Thoughts on Dog Star Man (1961) and Scorpio Rising (1963)

Dog Star Man (1961 ) by Stan Brakhage

The first noticeable aspect of this film  is its use of dialectical montage. This is apparent because it is comprised of briefly moving images; these images briefly appear and contrast with following images.  The images are seemingly unrelated but there is a constant, abstract, motifs that appear throughout the film. The first is the amber or reddish orange color that appears in the beginning.  Personally, it makes me think of the surface of a new planet. (I could be wrong, but I believe new planets look molten or lava-like.) Also, it reminds me of flesh when you shine a flashlight through it or hold it close to a camera. The second images I noticed were ocean and nature related. They contrast heavily with the first, however, they are more recognizable to the viewer. Perhaps they are part of a narrative? There is also a close-up of a bearded  face that appears occasionally. Is this the main character? Some times he appears with the silhouette of a thorny push which could be metaphorical prop relating to Christianity or directly to Jesus Christ, but I do not know if the director did that on purpose.

 

There is a lot of astronomical symbolism in the film. The moon and the sun appear most often. These appear as starkly contrasted with various colors such as black, red, or grey.  Also, they contrast with the microscopic overlay that frequently appears over the images. A colorful overlay filled with moving spots often shows over the images, these could be bacteria or just any general small organism.  The cosmic and microscopic imagery show the extremities of the natural world.

 

I am not sure whether this is accurate, but I believe this film mainly represents the beginning of something (vague I know). This is supported because this is the first part of the entire film.

Is there a narrative to this film? Or is it just random scenes?

Scorpio Rising (1963) by Kenneth Anger 

This film is a more concrete and less abstract but weirdly haunting. It focuses on the activities of a counterculture youth. He is a big fan of masculine characters like James Dean and is a part of a biker subculture.  He is completely fixated on his motorcycle. There is evidence he was honorable discharged from the military and continues to wear militaristic clothing. He seems to be in pursuit to be as masculine as possible.

They participate in progressive, but taboo, homosexual ritualistic activities. Even today the ritualistic and dark imagery is taboo. It can be considered satanic or occultist. Homosexuality is more accepted today; however, it still often accompanies the perception of  being feminine. This film seems to challenge that. However, the occult becomes evil when we later learn it’s associated with Nazism.

 

What is the film saying about the counterculture? Is it progressive or regressive (pro-lgbt or pro-Nazi)? What is the director’s message?

 

The Power of Montage

Google Dictional defines narrative as “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.” A narrative is primarily a story that involves many events and people that all seem to have the same event or person in common. The most important aspect of telling of a certain event or person and how different stories relate to that event or person. But how does one make a narrative with realistic, relatable characters? One cannot learn what makes a person or relationship between multiple people just by one or two occurrences or scenes. You can’t show how someone develops as a character just by talking or interview people who are close to them. How would you show how something changes or develops with time as characterization realistically can’t be fully explored with just one scene or event? People are dynamic, but it takes time; usually large amounts of it. Because of this Orson Wells takes advantage of the use of Montage to show gradual changes over what is perceived to be large periods of time.
In this week’s feature, “Citizen Kane,” Orson Wells, montage is used repeatedly to show how a person, a relationship, or a situation grows and develops over large periods of time. A good example of this is scene of Charles Kane and Emily Norton seated at the dinner table having “snippets” of conversation regarding her husband’s work at his newspaper. Using montage, Orson wells shows the snippets of conversation getting progressively negative and Emily growing more uncomfortable and angered at her husband’s newspaper. In addition, we also get to see Charles grow more ambitious and obsessed with the success of his newspaper. In each little scene of the montage we see the couple grow older just a little indicating the passage of months, possibly years between conversations. Small details about their snippets of conversations show that they have a son who has been exposed to Charles newspaper at his nursery, which Emily does not approve off but is immediately silenced by her husband at the notion of removing it from the nursery. In the final scene not a word is said. The two even refuse to make eye contact, indicating that their marriage has all but come to a cold close.

For this reason, montage is one of my favorite effects in film. I really appreciated it when montage is used to forward plot in such a manner. I modern movies, especially action movies, montage is usually only used once in the beginning or towards the end of the movie, depicted small snippets of the main character growing up to what he is today, or the preparation they must do prepare for a showdown. Super-hero movies do this a lot, but they are no where near as powerful as some of the scenes in “Citizen Kane.” The only other movies where montage is used is old 80’s movies that would always play stereotypical synthwave music while getting a large amount of work done. Like in this clip from a totally 80s (not really) movie “Kung Fury.”

My questions to the class is how else, other than the passage of long periods of time, is montage used to tell major points of the story. Are there other, more recent movies that still use montage the way “Citizen Kane” does. In the scene from “Citizen Kane” above, is this a true montage despite the fact that is uses the “sliding windows” effect to imply the passage of time?
(Is “Kung Fury” the greatest movie of all time?)

Narrative Storytelling and Editing Techniques

In the textbook reading for this week, there is a discussion regarding the nonlinear chronological ordering of scenes in a film. The example of Hiroshima Mon Amour (1959) provided in the textbook provides an especially strong example of the various ways editing techniques can build upon the narrative storytelling in the film.

