Character Continuity Editing in Casablanca

I noticed a continuity that extended beyond the editing in Casablanca. As I was watching, paying attention to the continuity editing, I noticed one thing that seemed to stay the same. There were many establishing shots followed by shot/reverse shots. But within that spacial orientation, I found myself connecting characters in more than just the space of the single scene. I noticed that characters were continuously placed on a certain side of the frame. In particular, Rick on the left and Ilsa on the right.

      

The examples go on and on. Almost every time we see them on screen, Rick is on the right side and Ilsa is on the left side. I think this continuity is helpful for viewers to always know where we will find each character. It also, especially in the scenes in Casablanca, establishes two forces that are constantly at odds with one another, always occupying their own space. Those spaces never do truly merge, as Rick and Ilsa do not end up together in the end.

As the flashback to their time in Paris begins, we see a montage of shots all placing the two characters in this orientation. The first time we see them in different orientations is after they have recently been informed of the impending German invasion. This event has rocked their world and turned it 180 degrees to then show Ilsa on the left and Rick on the right for not just one but a series of shots.

 

Another time we see Rick on the right side of the screen is when he is shown conversing at a table with another woman. By placing the female on the left and Rick on the right, we get a subtle visual cue that this relationship is different. Rick has his heart fully set on Ilsa, paying a minimal amount of attention to this woman. He is forwardly emotionally invested, as he is the left-oriented character infatuated with the right-oriented character.

I know there are probably a few more shots with Rick on the right and Ilsa on the left, but they are certainly a small minority. This has got me thinking of other films I have seen and whether they have a continuous hemisphere in which a character will occupy and how the changes in that have been used to symbolize changes in the character or story. I’m also curious as to any other reasons why this orientation would be used continuously in Casablanca.

Week 2: Reading/Viewing

If you would like to read more about Wes Anderson and mise-en-scène, check out Sunhee Lee, “Wes Anderson’s ambivalent film style: the relation between mise-en-scène and emotion,” New Review of Film and Television Studies, 2016 VOL. 14, NO. 4, 409–439.

Film historian David Bordwell goes long on Anderson’s use of aspect ratios in GBH.

Clips viewed in class:

“By A Waterfall,” from Footlight Parade (Lloyd Bacon and Busby Berkeley, 1933): [more info on Berkeley here]

Bicycles Thieves (Vittorio De Sica, 1948), an example of Italian Neorealism [whole film is below in two parts]:

A look at the digital effects employed in The Grand Budapest Hotel:

https://news.avclub.com/grand-budapest-hotel-special-effects-demo-reveals-soull-1798268088

 

 

The Influence of the Storyteller

The film, The Grand Budapest Hotel by Wes Anderson, tells the story of exemplary concierge Gustave H and his lobby boy, Zero Moustafa. We watch as these two kindred spirits take on the conspiracy surrounding the mysterious death of Madame D, one of Gustave’s many lovers, and the disappearance of her last will and testament. Despite wonderful acting and an engaging plot, I found the most interesting aspect of this movie to be that we are viewing it through the imagination of a girl, who is reading a book, about the story the author was told by Zero many years later. I greatly appreciated how Anderson used mise-en-scéne throughout the film to portray these layers of the story and to show the viewer that, despite the story belonging to Zero, we are seeing it through the imagination of a reader.

Anderson does not keep the fact that this story comes from a book hidden. In fact, the very first shot we see of the Grand Budapest Hotel is of it depicted as a drawing. Here Anderson sets the stage for the entire film and rather than use a realistic image, he chooses to use one that would belong in a picture book. This decision cooperates with the fairytale nature of the story and adds an air of fiction to what is meant to be a miraculous, but nonetheless non-fiction, series of events. Anderson also has continuous reminders of this movie coming from a book with slides to open each of the four parts of the story.

                  

Similar to a book with chapters, these slides add pause to the story and serve as cliffhangers. For example, two of the slides (for part’s 1 and 4) even cut off the dialogue mid-sentence. All of these design aspects of the transitions between scenes prove to the viewer that we are not just seeing Zero’s story, we are experiencing it through a book as well.

