Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Woman and a Rather Annoyed Death

This takes a little backstory, and that is: In Latin class, we had to translate a little story about a woman who laments and groans and weeps over her poor dying husband. She begs for Death to kill her instead of him. Of course, he answers that call. Why not? A death is a death and hey, he's not really losing here. So he comes knocking and she freaks out and doesn't want to go. I thought this sounded very much like Terry Pratchett's Death, who I love. So, bored and nothing to do, I decided to write something. And, voila, here it is.


The woman sniffled and walked through the door. She set down the tray and walked over to the bed, where a relatively ill-looking man was laying. A tear went down her cheek as she kneeled by the bed and grasped his hand. She held for a while looking fairly forlorn and lost. She was always so fond of him and it would just break her heart to lose him. She sniffled loudly.
The man had noticed his wife but didn't quite feel like answering her. She sniffled a little more loudly and he rolled his eyes. She was fairly nice and not too bad at cooking as long as you stayed away from her soups and sauces[1]. He looked over at her and said, “It's ok dear, I'm just a little sick.” She looked up with pouty lips.

“Dear, you must get better. I just couldn't stand it, my love. With you gone, oh what shall I do? Oh, you must get better.” She said pleadingly. Her husband couldn't really stand her. He thought to himself on how much better off he would be once he as dead. He wouldn't really be alive anymore, but then he wouldn't have to deal with her.

She opened her mouth and he secretly wished to smack her. She raised her arms up and moaned, “Oh great gods, oh cruel Death, how could you do this to us? We are husband and wife. We are the land and ocean. We are the rose and aphids![2] Please, please, please, Death, do not take my innocent husband away! If you must, oh nasty Death, take me instead. Take me and leave him whole and healthy.” She inwardly smiled to herself as she flopped onto the bed and cried dramatically. She thought this would be such a nice little act for her dying husband and gossiping slaves. What she didn’t count on was that Death, who was relatively bored at the moment, listened in to her dreadful moaning. There was a cold draft coming from the corner of the room, the one with the scroll-shelf and a light flapping of heavy cloth. A tall ominous figure stood there. The husband stared at it, hoping for sure that this tall ominous figure was not who he thought it was and had not come for what he thought he came for. The wife remained oblivious.


The wife looked up and screamed at the tall ominous figure. “I-it... erm... Well, I take it back! I don't want to die anymore!”

The tall ominous figure stared at her for a moment. The husband thought it looked as though it was thinking. The figure then shrugged and said:


“Then, can I not die?”

The figure looked over at the husband.

The husband looked back.

And shivered.

[1] She had problems with the stirring. She always kept it on the burner for a little too long or a little too short. Well, that and she did not have the knack for choosing out the best of veggies. They were almost always a little old and rotten and she was not the gentlest of veggie-holders, causing them to bruise rapidly. Or, for the matter, the best of meats. On the whole, it was wise to stay away from her cooking. For his own sake, he tried to make her happy and secretly munched on their head of house slave's dishes instead. Understanding his predicament, the head of house slave always made two helpings worth of food and got paid rather well for it, too.

[2] When she had first thought this up in her mind, she thought it sounded poetic, romantic even. After all, it had the word rose in it. As she said it, she realised just how stupid it sounded. Her husband would have agreed with her.


“So... I'm going to die? For... INSULTING YOU?”


The husband figured that this wouldn't be a good time to mention that he felt a little light-headed and his feet were getting cold. He was pretty sure that this was something to do with him dying.

“Well, then how do I die?”


“If I'm to die, I need a reason. People just don’t go around dying for no good reason. I don’t have a reason to die. I’m healthy.”


“Such as?”


“By who?”


The husband thought that this would be pretty obvious.

“I don't want to be stabbed.”


“Pick another one.”


“Too messy.”



The husband felt his abdomen was feeling a little chilly.


“What cliff?”

By now, Death was getting annoyed. This woman asked to be killed, then refused to and now wants to choose the way in which she died. Most just died with fear and got over it.


“But I'm not afraid.”


“Not graceful enough.”

