Bridge to the Sun: An Analysis of a Cross-Cultural Romance (2015)

bridgetothesun shigeta baker 7Bridge to the Sun is one of those films that was ahead of its time. Its main actors are hardly remembered by modern audiences. The top-billed leading lady, Carroll Baker, was probably more notorious for her controversial persona in films like Tennessee’s Williams’ Baby Doll than she was famous. James Shigeta was a pioneering Japanese-American actor, who was once told, “If you were white, you’d be a hell of a big star” (The Slanted Screen). He aged gracefully but was slowly relegated from leading roles to bit parts. Belgium director Etienne Perier was only a slight blip on the Hollywood radar. When it came out in 1961, its narrative based on the memoir of Gwen Terasaki ended up being an abysmal flop. Honestly, it’s not all that surprising, because the public was not ready for such a film, and its candid depiction of interracial marriage. Now, with a fresh pair of eyes in the 21st century, Bridge to the Sun looks quite extraordinary. Certainly, this is a love story, but under very different circumstances, in a very different world. Although it was made in the classical Hollywood mode, it still manages to groundbreaking, not necessarily due to its form, but thanks to its content. Because Bridge to the Sun places an Asian man and a Caucasian woman together, as they navigate two starkly different cultures both tottering on the brink of war.

bridgetothesun6In truth, this film does not shy away from showing their affection, even though it undoubtedly made some viewers squeamish at the time. More than once Gwen and Terry embrace in intimate moments that signify the deep-rooted love that holds them together. Sometimes it’s far from easy. For instance, when they first travel to Japan, Gwen finds it difficult living in a culture where women are meant to be wholly subservient to their husbands. She’s fine with the bowing and the taking off of shoes even, but not being allowed to speak her mind is about the limit.

This sentiment is reflected perfectly in a sequence right after some guests solemnly file out of Terry and Gwen’s home after a dinner party. Gwen is dressed in traditional garb with an annoyed look plastered on her face, and her husband silently glowers behind her. Their home is quiet and still, the light all but gone from the dark interiors. Finally, she turns around and breaks the silence by voicing her annoyance.

What follows is a single medium shot that frames both our protagonists and then a classic shot-reverse shot paradigm perfectly captures the ensuing quarrel between the married couple. It’s seamless, hardly extravagant, and it allows all the focus to fall on the verbal blows being dealt during their marital tiff. There is also great irony in how Gwen is dressed in a kimono and wig, while at the same time pushing back against the cultural expectations.  The intonations of her voice are high-pitched and enraged while Terry’s retorts are low and authoritative in juxtaposition.

One of the most telling lines comes when Gwen positively erupts after Terry chides her to keep her mouth shut, “according to custom.” The major distinction is that this is his custom and not her own. A cultural gap has developed. One set of customs feels antiquated, the other modern. One set seems honorable, the other blunt. There is this obvious dissonance between them, and in many ways, these two individuals are a perfect embodiment of the chafing that is going on globally. Except the important difference is that Terasakis manage to compromise, while the world around them plunges ever deeper into conflict.

bridgetothesun3Gwen and Terry cannot stay mad forever, especially with the birth of their little girl Mako. In fact, it is actually in a moment when their family is in danger of being pulled apart that Gwen shows her true resilience and loyalty as a wife. Pearl Harbor has just blown up and that means there is a freeze on all Japanese aliens. Terry is stuck at the embassy about to be deported, and an FBI agent advises Gwen that she would be much better off staying in the states. But as she converses with him you can see the determination in her eyes. She knows what it means to go to Japan. Her daughter as a child of mix race will be scorned, and Gwen herself will be looked down upon if not endangered by her status as an American citizen.

Her blubbering aunt implores her not to go, but in one of the film’s most impactful close-ups, Gwen tells Aunt Peggy off. She is not about to be split up from her husband – not after all they have gone through. It is in this other high intensity moment that we see her for who she truly is. She’s not about to be constrained by the cultural expectations placed upon her, and it goes both ways whether they are Japanese or American.

Mrs. Terasaki traverses the gauntlet of jeering crowds with all the other Japanese wives. She’s an easy target in the sea of Japanese, and the racist slurs are aimed just as scurrilously at her as anyone else, perhaps even more so. A noose hangs around the neck of a grotesque caricature of Tojo outside the fence, and still Gwen goes bravely on, covering her daughter’s ears, and comforting Mako the best she can in the hateful tumult. In this moment, we have yet another fascinating intersection of cultures. Gwen, a Caucasian woman from Tennessee is being transported along with alien immigrants back across the ocean like one of “the enemy.” She willingly gives up her status, her comfort, and even her very safety to hold her family together.

Of course, the situation in Japan is not ideal either, and the Terasaki’s have it rough. When they arrive abroad there is the same discrimination and the myriad of strange looks. Terry’s loyalty is questioned as he tries to mediate between the two warring nations. The ethnicity of his wife doesn’t help, and the fire bombs raining down from up above don’t exactly calm their nerves. But again and again, Terry and Gwen prove to be a resilient couple.

With the war in high gear, the Terasaki’s eke out an existence, while Terry does his best to avoid imprisonment from his own government. Meanwhile, the bullets and bombs continue to rain down, even in the countryside where the family now resides. On one such occasion, Mako is scampering through town with a friend and “the enemy” strikes. To his credit, Perier convincingly pieces together aerial footage with what is occurring down below. Airplane motors whirr menacingly. The Terasakis race towards town frantic to find their daughter. The planes begin their descent followed by waves of bullets as Japanese soldiers get in position to fight back. It’s utter chaos with smoke, fires, overturned vehicles, fleeing people, and finally dead bodies. The death toll includes soldiers and a little child. Mako lives, but her best friend perishes trying to salvage a doll. It’s in this climatic moment that all the Terasakis are huddled together after both parents rush to protect their girl and give aid to the dying friend. The fighting persists and both look up. First, Terry yells out something almost completely stifled by the noise, and then with Mako cradled in her arms, Gwen screams, “No More!” at the top of her lungs in exasperation.

Miracubridgetothe4lously these individuals salvaged their marriage and preserved their family. Meanwhile, the world around them would not make the necessary concessions. It allowed cultural differences to define relationships, and ultimately increase the void between nations. The rubble of WWII was eventually cleared and new hope was built upon that foundation. In reality, the chronicles of the Terasakis was an emblem of that hope. Inherent in their story is the possibility that two people and two nations really, can be reconciled and even thrive together. Perhaps the United States was not ready for such a message to come out of Hollywood, even as late as the 1960s, but nevertheless, it seems like a message we can certainly take to heart today.

Late Autumn: A Close Reading of a Japanese Auteur (2015)

lateautumn_1_originalYasujiro Ozu has the esteem of being christened “The Most Japanese Filmmaker.” It’s certainly a high honor, but at first it can feel rather counter-intuitive, because after all such a great master of cinema cannot be considered a composite or even representative of Japanese film history. And it doesn’t seem like that is what this name is trying to get at. In reality Ozu experimented with the conventions written by classical western filmmakers over time and out of those frameworks he built his own unique aesthetic. It’s quite evident especially in his later films. That being said, his films are very Japanese in the way they interact with and dissect the culture that he comes out of, and that is paramount to understanding and appreciating his work.

A prime example is Late Autumn, Ozu’s penultimate film, a social-familial drama that shares a great deal of similarity to some of his earlier storylines. The fact is he’s constantly returning to these ideas of marriage, family, generational differences, and the underlying etiquette that is so prevalent to Japan and Asian cultures in general. Yes, he takes on the everyday as his subject matter, but far from being mundane, it suggests that Ozu gets at the very fabric of Japanese society like few directors were ever able to. But of course, much of what he examines is universal and that’s part of what allows his films to remain timeless.

One scene that proves crucial in Late Autumn occurs when the radiant young beauty Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa) returns home to her mother in a huff. This scene is integral because she believes her mother is keeping secrets from her about getting remarried, and it threatens to drive a spike through their relationship.

As he often does, Ozu will use an extended establishing shot, in this case, the outside of the apartment, and he lingers on it for a time, as if to convey the space that his characters occupy. In fact, these type of sequence became so synonymous with the director they received the moniker “pillow shots.” Historians Bordwell and Thompson contend that we can “hardly consider these mere ‘establishing shots’ in the classical Hollywood usage, since many of them are more confusing than orientating” (6).

The following long shot is of young Ayako (Yoko Tsukasa) walking solemnly down a hallway, and it conveys her dismay even from a distance. Her downward gaze tells the full story as much as the muted colors on the walls around her. Next we are situated inside her home watching Ayako come into the space that she shares with her mother. However, the normally peaceful sanctuary is certain to be a place of conflict, at least this evening. What follows is a long shot peering in from the next room, once again suggesting the distance that has already been created between these characters. Akiko (Setsuko Hara) comes into the frame for the first time. What it does is create a space for the audience to observe this intimate scene while still maintaining a certain amount of space to analyze what is in front of us.

