Coursework

Essays I submitted during my Film & Video Degree and Scriptwriting MA. My opinions on many of the films covered have developed since and I plan to write definitive posts on them in future.

The Final Gay – Homophobic Horror

Carol Clover’s ‘final girl’ theory insists that in the ‘Horror’ film sub-genre, the ‘Slasher’ film, the audience, both male and female, is structurally forced to identify with the female character labelled ‘the final girl’, who survives the killer’s onslaught, often by slaughtering him herself. I propose that ‘the final girl’ is female in physicality only, and her identity is that of a male whose heterosexuality is threatened and in danger of being converted by the symbolically non-heterosexual killer.

Fears of the non-heterosexual have permeated horrific tales through the ages, from the cross-dressing wolf of Little Red Riding Hood (Perrault, 1697) to the monstrous progeny of Frankenstein’s (Colin Clive) and Pretorius’ (Ernst Thesiger) homosexual union in The Bride of Frankenstein (dir. Whale, 1934). These are early examples in film and literature, but the direct roots of the ‘Slasher’ can be traced back to the films of Alfred Hitchcock. The depiction of the non-heterosexual male as subversive, wicked and deranged, permeates Hitchcock’s films much as it did American society at the time. Rope (dir. Hitchcock, 1948) sees a homosexual couple, based upon real life homosexual killers, Leopold and Loeb, commit murder for sport. Strangers on a Train (dir, Hitchcock, 1951) initiates many staples of the ‘Slasher’ sub-genre, such as the shadowy killer who stalks and attacks a young girl in a suburban setting. Also, through the film’s killer, Bruno (Robert Walker), Strangers incorporates many of society’s views on homosexuals, views that can be drawn from viewing ‘educational’ films such as Boys Beware (dir. Davis, 1961). Boys Beware depicts homosexuality as a contagious disease of the mind and homosexuals, although outwardly normal, as murderous, masked predators who target young boys. The film describes conversing with a homosexual as “riding in the shadow of death”, which could easily be the tagline for a ‘Slasher’ film. Further views from the era on the nature of homosexuals can be gained from reading Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals (Bieber, et al., 1962), considered at the time the definitive text on homosexuality.

“The specific findings of Homosexuality (in Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals) concerned three broad areas: mother-son relationships, father-son relationships, and developmental patterns. A significantly greater proportion of homosexuals had ‘close-binding-intimate mothers’ who were seductive to their sons and also over-controlling and inhibiting. A significantly higher proportion of homosexuals also reported having detached, hostile, or rejecting fathers whom they hated or feared during their childhoods”. “It was also found that boys who grew up to be homosexual fit the stereotype of the sissy.” (Lewes, 1988, p.184).

Many comparisons can be drawn between these depictions of homosexuals and Bruno and his relationship with Guy. Bruno, although ostensibly erudite and charming, is mentally deranged. He is camp, effeminate – enjoying having his nails manicured – adoring of his overly protective mother (Marion Lorne) and has an indignant hatred for his distant father (Jonathan Hale). The older Bruno instigates a flirtatious seduction of the boyish Guy (Farley Granger). Granger also played Philip Morgan, one of the two homosexual murderers in Rope, who is subjugated by his partner; a precursor to his role as the victimised Guy. It is indicative of Hitchcock’s view of the character of Guy, as a victim of a homosexual aggressor, that he would select Granger to play him. Bruno’s homosexual coaxing escalates into predatory stalking, in an attempt to seduce Guy into the ways of the killer. Bruno’s characterisation and actions mirror those of society’s perception of the homosexual, with his status as a killer symbolic of his homosexuality and the act of murder as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. Guy’s role in the narrative can be seen as a prototype for the ‘final girl’, with all future ‘final girls’ adopting his position as a male whose heterosexuality is under threat from a non-heterosexual antagonist.

Hitchcock’s depiction of the non-heterosexual killer continued in Psycho (dir. Hithcock, 1960), a film that with its knife-wielding costumed killer, and gruesome, periodic murderous attacks, helped set the template for all subsequent ‘Slasher’ films. The film would see the character of the homicidally deranged, homosexual mummy’s boy, glimpsed at in Strangers on a Train, taken to the extreme with the character of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins). Norman, whose upbringing could be drawn straight from the pages of ‘A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals, would help set the template for all subsequent ‘Slasher’ film killers. His father died when he was a child, removing his male role model and leaving him to develop an intimate relationship with his domineering, matriarchal mother. Norman secretly poisoned and killed his mother and her newfound lover. The murder took place while they were in bed, implying recent sexual interaction. This is not only indicative of Norman’s jealous attachment to his mother but also his fear and disgust of heterosexual love. ‘Slasher’ film killers’ aversion to heterosexual love would continue in future films, with killers frequently carrying out murders of young heterosexual couples embroiled in sexual encounters.

The murder of his mother irrevocably warps the young Norman’s mind, transforming him into a gender-bending sociopath, who dresses as and takes on the persona of his mother to carry out his brutal murders. Norman’s ‘mother’ persona is a personification of his homosexuality, a disease that eats at Norman’s mind, one that must be fought and repressed if Norman is to find normality and redemption. The Psycho sequels take a greater focus on Norman’s redemption, as he seeks normality through heterosexual relationships and finally marriage, with the shadow of his deviant, cross-dressing alter-ego perpetually hanging over him. Much like Bruno and the homosexual murderers of ‘Boys Beware’, Norman successfully hides in plain sight, lulling his victims into a false sense of security. When the shy ‘boy next door’ side of Norman’s persona becomes heterosexually aroused, Norman’s mother persona emerges, rebuking and terminating his heterosexual feelings. By adopting his mother persona, Norman is symbolically castrated, reflecting society’s view of the homosexual as less than a man; a sissy. For Norman, killing is an outlet for his sexual inadequacy; the phallic knife penetrating the flesh in an unnatural manner, acting as a grim substitute for the sexual act, reflecting society’s view of the perverseness of homosexual intercourse.

By the mid-seventies, attitudes towards homosexuality and transsexuals had improved. Despite this, a new generation of filmmakers emerged, highly influenced by Hitchcock and raised in an era where non-heterosexuals were treated as an ever-present danger, initiating a golden-age of ‘Slasher’ films. Dressed to Kill (dir. De-Palma, 1980) is a ‘Slasher’ film highly influenced by Hitchcock. As in Psycho, the film features a murder in a shower, a blonde (implied to be the leading lady) being killed off early on, and a cross-dressing killer. Transvestism is again depicted as a dangerous psychosis, with Bobbi (Michael Caine), the killer’s ‘female’ side, killing whenever Robert, his ‘male’ side, is heterosexually aroused. Other ‘Slasher’ films, such as The Silence of the Lambs (dir. Demme, 1991) and Sleepaway Camp (dir. Hiltzik, 1983), continue these negative representations of transvestites. The Silence of the Lambs’ killer, Buffalo Bill (Ted Levine), skins his victims to create a female skin suit, and Angela (Felissa Rose), Sleepaway Camp’s killer, is driven insane by her adoptive parent forcing her to live her life as a girl.

A seminal film crucial to the emergence of this new era of ‘Slasher’ films is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (dir, Hooper, 1974). The film features a group of young people who set out on a road trip and fall afoul of a perverse cannibalistic family. Like Norman, the family’s perverse desecration of the body is symbolic of their carnal homosexual depravity, which writer Kim Henkel concedes by acknowledging his inspiration for the film:

“The character that influenced the script was a guy named Elmoor Wayne Henley. Elmoor Wayne was the procurer for an older man. Elmoor Wayne would lure young men to the ‘ghouls kitchen’ so to speak, and the older man and Elmoor Wayne would have sexual relations with these young men, and then the young men would be murdered.” (Kim Henkel, 2008).

Also, like Norman they are a product of a perverted upbringing (their grandfather instigating their cannibalistic tendencies) and the corruptive influence of the matriarch. The family hold their Great Grandmother in great reverence, in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 (dir, Hooper, 1986) her corpse is placed in a shrine made of human bones. Worship of the matriarch would continue in future ‘Slasher’ films, such as Friday the 13th Part 2 (dir. Miner, 1981), in which the killer, Jason (Warrington Gillette), constructs a shrine for his mother’s decapitated head. To compensate for the death of Great Grandmother, the character of Leatherface (Gunnar Hansen) has taken on her role. Like Norman, Leatherface is transsexual, and his transvestism is presented as a deranged sickness and the product of a scarred childhood. Leatherface wears a wig and a mask of human flesh adorned with make-up, has a high-pitched voice, and with his rotund figure and apron, like Red Riding Hood’s Wolf, he becomes a gross parody of the grandmother figure. In Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation (dir. Henkel, 1995), Leatherface’s transvestism becomes blatant. Leatherface (Robert Jacks) applies lipstick and nail polish, dons a black dress, pearl earrings and a necklace, and his masks are stated to be made solely from female victims, from which he also fashions fake breasts.

