Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Project 5 - The Copacabana Entrance Sequence from Goodfellas

We are asked to watch a sequence from Goodfellas and then  comment on what our perceptions are from the scene,

At the start, we seen Henry (Ray Liotta) hand over his keys and an unidentified amount of money to a person standing beside the car, as Henry escorts his date  Karen (Lorraine Bracco) across the street, she asks about leaving the car on the street, Henry replies that the person will take care of it and have it ready for him when they leave.
Rather than going the very long line of people waiting to get into the Copacabana club, Henry guides Karen through the line and  down a set of stairs and into the Employee entrance with leads on the kitchen. As Henry and Karen pass through, people acknowledge Henry, Henry laughs and jokes back and as Henry goes by certain people we see that he passes money to them, demonstrating to the viewer that no only is Henry welcome to the club but that he has the eminence grize to pass through unhindered.

As we follow Henry and Karen, the camera glides along behind them, gliding through the scene like a silent overseer, we are close to the action and the scene is tight as we go through the kitchen and into the back of the club.

Henry is greeted by a couple of people and with a nod the Matre De' waves his hand and guides Henry into the club and at the same time indicates to the staff that a table should be set up near the stage. Again Henry is greeted by all around and as the table is complete, Henry again quietly passes money to the Matre De' and to the waiters. We hear in the background someone complain that they are waiting for a table and they are brushed off with an excuse.

All this time, Karen hardly speaks she is guided like royalty to a position of importance. She queries Henry about the amount of money he is passing out as she thinks it is a bit excessive. Henry again greets those in tables around them and then thanks a group of men at the next table as they have sent a bottle of wine for him.

This is a bit of fairy tale story telling,  the entrance to the club floor is sparkling lights and we follow the table as it swishes through the scene and placed in a position of prominence. Whilst Karen is in awe of the influence and impression Henry has given her she still has doubts about Henry, especially when at first he ignores her question about his occupation, she queires him again and after he replies that he is in contruction, she states that he does not have the hands of a contruction worker, indictaing that Henrys hands are soft and smooth. Henry then clarifies  saying that he is a Union delegate.

The scene finished as the house lights go down and the comedian is introduced by a fanfare and he starts his routine with a joke about his wife.

We are shown here in the sequence a picture of the character that Henry wants to portray to the world, he wants to be seen as someone who uses his power and influence to impress. Henry is shown as a man of wealth and he is happy to use his wealth to achieve what he wants, it also shows that Henry is known to other people just like him.

At through the sequence, the background music plays, it is the Crystals with "Then he kissed me" the use of the music helps position the timeline of the scene 1970s New York but it also helps to enforce the magical journey of the scene from street to front of house table.

The main indicators of Henry and his place in the world are shown as

  • He has someone to watch his car in the street to ensure that the car is okay 
  • His welcome and familiarity with the doormen, the kitchen staff and the club staff all who either welcome him with open arms and joy or quickly get out of the way. 
  • The respect and quick response from the Matre De and the waiting staff 
  • The greeting from people at the surrounding table 
  • The respect and "nod" from the group sending the bottle of wine. 
  • The easy way that Henry passes out money. 
  • The entrance into the club, going from organised chaos into an enchanted room filled with sparkling lights. 

This three minute sequence has found itself in the pantheon of cinematic sequences, the use of the Steadicam to create the single take is now legendary. Scorsese’s worked closely with his Director of Photography Michael Ballhau to pre-block out all the parts of the sequence, where the camera was to move and where the actors were to position themselves . Only 8 takes were done and they were all done in one day. Scorsese then chose then one which closely matches the drawing and ideas that they can conceived ahead of shooting.

Really the camera does all the hard work, it here is the storyteller, it drives the narrative as the camera follows Henry and Karen into Henrys world, one familiar to Henry, which fits just like his expensive suit. Henry moves with grace and ease, just like the camera which is following him, while Karen is not so sure, it is her first introduction to Henry and his lifestyle and she is taken aback a bit by the assualt on her senses as she passes through entranceways, halls, kitchen ands corridors into the club and right up to their specially laid out table.

Assignment 4 - A Picture is worth a thousand words

I chose this image after reviewing a number of images from different photographers and different styles.

 This image, called "Spanish Wake" was taken by W. Eugene Smith in 1950 in the Spanish village of Deleitosa and it captures the intimate wake of a Spanish villager. When it was published in Life magazine in 1951 it was captioned as “His wife, daughter, granddaughter and friends have their last earthly visit with a villager.” The image is part of a series by Smith titled "Spanish Village", Smith was in Spain in 1950, he has been asked by Life Magazine to report on the food supplies in Spain under the Fascist dictatorship of Francisco Franco. Smith decided that he did not want to photograph something as simple as the status of food supplies, as he wanted something with a heavier political slant to it, Smith wanted to capture images which would show the state of the country, the poverty, strife and fear due to fascist rule; especially since the USA was about to ally itself with Spain.

