Tuesday, 1 April 2014

S4 - Montmorency - Creative Writing


Describe the setting.

Eastside House was a two-storey tenement in the Deptford. Its windows were smashed, its bricks were cracked and crumbling. The planks of wood across its upper floor were rotting and mouldy. Across the roof, tiles slipped away but were never replaced. Its entrance, a dark, unwelcoming double door, was held up by two thick wooden beams. Inside, the seven rooms housed sixteen souls, each with their own story to tell. Some were London born and bred, others came from Devon, Kent, Norfolk or further. Each was seeking a better life, but had to begin in this grimy, run-down hostel.

Friday, 21 March 2014

The Godfather – Closing Sequence


The sequence begins with Connie bursting into the don’s office. This is the same place the film began, but now we see Michael in the Don’s chair. He is at ease in the position, signified by the cigar he is smoking.

Connie calls him a “lousy bastard” for having her husband, Carlo, killed. While Connie cries hysterically, the camera remains statically on Michael. He is the focus of the audience, and his absence of emotion shows that he is in control. Kay and Connie remained blurred in the foreground of the shot, reminding us that their role as women is peripheral.

Eventually, Michael attempts to embrace his sister but she breaks away crying again. The code of the family is such that it has led to Carlo’s death (he betrayed the family) and the conflict in the scene comes from Connie trying to integrate the mafia life with her personal life. This echoes a previous scene when the family are eating and they make it clear to Carlo that family and business should not mix. In this case, the mix has led to a rupture in the family and Connie struggles to reconcile the two codes she must live by.

When Connie exits, we cut to a close-up on Kay, and her anxiety is written clearly in her expression. Michael, uncomfortable in her piercing gaze, turns away from her and walks around his desk. We get a sense that he is calculating what to say to her. When the camera cuts back to her, her gaze is still fixed and unblinking. She is demanding an answer from him.

Michael dismisses Connie’s outburst, saying, “She’s hysterical.” He lights a cigarette, possibly showing discomfort or ease – this is an ambiguous gesture. Again, he says quietly, “hysterical” and gestures with his hands as if to say, “she’s out of control”. These gestures, and his calm manner, are used to emphasise that he is being reasonable, especially in contrast to his sister’s behaviour. However, it is clear that he is struggling to meet Kay’s eyes. The scene is a final barrier for Michael to break down. He has committed to the mafia completely, but he obviously still feels guilt towards the betrayal of his wife, and his earlier promise that “That’s my family, Kay. It’s not me.”

Throughout, the camera follows Michael as he uncomfortably paces, always keeping Kay blurred in the foreground. After a pause, she asks him, “Michael, is it true?”

He avoids the question by telling her, “Don’t ask me about my business, Kay.” This is another euphemism. Rather than admit the truth, he tries to prevent Kay from asking about it. This is because he does not want to lie, and he cannot answer her question acceptably to her without lying. However, she persists, asking again, “Is it true?” He repeats, “Don’t ask me about my business.” This time, he emphasises the point by pointing his finger at her. She refuses again, saying “No.” At this point, Michael snaps and shouts, “Enough!” As he does so, he slaps the desk and the diegetic sound creates a huge shock to the audience as his surface of calm is broken. As with previous scenes, the shock of the noise comes from the relative quiet of the rest of the scene. There is no music, and all we have heard so far has been Michael’s quiet voice, and Kay’s questions.

At this point, Michael’s face is contorted in anger at his wife, while hers is visibly shaken. She is having to face up to the reality that her husband is a murderer and clearly struggling to accept it.

However, Michael relents and says, “This one time.” Just prior to this, he sighs heavily, twice, signifying that he is coming to a decision himself. Kay still has not removed her gaze from him. She hesitates before asking, “Is it true?” The camera cuts between them twice, emphasising the pause in dialogue and creating tension as the audience waits to see if he will confess to her. Finally, he shakes his head and says, “No.” Relieved, she smiles and embraces him. At this point, the music re-enters the scene with the prelude to the Godfather scene. This indicates that Michael is now behaving in a manner befitting a Godfather – he has now crossed the final obstacle, and has turned his back on his wife to accept the life of the mafia Don. His transformation from All-American hero to mafia villain is complete.

