Film Analysis I – “My Cars are Made to Run, Not Stop”: The Lyrical style in Godard’s Breathless

Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (France, 1960) represents the rebellion that Cahiers de Cinema in France practiced as a way of establishing a new kind of film. This movement abandoned the traditional ways to film and edit as a way of rebelling against the confines of society.  The movement also eventually escalated and redefining film was used as a way to create political messages (11/24 slides).  In one of the first scenes in the film when Michel is driving, Godard uses diegetic music, direct address, fade out and jump cuts to create a lyrical style that keeps the story moving and engages its audience in an unusual but, creative way.

The mise-en-scene illustrates the whole tone of the movie—we are going to go on a trip with Michel from start to finish, or life to death. The diegetic and non-diegetic music in the whole film is an up-tempo jazz. This sound is diegetic music in the car scene that exemplifies driving fast, and the excitement of being on an open road. First, Michel is singing his own song, and we have 5 consecutive jump cuts while he says his lover’s name—Patricia . They seem to be of the same road but at different points, but it moves his road trip along and the audience is on its toes. The cuts are easy to follow along with because we never lose the trees or the open road. The music starts by Michel turning on the radio, and we hear the different stations as he searches until he gets the jazz music which is what moves the trip along and is very light and pleasant to watch.

At one point on the trip after the jump cuts, Michel addresses the camera which is also characteristic of French New Wave. The direct address puts the viewer into the film, instead of on the outside of the action. When he says “If you don’t like France…get stuffed” it’s as if he’s insulting us, though playfully. First, there are 5 jump cuts, it’s a long take of the road and the trees on the side of the road. Then, we get a quick glimpse of the car whizzing by, then we’re back inside and he addresses us. The point of this kind of editing is to play with perspective. We switch perspectives but, yet never question that we are on the road with him. This is how the lyrical flow works, while giving the appearance of changing things up, but this is simply done by editing and camera work. When we are inside the car with Michel, the camera will bounce with the car, we see the car hood, and we’ll just follow Michel.

When he sees women, on the side of the road, he also uses direct address to call our attention to them. The camera then pans to the side of the road as he slows down and passes them by to get a look. Keeping in rhythm with his carefree attitude, he calls them dogs and does not pick them up. The camera then moves from looking at him, to then him reaching into the glove compartment and focusing on him taking out a gun. We see out the windshield and he points the gun and imitates its going off saying “pah pah pah. He passes by more trees and says he wants to shoot out the sunshine as he actually shoots the gun and it makes a large bang sound.

All the while we are in the car driving now behind slower cars. This time, we have a more backseat glance so we can see him and the road, fitting more in the frame. This is when he says women driving is cowardice personified. He then says referring to an automaker that “as old man Bugatti said my cars are made to run not stop.” This could be viewed as a play on the quick motion of this scene, and humorously foreshadow his getting stopped by the cops. Now we go even faster. He cuts a car off, and the cop sirens start and they follow him in motorcycles, for 2 more jump cuts . He pulls over and tries to lose them but one spots Michel and approaches him. In a medium shot, Michel bends over into the car and pulls out a gun. We get an extreme close up of Michel’s arm, then his gun and he shoots the cop. It cuts to the cop falling into the trees. The jazz music gets more suspenseful with some emphasized high notes. Michel runs away in a long shot showing mostly trees and he is a small figure on the screen. As he runs away the camera pans left and eventually fades out into blackness.

This up-tempo slows down a bit when he is pulled over but then as soon as he shoots the fun, the flow is sped back up. When he is running away, the music and the fade transition us to what will happen next. As homage to ganger films, the criminal dies at the end, but Michel never loses his cool attitude. He dies after running, falling and saying“It is a scumbag” and another fade takes place. This film never really slows down nor does it explain itself. It just records action and tries to speed up time. For me what also makes it so defiant of rigid guidelines, is how in Patricia’s bedroom time stops for a little while and there is so much dialog and focus on the couple that it doesn’t follow a formulaic rhythm the whole way through. This film is representative of how early Godard was experimenting different techniques.

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Pather Panchali & Mourning

We can see how Satyajit Ray got his inspiration from Italian Neo-realism. As opposed to melodramas, this film is more closely related to Umberto D and Early Summer. Apu’s family is struggling with poverty which seems to be a concern of Ray’s. What I really appreciated after this long film that wasn’t a favorite of mine, was how you could really see a pattern of chipping away at this poor family. When the father arrives after the storm and Durga’s death, there are some distant shots of trees fallen, then we get closer to the house and see more trees, broken bricks, and the house in disarray. The wife at first pretends everything is okay and then finally when he says he brought Durga a sari, she falls to the ground wailing. It is a very poignant scene to seeing the harsh reality of everything weighing down on the family, that she literally caves under the pressure. The camera is pointed very low to the ground for this scene and you see the husband and wife crying out together.  It was not an easy film to watch because it was long, but the message was clear that this family was living in poverty that they had to eat food out of the neighbor’s yard. It was difficult to not feel sorry for them, and not judge them for resorting to desperate measures. Ultimately, I was glad to see them see leave and try to find opportunity and happiness elsewhere, hopefully in a place they could be less dire.

