The Tinted Looking Glass

Here you will find many different reviews of films, literature and art both mainstream and indie.

Film: Review of Casablanca 22/02/2011

Casablanca. If you don’t know anything about it, you’ve at least probably heard of it. The impact of the film has been so great that popular culture continues to reference and imitate it, whether knowingly or not.

Filmed in 1942 before the end of World War Two, it is set during the conflict in Casablanca, Morocco, and concerns the emotional and political conflicts of reunited lovers, in a dangerous time and place. Rick, played by Humphrey Bogart, is an exiled American who runs a popular bar and casino in Casablanca. His aloof, reserved and cynical personality guards his interests, yet moments of sentimentality reveal his very human flaws. When a long lost love, Ilsa, chances to enter his bar along with her European resistance leader husband, the humanity and anguish of this character is revealed. Ilsa complicates the re-opening of old emotional wounds by seeking the possession of two valuable documents Rick possesses, letters of transit, which could ensure her husband’s safe escape to America. The conflicts of love and politics play out beautifully against the background of war, and create a world of drama that is nostalgic and separate from the reality of war, in the film and outside. Themes of trust, kindness and redemption flow throughout the film, and produce a powerful, lingering effect that goes some way to explaining its enduring popularity.

Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are the two stars, and on screen, they create a chemistry that makes the past passions and present tensions all the more dramatic, each look bearing a world of meaning and conflicted emotions. Rick is stylish and wears white suits, suggesting goodness underneath his ‘lone wolf’ exterior. His face looks experienced and worn, in contrast to Bergman. She has a flawless complexion and is shot through a softening filter, with significant use of lighting around her, making her skin glow and eyes sparkle. When she walks into the bar for the first time, several shots show men of different ages and ethnicities turning to watch her in awe. She is angelic, but sadly so, with a tendency to look pensive and reserved, she rarely smiles apart from in the flashbacks. She is mysterious and alluring, much like the romance itself. Alongside the two main players, all the other characters are intriguing, unique and complex. Notably Sam, the musician who acts as an intermediate, a neutral communicator between the two lovers. Few, if any of the characters are clearly ‘good’ or ‘bad’, even Rick himself is dubious, and we can question Ilsa’s past actions, but the theme of redemption allows the chance for these characters to make a good choice, to find their own form of salvation.

The characters have motifs, but most prominent of all is Rick’s various, iconic catchphrases: ‘I stick my neck out for nobody’ and ‘here’s looking at you, kid’ are repeated for increased emphasis. The first portrays Rick’s sense of individualism and self-interest, rather than generosity or kindness, in an era when suspicion and self-saving was rife. Yet the other line, particularly attached to Ilsa, suggests a support of this individuality, that independence and self-determination is a positive trait. Individual control over fate, in a time when this was difficult, is a valued thing, and the responsibility this implies should be accepted willingly. Essentially in a film we are looking at the character and watching how their decisions change their lives. They are in the spotlight, and have to take responsibility for their own actions and consequences. This idea is not only encapsulated in films, but is a western, particularly an American, ideal. Individualism and independent self-realisation is a dream which the film plays out, but this responsibility also presents the possibility for redemption, for a chance to make the right choice, as occurs at the end.

The dramatic opening is memorable for promptly introducing the context of the film. Strong music with hints of drums and orientalism resounds over a map of the world which zooms gradually towards Casablanca: there is no doubt as to the important global and political background. Behind the map images of war play out, and we are rapidly shown scenes from different global settings of the war, each shot fading into another. This fade technique creates a seamless transition which emphasises the similarity of experiences between different countries and peoples, indicating the global impact of the war. Indeed, throughout the film there are many nationalities portrayed. Rick’s Casino is a melting pot of various people in different situations, with mixed political opinions, yet united under war. Amongst this the two reunited lovers stand out, as sharing a very intimate, common experience in an increasingly hostile world. The mixture of refugees and exiles in the hubbub of Casablanca makes the human stories and plights in the film very real, and deserving of our sympathy and interest.

