Sunday, June 27, 2010

I'm God, and yes -- I AM talking to you

Another one from the college archives, this time a look at how Jesus from The Last Temptation of Christ fits in among some of Scorsese's other famous protagonists. Based upon observations made by Harlan Jacobson.

In a 1988 review, Harlan Jacobson writes: "In the rush to spill so much passion over Martin Scorsese's divine inquiries in The Last Temptation of Christ, the first question Christ grapples with in both Nikos Kazantzakis' novel and the film has simply disappeared: not was he man or God, but was he nuts?"1 Jacobson's review tries to redirect discussion of the controversial film away from the question of blasphemy and towards consideration of the film's protagonist as a typical Scorsese character. "Scorsese's Christ," he claims, "is the central character of his canon, a smalltime weasel on the fringe who is heretofore usually Italian and definitely lunatic. He's Johnny Boy in Mean Streets, guileless and too inept to make the mob. He's Jake La Motta in Raging Bull, trying to punch his way beyond the emptiness of making it in America. He's most assuredly Travis Bickle standing alone in front of a mirror in a Times Square flophouse in Taxi Driver, asking himself 'You talkin' to me?'"2

Jacobson's assertions are not at all difficult to accept. It is not surprising that Scorsese would create his own Jesus on film after having used Christ as the referent of so many of his previous screen characters. Christ symbolism is often very explicit in Scorsese s films, certainly in the three cited by Jacobson, and even in a work as early as Boxcar Bertha. That Scorsese's Christ would have so much in common with his previous screen stand-ins, then, seems entirely natural. While Jacobson could perhaps improve his argument by substituting Charlie for Johnny Boy (who is, despite his apparent "ineptness," too comfortable with his identity to be strongly compared to Scorsese's Jesus), the three films provide perfect ground for the comparison: Scorsese' s Jesus is previewed vividly in Jake La Motta, Travis Bickle, and (the substituted) Charlie.

Like Jake and Charlie, Jesus is plagued by awareness of his own sins, and constantly tries to repent. He tells Jeroboam, "I'm a liar, a hypocrite. I'm afraid of everything. I don't ever tell the truth — I don't have the courage. When I see a woman, I blush and look away. I want her but I don't take her — for God, and that makes me proud. And then my pride ruins Magdalene. I don't steal, I don't fight, I don't kill — not because I don't want to, but because I'm afraid." He considers it his own fault that Mary Magdalene hates God, and begs her for forgiveness. "I know the worst things I've done have been to you," he tells her.

Jesus seeks atonement in self-punishment. He explains in voice-over how he attempted to dispel the voices he hears in his head: "First I fasted for three months. I even whipped myself before I went to sleep. At first it worked. Then the pain came back, and the voices." Jesus invites punishment by making crosses for the Romans and carrying them to the crucifixion site, enduring the scorn of other Jews. "You're a disgrace!" shouts Judas, after throwing one of the crosses to the floor. "You're a Jew killing Jews! You're a coward! How will you ever pay for your sins?" After this chiding, Jesus binds himself with a belt of inward-facing metal prongs and carries the cross for a crucifixion party. Jews throw stones at him, Mary Magdalene spits in his face, yet he continues. He endures a personally prescribed punishment ritual in the same way Charlie does when holding his hand over flames, or as Jake does by allowing opponents to pummel him in the ring.

Also like Charlie and Jake, Jesus endures a series of punishments which leads to one final "big punishment" which indicates his success at redemption (for Charlie, the end punishment is being shot, after enduring Johnny Boy's irresponsibilities; for Jake, it is ending as a pathetic stage performer in a dark nightclub after allowing himself to be beaten in the ring). After struggling with the various courses of action suggested to him (and enduring the ridicule and apparent failure they bring him, as when he announces his divinity to the men of Nazareth, or leads the aborted attack on the temple), Jesus realizes and accepts the fact that he must be crucified. Unlike Charlie and Jake, however, whose ends suggest that they have not been redeemed and are to remain in a symbolic hell (the streets for Charlie, the nightclub for Jake), Jesus is granted redemption. The "hallucination" he experiences on the cross assures him that his actions have been worthwhile, that he is redeemed and destined for heaven as the son of God. (If this sequence is not a hallucination, as could be argued, then he is most definitely assured of his divinity, recalled to the cross years later by an omnipotent God who has forgiven his previous failure.)

If Jesus' desire to repent is previewed in Charlie and Jake, then his tumultuous search for the proper course of action is previewed in Travis Bickle. Both Travis and Jesus adopt and abandon several different roles in their search for purpose. The roles they experiment with are remarkably similar. Travis first attempts to become a romantic lover, unsuccessfully courting Betsy. He abandons this course (one of "love") for a more violent one, and attempts to become a political assassin and kill Palantine. Failing at this, he decides to become a rescuing hero, the suicidal "savior" of young Iris. Likewise, Jesus first adopts a plan of love. He stops the mob from killing Mary Magdalene — Cf. Travis on Betsy: "They can not touch her" — and tells them to "love one another." After he returns from the desert the second time — the desert being to Jesus what the "Times Square flophouse" is to Travis: a secluded retreat where he spends a great amount of time alone and gets his new "visions" — he opts for a much different approach. "I'm not inviting you to a celebration," he tells the apostles. "I'm inviting you to a war." He then tells the men of Nazareth that "there will be a flood and there will be a fire; everything will be destroyed." Similarly, says Travis, "Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets." Jesus changes his course once more after the aborted attack on the temple: He is to be crucified willingly, without resistance, in order to save humankind. "We're bringing God and Man together," he tells Judas. "They'll never be together unless I die." Compare that with Travis' note to Iris before the attempt to kill Palantine — "By the time you read this I will be dead" — and his suicidal hand gesture after the final bloodbath, a gunfight which results in the reunion of Iris and her parents. Both characters follow the same progression through love, war, and martyrdom.

