FILM STUDIES A2 EXAM REVISION
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FM4 SECTION A
Nuevo Cine Mexicano SECTION B
SPECTATOR & DOCUMENTARY SECTION C
SINGLE FILM CLOSE STUDY
Nuevo Cine Mexicano
Nuevo Cine Mexicano The areas of investigation within a “National Cinema” study include: • The relationship of films to their immediate political, economic, social and cultural contexts, especially in terms of themes and forms of representation • The relationship of films to their (possibly distinctive) contexts of production and reception • The significance of either individuals or collectives of people within a nation in shaping a distinctive kind of cinema • Comparisons to Hollywood This study does not require a comprehensive coverage of the period – and it is permissible to cover a shorter period, as long as there is some significance in the films chosen and their relationship to the national cinema to which they belong. It is expected that two principal films will be chosen, supplemented by one or two further films that may have been studied more briefly. Each of the two principal films must be by a different director as this is not an auteur study.
The study should focus not only on the films themselves but on their contexts, exploring the viability of studying film by reference to the ‘national’. FOCUS TEXTS: AMORES PERROS (INARRITU, 2000) Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN (CUARON, 2001). SUPPORTED TEXTS: WE ARE WHAT WE ARE
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Historical Context THE GOLDEN AGE (1930-1960)
During this period Mexican cinema had high-success, and surprisingly it was predominantly due to their relationship with US. Mexican cinema was brought to the attention of Hollywood. US stars (such as Orson Wells) were travelling to Mexico to make films but also Mexican stars were being courted by Hollywood.
• Founded 1984
Unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, good relations with US led to increased revenue and access to technology.
MEXICAN CINEMA DECLINE (1960-1980’s) As America turned its direction towards horror, so did Mexico. However, regulation and censorship was tightly controlling what was projecting on to the screens of a highly-populated Catholic country. This resulted in a crash of Mexican cinema.
Institute of Mexican cinema
• 1989 IMCINE campaigned for removal of government control • The campaign was successful so control was lifted. However, this led to funding being removed
Nuevo Cine Mexicano / New Mexican Cinema (1990’s-present) In an attempt to repair the Mexican film industry, the government sponsored the production of new film. Amores Perros & Y Tu Mama Tambien are films part of this movement. These films have received international success and part of its appeal is the strong sense of realism (influence from context).
11th Richest Country 53 Million in Poverty 80%+ Catholic
1929-2000 The Institutional Revolutionary Party is a Mexican political party founded in 1929, that held power uninterruptedly in the country for 71 years from 1929 to 2000, first as the National Revolutionary Party (Spanish: Partido Nacional Revolucionario, PNR), then as the Party of the Mexican Revolution (Spanish: Partido de la Revolución Mexicana, PRM).
Tlatelolco massacre of 1968 The first four decades of government of the PRI are dubbed the “Mexican Miracle”, a period of economic growth through substitution of imports and low inflation. The improvement of the economy had a disparate impact in different social sectors and discontent started growing within the low classes. In 1968 Mexico City became the first city in the Spanish-speaking world to be chosen to host an Olympic Games. Using the international focus on the country, students at the National Mexican Autonomous University (UNAM) protested the lack of
democracy and social justice. President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz (1964–1970) ordered the army to occupy the university to suppress the revolt and minimize the disruption of the Olympic Games. On October 2, 1968 student groups protested at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas. Unaccustomed to this type of protest, the Mexican Government made an unusual move by asking the United States for assistance. The CIA responded by sending military radios, weapons and ammunition. During the protests shots were fired and a number of students died (officially 39, although hundreds are claimed) and hundreds were arrested. The President of the Olympic Committee then declared that the protests were against the government and not the Olympics so the games proceeded.
Corruption Mexico functioned as a one-party state and was characterized by a system in which politicians provided bribes to their constituents in exchange for
support and votes for reelection. This type of clientelism constructed a platform through which political corruption had the opportunity to flourish: little political competition and organization outside of the party existed; it was not possible to independently contest the PRI system. Political contest equated to political, economic, and social isolation and neglect. The party remained securely in power, and government accountability was low. Mexico’s geographic location has played largely in the development of the country’s role in organized crime and drug trafficking. Not only is Mexico adjacent to the world’s largest illegal drug market – the United States – but it also borders Central America, a region of nations with a similarly high demand for drugs. This positions Mexican drug cartels at an advantage; demand for drugs is not simply confined to the Mexican state, but rather it extends to several other nearby countries. Because of this, Mexico’s borders are especially crucial to drug cartels and Transnational Criminal Organizations, which can exploit the borders as a passageway for contraband and as a method for consolidation of power. The Mexican government has historically accomplished very little in terms of effectively curbing the offenses of these TCOs and cartels, and has often actually been complicit in aiding their actions.
MEDIA Among the institutions organized crime pervaded and manipulated were the media. Many TCOs violently attacked media sources that reported stories of the gangs’, cartels’, and military’s abuses and relationships with political elites. Consequently, many news organizations
simply stopped publishing stories about the crimes. Freedom of expression and speech were increasingly limited as the media experienced violent disputes. Outside of TCOs, state apparatuses also worked to keep negative stories under wraps. “Violence affecting Mexico’s border cities…has silenced the media, in a clear demonstration of the power that criminal enterprises exert over border society in drug war times…Aiding the enforcement of…silencing is the… complicity of the state itself…Due to the corruptive and coercive nature of organized crime – coupled with the weak and…corruptible state security and political institutions…, media organizations are left with no room for bias-free decision-making processes regarding the reporting of any news/ notes about organized crime.” Compared to other Latin American countries, Mexico has the lowest rating for freedom of the press. Press freedom watch groups have found that the country is one of the most dangerous in the world to be a professional journalist. The international human rights group Article 19 found that in 2014 alone, more than 325 journalists experienced aggressive action by government officials and organized crime, and five reporters were killed due to their line of work. Furthermore, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, since 2005, at least 32 journalists have been killed because of their profession in Mexico.
“since 2005, at least 32 journalists have been killed because of their profession”
1929-90 Mexico’s “official” party, was the country’s preeminent political organization from 1929 until the early 1990s. Opposition parties posing little or no threat to its power base or its near monopoly of public office. This situation changed during the mid-1980s, as opposition parties of the left and right began to seriously challenge PRI candidates for local, state, and national-level offices.
National Democratic Front Party appointed Ignacio Duran Loera as director of the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE). His approach and policies were directly responsible for creating the conditions for the New Mexican Cinema movement. Loera campaigned for the repeal of the government’s right to decide what films would be made As a result, govt. funding withdrawn Forced into international co-productions (e.g. Japon) Additional money = new ideas = New Mexican Cinema born.
1976 The coming to power of José López Portillo stricter censorship and encouraging the return of private investment to reduce the involvement and responsibility of the state. Portillo’s 6 years saw increased production (94 features in 1981) but lower production values and fewer films dealing with difficult social themes.
1982 The presidency of Miguel de la Madrid bought renewed hope with the establishment of the Mexican Film Institute (IMCINE) and the encouragement of a wider diversity of product in both political and aesthetic terms.
The Golden Age of Mexican Cinema: During the 1940s/50s the full potential of the industry developed. Actors and directors became popular icons and even figures with political influence on diverse spheres of Mexican life. Mexico dominated the film market in Latin America for most of the 1940s without competition from the United States film industry. During World War II movie production in Mexico tripled. The Mexican government encouraged the production of films that would help articulate a true Mexican identity, but glossy compared to new Mexican Cinema.
New Mexican Cinema born: During the 1990s the work of IMCINE and the two excellent film schools, the CUEC and the CCC began to have an impact on the Mexican filmmaking talent pool, including Del Toro, Cuaron and Inarritu. New generation of filmmakers who wanted to tell new stories Focus on realism – sense of the everyday and familiar struggles Themes of poverty, violence, crime, failing relationships/society Neo-realist style Replaced the gloss of the Golden age of 50s Mexican Cinema Desire to reflect contemporary Mexico The European Influence Italian neo-realism (in terms of themes) French New Wave (style) Move towards a more personal style (authored?)
2000-2006 Vicente Fox presidency - His term in office marked the end of 71 years of uninterrupted rule by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Focused on ending government corruption and improving the economy. He succeeded Ernesto Zedillo as president of Mexico. Fox focused his early efforts on improving trade relations with the United States, calming civil unrest in such areas as Chiapas, and reducing corruption, crime, and drug trafficking. In 2001 his administration introduced constitutional reforms that strengthened the rights of Mexico’s indigenous people.
2000 Amores Perros - audacious directorial debut of González Iñárritu, a DJ and commercials director distinct in that he was neither a product of the Mexican film schools nor a beneficiary of IMCINE support
2002 El Crimen del Padre Amaro by Carlos Carrera IMCINE-funded. The tale of a recently ordained priest who is sent to a small parish church to assist an aging Father but there begins an affair with one of his flock. Reflection of the star power of Garcia Bernal, interest in locally produced films and the provocative subject matter = 365 Mexican screens. It remains one of the highest grossing pictures in Mexican cinema history.
2001 Y tu Mamá También - the work of a more experienced filmmaker returning home from Hollywood for a personal, partly privately financed project. Both films featured the poster-boy looks and electrifying screen presence of Gael García Bernal, whose role in the renaissance cannot be overlooked; each was confident, stylishly shot, and structurally complex. Moreover, these films were thematically provocative in their treatment of prescient social issues and thrillingly forthright in their willingness to address the ills afflicting contemporary Mexican society. Both pictures were hugely acclaimed at global film festivals and achieved domestic and international commercial success.
Amores Perros (inelegantly translated as Love’s a Bitch) brutally thrusts the viewer into its complex narrative with such lacerating visceral impact – dogs, careening cars, blood, smoke, screaming, handheld camerawork and jagged cutting – that it seems odd to refer to this opening as comforting, but, in a way, it’s true. Within only minutes, one is able to breathe a sigh of relief, sensing that Amores Perros will be the electrifying work of a dauntless filmmaker, and the remainder of its 154 minutes fully confirms this initial impression. That Amores Perros is a first film makes this confidence even more impressive. The directing debut of 38-year-old Mexican filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu, the film interweaves three separate stories through the metaphorical motif of dogs owned by the protagonists of each tale and with the narrative collision (literally) of a car accident that involves all of the film’s characters. The first and arguably most gripping story involves young Octavio’s love for his brother’s wife and his discovery of the family canine’s skill at dogfighting. (The ferocity of these sequences has led some to mistakenly believe that the dogfights are authentic). The film subsequently shifts to Valeria, a model disfigured in the car accident, and her increasingly strained relationship with Daniel, who has just left his wife. The final story is that of El Chivo, an embittered, vagrant hitman estranged from his family who seeks redemption and change. Iñárritu’s interwoven triptych structure has led some critics – including those who should know better – to make the inevitable Tarantino comparisons, but the film’s humanism, richness of characterization and insight into Latino culture suggest more of a hybrid of Altman and Buñuel. For a film with such a necessarily nonlinear construction, however, it remains – like Pulp Fiction and Go in previous years – the most narratively engrossing film of the year. Iñárritu began his career as a DJ and music producer in Mexico, vocations that bear an influence on Amores Perros both directly and conceptually. The film is driven by a forceful soundtrack, with Mexican rap and hip-hop seamlessly blending with acoustic ballads and Celia Cruz classics, interlaced through Gustavo Santaolalla’s droning, melancholic score. And Inarritu’s stylistic approach mirrors this musical eclecticism, as the film’s full-
throttle introductory account of Mexico City’s impoverished ultimately transforms into a more sober, contemplative treatment when the film looks at the city’s privileged classes. These tonal shifts have undoubtedly contributed to the criticism that Iñárritu’s creative potency declines sharply after the superlative opening story, but this argument tends to ignore the tender, subtle triumphs of the latter two episodes. Iñárritu’s narrative technique is not without its problems – for example, his decision to incorporate significant elements of the more sedate second and third stories into the first tale occasionally diminishes that section’s highoctane momentum – but it’s difficult to recall a recent film of such substantial length that utilizes its running time as expertly. Amores Perros had already won two awards – the Grand Prize at the International Critics’ Week in Cannes and the Best Director prize at the Edinburgh International Film Festival – by the time of its North American premiere at the 2000 Toronto festival, where Filmmaker spoke with director Alejandro González Iñárritu. FILMMAKER: Tell me about your working relationship with writer Guillermo Arriaga. ALEJANDRO GONZÁLEZ IÑÁRRITU: We became very close friends a few years ago – it was like finding a lost brother I didn’t know was in the world. I had read a script that he wrote that was never shot, and I fell in love with the dialogue and the humanity of the characters. Then we wrote a short film that was also never shot, but that became the seed of what happened later. Mexico City has so much going on that it was difficult to capture it all with just one story. So we decided to play with three stories. We had too many things to say, so this structure helped us. The writing process took three years. FILMMAKER: Were the three stories always designed to interconnect with linking characters, or was there ever a point when they stood as three separate, unrelated tales? IÑÁRRITU: Well, the idea was to make a movie about love, death and redemption, focusing on the painful process of learning to love somebody. So deciding when and how the characters’ paths would cross was a tough decision, because that’s what makes the
difference between three short films and a whole movie divided into three stories. From the beginning, we decided that the accident would be the main thing, that it would explode in the center of this universe, and the pieces would balance out, even when we would go backward and forward in the structure. The car accident exposes the fragility of life – you make plans, then you go out and a car crash changes everything. FILMMAKER: At what point did you introduce the canine metaphor? Was that always a part of the story, or did you come up with that later as a linking device? IÑÁRRITU: No, that was always a part of it from the beginning. The first title of the movie – which I didn’t like – was Black Dog, White Dog, but then [Emir] Kusturica’s film [Black Cat, White Cat] appeared. But from the beginning the movie was a metaphor: black dogs, white dogs, rich people, poor people. That element was always there. FILMMAKER: Was it hard to get this first movie off the ground in Mexico? IÑÁRRITU: I was very lucky – the producers, from a new company named Altavista, were very brave, and they loved the script. They actually jumped at it and joined together with my company, Zeta Film, and they have a lot of guts to have done that. But you know, the most difficult thing is not the money. It’s just getting a good story. Once you have the story, there’s money waiting somewhere. FILMMAKER: To what degree do you see Amores Perros as being a uniquely Mexican story – a portrait of Mexico City and the dogfighting world – as opposed to a more universal story? IÑÁRRITU: I think it’s a very universal story because it’s a very local story. That’s what makes Amores Perros a story that can touch anybody. I’ve shown the film at Cannes and here in Toronto, and it’s strange how different cultures and sensibilities can connect emotionally to the material. But I never really show Mexico City in the film; you can never recognize it in the movie. To me it’s only the battleground for the emotions in the story. I never wanted a scenario that would say, “Look
at what’s happening in this city!” But people who’ve been there tell me they could smell Mexico City in the film, they could breathe the same air. The film is an exploration of how and why Mexican society has lost our fraternity and [also] an exploration of parents: the father doesn’t exist in the first story, the father leaves in the second story, and the father returns in the third story. We’re a society that had been ruled by a 71-year-old party, and the change was a painful process. This picture appeared in Mexico two months ago and was a big boxoffice success. Why? I think that if this movie appeared only one year ago, people would not have been ready to see ourselves and have the courage to change. But now people have hope and a new attitude. It’s a social and political change in Mexico, and it’s painful, but it’s the only way to confront yourself. FILMMAKER: There have been rumors that the dogfights in the film are real and resulted in injury to the animals, but the closing credits contain a disclaimer stating that the animals’ welfare was monitored. How did you go about achieving those sequences? IÑÁRRITU: First of all, I have a dog and I love dogs. It was very complex and difficult to reproduce a real dogfight, to achieve a level of realism without hurting the dogs. I hired an American guy who supplies animals for all the feature films in Mexico, and all of the actors were trained to handle the dogs; it was a lot of work. During shooting I tried to construct emotional stress within the dogfight scenes but put very little explicit footage of the actual dogfights. FILMMAKER: That’s true – we only see the dogs connect very briefly, and then you cut to the faces of the actors. IÑÁRRITU: Exactly, because it’s not about that; it’s only one element of the first story. I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I felt I had to show the blood because I wanted to unnerve people, since that’s how I felt when I went there to actual dogfights, in order to reproduce them. I thought, “They’re going to kill me.” But the way I did it was, we took invisible fishing line, painted it the color of the dog’s hair and attached it to them. These dogs are also trained for personal security, so they’re trained like this, and to them, they’re playing. Sometimes they would start making love in the
middle of the scene; it was very funny. With the handheld camera and the sound design, it seems real, but if you pause the DVD, you can see the technique. When they were supposed to be dead, we would inject them with a veterinary anesthesia for 20 minutes — their owner was always there, shouting, “No more than 20 minutes!” I treated the actors worse than the animals! FILMMAKER: The visual design of the film is also very distinctive, very high-contrast, shot through with vibrant colors. Tell me how you collaborated with cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto to realize this look. IÑÁRRITU: I thought the material demanded a very specific aesthetic. The architecture and colors of Mexico City can be so kitsch, but it has a beauty all its own. It has a lot of character, and I wanted to achieve that very vibrant feeling. I love the work of Nan Goldin, so the first meeting I had with Rodrigo, we looked at a book of her work, and I told him, “This is the look I think I need.” So we began to make experiments in the lab, and our conclusion was to use this Vision 800 color stock, with a silver-retention process in the negative. It was the second time in the world that anyone used this. In the United States they say they don’t want you to do that because it’s very risky. But it gave us those electric earthtones, and it was terrific. I think it really helped the movie — it has something you cannot explain, but it makes it different. Maybe we lost our negative, but we’ll have it on DVD. FILMMAKER: Amores Perros is the type of film that displays a real passion for, and knowledge of, cinema. Who were some of your influences when you made the film? I know some critics have postulated Tarantino, which I don’t really see. IÑÁRRITU: [Laughs.] The Tarantino thing is funny — I think people have credited Tarantino with the invention of the threestory structure, but what about Faulkner and García Márquez? And there have been so many films that have used it too, but suddenly Tarantino gets the credit for that. I don’t have anything to do with Tarantino, except for maybe the approach to violence more than the structure. I live in a violent city, and when you live in a violent city,
you’re not going to make a fairy tale or a comedy about that. Violence has very painful consequences, and that’s my statement. But I have a lot of directors that I admire. The classics, like Bergman, Fellini, Buñuel, Tarkovsky, Leone, Scorsese, Cassavetes — I love Cassavetes. I’m a pretty eclectic guy in that sense. But lately, the people that really shake me are Lars von Trier, Wong Kar-wai and Ang Lee — they are approaching films in new ways. FILMMAKER: Perhaps it’s only appropriate for a film called Amores Perros (Love’s a Bitch), but your movie has a somewhat bitter take on love and human relationships, and most of the film’s main characters wind up pretty unfulfilled at the film’s close. Does this reflect your own personal view of relationships, and can you foresee happiness coming to any of the film’s characters after the events in the film? IÑÁRRITU: I think life is an ongoing process of loss — you’re losing things all of the time. These characters lose many things by the end of the film: innocence, lust, love, hope. Yet at the same time, learning to love somebody, and learning to love yourself, is a very painful process. Love is a very dominant emotion, and it can be very destructive at the same time — it depends on the way you’re using it. Man has a divine nature and an animal nature, and when the animal nature controls you, your decisions are going to have a lot of consequences. For me, this movie is about how these characters that I love — weak characters, not strong characters, people that can really be broken — go through that painful process of learning in which [one gets] a little better. To my point of view, that’s life. At the end, even with all the circumstances, there is hope because you can change your life, you’re the owner of your destiny. And we can redeem ourselves with love — that’s the only way we can be more than flesh and bone.
Deciphering Amores Perros: Three Recurring Images & What They Mean 1. THE CAR CRASH: AN ACCIDENT 2. DOGS & DOG FIGHTING: PETS OF FATE ARE LIKE THEIR OWNERS Amores Perros opens with a frenetic, fraught car chase. A dog is dying on the back seat while its owner tries desperately to evade those pursuing him through the busy streets of Mexico. The chase ends in a cataclysmic crash that pulls together three different stories – a man’s lust for his brother’s wife, a model coping with dramatic career and relationship changes and an absent father’s guilt. This car chase appears numerous times throughout the film from these different perspectives: the model is a victim of the crash which throws her life into chaos and the father a passerby who rescues a dog from the wreckage. But this tragic event is not just a flimsy device to tie the film’s strands together, it is an accident of chance used to explore Iñárritu’s compelling theme of fate. The transient connections between lives – the unexpected, fleeting crossovers – suggest a bigger, metaphysical presence in the universe. In the moments leading up to the second and third times we see the car crash, we anticipate it, we can feel it is about to happen. But we’re always shocked when it does. The context is different each time and so are the angles it’s captured from, more details are revealed. This peculiar blend of anticipation and surprise draws our attention to the interconnected nature of life. As we’ll see from the next recurring image, Iñárritu grounds these gargantuan ideas in the atmospheric, carnal violence of humanity and the painful physicality of separation. Most importantly though, in his subtle use of the car crash, he creates a space for us to make up our own minds about our place in the universe and whether fate really does exist.
The brutality of human existence, the cruel reality of love, is explored through the animals of Amores Perros. In the film’s first story ‘Octavio and Susana’, Octavio (Gael García Bernal) is lured into the underground world of dog-fighting. Needless to say this is not a film for sensitive dog lovers. There are frequent images of dead animals, their fur matted with dark red blood. When two dogs are pitted against each other, teeth bared, reared on their hind legs, thrashing at their collars, Iñárritu unleashes the full force of carnal violence. This selfish, brutal under-world symbolises the instinctive side of human nature, and what happens when we give in to it: a theme that runs throughout the film as a whole. Yet the dogs in Amores Perros are also symbolic their owners. Octavio’s dog Cofi begins life as a pet but degenerates into a fierce, brutish animal. His owner Octavio follows a similar path of degeneration as he lusts after his brother’s wife, becoming sexually aggressive towards the woman he covets and increasingly violent towards his own brother. As a result of the accident Cofi ends up in the hands of disheveled hermit and contract killer, El Chivo (Emilio Echevarría), where he attacks and kills the other animals El Chivo has rescued. It’s one of the film’s most devastating, bloodthirsty and brutal scenes and it marks a crucial turning point in El Chivo’s story. Just like his new owner, Cofi is a trained killer. El Chivo’s realisation of this – of the destruction he has caused in his own life – motivates him to change. But once a dog, or even a man, has learnt to be this way, can he change? Richie, the dog belonging to model Valeria (Goya Toledo), is entirely different from Cofi. He’s a cute, fluffy, friendly lap dog, well kept and beautiful. He’s decidedly middle class. But Richie’s plight reflects that of his owner
too. Richie becomes trapped beneath the floorboards of Valeria’s apartment while she comes to terms with the loss of her leg following the accident. Valeria desperately calls for him but Richie fails to come out. He whines and whimpers but will not come. Valeria cannot control Richie any more than she can control her own life. They are both trapped in their own prisons and neither escapes unscathed.
3. THE PERFUME AD: BEAUTY, LOVE AND THE MEXICAN CITY Throughout Amores Perros, a perfume advert for ‘Enchant’ appears plastered onto buildings across the Mexican city. It shows Valeria in a suggestive pose, teasing up her short dress to reveal long elegant legs. In Valeria’s story the poster hangs across the street from her apartment providing a cruel reminder of her disfigurement. Valeria’s relationship with partner, Daniel (Álvaro Guerrero), which initially began as an affair, is tested as she comes to terms with the loss of her physical beauty. Throughout Valeria and Daniel’s story, the advert reminds us of love’s tests and the fragility of lust. Outside of ‘Valeria and Daniel’ the recurring perfume advert evokes the divisions between the middle and lower classes. Valeria’s loss of beauty and flimsy position as a ‘the other woman’ might appear superficial in comparison with the problems of Octavio and El Chivo, but her pain is no less real. Octavio fantasises about making big money so that he can runaway with his brother’s wife. Meanwhile El Chivo has eschewed a more comfortable life and lives, instead, as a hermit in an abandoned building, walking the streets with a cart full of stray dogs. Iñárritu has spoken of his interest in the lives of the less advantaged. In his debut, subtle cues remind us of society’s divisions.
Going to the dogs No sooner had Amores Perros won a prize at the Cannes film festival than the RSPCA rushed to attack its bloody scenes of dogfighting. Arguing that “context is no defence”, the society declared: “Anything which involves goading or cruelty to animals is unacceptable.” That debate could now become more than academic. Following its British premiere at Edinburgh, Amores Perros (Love’s a Bitch) is about to be picked up by a major UK distributor for release later this year. The film’s director, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, insists he was scrupulous about not harming any animals during filming. Despite realisticlooking scenes in which dogs leap at each other, fangs apparently primed to bite, a lot was done in the shooting and editing - “the same way I’d avoid hurting somebody in a car accident”.
The dogs were wearing plastic muzzles apparently clearly visible if you freeze-frame the film on video - while the ones that appear dead and bloodied were made up and drugged for 20 minutes at a time. The film’s animal trainer is very respected in animal welfare circles, Gonzalez Inarritu says - “and he used his own dogs, so he cared about them”. In Mexico, where the film has been a big hit, the press hardly commented on the animal cruelty question. There will certainly be more of a problem here. The British Board of Film Classification is rigorous about films that show or even suggest animal violence, saying: “Baiting animals is a no-no as far as we are concerned, no matter how good the film is.” While the subject matter could be a serious obstacle to British distribution, Gonzalez Inarritu is open to suggestions about cuts.
“If it was just frames, maybe. But if they wanted me to take out the dogfights, that would be impossible. They are part of the motion of the story and the characters.” The movie is an intricately plotted portmanteau of three stories, linked by a car crash and told at car-crash speed. The first story has a group of poverty-level kids getting involved in the illicit and extremely violent dog-fighting scene; the second is a macabre Tale of the Unexpected about a supermodel, a luxury apartment and an ill-fated lapdog; and the third features an itinerant hitman who moves through different levels of city society, bringing all the strands together. Gonzalez Inarritu insists that context is very much a mitigating factor, and that the dogfighting theme is part of an overall panorama of life in his home town. “I wanted to make a film about Mexico City, where there are millions of dogs. The dogfight is a cruel reality. But more than the fights, we were interested in the relations between dogs and people.” He and his screenwriter, novelist Guillermo Arriaga Jordan, took on the city with Balzacian ambition, tackling it on various levels, from low-life to penthouse. “Many Mexican directors,” he says, “are scared to shoot in Mexico City, which is why there are many stories in Mexican cinema about little rural towns, or set a hundred years ago. It’s difficult to shoot there, not just technically but because it’s such a complex mix. All the city’s frontiers are falling - now you see rich districts where there are a lot of poor people.” The three stories in Amores Perros are more or less true. The character El Chivo (The Goat) was based on a story that Arriaga had heard about a teacher who disappeared to join a guerrilla cell and was never seen again (in the film, he becomes a hitman). The story in which a model’s lapdog is lost under her floorboards is also based on fact. “But in real life it ended when they noticed a bad smell from under the floor.”
The film’s intricately twisted structure has a ring of Pulp Fiction, but Gonzalez Inarritu isn’t a big fan of Tarantino. “I like the way he plays with structure - but I don’t know why he gets the credit. It’s really William Faulkner; it’s a literary structure that has existed for a long time.” And Gonzalez Inarritu insists he takes his violence very seriously. “When you live in a city, as I do, where violence is really in the streets and people die every day, there’s nothing funny about it. We try to show that violence has a consequence - when you create violence, it turns against you.”
“I wanted to make a film about Mexico City, where there are millions of dogs. The dogfight is a cruel reality. But more than the fights, we were interested in the relations between dogs and people.” Although Gonzalez Inarritu only attended two fights himself, he insists that his lurid vision of the dogfighting underworld is “very, very accurate. Thirty per cent of the people in the movie are real people from the dogfighting world, and we used some real fighting dogs. It’s shown the way they do it, in empty swimming pools and backlots. The people can be dangerous - there are drunk people, druggie people, violent people, and some of them take their children of four, five years old. But I don’t judge them. For them it’s like bullfighting or going fishing - for them it’s natural, something you do on a Saturday.” Gonzalez Inarritu admits he was afraid to handle the animals himself: “These dogs are real motherfuckers.” One animal used in the film was a security dog, trained to leap at a person’s chest, and able to break ribs in the process.
1. OCTAVIO, SUSANA & RAMIRO A car crash is the pivotal scene that involves, and effects, all three narratives and serves as a narrative arc – in Story 1 (like Pulp Fiction chapter headings are used) Octavio and Susana fall for each other, but not before Susana leaves Octavio’s brother, with whom she has a child.
Octavio starts to win money, illegally fighting his Rottweiler dog, and sees this as his opportunity, until a fight goes badly wrong (he is swindled out of all of his winnings) and he flees the scene (after killing his assailant, ending up in a car crash). Brutal scenes of violence punctuate the narrative.
Octavio falls in love with Susana and yearns for her, even listening behind a door while she is having sex.Their life is poor, both Octavia and his brother have menial jobs, and Octavio decides the only way to seduce Susana is too become the provider and amass enough money to run away with her.
2. DANIEL & VALERIA Audiences are introduced in Story 2 to Daniel and Valeria – Valeria is a stunningly beautiful and successful model, who is having an affair with wealthy, successful businessmen Daniel. Daniel eventually chooses to leave his wife and sets Valeria up in an exclusive apartment, where they both start living with panoramic views of Mexico City, including a huge billboard poster of Valeria modelling outside in the street.
it and goes to work, only to find on his return that Richie has disappeared down the hole chasing a ball and is nowhere to be found.
Their new life is going well until Valeria is involved in a car crash, badly injuring her leg and ruining her modelling career. She leaves hospital with her leg in a calliper and confined to a wheelchair; she spends boring days in the apartment recuperating with only her beloved dog, Richie, for company. Daniel accidentally steps on some badly fitting flooring and a hole opens up – he has no time to fix
3. EL CHIVO El Chivo is the central character in Story 3 and the key protagonist of the film; an ex businessmen turned hit man he is now down and out, homeless living with his dogs in impoverished accommodation. El Chivo yearns to see and meet his daughter who has rejected him, and who he has not seen for years after El Chivo’s wife left him. He is a clever and enigmatic character who tracks down his daughter, watching her from a distance and eventually breaking into her apartment and leaving a coded message for her not to forget him; replacing a picture of her Stepfather in a photo frame with one of himself. The secondary narrative surrounding El Chivo involves a naive, frustrated but wealthy
businessmen, who approaches El Chivo through a third party, requesting him to assassinate his business partner for a considerable amount of money. El Chivo agrees to this request, but also witnesses a car crash involving Octavio and Susana and Daniel and Valerio. He rescues Daniel’s dog from the car and tends to his wounds, only to find one day, when he returns home, the Rottweiler has attacked and killed all of his other dogs. El Chivo then decides it is finally time to move on.
THEMES & MESSAGES.
LACK OF FAITH
This isnâ€™t all of the themes and messages within the film. Can you think of any more? How do these themes and messages link with certain scenes within the film? How do these themes and messages link with context? Look through your work book and see if you can make these links...
Alejandro González Iñárritu BACKGROUND
Born in Mexico City, 1963. Before he started his media and film careers, he worked on cargo ships and lived in Europe and Africa. He has returned to places he has visited to shoot films. He returned to Mexico to major in communications at college. In 1984 he became a radio host at WFM, Mexico’s most popular rock music station, where he “pieced together playlists into a loose narrative arc”. Iñárritu has stated that he believes music has had a bigger influence on him as a director than film itself. “telling stories to people, trying to keep them entertained for three hours. That was my training as a storyteller. You create stories with music, you create soundtracks for the lives of the people in the city - four million listeners every day.” During the early 90s he later became the youngest producer for Televisa, the largest mass media company in Latin America. He worked as a television producer and directed promotional spots. In 1991 he founded his own production company, Zeta Films, through which he created high-profile commercials and shorts . From 1987 to 1989, he composed music for six Mexican feature films. During this time, Iñárritu became acquainted with Mexican writer Guillermo Arriaga, beginning their screenwriting collaborations (Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel).
Iñárritu on Amores Perros Gonzalez Inarritu insists that context is very much a mitigating factor, and that the dogfighting theme is part of an overall panorama of life in his home town. “I wanted to make a film about Mexico City, where there are millions of dogs. The dogfight is a cruel reality. But more than the fights, we were interested in the relations between dogs and people.” “Many Mexican directors, are scared to shoot in Mexico City, which is why there are many stories in Mexican cinema about little rural towns, or set a hundred years ago. It’s difficult to shoot there, not just technically but because it’s such a complex mix. All the city’s frontiers are falling - now you see rich districts where there are a lot of poor people.”
