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The Journal of Film & Visual Narration

Vol. 05 No.02 I Winter 2020

"Stanley Kubrick: The Exhibition," Design Museum. Photos by Ed Reeve, 2019.

CONTENTS Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020



ii About MSJ

37 The Title Sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining James Driscoll


Letter from the Editor Greg Chan

iv Contributors

ARTICLES 01 Otto Preminger and the Moving Camera: Feminist Attunement in Whirlpool Kyle Barrowman 14 Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender Kimball Maw Jensen

VISUAL ESSAYS 28 Sleeping, Waking, Walking: The Lady in the Lake in The Haunting of Bly Manor Kelly Doyle

43 Enter the Neighbour: An Inland Empire Mise-en-scène Metonymy Andrew Hageman 50 Offcuts: The Materiality of Film in Sally Potter’s Thriller Youngbin Song 54 Visualizing the Real Reel in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard Farrah Hersh

FILM REVIEWS 61 Discovering Felix E. Feist: Narrative, Aesthetics, and the Representation of Woman in Deluge Mina Radovic

ANNOUNCEMENTS 67 KDocsFF Film Festival 2021 68 Open Call for Papers

INTERVIEWS 30 Portraying the Horror of the Everyday: An Interview with Director Jennifer Reeder Paul Risker



ABOUT MSJ EDITOR-IN-CHIEF Greg Chan, Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU), Canada ADVISORY BOARD Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada Richard L. Edwards, Ball State University,USA Allyson Nadia Field, University of Chicago, USA David A. Gerstner, City University of New York, USA Michael Howarth, Missouri Southern State University, USA Andrew Klevan, University of Oxford, United Kingdom Gary McCarron, Simon Fraser University, Canada Michael C.K. Ma, KPU, Canada Janice Morris, KPU, Canada Miguel Mota, UBC, Canada Paul Risker, University of Wolverhampton, United Kingdom Asma Sayed, KPU, Canada Poonam Trivedi, University of Delhi, India Paul Tyndall, KPU, Canada REVIEWERS Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada Ellen Grabiner, Simmons University, USA Michael Howarth, Missouri Southern State University, USA Nora Koller, University of Szeged, Hungary Douglas Long, DePaul University, USA Joakim Nilsson, KPU, Canada Andrea Meador Smith, Shenandoah University, USA COPYEDITORS Kelly Ann Doyle, KPU, Canada Adrea Meador Smith, Shenandoah University, USA LAYOUT EDITOR Patrick Tambogon, Wilson School of Design at KPU, Canada WEBMASTER Janik Andreas, UBC, Canada MJS CONSULTANT Karen Meijer-Kline, KPU, Canada INTERNS Sanjay Singh Aujla, KPU, Canada Neil Bassan, UBC, Canada


Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020

The views and opinions of all signed texts, including editorials and regular columns, are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect those of the editors, the editorial board or the advisory board. Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration is published by Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Canada WEBSITE FRONT COVER IMAGE Courtesy of Jean Mirre on Artmajeur BACK COVER IMAGE Courtesy of Jake Hills on Unsplash SPONSORS Faculty of Arts, KPU KPU Library CONTACT SOCIAL MEDIA @MESjournal UCPIPK-f8hyWg8QsfgRZ9cKQ

ISSN: 2369-5056 (online) ISSN: 2560-7065 (print)


Pause. Rewind. Play. According to the Museum of Obsolete Media, there have been over 100 varieties of video recording and playback since the 1950s, though you are likely most familiar with the ones that directly preceded digital downloads (your recognition of formats like LaserDisc, DVD, VHS, and Betamax is a generational test in itself ). Long before we could stream films to our devices, there was then-groundbreaking technology that captured visual narratives in Quadruplex, U-matic, Laser Juke, Digital 8, and Flexplay. Do any of those formats bring back memories? My first film experience outside of a movie theatre was made possible by a Capacitance Electronic Disc (CED) player, which played these sturdy, 12-inch vinyl discs on a turntable encased in a black box. I marvelled at the ability to watch a favourite scene—more than once!—in the suburban basement of my family’s home. What’s apparent is that video technologies have always existed in a constant state of disruption, with disorder and innovation being the foundation of the interface. Streaming has revolutionized film and media studies in many ways, not the least of which has been its impact on mise-en-scène frame analysis. There’s playback and then there’s playback: it’s a given that film studies researchers can unpack the nuances of a shot, a scene, or a sequence through precise watchings and rewatchings. Speaking of precision, you may have noticed that all of MSJ’s images include timestamps for reference, sourced by our intrepid student intern, Sanjay Aujla. Such details matter in our layered understanding of visual narratives. Issue 5.2 pays tribute to the disruptive power of mise-en-scène analysis, whether it’s meditating on the radicalized feminism of Gene Tierney in Whirlpool (our featured article by Kyle Barrowman); deconstructing The Shining’s opening sequence (our lead featurette by James Driscoll); or revisiting the neighbours in Inland Empire (an investigation courtesy of Andrew Hageman). This dossier is rounded out by two additional mise-en-scène analyses: one concerning the damaged film stock of Sally Potter’s Thriller (by Youngbin Song) and another taking us for a walk along Sunset Boulevard (by Farrah Hersh). Much like 2020 and 2021, Issue 5.2 urges you to eschew the fast forward in favour of the pause, the rewind, and the play. Handily, our new issue can be your stay-at-home guide to the mise-en-scène viewpoint. Stay healthy and watch more films,

Greg Chan | Editor-in-Chief






Kyle Barrowman is a media and cinema studies lecturer in Chicago. He has taught at DePaul University, Columbia College Chicago, Harper College, and College of Lake County. He received his PhD from Cardiff University, where he studied as the recipient of the Exceptional International Student Scholarship. He has published widely in and between film studies and philosophy, on subjects ranging from authorship and genre theory to skepticism and perfectionism, and his work has appeared in such journals as Offscreen, Senses of Cinema, The International Journal of Žižek Studies, The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies, JOMEC Journal, Martial Arts Studies, Global Media and China, Film and Philosophy, and Film-Philosophy.

​James Driscoll has published scholarly work on A Clockwork Orange, THX 1138, and apparatus theory. He has also published work in the International Journal of Jean Baudrillard Studies. He is currently a candidate in clinical psychology for counseling practice at Roosevelt University in Chicago. His film research interests include the continued influence of Kubrick’s tableau form on visual culture and the potential relevance of apparatus theory to questions of contemporary screen perception. His psychological research interests include the mental organization of consensus reality and the psychodynamic relationship between the screen and the external world. His overarching goal is to create guidelines for a comprehensive metapsychology of screen perception that combines the theories of ego psychology with the social and formal insights of apparatus theory.

Kelly Doyle holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies from UBC; she currently teaches film and literature at Kwantlen Polytechnic University. Her research and teaching interests focus on the subversiveness of gender and posthumanism in horror film. Her work on zombies in popular culture was featured on CBC Radio, Shaw TV, and in local newspapers, while her recent publications explore anthropocentrism, humanism, and cannibalism in zombie films, as well as the representation of gender and ‘the human’ in zombie transmedia. She is also a reviewer, copyeditor, and advisory board member for Mise-en-scène.​


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Andrew Hageman is Associate Professor of English at Luther College where he researches and teaches intersections of ecology and technocultures in literature and film. He co-edited with Gerry Canavan the “Global Weirding” 2016 special issue of the journal Paradoxa. Andrew has published more than 50 essays on a wide range of topics in academic and general reader venues. His writing appears in Science Fiction Studies, Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment, Extrapolation, Green Letters, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Blue Rose Magazine, and others. This piece on Inland Empire continues his body of work on David Lynch, from “The Uncanny Ecology of Mulholland Drive” and “Dale Cooper and the Mouthfeel of Twin Peaks” to his many articles on the website 25 Years Later.

Farrah Hersh is a third-year Ph.D. student in the Department of English with a concentration in Screen Studies at Florida State University. She received her M.A. in Media Studies from the New School and a B.S. in Communications from Florida State University. Additionally, she received an honorable mention for her script The Main Attraction from the Writers Network Screenplay and Fiction Competition. Her research interests include the modern television western, liminal places and spaces in cinema, and gender dynamics in sports films. She has taught College Composition, Film Genres, and Perspectives on the Short Story.

Kimball Maw Jensen is an Assistant Professor of Media Studies at Brigham Young University and the Director of the Media and Performance Studies Graduate Program. Also, she serves as the advisor for Women in Film, a student group that fosters the academic study and appreciation of women in film and supports female students seeking careers in filmmaking. Maw Jensen’s research focuses on racial self-representation through digital media, combining both critical race theory and fan studies. Currently, she is examining how people of colour navigate the rise of toxic fan cultures on social media. She received her MA in American Studies from California State University, Fullerton, and PhD in cultural studies at Claremont Graduate University, where her dissertation A sian American YouTube Channels received the university’s Transdisciplinary Dissertation Grant.







Mina Radovic is a doctoral researcher at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a FIAF-trained archivist, filmmaker and critic, regularly contributing to international peer-reviewed journals. Mina runs Liberating Cinema, a non-profit organisation committed to the representation, restoration and exhibition of world cinema heritage. His research expertise is in film history and historiography, archiving and restoration, language and ideology, Yugoslav cinema, early cinema, and the works of Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Paul Risker is an independent scholar, freelance film and literary critic, and interviewer. Outside of editing MSJ’s interview and film festival sections, he mainly contributes to PopMatters, although his criticism and interviews have been published by both academic and non-academic publications, that include Cineaste, Film International, The Quarterly Review of Film and Video, and Little White Lies. He remains steadfast in his belief of the need to counter contemporary cultures emphasis on the momentary, by writing for posterity, adding to an ongoing discussion that is essentially us belonging to something that is bigger than ourselves.

Youngbin Song is a filmmaker and scholar of feminist theory and cultural studies, with a particular interest in transnational feminisms. She is currently examining cultural texts of the contemporary South Korean feminist movement. Most recently, she has presented research on feminist aesthetics at the Critical Ethnic Studies Association’s international conference. While developing her research and media projects, she teaches in the Department of Cinema and Television Arts at Columbia College Chicago, where she earned an MFA in film directing. Youngbin tries to integrate theory and practice in her pedagogy by discussing media criticism with her students to challenge them to think about the social and political stakes of their creative projects.


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Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020

Otto Preminger and the Moving Camera: Feminist Attunement in Whirlpool

BY KYLE BARROWMAN | DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago

ABSTRACT In this article, I analyze the significance of camera movement in the films of Otto Preminger. Focusing in particular on his feminist melodrama Whirlpool (1950), I argue that it not only constitutes a radical feminist critique of the patriarchal subjugation of women, but that this is manifest in the mise-en-scène, specifically in Preminger's characteristically expressive camera movements. First, I establish the generic context of Whirlpool. Situated between the genres of film noir and melodrama, I argue that, alongside films such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), and Vincente Minnelli’s Undercurrent (1946), Whirlpool is an exemplary “persecuted wife melodrama.” Second, I establish the authorial context of Whirlpool. Beyond reuniting Preminger with his frequent female lead Gene Tierney, I argue that Whirlpool is a radicalization of their previous collaboration Laura (1944). In both films, the repression of the female voice and the suffering of the female protagonists at the hands of obsessive and controlling men are central thematic concerns. However, it is in Whirlpool that Preminger’s feminist attunement is most pronounced, both in relation to the characterization of his heroine and the intricacy of his mise-en-scène. By virtue of detailed analyses of key scenes from the film, I demonstrate the aesthetic richness and the depths of meaning in Preminger’s ultimate feminist masterwork.


n the course of discussing the affinities between film and the visual arts, Raymond Durgnat opined that, despite any such affinities, there still “isn’t really a language, yet, for talking about an art of visuals in motion. In a way, the history of film criticism lies in front of it, not behind it” (00:06:42-00:06:56). This idea that we still have not figured out all the (best) ways to talk about the myriad aesthetic elements of the cinema has animated the work of countless critics and scholars, from André Bazin and V.F. Perkins to Stanley Cavell and Gilles Deleuze. Recently, this idea has fueled the investigative efforts of Daniel Morgan with respect to camera movement.1 In 1977, David Bordwell opened an early article on the subject by positing that “camera movement in the cinema is one of the most difficult areas for critical analysis,” an area often skipped over on the assumption that it is “too elusive to be analyzable” (19). Four decades later, Morgan found that the critical landscape was virtually unchanged since Bordwell’s initial 1

survey, lamenting the fact that, “despite their prominence within the history of cinema, camera movements have remained surprisingly marginal and elusive in critical work” (“Max Ophuls” 127). In this article, I intend to follow Morgan into what is still largely uncharted territory and analyze the significance of camera movement in the films of Otto Preminger, focusing in particular on the feminist melodrama Whirlpool (1950). In the heyday of auteurism in the 1950s and 1960s, as the French critics of Cahiers du Cinéma and the British critics of MOVIE were encouraging a revaluation of classical Hollywood cinema, one of the major figures of auteurist focus was Otto Preminger.2 From the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, during which time he made films of varying degrees of excellence from Laura (1944) and Fallen Angel (1945) through Angel Face (1953) and Bonjour Tristesse (1958) up to Advise & Consent (1962) and Bunny Lake is Missing (1965), Preminger established himself not merely as one of the masters of mise-en-scène but more

See Morgan, “Max Ophuls,” “Beyond Destiny and Design,” and “Where Are We?”

See Jacques Rivette, “The Essential”; Claude Chabrol, “Evolution of the Thriller”; Éric Rohmer, “The Taste for Beauty”; Perkins, “Why Preminger?” and Film as Film; Paul Mayersberg, “From Laura to Angel Face” and “Carmen and Bess”; and Robin Wood, “Exodus” and “Attitudes in Advise & Consent.” 2


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Otto Preminger and the Moving Camera: Feminist Attunement in Whirlpool

Whirlpool is a radical feminist film and its feminist themes are specifically worked out in the mise-en-scène. specifically one of the maestros of the moving camera. Indeed, to say that no analysis of Preminger would be complete without an analysis of his mise-en-scène, and in particular his fluid camera movements, would be an understatement. Therefore, if Whirlpool constitutes a radical feminist critique of the patriarchal subjugation of women, which I argue it does, then this should be manifest in the mise-en-scène, and in particular in Preminger’s characteristic camera movements. In what follows, my goal will be to prove that this is indeed the case. Before analyzing Preminger’s aesthetic design, however, I must first situate Whirlpool in its proper generic and authorial contexts. First, to the issue of genre, at the time of its release, the Variety staff praised Whirlpool as “a highly entertaining, exciting melodrama,” yet, half a century later, when it was released on DVD by 20 th Century Fox, it was released as part of their “Fox Film Noir” collection. This invites the question: Just what kind of film is Whirlpool? The answer to this question is by no means straightforward. On the one hand, there is a murder and there is a police investigation of the crime, so the film is at least noir-ish. But there is no femme fatale à la Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity (1944) or Jane Greer in Out of the Past (1947), nor is there a hard-boiled detective à la Humphrey Bogart in The Maltese Falcon (1941) or Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me Deadly (1955). On the other hand, the protagonists are a married couple and one of the central dramatic conflicts revolves around the state of their marriage, so the film is at least melodramatic. But the plot does not revolve around a family dynamic with parents and their children à la The Old Maid (1939) or Since You Went Away (1944), nor is the story told with excessive emotionality, sumptuous and colourful visuals, or overwhelming music swells à la All That Heaven Allows (1955) or Rebel Without a Cause (1955). Situated between film noir and melodrama, Whirlpool is a member of a group of hybrid films made in the 1940s and 1950s which Thomas Elsaesser originally dubbed the “Freudian feminist melodrama”3 but which Andrew

Britton elaborated on and refined as the “persecuted wife melodrama.”4 Among the quintessential examples of this mode of noir-ish melodrama for both Elsaesser and Britton are several films made by directors who operated in film noir and/or melodrama, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) and Suspicion (1941); George Cukor’s Gaslight (1944), which was also identified by Stanley Cavell as a quintessential “melodrama of the unknown woman”5; Vincente Minnelli’s Undercurrent (1946); and, most importantly for my purposes, Preminger’s Whirlpool (“Tales of Sound and Fury” 527; “A New Servitude” 30). In line with Robin Wood’s point that the elementary error in genre theory is the assumption that genres are “discrete” and neatly separable (“Ideology, Genre, Auteur” 291), Phillipa Gates has insightfully argued that “melodrama and film noir are not so distinct.” To her mind, both genres function “as modes of representation” in which the mise-en-scène “offer[s] a second level of representation through which to interpret the themes and characters” (28), hence the ease with which filmmakers like Preminger were able to combine elements from film noir and melodrama to create hybrids like Whirlpool. Second, to the issue of authorship, Whirlpool is in many ways a radicalization of Preminger’s earlier Gene Tierney vehicle Laura. Both films are fascinating examples of the psychological and emotional torture endured by a woman at the hands of an obsessive and controlling man. Broadly speaking, obsession may well be the most consistent and pronounced theme in Preminer’s oeuvre. Whether it is men obsessed with women – from Clifton Webb in Laura and Dana Andrews in Fallen Angel to Harry Belafonte in Carmen Jones (1954) and Keir Dullea in Bunny Lake is Missing – or women obsessed with men – from Linda Darnell in Forever Amber (1947) and Jean Simmons in Angel Face to Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse and Dorothy Dandridge in Porgy and Bess (1959) – or men and women obsessed with something else entirely – from Dana Andrews’ crusade to punish criminals in Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) and Frank Sinatra’s drug addiction in The Man with the Golden Arm (1955) to Jean Seberg’s determination to march on Paris in Saint Joan (1957) and Tom Tryon’s devotion to the Catholic Church in The Cardinal (1963) – obsession is a thematic thread that runs throughout Preminger’s filmography. It is therefore not surprising that obsession figures into Preminger’s feminist “sister films” Laura and Whirlpool. However,


See his “Tales of Sound and Fury.”


See his “A New Servitude,” “Betrayed by Rita Hayworth,” and “Cary Grant.”


See his Contesting Tears.

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Kyle Barrowman

where Laura abstractly features male manipulation of a persecuted female – Laura spends much of the film like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, the spider in this case being the Luciferian Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb), Laura’s onetime mentor and suitor turned obsessive persecutor and would-be murderer (Fig. 1) – Whirlpool literalizes this abstract theme on the plot level: Whirlpool is literally about a woman, Ann Sutton (Gene Tierney), who is preyed upon by a criminal hypnotist, David Korvo (José Ferrer), who forces her to play Trilby to his Svengali (Fig. 2). Significantly, in the context of his rich and provocative analysis of classical Hollywood melodrama, Cavell observes that a dominant and recurring motif is the “woman’s search for a story, or of the right to tell her story” (3). This is an important motif to register for two reasons. First, with respect to the genre of melodrama, the majority of classical Hollywood melodramas chronicle female characters who are searching for their stories, or the right to tell their stories, and who are forced to do so not merely while suffering from the consequences of the oppressive patriarchal ordering of their personal and professional lives, but also from the persecution of a villainous male representative of the patriarchy. Second, with respect to the genre of film noir, the femme fatale, as Britton astutely avers, is merely the “inverted mirror image [of ] the persecuted wife”: They are both “product[s] of a historical situation in which the practical requirements of the US war economy had radically transformed the social position of American women” (“Betrayed by Rita Hayworth” 233). The persecuted wives of melodramas suffer from within, and are sometimes destroyed by, the power structures of patriarchy, while the femmes fatales of film noir are willing to do whatever it takes, up to and sometimes including violence, to evade or extricate themselves from those same patriarchal power structures. As it happens, these narrative and thematic constituents of melodrama and film noir establish precisely the narrative and thematic coordinates of both Laura and Whirlpool. In Laura, Laura’s story, or, more specifically, Lydecker’s refusal to allow Laura to tell her story – indeed, his insistence on telling it for her, on his behalf, as he wants it told – is the major theme of the film.6 Not only is

there an extended flashback sequence involving Lydecker telling (his version of ) Laura’s story to Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews), but the climax of the film is a bravura sequence in which Lydecker, a famous columnist and radio personality, breaks into Laura’s apartment and slowly creeps to her bedroom with the intention of killing her, all while the apartment is echoing with the sound of Lydecker’s voice on the radio discoursing on (his perverse conception of ) love. In Whirlpool, meanwhile,

Fig. 1 | The Luciferian Lydecker, seated on his throne, refuses to allow Laura to escape from the Hell in which she is trapped, 00:30:49. 20th Century Fox, 1944.