Jesus also indicates that, like Travis, he would like to "become a person like other people." His confession to Jeroboam expresses his desire to have women, steal, fight, and kill. He further expresses his desire to be a normal human to Lazarus' sisters. "Don't you miss all this?" asks Mary. "Having a home, a real life?" "I admit it," replies Jesus, "I'd like it, but I'll never have it." He also admits to Mary Magdalene that he "wanted her" when they were children.

Like Travis, however, and also like Charlie and Jake, Jesus can only access "normal life" through its reproduction as image. For Jesus, this reproduction is in the form of his hallucination on the cross, in which he fantasizes about married life with Marry Magdalene and Lazarus' sisters. For Travis, normal life is depicted on television soap operas and greeting cards. Charlie and Jake access normalcy only through home movies (in Mean Streets these appear with the film's opening credits, in Raging Bull they accompany the montage of Jake's success in the ring).

Harlan Jacobson is quite correct in labeling Scorsese's Jesus a typical Scorsese character. The recognition of personal sin, the desire for a personally prescribed penance, and the struggle to define the right course of action are characteristics of many Scorsese characters, and Jesus fits among them perfectly.

See also: Scorsese's Enunciative Presence

Notes 1 & 2: Jocobson, Harlan. "You Talkin' to Me?" Film Comment, Sept./Oct. 1988, p. 32.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Iron men

Being one of the last people on earth to have seen Iron Man 2, I may also be among the last to notice the nice tribute to sci-fi classic Silent Running during the final fight scene, in which Iron Man and War Machine (Tony Stark's friend Rhodey, also in a metal suit) battle robotic "drones" inside a geodesic bio-dome before fighting bad guy Ivan Vanko, decked out in his own super-charged suit of armor (and whose defeat echoes the demise of the villain in another film, the not-classic-but-persistent Predator). This is the second time in as many films that Iron Man has been challenged by a villain whose exceptional abilities are duplicates of his own, and it begs the question: "If the only villains capable of challenging Iron Man need to be outfitted in hi-tech battle suits, what kind of variety can we expect from future Iron Man films?"

The repetition in Iron Man 2 can be rationalized in a number of ways. With the advanced technology available in the world of Iron Man, it would perhaps not be surprising that Stark's suit would be co-opted, or at least imitated by, the military. This would require lots of invention and experimentation, a conceivable by-product of which could be criminals trying to unseat Tony Stark's alter-ego by salvaging scraps of the tech race into amateur super-suits. Perhaps, but also maybe boring. It could more generously be seen as the de facto terms of the Iron Man world: If you are going to be a hero or a villain, you need an iron suit, and what differentiates anyone is how they use the suit, or at least what modifications they make to it. Such a world would have the uniformity of robot anime, where giant robots like Mazinger team up and battle with...other giant robots.

But in the Marvel movies released so far, this is not the case. Unique villains are funneled through each film franchise at super-speed. Spider-Man, for example, has taken on Sandman, Venom, and Green Goblin 2 — all in the same movie. Each of these characters had very different abilities — one was genetically altered, one was the instrument of an alien life form, and one relied upon hi-tech weaponry — and each posed a different threat to Spider-Man, testing him in different ways. So far, it seems that any challenge to Iron Man must be made with the same form of energy and technology that drives his own abilities. But if variety dictates an end to metal-clad opposition, are there any foes worthy of Iron Man? Moreover, since both Iron Man films hint at a possible Avengers movie, what hope do any bad guys have against a team that includes not only the seemingly indomitable Iron Man, but the Norse god Thor and the...well, incredible Hulk, along with the relatively second-string abilities of Giant-Man, Wasp, and Captain America?

Since world-devouring baddie Galactus has already been used in The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I imagine the only serious challenge to a team of super-powered super-heroes would be...a team of super-powered super-villains! It remains to be seen whether budget or strict adherence to the continuity of previous Marvel movies will preclude my Dream Team of Loki (who seems to be included, according to IMDB), Red Skull, Dr. Doom (I forget what happened to him in the FF movies; rather, I didn't make it through the FF movies to find out), and the Absorbing Man (I don't even know if he's current anymore — I just liked him as a kid), though I hope Iron Man, at least, is given an opponent whose flesh and blood is a match for his own nuts and bolts.

Repeat vacation

It's been said that Hollywood turns out the same product again and again, never giving its audience anything new. Consider this list comparing gags from National Lampoon's Vacation with the third movie in the Vacation series, Christmas Vacation. Seeing that the second and fourth Vacations (European and Vegas) were laughably un-laughable, maybe repetition's not such a bad thing after all!

