Alright Wordpress, we meet again. At the keyboard. In my room. After drinking copious amounts of Theraflu…after watching the 4th episode in a row of Big Bang Theory. And despite it all, I’m going to talk about Double Indemnity as an effective comedy. Oh, yes, I know, I can talk all about the wonderful use of lighting, shadows, composition (etc), but, I don’t know, call me a pioneer -it is Columbus Day after all- but Double Indemnity is, dare I say, funny.
Let’s start with the non-intentional humor. I have seen few film noir films/videos, but the majority of what I have seen, is most often in the form of a parody. So naturally, rather than mentally preparing for a crime-thriller, I was, instead, waiting for the end of a very long Geiko commercial. In the film, the non-intentional humor is often funny because the scenario is either far too ridiculous or dramatic, stemming from the fact that we are watching it 70 years after the fact. For example, all of Mr. Neff’s narrations were way to dramatic. Personal favorite line: “I had a taste of her iced tea and didn’t want anymore.” Hahaha, I’m sure Shakespeare is rolling in his grave, but I’m loving every second of this. Ultimately, however, by the end of the film, I was more or less acclimated to the film’s “intenseness” and so the unintentionally funnier moments, became less random and more normalized. Eventually, I was actually able to focus on the storyline, rather than just Barbara Stanwyck’s wig. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7yl3UMO-TkE
It’s an hour and a half into the movie and Natalie Portman has done her first dance as the white swan. At this point, as the audience, you are emotionally exhausted, nervous, and mainly just stressed the eff out. Right after she dances, she begins to move to her next waiting spot, further downstage, behind the curtains. As she does so, she walks past a dancer, who plays the evil twin brother, in full costume, and he nonchalantly nods his head and says ‘hey.’ This one word sent the entire audience into an uproar. And why? We were all so on edge, that this seemingly inappropriate line was timed at the most appropriate moment, because we weren’t expecting it and it allowed the audience to laugh, relax and expel some tension.
Now, while Black Swan and Double Indemnity are obviously two different movies, their comedic techniques stem from the same funny bone, if you will. The comedy, in both, provide light transitions to the more serious, nail biting parts of the plot. So rather than being stressed for the entire 110 minutes, the movies scatter moments of comedy in the appropriate places, in order to provide the audience with a much needed “breather.” So, for example, when Neff tries to get to the elevator, the music swells and he drops to the floor. Neff then breaks the tension by saying, “I guess someone moved the elevator a couple miles away.” Boom. Cue laugh. And why is it so funny? Because not only weren’t we expecting it, but also because our minds are that much more vulnerable and desperately wanting to get a break from the stress of the movie. So even though things aren’t going to work out for Neff, we are much less anxious now, because we ended on a laugh as opposed to sitting in a pool of our sweat and nerves.
So what have we learned today, WordPress? Make a movie that’s funny, which means make it also a psychological thriller, but also film it in black and white, and the main stars should either Natalie Portman or Barbara Stanwyck or both. I can smell the Oscar already. Bazinga.
Here is my secret confession, WordPress, typed out in all its glory. Despite it’s history, until a week ago, I had never seen Citizen Kane. Gasp. I know. Never. As a kid, I remember theNew York Times placing a list for the top 100 movies ever made, and Citizen Kane was #1. No offense to Orson Welles, but all I could think was, “This beat The Care Bears Movie? Impossible.” So naturally, this placed the move at a terrible disposition for me.
However, a week ago, that all changed. I saw the light, WordPress. I finally understood what all the hype was.Interestingly enough, although most people focus on the cinematography of Citizen Kane, and with reason, what really captured me was its narrative and Kane as a character. What carried the film was not only the visuals, but the complex character of Charles Kane. Owner of this extravagant land, Xanadu -fyi, an allusion to the poem by Coleridge, which he wrote after having, apparently, some crazy psychedelic dream about Kubla Khan…I’m sure there’s a connection to Kane somewhere. You win again, high school english- and other random exotic things, no one really knew who he was, and throughout the entire movie, you are striving to discover who he is. We follow his life from a small boy all the way until his death bed, and despite all the heinous acts he committed, I cannot help but sympathize with him. Rather being unrelateable, he was just the opposite, and even more than that, he was pitiful. This was a man who surrounded himself by cold, lifeless objects. Things that would never talk back to him. As someone in the movie stated, “$25,000 seems like a lot of money for something without a head.” But it was a price Kane was willing to pay.
The film furthers Kane’s character, by visually manifesting his psyche. There is a huge emphasis on the physical distances between characters, created by long shots, illustrating literal distance while, simultaneously, creating this isolationist feeling. This furthers the idea that, ultimately, Kane is alone and separate from others. Additionally, the film often has these diagonal shadows which often cut off the heads of all the characters. This parralels with all of Kane’s satues, who are are also headless. Conceptually, these images tie together to further demonstrate Kane’s sense of loss and hopelessness.
