Analysis Project #2: Formal Analysis

This analysis will be on the film Double Indemnity. I tend to use this film quite a bit. That is because it is awesome. In this particular post, however, I will be concentrating on the female gaze. I think if ever there was a female gaze – and I may be exaggerating – it came from Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson. Any time there was a close up of her, of which there were quite a few, it was such an extremely cool, collected gaze. Almost like an overconfidence of sorts. As a matter of fact, you’d probably be able to garner a hefty portion of the plot simply from one of her close ups. For example, looking at her gaze, you can tell she’s done whatever she’s doing right now, once before. At least.

Laura Mulvey argues in her essay that the male gaze is an active one and the female gaze is passive. In most cases I would agree with this argument regarding the films I have seen. In Double Indemnity however, it is a bit different. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that it is flip flopped; I would say that both the male gaze and the female gaze are just about on the same level. Fred Macmurray seems just as confident in his own perspective as Barbara Stanwyck does in hers. Even in the instance of the female being “punished” so to speak, I think that both the female and male are still on the same level. Just as Mrs. Dietrichson is killed at the end of this film, so is Walter Neff. They both seem to “get what they deserve”.

If I were to narrow it down to one scene in particular, which this analysis conveniently requests, I would have to go with an early scene where Walter Neff and Mrs. Dietrichson first meet. When the camera switches to a POV shot from Mr. Neff’s perspective and we see Mrs. Dietrichson coming out of the shower with just her towel on, she has a look of such confidence that it is difficult to determine who holds the dominant gaze in this scene. I can see how the argument of the woman being sexualized plays in here. It’s a tad obvious, what with this beautiful woman wearing only a towel, how can that be disputed? However I don’t believe that that is the only factor coming into play here. This is not Stanwyck’s only contribution to the film, it is merely a part of her character, albeit an important one.

The feeling I get from Mulvey’s article is that the females in these films are merely mediums through which parts of the story move through. If I am analyzing that correctly, I completely disagree with it, in this film. It happens to be one of the reasons I chose to do this film. Simply to disprove at least a part of this article.

Getting back to the scene, I feel like the gaze from Mrs. Dietrichson, from the balcony, coming down the stairs, and in the living room is made up of a few different components. For example, I feel as though the “gaze” in this particular instance is not only the way she looks/stares, but made up of the way that she walks and talks. Everything about her is so smooth and confident; I really do feel as though she is the dominant character for the majority of this movie. She has everything. She has the gaze, the sexuality, and the “to-be-looked-at-ness”.

Once again, Double Indemnity is my go-to movie for everything. And for this particular analysis, Barbara Stanwyck is an excpetional example of the female gaze and in my opinion, a prime suspect to help me to disprove Mulvey’s theory of the dominance of the male gaze in cinema.

Review/Reaction to Psycho

This is actually my second time seeing Psycho. I think I can safely say that I have enjoyed it as much the second time around as I had the first. I think that it’s interesting that coming from a generation of thriller/horror films where they almost always rely on shock tactics to get a rise out of the audience, that I can watch a movie made in 1960 and be just as shocked.

Movies today have become so entirely predictable in their formula. Someone walks into a dark room, stringed instruments in the background get higher and more dissonant until you feel like you’re going to explode if something doesn’t happen RIGHT NOW. However, some have sauntered away from this formula slightly in that when you finally expect something to happen, nothing does, at which point you let out your held breath, and then they hit you with the shock. Touche, horror movies of today…touche.

Getting back to Psycho though, at that point where the detective is climbing the stairs, I was pleasantly surprised that the technology of the 1960s could hold me at a viable level of suspense. In addition to the awesome scariness of this film, the other aspect that makes me want to give it a hug is the psychological bit. The level of dual/adopted personalities is both complex and really fun to watch. Defintely one of the top twists of cinematic history. For me anyway. Maybe it actually is, but I haven’t seen enough movies or taken nearly enough of these classes to say for certain. In any case, an awesome film even the second time around and I’d watch it again in a heart beat.

Umberto D. (1952) Review

Although I have to say that this was indeed a good movie, I can’t say that I would ever find myself watching it a second time. To me, it was good in the sense that it is a perfect example of Italian neo-realism and does an excellent job of exemplifying human loneliness through facial expressions and gestures. This coupled with the whole poor/working class setting makes for something that is so hard to look at, you can’t look away. I would be lying however, if I said I wasn’t dozing off at various times throughout the movie.

Not only was this movie slow, but it was extremely sad. And not just in terms of Umberto’s situation, but in the blow to his pride he must endure by begging. It just hurts. Despite the fact that when watching an Italian neorealism film, one must expect to see hardship and sadness, it doesn’t making watching it any easier. However, on another note, the fact that Carlo Battisiti was a completely unprofessional actor was amazing given his performance. As much as I disliked watching the movie, his performance was a fantastic one.

You’re probably wondering why I’m reviewing a film that pained me to sit through it. Maybe you’re not wondering that at all. Maybe you’re eating a sandwich. In any case, I figure that you can’t just write about movies that made you scream and giggle like a baby gorilla. You have to write about movies that sadden you and make you reflect on your life and that make you glad you have what you have and aren’t living in post-war Italy.

Analysis Project #1 (cont.)

This scene shows an immediate connection between Walter and Mrs. Dietrichson and the shadows all around the house suggest that something dark will happen here, or even that something is beginning to happen, though the characters may not know it yet. Their very acquaintance leads to their inevitable downfall. It is also interesting to note, that in the living room where they first meet and speak, is the same setting they come back to at the end where they are both shot…by each other.