In Chainsaw Massacre 2, Leatherface instigates a relationship with Stretch (Caroline Williams), the final girl, which like Bruno and Guy’s relationship, can be viewed as a homosexual seduction. Leatherface corners Stretch, about to impale her with his phallic chainsaw. In desperation, Stretch acts flirtatiously towards him, and his sexual gratification acts as a substitute for the kill. Later, when Stretch infiltrates the family’s lair, Leatherface conceals her from the rest of the family and attempts to further their romantic involvement. In distaste for her physical form, Leatherface places a mask of flesh upon her, made from ‘male’ skin, and they dance romantically. Like Bruno’s seduction of Guy, Leatherface is converting the symbolically male Stretch to his perverse homosexual lifestyle. At the film’s climax, Stretch is pursued by Chop-Top (Bill Moseley) to Great Grandmother’s shrine and the conversion instigated by Leatherface reaches fruition. Defensively, Stretch bites Chop-Top, unleashing her carnal depravity. Stretch takes a chainsaw from the dead hands of Great Grandmother, symbolically accepting the corruptive influence of the matriarch. She skewers Chop-Top with the symbolically phallic chainsaw, the kill again used as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. Stretch proceeds to whirl her chainsaw in a fit of insanity, directly paralleling Leatherface’s actions at the end of the first film, symbolising she has become like him; a sexual deviant.

Halloween’s (dir. Carpenter, 1978) Michael Myers (Nick Castle, Jr.) is another killer with strong roots in the films of Hitchcock, confirming his position as another homosexual tormentor. Like Norman, Michael had a traumatic childhood and killed a family member due to distaste for heterosexual sex, having murdered his sister (Sandy Johnson), at age six, after discovering her in bed with her boyfriend (David Kyle). Like Bruno, Michael is a predatory figure, watching from the shadows, stalking his victims through a suburban setting. Another acknowledgement of the influence of Hitchcock is the casting of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the ‘final girl’, who’s played by the daughter of Psycho star, Janet Leigh. An indication that Laurie, like Stretch, is symbolically male is her androgynous appearance. She shares this trait with other ‘final girl’s’, such as Stretch and Silence of the Lambs’ Clarice (Jodie Foster), who all have short hair and wear masculine clothing, such as shorts, trousers, and suits. Questioned on whether his film punished female sexuality, director John Carpenter had this to say:

“They (the critics) completely missed the boat there, I think. Because if you turn it around, the one girl who is the most sexually uptight just keeps stabbing the guy with a long knife. She’s the most sexually frustrated. She’s the one that killed him. Not because she’s a virgin, but because all that repressed energy starts coming out. She uses all those phallic symbols on the guy… She and the killer have a certain link…sexual repression.” (Clover, 1992, P.48-49).

Carpenter acknowledges the sexual repression of both the killer and the ‘final girl’, and also the phallic symbolism of the weapon. Crucially, the final girl’s association with the phallic symbol reveals her symbolic manhood.

But if the ‘final girl’ is representative of a male, why is she played by a female? A film that breaks from this convention is A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge (dir, Sholder, 1985). Revenge sees the traditional position held by the ‘final girl’ assumed by a male, namely, Jesse (Mark Patton), and the themes of non-heterosexual fear are made manifest. Jesse has nightmares of being a misfit and being uncomfortable with girls. This shows that Jesse, like past ‘final girls’, is socially awkward, and sexually anxious and resistant. Jesse’s social awkwardness is also visible in reality, as depicted in several embarrassing incidents involving Grady (Robert Rusier), including Grady pulling Jesse’s gym shorts down in front of his classmates. This is the beginning of a relationship between the two boys with patent sexual undercurrents. Grady refers to Jesse as a “pretty boy”, the couple discuss wet dreams, and a sexually fuelled row erupts when Jesse snaps at Grady when he asks him out to the movies. Like past killers, Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) takes on the role of homosexual aggressor and tempter. Freddy visits Jesse in his nightmares in an attempt to seduce him and enter his body so he can wreak havoc in the real world; the possession of Jesse’s body clearly acting as a metaphor for homosexual intercourse. The sexual nature of the relationship is made apparent via Freddy’s flirtatious actions and dialogue, as he is seen to stroke Jesse’s face and declare, “I need you Jesse”.

“Freddy Krueger seems to exist solely in order to work the frightening generic and social connections between horror and homosexuality.” (Benshof, 1997, P.246).

Revenge’s depiction of homosexuality is evidently in-line with the dated opinions of Boys Beware, with homosexuality presented as an evil temptation that Jesse must resist, an abhorrent contagion that can be passed on by an elder aggressor. The film’s writer freely admits the film’s subtext:

“I started thinking about guys being unsure of their sexuality and thought that’s pretty scary.” “Freddy appeals to that gay part; he appeals to the questions Jesse is asking himself.” (David Chaskin, 2010).

Troubled by Freddy’s nocturnal visits, Jesse begins to act erratically, and Revenge displays more outdated opinions on homosexuality via Jesse’s parents. Jesse’s mother (Hope Lange) is protective of him, showing great concern for his wellbeing and defending him against his disapproving father (Clu Gulager).

Freddy ignites homosexual feelings in Jesse that begin to reach fruition during the sequence at the pool party. As the young, heterosexual couples start to pair off, an anxious Jesse is escorted to the changing room by Lisa (Kim Myers), a female suitor. The reluctant Jesse declares, “I’m not into this”. Lisa insists she wants to help, but Jesse berates, “How can ‘you’ help?”, emphasising his feelings for her sexual inadequacy as a woman. Jesse is cajoled into a sexual encounter with Lisa, but Freddy intervenes, his tongue emerging from Jesse’s mouth and sending Jesse into a panic. Freddy symbolises Jesse’s homosexual nature, an evil that restrains his heterosexual feelings. Freddy releases Jesse’s homosexual urges, sending him running to Grady’s bedroom. Jesse’s sexual intentions are apparent as he throws himself upon Grady, demanding, “I need you to let me stay here”. Jesse confesses, “something is trying to get inside my body” and Grady replies, “yeah, and she’s female and you wanna sleep with me?” The ‘final girl’s’ conversion into the killer, as seen in  Chainsaw Massacre 2 and Halloween, becomes literal as Freddy bursts out from within Jesse’s body, impaling Grady against the door. Symbolising the unleashing of Jesse’s destructive homosexual urges, with the kill again substituting for homosexual intercourse. Like Norman, Jesse has a chance of redemption through heterosexual love. Lisa confronts Freddy; Jesse’s consciousness begs for death rather than becoming Freddy, but Lisa declares her love for Jesse and kisses Freddy. Lisa’s heterosexual love destroys Freddy’s malignant homosexual force, sending Jesse’s gay nature into remission, and a new heterosexual Jesse rises from the ashes of Freddy’s corpse.

Although Revenge follows all the conventions of the classic ‘Slasher’ film, bar the casting of the male lead, it is not well regarded by fans, being mockingly referred to as “the homo nightmare by a million pubescent boys” (Mark Patton, 2010). The cast and crew also acknowledge the film’s failings and cite the casting of a male in the role of the ‘final girl’ as responsible.

“When you suddenly cast your male lead in the victim role and then you have him scream like a girl for ninety minutes, you’re gonna have some people going ‘well, you know, that’s not the most manliest performance I’ve ever seen’.” (Producer, Joel Soisson, 2010).

To understand the failure of casting a male in the ‘final girl’ role, it is vital to consider audience expectations when viewing ‘Slasher’ films. Films that are used as a form of romantic courtship by millions of young, heterosexual couples.

“Teenage boys enjoyed a horror film significantly more when they were sitting next to a female companion who expressed fright, whereas teenage girls enjoyed the film more when the male companion with whom they were paired showed a sense of mastery and control.” (Zillmann, et al., 1986, P.586).

Accepting this, to directly depict a male protagonist having his sexuality put into question and his control threatened, would work contrary to the popular appeal of the films. Therefore, it becomes clear why although the ‘final girl’s’ identity remains male, she must physically become female.

Bibliography

Books

Bershoff, H., 1997. Monsters in the Closet: Homosexuality and the Horror Film. Manchester; Manchester University Press.

Bieber, I., Dain, H.J., Dince, P.R., Drellich, M.G., Grand, H.G., Gundlach, R.R., Kremer, M.W., Rifkin, A.H., Wilbur, C.B. and Bieber, T.B., 1962. Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals. New York; Basic Books.

Clover, C.J., 1992. Men., Woman and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film. Princeton, New Jersey; Princeton University Press.

Lewes, K., 1989. The Psychoanalytic Theory of Male Homosexuality. New York; Plume.

Perrault, C., 1697. Fairy Tales from Past Times with Morals. Paris: Publisher Unknown.