There is a medium shot of the mother sitting down and she begins to talk about something routine like the groceries she was buying at the local market. What follows is one of Ozu’s variations on the classic Hollywood shot-reverse shot formula, as mother and daughter trade comments. Ayako is facing away from the camera, sitting by the window sill. Understandably Akiko is oblivious about what happened earlier. How could she know what her daughter heard from Mr. Mamiya? We end up going back and forth between mother and daughter with Akiko facing the camera head on as if she’s talking directly to the audience. Her daughter is completely turned although she does finally turn around and accuse her mother of lying. There’s still a noticeable distance between them.

But the camera does another interesting thing during this climactic moment. It makes a move, ending up behind the daughter, looking over her shoulder. It’s still stationary, but Ozu has circulated through this world made of 360 degrees of movement. Thus, “Once this pattern of circular space is established, Ozu’s films use the same devices Hollywood does, but without the axis of action” (29). Essentially, he is not constrained by the 180 degrees of Hollywood filmmaking. Such a tactic allows him to elicit a different response and capture a different view in such an integral sequence. Because Ayako has just accused her mother of hiding her plans of marriage, and we know what she’s talking about, but if we look at Ayikko’s face we can tell she’s confused; certainly befuddled by it all.

Then, just like that Ayako gets up to leave and once more the camera shows a medium shot of the doorway. This time the mother gets up and questions her daughter, but really it’s directly to the audience once more. She doesn’t get an answer as her daughter leaves without a word, the door closing behind her. It’s seemingly such an everyday look at human interaction, but it’s full of so much meaning, so much emotion. A great deal of that is thanks to Ozu and how he situated his camera in reference to his two actors. Each works off the other in perfect unity to make this sequence simple but at the same time dynamic in its effectiveness. We care about these people and truly feel their hurt, because we are experiencing it alongside of them.

This scene really resonates because it feels like one of the first times we actually get to know these characters. Oftentimes we cannot judge people by how they interact when times are good. That especially rings true in a Japanese culture that often appears to hide behind manicured etiquette and demure smiles. True, all cultures do this in a sense, but it feels especially prevalent in Japan. It’s a nation where the whole is more important than the individual. You’re not to show how feeling out of respect for those around. However, it’s when there’s actually a source of conflict or pain that a person’s true character breaks through the guarded exterior. In this instance, Akiko no longer carries her ever-present grin, but instead it’s given way to a look of deep concern. Her daughter was equally bright-eyed most of the film, and now her brow is furrowed with frustration. These are not the character we first met, or perhaps this is the first time we have seen them for who they really are. They have shed the holistic mentality, and finally given way to their true self.

To Ozu’s credit, he sets up his scenes beautifully, optimizing the space in front of him and situating his camera in a way that is unobtrusive yet unique. It provides the perfect environment for examining his human subjects in their natural rhythms of life. It’s simple, it’s beautiful, and it’s ultimately very telling of the human condition.

R.I.P. Setsuko Hara

The Crimson Kimono: An Analysis of Noir Realism and Race (2015)

crimson kimono 1 shigeta corbettWhat makes Film-Noir intriguing is not simply the crime aspect but the fact that they are films with worldviews that are often weighed down by cynicism. Film-Noir depicts the harsh realities of human nature that few other films would ever dare to acknowledge onscreen. People are broken at their core; continually led to their own devices whether it’s greed or their own personal insecurities. These films give us a fascinating microscope by which to examine all the pain and prejudices that abound within the human condition.  Samuel Fuller’s The Crimson Kimono (1959) shares some of these qualities, acting as a realistic procedural that employs cinematography and setting to say something about the world we live in. Furthermore, it has a remarkable stance on race relations, specifically for Japanese-Americans, that was ahead of its time and has hardly ever been matched.

Through an analysis of The Crimson Kimono it becomes obvious that it is a striking film in the noir tradition, blessed with an urban realism that brings 1950s Los Angeles to life for us. As Samuel Fuller himself points out, “The thing that is most noir about Crimson Kimono…is how [he] shot it.” He was “in Little Tokyo and lots of other actual locations downtown, with cameras hiding in trucks, shooting at night with fast film because [he] could not put out lights” and as a result, the film has “a hard, gritty realistic look” (Film Noir Reader 3). When the action heads to the streets and hooker Sugar Torch is fleeing from an unseen assailant, it definitely has the gritty, atmospheric realism that Fuller was alluding to. This is a real place where we could be. These will be the same streets that Joe and Charlie will soon be hitting on their beat. Ironically, when Fuller shot the scene live he noted that he didn’t really “get much dramatic reaction.” Despite the fact that “An almost naked, six-foot-tall blonde is running for her life down the street,” nobody seemed to care and nobody looked (Film Noir Reader 3). That is the world of Los Angeles, full of indifferent masses that could care less whether something looks real or is real. It makes no difference to them because it fails to affect their existence. It is a dismal worldview, very representative of noir, but the odd thing is that Charlie and Joe are not like this at first. They are heroic, honest individuals with the duty of weighing through this noir world as part of their vocation. Thus, they oblige out of necessity and only then does it get to them. Even so, there is an argument that it is not the world, but their personal hang-ups that tear them apart.

Their investigation leads them to “Little Tokyo,” which becomes an integral locale within the context of the film and Fuller uses it effectively. For instance, in one scene Joe walks the streets with a Mr. Yoshinaga after meeting him at a cemetery. It’s a highly mundane moment and yet Fuller still manages to make it interesting. It is also less austere than the earlier scene of Sugar’s murder since banners are flying and locals are milling about the storefronts. That’s why it becomes an interesting setting for a chase sequence, taking the everyday environment and turning it into a point of drama. It reinforces the fact that Fuller seems to be more interested in the realism of common incidences compared to high drama. It’s almost as if he’s a journalist again trying to get a juicy feature story. It’s ordinary, real and it meets people where they are at.

One of the most significant moments occurs later on during the kendo match where Joe and Charlie are supposed to face off as part of the Nisei Week Festival. It’s a big deal and flyers are plastered all over the town so people will turn out for the event. Within the context of the film, it matters on several levels. The fact that Charlie is Joe’s equal suggests that martial arts are not just stereotypically Asian, but they can be universal. Perhaps most importantly their bout reveals the descent of Joe into utter resentment because he disregards all the traditions of Kendo and begins to go after his friend with a vengeance. It’s the turning point that Charlie cannot forgive Joe for and for good reason. The sequence plays out as quick cuts between masked faces, swords, dancing feet, and exuberant onlookers. Practically before we know what has happened Joe begins beating Charlie over the head and lays him out. It is such a rapid about-face that is underlined by Joe’s own insecurities, which we will get to delve into later.

The culmination of the film occurs during the festivities, with music, dancing, banners, lanterns, and girls in kimonos. It seems fitting that Fuller’s entire story leads us to this point at such a public place full of your usual bystanders. It’s theatrical while still maintaining a sense of the real world. Here again, we have a third chase scene except this time Fuller does something especially interesting with the music. During the pursuit there is a symphony of conflicting tunes going on between the bands: “One plays classic music, one plays Japanese music, one plays hot music, and so on. Whenever [Fuller] cut from the killer to the pursuer, the music changed. That gave [him] the discordant and chaotic note” that was desired (The Director’s Event). It seems like such a simple detail and yet it truly is clever in conception, because it adds another layer of realism to the scene while simultaneously utilizing diegetic sound for dramatic effect. It could be implied that the music also reflects Joe and Charlie’s own feelings of confusion and friction, which injured their friendship and Charlie’s ego. It’s ultimately Joe who has to parse through all the noise and commotion ultimately finding the truth. It’s no small coincidence that once again we find ourselves on the urban streets at night just like when Sugar Torch was gunned down. Fuller parallels that earlier scene and yet so much has changed. This time around there is a hint of hope, but a sour taste is still left in the mouth. It suggests that you cannot fully escape the darkness and anxieties that seem to engulf us because this world can never truly have a perfect ending.

