Source Evaluation, Review of Manohla Dargis’s Article on Zodiac (2007): “Hunting a Killer as the Age of Aquarius Dies” and other thoughts about the Zodiac Killer

Dargis wrote this article  in 2007, around the time the movie was released. Therefore, I believe it delivers great insight on how David Fincher’s <em>Zodiac</em> was initially received. This is interesting because it was one of the first all digital films. The article can be found here:  https://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/02/movies/02zodi.html.

 

The digital aspect of the film seemed to have no bearing on the author’s opinion of it. This is an excellent and glowing review of Fincher’s movie. It is detailed and gives examples  that illustrate the author’s thoughts. However, there is not enough criticism and too much plot summary. It seems like it could double as an ad for the movie.  The author focuses  on Fincher’s attention to detail. He focuses on the movie’s accuracy to the depicted time period.  Also, he describes the mise-en-scène well.  The author does not mention this, but I believe that the digital aspect of this film gave Fincher the ability to be detailed oriented and look into the past. His visual effects can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-sZS8OVyVr4. 

 

My favorite paragraph is here:

The story structure is as intricate as the storytelling is seamless, with multiple time-and-place interludes neatly slotted into two distinct sections. The first largely concerns the murders and the investigations; the second, far shorter one involves Graysmith’s transformation of the murders and the investigations into a narrative. ~ Manohla Dargis.

 

I believe this paragraph describes the whole movie well. There is a scary, horror aspect to this film. Then it launches into an investigative film. Lastly, it focuses on the Graysmith’s life after the investigation. It fleshes out him as a character further. The movie then focuses more on Graysmith’s condition during the investigation. He quits his job and writes a book while his home life slowly degrades.

The Real Zodiac Killer 

After the movie, I wanted to know if Arthur Leigh Allen was actually the Zodiac Killer.  So, I decided to examine the works of internet sleuths. Here is a current website dedicated to finding the Zodiac killer: http://www.zodiackiller.com/SuspectGaikowski.html

The have a pretty convincing article that points to a man named Gaikowski because the letters GYKE can be found in one of the Zodiac letters.  Also, Gaikowski looks more like the victim’s description of the killer. Also, in 2002, the FBI took a DNA test of the stamp of one of the letters and found it does not match Arthur Leigh Allen. However, it turned out the DNA was from the top of the stamp. So it still can be allen: http://www.sfweekly.com/news/yesterdays-crimes-news/yesterdays-crimes-the-zodiac-killer-dna-profile-that-never-was/

 

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

Holy Motors: Searcher

One of the most interesting sources I have found for this week’s screening of Holy Motors Carax 2012) was this article and clip from The New York Times. In the clip, Carax explains a scene from the film. The scene he is talking about is the one with Mr. Oscar and Jean in the abandoned building. What I thought was most interesting about this clip is the way he describes what is happening. He describes the song, dialogue, and characters in the most literal sense, as if they do not have a deeper meaning. It was actually a bit funny listening to him because his description makes it sound like he made the most straightforward and understandable movie. I believe that he is just trying to let the viewer make their own interpretations and does not want to affect how we see his film. To me it seems like there is much more going on than two lovers catching up for the first time in 20 years, but that’s all Carax gives in his description. The rest of the article is just a review of the movie, but it ends by saying “you never know where Mr. Carax will take you and you never know what, exactly, you’re to do once you’re there.” I really connected with this part of the article because every new episode in the film kept me wondering what would happen next.

A second interesting item I found was this blog post. The blogger goes into what they believe is the deeper meaning of the film. The blog points out different ways that the film is a metaphor about cinema. One argument that stuck out to me was that it is harder to keep an audience engaged. The writer talks about needing shocks in films, like when Mr. Oscar bites off the assistant’s fingers, because “sometimes one murder a day isn’t enough”. This is also seen at the very start of the film, which opens up to a sleeping audience. I think this source makes many strong arguments towards the meaning of Holy Motors, and I recommend giving it a quick read before class tomorrow.

Watching Brakhage Movies and the Act of Seeing

Relevant Link: https://www.criterion.com/current/posts/272-by-brakhage-the-act-of-seeing

Interesting note about what Professor Zinman said in class about studying experimental film to prepare us for ambiguity in the world, the author makes a point here that “the work generally doesn’t aspire to what is often meant by purity; instead, it’s chock-full of the conflicting emotions and general messiness of life itself.” This is heavily contrasted with many classical movies where the goal of the director is to make the audience feel an emotion in line with what he is trying to convey. Brakhage seems to be approaching the topic as trying to make you feel any emotion, perhaps many emotions, at any time.

Naturally there are a group of people who express distaste for the types of film Brakhage creates, but if the goal is to elicit emotion, then perhaps it could be counted as a success if you dislike the film enough to emotionally react to it.

