06/08/07) – This second collection of three essays in the purported annual series from Wallflower Press is another small and sumptuous omnibus by top academics. Taking us into the realms of theory to offer fresh insights into films both past and more recent, the essays don’t fall too heavily into esoteric jargon but still provide a very enjoyable read for the film enthusiast, student or historian. Also, the word count is kept low so this makes for a worthwhile introduction to specific areas of study.
Last year’s Close-Up 01 introduced the series by stating that each guide aims to give us three original studies linked by the thorough analysis of artistic choices made in film and television. Indeed, the co-editor of the series is Douglas Pye from Reading University’s Department of Film, Theatre and Television and he brings to this series a vast wealth of experience across other art forms which relate back to studies of film.
Close-Up 02 begins with Pye’s chapter Movies and Tone, attempting to foreground new ways of looking at narrative progression through his notion that the concept of tone should be more central to film theory and criticism. Pye has been surprised that this area hasn’t been addressed as much so far, arguing that it has been a missing concept in film studies. At the crux of his analysis Pye is identifying material decisions made by the audience which he believes we infer from characters tonal rhythms, subsequently affecting not just characterisation but also a film’s mood and modulated pacing. Pye analyses films from different periods – comparing the opening sequence of Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951) with Desperately Seeking Susan (1985); an interpretation of tone as found in Some Came Running (1958); The Deer Hunter (1978) and Terence Davies’ Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988) – as case examples.
Jacob Leigh looks at three Eric Rohmer films from the 1980s and 1990s that featured the actors Beatrice Rohmand and Marie Riviere. Rohmer was a director who instilled thoughts and emotions into his characters that were central to the film. The world of Rohmer is perceived as an internal world and here Leigh assesses the relationship between his characters in the films Le Beau Marriage (1982), La Rayon Vert(1986) and the more recent Conte d’automne(1998). As Rohmer’s career has been largely dominated by films that return to a recurring theme (such as the Moral Tales, Comedies and Proverbs series, etc), Leigh looks beyond this to the casting of characters and settings to identify a link between story, theme and structure (including symbolic uses of colour) which attempts to challenge the idea that his films matter less about plot and that nothing of consequence happens, something both his fans have critics have often agreed on.
Finally, Susan Smith has chosen an interesting, and perhaps surprisingly unusual, subject for close scrutiny. Her study on Voices in Film links is parallel with Douglas Pye’s work on Movies and Tone. Here the focus is on the choices made by directors to use the sound of authoritative actors in film, choices not far removed from casting choices made in the Theatre. Smith chooses films from the Classical Hollywood period for this topic, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Random Harvest (1942), Father of the Bride (1950) and Gigi (1958), highlighting the private playing out of feeling in protagonists which challenge and defy mundane surroundings in mise-en-scene and passive characters. The article also connects with Leigh’s addressing the idea that decisions about casting connect more to the story, theme and structure than is initially assumed.
Douglas Pye believes film theory has still to move away from its highbrow and less kinetic concepts of the early 1970s, and is hoping this series of books will point the way forward. These essays are concise and informative studies with short introductions that point us in the appropriate context of their subject with the potential to be developed further. Although focuses on the material complexity of films fundamental to their enquiries are rare, Close-Up 02 succeeds in achieving its aim.
Close-Up 2 is out now on Wallflower Press. Please click on the Wallflower link to buy a copy.