Western Films

On the topic of genre, I guess I’ve discovered western is not my favorite. However, there are some extremely easy to spot commonalities between western films that can probably be generalized to fit the general description of most western films. This was made even clearer to me by watching both Django and Sukiyaki Western Django, two western films that when compared prove that no matter how different they may appear, they are probably more similar than expected. Even in a Japanese western film versus an American western film- two things you probably wouldn’t think would have that much in common- most things were the same with the exception of some props and a few cultural symbols and decorations.

Mainly, the overall storyline of westerns seems to be the same: two sides fight to until one side wins and in between those two events, there’s a coffin and usually a few quick cut fight scenes with a female spectator who doesn’t really serve much purpose as an actual human being. The setting, no matter the country, is apparently also always an old abandoned, rundown town with lots of dust and one long deserted street down the middle. There’s also pretty much always a bar or another place that both sides can gather and duke out some battle for power. Something else I noticed about western films is the music…it’s always very similar. There’s typically a tune that is played multiple times throughout and comes in at times of the movie when there is a similar action going on.

Maybe it’s the all the dust or maybe it’s the repetitive storyline and characters, but the western films I’ve seen are all somewhat boring and pretty predictable. I’d definitely say the form of western movies is: ABABABABABABABAB all the way until 90 minutes later, there’s a C.

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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.

MeFausto

First of all, I did not really enjoy the movie. It dragged. There were a good thirty minutes that easily could have been left out, with little detriment to the film. Being a re-imagining of the tale of Faustus, the film enters that dangerous territory of hit-or-miss. And for me, it missed; I prefer the more succinct original version. Though to be fair to the film, the ending was sufficiently German. Happy endings are for schwächlinge.

That aside, the scene I’m analysing is the Villa Wedding Scene, wherein Hendrick is married to some German whose name I never caught. I apologise. I particularly enjoyed the opening, establishing shot, that shows the Villa behind a set of iron bars. Obvious imagery, Hendrick living in a gilded cage, nonetheless effective. The camerawork throughout the scene, leading up to the arrival of the general, is highly reminiscent of traditional love scenes: the bride and groom walking down the stairs, the tracking shots, people watching quietly. It serves as a ironic reminder of how twisted Hendrick’s life is. He isn’t marrying for love, but marrying because the Nazi party, perhaps subtly, told him to.

The final reminder that the Nazi party is truly in charge is the arrival of the General. On a night that should be all about the bride, (and I guess the groom) all activities stop for the general. All eyes are on him, and he even just strolls into their home, gives his approval, without being prompted, and departs.

The sound in the scene was deceptively extra-diegetic. We are shown shots of a band, but the instrumentation in the band did not even remotely match the music we were hearing. In the middle of a muted trumpet solo, the alto sax player was hamming it up. Definitely faking it. Film was terrible about that.

Week 9 Blog Assignment

My chosen scene is where Hendrick becomes the newly appointed director/owner/some leadership role of the theater in Berlin. This scene could be considered more like multiple very short scenes smashed together as one united scene lasting several minutes. It is precisely why that I chose it, it stood out very much from other scenes.

Throughout the entirety of these scenes, it shows Hendrick hard at work – and a bit over exaggerated, though he is an actor – at his new found position by rapidly going over several factors, problems, or just general things regarding the state of his theater and business. From talking with his employees, to examining the cleanliness of objects, interviewing a man, going over wardrobe, and even more responsibilities that come with the job. The scene quickly transitions from each, I suppose, smaller scene through very succinct cuts, almost without warning. The cuts are also quite inconsistent, immediately switching to a different room of varying size/color with different people or even with different garb and a contrasting tone of voice from the scene it cuts from, showing that Hendrick is always on the move and conducting some sort of task that may or may not be related to helping his theater and the arts flourish.

Aside from the cuts, it also utilizes several camera angles and shots. Both the rapid cutting between his tasks and varying camera angles really play off that Hendrick is working laboriously and intensively in his job, be it due to genuine care for the business or because he is ordered to by the general is still quite unclear at this point.

Sound can also be related, in a sense, as even when scenes cut, someone’s voice will be heard, mostly Hendrick’s of course. Between scenes, his tone and pitch of voice changes depending on the situation he is in. Sometimes he will be yelling, almost in an annoyed rage, other times his mocking, but for the most part he uses a rapid and comprehensible voice to get his point across effectively and quickly. Again, this plays off his busy nature as director/owner of the theater.

Week 9 Blog Post

Mephisto was definitely a long movie. In my opinion, I liked it the least of all our movies. I want to analyze the scene in the movie where it shows a passage of time as he moves from costume to costume and role to role. This scene was interesting to me so I thought I would pick it to bits and pieces.