Fig. 2 | Korvo, playing Svengali, menacingly looms over Ann, his hypnotized Trilby, 00:21:49. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Along with obsession, the theme of control, of characters hubristically attempting to author both their own lives and the lives of others, is another consistent and pronounced theme of Preminger’s. However, whereas Preminger’s compatriot Fritz Lang famously staged metaphysical battles between would-be author characters – from Lil Dagover in Destiny (1921) and Rudolf Klein-Rogge in Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (1922) to Edward G. Robinson in Scarlet Street (1945) and Dana Andrews in Beyond a Reasonable Doubt (1956) – and the crushingly impersonal “Destiny-machine” (see Tom Gunning’s The Films of Fritz Lang), Preminger took it upon himself to wrest control from would-be author characters – from Webb in Laura and Ferrer in Whirlpool to Jean Seberg in Bonjour Tristesse and Charles Laughton in Advise & Consent – and to use his camera to chastise them at the moment of their comeuppance. I will have more to say about this Preminger hallmark in the course of discussing Whirlpool. 6


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Fig. 3 | The geometry of subjugation. This is the first time that Ann is visually trapped between men in a triangular pattern, here with her rebellious symptom exposed to the punitive male gaze, 00:02:25. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

the Mabuse-esque Korvo all but removes Ann’s free will and annuls her autonomy as an individual capable of thinking, acting, and speaking for herself. However, Laura merely provides glimpses of feminist insight and progressive potential in this direction. In the end, Laura is demoted from heroine to damsel in distress as she is rescued from Lydecker by Detective McPherson and the police. More radically in Whirlpool, Ann’s husband, the prominent psychoanalyst Dr. Bill Sutton (Richard Conte), the ostensible male hero who must rescue his ostensibly poor and helpless wife, is forced to acknowledge his complicity in his wife’s neurosis and spends nearly the entire film helplessly – impotently – standing by, while Ann, for her part, is able to save herself and put an end to her predatory Svengali’s evil machinations specifically by mustering up the courage to use her voice and claim the right to tell her story. This, then, is the basic narrative and thematic thread weaved by Preminger in Whirlpool: Man persecutes Woman, Woman vanquishes Man. But in order to do justice to the weaving of this thematic thread, it is necessary to explore the visual strategies employed by Preminger throughout the film, for it is in the intricate mise-en-scène that Preminger’s feminist attunement to Ann’s entrapment in the perilous patriarchal world of the film is manifest. To begin with a brief plot synopsis so as to establish Preminger’s narrative and thematic coordinates vis-à-vis feminism and psychoanalysis, Whirlpool features Gene Tierney as Ann Sutton, the wife of the famous psychoanalyst Dr. Bill Sutton. Despite what appears to be a happy marriage and a happy life, Ann suffers from kleptomania, the external manifestation of

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her internal (Oedipally-motivated) resistance to patriarchal strictures. In the opening scene, she is caught shoplifting, but fortunately for her an acquaintance of her husband’s, a smooth-talking charmer named David Korvo, witnesses the incident and saves Ann from scandal. On the medical fringe, Korvo specializes in hypnotherapy, and he offers to help Ann, who is too ashamed to tell her husband about her kleptomania. However, Korvo has an ulterior motive. As the film unfolds, he uses his hypnotic power to hypnotize Ann in order to frame her for a murder. It is revealed that one of Korvo’s former patients, Theresa Randolph (Barbara O’Neil), had not only ended an affair with Korvo but had confessed to her new therapist, Dr. Sutton, that she was planning on consulting a lawyer to retrieve the money that Korvo had extorted from her. In response, Korvo hypnotizes Ann to steal her husband’s audio patient recordings with Randolph and hide them in Randolph’s house, thereby eliminating evidence of motive. When the police arrive and discover Randolph’s body, Ann is there waiting to take the fall for Korvo’s crime. The rest of the film then becomes a question of if and how Ann will be able to clear her name and vanquish Korvo. Toward the goal of elucidating the intricacies of Preminger’s mise-en-scène, it is worth exploring the opening sequence in which Ann is caught shoplifting, as it is in this early sequence that Preminger establishes the visual logic of the film. Though we do not learn her identity until the sequence is already underway, Preminger begins with Ann exiting the swanky Wilshire Store in Los Angeles. After the valet brings her car up for her, she gets in, but before she can take off she is approached by the store detective, Mr. Hogan (Ian MacDonald) (Fig. 3). At first, Preminger’s camera is stationary. In a long shot, Ann enters her car. Before the valet has even departed, however, Mr. Hogan enters the frame from off-screen and approaches Ann. As soon as he enters the frame, Preminger dollies in for a medium shot. Mr. Hogan asks her to turn off her car and to open her purse. She refuses, so Mr. Hogan takes the keys out of the ignition, takes the purse out of the car, and calls the valet back over to serve as a witness as he removes a broach from Ann’s purse. This is an important early sequence in which several important visual precedents are established. One, Ann is lower in the frame than the men and in a seated position, a visual indicator of her powerlessness and vulnerability; two, Ann is trapped between men in a triangular pattern; and three, she is subjected to a punitive male gaze. These visual motifs will recur throughout the film. Added to

Kyle Barrowman

Fig. 4 | Another male triangle of subjugation, 00:04:20. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

which, Preminger’s camera does not begin to move until Mr. Hogan enters the frame. While Ann walks to and eventually enters her car, Preminger’s camera remains stationary. As soon as Mr. Hogan enters the frame, however, Preminger’s camera immediately begins to move, dollying in on Ann in step with Mr. Hogan’s approach. This is another important visual motif established in this sequence. Not only does the stationary camera serve to indicate Ann’s considerable lack of agency and power at this early point in the film, but the mise-en-scène is often a veritable battleground to determine which character is in control, that is, which character has the power to tell, or to author, the story. After Mr. Hogan has the valet witness him remove the shoplifted broach from Ann’s purse, Ann reluctantly accompanies Mr. Hogan back into the store, whereupon she faints, only to wake up to a grilling in the manager’s office. On the way back into the store, however, a man passes Mr. Hogan and Ann on his way out but then

turns around and reenters the store. This man turns out to be Ferrer’s criminal hypnotist, David Korvo. Entering the Manager’s office during Ann’s quasi-interrogation, Korvo assumes the role of Ann’s de facto defense attorney, advising her not to speak and proceeding to speak on her behalf and (for the time being) in her defense (Fig. 4). Once again, Ann finds herself seated, powerless and mute, trapped between men in another triangular pattern. This time, however, Preminger’s camera appears almost magnetically drawn to Korvo. As soon as he enters the frame and makes his presence known, Preminger follows him. As he makes his way to Ann’s side, Preminger pans to the right to track his approach and then dollies in for a medium shot. By virtue of this camera movement, Preminger goes from a medium long shot in which five characters are visible – six counting Korvo in the background – to a medium shot of Korvo alone in the frame. There is a shot/reverse-shot sequence


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which recalibrates the mise-en-scène, and then Korvo takes over as the dominant presence within the scene. Indeed, by merely entering this space, Korvo completely rearranges the mise-en-scène and takes control of everything – of Ann, of the situation with the shoplifted broach, even of Preminger’s camera. When Korvo leaves Ann’s side to walk to the other side of the room in order to retrieve her hat sitting atop a cabinet, Preminger pans left, again tracking him as he moves within the space, to the point where for a period of time Ann is no longer even visible in the frame. This has quite clearly become The Korvo Show, and it remains so until the end of the scene, whereupon Korvo has convinced the Manager not to report the shoplifting to the police and instead to simply charge the broach to Ann’s husband’s account; has retrieved Ann’s hat, her purse, and her new broach; and has escorted her out of the office.

beyond its utility vis-à-vis perspective the camera can function as a powerful expressive device is ultimately Morgan’s raison d’ être, and it is the key that helps him to unlock the significance of camera movement in and beyond the films of Fritz Lang, Alfred Hitchcock, Max Ophüls, and Stanley Kubrick, among others. Indeed, this idea leads Morgan to articulate two concepts that will prove essential in understanding Preminger’s camera movement in Whirlpool. The first concept is the concept of dual attunement, which refers to the way that the mise-en-scène of a film is responsive to and expressive of “both the states of mind of characters and the social world they inhabit” (“Max Ophuls” 131). To explicate this concept, Morgan adduces Ophüls’ celebrated melodrama Letter from an Unknown Woman, in which the pathologically lovesick Lisa (Joan Fontaine) spends the majority of her

The way that the camera is pulled in to Korvo is a visual expression of the way that Korvo is pulling in Ann, drawing her into his sphere of influence. Now, it is important to note, as Morgan has gone to great lengths to clarify in his work on camera movement, that the camera can function as more than merely a spectatorial stand-in within the diegetic space of the film. To be sure, the camera absolutely can function, and historically has functioned, as a tool to provide viewers a perspective from which to view the events transpiring within the diegetic space of the film or as a tool to align viewers with the subjective perspective of a particular character within the diegetic space of the film. But the camera does not necessarily, and most certainly does not always or only, “lead us, as viewers, to imagine ourselves as present at,” or, with respect to the moving camera, as moving within, the “fictional space” of the film (“Beyond Destiny and Design” 263). Even though when it comes to visual analysis “everything seems to supervene on the delineation of point of view,” it must be acknowledged that the most important question to ask with respect to any given shot is not “Whose perspective is this?” but rather “What does this shot mean?” (263).7 The idea that

life, including her marriage of convenience with an older military man named Johann (Marcel Journet), obsessed with Stefan (Louis Jordan), the womanizing narcissist of her masochistic dreams. With reference to the elaborate crane shot in the scene late in the film at the opera house where Lisa is in attendance with Johann but crosses paths once again with Stefan, Morgan argues that, “if the camera suggests the contours of [Lisa’s] state of mind,” namely, her all-consuming desire to be with Stefan, “it also stands outside her subjective position … step[ping] away from [her] perspective to emphasize the world in which [she is] embedded [and] to remind the viewer of the social obligations she has,” namely, her responsibilities to her husband and son (“Max Ophuls” 135). The second concept is the concept of object-defined camera movement, which refers to the way that a given shot is “shaped by, and expressive of, [its] object,” as opposed to the subjective perspective of a character (“Beyond Destiny and Design” 260). To explicate this concept, Morgan adduces Lang’s landmark science fiction epic Metropolis (1927),

For additional investigations of expressive camera movement beyond subjective point of view shots, see Jordan Schonig, “Seeing Aspects of the Moving Camera” and “The Chained Camera.”


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Preminger loathed nothing more than hubris and he relished the opportunity to use his camera to condemn the Promethean characters whose despicable actions precipitate their own demise. Fig. 5 | Ann seeks refuge in the possibility of marital bliss, 00:07:48. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

in which the naïve young Freder (Gustav Fröhlich) is forced to acknowledge the harsh economic and social realities of the machine age. With reference to Lang’s dynamic camera movement in the iconic scene in which the machine complex that powers the city transforms into the mouth of Moloch before the eyes of the terrified Freder, Morgan argues that the camera movement at the moment the machine complex explodes and Freder falls to the ground is designed to express his horror at what he is seeing; that is, while the camera creates an experience for us of the explosion, it is [more specifically] shaped and defined by what it shows [namely, Freder]. The shot is constructed so as to bring out or elicit Freder’s mental state at this moment, not just that he responds but how he responds. (261)

Fig. 7 | The sound of her husband approaching brings Ann crashing back to the reality of her anxiety-ridden life as “the perfect wife,” 00:08:00. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 6 | Mystified, Ann mines a picture of her and her husband for the secret to domestic happiness, 00:07:54. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

These visual strategies are readily apparent in Whirlpool. In the early shot of Mr. Hogan approaching Ann in her car, Preminger’s camera is dually attuned, to Ann’s state of mind and her feelings of persecution and entrapment on the one hand and to the patriarchal social context in which her actions are embedded and subjected to the punitive male gaze on the other. Additionally, Preminger utilizes a powerful object-defined camera movement in the scene that follows the opening shoplifting sequence. Upon returning home after her vexatious outing to the Wilshire Store, Ann seeks refuge in her and her husband’s bedroom. Wandering around alone in the empty room, Ann hides her purse with the broach inside and tries to compose herself before she sees her husband. At one point, she walks over to a small table, picks up a framed picture of her and her husband, and sits down. Significantly, she is not smiling while looking at this picture, as if lost in a blissful memory of past happiness. (This in spite of the fact that the music is incredibly shmaltzy. It is as if Preminger is playing


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Fig. 8 | The predatory Korvo breaks down Ann’s internal resistance in order to subject her to a form of psychological rape, 00:18:03. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 9 | As Ann sinks deeper into the hypnotic abyss into which Korvo is pulling her, her perspective becomes blurry and out of focus, the clarity of her (in)sight giving way to the haze of Korvo’s influence, 00:18:21. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 10 | Preminger uses typical classical Hollywood glamor lighting as Ann begins to sink into the hypnotic abyss, 00:18:22. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 11 | Preminger then uses a lighting effect to swallow her in darkness as she finally sinks into the hypnotic abyss, 00:18:36. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

with the conventions of melodrama, invoking them only to subvert them.) On the contrary, she seems almost mystified by the picture. While she is lost in thought, Preminger dollies in from a medium shot to a medium close-up, at which point Ann hears a door close downstairs. Knowing that her husband has finished his session and is coming upstairs from his office, Ann whips her head around at the sound and leans forward into close-up, a look of abject terror on her face. This is an object-defined camera movement. Preminger’s choice to shrink the space and dolly in on Ann is expressive of her domestic

claustrophobia, her sense of suffocation in the role of Mrs. Dr. Bill Sutton (Figs. 5-7).8 For as inspired as these early sequences are, however, nowhere is Preminger’s aesthetic ingenuity on greater display than the sequence in which Korvo hypnotizes Ann. Following their initial meeting at the Wilshire Store, Korvo asks Ann to lunch. Ann assumes that Korvo intends to blackmail her for his silence, but instead he provides her with the Wilshire Store’s file on the shoplifting incident and encourages her to tear it up so that there is no record of the incident. Taken in by Korvo’s charm and friendly

For an exceptionally nuanced analysis of Tierney’s character with reference to clinical psychology, specifically borderline personality disorder and the work of Marsha Linehan, see Chapter 3 in Julie Grossman’s Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir.


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disposition, Ann agrees to attend a party given by local society woman Tina Cosgrove (Constance Collier) in his honour. At the party, Korvo and Ann mingle for a while before Korvo takes Ann aside in an unoccupied room to ask her how she is feeling. Under the guise of helping her to relax so that she can conquer her insomnia without having to ask her husband for sleeping pills, Korvo hypnotizes Ann. This is a profoundly unsettling sequence, with Korvo’s hypnosis taking on the effect of a psychological rape scene, and its effectiveness is the result of several object-defined visual strategies. The sequence begins with Korvo taking Ann’s hands, guiding her down into a seated position in an armchair, and placing each arm on the arms of the chair, all the while saying, in a soothing tone, “You’re relaxed with me … Your soul can undress in front of me … Trust me” (Fig. 8). At this point, Preminger cuts to an over-the-shoulder medium shot of Korvo from behind Ann. As Korvo tells Ann that he can make her sleep, Preminger dollies in for a close-up. This is another object-defined camera movement, though it is a remarkably complex shot in which Preminger accomplishes a number of things. First, the nature of the shot as an object-defined camera movement is such that its movement is defined by Korvo’s hypnotic power. The way that the camera is pulled in to Korvo is a visual expression of the way that Korvo is pulling in Ann, drawing her into his sphere of influence. But that is not all. This shot is also expressive of Ann’s perspective, for upon framing Korvo in close-up at the end of this dolly shot Preminger plays with the focus and uses a blur effect to make Korvo appear fuzzy, a visual expression of Ann’s perspective as the haze of Korvo’s influence obscures her (in)sight (Fig. 9).9 Finally, after a brilliant shot/reverse-shot sequence in which Preminger shifts between the blurry Korvo and the crystal-clear/glamor-lit Ann, Preminger’s pièce de résistance is an extraordinary lighting effect. In what can only be described as object-defined lighting, Preminger frames Ann in close-up. As she listens to Korvo’s voice, a shadow forms under her chin. Preminger then slowly engulfs her in darkness, a visual expression of the hypnotic abyss into which she is sinking (Figs. 10-11). After this scene, everything starts to unravel for Ann. First, under Korvo’s influence, she steals the

Fig. 12 | Korvo stands transfixed at the phonograph, haunted by the castrating voice of Theresa Randolph, the woman who rejected him, 01:27:03. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 13 | Standing under judgment, Korvo looks up at the spectral presence of the woman whose castrating voice still haunts him, 01:27:57. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

audio recordings of her husband’s sessions with Theresa Randolph and drives to Randolph’s house. Then, the police arrive to find Randolph’s murdered corpse and arrest Ann for the crime. Korvo’s alibi is rock solid: He underwent surgery to have his gall bladder removed the afternoon before and has been in bed in the hospital ever since, including during the time of the murder. Then, the worst happens: Her husband arrives. At the police station, in the form of an interrogation, her husband demands that she tell him the truth about her affair with Korvo. Ann tries desperately to explain everything to her husband,

For an account of a similarly complex object-defined camera movement, see Morgan’s discussion of the famous “floating head” sequence in Lang’s Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler (“Beyond Destiny and Design” 261-265).



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Fig. 14 | Lydecker, fatally wounded, realizes at the point of dying the true depth of his impotence, 1:27:47. 20th Century Fox, 1944.

Fig. 15 | Korvo, fatally wounded, realizes at the point of dying the true depth of his impotence, 01:36:11. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

Fig. 16 | A lingering image of Lydecker’s (self-)destructive hubris, 01:27:51. 20th Century Fox, 1944.

Fig. 17 | A lingering image of Korvo’s (self-)destructive hubris, 01:36:26. 20th Century Fox, 1950.

but he is stubborn and refuses to listen. Significantly, on the subject of the repression of the female voice, Ann exclaims in frustration, “You don’t want to hear the truth. You won’t let me tell it.” Not until the end of the film does Ann finally clear her name, vanquish Korvo, and open her husband’s eyes not only to her psychological and emotional suffering but also to his role in her suffering. It is revealed that Korvo managed to commit the murder by hypnotizing himself in his hospital bed, convincing himself after his operation that he was in no pain and that he could move perfectly well. He does so again in order to go to Randolph’s house and destroy the only existing evidence, the patient recordings that he had Ann steal for him. Interestingly, just as Laura’s portrait exerts a powerful influence in Laura, in Whirlpool, Korvo listens to the incriminating patient

recordings on the phonograph under the gaze of a portrait of Randolph (Figs. 12-13). Under the castrating glare of Randolph’s portrait, Korvo listens to Theresa’s castrating words from her sessions with Dr. Sutton on the phonograph: she tells Dr. Sutton that she felt so good to be “cleansed” of Korvo, going so far as to ridicule his voice, which she admits used to “thrill” her but which now “sounded stupid,” representing the ultimate castration in the form of a woman using her voice to ridicule Korvo’s voice, the source of his phallic power. Korvo is surprised as he is about to destroy the evidence of the recordings when Ann, her husband, and the police detective in charge of the investigation pull up to the house. They enter and begin to search for the recordings. When he sees that she is alone, Korvo surprises Ann and threatens her, ordering her upon the return of her

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husband and the detective to tell them that he had been there but that he had escaped, thereby allowing him the opportunity to destroy the evidence and escape for real. Korvo’s attempt to reassert his control over Ann and to continue playing Svengali, to once again deny her the right to her own voice and her own story, is manifest in the visual design of this final scene. Preminger’s characteristically fluid camerawork is on full display in this climax. The characters move through Randolph’s house and Preminger’s camera follows them, but, as was the case in the opening sequence in the Manager’s office, it is Korvo who seems to enjoy a privileged relationship with the camera, as his surreptitious movements as he hides behind walls and sneaks behind unsuspecting characters are rigorously attended to by Preminger. Most importantly, the only truly subjective point of view shot in the film is claimed by Korvo. After he sneaks up on Ann and instructs her to keep her husband and the detective occupied long enough for him to slip out undetected, Preminger favors Korvo, tracking with him – once again away from Ann, just as in the opening sequence in the Manager’s office – as he hides behind the fireplace. Once he has taken his hiding place and Dr. Sutton and the detective return, Preminger cuts from a shot of Korvo in hiding to a shot that is clearly cued to be a point of view shot. Significantly, though, what begins as a static, clearly delineated point of view shot becomes something else entirely. Just when it appears that Preminger is favouring Korvo – and, by extension, the male gaze – he pans to the right, in effect disengaging from Korvo’s subjective viewpoint, and dollies in on Ann, quite is as if Preminger is asserting his authorial control over the pseudo-author in Korvo and aligning himself with Ann. By virtue of this camera movement, Preminger denies Korvo the privileged authority that he has worked so hard to (unjustly) claim and instead aligns with Ann, who does not until this moment, as if with the confidence of the support from both Randolph’s portrait and Preminger’s camera, liberate herself from Korvo’s inf luence and claim her (right to her own) voice, alerting her husband and the detective to Korvo’s presence and facilitating his demise. This is a hallmark of Preminger’s cinema. Beyond the frequency with which hubristic characters attempt to control their lives and the lives of others, Preminger always denies these hubristic characters this power, and he uses his camera to chastise them at the moment of their comeuppance. This penchant of Preminger’s unites both Laura and Whirlpool. In both films, the patriarchal villains Lydecker and Korvo make their last stands knowing full-well that whatever power they thought they had

was illusory, and in both films they are forced to acknowledge the depth of their impotence (Figs. 14-17). This is where Preminger’s feminist attunement is most explicit. Historically, Preminger’s mise-en-scène has been characterized as “objective” and “detached.” V.F. Perkins alleges that Preminger “does not solicit affection for his characters” – indeed, that he refuses to love, condemn, admire, despise, etc., his characters – and even goes so far as to argue that Preminger “is concerned to show events, not to demonstrate his feelings about them” (“Why Preminger?” 43); Paul Mayersberg contends that “Preminger’s detachment” is such that his style “doesn’t force an attitude or an emotional experience on the spectator,” that, instead, “the spectator, like the camera, arrives at an experience” (“From Laura to Angel Face” 46); and Robin Wood casually references the “objectivity of presentation” that is an alleged hallmark of Preminger’s style (“Exodus” 51). On the contrary, Preminger was anything but objective or detached: He loathed nothing more than hubris and he relished the opportunity to use his camera to condemn the Promethean characters whose despicable actions precipitate their own demise. Far from the observational style of a William Wyler, Preminger’s camera is the instrument of the filmmaker’s moral judgment. Whenever a character has done wrong, the camera is there – not merely as a witness, but as a judge. Preminger’s camera pronounces moral sentence: on Eric Stanton (Dana Andrews) in the painful long take of him processing the news of Stella’s (Linda Darnell) murder in Fallen Angel, on Cécile (Jean Seberg) in the brutal push-in close-up in which she resigns herself to her prison sentence within the walls of her memory in Bonjour Tristesse, on Seab Cooley (Charles Laughton) in the righteous push-in shot which has the force of a judge’s gavel when he learns that his underhanded political scheming has resulted in a closeted Senator under threat of blackmail committing suicide in Advise & Consent, etcetera. Laura and Whirlpool are not exceptions. In these two sister films, Preminger’s camera is the instrument of his feminist critique of patriarchal subjugation. It is on the level of the mise-en-scène that Preminger works out the complexities of his feminist themes, and in Whirlpool it is by virtue of his inspired camera movements that he signals his feminist attunement. With reference to Luc Moullet’s remark about how “morality is a question of tracking shots” (148), if, as Morgan argues, there is an important connection between camera movement and morality (“Max Ophuls” 129), then Otto Preminger is more than just a feminist filmmaker: He is one of the most profound and committed moralists of the cinema. 


