Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Review: The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)



This Michael Winterbottom film had a lot of promise, but received a lukewarm initial response. Premiering in Australia at the Sydney Film Festival (where I managed to see a screening), this brutal thriller certainly roused horrified emotions from its audience. Uncompromisingly violent and gratuitous, it is a startling representation of a psychotic Deputy Sheriff (Casey Affleck) who ventures into a killing spree in an attempt to cover his tracks after initially murdering a local construction executive he believes was responsible for his brothers death. He also brutally bashes Joyce (Jessica Alba), a local prostitute he had become intimate with and then double crosses. Possessing a sickness since he was young, Lou Ford once again becomes a threat to the community, succumbing to empowering urges to indulge in a sickening murder spree. Lou had once been responsible for the sexual abuse of a young girl, only evading arrest when his brother took the blame. When his brother is killed at a construction site years after his release, Lou is set for revenge believing he was murdered. It is when he begins a sadomasochistic relationship with Joyce that his urges are rekindled. He blackmails the executive, with the assistance of Joyce, and then savagely bashes her and shoots the man, making it appear to be a lovers quarrel. He creates an alibi, and frames others to take the fall for his actions, until he becomes increasingly desperate and must sacrifice his steady girlfriend, Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) in his ploy.
Casey Affleck, who received an Academy Award nomination for his work in The Assassination of Jesse James, always gives a fine performance, and it is an appropriately savage portrayal. However, his support from both Alba and Hudson was not as strong. I thought the women really struggled, but this is partly because of my general qualms against Hudson. The pacing was achingly slow, only broken by the moments of extreme violence. The recycling of memories of his intimate moments with Alba’s character really got tiring to the point of being boring and did nothing other than to offer us a potential insight to feelings of guilt and regret, despite his inhumane actions. These flashbacks actually accounted for a large part of the running time, and I thought failed to offer anything at all.
I was under the impression that this would be a film about a serial killer, who abused his level of power (as a sheriff) to kill a series of innocent people within his town. Essentially, this is what the film comprises of, but it introduces a childhood experience to explain his urges and uses blackmail to explain his motive. After the initial killing, the rest of his behavior is just to cover his tracks, and he becomes less a sociopath, then a man desperate to evade arrest. But I also found his defense to be quite thin, and I found it difficult to believe that it took his colleagues as long as it did to prove that he was responsible. The support roles from Elias Koteas, and Simon Baker, were fairly average also. While their performances weren’t bad, the screenplay didn’t allow them much to work with. I also thought that many of the intricacies I assume to be present in the novel weren’t explained during the film, leaving the audience questioning many of the plot arcs. This didn't have the effect of forcing the viewer to deduce their own opinion, but left me puzzled and genuinely confused. Michael Winterbottom is not a novice when it comes to confronting cinema, but this was also unnecessarily gratuitous. I went in with quite high expectations and the early scenes were promising, but overall I felt like it fell very short of the mark.


My Rating: 3 Stars

Ten Best Films I Saw in June

I only saw a total of 15 films in June, which was quite a disappointing effort. Many of these also were repeated viewings of films I had seen previously. For this reason, many of them were high quality films. Here are ten great films I saw in June:


Spartacus (Stanley Kubrick, 1960)


Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)


Monsters Inc. (Pete Docter, 2001)


28 Days Later (Danny Boyle, 2002)


The New World (Terrence Malick, 2005)


This is England (Shane Meadows, 2006)


Frost/Nixon (Ron Howard, 2008)


I Am Love (Luca Guadagnino, 2009)


Toy Story 3 (Lee Unkrich, 2010)


Animal Kingdom (David Michod, 2010)

Review: Apocalypse Now (Francis Ford Coppola, 1979)

After a notoriously prolonged and troubled production, when Francis Ford Copolla's epic Vietnam War film, Apocalypse Now, was released in 1979, it wasn't long before it was heralded as one of the greatest achievements in cinema history. Even after multiple viewings, I am consistently amazed by some of the sequences, and it always leaves me emotional. It is one of the finest films I have ever seen, and will remain a long time favorite.


Director/producer Francis Ford Copolla, the man responsible for the Godfather Trilogy (1972, 1974, 1990) and The Conversation (1974), had originally offered the role of director to George Lucas, before taking on the project himself. He also worked on the script with John Milius. Originally the film was budgeted to cost about $12-13 Million, but after Copolla began to indulge himself in the project, the budget ballooned to over $30 Million, with a series of well publicized delays and on-set catastrophes that resulted in one of the most grueling shoots in history. Coppola himself was actually suicidal, the cast and crew indulged in drugs, many of the sets were destroyed by a fierce hurricane, and Martin Sheen suffered a debilitating heart attack that left him hospitalized, causing further delays. The end result is an obviously flawed surrealistic masterpiece that documents the violence, confusion and nightmarish madness that came as a result of service in Vietnam. A groundbreaking epic, it is visually stunning, and features some of the most memorable characters and sequences you will see.

The film is inspired by Joseph Conrad's 1902 novel, Heart of Darkness and influenced by one of the great examples of a journey into the heart of madness, Werner Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972). The film follows Captain Benjamin Willard (Martin Sheen) as he journeys up the Nung river, snaking through the jungles of Vietnam and Cambodia, to a forest compound governed by a renegade American Special Forces Colonel, Walter E. Kurtz (Marlon Brando), whose unsound methods now exist outside the jurisdiction of the American Military. Settled in neutral Cambodia, Kurtz now rules his own native army, and is believed to have gone rouge. Willard's mission is to infiltrate this compound and exterminate the Colonels command. He is assigned to a Navy Patrol Boat, PBR Streetgang, who would escort him up river to his classified destination. The vessel was run by an eclectic gang of misfits, including 'Chief' Phillips (Albert Hall), Lance Johnson (Sam Bottoms), Mr Clean (Lawrence Fishburne) and Chef (Frederick Forrest). Each give brilliant independent performances, and each transcends into a disillusioned state in their own way. Willard's mission is priority, but obstacles along the way both strengthen their kinship, and further alienate them from one another.


The opening sequence is one of the most powerful openings ever to a film. To the haunting score of The Doors' The End, the sounds of the helicopter blades can be heard approaching and then passing a riverside treeline in slow motion. The tree line is bombed with napalm and the image transforms into a full speed ceiling fan in a hotel room mimicking the sound of the helicopters, and the face of Captain Willard stares absently into the camera. Willard's prolonged isolation and plummet into temporary insanity is demonstrated in a shocking sequence which sees him sculling bottle after bottle of hard liquor, stripping to his underwear, punching his mirror and cutting his hand, and then wiping the blood over his face, before falling off his bed amongst a tangle of sheets. Reports from the shooting that it became so intense during the production, and the location so humid, that Sheen's performance was not all acting but caused by a natural breakdown. The following morning, Willard gets his request, and is summoned to a hut for a lunch meeting with two U.S Intelligence officers and a Government representative, who inform him of Kurtz' actions, and assign him the mission to terminate his command 'with extreme prejudice.' The military ineptitude of the military superiors is demonstrated in this early sequence as the bumbling Colonel (Harrison Ford) drops the dossier of classified files, and stammers through his brief. The General (G.D Spradlin) seems more preoccupied with the quality of the local produce used in their lunch, than the mission at hand. Willard accepts the classified mission and is assigned to the Navy Patrol Boat to begin his journey to find Kurtz.


