Night of the Living Dead

In Phillips’ chapter on Night of The Living Dead, the author discusses a connection between Living Dead and Psycho. He notes that while in Psycho, Hitchcock revolutionized the horror theme by tearing apart the safety the audience expected from cinema; Romero’s zombies shredded the remaining hope that remained. I believe that Romero clearly tried to one up the thrill brought by Psycho. One scene that while I was watching Living Dead, made me think of Psycho was the scene where Karen kills her mom. It seemed somewhat oddly reminiscent of the famous shower scene in Psycho.
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Not only does the stabbing scenes look somewhat familiar: as a similar stabbing motion is performed, the female victims screams, and eerie music is playing in the background; but Romero’s scene has something more awful attached to it. Not only is the character killed gruesomely, but it is done by the victim daughter. I think Romero is saying to Hitchcock, I see your horror and I raise you.

Interesting enough but it seems that Romero’s took some idea out of Hitchcock’s book. Romero also makes this film in black and white, just like Psycho. Also, the blood in Living Dead was really chocolate syrup, just like the blood in the famous shower scene in Psycho was. Although, I do not believe Living Dead was as artistically pleasing as Psycho was, I feel that there is a clear attempt to push the boundaries of horror, further than Psycho had done.

Devil in a Blue Dress & Neo-Noir

First off, I’d like to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Devil in a Blue Dress. Every Denzel Washington movie I’ve ever watched has never disappointed me. Don Cheadle as Mouse was also very good; he was actually only nominated for his supporting role by the Screen Actors Guild but never won like someone had mentioned in class.

The film is set during the same period that traditional film noirs were set in; it’s after WWII and in a big city, Los Angeles. Easy Rawlins is just trying to make ends meet after being fired from his job. Easy is in need of financial security; agreeing to work for Albright is easy money but it puts him in a whole world of trouble. Much like the protagonists in other film noirs we’ve watched, Easy takes it one day at a time and doesn’t look too much into the future because there’s always a chance that he might not have one. Just like Borde and Chaumeton said in one of our readings, “the presence of crime…gives film noir its most distinctive stamp.”

I noticed a few things about the film that I suppose pay homage to noir films of the 40’s and 50’s.  Easy began to go down the road to becoming a morally ambiguous protagonist, much like the male protagonists of 40’s and 50’s film noir, once he took the job from Albright. There were also uses of flashbacks several times in the movie. I also felt that the character that kept trying to cut down the trees in the neighborhood was similar to the hotel caretaker in Touch of Evil; they were both borderline crazy and provided instances of comedic relief.

In the Schrader reading, one of the elements of film noir that are common is the attachment to water. In this one scene in Devil in a Blue Dress, Easy is supposed to meet Albright at the pier to do business. According to Schrader, “docks and piers are second only to alleyways as the most popular rendezvous points” (220).

Another thing I noticed about the film was Daphne as the femme fatale. Daphne is mysterious when she is first described; she hangs out in black clubs and hasn’t been seen by her mayoral candidate boyfriend, Carter, in a while. The first time we see Daphne, she stands out; she’s very beautiful and is also very seductive. In one scene between Easy and Daphne, Easy asks what Daphne’s weapon of choice is and she responds with: “why don’t you search me and find out?”  Daphne is intended to be looked at throughout the whole film. Her wearing of blue dresses throughout the whole film makes her stand out amongst her dullish surroundings.

By the end of the movie, I was glad that Daphne and Easy didn’t die. Happy endings aren’t all too common in noir films. Devil in a Blue Dress isn’t your typical noir film, but noir none the less. I did like how Easy started to get used to being a private investigator and how he was going to start his own business; it’s a shame that the rest of his stories were not put into film.

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse?

What would you do if there was a zombie apocalypse? This is a question that I have been asked countless times through out my life. In fact, I use know exactly what I would do if this were to happen and I know I am not alone here. Nowadays I feel that zombies have become more of a source of entertainment than scaring people. Recent movies like Zombieland, Shaun of the Dead, Fido, and Dead and Breakfast have been able to mix a large amount of humor with zombies; but if zombies are so terrifying how can this successfully be done? This leaves me to think that zombies themselves have lost their fearful image in the public, much like Dracula, although I do not think zombies will be on an cereal boxes any time soon. I feel that it is not the actual zombie itself that is scary in zombie movies, but two main themes that revolve around them.

Very similar to Shaun of the Dead.

Very similar to Shaun of the Dead.

In many films we see zombies as being “the living dead,” corpses of those recently deceased becoming animated to feed off the flesh of the living. This to me is a very scary thought, but add in the fact that they are mindless and move at a rate slower than most senior citizens, makes them less intimating. This description may not be the same for all zombie movies, but it is how they are depicted in George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. Even though “the living dead” were actually referred to as “ghouls” in the film, Romero’s reinvention of the cinematic zombie has been the basis for future films. I feel that by themselves zombies cannot invoke fear, unless accompanied by their scary themes.

First let me explain the themes I feel surround zombies, the first being claustrophobia. The scariest thing I feel about zombies is the that fact that no matter where you go or how many you kill, they will just continue to come and eventually corner you. This is really evident in many zombie films such as Night of the Living Dead and Zombie where a group of people usually end up in one area, many times a house, and are cornered into fighting off endless waves of zombies. Eventually the people realize that there is no hope doing this and must venture out into the world to escape, only to find that hordes of zombies have infested everywhere leaving no place to run. The point where people find out that there is no hope for them is the point in the film that really scares me, although usually this only comes at the end of the film. Until then you may see scenes of attacks by one or two zombies, like in the films Diary of the Dead and Zombie Diaries (similar names not intentional), here the zombies don’t pose a real threat until in vast numbers.