In addition to the story being presented in the modality of literature, it is also represented through the imagination of the reader. This peaks through in various scenes where, rather than display the actual events, Anderson shows a version of these events through the imagination of a reader.

A great example is when Zero is relaying the speech to the hotel staff that Gustave gave him. But when Gustave’s perspective is shown, it is not of him writing a note to Zero, it is the picture as shown above of Gustave speaking aloud at a podium. With the prisoners on the left, the guards on the right, and even a GB (the hotel’s symbol) on the podium, it is clear this is a fantasy image. Here and in other fantasy depictions of the events in the story, we are made aware that the story is being given to us after passing through the reader’s imagination. This is an enjoyable tactic because it creates some of the most entertaining images, such as the sequence where Gustave and Zero sled down the mountain, and provides an explanation for some of the most ridiculous images.

      

Despite having seen The Grand Budapest Hotel many times I never noticed the influence of the many layers of people who are hearing and repeating the story. The story is originally Zero’s, but having it represented by a book and also by the imagination of the reader changed aspects of the film. It would be intriguing to explore how all of the different layers affect the story, considering that we are seeing the events of the story after possible manipulations from Zero as the storyteller, the author who wrote the book, and the girl who is reading the book. What would this film have looked like if it we’re based entirely in reality without any changes added by the many storytellers? Would it be as entertaining? Personally, I really enjoy the way that Anderson chooses to tell the story and think that the addition of manipulations from each storyteller, similar to a story passed down over time, makes the adventure of Gustave and Zero legendary.

Mise-en-Scène in Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

Wes Anderson’s film, The Grand  Budapest Hotel (2014), is a fantastic journey into a fictional world that closely resembles Europe during World War II. Due to its unrealistic and colorful design elements, the picture of the film could be described as a series of paintings.  The elements located inside the paintings contribute to the film’s themes of nostalgia and kinship. These elements, known as mise-en-scène, include character costumes, props, set design, and staging.

Constantly present throughout the film is vibrant color and beautiful set design that becomes even more apparent when the perspective shifts from the unknown author to Moustafa, a former employee and current owner of the slightly rundown hotel the author is staying at. He shares the story of how he became the owner of the hotel, and his story is incredibly nostalgic. As he tells his story the set of the hotel changes, no longer is it rundown, it becomes extremely colorful and bold.  In his memories, unlike present day, there are dozens of employees. These employees and their purple velvet costumes are used as props by Anderson to represent Moustafa’s feelings of esteem towards the former hotel and its staff. Moustafa is part of this staff. He is the lobby boy and under the tutelage of the head concierge Gustave. Moustafa remembers Gustave fondly and portrays him well in his memories; however, Gustave is a womanizer and incredibly vain. Anderson uses Gustave’s perfume as a prop which represents Moustafa’s nostalgic willingness to cover Gustaves many character flaws.  As Gustave and Moustafa go on their adventure, there are many points which the characters look through small windows. This shows that the narrator is framing their adventure, keeping it forever as a painting that is incredibly valuable.  That relates to the main plot, where the painting is the most valuable object which Gustave could inherit.

Another theme supported by mise-en-scène is kinship through occupation and dedication.  Gustave’s regal costume design and flamboyant appearance makes him seem like the conductor of the hotel, Moustafa immediate becomes the lobby boy when Gustave learns Moustafa does not a family.  Since the staging Anderson uses has Gustave and Moustafa constantly in the same frame, the lobby boy hat becomes a prop for tutelage. It is implied that Gustave becomes his only family. Later in the film, we see the same thing with other concierges of other unnamed hotels. They all wear flamboyant costumes and have a dedicated lobby boy.  This represents a fraternity or kinship among hotel employees.  Throughout the film, employees are constantly staged in small and cramped environments. This displays that they are close through occupation. An example is the red elevator inside Gustave and Moustafa occupy in the beginning of the movie and the kitchen in another hotel.

The woman is the former owner of the hotel thus she wears red to blend in and signify that she is part of hotel.

This is another hotel concierge, wearing red instead of Gustave’s purple.

Close to the end of the movie, the kinship of hotel employees save Gustave from the evil clutches of Dmitri. Anderson makes a point to make his costume black and menacing to represent his sly and evil ways. . .

