(NOTE: All the films on this page are not used in class every semester, and some films screened in class may not appear on this page. You may find this page useful for assignments on films that you are assigned to watch outside of class, and may even wish to save it for any future self-directed film study you can do by viewing the films on your own.)
Battleship Potemkin (USSR, 1925).
Directed by Sergei Eisenstein. Scenario by Eisenstein from an outline by Nina Agadzhanova-Shutko and Eisenstein. Assistant director: Gregori Alexandrov. Photographed by Edward Tisse. Subtitles by Nikolai Aseyev and Sergei Tretyakov. Produced by Goskino, Moscow. First shown at the “1905” celebration at the Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow, on December 21, 1925. Re-released with new music and introductory narration for its 25th anniversary in 1950.
CAST: Alexander Antonov (Vakulinchuk), Grigori Alexandrov (Senior Officer Gilyarovsky), Vladimir Barsky (Commander Golikov), Alexander Lyovshin (Petty Officer), Levchenko (Boatswain), Mikhail Gomorov (Matyushenko), Marusov (Officer), I. Bobrov, Andrei Fait, (Recruits) Konstantin Feldman (Student), Repnikova (woman on the steps), Sergei Eisenstein (Priest), Beatrice Vitoldi (mother with baby carriage), sailors of the Black Sea fleet of the Red Navy, citizens of Odessa, members of the Proletkult Theatre, Moscow.
Who is the hero of Potemkin ? What is the effect of having such a hero?
How does Eisenstein manipulate time? How much “real” time goes by from beginning to end of the film? How can you tell? How does Eisenstein slow time down? Speed it up? Why does he handle time in this way?
How would you describe the acting in Potemkin ? What methods of characterization does Eisenstein employ? Is this effective? Why or why not?
Potemkin is divided into five parts, indicated by “Act” titles in some prints of the film. What is each part about? Where does the climax of each part occur? What is the relationship of each part to the others? Is there a progression of any kind?
What symbols can you find in Potemkin? How effective are they?
How does Eisenstein use the physical world? What is the relationship between people and machines in Potemkin? Are machines and objects shown to be good or bad?
Potemkin was made eight years after the successful Russian Revolution, and depicts events that occurred during the unsuccessful attempted revolution of 1905. Why would Eisenstein (and by implication, the Soviet government) want to remind the Russian people of a revolution that failed? Why would he want to create a revolutionary fervor among the beneficiaries of a successful revolution? What is the primary point Eisenstein seems to be making?
Is Potemkin a work of art, a piece of propaganda, both, neither?? How can you tell?
Does Potemkin seem “realistic” to you in the way it presents events? Is it like a documentary (and if so, how)? What kinds of things are shown that could not possibly be shown in a documentary?
Does Potemkin seem any more or less effective in any way, now that the Communist government of the Soviet Union has fallen? How and why?
The Birth of a Nation (USA-Epoch Releasing, 1915)
Produced and Directed by D. W. Griffith. Screenplay by D. W. Griffith and Frank E. Woods, Jr., based on the novel and play The Clansman and the novel The Leopard’s Spots by Thomas W. Dixon. Cinematography by G. W. “Billy” Bitzer. Edited by James Smith. Costumes by Robert Goldstein. Music Composed and Compiled by Joseph Carl Breil.
CAST: Lillian Gish (Elsie Stoneman), Mae Marsh (Flora Cameron), Henry B. Walthall (Ben Cameron), Miriam Cooper (Margaret Cameron), Mary Alden (Lydia Brown), Ralph Lewis (Austin Stoneman), George Seigmann (Silas Lynch), Walter Long (Gus), Robert Harron (Ted Stoneman), Wallace Reid (Jeff the Blacksmith), Joseph Henabery (Abraham Lincoln), Elmer Clifton (Phil Stoneman), Josephine Crowell (Mrs. Cameron), Spottiswoode Aitken (Dr. Cameron), Donald Crisp (General Ulysses S. Grant), Howard Gaye (General Robert E. Lee), Raoul Walsh (John Wilkes Booth)
What aspects of The Birth of a Nation do you think made it so popular upon its initial release and for many years afterward? What aspects of the film made it (and still make it) so controversial? Are some of them the same?
The American Civil War had been over for 50 years when The Birth of a Nation came out, and many of its veterans were still alive. What is the film’s attitude towards war in general, and the Civil War in particular?
Griffith consciously copied the look of well-known paintings, photographs, and actual locations for this film. How closely do Griffith’s reconstructions of historical settings, characters, and incidents fit your own knowledge of the period portrayed?
How does the tone of the film shift after the intermission? What are the main themes of the first half and what are the main themes of the second half?
How does Griffith use cinematography and editing at different points in the film? When does he use long shots and when does he use medium shots or close-ups? What scenes are predominately in long takes, what scenes use rapid cutting, and what scenes vary the pacing within them to reflect the mood?
How consistent are the acting styles between one performer and another? Do some actors seem to change styles or intensity within the film? Which actors use more subtle gestures and which actors use broader gestures? Which are more effective in the particular context?
If you have read the novel, how closely does Griffith follow the plot in his film? In his visual interpretation of the story, how does Griffith tone down, change, or eliminate the inflammatory racism of Dixon’s verbal description? Why does what remains on the screen still offend many people?
The Blue Angel (Germany-Ufa/Paramount, 1930)
Directed by Josef von Sternberg. Written by Joseph von Sternberg and Robert Liebmann, from the novel by Heinrich Mann, (courtesy writing credits: Carl Zuckmayer and Karl Vollmoeller). Produced by Erich Pommer. Photographed by Gunther Rittau and Hans Schneeberger. Décor by Otto Hunte and Emil Hasler. Music by Friedrich Hollander. Lyrics by Robert Liebmann.
CAST: Emil Jannings (Professor Immanuel Rath), Marlene Dietrich (Lola Lola), Kurt Gerron (Kiepert), Rosa Valetti (Guste), Hans Albers (Mazeppa), Reinhold Bernt (The Clown), Eduard von Winterstein (The Headmaster), Rolf Muller (Angst), Roland Verno (Lohmann), Karl Bollhaus (Ertzum), Robert Klein-Lork (Goldstaub).
An early sound film, The Blue Angel depends very much on visual details to make its points, much like a silent film. How does von Sternberg delineate the decline of Professor Rath visually? What are some of the striking visual details in the film as a whole?
The Blue Angel was filmed entirely on a sound stage (i.e., there are no “real” outdoor scenes). What is the effect of this? What are the settings like? What is unusual about the streets when we do see them? How would you describe the décor of the Blue Angel café?
It is often said that Emil Jannings (Rath) and Marlene Dietrich (Lola) are actors from two different worlds. How do their acting styles differ? How does this affect the way we view their characters? Do their acting styles ever seem to clash?
A clown appears frequently in the film, although he almost never speaks. What is his function? What can we guess about him?
What motives are we given for Lola Lola’s behavior? What is her attitude towards Rath at the beginning of the film? Before the wedding? After the wedding? At the end of the film?
Is Lola Lola a femme fatale? What is a femme fatale?
What is the method of narration in The Blue Angel? Does this remind you of a play? How is time handled in the film? What kind of devices does von Sternberg use to link scenes together?
Does von Sternberg employ symbols in this film? What are they and how do they contribute to the themes of the film? What are the themes of the film?
Blue Velvet (USA-De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, 1986)
Written and Directed by David Lynch. Executive Producer, Richard Roth. Cinematography by Frederick Elmes. Editing by Duwayne Dunham. Sound design by Alan Splet. Production Design by Patricia Norris. Music by Angelo Badalamenti.
