2001: Space Odyssey- Space, space, and its limitless boundries

One of the most strange, beautiful, and fascinating scenes in 2001: A Space Odyssey is the one in which David Bowman is working out aboard Discovery One. The scene’s aesthetics are breathtaking. As the camera rotates, the same score that plays outside the ship continues inside. This indicates that the deconstruction of ‘spaces’ in the film and the spaceship itself is not really that different from, separated, or removed from the outer space beyond its barriers. In addition, what is most interesting about this scene is Kubrick’s decision to insert it into the film. Just as the film itself encounters a sort of anxiety about its limits as a film, i believe this scene’s aesthetics capture the anxieties of the astronauts aboard Discovery One.

Critical to this is the use of the music. As mentioned, the same score is carried over from the scene previous to the workout scene. The eerie melodic quality that we hear in relation to deep space and the ship’s placement within it, locates Bowman’s workout sequence in a very strange way.  The music that carries over indicates that there are no unappeasable boundaries in this film. The men exist without a true structure. The music reminds us that is is in fact a film. The music is not playing in space, or in the ship itself, but rather units the sequences despite stark visual contrats. Space and ‘space’ within the ship are really not all that different. As we see later on, the ship that keeps them alive, is really not that protective or separate from what persists outside of it.

The running in this workout sequence and the camera’s insistence on following Bowman throughout it, reminds the viewers of the anxiety of the close quarters, the small spacial existence, and the theme of the circularity of life which persists throughout the film. For much of this sequence, the camera remains sideways, locating the viewers in the scene. The long distance shot of Bowman as he runs insinuates that the camera itself is HAL watching him. Yet soon the camera transitions to a moving shot from behind as if the camera, or the viewers were also running. Then the camera switches to a low angel front shot as Bowman punches at the air and runs. There is a quick change to a tracking shot from behind as he passes by the men in hibernation and the image changes to Hal’s red eye. This reminds the viewers that we are both watching and being watched just as Bowman is.

The contrast of the gym sequence as a mundane event adds to the anxiety of the film itself. There is no purpose to the scene, yet its content is critical because of the voyeurism that persists throughout it. The running is metaphoric in nature because it reminds the viewers that the astronauts are trapped in close quarters with nowhere else to go; that their ‘space’ is limited. The insistence on circularity, repetition, and Hal’s watchful eye lead a mundane event into something that is representative of the film itself: a desperation to escape the space of pure cinematography that film encounters at its limits.

 

 

 

 

Lost Highway: Desire, Music, and the Unattinable

In Lost Highway, the fist scene where Pete meets Alice introduces the concept that desire is linked to absence in this film. The scene previous to their meeting is critical to both desire and its complexity.  Pete goes to Sheila’s and asks if she wants to come with him. Before Sheila gets in the car, she answers “i don’t know” as if to appear unattinable. But this facade is quickly shattered when she asks him “why don’t you like me” while they are having sex. Pete will never desire Sheila because she is so accessible to him. After this scene ends, the screen goes black as a jazz track plays, and then we are inside the auto body shop.

The jazz track that plays in the auto shop is the same one that we hear Fred playing at the beginning of the film. It is no accident that the music gives Pete a headache and he appears out of sorts. The music links the two men and jogs a certain memory of ‘that night’.  The strange connection between them is inextricably linked to the music. Pete’s need to change the track and the other man’s insistence that ‘he liked it’ emphasizes that there is an urgency on Pete’s part to stop it. There is a transition shot in which Pete is still under the car and a tire is the only image in focus. Simultaneously, we hear a car approaching. Then the rest of the shot comes into focus and we see a car with a blonde woman in it. The tire remains in the foreground of the shot, a positionality assumed to be Pete’s. As Pete gets up, we see different shots of Alice, each one progressively getting closer to her. As Mr. Eddy approaches Pete, Alice immediately goes out of focus. From this introduction there is a barrier introduced between Alice and Pete. She belongs to him and cannot be truly Pete’s. The two men begin to talk and once again the rest of the auto shop remains out of focus. They discuss the car but reference it as “her”. The dialogue is  about the car, yet the blonde woman is also implicated in the conversation with phrases such as “give her the once over”, and ” if you’ll be down with her by then”.  A new music track begins as we simultanously see black. This appears to be Mr. Eddy’s body passing in front of the camera. When he moves out of the way, Alice is in full view. The camera uses a slow motion shot to show her getting out of the car. As she rises, the words “this magic moment” play and her eyes flicker up to us, the viewer, and Pete. We see Pete watching her, and she walks away and slowly turns around to face him.  The camera continues to pan between shots of Alice turning around and Pete watching her. The shots of Alice getting into the car are breathtaking as they continue in slow motion, She continues to stare right at the camera, at Pete, and us the viewers.