crimson kimono 2

Fuller’s film has murder attempts, gunshots, fist fights, etc. However, he knows how to simplify scenes getting only the necessary elements out of them. When Sugar Torch crumples to the ground we hear the shot and that’s all we need. When an attempt is taken on Chris’s life we see the gun pointed ominously and again we hear the shot but that’s all. There’s a cut to a new scene and Fuller gives us all the details we need to know.  In a sense, it’s about an economy of images that allow this film to be short, at only 78 minutes, and still, pack a punch. It definitely was out of necessity that Fuller did many of these things which would have saved time and money, but it also undoubtedly caused him to come up with creative solutions. The Crimson Kimono like many of Fuller’s films is hardly sleek or polished and that is part of the allure. It is the opposite of typical Hollywood and it fits film-noir so beautifully. It has the same harshness as one of Fuller’s other works Pickup on South Street (1953). What it lacks in a femme fatale or Cold War sentiment, The Crimson Kimono makes up for in how it tackles romance and the job of a policeman with a subtle touch. For this reason, it may be less of a film-noir than Pickup and perhaps a lesser film, but there is still power in its story and the racial lines that it willfully challenged. It also seems necessary to acknowledge a bit of Samuel Fuller’s background, because it further influenced his filmmaking. He came from a Jewish family in New York and dropped out of school to write for a newspaper along with penning pulp fiction novels. He served during WWII and when he came back he began a storied career as a writer and director of frequently subversive “B pictures.” His versatility is especially remarkable, cycling through all types of films from westerns, to crime films to war dramas, elevating them above “B” quality. Part of the reason is that he never gave into conventions and his genuine depictions of race in films like The Steel Helmet (1951), Run the Arrow (1957) and The Crimson Kimono were ahead of their time.crimson kimono 3The Crimson Kimono is an extraordinary film historically because it depicts something that we very rarely see, especially for 1959. The late, great actor James Shigeta portrayed the straight-laced policeman and former Korean War hero named Joe Kojaku. He’s a sympathetic figure and hardly a caricature. His best friend is the Caucasian Charlie Bancroft (Glenn Corbett), who is on the LAPD with Joe and a war buddy. They are inseparable and they share a flat. Above all, the most amazing thing is that Joe gets the girl over his friend! That might be a small victory, but I have seen a lot of films to know that the Asian guy never gets the girl, especially if she is Caucasian. Sam Fuller subverts the norm and it is a major statement on interracial romance in an age when many would have scoffed at it. However, Fuller also takes immense care to look at both sides of the equation, and he allows both men the benefit of the doubt. Joe must figure out his own identity even acknowledging, “I was born here. I’m American but what am I? Japanese, Japanese American, Nisei? What label do I live under?” The question is not an easy one and it is one that he struggles with over the course of the entire film, navigating his feelings towards Charlie and then the beautiful artist Chris (Victoria Shaw).

The-crimson-kimono-1959_posterRegrettably, posters for this film were highly shallow and sensational reflecting the age with taglines like “Yes, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a Japanese boy!” or “What was his strange appeal for American girls?” It places this character in the typical category of an exotic lover. He’s not a real man, only an enticing mysterious foreigner with strange appeal. Likewise, the title Crimson Kimono itself brings to mind oriental exoticism involving strange dress and foreign culture. This could have just as easily been a dated film of yellowface and Asian stereotypes, but it’s superfluous to judge this film by its posters and title alone. When you actually watch Fuller’s work these are not the focal points at all. As Fuller later said himself, “The whole idea of [his] picture is that both men are good cops and good citizens. The girl just happens to fall in love with the Nisei. They’ve got chemistry” (A Third Face). Chris likes Joe because he is a genuine hero, not because the other man is not. Joe is sweet and shares a love of art (piano and painting) like her. She could care less that he’s Asian just like Charlie could care less. Those are the kind of people they are.

Fuller’s depiction goes both ways, however, because while he never sells Kojaku short, he also suggests that Joe might be part of the problem. Fuller notes that he “was trying to make an unconventional triangular love story, laced with reverse racism, a kind of narrow-mindedness that is just as deplorable as outright bigotry. [He] wanted to show that whites aren’t the only ones susceptible to racist thoughts” (A Third Face). This ends up happening with Joe since he gets so caught up in prejudice, his own prejudice, that it wrecks his relationships with his friend. Charlie is not angry because Joe, an Asian, stole his girl. Charlie is understandably irritated because his best friend took the girl who he really liked without telling Charlie his true feelings. Joe makes the mistake of attributing this to a question of race, but Charlie, like Fuller, is not that shallow. His reaction is purely a human reaction that develops in any romance when two men who are equals go after one girl and only one can come out on top. It hurts no matter what race, color or creed they are. That’s just the reality and that’s the lesson that Joe does not understand at first. He seems to care too much about the race question and potentially even his identity. It ultimately damages his relationship with Charlie and we cannot know for sure if it will ever be repaired, even if we would like them to patch things up. Thus, Fuller combats racism from both angles, including minorities who might take on the role of a victim too quickly. Because the reality is, issues of race almost always get blown way out of proportion with both sides being hypersensitive. Fuller seems to have the right handle on the situation, not stooping to unwarranted stereotypes and not heaping all the blame on the majority. Sometimes everybody is at fault at least a little bit. That’s simply how life is and that’s how it gets depicted in The Crimson Kimono, with a sensitive, albeit, realistic touch. Furthermore, one could argue that it is a typical noir ending because although Joe still gets the girl it came at a steep cost.crimsonk4The Crimson Kimono is riveting from the beginning because it is such a groundbreaking and rare piece of film history. It presented on film something that we never see or very rarely see: a relationship between an Asian man and Caucasian woman. In the hands of Samuel Fuller, this unique but still mundane tale is kept thoroughly engaging. He infused his screenplay with visuals of Los Angeles and realism that makes his characters all the more believable. His camera is able to take the everyday and make it dramatic while we continue to invest in these people. It seems fitting to end the discussion with a quote from the man himself. He affirmed that “One film never really gives me complete satisfaction. Nor should it. All creative people must learn how to deal with the imperfect and the incomplete. There is no end in art. Every accomplishment is the dawn of the next challenge.” That’s what makes the films of Samuel Fuller meaningful. No one film can ever have everything. The Crimson Kimono does not have every answer on race and it certainly does not have every convention of film-noir. It’s imperfect, but it is a jumping off point for future endeavors and dialogue.

