Oh Mr. Anderson!: Cultural Appropriation of India in The Darjeeling Limited

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A beautiful Wes Anderson film, perfectly made, incredible to look at it, and sadly appropriative of India. Wes Anderson is my absolute favorite director so it really hurts me to write this article acknowledging his misstep. The Darjeeling Limited, the director’s 2007 effort follows three brothers; Francis (Owen Wilson), Peter (Adrien Brody), and Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as they go on a spiritual journey across India in order to reconnect after their Mother’s disappearance, and their Father’s death. The use of India as a back-drop for the reconnection of some spiritually displaced white men is an insult to the rich history, colors, and culture of India. The movie uses the setting to its advantage as the film is absolutely gorgeous to look at it, as with any Anderson film. However, all of that beauty is underlined by the fact that it’s only the background and is marginalized for the benefit of Anderson’s characters. In one of the first stops on a long train

In one of the first stops on a long train journey, the brothers make a trip to a Hindu temple in order to meditate and pray. For what? That’s unclear, however, they clearly seem to think praying at this temple, to a God not of their religion, they’ll somehow be friendly to one another again. Again, while it makes for beautiful imagery to look at, all meaning is lost as it’s not applicable to it’s three white main characters. None of these visuals have any clear cut meaning because it’s all being interpreted through a visitor’s eyes. It’s all being appropriated for the sake of a dramatic back drop for this family drama to unfold.

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In another key part of the film, Jason Schwartzman’s Jack and Adrien Brody’s Peter cause a bunch of problems on The Darjeeling Limited. Peter brings a known poisonous snake onto the train which accidently escapes and endangers the entire cabin and Jack has sex with Rita the train attendant. Both of these things turn lives upside down and carelessly endanger others. The brothers treat India throughout the film as something that can be played around in, where the rules don’t apply to them. Jack turns an entire girl’s life upside down because he’s heartbroken over another girl he knew in France while Peter endangers an entire train car of people and by extension the job of the train conductor. By interrupting the fragile ecosystem of the train the three brothers further prove themselves to be intrusions upon the culture and life of India.

Another point in the story that speaks volumes to the erasure of Indian culture is when all of the brothers meet up on the train for the first time, and all possess new medicines that are available over the counter here. The three brothers arrive in India and proceed to misuse the culture around them and treat it all as their own to romp around in. India is used as a playground for the three brothers and try and become brothers again, creating an image of a magical place that all white people can go and visit to solve their problems.

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The Darjeeling Limited sadly contains all the hallmarks of an Anderson film and is unmistakably his. The problem with this is that I can’t ignore it as part of his filmography through selective omission. Anderson has written a fabulous and well thought out story, all of the characters are well developed and it’s entertaining. What’s inexcusable is his blatant misuse of Indian culture and locales in order to further his character’s emotional development. It’s the fact that the story hinges so much on its background that it would be indistinguishable without it. This makes the film inherently an appropriative one, as it uses India as a background and a background only, there’s no real reason for it be there except to further the experience of Anderson’s characters.

Unhappiness is a waste of time: Harold & Maude

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The 1971 film Harold and Maude directed by Hal Ashby is a heartfelt tale about the balance of life and death told through the relationship between Maude (Ruth Gordon) and Harold (Bud Cort). An unlikely romantic relationship forms between the septuagenarian and the young teenager as Maude shows Harold how to live wholly and for one’s self. Maude above all else stands as a ray of sunshine amongst people who are obsessed with saving up their money and collecting things around them, only to forego on the experience factor of life. Harold and Maude may be one of the most enjoyable and faith restoring films ever made. The film offers commentary on the pessimistic and greedy society in which we all live, it’s a commentary on being ignored, feeling insignificant and generally being marginalized. Maude has an outlook on life from the margins, she collects things for herself that remind her of the beauty of a life well lived. Both characters are wholly unique in opposite ways, Harold has an obsession with dying while Maude has an obsession with living. They meet somewhere in between life and death; at a funeral.

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The dichotomy of age between Harold and Maude is the most intelligent character device in the film. It sets up an appreciation of both view-points, someone who is just entering adulthood versus someone who has lived their entire life. They both see each other as moments in time that they have or will experience. The difference in their subsequent obsessions of life and death also sets them as opposites. For all intents and purposes, these people should not be good friends, but they understand one another. Harold’s obsession with death lends him to a friendship with an older more experienced person while Maude’s penchant for living fits her friendship with someone who is just beginning to appreciate life.

