Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960) – Scene: A Boy’s Best Friend

Psycho 4 Norman

– Brittaney Petsinis

Norman’s hand rests on the stuffed bird above him as he sits in the dark corner, speaking in front of his mimicking shadow. What appears to be a rather long stretch, perhaps conveys the idea of burden; one that could be understood as the burden of his mother, whom he proceeds to talk about with extreme mixed emotions. As intended, we are indeed bewildered by Norman’s fascination for stuffed birds as we watch them with intrigue as they hang around the hotel. No proportion of Hitchcock’s audience can possibly think this is normal in any way. Here, we are forced to consider Norman’s intentions which, at this point, we acknowledge may be rather sinister. Despite this, we cut him some slack, and allow Norman a chance to prove us wrong, which he does do at times. In response to Marion’s question, “is your time so empty?”, Norman responds with an evident hesitation and a quickly fading smile. At this point, his eyes wander as though he attempts to seek an appropriate answer, which we inevitably question when he has one. We don’t quite believe him, though also cannot help but pity him.

When Norman speaks the words, “well, a boy’s best friend is his mother”, he speaks them with commitment, largely emphasised through the nod of his head and direct attention as he answers the question. Through this we are perhaps forced to wonder whether his mother is the most important person in his life, or if he speaks the words out of mere obligation. Our confusion is further initiated through the rather long pause prior to his response and his unsupportive body language as he sits with a straight posture and with his hands in his lap. Here, there is a clever depiction of nervousness and hesitation and we cannot help but wonder why. Norman’s shadow on the wall behind him as he speaks, is perhaps a representation of his mother; the woman that he could not escape, even if he wanted to. It also cleverly serves to portray a dominant figure over Marion, and indeed, the idea of ‘two against one’.

Marion’s vulnerability is largely conveyed through her softly spoken voice and her delicately resting hand that hangs off the side of the table she sits at. Despite this, there is a clever depiction of cautiousness particularly obvious through the regular pauses before she speaks. Her eyes wander, portraying a sense of nervousness, confusion and fear of Norman’s ability to accurately assume Marion’s life. The set of the room, additionally allows for a rather accurate interpretation of the differing characters. Behind, and to the right of Marion, is a well-lit lamp and neatly placed ornaments, and in front of her, delicate ceramic objects; one, decorated with painted flowers. Despite this, the unmissable clutter in the room, and the dark curtain behind Marion, through its repetitive, busy pattern, could indeed be said to convey the idea of approaching complications.         In contrast to the surroundings of Marion, there is nothing ‘delicate’ about what surrounds Norman. Beside Norman is a clutter of birds in what appears to be a decorative plant. As this indeed helps to portray Norman as a sinister character, it cleverly sets up the idea of Marion as a victim.

There is an evil and engulfing nature about the room, largely supported by Norman’s words, “we’re all in our private traps”. In acknowledgement of Marion’s escape, he evidently speaks the words through experience; one that seems to have tormented him throughout his life. As he continues to speak, each of his fingers on his two interlocked hands, fidget with the remaining nine. He evidently speaks in reference to his mother who he claims to be his best friend, though is conveyed as such a burden. Hitchcock cleverly delivers the idea that Norman’s mother has him trapped, which we later establish, is quite literally the case.

As he speaks such evil words about his mother, he appears to be engulfed by a haunting, large winged bird that hangs from the ceiling, again metaphorically conveying the harshness of his mother, watching his every move in a dead and helpless state. Despite the haunting nature of the surrounding creatures, there is an evident love that Norman holds for the dead, stuffed birds, cleverly suggestive of the love that he too, holds for his mother, despite her apparent harshness.

 

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Jonathan Rosenbaum – An analysis of a film crtic

By Sarra Jabbour

Jonathan Rosenbaum is an American born screen critic who is arguably best known for his long career as head critic for the Chicago Reader.  Although he is a film critic, his work is not just about films. He tends to focus on a film’s relationship to the media quite often in his pieces. He also draws on his American background by digging into American films and finding how they speak to (and about) American history, politics and life.

