Sunday, 27 November 2011

Notes on The Masque of the Red Death

Roger Corman 1964

Clip 1 - Intro

In this opening shot the tilted camera creates a sense of unrest, a technique Corman uses throughout the film but which often ends up having quite different effects on the viewer; for example, compare this scene, in which we get a feeling that something disturbing is coming, and the scene towards the end where Prince Prospero's guests takes a frightening turn, in which we get a sense of his panic and fear. The tilted camera effect used in the scene shown, in fact the whole atmosphere of the scene, owes a lot to the opening scene of David Lean's Oliver Twist from 1948.

The film is a good example of Bazin's idea of "those directors who put their faith in the image... those that relate to the plastics of the image" with its lavish sets, lush colours and extravagant wardrobe; none of which adhears to any sense of the 'real'. The film had a relatively small budget but looks more expensive than Corman's previous Poe adaptations due to moving the filming to London. The sets were borrowed from the production of Becket (1964), a film that David Weston (Gino) worked on prior to The Masque of the Red Death. English cinematographer Nicolas Roeg used lush color to contrast the form and look of the images with the horrifying content of what the images conveyed.

Clip 2 - Prospero's Entertainment

But even though Corman seems to rely on "the plastics of the image", the use of montage helps create suspense; in this scene he is alternating his signature extended tracking shots and long takes with a carefully calibrated montage (we see the reaction shots of the guests enjoying the entertainment intercut with Prospero's increasing dismay as neither victim shows any sign of fear).

As in a true Gothic tale the characters and the story are stereotyped, but very ambiguously so, and constantly undermining the values connected to their stereotype. Gino (David Weston) is the classical hero - in his very first scene he recues a child - who wants to save his love Francesca (Jane Asher) who got abducted by the villain Prince Prospero (Vincent Price), seeing the corruption of her pure faith as his ultimate mission. At the same time Gino doubts himself, Francesca is not as chaste as she first appears - the tension between her and Prospero is undeniable - and Prospero is capable of both sophistication and depth of feeling, despite being evil personified. Prince Prospero's villain stems from the Gothic tradition within literature where the villain is normally the character that the reader is supposed to give attention and sympathy to, thus him being the character that most noticeable undermines his stereotype.

Clip 3 - Francesca's curiosity

The Masque of the Red Death is full of symbolism, not only in the use of colours. Corman talks about Freudian symbolism; The girl “must run down that corridor! That is very symbolic and extremely important. To me, the corridor is, simply, a vagina. You must set up two things in the movement down the corridor; I think it is a child’s approach to sex, in which he knows there is something great and wonderful out there but that child has also been told by the parents, ‘That’s bad—don’t do that!’ So to recreate that feeling—because I think the sense of horror does have elements of sexuality within it—you go down the corridor, and the audience must be saying to the person—identifying with the person—‘Don’t take another step. Get out of there right now! Don’t open that door! At the same time, the audience must be saying, ‘Open the door. We must see what is behind that door!’ If you set that sequence up correctly, it never fails to generate an emotional response”. This symbolism is part of the formula Corman applied to the horror genre - most explicitly in his distinctive psychadelic dream-sequences.

"And darkness and decay and the Red Death held dominion over all". - Edgar Allan Poe

The Masque of the Red Death is based on Edgar Allan Poe's 1842 short-story with the same name. The plot of another Poe story, Hop-Frog (1849), is used to add substance to the film (Poe's The Masque of the Red Death is only four pages long) and there are references to the story The Pit and the Pendulum (1842) and the poem The Raven (1845).

There is a few overarching themes that could really stem from any Poe story; death's ultimate victory over everything and the subsequent fear of death and thus time. In
Poe's The Masque of the Red Death the big ebony clock in the black room plays a very important part as a physical manifestation of the inevitable coming, something that is played down in the film - or maybe replaced by the questioning of morality and religion. Even though humanity - the characters - know that death is coming for everyone, religion has taken on the function of an escape-route to eternal life. The film tries to show that essentially all religions are the same, and good and evil are only words utilized to justify the journey (the guidelines of any religion) one has to follow to reach that eternal life, call it heaven or hell.

