Saturday, 2 February 2013

Upon closer inspection...

Viola As Twins © Lottie Davies

In my last post I focused on the dominant colour in this image. It reminded me of doing a close-sequence analysis essay (my first one) in film class at uni. The essay became an obsession with me as I watched the 4 minute sequence over & over again in a friends room as I didn't have a video player (yes it was the olden days before everyone owned a mobile - I wasn't even aware of email) to the point where I not only knew every move back to front but also every change in the light, tones & texture on screen. 

Gene Kelly dances with a lamppost in Singin' in the Rain (1952)

The sequence I chose (from a selection I think, bit fuzzy on that) was the title sequence from 'Singin' in the Rain'. Why I picked it I do not know. I can take or leave most of the film but love this sequence a the Cyd Charisse where she wears the green dress - ah that's interesting - with the amazing bobbed hair - I always wanted a Louise Brooks bob, hang on a minute ....this is just getting plain weird. I honestly just realised this there are 2 bob hairdo's Lottie's photograph too! Here is the picture I remember it so clearly. I was 5 years old when I saw this for the fist time & it stuck in my head, this very moment:

Cyd Charisse finds a hat

So back to my CSA essay. I saw around 4 hrs of this 4 minute excerpt which by my calculations made it 60 times. Each time I would focus on a particular element in the scene like the light (it changes throughout), the way in which the camera is used during the song, the points of the song & the way they were highlighted in the camerawork & the dance itself. For example on the last point - when Kelly jumps up onto the lamppost  he's singing ..'I'm laughing at clouds' as if he is raising himself upwards to wards them to make a point & accentuate the line of the song. One thing that really surprised me about this exercise was not only did I discover a hell of a lot about the film & its complexity, I also never tired of the scene even after 60 times I could watch it without squirming & enjoy it as much as I ever did with a greater appreciation for its artistry but never letting the academic stuff cloud my sheer child-like enjoyment of the whole sequence. What does this say about it? Well not only is it a amazing piece of film making but also that it can just be fun too!

Go on let yourself enjoy it!

Why am I saying all this? Well, this is exactly how I feel about Viola As Twins. The more I look at it, the more I see & understand - yet I can still just stand back & say, 'yep, thats a fantastic picture to look at'. A successful image should do both of these things, compositionally it should be spot on. Now let me explain, when I say 'spot on' I mean it, not referring to any particular rules (as they are made to be broken) but whereby everything within it feels right, like it couldn't possibly be anywhere else. For example, you only tend to notice bad curation not good. If a show is curated well it feels right & you barely notice it & focus on the work you are presented with hung in the best way possible within the chosen space. 

So back to Lottie's photograph, what's so special? How do you analyse it? Just say what you see & you can't fail. 

Firstly after the colour the angles jump out at you, lots of triangles & sharp edges in the room, then a few softer shapes, the people, the sofa, the armchair & a lamp shade. They all seem to merge into each other as the leather furniture matches the lower half of the walls - giving the appearance of a block of green. 

Cropped to show the detail 

Even the woman's shoulders are lined up so as not to interrupt the flow of the colour as it shifts from the radiator, to the chair & then to her. The lamp shade is the same colour as the net curtains to blend in seamlessly too. Now you could say, why not go all the way & paint the base the same colour as well - but that would be a step too far & missing the point. In having the colours camoflague in a subtle way through careful staging the strangeness of the scene is heightened without appearing over-done. 

Everything about the Viola As Twins scene is quiet. The woman's lips are closed as her hands knit, as she looks outside. We can imagine the clock's ticking & the light clacking of her knitting needles to be the only rythmic sounds in the room, like mechanical heartbeats. Clouds pass silently overhead in another 'still' photograph. (More about this later)

The famous photograph by Diane Arbus & more recently the girls as adults, still bizarre, why?

