· cinema as mirror / face ·

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In our last session we explored the subject of cinema as face and mirror and how the spectator participates of this. Mirrors can work in cinema as either a window to the unconscious or a cinematic sign that reflects or reflexes what has just been seen. On top of that we discussed about the mirror neurones and how cinema stimulates them.

In order to further expand myself on the topic and to clarify my explanations, I picked the Christopher Nolan’s acclaimed film ‘Memento’. This neo-noir psychological thriller from 2000 is known for its complex non-linear narrative. From my point of view, cinema as mirror is perfectly pictured in this film using the main character, Leonard Shelby, a series of key objects and a mind-knotting scene structure throughout the entire film.

I would like to start with the more logical and literal meaning of mirror: the object that reflects what is in front of it. Many are the times that Leonard stares in front of the mirror to see his reflection and all the tattoos all over his body that he uses as eternal important notes to himself. The fact that Nolan presents this significant aspect of Leonards life through a mirror, makes the audience aware that Leonards is also a spectator of his own life contemplating those tattoos that work as clues for both him and the audience. Similarly, the idea of cinema as face is illustrated through the Polaroid pictures Leonard takes of the other important people that to his own judgement are related to the murder of his wife. Underneath the pictures, he writes down key information about the person on the picture. This key information is likewise delivered to the audience and it’s in some cases the only news the viewer has about certain characters.

Secondly, ’Memento’ works as a window to the unconscious in the sense that the audience travels to the mind of the Leonard. This is accomplished by the odd alternation of scenes that builds the film. This puzzled structure leaves a disturbing and disconcerting feeling on the audience that, in fact, helps the viewers to go inside Leonard’s conscious and identify themselves with the disorientated mind of Leonard who suffers from short-term amnesia and is unable to store recent memories.

In regard to the cinematic sign that reflects what has just been seen, ‘Memento’ is the best example I could think of, and in my opinion it perfectly fits the purpose. Thus, the film follows two main timelines that can be easily distinguished because one if in black and white and the other in colour. Those timelines are constantly mirroring each other. For instance, Leonard sees a Polaroid or reads one of his tattoos, and the next scene is a flashback of how Leonard first discovered that bit of information, or he talks on the phone about someone and the next scene introduces that person. Hence, the scenes are consistently reflecting each other like a corridor of mirrors until the end of the movie when the illusion breaks and the audience eventually discerns what is the truth and what the reflection.

All in all, I believe that doing cinema as a mirror is one of the most complex yet elaborated and jumbling ways to do it. Indeed, is a more effective way to drag the viewer into the movie and make him or her not just witness the story from outside but get them lost in a labyrinthine set of mirrors that instigates them to take part in the story and choose what to believe, what to trust, what to support. From my perspective, a more interesting and stimulating way to watch a movie.

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· cinema as skin ·

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Still of ‘Under the Skin’ (2013)

The published author Laura U. Marks describes the skin of the film as “a metaphor to emphasise the way film signifies through its materiality, through a contact between perceiver and object represented.” She states that “it also suggests the way vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes.” Furthermore, she concludes in her book ‘The Skin of the Film’ that “for intellectual artists it is most valuable to think of the skin of the film not as a screen, but as a membrane that brings its audience in contract with the material forms of memory.

And I do not know if she would consider myself an intellectual artist but I do believe that the skin of the film is a metaphor of everything that surrounds the film with its particular and recognisable atmosphere. The skin of the film is its discernible visual appearance. Moreover, I agree with L.U. Marks that “the skin” is the most memorable aspect of a film, this one aspect that has a prolonged impact and persist in our memory even more than the story it explains. For instance, think of how easy is to identify a movie you have already watched by just a few frames rather than figure it out how it ended.

Now, in order to exemplify what is cinema as skin to me I would like to reference the Jonathan Glazer’s film ‘Under the Skin’ in which Scarlett Johansson performed the leading role of a strange creature that resembles an alien just landed on the Earth. One of the first scenes of this film based on the Michel Faber novel with the same title presents the alien entity introducing herself into the body of a laying young woman and putting it on as an entire-body suit of real skin.