Zillmann, D., Weaver, J. B., Mundorf, N., and Aust, C. F., 1986. Effects of an opposite-gender companion’s affect to horror on distress, delight, and attraction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. [Journal Article] 3(51), 586. Available through Zotero Website < https://www.zotero.org/mbeam/items/itemKey/BDRMT58F >. [Accessed 15 March 2013]

DVD Extras

Interview with director Tobe Hooper, 2008. [DVD Extra] USA: Dark Sky Films

Interview with writer Kim Henkel, 2008.  [DVD Extra] USA: Dark Sky Films

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 2008. [DVD Commentary] Tobe Hooper. USA: Dark Sky Films

Films

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, 1985. [Film] Directed by Jack Sholder. USA: New Line Cinema

Boys Beware, 1961. [Film] Directed by Sid Davis. USA: Sid Davis Productions

The Bride of Frankenstein, 1934. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal

Dressed to Kill, 1980. [Film] Directed by Brian De Palma. USA: Cinema 77

Flesh Wounds, 2006. [Documentary] Directed by Michael Felsher. USA: Dark Sky Films

Friday the 13th, Part 2, 1980. [Film] Directed by Steve Miner. USA: Paramount

Halloween, 1978. [Film] Directed by John Carpenter. USA: Compass International

Never Sleep Again, 2010. [Documentary] Directed by Daniel Farrands & Andrew Kasch. USA: 1428 Films

Psycho, 1960. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Paramount

Rope, 1948. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Warner Brothers

The Silence of the Lambs, 1991. [Film] Directed by Jonathan Demme. USA: Orion

Sleepaway Camp, 1983. [Film] Directed by Robert Hiltzik. USA: American Eagle Films

Strangers on a Train, 1951. [Film] Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Warner Brothers

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, 1974. [Film] Directed by Tobe Hooper. USA: Bryanston Films

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2, 1986. [Film] Directed by Tobe Hooper. USA: Cannon Group

Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Next Generation, 1995. [Film] Directed by Kim Henkel. USA: Return Productions

Online Newspaper Articles  

Maher, K. 2010. Psycho: The Impact Made by Alfred Hitchcock’s Classic Movie. The Times [Online] March 26. Available at: www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/arts/film/article2467719.ece

Webpages  

Kelly, A.S., 2010. Mother Issues. [Online]. Available at: www.screenjabber.com/psycho-50th-importance [Accessed on 15.03.2013]

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Genre Revisionism within New Hollywood

This essay will examine the extent to which New Hollywood can be considered ‘new’. It will focus on the New Hollywood trend of ‘genre revisionism’. Genre revisionism is the practice of adopting the conventions of an existing genre and then converting them. This is done to subvert an audience’s expectations, in an attempt to provide something new and distinct from what went before, thus keeping interest in the genre alive. Two films of contrasting genres will be focused upon to provide a greater overview of the scale of genre revisionism within New Hollywood. The Long Goodbye (dir. Altman, 1973), a Film-Noir, and The Shining (dir, Kubrick, 1980), a Horror film. The essay will examine what they present that’s new and how they differ from the traditional standards of their respective genres. It will also provide evidence and draw conclusions about two points of view situated at extremes ends of the spectrum. One viewpoint is that the films have been subverted to such a degree, that they can no longer be considered part of the original genre they set out to revise. The alternative opinion is that they cannot be considered new as they offer little that is different from past examples of the genre.

The Long Goodbye employs the common Film-Noir protagonist of the private-eye, in this case, Philip Marlowe (Elliott Gould). The private-eye is traditionally characterised as shrewd, righteous, and displaying effortless confidence and charisma. He is depicted as a loner, a character alienated by a corrupt society populated by characters such as crooked cops, seedy villains, and the femme-fatale. Although the private-eye chooses to live apart from this corrupt society, he understands the rules by which it functions and, therefore, is always able to triumph while still adhering to his strong moral code. Raymond Chandler, whose novel The Long Goodbye is based upon and whose other novels have been adapted into films, including the classic Film-Noir, The Big Sleep (dir. Hawks, 1946), sums up the private-eye with this quote, “down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” (Chandler, 1950).

Chandler once stated, “The private eye is admittedly an exaggeration – a fantasy. But at least he’s an exaggeration of the possible.” (Rafferty, 2007). With The Long Goodbye, Altman sets out to prove that this statement is no longer valid. Altman has stated, he wanted to “update the [Film-Noir] setting but act as if Philip Marlowe had awaked from a twenty odd year slumber.” (Rip Van Marlowe, 2002). Altman and Gould referred to Marlowe as Rip Van Marlowe in reference to Rip Van Winkle. Rip Van Winkle is a fictional character who fell asleep and woke up twenty years later in surroundings that were entirely alien to him. In reference to this, at the beginning of the film, Marlowe awakens in a daze and is immediately depicted as a character completely out of his time and place, unable to function in his alien surroundings. Marlowe spends the first ten minutes of the film on a thankless mission to feed his ungrateful cat. Marlowe remains loyal to his cat, his hippy neighbours who he runs errands for, and his friend, Terry Lennox (Jim Bouton), who he is on a mission to prove innocent of uxoricide. He endeavours to please all these characters while receiving no reward or successful results. He fails to feed his cat, who then abandons him, and for the majority of the film, he is too naive to realise Terry’s guilt. Furthermore, while traditionally, attractive female Film-Noir characters would be used to prove the virility of the private-eye, Marlowe is impervious to the flirtations of his attractive neighbours and acts towards them as a kindly old man. All this contributes to Altman’s viewpoint that the private-eye and his strong moral code can no longer believably achieve results in the narcissistic world of 1970’s Hollywood, and he now must be considered an ineffectual character. “Altman says in a 1974 interview that he meant to bid adieu to Marlowe; ‘Marlowe is dead’, he quips.” (Redmon, 2011).

Classic Film-Noir iconography and conventions are used in The Long Goodbye, but merely to further Marlowe’s depiction as an outdated character. Marlowe wears a 1950’s style suit, drives a vintage sedan, and chain-smokes while no other characters smoke. Marlowe’s wisecracks, while traditionally used to display the private-eye’s quick wit and natural charisma, are treated with disdain by other characters. Conventional characters are used, such as the seedy criminals and femme-fatale, but unlike Marlowe, they’re shown to have changed with the times. The criminals are now unafraid to use excessive violence, and the femme-fatale, Eileen Wade (Nina Van Pallandt), no longer dresses in the vampish black attire of the classic Film-Noir era, and as with his neighbours, Marlowe is immune to her charms. Conventions such as filming in black and white, canted angles and chiaroscuro lighting are discarded, and the traditional night-time city setting is abandoned in favour of a sunny beachside. All this is done to present Marlowe as a character inhabiting a world in which he doesn’t belong. The film has been subjected to ‘flashing’ to lower the definition of the images, making them appear faded. Shots are filmed through foregrounds such as panes of glass and bushes, and overlapping dialogue is used; all to present Marlowe as a character lost in the hazy confusion of an alien world.

At the film’s climax, on the beach, Marlowe’s unfamiliar world suddenly shifts, to signify his unravelling of the mystery, but also his realisation that his old ways are no longer relevant. Dialogue no longer overlaps, images become clear, foregrounds are no longer used to obscure, and finally, in Mexico, Marlowe brutally murders Terry for his betrayal of his trust. This complete rejection of the character’s moral code is Altman’s final statement on the irrelevance of the private-eye and his outdated characteristics. The film’s final shot of Marlowe strolling down a road lined by trees mirrors that of a classic Film-Noir, The Third Man (dir. Carol Reed, 1949), in which the private-eye faced a similar dilemma to Marlowe but chose to adhere to his moral code. This is done to deliberately draw attention to The Long Goodbye’s detachment from traditional Film-Noir standards and its rejection of its protagonist’s basic principles. These factors mean that it cannot be considered part of the Film-Noir genre.

As the genre’s title suggests, Horror films, at their most basic level, have always been designed to shock, scare, and unsettle an audience. They do this by tapping into our most primal fears; fears of the grotesque, isolation, vulnerability, loss of identity, the unknown, violence and death. These fears often manifest in the form of monsters, and often, either directly or through subtext, provide warnings about the dark side of our own natures; the monster within. So, how can The Shining, a film which is part of a genre based on the exploitation of such primal fears, present anything new? Some detractors suggest it doesn’t, most notably the author of the novel The Shining was based on, Stephen King, who was quoted as saying:

“Kubrick set out to make a horror picture with no apparent understanding of the genre. Everything about it screams that from beginning to end, from plot decision to the final scene – which has been used before.” (LoBrutto, 1999).

King and Kubrick did not have a healthy relationship. Kubrick originally commissioned King to write the screenplay to The Shining, but King’s screenplay was rejected by Kubrick. Kubrick decided to write the screenplay in collaboration with Diane Johnson, and the final script deviated greatly from King’s novel.

