Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 30th of March, 5-7pm, Jarman 7

All are very welcome to join us for the last screening and discussion session of this term, which will take place on the 30th of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7.

We will be showing Frances’ suggestion: The Student of Prague (1913, Stellan Rye, 85mins).

Student of Prague

Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

The Student of Prague (1913) tells the story of Balduin – the student in question – who is a popular and skilled fencer but feels unhappy and unfulfilled in life. He becomes interested in a countess after rescuing her from a fall in a lake, although she is already betrothed to be married to her cousin. Balduin hopes he can change this, and better his life, by making a deal with a strange man named Scapinelli. Scapinelli promises Balduin great riches and, in exchange, Scapinelli can take whatever he wishes from the student’s apartment. Balduin signs a contract agreeing to these terms and Scapinelli then makes his choice: he touches the full-length mirror in the room and Balduin’s reflection suddenly emerges. This double – now a distinct figure, unattached to its original form and freed from the constraints of the mirror – walks out of the room. Balduin attempts to suppress his amazement and worry over this incident as he soon concentrates on wooing the countess. However Balduin’s doppelganger re-emerges and begins to haunt his former owner…

The Student of Prague is a silent, German film starring Paul Wegener as the titular character. The film has had a few remakes (and re-cuts), including ones in 1926 and 1935, and different versions of the original have subsequently been released. One 2004 DVD release, for example, has a running time of approximately 50 minutes. As will be explained by the opening of the version screened today, details gathered from press releases and exhibitions notes reveal that the film should be over 80 minutes long. Today’s film has been restored by Filmmuseum München and is a more complete version of the film. This cut of the film thus contains expanded scenes which allow for the development of some of the supporting characters, and in particular that of the ‘wandering girl’.

Like many of the other films screened in the season, the double figure in The Student of Prague is an evil, trouble-making doppelganger. Balduin’s reflection stalks his original owner and sabotages his efforts to seduce the countess. As we have discussed previously in relation to this theme, it seems impossible for the double and the original figure to co-exist in these stories. The narrative of The Student of Prague explores the intolerability of this situation but with an additional twist: by removing Balduin’s reflection, Scapinelli effectively removes an aspect of Balduin directly – his soul. This aspect is confirmed by the film’s melodramatic ending which is reminiscent of Simon’s efforts to deal with an unwanted doppelganger in The Double (2013) screened a few weeks ago.

The link between the double and the soul is one of the avenues explored by Otto Rank in his investigation into this uncanny phenomenon in his work The Double, written in 1914. In this work Rank is interested in psychoanalytical investigations and, like his contemporary Freud, is inspired by the recurring themes present in German literature, one of which is the double. Rank, like Freud, calls the double uncanny: for the protagonists in the stories analysed by Rank, the experience of viewing one’s own doppelganger is an unnerving and eerie experience, which usually results in injury or death. Rank wants to understand the attraction of including a doppelganger character in a story and so he adopts an anthropological approach – albeit framed by psychoanalytical interpretations – and explores the history of the doppelganger in various cultures. One aspect he discovers is how traditionally one’s own reflection or shadow was thought of as a double. In this respect, the doppelganger is intimately related to the original figure and completely inseparable. It is for these reasons that the double, he argues, is closely related to death and the soul. Ranks writes: “Folklorists are in agreement in emphasizing that the shadow is coequivalent with the human soul.” (Rank, 1914, 75)

The Student of Prague appears to engage with this type of doppelganger, as Balduin’s double is not a sibling or coincidental lookalike but a ‘part’ of him; his reflection. The link between The Student of Prague and Rank’s research also runs deeper as the film was a big inspiration for the writer. Indeed, Rank begins his book with a detailed summary and analysis of the film as the plot and imagery of The Student of Prague provides several avenues for Rank to explore the figure of the doppelganger. Rank describes the experience of watching the film and its subject matter as uncanny, as he writes: “An obscure but unavoidable feeling takes hold of the spectator and seems to betray that deep human problems are being dealt with here [in The Student of Prague].  The uniqueness of cinematography in visibly portraying psychological events calls our attention, with exaggerated clarity, to the fact that the interesting and meaningful problems of man’s relation to himself – and the fateful disturbance of this relation – finds here an imaginative representation.” (Rank, 7)