Zombies will never think to look for us in there!

Zombies will never think to look for us in there!

The second zombie related theme I find scary is that the zombies you are forced to kill could end up being family and friends. I would imagine it would not be very morally taxing to kill mindless flesh eating people; that is unless they used to be family and friends. One film that does this well is Night of the Living Dead where Barbara sees her brother and when Karen kills her mother. This must have been extremely taxing on the characters, so much that Karen’s mother could not bring herself to fight her own daughter and ends up dying because of it. At the other end of the spectrum, there is one scene from the remake of Dawn of the Dead that shows men on top of a building shooting zombies for fun. This shows that without this theme present, killing zombies can actually be enjoyable.

Karen use to be a nice little girl.

Karen use to be a nice little girl.

These themes tend to be present in most zombie films, but it is the way they are presented that really leaves a lasting impression. One film in which they are not present or really touched upon is Braindead (also Dead Alive) where the “zombies” (they are not like Romero’s zombies) are just in a house and a guy goes in there to kill a bunch of them, with a lawn mower too. This film feels more like a zombie party then a zombie apocalypse. Also in the comedic zombie films listed above these themes may be present, but touched upon lightly and the characters do not really dwell on them. For example in Shaun of the Dead, when Ed gets infected it is only a moment of sadness that is quickly relieved when Shaun decides he can put zombie Ed in his garage to still hang out with.

Shaun playing video games with zombie Ed.

Shaun playing video games with zombie Ed.

I don’t know how many of you will agree with me, but this is how I feel zombies are looked upon now and why they are looked upon by many as a sport (killing them that is) rather than something to be feared. I also feel this is why people enjoy video games with zombies in them (like Dead Rising), where you feel unstoppable killing poor defenseless zombies. I think this has been taken into consideration by film makers such as Zack Snyder in his remake of Dawn of the Dead where he has very physically fit zombies running around, in my mind they aren’t true zombies; they are more like Danny Boyle’s infected in 28 Days Later.

I’d also like to add that one film I’ve seen that incorporated these themes really well is the spanish film Rec. I must say that it is not really a “zombie” movie, they are more infected, but still is a great film. It revolves around a woman who is doing a report on a fire station for a television show and while doing so follows them on a routine check up. This quickly changes once they find out they are being kept there under police control. This is the original to the American version Quarantine, which I felt was totally horrible. For those who have seen the American version I am sorry because it has almost the exact story line, just with worse actors and camera angles. The film moves a bit slow but eventually delivers.

Night of the Living Dead and the implications for society

Night of the Living Dead is different from the film noir in many aspects and yet similarly it addresses societal issues, perhaps even more effectively. Firstly, the film does not have narration, follows a linear structure of events and employs characters that are ordinary people as opposed to glamorous ideals. In addition to these factors, in my opinion, the fact that the movie is in black-and-white gives it a documentary feel – that it is really happening. Previously, I disagreed with the position in chapter 2, Monaco that reality is shown in black-and-white and color adds a quality of make-believe, Night of the Living Dead is the first film so far where this is so and color makes it similar to other zombie movies, where it is clearly imagination at work. (for comparison I provide the trailer of the film in color)

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The ending of the film is hopeless and depressing.  Although, the order is restored, it is done at the cost of violating a principle of social justice, and doesn’t leave the viewer optimistic. The relief of anxiety is within the grasp of the audience as the troops come to eliminate the living dead and rescue Ben, however the audience never feels it. As Phillips points out, the threat materialized into reality and “the end had begun.” After creating this feeling of dread in the viewer, the film finishes with pictures, which are reminiscent of the images of Vietnam War.

Night of the Living Dead does not leave much hope for humanity as it creates less differences and more resemblance between the living dead and the humans. As the humans fail to cooperate and communicate with each other, their end seems inevitable. While the characters are constantly listening to the news reports that turn out to be misleading.

The one aspect Night of the Living Dead has in common with film noir is that it reinforces strict gender roles: Barbara is catatonic and inactive, Judy is devoted to the male, which leads to her demise, and Helen is a middle-aged woman filled with dissatisfaction. All female characters display negative female stereotypes.

The film incorporates the issues of the period in which it was made and by using various techniques which remove the distance between the viewer and the film, thus impacting the audience in a closer and deeper way.

One psychology note on the film: research has shown that humans tend to cooperate and bond in a stressful situation when facing the same fate.

Memento, Noir and our fading sense of morality

As we have frequently pointed it out, “Memento” is a classical example of a movie inspired by film noir. I came across a great article written by a German professor, Dr. Robert Hurd, who does a great job identifying film noir, neo-noir and its presence in this particular film (http://www.christophernolan.net/files/narrativeMementoSchmidt.pdf). In the previous post, my classmate also presented us with some great examples of the correlation between the three, but instead of regurgitating what has already been said, I would like to focus on one specific characteristic of noir that is so evident in “Memento”. That feature is the theme of revenge.