VacationChristmas Vacation
Clark and Ellen try to get the kids to sing songs during a car trip, but the kids won't have it
Clark and Ellen try to get the kids to sing songs during a car trip, but the kids won't have it
Jokes about being stuck with grouchy Aunt Edna
Jokes about being stuck with grouchy Uncle Lewis
Aunt Edna's dog is a pain, then gets killed
Cousin Eddie's dog is a pain, and Aunt Bethany's cat gets killed
Clark flirts with a beautiful woman in a Ferrari, then goes skinny dipping with her in a motel pool
Clark flirts with a beautiful woman at a lingerie counter, then fantasizes about her skinny dipping in the family pool
Clark drives the family station wagon over a big jump on the road to Wally World
Clark drives the family station wagon over a big jump on the road to the Christmas tree farm
Clark wanders alone through the hot desert until he finds his family at a gas station
Clark gets locked alone in the cold attic until his family returns and lets him out
After making the big jump in the family car, Clark meets some hillbillies who charge him too much for doing a poor repair job on his car
Right before making the big jump in the family car, Clark races with hillbillies who try to run his car off the road
Audrey can't hear after Clark antagonizes a bartender into firing a loud gun
Audrey can't see after Clark drags the family out into the cold to find a Christmas tree
Eddie and Catherine and their strange kids need financial help
Eddie and Catherine and their strange kids need financial help
Eddie and Catherine make a disgusting dinner of Hamburger Helper without the meat
Catherine makes a disgusting Thanksgiving dinner by overcooking the turkey and dissolving all the meat
When things look worse and the family wants to cancel the trip and go home, Clark goes on a verbal tirade, spewing obscenities
When things look worse and the family wants to cancel Christmas and go home, Clark goes on a verbal tirade, spewing obscenities
When Clark and his family finally get to Wally World, they find it closed, prompting Clark to throw a fit
When Clark finally gets his "big Christmas bonus" he finds it's only a subscription to the jelly of the month club, prompting him to throw a fit
The Griswold family kidnaps a Wally World guard only to be caught by the SWAT team at the end
The Griswold family kidnaps Clark's boss only to be caught by the SWAT team at the end

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Long take structure: Two shots from Touch of Evil

The staple of Classical Hollywood film, that which Christian Metz has specifically termed the "scene" — "a spatio-temporal integrality experienced as being without 'flaws,'" that is, without temporal ellipses1 — seeks to conceal its own construction by creating the illusion that what is shown on screen is everything the spectator could want to see. To this end, as suture theorists have noted, camera control is often displaced onto character point-of-view. In its most effective form, this technique presents to the spectator everything the film's characters "see," and amplifies the illusion that the entire diegetic space is being shown. The spectator sees all that the characters see, so, presumably, there can be nothing concealed from that spectator's sight.

Maintaining that illusion requires that scenes (this will refer to Metz's definition throughout) be constructed of many shots — and many edits — in order to constantly reassure the spectator that s/he has complete visual control of the diegetic space at all times. Raymond Bellour has thus observed resultant symmetrical patterns within the scene, complex patterns which structure the telling of the narrative and which belie the scene's apparent simplicity.2

It is true, however, that not every shot of every scene is a static presentation of a character's point-of-view. At these times, the lack of a diegetic agency onto which camera control can be displaced is recuperated by the camera's ability, as Stephen Heath has theorized, to "narrativize" itself; that is, the camera, when not allied with character point-of-view, simply hides its presence behind the narrative action that it always keeps in front of it.3 Even when the camera moves, the threat of that movement (and thus of the camera) becoming noticeable as a unique entity is subdued by the presence of narrative action before it.

When, however, camera movement becomes very intricate, the threat of the camera proclaiming its autonomy becomes greater. This situation arises in those long takes which present an entire narrative moment, an entire "spatio-temporal integrality experienced as being without 'flaws,'" in one shot, without editing. The autonomy of the camera is proclaimed in these shots when the moving camera leaves characters behind, abandoning them outside the frame, or when characters are allowed to leave the frame on their own. The former instance demonstrates the autonomy of the camera by showing that the camera controls the process of narrativization by selecting its own objects. The latter calls attention to an offscreen space that the spectator can not see.

Long takes of this type, then, do not adhere to the same suture techniques of the scenes allied with character point-of-view, or of those shots that are highly narrativized. This does not mean, however, that these long takes are necessarily devoid of the complex structure that Bellour observed in the Metzian scene. On the contrary, two shots from the Orson Welles-directed Touch of Evil (1958) demonstrate that the highly-mobile long take can also be structured upon those very threats to suture and narrativization, and that the resultant structures are very complex indeed.

Example 1

Touch of Evil's opening shot relies upon a system of loss and recuperation, whereby the camera's objects are allowed to escape the frame or be abandoned by it. The void created by an object exiting the frame is recuperated by the appearance of another object of interest, so at all times the camera's movement appears to be narrativized. The exiting objects, however, reference a space beyond the frame, a space the spectator can not see. The replacement of one object with another thus proclaims the camera's autonomy while stating the very truth of narrativization: the camera's objects do not control or justify camera movement; rather, the camera chooses those objects behind which it seeks to conceal its autonomy, and it may transfer its disguise from one object to another at any time.

