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The Absence of God in “Le notti di Cabiria”

I remember reading on the back of the Nights of Cabiria DVD case, “features the never-before-seen seven-minute ‘man with a sack’ sequence.” I watched a special feature on the sequence after I watched the film but still couldn’t fully understand why the censors made Fellini cut the sequence. I knew that it upset the Catholic Church but still, why? After a few viewings my question was answered.

When Cabiria and the others are discussing to go see the Madonna, the group of Catholic pilgrims pass by. The way the lights

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shines on the group makes them look like they are a phantom, something unattainable and intangible to Cabiria. She feels drawn to them and walks towards the street. She stops and falls under a streak of light; but this light shows Cabiria’s realness. She is a human person living in the difficult conditions of post-WWII Italy and, more importantly, struggling to find happiness and love. This shot is stark, sharp, and concrete.  She continues to walk behind them when their chanting is dominated by the hum of a truck, Cabiria’s next costumer. This sets the basis for what is to come in the next few scenes.

I will begin with Cabiria’s travel to the shrine. I focus on Cabiria because of all the people in her group, she is the one who takes the visit to the Madonna solemnly.  One could argue Wanda as well but, to me, Cabiria is the only one. In The Story of Film, Mark Cousins argues that “Nights of Cabiria reflect[s] a society in which religion has disappeared and only its kitsch images remain” (249). When Cabiria and the others arrive at the shrine, it’s a mad-house or, if I may, a circus. There are numerous stalls selling Catholic trinkets, people walking every which way, the sound of people’s chanting and bells overlapping, elaborate candle setups, people cramming to get into the shrine.It seems many of the workers are there to capitalize on the Madonna; and it only gets worse. As Cabiria scans the walls, there are numerous lighted signs and candles in “honor” of the Madonna;

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crutches to show that the Madonna did have mercy on them. However, the way Fellini shoots it makes it seem like it’s a commercial attraction rather than something holy. As they climb up the steps, people scream and shout to the Madonna to make them well or to help them. They throw their arms in the air, in a sense, forgetting themselves. Cabiria, in contrast, does not. Cabiria is the only one wearing a white, plain outfit, a color that is synonymous with holiness and purity. Her expression is sincere and her wide eyes says much more than all the shouts in the room. When Cabiria does say something, it is not exaggerated or head turning, but rather honest and quiet. Even her request to the Madonna, “Help me change my life,” is much more humble than some of the other requests like the uncle who asks to walk again. Once they leave the Madonna, Cabiria becomes frustrated and angry that the Madonna has not helped any of them. The Madonna, and therefore God, is not there for the people. All the people have now are the objects and images which fuel the faith.

Now for the man with a sack sequence. The night Cabiria sees the traveling Catholics, she receives a costumer. Afterwards, she walks home and stumbles upon a man with a sack. However, this time, that haunting light does not hit him. Rather it shines above him, thus he is real. As NC3she follows him, she sees he gives poor people without homes food and other items that they need to live. He is kind but his expression does not reveal much else of his personality. After reviewing this scene again, I can understand why they made Fellini cut this sequence. When they first meet, the man with a sack shines his light directly onto Cabiria, seeing her as she is and not forcing her to catch up with him. As she talks with him, she is more spiritually fulfilled than she is when she goes to pray to the Madonna. The man with a sack is tangible, real, and someone she can talk to. The more Cabiria talks to him, the more we learn about Cabiria’s early life. She says that her  name is Maria Ceccarelli and that her mother and father died when she was young. Cabiria takes down her defenses and shows a side that we have not seen previously. Without this sequence, Fellini is just slamming the Catholic faith. However with it, he is saying that it is everyday people take it upon themselves and help others by giving them what they need, whether it be faith, confidence, or everyday necessities. Probably not something they want to hear.

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Miranda’s 5 Feel Better Films

Have you ever had those days where you’re in the worst funk but you have no idea why? Or the days that just about everything goes wrong? Expect you don’t know what to do to cheer yourself up? I have had many of those days and I’ve discovered the certain soundtracks/artists and films that help put a smile on my face or just help me out of that funk. I decided it would be fun to create a post of the 5 films that I love to put on whenever I’m ~down in the dumps~ Perhaps you’ll find that some of these films can help your bad day become better!