Hurd explains that the film of revenge follows a structured pattern where the protagonist is somehow betrayed and having run out of other options, he puts seeking justice into his own hands. Noir and revenge films criticize society and particularly its system of justice which was unable to help the protagonist. The police have closed the case of Leonard Shelby’s wife’s murder without finding the criminals that took away his wife and his memory. Having witnessed the wrongdoing, the viewer oftentimes commiserates with the protagonist blurring his or her ability to sense what kind of justice is morally acceptable. Another characteristic of noir is voice-over narration. We hear the story from Lenny’s perspective, as opposed to an objective one. The argument that I am trying to make is that because of the aforementioned characteristics, revenge films such as “Memento” may alter or more specifically – diminish our ethical judgment. We become possessed by an “eye for an eye” mentality. When researching the film, I came across a review on lipmagazine.com, which offered a great quote that further explains my point. It stated, “Leonard Shelby is a moral monster – far more sinning that sinned against.” Having empathized with Shelby throughout the entire movie, and seeking truth for his wife’s murder along his side, only to find out at the very end that he has been deceiving himself this whole time, could not surpass the connection and the pity I had for the protagonist. Was I justifying actions I would otherwise never agree with? I am amazed at the sense of revenge and at times even cruelty that this genre was able to awaken in me.

Memento Cartoon

Neo-Noir Elements of Memento

Memento is a film about a man, Leonard Shelby with anterograde amnesia which leaves him unable to create new memories.  He spends most of the film trying to put together pieces of a puzzle to find his wife’s killer.  There are a couple of elements of this film that allow it to be classified as neo-noir. In terms of setting and atmosphere, it is not a classically noir film.  However, one of the main elements of the film that allow it to be a neo-noir is the way the story is told and the anxiety that is maintained throughout the film.  

Memento is one of my favorite films that we’ve watched in class so far because I felt it truly lived up to the name of the course, Anxiety of Cinema.  Throughout the whole film I was trying to guess what was going to happen next, and kept in this constant state of anxiety.  Much of this had to do with the way the story was told.  It was told in a non-linear narrative, so at first it was confusing and required that you pay attention throughout the whole film.  Little by little, we’re given pieces of the puzzle and then finally at the end we see the pieces come together but we’re still left unsure who to trust.  I feel this is a classic element of noir films, not knowing which character to trust.  At first you empathize with Leonard and assume he’s helpless because of his condition, but the end throws you for a loop when you find out he may have been sabotaging his memory on purpose and that you can’t trust his character either.  This only heightens the feeling of anxiety.  

Another element of noir in Memento is that appearance of a femme fatale, in this case Natalie.  Natalie is one of the constant characters in Leonard’s life, but someone he meets after his accident.  So when we meet her and Teddy, we are left wondering if these characters are helping Leonard or if they are playing on Leonard’s condition and trying to use it to their advantage.  It turns out that Natalie is the one that is lying to Leonard and using his condition to her advantage.  She fits the description of the classic femme fatale.  

Memento was one of the most interesting films we’ve watched in class in my opinion because of the heightened sense of anxiety that was created that kept you engrossed in the film.  This was done through the mental landscape more than anything else and the way the story was told, through two different narratives.  What did everyone else think of the film?

Good and Evil in Chinatown

One of the things that struck me most about Chinatown is the fact that in the end of the film,  Faye Dunaway’s character, Evelyn Mulwray dies and the evil Noah Cross lives on without being punished. This is in direct contrast to the noir movies we’ve been discussing in class, in which the bad guys typically get their comeuppance by the end of the film. Most likely, this was because of the Code, which, as we read in The Rethoric of Emotion, “held that evil should not be shown as attractive or beneficial, either morally or practically.” As a result, most movies never let the bad guy live. The Lady From Shanghai. Double Indemnity. Laura. Kiss Me Deadly. The person who does wrong eventually gets what’s coming to them.

But Chinatown does the complete opposite of this.

Interestingly enough, the director, Roman Polanski, addresses this in a commentary that comes with the DVD. He says that he and the writer, Robert Towne, disagreed over how the movie should end. Towne wanted Mulwray to live and Cross to die, but Polanski insisted on having the other way round. They eventually parted as a result of the dispute, and Polanski said that he wrote the ending we see today just days before it was shot.

“I was absoulutely adamant that she has to die at the end if the film is to have any kind of meaning,” he said in the commentary. At 7:28 in the video below, Polanksi talks about why he thought ending the film that way was the right thing to do. He actually says that if he didn’t, we wouldn’t be talking about this film today.

Polanski and Towne say that they doubt the film could’ve been made today. According to Polanksi, he wouldn’t have been allowed to end it that way. I think this speaks to the fact that movies play a big role in society. Audiences like to see good triumph over evil; it feels as if everything is resolved and the experience is complete… and most movies cater to this need. Even now without the Code, movie makers still feel the need to resolve their films in this way.

This shows that Chinatown was revolutionary. Instead of just showing you a film and doing all the work for you, it had the guts to defy expectations and make the audience do some thinking. And it worked! Chinatown is still one of the most talked about films today.

Caricature of Film Noir in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”

Since we are now in the neo-noir period in our studies, I feel that it’s necessary to mention a great comic approach to film noir as portrayed in live-action/animation hybrid “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” (1988) directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg.  Just like many neo-noir classics, the film is set in 1947 and it employees multiple technical elements as well as basic themes of the noir period. What is interesting about this film is that even though it is made as a hilarious caricature on film noir, it still captures the viewer and evokes a sense of betrayal, injustice and anxiety.

The film portrays a private investigator Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) who is hired to get dirt on Roger Rabbit’s wife, Jessica. Sounds familiar yet? How many movies of the noir period have we seen that star a private investigator, who makes a living by catching people cheating? Most recent example – Chinatown. In addition, just like Curly in Chinatown, when Roger finds out the truth by looking at black and white pictures of his cheating wife, he is so heartbroken that he starts crying right in the office (Venetian blinds in the background), and is given a shot of liquor.

