Tuesday, 17 January 2012

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Follow that thought! (Yet another one of those posts.) The opening credit sequence in Fight Club is a nifty little reverse-literalization of a common directorial device for representing thought on screen. The technique typically works in the manner it does at the end of the film's first scene. Start with a medium close-up of a face: Note that the narrator indicates that he's had a revelation. The camera supports his claim by zooming into a close-up: Then into an extreme close-up: By zooming in on his face, David Fincher indicates that the audience is about to enter his mind. It's as if the camera's going to continue through his eyes and into his memory, which is why—as is the case here—such zooms are so often followed by a flashback: Call it an abuse of frontality—that feature of a frame that allows the audience to drink deeply of a character's eyes and acquire sympathy with or knowledge of what lies behind them—but it's really just an arbitrary convention. There's no logical reason zooming in on a face should signal the beginning of a flashback. But it frequently does. What's interesting about the opening title sequence of Fight Club is that it reverses the convention. Via CGI, the audience sees an idea—represented by an electric flash of blue light—form: The idea then travels around the brain: Until it punctures the skin on Edward Norton's forehead: And travels down the barrel of the gun Brad Pitt's holding in Norton's mouth before stopping at the sights: At which point Fincher racks the focus and provides the audience with an extreme close-up of Norton's face: Instead of zooming into an extreme close-up to flash back to a memory, Fincher opens the film by following a thought from its origin to an extreme close-up. Meaning that the title sequence and first scene work in tandem—thought-goes-out-to-camera and thought-goes-in-from-camera—to bookend that opening scene. Is this in any way significant or just Fincher being fancy to be fancy? Considering that the tandem of the opening sequence and the first scene structurely suggests that this is all in Edward Norton's head, I'm tempted to argue the former. That said, the signal that weaves through the opening credits is an untranslated thought: it can be any neuronal transmission relevant to Norton's current predicament. The audience can only infer its content from its timing, which means it could be, to name but two examples, Norton's decision to stick the gun in his mouth or the fear of what he'll do with it once there. In short, Fincher's credit sequence undermines the logic of the very convention he employs to transition from the first scene to the flashback.
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What we talk about when we talk about hands. As I was writing and writing and writing and writing about Jack London in my dissertation, I noticed something I was never able to fully incorporate into my argument: the man's obsession with hands. He not only wrote about them regularly in his fiction, but his letters are heavily peppered with references to his own "deformed" mitts. I scare-quote "deformed" because history has no record as to whether his hands were as he believed them to be—the scarred and calloused collection of fingers that his life of hard labor had created. That a leading voice for the working class was embarrassed by the signs that he'd once and long been a member of the same is one of those historical ironies that's better left for braver souls to judge. I'm more interested in the evidence. For example, were you a photographer taking a profile picture of London, he would present you with this: Or this: Decent shots, no doubt, but ones in which the palms of his hands have been deliberately obscured. If you were a different sort of photographer entirely—one who wanted to take pictures of famous authors in diapers, for example—London would oblige thus: All of which is only to say that, for obvious reasons, my eye's been trained to seek out and find meaning in hands. Hands, as I noted in my post on "The Van Gogh Job," do things. Directors and artists—perhaps especially comic artists—focus on hands because they're humanity's native tools. Any other tool we have, for the most part, is either an actual or imaginative extension of our hands. So when I teach Craig Thompson's Blankets, I begin with a tailored introduction to McCloud and comic theory, then I move on to the hands. Why import a tic I noticed in London to a book written a century later? Consider the evidence: Thompson's rough but fluid style is meant to be evocative, not realistic, otherwise Craig and Phil (the boys pictured in the bed) would be like shih tzus unto their father. More significantly, measure it out and you'll realize that their father's hand is the same length as his head, which isn't an impossibility—the NBA does exist, after all—but is very much an improbability. Point being: Craig and Phil's father has a gigantic hand, one capable of doing many things, some of which may be horrible. For example: That'd be a close-up of Phil being manhandled from his bed by his father. Note how the close-up emphasizes the size of Phil's head relative to his father's fist. Note also the emblem on Phil's pajama top, as the irony's by all means intended. Continuing: Phil's being dragged into an attic space of composed of pure darkness. All the light in this panel originates in the room behind Phil and his father. The implication is that as soon as that hand—and only that hand, as the hand's replaced the father's face in the iconography of this scene—as soon as that hand slams shut that door,...

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