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1) The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Yes, this movie is absolutely absurd, ridiculous, idiotic, random, nonsensical, etc. But that’s just why I love it, especially on these sort of days. It’s impossible to think about anything else going on in real life because you’re wondering just what the heck is even going on. You’ll find yourself laughing, perhaps even more so if you have the Midnight Experience option on and read the call-backs. Plus it’s impossible not to like these songs; seriously, just admit it now. We’ve all sang along to at least one song or have a favorite (mine being “Over at the Frankenstein Place”). So the soundtrack is also a great fix as well. I don’t care what anyone says; it’s the perfect medicine for a crappy day.

*Oh, and Tim Curry. That’s all.

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2) Some Like it Hot

Yeah, you get Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in drag, Marilyn Monroe, and a Billy Wilder script and direction, you’ve got a fabulously and ridiculously funny film. Before I watched this movie, I expected it to be overrated because so many people loved it (think Breakfast at Tiffany’s). Expect I forgot that just about any Billy Wilder film is flawless. This one is no exception. After I watched it, it quickly became one of my favorite films. I’ve watched it so many times that unfortunately I’ve picked up on almost all the jokes :'( But nonetheless it’s great for these sort of days because Wilder’s jokes never get old. This is one of the films I recommend to newbies to Old Hollywood films because it’s still hysterical. So if you haven’t seen it, then it might be best to save this film for one of those days :)

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3) Harvey

It’s impossible to not be charmed by Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd and, of course, his best friend Harvey, the six foot, three and one half inch tall invisible rabbit. For me, Stewart plays his character so beautifully that you’re captivated by Elwood and that could be enough. But his sister is deeply concerned about Elwood and wants to put him in an institution. The film is unlike anything else and has the power to make you forget reality and focus into the world of Elwood and Harvey. And the question is: is Harvey real?

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4) Nights of Cabiria

If you know me, you know that right after Annie Hall my favorite film is Nights of Cabiria. Part of the reason is because of Cabiria. Giulietta Masina gave one of the greatest performances of all film history in that role. She brings her to life; there is no fake, Hollywood setup. Instead, she takes the neo-realist era approach and makes Cabiria one of the most genuine and real characters of cinema. Cabiria has been wounded in the past but still manages to keep going through. She puts on a tough facade so she doesn’t get hurt but she is still very naïve. It is impossible to not like Cabiria. While at the beginning of the film you might think her rude or ungrateful, as the film gradually unfolds you see why the way she is and you begin to understand. And if you have no feelings towards the end then I don’t know what to say. But anyways, Cabiria is stubborn, spunky, determined, her own and I absolutely love her. And that’s why I watch Cabiria. She’s like a best friend to me, and I mean, who doesn’t need his or her best friend on a bad day.

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5) You Can’t Take It With You

This was one of the first Old Hollywood films I watched and I loved it to pieces. I laughed throughout the entire time, I shipped Jean and Jimmy, I wanted to be a part of Jean’s family; the whole deal. And I just realized that it was a Capra film, but that shouldn’t surprise me. I love it for these days because it gives me hope and sends the message to do what you love to do and what you want to do. Have fun. Don’t be quick to judge others. Make time for your family. And most importantly, be yourself. Take advantage of the options given to you and live your life the way you want to live it, not how others say you should. I don’t think it can be more optimistic than that :)


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The Searchers (1956)

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“We’ll find them in the end, I promise you…We’ll find them.” This line is my first recollection of The Searchers. I was about seven years old and we were in Disney for our family vacation. Back then at Christmas, all the rides would have two hours+ waits, including The Great Movie Ride; but that didn’t bother me. Instead, I was in awe of the larger than life movie screen in the faux-Gruman’s Chinese Theatre, playing trailers of various classic films featured in The Great Movie Ride, such as Footlight Parade, Casablanca, Singin’ in the Rain, etc. and, of course, The Searchers. I can’t tell you why that particular line stuck out to me; perhaps it was the determination and grit in John Wayne’s voice or the composition of the shot. Whatever the case, it did and it made an impression on me.

