Scorsese’s Depiction of the Stratton Oakmont Office in “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013)

One of the things that struck me when I was rewatching The Wolf of Wall Street was Scorsese’s depiction of the Stratton Oakmont office. While it seemed a disorienting the first time around, this time I took more note of what formally made it so off-putting. Of obvious notice is the use of the wide-angle lens. While (if I remember correctly) Scorsese uses wide-angle lenses quite frequently throughout the film, it is so painfully obvious and persistent here because of Jordan’s central position in the frame. Wide-angle lenses are used with the intention to distort the image being shown; here the lens specifically distorts the image of Jordan’s unsophisticated Felliniesque world, so much so that I’m sure Fellini would be begging for Jordan to stop. The distortion in the lens is just one of the many things that tell us that we should not believe this drugged-up stock company owner.

There seems to be a drastic difference in Mark Hanna’s office and Jordan Belfort’s office. The distance from the floor to the ceiling is noticeably much higher in Hanna’s office when Wall Street virgin Jordan joins the business. Not yet tainted by Wall Street, Belfort’s first day is the only moment in the film where we can somewhat relate to Belfort, as he tells us that he “can only imagine what a douchebag” the guy who makes over one million a year must be. Once Jordan has Stratton Oakmont, however, that is what he has become, or even worse. However, unlike his previous workplace, Jordan’s company’s floor is tight from top to bottom. This tightness visually dictates that Jordan is no longer “normal,” so to speak, like he was in the beginning of the film. Perhaps he sees that he has dominated the world but, in my opinion, it reads as confining and oppressive. He minimizes Belfort’s importance and, in conjunction with the wide-angle lens, pushes at the fact that Jordan is an unreliable narrator. The behind the shoulder shots depict Belfort essentially at the same height as his employees; there is not towering, higher appearance of Jordan to suggest he is any better than his employees. In fact, at one point in the beginning of the film, there is an extreme long shot from other end of the office that barely makes Jordan noticeable. Therefore, Scorsese has the ulitmate control of how he wants to depict Belfort, and it’s not a positive one. Just these few things immediately slash the critique that this film glamourizes Belfort’s lifestyle.

While watching The Wolf of Wall Street I made a connection to the famous 1960 film, The Apartment. The repeated, distorted shots behind Jordan as he pep talks his employees reminded me very much of Wilder’s shot in The Apartment of the office floor where C.C. Baxter works. In relation to The Wolf of Wall Street, I think Scorsese intends to compare Jordan, not to C.C. Baxter, but to the likewise despicable head of the company, Jeff D. Sheldrake, who promotes C.C. Baxter in exchange for the use of Baxter’s apartment to sleep with Fran Kubelik. Both heads of the companies in these films are corrupt and thoughtless. However I think it is important to stress the fact that Jordan’s floor is much smaller and condensed, deemphasizing his power, credibility, and appeal.

My Thoughts on “Vertigo” (1958) and the Mysterious, Unattainable Woman

About two weeks ago my film class was assigned to watch Vertigo for the feminist film theory portion of the class. Since my initial viewing I had done some reading on the basis of the theme and found it interesting, yet not enough to go back and rewatch it. But now I had to go back and rewatch it, which, if anything, is always a beneficial experience.

I didn’t expect to feel the way I did once the film ended though. Perhaps I felt the way I did because I am much more conscious of who I am now (how I dress myself, apply my makeup, AKA live my life as a woman conscious of my appearance) than I did just two years ago. (Because who can focus on your apparel when you’re forced to wear a uniform?) Anyways, I felt so uneasy after Vertigo that I spent a good thirty minutes thinking about it before I fell asleep.

I’m not sure if I’m just rebellious or truly feel this way, but whatever the case I don’t think it’s 100% fair to label Hitchcock as a misogynist either (see previous post about Altman). In terms of labeling a director as misogynistic, I feel that there are many different angles or viewpoints for the word, such as what happens to the women in the film, how they are contrasted to the men, their particular role in the film, their relationship to the men, etc. However, I do not find enough logic in saying that a film or a director is misogynistic by simply placing the female as secondary to the male or for the character to die at the end. For in Vertigo, I see Hitchcock condemning the male if anything else. Jimmy Stewart is the perfect actor for this role because he is the opposite of what the viewer is used to him as, that is the everyday American good ol’ boy (read that in Jimmy’s voice and I think we’re all set).