When Eddie goes out to see Jessica( a classical femme fatale), he travels by dark empty dirty streets to a glamorous toon cabaret. There he witnesses Jessica’s performance, which is done in classical noir style. Don’t know what I mean? Just think of Gilda’s strip tease performance of “Put the Blame on Mame”. Both wear a strapless elegant long dress and long gloves, and even their bodies have a similar shape. Also both women walk around and tease men as they sing.
Jessica RabbitGilda

Another aspect used is a classical good cop – bad cop combination most evident in the Touch of Evil. Both Eddie and Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) supposedly represent police, but Judge is completely corrupt and works only for his own benefit. The judge has a team of gangsters running around with guns and cigarettes doing dirty work for him. Even the threats they give are so similar to each other. For example in Who Framed Roger Rabbit they say “ Step out of the line and we’ll hang you and your laundry to dry”. Similarly, in Chinatown Polanski says to Giddis as he cuts his nose “ Next time you lose the whole thing. I’ll cut it off and feed it to my goldfish”.

The general plot of the “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” also depicts film noir themes. For example, just like in Lady from Shanghai, Double Indemnity and The Touch of Evil, the main character (Roger Rabbit in this case) got framed/used. Also, similarly to most of the movies we watched, the whole plot revolves around control, capital and power: Acme was murdered so that toon town would be owned by a bad guy. And of course there is a femme fatale who stimulates our scopophilia  (Mulvey) and leaves Roger Rabbit in distress .

So how does such a comic film based solely on film noir caricatures manage to make us nervous for the fate of the toons? Is it because they are so lovable and cute? I think its because it evokes fears of betrayal, injustice and  loss of loved ones which would never be out of date. The film takes classic elements and themes of film noir and by combining it with modern technology makes “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” another neo noir classic to remember.

The fear of sex

Throughout Americas history there has always been a fear of sex which can be clearly seen in the film industry. Sex, more so in the past, was a topic in which a person does not doubleIndemnityKissspeak of, a subject that was taboo in any social setting. It was thought of as a topic that would corrupt society and therefore limitations were placed on what film producers could and couldn’t do when depicting relationships. Married couples were often shown sleeping on different beds, and any implications of sex were considered scandalous. Scenes such as that in Double Indemnity where Phyllis come out covered only in a blanket, or the scene ended shortly after a kiss which leave the rest to the audiences imagination were seen as pushing the limit. In the film noir films we have viewed in class anybody having a relationship with a woman can almost certainly be expected to die. This holds true whether the women is a femme fatal as Phyllis in Double Indemnity, Gilda in Gilda, and Elsa from Lady from shanghai or a wholesome woman such as Polly from D.O.A. Men who fall for these women all end up dead or in a non idealistic situation. I believe that by doing this the intended message to the audience is that women and relationships will lead to your downfall. Movies such as these are meant to promote purity, because of the fear that sex will corrupt the minds of society. Although the portrayal of sex in films has come a long way from the film noir period the fear of sex and portrayal of sex as negative is still visible today. Modern films will show acts of sex but they do so in a way that still carries on the message thfriday-the-13th-photo1at sex and relationships will lead to your down fall. In most horror films those shown having sex will die shortly after, the typical lone survivor will be the virgin of the group. A perfect example of this would be Friday the 13th (2009) where basically everyone dies in aright before, during, or after committing a sexual act. This theme of the virgin surviving exposes Americas still existent fear of sex. Although I do not have a problem with the production of films today I find it interesting how America projects sex in films as negative but allow other things which may have a greater impact on society such as crime and violence. I believe violence in movies is something that also has a great chance of corrupting the minds I would say even greater then sex and find it interesting that America has never made as big a deal about it.

Fear, Anxiety & Paranoia in Film: Laura vs. Chinatown; Shutter Island “It’s like they’re scared of something.”

Before this blog post I wanted to view ‘Chinatown’ so I could get a glimpse at the latest film in our repertoire and transition into our in-class discussion tomorrow. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed this film, I thought Jack Nicholson was just great; the fedora continues to transcend decades as it seems to be one motif of the film noir era. One of the biggest things I took away from this film was the stark contrast between the female characters of ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Laura’. In the reading we had by Laura Mulvey entitled ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’ she states at the end that women who have been ‘used’ in past film roles ‘cannot view the decline of the traditional film form with anything much more than sentimental regret.’ In my opinion I believe the main female characters of ‘Laura’ and ‘Chinatown’ provide us with both views of the spectrum. In ‘Laura’, Gene Tierney plays the role of Laura Hunt, who was characterisitc of the typical female role of damsel in distress needing to be saved, passive in character and frequently uttering a blood-curdling scream. In contrast, Faye Dunaway in ‘Chinatown’ as Evelyn Cross Mulwray plays a strong woman, mysterious for some parts of the film, wields a weapon and seeks for what she wants and is best for her daughter. This role discrepancy could be in part because of the difference of the period in which the films were released. ‘Laura’ in 1944, ‘Chinatown’ in 1974 closer to around the release of Mulvey’s work. I also want to note that I felt that ‘Chinatown’ had more of a darker and serious tone, maybe because of the more commonplace storyline that involved teenage pregnancy and family issues. In ‘Laura’ I honestly laughed at parts when I shouldn’t have. The screams made me laugh and I thought how Laura just popped up in the middle of the film was a little too convenient for the story writers. I want to note that the ensemble of actors and actresses  in ‘Chinatown’ was extremely prolific. There were classic actors in the leads such as Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway of course but supporting ones who have appeared in ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (John Huston), ‘The Creature from the Black Lagoon’ (Perry Lopez), ‘Rocky’ (Burt Young) to ‘Wayne’s World 2’ and ‘Seinfeld’ episodes (James Hong).

