Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Blogging the Night of the Living Dead

Well, one paper down, two to go. I'm having trouble coming up with something meaningful to write about for my film paper...I know that I want to write about horror film (seems like it will be good practice), but I don't know what specific argument I'd like to make. I'd like to write about The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, and maybe Night of the Living Dead, but I need to relate them in a meaningful way. Initially, I thought I'd do a genre analysis, but that isn't an argument, that's just a topic.

Anyway, if I really want to write about these movies I need to rewatch them. Which is why
Night of the Living Dead is in my computer right now. I'm going to "live blog" my viewing experience of the film's first sequence (except it's not really live because you don't get read it until after I'm done posting).

Consider this a
SPOILER WARNING: if you haven't already seen the film, you may want to stop reading now and wait until you've seen it.

The opening shot is a long, still long-shot of car coming toward the camera. It's got a really satisfying, calm-before-the-storm feel to it, and almost feels like a point-of-view shot.

All of these still shots of open roads provide the setting: isolated, middle-of-nowhere countryside, and they are obviously far from home. The music is minimal like the setting, and unabashedly eerie.

Shots alternate of the car coming toward the camera and away from it.

The shots, still long, get gradually closer until we end up with the nicely framed shot of the cemetery entrance. Cool.

Almost 2.5 minutes into the film before we see any people.

Johnny is such a complainer. Their relationship is strained even
before he gets zombified.

The camera angle is not quite straight for the shot of Barbara and Johnny heading into the cemetery. That combined with their quibbling and the creepy music definitely has me feeling unnerved.

I think the tilting camera through the trees is hand-held.

The shot of the two heading toward the grave feels like a PoV shot the same way the opening shot did; I think it's the tree on the right hand side of the screen that does it. That tree really unbalances the composition; J and B are centered in the frame, and the wide open sky is behind them, but with that tree trunk cutting off a significant portion of the frame the shot suddenly becomes claustrophobic, and I feel like I'm watching them from behind the tree.

I love Johnny's tie.

Speaking of Johnny, the medium shot of him exasperatedly watching Barbara pray at the grave is kind of weird, mostly because he's just so centered, framed even by the pine branches, and yet he really isn't do anything. Maybe it makes more sense given the sudden cut to a close-up of his face, illuminated by lightning, which then leads into a Johnny's-PoV shot of--the first zombie! The cut to the close up is pretty awkward; it is precipitated by the crash of thunder, and the difference in lighting makes it feel a little discontinuous. But then, a jarring effect might be exactly the intention when the next shot we get is ZOMBIE. Of course, we don't know that random rambling dude is a zombie yet, but even Johnny seems to feel that something is up; he's putting on his gloves.

Not much sense in his going to church, eh? So his soul is beyond being saved,
eh? Also, awesome how these lines of dialog lead right into Johnny's demise. But you didn't hear that from me...yet... Focusing on what we've got in front of us at the moment, we haven't cut back to Barbara since she knelt down to pray; it's been all Johnny and zombie prime. Is he being set up as the hero, or the first victim? Hey, it even happened in this very cemetery!

"They're coming to get you, Barbara..." One of my favorite lines from a movie ever. His eyes look really creepy when he sticks his face out. Barbara has raced out of the frame, and as Johnny prepares to say the line the camera closes in.

Hey, there's zombie prime in the unfocused background. We get the kids in profile, Johnny following Barbara and still being creepy.

Dude is suddenly a lot closer than he appeared. I like how the camera keeps his head out of the frame: it makes him feel larger and more imposing as well as adding to the shock factor of the sudden close-up of his face when he grabs Barbara.

The angles are all wonky again, and this time we know why--because shit is going down! Weird shit! That bizarre, aggressive fellow just killed Johnny...and now he's coming for Barbarba!

By the way, this movie is really nicely scored; instead minimalist eerieness we now have tense, screeching violins.

Shots that merely give away important bits of factual information, like Barbara's losing her shoe and the key missing from the ignition, are very short, getting just enough time to get the information across, while shots that present emotional reactions (and to which the viewer will respond more emotionally) get much more screen time.

Barbara has locked herself in the car, and the zombie is pushing frantically against her window. Just like the tree limited the frame in the graveyard shot, now the inside of the roof closes us in from the top, making the viewer just as trapped as Barbara.

Barbara's terrified expressions are terrific and innocent, like her shrieks.

This sequence ends with such high energy that the absolute silence (minus the thunder) or the inside of the farmhouse is completely jarring; what should be a respite really doesn't let us off the hook just because there was no cool-down time.

Well, THAT was exciting.

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