Week 9 – Mephisto

The final scene of Mephisto was definitely the scene that left the most profound impression on me.  From the scene’s inception and until Hendrik began walking down the steps towards the open field, I found myself confused; I was taking the scene literally.  Only until the lights began focusing on Hendrik did I realize the metaphorical purpose of the scene.  Having been misleadingly referred to as Mephisto throughout the film, he realizes that he is instead, tragically and irreversibly, Faust.  All of the cinematic and thematic aspects of the film seem to converge and resolve in this scene: the premise, saturated with political elements, the metaphorical undertones, and the psychoanalysis of the characters (namely, of Hendrik himself).

Throughout the film, close-ups were utilized to emphasize the emotions of the characters.  In this particular scene, a close-up of Hendrik was used to convey his ultimate revelation; it finally dawns on him that he is merely a pawn in the grander scheme of things, essentially a piece of propaganda manipulated (almost in a dehumanizing manner) for the sole purpose of disseminating the ideas and principles of the Nazi regime.  At last, he questions, agonizingly, what the Nazis desire from him, coming to terms with the truth at last.

In a sense, at this very moment, a theme of the novel – the portrayal of the stage as Hendrik’s reality – is shattered.  The element of dream-like intangibility in Henrik’s mysteriousness and his ambiguous inner persona is lost as he violently comes to terms with his true role and identity.  Furthermore, the lights that surround Henrik divide his shadow into three separate components; this reminded me strangely and almost disturbingly of the strings of a puppeteer.  From the scene’s inception to its closing, a dark, surreal aura seemed to radiate from not only the strange setting but from the mannerisms of the Nazis surrounding Henrik, proving unsettling for the audience while simultaneously giving the impression of a lurking, impending doom falling upon Henrik.

This final scene also proves heavily ironic.  Henrik’s vision of himself is revealed to be completely false, fanciful, and almost ridiculous.  He is revealed to be not a product of his art and his love of acting, but a product of the state and its collective political goals – completely contrary to what he believed was actually going on.

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Week 8 – A Clockwork Orange

Throughout the film, A Clockwork Orange, the orchestral soundtrack as well as the sound effects – which are often tied together throughout the film – are utilized to not only convey the psychological state of the main character, Alex, but to create a mirror with the emotional experience that the audience undergoes (which lies in parallel with Alex’s own psychological journey).  As Alex experiences a certain psychological hysteria – a high of sorts – in the actions of completing his delinquent crimes, the music that we hear reflects his chaotic state of mind, projecting it onto the audience.  As the classical music clashes with the actions and setting, not only portraying but giving insight into his deranged mind – we absorb it all.  The blatant discord between the situation at hand and the music overlain creates a sense of hysteria and harmonious confusion within the audience, maybe even nauseousness.

In that sense, we are able to connect with Alex’s character, seeing through his eyes and mind vicariously, using the sounds and their interaction with the visual cinema as vessels.  For example, in the scene where Alex daydreams, a very ominous brass instrument-heavy melody begins, then followed by a serene violin solo, expressing the peaceful, dream-like state within Alex’s mind.

Also, it seems that the use of classical music almost completely embodies the emotions Alex is feeling at the time it plays; his love and enthusiasm for rape and crime is manifested in his love for Beethoven, as music is blasted loudly and shamelessly during Alex’s moments of euphoria and the most seemingly disturbing and morally-unhinged of scenes.

The absence of music throughout the film often signifies Alex’s disconnect from the rest of the world – his isolation from it – as well represents how the world has turned into a force bent on destroying him, his victims now having become his oppressors.

Week 7 Assignment.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

This is one of my favorite films ever – cinematic art at its finest.

This particular scene begins by establishing the setting – the main character’s (Joel) friends’ living room.  As he relates to them a story concerning his recent encounter with an ex-lover, Clementine, cross-cutting is used to transition back and forth between scenes of Joel’s unpleasant experience and the scene at present, all tied together through his consistent voice-over.