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NOTES Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Directed by Fritz Lang, RKO Pictures, 1956. Britton, Andrew. “Cary Grant: Comedy and Male Desire.” Britton on Film: The Complete Film Criticism of Andrew Britton, edited by Barry Keith Grant. Wayne State University Press, (1994) 2009, pp. 3-23. Chabrol, Claude. “Evolution of the Thriller.” Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s – Neorealism, Hollywood, New Wave, edited by Jim Hillier. Harvard University Press, (1955) 1985, pp. 158-164. Destiny. Directed by Fritz Lang, Decla-Bioscop AG, 1921. Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler. Directed by Fritz Lang, UFA, 1922. Grossman, Julie. Rethinking the Femme Fatale in Film Noir: Ready for Her Close-Up, Palgrave Macmillan, 2009. Gunning, Tom. The Films of Fritz Lang: Allegories of Vision and Modernity, BFI, 2000. Mayersberg, Paul. “Carmen and Bess,” MOVIE Reader, edited by Ian Cameron. November Books, (1962) 1972, pp. 47-49.

Morgan, Daniel. “Where Are We?: Camera Movements and the Problem of Point of View.” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 14, no. 2, 2016, pp. 1-27 Rohmer, Éric. “The Taste for Beauty.” The Taste for Beauty, edited by Jean Narboni, translated by Carol Volk. Cambridge University Press, (1961) 1989, pp. 70-80. Rivette, Jacques. “The Essential.” Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s – Neorealism, Hollywood, New Wave, (1954) 1985, pp. 132-135. Scarlet Street. Directed by Fritz Lang, Universal Pictures, 1945. Schonig, Jordan. “Seeing Aspects of the Moving Camera: On the Twofoldness of the Mobile Frame.” Synoptique, vol. 5, no. 2, 2017, pp. 57-78. ---. “The Chained Camera: On the Ethics and Politics of the Follow-Shot Aesthetic.” New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 16, no. 3, 2018, pp. 264-294. Wood, Robin. “Attitudes in Advise & Consent.” MOVIE Reader, (1962) 1972, pp. 54-56.

WORKS CITED All That Heaven Allows. Directed by Douglas Sirk, Universal Pictures, 1955. Angel Face. Directed by Otto Preminger, RKO Radio Pictures, 1953. Advise & Consent. Directed by Otto Preminger, Columbia Pictures, 1962. Bonjour Tristesse. Directed by Otto Preminger, Columbia Pictures, 1958. Bordwell, David. “Camera Movement and Cinematic Space.” Ciné-Tracts, vol. 1, no. 2, 1977, pp. 19-25. Britton, Andrew. “A New Servitude: Bette Davis, Now, Voyager, and the Radicalism of the Woman’s Film.” Britton on Film, (1992) 2009, pp. 24-63. ---. “Betrayed by Rita Hayworth: Misogyny in The Lady from Shanghai.” Britton on Film, (1993) 2009, pp. 232-242. Bunny Lake is Missing. Directed by Otto Preminger, Columbia Pictures, 1965. The Cardinal. Directed by Otto Preminger, Columbia Pictures, 1963.

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Carmen Jones. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20th Century Fox, 1954. Cavell, Stanley. Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman, University of Chicago Press, 1996. Double Indemnity. Directed by Billy Wilder, Paramount Pictures, 1944. Durgnat, Raymond. Images of the Mind: Cinematic Visions by Raymond Durgnat, directed by Jarmo Valkola, Cinemovies, 1992. Elsaesser, Thomas. “Tales of Sound and Fury: Observations on the Family Melodrama.” Monogram, vol. 4, 1972, pp. 2-15. Fallen Angel. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20th Century Fox, 1945. Forever Amber. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20th Century Fox, 1947. Gaslight. Directed by George Cukor, MGM, 1944. Gates, Phillipa. “The Maritorious Melodrama: Film Noir with a Female Detective.” Journal of Film and Video, vol. 61, no. 3, 2009, pp. 24-39.

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Kiss Me Deadly. Directed by Robert Aldrich, United Artists, 1955. Laura. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20th Century Fox, 1944. The Maltese Falcon. Directed by John Huston, Warner Bros., 1941. The Man with the Golden Arm. Directed by Otto Preminger, United Artists, 1955. Mayersberg, Paul. “From Laura to Angel Face.” MOVIE Reader, (1962) 1972, pp. 44-46. Metropolis. Directed by Fritz Lang, Parufamet, 1927. Morgan, Daniel. “Max Ophuls and the Limits of Virtuosity: On the Aesthetics and Ethics of Camera Movement.” Critical Inquiry, vol. 38, no. 1, 2011, pp. 127-163. ---. “Beyond Destiny and Design: Camera Movement in Fritz Lang’s German Films.” A Companion to Fritz Lang, edited by Joe McElhaney. Wiley-Blackwell, 2015, pp. 259-278. Moullet, Luc. “Sam Fuller: In Marlowe’s Footsteps.” Cahiers du Cinéma: The 1950s – Neorealism, Hollywood, New Wave (1959), pp. 145-155. The Old Maid. Directed by Edmund Goulding, Warner Bros., 1939. Out of the Past. Directed by Jacques Tourneur, RKO Radio Pictures, 1947. Perkins, V.F. “Why Preminger?” MOVIE Reader, (1962) 1972, p. 43.

---. Film as Film: Understanding and Judging Movies, Da Capo Press, (1972) 1993. Porgy and Bess. Directed by Otto Preminger, Columbia Pictures, 1959. Rebecca. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, United Artists, 1940. Rebel Without a Cause. Directed by Nicholas Ray, Warner Bros., 1955. Saint Joan. Directed by Otto Preminger, United Artists, 1957. Since You Went Away. Directed by John Cromwell, United Artists, 1944. Staff. “Whirlpool.” Variety, 1949. https://variety. com/1948/film/reviews/whirlpool-1200416075/. Suspicion. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, RKO Radio Pictures, 1941. Undercurrent. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, MGM, 1946. Where the Sidewalk Ends. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20th Century Fox, 1950. Whirlpool. Directed by Otto Preminger, 20 th Century Fox, 1950. Wood, Robin. “Exodus.” MOVIE Reader, (1962) 1972, pp. 51-52. ---. “Ideology, Genre, Auteur.” Hitchcock’s Films Revisited, Columbia University Press, (1976) 2002.


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender BY KIMBALL MAW JENSEN | Brigham Young University

ABSTRACT Organized by dedicated fans, the group Racebending campaigned to protest the whitewashed casting in M. Night Shyamalan's The Last Airbender (2010) and entrenched themselves in online conversations during the film’s casting calls and up through its release. Racebending propelled discussions of race to the forefront of The Last Airbender movie, and established Asian Americans as the leaders of the protest against Paramount Studios. Racebending's campaign to include Asian or Asian American actors in the film version of Avatar was more than disgruntled fans complaining about a Hollywood adaptation, but Asian Americans using participatory politics to demand recognition in mainstream media. The leadership of Racebending was able to use their Asian American subjectivity to voice their opposition to Hollywood's racism, which inserted a discourse about the significance of Asian representation into the fabric of pre-existing Avatar fandom and fundamentally altered the online conversations around The Last Airbender film.


ollywood’s history is marred with numerous instances of whitewashed roles originally written for characters of colour. The prevalence of this practice is even more pronounced in recent adaptations of anime and animated texts, in which Caucasian actors play characters assumed to be Asian or Asian American. Public conversations about race or Hollywood casting practices in these films have often faded or failed to incite any kind of enduring response, yet whitewashed casting continues to be a central part of the discourse around the 2010 film The Last Airbender today. What caused this film and fandom to be an example of an enduring critique against Hollywood racism? The Last Airbender live-action movie propelled discussions of race to the forefront of Avatar: The Last Airbender television fandom, on which the film is based, and established Asian Americans as the leaders of the protest. While there have been other fans who have transitioned to activism, historically few of them have done so to support racial issues (Klink). The organization of Racebending’s campaign to include Asian American actors in the film version of Avatar was more than disgruntled fans complaining about a Hollywood adaptation. This was an example of Asian Americans using participatory politics to demand admittance, instead of being “located outside the cultural and racial boundaries of the nation” (Lowe 6). The leadership of Racebending

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Fig. 1 | Fan art from

Kimball Maw Jensen

utilized their Asian American subjectivity and their experience as fans to voice opposition to Hollywood’s racism and inserted a discourse about the significance of Asian representation into the fabric of pre-existing Avatar fandom, which fundamentally altered the online conversations around The Last Airbender film. Racebending describes itself as “an international grassroots organization of media consumers who support entertainment equality” ( “About Us”).1 Initially the group campaigned for a change to Paramount’s casting calls that sought white actors, which transformed into a boycott of the film and an online education about Hollywood’s whitewashed casting policies after the studio dismissed their concerns. For the purposes of this investigation, I am focusing on the initial campaign against The Last Airbender film and not subsequent campaigns advocating for more diverse representation in Hollywood undertaken by this group. This campaign included traditional activist strategies, such as letter writing and in-person protesting. However, I am particularly interested in their efforts to mobilize individuals online and the lasting impact the concept of “racebending” has had on the discourse of this fandom and film. My analysis comes from the content they produced, fan content online that supported them, and interviews with three leaders of this organization: Marissa Lee, the co-founder of Racebending; Dariane Nabor, the manager of their YouTube channel; and Mike Le, the spokesperson for Racebending at press events. The debate illustrated here over the film The Last Airbender is part of a larger body of audience and fan studies scholarship that acknowledges viewers as active participants in the meaning making of media texts. Unlike previous models of spectatorship in which viewers are seen as unable to refuse the messages seen on their screens, Horace Newcomb and Paul Hirsch’s model calls the audience “cultural bricoleurs” who are free to disagree, add, or change assigned meaning (506). Founder of fan studies Henry Jenkins discusses fans as interpretive communities, who are in a constant struggle for meaning and authorship over their chosen texts (24-26). In addition, fans are often more than mere consumers, and produce their own content based on the objects of their fandom, such as fan reviews, fan videos, and fan art (Figs. 1 and 2). These fans do not assume that a text is closed and derive their interpretive power through engagement with these works. Fans frequently rearrange these source texts to suit their own preferences or agendas (Jenkins 246-249). Thus, fans have the ability to defy the social order by creating 1

Fig. 2 | Fan art used in part 3 of the "How-to talk about the casting controversy" YouTube video series, 00:56.

textual meaning not condoned by experts and can also employ their fandom to critique social expectations as a form of rebellion (Staiger 113). In the case of Avatar, fans demanded their reading of the protagonists as characters of colour be honoured by Paramount Studios and pushed back against Hollywood’s history of white heroes. The work of the group Racebending is an example of what Henry Jenkins and the scholars at the Youth and Participatory Politics Research Network have named “participatory politics” (Jenkins et al. 11). Participatory politics turn what have been traditionally thought of as acts of entertainment toward larger civic and social goals. While much of contemporary youth culture engages with social media, fan groups as interpretive and producing communities are uniquely placed to transition their actions to serve both creative and political goals. Describing these fans turned activists, Jenkins states, “fandom provided the conceptual resources, the shared identity, and the sense of collective empowerment required for political participation” (50). For participatory politics to occur, a group must act together with specific political or social goals in mind (43-44). As digitally connected youth, the individuals from Racebending used the skills they acquired from their Avatar fandom to circulate their position widely online, engage in dialogue about the casting controversy, produce creative content with their message, mobilize other fans, and investigate the history of discrimination in Hollywood. The animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender aired on Nickelodeon from 2005-2008 and is set in a fantasy

As of 5 October 2020, the site is no longer available.


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender

Fig. 3 | Still image from Racebending video series depicting the language used in the animated show as Chinese characters, 00:53.

As digitally connected youth, the individuals from Racebending used the skills they acquired from their Avatar fandom to circulate their position widely online, engage in dialogue about the casting controversy, produce creative content with their message, mobilize other fans, and investigate the history of discrimination in Hollywood. world heavily influenced by Asian culture, fighting styles, and visual design. In the series, a boy named Aang is the reincarnated “avatar,” who will bring balance to the world through his ability to master the elements of water, earth, fire, and air. These elements represent the four nations in this fantasy world, and each nation is composed of individuals who can bend or control these elements. Of course, the term “racebending” is a play on the bending used in the series. While Aang is the protagonist of the series, he is also a part of an ensemble cast of characters from all four nations who must work together to save their world from destruction. While many individuals were drawn to the series because of its solid writing and wellrounded characters, other fans praised it for its positive representation of Asian cultures (Lee, “Supporters”). Prior to the release of the live-action film, fans were quick to

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note that the press releases revealed all three protagonists as white, light-skinned actors, while the villain of the series was a person of colour. Fans immediately created art, videos, and message boards online to express their dissatisfaction with the choices made by the filmmakers. As shown in Figure 2, fans were quick to juxtapose images from the animated series and promotional material released by the studio. In the videos created by Racebending and its supporters, these fan activists employed the analytical tools they had acquired in fandom and applied them to their protest. In particular, Avatar fans utilized detailed visual analysis to support their belief in casting Asians and Asian Americans in the lead roles of the film. In the YouTube video “The Last Airbender: Isn’t Aang White? (2/4)” posted by the Racebending channel, Dariane Nabor narrates

Kimball Maw Jensen

Fig. 4 | Example of Katara and Sokka used by Chaobunny12, 01:01.

In particular, many fans were upset by the visual and cultural dissonance caused by the Caucasian cast of this brother-sister pair, who have the darkest skin tone of the main characters from the series and live in a community that is drawn to be distinctly North American indigenous. the group’s arguments to support the lead character of Aang as coming from a non-white, Asian background. She emphasizes that cultural context is the best indicator of Aang’s race and uses a still image of Aang’s name and a poster from the animated series to illustrate that all writing depicted in the television show Avatar appears as Chinese characters (Fig. 3). Supporters of Racebending, who were also engaged in making boycott videos prior to the film’s release, followed a similar strategy of dissecting the visual imagery of the animated program and contrasting it with the promotional stills released by Paramount. From the video “Chaobunny’s Guide to Casting Fail,” the YouTube video creator deploys source material from

the animated series to compile a list of characteristics that the main characters should have. For example, in describing the siblings Katara and Sokka, Chaobunny12 lists traits of their cultural design over scenes from the television show: “Inuit Clothing” over still images of their tribe’s clothing, “Style of Martial Arts: Thai Chi” over videos of Katara using her bending, “Inuit Homes,” over still images of the siblings’ village, and “Inuit Weapons and Tools” over a still image and a video of Sokka using spears (Fig. 4). Later in the video, the creator contrasts this with a still image of Katara as released by Paramount with sarcastic commentary about the clear whitewashing of the cast (Fig. 5). The juxtaposition of these two clearly


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender

depicts the animated Katara as a non-European, according to “Chaobunny’s Guide.” In particular, many fans were upset by the visual and cultural dissonance caused by the Caucasian cast of this brother-sister pair, who have the darkest skin tone of the main characters from the series and live in a community that is drawn to be distinctly North American indigenous. The group Racebending and fans like Chaobunny12 point to these distinctive visual images as evidence of the necessity to cast racially appropriate actors and remain faithful to the world created by the animated series. The role of Asian American identity is significant to Racebending’s participatory politics, yet little scholarship has been done with regard to the role of race in fan spaces. Only recently has attention been paid to race, fans, and online media activism. Neta Kligler-Vilenchik found, in her study of Nerdwriter fandom, that discussions of racial issues were sidelined, “often falling back on the much-disputed idea of a ‘post-racial society’ as a way of shutting out rather than opening up discussions about the role race plays in the lives of its participants” (Jenkins et al. 57). As explained by fan scholars Sarah N. Gatson and Robin Anne Reid, questions of identity and social hierarchy also need to be applied to fan communities. They state: The default fanboy has a presumed race, class, and sexuality: white, middle-class, male, heterosexual (with perhaps an overlay or geek or nerd identity, identities that are simultaneously embedded in emphasized whiteness, and increasingly certain kinds of class privilege, often displayed by access to higher education, particularly in scientific and technical fields). We’re being disingenuous if we pretend that these social forces do not exist and do not affect fandom interactions, with different effects in off-line and online fandom spaces. (4.1) Gatson and Reid’s examination of race in fandom has helped to break down the assumption that fans are homogenous and unified communities. They have also described how discussions of race and sexuality in fandom can cause discord within these seemingly unified groups (3.4). However, Gatson and Reid point to the critique of racist stereotypes in fan fiction, fan spaces, and canonical texts as examples of recent scholarship by anti-racist scholars that are opening a space for critical race theory within fan studies (3.1). Nonetheless, reading race into existing textual canons is a different variety of participatory politics than mobilizing a protest against Hollywood representation.

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Fig. 5 | Fan analysis of Katara's whitewashed casting, 01:52.

Much of the discourse of those who supported Racebending linked an investment in Asian representation to their activism against The Last Airbender film. Part of the reason the leadership of Racebending was able to connect their fandom with activism was because of the combination of their fan and Asian American identities. In the instance of Avatar, many individuals saw themselves in the series, not only because they connected with the personalities of its characters or found resonance in the messages of the program, but also due to their ability to perceive characters as racially similar to themselves. In The Mirror of Consumption, Cornel Sandvoss emphasizes the emotional attachment of individuals to their object of fandom, which becomes a means of identity and defining the self. Sandvoss states, The basic premise of my argument, then, is that the object of fandom whether it is a sports team, a television programme, a film or pop star, is intrinsically interwoven with our sense of self, with who we are, would like to be, and think we are … However, the relationship between fans and objects of fandom goes beyond forming a symbolic basis for fan communities and functioning as a signifier of our socio-cultural or subcultural position. (96) Fans can find attachment to popular texts or sports teams for any number of reasons and these objects of fandom become important in the definition of their identity. While fans of Avatar may have become attached to the program and used it to define their identity, much like any other fan community, the ability to racially identify with the characters in the program seems to be a significant factor in the fan attachment of those who claim Asian descent. For example, Li Huan Shandross, a ten-year-old

Kimball Maw Jensen

Fans were not only defending their television preferences, but also defending a way in which their racial identity was an important part of how they defined themselves as fans. fan and transracial adoptee, wrote her own opinion piece for Adoption Today which was reposted to the Racebending LiveJournal as an example of the significance of Asian representation in Avatar. In it, she states how Avatar is important to her because “it shows that Asians can be leaders and heroes as well as white people.” Moreover, Shandross explains that she has had to look to Avatar to learn about Asian cultures, as she does not usually get to learn about these cultures in school. This young fan seems to be very conscious of her difference as a Chinese adoptee in a predominately white American culture and connects the importance of the characters’ Asian qualities to her own identity. In particular, Sandross and other fans frequently praised the animated program for the inclusion of protagonists of Asian descent as heroes, which allowed them to see themselves in the show (Lee, “Supporters”). Fans were not only defending their television preferences, but also defending a way in which their racial identity was an important part of how they defined themselves as fans. While I cannot argue that all Asian Americans seek out Asian American content, the individuals I interviewed all saw their work with Racebending as important to broader issues of Asian American representation. In my interview with Mike Le, he explained, I’ve been aware of whitewashing in media from a young age. It’s something that you just automatically know when growing up as a person of colour in the US, that most media won’t reflect you or your family and community. As indicated by these comments, being able to identify with fictional characters based on race in mainstream entertainment is significant, especially as Asian Americans are still underrepresented in Hollywood film and television. Advocating for representationa l equa lit y in Holly wood media, the feelings that Le articulates mirror scholar Lisa Lowe’s theory of Asian America as occupying a colonized-like position within the United

States. According to Lowe, experiences with discrimination allowed Americans of Asian descent to look more critically at their role as Americans and create an “alternative cultural site” or “a site of cultural forms that propose, enact, and embody subjects and practices not contained by the narrative of American citizenship” (176). Lowe theorizes that Asian Americans are in a position more likely to critique the mainstream and question its power because of their separation from it. This alternative to American subjectivity, called Asian American subjectivity, is uniquely placed to expose grand narratives and move toward a more critical view of nations and subjectivities because of its marginal status. To Lowe, Asian American culture forms a unique subculture within the US, one that is “frequently at odds with the resolution of the citizen to the nation” (6). While Lowe mainly selects examples from literature, her theory of Asian American alternative cultural sites can also be readily applied to other forms of Asian American cultural production, including online video (29-63). The marginalized status of the Americans of Asian descent examined here represents a contemporary example of Lowe’s alternative subjectivities, in which a self-awareness of their difference as Asian Americans has been a contributing factor to the expression of their racial identities through the use of digital media. Marissa Lee’s efforts to include other marginalized groups as a part of Racebending, indicate that she, like scholar Gary Okihiro, believes that Asian Americans should position themselves with other people of colour, due to “parallel and mutual struggles for freedom” (Okihiro 60-61). Yet, when asked why the majority of the campaigns involving whitewashed casting were Asian and Asian American oriented on their website, Lee stated that it was mainly because of the composition of the individuals involved. Lee’s Asian American identity allows her to work from within the Asian American community, and her social network built on The Last Airbender campaign was already in place to mobilize this group over other issues involving Asian American representation. Lee’s preference for choosing campaigns involving Asian American representation seems partially motivated by the resources available to Racebending as a volunteer organization and their previous history already working with Asian American communities. Thus, advocating to include Asian Americans in The Last Airbender and the other campaigns promoted by Racebending are about forcing Hollywood to include Asian Americans as a part of the American body politic.