This sequence between Pete and Alice is not only beautifully shot and scored, but introduces desire in a public and untouchable way. The visual images and soundtrack insist that Pete desire’s for Alice is something that is ‘unreal’. The slow motion is a subjective camera in which Pete is imagining her to be something more than she is, something more than an actress in a low grade porn film. It is the idea of her, rather than Alice in her true form that Pete desires. Just as Pete works in an auto body shop and the beautiful car will never be his, so too can Alice never be accessible to him. It is this impossibility that elevates his desire for her, in a way Sheila never can.

 

Taxi Driver: You Talking To Me – National or Individual

The juxtaposition of the famous scene in which Travis stands in the mirror and repeats the lines “you talkin to me” and the one that proceeds it comments on the theme of national identity. The scene at the rally where Travis has a hostile interaction with Palentine’s secret service conflates the ideas of the personal with the national, as Travis asks specific questions about the job of a secret service agent. Typically, secret service officers are anonymous, made to blend it and protect an individual who is associated with the national.  Travis’ insistence with the officer demonstrates the constant pull between the national and the private which dominate American life.

It seems fitting that this odd scene in which Travis conflates national and personal is followed by the mirror scene.  The last shot we get before it turns to Travis’ apartment is an overhead one of the entire crowd at the rally. This last moment of the masses highlights that Travis is both an individual and also just another part of a larger body, despite his desire to separate himself from the ‘scum’.  The next shot places Travis in the mirror and  us as viewers in his perspective. Next to the mirror are bars on the window, entrapping Travis perhaps in himself or in this new mindset he has aquired.

Travis’ apartment throughout the film seems to have a prominent role as if it is a character itself. It is truly the only thing that sees Travis’ transformation from an individual figure to a national, vigilante character.  The camera position switches back and forth multiple times as we stare at Travis’ reflection in the mirror.  When he says “you make the move, it’s your move”, it appears Travis is speaking to an individual, while simultaneously it appears he is talking to all of us: the viewers and the american people. The breaking of the third wall in a moment where Travis has a gun in his hand is not accidental. The line, “who the fuck do you think you’re taking to, I’m the only one here”, is interesting because in fact he is not the only one there, all of us are there too. The word ‘one’  however returns to the notion of the individual. Travis is truly the only one in the room, despite his pretend antagonism toward his reflection, pretend enemy, or all the viewers.  This generic scene that Travis plays out could happen with many people, and probably does particularly between men. There is nothing striking about the dialogue or even the way be says it. It is the lack of individuality in the monologue and our opposition to him, that unites Travis with that of the national identity. His masculine, white, aggressive nature perhaps places him not in the position of the ‘one’, but rather of the masses we saw from above in the previous scene.

Kill Bill Vol 2: Margaritas, Cultural Comparison, and Authenticity

The scene in Kill Bill Vol. 2 where Budd and Elle are chatting in Budd’s trailer is odd given the variety of close ups on the drink he is making. In thinking about the repeated shots of the Margarita, a traditionally Mexican drink, I discovered that El Paso, Texas is right at the Mexican- US boarder. The clash of cultures and appropriation of a typically Mexican drink in this scene adds to Tarantino’s own pastiche, unoriginal genre.

Right before we cut to this scene, the siren plays as we get a close up of Beatrix’s dirt-ridden face, a reminder of the night Beatrix’s revenge was born: the wedding chapel. As we transition to Elle’s face inside the trailer, the idea of Texas is not far from our minds. She even utters “Now that’s a Texas funeral”, in relation to Budd’s burial of Beatrix while still alive. Interestingly, Texas Funeral is also the name of Jon Wayne’s first album, a musical group who utilize the pseudonym of the famous Western actor. The allusion to both Texas and the classic western films is another reminder of the ties between Mexican-American, and Native-Cowboy relations.   Immediately the camera moves to Budd and the ice cubes he is cracking. The close up is disturbing and almost violent as he wills them out of the mold. As the conversation progresses, Budd continues making the drink and the camera shifts to a shot of inside the blender. We see Budd pouring more margarita mix or perhaps tequila in the blender. What happens next is very interesting. The camera shows us the dirty buttons as Budd presses down on them and we hear the sound of the Hanzo sword being taken out of its case. The sound is the focal point of this moment, as the blender masks what Elle says. There is a saturation of noise as if to drown out what she is saying. Perhaps there is a comment to be said of a ‘drowning out’ of Mexican culture in the processed Margarita mix as well in the aforementioned relation to El Paso, Texas. It is the city closest to Mexico,yet not the authentic version. In this vain, it is an Americanized version of it.

Interestingly, as we hear the loud slush noise of the frozen margarita as it is poured into the jars, Budd is discussing how there is no way to compare a Hanzo sword to another one, but rather only to another, less authentic version. The cultural comparisons here seem to parallel one another. There are ‘originals’ or ‘authentic’, and lesser versions. In Tarantino’s pastiche of genres, he too plays off the idea of an ‘original’. He utilizes scenes and references already known in order to evoke responses in his viewers. Similarly here, Budd’s decision to make a lesser, american version of a typically Mexican drink shows how he is merely creating a copy of something authentic.

 

Kill Bill Vol 1: The Reliance on Sound

Tarantino’s intensity and frequency of violence in Kill Bill Vol 1 is acceptable because of both the aesthetics and scoring of his shots.  Throughout the film, violent scenes are accompanied by numerous songs from a diverse soundtrack. The sequence I am going to analyze is interestingly the only one involving a member of the deadly viper assassination squad that has no real violence, yet relies heavily on the soundtrack.

The scene begins with the bride laying in her hospital bed. Before we even see the next shot, we hear whistling.  It is critical that we hear Elle before we even see her because it emphasizes the importance of the soundtrack in Kill Bill. The whistle begins as a warning, not unlike the siren sound played throughout the Bride’s reminiscence of the wedding massacre. After the first whistle, the camera switches to a low angel shot behind Elle. It tracks behind her for a moment as it raises, and then switches to a low angel shot of Elle’s white high heels clinking on the white hospital floor. This places the viewer close to the floor and therefore the sound. We follow in front of her down the hallway as she continues to whistle. The colors in this shot are striking, particularly alongside the soundtrack. The image of Elle, a beautiful blonde woman with pursed bright red lips and a white eye patch, frames the soundtrack. The vibrant colors as the hypnotizing tune Elle hums, making the entire sequence powerful and difficult to turn away from. Eventually Elle turns into a bathroom, and as the camera continues down the hall without her, the whistling continues.

At this moment we are unsure if the whistling is just so loud that we can still hear it, or if at this point the viewers are made aware of the artifice of the soundtrack. The quick shift from sound produced by a character inside the film to noise produced by the background draws attention to the importance of sound once again. Although Elle is no longer in the shot, the empty hallway paired with the whistling reminds the viewer of her lingering presence. The camera continues down the hallway until it ends at the brides room, and then passes through the wall. At this moment, the viewers are made aware that they occupy the space of the non-real and nonsubjective. The ghost- like whistle and fluidity through which the camera passes, leads the viewers to believe although someone might not physically be there, someone is watching. It is at this moment, as we look at the Bride’s face, the screen splits. On the other side of the screen,  we see the whistling woman, known later as Elle, changing into a new white outfit. We do not see her lips but the whistling continues. Behind the whistle is the addition of an orchestral accompaniment. Clearly Elle cannot be the one producing this additional musical element, yet the crescendo in the music points to some imminent trouble.  The music continues as we see shots of the Bride’s body up close, juxtaposed by even closer shots of Elle’s needle. The whistling slows as the needle is filled and then placed down. As Elle places a hat on her head and then exits the bathroom, a loud orchestral switch happens. At this moment, we see Elle’s face for the first time since she’s entered the bathroom, insinuating how the change in music allows the viewers access to something unseen. During this climatical moment  on the left side of the screen there is a close up of the Bride’s eye, and on the right side a the red cross on Elle’s white eye patch. The side by side of the two women’s eyes reminds the viewers to pay attention to the visual, even though the sound also plays a critical role. Although there is no violence in this scene, the build up and aural suspense  prepare the viewers for it.  Tarantino utilizes the music to aid the visual, and create conflict and anxiety that otherwise would not be there. Without Elle’s whistling, the suspense that is critical to the plot would not be achieved.

