Wednesday, August 15, 2012

THAS: Three Love Scenes

Well, two are a scene between lovers, one is a seduction, and none depict love-making, but they show the sharing of space between two characters who are or are to become emotionally bound - to a sensual capacity, so I was not completely fibbing in my title's invocation of Eros - in one way or another.

Grouped together along those lines, these three scenes share the scenic device of the "entrance," of which Hooper gives esoteric formal spin to each - characterizing lovers meeting as, at some essential, ineffable, ingredient level, always partly of the essence of surprise: lovers as separate entities, ones capable of sneaking up on you as long as cohabiting the same dimension, and go on to stir in you the wild variability of feelings they so naturally do (positive or negative, though almost always roiling): true affection, the intractable suspicions, nagging unease at some obstruction existing between you, or even implicit threat (as in the Night Terrors scene, where a first meeting is rife with the potential energies of the desiring one's pounce and the desired-for's naivety).

These are three scenes of a "sneaking up to," where Hooper embodies the undercurrents of the story's thematic and emotional content in his formulation of the "collision" of these people upon one another.

Two essential tenets when it comes to Hooper's works that I have surely thrown about in previous posts with the comfort of off-handedness, but will try to put down now, manifesto-like, in stone, in concise numbered points, are: 1) Hooper's unerring formalist aspirations, of concerns of mature, analytical, and heady aesthetic forms and discursive structures rather than the ready pleasures of entertainment, narrative style, and sentimental style; and 2) his cinema of essential goodness and artistic altruism, found in the open, equivocal, abstract and entreating allegories of his stories and the plain sensitivity and nicety of his cinematic concepts, always present, where sublimity and humanity is the one constant and always goal (and so, in relation to sublimity and humanity, notions of "love" will never be too far off).

So here are Hooper's love scenes, in a career of constant and always "love" scenes.

Salem's Lot

Susan & Ben (Susan approaching Ben at the hospital)

A shot begins encircling Ben (in deference to his present action, checking himself out of the hospital after his recent assault).

The camera's revolution comes to a halt, and it is still for a lulling moment, before Susan very literally rushes into the frame, and further, coaxes the camera into a forward rush alongside her.

Even Susan's exclamation of "Hi!" as she makes her sudden entrance is made to hiss onto the soundtrack like a pneumatic torrent - think the bus brakes/automatic doors in that scene from Tourneur's Cat People.


"Dad called..."

A standing pool of nuances and subtle moods are brought about by the allegorical-cinematic construction -- the party that pounces (Susan, not meaning any malevolence), the party that is surprised (Ben, whose interiority clearly we inhabit), the latent idea that even meeting someone you love can result in a poor encounter (indeed, Susan, this benevolent agent, is guilty of sneaking up on him, with a poorly-considered* aspect of haste), the proving that that, fortunately, is not the case (in Ben's initial blushing demeanor is the idea that no souring of the moment can trump the gladness he has for her visit). This is a clear example of true, Hooperian cinematic richness.

* not to mention, the dialogue in this scene funnily has her make a statement that can be seen as in poor taste, Susan essentially stating she isn't there because she's worried about him [Ben, regarding his injury: "Oh, it's just a little lump." Susan: "No, I-- I know you're okay. There's some more, Ben." Then she goes on to sensationally report to him the further deaths and misfortunes of the town.]

Spontaneous Combustion

Lisa & Sam (Lisa finds Sam in front of her apartment)

This is a moment composed entirely to be a patient, elegant, insidiously suggestive visual build-up to the appearance of Lisa.

Spontaneous Combustion is a film about conspiracy, distrust, and the high-level world lording over low-level life and you. It is about major destruction and displaced anger. Finally, it's about technology and its potential nefariousness.

So it is quite a subtly poetic construction, creating a sequence that builds to the girlfriend Lisa's magical -- conspiratorial -- emergence in the frame, behind her boyfriend Sam's back, appearing behind the "technological" of opening elevator doors.

Despite the sure enough magic trick of someone instantaneously appearing in a spot (on a 2D canvas) where she was not before, without seeing her walk or move to that spot (Hooper inadvertently making the perfect send-up of movie magic), this appearance of Lisa is, of course, a totally mundane thing in the world of the story. She is, simply, inside an elevator. But considering the film's thematic concerns, in the eyes of the paranoid (whoever that is - it would have to be us, the audience, who Hooper is slyly tricking with his sequence's menacing mise en scene and "insidious build-up"; it is certainly not the boyfriend Sam, who at this point trusts Lisa completely, despite his unease over recent occurrences), the moment takes on Hooper's desired-for air of paranoid energy, irrational suspicion, unwarranted menace, and foreshadowing of the tragedy of Sam's eventual turning against (in distrust) the girl who loves him. Hooper, in this single moment of the film - a lovers meeting, one sneaking upon the other, our Love Scene #2 - he allegorizes (with the moods and evocations of the poetic mise en scene) the film's tale of tragically misplaced aggression (against the innocent and kind Lisa, manifested not in our hero yet, but in our response to the moods of this scene) -- not to mention how our distrust really belongs to the makers of civilization and modernity, seen in the harsh, electric chiaroscuro of the lighting, imposing its grimness and negativity on the innocent lives of these people, while the innocuous technological luxury of a building elevator is an ironic - but still undeniably serviceable - means to a villainous entrance.

