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Film Analysis: Written on the Wind

“If you believe, as the Greeks did, that man is at the mercy of the gods, then you write tragedy. The end is inevitable from the beginning. But if you believe that man can solve his own problems and is at nobody’s mercy, then you will probably write melodrama.” – Lillian Hellman

Douglas Sirk’s Written on the Wind (1956) is both figuratively and literally colorful in representing melodrama.  Sirk has been through his share of drama, both professionally and personally.  He was born in Germany and worked in theatres before he began his profession as a filmmaker.  He eventually fled Germany to avoid persecution for his films, while his wife and son stayed behind; Sirk never saw them again.  He is best known for his melodramas in the 1950’s, and they often depict cynical views of upper and middle class, as their values are questioned and considered petty.  While melodrama is associated with emotional and radical forms of expression, Sirk believed that emotion was not detached from one’s mental and intellectual capacity but, rather, that “there is a thinking of the heart, too.”

Melodrama, though it was one of the earliest and most popular genres since the silent era, is ridiculed and referred to as a “weepie” because it appeals to the female demographic.  The term itself connotes hysteria, fantasy, absurdity, chaos, and exaggeration – anything outrageous or overwhelming.  While one can easily (and ignorantly) identify a melodrama as being too simplistic, emotional, or repetitive, it takes careful observation to realize that there is more than meets the eye with this particular genre.  Melodramas are not simply dramatic, rather, they are filled with complexity, discontentment, conflict, and struggle (usually internal).  Characters are endowed with inner battles that ultimately lead to their downfall or, if the director succumbs to the desires of a hopeful audience, redemption.  The struggles one is faced with in a melodrama are so intense and highly dramatized that it’s easier to choose martyrdom rather than to rise above a given situation, and the audience is left doubting their own bravado and ethics; one is left to question their own strength and threshold for pain, and must leave the film either condemning a character or forgiving them.  Upon the conclusion of a melodrama, one hopes for a clear and concise ending, some kind of message to walk away with but, instead, must deliberate on their own whether or not what they had just watched had a happy ending or a tragic one.  While melodrama is underestimated, it can usually be used, and masterfully as proved with Sirk’s work, to critique and/or call attention to societal values and injustices.

Douglas Sirk, through his melodramas, fearlessly exposes society at its worst.  He brings to focus the problems that are ignored or brushed off, while simultaneously acknowledging individuals and their dysfunctional coping methods as well as their need and/or refusal to conform to enforced norms.  In doing so, he plays with the dynamic of personal relationships like sibling rivalry, for example, competition between friends, or even tension between lovers.  Sirk puts emphasis on dark themes like repression, “black sheep”, and the misunderstood.  Through the artistic use of mise en scene, or baroque sets, which are inspired by such artists as Delacroix and Daumier, and an almost excessive use of color that creates a sense of artificiality.  Ironically, the overwhelming use of color is meant to exude a sense of oppression, a stymieing of growth and accomplishment.  The make up of the set is so colorfully designed that it creates a paint-like impression.  Sirk also uses flat lighting so that the audience sees a flat picture rather than enjoying real space and depth.  For me, this serves to represent a biased story or perspective, where a situation or emotion cannot be fathomed because it is either stifled by outside determinants or by the character who fail to acknowledge their own vices.  This can either demonstrate the oppressive work of society to mold its members, or to highlight a character’s weakness and inability to deliver what is expected of them.  Sirk also uses openings such as doorways, windows, and framing devices which ironically display a character’s entrapment, whether its physical or emotional; and mirrors that usually symbolize reflection and self-realization.  He also uses both color and music to tastefully enhance an already dramatic plot.

