Wednesday, February 29, 2012
This is my paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.
“Seven” or “Se7en” (1995) directed by David Fincher is a great neo-noir because it is able to explore, in an updated way, the noir theme of the city as a corruptor. For instance, Det. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) seems to be a noir character. I’ve always pictured him being from this lost noir film, but it’s just a fantasy since race relations being what they were in the noir period Freeman never would have had a lead role. But, that’s the fun of neo-noir: we are able to apply our modern values to the themes of the classic genre.
From his first scene, where Det. Somerset (Morgan Freeman) asks about whether a child witnessed his parent’s homicide, we learn that Somerset is different from the other police officers around him. He still has his basic humanity. However, his humanity is also a burden. Somerset is tired of this inner struggle and has decided to quit the police and get away from the city before it can destroy him. When Somerset gets into a taxi, the driver asks him where he’s headed. Somerset stares out of the back seat window at the city streets and replies, “Far away from here.” The metronome Somerset uses to drown out the noise of the city comes to represent his dream of getting away. When Somerset smashes the metronome it is clear that he is no longer leaving.
Somerset’s clothes are a clue that he belongs to the noir period. Somerset wears a white shirt, dark vest, dark tie, tan trench coat and a black hat. There are many other clues that Somerset comes from some unseen noir film. First, unlike Det. Mills (Brad Pitt), Somerset doesn’t own his own car, which only made sense in the noir era when gas prices were higher. Second, we learn from the exposition that Somerset had been close to getting married, but it didn’t work out, which is exactly what happens at the end of just about every film noir movie; the hero loses the girl. Third, Somerset uses his mind and not his brawn to catch villains. Somerset even confesses to Mills that he’s only taken his gun out once and never fired it. Film noir was the first genre to explore psychology and the inner workings of the mind.
The use of sound in this film is significant because it enhances the messages conveyed in many scenes. For instance, in the first scene where Somerset is putting his clothes on and getting ready for work, there is no sound but the background noise of the city. It is as if the noise of the city was a weight over Somerset’s head. There is an excellent use of music in the middle of the film when Somerset visits a library after hours. As a lark, one of the security guards puts on some classical music. It is the first time that Somerset seems to escape the sounds of the city and it is clear to the audience that for this brief time, Somerset is in his element and is truly happy.
The casting choices for this film are interesting and definitely significant. Casting Kevin Spacey as John Doe, the murderer, is a chilling choice. Spacey is sort of an everyman and doesn’t look at all threatening. In other words, evil can take any form; it can be right next to you and you wouldn’t even notice until it was too late. Gwyneth Paltrow, (who played the ill-fated Tracy Mills) is an American sweetheart and so her murder becomes all the more significant. Doe doesn’t just kill Tracy Mills, in a way, he breaks our spirit by killing a symbol of the American dream.
The setting contributes to the theme of the city as a corruptor due to it’s mysteriousness and sense of danger. The city where all of the action unfolds is mysterious because it is never named. All we know is that it is a seedy inner city which as Somerset says ,“is not someplace where most people try to get assigned to.” There is a sense of danger about the city, because it is always raining. The murderer says he only felt as sorry for his victims as he felt for the people of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, the city seems to bring to mind another bible story, the story of Noah and the forty days flood. I also believe that it is significant that at the end of the movie the killer leads the detectives out of the city and into a rural area. It is as if he is spreading the corruption of the city outward. Also, it can be interpreted that Somerset realizes that he can’t escape his troubles by simply leaving the city. He sees the killer’s evil outside of the city and realizes that it is people that are evil, not the city itself.
The theme of the film is also enhanced by the sparseness of the lighting. Every time Mills and Somerset go into a crime scene or a strange apartment they have to use their flashlights because there is no light. This instills a sense of panic, evil and danger. However, you question why they can’t just turn on a light? Along with light goes color, and thus color was also sparsely used in the film. Every color in this movie seemed dulled. In fact, the only bold color in the entire film was the killer’s orange prison shirt. This is as if to say that even in a dangerous city, evil can still stand out if you stop and look close enough.
One might argue that Det. Mills is the protagonist/hero, because he goes on a clear emotional roller coaster at the end of the film. However, I think Det. Mills, emerges as a tragic character who has been undone by his own frailties and weaknesses and his journey is important because it is a turning point in Freeman’s life. Freeman is the protagonist because it is his journey that meshes most closely with the theme of the film. Somerset has been invigorated by this case, and he has found that he still has the drive to combat the evil and corruption of the city, a drive he thought he had lost.
