Assignment #2: Formal analysis of a scene

I wanted to make sure everyone knew that the guidelines for Assignment #2 were discussed at the beginning of our last class. It’s a challenging assignment, so I’d suggest reading the materials over now, and thinking about the scene you’d like to tackle. Since we’ve got the holiday this week, next week is your last/best chance to ask questions in person.  I’m very excited to see what you do with this!


Tips for shot-by-shot analysis:

A gentle reminder…..

Analysis #1 must be posted by 9am on 10/14.

And all students should have two substantive posts and 4 comments up before 10/21. “Substantive” means a thoughtful post that engages with the films, readings, and other course materials. Excessive grammatical errors interfere with your ability to communicate– please take care when writing, revising, and posting.

For those of you who have yet to post ANYTHING, you’ve had lots of fair warning as to the requirements and deadlines. I can only assume that your motivation for taking this class is not grade oriented…

Blog Challenge #1: Observing Citizen Kane

For this week, I’d like to see posts that work on the initial stages of observation and evidence gathering that we discussed in class:

• OBSERVE: Select a short scene, or a portion of a scene (roughly 1-10 shots– the shorter the better) from Citizen Kane. Take careful notes on everything you see and hear. Every decision being made here is extremely deliberate. What techniques did the filmmakers employ?

• LOOK FOR PATTERNS: Are there repeated techniques you notice throughout the film? Certain types of images, or movements, or uses of lighting that recur? Is there any pattern as to WHEN these techniques are used?

•ASK QUESTIONS: WHY might the filmmakers have made the stylistic decisions they did in this scene? What are they trying to say? How do these techniques impact the audience– how do they make you feel? Do they influence your identification, or offer insights into a character’s motivation? Might there be a commentary here on power relations, or politics?


Extra Credit: “Marihuana”

As I mentioned in class, you’ve got several extra credit options for this class. One involves posting a clip, and a short analysis to your blog, kick-starting a discussion of a film produced sometime between 1930 and 1970. Full details for the assignment are posted here.  Please be sure to label your post with “Extra Credit” in the subject line, and email me so that I can add a link to your project on our class site.

Links to all projects will be posted HERE (or click “Clips” on the main menu).

Here is my “sample” entry (which is a musical clip, not an invitation to inhale during your extra curricular activities!):

From Murder at the Vanities (Mitchell Leisen, 1934, Paramount).

Released just prior to the implementation of the restrictive Hay’s Production Code, Murder at the Vanities is a very curious, hybrid film. Part movie musical, part murder mystery, the plot involves a detective working to catch a killer on the loose, backstage, during a performance of the Earl Carroll Vanities (a musical revue featuring a variety of song, dance, comedy, and lots of scantily clothed women).

Murder is not the most sophisticated musical, and has a fairly modest budget in comparison to some of the better-known Warner Brothers and MGM productions of the time period.  But I often find the more clumsy and awkward musicals the most interesting; not only are they more typical of the “average” film being screened at the time, they also incorporate some incredibly provocative imagery.

And if this number isn’t provocative, I’m not sure what is…

What feels most surreal to me here is the incredibly strange staging, and the sexual overtones. Gertrude Michael seems to be already in a haze, practically on top of the male mariachi band prancing back and forth behind her in an awkwardly narrow space. The shadows on the curtain behind them seem lurid and vaguely threatening. And then, when the curtain lifts, we are confronted by the utterly gratuitous image of naked women emerging from the blooms of giant plasterboard cacti.

We also get a sense here of the quick pace of the film, and the intrusion of the “real world” of the narrative into the space of the production number. The song is framed by a shot of one the chorus girls climbing into her cactus, and by the blood that drips onto her shoulder, ending the song and revealing the dead body in the rafters over the stage.

For me, these kinds of schizophrenic musical numbers feel like fever dreams, where the fantasies and anxieties of a cultural moment, our collective unconscious, burble up to the surface…