Cross-Cultural Intersections Between Hollywood And Europe

Over the course of film's development, there have been several key locations and periods which have been integral to the way in which the medium evolved. Integral to this development is the relationship between European influences and Hollywood, which can be traced back to the beginning of film's impressive run as a media mainstay. Several notable techniques and themes are characteristic of the European style of film, and have lent themselves to movies in Hollywood, for years. The varying styles have been analyzed and recreated by several directors. As it is, film is a gateway into the mind of these individuals, and more so, a reflection of a culture and ideology represented through these creative forms of expression.

Film is a beautiful medium-- a good movie can whisk viewers away to far-off lands, throws in the midst of harrowing battles, and make them feel with a depth of emotions so varied and powerful that few mediums can replicate. Characteristic of this medium are certain stylistic elements, and the way in which those elements reflect themes and motifs present in different styles of movies. European movies, throughout the years, have had a very characteristic feel to them, as have Hollywood productions. The two styles have often borrowed from each other, in both inspiration and characterization.

A good example of this can be found in the movies “Paris, Texas” and “The Passenger.” Both films received much acclaim from critics, and were pivotal in helping to represent the flourishing international film scene of their respective times. “Paris, Texas”, directed by Wim Wenders, follows the story of a man who has amnesia, who, after wandering out into the desert mysteriously, makes an attempt to fix his relationship with his brother and seven-year-old son, as well as tries to find his wife who left their family. This movie, which received mass critical acclaim, including winning the Palm d'Or in 1984, references American culture and landscape in a much different angle. Much like “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly,” which utilizes elements of the spaghetti Western genre, with wide, sweeping angles, lonely vistas and majestic camera angles, “Paris, Texas” uses these sorts of similar concepts in the representation of the desert, and Texas itself.

This is evident in the first shot of the movie, which is a birds-eye view of the desert, which depicts the area in a very alien manner. The location looks barren, desolate, and bleak, and characterizes much of the movie in a similar light, from the on-set. This is continued in the shots of dilapidated America that the movie highlights, from old signs to rusty, beaten billboards and graffiti-covered buildings, and dusty, old roads. The composition of the shots is very reminiscent of the gangster movies of the 1950s, and the noir era of film making.

This highlights upon the critique of domesticity that the film highlights, in both form and story-telling. At its core, the movie is a critique of society at large, but also of representation of cinema, and an attempt to represent the postmodern movement within film. A common theme throughout the cinematography, writing and editing in this movie is the idea of escapism-- the vast expanses of the deserts contrast with the overarching, almost melodramatic tone that the characters and writing takes on. For instance, Travis's character has several model trains and pictures of steam engines in his room.

The idealization of American culture, and the way in which Travis wishes to reflect the gangster lifestyle depicted in classic film noir, represents a critique on both the symbolism and themes present in most films, and the way in which culture has molded itself around these constructs over the years. The movie itself, by utilizing these symbols, is also a critique on the reliance and relationship of these motifs and themes, in regards to the development of European and American cinema. The movie itself analyses the effects of domesticity, and the dangers which can be brought upon by incorporating these idealized elements into one's family life. Throughout the course of the movie, Travis convinces himself that his actions can be justified by the fact that he's “providing” for his family.

This machismo-laden persona is typical of the Hollywood gangster movie, and several characters have utilized a similar mentality in classic films to justify the actions they pursue, good or bad. By highlighting this type of character, the movie again becomes a vivid critique of the genre and the society which idealizes it, by painting these common constructs in a different light. Even the movie's name “Paris, Texas” depicts this notion of a similar story told through a different lens. The title itself is a reference to the characterization and critique of the relationship between European and American cinema, and the way in which the two correlate with one another.

Another classic motif which is characterized by American cinema is the “drifter” character-- a man whose experiences in life have created a scenario in which he spends much of his time almost aimlessly wandering the vast world before him. He usually encounters much along the way, but nevertheless, it's usually discovered that there's much he's running from in the process. This character is a staple in the classic American drama, represented by such figures as Clint Eastwood's “Blondie” character in “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly.” Much like the various Westerns of the time, director Sergio Leone creates a depiction of this “drifter” sort of character, a man whose only motives are his own, often well-kept secrets, cast along the path he's taken.

Much like Travis' character in “Paris, Texas,” Clint Eastwood's character in “The Good, The Bad & the Ugly” can be seen as a symbol of this drifter character, which had been so prevalent in Western movies and gangster movies of late. The movie itself opens with Travis wandering through the desert, in search of water. While it isn't immediately discovered as to why he's wandering through the desert, the audience is treated to another representation of this “drifter” mentality when Travis is found and treated by a local doctor, but remains virtually silent in response to the man's questions and comments.