While the shot always provides its spectator with something to look at, something which attempts to conceal/narrativize the camera's control, the camera does not subvert its autonomy to the extent that it is displaced onto another agency, such as character point-of-view. There are two examples of such displacement, one placed strategically at each end of the shot, but between the two ends the camera does not attempt sustained concealment of its autonomy. Instead, it disavows that concealment immediately, proclaims its autonomy, and then begins to shed that autonomy (i.e., to re-conceal it) in layers in order to return to the initial state of concealment by the end of the shot. In this return, the moving camera both increasingly draws the spectator into the narrative and defines the shot's formal structure, a structure which builds the shot's tensions in order to ultimately resolve them at its end.

Subshot 1
Subshot 2

The shot opens with a close-up of the film's most important object, the bomb, the catalyst of all subsequent action. After the saboteur's hand activates the bomb, we hear a woman's laughter offscreen. As the saboteur turns around to see the source of the laugh, the camera pans left to reveal the woman and a man with whom she is walking (subshots 1 & 2). These two subshots constitute the first instance of the displacement of camera control. They are, in effect, a shot of a looking character and a shot of that character's look, his eyeline match. The saboteur's turn is motivated by the offscreen laugh, and the camera's pan is motivated by the saboteur's movement. Camera movement is entirely justified, concealed behind the glance of one of the film's characters. Soon after the woman and man are revealed, however, the camera allows the saboteur to enter the new framing and cross to frame left. What appears at first to be his eyeline match is now revealed as just another view from an autonomous camera.

Subshot 3
Subshot 4
Subshot 5

This autonomy is further emphasized as the saboteur crosses the frame once more, this time running out of frame right. The camera pans to follow, but then lets the saboteur escape the frame as it begins to track, presumably in the saboteur's direction, along a wall. The appearance of the saboteur's shadow on the wall (subshot 3) does serve to fill the void created by the exiting character, but does more to acknowledge the space not shown, the space of the shadow-casting saboteur. Before the camera clears the end of the wall along which it tracks, we see the saboteur arrive at a parked car and kneel at its trunk. The camera continues to track in, framing the car and the saboteur briefly in a long shot (subshot 4) before the saboteur exits frame left and the camera leaves its just-below eye level position to achieve an extreme high angle above the car (subshot 5). At this moment, as the camera hovers at its new height, remaining motionless, if at all, for only the briefest instant, the camera begins the most obvious statement of its autonomy.

Subshot 6
Subshot 7

As the previously revealed woman and man approach the car (entering to fill the void left by the exiting saboteur), the film's first credit ("Universal International Presents") appears simultaneously with the melody-stating saxophones on the soundtrack (previously, from subshot two, the score had been percussion only, a rhythmic duplication of the ticking bomb on bongos). Then, as the car drives behind an obscuring building and the camera tracks to follow its presumed course, the next credits appear, announcing stars Charlton Heston and Janet Leigh (subshots 6 & 7) against an otherwise sparse framing (the black top of the building). While the latter two credits do distract the spectator from the loss of the car behind the building, they serve more to emphasize the autonomy of the camera. Indeed, the disappearance of the car, all three credits (especially the one naming Universal International as the presenter of the shot/film being shown), the removal from eye level to extreme high angle, the entrance of the main melody on the non-diegetic soundtrack, and the appearance of two actors' (two big stars') names emphasize, by underscoring its artifice, the external agency of the shot. The initial attempts at suture evident in subshots 1 & 2 (intimately involving the spectator with the bomb through close framing, the displacement of camera control onto the saboteur's gaze), which eased off in subshots 3 & 4, have now been replaced by a camera that attempts no justification for its sudden upward movement, the escape of its objects (the saboteur, the couple in the car), or the non-diegetic material (the music and the credits).

What this abrupt change — this disruptive removal from intimate involvement with narrative to an obvious dependency upon an autonomous camera — guarantees, however, is the preservation of the shot itself. By removing the spectator from the catalyst of the action (the bomb) at the most disturbing moment (its placement in the car moments before a couple drives off in that car), the shot creates tension and suspense — it creates the need for its own resolution. The spectator now needs to see the car at all times, to be as close to it as s/he was in subshot 1, in order to see how the conflict created by its introduction will resolve. It is this gradual return to that initial state of involvement — where the tension and suspense will be resolved — that structures the rest of the shot.

Subshot 8
Subshot 9

As the camera continues its leftward track, reaching the end of the building, Orson Welles' acting credit appears (positioned lower than the two previous, sharing the responsibility of holding the spectator's attention not with a blank rooftop, but with an eye-catching neon sign and another view of the alley in which we first saw the laughing woman), followed by the emergence of the car from behind the building (subshot 8). The camera then begins to descend, still maintaining a high position, but one not as high as the previous high angle. The car then turns to face the camera as the camera stops its left track and begins to move backwards. At this moment, a whistle is heard offscreen, and immediately a traffic cop is revealed in lower frame right, along with a passing white car and pedestrians (subshot 9). As the sabotaged car stops at the intersection, the film's title appears in upper frame left, accompanied by the entrance of the trombones on the score (score builds, layer by layer, like the suspense does...inversely, the camera sheds its goes up, one comes down). It is a moment of address: the endangered car addresses the camera with its headlights, the traffic cop addresses the car with his whistle, the film addresses its audience with its title and new musical element.