The whole film conducts the audience inside that skin through this unique visual journey. The entity dedicates all its time to seek for lonely men to lure them to isolated properties and drag them to an underworld dimension where they are sort of fossilised to get later on consumed by her.

In her unquenchable search she uses her physical appearance to seduce them, therefore her outer   aspect. This appealing skin, though, is embodied by a threatening creature. Thus, two opposite concepts meet in one same personification. This skin and body is what serves the director as an excuse to lead the spectators around diverse cities of the United Kingdom and to present its people, those bodies and skins of the inhabitants. Indeed, the director confirmed that, a part of Scarlett and very few others, the other people were not actors and in most cases did not even know they were filmed since he used secret cameras. He intended, by this mean, to catch the genuine reactions of the people and their truly personality.

The film uses the actual skin at the beginning to drag the audience into the metaphoric skin of the film. This metaphoric skin is a very delicate, cold, quiet yet disturbing atmosphere where something, regardless is apparent normality, is twisted. (SPOILER) At the end of the film, the skin begins to tear apart and peel and the body of the relinquishing creature is visible again. Likewise, this is the moment when the audience is expelled from this atmosphere and disembodies the skin of the film.

This is a clip of the end of the film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pJV546PsXKg


 

References:

Marks, L.U. (2000). ‘The skin of the film‘. Duke University Press. Durham and London.

Glazer, J. (2013) ‘Under the skin’.

 

· Cinema as ear ·

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Frame of ‘Blancanieves’ (2012): Carmencita is dancing flamenco with her grandma. It sounds ‘No te puedo encontrar’ track num.8 in the Spotify playlist. 

It is almost unimaginable going nowadays to the cinema to watch a silent film, but there was a time that movies were in black and white and the dialogues were presented in a full-screen sign after every intervention of the characters. However by the 1920’s sound was added to the image to create the experience of film art we enjoy today, a complete three-dimensional realism. Yet, in 2012 there was a man who dared to go back to the beginning and make a black and white silent film. He was the Spanish film-maker Pablo Berger and the movie was called ‘Blancanieves’, the Spanish for Snow White, the worldwide known tale by the Grimm brothers. Since it is precisely in its extraordinarily expressive soundtrack where the magic of this acclaimed film can be found, I would like to expose my ideas and thoughts about it in order to talk about the cinema as ear.

This version of the tale is slightly different from the original: in this risky proposal that takes place in a South Spain village, Berger introduces ‘Snow White’ as ‘Carmencita’ the daughter of a bullfighter. Her mum passed away giving birth to her and her step-mother is the nurse who took care of her dad when he got gored by a bull in a “corrida”. The presence of bullfighting was very controversial yet it did not prevent it from being tremendously popular everywhere it was released like in USA or Japan as well as from receiving numerous awards for best picture, best leading female actress and best soundtrack amongst others.

‘Blancanieves’ was shot bearing all resemblances to a late 19th century movie. There is no spoken dialogue throughout the entire movie and this need to talk is helped by those full-screen signs that transcript everything the characters have to say. Nevertheless, the dialogue is not much and what actually speaks for the movie is its soundtrack. The music leads the viewers’ journey as soon as the first musical notes can be listened (and the first images appears on the screen). This first musical piece introduces the town where the events are going to take place and presents every frame in a stunningly magical way that recalls the opening of a fairy-tell story. The music is constant and not only does it replace the lack of dialogue but also it moves the film smoothly and strikingly until the end.

One of my favourite scenes is the one happening when ‘Carmencita’ is feeling downcast hidden under a table at her yard because her dad did not come to see her after her First Communion. Nonetheless, her grandma, the mother of her deceased mum, strives to cheer her up by playing ‘flamenco’ music and encouraging her to dance together. They transform the scene in such a theatrical performance of both granddaughter and grandma dancing charmingly. The music at this point is a ‘flamenco’ piece sung by Juan Gomez and Silvia Perez Cruz, unlike most of the pieces in the movie which are just orchestral tracks. This song is apparently really cheerful and emotional yet it anticipates what is about to happen, a macabre twist of black humour. (I don’t want to spoil the film.)

