27 juillet 2006

Opening Shot Project

The Opening Shot Project run by Jim Emerson at Scanners is an insightful and diadactic form of criticism, combining formal analysis and collaborative work.
It introduces formal considerations to what film commentary should be, in a simple way, because it focuses on a short bit that we easily grasp in our mind and one that is particularly significant to the whole film. As Jim says, the first image on the screen defines our symbolic connection with the meaning developped in the rest of the film.
Secondly, the collective participation opened to readers, so various viewers propose a new opening shot with their own personality, which blurs the institutional line between the unilateral critic's stance and the readers feedback.
Both aspects, formal criticism and collective criticism should be developped online more frequently in my opinion to take best advantage of online interaction and insights.

I especially like acquarello's essays at Strictly Film School because he pays particular attention to describe the opening sequence of each film. Thus we can picture the atmosphere of a film we haven't seen, and really get in the mood the auteur establishes which is important to best relate to his later film analysis.
And I like to do that as well when I review a film. This is a very good exercice. Giving a sneak-peak at the opening shot is more instructive and more pertinent than the random shuffle of a trailer montage.

At the reading of the analysis of Femme Fatale's opening shot, by Dennis Cozzalio and Jim Emerson, a film I haven't seen, I was inspired to try a little informal psychoanalytical reading of the first images :

Layered from back to front : TV subject, mirror reflection, protagonist, real-life audience (us viewers), there are so many symbols at work in the TV bit alone, if we consider the order of screen apparition, paying particular attention to their nature and their significance.

The update of the femme fatale icon, as Jim points out, is also from B&W to color, an aesthetic leap, not only in fashion style. At the same time a nostalgic look back on the past, and a confrontation of two cinema ages, through the most possible violent comparison : superimposition. Giving the edge to the glossy color image of course. The old TV texture undermines even more the B&W image. It's like a comparative test : Color v. B&W
The nudity evoked by Denis further biases this shock of eras, we get more flesh now, but the expression of erotism is different though, and one would say trivialized, corrupted by showing off too much while underplaying the power of suggestive/restrained fantasy. And the male figure rudely switching off TV, like a parental punishment, terminates this uneven rivalery. One was textured by TV screen lines pattern, the other was semi-transparent.
The present wins, the past is shut out, but it's more like an imposed wake up call to suppress our complacent nostalgia. De Palma doesn't necessarily reveal his preference. On the contrary, this is such a humble, cinephile move for De Palma to open his own movie with somebody else's movie. Maybe De Palma pounders over the commodification of great Classics in video forms, or how the whole Production Code aesthetic vanished away, or just a homage to Billy Wilder.

Then there is the multilayered apparition of the protagonist by progressive stages.
First we see the object of veneration, full screen. And the anachronistic reflection enters the frame to deny the original diegesis (Double Indemnity), literally upstaging Stanwyck. Now the image of the voyeur is revealed to the audience made self-conscious. Like if a spotlight was directed on the spectator in the dark theatre, showing up our anonymous presence on the silver screen like on a mirroring window. The TV screen stands for the peeping window of voyeurism.

The TV set is also a mirror, physically, because De Palma uses it to film the face of his actress while she's turning her back to us. It is symbolically also because the viewer-voyeur, looks into the screen and wants to see his/her own reflection on the screen, meaning IN the movie. And this clever mise-en-scene achieves just that, the viewer and the star are side by side on the screen.

So that's a dialogue with the audience, a welknown feeling shared by a cinephile. The unidentified protagonist is like us, an audience within this fiction. Calling for a deeper identification with her.
Moving on to a deeper layer, we assume the protagonist's point of view. The girl watches a mythical icon and her reflection merges into her. The mirror image materializes this unconscious process of identification ("transference" in freudian term), like a ghost double of herself projected outside her body to rub off a little against the screen, and maybe become a movie star too. Which actually happens with the introduction of the real protagonist, pushing back Barbara Stanwyck to backdrop layer.

There is probably a more complex message about screen feminity nested there by De Palma. I don't know the narrative connection between Double Indemnity and Femme Fatale, so I can't figure the thematic purpose.

The reality check of the TV set and the subtitles continue to remove the viewer from the screen world. A trick meant to accentuate the reality of this hereby fiction (Femme Fatale), by contrast to another fiction film (Double Indemnity) turned into a mere video playing on TV and switched off abruptly. The nudity uncovered as the shot widens makes us more and more interested in the color diegesis.
Perverse manipulation to install the proverbial suspension of disbelief. Now we are ready to forget we are watching a movie, because the "movie" was on that TV, now what's happening is reality and we're in it!
Obviously, watching the film entirely and knowing the substance of the content would help to inform this formal analysis with more pertinence, but as a technical exercice, I thought it was amusing to look into the structure itself alone.

Aucun commentaire: