Alyssa's Blog

a qwriting.qc.cuny.edu blog

Quote of the week #6

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 2:35 pm on Friday, December 10, 2010

From another one of my favorite films, Titanic (1997):

“Well, yes, ma’am, I do… I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what’s gonna happen or, who I’m gonna meet, where I’m gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life’s a gift and I don’t intend on wasting it. You don’t know what hand you’re gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you… to make each day count.” – Jack Dawson.

Film Analysis #2.

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 2:32 pm on Friday, December 10, 2010

Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller, “Psycho,” is considered to be a classic in the eyes of many. The movie was released in 1960 and grossed thirty-two million dollars.
The film tells the story of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), a mentally disturbed man who owns and runs the Bates Motel. Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) runs from Phoenix, Arizona after stealing forty thousand dollars from her job and ends up checking in to the Bates motel, but never checking out. She is murdered by a mysterious killer shortly after arriving there. Marion’s boss hires a private investigator, Milton Abrogast (Martin Balsam), to go looking for her. Marion’s boss also informs her sister, Lila Crane (Vera Miles), and Marion’s boyfriend, Sam Loomis (John Gavin), about Marion’s disappearance. Lila goes to Fairvale, California to meet with Sam and Abrogast and attempt to find her sister. Abrogast goes to the motel in search of answers and finds Norman hard at work changing linens in the cabins. He questions Norman and finds him to be suspicious and unstable. Abrogast leaves, calls Lila, and then returns to the Bates motel to search the house that Norman and his mother live in. As Abrogast enters the house, he looks towards the stairs and begins to climb. The camera cuts to a door in the hallway opening slowly and quietly. The camera moves to an overhead position and as Abrogast reaches the top of the stairs, the infamous string music begins to play and Abrogast meets the same fate as Marion Crane. Lila becomes suspicious and impatient when she does not hear back from Abrogast, and her and Sam devise a plan and go investigate the Bates Motel themselves. Once there, they check in as a married couple and meet Norman Bates for the first time. Sam distracts Norman while Lila goes up to search the house, hoping she will find some clues. Once there, she climbs the same stairs where Abrogast was killed and enters the bedroom of Norma Bates, Norman’s mother. Not finding anything there, she starts to leave, but hears Norman running up to the house. She goes to hide under the stairs. Norman enters the house and runs up towards his mother’s room. Lila heads towards the basement. There, she sees the back of an old woman. She calls out “Mrs. Bates?” and turns the woman around in her chair. To Lila’s surprise, the old woman is dead and a skeleton. From behind her, Lila hears screams and Norman Bates appears dressed as his mother brandishing the same knife he used to kill Marion and Abrogast. Sam appears and tackles Norman down. The couple take Norman to the police where he is locked in solitary confinement. The movie ends with Norman’s mother’s voice saying that “she wouldn’t hurt a fly” and Norman’s face twisting into a malicious grin.
One thing that stood out to me throughout the film was the use of diegetic sound. It was used every time the film showed Marion driving. The audience sees Marion driving, but hears what is happening back in Phoenix with her boss and sister. Hitchcock also uses diegetic sound at the end of the movie when Norman is sitting alone in the police station. The voice of Norma Bates is heard while the camera is focused on only Norman. I have noticed that in a lot of the films we have watched, sound technology is very prominent.
The scene I have chosen to analyze is the scene when Norman goes to talk to his mother after Abrogast is murdered. I must admit, after watching the scene when Abrogast was murdered, I was a little confused as to who the killer was going to turn out to be. Although I had never seen “Psycho,” I had always known that Norman Bates was the murderer. In this scene, however, the audience gets their first glimpse of Norma Bates. At first, the audience can only hear Norman and his mother. The camera pans up the stairs and towards the bedroom door. Norma and Norman are arguing about Norma being kept in the basement until the investigation is over. Norma is yelling and resisting Norman’s pleas. At this point, the camera pans up to an overhead view. The audience sees the entire hallway this way. However, the audience cannot see any of the characters’ faces. Norman appears carrying his mother out of the bedroom, down the hallway and down the stairs. The woman is still arguing with her son, but remains completely still in his arms. This leads to even more suspense because the audience wonders why a woman who is arguing with her son so fiercely is putting up no fight.
“Psycho” is based around the idea of suspense. Of course the idea of murder is frightening, but not knowing who that murderer is and how to stop them is even more terrifying. This scene in particular just adds to the suspense of the film and adds to the “edge of your seat” factor. Along with the music, the setting and the reoccurrence of death, this scene was actually very scary to me. It also got me thinking about who the killer was, why the woman was not moving and why Norman was so eager to hide her from the world.