Run Lola Run: A Snap Shot of Modern German Film

a28ad-runlola1How many films would you guess have a lead character with a name like Lola? The name actually has profound significance in the history of German cinema. The origin of this heritage can be traced back to the famed German actress Marlene Dietrich. She got her big break in Joseph Von Sternburg’s Weimar Era film Blue Angel, where she played the cabaret performer Lola-Lola which ultimately led to a storied career in Hollywood. Many years down the line the acclaimed Rainer Werner Fassbinder would make a film named Lola representing the New German Cinema of the 1970s and 1980s. Not surprisingly he took his inspiration from von Sternburg and also focused on a cabaret singer named Lola. These two connected allusions gave inspiration for the prestigious German film awards (The Lolas) which have carried that name since 1999. With this lineage, it seems fitting that Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola Run released that very same year, would share that hallowed name.
Run Lola Run proved to be the forerunner to modern German cinema which regained some of the excitement and interest of previous generations. The film was the perfect way to reflect the turn of the century and the beginning of a new page in German film history. It pays homage to the past but perhaps, more importantly, it moves forward into new unmarked territory. Germans certainly have not forgotten about the Nazis or the GDR, but this film reflects the reality that they are continuing to move on.
All that being said, it is extremely difficult to categorize Run Lola Run because it resists any attempt to try and put it into a box. It falls somewhere in between classic art-house films such as Rashomon and Breathless. Akira Kurosawa’s film is noteworthy because it brought attention to Japanese cinema and it also tells its story three times over from three very different points of view. Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless, on the other hand, ignited the French New Wave movement and the film itself was in homage to Hollywood crime films mixed with innovative editing and camerawork. However, there is a bit of light and comedic Hollywood blockbusters like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in Lola too. Films like these share a comic book reality full of superpowers and bright hairstyles, exhibited by people who in every other way look normal. As English writer Richard Rayner put it, Run Lola Run “brings Hollywood pizazz to the European art movie” (Kosta, 165). It was further described by the German film scholar Michael Töteburg as a, “romantic-philosophical actionloveexperimentalthriller” and although this title might be applicable it only serves to confuse the situation more (168, Kosta). Any of these comparisons ultimately falls short because they fail to describe Run Lola Run in its entirety, as difficult as that may be to believe. It truly is a genre bender and that gives a clue to why it was successful all over the world. With Run Lola Run, Tom Tykwer is able to creatively synthesize, unique storytelling, aesthetics, philosophical questions, animation, and good old-fashioned thrills, into a film with an inventive flare. He successfully ushered in the new millennium of German film culture and he did it with style.
Even with the introduction of his film, Tom Tykwer sets it up in a way that opens differently than most other movies, because there is a philosophical yet nonsensical feel. It commences with two philosophical quotations and then a bit of narration. The first excerpt comes from famed American poet and author T.S. Eliot who wrote, “At the end of our exploring we shall cease from exploration…and the end of all of our exploring will be to arrive where we started…and know the place for the first time.” Then the second quote by the German coach Sepp Herberger (famous for winning the 1954 World Cup) simply states that “After the game is before the game.” These rather abstract and paradoxical assertions are perfect in this film for multiple reasons. The words of T.S. Eliot suggest that time is all interconnected, and in some ways, it alludes to how the narrative in Run Lola Run will be replicated with the characters beginning anew each time. The game metaphor is extended further when we are introduced to many of the supporting characters in a mass of blurred humanity. At the same time, numerous existential questions are being raised by a narrator. It is important to note that this voice belongs to Hans Paetsch, a man who had been the voice of fairy tales in Germany during the 20th century. In a sense, Tykwer is gearing up his audience not only for an existential ride but a fairy story as well. The only answer we receive as viewers, however, is more from Herberger again. “The ball is round. The game lasts 90 Minutes. That’s a fact. Everything else is pure theory” (Run Lola Run). This quote is meant to beckon back to Fassbinder’s film The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979), which “returned to the past to identify the moment in postwar Germany history in which the game was won.” Of course, this came with the victory in the World Cup which was spearheaded by Herberger. With this statement, the absurd game that is Run Lola Run begins, and before it has even started Tom Tykwer has effectively succeeded in bringing up more queries and alluding to German culture. However, unlike the former New German Cinema, Tykwer is eager to move past that and play a new game entirely.
            After the prelude, it seems absolutely necessary to look at the title credits of Run Lola Run, because they say a lot about the film as a whole and the themes that will carry through the entire story. First off, the importance of clocks and the race against time becomes evident early on and it remains throughout the whole movie. The music and sound effects really help to emphasize this motif of running because they have a repetitive, upbeat, rhythm that dictates the tempo. With the changing scenes, the music, in turn, changes to fit the moment. Furthermore, the animation and the Polaroid snapshots are a unique way to go about the title credits and they give us more visual cues about the characters before the story actually begins.
            In a flash, after the absurd introduction and the whirlwind opening credits, we are already in the middle of another sequence that maintains this furious pace. The opening shot sends us zooming down to a map, through a building window, down halls, until it comes to rest on a bright red phone in a room. Here we are introduced to Lola (Franka Potente) as she converses with her frantic boyfriend Manni (Moritz Bleibtreu), who is calling from a phone booth in town. Ironically, the plot of the film is rather simple, but as we will soon see it is the way that Tykwer goes about it that is interesting.
Aside from the breakneck speed, and the beating soundtrack, the visuals also work to create this frantic mood. First off you have Lola with her mop of cartoonish red hair. However, perhaps just is noticeable are the quick cuts between the characters as they talk on the phone. Each time they say something it cuts to that character and then switches back when the other person speaks. However, when the camera returns it is almost always a different shot from the previous one. So not only does the rapid editing create motion, the cinematography does as well since the camera is physically moving. A conventional film would not have shot a simple sequence this way, but Tykwer effectively uses it to build up speed despite the stationary aspect of a telephone conversation. In these opening moments and for the rest of the film, the director also uses black and white, sped up flashback to get around normal narrative limitations. Interestingly enough, even when the film is looking back in time the pace is maintained by speeding up the footage and not playing any dialogue.
The inciting incident begins with Manni who was supposed to pick up some money for a thug, but he accidentally left the bag in the subway where it was taken by a bum. This was in part because Lola was late to pick him up since her moped was stolen. Just like that that there is our first instance of chance as well as the importance of time. All of this means that Manni is short 100,000 marks and he only has 20 minutes before the thug Ronnie will be calling on him. As Manni is frantically recounting how it all happened one sequence especially stands out. There is a moment where Lola realizes that he left the bag of money and they both whisper, “the bag,” except it keeps on repeating and the images rapidly flash between Lola and Manni (Run Lola Run). It makes sense that the director would do this to get our attention because in reality, the whole film revolves around the contents of that bag. Twkver does a very similar thing when Manni is surmising where the bum has run off to with the money. The camera rapidly flashes through images of locales while Manni rattles on about Florida, Hawaii, Canada, Hong Kong, Bermuda, and so on. Then the montage ends with an image of Ronnie, the man Manni will have to answer to, and this suggests that his mind has come back to reality. Despite all of this, Lola tells him to stay put and promises to think of something. Here we see a hint of almost superhuman abilities in Lola when she gives off a piercing scream to silence Manni and then she tosses the phone receiver back on the hook. From this point, we are given a view into Lola’s mind as she breezes through people she can go to. To replicate this, the camera revolves around her and facial profiles flash on the screen for a mere instant. In fact, it gets to the point where it almost feels like subliminal messaging since the frames disappear so quickly. After mulling through the images in her brain, she settles on her banker father to ask for help. It is from this spot that the story diverges with each of her different runs being slightly altered by chance.
            It is now the first time through and Tykwer brings back the animation by depicting Lola’s descent down the stairs with cartoonish images further developing this fanciful world. When she enters back into the real world the race is on and the upbeat score is dominant at this point and it keeps rhythm with the movements of her body. Arms pumping, legs churning, chest heaving. Despite all this repetition it does not seem to become more monotonous, it simply ups the tension with each gesticulation. Interestingly Lola crosses paths with the same people during each of her runs. Instead of having each encounter develop the same way, Tykwer changes up the results each time. He ingeniously gets around the restraints of conventional narrative by using rapid sequences of Polaroid photos to represent what will happen after Lola leaves the frame. Thus, this is yet another way in which we see how minute details will be manipulated to completely alter the future. For instance, Lola bumps into a lady with a small child and then Lola is followed by a man on a bike. The woman curses her out angrily but ironically we see that her baby is taken from her and she commits a kidnapping. Then, the man on the bike actually stole it so he is beaten, goes to a café, finds love, and is married. These potentially drawn-out scenes actually happen in a matter of seconds thanks to snapshots, and the speed is retained as Lola continues to sprint towards her destination. Everything is moving so fast that our brains might possibly get left behind trying to process it all and yet miraculously it works for the most part.
The power of chance is further evident when Lola is nearly run over by a businessman and then passes a homeless man on a street corner. As an audience, we do not know it yet but he will play into a later story, right now his only outcome is that he crashes into another car. With the homeless man, on the other hand, we know he was the one with the money and ironically Lola does not give him a second look. All the time that she sprints, flashing by in her peripherals are scenes of modern Germany. There is the ever-present construction, brick buildings, concrete pillars, signage, and urban life. It gives the impression of a car ride with images zooming by for an instant, closely followed by a continuous line of other objects. The adrenaline rush of Lola is contrasted with the scenes in the bank where Lola’s father is having an intimate conversation with his lover. The two moods clash as the frantic girl bursts on the scene asking for money. Here this narrative thread takes its first twist. Lola’s father abruptly disowns her revealing she was born by another man and then she is thrown out. This seems hardly realistic and yet it fits the themes of Run Lola Run. Almost anything can happen and it can be attributed to chance or fate.  This frees Tykwer up by giving him tremendous narrative freedom to examine these topics in any way he’s sees fit. And he does that by continuing the race to Manni as time continues to run down.
Before Lola can get to him, Manni crosses the street and holds up the market there. She implores him, “Why didn’t you wait for me?” His answer is simple. “I did, you got here too late.” This perfectly sums of the whole sequence (Run Lola Run). If only Lola could have run faster or had just caught the bum, or if Manni waited only a moment longer. Then again Lola could have easily been injured by the car that almost ran over her. Eventually, she and Manni do get away as a light song plays in the background with the words, “What a difference a day made. 24 little hours” (Run Lola Run). This is an ironic statement especially after what ultimately plays out. The final moments of the run include accidental events of great consequence. Earlier the gun Lola has discharges and then a policeman accidentally fires, mortally wounding her. Here is a moment reminiscent of a Jean-Luc Godard crime film that always seems to take a turn for the worse. However, in Lola’s case, she again seems to exhibit superhuman powers. Before dying she whispers that she does not want to leave and then she literally orders time to stop. Run number two begins soon after.
All of a sudden Lola is going down the stairs again except this time her animated doppelganger is tripped by an animated man and thus she begins the new sequence of events. Again she collides with the lady (who we learn will win the lotto this time around). She also bumps into the homeless man going around the corner, except surprisingly she does not give him a second look as she hustles onward. She hurtles the hood of the car this time and again the driver gets into an accident, but this time he hits the rear of the other vehicle instead of the front. Then at the bank, Lola’s father is loyal to his wife and kids while conversing with his lover. Still, he and Lola have a volatile fight that ends with her throwing a major tantrum. Strikingly the security guard remarks, “It just isn’t your day. Doesn’t matter. You can’t have everything” (Run Lola Run). Whether it is his timely statement or something else, Lola turns right around and proceeds to steal a gun, hold her father hostage, and rob the bank for 100,000 marks. This time luck is on her side because the SWAT team lets her flee unimpeded not suspecting that she is the culprit.
However, although she reaches Manni in time, she cannot save him from an incoming ambulance. This was the same ambulance that crashed through a pane of glass earlier and the same ambulance which was of little importance to the story during the first run. Again, everything is up to chance. Now the roles are reversed and Manni is on the verge of death with Lola looking on. After a moment in which the couple is in limbo again, the phone drops off the hook and kicks off run number three.
 Third times the charm as Lola once again scampers down the stairs, hurdling over the dog and scaring it off this time. For the first time, she does not hit the women and also for the first time she cuts into the street in front of the man on the stolen bike. These changes are a portent of radical developments in her replayed future. The camera actually follows the biker and his path crosses with the homeless man, who also swiped something of value. The bum comments that “life is sure crazy sometimes” and the other man attempt to pawn his ride for 70 marks (instead of the previous 50) (Run Lola Run). Although this quote from the bum is unassuming, Tykwer places it to say something about the central themes of the film.  Like earlier quotes, it suggests that insignificant minutiae can, in fact, lead to a crazy turn of events. This is, of course, the Butterfly Effect, the idea that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings could cause a hurricane weeks later.
Back with Lola, she runs into the hood of the car and then as she goes around the corner. This time there is no homeless man. He instead is on a bike which Manni spots by chance and chases after. Ironically, now he is running while Lola stands at the casino trying to win the money at roulette. Her bloodcurdling super-human scream leads to a big payoff and Manni is able to get his money and smooth out his situation with Ronnie. This is the reality that they were hoping for all along and they finally have it. Tykwer teases us by ending the film with the clicking of a camera. The one time we really care about what the snapshots will say of the future, he decides not to show us. We must simply be content with the narrative that he has given us and leave it at that. Critic Roger Ebert wrote that he liked Lola, though he didn’t get to “know her very well, and she is usually out of breath” ( Depending on how you see it, this is one of the positives or negatives of this film. The narrative is so interesting that the characters take on a lesser importance in some respects. In fact, sometimes it seems like we know more about the supporting cast because most of what we see of Lola is her motions. According to the title of the film, however, Tykwer was not lying, Lola runs just as the title suggests and that should be good enough.
In this final run, there is a possible nod to the classic Fritz Lang thriller M, in which a serial killer is caught by the authorities because of a tip from a blind man. In Manni’s situation, he ends up noticing the thief because of a blind woman (who is Bleibtreu’s mother in real life) (Kosta, 174). There is yet another film allusion that is especially interesting to consider in terms of the motif of time. As Lola is racing against time to win money at the casino, there is a sequence where the camera moves through a group of people to focus on a painting. The image is of a young blonde-haired woman with a bun, facing away from the viewer. This is a small nod to another painting in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. It is a psychological thriller deeply concerned with spirals, whether it was staircases or even a spiral from a piece of art, which indicated the continual spiral of time. Fittingly, just after focusing on this image the camera looks at the clock and our story of Lola’s race against the clock continues as her third spiral starts to come to a close.
With all the scenery that Lola goes rushing by it seems necessary to dwell on the locales a little. Lola sprints past Garnison Cemetary (in the former East) at the start of every run. Furthermore, she can always be seen sprinting underneath the train on the Oberman Bridge which was formerly “a border crossing for Germans during the time of the wall” (Kosta, 175).  An international audience may not know this, but for native Germans of a certain age, it implicitly suggests the post-unification period is in full force. Such landmarks are now symbols that signify that the East and West truly are united in contemporary Germany. This is just another detail that Tykwer does not directly tell us, but it just adds to the layers of the film.
Another aspect of Lola that deserves some attention is the soundtrack which Tom Tykwer actually worked on himself with the help of some others. The score actually changes with the beginning of each new run that Lola has. The first techno beat that is created is best described as the most intense and pulse-pounding of the three. The theme for run two still has a steady pace, but for some reason, it seems less intense and there is a greater focus on the lyrical content. The third theme is similar to number two because it also has a steady beat, and yet there is a greater emphasis on the quiet lyrics which are actually spoken by Franka Potente in English. When you break down the score down like this it does not appear all that impressive, but cohesively with all the aspects of the film, it works wonderfully. The fact that you notice it, but do not dwell on it too much, suggests that it is the perfect addition to this collage that Tom Tykwer composed. Something would be lost if it was taken out, and yet it does not take away from the aesthetic qualities of the cinematography or the editing.
Although Tom Tykwer’s most acclaimed film to date has been Run Lola Run, he has made other films both in Germany and internationally. His two pre-Lola films were Deadly Maria (1993) and Winter Sleepers (1994) which follow a repressed introverted woman who lashes out and then a group of people during a mountain blizzard respectively. With The Princess and the Warrior in (2000), Tykwer was reunited with Franka Potente, and then with Heaven (2002) he got his first chance at an international film, which starred Cate Blanchett and Giovanni Ribisi. His two other major efforts in the 2000s were Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) and The International (2009). The first is an adaption of an acclaimed book and as the name implies it is about a perfume obsessed murderer. The second film teamed Tykwer with Clive Owens and Naomi Watts in a thriller about an Interpol agent. However, Tykwer’s most commercially successful film came relatively recently with Cloud Atlas (2012). The sci-fi, fantasy flick, starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, shares many of the themes of Run Lola Run as isolated events affect the past, present, and future in a span of 500 years. His upcoming project called A Hologram for a King will also star Tom Hanks ( Although he has never matched the heights of Lola, Tom Tykwer still shows an interest in intriguing topics, especially having to do with time and the potential consequences of actions. The good news is that he is not done creating so there are potentially some really good ideas left in his brain that he can bring to the screen. We will just have to wait and see.
All in all Run Lola Run has everything you could possibly want packed into barely 80 minutes of film. Tom Tykwer gifted us an avant-garde thriller full of questions on chaos theory, German cultural allusions, inventive narrative, and a colorful heroine. It was composed through a deft amalgamation of cinematography, editing, music, plot twists, and a great deal more. He knows the masters whether it is Joseph Von Sternberg or Alfred Hitchcock. He knows where German film has been before during the Weimar Era and The New German Cinema. However, perhaps more importantly as Barbara Kosta puts it, “Tykwer belongs to a generation of Germans that embraces popular culture rather than criticizes it as colonization of the mind and a form of cultural imperialism” (Kosta, 165). Thus, he is not a part of the New German Cinema but rather the German cinema which is new right now. Run Lola Run did for Germany what Breathless and Rashomon did in those countries. Critics can argue all they want about the degree that this is true, but the fact is that Germany has a film history, and they also have a future. Run Lola Run is just the first snapshot in this whole collage of contemporary German films that have been brought to our culture’s attention.

Modern German Relationships Told Through Film

Here are two films in Summer in Berlin (2005) and Everyone Else (2009) that focus not only on romantic relationships, but interpersonal relationships between friends and couples. These social interactions in turn give a view into the hopes and aspirations of contemporary German individuals. The first film is a dramedy directed by Andreas Dresen that follows a pair of girlfriends who face hardships and a romance that nearly comes between them. Everyone Else directed by Maren Ade on the other hand focuses on a young couple who takes a trip to Sardinia and become strained in their relationship. Although quite different, both films place importance on a central relationship that becomes further complicated by other acquaintances. All of this in turn gives commentary on not just the state of mind of Germans but of humanity as well. Everyone wants to have friends and to be loved.  

           By the title it would be assumed that Summer in Berlin is light fare, and at times it is, but it also has something to say about the difficulties of relationships and the realities of life. Katrin is divorced, has a young son named Max and is trying to make her way in the world by finding a job. Her good friend Nike is single and works as a caregiver for the elderly. Their lives are far from ideal and that makes their friendship even more important to them. After the daily grind their sanctuary is the rooftop where they share a glass of wine, unwind and chat about whatever they feel like. However, after one especially long day Nike is not around when Katrin needs her. Their roof top oasis is rudely broken up and the fact is Nike now has a boyfriend, the gangly truck driver Ronald. This is an interesting turn of events since the main relationship that both these women really cherished is hurt, because of Nike’s desire for a boyfriend or at least intimacy. Here is the struggle that plagues everyone. There is a primal longing to be loved and accepted and sometimes that urge can become even more important than maintaining a strong friendship. If you give Ronald a quick going over, he really is not a desirable character to be in a relationship with. He can be friendly enough and he is willing to sleep with Nike but that’s about where his involvement stops. Even when he first meets her at the club Ronald does not really show any genuine interest or his only motive is self-gratification (Summer in Berlin). It’s as if he asked himself, what can she offer me? The answer was simple: Food, coffee, a bed, and superficial companionship. He was fine with that so he went along with it and was satisfied. Nike on the other hand is attempting to make something more out of their relationship. She desires something deeper and more genuine. It is only during a pit stop when she is accompanying Ronald on his route, that Nike finally sees his real side. The fact is, he is married and has children, but he told a little white lie to Nike before (Summer in Berlin). This situation brings to mind Katrin’s own failed marriage and whether or not it ended due to her husband sleeping around like Ronald. As far as career advancement goes Ronald is a Nobody who is simply excited to be shipping electronics instead of carpets soon. Despite these signs, Nike still stays with him. Finally, her relations get completely muddled when Ronald shows up at her empty apartment only to go down to wait at Katrin’s (Summer in Berlin). When Nike discovers this, she resentfully suspects that something is going on behind her back. Thus, a love triangle is created that never existed before and a man who is a tramp has gotten between two friends. Nike desired the same things that everyone else wants and it did not turn out in her favor. Ultimately, she wises up and renews the bonds that are truly important, with Katrin and Katrin’s heartbroken son Max.