It is the story of two cute guys from Mexico City, Tenoch and Julio, played by Diego Luna and Gael Garcia Bernal (from Amores Perros). Young and dumb, they take a road trip to a distant beach with a glamorous but troubled older woman, Luisa (Maribel Verdu), and get an education at her hands that is anything but sentimental. From the first frames, it reveals itself as an outrageously, uproariously sexed-up piece of work, stylishly directed by Alfonso Cuaron from a script by his brother Carlos. The camera, in one of many unobtrusively long takes, noses into the bedroom of Tenoch who is shagging his girlfriend Ana with all-nude, slack-jawed, buttock-pounding fervour. Like the maladroit boy himself, the director does not believe in warming his audience up with narrative foreplay, and it’s the same story when we cut to the family home of Julio’s girlfriend, whose parents allow him into her bedroom to help her look for her passport, and she gleefully wrenches her tracksuit bottoms down.
“It looks like it’s obsessed with sex - but actually this film is obsessed with death” The two girlfriends go off on a summer holiday trip to Italy, leaving our heroes with no outlet for their permanent hormonal uproar, other than to lie on the diving boards of a local swimming pool, their wrists a blur, wanking themselves into a frenzy of boredom and frustration. Like sex, masturbation is treated with an unapologetic frankness rarely found in our genteel anglophone cinema. The new object of the guys’ fantasies: the beautiful, enigmatic Luisa, whom they’ve met at a grand society wedding (Tenoch’s father is a dodgy politico). Before they know what’s happening, she agrees to head off with them on a journey of discovery: a three-way love romp on wheels. It looks like it’s obsessed with sex - but actually this film is obsessed with death. The paradox is often carelessly invoked, but Cuaron’s movie really does pull off the trick of mingling the ideas of sex and death, showing their blood relation. Every so often, he cuts out the soundtrack, emphatically, almost crudely, and has a voiceover point out some grim point of interest along the roadside: the corpse of an anonymous construction worker hit by a car because the pedestrian crossing was inconvenient for the building site; later, there’s a roadside memorial for a horrific crash 10 years before. While the three get high in the car and gigglingly discuss the merits of inserting a finger up the
anus during intercourse, Cuaron’s directorial gaze gets distracted by the sight of three sinister cops roughing someone up. The voiceover provides an extraordinary dose of severity, combining social analysis, political insight and an unflinching glimpse into the secret lives of these apparently ingenuous young boys. It is as if the American Pie DVD had a director’s commentary by Susan Sontag or JK Galbraith. All the time, the death theme continues underneath. After quite a bit of weed, Luisa tells her two companions about her first sexual experience; then she tells them the boy died, at the age of 17. Their age. Later on, Luisa, her face clouded with obscure melancholy, tries to teach a little girl to float in the sea “like a real dead body”. And what is it that Julio wants to listen to on the car radio? Not rock’n’roll, not Latino music, not dance music. What he wants is Brian Eno’s desperately sad By This River: “You and I/ Underneath the sky that’s ever falling down, down, down/ Ever falling down.” Luna and Bernal give nicely spontaneous, natural performances, the kind that Cuaron has apparently been able to elicit just by placing the camera in front of them and letting them riff, while cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, who shot Ali and Sleepy Hollow, provides him with fluent, loose, daringly protracted steadicam shots. Lubezki and Cuaron find riveting images and cameos, perhaps genuine discoveries from their location work on the road: an old lady does a jigging little dance in the kitchen of her bar, and a placid village festival queen, dressed like a bride, smiles at passers-by while her neighbours solicit pious donations. As Luisa, Verdu is sexy, tender and poignant. She provides the movie’s ballast and maturity, a kind of mediating influence between the boys’ puppyish vigour and the cold, pitiless detachment of Cuaron’s voiceover - and she has the best line in the picture, exasperated with her quarrelling travel companions: “Play with babies and you end up washing diapers!” Her aplomb is shown most obviously when she finally invites them into her room for the muchanticipated threesome, and manoeuvres them into kissing each other. After working on English-language movies such as A Little Princess and Great Expectations, Cuaron has made a triumphant return to his native Mexico City. This film is an exhilarating adventure in narrative, eroticism and social commentary.
Charolastra Manifesto: 1.
There is no greater honor than being a Charolastra.
Do whatever you feel like.
Pop beats poetry.
Get high at least once a day.
You shall not screw another Charolastra’s girl.
Whoever likes Team America is a fag.
Whacking off rules.
Never marry a virgin.
Whoever roots for Team America… (it’s worth repeating)
10. Truth is cool, but unattainable. 11. The asshole who breaks any of the previous rules loses his title of “Charolastra.”
Luisa Manifesto: 1.
I won’t screw either of you. You can screw each other if you like.
I’m going to sunbathe naked. I don’t want you sniffing around like dogs.
I pick the music.
The moment I ask, please shut your mouths.
No stories about your poor girlfriends.
If I ask, stay 10 yards from me. Or better 100.
Obviously you do all the manual labor.
You may not speak of things you don’t agree on. Even better, just keep your mouths shut.
10. You’re not allowed to contradict me.
Revisiting ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’: A Political Perspective “You are lucky to live in a country like this…Mexico. It exudes life everywhere.” So says dental hygienist and sex-goddess Luisa Cortés (Maribel Verdú). Alfonso Cuarón’s Y Tu Mamá También, often remembered by viewers as a boundary pushing coming of age story, is equally as much a deeply perceptive portrayal of Mexico and a few of its inhabitants. Although the scenery in Y Tu Mamá También, especially scenes on a phantom beach called “Heaven’s Mouth”, is breathtakingly stunning, Cuarón is careful to point out that this “beautiful” country as Luisa calls it not only exudes life, but also death. The film is challenging to categorize. On a surface level, Y Tu Mamá También is a quintessential road movie, following two pubescent, sticky teenage boys accompanied by an unlikely bedfellow in the form of a married Spaniard named Luisa. The plot seems to be a perfect equation for the latest Mexican sex comedy. However, the detail and grace that Cuarón pays to these characters and their country results in a much more affecting and even tragic journey than the typical genre film. We are first introduced to Tenoch (Diego Luna) as we watch him having sex with his equally libidinous girlfriend, quickly followed by a scene of Julio
(Gael García Bernal) following suit. The audience is immediately aware of the differences between these two best friends, as a recurring voiceover explains that Tenoch—a boy from an upper class political family—is allowed to spend the night with his girlfriend, whereas Julio must return in the evening to his working class mother. The two boys’ girlfriends are on their way to Europe for the summer, leaving the protagonists to manoeuvre their way through a summer filled with theoretical sex, drugs, masturbation and alcohol. Throughout the film it becomes clear that, more than anything, Tenoch and Julio are on a journey to find themselves, trying to become what they think is “cool” and “manly”, and more often than not contradicting these conceptions. Neither of the boys care much about politics, although the issue permeates every facet of their lives and is often times reflected in them and their interactions. Tenoch doesn’t want to enroll in economics, although ends up pursuing this route on the orders of his corrupt Harvard educated politician father. The boys show contempt at the protests occurring in Mexico City, although Julio’s sister is an activist demanding change. Even Tenoch’s name is inherently political. But the boys choose to disregard
their overtly political, corrupt and even disturbingly unequal surroundings. Instead they live in their very own testosterone filled bubble. At a bridal party they end up meeting Tenoch’s cousin’s wife, Luisa. She is seen in a clingy white dress that leaves little to the imagination. Tenoch and Julio begin to drunkenly and clumsily flirt with her in an almost predatory fashion. They invite her on a made-up road trip to a fictitious beach called Heaven’s Mouth, purely as an act of both jest and domination, expecting to be disregarded. And initially they do. But due to circumstances beyond her control, including an intoxicated admission by her husband that he has been unfaithful, Luisa decides a road trip with two rambunctious teens may be just what she needs.
“You are lucky to live in a country like this…Mexico. It exudes life everywhere.” Tenoch and Julia attempt to put on a façade of knowledge and masculine control, sticking to the story that Heaven’s Mouth in fact exists. They pass exaggerated tales back and forth, bragging about their sexuality and their partying in hopes of impressing the fantasy woman who has somehow found her way into their car. They even reveal to her their Manifesto, signed in blood. The two boys are “charolastras” and have proclaimed, among other things, that a hit is happiness, morals are less important than jerk offs, one must never marry a virgin or screw the other’s girl, and although truth is great, it is unachievable. If any of the rules are broken, they lose the title of “charolastra”. The two protagonists are inherently bonded thanks to this manifesto, despite their drastically different home lives. Although overt clashes never occur between the classes, the tensions still deeply penetrate the film and its characters. It is revealed that Tenoch uses his foot to lift up the toilet in Julio’s house, something he also does at the cheap motel, exemplifying his degrading attitude towards the working class. On the other hand, Julio tries to fit in with the upper class, lighting a match to mask the smell after using the restroom at Tenoch’s house. These simple revelations by the voiceover narrator reveal the undeniable division between classes and attitudes in the country, despite an image that they live harmoniously together. While driving through the country, the narrator reveals that they are travelling through the hometown of Tenoch’s nanny, who migrated to Mexico City at age 13 and began working for his family. Until age 4, Tenoch called her
Mom, suggesting that these divisions are culturally manifested issues. Yet they still must remain—Tenoch chooses not to speak about his nanny, despite the revelation that he is in her birthplace. Mexico itself also can’t resolve these differences. Just because political change was permeating the country in the early 2000s, it didn’t mean that the nation was instantly a stable democracy. Cuarón makes this clear not only by drawing parallels between the country and the characters, but also through the objective yet omniscient voice over, which constantly makes sure to not only reveal what the landscape has suffered in the past, but also what injustices or inconsistencies may occur in the future. We hear of deadly car accidents that happened in the past, expensive hotels that will ruin a family’s future, and deadly infections that have yet to arrive. Cuarón also uses the camera to reveal the country in ways that the characters choose to avoid. For example, when a poverty-stricken man comes begging at a restaurant, he is quickly appeased and disregarded by the protagonists. But the camera leaves the characters and explores the other individuals in the space, including the lower class women working and dancing in the back room. The audience often is directed towards citizens being stopped and interrogated by police. We also see a bride blocking a country road, asking for “contributions for the queen”. This scene is in direct contrast to the party scene that Tenoch’s family attends at the beginning of the film, also featuring a young bride of a drastically different class. Just as Mexico itself attempts to put up a façade of maturity and authority, when in fact inequality and corruption pervade, these teenage boys cannot stick to their manifesto. Luisa stirs up their homeostasis and the differences between the two protagonists become more pronounced, resulting in viscous competition. They denounce each other as “charolastras” and sling class-based insults back and forth in an attempt to both dominate and reestablish balance. When they do make peace in a homoerotic moment, it becomes very apparent in the bright sober light that this reconciliation will not, and cannot happen. The world simply does not work in this way, despite efforts by Luisa to educate and pacify them. In the end, the film comes off as not only a character exploration, but also a political and social commentary on Mexico during the early 2000s. We are constantly reminded that although this may be a fresh day, the problems, inequalities and injustices of the past still pervade, and that the carefree ignorance of youth can only last so long. After having childish fun, everyone must face reality.
THEMES & MESSAGES.
LACK OF LOYALTY
LACK OF FAITH
OLD VS NEW
This isnâ€™t all of the themes and messages within the film. Can you think of any more? How do these themes and messages link with certain scenes within the film? How do these themes and messages link with context? Look through your work book and see if you can make these links...
ALFONSO Cuarón Born in Mexico City, 1961. Cuarón studied philosophy at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) and filmmaking at CUEC, but dropped out because he was an “arrogant brat” who had his own ideas for film direction. At the CUEC, he met the cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki. Lubezki & Cuaron - Y Tu Mama Tambien, Children of Men & Gravity Lubezki & Inarritu - Birdman & The Revenant. Cuaron worked on television production in Mexico as a technician and then a director. Cuarón made his film directing debut in the United States with two literary adaptations—A Little Princess (1995) and Great Expectations (1998).
Cuarón ON Y TU MAMA TAMBIEN Alfonso Cuaron has become well known for his cinematic style and ability to create groundbreaking special effects, most notably in Children of Men and Gravity. For Y Tu Mama Tambien Cuaron wanted to do the opposite. He wanted to get rid of the traditional tool filmmakers were using to make films. In a way he was rebelling against they way people believed movies had to be made in Hollywood and he embraced a philosophy similar to the New Wave and Neorealism, Cuaron stepped outside of the studio in order to capture life as it is. He utilized a documentary style camera thus making setups lighter and getting rid of traditional locked off shots. Cuaron is quoted as saying, “I wanted to make the film I was going to make before I went to film school…” This movie would draw on similarities from the American road movies such as Easy Rider. But Cuaron wanted to make it in Spanish and highlight the real world of Mexico, its people, culture, and land. Thus with minimal technical setups and an outlined script that was worked out during production, Cuaron and his cast and crew were able to create a film that depicted life in Mexico while coupling it with a fictional story. This was key for Cuaron, as he wanted to both reveal life and entertain, which many didn’t believe should be done when creating a film of this nature.
ALWAYS... ANSWER THE QUESTION Discuss the question throughout the essay and donâ€™t feel the need to answer it in your first paragraph. Use the words from the question in your response. Conclude by referring to the question.
USE MICRO DETAIL AND REFER TO a specific scene When discussing a specific scene mention how the techniques used may link to the point you are making. Discuss hand-held camera work is used to add realism and how this may link to the themses
DEMONSTRATE YOUR WIDER KNOWLEDGE Discuss the context of New Mexican Cinema. Dicuss the political and historical context. Discuss your knowledge of the direcors.
USE FILM LANGUAGE IN YOUR ANSWERS
Always reference the director and release date. Go into the exam with micro detail from two or three scenes from each film. Respond with a confident voice. Donâ€™t doubt yourself!
ExaM technique. Plan In the exam, you will have 6o minutes for Section A - allow yourself 5 minutes to put together a plan.
• Key points and scenes • Quotes/research of context • Structure
Introduction How would you start? Introduce your texts
• Mexico film industry • Nuevo Cine Mexicano (New Mexican Cinema) • Key developments • Suggestion of influence (FNW & INR) • Introduce filmmakers • What was similar (refer to question) between films • Make suggestions of points you may cover • Context
Example Intro Mexican cinema has an interesting history. Who knows where it could be today if it followed the path of Hollywood as it had a parallel Golden Age through the 1930s-50s, but it was regulation and censorship that blocked this perhaps successful path. It was genre in the 80s as Hollywood popularised Horror, Mexico turned its back on these anti-Catholic visuals and themes. However, it was a more paranoid and self-aware government that tore down the curtains on Mexican film industry; during the 90s, there were whispers of government corruption and this didn’t fall well on a society that was defined by a growing division of rich and poor and by the 90s this was half of the population. However, IMCINE was formed in the 90s, privatising the film industry and releasing the shackles of censorship and political agenda. Leading the change during a movement known as Nuevo Cine Mexicano were Cuaron and Inarritu, directors of Y Tu Mama Tambien (YTMT) and Amores Perros (AP) respectively. Both directors schooled and exposed to French New Wave and Italian Neo-Realism, clearly influencing the style and themes of the films. YTMT and AP films were daring in content. The characters were having sex, violent, committing crime and consuming drugs. This was a new horizon for Mexican cinema and in particular its effect on Mexican audiences. Cuaron has defined the release of YTMT as a sociological event because it gave its young people the confidence to tackle issues. Both film’s characters are defined by their position in society, and this representation of class gives them little purpose and identity. Their situations are defined by their class, a theme contextually driven; a society crying for political change to reidentify its country and was on the brink of doing so.
Main Body PEDAL Point
Directly respond to the question and make your point clear and precise.
Refer to construction and make sure you use correct and appropriate key terminology
The meaning and response - link to ‘answer’
Make sure that you are answering the question within your paragraph. This is often just evidenced with a phrase or sentence by reinforcing your original point now that it has been developed.
A short sentence can provide a transition to the next point. In addition… Alternatively...
Conclusion Link back to the question and draw conclusions from the points you have developed.
• How far do the films you have studied for this topic deal with specific national themes and issues? • With reference to image and sound, what are some of the ways in which filmmakers have created the sense of a distinct national cinema in the films you have studied for this topic? • How far has your understanding of your chosen films been increased by placing them within a national cinema study? • ‘Such is the dominance of Hollywood that it is very difficult for filmmakers to develop a national film style.’ How far is this true of the films you have studied for this topic? • How far can it be said that the films you have studied for this topic reflect national themes in the stories they tell? • How far has a broader study of national context given you greater insight into your chosen films? • By comparing the cinematic styles used in the films you have studied for this topic, is it possible to identify a distinctive ‘national cinema’? • How useful is it to study films by reference to their national cinema context? • How important is a broader knowledge of your chosen national cinema in understanding and appreciating the films you have studied for this topic? • How far is it possible to identify similar representations of either people or situations in the films you have studied for this topic? • What have you discovered about your chosen national cinema from making a comparison of major themes in the films you have studied for this topic? • How far is it possible to identify stylistic features of your chosen national cinema? Refer in detail to the films you have studied for this topic. • Having studied your chosen films, discuss how far it is possible to pick out cinematic features that create the impression of a ‘national style’. • How far have your contextual studies informed your understanding of characters and their situations in the films you have studied for this topic? • Discuss the representation of gender and/or sexuality in your chosen national cinema. Refer in detail to the films you have studied for this topic. • What may be some of the qualities of your chosen national cinema that contribute to its international appeal? Refer in detail to the films you have studied for this topic.
SECTION B spectatorship &
Spectatorship & documentary Documentaries are the “creative treatment of actuality”
This section looks at the relationship between the audience and documentary maker. It questions how films can position audiences, as well as how active and passive audiences react from documentary. We compare the modes of different documentaries. In film theory, the audience is a collective group made up of different people who are the intended target for the film. The spectator is an individual someone who looks at the text and responds independently. We analyse the focus films in terms of positioning the spectator, truth, entertainment, emotional response and its ‘mode’. The key theory is ‘Mode of Documentary’ Nichols (2001).
This theory breaks down documentary into six main categories: • Expository • Poetic • Observational • Interactive • Reflexive • Performative FOCUS TEXTS: BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE (MOORE, 2002) THE THIN BLUE LINE (MORRIS, 1988). SUPPORTED TEXTS: TITICUT FOLLIES (WISEMAN, 1967)
d o Bil cu lN m ich en ols ta ry mod es
1. Expository This mode is what we most identify with the documentary - it “emphasizes verbal commentary and argumentative logic” often using a narrator. Assumes a logical argument and a “right” and “proper” answer using direct address + offering preferred meaning.
God’ narration track. Scripted narration connects the story elements and often unpacks a thesis or an argument.
The expository mode is the most familiar. Expository docs are heavily researched and are sometimes referred to as essay films because they aim to educate and explain things — events, issues, ways of life, worlds and exotic settings we know little about. Typical production elements include interviews, illustrative visuals, some actuality, perhaps some graphics and photos and a ‘voice of
2. POETIC Instead of using traditional linear continuity to create story structure, the poetic documentary filmmaker arrives at its point by arranging footage in an order to evoke an audience association through tone, rhythm, or spatial juxtaposition. Webster defines poetry as “literary work in which special intensity is given to the expression of feelings and ideas by the use of distinctive style and rhythm.” You can apply this definition almost perfectly to many documentaries created in the poetic mode — the aim is to create an impression or a mood rather than argue a point. Filmmakers operating in the poetic mode typically emphasize cinematic values over content to create
visual poetry. Shot design, composition and rhythm achieved in editing are hallmarks of the genre. The narrative, if there is one, is expressed visually rather than rhetorically.
3. observational In reaction to previous forms of documentary and to changing camera technology, both Direct Cinema and Cinema Verite movements started to appear in the 1960s that embraced observational documentary -- that is, the filmmaker observing truth by letting the camera capture its subjects uninterrupted. Observational docs strive for cinematic realism. The gritty realism produced by actuality filmmakers of the 1960s and 70s was achieved through technological advances made ten years earlier: faster lenses for shooting in low light conditions and smaller cameras that could now be handheld and were no longer tethered to a sound recorder with an audio sync cable. An unobtrusive crew of two could shoot almost anywhere with available light and follow actuality as it unfolded. Up until then, bulky film production gear required finicky technical setups and careful staging of the action. Boston director Frederick Wiseman, considered to be the master of observational cinema, is known for his groundbreaking studies of institutions and big social issues (“High School,” 1968; “Public
Housing,” 1997). Wiseman resists categorization of his work: “Cinema verité is just a pompous French word.” In Wiseman’s films, carefully edited and arranged actuality scenes speak for themselves. There is no intervention by the filmmaker, no interview questions, no commentary to camera, no narration. On location, Wiseman records the sound and handles the microphone. Freed from looking through the viewfinder, the director is able to pay better attention to what’s going on around him and anticipate the action. Wiseman communicates with his cameraperson through pre-arranged hand signals and directs by pointing his microphone at what he wants filmed. “Fly-on-the-wall is the most demeaning [term],” Wiseman tells POV magazine. “None of the flies I know are conscious.” Although not fond of fancy film terms, the curmudgeonly octogenarian is considered to be the most authentic maker of observational documentaries.
4. Interactive/ participatory Around the same time as Direct Cinema style of observing without interfering showed up, so did the opposite sensibility. The participatory documentary invited the subjects to participate with the filmmaker -- usually by being interviewed. In “Introduction to Documentary,” Bill Nichols describes participatory documentary as “[when] the encounter between filmmaker and subject is recorded and the filmmaker actively engages with the situation they are documenting.” The participatory mode aims for immediacy and often presents the filmmaker’s point of view. Michael Moore’s documentaries are primarily vehicles for his social commentary. A dynamic shooting style that captures ‘man in the street’
interviews as well as ambush grillings of the powerful, staged sequences featuring the director and mostly one-sided narration are trademarks of Moore’s point of view docs, including “Sicko” – slamming the health care system — and “Bowling for Columbine” — lobbying for gun control.
5. reflexive Documentaries made in reflexive mode provoke audiences to “question the authenticity of documentary in general,” writes Bill Nichols. Reflexive docs challenge assumptions and expectations about the form itself. Dziga Vertov, the Russian film pioneer makes it clear in “The Man With A Movie Camera” that what the audience is watching is not reality but rather a construction of reality. The film is silent and contains no interstitial titles. Ostensibly a ‘city documentary’ that chronicles a day in the life of a metropolis, the 1929 avant-garde classic includes scenes of the film’s cameraman and how he went about getting his shots. Also intercut with scenes of factories, trains and crowded streets are short sequences of a diligent film editor working with individual frames from the film. By clever
juxtaposition of scenes and images, Vertov gives us a sense that the film we are watching is being assembled right before our eyes. The most Brechtian of the sub-genres, reflexive documentary is not about the relationship with the filmmaker and the subject, but rather the filmmaker and the audience.
6. peformative Showing up in the 1980s along with the reflexive sub-genre, the performative documentary emphasizes truth as relative, favoring a personal take over the objective lens. The performative mode of documentary is the direct opposite of the observational where unobtrusive observation of the subject is the director’s aim. Performative documentary emphasizes the filmmaker’s own involvement with the subject. The filmmaker shows a larger political or historical reality through the window of their own experience. Rather than rely on the expository approach, the rhetoric of persuasion, the performative filmmaker becomes a personal guide who shows it and tells it like it is with raw emotion.
• Includes cinematic reconstructions with voiceovers from experts, witnesses, subjects. • Stresses the tone and mood, more so than arguments and evidence. • These reconstructions primarily address the spectator. • Calls for an emotional responsiveness from an audience that acknowledges an understanding of the event, more so that asking us to gain knowledge from it. If we do not know it, than the reconstruction paint the picture
held by Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11), and went on to win an Academy Award.
In the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the intrepid documentarian Michael Moore set out to investigate the long, often volatile love affair between Americans and their firearms, uncovering the pervasive culture of fear that keeps the nation locked and loaded. Equipped with a camera and a microphone, Moore follows the trail of bullets from Littleton, Colorado, and Flint, Michigan, all the way to Kmart’s Michigan headquarters and NRA president Charlton Heston’s Beverly Hills mansion, meeting shooting survivors, militia members, mild-mannered Canadians, and musician Marilyn Manson along the way. An unprecedented popular success that helped usher in a new era in documentary filmmaking, the Oscar-winning Bowling for Columbine is a raucous, impassioned, and still tragically relevant journey through the American psyche.
In hindsight, many critics now regard the film as a turning point for the genre, ushering in a so-called “golden age” for documentary makers, although others still question Moore’s biased approach to his subject matter.
ARTICLE It’s been 18 years since Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold embarked on their murderous rampage through Columbine High in Littleton, Colorado. Brandishing an arsenal of semiautomatic weapons, shotguns, pipe bombs and knives, the pair killed 13 of their classmates and teachers, before turning their guns on themselves. It’s a story that sent shockwaves around the globe, and prompted politicians and TV anchors alike to pour over every minute detail, searching for an answer to the overwhelming question: why? Among the more high-profile accounts of what happened that day is Michael Moore’s powerful film Bowling For Columbine, which is now available to watch on MUBI to mark the 16th anniversary of the massacre. The film caused a sensation when it was released in 2002, winning plaudits for Moore’s highly personal exploration of thorny issues such as America’s gun laws, as well its cinematic narrative. At the time, Bowling For Columbine was the highest-grossing documentary (an honour now
What isn’t in question, however, is the impact of Moore’s seminal film, which still resonates with audiences 13 years after its release. • Michael Moore, provocateur Michael Moore’s provocative brand of filmmaking rarely shies away from controversy. Like his earlier TV shows TV Nation and The Awful Truth, Moore writes and stars in his films, frequently championing the rights of the “little people” against faceless corporations. In Bowling For Columbine, Moore’s relentless pursuit for answers and his tactic of “sticking it to the man” appeals to the audience’s need to apportion blame – with often astonishing results. As he investigates America’s antiquated gun laws, Moore is appalled to discover that Harris and Klebold bought the ammunition used in the massacre over the counter at US supermarket chain KMart. His subsequent ambush of KMart’s headquarters, with two Columbine survivors who have bullets lodged in their bodies, makes for uncomfortable viewing at times, although it’s never short of thrilling. And Moore’s sensational tactics are ultimately justified when the company agrees to stop selling the offending bullets at a hastily arranged press conference. The final interview in the film with Charlton Heston – who was president of America’s National Rifle Association at the time – is perhaps even more divisive. Heston readily agrees to speak to Moore when he reveals that he too is a member of the NRA, but the tense interview that follows is a bittersweet victory for the filmmaker. Heston’s suggestion that gun crime in America may be a result of its “history of violence” and “mixed ethnicity” initially vindicates Moore’s
tactics in the eyes of the audience. But in spite of this, it remains difficult to shake the feeling that the unsuspecting Heston was ambushed by Moore to satisfy the filmmaker’s lust for sensational footage. • Blurring the boundaries In addition to its thought-provoking subject matter and cultural relevance, the commercial success of Bowling For Columbine may also be attributed to Moore’s cinematic approach to the narrative. Like director Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock from 1970, and Leon Gast’s 1996 film When We Were Kings, Bowling For Columbine relies heavily on the cult of celebrity and personality, and is edited in such a fashion that, at times, it feels like you’re watching a feature film.
“ But perhaps the question we should really be asking ourselves, is do we want our documentaries to entertain or inform us? ” Throughout the film, Moore is portrayed as a persuasive and engaging protagonist in a thrilling whodunnit as he explores the nature of violence in America. Its winding narrative is designed to take the audience on a theatrical journey, similar to that of a feature film, leading some commentators to question whether this, and subsequent films, can truly be called documentaries at all. Michael Moore’s strong presence in the film also poses the question of whether he’s a reliable narrator. Early on, Moore explains that he’s been a member of the NRA since childhood, but the audience is never left in any doubt regarding his opinion on current gun legislation. So while the film is undoubtedly informative, it frequently challenges our perception of entertainment versus documentary. • Creating a legacy In many ways Bowling for Columbine opened the gates for the commercial success of the
modern documentary. Prior to this, cinematic releases for documentary films were rare, and sporadic at best. Moore’s film piqued the interest of the cinemagoing public, and shortly after its Oscars success, Jeffrey Blitz’s Spellbound drew a surprisingly large audience, following its UK release, with its dramatic portrayal of an American spelling bee. Documentary cinema has since become big business. In 2004, Moore followed Bowling For Columbine’s success with Fahrenheit 9/11 – a critical look at the presidency of George W Bush. The film became an instant hit, topping Columbine as the highest-grossing documentary of all time, as well as winning the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival. Subsequent documentaries, such as Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me and An Inconvenient Truth by Davis Guggenheim, may also owe a measure of their success – and narrative style – to Bowling For Columbine. But perhaps the question we should really be asking ourselves, is do we want our documentaries to entertain or inform us – and is it possible to have both without compromising their validity? There is no right or wrong answer, but if audience numbers are anything to go by, Moore may have just found the perfect balance.
Applying Bill Nichols’ theory, what type of documentary is Bowling for Columbine? With such a presence from Moore in the film, it has been argued that Bowling for Columbine is a subjective film and some even argue that it is not a documentary. To what extent do you agree? How does Moore’s interactive style effect the positioning of the spectator? Consider techniques - voiceovers, interview styles & participation. What is the purpose of Bowling for Columbine? With such a presence from Moore in the film, it has been argued that Bowling for Columbine is a subjective film and some even argue that it is not a documentary. To what extent do you agree? How does Moore’s interactive style effect the positioning of the spectator? Consider techniques - voiceovers, interview styles & participation.
documentary or fiction? by David T. Hardy
The Michael Moore production “Bowling for Columbine” just won the Oscar for best documentary. Unfortunately, it is not a documentary, by the Academy’s own definition. The injustice here is not so much to the viewer, as to the independent producers of real documentaries. These struggle in a field which (despite its real value) receives but a tiny fraction of the recognition and financing of the “entertainment industry.” The award of the documentary Oscar to a $4 million entertainment piece is unjust to the legitimate competitors, disheartening to makers of real documentaries, and sets a precedent which may encourage inspire others to take similar liberties with their future projects. Bowling makes its points by deceiving and by misleading the viewer. Statements are made which are false. Moore invites the reader to draw inferences which he must have known were wrong. Indeed, even speeches shown on screen are heavily edited, so that sentences are assembled in the speaker’s voice, but which he never uttered. These occur with such frequency and seriousness as to rule out unintentional error. Any polite description would be inadequate, so let me be blunt. Bowling uses deliberate deception as its primary tool of persuasion and effect.
A film which does this may be a commercial success. It may be amusing, or it may be moving. But it is not a documentary. One need only consult Rule 12 of the rules for the Academy Award: a documentary must be non-fictional, and even re-enactments (much less doctoring of a speech) must stress fact and not fiction. To the Academy voters, some silly rules were not a bar to giving the award. The documentary category, the one refuge for works which educated and informed, is now no more than another subcategory of entertainment. Serious charges require serious evidence. The point is not that Bowling is unfair, or that its conclusions are incorrect. No, the point is that Bowling is deliberately, seriously, and consistently deceptive. A viewer cannot count upon any aspect of it, even when the viewer believes he is seeing video of an event occurring or a person speaking. Words are cheap. Let’s look at the evidence. 1. Lockheed-Martin and Nuclear Missiles. Bowling for Columbine contains a sequence filmed at the Lockheed-Martin manufacturing facility, near Columbine. Moore interviews a PR fellow, shows missiles being built, and then asks whether knowledge that weapons of mass destruction were being built nearby might have motivated the Columbine shooters in committing their own mass slaying. After all, if their father worked on the missiles, “What’s the difference between that
mass destruction and the mass destruction over at Columbine High School?” Moore intones that the missiles with their “Pentagon payloads” are trucked through the town “in the middle of the night while the children are asleep.”
Moore in voiceover intones “Just ten days after the Columbine killings, despite the pleas of a community in mourning, Charlton Heston came to Denver and held a large pro-gun rally for the National Rifle Association;”
Soon after Bowling was released someone checked out the claim, and found that the Lockheed-Martin plant does not build weapons-type missiles; it makes rockets for launching satellites.
Cut to Heston (supposedly) continuing speech... “I have a message from the Mayor, Mr. Wellington Webb, the Mayor of Denver. He sent me this; it says ‘don’t come here. We don’t want you here.’ I say to the Mayor this is our country, as Americans we’re free to travel wherever we want in our broad land. Don’t come here? We’re already here.”