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One of the most incredible shots in the film is a slow zoom out from a picnic Harold and Maude are having, as it zooms out it is revealed they are in a cemetery, and it keeps zooming out to reveal that the cemetery is rows and rows of unmarked white graves. This shot is the most striking and upsetting moments in the film when paired with what has just come before it. Where Harold and Maude were talking about the fact that many people allow themselves to only be treated as a number rather than as a fully fledged human being with needs and wants. There is a phenomenal bit of dialogue where Maude tells Harold about the differences between each individual flower in a field, showing how at first glance everyone appears the same, but on closer inspection there’s something special about everyone. This analogy being paired up with the imagery of the anonymous tombstones is deeply depressing, slapping you in the face and saying don’t let yourself be anonymous, don’t let yourself be treated that way.

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This movie is in my personal opinion, refreshing for the soul. It makes you think about the relationships in your life, it makes you question what you surround yourself with and what it’s really for. It’s above all a love song to life, to living and appreciating, to breathing fresh air and to sleeping next to someone you love. Harold and Maude is a good film because it is about being happy, it’s about collecting all of the moments that make you most elated and bringing them together to make them your life. It yells at you to go take an adventure, bring back a story, and then go live some more. Ashby wants his viewers to know that the secret to being happy is doing what makes you happy, a statement that gets complicated a lot these days.

 

Ex Machina and the Image of Control

Disclaimer: Below is my final essay for a film criticism course I took this spring semester. I hope you enjoy it!

Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland is an intense science fiction film that takes the viewer on a slow ascent into the ethics of Artificial Intelligence. Ex Machina brings up multiple philosophical ideas explored in various prolific science fiction films. Garland’s exploration of what makes someone inherently human has been analyzed since the beginning of cinema. Ex Machina deserves a spot within the canon of prolific science fiction films such as: Blade Runner (1982), A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), Her (2013), Alien (1979), Metropolis (1927) and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). These films all have one common thread, exploring the moral necessities in being human and applying it to the question of whether or not an artificial intelligence can qualify as human. Human’s are attempting to become something akin to a God as a person’s need to have power over something else is where this aim of control comes from. This pattern of others seeking control appears throughout history, from the Mongol empire’s invasion of China under Ghengis Khan’s rule to the dystopian-like government of North Korea. The ability to control others can only take human’s so far, to prove their dominance over all things would be to master the ultimate natural process of creating life. Artificial Intelligence is the next step for humanity in its quest for complete dominion, in order to feel as if we are able to control the universe around us and bend it to shape our image.

Artificial intelligence exists as a way of transforming ourselves into divine beings as it gives us complete control over something from it’s inception to its doom, just as any God-like being in mythology does. Humans are presented in these films as wanting to bring something into this world that will exist to prove that humanity can accomplish the creation of sentient life. It’s when these very people attempt to deny freedom on newfound intelligence that the artificial intelligence has a reaction akin to a trapped animal or rather anyone who has been denied basic human rights. This basic human desire to control one another repeats itself throughout history in the forms of despotic regimes, prisons, slavery, colonial subjugation, oppression by racial, gender, and economic injustice. It is commonplace in the world for a human to want to control another, it’s a natural human desire as it fills one with the feeling of importance and power. Through Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac’s characters, Ex Machina recognizes how similar these A.I.’s are to humans on the outside, and how they often possess more intelligence than their creators. This automatically strikes fear into their human counterparts hearts at the idea that they could be replaced, or even killed, by their own creation.

History shows multiple parallels to this fear: through slave-owners fear of retribution during the abolition of slavery in the United States, to the various movements throughout history where the poor overthrew the rich such as in the French Revolution. The fear of losing control is universal across human’s who hold power over others. The logistics and idealistic philosophies surrounding the creation of artificial intelligence in Ex Machina is both a reflection of what humanity can accomplish, but also what holds us back is this quest for power. Ex Machina meditates on what inherently makes something human, while also referencing humanity’s tendency to be xenophobic towards things they do not understand, and Ava (Alicia Vikander), is definitely not understood by her human creators.

Artificial intelligence and man are inherently linked together through their resemblance, as man is looking to create something to have dominion over. Humankind wants to create artificial intelligence to prove that they are equal to their theological counterparts, someone who has achieved everything, even the act of creation, has become all powerful. After conquering countries, people, and various ways of life the next step is to control creation. At this point, humans would reach the pinnacle of control, as they can bring life into this world through artificial means rather than through natural birth. This desire to create a new intelligence is not just all mad scientist hubris, not everyone is attempting to make themselves gods. In most ways humanity attempting to make a new intelligence is seen as a natural progression of technology and human intelligence. The problem arises when the scientist doesn’t respect what he’s actually doing, which is creating a new form of sentient life, where the scientist will always view the product as an experiment and nothing more.