Apocalypse Now is full of truly memorable sequences. The first of which is the rendezvous with Colonel Bill Kilgore (Robert Duvall), a likable but reckless Colonel who commands a dawn chopper attack on a coastal Vietcong base purely for the pleasure of watching Lance (a famous surfer back in the U.S) and a couple of his men surf the strong offshore break, and to indulge in the victorious smell of napalm in the morning. The attack sequence is unforgettable. Flying low and in formation to the sound of Wagner, the Americans' heavy helicopter assault is one of the few pure action sequences in the film and it is captured beautifully. Kilgore's men transport their boat to the mouth of the Nung River so their journey can commence. Further up the river, when Chef and Willard trek into the jungle to search for mangoes, the pair are terrorized by a tiger, which prompts Chef to breakdown and declare to 'never get off the boat'. The river, while far from safe, must be considered their haven for the entirety of this mission. Willard surmises in his voice-over that "Kurtz got off the boat" and had removed himself from the true reality of both the war and humanity.


But essentially, the deaths later in the film of both Clean and Chief are present on the boat following shore attacks from the Vietcong. But it is the encounters with American allies off the boat that slowly plunge the team into madness. Early, the men stop for fuel and supplies at an army outpost which is a hive of activity in preparation for the nights entertainment. Willard's men receive invitations to a Playboy Bunny show, which results in a drunken mob of soldiers swarming onto the stage to engulf the women, before they escape on their transport chopper. The team leaves the outpost at dawn in good spirits with complementary magazines. Further up the river they encounter a junk boat and perform a routine check for illegal goods. It results in the massacre of all those on board when they try to prevent Chef from discovering a puppy on board. Willard kills the final wounded survivor, exerting his dominance over the rest of the team, declaring that his mission has priority and that there would be no more unauthorized stops. This is a major turning point in the film as Willard reveals a personal ruthlessness required for his mission, and further alienates himself from the rest of the crew. Chef and Clean both are strongly affected by the events and Lance becomes a drug riddled recluse, adopting the puppy and is on the verge of insanity for the remainder of the film.

My favorite sequence in the whole film is the stop at Do Long Bridge, the last U.S Army outpost before the river snakes into Cambodia. The crew arrives as the bridge is being attacked by the Vietcong. Willard and Lance climb ashore to search for a Commanding Officer. Crawling though flooded, unlit trenches the pair find reckless soldiers fighting without leadership. Asking a panicked solider who the commanding officer is, he is responded by an unsure, "ain't you?" This sequence is stunning. The illuminated bridge, surrounded by frequent artillery strikes, is one of the most visually spectacular sequences ever filmed. The use of the natural light from the flares is also used to brilliant effect. Failing to find anything not resembling chaos, the crew pull out and continue up river certain that they were now officially on their own. First, Clean is killed by unsuspecting artillery fire from the shore, and later, nearing the Kurtz compound, the Montagnard villagers shoot arrows and throw spears at the passing boat, hitting and killing Chief. Willard, Chef and Lance direct the boat to the port of the outpost which is surrounded by silent villagers. A freelance American Photojournalist (Dennis Hopper) greets them on arrival and briefs them about Kurtz and his followers and the rules of the outpost.


Kurtz resides inside a Buddhist temple that is surrounded by bloody bodies and severed heads. Upon Willard's request he is brought before Kurtz (Marlon Brando), who recounts his war experiences and his philosophies and questions Willard on theories of war and humanity. He interrogates Willard's mission; asking him if he is an assassin, and whether or not he views his methods to be unsound. Kurtz' monologues are hauntingly poetic as he recounts one such experience in Special Forces where he was left traumatized but ultimately wiser about the complexities of his enemy, and concluded that the American commitment in Vietnam was futile in comparison, hence his desertion. His recounts to Willard are for the purpose of his understanding so that he could reveal the true character of Walter E. Kurtz when he returned to his superiors. Without words, he requests that Willard end his reign.

Willard's massacre of Kurtz with a machete is juxtaposed with the ceremonial slaughtering of a buffalo, to the score of the final intense minutes of The Doors' The End. It is unforgettable. Kurtz whispers 'the horror...the horror' moments before his death as if he is recounting the most terrifying nightmares of his existence, and surmising the entirety of Vietnam conflict. From what we have seen throughout Copolla's film, we can now certainly understand the needless waste of life resulting from the campaign. The villagers drop their arms to Willard and allow him and Lance to leave the outpost. The final shot from the rear of the retreating patrol boat is of the now leaderless outpost, before the screen turns black.


The scale of Apocalypse Now is monumental. One of the grandest war epics ever made. The performances are just sensational, and even Marlon Brando, who arrived on set unprepared and overweight, delivers a chilling yet sympathetic performance. Martin Sheen, Dennis Hopper (who has never been more eccentric) and Robert Duvall (who won a supporting Oscar for his performance) are all excellent, and the changes to all the characters are so naturally orchestrated. The attention to detail and the complexities of the sets are incredible, and to pause any shot in the film would reveal a stunning still. While there are some flaws with the editing, especially in the 2001 re-released Redux version, the episodes are so memorable in their entirety that their linking doesn't deter from their power. Along with Oliver Stone's Platoon (1986), this is the greatest war film I have witnessed and certainly one of cinemas most applauded achievements.

My Rating: 5 Stars (A+)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Critical Analysis: Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988)

Die Hard, directed by John McTiernan, is considered one of the best modern examples of the post-classical Hollywood action blockbuster and an inspiration behind three further sequels and a host of recent imitators, many of which are decisively inferior to Mctiernan’s 1988 film. It also created an action star out of Bruce Willis and one of Hollywood’s most popular performers. In this analysis, I will briefly examine a number of important themes and features of its narrative function, particularly the characterizations found throughout the film and the techniques utilized by McTiernan to effectively relay their meanings.


Die Hard, upon its original release was compared to films such as Rambo or the Lethal Weapon series as a post-classical, high-velocity, shoot-em-up style of film containing “mindless, plot-less fun.” However, a much more careful examination of the film reveals a much denser interpretation, an idea that Thomas Elsaesser attempts to address in his article, Classical/post-classical narrative (Die Hard). One of the many ways this is the case is the carefully structured description of McClane’s (Bruce Willis) character in the very early scenes of the film, as mentioned by Elsaesser, where McClane experiences a series of ‘brief encounters’ that inform us into the nature of his character. Among other things, we see his potential as a ‘ladies man’ and an expression of a witty sense of humour. While we see McClane utilising his skills in violent combat for much of the film, his largest piece of luggage is a giant teddy bear displaying a fatherly touch. The Elsaesser article also makes a very interesting parallel between McClane’s arrival and that of the terrorists. Both are outsiders to the world of Multinational Corporation and both are potentially disruptive forces in the corporation Christmas party. But the links between the characters of McClane and his terrorist foes will be raised later.

Stylistically, Die Hard and similar action films like ‘Lethal Weapon’ project a particular urban look, shifting their palettes between bleached and washed out pastels to dark metallic blues and greys. We can link this technique to the theory of the two sharply contrasted locations present within the one central realm, these being the new high-rise office building as a whole and the interior ventilation ducts and elevator shafts that act like an interior skeleton. The open floors of the building are where Gruber and his gang are most comfortable and often have the upper hand, but when McClane draws one of them into isolation from the other group or flees into the ventilation, he clearly has the skills to out maneuver them and eliminate their numerical advantage. Die Hard’s most persistent image, and one of its most gratifying, is the shattering of glass. The choice of editing also produces a shattered space composed of rapid cuts between non-continuous locations, so that the action too appears fragmented. A quote by Fred Pfiel provides an interesting meaning to this observation, in which he says “the action is taking place here – and here – and here, in spaces whose distance from one another is not mappable as distance so much as it is measurable in differences of attitude and intensity.” He is saying that moments throughout the film are defined by how loud and intense the sequences are, not by the length of time between these scenes. Scenes of intense action are found often, but irregularly throughout the film, culminating in an adrenalin-pumping final act. One such example is the very first fight scene, taking place without any exchange of bullets, but through a hard-fought wrestle. McClane, despite his triumph, is battered and bloodied during the fight and shows his heroic vulnerability. The quick multi-angled cutting creates a shattered portrayal of the struggle and the audience feels positioned amongst the blows, despite their extenuated isolation from everyone in the building.