Kim Novak (especially as Madeleine) is stunning and I think even a better choice as Madeleine/Judy than Grace Kelly would have been, as at the time Novak was still pretty new to cinema, thus more mysterious. This idea of the elusive woman is what upsets me the most. Perhaps from this point on my post will be a bit narcissistic but, nevertheless, we all go into a film with our own experiences and thoughts and come out with a different reaction, and this is mine.

As Vertigo demonstrates, fashion itself is created and determined by male’s fantasy and erotic desire; even something so inherently feminine is still under the control of men. To me that’s frightening when I think of the reasons why I dress the way I do. Unlike what some people may think, I dress and apply my makeup for my confidence alone, not to attract men (which, okay fine, we do have certain men that we’re attracted to and want to dress nice for but that’s not in opposition to my argument). The basis of why I dress the way I do is for pure confidence and identity alone.

For me, I am drawn towards the look of the mysterious, unknown woman, which lord knows I am not, nor would Hitchcock ever dream of labeling me as such, but still. It’s a life goal because it’s the style I like. Yet in reality, as all women are, I am Judy. Hitchcock reveals right away that even Judy is not Madeleine, despite the fact that she “was” Madeleine. What we are painfully about to see is the male’s desire to dress up the real as the elusive. The idea that the elusive reigns, this nonexistent woman, is what (real) women are always in competition with and never win. I think specifically of the scene between Scottie and Midge when Midge paints the portrait of her as Carlotta. Scottie is obviously upset and deeply disturbed by the idea of Midge as Carlotta that he has to leave the room. But Hitchcock doesn’t follow him out the door; instead the viewer stays in the room with Midge to watch her frustrated reaction of “oh, you fool! Idiot! Stupid, stupid!”

So why am I so upset about this? After much contemplation I think I’ve got it. Here I am, a girl drawn towards the mysterious look (maybe because of the contours of my face? My admiration for the actresses of Old Hollywood cinema ex. Lauren Bacall? I really don’t know) yet I’m told that it’s unachievable. It’s a conflicting issue because the idea of the desire for the elusive is not real, yet I strive for it because like it, not because a guy will like it. Yet, it is the thing that men desire. Obviously I know the elusive is not real because I am not elusive or one-sided. It is not that woman does not exist, it is that the woman that men want does not exist. Women, just like men, are people, not some mythical creature. We have thoughts, opinions, hopes, desires, emotions etc. just like anyone else, thus putting a screeching halt to Scottie’s “It can’t matter to you.” The fact that Judy allows Scottie to dress her up as he wants is utterly terrifying. If she doesn’t let Scottie do what she wants, then he won’t love her. Yet, even when she does and he learns of the truth, it is not good enough.

People interpret Judy’s death as she fell off the tower, but I read it as she pushed away from Scottie. If Judy truly wanted to stay with Scottie (patriarchal control), I feel she would have pushed herself closer to Scottie versus running from the object that appears in the shadows. Scottie is angered that Madeleine is not real and takes it out on Judy. However, in the end, all the women leave Scottie and he is left no one. Judy presents to me that women (in this film at least) will go to their death to escape the abusive, twisted control of men.

The reason I can’t let Hitchcock be labeled as misogynist because not only he is so self-aware of what he is doing, but he is also aware of patriarchal control’s affect on women. There is a unusual close up on Midge that happens twice that happens in the beginning of the film. It occurs when Scottie casual asks “weren’t we engaged at one point?” The camera immediately cuts to a close-up of Midge’s face, specifically at an acute high angle just above her glasses. Her tone holds back so much repressed anger that Scottie isn’t aware of, and we’re only aware of it due to the close-up that shows her tensed, angered face. It’s the minute detail that Scottie unsurprisingly misses. I feel this shot wouldn’t have even happened nor thought of if Hitchcock was misogynistic.

Personally, I don’t think this specific concept of Vertigo is something that men can completely grasp or understand for it’s something only women can understand. Yet as I say that, it is Hitchcock, a man, who directed this film. But as women, we’ve grown up with certain standards and images that completely differ from those of men’s. It almost feels like deceit because, what Vertigo suggests, is that it’s not women who created it, but men. In short, Vertigo raises questions about female image that I don’t think any other film will raise for me because Hitchcock is probably the only person that can do it.

Why I Love Robert Altman (and Why I Think You Should Too)

Think of the directors of the New Hollywood era and write down the first few names that come to mind. The names you most likely wrote down are Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, etc. AKA the big directors we still talk about and worship today. However, I’ll bet you that one name that you didn’t write down was Robert Altman. Why? Well, were you to ask me two years ago during what period Robert Altman directed, I probably would have asked if you meant Robert Aldrich, because who is Robert Altman? My poor eighteen years-old self.