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender

Through participatory politics, the individuals at Racebending were able to draw links between the information they collected and make the connection between The Last Airbender casting decisions and a larger pattern of whitewashing in Hollywood. Yet this campaign was also the impetus for many of these individuals to educate themselves about the history of Asian and Asian American representation itself. In our interview, Lee said that prior to organizing Racebending, “I knew a little bit about Asian American representation in film before I started the project...mostly that there was not a lot of it.” Prior to Nabor’s involvement in the protest, she also had limited knowledge about the history of Hollywood’s representation of Asian Americans. She stated, “yellowface was completely new to me. For me, personally, this whole movement was a learning process, as I researched and found out more and more about these other movies” (Interview). While these individuals felt the disruption between their own Asian American identities and contemporary representation in Hollywood, they also had very little previous knowledge about Asian American history and representation. Scholar Karin Aguilar-San Juan explains this disconnect between the origins of Asian American identity and Asian Americans today: Neo-conservatism poses a special challenge to progressive Asian Americans because our activist history is so hidden . . . The new generation of Asian Americans—new immigrants, recent college graduates, and youth—is probably equally unaware of our collective history of resistance. Educated during the Reagan/Bush era, many see themselves as marginal to the Asian American struggle. Some are struggling to assert their Asian heritage, often without larger context in which they might see connections to other issues, and other communities. (9) The individuals associated with Racebending are recipients of the legal and social gains made by Asian American activists during the 1960s and 1970s; however, like many other young Asian Americans, they were ignorant of the source of these gains and the history of activism in the Asian American community. Lee and Nabor were both struggling to articulate their Asian American subjectivity, which became accentuated through their involvement as Avatar fans. The combination of their fandom and their awakened Asian American subjectivity allowed them to connect with Asian American history and issues of Asian representation. The research Lee, Nabor, and Le did into Asian representation became a

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Fig. 6 | Fan analysis of Katara's whitewashed casting, 01:30.

key component of their platform. Part of Lee’s education in whitewashing came from the long running blog Angry Asian Man. Lee’s re-posting of Angry Asian Man articles to joined this fan activist group to an existing network of politically oriented digital Asian American content (Lee, Interview). Racebending partnered with the advocacy group Media Action Network for Asian Americans to organize protestors in person at casting calls and seek a face-to-face meeting with Paramount executives (Lee, “Timeline”). Individuals from Racebending also organized a meeting with someone involved in the Miss Saigon yellowface protest in the 1990s, effectively connecting themselves with Asian American activists of the past (Lee, Interview). Through these efforts on behalf of the protest, became a significant resource for individuals interested in issues of Asian American media representation. Furthermore, Nabor’s politicization through Racebending even inspired her to take Asian American studies courses in college. Racebending’s activities as digital activists and desire to be linked with Asian American history position them as adopting the narrative of resistant identity from Asian American studies’ past. However, the idea of connecting Asian American identity with the culture in Avatar: The Last Airbender is complicated by the fact that the universe the program presents is an animated fictional fantasy world created by Caucasian Americans. Because of this, there is much debate among fans about whether or not Avatar can count as “authentic” Asian representation. Rather than debate about authenticity, I propose that we look to another reason Avatar fandom attracts so many fans of Asian descent. For the fans of Asian descent, Avatar allowed them to imagine the possibilities of a better world. Henry Jenkins and Sangita Shresthova argue that many of the

Kimball Maw Jensen

popular texts that have enabled participatory politics do so because the stories or messages in the text themselves serve as a model for fan activists. Popular texts such as Star Wars or Harry Potter that include narratives of good versus evil, or underdogs winning battles, inspire fans to follow these texts. They explain: … “imagine better,” a phrase that takes advantage of two possible interpretations—to do a better job of imagining alternatives to current social conditions, and to imagine a better world and work to achieve it. So-called realist modes often depict problems as overwhelming, conditions as irreversible, thus offering a profoundly disempowering mindset for thinking about politics. Much as earlier civil rights movements discussed their “dreams” or imagined entering the “promised land,” these rhetorical and expressive practices increase efficacy as movement participants sought to work around or get past current inequalities, and in justices. (Jenkins et al. 261) Texts can not only present idealized worlds with which fans can connect, but also provide stories that become the model for activism, which helps bridge the gap between critique and action. In the world of the Avatar television program, a group of young people from different nations are the main protagonists whose mission is to save the world. Avatar sets up a universe in which, after significant struggles, people from different backgrounds are able to become friends. Additionally, part of “imagine better” for fans of Asian descent could be the narrative of various Asian and Pacific Islanderlike ethnicities as part of the identity of complex, wellrounded characters. The popularity of Avatar, to a certain extent, signaled to Asian Americans and other people of colour that it was possible to have mainstream American audiences accept stories without white male heroes. Ultimately it does not matter whether Avatar: The Last Airbender is an authentic representation of Asian cultures. The fact that the debate is so important to the fans in the Racebending community is an indication that these fans perceived non-white Asianness as an important element to their fan experience and the imaginary “better” world that it portrayed. While the fan affinity to this particular text may be for numerous reasons, I theorize that fan activists of Avatar who also identified as Asian American experienced the whitening of the cast as an act of abnegation of the identities of the Asian American fans themselves.

The visibility of Racebending’s protest, especially on YouTube, brought Avatar fandom’s more internal discussions about race into the broad public spaces of the internet. While further study needs to be done, I submit that sharing videos or comments on a site like YouTube has different risks than sharing on a fan site. Comments and feedback on fan sites discussing fan art, fan videos, and analysis of media texts can be negative, but do not seem to be as virulent as on YouTube. On YouTube, discussions of race can be conversational, but for the most part, comments involving race quickly become polarizing and often degenerate into anger. Many of the videos on the Racebending YouTube channel had comment sections full of racist anger against the boycott. Fans who made video boycott pledges may have known the possibilities of being more visible through YouTube but may not have realized the backlash The Last Airbender protest would receive when exposed to a broader audience. Even though many individuals from various racial and ethnic backgrounds worked together against the whitewashed casting in The Last Airbender, the stakes for fans who were of Asian descent were often higher. This included the increased presence of backlash against Racebending’s protest and hateful commenters who targeted people of colour that spoke out against the film, as well as the psychological and emotional trauma associated with these insults and threats. However, I am not stating that all Asian American readers or fans of colour are resistant, while all white audiences are going to align with the dominant culture. To avoid this type of binary thinking applied to popular culture, I refer to Gina Marchetti’s scholarship on Asian and Asian American representation in Hollywood. In Marchetti’s Romance and the Yellow Peril, she explains her own investment in Asian cinema as a product of her position as a feminist film scholar. Marchetti explains: While no one should attempt to speak for, or in the place of another, a critic who refuses to engage with radically different cultures can never hope to establish any significant communication across constructed social barriers. Politically, solidarity across national and cultural boundaries is essential for any kind of concrete social change. Understanding the images used by the dominant media to erect these barriers and create social hierarchies seems like an appropriate place for any feminist scholar to begin work. (x)


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender

Fig. 7 | Sill image from The Last Airbender used in ThinkHero's video review, 07:50.

Marchetti’s understanding of feminist theory allows her to critique Hollywood’s investment in white patriarchal capital and align with those invested in anti-racist theories. As a discerning scholar, Marchetti is able to critique these images rather than reinforce mainstream media’s use of Asian stereotypes. Indeed, many non-Asian American fans of Avatar argued that the whitewashed casting was offensive to them as well. A fan who self-identified as white said, “Asian children only ever see people like them relegated to the sidelines … To have this movie, taking place in an Asian setting, reinforcing the idea that only those who look white are the heroes, is simply cruel” (Lee, “Supporters”). This kind of support acknowledges that racial representation in Hollywood is not only a minority issue, but that inequality is an issue that all individuals can understand. Nevertheless, the greater visibility of social media practices, even when linked to politics, does not necessarily yield participatory politics. While 120,000 views on a Racebending channel video indicate that the information was shared, it does not guarantee that viewers took part in the boycott or even agreed with Racebending’s arguments. The risks associated with more traditional offline protest are higher than those mediated by digital spaces, even though there has been a tendency to conflate all political action as relevant. As media scholar Alexandra Juhasz observed: 00 22

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My students suggest that moving (circling) bytes of media from one platform to another (convergence), raising its exposure and hits, is today’s dominant form of contemporary political participation. Given that politics is merely cynical spin, and thus there is no distinction between media about the world and the world itself, they say, then watching and passing on videos, and sometimes commenting on them, is a form of activism ... As I lectured my students yesterday: there is a war and a depression. Some bodies don’t get health care, and all bodies must vote to be counted in this election. Sure, they may only know these things through parodic YouTube videos, but some bodies also feel these effects. Politics is not just spin, nor is participation. (“YouTube is Not Democratic”) Watching a video with political critique, or even sharing it, does not change material conditions in offline life, nor is watching a video the same as direct political action. Yet Racebending’s efforts to both protest and educate, online and offline, place them as a unique group who have moved beyond “circling bytes” and using fan activism to work toward enacting real social change. However, Racebending is still subject to the problem of offline versus online action, as its

Kimball Maw Jensen

requests for protestors at casting calls offline were not well attended (Lopez 441). While the protest effectively politicized many of its participants, the detractors may say that Racebending’s overall campaign against The Last Airbender was a failure because no casting changes were made. It is also unclear what kind of impact the Racebending group’s boycott had on the film’s box office revenue. Financially, the film was only a moderate success (“2010 Domestic Gross”), with the majority of the film’s profits coming from overseas distribution (“The Last Airbender”). While the film was originally planned to be the first in a series of three, the poor critical reception of the film seems to have halted plans for the sequels. However, when asked if the campaign was successful, all three individuals interviewed pointed to their ability to alter the discourse about the film as evidence of success, even if the casting was not changed. Racebending’s voice was widely circulated through their engagement with professional news outlets, bloggers, and online fans, which seems to have directly affected the reviews relating to the films. According to

whitewashed casting in his video review on its accompanying its accompanying YouTube channel. He examines the fact that the colourblind casting argument applied to this film is deeply flawed. Contrasting the casting of the heroes and the villains, Tzeng explains that every actor cast for the “bad” Fire Nation was chosen to match the darker skin tone of the lead Dev Patel, while only the protagonists of the Water Tribe were cast as Caucasian, with the remaining background actors appearing to be of Asian descent. He concludes, “I don’t understand why for the Fire Nation he has one look, but then he has this mixed look for the Water Tribe” (“Epic Fail”). Furthermore, Tzeng highlights the same scene that many fans also employed in their critique of the whitewashed casting, visually breaking down the disparity of the Water Tribe casting choices. In this scene (Fig. 7), siblings Katara and Sokka stand apart from the other individuals in their community in the centre of the screen. The space between the siblings and the rest of their tribe only emphasizes their visual difference as white, while the rest of their community seems to be cast as Asians and people

Racebending's activities as digital activists and desire to be linked with Asian American history position them as adopting the narrative of resistant identity from Asian American studies’ past., at least 25 print reviews of The Last Airbender film mentioned the whitewashed casting during its initial theatrical release (Lee, “Journalist and Critics”). While Racebending is not specifically mentioned in the majority of these reviews, the awareness of the casting as problematic represents a departure from a standard film review. In Roger Ebert’s review of the film, he even links the failure to cast Asians in the lead roles as a significant factor in the poor quality of the film. Time Magazine’s review of the film goes beyond simply acknowledging whitewashed characters to include Asian Americans’ protest of the film. While reviewer Richard Corliss views both the protest and the film with disdain, the mention of the vast amounts of internet discussions about the topic is a result of the work done by the individuals at Racebending (“The Last Airbender: Worst Movie”). During the research conducted for this project, the vast majority of YouTube video reviews of The Last Airbender also referenced the whitewashed casting. In his review of the film, Dennis Tzeng, founder of the ThinkHero blog, spends significant time discussing the

of colour. Even though ThinkHero and many of these reviews do not mention Racebending by name, the fact that this discussion point about ethnically white actors playing Asian-influenced characters was mentioned in nearly all of these online video reviews is an indicator of Racebending’s success in influencing the discussions of this film. In addition, these discussions have continued to play a significant role for the film and fandom online. Even after the initial release of the film, reviews for The Last Airbender made regular appearances on YouTube over the next several years, with the majority mentioning whitewashed casting. While many groups protesting a particular movie disappear after their film is released, Racebending has continued to advocate against whitewashed casting in Hollywood and promote diversity in entertainment. There are fewer active members than before, but Racebending is continuing to campaign against new films that involve whitewashed casting, including films in the Marvel franchise and Hollywood’s ongoing attempt to create a live action version of the Japanese anime Akira (“Our


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Racebending’s Fight for Equal Representation: Using Fandom and Asian American Identity to Shift the Online Discourse of The Last Airbender

Fig. 8 | Tweet from Racebending advertising 2019 WonderCon event. @racebending ("SUPER ASIAN AMERICA," 22 March 2019).

These Asian American fans saw themselves mirrored in an imaginary world that portrayed Asian-like heroes along with a narrative of young people who successfully saved their world. Campaign”). Nabor and Le have been involved with several diversity panels at both WonderCon and ComiCon. For Lee, her work on The Last Airbender protest was the start of a continuing engagement with the representation of minorities in popular culture. Because there are few other groups like Racebending, further study is needed to understand why so few film and television fandoms organize themselves around issues of race. It may be that the disagreements in the Avatar community about the racial composition of characters in the wake of the film adaptation galvanized those who did want to discuss issues of race to become Racebending. With the visibility of Racebending, the rest of Avatar fandom was forced to take up these topics as well. The composition of the fans themselves and the world from which the fandom drew may also be a contributing factor to why Avatar fandom now discusses issues of race. According to co-founder Marissa Lee, she suspects that the unexpected draw of young adults and not just children to the Avatar series was a component in their desire to tackle issues of race. She explains that

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It drew a secondary fandom of college-aged women. Maybe that’s why we were able to have these conversations, partially because of these demographics. Maybe college is more of a space where you can talk about, learn about, these issues and you’re going through your own identity development (Interview). As Lee suggests, the willingness of the fans themselves to address these issues affected their ability to start this protest. Additionally, because college-aged individuals often have more time and high levels of activity on social media, this may have contributed to the widespread discussions about this topic online. It also may be that the imaginary world of Avatar attracted individuals more likely to be supportive of Asian Americans or ethnically Asian cultures due to its inspiration from anime and East Asian and South Asian philosophies. Moreover, the need to hold discussions of race in Avatar fandom were caused by a crisis resulting from decisions outside of this fan community’s control, which does not affect all fan

Kimball Maw Jensen

communities. Nevertheless, the Avatar fan community has been fundamentally changed by the need to tackle questions of race and representation. Racebending is an example of the transition fans can make to participatory politics. This fan activism was a direct result of leaders who employed their Asian American subjectivity to oppose a racist Hollywood practice. Even though this group failed to change Paramount’s casting decisions, Racebending was able to affect change by shifting the discourse surrounding the film among fans, professional critics, and users of social media. As online media activists, the individuals of Racebending were able to educate themselves and the public about the lengthy history of marginalization for Asian Americans in Hollywood. Because this crisis involved the erasure of Asian raced bodies, the influence of Asian Americans in the Avatar fan community was a substantial part of what initiated and sustained the protest against Paramount. This ardent response to the whitewashed casting suggests that the leadership of Racebending did not see Paramount’s decision as merely disappointing, but as an act of racism. These Asian American fans saw themselves mirrored in an imaginary world that portrayed Asian-like

heroes along with a narrative of young people who successfully saved their world. More than being about Asian American representation, having all ethnically Asian characters in a popular television program signaled that mainstream audiences did not have difficulty identifying with non-white protagonists. Consequently, the casting decisions ruptured this hope that Asian Americans could be seen as social equals in American popular culture and launched the leadership of Racebending from fans to fan activists. Additionally, the resurgence of Avatar: The Last Airbender’s popularity on Netflix during the summer of 2020 (Adalian) and the new attempt at a live-action remake that assures audiences of a “culturally appropriate, non-whitewashed cast” (Bradley) promises that the discourse of race surrounding this popular text will not fade anytime soon. With an increased attention to issues of race and representation in American culture, Racebending can now serve as model for future fan activists and those advocating for equality in Asian American representation. 


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WORKS CITED “2010 Domestic Gross.” ProBoxOffice, data/2010. “About Us.” Racebending. http://www. As of 5 Oct. 2020, Racebending website is unavailable. Adalian, Josef. “Avatar: The Last Airbender is Netflix’s Surprise Summer Hit.” Vulture, 18 June 2020, Aguilar-San Juan, Karin. “Linking the Issues: From Identity to Activism.” The State of Asian America: Activism and Resistance in the 1990s, edited by Karin Aguilar-San Juan. South End Press, 1994, pp. 1-18. Boomchik awa hwa h. “Perspective of a n adoptee on racebending.” Racebending Livejournal. 31 July 2010, http://racebending.livejournal. com/?skip=170#racebending274726. Bradley, Laura. “Netf lix is Making a Live-Action Avatar: The Last Airbender, Promises Not to Mess It Up.” Vanity Fair, 18 Sept. 2018, https:// w w w.v a n it y f a i r. c o m / h o l l y w o o d /2 018 / 0 9/ avatar-the-last-airbender-live-action-remake-netflix. Brainard, Lori A. and Jennifer M. Brinkerhoff. “Lost in Cyberspace: Shedding Light on the Dark Matter of Grassroots Organizations.” Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 3 suppl, 2004, pp. 32S-53S. “Chaobunny’s Guide to Casting Fail.” YouTube, uploaded by Chaobunny12, 28 July 2009, https://www. Corliss, Richard. “The Last Airbender: Worst Movie Epic Ever?” Time, 2 July 2010, http://content.,8599,2000996,00. html#ixzz0sw8h5IXo. Ebert, Roger. “The Last Airbender.”, 30 June 2010, the-last-airbender-2010. “Everything Wrong With The Last Airbender In 4 Minutes Or Less.” YouTube, uploaded by CinemaSins, 12 Feb. 2013, Gaston, Sarah N. and Robin Anne Reid. “Editorial: Race and Ethnicity in Fandom.” “Race and Ethnicity in Fandom,” special issue of Transformative Works and Cultures, vol. 8, no. 1, 2011, twc.2011.0392.

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Ha ll, Stuart. Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation.” Black British Cultural Studies: A Reader, edited by Houston A. Baker Jr., Manthia Diawara, and Ruth H. Lindeborg, U of Chicago P, 1996, pp. 210-222. “Honest Trailers - The Last Airbender.” YouTube, uploaded by Screen Junkies, 4 June 2013, http:// Jenkins, Henry. Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture. Routledge, 1992. Jenkins, Henry, et al. By Any Media Necessary: The New Youth Activism. New York UP, 2016. Juhasz, Alexandra. Learning from YouTube. E-book, MIT Press, 2011, Klink, Flourish. “Verb Noire.” From Participatory Culture to Public Participation, site/participatorydemocracyproject/case-studies/ verb-noire The Last Airbender. Directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Paramount Pictures, 2010. “The Last Airbender.” BoxOfficeMojo, “The Last Airbender ‘EPIC FAIL’ Movie Review.” YouTube, uploaded by ThinkHeroTV, 1 July 2010, “The Last Airbender - Nostalgia Critic.” YouTube, uploaded by League of Super Critics, 4 Sept. 2013, “The Last A irbender Film: Isn’t A ang W hite? (2/4).” YouTube, uploaded by rac ebending, 18 Jan. 2010, https://w w watch?v=ANO8kyWgXKs. “The Last Airbender Film: Paramount and Profit (4/4).” YouTube, uploaded by racebending, 18 Jan. 2010, “The Last Airbender Review Part 1: The Writing.” YouTube, uploaded by Just Write, 5 Aug. 2016, Le, Mike. Email Interview. Received by Kimball Maw Jensen, 27 Dec. 2014. - - -. “Fr u s t r a t i on s o f a n A s i a n A m e r i c a n W hedonite.” R acebend ing, 17 Ju ly 2012 , ht t p://w w w.r a c e b e nd i n g.c om /v4 /f e at u re d / frustrations-asian-american-whedonite/. Lee, Marissa. Interview. Conducted by Kimball Maw Jensen, 13 July 2013.

Kimball Maw Jensen

---. “Journalists and Critics Tackle the Casting Controversy in ‘The Last Airbender.’” Racebending, 12 Aug. 2010, campaigns/airbender/the-last-airbender-timeline/. ---. “Last Airbender - A Timeline of the Protest.” Racebending, campaigns/airbender/the-last-airbender-timeline/. ---. “ Supporters: Why We Oppose the Casting of The Last Airbender.” Racebending, http:// racebending-com-supporters-speak/. ---. “Rebecca Bigler, Developmental Psychologist.” R a c e b e n d i n g , 25 S e p t . 2 0 0 9, h t t p : // w w w. r a c e b e n d i n g . c o m / v 4 /i nt e r v i e w s / rebecca-bigler-developmental-psychologist/. Lopez, Lori Kido. “Fan Activists and the Politics of Race in The Last Airbender.” International Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 15, no. 5, 2012, pp. 431-445. Lowe, Lisa. Immigrant Acts: On Asian American Cultural Politics. Duke UP, 1996. Marchetti, Gina. Romance and the “Yellow Peril”: Race, Sex, and Discursive Strategies in Hollywood Fiction. U of California P, 1993. Nabor, Dariane. Interview. Conducted by Kimball Maw Jensen, 3 Sept. 2013. Newcomb, Horace and Paul M. Hirsch. “Television as a Cultural Forum.” Television: The Cultural View, edited by Horace Newcomb, Oxford UP, 1994, pp. 503-515. Okihiro, Gary. Margins and Mainstreams: Asians in American History and Culture. U of Washington P, 1994. “Our Campaigns.” Racebending, Price, Matthew. “‘Avatar’ Finding Wide Appeal: Fantasy Epic to Have a Place on Many Holiday Wish Lists.” NewsOK, 10 Nov. 2006, article/2969135#ixzz1z8YodC8B. “ @ ECA ASU 2010! – Part One.” YouTube, uploaded by racebending, 15 March 2010, R avenbell. Comment on amredthelector’s post. Racebending LiveJournal, 12 July 2009, Sa mmy, L orra ine. “Cauc a sia n or A ny Ot her Ethnicit y.” R acebending, http://w w w.raceb e n d i n g . c o m / v 4 /c a m p a i g n s /a i r b e n d e r / caucasian-or-any-other-ethnicity/.