The camerawork is also shaky – but subtly and artfully – even around 00:30 when the action of the frame is completely oriented around him, serving to emphasize the uneasiness and restlessness he feels as well as the tension within the scene.

Beginning around 00:47, as Joel’s character suddenly becomes overcome with the realization that Clementine has found a new lover, his confusion is mirrored through an almost tangible curtain that draws itself between Joel and his surroundings.  The movement of the camera grows slightly more hectic, making the background seem blurrier, and the white noise of the background (people talking, moving around, etc.) becomes increasingly indiscernible yet more pronounced in terms of volume.  Joel’s breathing grows heavy as his disconnect with his surroundings grows – and here, the most profound piece of editing takes place as Joel simultaneously walks out of the bookstore and into his friends’ living room.  While this occurs, the lighting of the bookstore changes, each level of the ceiling lights turning off following the movement of Joel out of the room: in my opinion, one of the most creative transitions I’ve ever seen in a film.  This transcends the typical cross-cutting method, and the sudden shift between past and present also illuminates the dream-like quality of the film, distorting and warping the audience’s sense of time.

The scene as a whole maintains a certain stream of consciousness – emphasizing the intertwined threads of Joel’s reality and his confusion with it, punctured with images of the past: a dynamic that is used throughout the entirety of the film, giving it an undeniably dream-like vibe.  The experimentation with the editing of color and lighting also magnifies this almost surrealistic essence of the film.  Clementine’s vivid hair – which changes throughout the film – not only adds to the overall visual effect of the film but reflects the state of the relationship between Joel and Clementine.  In this scene, her hair is blue, representing the opposite of passion and life.

Week 6 – Contempt

Contempt, Godard’s French New Wave Cinema masterpiece, appears very simple at face value – depicting the tragic yet relatable disintegration of a romantic relationship – but actually contains many underlying layers illuminated and magnified through the film’s cinematography.

The setting and the focal lengths and depths of field through which they are filmed often reflect the psychology of the characters; for example, the framing of the couple’s apartment, especially during the long scene within which they are arguing/conversing, almost opens up the mind of Paul to the audience’s psychoanalysis.  Based on the nature of the framing and the distorted sense of distance created by the shots, etc., Paul’s irrational and confused state of mind towards the reality of the relationship is elucidated.  Furthermore, the hectic physical state embodied by the dialogue between the couple (as they speak between walls, circling around each other, etc.) also reflects the state of restlessness between the couple themselves as their romance falls apart.  The generous use of jump-cuts coupled with this illusory distortion of space makes the sense of time and our understanding of the passage of time within the film very difficult.

The use of colors to represent certain ideas/concepts is also prevalent.  For example, many objects appear as red throughout the film; and the switching of the lens filters (twice) in the bedroom scene mirrors the transition from a passionate, honeymoon-phase (red) to the shattering of the illusion and realization of reality (clear) to the ultimately tragic end (blue – also foreshadowed by Paul’s words in that same scene, “I love you completely, tenderly, and tragically“).

Overall, I viewed the film itself as a piece of poetry translated into film (emphasized by the fact that the plot of the film is oriented around the translation of Homer’s poetry to the cinema).  Despite its rather disconnected parts and relatively short statements – expressed through its array of jump cuts, sometimes frenzied use of all three focal lengths, distorted sense of time, etc. – the film undeniably flows together as a whole.  And just as in a poem, some key elements are repeated throughout, such as the swelling orchestral theme, some statements within the dialogue (“Why don’t you love me?”, as well as during the flashback/dream-esque scene during which an entire monologue was repeated), the emphasis on the nudity/sexuality of Chamille, etc.  On the emotional level, the film is also a work of poetry, as the feelings of love and passion grown into hatred and contempt become disturbingly palpable through Godard’s clever cinematography.