Death was, by this point, getting very annoyed. He just remembered that he was to meet Pestilence at a quaint little café in the 21st century. This woman was taking too long. Death looked at his watch. He was going to run late if this kept up any longer.

By now the husband felt rather dead, which was odd because he wasn't.


“And become all bloated and ugly? Ew, no.”


“My heart is fine and it just sounds so violent.”

There was a pause as he tried to think of something.


“What kind of wild animal?”


“We're in town.”


He was now five minutes late. Pestilence liked people who were on time. Death liked being on time, he was a very punctual person.


Deciding that he was late enough, he ended it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Breath is Life

This is the third essay. It is on Gudard's Breathless (French, 1959, I think). Good movie.

In Gudard’s film, Breathless, the characters mimic famous Hollywood stars, losing their identity and who they are. Michel, despite all he tries, is not Humphrey Bogart. Humphrey Bogart is only cool in movies. Once Michel tries to become the living characters that Humphrey Bogart plays, he cheapens his existence. He gets bored, hates it and wants to run away. Patricia, even though she does not imitate anyone, is also alike Michel in that way. She, too, is acting. From the beginning, she was not quite so Hollywood, but then as she and Michel are near each other, it grows on her. By the end of the film, she and Michel are akin.

Because Michel tries so hard to do what he wants, when he wants and not care about what happens because of what he does, he condemns himself. Whether to a miserable existence, jail or death, his fate is to end up unhappy. From the start of the film, the audience watches him hijack a car, kill a policeman and steal money. In life, killing a policeman would hardly be exciting or interesting. In Hollywood, it would be dramatic and exhilarating. In Breathless, it is quick, confusing and boring. Michel takes out the gun, shoots and runs. Despite how much Michel tries to live as though in the movies, he lives in the real world. If he shoots a man, the man gets shot. No dramatic gunfights or witty quips or intense pauses.

In life, people take a lot of time to move from one place to another. This is the same for Michel. He may act like Bogart, but life is life and he’s forced to take the time to walk, drive and live. Whenever the intense, dramatic music, usually reserved for the intense dramatic scenes, plays, Michel is walking or driving.

Patricia is not reckless, but she is not innocent. She plays the part of the femme fatale. Not a particularly sly and deviously cunning one, but for Michel’s case, she is one. She plays the part of the American student who wants to be a writer. She cannot run off, or she looses her money and is forced back home. Michel is given a hard decision: Patricia or Italy. Michel dearly wants to leave Paris, but if he does, he loses Patricia.

Patricia becomes affected by Michel’s reckless behaviour. She allows herself to be absorbed into Michel’s life. It is a subtle occurrence, but she does begin to pick up Michel’s habits, such as his three exaggerated emotions motion. She does not want to pick Michel. She does not want to love Michel. That is why she informs on him, even though she does not like informers. Because this is life and in life, people do things that are unexplainable, she does inform. She, like Michel, has two choices: Michel or not. She did not pick him, and that meant she needed to inform on him.
Michel’s death scene is not Hollywood. Even in death, Michel cannot achieve that blissful status he wanted so badly. His life was filled with Bogart’s lip move and thoughtless behaviour. He is not what he used to be. He is not quite so human anymore. He is sub-human because he poses Bogart. When he dies, he has no harsh and tender moments with Patricia. He gets shot, he runs and he dies. Patricia stands over him with her indescribable expression. The policeman even repeats his dying words incorrectly. His last words and they are wrong.

Patricia then repeats his Bogart move.

Imitation is cheap. Michel and Patricia are two people cheapened by Hollywood hype. Michel began to hate his life, thoughtless behaviour was getting him nowhere and tried to run. When he tried to run, his past problems caught up to him and killed him. Hollywood and Bogart cheapened his existence to the point where he died.

Dig a Deeper Grave

This is a (pretty good) essay on Harry Lyme from The Third Man, played by Orson Welles. I loved Harry (I like Welles) a lot. So, for film class, I wrote this two page essay on him (instead of a really long essay on the whole movie).

The Third Man was directed by Carroll Reed, is British and from 1949.

