Inherent Traits Affecting Tastes

Are the films we love, the artwork we’re drawn to, or the entertainment we ‘choose’, less of a choice than we think?

Recently I began to explore the underlying reasons why I love the films that I do. I can explain why I think certain cinematographic choices are good or bad—this framing subtly reinforces the film’s message, this choice in set design serves as a portentous omen, etc. But why do I enjoy them? Why do I like films with longer takes more than those with heavy cuts? Is it because I find them more dreamlike? More realistic? I’m not quite sure, but these thought experiments have given me the chance to think more deeply about the films I love, which I find invaluable.

But when it comes to color, there is a more easily identifiable reason, and it’s caused a great deal of existential worry.

I love films that experiment with color and shades, both those which assign artistic meaning to color and those which use color to appeal to cineaste’s soft-spot for visual bliss. One of my favorite cinematic choices ever is Douglas Sirk’s costume changes for the white characters in Imitation of Life, which I’ve previously discussed here. I’ve spent multiple hours reading scholarly articles just about the use of green in Vertigo (highly recommend it). I went out of my way to go to a theater to RE-watch an obscure film from 1945 (Yolanda and the Thief), just because it was showing on 35 mm from a copy of the original Technicolor negatives. I think every film should be required to use Minnelli yellow. The reds of Le Mepris haunt my dreams:

In summation, I LOVE to look at color in film. The richer the better.

But, as many people in my life already know, I am colorblind. I have trouble distinguishing subtle differences in shade, I can’t tell the difference between certain colors, and colleagues have to “color check” graphs I make at work, so I don’t send lime green bars to the VP. Hang this image on a wall (as one roommate of mine almost did):

and all I would see is an abstract collection of dots [hopefully my editor didn’t change the image just to fuck with me]. This is a genetic trait, one I’ve had since birth. The only form of vision that I know is one with deuteranomaly.

So it begs the question: do I love rich, saturated colors so much because of my colorblindness?

As far as scientists are concerned, yep. Us colorblind tend to like yellow way more than the rest of y’all, and we tend to favor things we can see well, as one study found “colors named more accurately and quickly being more preferred”. The richer the color, the more it pops out, and the easier it is to identify. It follows that my colorblindness has directly influenced my preference for rich colors.

I found this nugget of research profoundly disappointing when I first read it. We don’t often think about the origins of our preferences, and for some reason I found it disconcerting to think that I love the things I love thanks to a blip in a genetic code. That the emotions roused in me by a lush cinematic landscape were merely an accident of nature.

The idea of nature vs. nurture has been *ahem* in our culture’s DNA for a long time; often as a point of debate against asinine socially conservative bigots. But it’s fascinating to consider just how much our genetics influence the things we think are wholly of our own accord.

Certainly our experiences shape our reactions to art. I can attest to that fairly easily. After my father died I was much more susceptible to tearing up at father-son stories. I read The Road about a year later and it immediately became one of my favorite novels ever. Would it have made the same impact had I not experienced that loss? Perhaps. But I doubt it.

People intuitively understand this. The events of our lives—both momentous and trivial—mold our outlook on the world, and it follows that what we like and dislike fits into that mold. It is far more difficult to grasp that something as personal as what gives us pleasure, what speaks to us, or what we hold dear could have been decided before we were sentient.

If you’re anything like me, you’re scared that if you think too hard about this you’ll come to hate the things you once loved, all thanks to some colorblind jackass with too much time on his hands. I know when I first realized just how much my colorblindness influences my taste in films, I found it profoundly unnerving. But I’ve come to love this circumstance of my birth.

You see, it gives me a unique perspective which allows me to appreciate beauty in a way that I otherwise wouldn’t be able to. I consider myself lucky. It’s possible that I would never have fallen in love with color in the same way I have without my colorblindness. I think of the joy that the aforementioned screening of Yolanda and the Thief gave me, and how I wouldn’t get the same rush of abject pleasure if I saw colors ‘correctly’. Would I still love it? Maybe. But it wouldn’t have been quite the same. Indeed, I first saw Yolanda in a course at college, and the overwhelming sentiment of my classmates was “Yeah the colors popped. So what?” I suppose we saw things differently.