Extra Credit viewing: “Goodfellas”

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 8:56 pm on Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Goodfellas (1990)

After reading Robert Warshow’s essay, “The Gangster As Tragic Hero” (1948), I decided to do my own research to discuss the portrayal of the mob in the eighties, nineties, and now and how those portrayals were influenced by the ideas of Warshow’s essay. As well as discuss the use of technology in those movies.
The one movie I thought to use for this essay is said to be one of the best mob movies of all time. Martin Scorsese’s 1990 film, “Goodfellas,” tells the story of Henry Hill (Ray Liotta), James “Jimmy” Conway (Robert DeNiro), and Tommy DeVito (Joe Pesci) and their climb to the top of the mafia game. The movie takes place between the years of 1955-1980 in New York. Throughout the film, the use of camera angles and different techniques enhance the audience’s viewing pleasure. Rather than just keeping the camera stationary and at one distance and one angle, the camera pans out, uses close-ups and moves quickly.
There were three scenes in particular that I found visually pleasing as far as the use of camera angles went. The first was the scene in which Karen (Lorraine Bracco) was sitting on Henry holding the gun to his face. As the shots alternated between characters, the audience felt as if they were looking through the eyes of each character. When the gun was pointed at Henry, the camera was looking down Karen’s arms and the gun, over Henry’s face. When the camera was on Karen, it was pointed up the barrel of the gun and was situated under Karen. The second scene was when Karen goes to visit Henry in jail. As she goes to sign in, the camera is situated slightly above her and angled down. She sees the name of Henry’s lover signed in the book and the camera catches her eyes and the anger she has in them. I thought it was a clever camera angle because this way, the majority of Karen’s face was her eyes, which were the most important feature in that moment. The third scene, which was really two scenes, was when Tommy DeVito shoots Stacks Edwards (Samuel L. Jackson). The first time the murder is shown, it is shown without Tommy being in the shot. All that is shown is Jackson’s back and the barrel of the gun. A little bit later in the film, it cuts to a shot of Tommy holding the gun. The shot shows the audience what Stacks Edwards could not.
Something else I found interesting and a good choice by the director was the use of foreshadowing. The movie opens with a scene that comes back later in the film, and I think the choice of scene really shows how deep Tommy, Henry and Jimmy have gotten themselves in the business. The third thing I found intriguing was the use of parallel action. In the last few scenes when Henry is testifying against Paulie and Jimmy, the shots change between the courtroom and the rest of the mob being arrested. Throughout these cuts, the audience continues to hear Henry’s voice giving his testimony, adding the aspect of diegetic sound to the movie. The last piece of the filming I found interesting was in the last two scenes. At the end of the courtroom scene, and in the very last piece of the movie, Henry pulls a “Ferris Bueller” and breaks the reality of the film by talking to the audience. Ray Liotta looks directly into the camera and speaks to the viewers at the end of the courtroom scene, and just stares directly into the camera at the end of the film.
In his essay, Warshow describes the main idea of the gangsters. He tells why they are what they are. He says:
“The gangster is the man of the city, with the city’s language and knowledge, with its queer and dishonest skills and its terrible daring, carrying his life in his hands like a placard, like a club. For everyone else, there is at least the theoretical possibility of another world – in that happier American culture which the gangster denies, the city does not really exist; it is only a more crowded and more brightly lit country – but for the gangster there is only the city; he must inhabit it in order to personify it: not the real city, but that dangerous and sad city of the imagination which is so much more important, which is the modern world. And the gangster – though there are real gangsters – is also, and primarily, a creature of imagination. The real city, one might say, produces only criminals; the imaginary city produces the gangster: he is what we want to be and what we are afraid to become.”
In the film, Henry Hill had to become the city. He had to know it inside and out. He had to learn who to trust and who to turn away from. He always wanted to live the mafia life, but feared the repercussions it held. Tommy DeVito became the gangster that the world feared to become; he became a cold-blooded killer. The fortune and adrenaline rushes went to his head.
Another quote from Warshow’s essay that I felt tied in with Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” was:
“Usually, when we come upon him, he has already made his choice or the choice has
already been made for him, it doesn’t matter which: we are not permitted to ask whether
at some point he could have chosen to be something else than what he is.”
The movie opens with a scene that comes back later in the film. Technically, the story begins in Brooklyn in 1955 when a young Henry Hill begins working for Paul “Paulie” Cicero. Therefore, the audience does not know what Hill’s decision is at that moment, though we can surmise what his choice will be.
The next two quotes discuss the means by which the gangsters will go to get whatever it is that they desire. The first one is:
“The gangster’s activity is usually a form of rational enterprise, involving fairly definite
goals and various techniques for achieving them.”
The second quote is:
“Thus brutality itself becomes at once the means to success and the content of success – a success that is defined in its most general terms, not, as accomplishment or specific gain, but simply as the unlimited possibility of aggression. (In the same way, film presentations of businessmen tend to make it appear that they achieve their success by talking on the telephone and holding conferences and that success is talking on the telephone and holding conferences.)”
Both quotes discuss how a gangster would go about their business, and the movie demonstrates both quotes very well. The characters in the film do what they can to make their money and control the town. They are successful, until Henry Hill testifies against the mob in court. The gang uses brutality to intimidate everyone underneath them, and they are successful with that as well. No one crosses them until Tommy DeVito crosses someone else.
Robert Warshow’s essay made some excellent points that helped me elaborate on my argument of how the essay influenced the portrayal of gangsters in recent films. While screening “Goodfellas” I automatically remembered the quotes from the essay. Not to mention, the film was incredibly entertaining.

