Author: Natalie Jones

July 25, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

Cléo from 5 to 7 (1962) epitomizes the “ticking-clock” film, but, unlike most of these films that accelerate toward their narrative destinations, you’d never know from this film’s leisurely pace that time is quickly running out for the protagonist. Shots linger until the characters are eventually instigated into motion, a drive in a taxi extends for several minutes, and a character makes unwavering eye contact with the camera while she sings a song in its entirety. Rather than bluntly reminding the audience of quicksand funneling through an hourglass, Agnès Varda’s steady direction causes the presence of death to eventually loom in the background of both Cléo Victoire’s (Corinne Marchand) and the viewer’s mind. Over the course of ninety minutes, Cléo undergoes a slow transformation from hopeless stasis to renewed optimism as she allows herself to live with the recognition of her impending death.

Spike Lee’s films communicate through an emotional, empathetic connection established by his adept classification of complex characters. Lee recognizes that for the viewer to ultimately connect with the protagonist, the film must present this character with all of their conflicting motivations and occasionally uncomfortable characteristics. In many biographical films, the protagonist is depicted as a sort of virtuous specimen whom the audience should revere and automatically consider morally superior. With Malcolm X, Lee deconstructs these thematic undertones that are prevalent within historical biopics whose protagonists never struggle with internal contradictions or conflicts. With his unflinching and deliberate characterization of a controversial figure, Lee utilizes a more panoramic approach to explore the intricacies of the protagonist’s life from his childhood beginnings as Malcolm Little to his untimely death as the revolutionary Malcolm X. Through Lee’s sympathetic, revealing lens, the complexity of this important figure’s life is presented to the viewer with all defenses consciously broken down.

February 24, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

Femmes fatales are often revered by women, feared by men and adored by the camera. Within the first few minutes of Red-Headed Woman, we are charmed and seduced by Lil “Red” Andrews (Jean Harlow), despite her deceitful intentions and our moral sensibilities. She is an enigmatic figure who seems to be constantly playing roles, adopting different voices, performing for audiences.

In the opening scene, Lil excitedly reveals to her friend, Sally (Una Merkel), that she is going to surprise her married boss, Bill (Chester Morris), at his house that night to help him write some “important letters.” Sally claims that Bill is madly in love with his wife, but Lil persists. As soon as Lil’s husband walks into the bar and sees her gossiping, she puts down her bottle of breath-freshening spray and rushes over to him with an unthreatening smile now plastered on her face. She gushes, “Hello, hon!” It’s not long before he’s wiping her lipstick from his face with a handkerchief, while she’s fixing herself with a victorious smirk.

February 4, 2017 / / Main Slate Archive

As an introduction to the titular protagonist of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Amélie (2001), the narrator declares in the opening scene that she “cultivates a particular taste for the small pleasures” such as sticking her hand into a sack of rice, satisfyingly cracking crème brûlée with a spoon, and skipping stones across a river. Through this scene, the audience becomes almost instantly familiar with Amélie (Audrey Tautou), a character whose personality is defined and shaped by the minutiae of daily life.