Sunday, February 26, 2012
Touch of Evil (1958) directed by Orson Wells, is the last of my college essays. It is a fitting end for my nostalgic look at film noirs because it is considered the last true noir movie. Anything after it is considered neo-noir and is merely reminiscent of the genre. Two movies that I looked at earlier, "Stranger on the Third Floor" and/or "The Maltese Falcon." are considered the first noirs.
But, don't worry, I still have a paper (longer essay) I wrote for the class to share. The only clue I'll give is it's one of those neo-noirs and you might have heard of it. Plus, there are a lot more noirs I'd still like to look at, so I'll just have to start writing again.
This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.
One of the most memorable things in this film is the opening sequence. Even with today’s technology, I doubt many directors would attempt to film a tracking shot so complex. The scene was filmed many times and you can see the sun rising in the background of the cut used, because it was the last take of an all night shoot.
To me, the film is different than other film noirs because its characters somehow seem much more indomitable. Film noir is usually about some poor guy who finds himself in over his head and screwed by a powerful villain or society. However, this film is about two equally powerful characters clashing. Miguel Vargas (Charlton Heston) and Capt. Hank Quinlan(Orson Wells) are both highly respected figures. As Quinlan says when it becomes clear they are enemies, “somebody’s going to have to give in this case or somebody’s going to be ruined.”
Throughout the course of the film, it seems as if Quinlan and Vargas are more than just powerful characters; at times they seem invincible. A henchman throws acid at Vargas from close range, and somehow misses. The other detectives who follow Quinlan resemble a lost gaggle of geese because they are constantly talking in an almost unintelligible fashion and looking to Quinlan for all the answers. Vargas takes on an entire bar of henchman and wins. The movie seems to be saying that when an evil man is allowed to become as powerful as Quinlan, he can only be defeated by an equally powerful force of good.
I found the gangsters in this movie to be very interesting. They were part of a Mexican crime family, but only about two of them were Spanish. I think they were drug dealers, and I thought it was funny that no one in the crime family was allowed to do drugs. In other words, they understood the dangers of drug use and made their money by selling them to an unsuspecting American market.
There were a few details in the set design that really made a repeat viewing worth it. In the scene where Quinlan murders Uncle Joe Grandi, there is a sign on the door that says “Stop. Forget Anything?” This hints at the fact that Quinlan has forgotten his cane at the murder scene. Earlier in the film, Vargas makes a phone call from a store run by a blind woman. In that scene, there is a sign in the background that says “If you’re mean enough to steal from the blind, help yourself.”
Sgt. Menzies was the best character in the film. At the beginning of the film he is bright-eyed and chipper and thinks the world of his partner Quinlan. By then end of the film though, he shoots and kills Quinlan. This transformation is subtle and well done. For instance, as the film goes on, Menzies stops shaving and becomes more and more reserved. One line I found especially haunting is when Menzies says, “Hank Quinlan made me an honest cop.”
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
This is my reaction paper from a college film noir class. Originally written in 2003.
"Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) is definitely the grittiest noir we’ve seen so far. There is no real good guy in this movie. The protagonist, Mike Hammer, is an anti-hero who is always skirting the law. He’s a private investigator who specializes in divorce cases, or as a police officer puts it, “he‘s a bedroom dick.” When Hammer wants to drum up more business he gets his devoted secretary Velda to sleep with married men so he has evidence that they’re cheating on their wives.
Velda will do anything for Hammer because she is madly in love with him. Hammer doesn’t seem to be interested; he constantly rejects her physical advances. The one time they do start kissing, it is not at all passionate because they keep talking about business in between kisses. Hammer must, on rare occasions, show her affection, because something keeps Velda wrapped around his fingers. In the scene where Hammer wakes Velda up, you can see how tortured she feels. She knows Hammer is no good for her, but something keeps her there.
The opening sequence of the film is fantastic. I loved the contrast of the easy-listening Nat King Cole music and the moaning of the young woman. Later, the shot where the woman is being tortured, and you can only see her legs, was very well done.
The biggest problem I had with this movie was the ending. I understand that this movie was a product of post WWII paranoia, and that’s a fine theme when done well like "Dr. Strangelove." However, this movie was your basic private eye/gangster flick until the last fifteen minutes of the film when it tried to become something else and it just didn’t work. If they wanted that ending to work, they would have had to add clues about what was in the box throughout the film and have had people talking about atomic weapons and so forth. Since it is so unexpected, the beach house exploding at the end of the movie comes off as a deus ex machina.
My other problem with this film was that Gaby Rodgers who played Lily Carver was such a bad actress that Lily came off like she suffered from a brain injury.
This film was really ahead of its time in terms of diversity. For instance, when Hammer goes to a Black jazz club/bar, he’s the only white guy in the place, but he isn’t an outsider, he’s a regular there.
