Cover photo by Amelia Moses Graphic design by Kathleen Novelia Founders and Editors: Jennifer Sin and Nina Patterson
Vikki Bras There is No Fun in Funny Games U.S.
8 Tesoro 9
La Nuit de l’autre
10 Emma Catalfamo Kung Fu, Bruce Lee, and Blaxploitation 12 Grace MacDonald “Cowboys and Angels” (Review) 13 Behind-the-Scenes: Three Dolls 14 Matt Bould Goldblum Plays Goldblum 16 The Purple Architect 18 Erika Couto Alain Resnais: Master of Memory 21 Miia Piironen “Ali: Fear Eats the Soul” (Review) 22 BlindBlindBlind 23 Treestesse 24 Omar Antonio Iturriaga Treating History as Art in Aguirre: The Wrath of God 25 Alain Edouard Dynamic Realism in Tirez sur la pianiste
“Burn it down.”
What exactly is an afterimage? It’s the imprint on your retina when you close your eyes after seeing an image. A great film leaves a similar impression – that moment in the cinema, in the darkness, when time is suspended, and it’s just you and the film. An electricity runs between you and the other audience members (except for those jerks that talk or whip out their cell phones).
A cinephilic moment is that spark, that brief moment in a film when, perhaps inexplicably, it just clicks. What I love most about such moments are their completely subjectivity to the individual viewer – one moment in a film that appears rather typical and unspectacular to one viewer may be the embodiment of perfection to another.
There are several moments like this that are engrained in my memory, some films that have changed how I view the world and some that have changed me as a person. If you’re anything like me, you have moments like these too.
We all express our love for cinema in different ways. Maybe you can recite every line of The Big Lebowski from memory, or you’ve seen every Wong Kar-wai ever made, or way too often you find yourself huddled under blankets and on the verge of tears as the end credits of yet another horror movie scroll up the screen. Afterimages is a place for Concordia University undergraduates to simply talk about film – discuss how Lars von Trier ruined your childhood, how Tina Fey transformed Mean Girls into a better movie than it ever should have been, how there is a very special place in Hell for people who dislike Bill Murray, how the use of 3-D can certainly be justified in some cases (see: Life of Pi).
Afterimages exists so we can celebrate our love for cinema. A place where you can write a love letter to your favourite film, tear down a director who has been established as an auteur, explain why a cult film deserves to be placed alongside Citizen Kane. With big budget pictures continually coming out in 3-D (which is a gimmick, by the way), film as an art form can easily be forgotten. Afterimages is somewhere that film in this respect can be discussed, analyzed, and dissected.
Our inaugural issue features some great articles on a variety of topics and some beautiful stills from films, all from students. We hope that you enjoy what we have chosen to include. And since Afterimages will be around for a while, we hope that you will continue to enjoy issues in the future.
Take a peek. We have articles from some of Concordia’s brightest undergrads and stills from several of this year’s student films. IT’S ALL HAPPENING, PEOPLE. So stay tuned and enjoy the show. Nina Patterson
grey Directed by Julia Blackwell, 2013
there is no fun in Funny Games U.S. by Vickki Bras
Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke went back to the drawing board in 2007 and redirected an American version of his previous film Funny Games (1997) shot-byshot. Known for arising social issues in his work, Haneke takes a crack at deconstructing violence in a particularly reflexive manner. Falling under the horror/thriller genre, the conventions are frequently subverted and criticized throughout the film. Haneke demands his audience to watch a moving picture from this genre, while consciously analyzing it simultaneously. Funny Games U.S. is an incontestable battle between two theatrical genres, the first being Aristotelian tragedy. It implies a terrible occurrence befalling innocent unsuspecting individuals. It does not focus on tragic events, but on how they affect the protagonist(s) and determine their fate. By empathizing with the film’s victims, the viewer is allowed to better understand the consequences of violence. At the same time, Haneke makes use of Bertold Brecht’s distanciation technique found in Brechtian Theater, which in turn shatters the cinematic “fourth wall.” Distanciation is employed in order to interrupt the viewer’s process of identification with a particular character and allow room for contemplation instead. Here, the audience feels little or no empathy. Instead, one watches the violence as a distanced observer, removed from the actions taking place entirely and immersed in the mindset of “It’s just a movie.” This film is purely about duality. It is contradictory through and through. We are constantly asked to empathize with the characters, but in the next minute, we become forcefully detached. The majority of filmgoers want their entertainment to be a fun – or in this case funny – thrill ride, completely free from any sort of responsibility. In Funny Games U.S. however, the struggle occurs within the viewer rather than the fictional characters. Haneke makes us pull back and question what exactly entertains us, and even pushes it further to question what is entertainment. He dares to involve his audience in his work, inciting us to react to extreme situations. We have no choice but to feel the pain of the physically and psychologically tortured Farber family and then we are suddenly distanced and asked to reflect upon the events. The film is not meant to be mere entertainment, but a critique of entertainment in and of itself. This is the reason behind entertainment and pleasure being the answer to Ann Farber’s (Naomi Watts) frequently asked question “Why are you doing this?” The violence being critiqued in Funny Games U.S. is the same that can be 6
found in thousands of horror/thriller films that are made for the sole amusement of audiences. Nevertheless, this is clearly not a motion picture that one watches to obtain leisurely pleasure, but to reflect and ask themselves what pleasures them and why. In result, Haneke’s vision cannot be pigeonholed as a horror film because it brings much more to the proverbial table.
can be regarded as symbols of belonging to the middle or upper class, which is uncommon for most criminals. The comfortably well-off tend to not get their hands dirty, but this emblematic piece of clothing can also hint towards the “criminal.” The two refuse to take responsibility for their actions and do not feel any remorse. A spectator can easily be baffled by a polite murder; hence Haneke gives new meaning to the saying “Kill with kindness.”
Funny Games U.S. also deals with the topic of complicity. Peter (Brady Corbet) is considered the sidekick. He is present and participates in all the violent actions towards the Farber family, but does not personally harm any of them. This makes the audience reassess their role in society by nonchalantly taking in violence in a practically apathetic manner. Are we ultimately all “Peters” participating in and accepting violence? “Why don’t you just kill us?” asks Anna and the perpetrator replies, “You shouldn’t forget the importance of entertainment.” Although being a clear protest against violence, this dialogue is directed to the viewer. This statement can imply that modern society is gluttonous, never satisfied, and always wanting more to a disturbing level, but these characters are abusing their victims for our pleasure. In other words, we as the audience are taking part in their crime.
On the topic of sound, Haneke evidently manipulates his audience. The sound and music found in Funny Games U.S. is mostly diegetic. During the opening credits, the Farber family is playing a guessing game of classical music on their car ride towards their country house. Another example is when Paul is chasing Georgie Farber (Devon Gearheart) in the neighbour’s house and puts on a record. Other than that, the film is basically composed of room noise to install the viewer in the action and make them a part of the film living with the characters. The only instance of non-diegetic music is that of Naked City’s “Bonehead.” It is out of context but used as a method of distanciation to alert the viewer that this family is going to have an unfavourable upcoming fate. The song is further employed when Georgie is prepared to shoot Paul with a rifle. We are cued to feel anxious and pushed to the edge of our seats until we see that the gun is unfortunately not loaded.
The director wishes to trigger us and urges us to react to violence and its current portrayal in cinema. In accordance with his previous film Benny’s Video (1992), Haneke prides himself on making a social commentary on violence and the way the masses consume it as if it were any other generic theme or topic. He chooses to film television sets as mediators when violence occurs. In Benny’s Video, you are prodded to stare at a film within a film of a murder, while in Funny Games U.S., you are incited to watch a Nascar race on a blood-drenched TV set; all this amid hollers of agony, Haneke denies the audience’s expectations of ketchup blood and gore by making almost all the violence occur off-screen, leaving the viewer with nothing but sounds of struggle and pain. Hence, what we do not see creates a more powerful effect on the viewer. We are left with a more gruesome image – the one that we concoct in our minds. With one sense being denied, the intensity of another is heightened. Haneke creates meaning by ultimately not giving the audience the “desired” image.