The twins are less serene in their appearance, reminding us of the strangeness of twins, in this case with hair of opposing colours, perhaps to signify yin & yang, one unable to exist without the other. They stare blankly ahead as if in another world. To those of us who aren't twins, there is something so 'other' about identical twins that we can barely help but look. To have a double that lives by your side is natural to them but hard to imagine as a 'one off' an individual. In being a twin this is somehow taken away by society in the main, but all the same remains odd to us as our world has been so keen to embrace the power of one. For those of you who may not know a quirky fact, that Arbus' image inspired this filmic moment by Stanley Kubrick in the Shining: 

The Shining The Grady twins match but not quite.. 

These twins, unlike Arbus' girls hold one anthers hand, connecting as one unit facing their subject without fear. We try to 'spot the difference' in our need to see individuals.  Here, the angles & forced perspective add a compressing element to the scene to induce a claustrophobia despite the pretty dresses with their pink bows & flowery wallpaper. Again the neatness is unnerving, yet riveting. 

Not the best quality photo but you get the idea

According to the internet this is them now, if you can confirm either way if one or both is true please do!

Ok I realise you may as well see them now! The fringe does a lot to distinguish them apart in the top one, but you get the gist. However becoming an iconic image is not just about twins, it's about much more than that. How does the image make you feel? Does it trigger underlying thoughts, fears, fantasy? More importantly, doses it stick in your head once you have seen it? 

Date night at Tesco's? No it's The Stepford Wives in 1975!

The creepy classic, The Stepford Wives (1975 one, I shall ignore the new one, it's rubbish) showed us how perfection was not only odd but inhuman. We are not naturally neat, but messy beings trying hard to heated our lives to the point of oblivion, trying so hard to be different we seem more the same. None is more true than will the middle classes whose priority lies in status, namely home & keeping up with the Jones'. Just as Stanley Donen & Gene Kelly had done in Singin' In The Rain with their use of colours going from pastel to primary in as Kelly becomes more child-like in the title sequence, the use of colour alters everything in Stepford Wives with clothing radiating both purity & perfection with desire & fantasy. When gathered together on set in the supermarket aisle, we can see how well they match their surrounding, blending in perfectly to create an appearance of harmony within their domesticated lives. 

 'Domesticity' crop

Again, when you isolate certain areas the devil is in the details. A dolls house replicates a miniature version of life, a fictional version of of a house, but understood as a way to enact (or play-act) a perceived reality rather than a truthful rendering of life as we know it. This fantasy of 'happy families' persists in our culture even today, the preferred language of the media, politics & perhaps ourselves to imagine perfection as a child would.  

The rug displays another illustrated version here, with chimney pots & birds in the sky above. A pretty scene. Or am I just imagining this?


Then there are the verticals, punctuating the horizontal blocks with there stick-like shapes. Legs, chimneys & the lamp. 'Mother' in the scene has bare legs, whilst her children have matching green tights. This does two things, firstly it makes the adult's legs stand out more, thus separating her further from the pair who become one unit. 2 balls of wool connect the woman to her knitting like an umbilical cord yet to be severed. Their feet are all in black shoes, connecting to the ground, the twins  legs appear to be cut off at the ankle albeit in a nice neat line...


Finally, the photograph on the wall. Why does it look so odd? As the clouds get further away we are drawn towards them, taking us deep into the picture within a picture. Then suddenly we are acutely aware that this photograph somehow doesn't fit. Why? Simple, the scene is a period one with costumes & decor in a period where the only photographs on the walls would have been family portraits, not 'art' photographs. Lottie shows us another possible reality were photography given its recognition as a fine art genre earlier. The picture's  mediative nature is heightened as the only real glimpse of the outside world within the room. No plant or view through the window would give rise to an acknowledgement of the outside world - so the frame acts as a window to this world. Using clouds can also provide a more metaphorical analogy of the thoughts we cannot see, another representation of outward appearances of perfection. Cartoons lit ally use a cloud shape to place imaginings within. In Lotties photograph we have to imagine what could be inside the thought bubble for ourselves.

This photograph is a place that has come from the mind of one woman, who in her infinite wisdom has managed to pull off another classic image to add to the canon. I do not know whether this is a memory or a nightmare as the series titles suggests, perhaps it is one or the other or even both. I think the moral of this story is you have to be the judge of that.