The film skilfully plays with ambiguities surrounding the city’s law enforcement, and McClane in Die Hard triumphs over his enemies almost entirely without the help of regular law enforcement procedures and officials, whose guidance and aid invariably prove to be “irrelevant and ineffectual.” McClane’s expectation of these officials to be present as helpers is proven wrong as they inadvertently help Gruber, with the consequences nearly proving fatal to the hostages and McClane himself. Al Powell, the only cool head to realize the situation with any accuracy, is overruled by the chief detective, who naively dismisses the falling body as “a disgruntled employee” and tags McClane as a “likely terrorist” himself. To complicate the film, the ‘romance plot’ that drives McClane’s motivation to free the hostages and attempt to win back the love of his wife is interrupted by ‘a buddy plot’ between McClane and Powell and their emotional embrace (which is triumphantly portrayed in the film’s score) at the conclusion signifies this transition during the film. While McClane and Powell never work side by side, the assurance that McClane has a partner on his side is enough. However, Fred Pfiel raises another interesting complication; the degree to which the ‘terrorists’ function as mirrored doubles not only for the corporate managers and the professionals that they have taken hostage in the film, but also for McClane himself. The entire group of ‘foreign’ terrorists are intelligent specialist technicians in the fields of electronics, explosives and computer hacking while also being, mainly through the character of Karl, almost indestructible fighting machines.

From the first time we see the band of villains; we are given a visual clue signifying that Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) will be their leader. When they exit the truck, the camera remains stationed in the one spot and the men scamper out and then exit the screen. Soon enough, leaving in the middle of the pack, a figure moves forward right into the middle of the screen and a close-up is shortly held. On the next shot, as the men round a corner, this figure we saw before is now at the front of the group, leading his comrades into work. Dressed in a quietly expensive, custom tailored wool suit, he oozes coolness and confidence in the success of his plan. The suave, clean cut Gruber swaps fashion labels with Nakatomi’s CEO before casually yet brutally dispatching him, regrettably sorry that he chose not to help. Elsaesser quotes that “Hans, while having the brute force and manual skills of McClane, also belongs convincingly in the world of executives and global capital to which Holly aspires,” and while I mentioned earlier that the ‘terrorists’ were outsiders in this industry, Hans is the one exception. Holly represents order, stability and family and McClane’s attempt to save her is an attempt to overturn the moral and social chaos imposed by the villains. It is because of Holly, that we are allowed to see McClane express love, anxiety and fear, emotions whose expression is denied the villain.


Another feature of Die Hard that has been praised is its unusual choice of soundtrack, often cited when discussing the uses of innovative film technology in post-classical Hollywood. But what differentiates Die Hard from other texts of the post-classical action genre is the use of music as one of the primary elements involved in “undercutting the ‘hero’ and elevating the so-called villain to a status of anti-hero.” While the identities of the key players in Die Hard are clear, just who is antagonist and who protagonist is not so clear. Die Hard screenwriter Steven de Souza argues that Hans Gruber was unequivocally the protagonist of Die Hard. It is his plan that drives the film, and the audience is given every opportunity to read the film as being supportive of the villain. The mediation of McClane and Gruber’s interaction by CB radio delays their face-to-face confrontation and makes their first meeting, in which Hans poses as an escaped hostage, much more dramatic. It may be Theo who breaks down the barriers, but it is Hans who holds the secret (the magic key) to the final barrier. The music provides more focus on the villain through its triumphant tunes, presenting him as a tragic hero. The scene where Hans and Theo finally break into the vault and share their jubilation at having their hands on their prize is glorified through the use of one such triumphant tune. You could be forgiven for being happy that Hans’ ultimate plan has culminated in success. In Hans’ eventual slow-motion death, seen from above in an extreme high angle shot, we never see the body hit the ground, and it is not a bloody, messy death like many of the others, making this easier to disregard emotionally.

The mutilation of McClane’s body in Die Hard is articulated through a gaze structure that organises the action by situating point-of-view. This is achieved by foregrounding the shot-reverse-shot formula despite the fact that almost no one is able to look at someone else. This method commonly links adversaries, while allies are generally shot in the same frame, not looking at each other, and separated by subsequent shots. When McClane finally encounters Hans, we see him magnified from a low angle that is coded as the crouching Hans’ point-of-view. We see Hans from the high angle of someone standing over him as McClane is. His vulnerability in this situation is elegantly expressed through the deliberate positioning of the camera. The common position of the male body as centrally fore-grounded is important in establishing a meaning of it appearing simultaneously as a machine of destruction and as a subject of constantly eroded and mutilated flesh. We closely see the wounds on McClane, showing his increasing vulnerability. The film’s editing works to structure an alternation between extremes (claustrophobic proximity and monumental distance) and the camera’s parallel work alternates high and low angles to create the appearance of the body being minimized and maximized in the image.

Finally, in a film full of clever symbolic imagery, one of the most interesting scenes takes place when McClane is radioing Powell, confessing his failures with his wife, while at the same time pulling shards of glass from his bloody feet. Al functions as a substitute for Holly, and McClane asks him to pass on his confessions and his teary apology. McClane can be seen sitting in front of a mirror in this scene, continuing the persistent importance of glass, and we see him both as “a subject of pain”, with his doomed relationship and as “a body of pain”, with his badly cut feet. The pain that McClane feels towards his wife is much deeper than any pain created by his injury. The emphasis on Die Hard’s blockbuster spectacle does not come at the expense of the screenplay or the intricacy of the characters and the plotting. I am in agreement with Elsaesser’s article in saying that many of the early reviews on Die Hard can be considered incorrect falsities in the sense of what can be uncovered once a deeper analysis is undertaken. One of the most popular action films ever made, Die Hard will continue to influence the contemporary Hollywood action genre for years to come.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Critcal Analysis: The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

Since its creation in 1980 by the late, great Stanley Kubrick, The Shining has since developed a cult following and is now considered to be one of the greatest and most terrifying horror films ever created. While expressing true Kubrick style, the film’s utilisation of the temporal and spatial uncanny is developed both through narrative and formal techniques and as a result generates an uncomfortable growth of suspense as time progresses in the film and as the space of the hotel is confined by the presence of the winter. The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as his wife Wendy and Danny Lloyd as their son Danny, has become one of my favourite and most widely discussed films to date. Kubrick, in one of his last films, completed only before Full Metal Jacket in 1987 and Eyes Wide Shut in 1999, creates more than what many conceive to be the average horror film.


While The Shining, arguably, can be realised as being a parody of the horror genre, it is also an examination of the family, in this instance a discovery of the patriarchal domestic environment and a prophecy of its collapse. Kubrick has adapted Steven King’s novel of the same name and furthered it, much like with Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novel, A Clockwork Orange, to controversial lengths. King reportedly was very unhappy with Kubrick’s version for it’s lack of faith to his original material and brought out Stephen King’s The Shining in 1997. Paul Miers writes; “when you are watching a Kubrick film, you are also watching a finely tuned exposure of the artist’s mind,” which I think is very important when looking at The Shining. It was Kubrick’s decision to include the exterior maze structure and all of his captures and editing decisions involve duration and spatial considerations, which will be the focus of this analysis.

According to Robert Kolker in his article ‘Tectonics of the Mechanical Man’, Kubrick’s attempts to suggest that the hotel has a strange life of its own is ‘unsuccessful’ but I would argue the fact that he proficiently succeeds in transforming the hotel into a living organism, adopting its own space in the film, and a hidden spiritual significance within the architecture and the adorning features. Kolker also addresses the generic expectations set by the horror film, confirmed in the scene where Wendy shockingly discovers Jack’s manuscript. The camera movement, emerging behind Wendy, is an assurance that the mad husband is the bearer of the threatening gaze that quickly approaches. But Jack’s appearance after the camera has stopped its movement and his slightly off central trajectory is a surprise and suggests that the moving camera has signified another point-of-view (POV) altogether; one that is present within the hotel space. The unsettling environment of the Overlook Hotel, lacking the presence of other people and cast amidst a homogenous background of white snowdrifts, creates just the right dehumanising atmosphere capable of creating hallucinations.


