Meshes of the Afternoon, or Freud Makes Things Fun.

This will probably be one of my last blog entries of this semester. Meshes of the Afternoon is a surreal independent/experimental short film about a woman who appears to be coming home from work one day. If I explain more than that I’ll probably have nightmares again.
If there was ever a time to talk about Freudian subtexts, that’s now. Meshes has a running sexual theme where the woman is literally deflowered. The flower she takes from the ground is picked and moved once by the man who enters the house at the end and several times by the figure in the robe. Also, the robe appeared to me at first as a nun’s habit; the woman is being menaced by what looks like a perversion of someone who’s supposed to be pure and good.

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Film Analysis #2- “La Jetée”, or seriously guys, I really do wake up this early.

La Jetée (Charles Maker, 1962) was made on a shoestring budget with limited sets and a very small cast. This explains why many of the scenes appear to have been shot simply with little equipment, kind of like looking through an old vacation album in the scenes in the past, or an anthropology or science text in the scenes in the present. Maker’s skill with still imagery derived from his photography background compensates for his lack of sophisticated equipment. His dystopian Paris was created because of the extent to which the viewer would interpret a still image and the power it has even without subtext. Because the film was technically not filmed on a location, there is little sound aside from the narrator’s voice and the musical soundtrack. Even in the scenes between the protagonist and the woman which comprise the majority of the film, there is no dialogue. The only human voice that can be assumed to be close to diegetic is the muttering in German during the experimentation scenes. It reinforces the idea that there very few people remain living in Paris and those who do were “the victors [who] stood guard over an empire of rats.”

The juxtaposition between the past and this traveller from the future is strange, as when the woman asks him about his combat necklace. In a loose sense, he is reliving the setting and events of his childhood without having the desire to be a child (“being born again as an adult”, which is what allows him to time travel without going into shock). It seems like the real made uncanny, in that the viewer is left uncertain as to how much of what the protagonist experiences is “actually” happening and how much is fabricated by his over-drugged, over-stressed mind. Despite spending over fifty days in the past, he does not make an attempt to establish contact with anyone besides the woman before he is sent to the future.

In the scene where the protagonist is sent to the future, he reasons that, because mankind survives in a different incarnation, those who inhabit the future should feel compassionate enough to help provide for those in the present who need it. After leaving the woman at the museum, he is back in the testing hammock with the mask over his eyes as the experimenters look on. He “catches” some “waves” of a dubious nature to the future, where mankind inhabits a new planet. The texture of the aerial view of the rebuilt Paris is reminiscent of cracked glass or a thumbprint ad comes into focus as he arrives, reinforcing the idea that this time he is travelling through space as well as time. The entirety of his interaction with the recipients from the future occurs in what I assume is one area of a completely undetermined location. While the protagonist’s body can still faintly be seen, the actors playing the welcoming committee are dressed entirely in black from the collarbone down and wearing a bindi on their foreheads. As the significance of a bindi in Hindu tradition is to boost concentration and energy and only the actors’ heads are easily seen, it can be inferred that this future society places a higher emphasis on knowledge and mental alacrity. There are a few rapid cuts between the protagonist and the others. All of their motions and facial expressions happen between the jumps, giving the impression that they don’t blink as often as they should or that something else in their manner is slightly mechanical. One stares directly into the camera and the next shot is of the protagonist staring directly back behind his sunglasses. The narrator says that the protagonist’s petition for help is fallacious, but will be honored because their meeting is destiny. The lighting changes as he receives the generator and the next shot is of the experimenter lifting the mask from the protagonist’s eyes.

La Jetée was released almost exactly in the middle of the Vietnam War. As the war dragged on, tensions in France regarding the U.S. occupation of Vietnam after France had pulled out several years earlier culminated in mass riots and student uprisings. Six years after La Jettée’s release, and within two weeks of the violent college campus riots in May 1968, ten million member of the French workforce joined the strike. Almost as if the movie had foretold a change, increasing numbers of filmmakers suddenly began producing powerful new visual material as wartime propaganda.
Perhaps part of what makes this aspect strange is that with the threats of wartime violence, it is made more real. The war may have been however of many miles away, but its influence was still felt close enough to home to throw countries into chaos.

Maker would have derived some of his influence from Cahiers du Cinéma, a film journal staffed by philosophically and politically minded writers who did not discriminate in the types of film they watched. They pushed for the notion that the composition of each scene is more important than having a lot of scenes or expensive equipment with which to shoot. Just as Maker and followers of the Cahiers derived influence from Alfred Hitchcock and other popular filmmakers of the time, they would go on to influence the next wave of filmmakers. This is the gateway to the experimental films that would emerge in the next few years straight into the present- films that can be entirely visual and seek to make film an art form like painting or sculpture.