Dmitri’s pencil mustache and dark costume design illustrate his evil nature to the viewer. Also, notice that there are three women in this frame. This takes place when Dmitri is attempting to take all his mother’s possessions, he hires a murderer to do so.  These three women could be the Fates from Greek mythology. The Fates decide when people die.

Overall, Anderson’s use of mise-en-scène is fantastic and incredibly diverse. This blog post could go on forever if I included all the examples from the movie. While watching, I was most interested in the themes of kinship and nostalgia. I thought Moustafa finding a family through hotel servitude was incredibly touching, so I wanted to look for ways that Anderson displayed this through mise-en-scène.

 

Synchronicity and Symmetry In The Grand Budapest Hotel

The Grand Budapest Hotel is an audacious and whimsical film teeming with playful use of color, lighting and an obsessive attention to detail. I’m struck by the balance of color in every scene from the regal purple and gold of the hotel staff, to the dark ensemble of Dmitri and his siblings and the beautifully decorated cake boxes. It is clear that Wes Anderson is one who takes the complement and contrast of different colors very seriously. A few examples can be seen in these scenes:

His development of mise-en-scene using color is anything but subtle. As color is meant to specifically highlight the opulence or lack thereof in the characters and their surroundings.  Every color exists in perfect harmony with the other, sometimes in compliment and other times in stark contrast but always well balanced.

In addition to the harmony of color in this movie, Wes Anderson displays a penchant for balance in the staging of his scenes and the placement of characters within them. On several occasions the actions or appearances of characters will mirror each other creating perfect symmetry within a single frame. An example of this can be seen in the train car scene involving Gustave and Zero.

The placement of the guards on Gustave and Zero, the bloody noses, the room lamps, the window and wine glasses placed in the center of the frame serve to create an extremely well balanced shot. Very few scenes exist in this movie that doesn’t possess some sense of duality and balance. There is a calming quality to the harmony of these well constructed scenes that I believe lend this movie its characteristic charm and perhaps serves to distract the viewer from the more insidious aspects of this movie. Such as the imbalance of power and the cruelty of imposed fascism in this fictional land.

The camera work in this movie is also very deliberate. There are several long tracking shots that follow the characters as the move across the scene but what really caught my eye were the shots taken in very grand spaces were the camera was kept still and characters appeared almost comically small within these large spaces. For example, the arrival of the police in the Grand Budapest.

In this scene the police officers and hotel staff appear almost as dolls deliberately placed in the space and we’re given a true sense of Wes Anderson control over perception.

Finally, while not exactly related to color or staging. One thing that truly delighted me was the very short scene involving the rail cars in the mountains. There is a moment when the car stops in mid ascent and a creaking sound emanates due to their movement. The creaking sound actually becomes a part of the background movie score. If you listen closely enough you notice that It is in the same key as the music. I was already captivated by the meticulous mise-en-scence in this movie but this extremely small and albeit insignificant detail absolutely blew me away. (sadly I was unable to find a clip of this scene)

 

 

 

Mise-en-scène, Realism, and Absurdity in The Grand Budapest Hotel

 

Wes Anderson’s depiction of Lutz’s Grand Budapest Hotel

 

As a viewer, one might be overwhelmed while watching Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel for the first time. There is so much going on in the frame at any moment in the movie that it is hard to keep up and understand what is going on. In this film, Wes Anderson provides viewers with overwhelming detail and mise-en-scène that almost hides the realism of the film; however, he also gives hints and clues throughout the movie that some parts of the story do not add up exactly. In the beginning, our story is told like an old folk lore that has been passed down from generation to generation when our narrators change from: a girl reading a book to an older author of the book to a younger version of that author to the old Mr. Moustafa, and then finally to his younger self, Zero, and the concierge of the hotel, M. Gustave. This exhaustive list alone should be more than enough for viewers to realize that some of the details of the story may not be as true as the author explicitly says at the beginning of his tale. Nonetheless, Wes Anderson’s beautiful and convincing use of mise-en-scène deceives viewers into ignoring his little clues along the way. As we progress in the story, we, as viewers, are convinced that the story is set in a “real” place called Lutz, Zumbrowka, where the currency is the Klubeck, but these faux facts are brushed over with a familiar use of World War I in Zumbrowka’s history.