What is significant is that Rank’s musings on The Student of Prague extend to think about the medium of cinema itself. Cinema, itself a form of doubling, is compared by Rank to “dream-work”. He is particularly fascinated by how this technology – which was still relatively in its infancy at the time of Rank’s writing – has the ability to both represent the physical presence of the doppelganger and evoke the larger themes of melodrama inherent in such stories. These themes include: a crisis of the individual; thwarted romance; love rivals; and the dissolution of family units. Rank observes:

It may perhaps turn out that cinematography, which in numerous ways reminds us of the dream-work, can also express certain psychological facts and relationships – which the writer often is unable to describe with verbal clarity – in such clear and conspicuous imagery that it facilitates our understanding of them. (Rank, 4)

The filmic representation of the double is a topic we can discuss after the screening. Do join us to watch an early example of the doppelganger theme on-screen, and see why The Student of Prague proved so influential for Rank’s work.

I hope to see you there!

Reference:

Rank, O. [1914] 1971. The Double: A Psychoanalytic Study. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press.

Summary of Discussion on Dead Ringers

Kat has very kindly provided the following excellent summary of our discussion on Dead Ringers (1988):

Never before has there been such a hushed silence post screening! Jeremy Irons knows how to wow an audience…..

The initial discussion focused not on the Mantle twins, but rather on the representation of women in the film, which was not wholly positive. The twins, but most often Eliot, were quite dismissive of women, despite the fact they are celebrated gynaecologists. They wonder at the spectacle of Claire’s “trifurcated cervix”, which in essence is a mutation of the cervix and by the end of the film Beverly only sees “mutant” women who require normalising. Women are represented as functional objects in the film; they are either portals of pleasure for the twins, or child bearers (once successfully treated by the Mantle twins). Even Claire Niveau is not constructed as a sympathetic character – it is challenging to engage and feel empathy with her, even when she realises she has been deceived into sexual relationships with both twins, thinking it was just one,Dead Ringers Claire make up Beverly. Claire talks of how she wishes and needs to be humiliated in taking a role in a miniseries. A later scene where costumes are discussed for her character, Claire’s character is described in terms of being an “emotional hooker” . While in another scene, Claire is visited by Eliot whilst she is having her makeup applied for a scene in the mini-series. The audience is privileged to only one side of Claire’s face and when finally there is a full head shot, Claire’s make-up is to create the appearance of a woman beaten up – bruised and swollen eye and bruised lips and cheek. We discussed this as an externalisation of Claire’s emotions and how she feels she has been treated by Beverly and Eliot – as damaged as the supposedly “mutant” women, Beverly thinks he is treating.

Intertwined in the discussion surrounding the construction and representation of Claire, was an aside thread of the theme of art versus glamour (or art and glamour) in the film. There seemed to be a fine line between both. Beverly enjoyed watching “glamorous” shows on TV. However, there is a suggestion of gynaecology being a “work of art”, or at least a creative process that hints at the Mantle twins being perceived as “artists”. The theme is fully realised in the spectacle of the tools Beverly has made in order to treat “mutant” women that finish up displayed in the window of an art gallery.

dead ringers christ like pose imagesThis thread of the discussion on art/glamour developed into the role of colour, costume and the twins. We all agreed there was confusing representations of the twins in terms of when they undertook surgery. Beverly especially as it was normally he who undertook this work. As he was dressed in his scrubs, he would stand, arms out stretched, as if he was Christ like. However, their work in the process of the creation of life is more God-like, we thought.  Nonetheless, very religious imagery stood out against the grey 1980s colouring in the rest of the film. The conclusion was that this was a confusing and muddled aspect of their representation. The costumed scrubs appeared a little excessive for the narrative. We pointed out that the film is explicit in placing the film in 1988. However, the costumes for the surgery pulls it “out of time”, another puzzling part of the film. However, we agreed this did add to the horror and overall general creepiness. The colour red stood out against the grey, even though we didn’t consider it practical for surgery! There was something priest like, or inquisitional regarding the costume and colour here.

