Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

January 13, 2011 Leave a comment

Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb is a 1964 film directed by Stanley Kubrick starring Peter Sellers and George C. Scott. This dark comedy has been on numerous occasions ranked as one of the best comedic movies of all time due to its amusing acting and facetious plot.  Dr. Strangelove does not fall short on its intricate use of mise-en-scene and design.  The director of this film, Stanley Kubrick, created an excellent film which clearly illustrated and expressed many of the political fears about the U.S./Soviet Union nuclear arms race and the uncertainty of each side’s actions during the Cold War.  This film is quite a departure from prior Kubrick films in that Stanley Kubrick created a comedic/political war film when he had only directed war/dramatic movies before Dr. Strangelove.

The film is littered with symbolic imagery and comedic humor.  Dr. Strangelove contains many symbols throughout such as the use of names for significant characters.  For example, the demented General Jack D. Ripper is a play on words of the infamous mass murder nicknamed Jack the Ripper.  Another funny character name is the Army officer named Col. “Bat” Guano who fights his way into Burpelson Airbase to find the distraught general.  There were many other clever names in the film as well such as Maj. T.J. “King Kong and Dr. Strangelove.   A funny slogan used in the film was the sign outside Burpelson Airbase which read “Peace is our Profession.” The irony behind this slogan is that the base commander has assured global destruction and soldiers are fighting their way into their own air force base.

The storyline of the film is very interesting and audience oriented. Dr. Strangelove attempts to poke fun at the mutually assured destruction between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. This gripping story shows how the world could fall apart because of one madman and illustrates what the military leaders and advisor’s have in mind for assuring the existence of humanity.  The film does something interesting; Dr. Strangelove uses one actor three times in the movie.  The characters of Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and Dr. Strangelove are all performed by Peter Sellers.  The story behind many of the characters and their names is interesting because not only do the characters play funny/strange roles, but they also have funny names and quirky attitudes.  One of the most interesting aspects of this film is that the film lays out a scenario where the possibility that nuclear war could happen, but at the beginning of the movie, a brief statement is included basically saying that the plot of the film is impossible because the Air Force has many safety precautions in place of such an event.

The film used very interesting settings and cinematography in general.  Many film critics call some of the sets, such as the War Room, expressionist style.  This basically means that the War Room was used and colored the way it was to provoke strong emotion out of its audience.  The film’s special effects in this film were good.  One of the scenes using special effects was the B-52 Superfortress flying over Russia.  Although this was not the best, it was good particularly for this film since the movie is a comedy.  Another interesting cinematic effect would be the final scene when Dr. Strangelove stands up and yells “Mein Fuhrer, I can walk!” then the scene immediately changes to nuclear explosions while playing the song “We’ll meet again” by Vera Lynn.  This sudden change of setting is interesting for the audience and film’s plot. Overall, Dr. Strangelove is an enjoyable movie which is also highly regarded as a great political satire of Cold War politics.

Categories: Uncategorized

Vertigo (1958)

January 11, 2011 Leave a comment

Vertigo is a 1958 American thriller directed by Alfred Hitchcock starring James Stewart and Kim Novak.  This late fifties thriller is one of many suspense-filled film’s directed by Alfred Hitchcock who continued into the 60’s with many other cinematic masterpieces such as Psycho and The Birds. Vertigo is considered an American classic of not only Hitchcock’s film career, but also of the late fifties film noir.  The poster tagline for this film reads “Alfred Hitchcock engulfs you in a whirlpool of terror and tension! – He Thought His Love Was Dead, Until He Found Her in Another Woman.” This tagline essentially encompasses the idea(s) behind the film leaving the viewer knowledgeable of the movie.  Vertigo is a great film in that it accomplishes the right atmosphere.

