The Identity of the Zodiac Killer

The principle suspect in both the book Zodiac and its film adaptation of the same name, Zodiac (2007 Fincher), Arthur Leigh Allen, was heavily implicated as the Zodiac Killer. The film’s closing credits make note that Allen may have been exonerated by a partial DNA mismatch. I’ve linked a story from the San Francisco Weekly disputing this story.

http://www.sfweekly.com/news/yesterdays-crimes-news/yesterdays-crimes-the-zodiac-killer-dna-profile-that-never-was/

It is also worth noting that the handwriting matches which helped stop the investigation into Allen, courts of law have been mixed as to whether handwriting analysis can be considered as substantial evidence. I’ve linked an interesting article discussing this.

https://science.howstuffworks.com/handwriting-analysis2.htm

I’ve embedded a series of interviews concerning him from the Special Edition of the film Zodiac. As a forewarning, I found this a bit disturbing. The descriptions are at times graphic.

 

In Defense of Arthur Leigh Allen, there is no clear evidence he is guilty. The most important thing to remember when discussing whether Arthur Leigh Allen is that all evidence against him is purely circumstantial.

I’ve linked to stories with several other potential suspects:

Earl Van Best, Jr.: http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/05/zodiac-killer-earl-van-best-mugshot.html

George Russell Tucker: https://blog.sfgate.com/crime/2012/05/14/ex-gumshoes-zodiac-book-fingers-solano-county-man/

Louis Joseph Meyers: http://abc7news.com/archive/9441384/

For even more, visit: http://zodiackiller.com/index.htm

All-in-all, I doubt the Zodiac killings will ever be solved definitively. I’ve attached a sketch artist’s sketch of the Zodiac Killer and a picture of Arthur Leigh Allen to help you draw your own conclusions.

To help you draw better conclusions, I’ve attached compelling evidence that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.

As a final note, the misspellings and strange grammar in the Zodiac’s cryptogram are not unusual as is shown by the Kryptos Sculpture at the CIA’s headquarters. https://www.cia.gov/about-cia/headquarters-tour/kryptos

A Brief Overview of David Bordwell’s Elements of the Art Cinema

Art cinema traces its lineage to, among others, the film-making schools of German Expressionism and French Impressionism as well as to modernist literature. The influence of these schools and the innovations within the mode have led to what David Bordwell calls the “art cinema,” which subverts and innovates upon many of the traditions of Hollywood screenplays. In his essay “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice,” Bordwell discusses some of the major elements which Art Cinema films share, namely subversion of realism as conveyed through traditional means, high degree of authorial influence and direction, and ambiguity.

The realism of the art cinema differs from traditional cinema, which is typically given verisimilitude through its coherent motivations and direct plot course, by lessening the causal linkages in classical cinema, displaying realistic problems in complex characters, and lack of a coherent set of objective and path to achieve those objectives. Bordwell states that in art film, the causal linkages between events are loosened for the purposes of motivating narratives. One of the main purposes is to motivate the narrative of a film through the use of realistic conflicts, often real locations, and what Bordwell terms “’realistic’ – that is, psychologically complex – characters.” These complex characters, Bordwell claims, are driven to their objectives in a less direct way than a typical Hollywood film, further increasing their realism. Finally, art films tend to have several possible readings open to them due to their subversion of linear time and heavy subjectivity through ambiguity.

This subjectivity is driven, in part, by the author of the work whose creativity and freedom in the creation of the film force critics of the film to focus on his or her vision and direction of the film. As Bordwell defines it, “the author is the textual force ‘who’ communicates (what is the film saying?) and ‘who’ express (what is the artist’s personal vision?).” Essentially, any criticism or analysis of the film must attempt to engage with the author’s plan. This idea gave rise to, in part, auteur theory, or the criticism of films based largely on the influence of their director or author. A key element of the criticism of art film is the attempt to discern the motives of the author from the film’s every decision. The author’s influence is key, with criticism centering on each item included in the film as well as items excluded. Most importantly, each decision should be asked the question “why,” specifically why this way and not another. Bordwell does concede that this authorial influence can negatively impact the realism of a film.