Everyone is born with a perspective all their own. We can all find beauty in our own way, and the art that we are drawn to all speaks to us differently, even if these differences are minuscule.

Think deeply about the things you enjoy, and why they bring you happiness. Whether gathered by experience or encoded via genetics, they are what make you distinct, and they allow you to have an outlook that can only be your own. Every time someone shares the perspectives that make them unique, the world becomes a better, more colorful place.

Photographs taken from Vertigo (1958), Le Mepris (1963), and Yolanda and the Thief (1945).

Streaming Recommendation: Twilight Zone Tripleheader

I know, I know. In my original Streaming Recommendation, I said that this series would mostly focus on feature length film, rather than television. But I have a justification! Namely that the first episode in this tripleheader, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, was not originally made for television, but is instead a French short film (La Rivière du hibou) that won first prize for Best Short Subject at Cannes in 1962, and the 1963 Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film. The producers of The Twilight Zone decided to buy the American broadcasting rights and air it as an episode. So there, cinematically inclined.

Despite its plaudits as a film, it is routinely overlooked in lists of the greatest Twilight Zone episodes, and its popularity pales in comparison to, say, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street” or “It’s a Good Life”.

Plus, I’ve added two more seldom-appreciated episodes to bring this recommendation up to feature length, both starring the perpetually underrated John Hoyt! So without any further unnecessary sematic justification, here’s a Twilight Zone tripleheader that you can enjoy on Netflix right now:

S5 E22: “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”

This short film is based on the famous 1891 short story by Ambrose Bierce. Of that short story, esteemed author Kurt Vonnegut said:

“[‘An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge’] is a flawless example of American genius, like ‘Sophisticated Lady’ by Duke Ellington or the Franklin stove.”

The story of “Occurrence” is that a man is to be hanged, at Owl Creek Bridge. While standing on the bridge, he thinks of his family. But, the rope snaps, he falls into the creek, and is able to escape. The story is lauded for its exploration of life, death, humanity, human nature, reality, and the consciousness of thought that humans possess.

To adapt Bierce’s story is to accept a high degree of difficulty and scrutiny. Thankfully, director Robert Enrico is up to the task.From the very opening moments, Enrico’s stylistic imprint is upon us. The opening longshots of the woods, the lookout, the bridge, are semi-obstructed by branches and stones. We’re observing from afar, figuratively and literally. It suggests that much like the running of the creek or the growth of the trees; humans bring war, crime, and punishment as our contribution to nature.

Indeed, nature, and the appreciation of the world and the lives within it, is the main thrust of the film. I’ll leave out as much detail as possible with regards to plot, but wish to comment on some other technical things I appreciated/noticed.The underwater camera work is fantastic, and is one of the instances of black and white photography almost certainly being the better option, as it allows for sharp contrasts and clearer delineations of objects while in a disorienting position (similar to the earlier moment of vertigo while on the bridge). The perspective shot as we sink to the bottom is exceptional.

The choice to distort one of the few bits of dialogue is notable. It serves as a commentary on the monstrous nature of war and killings while also working within the diegesis in multiple ways.

One major deviation from the short story which I think is positive is that the reason for the hanging, while shown, is given much less time as a focus. It allows audiences to be more empathetic and forgiving, especially 2018 audiences.

The almost complete lack of dialogue is not a first for the original Twilight Zone. One of the more famous episodes, season two’s “The Invaders” is almost completely dialogue-free. As in that episode, the lack of exposition via dialogue allows for an emphasis on visual storytelling, and it is here where the film’s directors shine.

We don’t learn of the regimented nature of war via various orders. We see it in the choreographed movements. We don’t hear the struggle of facing death. We see it in anguished faces and exaggerated movements. It’s a shining example of what can be accomplished by showing rather than telling–something which is glaringly overlooked now more so than ever in narrative (supposedly) visual media.

S2 E8: “The Lateness of the Hour”

“The Lateness of the Hour” is so good that it’s able to win me over despite being one of the few Twilight Zone episodes shot on video rather than film. I can’t overstate how great of an accomplishment it is to be amazing while looking ugly as sin.

