Melendez_film_aesthetic_graphicClick image to enlarge.

Deciding on one personal film aesthetic was difficult for me, as I love many films for so many different reasons. An overriding thread through many of the films I love has to do with setting and how the photography and representation of a particular setting as the backdrop for a story resonates with me personally. The setting that particularly stands out for me as a distinct aesthetic feature is New York. Entire fields of study could be dedicated to the rhetorical techne of filming and photography for this city. Known as much for its visual beauty, architectural significance and cultural diversity as it is for its historical relevance, New York City is a study all its own. One could disappear into the thick knap of its many layers and never run out of new and fascinating things to discover about the city that never sleeps.

I’ve selected a number of scenes that represent the New York aesthetic in film visually, culturally, historically and artistically. I will focus on each film represented in my graphic and discuss the fundamental appeal of each within the context of this setting and the integral relevance of this appeal. I will be focusing on exterior aesthetics, settings, locations, color and mood as they relate to the city as a canvas for these film narratives. I could write an entirely separate essay on interiors and set design for films set in New York. I’ve decided to stay with the exterior locations and settings for this relatively short essay.


Breakfast at Tiffany’s:

This 1961 film adaptation of Truman Capote’s 1959 book of the same name has transcended the world of celluloid media to become a part of American pop culture consciousness. Holly Golightly is the archetype of the lost and wild young woman escaping the banal limitations of farm life by running away to New York City. The draw to this city in particular seems so universal that it drives the mythos of this film by pulling at the fascination so many have with the idea of making a similar move.

At the center of Holly’s fascination and ideation of New York’s promise is the legendary Tiffany and Company jewelry store located on the equally legendary 5th Avenue in Manhattan. The sub-narrative representation at the heart of this promise is tied to the rise of American consumerism and prosperity of the 1950s. All scenes of Holly and Paul coming and going from their Lexington Avenue brownstone, including the famous cab hailing scene early in the film, capture the residential essence of New York city. This is to say, this essence is intended to contrast the viability of both Holly and Paul to actually afford the lifestyle in which they find themselves. Which, in itself, exposes the underbelly of the New York runaway promise – that the city is beautiful and dirty, accessible and out-of-reach in turns. And the cost of these cornice-front lives may not be obvious, but will be substantial.

As Holly looks into the window of the Tiffany’s storefront, the aesthetic of the polished and guilded, granite-front, 5th Avenue experience which has become a New York city hallmark of American success, is captured. Visitors re-create this image every day as 5th Avenue teems with window shoppers drawn to the city and the symbol of American prosperity it represents.



One cannot have a discussion about New York city film aesthetic without mentioning the king of New York film, Woody Allen. I can attribute much of my fascination with New York to Allen’s films, which have always exemplified to me the most pure and unadorned visual representation of this incredible city.

This famous silhouette of the Queensboro Bridge from the film Manhattan, a film many have called Allen’s “love letter to New York,” is one of the most aesthetically beautiful pieces of film photography ever produced. It captures perfectly the mood and feel of many similar park/bridge locations in the city. The image is both serene and haunting, in the film noir style that Allen chose for his love letter film, taking the purity of his representation a step further to illustrate that the aliveness of New York can be captured without the need for any external affectation whatsoever.

Annie Hall:

The quintessential New York film, Annie Hall’s mainstream appeal and pop culture significance cannot be understated. In this production still from the movie, Annie (played by Diane Keaton) and Alvie are getting to know each other after meeting during a friendly doubles tennis match. In one of my favorite scenes from the film, Annie talks about her deep love for her grandmother, Grammy Hall, and the meaningful gifts she received from her as a child. Alvie responds, “My ‘grammy’ never gave gifts. She was too busy getting raped by Cossacks”

Diane Keaton single handedly changed the entire fashion industry with her outfit from this one scene. She has noted in countless interviews that she mostly wore her own clothes for this film, and this gender-bending vest and tie ensemble endures to this day as a decidedly New York fashion legacy.


Godfather II:

Godfather II, the only sequel from that franchise that I acknowledge exists, is a study in the Italian immigrant experience in America. It is a prequel in a sequel, depicting the start of the Corleone American family line, and, by proxy the birth of coza nostra as a survival alternative. In image one we see young Vito Corleone, having been spirited away to America as a child after witnessing the murder of his parents, standing in an Italian ghetto and facing an uncertain future for his young family. The young Vito scenes in Godfather II paint a very cinema-centric image of the immigrant experience. However, by waxing romantic on this era in American history, Francis Ford Coppola’s film adaptation of the Mario Puzo novel has in effect romanticized the history of the Italian-American legacy with all of its trappings, setting the archetypal standards for all similar depictions that would follow.

