Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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Haunted Boy – The True Story Behind “The Exorcist”

In the summer of 1948, a young boy in Mount Rainier, Maryland began using an Ouija board with his aunt, who believed in spiritualism.  After she died, the boy and his family experienced disturbing sounds which woke them during the night: knocking, scratching, and marching feet.  The family witnessed the boy’s mattress furiously shaking, furniture moving on its own, and visitors thrown from a chair. Scratches and strange marks mysteriously appeared on the boy’s body.

Physicians and mental health experts could find no rational explanation for these events.  Finally, the family – which was not Catholic – consulted a local priest.

Father E. Albert Hughes interviewed the boy and later described his “dark, empty stare.”  He determined that the boy was possessed by multiple demons (Legions) and arranged to perform an exorcist at Georgetown Hospital in Washington, D.C.

The exorcism lasted for three nights, with no positive results.  The boy was sent home.  Not long after, the words “Louis” appeared on his chest.  The boy’s mother interpreted this as a sign to take him to St. Louis, Missouri, where she had relatives.

Father William Bowdern, a Jesuit priest, agreed to undertake a rigorous exorcism of the boy, who had suffered through months of violent behavior followed by periods of calm.

The boy was admitted to the Alexian Brothers Hospital in St. Louis and baptized Catholic.  During Easter week, while closely guarded and under restraint, the boy received confession and Holy Communion. Brother Rector Cornelius placed a statue of St. Michael the Archangel – Satan’s arch enemy – by the boy’s bed.  On the night of April 18, 1949, after hours of violent struggle and intense emotional resistance, the boy cried out, “He’s gone!”  By the next morning, Father Bowdern became convinced that the boy was indeed free from demonic possession.

The boy and his family returned to Maryland and spent the summer of 1949 as a normal, happy family.  The boy, whose identity has never been revealed, became known as “The Haunted Boy.”  With no memory of the dreadful events which had threatened to ruin his life, he grew up to become a scientist for NASA.

The fifth floor room at the Alexian Brothers Hospital, where the final exorcism had taken place, was permanently sealed.

Author William Peter Blatty, a devout Catholic, heard about “The Haunted Boy” while a student at Georgetown University.  He used the story of the boy’s ordeal for the basis of his best-selling novel, The Exorcist, one of the most terrifying and thought-provoking novels ever written.  It was later turned into a major motion picture.  Blatty wrote the screenplay.

Dawn Pisturino

Published in the Spring 2016 issue of Psychic-Magic Ezine.

Copyright 2016-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Colorful Moments in Early Black-and-White Horror

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, black-and-white masked ball scene.

Most people think of the silent film version of Phantom of the Opera as a black-and-white film but, in reality, there were a number of color scenes in the movie.

As early as 1895, methods had been invented to inject color into scenes, but these “additive color systems” used processes that were tedious and time-consuming: hand-coloring, stenciling, tinting, and toning. They were only used on a limited basis. Tinting and toning gave the best results and were used by D.W. Griffith. Prismacolor and the Handschiegel Process fall into this category.

In 1915, the Technicolor Corporation invented a two-strip process, and this was incorporated into select scenes in Phantom of the Opera, 1925.

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in technicolor.

Whether the black-and-white scenes or the color scenes are more frightening depends on the individual viewer. I personally like the light and dark contrasts of black-and-white film in horror movies because it feels moodier, creepier, and more akin to the darkness of evil. (Think about the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman and how different they would look in color.)

Color films, in fact, did not really take off until the late 1930s due to the expense. And producers expected big returns on their money. It wasn’t until the 1960s that color became the norm. Now, watching a black-and-white film seems to be a treat reserved for film buffs alone!

The Unmasking Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in black-and-white.
Masked Ball Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in early technicolor.

Which do YOU prefer?

Dawn Pisturino

October 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

2 Comments »

Godzilla Rules

After the bombing of Hiroshima, filmmakers became obsessed with sci fi movies that exposed and speculated about the harmful effects of radiation poisoning on humans and the environment. Giant, monstrous creatures produced from radiation exposure became a popular theme, particularly in Japan, where the original Godzilla was born in 1954. A whole series of movies featuring Godzilla and sundry other monsters followed. Even today, remakes of the Japanese originals remain popular. And merchandise sales of T-shirts, toys, and other items remain strong. Godzilla even earned his own pop song:

Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla
Godzilla original movie theme, 1954.