The cinematography is clean and stark, with light and shadow prominently manipulated to emphasise the black and white film noir style. There are elements of tragedy, comedy, romance and politics which make this film feel fresh, an interesting mixture of genres. The contrast of humour and business, entertainment and politics is constant within the film, and adds complexity and psychological depth to the events and characters, making them real and intriguing.

Other influential techniques and shots in this film mostly centre on pans, fades or cuts in a crowd of people, between different social groups and discussions, portraying how many individual lives are affected by war and no matter how their own lives play out, they are all united under this oppression. One notable scene is the introduction to Rick’s bar, when the camera follows customers through the door way and around the bar, lingering here and there on individual faces and conversations, revealing the mixture of peoples, the variety of issues and politics. However the bar is a place to forget strifes as well: the pianist Sam acts as a focus of the entertainment, as well as a musical medium for Rick and Ilsa to renew memories which are both fond and painful, simultaneously unite and separate the lovers, specifically with the song ‘As Time Goes By’. Another instance displaying the importance of music is the famous ‘music battle scene’. When a group of Germans begin to sing their national anthem, the rest of the bar sing the French national anthem even louder, some crying and drowning out the German voices with their pride in their nation, and in their identity. It is a small, but meaningful, victory. Music is evocative and meaningful, and communicates what characters may be unable to themselves.

The flash-back sequences transport us into almost another film, another story in the two characters lives, of their romance in France. The bliss and happy past provides a contrast with the tense and difficult present. It hints at this future with mentions of invasion and war, and provides more depth to the characters, as the audience follows their relationship alongside the build up to war and their need to escape, which would eventually part them. A shot of them kissing is contrasted with German tanks, showing the disruption of daily life, how their love is broken apart. The tank’s are almost representative of Ilsa’s missing husband, returning to break apart their romance and bring politics back into their lives. Rick reads Ilsa’s unexpected farewell note in the rain, causing the ink to run, like tears, and the warmth of his heart to fade, a strong use of pathetic fallacy. He jumps onto a train and will not see her again until she walks into his bar. The magic of chance plays here, as Rick sighs; ‘of all the gin joints in all the world, she walks into mine’. This interestingly questions the idea of fate and destiny, as their reunion allows them to heal the wounds of the past, and to move each other’s lives onto a new stage.

‘We’ll always have Paris…’ These lines linger on as a suggestion that no matter what occurs in the present, even if you do not have what you want, memory is still a valuable emotional trigger. The film is a memory itself, of the happy times when war was not a problem, both in Casblanca and reality. The final shot of Rick and a friend walking into a thick fog is iconic. It suggests that all memory, though it may seem to fade, still exists within us as a place to return to and learn from, and that the chance for redemption moves us onwards.

Overall, the film displays the ability of individuals to impact upon and change each other’s lives, in ways that are effective both intimately and externally. Emotional and political interests combine, and can survive even in the most unlikely circumstances. Rick himself shows us the possibility for good is capable of redeeming us. This film captures our sympathy and imagination, and will continue to influence generations in years to come.

Overall Rating: 7/10

Thanks for reading! Alice

 

Film: A Town Called Panic! (Or Panique Au Village!) 12/02/2011

This review was published in the November issue of The Wessex Scene, Southampton University’s most significant student paper. The online link to the entertainment part of the newspaper’s website can be found here: http://www.wessexscene.co.uk/theedge/film/2010/12/04/childish-anarchic-and-utterly-fantastic-%E2%80%98a-town-called-panic%E2%80%99/

Childish, anarchic, and utterly fantastic:  A surreal animation that revels in its hyperactive comedy genius, a truly original film!

