Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Textual Analysis: Double Indemnity and Ratcatcher


The shot is a cleverly assembled piece of filmmaking and, as Ramsay indicates, the mummified image of Ryan foreshadows his imminent death. Therefore, like all good openings the very first shot of Ratcatcher contains the driving force of the rest of the film.

This textual analysis was originally produced as one of my Film and Screen Studies assignments in my very first year of undergraduate study. Ultimately, it provides a very fundamental breakdown of each films' opening moments; as well as a brief reflection on the intentions of each films' opening. 

As I was still struggling with my writing at the time, it's presentation is not great, but certainly discernible.

Additionally, as I elected to restart my degree the following year, there is an alternative textual analysis in which I look at two additional films, so as not to plagiarise myself.


Textual Analysis

This essay will perform a textual analysis of two film clips and attempt to determine what techniques the filmmakers are employing to convey meaning through their relative film texts. The opening minutes of Double Indemnity (Dir. Billy Wilder, USA, 1944) and Ratcatcher (Dir. Lynne Ramsay, UK, 1999) comprise the material that will be discussed. 


Double Indemnity - The first 6 minutes and 31 seconds





Shot
Content
Soundtrack
Shot 1, 6s
Fades into:
The paramount logo
The soundtrack is sweeping...
Shot 2, 58s
Extreme long shot

Fades into:
A lone and unidentified figure on two crunches slowly comes towards camera. Until finally the entire shot is filled with the darkness of the figure.
...but laborious as the beat conveys the lumbering motion of the figure.
Shot 3, 10s
Extreme long shot

Fades into:
Two workmen are working in the foreground and in the background a car becomes steadily bigger as it rushes down the road towards screen and screeches past of frame.
The music has now become exciting and distressed.
Shot 4, 5s
Extreme long shot

Fades into:
The car races down a road as a traffic light shifts from Go to Stop. The car continues of frame regardless.
“                                           ”
Shot 5, 4s
Extreme long shot

Fades into:

The racing car narrowly misses a truck as it speeds past off frame.
“                                           ”
Shot 5, 7s
Long shot
The car pulls up to a sidewalk.
“                                           ”
Shot 6, 40s
Medium long shot
A cloaked figure, Walter Neff, climbs out of the car and walks over to the entrance of a building. Banging on a door an attendant appears and lets him in.
The music sobers slightly now and is more in tune with the slow moving motions of Neff.
Shot 7, 45s
Medium shot
Neff and the attendant walk into a lift. When at the floor camera follows the protagonist out and looks over the rail at the cleaners on the floor below.
“                                            ”
Shot 8, 11s
Long shot with pan
Looking up as Neff he walks along the balcony into a an office.
“                                            ”
Shot 9, 20s
Medium long shot
In a darkened office Neff walks over to his desk, turns on the lamp and sits down.
“                                            ”
Shot 10, 56s
Medium shot with pan
Sitting at his desk he takes a moment to catch his breath, wipe his face and take a cigarette from his pocket that he lights.
“                                            ”
Shot 11, 2mins 10s
Medium Close-up
Neff leans back in his chair and confesses into his Dictaphone.
The music from before fades out and ceases. The majority of the shot is comprised purely by the monologue of the actor.

Right from the outset, Wilder wants to create a sense of foreboding in Double Indemnity. In shot 2, behind the credits, a silhouetted lone figure on two crutches hobbles towards camera. The music has a sweeping lumbering rhythm and as such is representative of the motions of the figure; further emphasising his presence. He is on crutches; he is a broken man. Like some bad dream where the spectator is paralysed equally, here, the shot remains fixed and creates the same sense of foreboding as the spectator has no choice but to watch as the figure steadily looms over them.

The design of the shot has a very German expressionistic feel to it and recalls the shadow of an equally broken Count Orlok (Max Schreck) creeping up the staircase in Nosferatu (Dir. F.W. Murnau, Germany, 1922). The lumbering uneasy performance of the actor and starkness of black against light carry much the same presence of foreboding as the earlier Orlok. The spectator does not know who the figure is but they know what he represents: he is a threat, a broken man and as he fully engulfs the screen the spectator is transported to the shadowy world of: lust, murder, greed, femme fatales, sex, mystery, intrigue, private detectives, violence and the blackened soul.