 

The Lady From Shanghai: Framing a Narrative

In an examination of the attempted ‘robbery in The Lady from Shanghai’, I will discuss how from this first encounter between Elsa and Michael, Well’s camera demonstrates the  performative and constructed nature of their relationship.

After Michael’s initial encounter with Elsa in the park, we see him walking away as a  voiceover continues. The next shot is a close up of Elsa’a purse, with the cigarette Michael handed her sticking out. It seems strange in retrospect that during an assault of any sort Elsa had time to specifically expose the cigarette, like she later mentions was her goal. In the next shot Michael picks up the bag and we see him tuck the cigarette away in the purse.  Then we hear Elsa scream “help” and Michael looks up to see who is calling out. The next series of shots are quite strange. As Michael tries to find the source of trouble, the camera pans back and forth between Elsa and the men who seem to be holding her captive, and Michael trying to find her. Yet the directions seem all confused. Michael seems to be observing the men from a distance and as he slowly walks alongside the bushes we assume he will continue to do so. Yet all of a sudden he is right in front of the group. He jumps out as the voiceover says, “that is why i start out in this a little bit like the hero” and he throws his first punch. During the fight scene some punches and jumps seem to be sped up which throws off both the realistic and reliability of the entire encounter. What is important to note here is twofold: Michael is our sole, subjective narrator, and something about the entire ‘heroic’ scene is not what is seems to be. Michael’s admittance that he only ‘starts out’ as a hero, leads the viewers to feel untrustworthy of the scene in which he is one. This line in combination with the strange directional shots of both Michael and Elsa throw off a certain believability about the scene.

After re-examinaing this scene after the film, I believe that Well’s intentions are to purposefully question the stereotypical damsel in distress while creating a sense of distrust in her. The camera movements show a forcefulness on Michaels part, rather than any fear on Elsa’s.  From the framing and images in this strange sequence, the viewers begin to consider if there is something else behind what appears to be going on, and if perhaps people are not to be trusted. Only through Well’s quick cuts and camera maneuvers do viewers have access to this type of suspicion.

 

 

 

Goodfellas: Guns, Seduction, and Karen

The theme of violence, and mechanisms of violence, is prevelant throughout Goodfellas. What is particularly interesting however is Karen’s relationship to violence, and guns specifically. Guns are typically seen as extensions of the phallus; masculine symbols of power and dominance. That is why it is interesting to see Karen’s relationship with them and how it progresses.

The first interaction with a gun is right after Karen is thrown out of the car by her neighbor and she calls Henry, afraid and deserted. Henry brings her home and tells her to go inside and ‘get cleaned up’.  The scene is juxtaposed by Henry’s yellow car and the neighbors’s red car. The red car is a signifier for the blood that is about to spilt. The camera shows Henry tucking the gun in his pants, a clearly subjective display, but then switches to the neighbor’s perspective as we see Henry approaching. Henry strangely does not shoot him, but rather beats him with the gun. The gun here is a symbol of death, rather than a producer of one.  As Henry crosses the street, we switch to a pan of Karen looking out the window. Clearly she has witnessed the whole scene. As Henry approaches her door, she exits in slow motion, and the camera shows us the gun being placed in her hand. It lingers here for a moment, and then it pans upward to Karen and Henry with her still looking down at the gun. At this moment, it switches to a voiceover of Karen. She says that she knows most of her girlfriends would have run away if they were handed a gun, “but she had to admit it turned her on”. This is the critical moment. The voiceover provides us a glimpse into Karen’s psyche. Karen is seduced by the gun and all it represents: power, danger, and masculinity.