As for why ‘Laura’ made me laugh more than anything I think it could definitely be attributed to the time gap between when it was released and the present. We are subjected to such a more intense level of mystery and fear in current films because many directors today pull out all the stops when it comes to striking fear in an audience whether it be due to technological advances or the acceptance of what is allowable for audiences to view.

In contrast, ‘Chinatown’ struck a more serious-tone with me. I honestly felt bad in several instances in the film. We discussed in class how some movies allow us to ‘see things’ not necessarily on the silver screen but in life and I think to some extent this film does this.

On a more recent level I would like to mention how after viewing it this past weekend, I feel that ‘Shutter Island’ is a prime example of film noir in the present. From the opening clink of bells to the ever constant ensemble of strings and bass riffs it is a mystery-thriller that is very noirish so to speak. Martin Scorsese who directed it even made the entire cast watch ‘Laura’ to get a sense of character. Here are some great articles I came across that connected ‘Shutter Island’ to the noir character:

Article 1

Article 2

I don’t want to give anything away from this film but take a look at the trailer and you can tell from this brief glimpse that it is almost a time-warp. We are instantly taken from 2010 back to the age of film noirs in the 1940’s-50’s. And of course in addition to the music, plot structure, twists, turns, mystery, setting and lighting no film noir would be complete without the appearance of a fedora, which make a strong appearance in this film.

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Two Cases of Emotion

The moment I watched Gabrielle open the mysterious box in Kiss Me Deadly, unleashing a possible apocalypse in the process, I suddenly remembered that I had once seen a movie with a similar box before. After briefly googling, I found that similar case to be in Quintin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. In both movies, there is a case with unknown contents which glow brightly upon opening. While the contents are never revealed, they are implied based on the descriptions of them and the emotions that they arouse in the characters. It is the fact that the contents are never revealed, which leads me to believe that both mysterious boxes are defined not by their contents, but rather by the emotional responses of the characters that seek them.

KissMeDeadly In Kiss Me Deadly, almost all who sought to retrieve the case ended up dead. Mike Hammer only survived after realizing that its contents are more serious than he could handle alone, and that he should hand it over to the police, thereby ending his desire for the box. While the contents of the case are never revealed, it is assumed to be a kind of dangerous atomic energy. Released during the Cold War, this movie is an example of the public’s general fear of a nuclear apocalypse.

Pulp Fiction’s mysterious case is far less lethal in contrast, but causes the same sense of desire in characters. To briefly summarize the movie without spoilers, Pulp Fiction tells the story of a number of individuals involved in a criminal network led by Marsellus Wallace. The suitcase makes several appearances throughout the movie, carrying with it the same mystique as the one in Kiss Me Deadly. The contents are never revealed, as with Kiss Me Deadly, and those who seek to possess it generally end up dead as well. There is much speculation on what the box actually contains. The Toronto Star even held a contest to determine what was in the box. Though there is only speculation, as the director insists that the suitcase serves merely as an interesting plot device, the most widely accepted interpretation is that the box contains Marsellus Wallace’s soul. It is believed that the boss of the criminal network sold his soul to the devil, and is attempting to buy it back. There are a number of clues that lead to this conclusion, such as the strange bandaid on Marsellus’s head, the suitcase with “666” as its combination, and the supposed miracle which protects two hitmen who seek to reclaim the box. In Tarantino’s film, the contents of the case are so beautiful and valuable that all those who see it, wish to keep it for themselves. It is important to note that the original contents of the box were to be diamonds, but were removed from the final cut of the film. Perhaps in that case, the suitcase would have served as a symbol of financial greed.

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While the contents of both boxes are never known, they both have an aura of mystery around them, causing characters to seek them, and often die trying. Other than both having luminescent contents, both cases are defined by the emotions which they arouse in the characters of the movie, as their contents are never really known. Though no concrete conclusions may be made, I found the similarities of both movies interesting enough to warrant a blog post.

“You Knocked Your Rug Off” in Touch of Evil

Touch of Evil is an energizing and anxiety-inducing film without a dull moment. The criminal character Joe Grandi provided a lot of comic relief throughout the movie. I laughed at his rigorous ‘faceslappage’ of his disobedient nephew and how his hairpiece subsequently fell off. Another scene with Grandi that was shot superbly would be his last in the movie. In the moments leading up to Grandi’s murder, there were several shots where the camera is oddly angled behind a bed. Beyond the wirey bed frame, Susie Vargas is shown fast asleep in a drugged state. After being strangled, Grandi is thrown onto the frame and there is a close-up shot his gaping wide eyes and lifeless head on the frame. I jolted out of my seat after seeing that! Upon reflection, it was a nice cinematography technique.

I also enjoyed the presence and actions of leading lady Susie Vargas, played by Janet Leigh. She is undeniably beautiful, but a world apart from the femme fatale usually found in film noirs. She doesn’t bring demise to her protagonist husband and in fact, has a great deal of sensibility and righteousness. She put on a strong face when she was ‘kidnapped’ because she knows her hubby, Mike Vargas, would protect her at all costs. It was also a triumphant moment when she threw the lightbulb at the man who was peeping at her through the window (the noise of the bulb smashing to pieces gave me great satisfaction)! On the other hand, I didn’t like how Susie had to be rescued like a damsel in distress– There was surely a way she knew that the motel was suspicious to begin with and she wouldn’t have stayed there for the night? And surely she could have escaped from those moronic Grande kids, right?