That is not to say that any emotion is free to express at any time throughout the film. In films in general, there are designated sections where “some characters and scenes evoke empathy and others create tension and fear. These emotions are provoked primarily by the subject matter… but while subject matter is important in Brakhage’s films, they do their work mainly through composition, camera movement, rhythms within images, and the rhythms of editing or paint on the film.” That is to say that Brakhage aims for causing certain emotions with things that are not typically associated with it. While talking about the predetermined forms and story arc structures of most narratives, the article says “all were to be undermined because they block the individual from experiencing the unpredictability of inner life.” This goes back to the life lesson of not always being prepared for something and having to react real time to life.

The Range and Impact of Experimental Film

What is Experimental Cinema?

This article attempts to define what constitutes experimental film, and argues for its defiance of rules as a method of furthering the language of cinema.  This can range from Kubrick’s hugely impactful innovation of technical methods to “Kren’s 16/67 September 20th, dubbed the ‘Eating Drinking Shitting Pissing Film’ [which] involves clips of exactly what the title suggests, and seems to exist to shock its audience purely by portraying this human cycle.”  The author emphasizes an approach to defining experimental film as a work that pushes or defies some aspect of what is expected by an audience.  Film has inherently captured the nature of experimentation from its inception, with cumulative innovation driving growth in the techniques and storytelling devices used by directors.  On the spectrum detailed by the author, the end farthest from convention approaches “visual art, with each technical choice being like the purposeful strokes on a canvas.”  This article works to capture the facets of experimental film, with a broad range allowing for the inclusion of those films that edge the mainstream envelope ever further to fall in the same category as extreme works of visual manipulation.  It argues that these films are often created to draw attention to the nature of our expectations by turning them on their head or making us painfully aware of how heavily we rely on convention.  Regardless of its creator’s intent, experimental film is a driving force of innovation and an ongoing conversation between artist and audience about what can be conveyed through cinema.

Film Technique Innovations in Citizen Kane

I found Citizen Kane to be an interesting and intriguing film, and even though it’s been 77 years since it was made, I now understand why it continues to top “Greatest Films of All Time” lists. A large part of its draw is how innovative it was for its time. While we as a class are able to recognize the many techniques its uses (lighting, montage sequences, high angle/low angle shots, etc), it’s interesting to know just how innovative these techniques were 77 years ago. This blog post found online by Miss Cellania does a good job summarizing how the techniques in Citizen Kane continue to allow it to be viewed as one of the best films of all time:

http://www.neatorama.com/2014/01/13/What-Makes-Citizen-Kane-So-Special/

Not only does the article talk about the innovative techniques, but it give insight into how they were accomplished by Welles and others working on the film. A few interesting things struck me from the article.

  • The newsreel sequence resonated with audiences at the time, since they were used to this type of media. I found it interesting that 127 different clips were blended into the newsreel, some of which included actual news footage instead of staged footage. Welles even dragged negatives across the floor to “age” the footage he shot.
  • Deep focus was largely unheard of at the time, but Gregg Toland, cinematographer for the film, wanted to mimic what the human eye sees, and states that, “…in some cases we were able to hold sharp focus over a depth of 200 feet.”
  • The makeup used to age Welles was not just latex wrinkles and gray hair; the makeup artist for the film, Maurice Seiderman, invented new techniques. As Cellania points out, “Rather than just cover Welles with latex wrinkles and gray hair, he made a complete body cast and used it to create custom-fitting body pads and facial appliances that show Kane aging gradually over 27 different stages of his life.” These appliances included 72 difference facial appliances which would change Welles’ hairline, cheeks, jowls, and bags under his eyes. Special contacts were made to age Welles’ eyes, and he had 16 different chins.
  • In most films, there are no ceilings present, as this makes lighting difficult. However, Cellania points out that Citizen Kane used a cloth canopy to simulate a ceiling. According to Toland, “The sets have ceilings because we wanted reality, and we felt it would be easier to believe a room was a room if its ceiling could be seen in the picture.”

 

These interesting techniques not only help to advance the narrative by doing things like showing the passage of time or giving a character and a setting more depth, but knowing how innovative they were also help us understand how Citizen Kane is a cinema of attractions. Seeing a film using flashbacks to tell a story in non-linear fashion, seeing ceilings in a shot, or watching a 25-year-old actor age 50 years in a film were (and still are) a draw for audiences. The innovation of the techniques intertwine narrative and the cinema of attraction.