Sandvoss, Cornel. Fans: The Mirror of Consumption. Polity, 2005. Shandross, Li Huan. “Asians Can Be Heroes Too!” Adoption Today, July 2010, pp.8-9. Staiger, Janet. Media Reception Studies. New York UP, 2005. “2010 Domestic Gross.” ProBoxOffice, data/2010. Tichi, Cecelia. Electronic Hearth: Creating an American Television Culture. Oxford UP, 1991. “Why The Last Airbender Cast is Caucasian.” YouTube, uploaded by TamzinQ, 18 Aug. 2009, https://www.


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Sleeping, Waking, Walking:

The Lady in the Lake in The Haunting of Bly Manor BY KELLY DOYLE | Kwantlen Polytechnic University


he Haunting of Bly Manor (Flanigan, 2020) is based on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, but episode 8, “The Romance of Certain Old Clothes”, is adapted from his titular story. The original ends with the ghost of one sister vengefully strangling the other for attempting to possess her home, husband, and daughter’s inheritance of fine clothes in a locked trunk. Mike Flanigan’s reimagining powerfully resituates Viola’s (Kate Siegel) fate as the horrific, murderous, and faceless Lady in the Lake as the tragic originary source of violence, trauma, and haunting at Bly Manor, the beginning of the story rather than the end. The episode is striking in terms of cinematography and Gothic effect, narrated in voiceover so the viewer is positioned as listener of a ghost-story. Shadows advance and recede in Bly, a candle or fire often the only source of light. Set in the 17th century and shot almost entirely in black and white with shallow focus that softens and obscures the background, Viola’s story visually oscillates between waking dream and relentless nightmare as she is mired in a purgatory of her own making, her features blurring away with her memories after so many years of


sleeping, waking, and walking from lake to bed to lake in search of her lost daughter. Horror and empathy stir at Viola’s loss of and longing for love; her ruinous inability to let go. We witness her descent from great lady to bedridden invalid, isolated from her family by tuberculosis, then murdered by her covetous sister, who appropriates Viola’s position and husband. Her spirit tied to her trunk of dresses, Viola waits in purgatory for her daughter to claim them, only to find her sister attempting to steal the dresses instead. After strangling Perdita, Viola is thrown with the trunk to the bottom of the estate’s lake, abandoned, alone and heartbroken one final time. As the repressed always returns, Viola sleeps, forgets, returns again and again to her bedroom in search of her daughter, and is crushed anew as her memory returns. The primary aim of the gothic text is the production of affects and emotions that are often negative and extreme1, yet Viola becomes an empathetic figure for the viewer rather than just a monster; a victim in her own right, even as she anchors other unfortunate souls to Bly Manor in her need, rage, and longing. 

See Botting, Fred. “Introduction: Negative Aesthetics.” Gothic, 2nd Ed., Routledge, 2014, p.6.

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Andrew Hageman


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Portraying the Horror of the Everyday: An Interview with Director Jennifer Reeder BY PAUL RISKER | Independent Film Scholar

Fig. 1 | Raven Whitley as Carolyn Harper. Photo courtesy of Christopher Rejans.


he disappearance of teenager Carolyn Harper (Raven Whitley) begins the story of outsiders and cliques, of love and lust, of loneliness and perversions. Jennifer Reeder’s Knives and Skin (2019) has the presence of an original and quirky film whose shades of black humour will likely polarise its audience. As the small-town community in rural Illinois is traumatised by Carolyn's disappearance (Fig. 1), secrets are exposed that threaten relationships. While some bonds are formed, others are broken. Adolescents and adults alike confront their own mistakes. The fallibility of family, and how the desires and dreams of adulthood are shrouded in doubt rather than in the hope of adolescence, is revealed. An overarching sadness and a whisper of pain or longing is expressed through music as the camera follows the teenagers and adults, and catches moments of still, contemplative angst. Or perhaps the high school setting and the broken family dynamics inform the struggle to have and to hold onto that aspirational life that exists only in the imagination. In Reeder’s mind, the comingof-age experience is not an exclusively adolescent one, but

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a repetitive experience of ongoing metaphorical deaths throughout adulthood. Similar to Ted Kotcheff’s Wake in Fright (1971), Knives and Skin functions as a human horror that exists both inside and outside of genre cinema. By tapping into the uncertainty and angst of living, it stretches our comprehension of anxiety in the context of genre. Though her film work consists of what she says is now more than forty short films, Knives and Skin is Reeder’s feature directorial debut. Following the August 2019 UK premiere at FrightFest in London, the filmmaker (Fig. 2) discussed with MSJ the difficulty of changing the culture of how we think about short films. She expressed her belief in young people and also reflected on her desire to express reality, the way we compartmentalise our lives and the “horror of the everyday.” PR: Why filmmaking as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you personally? JR: From the time I was quite young I was a ballet dancer, which is not that dissimilar from the provenance of Maya

Paul Risker

I was heavily influenced by a lot of very experimental work in the beginning and eventually I did see all of these beautiful films by Maya Deren. They were coming out of dance and surreal film history; they allowed me to have a firm base in a very innovative way to tell stories. I’ve never done anything since, so I really hope this filmmaking thing works out because I can’t do anything else [laughs].

Fig. 2 | Director Jennifer Reeder. Photo courtesy of Christopher Rejans.

Deren, a very famous experimental filmmaker. I entered university and thought I could perhaps take an art class I felt that I had artful friends, I was a creative misfit, and I knew I wasn’t going to be a professional dancer for a living, which is a hard life. So I took a sculpture class in my freshman year and I did horribly; I barely passed the class. My professor at that time said, “I know that you’re a dancer and there’s a woman, a visiting faculty person coming to teach a performance art course next semester - perhaps that could be something interesting to you. You’re a dancer, maybe it’s an interesting segue to something else?” So I took that class and we’d do these performances, but more so than that, it was imperative that we would document the performances by videotaping them. And that moment was truly like recovering a phantom limb. It was a performance class, meaning that I was in front of and also behind the camera, and that felt like a beautiful synthesis: being able to use what I knew as a dancer to think about the video, or the film frame in relation to the stage of the proscenium, and this movement through the frame that could be poetic or lyrical. So that was it for me, and the next semester I started taking film classes. But again, it was film classes within an art school context, and so it wasn’t just directing track or lighting track, I could develop my own stories and ideas. For a long time, I was in front of and behind the camera, and I did all my own editing - it was like a little sweatshop. It was a very specific and defining moment by literally picking up a camera and realising that I could invent the full world again, and I could invent my own image, and I could tell whatever story I wanted to tell. I feel that telling those stories in an art school context, there were no rules, for better or worse on some level.

PR: Unlike literature that has the short story, novella and novel, cinema has been unable to embrace the short form commercially, as well as the perception of it as something less than a feature film. In my opinion, this compromises storytelling in film because there are all too often feature films that would be more effective as short films, and this prevents filmmakers from fully expressing themselves, and by consequence cinema. JR: Speaking of short films, I have made something like forty short films, and even more than that. Some of those lived in galleries and museums as installation-based work, and I became exhausted by that because there’s no money in it. Also, there’s not an audience because people go to a museum to look at a painting, they don’t go to see a short film. But then I have made a lot of short narrative films and they have done quite well. They have gone to Sundance, Berlin, The London Film Festival, Rotterdam, and you go on and on. I completely agree, and with your comparison to literature, there’s not only short stories and novellas, but there’s poetry. There’s not so many people making a living doing poetry, but we understand that poetry exists as a very serious form of writing - visually that comparison just doesn’t translate to filmmaking. Overseas in the UK and certainly in Europe there are opportunities - let’s say film festivals devoted to short films, far more than in the U.S. ARTE or ZBF will broadcast or purchase short films, and none of that exists in the United States. There are always these questions I get like, “Why haven’t you made more feature length films?” I feel like there are multiple answers. Feature length films are expensive, they take a long time to make, and I am totally willing to acknowledge that a lot of my ideas should only be a short film, as opposed to lots of other people that have these ideas and make into feature length films. And I am with you, I think: ‘God, that could have been an awesome ten-minute film, but did it have to be a 90-minute film?’ So there’s that, and it’s something that is market or ego driven, especially in the States that if you make a short, it’s only a calling card for a feature length film.


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Portraying the Horror of the Everyday: An Interview with Director Jennifer Reeder

Fig. 3 | Jennifer Reeder (far right) on the set of Knives and Skin. Photo courtesy of Christopher Rejans.

I run into so many people that have been waiting ten years to make a feature length film and they’ve done nothing with it, which is so frustrating. I have way more ideas than I have the time and energy to make. I have an idea and I can then make something inexpensively. I may have done enough right now that I have some nice sponsorship from camera companies, and I can call Canon and say, “I have this idea; I want to shoot the film tomorrow, and it’s only a one-day shoot.” I have a small amount of money to pay people, maybe it’s only a thousand dollars, but I can make a thousand dollars look like it’s a ten-thousand-dollar short film, and then those films have a life at film festivals (Fig. 3). They’ve won prizes and it makes enough money to make another short film. When I set out to make Knives and Skin, what I had under my belt were a bunch of short films that had been vetted through a lot of great film festivals, and I’d experimented with the visual things that are in Knives and Skin, including some of the glowing objects, the singing and the deadpan dialogue, etcetera. The producers basically said, “Make the film that you want to make; we’ll find the money”, and that’s what I did. I couldn’t have done that if I was someone who had made one short film that had done sort of okay. But I

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don’t know how to change that culture of how we think about short films. Right now, maybe because of episodic or limited editions series, then there are filmmakers or storytellers given an opportunity to make these shorter form things. But it still has to be a series, it’s still not a one off let’s say, it’s not a ten-minute film. So I don’t know, but I always encourage people to make lots of short films, make the ideas that you have and figure out through the short form. PR: It’s a commitment to make a film, requiring you to give up a period of your life, that requires everyone to believe in it if the audience are to do so. What was the genesis of the film and what compelled you to believe in this film and decide to tell this story at this particular point in time? JR: The story itself sparked from a visual moment and it was mildly autobiographical. I had this idea of three very misfit girls, let’s say: gothy punky girls walking along a rural chilling road, maybe on their way to school. Part of that comes from living in Chicago. I grew up in Ohio and I drive to see my mother, and those roads are long and flat with just fields and the sky. I love the vastness of this flatness and occasionally you’ll see someone walking

Paul Risker

along the road, and so I had this idea that I want to see these three misfit girls who are living in a small town, and they have to walk to school because socio-economics only allow for one car in the family, and they’re maybe not old enough to drive. The story began to spiral out from there and I don’t write in a linear way when I’m just thinking about it. I start with this thing that’s very visual and I thought: ‘Who are these three girls? How do they know each other? What are their families like? What is about to happen to them that will make the next week of their life extraordinary?’ I believe that in a film or in literature, or in a song, there has to be something that says: “This moment is extraordinary.” And there’s absolutely a scene in Knives and Skin where these three misfit girls are walking down this gravel road, just talking about life and band practice, and this missing girl. So that scene made it into the final cut, but I also get invested in the characters, in their stories, and I worked out some characters in other films. There were some moments of dialogue I actually completely pasted, or stole from myself - some lines of dialogue from characters that were very similar, and I felt I didn’t need to rewrite it because it’s actually a great exchange of dialogue in the short film that not many people saw, who will see this film. Knives and Skin has not ruined any of the films for someone. You can still watch the short films and learn much more about those other characters. They’re very different stories, but for me there feels a very clear trajectory from the very first film I made when I picked up a camera, to what I’m doing right now. But I always start with something that feels visual and not what would happen if a girl went missing. PR: The expectation is that the film will centre around the disappearance of Carolyn Harper, and a traditional narrative would seek to unravel that mystery. It remains the core that the ensemble cast of characters orbit, but Knives and Skin is an exercise in insinuating a main character and narrative, and then making it into something more that. This is truer to life’s uncertain and untidy narrative, and the film will appeal to those that appreciate this mix of honesty with the unexpected. JR: Real life goes on even if something enormous is happening very far away from you, which we’re dealing with on a constant basis. You turn on the news and there has been a bombing, there are these tragedies, and you could sit and contemplate it for a moment, but then you’re: ‘Okay, I’ve got to go to work.’ And honestly, it’s also the case if something is impacting you that’s quite

close to you. It’s not that I find it funny, but maybe just noteworthy or absurd that you could be having a conversation for instance with your spouse, who is saying, “I want a divorce.” And maybe your phone doesn’t stop ringing, and you think it could be another emergency and so you pick it up, but it’s just someone trying to sell you insurance. You have to be like, “Oh it’s not a good time,” and then you hang up, and they [the spouse] tell you that they hate you. We have these ways that we compartmentalise our lives without even thinking about it, and I wanted to portray that somehow in a film that feels like it hovers above reality a little, with the deadpan dialogue and the affect or lack of affect, and certainly in the art direction. Life is constantly disrupting itself and folding in on itself. When you think it has gotten bad it could still get worse, and when you think it’s good it can still get even better. So I also like to portray those moments within each scene, and each has a moment that has a punchline. It’s not always a funny punchline, but there’s something that takes the scene in a different direction than what you expected. I do that on purpose, and I know when I’m doing it. For people who don’t see the humour or the absurdity in it, I’m certain that would be extremely frustrating. But for people who like those moments where a scene takes an unexpected turn, they can go along for the ride. I think this is a film for them, and I love it when that happens in other films. So as a consumer of films and literature, or even something as popular as music, I love it when someone gives you something that is not the expected trajectory. We have learned how to consume certain media, and some people love that, they need to know what’s coming around the corner, but I actually don’t want to know what’s coming around the corner. I like to be surprised, and I think a lot of people are also willing to not know. Even though this film is not genre committed, it’s not a horror film and it’s not a thriller, but that sense of ‘I’m not sure of what’s coming around the corner’ is very much embedded in a genre idea. PR: The anxiety of living is a form of horror in itself because while it can be joyous and fantastic, an adrenaline rush, living one’s life can also be a waking nightmare. In Knives and Skin as you say, the characters are all grappling with uncertainty, and while not a genre film, I’d describe it as a human horror story. JR: Absolutely, and that was not lost on me when I was writing the script. I can pick through every single character and what they’re dealing with, whether it’s Carolyn


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Portraying the Horror of the Everyday: An Interview with Director Jennifer Reeder

Fig. 4 | Ireon Roach as Charlotte Kurtich, 1:06:27. CFP, 2019.

Harper’s mother who’s dealing with, in my estimation, the most horrific kind of reality, of not knowing where your children are, or not knowing where your loved ones are, even. Or the young women in this film who are trying to live their lives, and there are in particular these adult men who feel totally within their rights to indulge in their wants and desires, whether or not that would impede some young woman’s normal human evolution. Or being a mother who is maybe reaching a point in her life where she’s not sure she could or would have another child, and motherhood is a huge part of her identity. Or another adult who is so consumed and afraid of the environment in general, that she has confined herself to a room covered in tinfoil. All of these things are actually real maladies – I made none of these things up. Also, what if you’re a misfit afro punk girl (Fig. 4) who secretly has a crush on the jock, the football captain, which is an unspeakable social faux pas, or vice versa you’re the football captain and you have a crush on the weirdest girl in school? Everything in this film is about those daily moments of, “Oh God, just don’t let this happen today. Don’t let me fall down in public.” We could go on and on, but for me this film was always about the horror of the everyday. I also wanted to make a film where the injured girl, the Carolyn Harper character, has will and agency. Her literal movement through the film is mysterious, and she’s not a ghost exactly, she’s not a zombie, but she has will and

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agency (Fig. 1). There are very few people in the world that get bludgeoned by random psycho killers. There are very many more people whose hearts get broken or fall down in public, or whose children go missing and hopefully come back – it’s random fear. PR: ‘Coming of age’ has been defined as a period in one’s youth, but if the psychological idea that experiences allow us to grow, is it restricted to this one period of our lives? In this film, the adults are examples of how we transform through our experiences, suggesting that the ‘coming of age’ cycle never ends. JR: Yeah, and that was something I set out to do. For the past five or six years I’ve made short films that have been all about that - you have an adult who is having a meltdown, and the child or the younger person comes to the rescue, which is tough because no young person feels prepared to do that. It’s all instinct and we can only hope that young person is resilient, which they mostly are. Blood Below the Skin (2015) is most directly related to Knives and Skin. It’s the storyline where a young woman’s mother is similar to the talking tiger shirt mother in Knives and Skin, where mom can’t disassociate from herself. The film had its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival, and I called the young actress who was in the film. I said, “I’m so excited to show this film to an audience in Berlin,

Paul Risker

Fig. 5 | Misfit girls Charlotte Kurtich (Ireon Roach), Joanna Kitzmiller (Grace Smith), and Laurel Darlington (Kayla Carter), 1:36:07. CFP, 2019.

how are you doing?” She was maybe seventeen at the time, and she was fifteen or sixteen when we shot the film. She said her parents were getting a divorce, but it was even more than that. Her mom was divorcing her stepdad - it was like another dad to her, and her mom couldn’t stop crying. She said, “I think I’m going to move in with my grandmother when I turn eighteen.” It was identical to what I was writing about and I realised that there are a lot of adults who have things happen to them. If you’re an adult, there’s nothing that says you can’t feel as heartbroken and as devastated by a break-up as you did when you were fourteen. So with Knives and Skin, I wanted to make a film where the children or the younger people are the ones who are much more stable than the adults (Fig. 5). Maybe it’s because it’s all still new and they’re honestly just trying to put one foot in front of the other - they’re all living in the present. So for them it’s all potential, and it’s kind of like: ‘Why are you so freaked out about this? Tomorrow’s another day; it’s all potential.’ But when we become adults you understand that it’s not all necessarily potential - it can go downhill from here pretty fast, and for many reasons.

The idea that if you will it, then it will happen is not the case, and I don’t personally depend on religion as a guiding force to reassure me when I’m having a bad day. I just have to say, “Today’s a bad day and tomorrow could be bad too, so lets just go to sleep and try not to dwell on it.” I wanted to try and flip the script because in reality I do trust young people, and I do want us to believe in young people - I want them to have agency. For instance, right now in the US with the upcoming elections, there’s this push to say to young people that to have a voice you have to vote, and it’s definitely the case because so many young people are so deeply unhappy with Trump, as am I, and so many other people over here as well [in the U.K.] I would hope. So I’m just saying to young people in a very meaningful way that we trust you, there’s a lot of you, you have a voice, make that voice known. Working with young people as a filmmaker, the reality of how they are on set is so awesome and inspiring. They have so much energy and love, especially among the women. There’s this misconception that young women who don’t know each other and are put in a room together will scratch each others eyes out, which is not the case – they become an instant swan.


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Portraying the Horror of the Everyday: An Interview with Director Jennifer Reeder

PR: While the female characters show a strength, they wind up in positions in which they are vulnerable. Most of us find ourselves feeling vulnerable, and often in life it’s about how we respond – do we sink or swim? While some feminists may be critical of the empowerment aspects of the film, I’d argue that it’s empowerment with an honesty. And one of the aspects of the film I appreciated was that you lean towards existentialism, where the characters confront meaning and purpose in an uncertain world. JR: Personally, I identify as a feminist, and for me feminism is about human equality. It allows men to be feminine, it allows women to ask for equal wages, it allows queer people and people of colour to say I shouldn’t be ostracised. It’s very inclusive, and in this film, it’s important that we understand that empowerment is not a given. It’s not this constant situation and you can be a very self-confident person and still find yourself in a very compromising situation all of a sudden, and feel conflicted about how to proceed. So for instance, the young woman who has this relationship with the teacher, that’s entirely autobiographical. When I was in high school there was a student teacher who would write me these very elaborate love poems. I was very naïve; I was sixteen at the time and he would be passing back everyone’s homework. It was for British literature, and I thought everyone was getting these handwritten little notes back. At the time I was feeling like an activist, feeling very feminist and of course I was sixteen, and still a child really. But I had no language or ability to say to this person, “What the fuck are you doing? You’re twenty-eight-years-old, and you’re hitting on a sixteenyear-old. What do you think the end game is here?” My mother was not on drugs and I did not sell him her drugs, so that part is very fictional. But it was the case that I had a teacher who was hitting on me and nothing ever happened between the two of us, but it was damaging in the sense that I had to distance myself from him in that class, because I had no language or experience to confront him, which I think is just true. There are a lot of films that portray the experiences of let’s say vulnerable people, and they either have to crush the enemy unapologetically, or it’s not an empowering film, which I just don’t think is true. We are fallible and fragile people, and confidence is a little bit of a facade. Well it’s not a little bit, confidence is this giant facade, and we find ourselves in vulnerable positions all the time. I wanted to make a film that also said that everyone is fallible, and everyone is vulnerable, and we all fuck with each other and life also fucks with us. And that’s also why

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it felt important to have a full ensemble cast: because all of those things couldn’t happen to just one person – it has to feel like we see this arc happening in all of these people. At some point when I was doing a draft of the script, there were actually more characters that I consolidated. I don’t know what I was thinking, there were seven more characters and I thought: ‘I’m never going to be able to shoot this film to track all these people.’ But I like where it is right now with all the people and all the stories that everyone is keeping track of because for each character at the end of the film, there’s hope, and I wanted the film to at the very least have an ending that suggested hope. I’m not saying that it necessarily has a fully happy ending. It’s impossible to have that with that many people or with a dead girl at its core. But at the end you understand what I said maybe earlier, that as humans we are allowed to make mistakes, small ones and often times pretty big ones, and we can survive that. 