The subjectivity created by the author, and even by some of the elements of realism, is typically created through inconsistencies in plot or in time and open-ended narrative. Bordwell states that art films foreground deviations from the normal editing and continuity conventions and that these deviations are purposely placed so that they may be examined. This can be done with innovative structuring, such as the flash-forward. This ambiguity often reaches a crescendo with the lack of any clear ending, aiding the open-ended narrative created by the plots non-direct nature. Bordwell cites several examples of this, often with endings that symbolically tie together the narrative without directly resolving the plot itself.

The Experimental Elements of Dog Star Man and Scorpio Rising

Experimental film making eschews the conventions of film making, particularly continuity editing, cinematography, and sound. The unconventional elements of these combine to produce a single, overwhelming, though often hard to place, effect. These elements are center stage in Dog Star Man (Stan Brakhage, 1961) and Scorpio Rising (Kenneth Anger, 1963). Dog Star Man showcases the experimental film’s unconventional editing and while Scorpio Rising certainly eschews conventional editing, it seems to have a more political bent.

The short film Prelude: Dog Star Man typifies many of the elements of experimental film, it was made largely by one man, it seems to lack a clear linear structure, it makes heavy use of the elements of film, and its lack of a clear message or narrative. The first element is quite simple enough to explore, the film is directed by, stars, and is edited by one man, Stan Brakhage. This sort of auteur film making typifies the genre, though it can be found elsewhere. The lack of clear linear structure is more than apparent with the film consisting mostly of short sequences of distinct shots bound together through some sort of rhythm and theme. Many shots are composed of several shots layered over each other in varying degrees of transparency, sometimes dissolving in and out. Many of these shots also feature erratic camera movement, with many short pans, tilts, push shots, and zooms. The shots often are broken up by patterns reminiscent of film grain, though these are often exaggerated. All these elements make the film seem to be a more intense version of Eisensteinian Montage, with shots matched typically by color and rhythm and then contrasted with visually or rhythmically jarring images. What this is building to, I can’t really say. Below is a shot of what could best be described as the subject of the film, the lumberjack.

While Dog Star Man seems to never follow a clear linear narrative, Scorpio Rising seems to initially follow some continuity editing conventions which degrades over time. The film begins quite heavily with continuity editing, with the major deviations from continuity editing being used for a title card, a not totally experimental feature. It features eye line matches and matches on action quite regularly. The continuity editing decays towards the end of the film with numerous disjointed shots beginning to get cut together. This becomes incredibly apparent when the film begins to cut between shots of men riding motorcycles, Jesus Christ, and a Halloween party with clear homoerotic visuals and homosexual acts. The continuity only further decays as one of the bikers enters a church with more sources of imagery, particularly Nazi emblems, Christian icons, and biking men, disjointedly added into the mix. The content of these images, as well as the way they are cut together, when into context seem to point to a more political bent for this film. The film appears to have some element of criticism of the 1950’s biker culture, typified by James Dean and Marlon Brando films, with prominent use of biker leather products combined with Nazi imagery, period music, and homosexual activity. The use of period music for the film’s score, particularly its synchronous nature with the onscreen action, was certainly influential and served as an influence for music videos and feature films alike.

Where are some places where the aesthetic of Dog Star Man has been applied? What are some other ways Scorpio Rising poses a challenge to the audience and how has it changed since its creation?

The War on Terror as Depicted by the Dark Knight

Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) brings the War on Terror to Gotham through the character of the Joker, the embodiment of pure terror and chaos. The parallels between The Dark Knight and the War on Terror are unmistakable, Gotham stands in for New York City, the Joker’s attacks stand in for Islamic terrorists, and the Batman’s mass surveillance stands in for the government’s. Nolan makes ample use of both the imagery of the 9/11 attacks and almost ripped-from-the-headlines terrorist attacks are used to explore both the War on Terror and human nature’s darker aspects.