In discussing the doubling trope of the twins, it was observed that even though we were privileged with knowing they were twins from the beginning, there were certain scenes in the film when it wasn’t made explicit which twin we were watching. So, the film succeeded in creating suspense in the twins’ identities by denying the audience knowledge of individual identity.

The final point of the discussion was on the idea of male hysteria. It was noted there are previous examples of the double in the relation to the female example in relation to the double. For example, Black Swan and The Yellow Wallpaper. There are references to female identity with Beverly and Eliot, their names for one. Here we pondered on the idea as to whether here is a feminised hysteria in the construction of the Mantle twins. Beverly appeared “weaker” than Eliot and we view him as the more feminised twin. Also, their job is to give life, as if “mother”, but from the beginning there is the notion of “no touching” of the revering of how fish procreate – underwater and again, with no touching. Are they the mutants for suffering from a feminised hysteria?

Thanks for a great summary, Kat. Your final question is certainly one to ponder!

Do, as ever, log in to comment or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk

Reminder: Kathleen Loock seminar on Talkie Remakes, 1st of April, 2-4pm, KSR4

A quick reminder about an exciting upcoming event.

Kathleen Loock will be talking to us about Sound remakes on Wednesday the 1st of April, 2-4pm, KSR4.

In order to engage fully with the seminar, it will be helpful to have read a chapter from Kathleen’s forthcoming book. If you have not already received this via the Melodrama Research Group mailing list and would like to attend the event, please email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk for access.

For more information on Kathleen’s visit, please see this previous post:

https://blogs.kent.ac.uk/melodramaresearchgroup/2015/02/19/kathleen-loocks-seminar-on-sound-remakes-of-silent-film-1st-of-april-2-4pm-ksr-4/

 

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 23rd of March, 5-7pm, Jarman 7

All are very welcome to join us for our next screening and discussion session, which will take place on the 23rd of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7.

We will be showing Kat’s choice: Dead Ringers (1988, David Cronenberg, 116 mins).

Dead Ringers

Kat has very kindly provided the following introduction:

There comes the inevitable point in Dead Ringers (1988), where Claire meets both Beverly and Elliot together for the first time. Having her fears realised that while she thought she was involved in a sexual relationship with one, she had been unwittingly duped into sexual intimacy with both, she is horrified by their presence. This scene is pivotal as in Claire’s repulsion the audience realises fully the true horror of their behaviour. Despite the spectator being privileged with the knowledge that Elliot and Beverly are identical twins and have seen both together on screen previously, the meeting with Claire unveils the creeping extent of the uncanny nature of their existence. It’s as if we are meeting ‘the double’ for the first time.  But who here is the double, Beverly or Elliot, or both?

The film is a meditation on primal fears towards twins. Beverly and Elliot (known as Bev and Elli, very feminine names and both played by Jeremy Irons) Mantle are both celebrated gynaecologists who share everything; knowledge, reputation, work and women. When a famous actress, Claire Niveau (Genevieve Bujold) seeks treatment from them, Elli, the more outgoing of the twins, begins a relationship with her and subsequently encourages Bev to continue the liaison by pretending to be Elli. Claire’s presence in their lives is a catalyst for an excessive downward spiral for Bev and Elli as sexual depravity and drug use threaten not only their work but their existence.

The doubling in Dead Ringers is a variation on the concept of the double. The explicit difference with the film is that the two act as if one entity and wish to remain so. The horrifying nature of doubling is only disclosed through the character of Claire. It is this introduction of reality and “normality” of love and relationships that is the threat to their existence in endeavouring to separate them into single units.

It’s an uneasy watch as Cronenberg deftly crafts and builds on the creeping horror scene by scene. In an interview, Jeremy Irons explained in order to remember which twin he was playing, he played one by walking on the balls of his feet and the other by walking on his heels. Creeping indeed. Or just creepy?

Do join us, if you can, and please note that due to the film’s length we will be starting promptly.

Summary of Discussion on The Double

Frances has very kindly provided the following excellent summary of our discussion on The Double.