So, is King’s criticism of The Shining merely due to feelings of bitterness and resentment towards Kubrick, or do his claims have a solid foundation? First, let’s consider the primal fears that the Horror genre built its reputation on, and if The Shining deviated from the use of these basic principles of fear. Grotesque imagery abounds throughout The Shining, from the river of blood gushing forth from the elevator doors to the deformed Old Hag (Billie Gibson) in room 237. The setting provides the theme of isolation, which goes hand in hand with vulnerability. The danger becomes increasingly palpable as Jack (Jack Nicholson) slips deeper into the depths of murderous insanity, and we witness the helpless Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Danny (Danny Lloyd) struggling for survival, trapped in the remote Overlook Hotel, surrounded by an icy wasteland. Jack’s transformation provides the theme of loss of identity. The cause of Jack’s devolution remains ambiguous, it never being made clear if it is the result of a supernatural influence or the strange events are merely manifestations of Jack’s madness. This mystery provides the fear of the unknown. Jack’s descent eventually results in violence and the death of Dick (Scatman Crothers), but the prospect of death and violence is established from the outset, with the story of the previous slaughter that took place at the hotel being told within the film’s first ten minutes.

So, there is no doubt that exploitation of these primal fears is prevalent throughout The Shining, but is its presentation of these traits significantly different enough to be considered new? Traditionally, these Horror principles were presented in the guise of various subgenres. Although clearly not directly part of one of these subgenres, The Shining shares a number of their conventions. One of the earliest subgenres is the Vampire film. Vampire films present the monster within by use of the vampire, whose non-consensual consumption of his victims’ blood is a metaphorical warning against losing control of our carnal desires. Jack feels stuck in a loveless marriage and shows resentment against Wendy for holding back his career. His sexual encounter with the phantom Beautiful Woman (Lia Beldam) shows he’s also starved of sexual gratification, and his violent retribution against Wendy is his means of quenching his lustful hunger. The vampire’s unholy task is often passed to him by a senior vampire, much as Delbert Grady (Philip Stone) encourages Jack to duplicate his own murderous rampage. One of the first notable Vampire films is Nosferatu (dir. Murnau, 1922). Nosferatu is one of the earliest and seminal purveyors of the theme of the doppelganger. The doppelganger is a representation of the dark side of human nature. It is often symbolised through reflections, doubles, and silhouettes; as shown in Nosferatu, with the iconic image of Orlok (Max Schreck) climbing the stairs. The theme of the doppelganger is prevalent throughout The Shining, the focal point being Jack’s twin personas, but double imagery is also used excessively during the film to support the theme. Danny has a twin identity, Tony, who he communicates with while looking into a mirror, suggesting he is Danny’s mirror image. Tony attempts to warn Wendy through backwards writing, which is only interpreted when reflected through a mirror. The Beautiful Woman transforms into the Old Hag once viewed through a mirror, and the Grady twins (Lisa & Louise Burns) are mirror images of each other, their death at the hands of their father, a crime in danger of being mirrored by Jack.

The Shining’s theme of a man’s reversion to a more animalistic state is a central theme of Werewolf films. Werewolf films see the physical and mental transformation of a human protagonist into a wolf-like creature. As Jack descends into his degenerative state, wolf references are made in his dialogue, such as “hair of the dog that bit me” and “little pigs, little pigs”. It is not only Jack’s violent actions which can be viewed as beastlike, by the end of the film, he has deteriorated both mentally and physically. By the film’s climax, Jack’s language has become slurred, resembling little more than primitive grunting, and as he pursues Danny, he hobbles along with an abnormal primordial gait. The Shining fits most easily into the Haunted House subgenre, clearly sharing its core conventions. Haunted House films conventionally involve a group of individuals staying in an isolated building and experiencing various encounters with ghosts and ghouls.

Throughout The Shining, Kubrick fashions an underlying theme of the plight of the Native American Indians. A number of references to the Native Americans appear throughout the film. The hotel is said to have been built on an Indian burial ground. Indian artwork appears on wall hangings and carpets, and cans with an Indian chief logo are visible in the food locker. The July 4th Ball takes place on a day celebrating the birth of a nation that was formed through the genocide of its native people. The Ball’s patriots represent the privileged few, who are seen indulging themselves, having profited in a stolen land. For their crimes, the patriots must endure eternity at the cursed Overlook Hotel, experiencing and inciting further slaughter. Although the connotations of this oblique theme are less apparent than those previously mentioned, it too has its roots in an old Horror cliché, that of punishment for corrupting an ancient culture; a convention of numerous Mummy films.

Clearly, The Shining borrows heavily from past subgenres, but is its conversion of their conventions extensive enough for it to be considered new? Jack is not a grotesque monster, and outwardly, he largely remains normal, with his psychopathic tendencies not resulting in a substantial physical change, as is predominant in past Horror films. Though not as common as the themes previously mentioned, the horror of the hidden monster, the outwardly innocent psychopath hiding in plain view, was nothing new. It was a particular favourite of Alfred Hitchcock, which he used on more than one occasion, in films such as Psycho (dir. Hitchcock, 1960) and Strangers on a Train (dir. Hitchcock, 1951). This quote from Hitchcock himself sums up how slight deviations in the depictions of protagonists do not alter the basic principles of fear:

“Nothing has changed since Little Red Riding Hood faced the big bad wolf. What frightens us today is exactly the same sort of thing that frightened us yesterday. It’s just a different wolf.” (Goodreads, 2012).

The Shining unabashedly relies heavily on the ‘doppelganger’ and ‘monster within’ themes, two of the oldest and most commonly used Horror themes, which Kubrick freely admits:

“One of the things that horror stories can do is show us the archetypes of the unconscious: we can see the dark side without having to confront it directly.” [Visual-Memory, 2012].

It is true that it subverts the conventions of various Horror subgenres, so as no longer to be firmly placed into any of them, but its reliance on these conventions is so rife that the film must be considered a pastiche. By definition, a pastiche is an artistic work that imitates that of another work, artist, or period, and, therefore, due to The Shining’s extensive imitation, it cannot be considered new.

The Long Goodbye successfully presents something new by offering a satire of an obsolete character and parodying the classical conventions of Film-Noir. The Shining’s over-reliance on clichéd Horror conventions fails to present anything significantly new and merely presents a pastiche. Yet they are both labelled as New Hollywood films. “Chandler said of his novel [The Long Goodbye], ‘I wrote this as I wanted to because I can do that now’ and Altman, in that spirit, made his movie as he wanted to, because he could do that in the early ’70s.” (Rafferty, 2007). During the ‘Classic Hollywood’ era, a vertically integrated system was used. This gave studios complete control over their films. This resulted in films developed with the aim to produce maximum profits taking precedence over the need for artistic merit. “Some have compared the Hollywood studio system to a factory, and it is useful to remember that studios were out to make money first and art second.” [Fathom, 2012]. The New Hollywood era dawned at the disbandment of the vertically integrated system, and although New Hollywood films sometimes failed to present content that can be considered drastically new, it was an era of cinema where directors were able to gain artistic control over the studios and present an unadulterated vision of their work. For this reason, overall, New Hollywood can be considered a new era of artistic achievement.

Bibliography

Books

Chandler, R. (1950) The Simple Art of Murder. Boston, Massachusetts: Houghton Mifflin.

Kolker, R. (2011) A Cinema of Loneliness. 198 Madison Avenue, New York: Oxford University Press.

LoBrutto, V. (1999) Stanley Kubrick: A Biography. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Da Capo Press.

DVDs

The Long Goodbye (1973) Directed by Robert Altman [DVD]. USA: United Artists.

The Making of the Shining (1980) Directed by Vivian Kubrick [DVD]. USA: Warner Brothers.

Rip van Marlowe (2002) Directed by Greg Carson [DVD]. USA: MGM.

The Shining (1980) Directed by Stanley Kubrick [DVD]. USA: Warner Brothers.

The Shining (2008) Garret Brown and John Baxter. [DVD Commentary] USA: Warner Brothers.

Webpages

Ager, R (2008) “MAZES, MIRRORS, DECEPTION AND DENIAL” an in-depth analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s THE SHINING. Available at: http://collativelearning.com/the%20shining.html (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Bozzola, L (2012) The Long Goodbye (1973). Available at: http://www.allmovie.com/movie/the-long-goodbye-v29924/review (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Bozzola, L (2012) Nosferatu (1922). Available at: http://www.allmovie.com/movie/nosferatu-v35687/review (Accessed: February 25 2012).

Ebert, R. (2006) The Long Goodbye (1973). Available at: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060423/REVIEWS08/604230301 (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Fathom (2012). Classical Hollywood Cinema. Available at: http://www.fathom.com/course/10701053/session2.html (Accessed: February 25, 2012). 

Goodreads (2012) Available at: http://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/9420.Alfred_Hitchcock (Accessed: February 25, 2012).

Hagopian, K (2012) The Long Goodbye.  Available at: http://www.albany.edu/writers-inst/webpages4/filmnotes/fnf99n2.html (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

The Kubrick Corner (2012) Available at: http://kubrickfilms.tripod.com/id4.html (Accessed: February 25, 2012).

