Friday, October 24, 2014

Don't Forget Your Manners, Lizzy

In Stephen Frears' The Queen we get a glimpse into the world of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her family, and Parliament; and how they cope when tragedy strikes. Grace and tradition take a big role throughout the film, contrasting with the world and Her country outside of the Palace. As the story progresses, the old fashioned elegance of the Family opens up and modern behavior spills in. You can see the character arc of the Queen through her blocking alone.

The film begins with the infamous "Meeting the Queen" scene, where newly elected young Prime Minister Tony Blaire meets Elizabeth for the first time. As the palace guard warns him before he opens the grand double doors that leads into Her office, "never turn your back to her and always keep eye contact." The first meeting is very sharp and awkward, she doesn't like him and he's nervous as a sheep before slaughter. It's clear that it's going to be a bumpy ride. 

Elizabeth and her family like to spend time together whether they're watching TV together or hunting in the beautiful English country side. No matter how she acts during the work hors, the Queen does what she wants on her own time, which includes driving herself in an off-road Land Rover. There always will be a cordial way the Royal Family interacts with one another, but when they are alone the pressure is off, now it's just their default.

As Diana's death impacts the country and the people decide to rebel against the Family, Elizabeth tries her hardest to stay empowered. She keeps her head up high and her back straight, but in her own quarters and privacy it is noticeable that her posture is less tense and attitude is more relaxed. This is due to Hellen Mirren's impeccable performance and Stephen Frears' subtly powerful directing and camera work. Her overall body language becomes more tense and her patience runs out quickly as the events unfold throughout the week, which compliments the story and circumstances. 
Elizabeth and the Royal Family are coming into an age where they are not just seen as royalty, rather real human beings with privilege thanks to the newspapers and gossip newscasters; they can't simply go to galas and wave for the crowds, they have to show real humanity. This is daunting on Elizabeth, who was been ruling for fifty years, she doesn't know how to handle it and certainly won't take any advice from Mr. Blaire. Her subconscious pride and traditionalism gets in the way of her job and how she appears to the British people, and this all shows through her body language and performance. Blocking is very important in this film and especially focused around the Queen. Different people stand at different lengths around her, and different people have certain rules they must follow when around her. This all fades into odd gray zones during this tragedy filled week. One must remember what is important in time of sadness, and never turning away from Her Majesty is low on the priority list.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fashion Week in Dogville

The town of Dogville, where twenty-some men, women, and children all live and struggle together in poverty and depression. Major factors of their difficult and dull lives are the minimalist set design and bleak lighting. But what showed me that they were living in poverty was the costume design. Classic Great Depression chic, with raggedy pants and skirts, dirty button-downs and blouses, and broken down shoes to bring it all together. Fashion and shopping aren't a priority of a citizen of Dogville, mostly because it isn't necessary.

When Grace, a fugitive on the run from her mobster father, stumbles her way into town she is dressed in a high-end fur coat, heels, jewelry, and makeup. This helps to show that she is an outsider in the town, and doesn't belong there. Grace is allowed to stay for two weeks to prove she is worth their while. She performs manual labor and numerous jobs for the townspeople, all in her aristocratic getup. Not until she has fully become a member of the community that she changes into the common rags of the women, which is so in that season.
The costume design in Dogville is a representation of how these people live and what they worry about. The women are more preoccupied with keeping the town maintained and raising the children than to go on a shopping spree, considering that most of the residents have never left the town. The men are too busy with bringing in some sort of income and utilizing Grace to all their "needs" to go out and buy a new pair of slacks. Clothing is a material to keep them warm and covered up, not much else. Even Grace becomes dirty and unkept as her stay in the town progresses.

After being sodomized and tortured, Grace is given a few days off. She decides to wash herself and her clothes, which the other residents don't do very often or at all. She finally has time to take care of herself and not being used for other peoples' tasks and games. Grace is still a member of the higher class back home, and her personality shows that at times. This decision to clean herself shows us that she is still the same Grace as she was the night she showed up in this hell-hole of a town.

When the mobsters and Grace's father show back up in the town square, Grace is dressed back into her fur and heels, fitting in well with her father's suit and hat. The moment she is back into her own outfit, Grace is once again not just a lone wolf mentally, but also physically. The costume design in Dogville may not seem like a big contribution to the film's mies-en-scene, but since it fits with the simplistic production design and overall aesthetic of the film, I would say it is a very important part.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dobie Needs Space

In Martin Scorsese's Life Lessons, a successful painter named Lionel Dobie struggles with completing pieces for his upcoming gallery opening, and retaining a relationship with his muse and past lover, Paulette Just Paulette. They're on again, off again fighting and love/hatred for each other fuels Lionel's work and drives Paulette to leaving him and the art scene in general.

There were almost uncountable uses of cinematic tools to create a beautiful image and environment, but what most stuck out to me was space. The film opens with Lionel painting in his loft, in his natural environment with no distractions so he can focus on the art. His studio is massive with hardly any walls separating it. This is where he feels most like himself. The next scene is Lionel arguing with his dealer, who is stuck in the elevator. The shot design and placement describes the dealer as a animal in a cage, and Lionel as the viewer at the zoo. But there are also shots portraying Lionel as trapped in a cage, referencing his resistance to following deadlines and being told what to do.

We next see Lionel at the airport, waiting for Paulette. An airport is very large and open, but also very crowded. As he and Paulette walk down the halls, the shots are very tight so they constrain them together. He's happy to be with Paulette, and it has a feeling of home. As we move through the film, it is mostly placed in the studio. Paulette's bedroom is on a second story, where Dobie has to climb a flight of stairs to get to her. This resembles Rapunzel, and the humility he faces every time he goes to her room. It's small, and it's her space, he doesn't belong there and he knows it. 

There are other locations Lionel goes to with Paulette. One is an underground railroad where Paulette's old flame is performing. It's dark and creepy, Lionel is out of his element. He is surrounded by young people who are obsessed with an art concept that makes no sense to him. Another environment is one of Lionel's pier's gallery openings. The is the least favorite part of his job; getting dressing up and putting on a fake personality to woo fellow artists and buyers. The space is very claustrophobic, and Lionel feels trapped. When Paulette finally leaves, he's left in his open loft all alone for the first time in a while. The atmosphere feels different and it's much darker, Lionel is alone in his home, with no one to call his muse.

Finally, in his own gallery opening, there is a lot of people, but it also a very open space. Lionel doesn't have to woo anyone, it's everyone else who are doing the wooing. He is in his own space, comfortable and carefree. The way Scorsese uses space is remarkable in this film. Lionel Dobie is his best in his own space, and at his worst in spaces that are closed or small. It's very subtle, but plays a big role in Nick Nolte's performance. Every location and production design was a choice to make sure that Lionel's emotion matched the space he was in.