CAST: Kyle MacLachlan (Jeffrey), Laura Dern (Sandy), Isabella Rossellini (Dorothy), Dennis Hopper (Frank), Hope Lange, George Dickerson, Dean Stockwell
Do you think that Blue Velvet is intended to be taken seriously as a crime drama/melodrama or as some critics have suggested is actually a perverse comedy? Might it be described as both of these or as something else entirely different? What about the film leads you to think one or the other?
Do you think the story depicted on the screen is supposed to be really happening to the characters, or is it all a dream? What makes you think so?
David Lynch was a painter before he became a filmmaker. What are some notable ways he uses pictorial composition and colors to emphasize aspects of the story?
How is the film’s use of its soundtrack different from other films you have seen. How does the sound contribute to the film’s impact? Which scenes use sound in a particularly memorable way?
What kind of characters are Jeffrey and Sandy? Do you think Frank and Dorothy might be considered their alter egos, or simply characters whose lifestyles are drastically different?
The Bride of Frankenstein (USA-Universal, 1935)
Directed by James Whale. Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. Written by William Hurlbut and John Balderston, from the novel Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. Photographed by John Mescall. Special Effects by John P. Fulton. Art Direction by Charles D. Hall. Music by Franz Waxman. Makeup by Jack Pierce. Edited by Ted Hunt.
CAST: Boris Karloff (The Monster), Colin Clive (Henry Frankenstein), Elsa Lanchester (Mary Shelly and The Bride), Ernest Thesiger (Dr. Pretorius), O. P. Heggie (The Hermit), Una O’Connor (Minnie), Valerie Hobson (Elizabeth), Gavin Gordon (Lord Byron), Douglas Walton (Percy Shelly), E. E. Clive (The Burgomaster).
One important aspect of mise en scene is costume and makeup. What do these elements contribute in this film? What, in particular, strikes you as notable in the costuming and makeup of the monster (Boris Karloff)?
Another element of mise en scene is setting. What are some notable aspects of the setting in The Bride of Frankenstein? One way of thinking about this is to ask, where does the film take place? What does the world of the film “look” like? How realistic or unrealistic is that world?
Another way of thinking about setting would be to consider the fact that the film seems to have been shot entirely in a studio, on indoor soundstages and backlot sets, rather than in a “real” village. Why do you think a filmmaker would choose to film in a studio? What are some of the effects of this choice?
The acting styles (figure expression and movement, another element of mise en scene) vary considerably from character to character, but, in general, one might say that the primary acting mode is non-realistic. Does this work for or against the mood and tone of the film? Which performances seem the most effective? Which least? Why?
James Whale, the director of The Bride of Frankenstein, uses a number of odd, tilted camera angles rather than filming every scene on a normal, horizontal plane. What might be the purpose of this? In which scene is this most evident?
Does the film create sympathy for the “monster?” With what historical or mythic figure is he associated (and how is this done)? Are these associations meaningful? Why or why not?
The Bride of Frankenstein contains a good deal of humor, which was unusual for a horror film in the 1930s. Does this add to or detract from your enjoyment of the film?
It has been said that the only “normal” character in this film is the monster. Is this a reasonable statement? What would such a conclusion say about the film’s meaning?
Some critics have seen this film as making a statement about the nature of racial prejudice, especially in the context of the frequent lynchings of African-Americans taking place in the southern United States in the 1930s. Others find it to be a statement about homosexuality and public fear of homosexuals. What elements in the film might support such interpretations?
Casablanca (USA-Warner Brothers,1942)
Directed by Michael Curtiz. Written by Julius J. and Philip G. Epstein. Produced by Hal B. Wallis. Photographed by Arthur Edeson. Edited by Owen Marks. Production design by Carl Jules Weyl. Music by Max Steiner. Sound by Francis. J. Scheid. Released November, 1942.
CAST: Humphrey Bogart (Rick), Ingrid Bergman (Ilsa Lund), Paul Henreid (Victor Laszlo), Claude Rains (Captain Louis Renault), Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser), Sydney Greenstreet (Señor Ferrari), Peter Lorre (Ugarte), S. Z. Sakall (Carl), Madeleine LeBeau (Yvonne), Dooley Wilson (Sam), Joy Page (Annina Brandel), John Qualen (Berger), Leonid Kinski (Sasha), Helmut Dantine (Jan), Curt Bois (Pickpocket), Marcel Dalio (Croupier).
The way Casablanca’s narrative develops, as is true of most Hollywood films, is through a tight sequence, or chain, of cause and effect. What are some of the important links in that chain?
If the major motivating force in classical Hollywood cinema is desire, what are the desires of the major characters in this film? To what extent are these desires satisfied?
Rick and Lazlo can be said to represent two different types of heroism. How would you categorize each one as a hero? What qualities, if any, do they share? How do they most differ from each other?
Casablanca has become something of a “cult” film, in part because of the personality of Humphrey Bogart. What is it about Bogart as a performer that makes him interesting?
How is Ilsa characterized in this film? Would it be fair to say that the main female character in Casablanca is merely an object of exchange between men? Does Ilsa ever do anything in the film?
Although the narrative is constructed on a change of heart on Rick’s part, are we ever in any real doubt as to what Rick’s final choice will be? What are some of the clues, from the very beginning of the film, that tell us what Rick’s future behavior will be?
The story in Casablanca takes place in two worlds, Paris and Casablanca. How are these worlds compared and contrasted in the film?
One critic has suggested that Casablanca is structured around the concept of theft and thievery. How many different “thefts” are there in the film and how are they related to each other?
Citizen Kane (USA-RKO, 1941)
Directed by Orson Welles. Written by Herman J. Mankiewicz and Orson Welles. Photographed by Gregg Toland. Edited by Robert Wise and Mrk Robson. Art Direction by Van Nest Polglase and Perry Ferguson. Costumes by Edward Stevenson. Decors by Darrell Silvera. Music by Bernard Herrmann. Mrcury Productions. RKO Pictures. Premiered May 1, 1941, at the Palace Theatre, New York.
CAST: Orson Welles (Charles Foster Kane), Joseph Cotton (Jedediah Leland) Dorothy Comingore (Susan Alexander Kane), Agnes Moorhead (Kane’s mother), Ruth Warrick (Emily Norton Kane), Ray Collins (James W. Gettys), Erskine Sanford (Mr. Carter, Everett Sloane (Mr. Bernstein), William Alland (Thompson, the reporter), Paul Stewart (Raymond, the butler, George Colouris (Walter Parks Thatcher), Fortunio Bonanova (Signor Matisti), Gus Schilling (Headwaiter), Philip Van Zandt (Rawlston), Harry Shannon (Kane, Sr.).
The narrative structure of Citizen Kane, the way the story is told, is one of the film’s most distinctive aspects, and certain episodes in the film serve more than one narrative or thematic function. How many functions does the “News on the March” newsreel serve? What are they?
The story of Citizen Kane is told primarily in flashback, and some episodes are related more than once by different people. What is the effect of this? Do the different versions of events contradict each other? Is there any significance to who tells what?
Since the events of Citizen Kane cover a long period of time, and since they are not always related chronologically, there is a strong possibility that viewers may be confused as to what happens when. How does Welles prevent this from happening?
Many people (including Welles himself) have referred to the whole “Rosebud” devise as “dollar book Freud,” a cheap and superficial plot device. What do you think Rosebud contributes to the film? Is it meant to “explain” Kane’s character? Does it? Assuming you haven’t guessed already, do you feel cheated when Rosebud is explained at the end?
When Orson Welles first saw RKO studios, he is reported to have said, “This is the biggest electric train set a boy ever had to play with.” Is this feeling reflected in Citizen Kane? In what ways?
Citizen Kane employs much “depth of focus” photography which allows people and objects to be in sharp focus both in the foreground and the background simultaneously. In which sequences is this particularly evident? What does this technique contribute to the film?