Travis' character retains this silent identity, as even the doctor calls a number he finds on his person for him. This number leads him to Travis' brother, Walt, whom the doctor reaches out to, to come pick up Travis. He does so, but when he arrives in Texas, he discovers that Travis is again missing. When Travis is again discovered meandering through the desert, Walt simply tells his brother that he's taking him back to Los Angeles, a silent confirmation of Travis' character, and a detachment from the world around him (another sort of theme in regards to the typical “drifter” character).

The two visit a motel, but Travis again wanders off. Walt again finds his brother, and takes him to a diner. Here, we see a disintegration of the drifter character that Travis is attempting to replicate, in that he is visibly moved to tears when Walt mentions his son that he walked out on, four years earlier. It's then discovered that Walt had been taking care of his son, and that Walt's wife Anne, hadn't heard from him in the years since he left. This scene is particularly interesting, in that it shows the idealistic recreation of the “drifter” mentality in a far more realistic, critical light.

In a world which has thus symbolically moved around Travis, his character is retained by the demons of a life he once lived. When he realizes that he's unable to escape the repercussions of that life, he attempts to run. This can be seen as an honest critique of the effects of idealizing this mentality, and the effects it has on one's domestic life. It can also be seen as a critique of the society which is centered around this mentality, and the machismo that accompanies it. As R.P Kolker says in his analysis of the film, “domesticity was itself a kind of abandonment, a slippage into the comfortable and necessary at the expense of male freedom”.

The escapism that American movies offered from the male viewer were captured in the way in which male characters in these films often wandered about the world, without any clear responsibility or attachment to it. The characters that often had attachments even went so far as to abandon them, seeking the wanderer lifestyle, as opposed to what confined them to the domesticated world. Continuing on in the story, Travis tells Walt that he wants to go to “Paris”, which Walt believes to be Paris, France. It's soon discovered that he means Paris, Texas, a place Travis believes is linked to the mother that he never found.

The two travel to Los Angeles, where the viewer meets Anne, and Travis' son, Hunter, for the first time. Here, we see an awkward encounter between the two, in which Hunter almost doesn't know how to respond to the stranger who is his father. This is symbolic in the fact that, only moments before, it is alluded that Travis' character is the way he is, because of abandonment issues which related back to his mother. This sort of detachment from the person who was supposed to guide him left Travis to discover his own path, by wandering it. Here, we see the effects of this mentality up-front, in that Hunter subsequently has experienced similar problems with his own father, continuing on in the cycle.

Travis and Hunter soon begin to form a bond, and it's obvious that the two have some sort of connection. Anne then reveals to Travis that Hunter had been receiving checks from somewhere in Houston, and that she believed them to be from the boy's mother. Travis takes Hunter, and the two go to Houston to find the bank that she had been depositing them into. The trail leads them to a strip club, where we find Jane, the mother. Travis sits in a room, and has a show performed by one of the strippers-- she can't see him through the glass as she dances, but when she hears him talk, she quickly realizes it's Travis. After the two reminisce, and it's discovered that this woman is Jane, Travis introduces her to Hunter in a touching moment between the two, and then disappears along the road again.

The form of this film calls upon the spaghetti Western genre, and the infusions of European-style cinematography and character development which accompanies the genre. The sweeping vistas, captured in deep focus shots of Travis walking through the desert, are a commonplace in European film, as are the close shots of the dilapidation of the area. Characteristic of that style of cinema is also the way in which the characters developed in this film, and the way in which the ending didn't present a clear-cut solution to Travis' character. As a critique of the nature of cinema, and of society at large, “Paris, Texas” takes a bastardized approach, by placing Travis' child in the arms of his mother, with the implication that Travis himself continues to live the destitute, wandering life that he has been.

At the core of this film is the sense of escapism from the pressures of normality and domesticity, a theme which is also apparent in “The Passenger”, a 1975 Italian film directed by Michelangelo Antonioni. This theme is accompanied, as in “Paris, Texas”, by jarring visual elements which starkly contrast against the narrative continuity of the film. As is characteristic of European films, the movie presents itself in a visually striking way, which compounds upon the story by providing elements and shots which help to create the story around it. Movies of the 1950s are also guided by this visual style, and as a result, could be the focal point to which this movie is referencing in its execution.

Similar to these movies are the archetypes to which “The Passenger” presents the spectator, and the representation and critique of these types of characters can be found in the way in which the protagonist, David Locke, invests himself in the story's plot, and the motivations behind doing so. Played by Jack Nicholson, his character is a British-American journalist who is attempting to get a story about violence in the country of Chad. In attempting to do so, he impersonates a dead business man, unknown of the fact that the man had been a primary arms dealer in connection with the rebellion.