The camera is a “presence” from its first frames as its eccentric trajectory seems to stalk, then lose interest in, then stalk once again, the travelling car below. Immediately we are made aware of the isolation the family will be subject to, as the last shot of this opening scene is an aerial view of the Overlook Hotel, surrounded only by mountainous landscape on the brink of winter. The space of the hotel and the camera’s relationship to this space is quickly established in this opening scene. The camera emerges as a character rather than as an embodiment of authorial presence – unlike a camera in a Hitchcock film for instance. Kubrick makes specific use of the wide-angle lens and the moving camera, which is made fluid through the use of a steadicam device. This innovative use of the steadicam facilitates the extensive choreography of both character and camera movement and creates significance in regard to the camera’s relationship to each of the characters and the way that they are captured by Kubrick. During long takes, and prominent through the entire film, the steadicam tends to track rapidly backwards, retreating in front of the characters as they move towards the camera. Kubrick’s cinematographic choices allow the camera to act like an observer, present during each of the events, realised as a presence by the audience but obviously unnoticed by the characters in the film. His camera often adopts large distances, particularly when larger parties (four or more) are walking together and appears to stalk from the side.

While Kubrick prefers to shoot characters frontally, the camera is often located behind Danny sometimes seeming to share his point-of-view (POV), like when he first sees the ghosts of the two dead girls in the games room. The camera quickly zooms in on his face, followed by his subjective POV. The camera also seems to sometimes be in a non-uniform pursuit when Danny is circling the corridors of the hotel on his tricycle. A number of times throughout the film, and particularly in the ‘Saturday’ sequence, the camera seemed to stalk Danny from behind like a spectre. Sometimes the camera is directly over his shoulder, or close to ground level next to the wheels, while other times the camera retreats back, framing him from more of a distance.


Differently, when Wendy is walking around the hotel alone, the camera keeps pillars and posts between it and her, making it spatially separate. An explanation of this may be due to Danny’s ability to ‘shine’, and to interact with the hotel’s past, so the camera tends to closely adopt his space. The distortion of the mise en scene, and the purposive, almost obsessive movements through the corridors of the Overlook Hotel suggest the POV of a spiritual destructive force. The moving camera represents Kubrick’s own control over the mise en scene. Kubrick permits greater room to observe and judge his characters’ situation and the viewer’s own perception of the situation as well, while also ensuring that his spectator is embodied into each scene along with the characters. On specific example is when Wendy locks Jack in the storeroom and we see Jack pleading with her to let him free. The shot is directed at Jack’s hulking figure as he bangs on the door and looks down to the ground, where the camera is oddly positioned. This is a very strange angle but we embody all of his emotions, his vulnerability at having been placed in this situation, and then his sudden sense of glee when he reveals to Wendy his destruction of the snowcat. Apart from this shot, the camera remains at the back of the claustrophobic storeroom for the rest of the scene, surveying Jack as he sleeps and extenuating the proximity of the space.

One of The Shining’s most impressive features is the way it carefully sets up comparisons between the interior spaces of the hotel and the exterior maze space. Wendy refers to the Hotel as “a maze” and in many ways the maze present in the grounds of the hotel is a smaller version of the labyrinth structure of the hotel. It isn’t an accident that the camera continues to stalk Wendy and Danny as it does in the hotel, when they first explore the maze. Kubrick has said: “One of the things that horror stories can do is show us the archetypes of the unconscious, we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.” The structure of the maze allows for such an indirect confrontation of these dark forces. Symbolically the maze transcends physical time and space. When Danny is fleeing Jack at the denouement, he leaves the hotel and is plunged straight into another terrifying labyrinth, the hedge maze, where Jack is ultimately trapped and frozen solid in time. Danny eludes Jack in the maze through his skill both in navigating the corridors of the hotel, established earlier through his adventures on his tricycle, and similarly the hedge maze.


The film creates different spaces within the hotel, such as Jack’s writing space, the Torrance living quarters, the hotel corridors, the gold ballroom and the outdoor maze. Maria Falsetto observes that these spaces are all endowed with “specific characteristics” and are all presented to the viewer differently through the camera. When viewing the spaces Jack occupies throughout the film we can realise that the cramped, enclosed space of the Volkswagen at the beginning is mirrored by the claustrophobic living quarters and ultimately the maze that encloses Jack’s frozen body. During the chase sequence in the maze, the film repeatedly cuts between varying points-of-view within the maze as Jack chases Danny with views of Wendy wandering the labyrinth of hallways inside the hotel and for the first time, interacting with the ghostly residents. This crosscutting extenuates this idea that runs throughout the film that the feeling of claustrophobia yet isolation is present both within the hotel, and also in relation to the snow-bound exterior. In the scene where we see Jack throwing the tennis ball around in a senseless boredom, the interior is linked to the exterior through Jack’s sense of ‘mastery’ over his family as he looks into the model of the maze. The camera zooms into the maze and we see the tiny figures of Wendy and Danny moving, transforming the model into the real. There is sense of cerebral intent from Kubrick, portraying the hotel as almost human with each section of its overall space having distinct characteristics.

Many critical responses to The Shining have connected the Overlook Hotel with a womb-like space and suggest that the corridors are corporeal passages – arteries for the transport of blood. The décor is predominately dominated by oranges and reds, established through the footage of Danny cycling through the hallways and the hotel, in many ways, turns itself into a body with these corridors functioning as arteries. This vision is fulfilled by the famous supernatural sequence where the blood escapes from the elevator, begins to fill the room and eventually completely engulfs the camera positioned at the end of the room.

One of the most significant spaces in the latter half of the film is the huge ballroom, which appears to be a hallucinatory creation by Jack to serve as a comfort for his growing madness and anger at his wife. Drawn from the past, Jack appears very out of place with his cheap clothes and unkempt appearance, but he interacts with the ghosts and enjoys his presence within the sprawling space of activity. Jack’s ‘visions’ or mental projections (experiences with the dead) take their subjects from both newspaper photos and from the myriad of black and white photos that adorn the walls of the Overlook Hotel. These images take upon lush colours as Jack brings them imaginatively to life, entering their spaces and interacting with the characters that populate them. Jack returns to the bar where he is recognised and served once again by Lloyd. Jack’s money is denied (“orders from the house”) and later runs into a waiter, revealed to be Delvert Grady, a former caretaker who had gone insane and killed his family. Jack recognises him from a photo he saw in the newspaper, and we can conclude that many of the other guests present in the ballroom are drawn from the photographs that adorn the walls of the hotel. An issue of time emerges during the conversation between Jack and Grady as events of the past are disputed and Grady informs Jack that ‘he’ had always been the caretaker in the same way that Grady had always been there. So is Jack essentially a ghost of the hotel also, does he reside in the secondary reality of the hotel in the same way that Grady and Lloyd do? From the photograph that ends the film, the viewer establishes this idea.


On the issue of time/history Mr Halloran talks about past events leaving ‘traces’ in time and space, particularly referring to the past horrors at the Overlook Hotel. The present within the building (notably room 237) is haunted by the past for all eternity, which as America’s collective unconscious as it were, returns with a vengeance. Is this ghostly presence realised through Kubrick’s sweeping camera movements that stalk the characters as they move through the hotel. But a presence also exists in the choice of decoration that adorns the walls of the hotel. Mr Ullman refers to the site of the hotel being on an Indian burial ground, and there are decorations adorning the entire hotel linked to American Indian culture. So the hotel, through its architecture and design, is linked inextricably to the past. Also, past celebrations within the hotel are shown in hundreds of photographs that line the walls. Throughout the film we can examine the isolation of space in relation to an isolation of time. There would be a sense that every day experienced within such an environment would seem to be repetitious; as a monotonous sequence of identical time (leading to Jack’s ‘Cabin Fever) where Jack is literally searching for some form of intensity in the space, hence creating the activity within the ballroom.

