise these audio-visual stimuli into an overarching argument was the primary reason I chose Inherent Vice as my subject matter. To elaborate, I believe Inherent Vice is a film which can be more fruitfully analysed through the lens of its affective and sensorial appeal, using the very images and sounds which attracted me in order to entice the viewer of the video-essay to return to the film. I have positioned this style of critique in opposition to much of the film’s negative reception. This reception focused the majority of its ire on the confusion and frustration caused by the film’s narrative wanderings. Shedding the pragmatism of plot descriptions for a slightly more poetic approach felt like a liberatory exercise, affording the video-essay a degree of emotional expression which I would find difficult to replicate in prose. I rarely situate the evidence for my ideas within its broader narrative context (unless completely necessary), as I feel this would contradict my desire to move away from a narrative-centred critique of the film.

Academic Context

I made the decision to elide academic quotes from the video in order to maintain sharp focus on the textual evidence present in Inherent Vice and keep my video-essay accessible to a wider audience. However, various pieces of film criticism were central in the creation process, guiding my methodology and informing my decision-making. It is first necessary to acknowledge the huge influence of Susan Sontag’s ‘Against Interpretation’. Sontag’s clarion call to “learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more”[1] forms the life-blood of ‘A Mellow Trip’, pulsing through every frame and informing every decision made in the process of its creation. Her appeal for acts of criticism which offer an “accurate, sharp, loving description of the appearance of a work of art”[2] particularly struck me. I thought that any act of criticism in prose would inevitably fall short in this regard. Although an evocative written description may offer a sense of an art object, I felt that the shift in medium would inevitably result in a dilution of the original audio-visual artifact. The shared medium-specificities of the video-essay and cinema, namely their multi-sensory appeal, meant that this project was the perfect opportunity to attempt this slightly esoteric, yet captivating, form of critique.

The last section of my video-essay on Doc’s heightened sensory appreciation draws on the work of influential affect theorists such as Vivian Sobchack and Laura U. Marks. Their work on the embodied responses of a spectator to the sensory information presented onscreen is absolutely fundamental in my analysis of Paul Thomas Anderson’s recreation of Doc’s drug-addled senses. To be specific, Laura U. Marks’ concept of the “haptic image”[3] which invites an embodied reaction from the spectator had a direct impact on my choice to emphasise certain images. For example, Doc stroking the carpeted wall in the massage parlour seemed to be a moment that highlighted this concept in a succinct and straightforward manner.

Although deeply flawed in its uncritical nature, Andrew Sarris’ conception of the auteur theory provided a groundwork for the contextualisation of Inherent Vice within the wider filmography of Paul Thomas Anderson. Sarris highlights “recurring characteristics of style” as a feature which distinguishes an auteur and serves as their “signature”.[4] Despite my misgivings surrounding Sarris’ work on the auteur theory, I think his simple conceptualisation is enough to briefly ground my exploration of Paul Thomas Anderson’s previous work. Taking the reflection of his protagonists’ subjectivity as a recurring stylistic feature, I was able to place Inherent Vice more easily in a lineage with Anderson’s earlier films. This was another attempt to combat a criticism of Inherent Vice, namely, that it lacked the sheer intensity or focus which characterised the rest of Anderson’s career.

Playing with Form

‘A Mellow Trip’ represents a dualistic impulse in terms of film form and image use. First of all, I wanted to explore the capability of the video-essay medium to recontextualise images in a striking and dramatic manner. This impulse can be seen most clearly in my use of montage throughout.  From the drama and beauty of the electronic Four Tet track which soundtracks the Paul Thomas Anderson montage, to the jittery and rapid editing of the paranoia montage, these moments audio-visually reflect their content on a small-scale, while also working in parallel with the video-essay’s broader theme of subjectivity. While these montages may suggest a suspicion surrounding the ability of the film image to explain itself, other moments in my video-essay are a paean to the virtuoso filmmaking at work throughout Inherent Vice. I have often left the film’s images and sounds largely untouched and allowed them to speak for themselves. A key example of this would be my analysis of the Harlingen reunion scene. The rewind device which leads to my (re)consideration of this scene, far from a gimmick, is a combination of both of these key impulses. Self-reflexively highlighting the process of creation behind a video-essay, this moment demonstrates the necessity of an author who can curate a film’s most evocative images and place them within a new context in order to foster an interpretation. On the other hand, the essay rewinds back to the beginning of the Harlingen reunion clip which, with the added effect of Jonny Greenwood’s score, is able to express itself without the necessity for further contextualisation.