This moment defines an important structural element of the shot, an element already presented by subshot 5: each time the car is stopped, the music changes to a different theme or to a different presentation of a previous theme, the camera achieves a different height, new narrative information is introduced, and the spectator thus becomes further involved with the narrative. At the first stop (subshot 5), when the car was parked, the camera removed itself to the greatest point of autonomy after presenting three characters (the saboteur, the laughing woman, and the man), and the initial dilemma of the bomb being planted in the car. At this second stop, the car coming to a halt at the intersection, we learn the title of the film, which verifies the suspicion created by the first four subshots (the planting of the bomb): we will be witnessing some sort of evil. It is also revealed that the endangered (and dangerous) automobile is traveling through streets full of people (the traffic cop, the pedestrians, the other driver), and consequently is endangering the lives of more than two individuals. The camera's new height, as it will do in the following stops, sheds some of the autonomy that was so loudly proclaimed in subshot 5. As it moves closer to the street and the action at street level, the camera becomes more narrativized: its movement becomes more justified, more seemingly motivated by, the diegetic action.

Subshot 10
Subshot 11
Subshot 12
Subshot 13
Subshot 14

As the car remains stopped at the intersection, the camera continues its backward track down the street (subshot 10). The tension created by the threat of losing the car, of the camera leaving it behind, is subdued somewhat by the appearance of the next three credit groups, which provide a distraction similar to that provided by the second and third credits (Heston and Leigh) when the car vanishes behind the building. The real recuperation of this potential loss occurs as the traffic cop finally releases the car from the intersection and allows it to catch up with the still-retreating camera. As the car approaches, however, it is stopped at a second intersection (subshot 11), which functions in the same way as the previous. As the police whistle sounds, the cop addressing the car and stopping it, the guest star credits (for Dietrich and Gabor, the most stellar since the title) appear. Once again, a promise (like the Heston and Leigh credits) of two stars, the revelation of more pertinent information. The camera then rises slightly, and then descends to a new height, one lower than the previous (of subshots 9 - 11), as the traffic cop ushers two pedestrians in from off frame right. As the camera begins to track left, leaving the dangerous car at the intersection and threatening the spectator with its loss, we see that the two pedestrians are the previously-promised stars, Heston and Leigh (subshot 13). Their appearance, along with the new, more relaxed melody played by the saxophones, compensates for the void created as the car, now released from the intersection, passes the two stars and exits frame left in subshot 14. As it passes the pair of stars, the car becomes the object of Heston's over-the-shoulder glance, suggesting, foreshadowing, a relationship between the two couples (subshot 13).

Subshot 15
Subshot 16a
Subshot 16b

Like the first two stops, this one presents new narrative information (the promise of Dietrich and Gabor, the arrival of Heston and Leigh, the suggestion of involvement between the two stars and the driving couple, the realization that the film's two stars are on the same street as the dangerous car), thus further implicating the spectator in the narrative. It also marks the arrival at a new camera height, lower than the two previous heights (of subshots 5 & 9), closer to the ground and to the action. At its new height, the camera becomes more narrativized, framing Heston and Leigh and following their walk (subshot 15) from a height only slightly higher than their own (i.e., just above eye level). The camera thus continues its return to the initial position of intimacy, where a narrative element (the bomb) was shot in close-up from just below eye level, and where camera control was disguised as character gaze (the saboteur's glance at the laughing woman).

This moment does not mark the complete subversion of the autonomous camera, however. Indeed, it re-emphasizes that autonomy by transferring the camera's attention from the sabotaged car to the star couple. In doing so, the arbitrary nature of narrativization is underscored: the camera chooses and controls the objects of narrativization, they do not control the camera. The camera's choice, however, is hardly disruptive. The two stars, because they were promised to the audience early in the shot, become the objects of desire, what the spectator wants to see. In this (albeit paradoxical) way, the camera comes even closer to its initial state of de-emphasis: it replaces one attraction (the dangerous car) with another (the star couple), but the replacement is just as desirable as the replaced.

This de-emphasis is further achieved only seconds later, at the next stop. Heston and Leigh walk past the car, which is now stopped before a traffic-halting tangle of goats. As they do, another instance of address: the car's driver peers over the windshield (subshot 16a), Heston points ahead to the goats (subshot 16b), and more police officers rush in and wave their arms to clear the area. Once again, the music changes, this time to the original, more taunting theme (which is first suggested in subshot 8), now being played by both horns and reeds. As it does so, the stopped car pulls away from the goats and begins to follow the two stars, slowly, staying behind them as if stalking the two (subshot 17). The camera holds both couples in the frame, now satisfying the desire to see both the promised stars and the troublesome car. In doing so, the camera becomes even more narrativized: both important lines of action are shown together, their future relationship again suggested, and the danger that the first poses to the second underscored.

Subshot 17
Subshot 18
Subshot 19

The camera also changes height here, this time returning almost to the height of subshots 9-11. At the same time, the camera pulls backward, putting more space between itself and the two couples (subshots 18+19). This change in proximity in a direction counter to the previous pattern is less contradiction that it is structure-enforcing reflection (what Bellour calls a "rhyme").4 It occurs just before the next stop, the stop at the border checkpoint, where the camera descends to its original height, the just-below eye level height of subshots 1 and 2. Thus, it provides a symmetrical match: the first subshots at eye level were followed immediately by the distancing high angle, and the final sub-eye level shots are preceded by the high angle and increased camera distance: eye level, high angle; high angle, eye level.

