Month: May 2017

Bit Analysis: Vertigo (1958)

Vertigo is controversially argued as, not only one of Hitchcock’s best films, but one of the greatest films ever. Vertigo is more than a movie; it’s a form of art exploring various themes through symbolism, camera work and sound. The story of Vertigo on the surface would seemingly be the story of a detective following a woman for his job but it is more than that. Vertigo is actually a deep film about mortality and the fear of death, blurring of illusion and reality.

The film starts very intensely with powerful non diegetic music and a close up on a ladder, it then proceeds to zoom out to a long shot of the ladder and the criminal and the two officers climb and follow. It then jumps to an establishing shot of the roof that tracks the chase; no dialogue only non-diegetic music and the sound of gun fire. It then jumps to a long shot of a leap to another part of the roof, to which both the cop and the criminal make it but James Stewart’s character ‘Scottie’ doesn’t and is left hanging. As he falls the camera cuts to a closer shot of him, as he hangs on Hitchcock cuts to a mid-shot of Scottie hanging, then jump cuts to a mid-shot of the police officer and Hitchcock cuts down to a close up of Scottie hanging looking down at the ground frightfully. Hitchcock then uses the famous ‘Vertigo’ shot by simultaneously zooming in and tracking backward which results that the foreground remains stable while the background expands backwards. This type of filmmaking is extremely experimenting and challenging as it disorientates the audience.

The scene ends with Scottie hanging and the next scene is Scottie sat with Midge. Hitchcock juxtaposes intense opening followed by domestic tranquillity. Hitchcock offers no explanation leaving the audience with enigma and mystery, raising the theme of illusion and reality. Was the opening scene Scottie’s illusion? Is Scottie psychologically unstable? Some believe the film is an entire hallucination of Scottie, as Vertigo ends as it began; Scottie staring down helplessly from a great height but his Vertigo cured at the end. Hitchcock uses a number of different lenses, green hues, fogs, filters and various densities to achieve Vertigo’s dreamlike look suggesting that this is perhaps all part of Scottie’s illusion. The opening sequence starts with a close up shot of a woman’s mouth then panning to her eye; the screen turns red as the music hits an eerie climax. The woman is wide eyed yet we don’t know what she is scared off, if you look at the mouth close up; you can see that she is trying to move her lips but cannot. This gives it a dreamlike feel as it’s like one of those dreams where you want to yell but cannot. The film sets a tone that it outside the realm of reality.
Hitchcock uses a theme of death and regularly questions the afterlife in Vertigo. There is often a feeling of ‘someone’ else watching Scottie and Kim Novak’s character Judy/Madeleine. The first time the two visit the Spanish mission the stable is introduced, rather than a standard continuity shot; the camera starts off across the stress then pans screen right and turns into a wide shot of the stable. Inside the chapel Scottie faces his fears but it’s too late and a woman falls to her death. This emphasises the theme of death as there is a continuous battle between life and the curiosity of afterlife that goes on in our minds, the closer we get to death; the closer to an answer we are.  We are afraid to go over the edge to find the truth because of the unknown consequences, Scottie however disagrees as he states that ‘there’s an answer for everything’.

Bill Orme from IMDB states that there are ‘cardboard characters, weak script and poor acting’ to which I entirely disagree. Scottie is morally ambiguous as he’s a retired cop which suggests usually good meanings but he falls in love with his friend’s wife which breaks the professional and friendship codes. He’s not a good detective as he doesn’t remain objective and instead becomes part of the story. He is tricked twice and responsible for three deaths. Scottie is an anti-hero with a twist as he has qualities of a lost soul at times. Scottie manipulates Madeleine to be more like Judy ironically as Judy previously manipulated Scottie. Much like the roman myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, Pygmalion (Scottie) creates a sculpture of the perfect woman (Madeleine) and tragically falls in love with her. Scottie is a scopophilic as he moulds Judy into Madeleine in a manner that denotes lust and obsession not love. Scottie breaks the rules as he is a highly subversive detective and is vastly unconventional. Kim Novak’s character allows herself to be moulded by both Scottie and Gavin; she is a masochist. She is represented negatively in a sense as she is the mistress of a married man; she deceives Scottie and has a crisis of identity. The audience sympathise with her as she is a lost soul taken advantage by men who play with her emotions. Scottie uses her affection and love for him to his advantage to mould his ideal woman, Gavin uses her emotions to get rid of his wife. Gavin tempts both Scottie and Judy; therefore he is the devil archetype. Hitchcock’s characters are the furthest thing from cardboard; they have depth and are wonderfully played by the cast.

Throughout the theme there is a recurring theme of the colour green which is constant in each scene. The scene with the forest features a great deal of establishing shots in the forest showing Scottie and Madeleine as tiny insignificant people compared to the trees. Madeleine comments that she’s thinking ‘all the people who were born and have died while the trees went on living’ suggesting she wishes that she could experience this as trees never truly die as they live for hundreds of years and are reborn raising the question of death and immortality again. The film is about constant battle between fear of death and curiosity. Are we in the real world or are we only really there when we die. Plants are almost in every scene. They are similar to us as they grow up and eventually die but their death provides nutrition for the birth of more plant life, a kind of resurrection. Madeleine doesn’t like the tree because she is jealous, she doesn’t like the fact that she has to die and never be resurrected.
Hitchcock successfully explores all these themes and more through the medium of film, sound, symbolism and editing. He shows that love is a form of madness as ‘love’ or ‘lust’ as some sceptics may see drove him to madness and led him to be overly obsessive.

