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Archive for the month “April, 2013”

The aural experience of WW2 by A Man Escaped and The Pianist

Hey everyone,I have just rewatched A Man Escaped yesterday and I cannot pinpoint but to see such similarities to Polanski’s The Pianist in their cinematic methods to creata an aural experience for World War 2. Therefore this would be my discussion for today’s posting

“The eye solicited alone makes the ear impatient, the ear solicited alone makes the eye impatient. Use these impatiences.”-Robert Bresson

Those who are not familar with my case studies,I would give the brief outlines of these films which both are based on true accounts of people who survived the treacherous conditions of World War 2. For Polanski’s The Pianist-it goes about a radio pianist Szpliman (Played wonderfully by Adrien Brody) who have been forced into the darkest period of WW2-The Holocaust,and his trials and tribulations to survive these odds. On the otherhand for A Man Escaped (Un condamné à mort s’est échappé) ,it goes about Nazi resistance fighter Fontatnie,who was thrown into a German POW camp and about to face a death sentence however he have plans to escape the camp. Both films have their main protagonists faced opposition from the Nazi forces,for Szpliman-it was the discrimination of his religion while Fontanie,was the planned coup to bomb the Nazis.

It was interesting to note that the directors both have experienced the WW2,for Bresson himself-he was imprisoned in a labour camp for a year and half and while Polanski have a traumatic experience of the holocaust,where he was separated by his family and only saved by a farming family and later reunited by his father after the war. For the Pianist,the scene where Szpiliman was saved from going to the concentration camp was based on  a similar experience Polanski encountered. While Fontanie’s ropes and hooks are based on Devingy’s hooks he actually made for the escape. Therefore they managed to incorporate their experiences both visually  into their works.

Now I would like to focus on they managed to heighten the mood aurally,both films are lead by a particular classical music piece which shows the character’s journey arc,for The Pianist,it was Chopin. To Szpilman,playing Chopin is basically his life and identity which linked to Chopin whose pieces were considered as the pride of the country himself. We opened the scene with Szpliman being calm and collected while doing a recording of  Nocturne in C# Minor. There we are shocked by the bombings which deafen our ears. It symbolized about his personal world being crashed. Even when he was hiding,he goes by and imagine himself playing his piano and we hear that Chopin motif of Nocturne in C Minor,which shows the escapism from the situations he wen through. However it was that music piece which eventually saved his life from being killed by a German Officer.

We opened the scene reeked with silence,on Szpliman attempting to get the pickle out of a jar and failed. It added to our minds the fear whenever he will be discovered. There it broke up with the question and of course we hear Szpliman speaking again since the hideout. He was fearful yet uncertain. There it was heighten by the walking of the footsteps,where he sits in and played that piece. It was nothings but faces of awe and pure beauty,that even the officer was moved by his playing.

It did paid off where Szpliman,now in better health performed in a live concert with a united Poland where he performed Chopin. Therefore Polanski’s efficient use of Chopin,symbolized the identity of Szpliman from the somber Nocturme to a slighty optimistic Grande Polonaise Brillante Op. 22 that the passion for music actually saved his life and sanity.

While on the other hand,Bresson’s use of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor-Kyrie added an underlying tone on Fonatnie’s emotional fate. Interestingly Kyrie Elesion,in Latin means “Lord Have Mercy” which shows Bresson’s Catholic background and highlights the struggle Fonatnie have on believing he can escape. David Bordwell seen this music motif as “his main means of direct contact with other prisoners.” We seen Fontanie as aloof and skeptical about the faith,especially his scorn to the Pastor,”If God is good,why don’t he help us” which highlights the doubting faith. As the film goes,this music motif,shows his growing trust and faith in others which leads to a young boy Jost which the mass was played. By using this motif,it added that idea of faith being difficult to be wrangled alone but we need others in order to be alive spiritually.

Here both films have the efficient use of silence to create the suspense and aloofness the characters have to face,while Szpliman’s lines are very sparse to show off the Jewish voice being cut-off. We only hear him speak on the first half,to show the growth of Jewish opposition and him playing the piano infront of the general. We are only allowed to follow Szpliman’s journey by his actions and emotions whenever it was his fear in hiding or his little victories. While on the other hand,we got into Fonatnie’s wrold by his voice-over to help us follow the story which Bordwell analyze was either  “clarify the action“,”receive other vital information through the commentary. Sometimes the narration simply states facts” or “what his thoughts had been “. For instance where he think over how he opened the door or perhaps his fate when he was freed from his death sentence. However it sounds distant as it never pinpoint where it came from “since we never learn whether Fontaine is thinking back over these events or recounting them to someone.” The only times we heard him speak physically was the exchanges between the POWS or Jost,the young boy. There it was sparse as we are more focused on his small actions like chiseling the spoon or writing letters to the wall. It highlights again on Fonatnie’s aloofness with that environment.