Another scene in which Karen has a gun comes full circle in relation to this first one. It is right after Henry is caught by the cops in his driveway. The camera cuts from Henry in the drivers seat, to Karen running around in the kitchen still in her silk robe grabbing the hidden drugs.  The camera follows her running upstairs and stumbling. After shakily, emptying the drugs in the toilet bowl, the camera cuts to a shot of her underwear drawer. Amidst the lingerie is the gun. Once again, the camera shows us a close up of the relationship of hands to gun as in the aforementioned scene.  It is then, just as Henry placed the gun in his waistband, Karen too places the gun in her underwear. It is in this relationship that the camera gives Karen an almost masculine status, privileged only so far to Henry and the other male characters. The only reason however is out of necessity. Henry has been arrested and so she must hide the drugs, and the gun, the way she has seen her husband do so. The difference however between Henry and Karen’s placement of the gun is critical.  In Karen’s case she is wearing a silk robe and she places it in her underwear while trembling. Henry on the other hand is wearing a suite, places it in his pants, and jaunts up to Karen’s neighbor and proceeds to beat him. The difference in appearance and composure is critical to understanding that Karen is not awarded a masculine or phallic status here, but rather has her failure highlighted.

 

 

 

 

falic idea of guns

The Godfather Part Two: Masculinity, Fraternity, and Illumination

In class we discussed how windows play a fundamental role in framing Michael Corleone. His desire, and perhaps failure, for transparency is highlighted in a particular scene between Fredo and Michael in Nevada. Right before Michael approaches Fredo, he has a conversation in a darkly lit room. The juxtaposition of the dark, morbid, light of this scene with the bright light in the living room creates a stark contrast. The light that floods into the room from the windows allows us to presume the conversation will be ‘illuminating’. The large windows in this scene make the space between the brothers appear open and inviting. Coppala’s choice to shoot this scene in such a lit space leads the viewers to think that perhaps the brothers will come to some sort of truce, but the camera will show us otherwise.

At first Michael sits down when he enters the room. As the tension builds, Michael stands up. Fredo remains reclined in the shot while Michael stands over him.The camera starts by panning back and forth between the two men, however as the dialogue shifts, and as we get closer to uncovering a new ‘truth’, the camera pulls back and shows a shot of both men with the windows and lake behind them. Fredo exclaims how he was stepped over as the older brother.  Fredo makes his case, says he is smart and deserves respect,  and remains in the reclining chair. This image of his pulsing veins protruding from his forehead, the low angel shot, and Fredo’s wiry build only adds to his emasculated position amongst the family. The camera physically shows us why Fredo was passed over- his composure is not up to par for the head of the Corelone family.

In retrospect, this scene is linked to the final one in which Michael has Fredo killed. Some of the shots of Fredo reclining in this scene almost show him as if he is already a corpse.  His arms splay out and his neck is crooked to the side. The camera continues the foreshadow by leaving Fredo in his reclining, seated position with Michael towering over him. Even as Michael tells Fredo he is ‘nothing to him’, Fredo remains reclined.  His lack of response makes him appear lifeless and already dead.

 

 

The Godfather: Women and the Old World

The battle between the old world and the new world in the Godfather is emphasized in the final scene, in which Connie comes to Michael in a frenzy after he has her husband killed.  In this sequence, the archetypal roles of submissive women are highlighted in both Connie and Kay. The scene begins with Connie exiting the car and running through a crowd of men to get to Michael, who now resides in the Godfather’s office. The camera follows her from a distance as she runs through the rooms of the house screaming ‘Michael’. Connie finds Kay and the two women enter his office. As the doors open, the camera shows Michael sitting at his desk. Interestingly the camera remains on Michael sitting even though Connie is the one talking.  Her exclamations concern how little Connie feels Michael cares about her and the camera seems to mimic this. The camera does not include Connie in the shot besides from a slight side angel. This amplifies Connie’s minimal importance as a woman in the film, even in her cries for desperation.