Why is it that one of America’s greatest directors is forgotten and hardly discussed in that crucial turning point in film? Is it because of his being labeled as a misogynist (which I do not agree with and believe is an overused and misused label), or because he didn’t have a consistent string of popular, money making films like so many of the other New Hollywood directors? It really boils down to a one word question: why?

I can’t answer that question, and I don’t think I ever will be able to answer it for it’s beyond me. All I can do is enlighten others to the unique world that is solely Robert Altman’s in hope that some day he will be given the recognition he deserves. With that, I wanted to tell you why I love Robert Altman and, thus, why I think you should love him (or at least give him a chance) too.

Perhaps it is best to start with, quite simply, the Altman style: long takes, long lens with zooms, overlapping dialogue, in essence, everything I’d aspired to do if I wanted to be a director. There is nothing in the Altman style that suggests mindless movie-watching. In fact, if you’re not active enough, you may find yourself becoming “bored” with what is on the screen. Instead, Altman respects the audience’s intelligence and patience. Why “cut, cut, cut” when you can shoot with long takes and let things play out as they do in real life? In a world today where everything is about immediate gratification and getting to the point, Altman is a relief for this poor, stressed college girl. Why? Because Altman trusts me with his films.

For most of this post I will be focusing on Nashville, as it is the Altman film I have seen the most. I have yet to watch Nashville (a movie I have seen at least 20 times, I kid you not) and not have seen or heard something new. Every single time I sit down and watch it, I discover some new layer to the plot or another dimension to one of the characters. Every rewatch has been worth it and not a waste of time. Perhaps that is what drew me back the second time; I had only grasped the surface of the film, maybe because I was tired or I didn’t realize just how much Altman needed from me, and I knew I needed to go back for more for a clearer understanding. Yet here I am, a good 20 rewatches later, and I feel there is so much more to be discovered.

As if his directing wasn’t enough, Altman’s personality and attitude is everything that I aspire to be. I had never heard of someone say one bad thing about John Ford (whom I am not a fan of) but right there in an interview, Altman said he never liked any of Ford’s films. In that same interview, Altman dismisses the notion of being an auteur for, truly, he is not. While he is the director and one of the editors, he encourages everyone on the crew to contribute, most notably for the actors and actresses to improvise. The contribution of everyone is essentially the number one no-no of the auteur theory; while it is the Altman style, this does not mean he is the sole creator because he did not tell his actors and actresses what to do. As you may guess, the auteur theory isn’t exactly my favorite theory nor do I believe it should be the ultimate mode of production. What I admire about Altman is his ability to reign in all of what everyone has contributed into one complex and rich theme. Now how impressive is that?

When you watch an Altman film, there is always much more than just the surface. It is impossible, especially in his large ensemble casts, to just have a surface level. Overlapping dialogue and long shots tracing over multiple actions on the screen beg you to look deeper and make connections. To me, Altman is pure cinema as he can only exist as cinema. As screenwriter Joan Tewkesbury says, Nashville “literally moves through time and space,” and that’s it. You cannot write a book or paint a painting of the plot of Nashville; it’s impossible.

There are so many other films of Altman’s that I’ve yet to see. Like any director, not all of them are fantastic or a masterpiece, but they are still important to watch. I’m going to take my time with Altman because there is so much to learn from him. Altman is my favorite director and I refuse to let the ride end too soon.

So I leave you with this post and encourage you to seek out some Altman films. You will not be disappointed, I promise. While I have not seen all of Altman’s films, these are some that I have seen and highly recommend: Nashville, The Player, The Long Goodbye, and 3 Women. {Other films (I have not seen) include: McCabe & Mrs. Miller and Godsford Park}

(If you loved this post on Robert Altman, stay tuned for this spring I will be beginning my undergraduate thesis on women in Robert Altman’s films!)

Nashville (1975)

Initially posted on my school’s film club movie review site, I wrote this review about Nashville. I thought it’d be nice to post it on here since over a year ago I wrote about the upcoming release of the Criterion DVD of Nashville.

Were there to be a number one rule about Robert Altman, it would most likely be something along the lines of: one should not watch one of his films only once. Someone like Altman mandates multiple viewings. For some people, that’s too much commitment for there are other movies we must give our attention to. Yet here I am, multiple viewings later, writing this review for Nashville.