Black and white photographs are associated with memory, and another reason why the medium is successful is that Marker exploits the fact that having black and white stills of the past set in Paris to background music would make the audience feel especially nostalgic. This also plays slightly with the move away from “cinema du papa”; it is an innovative film put together in a non-traditional way that questions the significance past and if it can provide a means of saving the present. When the past fails to deliver what is needed, the future is accepted as the last refuge. In this way, the protesters in France probably hoped to bring back a better future for their country.

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Gratuitous blog post 2- This is Spinal Tap

There’s really no point, but I love this movie and happened to be watching it tonight.

Spinal Tap\'s amps go up to 11

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Gratuitous blog post- Bringing Up Baby (1938)

One of my favourite movies when I was younger. Modern-day RomComs have no competition from the old classics.

Bringing Up Baby- \”Gay all of a sudden\”

Bringing Up Baby (RKO) is similar to The Lady Eve in that both feature a strong female lead who pulls her romantic interest through a series of mishaps.

Cary Grant plays David Huxley, a paleontologist who’s engaged to an extremely humourless woman. Katherine Hepburne is Susan Vance, the niece of his possible patron interested in donating one million dollars to fund assembly of the brontosaurus skeleton that Huxley is trying to assemble. Boy meets girl on a golf course, hijinks involving a leopard from Brazil, a dinosaur bone, a pound of meat, and an overzealous dog ensue. This clip is from the middle of the movie, when David and Susan go to her aunt’s house in Connecticut.

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CITIZEN KANE (1941), or How the Spanish American War Really Got Started

Half Hunter S. Thompson’s gonzo journalism, half Robert Downey Jr’s humour in Iron Man, the delivery of speeches in Citizen Kane is concise, to the point, and occasionally snarky.

Use of a fish eye lens makes the maid entering the room at the beginning appear to emerge from the broken snowglobe; the fact that she didn’t freak out upon seeing Kane’s body was my first indication that she had something to do with his death.

During the scene at about 17 minutes, the entire room is in shadow, except for a few diagonal beams of light from a high window. The light divides the screen on an angle that makes it smaller than it would have if cut from any other angle. Then the light falls on the paper on the table, giving it an almost heavenly glow appropriate for papers related to a figure that remained larger than life, even after his death. The shot pulls out to a snowy scene, and for a few seconds, it’s as though the snowy white glow of the paper foreshadows or parallels the next scene.

Turning off the lamp changed the lighting in the room. Kane’s body remains shrouded, while he’s writing his statement to the implied honesty of the words he’s writing.

Ice sculptures shimmer around the room and break up the dull colour of the walls. All of the shots from Kane’s point of view at the head of the table are through the arms of the ice letter K. He’s standing while everyone else is sitting and the camera angle is a wide shot tilted down across the table. Kane is buying loyalties with a chorus line and some alcohol.

This movie is quite quotable. “If you buy a bag of peanuts, you get a song written about you in this town.”

Nursing home scene, contrast between figures in the foreground and the almost unmoving people in rocking chairs in the background. The placement of the two figures in the back helps show the size of the room. The interrogator is out of the frame, like the style of a prison interrogation.
Scene between Kane and Emily is as face-paced as the news. Lot of character development in those few minutes, showing how he is entirely devoted to the paper even at the risk of ruining his marriage.
Now the reporter leans back into the scene. The shadows on the face of the interviewee are reminiscent of the single hanging light bulb.
Saying that the second woman he married was “A cross-section of the American public” implies a low opinion of the American public.

*Scene of workers cleaning up tickertape at Kane’s campaign office. Entire scene inside the office shot from a low angle up towards the ceiling. This time, Kane walks into the scenes instead of having the camera follow him. The size of the shot allows for a large area to fit into the frame, the full bodies of Kane and Leland as well as the mess on the floor and the banners on the ceiling. The banners and pattern on the ceilings help frame the shots, while showing the paper Kane kicks through as he walks; long strands are reminiscent of thin chains trying to bind him in place.

As Leland said, there is duality in everything (Kane’s life aside) and the camera exaggerates that fact. Rapid cuts through the crowd at Kane’s gubernatorial speech show the contrast between the support of his campaigners and the support of his son. In the nursing home scene, the nurses appear to be pretty until their faces are shown. Then they’re only lit from the waist down, keeping their faces in shadow.