Each section is clearly modelled around the primary mood or tone which it concerns. The ‘Confusion and Paranoia’ segment opens with a sharp stab of offbeat psychedelic rock which abruptly cuts off as the montage begins. The ‘Melancholy and Nostalgia’ section on the other hand, includes longer pieces of footage and a Neil Young song from the film which poetically conveys my ideas. Again, as with the use of montage, I wanted the idea of subjectivity to be conveyed not only cognitively, but visually and aurally too. Most importantly, I wanted to be playful in my use of visuals and music as my entire mission statement revolves around enticing an imagined viewer to watch and reconsider Inherent Vice. For this, I was always looking for exciting ways to visually present an idea without resorting to voiceover to state my interpretations. Examples include my acknowledgment of Jonny Greenwood’s paranoid score, suggestively placing a red waveform over a smoke-filled screen with a murky still of Doc in the background.

Conclusion

To put it simply, I have looked to create a piece which captures the spirit of a film I love very much. I hope to inform and seduce, drawing viewers from academia and beyond to engage in a dialogue with my interpretation of the film. I see the framework of subjectivity as integral in bursting open the enigmatic surface of Inherent Vice, leading to revelations about the film’s inner mechanisms and its exploration of broader socio-cultural concerns. Inherent Vice is a film which feels loose in sensibility yet thoroughly controlled in execution. This is what I hope to have replicated. I truly hope you enjoy it.

[1] Susan Sontag, Against Interpretation and Other Essays (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 10

[2] Ibid., p. 9

[3] Laura U. Marks, The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment, and the Senses (Durham: Duke University Press, 2000), p. 2

[4] Andrew Sarris, ‘Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962’ in Barry Keith Grant (ed.), Auteurs and Authorship: A Film Reader (Oxford; Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2008), p. 43

‘American Honey: Redefining the Road Movie Through the Female Gaze’, by Edie Straight

American Honey: Redefining the Road Movie Through the Female Gaze’, by Edie Straight

 

 

This video essay aims to explore how American Honey utilises the female gaze to depart from the traditional masculine aesthetic of the road movie, so as to achieve a better understanding of how the female gaze is constructed – visually and thematically – and of why the film is so ground-breaking within its genre.

 

When I first watched American Honey I was struck not only by its focus on the story of a young female protagonist, but how it framed the women of the film with an unobjectifying and realistic perspective. This was especially significant as its status as a road movie placed it alongside an archive of genre films that predominantly prioritised male protagonists and the exploration of masculinity. As Timothy Corrigan notes, it’s “a genre traditionally focused, almost exclusively, on men and the absence of women”,[1] and even when they are included, they’re relegated to the roles of, as David Laderman describes, “passive passengers and/or erotic distractions”.[2]

 

When I began to delve further into an investigation of American Honey’s style (one that evoked feeling, compassion and total absorption) I realised how wholly it diverged from the cinematic viewpoint of the male gaze.[3] Instead of fetishizing the women of the film, treating them as objects viewed purely from the heterosexual masculine perspective, it aligned the viewer with them and gave them the space to express their own desires and needs. During my research I came across a masterclass given at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival on the female gaze.[4] Delivered by Joey Soloway, the lecture highlighted how the female gaze is a way of shooting a film that allows the audience to be plunged into its world through the visceral and tactile visuals of the feeling/seeing camera, and to not just experience how it feels to be seen as an object of the male gaze, but also how it feels to take ownership of it (and subsequently return it). With the knowledge of this theory, I began to explore how and why American Honey was an exemplary instance of the female gaze in action.

 

Instead of just “inserting female protagonists into this male-orientated genre”, which Shari Roberts asserts “neither simply subverts or subsumes its masculinist tendencies”,[5] the film uses a variety of formal aspects and thematic techniques to redefine the road movie from a feminine perspective. The film’s poetic cinematography that reveals both beauty and brutality, the camera’s physical proximity to Star, as well as its expression of the world from Star’s perspective as we follow her gaze, establishes this. Simultaneously, the audience experiences how it is to be gazed by the male characters that Star encounters throughout the film.