As Kay begins to comfort Connie, Michael remains in the center of the shot with the women framed on either side of him. Only after Connie remarks that Michael is godfather to their baby does the camera recognize her, as if her uttering those words brings her into the grace of Michael, the way Bonasera was during the opening scene. Connie is in hysterics and falls into Michael’s arms. He utters “get her upstairs, get her a doctor”. This dialogue highlights the stereotype of the submissive and overly-emotional woman. Michael’s firm declaration is followed by silence as the camera pans back and forth between Kay and Michael. Once again he says “she’s hysterical”. The two are separated by Michael’s desk as if a barrier or border is imposed. The camera does not show them side by side, but rather utilizes a back and forth motion that amplifies the feeling of tension between the two.

Kay asks Michael if he killed her husband, he lies, says “no”, and the two embrace. Kay leaves the office and the camera switches to a deep focus shot with Kay in the foreground and Michael sitting on the desk in the background. Then the vantage points shifts, and we   see Michael from Kay’s perspective.  The score begins to play and we see Kay watching men enter his office, embrace him, kiss his ring, and call him Don Corlione. Then a man approaches the door and the vantage point switches to his. No longer are we Kay watching Don, but rather we are inside the Godfather’s office, watching Kay disappear from view as the door shuts on her. A world is closing both literally and figuratively for Kay. The camera’s over-exagerated metaphor clarifies that no lie can conceal what Michael’s job entails. There will be no room for connection, love, or Kay anymore. Now that Michael is the Godfather, Kay, the american and the woman, will never be allowed inside. Her place is outside, and she will remain there out of focus, and out of the shot, forever.

 

 

 

 

Blue Velvet: Voyeurism and the Five Senses

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There are many moments in this film in which we see people watching other people. For example, Jeffrey stakes out Frank and his friends from the car, Frank watches Dorothy at the nightclub, and Jeffrey watches ‘the yellow man’ in his office at the police station. The most interesting scene of voyeurism, however, is when Jeffrey sneaks into Dorothy’s apartment and quickly jumps into the closet when he hears her entering.

The scene is important both visually and  metaphorically. Once Jeffrey is inside the closet, his body seems to disappear yet his face is illuminated through the slits in the door which  allows him both to see and be seen, which constitues an important duality throughout the movie. In this moment, he is nothing but a pair of eyes taking in a peep show while we as viewers are watching  him. The visual contrast between Jeffrey’s lack of body, and Dorothy’s imminent undressing is critical. The screen shifts between Jeffrey’s illuminated face, and Dorothy’s lingerie- clad form. Dorothy starts to approach the closet door, but a sound interrupts her. The phone rings and she immediately turns back to pick it up. This quick shift, from a focus on the visual to an aural signal, suggests the importance of the two in this film (as we discussed in class). As we hear Dorothy’s voice we are first introduced to Frank.  While Dorothy’s tone makes clear that the conversation is serious,  the visual of her almost naked body invokes a different, more prurient, affect. While she is on the phone with Frank, the camera shows her against the wall illuminated by the lamp.  Her shadow seems to parallel the shadows of the slats on Jeffrey’s face, implicitly linking the two. As the scene continues and the phone call finishes, the camera gives us full access to Dorothy’s body not only through the slits,  but when we see her without obstruction crawling on the floor. This reinforces the sense of peep show in which we, like Jeffrey, participate. The use of different senses is important in relation to the peep show. Jeffrey’s limited sight, for example, makes for an intensification of the sight he does have and a greater reliance on his other senses. We as viewers are reminded of this in the loud ringing of the telephone. It takes us out the visually-centered shot, as we are jolted by the noise, while simulteanously drawing out attention to the possibility of Dorothy seeing Jeffrey.  The tension between the two is therefore highlighted. The film plays with the contrast of the aural and the visual throughout the film, taking the viewers’ focus away from each element at different moments throughout the film. The use of music and songs coupled with Lynch’s wide range of camera shots is implicated in this. Voyeurism relies on all senses in order to fully comprehend a situation or scene just as Jeffrey, and us as the viewers, discover.