Fun fact: Imdb.com cites the warehouse scene in the last few minutes of the movie as probably inspiration for scenes from Raiders of the Lost Ark (Indiana Jones).

Next up: Umberto D.

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The Lady Eve (1941), or A Cop-out Post After a Long Absence

Not just evocative of the first woman who caused Adam to sin, bringing about the downfall of man, Eve is the name of the snake that Henry Fonda’s character brings back from the Amazon. The snake and temptation motif is milked for all it’s worth, appearing as an exaggerated cartoon in the opening credits.

I love of the delivery of the waiter’s daily specials to Muggsy. It reminded me of the Spam sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
Monty Python- Spam

Next: Citizen Kane, which I could have sworn I had on VHS somewhere in my basement.

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Scene Analysis- Citizen Kane (1941)

As listed by Paul Schrader in the Film Noir Reader (pg 54-5), the film era categorized by film noir was the direct product of the post-war cynicism combined with post war-realism as there grew less need for the people to have their spirits lifted and more willing to see on-screen the grittier side of America that they had been experiencing for the past 10 years. Because Citizen Kane (Welles, RKO, 1941) was produced on the cusp of both movements, it combines elements of both. It is emotion driven like film noir, and shot with low lighting and low-key effects, but is also based on a “can-do” story of a boy who rose from poverty to notoriety.

The irony of Orson Wells making a film about someone who became one of the richest men in America is because he struggled with its budget in the small and financially unstable RKO during production (Carringer, Robert L. Orson Welles and Gregg Toland. Pg 6). Because of the budget, Wells essentially tricked the board at RKO into allowing him to shoot at the beginning by saying that the time he spent recording in the studio was to run tests. Charles Kane’s life is also well-suited to being shot in shadows, so to speak, as his rise to fame relied on exploiting scandal. Citizen Kane (is a different kind of crime film, in which a man takes advantage of the love of a nation to further his own interests.

The scene in which Leland and Kane speak after Kane loses the gubernatorial election parallels the tone of post-Depression, American life in the early 40s and late 30s. America of the 1920s had seemed invincible; the proverbial runaway train of affluence described in period media such as the book The Great Gatsby, became, after the stock market crash, an image of disarray akin to the inside of the Inquirer’s office where this scene takes place. As this scene is the start of a new chapter in Kane’s life, so was this movie a pioneer; Welles and his partner Gregg Toland developed the techniques (extremely low light shooting, wide angle shooting to maintain consistency in the clarity of foreground and background (deep focus), and uses of a crane to move the camera) here that would later become their trademarks. (Carringer, pg 656-8)

There is a slow pan upward as the camera shows the discarded newspaper headlining Kane’s loss at the polls, and then freezes in a stationary shot with quiet, almost whimsical nondiegetic music. A man is sweeping tickertape from the ground in front of Kane’s gubernatorial campaign office (The New York Inquirer office) and pauses as a Leland, Kane’s college friend and colleague at the paper enters the shot from the right. Light enters the shot from the left, such that a nearby garbage cart throws its shadow upon both figures. Leland throws the smouldering end of his cigar into the cart, turns abruptly and enters the office, brushing away the curtain of paper strands hanging above the front door. The sweeper continues sweeping and the scene fades out to the inside of the office.

The camera angle here is noteworthy because it is rarely used in the movie; for the entirety of the scene, the camera is positioned at an extremely low angle so as to appear to be looking up at the actors. Inside the office, the reporters are leaving for the night. As they all put on their jackets and exit, Kane comes out through his office door at the left and exchanges words with Mr. Bernstein who is the last to leave. The room appears moderately dark, causing the white paper of the propaganda and slogans to glow faintly against the walls. As the camera follows Kane to the middle of the room, its low angle serves to both show the mess of shredded paper identical to that outside and make Kane look unnaturally tall. He comes to rest underneath a skylight (the light in the room must be implied to be natural light form the ceiling because no other light sources are visible) and Leland enters from a diagonal on the far right.

