Friday, November 24, 2006

Ozep's Whispering City & Hitchcock's I Confess

Whispering City (1947) and I Confess (1953) are two similar films that are shot in Quebec City. They share visual and aural elements in the film noir genre. Here I will compare the two films paying attention to its important location and it’s visual style.

The two directors Fedor Ozep and Alfred Hitchcock share a similar resume in their film careers. Both filmmakers emigrated from Europe before coming to Hollywood. In Quebec and Canada, Ozep is best-known as the "Hollywood" filmmaker imported to Quebec in order to direct three of the first sound features produced in the province: Le Pere Chopin (1944), La Forteresse (1947) and its English-language counterpart, Whispering City. Yet before his arrival in Quebec, Ozep was lurking in the shadows of many of the great early Eastern and Western European national cinema movements, making films in the USSR, Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain and France, before relocating to Hollywood, and then Quebec. His invisibility in film history is aided not only by near-continuous immigration, but also by the plethora of spellings of his name: in Russia and the USSR, Fyodor Otsep, Fyodor Otzep, and Fjodor Otsep, in Western Europe and North America, Fedor Ozep; in Spain, Pedro Otzoup. Ozep's career ended with a noir film (Whispering City), the genre that, above all others, exemplifies the hybridization of European cinematic styles in a recognizably American form.

Hitchcock however, did not immigrate as much as Ozep did. Hitchcock was a direct import to Hollywood from the UK. However while in Europe Hitchcock did have the opportunity to be influenced by German Expressionism, which is more apparent in his early work including I Confess.

Whispering City opens with various shots of Quebec City; a bird’s eye view of popular tourist attractions over the credits. (A method often employed by Hitchcock) Then a sleigh driver begins to tells a story to his passengers, essentially introducing the film’s main characters; a typical film noir method of recalling past events at the beginning of a film. When he talks about the reporter Mary Roberts we immediately dive into the story. While on the phone she reiterates that there has been an accident. At the word “accident” the dramatic music starts, and this in turn creates an air of mystery. The same music comes back when the reporter is interviewing Rene Brancoeur on her deathbed. The dramatic music is cued in when Rene says: “It wasn’t an accident… he was killed.” The opening of I Confess uses the exact same method to create an atmosphere of mystery. The credits roll over a slow boat tracking shot getting closer to Chateau Frontenac under a gloomy sky. After the infamous credit “Directed by Alfred Hitchcock”, we then see various shots of Quebec city, all of them locations used in Whispering City. Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo is atop of a staircase in which Michel from Whispering City will go down. We then see the same archway as the opening of Whispering City. The soundtrack intensifies when the camera tracks through a window and sees Villette dead in his house.

Both films use film noir motifs in their visual style such as strong directional lighting, and deep shadows. For example in Whispering City when Michel arrives at Frederik’s house drunk they are in his study. There are no lights on; we only have the light coming from the moon through the windows. This creates strong shadows on their faces, covering half of them in darkness. This suggests that our character has a dark past and is not being honest. There is a similar shot later in the film when Michel is in hiding in the recording studio, listening to the orchestra.

Double identities and double meanings are common in film noir as well. The use of the double meaning conversation is used early in Whispering City when Frederik and Mary are having lunch at the Chateau Frontenac. Mary believes that he is talking about skiing but the audience knows that he subtlety telling her to stay out of his affairs. The conversation is as follows:

Frederik “Our mountain trails are very dangerous”
Mary “So I understand”
Frederik “ It doesn’t frighten you”
Mary “One can’t very well be a sportsman and a coward at the same time”
Frederik “No but the real good sportsman knows his limitations and never takes unnecessary chances, no matter how fulfilling the challenge”
Mary “It’s sweet of you to worry about me, I’ll be careful”

Another double meaning conversation in the same film is when Paul Duval and Mary Roberts are about to go for a drive to Montmorency Falls. Before they leave the hotel he needs to make a phone call. Mary asks “Oh, is it about a job?” Paul replies “Yes… its… about a job.” The audience knows that the job is her elimination.

Whispering City uses the double identity device when Michel Lacoste must use another name in order to murder Mary Roberts. He goes under the name of Paul Duval. It is at this point in the film that he must contemplate if he will give in to Frederick’s demands. He walks the streets of Quebec similar to when the priest does in I Confess. He goes down a long stairway, symbolic of where his life is heading (downhill). The days past events replay in his head, tormenting him. In one shot he walks past judges in the street, and there are a pair of nuns walking behind him. This visual clue suggests that he is being judged from all angles of his life.

The use of shadows is apparent in both films. When Michel Lacoste / Paul Duval decides that he will murder Mary Roberts the first thing we see when he approached her apartment door is his shadow. This is a direct influence from German Expressionism and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. (1920) By showing the shadow this suggests that he will be going through with the murder because shadows do not show any human emotion. We cannot tell if he is nervous, or regretful of what he is about to do. A shadow gives no hint of remorse or fear. Hitchcock also uses shadows in I Confess. After Otto kills Villette there is a shot of his shadow along a wall outside. His face is covered in darkness for a few moments. In both films however after the shadow has exited frame right we see the nervousness of both characters. One who is about to commit murder, and one who has just done it. The dark alley is another film noir device used in both films. The dark alley is a place of danger and uncertainty and creates a sense of suspense and is always a place in which shadows lurk. In Whispering City Mary goes to Rene Brancoeur apartment after getting a mysterious key. However to get there she must go through a dark alley. In I Confess the murderer is seen walking down a dark alley with his long shadow in front of him.

Whispering City to me seems more influenced by German Expressionism than I Confess. Ozep seemed influenced by Joseph Von Sternberg’s cinema. The frame was very full of props with a lot of depth of field. Like in The Blue Angel (1930) As we can see by these two pictures Ozep had a lot happening in his frame, reminiscent of Von Sternberg.

Film noir cinema often informs the audience of the main characters thoughts through voice over, or even at times with a direct camera address. The audience is usually on the same page as the protagonist. However, sometimes there is a point in the film where aspects of the plot are held from the viewer for an element of surprise at the film’s conclusion. In Whispering City Mary and Paul walk to the top of Montmorency Falls. The audience is led to believe that Paul will finally go through with killing Mary. Ozep tricks the audience when the sounds of her screams blend into the falls. The camera pans down the falls imitating her descent. Paul has finally done it. Or has he? From here on crucial story elements are hidden from the audience – a classic Hitchcock device. In this instance Michel (formerly Paul) the newspaper editor and Mary are plotting a scheme to trick Frederik into confessing. Here Frederik goes on a similar journey of guilt like Michel did. In what I believe is the film’s strongest scene, Frederik is at home in his dark study where he “hallucinates” seeing Mary outside his window. The fact that his inner turmoil is represented indoors suggests that he was always a man that has felt trapped. When Michel was feeling the same way he was outdoors, suggesting that he is really free and innocent. He is just a victim of circumstance, the wrong man accused (again another popular Hitchcock theme)

Both film’s end with the crazy killers confessions, with an exchange of gun-fire. Even though Hitchcock had to alter the ending of I Confess to please the sensors, Hitchcock’s film has a much stronger ending than Ozep’s. Ozep’s film starts with a story being told, you almost think that this man will be our narrator. However we never see him again. The end just shows his sleigh riding off in the snow. To me this character was there because Ozep did not know how to open his film and introduce his characters in a creative way.

Whispering City is often accused of not telling an authentic local narrative, however I Confess is in the same boat. Of the two films being discussed I Confess would be the more authentic in relation to its location of the two. For example in Whispering City we do not hear anybody speak French. In I Confess, it is heard often. For example the priest Michael Logan says “bonne journee” to an alter boy. Ruth speaks French to her maid and tells her to go to bed and that she will clean the mess. We see more of Quebec in Whispering City than I Confess. Montmorency Falls is a location that I Confess does not show. The film also mentions location names more. “I’m at the Chateau apartments on Grand Allee” and “Hotel Dieux” is not something we will hear in I Confess. Locations are more generic in I Confess; for Example, “the church”, “Villette’s place”… And on a cultural level characters smoked a lot in Whispering City, whereas in I Confess nobody smoked! Everybody knows that Quebecers are chain smokers! Also in I Confess Quebecers activities where not discussed at all. In Whispering City at the restaurant Mary and Frederick discuss Quebec’s great ski hills. Also the symphony Michel was working on was called the “Quebec Concerto” The only cultural reference in Hitchcock’s film is when Michel roams the streets of Quebec he looks at a poster for the Bogart film called The Enforcer, a Hollywood production!

