443/646: Architecture and Film
last updated December 28, 2004
The question for this film asks for a reflection on the assigned images (screen captures) and some thought on the use of this architectural space and cinematograhic devices in the film. Why was it chosen? What is the architectural/cultural signficance of the choice? Was it successful?
Each thumbnail below is linked to a larger screen capture of the same image in case you need to see the image in greater detail.
Your name is BELOW the series you are assigned. I have doubled up on some questions -- as we will be having to consolidate our discussion time for this film a bit. You are each to do a separate answer. I will be selecting one of you to present your answer, the other person will present their answer to Playtime.
Please keep your answers to 400 words max so that we have time for discussion. Thanks.
The director, Jean-Jacques Beineix, has placed the story/action in a series of carefully chosen settings, the majority of which are "real" spaces in Paris and its environs. Comment on the use of these spaces in the film, suitability of their choice. Make comparisons to "Playtime" where applicable. How has the music been altered to suit both the space and the action/story for this setting?
The Opera House: Anne-Marie Armstrong + James Arvai
The vision of Jacques Tati’s Paris is seen in direct contrast to the film, Diva. The setting in Playtime expresses man’s alienation in the modern world, the setting of Diva, suggests the richness of history and the connection of individuals to each other through the power of music performed in an intimate performance space.
Beineix contrasts the cleanliness of Paris’ main streets against the dark griminess of the industrial area. In the closing scene, set in the Opera house, as an audience we initially liken the setting to a back street due to its similarity in texture, lighting, etc. The shot pans out to display the breath of the stage and we understand the staged quality that the film tries to convey.
The reconciliation of this subject-object split is well framed by the interior of the Paris Opera House. The singing of an aria has a cultural context that fits this setting. It successfully conveys a spirituality and longevity, a larger than a person dimension, that helps to elevate the singing as an event that means more than entertainment. The scale of the building alone implies a scale to the significance of the event. To Jules, it is a fitting house of worship.
Diva's Apartment: Joshua Bedard + Matthew Bolen
of the Diva’s apartment captured from scenes in this movie effectively
portray and describe the very character of the Diva herself. Unlike the
two studio apartments this film depicted, the Diva’s apartment possessed
a very traditional elegance with its use of colour and floral decoration,
mantle and fireplace, classic furniture and enclosed intimate spaces.
This traditional style which the apartment possesses is symbolic of the
Diva’s character and her traditional view of music and musical production.
The Use of the Common Street: Liam Brown + Tammy Chau
Streetscape plays an important role in depicting architectural spaces. It is constituted by typology, which reflects the history and culture of Paris. Whether the streetscape is an alley, row buildings, or tree-lined streets, they all make reference to different segments of history, and convey different moods and tempos. Director Jean-Jacques Beineix skillfully captures human event which enact within the streetscapes.
The first image depicts a narrow alleyway, barren walls, light-washed cool toned surfaces, perspective diminishes at one point – an intimate and enclosed volume. The dialogue between two characters becomes distinguished from the background; relationship between two strangers becomes parallel with the bleakness of which the architectural space suggests.
The second image, once again set up with perspective diminished at one point, streetscape enclosed by tall buildings build right up to a skinny side walk. It depicts a particular typology in Paris where open spaces are usually enclosed by court buildings instead of flanked in front of buildings, which leaves the only public space to be the skinny side walk. When groups congregate, especially postmen whose office is the street itself, the only sensible place is gaps between parking spaces. It is temporary, unstable, and introduces chaos and disruption to a perfectly rhythmical world. This parallels with Jules’ character, where his life exists among gaps of other people’s lives. Chaos (the plot) was ignited and signified by Jules as he spontaneously runs into events.
image is of a tree lined street, cars parked along one side, traffic on
the other. Jules pushes his moped along as he chats with his new friend.
The environment suggests a leisurely walk, no doubt reflecting the great
vision of Champ Elysee when nature is brought into the urban environment.
Nature and the city – two fundamentally conflicting elements are
placed next to one another achieving the highest order of harmony. The
setting parallels the crossing between the two characters lives. They
are clearly of two different ends of society, yet, at the end they worked
together and escaped the drug and sex scandal and the police chase.
The Loft: Shane Cyzypha + Natalie Drago
Diva is a film about the juxtaposition of the dark, seedy
underworld and the bright spotlight of the city of Paris. The dark world
or crime syndicates, corrupt police officers and petty thieves is intertwined
into a story of public fame and integrity, as seen in the Diva herself.
The film is also about the juxtaposition of virtuous feeling to immoral
acts. This is seen in Jules, a virtuous character who makes immoral mistakes
such as stealing the Diva’s dress and making an illegal recording
of her performance. These immoral acts are driven by his passion, his
love for the Diva as a figure of integrity.