Moore’s website has his response: “The Lockheed rockets now take satellites into outer space. Some of them are weather satellites, some are telecommunications satellites, and some are top secret Pentagon projects (like the ones that are launched as spy satellites and others which are used to direct the launching of the nuclear missiles should the USA ever decide to use them). “ Nice try, Mike. (1) the fact that some are spy satellites which might be “used to direct the launching” (i.e., because they spot nukes being launched at the United States) is hardly what Moore was suggesting in the movie... it’s hard to envision a killer making a moral equation between mass murder and a recon satellite, right? (2) In fact, one of that plant’s major projects was the ultimate in beating swords into plowshares: the Denver plant was in charge of taking the Titan missiles which originally had carried nuclear warheads, and converting them to launch communications satellites and space exploration units instead. C’mon Mike, You got caught. As we will see below, the event is all too illustrative of Moore’s approach. In producing a supposed “documentary,” Moore simply changes facts when they don’t suit his theme. 2. NRA and the Reaction To Tragedy. The dominant theme in Bowling (and certainly the theme that has attracted most reviewers) is that NRA is callous toward slayings. The theme begins early in the film, and forms its ending, as Moore confronts Heston, asserting that he keeps going to the scene of tragedies to hold defiant rallies. In order to make this theme fit the facts, however, Bowling repeatedly distorts the evidence. Bowling portrays this with the following sequence: Weeping children outside Columbine, explaining how near they had come to death and how their friends had just been murdered before their eyes;
The portrayal is one of Heston and NRA arrogantly holding a protest rally in response to the deaths -or, as one reviewer put it, “it seemed that Charlton Heston and others rushed to Littleton to hold rallies and demonstrations directly after the tragedy.” [italics added]. Moore successfully causes viewers to reach this conclusion. It is in fact false. Fact: The Denver event was not a demonstration relating to Columbine, but an annual meeting, whose place and date had been fixed years in advance. Fact: At Denver, the NRA canceled all events (normally several days of committee meetings, sporting events, dinners, and rallies) save the annual members’ meeting; that could not be cancelled because corporate law required that it be held. [No way to change location, since you have to give advance notice of that to the members, and there were upwards of 4,000,000 members.] Fact: Heston’s “cold dead hands” speech, which leads off Moore’s depiction of the Denver meeting, was not given at Denver after Columbine. It was given a year later in Charlotte, North Carolina, and was a response to his being given the musket, a collector’s piece, at that annual meeting. Bowling leads off with this speech, and then splices in footage which was taken in Denver and refers to Denver, to create the impression that the entire clip was taken at the Denver event. Fact: When Bowling continues on to the speech which Heston did give in Denver, it carefully edits it to change its theme. Moore’s fabrication here cannot be described by any polite term. It is a lie, a fraud, and quite a few other things. Carrying it out required a LOT of editing to mislead the viewer, as I will show below. I transcribed Heston’s speech as Moore has it, and compared it to a news agency’s transcript, color coding the passages.
Cut to Charlton Heston holding a musket over his head and happily proclaiming “I have only five words for you: ‘from my cold, dead, hands’” to a cheering NRA crowd.
Moore has actually taken audio of seven sentences, from five different parts of the speech, and a section given in a different speech entirely, and spliced them together, to create a speech that was never given. Each edit is cleverly covered by inserting a still or video footage for a few seconds.
Cut to billboard advertising the meeting, while
First, right after the weeping victims, Moore puts on
Heston’s “I have only five words for you . . . cold dead hands” statement, making it seem directed at them. As noted above, it’s actually a thank-you speech given a year later to a meeting in North Carolina.
the Air Force Academy and the Olympic Training Center. And yes, NRA members are surely among the police and fire and SWAT team heroes who risked their lives to rescue the students at Columbine.
Moore then has an interlude -- a visual of a billboard and his narration. The interlude is vital. He can’t cut directly to Heston’s real Denver speech. If he did that, you might ask why Heston in mid-speech changed from a purple tie and lavender shirt to a white shirt and red tie. Or why the background draperies went from maroon to blue. Moore has to separate the two segments of this supposed speech to keep the viewer from noticing.
Don’t come here? We’re already here. This community is our home. Every community in America is our home. We are a 128-year-old fixture of mainstream America. The Second Amendment ethic of lawful, responsible firearm ownership spans the broadest cross section of American life imaginable.
Moore then goes to show Heston speaking in Denver. His second edit (covered by splicing in a pan shot of the crowd at the meeting, while Heston’s voice continues) deletes Heston’s announcement that NRA has in fact cancelled most of its meeting: “As you know, we’ve cancelled the festivities, the fellowship we normally enjoy at our annual gatherings. This decision has perplexed a few and inconvenienced thousands. As your president, I apologize for that.” Moore has to take that out -- it would blow his entire theme. Moore then cuts to Heston noting that Denver’s mayor asked NRA not to come, and shows Heston replying “I said to the Mayor: Don’t come here? We’re already here!” as if in defiance. Actually, Moore put an edit right in the middle of the first sentence! Heston was actually saying (with reference Heston’s own WWII vet status) “I said to the mayor, well, my reply to the mayor is, I volunteered for the war they wanted me to attend when I was 18 years old. Since then, I’ve run small errands for my country, from Nigeria to Vietnam. I know many of you here in this room could say the same thing.” Moore cuts it after “I said to the Mayor” and attaches a sentence from the end of the next paragraph: “As Americans, we’re free to travel wherever we want in our broad land.” It thus becomes an arrogant “I said to the Mayor: as American’s we’re free to travel wherever we want in our broad land.” He hides the deletion by cutting to footage of protestors and a still photo of the Mayor as Heston says “I said to the mayor,” cutting back to Heston’s face at “As Americans.” Moore has Heston then triumphantly announce “Don’t come here? We’re already here!” Actually, that sentence is clipped from a segment five paragraphs farther on in the speech. Again, Moore uses an editing trick to cover the doctoring. As Heston speaks, the video switches momentarily to a pan of the crowd, then back to Heston; the pan shot covers the doctoring. What Heston actually is saying in “We’re already here” was not the implied defiance, but rather this: “NRA members are in city hall, Fort Carson, NORAD,
So, we have the same right as all other citizens to be here. To help shoulder the grief and share our sorrow and to offer our respectful, reassured voice to the national discourse that has erupted around this tragedy.” Bowling continues its theme by juxtaposing another Heston speech with a school shooting at Mt. Morris, MI, just north of Flint, making the claim that right after the shooting, NRA came to the locale to stage a defiant rally. In Moore’s words, “Just as he did after the Columbine shooting, Charlton Heston showed up in Flint, to have a big pro-gun rally.” Fact: Heston’s speech was given at a “get out the vote” rally in Flint, which was held when elections rolled around some eight months after the shooting. Fact: Moore should remember. On the same day, Moore himself was hosting a similar rally in Flint, for the Green Party. Moore follows up the impression with his Heston interview. Heston’s memory of the Flint event is foggy (he says it was a morning event and he “then went on to wherever we were going.” In fact it was held at night as the last event of the tour.). This is hardly surprising; it was one rally in a nine-stop tour of three States in three days. Moore, who had plenty of time to prepare for the interview, carefully continues the impression he has created, asking Heston questions such as: “After that happened you came to Flint to hold a big rally and, you know, I just , did you feel it was being at all insensitive to the fact that this community had just gone through this tragedy?” Moore continues to come back at Heston, asking if he would have cancelled the event if he “knew” and “you think you’d like to apologize to the people in Flint for coming and doing that at that time?” Moore knows the real sequence, and knows that Heston does not. He takes full advantage of Heston and of the viewer. Moore’s purpose here is to convince the viewer that Heston intentionally holds defiant protests in response to a firearms tragedy. Judging from reviews, Bowling creates exactly that impression. Some samples: “Then, he [Heston] and his ilk held ANOTHER gun-rally shortly after another child/gun tragedy in Flint, MI where a 6-year old child shot and killed a 6-year old classmate (Heston claims in the final interview of the film that he didn’t know this had just happened when he appeared.” Click
here for original; italics supplied] Another reviewer even came off with the impression that Heston”held another NRA rally in Flint, Michigan, just 48 hours after a 6 year old shot and killed a classmate in that same town.” “ What was Heston thinking going to into Colorado and Michigan immediately after the massacres of innocent children?” asks a third. Bowling persuaded these reviewers by deceiving them. There was no rally shortly after the tragedy, nor 48 hours after it. When Heston said he did not know of the shooting (which had happened eight months before his appearance, over a thousand miles from his home) he was undoubtedly telling the truth. The lie here is not that of Heston, but of Moore. The sad part is that the lie has proven so successful. Moore’s creative skills, which could be put to a good purpose, are instead used to convince the viewer that a truthful man is a liar and that things which did not occur, did. 3. Animated sequence equating NRA with KKK. In an animated history send-up, Bowling equates the NRA with the Klan, suggesting NRA was founded in 1871, “the same year that the Klan became an illegal terrorist organization.” Bowling goes on to depict Klansmen becoming the NRA and an NRA character helping to light a burning cross. This sequence is intended to create the impression either that NRA and the Klan were parallel groups or (more likely) that when the Klan was outlawed its members formed the NRA. And viewers pick up just that message. “Throughout the film Moore mentions the history of the NRA and ties it closely with the history of white Americans’ fear of African-Americans. He points out that the NRA was “coincidentally” founded in the same year that the KKK was founded.” Source Fact: The Klan wasn’t founded in 1871, but in 1866, and quickly became a terrorist organization. One might claim that it technically became an “illegal” terrorist organization with passage of the federal Ku Klux Klan Act and Enforcement Act in 1871. These criminalized interference with civil rights, and empowered the President to suspend habeas corpus and to use troops to suppress the Klan. Fact: The Klan Act and Enforcement Act were signed into law by President Ulysess S. Grant. Grant used their provisions vigorously, suspending habeas corpus in South Carolina, sending troops into that and other states; under his leadership over 5,000 arrests were made and the Klan was dealt a serious (if all too short-lived) blow. Fact: Grant’s vigor in disrupting the Klan earned him unpopularity among many whites, but Frederick Douglass praised him, and an associate of Douglass wrote that African-Americans “will ever cherish a grateful remembrance of his name, fame and great services.” Fact: After Grant left the White House, the NRA elected him as its eighth president.
Fact: After Grant’s term, the NRA elected General Philip Sheridan, who had removed the governors of Texas and Lousiana for failure to oppose Klan terror. Fact: The affinity of NRA for enemies of the Klan is hardly surprising. The NRA was founded in New York by two former Union officers, its first president was an Army of the Potomac commander, and eight of its first ten presidents were Union veterans. Fact: During the 1950s and 1960s, groups of blacks organized as NRA chapters in order to obtain surplus military rifles to fight off Klansmen. 4. Shooting at Buell Elementary School in Michigan. Bowling depicts the juvenile shooter as a sympathetic youngster who just found a gun in his uncle’s house and took it to school. “No one knew why the little boy wanted to shoot the little girl.” Fact: The little boy was the class bully, already suspended from school for stabbing another kid with a pencil. Since the incident, he has stabbed another child with a knife. Fact: The uncle’s house was the neighborhood crack-house. The uncle (together with the shooter’s father, then serving a prison term for theft and cocaine possession, and his aunt and maternal grandmother) earned their living off drug dealing. The gun was stolen by one of the uncle’s customers and purchased by him in exchange for drugs. 5. The Taliban and American Aid. After discussing military assistance to various countries, Bowling asserts that the U.S. gave $245 million in aid to the Taliban government of Afghanistan in 2000 and 2001, and then shows aircraft hitting the twin towers to illustrate the result. Fact: The aid in question was humanitarian assistance, given through UN and nongovernmental organizations, to relieve famine in Afghanistan. 6. International Comparisons. To pound home its point, Bowling flashes a dramatic count of gun homicides in various countries: Canada 165, Germany 381, Australia 65, Japan 39, US 11,127. Now that’s raw numbers, not rates, but let’s go with what Bowling uses. Verifying the figures was difficult, since Moore does not give a year for them, but I kept trying. A lot of Moore’s numbers didn’t check out for any period I could find. As a last effort at checking, I did a Google search for each number and the word “gun” or words “gun homicides” Many traced -- only back to webpages repeating Bowling’s figures. So far as I can find, Moore is the only one using these numbers. Germany: Bowling says 381: Where Moore could have found this number is beyond me. 1995 figures put homicides at 1,476, about four times what Bowling claims, and gun homicides at 168, about half what it claims. (And that is purely murder: if you
add in accidents and suicides it becomes 12,888 for all, or about 1,207 for firearms.) No figure matches or comes close. Australia: Bowling says 65. This seems to be close, albeit picking the year to get the data desired. Between 1980-1995, firearm homicides varied wildly from 64-123, although never exactly 65. In 2000, it was 64, which was proudly proclaimed as the lowest number in the country’s history. If suicides and accidents are included, the numbers become 516 687. US: Bowling says 11,127. FBI figures put it a lot lower. They report gun homicides were 8,719 in 2001, 8,661 in 2000, 8,480 in 1999. (2001 UCR, p. 23). Going back 1997 (first year listed in the 2001 FBI report), I can’t find Bowling’s U.S. number anywhere. If Moore got it from an earlier timeframe, he’s juggling years to compare US historic highs to Australia’s and Canada’s historic lows. It’s possible Moore is adding in gun suicides and accidents, but in that event he should have added them in to the other countries, as well, which as noted above would kick Germany from 381 to 12,888. Canada: Moore’s number is correct for 1999, a low point, but he ignores some obvious differences. Bias. I wanted to talk about fabrication or errors, not about bias, but I’ve gotten emails asking why I didn’t mention that Switzerland requires almost all adult males to have guns, but has a lower homicide rate than Great Britain, or that Japanese-Americans, with the same proximity to guns as other Americans, have homicide rate half that of Japan itself. Okay, they’re mentioned, now back to our regularly scheduled program. In short, where Bowling gets its crime figures is largely a mystery. Many of them seem to trace back only to Bowling itself, and are not elsewhere reported: the most apparent explanation is that they were invented for the movie. 7. Miscellaneous. Even the Canadian government is getting into the act. In one scene, Bowling shows Moore casually buying ammunition at an Ontario Walmart. He asks us to “look at what I, a foreign citizen, was able to do at a local Canadian WalMart.” He enters the store and buys several boxes of ammunition without a question being raised. “That’s right. I could buy as much ammunition as I wanted, in Canada.” Canadian officials have pointed out that the buy is either faked or illegal: Canadian law requires all ammunition buyers to present proper identification. (The law, in effect since 1998, requires nonCanadians to present picture ID and a gun importation permit. Moore probably told the store clerk there was no need to bother with details since he wasn’t really going to buy the ammunition.). Even
when Bowling is praising an area, the viewer still can’t count on it to be truthful. While we’re at it: Bowling shows footage of a B-52 on display at the Air Force Academy, while Moore solemnly pronounces that the plaque under it “proudly proclaims that the plane killed Vietnamese people on Christmas Eve of 1972.” Strangely, the camera only lets you see the plaque from a distance where you cannot read it. The plaque actually reads that “Flying out of Utapao Royal Thai Naval Airfield in southeast Thailand, the crew of ‘Diamond Lil’ shot down a MIG northeast of Hanoi during ‘Linebacker II’ action on Christmas eve 1972.” This is pretty mild compared to the rest of Bowling, granted. But it illustrates that the viewer can’t even trust Moore to honestly read a document. (The B-52 was rather lucky: the American plane ahead of it and the one behind it were lost). 8. Race. At one point in the evolution of this webpage, I suggested that Moore tries to suggest that Heston is a bigot. Upon reviewing the movie again, I’d have to say that Moore does not make that point, although many of his viewers hold it after watching. E.g, “ Heston’s racist excuse that Americans are maybe more violent than other countries because we have a greater ethnic mix.” Source. “Heston looks like an idiot, and a racist one at that” Source. “BTW, one thing the Heston interview did clear up, that man is shockingly racist. Beyond revulsion I never felt pity for that privileged, ignorant hypocrite.” Source. The remarks stem from Heston’s answer (after Moore keeps pressing for why the US has more violence than other countries) that it might be due the US “having a more mixed ethnicity” than other nations. When Moore asks if Heston thinks it’s “an ethnic thing,” Heston responds (as the camera zooms in) “We had enough problems with civil rights in the beginning.” A viewer who accepts Moore’s theme that gun ownership is driven by racial fears might conclude that Heston is blaming blacks and the civil rights movement for violence. But if you look at some history missing from Bowling, you get exactly the opposite picture. Heston is talking, not about race, but about racism. In the early 1960s, the civil rights movement was fighting for acceptance. Civil rights workers were subject to murder and beatings. The Kennedy Administration, trying to hold together a Democratic coalition that ranged from liberals to fire-eater segregationists such as George Wallace and Lester Maddox, found the issue too hot to touch, and prior to 1963 offered little aid. Charlton Heston got involved, beginning with picketing discriminatory restaurants. He worked with Martin Luther King, and helped King break Hollywood’s color barrier (yes, there was one.). He led the actors’ component of King’s 1963 march in Washington -- important precisely because it showed the strength (250,000 marchers) and acceptability
of the civil rights movement, put spine into the Administration, and set the stage for the key civil rights legislation in 1964. Source.
those -- but because the Canadian mass media isn’t into constant hyping of fear and loathing, and the American media is.
Here’s Heston’s comments at the 2001 Congress on Racial Equality Martin Luther King dinner (also attended by NRA’s Executive Vice President, and presided over by NRA director, and CORE President, Roy Innes). You can find photos of Heston’s civil rights activism here, just search for Heston if the precise page doesn’t link.
Which leaves us to wonder why the Brady Campaign/ Million Moms issued a press release. congratulating Moore on his Oscar nomination.
So when Heston is talking about ethnic diversity and “problems with civil rights in the beginning,” he’s not suggesting that race is a factor -- he’s suggesting that racism is. Most of the viewers likely were born long after the events Heston is recalling. To them, the civil rights struggle consists of Martin Luther King giving some speeches, people singing “We Shall Overcome,” and everyone coming to their senses. Heston remembers what it was really like, and finds a possible explanation of violence in the legacy of racism. 9. Fear. Bowling probably has a good point when it suggests that we are prone to irrational fears, and the media feeds off this in a search for circulation and the fast buck. Bowling cites some glaring examples: the razor blades in Halloween apples scare, the flesheating bacteria scare, etc. The examples are taken straight from Barry Glassner’s excellent book on the subject, “The Culture of Fear,” and Moore interviews Glassner on-camera for the point. Then Moore does exactly what he condemns in the media. Given the prominence of schoolyard killings as a theme in Bowling for Columbine, Moore must have asked Glassner about that subject. Whatever Glassner footage was taken in this regard is, however, left on the cutting-room floor. That’s because Glassner lists schoolyard shootings as one of the mythical fears. He points out that “More than three times as many people are killed by lightning as by violence at schools.”
Or does Bowling have a hidden punch line, and in the end the joke is on them? One possible explanation: did Bowling begin as one movie, and end up as another?
Conclusion The point is not that Bowling is unfair, or lacking in objectivity. One might hope that a documentary would be fair, but nothing rules out a rousing polemic. The point is far more fundamental: Bowling for Columbine is dishonest. It is fraudulent. It fixes upon a theme, and advances it, whenever necessary, by deception. To trash Heston, tt even uses the audio/ video editor to assemble a Heston speech that Heston did not give, and to turn sympathetic phrases into arrogant ones. Moore’s object is not to enlighten or to document, but to play his viewer like a violin, to the point where they leave the theater with heartfelt believe in that which is, sadly, quite false. The bottom line: can a film be called a documentary when the viewer cannot trust an iota of it, not only the narration, but the video? I suppose film critics could debate that one for a long time, and some might prefer entertainment and effect to fact and truth. But the Academy Award rules here are specific. Rule 12 lays out “Special Rules for the Documentary Award.” And it begins with the definition: “A documentary film is defined as a non-fiction motion picture . . . .”
Bowling for Columbine follows the very adage it condemns: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Fear sells -- and can win you an Oscar. 10. Guns (supposedly the point of the film). A point worth making (although not strictly on theme here): Bowling’s theme is, rather curiously, not opposed to firearms ownership. After making out Canada to be a haven of peace and safety, Moore asks why. He proclaims that Canada has “a tremendous amount of gun ownership,” somewhat under one gun per household. He visits Canadian shooting ranges, gun stores, and in the end proclaims “Canada is a gun loving, gun toting, gun crazy country!” Bowling concludes that Canada isn’t peaceful because it lacks guns and gun nuts -- it has lots of
Does any of this matter?
michael moore BASIC INFO Michael Francis Moore was born in Flint, Michigan on April 23, 1954, and was raised in its Davison suburb. He is the son of Helen Veronica (Wall), a secretary, and Francis Richard Moore, who worked on an auto assembly line. He has Irish, as well as English and Scottish, ancestry. Moore studied journalism at the University of Michigan-Flint, and also pursued other hobbies such as gun shooting, for which he even won a competition. Michael began his journalistic career writing for the school newspaper “The Michigan Times,” and after dropping out of college briefly worked as editor for “Mother Jones.” He then turned to filmmaking, and to earn the money for the budget of his first film Roger & Me (1989) he ran neighborhood bingo games. The success of this film launched his career as one of America’s best-known and most controversial documentarians. He has produced a string of documentary films and TV series predominantly about the same subject: attacks on corrupt politicians and greedy business corporations. He landed his first big hit with Bowling for Columbine (2002) about the bad points of the right to bear arms in America, which earned him an Oscar and a big reputation. He then shook the world with his even bigger hit Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), making fun of President George W. Bush. This is the highest-grossing documentary of all time. Michael is known for having the guts to give his opinion in public, which not many people are courageous enough to do, and for that is respected by many.
MOORE ON BOWLING FOR COLUMBINE “You cut and cut and cut. I’m always trying to find a movie in those 200 hours that I would like to go see on a Friday night. If I were just making a political statement, I’d run for office, and if I were giving a sermon, I’d be a preacher. I’m making a movie, an entertaining experience. And if a few people leave thinking about the issues, great. If one becomes active, great. I keep my expectations low. I know where I live.” “When I make a film, I’m not doing it purely for political reasons. If I just wanted to do that, I’d run for office. I love to go see a good movie... try to remember when was the last great film that you saw and when you left the theatre it was like a religious experience; you have tears in your eyes because this art form was honoured by what you just saw on the screen. And it’s so rare these days. It’s been that way for the last decade or so and so I think as a film-maker, my first contribution would just be to make a good movie that people would love to go see and leave the theatre charged, with that sense of excitement that we’ve all had. And you want that, every time you go and you so rarely get it. And I just think I can’t wait around for other people to give it to me; I’m going to give it to myself and so I’m going to make a movie that I would like to go see. And I trust that a few million others will want to see it too. And the great thing about living in such a large country with 280 million people is that I can literally have 260 million people completely hate what I do, or not get it, or not go; but if 20 million people go and see this movie, the box office would be larger than Jaws. So I’m not trying to appeal to a broad audience because then you’d be trying to water it down and pulling your punches because you’ve got to please everybody. You just have to please yourself and trust that there’s other people like you, that feel that way. So, “people’s film-maker”, I don’t know. I don’t really want to represent anybody apart from myself when it comes to the actual film-making process.”
The Thin Blue Line Extract from Film Art - An Introduction On a west Dallas highway one night in 1976, a police officer named Robert Wood was fatally shot by a driver he had pulled over. His partner, Teresa Turko, saw the killer drive off, but it took months of investigation for the police to discover that the car had been stolen by David Harris. Harris, a 16-year-old from the small town of Vidor, admitted to being in the car but said that the killer was Randall Adams, a man with whom he had hung around that day. Adams was tried for murder, found guilty, and sentenced to death. Eventually, through an appeal process, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. Harris, because of his age and his cooperation with the police, was given a suspended sentence. In 1985, documentary filmmaker Errol Morris met Randall Adams while he was researching a film on a prominent Dallas psychiatrist known as “Dr. Death” because of his record of submitting evidence that sent defendants to the electric chair. Morris became convinced that Adams had been unjustly convicted, and over the next three years, he prepared a film on the case. The Thin Blue Line illustrates how a documentary can use narrative form, for at root it tells the story of events leading up to and following the murder of Officer Wood. Yet the film’s narration enriches that basic story. By juggling time, inserting many details, developing the reenactments of the killing into a powerful pattern, and subtly engaging our sympathy for Randall Adams, Morris not only takes us through a criminal case but also suggests how difficult the search for truth can be. The overall plot guides us through the story events, but not in a wholly linear way. The film breaks fairly clearly into 31 sequences, although many contain brief flashbacks to the interrogation and the crime, and some contain fairly lengthy reenactments.
1. Dallas, Randall Adams, and David Harris are introduced. 2. Officer Wood is shot. First shooting reenactment 3. Adams is arrested and interrogated. First interrogation reenactment 4. Police describe the interrogation and the beginning of the investigation. Second interrogation reenactment 5. Police describe the two officers’ states of mind. Second shooting reenactment 6. Police search for the car, even using hypnotism. Third shooting reenactment 7. Big break: David Harris is discovered in Vidor, Texas. 8. Harris accuses Randall Adams of the shooting. 9. Adams responds to Harris’s charge. 10. Adams is interrogated. Third interrogation reenactment 11. Police explain the mistaken auto identification. 12. Adams’s two lawyers are introduced and describe their inquiry into Harris’s hometown. 13. Adams’s lawyers discuss Harris as a criminal; the judge describes his attitude toward police. 14. Adams recounts Harris’s version of events. Fourth shooting reenactment 15. Adams explains his alibi. 16. Trial: Officer Turko testifies, implicating Adams. Fifth shooting reenactment 17. Trial: New witnesses emerge. Mr. and Mrs. Miller claim to have seen Adams shoot Wood. Sixth shooting reenactment 18. Adams’s lawyers and Mrs. Carr rebut the Miller couple’s testimony. 19. Trial: Third new witness, Michael Randell, claims to have seen Adams shoot Wood. Seventh shooting reenactment 20. Trial: Jury declares Adams guilty. 21. Trial: Judge sentences Adams to death. 22. Adams reacts to the death sentence. 23. Adams’s lawyers petition for a retrial and lose. 24. Adams’s appeal is supported by the U.S. Supreme Court; his sentence is commuted to life in prison. 25. Vidor detective explains: Harris is arrested again. 26. Rethinking the case: Witnesses reflect, and Harris hints that he has lied. Eighth shooting reenactment 27. Vidor detective explains: Harris has committed a murder in town. 28. Adams: “The kid scares me”; he reflects on the mistake of letting Harris go free. 29. Harris, now on death row, reflects on his childhood. 30. Final interview on audiotape: Harris calls Adams a “scapegoat” and virtually confesses. 31. Title: Current situation of the two men.