McCormick, J (2010) For Criterion Consideration: Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye. Available at: http://criterioncast.com/2010/11/30/for-criterion-consideration-robert-altmans-the-long-goodbye/ (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Munday, R (2012) The Shining.  Available at: http://www.visual-memory.co.uk/faq/html/shining/shining.html (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Palmer, Landon (2010) Movies We Love: The Long Goodbye.  Available at: http://www.filmschoolrejects.com/features/movies-we-love-the-long-goodbye-1973.php (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Physical Cosmologies: The Shining (2012) Available at: http://www.mstrmnd.com/log/802http://www.filmsite.org/horrorfilms.html (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Rafferty, T (2007) Robert Altman’s The Long Goodbye.  Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/04/11/arts/11ihtchandler.1.5233762.html?pagewanted=all (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Redmon, A (2011) You Say Goodbye, and I Say Hello. Available at: http://www.brightlightsfilm.com/73/73longgoodbye_redmon.php (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Self, R (2011) Robert Altman. Available at: http://www.sensesofcinema.com/2005/great-directors/altman/ (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

The Shining an analysis of the Stanley Kubrick horror classic (2002) Available at: http://www.drummerman.net/shining/ (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

THE SHINING notes on the study of the Film (2012) Available at: http://www.fulltable.com/vts/s/sh/me.htm (Accessed: February 25, 2012). 

Sieving, C (2002) The Long Goodbye (1973/2002).  Available at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/long-goodbye (Accessed: February 26, 2012).

Tonic, L (2010) A Complete Analysis of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”. Available at: http://voices.yahoo.com/a-complete-analysis-stanley-kubricks-shining-7310546.html (Accessed: February 25, 2012).

Wilson, K (2011) Horror Film History – A Decade By Decade Guide to Horror Movie History. Available at: http://www.horrorfilmhistory.com/ (Accessed: March 10, 2012).

How James Whale’s Character is Reflected in Bride of Frankenstein

The Bride of Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1935) has been cited as an original blend of horror, comedy and satire. But why is it this film distinguishes itself so wholly from the plethora of films labelled under the horror genre? This essay’s analysis of Bride will confirm the reason as being James Whale’s conscious, superlative integration of his character into the film.

Due to his huge success with Frankenstein (dir. James Whale, 1931), Whale’s dark humour and eccentricity were able to permeate his subsequent films, The Old Dark House (dir. James Whale, 1932) and The Invisible Man (dir. James Whale, 1933). Whale was opposed to directing a Frankenstein sequel and was quoted as saying, “I squeezed the idea dry on the original picture and never want to work on it again” (Shes Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein, 2004). Desperate for a successful follow-up to Frankenstein, Universal persuaded Whale to return with the offer of complete artistic freedom. With this guarantee, Whale produced one of the definitive examples of a film that reflects a director’s personality.

Whale immediately establishes Bride’s central message of non-judgement during the opening sequence, as it is revealed that the seemingly angelic Mary Shelley (Elsa Lanchester) is capable of conceiving such a monstrous tale as Frankenstein. Whale presents Frankenstein’s Monster (Boris Karloff) as the embodiment of this message. Frankenstein’s Monster is presented as a sympathetic creature; an outsider longing for companionship and acceptance, which he is repeatedly denied. As a homosexual and an artistic individual who grew up in a factory town, Whale identifies with this characterisation.

The Monster created by Frankenstein (Colin Clive) and later nurtured by Pretorius (Ernst Thesiger) is a purely male creation and consequently the progeny of a homosexual relationship. Also, a creation of pure creative expression, Frankenstein’s Monster is the quintessence of Whale’s status as an outsider, being an artist and a homosexual. As an outsider, Frankenstein’s Monster is faced with fear and violence by the villagers, who are symbolic of society’s herd mentality. Their ignorance is equivalent to that faced by Whale and other non-conformists. It is not just the public masses that receive Whale’s disdain; ‘bumbledom’ is equally to blame for society’s intolerant attitude, as represented by the inept Burgomaster (E.E. Clive). Some critics believe that Whale also mocks Christianity. A shot of Frankenstein’s Monster bound to a cross paralleling Christ’s crucifixion is often cited as an example of this ridicule. Although the bigotry of organised religion and the small-mindedness of creationists is derided, the teachings of Christ are supported. The crucifixion shot draws a parallel between Frankenstein’s Monster and Christ’s teachings, which are supported by this extract from Christ’s Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake” (Matthew 5:11). A scene that was disapproved by the censors, in which Frankenstein’s Monster embraces a statue of the crucified Christ, recognising him as a fellow victim of persecution, would have reinforced this implication. The scene was replaced with one of Frankenstein’s Monster toppling a statue of a bishop, symbolically and literally assaulting the hypocrisy of organised religion.

The persecuted Monster does experience a short period of contentment when he is befriended and welcomed into the home of an old blind hermit (O.P. Heggie). The two outsiders are symbolic of society’s blinkered view of homosexuals as monsters or cripples. The Hermit, as a musician, is also representative of artists as outsiders, drawing another connection with Whale. Whale deliberately presents the couple’s encounter with sentiment and pathos as they enjoy the only truly loving relationship seen in Bride. Thus representing the beauty of a homosexual relationship and the domestic bliss two homosexuals might be allowed in a more tolerant society. Prejudice ultimately tears the couple apart, symbolising society’s dogged disapproval.

Frankenstein’s Monster and Pretorius indirectly acknowledge each other as contemporaries by recognising each other as ‘dead’. ‘Dead’ is used as a metaphor for outsiders, i.e. homosexuals, as they are apart from the rest of society, i.e. the living. Just before the introduction of Pretorius, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson) makes it clear that Frankenstein’s experiments with the dead threaten their marriage: “The figure of death seems to be reaching for you as if it would take you away from me”. Subsequently, Pretorius arrives with his black cloak and skeletal frame, the perfect image of death. Pretorius threatens their marital bliss by luring Frankenstein away with the temptations of the dead. This is symbolic of society’s fear of homosexuality as a threat to the sanctity of marriage. Pretorius’s seduction of Frankenstein and his manipulation of Frankenstein’s Monster represent the way society views homosexuality as corrupting and immoral. As Pretorius coaxes Frankenstein to resume his experiments, he dictates, “Follow the lead of nature. Or of God, if you like your Bible stories”. The original end to the line, disapproved by the censors, was ‘fairy tales’, but Thesiger’s invective delivery makes the sly mockery of creationists apparent. Pretorius’ disdain for heterosexuality and religion reinforces him as a representation of society’s belief that homosexuals are wicked.

The film’s climax reveals the fantastic result of Frankenstein and Pretorius’ homosexual union with the creation of the Bride (Elsa Lanchester). Whale’s message of non-judgement reaches fruition as the angelic Shelly’s monstrous persona is revealed. The dynamic energy Whale projects in the creation sequence and the beautiful visage of The Bride defines Whale’s belief in the magnificence of the homosexual artist. The film’s conclusion sees Frankenstein’s Monster solidifying his connection with Christ, as he dies for Frankenstein’s sins, sacrificing himself, showing mercy where none was shown to him, and Whale proffers a final message of tolerance through his endorsement of Frankenstein and Elizabeth’s heterosexual relationship.

Analysis of Bride of Frankenstein using the theoretical framework of Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots

This essay will give an analytical examination of Bride of Frankenstein (dir. Whale, 1934) using the theoretical framework of Christopher Booker’s, The Seven Basic Plots (2004). Booker theorises that “there are seven archetypical themes which recur throughout every kind of storytelling” (Booker, 2004, fourth cover). These include, ‘Overcoming the Monster’, ‘Rags to Riches’, ‘The Quest’, ‘Voyage and Return’, ‘Comedy’, ‘Tragedy’, and ‘Rebirth’. Judging merely from the titles, the first theme to stand out as applying to a tale of profane scientists, unnaturally forcing into being creatures rifled together from human cadavers, would be ‘Overcoming the Monster’. This plot consists of a hero setting out to defeat a monster who threatens him and his community; a plot which Booker applies to the original novel, Frankenstein (Shelly, 1818). In actuality, as this essay will prove, Bride of Frankenstein is a dual tale, one of ‘Rebirth’ for the tormented scientist, Dr. Henry Frankenstein (Colin Clive), and of ‘Tragedy’ for the ostensibly grotesque, Monster (Boris Karloff). Although, as we will discover, the tale verges very close to tragedy for both characters. Furthermore, in addition to the simple assumption that Bride would be a tale of ‘Overcoming the Monster’, this essay will show that some plots are not always easily distinguishable and that just one incident can make a significant difference.

At the outset of the film, Henry is brought home to recuperate after his near death encounter with the Monster in Bride’s forerunner, Frankenstein (dir. Whale, 1931). With the Monster seemingly defeated, all seems well. That is until our “young hero falls under the shadow of a dark power” (Booker, 2004, p.204). This is the first stage of the ‘Rebirth’ plot. The dark power is “personified in a mysterious, malevolent figure” (Booker, 2004, p.205). The dark power takes the form of Dr. Pretorius (Ernest Thesiger), a former teacher of Henry, who hearing of his successful experiments with the creation of life, has come to persuade him to continue them with his assistance. The dialogue and mise-en-scene immediately establish Pretorius as this mysterious personification of malevolence. Henry’s fiancée, Elizabeth (Valerie Hobson), has a premonition of death coming for Henry, in which she utters:

“A strange apparition has seemed to appear in the room. It comes, a figure like death, and each time he comes more clearly – nearer. He seems to be reaching out for you as if he would take you away from me.”