A Town Called Panic’ is a film that will leave you out of breath. With its dizzying pace and anarchic humour, this is something to brace yourself for.  Created by Stéphane Aubier and Vincent Patar, this Belgian concoction easily fills its 75 minutes running time, and challenges you to keep up with its impulsive visuals and child-like hilarity.

Very few films achieve this level of bizarre genius. Every detail on screen bursts with vibrancy; it’s hard to look away for a moment, when things in the world of ‘Panic’ occur rapidly and randomly. The stop-motion animation style, alongside the use of familiar, cheap plastic toys as characters, lends the film its childish creativity and originality. It possesses an innocence which makes it all the more endearing and enjoyable. Though not aimed at children specifically, this film would happily suit most age ranges who can keep an open mind to its giddy glee.

The three principle characters are a plastic horse, cowboy and Indian. Their names are…Horse, Cowboy and Indian. Horse is a sensible father figure, whilst the other two are a kind of ADD comedy duo. The action begins when the latter two, remembering Horse’s birthday, frantically attempt to order 50 bricks to build a barbeque…and accidentally end up with 50 million. If you can accept that this is the start to the plot, then the rest of the film rolls along easily, loud and proud, with the heroic trio stumbling into all sorts of situations. These include falling to the centre of the earth, encountering mad scientists inside a giant penguin-robot, chasing some aquatic thieves, and kamikaze cows. Naturally.

Intriguingly, underneath this hyperactive exterior lies a tender and warm heart. The characters and the world they live in-despite all the surreal zaniness-are utterly endearing. In particular, shy Horse’s adoration of the local teacher Madame Longray, flows through the chaos to show an underlying elegance. Not one of the unusual array characters fails to charm or amuse. Expect to encounter such individuals as Steven the farmer, who shouts everything he says, a disgruntled donkey and an ambivalent postie.

This is a film which resists analysis or negativity, and bursts to the brim with happy, infantile energy. You are guaranteed an original film with ‘A Town Called Panic’, and I would highly recommend it to anyone willing to enjoy a rare, original, and beautifully chaotic treat.

Overall Rating: 9/10.

Alice Porter

 

Film: Charlie Chaplin’s Early Short Comedies.

This article will be published in Southampton University’s new lifestyle, fashion and arts magazine.

 

In an age when most successful films contain excessive amounts of CGI, expensive special effects, elaborate set pieces and far too often, action over story or character, it’s nice now and then to regress to simpler times. With the advancement of 3D, much of our modern cinematic experience has deviated towards style over substance. Too frequently I find myself yearning for realistic, simple yet more rewarding films. Hence, I discovered Charlie Chaplin.

 

The allure of Chaplin is undoubtable; the charm of his underdog character, the universal appeal of slapstick comedy, the visual focus on communicating through body language. It is a uniquely liberating experience to move from contemporary to early cinema. The black and white, silent movie is a far cry from today’s films, and might seem to modern audience low-quality, trivial and slow, but to understand this as the root of modern cinema is to lend it a reverential aspect. Modern cinema which relies on slapstick comedy, such as cartoons, that fight scene in Anchorman, or even Monty Python films, all have their roots deeply set in Chaplin.

A collection of his early short films provides a fascinating insight into the beginnings of comedy cinema, and provides a clear documentation of his rise to cinematic legend, an icon for many. It is well worth exploring his short films. Though his later ‘talkies’ or feature length films such as ‘The Great Dictator’ may be much more accessible, they can be more serious, more tragic, and much more powerful. It would be easy to simply watch these satisfying greats of cinema, but the early shorts should not be overlooked, as they provide a valuable slice of cinematic history, the building blocks to his later stardom. They provide a more gentle insight into early cinematography, the social desires of an audience for cinema or comedy, and how silent and black and white films provided the foundation and inspiration for the future of film-making and watching.