In the second image, Michael Corleone, the son Vito had hoped would legitimize the family, waits outside Jack Dempsey’s restaurant to be picked up by rival gangster Sollozzo and Officer McClusky. Having been severely beaten by Officer McCluskey after assassins had shot his father Vito, Michael decides he must be the one to exact the family’s revenge for the murder attempt.

Ford Coppola really encapsulates 1940s and 50s New York in this scene outside Dempsey’s with the neon reflected in the dank rain coated streets on a cold night when the father’s favorite is about to fall to Earth. This full-circle turnabout sets into motion the transformation of Michael from war hero and college graduate, to ruthlessly effective leader of his crime family. This era in New York history is important to the appreciation of the multicultural New York aesthetic in history and in film as the narrative of Vito to Michael in the film follows the evolution of the city itself, culturally, visually and historically.



Where the Godfather II captures the Italian immigrant experience aesthetic of New York, Goodfellas effectively ties the dynamic trajectory of America in the later-half of the 20th century and weaves it into the New York setting.

Iconic locations such as the Copacabana frame the New York aesthetic in time, as if to freeze it within a caricature of itself, exaggerating the edges and colors and delivering the entire package with impeccable writing and brilliant casting. Nothing quite says New York in film like Robert DeNiro. Even if the film had nothing to do with New York, DeNiro always says New York. He could play Santa Claus relocated to Phoenix and working as a cake decorator and I would still think New York.

The difference between the Godfather and Goodfellas, or one of the differences, there are many, is this framing in time. Scorsese had said in an interview many years ago, how he used color to really root this film in the time period of the 1960s. He used filters to give the entire film a slightly green cast, which, to me, gives it a snapshot quality. To see Goodfellas, then, is to see New York city in an exquisitely preserved Polaroid picture album. It is that “shared memory”-centric 1960s aesthetic that made Scorcese’s technique so effective. To see this as the overlay, captures New York city beautifully in time.

We can really see the beauty of Scorsese’s color palette in the diner image above. The image is stark and beautiful while remaining incidental, which seems key to the style and technique throughout the film. The diner itself, as an iconic location in Queens, is also the setting for the scene below which ties the exterior and interior borough shots together in a fascinating parallax that expresses Henry’s chaotic downfall as the family turns against him in the end.


Do the Right Thing

Spike Lee’s love of his beloved Brooklyn is no secret. The aesthetic of Mookie’s Brooklyn clearly has an autobiographical slant, with the rich tapestry of personalities and colors lovingly weaved within the narrative of conflicting New York cultures. The neighborhood setting immerses the viewer in borough-centrism, the bridge-and-tunnel view of New York just a few miles from the epicenter of the universe but millions of miles away from the promise.

The red overtones in Lee’s color palette for this film makes the brick structures come to life to underscore the intensity of the environment, washing every scene in a dusky New York rust red

Fight Club:

Like the Edward Norton character in Fight Club, the city in the film is also never named. However, the end scene definitely suggests a pre-9/11 New York city skyline with the World Trade Center in the foreground. The protagonist’s focus on the immasculating effects of modern capitalism would most likely target the center of capitalist culture and New York’s Wall Street district is the obvious aesthetic for this part of the film.

Fight Club, and this scene in particular, leans toward a blue cast, which, along with the fantastic outcome, leaves the viewer with a comic book-like New York aesthetic. While it is not a match for my personal aesthetic, it is, in itself classic as the crowning feature of the dystopian bleakness that frames the manboy-in-the-city tone at the heart of Fight Club.

I chose these films for this project, however there are a number of other films that have fascinating settings and aesthetics. It can be a difficult thing to choose one overriding personal aesthetic, but by focusing that question to setting and location, I feel I’ve given an accurate representation of one facet of my personal film aesthetic that was worth discussing.