The Zubrowka’s currency the Klubeck.

 

As we progress to the midway point of the movie, M. Gustave is in jail but is attempting to escape with the help of Zero’s girlfriend, Agatha.  In a single scene, we see Agatha create tool shaped pastries with tools inside of them and send them to the jail. We then see the the pastries miraculously bypass the jail’s food inspection somehow. Comically, the jail’s inspector cuts through and checks the food before and after Agatha’s pastries, and in a fitting fashion, Deputy Kovacs’s in the next scene explains that “something’s missing”.  Deputy Kovac’s scene acts as external commentary to the prior scene but is hidden by the fact that he’s talking about another matter with the villain of the film, Dmitri. After M. Gustave escapes the jail, the following absurd scenes occur. The Society of the Crossed Keys guides M. Gustave and Zero to safety. Then, a gunfight including a bunch of random individuals and a George Clooney look-alike is started in the hotel by Dmitri . Finally, a familiar fight breaks out between Zero, M. Gustave, and the Militia who stopped their train. After the fight on the train, Mr. Moustafa ends the story abruptly with an uncomfortable amount of unanswered questions. As the film comes to an end, Mr. Moustafa ends his conversation with our author by telling him that he thought M. Gustave’s world had vanished long ago, and M. Gustave had gracefully kept the illusion of it present this entire time. As viewers, this dialogue is Wes Anderson’s way of generalizing the realism of his film. The way that he normalizes absurdity to viewers with overwhelming detail and mise-en-scène allows him to create a seemingly real world and story out of thin air. As a whole, Wes Anderson proves that he can normalize and make an absurd story seem real and authentic to viewers.

Some food for thought questions:

  • Were there any scenes where you thought that was absurd and the characters reactions agreed with your own?
  • What was your take on how Wes Anderson handled realism and absurdity in this film?
  • Are there any other directors who take the same approach to realism as Wes Anderson?
  • How does Wes Anderson’s camera work go hand and hand with the realism in his film?

Mise en Scène in the Grand Budapest Hotel

Wes Anderson is an iconic director whose aesthetic is extremely recognizable, sometimes to a point of contention by those who aren’t enthusiastic about the style (on an unrelated note, check out https://www.reddit.com/r/AccidentalWesAnderson/ if you haven’t already). Bright and pastel colors are used in symmetrical, intentionally framed shots to create a feel that is truly unique. Personally, he is one of my favorite directors, and his aesthetic and matter-of-fact method of storytelling is one that I very much enjoy. I’ve seen The Grand Budapest Hotel a number of times, but while watching for entertainment rather than analysis of Wes Anderson’s craft. So much so, in fact, that I never realized the changes in aspect ratio that are some of the more obvious manipulations of the scene that Anderson employs. As the film descends layer by layer, deeper into the rose-colored nostalgia of the characters involved, the visual style becomes more and more “Anderson-esque”. The colors are brighter, the action scenes more puppet-like, and things take a tone that seems to be more influenced by the ruminations and aesthetics of Gustave and The Author than the real world. Cold characters are framed by drab Victorian decor and garbed in black leather. The hotel itself, an oasis of sophistication in a world that falls woefully short, is (initially) impossibly neat. The beginning of the film, where we’re rooted in the almost-present as we’re addressed by The Author, contrasts sharply from our clear role as an audience of the screen or stage-play of the stories of his past. This “feel” that Anderson creates and meticulously maintains is achieved through the use of several physical miniatures that were created for the film. Anderson’s work is sometimes described as “doll house”, and this is a movie where the moniker is almost literally applicable:

 