In Written on the Wind, we learn of a pair of siblings, who were born wealthy and are to be heirs of their father’s business, Hadley Oil Company.  While the plot seems as simple as rich brats’ inability to cope with their seemingly petty problems, we discover more in depth the actual insecurities they are faced with.  Kyle Hadley is faced with problems of virility, as he has a low sperm count in addition to his alcoholism and resentful feelings of inferiority towards his best friend and partner, Mitch.  Marylee Hadley is an insecure nymphomaniac whose heart belongs entirely to Mitch, who does not reciprocate or respond to her advances; he is in love with Kyle’s wife, Lucy.  Phallic symbols are everywhere, and color plays a major part in properly constructing the story of this troubled foursome.  Lucy and Mitch are the more serious, straight-laced characters and are given a dark wardrobe throughout the film, while the Hadley siblings are clad in colorful attire and accessories, including their cars.  In one of the opening scenes, Kyle has met Lucy and is now infatuated with her.  They are in the Hadleys’ private plane, where Kyle is the pilot, Lucy is beside him in the cockpit and Mitch is in the back.  This alone demonstrates the preconceived notion of Kyle’s power, as he is the controller in the situation, the “captain”.  However, reality comes into the cockpit with Mitch, as he reminds Kyle that he has gone off course.  It’s clear that Kyle is the head, and Mitch is the neck that controls it.  Kyle knowingly goes off course as he is determined to woo Lucy.  When he lands, he takes Lucy to an expensive hotel in Miami where the room meant for her is ornate with jewels and gifts galore.  The halls are pinkish-red and the room is filled with oversized flowers, and offers a view that overlooks the ocean.  It’s so colorful and so dramatically set up that it’s almost tacky, which represents Kyle’s cheap attempt to “buy” Lucy’s affection.  Lucy, however, is impressed but not won over, as she leaves within the hour.  She admits that the whole arrangement was beautiful; but that she was more concerned about how “ugly” it would be the next day.  This is symbolic of their whirlwind romance, as they married very soon after.  It was crazy, romantic even, but the abruptness of the situation and the drama surrounding it would foretell the tragic ending of their short-lived bliss as well as Kyle’s life.

The nature of the last events within the film is in question, as it was Kyle’s life that was a tragedy, rather than his death.  With his demise came the sudden reform of his formerly selfish and spiteful sister, Marylee, who realized that her unhealthy infatuation with Mitch and her attempts to win him over were in vain.  She would be the heir of Hadley Oil Company, and again one’s feelings are misplaced as she is completely unqualified though taking over a business is considered both a feat and an accomplishment.  However, the light is that she has outgrown her past vices of sexuality and the repercussions of blind love that make women seem weak, and must now deal with a real challenge that both men and women face, and that is taking over a business.  Written on the Wind is so overwhelming, petty, colorful, and over the top in every aspect whether it’s the creation and arrangement of each scene, outfit, and music score, or the plot itself.  It’s so ridiculous that one questions whether people can be so dense and so self-centered and this is where Sirk does his job: he raises awareness about the fickle-minded, petty nature of individuals within a society, especially when forced to fulfill certain standards.  He inspires fury over an immoral society, one that creates “monsters” like the Hadley siblings then persecutes them for being so.  Is this the type of society we want to live in, one void of values, ethics, patience, and forgiveness?  Douglas Sirk does a brilliant job with works like Written on the Wind in forcing us to not only ask such questions, but to answer them through self-reflection and self-reform.

La Noire de… & Memories of Underdevelopment

I must say that I really enjoyed Ousmane Sembene’s Borom Sarret.  I found the contrast between life and death to be portrayed so well in the little that I’ve seen of the film.  I love the use of black and white because it puts an even greater emphasis on color, making Diouana and her people appear to be a darker complexion, and vice versa with her employers and their light complexion.  While the lack of color actually highlights the differences between races, it also works to symbolize and demonstrate the gap between the wealthy and the impoverished.  While Diouana’s family is shown on the outside in a somewhat dirty and unkempt environment, one can feel her suffocation in the clean, solid, but enclosed walls of her employers.  I find it very interesting that she never spoke to her employers, though there is much to be said in her mannerism, attitude, and the way she looks at and is perceived by them.  Towards the end of the scene, Diouana commits suicide after packing up her belongings, one of which includes an African mask that she gave to her employers as a gift.  It’s so powerful that she placed the mask beside her as she took her own life even though, in a sense, she was reclaiming it.  Though Diouana gave the mask as a present, she took it back reclaiming her life, heritage and dignity.  It was then returned to her brother, and he put the mask on and followed the employer, reminding him, haunting him of what he should never forget: his race,  his inhumanity, and the repercussions of an employer-slave relationship. 