First, the scene shows him in a show. He is the main character and therefore under the spotlight. The lighting is always on his face to show his expressions. It is also dark around him and there is contrast as the deep shadows are behind him. Most of the scenes have a black backdrop that emphasizes the center, which is him.

The costuming is always different depending on the role. I noticed that each costume has a little bit of black, and I have not really seen Hendrick without any black in his outfit. This might signify that he is a little dirtied, or there is something about him that cannot be covered no matter what. In most of the shots also, he is holding the same smug looking face. This seems to allow him to remain the same character and you can see his confidence over the time span that this scene is accelerating.

As far as the shots go, the editing is quite harmonious. The shots are very straight forward and the camera actually follows the main character’s movements sort of like a person watching a show. He is always coming out of something like doors or curtains as transitions also.

There is not much to the scene as it was very short, but it did catch my attention near the beginning. To be honest, I really did enjoy the ending as you realize that he was a puppet instead of gaining all the power he has bragged about. The movie was interesting, but I think I am good with watching it only once.

Week 9 Blog Post-Mephisto

Mephisto

A scene in Szabo’s Mephisto that truly caught my eye was when Heinz and the general meet for the first time. Comfortably sitting in his dressing room, when he hears the news that the general wants to meet him, Heinz instantly feels skittish and fearful. This translates smoothly as he makes his way towards the balcony of the theatre with the film’s use of prolonged close up shots of both the General and Heinz. For Heinz, the close up shots serve to show his fear in the situation of meeting a high ranked Nazi leader. For the General, however, it shows him as almost analyzing him. It is important to remember that while this is all happening, Heinz is still in his full Mephisto costume and makeup.

The scene is quite tense until the General finally says congrats to Heinz. In what can be seen as a quick transition, the tension has passed when the scene fast-forwards a bit later to Mephisto (Heinz), the General and his wife laughing in conversation. The audience is left to fill in the wholes of what happened between the time of tension and later laughter; the director seems to use this through out the whole film in order to condense time.

The most striking part of the whole scene, however, was when the camera panned out and the viewer sees the audience gazing up to the sight of a Nazi leader meeting with what can be interpreted as the devil himself. It is almost as if Heinz’s acting had not stopped and he was performing yet again. The viewer can see this as an almost foreshadowing to the influence that Heinz can have on the people of Germany as a political pawn of the Nazis. It also begs the question of who is more evil: the devil or the Nazis? In any case, it is a truly powerful shot to see the audience of the theatre mesmerized by this sight as if they are almost worshiping both men. Ultimately, Mephisto proves to be a telling story of what man is willing to do in order to gain his greatest desires.

 

Week 9 Blog Assignment – Mephisto

My favourite scene begins at 1:12:35.

It is the second time that Hendrik plays Mephisto. On this occassion, the chancellor commands one of his subjects to retrieve Hendrik in his dressing room after his show so that the chancellor and Hendrik may speak in the chancellor’s booth. Their dialogue comprises the scene.

The initial silence from Hendrik shows his respect and fear for the man who has called him into his booth. The close-ups in which neither actor is speaking but looking into the other’s eyes shows mutual respect. The chancellor admires Hendrik’s performance and acting ability, and you can see so in his face.

At 1:13:59 you can see how Hendrik and the chancellor are framed within the archway. The curtains behind them are drawn as if they are putting on a show. And the audience below is watching them. The chancellor rises from his seat to join Hendrik “on stage.” This is no coincidence–this was absolutely intentional. The director wanted to make the point that Hendrik’s conversation with the chancellor was acting. Hendrik even meets the chancellor while still in costume, another clue that he is still acting. He mentions before he goes to meet the chancellor that everything is going “like clockwork” as if he has the chancellor eating out of his hands. And it certainly seems as though that is the case for the first hour and a half of the film.

Perhaps we can draw from this framing that the chancellor is also acting. Perhaps the chancellor is using Hendrik as a mere pawn in his plot, but for now he is not letting Hendrik in on that. For now he will shake his hand and put on a big smile and pretend to be friendly.

The audience below the booth watch as Hendrik and the chancellor talk. They stop everything they are doing to watch them speak. I think this symbolizes how the citizens of Germany at this time are innocent bystanders in their own lives; they do not play active roles in the conversation (their lives), but instead they let the powerful men above them dictate their lives.

Week 9 Blog Assignment

My favorite scene from Mephisto is the montage of Hendrik’s rise to acting stardom (around 44:20).