As Elizabeth falls into a fit of delirium, a portentous knocking is heard at the door. It is answered, and Pretorius makes his appearance. His skeletal frame, draped in a black cape, is cast in shadow, presenting him as the embodiment of evil. Pretorius tempts Henry to continue his experiments; although it is not through some magical spell or enchantment that he wields his power over Henry, but through encouraging the sinful desire which is clearly still within him. It is evident that Henry’s desire to play God still burns within him, as even before Pretorius’ arrival, he arrogantly declares to Elizabeth, “it may be that I’m intended to know the secret of life. It may be part of the divine plan”. Pretorius is presented as Henry’s dark side, “the dark power represented as something springing entirely from within the hero’s own personality” (Booker, 2004, p.205), but for the time being, Henry is able to resist temptation. It is at this point we join the Monster’s story.

After escaping the burning windmill, in which he was ensnared at the climax of Frankenstein, the Monster flees through the countryside. Here begins the first stage of the ‘Tragedy’ plot.

“1. Anticipation Stage: The hero is in some way incomplete or unfulfilled, and his thoughts are turned towards the future in hope of some unusual gratification. Some object of desire or course of action presents itself and his energies have found a focus.” (Booker, 2004, p.156).

After being rejected by Henry, his father, and creator, and hounded by the fearful villagers brandishing their burning torches, the lonely Monster’s one desire is friendship. Roger Ebert supports this motivation, describing the Monster as “an outsider yearning for friendship” (1999). The Monster’s goal becomes clear as he comes across the object of desire that gives his energies focus, a Shepherdess (Anne Darling) tending her flock by a waterfall. He hesitantly offers out his hand in friendship, but the Shepherdess, revolted by his appearance, screams in terror and tumbles into the pool below. The valiant Monster dives in, rescues and revives the Shepherdess. However, upon awaking, the Shepherdess again screams in terror, attracting two passing hunters who shoot and injure the Monster, who again must flee. It is in the ‘Anticipation Stage’ that the Monster’s fatal flaw is revealed.

“The fatal flaw in the tragic hero or heroine is that deficiency in their character or awareness which prevents them from achieving their goal. In other words, the very nature of the fatal flaw in these central figures of tragedy is that it is something which renders them unable to succeed.” (Booker, 2004, p.330).      

The Monster’s story subverts the use of the fatal flaw, which is usually represented as a destructive, selfish desire within the protagonist such as that for power or wealth. The Monster’s lack of awareness of how he is perceived leads him to continue on his hopeless quest for friendship. It is not his inadequate character that renders him unable to succeed. Instead, it is that of the world in which he inhabits and the prejudice of its inhabitants who are unable to see beyond his deformity. With the Monster’s story employing this subversion, at this point, Henry’s story seems to more closely resemble the average ‘Tragedy’ plot. He seems to possess a more typical fatal flaw, as although he tries to resist temptation, his desire to create life is apparent. It is not the noble motivations of a loving parent that drive him to create life, as was established in Frankenstein with his mistreatment and rejection of the Monster, he pursues his goal for power. This is made clear with his initial lines of dialogue:

“I dreamed of being the first to give to the world, the secret which God is so jealous of, the formula for life. Think of the power. To create a man. And I did. I did it! I created a man, and who knows, in time, I could have trained him to do my will. I could have bred a race. I might even have found the secret of eternal life.”

At the outset of the film, Henry seems to be in the ‘Anticipation Stage’ of the ‘Tragedy’ plot. Clearly thinking his experiments have yet to reach their full potential, he is a man unfulfilled. A course of action presents itself when Pretorius offers him the opportunity to make a mate for the Monster and realise his dream of creating “a man-made race upon the earth”, and it seems he has found his focus.

We see, for both Henry and the Monster, reluctance in accepting their ‘Call’ to adventure and in seeking their goal. Booker terms this struggle within the protagonist, ‘The Divided Self”, an aspect of the protagonist that often separates tragedy from other plots. The Monster, wary of how he has been abused in the past, is reluctant in approaching potential friends. While trapped in his state of turmoil, Henry attempts to resist the temptation to defy God, uttering lines such as, “I’ve been cursed for delving into the mysteries of life. Perhaps death is sacred, and I’ve profaned it”. This leaves us in doubt as to whether either should accept the ‘Call’, or as Booker renames it, the ‘Temptation’, with Booker describing the reason as being:

“Because of the peculiar way in which the summons to action is directed at one particular aspect of the hero or heroine’s personality. We have already become aware that there is one part of them, one desire, one appetite, which is nagging at them to the point where the urge to gratify it is building up into an overwhelming obsession.” (2004, P.173).

Examining this obsession further, Booker goes on to state:

“…in every instance we are aware that what their obsession is drawing them into is something which violates and defies some prohibition or law or convention or duty or commitment or standard or normality. They are being tempted into stepping outside the bounds which circumscribe them. And it is this sense of constriction from which the temptation seems to offer the promise of almost unimaginable exhilaration.” (2004, p.174). 

This convention, violating obsession is clearly seen in both Henry and the Monster. The Monster, seeking friendship, wishes to step outside the bounds of society’s prejudice and be treated as an equal. While Henry, seeking power, wishes to step outside the bounds of natural law, by defying God and creating life.

Returning to the Monster’s story, attracted by the sound of beautiful violin music, he enters the cabin of an old blind Hermit (O.P. Heggie). Here begins the second stage of the ‘Tragedy’ plot.

“2. Dream Stage: he becomes in some way committed to his course of action and for a while things go almost improbably well for the hero. He is winning the gratification he had dreamed of and seems to be ‘getting away with it’.” (Booker, 2004, p.156).

The blind Hermit, able to see beyond appearances, welcomes the Monster in. The Hermit declares, “We shall be friends. I have prayed many times to God to send me a friend”, and as he comforts and tends the Monster’s wounds, they are both brought to tears, and it seems the Monster has achieved his goal. Things begin to go improbably well for the Monster as he enters an extended period of domestic bliss with the caring Hermit. The Hermit teaches the Monster the joys of life, as they indulge in food, wine, and cigars. He also teaches him to speak, and the Monster is able to verbalize his feelings, declaring, “alone bad, friend good”. However, the ill-fated Monster has been gifted happiness only for it to be torn away, and his tragedy evolves as he enters the third stage of his story.

“3. Frustration stage: almost imperceptibly things begin to go wrong. The hero cannot find a point of rest. He begins to experience a sense of frustration, and in order to secure his position may feel compelled to further his ‘dark acts’ which lock him into his course of action even more irrevocably. A shadowy figure may appear at this point, seeming in some obscure way to threaten him.” (Booker, 2004, p.156).

Things go wrong as two hunters happen upon the Hermit’s cabin and attempt to shoot the Monster. In the confusion, the Monster accidentally knocks a broom onto the fire, and the cabin goes up in flames. The Hermit is lead away by the hunters, and the bemused Monster flees the cabin, again entering into the wilderness, calling out for his lost friend. Entering a graveyard, the frustrated Monster topples trees and knocks down a statue, revealing a tunnel, allowing him to take refuge in the crypts below. It is at this point we see the re-emergence of the shadowy figure of Dr. Pretorius, who is within the crypts, robbing graves. Taking advantage of the Monster’s frustrated state, he tempts the Monster with the offer of a friend, to be built for him if he enters into his service. Disillusioned with the way the world has treated him, the Monster agrees, and is now irrevocably locked into his single-minded pursuit of friendship.

Returning to Henry, he and Elizabeth are now married and are preparing to leave for their honeymoon. Pretorius returns to tempt Henry to assist with his experiments, but the happy couple stands defiantly against him, with Henry, seemingly broken from the temptation of his dark side, confidently declaring, “I won’t do it”. This is the second stage of the ‘Rebirth’ plot, in which “for a while all may seem to go reasonably well. The threat may seem to have receded” (Booker, 2004, p.204). We then enter the third stage of the ‘Rebirth’ plot, “But eventually it approaches again in full force, until the hero is seen imprisoned in the state of living death” (Booker, 2004, p.204). The threat to Henry is more deadly and powerful than ever, as with the strength of the Monster behind him, Pretorius kidnaps and imprisons Elizabeth, and is able to blackmail Henry into assisting with his experiments. Imprisoned in a mountain laboratory, Henry is coerced into helping Pretorius in his attempts to bring to life a friend and bride for the Monster from the bones of the dead. Although not his decision to take part in the experiments, this stage of Henry’s story resembles the ‘Dream Stage’ of the ‘Tragedy’ plot. Henry becomes committed to his course of action, enraptured in the experiments, not once mentioning Elizabeth. What follows resembles the ‘Frustration Stage’ of the ‘Tragedy’ plot, as in a state of frustration, Henry furthers his dark acts. The heart he is attempting to animate proves useless and Pretorius’ henchman, Karl (Dwight Fry), is sent out to procure another by killing a young girl.