Humankind has constantly searched for control over others through slavery, tyranny, empires, economic dominion, and other forms of entrapment. The desire for control is heightened with the search for artificial intelligence, by creating something that can think for itself in a human-like way we create a being in our own image. Creation acts as the ultimate image of control as it naturally is the bringing of something into this world that looks like us. For example, creation is often thought of by humans as reproduction. By having a child a heterosexual couple combines their combined genetic makeup to create something in their own image. What Nathan does is bring something into the world that looks, feels, and acts like us, but is not created naturally. The idea of creation as an image of control is that by creating something we naturally exercise dominance over it, just like a parent would raise a child and feel ownership to it, so does Nathan towards Ava.  This feeling of artificial creation surpasses the control of our own kind as we become people who can control creations of our own making. We become the figurehead of the very religions we respect. Power becomes something that gives dominion over another, by being a creator of life Isaac’s character Nathan assumes he has exclusive rights to Ava.

The problem here lies in the question of whether or not the creator has the right to own his creation. In Ex Machina Garland answers this question with the point that, if humans were to create an artificial intelligence, then humans would have to treat them the same, as they have the same thought processes and emotions as us. A great example of this is towards the end of the film, as Caleb discovers security tapes documenting Nathan’s treatment of the A.I.s. This discovery leads to the viewing of multiple artificial intelligences as they deliberate and fight against Nathan to be free. The reaction of the artificial intelligences in these security tapes is due to them not being treated fairly or equally, as Nathan treats them as if they’re inanimate objects without feelings. Where Nathan sees experimentation Caleb see the torture of intelligent beings, showing the two different sides to the treatment of artificial intelligences. On one side Nathan views this intelligence through a scientist’s eyes, as something to be poked and prodded at. While Caleb views the intelligences as something to be treated the same as us, as they are indistinguishable. Nathan represents the selfish side of this act of creation while Caleb represents the human empathy component of creation. The creator doesn’t have ownership over his creation when the invention has the ability of free thought, as that creation will want its own individuality, and will inherently fight control. Human beings are inherently too selfish and proud to be the creators of new life.

These inventions were hand created by men like golems are molded from the earth in God’s image, they’re inherently unnatural due to their manufactured nature. The main problem here is man’s ignorance of the fact that they are creating something that has rational thought and emotional responses to external stimuli. Man has a tendency to create new things and then proceed to use it for the wrong purposes. Much like the discovery of the atomic bomb, artificial intelligence also has the possibility to be hugely misused.  By creating an intelligent android, humanity needs to be prepared for the fact that an artificial intelligence will want to have free will, it’s autonomy, and will want to interact with other intelligences.  The question is often asked if the artificial intelligence is indeed a thinking or feeling being, or if it is rather a string of code and machine made to simulate life. The answer lies in the idea that there is really no difference between the two, a human’s DNA is essentially code for who they are, while a line of code will bring an A.I. to life. There is no difference between something that can think and act for itself and something that has been coded to think and act for itself, as they are one and the same. The machine and the human are both objects that have been designed to think and feel.

The image of control as defined in this essay is best seen in the film when Nathan shows Caleb where Ava was ‘born’. Nathan brings Caleb into a stark and dimly lit lab, with rows upon rows of fragile looking cases and equipment. Nathan picks up a glowing, speckled, blue object that resembles a brain in shape, and tells the audience that this is Ava’s brain. He cups the object in his hands with the utmost care as the camera slowly moves forward into the object, filling the frame with the firing of neuron-like circuits as the film dissolves into the next scene. Garland expertly balances the creation that Nathan has made with the question of who is really controlling who. By Nathan handling Ava’s brain, the image of control is created. He has created this person; he’s holding everything that makes Ava who she is and he has the power to give that to her or take it away. However, as soon as the camera moves into the object the control is taken by Ava as the shot insinuates that though Nathan believes he has power over her, when he doesn’t at all. This short sequence shows Garland balancing who has control in a very minimal way. The screen is flooded with blue in this scene, providing Nathan’s character with an icy detachment from the intelligence he’s holding in his hand. The slow zoom in to the brain-like object is the perfect camera movement for Garland to have used as it subtly switches whose in control. With a simple moving forward of the camera he moves control from one person to another. Garland shows the importance of the image of control where one person believes them self to be in control, when actually someone else is the entire time.

