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English (Arts)
ENGL 381
Paula Derdiger

January 8, 2013 Introduction Wilder Biography  Course goal: how Wilder’s films illuminate the entire approach to constructing Hollywood films  Born in Germany  Trained in the 1920s with German Expressionists  Moved to the US – Jewish immigrant o Personal connection to space  Wilder is an entertainer o Makes movies, not films o Major figure of film noir Space  Spaces are created or evoked  Basis of thinking about how films work  Capture the “proper American experience”  Shooting not on location o intentionally crafted spaces  literally build spaces o control therefore nothing is incidental  Generate/ constrain crucial narrative effects  Geographical and political spaces  Camera used to convey characters or the narrative  Staged stage o Meta moments Political/gendered identities  Unstable in transitory spaces  Spectatorship January 29, 2013 New York Lecture New York: The Vertical Horizon  New York being built up vs. Los Angeles (the horizontal horizon) which is constantly being taken apart and rebuilt  Picture of economic success – modern skyscrapers  Commonly and critiquely revered  Epitomizes European immigration and old world diversity o Versus Los Angeles which is representative of new world diversity  Glamorizes overcoming adversity o Dealing with the crowds, traffic, crime, filth, etc. of New York  New York is a novelist’s city – the city for a struggling artist o Versus Los Angeles which was a screenwriter’s city  Pomerance: “New York is America” o Obviously this is not true but it’s a rather sentimental way to look at the city Romanticizing New York  New York is commonly and easily romanticized o Example: Woody Allen’s Manhattan clip  Voiceover struggles with romantic appeal of New York – trying to go beyond romanticism  The struggle becomes part of the romanticism  Score/shots of New York romanticize the city  Los Angeles is easy to criticize as people are not as sentimental about Los Angeles (even the people from Los Angeles are not sentimental) o New York is not as easily hated  Physically real Los Angeles is temporary – comprised of movie sets/shooting signs  New York is celebrated for being in movies whereas people are critical of Los Angeles because it is made of movies  Everyone has strong visions of New York – we picture New York through the films we associate with o Indices and icons combine  King Kong has indexical New York buildings  Iconic image of King Kong on the Empire State Building o Fan video: We Love NY... In the Movies  Pomerance: “New York is not exactly a place...The New York we write about is the New York of our screen dreams” o There is no material New York but rather the onscreen New York is the real New York Billy Wilder and The Lost Weekend  Wilder is an antiromantic  The Lost Weekend works with “the film New York as real New York” concept but he it doesn’t romanticize New York o New York becomes a trap for the male protagonist (usually the femme fatale is the trap)  The Lost Weekend clip: Character is an alcoholic desperately trying to sell his typewriter for alcohol money o New York is literally a dark place – plays to vices o New York is inaccessible  Can’t access shops  Walks rather than taking the bus o Protagonist is isolated  He is not included in any groups that give people an identity  Whose city? Lack of ownership  Character barely moving  Being passed by the city  The Lost Weekend sees New York as a dream however it is a bad dream January 31, 2013 The Lost Weekend Lecture The Lost Weekend  Most critically acclaimed of Wilder’s films  The film for which Wilder got his first Oscar  An effort to get Hollywood out of a rut  Wilder cynical of messages his films might have  1/3 of the movie filmed on location o P.J. Clark bar – where the novel was written o Exterior shots of the apartments – where Charles lived  Prior to filming, Ray Millen checked into an alcoholics ward o So disturbed he tried escaping  Ray Millen actually carried the typewriter from 54 -110 street Spaces in The Lost Weekend  The real New York is believed to be a distorted vision  Expresses a dark longing for a different landscape  Relatable to the veterans who would come home o Unemployed males and employed females  Capture the experience of post-war America o Portrays a gritty reality  The city is lost to us – the iconic city is obscured/hidden from us o Only catch a glimpse of the Chrysler building o We see the city as Don sees the city  Travelling among film noir spaces o Don’s apartment defined by alcoholic disorder  whiskey in the light fixture  Ruthlessly male space but a helpless male  Helen is locked out and so are the other females in the film  Urban/rural contrast o Country vs. city  Country  A weekend space that is produced and preserved by successful city life o Success alludes Don and thus he is denied the country  Country as innocent family space  City  The city is a trap for Don  City has elicit sexual temptation  Also contrasted to Midwest Ohio  “man-made mountain peaks of Manhattan” – nothing is natural Glass as a Mediator  We see the city as Don sees the city – through glass  We see movies through glass (the camera lens) o Lens acts as a mediator  Don sees the world through glass o Bottles, glasses, transparent phone booths, windows o Interactions have an extra layer of mediation  Don goes to the bar but is not welcome there o He is separated from the bartender by glasses o Nat and Don