As a final note, I wanted include this short clip of Welles explaining what prompted him to take these risks and make these innovations in film:

His short answer: ignorance. He was too ignorant to know that most films didn’t use these techniques. Of course, he also gives credit to genius Gregg Toland for teaching him about camera work, but I found it funny that he claims he wasn’t trying to take big risks and make a film that would change the landscape of cinema- he was just ignorant. He also states that, “There is nothing about camera work that any intelligent person couldn’t learn in half a day.” Though this seems like a bold statement for someone to make, Welles expands on it more in the first 4 minutes of the following clip, which is an excerpt from the documentary Arena – The Orson Welles Story (1982).  Speaking 40 years after the movie was made, Welles seems more open and reflective, and I recommend watching the full video as well, as it gives insight into William Randolph Hearst and others who worked with Welles (not just innovative techniques).

The Emotion of Dialogue as Communicated in Casablanca

In Michael Curtiz’s 1942 film Casablanca, a heavy emphasis is placed on the emotions of interaction between characters, especially Rick (Humphrey Bogart) and Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman).  This is carried out largely through the shot/reverse-shot pattern, wherein the shot is cut back and forth in tandem with the flow of dialogue to show the characters as they speak.  In his article “For the Sake of Conversation:  On shot reverse shot,” (http://www.aotg.com/index.php?page=shotreverseshot) Mott emphasizes the significance a character’s reaction to their counterpart’s words can have in producing a desired emotional response.  Rather than simply shifting directly between the faces of the speakers, a shot can linger on one character to show the audience how they react to what they hear and see.  This can be seen in the final moments of the film (clip shown below), as shots follow Ilsa’s speaking and listening to Rick.

As their goodbye builds to its iconic finale, the shot transitions from a close-up showing the temporary lovers in the frame together to a shot/reverse-shot sequence (1:07).  The scene is meant to emphasize Ilsa’s response to Rick’s goodbye, and this transition allows the shot to remain heavily focused on her face as she comes to realize the finality of his words.  Interestingly, the transition also has the effect of isolating them from one another as a visual representation of their approaching reality.  Through this and other such stylistic decisions, the dialogue editing in Casablanca effectively emphasizes the words spoken between its characters and the emotions that motivate them, which may help explain its position as one of the most referenced screenplays in American cinema.

Searcher Week 4 – American Isolationism

Casablanca takes place against the backdrop of World War II. Rick is characterized early into the film by his neutrality, sharing no drinks, giving no opinions on current political affairs, and only reluctantly helping his ‘friend’ hide letters of transit. He doesn’t “stick his neck out for nobody,” A line he repeats after this friend was arrested.

The Rick we see before Isla and Laszlo enter Cafe Americain is representative of American Isolationism, but we see this facade crack the moment his old flame enters the bar.

American Isolationism was a heavily criticized policy. The linked article, The Debate Behind U. S. Intervention in World War II by Susan Dunn outlines American Isolationism during World War II, but to me the most interesting aspect deals with Franklin Roosevelt’s fireside chats on the subject, as well as Lindbergh, spokesperson for the “America First Committee.” (Sound familiar? Emphasis is my own.) 

The earliest fireside chat I want to draw attention to occurred on May 26th, 1940, and discusses the refugee situation in Belgium and France, talking about how on the “once peaceful roads of Belgium and France, millions are now moving,” to escape the horror and violence brought on by the invading Nazi forces. This is shown in the beginning of the film, outlining how refugees have a hard road ahead of them to Casablanca, and ultimately to Lisbon, Portugal.

The second fireside chat I want to draw attention to further establishes FDR’s view on Isolationism, and occurred on December 29th, 1940. He describes how the Nazis in Germany will not stop until they enslave and dominate the rest of the world, how their philosophy of government and ours will never have peace, and how the Nazis in Germany are an undeniable threat, unlike any other since Plymouth Rock. 

Rick, neutral until confronted with helping someone he loves, immediately breaks from neutrality when he shares a drink with Ilsa and Laszlo when they enter the bar. I mean, early in the film the rival bar owner tells him that neutrality just isn’t a good policy anymore, not in the world they are in now. 

He also breaks neutrality when he helps the young Bulgarian couple win (by cheating, really, since he is the house) enough money to get their visas. He lets the band and Laszlo sing the anthem of France over the German anthem. In the end of the movie, he shoots a Nazi, ensuring the passage of Isla and Laszlo, freedom fighters and people who inspire rebellion. His character arc goes from rebel (intervention) to neutral (isolationist) to rebel again (intervention). When confronted with people he cares about, and staring Nazism and the threat it poses in the face, he finally acts and fights back. 

This film is a criticism of isolationism, and in many ways still relevant to issues our nation faces today. 

Anyways, those three links I’ve given are to help set the backdrop of American Isolationism, and the context for the movie and Rick’s character arc. Keep in mind The Atlantic (linked article) tends to have a slight liberal bias, if that concerns you.