Susie in the protective arms of her husband.
(Susie in the protective arms of her husband. Image Source: http://www.eskimo.com/~noir/ftitles/touch/index.shtml)

Compared to other film noirs, Touch of Evil has absolutely zero flashbacks, everything is told in a story from beginning to end, and there is no guesswork as to the background of any of the characters. It was a refreshing experience to have the movie play and out and be caught up in straightforward drama and actions happening in the moment. Moreover, the fact that the ending isn’t entirely dark and hopeless gave me a better viewing experience.

Side note: Sorry for the posting delay, but the website was down yesterday night. I realize now that this post didn’t stick consistently to one aspect of film noir, but hopefully I brought up some good points that sparked some interest in you guys! It’ll be interesting to hear your opinions about Touch of Evil, especially about the humor presented and the portrayal of Susie Vargas.



Gender Roles in Film Noir

Sorry for the delay in the post guys, but here we go!

Pandora's Box

According to Wikipedia’s article on the famed Pandora’s Box, “Pandora had been given a large jar and instruction by Zeus to keep it closed, but she had also been given the gift of curiosity, and ultimately opened it. When she did so, all of the evils, ills, diseases, and burdensome labor that mankind had not known previously, escaped from the jar, but it is said, that at the very bottom of her jar, there lay hope.” Now, such myths, in collaboration with the biblical tale of Eve tempting Adam to partake of the forbidden apple, have characterized women as the downfall of mankind. This concept, in my opinion, has had a significant impact on the media and all forms of art ranging from painting, sculpture, drawing and, in our study, film. What I speak of is the prominence of the femme fatale character in the films we have studied thus far. Whether it is Elsa Bannister from the Lady of Shanghai (1948), Gilda from Gilda (1946), or Laura from Laura (1941), women are shown to stir the emotions of and expose the vulnerabilities in the male leads. Furthermore, our reading of Laura Mulvey demonstrated that women are also display pieces that satisfy our scopophilic urges whether we view them from the perspective of an audience member or look through the eyes of the cast. Film’s paternalistic roots have made it such that women are primarily objectified and, in the instances in which they demonstrate power, they do so out of self-interest and treachery. We have bought so far into the idea that, a “strong woman” is viewed as a woman who behaves like a man.

In the Lady of Shanghai, through her beauty and feminine charm, as well as her ability to portray herself as a damsel in distress, Elsa uses Michael and George as tools to further her own agenda, eventually leading to Michael’s imprisonment. In Gilda, Gilda provokes Johnny to no ends, compromising his position and causing him to act irrationally. You see the rage that arises on his face each time she enters the room and, despite his attempts to be apathetic, he acts out of spite. Though the film has a happy ending, Gilda has an overall negative effect on the male protagonist. In Laura, a calculating and overly logical human being, Walso, is transformed into a possessive and jealous man for love of the fair Laura. Though it can be argued that his own ego is his downfall, even Laura herself seems to feel that she is, at least partially, the source of his demise. In all these films, women have a severely negative impact on the behavior of the male lead, despite their intentions. Their power is apparent only as far as they can exert influence on the male characters, as they are shown to have no direct control of their own. Viewing the films in this light, as is commonly done in film noir, however, would be a mistake. There is greater complexity to the roles, as is discussed by Julie Grossman’s piece, Film Noir’s “Femme Fatales,” Hard-Boiled Women: Moving Beyond Gender Fantasies. She explains how our characterizations of woman limit the ways in which we view them in society and shows us the necessity of reassessing the concept of gender. Women are to be seen as they are as human beings, beyond the constructed ideal that has been imposed upon them.

It was very interesting when, in class, we found it extremely difficult to name strong female characters that did not demonstrate traits we found to be classically male. I believe this is rooted in a tradition of male defined social roles. We must realize that social dynamics are products of the people of their time. There is no male or female trait until we ascribe value to an abstract feature, whether it is sensitivity or apathy, or passiveness or forcefulness. These are just features of human beings that have been accepted as defining one sex or another for so long that we have become accustomed to them. Despite the revolution in thinking brought about by the feminist movement and the civil rights movement, our mainstream film has lagged behind the times. If only the hope found at the bottom of Pandora’s Box could lead to film representing the true HUMAN condition.

I would love to hear all of your thoughts on this issue.

The Departed sure were scared, anxious, and paranoid alright

The DepartedIn Martin Scorcese’s 2006 crime film The Departed we are introduced to William Costigan, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, who is an undercover cop working for Frank Costello the Irish Mob boss from Boston, played by Jack Nicholson. Then we also have Colin Sullivan, played by Matt Damon, who acts as Costello’s inside man in the police department. Throughout the film each of these characters elicit fear, anxiety and paranoia. The character that most strongly feels these emotions is DiCaprio’s William Costigan. Costigan is introduced to the dark, demented world that is the Irish mob. Every day he fears for his life, thinking any minute it could be his last. His anxiety and paranoia strengthens so much so he begins going to therapy and taking prescription drugs. He feels that either Costello is going to find him out or that his own police force is going to give up on him and allow him to rot in the depth of the criminal underworld.

As for Sullivan, Damon’s character, his only concern for most of the movie is keeping Costello happy. Costello is a sociopath and at any minute can flip. If Costello demands something Sullivan needs to get it done, no questions asked. There are several times where we see Sullivan struggling to not only keep up his charade with the police, but also keeping up with Costello’s orders. It all leads up to the climax of the film at the construction site where Sullivan finally kills Costello because of Costello’s past as informant…in other words Costello has been known to use his informants, his “rats,” on the inside as scapegoats if he is ever caught by the police.