            Fittingly Everyone Else is a film about a boyfriend who wants to be as happy as another couple and a girlfriend who does not want to be like everyone else. Whereas Nike’s relationship with Ronald seemed wrong from the beginning, the Chris and Gitti we grow accustomed to at the beginning of this film seem made for each other. Their relationship exudes intimacy, playfulness, and affection. They spend time in their beach attire soaking in the sun and they even have time for private inside jokes like the little ginger man “Schnappi.” In one sequence when they are sprawled out Gitti even puts eyeliner and makeup on a consenting Chris (Everyone Else). Interestingly enough, Chris has little interest in seeing his former schoolmate Hans and his partner Sana. At first it seems that it might be because he is annoying or a phony. That is far from the truth however as Hans turns out to be a genuine guy who is willing to poke fun at himself and he enjoy the company of others. His relationship with Sana is a mutual bond of love between people who are getting ready to have a child and continue a life together. They seem like an ideal mature couple and the type of couple Chris and Gitti might be a few years down the line. However, circumstances begin to change for the two vacationers. Their relationship begins to crumble slowly at first and it continues to unravel as they spend more time with Hans and Sana. It is almost as if Chris knew that this would happen if he was with Hans, because Chris realizes that he covets the type of life that Hans has. The reality is he is not quite as accomplished an architect. Furthermore, he and Gitti are nothing like the other couple and they probably never will be. Gitti for one wears her emotions on her sleeve, she is more of a clown, and she only wants his love. Chris on the contrary is often quiet and he has trouble reciprocating affection. He is the typical strong silent type who is content with books and not prone to share his feelings. This comes back to hurt them because he feels it is unnecessary to tell Gitti he loves her and he is more open about his vocation with Hans than with Gitti. Their evening exchanges over dinner become in some ways reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. The conversations do not become shouting matches, but they are perhaps more realistic and in some ways more harmful. They quibble and then brush off their hurt feelings quickly only to move on without any acknowledgement that something is wrong. Thus, Chris and Gitti are not able talk through their relationship effectively and that’s where they fail. It worked initially, in the early stages, when it was all about intimacy, vacationing, and superficial laughs. But the reality of a full-fledged relationship seems unattainable for them and even by the end of the film it seems doubtful that they will get back together. Although they were initially in a better place than Nike and Ronald, they too fell apart, since they were not able to make anything substantial out of their relationship aside from the sex. So many people in our contemporary world desire to have deep, lasting relationships, because in many cases they have never been able to get past the surface level and they want more. In this way these two couples in Summer in Berlin and Everyone Else are perfectly imperfect examples of modern relationships. 

Recollections and Flashbacks: Stories of German Heritage

How do you compare an epic shot in Africa with a hard-edged character study about a piano teacher and her pupil? The truth is, Nowhere in Africa (2001) and Four Minutes (2005) are two very different films in terms of time frame, point of view, and even tone, however both of these pieces of contemporary German cinema take a look back at the nation’s heritage in one way or another. Ultimately, both movies are fine representations of German film, because it is often very difficult to push forward culturally unless you fully acknowledge what has occurred in the past. In the case of Nowhere in Africa it is a Jewish family moving to Kenya before the outbreak of World War II. Then in contrast, the other film takes place in the present, but relates to the past through flashbacks. Both prove to work well within the context of the film and the tone which is trying to be conveyed. Thus, these differences were good because they mean there was an individuality that was created by the directors and teams behind each respective film.


The Oscar-Winning Nowhere in Africa, directed by Caroline Link is a semi-biographical film based on the recollections of Stefanie Zweig who was transposed to Kenya as a young girl with her parents in the 1930s. This makes the film not just a historical drama, since it is specifically following the recollections of someone looking back on a period in their life. Although we can assume that the protagonist is indeed remembering her childhood, the story does take place entirely in the past. As an audience we see the contrast between the harsh and prejudiced Nazi society and the peaceful beauty that seems to radiate out of Africa. They are two very different landscapes that truly shaped Regina’s adolescent years. The cinematography used to depict Nazi Germany for instance develops a dark mood through the depiction of the frosty snow-covered streets. The assumption is that this is a country that is cold towards Jews and although Regina is not old enough to know it yet her life in Africa will be much more welcoming. When the Regina and her mother arrive where her father is, their little home is situated on the sunny savannah. This is a stark difference from the harsh winters of their native land. Perhaps more noticeable than the change of climate, is the change in people and with that the mood changes as well. The African natives are depicted as generally kind, playful, and welcoming. Jettel, who has preconceived notions of other individuals, is initially guarded and callous towards the natives, because she is used to a hierarchal and racialized society. Little Regina on the other hand has a genuine openness at her young age and she embraces the people including the faithful cook Owuor. As he sensibly notes near the beginning and as they part ways, “You are wise. You must show [others] the way” (Nowhere to Africa). Paradoxically, despite the advanced age and experience of her father and mother, it is Regina who truly understands this life. She is not bogged down by racial and ethnic barriers. The first time she actually recognizes what anti-Semitism is occurs when the Jews get singled out during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer at the school (Nowhere in Africa). It is these types of experiences back in Europe which have undoubtedly hindered her parents’ immersion into the African culture. Her mother for one is barely able to integrate into this humble lifestyle until the very end of the story. Even though Regina’s father has embraced the land of Africa, he still has very much to learn about the culture. Together the two of them struggle through a marriage that is plagued by emotional highs and lows which creates turmoil between them. Their daughter is truly the one with the “eyes and heart” like the Africans and she is the one in harmony with this new world, because the Nazis are just a distant dream to her (Nowhere in Africa). In other words, the parents and their daughter simply have different ways of viewing the world and it in turn influences how they allow history to affect them.

The angst-filled Four Minutes directed by Chris Kraus is a very different creature than its contemporary Nowhere in Africa and it is a film that looks at German heritage through a different lens entirely. The most obvious deviation is that Four Minutes is not a recollection of former memories, it is a film in the here and now. Sometimes it becomes painfully clear that we are not in Kansas anymore, or rather the 1930s Africa of the previous film. There is obviously no longer a need to flee from Fascism, but as we already know there are other problems to deal with. Prisons are hell holes, sexual abuse is a prevalent issue, and the specter of the past still hangs over some. This last instance is the situation for an elderly piano teacher named Ms. Kruger, because she was once a nurse during the Nazi regime and her past forever haunts her. She takes on the delinquent Jenny as her pupil and they have a rocky relationship to say the least. Although Jenny is much younger, she has a personal history all her own with a father who abused her and a baby who died inside of her (Four Minutes). For both of them their past experiences have shaped who they are and as a result both have become isolated social outcasts, and in many ways they were made for each other. Ms. Kruger’s past comes back through flashbacks and mundane conversations. These memories seep through in bits and pieces of her playing the organ at a hospital, perhaps spending time with her lover, maybe getting interrogated by the SS, or walking through the rubble only to find her lover dead. At first these images are very disorienting because we are not given any voiceovers as cues. However, this strategy seems to work well in this film since it suggests that these memories can come unexpectedly when she is alone and even in fits of sleep. It even comes out when Mrs. Kruger talks to people like the prison warden who she likens to her “first warden,” the “SS-Sturmbannfuhrer” during the war (Four Minutes). This is a quite outrageous and unfair comparison, but her mind always reverts back to the earlier times. In this way Jenny is good for Traude causing her to face reality. In one scene a hurt Ms. Kruger discloses her story to Jenny and then cries out, “Why do you think I’ve stayed here for 60 years.” Jenny’s answer is near perfect. Instead of showing sympathy, in her typical insensitive style she replies, “You’re a perverted freak, madam” (Four Minutes). This is so callous to be sure and yet the relationship they form causes not only Ms. Kruger but also Jenny to leave the past behind them. They share their love for music and allow it to shine through all the pain that has occurred in their lives, even if it is only for four minutes. That was enough. They proved that out of the ashes and out of the hurt beauty can still rise.

We’re Stuck on Planet Hollywood: There’s a Whole Galaxy to Explore (2014)

Juliette Binoche in Three Colors: Blue (1993)

Recently I have found myself more often then not deciding what film to watch and somewhat randomly choosing to watch a foreign language film. However, if I actually think about it, maybe this inclination is not so random at all.

In the year 2014 we waited the first 6 months for the summer blockbusters to come out (aka X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy) and now we are waiting for the award caliber, Oscar fair. I only recently began keeping up on the latest trends and releases (since 2012), but already I’m beginning to see the obvious patterns. I am not one of those people who is anti-Hollywood or anti-Blockbuster. I like a good Marvel movie almost as much as the next guy. I too am excited to know the big winners during the award season, because I want to see the next best picture like all the other movie lovers out there.

Cinema Paradiso (1988)

Sometimes, however, I want a change of pace and I want something different. The reality is blockbusters, Oscar noms and even indie films can get repetitive at one time or another. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing after all. It seems like your average moviegoer does not care a whole lot and is fine just taking in the same films they always did.

But I will assume that not all people are like that. For those people who want a different feel get off of Planet Hollywood. Change your perspective and take a journey into a different genre or to a director off the beaten path.