Henry’s imprisonment “continues for a long time and it seems the dark power has completely triumphed” (Booker, 2004, p.204), during the fourth stage of the ‘Rebirth’ plot, as Henry works without rest until the experiments are complete. Finally, as the Monster’s Bride (Elsa Lanchester) is brought to life, in a God-defying spectacle of electrical energy, Henry is seen to relish in the blasphemous acts he fought so hard to resist, as he screams with giddy delight, “She’s alive”. With Henry gripped in madness, it seems the dark power has completely triumphed. Now the fourth stage of the ‘Tragedy’ plot begins for the Monster, but this stage, interestingly, can also be applied to Henry’s story.

“4. Nightmare stage: things are now slipping seriously out of the hero’s control. He has a mounting sense of threat and despair. Forces of opposition and fate are closing in on him.” (Booker, 2004, p.156).

Presented with his bride, the Monster holds out his hand in friendship, but she screams in terror at his gruesome visage. Like the rest of the world, she is unable to accept his difference. We see the Monster’s mounting sense of threat and despair as he angrily declares, “she hate me, like others”. Rampaging across the room, smashing equipment, he grabs hold of a lever that if pulled will destroy the laboratory. We also see a mounting sense of threat for Henry, as it seems his unholy dabbling has finally brought about his destruction. It is now we see Henry’s story decisively become one of ‘Rebirth’, not ‘Tragedy’. During stage five of the ‘Rebirth’ plot “comes the miraculous redemption” (Booker, 2004, p.204), where our imprisoned hero is saved by a young woman. Escaping from her prison, Elizabeth races to Henry’s rescue, enters the laboratory and calls to him to leave. Overcoming his past parental failings, he declares, “but I can’t leave them, I can’t”. It is with these words that Henry earns redemption for selfishly creating life in the pursuit of power and not love. The Monster shows mercy, where none was shown to him, allowing Henry to flee, declaring, “yes you go, we belong dead”, finally accepting there is no place for him and his kind in a world filled with prejudice. However, just before the climatic explosion, a single brief shot reveals some evidence as to why Henry’s story so closely resembles the ‘Tragedy’ plot.

“As originally filmed, Henry died fleeing the exploding castle. Whale re-shot the ending to allow for their survival, although Clive is still visible on-screen in the collapsing laboratory.” (Newman, 2004, p.181).

The Monster takes one last tearful look at his bride, as she snarls sadistically at him, then pulls the lever, blowing the laboratory to atoms, and stage five of the ‘Tragedy’ plot is complete.

“5. Destruction or death wish Stage: either by forces he has aroused against him, or by some final act of violence which precipitates his own death (e.g., murder or suicide), the hero is destroyed.” (Booker, 2004, p.156).

Booker describes a list of characters, at least, one of which must die as a result of the protagonist’s actions to complete their tragedy. In both the Monster’s and Henry’s originally intended tale, we see Pretorius take the role of the ‘Tempter’, “a ‘dark’ figure, leading the hero on” (Booker, 2004, p.178), who Booker maintains, “Almost invariably ends up dying a violent death, usually at much the same time as the hero” (2004, p.178). Pretorius, having led both Henry and the Monster to pursue their obsessions, is judged unworthy of life by the Monster, and he too perishes as the laboratory explodes.

Henry’s death would have cemented his story as one of tragedy, but instead, he survives, and he and Elizabeth, cradled in each other’s arms, watch as the laboratory crumbles. This demonstrates how a single incident can transform a tale of bitter tragedy to one of heroic rebirth. How a doomed father, seeking power at the expense of his innocent child via God-defying selfish pursuits, can re-emerge as a misguided scientist, who valiantly defies wicked temptation to be rewarded with true love and happiness.

Bibliography

Books

Booker, C. 2004. The Seven Basic Plots.  London: Continuum.

Curtis, J. 1998. James Whale a New World of Gods and Monsters. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Shelley, M.W. 1818 (1992 Edition). Frankenstein. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Classics.

DVDs

The Bride of Frankenstein, 1935. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal

The Bride of Frankenstein, 2004. [DVD Commentary]. Scott Macqueen. USA: Universal

Frankenstein, 1931. [Film] Directed by James Whale. USA: Universal

She’s Alive! Creating The Bride of Frankenstein, 2004. [Documentary]. USA: Universal

Magazines

Newman, K. 2004. Rewind Masterpiece. Empire Magazine

Websites

Braund, S., 2010. Bride of Frankenstein. [Online] Available at: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/review.asp?FID=132650 [Accessed 22.01.2013]

Coulter, S., 2013. ‘Frankenstein’ – a cautionary tale of bad parenting. [Online] Available at: http://www.marywshelley.com/essays/frankenstein-cautionary-tale-bad-parenting/ [Accessed 24.01.2013]

Demming, M., 2010. The Bride of Frankenstein Review. [Online] Available at: http://www.allmovie.com/work/the-bride-of-frankenstein-7091/review [Accessed 22.01.2013]

Ebert. R., Bride of Frankenstein. [Online] Available at: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-bride-of-frankenstein [Accessed 24.01.2013]

Film 4, 2010. Bride of Frankenstein. [Online] Available at: http://www.film4.com/reviews/1935/bride-of-frankenstein [Accessed 22.01.2013]

Gaiman, N., The Bride of Frankenstein. [Online] Available at: http://www.neilgaiman.com/p/Cool_Stuff/Essays/Essays_By_Neil/The_Bride_of_Frankenstien [Accessed 24.01.2013]

Morris, G ., Sexual Subversion The Bride of Frankenstein [Online] Available at: http://brightlightsfilm.com/19/19_bride1.php [Accessed 22.01.2013]

The Conversation: Depicting a Surveillance Society

This essay will be examining in what ways and to what ends The Conversation (dir. Coppola, 1974) depicts a surveillance society. It will provide evidence of how Coppola’s use of camerawork, editing, mise-en-scene, music, narrative and sound, express his view of the detrimental effect surveillance has upon society and will draw conclusions on the effectiveness of his argument.

The Conversation portrays technology as being fundamental to surveillance. The film’s slow, mechanical, opening zoom into the crowded square represents how advancing technology is closing in on and suffocating society, gradually removing layers of our privacy. The eerie, inhuman effect of the opening zoom displays a robotic precision that human hand is incapable of achieving. This was achieved by use of the, at the time, newly invented electronic programmable zoom. Later, this technology, in combination with editing techniques, is again exploited to use the camera to effectively simulate hidden surveillance devices. Instead of cutting into action, Coppola cuts to empty frames. The camera remains static as actors walk in and out of frame and then slowly, mechanically follows. This technique is seen in the first sequence at the apartment of surveillance expert, Harry Caul (Gene Hackman). Also, in this sequence, the audience witnesses Harry casually remove his trousers and carry out a ‘phone call in just his underwear. Although a seemingly insignificant act for a bachelor living alone in the real world, the image holds different connotations when viewed in a filmic context. An audience used to the flawless star image of Classic Hollywood are unaccustomed to seeing such a personal act performed by a high-profile actor in a mainstream Hollywood film. Harry and Gene Hackman’s seeming unawareness that they’re being watched draws a comparison between the audience and Harry as, like him, they are established as voyeurs, spying on people’s private acts.

In the opening sequence, Coppola goes to great lengths to accurately and truthfully replicate the surveillance of a young couple, and state of the art technology was central to this realisation. Coppola was quoted as saying:

“We could shoot the way the story implied, have the two actors walk through the crowd and talk and actually try to use our long lenses and our powerful microphones to try to pick up the conversation. We went to Union Square in San Francisco, and we chose sights where we could have cameras up high in windows or on roofs, and we actually did the opening using much the same technology that would have been used to tap the two young people.” (The Conversation, 2010).

Other techniques are used during the opening sequence to suggest the couple being surveyed from the surveyor’s perspective. The sound of the couple’s conversation has been deliberately distorted to simulate the sound recording equipment’s failed attempts to pick it up precisely. Cross-hair has been placed on the camera lens to simulate the view through a telescopic lens and foreshadow the film’s forthcoming murder. The mise-en-scene also enhances the theme of surveillance, as The Mime (Robert Shields) is seen to secretly watch and imitate members of the crowd. The Mime also begins to follow and infuriate Harry, foreshadowing his fate, as he too becomes a victim of a surveillance society.

Following the opening sequence, the story does not follow the two people being surveyed, as convention might dictate. Instead, Harry becomes both narrative agent and anti-hero; a convention of the New Hollywood era. This twist allows a more derogatory view of a surveillance society, as the audience witness the detrimental effect it has upon a man who knows it better than any other. As the audience follow Harry, they witness the effect his knowledge of the capability of surveillance has had upon his life. Harry goes to great lengths in his attempt to maintain the utmost privacy. He predominately uses pay phones and travels only by public transport. His sparse apartment has an alarm, three locks, and contains few personal possessions, conveying his unwillingness to reveal anything about himself to the outside world. Harry is viewed from behind transparent plastic at various points throughout the film. This motif is symbolic of Harry’s reluctance to reveal his true self, which displays the irony of Harry’s existence, as he has dedicated his life to revealing the truth about others. Also, viewing Harry through transparent plastic, as if through a camera lens, represents the voyeuristic nature of the audience.