Nostalgia and the Nature of Story Telling

Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel, much alike each of his other films, is a delightfully charming and lively movie.  So far of all the Wes Anderson films I have viewed, not a single one has allowed me to stop grinning like a child throughout their entire run time, and Grand Budapest may be my favorite of the lot.  Grand Budapest, on many levels, feels like a self examination of the nature of Anderson’s own work.  Each frame, meticulously crafted as it is, seems to paint a picture of the nature of constructing a fiction by hand, or by mouth and print, as it were in the narrative.  The construction of the plot, as a window back into the past through the framework of the aged Mr. Zero’s story drips with nostalgia.  Every word out of Zero’s mouth and every scene built around it seems untrustworthy, and straight out of fantasy.  From the ridiculous moments in the plot which seem to be ripped straight from an summer spy flick to the vibrant and overly memorable characters, everything is perfect.  One of my favorite examples of this is Zero’s love, Agatha.   The birthmark on her cheek is claimed to resemble Mexico, but in the images we are given of her, it is a perfect photocopy of the country.  Of course it is, because this is his memory of his one love, and he remembers her as she must have been to him, perfect.  As we discussed in class, memory is messy, thoughts of the past get mixed up in our mind until we can barely distinguish on moment from another.  But when telling a story, we get to put the pieces back together and doctor an image of how we want the past to have been.  And yet, every time Zero thinks back upon her, he cries.  Because the true pain in nostalgia is the knowledge that the things that happened in our past, no matter how actually messy or painful they were initially, will never happen again.

Towards the end of the film, the writer asks Zero if he kept the hotel to keep a piece of Gustave’s world with him.  Zero responds with, “To be frank, I think his world had vanished long before he ever entered it.”  Just as much as Zero is an image of the fiction of the worlds that Wes Anderson weaves together with his bare hands, Gustave is an image of the construction itself, of the control which Wes Anderson seeks over his constructs.  Anderson creates worlds which cannot possibly exist but in film, and uses his sets and characters to reveal the ridiculousness of his fiction.  Every miniature and set piece feels just as toy like as it is.  You can feel the fiction rich in every frame.  Take the sled scene for instance. 

The actors representations throughout this scene feel ridiculously tiny, and the obvious miniatures point out the ridiculous fiction of this shot.  As the narrative moves deeper into Zero’s story, more and more of these miniature set pieces pop up.

Though Wes Anderson’s fantastic version of the 1930’s and before is long past, the cinema allows us to join Anderson as he “sustains the illusion with a marvelous grace.”

Use Setting and mine-en-scéne to Convey Human Traits

Wes Anderson is one of my favorite writer/directors in American film.  Not just for “The Grand Budapest Hotel” but for many of his works such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Moonrise Kingdom.  In each of his movies he pays close attention to the setting he uses to set the general mood of a particular scene.   As a result, Wes Anderson’s movies tend to take on a “play” or “theatre” style.

For example, when we see The Grand Budapest Hotel in its 1932 setting, we see a bright, colorful and fantasy palace-like building and background.

This setup is akin to a “doll-house” where the vibrant colors signify a high society or royalty might visit for comfort and recreation.  This setting might represent a persons’ “dreamland” where they can escape to and marvel at the landscape of the countryside from a Grand Place.

Another example would be the gathering of Madam D.’s family.  The room where they are deciding who gets her fortune is filled with animal fur carpets, stuffed bears,  and head mounts.  The setting in this scene also symbolizes a wealthy society, but also fits a symbol of human greed and avarice.   Such is shown as the all of the members of the extended family show up to the reading of the will in an attempt to gain as much wealth as they can.

Lastly, one of my favorite scenes in the movie was the mountain chapel where they go to meet the butler.  At first, it was strange why Wes Anderson decided to place a chapel so high on a mountain only accessible by a cable car.  I feel that he does this, not only to signify the high place of the Church in the society of Europe, but to signify the perceives effort it takes to be recognized as a devoted member of a religion, and how easy it is to “fall from grace.”  The latter meaning is reinforced shortly after the Serge X is killed, when Mr. Gustave and Zero enter a rapid, downhill chase after his murderer.

Many of Wes Anderson’s scenes capture a mood, a feeling, or trait that fits the characters and the setting of the stories he tells.  What other scenes may there be examples of this.  Not just in The Grand Budapest Hotel but maybe other Wes Anderson movies.

