Ways In Which The Film Vampyr Works Against The Coherence (Movie Review Sample)
Demonstrate the various ways in which the film Vampyr works against the coherence and continuity prized by classical cinema.
It's not compulsory to use all the sources from the list. Any additional sources could be used as well
Bordwell, David (1981) Vampyr, The Films of Carl-Theodor Dreyer. Berkeley: University of California Press, 93-117.
Bronfen, Elisabeth (2006) â€˜Speaking with Eyes: Tod Brownings Dracula and its Phantom Camera, in Herzogenrath, Bernd (ed.) The Films of Tod Browning, London: Black Dog, 151-171.
Burch, N (1980) â Carl Theodor Dreyer: The Major Phase in Roud, Richard (ed.) Cinema: A Critical Dictionary. London: Secker & Warburg, 297-310.
Carroll, N (1998) Notes on Dreyer's Vampyr, Interpreting the Moving Image, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 105-117.
Rosenbaum, Jonathan (1976) VampyR, Monthly Film Bulletin 511, August, 180. Rudkin, David (2005) Vampyr. London: BFI.
Wood, Robin (1974) On Carl Dreyer Film Comment 10:2, 10-17.
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Demonstrate the various ways in which the film Vampyr works against the coherence and continuity prized by classical cinema
Vampyr, released in 1932, and produced and directed by the celebrated filmmaker Carl-Theodor Dreyer, is considered to be one of the best horror films of all time. Not the preferred staple for all film fans, it is loved and hated in near-equal measures, with some lauding it as an innovative masterpiece ahead of its time while others criticize it as a confusing experiment gone wrong. The film revolves around Allan Grey who has an obsession with the occult and is seeking evidence of the supernatural. He ultimately discovers what he's been looking for in a nearly deserted small town where his wanderings through the town lead him to an encounter with a ‘vampyr’ and terrors of various kinds (Nash).
Upon its release, the reception of the film was, to a large extent, very negative and it was booed and heckled down by audiences when it first came out. However, despite this reaction, the film was undoubtedly ahead of its time considering it was filmed in the early 1930’s. It has a surprisingly high number of amazing special effects, impressive visuals, and very complex shots. There are several glimpses of genius within the film especially with regard to the complex shots that were simply non-existent in this era since, at the time, the mere act of creating a film was considered to be a big deal for most filmmakers (Milne).
Despite these strengths, the film is plagued with several instances of coherence errors and instances of discontinuity. The following discussion will determine what coherence and continuity means with respect to classical cinema and thereafter analyzes the various ways in which the film goes against classical coherence and continuity, providing specific examples of the same from Vampyr for a comprehensive critique of this most controversial classical horror film.
Coherence and Continuity in Classical Cinema
According to Berliner and Cohen (56), coherence in cinematic terms is referred to as ‘spatial and physical connectedness in films.’ Continuity, on the other hand, refers to the illusion allowed by the human brain's capacity to join together fragmented images when the images in question follow particular logical principles and patterns (Berliner and Cohen 46). The sequence of images created by classical editing is similar to those viewed in daily life in the sense that both types are non-continuous (images are perceived in a fragmented manner), both are characterized by similar patterning (the image patterns of classical film are similar to those that human beings usually experience in their everyday experience), and both abide by similar logic (the sequence of images in both cinema and everyday life follow similar principles). Due to these similarities, the same perceptual systems that produce continuity in human perception similarly produce the same type of continuity in classical cinema.
When arranged according to the principles of classical continuity editing, the result is a film sequence of cognitive processes that produce a coherent form of on-screen space. The perceptual processes that produce spatial coherence within the viewers of classical films are the very same processes that create coherence in perceivers in the real world (Berliner and Cohen 46).
In short, continuity and coherence in film is whereby there is a sense of seamless and effortless flow between time and space with regard to shifts in scenes and cuts. The goal of classical cinema was to produce the ‘highest form of spatial clarity’ (Berliner and Cohen 59). Continuity editing is used to realize this goal, smoothing the discontinuity that is characteristic of the editing process and creating coherence in between shots. In a majority of films, coherence is realized by cutting to continuity with the focus being on the need for the smooth transition of space and time.