Week 5: Yojimbo

Parts of the mise-en-scene such as the setting, costumes, lighting, and props all greatly enhanced the unique tone of Yojimbo and its identity as an essentially Western film taking place in a feudal Japanese setting, with many Quentin Tarantino-esque elements.  The clashing of the old time-esque Japanese setting and the distinctly Western vibe of the film (conveyed through the nature of the shots and also through the way the plot unfolds), proves almost pleasantly discordant, giving the film a very unique identity.

I noticed that the architecture was undeniably Japanese, but that the actual layout of the buildings and their spacings from one another were very Western (facilitating the execution of the iconic show-down scenes later on in the film).

Props prove very important throughout the film, not only giving it an authentic Japanese appearance but augmenting the symbolic essence of it as well; swords are found prevalently, but when the gun is introduced, it becomes obvious that it will become an important plot device (as well as an indicator of the film’s Western influences).  It also becomes insinuated that the owner of the gun will ultimately have to face-off with the main character, as the gunman is the only one who can match up to the main character’s unparalleled swording skills.  However, in the end, the main character is ultimately victorious with a simple shorter blade (shaped like a kitchen knife), as his intimidatingly-accurate aim maims the gunman’s shooting arm.

I first noticed the significance of the characters’ costumes when the two warring gangs faced-off in the streets; the contrasting attire of each samurai is what identified them to whichever corresponding group they were part of.  Also, the greatly-decorated costumes of the two gang leaders identified them as being members of higher status than their fighting samurai.  The costumes interact with the lighting as well, emphasizing the dark vs. light juxtaposition throughout the film.

Week 4 – Beauty & the Beast

Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast is undeniably a distinct work of cinematic surrealism and storytelling. The plot unfolds almost exclusively through the eyes of a third, omniscient presence, with an overall unrestricted range as the characters on screen are often left oblivious to impending events or situations that the audience members are privy to.

Dramatic irony is used heavily throughout the film, as various plots and sub-plots intertwine, with no antagonist able to be pin-pointed until everything has almost come to a conclusion. However, despite the use of this method (that was most likely intended to heighten the sense of excitement and anxiousness within the audience as the storyline progressed), the film ended with a definite sense of closure, with all loose ends having been tied into beautiful bows.

There are a plethora of visual elements used stylistically and dramatically throughout the film that do well to create as well as magnify a sense of tangible suspense within the audience, as well as illuminate the (almost ridiculously) surrealistic essence of Cocteau’s creation. The hands holding the candles and other objects within the mansion as well as the human faces whose eyes would follow the characters – in eerie silence – shed light upon the thematic core of the corresponding scenes- magical, creepy, hallucinatory. Especially in that scene, we were basically in the same mindset as Belle’s father, vicariously experiencing emotions similar to what he was experiencing.

The film, overall, successfully maintained this very ethereal, incredibly dream-like tone. During some scenes, I was reminded of Pan’s Labyrinth – a film that essentially feeds off of its own beautifully yet viciously surrealistic qualities. References to other films also give Cocteau’s film much more dimension, including the mirror – a motif used in many other fairytales, and an object of much poetic connotation on its own.

Modern Times

Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times is one of the great pinnacles of the Classical Hollywood film, with its undeniably-seamless storytelling and use of motifs.  It makes great use of its distinctive form and tone, serving as a strong statement of social-economic commentary while presenting simultaneously a satiric perspective on as well as a criticism of industrial society during The Great Depression.

Through Chaplin’s character, the film almost glorifies – albeit subtly – the trials and tribulations of the poor during this historic period that is plagued with strikes and widespread poverty; he symbolizes, throughout the film, the persevering optimism of America’s underdogs. Also, the heavy, daunting industrialized machinery of the factory symbolizes the physical and psychological/mental weight of the Great Depression that takes a toll on many, while the constant oppression of the law and the police (as Chaplin’s character is repeatedly sent back to jail) represents the side of the Great Depression that irrevocably suppresses the freedom and happiness of the masses rather than liberating and supporting them, as they are supposed to. The tedious, repetitive nature of the industrial machinery also illuminates Chaplin’s insinuated idea that society is cruelly molding man and industry into one; this reduces the value of the human core, which consists of life, emotion, etc. Underneath all of its layers, the film is an exploration as well as a statement concerning the human condition and its victorious moments as well as defeats in the face of the Great Depression.