The Title Sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining BY JAMES DRISCOLL | Roosevelt University

ABSTRACT In this shot-for-shot analysis of the opening sequence of The Shining (1980), I examine how Kubrick combines sublime imagery, bird’s-eye camerawork, and ominous score to create a prolonged experience of signal anxiety. Drawing on the Kantian notion of the sublime, I argue that Kubrick places the viewer in a naively omnipotent position that recalls the majesty of sublime perception. This places the viewer at a structural distance from the frame, which Kubrick complicates by using the image of the car to invite identification with the frame; the viewer is thus positioned as both observer and sufferer. This subtly places the camera in a state of mediating independence between viewer and frame. When the camera begins to follow the car intently and abruptly flies away, its independence becomes a subordinating lesson: the viewer is reminded that the frame, and by extension the viewer, are helplessly dependent on the camera’s view and thus its choice. The frame’s content becomes associated with malicious contingency, and the viewer experiences the frame as harbouring an impending catastrophe.


ne of the main cultural legacies of The Shining (1980) is its impression of being about something major. Academic criticism tends to interpret the film in sociological or meta-generic terms, and Rodney Ascher’s Room 237 (2012) recently pushed Kubrick’s film closer to the puzzle-movie niche of popular film sensibility. In one sense, this impression of an ultimate meaning is a natural consequence of Kubrick’s tableau form, in which aggressive symmetry and pacing work to paradoxically suggest yet conceal the presence of something total (Elsaesser 197-198). In another sense, it results from the extended use The Shining makes of signal anxiety, or the sudden global feeling that a “danger situation” is on its way (Freud 65). Indeed, as I aim to show, The Shining functions in large part as a formal experiment with this anxiety, a meditation on the familiar “I can’t look! ” dread of horror viewing. Perhaps the interpretive drive the film inspires is a collective defense against this dread, a way of turning it into something intelligible. Kubrick creates signal anxiety during the film’s title sequence by combining sublime imagery, subjective camerawork, and a foreboding score. In the sequence, an overhead camera follows a Volkswagen Beetle as it climbs a mountain highway. The viewer gazes over the landscape and car in a grandiose mode that is complemented by the regality of the electronic score. Through these psychologically sublime elements, the sequence organizes the viewer

and frame into a dualism that is perceptually distant but emotionally close. Signal anxiety arises from within this dualistic relationship when the camera abruptly stops following the car and the score becomes ominous. The unease generated by these jarring shifts in framing and sound starkly demonstrates to the viewer that the camera decides what will be seen in frame. As a result, the frame itself becomes acutely contingent, and the very unfolding of the sequence becomes the abstracted experience of a continuously oncoming danger. Kant’s theory of the sublime is germane to an analysis of this sequence. In its simplest definition, the sublime is a form of perception that is activated by looking at imposing objects or situations (storms, landscapes, large buildings or skylines) from a safe and aesthetic distance. According to Kant, sublime perceptions involve both an intuition of the universe in its absolute totality and a vicarious sense of physical threat relative to the perceived object (86-95, 96-104). Both these forms represent the subject reaching thresholds of cognitive and physical limitation: the intuited totality has no specific object in imagination or understanding, and the indirect threat reflects the human inability to overcome natural magnitude; in a way, the literal distance required for sublime perception is a natural metaphor. These limitations combine into a kind of conceptual affect Kant calls “negative pleasure,” or a feeling of awe that represents the civilized enjoyment of dread (83).


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The Title Sequence in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Fig. 1 | The camera glides over the sublime landscape, 00:19. Warner Bros., 1980.

Fig. 2 |Camera and viewer trace the Volkswagen's path in an establishing shot, 00:51. Warner Bros., 1980.

Kant presents the sublime as a moment of high self-possession through which the subject aligns with reason and elevates to a more anonymous and transcendental position (93). Although the totality of the universe is not a real object but rather a “formless” intuition of connection, its appearance as a quasi-object in subject-object thinking shows reason striving to understand the world both through and beyond conceptual mentation (Kant 82, 93). When this aspirational mental activity is added to the aesthetic immediacy of sublime perception, the subject achieves a quasi-fusion with the world,in which visual perception seems to bridge an ideal gap by experiencing the subject-object division as a pure mode of experience itself. The Shining opens with a nearly academic rendition of Kant’s sublime (Fig. 1). The image and score

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appear with intense simultaneity, arresting and fixating the viewer’s attention. The image, with its arid colour scheme and perspective depth, connotes not only a nature scene but also Nature itself, Nature as the object-pole of sublime perception to which camera and viewer are the transcendental complement. The viewer assumes the camera’s forward movement, which immerses the viewer into the sublime scene and amplifies the quietly thrilling aspect of Kant’s negative pleasure. Wendy Carlos’ and Rachel Elkind’s Dies Irae, which renders the hymn a sparse cadence of electronic brass (based on Berlioz’s interpretation), completes the effect, suggesting the dignified proximity to totality Kant makes central to his theory. In the next shot (Fig. 2), the viewer occupies this transcendental position with palpable independence from the camera. A dissolve from the first shot places the viewer high above the car as it winds through a forest. Here the sublime psychology of the previous shot is reversed: the car is now the arresting object, and the sublime feeling of natural, cosmic grandeur becomes an intuition of human reality in its totality, an intuition that forms the basis of every film narrative. Thus an early identification with the frame, activated by the appearance of a human situation already in progress, is paired with the transcendental distance of the overhead view. At the same time, the camera tracks left and right, tailing the car with the delayed speed of a news helicopter. This encourages the viewer to idly compare the car’s implied path with the camera’s view of it, which leads the camera’s vantage to itself become an object for the viewer. The viewer is thus both above and within the frame, separated from it via the camera’s mediating view but irrevocably connected with it through narrative interest. In the next two shots, Kubrick creates the signal anxiety that affectively grounds this particular viewer-frame relation. He accomplishes this by emphasizing, through seemingly arbitrary camera movement, the dependence of the viewer on the camera’s gaze. From the third shot on, the camera uses the independence it acquires in the second shot to remind the viewer that because the frame can only show what the camera sees, the camera therefore decides what the viewer sees. This introduces a tension of timing and omniscience in which the contents of the frame become contingent on the camera’s unclear motivation. In this sense, the camera’s position and function formalize the idea advanced by Christian Metz and JeanLouis Baudry that the camera’s omniscience is central to its cultural function, that viewers unconsciously

James Driscoll

understand the camera as a macro-subject who sees everything “just before” they do (Metz 49-50; Baudry 45). In the third shot (Fig. 3) the camera is much closer to the car, which is itself more starkly dwarfed by the mountains. As the camera moves even lower, imperceptibly settling behind the car, the viewer feels a touch of paranoia: the camera is interested in the car, and in a way that suggests sentience, an external and perhaps threatening presence. Meanwhile, guttural synthesizer and ambiguous percussion are audible between the brass, intimating something hidden but present. The viewer starts to feel excluded from the camera’s vantage, activating nascent feelings of signal anxiety. In the fourth shot, the camera fully establishes its subjective presence. It begins like the first shot (Fig. 1), with the camera already moving and the viewer assuming the movement. But whereas in the first shot the camera was pure movement without a specific object, here it moves towards a real object of interest, the car, from a tilted angle that suggests the peak and release of bound psychic energy. As it nears the car, the camera straightens into a forward-facing position. The titles begin ascending in sky blue Helvetica, all-uppercase, and the viewer braces for the camera to make some kind of contact with the car. The camera moves towards the car in a sudden burst of speed, hanging behind it for another moment before passing on its left (Fig. 4). The viewer feels an urge to look over at the Beetle, as though in traffic, and the camera flies over the road, over and into the landscape, slowing to a delicate glide (Fig. 5). The score now drastically changes. The brass bottoms out into a rumbling synthesizer note, which creates an evenly mounting and nearly psychedelic tension. Wailing, ghostly voices manifest, signaling the emergence of an unseen threat. This threat is the camera’s newly won omniscience, a hidden kind of object to which the voices refer with their quasi-syntactical cries. The Dies Irae, “day of wrath,” describes the Last Judgment, the moment when all souls are called before God. It thus heralds the appearance of God’s omniscient point of view, the unseen view that knows all iterations of past, present, and future. In this omniscience, physical threat is paired with the camera’s capacity for choice. By abandoning the car right at the moment of potential contact, the camera refrains from doing something with its vision; the camera’s ability to decide what it sees and shows is thus associated diametrically with mercy and demise. There is a suggestion that as an active agent the omniscient presence could derail the car but chooses not to, almost on a whim. In this sense,

Fig. 3 | The camera draws closer to the car, which is dwarfed by the mountains, 01:09. Warner Bros., 1980.

Fig. 4 | The camera moves towards the car as an object of interest, 01:29. Warner Bros., 1980.

Fig. 5 | The camera's movement and framing suggest God-like omniscience, 01:38. Warner Bros., 1980.


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Fig. 6 | The title of the film disappears into the sublime void, 01:42. Warner Bros., 1980.

Fig. 7 | Viewer attention is re-directed to the mountains and anxiety is temporarily relieved, 02:19.

Fig. 8 | Naturalistic camera movements feel flippant and taunting, 02:41. Warner Bros., 1980.

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the camera’s ease as it peters out over the landscape (Fig. 5), paired with the appearance of the film’s title, is a malicious display of God-like mastery, much like the tilt of the camera’s “head” as it waits for the car to emerge from a tunnel during the fifth shot. The changes in framing and score activate signal anxiety in the mise-en-scène by equating the film’s duration with an approaching “danger situation” (Freud 65). Indeed, as the fourth shot cuts to the fifth, the viewer senses that a judgement has passed and a bad fate awaits. The viewer’s early omnipotence was a trap: half-identified with the human situation on the ground, the viewer remains captive, unable to warn the world below, a frozen perceiver helpless against the camera’s ironic relay. This feeling of inevitable doom is formalized by the relentless quality of the ascending titles, which impose themselves on the viewer with a mendaciously stolid rhythm. The viewer clings desperately to THE SHINING title as it survives the cut from the fourth to fifth shot, only to be swallowed by the road (Fig. 6). The symbolic emblem of a film, the title as introductory device, disappears into the void from which the voices came. The image of a car driving down the road changes the irreversibility of filmic time into an agonizing deferral. This anxiety against visual contingency is central to sublime perception; indeed, it could be said that signal anxiety and sublime perception partake of the same mental lineage. Kant notes that the threatening qualities of sublime perception originate in real self-preservative anxiety, a point that resonates with Horkheimer and Adorno’s theory that surface reality, the surface of positive and irreversible appearances, is itself a defense against nature (Kant 99-104; Horkheimer and Adorno 3-42). The distance required for sublime perception recalls a primordial mental framing through which humanity ostensibly contains forces of natural contingency. The sublime reminds perceivers that the normal field of reality is built on a collectively repressed fear of catastrophe: the fixed attention and negative pleasure derive from primordial experiences of reality in which visual perception coincided with outsized danger. The intuition of totality, that “formless” mental object without imaginary or intellectual content, is actually a formless mental impression of nature’s domineering presence. The title sequence concludes by lowering the viewer’s anxiety and confronting them with just such a formless object. In the sixth shot (Fig. 7), the camera pushes the viewer’s attention back to the mountains. The brass resumes but is accompanied by electronic harpsicord, which provides a relieving sense that the anxious moment

James Driscoll

The viewer’s omnipotent position is a trap: half-identified with the human situation on the ground, the viewer remains captive, unable to warn the world below, a frozen perceiver helpless against the camera’s ironic relay. Fig. 9 | The Overlook Hotel as Kant's formless object, 02:47. Warner Bros., 1980.

Fig. 10 | The Overlook as central to the frame, 02:57. Warner Bros., 1980.

of dread has passed. This is of course a false comfort: the voices still screech on the score, and the seventh shot, a snowy overview of the car (Fig. 8), feels like a taunt, its naturalistic camera movements flippant. In the eighth and final shot (Fig. 9), the viewer confronts the mountain and Overlook hotel as the kind of formless object Kant had in mind, clear in outline but overloaded in content, an object made of recognizable things but too full to quickly grasp. As the camera strafes right, the viewer’s eye slopes down and more clearly perceives the Overlook (Fig. 10). Thematically, the eighth shot associates the Overlook with totality: like the mountain, the hotel is part of and channels a larger realm. But in the viewer’s experience, as a conclusion to the sequence, the formless mountain/ Overlook functions primarily as a deflating reveal. The dreaded object, which of course is Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) (Fig. 11), is still out there. As a last soul cries out and the Overlook dominates the frame (Fig. 10), the anxiety dissipates and the viewer is left alone in useless half-omnipotence. THE INTERVIEW title appears; the anxiety reloads. 

Fig. 11 | The dreaded object to come, 42:34. Warner Bros., 1980.


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WORKS CITED Ascher, Rodney, dir. Room 237. IFC Films, 2012. Baudry, Jean-Louis. “Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus.” Translated by Alan Williams, Film Quarterly, vol. 28, no. 2, 1975, pp. 39-47. Elsaesser, Thomas. “Screen Violence: Emotional Structure and Ideological Function in ‘A Clockwork Orange.’” Approaches to Popular Culture. Edited by Christopher Bigsby, Hodder & Stoughton, 1976, pp. 171-200. Freud, Sigmund. The Problem of Anxiety. Translated by Henry Alden Bunker, Norton, 1936. Horkheimer, Max, and Theodor W. Adorno. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Translated by John Cumming, Continuum, 1998. Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgement. Translated by J.H. Bernard, New York, Hafner, 1951. Kubrick, Stanley, dir. The Shining. Warner Bros., 1980. Metz, Christian. The Imaginary Signifier: Psychoanalysis and the Cinema. Translated by Celia Britton, Annwyl Williams, Ben Brewster, and Alfred Guzzeti, Indiana University Press, 1984.

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Enter the Neighbour:

An Inland Empire Mise-en-scène Metonymy BY ANDREW HAGEMAN | Luther College

ABSTRACT Inspired by teaching films that challenge narrative conventions and comprehension, this featurette demonstrates the power of sustained mise-en-scène analysis as a tool for interpreting challenging texts like Inland Empire. The featurette brings granular attention to various formal elements at work in a vital scene early in the film when a neighbour arrives for an unannounced visit that unsettles the protagonist with a message that feels as urgent as it is cryptic. David Lynch uses camera angles and proximity to frame and shape spaces, faces, and objects in ways that align with the film's motifs and meanings. In this sequence, a mesh comes into view of wealth, light, passageways, hospitality, and marriage. Though the mesh retains gaps, it holds together as a unit that also works as a metonymy for connecting, though not containing, the disparate pieces of the film.


he 2006 film Inland Empire is widely considered David Lynch’s most enigmatic feature to date. The film is brilliant and baffling, entrancing and evasive, and it effectively resists totalizing gestures of interpretive containment. For those unfamiliar with Inland Empire, the film features Laura Dern playing Nikki Grace, an actress who takes on the role of Susan Blue in a film called On High in Blue Tomorrows. Nikki’s and Susan’s subjectivities blend and blur, so it’s difficult for her, them, and us to tell who the person embodied by Laura Dern on screen is. What’s more, this narrative line on acting is juxtaposed with A Lost Girl in Poland, a surreal sitcom that stars human-size anthropomorphized rabbits, interrogations, hypnosis, and one of the weirdest backyard barbecue scenes in cinema. While it appears impossible to map the interconnectedness of these disparate pieces of the film, a close mise-en-scène investigation of a vital sequence is a powerful way to ground interpretive work that may reach across the narrative as a whole. One of the most vital sequences in Inland Empire unfolds early in the film when a self-proclaimed “new neighbour” (Grace Zabriskie) drops by Nikki’s house to “say hello.” This is the first appearance on screen of the protagonist, Nikki, in one of her oft-shifting subjectivities. As the narrative proceeds, Nikki’s subjectivity grows increasingly permeable and promethean to a degree immeasurably beyond the Betty/Diane/Camilla/Rita identity flux in Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). This

sequence centres around a parable the new neighbour abruptly shares with Nikki. Actually, the parable is more than one—but not quite two—since the neighbour tells the story and then retells it “with a variation.” By including a parable, the sequence conjures a story meant to produce meaning through the work of interpretation, and the variation further complicates the interpretative work. The parable itself emphasizes places, particularly thresholds. As this film contains many spatial transitions, the sequence promises to be a key metonymy, and this essay investigates its mise-en-scène in four distinct parts. INTO THE FOYER After the camera follows the as-yet-unidentified new neighbour’s approach to the door of Nikki’s expansive palazzo, the doorbell rings and there’s a cut to the interior foyer (Fig. 1). Notably weird is the distortion of this space that an extremely wide-angle shot creates. Seen from Nikki’s position at the far end of foyer, this elongated area is lavishly decorated in a style that signals an antiquated European bourgeois taste. Turkish style rugs, wooden furniture, and paintings on the wall adorn the scene, while the compressed framing generates a cacophony of patterns and atmosphere of claustrophobia despite the preceding exterior shots establishing this house as massive.


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Fig. 1 | The luxury and distance of Nikki’s foyer as the neighbour arrives, 09:54. Absurda, 2006.

Fig. 2 | Invited in hospitably, the neighbour positions herself between Nikki and Henry, the butler, and the doorway, contracting space and dilating intimacy, 10:30. Absurda, 2006.

In the case of Inland Empire (2006), widely considered Lynch’s most enigmatic feature, close mise-en-scène investigation can provide an anchoring node that enables interpretive work to reach across the narrative as a whole. As a further index of Nikki’s wealth, her butler, Henry, is positioned at the far end of the shot where he answers the door. He inhabits the scene as an additional safeguard to the space between the wealthy homeowners inside and the world and people outside. Henry physically keeps the visitor outside of the home’s threshold until Nikki signals her approval to invite this mysterious person inside. As soon as the new neighbour has crossed into the house, the shot is reframed. While

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Lynch continues to deploy the space-distorting wide angle, Nikki moves toward the door and becomes visible in the same shot as Henry and the unexpected guest. The sense of a safely distanced remove collapses. Enhancing this spatial and tonal shift is the neighbour’s movement and dialogue. She says, in that spooky way that Grace Zabriskie commands, here with a Slavic accent, “I don’t mean to intrude. I’m your new neighbour. I [pauses for a long beat] hope this isn’t inconvenient for you.” At the same time, this visiting neighbour steps further into the house and stops when she occupies a position between Nikki and Henry, the three of them forming a diagonal line (Fig. 2). The scene syncs the dialogue of intrusion and hospitality with the person formally welcomed in cutting off access to both the servant and the door as potential way out. Connected with the neighbour asserting an intimate proximity that broaches Nikki’s wealth-enabled private space, the margins of the shot are oddly framed. On the far left and right are unconventionally partial views into adjacent rooms, somewhere between slivers of distinct light that could frame the shot and glimpses of complete furniture or decor that could allow a sense of plenitude. Instead, both rooms include windows, and the daytime sunlight streaming through is intense, overexposed. The partially visible rooms appear as potential paths to avoid this neighbour, and the windows are portals of egress, but ones typically associated with looking rather than passing through. All of these mise-en-scène elements initiate the neighbour’s visit as a sequence of wealth, remove, hospitality, intimacy, danger, and a proliferation of egress and ingress points. SENDING OUT AN S-R-S The potential danger that comes bundled with acts of hospitality, such as inviting a stranger into one’s home, formally suffuses the mise-en-scène of the shotreverse-shot (s-r-s) exchange that follows the neighbour’s entry. Lynch has previously demonstrated his acumen for building nuanced terror through formally unsettling s-r-s exchanges, such as the in the “Breakfast at Winkie’s” scene in Mulholland Drive. The s-r-s element of this Inland Empire neighbour sequence is every bit as ominous. The shots of Nikki throughout the exchange are consistent (Fig. 3). Her face is framed near the centre of the shot. To her right and just above her face is the lower opening of a lampshade; it presents an ellipsis of overbright illumination at the periphery with a design on the lamppost resembling candle wax melting downward. To

Andrew Hageman

her left is the corner of an oil painting, the texture and cracks in the paint visibly in focus, as well as a green glass bauble like a plant bud ready to blossom upward. Nikki resides between electric light and a duo of original art and mass-produced manufacture. As such, Nikki is in the middle of a world where art and kitsch coexist on one side, while on the other side is a lamp, which

Enhancing these proximity shifts are subtle shifts in camera angle. As a result, the neighbour’s forehead looks exaggeratedly large so that Grace Zabriskie’s already dramatic eyebrow movements become supercharged (Fig. 4). The impact of these framing elements is escalated by the fact that the neighbour’s face is shot out of focus. She is close enough to feel dangerous, but despite,

This supposed neighbour is close enough to feel dangerous, but despite, or perhaps because of, this spatial intimacy, who she is and what she’s trying to communicate are blurred. Lynch famously loves and builds, powered by electricity, which he repeatedly codes as a conduit for bad things. It’s a dynamic world. Yet, Nikki’s face is shot in clear focus and with a camera proximity and angle that capture her naturally, realistically. She is, for now at least, at ease in this place and life. In the alternate shots that feature the neighbour, the framing is inconsistent. Her face dominates each shot, claiming a range of screen space from half to nearly two-thirds. When the intensity of her dialogue amplifies, the neighbour fills more of the screen via closer camera proximity and the unsettling intimacy it signifies.

or perhaps because of, this spatial intimacy, who she is and what she’s trying to communicate are blurred. Furthermore, as this part of the sequence progresses, the framing and proximity changes make the neighbour’s head physically blot out the one window in the room. This leaves the stairway as the only visible egress from the room. As a composite, the mise-en-scène underscores Nikki’s increasingly urgent desire to comprehend just what she has so casually invited into her home. The parable the neighbour shares is itself a powerful conjuring of mise-en-scène as well. She begins with the following version: “A little boy went out to play. When he

Fig. 3 | Nikki is centred between lamp, painting, and glass, her face in focus, 12:56. Absurda, 2006.