Although Ozep did not reach the level of cinematic canonization that Hitchcock has achieved, I believe Whispering City is a strong film in the history of Canadian cinema and should be considered an important piece in the history of film noir.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Paul Tomkowicz: Street Railway Switchman & Luckily I Need Little Sleep

These two films are portraits of an immigrant working in Canada. Paul Tomkowicz works as a mini biography, or “a day in the life of”. To me the film is a portrait of loneliness. The unscripted random stories of Paul Tomkowicz voiced over images of him sweeping the tracks seemed like a lonely old man telling his story to whomever will listen. He never mentions that he has a family, or has any definite plans for the future. He is going to be retiring soon, but the biggest aspiration he has is “maybe taking a trip next year” On his day off, he will maybe stay home or go see a show alone. I really felt sorry for this man. It made me think of Jack Nicholson’s character in About Schmidt The film is about how empty this man’s life is now that he is retired. I felt like Paul was going to end up like this character. He has no family at home, and has no plans after retirement, so what is he going to do? The film also had a good message about the role of immigrants in Canada’s work force. To me it showed a job that I never new existed and to be grateful for men like this, that he has an impeccable work ethic and makes the life of the Canadian commuter easier. The soundtrack was exceptional. The sounds of the wind, snow and the train on the tracks were memorable. There was extensive use of mixing, diegetic and non-diegetic music like the jazz music in the café.
Luckily I Need Little Sleep is a similar film. It portrays an immigrant and her busy work schedule. This film and its issue is still valid today. Women (and men for that matter) wake up early for work, get their children ready for daycare, and off they go. Finishing work at 5pm they then go back to daycare pick up their children, go home to make supper, help with homework, bathe them and get them to bed at a decent time is a trying chore. In between all of this are the regular household chores that need to be done such as dishes and laundry. In the case of this film our main character lived on a farm, which greatly increases her workload. The film’s soundtrack is different from Paul Tomkowicz in that it does not use external music. The soundtrack is the woman talking, at times there are video inserts such as a wedding photo when she talks about her husband. This film hints at the issue of women needing more time to properly care for children and run a house, but when it comes time to her saying what needs to be done to begin solving the issue the film ends. Paul Tomkowicz: Street Railway Switchman is my favorite of the two film mainly because I felt empathy for this character and it’s soundtrack was more complex than Luckily I Need Little Sleep.


Properly titled Nails is a film about the making nails. However it does show us 3 different ways of making them. The film opens with a metal forger working in his small shack making one nail at a time, this process taking about 3 or 4 minutes. After pounding the head on the nail he adds it to the pile of nails he has made all day, counting about a dozen. We then see a medium sized factory, with more men working in it. In here the machines seem man made. The shapes of the internal parts are rounded, almost human like. The third method of production is accompanied by a bombastic soundtrack, and the film for some reason spends more time on this method of nail production, perhaps being because it is the most complex. We see large spools of metal wiring being loaded into machines. The endless rows of machines are making nails at a countless rate. We do not see many workers in this factory, it seems like the machines are controlling themselves. Could the three different factories be a symbol for communism, socialism and capitalism? Maybe, it is up to the viewer to decide, the director does not seem to pass judgment on any of the 3 ways show to on making nails. The music accompanying each method is suited to level of chaos in the scene, I don’t believe its Borsos’ way of telling us which way is good or bad. One can see it as how industry is removing the human element to production, or how the art of metal forging is now lost. Our first man making nails can be called an artist, as each nail he makes is unique. The second factory worker can be called a tradesman. His skills are needed in the production of the nails. He must assist the machine in the forging process. He must feed the machine the metal so that it can be shaped into a nail. The third worker can be seen as a production laborer. No skill in the art of nail making is required by him, he only needs to know how to drive a forklift or press a button to turn the machine off and on. To me this artful documentary is objective and unbiased to any of the three methods of production; it is up to the viewer to come up with their own conclusions

Grierson's Documentary Principles in Conjunction with Man With a Movie Camera & Las Hurdes

Grierson in his article “First Principles of Documentary” describes to us the three tenets, which to him are the foundation for the production of a documentary film. They are:

1. Photographing the living scene and the living story. Grierson believed that to capture reality you must be in reality. Studios filmed acted stories against artificial backgrounds. He wanted the documentary to be an “un-staged actuality”, becoming cinemas new modern medium.

2. The use of original / native actors and native scenes are a better guide to screen interpretation of the modern world. Grierson states, “They give cinema a greater fund of material. They give it power over a million and one images.”

3. Material / stories taken from the raw will be more real in the philosophical sense than the acted article. Here we have spontaneity, a real chance at the truth. It can achieve an intimacy of knowledge.

We will examine these principles in how they relate to two films viewed in class: Dziga Vertov’s The Man With a Movie Camera and Luis Buñuel’s Las Hurdes.

"…the newsreel is organized from bits of life into a theme, and not the reverse.”
- Dziga Vertov

The Man With a Movie Camera (1929) follows Grierson’s principles of documentary filmmaking. For one, in it’s use of actuality footage. Vertov’s footage is all random; there is no set script (no dialogue), or artificial staged locations. Vertov argued that the narrative coherence of Western cinema needed to be supplanted by a new language that directly represented lived reality and believed that the film maker’s essential tool was the use of actuality footage.1 Vertov follows Grierson’s first principle of documentary in terms of it filming actualities. In 1922 he created Kino- Pravda, a magazine that advocated the use of cinema to document real life as opposed to fictional narratives. He allied himself with the poet Mayakovsky, and declared that the "kino-glaz" (the eye of cinema) was ideal for the revealing the world of ordinary people. But there is something else behind Vertov exposing these actualities. Although there is no script at hand, he is using social actors and most is un-staged using “native scenes.” The real motive behind this film is to expose the inner workings of the camera, and to demystify the process of filmmaking itself.

The Man with a Movie Camera involves staging and contrivance to an extent previously rejected by Vertov. But the artificiality is deliberate: an avant-garde determination to suppress illusion in favor of a heightened awareness" 2 We the audience are often reminded that we are watching a film when we see another audience watching the same film as us. He reveals the truth about film: that it can be just as contrived as fiction and must be viewed with a critical and educated eye. 3 Vertov is really saying to us that the documentary is cinema’s new modern medium.

Finally Grierson says that materials taken from the raw can be finer, and that a spontaneous gesture has a special value on the screen. The Man With a Movie Camera is full of this. An example is when the cameraman follows in his car another car full of women. He films them on their ride and they react to him filming them. You have the usual “look, a movie camera!” look on their faces as they point and smile.

Grierson also states that cinema has a sensational capacity for enhancing movements. This film is all about this concept. The scenes with the athletes in slow motion show in great detail the beautiful movements that a human makes in what would normally be looked at as a split second gesture. Here Vertov slows down the motion to make it last many seconds. Some may view this as mechanizing humans, but I believe that it is the opposite. It breaks down our most complicated movements into the most primitive and simple of motions. By cross cutting these movements with machines Vertov is showing that machines posses a “ballet mechanique” type of beauty as well.

Buñuel’s Las Hurdes (1933) is known to be an essay in “human geography.” This film does follow some of Grierson’s principles but also borrows from Flaherty’s documentary ideologies. Like in Flaherty’s Nanook of the North (1922), Buñuel frames Las Hurdes as a film about the conflict of man versus nature by showing us the conditions in which they live in. For example the Hurdanos have to put up with fever inducing mosquitoes, the un-farmable land and poisonous snakes. Buñuel borrows the principle of immersing himself in the subject matter by living amongst the Hurdanos for a period of two months. Hardly the time frame Flaherty spent up north, yet you get the feeling that Buñuel became a citizen of this community. It’s residents, aside from the children, did not acknowledge the presence of a camera so it had the “living scene”, “living story” concept. Buñuel also used the actual inhabitants of the town of Las Hurdes and not professional actors.

