History of FilmTerm Paper

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Film History: Expressions of Existential Philosophy

The post-Second World War climate was that of tremendous transition and change for its people. The world was full of tension and uncertainty. Much of how people were functioning had a direct relationship with the outcome of the war and new realities associated with war such as technologies like the nuclear bomb. By going to the movies, one could forget about the reality of what was happening. Movies created a place for people to escape the worries of their lives and forget about the everyday hardships. Many people went to the movies to regain something they had lost during the war.

The horror and atrocity associated with Nazi Germany and the dawn of the Cold War left filmmakers with new ideas to present. The fear of nuclear annihilation was also on the minds of the public and film noir feed into this perception of the uncertain future. What this really did was just reflect issues already present within the post war society. There was such doubt and paranoia in those years of questioning that filmmakers saw a need to express these ideas. These factors brought a new consciousness to light within the human psyche. Why, so many asked did such things have to happen? Where was God and why did He abandon the human race when He was needed most?

These questions did not limit themselves to social change, politics or the economy but were represented across the segments of humankind. These questions are present in art, music and fiction but especially in the film movement after the war. Directors or auteurs took it upon themselves to dig deeper in search of answers and in need of understanding. Much of film as artwork is not only a story but also an expression of emotion. These films care part of the director much like a child it part of its mother.

This paper will analyze the works of Ingmar Bergman, Francois Truffaut and Howard Hawks as they focused on telling stories of an existentialistic nature. More specifically, this paper will examine the following films for existential themes: The Seventh Seal, the Four Hundred Blows and Rio Bravo. These films search for a deeper meaning behind life's questions. These films could not be more different in content and style but also hit a nerve. It is rawness that penetrates the filmgoers mind and makes them ponder not only the film's meaning but also their own meaning.

Ironically as a result of the war, world film gets much influence from the German Expressionist period of the 1920s. This movement relied on use of light and shadow to convey the story. Many of these filmmakers were true artists and pioneers of how to use film to the fullest extend. A good example of a German Impressionistic work would be the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. This too, was highly influenced by the social climate of Germany during that time but is a work of great artistic expression. Before and after the war, many of the German Expressionists immigrated to the United States to start new lives and careers within the studio system. It is their ability to manipulate the story to a point where every idea was possible. Their open minds allowed for their creativity to run wild. This time period during and after the war was a time of great change and also questioning life. This resulted in endless expression of many different feelings. No longer is the story necessarily linear or told from one point-of-view. The story becomes multilayered which heightens the symbolic hidden meaning for the audience. Use of light and shadow only enhances the new edge of the story. Lighting paints the drama and exposes the audience to information slowly on purpose to carry the suspense. This allowed the audience to have many levels of understanding the film.

The Seventh Seal

Ingmar Bergman's the Seventh Seal remains a masterpiece to this day as it continues to ask many questions people only contemplate in private. This film explores not only the meaning of life or why are we here but also has it been worth it? Is there ever enough time? Clearly as Peter Cowie elaborates, "Bergman is exorcising his own demons, his own dread of the eternal darkness" (par. 2). He has found the visual language in which to tell his story and ask these questions. It is because of these questions that this film is deeply personal cross culturally. The film throbs with emotion and authenticity (Cowie, par. 3). He threads his many ideas through expertly cut montages to present seamless images. At each end of the spectrum, there is death on one side and life on the other.

Still is the Seventh Seal metaphysical allegory told in earthly terms or an earthly allegory told in metaphysical terms (Mast 376)? It is a journey home for the Knight, who upon finally returning from fighting in the Crusades encounters Death waiting at a cliff overlooking the beach. The openness and boldness of such typography is unsettling as it appears desolate and isolating, a cold place. In order to buy some time, the Knight challenges Death to a game of chess. He does this in hopes of outwitting Death and prolonging his life. Why challenge Death in a battle one cannot win? The Knight needs the additional time to ponder the meaning of life after witnessing so much death in his travels. This additional time also proves to be a Godsend for the other players of the film. The Knight is able to save a family from Death's clutches. It is through interaction with the family that the Knight is able to see the beauty of life. These scenes with the family are presented in the light of day and offer almost comic relief when contrasted with the darkness of the depiction of the chess game. The family members of Joseph, Mary and baby form a trinity of life. Bergman also demonstrates his opinion on religion as a force within society by setting the chess game in a church and bathing the film in darkness during these scenes. He uses light, shadow and smoke to symbolize the transformation the human body experiences upon its end. The church is also the force behind the Knight's journey to begin with and this creates a tension. The men of the church wear black and the fact that "the knight mistakes the figure of Death for a priest" (Mast, 377) is an ironic moment. What Bergman is really commenting on is the act everything man does is very much intertwined. Life and death go hand and hand. It does not matter how long the chess game lasts. It is what happens while the game is being played that matters to Bergman. Still the tension reminds the viewer just how conflicted Bergman feels about the church state and war. By incorporating this contrast of light and dark, he is creating a tension based on his own resentment toward the church. He resents the fact the church did not act to change the war maybe or he sees his own belief system failing as he approaches death. That is the beauty of this film; it creates many different conclusions and continues to result in more questions than answers.

The Four Hundred Blows

Francois Truffaut found it important to explore different types of relationships through out a person's life. He was one of the first filmmakers to use authorship as a means of expression. The Auteur movement in France was based on his early works because as Walsh explains, "the director's personal vision has been the principal authorial element in the best films up to the present" (1). This allows the viewer to know the story and the person behind the story. This creates intimacy.

The construction of his early films such as the Four Hundred Blows creates tension for the characters by emphasizing "key moment of interaction and conflict rather than the motivational gaps between moments" (Mast 353). He uses camera movement to create a leaping effect and this contributes to the viewer's unease. It was not just this technique alone that made his films intense but also the fact he destructurized the story by telling it through the eyes of a young boy. He uses wide sentimental travel shots of the countryside juxtaposed by Antoine's tear-stained face. This gives the viewer more than one point-of-view and insight into the situation. He also uses comedy as a way to lighten the blow or intensity of the subject matter. This film focuses on the uncertainty of the future, as it is difficult to anticipate Antoine's next move. This is based on Truffaut's ideals as an artist. He wanted to keep the ending vague as to keep the viewer enmeshed in the story after it was over. He wanted the freedom to return to his subject later.

The title the Four Hundred Blows or in French, Les Quatre Cents Coups, refers to the proverbial… [END OF PREVIEW]

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