Also, in Tomas Alea’s Memories of Underdevelopment, I felt that the presence of the birds in the film was brilliant.  I love how condescending the protagonist is towards his own country that he chose to stay in, even after the Revolution.  He was skeptical of moving to America, yet he seemed to harbor resentment towards and a lack of pride of Cuba.  In one scene, he is shown looking down at his country, his people, criticizing them as if he were independent from the Cubans he chose to stay behind with.  The birds suddenly start chirping all at once in their cage, which I feel symbolizes the Revolution.  When they’ve made enough of a stir, he realizes that one has died so he removes it from the cage and throws it from the balcony.  I find this so symbolic of the sacrifices made with and for the revolution, but to what ends?  The bird was dead, but it was no longer in the cage, so does this symbolize freedom or failure? I found the scene we watched to be very telling of the rest of the film and that the birds mirror the protagonists very emotions, which is why he is so conflicted, so torn between pride and hatred, relief and skepticism, and hope and fear.

Written on the Wind

Douglas Sirk’s film was definitely different from the other films we’ve watched so far in the semester.  Aside from Citizen Kane, I don’t remember any of the other screenings being as dramatic as the one from today.  The colors were so vibrant which work very well with the melodramatic tone of the movie.  I love how Sirk used the colors to not only tell the story but also to represent the different characters.  Mitch and Lucy (I think the wife’s name was) are given a dark wardrobe, whereas Kyle and Mary Lee (I think was the sister’s name) were clad in either bright or bold colors.  Also, Mitch and Lucy have darker features to match their more somber personalities, whereas the Hadley siblings were blonde-haired and bright-eyed.  Though the four main characters express desperation in regards to their respective emotional battles, it is ironic how the Hadleys, though they seem more extroverted and lively, are the ones in greatest despair.  I’m sure the Hadleys have gained sympathy from viewers because they are the black sheep in their family so they are expected to fail, but for me their problems seem petty.  I believe that if they weren’t so consumed by their wealth and power, that they would be able to overcome their inner struggles.  I sympathize with Mitch the most, for he got stuck being the best friend and keeper of Kyle , the love interest of Mary Lee, and the admirer of his best friend’s wife, Lucy.  To be stuck in such a love triangle, especially with a group of selfish, self-centered people, must be a terrible burden.  Also, I love the phallic symbols.  Many people mentioned the tower, and the vibrating kid on the machine.  I don’t remember anyone mentioning the beginning when Kyle was sitting at a table with two women, one of which was sucking on the olive that was on the toothpick.  I honestly thought that was the type of woman Kyle would fall for since he was the most desperate for recognition as a real man.  I admire Mitch for taking care of Kyle and for refusing Mary Lee’s advances even when faced with murder charges.  He ended up with Lucy, just like he wanted but I feel she doesn’t deserve him.  Overall, I feel the cinematography, colors, and music proved very useful and beneficial to smoothly bring the movie together.

Early Summer

I really enjoyed this film.  I love how simple the storyline was, like Umberto D, and how easy it was to relate to each character.  The fact that both films were shot in black and white simplify the plot and help the audience to focus on the important aspects.  For example, neither film was ornate with color or distracting compostions.  Rather, the angles used helped guide us to fully and more easily comprehend the emotions being conveyed by the simple, yet powerful characters. 