Almost all of the actors in Citizen Kane (including Welles himself) came from a background in radio and had never been in a film before. Is this radio background in any way evident in the film? Does sound, in general, play an important part in the film? Are there any unusual uses of sound that stand out?
Is Citizen Kane a visually realistic film? What are the sets like? How does the appearance of the sets, combined with the lighting, contribute to the meaning of the film?
Contempt (Le Mépris) (France-Concordia/Embassy, 1963)
Written and Directed by Jean-Luc Godard. Produced by Georges de Beauregard, Carlo Ponti, Joseph E. Levine. Based upon the novel Il Disprezzo (A Ghost at Noon) by Alberto Moravia. Photographed by Raoul Coutard. Edited by Agnes Guillemot, Lila Lakshmanan. Music by Georges Delerue.
CAST: Brigitte Bardot (Camille Javal), Michel Piccoli (Paul Javal), Jack Palance (Jeremy Prokosh), Fritz Lang (himself), Georgia Moll (Francesca Vanini, Jean-Luc Godard (Lang’s assistant director) Linda Veras (Siren).
Jean-Luc Godard was an influential filmmaker of the French nouvelle vague or “new wave” in the 1960s, which challenged traditional styles of filmmaking, especially overly literary scripts and studio production techniques. These filmmakers preferred more location shooting, looser acting and photographic styles, and looked at cinema as a means of personal self-expression, considering the director as author (or “auteur”). Contempt is probably the most “mainstream” and commercial of Godard’s films, yet it still was considered too “artsy” by American audiences of the time. What about Contempt seems to depart from a traditional Hollywood approach, and what about it seems similar?
If you had to provide the “referential” meaning of this film (as defined by Bordwell and Thompson in Film Art: An Introduction), a bare bones plot summary, how would you word it? What about going deeper into its “explicit” and “implicit” meanings? Can you think of any possible “symptomatic” interpretations?
Do you think there is any significance to the fact that Brigitte Bardot’s actual birth name is Camille Javal, the name of her character in this film, or that famous film director Fritz Lang is playing himself? What sorts of symbolism can you detect in the film (in story, character, and/or imagery)?
How does cinematographer Raoul Coutard compose the elements of the mise en scene in the widescreen frame? What are some ways he uses space in the frame? How are colors used in this film?
Godard originally suggested Kim Novak and Frank Sinatra in the lead roles but was turned down by the producers. Who different or similar do you suppose the film would have been with them instead of Brigitte Bardot and Michel Piccoli?
Part of the story deals with the difficulties of adapting a novel or work from another medium (Homer’s The Odyssey is an epic poem) into a movie. What films have you seen that were adapted from novels? If you read the book beforehand, how did that influence the way you watched the film, and did it live up to the experience of reading the novel? How was it changed, and why do you think it was changed? What storytelling techniques do you think seem better suited to the written word and what storytelling techniques seem better suited to cinema?
Deliverance (USA-Warner Brothers, 1972)
Produced and Directed by John Boorman. Written by James Dickey, from his novel. Photographed by Vilmos Zsigmond. Art Direction by Fred Harpman. Music by Eric Weissberg. Song: “Dueling Banjos” by Weissberg and Steve Mandel. Edited by Tom Priestly.
CAST: John Voigt (Ed), Burt Reynolds (Lewis), Ned Beatty (Bobby), Ronny Cox (Drew), Bill McKinney (Maountain Man), Herbert “Cowboy” Coward (Toothless Man), James Dickey (Sheriff Bullard), Ed Ramsey (Old Man), Billy Redden (Lonny).
If you had to provide the “referential” meaning of this film (as defined by Bordwell and Thompson in Film Art: An Introduction), a bare bones plot summary, how would you word it?
Deliverance, like many narratives, employs the structure of a journey. What, in your opinion, are advantages of this type of plot?
Bordwell and Thompson claim that every element in a movie (or any work of art) has one or more functions—in other words, everything in a movie should have a reason for being there. Assuming this is a correct point of view, how many functions can you attach to the so-called “Dueling Banjos” sequence near the beginning of the film?
What repeated elements can you identify in Deliverance? Here you might think in terms of incidents (things that happen), dialogue, places, character traits, etc.
Any significant, repeated element in a film can be termed a motif (just as in music). Can you identify one or more motifs in Deliverance (for example: visual elements, actions, props, sounds, etc.)?
Can you suggest some ways the similar elements you identified in the previous two questions are also examples of difference or variation?
One might argue that the four main characters (the protagonists) in Deliverance share certain traits with, and significantly differ, from each of the other characters. Can you describe each of these characters in terms of their similarities to and differences from each other?
An important element of difference in Deliverance could be thought of as the obvious contrast between the four “city people” and the “country people” with whom they interact. What are some of the significant differences among these groups?
If we think of the formal development of any narrative as “a progression moving from X through Y to Z,” how might we characterize the development of the narrative in
Deliverance? In other words, how does the ending compare to the beginning? What has changed and how did the change come about?
Is Deliverance finally a unified or a disunified film? One way to think about this is to ask whether there are any “loose ends”—plot elements left dangling, important characters ignored or forgotten, issues unresolved, or questions unanswered.
Would you be able to evaluate Deliverance in terms of at least one of the criteria set forth by Bordwell and Thompson (coherence, complexity, originality)?
Directed by Billy Wilder. Screenplay by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler. Based on the novel by James M. Cain. Photographed by John F. Seitz. Art Decoration by Hans Dreir and Hal Pereira. Music by Miklos Rozsa, with Symphony in D minor by Cesar Franck. Sound by Stanley Cooley. Edited by Doane Harrison.
CAST: Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes), Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson), Byron Barr (Nino Zachette), Richard Gaines (Mr. Norton), Fortunio Bonanova (Sam Gorlopis)
Double Indemnity combines many ingredients of the classic murder story: a “perfect” crime, a large insurance policy, a tenacious investigator, and the inevitable falling-out among the thieves. The one element this film purposely lacks is surprise: we know from the first five minutes who did what to whom. How does the film manage to sustain interest in spite of this?
What details of mise-en-scene seem to contribute to the overall mood or tone of this film? How would you describe the mood of Double Indemnity?
Does this film seem to fit the pattern of the classical Hollywood film? Are the problems set up at the outset of the film resolved by the end? Does Double Indemnity follow the pattern of the usual “boy meets girl” plot?
Define, as carefully as you can, the key elements of the main actors’ performances in this film (Stanwyck, MacMurray, Robinson). Does each actor seem especially suited to the role he or she plays? Can you imagine other actors in the same roles?
How might one best describe the motivation of Phyllis in the film? Is she primarily interested in money? Is she in any way a sympathetic character?
In terms of narrative, how would you describe the plot of Double Indemnity in relation to its story (as differentiated by Bordwell and Thompson in the textbook Film Art: An Introduction)? How much time passes by during the plot of the film? During the story?
How would you describe the relationship between Walter Neff and Barton Keyes?
Double Indemnity relies a good bit on voice-over narration. Do you think this is a good device or a distraction? What is the effect of this kind of narration by one of the film’s characters? How would it be different if the narrator were not a character in the story?
It’s a Wonderful Life (USA-Liberty Films, 1946)
Directed by Frank Capra. Screenplay by Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra, based on Philip Van Doren Sterns’ story “The Greatest Gift.” Additional scenes by Jo Swerling. Photographed by Joseph Walker and Joseph Biroc. Art Direction by Jack Okey. Set Decorations by Emile Kuri. Costumes by Edward Stevenson. Music by Dmitri Tiomkin. Sound by Richard Van Hessen and Clem Portman. Edited by William Hornbeck.
CAST: James Stewart (George Bailey), Donna Reed (Mary Hatch), Lionel Barrymore (Mr. Potter), Thoms Mitchell (Uncle Billy), Henry Travers (Clarence Oddbody), Beulah Bondi (Mrs. Bailey), Ward Bodn (Bert), Frank Faylen (Ernie), Gloria Grahame (Violet), H. B. Warner (Mr. Gower), Todd Karns (Harry Bailey), Samuel S. Hinds (Mr. Bailey).
What kind of a hero is George Bailey? How is Mary, the heroine, presented? What is Frank Capra’s view of small-town America in this film?
What conflicts does It’s a Wonderful Life concern itself with? Are the conflicts resolved by the end of the film?
Both Mr. Potter and Bailey, Sr. are capitalists. What kind of capitalists are they? What business values does each represent? Which of them best fits the American idea of success, as you understand it? If you have seen Buster Keaton’s Steamboat Bill, Jr. (made 18 years earlier), what parallels are there in the socio-economic elements of the two plots? Are these themes still timely today?
It’s a Wonderful Life was Frank Capra’s first film after coming home from World War II. Does the film in any way seem to reflect or comment upon the experiences of World War II?
Capra’s film depends, to a large extent, on its fantasy framework. What is the effect of the fantasy elements (the angel, Clarence, etc.)? Why do you think Capra thought it necessary to fall back on this familiar (but, for him, unusual) plot device?
There are a number of suggestions, early in the film, that George will never leave Bedford Falls. What are some of these hints?
An important motif in It’s a Wonderful Life has to do with the idea of home and of “housing” in general. How is this motif worked out in the film, and what is its general significance?
Many people find It’s a Wonderful Life unbearably corny and sentimental, while others think that the film presents an unusually grim view of American middle-class life. Is either view entirely correct? Is it possible that the film exhibits both attitudes at the same time?
The Kid (USA-First National, 1921)
Written, Produced, and Directed by Charles Chaplin; Associate Director, Chuck Reisner; Cinematography by Rollie Totheroh.
CAST: Charles Chaplin (The Tramp), Jackie Coogan (The Kid), Edna Purviance (The Woman), Carl Miller (The Man), Tom Wilson (The Policeman), Chuck Reisner (The Bully), Albert Austin (a crook), Nelly Bly Blaker (slum woman), Henry Bergman (proprietor of lodging house), Lita Grey (The Flirting Angel).
Chaplin’s The Kid is often referred to as a comedy, but a large percentage of the film deals with serious social issues. How does this combination affect your reaction while you watch it?
What (or who) are the most common sources of humor in The Kid? How does Chaplin incorporate comedy into his more serious (even melodramatic) plot?
What sorts of characters appear in The Kid? What attitude does the film take toward them? What makes them sympathetic (or not)? How does each function in the plot? Why do you think their names are never revealed? What effect does that have on your involvement in the story?
How does Chaplin use the setting, costumes, and props as an integral part of the narrative itself? …as sources of humor? …as a means of social commentary?
How does Chaplin suggest symbolic connotations by the way he stages the action in front of the camera or inserts views of specific things into the action? What are some symbolic images you can recall from the film? Do they seem appropriate and effective in the context of the plot or forced and heavy-handed?
What are some recurring motifs (themes, actions, props, image compositions, etc.) you can identify?
Chaplin composed his own music score for The Kid a half-century after completing the film. If you saw it with his score, how does his music help or hinder appreciation of the film? What parts seem most or least effective?
If you’ve seen films by other silent era comedians, how is Chaplin’s approach to comedy similar and how is it different? How does he construct his overall narrative, compared with other movie comedies (or dramas)?
If you’ve seen any of Chaplin’s short comedies, how does this (his first feature-length film) continue his trademark style of humor and story material, and how does it represent a growth or change in style?
If you have seen the Adam Sandler film Big Daddy, what sorts of comparisons and contrasts can you make between it and Chaplin’s The Kid?
North By Northwest (USA-MGM, 1959)
Produced and Directed by Alfred Hitchcock; Written by Ernest Lehman; Cinematography by Robert Burks; Edited by George Tomasini; Music by Bernard Herrmann; Production Design by Robert Boyle; Art Design by William A. Horning, Merrill Pye; Set Design by Robert Boyle, Henry Grace, Frank R. McKelvy; Special Efffectgs by A. Arnold Gillespie and Lee LeBlanc; Makeup by William Tuttle.
CAST: Cary Grant (Roger O. Thornhill), Eva Marie Saint (Eve Kendall), James Mason (Phillip Vandamm), Jessie Royce Landis (Clara Thornhill), Leo G. Carroll (Professor), Martin Landau (Leonard).
In a number of his films Hitchcock draws the audience into the story and then suddenly seem to change plots just as the viewer is getting familiar with the situation. What effect does this have in North By Northwest? If you have already seen Psycho (his very next film, 1960), how might you compare his story-telling technique in the two?
What kind of person is the character played by Cary Grant presented as? How is the audience made to sympathize with him?
What is your first impression of the character played by Eva Marie Saint? What gives you that impression? How does Hitchcock change your perception of her throughout the film?
How does Hitchcock build your expectations and then surprise you with some sort of reversal from time to time?
How would you describe the basic plot of the film? Can you identify any subtexts or social commentary going on as well? What sorts of symbolism or possible double meanings (of dialogue or imagery) did you notice?
North By Northwest runs for two and a quarter hours. Does it seem that long? How does the film hold your interest? Are there any parts that seem to drag, and if so, why?
How does the choice of camera angle affect the way you react to particular scenes?
Directed by James Whale. Produced by Carl Laemmle, Jr. Associate Producer: E. M. Asher. Screnplay by Benn W. Levy, based on the novel Benighted, by J. B. Priestley. Cinematography by Arthur Edeson. Music by David Broekman.
CAST: Raymond Massey (Philip Waverton), Gloria Stuart (Margaret Waverton), Melvyn Douglas (Penderel), Charles Laughton (Sir William Porterhouse), Boris Karloff (Morgan), Lillian Bond (Gladys), Ernest Thesiger (Horace Femm), Eva Moore (Rebecca Femm), John [Elspeth] Dudgeon (Roderick Femm), Bember Wills (Saul Femm).
NOTE: See also the study questions (especially those regarding mise en scene) under The Bride of Frankenstein, made by the same director at the same studio, and featuring some of the same cast.)
The Old Dark House has elements of the horror film, the mystery and suspense film, intimate character drama, and comedy. Which seem to predominate?
“Old dark house” movies are a subgenre in themselves, an offshoot of a popular stage melodrama form. What other films have you seen that take place almost entirely within an old dark house, and how do they compare?
Are there portions of The Old Dark House that you think might have been changed if it was made two years later—after the enforcement of the Hollywood Production Code? (What is the first word of dialogue in the movie?)
Many of the cast appeared in numerous films, some in a wide variety of roles and others often typecast. How well suited is each actor to his or her role? Do you recognize any from other movies you’ve seen? If you saw Titanic (1997) can you recognize Gloria Stuart? Why do you think the director cast a woman to portray the aged father of the household?
If you have seen Frankenstein (1931) or Bride of Frankenstein (1935), both by the same director as The Old Dark House, what similarities can you recognize in filmic style, plot motifs, and story themes? If you have seen Gods and Monsters, a biographical film about James Whale, does it give you any insight into aspects of The Old Dark House or any of his other films you may have seen?
On the Waterfront (USA-Columbia, 1954)
Directed by Elia Kazan. Produced by Sam Spiegel. Written by Budd Schulberg. Based on articles by Malcom Johnson. Photographed by Boris Kaufman. Edited by Gene Milford. Art Direction by Richard Dayl Music by Leonard Bernstein. Released October, 1954.
CAST: Marlon Brando (Terry Malloy), Eva Marie Saint (Edie Doyle), Karl Malden (Father Barry), Lee J. Cobb (Johnny Friendly), Rod Steiger (Charley Malloy), Pat Henning (‘Kayo’ Dugan), Leif Erickson (Glover), James Westerfield (Big Mac), John Heldabrand (Mutt), Rudy Bond (Moose), John Hamilton (‘Pop’ Doyle), Martin Balsam (Gillette), Tony Galento (Truck), Fred Gwynne (Slim), Nehemiah Persoff (Driver), Pat Hingle (Waiter).
In the 1950s, Hollywood tended more and more to make films “on location,” in “real” places rather than on studio sound stages or back lots. On the Waterfront was filmed entirely on the waterfront docks of New Jersey and New York. What is the effect of this location filming? Do you think the film would have been equally convincing had it been filmed in Hollywood?
Although On the Waterfront was filmed on location, the art director for the film won an Academy Award for his work. What, exactly, do you think the art director (who traditionally designs sets for movies) did to deserve recognition?
What social issues does this film deal with? How would you define the film’s point of view in relation to social issues?
Marlon Brando was as important an actor for the 1950s as, say, Clark Gable was for the 1930s or Bruce Willis for the 1990s. How would you describe, on the basis of this film, Brando’s appeal? What kind of qualities does he embody??
What is the film’s view of the relationship between the individual and society? What, finally, changes the social awareness of Terry Malloy?
What is the function of the priest in On the Waterfront? How do you respond to the priest as Karl Malden plays him? Can you imagine another way of playing the same character?
Although ostensibly a “realistic” film, On the Waterfront employs a good deal of symbolism and what might be called “poetic” touches. What are some of the film’s symbols? How effective is the film in using these symbols? Which work best and which work least well? What do you make of the symbolism of the film’s ending? Given the political mood of the time and the director’s own experiences, how might the entire film be viewed as a metaphor—a symbol for something else?
The Player (USA, 1992)
Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Michael Tolkin, from his novel. Produced by Cary Brokaw, David Brown, Scott Bushnell, William S. Gilmore, and Michael Tolkin. Original music by Thomas Newman. Cinematography by Jean Lépine. Film Editing by Maysie Hoy. Production Design by Stephen Altman. Costume Design by Alexander Julian. Sound by Kenneth R. Burton.
CAST: Tim Robbins (Griffin Mill), Greta Scacchi (June Gudmundsdottir), Fred Ward (Walter Stuckel), Whoopi Goldberg (Detective Susan Avery), Peter Gallagher (Larry Levy), Brion James (Joel Levison), Cynthia Stevenson (Bonnie Sherow), Vincent D’Onofrio (David Kahane), Dean Stockwell (Andy Civella), Richard E. Grant (Tom Oakley), Sydney Pollack (Dick Mellen), Lyle Lovett (Detective DeLongpre), Dina Merril (Celia), Angela Hall (Jan), Leah Ayres (Sandy), Paul Hewitt (Jimmy Chase), plus assorted celebrities playing themselves.
The Player begins (during the opening credits) with what is known as a “long take” (see Bordwell & Thompson, chapter on cinematography), a shot which contains no internal editing or “cuts.” What might be the purpose, and what is the effect, of using this relatively unusual way of filming a sequence?
Throughout The Player a number of actors appear playing themselves—Burt Reynolds, John Cusack, etc. In your opinion, does this make this film about Hollywood seem ore “true to life,” or does it have the opposite effect, breaking our illusion of reality (since other major actors are playing fictional characters)? Or is it merely distracting?
As the essay “Hollywood” in this manual indicates, many books and movies about Hollywood focus on the figure of the writer. How are writers presented in The Player? Does the film present a positive or negative image of the writer?
Director Robert Altman has commented that “casting is 80% of making a movie.” If this is so, did Altman make a mistake in casting Brion James, a rather odd-looking actor who usually plays murderers, sadists, or psychopaths, as the head of the film studio?
There are a number of references to old movies in The Player (Touch of Evil, M, The Bicycle Thief). How do these references function in the film?
Altman likes to film scenes in which several conversations are going on at once (as Orson Welles did as early as Citizen Kane in 1941). What is the point of doing that, in your opinion? Again, we might ask if this makes the film more “realistic” or if it is merely annoying since at times we cannot hear every line of dialogue.
A film will often use items in the background of the shot to make a point about some more central thematic or plot issue. How does Altman use décor, posters, interior decoration, etc., in this film? Another way of asking this question might be, what kind of world do the filmmakers create for this film?
Altman likes to have his actors improvise their dialogue during rehearsal, and he then uses some of this improvised material for the actual filming. Is this something we can sense as we watch the film? (The result can be somewhat bizarre—Whoopi Goldberg, for example, improvises much of her dialogue, especially for the scenes in the Pasadena police station.) What are some problems with improvisation of that kind?
Psycho (USA-Paramount, 1960)
Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screenplay by Joseph Stephano, from the novel by Robert Bloch. Photographed by John L. Russell. Art direction by Joseph Hurley and Robert Clatworthy. Special effects by Clarence Champagne. Sets by George Milo. Music by Bernard Herrmann. Sound engineering by Waldon Watson and William Russell. Title design by Saul Bass. Edited by George Tomasini.
CAST: Anthony Perkins (Norman Bates), Janet Leigh (Marion Crane), Vera Miles (Lila Crane), John Gavin (Sam Loomis), Martin Balsam (Milton Arbogast), John McIntire (Sheriff Chambers), Laureen Tuttle (Mrs. Chambers), Pat Hitchcock (Carolyn), Frank Albertson (Cassady), Simon Oakland (Dr. Richmond), Vaughn Taylor (George Lowrey), John Anderson (Car Salesman), Mort Mills (Policeman).
The opening moments of Psycho suggest a documentary, with exact time and place indicated. What might be a viewer’s expectations after such an opening?
The early parts of Psycho encourage the audience to identify with Marion (Janet Leigh). With whom do we identify in the rest of the film? How does Hitchcock encourage this identification?
Hitchcock filmed Psycho on a fairly low budget and in black and white (even though six of his previous seven films had been in color). Does the somewhat “tacky” look of the film add to or detract from your enjoyment of Psycho? Why?
Although Marion Crane is a thief, she seems sympathetic to us. Why? What is it about the nature of her crime and/or her personality that makes her seem relatively “innocent?”
Psycho works in part by fooling the audience a good deal of the time, and some of the best moments in the film are complete surprises. Does Hitchcock “cheat” too much in order to fool his audience? Hitchcock often claims that suspense is more effective than surprise. Does he violate that concept here?
Many people think that Bernard Herrmann’s music contributes mightily to this film’s effect. In what ways is the music particularly effective?
Some viewers have disliked the last part of Psycho, where the psychiatrist explains what “really” happened. What is your reaction to this scene? Why do you think Hitchcock included it? Does it serve to explain the film’s meaning? What does it leave out of consideration?
Psycho might be described as a film built around the number “2,” a film of doublings and reflections. What doubles, repetitions, contrasts, and substitutions do you find in the film?
If you have seen the remake (which used the same basic script, music and even opening credits design), which of the two do you prefer? Why? Although much is virtually identical in the remake, what are some of the differences? Why do you think the director of the later film made the changes he did (other than simple updating of dated elements)?
Rear Window (USA-Paramount, 1954)
Produced and Directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Screnplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Cornell Woolrich. Photographed by Robert Burks. Art Direction by Hal Pereira, Joseph McMillan Johnson, Sam Comer, and Ray Mayer. Edited by George Tomasini. Music by Franz Waxman.