Grierson says that Flaherty lives with the people until the story is told “out of himself”, this is not the case with Las Hurdes. The narrator gives the film a surrealist and distancing feeling, more like he is dissecting the village and its inhabitants. The narration is often referred to as “as a matter of fact narration” and although you tend to empathize with the Hurdanos the voice over narration disaffects the viewer. So I would tend to agree with Grierson when he says, “it is important to make the primary distinction between a method which more explosively reveals the reality of it. You photograph the natural life, but you also, by your juxtaposition of detail, create an interpretation of it.” This juxtaposition of detail would be the voice over narration, which sets the film’s tone. It is interesting to note however that it seems like it is only the American voice over that gives the viewers this impression, the Spanish voice over according to various web sources tends to be more sympathetic.

The last point on this film in which it follows Grierson’s principles is his third belief. Material taken from the raw will have a more realistic effect. This is certainly true for Las Hurdes. For example we see a real donkey die by bee stings, a goat “accidentally” falling off a cliff and villagers dying of diseases. We know as viewers that this is real and not acted out, thus increasing the wretchedness of their situation for us.

1 Daniel, Marko The Man With the Movie Camera. Speed of Vision, speed of truth? 2002 (November 28th, 2004)
2 Barnouw, Erik (1993) Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film. 2nd Ed. New York: Oxford University Press.
3 Anderson, Kara The Man With a Movie Camera 01-02-01 Northeastern University (November 29th 2004)

Bon Cop Bad Cop

Buying my ticket to Bon Cop Bad Cop at the beginning of November I was sure that I was the last Canadian to see this film. Not getting there too early I thought I would have a wide selection of seats to choose from. After walking into the theatre I was surprised to see that it was practically sold out! There are not that many American films that can have a run this long, so it gave me a sense of pride that Canadians, particularly Quebecers are embracing this film.
The film’s premise is simple, make a Lethal Weapon type film but with an English cop and a French cop. The jokes write themselves and there was no shortage of them. English Canadians having an axe to grind with Quebecers had their fair share of insults towards Quebec and vice-versa.
The film’s opening was quite innovative. It was shot entirely in close-up with a hand held camera. There are no credits before this to give any indication that the film is starting. At first I thought it was a commercial or a preview to a horror film. It was dark, edgy and a little frightening. The “killer” was tattooing his victim before the kill, but the all close up style to avoid seeing the killers face was influenced from the horror genre. After two minutes of this I assumed I was watching the main feature.
The film had familiar themes and showed viewers that there aren’t just English or French problems. For example both cops were divorced and have some sort of communication problem with their child or spouse. The two main actors do a great job in the acting, however the villain is not believable when we finally see him. He should have kept his hockey mask on the whole time. He looks like a 17 year old kid. I find it hard to believe that either cop had a fair fight with him at the end when a child is beating the crap out of a trained police officer. The end was also quite predictable when the villain manages to kidnap the French cop’s daughter. It’s the basic recipe for a cop movie; for the final confrontation, kidnap a member of the cops family to get him to confront you in a final showdown. Also this recipe calls for the “by the rules cop” to break the rules at the end. In this film the English cop attaches a bomb to the villain; an act that we would expect from the French cop.
All in all it was a typical American inspired movie with Canadian themes. Worth watching and paying money for, but just once.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Chairy Tale

A Chairy Tale is a loaded short film that can be interpreted in many different ways. The film is about a man who encounters a chair and wants to sit on it to read his book. However the chair will not let him. After much struggling to get the chair to co-operate he gives up. Eventually he finds a way to get the chair to allow him to sit on him by letting the chair sit on him first. How can this be read? It can be a study of human relationships; that you have to give before you can take. Not all relationships can be one sided. I saw it from an environmental point of view. To me it was about man’s need to dominate the Earth. The chair being made of wood represents the Earth. Man is always taking Earth’s natural resources, yet giving nothing back. By the chair’s refusal to co-operate it is a message from Earth that this type of relationship can no longer continue. In order to co-exist peacefully, man has to put in what they take.

To view the film go to:


Neighbors is the film equivalent of John Lennon’s Imagine. McLaren wanted to bring about change in times of war. Love thy neighbor is the main theme of this short after two neighbors fight over a flower that has grown on their property line. The films opens with two men reading their newspapers, one is reading a story on peace, the other on war. After discovering the flower, each man takes a turn smelling it. The flower and its scent make them so happy that they begin floating around their yard. The need to possess this flower overcomes them so one builds a fence to establish limits. However they cannot agree on where to draw this line. The theme is relevant even today. Wars will always be fought over land, whether it be on a world wide scale, or with your current neighbor. In the film each neighbor has become obsessed with owning an extra inch of land that they will fight to the death for it, eventually crushing and killing the very thing that they were fighting over. The men go so far as to murder each other’s families in the process to inflict revenge upon the other. Even though Rhythemetic is shown more to the youth in schools, I think Neighbors should be.

Be Gone Dull Care

I would love to use this film as my computer’s screen saver. Even blow up individual frames to use as art in my house. This experimental film is like nothing else ever made. Set to Oscar Peterson’s music the film’s music divides the film into three pieces. Part one is a medium speed jazz piece, where the colors and shapes on-screen change according to the instrument being played. As it blends into the second part of the film we hear a bass being played, and on screen we see three lines vibrating imitating the strings of a bass. The second segment is a slower paced musical piece. Here the visuals are a bit calmer, matching the music. The last segment is the fastest. Here there is beautiful calculated chaos on screen. Be Gone Dull Care is not a film that had the intention to change the world such as Neighbors, but to me it is an escapist piece where you are pulled into the incredible music matched by astonishing visuals.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Sherlock Jr. by Buster Keaton

Public reception for Buster Keaton’s Sherlock Jr. since it’s release in May 1924 is as varied as your typical Hollywood release. The critiques vary from it being his worst film to being the best silent film ever created. I will examine reviews that are contemporary with the film’s release, as well as some reviews / critiques written many years later.

Periodicals and Journals

The “New York Times” article dated May 26th 1924 by an unknown author gives a favorable review. It concludes with “…is a extremely good comedy which will give you plenty of amusement, so as long as you permit Mr. Keaton to glide into his work with his usual deliberation” This reviewer seemed to have liked the idea that Keaton joined and became the action onscreen, setting himself up for comedic moments.

In October 1975 Claude Beylie writes a favorable short review in French magazine “Ecran”. He states “Sherlock Junior est, par excellence, le film de l’imagination au pouvoir; sans nulle arrière-pensée politique, il va sans dire – encore que l’hésitation du héros, a l’extrême fin, a s’engager dans la vie bourgeoise ait quelque chose d’assez subtilement contestataire.” Beylie is right that this film has no blatant political messages and or commentary whether it be subliminal or as in your face such as Chaplin’s The Great Dictator.

May 17 1924 C. S. Sewell writes in “Moving Picture World” that “Sherlock Jr. is an unusually cleverly constructed comedy film and Buster and his gag men deserve credit for their ingenuity.” He also states that as far as “Moving Picture World” knows that the effect of the main character joining the action of a film within a film has never been employed and that this a highly original concept. In terms of its gags the reviewer comments that some of his gags are familiar and that this is “probably not as hilarious as some of his other comedies, and may not provoke such loud laughs…” but says that the film is original and amusing all the way through.

July 24 1924 the reviewer from “Photoplay” magazine says that “this is by no means Keaton’s most hilarious offering, but it is short, snappy and amusing.” He also makes reference to Keaton’s immobile face, as do other reviewers; rightfully commenting that this is one of his trademarks.