The scene begins rather abruptly, like most of the scenes of the film, but the transition between this scene and the one before it is rather clever: the last shot in the preceding scene is graphically related to the first shot in this scene in that Hendrik closes the curtain to close the first scene and comes out of a curtain to open the next. The next several shots are of Hendrik playing a vast assortment of roles in a variety of plays. In each shot he is elaborately costumed and looks like a unique character as he moves across the frame every which way. Lighthearted, fun, nondiegetic music plays in the background, likely representing the happiness Hendrik feels while engulfed in a totally different person that is not his own.

Each shot, although in a theatre setting, is not typically lit theatrically (and this is not the case in many of the other scenes in the film that take place in a theatre) but rather weakly lit, with many shadows and darkness behind Hendrik. He is in the spotlight, but the spotlight is not too bright, contrasting the brightening spotlights in the last scene of the film. This is metaphorically analogous to one of the movie’s themes. At this time of the film (during this montage sequence), he is rising in stardom but is still not yet under the Nazi scrutiny that he is under towards the end—thus the weaker spotlight.

This montage ends with a shot of Hendrik waiting for a bus to pass to then cross the street (and I have no idea how that corresponds to the rest of the sequence) followed by a couple of shots of Hendrik acting in the role of a World War I soldier for a film. This montage, one of the many examples of how the film’s editing condenses time, is a brilliant portrayal of Hendrik’s rise in Germany’s acting scene.

Mephisto

The scene that stands out to me most from Mephisto was a short one but one that really impacted my view of Hendrik. The scene I’m referring to is when he is sitting on the bed with his wife (can’t remember if they’re actually married at this point). You can see her reflection in the mirror, but it’s fuzzy and really rather unimportant. It’s as if she’s in the background and the scene is really all about him, which makes sense in relation to the rest of the plot. The lighting in this scene is really incredible and it portrays Hendrik in a new, warm light (literally). The side lighting is very intense and really highlights his emotions and the expressions that he’s finally revealing somewhat passionately. Something else interesting to me about his dialogue in this scene is how he breaks the fourth wall. He is quite literally staring into the camera and gave me the feeling like he was begging for help or was actually afraid of what he was about to get involved in.

The intimate and small setting that is revealed in this scene also helps to facilitate the revealing of Hendrik’s more personal side. The viewer is able to feel more connected with him in a room that is finally not filled with grand, fancy furniture and high ceilings. Also, the close up on Hendrik’s face really makes what he’s saying seem a lot more urgent and important as opposed to if it was just a normal shot of the whole room and both characters. But it really feels as if he is bearing is soul and really wants to be heard. Although he trails off from the sincerity a little bit in a way that seems as if he has other motives, it is still a somewhat shocking scene in comparison to the styling of the rest of the scenes with Hendrik up until that point.

Blog Assignment Week 9

As I’m sure many other people do, I find the final scene of Mephisto to be the most interesting and thought provoking.

From a cinematography/camerawork/editing perspective, there are several important things to note. First, we have an establishing shot of the arena; though the arena shown may or may not be the one in which this scene actually occurs, placing this image before the scenes that occur inside the arena takes it from an ambiguous spatial relationship to a cohesive sequence that has meaning. Next, we have a long shot of the men walking inside the arena with no apparent condensing of time, giving us a sense of the space and distance on screen. Before they settle into their final places, we get a shot from below the men as they climb the stairs and a shot from above their heads, which in sequence serve to emphasize that they’re higher up than they were before (and that the other men are higher up than Hendrik will be in just a few moments, which also symbolizes their power over him). Next, we see a sort of POV shot taking in the area that the arena encloses, again adding to our sense of space and distance. As the General speaks to Hendrik the camera takes a closer shot from below them and when he starts to shout Hendrik’s name, the camera comes from behind them, taking in the whole scene and cluing us into the fact that the action is about to move onto the field of the arena. As Hendrik goes onto the field, four or five beams of light are all focused on him; interestingly they make several shadows in his shape, echoing the idea that he is not quite a person, but more of a character or characters, always acting and never being his one true self.

As far as sound goes, most of the first half of the scene consists of unified footsteps, indicating how militant and structured the Nazis are. As the footsteps stop, we hear the ominous sound of wind blowing, another clue that something is amiss. Though we cannot understand exactly what the man is saying, just by hearing his tone of voice and observing facial expressions we grasp that Hendrik is realizing that he has been deceived in some way.

Possibly the most interesting thing of all is that when Hendrik is under the spotlights, he tries and fails to run outside the lines of light. It appears that Hendrik’s power/freedom, the fame and the limelight, really has become his prison.