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 beautiful, the camera rotates to depict the gravity of the spaceship and the same score that appears outside the ship, continues inside indicating a crossing of barriers. I think however what I find most interesting is Kubrick’s decision to insert this scene into the film. Just as the film itself encounters a sort of anxiety about its limits as a film, i believe this scene captures 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 ships location floating in it, locates Bowman’s workout sequence in a very strange way. There are no boundaries or form 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, reminding the viewers of location of this scene. The long distance shot of Bowman as he runs follow him as if we are in the perspective of HAL watching him. Yet soon we transition to a moving shot from behind as if we too were running. Then we switch 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 scene changes to the read eye of Hal. This reminds us that we are both watching and being watched just as Bowman is. This is another preminition to future events.

 

space of pure cinematogrphy yet also cinema encounters anxiety about its limits

 

 

Lost Highway: Desire, Music, and the Unattinable

In class we discussed how desire is linked to absence. In Lost Highway, the scene in which Pete first meets Alice introduces this very concept. The scene previous to their meeting in the auto body shop is critical to both desire and its complexity.  It is here we see Pete go to Sheila’s and the two have sex in his car. When Sheila gets in the car, she  answers “i don’t know” when he asks if she wants to go for a ride, as if to appear unattinable. But the facade is quickly shattered when she asks him “why don’t you like me”. This scene transitions into the next with a black out coupled with a jazz score.

This 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 this 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.

 

Taxi Driver: You Talking To Me- National or Individual?

The famous scene in which Travis stands in the mirror and repeats the lines “you talkin to me” is proceeded by the one in which he has the strange and hostile interaction with Palentine’s secret service officer. The juxtaposition of these two scenes back to back particularly comments on a theme we discussed in class: the national identity. The scene at the rally conflates the ideas of both personal with national, as Travis asks specific questions about the job of a secret service agent and even comments that he thinks he would be good for the job. However, typically secret service officers are anonymous. They are made to blend it and protect an individual who is associated with the national. It is this strange contradiction which reigns over political 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, associating him with a sense of entrapment perhaps in himself or in this new mindset he has aquired. Travis’ apartment throughout the film seems to have a prominent role almost as if a character itself. It is truly the only thing that sees the transformation of Travis into the masculine, violent man he becomes.  The camera position switches when he says ‘faster than you’. Perhaps he is addressing the viewers, as if to say he understands things quicker than us or that we are missing things that should be noticeable. He says “you make the move, it’s your move”. The hypothetical person he is fighting, which I propose is us since he is pointing the gun at us, is a breaking of the third wall.  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’ also returns to the notion of the individual. 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: Boarder Crossing, Margaritas, and Cultural Comparison

The scene in which I am fascinated by is the one where Budd and Elle are chatting in Budd’s trailer. The scene, and specifically the emphasis on the drink Budd is making, seemed very odd to me. The more I thought about it the more i realized it was not so much a coincidence, but rather a reminder of what happened in El Paso, Texas. The drink the camera zooms in on throughout the scene is a Margarita, a typically Mexican drink. In my interest in this scene, I discovered El Paso, Texas stands right at the river across the Mexican- US boarder.

Right before the conversation begins between Elle and Budd, we just have seen Beatrix travel across a long desert, as if already alluding to the transition or perhaps ‘crossing of boundaries’ in this scene. As we recall, previously to this she has escaped from beneath the ground and within a grave. Once again, this too seems to call upon another version of breaking borders.

The siren noises play as we see a close up of Beatrix’s dirt-ridden face, as to remind us of the scene in which her revenge sprung- 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.   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 even 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.

 

margaritas- ice

merging of mexico and south

why you can’t hear what elle is saying over the blender what is the point?

Kill Bill Vol 1: The Reliance on Sound

In class we discussed how in Kill Bill Volume 1 the violence is at times beautiful. Tarantino is able to get away with the intensity and frequency of violence because of the magic in the aesthetics of his shots. In order to accomplish this, the violent scenes are accompanied by numerous songs and a generous and 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 of Elle, the whistling begins. It is important to note that we hear her before we even see her. The sound begins as a sort of warning, not unlike the siren sound played throughout the Bride’s reminiscence of the wedding massacre. This emphasizes the importance of the soundtrack in Kill Bill. 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 very low shot of Elle’s white high heels clinking on the white hospital floor. The addition of the high heel noise to the whistle is mirrored in the red umbrella alongside the white suite and floor. The visual seems to mimic the aural. The camera switches to a front shot of Elle from a very low angel. This places the viewer close to the floor and thus close to the sound. We follow in front of her from below down the hallway and she continues to whistle. The colors in this moment are striking alongside the soundtrack. The image of Elle from below, a beautiful blonde woman with pursed bright red lips and a white eye patch, is stunning. The colors are as vibrant as the hypnotizing tune she hums. Next, Elle turns into the bathroom but camera continues without her down the hall as the whistling continues. At this moment we are unsure if the whistling is just so loud that we are meant to 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. There is a certain affect even as the camera carries down the empty hallway because although Elle is no longer there, the sentiment as if she was remains. The camera continues down the hallway until it ends at the brides room where it passes through the wall. This displays that we as the viewers occupy the space of the non-real and thus get access that is privileged to few. The ghost- like whistle and fluidity through which the camera pass lead 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 fact, the screen splits and we see who we assume to be the same woman changing into a new white outfit. Once again we do not see her lips but the whistling continues. Behind the whistle is the addition of an orchestral accompaniment. Clearly Elle is not producing this additional musical element. But the buildup is clear at this point; Elle seems to be trouble. The noise 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. The last finishing touch of a hat sits on Elle’s head and then a loud orchestral switch happens as Elle exit the bathroom and we see her face for the first time since she’s entered the bathroom. At this moment, there is one again a central connection between the music and the visual. During this climatical moment, on the left side of the screen we see a close up of the Bride’s eye, and on the right our attention is drawn immediately to the red cross on Elle’s white eye patch.