Analysis Project #1: Double Indemnity

This shot-by-shot breakdown will be on the scene in Double Indemnity (Billy Wilder, 1944) where Walter Neff first meets Mrs. Dietrichson. 23 shots.

– LS, slight high angle, straight on. Pan right to follow a car coming up the road to pull into a driveway. Narration and non-diegetic music in the background. Walter gets out of the car, camera pans and tilts up to follow him up the walkway. Dissolves into next shot.

– MS, straight on. Walter rings the door bell and a woman answers the door (the maid), entering the frame from the right. Walter lets himself in and the camera cuts to inside the house. Non-diegetic music continues, but lowers in volume.

– MS, straight on. Walter is inside the house talking to the maid. We hear an offscreen voice and the camera cuts to move in position from behind Walter as an over-the-shoulder shot.

– VLS, low angle. Mrs. Dietrichson is standing on the balcony upstairs. Walter and the maid are in the immediate foreground, still in focus.

– MCU, high angle. Shot of Walter as he responds to Mrs. Dietrichson.

– LS, low angle. Mrs. D responds to Walter. Walter answers, but offscreen as the camera stays on Mrs. D.

– MCU, high angle. Walter answers direct question.

– MS, low angle. Camera keeps getting closer to Mrs. D as she continues to answer Walter. She eventually leaves the frame, walking into a doorway in the background.

– AS, straight on. Shot of Walter and the maid. Camera pans left to follow Walter into the living room.

– LS, reverse shot of Walter walking into the living room. The maid crosses the frame from the left in the background. Camera pans slowly as he examines the living room. Narration in the background as well as non-diegetic music.

– MCU, slight high angle, reverse shot behind Walter, over the shoulder as he examines some pictures.

– LS, reverse shot. Walter continues to examine living room. Camera doesn’t move. Narration/non-diegetic music continues.

– CU, straight on, low placement. Camera cuts to Mrs. D walking down the stairs. We only see her feet as Walter continues to narrate. The camera follows her feet as she continues down the stairs. Camera pulls back to a medium shot as she reaches the bottom of the stairs. Camera tracks backward as she walks towards us, then pans left to follow her into the living room. She walks up to a mirror where we see her reflection, as well as Walter’s over her shoulder. Walter enters the actual frame from the right. Camera stays on Mrs. D.

– LS, straight on. Mrs. D sits in a chair to the right of the frame, Walter enters from the left. Camera stays on them while they talk. Mrs. D gets up and the camera pans right to follow her in a medium shot. She paces back and forth and the camera pans left and right to follow. Walter speaking from offscreen.

– MS, slight high angle. Walter sitting on the arm of the couch, speaking. Mrs. D answers from outside the frame.

– MS, straight on. Camera on Mrs. D pans left to follow until we see Walter on the left side of the frame and they are both visible.

– CU, straight on of Walter as he speaks.

– CU, reverse shot straight on of Mrs. D.

– CU, straight on of Walter.

– MLS, straight on. Walter and Mrs. D are both in the frame. Mrs. D gets up and camera pans left and zooms in to follow them as they walk slowly away from the camera. They face each other and we are behind Mrs. D, over the shoulder.

– MCU, slight side angle, facing Mrs. D.

– MS, reverse shot, slight low angle of Walter as they converse. Cuts back to facing Mrs. D.

– MS, straight on, pans left as Walter turns around to get his hat. Pans right as he walks back across the living room. Mrs. D comes back into the frame and we follow them both as they walk towards the door. They exchange good byes, Walter opens the door and leaves the house and frame.

This scene uses a substantial amount of cuts as Walter and Mrs. Dietrichson are introduced to each other. There is plenty of flirtation taking place as they playfully make use of metaphors and innuendos. There a good number of shadows throughout the house despite it being daytime. It is almost a stark contrast from the outside world. Objects aren’t greatly emphasized as the focus is primarily on the conversation and facial expressions/reactions. 











Double Indemnity. F*** Yeah!

Fred MacMurray has successfully become one of my new favorite people. Aside from the whole being investigated, shot at, and eventual death, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t mind being this guy. For starters, he knows how to talk to women. If I could just walk up to some dame and say, “I’m crazy about you, baby.”, in that awesome, fast-paced 50’s dialect, I would indeed be a boss. A baller, even. At the very least, I would be a really cool guy. For…finishers, he had a super sweet hat.

In any case, now that I’ve down-played my actual persona enough, I can comment (or post, rather) on the movie itself. The best way I can describe Double Indemnity is smart. The storyline was solid and the acting was fantastic, I think. I grew a little tired of Edward G. Robison talking about the little man inside of him, but that could just be because I didn’t really like the analogy and so it would bother me every time it was brought up. Barbara Stanwyck was awesome, again, and this movie will have indeed pushed me to seek out more of her movies after seeing her in two so far.

As far as the plot goes, this movie had me thinking that this was actually a pretty air tight scheme. Disregarding the fact that this is the second time I’ve seen this movie, and the other fact that I think Phyllis would have shot Walter even if the plan was completely successful, I was thinking they might actually get away with it. I also love the idea that this film plays with your moral center in that, in the end, you’re not sure who you’re happy or sad for (for me anyway). Throughout the first part of the film, I was rooting for this plan to be successful, even though it was a murder plot for financial gain. Heck, even after Walter was near the end of his confession I was still kinda sad that it didn’t work out. Silly directors…messing with my emotions. Meh.

All in all, in an age where I’ve been trained to enjoy movies with rampant gunfire, loud explosions, shiny science-y things, and scantily clad women, I’m happy to know that a movie shot in black and white, and made in 1944 has the ability to make me want to watch it again.