Another very peculiar feature of the film is the way that it uses a random choice of days (Tuesday through to the following Wednesday) to inform the audience of the narrative’s position in time, and also to highlight this indifferent monotony. Kolker refers to these ‘titles’ as “giving days and times in such a minute profusion that they become parodic and cease referring to any usable meaning within the narrative.” Time and chronology, through the use of the inter-times seems to make no sense, but while time is subject to repetition there is a link to the space of the hotel. The colour schemes and patterns on the walls and floors are repeated throughout the entirety of the space and most of the rooms share matching qualities, with the exception of room 237, which is deliberately portrayed differently. But, what is interesting is the use of Kubrick’s first title card, ‘The Job Interview.’ We become aware while Jack is at the Overlook that he is there for a job interview, why does Kubrick tell us aside from that? This event has already been determined as seen in the final image of the film where we witness that Jack Torrance has always been a part of the Overlook Hotel; this early step only solidifies his destiny. Time, in relation to such an isolated space, cannot function as normal and Kubrick utilises various techniques that dispossess the presence of sequential time, by including elements of the past.


The idea that the hotel itself hides another space is evident in the scene when Wendy brings in Jack’s breakfast. It is in this scene that the camera “moves through the looking glass” (as put by Brigitte Peucker in her article Kubrick and Kafka: The Corporeal Uncanny) and crosses into the uncanny space of the hotel. Titled “A Month Later” we can already see a change in the character of Jack, who’s first revealed by the camera moving back and placing him as an object of the mirror. We next see the ‘real’ Wendy enter the frame, and then the camera moves back again to the space in the mirror. The shot that follows this is from Jack’s POV that emerges from an almost ‘impossible place’ – out of the mirror itself. We get the sense that there is another space lurking behind every object. In another key scene, we see Jack throw a tennis ball into one of the corridors, which then seems to disappear as Jack ignores the ball. Later, a mysterious ball rolls up to Danny. It is as though the hidden spaces of the hotel swallow Jack’s ball and then uses it to lure Danny into room 237. Inside Room 237, the mirror plays another important role. As the woman’s body visibly ages, disintegrates and decays in the mirror, the mirror telescopes time, as if the space from the past is beginning to dominate the ‘real’ (present). Jack is the subject of the gaze, however, it turns inwards and he ultimately becomes its victim, as the Jack from the past meets with the one residing in the present, and hence begins his murderous spree.

The opened door of Room 237 allows for the opening of this ‘supernatural space’ within the hotel. The different space of the Halloran’s home, through Mr Halloran and his ability to ‘shine’, is linked to the horrors that Danny is seeing at the hotel. This morphs into a POV shot of Jack as he enters room 237 and encounters the woman in the bathtub. The interior of this room differs from the rest of the hotel, dominated by greens, blues and purples. The bathroom is green (signifying the supernatural space), a very striking difference to the red used in the bathroom situated near the ballroom, which can be realised to match the red jacket of Lloyd the bartender, Jack’s devil. The Shining is one of the more complex horror films to analyse, through its inter-connected subplots, and many scholars have puzzled over Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. But to understand and appreciate the film, it must be viewed from an angle that recognises the figuration of time and space, as much of the film’s meanings can be drawn from Kubrick’s techniques in establishing this.

My Rating: 5 Stars (A+)

Critical Essay: Italian Neorealism

Italian Neo-realism can be described as an intellectual, and predominantly cinematic milieu of the Italian Resistance, officially originating shortly after World War II with Roberto Rossellini’s brilliant film, Rome, Open City (1945). Neo-realism, although a very brief cinematic movement (ending in 1952), was a supremely important creative response to the violence of Fascism, and an influence on both other modes of cinema (French New Wave and New German Cinema) and within contemporary culture. Much critical debate has emerged following the neo-realist movement, documenting the changing modes of perception generated by the images of these films, and creating new potentials for the neo-realist image. Two of the most important critics were Andre Bazin and Gilles Deleuze. According to Bazin the neo-realist “fact image” is rather more stone-like than brick-like, arguing that this kind of shot awakens a more complex mode of perception of reality than shots with a ready-made shape. Deleuze reformulates Bazin’s idea by showing that the novelty of the neo-realist image is in its ability to create op and son signs, relating centrally to our mental processes. In this analysis I will be elaborating on both the idea of the “fact image” and the creation of op and son signs, strictly focusing on Roberto Rossellini’s films Paisa (1946) and Germania Anno Zero (1948) and briefly exploring Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel According to St Matthew (1964) to demonstrate some examples of these ideas.

