Sunday, January 31, 2010

I wanted to pass the boundaries of intelligence for something more pure...

Like Alfred Hitchcock and many others before him, Tom Kalin chose to explore the Leopold and Loeb case through film. The result, Swoon, takes a unique look at the crime by focusing on the intimate relationship between the two men rather than on the adversarial relationship between them and the rest of society, as we saw in Rope.

Through both the cinematography and the mise-en-scène, Kalin puts the audience into the time period of the film while simultaneously taking them out of it. The grainy black-and-white film stock is reminiscent of that which was used in films shot during the 1920s, while occasional extreme angles or use of a handheld camera give the film a more modern feel. Likewise, anachronisms such as a black female stenographer (at the time of the court case, the position was held only by white males) and technology that was unavailable in the 20s, such as touch-tone phones, were used very deliberately and effectively. Taken together, these choices give the audience the dichotomous feelings of watching events unfold as they happen and seeing them with the perspective granted by hindsight.

One of the most interesting scenes in the film comes in the aftermath of the crime. After they are arrested thanks to evidence left at the scene by the perpetually anxious Nathan, the killers are questioned separately and turn on each other. Once they are reunited, each tries to convince the investigators that he had been driving the car while his partner committed the murder in the backseat. They both stick to their stories so firmly that it's impossible to discern which of them is lying; in a tense moment, however, Dickie slips up and "forgets" that he had supposedly been driving. He uses his natural charms to cover his tracks, and both he and Nathan are charged with murder, but the film conclusively indicates that he was the more guilty party.

According to Tom Kalin, who spoke with our class a few weeks after we screened this film, that scene was taken directly from the court transcripts. The film's story grew out of the moment when Richard Loeb inadvertently identified Nathan Leopold as the driver of their car, implying that he himself had been in the backseat with the victim. After reading that part of the transcript, Kalin was convinced that Loeb had been the one to actually take the boy's life, and wrote the movie from that perspective. As a writing student as well as a film student, I found it very interesting to think about the entire film having spiraled out of this one defining moment of truth. The next time I see the movie, I will definitely be thinking about how it leads up to and away from that revelation.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Made it, Ma! Top of the world...

A little over a week ago, the esteemed Moira Finnie was kind enough to tag me in the Kreativ Blogger Award. It came the day I moved into a new apartment at the beginning of a new semester, so hopefully she can forgive the delay in my response, but I was (and am) very flattered and very grateful.

The rules of engagement are as follows:

1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
Many, many thanks, Moira!

2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
You mean this logo here?

3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
Right this way, please.

4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting.

Oh, dear. This might take me another week-and-a-half.

~I'm going to be interning with the American Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival this May. This means I'll have access to not only the festival, which is obviously an incredible opportunity in and of itself, but panels and roundtable discussions specifically aimed at film students. To say I'm excited would be a major understatement.

~Last weekend, I baked someting from scratch for the first time ever. I had the help of my roommate and a friend of ours, and a few other friends helped with the eating part. Our cupcakes turned out quite well, considering who made them.

~I kept a running tally of every film I watched in 2009. Surprisingly, the only one I saw more than twice was Jay And Silent Bob Strike Back, which I saw in its entirety four times. It's hardly my favorite Kevin Smith movie (oh hi there, Mallrats), but it was on the CW all the time and I only have a handful of cable channels in my room at home.

~My top five most-played songs on iTunes are "Wherefore Art Thou, Elvis?" by The Gaslight Anthem (120), "Straw Dog" by Something Corporate" (104), "Engines" by Snow Patrol (95), "Old White Lincoln" by The Gaslight Anthem (93), and "Etreintes Fatales" by Johnny Hallyday (86). One of these things is not like the others...

~Today I found two Carole Lombard movies on one DVD for $2.99 in ShopRite, of all places (it's a grocery store, for those not in the northeast US). The movies are Made For Each Other and Nothing Sacred. Score!

~I'm becoming very interested in the effects of sociopolitical issues on the film industry. It started with the blacklist panel, and now I'd really love to study it more in-depth someday.

~I'm really not that interesting. Or I just can't count to seven.

5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers and post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.

A Noodle In A Haystack
Cinema Splendor
Discovering Dirk Bogarde
Flying Down To Hollywood
Lolita's Classics
Out Of The Past
She Blogged By Night

All of these blogs are well-written, informative, and a delight to read!

6. There's no number 6. Somebody should make one up.

7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.

Friday, January 22, 2010

What people oughta do is get outside their own house and look in for once...

I seem to have taken another unintentional hiatus. Winter break involved a lot less "break" than I thought it would, but I'm back at school now and taking two more film classes this semester. Well, one is actually a French class in which we study French films. In French. This will go swimmingly, I'm sure. Anyway, I still have a whole bunch of notes and blog posts in various stages of construction from last semester, so hopefully the backlog will keep me from going off-air again for a while. For now, I'm going to pick up where I left off.

By pure convenient coincidence, I saw Hitchcock's Rear Window in my Film History class last semester on the same day that I saw his earlier film, Rope, in The Movie Industry. It was my first time watching both movies, and seeing them just a few hours apart I couldn't help comparing the two and drawing some conclusions about Hitchcock as an auteur.

To some extent, Rear Window seems to be Hitchcock's second attempt at the continuous-take effect that he first tried out in Rope. At least, he seems to have learned from his previous mistakes; Rear Window is shot with a lot of long takes and a fluidly moving camera, but there are cuts where necessary to keep the audience interested visually as well as psychologically. Additionally, there is often a lot more going on within the frame than there was in Rope. Although both films take place entirely within the confines of one apartment, Rope kept the camera confined indoors, with the large windows serving only as a backdrop and to indicate the passage of time. In Rear Window, the titular pane offers the camera -- along with protagonist L.B. Jeffries -- an escape. Through his own camera lens, Jeff can view the entire apartment building (which, by the way, was the largest set ever built at the time the film was made) or zoom in on any one residence. Likewise, there are many different areas of the screen on which the audience can concentrate during those long takes, because the frame is filled with the activities of many different interesting and eccentric minor characters.

In addition to being a great technical improvement over Rope, Rear Window is a quintessential psychological thriller. The decision to trap the camera inside with Jeff gives viewers a keen sense of his growing fear and desperation, even when they may find themselves siding with other characters who think he's off his rocker. At any given time, the audience only has as much information as Jeff does, and as a result shares his feeling of helplessness. This emotional connection, formed from the beginning of the film onward, increases the suspense felt at the film's climax, when finally Jeff begins to hear ominous footsteps outside his own door.