Fred from “Variety” magazine on May 28th 1924 gives a gloom review of the film. “…is about as unfunny as a hospital operating room.” He furthers his point by predicting that the film will be a flop. The reviewer does not support his point with concrete examples, the review seems more like Buster bashing, than an objective film review. The only time he attempts to support his point that this is a bad film is to say how bad the chase scenes were in comparison to Harold Lloyd’s “last picture” (he doesn’t even give us the name of Lloyd’s last picture! – must have been minutes from print time and couldn’t be bothered to look it up.) This reviewer does however point out like all other reviewers that the film does contain an element of originality to it. He likes the moment where Buster joins the filmic action that he is projecting on screen. So essentially Buster is in a film within a film. Overall I was glad to find a review that did not praise the film, but this reviewer seemed like he had an axe to grind with Keaton rather than giving an impartial review.

Daniel Sauvaget in his article in “Revue du Cinema” in May 1991 writes that “techniquement le travail est extraordinaire mais d’une densité inégale tout au long du film.” We should note however that the reviewer watched a restored version with added sound effects such as traffic sounds, slamming doors and walking sounds. He comments that on top of the new jazzy soundtrack that it seems like a little much. He does note however that this is one of Keaton’s more famously funny films historically for its gags.

Web based reviews:

On the “Combustible Celluloid” web site Jeffrey M. Anderson writes an article concerning Sherlock Jr. stating that this is his choice for “the greatest film ever made.” One of the reasons is because of its length is 45 minutes; “it feels like a feature length and has some of the most astonishing and thoughtful special effects ever put on film.” Although he does make better points later on the article, the beginning is quite weak. To say that to him it is the best film ever made and give for your first reason that it is because how short it is; then it is hard to take this reviewer seriously if that is his criteria for rating a film. He continues by saying that the reason people go to the movies is escapism, to identify with a character. He says Sherlock Jr. is about that very notion. In the film Buster dreams about becoming a detective, probably inspired by watching detective films. So Sherlock Jr. is both a fantasy film and highly realistic. A fantasy because Buster joins the action on screen in the movie theatre in the movie we are watching. Realistic because it parallels real life; people dream to be someone special like in the movies and this is the role that Keaton in portraying. Anderson also makes an interesting comment regarding censorship at the time in the movies. The film ends with a fade to black on Buster, it then fades back from black to see Buster with his girl and surrounded by kids. It is a comment on how sex is censored in the movies but it cannot be censored in our private lives.

Web site “Film in Context” Simon Eaton writes a short review of Sherlock Jr. He writes a positive review stating the following: “…is his most avant-garde film.” “…marvelous and still modern.” “…remarkable feature displaying all that makes Keaton great.” “…ingenious and hilarious gags.” Like the following reviews he touches upon the subject that “Keaton explores the illusion of cinematic reality.”

Jim Emerson published an article on the web called “The Beauty of Buster” mainly talking about the beautiful quirky moments in some if Keaton’s films. Sherlock Jr. is mentioned in the context where Buster can see an every day ordinary object and turn it into something the average person would not think of. For example in One Week Buster needs to get to the roof of his house, so he detaches the balcony railing and turns it around sideways creating a step ladder to reach his destination. In Sherlock Jr. a car becomes a sailboat when it finds itself in the water. Emerson writes “Keaton sees through ordinary objects and appreciated them for their essential properties and their protean possibilities. To him all objects (alive or inanimate) assume identities that are merely temporary; everything is always in a flux.”

Another web site called “Senses of Cinema” Dan Callahan writes an article more focused on the life and works of Buster Keaton but touches briefly on Sherlock Jr. He writes “Keaton gives as a perfect demonstration of what it would be like to climb on screen and become part of the movie we are watching. Its unforgettable” He touched on the fantasy aspect of the film as well saying that “…when he steps onto the screen he fulfills something in all of us.” Everyone who has seen a movie has imagined themselves as one of the characters. Our daily lives and decisions we make are sometimes molded around what we think our favorite movie character would do. Keaton is a true auteur and “understands the dream like nature of films.” These points were unfortunately very brief, but thankfully the next article goes more into details concerning this dream like nature and duality in the film.

Web site “” there is a great review by Tony Pellum talking about Sherlock Jr. self reflexivity. It starts off with a tacky comparison between Chaplin & Keaton (like most articles on him do) and draws a parallel between Chaplin being like The Beatles and Keaton being like The Beach Boys!??! The real review starts when Pellum writes “Sherlock Jr. is as much a testament to technology as any modernist piece.” He says that we cannot say that Sherlock Jr. is a better film that Steamboat Jr. or The General but that there is something about it that separates it; it’s innovative “beyond all established narrative tendencies all while looking at itself. This makes Buster Keaton not only the first modernist of cinema but also the first post modernist of cinema.” He states that the dream sequence in the film not only breaks narrative tradition of becoming a film within a film but it marks one of “cinema’s first postmodern tendencies toward the self reflexive all while creating, arguably, Keaton’s best sequence in a career of still unparalleled amalgamation of physical comedy and action.” He also says that when Keaton steps into the role of Sherlock Jr. that it is hands down the “tightest and most hilarious sequence of silent comedy, mastering the sight gag, filmic montage, suspense and comedic timing…” He also makes a comment on the last scene being self reflexive of cinema and reality as well. He is in the projection booth (he got the girl) and before kissing her he peers out of the booth to get a lesson in love as characters are kissing on the screen. “It is a testament to films persuasive nature.” Keaton somehow new that the medium he was working in was having an influence on everyday people, and he showed us this in this film.

All articles whether they be an overall positive or negative review of Sherlock Jr. every single reviewer commented on the fact that they enjoyed the part where Buster joined the film he was projecting in the movie theatre. Some saying that it was highly original, to funny to it being a comment on the self reflexivity of cinema. This was the common thread in all articles.

Alienation in Antonioni's Trilogy of Malaise

Antonioni says that his films of the early sixties are about the “Spiritual Aridity” and “Moral Decay” of the upper classes of post war Italian society. This lack of spirituality and moral decay is a result of the character’s inner alienation. Here I will explore how the director uses various filmic devices to communicate the idea of the characters alienation to the audience. I will also discuss the character’s impossibility to love and communicate with each other and how the setting and architecture can comment on the character’s state of mind.

The Impossibility of Love / Communication

“Why do we ask so many questions? Two people shouldn’t know each other too well if they want to fall in love.” – Vittoria in L’Eclisse

Men and equally women in Antonioni’s trilogy of moral decay believe that sex is the answer to their loneliness and emptiness. If they are feeling alone, they want sex to fill the void. For example in L’Avventura when they are on the island of Lista Bianca, Anna is talking to Sandro about her troubles and their problems of miscommunication. This is actually moral progress in her character; she is talking about her feelings, not covering them up with false love as she had the day before. Anna was the one who initiated sex between them at Sandro’s apartment. She believed that making love to Sandro would fill up her void and make all their problems disappear. She tells Sandro that she does not know if she loves him anymore. Sandro replies by bringing up the fact that they had sex the day before by saying “Even yesterday, at my place, you didn’t feel me anymore?” A clear sign that he is not progressing as a human being. His morals and faults will never change.

What I find interesting in this scene when they are talking about their problems on the island we have a deep focus shot, and in the background Julia and Corrado walk by. Antonioni is paralleling these two couples and telling us that they have the same problems of miscommunication, and that they are in the same situation.

In fact all couples in L’Avventura have the same problems. They cannot communicate, or love each other. Antonioni is commenting on marriage in modern times. For example, a newly married couple that work in the pharmacy Sandro goes to visit are always shown disagreeing and they have only been married for three months. There is also a scene in the train when Claudia is listening to a young man trying to pick-up a young lady. They are complete opposites in what they like. One prefers love, the other music etc… And the couple the most separated from each other are: Corrado & Julia. Corrado constantly belittles Julia for the things she says and does. It is very rare that we see these two characters close to one another. They are always framed at opposite ends of the screen, or not looking directly at one another.

In L’Eclisse Vittoria goes to the stock exchange to speak to her mother about the breakup with Riccardo, yet she never gets to tell her. Her mother is too happy to think of anything else except the millions she just made. Vittoria’s relationship with her own family is shaky. They obviously have different values.