I am being vague for good reason, because each person can discover whatever they want it just takes a bit of curiosity and a little looking. For me I went the foreign route. I dug into The Three Colors Trilogy, The Dardenne Brothers and Cinema Paradiso. Really I ended up all over the place but the important thing I was no longer stuck in the Hollywood bubble. Kieslowski gave me films to really make me think about suffering and love. The Kid with a Bike tugged at my heartstrings because of its humanity and Cinema Paradiso caused me to get sentimental all of the sudden. They mirror life more closely and better than a superhero movie ever could. Sometimes there is immense power in that since it gives us a new lens to see ourselves. At least I certainly think so. And pound for pound it seems like they could hold their own against any Hollywood flick as far as quality goes. However, it would still be a David vs. Goliath struggle, because the box office says otherwise and it is a cruel dictator. Someone like Kieslowski will undoubtedly never get as much time in the limelight as a Michael Bay or Adam Sandler. That is a rather odd comparison but it is also very painful. I digress.

Without getting too much into the makeup of the foreign film or “art house cinema,” it is often a refreshing detour from our typical popcorn fare. I would love to see these foreign films, with an often negative connotation, not just being the subject of stuffy film critics and scholars, but the general public as well. The avenues of expression, as well as discussion, would be blown wide open because more people would be interested in exploring the greater film world.

My challenge to anyone listening is to get unstuck from Planet Hollywood whatever that means for you. It would probably do everyone some good and we might just find ourselves more appreciative of film as entertainment, art and a personal reflection of our humanity. Lets all things shake things up a bit. I need to take my own advice too. Let’s do it together. One film at a time.

Citizen Kane and the Discrepancy in Film (2013)

Historically, I feel there is a major discrepancy when it comes to watching films. Audiences flock to theaters across the country and all over the world to see the next big movie in order to be entertained for two and a half hours.  Then, in their own way film critics and theorists look at the art of the film and the degree to which it is mastered within the composition so they might proclaim the next great masterpiece. This is certainly a gross generalization but as I have become more learned in film, I myself have faced this dilemma because it seems prevalent with any film we take in. There is a constant struggle between entertainment and art. Where do these lines begin and where are they meant to end?

A prime example of this polarization would seem to be the illustrious classic Citizen Kane. The first time I prepared to watch this 1941 bio-drama developed by Orson Welles, I could hardly contain my excitement. I was prepared to be entertained and exhilarated by the film which is often christened “the greatest film of all time.” Needless to say after this first viewing I was left disappointed and somewhat bitter. The reason being Citizen Kane, much like the main character Charles Foster Kane, was locked up in an ivory tower. It would not allow me to empathize or get close to the story at all and so not only did it not entertain it did not relate to me as an audience member.

Citizen Kane opens somewhat unimpressively, however it is certainly very moody and atmospheric. As the camera closes in on a great mansion we are given a firsthand view of a dying man and his mysterious final word “Rosebud.” In the following newsreel we learn the man was Charles Foster Kane (Welles), a millionaire tycoon and newspaper man. A journalist is enlisted to find out anything he can about Kane. He scours the memoirs of Kane’s deceased childhood guardian. Then, he talks with Mr. Bernstein who worked with Kane’s paper the Inquirer. He gets around to talking to Kane’s unstable former friend Jedediah Leland as well as Kane’s second wife. We learn from these accounts about his early years, his success with yellow journalism, the destruction of his first marriage, and the rise and fall of his political career. Furthermore, we find out about Kane’s unhappy second marriage that ultimately left him loveless after looking for affection his whole life. Fittingly, we are left with the bleak view of his fortress Xanadu and we now have the knowledge that “Rosebud” was in fact utterly trivial.

In a nutshell this is the narrative of Citizen Kane. And the first time around I would have not said that this a very appealing story out all. However, if you quickly fast forward to the second time, I think you could say I had gotten smarter. I knew the ivory tower that was Citizen Kane and this time I was better prepared. I went into the film looking at it as a piece of art. Whether it is camera angles or deep focus used by cinematographer Gregg Toland, the intense score by Bernard Hermann, or the direction and acting of Welles himself, there is a great deal that can be taken away from this film. He told a story using a different type of storytelling, he used dialogue in a more realistic way, and he edited his film in a different style. When I finally looked at Kane from a farther distance, as art, I was able to enjoy it and ultimately be entertained. Initially I may have given Kane a 8/10 to be nice and then after viewing number two I would changed that to 9/10 but that is still not perfect. 

As you can see there is this major dilemma with entertainment vs. art and so it makes me beg the question is there a better way to go about films? The simple answer is that I think it is difficult but to get the full experience we should look to be entertained but also appreciate the art form. Many films like Casablanca, It’s a Wonderful Life, or even Inception do both of these quite well in some way or another. However, unfortunately not all films are so easy. Many foreign films may be amazing artistic achievements that critics adore but they lack excitement for modern generations. Then, you could have a mega blockbuster like Iron Man that is very entertaining but as far as film goes, it really only displays eye candy and some sporadic dialogue. What I want to try and do is watch films with both these aspects in mind so I can ultimately enjoy whatever it is because ultimately that is cinema at its finest. It is meant to be an artistic expression that brings enjoyment to the viewer.

I usually rate films out of 5 Stars. However, now I am considering rating the artistic/historical value of the film out of 5 stars and then the entertainment value out of 5 Stars. A reader could make these into a composite score if they wanted or simply focus on the rating that they care more about. I am sure there are other, possibly better ways to do this, but as of right now this is how I am thinking of going about it. I hope this will make my film reviews more in depth and helpful to the average person.


Laura and a Remarkable Collection of Dopes (2013)


“I shall never forget the weekend that Laura died.” Those may have been the words of respected columnist and socialite Waldo Lydecker, but in truth they could just as easily be the words of a multitude of other players in the 1944 film Laura. The fact is, Laura not only casts a spell on everyone who happens to drift into her life, but she also captivates the audience who encounter her on the silver screen. She effectively reveals all their desires, obsessions, and shortcomings. In Laura, Otto Preminger conceived a wonderfully mysterious and enchanting film that constantly revolves around the life of this young woman. He utilizes his narrative, actors, cinematography, set design, and music in order to immerse his audience in this story. Preminger would ultimately create a hallmark in the film-noir genre of 1940s and 1950s, and it was Laura that also allowed him to truly realize his skill as a director. 

In Laura the narrative is important but it is not paramount because there are some many other variables that work alongside the plot to make the film special. Realistically, this film can be split into two distinct sections since it begins in the present before flashing back and finally returning to the present once gain. Initially Lydecker is our narrator and he relates his former relationship with the deceased Laura to Lieutenant McPherson along with the audience. However, during the second half there is a shift which focuses on McPherson and his growing fascination with this woman he is investigating ( The film takes a shocking about face when the presumed dead person suddenly turns up, all too alive and none worse for wear. However, with that suspense gone it seems only too probable that the film would lose some of its luster. After all there are numerous plot oddities that do not quite add up. As Roger Ebert once wrote, “Laura has a detective who never goes to the station; a suspect who is invited to tag along as other suspects are interrogated, a heroine who is dead for most of the film; a man insanely jealous of a woman even though he never for a moment seems heterosexual; a romantic lead who is a dull-witted Kentucky bumpkin moving in Manhattan penthouse society, and a murder weapon that is returned to its hiding place by the cop” ( Ebert brings up some very concrete instances that might cause the audience to ask questions of the film. These are not the trademarks of a taut and revered classic after all, and yet it must be said that Laura works in spite of a sometimes questionable plot. French film critics Jean George Auriol and Jacques Doniol-Valcroze put it aptly when they wrote that “the fact that this is a crime plot is not important. Laura could equally well have been introduced into a film drama or a love story…The miracle is to have brought her to life” ( Furthermore, the magic does not simply disappear when we discover that Laura is not actually dead. It is a cumulative effect that the director Otto Preminger was able to build up for us. 

Upon closer inspection there is a deeper significance to Laura than just its plot, because although it makes a good mystery, it is not altogether great. The actual brilliance of the film derives from something else entirely. First and foremost is the actual character of Laura played by actress Gene Tierney. Interestingly enough we do not see her in the present until the latter half of the film. Our only way of understanding her comes from the stunning portrait that hangs on her wall and the wistful recollections of columnist Waldo Lydecker. We are in the same shoes as McPherson (Dana Andrews) for the first half of the movie, as we try and piece together who Laura was. With McPherson the obsession goes so far that he actually falls in love with the image of this dead woman, in what would be a striking precursor to Alfred Hithcock’s own character study in Vertigo ( In fact, Lydecker goes so far as to call McPherson’s infatuation “warped” because the columnist believes that McPherson wanted her most when he knew that she was unattainable. In many ways she became his personal fantasy. For his part, Lydecker has his own fixation with Laura and he even tells her directly, “The best part of myself – that’s what you are. Do you think I’m going to leave it to the vulgar pawing… of a second-rate detective who thinks you’re a dame?” It seems like Lydecker almost envisions Laura as his personal creation because he endorsed her pen, introduced her to prominent people, and gave her a chance to succeed. Rather like the story of Pygmalion, he has tremendous feelings for her which quickly morph into jealousy when any other man gets close to her. He failed once to blow her head off with a shot gun and tries yet again only to slump to his death saying, “Goodbye, Laura. Goodbye, my love.” As a viewer his logic and actions do not make sense, but then again are any of the characters logical? Ms. Ann Treadwell on her part wants the one man who Laura is engaged to be married to, and she openly admits “He’s no good, but he’s what I want.” The only somewhat normal figure as far as desires goes seems to be Shelby Carpenter, who is Laura’s fiancée and Ann Treadwell’s romantic objective. However, on closer inspection even he has other needs which are met by Treadwell who gives him financial support. Amidst all of this we begin to wonder how Laura could have become involved with such “a remarkable collection of dopes” but perhaps they simply gravitate towards her, much in the same way the audience does.

