Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Queen; Colors, Colors, Colors

The date is August 31, 1997. Dark streets in Paris bustle about in their night-life. Within the Pont de L'Alma tunnel road, one dark, luxurious car speeds away with driver Henri Paul, Princess Diana and her companion, Dodi Fayed. 

In Great Britain, Queen Elizabeth II and her family later find out the tragic news of Princess Diana's death in her palace, Sandringham House. Although this event brings great grief to many hearts all around the worlds, probably even you, the reader, it brings Queen Elizabeth II into a new light. Personally, when watching this, I thought about The Iron Lady(2011), another British, biographical film, because it reminded me of the same questions I asked in this piece: 

What does it mean to be human? 

What is the limit of one's sacrifice when positioned into power? 

Although the world, including new Prime Minister Tony Blair, thinks that Queen Elizabeth II as strong as rock in every situation, it never expects the Queen's response to Diana's death to be a personal one. While the Queen and the royal family believe it's best for Diana's death to be dealt with as a private matter, the rest of the world thinks otherwise. As Queen Elizabeth II takes on the approach to think of her two grandsons, the world expects the Queen to aid their grief for the "People's Princess". Flowers, one by one, until they reach the thousands, pile themselves against Kengsington Palace's gates; they represent the remorse of Britain's civilians. Swiftly, the Queen struggles with realizing that she may not know her people as well as she once did. In the end, she realizes she must abide to Prime Minister Tony Blair's suggestions to address her country in order to save her authority and her country's trust.

 If one thing specifically stands out to me, it was the film's astounding use of color; by articulating struggles of Traditional Vs. Modern, and between Women Vs. Self. 
Let's talk about this.  

The dominant theme throughout this film is the Past/Traditionalism Vs. the Present/Modernism. The color palette representing the Queen and her Traditional outlook on life is composed of greens and beige. Everything from the Range rover she drives on hunting trips, to her clothing, her surroundings (especially in the forest), to her telephone, her walls, contains the color green. Additionally, all of these lovely green hues are lit by a soft beige lighting. This symbolizes how organic structure the now-passing traditional ways feel to Queen Elizabeth II, and to her family.

Now let's go to Tony Blair, the new prime Minister. 

That guy. His color palette comes off a little aggressive in his red hues. Not only are his ties mainly red, but his rooms are red or pink or even maroon. I think this is a genius example of a color palette contrasting two characters, and the two contrasting ideas of modernism and traditionalism. However, just like the in the Queen's color palette, the Prime Minister also has hints of beige illuminating the reds. This symbolizes how both characters have similarities in having high positions of authority. So why is this contrasting color palette so significant? 

Well, at the end, the color palette comes together to form a combination of both red and green colors in the images. Below on the left, the Prime Minister and the Queen walk side by side towards the ending, on a crimson carpet and green hued walls. On the bottom right picture, the Prime Minister listens to the Queen's address to her nation o a red couch whilst having a green hued kitchen placed in the background. This conveys how modernism and traditionalism form an alliance, a mutual form of understanding, and a middle ground in which both co-exist in peace. 

 If you haven't seen this cinematic piece, I highly recommend it. And, if you enjoy this movie, think about seeing The Iron Lady. If you have any questions or comments, or if you see this movie and recognize the color distinctions, please leave a comment below!

'Till next time!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Dogville; the Unification of Staging and Props

In a little valley trapped within the American Rockies lies a small town beside an abandoned silver mine, named Dogville. 
   We soon discover this charming village, with a little more than a dozen of individuals, encounters the beautiful Grace Mulligan. She’s a young woman in her twenties on the loose from the Mafia. But as the citizens demur about sheltering the girl, they begin to reveal the unexpected severity of immorality lying inside themselves.
It’s very shocking. 
It’s very disturbing. 
But if there’s one psychological drama you must see, it’s this: Dogville

Written and directed by Lars von Trier in 2003, Dogville brings us into a story with an incredibly dramatic and unified production style. Imagine a blend of theater and documentary, a blend of Kammerspielfilm and avant-garde, and out computes Dogville. What’s really striking in this cinematic piece is the flawless unification of setting and props. In many ways, it explores a dark psychology that brings together the narrative, the editing, the characters, and the lighting.

Bare of any pretty, aesthetic elements (like walls, trees, flowers, or grass), the staging needlessly focuses on the bare-bone actions of the individuals. This clear aesthetic intensifies the effect of the narrative structure. It almost looks look a soundstage, with chalk-like lines depicting where normal scenery might be placed, and without seeing anything beyond the village, the townspeople almost seem stuck in their own little universe. 
Something that breaks my heart was the brilliant use of the prop, the contraption chained to a steel wheel, that symbolizes how stuck Grace becomes in in the town.

This is when I think a Stuart Craig quote fits into play here: 

“The best sets are the simplest, most ‘decent’ ones; everything should contribute to the feeling of the story and anything that does not do this has no place. Reality is usually too complicated.” 