Segments 1-3 form a prologue, introducing the essential information and arousing our curiosity and concern. The opening sequence presents the city of Dallas; the two main characters, Randall Adams and David Harris; and their current situation: both men are in jail. What has brought them there? They tell of meeting each other and spending the day drinking, .,;moking marijuana, and going to a drive-in movie. Segment 2 is the first of many shocking reenactments of the shooting of Officer Wood at the dark roadside. Here, as in all the others, actors play the participants, and the framing often conceals their faces, concentrating instead on details of action or setting. The third sequence depicts Adams’s arrest and interrogation, which he describes as intimidating and which is shown in a reenactment (11.80). Then the film’s plot flashes back to explain events leading up to Adams’s arrest, concentrating on the police investigation (segments 4-11). In the course of this, David Harris names Randall Adams as the killer (8), and Adams is arrested and interrogated (10). Eventually, the confusion about the make of the car is cleared up, though Morris hints that the police investigation was muddled (11). These sequences are interrupted by two more reenactments of Adams’s questioning and two reenactments of the death of Officer Woods. The longest stretch of the film (segments 12-24) centers on Randall Adams’s confrontation with the courts. After his lawyers and the judge are introduced (12-13), we’re given two conflicting versions of events-Adams’s and Harris’s (1415). Three surprise witnesses identify Adams as the shooter (16-19), although some of the testimony is undercut by a woman who claims that two witnesses bragged to her about trying to earn a reward (18). Once more, at certain moments, the crime is reenacted. The jury finds Adams guilty (20), and he’s sentenced to death (21-22). The legal maneuvers that follow put Adams in prison for life without parole (2324). The film has answered one question posed at the outset: now we know how Randall Adams got to prison. But what of David Harris, who is also serving time? The final large section of the film continues the story after the trial, concentrating on Harris’s criminal career. Harris is arrested for other crimes (25), and then Morris inserts a sequence (26) designed to suggest his guilt in the Woods case. The surprise eyewitnesses are shown to be
unreliable and confused, and as having things to hide. Most tellingly, Harris explains, “Of course I picked out Randall Adams.” In the next sequence, a detective in Harris’s hometown of Vidor explains how Harris invaded a man’s home, violently abducted his girlfriend, and fatally shot the man (27). Harris, now revealed as a, polite, easygoing sociopath, reflects on his childhood, when his brother drowned and his father seemed to become more distant (29). But whatever sympathy he might arouse is undercut by his final acknowledgment, captured by Morris on audiotape, that Randall Adams is innocent (30). A title explains that Adams is still serving his life sentence, while Harris is on death row (31). In outline, then, this is a straightforward tale of crime and injustice. The film’s explicit meaning was compelling enough to trigger a new inquiry into the case, and Adams was freed in 1989. But Morris’s film is more than a brief for the defense. It demands a great deal of the viewer; it does not spell out its message in the manner of most documentaries. We tend to side with Randall Adams and to distrust the police, prosecutors, and “eyewitnesses” aligned against him, but Morris does not explicitly favor Adams and criticize the others. The film’s form and style shape our sympathies rather subtly. At another level, the film denies the viewer many of the usual aids for determining what happened on that night in 1976. Instead, it asks us to heighten our attention, to concentrate on details, and to weigh the incompatible information we are given. Morris’s detective story asks us to reflect on the obstacles to arriving at the truth about any crime. The film’s materials are for the most part the stuff of any true-crime report. Morris uses talking-head interviews, newspaper headlines, maps, archival photos, and other documents to present information about the crime. He also includes reenactments of key events, signaled as such. Nonetheless, other documentary conventions are missing. There is no voiceover narrator explaining the situation, and no captions identify the speakers or provide dates. The reenactments don’t carry the “Dramatization” caption seen in television documentaries. As a result, we’re forced to evaluate what we see and hear without help. This extra responsibility is intensified by a framing that is rare in most documentary interviews: several of the speakers look straight out at the camera (11.81). This somewhat
unnerving direct address (which is even more prominent in other films by Morris) puts us in the position of detectives, forcing us to judge each person’s testimony. Moreover, the use of paper documents is fairly cryptic: the film doesn’t always specify their source, and the extreme close-ups often show only fragments of text. (One shot of a news article frames these partial phrases: “ ... ved to be a 1973 ... earing Texas licens ... with the letters H ... “) And Philip Glass’s repetitive score is hardly conventional documentary music, especially for a truecrime story. With its mournful, unresolved harmonies and nervously oscillating figures, the music arouses tension, but it also creates an eerie distance from the action: it throbs on, unchanged whether it accompanies an empty city landscape or a violent murder. Other formal and stylistic qualities complicate the plot. For example, when an interviewee mentions a particular place, Morris tends to insert a quick shot of that locale (11.82). Such abrupt interruptions wouldn’t be used in a normal documentary, since they don’t really give us much extra information. It’s as if Morris wants to suggest the vast number of tiny pieces of information that an investigator must process. Similarly, during most reenactments, the participants’ faces aren’t shown. Instead, the scenes are built out of many close-ups: fingers resting on a steering wheel, a milkshake flying through the air in slow motion, the popcorn machine at a drive-in (11.83). Again, Morris stresses the apparently trivial details that can affect our sense of what really happened on the highway. Yet, carefully composed and lit in high-key, the details also become evocative motifs. Some inserts comment ironically on the situation (11.82). Others, such as the ever-present clocks and watches, indicate the ominous passing of time; even the slowly shattering flashlight and the milkshake dribbling onto the pavement suggest the life pumping out of the fatally wounded officer. Morris’s systematic withholding of information invites us to fill in parts of the story, and by amplifying apparently minor details he also invites us to build up implicit meanings. Central to those meanings are our attitudes toward the people presented in the film. By and large, the plot is shaped to create sympathy for Randall Adams. He is the first person we see, and Morris immediately makes him appealing by letting him explain that he was grateful to find a good job immediately
after coming to Dallas. “It’s as if I was meant to be here.” Morris presents him as a decent, hardworking man railroaded by the justice system. The interrogation of Adams is asso ciated with filled ashtrays, making him seem nervous and vulnerable (11.84), as do the repeated close-ups of newspaper photos of his frightened eyes. When the accusers state their case, Morris keeps us on Adams’s side by letting him rebut them. In segment 9, Adams replies to Harris’s charge that he was the shooter; in segment 15, Adams presents his alibi in reply to Harris’s claims about the time frame of events. By the end, Adams becomes the authoritative commentator. In segment 28, after Harris has committed another murder, Adams reminds us that a life could have been saved if the Dallas police hadn’t released Harris. At this point, our sympathies for Adams are strong, and we understand why he reverses his initial judgment on Dallas: it’s now “hell on earth.” Our acceptance of Adams’s account is subtly reinforced by the many reenactments of the murder. They are clearly set off as reconstructions by their use of techniques more closely associated with the fiction film, particularly film noir (11.85; also 10.6). They also distinguish themselves from the restagings shown on true-crime television shows, which tend to include the faces of actors and which are usually shot in a loose, hand-held style suggesting that we are witnessing the real event. The reenactments present different versions of the crime in accord with different witnesses’ recollections. By presenting contradictory versions of what happened that night, Morris may seem to be suggesting that everyone involved saw things from his or her own perspective, and so there is no final fact of the matter. But the overall progression of the film leads us to a likely conclusion: that David Harris, on his own, killed Wood. Rather than suggesting that truth is relative, the incompatible reconstructions dramatize the conflicting testimony. Like jurors or courtroom spectators, we have to decide on the most plausible version, and the plot develops the reenactments in a strongly suggestive pattern. In the segments devoted to the police investigation, the restagings emphasize matters of procedure. Did Officer Turko identify the car correctly? No, the police detectives eventually decide; but both before
and after they arrive at this conclusion, Morris shows us two different cars, making the options visually concrete. Another question is just as important: Did Turko back up Officer Wood according to procedure, or did she remain in the car? Morris dramatizes both possibilities, but he leads us to infer that she probably was inside the car drinking her milkshake, since in the crime scene sketch, spilled chocolate liquid was found near the car. It is a matter of probabilities, and we can never be certain; but on the evidence we are given, we infer that she probably did not back up Wood. The reenactments of Officer Wood’s murder in the investigation section have concentrated on police procedure, but during the trial section, the reenactments suggest different versions of what was happening in the killer’s car. Was David Harris ducking down in the front seat? Was Adams’s bushy silhouette confused with a fur-lined coat collar? When the surprise witnesses are introduced, Morris shows reenactments that present their cars passing the murder scene. Again, the reconstructions present the alternatives neutrally, but some become more plausible than others, especially once the eyewitnesses are rebutted by other testimony or betrayed by their own evasive answers. The last reenactment, presented in the section devoted to David Harris, shows how Harris could have committed the murder, and significantly, it is accompanied by his voiceover commentary virtually confessing to it. Now, after many other reenactments, this one is presented as most worthy of our belief. Morris carefully refrains from saying explicitly that Harris was the killer. But the development of the recons tructions, eliminating tli.”e most questionable versions and focusing more and more on the identity of the driver, pushes us toward accepting this as the likeliest account. As in any narrative film, then, the manner of storytelling, the play with narration and knowledge, shapes our attitudes toward the characters. By letting Adams comment on other characters, and by arranging the reenactments so as to point eventually toward David Harris’s guilt, the film aligns us with Randall Adams, the innocent victim. Correspondingly, Morris uses other stylistic devices to make us mistrust the forces set against Adams. The film doesn’t present the Dallas law officers as brutal villains; all are soft-spoken and articulate, and Judge Metcalfe
comes across as calm and patient. But the editing gives Adams’s account prominence and allows him to answer their charges, so we are inclined to appraise their words cautiously. Most overtly critical of the authorities are two nearly comic digressions close to the sort of associational form exploited by Bruce Conner in A Movie (pp. 365-370). Judge Metcalfe recalls that he grew up with a great respect for law and order because his father was present when FBI agents shot the gangster John Dillinger (11.86). Morris cuts to a scene from a Hollywood crime movie that presents Dillinger’s death (11.87). Metcalfe also supplies background trivia about the woman who be trayed Dillinger, and when he says she was sent back to her native Romania, Morris cuts to a map of Bucharest (a moment of selfparody, since he has used maps many times in the course of the film). A parallel montage appears during the remarks of one eyewitness, who says she always imagined herself as a girl detective, as in 1950s TV shows. Morris lets her voice-over commentary run during a clip from a B-film in which a young woman helps a detective capture a crook. These sequences encourage us to see Adams’s adversaries as holding a conception of crime fighting derived from popular movies. The color motifs that evoke police authority and duplicity are subtler. The first few shots of the film show skyscrapers and other structures, each with a single blinking red light (11.88). After a cut to Randall Adams beginning his tale, the screen goes dark, and we see the rotating red light of a police car, an image that will recur elsewhere in the film (11.89), before cutting to David Harris’s account of how he came to Dallas. The motif of redness links Dallas and the police as forces aligned against Adams, and it suggests an explanation for why in the opening title credit, the word Blue is lettered in red (11.90). The film’s title is taken from Judge Metcalfe’s reference to the prosecutor’s summation, in which he called the police the “thin blue line” between civilization and anarchy. By coloring the line red, Morris not only evokes bloodshed, but he links the police blue to the ominous blinking red lights of the opening. The motif expands further into Judge Metcalfe’s account of the death of Dillinger, who was betrayed by the notorious “woman in red.” Metcalfe claims that in fact she wasn’t actually wearing red; her orange dress merely
looked red in a certain light. David Harris, throughout his interviews in the film, is shown wearing an orange prison uniform, suggesting that he is another figure of betrayal and perhaps hinting at his relationship to the red of the police-car light. As a documentarist, Morris probably didn’t dictate what outfit Harris wore, but he did create other images that emphasize the color motif, and he did decide to retain Metcalfe’s (fairly irrelevant) remarks about the woman in red. Like many documentarists, Morris highlighted certain aspects of existing footage to bring out thematic implications. The story of Randall Adams’s unjust imprisonment is presented as an intersection of several people’s lives. Instead of simplifying the case for the sake of clarity, Morris treats it as a point where many stories crisscrossthe private lives of the eyewitnesses, the professional rivalries among lawyers, the Dillinger tale, TV crime dramas, scenes from the drive-in movie Adams and Harris attended. Any crime, the film suggests, will consist of this tangle of threads. Any crime will seem buried in an avalanche of details (license numbers, car makes, spilled milkshakes, TV schedules), and it will engender many alternative scenarios about what really happened. The Thin Blue Line builds these aspects of an investigation into its very structure and style. The narration grants each version of the shooting its time on screen, but it finally guides us to eliminate the implausible ones. It dwells on trivial details, but finally discards certain ones as less important. And it shows that a crime’s complex mass of testimony and evidence can be sorted out. The film presents itself as both an account of what really happened on that Texas highway and a meditation on how persistent inquirers can eventually arrive at truth.
errol morris Errol Morris, (born February 5, 1948, Hewlett, New York, U.S.), American film director, known for his engaging documentary portraits of both ordinary and extraordinary lives and for his arresting visual style. Morris earned a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1969. He attended graduate school at Princeton University and the University of California, Berkeley, but abandoned his studies to begin working as a film director. His first film was the documentary Gates of Heaven (1978), an offbeat exploration of two pet cemeteries in California and the people who have buried their pets there. He followed it with another documentary, Vernon, Florida (1981), focusing on the eccentric residents of the titular town. In the mid-1980s Morris worked as a private detective in New York City, and he applied his investigative skills to his third documentary, The Thin Blue Line (1988), which reviewed the case of Randall Dale Adams, a death-row inmate convicted of having killed a Texas police officer. Laying out a case for wrongful conviction, the movie played a major role in Adams’s release from prison the following year. Morris branched out into fiction with The Dark Wind (1991), adapted from a detective novel of the same name by Tony Hillerman, but he left the project before its completion. He resumed his documentary career with A Brief History of Time (1992), a film about the life and work of astrophysicist Stephen Hawking that won two awards at the Sundance Film Festival. In the 1990s Morris invented a device he called the Interrotron, which allowed his interviewees to look directly at him and at the camera simultaneously. The first film to make use of the technology was Fast, Cheap & Out of Control (1997), in which Morris profiled four individuals with unusual occupations and used the structure of the film to illuminate connections between their diverse lives. Two years later he directed Mr. Death: The Rise and Fall of Fred A. Leuchter, Jr., about an engineer who designs execution equipment. In 2003 Morris released The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara, a meditative study of Robert McNamara, a U.S. secretary of defense during the Vietnam War, that is centred on a probing interview with the film’s then octogenarian subject. The film won an Academy Award for best documentary feature.
MORRIS ON THE THIN BLUE LINE “With The Thin Blue Line, I was always thinking I guess, like, in parallel grooves: “What can be used in order to get him out of prison?” I was thinking like an investigator, as I was, for years, hired to investigate crime: What do I need to uncover in order to make a case on [Adams’] behalf? If anyone thinks that somehow the investigation in The Thin Blue Line was done without the court system in mind, that’s just not true. Always in my mind was the fact that I have to produce evidence that will be sufficient to overturn this conviction in a court of law.”
The controversial film portrays the wretched conditions at The Bridgewater State Hospital for the criminally insane in Bridgewater, Massachusetts circa 1967. In unflinching cinema verite-style, Ttticut Follies presents a stark portrayal of the hospital’s predominantly naked inmates as they are mishandled, force-fed, taunted by guards, and locked in empty cells. Titicut Follies was famously banned prior to its planned premiere at the 1967 New York Film Festival. Though Wiseman had gotten the requisite permissions, the state of Massachusetts claimed that the film violated the patients’ right to privacy and dignity. For years, the film was only able to be screened in academic settings. But in 1991, a superior court judge said the film could be released to the general public since most of the inmates had died and that First Amendment concerns trumped privacy concerns. In the conversation following the film, Wiseman, now 85, said he hadn’t set out to depict abuses at the hospital, and that he doesn’t feel comfortable taking credit for any improvements in our mental health system in the years since Titicut Follies revealed such sordid conditions. “It’s both naive, arrogant, and presumptuous for me or any other filmmaker to say that their film produces social change. In a democratic society people have access to information from so many different sources. You can’t isolate one thing and say that that particular poem or novel or film caused it,” said Wiseman. “I like to think the movie may have contributed to [Bridgewater closing], but I actually have no idea.”
On the title Titicut Follies “Titicut Follies, as you see in the film, was organized around an inmate and staff variety show called Titicut Follies. In naming the film Titicut Follies, I picked up on the metaphor of the variety show,” said Wiseman, acknowledging that “for my other films, I’ve always had rather laconic titles.” How he managed to film such gut-wrenching situations When asked how he was able to witness such horrible treatment at Bridgewater Hospital and not intervene, Wiseman said it wasn’t a problem for him. “When you’re making one of these movies, you’re working. The fact that you’re working is a real defense against all of the things you’re seeing and hearing,” he explained. “Your job is to get the sequence. Your job is not to identify or at least not overly identify with what you’re seeing and hearing. Because I’m very busy and the people working with me are very busy, you tend to think about it afterward.”
On getting permission to film “Curiously enough, for most films, it’s been extremely easy to get permission. My big secret is that I ask,” said Wiseman. “I’m always amazed that people say ‘yes.’” But there have been a few occasions where he didn’t get the access he wanted. He was initially planning to shoot the film, which eventually became Law and Order, in Los Angeles. “I was told I could do whatever I wanted except ride around in police cars,” he recalled. But since there were no foot patrols at the time, his access was limited. Instead, he opted to go to Kansas City where “I could freely do whatever I wanted,” he said.
On full disclosure To get permission to film inside Bridgewater Hospital, Wiseman said he “told them from the beginning the kind of movie I was doing.” He said he made it clear that the film would be shown widely and that he’d get final cut. “I always make a full disclosure of the method and the procedure,” he explained. “It’s extremely important to make a full disclosure about what you’re doing – not only is it the ethical thing but it also means nobody can come back at you if they didn’t like the movie.” Of course, the full disclosure didn’t prevent the state of Massachusetts from banning the film due to alleged privacy issues. But Wiseman is proud of the fact that no inmate or member of an inmate’s family ever complained about the film. “It was banned as a result of political decisions,” he explained. In Jackson HeightsIn Jackson Heights How he finds a film through the editing process Wiseman said that not only was Titicut Follies his first film as director, but it was his first film as editor. “As a result of editing a lot of other films, if I were editing this (Titicut Follies) now, I probably wouldn’t have done many of the things that I did,” he explained. As an example, he said he would not have intercut a scene of an inmate being force-fed with scenes of his funeral. “Now that I look at it, I find it too heavyhanded. When you intercut the force-feeding with his funeral, I’m telling you what to think, that he’s treated better in death than in life.” Wiseman said it’s always best to let the audience draw their own conclusions. “At the time, I thought it was a great cut,” he said. It’s through the editing process that Wiseman finds his stories. “The film emerges through the editing,” he said. For Titicut Follies, he had about 80 hours of footage, whereas for his latest film, In Jackson Heights, he shot 140 hours. By comparison, for At Berkeley, he captured 250 hours “because academics like to talk,” he joked.
Wiseman’s filmmaking procedure has been, he said, “pretty much the same in all the films. I have no idea in advance what the structure or point of view of the film is going to be.” He doesn’t like to do advance research, he said, because “the shooting of the film is the research.” Also, he doesn’t want to miss out on getting good material on camera. “I don’t like to be present at a place when something interesting is going on and not be able to get it for the film,” he said. “Since nothing is staged, I’d be very unhappy if I was there doing research and something really great happened. I’d rather take the risk of overshooting a bit.” The real model for this kind of filmmaking, according to Wiseman, is Las Vegas. “It’s the roulette wheel. You take the risk of shooting a lot of film with the hope that you get enough material out of which you can cut a film,” he said. “I have no idea what the structure is going to be, but I’m willing to take the risk of shooting a lot and finding the film in the editing.” Wiseman takes his time with the editing process so he can “think about the consequences of starting the film one way and ending another way.” After reviewing the rushes, he’ll put aside maybe 40 percent of the material and edit the sequences he thinks he might use in the film without any idea of the order he’ll use them in. That process alone might take him 6-7 months. “It’s only when I edit the so-called candidate sequences that I begin to work on structure,” said Wiseman. “One of the most interesting things about making movies of this sort is that at least 50 percent of the editing has nothing to do with the technique of editing. It has to do with studying the rushes.” He explained that “unless I feel I understand what is going on in individual sequences, I can’t decide if I’m going to use the sequence and where I’m going to place it. I have to delude myself into thinking I understand everything that’s going on in a sequence in order to make a decision whether or not I’m going to use it.” The other consideration when editing a sequence is to be sure that it “doesn’t violate what went on in the original sequence, which is often much longer than what I use.” He does not edit for length, saying that “the length of film is whatever the film comes out to be in the editing room. I don’t set out to make a film that’s 82 minutes,” he said.
On why he shifted to digital “I changed to digital reluctantly merely because Kodak stopped making the negative and the labs went out of business,” he said. “Those are two powerful incentives to change. In terms of the shooting of the film, it’s possible a little more is shot because you don’t have the processing costs.” That said, while the general consensus is that shooting digital is cheaper than film, Wiseman said, “it’s not that much cheaper because finishing costs are more expensive and color grading is more expensive,” though, of course, you save on film processing costs.
How he selects topics “I really make movies about subjects that I want to make movies about,” Wiseman told the audience. “I don’t believe I’m obliged to make movies that always deal with the lives of poor people and whatever relationship they have to the state.”
CINEMA VERITE What is Cinema Verite? Cinema Verite is a French film movement, which took place back in the 1960s. This film movement forced the movie industry to pay more attention towards incorporating natural actions and authentic dialogue into the movies, which showed people in day to day lives. Basically, the movement was about observing and capturing life as it was or finding truth in the moving images. Before this movement, filmmakers recorded footage, interviews, and actual conversations separately. The camera was usually handheld. Then they would review the footage and cut them all together. However, this technique did not have the ability to give life to realistic looking movies. Many different factors influenced the production of documentary movies in the 20th century. Post World War II, neorealist movement, and the British independent documentaries hold a prominent place out of them. In fact, all these reasons contributed significantly towards the rise of Cinema Verite during the 1960s. However, film industry elites heavily criticized the Cinema Verite movement at that time. That’s because it focused more in reportage instead of showing the expressions of the artist. However, the primary objective of the Cinema Verite movement was to direct movie industry into greater realism. The method made it possible to create a tremendous impact on the documentary filmmaking, which can even be seen today. Cinema Verite was able to give life to some of the outstanding productions in the history of French Cinema. Chris Marker’s Le Joli Mai and Jean Rouch’s Chronique d’un ete, which were released during the early 1960s, are perfect examples to prove the above-mentioned fact. A movement that is similar to Cinema Verité was originated in the United States as well. It was powered by the introduction of 16mm equipment, which had the ability to record audio and video content in a synchronous manner. This equipment was portable and relatively inexpensive when compared to the other devices that were being used in the movie industry at that time. The movement that took place in the United States was also known as Cinema Verite, but it became popular as Direct Cinema, because of the obvious language barrier. The primary objective of this movement was to capture the movements and expressions of a person in a realistic manner. This movement was against the rearrangement of the camera. The pioneers of this movement include the Maysles brothers, Donn Pennbaker, Frederick Wiseman and Ricky Leacock. The immense contributions they did to the Cinema Verite movement in the United States delivers positive results even up to date.
What Ever Happens, Happens! As mentioned earlier, Cinema Verite was able to create a significant impact on the global film industry. Those influences can even be seen today. Therefore, it is important to compare Cinema Verité with the modern documentary style and get to know about the noticeable differences that exist in between these two. The popularity of modern documentary has significantly increased throughout the past couple of years. However, the roots of it go back to the 1960s, where Maysles brothers came into the industry. It was changed along with the generations, but the primary influences remained unchanged. First of all, it is important to have a clear understanding of the meaning behind real documentaries. Even though movies that were based on actual stories were released back in history, the raw essence of people was not incorporated into them. In other words, real places, real events or the interests of real people were not taken into account as a whole when creating the documentaries. Even though the exact meaning behind true documentary has changed along with time, it is based on some fact or truth. The films that fit into it can be divided into two broad categories as Cinema Verité and modern documentary. The first documentary was created back in 1922 by Robert J. Flaherty. The film’s name was Nanook of the North. This silent documentary was filmed in the frozen wilds of Canada. No historical evidence about a feature length documentary is found before this film, and it can be considered as the first ever documentary as a result of it. The government of United States knew the importance of this documentary. This is the main reason why the government selected this documentary into the first 25 films to be preserved. The Library of Congress plays a significant role in these preservation activities. Now it is important to take a look at Cinema Verité, which took place during the 1960s. Cinema Verité movement was originated along with the French New Wave movement. The increasing popularity of portable audio and camera equipment contributed a lot towards the origins of it. In other words, Cinema Verité gave life to a studio type style of production. Cinema Verité promoted the production of movies that captured a raw style with the help of on location, audio, video and lighting. David Maysles, Albert Maysles and Robert Drew were prominent figures behind Cinema Verité. They took necessary measures to introduce new advancements into this conceptual style along with the help of direct cinema. These new additions emphasized direct relationships between the subjects and the film crew. As a result, they were able to give life to more realistic looking productions at the end of the day. Before the Cinema Verité, there was a narrator in all the documentaries, who explained things to the audience. Cinema Verité eliminated the role of the narrator, and it gave life to a new revolution. In fact, it delivered more freedom to the editor. That’s because the editor got the freedom to tell the story with freedom and in an obscure manner.
Modern documentary style has some differences when compared to the Cinema Verité style. The main difference that you can find in between these two styles is the presence of a narrator. On the other hand, a lot of time, as well as effort, are being put into the post production stage of modern documentaries. Also, the cinematography is a lot more sophisticated than the documentaries which came out as a result of Cinema Verité. The post production stage is associated with a variety of activities that include sound design, music design, graphic effects and other forms of editing. More directorial control came out as a result of Cinema Verité. They looked more like the documentaries that were created by Michael Moore. Roger and Me is a perfect example to prove the fact mentioned above.
Facts about Cinema Verite Cinema Verite is also known as observational cinema. If you pay close attention towards this style, you will figure it out as more of pure direct cinema. That’s because it does not incorporate the voice over of a narrator. You will also be able to figure out a couple of subtle, but importance changes. Cinema Verite was associated with the interaction between the subject and the filmmaker along with style setups. This interaction was there up to the point of provocation as well. They firmly believed that it is the most convenient method available for them to express the truth behind the cinema. Cinema Verite acknowledged the camera as well. In fact, the camera plays a significant role by filming people, objects and the events related to the scene in a confrontational manner. The primary goal of the filmmaker was to represent the exact reality that he was experiencing at the time of recording. They believed that giving life to such realistic outputs can free people from all sorts of deceptions. To achieve this, the filmmakers wanted to be the catalysts of all situations. As a result, they had to put a tremendous effort on the entire scene as well. In the Cinema Verite style, the filmmakers set up the whole scene and then proceed to record them and capture lighting in a bottle. An excellent example of this is the 1963 film Pour La Suite Du Monde. The filmmaker asked a group of senior individuals to fish for a whale. The result of the documentary was not recording how a group of elders was whale fishing. It was about lineage and memory. In this sense, Cinema Verite style is concerned about anthropological cinema. The political and social implications were also captured in the movies. On the other hand, it changed the way how a filmmaker shoots a film and what are the objects that are filed in it. On the contrary, Cinema Verite focused on what specific objects should be recorded on a movie and the way how it should be presented to the audiences.
Passive technique? Time certainly changes the viewing experience of any film, but especially so in the case of Frederick Wiseman’s first documentary, which editorially chronicles the facilities and the patients at a state-run treatment center. In the mid-1960s, MCI-Bridgewater held a wide range of detainees and patients, some deemed “criminally insane” and others “sexually dangerous”. Despite the sensitive treatment these inmates required, the center was nevertheless run – at the time – by the Department of Corrections, not the Department of Mental Health. (1) The film’s initial production in 1967 quickly brought controversy: consent procedures were called into question, as were the ethics of both the first-time filmmaker and his political cronies, and finally, legal definitions of terms like ‘privacy’ and ‘obscenity’ (the State tried to restrict the film’s exhibition based partially on the grounds that the film showed male frontal nudity). Titicut Follies became at once a hot topic for newspapers, a useful document for rights activists (as well as for students of documentary), and a deeply sensitive issue for the families personally involved. But now, in 2002, Wiseman has made over 30 films and is generally regarded to be one of the most unique and stylistically uncompromising documentary filmmakers. Unaffiliated with any school of filming (or indeed with any film school), Wiseman has steadfastly pursued a completely individualized style of production, ranking him with the great auteurs and filmic innovators in cinema history. Discussions of Titicut Follies used to be more about the patients – should their rights of privacy be protected, did Wiseman violate those rights, how the issue of consent is complicated when competency can’t be established, and so on. Now, with the most pressing legal suits in the film’s past, and with many of the patients pictured now deceased, the film
becomes more our chance to see the seeds of Wiseman’s style at their rawest roots. Wiseman’s camera is deceptively passive, deceptively silent. An understandable but inappropriate impression is that it merely sits back and watches. In Titicut Follies, patients are stripped and humiliated by boorish guards operating under questionable government policy, and Wiseman’s camera keeps rolling. It enters a session between a doctor interviewing an inmate, who admits to molesting his own daughter. It takes us inside the morgue as Bridgewater’s embalmer prepares a body for burial. To what degree is Wiseman’s camera brave for recording and presenting events we’ll otherwise never see? And to what degree is it cold, or voyeuristic? Which events does it passively record, and which does it catalyze? For instance, a patient named Jim is taunted relentlessly by a guard abusing his authority. Naked and being led through the halls – followed by Wiseman’s camera – Jim is put further in a position of inferiority when placed in a barber’s chair, loomed over by multiple officers, shaved roughly (perhaps even being cut purposefully), and taunted all the way back to his empty cell, bleeding and covering his genitals. But when the guards finally give out, appearing to leave Jim alone, Wiseman keeps going. His camera stands in the doorway of Jim’s cell, rolling on, watching, giving Jim no respite, effectively continuing his harassment while simultaneously exposing it. The viewer is put in an extremely uncomfortable position, forced to react multiply to varying stimuli – Jim’s disgustingly inappropriate cell, offcamera guards restarting their psychological torment, Jim’s tantrum in response. Wiseman’s camera (by implication, the viewer), stands at the doorway and watches. When the camera zooms in, it feels like an attack. Only then, at the very end of the sequence, do we learn that Jim was a school teacher, bringing his painful
Wiseman’s silent camera has never needed a narrator, though, in presenting institutions that the public would otherwise have never had access to – for example, the underground training facilities at Vandenberg Air Force base (where recruits are trained to push ‘the button’) in Missile (1987), the workings of a Midwestern police department in Law and Order (1969), and, most recently, the procedures inside a women’s shelter in Tampa, Florida in Domestic Violence (2001). Making private matters public seems to imply a distinct political agenda, however in 1967, Wiseman was (perhaps above all) an ambitious artist. Do we then qualify his efforts? The film, after all, which did help to bring change to the facility, is not a clearly argued social document, but rather it’s structured, dryly, as a musical. It’s even bookended by performances. Patients burst out of their prison-like confines, perpetually singing and playing instruments and spouting off semi-comprehensible theories on contemporary domestic and foreign policy. Wiseman also presents the ‘cast of characters’ so that we’re not entirely sure at first who’s a guard and who’s a patient. Though Wiseman’s heavy-handedness is apparent in some episodes of didactic editing, these one-sided cuts show us the gross and pathetic effects of bureaucracy at the institution. An old patient, mistreated to the point where he commits to starve himself to death, is stripped naked, thoroughly disrespected, and force-fed through the nose with a rubber tube lubricated with grease (as the doctor’s cigarette dangles precariously above the funnel). Intercut with this sequence, however, is his death, in which he is given a suit, an embalming, a processional in a hearse, and a proper coffin burial presided over by a priest. But the question with a Wiseman film always is: what emotion do you feel? Is Wiseman presenting the horror of this man’s personal fate or coldly ruing bureaucratic inefficiency?
which emotion did you feel? DOES THE STYLE MAKE IT MORE REAL?
story up front with a powerful immediacy. And lest we think that Wiseman’s camera manhandles his subjects at all times, he’s careful to include the speeches of a patient named Vladimir, who cleverly argues with the doctor as often as possible on camera, fully aware of the agency he’s being given to plead his own case.
fredrick wiseman Born in 1930, Wiseman is a Cambridge, Massachusetts resident and member of the Massachusetts Bar Association who turned to filmmaking in 1967, after years as an instructor and/or researcher at Boston University, Brandeis University, and Harvard. In 1970 he founded Zipporah Films, Inc., which continues to distribute his documentaries. Wiseman has also written and lectured widely on law enforcement issues. “Documentaries, like theatre pieces, novels or poems are forms of fiction,” claims Wiseman. Over the years his films have become more a skillful mix of observation, testimony, reflection, an absence of prejudice, and courage, and humor. A complex body of work, as great works of fiction (novels, drama, music, and film) can be, with the same profundity, contradictions, and questions without answers.
wiseman on editing “My job as editor is to make the film as best I can from the rushes. What I think about the subject matter is what you see in the final film. At least 50% of editing has nothing to do with technique. I ask myself what it is I am seeing and hearing in the rushes. I have to at least delude myself into thinking that I understand what is going on in each of the sequences in order to (1) decide which sequences to use, (2) how to edit them into a usable form and (3) create a narrative, dramatic structure in which each segment has its proper place. This process often takes a year. A month or two before I finish I usually start thinking about what I want to do next. This is my way of avoiding a postpartum depression.”
WISEMAN ON TRUTH “What a boring discussion. Boring AND pretentious. The notion that cinema is the truth, or that anything is the truth is preposterous. I never get involved in those discussions. Everything is subjective and everything represents a choice. To use the word “truth” is incredibly pretentious. It’s such a typically french term: cinema vérité. I think academics are the ones who create categories and all these horrible terms… direct cinema, cinema-vérité, observational cinema, fly on the wall… which is a particularly offensive one.”
WHEN TRUTH LIES Arguments about truth in documentary filmmaking—how “real” a film is or isn’t—are inherent to the form, part of its DNA. “Reality” is an eternal question (Platonic ideal?) in an art form that demands both honesty and manipulation: honesty through its humanity and manipulation through its craft. But are a film’s insights and revelations about the human condition any less untrue as a result of its craft? There’s the maxim in moviemaking that “every cut is a lie,” therefore documentary filmmaking is essentially a paradox: an unspooling of truth built on a careful pyramid of intricate lies. Or is it? The irony is that as the craft of the documentary form has become more visible, with filmmakers applying a full range of cinematic tools, the questions of truth or untruth have rung more loudly and with more persistence. From Catfish to Exit Through the Gift Shop, and extending all the way to hybrid provocations like Bruno and I’m Still Here, these questions—sometimes accusations—of truth or lies have consumed and confounded documentary circles in the last several years. It’s almost like a seesaw, and “Craft” is the fat kid that hopped on that wooden plank in the playground, only to leave Truth hanging in the air. Likewise, truth itself is the pearl in the oyster that filmmakers are always searching to retrieve and hold up to the world: as a containable marker of the human condition, as proof of their subject’s merit and as validation for their own pursuits. I myself have participated on documentary panels where filmmakers argued—prompted by audience questions—about whether editing a subject’s dialogue to eliminate pauses, coughs, stammers and lost trains of thought constituted a betrayal of truth. And I’ve scratched my head thinking, “If I can’t discern information or extract emotion from your filmmaking because I’m distracted or bored by your subject’s
rambling, what is the point of your attempt to preserve this truth at the expense of a far greater one?” Folks, if the choice is between honest diction or emotional revelation, I suggest you pick the latter. Which brings me to my litmus test:
Essential Truth vs. Literal Truth Literal Truth: Bob went to the market. Essential Truth: Bob went to the 7-11 at midnight for a six-pack because he’s an alcoholic. Both may be true statements, but one is basic and without insight or analysis, while the other is more insightful due to its analysis. Or, some would say, insightful because of its judgments...but aren’t “insights” and “judgments” often one and the same, defined only by the eye of the judge and juror? And who in the documentary field would deny their true callings as amateur psychologists? Isn’t that why we’re all here—to judge? Thus, I believe it can (and should) be argued, that the craft of documentary filmmaking— good filmmaking—is to provide the analysis needed to reveal human insights, the essential truths. A movie composed of literal truths would be 100 percent true in the strictest sense, but also quite possibly the most bereft of real insight, while attaining, perhaps, complete unwatchability in its dogged pursuit of honesty. To insist on literal truth at every turn in a documentary would rob a filmmaker of his or her tools to contextualize information and character. Simple omission—filtering the flow of human information to extract the minerals of a story’s Essential Truth—is invaluable. I’ve yet to see a documentary that deeply moved me, yet left me concerned that information was left out
of its telling. I would not have enjoyed The King of Kong any less had director Seth Gordon included its characters’ complete family lineages or detailed medical histories (Chapter Twelve: “Billy’s Cousin’s Hernia”). Conversely, when I sometimes watch biographical docs, I think, “This piece of information may make your film more comprehensive or more complete, but can you show me only what I need to know to understand or appreciate your subject and your film’s themes? Can you step away from the material for one moment to explain to me, in short...Who Fuc*ing Cares?” This is not to say that filmmakers should ignore literal truths. But there are times when panning for the gold of essential truth requires cinematic arts to magnify the nuggets: crosscutting, repetition, juxtaposition, irony. Life doesn’t always come with reaction shots. Or cutaways. Or context for third-party consumption. However, movies do, and these elements all amplify your Essential Truth. “Simple” truth is just that: simple. The documentary filmmaker in his or her element is still a storyteller, albeit one who deals in the real. But when has anyone ever regaled a crowd with a true story enjoyed merely for its precise and wholly accurate recollection of events? Perhaps only in Ricky Gervais’ film titled...The Invention of Lying. Audiences walk away from documentaries remembering the things that made them cry, made them laugh, made them think, made them relate. They do not walk away admiring the integrity of the process. In fact, they don’t even think your process—-and probably shouldn’t—that is, unless the essential truths themselves are in question. If they’re thinking at all about process, they’re not enjoying the sausage enough to forget about how it’s made.
