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Das Cabinet des Dr. Caligari (1920)
A Short Analysis of What Makes It Work So Well
Outside of a few memorable camera placements and the frequent great uses of vignettes, the camera itself contributes very little to the visual composition. Instead, the unorthodox set design does most of the lighting and composition for them. Distorted architecture, painted shadows, and freeform lines are all highly effectual at creating the right cinematic tone for each scene; far beyond the simple old trust that "triangles are the most dynamic shape".
On top of the unique way of creating a visual atmosphere, I found a similar style in the new soundtrack by Timothy Brock. The score continuously evolves to suit the moment. It is minimalistic, but also very irregular, as though the various instruments are playing to the emotions of their respective elements in the scene. The resulting lack of coherent unity conforms to the horror genre while still giving Brock precise control of audience emotion.
The striking visuals and unsettling soundtrack create a feeling of great paranoia and mysteriousness, but I feel that the story is just as important in making the film as compelling as it is. What makes the film work as a mystery is not just the supernatural unknown, it's also how even the characters are hiding things from the audience. The most intriguing elements are Cesare and the murderer. The questions surrounding these figures are the driving force of the movie, but smaller questions found throughout also add to the drama. The answers that are eventually provided are unexpectedly crafty, leading to many memorable plot developments and twists. The writing is concise - it's a complex plot shown in a way that's easy to understand- and the film moves through great scene after great scene in a brisk, lively manner.
The writing is sophisticated for movies of that era. Occasionally there are even two separate plot threads developing at the same time. Both of them are equally important, and both of them affect our interpretation of the other. This is best seen at the climax of the movie, when Cesare kidnaps Jane despite Franzis simultaneously watching Cesare sleep in his bed.
The story is also able to get our emotional involvement in a myriad of ways. The rare few scenes in Jane's house are given a special pink hue. This makes Jane seem precious and is someone that needs to be protected and kept pure. Jane's kidnapping thus becomes especially distressing. Another example is Alan, whose innocence and optimism makes his inevitable death all the more heartbreaking. Another rousing technique is the use of kite-shaped vignettes to show the tumultuous feelings hidden inside the subject, whereas circular vignettes are used to show them as lonely or secretive.
Field Niggas (2015)
Very insightful and ethereal film.
Khalik Allah's documentary film capturing Harlem street-life in 2014 is much unlike any other film made prior. It's form isn't based upon a pre-defined genre, but instead does what is best for the subject it is capturing. Due to this, it becomes almost impossible to judge for typical film standards and elements, and is more akin to an art project than an actual movie. Allah breaks film down to it's 2 most essential components: video and audio, and keeps them reletively simple and easy to follow. The audio is usually just the subjects' speeches, recorded off the street but lacking the usual background street noises or chatter. Along with this plays the faint sound of what I assume to be African field chants, appearing in only a few segments before fading away. The video is slowed down heavily, only at normal speed for probably less than 10 seconds out of the full hour. It is also shot with an incredibly shallow depth of field, constantly moving focus, and handheld camera. The effect of both the visual and aural aspects is a movie that feels both completely authentic and completely ethereal. The fast moving street talk is juxtaposed with the sedated visuals in a way that mimics his idea of looking beneath the surface characters to see what wisdom they keep inside.
Go Get Some Rosemary (2009)
Great improvement from "The Pleasure of Being Robbed"
Only 1 year after Josh Safdie's directorial debut, came the first true collaboration between Josh and his brother Benny, and it sure is noticeable. Daddy Longlegs is a perfect combination of Josh Safdie's raw tone and passion for storytelling with Benny's creativity and comedy. While they could have used the bigger budget and crew to make a more stylised, traditional Hollywood film, the Safdies have instead opted to perfect the formula that was used in The Pleasure of Being Robbed. That film's raw perspective with a hindered believability is now a completely realized and believable world. The film is so convincingly documentary, in-fact, that it becomes almost impossible to even begin to imagine the process of writing it - absolutely everything feels improvised.
