Archive for the Essays Category

Isn’t he Iconic, dontcha think? – Irony of a Rebel

Posted in 1950s, 8/10, Essays on May 17, 2012 by chrisfilm

Rebel Without a Cause (Nicholas Ray, 1955)

James Dean being bullied, as an outcast, and with only one (similarly outcast) friend? That’s not the James Dean we see plastered about as a pop culture icon. He’s supposed to be cool, confident, poised, and even a sex symbol. But the cultural icon he has become in turn creates a great sense of irony in the role he is most famous for. In this film about American culture in the 1950’s, Dean’s character cries, he’s broken, and he’s anything but an icon to his parents, the lawmen, and his classmates. We see the true vulnerabilities of a teenage boy from someone who would later become known as the tough guy of his generation.

Of course, viewers need not look any further than the title to see another bit of irony. Whether intentional on Ray’s part or not, Dean’s character is far from a rebel. In fact, he’s almost the opposite. The rebellious acts that accompany his character are nothing more than a reaction to the continued rejection he receives when attempting to normalize. He’s always provoked despite mostly trying to avoid trouble and spend time with the people that show him genuine care. He doesn’t seek attention, lashing out because he thinks he isn’t heard; he would prefer the calmness of a regular life. To further the irony of the title, despite its claim, the rebellious acts he does find himself involved in have a deep amount of cause – a need for love and acceptance.

And while much time is spent with his dealings with bullies, the root of his issues is very obviously his parents. In a time period whose most famous fictional parents were arguably Ward and June Cleaver, seeing a couple where the woman is the domineering force, where arguments are more frequent than pleasant conversation, and where a son has to beg for stability was uncommon. In fact, the irony here is that Ray doesn’t push a false reality on viewers. So, in a sense, the avoidance of irony becomes ironic. Sort of makes your head spin.

Many aspects of the film were ironic, but in a way that spoke truth to people in a time when truth was covered up neatly in most entertainment. Thanks to Ray’s honestly, no matter how old this film gets, new generations of viewers can watch it and connect to the characters, which is why Rebel without a Cause will always be considered a great and important film.  8.25/10

Sympathy for the Devil – Fritz Lang’s M

Posted in 1930s, 9/10, Essays on July 9, 2010 by chrisfilm

I wrote most of this essay in college, 5 years ago, but after re-visiting this film the other day, I thought I’d post it (with a few edits, of course!)

M (Fritz Lang, 1931)

As M begins, viewers experience something they won’t experience for the rest of the movie: non-diegetic sound (sound heard only by the viewing audience, not by the characters). Before the movie even begins, a sinister sound comes from the speakers, acting as foreshadowing to the sinister movie viewers are about to watch.

The film is sinister in more than one way. In an obvious way, because it is about a child murderer. The lack of non-diegetic sound plays a large role in giving the film its eerie feeling. In almost all suspense and/or horror films today, non-diegetic music is required. When scary, overbearing music starts, viewers know something intense is happening or about to happen. Almost in that same way, M creates that effect with a lack of sound. Every time the sound in the film completely stops, something intense is happening or about to happen. The first time there is no sound is when viewers find out the murderer has just killed. We see the little girl’s ball roll out from behind the bushes and the balloon the murderer has just bought her is seen tangled in telephone wires. The absence of sound is easily more disturbing than scary music would have been. Silence is the sound of death, and the sound of secrecy.

The lighting in this film is as amazing as the sound. Much of the film is kept in the shadows, symbolizing the dark theme of the film. Where the film becomes less obviously sinister is during the murderer’s ‘trial’ (a scene where many of the locals basically decide they want to lynch him). The scene takes place at night in a darkly lit warehouse basement, as the murderer begs for his release, claiming he can’t control the urges he has. I believe Lang was saying a lot with this scene. First, and most obvious, is that people shouldn’t be executed for something they can’t control. This was a bold statement by Lang considering the time and place this film was made (1931, Germany). Another thing Lang is saying with this scene is that those who try to kill someone for something he can’t control are just as criminal as the killer himself. This is why, by the end of the film, viewers actually feel a bit of compassion towards the murderer. He is portrayed as child-like while his accusers act like animals.

His innocent look is also present in a previous scene where the locals have almost found the murderer in his hiding spot. The camera focuses on him crouching behind a few crates, in the dark. In the background viewers hear the criminals throwing things around in frantic search of the murderer. Finally, the lights are flipped on and he is found. As soon as the lights are flipped on, the murderer jumps to his feet and freezes, with a deer in the headlights look on his face. And, of course, the entire scene is accompanied by no soundtrack, only the sound of the locals slowly approaching.

The technical features Lang uses throughout M are crucial in bringing to life a realistic horror story where viewers feel they are actually taking part of these strange events. I believe Lang wants viewers to leave this feeling uncomfortable. The line between good and evil has never been so blurred.  8.5/10

Le Notti Bianche and Four Nights of a Dreamer: Whirlwind Romance vs. Dysfunctional Romance

Posted in 1950s, 1970s, 9/10, Essays on June 16, 2010 by chrisfilm

Normally, I don’t write film essays, but after re-watching these two similar films, I felt like writing a short compare and contrast essay of sorts. So, I’ve created an Essays category in case I ever have more of these.