I’ve never been a fan of the Western genre, mostly because its setting doesn’t appeal to me but also due to its treatment and view of Native Americans. I pushed this film off for quite some time because of those reasons; but once I began watching the films of the 1970’s (ex. Taxi Driver), I knew that it was probably time to watch The Searchers. Brushing aside my bias for Western films, I sat down and began the film.

Ethan Edwards (John Wayne) returns to his brother’s home three years after the Civil War. Still bitter about the Confederate’s

An example of framing the shot from inside the cave.

An example of framing the shot from inside the cave.

loss, Ethan comes off very cynical, somewhat cocky, and hard-edged but also very alone. Ethan is pleased to see his brother, Aaron, and his family again but takes an instant dislike to Martin (Jeffery Hunter) because of his part-Indian blood. Right off the bat we learn that Ethan is racist towards the neighboring Indians. The next day, a neighbor’s cattle are stolen and Ethan and Martin go along to help find the culprit. When the men find the cattle dead, they realize it was all a trick by the Comanche Indians to lead them away from their homes and families. Ethan and Martin come back to find that Aaron, his wife, and his son were killed and their two daughters kidnapped. Ethan and Martin go on a search for both daughters Debbie (played by Lana Wood and Natalie Wood) and Lucy. Ethan eventually finds Lucy dead near the Comanche camp but does not find Debbie. The rest of the film covers the next five years of their search for Debbie and ‘rescuing’ her.

I’m really not sure what to say about this film. I’ll admit that if it wasn’t for Martin, I don’t think I would have been able to stand it. Ethan came off very strong and almost dislikable to me. Martin didn’t allow Ethan to keep pushing him around and stood his ground; plus his story line offered comic relief in a few scenes. It was hard to put aside my contempt for the representation of Native Americans in this film but that was where Martin helped.

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Notice Debbie in the far back, almost like a black dot. Gradually gets larger as she runs towards Ethan and Martin.

Let’s establish the fact that John Ford is an absolute genius with the camera and Winton C. Hoch’s cinematography fully captures the tone of the film. Ford frames as many of his shots as he can through some sort of opening, such as a cave or a door. I love this idea as it helps focus the attention and emphasize the landscape of the shot. Ford also utilizes depth very well. Perhaps the most obvious is the shot of Debbie running down the sand towards Martin and Ethan. Overall, Ford is a master at making a Western a GREAT Western by going above and beyond.

I’m going to have to watch The Searchers again just to appreciate Ford. I think it will be better because I won’t focus so much on “what happens” but rather the directing and acting. For me, watching a movie a second time is very beneficial because I know the story so I can focus on the little things that I missed before. Even as I was going through the film to take screencaps after I finished it, I was stunned by the composure and set-up of his shots. Perhaps I will add more Ford films to my list but I think it’ll still take me awhile to warm up to John Wayne and the Western genre.

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It’s very clear to see why this film was such an influence on films in the 1970’s; there were so many aspects of The Searchers that I saw in Taxi Driver. But perhaps the one most similar to it is their disconnect from the world. We meet Ethan and he is alone and by the end of the film, after five years of searching and riding with Martin, he is alone. I love the last shot; Wayne standing in the doorway and to me, he almost seems unsure of himself. No one is there is to say thank you to him for bringing Debbie home as they’ve already gone inside with her. But the inside is black and empty and Ethan stands outside of it. It’s foreign to him; then the door closes. We don’t see what happens to Ethan. So what does happen to him? What is his purpose now? What will he do? The answer: we don’t know.


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Is It Really All That Fun?: A Comparison and Contrast of the Beginning and Ending of “Cabaret”

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It has been at least three months since I first watched Cabaret and the ending of that film still haunts me. It’s such a contrast compared to the opening of the film: light, cheery, carefree, exciting, dazzling, exhilarating. How it got from point A to point B is the rest of the film. I’m so intrigued by the beginning and end of the film that I decided it would be a perfect choice for my first post in my series: A Close Look at a Scene.

