Seconds is a controversial film that is based on the premise that everybody’s life is to an extent unfulfilled and by that, we all have a key that is unturned. It is a story that surrounds a hallucinatory nightmare that is had by Arthur Hamilton who plays John Randolph who in a bid to fill the void in his life opts to go under the knife to change his physical appearance in the hopes that by doing so it will lead to him having his desired psychological well-being. He undergoes the procedure and by doing so turns the key without having a clue of what he is to expect once he emerges at the other side of the door. After this, he becomes Tony Wilson and discovers that even with the new lease to life the outcome is just as disillusioning and constricting in nature as the previous life that is now behind him.
The classical film
Clarence Brown once referred to the classic film as a production ‘which owes nothing to tricks’, meaning where a story is not left to chance in the sense that the nitty-gritty aspects that crop up in the film are a part of the bigger picture and link to the psychological scheme that makes up the motion picture. The principles that gave early Hollywood films this adjective include formal harmony, mimesis, proportion, consideration for tradition, craftsmanship, decorum as well as control over the response that the perceiver will give (Bordwell et al 3). The importance of this is that classic films retain a coherent aesthetic nuance which conveys discernable aesthetic qualities such as unity, stipulated craftsmanship as well as elegance. It is not independent as it also has to play a role in incorporating historical functions. The aesthetic norm described in this genre is non-practical in nature, and its only function is to enable artworks to come to fruition. As such there are different kinds of norms which emanate from the materials that make up the artwork. An example of this is poetry which does this by making the language its material which in turn brings norms that invoke everyday usage (Bordwell et al 4). It is followed by technical norms that include basic practices for instance genre conventions as well as metrical schemes. Next, socio-political or practical which consist of a character’s values that are tied to ethics which are found in the day to day activities. Lastly, aesthetic norms which as discussed earlier make the fundamental principles that layer the artistic construction that creates the work. The basic principles are not only responsible for governing the paradigm but include dictating how the elements may behave regarding the functions they serve.
The classical narrative is characterized by cause and effect. The shift towards this form of filming use cameras, distance, editing, acting functions as well as inter-titles to focus principally on narrating the causal actions as well as information as clearly as possible (Bordwell et al 174). This means that the narration should endeavor to unify the film. In essence, each scene or shot should be able to show its purpose. For example, the scene where Wilson hosts a cocktail party for his neighbors and during this period he gets into a drunken stupor and alludes to his previous past which displeases some of his guests whom he later learns are like him reborn with a new image. This scene prepares us to what we might expect next which is his disgruntled feeling of how the events that take place after he acquires his new identity and how displeased he is with it even though it is something that he had wanted before. The scene that follows is his effort in reconnecting with his previous wife which is characterized with Goldsmith’s melancholy composition as well as a close-up of his hands which brings about the notion that he is sad and does not find any joy like he had thought he would previously. This goes to show that the outline of a film should take into consideration the beginning, development, crisis, sequence as well as the climax. Here, we get to witness this in the mid-point of the film which is tightly scripted making it intense as well as balanced between the director’s creativity and the ambitious vision that the film wanted to showcase. This buildup of the story ends with a climax whereby Wilson is wheeled kicking as well as screaming along the corridors of what is considered to be the company headquarters back into the operating room. By eliciting such an ending, this paints a picture of the cruel effects of a dehumanizing and controlling world that will not grant you everything a person wishes for on a silver platter. The ideal situation consisted of a unified sequence that is made up of causes and effects.
It involves complicating circumstances which are found in the development, and the ending is definite in action which ties up the chain an transforms it into a specific effect (climax) and which goes forth into establishing a thought out stasis that makes the ending (Bordwell et al 175). The chain that consisted of separate occurrences is linked to causes and effects which ultimately gave the answer. There is evidence of this from as early as 1912 which was discovered through a guidebook which suggested that a story commence with a central idea and gradually add a series characterized by causes at the beginning of the scenario and followed by a series filled with consequences halfway through the film. The effects of this would be that it would be so tightly planned in the Seconds that there was no possibility that any extraneous event could make its way into the film’s plot. The basis of the classical film narrative aesthetic leaned towards unity, unlike realism which is mostly found in the artistic form of cinema. It is safe to say that the director employed the rule book but it did not in any way hinder him from expressing his vision on the screen.