Double#1

 

The Double: Screening and Discussion notes

The post-film discussion began with the observation that the film taps into ideas of horror and the surreal, and how the relationship between these two themes is becoming more common in recent films like The Double. However depictions of horror and the surreal are by no means a new invention as it was noted that the dark humour of the film was quite Lynchian and particularly reminiscent of Twin Peaks. The Double also touches on the tone and themes we shall explore with our next screening, Dead Ringers.

Our discussion also touched upon the nature of the doppelganger figure represented in the films shown as part of our season. The Double shares an affinity with The Dark Mirror shown a few weeks ago because both films depict the double character as inevitably evil. In The Dark Mirror, this portrayal hinges on the ‘scientific’ notions that twinned siblings have fraught, competitive and dysfunctional relationships where one sibling will eventually turn to crime: the idea of the ‘evil twin’. Although the doppelganger which appears in The Double is not an identical twin, the same logic is applied to the duplicated appearance but mental incongruence between Simon James and James Simon. Where Simon is unpopular but kind, thoughtful and loyal, James is successful but manipulative, selfish and cruel.

This opens up the question: what purpose does this doubling of characters serve in these films, and what does the figure of the doppelganger signify? It was noted in our discussion that the doppelganger functions as the ultimate fracturing of identity and thus appears to engage with ideas about modernity. This is supported by the film’s mise en scene. The spaces in The Double seem quite modern as, for example, the office Simon works in uses computer technology to process data. However this same technology is also strangely archaic: the computers look outdated and the machines are cumbersome and slow. Our sense of time and space is ruptured as the film seems to suggest that the events depicted in The Double could be everywhere but nowhere.

As such, the doubling of Simon functions in part to illuminate the horror of modernity: machines control the characters in the film, as well as giving them a sense of purpose, but the outdated technology also hinders the ability for these people to relate meaningfully to other human beings. The humour of the film derives from the horror of this situation. James’s intrusion into Simon’s life proves how nothing matters in this reality – that a callous attitude can succeed over a humble one – but this life is not a nightmare as such: the film states this is just ‘reality’. It is for these reasons that the film adopts a deadened tone despite the larger melodramatic themes and scenes which take place.

Finally, we also briefly discussed how James is introduced into the story and how this compares with other films featuring a double. In The Double, James first appears in very brief shots, when he quickly passes by Simon on his way home. The fast editing offers just glimpses of James before his formal introduction at Simon’s work place the next day. This entrance is similar to the double’s introduction in Black Swan, where noises on the soundtrack indicate the doppelganger’s arrival. Both instances also take place in tight, claustrophobic spaces where sound and image are difficult to discern. These images also contribute to the double’s status as a harbinger of evil which will threaten the wellbeing of the main protagonist.

 

Thanks Frances! Do, as ever, log in to comment, or email me on sp458@kent.ac.uk to add your thoughts.

Melodrama Screening and Discussion, 9th of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7

All are very welcome to join us for our next screening and discussion session, which will take place on the 9th of March, 5-7pm, in Jarman 7.

We will be showing Frances’ choice: The Double (2013, Richard Ayoade, 93 mins).

Double#2

Frances has very kindly provided the following introduction:

There is a moment at the beginning of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novella The Double when the main protagonist, Yakov Petrovitch Golyadkin, is first waking up in the morning and it is observed: ‘For two minutes, however, [Golyadkin] lay in his bed without moving, as though he were not yet quite certain whether he were awake or still asleep, whether all that was going on around him were real and actual, or the continuation of his confused dreams.’ This description imaginatively captures the experience of watching the 2013 film of the same name, directed by Richard Ayoade and starring Jesse Eisenberg. Just like Golyadkin’s reflections in the Russian short story, we as viewers of the film are left wondering at the movie’s conclusion whether what we have watched has a logical explanation, or whether it is the product of the protagonist’s ‘confused dreams.’ The film is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky’s work but our main protagonist is now Simon James. Simon lives a dull and monotonous life, spending most of his waking moments working in a dreary office, where he is ignored and shunned by his colleagues. The rest of his time is spent unsuccessfully wooing a work colleague and neighbour Hannah, who he watches in her apartment through a telescope when at home. Simon’s life changes dramatically, however, when a new employee appears at work and is the exact physical double of Simon. This doppelgänger – named James Simon – is physically identical to Simon in every way but the former’s life could not be more different. Where Simon is reserved and his work efforts remain unacknowledged by his peers, James is confident, successful and popular with everyone. James even manages to seduce Hannah. Simon’s bewilderment at the situation is heightened by the fact that no one else sees James as a double: only Simon can perceive the uncanny resemblance between the two men. Simon soon realises that James’s presence in his life is intolerable and the story focuses on Simon’s attempts to resolve the situation.