On a cinematographic note, Funny Games U.S., although being an American carbon copy of its European version, stays true to form. This film is not a plot weaved together by shot/counter-shots and quick cutting. Haneke utilizes the long take to keep us locked in the moment and appreciate engaged performances through close-ups of facial expressions depicting real human emotion. A striking scene is that of a golf ball slowly rolling down the hall and into the center of a medium shot of the doorframe as George Farber (Tim Roth) automatically associates this image with the return of the white-clad torturers, as seen by the tormented look in his eyes. This asserts that Haneke does not give the audience all the answers and images that they want or expect to see. He does not guide the viewer; he trusts his viewer as a meaning-producer. All things considered, Haneke does not desire to please his spectators. He is not the least bit interested in presenting the plot on a silver platter, nor in patting the spectator on the back in the telling assuring them that everything will be fine. His main concern is conveying an idea and producing a responsible film. Undoubtedly an auteur, Haneke subverts the conventions of the genre at hand – in this case, the horror/thriller – and creates a cinematic dichotomy that shakes the viewer and breaks the illusion.
Another intriguing instance in the film is once the Nascar sequence is over. We are immediately pulled back at a distance in a full shot during a long take of Ann Farber struggling, only to press the television’s off button rather than tending to her murdered son. Here, Haneke decides to strip away all numinous elements of parenthood. As viewers of this scene, we again are denied our expectations. Haneke subverts the conventions once again in his selection of the “bad guys.” Paul (Michael Pitt) and Peter appear prim and proper and come off too cordial for comfort. The duo is enrobed in strictly white garments that traditionally symbolize purity and catharsis. This colour is usually associated with the good. Haneke though camouflages his culprits by Anglicizing them by their names and colours of their clothes. Also, the offender’s golf gloves
Tesoro Directed by Omar Antonio Iturriaga, 2013
La nuit de lâ€™autre Directed by Fanny Pascual, 2013
KUNG FU, BRUCE LEE AND BLAXPLOITATION
well as the relatable nature of Bruce Lee’s characters as a non-white leading man for African American audiences. Primarily, the progressive representation of minorities in kung fu films can be seen through the genres popularity with black audiences, which arguably arises from the similarities in structure and characterization between the kung fu and blaxploitation genres. The narrative structure and plot devices of kung fu and blaxploitation are very similar in a number of different ways. As expressed in the article “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation, and Kung Fu Films, and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity”, “Violence, especially in its different usages by protagonists and antagonists, was a central plot device in Blaxploitation films. Specifically, white racist characters often engaged in torture, random murder, and other morally reprehensible acts, to which black heroes and heroines responded with defensive or justifiable retaliatory acts… The use of defensive or retaliatory violence reflected beliefs and practices that[,]… as a central plot device in Blaxploitation films[,]… not only bequeathed morality to black protagonists actions, but also served to differentiate new black films and their protagonists from the Sambo and mammy images of the cinematic past… The Black nationalist tropes and codes, resistance to oppression, and violent retribution themes embedded in Blaxploitation films helped precondition the African American audience for the coming of… ‘the kung fu craze’…[that was known for its] core themes of self-reliance and resistance.” (Cha-Jua, pg.208-14)
by Emma Catalfamo
“…African American’s interest in Kung Fu films ‘was a major factor in keeping the Kung Fu craze alive’. [There are many similarities between Kung Fu and Blaxploitation films]… First, besides Blaxploitation, Kung Fu were the only films with non-white heroes and heroines; second, they concerned an ‘underdog of colour, often fighting against colonial enemies, white culture, or the Japanese’… [Kung Fu was] a product of political and cultural resistance to racial oppression.” (Cha-Jua, pg.200-1) This quote from Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua’s article “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation, and Kung Fu Films, and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity” summarizes some of the aspects that made the kung fu genre that arose in the 1970’s so popular with African American audiences. Interestingly enough, minorities were not presented fairly in much of early Hollywood history, and were usually subjected to being shown in a stereotypical or racist manor, such as the representation of Asians in anti-Japanese American WWII propaganda. Moreover, the rise of the minstrel show in the 19th century and its move to the filmic medium in the 1920’s and 1930’s negatively stereotyped African Americans as cowardly, lazy, uneducated people, which predominated in the representation of blacks in Hollywood and public opinions of black communities for much of the early 20th century.1 However, in our contemporary age, the representation of minorities in cinema has become much more accurate and less racist than it was in the first half of the century, though the influence of these stereotypes still linger. The more positive presentation of minorities can be attributed to more progressive depictions of minority characters in cinema of the latter part of the 20th century. One of the filmic genres that helped this positive depiction of minorities flourish and signaled the move away from stereotypical depictions of these races is the kung fu genre. The arguably progressive depiction of minorities in the kung fu genre can be indicated by its popularity with black audiences. This prominence and connection between kung fu films, specifically those with Bruce Lee, and the black community showed a shift in cinema that had increasingly positive and more realistic depictions of minorities. This phenomenon, seen through the popularity of kung fu films amongst black audiences, occurred because of the similarities between kung fu and blaxploitation as
Clearly, both the kung fu and blaxploitation genres feature similar narratives that share the same core themes of revenge, resistance and self-reliance. The plot device of justified violence on behalf of a murdered person that needs to be avenged or in relation to a hate crime and racial persecution is another element commonly shared between the two genres, which causes them to have similar narratives. Thus, the main audience of kung fu films were molded and prepared for the arrival of the genres through its similarities to blaxploitation. Moreover, both kung fu and blaxploitation shared a positive and active minority lead in their films, which was very rare in Hollywood films prior to the emergence of these genres. These underdog minority heroes and heroines were usual shown as a moral “every man” (or woman) that served as a protector and symbol for their community, and were usually shown fighting against imperialist and colonialist enemies or racist white characters.2 These aspects of dominance, resistance and struggle against colonial or racial oppression were seen in both the kung fu and blaxploitation genres. Thus, these relatable and heroic minority protagonists fighting against inequality and oppression, as well as the similar themes and plot devices of retaliation, revenge and justified violence, were shared by kung 10
fu and blaxploitation films, which in turn made kung fu so appropriate and popular among black audiences.
experience. In addition, his nationalist sentiments tinted with humanist beliefs mirrored that in the political culture of oppressed peoples, notably that of the Black Panther nationalism amongst African Americans, caused Lee to be a positive and popular minority figure in film for black audiences.
Finally, the progressive representation of minorities in kung fu films causing their immense popularity among African Americans also arose from the progressive and relatable action icon Bruce Lee. Lee’s appreciation among African American audiences can be attributed to his Chinese nationalist sentiment in his films, which mirrored the Black Power nationalism among many black communities at the time. As expressed in “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation, and Kung Fu Films, and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity”, “The nationalism of [Lee’s] films resonated beyond his Chinese audiences; it appealed to African Americans and other racially oppressed peoples… His nationalism was antiimperialist and was imbricated with racial and class-consciousness. The intense nationalism of his films…[served to] recall the Asian and African liberation movements fighting against real-world imperialism and white supremacy… [This is seen in] the narrative of retribution and use of anti-imperialist tropes and codes.” (Cha-Jua, pg.217)
In conclusion, the progressive depiction of minorities in the kung fu genre and the characters Bruce Lee played in his body of work can be indicated through their popularity with African American audiences. This connection and widespread prominence of kung fu in the black community can be attributed to the genres similarities to blaxploitation films as well as the relatable nature of Lee’s non-white protagonists as fighters of oppression and symbols of antiracism. Evidently, one can thus gather that Lee not only brought over the kung fu genre to American audiences, but he also created a positive portrayal of Asians in the American consciousness through his body of work. His representation of an Asian hero helped eliminate the racist stereotypes of Asians in the American psyche created by American anti-Japanese WWII propaganda. In addition, his multicultural attitudes and themes of anti-racism and classism, such as his inclusion of the character Williams in Enter the Dragon (Robert Clouse, 1972), helped eliminate other racist stereotypes of African Americans created in the days of minstrel entertainment. Thus, Lee’s presence in American culture through his kung fu films not only made the genre popular, but his persona and the genre’s progressiveness helped create a jumping board for the positive representation of minorities in American film.