In La Notte Valentina (again played by Vitti) is afraid of love. There is a scene where Giovanni and Valentina just finished listening to a recording in her bedroom. She is standing in the light. He then professes his love for her where at this point she backs up into darkness as if to say that she does not want love.

Her position before Giovanni says he wants Valentina

Her position in frame / light after his confession

Moral Decay / Alienation

“You’ve lost weight” – Anita “Yes, from the inside” – Vittoria (from L’Eclisse)

Antonioni often frames his characters standing alone against an empty wall to signify their loneliness. An example of this is in La Notte when the nymphomaniac is looking at Giovanni. “What the nymphomaniac wants to shut out is any knowledge of the blank immensity … that we see exteriorized as she stands against the absolutely clinical white blankness of the wall, her own emptiness projected as the emptiness around her, threatening her.” 1 She sees an opportunity to forget about her isolation, to be touched and to touch and she madly takes it. What is demoralizing to Giovanni is not this woman wants him, but that he gives in to her advances.

In L’Avventura there is a scene where Sandro jumps on the train to follow Claudia. As they talk Sandro says he has “no intention of sacrificing himself.” Here we have to wonder what kind of morals this character has based on what he just said. He lost his girlfriend / almost fiancée Anna just the previous day and he is already chasing after another woman. He wants to give up looking for the woman he loves. Why is he doing this? He is empty, maybe too lazy to put forth the effort of looking for her. We get the impression that Sandro cannot be alone at all. The notion of being alone scares him. He later proposes marriage to Claudia after only knowing her for three days. He is the complete opposite of a minor character in the film: the Australian on the island. This man is comforted by the fact that he has relatives that love him even though they are oceans apart.

Getting back to the scene on the train, we have another story for Claudia. She cannot easily let go of Anna like Sandro has. She says that things are moving so fast, and this is reflected in the mise-en-scene. They are having this discussion in a train (a fast method of transportation) and Claudia is standing against a glass door and the background is quickly passing behind her, suggesting the quick changing events that are happening in her life.

“The character’s are active only in trying to discharge their anxiety: Sex is their sole means of contact” – Pauline Kael

The idea of sex crazy men is pushed to the extreme when Sandro goes looking for the reporter who published the story of Anna’s disappearance. It is set against a backdrop of hundreds of sex-starved men who have come to see “Gloria Perkins” a famous celebrity. It draws a great parallel between Sandro and these young men. Although they annoy him, he is no different. He asks the reporter to publish a false story on the whereabouts of Anna, knowing that when this is done, Claudia will see the story and come looking for her as well, allowing Sandro to make another attempt at the fragile Claudia.

At the end of La Notte, Giovanni is listening to Lidia read an old love letter he wrote, he is suddenly confronted with the painful realization that his youth and his once powerful love for Lidia has vanished. He then tries to smother that excruciating awareness by forcing himself upon her. 2 Here again sex is used as a method to cover up one’s emptiness.
The same scene happens in L’Avventura after Sandro deliberately spills ink on the young architect’s drawing. This obvious fit of jealousy is his cry for selling his soul for the thing he loves most, which is classical architecture. After this moment of emptiness he goes back to the hotel and he forces himself upon Claudia.

We get the sense that the characters are half human. They need another human to complete them. The filmic language suggests that Anna and Claudia together make a whole person. They are complete opposites, from their attitude, hair color, social standing and wardrobe. Antonioni often frames them with one facing the camera and another with their back to it. This transformation of Claudia wanting to become Anna gradually continues throughout the film where eventually Claudia will take the place of Anna as Sandro’s new lover. For example, she wears Anna’s shirt after her disappearance, and even tries on a black wig to look like Anna. Her transformation into Anna is very gradual and one can see it in the wardrobe throughout the film. At the beginning of the film Anna is wearing a white dress, and Claudia is in black. (fig 1.) As said before she later changes into a not exactly solid black (Anna’s) shirt. (fig. 2) When she meets Sandro at the pharmacy to go on their search she is wearing a black shirt with white polka dots on it. (fig. 3) After their stay at the hotel she is wearing a gray suit, (fig. 4) until finally at the end before Sandro’s affair she is wearing all white. (fig. 5) She has finally become Anna’s equal. A woman in Sandro’s back pocket, and I believe it is because he knows this that he cheats on her. She then goes back to her original wardrobe wearing black. (fig. 6) Has she found herself? Was she ever really lost?

Fig.1 Fig. 2

Fig. 3 Fig. 4

Fig. 5 Fig. 6

In L’Eclisse Antonioni is showing us that Vittoria is not a complete person unless she has a man to love her as well. This is shown through the shot where people are silent in the stock exchange and Vittoria’s face is half exposed behind a pillar and Piero’s face is exposed on the right half. This framing signifies that they are not whole without each other. After this point whenever these two characters meet, they are at construction sites. She is standing next to an empty building in the midst of being build, or that has been abandoned. These buildings and environment is representative of Piero and Vittoria, empty and incomplete.

In L’Avventura an example of lost morality is displayed at the princesses’ mansion when the secondary characters are having tea on the patio outside & Claudia is standing by. One woman comments that she does not know Sandro and that “maybe he’s done away with her.” They are talking like Anna was a lost dog, or perhaps she was like the pottery that was found on the island, here one day, broken the next. All the characters on the boat continue with their plans to enjoy their upper class getaway. They do not let a friend’s death / disappearance get in the way of their fun. This is the most obvious comment in the film that post war Italian society has lost it’s morals.

L’Eclisse gradually shows us that Piero has no morals. From the beginning when the workers at the stock exchange are asked for a minute of silence for a colleague that past on, Piero cannot keep quiet and comments to Vittoria that “here a minute costs billions.” Yet when they were together in his office, he disconnected all the phones to be with her. Could this be a sign that he loves her? Yet after she leaves and he puts all the phones back on their receivers, he then pauses and thinks. One could almost read his mind: “How much does it cost to fall in love, is it worth the price?” The film’s ending answers this question.
Piero also treats women and sex like a commodity. While at work he orders a call girl and when they later meet he refuses her because she had changed the color of her hair. He sends her back like a bought good.

To Vittoria men are object’s or possessions, like the one’s she is placing in the frame at the film’s opening. They are like pawns on a chessboard and it is up to her where they stand in her life. She later says in the film “Holding a needle, a book or a man are all the same thing.” The mise-en-scene in the opening shot objectifies Riccardo at multiple intervals. The opening shot he is static and still like a statue, or a piece of furniture in the room. At times his head is cut off by a lampshade, suggesting that he is an object. To reinforce the point that Vittoria believes men are commodities, later in the film she learns that a particular man lost 50 million dollars. She might be feeling guilty that she feels no sense of sadness at losing Ricardo, so what does one do when one looses so much? She does not know, so she decides to takes a lesson from this man and follow him. Except he lost money, not a lover, therefore no lesson is learnt.

How Location and Architecture Comment on Character’s State of Mind

"Juxtaposing a person with a
n environment that is boundless, collating him with a countless number of people passing by close to him and far away, relating a person to the whole world, that is the meaning of cinema."
- Andrei Tarkovsky

Vittoria is never really happy L’Eclisse. There are however times when she gives us temporary moments of happiness like in the airplane. She feels liberated for those moments in the clouds, but she is in a closed in space, so how free can she be? The sky is a symbol of heaven. This is a place people go when they die. So it is a pretty grim place to make her smile. Antonioni is asking can we be truly happy in life? Even after she gets off the plane, she decides not to follow her “friends”. She stays behind, framed all by herself in this vast expansive air landing strip. She has no sense of belonging to a group in fact alienating herself. Alienation is defined as “the state or experience of being isolated from a group or activity to which one should belong or which one should be involved.”