“The Lateness of the Hour” seems prescient in the questions it poses on morality in artificial intelligence. It has served as an inspiration and template for many a sci-fi work in the almost six decades since its release. Indeed, “The Lateness of the Hour” tackles many of the philosophical and moral questions examined by Philip Dick in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (the primary basis of the 1982 film Blade Runner) a full eight years before that novel debuted.

It deals with a family who uses robot servants built by the patriarch, Dr. William Loren. Dr. Loren’s daughter objects to the cushy lifestyle that her father’s inventions enable, and asks them to be decommissioned. The episode unfolds from there, and deals with one of the great questions of humankind. What does it mean to be human? Can a non homo sapien be human?

It is another Twilight Zone episode with a mind-bending twist, though the reception of this twist in popular culture has differed from some of the more famous ones. Rather than being parodied, it has been replicated, by the aforementioned Blade Runner and the more recent Ex Machina. It’s why I think the episode still feels fresh 58 years on, as compared to the brilliant but heavily spoofed “To Serve Man” or “Time Enough at Last”.

Inger Stevens is incredible in this episode. She does so much work with her face, and truly throws every bit of emotion she’s got into the episode (Inger Stevens is a criminally underrated actress in every regard. Check out The World, the Flesh, and the Devil sometime, or “The Hitchhiker” episode of Twilight Zone). Her wide eyes are totally engrossing, almost hypnotic. It might seem like a melodramatic or unrealistic performance on the first watch, but repeat viewings really do it justice. She walks a fine, fine line.

I think my favorite part of the twist is the multifaceted dramatically ironic line that proves its speaker’s point unintentionally. I want to avoid spoilers here, but it really does speak to a part of the human condition that is as inseparable from life as nerves and muscle.

S2 E28: “Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?”

“Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up”, or “WtRMPSU” if you wanna be a hip acronym-using youngster, is one of the closest things that the original Twilight Zone has to a straightforward whodunit. Though, crucially, the “dunit” in question is not an action, but an identity.

State Troopers are sent to investigate reports of a UFO. They find tracks leading to a diner where a bus has stopped due to an ongoing snowstorm. Six passengers got off the bus. Seven patrons are in the diner (including the dude who played Dr. Loren in the episode we just watched. ‘Sup doc!). Nobody knows who is the Martian among them. Paranoia sets in. Play it out from there.

It plays perfectly to the advantages of a “bottle episode”, building up the claustrophobia and tension with every panicked look, every emphatic triad of musical notes. The use of close ups and medium shots from all over the diner aid this. We get a great sense of what the space looks like thanks to the multiple perspectives, but the repeated use of close-ups and medium shots makes the space feel smaller.

This is another episode which has aged well due to cultural forces outside of its control. The modern police procedural has gotten so far inside our own heads that we have all these reasons for why we suspect a certain “who” in whodunit. ‘Can’t be the cranky guy. Too obvious.’ ‘Can’t be the couple. There was only one killer.’ ‘Can’t be the wacky woman, too obvious again.’ The creators of “WtRMPSU” didn’t have all those conventions and tropes to worry about, so they just made the best possible story. The only convention they had to adhere to was Chekhov’s gun. This provides them the freedom to perform a cunning bit of sleight of hand that makes suckers out of so many people the first time they see it.

What’s more, thanks to being part of an anthology series, we don’t have to deal with the half-assed five minute attempt at serialization that we put up with in 2018! And thank goodness for that. Because I have yet to meet someone who watches CSI for the long-term character development. “WtRMPSU” doesn’t have to shoehorn that in.

Yes, the set-up of “WtRMPSU” is contrived. Yes, the episode moves much slower than your standard 2018 procedural. But, it accomplishes something that fewer and fewer works of contemporary narrative cinema are doing. It builds tension on top of itself, all culminating in the waning minutes of the episode. It’s gripping, high quality entertainment for entertainment’s sake. Sit back and enjoy a masterful piece of pacing.

Where to watch: Netflix

When to watch: I’ve always felt that the optimal time to watch the original Twilight Zone is nearing midnight on a cold, blustery Friday evening. “WtRMPSU” begs to be watched during a snowstorm, but I guess we’ll have to settle for autumnal wind.