THE OPENING SCENE

Let me begin by saying first and foremost: I absolutely love Bob Fosse. Granted the only other film I have seen of his is All That Jazz but personally I think if you’ve seen one film and you love it, that director is for you. That is the case for me with Bob Fosse and Carol Reed. The film opens to a black screen with white font, sans music, introducing the players. Once “CABARET” appears, there is the faint sound of chatter. Eventually the black begins to lighten up to establish the setting of the movie. Even as it lightens it is very disoriented but we can assume from the chatter, the clinking classes, and the reflection of well-dressed people that we are in a bar or a restaurant. The pace of the people’s reflections is very slow, almost dreamlike, blurry, indistinguishable. But then a band starts to warm up; we hear a piano, a saxophone, a trumpet, and drums. The disoriented reflection starts to turn from black to color, fittingly right after the mention of Technicolor. Then a drumroll begins. It starts low but gets louder and louder, hitting its peak once the title: “Berlin 1931” appears. *CLASH!* Popping out from the bottom of the frame in normal speed, our Master of Ceremonies (played by Joel Grey) appears. It is pretty startling if you’re not expecting it.

Slowly smiling, he begins to turn his head away from the reflection and starts to sing right at us. After a few lines he then steers his direction to the audience in the cabaret. We are now spectators of this show and from what we saw it is not all going to be crystal-clear. Fosse further clarifies us being a member of the audience by tilting the camera upward, looking up at the Master of Ceremonies, and by placing the camera in the back of the room. The Master of Ceremonies gives us a very elaborate welcome with flashing lights, a wonderful catchy song, and beautiful girls but asks us to “leave [our] troubles outside.” He establishes the basics of the film, telling us that he will be “our host” and ultimately will guide us throughout with film with a series of skits and songs that will coincide with the happenings in Sally and Brain’s lives. Even this song parallels with Brian’s life as we see through cuts that he is arriving in Berlin.

This world in the cabaret contrasts very much with the real world as Fosse shows with shots of heavily make-up’d people verus the ordinary people on the street. It is only concerned with fun and laughs, and that is about it. The crowd is very interactive with the Master of Ceremonies and seems to enjoy his sense of humor. The rhythm of the cuts and the music creates a very elated mood. The camera quickly pans back and forth while the Master of Ceremonies is introducing all of actors of the cabaret as if it is trying to grasp all the excitement and wonderful chaos of the cabaret. Especially at the end of the opening number, you can’t help feel intoxicated by the dancing and showy glamour of the cabaret. I would say that our host did an excellent job at welcoming us into the world and cabaret of this wonderful film.

THE ENDING SCENE

It begins right after Liza gives her fabulous performance of “Cabaret.” Again, we are greeted by the Master of Ceremonies through the reflection of the wall expect this time there is a bold, blood red reflecting in the background rather than people in the cabaret. He asks, “Where are your troubles now? Forgotten! I told you so.” and so on with his usual clamor. Expect that our troubles are not forgotten. The Master of Ceremonies voices lacks that quality of excitement that made us so elated in the beginning. The drum is dull and the band sounds like it can’t keep the same bounce as before. There are no flashy lights this time, no shots from the crowd; it’s like we’ve woken up from a bad hangover and now are just surveying the reality. But we realize that even the girls are moving slowly, just like the beginning. The music begins to dim and we hear the ping of a tinny piano while recapping different performances from the film. Then it stops and we see the Master of Ceremonies once again. He says goodbye in two different languages, each time sneaking closer and closer to the curtained door. Then he quickly bows and runs through the door. The bright lights instantly dim and then we are left with a dim light left on the curtain. The light and camera begin to glide to the right and a drumroll begins, however its meaning is completely opposite from that of the beginning. The spotlight dies once it hits the reflecting wall, leaving us with the reflection. There is no more flashy, showy fun; we must face reality. And our Master of Ceremonies, the one who said he would guide us, skipped out on us as if saying, “Well this is your problem; see ya.” What we see in the reflection is reality: the inescapability of Nazi Germany. The drumroll continues until the camera ends at a space on the wall where it isn’t completely warped. We see more than clearly a Nazi solider and even more so the red Nazi armband on his shoulder. *CLASH!* Freeze frame. Credits begin to role. No exit music. The end.