 

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Bit Analysis: Rashomon (1950)

Rashōmon, directed by Akira Kurosawa, is a Japanese film made in 1950 and it was also “Based on a 1921 story by Ryunosuke Aakutagawa entitled ‘In a Grove'” (Pramaggiore and Wallis, 2005). The film follows an enquiry into the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife. The story is told by a Priest and a Woodcutter as they recount the testimonies given by the Bandit (who raped and killed the Samurai), the Wife, the Samurai (through the use of a medium as he is deceased) and the Woodcutter. Despite being praised in the West, it was not received entirely well by its native home of Japan as Kurosawa wrote in his autobiography in 1982 “I did not even know that Rashomon had been submitted to the Venice Film Festival … It was like pouring water into the sleeping ears of the Japanese film industry…Why is it that Japanese people have no confidence in the worth of Japan?”, in which Kurosawa questions Japanese people and their own view of home grown talent.

 

The film opens with a sign in Japanese highlighting the title of the film, cutting to different images of the bridge with opening credits over them. As the film begins we are given the story of the film which is that three men are stuck in an abandoned bridge during a rain storm as they recount a murder trial and the crime that led up to that. The plot of the film is the outline of the story but in more extensive detail and development; therefore the plot is that these men are recollecting a trial from earlier in the day about the murder of a Samurai and the rape of his wife. Furthermore, there are three key witnesses in the trial and the Woodcutter’s own testimony which has been extended after the trial itself.

 

The Screen Duration of Rashōmon is relatively short to the standard of movies today as it is 88 minutes long, however it also is short in relation to films during this time as Kurosawa’s The Idiot (which is his next film after Rashōmon) is 166 minutes long which is over 2 hours. Despite that the duration of Rashōmon is just over an hour; both story and plot duration are between 3 days. The film therefore successfully manages to manipulate film techniques in relation to storytelling as 88 minutes is turned into 3 days with the use of editing techniques to represent flashbacks. The plot and story duration take place over 3 days as the film begins on the evening of the trial; the characters recount the story to 3 days ago to how the Woodcutter and the Priest both saw the victims beforehand. After these two tell how they found the body of the Samurai; they move time back to the morning of the present day as the trial was this day. During the trial the Bandit, the Wife and the Samurai (through a medium) recount back to 3 days ago to how event of the crime itself. Once all these accounts have been told by the Woodcutter to the Commoner; he has a further recount himself which ago goes back to 3 days ago. The film ends back in the present day of the film as each story has been told and nothing more has to be recounted. The use of manipulation to enhance the story and plot duration is extremely effective as it leaves the audience in the dark and having to follow the film to see how the plot unravels. The audience know as much as the Commoner, therefore the discovery of each story in accordance to flashbacks during recounting is valuable as it is an innovative way of revealing information.

 

Despite the use of flashbacks which are clearly non-chronological; the order of flashbacks follow some chronological order as each recount is given in order of who gave it at the trial. Of course, the events are shuffled as they are not shown in chronological order as if it was formatted this way then the film would start with the Priest seeing the characters before-hand. Then, the film would show the actual events that happened at the crime scene followed by the trial and the men discussing it. The effect of this would not be as effective as the way Kurosawa presented Rashōmon, the film would not only be shorter and less intriguing but also not present such factors as morality and the effect of self-preservation. The style in which Kurosawa used highlights the film to be more captivating and fascinating as this style leads audiences to be piece together the result of the end of the trial and more specifically suggests that audiences are more intelligent than perceived. Kurosawa treats his audience as equal intelligence by his smart use of storytelling via flashbacks.

 

The film recount is from the Bandit and his recounted enactment explains that he captured the Samurai, seduced his wife and she persuaded him to kill the Samurai after an honourable and brave battle between the two. Then we are given another perspective in the form of the wife and victim of the rape. She expresses herself as weak and that the Bandit raped her, she then tried to kill herself but helplessly fainted only to find her husband dead. The third account is given through a medium expressing the deceased Samurai’s account. He explains that his wife was seduced by the Bandit, afterwards neither the Bandit nor Samurai wanted her therefore he was set free and killed himself due to shame. This is where the audience believe the trial ends and there are no more enacted recounts; this is not true as the Woodcutter was secretly there and he begins to tell his perspective. The final recollection of the same event explains that the Bandit raped the woman yet begged her to run away with him and to try and honour her. The wife in the Woodcutter’s story is more manipulative as she manages to make the Bandit and the Samurai fight despite their initial protests and detestation of her. When the fight is recounted by the Woodcutter, he explains that the fight was not noble or brave as both men seemed afraid of each other and the Samurai even begged for his life. Another thing seen through the Woodcutter’s recollection is that the wife was initially manipulative but turned into fear as the men began to fight and the Bandit was soft towards the woman after his act of horror and not as vicious as the legends thought he was. These highlight that multiple recounted enactments were crucial into not only getting to understand the crime more but also in suggesting more in-depth discussions about humans themselves.

 

Rashōmon is beyond a doubt an incredible film. The obvious reasoning behind this was not only the revolutionary editing techniques but the innovative use of focalization and manipulation of narrative time. Kurosawa was one of the pioneers to truly use this technique and the film was so monumental itself that it even developed the Rashōmon effect in which explains that there are more than one different accounts for one single event. Rashōmon was also remade by the USA with their own version again emphasising the use of focalization and manipulation of time. One thing that is clear from this film that it was clearly ahead of its time and is now regarded as one of the most creative and most influential films due to the genius of Kurosawa. Rashōmon is a must see for film fans, and if you haven’t had chance to begin your Kurosawa viewing, start with this.

 

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