One notable moment in the film is the scene on the ferry boats as the passengers debate whether to trigger the explosives on the other boat. This is essentially reminiscent of a scenario commonly known as “the prisoner’s dilemma” with the added bonus of there being no least worst option open to both groups. The imagery of this sequence is unmistakable, it plays upon the imagery of the ferries and little ships which attempted to evacuate the victims of the 9/11 attacks in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy. For those interested in this topic, I’ve found and attached a documentary about these boats and their crews narrated by Tom Hanks.

I found the Joker’s assassination attempt on the mayor to be most interesting. This is an issue which is considered by major politicians today, as is shown by the fact that Barrack Obama is giving a speech behind bullet proof glass at the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the attached clip. The Dark Knight’s omission of a similar device is interesting given this context.

A final aspect of the War on Terror which has informed The Dark Knight is the targeting of so called “soft targets,” places without large amounts of security and large numbers of people. The Joker’s bombings of hospitals were a clear example of this. This was a fear in the years before the film was released and has recently resurfaced. I’ve linked to an NBC article which explores this concept in greater depth.

https://www.nbcnews.com/think/opinion/rise-soft-target-terror-attacks-symptom-police-success-ncna816616 

Finally, I’ve linked an academic paper on the relations between The Dark Knight and the War on Terror that explores this topic in more detail that I can in this blog.

http://moritzlaw.osu.edu/students/groups/osjcl/files/2012/05/Ip.pdf

 

Sound as a Narrative Builder

For many years, a film’s soundtrack has been an integral part of its screenplay, helping to further the narrative of the film’s story through various means. Prior to the widespread adoption of synchronized soundtracks, silent films would make use of pianos, organs, and even actors reading dialogue to provide an audio experience for the audience. With the advent of “talkies”, films’ soundtracks took the supporting role in furthering the story, even occasionally taking the lead role in furthering a story.

 

An auditory masterpiece, the Death Star assault sequence from Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (George Lucas, 1977) showcases the impact a soundtrack can have on a film. John Williams’s orchestral score perfectly underscores the tense mood of the trench run sequence, giving narrative cues of action, danger, and building up the climax. Williams’s score makes use of numerous stingers, audio cues that tell the audience of significance of the events on screen, particularly as the characters engage in dogfights, begin strafing runs, or are shot down. The tension built by the score is aided by the dialogue, with the Red and Gold squadrons’ radio chatter constantly layered over the events unfolding on screen, with the dialogue getting louder and more nervous in tone as more of their numbers fall to the empire. A deep and loud voice-off from Obi-Wan Kenobi as volume and pace of the score lowers after a period of immense tension provides an excellent narrative cue to the audience, providing a sense of relief as the film hits its darkest moment. The sound effects layered over the score and dialogue further build on the aesthetic of the film. The rebels’ ships humming engines, reminiscent of turbofans, and hydraulic noises compliment the relatively familiar designs with prominent wings, engines, and cockpits. This contrasts with the eerie screeching of the empire’s fighters, complementing their alien designs.

While the soundtracks for both A New Hope and the Star Wars franchise as whole help convey its alien environment, the soundtrack for Forrest Gump (Robert Zemeckis, 1994), provides a wonderful example of a film’s soundtrack being used to orient the viewer and listener in a realistic time. The score to the film made extensive use of popular music from the decades during which the film takes place, giving the film scenic realism and building on the visual atmosphere of the film and properly orienting the viewer and listener. Forrest’s voiceovers of the scenes are heavily used by the director to forward the nested narrative structure of the film.

What are some films where the soundtrack has played the leading role in furthering the story? How can audio effects be used to contrast imagery on screen?

Editing to Show the Conflict Between Isolationism VS Interventionism

Casablanca begins with an info dump bringing the audience up to speed with the events of the Second World War thus far and how the city relates to the plot. This then cuts to an establishing shot of the market in Casablanca and cuts to establish the deeply foreign and somewhat hectic nature of the setting. This mood is further enhanced when the film cuts to scenes of the usual suspects being rounded up by the Vichy police. When the single resistance fighter flees the police, the film cuts to him being shot in front of a propaganda poster of Marshall Petain, the leader of Vichy France. The film further cuts to the fighter’s papers with a prominent Cross of Lorraine, symbol of the Free French movement. This sequence artfully establishes the overarching narrative of the conflict between the Free French and the Nazi’s with their Vichy collaborators.

