Wednesday, September 23, 2009


The film Repulsion (1965) directed by Roman Polanski contains influences of German expressionism and surrealism. This can be observed in various elements of mise-en-scene. These effects combine to produce a film that provokes a stream of unconscious thoughts in the viewer. To illustrate this I will attempt an analysis of a scene that occurs towards the end of the film, after the main character Carol (Catherine Deneuve) has committed two acts of murder.

The scene begins with Carol writing on a glass pane with a nail. The camera films her from the other side of the glass. She smiles and mouths the words she is writing while the nail squeaks. She stands up and it is revealed that she is standing at the French doors of the living room.

The camera moves behind her as she enters the living room. Music begins. The room appears hugely cavernous. It’s very dark. The only light comes from two windows. It appears to be night time because light shines from the windows in the opposite flats. Thick shafts of light paint horizontal lines along the ceiling and floor.

There is debris on the floor and an upturned couch in the centre of the room. Carol walks toward it and back and then turns around on the spot three times. The camera moves down to shoot her from the floor and the light shade and ceiling rose come into view looking like a two dimensional baroque drawing.

Carol stops and stares out at the hallway, walks back out of the living room to the hall and stands facing the wall. Her blonde hair and pale skin are luminescent. Suddenly there is a clash of cymbals as two pairs of hands seem to burst out through the wall towards her. The wall appears to stretch like a balloon.

Carol jumps in fright and the next shot shows her trying to walk and crawl down the hallway in silhouette while lots of hands reach from both sides grasping at her body, face and hair. The drums and piano play a grim marching tune while the cymbals keep loudly clashing.

This sound continues as the film then cuts to a shot of her lying on her sister’s newspaper covered bed staring up into the camera as it zooms down to a close-up of her face.

There is a cut to the directly opposite angle where the camera has her profile in the right hand side of the shot while it is also aligned with her gaze up to the ceiling. The camera appears to dolly up to the ceiling while keeping her profile in the shot. This conveys the effect of her floating up to the light shade and ceiling rose. The patterns made by the light on the ceiling blur and dissolve.

This scene is shot in a style that is infused with elements of German expressionism. Expressionism began in the nineteenth century and was influenced in Germany by a Nordic view of the world as a dark, depressing place. It also contained ideas of German anthromorphism – that objects took on human traits. (Titford 22) German expressionist cinema began in Germany in the early twentieth century. ( Titford 17) The main characteristics of it were gothic horror narrative, claustrophobic and geometrically distorted sets; extreme contrast of black and white and the use of shadow. German expressionist directors portrayed the city as a hostile, evil place which gave its residents feelings of gloom and entrapment. (Titford 21)

The directors used mise en scene to add depth to the narratives in their films, particularly before the addition of sound in the 1930s. One element of mise en scene used was juxtaposition within the frame. This was created by a defined contrast of light and dark areas. Polanski has incorporated these elements into Repulsion by most importantly filming it in black and white. In this scene Carol’s white skin, hair and costume is contrasted with the dark, poorly lit spaces of the flat. The lighting (and lack of it) is emphasised. This use of light also appears to give the film a painterly effect. In this scene the whole set appears to be two dimensional as line and shape are emphasised in the ceiling roses and light shades, the walls seem to melt and merge and the furniture takes on a cartoon - like appearance.

Another element of mise-en-scene used by German expressionist directors was shadows. German and Scandinavian folktales often included the Dammerung – a world created by twilight in which objects could suddenly spring to life. (Titford 21) The flat with its low lighting and large patches of darkness appears to be a strange reality where the objects inside it and the building itself become eerily alive. Polanski uses a lot of shadow in the rooms and hall as well as the shadows on the ceiling cast by the light shades in the living room and bedroom. This gives a visual effect of shapes merging from the darkness, of the shadows becoming alive.

