Friday, December 9, 2011

The Bicycle Thief: Italian Neorealism

    The 1948 film The Bicycle Thief follows the story of Bruno Ricci and his father Antonio Ricci as they face the economic hardships of their time.  Beginning with the joyous and momentous fortune of Antonio receiving a job as a poster man, strife easily begins to trickle into the story as the first conflict emerges: he cannot have this job unless he has a bike.  Young Bruno Ricci is extremely proud of both his father and his father's new bike, but when the terrible occurrence of the bike being stolen occurs, there is no way for Bruno or his father to let go of what has happened.  Bruno has the terribly jarring realization that men are not completely dignified beings as he witnesses his father contributing to the web of thievery by committing the very act that he had shunned all throughout the movie: stealing a bike.  All throughout this film there are moments that truly reflect the Italian Neorealism era. 

    The whole film revolves around the feeling of desperation.  This feeling is caused by the setting.  As stated in the book Film Art: "...the post-war period saw several filmmakers beginning to work with the goal of revealing contemporary social conditions." In the beginning of the film we see Antonio Ricci in a crowd of frenzied unemployed men who are all extremely eager to get a job.  Upon the realization that Antonio is the only one qualified for the one available job, the men begin to become nasty and rash.  This reflects the turmoil of Italian society during this time.

    Neorealism takes a stab at the harsh realities of life in a terrible economic time.  This is showcased in how the movie begins and how it ends.  In the beginning of the film we see Antonio's bike get stolen.  All throughout the film we see him trying to get his bike back.  Because we, the audience, go through this whole journey with him, we gradually feel more and more perturbed and angered by whoever is the man who stole Antonio's bike. In the end when we see Antonio get so low as to stealing a bike himself, we are overcome with the same amount of shock and horror as Bruno: how on earth could Antonio be doing this? Once again, Italian Neorealism tackles these social issues and implements them in a realistically sad matter. 

    The acting of the characters Bruno and Antonio seems very authentic and real.  This is explained in Film Art: Although Neorealistic films often featured famous stage or film actors, nonactors were also recruited for their realistic looks and behaviors. For the adult "star" of Bicycle Thieves, De Sica chose a factory worker: The way he moved, the way he sat down, his gestures with those hands of a working man and not of an actor... everything about him was perfect." This worked out perfectly for this film because it allows us to connect into the moments of highest emotion so easily.  For instance, there is a scene of Bruno checking out the bike and making the realization that their is a dent in one of the petals.  The way Bruno goes about checking the bike seems very realistic and very natural.  This showcases a method implemented and effectively utilized during the Italian Neorealism era.

    All in all, it is quite evident that The Bicycle Thief is a great example of Italian Neorealism.  

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The 39 Steps - Use of Sound


     Hitchcock's fim, The 39 Steps, is about a man, Richard Hanney, who accidentally gets himself involved in a mystery.  Falling into the role of new spy,  he continues the journey of the now-deceased previous spy. Problems arise for him when it becomes assumed that Richard is the murderer of a poor woman (who was actually the spy killed by agents.)  Through this adventure he meets a woman who he later falls in love with, and in the end he discovers the secret.  An important aspect to this film is it's use of sound to accentuate the emotions and tones of key moments.

     At the beginning of the film during the first scene there is music being played by a live band.  The music is slightly energetic and bouncy.  This helps to set up the ambiance of the performance.  Later on in that very same scene, only moments before the gunshot is fired, there is this gradual sense of disorganization and chaos.  This is produced by the sounds of the audience bickering and getting worked up.

     In many scenes of great tension or suspense, there will be a lack of sound (aside from dialogue.) For instance, in the scene where the spy woman comes to Mr. Hanney's house, there is no audio, aside from her words.  She speaks in a sort of secretive way of agents being outside of the house.  The lack of dialogue makes what she is saying sound both important and scary.

     Another example of lack of audio being used to create tension: when Mr. Hanney stays at the home of a man and his wife, the man becomes suspicious of his wife and Mr. Hanney secretly loving one another behind his back.  During the scene in which he decides to leave the room and spy on them from the outside of the house, there is no audio what so ever.

     As shown, this movie intertwines audio (and lack there-of) to create a certain tone/atmosphere, whether that be one of tension, chaos, or maybe even giddiness.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: Set Design Exposing Character Mindset

     This 1920 German Expressionist film follows the mystery behind a series of seemingly random deaths.  Dr. Caligari, a suspicious man, brings his somnambulist, Cesare, to a local fair.  Francis, the main character, after both the death of his friend and the kidnapping of his fiance, becomes suspicious of Dr. Caligari. Through the story it seems as though Dr. Caligari is an insane man, but by the end it is realized that Francis is the one who is insane.  The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari does a great job of exposing the mindset of the protagonist, Francis, through the set design.

     Within the movie, the city buildings always arch inward. This is paralleled to Francis' feeling like the world is closing in on him.  Francis, as we find out, is the one who is insane and trapped in the asylum, hence the slanted buildings do a great job of furthering this sense of being continuously watched over.

      Consistently the walkways go off into odd directions.  This gives us a sense of Francis' misdirection; he feels like he is lost within his mind, chasing after something hidden.  In the story, Francis is chasing after his fiance, but in actuality, he is really just lost in his muddled mind chasing after nothing.  The walkways symbolize the plight of the insane person.

