Oct 21 2010

Film Analysis – Out of The Past

Published by at 5:00 pm under Uncategorized

Out of The Past (1947) is directed by Jacques Tourneur and is released by RKO Radio Pictures. It describes Jeff Bailey (Jeff Markham) comes to Tahoe and runs a gas station in order to escape from his awful past. In Tahoe, he meets Ann Miller, who is his fiance. Everything is fine until Joe Stephanos shows up. Jeff then decides to tell Ann his story. With he driving his car, the story of his past, which is a story about he, Kathie Moffat and Whit Sterling, is being told.

At the beginning of Out of The Past, a car is driving in the small town, Tahoe. This draws us attention to the film and gives us a sense that story is about to be told. With Jeff driving his car and his voice as a narration, his awful and unstable past is fading in, just like the memory comes up in his head. In my opinion, the use of Barley’s voice as a narration in this scene has certain advantages. For example, it can introduce how Jeff and Kathie met in the past and it can also show audiences how Jeff feels towards some moments, people and issues in his life. For example, when Kathie finally shows up after Jeff has been waiting for her at the cafe few days, he feels relief that his plan of getting Whit’s money back can finally start. At the same time, the narration keeps reminding the audiences that Jeff and Ann are still in the car, and what the film is showing is just his memory of the past.

The scene, in which Kathie, Jeff and Jack Fisher are in the house, is important because many film techniques are used. When Jack walks into the house and sits down, there is a medium close-up of him and this can help audiences to focus on what he is going to do, say or have. His sly smile and the way he looks at Kathie and Jeff informs audiences that a negotiation or a bad thing is going to happen. Shot/Reverse shot is used when three of them are negotiating. This technique allows audiences to see that the three actors are talking simultaneously. Diegetic sound and non-diegetic sound are also found in this scene. Diegetic sound of this scene would be the punching sound generated by the gentlemen when they are fighting. It makes the fighting more realistic and intensive. Non-diegetic sound would be the heavy and fast paced music played after Kathie shot Jack. The non-diegetic sound gives the audiences a sense of suspiciousness and therefore, it makes the plot more dangerous and intensive. Besides, the lighting in this film reflects the influence of German cinematography: this scene lacks brightness because the use of low-key lighting is applied. Low-key lighting is used because the plot of this scene is tragic that Jeff and Jack are fighting and Kathie murders Jack by shooting him. Using low-key lighting allows the audiences to sense the darkness of humanity.

Medium close-up:

Shot/Reverse Shot:

Low-key lighting:

 Light only comes from one way.

Out of The Past is a noir film, there is usually at least one femme fatale in this kind of film and so the figures of the “spider lady” and the “good lady” in this film must be noted. Kathie is a female con and a spider lady. She is very different from Ann, who is a local girl and a good lady. The differences between them can be identified in numerous elements of them which are their appearances, the way they talk with men, their behaviors, personalities and environments they are in.

For their appearances, Kathie has very nice hair style and wears fancy clothes. She is pretty, of course, otherwise she can not be a female con and can not seduce men in order to steal something from or take advantages of them. She is confident to show her body because she always wears tight clothes. On the other hand, Ann is less atrractive than Kathie is. She does not wear glamours clothes and her style is “the girl next door”, a plain jane.

We can also define their differeces in their dialogues. Kathie is a woman who argues with men and questions about what they say, For example, when Jeff says “You don‘t have to kill him.” Kathie responds immediately, “Yes, I did”. From this conversation, it is obvious that Kathie does not want to be controlled. She always thinks she is the smartest one among Jeff and Whit and so she thinks she should be the one who is in charge. Kathie is also good at confusing men and convincing them with words. For example, asking “What else can I do?” to Jeff and thus she is able to emphasize how powerless she is. Plus, she would say “Miss you” and any other sweet words to cajole men. Unlike Kathie, Ann never speaks aggressively and cajoles men. Instead, she speaks softly and honestly. She also easily believes Jeff and listens to him very carefully.

For their behaviors, unlike Ann, Kathie uses violence. She also smokes and gambles. She is used to use weapon, mostly a gun, to kill people whenever she thinks “it is necessary“. For example, when Jeff and Fisher are fighting, instead of screaming and being scared, she seems hostile that she steps backwards. She slightly smiles when she see two men are fighting for her and all of a sudden, she takes out a gun and shoot Jack to death.

Kathie and Ann have different personalities. Kathie is active and sly while Ann is passive, naïve and more reasonable because when she is with Jeff, she says “it‘s alright. I understand.” after Jeff has told her his awful past.

The environments where Kathie and Ann are in are dramatically different. Where Kathie is in is always lack of light and mostly is in indoor and she is more likely involved with night activities such as clubbing. Where Ann is in, on the other hand, has bunch of brightness and other natural elements such as grass and water. The brightness really reflects their images.

Femme fatale is an important role in a noir film because the appearance of her in a noir film is related to postwar historical issues.With portraying a femme fatale,  movie is then filled with a dangerous and dark atmosphere. This point of view represents the atmosphere of American society in the postwar period. During the war, men were in battlefields and women thus were encouraged to go to work. As a result, women no longer only stayed at home, did housework and took care of children. After the war, the returning soldiers found that there was a change in gender role, women became more and more powerful and independent. This contributed the growth of cynicism and dissatisfaction. With the depiction of Kathie’s appearance, dialogue, behavior, personality and where she is in in the film, the fear and anxiety of men towards the changes of women in the postwar period are presented implicitly. In order to show the fear men had for these changes, they depicted women as evil, sly and dangerous and would seduce men in order to get what they want in the film. At the end of this kind of film, those femme fatales must be punished in order to show men were still in charge of the society and were still more superior than women. For example, Kathie is slapped by Whit after Whit has realized that she has been lying to him all the time.

Out of The Past is one of the noir films and it shows the darkness of humanity and how dark the atmosphere was in postwar period due to the changes of gender role and the resentment of unemployed returning soldiers towards women.

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