Later when Vittoria and her neighbor visits the woman across the streets apartment Vittoria is framed from behind looking at pictures of these foreign landscapes as if she wants to escape and be there. She then later takes it one step further by dressing up like an African tribal woman. These actions are to symbolize her want for escape, to be someone else, to maybe go to a place where relationships are fixed (arranged marriages)

In L’Avventura Claudia and Sandro visit “Noto” a village in which they believe Anna might be hiding. Upon arrival and further investigation they find the town to be desolate. The landscape and architecture around them represents who they are as people: empty and deserted. The medium shot of Claudia with her back turned towards the audience furthers this notion of alienation and self-entrapment. First we have a frame of concrete from the building around her, next the window frame, the horizontal shutters of the window, representing that she is imprisoned. Antonioni does not need to frame her behind shutters to be imprisoned, because her life is one, she is on the side of the prison, she wants what is in this building (Anna, or maybe an answer?) which could maybe lead her to some sort of salvation.

The reverse situation is used in L’Eclisse. There is a scene when Vittoria goes over to Piero’s parent’s apartment. She looks outside and Antonioni gives us a reverse angle and we have Vittoria framed through the horizontal bars of the shutters. She is feeling imprisoned and perhaps does not want to be there. However a thought as serious as this can only last for a moment in the mind of Vittoria, until something else grabs her attention.

Antonioni will often set his characters against massive landscapes to “emphasize the smallness of his characters in relation to their surroundings. Even in a simple outdoor café, in L’Eclisse: as the two characters cross the patio, the camera tilts slowly upward, cutting off their feet, thus simultaneously severing their connection to the earth and relating them to the expansive sky above. 4

Characters in Antonioni’s films tend to wander, and the locations they wander in are representative of their frame of mind. For example in Blow-up Thomas the photographer is often alone, there is a long scene at the end where he wanders to find his agent. He goes to a concert, a party, then to the park; although there are people around him he is alone, as he does not have any real relationships in these settings, or anywhere in his life for that matter.

In L’Avventura Sandro and Claudia were always located in a geographically “high” location when there is some sort of emotional connection. The first is on the island when he holds her hand after she splashes some water on her face. The second is at the pharmacy when she gets into Sandro’s car to begin this excursion with him. We clearly see the sea in deep focus in the far background as the chauffeur’s car passes behind them to go downhill. Three when they make love outside they are overlooking a valley. And last is the last shot of the film where they are overlooking Mount Edna and we have that last emotional connection between the two. These 4 locations can be the four stages in Claudia’s discovery of herself. The first being the idea that they can be a couple. The second is where she has lost a friend so she feels she needs the love of a man and therefore the couple forms. The third is the couples confirmation of “love”, her filling the void of lost Anna, by becoming Anna, thinking this new life will bring her happiness. The last being her self-realization that she does not need Sandro, she can forgive him for his faults, but she knows this is not the life she wants to lead. L’Avventura has a happy and hopeful ending for Claudia but not for Sandro. The left side of the frame being Claudia’s side, has the volcano which can represent possibility confirms this is a happy ending for her. And the blank brick wall, which characters are often framed against when they are lonely is on Sandro’s side.

1 Arrowsmith, William Antonioni: The Poet of Images New York: Oxford University Press 1995
2 Introduction – Concordia University Studies in Film Directors Course Pack page 153
4 Unknown author. (December 5, 2005)

Friday, November 10, 2006

Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway

Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are David Lynch’s masterpieces. They are both about a character who seeks to escape their present day reality for a few moments to adopt another persona. I will analyze the character of Fred in Lost Highway and Diane in Mulholland Dr., paying close attention to their state of minds, internal turmoil as represented in the soundtrack and who the other characters in the film are in relation to our protagonist. I will also examine various other filmic elements such as framing, camera movement and symbolism that Lynch uses to communicate Fred & Diane’s psychology.

Fred in Lost Highway is a profoundly disturbed man. He is wrought with suspicion about his wife Renee, believing that she is cheating on him. His rage and jealousy eventually overpowers his mind resulting in him being unaware of his murderous act upon her. He has multiple personalities. representing his physical and psychological selves. David Lynch interprets this as a “psychogenic fugue.” He states, “The person suffering from a psychogenic fugue creates in their mind a completely new identity, new friends, new home, new everything - they forget their past identity. This has reverberations with Lost Highway, and it's also a musical term. A fugue starts off one way, takes up on another direction, and then comes back to the original, so it relates to the form of the film.” This reflection of this “dual Fred” is the first of many double happenings in the film, visually and aurally. Before he looks out the window we hear police cars fading out into the distance. This moment in the film is shown from a different angle, revealing one of Fred’s personalities. Another camera angle is used at the end when he is walkiFred’s various personas are apparent from the onset. After hearing the announcement on the intercom “Dick Laurent is dead,” he rushes to the window to inspect. Here we see a reflection of him,ng up his stairs to announce that Dick Laurent is dead. The police then pursue him with their car, which explains the police siren heard in the initial angle used in this scene. But how could Fred be in two places at once? Is it possible that they occurred at the same time? The police siren he hears as he approaches the window could be an intra-diegetic sound only heard by Fred and the viewer. He could be reliving in his mind the previous day’s events. The film’s opening, in a linear theory, could be Fred’s last scene, after he has gone mad escaping the police, about to vividly imagine the same events again. A vicious cycle or mobious-strip. You could start the film at any point and let it make its full cycle and you would not be sacrificing your understanding of the film’s “story.”

As the viewer is introduced to Renee, Lynch has her walking around the corner to a sultry jazz piano soundtrack. She is wearing a sexy red dress, drink in hand and her long dark hair adds to her “femme fatale” aura. The music suddenly stops as Fred emerges from the dark shadows towards her. This break in music indicates that we were hearing an intra-diegetic soundtrack that only Renee and the viewer can perceive. It reveals how she was feeling at that moment; sensuous, and glamorous. Fred emerging from the darkness stops her internal soundtrack to create again a silence between them. It is nothing like the libidinous music played between Pete and Alice as described below. It is obvious that she is no longer attracted to him, and the later “love scene” between them confirms their diminished love.

As Fred is lying in bed he has a flashback of himself playing at the jazz club. The camera then cuts to his SPOV of Renee leaving the club with Andy, the man whom he suspects she is having an affair with. He snaps out of his flashback when Renee slips into bed. Lynch cuts from Fred to an overhead view of the couple in bed. Here they are barely looking at each other, furthering the theory of their lost connection. It then cuts to a close up and match in the action of Renee who then glances over at Fred. It cuts back to Fred who is still yearning for Renee in pitiful silence. He wants to prove to her that he too can please her like Andy does. The film cuts back to an emotionally distant Renee who remains still while looking at him, not wanting to make the first move. It finally cuts back to Fred who leans over to Renee to initiate sex.

When listening to the soundtrack, we are reminded of Psycho as Fred has sex with Renee. The deep cellos insinuate that Fred is capable of violence. That in fact, Fred is like Norman Bates. Even acting surprised at the discovery of the murder like Norman does. The scene in which Fred slits Mr. Eddie’s throat, there is a slight variation on Saul Bass’ Psycho soundtrack. Again, low cello sounds are heard after a crime with a blade has been committed.

Lynch then puts in a special cut that stands out from the rest. There is an extreme close up of Renee’s face, however this might be Alice as it is too dark and close of a shot to see the color of her hair. We are reminded of the love scene in the desert where Alice is overexposed. The soundtrack then changes from the disturbing cellos to the “Song of the Siren”, the same song played at the desert love scene. The song is a symbol of lust and ecstasy. Fred is taken to an imaginary land where the woman he loves is happy to be with him. The song abruptly cuts with Fred’s quick orgasm. In this scene the song lasts approximately 29 seconds, a quick trip to heaven and back. Renee then puts her hand on his back and comforts him, whispering, “It’s OK.” We can see in his eyes that this enrages him and the soundtrack enhances his rage.
It cuts back to a lower angle of Fred looking down at the floor where Renee is (later in the film) found dead. Frenzied violins are heard, characteristic of the horror genre, when there is a discovery of a dead body. The soundtrack suggests the character’s perplexed state of mind. After a few moments of silence he tells Renee “I had a dream last night.” The eerie music slowly starts to fade in again as Fred recollects his dream. He exits the dark corner of a room as if to suggest coming from an evil place. Soon after, Renee calls his name, “Fred,” with a dream-like echo. It cuts to a burning fire, implying that he is in his own personal hell.