A British ‘noir’, The Third Man contains inventive film shots and intriguing set to explain the antagonist: Harry Lyme (Orson Welles). It takes place in Vienna, after the WWII. Due to the bombings, the city filled with rubble. Using the city’s rubble and maze-like sewage system, Carroll Reed enhances Harry’s mental disposition. Not only that, but the way in which he twists the camera so the shots themselves become askew, also enhances the movie. Besides rubble and rubbish, the music further perplexes the audience. A zither for a noir background is uncommonly pleasing. It is peppy and out of place among murders and threats.

Whenever something seems to be going wrong or Harry Lyme is mentioned, the screen tilts. We first see it tilt when Holly finds out that his best buddy, Harry Lyme, is dead. Not only is the shot tilted, but we are looking up at the man telling this horrid news. The next time we see this tilted-shot is when Holly and Anna talk to each other. The topic of choice is, of course, Harry. Whenever Holly is close to learning a clue about Holly, such as when they are talking to the porter, the screen goes back to that familiar tilt. This tilting would most likely be, because, the truth about Harry is what everyone thinks. It shows an inner turmoil in Holly. He does not believe that Harry is dead, so whenever a clue or the subject of him comes up, the truth bends.

The rubble, too, is akin to what Harry has become. According to Holly, we get the understanding that Harry would not sell bad medicine plainly for money. The rubble and Harry made each other. Because of the bad life in Vienna, Harry began a less honest way of work. Then again, Harry also ruined lives, turned them into rubble. Harry and the rubble are the same, brothers. By the time Holly arrives in Vienna, Harry’s life is in complete disarray, just like the city.

The sewage system, too, is also like Harry. Harry’s life is neither straightforward nor clean. The Vienna sewage is a maze. There are so many entrances and turns and rooms. Harry has many faces. The one he shows Holly or Anna and many others. He was both a friend to Holly and his antagonist. He was Anna’s lover and her condemner. He is dead and alive. Holly knew him as a friend, but when they took the Ferris wheel ride together, it dawned on Holly that the old Harry he knew and befriended was not particularly alive anymore. Instead, there was a cold criminal. To Anna, Holly loved her. He was her benefactor. He gave her a passport, even if it was fake. But he also turned her in to the police. Harry took away his gift. Harry was supposed dead. He would have remained so if Holly did not come around. Once Holly arrived in Vienna, Harry was alive. Holly refused to believe either that Holly was dead or that Holly was not murdered. Holly resurrected Harry.

Despite the seriousness of the happenings in the movie, the zither music is light-hearted and happy. Instead of feeling intense, the audience feels as though nothing is important. Anna’s passport is found fraud, cheerful zither. Holly is being chased by an angry mob, peppy zither. It is as though we are hearing the world through Harry’s ears. Harry is sarcastic, dry and witty. While he may talk about something death-defying serious, he jokes. During the Ferris ride, he mocks Anna and love. He mocks peace and human compassion. Harry Lyme is bitter, cynical man and he sells flawed medicine with zither music in his head. He even dies to it.

The Third Man, for all its seriousness, it is oddly twisted. Even though Harry is the antagonist and only appears at about the last quarter, the movie reflects his feelings, thoughts and being.

The Mark of M

This is a (bad) essay on the movie, M. I am taking a film class, currently, so I thought I might as well (procrastinate and) post this. This one is not very good, seeing how I wrote it over the period of a month or two. It is six pages.

M is a wonderful movie by Fritz Lang. It is German and from 1931.

The German murder movie, M, directed by Fritz Lang, was a breach between German expressionism and film noir. It was made in 1931, after WWI and during the depression. The movie showed dark aspects from the times (i.e. – run-down building, a surplus of beggars and a lack of fathers) and the earlier expressionism. Unlike German expressionism, the set is not warped and twisted to fit the story, but closer to that of noir. Both noir and German expressionism uses shadows as a way to express certain feelings or amplify an idea. Unlike noir, the main character is not trying to find something, as is the norm of noir themes. Instead, it the movie is displayed like a documentary, points out how occurrences like murders is entertainment and brings attention to sound in moving pictures.