Though both men are roughly the same height, Kane dominates the foreground, his neck appearing bent as he shuffles past to avoid touching the roof. Leland approaches Kane, stopping a certain distance away to avoid marring the other man’s illusion of being “larger than life”. Kane circles the perimeter of the room as they talk. When he reaches the area directly across form Leland, the two appear the same height again, but because the pattern on the ceiling and the poles in the middle of the room serve to compartmentalize it, Kane still appears to be the larger figure. His back is turned to present a larger area, as Leland turns his profile to the camera to watch Kane pass, and Leland’s clothes are closer to the shade of the walls, causing his body to appear slightly smaller. The size of the shot allows for a large area to fit into the frame, the full bodies of Kane and Leland as well as the mess on the floor and the banners on the ceiling. The banners and pattern on the ceilings help frame the shots, while showing the paper Kane kicks through as he walks; long strands are reminiscent of thin chains trying to bind him in place.
Even when Kane stands in the foreground and Leland’s entire body is visible, Kane’s legs are bigger still, as though, even while defeated, threatening to crush his friend with his hubris.

There are no close ups. Kane and Leland’s friendship becomes strained in this scene, so there is no false sense of intimacy added by focusing directly on either of heir faces. Nor are there any cutaways during the dialogue.
The angle gives the impression of a man who is downtrodden by his own ego. His aspirations are growing too big to be contained though he has a tentative control on his present situation; it foreshadows that his empire will spiral out of control. Yellow journalism was the means by which he became one of the richest and most infamous men in America, so it is appropriate that a situation shrouded in scandal will result in his loss of credibility.

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A post that’s so late, it’s effectively posthumous, or M (1931)

I’m easily scared. Though an avid mystery reader throughout my younger years, the on-screen thriller genre rubs me the wrong way. Thankfully, M is not one of these. Censorship laws of the 1930s concerning the amounts of blood and violence shown in a movie (a movie about a series of brutal child murders!) help leave enough to the imagination that the only shock value is in Peter Lorre’s eyes.

I instantly recognized the logo of the movie as a plot device, ala The Scarlet Letter, in which a woman is forced to wear a bright red “A” on her clothing to indicate that she committed adultery.

Off-screen space: My first impression of the film was that the frame size seemed uncomfortably small. Coupled with the large areas of shadow throughout the movie, it gave a sense of anxiety as the light areas of the screen were slowly compressed by the darkness.

Sound: Noticably missing, especially in tense moments, is background music. Music in movies especially in present day North America is often used to manipulate the viewer’s mood. In the absense of this, when the still in the room mirrors the absolute quiet onscreen, the viewer’s on breath and heartbeat magnify the tension further and further almost until even the prickle of hairs on the back of the neck can be heard.
My overactive imagination jumped to assuming that the murderer was whistling a Tchaikovsky song, because it sounded orchestral and was the type of song that remains in the subconscious until prodded by an external stimulus. Went home and Googled. It’s called In the Hall of the Mountain King by Grieg (can’t win them all).
In the Hall of the Mountain King (Lego version)
Lyric-wise, the song is appropriate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/In_the_Hall_of_the_Mountain_King
“Slay him! The Christian’s son has bewitched
The Mountain King’s fairest daughter…
May I hack him on the fingers?
May I tug him by the hair?
Hu, hey, let me bite him in the haunches!
Shall he be boiled into broth and bree?
Shall he roast on a spit or be browned in a stewpan?
Ice to your blood, friends!”
It is a summery of what the murderer does (bewitch the daughters of the citizens) and forshadows his end (being found out and tried/attacked by those sympathetic to his victims).

One of the funniest scenes for me was of the respective councils between the policemen and the underworld bosses. Honour among thieves comes to mind, as well as the thieves’ and assassins’ guilds Terry Pratchett’s Diskworld novel series. It is the implication that crime has a form of unity driving it behind the scenes, and that it is an essential part of a thriving community. Though the underworld must play in tangent with the laws of society, it is by definition expected to break them, which gives the thieves and beggars the freedom to do anything they deemed necessary to bring the murderer to justice.

Next up, Lady Eve (and for some reason I keep wanting to say Parasite Eve…)

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Perfunctory introduction post

“Welcome to Qwriting.org. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging!”

Indeed.

Graphic design major. URL is derived from a quote from Julia Child made famous by the movie Julie/Julia.
However, this quote from Travel channel personality/author and former cook Anthony Bourdain also describes me pretty well: “To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living.”
I’m a food lover. Can’t live without it in more ways than one, nor would I want to. Current obsession is exploring traditional (Chinese, Japanese and Italian) cooking through films like The Chinese Feast (Jin Yu Man Tang) (1995) and Tampopo (1985), and dramas like Pasta (2010). In my spare time, I also watch action, off-beat comedy, Chinese and Korean historical dramas, and anything that combines any and all of the above.

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