Wednesday, August 21, 2013


I AM WAITING (Kurahara, 1957)
Joji is a former boxer, who gave up his successful career when he killed a guy in a bar fight. Saeko is lounge singer who thinks she accidentally killed a guy who wanted to turn her to prostitution. You'd think this connection would be ripe for a love story, but in Kurahara's noir, the characters are so over come by their own problems that romantic love seems almost impossible to contemplate.

Kurahara illustrated this personal disconnection through some striking shot compositions. First we see Joji staring off into the water, the water represents new opportunity - Joji later tells his doctor friend there's nothing left for him in Japan his future is across the sea in Brazil.  In this frame Saeko is approaching from Joji's restaurant, unsure if she should intrude on Joji's contemplation.

After a day at the boxing matches, Saeko's past catches up with her but Joji is able to scare the thug off. In the following scene we get a beautifully shot scene by the bay, where Joji and Saeko are silhouetted. They are lost unsure of where they're going and physically and mentally disconnected with each other. The scene ends with both staring off into the water, seemingly waiting for an answer to their prayers that never comes.

In this shot below, the two are divided by a diagonal line, with Saeko surrounded by the water and Joji in the concrete. In this scene Saeko is trying to make a connection but it fails. She has the power to do this because she's come to grips with her new identity. In the same scene we cut to an even more dramatic composition that shows just how far away Joji is from Saeko. Joji has some learning to do.

It's not until Joji reconciles his past that he and Saeko can even exist on the same plane. Often times films and stories use romantic love as a way of saving a troubled character. But in the philosophy of Kurahara's I Am Waiting, love has to wait until we are able regain our own individual identity. How can we love another when we don't even know who we are?

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Words and Images: The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

The Seventh Seal (Bergman, 1957)

"I want to talk to you as openly as I can, but my heart is empty. The emptiness is a mirror turned towards my own face. I see myself in it, and I am filled with fear and disgust. Through my indifference to my fellow men, I have isolated myself from their company. Now I live in a world of phantoms. I am imprisoned in my dreams and fantasies."
-The Knight 

In this scene the Knight gives his speech to a wall as if looking in a mirror. He sees emptiness because he is looking into nothing but stone, literally. The imprisonment is represented by the following shot with him caged in on the other side of the confessional. Death asks him why he is trying to prolong his life, and the Knight answers that he's trying to know god - to know for sure of his existence. We can see this illustrated in this third shot in which the crucified Jesus hangs over Death's shoulder. This image tells us that the Knight can not know god until he accepts death.

I love this scene in the movie. 

Thursday, August 1, 2013


I noticed this visual cue that unites Jude Law and Rooney Mara's characters in Soderbergh's Side Effects. Both characters are seemingly going though an emotional crises at two separate times of the film. I find that his decision to use this light behind a character's head an interesting one because of it's place in art history. Religious paintings use a light behind a character's head to show that character has been touched by divinity.

But neither of Soderbergh's characters are saints, that's for sure.


Side Effects(Soderbergh, 2013)
I recently watched Side Effects and wanted to explore briefly some of the cool stuff visual cues Soderbergh uses to unite his twisty narrative. Spoilers ahead, so watch it first, coz it's good, and come back and check this out. Then watch it again.

At the start of Side Effects, Soderburgh brings us into an apartment window. First we can see the city itself. The street is to the left and surround the building. Then we slowly pan right and eventually zoom into a window that belongs to Emily and Martin Taylor(Rooney Mara and Channing Tatum). Once we're in the apartment the action of the story beings, telling us a story about how Emily came to killing her husband.

As we come in closer to The Taylor's apartment the complex feels less like a building and more like a spreadsheet. Soderbergh explores these elements though out the film by using objects to create a secondary frame around the characters. Take this shot for example:

 One of the best shots of the film, Soderbergh shows in one frame Emily's isolation from all the people at the party, whom we can see in the window's reflection staring at her. He also frames her with two black bars making her feel even more closed off from society. This shot is also foreshadowing later as Emily is eventually sent to jail for the murder of her husband.

There's also an irony in this still in that even though Emily is technically outside, standing on the deck of a boat, she's more closed off than those in the room. Soderbergh plays with this irony multiple times through out the film. Like here where we see from Emily's point of view, Dr. Banks(Jude Law) and Dr. Siebert (Catherine Zeta-Jones):
The bars both frame the outside characters while also reflecting Emily's own imprisonment.

Soderbergh sets up a somewhat humorous and cruel joke by showing Dr. Jonathan Banks outside, surrounded by boxes on the wall behind him and the squares on the ground. The space feels very open and deserted:

The punchline at the end of this scene is that even though they're outside, Jude Law is actually just in a bigger box:

At film's end zoom out from Emily's place in the psyche ward and pan left ending showing the lack of connection to the rest of civilization. Unlike the first shot, the road now veers at an extreme angle away from the building, illustrating Emily's break from society.