Rosenbaum analyses and critiques by talking about films in relation to other films. Often, he refers to films he has written about in the past and compares them in order to highlight specific characteristics, similar themes and, analyse their effectiveness in relation to each other.  This is part of what makes Rosenbaum such an influential critic. He possesses this amazing ability to see beyond what is on the screen, analyse its characteristics, and compare to films that on the surface seem to be on a completely different spectrum (and therefore almost incomparable) to the average person, or even the average film reviewer.

His style of writing is interesting in that he combines his personal and professional opinions in his work. He generally writes in a sophisticated, semi –formal manner but occasionally slots his more casual personal opinions in brackets among his pieces. Adding his personal opinions in occasionally lightens the mood of his pieces which can tend to be slightly dense at times to the average person. Of course many of Rosenbaum’s pieces were written for the Chicago Reader which is known for its more literary approach and assumes its audience is of a certain calibre of education.

Rosenbaum tries to make a point of writing about world cinema films and films that are less well known. This idea, among others, was the reason for his now famous article: “List-o-mania. Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies” in response to the American Film Institute’s (AFI) 1998 list of 100 greatest American movies. Accompanied by a copy of the AFI’s list and a list of 100 greatest American films according to Rosenbaum, the article analyses the AFI’s list and suggests that it is merely a product of the commercial film industry and its ‘dumbing down’ of film culture to increase profits the easiest way they know how- reselling familiar goods. He condemns the AFI’s list as well as other lists and commercial film organisations who share the same motives. The purpose of this article was not written solely to criticise the work of the AFI but to point out that the American film industry focuses on only commercial films and disregards non- commercial American films which has created a close-minded American film culture. Rosenbaum suggests that it is the responsibility of the film industry, especially organisations like the AFI to promote more alternative films as these are the real masterpieces of American cinema. Rosenbaum places his list and the AFI’s list side by side at the end of his article so audiences can compare. He adds that unlike the AFI’s he presented his list in alphabetical order so as to not suggest any sort of ranking because it would be like “…ranking oranges over apples and declaring cherries superior to grapes” (Rosenbaum, 1998).

One thing demonstrated by the long list of Rosenbaum’s great works is his substantial amount of knowledge and understanding for film and all its intricacies- he definitely knows what he’s talking about. More than this is his great passion and appreciation for high-quality film which comes across quite loudly in each piece of film criticism. This is something which makes his writing appealing and engaging for readers. Work like Rosenbaum’s is quite difficult to come across; screen criticism that goes against the grain of commercial American cinema.

 

Works Cited                                                                       

Rosenbaum, J 1998, List-o-mania. Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love American Movies, Chicago Reader, viewed 18 September 2013 < http://www.chicagoreader.com/chicago/list-o-mania/Content?oid=896619>

Rosenbaum, J 1994, Stupidity as Redemption [Forrest Gump], Chicago Reader, viewed 18th Septemnber 2013, < http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=6960>

Rosenbaum, J 1997, The Human Touch [Men in Black & Contact], Chicago Reader, viewed 18th September 2013, < http://www.jonathanrosenbaum.com/?p=6639>

Rosenbaum, J, Jonathan Rosenbaum. Com, Viewed 18th September 2013 <jonathanrosenbaum.com>   

 

Mad Men – Season One Episode One

By Sarra Jabbour

Mad Men is genius. The first episode “Smoke gets in your eyesets the scene for what is a complex and clever series set in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. For many viewers, this series is nostalgic of a time when life seemed much easier, more exciting, a time of discovery. For others, Mad Men is an exciting and stylised insight into the corporate (specifically advertising) world, post World War Two.

Aesthetically, Mad Men works quite well. The costumes are a beautiful rendition of 50’s and 60’s fashion; A-line skirts, shift dresses, tie-die and paisley prints, double breasted jackets and grey and navy pin stripe suits. The script is witty and interesting and, the acting is realistic and believable. The characters are well thought out, complicated and realistic in a sort of dream-like way. They seem to have this kind of third dimension of complexity that characters from other television series don’t. The protagonist Don Draper is the first character we see and it’s love at first sight for us as audience members. Don is witty and charming and has a sense of mystery about him; there’s something more going on underneath those green eyes, but what is it? Betty Draper is the perfect 1950’s housewife; attentive yet glamorous is the way she is portrayed in the first episode. She too hides more beneath the surface of her loving wife and mother persona. Peggy Olsen is a young, pretty yet conservative woman who lives in the suburbs and has just begun her new job as secretary to Don Draper at Sterling Cooper advertising agency. The first episode shows the beginning of Peggy’s journey of self-discovery which leads her down a very different path to what it first seems. Joan Holloway is the star attraction of the office at Sterling Cooper. She is beautiful, intelligent and she knows it and uses this to her advantage.