 

The format of a video essay fully lends itself to the ability to express these points, as a visual and aural engagement with the text is necessary to experience the female gaze in totality. The soundtrack of American Honey is equally significant in establishing the film’s ambiance and reinforcing identification with the characters. Therefore, the ability to incorporate this iconic music into my video essay aided in recreating the atmosphere of the film, a tone that was an integral product of the female gaze.

 

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Arnold, A., ‘Director Andrea Arnold on the Cross-Country Party that Produced American Honey – Interview’, The Verge, (September 29, 2016), https://www.theverge.com/2016/9/29/13109072/american-honey-movie-director-interview-andrea-arnold-tiff-2016, date accessed January 30, 2021.

Cohan, S., Hark, I., (ed.), The Road Movie Book, (London/New York: Routledge, 1997)

Corrigan, T., A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture after Vietnam, (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1991)

Laderman, D., Driving Visions: Exploring the Road Movie, (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002)

Mulvey, L., ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen, 16(3), (Autumn 1975)

Roberts, S., ‘Western Meets Eastwood’, in Cohan, Hark (ed.), The Road Movie Book, pp. 45 – 69

Soloway, J., Masterclass lecture given at the Toronto International Film Festival, 2016, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LukysI8R4g8&ab_channel=FestivaldeCannes%28Officiel%29, date accessed January 2, 2021

 

FILMOGRAPHY

A Perfect World (Dir. Clint Eastwood, Prod. Malpaso Productions, USA, 1993)

American Honey (Dir. Andrea Arnold, Prod. British Film Institute/Film4 Productions/Maven

Pictures, United Kingdom/USA, 2016)

Badlands (Dir. Terrence Malick, Prod. Warner Bros., USA, 1973)

Bonnie and Clyde (Dir. Arthur Penn, Prod. Warner Bros. Pictures, USA, 1967)

Die Another Die (Dir. Lee Tamahori, Prod. Eon Productions/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Pictures, United Kingdom, 2002)

Duel (Dir. Steven Spielberg, Prod. Universal Television, USA, 1971)

Easy Rider (Dir. Dennis Hopper, Prod. Pando Company Inc./Raybert Productions, USA, 1969)

Fish Tank (Dir. Andrea Arnold, Prod. BBC Films/UK Film Council, United Kingdom, 2009)

Mad Max 2 (Dir. George Miller, Prod. Kennedy Miller Entertainment, Australia, 1981)

Midnight Run (Dir. Martin Brest, Prod. City Light Films, USA, 1988)

The Mask (Dir. Charles Russell, Prod. New Line Productions/Dark Horse Entertainment,

USA, 1994)

Thelma & Louise (Dir. Ridley Scott, Prod. Pathé Entertainment/Percy Main

Productions/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, USA, 1991)

Vertigo (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock, Prod. Alfred J. Hitchcock Productions, USA, 1958)

Wasp (Dir. Andrea Arnold, Prod. FilmFour/UK Film Council/Cowboy Films, United Kingdom, 2003)

[1] Timothy Corrigan, A Cinema Without Walls: Movies and Culture after Vietnam, (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 1991), p. 143

[2] David Laderman, Driving Visions: Exploring the Road Movie, (Texas: University of Texas Press, 2002), p. 20

[3] Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, Screen, 16(3), Autumn 1975, pp. 6 – 18

[4] Joey Soloway, Masterclass lecture given at the Toronto International Film Festival, 2016

[5] Shari Roberts, ‘Western Meets Eastwood’, The Road Movie Book, Steven Cohan, Ina Rae Hark (ed.), (London/New York: Routledge, 1997), p. 64

Helen Rose’s dresses and designs for Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli, 1957)

Helen Rose was MGM’s chief designer from the late forties to the late sixties and designed many of MGM’s major films throughout the fifties. She worked with Minnelli on Father of the Bride, won an Oscar for his The Bad and the Beautiful and also did The Long Long Trailer. The Cobweb (uncredited) and other of his films. In her day she was perhaps most famous for designing the wedding dresses for Elizabeth Taylor’s marriage to Nicky Hilton and for Grace Kelly’s marriage to Prince Rainier of Monaco.

The story of Designing Woman was suggested by her and in a short film that accompanies the Warner Home Archive version of the blu-ray, she speaks of trying to make chic, flattering but basically simple clothes, the outfit basically a setting for the woman, like the setting for a jewel.  I find her clothes do the opposite of this,.They’re fussy, often bordered by useless frills or statement enhancements like mink. The clothes move well but are not properly fitted and sometimes bunch up in the most inappropriate ways and in the most inappropriate places. The backs tend to be bunched up hideousness.  I like her sense of colour, but they’re designs that are best seen at a distance. She’s not generally ranked among the major designers of the classic era (Adrian, Orry Kelly, Travis Banton, Irene, Edith Head, etc.) She’s also not represented in Deborah Nadoolman Landis’ Hollywood Sketchbook: A Century of Costume Illustration. That said, there are images below where you’ll see how glorious Lauren Bacall looks in them.

I offer the images below not as an analysis but mainly as a teaching tool. This is a film about a designer where the designer of the film is based on not only gets to design clothes for its two leading ladies (over thirty changes for Bacall alone) but also gets to create a fashion show in the middle of the film. I’ve provided images for all the outfits,  from various angles, and in chronological order, partly because they are a pleasure to see, and partly because it might be a useful teaching tool to some of you.

Helen Rose and her Designs:

 

Lauren Bacall’s Changes of Outfits in Chronological Order and viewed from different angles:

 

Dolores Gray’s Outfits, also in chronological order and viewed from different angles.

 

The Fashion Show, also in chronological order and viewed from different angles.

José Arroyo

Queering Kirk Douglas and Hoagy Carmichael in Young Man With A Horn

I’m going to make it a project to acquire some photoshop skills over Easter….but in the meantime here’s Kirk with Hoagy in ‘Young Man With a Horn’

It was actually quite difficult to put lipstick on Kirk. It’s not only that he’s got thin lips, usually wrapped around a trumpet here, but that his stance and look are so macho and self-possessed. It made me think that my previous choices were all in moments when Henry Fonda or the others were anguished or troubled or in pain, as if that was somehow the necessary factor to ‘queer’ them. So this time I took moments of pleasure and blissed them, though with difficulty.

 

José Arroyo

Matthew Smolenski, ‘Here, There and Everywhere’: Movement in the Beatles’s Fiction Filmography

 

 

Creator’s Statement

In this video essay I discuss the Beatles’ fiction filmography that spans from 1964 to 1968, constituting A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, United Artists, UK, 1964), Help! (Richard Lester, United Artists, UK, 1965), Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles, Apple Films, 1967), Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles, Apple Corps, UK, 1967), and Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, United Artists, UK, 1968). Although my focus on the movement of the central performers’ bodies could certainly be extended to Let It Be (Michael Lindsay-Hogg, Apple Films, UK 1970), I was primarily interested in the integration of this movement into specifically narrative cinema that opposes a “safer” audio-visual context that isolates musical performance as its primary attraction, such as the band’s legendary appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

For both this reason and for chronological convenience, A Hard Day’s Night proved a natural starting point for a consideration of the Beatles’ movement within a narrative context, which works towards putting the Beatles within the familiar comfort zone of tele-concert spectacle. As a ‘low-budget exploitation film’, [1] A Hard Day’s Night’s narrative could be considered a vessel for its musical performances, and so Tom Gunning’s ‘Cinema of Attractions’ theory of early and avant-garde cinema, defined by the act of display and direct, self-conscious address, emerged as an obvious comparison point. [2] The film’s structure contains a degree of self-awareness that centres diegetic fans as stand-ins for its diegetic audience who eventually have their desire for the “attraction” of pure performance fulfilled with the same direct address of, for example, an Edison Company film, but through this comparison I wanted to highlight that the narrative’s continuous flow covertly turns every moment into one of performance. In the same way that much of the appeal of a Beatles’ concert lies in the band’s sarcastic banter in-between songs, movement between and within specific locations in the narrative becomes its own attraction rather than an obligation, defined in this essay as ‘macro’ and ‘micro’ movement respectively. If this ‘macro movement’ can be considered analogous to deep focus cinematography that provides multiple ‘micro movements’ to choose from, A Hard Day’s Night certainly merits Andrew Sarris’ evaluation of it as ‘the Citizen Kane of pop musicals’.[3]

