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In Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple the roles of black women are explored in the early 1900’s. The scene I chose to analyze in this film shows the main protagonists as she “comes of age” and asserts herself as her own person. The scene starts off after Celie, who is the main protagonist, find the letters that her sister has been writing her hidden in her husband, Mister’s, closet. As Celie is reading one of her sister’s letters, Mister come up slaps her and tells her to come up to the house and shave his face. Shug, who is Mister’s mistress as well as Celie’s heroine and role model, is painting her fingernails while Celie prepares to shave Mister. Shug is dressed in a very vibrant and bright red dress in this scene because she is a very sexualized character who is the object of men’s affection and Celie’s idea of a perfect woman. Considering her attire it does not draw that much attention to the fact that she is painting her nails; but the tilt shot going from her face down to her nails where the nail polishes drops are very visible and slightly pooling, makes it seem more like blood than nail polish. Shug is told by Mister’s children that Celie is going to shave Mister. After a minute or so the gravity of what could happen to Mister hits Shug and she races to the house.
As Celie prepares to shave him there is obviously some inner turmoil going on inside of her. There are only the ambient sounds of her shoes clacking against the ground along with dialogue from Mister as he yells at her. Even though his voice is loud it is somewhat drowned out by the clacking of her shoes showing that she is numb to him and not affected by his taunts. There is a close up of her face that shows her anger however Mister is still visible even though his face is blurred out in the background showing that he is the object of her anger.
When she starts to sharpen the knife the way the shot is angled the knife swoops over Mister alluding to the fact that Celie’s intentions of having him are not pure and that Mister may be killed by the knife.
Some nondigetic music starts as she continues to sharpen the knife and the scene switches to where her sister, Nettie, is staying in a country in Africa. The people in the village are gathering as a boy and girl who Nettie is friends with prepare to have their faces pierced. The tradition in their village is that when a boy and a girl reach a certain age their faces are pierced to acknowledge them as adults. The film then starts to use parallel editing to show the similarities between the scene with Celie and the two children.
The sound of the tribe singing gets more frantic making the viewer feel more anxious as to what may happen. When Celie tells Mister to turn his head back we instead see the children turn their heads back and then Mister. The chief takes a knife and cuts the little boy’s cheek drawing blood and because of the scene’s parallel editing when the scene cuts back to Mister and he has a startled look on his face, the viewer is left thinking that his neck has been cut; but instead we see that Shug has made it to Celie and stops her from cutting him. As Mister looks up at Celie he is finally recognizing her dominance over him.
The mise-en-scene also suddenly switches to being very dark with the sky looking as if it is about to rain or that the sun has suddenly gone down while Mister grabs at his kneck realizing the fate that might have befallen him. The scene ends with the use of chiaroscuro. Shug’s outline is the only thing visible showing that Shug is no longer the focal point but that Celie can now be seen and is no longer a background figure.
This scene is one of the most important if not the most important scene in the film because it is when Celie decides to assert herself as a woman and not just be Mister’s slave. During the majority of the film she is like a possession just having things done to her such as being raped by her father and husband, treated like a maid and nanny by her husband. She does not feel like she has any self worth. She believes the names that her husband calls her and feels like that is just her life and she has to accept it. After she reads her sister’s letters she sees more of what the world has to offer, the good and the bad, and with the knowledge that her sister Nettie was coming home, the one person in the world she really loved she realizes she has a reason to stop taking the mistreatment form Mister. When Mister hit her in the opening of the scene it brought up all of the abuse she had to deal with during her life and at the moment she decided that she was not going to take it anymore. She decided to kill Mister as an act of taking back her freedom and her womanhood. The tribal scene is used to show how she is going through her own ritual of becoming a woman while also using it to play up the effect of the possible savagery that may happen if she decides to slit Mister’s throat. In the end of the scene Celie is finally able to be seen even though she is standing next to Shug who is such a polarizing figure. She now has her own identity. In the next scene she will finally leave Mister now that she realizes she is liberated and also starts a chain effect of other women in the film realizing their worth and not conforming to the roles that their male counterparts have forced on them. I think that this film shows different facets of women and is something that women as a whole can relate too and not just black women. Celie finally realizes her role as a woman and even though she knows she is not perfect she realizes her self worth and in the next scene proclaims it by stating that “she is here”.
In Vivian Sobchack’s essay “What My Fingers Knew: the Cinesthetic Subject or vision in the Flesh” she asserts the idea that you cannot just experience a film by what we see but the experience is also felt with our whole body. She claims that the memories from previous sensations resonate with our body when we see them in a film. I do agree with her assertion especially when the director is skillful in what they want to be perceived by the audience. I think that Agnès Varda’s Le Bonheur is a good example of an auteur using the camera to evoke a bodily response. In the very opening scenes of Le Bonheur the viewer is struck with the mise-en-scène of the beautiful prairie/ forest looking area. The colors were incredibly striking from the use of Technicolor and made the images all the more real. Just in the first few minutes of the film I could imagine walking while the long crisp green grass crunches under my feet while slightly scraping against me legs. As I saw the grass and the flowers swaying with the wind it was like I could feel the wind blowing against my hair and face all at the same time. When the family was lying under the shade of the tree I could feel the coolness of the shade enveloping me from memories of taking refuge under a tree or building during a hot summer’s day. During the climax of the film when Francois finds out that his wife is dead the lack of sound evoked very powerful feelings. As he picked up his wife the ambient sound and nondigetic sound ceased and while I saw the series of jump cuts I felt the weight of the situation. When the sound stopped it was as though I could not breathe and time was standing still at the moment. When Francois touched his wife’s body it was as though I was touching her cold, wet, lifeless flesh as well. I thought the scene was very powerful considering I felt a bodily response of empathy towards a character that I hated. The character was portrayed in a way that made you hate him yet here I was empathizing with his character because even though my brain says that he is a selfish jerk my body is being tricked by the sound and the camera. I believe that Vivian was completely accurate when she says that that the movie has the ability to move us on screen as much as it moves us off screen because I was completely moved by the visuals that Varda gives in Le Bonheur.