The Relation between Characters, their Surroundings, and the Pursuit of Perfection

In The Grand Budapest Hotel, Wes Anderson explores our standards and perceptions of perfection. One of the most interesting juxtapositions in the film is the perpetual contrast between characters and their environs. Anderson’s often symmetrical framing places characters in situations they can’t possibly live up to. The perfection of their surroundings accentuates their very human imperfections and ticks. Each frame is meticulous, orderly. The Grand Budapest in 1968, though in a state of drab decay, is orderly as well. It’s concierge, Monsieur Jean, is described as both lazy and quite accommodating. As the Hotel slowly decays, he, dressed in the same purple regalia as his predecessor, does the best he can to stay true to the standards of past perfection. He is introduced in the center of the screen, but he slouches. When a guest suddenly starts choking, all pretense and airs are dropped with a panicked, “Shit!” as he scrambles to his ailing guest. Through Anderson’s framing and direction, he is able to playfully illustrate the impossibility of attaining the material perfection that adorns his sets and characterizes his shots.

Still, we must contrast Jean’s characterization with Zero’s recollection of Gustave H. Zero’s story is painted with pinks and whites, miniature sets, all artificial and all conveying a sense of impeccable perfection. As viewers, we initially associate that perfection with the material perfection of the surroundings. We assume that Zero is truly recalling a more perfect time. However, as we are introduced to Gustave H, we see that is not the case. Much of the film’s humor and absurdity stems from Gustave’s vanity, his fickle nature, his vulgarity and the contrast between his many, many flaws and the perfection he demands from his surroundings. Where Jean (and several other characters in the film) tried and failed to attain the standards of properness imposed upon them, Gustave is characterized differently. For some reason, his pursuit of perfection and his own impropriety are depicted as, ironically, natural, as if he is the shape perfection takes. In tracking shots, the camera follows him and more often than not, he is framed in the center of the action, as if he is defining his surroundings. Indeed, as this story is a recollection of Zero’s, it is likely that Gustave is depicted this way, because Zero viewed him this way. While we see so many other characters trying and failing to achieve some arcane standard of perfection, in Gustave’s hotel, Zero assumes that Gustave has set the standard. And, thus, how could Gustave violate it?

The Grand Budapest is, for all intents and purposes, Gustave’s creation. It is a perfect container to reflect his aspiration for control. Throughout the film, boxes and box structures are used as containers for perfection – controlled environments, free of the blights in the outside world. These boxes frame characters and objects. Gustave is repeatedly framed in the red elevator of the hotel, seated as his employees stand. He is effectively in his element. In this small, controlled environment, he has found perfection and “civility” – where everything is proper and he is effectively served by his employees. As we learn later, Gustave has aspired to become the guest in his perfect hotel. Further, in the snow, after their prison escape, Gustave finds himself in a telephone booth, and is framed in the booth as well. While Zero waits outside, separated from Gustave by the phone booth’s walls, Gustave finds his control once more and regales Zero with the story of the Society of the Crossed Keys.

Only immediately after the prison break, when Gustave berates Zero, do the scenes colors turn dark, complemented by a dark blur around the frame. Here, there is no pretense and no perfection to hide the pain and frustration both Gustave and Zero are feeling. Here, neither are in control.

The important difference between Zero and Gustave is that Zero never aspired for perfection. Unlike any of the other characters, Zero is rarely a source of humor, because he is always authentic. He rarely aspires to any pretense he cannot achieve. While Zero’s story is materially perfect, we learn at the end, that the perfection of that time in Zero’s life came, not from control, but from the happiness of being with his mentor, Gustave, and his love, Agatha. In having this happiness and this peace, Zero finds a control and perfection he can attain. In Zero’s final scene, he enters the Hotel’s now yellow elevator, composed and collected, much in the same way Gustave once did, and bids the Young Writer farewell. Framed in a box, in his “home”, Zero’s happiness is his perfection.

However, since much of this analysis is based on Anderson’s mise-en-scene and his framing style, how much of the above analysis is truly intentional with regards to the Grand Budapest? The same framing and directing techniques are used to similar effect in Anderson’s other films, like The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. These are all very different films. Is it simply that Anderson applies the same style with different intentions in each of his films, or is that style largely inconsequential to the film’s subject matter? Even in the Grand Budapest, though the different narratives from 1932 to the present have different sets and aspect ratios, the directing style is very similar, to the extent that maybe it does not have the intentionality I have assumed it has.