When Does Craft Outweigh Truth? The cries against the likes of Catfish and its ilk came from many in the documentary community saying they didn’t believe the constructed reality of the film. In some cases, they felt it was “too good” to be true. Interestingly enough, I didn’t hear this critique from general audiences. They either found the film captivating or they didn’t. Their critique
was more along the lines of “Yeah, so what? Who isn’t lying on Facebook?” rather than a questioning of the filmmakers’ integrity. What I personally extract from the doc community’s critique of Catfish are the voices of filmmakers who know all-too-well how the sausage is made, looking at this particular work and seeing too much visible craft. Too much omission to deny. And they’re unwilling to go along for the ride, the ride that every documentary would like to take you on. To those detractors, regarding this specific film, I say,Your loss. But their critique points toward a larger, and more important issue: Filmmakers should be mindful of the fact that the cognitive or emotional leaps they require their audiences to take may allow the seams of their constructs to show. Early in Howard Stern’s autobiographical film, Private Parts, when Stern plays himself as a Boston University student, clearly 20 years too late, he looks directly into camera and says (I’m paraphrasing), “Sometimes you just gotta suspend disbelief.” (Sidenote: I think it’s good to bring lowbrow cultural references into a highminded debate. Stay with me). Unfortunately, with a sophisticated audience who understands the documentary craft— who knows, consciously, that every cut may be, to some extent, a lie—there’s a breaking point where they may not be able to suspend disbelief...in order to believe wholeheartedly. When the lights go down, let’s face it: We all want to believe. “We know that you’re going for essential truth,” the sophisticates seem to be saying, “And we’re willing to forego some literal truth to get there. Well...some of us are, anyway. But don’t let us question the motivation of your cinematic manipulations—or we will fail to believe your essential truth entirely. We may even become quite pissed off.” Films that breach this tacit agreement with their audience have a problem—and it’s a motivation problem. It’s not even what’s on screen anymore, it’s the question of what’s behind what’s onscreen: the man peeking out from the curtain. But dammit, get that man out of sight—and don’t let me contemplate his machinations! When they question your essential truth, you’re in trouble. As George Burns used to say, “Sincerity’s everything. And if you can fake that, you’ve got it made.”
What is spectatorship? The concept springs from the idea of the ‘active audience’. The ‘active audience’ suggests that the audience are not passive recipients of a film, but rather they actively spectate and seek meaning, which is built up from their previous experience of films, other stories and ‘cultural competences’. This is what is meant when we say we are ‘reading a film’ text as this suggests an active engagement with the text.
Spectator response & emotion Spectators will not all experience these emotions equally at the same moments in a film. Why not? Demographic, psychographic, culture and context. However, some (and often the majority) of the audience will respond in the same way. Producers of documentary often focus around a real issue, with likely pre-existing mass value and therefore are likely to appeal to groups of people who share, perhaps, some social or political ‘formation’. This is a passive audience, who could be positioned to be manipulated. The audience behaviour both as individuated spectators and as a collective of people forming an audience is likely to be understood if we respect and try to understand the importance of particular life experiences and social attitudes. These are applied and compared during viewing. Filmmakers have always attempted to gain some sort of response from spectators, and for their part spectators have always responded with preferred response. More than that, spectators have always attended the cinema in order to have their emotions aroused and the cinema, compared to the home, may offer different spectator pleasures. Stories gain emotional responses from the spectator. Effective storytelling encourages us to feel human emotions by allowing us to sympathise, empathise or even identify with characters and their narrative experience. As spectators, we presumably find this process to be pleasurable or we would not return time after time to films. Did you have any of these responses whilst watching any of the films we’ve studied?
• Emotional • Fear • Desire • Surprise • Anger • Pleasure • Visceral • Sympathy/Empathy
reception thoery - stuart hall Stuart Hall’s reception theory, suggests that there are three ways audiences respond to film & media texts; • Preferred reading - agree with the text and doesn’t challenge the content, themes & ideologies. Passive audience. • Oppositional reading - disagrees with the text and challenge the content, themes and ideologies. Active audience.
How could this be applied to the films you’ve studied? How could different SPECTATORS read the films in different ways? How did you read the films? Which factors may add to the way of reading?
• Negotiated reading - the audience agrees with parts and disagrees with other parts.
hyperdermic needle theory - Katz & Lazarsfeld This, somewhat, outdated theory suggests that the mass audience is effected by everything we see and hear. This theory, suggests that the audience is very passive - that we don’t have any control over response. Instead, we respond with the reading that the producers intends. It is argued that this is outdated and that the mass audiences are more active and challenges what we see and hear.
Passive Audience • Overwhelmed by physical control of film form and the presence of the image on screen • Susceptible to absorb ideas of film unthinkably How could this be applied to the films you’ve watched? Is it a valid thoery to apply to the films? Could this be true for some spectators?
uses and gratification - bulmer & katz Uses and Gratifications theory as developed by Bulmer and Katz suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Bulmer and Katz believed that the user seeks out the media source that best fulfils their needs. The uses and gratifications theory assumes the audience chooses what it wants to watch for five different reasons. • Information and Education – the viewer wants to acquire information, knowledge and understanding by watching programmes like The News or Documentaries. • Entertainment – Viewers watch programmes for enjoyment.
• Personal Identity - Viewers can recognise a person or product, role models that reflect similar values to themselves and mimic or copy some of their characteristics. • Integration and social interaction – the ability for media products to produce a topic of conversation between people. For example who is the best contestant on The X-factor who which was the best goal shown on Match of the day. • Escapism – Computer games and action films let viewers escape their real lives and imagine themselves in those situations How could this be applied to the films you’ve watched?
cultivation thoery Media texts can construct ideologies and values; How to live life; how to behave, what to look like, what to consume, what to believe and value. If a piece of media backs-up and supports our pre-existing ideologies, this is known as cultivation theory. According to the theory, people who watch television frequently are more likely to be influenced by the messages from the world of television. The influence goes to such an extent that their world view and perceptions start reflecting what they repeatedly see and hear on television. Television is,therefore, considered to contribute independently to the way people perceive social reality.
How could this be applied to the films you’ve watched? Is it a valid thoery to apply to the films? Could this be true for some spectators? If someone pro guns watched Bowling For Columbine would their viewing differ from someone anti? etc.
language & mode of address Informal and colloquial language can normalise a text and position the intended audience as part of the world.
Is this present in the films you’ve watched?
Encourage involvement through the use of direct mode of address and the use of specific lexis.
How could this position the spectator?
Formal language and in-direct mode of address positions audiences differently; it can make audiences feel superior and valued as the expectation is that they will understand more complex language and topics.
If so, think of some examples?
How could this change the response from the spectator?
key issues affecting spectatorship Audiences will react in different way as individuals. This may be related to; • Culture and cultural experience - upbringing, national and regional identity, values and beliefs. • Cultural competence - an audience who share knowledge, related to their culture understanding. • Situated culture - where the audience is and who you’re watching with may provoke a different response.
How could these aspects of a spectator change the way they react to the films you’ve studied? Apply this to all of the films.
realism Realism - make something appear real and believable; doesn’t need to be non-fiction or real. Construction of realism;
Think about the similarites and differences in the techniques used by the directors you have studied and how they may change the spectators response.
• archive footage - recognisable/historical events • handheld camerawork • Interviews with real people/subjects (talking- heads) • Stats and figures • Long shots (duration) • Editing style focused on subject matter Using documentary conventions can suggest reality, as spectators may be under the assumption that documentary = real.
key debates • What expectations do spectators have of documentary film? • How do spectators accept that film is truthful? • Are spectators aware of the techniques used by the filmmaker and does it matter if spectators are? • Does the way we watch documentary affect how we respond to it? • What impact does the subject of the documentary have on the spectator personally, socially, politically and culturally?
ALWAYS... ANSWER THE QUESTION Discuss the question throughout the essay and don’t feel the need to answer it in your first paragraph. Use the words from the question in your response. Conclude by referring to the question.
USE MICRO DETAIL AND REFER TO a specific scene When discussing a specific scene mention the close-up shot and how it positions the spectator. Discuss how the non-diegetic sound is used to influence the audiences’ opinion
DEMONSTRATE YOUR WIDER KNOWLEDGE When mentioning the modes of the documentary reference (Bill Nichols). Discuss mediation within documentary and tie it in with notions of the ‘real’. When introducing a text for the first time give it some context. For example; Titicut Follies - Cinema Verite / Observational OR The Thin Blue Line – Performative.
USE FILM LANGUAGE IN YOUR ANSWERS Expository documentary | Juxtaposed Voice of God | Verisilimitude | Point of view | Spectator/audience/viewer | Performative mode Cinema Verite | Notions of the ‘real’ | Performative mode | Audience positioning | Interactive mode | Contrapuntal music
Always reference the director and release date. Go into the exam with three documentaries ready to use and micro detail from two or three scenes from each film. Respond with a confident voice. Don’t doubt yourself!
ExaM technique. Plan In the exam, you will have 6o minutes for Section B - allow yourself 5 minutes to put together a plan.
• Key points and scenes • Quotes and theory • Structure
Introduction How would you start? Introduce your texts
• Documentary Film Making • Link to question • Key issues (truth + spectatorship theory) • Entertainment v.s. Truth v.s. Emotional Response • Introduce filmmakers + films • What was different (refer to question) between films? • Make suggestions of points you may cover
Example Intro Generally, documentaries are created in order to impart information and, in the main, to persuade the audience into believing a particular viewpoint. The contract between audience and filmmaker is considered along with the code of ethics with regard to documenting the real. For example, there are questions around the time and space created within the story and the structure and chronology of events. The adding or missing out of certain happenings can detract from the truth of the overall film and perhaps, in this way, documentary has a right of passage to privilege the narrative over the truth. Grierson defined documentary as ‘the creative use of actuality’, which has covered a number of documentary styles and movements over the years, except perhaps, Cinema Verite. There are many different styles and types of documentary, each with their own techniques and approach. Bills Nichols discussed these different styles and assigned them different ‘modes’. This helps when desiphering the impact of different documentaries on the spectator. As a spectator, many documentaries can be a challenging experience, the main issues being with the level of authenticity used in order to inform the audience about the specific subject matter. Many filmmakers will try to gently persuade the audience to share their viewpoint and this is especially true of documentary. To what level this manipulation takes place has been discussed throughout the years. During this dicussion I will be looking at Bowling For Columbine (Moore, 2002), The Thin Blue Line (Morris, 1988) and Titicut Follies (Wiseman, 1967). Each film and film maker approaches documentary film making from a different angle, and this difference of approach also add variety to the response from the spectator.
Main Body PEDAL Point
Directly respond to the question and make your point clear and precise.
Refer to construction and make sure you use correct and appropriate key terminology
The meaning and response - link to ‘answer’
Make sure that you are answering the question within your paragraph. This is often just evidenced with a phrase or sentence by reinforcing your original point now that it has been developed.
A short sentence can provide a transition to the next point. In addition… Alternatively...
Conclusion Link back to the question and draw conclusions from the points you have developed.
Grierson defined documentary as the ‘creative treatment of actuality’. What are some of the key issues raised by this definition for spectators of documentary? ‘A common experience for the spectator when watching a documentary is to be manipulated by the filmmakers.’ How far do you agree with this statement? How far are documentaries more challenging to the spectator because they appear to represent real life characters and situations? ‘The best documentaries are those which are aware of the need to engage spectators cinematically.’ How far do you agree with this statement? ‘The complexity of spectator response suggests that documentary offers much more than just a window on some aspect of our world.’ Discuss this statement with reference to the films you have studied for this topic. Discuss the significance of cinematography and sound in shaping the response of the spectator to the documentary films you have studied for this topic. ‘When watching documentaries, we are just as involved in narrative and character as we are when watching fictional films.’ Discuss how far this is true in relation to your own studies of documentary spectatorship. How far can it be said that narrative is key to the documentary spectator’s engagement with a film’s themes and ideas? Discuss some of the ways in which documentaries produce an emotional response in the spectator. Refer to the films you have studied for this topic. How far is the way evidence is presented by the documentary filmmaker important in determining the spectator’s response? Refer in detail to the films you have studied for this topic. How far are particular cinematic techniques successful in influencing the spectator’s response? Refer in detail to the documentary films you have studied. ‘The revealing and withholding of information is as much a part of the documentary storyteller’s art as it is that of the fictional storyteller.’ Discuss this statement in relation to documentary film spectatorship. ‘Relatively few documentaries are seen on cinema screens; most are seen on small screens in private rather than public spaces.’ How far do viewing contexts influence the spectator’s response to documentary film? To what extent can it be said that spectators approach documentary films with greater critical awareness than when they watch fiction films? How far is the spectator challenged by issues of manipulation in documentary film? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic. What are some of the pleasures that viewing a documentary film offers the spectator? Refer to the films you have studied for this topic. ‘Documentaries make different requirements of the spectator compared with fiction films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this statement? ‘For the spectator, identification with certain characters is crucial to the viewing experience of documentary films.’ With reference to the films you have studied for this topic, how far do you agree with this view?
SINGLE FILM CLOSE STUDY
SINGLE FILM CLOSE STUDY “ If it’s a good movie, the sound could go off and the audience would still have a perfectly clear idea of what was going on.” Hitchcock The ability of you to engage in critical study of a single film is assessed There is a clear synoptic element (role of macro – genre/narrative and micro – mise-en-scene etc in construction of meaning and the creation of emotion) You will also need to consider critical debates surrounding the reception of the film (audiences, critics) as well as your own engagement as a spectator. Key areas for analysis:
• Auteur • Genre/Narrative (macro) • Style (micro) • Representation (psychoanalysis, gender) • Critical reception
FOCUS TEXT: VERTIGO (HITCHCOCK, 1958)
Understanding the relationship between the micro and the macro elements of a film is an essential part of our analysis of movies. Every shot, every sound accumulates to form the expression of an idea. Thinking about movies in this way might prompt us to acknowledge that a camera move for example, can express a character’s psychology, sometimes more forcefully and memorably than a line of dialogue could ever do. In the opening scene of Vertigo (1958) as the film’s protagonist Scottie looks down from a great height during a chase, a camera move typically known as a dolly zoom is used. Hitchcock’s use of this filming device is echoed by Steven Spielberg in Jaws (1975) when the characters of Martin Brody witnesses a shark attack. The combination of Brody’s helplessness and the disruption of the ordinary are concisely combined in the dolly zoom: the camera tracking towards the actor whilst the camera lens zooms out (widening the frame) so that the actor (or any subject, really) appears to be detached from his surroundings. It’s a subtly disorientating effect that compels the audience to empathise with a character and understand what is important to them at a given moment. Alfred Hitchcock confidently applied all of the technical and creative options available in order to construct a narrative and would often ‘tell a story’ with a simple camera movement or type of shot. He has often been described as a ‘total’ filmmaker, using all of the resources available to make a movie. His film Vertigo is a ‘product’ of the Hollywood film industry at a specific moment in time, but is also part of a broader cultural ‘moment’. We can also consider Vertigo as the work of a film author or auteur. The influence of Alfred Hitchcock, or Hitch as he was often affectionately known is
immense in terms of popular narrative cinema. Like a literary author his films have been analysed in terms of their achievements as character studies (sometimes scholars bring psychoanalysis to bear), representations of cultural preoccupations and accomplished examples of narrative technique and mise-en-scene. In this resource we will focus on Vertigo: widely regarded as Hitchcock’s greatest film. Alfred Hitchcock is a key example of a film director whose films are considered key texts that he has authored. In 2012, Vertigo was nominated by British film magazine Sight & Sound as the ‘greatest film’ of all time. As such, we come to Vertigo as a film that enjoys a hugely positive reputation. When we encounter the film now our experience is different to the experience of audiences watching the movie during its original release when, in a sense it was ‘just another’ film. The film scholar Robin Wood wrote of Vertigo that it “seems to me Hitchcock’s masterpiece to date, are one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films that cinema has yet given us.”  In 2014, when we encounter Vertigo we also encounter a wide range of thinking and writing i) about the film, ii) about its director and iii) about the influence of the director and this film and a number of films and filmmakers in the years following the film’s release. Vertigo is a very useful and rich film text because it so interestingly provides an example of vivid film style and also in terms of how a film can interpret, and represent aspects of the ‘real’ world. Before we analyse the film text more specifically, let’s quickly sketch out the film’s premise and storyline. It’s worth saying that the films plot
requires close attention. The film follows what happens when a detective named Scottie, who has realised he has a fear of heights and so must retire from the police force, is hired to follow a young woman named Madeleine. Scottie is told that Madeleine, who is the wife of a friend of Scottie’s, is apparently possessed by the spirit of her grandmother. Through his investigations Scottie thinks that Madeleine may be prone to committing suicide. Sure enough Scottie saves her from an attempt at suicide and in the aftermath they fall in love. When Madeleine dies, Scottie eventually becomes obsessed with a woman named Judy Barton, who looks very much like Madeleine and Scottie then sets about ‘re-modeling’ Judy to resemble Madeleine. Broadly speaking then, the film is a psychological thriller, a genre that remains very popular. Vertigo is a film that we can explore in two key ways: i) in terms of both its formal qualities: its mise-en-scene, its use of sound and its use of music and ii) in terms of its thematic and ideological qualities: how it represents the relationship between men and women and how it represents gender but also the theme subject of obsession.
Contexts Vertigo was adapted from a mystery novel entitled ‘D’Entre les Morts’ written by Boileau and Narcejac. Critically though, Hitchcock’s cinematic treatment of the novel does not really emphasise the plot of the source text but instead is much more interested in the themes that the story it explores. Of his own sense of cinema, Hitchcock once commented that: “Dialogue should simply be a sound among other sounds, just something that comes out of the mouths of people whose eyes tell the story in visual terms.”  Studying Vertigo engages in representation of aspects of psychological and physical reality (and relationships) and with the concept of film authorship: a concept that, in essence proposes the director as the key controlling force of a film’s creative identity. Certainly, Hitchcock tends to be considered a particularly interesting example of director as author and his work was fundamental to the development of the idea of film authorship in the 1950s and 1960s. By extension, his films were crucial influences on the French New Wave (of the 1950s) and to the American New Wave of the early 1970s. Vertigo showcases a vivid example of a film star engaged in the process of revising their on screen persona. Before World War Two, James Stewart had been considered to embody an ordinary, but optimistic American sensibility. Interestingly, after World War Two Stewart
somewhat ‘revised’ his star persona, taking roles focused on characters typified by psychological neuroses. With his films with Hitchcock (Rear Window, Vertigo etc.) he ‘rebooted’ his persona to portray middle aged men who were racked with guilt and paranoia.
Text At its macro-level the film narrative of Vertigo demands that we pay close attention. Indeed, key to our viewing of Vertigo, and to our emotional and intellectual response to it is the underlying process which, as Bordwell and Thompson note, is motivated by the ways in which: “Expectation spurs emotion.”  Part of this process is strongly connected to the film music score. In analysing Vertigo we can make the point that the music composed to underscore so much of the film’s action has a critical impact on the film’s accumulation of dramatic interest and ‘meaning’. The music of the film is particularly distinct and well known (beyond the film itself) and it might encourage considering the collaboration between director and composer just as we might typically consider the collaboration between director and cinematographer, screenwriter or actor. Of the music composed and conducted for the film by Bernard Herrmann, Alex Ross has explained that: “Vertigo fired Herrmann’s imagination because its byzantine plot perfectly matched his Gothic sensibilities.” . Because music is so essential to Vertigo, it’s appropriate here to refer to the work of film scholar Mervyn Cooke who offers us a useful general statement about the value of music to narrative fiction movies. Here he is summarising the consensus on what film music achieves: “…film music as largely inextricable from its immediate film and wider cultural contexts…non-diegetic scoring could (paradoxically) contribute to filmic ‘realism’ by manipulating a viewer’s emotional response or by graphically supporting or even mimicking the action while also showing itself capable of suggesting visions of (at least) partial utopias fully in accord with the escapism purveyed by the Hollywood dream factory.”  The first scene to identify shows Scottie tracking Madeleine. Scottie’s tracking of Madeleine at one point takes him to the museum in San Francisco when he watches her sitting and contemplating a painting. A wide shot establishes the spatial realism that the scene will adhere to, so that we can understand where Scottie is standing and moving in relation to Madeleine as he watches her. Throughout, Madeleine is unaware that she is being
followed and watched. The key part of the scene is marked by Scottie picking out similarities between Madeleine and the painting that she sits looking at: the camera tracks in on the detail of the little bunch of flowers at her side and then tracks in on the curl of her hair, each shot intercut with a shot of Scottie looking and processing the connections. As Scottie takes in these details his sense of recognition and the fascination and slightly strange correspondence between the two is heightened by the film’s musical score. A later scene shows us Scottie continuing his work of following Madeleine. The action is centred on the moment when Scottie witnesses Madeleine’s suicide attempt. The scene’s early part is underscored by the melancholy music that immediately prompts the viewer to feel in a particular way. The scene starts with a wide shot that pans to the right as Scottie drives his car along the side of San Francisco Bay, near the Golden Gate Bridge. There is then a cut to a medium wide shot of Scottie at the wheel and there is then a cut to a wide shot of Madeleine, somewhat silhouetted with her back to camera. Why is she there? There is then a close up to the bunch of flowers she carries with her and then a close up of some of the petals falling to the water as she scatters them. These tiny details are given dramatic importance by the close ups. The music is melancholy and ‘quiet’ until Madeleine is shown in a wide shot falling into the water. Suddenly, we, like Scottie are ‘jolted’ from the calm of the moment (the music also making an abrupt shift in tone and pace) and we see him run and dive
into the water and rescue Madeleine, carrying her to his car. We see them framed in profile looking at each other, the music having now shifted from tense to romantic. In the latter part of the narrative block that comprises the first part of the film, a scene focuses on the evolving romance between Scottie and Madeleine. In a close up over Scottie’s shoulder, so that the image emphasises Madeleine’s facial expression, he tells her “No one possesses you. You’re safe with me.” As they confide in each other, the musical score expresses this romantic feeling. Madeleine then breaks away and runs towards a church with a tower. Scottie looks concerned in a mid shot of him looking past the camera to where Madeleine has run. He runs into the church and realises that she has run up the tower staircase. The music becomes increasingly urgent and tense, adding so much to the moment. The acrophobia that Scottie exhibited at the beginning of the film is critical now. As he makes his way up the stairs he looks down and to communicate his sense of vertigo the dolly zoom shot is now used twice in rapid succession. In this shot, the stairway takes on also something of the angular and unreal quality of the rooftops in an Expressionist film such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari. In seeking to recognise the achievement of these sequence it’s useful to acknowledge Hitchcock’s affinity for German Expressionist cinema. The film scholar David Bordwell has written of Expressionism’s application to movies that: “To
convey inner experience German directors of the 1910s worked principally on aspects of mise-en scene – performance, staging, setting, lighting, costume, make up, and the like. “  Writing about The Cabinet of Dr Caligari, a film that Hitchcock knew well, film scholar David Bordwell has explained that it’s “setting and acting seek to convey a madman’s vision of the world. Caligari ‘subjectivises’ the characters’ surroundings, a process signaled through warped perspectives and fantastical distorted settings.”  Vertigo, in a more subtle way, for the most part does the same. That said, the scene of Scottie’s nightmare is very Expressionist in its sensibility. Perhaps the most memorable scene of the film depicts Scottie’s nightmare of falling. This scene begins with a wide shot looking down (as though we are viewing him from his bedroom ceiling) on Scottie asleep in bed. Again, Herrmann’s music plays, emphasising the atmosphere of unease. There is then a cut to a close up of Scottie in the centre of the frame asleep and then the realistic colour of the scene is replaced as the image becomes dominated with a ‘filter’ of purple, then red, then green. Realism is no longer the key aesthetic emphasis of the scene. Instead, it is Hitchcock’s interest in the sensibility of Expressionism that influences the way the situation and the character’s dilemma is treated in order to amplify our sense of the character’s perception of an event. In doing so, this encourages us to empathise with Scottie. The scene is so distinctive because It integrates animated elements (produced by David Ferren) into the sequence. Writing about the essential qualities of animation as a means of expression, animation scholar Paul Wells has noted that animation ”…essentially offers an alternative vocabulary for the filmmaker by which alternative perspective and levels of address are possible.”  Hitchcock’s movies have come to be considered as rich in ‘meaning’: the text encoded with a range of ideas about human behavior and mind and the ways in which men and women relate to each other. The audience decodes the various ways in which the film text is encoded. When we talk of the film’s style we are talking about the choices made by the filmmakers in their deployment of sound and vision elements in the construction of the narrative. As such, we are considering how storytelling devices can be used to express a range of meanings and values embodied within the drama. The film scholar Susan White has described Vertigo as “a tale of male aggression and visual control…”  In that comment we can see how the film functions in terms of prompting a discussion of how cinema represents cultural norms, expectations and challenges to
gender and its representation. Appearing in almost every scene of the film is the film’s ‘star’ actor: James Stewart. At the time of the film’s production, James Stewart was a major Hollywood star just as Tom Hanks is today. Indeed, Hanks’s screen persona has been compared to Stewart’s many times. A film star is a media text that is encoded with meanings. A film star is a creation, a cultural and film-industry construction made from the combination of performer, producer (film studios and individual producers and directors) and marketing elements. Film stars connect to the concepts of the male gaze and of the female gaze and in terms of Vertigo this is especially interesting. Of the gaze the film scholar Laura Mulvey wrote a landmark essay entitled Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema which, in part, analyses the process of scopophilia, which is word that means the pleasure of looking, is about controlling another by looking at them, thereby turning them into an object. Critically, the movie star serves as a means by which certain societal concerns are expressed and so the film star fulfills a cultural role and an economic role in that the producer makes a financial investment in the film star not only as a performer but also as a vital means of promoting the film and attracting audiences to it. Just as audiences expect particular pleasures from particular film genres so too stars typically bring associations and expectations with them. In part, this relate to the kind of film genres they are associated with. In Hitchcock’s case, he, like Charlie Chaplin, Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney, also arguably occupied the persona of film star.
Reception Vertigo was released originally during the era that many consider the creative high water mark for the Hollywood studios. It’s worth noting, then, how the film was originally advertised in its marketing campaign. Let’s compare and contrast a number of posters and DVD covers that have attempted to suggest and describe the film. The original poster for the film utilised a graphic rather than an illustrative approach. As such, the film’s poster emphasises the film’s ‘thematic’ interest rather than plot elements. In this way, the poster is quite distinct from so many Hollywood studio film posters that very clearly indicate key characters, and plot elements allowing the potential viewer to begin to develop a sense of what the film’s genre qualities are. Even if we never use those terms the end result of this process is the decision to see the movie or
not. The poster for Vertigo was the design work of Saul Bass who collaborated with Hitchcock on a number of films, not only creating the posters but also designing the text and its placement on screen for several film opening credits. Later releases of the film on DVD use a photographic image of Scottie hanging as seen in the film’s opening sequence, suggesting more the film’s thriller aspect than its interest in psychology. An article published in The Guardian newspaper in 2012, functions as a very good example of the cultural discourse in constructing (or a reconstruction) the identity that particular films assume ‘beyond’ being only films. Rikh Samadder wrote that: “…surely no commercial studio film (admittedly a critical and commercial flop on its release) has ever offered and withheld such intricacy of intent and interpretation as Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Vertigo’.”  This considerable standing now enjoyed by the film is a useful way into thinking about discourses around film and how a film’s reputation and ‘value’ to audiences and the broader culture can evolve and change over time. As such, analysing reviews and comment helps give us a sense of the ‘temperature’ of a culture over time: what matters to it a lot and what matters less. It’s interesting to note the differing tones of address used on account of different readerships for the same kinds of observations and claims. Original reviews of the movie acknowledged its accomplishment, but suggests that some of the film’s style was all too familiar. This observation touches on the idea of the auteur, revisiting scenarios and treating them in a consistent way. However, as time passed different audience and viewing contexts can impact on, and alter the way in which a film is responded to. Upon its original release in the UK in spring 1959, Penelope Houston in her review for the BFI’s Sight & Sound magazine alerted readers to the film’s misogynistic quality. In doing so we have a way into to considering how film reviews can alert us to broader issues that are present in our daily lives. Sadly, misogyny appears not to be an outmoded attitude. By contrast to Houston’s relatively cool and thoughtful review, in 1996 the American film reviewer Roger Ebert, wrote a review of the film that is arguably part of the film’s evolving creative standing improved. Indeed, a review such as this would be part of the rehabilitation of the film’s reputation: “Vertigo” (1958), which is one of the two or three best films Hitchcock ever made, is the most confessional, dealing directly with the themes that controlled his art. It is *about* how Hitchcock used, feared and tried to control women.” 
As mentioned at the beginning of this resource Hitchcock’s film has been immensely influential as a number of film directors whose work is very well known to us. The film director Martin Scorsese has spoken about Vertigo’s fascination and you can view that comment here. Intriguingly, Scorsese applied Hitchcock’s style to a long form commercial that was released online several years ago or view it here. Then too, Scorsese designed his film Shutter Island in terms of a film language that we can propose inherits Hitchcock’s example in its mise-en-scene. Vertigo is a key then, example of the Hollywood studio film achieving the quality of art, if by art we mean a creative product that offers an insight into the human psyche and, by extension some sense of the moral and ethical dilemmas that underpin our daily lives, even if we don’t quite realise it. A film can help us stop and think and reflect on the norms, attitudes and codes of conduct that define our daily lives. Arguably, Hitchcock is exemplary in the clarity of his storytelling in terms of the macro-level concerns of narrative structure and in terms of the microelements of particular choices of action within a shot and the arrangement of editing patterns to construct a given scene and a sequence (comprising a series of scenes built around cause and effect). His movies combine the power of realism with the power of metaphor. Certainly, along with names of filmmakers Charlie Chaplin, Walt Disney and much more recently Steven Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock is recognised beyond the immediate world of the cinema, and his influence continues to exert itself. Certainly, Hitchcock is a director whose work has been so extensively written about that we could say he occupies in Film Studies a relative position that’s comparable to that of Shakespeare or Dickens in English literature study. Like those writers, Hitchcock is known widely by his surname alone as ‘author’ of the ‘meaning’ that ‘his’ films communicated. He is arguably as much a ‘product’ now and a construction of film culture as the films that he directed. He has become a narrative in himself.
PURE CINEMA “The medium of pure cinema is what I believe in. The assembly of pieces of film to create fright is the essential part of my job.” Alfred Hitchcock (Wheldon, 1964). Pure Cinema Pure cinema is at the heart of Hitchcock’s filmmaking. The concept of Pure Cinema, as Hitchcock defined it, originated in the days of silent cinema when filmmakers had to find the means to tell a story visually, without any dialogue. Hitchcock felt that the coming of sound was in some ways a backward step and he wanted to avoid making films that he felt could be described as, “photographs of people talking.” (Wheldon, 1964). Through the techniques of Pure Cinema, he aimed to create emotion on screen through camera technique, lighting, miseen-scène, editing and the expressive use of music and sound.
When filmmakers and other folks in the know make mention of “pure cinema,” they are referring to films that rely heavily on their imagery for storytelling. Cinema is, after all, a visual medium, not just a place for dialogue to come alive, and as such to distinguish itself from other storytelling media cinema must take advantage of its particular facets. This might seem obvious, but scan the list of films released, say, last year, and you’ll come across far more that feel like they’re just trying to bring the script page to life than you will films that seek to create their own language with their unspoken aesthetic.
The director explained, “What I like to do always is to photograph just the little bits of a scene that I really need for building up a visual sequence.” (Gottlieb, 1995)
PURE CINEMA IN VERTIGO “Vertigo features entire stretches that epitomize the notion of “pure cinema,” that is, a director visually telling the story with as little dialogue as possible. There are many scenes, like Scottie tailing Madeline in his car, where there is absolutely no dialogue. In fact, Novak does not speak until about 46 minutes into the movie, a full 29 minutes after first appearing at Ernie’s Restaurant. This stretch might as well be a silent movie, like the first half of WALL-E, as Hitchcock asks us to engage, scan the screen, watch actors’ faces, follow camera moves, and interpret symbolic images in the background. During this stretch, Hitchcock plays us like a piano, sucking us into the mystery with a series of POV shots, then leading us to various conclusions with his floating camera movements. Note how he visually connects Madeline’s spiral hair to Carlotta’s spiral hair in the portrait. Intercut with medium shots of Scottie gazing across the room, these are clearly POV shots (subjective camera). Still, in a weird way, they resemble Hitchcock’s objective personified camera in Psycho, where an independent-acting camera moves from clue to clue after Marion’s death. With the voyeuristic Hitchcock, the line between objective and subjective camera is always beautifully blurred.