CAST: James Stewart (L. B. Jeffries), Grace Kelly (Lisa Fremont), Wendell Corey (Thomas J. Doyle), Thelma Ritter (Stella), Raymond Burr (Lars Thorwald), Judith Evelyn (Miss Lonely Hearts), Ross Bagdasarian (the composer), Georgine Darcy (Miss Torso), Jesslyn Fax (Miss Hearing Aid).
How would you define the major conflict between Jeff (James Stewart) and Lisa (Grace Kelly)? Does it go beyond the question of money? What values does each represent?
Is there a pattern in the way the women in Jeff’s life treat him? Does this tie in with any of the film’s themes?
Could one say that Lisa is “punished” in some way in the course of the film? If so, what for?
What do the various “stories” Jeff sees acted out from his window have in common? Is there a suggestion that Jeff sees what he wants to see?
Rear Window is one of Hitchcock’s “single-set” films, films that take place primarily or exclusively in one, fairly constrictive space (others are Lifeboat, Rope, and Dial M for Murder). Is keeping to one location particularly worthwhile in this film? Why or why not? Do you ever feel you would like the film to leave the apartment?
Overall, what seems to be Hitchcock’s attitude towards voyeurism here? Are we as audience implicated in any way with Jeff’s fixation on his neighbors? Is there any connection between Jeff and his creator Hitchcock?
The courtyard outside Jeff’s window is clearly a set, constructed on a sound stage, rather than a “real” courtyard in New York City. Does this bother you? How do you think Hitchcock would justify his methods here?
Hitchcock wanted to do something unusual with the musical score in Rear Window. Did you notice anything out of the ordinary about the music?
Romeo + Juliet (USA-20th Century Fox, 1996)
Directed by Baz Luhrman; Produced by Baz Luhrmann, Gabriella Martinelli, Jill Bilcock, Martin Brown, Catherine Martin; Screenplay by Craig Pearce and Baz Luhrmann, from the play by William Shakespeare; Cinematography by Donald McAlpine; Editing by Jill Bilcock; Production Design by Catherine Martin; Art Direction by Doug Hardwick; Set Decoration by Brigitte Broch; Costume Design by Kym Barrett; Sound Designer Gareth Vanderhope; Original music by Craig Armstrong, Marius De Vries, Nellee Hooper
CAST: Leonardo de Caprio (Romeo), Claire Danes (Juliet), John Leguizamo (Tybalt), Harold Perrineau Jr (Mercutio), Dash Mihok (Benvolio), Paul Sorvino (Fulgencio Capulet), Diane Venora (Gloria Capulet), Miriam Margolyes (Nurse), Brian Dennehy (Ted Montague), Christina Pickles (Caroline Montague), Vondie Curtis-Hall (Captain Prince), Paul Rudd (Dave Paris), M. Emmet Walsh (Apothecary), Pete Postlethwaite (Father Laurence)
How does this film version of Romeo and Juliet compare with any other versions or stage productions you have seen? What about it do you think made it a boxoffice hit when other films of Shakespeare often show only in art theatres or on public television?
How appropriate does the change of setting from Renaissance Italy to modern California seem for a) the plot line, and b) the characters? Does the use of Shakespeare’s original dialogue seem to clash with the setting or does it become just another convention used to tell the story?
Can you think of other Shakespeare plays that have been “modernized” or whose basic stories were used in completely different time & place settings? How effective were those versions in conveying the themes and issues of the play? What does the fact that so many variations have been made on Shakespeare’s plays say about his writing?
What stands out about the film’s editing? What scenes can you think of when the style of editing seems to change from fast-paced to slow-paced? What are the emotional effects of those scenes and why do the editing techniques shift?
What are some of the more striking images you can recall from the film, and how do they contribute to the meaning of those scenes? How does the film use color and picture composition and camera effects to complement the story (which can be told exclusively through its dialogue)?
Shakespeare is noted for his rich dialogue. How easy do you think this film version would be to follow if the sound (or at least the dialogue track) were turned off? Why?
How is music used in the film? Is it effective? What are some other ways (other than simply sets and costumes) that modern-day elements are worked into the story?
Run Lola Run (Germany, 1999)
Written and directed by Tom Tykwer. Produced by Stefan Arndt. Executive Producer: Maria Köpf. Photography by Frank Griebe. Edited by Mathilde Bonnefoy. Original Sound by Frank Behnke. Sound Editory: Matthias Lempert. Music by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek, Reinhold Heil. Set Design by Alexander Manasse. Costume Design by Monika Jacobs.
CAST: Franka Potente, Moritz Bleibtreu, Herbert Knaup, Nina Petri, Joachim Krol, Armin Rohde, Heino Ferch, Suzanne von Borsody, Sebastian Schipper.
How does this film manipulate time? Using the differentiation described by Bordwell and Thompson in Film Art: An Introduction, how long a period does the plot cover, and how long a period does the story encompass?
Consider Bordwell and Thompson’s discussion of “frequency “ and “variation.” How does the director use these characteristics in telling the story?
How important is the soundtrack to the impact of the events? How is its various elements (dialogue, music, sound effects) used in conjunction with the visual editing—to complement or contrast with what we are seeing?
What sorts of transitions and other editing techniques does the director incorporate at different times? How do they contribute to the particular scene they are used in or emphasize recurring visual motifs?
What kinds of colors predominate in the images? What effect do they add to the scenes?
Portions of Run Lola Run were shot on 35mm film and portions were shot on videotape. Can you notice a difference? Why do you think the director chose to do this?
Why do you suppose the director decided to tell essentially the same story three different times? What new information does each version of the events tell you about the characters? Which do you think is the “actual” outcome of the story? Why?
The Seventh Seal (Det Sjunde Inseglet) (Sweden, 1957)
Written and Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Produced by Allan Ekelund. Cinematography by Gunnar Fischer. Edited by Lennart Wallen. Music composed by Erik Nordgren. Music director, Sixten Ehrling. Set designer, P. A. Lundgren; specia effects, Evald Andersson; costumes, Manne Lindholm; makeup, Nils Nittel and Carl M. Lundh; choreography, Else Fischer.
CAST: Max von Sydow (Antonius Block), Gunnar Björnstrand (Jons), Nils Poppe (Jof), Bibi Andersson (Mia), Bengt Ekerot (Death), Åke Fridell (Blacksmith Plot), Inga Gill (Lisa), Maud Hansson (Tyan) Gunnel Lindblom (Birl), Inga Landgre (Block’s wife), Bertil Anderberg (Raval), Anders Ek (Monk), Gunnar Olsson (Church Painter), Erik Strandmark (Skat), Ulf Johansson (leader of soldiers) Benkt-Ake Benktsson (merchant), Lars Lind (young monk), Gudrun Brost (woman at inn)
What other characters in literature, history, or contemporary life are brought to mind by the various characters in the film?
Why is the knight Antonius Block so serious and depressed all the time? Why are Jof and Mia usually happy? What is the function of Block’s down-to-earth squire, Jons?
What kinds of visual imagery does Bergman use to suggest allegorical references? What characters might be purely symbolic rather than real people in the story? What feelings does the film leave you with when it’s over?
What is the significance of the game of chess? How and why does it recur throughout the story?
Does the story seem rooted entirely in the middle ages, or are there certain elements you can connect with more recent events?
What about The Seventh Seal do you think makes some critics rank it among the greatest films ever made while other critics consider it an overrated or even pretentious religious allegory?
Can you think of other films that have personified Death as one of the characters? How are they similar to or different from The Seventh Seal? What kind of effect does using this kind of supernatural character have on your perception of the story?
Sherlock, Jr. (USA-Metro, 1924)
Directed by Buster Keaton. Presented by Joseph M. Schenck. Story by Clyde Bruckman, Jean Havez, Joseph Mitchell. Photographed by Byron Houck, Elgin Lessley. Art Direction by Fred Gabourie. Costumes by Clare West.