Although there is no actual violence produced in this scene, the build up and suspense is still intense because of the way in which sound is produced. Tarantino utilizes the music to aid the visual. Without Elle’s whistling the scene would not have the same affect that it does.

 

The Lady From Shanghai: Framing a Narrative

In considering how the plot of the movie comes to be, I am going to discuss the end of the first scene in the park. In an examination of the attempted ‘robbery’ I will discuss how  from this first encounter between Elsa and Michael, we see the performative and constructed nature of both their relationship, and the way Wells’ camera makes this apparent.

After Michael’s initial encounter with Elsa, we see him walking away as the voiceover continues. The next shot is a close up of her 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. As if to signify a  concealment of something we seem to already know- Michael smokes and has given this to her. Then we head 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 with the men who seem to be holding her captive and Michael walking to find her. Yet the directions seem all confused. Michael seems to be observing them from a far 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 of them. He jumps out and as he says the line “that is why i start out in this a little bit like the hero” he throws his first punch. During the fight scene some punches and jumps seem to be sped out which throw off both the realistic and reliability of the entire encounter. What is important to note here is twofold: Michael is our sole narrative and thus although he might not be reliable we are getting his subjective version of the story, and something about the entire ‘heroic’ scene is not what is seems to be. Michael only ‘starts out’ appearing as a hero so already the viewers 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 in this scene are to purposefully question the stereotypical damsel in distress. The camera movements show a forcefulness on Michaels part, rather than a true dangerous Elsa faces. From this strange moment we already begin to consider who is really in danger and perhaps is there something else behind what appears to be going on.

 

 

 

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 is right after Karen is thrown out of the car by her neighbor and calls Henry afraid and deserted. Henry comes to the rescue, brings her in his car and tells her to go inside and ‘get cleaned up’.  The scene is juxtaposed between Henry’s yellow car and the neighbors’s red cars. The red car is perhaps 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 it. 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 outside the window. Clearly she has witnessed the whole scene. As Henry approaches her door she exits, almost 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 draw. Amidst the lingerie is the gun. Once again, the camera shows us a close up of the relationship of hands- 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 her 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 back in Nevada. Right before Michael approaches Fredo, he has a conversation in a darkly lit room. The juxtaposition of the dark, morbid, light scene of this scene followed by Michael’s entrance into the living room where Fredo is reclining creates a stark contrast. The light that floods into the room from the windows allows us to presume the conversation will be ‘illuminating’ of sorts. The large windows in this scene make this scene between the brothers quite intimate.  The choice of Coppola to shoot this in such a lit space, adds dramatics and complexity to it. Perhaps the brothers will come to some sort of truce, but the camera shows 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 in their position, However as the dialogue shifts, and as we get closer to uncovering a new ‘truth’ the camera pulls back and shows us a shot of both men and the windows and lake behind them. Fredo exclaims how he was stepped over as the older brother. He did not need ‘taking care’ of because he should be the one doing the care.  As Fredo makes his case and says he is smart and deserves respect, he remains in the reclining chair. This image of the pulsing veins coming out of his forehead as he continues, the low angel shot, combined with 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.

Of course in retrospect, this scene is directly 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 helps the foreshadow along by placing Fredo in a continual inferior 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 versus the new world is exemplified in the final scene of the Godfather in which Connie comes to Michael in a frenzy after he had her husband killed. The focus on the ‘submissive woman’ archetype is highlighted here with an emphasis on the roles of 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 his from a distance and she runs through the rooms of the house screaming Michael. She 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. Also her exclamations are about how little he cares of her and the camera seems to mimic this. The choice to not include Connie in the shot besides from a slight side angel amplifies her lack of 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 was 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 brought in in 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 women in the masculine film. 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 the back and forth camera motion amplifies the feeling of tension between the two.

Kay asks Michael if it is true and he lies and 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 background. Then we switch to see Michael from Kay’s vantage point.  The score begins to play and we see her 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 be the man he promised he was not, but rather we see Kay as the door shuts and now we too are inside the Godfather’s office. The door is shutting on her, and instead we are are on the inside.  Kay, the american, the woman, will no longer be able to connect with Michael now that he is the godfather she feared.

 

 

 

 

Blue Velvet: Voyeurism and the Five Senses

There are many moments in this film in which we see people watching other people. For example, Jeffrey staking out Frank and his friends from the car, Frank watching Dorothy at the nightclub, or Jeffrey watching ‘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 as well as in its metaphoric significance in relation to the rest of the film. Once Jeffrey is inside the closet, his body seems to disappear yet his face is illuminated through the slits in the door. These slits allow him both to see and be seen. An important duality throughout the movie. In this moment, he is nothing but a pair of eyes. A sort of peep show, in which he is looking out, 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 body. Dorothy seems to approach the closet door, yet a sound interrupts her. The phone rings and she immediately detracts. 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. It is at this moment we hear Dorothy’s voice and are first introduced to the character Frank. The conversation we hear on the phone seems serious by Dorothy’s tone, yet the visual of her almost naked perhaps contrasts this level of seriousness. While she is on the phone with Frank, the camera shows her against the wall illuminated by the lamp. Shadows of her seem to parallel the slit like shadows on Jeffrey’s face almost linking the two. As the scene continues and the phone call finishes, the camera gives us full access to Dorothy not only through the slits,  but also to her crawling on the floor. In an erotic way, this action speaks to the peep show in which we as both Jeffrey’s vision and as cinematic viewers are a part of.

The idea of utilizing different senses is important particularly in relation to the peep show. The limited amount of sight Jeffrey has through the slits for example makes for a 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.  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.