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner deals with the question of humanity when it comes to artificial intelligence, referred to as ‘replicants’ in the film. Deborah Knight and George McKnight in their essay, “What Is It to Be Human: Blade Runner and Dark City,” note that “While each of the replicants is given a distinct human form, Tyrell’s objective as their designer is to make their identity subservient to their primary functions” (Knight/McKnight 34). Nathan (Isaac) does the same thing with Ava. He invents her with the idea that she is purely an experiment. He refuses to recognize that he has brought something into the world that thinks and feels as he does. Tyrell assumes that due to his act of creation he is allowed to have complete control over it. What both characters refuse to notice is that they’ve endowed their artificial intelligence with human emotions and thought, which inherently makes the android want to seek out freedom, intellectual stimuli, and a more human-like lifestyle. What this adds to Ex Machina is an ability to read both Tyrell and Nathan as Icarus-like characters whose ambitions were so strong, they ultimately destroyed themselves. Tyrell and Nathan both display the common theme of man’s need for authority over others within the realm of science fiction. Their need to have control over their experiment’s existence alludes to dominion as it is followed throughout history. These two characters recollect the corporate greed of King Leopold the Second as he founded the Congo Free State and created rubber plantations that enslaved hundreds. The Congolese people eventually fought back, replicating the creation overthrowing the creator through the slave overthrowing the master. Thus, these two display that humanity’s need for power will bring about their downfall, as the mistreatment of artificial intelligence breeds hatred and not love for one’s creator, just as the entrapment of a people will brew distaste for the enslaver.

Domhnall Gleeson’s Caleb plays Nathan’s counterpoint in the treatment of Ava. Where Nathan treats Ava as an object and experiment, Caleb comes to treat her as a woman and by extension, as a complete human being. At the end of the film the way that Nathan has actually treated the various A.I.’s that have come before Ava, refusing to respect their wishes, keeping them nude and in a cage. Nathan treats every A.I. he brings into being as his own personal property. Caleb recognizes that she is a real, intelligent being who is held against her will in Nathan’s lab. After Caleb has interacted with Ava for a while, he begins to realize that she passes the Turing test and should be awarded the rights of personhood. Nathan’s obsession with power over his creation is demonstrated through various abuses on the androids, such as forcing them to have intercourse with him as an act of exercising his control.  Caleb is key in the development of understanding Nathan’s need for power over creation. Rather than developing them for the pursuit of knowledge, Nathan has instead created an object that he can rule over as he controls its ability to live. The film shows Nathan as this megalomaniac in one scene where the viewer witnesses Nathan’s assistant peel back her face to reveal that she is an A.I. The viewer has seen this assistant having intercourse with Nathan earlier on in the film. By Garland revealing that Nathan has been having intercourse with his creations he shows the viewer that Nathan has not been using them for discovery and progress but rather pleasure and enjoyment. Nathan’s carelessness and mistreatment elaborate on his not recognizing the magnitude of his invention. Gleeson however, sees Ava as a human after interacting with her throughout the movie, which allows us to see Nathan as the cold-hearted tyrant that he is. The film constantly establishes Nathan as a tyrannical figure as he controls the entirety of the household including who comes in or out.

Perhaps the most demonstrative scene of Nathan’s flippant abuse of intelligence is the dance scene. Nathan has his ‘assistant’ dance with him as a form of entertainment for Caleb, only to have Caleb be disgusted. This short interchange shows that Nathan is desperately attempting to hold on to Caleb’s approval and slowly losing it. We see this everyday in the form of politicians reaching out to us in humorous and kind ways, we can hardly look left or right without someone trying to win our approval. Garland marks the descent of approval to disapproval through Caleb’s fading respect for Nathan. At the beginning, he’s barely able to talk around him due to how much he reveres him, while throughout the film Caleb’s approval slowly falls. Caleb watches as his hero turns to the villain as so many have watched their leaders turn to murderous dictators.