The film does an excellent job of presenting the various psychological twists and issues inherent within a few of the characters.  For example, Jimmy Stewart plays the role of a detective named John Ferguson (Scottie) who suffers from acrophobia.  Throughout the film, the plot plays on the ailment Scottie suffers from. Unfortunately, Scottie develops vertigo when he is exposed to any form of heights.   Another character in the film who deals with a psychological disability is Madeleine Elster, the wife of Gavin Elster.  Madeleine, played by Kim Novak, is believed to have suicidal tendencies and Scottie is paid by Gavin to follow her around to see what she does with her day.  Both characters personalities coincide throughout the movie.  One interesting aspect to the thematic sense was how a reversal of roles occurred between Madeleine and Scottie.  For example, the beginning of the movie has Madeleine being the completely obsessed and crazed wife with Scottie following her around.  Towards the end of the film, Scottie acts obsessed and confused to the woman who looks very similar to the deceased Madeleine and is later revealed to be the woman Scottie knew as Madeleine.

The plot of Vertigo is very enjoyable and exhilarating to say the least.  This films plot begins by gripping the audience in an irrational storyline in which spirits, possession, and suicide conjoin to confuse the audience.  The film was very coherent with its dialogue and presents a realistic criminal strategy.  Once the film ends, the audience is left with a couple unanswered questions.  For one, how did Madeleine walk into the McKittrick Hotel unnoticed with Scottie a few steps behind her?  Another question left unanswered was how the relationship between Midge, Scotties friend, and Scottie ended or even began anew.

The camerawork used in this film was quite good as is to be expected with most Alfred Hitchcock movies.  The chiaroscuro lighting technique employed by Hitchcock in a few scenes was proper for showing the contrast of roles and emotions between various characters.  One such scene was the art gallery scene where Madeleine stares at the painting of Carlotta Valdez and Scottie is obscured in the shadow to her left.  Other cinematic tricks and effects included nice uses of high and low camera angles, mainly high, which left an impression on the audience of merely witnessing the events unfold.  Overall, the music also coincided well with the scenes mood.  Vertigo has been a highly influential film over the past 60 years in the film noir genre with its psychological twists and surprise ending meaning this film will continue to be revered as an excellent film for many years to come.

Categories: Uncategorized

Citizen Kane (1941)

January 10, 2011 Leave a comment

This early 40’s film is considered one of the best films ever produced. This cinematic wonder directed, co-written, produced, and starring Orson Welles tells of a man named Charles Foster Kane who is extremely affluent in society but is never quite satisfied with life. The film begins by talking about the death of Charles Foster Kane.  The scene is plagued by a distant shot of Xanadu leaving the viewer curious as to why a giant mansion bearing the initial “K” is sort of rundown and/or abandoned. At the end of the film, the mansion is shown in the same chiaroscuro manner with smoke rising from the furnaces. Throughout the movie, the audience is shown a series of flashbacks and newsreels which pertain to the lifestyle of Mr. Kane from his earliest years spent at his family home on a farm to his final days living in his luxurious mansion named Xanadu.

Citizen Kane featured many symbols but by far the most significant symbol mentioned throughout the entire movie was the name “Rosebud.” For example, the film begins with a reporter named Thompson who begins his search for the meaning of Mr. Kane’s last words, particularly the name Rosebud.  The plot centers around this journalist and the numerous memories people and books had about the life and times of Charles Kane.  There are numerous scenes throughout the movie where the camera would focus on the snow, Kane’s pleasure in childhood, and his sled’s which offer a hint to the audience about the meaning of “Rosebud.” The significance of Rosebud is that Charles Kane went through life not enjoying the lifestyle money could buy.  Rosebud was his childhood sled which he enjoyed because it brought him happiness when money could not create the same joy he had as a child.

Another great characteristic to this film was imagery which was very good to say the least.  The film used very nice camera angles and light variations to illustrate the characters positions and emotions.  There were a few scenes in the film where the camera would be centered at face level and other times the camera was on the ground looking up.  These scenes showed domineering stances as well as showing who the audience was to focus on in a specific scene.  The visual effects used by Orson Welles and his cinematographer were quite good in a sense that the camera movements were applied well.  The close-ups and distant viewing techniques were successful in showing the emotions of the actor/actress and they were great in showing the distance characters had from one another.  Another interesting attribute used in this film was the use of mirrors.  One of the last scenes in the film makes use of the mirrors to show that the camera can encompass two different sets and angles at once.