“I killed him for money and for a woman. I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman. Pretty isn’t it.”(Neff, 1). As the film is told through retrospection, Walter Neff (Fred MacMurray), the films protagonist and narrator, is already a broken man when the spectator first meets him. Climbing from his car, in shot 6, he is cloaked in a long coat and here costume is very important as it has the visual effect of wrapping him in a shadow. 





“You look kind of all in at that”, the attendant character remarks “I’m fine” Neff replies but the evasiveness of dialogue and the way Neff sweats and clutches at the left side of his coat, in shot 8, suggests Wilder is sustaining a huge tease. A tease that is gradually turning into a bleakness. As Neff looks down at the cleaners, on the floor below, clearing away the waste he knows he is a condemned man both in law and in life: “the theme of the move was a macabre one, one of hopelessness.” (Wilder, Film Noir Reader 3).

Indeed the following scene inside Neff’s office confirms this hopelessness by the visual revelation of the bullet wound in his left shoulder and then with a confession of murder: “I killed Dietrichson. Me, Walter Neff, thirty five years old, insurance salesman, unmarried; no visible scars until a while ago that is.” Neff is a guilt ridden and desperate man and this desperateness is evidenced in shots 2 – 7 where he relentlessly speeds past stops signs narrowly missing an oncoming truck. Just so he can get to his office to make a confession before he snuffs it. Neff is a character who went wrong somewhere along the line and now he wants to do the only good thing he can do: set the records straight.

Shot 11 is quite simply a portrait shot and Wilder has designed it thus to show the sum of this man at his best, hence why the bullet would is largely hidden. The camera is motionless as much like Neff it sternly and simply delivers its subject matter. The only sound is diegetic and that is because Wilder wants the Spectator to absorb fully what Neff is saying because the information they will receive, basically a summary of the entire film, will sustain a sense of foreboding in them as the rest of the narrative unfolds.



Ratcatcher - The first 6 minutes and 23 seconds 



Shot
Content
Soundtrack
Shot 1, 10s
White background

This fades into:
The opening titles begin to play.


There are distant sounds of laughs and cries which have the effect of being ghostly.
Shot 2, 1min 25s
Close-up
A white curtain is being twisted around in slow motion. The titles are still playing. The motion reverts back to normal when Ryan’s mother smacks him over the head. Pulls him from curtain and they disappear off frame. The curtain slowly unravels as the film’s title is shown.
The sound reverts to normal when the mother slaps the boy round the head. Diegetic sound continues from this point onwards.  
Shot 3, 4s
Medium close-up
Ryan curiously stares.
Diegetic sound only.
Shot 4, 11s
Extreme long shot
Through the window James is seen standing by the river’s edge.
“                                    ”
Shot 5, 30s
Medium long shot with tilt
Ryan’s mum takes him over to the chair. The camera stays fixed upon this as the mother puts his boots on.
“                                    ”
Shot 6, 20s
Extreme long shot with Pan
Ryan and his mother emerge from a block of flats onto the street. The camera stops and observes as they walk away from frame down the street. Until Ryan turns and runs back into the block of flats.
“                                    ”
Shot 7, 7s
Close-up with Pan
The camera pans from right to left over to and behind Ryan’s mother’s head as she looks back the way they have just come.
“                                    ”
Shot 8, 14s
Medium close-up
Ryan’s mother looks then she turns and continues on. She looks back once more but continues regardless.
“                                    ”
Shot 9, 13s
Medium shot with tilt.
Ryan is hiding in a corner of a stairwell listening. Once he is sure his mother has gone the camera tilts down; Ryan removes his trousers from his boots. He runs outside off frame.
“                                    ”
Shot 10, 15s
Extreme long shot.
Similar to shot 4, through a window Ryan approaches James by the waterside.
“                                    ”
Shot 11, 8s
Medium shot.
James abruptly pushes Ryan into the water. The camera follows has he falls down.
“                                    ”
Shot 12, 1s
Close-up
James looks on
“                                    ”

Shot 13, 1s
Medium shot
Ryan launches mud at James
“                                    ”