The Art film
The art cinema distinguishes itself categorically from the classical narrative form of a movie through its tie to the narrative mode that supports the form that carries the cause and effect methodology which is responsible for creating events. However, the art film is looser in its approach this means that it is characterized by casual relations that are spread throughout a particular motion picture. In the motion picture, we witness Arthur living an ordinary life that does not carry any meaning the scenes that depict this do not necessarily bear any importance to the overall story as it shows how people function in the real world (Braudy 774). This genre of art does so by sticking to two principles: authorial as well as realistic representations.
The graphic image is portrayed by the way John wishes that he lived another life other than his own and this relates to most people who are troubled by the fact that they do not possess material wealth which is mostly associated with success and contentment in our lifetime. In having a principle such as realism, it supports this by the use or real locations as well as the use of real problems that are found day to day in human lives (Braudy 776). Such subjects that are included in realism include a break in communication, alienation and the sexual nature of man. Sexual nature is brought into play at a party that is held for similar people who have had the procedure done, and they do this by celebrating it stomping grapes while naked in a wine vat interacting with other revelers which is symbolic for the rebirth that they have undergone after the procedure. This is because the aesthetic of the human life does not only include commerce but will often lead to periods that are characterized by moments of eroticism. By employing this, it breaks the pre-production code that existed in 1950 that did not support the inclusion of sexual scenes in any of its films.
The essential aspect of this is its ability to be realistic, and in doing so, it necessitates the creation of characters who are complex psychologically. The characters that fit this description in this film are John, Charlie Evans and other ‘revelers’ who go to lengths that include plastic surgery to change their identity. It is not that art cinema does not have roots in the classical form, but by relying on the psychological make-up of its characters and the chain effect it has on others this gives it a central role (Braudy 777). Where they differ is in the objectives a well as traits of characters. In the classic film, they tend to be more defined and less complex to discern their true intentions as compared to the art form which takes on a more challenging role for the characters as they do not have clear goals as well as desires that can be associated with them.
Initially, John dreams of having another life and when he has it he realizes that he misses his old life and that there is no much difference in his present life as Tony Wilson as he also associates his new life with restrictions similar to that of his old life. They can act for reasons that are inconsistent or may reach a point whereby they question their motives and goals (Braudy 779). This point is achieved when he makes contact with his previous wife when he was John and tries to go back to what his life once was even though he had everything he wished for. The choices that they make are not definite as they are non-existent or take on a vague quality. The main aim for this is for it to enable the storyline to solve the presented problem in a sophisticated manner which might also include the use of ambiguity.
This approach makes it non-classical as it foregrounds specific deviations that are associated with its classical counterpart. Particular gaps and problems are inclusive of the plot as these very deviations occur in realism. Life does not have a defined way of unfolding or benefit from authorial commentary meaning that the ambiguity that is present is mostly symbolic in its use (Braudy 781). In doing so, it permits characters to express as well as explain their psychological states in a slow momentum that enables them to reveal everything about themselves. In the film, this is brought out by the theme of distortion which is vital in the unfolding of the story. They do this by using a 9.7 mm fisheye lens which makes not only the camera a recording instrument but also an expressive tool.
Through this exaggeration, the director (Frankenheimer) showcase the psychological nature of a man who is attempting to break the bonds that make his emotional straightjacket. In essence, the art cinema is not primarily concerned with the unfolding of events (action sequence) but with the reaction that entangles the effects of psychological narration as the story unfolds. For instance, in the film we find Arthur Hamilton (John Randolph) living a life that he considers to be void and in the scenes that he is in, we see him silent and even non-reactive even when he is at home with his wife Frances Reid (Emily Hamilton). From the way he reacts it is evident that he feels that there is an empty void in his heart and thus feels trapped in the current life that he is living. The subjective feelings that he evokes towards the audiences are that he is depressed and does not identify well with his situation which can be said to be a real-life scenario.
Bordwell, David, et al. The classical hollywood cinema: film style and mode of production to 1960. Routledge, 1985.
Braudy, Leo, and Marshall Cohen. Film theory and criticism: introductory readings. Oxford University Press, 2004.
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