At first glance, we see a small group of women gathered around a deceased man. They look upon him with mixed expressions, mainly of sadness and loss. The scene is one of sorrow. 

The scene has been tightly framed with the daughter in the centre of the rule of thirds grid, the grandmother in the intersection of the left vertical and the top horizontal lines, the mother is in the intersection of the right vertical and the bottom horizontal line. It is cropped to contain the scene between the deceased and the women; there is nothing is existence outside of the crop which can interfere with the image. It has been cropped and framed so that the light passes over the mourners and falls away to the right of the image, behind the women.  By using only one flash and paraffin oil lamps, Smith has kept the lighting down to a minimum. 

At the same time the image is balanced so that it flows down from the top right down to the face of the deceased. This allows us to see the main elements of the scene, the three generations of women and the man. The main meaning of the image is one of loss and mourning, they sit beside the deceased and reflect on his impact on their lives, their environment and how the loss will impact them personally. The mother figure is lost in thought, her gaze directed out of the scene down paying no attention to the photographer instead her loss overcasts everything else.  The daughter gazes directly at his face, her loss showing in her expression, she too appears lost in her thoughts. 

From a social perspective (Punctum) the scene represents poverty, the walls are peeling and the participants in the scene are garbed simply, the women in dark peasants clothes and the man in a simple suit, with no tie and no other possessions of worth. They have little money for a larger wake and now they live in fear and insecurity regarding the future, they are filled with melancholy.  The darkness that Smith created with his lighting permeates the scene, providing both an overcast feeling and one of foreshadow, the future is bleak and unknown. 
Upon examine the scene further for intertextuality, we have to ask ourselves, where are the men, will they come to a different wake? Is the social structure in such a way that men and women cannot mix at a juncture like this? What was the deceased like as a person, was he warm and friendly or was he a harder patriarch of the family guiding from his decisions and choices alone.  

At times when interpreting this image, my mind casts back to the time of my own father’s death and its influence on my own life, watching my family discuss how we would pay for the funeral and how to protect my mother from poverty now that the income to her household had dropped significantly. The feelings that is has brought to mind almost certainly have to be taken into account as I look at the scene. 
The lighting of the image is simple enough and even with the image being monochrome I can still see a Caravaggio influence on the final image, the Chiaroscuro lighting effect used by Smith is very similar to Caravaggio's 1602 painting "The Taking of Christ". Whilst in Caravaggio's painting the balance of the image moves horizontally from right to left, the lighting is the same, it is cast upon a dark background which swallows the light and isolates the faces of the figures that are the main element of the painting. 

In Conclusion, Smith tried and succeeded in his aim. With one simple scene he has shown that life in Spain at that time was hard and uncertain. The inhabitants of the village have been shown to be poor and simple, their lives sustained day to day, while they know little of the life outside the village, they known that the political situation under Franco is unpredictable and uneasy. Smith has quietly done this by the use of light making the image dark and hence our interpretation is darkened in the classical manner. 

During my research I discovered that the image had been altered slightly. Whilst taking this particular image, two of the women, the wife and the daughter were looking across the room towards Smith. Smith in his darkroom darkened their eyes and applied bleach with a fine-tipped brush to create new whites of their eyes, redirecting their gazes downward and to the side. This in turn makes the image more sympathetic to the villagers, making them objects of sympathy, when in truth it turns the image from one of sadness and reflection into one where the photographer has disturbed and interrupted their wake and it moved the image away from documentary photography into something which was staged and makes it harder and darker, akin to the current day media idea of poverty porn. Certainly, when the village was revisited (Banning 1986/2014) the prevalent point of view from the villagers was that Smith had portrayed them as savages and that his final images were hurtful to all involved. 

(1,152 words) 


Altered Images. 2017. Eugene Smith - Spanish Wake. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.alteredimagesbdc.org/eugene-smith-spanish-wake/. [Accessed 11 August 2017]. 

Time/Life. 2013. 'Spanish Village': W. Eugene Smith's Landmark Photo Essay. [ONLINE] Available at: http://time.com/3876243/life-behind-the-picture-w-eugene-smiths-guardia-civil-1950/. [Accessed 11 August 2017]. 

Smith College Museum of Art. 2012. Paper+People W. Eugene Smith’s “Spanish Wake”. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.smith.edu/artmuseum/Collections/Cunningham-Center/Blog-paper-people/W.-Eugene-Smith-s-Spanish-Wake. [Accessed 11 August 2017]. 

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte. 2012. Spanish Wake. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/spanish-wake. [Accessed 11 August 2017]. 

National Gallery of Ireland. 2007. Caravaggio - The Taking of Christ. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.nationalgallery.ie/taking-christ-michelangelo-merisi-da-caravaggio. [Accessed 11 August 2017]. 

Jan Banning. 2014. Eugene Smith’s ‘Spanish Village’ Revisited: the villagers’ struggle with being an icon.. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.janbanning.com/my-writings/eugene-smiths-spanish-village-revisited-the-villagers-struggle-with-being-an-icon/. [Accessed 11 August 2017].