All the scenes inside the flat were shot in a specially made studio set. ( Butler 75) Polanski said “What I like is an extremely realistic setting in which there is something that does not fit with the real. This is what gives it an atmosphere.”(Butler 179) He had the living room and the bathroom reconstructed on a much larger scale for the later scenes. (Butler 76) This gives the audience the effect of seeing the room from Carol’s personal perspective. It is an attempt to show a character’s subjective reality on film. Representation of the subjective experience as art was one of the primary aims of Expressionism. It is interesting to note that the two rooms that were reconstructed at this point in the movie both contained dead bodies. Polanski could also have been trying to represent the audience’s changed view of the room based upon the knowledge it contains a cadaver. Carl Dreyer, the director of Vampyr (1932) stated

“Imagine that we are in a very ordinary room, and that someone suddenly tells us that a dead body is behind the door. Immediately, the room in which we find ourselves becomes totally transformed; everything in it takes on a different appearance. The light and the atmosphere will seem to change, though they remain physically unaltered. All this will come about because we shall have changed, and objects are what we conceive them to be.”

(qtd. in Titford 20)

Somnambulists, vampires and zombies were frequent characters in German expressionist films. ( Butler Horror in the cinema 19-27) Their purpose served to invert the relationship between human and object. Humans were portrayed as dead (objects) while objects were animated with life through the use of light, shadow and close-up shots. The purpose of these actions was to create a paradox in the mind of the audience that made them see the film (a dead object) as imbued with life. (Titford 20) Carol appears to be almost sleepwalking around the flat. She has very limited expression on her face and doesn’t speak in this scene. She has an extremely attractive doll-like face. She looks like a mannequin.

Conversely the flat (an object) becomes more life-like. Hands are shown reaching out from the walls in the corridor, first as a shocking surprise and then in a shot of Carol walking down the hallway. The hallway appears to become like a person or group of people through the appearance of multiple hands emerging from its walls. This dreamlike image is also reminiscent of surrealism.

Polanski indicated that he was influenced by surrealism in his film making. (Butler 175) Surrealist cinema used the technique of juxtaposition to achieve a reaction of astonishment in the viewer. (Lyon 45) This technique was aimed at jolting the viewer into their unconscious mind which would then blend with the conscious images in the film. (Butler 175) The hands bursting out of the wall is a juxtaposition of two separate realities – hand (human) and wall (object). It is also introduced suddenly to startle the audience. There is also juxtaposition in the contrast of action, Carol calmly walking around the living room before being brutally confronted with the hands in the corridor. Another juxtaposition is of character, the appearance of an extraordinarily beautiful woman as a murderously insane figure.

The image of Carol writing on glass is also a juxtaposition of two opposing realities. Writing is usually done on a texture with opaque qualities like paper. Both the viewer and Carol can’t see what she is writing. This creates an inversion because Carol’s thoughts are the only repository for her text. Another significance of this image is that surrealists also used automatic writing as a method to gain access to their unconscious thoughts. (Ades 21)

The surrealists also used juxtaposition of sound to jolt perception. (Lyon 47) A strange, yet also almost seductive piece of music accompanies Carol while she wanders around the living room. The music is then joined by the loud clashing of cymbals at the introduction of the hands and as she walks down the hallway. This sound provides continuity between shots as it then accompanies her simulated rise towards the ceiling while she is in her bed. This rising effect is also a juxtaposition of space and movement.

In summary the examined scene uses German expressionist and surrealistic elements of mise-en-scene firstly to give depth to the narrative, secondly to make the film come alive and thirdly to produce an effect that jolts the viewer into the unconscious part of their mind. Matters raised that are beyond the scope of this work but would be worth investigation are themes of expressionism and surrealism in Roman Polanski's body of work. Significantly the analysis of this scene highlights its depth of production and meaning. Repulsion is a richly layered work of art and imagination.

Works Cited


Ades, Dawn. “Surrealism as Art.” Surrealism: Revolution by Night .exhibition catalogue.Canberra: National Gallery of Australia.1993.

Butler, Ivan. The cinema of Roman Polanski. New York: A. S. Barnes & co. 1970.

Butler, Ivan. Horror in the cinema. New York: A. S. Barnes & co. 1970.


Lyon, Elizabeth. H. “ Luis Bunuel: The process of dissociation in three films.” Cinema Journal Vol 13 No 1 (Autumn 1973): 45-48.

Titford, John. S. “Object-Subject relationships in German expressionist cinema.” Cinema Journal Vol 13 No 1 (Autumn 1973): 17-24.