Suddenly, from around the corner smoke starts to come out of the bedroom, similar to the smoke in the bedroom in Mulholland Dr. after Diane kills herself. The smoke continues to reinforce the idea that whether or not he is dreaming, he is in a constant state of purgatory. The shot remains as a subjective POV as Fred walks across the hallway towards the bedroom and comes around the corner to notice Renee’s seemingly lifeless body in bed. He narrates, “There you were lying in bed, but it wasn’t you, it looked like you, but it wasn’t.” The camera continues from a slow walking SPOV into a fast track SPOV into Renee, suggesting that he has killed her. The soundtrack increases in volume and speeds along with her scream, until the next cut, where there is a moment of silence and he is waking up from his recollection and/or waking up from a dream within a dream. What happens next supports these two possibilities. The eerie soundtrack continues as he looks over to Renee. She is covered in shadow. As he takes another look, he perceives the Mephistophelian-looking Mystery Man with long hair, replacing Renee. A loud industrial sound is heard, scaring the viewer (works every time!) and further enhancing the surrealism of the situation. Segments of this scene are duplicated in moments of the second tape that is received at the house the next morning. As Fred and Renee watch the tape the same SPOV shot of Fred walking in the hallway is repeated. Perhaps Fred had a video camera with him that night and it is him who is creating the videotapes? Fred is also suspicious of Renee’s past life, suspecting that she was a porn actress. He might have discovered that Andy is a pornographic film producer and this adds to his suspicions. Fred perhaps sent the tapes to his own house in the hopes of scaring Renee into a confession before he watches it. Perhaps Fred even had a plan with the devil (Mystery Man) to kill his wife, whom he believes is deceiving him. The film’s next scene will show Fred and the Mystery Man meeting at Andy’s party.

The soundtrack in this scene is quite unique and suggests that Fred is in his own dream world. As he is at the bar having a drink he notices the Mystery Man across the room. As the Mystery Man approaches him the up-tempo party music fades to silence as they begin to speak. As they speak, the same eerie soundtrack from the bedroom begins to play quietly in the background. The same soundtrack is repeated whenever Fred is alone or preoccupied by his thoughts. The concept of duality plays itself here as the Mystery Man is in front of Fred, as well as in his house. The Mystery Man can also be considered Fred’s other side or alter ego; like Mother is Norman Bates’ alter ego. As he leaves Fred, the party music fades up again as Fred returns to “reality.” “This dialogue between them is one of several scenes throughout the film in which all exterior action and sound is suspended, placing the foreground into an ominous, displaced space of time.”

“I like to remember things my own way… how I remembered them. Not necessarily t
he way they happened” - Fred in Lost Highway

After the murder, Fred needs to create another reality for himself. His prison cell has become his new hell, with perpetual graphic flashbacks of Renee’s murder. Symbolic soundtrack elements are heard in the jail sequence. The flashbacks are accompanied by high pitch sounds and video distortion, implying that Fred still does not recall his murderous act and therefore recollects the murder in black and white video flashes. Later in the courtyard, birds chirp in the distance. Birds are a symbol of freedom; these are intra-diegetic sounds as Fred wishes for freedom. Fred, to escape his current “reality,” now relives his entire relationship from the beginning with Renee, with a few twists. His name is now Pete, and he is a mechanic instead of a musician. Renee is now named Alice and is blonde. He even keeps his macho mustang, but it is now black instead of red. For simplicity sake, I will now refer to Fred as Pete and Renee as Alice as I analyze the film’s second part.

David Lynch has a knack for mixing popular music as well as original scores in his films. When it comes to popular music he always chooses the perfect song. When Pete first sees Alice exit Mr. Eddie’s car, the song “This Magic Moment” by Lou Reed is playing. The lyrics perfectly harmonize what is presented on screen:

This magic moment
o different and so new
Was like any other

Until I met you

And then it happened

It took me by
I knew that you felt it too

I c
ould see it by the look in your eyes

Pete is caught in one of his scopophilic gazes, dumbfounded by Alice’s beauty. This is not the first time he is overwhelmed by her sexual energy. Lynch bathes Alice in an angelic light and Pete is looking at her like she is his savior. Quite ironic, as she later leads him to his downfall. There is back and forth cutting and they are always looking in the direction of one another with perfect eye-line matches. The next time Lynch uses pop music between the two is their love scene in the desert. Here they are both brightly lit, almost overexposed as “Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil plays.

Here I am, here I am waiting to hold you. Did I dream you dreamed about me? Were you here when I was full sail?

It is the same song that briefly played during Fred and Renee’s sexual interlude. Yet this time the song lasts much longer. In Fred’s fantasy, Pete (Fred as his alternate self) effortlessly brings pleasure to Alice, and it lasts more than 29 seconds. The surreal love scene and beautiful song come to an end when Pete confesses that he wants Alice. Creepy synthesizers fade in and she replies, “You’ll never have me,” and walks away. This climax between them is also the end of the relationship; reflected by the headlights dying out. This is the last time we see Pete and Alice in the film. Lynch reveals that Pete and Fred are the same person in the following match in the action: As Pete gets up to follow Alice into the cabin, it cuts to another angle and it is Fred that stands up, confused about his whereabouts. He then dresses himself in Pete’The overexposure can be a perception from Pete’s POV as he iss clothes (again assuming this particular identity). However the theory of Pete and Fred being one and the same is later dismantled when the police are at Andy’s house investigating his murder. The police officer states, “We got Pete Dayton’s prints all over the place.” Another police officer, after seeing Renee in a photograph, says, “That’s Fred Madison’s wife.” If one interprets this scene as “reality” and not a continuation of Fred’s dream, then the theory of an amalgamated Fred and Pete is not valid. However, I believe it is still part of his dream world, just elements of “reality” creeping in. Two people that can also be one entity are the Mystery Man and Fred. This is evident when they / he kills Dick Laurent. After the Mystery Man shoots him and whispers something to Fred, he disappears as he has done many times before. Again, Fred creates alternate realities to escape his current day realities. In his fantasy world he is the one having the affair, not his wife. However, things can go wrong even in one’s fantasies. He still kills someone, perhaps to redeem his wife of her life of sin, but even in a dream state one can be reminded of ones sins. The exploding / imploding cabin is a symbol of Fred’s emotions. The Mystery Man inside the cabin is his conscience, reminding him of his sins. When the cabin explodes, this is Fred’s exploding passion of killing his wife. He was finally able to express real passion, even if it is murderous and evil. The cabin exploding, but seen in reverse, is a sign that rage still resides in Fred. The cabin will never be allowed to completely burn down and be a lost memory, or to become ashes that blow in the wind with the desert sand. The cabin is a similar symbol as the blue box in Mulholland Dr. which I will discuss later.

The theme of recreating one’s reality appears with Diane Selwyn in Mulholland Dr. The reality that she wants to escape from is the diminished relationship with her lover Camilla, her insignificant acting career, and the loss of her Aunt Ruth. The ultimate event to escape from, like Fred in Lost Highway, is the murder of Camilla, her love.

“It’ll be just like we’re in the movies… We’ll pretend to be someone else.”
Betty in Mulholland Dr.

Since there are many theories as to what is a dream and what is not in Mulholland Dr. I will briefly outline my interpretation so that subsequent analysis will be rooted in this theory. Diane is the film’s main character and she creates a dream world for herself to escape her reality. Diane’s reality starts as a SPOV of her lying down on her bed at the film’s opening scene after the credits. As she goes into the pillow and we fade to black and we can assume she is dreaming. Everything that follows is a dream up until the point where her neighbor wakes her up. We are now in “reality,” but it is not necessarily presented in linear order. We now see Diane’s real relationships, Camilla does not want her anymore, she gets small parts in small films, and her only loving family member, Aunt Ruth, is dead.