Now here is how the sound design of these films come into play to heighten the mood of these films. For A Man Escaped,we are surrounded by the sounds of prison life,and the motif of his freedom was the sound of trains he heard from his prison window. Everytime he gets nearer his goal-the train sounds will heighten. Bresson wrote on efficient sound in film that “the noises must become music”. Even at the pivotal scene where Fontanie and Jost are escaping,we fear for the protagonists’ inability to escape by the loud ringing of the bicycle sounds,the soft gravel sounds and even the footsteps gave us the worry that they would be caught. On the other-hand for The Pianist,where Szpliman was in hiding at a friend’s apartment-we get to hear the “sights” where there is  abrupt noises everywhere and it seems to raise higher as he watched the violence passively. It shows the trapped nature that Szpliman faced,that he is even unable to save his own family.

Therefore in conclusion,both filmmakers managed to create the atmosphere of WW2 by the use of sound. Despite going into different directions,they actually played the sound in order to drive the action. For Fontanie it lifts the idea of faith is not without any driven actions ” in Bresson’s view, to intervene on our behalf. But our own actions, and our determination despite the obstacles in our path, are the most important factors in our survival and in overcoming the evils that life confronts us with.” like how they used the sound of the chiseling spoon to show an aspect of faith. On the other hand,in The Pianist it could be said that the chaos could not shut off a person’s spirit even at times of darkness,like the contrast of deafening silence to the Chopin pieces which symbolized Szpliman’s identity. They used their real-life experiences and translate it to the screens where we journey the characters themselves.


The power of cinema-A reflection from Black Orpheus (Orfeu Negro)

Ever since I came off from projects,I have been catching up on my habit of film watching. This afternoon I decided to catch Marcel Camus’ classic- Black Orpheus. It was a coincidence that I ever knew about this film was from a classmate who I know her well. I was doing my work when she whatsapp me on asking what films I want as she was in the library. She suggested  Orpheus,of course I was thinking of Jean Coeteau’s Orpheus as I really wanted to watch it for a while.  She recommended me a title because of a script I wrote was based on Greek Mythology. However she surprised me when I saw this title,Camus’ Black orpheus . Normally I don’t see my film cohort being that keen in art-house or classic films (I am the only one in my batch that watched a varied amount of films). Of course I was delighted that I can see that I make a small impact to my classmates of watching films that is beyond their comfort zone. Pity that it was in Blu-ray,and I have to find the DVD version of it.

Now fast-forward to today,I decided that I would just curl up to this film in my new movie room (small television and DVD player,not the fanciest but it beats nothing to me hogging my parents’ television time for film-watching). Those who are unfamiliar to this film,it was basically a retelling of the Orpheus myth in one of the most important festivals in Brazil-Carnivale,a village girl meets a trolley man. There with my green tea cuppa and some snacks,I started watching this film with no expectations.

After I watched this film,after a long hiatus of bottling my emotions, I was overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of Orfeu Negro. I became like a child,I cannot put in my adult rational in that film. I could recall a few times where I was overwhelmed by a film and changed my life.

There is Across The Universe,that is where I wanted to create films that “changed the world“. I was a naive dreamer then at 19. Along came David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia,that shook me to the core. There comes Yume by Akira Kurosawa. In my film screening classes I seen Match Factory Girl (I was in tears when I talked to my lecturer about this film),Of Time and The City,Bresson’s Pickpocket and A Man Escaped. This semester I was mind-blown by The Diving Bell and The Butterfly and Antonia’s line. At home,I was overwhelmed by Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon,The Pianist and Amadeus. For some reason I have that tendency to suspend my rational and simply watch it as if it was in the audience’s perspective.

Perhaps Orfeu Negro impacts me even more because I just needed to watch films to get away from the stress of film school and my dilemmas for my future. It was rare for me to become speechless after watching a film. I have seen sights of Brazil in travel documentaries in television where people gleefully said here is the beautiful city and show the typical sights of Brazil. However Marcel Camus transported me into the chaos of the Carnival with such eye-popping visuals of colour. I mean I cannot shake that feeling that I thought I was in the crowd itself.

There came along the bossa nova soundtrack which peeped up otherwise tragic tale of Orpheus and Eurdyrice which I am familiar with. The tunes adds that authenticity of Brazil which is rare to find in your typical travel shows.

For once I feel so many emotions,I laughed at the silly antics,I grew upset when I see Orfeu’s grief and was even angry on Mira’s cruel treatment on Eudryrice. I was surprised that I feel hopeful at the idyllic ending when I see the tragic death of the lovers. It kindled me a memory form watching Jean Renoir’s The River few months ago. For some odd reason both have somewhat philosophical endings,it said hey life goes around whenever the circumstances.It was pure beauty. I somewhat smiled at the ending which was a shock to me.