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Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Femininity

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Femininity

I think there are a lot of close-ups of Janet Leigh in the film because she is the central character until her death, and because she is the attractive lead. Hitchcock objectifies her through his focus on her, and filming her nude in the shower. She is murdered.  In the shower she cannot really defend herself because she is naked and vulnerable. Hitchcock also doesn’t give her a fighting chance in the shower, because Marion does not put up much of a fight before falling face-down down dead. He also subverts the stereotype of women because Marion is brave and dangerous enough to steal money from her employer. She makes a getaway and tries to outsmart the cops by purchasing a different car, all to a soundtrack that creates a feeling anxiety and foreboding. The problem with the treatment of women aside from the objectification is that no woman comes out of this story in a favorable position, it is like they are punished for trying to be independent and do things their own way. Norman’s mother (who finds a new man after her husband is gone) is murdered and found as a skeletal corpse, Marion who commits a crime is murdered, Lila, Marion’s sister gets away pretty easily but, nearly dies herself at the hands of Norman and is rescued by Sam, a man, and finally, Norman’s alter-ego “Mother” surfaces as an irrational murdering, jealous psychopath.

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La Noire De

Ousmane Sembene’s film La Noire De (1966) really captures the Marxist approach to understanding how money can have an effect on people’s actions. The scene with the maid’s suicide is powerful because she has been exploited by her employers and she is unhappy with her life dictated by her lack of money, and desire for it. We do not see her commit suicide but, instead see the aftermath of it which is her lying in the tub of blood, with her throat slashed.

This is an extremely powerful image and it really shows the impact of money and power. It makes a moral statement to its viewers who may be exploiting people themselves, whether or not they want this blood on their hands. I agree with what we discussed in class about the music really setting a mood. The drum beats are very repetitive and stay with you, the same way that the image of those who fall victim to colonization do also. The track back camera work of the little brother in the mask following the male employer was well done too. It really drove home the message of not being allowed to escape the effects of colonization, no matter how quick you try to run away, or pretend it isn’t following you. Sembene’s message comes across clear, at least to me, like many post-colonial novels that give the colonized a voice.

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Film Analysis II-

In his article “The Moment of Psycho (2007),” David Thomson talks about the importance of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (Paramount, 1960) in the history of cinema. Psycho is probably one of the most widely recognized films in America and possibly the world. Its music and famous shower murder scene have been alluded to or parodied in some way or another. Thomson mentions that Psycho came at a time when the Golden Age was over in Hollywood (Thomson 4). Box offices were below $1 billion, “a figure it held in the early 1940s” (4). “The average number of “weekly attendance at the movies…fell to 35 million from 82 million in 1946” (4). Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho was very profitable at the time because it held an audience at a time when the studios were losing them with the typical, shall we call them “safe-bet” classic films. In addition to this, Psycho dared to cross boundaries in taking ideas of voyeurism and the uncanny to new terrifying heights through a mentally disturbed character. In the film’s concluding scene with the character Norman Bates, Hitchcock’s use of widescreen shots, somewhat low-key lighting, a long take, close ups, a track in and dissolve all create terror for the film’s audience.

This scene begins after the doctor explains that Norman Bates’ crimes were for “passion not for profit” and an officer walks in and says that Bates wants a blanket because he is chilly. A theme is evident here with doors and windows, especially from when the murder takes place. Through the shower curtain, a door opens and the figure emerges and the crime is committed. We can look at the significance of doors in both voyeurism and the uncanny. In voyeurism, it is through peep holes, key holes, cracks, windows, etc. that people can spy on one another. At the same time during the shower, mother emerges. Mother is a psychological personality who Norman summons when he feels she is angry. Inevitably, the peep-hole incident which leads to the shower scene is figuratively a doorway through which the  madwoman surfaces. When the officer opens the door when the doctor is talking to detectives and Marion’s sister, we are going to be led back to Norman’s disturbed psyche. The officer walks in, filmed at a medium shot, in near low-key lighting, there is a Noir effect also because we see distinct angles. About half the shot is the wall with pictures on it, and the cop emerging out of the door creates vertical shadows. When the camera cuts to the doctor and the detectives in a medium long shot, dimly lit it then cuts back to the officer who shuts the door and will head down the hall to bring Norman his blanket.