Who to watch with: Anybody! Maybe not small children? I’m guessing the MPAA gives these a PG.

What to look for:

  • Is the ending to “Occurence” shocking? How? In its conception or visual? Both?
  • In “Occurrence”, where’s our marked man’s family at the end?
  • Look for repeated shots scattered through “Occurrence”. Is this an editing mistake?
  • What are the parallels between Dr. Loren and Dr. Frankenstein? How does the episode overtly hint at this? Is one more morally upstanding than the other?
  • I mentioned that there’s one line in “Lateness” that’s multifaceted in its irony. See if you can spot another, in the form of a double entendre, much earlier.
  • I mentioned above how “WtRMPSU” plays with space. How does it play with time? With geography?
  • What are the differences between the latter two episodes and the first? Visually? Musically? Structurally?

Streaming Reccomendation: Y Tu Mamá También

On a general level, my attitude toward most of the streaming services’ catalogs can be described as such:


The big online streaming platforms (which for simplicity’s sake I’m counting as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, and YouTube) have done a disservice to the vast expanse of film history, paring down their movie offerings to either the exceptionally popular or titles that are cheap to purchase the streaming rights for (clearly things are different on the television side of the equation, but that’s not my lane). Hardcore cinephiles have had to turn elsewhere for their classic/indie/international kicks, and luckily we have been gifted the incomparable FilmStruck and the exceptional Fandor.

If you find yourself craving an excellent film, but don’t have the extra $10/month to shell out for these services, it’s easy to feel like you’re SOL with the major streaming services. But fear not! Here at NQN, we are launching our Streaming Recommendations series, where we recommend the great slices of film history that hide in plain sight on the big streaming platforms.

First, the 2001 Alfonso Cuarón film, Y Tu Mamá También.


Y Tu Mamá También is a genre-bending film. Google identifies it as a “Drama/Comedy-Drama”, so basically the ultimate search engine just spits out genre buzzwords when asked. Y Tu Mamá También has been identified as “coming of age”, as a “sex comedy”, and, if you ask me, a “politically driven coming of age sex dramedy”.

The film follows best friends Julio and Tenoch in the days immediately following their graduation from high school. Both their girlfriends are going abroad to Europe, so the boys are left to gallivant and embrace their hedonistic tendencies to their hearts’ content. They meet an older woman, Louisa, at a wedding, and, despite being married to Tenoch’s cousin, attempt to seduce her by inviting her on a trip to a far-off beach. The main section of the film deals with their road trip across Mexico, the people they encounter along the way, the conversations had while hotboxing the car, and the toxicity associated with Julio and Tenoch’s competition to sleep with Louisa.

I am loath to spoil any of the details of said trip, but suffice it to say that Y Tu Mamá También earns every label I ascribed it in my attempt to identify its genre. While the ostensible plot moves rather slowly, everything else moves at breakneck speed, bouncing from conversations on drugs to sex to the lives of working class Mexicans and all the way back in a span of a few minutes. Every time I’ve watched Y Tu Mamá También I’ve found something new, either a side-splitting joke or a poignant new socio-political message.

The politics of Y Tu Mamá También are difficult to describe, as most of it is either presented visually or inferred through plot details. If you aren’t up on Mexican history (I wasn’t when I first saw it), a lot of it can go over your head. There are two important things to know before watching. First is that one party held control of the government for 71 years (elections were not considered “free” by anyone outside Mexico up until the 90s) and Y Tu Mamá También takes place during the election that voted them out of power. Second is that NAFTA was enacted in 1994, and played a huge role in the stratification of wealth among rich and poor Mexicans. There were very few middle-class citizens (though, critically, Julio is one of them).

Director Alfonso Cuarón’s technical chops have never been questioned (he won an Academy Award off of them via Gravity), and Y Tu Mamá También is no exception. The film is a masterwork of neo-realism, able to simultaneously weave long takes and “slow” moments into a commercially appealing work. Cuarón doesn’t think we’re all impatient nitwits, and is willing to linger in scenes and shots in the service of both character development, and replicating Mexico as realistically as possible. The film also contains my favorite long-take ever, see if you can spot it.

