Capricorn’s Merit: The American Dream in “It’s a Wonderful Life”

By Larry Cherkasov

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) is an uplifting film only insofar as it ends on an upswing for its hero, summing up a treatise against self-destruction. Even though Frank Capra’s Christmas classic is moral allegory, class conflict suffuses it, resulting in a less-than-cheerful socioeconomic conclusion underlying its wonderful, Christmassy closing: that money can force American citizens to their knees at the expense of faith and self-confidence. Frank Capra lionizes the entrepreneurial main character, George Bailey (James Stewart), into the protector of the American Dream and gladiator of the “battle of Bedford Falls” so that he may knock him down several notches and watch him writhe. This narrative progression is not so much sadism on the part of the director as portraiture. Frank Capra uses George Bailey’s story as a case study for class relations in America, portraying the difficulty of attaining the American Dream when the Mr. Potters of the country are actively out to get the average American. The Dream haunts as a Christmas Ghost in this rightly canonized Capricorn picture.

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Pacing in the House Implosion Finale of “Suspiria”

By Larry Cherkasov

Slow, plodding xylophone mallets pace the viewer’s heartbeat as Suzy Bannion makes her way into the frame, shrouded in black, face bouncing off yellow light, mascara projecting her eyeball out of the celluloid. With bated breath, she spies on a witch’s coven performing the rites of its leader, the yet-unseen Helena Markos, queen witch of the hellish Tanz Dance Academy. Because her peers have already met unlucky fates, she remains an attractive victim—horror movie precedent does not excuse a protagonist from impending death. Dario Argento stretches the suspense, loosely protecting Bannion with curtain as she watches her potential murder unfold, replete with unheimlich doppelgangers, blood-streaked Nosferatus, and reptilian skin piercings. Suspiria boasts impressive pacing because there are no jump scares, just dread until it happens.

The epilogue demonstrates Dario Argento’s perverse understanding of a cooldown after the strange and confused climax. Suzy Bannion descends hallways and staircases to confront her final fear: that the dance academy does not need Markos to haunt and still bides its time to induct her into its body count. The implosion of the house during the last few minutes of the film boasts crystal explosions of vases, pots, doorknobs and chandeliers, flashes of red and deep blue and green, picturing a fractured debutante ball of a denouement—there is time yet that a shard of glass tack Bannion’s face to the wooden floor. As the final frozen frame of flames licks up the haunted house, the carved-up blue image of Bannion’s dead predecessor still sews itself into the screen as an irritating ocular sun spot.

Larry Cherkasov is studying English in his final undergraduate year at Harvard College, focusing on the literature of poverty in the early twentieth century.

Scene Analysis | Stalker as Slasher

(Due to copyright issues, please view the clips on YouTube)

By Larry Cherkasov

Stalker (1979) slips in and out of science fiction film typology, and in this scene, it becomes slasher. Not one of the Stalker-Writer-Professor trio is sliced into gore and bits or screams, but the buildup to the point at which the cameraman grows tired and rests in the abandoned vehicle suggests an ineffable sinister force—the Zone—stalking its prey.

The camera closes in on the broken-down car, replete with tangling weeds and scrap metal garbage, biding its time once inside. No soundtrack plays, but the slight crunching underfoot signals the presence of a set of feet, two or perhaps five, slowly creeping in on whatever resides inside that little frame that the car’s left center window forms. The Stalker rears his head to volunteer himself as victim, followed by the Professor, who suddenly lurches backwards, staring right into the center of the camera, eyes wide and confronted with his mortality. The two men are joined by the Writer, who whispers out “Lord!” thus either greeting his God, or invoking Him.

The film at large is not a slasher, but its techniques create an effect that shares the genre’s self-awareness and playfulness in its use of camera as character. The camera in Stalker not only plays the creep in this scene, slowly but confidently moving around with impunity, but also at the film’s beginning, inching, or rather millimetering, into the box-shaped room, panning across the faces, of the wife, then the child, then the Stalker, tracing their features out in relief. If in the former scene, the camerawork assumes at least an earthly predator, who needs feet to stalk, the opening scene reminds the viewer that the Zone evades categorization, hovering in impossible shots and peering in on intimate moments at angles of its choosing. When mysteries reserved for the physical location of the Zone pervade the Stalker’s own home in the final scene, Tarkovsky reminds us one final time of the Zone’s chilling abstraction.

Larry Cherkasov is studying English in his final undergraduate year at Harvard College, focusing on the literature of poverty in the early twentieth century.