The Double is a British film which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was critically well received. Ayoade updates Dostoyevsky’s story to a modern setting but the exact location and time setting of the film is not explicitly stated. The lack of spatial or temporal orientation helps to establish the unsettling, detached and bleak tone of the film and the narrative’s conclusion remains ambiguous. The story’s portrayal of a doppelgänger – and particularly how this physical impossibility is not acknowledged or even noticed by any other character except Simon – is key for creating this eerie mood. It is possible to see several influences at work in Ayoade’s film, including aspects of Kafka, Terry Gilliam and David Lynch, and the film’s use of musical extracts from Franz Schubert’s Der Doppelgänger (which also tells the story of a man’s confrontation with his own double) helps to evoke the work of E.T.A Hoffmann. In this way The Double is uncanny in the Freudian sense of the word: through his analysis of Hoffmann’s work, Freud theorises that the figure of the double is undoubtedly uncanny, as the presence of identical bodies raises questions as to the uniqueness of an individual. The figure of the double also occupies a tentative position between life and death, and in Hoffmann’s tale this power has supernatural implications with the Sandman character. In many ways The Double is evocative of the story and tone of Hoffmann’s Der Sandman. Like Nathaniel in Hoffmann’s work, Simon is also the only protagonist within the diegesis who experiences the moment of seeing a double. In Nathaniel’s case, this doppelgänger is of the Sandman who reappears in various guises throughout the narrative. For Simon, it is his own body which is doubled through James. In both stories, the double figure is a disruptive force and a source of evil; it quickly becomes apparent that the protagonist and the doppelgänger cannot both exist. It also remains unclear how the events described in Der Sandman and The Double should be interpreted. Does the doppelgänger actually exist, or is he a product of the protagonist’s troubled mind? In a manner evocative of the earlier description in Dostoyevsky’s novel, Freud notes that Hoffmann ‘leaves us in doubt as to whether we are dealing with the initial delirium of the panic-stricken boy or an account of events that must be taken as real within the world represented in the tale.’

It is for these reasons that The Double operates quite differently from some the other films screened in this season on the double. The film features an actual doppelgänger whose presence is unexplained, unlike some of the other films where this doubling is explained, for example, through mistaken identity or sibling similarities. Yet the melodrama of the film stems, like the other stories shown, from the double character. In The Double it is James’s intrusion into Simon’s life which illuminates themes such as unrequited love, dysfunctional family units, a crisis of the self, the pain of loss and attempted suicide, and entrapment within an unfulfilling and mundane life. Despite these highly melodramatic themes, the tone of the film is difficult to articulate. The film’s opening demonstrates this well. We are introduced to Simon on a drab looking train on his way to work. There are few other characters occupying the carriage where Simon sits silently, and yet an intimidating stranger demands Simon move. Simon quietly and nervously acquiesces to the unreasonable demand. Similarly, moments later Simon attempts to leave the train but is constantly stopped by another passenger loading packages onto the carriage who ignores Simon’s need to alight. The scene successfully encapsulates Simon’s tragic existence and it is frustrating, saddening and uncomfortable to watch. Yet the scene is also darkly humorous, as the ridiculousness of the situation becomes comic. It is the complexity of the film’s tone and the ambiguity of its narrative which makes The Double a compelling viewing experience and challenges the viewer to make sense of these strange and chaotic interactions. Should the events portrayed in The Double ultimately be interpreted as ‘real and actual’, or are they the product of ‘confused dreams’? It will be interesting to see what conclusions we draw in our discussion after the film.

I hope to see you there!