  • The Masque of the Red Death - Edgar Allan Poe 1842
  • The Seventh Seal - Ingmar Bergman 1957
  • Corman's World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel - Alex Stapleton 2011
  • House of Usher - Roger Corman 1960
  • The Pit and the Pendulum - Roger Corman 1961
  • The Premature Burial - Roger Corman 1962
  • Tales of Terror - Roger Corman 1962
  • The Haunted Palace - Roger Corman 1963
  • The Raven - Roger Corman 1963
  • The Tomb of Ligeia - Roger Corman 1964

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Screening and Discussion with special guest David Weston!

On Thursday, December the 1st, at 4.15 The Masque of the Red Death will be screened in the Richard Hoggart Building, room no 309. This will be followed by an informal discussion and Q&A with hero of the film David Weston. More information coming soon!


Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Screening and Discussion - Solaris

On Thursday, November the 17th, at 4.30 Solaris will be screened in the Richard Hoggart Building, room no 307. This will be followed by an informal discussion. Please have a look at the post in the post below for things to consider whilst watching.


Notes on Solaris

Andrei Tarkovsky - 1972

In Solaris we see a representation of the Space Age, and indeed the Space Race, but rather than as something futuristic, we are looking at it from the moment of its decay. The Space Age as a part of modernity - maybe the epitome of modernity - and its ultimate and inevitable failure; as we can see in the film, the space station is old and worn out, its inhabitants are having emotional breakdowns and they seem to have lost any purpose with their mission.

Can we watch Solaris as a reaction towards modernity? The fragmentation of time and reality for the scientists on Solaris denies the straight-forward teleology and rationality - 'duty' in Sartorius' words - that modern thought have promoted. In the end Kris even decides to stay in his memories, despite knowing that it is the un-reality of Solaris.

Clip 1 - Calling from the City

Many of the scenes stand out in strong contrast to each other - compare this one with the previous scene filmed in the lush nature around Kris' family home. How does these contrasts - nature/city, colour/blackandwhite, and in the space station, the living quarters and the corridors/the 'green room' - work as visual metaphors for tensions and emotions?

"It's about new morality arising as a result of those painful experiences we call 'the price of progress'." - Tarkovsky

The heritage from the Space Age might have been more psychological than anything and in Solaris we see a focus on the inner lives of the scientists as human beings and the struggle between their rational minds and emotions intensified by Solaris as memories or desires/fears "from the recesses of your soul".

"Little information has been released about the psychological effects of space travel, both on the astronauts and the public at large. Over the years NASA spokesmen have even denied that the astronauts dreamed at all during their space flights. But it is clear from the subsequently troubled careers of many of the astronauts (Armstrong, probably the only man for whom the 20th century will be remembered 50,000 years from now, refused to discuss the moon-landing) that they suffered severe psychological damage. What did they dream about, how were their imaginations affected, their emotions and need for privacy, their perception of time and death? The Space Age lasted barely 25 years, from Gargarin's first flight in 1961 to the first Apollo splashdown not shown on live TV in 1975, a consequence of the public's loss of interest - the brute-force ballistic technology is basically 19th century, as people realise, while advanced late 20th century technologies are invisible and electronic: computers, microwave data links, faxes and VDTs are the stuff of which our dreams are made. Perhaps space travel is forever doomed because it inevitably recapitulates primitive stages in the growth of our nervous systems, before the development of our sense of balance and upright posture - a forced return to infantile dependency."
-J.G. Ballard

Clip 2 - Snout's Birthday

Solaris' greater narrative is the problematic dualism civilization/nature, or rather science/nature, but with Man stuck inbetween, rather than at the forefront of Science and Reason. The film questions whether knowledge serves power and border-extension rather than being something 'natural' and for the greater good. The two opinions are personified in Snout and Sartorius.

"We have no ambition to conquer any cosmos. We just want to extend Earth up to the cosmo's borders. We don't want any more worlds. Only a mirror to see our own in. We try so hard to make contact, but we're doomed to failure. We look ridiculous pursuing a goal we fear and don't really need. Man needs man!"

  • Solaris - Stanislaw Lem 1961
  • Stalker - Andrei Tarkovsky 1979
  • The Archaeology of Knowledge - Michel Foucault 1969

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Screening and Discussion - Apocalypse Now

On Thursday, November the 3rd, at 4.30 Apocalypse Now will be screened in the Richard Hoggart Building, room no 307. This will be followed by an informal discussion. Please have a look at the questions in the post below for things to consider whilst watching.