Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Otto Preminger's "Bunny Lake is Missing" (1965)

This is the opening of Preminger's Bunny Lake is Missing. In the first 1 min 53 seconds there are only two cuts. Yet, the camera moves, reacts and reveals... Very much like the film's story slowly revealing itself. In Preminger, the truth is something to be discovered by "an adventure of perception" (using Stan Brakhage's words).

The first shot is 22, the second 38, and the third 53 seconds.


4 comments:

edo choi said...

Some comments to divert myself momentarily from my exam studies:

In his early contract work at Fox, the formal paradigm is the same: each camera set-up tracks a characters' trajectory and certain movements or cuts connect these to weave a tapestry of interacting destinies.

In articulation, however, this principle accrues much more complexity in the Sixties. What is too often ignored about "Bunny Lake Is Missing" is that it is so unlike the Fox noirs to which it is often linked as a throwback. Where Preminger's camera-eye floats through mystical, castle-in-the-sky sets, "Bunny" explores an imposingly 'real' universe. The exteriors and even many of the interiors are actual buildings, which, incidentally, must have been a BITCH to light. And when sets are employed, via clutters of decor and the like (the pub, the doll shop) Preminger emphasizes the arbitrary complexities of surface and texture, which one is accustomed to encountering while walking through a city like London, a metropolis of nooks and crannies.

To populate this 'real' world, Preminger uses actors to embody London eccentrics - mousy or owlish school teachers (depending on age), a perverted BBC actor, a working class policemen etc - achieving through feats of characterization environmental effects, correlative to those of the location photography.

Thus, Preminger lets the topographical, architectural, and cultural eccentricities of London determine how he plots movement within the frame and even how he moves the camera itself. Where in the Noirs the camera ascends and descends with authority, suggesting a God-like power to determine events, here no matter how high the camera flies, there is a sense of a world far bigger than even Preminger's eye can encompass.

In this scene, when Dullea cranes his neck right to see whether he is clear to make a left turn, for a moment the camera pushes in mirroring his movement to peer around the corner, only to sweep up, back and left as he turns. We will never get to head in the opposite direction, but the question lingers: what if Dullea had turned right? Where would he have taken us then?

This visual mapping of a 'real' world's geography in order to emphasize the limitations of the frame, of the camera, of its fettered movement through space, and thus of our fettered ability to understand beyond anything we see - that is what I find so wonderfully exhilarating about "Bunny Lake". In Preminger's cinema, all of these boundaries are contours of subjectivity. They are correlative to the film's narrative - where it is not precisely Bunny we seek, but some sign that she exists at all, some sign to assure us that this world is indeed 'real' i.e. the one we take it to be. As you say, things reveal themselves slowly, through an inexorable chain of images. Is what we're seeing right? What grounds do we have to evaluate the truth of the image before us?

So Preminger brings his art to a peak of its expression in "Bunny Lake", where his aesthetic principle acquires the mystique of an abstract fairy tale, particularly in the film's two weirdest scenes (the climactic round of children's games and Ann's adventure through the doll shop).

edo choi said...

already have a correction. For what I'm saying to make any sense, add: "in the Fox work" to the end of this clause: "where Preminger's camera-eye floats through mystical, castle-in-the-sky sets "

Yoel Meranda said...

Thanks for these great words on a truly great film... your comments are certainly more interesting than my post.

I feel bad I haven't seen any of Preminger's late films.

I had not noticed he looks right a bit before turning left, by the way.


Two moments I'd like to underline:

First one: When the glass door is closed on the camera and Preminger waits a bit before cutting. This is a true camera-eye, a being with its own distance and emotions. I can almost feel Preminger prolongs that shot because he hates cutting it. I'm not saying his editing is any bad, obviously.


Second one: When the words "Frogmore End" appear. It underlines we are not in a dream-world, that it is a real world with streetnames, etc. And to me, there is something disturbing about the words "Frogmore End".

edo choi said...

Exactly. Whether chosen for some intrinsic sense of menace or not, the way Preminger's camera unfolds the space, even this typical street sign becomes alien to our eyes, or perhaps a better word is foreign, given the situation of the film - sheltered Americans exposed to the vagaries of decadent London. We're continually defamiliarized from our relationship to a very 'real' world, such that it becomes difficult to trust in its 'reality'. The process evokes a desire to return to the womb, or at least to an idyllic age of warmth and security, to withdraw from the experience of modern life, as Ann does in the film's final shot.

And, after all, does not "Frogmore End" have the ring of a fairy tale location?