Film noir was coined by the French film critics who noticed a trend of how dark and black the looks and themes were of may American crime and detective films released in France after the war. Film noir is a distinctive branch, sub-genre or off shoot of the crime/gangster and detective/mystery sagas of the 1930’s. Thee films are noted for their stark camera angles and movements, chiaroscuro lighting and shadowy high contrast images. In the shots of the loft from Diva we see the high contrast between light and dark as well a the contrast between colors as well, from white to black and vibrant pink to greens to blues.
The aura and presence of fear mistrust, bleakness and paranoia are readily evident in film noir scenes and settings, reflecting the “chilly” Cold war period when the threat of nuclear annihilation was ever present. The criminals, violent, misogynistic, or greedy, perspectives of heroes or anti-heroes in film noir were metaphoric symptoms of society evils, with a strong undercurrent of moral conflict.
In all three images the architecture reflects, enhances and reinforces the predominant and repetitive mood of the plot. The architecture is minimalist and functionalist, we experience a darker, seamier and less high tech rendition or section of Paris. Here we experience an evil disassociated from technology, the evils of crime and corruption. This film exhibits the moods popular or common to all film noir. The primary moods of all film noir were melancholy, alienation, bleakness, disillusionment, disenchantment, pessimism, ambiguity, moral corruption, evil, guilt, desperation and paranoia. Protagonists, heroes and anti-heroes distinctively were cynical, tarnished, obsessive, brooding, menacing, sinister, sardonic, disillusioned, frightened, and insecure loners (usually men) struggling to survive. These attitudes and manifestations of behavior, mental states and gestures are depicted and contained in on one level or another in all three photos, symbolic of film noir and the post war era.
Film noir films (mostly shot in gloomy grays, black and whites) showed the dark and inhumane side of human nature with cynical and doomed love, emphasizing the brutal, unhealthy, seamy, shadowy, dark and sadistic side of the human experience. The architecture expressed, supported and sustained the moods and transitions of the film, forming an oppressive atmosphere of menace, pessimism, anxiety, suspicion that anything could go wrong, dingy realism, futility, fatalism, defeat and entrapment all stylized and incorporated characteristics of film noir.
We experience in all three of the images of the loft, the techniques in cinematography particular to film noir. These techniques are marked by expressionist lighting, deep focus camera work, jarring editing, juxtaposition of elements, skewed camera angles, circling streams of smoke or steam, existential sensibilities and unbalanced compositions. Setting in film noir, here the loft space in Diva, were often interiors with low key lighting, venetian-blinded windows and rooms and dark claustrophobic, gloomy appearances. Exteriors were often urban night scenes with deep shadows, wet asphalt, dark alleyways, rain slicked or mean streets, flashing neon lights and low key lighting. Story locations were often in murky and dark streets or arenas, dimly light apartments and hotel rooms of big cities or abandoned warehouses, hence the loft. (Often times the war time scarcities were the reason for the reduced budgets and the shadowy stark sets of B-pictures and film noir)
Here the narrative of the space, time and composition, all reinforced the bleak minimalist design demonstrated by the frequent form of narrative coexisting within space, setting, time, plot and action in this film noir. Narratives were frequently mazelike and convoluted, typically told with foreboding aura and background music, flashbacks (or a series of flashbacks), witty and acerbic tone and dialogue, reflective or confessional and voice over narrative.
Therefore the architectural significance in the Diva, lies in its ability to enhance, express and support the tone, mood and plot of the film as well as its role in defining, describing and creating the setting, place an aura, sustaining action in this film noir. Film Noir not a genre but rather a mood style or point of view or tone of a film, deep rooted in social significance expressing a thought, sentiment and fears of a past post war era. Today people are able to look back through these films, and understand and interpret, the mood and mental state of Parisian society during a particular era. This makes the scenes of the film as well as the film as a whole a type of landmark within a history line and defines the film noir mood, attitude and outlook as culturally significant. Hence Diva is culturally and architecturally significant film by means of its mood and the development and incorporation of setting, space and place.
Misty Morning Walk through the Sights of Paris:
The celebration of the “real” landmarks of Paris in Diva contrasts with the obsession with the International Style in Playtime, where the presence of such landmarks is diminished to a mere reflection on the glass.
In the film
Diva, there is a contrast between the elegant high life of Paris and its
more inconspicuous brass underworld. In one, a famed French opera diva
enjoys her life of luxury, travelling from city to city. In the other,
a delivery boy makes an honest earning delivering mail on his moped. In
the plot of the film, the two characters run into each other, intermingling
their two worlds. Some of the scenes take place in the dark streets and
dwellings, and some in the more elegant settings of the Diva. The scene
in which Paris is shown with a morning mist reveals a connection between
the two worlds.
significance of the lighthouse or magic castle as quoted from the movie
is that of a beacon of safety and reassurance in a time of danger, in-essence
a helper. The car driving towards the lighthouse is symbolically like
any sea vessel using the lighthouse as a beacon of safety from danger,
only in this occasion the lighthouse will be used as shelter to help Jules
recover from his gun shot wound. This reversal of space from exterior
to interior when using the building as a sanctuary to heal and recover
Jules wounds becomes an interesting and thoughtful architectural expression
within the movie and a creative use of typology paralleling the story
Through the Streets of Paris at Night:
depicts the city and its historical context as having the ability to be
a high speed throughway for vehicles. The city offers many moments for
the smaller moped to escape where the car cannot go. Large scale moments
in the city allow the car to perform better in the case. While at small
scale moments in the city, between buildings or down colonnades, the moped
is quick and nimble and able to gain ground on the automobile. The street
was not intended for this high speed, the city adapts to the chase, and
is exploited for this purpose. The second image offers a view of a tighter
space through which the chase scene must continue. Here there is an opportunity
for the vehicles to become in close contact with the context. The chase
continues despite the danger of high speeds in such a space.
The film Diva makes use of carefully chosen settings and music to contrast the two very different worlds that Jules the young courier finds himself caught in. The elegance of Catalini’s opera music sets the dreamy atmosphere to accommodate Jules’ infatuation with Cynthia Hawkins. Meanwhile, the more modern accompaniment by Vladimir Cosma sounds out the dark criminal world of copyright pirates, drugs and prostitution.
The use of real spaces in Paris in Diva as opposed to a man-built set like that of Tativille in Playtime engages the viewers more intimately. It is intriguing to see the juxtaposition of ancient monuments and modern lifestyle. It adds another level of contrast onto the two distinct worlds that Jules is trapped in.
One of the most memorable parts of the film features the motorcycle chase sequence in the streets of Paris at night and into the underground subway. This sequence is urgent and full of uncertainty. The streets of Paris at night provide the necessary sense of mystery during the chase, putting the viewers closer to Jules’ position. It is interesting to note that the part of the chase that takes place above ground is in almost complete darkness. Whereas, the part of the chase that submerges below ground ironically shows much better visibility. The disorienting camera angles during the chase give a spinning effect while the regularity of rhythm through the arcades shows the high speed of the chase.
|The Subway: Mark Cichy|
The director uses many "devices" to create images in the film -- other than direct shooting of the image. Discuss the use of these devices based on the images/screen captures below. Note that these images do not necessarily represent all of the instances of this type of device use in the film.
Shooting through Glazing: Nancy Gibson
of art is in peril if it does not become more savvy about the commercialism
surrounding it. The postman’s high ideals are in peril due to his
confusion about the danger he is in as well as ignorance of the base nature
of another’s taste. He believes that another’s appreciation
of opera is the same as his own when in fact theirs is largely based on
the commercial value of rare recordings. This ignorance parallels his
confusion about the real reason he has to defend himself and obscures
thoughts that his life might be in danger.
Shadows: Julia Farkas
Beineix’s makes us of shadows as a cinematic device in ‘Diva’ to a number of ends. The projected image superimposes a 2-d world view onto 3-D reality. It adds a layer of implied meaning to scene that would not necessarily exist otherwise. The lines of the metal doors appear as jail cell bars implying a sense of imprisonment. The silhouette of the prostitute beside the statue highlights the relationship between the real and the ‘fake’ woman.
The high contrast images of the shadows falling on the wall reference the movies of the film noire era. The depicted female figure, similar to the femme fatale character was introduced as the element of chaos outside conventional social order. All four main female characters depicted in Diva women live outside the order (the prostitute, the kleptomaniac, the diva, the detective). Eventually each led the main character into different levels of trouble.
Diva portrays a very different Paris than that if the 1960s. The contrasting worlds of shiny glamour and desolate chic speak less of the effects of commercial modernism (Tati’s portrayal of the never ending office towers, the restaurant, the department store with seductive sales people) which preoccupied the directors of the mid-60s reflect rather on aspects of modern commercialism.
Both Godard and Beineix explore the theme of the female image in modern culture. Portrayals of the objectified woman as prostitute reoccur throughout the films. In Alphaville, the image of the objectified woman appears evidently as a 2-D model centerfold Lemmy uses as target practice while the real woman of Alphaville have been reduced to a state of despondent seductresses. In Diva, the silhouette of the female form devoid of articulate features apart from the curves of her body, an object without character to be gazed at without individual character engages the viewer in a dialogue about the portrayal of women in pop culture.
Reflected Images: Christian Tognela
contracted agreement with my soul
are the prodigies that you are
want the easy way to reach charming calm
like fulfilling gravity
are the prodigies that you are
a film of the 80’s.
Reflections in Water: Francesco Mancini
Waiting for sunshine outside
sometimes, nothing but the reflection of our ego, a reduction to a mere
speculation of what we consider stable, permanently right or wrong, true
or untrue, with regard to our life and to our and other people’s
rights. But sometimes truth, or better to say actual reality, is laid
underground; it comes out just for brief moments, exactly like reflections
in water (or mirrored images on the top of a car, temporarily parked down
the street) after a rainfall of unpredictable events.
The Still Life: Adriana de Angelis
Paris again, but in all its splendour, is the protagonist of the film “Diva”. No science fiction, no metaphor, not only glimpses and flashes of its most famous monuments. No, it’s just La Ville Lumière en plein air with all its glory like in a modern Impressonist’s painting that is on scene. As a matter of fact the whole story, a unique love story, evolves around the city and maybe it would not have the same magic and charme if turned in a completely different town. People, streets, avenues, squares, metro and railway stations, restaurants, brasseries and hotels are on view like in the exaltation of the town done in the 19th century. This time, though, the painter is not Caillebotte, Renoir or Monet but a young French director that puts in his film all the taste and reality of the 1980s. “Diva” is at the same time a sophisticated noir like in the best French tradition and a sophisticated and elegant, almost unusual portrait of Paris and its inhabitants. Refined mises and dresses in the most perfect French fashion, police stations, murders and night life, French cuisine where even preparing a simple baguette is making art, plain and rich interiors with that typical, classic chic décor, but also houses and lofts with that particular, exquisite modern touch so trendy in a city like Paris in continuous evolution and change, always in search of adjusting itself to current events. Art is everywhere, you can almost breath it: in the streets, in the theatre where the diva sings, in the beautiful music, in the behaviour of people, in the photographs done by the photographer whose house, a magnificent loft, is all painted in black, almost a huge camera, to exalt the few, elegantly scattered objects. This way, against a black wall, even a bath tub, naturally Néo-classique, becomes a work of art, worthy a still life representation. Photography is the heir of Impressionism and cinema is strictly connected to it. The director then, just like a painter, loves to indulge on elegant scenes presented as single pieces of art. The film is full of these inspired pictures: a fantastic, exquisitely colored bouquet in the diva’s hotel room reminds of Fantin-Latour’s flowers and even a simple table together with other two almost incohert objects in a deserted factory becomes as splendid as a Chardin’s still life. Too much of aesthetics? Maybe, but it’s art, a pleasure for the eyes and at the same time it is an artistical, devoted tribute to Paris, still considered la capital de l’art.
(Shooting through) The Window/Door: Federica Martella
cinematographic devices are used by Beneix to show the reality from different
points of view: there are number of specular mirrorings of the environment
in chrome/water and of reflections in stained glass.
way of showing the world is used by Tati: his movies are full of windows/doors
placed to watch from a distance a series of daily actions.
Looking Down/Up (unusual angles of view): Olivia Keung
Within the first scene, angles of view become an important technique as the camera begins to circle around Diva from the audience’s perspective. In a film where dream-like sequences, spaces, and characters collide against depictions of the city’s stark underworld, this first scene begins to set up the relationships between reality and performance, observer and performer. To Diva, her performances are the only authentic experience of her art; to Jules, they represent a momentary escape from reality.
The effect is transferred to the city after that, translating its theatricality into a condition of the modern city. In a place of density and verticality, the audience watches from their windows as the performance unravels on the stage of the street. Strangers become involved just by looking out of their apartment: through the camera lens, the effect is simultaneously inclusive and alienating, as it is in the city. Jules becomes caught in the twisted plot-lines of the film in the same accidental manner, a victim of a fast-paced and impersonal urban context. Alternately being in control and then vicitimized is another set of relationships that quickly reverses in this viewpoint, as it does for Sapporta. Even Diva becomes a victim during her performance, when she believes she is the only one with control over her own voice. Often, the director’s choice to frame scenes from distant viewpoints makes the audience feel helpless and passive as well, like a passerby in the city witnessing these random events.
settings of Jules’ and Gorodish’s apartments defy reality;
inside, they are isolated, introverted spaces, and yet this view out the
window, to the same gritty city, connects them all. It is the street that
tangles strangers together in eachother’s plots. The street is a
place of collision and accident.
back to 443/646 fall 2004