Clearly, Lee’s films can be seen as a humanist retaliation to racism and colonialism that is tinted with a nationalist Chinese sentiment. The presence and sentiment of these humanist and nationalist ideals mirrored the political culture of liberation and anti-racist groups at the time, notably among African Americans. Furthermore, the image of Bruce Lee as a fighter of oppression and symbol of anti-racism, which was communicated in the race and class politics of his films, as well as Lee’s multiculturalism, is another major element that made him popular and relatable amongst black audiences. As stated in “Black Audiences, Blaxploitation, and Kung Fu Films, and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity”, “…[Lee] introduced themes of racial oppression and class exploitation… Lee’s protagonists were working class, transnational migrants… the labor migration backdrop served to universalize these experiences [of these characters] beyond the Chinese diaspora… Lee heightened the racial aspects of the conflicts his characters encounter. Lee’s films demonstrated how the particular can reflect the universal” (Cha-Jua pg.216-7) Evidently, Lee’s multicultural and anti-racist stance throughout his body of work as well as his presence as a non-white fighter of oppression and symbol of anticolonialism, as seen through his themes of race and class oppression, made him a progressive, popular and relatable protagonist among African American audiences. Clearly, Lee’s inclusion of race and class themes made the kung fu genre a more political form of film and helped make him an icon that embodied the universality of the minority
1 Watkins, Mel. “Blackface Minstrelsy.” PBS Online. 2000. Web. 1 Dec. 2012. 2 Cha-Jua, Sundiata Keita. “Black Audiences, Blaxplotation and Kung Fu Films, and Challenges to White Celluloid Masculinity.” China Forever: The Shaw Brothers and Diasporic Cinema. Ed. Poshek Fu. Urbana: University of Illinois, 2008. 199-223. Print.
COWBOYS & ANGELS (DAVID GLEESON, 2004)
in Limerick, or frankly any other area. This gives him the same outsider’s perspective of the protagonist of his film, and one can only assume that the main character’s opinions and viewpoints reflect his own. Many of which, it is worth noting, are wrong.
by Grace MacDonald
Shane is, for all intents and purposes, a tourist. His wish for much of the film is to spend time in a community without contributing to it – which would be fine, if not for the fact that he uses Vincent in order to do it – whether he is aware of this or not. As such, the film itself occupies much the same role, as it follows Shane’s knocking around the various underground subcultures of Limerick. However, being an outsider himself, Shane’s perspective is somewhat skewed; even more so considering that his actions and dialogue were written by an individual who is also an outsider to the same community. The end result is a representation that rings not so false as to look much more like parody in several scenes.
David Gleeson’s first full-length motion picture Cowboys and Angelswas released in 2004 as only the second Irishproduced film to feature a gay main cast. It follows the adventures of a sheltered young office clerk named Shane (Michael Legge) through the various social spheres of Limerick, as he tries to find his place in the world. At first glance, the greatest problem with the film would appear to be its Catcher in the Ryesyndrome: being the slice-of-life telling of a young man’s dissatisfaction with his lot in life and subsequent exploration of urban bohemia, it seems the perfect candidate for the diseases of this archetype.
Additionally, the film can’t seem to make up whether or not it doeswant Vincent to be a love interest. The makeover scene in the second act is clearly reminiscent of similarly themed films with a heterosexual core cast, and practically dripping with sexual tension. Vincent’s opening remarks of “I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do to you since I first laid eyes on you, and you’re going to loveit” is so far from subtle that it’s practically a satire, and rest of the sequence is only a fraction more restrained. However, Shane himself remains uncomfortable throughout the affair, only seeming to relax again after the transformation is complete. Intentional or not, the scene reads as though Shane is simply humouring Vincent’s homosexual eccentricities in order to get the wardrobe reshaping that he believes will bring him happiness.
The biggest issue with Cowboys and Angelsis, in reality, its exoticism. Shane is unquestionably heterosexual, but he still wants to enter the unconventional realm of his gay roommate, Vincent (Alan Leech). He sees the gay scene in Limerick as a party atmosphere, not as a community, and seeks to sneak in to what he thinks of as the “cool crowd”. Hoping, of course, that along the way he will complete his journey of self-discovery, and become attractive and desirable along the way. To women, of course, because it must be reiterated that he is not actually gay. Shane’s attitude is reflective of a real world type of objectification, the viewing of queer individuals as a novelty or form of entertainment. He almost seems to be looking for what would now be called the “sassy gay friend,” a homosexual mascot of sorts, to dispense life advice on the topics of fashion and self care, but with no potentially threatening interest in the same dating pool. And in doing so, he devalues both himself and Vincent. This attitude is most clear when Shane says verbatim “You’re so lucky to have the…the gay thing,” before elaborating on his envy for Vincent’s lifestyle. He doesn’t see his roommate’s orientation as part of his identity, but as a ticket into the local party scene.
All in all, the film is most likely well intentioned, but the inaccuracy and objectification negate its intentions rather wholly. If the characters had more depth or the dialogue was more gripping, perhaps it could make up for this by being genuinely entertaining, but as it is, a viewing is rather something of a slog. The film’s major redeeming quality is the relationship between Shane and Vincent, which can be surprisingly touching, but which has no sort of satisfactory conclusion. By the time the credits roll, Shane has had his makeover, Vincent has left for New York, and we are to assume that their presence has been enriching in each other’s lives. However, we see no real evidence of this in the denouement, simply that Shane is pleased with his decision to pursue his dream – as he should be – and that he has apparently learned his lesson about hard narcotics. This only reinforces the sense that Shane – and by extension, the viewer – is a tourist, dropping in to reap the benefits of the Irish gay lifestyle before returning to the relative safety of heteronormativity, especially because Vincent’s narrative leaves a number of unanswered questions. Cowboys & Angelsis a frustrating disappointment, if only because the same script might have produced a much more tolerable result with a queer perspective in the director’s chair.