Neo-realism can be defined through a number of characteristics, in particular the shooting on location (which begun development of light-weight cameras) and the absence of studio lighting, instead utilising the available natural light of the location. Due to the poor quality of the film stock, neo-realist films often have a grainy, documentary appearance, almost acting as a witness to contemporary Italy as it unfolds – a natural place marked by the remnants of violence and destruction. The typical narrative consists of casual, everyday events featuring dramatisation and ‘dead time’ and lacks a conclusive resolution. Neo-realist filmmakers also often use non-professional actors, relying on improvisation; leaving the process open to chance forcing time to take on flexibility. Spatial and temporal wholeness is also created through the use of the long shot, the limited use of the close-up and minimal cutting. 
In Rossellini’s Paisa (1946) many complex trains of action are often reduced to three or four brief fragments, which themselves remain already elliptical enough in comparison with the reality that is unfolding. It is ordinary for the filmmaker to withhold information from the viewer, but the images selected and those left out tend to form a logical pattern by way of which the mind establishes the process of cause and effect. It is in this sense Bazin saw something ‘new’ in neo-realism – the “fact image” – films made out of shots that are more like rocks (submerged, irregular and fundamentally opaque) rather than bricks (images with a pre-determined form). He describes neo-realist cinema through this image: “the mind having to leap from one event to the other as one leaps from stone to stone in crossing a river. It may happen that one’s foot hesitates between two rocks, or that one misses one’s footing and slips.” There is typically an absence of a linear narrative and the protagonists face obstacles that divert the circumstances into a new territory, significantly affecting the outcome, much like submerged rocks that shift, causing hesitation and a disturbance of the senses. Bazin argues that our mind acts in this way. “Facts are facts, and our imagination makes use of them. The fact becomes a subject of scrutiny by the camera and is divided up, analysed, put together again, without losing its factual nature within the image, while the latter idea has a pre-determined form and are enveloped in abstraction, as the clay of a brick is enveloped by the wall.” Although this film is made significantly after the neo-realist period, this idea can be realised in the town sequence in Saving Private Ryan (1998), where the soldiers, progressively moving forward through the town, stop and form a wall of bodies around Captain Miller (Tom Hanks) who occupies the left of the frame. The formation fills the entire frame and aesthetically acknowledges the power relations within the squad. Miller’s commands unite the men and they immediately continue forward with the mission. These characters all have pre-determined characteristics, have a specific role in the film, and specific relationships to one another. This is never altered during the film. Like bricks in a wall, they all have purpose and we never question their motives, which is very different to the aims of neo-realism. As the characters struggle to navigate the rubble of the ravaged buildings of post-Resistance Italy, the viewers are asked to navigate an array of signs or ‘facts’ (both optical and sonic situations) created through this style of ‘documentation’ that intercept the path of the protagonists and divert the narrative away from the pre-established wall-like structure (evident in the early Hollywood films of D.W Griffith and my example Saving Private Ryan).
Paisa situates the audience directly into the period of the resistance; in the Florentine episode, for example, an American nurse braves sniper gunfire in a bold attempt to cross the River Arno to rejoin a resistance leader whose whereabouts are unknown. The characters seemingly function as recorders or observers of the documented ‘fact-images’; found in the movement of the tracking camera and the use of the extended long shot, which position their bodies as virtually insignificant within both the ruins of the city and the liberation conflict overall. Paisa is a powerful work which comprises of six vignettes linked effectively by actual newsreel footage from the resistance, painting a harrowingly realistic picture of Italy during its period of liberation and showing a country shattered and divided. Unlike a conventional war film, crudity of the editing make the film appear more like a documentary of the war, reflecting in its images of real locations a country in ruins and still bearing the scars of war. Neo-realism functions like a historical document, disrupting the sensor-motor schema established in dramatic cinema, resonating this through the characters and complex relationships between the optical and the sonic signs. Following the action without any perspective, Rossellini takes the position of the invisible onlooker. For Rossellini in Paisa, ‘facts take on a meaning and follow one another’. The mind is forced to observe their resemblance; and thus, by recalling one another, they end by meaning something which was inherent in each and which is the moral of the story – a moral the mind cannot fail to grasp since it was drawn from a documented reality itself.
Bazin also uses the Florentine example demonstrate his argument: “the attention of the camera follows the two figures step by step, and though it will share all the difficulties they encounter, it will however be impartially divided between the heroes of the adventure and the conditions they must encounter. The camera makes no pretence at being psychologically subjective. Everything that happens in Florence in the throes of the Liberation is of a like importance and the personal adventures of the two individuals blend into the mass of the other adventures”. In the second vignette of Paisa, when the drunk American soldier takes the young boy back to his home and discovers the ruined circumstances of his living, he is touched and decides he doesn’t want the shoes back (which the boy had previously stolen and attempted to sell). What first appears to be a story from the view of the young boy, transforms into one of the American, as he reacts to the boy’s situation, and offers an understanding. The mistrust that ends the first vignette has disappeared, but we see the building of bonds between people of different cultures. This is Rosellini’s ‘cinematic aim’. People and society are shown as they are, along with the stresses that cause them to act the way they do. Beside the desperation of the Italians, and their temptation to abuse the power of the Americans, we see signs of genuine human warmth, of human sympathy for other human beings, and of the human ability to cross cultural barriers, which, especially in this sequence, is one of the most important themes of neo-realism. From the words of Bazin: “the neo-realist film has a meaning, a posteriori, to the extent that it permits our awareness to move from one fact to another, from one fragment of reality to the next, whereas in the classical artistic composition the meaning is established a priori: the house of images is already there in brick.”
Deleuze, in his article ‘Beyond the Movement Image’, begins by outlining Bazin’s earlier ideas on neo-realism: as “a matter of a new form of reality, said to be dispersive, elliptical or wavering, working in stones, with deliberately weak connections and floating events. The real was no longer represented or reproduced, but ‘aimed at’ through an ambiguity that replaced the ‘montage of representations’ with a sequence shot to produce a formal or material additional reality.” As a result, neo-realism introduced what Bazin has called the ‘fact-image’. Deleuze’s counter-argument is that the audience’s link to reality is loosened in these films to allow for our alternating mental processes. The power of the image and its creativity reflects the image back towards the audience altering their perception of reality through a creation of optical and sonic signs. Deleuze argues that the primary definition of neo-realism “is this build-up of purely optical situations, which are fundamentally distinct from the sensory-motor situations of the action-image. The characters themselves reacted to situations, even when reduced to helplessness as a result of the ups and downs of the action. What the viewer perceived therefore was a sensory-motor image in which they had greater or lesser participation in identifying with the characters.” In neo-realist cinema there is an absence of linearity, and no direct line from one point to another to demonstrate this sensory-motor mode of perception. Instead, the image consists of a series of smaller ‘facts’ broken down into op and son signs, determined by the location and movement of the scene rather than the process of the action-image. This subtlety of movement within cluttered, yet banal spaces and the naturalness of behaviour of the actors allow a director such as Rossellini to ‘portray an action without separating it from its material context and without the loss of that uniquely human quality integral to neo-realist cinema.’ In this everyday banality the action image disappears in favour of pure optical situations, not connected to the sensory-motor perception. Paisa feels objective because Rossellini is rarely commenting on his material, attempting to include both a subjective point of view of the character and an objective within the same image. However, this subjective identification is actually inverted and the character becomes more of a viewer.
In Germania Anno Zero, for example, the situation of the young boy at the conclusion of the film outstrips his motor capacities on all sides and makes him see and hear what is no longer subject to the rules of a response or an action. He picks up rocks pretending they are grenades, and imagines the spaces in the walls to have windows. He is disillusioned and wanders from room to room without sensory-motor perception. The camera tracks him with a medium to long shot, using sparingly the affection image. Through a series of his reaction images, we don’t so much as receive a subjective response; we essentially get a documentary recording of the destruction of the city and its remaining scars. The role of the child has been significant in many neo-realist films because, in the adult world, “the child is affected by a certain motor helplessness, but one which makes him more capable of seeing and hearing.” The final gesture of him placing his hands to his face before he jumps is so important. The young boy shows no emotion before making this ‘adult’ gesture, and while the heightening drama of the scene is pre-determined by the film’s harrowing score (lacking a diegetic soundtrack, this does not oscillate in the images), the young boy’s plunge to his death is an unexpected tragedy that transpires almost unnoticed.

Deleuze’s idea from Cinema 1 resonates strongly with this idea of emotion, he says: “Italian neo-realism contrasts with previous forms of film realism in its stripping away of all expressionism (the tendency of an artist to distort reality for an emotional effect) and in particular in the total absence of the effect of montage…[it] tends to give back to the cinema a sense of ambiguity of reality.” It is important to address the difference between traditional sensory-motor perception and the images in the aforementioned films. In the second vignette of Paisa when the drunk American soldier is recounting the fantasy of coming home a hero to the young street-urchin, we can understand him, but how much is understood by the boy? Is he simply mimicking his actions? In a sensory motor scenario, while there would be consistent crosscutting of the close-up of each character, the two would be engaged in a ‘conversation’. In a breaking of the semantic boundaries, the pair firstly fails to understand each other’s language, and secondly, is constantly talking over one another. The young boy, who reaches an understanding only through a sharing of noises and gestures, does not receive the ‘fact image’ of the American soldier’s fantasy ticket-tape celebration. To symbolise this, the pair are also sitting on a pile of rubble, demonstrating both the destruction of the city and the fracturing of their cultural boundaries. In a typical sensory-motor situation in Germania Anno Zero, the boy’s adventure would have purpose, his whereabouts would be known and someone would be coming for him, inevitably saving him from his death. Through a state of disillusionment at Germany’s destruction, the boy dies alone, falling to the gaze of one lone spectator, while the city continues to function in the background oblivious to the event. Deleuze outlines an attack on these films by Marxist critics, with criticism directed at the “characters being too passive and negative, and for replacing modifying action with a ‘confused’ state of action.” How does this collapse of the traditional sensory-motor situations (the action-image) allow only pure optical and sonic situations? In neo-realism, “the sensory-motor connections are now valid only by virtue of the upsets that affect, loosen, unbalance, or uncouple them.” These new signs refer to very varied images, sometimes everyday banality, sometimes exceptional circumstances, but above all, subjective images, memories of childhood, sound and visual dreams or fantasies, where the character does not act without seeing himself acting. In this sense, one of the finest examples is Fellini’s masterpiece, 8 ½, but I will examine these ideas further through a brief study of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s The Gospel according to St Matthew, and most specifically the early sequence of the film following the birth of Jesus, which I argue to be filmed almost like a subjective dream. 
As the Three Wise Men and surrounding children walk down the mountain path to see Mary and Joseph and the new born Jesus, there is a cross-cutting between a medium to long shot of these approaching figures and Mary holding the child (adhering to all the common modern representation of the Virgin Mary, she is attractive and virginal and wrapped in a shawl that covers her head). At times the camera seems to float in one position, moving very slightly, but allowing the figures to first enter the frame and then exit again at the other side. A haunting vocal score repeating the words ‘sometimes I feel like a motherless child’ backs this montage sequence of paralleled images and optical sensations. It is a compelling intersection of signs, as we are drawn into Pasolini’s camera, but at the same time are seduced by what we hear. As the figures approach the position of Mary and Joseph, they slowly move toward the still camera, filling the entire frame and adopting positions of varying levels (some are standing, while others are crouching). In what has become a typical Pasolini shot, there is a ‘prolonged’ close-up of Joseph, then Mary. After handing the child over to the first Wise Man, the camera zooms into the faces of these men, and then lingers on the child. The montage that follows is of smiling children in the crowd united by this birth. By removing the diegetic sound from the image, Pasolini, working in the shadow of neo-realism in the 1960’s, expertly creates complication in our mode of sensory-perception by subordinating time from the movement-image to incur and paint a subjective, dream-like state. These pure optical and sound images, and the fixed shot and the montage-cut, imply a progression beyond the movement-image. Deleuze argues: “the movement-image has not disappeared, but exists only as the first dimension of an image that never stops growing.” While the movement-image and its sensory-motor signs were in a relationship only with an indirect image of time (dependent on montage), the pure optical and sound images are directly connected to a time-image, which has subordinated movement. Through this reversal, “time is no longer the measure of movement but movement has become the perspective of time.” Following the neo-realist directors, Pasolini is one of the masters of this style. 
The period of neo-realism, and the observations of both Bazin and Deleuze have been extremely influential in the history of cinematic criticism, observations that have transformed how we mentally process contemporary cinema. Through Paisa and Germania Anno Zero we can identify Bazin’s idea of the ‘fact-image’ and Deleuze’s recognition of the breakdown of the sensory-motor perception, replaced by the more complex relationship between the optical and sonic situations as distinct from one another, but uniting to create powerful cinema.