Nevertheless, what really bewildered me was what I realised right after I watched the movie and that I could experience again meanwhile writing this essay and listening to the soundtrack on Spotify. If you do not watch the film, if you make the exercise of closing your eyes and just listen to the music you can feel and almost tell everything is going on. You can tell when there’s a change of scene, when there’s a tense situation, when the bull is about to gore the dad or when the evil step-mother is around. It is delightful how the music in this ambitious film could convey so much and so precisely that there was no need of image to narrate the story. I truly believe cinema like this, cinema as ear, is still factual nowadays and indeed a field yet to explore, experiment and develop.

Therefore, I perceive sound as something intrinsically related to image and whose juxtaposition creates something wonderful called cinema. What’s more, I understand that sound and image are not only a good combo but on top of that they only add more value to each other. Music and image, equally expressive medias.


Link of the ‘Blancanieves’ track list on Spotify

· cinema as door ·

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Agent Cooper getting into the ‘Black Lodge’ in Twin Peaks (1991)

We have been recently introduced to the subject of cinema as door. These doors move the audience toward something rather than just letting the spectator witness what is happening like in the case of cinema as either window or frame. Many are the film-makers that use doors as a constant resource in their filmography.

One of the best uses is the one given by the American David Lynch that not only make use of doors to move the viewer to different sceneries but he also gives doors or ‘metaphorical doors’ the power of transporting the viewer to another reality. This can be easily spotted in the early 90’s Tv serie ‘Twin Peaks’ where some of its main characters travel to other universes like ‘The Black Lodge’ or ‘The White Lodge’. These worlds seem to be coexistent and parallel realities since in certain cases some of the characters that travel there meet other versions of themselves and even have the chance to hold enigmatic and cryptic conversions with their other self.

Nevertheless, this extraordinary and surreal transportation does not requiere of unusual astonishing special effects but just a red curtain. This mythical curtain appears in a concrete point in the forests of Twin Peaks, and the different characters just need to go to the other side of the curtain to be instantly transported to those bizarre sceneries. These realities consist of a main room with a white and black pattern floor where there are a couple of couches. However, the characters can walk through red curtain corridors to get to ‘other’ exactly identical rooms where perhaps other characters are waiting.

I personally find fascinating the way Lynch used the red curtain as a door to another universe since it is a metaphorical yet very simple way to move the characters and the audience to a divergent reality. In fact, it is key in Lynch filmography to turn apparently common objects in very peculiar artefacts or even gift them with exceptional meanings such as entry to the surreal ‘Black Lodge’. What’s more, Lynch let the viewer walk through the threshold of the two realities by wandering through the red curtain corridors. With no doubt one of the most, if not the most perturbing and puzzling serie of scenes I have ever watched.

Pure dreamy Lynch.

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Agent Cooper wandering through the red curtain corridors between the two realities.

· cinema as a frame or as a window ·

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Frame from the short-movie entered by David Lynch (example of cinema used as a frame)

We came across the 53 second movies made by several distinguished film-makers from around the world in 1995. It was for the 100th anniversary of the invention of the Cinématographe camera by the Lumière brothers in 1985. We specially visualised the ones by the Americans directors David Lynch and Spike Lee. Despite being both of them no longer than 53 seconds that is enough time to notice the multiple differences between them.

The one by Spike Lee shows a close-up of a baby just staring at the lock-off camera throughout the entire single shot. It can be heard an off camera voice, which belongs to the actual film-maker, asking the baby to say the word ‘Daddy’. The fact that there are no cut and it is a long take builds up a tense feeling that has almost a magnetic effect on the audience since everyone is paying attention to whether the baby will say ‘daddy’ or not. This intimate scene bears a resemblance to a real family home-made video attempting to document the first words of the baby. Due to the off camera voice directly addressed to the baby, the audience assumes that the camera is also hold by the one talking and therefore it consist of a subjective frame although it is not a mobile shot. Therefore, this short-movie could be categorised as cinema used as a frame despite being an static shot because it is subjective.