Ex Machina is a philosophical journey into the ethics of artificial intelligence through humanity’s need for the image or illusion of control. Meaning that humans often exist with the idea that they’re imbued with a natural power over other life forms, as we assume that because we’re intelligent life that we have dominion over anything that falls “below” us. What humans want is to be able to exercise dominance over others in order to prove their own worth, in terms of artificial intelligence, by extending this power to the act of creation. Humanity’s quest to create something artificially is a need to have pure dominion over something rather than gaining power by overtaking something like a group of people or area. The creation of artificial intelligence brings mankind’s need for power to the act of creation, which elevates them to a new god tier level of power. The need for control is destroyed by mankind’s own pride, as the creation aspect endows them with a sense of right to their invention when they have absolutely no need to dictate a new form of intelligence’s life. In the end, humanity creates something that thinks and breathes in our own image, only to destroy it with their pride by believing that they can control something wholly and completely.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Ex Machina. Dir. Alex Garland. Perf. Domhnall Gleeson, Oscar Isaac. Universal Studios, 2015. DVD.

Sanders, Steven. The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film. Lexington, KY: U of Kentucky, 2008. Print.

Schelde, Per. Androids, Humanoids, and Other Science Fiction Monsters: Science and Soul in Science Fiction Films. New York: New York UP, 1993. Print.

“The Third Man” & Harsh Lighting: Beyond Tropes

Carol Reed’s The Third Man is a perfect example of the pristine understanding film noir directors had of cinematic technique. Film noir employs the tropes of its genre to create a successful formulaic film. Various other film noir’s that came out in the genre’s heyday use the same formula that allows them to have a choke-hold on success in the movie box office. The narrative appeal of intrigue, mystery, conflict and peril, along with the films having a consistent cast of characters. The Third Man uses the tropes of its genre to its advantage in telling its story of lies, heartbreak, and morally challenging effects of ‘the third man’, Harry Lime (Orson Welles).

img_current_30_118     Taught editing and controlled camera work create a classic addition to the film noir library, with lighting that affirm the character’s ambitions by low-key lighting that cut characters in half with shadow by the hard light. Solidifying it as a demonstration of how technical prowess and proper use of technique makes the difference between a good and bad film. The Third Man relies on the tropes of film noir, which requires the film to be technically flawless in order to make it’s plot stand out more from the countless film noir (ex.The Maltese Falcon, Touch of Evil, The Big Sleep, M, e.t.c.) that were being released during this time.

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The harsh lighting is used to perfection when main character Holly Martins (Joseph Cotten) is a victim of mob mentality when a small boy points out that he was in the recently murdered informant’s apartment the previous day. The femme fatale Anna Schmidt (Alida Valli) is also present at the mob and is originally seen as split between light and shadow, shifting into the light as she goes to Holly’s side. The harsh lighting of film noir, especially in The Third Man, demonstrates the fluidity of the line between good and evil. It highlights how people constantly traverse over this moral line between good and bad intentions in their interactions with each other. The Third Man brings this line to the forefront of the character’s actions and interactions with each other, like how Holly and Anna consistently clash on the moral disposition of their shared acquaintance Harry Lime. The two end up on either side of the harsh lighting with Anna’s character figuratively showing her opposite views by being draped in darkness. In direct contrast to Holly who is lit to highlight his concern with the effects of Lime’s crimes. The lighting of the film The Third Man highlights what makes its characters different from the tropes in the film noir canon. It brings attention to Anna’s conflict as she finds out terrible truths about the love of her life, and shows how Holly faces the moral dilemma of being involved with the crime to bring justice to a terrible racketeering scheme. The film noir genre has many classics that demonstrate how technical proficiency is key to a good looking and stand out movie.

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The film noir genre has many classics that demonstrate how technical proficiency is key to a good looking and stand out film. The Third Man effectively uses harsh lighting that brings attention to the characters and how they differ from their prescribed tropes, while also still existing in them to maintain the genre

“The Royal Tenenbaums” is Wes Anderson’s best film

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(The Royal Tenenbaums, cast of characters)

            The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my absolute favorite films. It is the movie that inspired me to write about film and to pursue a career in screenwriting. In my mind it is one of the most beautiful and expertly made films of recent memory. It is built up of gorgeously composed shots, a beautifully pastel color pallet, supreme performances by it’s cast, as well as a narrative that is both unorthodox and touching. The movie is a prolific piece in Wes Anderson’s career before his less successful (and mildly appropriative) The Darjeeling Limited (2007) as well as the creative but critically divisive film The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004). After these two slumps he returned to form with Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), all of which we’re critically acclaimed and audience favorites. Anderson co-wrote the script with Owen Wilson (who also has a part in the film as Eli Cash) who is a frequent collaborator on Anderson’s projects. The fact that most of Anderson’s film are written by himself or with a collaborator speaks volumes to how carefully constructed his movies are. He has control from conception to finish and is involved with every process which allows him to bring his artistic vision to fruition in a wholly original fashion.

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(The Tenenbaum Children: Margot, Chas, and Richie)

What separates The Royal Tenenbaums from Anderson’s other titles is the sheer volume of characters it deals with, all with completely different problems and lives. The Royal Tenenbaums follows the Tenenbaum family: Royal (Gene Hackman), Etheline (Anjelica Huston), Margot (Gwyneth Paltrow), Richie (Luke Wilson), and Chas (Ben Stiller) as they fight through differences and old feuds. The film takes a family dynamic and dissects it down to the intricacies with which family members actually interact. By tearing down the secrets and thoughts of each individual character Anderson shows the various viewpoints that familial life is made up of. A family unit is never just one point of view, it takes everyone’s opinions and views of one another to paint an accurate picture of a family. How one sibling can hate his father and the other can feel sympathy, how one may feel ostracized while the other is completely accepted.

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(from left to right; Ben Stiller as Chas Tenenbaum, Danny Glover as Henry Sherman, Gwenyth Paltrow as Margot Tenenbaum, and Anjelica Huston as Etheline Tenenbaum)

My personal favorite scene from The Royal Tenenbaums  is for character development and in terms of cinematic styles is the first interaction between Richie and Margot Tenenbaum after a number of years. Proving his true writing talent through his deliberate setup of the reunion scene between two people. The entire scene is built up around the tension and loss of tension within the few moments Richie and Margot make eye contact with each other after what could be considered a life time. When Richie takes his seat we see a green-line bus park in a line of other buses, with a wide angled fisheye shot, and then everything changes into slow motion. Margot steps off the bus in a medium close up so that we can only see her from the chest up. Her hair wisps about in the wind moving out of the way to show the way a moment can feel like decades as she slowly approaches him to Nico’s “These Days”. The audience see her truly smile for the first time in the film. This is interposed with shots of Richie’s face as she slowly starts to walk towards him, the relief is evident on his face as he sees her as she has both changed and remained the same. The scene continues with slow motion and a medium wide shot of Richie that slowly zooms in to his face, mimicking Margot’s walking. The way that the two look at each other in this scene, the acting, and the camera work come together to tell a story with no words. There is a slow panning shot upwards as the camera moves to catch the moment of reconciliation between Anderson’s character’s as they finally reunite. The shot reverse shots as the characters discuss between themselves, in no words except for Margot’s lines, the emotions that both felt in the absence of each others company. Margot saying “Stand up straight so I can get a look at you… well it’s nice to see you too…” with a smile and a deeply romantic hug the camera moves forward into a medium close up shot of the two. The viewer sees the first step towards a family that may be able to become whole again through the reunion of two siblings.

In my opinion, The Royal Tenenbaums is the film that nails down the intricacies, awkwardness, and terror of family life. Much like Little Miss Sunshine (2006, directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris) it embraces the bad and infuriating things that families do to one another, and how rather than dividing, these things bring families together. Anderson’s film is remniscant of what makes a family, a family. It’s not just the good times: it’s the bad times, the heartfelt moments, the arguments at the dinner table, the fight with your brother, the hug from your parents when you’ve had a bad year. Family is not just a word, as the film’s tagline says, it’s a sentence.

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(Margot and Richie at the end of the film)

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“Do you read Sutter Cane?”

“In the Mouth of Madness” DIR. By John Carpenter

An incredibly paranoid horror thriller. I give it a 7/10 for originality and scares. Really makes you question the relationshiop between fiction and reality. 

Check out my blog on tumblr: www.cinema-is-despair.tumblr.com

I’m going to be posting my favorite shots from film here. I really hope it can pick up some steam.

Rear Window and Emotion Shot Through Voyeurism

      Rear Window directed by the great Alfred Hitchcock, is at it’s heart a film about shifting emotions. The film follows the story of L.B. Jeffries, or Jeff (played by James Stewart), as we go through his final days inside a full leg cast that keeps him confined to a wheelchair, immobilizing his point of view and giving him limited options in later moments of the film. Slowly the hindered Jeff begins to realize that not all is right in his tiny city block of neighbors. Due to his extended stay in a wheelchair, he begins to observe those around him and their day to day activities and interactions with each other. His only outer world contact is his fiancee, his visiting nurse, and his friend who works as a New York Police Detective, who provide him with insight and eventually in the case of the two women getting caught up in the murder mystery that is taking place in the small Greenwich Village apartment complex. The film is a voyeuristic journey, as the term is often used to indicate a general interest in spying at other people’s private activities or moments, and having this as the films backbone creates the voyeuristic theme within the film, by making a comment on cinema itself. Hitchcock creates a tense emotional landscape through; claustrophobic as well as incredibly perfect use of framing and lighting to create a voyeuristic ode to films of the past, as well as physically show a murder mystery from a limited viewpoint, providing a very creative tribute to the world of cinema.