The opening of the movie sets the tone well, there are children, in a circle, playing in a yard. They’re playing a murder game, where a child spins around and around and around in the middle and point to another to leave it, becoming one of the murdered, all while singing a song that goes with the game. At the time of creation, sound was a new and wonderful thing. Unlike our movies today, M, rarely gives background music and hands out lots of silent bouts. Even before we see the children playing, we hear the children songs of murder. These children standing in a circle are a hint as to what the movie is about. At this point in plot, only children are being eliminated (by our Hans Beckert). In only the first minute of the movie, we get two themes: sound and elimination.

A mother tells the children to stop singing that horrific song (which the children ignores) and we skip over to see a girl playing in front of a warning pasted onto a pillar. She blithely ignores it; the warning tells of a child-murderer and to be careful. As the shot rests on the warning, we see a man’s shadow splay across the words. This shadow-play is reminiscent in noir cinematography. The shadow draws our eyes to the words mörder (German for murderer). Even though we cannot tell who the man is, the words tell us what he is. Such shadow-play creates a suspense (of who this murderer is) and gives us our first introduction to what will be the main character. It sets up the plot wonderfully for the audience, our first scene is of children playing a murder game, our second scene is of a child being murdered.

The movie now moves over to a mother wondering about her child, calling out to her down the stairs (as an audience, we can grimly guess and can only wait until our dark presumptions are confirmed). A man comes by her apartment and tries to sell her a shilling shocker of a new chapter in a murder novel, which she promptly buys. This is all done purposefully. Lang points out how murder is displayed as entertainment and propaganda (to buy papers). We, the audience, is plainly watching a movie about a murderer which is a reference to a murderer from a year or two before. When the mother calls for her child (Elsie, whom we know, by now, that she is truly deceased), we are given a handful of clips of stairs and clothes hanging to dry. This gives in to the ‘documentary look’ of the movie, making it reference, yet again, to murder as entertainment.

After the mother’s distressing calls disappear, the jarring call of young newspaper boys ring out. Someone in the crowd asks who is the murderer. Directly after that, we see a man writing by the window. Right away, we learn he is the murderer. Not only because of the note he was writing, but because of the more subtle clue from the last sentence spoken. Also, we can recognise it as the murderer because of the whistling. The audience now starts to associate the murderer to the whistling. The first time we legitimately saw him, he was taking Elsie with him. Now, as he writes the letter to the press, he whistles. This also brings up the recurring theme of sound.

Now the audience watches a crowd reading a notice on the news boards. It is a reward for informers. This goes back to Lang’s point that murders are sold off as entertainment by newspapers. The crowd is not so much as concerned citizens as horrified readers.

In mid-sentence, the scene cuts to the head policemen reading the newspaper notice out loud. They are sitting in a circle, which is yet another recurring theme. Just like the children, the full circle is broken.

Cutting a few scenes, we get back to the newspapers. A newspaper has printed the murderer’s, Beckert’s, letter. The newspaper was sure to print it. What more could boost their sales than a letter written by a murderer currently ‘popular’? Not only is their murder-is-entertainment as a point here, Lang also shows the detective process for seeing who wrote the letter. The documentary feel pops up again as the audience is sees the fingerprints, detective science and graphology. As the graphologist speaks of what the handwriting tells of the person who wrote it, we watch as Beckert makes faces in the mirror, bringing image to what the graphologist is saying. Then, while the police chief is talking of how taxing the manhunt is on his men, we are shown a series of examples on just how tired the policemen really are and what they are doing to find Becket. Leading again to a documentary feel. As he continues the talk about widening the search for the killer, a map of the area is shown and the town is circumscribed several times, giving us more circles.

The police raid one of the underground clubs, and they do so in complete silence. There is no background music or talking or sounds of cars and people. It brings a greatly noticeable attention to the heavy silence and when a whistle and car horns pierce through the silence, they are more harsh and prominent than otherwise.