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Fig. 4 | The neighbour’s face is blurred and distorted through proximity, 17:48. Absurda, 2006.

opened his door, he saw the world. As he passed through the doorway, he caused a reflection. Evil was born. Evil was born, and followed the boy.” Nikki, perplexed, asks what this is, and then the neighbour adds, “An old tale, and a variation. A little girl went out to play. Lost in the marketplace, as if half-born. Then, not through the marketplace, you see that, don’t you, but through the alley behind the marketplace. This is the way to the palace.” Martha P. Nochimson has pointed out in David Lynch Swerves that the discourse of the palace references Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and she reads the sequence and film as a whole by connecting Lynch’s deep engagement with Transcendental Meditation to the aesthetics of uncertainty and paradox (134). For this sequence analysis, though, the focus is on the inclusion of a threshold, an alley to bypass, a shadow, a way. The parable’s spatial portrait maps onto the very elements strangely at play in the room where the neighbour and Nikki sit. The boy may be the husband, and the girl may be Nikki. As to “lost” though, is Nikki disoriented, isolated from goodness, or both? This sequence—and its metonymic resonance across the film—is a process of working out how to answer that question through the egresses that proliferate but which Nikki perceives as prohibited to her. This parable, which is more than one but not quite two, is a letter from the dark—from the unconscious and, therefore, from no one—yet, it contains the

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power to bring its receivers into the light, to borrow what Lynch has said is one of his favorite images to commit to film (Catching 129). TIME TRAVEL IN THE LIVING ROOM The transition to the next part of this sequence comes through a conflation of perspectives. The neighbour’s contribution to their conversation reaches a peak of intensity when she loudly and abruptly proclaims, “Brutal Fucking Murder.” She then dials it down and speaks of temporalities. The neighbour says, “Me, I can’t seem to remember if it’s today, two days from now, or yesterday. I suppose if it was 9:45, I’d think it was after midnight. For instance, if today was tomorrow, you wouldn’t even remember that you owed on an unpaid bill . . . . If it was tomorrow, you would be sitting, over there.” Just then, the film cuts to an unsteadily floating shot of the neighbour’s hand, index finger indicating a direction (Fig. 5). The point of view is the neighbour’s subjective one. But in the shot that follows, Nikki’s face is for the first time distorted through camera angle, proximity, and focus. In addition to these formal alignments with the neighbour’s face, when Nikki is shown turning to look where the finger points, she’s framed from her other side, as the camera is no longer switching back and forth from a place between Nikki and the neighbour. She’s shot from the

Andrew Hageman

Fig. 5 | The indicating finger conjures a weird conflation of subjectivities, 18:05. Absurda, 2006.

same side as the neighbour has been. Through these miseen-scène elements, one experiences a paradoxical toggling, as if both women are focalizing through the same eyes, sharing a subject position and point of view. These formal moves complicate Nikki’s multiple subjectivities across the film as the neighbour here oozes between being a separate person and a part of Nikki’s self speaking to itself. This turn in the sequence points at the unconscious.

cannot be, because where Nikki and the neighbour are looking, Nikki is sitting snugly between two friends on a sofa. Is this a vision or premonition? A subsequent shot reinforces the question, since the Nikki on the sofa looks across the room when hailed by her butler with a phone call from her agent, and the two chairs she and the neighbour occupy are now empty. This Nikki on the sofa seems blissfully unaware of the neighbour’s unsettling visit and

But the visit, like the sequence within the film, is unforgettable, so it continues to speak even if it elides standard subjective perceptions of temporality and causality. I’m reminded of Mark Fisher’s remark about Mulholland Drive in The Weird and The Eerie, that with the unconscious there is dreaming but no dreamer (58). In this instance, Fisher’s claim nudges our attention towards the neighbour as one among many of Nikki’s subjectivities rather than as a letter addressed from one monadic subject to another. The next shot looks where the finger had pointed, to the far end of the living room. The lighting, which in this room is chiefly natural via the windows, is precisely the same, as if it is the same time on the same day. Only, that

cautionary nearly-double parable. She thrills to the news on the phone that she’s been offered a coveted role. But, to answer the question in the negative presumes a stable, monadic subject. In a vital way, some aspect of Nikki is also watching as the telephone call creates a crossroads where she will either enter the marketplace or the alley behind it. Her exuberant reaction to the call implies the neighbour’s visit may have been too early or too late. But the visit, like the sequence within the film, is unforgettable, so it continues to speak even if it elides conventional subjective perceptions of temporality and causality. MISE- EN - SCÈNE

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the alley remains an alternative to the marketplace, albeit a narrow and temporary way. The sequence ends with a cut to an exterior view of the Hollywood sign. Yes, the iconic sign implies that Nikki is now lost in the marketplace. Yet, I agree with Alanna Thain that there is something else besides a condemnation of Hollywood as an evil marketplace at work (92). The neighbour’s visit sequence has, after all, established the persistence of egress points if one can imagine and seek them out. Fig. 6 | The husband’s hand projects his overconfident sense of control, 19:15. Absurda, 2006.

Inland Empire builds our capacity to engage fully and ethically because living is uncertainty. A TILTED EGRESS The sequence closes on an ominous note with Nikki having walked, big smile on her face, into the trap of the marketplace. The final shots show her husband approaching the top of the stairway to a position where he can see Nikki and her friends without being seen. Across Lynch’s works, stairways are powerful passageways, diagonal corridors that lead up and down but at angles and with each step requiring intentional ascent or descent. Indeed, the ceiling fan connected with BOB in Twin Peaks resides atop the stairway of the Palmer house, and in The Return, Mr. C and Agent Cooper must ascend a stairway to meet with Phillip Jefferies in his metallic non-human form. In this shot of Inland Empire, the last remaining egress from the sitting room appears closed off by the spectral menace of the husband. From the neighbour’s visit, it’s implied that he used his influence to ensure Nikki got the role, so his gaze suggests he’s observing the first result in what is ultimately his sadomasochistic test of her commitment to their marital bond. One subtle piece of the mise-en-scène manages, however, paradoxically to maintain an opening within the overwhelming sense of closure. As the husband observes Nikki’s joy, he places a hand on a newel, a key support post of the stairway (Fig. 6). The emphasized hand gesture rhymes with the weird framing of the neighbour’s pointing hand. In this latter case, the husband’s hands grip the post with deliberate and furious control. Yet, the stairway is porous, comprised of many holes between posts on the bannister side. The corridor still includes a way out, and

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METONYMY IN THE MESH The neighbour’s visit is a productive node in the network of Inland Empire. It connects with the many living rooms that span the film, from the set of the Rabbits television show and the shots on set when Nikki and Susan bubble into each other, including the unforgettable “Locomotion” dance sequence, to the finale musical dance sequence of liberation that reclaims and reinvents the domestic hearth place. The visit connects with the ethical moments of hospitality, from the interviews with the hypnotized victim to the spontaneous picnic with the circus personnel. And it connects with Nikki’s visions (whether literal or figurative, past or present or future) of the alleyway and the door marked “AXXONN.” By paying close attention to the mise-enscène of the neighbour’s visit, one identifies objects and ideas to analyze discretely across the film, ultimately assembling them into an interpretive mesh. Yes, there will still be gaps. But didn’t the neighbour’s visit instruct us that the gaps are the way to the palace? Inland Empire builds our capacity to engage fully and ethically because living is uncertainty. 

Andrew Hageman

WORKS CITED Fisher, Mark. The Weird and The Eerie. Repeater Books, 2017. Lynch, David. Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity. Jeremy P. Tarcher/ Penguin, 2006. ---. Inland Empire. Absurda, 2006. ---. Mulholland Drive. Les Films Alain Sarde, 2001. ---. Twin Peaks. Lynch/Frost Productions, 1990-1991. ---. Twin Peaks: The Return. Rancho Rosa Partnership, 2017. Nochimson, Martha P. David Lynch Swerves: Uncertainty from Lost Highway to Inland Empire. U of Texas P, 2013. Thain, Alanna. “Rabbit Ears: Locomotion in Lynch’s Inland Empire.” David Lynch in Theory. Edited by Francois-Xavier Gleyzon. Literraria Pragensia Books, 2010, pp. 86-100.


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The Materiality of Film in Sally Potter’s Thriller BY YOUNGBIN SONG | Columbia College Chicago

ABSTRACT While there has been extensive research on the feminist import of Thriller (1979), I want to focus on Sally Potter’s choice of material for the film – damaged 16mm film stock that she scavenged outside Soho production houses in London. Regardless of the reasons behind this decision – economic limitation comes to mind – what role does it play in the film? I suggest that the materiality of damaged film stock undercuts the assumption that we know what we are seeing on screen by directly interfering with the quality of the image. Through this innovative use of film, Potter introduces a different way of looking as a feminist intervention: one of speculation instead of mastery over cinematic images, and the women in them.


hen a British television interviewer asks her opinion on the assessment by “some critics” that she is “too overtly political and not using enough personal, emotional filmmaking,” Sally Potter avers: I don’t think you can separate personal and emotional from political. I think politics is everywhere, it’s just that some politics have become the norm, have become the standard way of looking. I think as soon as you tilt things slightly or come at things from a different point of view, or edge, you’re suddenly called political. But really, politics is omnipresent. I think if anything, I'm not political enough. (Potter)

Indeed, since the beginning of her decade-spanning filmmaking career, Potter has consistently made work that attests her commitment to politics, particularly in the ways her films “tilt things” through formal and narrative experimentation. One of Potter’s earlier experimental works, Thriller (1979), is celebrated among feminist film theorists as a subversion of the victim role women play in film. Distributed by Women Make Movies, a feminist media arts organization that draws its roots from the Women’s Liberation Movement, the 34-minute film is a retelling of Puccini’s oft performed opera, La Bohème, about an ill-fated romance between a poet named Rodolfo and a poor seamstress named Mimì who dies of consumption. In contrast to Mimì’s passive, victimized

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characterization in the original text, Thriller grants her the subject-position and agency to investigate her own death; she asks, “who killed me?” While there has been extensive research on the feminist import of Thriller, I want to focus on Potter’s choice of material: “offcuts of 16mm film found outside Soho production houses” (Rich 227). Regardless of the reasons behind this decision – economic limitation comes to mind – what role do offcuts play in the film? I suggest that the materiality of damaged film stock undercuts the assumption that we know what we are seeing on screen by directly interfering with the quality of the image. Through this innovative use of film, Potter introduces a different way of looking as a feminist intervention: one of speculation instead of mastery over cinematic images and the women in them. Any feminist intervention concerned with images of women engenders a discussion of the Mulveyan look. In her seminal article “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,” Laura Mulvey maintains that the male spectator “articulates the look and creates the action” in dominant cinema, which features woman “as erotic object for the characters within the screen story, and as erotic object for the spectator within the auditorium” (19-20). The female spectator, on the other hand, must either narcissistically over-identify with the fetishized woman on screen or masochistically align with the male gaze. Here, the cinematic apparatus reproduces perceptual reality so that the spectator’s voyeuristic-scopophilic look, structured by psychoanalytical mechanisms that are always

Youngbin Song

...Potter introduces a different way of looking as a feminist intervention: one of speculation instead of mastery over cinematic images, and the women in them.

Fig. 1 | Another woman in Mimì’s mirror reflection, 08:31. BFI Video, 1979.

Fig. 2 | The woman in the mirror is overtaken by the materiality of damaged 16mm film stock, 08:35. BFI Video, 1979.

already androcentric, can attach to filmic images. Yet Mulvey suggests that the look, as a mechanism tied to images, can collapse at any of its three levels in the cinema: “that of the camera as it records the pro-filmic event, that of the audience as it watches the final product, and that of the characters at each other within the screen illusion” (27). If traditional conventions of narrative cinema render the first two levels invisible and in turn create an illusion of reality subsumed under the third, then that illusion can be broken down by films that emphasize their formal workings. By allowing the material qualities of damaged film stock to fill up the screen, Thriller detaches the spectator’s look from the illusion and positions the audience at a critical distance from the film’s own images. To be sure, the deteriorating 16mm film stock obfuscates the images of women in Thriller, preventing spectators from readily identifying and subsequently separating the women into the limited roles the playwright assigns in La Bohème. Similar to other works of romance, La Bohème places two women in opposition to one another: Mimì, the victim-heroine, is the innocent “good girl,” while Musetta is her “bad girl” counterpart. However, an early shot of narrator Mimì gazing at her reflection in a mirror destabilizes her identity when she sees a grainy, overexposed image of another woman to whom she refers as herself gazing back (Fig. 1). The combination of perforations in the damaged stock and the overexposure obscures this “other woman” as well as a part of Mimì’s face. Despite the tightening of the next shot into a close-up, the crystallization and perforation of the film further overtake the woman’s portrait, creeping over her figure from one side of the frame (Fig. 2). In this way, the properties of film offcuts severely weaken the quality of these images, preventing us from easily identifying the two women in them. Instead, the film renders their images obsolete, as if to comment on the outdatedness of the misogynistic roles assigned to women in traditional narratives. As Mimì’s voice-over investigates her death in La Bohème, the speculative quality of the film’s damaged shots invites us to question why her role in the opera inevitably leads to her demise, and what role the other woman played in it. The film subverts the good girl/bad girl dichotomy by increasingly framing the aforementioned women in shots wherein the material properties of the deteriorating film stock mold their images together. In one of these shots, the overexposure of their faces ties the women together in the centre of the frame (Fig. 3). Moreover, the film-grain combined with dust particles in


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the background accentuate the figure of the two women in the foreground as one. To further link them together using a different technique, a montage intercuts unclear, damaged shots of the women’s fragmented bodies. In contrast to the eroticized fragmentation of women’s bodies in dominant cinema, close-up shots of Mimì’s face and the other woman’s legs combine to form an unlikely assemblage that resists sexualization. Instead, the materiality that the damaged film stock affords – the grain, overexposure, and the fading of the images – reimagines the women as both Mimì and Musetta by knitting their bodies into one (Figs. 4, 5). In fact, the final scene also intercuts close-ups of actresses from different iterations of the narrative: the film’s Colette Laffont and Rose English playing both Mimì and Musetta, others playing the roles in the traditional staging (at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden), and even speculative versions of Mimì as a hard-working mother and a poor old seamstress if she hadn’t died. The latter two iterations are historical images of “needlewomen” from the National Museum of Labor History. While Potter could have chosen to intercut the still photographs from the staging and the museum in their original sizes, she takes tighter shots of the stills to incorporate the materiality of the film stock she is using, effectively linking the women in these outside images to the women in the film’s own images. The close-up of Mimì as a working mother exhibits the grainy texture of the faded film, as does the extreme close-up of Mimì on stage in the production (Figs. 6, 7). This final montage composed of offcuts adds to the voice-over’s feminist revelation that the women have been constructed as “others” and kept apart from each other in the text of La Bohème to maintain the representation of Mimì as a young and vulnerable love interest offered up for the romantic tragedy. If they had been constructed to be separated from each other, they could be re-constructed

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Fig. 3 | The women framed together, 24:13. BFI Video, 1979.

Fig. 4 | Mimì/Musetta’s face, 22:30. BFI Video, 1979.

Fig. 5 | The other woman’s leg, 22:20. BFI Video, 1979.

Youngbin Song

to be held together. By utilizing the materiality of damaged 16mm film stock, Thriller supplants easy mastery over its images of women, instead inviting us to speculate and imagine alternatives to the patriarchal narrative it critiques. Mimì concludes with a final speculation: “We never got to know each other. Perhaps we could have loved each other.” 

...she takes tighter shots of the stills to incorporate the materiality of the film stock she is using, linking the women in these outside images to the women in the film’s own images.

Fig. 6 | Mimì as a working mother, 28:21. BFI Video, 1979.

Fig. 7 | Mimì in a production of the opera, 27:14. BFI Video, 1979.

WORKS CITED Mulvey, Laura. Visual and Other Pleasures. Palgrave Macmillan, 1989. Potter, Sally. Interview with Stephen Sackur. HARDTalk, BBC. 4 Jan. 2010. Rich, Ruby B. Chick Flicks: Theories and Memories of the Feminist Film Movement. Duke UP, 1998. Thriller. Directed by Sally Potter, Women Make Movies, 1979.


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Visualizing the Real Reel in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard BY FARRAH HERSH | Florida State University

ABSTRACT The famous Los Angeles street “Sunset Blvd.” is synonymous with Hollywood as is Billy Wilder’s film of the same name. In Wilder's Sunset Boulevard, the director visualizes Hollywood as a place both real and imagined. By utilizing places, props and people, he easily separates old Hollywood from the new establishment. His use of Paramount Pictures stages and backlot further immerse the audience in the fantasy of film. Wilder highlights the former silent screen star Norma Desmond’s (Gloria Swanson) past success and eventual downfall through her interactions with scriptwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden). The romantic love triangle between Norma, Joe, and Betty (Nancy Olson) further separates the old and the new through their domestic and working spaces. Yet, Wilder’s unforgiving look at the industry illustrates the reality of how movies are made and how stars are all but forgotten.


illy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard (1950), a “behindthe-scenes” exposé of Hollywood’s dream factory, utilizes both urban and suburban landscapes, props, and personalities to depict Old and New Hollywood while uncovering the dark truths of an artificial yet magical place. The tagline for the film, “A Hollywood Story,” underscores that although Wilder features the famous silent screen star Gloria Swanson and uses real places in Hollywood, including the recognizable Paramount Pictures’ front gate, back lot, and Schwab’s Pharmacy, Hollywood remains a place immersed in authenticity and make-believe (Fig. 1). As Timothy Corrigan suggests, “the most prominent vehicle for cinematic realism, however, is the degree to which mise-en-scène enables us to recognize sets and settings as accurate evocations of actual places” (103). By featuring famous hotspots, Wilder enables the audience to believe as fact the story that unfolds and that reinforces the mise-en-scène. The film draws on this sense of authenticity to preserve the illusion that is Hollywood. In addition, emphasis is placed on the division of past and present in the film and of Hollywood itself. Wilder juxtaposes characters’ narratives, places, and possessions to craft a commentary on the old versus new Hollywood in cinema. This is accomplished through the parallel character arcs of aging film actress, Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson) and a fresh-faced script reader, Betty Schaefer (Nancy Olson); the contrasting of the domestic spaces and working areas of Norma, Betty, Joe Gillis (William

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Fig. 1 | Joe and Norma (1:04:41) pull up to the Paramount Pictures front gate (top). Joe and Betty (1:21:58) on the Paramount Backlot (bottom). Paramount Pictures, 1950.

Farrah Hersh

Fig. 2 | The opening shot of Sunset Boulevard, before the credits roll, 0:00:14. Paramount Pictures, 1950.

Holden) and Artie Green (Jack Webb); and the prominence of important possessions, like the automobiles of Norma and Joe. All of these factors contribute to Wilder’s commentary on the new reality of the film industry. At the heart of Sunset Boulevard lies Norma, a former silent screen star eager for a comeback, and Joe, a young screenwriter struggling to make ends meet. The story begins when Joe’s tire blows out on his car and he pulls into a driveway, thinking that the residence has been abandoned. Unbeknownst to Joe, this is Norma’s home, and he recognizes her as a former screen legend. In turn, Norma mistakenly identifies him as the undertaker for her recently deceased pet monkey. Upon discovering that Joe is a screenwriter, what both parties think is a mutually beneficial relationship begins; Norma seeks a major comeback and Joe needs money and a working script. However, their relationship becomes fraught with tension and jealousy as Joe often leaves the mansion to escape Norma and to seek comfort in Betty. Additionally, Betty and

Joe partner on their own romantic script. Norma’s slow descent into madness culminates when she kills Joe, and the police escort her away. All the while, Norma thinks she is starring in Salome, the picture she and Joe collaborated on. As the image fades in, the white stenciled words “Sunset Blvd.” appear on a black background painted on the sidewalk curb (Fig. 2). As the camera pulls back, its focus slides to the street below rather than above. This is a clear indication that the film’s emphasis is on Hollywood’s underbelly, rather than the idealized façade audiences are accustomed to–the sunshine, the palm trees, the California swimming pools. The credits materialize on screen, and the audience glimpses dead leaves, cracked pavement, and potholes, a foreshadowing that the movie comprises its own set of bumps and fractures. The cracked pavement in this shot mirrors the delusions of grandeur that Norma will experience throughout the film as she slowly descends into madness.


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The dead leaves are indicative of the decay of both Norma and Joe’s careers, in addition to Joe’s untimely death. Furthermore, the fractures are a symbol of the divide between the old-fashioned silent films versus the “talkies” and modern studio system as depicted in the distinct division between the lives of Norma and Betty respectively.

Characters’ offices and residences reflect their financial /career/romantic success and are crucial for understanding the interactions in the film.

PLACES Wilder’s not-so-subtle commentary on old verses new Hollywood emerges through the residences and offices of Norma, Joe, Betty, and Artie. Through Joe’s perspective, Wilder introduces the audience to Norma’s crumbling mansion (Fig. 3). While Joe ascends the outside stairs, the camera rises, and the mansion is revealed in an establishing point of view shot. Thus, the audience and Joe are linked and experience the narrative together. Norma’s residence, a decaying mansion on the “10,000 block” of Los Angeles, mimics Norma’s collapsed career and deteriorating mental state. Paralleling Norma’s crumbling career and home, the house includes an unfilled swimming pool. According to Christopher Ames, “…the swimming pool is the ultimate symbol of success, and the corrupted pool – empty, decaying, or tarnished with a corpse – is the ultimate symbol of the failed dream” (194). Additionally, the exterior deterioration of the mansion includes a tennis court with a sagging net, wilted palm trees, and unmanicured shrubbery. These structures traditionally represent wealth, status and “The American Dream,” however, in their current state of disrepair, they provide further evidence of Norma’s failure. Norma is symbolic of a certain age in Hollywood and the poor condition of Norma’s mansion and the grounds that surround it are suggestive of the “passing” of that era. This contrasts with the previous sequence, in which the audience is introduced to Joe’s apartment on a sunny block in Los Angeles beside palm trees that stand tall, and where a breeze flutters the curtains of an open window. Furthermore, this area of Los Angeles is bustling with sounds and parked cars line the streets, while Norma’s mansion is dark, quiet, and secluded; the shades are always drawn. Joe’s apartment is a studio that serves as both office and bedroom. At the same time, Betty’s office on the Paramount lot, which coincidentally is Norma’s former dressing room, looks and feels more like a comfortable home. It includes a desk and a sofa, and functions as both an office and a living room. With the shades and curtains always open, the sunshine filters in throughout the day and at night the atmosphere is cozy

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Fig. 3 | The audience and Joe's first glimpse of Norma's mansion (0:13:18) (top); The mansion's decaying tennis court (0:25:41) (bottom). Paramount Pictures, 1950.

and comfortable. Though small in size, the spaces Joe and Betty occupy are meant to suggest domesticity; Joe and Betty can be successful in a working and romantic relationship (Fig. 4). Characters’ offices and residences reflect their financial/career/romantic success and are crucial for understanding the interactions in the film. For example, Joe and Betty’s home/office settings illustrate that they are much more akin than Joe and Norma, whose “home” spaces are diametrically opposed. Furthermore, when Joe arrives at Norma’s residence, he is blocked by a closed front door made of iron bars. Entering Norma’s mansion through this door, Joe unknowingly walks into a prison, one that,

Farrah Hersh

Fig. 4 | Betty and Joe work together in Betty’s office on their untitled love story, 1:19:43. Paramount Pictures, 1950.