      Often times there are odd lines placed sporadically upon sets. This helps show how Francis feels like he is in a delusional state.  Throughout the film, various items and forms appear to be in wonky states.  For instance, there is one scene where the mayor is sitting in his office up on a chair.  The chair that he sits on happens to be about 4 feet too high.  This example, along with many others, additionally showcase this delusion state.  Lines create a sense of false repetition, hence a sense of being delusional.

     A lot of the sets give a feeling of being cramped.  This obviously gives the feeling of Francis being trapped.  Francis is both trapped in his mind and trapped in the asylum.  These cramped sets just show that there is no escaping for Francis!

As Tim Burton once said, “One person's craziness is another person's reality.”  Except, in this case, Francis' craziness is HIS reality!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Red Balloon

     The Red Balloon, a 1956 French film, takes us on the journey of a little boy and his magic balloon.  At the beginning of the film it becomes apparent just how independent this young boy is-- he travels the streets of Paris all on his own.  When he finds the balloon, there seems to be a switch in tone.  Before having the balloon, the boy is independent and in a sense, innocently lonely.  We never see him with other kids, yet he seems to not acknowledge this factor.  Once he has the balloon however, we both get a sense of the magnitude of the boy's seclusion from other kids and additionally how much the boy really does long for a friend.  We discover the former point through scenes of kids recklessly running out of the school building, trying to get the red balloon, and most of all: taunting and bullying the boy by trying to destroy the balloon.  We discover the latter point through the bonding of the boy to this animal-like balloon.  The balloon consistently follows the boy, and whenever the balloon disappears for even a moment, the boy involuntarily and quickly begins to search for it because the balloon is his only friend.  Overall, this film is able to make us, as the audience, feel emotionally connected to both the boy and the balloon.

     The boy is an unassuming, innocent, and independent young lad.  There is one shot, if I may add, that  the camera follows the boy running down a street of France trying to get to the school before the balloon.  The camera slowly get further away from the boy as he runs.  In this shot two main character aspects emerge: determination and insignificance.  Determination because we see that although running may be difficult for him, he wants to get to the balloon in time: so he will! Insignificance because when the camera slowly becomes further away from the boy, we get a sense of just how big France and the world he lives in is.  The factor of insignificance eludes to a later scene when the boy gets locked up by his mean teacher for simply bringing a balloon to school.  We can't help but giggle a bit when the balloon tries to get back at the teacher by taunting him and mysteriously following him.  All in all, the boy has many traits that make us just want to reach out to him and be his friend, too!

The boy running down the street in France.

     The balloon during the course of the movie becomes this lovable character of sincerity.  As mentioned earlier, the balloon follows around the boy (even when the boy is not holding the string!) We get this feeling of content when we see the requited friendship of the balloon and the boy.  When the balloon is in danger of being destroyed by the rough little school boys, there is this immediate sense of fear for both the balloon and for the boy (the boy because if he does lose his balloon... how will he react?)  When the balloon is finally destroyed, there is this moment of complete awe (followed by sadness) because it is almost unbelievable that this whole entire friendship has been destroyed in an instant.  The scene that follows this is the banding together of many balloons from all over France coming to find the boy and take him on a trip into the sky.  This scene is a tear-jerking moment of realization in an almost metaphorical way: each balloon kind of represents the longing for a friend.  There are tons and tons of balloons surrounding the boy, symbolizing the way he now feels (even though he has lose his main red balloon.)  He feels like he is surrounded by many friends because the red balloon instilled into him a sense of friendship, compassion, and loyalty.  All in all, the red balloon somehow finds away to make into our hearts. 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Golden Beetle- magic to the highest level of mastery!

     I am quite astonished by the overall masterpeice "Golden Beetle." Ferdinand Zecca is an other-worldly genius.  I couldn't help but marvel with my jaw-dropped as I watched the magician cause things to float and to appear out of thin air! Did Ferdinand Zecca devise a way to hoax us into the belief that what we are seeing is actually there, or could it be that this magician is truly a mastermind of power?
     The explosions are quite beautiful and fantastical.  It is utterly riveting and revelatory to see the use of color on screen.  This attribute of color helps to characterize the whole film as one of sheer creativity and magic.  I notably fancied the use of color during the section of the film where smoke, sparks, and water spew from the fountain.  The bright pinks, yellows, oranges and reds certainly cause the movie to baffle my mind.
     After the section in the film where the girl stops spinning around within the confinement of bright colors, two more girls materialize.  I am honestly stumped by how this sort of thing could come to be.  It is frankly amazing for one girl to appear floating in the air, but lo and behold Mr. Zecca finds a way to entrance the crowd into a state of utter awe.
     Furthermore, I can't help but ponder: how were these magic tricks and stunts done without injuring the participants? Surely placing a woman into a vase of fire is dangerous! Yet again, Mr. Zecca understands the fundamentals of stretching the limits of imagination.

     At the time of the release of this film, not many people had been exposed to special effects, let alone informed about their existence.  I feel as though any person from this time period, even if they had seen, for instance, a Melies film, would be astonished by some of the effects pulled off by Ferdinand Zecca.  Additionally, this film provides many examples of various effects: for example, not only does the film have floating girls, but additionally it intertwines the sporadic appearences of smoke.  I think that during the time this film was made, people were not very accustomed to so many random elements being placed in succession to one another within the confinement of one individual film.
    Additionally, not many films of this time had color (due to many factors, one of which being the fact that the process of hand painting color on to film is time intensive).  Because of this, I think that any average person would be excited to see such amazing special effects complied with the innovation of color.