Despite the serious undertone of the movie, I enjoyed the humor because it was witty and relateable.  The conflict between the single women and the married women was ongoing and very relevant to the overall plot, and I love how playful it was rather than being chastising or antagonistic.  The single women were more Americanized or less traditional Japanese.  They wore shoes rather than the wooden slippers that the married women wore.  Also, rather than wearing the traditional kimonos or other Japanese garments, the single women wore suits, dresses, skirts, and even their hair style was more put together and stylish.  The married women were always being filmed in domestic settings where they’re preparing dinner or serving their family, whereas the single women are portrayed in a jovial, even immature light.  The single women are filmed in various settings whether it’s in the work place, at home, or out with their friends.  Also, the conversations that the women have vary based on their marital status.  The married women are always concerned or involved in and with the lives of others, as if their wants and needs are interlinked with that of their families.  The single women have very self-centered conversations whether it’s making plans to go out with their friends, making their own decisions sans influence from others, and the occasional gloating about their lack of dependency and responsibility.

I was disappointed with the ending because I had so much faith that Noriko would live a content life on her own, despite the incessant pressure from her family and, on occasion, her friends.  I thought she would break the mold and stay single because it seems she didn’t share the passion of marriage with her friends but, rather, saw the light in remaining single.  When she chose to marry Fumiko, I think his name was, I was moreso disappointed because not only is he not well off but he seems to be a traditional man.  For example, he didn’t even consult his mother about moving nor did he value her opinion; he merely told her of his decision and expected her to deal with it.  And the fact that Noriko had to compromise her current lifestyle to adopt a new one, one that I thought she would avoid, is a bit disheartening for me.  I admired that she did not bend under pressure but the fact that she ultimately chose to marry and for the same reasons enforced by her family, that killed the free spirited mood for me.  But altogether, I found this film very enjoyable and I think that Yasujiro Ozu did a brilliant job.

Citizen Kane

After writing my film analysis, I thought about the other films we’ve screened in class that I enjoyed and Citizen Kane came to mind.  It’s rich with symbolism and there are as many symbols to analyze as the movie is long.  Citizen Kane is portrayed as a cold character yet every close up of him conveys intense emotion.  He was hated and judged for his abuse of money and power yet those who persecuted him for his corruption were seduced by it.  This demonstrates true hypocrisy, as those who were supposed to love him, loved not his character but everything that made them resent him. 

There is also much to be said about the women in his life.  His mother gave him away to and for money and, though he hated it, he inherited her cold disposition and thirst for money and power.  He was cold and detached towards his women and vice versa, as his women never loved him.  They loved his value in terms of power, money and connections.  His power made him powerless. 

Ironically, Kane initially resisted both the curse and blessing of wealth, saying he “gagged on [a] silver spoon.”   What I loved the most was the significance of Rosebud, which was his sled as a child.  At the beginning of the film, we are given the impression that Kane’s family is poor, hence his mother giving him away.  However, in his poverty, the young Kane found happiness in the little things like snow balls and his sled.  Even in poverty, Kane found consolation in his sled.  But once he attained wealth he became consumed by it, which ultimately led to his discontentment and unhappiness.  I find it so powerful that the Rosebud was never found and, instead, destroyed because it epitomizes Kane and his self-destruction.  Kane was content with his sled but was forced into a life of wealth which ultimately became his tragic flaw.  Kane could never find happiness, just like no one could find Rosebud.  It’s as if it never existed and, even if it did, it was never to be found again.  This demonstrates how far gone Kane was, his happiness was lost, never to be redeemed.