 

Whilst his early films are indeed silent shorts, relying on the occasional intertitle to provide written assistance to the story, one of the most notable features is the musical accompaniment. It is an essential part of the entertainment experience, so much so that when originally released, the films would have had live musical accompaniment. But this is only an aide to visual events which demand attention. Whilst modern audiences rely on a multitude of mediums to explain the story, early films only had visuals, to reliably present a clear plot. Thus the make-up, costume and predominantly the body language of an actor is their main strength. Every action doubles in importance to the plot, and the success of the comedy, so they are exaggerated, adding to the visual comedy. Similar to a mime or theatre acting, every action, expression and movement combines to communicate the plot, and works brilliantly as comedy.

Herein lies the genius of Chaplin-his control, or seeming lack of, his movements is timed and co-ordinated to fantastic effect. His shuffling, silly stumbling and cavorting is a kind of simple comic ability which works wonderfully, and many comedic actors could learn a great deal from watching the Master at work. When he is knocked down, he gets back up again, when the odds are against him, he bounces right back. His charming characters are oppressed everymen who triumph over the Big Bully, in all his forms, to win the girl in the end. A classic story line, easily relatable in any generation, but performed excellently and to the most satisfying effect. It is an idea reinvented in Chaplin’s short films many times, but it never tires out or becomes repetitive. His characters remain endearing and win our sympathy-most notably his character the Tramp, a wonderfully coy and sweet character, down on his luck, who fights against all odds to win the heart of the girl he loves. Chaplin immortalised himself with this instantly recognisable shabby, charming, and honest underdog, ‘The Champion’ in the end (the title of one of his most rewarding shorts), and someone to aspire to and admire, to relate to and cheer on

In every one of his films, its obvious to see why Chaplin became-and remains- a popular cultural icon, and a genius of cinema.

 

Suggestions for short films of his to watch: ‘In the Park’, ‘The Champion’, ‘The Fireman’, ‘The Tramp’, ‘Kid Auto Races in Venice’, ‘The Immigrant’, ‘A Jitney Elopement’, ‘Caught in the Rain’.

Suggestions for feature length films: ‘The Kid’, ‘The Great Dictator’, ‘Limelight’.

Biography Facts:

  • He was born in London 16th April 1889, and died in Switzerland on Christmas day, 1997.
  • His youth was affected by poverty, as well as alcoholism and mental illness in his family. His mother was admitted to an asylum, and he went to a workhouse, and school for paupers.
  • Both of his parents were music-hall entertainers, lending the young Chaplin an early education in performance. However, Chaplin was also musically talented, writing some of the scores for his own films. In 1973 he won an Oscar for the score of his film ‘Limelight.’
  • Chaplin was notorious for favouring young women, and had several relationships with young actresses. Two of his marriages were controversial due to the girls being only 16. Through four marriages he gained 12 children, although the legitimacy of the daughter Carol Chaplin is disputed.
  • Politically, Chaplin was sympathetic towards socialism and communism. Many of his films display criticisms of capitalist economy through their portrayal of poverty, particularly during the Great Depression era. His most famous film, The Great Dictator, mocks the Nazi regime and the ridiculousness of blind nationalism. His politics were controversial, especially in the US, causing a brief exile to the UK.
  • He co-founded the famous film distribution company United Artists in 1919.
  • His iconic character The Tramp never spoke in any of his films. His final appearance was in the feature film ‘Modern Times’, which is widely considered the last ‘talkie’.

Alice Porter

 

Wonderland is OPEN!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Alice @ 6:41 PM

Hello!

Welcome to my blog. This will be a wonderland to place all my musings, reviews, ideas an commentaries, both praising and critical, of a wide variety of subjects.

 

I will regularly post articles on various topics, and will add overall categories in the titles, such as; Film, Literature, Recipe, Vegetarianism/Veganism, Art, Feminism, Environmentalism, etc. Hopefully I will improve my writing skills and provide interesting articles that will give eaders a different perspective of life.

 

Thanks for reading this introduction, please follow my blog and join me in my writing adventures!

Alice

 

 
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