Ozu’s “Early Summer”

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 1:29 am on Thursday, December 2, 2010

Yasujiro Ozu’s film Early Summer, was one of my favorites by far in class. Like a few of my classmates said, I did not expect to laugh as much as I did during the screening. Noriko’s nephews were so funny! They were also very bratty. It took me by surprise that they acted the way that they did. One of the motifs of the film seemed to be the conflict between the traditional Japanese culture, and the change to a more modern way of life. The attitude of the children seemed way more modern.

Another example of the traditionalism vs. modernity issue was marriage. The idea that Noriko was getting too old to get married and if she did not get married soon, no man would want to make her a wife. Today, women are getting married in their sixties.

I also loved Ozu’s camera techniques. I liked how the camera was stationary a lot of the time, rather than it being on a track and changing angles. I also appreciated the low-angle shots and pillow shots within the family’s house. It made the audience feel like a part of the home. The narrative ellipses made me angry. I would have loved to see Noriko’s first suitor, and the wedding at the end of the film.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the film and the techniques used.

Quote of the week #5…

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 12:12 am on Wednesday, December 1, 2010

It’s been so long since I posted a quote! Here’s one from another one of my favorite movies, Ghost.

“It’s amazing, Molly. The love inside, you take it with you.”

Modern Benshi Tradition

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 6:28 pm on Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Last week, we discussed Japanese cinema and the influence of the Benshi tradition. Evolving out of Japanese theater, the Benshi performed live during silent film screenings, usually alongside musical accompaniment. It was asked by one of my peers if there was any modern form of the Benshi tradition and Professor Herzog was not sure. Sunday night I remembered an event that takes place a lot this time of year that is similar to the Benshi productions.

‘The Rocky Horror Picture Show’ is a cult classic that is not only performed as a stage musical, but the movie is often “shadowcast.” Shadowcasting is when a group of actors act out the movie as it is being shown on the screen. Reversed from the Benshi tradition, the actors are silent while the movie plays with sound. It is probably the most modern and similar take on the Japanese film tradition.