It is worth noting that this approach may simply be the pendulum swing away from previous Irish representations of homosexuality. Almost across the board, depictions of Irish queer individuals prior to this have been fraught with suffering (with perhaps the exception of Goldfish Memoryand the brief inclusion of a transwoman in Neil Jordan’s The Good Thief), with the ubiquitous example being Jordan’s The Crying Game. It is entirely possible that the filmmakers felt that it was worth having a movie where being gay is shown to be something other than an odious, lifelong burden. However, Gleeson’s background makes this somewhat hard to believe; the context of the creator’s life experience and viewpoints must be taken into account, and Gleeson neither is nor was a part of the gay scene 12
Three Dolls Directed by Etienne Dufresne, 2013
GOLDBLUM PLAYS GOLDBUM
constantly chews on a piece of gum rather obnoxiously, and sits upright on the edge of his seat. He seems alert, ready for conversation with anyone. He points as he speaks, keeping his hands active with each sentence. He holds his hand lightly to Hammond’s knee as he speaks to him, as if to both control the physicality of the conversation, but also to reassure himself and to keep the attention of others. His speech involves many stutters and breaks, with lots of “uhh’s” and “um’s”. He cannot resist the urge to flatter Ellie, making close eye contact, and often directs his body language towards her. He then opens the conversation to her, and retracts his hands, removing himself from the previous controlling position. He moves from holding his person very openly, and then closes his body language. Similarly, we later find out that Malcolm is “always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Malcolm”.
by Matt Bould
Since the early 1980s, actor Jeff Goldblum has developed a certain highly identifiable screen personality. We tend to discuss his roles by referring to them as “the Jeff Goldblum character,” instead of referring to them as the character’s name. Over his career, Goldblum has taken part in some highly successful films such as The Fly (David Cronenberg, 1986), Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993), and Independence Day (Roland Emmerich, 1996). Throughout these successful career highlights, there is a strong coherence in the way he performs each role. Each of his performances presents a consistency in acting style, differing merely by levels of intensity. This is not to say that he plays the same character in each film, or that he is a “good” or “bad” actor, but rather that each of these characters are played in a similar fashion or manner. There is a specific set of acting traits that have come to be associated with Goldblum, most of which being flamboyantly demonstrated in Jurassic Park (1993) as Dr. Ian Malcolm.
After the reveal of the first on-screen dinosaur, the other characters leave the Jeep, and Malcolm remains confined to his seat. In complete seriousness and awe, he mutters, “You did it. You crazy son of a bitch, you did it.” His serious gaze towards the creature and his comedic line of seeming disbelief-proved-wrong is a very different character trait from which we had been previously introduced to in the helicopter. There, he was confident, proud, and a little cocky. Here, he is overcome with disbelief, possibly admitting he had been proved wrong. He is at a loss for words, and can only laugh under his breath. Another key element of his character is his belief that cloning dino-DNA is essentially the “rape of the natural world.” When he discusses such topics, he develops a much more serious and low-pitched tone of voice. He stutters less, and maintains more direct and intense eye contact, thus offering a more subdued performance. These scenes help the audience identify that his character also has a serious, perhaps negative side to his comic character.
The character of Dr. Malcolm is perhaps Goldblum’s idiolect-defining performance. Just as in reality, first impressions in film play a big part in audience-character relationships. In Jurassic Park, Goldblum’s character is introduced in such a way that we can quickly identify who this character is, and who he will be for the rest of the film. Inside a helicopter on the way to the Jurassic Park, we join paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), paleobotanist Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), and Dr. Ian Malcolm, the mathematician, which he aptly corrects to be a “chaotician.” Considering the job titles these characters are associated with, each has a credible reason for which they would be asked to endorse a dinosaur-themed park. However, Goldblum’s self-deemed “chaotician” may not have very much reason to be there. As a result, “chaotician” is then automatically reduced to “secondary character.”
Jurassic Park is the most successful film Goldblum has been involved with, and is often the primary film referred to when discussing Goldblum’s performance traits. So, what performance elements does Goldblum display that continuously surface in each of his roles? Why do we identify him as “Jeff Goldblum” instead of his characters’ names? Recurring traits throughout his performances include the constant gestural movements and body language, rapid-fire dialogue, repetition, rhythmic vocal crescendos, piercing glares, and fluttering eyes. If not flamboyantly reciting dialogue, he may offer a subdued performance, in which he remains much more serious, and speaks primarily with a deeper tone of voice, if not in a complete whisper. In the subdued performance, he makes much more use of his piercing glare. The fact that we can trace certain elements within the collective Goldblum performance means that we are identifying Goldblum’s idiolect. An idiolect is what Philip Drake identifies as performing tropes commonly identified with a certain actor.2 The Goldblum idiolect as I have described is not merely my own personal receiving of the actor, but a common view shared by fan culture and critics alike. In a review of The Lost World: Jurassic
The film also depends on Malcolm to supply the majority of the comic relief. He is depicted as odd and weird, with a solid mind but unorthodox methods. His first line of the film is aimed at Grant and Sattler. “So you two, uh, dig up – dig up dinosaurs?” After Alan responds with “We try to,” Sattler laughs, and Malcolm then begins a continuous awkward growling laughter. Hammond then introducing Malcolm to both the other characters (and conveniently to the audience) says, “You’ll have to get used to Dr. Malcolm. He suffers from a deplorable excess of personality, especially for a mathematician.” Malcolm’s “excess of personality” is exactly why Goldblum is able to disappear into the performance. His
Park (1997) Phoebe Hoban discusses Goldblum’s “trademark conversational style, […] with quicksilver stop-start sentences, glissando intonation and the repetition of key words.”3 Similarly, in his article Performing Horror, Peter Hutchings discusses Goldblum’s “agitated” performance, which “comes replete with the nervous physical tics and verbal mannerisms apparent elsewhere in that actors oeuvre.”4 This oeuvre that Hutchings references is never again referred to, but nonetheless suggesting that those “nervous physical tics’” and his “stop-start sentences” are common within Goldblum’s performances. However, this oeuvre needs some further exploration, instead of remaining just a passive reference.
uses a plot device in order to let Goldblum perform. Unfortunately, in The Lost World, Goldblum remains in that subdued performance, and is not given the opportunity to demonstrate his capability of holding a leading role, which he has previously proven to be more than capable of in The Fly. Therefore, if Goldblum leads the sequel primarily because he is Jeff Goldblum, then he is performing in the star role. This is where we can find what Phillip Drake calls the paradox of the actor.5 Although Goldblum was already famous in 1993, Jurassic Park thrust him into new levels of stardom. However, in the subdued performance of the sequel and removing any character/audience identification, he now works on an intertextual ground. In Independence Day (1996), he also performs in the star role, and even quotes his character from Jurassic Park for comedic effect.
In 1997, the sequel to Jurassic Park was released, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Goldblum returns as Malcolm, this time moving from secondary character to central protagonist. However, where he previously had a deplorable excess of personality, he now seems to have no character at all. Four years had passed in between the films, but Malcolm is entirely different. He is no longer the cocky and proud “chaotician,” but is serious, toned down, and filled with one-liner dialogue seemingly perfect for the trailer. Aside from character inconsistencies, Goldblum still maintains a similar performance. His piercing eyes receive many closeups, and his gestural hand movements still accompany every line of dialogue.
Referencing James Naremore’s study of ostensiveness in acting, Drake explores the notion that every star performance is ostensive to some level.6 I would say that his performance is both ostensive in Jurassic Park and its sequel, however in different ways. In Jurassic Park, he is ostensive because of his body language and comedic supporting role. In the second, he is ostensive due to his star persona. He is present just because he is the same actor who played the character in the first, regardless of his lack of characteristic resemblance.
Even though he now holds top credit, he rarely has any sequences that use his performance in order to further his character. Instead, he has dialogue queues that act as explicit character and story exposition. When Hammond asks Malcolm to return to the island, the film does not offer any reason as to why he would be chosen to go on this excursion in the first place. In the first film, he was a secondary character whose main function was comic relief and to contribute to a varied cast of characters, so therefore it was excusable. In the sequel, in a scene where a character named Eddie lists off team members and their professions, when referring to Malcolm, he states that “Ian’s our…Ian.” Even the characters are aware of the fact that Malcolm has nothing to do with the excursion.