Hammer really does make Sam Spade look like Liberace. At the beginning of the film when the young girl and Hammer are in his car, he tells her, “I should have thrown you off a cliff. I still might.” This line might not seem all that bad, except for the fact that it was completely unprovoked. Hammer is also sadistic; he is smiling when he slams the desk drawer on the blackmailing coroner. Plus, he beats up a front desk clerk at the health club for not taking a bribe.
It definitely goes along with this movie’s theme of humans as a doomed society that the one time someone starts to say a sincere, and sensitive line, he is punched in the face by Hammer before he can finish. Sugar, a henchman starts to say, “We’re here on this earth for such a brief span, we might as well be...”
Tuesday, February 21, 2012
The novel "Fantastic Voyage" (1966) has many authors; it started as a story by Otto Klement and Jay Lewis Bixby (But, I don’t think this version was ever published). It was then adapted into a screenplay by Harry Kleiner. David Duncan is credited with “adaptation.” (I’m not even sure what that means he did). But the name I associate with the project is Isaac Asimov who wrote the novelization of the screenplay. At first, he didn’t want the job. In his autobiography “In Joy Still Felt,” he said, “I turned down the proposal out of hand. Hackwork, I said. Beneath my dignity.” However Asimov changed his tune. Maybe he decided it was a neat idea or maybe it was the $5,000 they offered to pay him. Who knows?
While reading the novel, I didn’t really even think about any of the others involved in the writing process, the whole thing seemed to be Asimov’s from start to finish. Which is exactly what the people behind the movie/novel wanted. They knew Asimov’s name would have cache in the science fiction field and that it would help legitimize the movie as science fiction rather than b-movie schlock. I mean look at Asimov’s name on my paperback, it is almost as big as the title while everyone else’s names are tiny.
The plot of the novel for those who aren’t familiar with it, is about a group of scientists with shrinking technology miniaturizing themselves and a submarine craft, so small that they travel along a man’s bloodstream like they were exploring the bottom of the ocean.
The figures given in the story were fascinating, they shrunk themselves so small that the human circulatory system was the equivalent of thousands and thousands of miles. Isn’t it crazy to think that your own body is that vast?
As the voyagers travel through the human body they find a new crisis at nearly every major organ. The beauty of the novel is that it is scientifically accurate as far as how the human body works and so it is educational while at the same time it’s an entertaining and exciting adventure story.
The weakness of the novel is that the dialogue between Grant (the hero) and Cora (the love interest) is very clunky, especially in the beginning of the novel.
I haven’t seen the 1966 movie, but maybe I’ll rent it sometime. For some reason I was convinced Lloyd Bridges was in the movie as Grant. As I was reading the novel I’d sometimes picture Lloyd saying the lines. But alas, he isn’t in the movie. I guess I was getting “Fantastic Voyage” mixed up with the TV show “Sea Hunt.”
Asimov was ultimately unsatisfied with the novel because he was stuck working off of someone else’s work when he felt it would have been better if he’d written it from the start and so he wrote a sequel to the first novel, “Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain.” It is the same plot of scientists miniaturizing themselves and going into a man’s body, but the novel is written by Asimov only. I haven’t read it yet, but I’d be interested to see how much different it could be and why it should exist at all other then to serve Asimov’s vanity.
Lloyd Bridges seen here on the TV show "Sea Hunt." I really wish he had played Grant in "Fantastic Voyage," but he didn't.
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Here are some more pictures of Henry. He is a month old already. Sometimes time seems to move fast and other times it drags at a snail's pace. The above photo has gotten a lot of laughs, one of my friends (Alex) said that I looked like I wanted to die. I won't lie, Henry can be very frustrating sometime. Babies can't tell you why they are screaming and if you've tried all the obvious things and they are still screaming it gets to be pretty frustrating.
The other thing about babies is they aren't very interesting. I mean you can't have a conversation with them, they rarely smile, they don't laugh, and they hardly even look at you when you are talking to them. So I didn't feel much of a connection to Henry.
But, the other night we had a moment; He wouldn't settle down and go to sleep, he'd take his bottle for a while and close his eyes and I'd try and put him in his crib or in his seat but he'd wake up after just a minute or two and start screaming. I did this a couple of times and I was getting frustrated. He'd been changed, he was warm enough, he didn't feel much like eating and he was tired, so why wouldn't he settle down? Well, he closed his eyes while I was feeding him again and this time I just kept holding him rather then trying to put him down and he settled right down. He just wanted me to hold him. It made me feel like even though he can't communicate it yet that the little guy knows who I am and loves me. So, we're cool now. He can stay.