Shot 14, 1s
Close-up
Ryan receives the mud in his face.
“                                    ”
Shot 15, 2s
Medium shot
Ryan launches more mud
“                                    ”
Shot 16, 1s
Close-up
James receives more mud in the face.
“                                    ”
Shot 17, 1s
Medium shot
Ryan points on in mockery.
“                                    ”
Shot 18, 2s
Close-up
James wipes the mud from his face.
“                                    ”
Shot 19, 8s
Medium shot with pan
The camera pans as Ryan’s mother approaches a shop counter with a pair of shoes. She places them on the counter.
“                                    ”
Shot 20, 7s
Medium close-up with tilt
Ryan’s mother opens purse and removes money.
“                                    ”
Shot 21, 2s
Hand held medium shot
Ryan and James are now struggling on bank side. James is attempting to put mud in Ryan’s face.
“                                    ”
Shot 22, 1s
Hand held close-up
Ryan retaliates in anger. The camera is looking over James’s shoulder.
“                                    ”
Shot 23, 1s
Handheld medium close-up
Fighting.
“                                    ”
Shot 24, 2s
Handheld medium close-up
More fighting.
“                                    ”
Shot 25, 1s
Handheld medium close-up
Even more lashing out.
“                                    ”
Shot 26, 1s
Handheld medium close-up
Ryan is holding James’s head under the water.
“                                    ”
Shot 27, 4s
Close-up
James head under the water.
“                                    ”
Shot 28, 4s
Medium shot
James forces himself back up out of water and pushes at Ryan.
“                                    ”
Shot 29, 1s
Medium shot
Ryan falls into water.
“                                    ”
Shot 30, 2s
Medium shot
James steps back and heads for shore.
“                                    ”
Shot 31, 3s
Medium shot
Ryan is climbing up onto shore. He grabs his coat.
“                                    ”
Shot 32, 5s
Extreme long shot with pan
The camera pans and follows as he runs away along the shore line.
“                                    ”
Shot 33, 4s
Close-up
Bobbles brake onto the water’s surface and then they cease.
“                                    ”
Shot 34, 6s
Extreme close-up
James’s is looking back in concern.
“                                    ”
Shot 35, 28s
Extreme long shot with pan and zoom out.
A shopping laden woman is walking down the street. It is the same council estate street seen earlier. The camera PANS with her but stops when she stops to talk to someone. She then continues towards camera and off frame. The camera holds on a group of children kicking a ball around in the street. It then zooms back from them into a doorway.
Towards the end of this shot the soundtrack takes on a non-Diegetic other worldly quality, as with the opening.
Shot 36, 12s
Medium long shot with pan
The camera pans from right to left. First from a wall and then to a staircase. James’s mother is standing at the top of the stairs staring out of a window frozen.
“                                       ”
Shot 37, 7s
Medium close-up
From outside the window we see her look on.
“                                       ”
Shot 38, 7s
Extreme long shot
Down by the river side three people are standing around Ryan’s body. They turn body over.
“                                       ”
Shot 39, 5s
Extreme close-up
Her eyes remain fixed.
“                                       ”
Shot 40, 2s
Extreme close-up

Her hand holding shopping.
“                                       ”
Shot 41, 4s
Extreme close-up
Ryan’s hand lifeless in the mud.
“                                       ”
Shot 42, 1s
Hand held medium shot
James rushes up stairs
The sound reverts to purely diegetic. 
Shot 43, 1s
Handheld medium close-up
“                                      ”
“                                       ”
Shot 44, 1s
Hand held close-up
“                                      ”
“                                       ”
Shot 45, 3s
Medium shot
James’s mother is standing by flat window. Her back is to camera.
“                                       ”
Shot 46, 4s
Extreme close-up
James’s comes rushing through door. Stops when he sees mother.
He is panting heavily
Shot 47, 3s
Medium shot
Still with back to camera the mother stills stares out window.
“                                       ”
Shot 48, 7s
Extreme close-up
Ryan’s lifeless face.
James’s panting continues.
Shot 49, 4s
Medium shot
 James’s mother turns to face him.
“                                       ”
Shot 50, 3s
Extreme close-up
James still looks on.
“                                       ”
Shot 51, 13s
Medium long shot
James’s mother is embracing him.
“                                       ”

In the opening minutes of Ratcatcher Ramsay adopts a style that is both social realist but also contains elements of surrealism and art house cinema. Indeed, with shot 2, the spectator is immediately questioning what exactly it is they are watching. The mise-en-scene initially is unrecognisable for it is not immediately apparent that it is in fact a boy winding himself up in a net curtain. Everything in this shot from is lowered speed to the non-Diegetic humming and screams of children in the background creates an entirely dreamlike atmosphere. Only once Ryan (Thomas McTaggart) is hit over the head by his mum (Molly Innes): “Look what you’ve done to my curtain” is the audience set down into a recognisable presentation of reality.