Finally, we cut away from the intimacy of the close-up, over-the-shoulder shot which has framed the scene, and we are present with the two in mid-shot, from the side. Suddenly the audience is drawn out of the tension, and Kay demonstrates this puncture in the tension of the scene when she says, “I guess we both need a drink, huh?” She then breaks the embrace and leaves the office. We cut to a shot from the point of view of the ante-room, again with Kay blurred in the foreground and an emphasis on the focused shot of Michael in the office.  As she prepares a drink for herself and Michael, several of Michael’s associates enter the office. They shake his hand and embrace him as the Godfather, finally kissing his hand. Finally, for the first time, Michael is addressed as “Don Corleone”, bestowing the title of his father on him. As a second man kisses his hand, a third moves towards Kay and closes the door. This symbolically demonstrates the way Kay is being closed off and separated from the mafia world in which Michael now operates. We see a close up of her face as she turns to see the door close and again it is etched with fear. The shadow of the door cuts across her face and leaves the screen in blackness as the Godfather theme enters.

This scene is vital in showing the final stages of Michael’s transformation, but also of showing how Kay cannot reach her husband, and that she will always be a separate part of his life. Michael is determined to keep business and family separate, and this is conveyed in the camera shots, editing, music and use of lighting in this final scene.

The Godfather - The Baptism/ Execution scene

This scene is complex because it shows the equal strength of two opposing codes. On the one hand, the family is committed to Catholicism, and this is shown in the grand pageantry of the baptism of Connie and Carlo’s son. On the other hand, simultaneously (and shown through alternating editing) the family is showing its strength by murdering five powerful rival mafia figures. While there are contrasts between the Catholic faith and mafia life, Coppola seems to be showing similarities, too.
At the end of the previous scene, Michael tells Tom that he is going to “be godfather to Connie’s baby. And then I’ll meet with Don Barzini and Tattaglia… all the heads of the five families.” It seems possible that Michael is using euphemism here, as he proceeds to execute the other Dons.
The baptism begins with a wide establishing shot, showing the vastness of the cathedral in which the baby is being baptised. The scene is full of Catholic symbols and insignia, notably a tall statue of the Virgin Mary (symbolising family love, but also suffering). The diegetic sound blurs with the non-diegetic as we hear a pipe-organ being played as the priest conducts the ceremony. The child cries sporadically through the scene, suggesting a schism in the morality of the scene – the violence of the mafia should not coexist with the Catholic faith.
The priest conducts the ceremony in Latin, reflecting the Roman/Italian origins of the faith, which are also the origins of the family. In this setting, Michael appears to be a worthy, almost holy, character. He is presenting his public persona. While the priests recites the ritual, the scene cuts first to an assassin assembling a gun by an open window (which would echo in the American consciousness only nine years after the assassination of JFK, a symbol of hope cut down by dark forces), then to a second assassin preparing to drive to his target, carrying a suspiciously large cardboard box.
When the editors cut back, the child is being blessed as Michael watches on. His face shows no emotion, and it is hard to tell if he is in reverence of the Catholic ceremony he is taking part in, or if his mind is on the murders he has ordered.
The scene then cuts to one of the other hit men being prepared for a shave in a barber’s shop. This reveals the ambivalent, uncaring attitude the men have towards the act of killing – to them it is simply a job. We next see another assassin unpacking a coat. Cutting back to the baptism, the child is now blessed with holy water. It seems to the audience that this is discordance – the sacred mixing with the profane.
The next cut is to a close-up on a paper bag being emptied onto a bed. From it falls a pistol, bullets and a police badge. This small mise-en-scene reveals clearly how one of the murders will be carried out – by a man posing as a policeman. This is a clear example of foreshadowing. The next cut takes the audience to the second assassin with the cardboard box, ascending a spiral staircase.
