Scene from Eaten Alive Scene from Queen Christina,
Rouben Mamoulian, 1933
A shot from Eaten Alive and one from Rouben Mamoulian's Queen Christina give off roughly the same effect. In each scene, a character's entrance into a room is endowed of a cinematic-human-spiritual rippling effect by a camera that suddenly jerks in the direction of the suddenly opening door.
The jerking movement is both reactive and premonitory: the jerk is reactive to the entrance, but the fact that the camera places itself or dollies back (as in the Queen Christina shot) to its particular spot, within berth of the door, makes it premonitory.
The doors swing into the frame in their opening wide, the camera jerks but in the effort of creating cinematic song, and the great import of human beings acting in relation to each other - caught in a ripple of both character and camera reaction - becomes clear. In Eaten Alive, an accosted whorehouse girl calls for her Madam's help and the door rips open, only for her to not receive the help she was counting on - her patroness is instead one cruel and vulgar, and her bursting through the door retroactively proves a decisive moment of the girl's tragedy. In Queen Christina, a kindly servant's entrance interrupts Christina's un-Queen-like reading habit and has her hearing once again the fact that she is a very different sort of leader, which is a positive corroboration by this servant (so, unlike the Eaten Alive scene, this entrance is of a positive nature).
Asterisks in each column mark the moment in each scene that the swerve of the camera occurs. In the Eaten Alive scene, the girl's calls become hoarse before her mistress finally responds (to our relief). In Queen Christina, a knock at the door catches us by surprise, and waiting is not a factor (outside of a latent wondering if the camera dollies back for some ulterior reason, and it does: a premonition of the door).
The scene's are somewhat inverses of each other when matched along the shared factor of their cameras' swerves towards opening doors:
* In Eaten Alive's scene, the camera is stationary in the beginning. The girl's pleas then bring on the Madam's entrance. Then, as the old woman enters, and the camera jerks left to harshly alight upon her entrance and to finally reveal the door, the camera launches into a sweeping pull back motion.
* In the Queen Christina scene, the camera begins with the sweeping dolly movement backwards from Christina in the bed. The sound of a knock then causes Christina's head to turn - simultaneous with the camera's jerk right, to reveal the door, just as Eaten Alive does - and then the camera comes to a stop.
In both, the door becomes a poetic device, an allegorical thing: a thing that is not there, but is always there, and a thing that so often drives the happening of drama. So important to both great filmmakers: the import of the nature, of the allegory, of the occurrence, of characters entering in on one another.
Both are highly impressing and delicate moments of visual prosody and an emphatic interest in humanity seen as one with cinema. A poetry of our existence.