“It’s a very generic image - a kid wrapping himself in a curtain. For some reason this connected to the fact he was going to die later, it looked kind of like a shroud. It was just a sense of something foreboding, which is what I wanted to do with the sound design as well.” (Ramsay, Guardian.co.uk)

The shot is a cleverly assembled piece of filmmaking and as Ramsay indicates the mummified image of Ryan foreshadows his imminent death. Therefore like all good openings the very first shot of Ratcatcher contains the driving force of the rest of the film.

Parallels are another factor which fascinate Ramsay and also prove to convey much meaning. The first and most obvious of these can be drawn between the characters of Ryan and James (William Eadie). Initially because the film begins with Ryan and the scene which establishes the relationship with his mother the spectator assumes that the rest of the narrative will invariably follow them. But with Ryan’s death, in a very Mike Leigh fashion, the perspective of the film is shifted towards James and his mother (Mandy Matthews). “I thought it was you” James’s mother later remarks and indeed it could have been him who drowned This parallel hammers home, in the spectators mind, the shock that undoubtedly James’s mother must have experienced when she first saw the body on the river side. 





Similarly, with the iconography of footwear much meaning is created. Shots 19 and 20 comprise a scene where Ryan’s mother buys a new pair of shoes and the scene seems to serve no purpose at all. But in fact what the scene is doing is demonstrating visually the last link which the mother shared with her son, which of course concerned itself with him keeping his trousers tucked into his boots. Visual motifs are everywhere and are key to Ramsay’s success at convey meaning, i.e. Shots 40 and 41 both of hands and both of a perceived link.

The cinematography also offers another interesting, parallel particularly between shots 7 and 36. Both are pan shots, both moving from right to left and both featuring the mothers’ of the two boys, Ryan’s in shot 7 and James’s in shot 36. In these two very similar timed shots, where both mothers have their backs to camera, Ramsay is creating a state of bewilderment. This is achieved by not starting on the immediate subject matter, in this case the mothers, therefore by starting on something else the spectator has to take a moment to get their bearings and initially because of this becomes visually bewildered. In both cases the mother’s are bewildered because of what they are seeing and by what they are not seeing.

The setting always proves to be an important element of any social realist film text and mainly because social realism concerns itself with everyday life therefore the setting has to be a believable one. “The canal in Ratcatcher, for me, is also a character - it's a place where kids do things they're not supposed to do; it's an illicit” (Ramsay, Guardian.co.uk). The setting is even better when it takes on a symbolic stance as the river does as this is where Ryan died. Ramsay is using the very setting itself to explore meaning and in this case the river becomes the combined visual motif of death and guilt.

Wilder and Ramsay use a range of film making techniques to explore and set up the narrative themes of their relative film texts, in their first few opening minutes. Oddly enough, however, even though they have a fifty year gap between them and are located in two very different genres, one a film noir and the other a social realist film, both openings contain a very prominent theme of foreboding.



Bibliography

Double Indemnity FILM; directed by Billy Wilder. 107 minutes. United States: Paramount Pictures, 1944.

Ratcatcher FILM; directed by Lynne Ramsay. 94 minutes. United Kingdom: Pathe Pictures International, 1999.

Nosferatu FILM; directed F.W. Murnau. 94 minutes. Germany: Jofa-Atelier Berlin-Johannisthal, 1922.

Porfirio, Robert “Billy Wilder (1906 - )”. Film Noir Reader 3, 2002, pp. 101-119.

Lynne Ramsay Interview, Guardian.co.uk, 28 October 2002. [Online] Available from: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2002/oct/28/features [Accessed 17.12.2009].

IMDB (Internet Movie Database)

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