Costello, as I stated before is a complete sociopath who trusts no one. His only confidant was Frenchie, ironically enough, once Frenchie died Costello soon followed. Costello is a force to be reckoned with, yet by the end of the film we see that he brings on his own demise through his paranoia…he doesn’t allow for anyone to get close enough to him. I can understand that it is hard to trust people, especially in a business like his, however the extent to which his paranoia led him brought on isolation and solitude. He ran the mob with fear, terrorizing his own men to keep them loyal.

The Departed, a remake of the 2002 Chinese film Infernal Affairs, does an amazing job uniting the three themes of fear, anxiety, and paranoia. I actually watched Infernal Affairs a few  year ago (my best friend’s dad loves Chinese and Japanese films, all types) before The Departed and it was really good…it’s no wonder why The Departed has had so much success. It’s on Netflix for DVD rental and I think if you have the time you should really take a look at it. It is a little different from Scorcese’s film but great nonetheless. Scorcese ties in these intricate, complex characters and weaves them together to form this masterpiece.

[kml_flashembed movie=”http://www.youtube.com/v/S4R3nHkqyfM” width=”425″ height=”350″ wmode=”transparent” /]

P.S. There is a chase scene in The Departed through a Chinatown in Boston that is very reminiscent of the scene at the end of The Lady from Shanghai by Orson Welles.

The Departed

Thoughts on “Eraserhead” and the Power of Disgust

20071128_eraserhead

I realize I’m breaking the general theme of the recent blog posts in revisiting Eraserhead, but I was so completely fascinated by this movie I feel it will be much more interesting for both myself and any of you reading for me to discuss something about which I am really excited. Eraserhead is an excellent example of how film can instill fear, paranoia, and anxiety within viewers. Granted I found myself confused for the majority of the movie, I also found myself thinking about what the movie could have meant and why certain details were used long after it was over. When I realized that the movie that stuck with me the most was also one of the most disturbing movies I have seen to date, I was a little surprised, and found myself wondering why it is that movies that are grotesque and very unconventional are so likely to catch my attention. I’m sure that part of my reaction is due to my general fascination with “weird” things, but also I think movies with elements that have the power to make the audience cringe also have the ability to stick in their minds. It is an interesting experience to face unnatural and “disgusting” images like a deformed, prematurely born baby, a cooked chicken that starts moving its legs while sputtering blood from the gap between them, and a bed full of, well whatever those things were. Personally I found myself cringing, scrunching up my face with a disgusted look, but unable to turn off the film because some part of me was interested to see what other strange things I would encounter.

I considered my reaction further while reading Plantinga’s article “The Rhetoric of Emotion: Disgust and Beyond.” Mainly, this article discusses the complexity of disgust as a reaction to film. Eraserhead has components of all three “types” of disgust (core, animal-reminder, and sociomoral). The presence of these elements, at least in my experience, made watching the movie very uncomfortable. In addition to the presence of disgusting elements, the main character, Henry, filled my viewing experience with anxiety. The extremely paranoid look on his face, his nervous gestures, and his slow, quiet speech made me feel both anxious and fearful about what kind of world he must live in if he behaves in such a way.

Despite my ability to recognize the presence of all of these details, I still am not completely able to pinpoint why this film impacted me so strongly. I think perhaps my reaction could be related to the idea of film as an escape from reality. I would never want to see any of the things Henry saw in his world, and I would certainly never want to know or be like any of the characters in the film, but because there is safety in knowing on some level that it is only a movie, I was able to explore more deeply the realm of the grotesque. There is a certain freedom gained from this and there is something sort of thrilling about the “I don’t want to look, but I can’t look away” experience. Also, this movie gave me an escape from asking, “what does this mean?” While I did wonder about what meaning could have been attached to this film, I found that it was necessary to at least try to abandon my usual need to understand and explain to really appreciate the film as a creative work.

I don’t know what all of you thought while watching the movie, I’m sure everyone had different reactions, but I think my general conclusion is that we find ourselves fascinated by grotesque and disturbing things because we know that this fascination breaks convention. I think one feels a thrilling sense of rebellion that comes from viewing images that many would suggest shouldn’t be seen at all. This, of course, is only my opinion, and I would love to hear more insight on the matter.

Anxiety in “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers”

Walter O’Neil of “The Strange Love of Martha Ivers” is one of the weakest male characters I have ever encountered. His anxiety is like a dark cloud hovering over the film. I  feel anxious just watching Walter. In fact, Walter acts as a doormat for his father, Martha his wife, and his childhood friend Sam.

 When we first meet Walter he is under his father’s rule. He looks like a scared little boy in the presence of the great heiress Mrs. Ivers. He says whatever his father tells him to say and even takes the credit for finding Mrs. Ivers’ niece Martha after she runs away. In this situation Walter is unable to defy his father because his father is the authority figure. After Martha murders her aunt, Walter agrees to her made-up story because Martha forces him to do so and he sentences an innocent man to death for the murder years later. Sam also treats Walter as a pushover and doesn’t take him seriously.

 Walter’s guilt over Mrs. Ivers’ death consumes him and makes him a weak man. The only thing that Walter has control over is the amount of liquor he drinks. Whenever we see Walter, he has a drink in his hand. He drinks to rid himself of the anxiety. He doesn’t want to think about how he sentenced an innocent man to  death for a crime he did not commit. The only way Walter can carry a conversation is if he has a drink. When Martha tries to talk to him he says, “If there’s to be a discussion, I need a drink.” In Walter’s drunken state, he even falls down the stairs. Walter has to drink so that he can face the world.