Chaplin’s naturally light-hearted and happy demeanor, his purity of heart, and his good will saturate the entire film with a tone of idealism and hope, making the comedic identity of the film much more vibrant. The orchestral soundtrack also helps to magnify this, as the music most oftentimes reflects the dispositions of the corresponding characters and the action of the narrative sequences.

The young, vivacious orphan woman eventually (and inevitably) meets Chaplin’s character, and they become partners in crime. Throughout the film, I found the dynamic between the couple very endearing; the way Chaplin’s character looks at her and smiles at her was so pure and genuine, especially when he curiously and admiringly addressed her newly-bought attire. The couple incites an emotional response within the audience, consistently, as we identify with their struggles and their emotions.

Ultimately, the bittersweet, open-ended last scene of the film – when Chaplin’s character and his girl walk away together – conveys an optimistic, heartening note of finality and emphasizes the unlikely yet enduring strength of the main characters despite their misfortunes during a time of social and economic oppression.

Week 2 Blog Assignment

The second silent film I have ever watched (next to The Artist), Metropolis Restored has shed light on a completely different side of the silent film that I had previously never experienced or even been able to acknowledge.  Ultimately, I was shocked at how the sci-fi plotline could be so vividly and successfully conveyed, considering the limited cinematic technology of the time, as well as how clearly-expressed and tangible the intensities of the actors’ and actresses’ emotions were.

One of the scenes that made the biggest impact, in my opinion, was the transformation of the robot into Maria’s clone.  The dramatic transformation of Maria’s image was very pronounced; as soon as the robot clone version of Maria opened her eyes, she immediately set off a completely different aura, clashing with her original character.  Her initially angelic façade had reconstructed itself into a much more sensual, daring façade, emphasized by the use of makeup on her features, making them bolder.

The scene’s effects were also very intricate and visually stunning considering the resources available for the cinema at the time; the large rings of light surrounding the robot magnified the dramatics of the scene.  Also, the orchestral soundtrack heavily influenced the tone of the event, beginning as curious and wonder-filled with a hint of mischief, then culminating into a crescendo with the event of the clone’s transformation in the form of a steady, sustained melody – awe-struck, exalting, and happily resigned, signaling one of the film’s plot pinnacles.

Inevitably, there seems to be a certain social commentary concerning Maria that refers to the strictly-dichotomized (dual nature) role that women were expected to fulfill at the time – the innocent, pure, motherly figure vs. the sexually bold, lust-embracing figure.  It is suggested that women are only allowed to adhere to one of the two stereotypes.  Maria’s transition depicts two separate ideas of beauty; her original conveying the caring, chaste, and deeply moral type of beauty vs. her clone that emits a more intimidating, destructive, dangerous side of beauty.  One has the power to cast a spell over men, to enchant them; however, the other has the ability to almost control the actions and thoughts of men entirely in a much more violent manner, stirring up their rage.

Week 1 Blog Assignment

Hi, my name’s Rachel Han, and I’m from Jacksonville.  I’m a sophomore – currently an Exploratory major following a Pre-med track.  I love singing, playing violin, playing piano, etc., basically anything music-related.  I also love to dance and choreograph, representing UF’s Anomaly Dance Crew.  I enjoy writing and art in general, and I’ve always had a huge appreciation for the art of film; I’ve chosen to take this course in order to learn more about it.

My 3 favorite films are 500 Days of Summer, The Prestige, and Another Earth.

My 3 least favorite films are The Fourth Kind, the Twilight saga, and Speed Racer.