Another fine bit of “pure cinema” comes after Madeline’s fatal fall. Rather than multiangularity (cutting to various shots from different angles) or parallel action (intercutting simultaneous lines of action), Hitchcock instead cuts to an extreme high angle above the bell tower. From this high angle, the aftermath of Madeline’s death unfolds in a long single take. We see two separate actions play out in the same single take: (a) the clergy tending to Madeline’s dead body in the top left of the frame, and (b) Scottie staggering out of the church in a daze in the bottom right of the frame. Fans of Hitchcock’s entire career know that this is a tell-tale auteur icon of his, using an extreme high angle to denote a major turning point in the film (i.e. after Sebastian finds the wine bottle in Notorious, or after the U.N. stabbing in North By Northwest).
AUTEUR THEORY Auteur Theory is a way of looking at films that state that the director is the “author” of a film. The Auteur theory argues that a film is a reflection of the director’s artistic vision; so, a movie directed by a given filmmaker will have recognizable, recurring themes and visual queues that inform the audience who the director is (think a Hitchcock or Tarantino film) and shows a consistent artistic identity throughout that director’s filmography.
“ In the French New Wave, people developed the notion of the filmmaker as an artist. They didn’t invent the idea, but they did popularize it. A German filmmaker who started as a German theatre director, Max Reinhardt, came up with the idea of the auteur – the author in films. He came up with that around the teens….So, [director François] Truffaut and the French New Wave popularized it, or they revived it.” –
The term “Auteur theory” is credited to the critics of the French film journal Cahiers du cinéma, many of which became the directors of the French New Wave. However, according to New York University professor Julian Cornell, the concept had been around for a while prior. The Cahiers critics simply refined the theory.
New York University Professor Julian Cornell
SUPPORTING HITCHCOCK AS AN AUTEUR John Caughie (1981) defines an auteur: THEMES • “Master of Suspense” • Rational/order vs. Irrational/chaos • Wrong Man (Innocent appear guilty Guilty appear innocent) • Voyeurism / Male Gaze • Obsession (with the past) • Obsession with women • Sexuality/fantasy • Dominant mothers • Fate and luck • Violence and entertainment
STYLE • Pure Cinema • Subjective camera • Extensive use of storyboards • High angle (fate) • National Landmarks • Promoted own image (Infamous cameos)
NARRATIVE • ‘Wrong man’ on the run - linked to a woman • The perfect murder
‘Uniqueness of personality (style, cameos) brash individuality, persistence of obsession (themes) and originality (techniques like the trombone shot, shifts in POV) were given an evaluative power above that of stylistic smoothness or social seriousness’ Q. Does this apply to Hitchcock?
Themes and plot devices in the films of Alfred Hitchcock Alfred Hitchcock’s films show an interesting tendency towards recurring themes and devices, such that one can almost feel that he was in some way making the same movie, or at least telling the same story, over and over again throughout his life as a director. Here are some of the themes that show up repeatedly in his films: Birds There are countless images of birds in nearly all of Hitchcock’s films. Some of the most prominent are listed below. Psycho - The film begins in Phoenix, Arizona and a Phoenix is also a mythological bird. Marion’s last name is “Crane”. Norman practices taxidermy as a hobby and his favorites are birds. Norman describes Marion’s eating behavior as “eats like a bird”. Vertigo - Gavin’s last name is Elster, which is German for Mockingbird. The Birds-The film’s plot revolves around birds attacking a small town called Bodega Bay. Suspense Hitchcock preferred the use of suspense over the use of surprise in his films. In surprise, the director assaults the viewer with frightening things. In suspense, the director tells or shows things to the audience which the characters in the film do not know, and then artfully builds tension around what will happen when the characters finally learn the truth. Hitchcock was fond of illustrating this point with a short aphorism - “There’s two people having breakfast and there’s a bomb under the table. If it explodes, that’s a surprise. But if it doesn’t...” Audience as voyeur Further blurring the moral distinction between the innocent and the guilty, occasionally making this indictment inescapably clear to viewers one and all, Hitchcock also makes voyeurs of his “respectable” audience. In Rear Window (1954), after L. B. Jeffries (played by James Stewart) has been staring across the courtyard at him for most of the film, Lars Thorwald (played by Raymond Burr) confronts Jeffries by saying, “What do you want of me?” Burr might as well have been addressing the audience.
In fact, shortly before asking this, Thorwald turns to face the camera directly for the first time. Similarly, Psycho begins with the camera moving toward a hotel-room window, through which the audience is introduced to Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her divorced boyfriend Sam Loomis, played by John Gavin. They are partially undressed, having apparently had sex though they are not married and Marion is on her lunch “hour”. Later, along with Norman Bates (portrayed by Anthony Perkins), the audience watches Marion undress through a peephole. MacGuffin One of Hitchcock’s favorite devices for driving the plots of his stories and creating suspense was what he called the “MacGuffin”. The Oxford English Dictionary, however, credits Hitchcock’s friend, the Scottish screenwriter Angus MacPhail, as being the true inventor of the term. Hitchcock defined this term in a 1964 interview conducted by François Truffaut, published as Hitchcock/ Truffaut (Simon and Schuster, 1967). Hitchcock would use this plot device extensively. Many of his suspense films revolve around this device: a detail which, by inciting curiosity and desire, drives the plot and motivates the actions of characters within the story, but whose specific identity and nature is unimportant to the spectator of the film. In Vertigo, for instance, “Carlotta Valdes” is a MacGuffin; she never appears and the details of her death are unimportant to the viewer, but the story about her ghost’s haunting of Madeleine Elster is the spur for Scottie’s investigation of her, and hence the film’s entire plot. In Notorious, the uranium that the main characters must recover before it reaches Nazi hands serves as a similarly arbitrary motivation: any dangerous object would suffice. And state secrets of various kinds serve as MacGuffins in several of the spy films, especially his earlier British films The Man Who Knew Too Much, The 39 Steps, and The Lady Vanishes. Hitchcock has stated that the best MacGuffin “the emptiest” was the one used in North By Northwest, which was referred to as “Government secrets”. The ordinary person Placing an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances is a common element of Hitchcock’s films. In The 39 Steps, the protagonist Richard Hannay is drawn into a web of espionage, after a female spy he meets in a theatre is killed in his apartment. In The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), James Stewart plays an ordinary man from Indianapolis vacationing in Morocco when
his son is kidnapped. In The Wrong Man, Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) is arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. In Psycho, Janet Leigh plays an unremarkable secretary whose personal story is violently interrupted by a furious psychopath. Other clear examples are Strangers on a Train, I Confess, Vertigo, and North By Northwest. The focus on an ordinary character enables the audience to relate to the action in the movie. The wrong man or wrong woman Mistaken identity is a common plot device in his films. North By Northwest - Roger Thornhill (Cary Grant) is mistaken for George Kaplan, a non-existent CIA agent. The Wrong Man - Henry Fonda is mistaken for a criminal. Vertigo- the film revolves around Scottie Ferguson’s investigation of the false Madeleine Elster’s real identity. The 39 Steps - The main character is mistaken for a government spy. Frenzy - The protagonist is thought to be the notorious Necktie Killer due the circumstances he finds himself in. The likeable criminal, aka the charming sociopath The villain in many of Hitchcock’s films appears charming and refined rather than oafish and vulgar. Especially clear examples of this tendency are Claude Rains in Notorious, Barry Foster in Frenzy, Joseph Cotten in Shadow of a Doubt, Robert Walker in Strangers on a Train and James Mason in North by Northwest. In Psycho, Marian Crane (Janet Leigh) steals from her employer and runs away to be with her boyfriend, thus making her a criminal for her theft, and immoral for having pre-marital sex. However, the filmgoers are sympathetic to her; she has just decided to return the money when she is then brutally murdered. In Marnie, the title character (Tippi Hedren) is a cunning serial thief. Staircases Images of staircases often play a central role in Hitchcock’s films. The Lodger tracks a suspected serial killer’s movement on a staircase. Years later, a similar shot appears in the final sequence of Notorious. In Vertigo, the staircase in the church bell tower plays a crucial role in the plot. In Psycho, several staircases are featured prominently: as part of the path up to the Bates mansion, as the entrance to the fruit cellar, and as the site of Detective Arbogast’s murder. In Rear Window, an entirely nonfunctional staircase adorns James Stewart’s apartment, in addition to the numerous fire escape
staircases seen each time we follow Stewart’s gaze out of his window. In Shadow of a Doubt, Charlie Oakley (Joseph Cotten) attempts to murder his niece by rigging a staircase to collapse. In Dial M for Murder, a key kept under the stair carpet plays a pivotal role in booking the murderer. Frenzy features an unusual shot which tracks the killer and his victim first up the stairs, then retreats backwards down the stairs alone while the audience is left to imagine the killing which is taking place. One other iconic stairwell shot comes from the movie Suspicion as Cary Grant slowly walks up the stairs to deliver what would have been the poisonous warmed milk to his wife. Hitchcock, the studios and Cary Grant decided his character could not end up as a murderer and that scene becomes a red herring with a new ending added. This stylistic interest in staircases is attributed to the influence of German Expressionism, which often featured heavily stylized and menacing staircases, for example in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. Trains In Hitchcock’s films, trains are often used as a sexual euphemism. Extended sequences on trains feature in a number of Hitchcock films, including Number Seventeen, Shadow of a Doubt, The 39 Steps, The Lady Vanishes, Strangers on a Train, and North by Northwest. In The 39 Steps and North by Northwest, the limitations imposed by train travel on characters’ movements enhances the suspense as the lead character is pursued for a crime he did not commit. Hitchcock’s most-extended train sequence is in The Lady Vanishes, where the inability to exit the train except at stations forces the two lead characters to accept that the lady for whom they are searching must still be aboard. The vertiginous excitement of moving around the outside of a moving train is exploited in Number Seventeen and The Lady Vanishes. Mothers Mothers are frequently depicted as intrusive and domineering, or at the very least, batty, as seen in Rope, Notorious, Strangers on a Train, North by Northwest, Psycho and The Birds. Brandy Hitchcock includes the consumption of brandy in many of his films. “I’ll get you some brandy. Drink this down. Just like medicine ...” says Scottie Ferguson to “Madeleine Elster” in Vertigo. In a reallife incident, Hitchcock dared Montgomery Clift at a dinner party around the filming of I Confess (1953) to swallow a carafe of brandy, which caused the actor to pass out almost immediately. In Torn Curtain and Topaz, brandy is defined more closely
as cognac. This element is also present in Dial M for Murder where the main characters of the film consume brandy throughout the entire film. Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is offered a brandy by Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), and after being attacked by the birds, drinks the brandy offered by Mitch (Rod Taylor). In Rear Window, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly) is “just warming some brandy”. In Frenzy, Richard Blaney is sacked for supposedly stealing brandy, and can be seen in several sequences to be drinking brandy.
For their time, Hitchcock’s films were regarded as rather sexualized, often dealing with perverse and taboo behaviors. Sometimes, the prudish conventions of his era caused him to convey sexuality in an emblematic fashion, such as in North by Northwest, when the film cuts abruptly from two aroused but visually chaste lovers to a train entering a tunnel. Hitchcock found a number of ways to convey sexuality without depicting graphic behaviors, such as the substitution of explicit sexual passion with the passionate consumption of food. In a particularly amusing scene in Psycho, Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) carries on a conversation with Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) while one of his hands strokes a dead animal and the other hand lingers on his crotch. Sexual feelings are often strongly associated with violent behavior. In The Lodger and Psycho, this association is the whole basis of the film. Biographers have noted how Hitchcock continued to challenge film censorship throughout his career, until he was allowed to show nudity in Frenzy.
Hitchcock has many scenes which exploit people’s superstitious response to the number 13. The number shows up several times in his movies as an apartment number, room number or house number. For example, in Psycho, when Marion checks into the Bates Motel, Norman reaches first for room 3, then room 1. In addition, the number on the license plate that she drives adds up to 13. Another example is at the car dealership when Marion trades cars the number on the dealership adds up to 13. Each incidence of the number 13 provides an opportunity for her fate to change in this film.
Blonde women Hitchcock had a dramatic preference for blonde women, stating that the audience would be more suspicious of a brunette. Many of these blondes were of the Grace Kelly variety: perfect, aloof ice goddesses, who also have a hidden red-hot inner fire. In Vertigo James Stewart forces a woman to dye her hair blonde. The Lodger, one of Hitchcock’s earliest films, features a serial killer who stalks blonde women. Hitchcock said he used blonde actresses in his films, not because of an attraction to them, but because of a tradition that began with Mary Pickford. The director said that blondes were “a symbol of the heroine”. He also thought they photographed better in black and white, which was the predominant film for most dramas for many years.
As a former silent film director, Hitchcock strongly preferred to convey narrative with images rather than dialogue. Hitchcock viewed film as a primarily visual medium in which the director’s assemblage of images must convey the narrative. Examples of imagery over dialogue are in the lengthy sequence in Vertigo in which Scottie silently follows Madeleine, or the Albert Hall sequence in the 1956 version of The Man Who Knew Too Much.
Tennis Tennis is often mentioned in Hitchcock films. In Strangers On A Train, the main character is a tennis player. In Dial M for Murder, Ray Milland’s character is an ex-tennis player. In Rebecca, the Joan Fontaine character claims to be taking Tennis lessons from the Laurence Olivier character. Falling from high places Most notable in Vertigo, North By Northwest, Saboteur and Rear Window and among other Hitchcock films the protagonist or villain or even the supporting good character is falling from a height. The Perfect Murder Several of Alfred Hitchcock’s movies feature characters who are deeply fascinated with the craft of murder. Murder is often treated as an intellectual puzzle, and several Hitchcock characters seek to establish a definitive “perfect” murder (i.e. an undefeatable scientific method of murdering another person without leaving any evidence of the act.) This notion is a core concept in Rope, Dial M for Murder, Strangers on a Train, Vertigo and to a lesser extent, Shadow of a Doubt.
is auteur theory valid? Geoff Fordham questions the validity of auteur & questions Hitchcock’s importance. Since not all critics subscribe to the validity of the auteur theory, there is no consensus that Hitchcock can usefully be considered as such; nor that he is necessarily ‘significant’, if the auteur can be said to exist at all. Grierson dismissed Hitchcock as ‘…no more than the world’s best director of unimportant pictures.’ Schatz argues that his greatest movies were the work of a team which Hitchcock had taken with him from studio to studio, and that after The Birds (Hitchcock, 1963) one of the reasons for Hitchcock’s ‘…decline was the dispersion of his movie production team.’ Caughie only grudgingly accords Hitchcock auteur status: ‘…it may be possible to assign a relatively homogeneous function to the figure of the author if one works with a list which includes Ford, Hawks, Ray (with question marks around Hitchcock and Sirk.)’
Structuralism peter wollen
Auteurist sees the recurrent themes as the product of directorial intent. Structuralists see themes as unintended. Auteur structuralism sees films as the product of a team, rather than an individual (this removes Hitchcock the person from a Hitchcock film)
the team... • Sound - Bernard Herrmann - (The Trouble with Harry, Marnie, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Psycho) • Editor - George Tomasini (Vertigo, Psycho, Rear Window, North by Northwest) • Cinematographer - Robert Burks (Vertigo, The Birds, Rear Window, North by Northwest • Star - James Stewart - (Rope, Rear Window, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo) • Graphics/titles - Saul Bass (North by Northwest, Vertigo, Psycho) Auteur structuralism view themes as set of binary opposites: • Guilt and innocence (The 39 Steps, North by Northwest); • Appearance and reality (Vertigo, Psycho); • Suspicion and trust (Torn Curtain, The 39 Steps) • Sin and redemption (Psycho).
Original Review: Vertigo in Sight and Sound, Spring 1959 by Christian Hayes Hitchcock in the 1950s I am very interested in how the reception of films change over time, and how their initial reception relates to their standing today. One of the single most interesting cases is Vertigo (1958), a film that has become embedded in the consciousness of serious filmgoers. By the time the film was released in 1958 (1959 in Britain) Hitchcock was the most high-profile Hollywood director of them all. No doubt this was galvanised by his appearance on television as host of Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-61) in which Hitchcock was cleverly cementing a clearly-defined screen persona – the slow drawl, the black suit, the sense of humour, the portly figure, and the famous profile. It was Hitchcock himself who had transformed his profile into a neat logo, which then went on to open every episode of his TV show. Hitchcock had become an unlikely but powerful brand. The 1950s saw key changes in how films were written about. Influenced by the politique des auteurs promoted by the French critics of Cahiers du Cinéma, British film critics of Sight and Sound focused more on the role of the director and the director’s responsibility for the film as a whole, then they ever had before. The combination of this shift in film criticism and the strong Hitchcock brand meant that Hitchcock’s role as an auteur was indisputable. In the review below Houston talks of a ‘typical Hitchcock joke’, for instance. Indeed Hitchcock is seen as perhaps the ultimate auteur: the precise visual style of his films suggest to the viewer that he knew what he wanted and achieved it. The controlled movement and pacing of his visuals suggest control behind the camera. So when Vertigo was released it was clearly seen as another ‘Hitchcock film’. At first glance his films of the 1950s were clearly Hollywood products, as was the case with the glossy star vehicle The Man
Who Knew Too Much (1956) with James Stewart and Doris Day, or To Catch a Thief (1955) with Cary Grant and Grace Kelly. He made a couple of grittier movies in the 1950s, notably I Confess (1953) and The Wrong Man (1956), which had the feel of film noir and neo-realism, but Vertigo was clearly aligned with his bigger releases: vivid colour, Vistavision, and a star name in James Stewart. But again Hitchcock seems to smuggle dark themes into these studio movies, with Vertigo being a particularly bleak emotional journey concerned with loss and obsession. Today the film is revered by critics and film lovers, and during the last Sight & Sound Top Ten Poll in 2002 the film almost beat Citizen Kane to the number one spot – it was only 6 votes away. The fact that Vertigo, along with Rope (1948), Rear Window (1954), The Trouble with Harry (1955), and The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) were quickly removed from circulation only to be seen again in the 1980s may have contributed to their appeal when re-evaluated (pirate black and white copies circulated for those desperate to see them during that dark age). Below is the full review that was published in the Spring 1959 issue of Sight and Sound, written by Penelope Houston, which offers an interesting perspective on how the film was received on initial release. She believes that the film suffers from a plot of ‘egg-shell thinness’ and that one of its key problems is that of pacing: ‘this time he is repeating himself in slow motion’. She does not seem to have sensed the repressed passion that drives as an undercurrent throughout the film. This may be due to the fact that Vertigo is ultimately defined by its repeated viewing. The first viewing is only an introduction, but it is in the re-watching that the film starts to take hold and become an obsession.
Penelope Houston, ‘Vertigo’, Sight and Sound, Spring 1959, p.319. VERTIGO (Paramount) finds Hitchcock toying weightily with a thriller by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, authors of Les Diaboliques. As with their earlier novel, the mystery is a question not of who done it but of whether it was really done at all–in this case, how can a girl who has fallen spectacularly to her death from a church tower reappear a few months later in the streets of San Francisco, and is she in fact the same girl? This question of identity, central to the novel, is disposed of by Hitchcock in a brisk and curiously timed flashback, leaving only the secondary problem of how the hero, a detective who first trails the girl, then becomes obsessed by his memories of her, will react to discovering the truth. But in a story of this kind, a sleigh-of-hand affair built on deception and misdirection, mystification counts for everything; to introduce questions of motivation, to suggest that the people involved in this murder game are real, is to risk cracking a plot structure of egg-shell thinness. Only speed, finally, could sustain the illusion that the plot hangs together–and Hitchcock has never made a thriller more stately and deliberate in technique. If the plot fails to work, there are still some good suspense diversion. These include a macabre, misogynistic sequence in which the obsessed detective (James Stewart) enlists dressmakers and hairdressers to make over the lightly disguised Kim Novak number two in the image of the lost Kim Novak number one; a typical Hitchcock joke, in which the detective tracks the girl down an alley, through a dark and dingy passage-way, and finds that this sinister approach is the back door to an expensive flower shop; and a single shot of stunning virtuosity, with a corpse spread-eagled across a church roof at one side of the screen, and the detective slinking out of the church door at the screen’s opposite edge. A roof-top chase, decisively opening the picture, a struggle in the church belfry, some backchat in the manner of Rear Window with a cool, astringent second-string heroine (Barbara Bel Geddes) are all reminiscent of things Hitchcock has done before, and generally done with more verve. One is agreeably used to Hitchcock repeating his effects, but this time he is repeating himself in slow motion.
Variety Magazine (film magazine, US) - 1958 review “Vertigo” is prime though uneven Hitchcock and with the potent marquee combination of James Stewart and Kim Novak should prove to be a highly profitable enterprise at the boxoffice. Stewart, on camera almost constantly throughout the film’s 126 minutes, comes through with a startlingly fine performance as the lawyer-cop who suffers from acrophobia--that is, vertigo or dizziness in high places. “Vertigo” is prime though uneven Hitchcock and with the potent marquee combination of James Stewart and Kim Novak should prove to be a highly profitable enterprise at the boxoffice. Stewart, on camera almost constantly throughout the film’s 126 minutes, comes through with a startlingly fine performance as the lawyer-cop who suffers from acrophobia–that is, vertigo or dizziness in high places. Miss Novak, shopgirl who involves Stewart in what turns out to be a clear case of murder, is interesting under Hitchcock’s direction and nearer an actress than she was in either “Pal Joey” or “Jeanne Eagles.” Unbilled, but certainly a prime factor in whatever success film may have, is the city of San Francisco, which has never been photographed so extensively and in such exquisite color as Robert Burks and his crew have here achieved. Through all of this runs Hitchcock’s directorial hand, cutting, angling and gimmicking with mastery. Unfortunately, even that mastery is not enough to overcome one major fault, for the plain fact is that the film’s first half is too slow and too long. This may be because: (1) Hitchcock became overly enamored with the vertiginous beauty of Frisco; or (2) the Alec Coppel-Samuel Taylor screenplay (from the novel “D’entre Les Morts” by Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac) just takes too long to get off the ground. Film opens with a rackling scene in which Stewart’s acrophobia is explained: he hangs from top of a
building in midst of chasing a robber over rooftops and watches a police buddy plunge to his death. But for the next hour the action is mainly psychic, with Stewart hired by a rich shipbuilder to watch the shipowner’s wife (Novak) as she loses her mental moorings, attempts suicide and immerses herself in the gloomy maunderings of her mad great-grandmother. Stewart, of course, falls in love with her and eventually is lured to the high belltower of an old mission, San Juan Bautista, where his acrophobia prevents him from climbing high enough to stop the girl’s suicide. Or so he thinks. Stewart goes off his rocker and winds up in a mental institution. When he comes out, still a trifle unbalanced, he keeps hunting for girl who resembles dead girl, eventually finds her and, in a rip-snorting denouement, discovers he’s been tricked–that this girl is, indeed, his supposedly dead mystery woman who, with the shipbuilder, played on Stewart’s fear of height to allow the shipbuilder to push wife off the mission belltower. Film’s last minute, in which Stewart fights off acrophobia to drag Miss Novak to top of belltower, finds she still loves him and then sees her totter and fall to her death through mortal fright of an approaching nun, is a spectacular scene, gorgeously conceived. But by then more than two hours have gone by, and it’s questionable whether that much time should be devoted to what is basically only a psychological murder mystery. Supporting players are all excellent, with Barbara Bel Geddes, in limited role of Stewart’s down-to-earth girl friend, standout for providing early dashes of humor. Tom Helmore, as rich shipbuilder, is a convincing heavy, and Henry Jones has one memorable, lifelike scene as the official presiding at a coroner’s inquest. Raymond Bailey, Ellen Corby, Konstantin Shayne and Lee Patrick handle lesser roles competently. Bernard Herrmann’s music, conducted by Muir Mathieson overseas, is properly atmospheric and Hal Pereira-Henry Bumstead art direction, plus photographic effects of John P. Fulton, Farciot Edouart and Wallace Kelley, superb. Other technical credits, especially Saul Bass titles and John Ferren’s special sequence, are tops, too. Frisco location scenes – whether of Nob Hill, interior of Ernie’s restaurant, Land’s End, downtown, Muir Woods, Mission Dolores or San Juan Bautista – are absolutely authentic and breathtaking. But these also tend to intrude on story line too heavily, giving a travelogueish effect at times. Despite this defect, “Vertigo” looks like a winner at the boxoffice as solid entertainment in the Hitchcock tradition.
empire 2006 VERTIGO (Paramount) finds Hitchcock toying weightily with a thriller by Pierre Boileau and Thomas A detective falls for the woman he’s trailing only for her to fall to her death from a tower. He tries to mould a strikingly similar looking woman into his lost love with unexpected results.
The mesmerizing title sequence for Vertigo is a collage of human eyes juxtaposed with Lissajous spirals, spidery whorls devised by a French mathematician to express numerical equations. It was Saul Bass’ first for a Hitchcock film, and as it fades out we are thrown into a scene that bears the Master’s signature as emphatically as the opening credits bear Bass’: Jimmy Stewart, as police detective Scottie Ferguson, and his partner in hot pursuit of a fugitive across the rooftops of San Francisco. In classic Hitchcock fashion, the chase culminates in Scottie losing his footing on a steeply sloping roof and dangling by his fingertips from a flimsy gutter. Attempting to save him, his partner falls to his death, leaving Scottie staring in horror at his crushed body on the pavement below. How Scottie escapes from his predicament is never explained, but the image of him clinging desperately to the feeble lip of the building stands as a metaphor for his perilous mental state throughout the events that follow: in keeping with a well-founded terror of heights, Scottie is a man suspended over an emotional and psychological abyss, into which he is doomed to plunge by a macabre obsession with a woman who doesn’t exist. The crowning artistic achievement of Alfred Hitchcock’s incomparable career as a director, Vertigo is a strange and haunting film of breathtaking beauty, one that lingers in the memory like a disturbing dream. It was based on a novel by French writers Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac called Sueurs Froides (D’entre Les Morts). Hitchcock and the two writers who worked on the script (Alec Coppel and, most productively, Sam Taylor) transferred events from post-War Marseilles to contemporary California
empire 2010 Scottie Ferguson (Stewart) is hired to watch ghost-like Madeleine Elster (Novak), a disturbed young woman. He falls in love, but his vertigo renders him powerless to prevent her suicidal leap from a belltower. Mentally scarred, he roams San Francisco until meeting Judy, a dead ringer for Madeleine, after which the truth slowly unravels.
Picture yourself on a rollercoaster at the highest peak of its circuit. That terrifying moment before your stomach plunges to hell is the best description of having vertigo. It’s what Jimmy Stewart suffers from here, and it’s what you’ll experience leaving the theatre after watching Hitchcock’s most disturbing masterpiece. Painstakingly restored from a destroyed 1958 negative to a majestic 70mm print by the team who renewed Spartacus, Vertigo can now terrify and seduce a whole new generation of cinemagoers, and still have enough intellectual clout to be one of, if not the finest, American movies ever made. First and foremost it’s a chilling thriller, but dig deeper and you’ll uncover sinister references to Dante’s Inferno, psychological colour codes and, most controversially, the master of suspense at last baring his soul on film.Resigned from the force after a rooftop fatality, Scottie Ferguson (Stewart) is hired to watch ghost-like Madeleine Elster (Novak), a woman seemingly possessed by a dead countess. He falls in love, but his vertigo renders him powerless to prevent her suicidal leap from a bell-tower. Mentally scarred, he roams San Francisco aimlessly until meeting Judy (also Novak), a dead ringer for Madeleine, after which the truth slowly unravels.Vertigo presents the dizzy heights of many fabulous careers. Nice Guy Stewart has never been so complex and calculating, Novak never more mesmerising and Bernard Herrmann’s score is magnificent. Even Saul Bass’ whirling title credits have you gripping the arm-rest, but Hitchcock has stamped his personality on every scene.Using revolutionary techniques -the celebrated zoomforward-track-back shot, the whodunnit giveaway, the scary downbeat ending - Hitchcock’s obsessions with romantic love and female deception are exposed in this spine-tingling tale of mistaken identity. Sit in the front row for this one, it’s the closest you’ll get to genius all year.
BFI - Critics Greatest Films of All Time 2012 essay For some, Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) has always been one of those ‘bedside’ films (as François Truffaut put it, before such a thing could be taken literally) – which means that we store it so well in our minds, and in our hearts, that we can think about it and ‘watch’ it again whenever the mood takes us. We do this to delve a little bit deeper into the film’s inexhaustible and fascinating enigmas, to relive our first impressions and to compare Hitchcock’s film to the rest of filmmaking – if only to reassure ourselves of its status as an unsurpassed peak, making films that hold more prestige for critics and historians seem lesser works by comparison. And yet the truth is that its status as a great work has only been admitted comparatively recently. None of Hitchcock’s films, for instance, featured in Sight & Sound’s first top ten in 1952, and Vertigo didn’t feature in the 1962 critics’ poll, compiled four years after the film’s release. In fact Vertigo didn’t appear in the poll until 1982, when it came seventh. By 1992 it was up to fourth (and sixth in the newly instigated directors’ poll); then in 2002 it came second (remaining sixth for the directors). Why did it take so long? Unlike, say, Bicycle Thieves, which was more or less instantly acclaimed as a masterpiece (coming top in the 1952 poll, only four years after its release), films such as Vertigo and John Ford’s The Searchers (1956) initially met with a mixed reception from critics – and with indifference from the public. Which means that, beyond the mere passing of time and the perseverance of their defenders, these works must have something very special about them to have been able to finally impose themselves as great works. But why, in the case of Vertigo, do we come back again and again, even though the art of cinema and the film’s original audience have changed? The generation that first revered the film has got older and gained experience, but we have also lost illusions and enthusiasm. Why, after watching Vertigo more than, say, 30 times, are we confident that there are things to discover in it – that some aspects remain ambiguous and uncertain, unfathomably complex, even if we scrutinise every look, every cut, every movement of the camera? Why do we never get tired of Hitchcock telling us the story of Scottie Ferguson’s obsession with three people in one – Madeleine Elster, Carlotta Valdes and Judy Barton – even though we know it by heart?
