Blog Directory CineVerse: A horror movie with monster subtexts

A horror movie with monster subtexts

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Last Wednesday, our film group performed an autopsy on "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde," the classic 1931 adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's timeless dark tale. Among the highlights of that discussion were the following salient points:

·       The special effects used to pull off the famous transformation scenes, which were accomplished not via lap dissolves a la The Wolf Man years later, but by putting layers of special makeup on the actor’s face and then using different colored filters on the lens to reveal more of the makeup to the viewer
·       The pioneering use of subjective camera:
o   during the first few minutes of the movie, we see first-person point of view shots; why? To help us identify with Jekyll and make his Hyde reveal scene later to be all the more startling
o   during the transformation, the camera goes back to first-person POV with 360-degreee spins to suggest Jekyll’s disorientation
o   His look into the mirror is our first look at Hyde as well as his
·       Many shots of the actors are at slightly off-center angles
·       One of first cinematic works that uses a diagonal split-screen, which contrasts the 2 female characters
·       There are a few extreme close ups, including close-ups simply showing the character’s eyes
·       There is a strong vertical design to the composition, as evidenced by the shots of Hyde fleeing the police, the flat where Hyde kills his victim, and in Dr. Jekyll’s lab
·       The filmmakers employ sophisticated pan shots and long takes to evoke a fluid, flowing style

·       The decidedly adult subject matter and sexual images and context for a 1931 film
o   Keep in mind this was in the pre-code days of Hollwyood, before censorship of violence, sexuality, language and immoral behavior was strongly enforced
o   We are exposed to a provocative scene of semi-nudity, suggestive behavior and imagery, and racy dialogue
o   It is suggested that Ivy is a prostitute and that Hyde attempts to rape Muriel and sexually dominate Ivy
o   The misc en scene employs erotic paintings and statues, as if commenting on Hyde’s sexual control over Ivy
·       The film’s sound design was also influential
o   We hear multiple planes of audio (such as the scene where Muriel and Jekyll converse and an orchestra performs in the distance), at a time when most Hollywood films used only one microphone and didn’t blend sounds very often
o   The director uses heartbeats in a symbolic and emotionally evocative manner
 ·       Unlike some of the Universal horror pictures of the era, the movie doesn’t feel obligated to tack on any comic relief filler; there are no bumbling policemen or hysterical old women

·       The dangers of sexual repression, constraint and conformity: Jekyll lives in the Victorian age, when sexuality was repressed and society upheld strict moral codes; Jekyll’s normal, healthy desires and natural instincts are frowned upon by the era’s morality
·       The dangers of hedonism, lack of inhibitision, and indulging in base desires: you see the carnal, savage, Simian-like animal that Hyde is in contrast to Jekyll; Hyde acts upon every primal impulse, and violence and murder result
·       Man’s dual nature: Duality and contrasting personalities are shown in two sets of characters:
o   Jekyll, representing good and science, and Hyde, defined by bad and sex
o   Muriel, the embodiment of purity and virtue; and Ivy, an object of wanton desire and wicked carnality
o   the film suggests that there is an animal instinct in each of us that can come out if left unchecked; we have the capability toward good and evil.
·       Sadism and masochism: Hyde is the ultimate sadist, but he’s also a masochist: consider how he tries to rape Muriel, whom Hyde is never depicted as having any thoughts about prior to that scene; it’s as if he’s attempting the assault to torture Jekyll, who is part of himself

·       Scarface and Public Enemy: 2 early gangster pictures where the bigger-than-life lead character is revolting and yet fascinating
·       The Picture of Dorian Gray, another pre-Freudian tale of split personalities
·       The Wolf Man, in its provocative transformation from man to beast

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