Take Seven: Object Lessons
Literally attaching a prop to a character’s hand implies a directorial desire to micromanage the appearance and movement of his actors, yet Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums offers a rich example of how Anderson’s control-freak aesthetic paradoxically works best when inhabited by strong, idiosyncratic performers.
Le Samouraï presents us not for the first time with a fully interiorized, “locked-in” Melville protagonist, but one whose loneliness and single-mindedness are mechanized and supercharged. This object explicitly demonstrates his corresponding ability to unlock, infiltrate, and destroy the lives of others.
Legally Blonde teaches women not to derive power through the social mobility of marrying an old-moneyed white man. It teaches them to be self-sufficient as long as their conventional, “fun” femininity remains untouched by the realm of a more serious radical feminism.
Cover Girl, by Brooklyn-based artist Sara Cwynar, is a shimmering assemblage of images and items, images of items, objects, colors, and shapes, accompanied by a loquacious yet lethargic voiceover that intones indolently on and on until it becomes something like white noise.
A simple prop cup, chosen by someone on the creative team for use in a commercial film production, communicates a highly specific vision of Christ and Christianity entire to its audience: modest and humble, unostentatious and definitely working class.
The carpets, which often line the floors and walls of the sets, both framing and filling Parajanov’s consistently delightful tableaus, present a vision of the poet’s world as something thought up by human imagination and crafted by human hands.
Stasis, represented through this motionless object, allows us to make sense of the contradictions and the inevitability of change in this family. Where Noriko’s world is increasingly riddled with cracks, the vase is sturdy and whole; where her future is in a motion she cannot control, the vase is comfortably still.
Most memorable and haunting in my mind is the ceiling fan that hangs above the main staircase of the Palmer house. This deceptively ordinary fixture conjures true evil and subtly describes the tortured physics at work within the world of Twin Peaks.
The Home and the World is focused on the efforts of two men with very different ideas about resisting colonialism and religious bigotry, but by opening the film with the town of Sukhsayar already in flames, Ray tells us in advance that their efforts are all in vain.
Among Mario Monicelli’s greatest gifts as a director was the expressiveness, specificity, and stubborn physicality of the worlds he creates. This textured, tactile realism is potent in The Organizer (1963), his epic tragicomedy about the nascent labor movement in late 19th-century Turin.
Paul Verhoeven’s psychosexual hall of mirrors remains worthy of a steel-plated prize for the best use of a kitchen utensil in a motion picture . . . Basic Instinct finds both men and women culpable in a time-honored mating game that has no clear rules barring the foolhardy pursuit of pleasure.
It’s never confirmed that the film’s “right” Chinaman is a statue whose head stands still and straight. Yet this remains all a matter of perception, as well as interpretation. The object is thus tactile yet vaguely defined, and leads to a larger question: if the Chinaman doesn’t belong here, then what, or who, does?
What does giving such primacy to the nonhuman and inanimate mean for the other elements onscreen, specifically the human or the animal? What does an object convey? What is its meaning within an art form that is itself so given to fears of impermanence?