Narrative discoveries It is generally accepted that Hitchcock was one of the great film narrators. He has long been considered a skilful artisan at the service of his audience, willing to flatter us, and eager to make the biggest profit with his products – a direct concern for him, because he participated in the financing of his films, which meant that his future creative freedom depended on good commercial results. Hitchcock always wanted to keep his hands free so he could make something greater than he’d made before. The tendency among earlier critics was to try to reduce him to the role of ‘master of suspense’, perhaps because his success sparked off a multitude of inferior imitators. Hitchcock’s narrative discoveries, the structural audacity with which he surprised us – the death of the love interest 70 minutes into Vertigo, or of protagonist Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) 40 minutes into Psycho – all those innovations were considered mistakes by critics then. These were possibilities no other producer would have tolerated; even with Hitchcock’s creative autonomy, few would have dared to attempt them. Of course Hitchcock understood the importance of dramatic narrative and character conventions. He knew how to play with them and pretend he was complying with them – as when retired policeman Scottie (James Stewart) initiates his investigation of Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak) at the behest of her husband Gavin (Tom Helmore) – so that the spectator, trusting in orthodoxy, would anticipate the position where the director wanted them to be, allowing him to create and dilate that mixture of tension and uncertainty that is ‘suspense’. Come the time, he also knew how to brutally undermine those conventional expectations (making us realise, for instance, that Scottie has been suckered into the Elster case because of his fatal flaw, the vertigo he has experienced ever since he was left dangling from the edge of a roof during a chase in the film’s opening sequence), leaving the spectator disoriented – and therefore ready to be taken wherever he wanted us to go. Hitchcock knew that an excess of confusion can distance, that too many explanations can tire and make us lose the thread, that a prolonged vagueness can jeopardise the credibility of a story. Yet he also knew that if one wants to put
aside (or forget for a while) the plausible and go deep into the terrain of the extraordinary and the improbable, ambiguity is necessary to preserve a fragile realism – in misè en scene, wardrobe, behaviour. Hitchcock was never spineless in this regard: when he was certain, he would jump in and violate any rule. This allowed him to dive into the depths of the invisible, the ungraspable, the imperceptible, the unsafe, the weightless, the strange, the impossible (that which worryingly can happen). And this would provide him with the most adequate and efficient tools to lure us into that “momentary suspension of disbelief” of which Coleridge spoke, and elongate it in order for us to immerse ourselves in the inextricable depths of the human being. I won’t use the word ‘soul’, even though I’m sure Hitchcock believed in the existence of something like this. There is no need to be a Christian to succumb to Hitchcock, just – ever so slightly – Freudian or Jungian. I suspect that Hitchcock, regardless of how sceptically or ironically he considered the jargon of psychoanalysis and its therapeutic virtues, didn’t ignore the theories and the institutions of the different psychoanalytic schools. Subjects that preoccupied and intrigued Sigmund Freud and his followers – such as sexuality and repression, dreams and the Oedipus complex, fear and the ‘lapsus’, lies and masks, sublimation and mythology, jokes, the subconscious and feelings of guilt, the illusion of grandeur and the persecution complex, paternal or authoritarian figures and possessive mothers, the family structure and hereditary features, child fixations and hysteria, hypnotism and schizophrenia, the uncanny and many others – seem like a repertoire of themes that recur in Hitchcock’s filmography. That said, Catholicism provided Hitchcock with certain variations (or aggravating circumstances) on some of these themes: the notion of sin; the fear of knowledge and of woman as dangerous temptress; the expulsion from Paradise and the shame of the body; the mythologising of virginity and maternity; plagues and the way to the cross; mourning and the cult of the dead; faith in the afterlife and in the resurrection of the flesh; the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins as opportunities for transgression and guilt; miracle healing; eternal punishment; the consecration of ‘the wrong man’ in the figure of Christ; confession and its inviolable confidentiality; the inquisition and torture; the devil as seductive and astute being, proudly defiant of the divine supremacy; the conflict between predestination and freedom; the Apocalypse and the Last Judgement… It would be as ridiculous to deny the importance of Judaeo-Christian obsessions in Hitchcock as it would be to reduce everything to a succession of Catholic dogmas and rituals. These obsessions are the perfect complement, conflictual and partly antithetical – and therefore dialectical, to his
psychoanalytic sources of inspiration. Another even less explored cultural source for Hitchcock – which strengthens the Catholic (which came from his education by the Jesuits) and the Freudian (which he encountered during his film apprenticeship in Weimar-era Germany) – is surrealism. This may be obvious, but in order to highlight it we need to look at the composition and framing, the texture and the combination of his images – above all in the silent part of his British period, chronologically the closest to those encounters. Like the surrealists, Hitchcock thought that the interior (what happens ‘inside’) and the imaginary (dreamed, remembered or hallucinated) are as real as the external and tangible to which ‘reality’ is normally restricted. The influence here is not primarily literary but rather pictorial, and can be sensed in paintings by Richard Oelze, Max Ernst, Emil Nolde, Dorothea Tanning, Hans Bellmer, and in some of their predecessors, such as Friedrich, Böcklin, Munch and Fuseli. Lastly, there remains a vision of the world to which this last clue drives us: romanticism. From many spheres – musical, literary, pictorial – and from various places – British, German, Italian, American, Russian – the footprints of romanticism can be detected in Hitchcock’s films. One feels the spectres of Poe, Stevenson, Hawthorne, Melville, George Du Maurier, Emily and Charlotte Brontë, Mary Shelley, Wilkie Collins, Georg Trakl, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Achim von Arnim and Gérard de Nerval. In the same way, one can hear – under the curiously related melodies composed for his films by such different musicians as Franz Waxman, Hugo Friedhofer, Roy Webb, Maurice Jarre, Miklós Rózsa, Dimitri Tiomkin and above all Bernard Herrmann – measures and harmonies by Wagner, Brahms, Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, Fauré, Franck, Rachmaninov, Debussy, Britten, early Stravinsky, the Schoenberg of ‘Verklärte Nacht’ (‘Transfigured Night’) – all of them centred in the recreation and transmission of emotions. For me romanticism – often concealed under a layer of cynicism and humour, as in Lubitsch, Sternberg, Wilder, Ophuls, Stroheim or Mankiewicz – is the key to Hitchcock’s unequalled capacity to unsettle and move the spectator with a degree of implication and intensity that goes beyond a supposed ‘identification’ with the protagonist – an identification that Hitchcock tended to rupture violently and traumatically, and which in general was projected not on to a single (male) person, but on to the couple, at least. Notorious (1946), for instance, is not the story of Devlin (Cary Grant) – even if its first part is told from his narrative (but not visual) point of view – nor is it that of Alicia (Ingrid Bergman), as
the title may make us think; it is the story of that couple – or more so, of the triangle composed by Sebastian (Claude Rains), and the quadrilateral that would include his ominous mother (Leopoldine Konstantin). More than the drama of the neurotic woman personified by Tippi Hedren, Marnie (1964) narrates her complex relationship with Mark Rutland (Sean Connery), and the no less ambiguous relationship with her mother. Vertigo, of course, is not just the story of Scottie, but also – even more so – of Judy in her different simulations or incarnations, manipulated, feigned, spontaneous or forced.
Seduction manoeuvres Another reason why Vertigo turns out to be so intriguing, complex and suggestive stems from the fact that it gathers together a strange synthesis of various myths of Western culture, connected to the mystery of artistic creation, which is perhaps the film’s ultimate subject. The most obvious myth is Pygmalion, combined with the Frankenstein variant of Prometheus; others would include Orpheus and Eurydice, although in a very sombre version, and almost inverted; the double or Döppelganger of the romantics and German expressionists, filtered through the schizoid sieve of Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde; the love in death and beyond this world of ‘Tristan and Isolde’ (and it is no coincidence that the ‘Liebestod’ of Wagner’s opera is the audible origin of Herrmann’s score, mainly of the ‘Love Theme’); some vampire tales and the novel Peter Ibbetson by George Du Maurier (not the pale and miscast film version by Henry Hathaway). Some others could also be mentioned, such as Faust, but what’s interesting here is that it is not a case of showing off cultural references, but of a melancholic and tragic story of love (much more than a detective story), full of multiple resonances that are admirably integrated, and which converge in what Robin Wood, Jean Douchet and Eugenio Trías have considered a parable of creation, and of the mise en scène. Let’s not forget that Vertigo is a succession of mises en scène and seduction manoeuvres. The first shows us how Gavin Elster, an old friend from student days, requests Scottie’s services as a detective in order to use him in an improbable criminal conspiracy. First he tempts him, like Mephistopheles, with a return to action, restoring Scottie’s lost confidence. Once this route fails, Elster intrigues him with the implausible story of Carlotta Valdes and the power it exerts over his wife Madeleine – a story told in encircling movements, going up and down the different
‘levels’ of his huge office, like the scriptwriter and director who first seduce the producer, then the actors and finally the audience. Elster banks on the fact that – in a third phase, admirably staged in Ernie’s restaurant – Scottie is going to be captivated by the ethereal, ghostly, hieratic and gliding beauty of Madeleine, which will finally convince him to believe such a fantastic tale and accept the mission of following and protecting her. From the moment he positions himself inside his car at the door of Elster’s mansion and furtively follows Madeleine, Scottie thinks he is directing the second mise en scène. The mix of contemplation and distance and growing curiosity is intoxicating as Scottie, without realising it, starts falling in love with an imaginary person whom he dreams of saving, without ever suspecting that ‘Madeleine’ has been forced to interpret a role. He follows her, bewitched, through different places, each more or less funereal: a flower shop, which she enters through the back door; the cemetery of the Mission Dolores; the museum where she contemplates the portrait of the unfortunate Carlotta; the lonely room in the sinister and desolate McKittrick Hotel (a herald of the house in which Norman Bates coexists with the memory of his mother), in which Madeleine vanishes like a ghost, as if she were a hallucination of Scottie’s. His unconscious desires start to become a reality when Madeleine throws herself into San Francisco Bay by the Golden Gate, giving him the opportunity to save her like some knight errant – and to feel, as in the Chinese tradition he cites, responsible for her; to take her to his flat, undress her, watch her sleeping and talk to her for the first time. In this phase, a relationship of affinity binds these prowling idlers. They visit different places on the outskirts of San Francisco, exchange confidences, fears and dreams. This phase is consummated – once Scottie is in love with Madeleine – with the unseen murder of Elster’s real wife, presented traumatically to Scottie (and the viewer) as a suicide that he couldn’t prevent. The third mise en scène takes to the limit the condition of the powerless spectator, which we share with Scottie; it’s a painful repetition, under the effects of the loss or abandonment syndrome of the previous ‘movement’. Like an inconsolable widower, Scottie revisits the places where he first followed and spied on Madeleine from a distance, and those where they were together: the giant sequoias, the solitary coast beaten by the swell and the wind, the Mission San Juan Bautista. The fourth mise en scène – after a few false alarms that leave us breathless, making our heart skip in rhythm with the wounded and depressed Scottie – starts when the ex-detective bumps into Judy Barton. A shop assistant, she seems carnal, even vulgar – very far from the formal elegance and distinction of Madeleine, who was so pale and whispering, so shy and fragile, so
ethereal and disturbed; but in Judy he discovers an echo of the loved and lost image. Now Scottie becomes scriptwriter and producer, director and wardrobe designer, make-up artist and decorator, as he obsessively tries to transform Judy into his Madeleine, taking that resemblance as a starting point, polishing and fine-tuning her into the yearned-for image of his unacceptably lost love. But Judy is scared, because she knows what Scottie and we still don’t. The key moment of the film – truly revolutionary from the dramatic and narrative point of view – is the revelation (for us the spectators, when we hear Judy writing her confession; Scottie’s realisation will still take a bit longer) of what really happened on the top of the bell tower of the Mission. This is a moment that gives a different sense to everything we think we know, and changes our point of view: we shift from Scottie’s viewpoint – from the sadness and desperation we’ve shared – to Judy’s, which allows us to consider her as a victim. The fifth mise en scène begins when Judy, trapped by the love she had to feign for Scottie when she was experiencing his so intensely, gives herself away – almost abandons herself to love – with an indirect confession. (It’s difficult to know to what extent it’s conscious on Judy’s part; is she even jealous of the fictitious Madeleine, who was herself?) When Scottie tries to regain control of the drama – which will now be that of vengeance, as he is determined to force a confession out of Judy – he will drag her to her death. And this is the definitive disappearance of Madeleine that will drive Scottie to the absolute void. In the end, Scottie is left ‘suspended’ over the abyss, just as he was when a compassionate fade-out closed the film’s prologue of the police chase over the roofs of San Francisco. During this gradual process of spiral ascents and falls, punctuated by ominous low and high angles, we the viewers are successively – or simultaneously – busybodies and onlookers, meddlers and dupes, accomplices and sceptics, co-scriptwriters and extras, witnesses and victims of three machinations: Elster’s, Scottie’s and – above both of them, permanent and masterly – Hitchcock’s.
GENRE THEORIES John Fiske Genre as a convenience for producers and audiences Henry Jenkins Genre constantly breaks rules John Hartley Genre is interpreted culturally Daniel Chandler Genre is too restricting (predictable) Steve Neale Genre as repetition and difference
thriller codes & conventions • To provide thrills and keep the audience cliff hanging at the ‘edge of their seats’ as the plot builds towards a climax. • The tension usually arises when the main character(s) is placed in a menacing situation or mystery • Life itself is threatened, usually because the principal character is unsuspecting or unknowingly involved in a dangerous or potentially deadly situation.
David Buckingham Genre in constant process of negotiation and change
• Plots of thrillers involve characters which come into conflict with each other or with outside forces - the menace is sometimes abstract or shadowy.
Jason Mittel Industry Uses Genre Commercially
• Plot twists – the thriller will often contain moments of surprise or shock.
Is Vertigo a psychological thriller or auteurist masterpiece?
• The MacGuffin – object/plot point that is revealed in the first act but becomes increasingly less important (e.g. Madeleine’s obsession with Carlotta Valdes)
Thrillers are types of films known to promote intense excitement, suspense, a high level of anticipation, ultra-heightened expectation, uncertainty, anxiety, and tension. Does ‘Vertigo’ transcend any genre limitations due to Hitchcock’s distinctive approach? Whilst genre theory classifies films according to type, auteur theory takes the view that a film is the extension of an individual.
enigma codes • An enigma code controls what the audience sees or knows. • Sets up clues of what is to come - the audience has to work it out. • When they recognise an enigma code, they get pleasure from the film and are satisfied when met or when there is a twist/ unexpected narrative • This is known as an intellectual puzzle. The puzzle is often worked out at the climax of the film for a satisfying resolution. It is argued that narratives work on establishing ‘equilibrium’ (balance) and ‘disequilibrium’ (imbalance), creating a narrative tension and increasing pleasure of the text when the balance is restored. This is an editing technique in which the camera shows only some of the narrative, leaving the audience with a sense of mystery as to where the narrative will go next. Murder mystery and detective dramas use enigma codes to slowly reveal the narrative, with key information needed to solve the case saved until near the end of the programme to create a thrilling conclusion.
the mcguffin The MacGuffin is an object/image that is presented to the audience as important, but turns out not to be (e.g. the painting of Carlotta, bunch of flowers in the painting) Hitchcock once described the MacGuffin as: The device, the gimmick, if you will, or the papers the spies are after... The only thing that really matters is that in the picture the plans, documents or secrets must seem to
be of vital importance to the characters. To me, the narrator, they’re of no importance whatsoever.
characters and binary oppositions A thriller often includes a conflict between characters, a protagonist and an antagonist. The protagonist is often female and antagonist is usually male. Who is the protagonist and antagonist in Vertigo? Do the roles shift during the film? Is Hitchcock challenging convention? Vertigo was criticised on its release because of the implausible plot and the failure to conform to conventional narrative structure. How can we apply the Todorov structure? 1. The state of equilibrium (state of normality – good, bad or neutral). 2. Disruption of the equilibrium (a character, event or an action). 3. Recognition that the equilibrium has been disrupted (usually be the main protagonist). 4. Attempt to restore equilibrium ( usually the protagonist attempts to do this) 5. Equilibrium is restored. But, because causal transformations have occurred, there are differences (good, bad, or neutral) from original equilibrium, which establish it as a new equilibrium.
Isâ€˘Vertigoâ€˘a psychological thriller or auteurist masterpiece?
the male gaze / camera debate Laura Mulvey’s ‘Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema’ (75) refers to importance of patriarchal viewpoint in the cinema (classical) Pleasure gained from looking (scopophilia) is a male pleasure and the ‘look’ in cinema is directed at the male. Scopophilia • Pleasure linked to sexual attraction (voyeurism) • Pleasure that is linked to narcissistic identification
freud on scopophilia • Centre around voyeurism • Cinema provides perfect venue (dark enclosed womb-like world) • Woman represents desire (and castration complex) • Male as controller (active); female is the icon (erotic), but also a threat
mulvey & psychoanalysis • Identification always with the male (hero) • Female (passive or threat) • Influence of patriarchal society • Patriarchy & phallocentrism linked: phallus is a symbol of power/having (guns = phallus = power) • Woman has no phallus (castrated), which relates back to Freudian theory that the woman is lacking and therefore inferior
mulvey & hitchcock “In Vertigo (1958) in particular, but also in Marnie (1964) and Rear Window (1954), the ‘look’ is central to the plot changing between voyeurism and fetishistic fascination” Mulvey 1975: Visual Pleasure & Narrative Cinema
what’s wrong with hitchcock’s women Alfred Hitchcock, what a ladykiller. There he is, lurking with rotund grandeur at the very forefront of film greatness, like an over-zealous restaurant manager in a PG Wodehouse novel. There are lots of reasons to love Hitchcock, of course: the style, the guile, the pace, the pitch – I realised that afresh when watching a box set of all his films, in preparation for a talk at the Southbank Centre on Sunday. Hitch knows how to frame a shot. But when it comes to the ladies, it’s slim pickings. Indeed that is literally what his women do: pick their way slimly through a range of awful experiences and deceitful pathologies so extreme you’d be howling with laughter, were the art of cinema not so very serious. There’s the vamp, the tramp, the snitch, the witch, the slink, the double-crosser and, best of all, the demon mommy. Don’t worry, they all get punished in the end. But I’m getting ahead of myself. The chief skill of the Hitchcock heroine is to lie, inflict and then suffer untold torments without ruffling her hem. If you want some full-on misogyny, rampant woman-blaming and outright abuser apologism, look no further than Marnie. Marnie is a liar, thief and all-round uptight frigid piece of trouble who is set up, blackmailed into a forced marriage and raped by her husband. She tries to kill herself. The husband subjects her to a private investigation – raping her past. Turns out Marnie’s pathology is entirely the fault of another woman, her mother, who was a prostitute, of course. One night during a storm one of her mother’s johns tried to comfort Marnie, because men who use prostitutes are such nurturing guys. The mother, silly thing, totally misconstrued it and thought he was molesting Marnie, so she went for him. And then Marnie, the daft little sausage, got all hysterical watching the ensuring tussle – and killed that poor sweet innocent guy with a poker. Anyway, once we get to the bottom of all this, Marnie has a brainwave and decides to make it work with her lovely young abusive, stalking, blackmailing rapist husband. Ah, happy endings. Hitchcock’s women are outwardly immaculate, but full of treachery and weakness. But, hurrah, he doesn’t kill them all. He just teaches them a thoroughly good lesson. In North By Northwest, a seemingly never-ending adventure farce about mistaken identity, double-crossing and CIA agents, Roger O Thornhill (played by Cary Grant) is the innocent fall guy caught up in the life of lying, duplicitous, butter-wouldn’t-melt undercover agent Eve. Underneath, of course, Eve’s just another malicious featherbrain who got into the agenting business because she was flattered to be asked to betray a secretive ex-lover. I love that combination of stereotypes: we’re stupid, cunning, soft-hearted and traitorous, all at the same time. Only in the mind of a true hater can these contradictory qualities come together in the nasty piece of work
that is Woman. Anyway, silly girl, Eve gets found out, her life’s in danger, she falls for the fall guy and winds up dangling one-handed over a ledge. Roger saves her In Rear Window, LB Jeffries (played by James Stewart) is a photographer recuperating from a broken leg, idly watching his neighbours from his window. One of them is a shrew, a nagging wife. She gets a shrew’s comeuppance when her husband kills her, parcels her up and disposes of her in suitcases. Then he assaults Jeffries’s girlfriend Lisa when she goes to investigate, although she’s saved at the last moment. Rear Window’s a strange, cowardly, mean film. It ought to be about the horror of witnessing a wife-killer doing his business. Instead, the subplot is about gratuitously bringing the loving, sincere and helpful Lisa down a peg or two – and then showing how (yep) untrustworthy she is. Played by Grace Kelly, Lisa goes from being a glittering socialite to a modestly dressed girl next door who’s interested in camping. In the film’s final moments, though, she slyly reads a fashion magazine when her beau’s asleep. Because that’s what women are, you know. Sly. For a more serious message, look to The Birds. The Birds is a resounding warning about what happens when a flirty female tries to make a joke. Melanie Daniels, played by Tippi Hedren, is a prank-player and liar (of course) who tried to gift some lovebirds to the younger sister of Mitch, the chap she fancies. The entire bird world, chagrined to be the pawn in a devious woman’s game, gets its revenge. Thereafter, it’s women on the verge of a feathery freak-out, all the way. The message is that women (a) are all about men and (b) can’t get along because they’re so busy pecking and squabbling over men. Mitch’s mum hates Melanie. Mitch’s mum hated Mitch’s ex too, but Mitch’s ex loves Mitch so much she can’t bear to live far from him. Mitch’s ex hates Melanie and dies. Mitch’s mum is so hung up on men that since Man No 1 (her husband) left her, she’s gripped by fear that Man No 2 (her son) will leave too. Melanie’s own mean mommy abandoned her family. All these neurotic females get the avian thrashing they deserve, in a squawking, Jungian free-for-all of throbbing birds and fabulous hairdressing. Speaking of hairdressing, we must mention Vertigo, a sumptuously clad smackdown of female two-facedness. To cut a long but extremely welldressed story short, a lying duplicitous woman exploits an innocent vertigo-suffering man, Scottie, by setting him up as a witness in a murder plot. This plot involves a man murdering his wife and making it look like a suicide prompted by mental illness. Shadowing the plan mythically, and providing a kind of psychological alibi, is the tale of the wife’s great-grandmother, who killed herself a century before. In this infinite kaleidoscope of mad, sad, bad, super-styled women, only one thing is certain: she who lies, dies (although, come to think of it, the innocent wife died, too). The duplicitous decoy falls in love, as ever, with Scottie, the guy
she’s supposed to be duping. He gets his revenge by breaking her down and making her into the image of the dead wife. He makes her re-enact the murder at the top of a bell-tower – thereby curing his own vertigo, though the film isn’t really about that. She gets what’s coming to her and plunges off the edge after being startled by … another woman. A nun. And now for the biggie: the all-encompassing Hitchcockian entity known as Mother. In North By Northwest the entire drama kicks off as the protagonist is on his way to send his mother a telegraph. In The Birds, lawyer Mitch lives with his mother when he’s not working. In Vertigo, Scottie chides his ex for being too motherly towards him when she’s helping him convalesce. And in Rear Window, Jeffries’s therapist again plays a strongly motherly, advisory role. I think it’s safe to say that little Alfred had mummy issues. Nowhere are they more apparent than in Psycho. Despite its horror and suspense, Psycho is one of the simplest of Hitchcock’s films because the central dynamic is so stark. It is also psychologically realistic, despite the ghoulish trappings. Rather than the flapping Jungian panic of The Birds, you have a Freudian, tight, Hamletlike emotional model. The shower killing scene that everyone remembers – the one with the cheap plastic curtain – is just Hitchcock enjoying his favourite game of punishing a female thief and liar, in this case a woman who has run off with some money from her workplace and signed into Bates Motel under a fake name. The real drama happens later. Norman Bates loves his mother so much that he cannot bear her desire for another man. In a fit of jealousy he kills her, and her lover. He has never grown out of his childlike Oedipal rage and his bedroom is a creepy preserved little kid’s room, but as he grows older his feelings are overlaid by a very adult and pretty commonplace misogyny. He is ashamed of his sexual desires and projects his self-loathing on to the women he murders. Instead of taking responsibility for murdering women, he blames another woman, his mother. He takes on her guise to inhabit her, literally to get inside her clothes the way a lover would. And he tells himself, in another massive act of projection, that in the murders he is acting out his mother’s jealousy towards the women he desires. At the end of my DVD viewing marathon I realised how revealing Psycho is. Norman Bates is Hitchcock himself, kidding himself that women are scheming devils and men are just innocent folk, acting up because they got caught in a tricky situation.
psychoanalytical theory Psychoanalytical theory is based on the symbolism inherent in film analysed from a psychological point of view: During Hitchcock’s career, the main ‘scientific’ explanations for human behavior derived from the theories of the Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud, founder of psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is both a therapeutic method and a theory of the mind and its effect on behavior. Psychoanalysis spread throughout American popular culture during the 1920s, and its notions were widespread in books and movies for the next half century. Hitchcock was skeptical of psychoanalysis, as he was of all attempts to explain human behaviour. Nevertheless, he drew upon psychoanalysis in many of his films, most notably Spellbound (where the main characters are psychoanalysts), Psycho (which has a long psychiatrist’s speech at the end), and Marnie.
When Judy is transformed from Judy to Madeleine. She is bathed in green light, symbolising death and afterlife/ghost and she is almost opaque when she emerges from the door. Scottie is trying to resurrect his chance at existence. But he is clinging to a woman that does not exist. Therefore, he will fail to possess her and cease to exist himself.
rescue fantasy The ‘rescue fantasy myth’ relies on the Knight saving the Beauty from the Dragon. The knight represents the hero, the Beauty represents the weak, vulnerable female object of desire and the Dragon represents the villain. It is argued that, in Vertigo, Hitchcock manipulates the Rescue Fantasy through the character of Scottie. The rescue fantasy experiences multiple collapses throughout the film. Part 1: The opening sequence.
Psychoanalytical notions are also important in Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Wrong Man, Vertigo, and Frenzy.
Scottie faces the fear of death and his own impotence, represented by his fear of falling. When he meets Madeleine, his quest becomes rescuing Madeleine from her ‘possession’.
The Collapse: the first tower sequence Scottie does not rescue his Beauty. He is faced with his fear again, and he has failed to fulfil the rescue fantasy.
Jacques Lacan was a French psychoanalyst, 1901 - 1981. Trained as a psychiatrist, he abandoned the profession in favour of psychoanalysis in the early thirties. After publishing his paper on the Mirror Stage in 1949, for which he is probably best known to the general public, in the early fifties Lacan embarked on a project he called the ‘Return to Freud’. • ‘Woman’ is a social construct • If woman does not exist, neither does man • Man must know and possess her, for if she does not exist, neither does he. Under this theory, Scottie’s fear is one of oblivion and of nothingness. For example, Scottie transforms Judy into a dead woman’s image.
Part 2: After the court recognises Scottie’s failure, he is publicly identified as a failed Knight and becomes helpless, like Beauty. It is Midge who attempts to rescue Scottie from his catatonic state. The dream sequence suggests the Dragon is now Scottie’s obsession with his vertigo - his fear of impotence Part 3: On meeting Judy, Scottie sees an opportunity to become the Knight again, and tries to manipulate Judy into his image of Madeleine so he can revisit his rescue fantasy. The Collapse: Scottie marches Judy to the top of the tower: he is able to defeat his vertigo. Hitchcock however takes this out from under his feet by making’ Judy fall off the tower, shattering the rescue fantasy.
MAN AND WOMAN Joyce Huntjens One might characterise Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) as a kind of detective story with a tragicromantic twist, were it not for some objections that can be raised which may reveal another level of interpretation. Why, for instance, does the viewer never learn Elster’s motif for killing his wife? Why does Elster pick out the detective John Ferguson to shadow his wife, using the improbable story of his wife being obsessed by the ghost of her grandmother? Why is the killer not tracked down after the final resolution of the ins and outs of the affair? Furthermore, we may wonder why Hitchcock reveals the truth about of Madeline’s death and Judy’s double identity already halfway through the film, thus rendering the final half of the film very slow and even irrelevant from the perspective of the detective genre. An analysis of the film in terms of the notion of the uncanny, might provide an answer to some of these questions, simply by pointing out the elements that add to the “uncanniness” of Vertigo. Taking Freud’s 1919 article on the uncanny as the central point of reference, one would relate the pattern of repetition in the film - three times someone dies due to a fall from a great height - to Freud’s remarks on the repetition compulsion. Moreover, there is the suggestion of a woman being haunted by the spirit of her deceased great-grandmother. In the second half of the film, finally, we encounter the theme of the doppelganger. All these elements seem to give Vertigo a special atmosphere that perhaps can best be described as uncanny. On closer consideration however, a comparison of the first remarks on the detective genre with the latter on the uncanny, may give rise to some doubt concerning the traditional motifs of the uncanny. Indeed, as I hope to demonstrate in my analysis, the uncanny in Vertigo resides in another category than the obvious, superficial characteristics mentioned above. We will submit the film to a “close viewing”, in order to track down the specificity of the uncanny in this film, i.e., we will stick to the chronology of the film, as this also seems to be the order in which Vertigo reveals its covert meaning. 1. The perspective The film opens with a rather abstract shot of a steel bar against a blurry background. Suddenly, a hand clutching to the bar, makes us realise that we are in fact looking at a steel bar. Next, we see a man running across a roof followed by a police officer and by a man in a grey suit. Apparently we find ourselves in the middle of a pursuit across the rooftops of San Francisco. When the man in the grey suit slips, he grabs hold of the gutter and finds himself suspended high above the street. Through subjective shots, the gaze of the viewer coincides with that of the man in the grey suit. We see through his eyes the yawning abyss to the street far below him. Subsequently, we see how the
police officer turns to him (to us as it were) to offer his hand. However, when he stretches toward the suspended man, the police officer slips and falls to his death. The subjective shots from the point of view of the suspended man lead us to presume correctly that this man, whom we will get to know as John Ferguson, will be the main character of the story. The famous shot of John’s vertigo is the most crucial moment in the opening sequence of the film. It effectively illustrates the captivating attraction of the depth below, which brings us to the actual experience of vertigo. What happens to a person in this instant? It is a widely acknowledged fact that one is subject to an immense fear of falling, while at the same time being tempted by the call of depth. In this rare experience, the temptation to let go and to surrender to the fall becomes almost indistinguishable from the fear of death. This may be what flashes through John’s mind when he is suspended from a gutter high above the street. The confrontation with his own death drive will frighten and fascinate him for the rest of the film. In the opening sequence it becomes clear that the subjective experience of John Ferguson will determine the rest of the story. For the main part of the film, the viewer will be confined to John’s view. In the first half of the film, we still get an occasional shot from the perspective of John’s friend Midge, suggesting some critical distance, but soon, the viewer is entirely wrapped up in John’s experience. Only after Madeline’s death and John’s encounter with Judy, there is some room for another perspective. Still, her point of view hardly amounts to more than a marginal moment within the overall perspective of the film. As it will turn out, John’s subjective perspective through not only determinates the development of the story, it also holds the clue to the uncanny aspect of Vertigo. 2. The difficult communication between the sexes We never find out how John is rescued. After the opening sequence, the story instantly shifts to the apartment of Midge, an old friend, whom John as a student was once engaged to for a couple of weeks. Here, we hear John say that he will be freed from his corset the following day and that he has resigned from the police force. Attentive viewers have already pointed out that this part of the movie consists of many shots that are designed to keep Midge and John from appearing but rarely within the same frame. (Wood: 375) The shots of Midge are characterised by the presence of a revolutionary new bra, standing on her desk. In the shots of John, he is emphatically shown waving and gesticulating with his stick. One could say that each is confined to their own space: one masculine and the other feminine. Ultimately, there are only three shots in which we can see John and Midge together. As Wood explains in Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, the scenes in which both characters are present
emphasise the misunderstandings in their attempt to communicate. First, there is the scene in which Midge explains the revolutionary bra on her desk to John with the words “You know about these things. You’re a big boy now”.� In this scene, it becomes clear that Midge does not quite posses the mystery and veiled eroticism to seduce John. In addition, she treats him as a mother. This is indicated earlier on in the conversation, when John tells her “Don’t be so motherly”. The second scene in which they appear together in one shot is the one in which John suggests he might try and overcome his vertigo by first learning to climb a small stepladder again. Midge encourages him by actually getting the ladder for him, like a mother, trying to give confidence to her child, while at the same time warning him to be careful and to take it easy. When John is standing on top of the small steps, he accidentally glances out of the window of the apartment building. Overcome with dizziness, he falls straight into Midges arms. In this last shot in which John and Midge are seen together, her embrace is clearly that of a concerned and caring mother. The montage of this part of the film in fact already tells us something about the theme of the film, the impossible relation between man and woman, or at least between John and a woman. In the course of the film, it becomes clear that Midge is seriously interested in John, but she is not endowed with the mysticism that makes Madeline so attractive to John. First of all, Midge is far too independent for John. Secondly, she overtly takes on a motherly role towards John. This is emphasised especially in her last appearance in the film, when she visits him at the hospital where he is taken in after his nervous breakdown following Madeline’s suicide. Comfortingly, she tells him “Mother is here”, but John does not react. Deeply disappointed Midge walks out of the hospital and out of the story. If John is not attracted to Midge because she so overtly takes on the role of his mother, this may be due to the fact that this kind of relationship reminds him too much of his dependence. 3. Male identity John’s first words in this film are that he will be at liberty tomorrow - liberated from his corset, that is. Throughout the film, the words “freedom” and “power” are used in relation to each other and they return several times, each time with reference to the power and freedom of men, more specifically even, the power and freedom of men to dispose of their wives whenever it suits them. (Wood: 380) This ancient male privilege is confirmed by the owner of the bookstore, consulted by John on his search for Carlotta Valdes, the great-grandmother with whom Madeline is obsessed. Carlotta was picked up from a cabaret by a wealthy man, who later on dumped her mercilessly and took her child away from her. The bookseller’s comment is: “Men had the power and the freedom in those days”. There are several indications that John desperately tries to conform to this image of potent masculinity. This is perhaps most clear at
the very end of the movie, when John jeers at Judy for her na�ve involvement with Elster. He ridicules her by suggesting that Elster probably dumped her after the murder “with all that money and that freedom and that power”. But then, John’s identity and masculinity are by no means as stable as he would wish them to be, as the variety of nicknames he receives throughout the film suggests. (Wood: 383) People not only call him John, but also Scottie. Midge calls him Johnny-o and John-o. He also refers to himself as “available Ferguson”. In addition, the handicap of his vertigo not just makes him unfit for his job, it prevents him from rescuing the woman of his dreams. Holding this thought, let us return to the chronology of the film. After the conversation in Midge’s apartment, in which we have learned that John has been invited by an old friend from university, the story shifts to Elster’s office. Elster turns out to have married his way into “the shipbuilding-industry”. In this sequence, references to freedom and power are again emphatically related to male identity. We see John admiring a painting of San Francisco in “the good old days” while Elster is telling him about the power and freedom of men in those days. About halfway through this remark, the camera switches from John in front of the painting to Elster in front of the window of his office, overlooking an impressive shipyard. Thus, a stark contrast between the wealthy and powerful Elster and the unemployed and handicapped John Ferguson is installed. The conversation swiftly moves on to Elster’s wife Madeline. Elster is worried that someone might hurt her. When John asks who this might be, Elster ominously answers “Someone dead”. Although John reacts sceptically at first, he is eventually persuaded to follow Madeline for a while in order to learn more about her daily routine. Eventually John consents and the film cuts to Ernie’s, the restaurant where John will see Madeline for the very first time. 4. Woman as an object of art What is striking about the scene of John’s first encounter with Madeline is the way in which she is presented to the audience and to John: by means of an explicit profile, which makes her appear like a work of art. Later on, the profile shot will gain significance, when it is explicitly related to Carlotta Valdes’ portrait in the museum that Madeline visits during her vagaries. The equation of Madeline to a work of art also reveals her true nature. As a work of art Madeline is on the one hand easily accessible, because she is passive and an object of the male gaze, on the other hand, she is completely inaccessible as a human being. (Wood: 384) One cannot have a love affair with a work of art, unless a very perverse one. Thus presented, our first encounter with Madeline may already lead to the conclusion that one side of the story is missing. But this is something John is too blind to see.