By the end of the film, however, he is so tired and vulnerable, that, this ‘brutish’ person dissolves into a man. The final scene where Charles Kane destroys the room is probably the most gripping scene in the movie. At this point, his wife has just left him and it is the first time we truly see him have an emotional reaction. The scene is interesting because it shows the many facets of Kane: It shows the cold, corporate monster, but it also shows the human inside. He is a man, just like anyone else, and, ironically, a simple one at that. He says at one point in the movie, “if I hadn’t been really rich, I think I could’ve been a good man.” While he may have surrounded himself with these objects and wealth, at the end of the day, he can be touched and affected by seemingly trivial things, like a sled from his youth. The most haunting part of the scene occurs right when he picks up the snowglobe. We see the look of deep sadness and longing on Kane’s face, and immediately cut to all his employees who look equally horrified. As abrupt and juxtaposed as these images are, they still remain beautiful. Not only is it shot beautifully with close ups and dynamic pans, but it is also because of the charactesr. We are set up to believe Kane is numb and heartless, but it is in this moment when he breaks and gives into his emotions. His mind finally shatters giving way to the other sides of his personality, as demonstrated literally when he stands in front of the mirror, highlighting additionally his lack of control. Furthermore, his servants are speechless and seem horrified by his acts. And yet, when he actually was committing terrible deeds, we never see them provide such a strong reaction.
Overall, although I pity Kane and love and appreciate the nuances of his character, I do not pity him enough to think Citizen Kane deserves to be the #1 movie of all time. Sorry, Orson.
Preston Sturges’, The Lady Eve (1941), is a film whose genius lies not within its cinematography, but mainly in its story and concept. Despite the fact that the movie was made 70 years ago, it still comes across as bold and wonderfully refreshing. Described as a ‘twisted fairytale,’ the story is of a woman, Jean, who attempts to con the male protagonist, Pike, into taking his money and eventually marrying her.
Rather than Jean being a one-dimensional character we still often see women playing, Sturges makes her layered and honest. Jean, from the beginning, is both cynical and vulnerable, both cunning and naive. As opposed to being the poor damsel in distress, it is Jean who often protects Pike from ‘evil,’ but she is also the snake that intoxicates and poisons him with her own evil. Regardless of her villainous side, we sympathize with Jean because we respect her for her ability to act and we embrace her for vulnerability. At the same token, we expect Pike to be this simple, rich playboy, but he is also a paradox. He is both attractive and oafish, as well as, sincere and fake. For example, throughout the movie he is constantly being conned by both Jean and her father- you could even say they had his head on a pike, nudge nudge- but then you also see him ‘spitting’ the same ‘game’ to both Jean and Eve. So in reality, who is conning who?
Sturges effectively adds to these characters with his choices in wardrobe. Granted, the movie is in black and white, so for all I know, they could have been wearing different shades of purple the whole time, but for the sake of my argument, I’ll assume they didn’t. As expected, Jean is first wearing an all black dress and Pike is wearing an all white Tuxedo, clearly juxtaposing the idea of innocence vs. impurity. As the movie progresses, however, they do not stay so type casted, but eventually have a mix of both darks and lights. Sturges is thus illustrating not so much that they are changing, but rather that their true colors are showing, which are not just one color, but rather a mix. In other words, “good girls arent as good as they are, bad girls aren’t as bad.” In one scene particularly, Jean and Pike are both wearing a youthful accessory, a tie and a hat. This highlights the fact that although people may come off as clear cut and obvious, there are always multiple strings and complications, in this case, youthful innocence.
While the movie is obviously playing off the idea of Adam & Eve -the opening credits are an animation of a snake in a tree, Pike is a scientist that studies snakes, and Jean often eats apple- to the success of the movie, it does not stay within that box, but, instead, uses it as starting point for exploring other realms. The Lady Eve addresses these social roles men and women fall into and breaks them. Who’s to say the woman is the one who needs to rely on the man? At the end, it is Pike who is overwhelmed by his love for Jean, so much so, that he overcomes his meekness, and unabashedly, takes her to her room. Furthermore, it addresses the idea of love as a whole. What is it that makes an ideal marriage? The two characters fall in love with each other in less than 3 days and have this, to say the least, crazy romance which starts in deceit and ends in love.
Perhaps the underlying message is something akin to ‘fools rush in,’ but more likely, it is about how relationships are complicated, fragile things. It seems that in modern day, thanks to things like Facebook and celebrity couples, we tend to care more about perception and overlook complexity and originality. Ultimately, Sturges is saying love is not complicated, but rather, the people in love are complicated. It is often one person trying to con the other into believing a twisted reality, and when they are more understanding and upfront about their own faults and misgivings, the relationship blossoms. Furthermore, love is not one single equation, but each individual relationship has a different series of variables. Or maybe the moral is never bring a horse on a date. Either way, both valuable things to know.
How I lead my life