Subshot 20
Subshot 21
Subshot 22
Subshot 23

The last stop (subshots 20-23), then, marks the return to the original camera height. It involves, like the others, the stopping of the car (like the last three, by a law officer, here a border guard; all officers standing in for Welles, who also plays a cop, the actual controller of the stops, the shot, the film), and a change of music (a saxophone takes a quiet solo). It also presents new narrative information. We learn that the two stars (Heston and Leigh) are really the newly wed Vargases. Mrs. Vargas is an American, Mr. Vargas is a Mexican law officer who has just recently arrested someone named Grandi. The connection between the Vargases and the sabotaged car's driver, who we now learn is Mr. Linnekar, is enforced as Linnekar returns, in subshot 20, the look given him by Heston/Vargas in subshot 13.

This stop is also the first moment since the first two subshots when the camera remains stationary for a prolonged period. The intricate camera movement is no longer present, and all attention is focused on the dialogue between the characters. For the first time, camera movement is subordinate to narrative action. The camera is completely narrativized, and the return to the original involvement in the narrative — a return promised by subshots 1-4 but prolonged by the withdrawal of the camera in subshot 5 — is accomplished. This is not the last stop in the shot, however, nor is it the last time the camera moves or its objects escape the frame. The remainder of such movement, though, occurs at this eye level, and is highly narrativized.

After the Vargases answer the guard's questions, they exit frame left, and attention is transferred momentarily to Linnekar as he asks the guard "Hey, can I get through?" (subshot 21). Before the guard can answer, another guard, standing behind the car, says to the offscreen Mr. Vargas, "Lot of talk up here about how you cracked that Grandi business." At the same time, the camera pans left to capture the reentry of the Vargases into frame left (subshot 22). The attention that briefly belonged to Linnekar is transferred back to Vargas.

Then, as the Vargases disappear into the background and the guards question Linnekar, attentions are shifted once again back to the sabotaged car (subshot 23). As the music changes once more (back to the original saxophone theme of subshot 8, accompanied once more by the "tick-tock" of the percussion), Linnekar's female friend (the laughing woman) reminds us of the bomb in the trunk: "I've got this ticking noise in my head," she tells the guard as Linnekar drives away.

Subshot 24
Subshot 25
Subshot 26

As Linnekar's car exits frame left, the camera pans left and then begins to track in to the Vargases, who have reappeared in the background and are walking towards frame left (subshot 24). The loss of Linnekar's car is regained as the shadow of another car, and then that car itself, passes behind the Vargases. It reminds us of the still-unexploded bomb in Linnekar's car, despite the Vargases safe distance from it. As this new car slows in back of the couple and the camera comes to rest, framing the pair in a medium long shot, Mr. Vargas takes his wife in his arms and kisses her. Almost as soon as they kiss, we hear the bomb explode offscreen and the two look up, off screen left, shocked (subshots 25+26).

Thus, the return to the original camera position, to intimacy with the narrative, to the very beginning of the shot, is sealed: the first subshot (that of the bomb) echoed in the offscreen explosion; the car's initial stop, parked, with no one inside, echoed in this final, permanent stop, with only presumably dead passengers inside; the glance of the saboteur in subshot 1, motivated by an offscreen sound (the woman's laughter), echoed in the offscreen looks of the Vargases in response to the offscreen explosion. (The cut immediately after these looks completely returns camera control to character point-of-view, showing the exploding car that the Vargases are looking at.) Even the musical score echoes the beginning of the shot: the first swelling saxophone phrases that appeared in subshots 5 and 6 are heard again, ceasing only as the Vargases kiss. The tensions which were created by the constant loss and recuperation of the car during the shot (tensions which Mr. Vargas alludes to sexually when he asks his wife, just before kissing her, "Do you realize I haven't kissed you in over an hour?") are now resolved (with the explosion), and the end — the explosion — that was promised by the beginning of the shot, the return to narrativization that was promised at the beginning of the shot, is achieved.

Example 2

Like the first shot, the second shot to be considered here involves a noticeably autonomous camera which creates a distance between itself and its initial intimacy with the first narrative material presented. In the first shot, this distance was between the eye level presentation of the bomb and the high position achieved by the camera immediately after the sabotage. In this shot, the first interrogation of Sanchez, it is the distance between the living room, where Sanchez is being questioned by Quinlan, and the bathroom in Marcia Linnekar's apartment. Both shots are structured by the movement of the camera, which begins in the space of the most significant narrative action, removes itself to an extreme distance from that space, and then begins a gradual return to it.