Image and Video sources:







Breakfast at Tiffany’s:

Annie Hall:

Godfather II:



Do the Right Thing:

Fight Club:


Other sources:

Goodfellas, color:

Fight Club color:

A great list of film color palettes:


Carla Jean: The Quiet Foil

Liz Melendez
Novel, Film Adaptation

My original thesis addressed on the roles and symbolism of the female characters in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men. Within the broader context of an analysis of all of the female characters in this story, I chose to focus on Llewelyn Moss’s wife, Carla Jean. Within the narrative of the women in No Country, one in which, contrary to critics of McCarthy’s portrayal of women in his novels, depicts the females as the arbiters of strength, wisdom, a calm in the storm, Carla Jean, particularly in the film, plays a distinct role among these.

The book is predominantly the voice of Sheriff Bell, whose long italicized swaths of confessional narrations dominate the print experience. But the film relies, quite rightly, on the distinct capabilities of Tommy Jones, whose weathered features and acting chops carry the weight of the Sheriff Bell narrative in the film without the need for its representation in dialogue. This invocation of artistic license makes room for the Coen brothers to leave their own mark on the piece while leaving the story otherwise almost completely intact. It is in this space, that the most complicated sub-narrative of Carla Jean can be found.

Throughout the film and for most of the book, Carla Jean is pragmatic and resilient while at once being vulnerable and even frightened. Her strength, and her power as a foil, is that when it matters most, she is steadfast. One particular expression of her unflinching certainty is to Sheriff Bell, as she affirms her belief in Llewelyn’s ability to take care of himself, no matter the threat or challenge. As Daniel butler puts it in his article for the Cormac McCarthy Journal “… Moss’s resolutely loyal wife Carla Jean tells Sheriff Bell, ‘He was in Vietnam,’ a statement, which, in its brevity, indicates that Moss has seen horrors before and is unlikely to be frightened by the threats of drug-dealers (130)” (Butler 42). This certainty, which runs in contrast to her warnings and concern when talking to Llewelyn directly, aside from a show of loyalty, carries beneath it, a foundation of serene resolve demonstrated by the other female characters in this story. As her fear for Llewelyn’s safety overcomes her, Carla Jean’s appeals to her husband invoke a steady and moralistic thread that seems to be at the center of this foundation. “It’s a false god” (McCarthy 181).

This humble foil seems to command the most formidable oppositional force against the seemingly invincible and terrifying Anton Chighur. In an almost imperceptible turn, Carla Jean, when faced with imminent death at the hands of Chighur, defies his signature imperative, “Call it,” a coin toss mind game, a death riddle and cruel emotional ruse the latter uses to toy with and terrify his victims in their final moments of life (McCarthy, 256). At this moment, Carla Jean confronts Chighur on the illusion of his tack and his principles, pointing out the totality of his agency in the matter, that he, truly “does not have to do this,” referring to the murder about to take place. Chighur, who has the same conversation with Wells moments before his demise, offers her the coin toss, as if to defer all responsibility to the coin in her fate (McCarthy, 258). Carla Jean rebuffs and refutes his offer and the reasoning behind it: “The coin didn’t have no say. It was just you” (McCarthy, 258).

In his Journal of Religion and Film article “Homeric Heroes in Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big Lebowski (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007)” Vaughan S. Roberts analyzes the symbolism of the character of Carla Jean as potentially being a more significant player in the narrative. “It is arguable that the characters of Llewelyn or Carla Jean (or both) function as the anti-hero in this film, allowing Sheriff Ed Tom Bell to take on and develop the heroic role” (Roberts 22).

In contrast to Roberts’ ascription, but not his assessment, rather than an anti-hero or protagonist, it could be that Carla Jean is the unseen foil to Chighur, the omnipotent harbinger of Bell’s “dismal tide” from the film dialogue (he does not use this term in the book). By refusing to “call it,” as happens in the film but not the book, Carla Jean is rejecting the currency upon which Chighur must operate. He relies on the universality of the fear of death to derive his calculating and meticulous power. Carla Jean’s refusal strips Chighur of this power, after which, nothing he does will matter. She reclaims, with completeness, control of her final moments, leaving this angel of death nothing more than the material dispatch of what, in this instant, has become a hollow and gratuitous exercise in human will, divorced from whatever mysterious order imbued its divinity. At this moment, Chighur is just a killer, killing for his own sake, for the sake of something empty and without the merits upon which he had justified all the killings before it. And in this process, is foiled.

Evidence of Carla Jean’s victory in the Coen brothers’ film adaptation comes as Chighur’s invincibility is shattered among the wreckage of an uncharacteristically inadvertent moment. Chighur’s car crash occurs immediately after his showdown with Carla Jean. And his bewildered reaction indicates, perhaps for the first time, a chink in the thick and seemingly impenetrable armor that had enabled him to drive the dismal tide along. He looks around, as if he is suddenly uncertain. For all of his austere and calculating terrorism, this inhuman, seemingly unstoppable monster, was, perhaps, undone in the end by a simple woman’s simple act of defiance.