CAST: Buster Keaton (Sherlock, Jr.), Kathryn McGuire (The Girl), Ward Crane (The Rival), Joseph Keaton (The Father), Horace Morgan, Jane Connelly, Erwin Connelly, Ford West, George Davis, John Patrick, Ruth Holly.
What, in your estimation, is the most memorable scene or sequence in Sherlock, Jr., and why do you think so?
In what ways does Keaton alternate from straight, realistic treatment of the subject material to treatment that is comically exaggerated or even purposely unrealistic for comic effect?
Made decades before the concept of computer enhancement, the special visual effects in Sherlock, Jr. were achieved directly in-camera, not even using photolab printing techniques that might have been available at the time. How could some of these effects have been accomplished?
How does the absence of spoken dialogue add to or detract from this film? How easy or difficult is it to follow the plot just by watching the screen?
How does Keaton compare as an actor playing a character, as opposed to simply a highly physical comic performer? Do you think he is better in scenes where he is more of a straight actor or in comic scenes, or is there much difference in his case?
What methods does Keaton use to find humor in situations? What are some examples of unhappy or even potentially dangerous incidents that he turns into comedy gags?
If you have seen any other Buster Keaton films, how does Sherlock, Jr. compare with them? How is it similar and how is it different? What aspects of Keaton’s character remain constant from one film to the next, and what aspects change with each film?
How does Buster Keaton’s style of comedy compare and contrast with that of Charlie Chaplin and other visually oriented comics?
Can you think of any later films that might have been inspired by scenes in Sherlock, Jr.? If so, what elements did they borrow and how did they incorporate them into their story? Were they more or less effective than the original, and why?
How do you think your friends or other current-day viewers might react to Sherlock, Jr., and why? How does it compare with any other silent films you might have seen?
Singin’ in the Rain (USA-Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952)
Directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen. Produced by Arthur Freed. Screenplay by Adolph Green and Betty Comden, suggested by the song “Singin’ in the Rain.” Photographed by Harold Rosson. Edited by Adrienne Fazan. Music composed by Nacio Herb Brown, Lyrics by Arthur Freed. Music Director Lennie Hayton. Art Direction Cedric Gibbons, Randall Duell.Set Design by Edwin B. Willis, Jacques Mapes. Special Effects by Warren Newcombe and Irving G. Ries. Costumes by Walter Plunkett.
CAST: Gene Kelly (Don Lockwood), Donald O’Connor (Cosmo Brown), Debbie Reynolds (Kathy Selden), Jean Hagen (Lina Lamont), Millard Mitchell (R. F. Simpson), Rita Moreno (Zelda Zanders), Douglas Fowley (Roscoe Dexter), Cyd Charisse (Dancer in ballet sequence), Madge Blake (Dora Bailey), King Donovan, (Rod), Kathleen Freeman (Phoebe Dinsmore), Bobby Watson (Diction Coach), Jimmie Thompson (Male lead in “Beautiful Girls” number), Dan Foster (Assistant Director), Margaret Bert (Wardrobe Woman), Mae Clark (Hairdresser), Judy Landon (Olga Mara), John Dodsworth (Baron de la May de la Toulon), Stuart Holmes (J. C. Spendrill III), Dennis Ross (Don as a boy).
What overall tone and sorts of attitudes does Singin’ in the Rain seem to have… towards Hollywood and the movie industry? towards movie-making itself? towards silent films? towards talking pictures? towards the media? towards human relationships? towards its own characters? How does the mise en scene reflect those attitudes? How would you compare this film with, say, Sunset Boulevard, made just a couple of years earlier, or any other films you’ve seen that deal with the movie industry?
Singin’ in the Rain was filmed in the expensive Technicolor process at a time when movies were just as often shot in black and white. Why do you suppose this decision was made? What sort of impact does the use of color have on the movie?
The story and plot of Singin’ in the Rain were designed around an existing collection of popular songs written by the producer. Because most of them had been introduced during the 1929-30 period, the years sound films were replacing silents, they decided to set the story in that era. What place do the songs and musical production numbers have in this film? Do they advance the plot or are they simply diversions? Do they develop the characters or are the singing and dancing performances just another part of what the characters do in the story world? How well would the film work without the songs? How does this film compare with any other musicals you may have seen (in approach, filmmaking style, general tone, etc.)?
How do actors Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor modify the style of their performances at different times in the film? At what points do they do this, and what effect does it have?
Debbie Reynolds was only 19 years old when she made this film, her first big role. How well does her performance stand up against the more experienced stars?
What sorts of information about moviemaking does the film provide? How accurate does it appear to be in portraying the historical period it’s set in (which was approximately 25 years before the time it was made)?
Steamboat Bill, Jr. (USA-United Artists, 1928)
Directed by Charles Reisner and Buster Keaton. Produced by Joseph M. Schencki. Screenplay by Charles Harbaugh. Photographed by J. Devereux Jennings and Bert Haines. Edited by J. Sherman Kell. Released February 6, 1928.
CAST: Buster Keaton (William Canfield, Jr.), Ernest Torrance (Steamboat Bill), Tom Lewis (His Mate), Tom McGuire (King), Marion Byron (Kings daughter), Joe Keaton (Barber).
What are some story elements you can infer from the plot of Steamboat Bill, Jr.?
How much time goes by in the plot of Steamboat Bill, Jr.? Does this matter in any way? Is there any sense of time pressure in the film?
In Steamboat Bill, Jr. the temporal narrative breaks fairly neatly into two parts. What event might be considered the turning point from part one to part two (besides the reel change)?
What non-diegetic elements, if any, can you identify in the film?
What are some of the major characteristics or modes ob behavior of Willie, the title character played by Buster Keaton, as he is developed in Steamboat Bill, Jr.?
In what ways does this film take advantage of the fact that it is silent? In other words, is the lack of speech and sound effects a help or a hindrance in the development of plot and characterization?
Buster Keaton was an acrobatic stage performer from childhood. In what scenes in particular does he seem to be using his acrobatic talents?
Steamboat Bill, Jr. centers on a contrast between an old, rundown steamboat and a new, sleek model. Are there any other contrasts in the film? What kinds of values does the film seem to consider important? What kind of values does the Buster Keaton character represent?
Even though Steamboat Bill, Jr. is first and foremost a comedy, what serious influences, if any, can you identify on the film’s story material from events and concerns of contemporary American society at the time the film was made?
Sunrise—A Song of Two Humans (USA-Fox, 1927)
Directed by F. W. Murnau. Presented by William Fox. Screenplay by Carl Mayer. Based upon Die Reise nach Tilsit by Hermann Suderman (Berlin, 1917). Titles by Katherine Hilliker, H. H. Caldwell. Photography by Charles Rosher, Karl Struss. Assistant Photographers, Hal Carney, Stuart Thompson. Production Design by Rochus Gliese. Assistant Art Direction by Edgar G. Ulmer, Alfred Metscher. Film editing by Katherine Hilliker, H. H. Caldwell. Snychronized music score by Hugo Riesenfeld. Assistant musical director, Herman Bing.
CAST: George O’Brien (The Man), Janet Gaynor (The Wife), Bodil Rosing (maid), Margaret Livingston (woman from the city), J. Farrell MacDonald (photographer), Ralph Sipperly (barber), Jane Winton (manicure girl), Arthur Housman (The Obtrusive Gentleman), Eddie Arnold (The Obliging Gentleman), Sally Eilers, Gino Corrado, Barry Norton, Robert Kortman.
What, in your estimation, is the most memorable scene or sequence in Sunrise, and why do you think so?
What are some ways director Murnau alternates from straight, realistic treatment of the subject material to treatment that is artistically stylized in some manner? What effect does this have on your perception of the story?