Fig. 5 | Norma surrounded by her "real" self in her living room, 28:23. Paramount Pictures, 1950.

Fig. 6 | Norma and Joe (0:43:49) dance on New Year's at the mansion (left); Artie's (0:47:17) packed party at his apartment (right). Paramount Pictures, 1950.

ultimately, he will never leave. By contrast, Betty’s office door is seemingly always open, welcoming rather than obstructing. Once inside Norma’s house, Wilder sets most of the movie in the living room, which is a shrine to Norma’s younger days (Fig. 5). Nearly all the scenes that take place in this area have a framed picture or portrait of Norma in the background (the photos are stills of Gloria Swanson from her silent picture days), reminding the audience of the real-life silent-film star who is no longer popular and seemingly out of touch. A synergy is thus created between reality and fiction insofar as Hollywood is concerned. In a sequence midway through the film Wilder sets two New Year’s Eve parties–one in Norma’s mansion and one in Artie’s apartment– and these parties further expose the shift in popular fervor from classic to modern Hollywood. Norma’s party consists of herself and Joe. Norma’s famous friends were not invited, though Joe

is under the impression they were. They dance on tile floors that Valentino tangoed upon, with a string quartet and her butler, Max (Erich Von Stroheim) serving champagne. The party is regimented and follows the rules Norma has implemented. By invoking the name of Valentino and the missing friends, the audience is reminded again of a past that no longer exists. This scene is positioned alongside the younger and hipper New Year’s Eve party of Joe’s friend Artie. Compared to the refined but rigid gathering of two that Norma hosts, Artie’s party is a rollicking good time, overstuffed with people in a small, cramped apartment. These two parties are significant because Hollywood movies are, after all, contestants in one of the largest popularity contests – box office success. Side by side the two scenes show the ascendancy of new Hollywood over the Hollywood of a bygone era (Figs. 5, 6).


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In a sequence midway through the film Wilder sets two New Year’s Eve parties–one in Norma’s mansion and one in Artie’s apartment– and these parties further expose the shift in popular fervor from classic to modern Hollywood.

Fig. 8 | Norma (0:56:48) poolside, dressed in animal print preying on Joe’s misfortune (top); Betty (0:06:58), clean-cut and wholesome working in the Paramount readers room (bottom). Paramount Pictures, 1950.

Fig. 7 | The most iconic image from Sunset Boulevard. Joe Gillis, dead in the pool, 0:02:33. Paramount Pictures, 1950.


The interactions between Joe and the two women widen the differences between Betty and Norma. Betty and Joe communicate as if they are in the romantic love story they are writing–snappy dialogue, finishing each other’s sentences, and each thinking of an idea for the film. But Joe’s exchanges with Norma are quite different. For example, when Joe is reworking the Salome script, he throws pages in the garbage can. Norma notices this and demands to know why. Demonstrating a dismissiveness of Joe’s answer, and of Joe himself, she orders that the pages go back into the script; she is the star, after all, and her dialogue must not be cut. When Norma appears on screen, she frequently wears leopard print (Fig. 8). In one scene, her hair in a leopard print turban with a leopard print scarf. Her car, too, is upholstered in leopard, and she has a leopard swimsuit. On more than one occasion Norma curls her hands, her fingers like claws, while wearing the cigarette holder

Wilder continues the old versus new Hollywood motif and he does this by using Norma and Betty as foils to each other (Fig. 8). The dichotomy between the two women is abundantly clear in the two scripts that Joe is working on with each woman– one a Salome remake for Norma’s “return” to the screen – and the other an untitled love story that Joe and Betty co-author. By incorporating the two narrative ideas from the scripts, Wilder carefully foreshadows the potential for two different outcomes of Sunset Boulevard. If the film follows Salome, the title character will demand the head of John the Baptist, and Joe will likely end up dead. If the narrative follows Betty and Joe’s love story, the film will have a Hollywood happy ending. Of course, the first image the audience sees of Joe in the film is his body floating face down (Fig. 7). Thus, that there is no happy ending is clear from the outset.

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Farrah Hersh

Fig. 9 | Joe's car (0:04:50), hidden from repo men always with the top down (left); Norma's car (0:36:02), high above Los Angeles (right). Paramount Pictures, 1950.

What matters most about the distinction between old and new Hollywood is the lack of appreciation of the past and how the industry has all but moved on. By all accounts, Wilder’s representation of Hollywood blends reality and fantasy so effectively throughout the film that viewers can hardly tell what is true or illusory. on her pointer finger, bending it like a talon. Norma is animalistic – a cougar before the term was used – trapping Joe in her den. When she is not in leopard print, Norma regularly dresses in black, as if she is mourning the death of her career. On the other hand, Betty is like apple pie; she wears buttoned up shirts with cardigans and pencil skirts, her hair is tied with a bow. She is the epitome of wholesomeness. Betty is the ‘all-American’ girl next-door and the personification of domesticity. In one scene, she readies the coffee maker while her and Joe discuss their script. PROPS Equally important to the film is the idea of career mobility. Norma wants to be a star again, and Joe needs to write to make a living. Surprisingly, Joe’s most valuable possession is not his typewriter, but his car. He needs it to travel to the studios to drum up some work and money. “One of the most powerful symbols that aids the allegorical identity… or temporal movement is the car” (Klarer 453). Joe’s convertible is introduced with

the top down and is never seen closed, thus representing openness and new ideas. Joe is always mobile, yet Joe’s car becomes hindered; it stops moving due to his blown-out tire at the beginning of the film. As Joe’s car is placed alongside Norma’s in the desolate garage, the audience observes how stationary Norma and her career have become. Norma’s car is an old, dusty 1930s automobile hidden away and suspended on concrete blocks (Fig. 9). Norma’s car is deceiving. When things are good between Joe and Norma, the camera shoots them in open air; the audience cannot see the roof of the car, much like Joe’s convertible. The relationship is similarly open and cheerful. It is only when Norma and Joe’s relationship is in distress– when they visit the Paramount lot or when Norma tries to commit suicide–that the audience sees the entire car, enclosed and claustrophobic, serving as a reminder of the past and Norma’s outdatedness. Norma’s uselessness is further emphasized when her antiquated car is wanted at the studio for a period piece. Norma is not the star of this period picture; it is not a “vehicle” for her comeback. Norma’s car is wanted, not her acting talents. MISE- EN - SCÈNE

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Wilder’s observations of a shifting Hollywood are conveyed through the visual images of Sunset Boulevard with famous landmarks which real people visit, and in which reel characters live. His casting of former silentscreen star Gloria Swanson as Norma and a fresh-faced Nancy Olson as Betty envisage the growing distance between a Hollywood of yesteryear and the new establishment. While old Hollywood glamour becomes inauthentic and obsolete as Norma’s delusions and material possessions indicate, new Hollywood reflects a practicality observed in the characters of Joe and his friends. What matters most about the distinction between old and new Hollywood is the lack of appreciation of the past and how the industry has all but moved on. By all accounts, Wilder’s representation of Hollywood blends reality and fantasy so effectively throughout the film that viewers can hardly tell what is true or illusory. 

By incorporating the two narrative ideas from the scripts, Wilder carefully foreshadows the potential for two different outcomes of Sunset Boulevard.

WORKS CITED Ames, Christopher. “Offing the Writer.” Movies about the Movies: Hollywood Reflected. University Press of Kentucky, 1997, pp. 193-223. Corrigan, Timothy, and Patricia White. “Mise-en-Scène: Exploring a Material World.” The Film Experience: An Introduction, 3rd ed., Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2012, pp. 97-127.

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Klarer, Mario. “Allegorizing Cinema: Word, Image, and Motion in Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard.” Word & Image: A Journal of Verbal/Visual Enquiry, vol. 31, no. 4, Oct. 2015, pp. 450-458. Sunset Boulevard. Directed by Billy Wilder, performances by Gloria Swanson, William Holden, Paramount Pictures, 1950.


Discovering Felix E. Feist:

Narrative, Aesthetics, and the Representation of Woman in Deluge BY MINA RADOVIC | Goldsmiths, University of London


elix E. Feist is an early American director whose work is waiting to be put back in the annals of film history, with the 2019 retrospective “Brutal, Nasty, and Short: The Noir of Felix E. Feist� curated by Eddie Muller at the 33rd Il Cinema Ritrovato going a step towards giving us that much-needed introduction. Beginning his work in the pre-code Hollywood era, creating a series of films, animated shorts and documentary films throughout the 1930s, many of which are still difficult to find, and finishing a handful of noirs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Feist combines ambition and modesty, apocalyptic premonition and unsuspecting peaceability in their utmost extremes. The best place to see those authorial aspects come together in one place, which would certainly permeate his later work in different ways, is in his first feature Deluge in 1933. Deluge is difficult to delineate in terms of basic structure because, despite its polished surface, it eludes basic structure, and herein lies its strength. In any case it is good to start somewhere. After a biblical premonition, quoting Noah and the flood, the film throws us into the middle of New York during an unnamed natural catastrophe of apocalyptic proportions that is engulfing most of the world and threatening to destroy civilization. The film at this point follows a range of characters in turn; first, the ministers and high society officials responsible for regulating the catastrophe, then a beautiful actress interrupted from her morning massage, and a traditional family of father, mother, and two children. In addition to intercutting between the three subjects, the film also weaves into the structure parts of the city getting engulfed by water and destroyed until finally we witness the total destruction of the city by rabid tidal waves, earthquakes, and flooding. In addition to the narrative that unusually for the time lyrically weaves together a series of personal stories, unfettered from a central character and traditional short-term motivational drives, the strength of the film lies in the aesthetic focus. The story of the actress, though a trope, is captured with searing intimacy as, one, her body and face remain perfectly still on the massage table but the glistening curves of both coupled with her gentle

Fig. 1 | The Beautiful Actress, 00:03:19. Admiral Productions, 1933.

Fig. 2 | A Moment of Peace, 00:03:25. Admiral Productions, 1933.

voice establish her character, and then the film moves to, two, a lying side-on close-up that embodies her beauty and wistfulness, not to mention a sense of serenity amidst the chaos surrounding her (Figs.1-2). The combination of innocent features and sexual maturity also presupposes the different roles she would embody in the scenes after the flood. By comparison, the story of the family during the catastrophe is captured with more of a sense for composure and for space than pure intimacy. While loving in their exchanges, the strongest aesthetic moments for the


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characters come from the balance carried out by the father and mother: they function as a unit that works to save the children as the house falls apart. While the father springs into action as the mother is buried by the rubble, the composure in the sequence precisely comes from the maintenance of a familial balance amidst the catastrophe, between parenthood and childhood, protection and protected. The sense of space is also communicated through the intricate way the camera scans the hallways of the wooden house as trees and other outside objects topple its roofs (Fig. 3). The most formally interesting of all the short narrative arcs included in the first part of the film with the flood (only an unbelievable 18 minutes) is the one of the city’s destruction. We witness giant tidal waves and earthquakes destroy buildings, entire streets, and structures of the city. While initially personalized, capturing destruction through the perspective of the characters inhabiting a certain building, the sequence grows more impersonal, as the number of buildings and structures destroyed increase and the number of people engulfed by the water multiply and become more anonymized (destructions of crowds instead of individuals). In its gradual move from briefly personal to grossly impersonal representation of destruction via a literal engulfing of New York by water, the film creates the prototypical narrative model for apocalyptic films, including the work of Roland Emmerich. At the same time in its intense detachedness, heightened by the use of miniatures and focus on the destruction of objects rather than people, the film retains a certain quality of its own that perhaps, even unintentionally or absurdly, conveys the impersonal nature of an apocalypse itself (Fig. 4). After the flood, the film takes a radically different and perhaps even more refreshing turn. The earth is no more. Only rocky terrains, grassy fields, oceanic waters and beaches remain. At first the narrative focuses on a new set of characters, two bumbling and grizzly men who have survived the flood and who find the beautiful actress from the first part of the film washed ashore, half-naked. They take her in and after she comes to consciousness both violently try to have their way with her. She escapes and swims across the ocean. At this point the husband from the first part of the film, Martin, is alone without his wife and children. He discovers the actress and takes her in, tending to her, and offering her beverage and food when she wakes up. Seeing his genuine good will she is kind and open with him. This mirroring of two stories is perhaps the most theological part of the film. There are stark contrasts between the two stories: one story is about

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Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020

Fig. 3 | Framing the Home, 00:12:37. Admiral Productions, 1933.

Fig. 4 | Apocalypse in Abstraction, 00:16:18. Admiral Productions, 1933.

the brute and the other about the gentleman, one is about wickedness and the other righteousness, one signifies carnal pleasure and the other spiritual desire. An archetypal story of two monks is worth recounting here. Two monks are crossing a river. Along the bank they find a very beautiful naked girl who is stuck and needs help crossing the river. One monk picks her up gently and brings her across, leaving her on the other side of the river safely. The two monks leave and continue their journey. The other monk asks the monk who picked up the girl: ‘How can this be? Did you not see what you did there?’ The monk replies: ‘I left the girl on the riverbank. You are still carrying her.’ This is the first time I have found a film that has at least begun to portray the profound meaning carried by the story of the monks, if only by showing how sanctity is an internal quality that preserves love towards a fellow human being as much as defilement is one which destroys it. It is also worth saying something about the film’s exceptional actress. The actress Claire played by the

Mina Radovic

unduly forgotten and incomparable Peggy Shannon retains independent strength and fierce bravery, as she repels the advances of the former men and is difficult to accept the gestures of the latter, needing more than gesture to express intimacy. The director’s use of the manly uniform (male attire which she receives in both stories to clothe herself ) serves as another point of comparison between the two stories and the different experiences Claire undergoes within each. In the first story the male uniform is significantly torn off by the men attempting to rape her, illustrating a literal crossing of gender boundaries as one tearing presupposes a more violent one (Fig. 5). In the second story, the male uniform is retained in perfect condition and Martin is attracted to Claire despite her femininity being hidden (by the uniform) (Fig. 6). The uniform thus plays a counteractive role: rather than servicing, tearing it services the characters’ preservation of dignity and while retaining sexual boundaries it demonstrates the character’s expression of love beyond boundaries, or rather, a deeper connection between man and woman beyond immediate physicality. In both stories, despite the masculinity of the uniform, Claire retains both her sense of self and her very real feminine beauty. After the flood and after Claire’s two experiences, the plot moves on to an arc of survival and future growth. Claire and Martin’s love for one another grows. At the same time, one of the brutish men from the previous violent episode joins a gang and attempts to track Claire down. The narrative flow is perhaps only unconvincing at this stage as all these developments take place within a 24-hour period. Given the intense, continuously evolving pace of the narrative, such a compression is incredibly ambitious. On top of what seemed like maximal narrative compression two more stories enter: in addition to Claire and Martin, and the brute gang, we discover many people survived the flood, including Martin’s wife and children, and live in a newly forming city in the nearby area. We follow Martin’s wife and children on the one hand and the city dwellers on the other, who learn about the gang near their city and form their own troupe to go and get rid of them. At this point all narratives come together, culminating in a tunnel stand-off. The love between Claire and Martin has grown and they continue to have intimate exchanges, resembling a married couple, amidst the most intense of tunnel shootouts. In the compression, combination and culmination of narrative arcs, we find the mixture of ambition and modesty I mentioned earlier is one of the hallmarks of Felix E. Feist’s work. Sometimes in the same arc we see dismal destruction and total peace,

Fig. 5 | Tearing Boundaries, 00:24:02. Admiral Productions, 1933.

Fig. 6 | Transcending Boundaries, 00:30:09. Admiral Productions, 1933.

pure emotionalism and hard composure. In the characters themselves we see his mixture of apocalyptic premonition and unsuspecting peaceability. This is most clear in the arc of Claire and Martin, who, even in the tunnel, carry on their conversations a la a married couple despite being fired upon by an army of ganged men. And if you thought the fun stops there it does not. Feist finishes the film (after only one hour) by combining the familial and romantic arc into one, as Claire and Martin’s wife Helen meet after Claire and Martin join the survivors in the city and find Martin’s family alive. Finally showing the two kind of women come together, the traditional and the modern, the lawful wife and the beloved bride, the emotional centre comes to its final rupture. Martin is unable to articulate his position beyond generalist sentiment. Claire leaves and runs off to the ocean. Martin chases after her and, realizing he cannot catch up to her, he sits on the shore looking at her disappear into the horizon. This ending is startling precisely because of the uncertainty with which it presents the role of woman


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Discovering Felix E. Feist: Narrative, Aesthetics, and the Representation of Woman in Deluge

Fig. 7 | Stepping out, 01:05:22. Admiral Productions, 1933.

in the film. I would refrain from reading it as a conventional object of desire narrative that has run its course. Perhaps instead the strength we witness at the end is that of Claire who completely severs herself from society (Fig. 7), in stark parallel to her actress diva at the start who was at the epicentre of society, and takes the first actually brave step into the unknown. Explosiveness and equal reservation, with his peculiar flare for exaggeration, are characteristics which persist in Felix E. Feist’s later films, as for example The Devil Thumbs a Ride (1947). However, the ability to synergize those extremes and channel them into a layered narrative, culminating in an ending whose existential implications transcend the film’s experiments with form, remain unique to Deluge and as such the film is a good introduction to this director’s work.  00 64

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WORKS CITED Deluge. Directed by Felix E. Feist, performances by Peggy Shannon, Sidney Blackmer, Lois Wilson, Matt Moore, and Fred Kohler. Admiral Productions, 1933. The Devil Thumbs a Ride. Directed by Felix E. Feist, performances by Lawrence Tierney, Ted North, and Nan Leslie. Admiral Productions, 1947.




Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020




For its upcoming issue, Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (MSJ) currently seeks submissions that encompass the latest research in film and media studies. Submission categories include feature articles (6,000-7,000 words); mise-en-scène featurettes (1,000-1,500 words); reviews of fi lms, DVDs, Blu-rays or conferences (1,5002,500 words); M.A. or Ph.D. abstracts (250-300 words);

Mise-en-scène across the disciplines Transmedia Film spectatorship Auteur theory Adaptation studies




interviews (4,000-5,000 words); undergraduate scholarship (2,000-2,500 words) or video essays (8-10 minute range). All submissions must include a selection of supporting images from the fi lm(s) under analysis and be formatted according to MLA guidelines, 8th edition. Topic areas may include, but are not limited to, the following:

Frame narratology Pedagogical approaches to film and media studies Genre studies Cinematic aestheticism

Documentary studies Fandom studies Seriality Film/video as a branch of digital humanities research


Please sign up as an author through the registration portal to begin the 5-step submission process:

Vol.05, No.02 | Winter 2020

ABOUT THE JOURNAL Situating itself film’s visual ABOUT THE JOURNAL Situating itself in infilm’s narrative,visual Mise-en-scène: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration narrative, Mise-en-scène: The Journal (ISSN 2369-5056) is the first of its kind: an international, of Film & Visual Narration (ISSN 2369-5056) peerreviewed journal focused exclusively on the artistry of frame is the f ir st of it s kind: an international, composition as a story-telling technique. With its open-access, peer-reviewed journal focused exclusively on open-review publishing model, MSJ strives to be a synergitic, the artistry ofhub frame as abegins story- at the community-oriented for composition discourse that telling technique. With its open-access, level of the frame. Scholarly analysis of lighting,openset design, costuming, camera angles,model, camera review publishing MSJproximities, strives to bedepth a syn-of field, and character placement are just some thediscourse topics that the ergistic, community-oriented huboffor journal covers. While primarily concerned with discourse in and that begins at the level of the frame. Scholarly around the film frame, MSJ also includes narratological analysis analysis of lighting, set design, costuming, at the scene and sequence level of related media (television camera camera proximities, depth and online) withinangles, its scope. Particularly welcome areofarticles field,current and character placement justtheories some ofas they that dovetail debates, research,areand theunderstanding topics that the journal covers. While primarily deepen the of filmic storytelling. The journal’s contributing writers are eclectic,ininterdisciplinary concerned withan discourse and around themixture of graduate academics, filmmakers, film scholars, filmstudents, frame, MSJ also includes narratological and cineastes, a demographic that also reflects the journal’s analysis at the scene and sequence level of readership. Published twice a year since 2016, MSJ is the related media (television and online) within official film studies journal of Kwantlen Polytechnic University its scope. Par ticularly welcome are ar ticles in Vancouver, Canada. It is included in EBSCO’s Film and dovetail current debates, research, and Televisionthat Literature Index. theories as they deepen the understanding of filmic storytelling. The journal’s contributing writers are an eclectic, interdisciplinary mixture of graduate students, academics, filmmakers, film scholars, and cineastes, a demographic that also reflects the journal’s readership. Published twice a year by Simon Fraser University, MSJ is the official film studies journal of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, Canada. It is included in EBSCO’s Film and Television Literature Index. MISE- EN - SCÈNE



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Mise-en-scene: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (Issue 5.2, Winter 2020)  

Issue 5.2 features articles on the radical feminism of Otto Preminger's Whirlpool and the whitewashed casting of M. Night Shyamalan's The La...

Mise-en-scene: The Journal of Film & Visual Narration (Issue 5.2, Winter 2020)  

Issue 5.2 features articles on the radical feminism of Otto Preminger's Whirlpool and the whitewashed casting of M. Night Shyamalan's The La...


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