At first her fantasy is pure and innocent as she gets to L.A. and arrives at her Aunt Ruth’s apartment. Everything is dreamlike and surreal, even Naomi Watts’ acting. Soon we are thrown into a nightmare sequence at the Diner “Winkie’s.” Here we are hearing a discussion about a dream – inside Diane’s dream; exactly as described above in Lost Highway. This is a special scene and contains loads of symbolic messages that will reoccur throughout the film, so it is important to understand it completely. The scene starts with an establishing shot of the Winkie’s sign, a police siren is heard to indicate danger is near. There are two men engaged in what we assume to be a doctor / patient relationship. Dan (the patient) tells Herb (the psychiatrist) that he had a “dream about this place,” and that he is “scared, like I can’t tell ya.” An un-nerving soundtrack starts when he says the word “scared”. His name, DAN, rhymes with Diane, therefore he is an extension of Diane. He represents the fear that Diane harbours about finding the blue key that recalls Camilla’s death. The reason why she dreams of him is that in the “reality” part of the film, when Diane pays the assassin to kill Camilla, she sees him at the cash register at the exact moment the assassin for hire (Joe) shows her the blue key. Joe says to Diane, “When it’s finished, you’ll find this where I told you.” The location he is referring to is behind the dumpster at Winkie’s. After Herb convinces Dan to face his fear, they exit the diner. When they open the door, an intense bright light shines from outside and an odd sound is heard as if they are walking into another dimension. As Dan walks to the back of Winkie’s we cut to his SPOV. He first notices the phone that Betty uses to call to inquire on the accident that happened on Mulholland Drive. He then notices an arrow pointing opposite to the direction he is walking in, a clear sign from Diane’s subconscious warning Dan (herself) that she will not like what he/she finds. Finally, behind the dumpster a monster is revealed, but this monster is also Diane – at her most ugly. All of her internal pain and guilt is externalized. The monster is a symbolic figure; he is the keeper of the blue key and the blue box. When she looked around the corner in “reality” and finds the key there, the reaction Dan had was probably very close to what Diane was feeling. Discovering the key gave birth to the monster inside of her, similar to the monster that is the Mystery Man in Lost Highway.
Later, when Betty is walking to the phone described above there is another visual hint that the monster is Diane’s double (or Freudian “ID”). The camera starts off on the arrow that Dan saw pointing him in the other direction. We now associate this arrow with the monster behind Winkie’s. The arrow is pointing left, therefore the camera pans left and we now see the reflection of Betty and Rita walking towards the soon to be revealed phone. Again, the arrow symbol reminds one of the monster and now the arrow is pointing towards the reflection in the window. What do we see? Diane/Betty the monster. To accentuate the monster concept there is massive foliage from the trees behind her drooping down giving her the same hairstyle as the monster. Again re-enforcing that they are one. The second still image is a few frames later as Betty’s hair masks her face and she is now hiding Rita. A visual sign she wants to assume / consume her identity.

In an interview, Naomi Watts says that when people ask her about the Dan character and if he was real or a in a dream she says, “One of the things I learned doing a project a long time ago is that there is this whole research about dreams called Gestalt that says you are everyone in your dream. Not only every character but every texture – like the fabric in your dress or every leg of the table; everything you design or create in your dream is another version of yourself."
Another moment of reality that sneaks into her fantasy is when Louise Bonner, the psychic type lady, knocks at Aunt Ruth’s apartment. When Louise asks who she is, Diane replies, “I’m Betty.” Louise then replies, “No you’re not!” A clear sign that she is in a dream and she is not who she says she is. Another indication that she is in a dream is after Rita remembers the name Diane Selwyn. When they call, Diane Betty says, “It’s strange to be calling yourself.” Another wink from Lynch that this is a dream is when Betty is practicing her lines with Rita. Lynch begins this scene in a different way than the others. He is hiding information from the viewer by starting it with a medium shot of Betty saying, “You’re still here?” Then a cut to a close up of Rita saying, “I came back. I thought that’s what you wanted.” Then another cut to Betty who says, “Nobody wants you here.” The shot then cuts back to Rita saying, “Really?” and the camera zooms and tracks out to reveal Rita reading lines from a script. Again, this is another sign from Lynch leading us to question whether what we are seeing is real or not.

Like Fred in Lost Highway, Betty is keen on changing Rita and molding her into her own doppelganger. After they witness the dead body (looking like a mixture between Betty and Rita) in Diane Selwyn’s apartment, Betty helps Rita transform herself into a “mini-me” of Betty. In the dream world Betty has control of Rita. But in “reality” it was Camilla that was controlling Diane, using her to get ahead in the Hollywood system. After they stare at the transformed Rita in the mirror the image fades into Betty lying down in bed. Lynch is superimposing the images of the two women together, implying that they are one. He again shows us this concept visually after they make love. Their heads are lined up perfectly to form one person. We see two eyes (one of Betty’s and one of Rita’s), one nose (Rita) and half of each woman’s lips to form one mouth.

Later, at Club Silencio Lynch uses Roy Orbison’s “Crying Over You” to express Diane’s emotions towards Camilla. At this point in the film we are nearing the end of the dream as the color blue begins to increasingly appear. Blue symbolizes the unknown, “feeling blue” or depression and death. Before discussing the song, it is interesting to note how often the color blue is featured from the point they are in bed. As we can see in the above picture the sheets they are sleeping on are blue. After they get into the taxi cab the camera pans along with it and in the far background there is a slight indication of blue; they are going to the blue box. Oddly enough we have another sign here that Diane’s dream is going in the wrong direction. Above the car there is a red X, similar to the arrow pointing Dan back in the right direction. When the cab arrives at Club Silencio we see the name of the club in blue neon and inside the outer door frame the interior door is a glowing blue. The overall tint of this still is blue as well. To the left there is another dumpster. Will another monster appear at this club? What will this monster lead her to confront or realize? After the MC’s introduction, he disappears in blue smoke. The room even illuminates with blue flashes of lightening. There is a woman with blue hair sitting in a balcony. Then finally there is the discovery of the blue box.
When Rebekah Del Rio sings a Spanish version of “Crying Over You,” here Lynch again has found the perfect song to express how Diane is feeling towards Camilla.

but I saw you last night
you held my hand so tight

and you said so long

left me standing all alone
and crying crying crying crying
it's hard to understand

but the touch of your hand

can start me cryin
I thought that I was over you

but it's true so true
I love you even more
than I did before
but darling what can I do

for you don't love me

and I'll always be
crying over you
crying over you

yes now you're gone

and from this moment on

I'll be crying, crying, crying, crying over you

The blue box is similar to the cabin in Lost Highway. They are both intriguing as to their mystical power and one is anxious to find out what is inside. When Rita opens the box we see that it is empty, like the first time we see the inside of the cabin. Mulholland Dr., like Lost Highway, have characters that disappear when they open the door (to the cabin and to the blue box). Alice disappears, never to be seen again, and Pete is transformed into Fred. When Rita opens the box, what is presented is truth and / or reality. What is reality or a fact? The fact is that Camilla has been killed. The blue box represents Diane’s hidden secret, when it is opened reality / truth is let out of the box. This is why Rita / Camilla disappears; she is dead, therefore she cannot exist. Diane cannot escape the truth, it has caught up with her, even in her dream. When she wakes up we notice that the walls in the house are blue. She is living in the blue box, like mentioned before is a symbol of truth. She is now awake and can assume what we are now seeing is reality and no longer a dream.

In many ways Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr. are similar, if not two versions of the same film, harboring disturbed characters who are compelled to flee and create alternate worlds to escape their present day realities. Lynch has “designed films with an open architecture in which equally plausible interpretations of the films can be constructed.” Lynch uses many aesthetic devices to reinforce their inner psyche, whether it be through the use of soundtrack, camera movement or symbolic objects like the blue box or an imploding cabin. Jean-Luc Godard once said “All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun:” But this recipe is too simple for Lynch. He adds a dash of lesbians, ½ a cup of microscopic grandparents who drive you to suicide, ¼ cup of an espresso snob, and a pinch of creepy eye-brow-less alter ego’s to come up with a masterpieces such as Lost Highway and Mulholland Dr.


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