These two characters are proven to truly care for one another, yet the scene is still rife with tensions beyond the poor lovers' control: their distance upon her arrival, her unplanned "ambush" (how perfect it is that even she, the "ambusher," does not notice their collision when the elevator doors first open, as she is busying herself with the innocuous mail of hers), the bad news each carry for the other -- from the small (Sam has misplaced his pair of her apartment keys - by the way, what a perfect choice with which to build this sequence around: the very commonplace but never-not-maddening incident of forgotten keys!) to the large (he has been plagued by numerous alarming events, she has news of someone's death).

4 shots.

The first: Sam waiting in the elevator.

This shot carries the multivalent sense of direction and the precise formula for disorientation that I have only seen Hooper pull off so well (it is a quintessential Hooper shot, in that no one else can so sublimely subvert our expectations of staging and movement; a post about this particular trope of his to come).

The character enters from the right. The space and frame is ambiguous: we have not been given any clear idea of where he is. It is a corner. He plants himself in the nook. (I'd say Hooper's devotee Kiyoshi Kurosawa takes up the mantle for use of shots quite like this one, where the sparest of walls and corners are used to represent characters and the claustrophobia of their existential traps and maladies.)

He seems to wait for something. Then there's a ding and the sound of elevator gears. He spins around as the elevator doors reveal themselves behind him. He had his back turned to the doors: a rather odd stance. And a strangely resonant one: his existential unease manifests in finding comfort with having himself backed in a corner, the least traditional corner, with his back to "the world" (i.e. the doors of the elevator). The disorientating nature of this positioning, the ambiguity of the environment, and the visible anxiety he holds is direct lead-up to Hooper's directional subversion, where the retraction of elevator doors happens where we least expect it, right at his back (making Sam's exit more swift than is comforting to us, seeing him somehow brush off all his anxieties in an instant for his return to the real world).

Hooper maps out the hallway with a single shot of compound function, beginning as a chilly wide shot, then becoming an intimate medium as Sam briefly pauses in the foreground in order to check his pocket contents, then panning with him as he turns the adjacent hall where Lisa's door is.

A match in action as Sam, needing to search his pockets thoroughly, leaves Lisa's door and moves toward a nearby bench. Hooper's camera jumps to the POV of the elevators, or the hallway with which Sam had just came from. What strange cinematic transcendence is contained in this shot choice... it is conceptually sophisticated metaphysical allusion: where he once was, and where he once was troubled, is now the bearer of his further trouble.

The camera is still for a moment before a dolly movement forward is cued into action, further sign that the feeling we're supposed to be getting here is of trouble and misfortune closing in on him.

Another Hooper trope is the precise, algorithmic triangulations of his camera. In the following shot, the camera literally jumps to the other side of Sam, looking back at where the camera was immediately before.

The shadow on the wall becomes a scenic element deliberately shared between the two shots. Its ever-presence and amorphousness seems to be a point.

Elevator sounds. The elevator doors open. Lisa appears, diminutive in the frame, pulled out from nothingness, an ironical cinema magic trick.

Lisa is the more estranged character to us at this point, certainly relative to our protagonist Sam, yet the elevator provides a beautiful warm light compared to the dull, sickly blue that Sam stands under.


4 shots that fully triangulate a hallway, that make sonorous a man's anxiety, that build to the fantastical appearance of a glowing ruby vision (or trap).

Lovers meeting as mutual uncertainty and mutual haplessness: the one that ambushes not meaning to at all; the one ambushed driven to it due to the avoidable blunder of forgetting his keys; the notion of her being untrustworthy not even being latent, but simply misguidedly irrational. Hooper again encapsulates a profound layer of his film with a purified moment, here allegorizing a love doomed to miss, the lovers beset by a world of cold modernity and Shakespearian misunderstandings -- indeed meeting, but as if never on the same page.

Night Terrors

Sabina & Genie (Sabina returning to Genie from her "quick shower,"
slinking seductively in from behind her)

I've already taken the chance to note the beauty of this scene numerous times before, but I am perhaps most pleased with finding this scene fit to add to this container of "love scenes," this scene which is the least one of all.

It is between not lovers, but a seducer and her mark.

The moment of "entrance" comes later, but, like the Spontaneous Combustion scene, the careful build-up to the entrance moment is of interest.

The entrance here is not just an entrance, but a return.