Wikipedia says: “There are currently a number of groups in the United States alone seeking to not only revive this form of art, but to continue exploring the possibilities of altering the form in the spirit of experimentation from which the practice emerged. Likewise, new attempts to subvert traditional notions of storytelling and film watching are also underway. Some of these performers interject commentary into films, drawing from a century of social critique, often presenting popular films along with new dialog and narrative intended to juxtapose their own ideas with those the audience may already associate with the film.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benshi#New_benshi_practice.28s.29)

Just thought I would help shed some light on the question asked in class. I hope whoever asked it, reads this post and is satisfied with the response. 🙂

Film Analysis #1

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 12:56 am on Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fritz Lang’s M and the Influence of Sound and Camera Technology

Fritz Lang’s film M, premiering in 1931, was a film about a child murderer in Germany, played by Peter Lorre. The film was released during the Weimar Period, a time in which the film industry in Germany flourished despite the economic problems in the country. The Weimar Period gave birth to major technical innovations in German film, especially involving sound and camera technology. Both of these innovations were hugely influential to Lang’s film, M.
In the movie, the murderer has a particular whistle that is heard continuously throughout the film. The whistle is heard off screen, but comes from a character within the film. This is known as a diegetic sound. A diegetic sound is any voice, music, or sound presented as originating from a source within the world of the film. Diegetic sounds can come from either on or off screen sources, so long as they fit into the narrative world of the film. The whistle is recognized by the blind owner of the balloon stand and he remembers to have heard it the day a little girl went missing. The notes we took in class say: “Sound can also draw our attention to off screen space, building suspense and shaping our expectations about what lies outside the frame.” The whistle is a constant in the film, letting the audience know the murderer is present and at large.
Three major camera technology innovations that were present in Fritz Lang’s groundbreaking film were crosscutting, reverse shot, and long take. Crosscutting is when the camera cuts between two or more separate actions to imply a connection. In the film, this occurs when the mob bosses are discussing how to catch the murderer and are enlisting the help of the citizens living on the streets. The camera first shows the men talking at a table and then to the instructions of how to catch the criminal going from person to person. The second innovation was reverse shot. Reverse shot is a pattern of editing often used when shooting a conversation between people. The shots alternate between positions from opposing sides of the action to give the impression that the characters are looking at one another. This technique is popular within the world of film and is used often. In Lang’s M, however, it is used often. Mostly, it is used in one of the final scenes when the citizens bring the murderer into their makeshift courtroom. The camera cuts from Peter Lorre playing the murderer to whoever is speaking to him. The third major camera innovation was the use of long takes. Long takes are single shots that remain unbroken for a considerable time. The shot can be moving or stationary. Two examples of this in the film are the opening scene when the woman is preparing dinner and waiting for her daughter to come home. The camera is positioned in one part of the room and she is just setting the table and checking the time. Another example is after the little girl is murdered, the camera cuts to a shot of the balloon Peter Lorre’s character purchased for her and does not cut to the next shot for a little bit.
The German Weimar Period paved the way for many technological advances and it is clear that the directors of that time took great advantage of them. These advances also helped the world of film develop into all the different movements that took place throughout history. The German Expressionism movement, Kammerspiel film, and film noir all developed because of the technological innovations made during this time. Fritz Lang’s M was one of the major films that introduced all of these new and groundbreaking elements.

Quote of the week #4…

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 10:26 am on Friday, October 15, 2010

“The older you get, the more rules they’re gonna try to get you to follow. You just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.” – Dazed and Confused

Psycho.

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 10:36 pm on Monday, September 20, 2010

Back in about fourth grade, I watched ‘The Shining.’ Dare I say, it was the biggest mistake of my life. I haven’t watched a horror film on my own will ever since.

Needless to say, I’m freaking out a bit to watch ‘Psycho.’ Does anyone have any suggestions of movies to help me prepare for that one? I’d really appreciate it, and I’m sure all of you will, too, so you won’t hear me screaming bloody murder during class. 😉

Quote of the week #3…

Filed under: Uncategorized — alyssacaracciolo at 10:28 pm on Monday, September 20, 2010

In honor of Jennifer Grey’s premiere on ‘Dancing With The Stars’ tonight, my newest quote will be from the cult classic, Dirty Dancing.

“Me?! I’m scared of everything! I’m scared of what I saw, of what I did, who I am! But most of all, I’m scared of walking out of this room and never feeling for my whole life the way I feel when I’m with you.”

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