 An essential part of Walter’s anxiety had to do with his marriage. He is married to a woman who neither loves nor respects him. He knows that Martha only married him to keep her secret. Even when Walter kisses her, she stands stiff like a statue and does not show any affection. Not once in the film, did I get the feeling that these two actually loved each other. Martha is anxious because she believes that Walter will betray her secret and Walter is anxious because he believes that Martha will leave him. There is no trust at all in this marriage. Martha wants him to let go of her, but he won’t and as a result their marriage cannot survive. Martha and Walter just cannot be together because their relationship is toxic.

 Liquor helps Walter deal with his anxiety, but it doesn’t put an end to it. The only way Walter is fully able to escape his anxiety is by killing Martha and himself. Strangely enough, it is through death that Walter asserts his control over his wife and himself.

Fear, Paranoia, & Anxiety in Men of Respect

Over this past winter intersession, I watched Men of Respect, written and directed by William Reilly in 1990. I should mention that this film is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s MacBeth. Here is a link to the trailer but I could not find a clip that I could put on the blog. Men of Respect Trailer

It is a drama about a man named Mike Battaglia who starts out as low-ranking hit-man and eventually rises in the ranks of the Irish/Italian mafia. I felt that this movie hit the three main topics of this class very accurately. I will discuss them below.

FEAR. The movie’s opening scene is set at a diner where a group of mafia men are sitting around a table in a booth talking to each other in serious tones. The lighting is dark and the diner is filled with clanging sounds of utensils scraping the dishes. Then the movie cuts to the parking lot outside the diner and shows Mike handling a deadly looking shotgun. He storms up the small set of stairs to the diner and, with no expression on his face, points the shotgun at the man in the center and shoots him in the head point blank. Mike goes on to target every other man who was sitting at the table as all hell breaks loose. There’s blood everywhere, splattering all over the walls and the white linen napkins. After the gunshots stop, the camera pans to the casualties all over the diner and Mike is the last one standing. He has a crazed look in his eyes and blood patterns across his white t-shirt. I felt that this scene played on humans’ most primal fear: death. I personally (as I’m sure many other people are) am afraid of death and refuse to think about it even though it is the inevitable. In this movie, the thought of death strikes a feeling of fear in the audience. 

PARANOIA. Now throughout the movie, Mike’s wife, Ruthie takes a “masculine” role in the relationship, pushing him and urging him to do whatever is necessary to become the mafia  king. She uses sex to convince him when he is doubting whether or not to kill Charlie (the don at the time). She says “You do everything. They do nothing.” Ruthie tells Mike that together, they can rise to the top and everyone can look up to them and report to them. However, after Mike kills Charlie, he goes insane with paranoia. He is constantly looking over his shoulder. He hallucinates and sees a good (but dead) friend that he had put a hit on and causes an embarrassing (to say the least) scene at a party where he shouts at the ghost. 

ANXIETY. Because there is this constant threat of someone retaliating against Mike for all the people he has killed to get to the top in such a short amount of time, the tensions in him and Ruthie build. The voices of all the dead people eat away at his sanity. The climax of the movie comes when the other mafia “associates” plot to take down Mike, whom they feel has completely destroyed their sense of order and hierarchy. The associates raid Mike’s building in a flurry of gunshots. Ruthie slits her wrists and dies slumped over the bathtub. Upon discovering her, Mike goes even more insane (if possible). However in the end, Mike dies at the hand of one of the associates. 

So ladies and gentlemen, I hope you have understood (and hopefully enjoyed my application of) the elements of fear, paranoia, and anxiety in the film, Men of Respect.  I bid you all good night.

femme fatale

In watching the films assigned to us in class i find myself looking constantly at women who are portrayed as the source of trouble in our leading protagonists lives. Even though the women are downplayed in a large way by the heroic man, their roles serve of grave importance but not in a pleasant light most of the time. In movies such as The Lady From Shanghai we see how the beautiful Rosalie uses her charm to “force” Michael to stay with her, eventually we see that she did this for her own benefit and seemed to have no regard for his life. In Double Indemnity we see how Phyllis also uses her looks in order to “force” a man into doing as she pleases. In movies like these and in others that we have seen such as Detour and D.O.A. we see how woman are placed into roles that are completely opposite of the damsel in distress and instead are women with no emotions who seem to just be interested in money and material goods. Although i believe a damsel in distress isn’t the best way to portray a woman, it seems equally offensive to see these heartless women representing women. It confuses me that women in the end of these films were seen as the bad ones because they “brought the leading man down with their seductions and deceit” when it is obvious that no man can be FORCED into doing anything, none of these women threatened to kill these men if they didn’t make out with them, it was the mans own fault for choosing to chase these women. I believe it all comes down to choice just as Adam could have chosen not to bite the apple Eve gave to him so could these men have chosen not to listen to these women, for falling for these women and getting themselves into a whole mess of trouble i think they should be seen as fools and not be shown sympathy. I believe Julie Grossman sums it up perfectly when she states that these movies serve to portray women as these dangerous being that should be TAMED by institutions (which means by MEN), and this doesn’t come as a shock considering that these films were made by men. Although i dont think directors of movies did this intentionally, i believe it does reflect the times in which they lived in where women were either seen as innocent creatures that needed a mans guidance in order to have a happy life, or they were seen as these “femme fatale” characters who were way out of control and needed to be stopped by the all knowing man.

Fear, Paranoia, and Anxiety in M

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

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

-Minhaj

“Double Indemnity”

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

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