As this video essay defines its selection of films in relation to its musical stars as auteurs rather than its filmmakers, I wanted its structure to depend more strongly on the concept of discography than filmography, using its focus on rhythm and movement to instil within the spectator the feeling of voraciously consuming the ‘macro’ of every Beatles album within the ‘micro’ of its short run-time. ‘Glass Onion’, from 1968 album The Beatles, reveals the self-referential nature of the Beatles discography, explicitly calling back to older songs such as ‘I Am The Walrus’, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ and ‘Lady Madonna’ in its lyrics with intertextual aplomb that assumes listener familiarity, and as such this video essay could also be considered a tribute. After a long silence, its filmography is accompanied by ‘Her Majesty’, the final hidden track on the band’s final album, as both a reference to the musical legacy that scores the video and as a reminder of the essay’s condensation of a much deeper career. One advantage of this condensed structure is an absence of didacticism. Although the recurrence of trains in early cinema is explained in relation to the linear, continuous flow of A Hard Day’s Night, the video’s continuous flow need not be broken by frequent comparisons to Help’s planes, Magical Mystery Tour’s coach or Yellow Submarine’s submarine; these comparisons are instead invited by the temporal proximity of the images.

Speaking of the amount of cover songs on the Beatle’s first album in an NME review of Please Please Me, Hamish McBain writes that ‘the Beatles at this point were born interpreters’.[4]  A similar impulse exists in my reliance on comparisons to early cinema and Italian Neo-Realism in ‘Part One’, defined by a sense of the Beatles “interpreting” cinematic language, and just as the Beatles’ discography eventually phases out cover songs altogether, comparisons increasingly focus on previously discussed Beatles’ films, with a prominent comparison to the work of Busby Berkeley even considered a bad object for its pollution of the essence of the performers. In this instance, the Beatles do not provide an interpretation of another artist, studio, and period’s style, but rather an imitation. A handover of sorts could be said to occur around the midway point of the video, with the introduction of psychedelia destabilising conventional cinematic means of representation and forcing a centralisation of the Beatles’ boundary-pushing internal world, which is reinforced by an accelerated reverse montage that gives the video’s first half a pseudo-palindromic structure. “Essence” is thus articulated as intrinsic, and so apparent are its virtues in the cinematic movements of the Beatles that I have considered the act of depiction as self-evident, instead staging my argument around the framing of this essence in each film.

The essay’s concluding argument essentially turns its opening question on its head: yes, the Beatles provide a valuable lens through which to consider cinematic movement as a pleasure in and of itself, enforcing its privileged position within a cinematic hierarchy through their inability to conform to the plotty mould of the Bond film, the limpness of its laboured enforcement in Magical Mystery Tour or its totalising effect on the world of Yellow Submarine. However, what is also revealed in this analysis is the value of cinema as an archive of the Beatles’ movement in a context that prioritises it through form, and it is this that cannot help but shine through in not only this selection of films, but the video essay itself. The spotlight enjoyed by the Beatles was indeed as ephemeral as A Hard Day’s Night’s ninety deadline-oriented plot structure, but testament to their energetic optimisation of that spotlight is my hope that even the ten-minute spotlight of this video should convey even the periphery of the band’s capability during this period.

Matthew Smolenski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Armour, Nicole, ‘The Machine Art of Dziga Vertov and Busby Berkeley’, Images, 5, November 1997

Dyer, Richard, In the Space of a Song: The Uses of Song in Film (New York: Routledge, 2012)

Glynn, Stephen, A Hard Day’s Night: Turner Classic Movies British Film Guide (Bloomsbury Academic, 2005)

Gould, Jonathan, Can’t Buy Me Love: Beatles, Britain and America (London: Piatkus, 2008)