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Miranda’s Favorite’s: 2. The Shining

Now I will admit I have not read the book, nor will I in the near future (I have so many other books on my list already) but I am a die hard fan of this film and I don’t think the book will ever change that. The interesting thing is that film and literature are not the same, nor should they be. Yes, we all love to complain how films do not exactly follow the novel, but film is another art medium of itself.

The Shining, in my opinion, is one of the best films ever made (and much to my relief, BFI has it in its Top 250 so I have some backup for me:) ). When I finished watching it for the first time, rather than being completely freaked out, I was amazed, thrilled and puzzled. Each element in the film seems like a puzzle piece; they seem to not fit together but they do. However it leaves the viewer completely dumbfounded (what IS with those two, um, men that Shelley sees in the bedroom!).

I was determined to believe that there was a meaning behind the film, and I still do even though some people say there isn’t. I find Kubrick interesting in that sense, and I think he had to have some underlying plot or theme to it. The two that make the most sense to me are the parallels to children fairy tales (ex. Room 237 like Hansel and Gretel and most obvious Jack Nicholson as the Big Bad Wolf chopping down the door. There is a great gifset here that shows how similar the two scenes are to one another).

I can’t tell you how many times I have seen this movie and each time I watch it I find something new. My favorite scenes to analyze are the scenes in The Gold Room. Jack’s seemingly pleasant attitude when talking to Lloyd, the bartender, the reflection of the light in Jack’s eyes, even the paleness of Lloyd, as if he’s not really there; I love it!


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Miranda’s Favorites: 1. Annie Hall

By Miranda (missjazzage)

Endearing, sweet, subtle, and reflective, this film holds all the elements that allow me to say “Yes, yes this is my film.” I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but when you watch a certain movie there is something about it that appeals to very part of your personality that it, in essence, IS your personality. If that’s not true for you, then it is for me. Actually most of the films on this list I feel about the same but Annie Hall does so more than the others.

I was completely engrossed in this film right from the very moment it began when it started. The first thing the viewer sees is a medium close-up shot of Alvy Singer (Woody Allen), placed in front of a tarnished gold backdrop, he tells two jokes that describes him and then proceeds to tell the audience in essence what the film is about: his relationship with Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Even in these first few minutes, Singer’s personality shows and the viewer already can begin to characterize his being. The only thing we know about Annie at that moment is that she is completely different from Alvy’s personality.

And, indeed, Annie Hall is completely different than Alvy. The viewer is given an introduction to Alvy’s early life and into his present day life. Where Alvy is paranoid, cultured, and a bit judgmental, Annie is relaxed, naive, and open to new things. I suppose one way to contrast the two is in their clothing: Annie wears the loose fitting clothing (especially the outfit known as the “Annie Hall” look) and Alvy wears more fit clothes. I would believe that in one way it would express their personalties while also expressing the contrast of the two.

Overall the two of them are on such different levels from one another that they can’t be together.

A relationship, I think, is like a shark. You know? It has to constantly move forward or it dies. And I think what we got on our hands is a dead shark.

They don’t move forward because together they cannot function. It still makes me sad to be honest. In that last scene where they’re saying good-bye. The sun is setting and, rather than being up close with Alvy and Annie, the camera is inside a restaurant looking out onto Alvy and Annie saying good-bye. This indicates the end of their relationship and that perhaps the true good-bye is almost too painful and sad to watch. The lingering of Alvy watching Annie walk away, the crosswalk’s signal “DON’T WALK” and Alvy’s short, lower tone of voice evokes the true love and emotion he has for Annie. Then, once Alvy leaves the frame and the story is Annie and Alvy is complete, the crosswalk changes to “WALK.”

After watching a few of Allen’s other movies, I feel that this one is truly a masterpiece. It’s quirky unity somehow seems to fit nice and snug that the viewer is satisfied with the overall form. I highly recommend this film to any person new to film as I believe, especially for those who’ve experienced their first love, could relate. For me however, I don’t think that’ll be for quite some time! :)