Butler, Daniel. “What’s Wanted is a Clean Sweep”: Outlaws and Anarchy in Joseph Conrad’s” The Secret Agent” and Cormac McCarthy’s” No Country for Old Men.” The Cormac McCarthy Journal (2011): 38-50.

McCarthy, Cormac. No country for old men. Pan Macmillan, 2010.

Roberts, Vaughan S. “Homeric Heroes in Ethan and Joel Coen’s The Hudsucker Proxy (1994), The Big

Lebowski (1998) and No Country for Old Men (2007).” Journal of Religion & Film 17.1 (2013): 40.



Visual Response

Trailer Park Lady

o Country for Old Men, trailer park lady

I chose the single image of the trailer park manager lady, specifically the moment she physically squares off against Chighur. It is such a short and subtle moment, such a slight shift in body language but it speaks volumes and is a pivotal point in the narrative of Chighur as some seemingly invincible angel of death.

The connotative underpinnings of this particular character at this very particular moment is compelling. The audience at once fears for her and celebrates her chutzpah, as if we are all potentially under the caste of an inherent evil represented by Chighur’s omnipotence and are relieved to sense a vulnerability in the monster.

This points to the thematic representation of women in contrast to the men in character, representation and roles. The mise en scène of the trailer park office scene has the woman Chighur encounters seated behind a desk, older, and in every other way in the vulnerable position. Unlike the mise en scène of the scene with the man at the gas station, who is grown, older, but standing and more in a position to defend himself. The gas station owner nonetheless withers slowly in the agonizing scene as Chighur intellectually cloisters and plucks at him like a spider toying with its prey.

The woman in the trailer park is not interested in small talk, so she doesn’t insult Chighur’s sensibilities. She is there to run the trailer park and is not persuadable. She is unmoved by Chighur’s trademark schpiel of ominous inquiries, (“Where does he work?”), riddles and intimidation. She expresses her unmoveability in her simple refusal. This seems to confound Chighur. In the following moments, with no dialogue, Chighur seems to motion that he is going to do something physical, hears the toilet flush and turns to leave. He pauses as if to reconsider but unlike his previous victims, this woman does not stand sheepishly and wait for him to press his air hammer to her forehead. She makes one subtle shift in body language, posturing to assert that she does not suffer fools and is not having any of Chighur’s nonsense. While it seems that she is oblivious to the threat at hand, it also seems clear that that is precisely what makes her most formidable to Chighur, who may have come to rely on his icy and terrifying rap to stun his victims into submission.

The woman at the trailer park and Moss’s wife both appear to symbolize a confounding force to the seemingly unstoppable evil, the “dismal tide” represented by Chighur. The women are operating on a different currency. The symbolic feature of this currency exchange seems to be evident in their inherent unshakable response to Chighur’s previously effective submission technique. Moss’s wife, on realizing the certainty of her fate, takes control of the final moments of her life by refusing to engage in the coin toss. The fear for the loss of life is precisely the currency on which Chighur operates. By devaluing his currency, Moss’s wife and the trailer park lady have stripped him of power.

Every man Chighur encounters appears to be operating on his currency, engaged in a gamble with evil in which the buy in is eminent doom and for which the pay out is whatever a man seeks to gain in the mad scheme of symbolic struggles before him. It seems the men symbolize the nature of men, to strive, to risk, to fight, to plunder and to survive while women are an omnipresent and unmovable confounding force that seems to hold the whole incredible madness together. They are steady and practical, wise and un-shakeable. And when the men get too old to be in the fight, it appears they retire to the centered and quite place where women live at the heart.

This concludes what was required for the assignment, however I wanted to share the entry below:

One more thing…

For some more insight into why this movie means so much to me (besides the fact that it is a Coen Bros. movie of a Cormac McCarthy book which makes it awesome) I want to mention the overall aesthetic of the film. It is the visual backdrop of my life and childhood captured perfectly. And, as so many films and television programs that are shot in NM, the location becomes another character in the piece eventually becoming integral to the overall mood and identity of the work.

These are screen shots from the film, and photos I’ve taken randomly over the past 10 years or so when I’ve been home visiting our ranch.