Subshot 1
Subshot 2
Subshot 3

The shot opens in Marcia's living room with Marcia, attorney Howard France, and Sanchez looking out the window at the approaching Quinlan (subshot 1). The camera remains almost motionless (there is a slight pan left as France changes position) as the three talk about Quinlan, but then begins to track backwards, towards frame left, to show the path taken as France leads Marcia toward frame left, saying "Let's get your bag." France's directives (verbal and physical) motivate both character and camera movement, and they also begin to promise to the spectator that a new space, one offscreen left, will be revealed. Their movement is arrested, however, as Quinlan and his men enter (subshot 2). Interest in the new space (the space of Marcia's bag) is delayed momentarily as attention is focused on the entering Quinlan. Quinlan then quickly reminds us of the promised space as he walks past the trio and exits frame left. We hear a door close offscreen, and as the suspects and the lawyer all gaze in Quinlan's direction we are made quite aware that a new space is being withheld from our view (subshot 3). In this way, the camera hints at the distance it will achieve later in the shot. This change in distancing pattern differs greatly from that of the first shot, where the camera itself removed immediately to that distance (the space high above the sabotaged car). Quinlan is allowed to escape to that distance first, thus strengthening the spectator's desire to eventually see it and securing the need for the camera to eventually reveal that space.

Subshot 4
Subshot 5

Entrance into the promised space is delayed as Sanchez turns to talk to Vargas. The camera pans right to reframe Sanchez, Vargas, and Schwartz in a medium three-shot (subshot 4). As Vargas begins to speak, the tension created by the exiting Quinlan is subdued momentarily; the interest is now on what the hero has to say. As soon as this interest changes (from the offscreen space of Quinlan to the speaking hero), an opening door is heard offscreen, accompanied by Quinlan calling "Vargas!" The promised space is reemphasized. This time, however, Vargas steps forward (removing his sunglasses, indicating that we will now be allowed to see without obstruction) and walks toward frame left, toward Quinlan. The camera moves to follow (subshot 5), and for the first time we see the space referenced at the beginning of the shot (subshot 6). We see, in effect, the delayed "reverse shot" of subshot 3.

Subshot 6A
Subshot 6B
Subshot 7
Subshot 8

This moment is also essential because it introduces this shot's equivalent to the opening shot's car stops. Transitions between the rooms in the apartment (which are equivalent here, as will be shown, to the changes in camera height in the first shot) are marked by characters walking under or positioned under doorways, thresholds to each room. Furthermore, before the camera itself passes under a doorway into another room, it first shows two characters positioned under it.

In this first doorway subshot (6A+B), we see the space referenced by Quinlan's offscreen movement in subshot 2, but we do not (the camera does not) enter that space. Instead, the camera allows another offscreen space to be referenced, this time one behind the camera, as Quinlan calls officer Hanson into the frame from behind camera left (subshot 7). Then, the camera retreats from the view of the new space and follows Quinlan back to the living room. The new space is not forgotten, however, as Vargas is left standing in the doorway. Once in the living room, the space behind the camera (from which Hanson emerges) is again referenced, this time as France enters from behind camera right (subshot 8). While this offscreen space is never shown, these two entrances (of Hanson and France) provide one of several "rhymes" (to use Bellour's term) which echo throughout the shot and which reinforce its structure (others will be noted later): Hanson enters from behind camera left as Quinlan stands in the bedroom doorway, France enters from behind camera right as Quinlan sits in the living room.

Subshot 9
Subshot 10
Subshot 11
Subshot 12
Subshot 13
Subshot 14

The action now stays in the living room as Marcia and France leave the apartment in subshot 9 (echoing Quinlan's entrance in subshot 2, even with similar composition: doorway in frame right, Sanchez just left of center and looking at door, Quinlan and Marcia now switching frame position and role of "passer through door"). The shot, as presented up to this point (subshots 1-9), now begins to repeat itself. Quinlan is repositioned in front of the window seen in the first subshot. Like that subshot (in which Marcia, France, and Sanchez look out the window at Quinlan), this one (subshot 10) is also one of "specularity," as Quinlan directs officer Casey to "take a look in the desk." The leftward movement from subshot 1 to subshot 2 is repeated as Sanchez, camera following, moves toward frame left to talk to Vargas. Sanchez and the camera stop (subshot 11) in the same part of the room that he stopped with Marcia and France in subshot 2. Then, in subshot 12, Vargas repeats the exit from frame Quinlan made in subshot 2 when he exits frame left to go to the bedroom. This time, however, the camera moves into that space, following Casey, who is sent by Quinlan to follow Vargas (subshot 13). In this way, Casey repeats the movement Vargas made in subshot 5, when he (Vargas) walked to the doorway of the bedroom but no further.

Casey's stop is not at the bedroom doorway, however, but at the door to the bathroom (subshot 14). Now a new space is referenced, that of the bathroom's interior, where we see Vargas washing his face. Like the previous doorway moment (subshot 6) that allowed for Casey/camera to eventually enter the bedroom, this stop, which shows Vargas on the bathroom side of the doorway, Casey on the bedroom side (cf. the reverse positions of U.S. and Mexican police officers in subshot 6), this one prefaces, and thus allows, the camera's entry into the bathroom. Thus, this doorway moment completes the spatial revelation started in subshot 6. While that subshot allowed us to see the interior of the bedroom, it did not let us enter it. Nor did it present the source of the door noises heard in subshots 2 (a door closes) and 4 (a door opens). At this moment, the original promise of new offscreen space is fulfilled.