Altman’s style requires concentration, thought, and keen observation. For some viewers, he’s tedious and not worth the time because “there isn’t anything going on in the film.” However for others, like myself, Altman is a sigh of relief. With his long lens shots and overlapping dialogue, Altman trusts the viewer to use his or her senses to interpret what is happening and what it means. With that being said, it is nearly impossible not to see or hear something you didn’t notice in the previous viewing. It is with every rewatch I am more blown away by Altman’s technique of directing. I honestly have no idea how a director can put that much in one movie in a short frame of time that I notice a new line or prop piece that adds to the film’s various layers, especially considering Altman’s technique of using the script as a blueprint and allowing his actors and actresses to improvise. I am forever in awe.

But enough with the fangirling and on to the movie. As the trailer says, Nashville follows the lives of 24 characters. “That’s a lot of characters so listen closely.” Not only listen but also watch very closely as well. Each of these 24 characters is unique and holds some sort of personality was rife in the 70’s, ranging from Jeff Goldblum’s Easy Rider-esque unnamed “psycho freak” to Ronee Blakley’s “adored” country singer Barbara Jean. There is such a wide range of characters that it is impossible not to find one person you consider funny or interesting. There are many aspects of Nashville that one can focus on because of its structure. It does not always follow the same person through every event that happens to them. Instead the viewer is expected to fill in bits and pieces about what happened to the character, and that is what Altman expects and needs from the viewer. Nashville is wonderful in that, as writer Joan Tewkesbury says, it can only exist as a film because it literally moves through time and space; climaxes and plot points common in other films that could be written and described are absent from this film.

So what do I have to say about Nashville? I have so many things, let’s be honest, but I will keep it fairly brief. First off, it is funny. Oh my god is it funny. You have so many people from different backgrounds that that in it is amusing to watch. Underneath that, Nashville is layered and complex. There are certain aspects of the film that I’m drawn towards, such as the treatment and actions of the women in the film or the behaviors of the patriarchal country singer Haven Hamilton. But above all what interests me the most is the core basis that connects every single person in this film, and that is politics. American politics is exemplified by the Hal Phillip Walker campaign. Nashville was made in 1975, just before the Watergate scandal leaked but in the midst of growing disgust for American politics. However, the campaign car reminds the viewer, and the city of Nashville, that we are all involved in politics. This is essentially the basis: everyone in this film is involved with the Hal Phillip Walker campaign in some way that it affects their everyday lives.

Nashville, the capital of country music, equates to any small town in America. The people of Nashville are the people of 1970’s America. For viewers today, it is a glimpse of what the world was like in 1975. Altman himself said that he directed what he saw happening in the world, not as he viewed it. So it may not be surprising to learn that I recommend this film for any person, especially those who are serious about film. It is a film that, for me, is hard to give a good, run down review for so much of it is dependent on how much and what you observe. You may grow to love or hate Altman, but either way you will see a different approach of what film can be.

Max’s Patriarchal Control in Sunset Boulevard

Hey everyone! I know it’s been quite some time since I’ve posted on here (again, I’m going to try and update this more frequently) but I wrote this essay for one of my film classes. I thought it would be a good essay to post on here because I am very interested in what other’s think of this idea of gender control in Sunset Boulevard. Please feel free to give comments and constructive criticism! I’d love to have a good discussion! 

The question of gender control and power is complex in Sunset Boulevard. At a quick glance, it is seemingly a typical noir film of a femme fatale (of wealth rather than beauty) power over the male; however, in close study, it is truly patriarchal control over women. Of particular interest is the role of Max, Norma Desmond’s servant and previous husband. As seen through the dominating and central shots of Max, complimented with his dialogue, Max’s actions prove to be just as controlling and detrimental as Paramount and Joe’s are to Norma Desmond.

Central placement, balanced shots, and close-up shots of an individual typically communicate dominance and centrality. Wilder uses these aspects quite subtly to comment on Max’s role in the Desmond household. Max is introduced as Norma’s servant, thus the viewer subconsciously places him in the background in comparison to Joe and Norma. However, Wilder does the exact opposite of this subconscious thought. Max’s role is just as important to Norma and Joe, as his centrality is linked to his control over Norma’s perception of her life and his role as an “organ grinder” to Joe “the chimp.”

Norma Desmond’s current life is a fantasy supplied by Max’s exhaustive effort to bar the reality from her. As he supplies to the falsity of her life, Max continues to take orders from Norma. The dichotomy lies in this idea; when Norma orders Max to do something, he does so knowing that her “reality” is not real. In practice, servants are subordinate and have no control over their masters. However with Max it is the opposite. Norma is not in control of her own life because so much of it is filtered through Max. An example of this is Norma’s fan letters and photographs. The photographs are compositionally balanced with Norma, thus an important aspect of her life. The photographs could essentially be read as Max, as he later reveals to Joe that he sends Norma the fan letters to supply her fantasy of still being a star.