Sabina has just invited the younger girl, Genie, into her house, and makes up a flimsy excuse about having to "meet friends later" in order to excuse herself for "a quick shower" (of course, a barely disguised variant of the "I'm gonna go freshen up" line).

Our naive, jejune, but essentially good (in heart and spirit) protagonist Genie kindly gives her leave. Sabina gets up and strides past the camera. "Slinking" would be another good word for it, Genie looking off after her as Hooper dollies past Sabina's moving form to peer deep into the charitable face of Genie.

As if foreseeing his later gesture with Sabina's re-entrance, Hooper makes an enhanced moment out of Sabina's sultry leave-taking.

"It won't be a minute..."

"... make yourself at home."

"It's okay."

Below, a shot that pleases me for perhaps little elaborate reasons - more than likely just for the simple fact I cannot think of any other filmmaker who would choose a simple, functional, scene-patching and continuity-concerned shot like this one with as much constructed perfection and aptitude. I speak of this whipping follow-shot of Sabina as she strides to the stairs and begins up them. I'm not sure why it's so perfectly chosen, but it is -- it fits in its place like a perfect little puzzle piece. It perfectly embodies Sabina's poise and "fastness," and carries an exhilarating propulsive quality in its brief second of length. In any case, Sabina's exit is complete, which allows for her disarming reappearance on the balcony.

Out on the balcony, Genie sees a strange altar, which catches her fancy.

Genie's approach to the altar consists of an elongated POV shot that floats closer and closer to the altar, into a close-up of the picture of a young woman for whom it is a shrine to, and who Genie shares a more-than-passing resemblance to.

The appropriateness of the metaphysical camera is clear, considering she stares at her dead ringer from a bygone era.

As the POV camera stops in its tracks to peer resolutely into the picture before it, the next shot is not her face looking - that is, a typical reverse shot. Instead, Hooper cuts to a wide shot from behind her. This is one height of sublimity for Hooper's metaphysical cinematic aestheticism, for we cut wide to witness our witnessing of her profound witnessing, backdropped by the ancient Mediterranean. This soul-stirring moment for her, seeing her beauty existing in a time before, is presented in all its rich import, without crass reference to her face, only reference to the moment's aesthetic existence in time.

And then Sabina, with the same abruptness and sense of materialization as Susan in the Salem's Lot scene, enters from the left. An unctuous sigh signals her entrance, and it hisses jarringly onto the soundtrack with the same pneumatic sound mixing as the one given Susan's exclamatory entrance.


"... that's better! To wash off the grime of this old city..."

The "surprise entrance" fits most traditionally with this scene, as it does not depict love but seduction, and seduction is explicitly this notion of one person acting upon another. And sure enough, with one-sided interactions, its outcomes and consequences are very unpredictable.

Hooper's mature and adult thematic reaches are revealed in his creating love scenes (the two first looked at) infused with the "unpredictability factor" just described, his dramatic choice evoking the issues of unhappiness, vulnerability, and the inherently invasive or unpredictable nature of interpersonal relations, romantic or otherwise, even in the most wholesome (or wholesomely perceived), even as we need and desire it.

Actually, one other considered addition to this post would have been the scene from The Funhouse where Joey, having just been attacked by the monster, runs screaming into the arms of the possible-pervert "Carnival Manager," who also appears out of nowhere, from just out the edge of the frame, just like Susan and Sabina (spinning presentationally into the frame in a similar proximal dance with the camera as Sam does in the above elevator scene). But listing that here would be in poor taste, wouldn't it...

And speaking of backwards-facing elevator-riding scenes, we will soon have something like it again in Djinn, with directionality made multifaceted through the simple act of having things of endowed importance on every plane of the shot: not just in the background, not just in the foreground, but in the gazes front, back, side-to-side, and before the camera -- generally, in allegorically endowed off-screen space. Hooper always likes to have numerous dimensional cylinders firing in his mise en scene, formulations of complex visuo-allegorical design and agility:


Anonymous said...

So do we have any idea what has happened to Djinn? I've seen a few trailers and it looks very well made. Like your write-up. Night Terrors may not be a very good film, although I don't find it as bad as its rep, but on a technical level it is impressive. The photography is excellent, as are Zoe Trilling's breasts! BTW: There is a new dvd of The Funhouse coming out which will feature an audio commentary from Tobe. Looking forward to that.

JR said...

I as well! Got my copy being prepped and readied for me. Won't know what's comin' to it!

Regarding DJINN... no one knows. The production company ImageNation Abu Dhabi has been completely silent about it for months, though their last press article states a release this year is still planned. Perhaps just in the Middle East, though.

A bit bummed it's not at film fests like Toronto. Hopefully it means they're just sitting on it, not that no one will give it a second thought. If we don't hear about it by Abu Dhabi's own Film Fest in October, then we can throw our hands up.