Subshot 15A
Subshot 15B
Subshot 15C

This moment also makes a new promise. This time, it is in the revelation of the bathroom's interior, which we can see from the camera's position in the bedroom. As the doorway moment of subshot 6 showed a space (the bedroom, from the camera's position in the hallway) we/the camera would eventually enter, this doorway moment does the same. As Casey puts down the telephone and exits frame left, the camera begins to track into the bathroom. Here, the camera arrives at the greatest distance from its original position (the living room) and apparently at the greatest distance from narrative involvement. As the camera tracks in to the bathroom, Quinlan's interrogation is heard offscreen. "Let's start with the shoe store," Quinlan says to Sanchez. "That's how you happened to meet Linnekar's daughter, isn't it, in the shoe store?" he asks. "Yeah, selling her shoes," replies Sanchez, "and I've been at her feet ever since." After Sanchez gives this reply, we see that the camera's inward movement is directed at a shoe box on a bathroom shelf (subshot 15A). The shoe store dialogue between Quinlan and Sanchez gives this box emphasis, as does Quinlan's offscreen mention of "dynamite" the instant before the shoe box falls into the bathtub with a clatter (subshot 15B) — echoing the explosion of dynamite previously heard in the opening shot. Then, as Vargas walks over to the tub to pick the box up, the camera frames the box almost exclusively in a medium shot (subshot 15C). At this point, the camera is at the farthest point in the apartment from the opening location, the living room. It is also farthest from narrative involvement, giving great emphasis to something (the shoe box) that has no apparent narrative value (it won't until several shots later, when Pete discovers the planted dynamite inside it) while the soundtrack reminds us that the important action — the questioning of Sanchez — is happening in the living room, out of our sight.

This moment also marks the beginning of the return to the original space and intimacy with narrative. As Vargas reshelves the shoe box, camera direction changes, reverses itself. Previously, the camera demonstrated at all times a tendency toward frame left, toward the space promised in subshots 1-3. Now, having arrived at that promised space, it begins its return to the original, shooting toward the bedroom.

Subshot 16
Subshot 17A
Subshot 17B

The first step of this return is taken as Shwartz comes to stand under the bathroom doorway while Vargas dries his face (subshot 16). In this moment, the return to narrative intimacy begins as the two talk about the beating Quinlan is giving Sanchez in the other room, and about other possible suspects. Like the previous threshold moments (subshots 6+14), this one prefaces and allows the first movement back towards the original space, the movement of Vargas from the bathroom to the bedroom. The camera follows Vargas out into the bedroom, framing him, Sanchez, and Quinlan in a medium three-shot (subshot 17A). From this framing, Sanchez encourages further return towards the living room by retreating to the background (subshot 17B), leaving Vargas and Quinlan alone and previewing the exit of Vargas in subshot 19.

Subshot 18
Subshot 19

The exit that Sanchez's retreat previews comes only after, as the pattern dictates, a threshold moment. This moment comes in subshot 18, when Vargas confronts Quinlan in the doorway between the bedroom and hallway. This echoes the first threshold moment (subshot 6), and allows Vargas to walk into the living room, away from the camera, and leave the apartment in subshot 19. This subshot also echoes the first threshold moment in that the camera stops at the doorway and allows a character to complete the movement through it. In subshot 6, this movement had already been achieved by Quinlan, who was therefore allowed to return to the living room with the camera. Now, the movement is completed by Vargas, who leaves the camera behind and exits. The camera's refusal to follow Vargas to the door is excused by the fact that it has already made the journey from that threshold to the living room; it did so with Quinlan in subshot 7. Vargas, acting as stand-in for a camera that has already completed the return to the door (having displaced the return to an earlier part of the shot, subshot 7), thus completes the action alone. He reverses the first journey of Quinlan in the apartment (doorway to bedroom in subshot 2 now bedroom to doorway), leaves Quinlan behind, standing at a threshold, as Quinlan had left him in subshot 7: a final "rhyme," the end of the return, the end of the shot.

Thus, the shot structures itself in the same way as the opening shot. It begins at close proximity to the narrative, then removes itself from it only to begin a gradual return to that original state. This shot's structure is further punctuated by the many rhyming subshots: 2+9 (Quinlan enters, Marcia exits), 1+3 (Marcia, Sanchez, France looking at something hidden from the spectator), 5+13 (walk through the hallway), 14+16 (bathroom door threshold), and any of the various three-shots (1,3,4,11,17A).

Both long takes, then, rely upon the noticeably autonomous camera not just for the spectacle of cinematographic virtuosity, but for segment structure itself. Things that might at first seem to pose problems for segment construction (the absence of editing, camera movement which calls attention to space beyond the frame, characters that are allowed to escape the camera's control) actually form the segment's structuring principle. The noticeably autonomous camera directs this structure by creating the distance from narrative action necessary for the tensions which demand and inevitably lead to the segment's conclusion.


1Christian Metz, Film Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1974; reprint, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 129 (reprint pagination).

2See Raymond Bellour, "The Obvious and the Code," Screen, Winter, 1974-75, 7-17; reprinted in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, Ed. Philip Rosen, New York: Columbia University Press, 1986, 93-101.

3See Stephen Heath, "Narrative Space," Screen, Autumn 1976, 19-75; reprinted in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, Ed. Philip Rosen (New York: Columbia University Press, 1986): 379-420.

4See Raymond Bellour, "Segmenting/Analyzing," Quarterly Review of Film Studies, August, 1976, 331-53; reprinted in Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology, 66-92.

All pictures from Touch of Evil copyright © Universal International.