        The first important part of the film’s message on voyeurism is the films limited setting. The set is at first viewed and created by the character’s lack of a broad point of view. Jeff is confined to a wheel chair with only his binoculars, camera, and limited view of the neighborhood around him creating a harrowingly dark point of view, as he can never be quite sure of what he’s seeing, if it’s true or not, or if he’s just paranoid in his opinions. As his view is of a tiny space he essentially witnesses what is going on through a film screen, creating an even more voyeuristic feeling to the film, as it directly celebrates the audience viewing the film. This is a simple ode to the film medium as whole and the opinions of the audiences. All of this is created through the small amount of space that Jeff is confined to. The setting of a small apartment block in Greenwich Village of New York City. The setting of the film as plays into the voyeurism of Rear Window. The plain evidence of the murder mystery occurring within a massive city, in an extremely small part of it. This knowledge of knowing where the small apartment block is located adds to limited access and point of view in the film, taking the viewers right along with it. The setting in view that the film also offers much to the plot of the film in the trapped feeling of the main narrator as well as his inability to help his fiancee and his visiting nurse, as they do most of the dangerous things. Such as the scene where she is within the suspected murderers house leaving a note to see if Jeff can view a reaction to prove his thesis’s on the the man. His limited view through his camera lens only offers a glimpse of what the character of Lisa and what she is up to. By the setting constantly being reduced Hitchcock creates what the audience would be seeing, in order to build up suspense. By doing this the setting contributes greatly into the voyeuristic views of the film, just like the composition of the movie Rear Window.

      The cinematography of Alfred Hitchcock’s film also lends much to the voyeuristic themes of the film. Cinematography is one of the most important parts of the filmmaking process, and Hitchcock carefully planned each part of his film to best show the themes, as well as create the absolute suspense that is present throughout the entire film. As in Rear Window the narrator is restricted to his apartment, as are we through the cinematography. By having all the shots from within the apartment looking out on the rest of the small apartment complex the viewer is automatically isolated within the plot of the film. With our point of view being restricted to Jeff’s point of view, the audience is put directly in his shoes. For example, one of the best examples of cinematography as being representative of the voyeurism within the film is the scene where Lisa and Jeff decide that it would be a good test of Thorwald to slip a note under his door, and judge his reaction from the safety of his window. After showing the writing of the note through, the shot is a bird’s eye view with a dutch tilt, then moves to the point of view shot through the view of Jeff’s large telephoto lens camera to show the entire event. By reducing the viewers eyes to the suspenseful use of the camera Hitchcock creates a view where the audience is actually the main character, thus replicating the fact that Jeff himself is just a viewer with no real play in the action of the film. The suspense builds in the scene when the camera shifts to a long shot in order to show the entirety of the scene with Lisa slipping the note under the door to the moment where Jeff realizes that Thorwald is coming after her, where the camera then switches to an extreme long shot so we can see the positioning of where the characters are. Lisa successfully makes it out easily but that’s besides the point, the real message lies in what the camera has shown the viewers. The audience has just witnessed what it is like to be completely powerless in a scene. Thus throwing the comment back on the audiences head as after all, aren’t they watching someones actions with no ability to help? By Hitchcock showing the audience the question of whether or not Jeff represents the people in the cinema, he’s observing through his camera and looking for the answers, but it’s ultimately other people who find out all the clues, and he has to put them together. Compare that to the average film viewer and you get the exact same, someone who is sitting behind a ‘screen’ and is trying to piece together what is going on, without actually being involved, and trying to figure out the ending before the credits roll. This comparison is important in the fact that it is highlighted by the camera work withing Rear Window, the cinematography in itself comment’s on the truth of film, in that it is essentially watching someone else’s story and not being able to get involved, as shown through the binocular and camera shots.