Citizen Kane also had a very controversial plot.  The story behind Charles Foster Kane is said to be very similar to the life story of a media conglomerate of the time named William Randolph Hearst.   The story is pretty straightforward meaning the plot does not deviate too far off the beaten track.  The classic film Citizen Kane does an excellent job of entertaining the audience with its intriguing plot and surprising but sad ending.

Categories: Uncategorized

Modern Times (1936)

January 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Modern Times is a comedic 1936 film starring Charlie Chaplin and Paulette Goddard.  This film tampered with the struggles of life during the Great Depression in a comedic manor which made the silent film relatable to the general audience.  Modern Times is a very interesting film in that sound and dialogue technology had been introduced nearly nine years prior yet Charlie Chaplin who is not only the star of the film, but also the director, producer and writer chose not to make this film a “talkie.”  Charlie Chaplin ardently refused to make “talkie” movies.  Other movies created by Charlie Chaplin during the late 20’s and early 30’s included films such as The Circus, City Lights, and The Great Dictator. Since Charlie was his own director, producer, and sometimes, writer for his 1930’s movies, he was able to continue the silent film cinema even though silent films were somewhat outdated.

The thematic objects present in this film included objects and places such as the factory where Chaplin works in the beginning of the film.  This was significant to the plot of the movie because Charlie Chaplin placed a hidden message in this sequence suggesting that there truly is a two class system meaning that there are haves and have not’s.  To further explain this suggestion, the factory workers suffer immeasurable stress at the factory all the while the factory manager is calmly playing with a jig-saw puzzle in his office acting somewhat bored. Occasionally, the factory manager would tell the plant supervisor to speed up production causing more stress on the workers.  The reoccurring thematic idea is that few jobs were available and the jobs that were available were hard for the people.  Being that jobs were scarce, people were going hungry and crime was on the rise.  The plot shows how poverty, joblessness, and crime are intertwined in society.

The plot of this film was quite good.  This film gained some controversy during the late 30’s depression era America since many liberal ideas were present throughout the film.  The film’s plot was intriguing because the comedic actions throughout the film coincide very well with the underlying messages Charlie Chaplin was trying to send to the audience.  The plot of the film was not overly eccentric nor was it simplistic.  The film kept the audience engaged to its crafted material in that many of the funny jokes and actions performed by Charlie Chaplin are still quite funny today.  The film centers on an endless search for jobs and a seemingly endless search for a normal lifestyle.  Sadly, it’s not until the very end of the film that Charlie and his “gamine” walk down a road towards the sunset that the audience feels a sense of hope or maybe the opposite, uncertainty.

Although the film was a silent film, there were periodic bursts of talk between various characters such as the factory manager and plant supervisor in the beginning of the film.  Another scene was when Charlie Chaplin sang in the restaurant towards the end of the film. Having the film as a silent film was interesting because had Chaplin used talkative dialogue throughout, the film could have been more interesting since the audience would have been exposed to various conversations.   Overall, the film was great in that Charlie Chaplin continued his “tramp” act which was very comedic and entertaining.

Categories: Uncategorized

Metropolis (1927)

January 6, 2011 Leave a comment

Metropolis is a 1927 silent film which is widely considered one of the last silent film’s in the German Expressionist era.  This excellent movie begins with a powerful rendering of the two class system in Metropolis.  The viewer sees many laborers changing shifts with the new group of laborers who all seem very depressed and exhausted.  The camera(s) follows the laborers to their underground dwelling where the audience sees the strenuous synchronized work the laborers put up with.  After this brief scene, the focus changes to the upper class society members at the City of the Sons.  These members of society seem to be enjoying life.  The real shocker in this scene is when Freder, the son of Joh Fredersen, encounters a woman with many children crying out.  This is very significant for the film because it shows that Freder is clueless to the other class in society.  Freder becomes curious as to the origin of this class and chooses to investigate.  Freder’s investigating basically jumpstarts the entire plot to the movie.

The film contained many significant themes as well as strong imagery.  Many symbols and thematic objects were present in this film such as the “New Tower of Babel” and the “M-Machine.”  These two objects projected a hidden message about the power and structuring of Metropolis.  For example, the “New Tower of Babel” is used to clue the audience in as to how Metropolis was built by referring back to the biblical story about the Tower of Babel. The M-Machine is essential to the city but Freder envisions the machine as Moloch which was a Phoenician god who accepted humans as sacrifice.  Other themes noticed throughout the film were equality (or lack thereof), power and its weakness, hope among many others.

The film’s cinematography was pretty amazing.  Throughout this film, the audience can see that the cameras would move back and forth or shake when a particular situation arose where a character encountered movement of the ground.  The close-up’s in this film brought out emotions in the audience.  The biggest change in this film compared to earlier films was how the landscape and buildings were put on screen.  The city looked alive in this film and looked noticeably different from regular cardboard cutouts.

Overall, this film changed, possibly revolutionized, the way audiences of the time would view an onscreen film.  The plot of the film was enjoyable because the struggle of seeing an equal society form is always challenging and interesting.  The film was appropriate for 1920’s Germany because Germany once had societal class problems.  This movie showed that there could be extreme barriers in a society but that would not mean these barriers could not be overcome to create equality.  Metropolis has withstood the test of time in that Metropolis is still a venerable film today.

Categories: Uncategorized

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920)

January 4, 2011 Leave a comment

“Du musst Caligari werden!”  This quote from the film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is one of many delirious phrases uttered by Dr. Caligari in the latter part of the film when his craze for a Somnambulist is revealed.  Throughout the entire film, the audience encounters various forms of lunacy and horror through the characters as well as through the stage like setting and costumes.  The various horrific elements presented throughout this early German Expressionist film are that it truly presents a melancholic film set.  The acting in the film shows signs of being theatrical quality and the costumes worn by the actors fit the nature of the silent film.

The film’s overall design was significant for the time.  This film was considered one of the first films to premiere in a German Expressionist style.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari used a method found in theatrical expressionism called mise-en-scene which created the effect of a rather distorted scene.  The actor who portrayed Cesare in the film briefly explained that “If the décor has been conceived as having the same spiritual state as that which governs the character’s mentality, the actor will find in that decora valuable aid in composing and living his part. He will blend himself into the represented milieu, and both of them will move in the same rhythm.” (Faut-il supprimer les sous-titres?, Comoedia 4297).

The setting used in the film brought out the gloomy plot that the film intended to express to its audience.  The various shapes the buildings in the background take show that the film used theatrical props.  The distinction between the interior and exterior settings dramatically contrast from one another.  Other significant distinctions in the stage scene are subtle details such as the discoloration of different rooms.  For example, there was a beginning scene where Francis and Alan are in a room together and the color of the room appears to be yellowish-brown.  Another scene of color usage was when Jane is in her private parlor and the lens refracts a color of pinkish-red.  Besides the color distinctions, other props used which gave the film its distinction included but were not limited to objects like the clerks chair which was noticeably high and Dr. Caligari’s tent which made the onlookers curious as to what may lie inside the tent.

The costumes and make-up the actors used was conducive to the horror genre.  The clothing worn by the majority of actors was right for the early 1920’s style.  Now the real variation in cinematography came when the costumes and make-up changed to show distraught actors and actresses.  For example, the Somnambulist’s and Jane’s make-up made them look pale and in a sort of deathlike trance.  This film’s various costumes and make-up on its actors gives the viewer a new understanding of how film can bring out emotion in the eyes of the viewer and ultimately show stylization in Expressionist work.  Overall, the silent film exerts a crazed and enigmatic theme throughout which provides the audience with a suspenseful and horrifying movie.

Categories: Uncategorized