The baptism continues in full regalia, and Michael shows no sign of emotion. He is asked directly, “Michael, do you believe in God almighty, the creator of heaven and earth?” The music pauses briefly as he answers “I do.” This is grotesque hypocrisy. I claims to have faith in God, but is breaking the most serious of the Ten Commandments. This reveals the capacity of those in the Family to balance two complete codes of behaviour and keep them separate. Conflict arises in the Family only when codes of behaviour clash with one another. The code of the family most often clashes with the accepted codes of behaviour in American law. In this setting, Michael is able to say he believes in God because it does not at that moment clash with his other code.
He is next asked, “Do you believe in Jesus Christ, His only son, our Lord?” Again, he replies, “I do.” As he answers, we see Barzini arriving for the pre-arranged meeting. This is an interesting juxtaposition of image and audio. Michael proclaims his Christianity while we see his murder victim walking to his death.
Michael is then asked, “Do you believe in the Holy Ghost and the Holy Catholic Church?” As he gain answers “I do”, the editors cut to the fake police officer moving on an awkward driver who would otherwise witness the murder. The cut next goes to the assassin with the cardboard box, still climbing stairs, indicating that the assassination will be carried out from a great height. This is reinforced by the assassin’s shortness of breath as he climbs.
The editing takes us next to the sniper’s nest where two assassins pick up their guns, then to the barber shop as the target leaves.  Throughout this, in voice-over, we hear the priest continue his sacred rite. The clash of the two codes is patently obvious to the audience.
Next, we see Barzini in a mid-shot walking down the steps of a large building to get into his car, the same car which had previously been asked to move on by the fake policeman. He taps his associate’s chest and his face shows that he knows something is wrong. He points to the car, where the policeman is now issuing a parking ticket to his driver. There is a sense of amusement at this, because Barzini is accustomed to avoiding such petty aspects of the law. The final target we see is Moe Green, who is receiving a massage.
At this point, we cut to a shot of Michael’s face as he is asked the direct question, “Do you renounce Satan?”
This is the trigger for the assassinations to be carried out. The first target is shot in a lift. We cut to Michael: “I do renounce him.” Cut to Moe Green, who is shot in the eye while he lies on the massage table. “And all his works?” Cut to the next victim being jammed into a revolving door before being repeatedly shot, and killed. Cut to Michael: “I do renounce them.” Two assassins burst in on their target and his lover and machine gun them both to death. Priest: “And all his…” Michael: “I do renounce them.” Cut to the parking ticket being issued, where the policeman shoots Barzini as he attempts to escape. His dead body rolls down the steps. (This echoes famous stairway sequences in “Battleship Potemkin” and, later, “The Untouchables”.)
When the film cuts back to the cathedral, the priest asks, “Michael Rizzi, will you be baptised?” He replies, “I will.” Michael is now taken into the body of the church; he has been accepted. This mirrors the way he has been accepted to the head of the family. As the priest concludes the ceremony, and Michael has now assumed the role of Godfather both literally and figuratively, we are shown the new-born child, a new innocent life, and it is contrasted with cuts to the various bodies of the people Michael has executed.
The priest finishes, “Michael Rizzi… Go in peace and may the lord be with you.” This is a clear irony as the assassinations will inevitably lead to reprisals and more violence. The baptism indicates the birth of a new head of the family, and also of a new era of violence between the families.

The Godfather - The Restaurant Scene (murder of Solozzo and McCluskey)


·         This scene is important as it shows Michael’s commitment to the family. He commits his first murders using a gun which has been planted in the bathroom of the restaurant they are dining in.

·         The scene takes place in a restaurant called “Louis Italian American Restaurant”. This is an authentic location for the scene and adds realism. Fundamentally, it is very believable. The scene takes place at night, immediately adding to the ominous tone. This is reinforced by the relentless beat of the music.

·         The three men sit around the table and are presented through over-the-shoulder shots. This creates a sense of the audience simply watching as an outsider. Michael’s face is intense and clearly suspicious of the men he is talking to. His face is cast down, and he looks up at S and M as though he is sizing them up.