Critical Essay: Weimar Cinema

The period of German Cinema between 1918 and 1933 is referred to as “Expressionist Cinema,” and can be described as an early pinnacle of film experimentation of technology and special effects that utilized revolutionary filmic elements to abstract the mise-en scene, methods of acting/gesture, lighting, editing, and shooting methods. These abstractions are intertwined with ambiguous and unusual narratives that dismissed a sense of clarity and left the viewers grasp on the characters and their motivation not entirely clear.
Many of the directors' aims was to create a form of "Art Cinema” where the “films appeared to be paintings brought to life.” Many films during this period were extremely popular, especially when they followed or reshaped the unique aesthetics and particular thematic concerns of the period. The two films I will incorporate closely into this analysis and are F.W Murnau’s horror masterpiece, Nosferatu (1922) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) focusing particularly on their technical innovation, their revival of the Gothic, and their interesting statements on modernity.

German Cinema at this time can be described as a hybrid of both mass culture and modernist inspirations, including the development of the projector. The German Avant-Garde movement expressed a disdain for the American film medium, and the production of films, as ‘Art’ had to be popular amongst the elites and the masses, but also had to be marketable commodity. Through a threat posed on already established upper-class entertainments such as theatre and to provide a relief to upper class intellectuals, Gothic fairytales began to become introduced into the German film industry to marketable appeal.
Directors began to use the style of “Expressionism” to create a commodity, enabling the films to become marketable as uniquely German, and critiquing and presenting emphatically elements of the Gothic Narrative and German Romanticism into its feature films. The biggest Hollywood films, notably those by D.W Griffith (Birth of a Nation, 1915), and the linear sequence of narrative common to their industry was not followed by Weimar Germany who became a prominent European threat to Hollywood through their unique style of film making. Thomas Elsaesser argued that German silent cinema, however influential it has been on certain aspects of Hollywood film making (the horror film for example), remained non-imposed on the commercial cinema, and thus remained a form of ‘alternative cinema’ during this period. Lotte Eisner argued that the transformation was an act of repression and that history, through the Gothic narrative, had returned in the form of the distinctive uncanny or the ‘fantastic.’ W. Worringer introduced the concept of the ‘Gothic Line’ and describes the stories as lacking a linear narrative or plausible timeline and appearing to have no distinct beginning or conclusion, much like a film such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari (1920). Worringer also raises the idea of a dark agitation within the narrative, present in the techniques of editing, the use of light and shadow and the film’s backing score. Nosferatu is one such film that displays the full arsenal of these features.
German Neo-Gothic writers began to write for the film medium because narratives of this kind had the greatest potential for the use of special effects. As a result, the cinema of the “fantastic” has given rise to notable creatures as Dr Caligari, Nosferatu the Vampire and Maria the Robot who have a sense of vitality and occupy a state where organic/inorganic are discernible. The illuminated state of Nosferatu when he appears below deck, and the burning down of the Maria Robot are just two examples of the vitality created by very early forms of special effects. However, to complement the use of special effects, during the 1920’s German cinema also began to move to a style that worked actively with light. We will see that the importance of light as essential in creating a Gothic effect in films of this time. The characters were always the embodiment of the light and the dark, and are often present as parallels of being either spiritual or housing the presence of evil. The films derive from the use of the optic (working with light) and the appearance of colour can be established through the use of black and white and effective lighting techniques. This cleverly creates a dark, swampy, seductive atmosphere full of effective shadowing within the image influenced by past Gothic traditions. Murnau's work in Nosferatu tended to use either chiaroscuro or the dancing of light on bodies and objects to dematerialize solid things into “impalpable, translucent rays that evoke unworldly, spiritual realms.” One example is Nosferatu’s uncanny spirituality as he stalks across Wisborg to his new home holding his coffin.
The German cinema has been described as being subject to ‘unchaining’ of the camera, developing innovative ways to tell their narrative through the lens. One key example from Metropolis is the wonderful point-of-view (POV) shot of Freder when he spots a piece of Maria’s clothing in Rotwang’s house and we see only his hand emerging away from the camera as though we were watching this entirely through his eyes. An example from Nosferatu is the altering of the gaze when Harker descends the staircase and discovers the Count’s coffin for the first time in the depths of the castle. Murnau never shows this scene from the POV of Harker, but makes it feel like there is always someone watching him. The gothic frame rarely utilises the horizontal or the vertical but makes use of the uncanny diagonal, and the linear narrative is altered by the sense of a ‘broken line’.
The editing style, influenced by the work of D.W Griffith, is largely continuity editing, but a sense of ‘slowing down’ is utilized to create ambiguous narrative. In what can be described as a chase sequence in Nosferatu there is no action/reaction medium but a ‘slowing down’ affect that creates juxtaposition between the characters of Harker, Ellen and Nosferatu. Ellen waits by the water for the return of Harker (on horseback) from abroad. It is, however, Nosferatu who has commandeered a ship and is arriving by water, suggesting that the film’s truest marriage is between her and the Count. The action/reaction is based on a sense of affinity between the monstrous and femininity, a feature prominent in both The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Metropolis and the crosscutting between the characters is not for a general understanding of suspense. Whose point-of-view can the story be assessed through? There is an argument to read the story through all of the characters and multiple readings can be made depending on the character in focus. All three protagonists share a secret affinity because each plays the role of instigator and victim, and the caller and the called upon. To further understand the non-narrative values of German Cinema we can call upon Tom Gunning’s work on the ‘Cinema of Attractions’ and his focus on early examples of primitive cinema and the work of Sergei Eisenstein (Stachka [Strike], 1924).