As mentioned in the book, the opening sequence of the film consists of a montage of scenes that follow the narrator’s description. The narrator’s status (omniscient vs. restricted) is not immediately clear to the reader, as the shots alternate between an extreme closeup of two people and scenery related to Hiroshima after the nuclear blast. The usage of montage in this sequence supports the non-linear narrative by fluidly transitioning from shot to shot without regards for conceptions of time.  It also disorients the viewer as the characters and plot are portrayed in this disjointed fashion from the very beginning of the film. This style of non-linear narrative is particularly intriguing to me in this instance with how it ties into our understanding of narrators and sound. It’s not entirely clear where the narrator’s voice is coming from due to the extreme closeups, nor is it apparent how she is recollecting the events of Hiroshima. I believe sequence also ties into the “Cinema of Attractions” reading through the usage of montage, as the scenes of Hiroshima have no narrative content, but simply serve as a visual display of the damage wrought by a nuclear weapon.

Later in the film, I found this initially disorienting combination of cutting between current time and flashback montages particularly effective, in a way that could not have been accomplished in a traditional linear narrative fashion.

If the viewer had not been introduced to this style of editing in the opening sequence, the editing here could be mistaken for a cross-cut between two present-day cities. However, given the established style of non-linear narrative in the film, this scene can be understood as a series of flashbacks while the protagonist realizes the similarity between her current situation and her first love.

Continuity Editing and Use of the Flashback in Michael Curtiz’s film Casablanca (1942)

There is a sequence in Casablanca that provides context to Rick and Ilsa’s previous behavior and later conflict in the film. It uses a flashback to demonstrate Rick’s passionate love towards Ilsa and later betrayal through a plethora of editing techniques.

It begins with a Rick reaction shot. He is shown staring off into the distance with watery eyes, reacting to the diegetic piano tune.  Then there is a dissolve into a flashback – the blurriness of the dissolve gives the viewer a sense of Rick’s intense sorrow at the upcoming memory sequence by letting the viewer see it through Rick’s foggy eyes.  A brief montage occurs after this scene which displays the development of the love Rick and Ilsa previously had with each other through dissolves.  These show fondness, but also show how little time has passed

When serious dialogue begins between the two characters, Curtiz follows the 180-degree rule to provide continuity to the scene. This makes it easy for the viewer to follow an important conversation that contains a lot of foreshadowing. The scene mentions Ilsa’s relationship with Victor Laszlo.  Another dissolve occurs and quickly the viewer is introduced to a new pace through sporadic jump cuts. These signify the chaos of war and the coming chaos of the plot. Also, the cuts introduce a shift from  nostalgic daydream to sorrowful tale.

The conversations between Ilsa and Rick continue to adhere to the 180-degree rule and include cuts to close-ups of each other’s faces demonstrating their continued love. However, the lack of dissolve gives the viewer an idea that something has changed between the two. This is when, later in the film, we learn that Ilsa became aware of Laszlo’s condition.  This leads to Ilsa betraying Rick. She leaves him stranded on the train station, and Curtiz uses an insert to deliver this news to the viewer and Rick. The insert, an extreme close up of a letter, allows the viewer to share the sorrowful experience through the perspective of Rick because it’s implied to be held in his hands. The water pouring on the letter blurs the text, and the scene cuts away with Rick leaving on a train without Ilsa. This cut is a dissolve that is nearly as blurry as the one in the beginning.  Both these events occurring represent Rick’s tears or sorrowfulness at Ilsa’s betrayal.

Masterful editing in Casablanca  really allowed Rick’s character motivation to firmly understood by the viewer.  The flashback used many editing techniques to really accentuate Rick’s intense feelings of love towards Ilsa. Also, the editing allowed the viewer to accompany Rick in a massive heartbreaking betrayal.  That later drives the plot and becomes part of Ilsa’s motivation to fake being back in love with Rick. This supports one of the themes of the film. Lovers will do anything to keep each other out of harms way, even sacrifice their own happiness.

Continuity Editing and the Flashback Technique in Casablanca

As we learned in The Film Experience, continuity editing is a system of cutting used in film to maintain continuous narrative action. The idea of this technique is to create a seamless stream of events that flows effortlessly for the viewer.

This style of editing is used consistently throughout Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. Below, I have found a short sequence that utilizes continuity editing in our first introduction to Rick’s cafe. I think the author of this clip does a great job of explaining how the style of editing allows the viewer to take in the atmosphere of the cafe and introduces the viewer to Rick’s clientele.

One of my favorite scenes in Casablanca was the Memories of Paris montage sequence. I thought the fade in that Curtiz used was very effective in creating a flashback effect, especially with the fade being white, creating a dreamy vibe, reminiscent of better times for Rick (although the end of the montage does end in his heartbreak). Below, I have posted a clip of the montage, which begins around 1:10.

I found an article by Scott Myers that explains why this flashback sequence is so effective. Here is the link to the article: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/studies-in-flashbacks-casablanca-7e154431d19c.

An important point that Myers brings up in this article is the fact that flashbacks seem to be a “no-no” in the current Hollywood world. They can often be viewed as extremely cheesy by the audience. Why is this the case? Also, why is it that one of the most cherished films of all time utilizes this supposedly “cheesy” editing mechanism? Myers says that the answer lies in excellent execution, something that is not typically achieved in many of today’s films.

Myers says Casablanca’s montage works for two primary reasons. The first being its structure- there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. The second reason is that it gives us background on Rick and Ilsa’s relationship, which is central to the story in Casablanca.

I would like to know what others thought about the flashback sequence in this film. Did you think it was effective or did you think it came off as cheesy?