With Goldblum’s star persona and accompanying idiolect, he has also seemingly become victim to typecasting. Looking at Goldblum’s most famous roles – Ian Malcolm, Seth Brundle, the science professor in Powder (1995), and a computer expert from MIT turned environmentalist in Independence Day, Goldblum has filled the shoes of the scientist many times. I would like to compare this with the classical mad-scientist role. The mad scientist, aside from being mad, is loopy, and misunderstood. His methods, approach, and personality may be a little out of the ordinary, but he has a relatively stable mind. We may identify these traits in the character of Dr. Frankenstein. In Mathematics in Science Fiction, Alex Kasman explores the use of mathematical formulae and theories in the sci-fi genre. He also explores the idea of the character of the scientist and its depiction in film. Kasman, being a mathematician, is a self-proclaimed “crazy math nerd.” He discusses the stereotype of mathematicians,7 explaining that there is both a positive stereotype and a bad one. Kasman directly references Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm in Jurassic Park as a positive stereotype.8 The positive stereotype maintains that they are depicted as extremely intelligent. The bad stereotype is one in which the mathematician is cold and heartless.
So, why would the Malcolm character return in the sequel? Primarily, because he is Jeff Goldblum. When they removed unique character traits from Malcolm, they also removed any opportunities to let Goldblum truly perform. Compared to Jurassic Park, the sequel leaves Malcolm as a boring two-dimensional character. We expect him to be comedic, and maybe a little bit more on the weird side as before. The subdued Goldblum performance, in other words the subdued elements of the Goldblum idiolect, can also be found in the early scenes of The Fly, Goldblum plays Seth Brundle, who transforms into a massive fly after a science experiment goes wrong. Before the accident, Brundle is a normal, run of-the-mill scientist character with no memorable traits. After the accident, Goldblum then shifts the performance into high gear, initiating his comedic timing, his rhythmical speech patterns, and an extreme use of body language and gestures. The film
As much as I agree with Kasman’s two stereotypes, I think there is room for at least one more. I think that the (occasionally tragic) mad scientist, or the “nutty professor” type character is one that suggests a mediated character between positive and negative. Goldblum does not 15
play the evil mad scientist, but rather the scientist whose positive intentions produce negative affects on the characters surrounding him, as exemplified in The Fly. Although his transformation is both enlightening and deforming, it only produces negative effects for the people in his life. Dr. Ian Malcolm is not necessarily the cause and effect for negative outcomes in Jurassic Park, but his awkward personality makes the other characters uncomfortable and even pushes them to dislike him. Unfortunately, Goldblum’s performance in The Lost World lacks all unique traits, and quickly dons the paradoxical star role character. In conclusion, after his career boosting success in Jurassic Park, Goldblum has since been associated with a certain idiolect that spawned from his depiction of a character with a “deplorable excess of personality.” Then, by comparing the Dr. Malcolm performance with Goldblum’s earlier and later performances, we can trace coherence in his acting traits that build an idiolect. However, Goldblum soon found himself acting in an intertextual realm, based on the fact that he is Jeff Goldblum, thus directing our attention to Drake’s paradox of the actor. He approaches these characters the same way, however with differing levels of intensity. Due to the actor’s idiolect and growing star-persona, Jeff Goldblum, for the most part, is doomed to forever play Jeff Goldblum.
1 Drake, Phillip. “Reconceptualizing Screen Performance.” Journal of Film and Video 58.1/2 (Spring 2006): 84-94. 2 Hoban, Phoebe, “The Outsider as Hollywood Favorite,” in New York Times, 15 June 1997. 3 Hutchings, Peter. “Performing Horror.” The Horror Film, Harlow, England. Longman, 2004. 166. 4 Drake, Phillip. “Reconceptualizing Screen Performance.” Journal of Film and Video 58.1/2 (Spring 2006): 86. 5 Ibid, 87. 6 Kasman, Alex. “Mathematics in Science Fiction.” Math Horizons , Vol. 11, No. 4. April 2004. Mathematical Association of America. 7. 7 Ibid. 8 Hoban, Phoebe, “The Outsider as Hollywood Favorite,” in New York Times, 15 June 1997.
The Purple Architect Directed by Marc-AndrĂŠ Yonkers-Vidal, 2013
and future dangers”3 of war and fascist thinking. Nuit et Brouillard combines color footage shot in the 1950s with authentic black and white archival footage taken during the Second World War to create a sharp contrast between the devastation that occurred in the camps and the brutal aftermath that the narrator is forced to confront while narrating the documentary. Both types of footage are absolutely crucial to the film. In the time that Resnais was filming his documentary, filmmaking was undergoing radical change, in part due to the introduction of television. In the 1940s, only 10% of the United States, but by the end of the 1950s, 90% of American homes had a TV set.4 Relatively inexpensive, people could get the sort of entertainment that they sought on an occasional basis from the cinema on a regular basis in their own homes. In order to draw people back to the cinema, films began to be made more readily in color. Black and white was beginning to be seen as an antiquated process, and color was the “new” and “radical” innovation. I think that this polarization, along with the new symbolic meaning of color and black and white, is instrumental in the film. What is black and white is “old” or “of a time passed” in Nuit et Brouillard, and what is in color is “new” and “of the current day.” The color looks back upon the black and white. And it is this calculated juxtaposition between oldness and newness that makes Nuit et Brouillard such a poignant film.
ALAIN RESNAIS: MASTER OF MEMORY by Erika Couto
There are few filmmakers who venerate human memory more than Alain Resnais. A master of the subject, both in his fictional and documentary works, Resnais’ career was spent stretching the limits of the mind’s capacity to remember information. Two of Resnais’ documentary works that deal particularly closely with the theme of memory are Nuit et Brouillard (1955) and Toute La Mémoire du Monde (1956). Nuit et Brouillardis a look back at the inhumane conditions of the Nazi concentration camps, while Mémoire an introduction to the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. Resnais’ interest in memory is communicated differently in the individual films; Nuit et Brouillard a testimonial from a Nazi camp survivor and archival footage from Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1943) to demonstrate contrasting memories of the same historical period, while Mémoire a carefully drafted script to tell the story of the western world’s obsession with collecting and preserving knowledge.
But how does Resnais play on memory in his documentary? The director relies on memory and experience in two ways: First, by having a narrator who survived the Nazi concentration camp recount what it was like to be there, and comment on how it is now different, and second, through the use of footage from Triumph of the Will. In the same way that Riefenstahl was careful about scripting the film through the selection of images, Resnais is careful to select images that reflect the written script, giving the film a haunting intimacy. It seems as though every word of dialogue was carefully written with a corresponding set of images in mind. The director is a master of letting his camera travel along a linear course in order to capture spaces on film, and the images are clearly shot in time with the narrator’s voice. I got the sense that I was encroaching on this very personal look back at the narrator’s horrific memories of what it meant to live in a Nazi death camp. By never actually seeing the narrator, and simply hearing his voice, in many ways, I felt like I wasthe narrator and that the images on screen were images that I was supposed to be seeing first hand, as if I was walking through the camp myself. This documentary is an intensely personal one. It is not simply a document about the Second World War and its devastating aftermath, but rather a first-hand revisiting of the narrator’s personal hell. With every “step” that the narrator takes (through the movement of the camera through interior and exterior space), a new memory comes flooding back.
Essential to an understanding of Nuit et Brouillard the ability to situate the film within its historical context in the documentary genre. When the documentary first appeared at the 1956 Cannes Film Festival, many thought that the film should be banned on the grounds that “the film would incite anti-German hatred,”1 but after the film was shown to some of Germany’s top officials, they “released a statement proposing that the government should support free screenings of the film to all civil servants.”2 In subject matter, the most closely linked predecessor to Resnais’ film is Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will. Filmed by Riefenstahl at Adolf Hitler’s request, the documentary was a propagandistic recording of a Nazi convention. Riefenstahl was, first and foremost, an actress, but she made history with one of the most visually stunning documentaries to ever come out of Europe. The crux of Triumph of the Will is the director’s ability to selectively capture the spirit of excitement for the conference amongst the German people without actually revealing any of the Nazi’s horrific plots. Although there is not a specific script, it seems clear that the film is scripted. It can be argued that Triumph of the Will is, above all else, a film that is intended to present a message of Nazi glory and triumph, and so every moment in the film has been carefully chosen. From cheering crowds of people to the rhythmic activities of soldiers to the moments of speech included.
Those carefully chosen memories are made visible through the interspersing of archival film images into the narrative. The clips that resonated most affectingly with me were those from Triumph of the Will. As mentioned previously, Riefenstahl’s documentary was meant to be
Nuit et Brouillard is equally as mindful of its selection of images, in order to “create an awareness of present 18
a testament to the triumph and power of the Nazis, a glorification of everything swastika. Some of these same images are used in Nuit et Brouillard, to an opposite effect. Rather than being a glorification of the Nazis, the images are intended to be a reminder of the far-reaches of Nazi power and the complete and unfailing support that many people gave them in order to commit unimaginable atrocities. Shots of crowds waving at the Fuhrer, of Nazi flags representing each area they had conquered, and of some of the most powerful Nazis speaking at their conventions were incorporated into Nuit et Brouillard. The shots paint a powerful, scary portrait of Nazi power, the idea that many people in Europe were so unabashedly in support of Hitler and his army while in nearby concentration camps, people were starving and literally being worked to death. Resnais relies on the viewer to have seen Triumph of the Willbefore seeing Nuit et Brouillardfor the images to truly have their maximal impact. If someone has seen the film, they will be aware of how the images were used and to what end, and they can then analyze how Resnais uses these same images to shame and villainize both the Nazis and the European public at large.
documentary filmmaking lends itself well to the overall correlation that Resnais makes between the human need to absorb and record information and the massive size of the Bibliothèque Nationale. There is a connection between the idea that the whole movie was filmed with pre-selected bits of information to be filmed and the metaphor of the thorough cataloging process undertaken by the employees of the library. Each shot seems calculated with the same type of rigor as the catalogue and the camera movement exhibits this same type of methodical nature with long pans and tracking shots and still shots observing others at work. By the end of the film, the viewer has a certain ability to predict what a shot will be composed of (most likely pans of architectural forms or shots of a cluster of people) and how long each shot will remain on screen; it is formulaic. But while this sort of dry, unemotive documentary is conducive to the overall point of the film, I find that Toute la Mémoire du Monde particularly reminiscent of many early scripted documentaries produced in England as well as in Canada through the National Film Board. In these documentaries, the narrator plays an omniscient role. The narrator sees everything and describes what is going on, helping people understand why the subject of the documentary is exciting. The films were often propaganda based, such as Robert Flaherty and John Grierson’s Industrial Britain (1935), and were used as a measure of national pride or show of force of a nation’s strengths. While Toute la Mémoire du Monde not intended to be a propaganda film, Resnais is perhaps satirizing this established genre and using it for his own purposes. Unlike the narrators in these national documentaries who seem to make it a point to be animated in their narration, the narrator in Toute la Mémoire du Monde completely monotonous and almost detached from what is happening. Even though he is recounting what is going on, he certainly does not seem excited by it, which is ironic considering that Resnais was so completely fascinated by memory and the collection of information. A particularly powerful point in Toute la Mémoire du Monde when Resnais decides to use the term “prisoner” to describe the books that are in the library, kept away from people. This is a particularly apt and refreshing way of looking at the library system. Books are trapped on shelves until someone requests them or takes them off the shelves. Like a prisoner in a jail, their ‘freedom’ depends on someone else. Memory works in much the same way. Memories never really go away. The brain has just learned to file them away and only pulls up a memory when it is relevant. Otherwise, they seem to be under lock and key. Resnais seems to be particularly interested in this idea of retrieving memories when necessary, but thematically, he is even more� caught up in the flaws of memory, those things that do not catalogued correctly.
By contrast, the images in Toute La Mémoire du Monde not assume such a moralistic tone, but rather are used as a means through which Resnais can explore the human fascination with preserving knowledge. In keeping with the director’s personal style of image capturing, Toute la Mémoire du Monde a journey through one of the world’s largest libraries, the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, France. As the narrator notes, “over sixty miles” worth of information was kept in the library at the time the film was shot and that amount increases each and every day. Unlike most libraries, the Bibliothèque Nationale does not just contain books, periodicals, and microfiches, but it also has rare artworks, unpublished books, and mysterious objects such as the books that are not to be opened until 1974. This library is a compendium of knowledge, and Resnais likens the library to a human being. For instance, the narrator says that the paper, which handles newspapers and periodicals, must “digest” 400 pounds of paper a day. The building is not just a building; it is a living, breathing entity that Resnais ultimately likens to the human mind. It is impossible to know every piece of information that is stored in a human brain, just like it would be impossible to peruse every single piece of history contained in the library’s archives. But just because they cannot be accessed does not mean that these things are not carefully stored and catalogued away, in case they can be of use to someone, someday. As with Nuit et Brouillard, there is a sense that the documentary’s visuals are led by the script. Images were carefully storyboarded and shot accordingly in order to match the written text. The viewer gets no sense that the images were shot at random with a handheld camera, waiting for something interesting to happen. As Noël Burch astutely notes, Resnais seems to achieve “absolute dynamism [in the documentary] by juxtaposing dozens of highly stylized dolly-shots designed to “describe” the various halls, reading rooms and stacks of the edifice on the Rue Richelieu.”5 I think that this style of scripted
Memory is a pervasive theme in the films of Alain Resnais. In Nuit et Brouillard, serves as an intensely personal vehicle for the narrator to relive his troubled past as a victim of the concentration camps, while Toute la Mémoire du Monde an in-depth look at how institutional memory is created. These two films were the beginning of the director’s exploration, a lead-up to the incredibly complex 19
L’Année Dernière À Marienbad (1961), in which a man seems to remember everything about his relationship with a woman, but the woman remembers nothing. If there is a master of filmic memory, it is undoubtedly Alain Resnais.
1 Andrew Hebard, “Disruptive Histories: Toward a Radical Politics of Remembrance in Alain Resnais’ Night and Fog,” New German Critique (1997), 87. 2 Ibid, 87. 3 Sarah French, “From History to Memory: Alain Resnais’ and Marguerite Duras’ ‘Hiroshima mon amour’,” Electron Melbourne Art Journal (2008), 1. 4 Hakim Lagadeg, “The History and Evolution of Television: The 1940s and 1950s,” Helium, August 30, 2007, accessed April 14, 2012. http://www.helium.com/items/567178-the-history-and-evolution-oftelevision-the-1940s-and-1950s.
5 Noël Burch, “Four Recent French Documentaries,” Film Quarterly no.1 (1959), 58.
ALI: FEAR EATS THE SOUL (RAINER WERNER FASSBINDER, 1974) by Miia Piironen
Rainer Werner Fassbinder had an undeniable flair for simplicity. Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974) is among his most enduring of works and showcases this ability well – the film recounts the unlikely romance of Emmi (Brigitte Mira), a widowed cleaning lady in her sixties, and Ali (El Hedi ben Salem), a much younger migrant worker who has come to Munich. What first develops as a nebulously platonic relationship (the two meet when Ali is cajoled into dancing with Emmi by friends) soon becomes an odd courtship. The two quickly marry, ostensibly to make it less odd, but are immediately met with fractious opposition from a racist and classist society. It is an isolating union. For Ali, the marriage draws more of the same. For Emmi though, the contempt is relatively new and she finds it incredibly hard to contend with. Her coworkers stop speaking to her, her grocer stops serving her, and her son breaks in a television with his foot. Emmi says she does not care about these peoples’ opinions but though she tries, they slowly grow to consume her.
