Arch 443/646: Architecture and Film
Fall 2006

The Black Cat, Un Chien Andalou and Avant-Garde Films


Discussion Questions:

Please answer the questions below. Use paragraph form. Your answer should be around 400 words. Email me your responses in Word .doc format to: I will be posting these each week after the class. You should be prepared to deliver your answer in class -- but paraphrase, do not read it.

We are viewing a wide range of films today and beginning to address a key question for this term: what is the difference between films that depict dystopic environments, fear, horror for the sake of frightening people, horror for the sake of educating people, avant-garde tendencies, are "just" experimental, dadaist or surrealist. We will see some of each during this class. It is important that you see all of the films as we will begin to create our topics for the web research piece from these ideas.

updated 06-Dec-2006 5:26 PM


1. Joel DiGiacomo

Question: Differentiate between Dystopia and Fear as it refers to the Black Cat - as compared to Caligari.

Little can be said about dystopia in these two films, except perhaps from an architectural point of view. In Caligari, the architecture is a surreal, expressionist, absurd set, painted and highlighted for both economy and dramatic effect, suggesting the narrative's dream-like nature. While on one hand, this can be tied mainly to the film's main themes of fear and insanity --to be discussed later-- it is also a comment on the desire Germans had at the time to put their dismal recent past behind them, displaying "a willingness to look to the future by experimenting with bold, new ideas and artistic styles" (wikipedia).

In Black Cat, the only notable piece of architecture is a modernist, Art Deco mansion, sitting atop the ruins of Fort Marmorus, site of a bloody battle in the WWI. It is the home of the antagonist Hjalmar Poelzig, a murdurous satanist. The director's choice to associate modern style and evil is an interesting one. Despite my own inclination to admire the house's design, the film casts it in a bad light, when, for example, it is criticized by the film's protagonist, Peter: "well, I suppose we've got to have architects too. If I wanted to build a nice, cosy, unpretentious insane asylum, he'd be the man for it." Perhaps the filmmaker believed modern architecture was a sign of society's imminent decadence. Odd, since I wouldn't expect anyone who believes this to want to counter the problem by producing a series of horror flicks. Oh well.

Speaking of insanity, both films utilize this theme to enhance their fear factor. Caligari does so succesfully, with subtle hints through set design, music, and exaggerated characters, that the story is being told by an insane man, offering along the way an artistic feast of a movie, only to reveal with an plot twist in the final scene that what you thought might be true actually was! The black cat, on the other hand, is a good early example of hollywood fluff. It is only mildly succesful in dealing with insanity by juxtaposing a troubled psychiatrist (who feels the need to kill evil black cats whenever he sees them) with, as previously established, a murderous satanist. The movie's attempts to convey fear result in harsh lighting, plenty of melo-dramatic facial expressions (I guess Karloff and Lugosi thought they were good at it), gratuitous fainting by the lead woman (we wouldn't know otherwise that we were supposed to be afraid too), and a bunch of really bad, poorly delivered dialogue (which tries to be enigmatic, but fails as much as the director's understanding of modern architecture):

"Those who died were fortunate. I was taken prisoner at Kurgaal. Kurgaal, where the soul is killed, slowly. Fifteen years I've rotted in the darkness. But not to kill you, but to kill your soul - slowly. Where is my wife, Karen, and my daughter?" --Werdegast

Then, possibly the movie's best line, but still achieving neither poetry nor realism:

"You say your soul was killed and that you have been dead all these years. And what of me? Did we not both die here in Marmorus fifteen years ago? Are we any the less victims of the war than those whose bodies were torn asunder? Are we not both the living dead? And now you come to me, playing at being an avenging angel - childishly thirsty for my blood. We understand each other too well. We know too much of life. We shall play a little game, Vitus. A game of death, if you like." --Poelzig

Immediately following Joan: "He just wanted to help us!" :

"You poor fool. I was only trying to help. Now go! Please go!" --Werdegast

and, of course, the film's closing line, which this filmmaker should take to heart:

"We could wish that Mr. Alison would confine himself to the possible instead of letting his melodramatic imagination run away with him."

Ironic? Yes, I know.


2. Collin Gardner

Question: Comment on the consistent role of the female lead from Caligari, through Metroplis 1927 and through to the Black Cat.

The portrayal of women in Caligari, Metropolis 27 and Black Cat share many 
similarities. One commonality can be established between the three films 
insofar as men occupy the principle roles of the films and shape the world of 
the film while women are only used as symbols or factors of motivation within 
that world.

In both Caligari and Black Cat the female leads are reduced to mere objects. 
Feminist theory has garnered an explanation of this phenomenon with the 
concept of “male gaze”. The theory states that through the manipulation of 
various cinematographic techniques the viewer is oriented to a male 
perspective: the “male gaze”. In this perspective, the female is reduced to an 
object and, in the best of cases becomes a symbol for something in the film, 
but otherwise is excluded from the action of the film. 

This phenomenon is clearly identifiable in Black Cat, where the female lead, 
as a character, is so unnecessary to the development of the plot that she 
spends the vast majority of the film asleep or unconscious. The other females 
in the film all appear in confinement, floating in glass coffins in a 
perpetual state of hypnosis. A good insight into this film can be seen in the 
wife’s sleepwalking scene, ironically one of the few scenes in which she 
actually engage the action of the film. The phenomenon of male gaze is 
characteristic of pre-feminist films and is less persistent in contemporary 
cinema. This scene, one of the film’s most telling with regards to the 
portrayal of women, seems absurd in a contemporary viewing. In the scene, the 
wife of the male protagonist confronts the menacing architect in a brazen, 
sly, and knowing manner. Apparently, this mannerism was intended to been so 
outrageous for a woman that the viewer would need to logically conclude that 
she was under the effect of some narcotic, or that she had gone mad. 

In Caligari, the woman is in place as a motivating factor for the male 
characters in the film. She is less objectified in this film and actually 
maintains human characteristics and expresses human emotion. However, her only 
relevance to the action of the film is that she is a woman and as such can be 
a cause for action on behalf of the males in the film. 