Another example of these concepts occurs when Betty Shaffer calls the mansion to speak to Joe. When on the phone, Max is shot at a center close-up. This shot, along with his slow-paced, staccato-like dialogue and stern tone, communicates authority and seriousness. Yet, once he hangs up and tells Norma that it was the pound calling, the pace of his dialogue is much smoother and fluid, and his tone much lighter. Norma depends on her servant not only for everyday routines, but also for her world to spin as it normally does. For otherwise, Norma would fly into a jealous rage and possibly commit suicide.

While he is able to control much of the information that reaches Norma, Max also utilizes Joe to maintain Norma’s dream world. Joe’s voiceover narration in the sequence when he arrives reveals the organ grinder and monkey metaphor. As the organ grinder, Max’s job is to use another living being to entertain Norma. Joe is presumably the chimp as the previous, actual chimp is deceased. The dominance and hierarchy of their relationship is established in the shot of Max as Joe goes up the steps. Framed at a centered, in-focus close-up, Max’s prescience is overwhelming, overbearing, and almost menacing. Max’s dialogue to Joe that he is “not properly dressed for the occasion” means that he is not dressed for the role he is about to take on.

As Joe supplies the metaphor, Max carries out the actions that reaffirm it. Joe wakes up from Max playing the organ to see his personal belongings in his room. The camera cuts to an off-centered, close-up shot of Max’s hands at the organ. The shot following it puts Max in the center of the frame where Joe is off to the side. Max’s dialogue continues to indicate authority and dismissal of Joe’s outbursts. This spat between chimp and grinder continues until the camera cuts to Norma, sitting on the couch, listening to Max play. It is clear, then, that everything Max does it to entertain and make Norma happy, and does so by being the controlling organ grinder to the voiceless and chained chimp.

As previously mentioned, balanced shots and close-ups define centrality and authority. For Max, these close-up shots and frequent presence are clearly explained when Max tells Joe that he was once Norma’s husband. Taking this into account shifts Max’s role and motive in the house. As he was once her husband, he was once, in stereotypical terms, the head of the household. In response, he takes on the role of servant and gives Norma a fantasy to rely on, something she cannot live independently without. To further Max’s dominance in the house, Wilder shoots both Joe and Max at a full, low angle shot when they are in the room over the garage. The angle holds much more power than any shot of Norma’s. The fear of losing control of the home, and perhaps control of his wife, is further annunciated when Max reveals that he was Norma’s director in the silent days.

While Max was once Norma’s husband, he was also one of the three promising directors of the silent era. The shot of Max as he reveals this information is quite creepy; Max is tucked in the background of the frame, deep in the shadows with only a side light to light part of half of his face. It communicates an eerie and unsettling control over Joe as well as Norma, for the first thing Max says is, “you must be careful as you cross the pathway, Madame may see you.” Max is controlling and demanding of others in order to control what Norma does and does not see. This scene of dialogue demands a close comparison and contrast between him and the men at Paramount Studios.

Just as Max wants to continue to maintain control over his ex-wife’s life, he also reveals, at that same shot, “[he] discovered [Norma] when she was 16. [He] will not have her destroyed.” This quote and shot of Max calls into question Max’s motives and intentions. An important aspect to establish is that, unlike Paramount Studios, Max’s control is not evil and disheartening. What is important is to establish with Max’s role is that, as a man who was once her husband and director, he is still directing her life, one detrimental to her mental health. However, the connection of movies allows the comparison and contrast of him to the men at Paramount Studios.

What both Max and Paramount Studios (using Cecil B. DeMille a representative) have in common is their gentleness towards Norma. It is only when she is gone that their true selves of reality show. Both men are kind to her but the shots used to communicate it are different. Shots of DeMille are close-ups and close to Norma that correlate to his gentleness towards Norma. Shots of Max and Norma are full shots that usually have a great distance between them. What separates them is their true attitude and feelings once Norma is out of the picture. The intimate shots of DeMille prove to be bogus as he tells his assistant that he will buy five old cars if necessary, just so that he does not see Norma again.

While Joe and Paramount Studios are destructive to Norma, Max proves to be so as well because of his control over Norma’s reality. He is the organ grinder to entertain her fantasies of her stardom, the barrier of reality to her fantasy, the head of the household, and the man who directs her final close-up. Despite Max’s good intentions, his control over Norma’s life does more harm than good. Each of things crumbles in the final scene, when Norma shoots Joe and officially looses her sanity.