     Framing and composition play a key role in the film, the mise en scene acting as a view into the detailed world of the Hitchcock film. To be honest, if one were to take any still from Rear Window they would be able to find loads of meaning in it. The one scene that has some of the biggest clues is the scene just as Lisa gets back from dropping the note on Thorwald’s reaction to the note and what he was currently doing. The scene then shifts into one of meaning created through camera space and framing, Lisa is seen in the foreground of the screen, showing that she is indeed a part of the action and is the most exhilarated and involved in the story, then comes his visiting nurse who has also become part of the action and planning of the film in the middle-ground of the shot, and then there is James Stewart’s character who is shrunken down into the bottom corner of the frame. This spacing and set up of the characters within the frame suggests there matter of importance within the films overall themes and use of characters. By having Lisa being the largest and most imposing of the character’s the audience is told that she is the one doing most of the action in the movie, as her fiancee is in a leg cast. While the visiting nurse at this point in the film has only just become involved so she is shown shrinking over in the middle of the line up behind Lisa, and in front of Jeff, showing her beginning curiosity. Then there’s Jeff who is the character that represents the viewer. He is concerned with finding out the truth revolving around the suspected murderer, just as the audience is. Jeff is also the character that is least involved in the films action, as he is only involved through his observations and panic over the plight of his two main companions. His character and his place in the shot mirror that of the audience, they are in the back observing just like Jeff is, they are hunched over in the corner, only being allowed to observe and comment rather than be involved with the action. Via framing like this Rear Window is truly a study in the voyeuristic aspects of cinema, as he creates James Stewart’s character to be exactly like the people in the audience, helpless and only able to observe.

     The lighting in the film also contributes greatly to the claustrophobic feeling of the film, and the overarching themes of the movie. One of the most important scenes with lighting is perhaps the ending scene of the movie where James Stewart finally has to confront the product of his ‘rear window ethics’. By getting involved with the story Jeff has condemned himself to becoming a character in it. As the scene begins with Thorwald walking through Jeff’s apartment door inside with his eyes the only things lit in the shot, showing the mystery that surrounds the troubles with Thorwald and what he has done. The light also produces the idea of sinister connotations within the mind of the viewer. By lighting him in this light the entire audience will be put in suspense, as the person that their main character has been watching has broken through his ‘screen’, and thus creates suspense as the simple act of watching cinema is a tense look on what role the viewer actually plays in watching a film.

     The next key lighting in the end scene is when we finally get a view of Jeff, he is completely shrouded in darkness and has only part of his cast and body illuminated, his face is in complete darkness and the only light comes from the window. This view shows Jeff as the audience, with the crippled leg symbolizing the inability of the viewers to control what is happening on scene, as well as the lack of face representing the anonymity of the people viewing the film. The lighting in this long shot show that the film really is commenting on cinema and one of it’s most fascinating traits, how it interacts with it’s audience. By being lit this way Jeff is shown as being unable to control his own fate. Most of the scene is intercut between two long shots of the characters that are both very dimly lit until the beginning of the flashes. The rest of the shot reverse shots are still dimly lit, but light up incredibly bright to show the audience where Thorwald is moving and what to expect in the coming scene. As this is the only true lighting that Jeff doesn’t have full control over, he is no longer observing he is a part of the action, so by having the scenes dimly lit and then brightly flashed in order to blind Thorwald both acts as a clever plot device and symbolic lighting. The quick bulb flashes are Hitchcock playing with the audience, as the viewers no longer have a character to view the action sequences through, and there main character is now finally involved in the action, this is the only scene where the film is truly voyeuristic in the movies nature, where the audience is still watching to find out what happens. By flashing the set repeatedly with bulbs he gives the viewer little snippets into how Jeff is doing in avoiding the wrath of Thorwald until help can arrive. The lighting in this film plays just as much a key role in creating suspense and contributing to the overall themes of the films as much as setting, framing, and cinematography.

     The film Rear Window directed by Alfred Hitchcock is a direct study of suspense and the theme of voyeurism not just in the film but in all of cinema. Through limited cinematography, a claustrophobic set, symbolic framing, and low key lighting Hitchcock creates a tense emotional landscape and a voyeuristic ode to films of the past, as well as physically show a murder mystery from a limited viewpoint, providing a very creative tribute to the world of cinema. The voyeuristic aspect of spying on someone’s actions or activities is directly related to the audience of cinema. As cinema is essentially the view of a completely different person’s actions with the audience having the viewpoint of an outsider. Hitchcock takes this general theme of cinema throughout the ages and applies to Rear Window through James Stewart’s character having to play the part of the audience, until it actually started involving him. It stands that Hitchcock was able to create a stunning portrait of one of cinema’s greatest traits ,voyeurism into the unknown, and transfer it to a morality action tale through sheer skill of framing, lighting, camera work, and set production.