A film like The Cabinet of Dr Caligari has a very strange atmosphere and Weiner creates strange distorted perspectives through the odd selection of sets. Murnau’s film exemplified and furthered Expressionism most notably by using elements of the natural world for the creation of mood rather than the painted studio sets, a feature distinctly common in early Weimar Cinema. A perfect example of this is the wonderfully diverse use of the camera to shoot the outdoor environment surrounding the castle. During the horse and carriage journey Murnau speeds up the image, then experiments with the incorporation of a Polaroid negative technique. The whole of nature has the appearance of being disturbed by the intangible presence of evil, which lurks beneath the surface of nature, almost as a response to the supernatural element residing in the castle. Nosferatu is considered one of the greatest examples of both German “Expressionist” Cinema and the horror film itself. Drawing upon similar Romantic devices as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and utilising the Gothic narrative of Dracula, Lotte Eisner has contended, “Nosferatu makes apparent the continuity between a Romantic sensibility and the Expressionist project.” As the taste for a Gothic revival became widely common in all forms of art during this period, the film's opening is clearly reminiscent of the ‘Red Tower in Halle’ (1915), a painting by Ludwig Kirchner.
In a direct parallel to Rotwang’s Gothic ‘ginger bread house’ in Metropolis the doors in Nosferatu’s Castle open by themselves, and we can conclude that while these examples depend upon specific cinematic technique, they also associate the vampire with magic. At night Nosferatu goes out to prey on the civilised world, bringing pestilence wherever he appears. This occurs until he is challenged by the positive forces of ‘good’ embodied in Ellen who refuses to be afraid of him and thus destroys him (through an exposure to light) at the end of the film. Another interesting observation to be made about Nosferatu is the fact that this film is about the enactment of a deal or an exchange. The image of Ellen that Harker accidentally displays to Nosferatu as he is signing the papers substitutes for the money that otherwise would have sealed the deal. As the closure of the deal, Nosferatu acquires a view (of Ellen across the street) and Harker gains a social status (by having the Count as a client). A negative outcome of this deal is Nosferatu's introduction of the plague to Wisborg.
Thomas Elsaesser makes a very interesting point in relation to the editing techniques used by Murnau, identifying that in a unique instance in German filmmaking, Nosferatu has over 540 shots. Through Alexandre Astruc, the assumption that can be drawn from this is that Murnau treats each individual scene and each shot as a self-sufficient unit. This has the effect of slowing the film down and creating ambiguity about the connections between each shot and the next. One such example, which once again alludes to a link between the feminine and the monstrous is the parallel editing of Ellen’s trance-like dream where she senses the approach of Nosferatu and reaches out to seemingly a figure off screen. We see the text emerge on-screen “He is coming, I must go to him” but the next cut is to the crew less boat, seemingly controlled by Nosferatu, traveling towards the town. We are under the impression that Ellen is reaching out for her husband, but the ambiguous (almost montage-like) editing creates an alternative meaning.





By examining the ornate architecture used throughout the film we can discover links to the Gothic but also curious links to the appearance of Nosferatu. Inside Harker’s house, the Castle and the Country Inn we repeatedly see the characters framed by round, relatively low arches. This decorative detail strikingly contrasts with the Gothic references present in the architecture of the town but also in the elongated body of Nosferatu, his long nails and his sharply pointed skull.
However, one of the most haunting images depicted in Murnau’s film is the arrival of Nosferatu’s boat into the harbour. The use of sound is very important in creating a sense of ‘horrific anticipation’ in that a haunting score and a number of shots of the boat, seemingly from the POV of Nosferatu despite the fact that he is within the confines of the ship and we never physically see him, mark the build up to the arrival. When the boat enters the harbor, however, the music stops for a few seconds at different intervals but we continue to see the boat moving along at the same speed. This is very effective, and an example of further use of the Gothic vitality. This scene is described by S.S Prawer: “the death ship glides along like a black cloud. For the first time in the silent cinema one actually hears silence.”
The influence of Metropolis (1927) on the history of screen science fiction is almost incalculable. The atmosphere and visual style created by Fritz Lang were to influence the concept of virtually every filmic portrayal of the future for many years to come. As one of the towering achievements of the Golden Age of German Cinema, the film’s politics owe much to its historical moment in Weimar Germany’s economic and cultural situation. Metropolis is a gallery of contemporary visions, a film of powerful expressive architectural metaphors and an important turning point in the development of film architecture, notably with the use of the Gothic temple as the feature of the film’s climax. While much science fiction or fantasy literature of the pre-cinematic age was concerned with the creation of utopias, cinema would be seen to carry forward the tradition of the dystopia inaugurated into Metropolis. Vivian Sobchack describes the portrayal of the city in Metropolis as ‘a place of delirious chaos, alienation, resistance and even improbable liberation.’ The cityscape in Metropolis is divided between high and low: the city dwellers that live above the ground are contrasted to, and in conflict with those who dwell beneath the streets. The scenes of the upper class revolve around pleasure, while scenes of the workers reveal mechanized, depressed figures that march in a ghostly unison and appear barely human.
With
Metropolis Fritz Lang concentrated his vision upon the future. It was his first sight of New York from the Atlantic, which had given him the first visual idea for his project. Manuell and Frankel decipher the creation of the sets and state, “through the effects of a large budget, the ingenuity of the German camera, by the use of mirrors, could combine sets which were life-size in the acting area but miniature from above.”

The influence and utilization of the Gothic fairytale is cleverly used by Lang to express his visionary future, but also acknowledge the past Romantic traditions, and there are many examples throughout the film. Rotwang’s house and interior laboratory do not promote scientific enquiry but a sense of Gothic vitality like the world in Nosferatu. His main room, protected by a trapdoor, appears to be present within a cave and twisting, dark tunnels link his direct access to the worker’s underground catacombs. Is Rotwang a scientist or a magician? He generates a form of electricity to transform the metallic robot into a living form of the appearance of Maria, albeit for the use of evil. He also seemingly enables doors (that create a labyrinth feel) to open by themselves, much like the doors at Nosferatu’s castle.
The workers burn the Robot Maria, utilized during the film as a demonic force, at the conclusion and parallels can be drawn to Freder's delirious nightmare in which Death's dance dominates the imagery. The statues of the seven deadly sins can be seen positioned in Gothic temple, where Death comes to life, swinging his scythe and slowly moving towards the camera. In the background, the architecture is distinctly Gothic, evident by the stained-glass window directly above Death's head. Death's demonic dance is edited in parallel to Robot Maria's dance for her lustful male audience. Tom Gunning writes that the dance of Death "blends the mechanical and the allegorical in the one image." Maria's burning displays an allegory in the sense of technology in that the metallic robot, designed to replace the 'hand' of man, is melted down and then seemingly linked to the figure of Death, blending elements of modernity with the Gothic fairytale.

There is a Gothic vitality present in the parallel editing of this scene, which incorporates the three different scenes into seemingly appearing at exactly the same time, which is a terrific representation of Worringer's description of the 'broken' Gothic line. One of the most dynamic images of obtaining 'dramatic effect' with lighting as a notable Gothic representation of Rotwang's torch, which chases Maria through the tunnels, eventually trapping her in a circle of light and seemingly allowing no escape. The use of lights positioned at a low angle is very effective throughout the film in haunting the image and creating shadow, especially in the riot scenes at the conclusion. The German Gothic Cathedral, which rises at the heart of
Metropolis and is the setting for the climax, is presented as a "bastion against modernity and the decadence of foreign cultures" and is based on the descriptions drawn from Thea Von Harbou's novel. The design of the city in Lang's film has proven to be one of the most influential models of high-rise city in cinema history. The German "Expressionist" period has proven to be one of the most interesting and influential periods of early cinema history. Nosferatu and Metropolis have become classics in their respective genres and are the pinnacles of German film during this period, recognized as such for their technical innovations and distinctive style, but also for their abilities to successfully incorporate elements of German Romanticism and the Gothic Fairytale to extend their narratives.