Y Tu Mamá También is one of the funniest films ever made. It is one of the more sexually explicit films ever made. It is also one of the best examples of how to make an extremely potent political film that is also immensely entertaining. You can enjoy Y Tu Mamá También without looking for what it’s really about. But once you start reading between the lines, that’s where the best things are hidden.

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Where to watch: Netflix
When to watch: A good weekend romp. Friday or Saturday evening.
Who to watch with: Some good friends, or a significant other. Do NOT watch with family.
What to look for:

  • Look for details in the background. What’s hanging on the walls? Who’s in the background? What are they doing?
  • If our non-diegetic narrator pops in, PAY ATTENTION.
  • What does Tenoch’s father do? Why does it matter? Pay close attention whenever he’s brought up.
  • What’s Julio’s last name? What does it reference?
  • What’s the name of Julio and Tenoch’s group? What’s their “code” called?
  • Who pays? Why?

Phantom Thread’s Demme Influence

I absolutely adore Phantom Thread. Many of its qualities seem handpicked to whet the cinephile’s appetite, from the delicacy and precision of character movement, to the dreamlike quality of the score, to the range of emotions that emanate from Alma, Reynolds, and Cyril in every frame. Similar to many of my personal favorites, it is a film which makes the ordinary hypnotic.


Another quality which endears cinephiles to Phantom Thread is the obvious reverence that it has for film history. Director Paul Thomas Anderson repeatedly mentioned Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) as the main inspiration for the film, but other images and styles from the annals of film history pulsate through Phantom Thread. A simple Google of “Phantom Thread influences” finds numerous essays and videos attempting to showcase Anderson’s appreciation for the masters of the form who came before him:

However, there is one influencer of Anderson (and consequently Phantom Thread) who seems to be missing from the conversation.

Paul Thomas Anderson loved Jonathan Demme. Following Demme’s passing in April 2017, Anderson moderated an entire weekend’s worth of discussions and panels on Demme’s oeuvre. Anderson made note of a number of motifs which stood out to him during the screenings, a few of which you can see clearly imprinted upon Phantom Thread:

“One thing I would say about all of Jonathan [Demme]’s films is that there’s not background in the traditional way that you see like somebody mindlessly crossing in the background of an office. Literally everything, every person in the frame seems to have some role or story going on.” –Paul Thomas Anderson

While Phantom Thread is an intensely personal film, chronicling the dynamic relationships of Reynolds, Alma, and Cyril Woodcock, Anderson ensures that any scene with extras shows said extras with some ulterior action or motive. In taking this cue from Demme, Anderson creates an entirely new multi-dimensional world with Phantom Thread. A world alive with people of all shapes and walks of life, not merely a sandbox for our central characters to roam in. For a film which deals with wealth, opulence, and luxury, such a grounding in reality is crucial. It allows the viewer to engage with the piece in a manner not possible while residing strictly in the realms of fantasy.

Another aspect of Deme’s film-making that is imprinted in Phantom Thread (and Anderson’s filmography in general) is Demme’s choice in shot angles and framing. Demme loved to experiment with what he called the “subjective camera”, and expand upon “the little snippets you see in Hitchcock and Sam Fuller”. In most cases, Demme represented this via extreme closeups directly in front of a character’s face. Demme fully admits to not inventing this type of shot, but he did take it further than almost anyone else (except Yasujirō Ozu). In some film circles, the shorthand term for this type of shot is “the Demme closeup”. And indeed, both Demme and Anderson make heavy use of these extreme closeups, which have a tendency to make characters appear to pierce the fourth wall and make eye contact with the viewer. This angle has appeared throughout both of the directors’ filmography, shown below from Demme’s Swimming to Cambodia (1987), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Philadelphia (1993), and Beloved (1998); and Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014) and Phantom Thread (2017):


While this is a solid starting point, there’s even more to be found be delving into Demme’s idea of the “subjective camera”, and how it relates to Phantom Thread.