For instance, a static single shot that can be considered cinema as a window, is the short-movie entered by the German director Wim Wenders where the two men enter and leave the scene and the camera do not follow them. It is an immobile scene that shows just a fragment of the whole as if the director would have opened a hole in the scene instead of moved the camera around the scene. This sort of cinema is supposed to be more objective since it shows life as it happens.

On the other hand, the short-movie by David Lynch is another good example of cinema as a frame in it is more dramatic way. Lynch makes a series of jump cuts from different scenes to build up the tension and story itself. That is to say that Lynch creates the expectation by cutting rapidly from one scene to another and adding some blank shots in the middle. This constructs a feeling of bewilderment since the movie just shows different key moments of the story and is the audience who needs to add the meaning of what is really going on. It is highly noticeable how in this case the facts, characters, and actions are deliberately brought into frame unlike in the case of Wenders.

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Frame from the short-movie entered by Wim Wenders (example of cinema as a window)

 

· Fritz-kola, battle of brands ·

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This two faces resemblance a retro logo from the 50’s yet it was first designed by Mirco and Lorenz, two friends of Hamburg, Germany in 2002. They strive to create a cola drink that would be better than Coke. According to their website they started the business with a budget of only €7000, which means that they could not spend money on a brand launching campaign or designing an original brand new logo, for instance. For this reason, they opted to use their faces as a logo since it was the only way they could be sure that it met the legal requirements. Moreover, they originally stick the logo to the glass bottles using a glue stick.

Thus, we can ensure the genuinely independent beginning of this company that is now leading the sales of kola drinks in most parts of Germany including Berlin and that is currently exporting to countries all over Europe. Unlike other emerging new brands, Fritz-Kola did not attempt to create this trendy image of a rare local fancy kola for cool people, but is a purely self-reliant business set up by two friends with the ambition of giving the world a better recipe than the one from Coca-Cola.

Despite beginning as a modest enterprise branded by a couple of friends, Fritz-Kola means an existing threat to the huge multinational, which means that they are achieving their aim. Current tag lines from the expanding company are direct attacks to their competitors. For instance, this one that says ‘cocaine is so eighties’ that refers to the fact that the ‘secret’ ingredient of Coke is in fact one component of cocaine which they do not use at all to create their drinks.

I believe that ‘fritz-kola’ designed a brilliant branding approach to launch their products by publicly admitting their desire to defeat the most powerful drink worldwide since this attracted a range of customers keen on kola-drinks but agains capitalism and major companies.

· Treachery of Images (& words) ·

‘Ceci n’est pas une pipe’. This is paradoxically the text right underneath a pipe in René Magritte’s painting ‘The Treachery of Images’. It might apparently seem an contradiction, yet Magritte was right because what the viewers see is in fact not a pipe but a REPRESENTATION of a pipe. This is because the word “pipe” is the signifier and the resemblance of a pipe is the signified, the mental concept one has of anything. Moreover, the signified might vary from person to person since everyone would have a different mental idea of “pipe” based on their experiences and relationships in meaning they have created.

 

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‘Treachery of Images’ by René Magritte (1928-1929)

However, in the same way that the representation of a pipe is not a pipe, the word ‘pipe’ itself, is not a pipe either is just a word we agreed to use to designate a real thing. Thus, Magritte was directly reminding the viewer that language is smartly connected to reality but still language does not convey the real thing.

Nevertheless, Magritte was not the first one who wondered about the relation between the signifier and the signified. Ferdinand de Saussure, a French linguist (1857-1913) worked in this theory creating what is nowadays known as semiotics.

Semiotics are indeed one of the most important facts a creative, advertiser or designer should take into account before launching a campaign or a brand. This is to say that if I want to relate my brand  to certain emotions or feelings, I should find out which are the signs whose signifieds are the ones I am looking for. This is really useful to determinate the topic colour of a brand, for instance. Each colour has several signifieds and those can change due to culture. Let’s take colour RED: ‘red’ as a word is the signifier. Its signified is the idea of red that everyone would have in mind and that would probably all be different tones of red. Yet ‘love’, ‘blood’, or ‘apple’ are other signifieds of the colour red, since are intrinsically related.