How does the absence of spoken dialogue add to or detract from this film? How easy or difficult is it to follow the plot just by watching the screen? What effect does the music have on your interpretation of the scenes? What about the limited use of sound effects?
What are some ways that the second half of the story contrasts from the first half? How do the writer and director alleviate the heavy tension they build up throughout the first half? After the lighter, comic interlude, what then happens to bring tension and suspense back into the story?
Is the woman from the city or the farm wife a more sympathetic character? What kind of man is the husband? How does the film direct your sympathies towards or against different characters, and do they ever change at different points in the story?
Sunrise originally ran about ten to twenty minutes longer before its general release. Can you think of any sections that look as if they might have been trimmed down, or any character/story background that might have been more elaborate in a longer cut of the film?
Sunset Boulevard (USA-Paramount, 1950)
Directed Billy Wilder. Produced by Charles Brackett. Screenplay by Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett, D. M. Marshman, Jr. Based upon the story “A Can of Beans” by Brackett and Wilder. Cinematography by John Seitz. Edited by Doane Harrison, Arthur Schmidt. Music by Franz Waxman, Richard Strauss. Art Design by Hans Dreier, John Meehan. Set Design by Sam Comer, Ray Moyer. Special Effects by Gordon Jennings, Farciot Edouart. Costume Design by Edith Head. Makeup by Wally Westmore, Carl Silvera.
CAST: William Holden (Joe Gillis), Gloria Swanson (Norma Desmond), Erich von Stroheim (Max fon Mayerling), Nancy Olson, Betty Schaefer), Fred Clark (Sheldrake), Lloyd Gough (Morino), Jack Webb (Artie Green), Cecil B. Demille, Hedda Hopper, Buster Keaton, Anna Q. Nilsson, H. B. Warner, Sidney Skolsky, Ray Evans, Jay Livingston, Bernice Mosk (themselves), Franklyn Farnum (Undertaker), Larry Blake, Charles Dayton (finance men), Eddie Dew (Assistant Coroner), Gertrude Astor, Eva Novak, Howard Joslin, Creighton Hale.
What is the overall tone of Sunset Boulevard? What attitudes does it express towards Hollywood and the movie industry? What about the film might have caused actors and screenwriters to admire it greatly and studio executives to hate it?
The silent era of Hollywood filmmaking had only been over for about 25 years when Sunset Boulevard was made. Gloria Swanson had actually been a silent film superstar, although she retired from the screen voluntarily after making several sound films. Erich von Stroheim, who plays her butler, had actually been one of the greatest and most temperamental (as well as controversial) actor-directors of the 1920s, and was forced to turn strictly to acting after much-publicized extravagance on his productions and personality conflicts with his stars and producers. The movie they screen in her mansion was actually a never-completed epic he directed her in, and its disaster helped to end his directing career. How does knowing this information affect your reaction to the story of Sunset Boulevard? How do you think it affected viewers at the time (especially Hollywood personnel) who could still remember their earlier careers?
Sunset Boulevard was nominated for eleven Academy Awards and won three (including for its Story and Screenplay). What aspects of the film stand out to you as its most impressive achievements, and why?
Sunset Boulevard is a satiric black comedy, a poignantly nostalgic drama, a movie about the movies, and has elements of the murder mystery, the crime drama, and the doomed romance. How would you categorize Sunset Boulevard? What is the most applicable genre or type you would apply to it? Does it fit easily into more than one or does one predominate?
Unlike most films, Sunset Boulevard begins with its protagonist already murdered and the story is told in flashback from his point of view. Does the opening scene “spoil the ending” or are there aspects that make you want to find out how the main character got that way? How would the film’s impact change if the plot were all depicted in the present tense with no narration?
When Sunset Boulevard was made, many other films were being made in color. Why do you think the filmmakers chose to use black and white, and what effect do you think that choice has on how you relate to the subject material? What effect might it have had in color?
Many years after its release, Sunset Boulevard was adapted into a successful stage musical. In the 1960s and 70s comedienne Carol Burnett adapted the main characters into a long-running series of comic skits for her television series. What aspects of the film might be considered “operatic?” Even though it is itself a comedy (albeit a rather bitter one) what about the film might seem to lend itself to parody?
If you have a chance, try to rent on DVD the reconstructed version of the movie Queen Kelly (1928), the film Norma Desmond and Max show to Joe Gillis at her private screening room. Besides the irony of its director and star being von Stroheim and Swanson, what are some other striking parallels its plot and characters have with Sunset Boulevard? (Stoheim himself was reportedly the one who suggested using clips from it to director Billy Wilder.)
The Threat of the Mummy (USA-Akbar, 2002)
Written, Produced, and Directed by Christopher P. Jacobs. Assistant Director: Mike Butler. Cinematography and Editing: Christopher P. Jacobs. Music: Paul Kelly and Christopher P. Jacobs. Script Supervisor: Russell LaFreniere. Sound Recording: Barb Baldwin, Mike Butler. Location Managers: Barb Baldwin, Loren Liepold, Greg Vettel, Les Sholes. Key Grip: Nikki Welch.
CAST: Darin Kerr (Caesarion), Dawn Kidle (Tamera Gardner), Sarah Davis (Diana Alexander), Paul Kelly (Professor Casey Wallace), Walter Ellis (Dr. Robert Hobson), Kelly Clow (Geoff), Jennifer Leroux (Rachael), Hailey Day Stephenson (Hailey), Lori Barrett (Lori), Jen Naas (Jen), Christian Clapp (Nikki), Geneva Bondy (Artemis), Darci DeLage (Darci), Meghann Rezabek (Callista Robertson), Kevin Young (Ted Arnold)
Vengeance of the Sorceress (USA-Akbar, 2002)
Produced and Directed by Christopher P. Jacobs. Screenplay by Mary Novacek, Story by Christopher P. Jacobs and Mary Novacek. Associate Producer: Mary Novacek. Cinematography and Editing: Christopher P. Jacobs. Location Managers: Barb Baldwin, Loren Liepold, Greg Vettel, Mary Novacek, Les Sholes, Rod Grantham.
CAST: Sarah Davis (Diana Alexander), Jennifer Leroux (Rachael), Christian Clapp (Nikki), Geneva Bondy (Selene and Ancient Artemis), Walter Ellis (Dr. Robert Hobson), Kelly Clow (Geoff), Christopher P. Jacobs (Marc), Darin Kerr (Caesarion), Leslie Hanson (Hailey), Lori Barrett (Lori), Jen Naas (Jen), Dawn Kidle (Tamera Gardner), Darci DeLage (Darci), Kevin Young (Ted Arnold), Sarah Phillips (Pam Weiser), Dave Reiels (Chief Richards)
What, if anything, might lead you to believe these movies were not made by a major Hollywood studio? How easy or difficult is it to tell that they were originally shot on digital video rather than on film? What is the difference in the appearance?
The Threat of the Mummy was made in Grand Forks, largely on the UND campus, during the summer of 2001, and Vengeance of the Sorceress during the summer of 2002. If you can recognize locations where scenes were shot, does it distract from the story or add something to it?
What aspects of either or both movies might suggest a low-budget independent production, and what aspects are consistent with what you expect from any commercial Hollywood movie?
Besides the overt fantasy elements, what are some of the themes of the two stories? Can you identify any recurring motifs or apparent subtexts? What sort of attitude or tone does the movies convey? What differences in approach from the first movie, if any, does the sequel use?
Do the characters act believably in their situations? Are the actors and the movie-making techniques consistent? Can you notice any lapses in continuity or unexplained gaps in the plot?
What aspects of the movie seem to have been most affected by its low budget? What aspects of the movie might you have done differently if you had been filming the same story? How and why?