Posts Tagged ‘black and white’

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I have a confession to make. I never actually watched  Alfred Hitchcock‘s Psycho before, although I knew a bit about it. I knew or thought I knew that it all happened at the Bates Motel. I had heard of the famous shower scene and seen cuts from and parodies of it. I knew that Norman Bates was the real killer and that his mother was dead and that’s about it. It’s not that I had avoided watching it, I had seen several other Hitchcock movies (one of my favorite is The Birds which my next post will be about). I had just never got around to it. So I watched Psycho for the first time from a rather unique perspective.

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The first thing I noticed was what a nice guy Norman Bates seemed to be. He seemed so friendly and sincere. That is until he revealed his little secret behind the painting.

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The second thing I noticed was how much he believed in the whole “mother” charade. (Well, no, the second thing I noticed was the whole bird thing, as I said one of my favorites.) He seemed truly shocked to find the murder scene, as if he had never seen it before, and it couldn’t have been a “show” because no one else was around.

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Seeing the complete shower scene for the first time was impressive. I knew pretty much what to expect, but the quick flash cuts and Janet Leigh‘s acting skills made me see why it has become such a classic. I watched the Steven Soderbergh mash up of  the original shower scene with Gus Van Sant‘s  remake and the thing that stood out to me was that Leigh did a much better job of acting the scene. As they were both sliding down the wall, Leigh’s eyes still held a little life in them and the reach out was a natural grasp for help, but Anne Heche‘s eyes are already dead and when her hand reaches out there is no reason for it except someone told her to.

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Jason Zinoman pointed out that many of the horror directors that followed Hitchcock felt that he had ruined the movie with the explanatory scene at the end of the film. I saw the film before reading Zinoman’s comments, but I too felt there was something off about the scene. It just didn’t fit with the rest of the movie. It reminded of a mystery when the detective calls everyone together to explain how he knows who-done-it. I appreciated a lot of the information presented in that scene, like Bates’ Oedipus Complex,  the fact that he had killed his mother, and the reason that he was so convincing in the “mother” charade. But it did seem like a cheating way to go about it.

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I could do a whole other blog posting about Hitchcock’s directorial choices including the car that almost doesn’t sink, the groundbreaking camera angles, the special effect rigs, whether the stab in the shower scene was shot backwards (this guy makes a strong point 8 frames),

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and the eerie correlation between Marion and Norman, but perhaps that would be saying too much.

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looking upGeorges Franju‘s Les Yeux Sans Visage or Eyes Without a Face is a poetry of images, disturbing images, yes, but also beautiful images. Eyes, of course are everywhere.

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Obsesses eyes, frightened eyes, hopeful eyes, wary eyes, longing eyes, searching eyes, blank eyes, dead eyes, wondering eyes. Edith Scob‘s eyes are the most impressive and expressive because for most of the movie that is all she has to emote with as Christiane Génessier the faceless woman behind the mask.

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Carol Clover points out that, like folk-tales, horror films have a predictable cast of characters, namely the victim, the monster, and the hero (12), but in modern horror films, enabled by the rise of feminism, often the victim and hero combine together to form what Clover calls “the female victim-hero” (4). Clover also discusses the story of Carrie White from the film Carrie based on the novel by Stephen King in which, throughout the story, Carrie takes on all three roles. I suggest that Christiane does the same in this film.

eyes3 In the beginning of the movie Christiane is presented as a victim trapped in her ivory tower by her controlling father and his over-loyal assistant. She is treated more like a doll than a person, and she resembles a doll as well. eyeswithoutaface390Her mannerisms come across as very doll-like. When the mask is on, she does not speak throughout the first part of the movie. When she sneaks out of her room and hides in the garage watching her father and his assistant come out of the hidden passageway, the audience wonders what she will discover and what she will do about it.

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However, her actions upon finding the girl strapped to the operating table reveal that she was aware of the room and it’s purpose all along, framing her as, if not accessory to the actions taken there, at least complacent in them, revealing a monstrous nature along with her monstrous face. The mask takes on a more sinister feel reminding one of other silent, masked monsters.

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WHEN-DOVES-FLYAfter the new skin graft does not take, and she returns to her mask, she once again takes on the role of victim asking the assistant to kill her using the drugs that her father uses to put down the dogs that he experiments on. Finally, she turns into “a monstrous hero” (4) when she kills the assistant imagesCAOOP1ISand sets free the next girl scheduled for mutilation as well as the dogs, who ironically tear off the face of the doctor.

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 But as she wanders off into the night, one wonders what she will become next.