This narrative is established on a smaller scaled when Ugarte, who is fleeing from the police, grasps Rick and begs for Rick to help him. The shot focuses solely on Ugarte as he is being dragged away, with no cuts to Rick’s face as the action occurs. Rick’s face is only shown with muted expression in reaction shots after Ugarte has been pried away, as if to show his hardhearted indifference. This visually shows Rick’s neutrality and this neutrality is driven home by the line “I stick my neck out for nobody.”

The more literal aspect of Rick’s internal conflict, his romance with Elsa is conveyed through a bit of elliptical editing and some brief scenes in Paris. The early love scenes with Rick and Elsa riding in a car have dissolve transitions, conveying a long passage of time and adding to the slow moving and lighthearted atmosphere of preoccupation Paris. This slow pace gives a sense of the importance of the time spent together. The early shots contrast with quick pace of the cuts and action in the establishing shots of the German invasion when the occupation of Paris is imminent, conveying the urgency of the situation and the shock of Rick and Elsa’s separation.

In Rick and Elsa’s final scene, this lingering conflict is resolved. Whereas Rick and Ugarte had no shot reverse shot dialogue, Elsa and Rick have significant cuts from one another with long close up takes on Elsa’s face to show her reactions as Rick convinces her to leave with Laszlo. Close up shots of Rick’s face are used only when stating particularly impactful lines. Spatially, the two are close, indicating a lingering intimacy between the two. The editing is used to show that Rick has fully taken a side, both literally his personal conflict and in the larger metaphorical conflict as well as to resolve his romance with Elsa.

To drive home the point, the film cuts to Captain Renault commenting on Rick’s choice, eyeline matches him looking at a bottle of “Vichy Water,” cuts back to Renault pondering, and then cuts to the bottle being dropped into the waste basket and Renault kicking the basket over.  (starts at 1:06).

How else is Rick a metaphor for the United States pre-Pearl Harbor? How does the film use Rick as a proxy for the conflict between personal wants and duty to a greater cause? How is editing used to convey Rick and Elsa’s reconciliation in Casablanca?

The Use of Color and Lighting to Further the Nested Narrative Structure in The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, the colors of the set and costuming, and the lighting elements are used prominently to further the nested narrative structure particularly as it conveys nostalgia and highlights its distorting effects on perception. This is most clear in the contrast between the present day, the author’s conversation with Zero in the nineteen sixties, and Zero’s story which takes place in the nineteen thirties.

The set design of the present day is filled with drab colors and natural lighting, creating a high degree of scenic realism while the set design of the nineteen thirties appears exaggerated, lessening the scenic realism and supporting its existence as a story by Zero. The set design of the Grand Budapest Hotel in the film conveys a authentic-feeling early nineteen hundreds opulence. The set of the hotel lobby is laid out with prominent liberal use of regal colors, vermilion carpets and elevators and Tyrian purple and gold uniforms, as well as the use of high key lighting with pink and white walls to further saturate the image. The color palate and lighting seem to create an effect as though the lobby is being viewed through rose-colored glasses.

This is heavily contrasted with the duller color palate and less warm lighting of the nineteen sixties, adding an increased element of realism. Interestingly, the lighting and color palate in this subsection of the narrative shifts to warmer colors and lower and softer lighting as Zero’s story to the author progresses as if to show the author’s growing familiarity with Zero.

This positive nostalgia effect is further conveyed by the overly congenial and charming performance of the Ralph Fiennes as Monsieur Gustave. Fiennes performance uses commanding body language, particularly standing straight, dismissive hand gestures, and fluid transitions between underlings and esteemed guests, to show Monsieur Gustave’s reassuring mastery of his job and his eccentric leadership. These combined to further Zero’s positive view of his former mentor.

How do the dark color palates of the military contrast with the hotel, particularly when it is requisitioned? Why is the final scene with Gustave shot in black and white? What do Wes Anderson’s choices say about the effects of nostalgia on our perception of the past? Why are main characters’ deaths (Gustave and Agatha) off screen? What is the narrative impact of this choice?