Somehow Orfeu Negro restored my faith in cinema as I recalled a moment where I cried at Jeff’s doubting in Mr Smith Goes to Washington. I just needed that punch from my cynical self of going through shoot and shoot . As one of my favourite film Tumblr blogs Salesonfilm summarized that feeling “it’s like when you see a fellini for the first time after being raised on the cheap american fanboy simulacrum canon for twenty years and you just feel like crawling into a ball and weeping because you realize you’ve been wasting your life on movies and not cinema and all the possibilities of art assault you with their beauty and you feel ugly because of it.”  It’s like rediscovering what is the connective tissue of cinema as Lord Puttnam talked in a seminar,is unifying people of different continents to see a film that is so relatable. I then need to stop bitching to myself that no one would have that capacity to watch this type of films,because I am the only one who understands it. Orfeu Negro’s beauty is perhaps the purest,it was about unrequited love and jealousy which everyone can relate to,whenever you are an American student or a Chinese clerk. If it could unite a person who is unaware about art cinema,like my classmate who is into action and thriller films then cinema have done its job. It connects people together because they will share the same feelings too with you. That is the beauty of cinema which I learned today from watching this film. No matter what your taste,values or whatever,we are connected by that tissue.

To end off my reflection,here is a quote of another favourite film of mine Cloud Atlas

Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.

Like how we needed others,perhaps cinema bound everyone,no matter what circumstances. A film can change the world and mindsets. To me that is why I am always falling back to the world of cinema


The Maltese Falcon (1941)-the queerness of Joel Cairo and the threat of male society.

Hello guys,I am very how silent this blog have been….However I am determined to get in running after all my coursework is done. Now I would be doing a short insight on how film noir classic The Maltese Falcon shows the queerness of 1940’s  society and how it is a threat to the masculine mindset in that era.

Keeping in mind that film is under scrutiny of the Hays' Code which forbids the depiction of sexual acts,violence and even the character's sexual identity as "motion pictures present stories that will affect lives for the better, they can become the most powerful force for the improvement of mankind" Therefore homosexuals were depicted as laughing stocks or the antagonists in the film,therefore it is applicable that the Maltese Falcon falls under the negative depiction of homosexuals.

After showing the inciting incident of the murder of Spade (Bogart),and the introduction of the femme Fatale Brigid (Mary Astor). We are introduced to the other male character (aside the police). It was interesting what was Spade’s reaction after looking at the business

 What'll it cost to be on the safe side?

 Maybe it's worth it.

 Okay, go ahead.


 Quick, darling, in with him!

Bogie's reaction is seem out of disgust and yet filled with curiosity with this client. Here we get to seeJoel Cario (Peter Lorre),let me point that how contrasting the appearances are. Here we have Bogart's rugged features which he could be easily landed for the poster boy of the film noir genre,which focused on anti-heroes. In contrast,the bug-eyed and curly hair Peter Lorre is the total opposite of Bogart's looks. Even the way he perform seem effeminate, and reminded me of another performance of his,M (1931) by Fritz Lang where he played  a child murderer. Even the way,he stroked his cane while talking to Sam Spade have some phallic symbolism,and hints subtly of his sexual orientation. As Laura Mulvery talked in her essay "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema"

“Although the fiIm is really being shown, is there to be seen, conditions of screening and narrative conventions give the spectator an illusion of looking in on a private world. Among other things, the position of the spectators in the cinema is blatantIy one of repression of their exhibitionism and projection of the repressed desire on to the performer. ”

Peter Lorre in M (1931)

He shown his maliciousness to Bogart,where he asked him to raise his hand it probably symbolize in 40's society that homosexuals present as a "threat" as discussed in the HBO documentary The Celluiod Closet. However Bogart fought off his homosexual client perhaps symbolized the triumph of a traditional male society to the queer society in the 40's. He even whined in pain how his shirt was dirty,it seems that Huston fluffed up the queer stereotype as being whiny and afraid of that deeds.

In the confrontation scene between Sam Spade and the gang,we seen on heavy implications of the sexual relations,between Cairo and his gang members,by the way the way one of the henchman was called "gunsel" have an implied meaning of homosexuality. Interestingly the way they are positioned have a triangular positions which hinted a strange kind of and yes guns as the phallic symbolism appear in most of that scene.

Like how Sam Spade refused the advances of Brigid,Cairo rejected one of his gang members 'advances and suffered the consequences.Therefore it gives us an idea,that a homosexual must realize his actions and refuse his carnal needs

However as the ending of The Maltese Falcon,as most Classical Hollywood films treated its queer characters.Joel Cairo and his gang members were brought to justice and locked away in their 'closet". It was seem restored to the traditional ways of male society

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