·         Initial conversation is small-talk, about the quality of the restaurant. The facial expressions of Solozzo and Michael reveal that they clearly want to get business done and any small-talk is an unwelcome distraction. Importantly, McCluskey seems oblivious to the danger throughout the scene. He is an outsider because he is Irish, he represents the law, and he does not speak Italian.

·         It is interesting that as the wine is poured, there is no speech, reflecting the discomfort of the participants, but Solozzo’s and Michael’s eyes are darting, quickly moving, trying to evaluate the situation.

·         When Solozzo and Michael engage in Italian conversation, they hunch themselves forwards, as though they are protecting a secret. The body language indicates the secrecy of the content of their discussion.

·         The conversation is conducted in Italian, but is dotted with English words to illustrate the mixing cultures. Michael is not yet fluent in the language and often has to pause to clarify what he means. This emphasises that he is a second generation immigrant, different to Vito, and one who is not entirely absorbed by the mafia culture. This later changes, of course, when he is exiled to Sicily and he becomes an “authentic” Sicilian, fluent in the language of his father’s country. (“He uses the phrase, “Como se dice?” which means, “How do you say?”) Throughout, McCluskey ignores the two and stuffs his face.

·         A long shot of the restaurant establishes how empty it is. This again indicates the secret nature of the meeting.

·         Michael demands, in English, that there be no more attempts to assassinate his father, but Solozzo cannot offer this reassurance. From this point, Solozzo is dead as that was the most basic demand Michael needed to be met. When Solozzo asks for a truce Michael excuses himself to the bathroom. The air of suspicion is reinforced as Solozzo searches Michael for a second time on his way out.

·         The diegetic sound is turned up as Michael departs. We hear his footsteps echoing on the tiled floor, and for the first time we hear the elevated train running outside the restaurant. This is a key sound motif which shows the growing tension of the scene.

·         In the bathroom, the noise of the train is increased again, as Michael searches for the hidden gun, placed there by Sonny earlier in the day.

·         The editing at this point cuts back to Solozzo and McCluskey, providing a contrast to the anxiety of Michael’s search. However, the longer he is away, the more suspicious the men in the restaurant become, and this is shown in McCluskey repeatedly looking towards the bathroom.

·         As Michael prepares to leave the bathroom, the elevated train sound is reintroduced and is now louder than before, dominating the scene. Michael smooths his hair in order to appear relaxed, and this in itself reveals that he is nervous about committing the murders.

·         When he emerges, we have a long over-the-shoulder shot which is intended to show Solozzo and McCluskey from Michael’s point of view. The audience at this point is not merely an external viewer; they have a first person perspective on the scene. As Solozzo speaks to Michael in Italian, the camera slowly zooms in on his face, showing his anxiety. The audience is now aware of the fact that Michael knows he is about to cross a boundary, and that there is no coming back from the actions he is about to commit. As the camera draws in on his nervous face, the elevated train noise comes in at its loudest, indicating the turmoil in Michael’s head, and the forceful actions about to occur.

·         When the pitch of the elevated train reaches its height, it appears that something snaps for Michael. He stands and shoots Solozzo in the head. The special effects show the blood spray out behind him, and the murder is sudden, highlighting the unglamorous, realistic portrayal of events. McCluskey is slow to react and the edit cuts to a mid-shot framing McCluskey and Michael. A second shot is fired into McCluskey’s throat and the horror of the murder comes through in the diegetic sound, as we hear McCluskey gurgle his own blood. A final shot is fired into McCluskey’s head, killing him. The relative quiet of the scene, now the train has passed, highlights the diegetic gunshot sounds, giving them dramatic power.

·         The realism of the scene is additionally shown in the clumsy way McCluskey’s body falls forwards, tipping the table over. Again, there is nothing glamorous or choreographed about the murders. They are shown in all their crass brutality, and this makes it hard for an audience to sympathise with Michael. He has gone from hero to anti-hero.

·         The camera cuts to a mid-shot as Michael briskly leaves, dropping the gun as he has been told to. The silence of the restaurant maintains the tension right until he exits.