Harry Caul’s name is symbolic of his desire to remain hidden, a ‘caul’ being a membrane that covers some newborn infants’ heads and faces. Harry’s transparent plastic raincoat is a symbolic caul that has remained with him into adult life, hiding his true self. During the sequence at Amy’s (Teri Garr) apartment, Harry and Amy lay on the bed. Amy is scantily dressed in a nightgown, showing her willingness to share herself with Harry. While Harry remains in his coat, representing his unwillingness to reveal himself. Harry’s hesitance before entering Amy’s apartment, due to a belief that she may be in league with some unknown force, shows his paranoia and mistrust extends even to those closest to him. This paranoia and mistrust are displayed in scenes throughout the film. Harry becomes deeply unsettled and agitated when Amy enquires about his life, and shows great concern over his landlady gaining access to his flat and knowing about his birthday. Harry’s life is ruled by paranoia to the extent that he is unable to carry out seemingly trivial everyday exchanges without feeling threatened; a point endorsed by Austin-Smith, B:

“‘I don’t have anything personal’, says Harry Caul, protagonist of The Conversation to his landlady, ‘nothing of value, except my keys’. The comment, made over the telephone rather than face-to-face, confirms Harry Caul as a character pathologically obsessed with his own privacy, even as he spends his days as a wire-tapping expert invading the sonic privacy of others.” (no date).

During the convention after-party sequence, Harry’s dedication to privacy is further displayed by the numerous locks and fences protecting his workshop. Harry again shows his mistrust of people as he is seen to quickly hide away his materials behind these deterrent defences. Later in this sequence, Harry’s unwillingness to reveal himself is represented by the use of camera movement and editing. As Harry begins to divulge aspects of his personal life to Meredith (Elizabeth MacRae), the camera tracks around to reveal his face. However, Harry shies away from revealing too much and Coppola cuts back to an over the shoulder shot, obscuring his face. Later in the sequence, the transparent plastic motif is seen again, as Moran (Allen Garfield) probes into Harry’s past, making him feel threatened and instinctively walk behind a sheet of transparent plastic. Harry is later punished for one of his few acts of openness when it is revealed his conversation with Meredith has been bugged by Moran. This effectively illustrates the detrimental effects of a surveillance society in which nothing is undisclosed.

Harry’s appearance, including his ordinary raincoat, standard prescription glasses and simple combed back hairstyle, contributes to his unassuming façade. Other examples of this theme are seen throughout the film. These include the initial meeting of Harry and the director’s assistant, Martin Stett (Harrison Ford). Martin Stett attempts to lull Harry into a false sense of security by feigning friendliness and offering him a Christmas cookie. Martin Stett’s nonchalant manner is revealed to be merely pretence when he aggressively tries to grab the recordings from Harry. Other examples are Harry’s seemingly low-tech, yet, in reality, advanced surveillance equipment, and the surveillance van disguised as a glass fitters van. This theme adds to the audience’s feeling of insecurity, as surveillance experts are presented as being completely inconspicuous. This feeling of insecurity is further enhanced as the audience see the surveillance experts have no qualms about using their skills for their own immoral benefits. An example of this is Stan (John Cazale) photographing two unsuspecting girls from inside the disguised surveillance van as they apply their lipstick, totally unaware that they are looking into a two-way mirror.

Harry’s pretence that he is disconnected from the real world, that his work is purely business and that he is not affected by the immorality of his actions, is also revealed to be a façade. The enjoyment Harry takes in playing his saxophone along to his jazz records, and his prevarication to Amy that he’s a freelance musician, show a dislike for the lifestyle he has confined himself to and a longing for freedom. Harry’s statuette of the Virgin Mary displays a human morality un-soured by his life surrounded by immoral technology. When Harry suspects that his recording of the two people’s conversation may have endangered their lives, his conscience is further revealed, as he visits a confessional. The hidden priest listening to Harry’s most intimate thoughts and feelings can be viewed as another form of surveillance, and again adds to that theme, but it also reveals more of Harry’s character. Much like his divulgence to Meredith, his confession to the priest reveals a man trapped by the confines of a surveillance society, longing to express his emotions and reveal his inner self.

Through Harry Caul, the audience witnesses the loneliness and isolation caused by a surveillance society. Harry’s solitude is expressed through a leitmotif, in the form of forlorn, non-diegetic piano music, which is heard whenever he is seen onscreen alone. As Harry’s life is seen to unravel, the piano music becomes distorted, representing his disintegration. Although Harry attempts to mask his humanity, it is revealed to the audience through his acts of conscience and his flawed characteristics. The Conversation is a film fixated with technology but it is human weakness that is at its core. It is due to Harry’s romantic delusions towards Ann (Cindy Williams) that he misinterprets the conversation and wrongly assumes Ann is a victim, not a criminal. A different recording of the ambiguous line of the conversation, “He’d kill us if he had the chance”, with an inflection after ‘us’, was used after it is revealed that Ann and Mark (Frederic Forrest) are the real criminals. At the hotel, another of Harry’s weaknesses is displayed, as his fearfulness prevents him from stopping the murder. Coppola is revealing a humane side to the introverted Harry to encourage sympathy for a character the audience wouldn’t normally be expected to relate to. Although Harry is a flawed character, Coppola positions him in a way that his humanity can generate sympathy with the audience, and it is the corruptive, insidious technology that is presented as the real villain.

After Harry discovers the truth about the murder, he returns to his apartment. The buildings being demolished, seen earlier through his window, are now completely knocked down, symbolising surveillance technology tearing down society’s walls of privacy. This message proved presciently well-timed, as immediately prior to the release of The Conversation, the Watergate scandal, the most significant U.S. political scandal of the late 20th century, to which surveillance was central, sparked growing social anxiety over surveillance. We see the tables turned on Harry as he suspects his own apartment has been bugged. This is seen by some as an apt punishment for his acts of immorality. “The Conversation has been described as an Orwellian morality play in which the spy becomes the spied upon, and technology is used against the user” (Austin-Smith, B., no date). Harry tears apart his apartment in search of the bug; symbolically demolishing his own wall of privacy. A surveillance society has literally and figuratively left Harry’s life in ruins. During Harry’s frenzied hunt for the bug, he destroys his statuette of the Virgin Mary, one of his few worldly connections to humanity and morality. This is representative of the immorality of a surveillance society destroying civilisation. Upon destroying his apartment, Harry sits alone with his saxophone, his one remaining worldly possession. Again, the camera simulates a hidden surveillance device by mechanically panning across the ruins of Harry’s apartment. This implies that Harry is still being spied upon and has failed to destroy the bug. The only possible hiding place that remains for the bug is Harry’s saxophone. This suggests that only with the removal of the last vestiges of his humanity will Harry’s surveillance end. It also acts as a prophetic metaphor for the devastating effect a surveillance society will have upon civilisation.

Coppola goes to great lengths to depict the terrifying reality of a surveillance society, including filming at an actual wire-tappers convention and his accurate realisation of the couple being tapped at Union Park. In addition to this, forcing the audience to act as voyeurs, spying on Harry Caul through his indignities and breakdown, effectively displays a surveillance society as a frightening reality, not merely a filmic affectation. All this contributes to the formation of Coppola’s convincing moral argument against the horrors of a surveillance society.

Bibliography

Books

King, G., 2002. New Hollywood Cinema an Introduction. New York; Columbia University Press.

Kolker, R., 2000. A Cinema of Loneliness. New York; Oxford University Press.

Levy, E., 1999. Cinema of Outsiders. New York; New York University Press.

Thompson, K., Storytelling in the New Hollywood: Understanding Classical Narrative Techniques. Cambridge; Harvard University Press.

DVDs

The Conversation, 1974. [Film] Directed by Francis Ford Coppola. USA: Paramount

The Conversation, 2000. [DVD Commentary] Francis Ford Coppola. USA: Paramount

The Conversation, 2000. [DVD Commentary] Walter Murch. USA: Paramount

Websites

Austin-Smith, B. The Conversation. [Online]. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/cteq/01/13/conversation.html [Accessed on 08.04.2011]

Canby, V, 21.04.1974. ‘Conversation’. [Online]. Available at: http://movies.nytimes.com/review?res=9F04E7D7133DEF32A25752C2A9629C946590D6CF [Accessed on 08.04.2011]

Deming, M, 2011. The Conversation Review. [Online]. Available at: http://www.allmovie.com/work/the-conversation-10898/review [Accessed on 08.04.2011]

Film 4, 2011. The Conversation. [Online]. Available at: http://www.film4.com/reviews/1974/the-conversation [Accessed on 08.04.2011]

Peary, G. The Conversation. [Online]. Available at:  http://www.geraldpeary.com/essays/the/the_conversation.html [Accessed on 08.04.2011]

Ratner, M, March 2001. Notes on the Conversation. [Online]. Available at: http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/01/13/conversation.html [Accessed on 08.04.2011]