converse using a mirror  Alcohol takes Don away from the real New York – an escape o He becomes suspended – representative of his vertical desire  Alcohol precludes him from higher/sophisticated society o Has cultured interests o Goes to the Opera and rather than seeing the performance his gaze is drawn to the glasses/bottles of alcohol and he hallucinates alcohol  Actors are almost cut from the frame of the shot and the champagne glasses they are holding are centered  Use of deep focus to highlight the distance between Don and others  No New York city that can be seen without a mediating glass Concept of circles  Shape of glass usually circular – shape that dominates the film both visually and in terms of the narrative  Set up to pay attention to circles o There is no scene with Don that doesn’t have circles  Don’s brothers glasses are circular and his eyes are often blocked out by circular lights o Implies that Don only sees circles  Main relationship in the film is Don and the bottle  Don’s novel “The Bottle” o We see Don entering the writing process but we don’t see him come out of it – trapped in the writing process  Don’s relationship with Helen is circular o Persistently kept apart o Grabs circular railing that is literally separating Don and Helen o Meet because of Helen’s coat then Don sells the coat at the end of the film  Don subject to gossip – gossip is circular talk  Circle acts as a foil for the verticality of New York  Anything vertical is shut down by circles o Example: The scene in which Don carries the typewriter  Travelling North but physically he doesn’t move  Scene concludes with a circular clock  Clock is a sigh of disorder as Don (and therefore the viewer) never knows the time/day  The narrative is circular o The film begins and ends with the same shot o We didn’t move at all – the viewer is trapped in Don’s distorted view of life February 19, 2013 Comedy Lecture Wilder’s comedy  Relies on historical violence  Stalag 17 is a comedic war movie Theories of comedy  How do films create their own theory?  Why do certain post-war spaces better lend themselves to comedy?  Comedy defies simple definition o As much tonal as it is structural  Comedy is an identifiable mode, tone, or affect  Laughter doesn’t belong to comedy – can be produced by non-funny things  Comedy is an inversion  Comedy may exist in many genres or forms  Comedy is human – humans are the only animals that feel compelled to laugh  Comedy is a social activity  Comedy disrupts realism and demonstrates contingency of experience Etymology of comedy  Comedy = revel/village + singing  Concept of comedy has its roots at the fringes of society  People far from civil life – comedy can transgress boundaries Postmodern comedy  A certain freedom from definition Why is something funny?  Determined by culture  Comedy is produced in relation to the norm the comic is trying to subvert  Comedy is silent/parallel conversation that can erupt at any moment  Comic situation uses a sense of incongruity o Displacement of people, discourses, ideas creating ambiguity o Normality temporarily suspended for pleasure  Jokes produced in a relative relationship to the dominant idea o Monkey funeral comedic because it is obviously different than the normal death ritual  Joking reveals the practical limits of social structures o Norms are only one choice of a possible reality Freud  Comedy is an example of parapraxis (repressed thought)  A joke is a means of negotiating a barrier  Making jokes is almost involuntary o Joking is symptomatic of a division of the human psyche  Laughing, like crying, is an involuntary bodily reaction Comedy Creates a Divide  Comedy invokes both a norm and the perversion of that norm  Duality provides momentary relief  What are the critical potentials?  What do we have a break from? o Distancing from tragic events  What are we returning to?  What are the consequences of the return?  Comedy emphasizes transient spaces such as post-war spaces o Wilder was a Jewish refugee thus post-war spaces are a fitting setting for him February 21, 2013 Stalag 17 Lecture Clip: One, Two, Three  Failure of technology (car)/ decrepit buildings o Implies a temporary space  Prolonged striptease – performance  Torture scene  String of meaningless objects (Bulgarian yogurt, Chinese cigarettes) as currency compared to Coca Cola as a meaningful currency  Makes fun of corporate espionage  Doubling/division of society is a source of comedy  Dysfunction of society is a source of comedy Stalag 17  State of exception o Anything can happen o Doesn’t need to be rational or honorable o Results can be tragic or comedic o Horror relies on state of exception where human logic is suspended  POW camp is a distant space/separate from society o Always under surveillance o People in camp – unique and sacred  Those in camp can be killed with no explanation but can’t be sacrificed because by being put in the camp they are not pure  People are holy – beyond the constraints of society  People are damned – can’t enter society o Place of lowest and highest power in the world  Wilder’s film explores exiled characters o Privileged o Can transgress behaviours o Can do things others cannot o Punished for acting badly Camp  Way of seeing the world as an aesthetic phenomenon  There are no political implications  Interested in aesthetics/style over content o Things are exaggerated o Things appear as something that they are not 
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