Gunning, Tom, ‘The Cinema of Attractions: Early Cinema, its Spectator and the Avant-Garde’ in Early Cinema: Space, Frame, Narrative, ed. by Thomas Elsaesser and and Adam Barker (London: BFI Publishing, 1990), pp. 56-61

Gunning, Tom, ‘Now You See It, Now You Don’t: The Temporality of the Cinema of Attractions’, Velvet Light Trap(1993) 3-12

Kirby, Lynne, Parallel Tracks: The Railroad and Silent Cinema (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997)

MacBain, Hamish, ‘Looking Back On The Beatles’ “Please Please Me”’, NME, 2016 <https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/the-beatles-please-please-me-769691> [accessed 4 February 2021]

Mulvey, Laura, Death 24x a Second: Stillness and the Moving Image (London: Reaktion Books, 2006)

Neaverson, Bob, The Beatles Movies (Michigan: Cassell, 1997)

Roth, Mark, ‘Some Warners Musicals and the Spirit of the New Deal’ in Genre: The Musical: A Reader, ed. by Altman, Rick, (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul in association with the British Film Institute, 1981), pp. 41-56

Sarris, Andrew, ‘Bravo Beatles!’, The Village Voice, 27 August 1964, p. 13

Filmography

A Hard Day’s Night (Richard Lester, United Artists, UK, 1964)

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years (Ron Howard, StudioCanal, UK, 2016)

Bicycle Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, Produzioni De Sica, Italy, 1948)

Escamotage d’une dame chez Robert-Houdin (Georges Méliès, Star Film Company, France, 1896)

Help! (Richard Lester, United Artists, UK, 1965)

Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley, Warner Bros., USA, 1933)

‘Four (August ’64 to August ’65)’, Episode Four, The Beatles Anthology, UK, ITV, tx. 17.12.1995

‘From the ABC Theatre Blackpool’, Blackpool Night Out, UK, ITV London, tx. 1.8.1965

Gold Diggers of 1933 (Melvin Leroy and Busby Berkeley, Warner Bros., USA, 1933)

The Kiss in the Tunnel (George Albert Smith, UK, 1899)

Lady Lazarus’, Episode Eight, Mad Men, Fifth Series, USA, Sky Atlantic, tx. 8.5.2012

L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (Louis Lumière and Auguste Lumière, Société Lumière, France, 1896)

Magical Mystery Tour (The Beatles, Apple Corps, UK, 1967)

Man with a Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov, VUFKU, Soviet Union, 1929)

Trapeze Disrobing Act (Thomas Edison, Edison Company, USA, 1901)

What Happened in the Tunnel (Edwin S. Porter, Edison Company, USA, 1903)

Window Water Baby Moving (Stan Brakhage, USA, 1959)

Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon (Louis Lumière, Lumière, France, 1895)

Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, United Artists, UK, 1968)

[1] Stephen Glynn, A Hard Day’s Night: Turner Classic Movies British Film Guide (Bloomsbury Academic, 2005), p. 9

[2] Tom Gunning, ‘The Cinema of Attractions: Early Cinema, Its Spectator and the Avant’ Garde’ in Early Cinema: Space Frame Narrative, ed. by Thomas Elsaesser and Adam Barker (London: BFI Publishing, 1990), pp. 56-61 (p. 57)

[3] Andrew Sarris, ‘Bravo Beatles!’, The Village Voice, 27 August 1964, p. 13

[4] Hamish MacBain, ‘Looking Back On The Beatles’ “Please Please Me”’, NME, 2016 <https://www.nme.com/blogs/nme-blogs/the-beatles-please-please-me-769691> [accessed 4 February 2021]

Giulia Tronconi: In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem

 

A wonderful video essay where one feels one is learning something more about the form of the film through feeling and thinking, and the video essay demonstrates the condensation of effects that achieve this. …and without voiceover. The Creator’s Statement is essential to the understanding and appreciation of the video essay and I include it below:

 

Creator Statement

 