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tumblr_mrlrx2HvnV1suchdko1_500In Jacques Tourneur‘s I Walked with a Zombie the monstrous-feminine is represented by a female zombie. The lovely Christine Gordon plays a brain-dead vegetable who can walk about and follow simple commands. When her live-in nurse, played by Frances Dee, takes her patient to a local voodoo gathering in hopes to cure her the local descendants of the slaves that were brought over to work the sugar plantations believe the woman to be a zombie and desire her to return to the gathering to be purified. IW%20-%206Durring the corse of the movie, the audience discovers that the woman had planned to leave her husband and run off with his brother before her illness. In Horror, Brigid Cherry explains Barbara Creed’s argument that the monstrous-feminine in horror movies “represents the failure of sexual repression to contain women” (112) and says that many horror films represent “abjection in the form of bodies without stable boundaries” (113). In this case the woman’s body is neither living nor dead. She represents abjection and the monsterous-feminine. Cherry also explains that Creed seems to favor “purification of the abject” (120), which is echoed in the voodoo worshiper’s desire to purify the woman they se as abject. i-walked-2-copyAccording to Cherry, “Creed lists three ways in which horror films foreground abjection: with images of abjection, boundary crossing in the construction of the monster, and the construction of the maternal figure as abject” (115). This movie accomplishes all three objectives. edith_barretThe third occurs near the end of the movie when we discover that the mother of the two brothers, played by Edith Barrett,  is not only working with the voodoo priest, but she actually had the woman killed and turned into a zombie because she did not like the way the woman was tearing apart her family.   i-walked-wiht-a-zombie-barrett

Brigid Cherry explains that creatures in horror films are often refered to as “Monsters from the Id” (99).  Considering that the Id is often refered to as the child-like portion frankenstein1931_18of the subconscious James Whale‘s Frankenstein creates the quintessential “Monster from the Id.” The creature, played by  Boris Karloff, is innocent and eager to learn. This search for understanding is exemplified when Dr. Frankenstein first exposes the creature to light and he reaches towards it instead of shying away. The scene with the little girl also shows the creature’s innocence, playing gently with flowers, and his desire to learn, testing to see if the girl will also float.frankenstein--644x362 This time with tragic results.

At one point in the movie, Dr. Frankenstein explains his reason for creating the creature as his own search for understanding. “Have you never wanted to do something dangerous? Where should we be if no one tried to find out what lies beyond? Have you never wanted to look beyond the clouds and the stars, or to know what causes the trees to bud and what changes the darkness into light?”

Frye-FrankensteinAs with children, the creature learned violence from those around him, the jealous taunting by  Fritz and bloodthirsty revenge sought by the torch-bearing mob. The creature was also rejected by the one who created him, leaving him alone and defenseless, or to his own defenses without any guidance on social behavior, mistreated and misunderstood. Such actions by parents have created numerous monsters  in our society.

 

It is the ghost story, that moves Diabolique into the realm of horror movie. What starts out as a drama about two women planning the murder of their common abuser turns to a psychological thriller when the dead man’s body disappears. Brigid Cherry in Horror says that in psychological films “modes of effect can be created through suggestion, the use of lighting, sound effects and music” (80). In Diabolique,  Henri-Georges Clouzot  uses these techniques to create uncertainty and uneasiness in his audience. LesDiaboliquesImage

Is Michel really dead? He sure looked dead, but then what happened to the body? Is someone setting the girls up for blackmail? Is someone just messing with them? About the time when the girls union falls apart and Nicole leaves the school, I had figured it out. I know I have seen a similar movie, but can’t remember now what it was.  It is something worthy of Hitchcock. If I had not caught on to the betrayal diaboliqueI would have felt more of the emotions that Clouzot was trying to evoke from his audience. I understand why he added the warning not to give away the secret to others who had not seen the movie and so for the sake of anyone reading this that has not seen it, I will not give it away here. The ghostly twist at the end I did not see coming.

In Horror Brigid Cherry says that the function of horror is “to scare, shock, revolt, or otherwise horrify the viewer” (4). In 1932 Tod Browning’s was already using some of the standard horror conventions to scare and horrify his viewers. In the beginning of the movie the “freaks” are represented not as monsters but as “children,” sweet and innocent, unjustly teased and rejected by others, even other circus people. In fact, the two main little people have facial features similar to children, but Browning gives a warning early in the film which sets up a more ominous tone; “Offend one and you offend them all.”

rejectedThe turning point in the movie happens at the wedding dinner when the “freaks” choose to accept Cleopatra as “one of us,” but she rejects them en masse, and the audience is forced to ask itself “who’s the real monster?” After this event the entire tone of the move switches. The “freaks” are set in more sinister lighting, peering out from the shadows, through windows, and from under stairs. watchingCherry points out that this lighting change is “a comment on the state of the world or the psyche of the individual,” (62) or in this case individuals.

This turn of intent on the part of the “freaks” is highlighted in the chase scene when they are represented creeping along relentlessly, crawling through the mud under wagons to get at the woman who rejected their acceptance, finally turning her physically into one of them.

The image of them pulling themselves along the ground reminded me of many monster movies I have seen and set the movie clearly in the horror genre.Browning_Freaks_GroupCrawl