The next day, so we presume, John follows Madeline. Gradually, the ominous undertones of their encounter come to the fore. Madeline is followed into all sorts of dark places, a back alley behind a flower shop where she buys roses, a graveyard, a dim museum, and an old hotel. In the museum John’s fascination for Madeline begins to take shape. We see him spying on her sitting in front of a painting of Carlotta Valdes. The camera zooms in on the bundle of roses she has laid beside her on the bench, and subsequently on the bouquet that Carlotta Valdes is holding in the painting. This is repeated by a zoom-in on Madeline’s hairstyle followed by a zoom-in on Carlotta’s hairstyle. By focussing on these details, the women slowly start to merge into one figure. The effect of the zoom-in is that the details are overdetermined for John, thus representing his blindness. For the perceptive viewer, this scene again marks Madeline’s appearance as a work of art and it reveals something of her artificiality. During the following days, John keeps following Madeline and reports to her husband Elster, who confirms that Carlota Valdes was Madeline’s great-grandmother and that the hotel used to be Carlotta’s home. This only adds to John’s fascination. Madeline keeps on leading John to dark places, and it is striking that she often does this by driving downhill, which cannot be a good sign. An important change takes place when John follows Madeline to San Francisco Bay where she jumps into the river. John jumps after her and rescues her from drowning, after which the sequence cuts to John’s apartment. Madeline is asleep in bed. A shot of her clothes hanging to dry in the kitchen suggest that John has undressed and dried her before putting her to bed. This scene is very suggestive and certainly not only for the audience. Also for John this must have been a very erotic moment. This is the closest he will ever get to the object of his desire without breaking the illusion of perfection. When Madeline wakes up, John pours her a cup of coffee and asks her if she remembers what happened. Of course, she does not. While pouring a second cup of coffee, he cannot resist caressing her hand. For the viewer, it is clear: John is hopelessly lost. His jump into San Francisco Bay was more than just a jump into the icy water. The next day John follows Madeline once more, but this time she leads him to his own house, where they confront each other. After their meeting in front of the house, they drive off together. John and Madeline get more and more intimate with each other, which eventually leads to a very dramatic kiss that very same afternoon. As one would expect, violins dominate the soundtrack while behind them we can see waves breaking on the cliffs. John’s surrender to the woman of his dreams is complete. The question is, why is John so fascinated with Madeline. What is it that makes her so utterly irresistible to him? First of all, she is a very attractive woman, more important however, is that
she is surrounded with mystery. This mystery has everything to do with her suicidal tendencies or, in other words, her death drive. 5. Lacan and the Thing In his analysis of Vertigo, Slavoj Zizek refers to Lacan’s theory that sublimation has to do with death, rather than with de-sexualization as is more commonly assumed. (Zizek: 83) When something is sublimated, as a consequence, the object starts to function as “the Thing” within the economy of the spectator-subject. Considering the abundance of subjective shots in Vertigo, the subject of the gaze is obviously John Ferguson. The object of his gaze is Madeline, who will take the place of the sublimated Thing in this story. According to Lacan, as Zizek explains in Looking Awry,� the human drives determine the way in which people generate their everyday relation to the world. Desire and the object of desire determine the subject’s view of the world. However, the relation of the subject to the object of desire is by nature unfulfilled. The object of desire can never be attained. At birth, the infant is unaware of the boundaries between itself and the others. It is convinced that the mother’s breast will always be there at its disposal. A difficult but unavoidable task for the growing child is to learn to accept that the world does not function like that. In fact, every desire is a constant longing to return to this primary state of instant gratification of all desires by the mother’s breast. During the development from infancy to adulthood, this desire is contained as a constitutive moment within a complex system of meanings, i.e., the Symbolic Order. The Symbolic Order represents the system of meanings that people create to make sense of everyday reality. Following Lacan, the object of desire holds a special position within this Symbolic Order. Since we are dealing with a desire that cannot be fulfilled, with an unattainable, or better still, a non-existing object (even the everpresent breast of the mother was always already an illusion), the object-of-desire constitutes a gap between the reality of desire and reality as an everyday experience. This gap becomes the place for fantasy. This fantasy is in fact the place of the Thing. The Thing is thus in fact the objectof-desire, but at the same time it is nothing, because it is nothing more than an impossible fantasy. In Vertigo, Madeline will occupy the place of the Thing in John’s perception of the world. She is his object-of-desire. In Zizek’s words, she is “materialized Nothingness”. (Zizek: 83) She will not cease to fascinate until John realises that her essence is one of non-existence. This is the point the film will lead to when John discovers that Judy is in fact Madeline. But let’s not run ahead of things. 6. The woman who doesn’t exist So far our question has been: why is Madeline so fascinating? Part of the answer lies in John’s identification with Madeline. When John hears about her existence for the first time, when Elster
talks about his wife in his office, her identity is presented as somehow dubious. For instance, Elster wonders: “Suddenly I don’t know her. She is no longer my wife.” As I have pointed out above, John himself answers to various names. His identity can also be regarded as doubtful. Moreover, the fact that Madeline wanders is emphasised, this is also John’s main occupation since he left the police force. He just hangs around. This leads to a first identification, which becomes total when John is captivated by Madeline’s suicide attempt. When John and Madeline go for a walk in the woods the day after she jumped into the bay, he ardently asks her “What was it that made you jump?” Initially, it seems as if he is only trying to help Madeline, by trying to rationalise her nightmares and fears, but his concern soon turns out to be tainted with interest of a different nature. “What may you jump?”, he insists. In this helpful curiosity lies a link with John’s vertigo. What was it in that alluring depth that for a second tempted him to let go? John hopes to find an answer to his own question in Madeline. Still, John and Madeline are not completely identical. The becomes clear when John takes his beloved to San Juan Baptista. He does this because he believes that there is a rational explanation for everything, including his own question. However, when Madeline untangles herself from his embrace and runs to the church in order to jump off the tower, the difference between the two lovers becomes painfully clear. Madeline jumps no matter what, she is pure death drive. As for John, his fear of death is still as great or greater than his death drive, which prevents him from following her all the way to the top. According to Zizek, this may be explained by the fact that she is, unlike John, nothing more than “materialized Nothingness”. (Zizek: 83) This brings us to another piece of Lacanian theory, the idea that Woman does not exist. Woman is but a symptom of man as subject. The fact that Woman as an ideal object does not exist makes her one with the Thing, the fantasy and the non-existent object-of-desire. As a result, Woman equals Nothingness. In Vertigo it becomes painfully clear that Woman does not exist. This is the lesson that John will have to learn in order to be cured from his vertigo. 7. Judy’s inevitable destiny After Madeline’s suicide John completely collapses, to the point of hospitalisation. When he is released from hospital it only takes a minute for the viewer to realise that he is not over Madeline. Everywhere he goes, he sees women who look like her and things that remind him of her. This is how he first notices Judy. He follows her. Quite obtrusively, he introduces himself to her and insists that she will have dinner with him. She consents eventually and when John leaves the room, the viewer for the first time sees the story from a different perspective. In a flashback we find out that Elster murdered his wife and that
Judy really is the woman John fell in love with. Knowing John could never make it to the top of the bell tower, because of his vertigo, Elster threw his dead wife’s body from the tower. John became the perfect witness for Madeline’s staged suicide and consequently Elster’s perfect alibi. We see Judy writing a letter to John explaining everything, including that she has unintentionally fallen in love with him. Suddenly she tears up the letter and decides to go out with John anyway, probably hoping that he will eventually fall in love with her real self. John’s obsession with Madeline is daunting. Judy consents to an affair with John, but soon John demands her to dress like the late Madeline. He even makes her change the colour of her hair. “It couldn’t matter to you”, he says. This confirms the idea that the ideal Woman does not have a will of her own. After all, as the object-of-desire she will take the subject back to the paradisiacal� state of immediate gratification of all desires at the mother’s breast. A will of her own, personal desires and wishes do not quite fit into this ideal state of being. As an object-of-desire Woman becomes pure object. She is completely subordinated to the male gaze. Apparently Judy is hopelessly in love, since she eventually gives in to all of John’s bizarre wishes. After her complete transformation into Madeline, we may start to wonder how much of Judy already was in Madeline and vice versa. Are we dealing with one or two women? In order to be able to be either Judy or Madeline, there already had to be something of either woman in both these appearances. Bearing this in mind, the phrase “I have my face on”, expressed by Judy, who has now turned into Madeline, to her mirror image on the first night that she will go out with John for the first time in her new guise, becomes highly ambiguous. Which one is the mask? Judy or Madeline? This brings us to a phenomenon that, according to Zizek (1991), returns in many of Hitchcock’s films. Very often Hitchcock uses the following formula: at first one pretends to be something, but eventually one will find out that one really is the thing one only pretended to be at first. Most often this concerns a couple that pretends to be in love, but eventually will have to confess to really being in love. This formula will have a similar effect in Vertigo. In the first half of the movie Judy pretends to be Madeline, while in the second half John pretends that Judy is Madeline. Does this not mean that Judy was Madeline? Can we blame John for reducing Judy to the non-existing Woman, thus in fact sealing her fate? To what extent does Judy conform to her role of Woman and does she have an alternative to conformation? The answer to this question must be negative, unless one of the lovers abandons the relationship. The moment Judy puts on a certain necklace, John suddenly realises that he has been fooled. Cinematically, this is supported by reverse movement of the zoom-in on Carlotta Valdes’ portrait during an earlier visit to the museum. On
a literal level, the move is an illustration of John’s sudden repulsion toward the woman in front of him. (Wood: 388) Moreover, one could interpret this zoom-out as John’s renewed control over the whole picture, rather than being obsessed with details, which were so overdetermined that they obscured his view. Now John realises that his sublime Madeline has never existed, he takes Judy to San Juan Baptista. What follows might as well be the most ominous sequence in the film. We see Judy sitting next to John in the car, how she looks up to see the top of the trees beside the road flash over her head. In fact, this sequence exactly repeats what we saw when John drove Madeline to San Juan Baptista the day she jumped off the bell tower. At that very moment Judy coincides with Madeline and her destiny is inevitable. As soon as she exposed in the bell tower as the Woman who does not exist, when John points out she is a fraud, Judy/Madeline breaks down completely. At this precise moment John is miraculously cured of his vertigo. As soon as he realises that his fascination was directed at something that was really nothing at all, except his own downfall, he rejects the object of his fascination and finds himself cured.
doubt the true nature of the events he is reading about. Is what is happening real or just an illusion? Depending on the answer to this question a fantastic story will eventually always yield to either the genre of the uncanny� or to the genre of the marvellous.  A story will belong to the genre of the uncanny if a rational explanation is offered for the fantastic events in the story. This kind of story will eventually just seem strange, unlikely or even a bit silly. On the other hand, a story may lapse into “the marvellous” when fantastic events are accepted as extraordinary and turn out to belong to the category of the supernatural. This entails that in this story the parameters of the normal are adjusted to account for the fantastic events. Only rarely, a story will be able to suspend the initial doubt in the readers’ mind indefinitely. Eventually, it will always opt for one of the two solutions, either the uncanny, or the marvellous. In the case of Hitchcock’s Vertigo the answer would almost certainly lead to the category of the fantastic-uncanny. First for the viewer and later for John Ferguson. The spectator is released from his feeling of doubt earlier, because he witnesses Judy’s flashback halfway through the film.
Judy’s panic attack in the bell tower is a perfect illustration of what Zizek calls the breakdown of the femme fatale in film noir. In film noir there is always a woman who will lure the male hero toward his defeat and who thus represents pure death drive. Her exposure is always marked by an instant of hysterical breakdown. (Zizek: 65) In a split second, various emotions rapidly succeed, indicating the cracks in the mask, the end of her power to fascinate, her exposure as non-existence. This is also what happens to Judy, who through the disclosure completely coincides with Madeline. When John confronts her, she panics. She tries to convince him once more that she really loves him, but when the dark shadow of the nun appears in the back, she is already so desperate that she jumps off the tower, towards her destiny, exposed as pure death drive. This denouement finally makes it clear that Woman, as we now know, does not exist. However, this revelation also entails that relationships with ordinary everyday women are impossible. Something Midge already realised in the first half of the story. The last shot shows us John standing on the edge of the tower. Without dizzy spells, he can now bear witness to the gap in his realty and look down into the depth below.
Todorov goes even further when he analyses the doubt evoked by a fantastic story. What happens to a reader and/or character who finds out that he or she was dealing with an event that was (merely) uncanny. According to Todorov the transition from the fantastic to the uncanny is always accompanied by the realisation that one was suffering from distorted sight. Either one experienced a mirage, an illusion, a fit of madness or an illness, or one was simply tricked by others. This last solution seems also to be the answer to John’s problem in Vertigo. He was deceived by Elster and Judy and blinded by his love for Madeline. His blindness can be illustrated by many of the things we already said above concerning Madeline’s presentation as a work of art and, more importantly, by the fact that from the very beginning, the audience’s perspective has mostly been limited to John’s perspective. The first half of the film consists of a sheer endless series of subjective shots, in which we only get to see what John sees. Quite suddenly, halfway through the film we are confronted with Judy’s flashback. This may be called a revelation as well as a release from John’s narrow, subjective point of view. After the flashback most of what we get to see is again defined by John’s point of view, but because the spectator is now very much aware of the other side of the story, the obtrusiveness of his gaze becomes very obvious. This is paralleled in the story by John’s attempt to transform Judy into Madeline against her will. He actually imposes his gaze on her. When at the end of the story Judy completely coincides with Madeline, as becomes clear when they are driving to San Juan Baptista, something else is going on as well.
8. Distorted sight and the true nature of the uncanny This finale brings us to a theme of the story, which is not merely situated on the level of the story, but also on the level of form and montage. This will also turn out to be the level on which the uncanny in Vertigo must be situated. But before we get into this we will first take a look at Todorov’s theory on the fantastic. Todorov states that a story belongs to the genre of the fantastic if the story manages to raise doubt in both the characters and the reader, or in the mind of the reader alone. In any case, the reader has to be challenged to
Apparently John’s gaze proves to be so tyrannical that he brings out the Madeline in Judy, which will lead to her death. When John realises that the object-of-his-desire was looking back at him all along and that she was only a real woman, a
human being of flesh and blood, he gets furious. In reality, while John thought that he was shadowing Madeline, Judy had been in charge all the time. As a matter of fact, she was leading him everywhere and made him follow her.� While he thought he was the agent in this story, he now comprehends that he was only a passive pawn in someone else’s game. This is an insult to his identity as a male. An identity he associates with freedom and power, as we illustrated extensively above. This insult is the main reason for his anger in the bell tower at San Juan Baptista. It also explains why John tries to make a fool of Judy by pointing out to her that Elster probably dumped her “with all that power and that money and that freedom” when he didn’t need her anymore. However, he also admits “I really loved you Madeline” to which she answers that she loves him too. But, as he tells her,� “there’s no bringing it back”, because to him this is not Madeline’s answer but Judy’s. He rejects the ordinary, but real Judy. She can never be the sublime Woman that Madeline was in his eyes. Judy can be nothing more than the unmasked “Nothingness” we encountered in Zizek’s theories. Judy’s transformation into Madeline by John not only solved a murder mystery, but also undermined his illusion of the possibility of an ideal Woman. From the outside this woman in front of him may look like the real thing, but knowing that he is really looking at the much coarser Judy makes him reject her anyway. It was John’s gaze that made him believe in an ideal Woman in the first place, but now that same gaze confronts him with the hollowness of this illusion. He is confronted with the shortcoming of his own gaze. This disillusionment leaves no room for Judy who in the guise of Madeline jumps off the bell tower as unmasked Nothingness. In John’s blindness and in the possible tyranny of someone’s gaze over another person we encounter the truly uncanny moment of Vertigo.
femininity by Design modleski In criticism of Vertigo (1958), as in that of Rear Window, one repeatedly encounters the assertion that “the spectator constructed by the film is clearly male.’’ My analyses of Hitchcock have in part been meant to demonstrate that this male spectator is as much “deconstructed” as constructed by the films, which reveal a fascination with femininity that throws masculine identity into question and crisis. This fascination opens a space for the female spectator of the films, providing for a more complicated relation to the texts than has generally been allowed in contemporary film criticism. As I hope to have made clear by now, the questions relating to spectatorship and identification, despite the difficult theoretical language in which they are often couched, have often been posed too simply. Take, for example, Mulvey’s contention that Vertigo, like all narrative films, is “cut to the measure of male desire” because it is from the male point of view: “In Vertigo, subjective camera predominates. Apart from one flashback from Judy’s point of view, the narrative is woven around what Scottie sees or fails to see.” What Mulvey dismisses as an aberration, an exceptional instance that proves the rule (of Hollywood cinema as male cinema), has been seen by at least one critic—quite rightly, I think—as a privileged moment, the flashback producing “a spectator position painfully split between Scotty and Judy for the rest of the film.” Thus identification is, in the words of Robin Wood, “severely disturbed, made problematic.” My analysis will suggest, however, that identification is “severely disturbed” long before this moment and that the film may indeed be taken as a kind of “limit text” in its treatment of the problematics of identification first introduced in the film Rebecca.  Vertigo begins with the credits shot over an extreme closeup of a /88/woman’s face; spiral shaped figures emerge from her eye and form themselves into the names of the credits, and then the camera moves directly into the eye as the spirals continue to shape themselves into words. At the end of the sequence the camera returns to the eye and the final credit emerges from it: “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock.” Immediately we are placed into a state of anxiety: a man is being chased across some roof tops in San Francisco by two men, one in police uniform and the other—the Jimmy Stewart character, Scottie Ferguson—in plain clothes. In a leap from one building to another, Scottie loses his footing and winds up hanging precariously from the edge. The man in uniform abandons his pursuit to help Scottie but slips and falls; the sequence ends with Scottie clinging for his life to the gutter of the roof. After the fade, Scottie is shown in the apartment of Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes), a woman to whom he was once briefly engaged. One of the more
benign of Hitchcock’s many bespectacled female characters, Midge is a “motherly” type, as the film continually emphasizes, too prosaic for Scottie’s romantic imagination. Scottie explains that he has quit the police force because he is suffering from vertigo as a result of his recent traumatic experience. He says he has received a message from an old schoolmate of theirs, Gavin Elster (Tom Helmore), who, when Scottie visits him, says ithat he wants Scottie to follow his wife in order to find out why she has been behaving peculiarly. Scottie at first resists the idea of doing detective work, but soon finds himself lured into it by the mystery of Elster’s beautiful wife, Madeleine (Kim Novak), with whom he rapidly becomes obsessed. In his investigation of the woman, he follows her around San Francisco and learns that she appears to be “possessed” by an ancestor from the past, Carlotta Valdez, whose portrait hangs in the art gallery in the Palace of the Legion of Honor. In order to find out more about this mysterious figure, Scottie asks Midge to take him to Pop Liebl (Konstantine Shayne), a bookstore owner conversant with San Francisco lore. According to Pop Liebl, Carlotta Valdez was the beautiful mistress of a wealthy and influential man, who at length wearied of her and “threw her away,” keeping their child. “A man could do that in those days,” says Pop Liebl reflectively. “They had the power, and the freedom.” The woman pined away for her lost child, becoming first “the sad Carlotta,” and then at length “the mad Carlotta,” stopping strangers in the street to ask, “Have you seen my child?” and eventually committing suicide. One day, in an apparent suicide attempt, Madeleine jumps into the bay, and Scottie rescues her, brings her to his home, and puts her into his bed. Soon after, they go “wandering” together, and Scottie learns of Madeleine’s hallucinations of death, her vision of walking down a long corridor that ends with the sight of an open grave. He becomes desperate to solve the mystery, and when she visits him one night to tell of a recurring /89/dream she has had of a Spanish mission where she believes she lived as a child, he joyfully tells her that her dream has a basis in reality. The next day he takes her to the mission in order to convince her that she has been to the place before. She, however, becomes distraught and runs into the tower. He tries to follow her up the stairs, but his vertigo prevents him from reaching her before she falls. After an inquest, which reaches a verdict of suicide, Scottie is placed in an asylum where Midge attempts to get him to respond by playing Mozart records, but Scottie is inconsolable. Later we see him walking the streets, becoming upset when he sees Madeleine’s car, which has been sold, and mistaking various women for Madeleine. Then he spots a woman who looks uncannily like Madeleine and follows her to her hotel. At first the woman is annoyed at being importuned by a stranger, but then she relents and allows him to come inside her room, where she shows him her identity cards to persuade him that she really is Judy Barton
from Salina, Kansas, rather than the woman he seems to be mistaking her for. When he leaves, the camera for the first time deserts Scottie and stays with the woman. A flashback and a letter Judy writes and then tears up tell the whole story: Scottie was part of Gavin Elster’s plan to murder his wife, Madeleine. Elster had made up Judy, his mistress, to look like his wife, in order to get Scottie to witness Madeleine’s “suicide.” Knowing that Scottie’s vertigo would prevent him from reaching the top of the mission tower Elster had waited that day for Judy to ascend the stairs and then had flung his own wife from the roof. Out of love for Scottie Judy decides not to run away, but to stay and try to make him love her for herself. He, however, becomes obsessed with recreating Madeleine, and he dresses Judy in the same clothes and shoes Madeleine had worn and even has her hair dyed and restyled. One night at her hotel room while they are preparing to go out for dinner, Judy puts on the necklace worn by Carlotta in the portrait and Scottie suddenly understands everything. He forces Judy to go back with him to the mission and to climb the stairs while he relates the events of Madeleine’s death. Cured at last of his vertigo, he makes it to the top and the panic-stricken Judy tries to convince him that they can still go on together. As they begin to embrace, a dark shape suddenly looms up at the top of the stairs and Judy screams at this apparition— which turns out to be a nun—and falls from the tower. The last shot of the film shows Scottie emerge from the it arched door of the tower onto the roof as he looks blankly downward, arms slightly extended. If in Rear Window, the hero continually expresses a masculine contempt for the feminine world of fashion (while the film itself exhibits and elicits a near obsessional interest in what Grace Kelly is wearing), this is hardly the case with Vertigo’s hero, Scottie. In attempting to re-create Judy as Madeleine, Scottie displays the most minute knowledge of women’s clothing, to the point where the saleswoman twice remarks on how well the gentleman knows what he wants. To reinvoke the metaphor central to my analysis of Rear Window, the female character, Madeleine/Judy, is like a living doll whom the hero strips and changes and makes over according to his ideal image. Indeed, it might be said that the film’s preoccupation with female clothing borders on the perverse. Midge’s job as a designer in the female “underwear business” has gone largely unremarked in criticism of Vertigo, perhaps because it is felt to be unworthy of the film’s great theme of love and death, a theme which places it in the tradition of Tristan and Isolde. (In fact, critics tend to slight all those parodic elements of the film which work against the seriousness of the “love theme,” and in this they reveal themselves to be like Scottie, who rejects Midge’s demystificatory act of painting her own face into the Carlotta portrait as “not funny.”) In the early scene in Midge’s apartment she is shown sketching a brassiere that is prominently suspended in the air from wires. Scottie is attempting to balance a cane
in his palm, and as it falls he utters an exclamation of pain and then speaks his first line in the film: “It’s this darned corset—it binds.” Midge replies, “No three-way stretch? How very unchic.” From the outset, then, with his failure to perform his proper role in relation to the Symbolic order and the law, Scottie is placed in the same position of enforced passivity as L.B. Jeffries, a position that the film explicitly links to femininity and associates with unfreedom: “Midge,” Scottie asks a moment later, “do you suppose many men wear corsets?” He is elated because tomorrow is “the big day” when “the corset comes off” and he will be a “free man.” Shortly thereafter he spots the brassiere, walks up to it and points to it with his cane. “What’s this doohickey?” he asks, and Midge answers, “It’s a brassiere; you know about such things, you’re a big boy now.” And she proceeds to describe it as the latest thing in “revolutionary uplift,” explaining that it was designed by an aircraft engineer down the peninsula, who built it on the “principle of the cantilever bridge.” Now, given the prominence in the film’s mise-en-scene of high places—the Golden Gate Bridge, for example—and given the association of these places with Scottie’s vertigo,7 it seems clear that the film is humorously linking his condition to femininity, a relation that later sequences will treat with deadly seriousness. (An association between femaleness and fear of heights may also be found in North by Northwest [l959] Roger 0. Thornhill [CaryGrant] claims that Eve [Eva Marie Saint] uses sex “like some people use a flyswatter,” and throughout the film we see him performing a human fly act, hanging over precipices, scaling walls, and clinging, as it were, to nothing.
alfred hitchcock Synopsis Born in London on August 13, 1899, Alfred Hitchcock worked for a short time in engineering before entering the film industry in 1920. He left for Hollywood in 1939, where his first American film, Rebecca, won an Academy Award for best picture. Hitchcock created more than 50 films, including the classics Rear Window, The 39 Steps and Psycho. Nicknamed the “Master of Suspense,” Hitchcock received the AFI’s Life Achievement Award in 1979. He died in 1980. Early Life Director, producer and screenwriter Alfred Joseph Hitchcock was born in London, England, on August 13, 1899, and was raised by strict, Catholic parents. He described his childhood as lonely and sheltered, partly due to his obesity. He once said that he was sent by his father to the local police station with a note asking the officer to lock him away for 10 minutes as punishment for behaving badly. He also remarked that his mother would force him to stand at the foot of her bed for several hours as punishment (a scene alluded to in his film Psycho). This idea of being harshly treated or wrongfully accused would later be reflected in Hitchcock’s films. A Gift for Suspense Hitchcock attended the Jesuit school St. Ignatius College before going on to attend the University of London, taking art courses. He eventually obtained a job as a draftsman and advertising designer for the cable company Henley’s. It was while working at Henley’s that he began to write, submitting short articles for the in-house publication. From his very first piece, he employed themes of false accusations, conflicted emotions and twist endings with impressive skill. In 1920, Hitchcock entered the film industry with a full-time position at the Famous Players-Lasky Company designing title cards for silent films. Within a few years, he was working as an assistant director. In 1925, Hitchcock directed his first film and began making the “thrillers” for which he became known the world over. His 1929 film Blackmail is said to be the first British “talkie.” In the 1930s, he directed such classic suspense films as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934) and The 39 Steps (1935). The Hollywood Years In 1939, Hitchcock left England for Hollywood. The first film he made there, Rebecca (1940), won an Academy Award for best picture. Some of his most famous films include Psycho (1960), The Birds (1963) and Marnie (1964). His works became renowned for their depictions of violence, although many of his plots merely function as decoys meant to serve as a tool for understanding complex psychological characters. His cameo appearances in his own films, as well as his interviews, film trailers and the television program Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-65), made him a cultural icon. Death and Legacy Hitchcock directed more than 50 feature films in a career spanning six decades. He received the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award in 1979. One year later, on April 29, 1980, Hitchcock died peacefully in his sleep in Bel Air, California. He was survived by his lifetime partner, assistant director and closest collaborator, Alma Reville, also known as “Lady Hitchcock,” who died in 1982.
ALWAYS... ANSWER THE QUESTION Discuss the question throughout the essay and donâ€™t feel the need to answer it in your first paragraph. Use the words from the question in your response. Conclude by referring to the question.
USE MICRO DETAIL AND REFER TO a specific scenE
DEMONSTRATE YOUR WIDER KNOWLEDGE
USE FILM LANGUAGE IN YOUR ANSWERS
Always reference the director and release date. Go into the exam with micro detail from three or four scenes from the film. Respond with a confident voice. Donâ€™t doubt yourself!
PASt questions. REMEMBER, THIS SECTION IS ONLY OUT OF 30 (NOT 35), SO SPEND AROUND 45 MINUTES ANSWERING. USE THE PREVIOUSLY DISCUSSED PEDAL STRUCTURE. Question 17 - critical approach (auteur, genre, representation) How far has an awareness of the filmmaker as auteur influenced your response to your chosen film? How useful have you found a particular film critical approach, such as an auteur or genre approach, in gaining a deeper understanding and appreciation of your chosen film? Explore how far the application of a particular critical approach has either reinforced or challenged your first impressions of your close study film. Discuss how far one or more critical approaches have contributed to an increased understanding and appreciation of your chosen film. ‘Sometimes the application of a critical approach can limit rather than expand our understanding and appreciation of a film.’ How far has this been true of your application of a critical approach to your close study film? ‘A film can be re-interpreted depending on the choice of critical approach.’ How far have you found this to be true when applying one or more critical approaches to your chosen film? In developing a response to your chosen film, how valuable did you find the application of a specific critical approach? How far has your wider Film Studies learning contributed to a better understanding and appreciation of your chosen film? Discuss some specific discoveries you have made in applying a critical approach to your chosen film.
Question 18 - importance/influence of critics and reviews How far has particular writing by critics been important in developing your understanding and appreciation of your chosen film? With reference to critical and review writing you have considered as part of your study, discuss how your ideas on your chosen film have developed. How far have the opinions of reviewers and critics informed your thinking about your close study film’s messages and values? Critics and reviewers often provoke disagreement. How far has this been true of critics and/or reviewers of your close study film? With detailed reference to your reading of critics and/or reviewers, discuss how far you have found yourself in agreement or disagreement with their views of your close study film. Critics and reviewers are opinion-formers. How far has your appreciation of your chosen film been influenced by the work of at least two of these opinion-formers? Explore how far a particular debate by critics has influenced your understanding of your chosen film. How far have the writings of reviewers and critics influenced the way your close study film is understood and valued today? ‘Often different critics and reviewers respond very similarly to a film.’ How far is this true of your close study film? Question 21 - Vertigo specific question (themes, critical debate) ‘The representation of women in Vertigo demonstrates how far this is a film by a man for men.’ How far do you agree? ‘There is an artificial cinematic quality about Vertigo which makes us question constantly what kind of film we are watching.’ How far can it be argued that this is a strength of Vertigo? ‘For the first time, in 2012, Vertigo, made in 1958, was voted the ‘greatest film ever made’ by Sight and Sound magazine.’ Why should the film be so highly regarded today?
‘Vertigo is a challenging exploration of male fantasy.’ How far do you agree with this view? How far do you agree that Vertigo is, to a significant extent, a film about control? ‘Above all else Vertigo is a celebration of visual storytelling.’ Discuss this statement with detailed reference to particular sequences from the film. Explore the importance of narrative structure in the development of key themes and ideas in Vertigo. ‘Vertigo is a poorly made thriller with a ridiculous, unbelievable plot.’ How far do you agree with this view? Identify and discuss two elements of Vertigo which, in your view, contribute to the sense of strangeness the film conveys.
Covering - New Mexican Cinema Spectatorship and Documentary Close Film Study - Vertigo