Thursday, August 26, 2010

THAS: Hooper in the 90s & The Art of the Exquisite Shot-Reverse Shot - Case #2

Perhaps one of the most egregious, possibly for some downright depraved, for Hooper likely injurious, statements I can make about his career, is that it was not until his 90's work that Hooper's artistic predispositions, at their most fully embodied, were really liberated. It is a statement I am geared to make, though, and it holds some logic when considering his career trajectory and professional mentality. The meat-and-potatoes, formal anti-formality of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre catapulted him to Hollywood, but I suspect it was cinema's grandest capable formality that Hooper aspired to creating for the cinephilic masses. Weaned into the movies by the greatest vintage, admiring of Hitchcock and Lean (movie theaters were his "babysitters," he is often quoted saying), I doubt much sort of any anti-Hollywood or anti-commercial sentiment in his work. His goals were clear, as well: to enter the big leagues, and, achieving so at the turn of the 80's with amply budgeted studio efforts finally at his lap, Hooper was anticipating joining the ilk of Spielberg or Lucas - the commercial visionaries now the vogue for the new decade, who would grab the pop culture explosion of 80's Hollywood by the horns and give the audiences the blazing genre escapism they desired. After all, he could have been the one who launched the Spider-Man franchise. Very likely, though, he should've been born a few decades sooner.

As it turns out, Hooper's career is a story of the 80's--- and the decade is cordoned and cauterized like a disaster zone and severing crash, as Hooper made his slow and inexorable way through it, in all its market-oriented, neoliberal glory. He was allowed his time as the newcomer learning the ineffable ropes in the anthill that is Hollywood, fixing to be a regular studio Good Ol' Boy, but by the latter half of his glory run, the entertainment-based market and the escapism-desiring consumer ultimately rejected him - again, a careful mix of their shortcomings as well as his own - and Hooper ended up the Diminishing Returner with three consecutive commercial failures under the rhinestone belt.

And so the 90's came around, and Hooper, ejected from the A-list and never expecting to be handed a tent-pole again, began it damningly with the independently produced bungle Spontaneous Combustion. After that it was a work-for-hire for old boss Yoram Globus, for the ludicrous erotic horror film Night Terrors, then finally, he got a chance to reclaim mainstream horror with the cartoonish The Mangler, before falling off semi-permanently into the realm of television. Yet it is in these three films that Hooper's careful expressionism is fully uninhibited, unshackled from self-promises of fashionable endeavors, and let loose was his terribly artful indiscretion, or, more accurately probably, his woefully discreditable artfulness. Underneath mounds of camp production value, and a seeming inability on his part for simple chic, Hooper's 90's work exhibits an acceptance of the competence he will never have and an embrace of the uniquely thoughtful, uniquely felt sense of cinema innate to him. Persisting and exacerbated in his 90's triad is a gaucheness he can't seem to shake off, but realized more than ever is his rarefaction of the rarefied scene, his sculpting of scenes to a highly lofty point of embossed, brittle design that overwhelm narrative instead of the other way around. His act of rarefaction is his elevating of composition and construction (along with their thickness of mood and emotion) above the traditional denseness of narrative and drama. It is a knack of the notable filmmaker, to break narrative flow or dramatic lucidity for the boldness of the visual and structural performative. Like J.L. Austin's performative utterances in the field of rhetoric, the cinematic utterance communicates not through the meaning of the content but the theory of the locution - the how of the why we put artworks together in the first place. It is less a matter of what a work is meant or formulated to inspire in the audience (the "perlocutionary," to continue on the attributing of Hooper with the rhetorical), but what is felt by the artist that drives them to craft as they do. Hooper's sculpting reaches a degree of rarity and deliberation that it supersedes narratology, and what we end up with are films whose individual scenes can be isolated and marveled at in their fragile shape, their aesthetic and emotional involvement.

The following is a scene from The Mangler, a film whose portrait of industrialist malfeasance, the virginal working class pummeled deep within, and the transference of mechanistic evil I wish I could say wasn't so inane. Nevertheless, The Mangler acquits itself as Hooper's most polished 90's film and an incredibly fun film, with more style, wit, and buoyant entertainment than it is given credit for.

The following scene, against all odds of Robert Englund's appalling theatrics (and his even worse make-up), has a purity of vision, a raw clarity in its structured visual articulation - here we see clandestine exploitation and the prevaricating essence of coercion at its core, all through a driving, insistent, increasingly clenched shot-reverse shot.