The policemen search the people in the underground bar (arresting many), display all the weapons, flasks, cutlery and other objects they confiscated. How they display the items mirrors documentaries and how they display items.

After the police raid, the movie cuts to the head criminals. They’re waiting for the Safekeeper. The four of them sit down at the table, creating an almost circle. This, yet again, brings back the circles. The Safekeeper finally comes, completing the circle. While Safekeeper talks, the scene continuously cuts to the policemen talking about the same thing. Every time a man talks, he stands up, breaking the circle. When he is done, he sits back down and someone else breaks the circle. Both parties want to stop Beckert and want to find him first, bring their own justice on the man. Even though the police and the criminals are on the opposite sides, they both agree that Beckert must be caught, no matter what.

The criminals decide to use beggars as a way to find Beckert. The audience is given a show of cigarettes and cigars, metals, food and cards. Yet again, reminiscent of a documentary.

The policemen have a list of people they suspect. Lang shows us the papers, slowly, making sure the audience can take a good, long look at it. This is another documentary-type shot.

Beckert walks up to a window and we see him through the shop. The glass reflects what is being displayed (murder weapons, knives, mostly). Some fo the knives form a box and it frames him. In a mirror in the display, he spies a girl. She also is framed by these knives. Not only is the murderer and victim is framed by weapons, but the display also has the hint of a documentary feel. As Beckert moves to stalk the girl, the whistling resumes.

After a beggar recognises his trademark whistling, Beckert finds a girl, buys her candy and ends up being followed. He reaches into his pocket and takes out a knife. That causes a moment of suspense. We put the three (Beckert, little girl and knife) together and momentarily believe he is going to hurt her. However, he begins to peel a fruit. The tracker pretends to trip, marking Beckert with the M. Lang ends the shot by zooming in to Beckert’s newfound trademark.

The audience already knows that Beckert is the murderer, but the police are far behind both the criminals and the viewers. We are given another documentary shot when the police find Beckert’s red pencil and where he wrote his letters to the newspapers.

The girl finally spots Beckert’s M and promptly tells him he has something on his shoulder. We are then given a spectacular shot of Beckert looking at his shoulder in the mirror. The people stalking Beckert realise their ruse is up and begin whistling to each other. The sounds are piercing and are audibly blatant. This, yet again, brings attention to sound.

The men continue to stalk Beckert and the shot widens up. We are given an aerial view of the streets as the men try and corner Beckert. This is a common shot used in noir. The characters look small and insignificant in the large city. A fire truck passes by, creating a clamour, bringing more attention to sound. We are given a look around the rooftops and one particular shot reminisces to The Casket of Dr Caligari. Bells toll and loud horns and many people are heard. The second attention brought to sound in the scene.

The next scene is of the criminals breaking and searching for Beckert. It is the most extensive documentary example. We are given a run-through of how the criminals break through the building (and into every office). A man trying to figure out how to bypass the alarm system hears a taping. This is Beckert, trying to get through the locked door. This is yet another sound example. By now, Beckert’s shots have gone from open streets to a storage room, to an even smaller storage space. In an attempt of trying to not to be found, he shrinks deeper into the stuff. As he gets closer to being caught, the space he occupies shrinks until there is nothing left to shrink into. That is when he is caught. After they finally apprehend Beckert and hurriedly run off, the building is empty and we see the damage done. Guards tied up, broken doors, a smashed storage space and a nice circle through a ceiling, which brings us to the police arriving at the scene a few hours late as usual (although it does tie the two scenes together cleanly).

Beckert is brought forth to the criminal underground for a hearing. We find a gigantic crowd staring at us, the audience. There is complete silence. The Safekeeper holds up pictures of the killed children, and as he brings the pictures down, we see the crowd staring at us.

From smoking to open streets, M has aspects to it that are noir. The way it is filmed is closer to noir, but it is not. It has still yet to abandon expressionism. The story and the way it is presented holds roots in expressionism. M is the branch between the two genres. It also holds importance to sound and how murder is entertainment. To hold up that murder is entertainment, scenes are played out as though it was a documentary.