In typical Fassbinder style some of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul’s shots drag on in static silence long after dialogue ends, an occurrence some might chalk up to lazy filmmaking. It is true the man worked briskly, and indeed his films lack a certain gloss, but I must opine that these thoughtful pauses speak volumes. The breath between scenes of Ali: Fear Eats the Soul are necessary for its plot, because it allows the audience time to digest the meaning and magnitude of what they have just witnessed. Racism is not always entirely obvious; more often it is subtly barbed. In order to reverse the issue, Fassbinder is forced to delve deep. There is as well a notable dearth of non-diegetic embellishments. Even the acting is oddly deadpan, a style that both supports and echoes the simplicity Fassbinder strives for in plot. All in all, Ali: Fear Eats the Soul does a great job of trimming the fat. Style is minimalist, but pessimism and entrapment shroud every frame. An entire generation has grown up in the time since the war, but with this film, Fassbinder shows that change has been far from 180 degrees. For this reason, the film is, and remains, an important and relevant achievement.
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul is riddled with ironies. The most obtrusive example of this comes in the form of Emmi and Ali’s wedding dinner, an infamous scene set at the Osteria Italiana restaurant “where Hitler used to eat!” As the couple sit down to review the menu in the otherwise empty establishment, a pompous waiter loftily looks on. For the couple, it might just as well be deserted inside. And the Nazi namedropping continues. Emmi speaks openly about subscribing to party doctrines herself during the war. However, in another contradictory twist she reveals that her first husband was also a foreign worker – from Poland. “Ausländer” is heard repeatedly throughout the film. Literally, this means “outsider” and still carries pejorative connotations today. While it is true that racism in Germany is not as flagrant as it was during the war, Ali continues to face routine discrimination. No one but Emmi refers to him by his name, and any positive attention he attracts normally comes at the helm of lecherous barmaids seeking to break up his marriage. Unsurprisingly, Emmi herself cannot understand the extent of his hardships. At one point her co-worker asks her what has Ali so sullen. “He has his moods,” Emmi replies. “It’s his foreign mentality.” (The women in Emmi’s building prove themselves to be myopic in more ways than one – “Policemen with long hair!” One proclaims disgustedly). Tragically Ali develops dangerous stomach ulcers as result. At film’s end, a doctor tells Emmi that her husband’s condition is likely to persist. 21
BlindBlindBlind Directed by Mathieu Guimond, 2013
Treestesse Directed by Daria Marchenko, 2013
TREATING HISTORY AS ART IN AGUIRRE: THE WRATH OF GOD by Omar Antonio Iturriaga
“I am the wrath of God. Who else is with me?”
roadmap, rather an emotional one. He concentrates on portraying Aguirre as viciously as possible, having much help in casting Kinski who has a haunting gaze not easily matched. The last scene in particular, where he is the sole survivor on the raft proves to be most visually stunning and haunting. Hundreds upon hundreds of monkeys run through Aguirre’s feet and body as they shift throughout the raft, making their home on the water. The rest of his men have all fallen ill or suffered uncountable hallucinations due to the harsh conditions. However, Aguirre remains standing.
As Don Lope de Aguirre, played by Klaus Kinski, mutters these words the audience is shown an honest depiction of rage and madness, when the prize on the other end was rumored to be the lost city of El Dorado, composed purely of gold. The film follows an expedition through the amazon of Peru as the Spanish Conquistador attempts to discover what has been long labeled as a myth. The journey brought promises of treasures, a new empire and riches for everyone who helped with the discovery. However, none of the above came into fruition. What did materialize were hundreds of deaths, mutinies, starvation and hallucinations. Aguirre, usually referred to as a madman, let his pride and foolish lust for power overtake his senses as he stopped at nothing, bringing upon the deaths of everyone on the expedition, to achieve the unachievable. Yet, his fantasies were real to him, and no one was to tell him otherwise.
The madness of the setting does not get to him, perhaps because he has been mad all along. While the rest of the men are long gone, the monkeys remain prevalent passengers on the raft, symbolizing the regression in evolution the men have experienced as the journey transformed them from sane creatures to incoherent children. Herzog even makes a point in saying the film is based off the only known diary of the expedition, belonging to Brother Gaspar de Carvajal, yet the priest was never on the expedition, but had experienced a different journey hundreds of years prior. It is with instances such as these that Werner Herzog prioritizes the crafting of his film within a reliance on art, as opposed to facts.
Werner Herzog has claimed his affinity for blending the lines between history and artifice. That is, he does not rely on facts to convey truth, but rather on art to metaphorically serve his purposes. This applies directly to Aguirre: The Wrath of God. More than half of the film consists of not only the actual characters, but also the film crew amidst a ferocious yet sometimes eerily calming river, giving the audience a true taste of what it means to be stranded for days on end without much food or safe water. It is within these images in which we find the inspiration for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979), as both films rely heavily on sequences shot on water amidst a dangerous forest which swallows its prey by the dozens, with the enemy remaining hidden at all times. Now, we are left to ask what may be labeled as history and what as art. For the most part, Herzog has proclaimed in not paying too much attention to a prevalent historical 24
UNDER THE INFLUENCE: DYNAMIC REALISM IN TIREZ SUR LE PIANISTE
no surprise to see his vast knowledge of cinema emerge on-screen, borrowing from Bazin and Eisenstein, in an attempt to contrast scenes. Truffaut is a storyteller, but perhaps a sculptor, too. Tirez sur le pianiste absorbs a slew of genres, and by their distinct natures, a slew of forms. He plays with the plasticity of the shots and with the resources of editing; he intertwines the conventions of the comedythriller genres, so as to achieve a cinematic pun. In Tirez sur le pianiste, Truffaut coalesces binary traditions of filmmaking — Bazin’s and Eisenstein’s, for that matter — and inevitably succeeds in creating a world of its own, one that is perhaps counterintuitive, but that is nevertheless true.
by Alain Edouard
To revert to Tolstoy (in his interviews with the press), “The artist calls attention.” Fascinating bundle of contradictions.
Tirez sur le pianiste opens with a chase scene as we are introduced to Chico, the brother of the film’s protagonist, running about the gloomy streets of Paris, trying to escape a car. The opening scene is utterly expressive; Truffaut makes use of a fast-paced montage of shots, and contrasts the range of shots – from l.s. to m.s., back to l.s., to c.u., et cetera. The scene is utterly destabilizing, yet Truffaut further creates contrasts; some shots show Chico running past the camera, while some show him running toward it. Eventually, the 180 degree axis is crossed – the spatial direction of the action, disrupted – for the final shot (l.s., high angle), when he runs into a post and falls prostrate on the ground. Truffaut spices up the scene with Eisensteinian editing verve. While the scene could have been pushed further to augment its destabilizing effect – that is, beginning the film amid the action of characters we have yet to make acquaintance of – Truffaut may have chosen to, say, conflict every shot in their direction, rhythm, or camera angle. Alas, it would likely have been too abstract a sequence to begin with, and he may have lost the audience with the first few seconds. Truffaut had a sense of balance.