“If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin.”   – Charles Darwin

 Vittorio De Sica’s Umberto D (1952), closely mirrors life post-war Italy through the controversial but stylistic method of Italian neorealism.  Life in every aspect prior to the war was romanticized and sensationalized in the film industry until Umberto Barbaro’s 1943 essay shed light on the ugliness of “superficiality.”  His essay proved cynical towards melodrama and escapism and demanded honesty and acknowledgement of actual, every day struggles.  Roberto Rossellini then produced an anti-fascist film that would pave the way for the new genre that would be known as Italian neorealism. 
 Italian neorealism not only ventured towards advocacy, especially of and for the impoverished, but it also became a trend setter in regards to stylistic techniques.  Nature is the key word when considering the aspects of neorealism, as cautionary measures were taken to avoid as much choreography and to altogether steer clear of anything resembling an ornate story intended solely for entertainment.  The lighting was not artificial, as shooting and filming took place so as to absorb natural light.  Producers avoided stellar casts and, instead, took under their wing new and unknown actors.  If the actors weren’t highly esteemed or vice versa, then the audience would be less likely to attach pre-conceived notions and expectations about the actor or the character they portrayed.  The audience would be able to determine their own feelings and dispositions towards the characters and, because they would have no prior knowledge of that actor, would be drawn to a stronger sense of realism.  The unknown cast would not be recognized for their celebrity but for how well they played their roles which were meant to reflect the lives of their viewers.  Camera techniques, shots, takes, and angles were then improvised so as to provide the most efficient way to tell an honest story in an attempt to resemble a documentary.  The main intent was to depict life bare bones. 
 Neorealistic films served as forms of advocacy, as they covered both political and social issues especially those that impinged on the rights of the working class, I.e. Umberto D revolved around the idea of poverty and demonstrated the inability to rise from one’s situation especially without the mercy of those in power.  While the intent of a neorealistic film is to be as real and honest as possible, such an ambitious attempt can only be properly executed through careful planning and use of some type of dramatization.  While Umberto D is about the seemingly uninteresting life of an old pensioner and his lovable dog, the tedium of his every day life is so dramatically portrayed that the audience can’t help but feel empathetic, if not connected, to the protagonist, Umberto.  Umberto is a pensioner who is revealed in such a telling, but unflattering, light that his character offers confusion as to whether or not he’s one to be pitied or praised.  What would normally be considered mundane has, through de Sica’s brilliance, been transformed into a story that can be seen as heroic or tragic, if not both.

 In one scene, Umberto is sickly and he’s desperately trying to sleep but is deterred due to many uncontrollable factors.  While the factors preventing him from sleeping are simple nuisances, the audience feels his discomfort through the tasteful use of close ups to emphasize Umberto’s desperation.  While there is great significance on what fits in a frame and/or shot, there’s even more to be said and stressed about what isn’t being shown.  Most of the scene consists of close ups and long takes of Umberto and his slow movements to and fro, but while we see him we hear and witness the disturbances coming from the other tenants.  His land lady is an ambitious social climber who is desperate to get rid of Umberto so as to renovate her home and make it more aesthetically pleasing, and she uses his lack of monetary funds as an excuse to evict him from his room.  Though she’s hardly visually observed in the scene, her presence is made known to all.  This sense of realism depicts the inability of the elite, reflected by the land lady, to feel sympathy or remorse for their shallow and inhumane treatment of and toward the less fortunate such as Umberto and the maid, the working class, the impoverished.  While Umberto suffers passively and submits himself to martyrdom for the cruel treatment he receives from those above him, the maid, pregnant and helpless, is portrayed as naïve.  The maid is a dreamer and her main concerns are looking out of Umberto’s window to drool over the soldiers who are stationed nearby.  She is obviously impoverished and has resigned to a life of submission; she reflects those that are both ignorant and tolerant of the living conditions imposed upon them.  Umberto, through the use of close ups that offer further dramatization of his situation, reflects the oppressed who are proud; he reflects the voices that are dying to be heard, those that are proud and refuse to succumb to the cards they’ve been dealt.  Umberto is a fighter.   He tried desperately to get a good night’s sleep but was faced with obstacles that he overcame; his imagination and undying devotion towards Flike, his dog, demonstrated in this scene reflect his overall attitude of survival.  

 Umberto D bears witness to society’s inability to change so as to cater to the needs of all its people rather than just the elite.  Neorealism intends to provide nothing but realism and the tedious aspects of life, but its dramatization is a desperate attempt, a cry, rather, for reform within the infrastructure of societal and economic norms.  Rather than being a society moving on and ahead in unison, Umberto D proves otherwise, as it is a society that is at war with and against itself.  By giving a voice to the seemingly insignificant and by filming what would otherwise lack appeal towards the public, Italian neorealism forces viewers to notice the little things in life and to accurately fathom how much is taken for granted, like people, shelter, and food, for example.  By refusing to film escapism, viewers are encouraged to escape their reality by changing it.  This is realism in its purest form.

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