Take, for example, Demme’s Swimming To Cambodia. It is, ostensibly, nothing more than a recording of Spalding Gray’s on-stage monologue of the same name. But Demme’s choice of when to use the subjective camera is of note. One such example comes when Gray is imitating his girlfriend yelling at a neighbor (below). Demme places the viewer in the yellee’s shoes, to punctuate the intensity of moment:

But if we go beyond this initial analysis, we find more levels of subjectivity in this shot. As much as it may feel like it, we aren’t being put in Gray’s neighbor’s shoes, because we are receiving the tale secondhand. Gray is merely conveying his girlfriend’s shouting to the audience as he understands it, and Demme is conveying his understanding of Gray’s attempt to replicate the scenario. The layered meaning of the “subjective camera” throughout Demme’s filmography lies beyond the innovative framing of perspective shots.

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Anderson takes this idea of subjectivity even further in Phantom Thread. The film’s story is framed as being told to Reynolds’ doctor by Alma, following her ‘mild’ poisoning of Reynolds to “calm him down”. This easily forgotten detail is crucial, and informs how Phantom Thread should be watched by an active viewer. Alma is our guide through the world of London couture and House Woodcock. This detail is the raison d’être for the dreamlike quality of banal sequences, the hypnotic rhythm of the day-to-day, and the overall intensity of the film. It is one Alma removed from reality, thus coloring the world seen on screen as she sees fit. It contains a filter that could be said to contain a mixture of nostalgia, and either exaggeration or understatement.

Was Reynolds truly as overbearing, anal, controlling, and possessive as he is portrayed in Phantom Thread? Or is Alma remembering it that way to justify her actions in poisoning him? Or is the opposite true? Could Alma be underselling Reynolds’ toxicity to justify her love for him and fend off a doctor that clearly desires her? Ultimately it is for the viewer to determine.

But it is vital to recognize that we are not observing Phantom Thread through anyone’s eyes but Alma’s, and the entire film is viewed through this “subjective camera”. Anderson has taken Demme’s love for the subjective camera to its limits, by subtly making an entire film told via this view, all while weaving elements of Demme, Hitchcock, and over a century of film history into the tale.

Phantom Thread is a fitting homage to one of the great directors of the modern popular cinema, who himself was an avid student of film history. It takes elements of Demme’s style, mixes them with the things Demme loved, and creates a masterwork of subjective storytelling. Anderson provides a wonderful send off, for the mentor who influenced him most.



The Underappreciated Scene Transition

One of my personal favorite touches in filmmaking is when a film’s editing ties two separate scenes together such that the way in which a transition takes place conveys meaning beyond that of a normal cut. Film (more accurately speaking, media of the moving image) is unique in that transitions from one scene to another can be instantaneous. In the vast majority of cases, this means that the production of two different scenes is a self-contained exercise, wherein each is shot separately, and then placed in its order in the film’s narrative, with the only interaction between the two scenes being said narrative link. The transition itself is given little or no thought.

However, there are sequences throughout the annals of film history that aim to creatively weave scenes together, and make an artistic statement via a dissolve, cut, wipe, fade, etc. Such sequences and transitions can make a film much more cohesive, and can elevate the artistic meaning of a film beyond the reaches of a “conventional” cut.

To show what I mean, here are my three favorite examples:

1. Citizen Kane’s (1941) “eye dissolve” 

I mean, come on. This eye matching is just nutty.


To not only have the foresight to plan such a transition, but be able to formulate a way in which you can stage and shoot these scenes and get that eye match is the sign that Orson Welles was in an elevated stratosphere of filmmaking while making Citizen Kane. Also, the rest of the stained glass gives some more symbolic meaning to Susan’s character (the scales being the clearest). But I’ll leave that for you to read into.

Sometimes the greatest scene transitions are much more subtle in practice, but can make a grand statement. Sadly, these moments of greatness often go unnoticed, as is the case with my second example:

2. Opening credits zoom out from O Něčem Jiném (1963)

This one doesn’t appear to fit within the theme of scene transitions. Moreover, it doesn’t even seem all that interesting at first. I consider it a scene transition because without the zoom it would be incredibly difficult for a first-time viewer to discern that they are watching a TV being filmed. As such, the audience moves from watching an isolated performance by a gymnast, to a family’s home. But still, why is this transition worthy of praise? Sure, it’s mildly impressive that director Věra Chytilová is able to convincingly shoot the scene such that we can’t tell we’re watching a TV, but the two zooms (first being a zoom away from the gymnast, then a zoom out to the living room) aren’t all that great in isolation.