This episode alone raises many moral issues and dilemmas and exploring these issues is really what the series is about. Mad Men is a man’s world, a world where women are objectified and are lower in the social and workplace hierarchy than men. Characters like Joan Holloway and Peggy Olsen are depictions of the different ways women dealt with the way they were treated by men. Joan uses it to her advantage, using her looks to get where she wants in her career and the rest of her life. Peggy seems to be more conservative in her approach to life in the first episode. She seems quite uncomfortable at the many remarks from her co-workers on her first day Sterling Cooper about her body and image. She comes across as innocent and naive in the beginning; however the first episode gives us a hint that there is something more to Peggy after she is shown at a doctor’s clinic asking for a prescription for contraceptive pills without being married.

Don Draper seems to be a pure and good man at first. The first episode depicts Draper in bed with a woman. The two seem to know each other quite well and it is suggested that this ‘relationship’ has been going on for a while. This scene doesn’t seem to be of any significance until the very last scene of the episode where it is revealed that Draper is in fact married with two children. And so the many layers of the complicated Don Draper begin to be revealed.

Somehow we are made to feel sympathetic towards most of the main characters in Mad Men, even when they are in the wrong. This is the beauty of Mad Men. Nothing is black and white; there are many grey areas in the moral issues that are brought up. These grey areas create a more realistic representation of life which may be the reason why the series has been so successful. Although it is set more than six decades ago, most of the moral issues that are explored within the series are relevant to audiences today. Mad Men’s “Smoke gets in your eye” is a delight to watch from start to finish. It poses many questions and which are yet to be answered by the end of the episode which urges you to keep watching. It has been quite a while since a series has intrigued me so much. 

What is screen criticism?

By Catherine Falalis

The craft of screen criticism focuses on the critique, evaluation and review of screen based texts. These texts are not only limited to films, but can also include television series and web series. The work of screen critics can be used by audiences to determine whether or not to watch a text, or to conclude whether it is suited to their viewing taste. Alternatively, this kind of criticism can be sought out by film or television enthusiasts to discover the different views surrounding the text before or after viewing it themselves. Delving deeper into such discussion surrounding a text can be an interesting way to pick up things which otherwise may not have been noticed within the text and can open the mind to alternate ways of interpreting a text.

The role of a good screen critic is not only to analyse the plot of the given text. While this is a very important aspect of screen criticism, attention and discussion should also be given to elements of mise en scene, coding and motifs, the director’s cinematic traits, character relationships and developments. The screen critic must delve deeper into the text’s context and surrounding factors to give the audience a sense of how the text fits into a historic cinematic and social frame.

The critic’s reaction to the text is paramount to convey within their review. Stating whether they laughed, cried, or were just plain bored can really cause audiences to emotionally relate to what they’re trying to say. Having the courage to say what they honestly feel about a text is what sets some critics apart from others.

A trap that some beginner critics fall into is the act of writing too formally. While it’s important to not ‘dumb things down’ for your audience, it is also wise to get straight to the point when writing a review. A review can be closely likened to a piece of journalistic opinion writing rather than a predominately fact based news piece. Critics can also convey their reviews through broadcast avenues such as radio or television.

The new age critic has found a voice in the online forum. The internet has changed the way screen criticism is communicated, mainly because global perspectives can be sought out almost instantaneously. While this is a great archive for different opinions, criticism has been made on the quality of these reviews, due to anyone with a computer being able to voice their opinion. Sometimes, rather than an in depth analyses of a text, what audiences see and base the judgement of a text on, is a short review about whether to go and watch the text, provided with not a lot of context.

