When the Journey is the Best Part of the Story

The Visual Appeal of Journey to the End of the Night

I just got back from a week on the road, and I’m thinking about the cliché that says the journey is as important as the destination. I’m wondering if the person who said that ever drove a compact car for fourteen hours straight? I’m also thinking how that old cliché can be applied to movies? There are many movies that have rather predictable plots but we still watch. More often than not we enjoy the movie not so much for the reveal (the destination) but for the development (the journey). Eric Eason’s Journey to the End of the Night is one such movie. You won’t find anything groundbreaking in the movie’s plot, but you will discover a movie that is beautiful in its film noir imagery.

I’m not going to go into great detail about the plot of Journey to the End of the Night. Let’s just say that it has some of the standard plot features of traditional film noir: betrayal, jealousy, and double cross. The topics of plot and character development could easily be an essay on its own, but I want to focus a couple of visual elements of this movie that are great examples of film noir. First, film noir often incorporates elements of bleak urban settings into the story and Journey to the End of the Night is no exception. The best example of this is with the movie’s opening and ending credits. The opening credits give the viewer and aerial view of the city of Sao Paulo, Brazil as night is falling. There is a certain distance, both physically and emotionally in the scene. We can feel the loneliness of the city’s inhabitants and the bleak lives this movie’s characters lead. The ending credits show a similar aerial view of the city as the sun is rising in the distance. Although it may be a new day the same feelings of loneliness and a bleak future linger. Another element common to film noir that can be found in Journey to the End of the Night is the use of grain and contrast. The entire movie is shot with a subtle use of grain and contrast that adds a layer of visual subtext that reinforces feelings of fatalism common to film noir. The characters may try their best to escape the lives they lead but are often victims of fate.  This use of grain and contrast also enhances the morally ambiguous lives these characters lead.  These people leave gritty lives and the film grain shows this.

I spent fourteen hours one way on my recent road trip. Even though I knew what the destination held for me I made certain to take the time to enjoy the trip there. The same can be said for many movies. Even though the plot may be predictable that doesn’t mean you still can’t enjoy the visual experience of watching it.  Journey to the End of the Night utilizes a few visual elements of film noir that make it worth the trip.

-K-

Journey to the End of the Night with Brendan Fraser, Yaslin Bey, and Scott Glenn. Directed by Eric Eason.

The Prescience of Peeping Tom

How a Sixty Year Old Movie Foresaw Our Fascination With Watching. 

If a movie predicts the future should it be billed as sci-fi? Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom debuted in 1960 to negative critical reviews. It wasn’t until years later that critics began to see Powell’s production for the well-crafted movie that it is (positive reviews from the likes of Martin Scorsese help). Peeping Tom is billed as a crime drama and a strong argument can be made that it is one of the first modern slasher/horror movies. This movie is great when viewed on all these levels, but there are some interesting points in the movie that can be viewed as eerie predictions of life in 2019. Powell’s movie is obviously not science fiction, but his depiction of scoptophilia provides some interesting connections to our current fascination with watching and being watched.

Although the movie debuted in 1960, there are a few scenes that would be perfect in a contemporary movie focused a compulsion to watch. Mark Lewis, played by Karlheinz Bohm, is the central character of Peeping Tom. Mark suffers from scoptophilia, what is explained in the movie as, “The morbid urge to gaze.” That very explanation sadly can be applied to many people who are drawn to live feeds and up to the minute posts. The first scene of the movie involves Mark secretly filming an event as it happens. Immediately after this first scene we see it replayed as Mark watches his film of the event. The scene may be shocking on first view but it loses some of this shock on a second viewing. One is left to wonder if Mark’s urge to gaze wears off a little with each viewing.This same question can be asked of viewers of the aforementioned live feeds and posts. When does shock give way to apathy? When does the desensitization begin? Although the movie centers on Mark’s morbid urge to gaze there are also scenes that imply an urge to be gazed upon.

We find out rather early in the movie that Mark’s childhood was closely monitored and filmed by his father, a renowned biologist. Mark refers to the key events of his childhood as a series of “sequences” that were all filmed. This scene is prescient of people who currently live their lives on social media. The event (sequence) is less important than the number of likes and shares that it gets. The urge to be gazed upon is not just shown through the character of Mark. Vivian, played by Moira Shearer, is an aspiring actress who agrees to be part of a film Mark is shooting. She makes two statements that speak to an urge to be gazed upon. First, Vivian says, “Make us famous,” while Mark is preparing a set. This quote sounds like a mantra for those who, in 2019, aspire to be ‘instafamous’. Secondly, Vivian playfully gets behind a studio camera and says, “I’m photographing you photographing me.” In her desire to be watched she is oblivious to the danger she is in. How many people living online worry about (or even acknowledge) the possible dangers? Powell’s presentation of both the morbid urge to gaze and to be gazed upon made for an excellent movie in 1960 and gives contemporary audiences a few scenes to contemplate.

Peeping Tom was not well received in 1960 because of its subject matter and Powell’s approach to presenting that subject matter.  That subject matter, the urge to gaze and be gazed upon, is a common topic today. Peeping Tom has several prescient scenes that are worth a closer look for those interested in our obsession with watching and being watched.

-K-

Peeping Tom with Karlheinz Bohm and Anna Massey.  Directed by Michael Powell.

 

The Relevance of The Lost Weekend

When does a lost evening give way to a lost weekend? When do lost weekends give way to a lost life? Dorothy Parker’s “You Were Perfectly Fine” addresses some dangers of an evening of drinking to excess. The Lost Weekend, directed by Billy Wilder, addresses the dangers and consequences of years of drinking to excess. There are many movies that address alcoholism that are more recent than The Lost Weekend, but this movie was groundbreaking for its portrayal of alcoholism.  Wilder’s movie is worth a view for both its originality and its lasting message.

Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend, based on Charles Jackson’s novel, was ahead of its time and earned the 1945 Best Picture Oscar (along with three other Oscars). Movies prior to The Lost Weekend avoided direct discussions concerning alcoholism or often used alcoholism for comic relief. Ray Milland’s portrayal of an alcoholic’s struggle over the course of a weekend was something new to the screen, and under Wilder’s direction, provided a realistic view of alcoholism. This realistic portrayal of the impact of alcoholism on the alcoholic and those close to him is as relevant now as it was when it premiered.

The movie has held up well over the past seventy years. The opening scene establishes the central characters and provides a realistic view of an alcoholic. Milland’s portrayal of a man who is struggling with alcoholism is realistic and allows the viewer to empathize with him. This realism was original for the time and still holds true. A viewer today can feel the same anguish as the viewer of 1945 when Milland says, “I’m not a drinker. I’m a drunk.” There are some contemporary critics who argue the end of the movie is not in keeping with the story and it has become dated. Although the ending of the movie does differ from the novel this can be attributed to Wilder’s need to get approval from the Hays Office censors. But the ending of the movie may not be as upbeat as many critics argue. Milland’s character may want to change, but wanting to change is just one step in a long and difficult process. This interpretation shows the movie’s message concerning the struggle of the alcoholic is as relevant now as it was in 1945.

Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend was one of the first honest and realistic portrayals of alcoholism on film. Ray Milland’s performance as an individual struggling with alcoholism rings as true today as it did in 1945. The Lost Weekend is worth viewing for both its historical significance and its message.

-K-

The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland and Jane Wyman. Directed by Billy Wilder.

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