06 September 2010

Art of the dissolve

Glenn Kenny's blog, Some Came Running, discusses dissolves.
Some readers were moved to cite their own favorite dissolves. A particularly persuasive citation, drawn from Orson Welles' 1941 Citizen Kane, by commenter Charles Hartney:"The scene in question occurs during Kane's first encounter with Susan Alexander, when she provides him hot water and he the necessary comic relief to alleviate her toothache. He starts to question her about her age, her occupation, what she wanted to be when she was little - "A singer," she responds sheepishly - and then asks that she sing for him in the parlor.
Susan begins to sing as Kane regards her approvingly, though her voice is tinny and her piano-playing unintentionally dissonant. It is here where Welles inserts a dissolve, and the resulting scene is very familiar: Susan at the piano, singing the same song, and Kane rapt with attention. But the scenery is changed: we are no longer in Susan's claustrophobic parlor, but in a more refined, capacious environment. Susan has changed as well: her dress is more elegant, her piano playing and singing smoother, more melodic, confident.
These elements suggest a number of narrative developments: a significant passage of time; that Susan has been given the freedom (see: money) to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a singer; and not only the continuation but the deepening of the relationship between Susan and Charles - he has obviously moved her into more luxurious surroundings.
Watching Kane for the I-don't-know-how-many-th time, it struck me what a formal marvel this transition was. To communicate so much with so little...astonishing."
Here are screen captures of the, let's say two-and-a-half shots in question:

"I also remember some very striking use of dissolves in SHANE [1953], in particular a sequence with Jack Palance crossing a barroom as he fades from the background into the foreground. It's a great touch which gives him and the sequence a suitable sense of menace..."
"...if I'm not mistaken Scorsese appropriated it for a similar effect in TAXI DRIVER [1976]..."

And there's Hitchcock:

There's quite a bit that's extraordinary here; first off, the rather staggering notion that Hitchcock is taking the idea of an answered prayer at 100 percent face value and absolutely unironically depicting one. And that's not the only reason that the word "Bressonian" springs to mind when considering this sequence; there's the lean, impassive face of actor Richard Robbins as the actual right man, that is, the guilty party of whose crimes Fonda's character has been unjustly accused. It's a very Bressonian face, at the same time as being rather absolutely American. I also like how Fonda's and Robbin's right eyes (left side of the frame) line up pretty much exactly at one point during the dissolved; boy, is that a purposefully locked-down camera(s), or what? In Hitchcock/Truffaut, the auteur under examination requests that Man be filed among "the indifferent Hitchcocks," and Truffaut protests, "I hoped you might defend the picture." It's easy to understand why. The quasi-documentary feel combined with a high level of very intelligent stylization, the psychological acuity and the unstinting perspective on the story's valleys of emotional bleakness—all these became signal features of Truffaut's The 400 Blows, and quite a few other movies of the French New Wave.

From Glenn Kennys' Some Came Running
Part One
Part Two

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