quarta-feira, 29 de julho de 2015

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: SAFE (1995)

 Ao invés dos textos que tenho vindo a publicar neste blogue até agora, aqui está a minha contribuição para a maravilhosa série do blogue The Film Experience de Nathaniel Rogers. O objetivo é escolher um plano de um filme específico, sendo que o exemplo de hoje é Safe de Todd Haynes. Como este é um texto feito para uma série de um blogue americano, o texto será excecionalmente em inglês.

  Having never participated in The Film Experience’s Hit Me With Your Best Shot series, or any series of this sort, I was feeling invariably unprepared when faced with the challenge of picking my favorite shot from what I considered one of the most essential films of American cinema, Todd Hayne’s Safe.

 I tried, initially, even before watching the film with the intention of picking a shot, to reduce the aspects of the film that most fascinate me, that most refuse to leave my head even after the several years since I watched it for the first time. What I came up with was basically this:

·         Julianne Moore's performance
·         The use of space, especially the interiors
·         The themes of victimhood and self-culpability

 Without even watching the film again, I already had in mind a shot that would exemplify my thoughts on two of those aspects, Julianne Moore and the exploration of self-culpability. This shot:


 It’s the last shot of the film and it accompanies the last words spoken in the film. “I love you”. Words have never felt more tragic or perverse.

It’s an amazing image and the perfect ending for the film and for a while this was my best shot, it was perfect, and it was a shot that I still could remember, it was so embedded in my mind that I simply couldn’t forget it even after all this time. I even started writing my defense of it as my best shot.

 But then I decided to watch the film again.

 This time around, after having already fully processed the genius of Julianne Moore before, my attention was drawn mostly to the spaces in the film. Mostly the interiors and the way the character of Carol is positioned in the shots, as if a prolongation of the geometry and coldness of the set design.

 I was particularly enthralled by the use of rectilinear shapes and lines throughout the film. There’s a certain sparsity of circles and curved lines in the first half of the film, contrasting greatly with the second half where circular lines seem to overpower the compositions, culminating in the igloo-like building Carol ends up in.

 This is a great contrast to the way the first half uses straight lines and especially rectangles to construct its visual world. There are frames everywhere, be it picture frames or door frames, or frames that are singularly created by the way Haynes positions his camera. This is a world of rigidity, of boxes in which Carol is inserted, very rarely breaking the geometry of the shot, she is mostly seen as being a part of the harmonious compositions.

 Here is small collection of shots from the film where you can see some of what I’m referring to:

 The camera rarely moves in the first half, and, when it does, it’s usually in push-ins emphasizing Carol and her position in the frame. This general lack of movement, combined with the extensive use of long shots, makes for a distant and cold look at the world we’re observing. The way the camera is often positioned above the characters helps even more in the general sense that we’re watching a space where humans exist, rather than watching the humans that happen to exist in this space.

 It’s like watching the antithesis of Renoir, for example, who used movement in ways that defined and explored the three-dimensionality of space. Here despite the compositions and set design highlighting the depth of the space where the people are inserted, there is an almost two-dimensional flatness in the way the scenes unfold. Frames and rectangles rather than tridimensional rooms where people actually live. Life seems almost impossible in this spaces despite the generally naturalistic way in which the sets seem to be designed.

 In the second half of the film, the camera actually starts to move with the characters. In many cases, it follows Carol through Wrenwood, but rather than opening the space, this technique only manages to actually entrap Carol in the frame even more- If before we could envision her leaving the frame, and escaping our eyes, in Wrenwood, escape from observation seems impossible.

 In the first half of the film she is suffering from what seem to be exterior causes, she is victimized by her world, by her environment. In the second, by contrast, she is told she is the cause of her illness. She is still a victim, but she’s also the destroyer of herself. Positivity is perverted into a game of self-blame that eventually culminates with the ending I’ve mentioned before. The film thus seems to follow this thematic differences with its visuals. In the first half the emphasis is on the space and its oppressive relationship with the figure of Carol, in the second we have something more invasive, more predatory in the way I visualizes Carol and her blankness.

 This left me with a particularly difficult conundrum, what half of the film should I pick the shot from?

 I ended up deciding to go with the first one. Not that the second half is less visually arresting, but there’s a cold geometry to most of the first half that attracts  me to it, much more than the roundness, bleakness, and general lack of color of the second. Which is sort of a ridiculous thing to say when considering the shot I chose and the reasons behind the choice.

Best Shot

This shot occurs very early in the film when Carol sees the sofas she just bought and realizes they came in the wrong color. They are black and contrast sharply with the rest of the house, black rectangles disturbing the aesthetic order of Carol’s suburban environment. 

Unlike with most of the shots inside the house, the camera actually moves, creating a diagonal lines in the composition, obscuring the perfect rectangle created by the curtains that cover the windows (I think there’s not a single shot of the house where we can actually see the exterior). The doorframe, although only partially visible, becomes a frame inside the frame to the rest of the house, where the maid eventually appears after Carol calls her.

The diagonal lines may point at Carol complaining on the phone about the sofas, but the placement of the maid in the shot almost makes her the center of the shot rather than her employer.

 The maid is bigger in the frame than Carol. While the maid is wearing a blue uniform and yellow gloves, Carol almost disappears in the shot due to the way her costume blends with the colors of the set. The way she's positioned, looking at Carol from above almost puts her in the position of a superior judging observer, almost mimicking the way the camera shoots Carol throughout the film.

 It may not be the most beautiful of shots but there’s a strangeness in it that captivates me. When compared to the rest of the shots that feature the interior of the house it stands out mostly for its movement, but the end result is basically the same, the audience observes distantly as Carol is consumed by the visual space she inhabits. 

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