I’m pretty sure Dogville went above and beyond with the simplification of its set to fulfill its potential. It unifies the story. The sound-stage-like staging highlights the sickening selfishness of the townspeople, and how they witness everything (for example, **spoiler alert** when Grace is raped for the first time, the camera moves from a very close-up shot to a drastic faraway shot, revealing how the whole town is always witness to its injustices). 

When I limped away after watching the unexpected ending (again, **spoiler alert**, Grace makes the decision for the town to be burnt down when we find out that the Mafia Leader is her Father), 
many questions boggled my mind. 

Did the townspeople deserve their fate? 
Would Grace have turned out like them in their circumstance? 
What was the right decision? Or is there even one? 

Ultimately, this proves one of the many reasons why I admire Lars von Trier. His decision to create this kind of staging forced me ponder about this difficult questions. 

So leave a comment below on what you think! (of course, you should try to watch the film first)

'Til next time! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Life Lessons; A German Expressionistic Touch

Everyone knows I'm a massive fan of german expressionistic cinema.

Which makes me a massive fan of Martin Scorses's Life Lessons. I'm telling you now that the elements he took from German Expressionism truly amaze me. 


Because who doesn't love a thrilling story told through dramatic lighting, strange & eccentric (yet motivated!) camera angling, heroic characters, enormously theatrical sets, and some fantastically staged wide shots? 

Exactly. Everyone's gotta love it. Especially Mr. Scorse, who directed this film in 1989-it was his first work involving an obsessive artist as the protagonist since his early NYU days. Even Nestor Almendros, the cinematographer, claims "Martin's camera is at weird angles, with extreme close-ups followed by faraway shots. Everything is very far-out, very strange. And yet it matches."(Kelly, 251) I couldn't agree more.

Let's take a look at a few ways he incorporates some working German Expressionistic elements in Life Lessons. 

First off, the Point-of-View shots in the very first sequence of the film resemble German Expressionism. It downright copies the same moving-in Point-of-View shots in Fritz Lang's Metropolis, into a shot of Dobie's hand reaching for his glass of whisky. This, as well as the other close-ups, work because it clearly portrays the world through the character's eyes. It's a forced perspective. We see everything that Dobie, the protagonist, only sees in his world: His paint, His Brushes, His Canvas, and His Whiskey. Even the scene where after Dobie's assistant, Paulette, calls her mom about wanting to go home, then getting caught up in watching Dobie paint, pictures a forced perspective; it shows what both of the artists only can see: the paint swirling onto the canvas in close-up images.

Secondly, I noticed strong theatrical elements (paralleling to ones in German Expressionism, of course) spread across the film. These components draw us into the story, and give us a "heroic" perspective on the character as well. 
For example! Let's take a look a this wide shot (out of MANY) in particular: 

Clearly, this harsh contrast lighting resembles theatrical qualities, in that it looks like a spot-light on Dobie with shadows surrounding him. It's him and his painting- and that is his purpose. It almost looks like a halo, as if it is God's light is shining down on Dobie's heroic deed of painting, or maybe Dobie is portrayed as God in the shot. This lighting, in relation to the theme of the film, tells us that for Dobie,"It's about no choice but to do it" (this is what he tells Paulette when critiquing her work). 

Also, the strong iris camera movements connect to both dramatic lighting and to the Point-of-View Close-ups because they highlight what Dobie sees and feels like within his world. It's a blunt spot light on objects vital to Dobie: his painting materials, his whiskey, and Paulette's foot (aka her body). These iris shots tie the story as a whole from the beginning to the end. 

Lastly, I want to focus on a heroic image of Dobie that engraved itself into my mind. It lies towards the ending of Life Lessons, when Dobie observes Paulette's dark room when she brings her little hook-up buddy, Ruben, from the party scene, into her room.

After Dobie channels his emotions into painting that night, he takes a moment to "[confront] with the terror and awfulness of mortality"(Kelly, 253), by looking at Paulette's loft in a close-up. Scarlet paint strokes, resembling battle wounds, coat his upper body, as the striking "Nessum Dorma" aria blasts in the background. This heroic stance accomplishes itself mainly due to the exaggerated staging and positioning of the camera in the space..
                .....which, if you haven't guessed already, can be seen in almost all films in the german expressionistic era that portray a hero. Martin Scorses shapes this dramatic shot into appearing audacious to fully reveal the character's confrontation with his own mortality. 

Sooo, to sum this whole extravaganza, Life Lessons most definitely possesses a "German Expressionistic" touch. I haven’t looked at any other Martin Scorses films, but I highly recommend watching this one- it’s fascinating and definitely not one to miss out on. 
 I chose to touch on only this specific elemts of this film, but Life Lessons proves itself worthy of all kinds of analysis- whether for color (blue vs. red), or intricate shot design- it’s strange, it’s eccentric, and it works.  

‘Till next time, friends! 

* * * 


Kelly, Mary Pat. Martin Scorses A Journey. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press. Print.