Screen shot from NCFOM,

My image taken on the road leading into our ranch.



Great prairie screenshot with windmill in the distance from

View from the front door of our ranch house in NM with windmill in the distance.



Dusk screenshot from NCFOM,

Dusk at our ranch.


I could match every shot from the opening sequence of the film with photos from my own collection, which were taken randomly, and many of them before I ever saw the film. I chose just these few to share here, as that is enough to convey what I am trying to say.










Fight Club



“Narrator” shows off coagulated blood in his mouth during an office meeting. This rarely happens in office meetings.

This, for me, is the moment when the contrast between the “narrator’s” real life and his Tyler Durden life cross over a tipping point that leads us to the acceleration at the end.




“Narrator” in his bed with water leaking in and dripping all around him. Every shot from inside this house is a window into the bilge-soaked and decayed recesses of the protagonist’s mind. I found the tooth brushing scenes particularly disturbing.




“Narrator” with Marla, a woman he hates because she represents all women and he is terrified of women. His dissociation and subconscious invention of Tyler is likely driven by his irrepressible fear of sexual inadequacy, an overriding theme throughout the film.




The cast…

No Cosmos for Old Men: Narratives, Tropes and Archetypes

The mystery and futility of these words rings in the narratives found in films like 2001: A Space Odyssey. However, thematically, this narrative is played out across multiple films, and actually can be found in all three films we have studied in this course. With particular focus on 2001: A Space Odyssey and No Country for Old Men, an analysis of characters and symbolism points to a distinct metanarrative with its own cast of players and their representational archetypes.

Whether it is the cold, dark slab in 2001, or the cold dark psyche of Anton Chigurh, the role of cosmic and mysterious fortune comes to life for the viewer to experience. The stark incongruity of the monolith, as well as the angular fastidiousness of Chigurh’s methodical nature place them within the narrative as symbolic world changers. Personifications and symbolism notwithstanding, each player precipitates a seemingly unescapable fate, and an irresistible unknowability for a would-be protagonist.

Dave, like Llewellyn Moss, finds himself at a crossroads of inevitability, an unwitting subject to an unfolding destiny and who, in the course of merely surviving from moment to moment, finds himself capable of that which was beyond his abilities. In the end, both characters fall, not to an end, but to a mysterious process in which they played a key role in perpetuating.

The narrative driven by the inner voice of the viewer for 2001 is driven by embodied voice of Sherriff Bell in No Country for Old Men. The viewer is situated in each according the intention of the author, in 2001 to be disoriented through change, and in No Country for Old Men as both a voyeur to the events with the point-of-view benefit of traveling alongside Bell in his journey. Questions are asked, presented into the scheme and answered within the subtle folds and layers of elegantly conceived story craft.

Technologies in both films become the tools of disembodiment necessary to bring the concepts to life, allowing the viewer to move through each chapter and accept what is being characterized apart from the deeper meanings weaved into the narrative itself. It may be easier to compartmentalize the wonders and horrors made possible by the technology as an aberration. However, for the viewer there remains a persistent linkage that demands attention.

Each film brings us to the questions that answer themselves, which, in turn generate more questions. From multiple authors a common thread can be found. Perhaps Joseph Cambpell’s theory of the monomyth in literary narratives may be true, that there really is only one real narrative, a framework upon which every tale returns to the same basic questions. The human drive to derive meaning, and to create, connects the viewer with an unalienable truth to which most human creativity is attached and for which no language suffices.


The Hero’s Journey



“All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts…”

As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII
William Shakespeare


My additional commentary on 2001…

The Timeless Aesthetic of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless; Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is, But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only dance. I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where. And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”

― T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, Burnt Norton




File this one under “just because.” It was not required for our class, but the theme seemed to demand a blog post…

During our class discussion, Pete pointed out the significance of time in the scene change between the ape throwing the bone and the space station. Reflecting on this sequencing, I am compelled to look at the narrative meaning behind this and other depictions of time throughout the film.

In the space of two frames we jump from what could be interpreted as the dawn of man to the beginning of the end of man. It could also be interpreted that this process is followed by the rebirth. Which begs the question, what is it that Kubrick is trying to say about all of the time in between? Is it to fast-forward the viewer past tales that have been told and re-told in order to underscore the story at either end that has not? Or, is it a commentary on the insignificance of human evolution in the grand scheme? Although it was not part of this assignment, there is a very fitting time-related quote from the film No Country for Old Men, in which the main character’s father chides, “You can’t stop what’s coming. It ain’t all waitin’ on you. That’s vanity.” 

The jump through time, conceivably backwards through the dawn of the universe into a realm in which time has jumped forward, overlaps, with Dave observing himself aging. We can presume Dave returns to the monolith and becomes the star child, representing the cycle in which human time ends and starts again. 


Among our other films…

This disruption of time, then, could be a narrative statement on the illusion of time itself. It challenges the viewer to conceive and re-conceive time in the context of the human search for meaning. Revisiting the film 2001 through the lens of the quote from No Country for Old Men about our vanity in the conception of time, and the T.S. Eliot quote, I find a very interesting narrative thread about time. Time as it relates to man and the universe, time as it relates to man and his father, time as it relates to man and himself and time as an illusion.


Treatments and Presentation

In 2001 Kubrick uses the visual narrative to juxtapose time and sequence, in No Country for Old Men, McCarthy and the Coen Brothers use dialogue framed within the futility facing the protagonist and the main character, and Eliot uses poetry to illustrate the passage of time as an illusion. In all three, the message in the end seems the same:Time is a democratizing circumstance that stops for no one, but is, in itself only a construction of our own sense of reality.


Literally, a Timeless Aesthetic: 2001 In Popular Culture

As a film with a very distinct aesthetic, 2001: A Space Odyssey endures as that aesthetic continues to permeate all mediums.



Annotated Bibliography: The Piano

Bihlmeyer, Jaime. “The (Un) Speakable FEMININITY in Mainstream Movies: Jane Campion’s The Piano.” Cinema Journal 44.2 (2005): 68-88.

An analysis of the female gaze and poststructuralist themes in The Piano. This article also distinguishes the film and filmmaker’s symbolic representations and deconstructions/reconstructions of architypes within the piece that confront traditional ideations of femininity as a female “Other” and contemporary feminist narratives. For example, the wedding photo scene in which the eye of the photographer and then the eye of the husband-to-be become a central shot that underscores the objectification at the heart of the film’s overarching theme. Metaphorical perspectives on female castration are also referenced as an interpretive study into the violence and subjugation of women in film.’s_’The_Piano’/links/00b7d52f3a8d04d803000000.pdf


Giuliana, Elisa. “Challenging Bluebeard:‘Bluebeard’s Egg’(1983), The Piano (1993) and Barbe Bleue (2009).” Opticon1826 (2013): Art-7.

In “Challenging Bluebeard” Giuliana discusses the metaphoric relationship between Jane Campion’s The Piano and the classic folktale Bluebeard The film makes a very direct reference to the relationship between these two pieces by featuring the story of Bluebeard as a play performed within the story. Bluebeard has become a common focus in the study of feminist narratives in which the central female character is infantilized, objectified and, ultimately, in need of rescuing by a male hero. It helps to remember that for more than half of this country’s history, women were considered chattel that could be bought or sold into marriage without agency. While Giuliana toys a bit with the idea of role reversals and disruptions between the classic Bluebeard theme and The Piano, it seems a bit of a stretch, but worth discussing.



Angela Carter’s reworking of classic narratives present effective counter-narratives which engage the topics, themes and architypes along new lines of sociological and psychological thought. This essay discusses Carter’s interpretation of the story of Bluebeard specifically, however, reading her interpretations of many traditionally marginalizing feminine narratives gives a more useful perspective on the absurdities and romanticism of the classic infantilized female as the familiar tales are upended and retold in challenging and intelligent forms.


More on the female gaze:

Vignettes of “truth”…

When do we start changing the caption, and when do we start forgetting we have...?
When do we start changing the caption, and when do we start forgetting we have…?

“He who thinks he knows, doesn’t know.
He who knows he doesn’t know, knows.”
-Joseph Campbell, The Power of Myth

I heard Joseph Campbell say this when I was about 22 during a televised interview with Bill Moyers in the PBS series The Power of Myth. In many ways, this, among many other things I read and heard around that time challenged me to think differently, and to consider the wisdom of understanding and accepting that we do not, really, know anything. Campbell attributes the quote as an ancient axiom of anonymous origin, however it is framed within a dialogue in which a variety of concepts are challenged by Moyers and elucidated by Campbell. It is a well-known and fascinating series and Campbell’s work is a great study in myth and narrative.

Who knows…

Our discussion in class on the film Memento culminated in a small debate about the value of knowing. I submitted the argument that there are advantages to not knowing. Pete pointed out, that “not knowing may be great for some, but for others that would be terrifying.”

As I offer an analysis of the film for our class assignment, I think it is interesting to consider how our beliefs, biases, and fears in particular, shape the way and what we “know.” As a viewer, and especially as a scholar, it would seem imperative that I suspend belief and disbelief in the interest of investigation. Even if the goal is knowing, I can’t truly gain knowledge unless I am willing to consider all possibilities. By limiting possibilities, we can ultimately just tell ourselves any story we like, any story that keeps us from being uncomfortable, or any story that obscures information that could have horrible consequences. We can create a uniquely subjective narrative to suit our circumstances, which is really the theme of the film.

As the story takes shape, we realize we are only offered clips of reality in the life of Leonard. There is a splintered visual narrative in the captions on the photos, the tattoos and the notes that round out the scenes of Leonard’s life. These vignettes continue, out of order and overlapping as the viewer is challenged to make sense of Leonard’s story without a timeline, with limited or no context. In class we discussed how, in reality, we are all Leonard, moving through daily life in small narrative clips of consciousness that, depending on the conditions of any particular time, shape a metanarrative reality of what we know or think we know at that time. That’s interesting to think about when you consider how the limitations in the way we are presented with Leonard’s story, out of order and out of context, completely alters our perception of the reality.

I chose the above quote from our text because it fit this movie assignment so perfectly. The film is a study of pictorial fallacy in a narrative that is reshaped every 15 minutes. How does the recording of a moment, in a photograph, change as the scene changes, as the character’s circumstances change? How does “freezing time” shape reality? And how does the film in creating a second narrative, then create potentially infinite narratives by presenting them out of order? And how does the result then create yet another narrative, which goes on in the empty space left, for the viewer to consider about the characters and him/herself?

Knowing Lenny…

Clues to a hidden narrative thread do show up in the film at different points. For instance, the characters Leonard interacts with seem to have a curious contempt for him, while the audience seems inclined to see him as an afflicted and sympathetic character. This made me very suspicious about who Leonard really was. Some clues were more literal such as frames, scenes that are not consistent with the story we are inclined to believe. Even as the film ends, only part of the character is revealed which leaves a lot of the canvas blank for interpretation.

Ultimately, what we thought we knew about Leonard is shifted, yet knowing it leaves more questions than answers. Who was Leonard, really, before his “condition?” Is Leonard mentally ill? Is he a murderous sociopath who has either consciously devised a story or unconsciously dissociated and compartmentalized his life with lies that perpetuate his behavior? Why is Teddy helping him? Is Teddy helping him? Was Natalie a bad person or an avenging girlfriend of a murdered drug lord? How long has this been going on? The list goes on…

What do I know…?

So, coming back to our discussion on knowing, we were asked to consider the concept of knowledge and how or if it is really attained. My contention is that the need to know may, in fact, obscure the ability to understand. These are two distinct concepts, the latter, for me, holding much more value. I think it’s important to assume agency in shaping the narrative without disrupting the process of it beyond that agency. If I accept that any moment of Leonard’s story is only a clip, for which I do not have a context, I can be free to discover whatever possibilities exist as I come to learn more. If I constantly succumb to the urge to fill the empty space with my own narrative thread, I may make presumptions about Leonard that have no basis in fact. This can have value as a shock experience. But I believe I will understand more by wondering and postulating while leaving space for what I do not know, about Leonard, or anything else for that matter. Unless, of course, I don’t want to know. At that point I suppose I could start changing my own captions to avoid considering some upsetting thought or memory. I could redirect my own narrative and start filling the unknown space with what makes me comfortable. But isn’t being terrified what drives Leonard to start changing what he “knows”? When are we justified in changing what we know? Is that ever justifiable?

As Pete said at the closing of class, when it comes to “knowing,” we are all Leonard. All conscious reality is a clip of time, and everything we know, or think we know, is really not much more than a picture and a note. Memory might not be erased but it can certainly be reshaped by context, convenience and what we are willing to consider. And lying to ourselves may be easier than we think.

Interesting links:

This person did a blog about Memento that I found interesting. In it she mentions Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, a perennial favorite of mine and always a good reference in discussions like this.

For your viewing pleasure:







“You see, this is my life! It always will be! Nothing else! Just us, the cameras, and those wonderful people out there in the dark… All right, Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.” – Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard