Saturday, July 07, 2007

Visual Storytelling, Part II

Above is yet another example of narrative paintings, this one by Wes Christensen and titled “John’s Dilemma.”

As strange as I know this will sound, the painting above brings to mind two films: The Conversation and Raging Bull.


Notice all of the straight, rigid lines - the walls, the shelves, the books, the television, and even the sculptures. This reminds me of Harry Caul’s personal environment in The Conversation, a movie that came out of Francis Ford Coppola’s interest in repetition through symbols of the circular. To quote Jennifer Van Sijll in
Cinematic Storytelling, “What is being repeated is man’s emotional weakness represented by deceit and betrayal… Harry is a surveillance expert. His outer person is symbolized by the linear. He is rational, technically competent, detached, and remote. Coppola gives him clothes and a physical environment made up of straight, elongated lines. Harry’s job is dependent on the circular spinning wheels of the tape recorder. As long as he stays detached from their content, he is competent and stable.”

Harry, of course, gets drawn into the emotional lives of his subjects, which is his undoing, as the surveillance expert becomes the surveillance subject. There's a scene toward the end where he tries to change the outcome and enters the building of the man who hired him. According to Jennifer Van Sijll in Cinematic Storytelling, “He enters a building that is linear on the outside, but circular on the inside – just like Harry. Once inside, he is confronted on the circular stairwell by corporate thugs. Below him is a floor tiled in a circular pattern. Once ejected from the building, he is safe again. He walks along the linear structure almost disappearing into its gray lined walls.”


In Wes Christensen’s painting, did you notice the image on the TV set, which is from
the Psycho Shower Scene? Midway into Raging Bull, we see Jake La Motta try to fix his television set. He’s begun to lose his way mentally, and he’s become increasingly paranoid of those around him. Scorsese uses the intermittent TV signal to illustrate Jake's intermittent sanity and escalating mental agitation. When his wife enters and kisses Jake’s brother on the cheek, Jake’s paranoia is set off and the TV goes completely haywire.

To sum it up - if we are to take from all of those straight, rigid lines that John, like Harry Caul, is perhaps a rational, technically competent, detached, and remote individual, then the image on the television tells us that there is something very disturbing at the core of his "dilemma." And in fact, the other man looking at the television set appears to be quite disturbed with his hand covering his eyes. Or... perhaps John's just not having any luck with his garage sale.


Mim said...

There's something else in that scene in Raging Bull. The camera pans away to the entry hall and stairs twice, once at the beginning and once at the end of the scene. In the B&W movie, there's a huge contrast between the brightly lit living room with the light-colored walls and the dark entry hall.

When Vicky leaves the living room after kissing the men and goes upstairs, she disappears into darkness. At the end of the scene, the brother also disappears into darkness. But Jake is the one standing in the dark, even though his room is full of light.

Fuckin' Joe Pesci. Nobody throws around the f-bombs like he does.

Laura Deerfield said...

A variation on straight lines that I tend to notice, is the frame within a frame. It's really effective for giving a sense of entrapment, like a cage.

It's used in a scene in the original Cat People, where the rival for Lena's husband is being stalked... and used in Klute.

In American Beauty, there are lots of frames within frames that serve as a point of reference (whose view is it?), but could also be seen as a kind of "jailing" frame, especially in the context of the unused courtroom opening that's in the script.

Christian H. said...

Looking at the picture I noticed something interesting. If you look at the wall there is a shadow of what looks like a trophy, but its position is not such that it can be behind the man with his head in his hands or of the little thing next to the TV.

It looks like he is casting that thin shadow and he is lookign at the camera is if to say. "And?"

My opinion. I though tit to be an excellent analysis using your "voice."

Keep it up.

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