All of the acting is great, especially by the kids. The brothers had to go through a very unique directing predicament: dealing with child actors, yet they handle it masterfully. Under the direction of the Safdies, the kid's youth and inexperience somehow makes them all the more believable. It seems like in order to get good performances from all of the actors, almost every piece of dialogue had to be improvised, with only what happens in each scene being decided beforehand.
The result of all of this is a movie that makes the audience feel as though they are spying on a family, that they are watching a document of something private and personal, something not meant to be seen. The intermittent tension from the father's temper and recklessness is greatly aided by the raw, documentary approach. It doesn't feel overly dramatic or cliché, but instead gives off a much more relatable feeling that both parents and children can understand, and very much fits the unromanticized nostalgia of the story. Daddy Longlegs is a character study that feels not as though it were a study of a character, but as though it were an objective documentation of real peoples' lives, leaving it up to the viewer to make a study of what they see.
The Pleasure of Being Robbed (2008)
Nothing super-imaginative or very outstanding, just a nice slice-of-life film following a unique perspective.
In 2008, filmmaker Josh Safdie released his directorial debut. In a year that marked the start of superhero blockbuster "cinematic universe"'s, also came the start of one of the finest filmmaker pairs of this generation, albeit with a much smaller 'bang'. Despite not having the luxuries of the 140 million dollar budget of Iron Man, Josh Safdie was still able to create a nice and satisfying movie for what limited supplies he had.
That said, the budget definitely shows, but doesn't detract. It's no secret that making movies is expensive, even just the act of shooting on film costs money. So, to save on cash most indie directors shoot as little footage as possible and as simplistic a setup as possible. This film is no exception, with most scenes usually only being made up of 2 or 3 shots, and the lighting not being altered at all, i.e: it's all natural to its environment. While in bigger budget movies that would be a horrible drawback, it fits this film's realistic homey nature very well. So, while it may limit the director somewhat in conveying certain emotions, it ends up capturing something that no million-dollar setup in any superhero movie could ever truly imitate: a pure, raw environment. No matter how much a crew can try to mess up a room enough to make it seem lived in, the effect will never be as good as just filming a room that is lived in. And that's something that this thousand-dollar budget film captures perfectly.
While most of the visual aspects are all well and good, there are some things that can't be fixed without a lot of money. So while Safdie can definitely circumvent some other limitations, there still remains elements of the film that do detract from the believability. Perhaps the most obvious example occurs during the zoo scene. In it, Eleonore climbs over the railing into the zoo habitat to get a closer look. The obvious fact that they didn't actually film inside the habitat is not what detracts from the scene, it is the fact that the actress didn't pet or swim with a real polar bear. I know, I know, no movie would have an actor swim with a real-life polar bear. Most movies can, however, make a fake polar bear realistic enough to allow the audience to continue their suspension of disbelief, that is not this movie. This movie uses a stuffed animal. Another example can be found in, well, every scene. I have frequently noticed that, for what reason we may never know, good actors only want to work on good movies with good pay, and not cheap, indie, directorial debuts. So, the stars of this movie are not Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, they are director Josh Safdie, and co-writer Eleonore Hendricks. Surprisingly, these performances are not always the most believable.
Now that we've gotten through with most of the surface problems, let's finish by talking about writing. Simply put, this movie could not afford to have a plot about a multi-billionaire escaping from Iraqui terrorists in a flying super-suit equipped with homing missiles. So, the writers logically went with a very simplistic, low-key plot starring relatable, middle-class Americans. That's not really a problem though, the issue with the writing is in regard to the theme. This film wasn't made to be a masterpiece, it was made to be an experiment, to see if making feature films was possible for Josh Safdie. So there is no sophisticated connection between the theme and the plot, in fact, there is a rather loose one. The theme is best described during the end credits: "For... anyone who's experienced the pleasure of being robbed." It's trying to convey the fact that when one of your possessions are stolen, the thief would be having a good time, and you should feel good about that. This has a very optimistic outlook for life (something that can be found frequently in his earlier short films), but it is very obviously a false hope. Eleonore's ignorance is hard to forget when we have experienced what the other side of the story is going through. Despite all the effort the movie makes to bring their characters to life, we cannot help ourselves from feeling wronged by each of Elonore's crimes. So, perhaps this movie fails to tell a fully truthful story, but it sure as hell tells an interesting one.
A rehash of all the oldest cliches in horror, done with such creativity and brilliance as to make it it's own beast entirely.
Warning: I am most likely over-analyzing, but I just love this movie so much.
This is undoubtedly the weirdest film I have ever seen. But I say that in a good way, as I believe that a lot of its weirdness is really just a unique creativity in the mind of director Nobuhiko Ôbayashi. The amount of creativity consistently shocked me with its brilliancy, and makes use of the film medium's maximum potential. It uses special effects like mattes, animation, and blue screen. It morphs elements like aspect ratios, color grading, shutter speeds, and frame-rates. And uses storytelling techniques such as crosscutting, and films within the film. That said, it is sure to be seen by some as exactly what it is meant to parody: a cheesy, sexist, over-the-top, haunted house flick which contains no more brilliance than purposeless shots of underage teens running away in their panties. I feel that these views may be partially spurred by the seemingly unwieldy variety of genres and tones. Horror, kung-fu, romance, drama, and comedy are just a few of the genres the movie will be switching between intermittently.
What makes the movie special is found in the many moments in which these varying genres contradict, or even overlap. The use of its juxtaposition can be discovered straight away in the opening scene. The movie opens into an atmospheric setting filled with candles, beakers, and a cloaked woman staring directly at the camera. A simple piano lullaby can be heard, one that comes off as creepy when played behind such an ominous scene. However, the context is soon understood when the moody green color grading returns to life's normal vibrancy, the creepy lullaby transforms into a happy-go-lucky theme song, and the mysterious woman takes off her cloak. It was just a school girl posing for a photo-shoot with her friend photographer. Then the 2 girls talk about summer plans, and the photographer makes a comedic remark about how she looked like a 'witch'.
This type of unique foreshadowing appears all throughout the 1st and 2nd acts. Instead of normal foreshadowing where small omens are directly connected to the future event, in House, they have almost no logical connection to what it is hinting at in the future. There is no reason for the photographer to have any idea that her friend might be a witch, it was simply a joke. While the plot is very innocent and almost cliche, the tone comes off simply as creepy. I found that this creates a feeling that the movie itself is haunted, rather than the events in it.
This type of foreshadowing not only creates a unique tone for the film, but it also has a deeper meaning in (what I believe is) the deeper meaning. The film consistently involves the masking of troubles with blind optimism, and can be found in many other aspects of the film aside from foreshadowing and tone. An early example of this occurs after Gorgeous's widowed father introduces her to his new girlfriend and Gorgeous runs away. The next day all of the other girls are talking among themselves admiring their professor, while Gorgeous stands in the back. The alienation of her is obvious with Ôbayashi's use of the Looney Tunes/James Bond tunnel effect, but the other elements of the scene don't match this. The girls and the professor still take up most of the shot and the music is still upbeat, making it as if the other girls are the main story, and as though we too are ignoring Gorgeous. Many more examples of this theme can also be found throughout the 2nd act, which usually involves strange things happening to one of the girls, then the others trying to persuade them into believing that they were either mistaken or hallucinating and that the house is completely normal. In both the 2nd and 3rd act, all of the girls find their only hope in Mr. Togo coming and saving them, which never does happen. All of these fit in with the true meaning behind the title and house: that something as trustworthy and safe as a house could hold such horrible dangerous monsters. That something as innocent as a frail old lady or a beautiful young girl could be secretly possessed by an evil demon. It's, again, the masking of troubles with blind optimism.
Perhaps most ironically of all the things in this movie, is the fact that this very secretive, and very unique theme in the movie is at its core a more complicated version of the most stereotypical theme in the horror genre: the loss of innocence. Most of the aspects in the film are really just horror cliches executed in a unique style. Which is why I believe this film can be best described as a rehash of all the oldest cliches in horror, done with such creativity and brilliance as to make it it's own beast entirely.