The Godfather – The Hospital Scene


·         The scene begins with Michael in long-shot, approaching the shadow-darkened doorway of the hospital. The dark shades create an ominous tone for the scene. The music is discordant, immediately making the viewer uncomfortable.

·         When Michael enters, he finds the hospital deserted. The discordant strings alert the viewer that this is not as things should be. As he looks around the hospital, the diegetic sounds echo in the corridors, emphasising how empty the building is. The emptiness is further emphasised by the scratched record playing in one of the rooms, which nobody is around to correct. The mise en scene of the half-eaten sandwich and still-full coffee cup in the reception area show that whoever left the hospital did so in a hurry.

·         As Michael moves around the hospital, the regularly-placed lights cast him in light, then shadow. This repeats throughout the scene, symbolically denoting that he is in turmoil between the light of “legitimate” life, and the darkness of the family.

·         There is a minor anti-climax when Michael enters his father’s room and a character suddenly intrudes. The character is, however, only a nurse – but the shock she creates demonstrates the tension the audience is feeling. We are anticipating violence.

·         The nurse represents normality in the situation, and is trying to do her job. She protests when Michael wishes to move his father’s bed, to protect him from the coming assassins. However, Michael speaks deliberately and slowly to her to emphasise the danger his father is in.

·         “Do you know my father? Men are coming here to kill him. You understand? Now help me, please.” His language is direct and certain, showing Michael’s authority.

·         When the bed is moved, all non-diegetic sound is removed and we are left only with the squeaking and rattling of the gurney as it is shifted through the echoing hospital corridors. The silence creates a sense of anticipation, ratcheting up the tension for the viewer.

·         As the bed is manoeuvred out of the corridor, a door echoes from downstairs and footsteps are heard. The tension is created both from the urgency of the situation and the absence of sound. The audience is left to focus only on the bed. We know somebody is coming.

·         The figure that arrives is viewed almost entirely in silhouette, obscuring his identity, casting him in darkness and giving him a sinister appearance. The costume fits that of a gangster, the hat and long coat suggesting we are seeing one of the assassins.

·         When we finally see the visitor from the front we are presented with the face of an Italian-American and he is carrying a bunch of flowers. The viewer is now unsure of whether the character is an assassin or someone else.

·         Michael confronts the man and we learn it is Enzo, the baker who Don Corleone arranged to remain in America despite his not having the correct immigration papers. Again, we face an anti-climax. The exchange with Michael occurs with no non-diegetic sound, so the sense of anticipation, and fear, does not drop.

·         Michael directs Enzo outside to keep watch, before returning to his father.

·         In his father’s new room, Michael, cast in the shadow, reassures his now woken father: “Lie here, pop. I’ll take care of you.” Once again, we are seeing the authority of the character as Michael takes the role of protector. His head bowed (a position of reverence and respect in Catholic and Sicilian culture), Michael says to Vito, “I’m with you now”. It is symbolically significant that Michael says this line while his face is in shadow, suggesting that he has given in and now sides with the dark forces of the family. He rests his hand on his father’s head, affectionately, almost reversing the father-son bond, and assuming a paternal role. His father smiles thinly, conveying his approval.

·         It is at this point that non-diegetic sound is reintroduced in the form of the orchestra, confirming to the viewer that a decision has been made, and that Michael has indeed chosen the mafia life. This is confirmed when Michael, as in the protocols of the culture, kisses his father’s hand, pledging himself to him.

·         When he exits to meet Enzo, Michael’s entire person is cast in shadow, symbolising the way he has chosen the forces of the mafia darkness over the legitimate light.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Montmorency - Creative Writing

Note the difference between showing and teling.

Montmorency was standing outside a posh hotel.

Stood in a black suit and top hat, a tall man paused outside the building. People dressed in evening wear and ball-gowns passed in and out of the heavy, grand doors. Beside the doors, two pillars stood, towering over the man. From the doors, a plush red carpet cascaded down the steps. The doorway was lit up by two gaslights. An elegantly dressed doorman tipped his hat to the man and said, “Good evening, sir,” as he held the doors open.


And here's a Victorian menu, for those of you who need it.