It is a credit to Otto Preminger for making Laurasuch a fascinating and visually interesting film-noir. It is a film that exemplifies noir by taking typical motifs and putting a unique spin on them to further develop the genre. The sometimes confusing plot and nonlinear storytelling, which help develop the story of Laura, are typical elements of other films later on like The Big Sleep (1946). Furthermore, Preminger’s story of a man infatuated with a mysteriously beautiful woman is somewhat reminiscent of Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window (1944). The difference with that film is that it all occurs in the mind of the protagonist. Laura actually plays out for real or at least we have no indication to believe that it is in fact a dream. The moment Laura appears in the flesh, in her front living room, it pretty much shocks us out of the dream that would be Woman and a Window and it quickly becomes certain reality. Sharp contrast cinematography is almost always essential to film-noir and Laura is no different. Often when a character enters a dark room, walks down a poorly lit street in the rain, or looks up at two figures in a window, the scene is a mix of chiaroscuro lighting, and pronounced shadows. However, perhaps just important as the lighting in Laura is the Mise-en-scene. Not only is every space developed extensively whether it is Lydecker’s bath or Laura’s living room, but numerous objects within these settings play key roles in the film. The portrait in Laura’s home has such a grander purpose in the entirety of the film, but it also fits as part of the decor. The identical clocks in Lydecker and Laura’s flats are featured prominently at the beginning and end of the film and they function as more than a piece of furniture. They reflect Lydecker’s affection for Laura but also his tendency towards distrust. They are pristine artifacts at the outset and yet by the end of the film one is busted open and the other is decimated by a shotgun. It also seems imperative to take a look at Lieutenant McPherson in comparison with other prototypical investigators in film-noir.  In the beginning, he holds the characteristic cynical, tough as nails demeanor of a Sam Spade or Phillip Marlowe, and yet by the end of the film he leaves some of that behind him. He may smoke and drink incessantly but the simple fact that he fiddles with a puzzle to stay relaxed puts him in a different category than other film-noir protagonists. Laura on her part is difficult to classify as your typical femme fatale. However, in some respects she is a manipulator who puts men under her spell. Normally a femme fatale like Phyllis Dietrichson, Brigid O’Shaughnessy, or Gene Tierney in her role as Ellen Harland, manipulate men on purpose using their sexuality, wily charms, and power of persuasion. In Laura’s case it does not seem to be like this at all. It just happens, partially since she is such an innocent beauty, or maybe because she is an unattainable woman in a painting. When she is dead, she becomes a fantasy to be recalled and obsessed over, and yet she toys with her suitors in a way by coming back to life. Another prominent part of Laura is the score by David Raksin which in actuality is not present through the entire film. However, it creeps in at opportune moments when it is most needed and it effectively acts as a queueto the audience. Whether you hear Laura’s theme near the opening, on the radio, or by an orchestra at a party, the tune is the haunting essence of Laura herself and it reflects who she is even when she is not present, much like her portrait. To his credit Otto Preminger was able to put all these bits of inspiration together cohesively to make a seminal film-noir with its own set of strengths.

It appears safe to say that Laura was a spring board for the rest of Otto Preminger’s career, because he began as a producer and then emerged as a director who was adept at tackling complex and often controversial issues. During the 1940s and 50s Preminger kept on making film-noir including Fallen Angel, Whirlpool, and Where the Sidewalk Ends which continued his collaboration with Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews, although they never equaled his success with Laura (Wallace, 91). All throughout the rest of his career Otto Preminger would test the Production Code and Joseph Breen with various taboo topics. With The Moon is Blue, he faced opposition from the Breen Office for “sexual explicitness” (Wallace, 89). Soon he would direct both Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess where he utilized all-black casts in both cases, which was unusual for the era (Wallace, 92). Next, came yet another controversial film in The Man with the Golden Arm where Frank Sinatra portrays a man struggling with drug addiction (Wallace, 92-93). Then, of course, there is Preminger’s classic, Anatomy of a Murder which revolves around a court case involving rape and murder. The often frank dialogue was revolutionary for the 1950s and it was bolstered by performances by James Stewart and George C. Scott who play opposing lawyers (Wallace, 93). His prominence may have dropped off somewhat after that, but it is undeniable that Otto Preminger was a directorial force from the 1940s well into the 60s and he can be acknowledged for pushing the boundaries of film content.

In Laura, Waldo Lydecker chides his companion for her “one tragic weakness.” As he sees it, for her, “a lean, strong body is the measure of a man.” Perhaps this does hint at the problem with all of Laura’s relationships, because each one has a superficial aspect. With Lydecker dead and no longer able to intercede, Laura walks off with McPherson, another one of these men with a “strong body.” As an audience we would like to see this as different from before but is it really? In the same way we too have one tragic flaw as well. To put it frankly we are human; humans with wants, desires, peculiarities, and emotions which are reflected and brought to the forefront by characters such as Lydecker, McPherson, Carpenter, Treadwell, and of course Laura Hunt. Whether he meant to or not Otto Preminger makes us face these issues through his film; however in the process he also develops a wonderful noir mystery that helped define the genre. It seems safe to say that Laura is a film-noir that is both stylish and witty, and at the same time haunting. Above all the film exhibits a “remarkable collection of dopes,” all tied to this enchantress named Laura. Every one believed they were “the only one who really knew her,” but every one of them, much like us, will never be able to quite figure her out. That’s the beauty of Laura, the character, and Laura,the film.

Charlie Chaplin’s Little Tramp Who Could: Looking Back after a Century

Before the man with the mustache was Ron Burgundy and even before the Tramp was associated with a dog in a Disney flick, there was another. It has been a century since Charlie Chaplin first developed his Tramp character who is arguably one of the most well-known cultural icons of all time. His persona will forever be identified with that hat, that cane, and of course that mustache.

Charles “Charlie” Chaplin developed his most famous incarnation over a period of years as he worked in The Keystone Film Co. as a stock character. Movies were still a very new fad and Hollywood was the home of the infant movie scene.
 In his earliest appearances the Tramp was a comical drunk and a troublemaker. However, it would take just a number of years to transform him into a sympathetic bumbler who lit up the silver screen and filled movie halls with uproarious laughter. Chaplin ingeniously developed his character in such a way to elicit a wonderful balance of humor and empathy from audiences.

Many things have become obsolete over the past 100 years. Take Woodrow Wilson, The Model T, and World War I to name a few of the high points. How is it then that the Tramp has seemingly continuously remained in our collective cultural consciousness? I’m not just saying people are still sitting back in theaters to see his antics either. His image pops up everywhere mundane; you can even buy posters of him at Ikea!
Obviously in the film community Chaplin’s Tramp is still highly regarded as well. His films regularly place high on polls by the prestigious Sight & Sound Magazine as well as the American Film Institute. However, perhaps even more important than those accolades is the impact that the Tramp has had on our culture, and I do not just mean America but the entire world.
Maybe not everyone is an acclaimed film critic who has seen everything Chaplin (I certainly have not); however I think most people, no matter what their background, can relate to The Tramp in one way or another. His seemingly harmless vagabond image makes us laugh, smile, and perhaps even feel better about ourselves. We say to ourselves, “Wow, if things were this bad in the 1920s or 30s, I really do not have much to complain about.” Now that might be somewhat of an oversimplification of that time, but I think that is part of the reason he’s still fresh today.
The Tramp is the epitome of those old silent movies, with melodrama, romance, slapstick, and oh yeah, no talking. Ironically, it might be this last point that is the key to Chaplin’s success with the Tramp. No talking means no language barrier; culturally, socially, or even with the passing of the years, even 100 years. 
Back then when times were good and bad he was the world’s every man and although times have changed, he still has remained the same every man that each one of us are able to relate to. In this respect he is a mustached, shuffling paradox, because he reflects a bygone era and yet he still relates to us in our modern world. Amazingly, it seems that this little, funny looking man still has the extraordinary power to make us laugh, sympathize, and see ourselves through his humanity; even the most cynical of us.
I would challenge you; nay implore you to try a Chaplin film just once. Before you get too indignant or nervous let me say one thing. Start out with some of his later works like Modern Times or The Great Dictator, which has talking, and work your way back if you like it. Or start out with a short film and work your way up, that’s good too.

Either way I think you might just find yourself captivated by this little man. Perhaps he isn’t the simplistic silent star that you assumed him to be after all. Then again maybe you’re not feeling it the first time through. That’s alright because I would wager a guess that he might just be around in another century if you want to give it another go then, but don’t hold me to that.

My musings were inspired by this article:,0,4224217.story#axzz2tEoS53ac