Le Notti Bianche (Luchino Visconti, 1957)
Four Nights of a Dreamer (Robert Bresson, 1971)

Luchino Visconti’s Le Notti Bianche and Robert Bresson’s Four Nights of a Dreamer might both be based on Dostoyevsky’s White Nights, but they are about as different of films as they get. Oddly enough, when it’s all said and done, they have the same effect.

Visconti’s interpretation takes viewers into a whirlwind of dramatic romance. His characters talk like each is their last conversation. Mario tells Natalia that he’s shy, but this can’t be further from the truth. He stares at her with big eyes, and talks endlessly about his feelings for her. She has an innocent cuteness to her and despite still being in love with another man, treats Mario as if she is moving on for him. They spend their time in the night-lit streets, and one evening find themselves in a night club where the dance, play, and truly start to fall in love. (This is by far the best scene in the film; it’s fantastic.) After Natalia gives up all hope her ex-flame will return, she and Mario talk of a relationship, even an engagement.

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Bresson’s interpretation, however, features a rough and perhaps slightly disturbed Jacques. He stops Marthe from jumping off a bridge and quickly becomes obsessed with her. She asks to hear his history, and he proceeds to tell her of an afternoon where an old classmate he didn’t even remember stopped by his apartment for a quick chat. If that isn’t odd enough, he records himself saying Marthe’s name over and over, and plays the tape in public. The first time I saw this, I didn’t catch it, but I think Bresson wants us to assume there’s something off about this guy. Jacques and Marthe spend time together while she longs for her ex-flame to return, rarely talking, mostly just listening to various city musicians while Jacques tries to feel Marthe up. Yet, through the weirdness, the two have something strangely charming going on.

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Though Visconti and Bresson approach the material in completely opposite fashions, when the conclusion comes and Natalia and Marthe leave Mario and Jacques, both are extremely heartbreaking. Natalia hugs Mario, convincing him they had fooled themselves into love. They both cry, and the relationship is over. Marthe kisses Jacques, says nothing, and walks away. Jacques is affected, but not visibly so. But as a viewer, both are like a knife to the gut. Whether it be whirlwind or dysfunctional, we all love romance, and despite two different approaches, heartbreak happens.

Le Notti Bianche – 9/10
Four Nights of a Dreamer –
8.75/10

Best of… Series – 2005 – The New World

Posted in 10/10, 2000s, Best of... Series, Essays on September 1, 2009 by chrisfilm

As a way to mix some of my old reviews in with my new reviews, I’m starting a Best of… Series. In this series, I will review my favorite movie of each year. I’m starting with 2005 because the best film out of ’05 just happens to be my favorite movie of all time.

The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)

When thinking about Terrence Malick’s film The New World, I can’t help but recall the feelings of a cinematic experience as opposed to a mere movie viewing. In fact, it’s this ‘experience effect’ that puts a movie at the top of my list. The New World just happens to be my favorite film experience.

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Malick, in addition to cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, have put on film the most beautiful visual film ever made. It is said that Malick and Lubezki set rules before shooting, one of which being that every shot that would make the final cut must be beautiful – every shot. And it shows. The movement of the camera combined with the movement of nature and characters make for an emotionally poetic effect. Combine that with the crew’s ability to capture natural light, reflection, shadow, etc. in some of its most amazing states, and you have what I call visual perfection.

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Unbelievably enough, the poetry created by the cinematography is only a portion of what makes this film so sublime. The dialogue (the way it is written as well as presented) also contributes greatly. Malick has been known to coax great performances out of sub-par actors, and he does no differently in The New World. He makes Colin Farrell seem important yet humble, and quiet yet loving. His performance, combined with Q’orianka Kilcher’s phenomenal debut performance help mold this movie into so much much more than just eye candy. The love expressed by the two characters in the film is amazingly real. The looks Kilcher gives as she experiences feelings she’s never had before, the words used in both her and Farrell’s poetic voiceovers, and the juxtaposition of their love with the beautiful surrounding nature all enhance the rawness of this unexpected love.

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The film does delve a bit in the abstract. The story follows a first act, second act, third act line rather closely, but in each of these acts, the film is edited in a way that mixes present-time with memory, and even mixes memory upon memory. There are several instances where the couple is together that could be a memory, happening presently, or even merely an imagined daydream. And, quite frankly, it doesn’t matter which they are. The editing of the musical score, the voiceovers, and the sounds of nature also weave their way into these images, and when it’s all said and done, you have a perfect outcome.

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Every time I re-watch this film I notice something I did not in each of the previous viewings. The earth and its beauty, and human beings and their beauty are both brought forth in ways I have never seen on film. Seeing people and nature – God’s greatest creations – in such personal ways really has a way of taking me away for a moment. 10/10

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By the way, I thought I should say that this is probably the longest review you will read here. I plan to keep these concise to help keep readers more involved. There are plenty of sources for long reviews using big, professional film terms. I plan to take a different approach, if possible.