Through In the Mood For Love: A Visual Poem I express my admiration for Wong Kar-Wai’s ability to let visuals speak poetically. I resort to film theory and literary criticism to explore how images on screen may be employed as objective correlatives and subsequently traced back to semantic fields, which in return convey physical and emotional sensations to the spectating subject through what Barbara Klinger has named the arresting image. Although Klinger’s original formulation contemplates the presence of just one arresting image in a film, I conjugate her theory in a slightly different fashion, dissecting the film’s mise-en-scène according to a range of emotions, interlinked yet discernible. Simultaneously, I engage with theories of haptic visuality as formulated by Vivian Sobchack, exploring how the cinematic image may stimulate the viewer’s sensorial receptivity in order to achieve emotional impact, framing the film experience as “a system of communication based on bodily perception as a vehicle of conscious expression”[1]. Through my essay I investigate whether film may be considered a poetic medium: I understand the use of certain elements of mise-en-scène as a visual extension of literary devices, ultimately enhancing the medium’s expressive capacities.

In the Mood for Love is an invitation to feeling – material and emotional. Wong Kar-Wai subtly creates tensions which carry throughout the film, allowing the viewer to physically perceive, albeit virtually, the textures, prints and patterns on screen; to experience the tender feelings of loneliness, yearning and heartbreak which permeate the text. Thus, I divide the essay in three chapters corresponding to these emotions, which together encompass what the viewing experience of In the Mood for Love is to me. I consider each section to be a semantic field comprising of a number of objective correlatives and provide a range of arresting images which epitomise the moment of highest emotional intensity.

The objective correlative is a literary device coined by T.S. Eliot and defined as the only truly artistic way of expressing emotion: “a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.”[2] Eliot envisions the objective correlative as a powerful tool whose presence in the text inevitably arouses an emotional reaction. The correlatives themselves contain a universally understandable meaning, affordable to any reader; they do not require explanation on behalf of the author, for they are objectively expressive[3]. Objective correlatives tend to respond to semantic fields: a collection of words and images employed to subtly establish a specific idea, atmosphere, emotion[4]. References to such literary devices advance my claim of In the Mood for Love as a visual poem, in that the film presents what I name visual objective correlatives: camera movements, framing devices, details such as food, clothing and cigarettes, which work together to convey loneliness, yearning and heartbreak. These semantic fields culminate in arresting images, namely what Klinger refers to as ‘memorable cinematic fragments’, a ‘site of lingering affective power and uncertain meaning’[5]. The arresting image holds significant evocative force, for it slows down the narrative. The film’s forward motion is momentarily suspended, allowing for the contemplation of an ‘exquisitely composed, significantly evocative and/or uncanny image’ [6].

Objective correlatives, semantic fields and arresting images all emphasise the strongly affective dimension of art, its capacity to agitate the reader’s sensorial and emotional receptivity. Klinger attributes the allure of the arresting image to the way it exploits the emotions that have been mounting in the spectator throughout the film[7]. In the Mood for Love progressively creates meaning by leveraging the sensorial nature of the cinematic medium, building patterns of motifs which trigger emotions. The video essay references haptic theory as conceptualised by Vivian Sobchak: “we do not experience any movie only through our eyes. We see and comprehend and feel films with our entire bodily being, informed by the full history and carnal knowledge of our acculturated sensorium.”[8] Film, although inherently immaterial, is a medium which manages to establish sensorial engagement and emotional involvement. This form of participation entails identification, prompting the recollection of past events and past selves, necessarily affecting the viewing experience[9]. For such reason, I focus much of my research on tangible, perceivable objects which speak to the viewer universally, encouraging to reminisce of certain smells, flavours, sensations on the tip of the finger.

Therefore, I associate semantic fields as follows. Loneliness, the primary feeling experienced by the two characters during the film, conveyed through visual techniques such as the horizontal pan, the mirrored image and the frame within frame. I manipulate, superimpose, contrast the footage to show how the text speaks of solitude by creating movement in cramped spaces, obstructing vision and centring the frame around reflected figures rather than actual characters. I provide this image as the epitome of loneliness, where all visual devices are suspended to create a puzzling moment of contemplation.

 

Yearning, the impulse to pursue passion and the painful refusal to do so, symbolised by food, hands and the qipao. First, I find one arresting image for the act of eating as alternative expression of sexual desire; secondly, a different image, containing both the objective correlatives of the hand and the qipao, expressive of the acknowledgement of the impossibility of fulfilled love.

And finally heartbreak, the end of love and the bittersweet closing line of the film. I find one arresting image for the objective correlatives of cigarettes and one for the pink slippers, as two moments with an unusual temporal status, almost appearing outside of time, in a fantasy dream-like dimension[10].

 

 

By selecting these images, I find frames in the film which seem to stand outside the narrative flow, marked by a profoundly affective, puzzling and arresting quality. Physical and emotional feelings travel from the screen to the viewer by means of expressive images which function as visual metaphors and infuse the film with its distinct poetic aura. I let the images speak for themselves, allowing an uninterrupted flow on screen, temporarily arrested only to encourage the viewer to experience a brief, yet profound, sense of loneliness, yearning, heartbreak.

 

 

 

[1] V. Sobchack, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992), pp. 9;

[2] T.S. Eliot, Hamlet and His Problems 95-103, The Sacred Wood: essays on poetry and criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);

[3] Olsen, F., Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);

[4] H. Rapaport, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011)

[5]B. Klinger, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited, 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK), pp 26;

[6] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 26;

[7] B. Klinger, ibid., pp 24;

[8] V. Sobchack, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004), pp 63;

[9] B. Klinger, op. cit, pp. 21;

[10] B Klinger, op. cit, pp 25;

 

 

Filmography

  • In the Mood For Love (Wong Kar-Wai, Block 2 Pictures, Jet Tone Production, Orly Films, Paradis Films, China, 2000)

Bibliography

  • Ciment, Michel, Niogret, Hubert, Interview with Wong Kar-Wai: In the Mood for Love / 2000, Positif 477 in (ed.) Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee, Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Eliot, Thomas Stearns, The Sacred Wood: Essays on Poetry and Criticism (Methuen Publishing, UK, 1960);
  • Kar-wai Wong, Silver Wai-ming Lee, Micky Lee (ed.) , Wong Kar-Wai: Interviews (University Press of Mississippi, USA, 2017);
  • Klinger, Barbara, The art film, affect and the female viewer: The Piano revisited 19-41 (Screen, 47:1, 2006, Oxford University Press, UK);
  • Olsen, Flemming, Eliot’s Objective Correlative: Tradition or Individual Talent? (Sussex Academic Press, UK, 2012);
  • Rapaport, Herman, The Literary Theory Toolkit: a Compendium of Concepts and Methods (Wiley Backwell, USA, 2011);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, The address of the eye: A phenomenology of film experience (Princeton University Press, USA, 1992);
  • Sobchack, Vivian, Carnal Thoughts: Embodiment and Moving Image Culture (University of California Press, UK, 2004).

 

Designing Woman (Vincente Minnelli, 1957)

DESIGNING WOMAN got good reviews and Lauren Bacall claimed it as a favourite role. When I saw it last night – and in spite of the visually gorgeous Warner Home Video version – I found it hard to understand why. It had all been done more expertly, with greater lightness and depth, in George Stevens’ WOMAN OF THE YEAR (1942).It’s perhaps no accident that Bacall would be attracted to the role of Tess Harding, and have a big hit with it as a musical on Broadway in 1981.  If you can forget the controversial ending, Woman of the Year seems a masterpiece next to DESIGNING WOMEN. Bacall and Gregory Peck sink every joke here. They’re game but no cigar. No circus going on in THEIR heads when they say those lines either.

Minnelli makes everything look beautiful. Peck and Bacall ARE beautiful but…. In some ways this career woman vs sports writer offers an interesting exploration of masculinity but a tentative one that backtracks at every opportunity. Here, a choreographer played by the great Jack Cole, himself the choreographer of the film, defeats a whole mob of gangsters with dance steps…but he reassures everyone that he’s married and a father of three. And if you already haven’t gotten the message, he’s named Randy Owens. The film is an interesting commentary on appearances and very Minnellian for that but also a liminal step out of the closet that backtracks into it at the highest speed possible. The story is autobiographical and suggested by designer Helen Rose, my least favourite Hollywood designer. She has a great sense of colour but the dresses all bunch up in the most inappropriate and least flattering places. I was sorry I’d shelled out so much to get the film, however beautiful the version.

It’s perhaps a measure of the film’s limitations that it takes one cute poodle joke and doesn’t know when to stop:

José Arroyo