The initial quote, asinine though it may be, gives effectively the context to the depicted scene.


The Exquisite Shot-Reverse Shot

Case #2: The Mangler (1995)

"Chaos abounds, my dear. You'd better get used to it. Like I told you, there's no free lunch. No sirree bob, not in this lifetime. Still, life must be better here than on the streets, hmm? Here the predators are few. The benefits are many. For I am a generous man. I am a man of my word. Now then, why don't you go in there and freshen up for your Uncle Billy?"










SHOT 10:

"Would you like to come in here and keep me company?"
SHOT 11:

With her decision, we go to her POV. The sickening, decrepit
unctuousness of Gartley (Englund) pierces even from a distance.

SHOT 12:

The camera soaks in her interiority, exquisitely making her and its
motions one and the same. The camera sits with her as she sits,
never leaving the tight shot of her face.

SHOT 13:

SHOT 14:

SHOT 15:

The cut back to Gartley is on his activating of his "lower half,"
bent over to snap the gears on, a grotesque preamble to his
salacious intentions.

SHOT 16:

SHOT 17:

SHOT 18:

The camera is pointedly of her POV, and the multiple, insistent, all-but-still
return shots to her face are the clearest structural appeal to the
audience. Our role as spectators is empathy, and it is our grandest
role where art is concerned.
SHOT 19:

SHOT 20:

"Lin Sue, Lin Sue, you sweet, young, woman."
SHOT 21:

SHOT 22:

SHOT 23:

"The only thing worse than the Devil within..."

"... is the Devil without."

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

THAS: Scene from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre #1

#1 - Composition - The Gas Stop Intermezzo

Progrefsive Movements

for the

Camera Forte




Tobe Hooper

Part I - Vagone Allegretto *
* Fast Wagon!

camera ritardando


Part II - Andante

Blue work-shirt 1st trumpet bridges the transition with a slurred A-flat sit-down, cuing the faint entrance of the porch-door cello.
(Hooper's directing is akin to orchestral composition.
He treats objects in his shots like instrumental lines,
and always tries never to miss a fluid bridge on action
and movement.)
The female flutists' Bathroom-Break harmony is also gracefully bridged from the previous movement:* †
* notice the girls still exiting in the background

(The tonic chord [shot], methodically returned to:)

(Hooper's Melodic Counterpoint:
Two melodic voices - the four instrumentalists in the
foreground, the two in the background - become caught
in harmonic interdependence within the camera-
composition; Altman, for another example, thrives on
this creation of diegetic polyphony)

The Cook and Washboy Medley

The washrag percussion echoes across the orchestration like a shadow flitting across faces:

The flutes are picked up again at a return to the tonic shot:

Used in reaction to the tonic flutes flitting in, the dominant Fifth chord:

... the dominant Fifth creates melodic instability, and the Brass POV of the Cook-Cello eying the flute line for his first time creates a creepy tremolo...
(It's the predator spotting the prey for his first
time, the onlooking horns having little idea
of the grave presentiment of the moment.)

(And a return to the tonic comfort and banality
of the establishing shot:)

Part III - Soda Machine Appassionato
alla breve
ass-shot molto staccatissimo

* accelerando

Allegro in D-flat for Whip-Pan and Fiddle

(Camera-inside-van [above] switches to camera-outside-
van [below], the two shots made rhythmically [and
geometrically] parallel, like two instruments passing
a lietmotif in a symphony)

* "Dammit to hell, we should have stopped back there for gas!"
* sforzando

Part IV - Fool's Errand in Three Pieces
----Dolly-track Maestoso----

No. 1, Into the Store

No. 2, The Knife Interlude
(One simple, sustained moment separating the
two mirroring dolly shots of Jerry leaving the van
and Jerry returning to the van.)
Tuba dolce begins the passage...

"You think I said something to make him mad?"

... and the composition segues to the trumpeter, bruscamente.

* "Franklin, you're crazier than he was!"
No. 3, Out of the Store

The meeting of the melodies, the flutes and horns converging.

Part V - Ritornello
D.S. al Fine (return to il segno
and end at Fine.)
(A dolly sweep along the van closes out the scene - bookends
with the dolly sweep along the van that opens the scene)

(Slow crawl sublimely initiated upon Sally's notice of the segno rosso:)


--------... poco a poco...--------