Saturday, May 31, 2014

The missing picture

Film theorist David Bordwell yesterday posted an article on his blog about movies referencing other movies, and how allusionism is not a prerogative of contemporary cinema. He discusses the allusions present in a scene of Orson Welles' The Magnificent Ambersons, where many movie posters dating to 1912 can be seen in the background of a lengthy tracking shot. He concludes the article with some guesses about a poster he wasn't able to identify (the photo below is taken from his website). I confess that I haven't been able to think about anything else for a few hours.

Let's try to give a small contribution to the investigation. As Bordwell observes, the first letters of the title seem to form the word "Car", while the spot on the left could likely be a determinate article. However, there seems to exist no movie of the epoch titled "The Car...". The first option occurring to me is "The Conductor", which seems confirmed by the fact that the man in the foreground apparently wears the uniform of a train conductor. Does he expect the native guy below to pay the fine? However, the only movie title I found which seems consistent with this hypothesis is Conductor 786 (1912), but the plot apparently doesn't fit with the poster. Another possibility, but maybe it's my Italian background speaking, is "The Carabiniere" or "The Carbineer", which again would explain the uniform. There does exist a 1913 Italian film titled Il Carabiniere, but it doesn't feature American Indians, as one would expect.

And what if the first letter was a capital "H" instead? The search goes on...

Friday, May 23, 2014

Nymphomaniac (Lars Von Trier, 2013)

In a recent article film critic Matt Zoller Seitz advises wannabe film critics, among other things, to study history and psychology. I was reminded of his advice while watching Nymphomaniac, and especially I was wondering in which way psychology, and psychoanalysis in particular, has influenced filmmaking and film criticism. Indeed, a lot of movies these days seem to have been bathed in psychoanalysis − Spider, The Machinist and Black Swan are just the first examples coming to my mind. That's something even a layman on the subject like me can easily recognize, since, as anthropologist Henrietta L. Moore points out in her book A Passion for Difference: Essays in Anthropology and Gender,

"Psychoanalysis has entered popular culture [...]. Not very much may be known about psychoanalytic theory, but a whole series of popular experiences  like motivation in crime novels and television dramas  has been profoundly influenced by theories of causation and personality development based on a version of psychoanalytic thought."

The topic deserves greater attention than my limited knowledge allows. Indeed, the book Psychoanalysis and Cinema by film theorist Christian Metz seems to be an essential reference point. I will concentrate just on these two aspects: How much the common practice among certain filmmakers of venturing into Freudian territory has contributed to flatten out film characters and plots, and to what extent Lars Von Trier's Nymphomaniac can be considered a critical response to this approach?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)

Spike Jonze's Her will be probably be remembered as the most old-fashioned futuristic movie ever made. Set in in an unspecified future where checkered shirts and high-waisted pants seem to be the latest fad, it follows a lonely ghostwriter as he embarks on a love affair with the female-voiced, ever-evolving operating system of his personal computer.