Godzilla Rules!

Dawn Pisturino

October 2, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments »

The Magic of Hollywood Technology

Photo: New York Daily News

Every new technological invention seems like “magic” at the time, whether it’s the invention of moving pictures, sound technology, radio, color film, widescreen viewing, television, digital recording, or the latest computer-generated imagery software.

The crude stop-motion special effects used in the original King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) were considered phenomenal at the time. The innovative makeup used in Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932) amazed audiences in the 1930s. The color film technology used in The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) seems as brilliant and fresh today as it did back in 1939. The movie scores written for Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) and The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) have become classics. The cinematography in John Ford’s classic westerns has inspired future generations of young filmmakers.

When Orson Welles produced Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), he introduced a whole new way of designing sets, filming the action, mixing sound, and narrating a story. His innovations influenced future directors (Lewis 158-161; Barsam and Monahan, 397-401).

John Ford’s The Searchers combined Technicolor with VistaVision widescreen technology to produce a visually stunning movie. Widescreen technology forced theater owners to upgrade their screens, just like the invention of sound technology forced them to upgrade their sound systems (Lewis 249-250; Barsam and Monahan 216-217; Widescreen Museum, 1).

The noir genre used chiaroscuro lighting and key lights to create a dark, brooding atmosphere. Movies such as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) explored the dark side of human nature and became popular for their grittiness and realism. When night-time film was developed, cinematographers were able to film at night (Lewis 183, 203; Barsam and Monahan, 96).

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) paved the way for new special effects technology, especially animatronics and computer-generated imagery. The editing techniques produced a flawless, seamless action film that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy (Lewis 373-374; Barsam and Monahan, 58-59).

As new ways of looking at cinema emerged, directors such as Jean-Luc Godard experimented with discontinuity editing, juxtaposition, and freestyle filming of movies. Dennis Hopper used some of these techniques in his movie, Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), which brought the 1960s counterculture to the big screen. The extreme editing of the movie pared the story down to its bare bones and forces viewers to draw their own conclusions (Lewis 289-291).

Advanced technology, combined with the vision and creativity of directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and other members of the crew, will continue to enthrall audiences around the world—as long as they can produce a solid story to go with the overwhelming technological effects.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Hopper, Dennis, Dir. Easy Rider. Perf. Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper. Columbia, 1969.

Huston, John, Dir. The Maltese Falcon. Perf. Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros., 1941.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

Welles, Orson, Dir. Citizen Kane. Perf. Orson Welles. Warner Bros., 1941.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 6, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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London After Midnight (1927)

London After Midnight (known also as The Hypnotist) was a 1927 silent film starring the master of disguise, Lon Chaney, as Professor Edward C. Burke. The last known print was destroyed in the MGM vault fire of 1967. Consequently, it is a highly-sought film that would command a high price if a precious copy were found. Many people believe a private collector secretly harbors the last print in a secure vault somewhere in the world. Wishful thinking?

Rick Shmidlin reconstructed the film from stills for Turner Classic Movies. It premiered on Halloween, 2002.

Synopsis (Spoiler Alert):

Five years after Roger Balfour’s death is ruled a suicide, his abandoned estate is usurped by a gruesome duo: an older man with scraggly hair and wicked sharp teeth, and a sinister-looking young woman in a funereal long gown. Professor Burke, who investigated Balfour’s death, is re-engaged to investigate the couple by Sir James Hamlin, Balfour’s neighbor. Coincidentally, all the people living at the Hamlin estate were suspects in Balfour’s death.

When bizarre and unusual things begin to happen, however, suspicion turns on the ghoulish occupants of the Balfour estate. The neighbors whisper that they are the living dead and murdered Roger Balfour.

Professor Burke hypnotizes Sir James Hamlin and uncovers the truth: Hamlin murdered Balfour and made it look like a suicide after Balfour forbade Hamlin from marrying his daughter. The ghoulish couple turn out to be Professor Burke and a stage actress in disguise. Mystery solved!

Courtesy of Monster Madness 78 on YouTube. Length: 46:40 minutes.

Lon Chaney as the vampire.

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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From Movie Score to Jazz Standard: “Stella by Starlight”

The Uninvited was released by Paramount in 1944 as a classic ghost story based on the novel and play by Dorothy Macardle. If you like ghost stories, this movie is for you! The movie contains all the elements of a good ghost story – the abandoned mansion, windswept and crumbling, built on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking a raging sea; the beautiful young girl haunted by her past; the handsome young musician determined to save her; and a family mystery involving adultery and murder.

Stella by Starlight was written by Victor Young as a serenade for the movie. The original score reflects the plot of the movie: the developing romance between Milland and Russell; the mounting tension between the ghosts and the tenants of the old house; and the dark, moody character of the rugged Cornish coast. The serenade became a hit, drawing movie goers everywhere. Two years later, Ned Washington added lyrics and turned it into a jazz standard that is still popular today. It has been performed by such greats as Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, John Williams, and Liberace. No fake book would be without it.

Liberace performing a stylized version:

Jazz version by Miles Davis:

Enjoy the relaxing mood of Stella by Starlight!

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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The Hollywood Blockbuster vs. Independent Niche Films

This poster and other Star Wars posters can be purchased at film/art gallery.

After abandoning the auteur film directors of the 1970s, Hollywood turned to independent filmmakers who were willing to follow “the blockbuster formula” (Lewis 387).  Auteur producers began relying on market research and special effects to produce high-grossing films that awed audiences and kept them clamoring for more.

In the 1980s, Hollywood reversed course and returned to its established roots: genre films.  The studios reaped big box-office profits from “the blockbuster, the so-called event film which provides audiences with a sensational experience independent . . . [of] plot and performance” (Lewis 359).  This trend was prompted by the huge success of Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  Both of these films followed classic formulaic plots, reinvented by George Lucas and Steven Spielberg for a modern market (Lewis 359).

One of the most successful genres in the 1980s-1990s was the action-adventure film.  Born out of the success of the James Bond movies that hit the theaters in the 1960s, action-adventure films are driven by a heroic protagonist, a murderous antagonist, heart-stopping action and speed, and a sensational climax.  Successful movies in this genre include auteur producer Joel Silver’s Lethal Weapon and Die Hard (Lewis 359-365).  They both reflect Silver’s particular style.

The heroes in action-adventure films are muscular, strong, independent, and rugged.  They are men who defy convention.  They are men willing to go to any length to overcome the bad guy(s) and win.  The hero hangs in there against all odds, finally discovering “what he is made of, what he is capable of” (Lewis 361).  These movies are often called the “male rampage film” (Lewis 360) because of the brutal, explicit, and law-bending use of deadly force.

At the same time, the hero forges a strong bond with his male cohort.  The two men are bonded by the danger and near-death experiences which they have experienced together.  It’s the kind of bond that excludes other people because nobody else can understand it unless they have been there themselves (Lewis 360-361).

The 1980s also saw the rise of independent auteur filmmakers not backed by the studios.  Unlike the big blockbusters, these films generally have grossed less than “$2 million, suggesting a small but loyal target audience” (Lewis 390).  They are regarded as “niche films, films produced by and for a specific and relatively narrow demographic” (Lewis 390).  LGBT films fall into this category.  In addition, niche films are disproportionately made by women and minorities.  By the end of the 1990s, most independents had been absorbed by the Hollywood studios (Lewis 390).

While violence can be explicit and widespread, as in many Coen brother movies, it never rises to the level of the action-adventure films.  Independent movies tend to move slower and focus on the wants, needs, and desires of real people (Lewis 390-391).  Controversial themes are often explored in independent movies, such as John Sayles’ movie about worker rights, Matewan (Lewis 393).  Only rarely does an independent film become a Hollywood hit.  An exception is Steven Soderbergh’s film, sex, lies, and videotape, released in 1989, which grossed over $25 million (Lewis 393).

If Hollywood is about making money, anybody who can consistently crank out high-grossing movies can become a prominent auteur director or producer.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 23, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara”

** Spoiler Alert **

The 1953 film Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. The traditional honeymoon site, Niagara Falls, provides the backdrop for murder.

The music accompanying the opening titles is dark, foreboding, and powerful. The first scene of the movie is a wide camera shot that captures the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls, sporting a rainbow (a symbol of hope). The camera shifts to the right, revealing Joseph Cotton walking along the bank of the river. Compared to the falls, he looks small and impotent. He seems unhappy, lost, and alienated. Indeed, he delivers a monologue to the falls, extolling their strength and power, and decrying his own weakness and failure. It’s a strange scene that gives the viewer the impression that his character is mentally unstable and may be contemplating suicide.

This is an example of how the setting, music, character, camera angles, contrasts, and symbols act together to create impressions in the mind of the viewer. Indeed, Niagara is almost Hitchcock-like in its overall design and presentation.

The viewer soon realizes through her actions and body language that Cotten’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, does not love him. She, too, is unhappy. She deliberately does things to rile him up and explode into small episodes of violence. She implies to another honeymooning couple that her husband is mentally unstable and capable of violence and self-harm. She pretends to worry about him whenever he has gone somewhere alone. But this is all a ruse, because she has a lover, and the lover is planning to kill him.

In the colorized version, Marilyn Monroe stands out from the crowd by wearing stylish, colorful clothing. She carries herself as if she is looking for a good time. She is described by her husband as a bar tramp. Although he loves her, he blames her for the loss of everything he ever had. He strongly suspects she has a lover. In fact, he sees her as out-of-control—just like Niagara Falls. But he is too weak and impotent to leave her.

It is hard for the viewer to feel sympathy for either of these characters. Marilyn Monroe is too scheming and conniving. Joseph Cotten is too weak and unstable.

When Joseph Cotten disappears and a body is found in the river, it looks like the two adulterous lovers got away with murder. When the detective takes Marilyn Monroe to the morgue building to identify the corpse, they walk through a dark and forbidding corridor before they come to the body, lying on a gurney in a cold, sterile room. When the detective turns on the light above the body, the truth is revealed. Marilyn Monroe cries out, faints, and ends up in the hospital. The viewer believes the enormity of her crime has struck home. The viewer soon finds out, however, that her husband is still alive and it is the lover who is dead.

In a remarkable and dramatic scene, Joseph Cotten confronts his wife in a bell tower. This bell tower is a solid building that plays music by request. It represents the strength and solidity of marriage. But the bells are silent now. The room is shadowy and filled with contrasts. The camera looks down from between the bells, making the characters look small and insignificant. The scene tightens as Joseph Cotten struggles with his wife and murders her. He leaves her lying on the black-and-white parquet floor and runs off. The camera lingers on the body for a few seconds, then cuts away, showing Joseph Cotten trying to get out of the locked building. He finally comes back to the body and picks up his wife’s lipstick, a symbolic act that he still loves her.

The police also know that Joseph Cotten is still alive and murdered his wife. He steals a boat, kidnapping Jean Peters. The boat falters and begins drifting toward the falls. Waves wash over the boat, throwing Peters and Cotten around. No matter how hard they try, they are powerless against the waves. The acting here is so realistic, it feels like it is actually happening.

Joseph Cotten tries to sink the boat. He allows Jean Peters to climb onto a wet rock in the middle of the river. She struggles and uses all of her strength to climb onto the slippery rock. The camera cuts back to the boat then back to Jean Peters. She watches, horrified, as the boat goes over the falls. The camera uses a wide shot to show the boat falling down Niagara Falls. Compared to the falls, it looks like a wooden toy.

A helicopter appears to rescue Peters. The camera juxtaposes between Jean Peters and the helicopter. The scenes become shorter and the juxtaposition quicker. She struggles to get into the chair that is sent down from the helicopter. Will she make it or fall into the river? She makes it into the chair. She is rescued.

The final scene of the movie is a wide shot of Niagara Falls. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, justice has been done.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

4 Comments »

How the Paramount Decision and the Hollywood Blacklist Changed Hollywood

Rapid post-war changes in American society put downward pressure on studio revenues and profits.  But the Paramount decision and the Hollywood blacklist led to permanent changes that determined how Hollywood studios would conduct business from then on.

Once the Justice Department set its site on the Hollywood filmmaking industry, there was no turning back.  The first antitrust challenge by the Department of Justice came in 1938.  The Hollywood studios operated as trusts, and the Department of Justice was determined to break them up (Lewis 194).

Operating as trusts, the studios held almost complete control over the industry from film development to exhibition.  Studios released new films via a two-tier system.  Most first-tier theaters were owned by the studios.  Second-tier theaters, owned mainly by independents, were pressured by the studios into accepting certain terms if they wanted to screen first-run movies.  The studios used other scams to keep the theaters under their thumbs, such as “blind bidding (the licensing of films sight unseen) [and] block booking (the licensing of an entire slate of films in order to get access to one or two hit titles)” (Lewis 194-195).

After much legal wrangling, the Big Five – MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, and RKO – signed an “interim consent decree” (Lewis 195) with the Department of Justice on October 29, 1940.  This decree allowed a system of arbitration to be set up that could resolve conflicts between theater owners and the studios.  But the decree did nothing to break up studio monopolies and end their monopolistic practices.  This led to the studios and the theater owners arbitrating a new consent decree in 1941 called the United Motion Picture Industry (Unity) plan.  The plan gave theater owners more leverage but did not go far enough to limit the power of the studios (Lewis 195).

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Paramount case in 1948 (which also included RKO, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, Loew’s-MGM, Columbia, Universal, and United Artists.)  On May 3, 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that the studios must divest themselves of studio-owned theaters across the country.  The Court reasoned that the studios had colluded to “restrain free and fair trade and to monopolize the distribution and exhibition of films” (Lewis 195).

On the plus side, the Court found the fines imposed on theater owners by the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] for screening films without a PCA [Production Code Administration] seal, unconstitutional (Lewis 196-197).

While domestic revenues and studio profits declined after the Paramount decision, “foreign demand for American films after the war” (Lewis 197) grew steadily.  The Cold War was in full swing.  “The Office of War Information . . . cooperated with the MPAA to establish for the studios an ideological and industrial presence abroad” (Lewis 197) which would ensure that American filmmakers would depict America in a positive light.

Within this climate of anti-Communism and competition with the Soviet Union, the Hollywood blacklist was born.  Fearing Communist propaganda and influence in Hollywood, nineteen studio employees were subpoenaed in 1947 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Only ten were required to show up for questioning (called the Hollywood Ten.)  Noted playwright, Bertolt Brecht, testified in a closed session and later emigrated to East Germany (Lewis 197-198).

Members of the Hollywood Ten were generally uncooperative with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and were ultimately indicted and imprisoned for contempt of Congress.  At first, the MPAA publicly supported the Hollywood Ten.  Its president, Eric Johnston, declared, “There’ll never be a blacklist” (Lewis 200).  But shortly after he backtracked, saying, “We did not defend them” (Lewis 200).  After the Hollywood Ten were indicted and sentenced, the MPAA helped to institute “an industry-wide blacklist” (Lewis 200).

The blacklist benefited the studios financially because the contract system was slowly being replaced by “the union-guild movement” (Lewis 200).  The blacklist allowed studios to exert a certain amount of control over actors, guilds, agents, and lawyers.  At the same time, financiers in New York supported the MPAA and gave them more control over the Hollywood studios (Lewis 200).

As a result of the indictments and subsequent blacklist, the studios cancelled contracts and refused to pay members of the Hollywood Ten.  Civil suits dragged on for years.  Hundreds of “writers, directors, producers, and actors were blacklisted between 1947 and 1957” (Lewis 200), resulting in bitter feelings against the Hollywood studios.

Although the Hollywood studios lost financially when divestiture was ordered by the Supreme Court, they gained more power and control as a result of the Hollywood blacklist when the union-guild movement eventually replaced the contract system.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 9, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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