Metropolis 27, in a similar fashion to Caligari, reduces the female lead to a 
representation of motivating factors for the males of the film. Hal represents 
first of all the bidding of religious morality which preaches peace and 
tolerance in spite of the conditions of proletarian existence. Once turned 
into the “Machine Human” Hal becomes an embodiment of the modern values and 
motivations as Marx envisioned them and so leads the proletariat to 

In all the films the females are subject to the phenomenon of male gaze and 
are so reduce to either objects or motivating factors. In either case they are 
not directly relevant to the action of the films. 



3. Suzanne Gibson

Question: Why do you think a forwardly (for its period in particular) Modern house was selected as the setting for a fear based film? Relate this to the use of Expressionist sets for Caligari.

Profound abstract geometric forms produce a fascinating architectural setting for The Black Cat, the primary set selected for this fear based film is a forwardly modern house with it’s art deco fixtures, gleaming chrome staircase and vast wall of laminated glass block.  When the viewer is first introduced to this setting it is in the middle of night during a heavy rainstorm, the interior of the house is dark, and with the lighting of a single candle the house becomes completely laminated.  The first impression of this house is a vast, and sterile emptiness, it is cold and devoid of feeling. The viewer and the occupants are dominated by the large and empty space creating a psychological state of fear. 

According to the reading in Film Architecture, the modern home was used to remind the viewer of the horrors of World War I and the decadence that resulted from the war.   To further this notion the house presents many fortress like qualities, it is not easily reachable having been built on a rather steep hill, but more importantly inaccessibility make it difficult to leave once one has arrived, with only one door and no neighboring community it is private and remote.  Its fortress like appearance makes the house feels like A castle that could be in the mist of fighting.   In this case the battles have already been fought and luxurious modern living quarters of the elite cover a mass grave of 10, 000 men, whose death during the war was a direct result of the architect’s betrayal. The house is used to cover up the social injustices caused by the owner / architect, in one shot as the camera floats through the house and Poelzig, the architects voice can be heard, “are we not both the living dead.” These words and the formality of the house give a surreal nightmarish quality to this scene.   

Poelzig, the owner and architect of the house created his own world out of ultra modern materials, plastic, steel, and glass, it in may ways it is an imagined hell, compose of a collection of disconcerting and strange angles similar in principal to those used in the set of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.  Both sets are constructed to represent a violent delusion base on the murder of numerous people, and both give the viewer a sense of distortion of both plot and mind. 


4. Vera Guo

Question: The Black Cat and Metropolis 1927 both make use of abandoned subterranean realms in the architectural settings of their respective plots - in the case of a place of worship. Explain this architectural choice.

In both movies, the act of going underground for worship signifies the secrecy of the event. In Metropolis, all the workers meet Maria without the Boss knowing of what is taking place. The fact that nobody knows of these secret meetings besides the workers, also suggest the influence that Maria holds over the workers. They trust her in a confined space closed off with minimum exits. Yet, the workers used the freedom of the underground cave because they had nowhere else to go aboveground without the threat of being caught. For them, the underground was their only means of escape. At the same time, the confinement provided Maria with control. The confidentiality of the prophecies are emphasized when Maria illuminates the cave dressed in light colours as opposed to the dark overalls of the workers.

In the Black Cat, the worship of Satan was held in a deep underground basement indicating the closeness to the devil within the depths of hell. The rituals being held for the night of the dead were being performed underground similar to that of the dead being buried underground. The darkness of the secret lair mirrored the frightening realm of the dead in which they were worshipping. It created the right atmosphere for the horror film characters that looked like they would be sensitive to sunlight like the creatures of the night or vampires. For underground lairs have the nature to threaten people with unlit areas of the unknown it is left to the imagination.

Their ceremonies were also ones performed in secrecy, where nobody could hear screams of their sacrifice. It was also beneficial for the only means of escape to be that of the spiral staircase. The intimidating cave like atmosphere created fear amongst the participants. In subterranean realms, people lose their orientation and become vulnerable and therefore easily persuaded by people in control.



5. John Lee

Question: Compare the use of "evil or subversive symbols" - In Metropolis 1927 the use of iconographic symbols such as the upside pentagram over the Robot Maria's creation chair - and the rite of Satanic worship in the Black Cat.

First of all, I simplified the given question through the following paraphrasing:

“Compare the use of evil or subversive symbols [...] in Metropolis 1927 [...] and in The Black Cat.”

In order to convey dystopia, terror, and fear, both films rely on extensive symbolism. Fritz Lang, in Metropolis, uses sinister iconography as a counterpoint to his religious iconography in order to emphasize a dichotomy between good and evil. On the other hand, Edgar G. Ulmer, in The Black Cat, relies exclusively on sinister symbolism.

This fundamental difference in the usage of evil or subversive symbols illustrates the main difference in the two directors' method of establishing a dystopic mood in their films. Lang provides polarized pairs of symbols, such as the bourgeois city and the working class city, Freder and his father, Joh Fredersen and Rotwang, and most obviously, Maria and Robot Maria. In the last case, the pentagram above Robot Maria's creation chair underscores the contrast between Robot Maria and Maria. Maria is portrayed as a spiritual, almost virginal prophet, but subject to and prisoner of the “God” of Metropolis, Joh Fredersen. Her counterpart, Robot Maria, is manipulative, sexual, and sinful, product of Rotwang, who plays (and thereby angers) “God”. Indeed, many of the Lang's symbols evoke Christian symbols (in the preceding analogy, Freder would naturally be the “Messiah”, and the Babel story is a direct Biblical reference).

The success of the polarization is derived from the fact that each pair shares a common basis for comparison (for example, Maria appears identical as Maria and Robot Maria), and it is this polarization that not only emphasizes the goodness of the good but the wickedness of the bad.

Ulmer, however, prefers saturating his film with evil, subversive symbolism; for example, the accident on the road, the horrific site (and eerie, methodical, and meticulous Modernism) of Poelzig's house, Poelzig's costume, the black cats, the cellar/morgue/shrine, the prison cells and torture rooms, and of course, the Satanic ritual. Any film with a dystopic theme will obviously pit good versus evil, but Ulmer declines to foster any iconographic dichotomies, instead using background information to inform us that, indeed, Dr. Werdegast represents good, while Poelzig represents evil. In fact, Ulmer clouds this view by having Werdegast lose the chess match and consequently deign to Poelzig's orders, thereby confusing the audience as well as Peter Alison, who ultimately shoots Werdegast. Even when illustrating the virtuous character, Ulmer uses negative and evil imagery.



6. Nu-Ri Lee

Question: Compare the use of shadows as a means of creating fear in Black Cat, Metropolis 1927 and Caligari. Why do you think this device continues to persist as a key cinematic effect?

The use of shadows creates fear because of its uncertainty. It uses natural human psyche of fearing the unknown as a subject and employs shadow to heighten anxiety. Shadow creates darkness and a sense of blackness and what we cannot see, gives us the sense of danger. It evokes our imagination to create a sense of hidden people, monsters, and ghosts or generally anyone who would want to harm us.

In Black Cat, we are introduced to one of the main characters, Poelzig, when the arrival of Werdegast is announced electronically and we see a silhouette of his upper body sitting up through veiled curtains. At this instance, the shadow effect has created a sense of mystery and suspense to what is about to happen, now that the owner of the house has in a sense awaken. The contrast of shadow and light gives emphasis on the elements in the film. For instance, the large and dark shadow that cast behind the curvy stairs that leads to the secret passage basement. The shadow creates an austere presence that this secret passage way is dangerous, in fact it foreshadows how the lives of the characters may end up like Poelzig’s taxidermy displays if Werdegast fails to kill Poelzig. The black cat’s shadow passing the doorway is important because of the frantic reaction of Wesdegast where he throws a knife at the cat because we now recognizing the black cat’s presence as evil.

For Metropolis 1927, the shadow/dark and light acts as a representation of good and evil. Take the scene where Rotwang is chasing Maria with a flash light. Every time the light flashes we see the innocent and frightened Maria, but when the light goes off, even though we do not see him, we know that Rotwang is in the shadows, in the darkness. We fear for Maria, and we feel as though our safety is compromised and the lack of Rotwang in physical sight, we fear even more. For we sense, somewhere in that darkness are his hands waiting to take Maria and transfer her skin onto the M-Machine.

In Caligari, the use of shadow is strongly used to create the mood and the deed. Take the scenes of the murder of the clerk and Francis’s friend. We only see the deed being done in the shadow on the wall. The shadow also creates the mood of the film where when things goes dark, we fear because we know something bad is about to happen. We continue to use the shadow as a device of cinematic effect to create fear because the fear of unknown will never change. In the shadow, things can be concealed and that kind of uncertainty is what drives the audience with anxiety, fills them with suspense, mystery and sets the dark mood and helps us recognize evil. The use of shadow and its chiaroscuro element can be described as a precise communication metaphor for fear.


7. Michael Lin

Question: Comment on the use of newer camera techniques as illustrated above. What difference does this make to the creation of the film?

The Black Cat has been considered the first American psychological horror film. Along with the dark visuals and twisted subject matter, the use of newer camera techniques appears in this film to enhance the atmosphere. The striking subjects of devil worship, necrophilia, sexual perversities, and the use of expressionistic sets create an encompassing feeling of dread throughout the film. As a first to many other horror films starring the actors Lugosi and Karloff, this film was perhaps experimental as much as it was a landmark in acting styles, set design, subject matter, soundtrack and camera techniques in horror films.

Although many of the shots are filmed at a wide angle shot or shown as a continuous scene without breaks or close-ups, there are moments in the film where the appearance of camera techniques prove to be quite effective. Scattered throughout the film are camera shots with soft filters when close-ups were shown of the wife, Joan Alison, emphasizing her femininity amidst the predominantly male cast. The filters also act as a method of highlighting her innocence and her role as the subject of perverse interest for the twisted characters of Hjalmar and Vitus.

The most notable camera technique in the film that worked to heighten the sense of foreboding occurred when Joan and Peter Alison engage in a passionate kiss. As the musical score reaches its crescendo in the background, the focus adjusts from the embrace of the young couple in the background to the sinister hand of Hjalmar abruptly gripping the arm of the reclining nude figure in the foreground. The use of focus creates a sense of tension by emphasizing the adverse reaction of a menacing character to a delicate moment between the couple. The effect is one of menace and foreshadows the murderous intent awaiting the female characters of the film.

In one of the final scenes of the movie before the couple escape, Hjalmar is overpowered by Vitus with the help of the servant. Vitus then proceeds to strap Hjalmar onto the embalming rack readying to tear the skin off of him. Another innovative use of the camera is shown here where the horrifying act of flaying is suggested off camera by showing the silhouette of the act taking place. These camera techniques are effective in creating drama or highlighting an event and can be seen in many horror films to follow up until the present day.


8. Veronica Lorenzo-Luaces Pico

Question: Compare the house in Black Cat with the office space of Joh Frederson in Metropolis. How is architecture and interior style used to support the power of the role of the character?

Architecture in moth movies is used to symbolize power and inflict fear in the characters of the movie. Now a day, when we watch a horror film, we expect it to happen in an abandoned, old, murky house. This is the kind of atmosphere and environment that society today fears. But when these two films were made, a different kind of space was used to represent horror. The unknown and unfamiliar frightens society, in this case modern architecture, which was a relatively new movement taking place at the time. Both movies transmit the idea of evil behind the very clean, nicely shaped surfaces. Even the characters have problems describing their feelings about the house in “The Black Cat”. When Peter cannot find words to describe the mansion's atmosphere, Werdegast observes that "It is indeed hard to describe. It is hard to describe his life - or death. Later on in the film Peter refers to the house as "a nice, cozy, unpretentious insane asylum".

Modern architecture is equivalent to power. In the case of the modern house, the controlling character is the architect who designed the house. In the case of Metropolis, the office is the place where the boss and mind behind the machine hides.

Modern architecture gives opportunity to these characters to hide themselves. It is used as a place of shelter at the beginning of both movies. In “The Black Cat”, it is the place where the young couple is taken after they have been rescued from the accident on the road. In the case of Metropolis 1927, Joh’s son hides there to try to make sense of everything that he has seen in the different levels and areas of the society his dad has created. The story turns and both the office and the house serve then as a trap for the characters. In the case of “The Black Cat”, the couple is not allowed to escape these walls, and then the true identity of the house comes to life. Its dark exteriors that we are showed at the beginning of the film now make sense and we see the house under a different light. In Metropolis something similar happens when the audience realizes that this futuristic, clean, apparently orderly environment is worth nothing when it doesn’t have a whole city working non-stop to fuel its power. Modern architecture as a general term has a fake kind of balance, one that stands in a very fragile line between order and chaos. Behind the white, perfectly designed walls, a there exists an extremely disorganized troublesome world.


9. Arjun Mani

Question: "It was a dark and stormy night..."
- The Black Cat begins to make a greater use of time of day and nature to create its moods. Comment. How is this different from Caligari and Metropolis 1927?

With forever advancing technology, filmmaking in the early 20 th century experienced a remarkable sophistication of cinematic technique. Films could now tap into the characteristic subtleties of human emotion and project moods and tones without the need for contrived and obtrusive cinematic devices. This allowed for a stronger layer of realism, and more flexibility and freedom to play out the story.

Black Cat maintains an eerie tint throughout, manifesting the twisted personalities of Hjalmar and Vitus in various aspects of their cold and dismal environment. The most apparent of these “emotional vehicles” is the ominous dark and stormy night with which the story begins. From then on the characters are trapped in a never-ending nighttime, with hardly a glimpse of daylight. The time of day is only established in passing conversation, and can hardly be verified within the confines of the cold mansion, Peter and Joan‘s prison. This establishes Hjalmar’s character as almost vampiric in nature, his pale skin having never seen the sun.

Any daylight that does finds its way into the mansion is diffused to the point of obscurity, as almost to tease the audience with a notion of unattainable hope. When the authorities arrive we become aware of the bright day and freedom that lies beyond the open door for Peter and Joan. This frail hope is dissolved by cruel fate which is seemingly tied to the will of Hjalmar himself, reinforcing the supernatural aura that surrounds his character. It is an ominous night in which he carries out his Satanic responsibilities, and the mansion as always is shrouded in a “silhouette of doom”, with slight moonlit accents falling upon the crosses of the graveyard. It is only after the resolution and their escape that Peter and Joan, as well as the viewers, are free to experience pure, unadulterated daylight--setting the mood for a much welcomed happy and playful ending.

In the time of Caligari and Metropolis, the technology of filmmaking could not accommodate dark sets and low-level lighting. A certain amount of light was necessary for any image to register on film, and so alternative cinematic devices and tricks had to be used. With regards to Caligari, the sets themselves are used to imitate the dynamics of light and times of day. This compliments the abstractness and surreal world the story creates. In Metropolis, these aspects are treated more directly, with deliberate shots of the city to establish day and night. While the contrast between day and night is telling of Metropolis’ condition, from its zenith to its demise, the tone it creates does not permeate beyond those specific moments, and hence is not as pervasive a tool as in Caligari and Black Cat.

10. Darcy McNinch

Question: Comment on the use of the musical/sound effects tracks in Black Cat to support the creation of fear in the film. How has this (or has it?) changed from the type of soundtrack/effects used in Metropolis 1927 or Caligari?

The music in ‘The Black Cat’ is based on classical music by Bach, Tchaikovsky, Beethoven and Franz Liszt; this music has become interconnected and almost stereotypical of films of this time period and genre. The romantic music that plays when the couple embrace, the suspenseful music that plays as someone creeps along a hallway and the clashing pieces that occur at a climax. The music was compiled and arranged by Heinz Eric Roemheld, it has appeared in many other movies and perhaps because of this it has come to represent certain strong emotions.

The music in Metropolis and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari is in some ways more important because there are no speaking parts and much more limited sound effects. Both pieces have originally composed music that would have originally be played live in the theatre during the showing of the music, so that it would be one long piece of music. The music similarly portrays emotions, builds suspense and heightens the films’ action.

There are no sound effects or sound editing in the earlier two films because the sound and pictures were completely separate but The Black Cat uses sound effects extensively; from tiny things like footsteps and door hinges to blasts of electricity and explosions. These certainly add to the options the story can have and also add excitement and immediacy to the film.

Both the music and sound effects, because they are more specialized help to add to the atmosphere of the film and therefore help to make the film more frightening. Sounds can be heard with out seeing what is making them creating suspense that a silent film can never achieve. The music in the earlier films could only go so far with the use of standard musical instruments, possibly only a piano as the creator of sound for the picture but with The Black Cat any sort of sound could have be created in a studio and added to the film.


11. Ben Nielson

click the image for a larger view...

Question: We are only given one glimpse of the exterior of the "Modern House" in the Black Cat. How does this succeed or fail in setting up the film for is largely interior series of environments?

Although the shot lasts only moments, the only view of the ‘modern house’ from the exterior is an essential and effective segue into the main body of the film. This shot aids in continuity, giving context to the modern/art-deco interiors that form the sets for the better part of the Black Cat ; the particulars of that context help create the unnerving atmosphere of the spare, modernist environment.

The beginning of the film is shot on a train, followed quickly by shots on a rain-washed and decrepit station platform and a tourist ‘bus’, an old-fashioned and uncomfortable looking contraption. After seeing the station, the bus and the road, the shot visually linking the house on the hill to its surroundings is essential in providing its contextual presence in the preceding story. This shot is the film’s asterisk to a note in the margin reading, “I know - the house doesn’t fit its surroundings. We did it on purpose, figure out why.”

The shot of the house sets up a dichotomy between the rational architecture of modernism and the torn battlefield of the outside world. The house itself is composed of the sleek clean surfaces of ‘modern’ architecture - free façade, horizontal windows – and the building seems wholly alien to the messy little graveyard in the foreground. The white whole of the house and the white markers of the graveyard unite as visually connected images in the predominantly black background. This shot is the warning, to a naïve audience, that sleek, faultless architecture can exist simultaneously with ‘dark’, ‘evil’ atmospheres. Having been exposed to the connection once, the viewer is more than prepared to accept that the spotless environment of the interior is also intimately connected to a darker background, enhancing the unnerving effects of the films menacing preliminary undertones. Without that connection, the strained hospitality evidenced by the resident Architect could have seemed little more than a lack of social grace: after having seen that shot, his behaviour combined with the brilliantly art-deco interiors has every viewer waiting for the dark backdrop to the gleaming facades, attentive to every hint of eccentricity in the host and his guests. It is almost a relief when the viewer is taken to the dungeon proper below, and the tension between the environment and the plot is temporarily released as the setting finally fits stereotypically to the morbid action on-screen.

In the Black Cat, the unnerving quality of the film is due largely to the visual fugue being composed by attaching menace to benign, rational interiors. This synthesis begins in that first shot, where the houses façade is cast in relationship to the graveyard – injecting the first tones of horror simultaneously with the films introduction of the modern home where it will take place. Without that shot the film would lose the unnerving edge it subtly achieves in the initial welcoming scene, a feeling that persists until the credits roll.


12. Uros Novakovic

Question: Comment on the role of speech (vs. intertitles) and the development of the plot in the films we have looked at to date.

The use of speech in the film both allows for a richer character development (the characters can be more highly constructed by the author-director as opposed to a reader-viewer constructed characters, which must fit into pre-determined social understood roles) and reduces the need for over-acting which characterizes the silent-film era (and is still evident in early talkies, such as The Black Cat). The dialogue (and by extension the narrative structure) is more complex and there is less need for additional gestures and symbols. As a result a gradual evolution of a more ‘natural’ acting style became possible. However, despite these obvious advantages the speech fails to completely substitute intertitles as a tool for plot development, due to the very high degree of freedom (independence from the other visual components of the film) that the intertitles offer. Both the intertitles and speech can be used to convey more than just the dialogue on the screen, they can both be used fairly independently in order to convey information that is not immediately visible (with speech, this is done throughout Night and Fog as well as in a key climatic sequence of the Black Cat). However unlike the speech, which requires a narrator (another ultimately partial character in the film) the intertitles are much more objective, as they talk directly to the audience (and no other character in the film). Intertitles do not only refer to the portrayed images on the screen, they also continually refer (to varying degrees) to all other intertitles used in the film. This is clearly seen in the following sequence of intertitles for Un Chien Andalou: “once upon a time,” “eight years later,” “toward three in the morning,” “sixteen years before,” and “in the spring”. Also, they are ultimately themselves graphic elements, enhancing the atmosphere or the message of the film (as is done in The Cabinet of Dr.Caligari, with the use jagged letters complementing the set of the film).



13. Michael Taylor

Question: The documentary film as a genre can take on varying purposes, in a similar way that commercial films attract different audiences. Considering this, compare Man with a Movie Camera to Night and Fog.

The commercial aspect of movies has always been the ability to attain viewers en masse. With the introduction of advertising, the internet review process, and general word of mouth, a very simple film with a strong presence in the media can attain high profit levels just as an extremely dense idea-filled movie with low-budget advertising can make it purely based on word of mouth. The docmentary while not in fact a recent invention, has gained widely praised notoriety for something not commonly found in commercial movies… fact. I find it strange that we find ourselves continually in the bounds of escapist philosophy and the need to relate to something else that exists outside our scope of thinking so that we may believe in something new, different, make-believe. Whereas, with documentary-based film, the belief is already evident, it exists (whether it is biased is a different story), it is there to inform the viewer of the factual nature of our history and present. Aushwitz, Treblinka, Dachau, are all real places and events which are pertinent to most people as it has a great moral and mental effect on the populace who are ignorant of its existence. Whereas man with a movie camera, as an avant-gardist idea, was while a documentary, less about fact and more about human experience through film. I would say that man with a movie camera is more closely linked to our current thematic of commercialism in film as it attempts to continually draw the viewer in so that he or she may escape and join the adventure if you will. Whereas the historical nature of night and fog is set so that the experience becomes a very real thing, the people and places all exist in reality, their emotions and physical and mental responses are reminiscent of those who have underwent the extremes of human nature and phyisical experience.



14. Holly Young

Question: In both its portrayal of the unclothed human body, as well as acts of violence, Art and Film seem to be judged differently than other exhibitions that might be considered untasteful or pornographic. Considering this, speak to the subject matter of "Un Chien Andalou". How does the film's artistic intent justify the graphic violence of its content?

Modern art is meant to challenge the viewer. It is not created merely to please observers, but to carry with it a message or evoke a strong feeling: to make an impact. For this reason, modern art may go to extreme measures to ensure it has our attention. Nudity and violence are methods sometimes used to achieve that attention, engaging onlookers on a very basic, almost instinctual level. Such use is not considered untasteful or pornographic because it is in support of a greater purpose: establishing a particular atmosphere, or giving a statement a deeper, more lasting impact.

Up until Un Chien Andalou, cinema had been an art form used to please and entertain its viewers. Luis Bunuel, however, intended his film to alienate and disgust its audience. The film opens with a scene in which a woman’s eye is sliced open with a razor and goes on to show a transvestite dressed as a nun riding a bicycle, a female poking at a severed limb in the middle of a street, a hand with a hole in the palm from which ants emerge, and a woman being sexually molesting by a man who, when rejected, commences pulling two grand pianos with rotting donkey corpses and priests across the floor. These images are presented in no meaningful sequence and follow no storyline, but are intended to represent an illogical, dream-like state of being: the introduction of surrealism to the cinema. The film is startling and repulsive, haunting the audience with visions of the darker side of human imagination long after it has ended, which, in fact, is the point of the project. Un Chien Andalou was meant to shock the viewer out of the indifference with which they had previously been viewing the film medium, and force them to really examine what they were being presented - a feat that could not have been so effectively accomplished without such graphic and controversial content. Because of its severe brutality and blatant lack of restraint, the film not only became a successful visual rebellion against societal taboos and public censorship, but it remains as such to this day, which has earned it a prominent place in the history of cinema.


15. Michael Morgan

Question: Looking in particular at Un Chien Andalou, how does the Surrealist film narrative either deviate from, or support the notion of dystopia.

Referring to Un Chien Andalou, it becomes evident how the surrealist film narrative both supports and deviates from the notion of dystopia. The narrative in the film supports the concept of dystopia by the way they both are in direct conflict with the notion of utopia. However, the surrealist film narrative deviates from the notion of dystopia in that they are actually in direct conflict with each other as well.

Utopias are generally concerned with describing what is the perceived good of a society. Specifically, they depict imaginary societies that portray a perceived set of ideal social, political, and moral conditions. Dystopias, on the other hand, are concerned with describing imaginary societies with horrible living conditions. Essentially the dystopia is the opposite to the utopia and as part of this relationship, they are in constant conflict with each other.

The surrealist film narrative in “Un Chien Andalou” advocates the pursuit of the self-gratification of an individual’s most basic instincts and urges. This condition is illustrated in the film through the use of the dream narrative. Through a series of dreams we see the male protagonist play out his inner most fears and fantasies through scenes which include sex and violence in the pursuit of self-gratification. The dream itself is an ideal theatre to stage these fears and desires, as it is a highly personal element that is unique to each individual, each person’s dreams are different. The film itself is even structured like a dream in the way it shifts from scene to scene with no chronological correlation to tie the scenes together.

The self-gratification of our inner most urges and instincts is often inhibited by the utopia, which is concerned with depicting a social ideal; therefore placing the surrealist film narrative in direct conflict with the utopia.

It is clear dystopias and surrealist film narratives are similar in their conflicts with utopias; however, surrealist film narratives also deviate from dystopias in that dystopias aim to inhibit the self-gratification of an individual’s instincts. This condition results from a dystopia’s pursuit to create an imaginary place that is horrible for people to live in.

The above analysis illustrates a complex relationship where dystopias and surrealist film narratives both support and deviate from each other.


16. Ashley Snell

Question: Speak to the continued but evolving role of the "mad scientist" from Caligari to Metropolis (both) to The Black Cat. How does this type of character support the dystopic or fearful environment of the film?

In the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Dr. Caligari represented the “mad scientist” and his appearance lets the viewers know he was up to no good. Dr. Caligari was a stranger in a new place which makes him a suspect for any happenings. He had Cesare, a somnambulist, do all the killing for him. In the end Dr. Caligari was the man in charge and running the place but was hiding behind Cesare.

In Metropolis, Joh Fredersen was a normal, everyday person. He had someone else build the robot “Maria” who was to mislead his son Freder and it backfired on him. His ‘evilness’ was keeping all the workers underground running the city. Fredersen was an all mighty ruler who turned over a new leaf in the end.

The “mad scientist” character has moved on from controlling the entire universe to just controlling his life, his house and immediate people around him. Poelzig was fairly normal looking with the exception of him dressing in all black to symbolize and represent the “mad scientist”. Poelzig also did his own work unlike Caligari and Fredersen. He is not hiding behind someone and when it comes down to it, he is not pretending to be someone else. In the end he goes down with his house and all his evil doings.

I think this type of character supports the dystopic or fearful environment of the film by allowing the viewers to relate. We do know what cities and houses are like and we can relate to them but it is not the same as relating to another human being. To know that there are people out there like you capable of doing horrible things is unnerving. This type of character not only supports the dystopia but they create it from being present. When they appear on screen, you know only bad things can happen and it makes you shutter. If they did not exist the story would be boring. If Poelzig just lived in his house with no woman in a glass box and no cult, the dystopic environment would not exist. Poelzig creates this fearful environment in his house by his actions. Similarly, if you take out Joh Fredersen from Metropolis, the city would run like normal.


17. Ivy Ho

Question: Compare the story telling in Un Chien Andalou with the story telling in Dr. Caligari. How do the Expressionist and Surrealist film styles differ/remain the same?

Expressionism and Surrealism both emerged in the 1920s as a reaction to the horrors of World War I. They viewed the rational mind as the true engine behind the Industrial Revolution, which culminated in the war machines of 1914, and the poor living and working conditions of the proletariats. In philosophy, rationality is thus condemned as a perception that yields false reality. In the arts, traditional orders and realistic imitations of the world are replaced by abstract manifestations of human emotions, the insane, and the subconscious. Starting from the 1920s, a critical mass of literature, paintings, sculptures and films emerged to reflect the period’s interest in the human psyche; their impetus being the liberation of the individuals, from restrictions of their rational minds and their social classes. Un Chien Andalou and the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, often cited as the first of their genre, respectively in Surrealist and Expressionist film, reflect this preoccupation with the human psyche in their story-telling techniques. The focus on perceptions outside of the normal frame of mind is demonstrated through their non-linear narratives.

Compared with Un Chien Andalou, the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari has a very structured narrative. It is a framed story, which has a flashback sequence within. The story begins in the present, where Francis chats with a man in a courtyard. Then, he takes the audience back in time, to tell the story of Dr. Caligari and Cesare. Within the story, there is a flashback of the origin of Dr. Caligari and his interests in somnambulism. The end of the story neatly takes the audience back to the present to reveal that Francis is in fact a patient in the insane asylum. Thus, the story that the audience had understood as a logical sequence of events, is told through the mind of the insane. Does this perception of the insane make the story invalid? Does the dubious way in which the authority, Dr. Caligari, manipulate the man, Cesare, become excusable, when the story is revealed through the memories of the insane? These two questions has its origin from the many criticisms on the technique of the framed story – that it softens the effects of the insane mind, thus, making the film easier to digest for the audience. Whatever the verdict, whether the framing is necessary or not, the sequence of Francis’ story aptly demonstrates that truth can be found in the narrative composed by an insane mind – a very Expressionist idea. The sets portray the fragmentation of Francis’ psyche: urban space and architecture are cut up into shards; furniture is built in exaggerated proportions. In contrast to this is the smooth narrative. Events, however uncanny, lead smoothly from one into the next, making the story very easy for the audience to follow and understand. The sense of time is also easy to grasp, where the flashback is included to provide the audience with more information about the villain, Dr. Caligari. This juxtaposition of the stylized sets and the traditional non-linear, yet structured, storytelling does more than what is popularly believed to be the German film industry’s way of attracting audiences into the theatre. It underlines the very expressionist idea that a stream of conscious truth may be found in the fragments of an insane mind.

Un Chien Andalou has a much more fragmented narrative structure. It is composed of short sequences of events that are stitched together. Unlike the Expressionists, the Surrealists view the irrational realm of the psyche, not as faulted or insane, but as another way to tap into the most basic and primitive, thus, the most real, of human tendencies: passion, desire, anger, fear. The surrealist philosophy states that these Dionysian tendencies can only be released by revealing the subconscious. This very idea forms the root of the storytelling technique of Un Chien Andalou. Instead of using the human psyche as a subject in the film, it is an end in and of itself. Bunuel and Dali devised short sequences that are meant to shock the audience out of the ordinary cognition. In film, a story or reality is portrayed by the moving frames of images or a sequence of events stitched together to form something that the audience can register: a beginning, middle, and an end. But, in Un Chien Andalou, as soon as a sequence begins to establish some sense, or resemble a normal reality, the story comes to a halt with a shocking turn of event, either through the actions of the character or a bizarre image achieved with special effects. The audience’s brain is, thus, short-circuited. Further to this, the sense of time is also manipulated in this film. Titles, such as “once upon a time”, “8 years later”, “5 in the morning”, and “in spring”, lack connection with the sequence of events in the narrative. However, it is a crucial element in the storytelling of Un Chien Andalou. The fact that time has little effects on the plot reveals the surrealists’ believe that memories or dreams are not stagnant. They do not stay in the past, and may exist in the present or the future. This technique is used to reveal the universality of the metaphysical; thus, what time, day, year or season becomes unimportant, because the realities of memories and dreams dwell in the passions of subconscious.

Both expressionist and surrealist films attempt to convey the need to rethink the way in which men have perceived their society. The contempt towards the ruling class, the bourgeois and the complacent mass man are portrayed in the conflicts and tensions of the films. In Expressionist films, liberation of the mind, demonstrated through insanity is the subject of the story. The very structured narrative creates an avenue through which the audience understands the themes that the filmmakers wanted to convey. Surrealist films, on the other hand, may be a more proactive style in the way that they engage the audience. The images presented in the film become a disturbance in the audiences’ mind. They are forced to read the underlying relationship between uncanny events in a completely different way, mostly by means of association or by the pure feeling of the strong emotions. Thus, the idea of liberation in the Surrealist films is an end and a technique, rather than simply the subject.


18. Jonah Humphrey

Question: Comment on the potential role of censorship in the creation of films of a fearful or dystopic nature, given that post WWI Germany had no censorship whatsoever and censorship did not really gain momentum in the US until the 1930s.

Censorship immediately has effects on the creative arts community, including visual artists, writers, composers and filmmakers. Though these arts are generally to be viewed or experienced by large numbers of varying individuals of different backgrounds and interests, very particular groups and individuals throughout history have generally controlled censoring institutions.

The Deutsches Filminstitut-DIF, founded in 1920, was replaced in 1938 during the “Third Reich” by the Ministry of Propaganda, headed by Joseph Goebbels. This institution scrutinized all artistic work, to ensure Germans could only see, hear, and read what the Nazi hierarchy deemed acceptable. The Nazi Police, or the secret police, in harsh or extreme fashions, including execution, dealt with stepping outside of these boundaries. A current collection of documents of the DIF, however (the earlier institution of censorship) not only shows the accounts of various films in which sequences were to be edited out or which were banned all together, but further gives an impression of how a democratic institution step by step tends to identify itself with structures of totalitarianism.

Censorship, of course, also took a stronghold in the American film industry. The first attempt at censorship, through the MPPDA, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America, created the Motion Picture Production Code in 1922, though in this document, the names of its originators were left out, so as not to expose their catholic origins. Later however, the Legion of Decency was formed by a group of Catholics who would “promise to refrain from viewing all objectionable movies or attending any theater that showed such films”. This group gave films ratings from A-1 (morally unobjectionable) to C (condemned). The Production Code Administration operated under the Legion of Decency until May 26, 1952, when it was argued that the condemnation of the film “The Miracle” as being ‘Sacrilegious’ was a vague and in violation of the First Amendment. It is after this time, that censorship saw a decline, as in 1966, when the Production Code Administration was destroyed. The MPPDA became the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America, and under direction of Jack Valenti, became a promoter of anti-censorship movies. This association still functions today, and has dramatic affects on the artistic freedom of moviemakers. It is also controlled by a group of 13 individuals, all from Encino , California , representing the average American parent. Problematically, none of these individuals have any art or film training, and all are from that particular region of the U.S. Further, the ratings made by the MPAA are intended for children viewers, though certainly not all viewers are children. This might not seem to be as big a problem, however, the rating of ‘NC-17’ is generally the death of a film, as many places will not carry or play such films, and often directors are forced to cut significant portions of their films, just to lower the rating to an ‘R’, as in the films Scarface, Basic Instinct, Natural Born Killers, Boogie Nights and Eyes Wide Shut – where even high-profile directors are subject to the cramped artistic freedom brought by censorship.

Films of a dystopic genre certainly face problems with censorship, as these are generally commentaries on political systems that enforce totalitarian governments on its society. The irony here is that it is fundamentally these same types of controlling and limiting systems that such films are trying to oppose or critique that are censoring the films themselves. The times when a dsytopic film might be made acceptable, however, is when it appears that the dystopias portrayed are renditions of other nations or political systems that are being opposed to by the country in which the film is made. I think it is further interesting to consider, however, that many of these films, such as Metropolis, can be ambiguous as to whether the political system is specifically communist, fascist, or capitalist, as they all begin to take on the same appearance when they exercise power in excess, and begin to control the individuals of their societies.



19. Aleks Kolbas

Question: Compare and contrast the documentaries "Man with a Movie Camera" and "Night and Fog" with more recent examples that have been made, for instance, on either Global Warming OR if you have seen any of the 9/11 feature films that have come out of late (which are in a way meant to represent "the facts", rather than the fiction of the situation).

One of the major contrasts between “Man with a Movie Camera” and “Night and Fog” versus “Koyaanisqatsi” and “Fahrenheit 9/11 is not only that one is fictional and the other a fact, one individual and the other collective, but also that they are respectively in a direct political and socioeconomic response to one another. To be more precise in this argument, if the earlier films present, for the lack of better expression, a first degree murder of sort, than the latter are a presentation of post-mortem examinations of the conceived crimes. Vertov in “Man with a Movie Camera” clearly takes on the idea of manipulation and obtrusiveness by using his camera capabilities to severely obscure and distort images. He has all the power: attempting to persuade his audience the images were in fact filmed in real time, and not affixed later in the editing room. For example, a naked woman fits entirely behind the glass or a camera man stands atop of another etc. This was the avant garde movie media of the 1920’s Russia , especially for Vertov, to present a dystopic sensation through vivid imagery of motion picture and awake the citizens of Russia making them succumb to their everyday desires and temptations that make this world so disordered. This sort of manipulation is clearly illustrated in “Night and Fog”, making Adolf Hitler, the benefactor of Nazi Regime, a sole destructing machine, that has successfully created a political propaganda that had not only ruled over 1940’s Germany, but more than half of Europe. The images of concentration camps in Auschwitz served as a residue, a cinematic reflection of cyclical nature of man’s violence toward man and present the unsettling suggestion that such horrors could happen again. “Koyaaniscotsi” comes some 40 years later than “Man with the Movie Camera”, but the language of intent remains the same: to manifest the same irreconcilable paradox evident in man’s everyday life, self-deception. It is the primary source of distortion impeding our deceptions of facts concerning ourselves and the environment in which we live. We are aware of our over consumption, but purposely oblivious to the threat it carries, believing we can’t do anything about it. This film calls for another way of living, a collective awareness of preservation and utility that intended to have a global impact. Thus, images shown are concerning all four corners of the globe. This film encouraged a conservative approach to life, and attempted to prevent the tragedies like 9/11 to ever occur. Although Fehernheit 9/11 is a factional overview of the event, it posed new concerns: a public disbelief in constitution and political agenda. It is a direct political response to “Night and Fog” posturing an important conclusion: ‘event of the Holocaust has in a sense repeated itself in the new form: terrorism’. Apparently, the mindless act of violence of man toward a man did not end there.


20. Tavis McAuley

Question: How does Man with a Movie Camera begin to make use of Dadaist and Surrealist film techniques as presented in some of the early Avant-Garde pieces? How does Man with a Movie Camera purposefully deviate from the Avant-Garde film style?

In Man with a Movie Camera the focus is primarily on the products and unique processes of the industrial revolution. The mechanistic movements captured relate back to the Dadaist and Surrealist theory of representing the feeling of despair following WW1 in an artistic way. In Ballet Mechanique the use of Avant-Garde cubist images, transform recognizable human forms such as a women’s smile into industrial objects such as gears and carnival rides to interweave the complex cinematic metaphor, which bonds man and machine. In the film Return to Reason the female body is described in a machine like way in both the contouring of the body and the repetitive cut of the same movement similar to the way that machines operate in Man with a Movie Camera. This idea is further explored in the film Symphonie Diagonale where in effect the music is used to draw the images of geometrical shapes. This relates back to the sense of sound (noise) which would have been a primary experience beyond the visual experience of being in a factory following WW1. The anthropomorphic aesthetic of the machines serves to create an uneasy interweaving of the natural systems (including humanity) and industry following WW1.

The loose narrative of a filmmaker moving through the city has the effect of tying the film together, which was not typical of the Dadaist or Surrealist movements. The industrial subject is often placed within the larger context of the city, factory or assembly line, which has the effect of giving the film a context that is rarely demonstrated in the Avant-Garde pieces.


21. Jody Patterson

Question: Un Chien Andalou is an "Art Film". Night and Fog is not. Compare the very graphic scenes in each as justified by their designed purpose.

To evaluate the designed purpose of each film, the creator’s words can provide some insight: after making Un Chien Andalou, Buñuel was quoted explaining that "Historically the film represents a violent reaction against what in those days was called 'avant-garde,' which was aimed exclusively at artistic sensibility and the audience's reason.". The graphic scenes in Andalou are thus designed for experimental shock-value, fully intended to provoke feelings of revulsion in the viewer. Although surrealism specifically targeted the sensibilities of bourgeois society, the graphic scenes in Andalou continue to have a strong effect on viewers across classes, even in the present day. But however graphic, horror scenes in Andalou appall yet alienate the viewer in combination with other avant-garde tendencies, such as the undecipherable plot. The graphic scenes in this art film are intentionally non-real, just as the fragmented space and flow of time in the film are illusory: a dream-like series of non-seqiturs, thought-provoking and mysterious, but deliberately divorced from reality. Thus the graphic scenes in Andalou, designed for dramatic artistic effect, strike a momentary blow to the senses but quickly cut to other surrealist scenes, distancing the viewer from the material and distracting them from their initial disgust.

Night and Fog is a documentary film, obliterating the comfortable distance which fiction allows between viewer and content. Historical validity imparts a certain educational value on the film, authorizing the presentation of truly horrific material under the aegis of cultural instruction. Gruesomely graphic scenes are justified, even dignified, by the fact that they are undeniably real. These images need no design to achieve shock value – indeed, presented at face value they tend to provoke overwhelming revulsion rather than any edifying reflection. Instead, Resnais’ careful sequencing of images and poignant commentary hone the viewer’s focus on the human impact of this history, and drive the question whether such crimes against humanity can – and do - reoccur. The graphic scenes in Night and Fog are presented for various designed purposes: they prove that these events did happen and that the context surrounding them was not as unique as the viewer may wish to beleive, thus grounding the horror in concrete reality. The most graphic scenes are also instrumental in producing an inescapable sense of human tragedy, which the viewer must arrive at in order to feel the designed impact of the final question: “Alors, qui est responsable?” The heartbreakingly graphic scenes of human suffering are relentless, intended to bring the viewer into the emotion of the film and create a desire for resolution, which is ultimately denied by the final question, leaving the issues raised by the film open for contemporary consideration.

Buñuel, L. Quoted in Art in the Cinema, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1947.


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