However, arguments have been made that it is about looking in the right places online, to sort out the professional reviews from the ones which are just written by hobbyists. I personally predict that one day, most good and long-form screen criticism will be found online on purposely built websites for such discussion. Due to dwindling numbers engaging in the print media industry, and critics and journalists forced into other avenues of communications, such as online, this will be the likely outcome for new age screen criticism.

I do however believe that film and television magazines are still a popular print option amongst some audiences. Therefore, magazines may stick around for a little longer than their newspaper counterparts for the role of critics.

Whatever forum the communication of screen criticism is fed through, there are a few factors which should remain the same. A passion for film and television, knowledgeable opinions based on feeling or fact, quality writing or reporting and the courage to reveal ones true reaction to a text, provide all the elements for a great screen critic and review.

Russian Roulette – Rihanna A Critical Response

By Catherine Falalis

The music clip for singer Rihanna’s song titled Russian Roulette, received negative responses from critics for being ‘too dark’. The clip which was released on October 26, 2009, was a change from Rihanna’s usual lighter toned music clips, known for being full of colour, carefree scenes and sexually explicit images. The soundtrack underscores dark videography within this music clip, but the unnerving tone created by these scenes is exactly what makes this video a refreshing change for the singer.

THE LIGHTER SIDE OF DARK IMAGERY

Stylistically, dark and earthy tones consisting of greys, blacks and browns encapsulate the screen. From the padded grey gas chamber, to the small, dimly lit brown room in which she and her ‘lover’ play Russian roulette with a gun as they contemplate suicide. The scene in which Rihanna stands in the middle of the road as a car accelerates rapidly towards her also takes place at night, allowing for a very dark mise-en-scene barely lit by street lamps. The only time the audience sees any vibrancy of colour is in the form of red gas and blood.

All these elements of style within the mise-en-scene and the selective choice in colour set the mood throughout the entirety of the clip. Due to the predominance of dark colour, the audience is in a sense ‘left in the dark’ about what the characters are going to do. Will they pull the trigger? Will she escape the gas chamber? Will she be run down by the speeding car? Lighting resembling a strobe light is the only thing which offers the audience a glimpse into the answers to these questions. But as everyone who has been to a party or club knows, the strobe only offers a limited timing worth of visual aid, usually only a second before it turns off, again leaving you left in the dark. All these elements work together to provide not only an interesting complexity within the clip, but also create an unnerving feeling, similar to that of many good thriller or horror films. The audience can only assume what happens next because they are never shown the full picture.

THE DARKER SIDE OF LIFE – THEMES

The video clip should also be commended for not shying away from realistic themes which many turn a blind eye to because of their dark nature. While Rihanna has openly stated that she does not want to be a role model, the clip does offer some valuable elements to take away.

Firstly, an overwhelming sense of vulnerability within this clip is depicted by the male dominated force thrust upon her in the gas chamber scenes. Given the clip was released after her abusive relationship with singer Chris Brown had ended, one can assume that elements of the song relate to this tumultuous relationship. Sometimes, women can feel entrapped within their abusive relationships, almost suffocating not knowing a way out, just as Rihanna feels within the realms of the gas chamber. Other scenes show her drowning and being shot, again, there seems to be no escape. This feeling of vulnerability and feeling of entrapment will be relatable to many women in a domestically abusive situation. Although unnerving, it’s worth drawing attention to so others know that they’re not alone.

The music clip also depicts suicide as Rihanna’s lover pulls the trigger, ending this game of Russian roulette and ending the song. In a world of searching for an escape route from life’s difficulties, whether it be an abusive relationship or other matters, many turn to suicide as a way out. A very difficult topic for many to think about, but it’s a reality some people face. The clip is not crafted in a way to glamorise suicide but to instead create an unsettling atmosphere for the audience to watch. Ending with this scene also allows for the issue to stick in the audience’s mind after having watched the video clip.

What the critics who negatively critiqued this clip failed to note was that it was constructed in such a way of stylistic and visual complexity that while it is dark and unsettling, it’s exactly what Rihanna was aiming to do in order to convey difficult themes. Therefore I believe the clip achieved doing so at a high level of competency.