The reason why I love this particular transition has to do with O Něčem Jiném’s structure as a film, and how this subtle introduction interacts with it. O Něčem Jiném (English title: Something Different) has two seemingly separate stories that are intercut with one another. Edgar Cochran sums it up nicely:

“Two stories are simultaneously told. One dutiful mother progressively becomes a frustrated woman who is the only one assuming the family responsibilities of working at home and looking after her only son, whereas her husband works all day, does not appreciate his wife’s efforts and the only thing he does by the time he gets home is to read the newspaper and watch soccer matches. On the other hand, a female gymnast prepares for her last competition before her career retirement, but faces pressure from her trainer and a lack of motivation to keep going. The film depicts frustration on both sides, and parallels two worlds dominated by men, where women do not receive any recognition, and in case they do, it is momentary.”

What Cochran does not mention is that the gymnast is Eva Bosáková, an actual Czech gymnast whose scenes were shot while she was training for the 1962 World Championships in Prague. Her segment of the film is a documentary, with Chytilová observing what was going on behind the scenes in her training sessions. Conversely, the story of housewife Věra (played by Vera Uzelacová) was written for the film, and is “fictional”. This opening sequence is the only interaction that the two stories have in Something Different, and yet it proves to be one of the keys to the film’s meaning. Chytilová is expressing that the struggles of the housewife are just as real as those of the gymnast, by connecting their worlds through this framing device. If the gymnast’s story is real, and contained in the diegesis of the housewife’s world, it makes the housewife’s world just as real. An extremely potent and subversive statement, especially for 1963.

And finally, my absolute favorite transition

3. A statement on race and power, from Imitation of Life (1959)

Imitation of Life tells the story of aspiring actress Lora (Lana Turner) who befriends and takes in African-American Annie (Juanita Moore) and her daughter Sarah Jane (Susan Kohner). When Lora’s career takes off, Annie becomes the family housekeeper. However, Sarah Jane is extremely fair-skinned, and passes as white for the majority of the film, much to her mother’s dismay. She begins dating a white boy, but her race and his racism come to a head in the following scene:



The loud, seemingly-ill-fitting jazz in the background punctuates the beating scene such that it forces the audience to pay attention—you can’t ignore it as “normal conventional movie drama” anymore. Then, it abruptly cuts to Annie giving Lora a foot massage, as Lora says “Ahh that felt so good.” Such a line following a savage beating like that is not merely coincidence. The visual symbolism of a black woman giving a white woman a foot massage underscores this.

This has been read numerous ways, including as a confirmation that director Douglas Sirk secretly harbors racist sentiments himself. However, my reading is one of a commentary on society and the prevailing attitudes of the time. Sirk is arguing that white people of the day, no matter how seemingly allied with black people (as Lora is through the film) are willing to make black people subservient in order to fulfill their desires. When a black person gets out of “their place” (as Sarah Jane did), it “feels good” to put them back (violently, if need be). Sirk later acknowledged that the two African-American characters were the main characters of the film, claiming that he “subversively undercut Turner to draw focus toward the problems of the two black characters.” I mean, just look at this screenshot:

Lana Turner’s skin and costuming practically blend into the monochrome set, something that repeatedly happens to all of the white characters in the second half of the film. Sirk reduces her to furniture; he’s visually confirming that her story is NOT the one that matters. Such a visual strategy makes it hard for me to believe that he used the preceding cut as some sort of sick joke.

Instead, I think it was Sirk’s way of undercutting his apparently progressive and “colorblind” leading white family. This transition shows that even though Lora claims she views Annie as an equal, she truly views her as a subordinate. Even though she appears to love Annie and Sarah Jane, she is aghast earlier in the film when she discovers that Sarah Jane is dating a white boy and not “one of her own”.

I cannot understate how important it is to consider this transition in the context of the film as a whole, and recommend wholeheartedly that you go watch it now. But the fact that even in isolation it can be so pregnant with meaning is a testament to the power of editing in film, and reinforces what a shame it is that this opportunity for artistic expression is so criminally underutilized.