The Various Ways in Which Vampyr Works against the Coherence and Continuity Valued by Classical Cinema
At the time of the release of Vampyr, most filmmakers had just discovered the process of staging scenes and creating continuity. It was a very important new device in the film industry. Dreyer, however, was very experimental and daring, going against the grain particularly in Vampyr which was characterized by continuity and coherence errors.
Continuity errors are generally mainly seen with respect to editing, visual or plot errors and Vampyr is plagued by all these three. Indeed, Vampyr contravenes the principle of spatial coherence in various ways. It relies very heavily upon the device of the ‘absent cause’ which substantially weakens the narrative logic's ability to hold the film together (Bordwell 62). The camerawork employed results in an uncertain and visually inconsistent space.
There are several breaches of classical continuity editing in the film at a time when Dryer’s peers were placing emphasis on the power that camera movement has in orienting viewers and unifying the scenographic space. Vampyr instead uses the power of the camera to disorient the viewer and create disunity by completely controlling the off-screen space (Bordwell).
Editing errors are replete in the Vampyr, leading to do unsettling discontinuity. The editing in the film causes a major disruption in the spatio-temporal continuum. The film relies on a crosscutting that continuously fragments the narrative continuity. The crosscutting liberates the spatio-temporal relations, resulting in a film that is more perceptually unclear. From the onset, it juxtaposes spaces whose specific relationship has not been explained or alluded to: Allan’s arrival at the inn is interrupted by cutaways to the elderly man with the scythe, while his wanderings are juxtaposed with repeated shots of the crooked angel that surmounts the inn (Bordwell 98). This causes inconsistency, incoherence and discontinuity.
Furthermore, the cinematography while impressive for the 1930’s shows irregular continuity and odd angles which creates a level of distortion in Vampyr. The camera prevents the viewer from getting a sense of direction leading to a feeling of being lost. This adds a sense of isolation to the already muddled film. Every interior in the film feels like a warped maze due to this. There is only one scene where all angles match up and the camerawork employed is more classical and this is the sequence where Allan is closed inside the coffin and is carried away (Deviant Art).
There is an incoherent mass of images throughout the film and this makes watching Vampyr a tiresome and confusing experience. During the scene where Allan gets the package from the victim’s father, the shots are illogical. The entry of the doctor is characterized by a series of confusing shots of the rooms and corridors. The old woman, who we later discover is the vampire (operating together with the doctor and the peg-legged man to kill the lady who we later find out is the vampire’s victim) gives the doctor a bottle of poison. There are so many different images which do not make sense and are not explained (Crawford).
With respect to the narrative employed in Vampyr, it is markedly incoherent. According to Bordwell, the narrative of the film is structurally based on “absent cause,” “contradictory spaces,” and “narrative” (98). While innovative for its time, the implementation of this concept largely failed, leading to a lack of coherence in the film’s plot. If executed properly, it would have easily been a brilliant masterpiece. Instead, it is difficult to watch and hard to understand even decades later. An example of absent cause starts early on in the film when the main character, Allan Gray, takes a room at a small hotel. He is soon visited by the father of the vampire’s victim and the father gives him a package which Allan is to open upon the father’s death. The reason behind the father’s visit is not explained or inferred in any way, representing a case of absent cause. In the next scene, Allan is led to the house of the doctor by shadows which have no sources. There is a marked absence in the logical cause and effect pattern of this scene. Additionally, the cinematic shots are founded on “contradictory spaces” i.e. what is seen in the frame is contrary to what is seen outside the frame. This device is evidenced throughout most of the film and causes confusion with regard to the plot (Crawford).
Further to that, the minimum (often vague and even incoherent) dialogue causes a sense of confusion and dislocation. The film's plot is very thin and plain and it does not have a tangible plot to follow apart from the fact that the storyline is loosely arranged around Allan’s attempt to combat vampirism in a small town. The lack of plot affects the structure of the film which in turn compromises the viewing and comprehension qualities of the film. The plot line is confusing and far from straightforward to the extent that the film is largely unexplainable and often does not make sense. Admittedly, it is notable that the creator strived to break the rules of conventional film storytelling by showing us abstract symbolism of these scenes. However, it seems that the creator expected the viewer to create or interpret the story according to individual perceptions of the visuals in the film. As a result, what is understood of the film in reality is up to each individual viewer (Deviant Art).
There was also a lack of coherence and continuity with respect to the sound in the film. It was shot using silent cameras and then the audio was later added using experimental sound equipme...
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