Repulsion. Dir. Roman Polanski. Perf. Catherine Deneuve, Yvonne Furneax, John Fraser and Michael Hendry. Compton-Cameo, 1965.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speaking at Cate Kennedy's (pictured left) launch for The World Beneath last Tuesday Shane Howard mentioned the misdirection of funds in the Northern Territory Intervention.

Today I received a notice about a free public lecture on the 5th of October by the Hon. Ron Merkel QC. He will be speaking about the NT Intervention and his experiences of it. I'm going to attend this event.

Friday, September 18, 2009

True Blood

Last night I watched episode four in season two of True Blood. 'True Blood' is a contemporary gothic series created by Alan Ball. Its a comedic, murder - mystery genre set in Bon Temps, Louisiana. The two central characters are a waitress named Sookie Stackhouse played by Anna Paquin and a vampire named Bill Compton played by Stephen Moyer.

John Ellis argues in "Broadcast TV as Cultural Form" (1992) that a TV series consists of connected segments (episodes) that can be viewed with ease at any part of the season. Any newcomer to 'True Blood' would not find it hard to pick up the narrative at any episode.
The characters make lots of statements about their shared history. They also display extremely strong personality traits which helps the viewer to follow plot development. The narrative develops very slowly with not much change between consecutive episodes. Frequent locations are Merlotte's Diner, Sookie's Grandmother's house, Bill's house and Lafayette's house. So each episode is mostly contained within itself.

The only nuclear family theme is heterosexual romance (although the central one is between a human and a vampire). There are hardly ever any children except for extras (background actors). Most of the women have jobs while some of the men don't have jobs, especially the vampires.

There is a juxtaposition of characters in that some of them are human and others are mythological creatures (Vampires, Demons, Shapeshifters). Good and evil characters come from both groups. Analogies can be made between the Fellowship of the Sun and evangelist Christian groups. The interesting aspect to this show is that it takes basic icons for good and evil - religion and vampires and inverts them. Some vampires and shapeshifters are shown displaying acts of mercy, kindness and love while the leader of Fellowship of the Sun is a power-hungry warmonger.

John Ellis, "Broadcast TV as Cultural Form." Visible Fictions: Cinema, Television, Video.Revised ed. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.

Website: Information archive for the HBO tv series. Available at:

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I was hypnotised by this photo on ! (Click on it to see the whole photo) It's a clever use of two extremely well known icons - 'Madonna' and 'the Louis Vuitton bag'. Madonna is known for her ironic use of cultural icons e.g. Madonna - the name of the virgin mother in christian and catholic religion; Marilyn Monroe's blond hair color and wardrobe, and her universally known nickname 'The Material Girl'.

The Louis Vuitton bag is also universally recognised as a material symbol of wealth and feminine glamour.This style of photographic lighting and color blend the two seamlessly into an image that connotes "Hey! Its ok to keep spending because aren't we all material beings in a material world first and foremost?" I think this advertisement could also be aimed at older women with a large disposable income.

She looks absolutely beautiful in this photo shoot for W magazine.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Satine October Dane Concert à Emporter

Satine October Dane Concert à Emporter
Uploaded by lablogotheque. - See the latest featured music videos.

One of my fellow students brought a site named La Blogotheque to my attention. Its made by a frenchman named Vincent Moon and features video of musicians performing in all sorts of unusual locations. The resulting footage has a live energy that is uplifting and charming. I like hearing groups I would not normally be exposed to. This clip is one of my favourites because I like the rooftop view and Satine's voice is mesmerising.

I really like this site and I probably wouldn't have found it myself. I like the way blogging can act as a tour group of the internet. Multiple users can share their experience about a topic and maybe help to eliminate time spent researching it. The great advantage of participating in the Cultureblog is that "social and aesthetic domains can overlap". (Haney 39) This can be very helpful particularly in the study of popular culture through an increased sharing of knowledge and ideas.

Reference: Haney, William. S. II. "Beckett out of his mind: The theatre of the absurd". Studies in the Literary Imagination. Vol 34, Issue 2, 2001. p 39(16)