As the officer walks down the hallway of doors, the camera simultaneously tracks in and closes up from medium long to medium. At this point, there is no music so the suspense is all from the lack of sound creating it ourselves as we move closer to the murderer, who has now completely gone insane and taken the persona of Mother. When the officer arrives to the door, another officer is there with keys and he has to unlock the door to give the officer with the blanket access to Norman. The uncanny is explored here because we are about to hear from mother at this point but, it also messes with our own minds because our morbid curiosity wants to know what is going on inside that room or more specifically, what is going on inside his head. The track in toward the doorway can be viewed as a deeper journey into the psyche.

When the officer goes inside the room, we are just shown the other officer, keeping watch at the door and we hear the words “Thank You” in mother’s voice. The officer is looking into the room and out of the room, he does this three times. One of those times is when thank you is being heard by us, but whether or not it’s being heard by him is a mystery. After this point, we transition with a cut into the room, eerie music begins and mother is already starting to speak her thoughts as she has now completely taken the place of Norman. The lighting is fairly bright, as there is not much shadow because mother has come to the surface and there is no more inner conflict. There is one window next to Norman but it is just empty space, the camera zooms in and we are shown different expressions of Norman. He looks very non-threatening at first, ridiculous even. He sits there, making faces that someone looking in a mirror, or waiting at the doctor’s office would make. Until….when we get an extreme close up of Norman’s hand with the fly on it. Mother tries to clear her name because she won’t swat the fly and they will say “why she wouldn’t even harm a fly.” At this point, Norman’s eyes are pointing up looking at the camera and he has a very sinister grin. A dissolve happens where Norman’s face overlaps with the face of mother’s corpse, revealing the doppelganger—his ghastly double.

This scene was terrifying because it transitions from a point of view that’s benign to something truly horrifying. We are the voyeurs he is grinning at because he knows someone’s watching when he says “they’ll see.” It is no surprise that this film has left a huge mark on film because it plays with the possibilities of film and is almost self-reflexive in that way. Aside from Freudian studies of the uncanny and the doppelganger, someone could do several analyses of this rich film.

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Neo-Realism and Umberto D.

After watching Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952), I tried to come to an understanding of the message that the movie carried. Certainly, as in the case of The Bicycle Thief, there is a message about the system and its profound power over individuals’ lives. At the beginning of the film, we are immediately faced with the problem of pensions. Dedicated workers who are too old to labor cannot pay for their own survival, and their final years are full of turmoil. In direct opposition to Busby Berkeley’s elaborate, large-budgeted films which celebrate money while Americans are going through their own financial hardships. They create illusions that wealth is among you, so therefore you are in a sense wealthy. It dares to blatantly lie to its audience and metaphorically speaking, sweep the poverty issue under the carpet. Italian neo-realism and Umberto D. are honest, disillusioning depictions of the financial struggles of poor Post- WWII Italy, which is why they flopped at the box office, according to De Sica. What had me questioning the story was De Sica’s interview, specifically where he says it isn’t necessarily completely about the system, but about humanity and man’s inability to communicate with man, especially older, less valuable men in society. The film’s mood was incredibly effective because it’s optimism was there but, fleeting. The landlady is a despicable woman who wants this man out at all costs even if it means him and his dog, dead on the street. She will not accept any of his contributions to rent unless it is the full amount knowing she will evict him this way.

The story is not resolved in a large number of ways. We don’t know the fate of the maid living at Umberto’s building, nor where Umberto is going to live, now that he is left. The film had me believing maybe he was going to commit suicide. One of the most grim moments when I thought his suicide was imminent was when he is at the pound and he cannot find Flike. In a grim, realist moment in that scene just before he finds Flike, another poor man can’t retrieve his dog because he can’t afford the release costs. He has no choice but to let them put the dog to sleep with the horrible question from an employee at the pound “what else are we going to do with them?” as the dogs go into an incinerator. That moment was so gut-wrenching and hard to watch, even if it wasn’t “real” When he finally finds Flike, things begin to look up until he doesn’t have a place to live still. He goes to desperate measures and the inner conflicts that are shown in his behavior really sum up what De Sica says about man. He meets fellow men on the street and wants to ask them for money. He hints to them that he has money issues but nobody is moved to help. He sets the dog up with his hat to beg for change, but then decides against it.  Umberto also does not resolve things with the pregnant maid which was something I hadn’t thought about until De Sica’s interview.

I believed their connection was going to lead them to solve their problems together, two “underdogs” down on their luck but, nothing ever materializes. With that said, I think this film is effective and a good example of Italian neorealism because it illustrates larger messages that are still relevant today. The system has its flaws and does not work, and yet other people aware of that do not come together usually to help one another out and figure something better. The system is sometimes too powerful to bring down as well. Also, this film explores the ideas of pride, and leaves us not feeling completely hopeless.

In the end, when Umberto lives, with the joy his dog brings him is a nice coping mechanism. He has something to live for and essentially, all of us in this world have something that keeps us going. That message is a little more hopeful and optimistic than the Bicycle Thief, and I can’t imagine watching a movie like that because Umberto D had an affective impact on me already.

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