What are they calling attention to? What do “I” call attention to?1 — Sidney Meyers In the winter of 1959, François Truffaut began shooting his second feature-length film, Tirez sur le pianiste (1960). The film would turn out a cinematic experiment – as Truffaut, having made his short a year earlier, Les Mistons (1958), soon realized that he would have to stick to a familiar subject for his first feature (which became the well-known Les Quatre Cents Coups, released in May 1959). Truffaut was also known for his voracious criticisms of films, writing for periodicals such as Arts and Cahiers du cinéma. Most importantly, Truffaut, along with fellow film critics and filmmakers of the nouvelle vague, possessed great knowledge on film history and its theoreticians. Among them, Sergei Eisenstein and André Bazin – whom he considered a father figure – have influenced his approach to the cinema. It is safe to say that Truffaut embraced both theoreticians, and particularly that Tirez sur le pianiste bears the influence of both camps – “those filmmakers who put their faith in the image and those who put their faith in reality,”2 as Bazin put it. Bazin wrote a myriad of articles and essays including “Qu’est-ce que le cinéma ? in which he argues that the filmmaker should tell stories using the camera as an eye capable of rendering the sheer fabric of reality, making use of the long take and depth of field, to expose a maximum number of planes (thus avoiding cutting or “biting” off reality). Conversely, Eisenstein approached cinema in a scientific manner, arguing that editing was the engine and “nerve” of cinema he used the metaphor of shots as cells, or molecules and sought to propel it by joining, err, clashing shots altogether, shots that would produce meaning by their relation to one another (montage of attractions). For Eisenstein, a + b = c. As for Bazin, he sought to reduce this equation to a bare minimum (what he referred to as montage interdit, meaning that editing should be kept to a minimum) and therefore obtain something along the likes of a = a. Truffaut’s second opus is an adaptation of David Goodis crime noir novel Down There, but also features a breadth of other genres which he added himself comedy, melodrama, slapstick, and romance, to name a few. It is
Chico is put back on his feet with the help of a man— ostensibly, a stranger—with whom he begins speaking about love, as they walk past boutiques. This time, the audience gets to contemplate Chico and the stranger’s face for the first time, as Truffaut shifts to a strictly Bazinian fashion of storytelling: the long take. The shot lasts a lengthy two minutes and twenty-five seconds, which, for Eisenstein, would have been a nervous breakdown. Yet, this is indubitably what the film does; it contrasts, it goes back and forth between both techniques of telling. Truffaut appropriates both methods in such a way that he drives the film’s story with a gearbox, so to speak, constantly shifting gears of seeing and feeling (editing fragments reality; cutting is dynamic; conversely, the long take emanates realism, and the cut merely prunes an “excess” of irrelevant reality). The long take of Chico and the stranger plays a great deal in that it establishes for the first time a sense of the film’s crooked, or implausible, narrative reality; the conversation’s subject matter is contrapuntal to what occurs earlier (one would expect a superficial dialogue on Chico’s injury). Yet, the tracking camera captures both characters walking down the street, gently following their movements, exposing a sense of reality that is never seen prior to this scene. The audience comes to believe a reality where one hits a posts and immediately
bursts into talking about love, a reality in which, “it helps to spill your guts to a stranger,” as the man confesses to Chico.
is spliced into three individual shots—a m.s., c.u., and e.c.u.—likely to depict visually, and on par, Charlie’s rise in temperament. Dividing such a trivial action in Eisensteinian fashion allows Truffaut to “analyze the event and make it more violent, more purposeful, more dynamic and more memorable as a pivotal point in the film.”3 The shot cuts to an e.l.s. of Charlie standing before the door in the empty hall, as though to achieve the effect of reverberation—the refraction from Eisensteinian to the Bazinian.
Even with a film like Tirez sur le pianiste, which draws its influence from American crime noir B-movies, Truffaut’s sensibility remains French—after all, he is French. For instance, he chooses to remain Bazinian a few moments later, when Chico strolls about the street and finds a bar. The plasticity of the shot is typical of film noir: the use of chiaroscuro (low-key lighting), the disheveled appearance of a man, possibly a victim of criminals, seeking refuge. The camera tracks Chico laterally, following his walk, as he briefly pauses and peers into the window. Truffaut may have opted for découpage, cutting to a point of view show (eyeline match) of the interior of the bar, as one would expect from an American fil—yet he refrains from doing so, and instead, makes use of depth of field to expose the multiple layers (planes) of reality. The shot occurs at a pivotal moment in the film, where the effect of cutting could pose a problem, for 1) we do not know much about Chico, hence have not related much to his character 2) the opening shots seek effect rather than realism through its use of montage 3) Truffaut raises a strong sense of reality with the use of the long take. Cutting to a point of view shot would fragment the reality that has been hitherto building up, and hence negate the dialectics of Truffaut’s own storytelling. Not only would it come off as a contradiction, it would betray the audience. By not cutting, it spares yet another disruption from reality and Chico’s character, thereby maintaining overall unity. Furthermore, by not cutting Truffaut builds dramatic tension, which stimulates interest—the spectator wants to come into the bar with him—hence building space for “bridges,” as it were, for the audience to connect with the film’s narrative world. Truffaut contrasts both uses of techniques as though to intellectualize the characters’ states of mind. In the scene where the protagonist, Charlie Koller (also known as Edouard Saroyan), goes to Lars Schmeel’s office, an impresario that is devoted to raise Koller’s career as a concerto pianist, both Bazin and Eisenstein’s ideals conflict. The first shot, a straight-on m.s. of Charlie, dollies backward into a long hall as he walks past a number of doors, anxiously looking for Schmeel’s office. The scene is dialectically Bazinian in that its length (long take) reveals the reality of the character. Truffaut likely sought to depict Koller’s trepidations, and cutting would have had an opposite effect. Cutting, according to Eisenstein, looks to depict a reality that is beyond what is to be seen on-screen, whereas the long take (Bazin) reveals reality itself. When Koller finds Schmeel’s office, Truffaut shifts back to an Eisensteinian method of telling—that is, with the use of cuts. The long take cuts to a m.c.u. from the back of Charlie facing the door, to a c.u. of Charlie’s face, to a m.s. of Charlie about to grasp the doorknob—refraining at the last moment, noticing the key left in the door. Truffaut overleaps the editing (montage) as Charlie’s finger reaches the doorbell, yet again refraining, perhaps due to his timidity and his mental turmoil, for the grandioseness of the career ahead of him. Charlie’s finger moving toward the doorbell
In Tirez sur le pianiste, Truffaut achieves great contrasts narratively—combining a number of genres and dialectics, telling the story in such a fashion that makes the film both Bazinian and Eisensteinian in its cinematic approach. Bazin favored the long take and the use of depth of field over montage, whereas Eisenstein saw cinema atomically—creating meaning from the clash of shots. In Tirez sur le pianiste, the dynamism of the montage technique— whether it be rhythmical, intellectual, or tonal—is used to depict on-screen moments of psychological intensity, while the long take serves as a bridge, building up tension and a sense of reality for the Eisensteinian visual prose that ensues. Bazin saw editing as a manipulation, fragmenting reality for the sake of an altered, foreign reality. But is not the search for the absolute depiction of realism dull? As Eisenstein recounts in his essay “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” quoting from Baudelaire, “That which is not slightly distorted lacks sensible appeal; from which it follows that irregularity—that is to say, the unexpected, surprise and astonishment, are an essential part and characteristic of beauty.”4 By manipulating and I mean not recreating reality, with the whimsy of camera and editing, Truffaut left fingerprints on his pictures.
1 Leyda, Jay. “Vision Is My Dwelling Place,” in Film Culture No. 58-59-60. New York: H. Gantt, 1974. p. 17. 2 Bazin, André. “The Evolution of Film Language,” in What is Cinema? Translated by Timothy Barnard. Montreal: Caboose, 2009. p. 88. 3 Kawin, Bruce. Mast, Gerald. “Soviet Montage: Sergei M. Eisenstein,” in A Short History of the Movies, 10th ed. New York: Pearson Longman, 2007. p. 141. 4 Eisenstein, Sergei. “A Dialectic Approach to Film Form,” in Film Form. Edited and translated by Jay Leyda. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., 1949. p. 51.
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