Locke's original inspiration to switch lives with the arms dealer, a man named Robertson, stem from his boredom with his own life, and his own job. For Locke, the ability to don a new persona is one that intrigues him, and it's this sense of escapism which leads him to take on the identity for himself. In an attempt to find rebels to interview for the documentary, Locke takes his Land Rover out into the desert. Much like in “Paris, Texas”, Locke eventually gets stranded in the desert, after his Land Rover gets helplessly stranded in a sand dune. It's when he returns to his job that he finds the inspiration to assume Robertson's identity, and it's here where the spectator sees his need for a new identity.

In essence, Locke's character is one that is symbolically out-of-place, from the beginning. As a journalist, whose strict requirements maintain that he remain neutral on topics, Locke's ability to do so is put into question several times over the course of the film. The movie's shots help to further solidify this, and the thematic representation of the cinematography portrays Locke in a way which sets him apart, and different, from the world around him, lending itself to the need he feels to reinvent himself. In the movie's first bit of dialogue, Locke asks a child who climbs into his Land Rover, “Do you speak English?”

The importance of the framing of the car's window in this shot lies in its ability to paint a clear distinction between the two characters, and create a sense of detachment on the part of Locke's. As Kimball Lockhart states in “Blockage and Passage in 'The Passenger,'” Minimally, such a situation raises the issue of semiotic competency, and in particular, the relation between verbal and visual information”.

The visual elements accompanying this film help to highlight the disjointed nature of the character, and the way in which he doesn't necessarily fit in with the life he's attempting to portray. This visual style is reminiscent of the earlier European films, and symbolically references the attempt that Locke makes to escape from the mundane of his current life. The director also chooses to highlight several notable elements which are similar to classic films. Locke's character takes on a particular appearance which can be associated with the protagonist of “Casablanca,” and various similar noir films. Yet, there's a different spin on the character's attire and presence, which is built upon the difference that the character has in comparison to other members of the world around him.

The emphasis on replicating the notions and shot styles of famous movies from the 50s noir movement is a common, recurring theme stylistically for many of the movies to hit the European scene. While the aforementioned movies have replicated the styles of famous 50s American movies and genres, there are several which choose to highlight, and take their own spin, on movies from various other countries as well. For instance, “The Good Thief,” a 2002 French-British crime movie, directed by Neil Jordan, is a reboot of a 1955 French movie titled “Bob le flambeur,” and follows a heroin addict and former thief through the process of completing his final job.

The film follows the man, an older gambler, as he attempts to remedy a losing streak by robbing a casino in Monte Carlo. While the story develops, it's told through intricately placed, highly saturated shots of the surrounding cities the character finds himself in, helping to develop the plot through the use of cinematography and quick editing. It can be said that the main character's efforts to reinvent hmself one last time are part of a symbolic redemption that he seeks, one that can be related to by the aforementioned characters. All of these men have faced some sort of excruciating hardship, or at the very least, this has been implied. In an effort to solidify themselves, and their stature, they act accordingly, and attempt to restore the machismo in their characters. The heist itself is a complicated one, with many twists and turns that help to craft an intricately woven tale of a man nearing his end, desperate for one, final payout.

To help solidify the references to the films which inspired it, Jordan takes the approach of utilizing such implements as various freeze frames, to accentuate the action at hand. The premise of the movie is that Bob, the thief, is attempting to set up a fake heist while the real one goes on, accordingly. The scene in particular which highlights the fast-paced action and editing is the one in which Bob is originally coordinating how the heist will take place. It's here that we see the references to former films firsthand, and also the style which the movie is crafted around. There's a very casual indifference, characteristic of the Irish culture, of which the director is a part.

Utilizing his own take on the prototypical heist film, Jordan captures the essence of this genre, and the history that accompanies it, and portrays it in such a way that has a European style about it. The fluid, yet jarring cuts, freeze frame edits and saturated cinematography create a film which is drenched in character, both American and European. Similar to the way in which this director applied his own take on a commonly held genre, is how Roman Polanski infused aspects of Polish and Swiss culture and filming into his 1974 classic, “Chinatown”, starring Jack Nicholson.

Reflective of the changes through which the city the film is set in, Los Angeles, had undergone following the murder of Polanski's wife, Sharon Tate, the film follows a detective as he navigates the paranoid, edgy night life of the city. The environment of Los Angeles at the time was one which was rife with the consequences of the fast-living, drug-binging eras before the 70s, and the newfound prominence of hard drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines had created a hazy air about the city which resonated to its very core. Like the rest of the aforementioned movies, “Chinatown” is a movie thick with references to a time predating it.

The overall tone of the film is one of a city, and its accompanying characters, attempting to come to terms with and rectify the consequences of the way in which the world had previously worked, while attempting to adapt to the way in which the world was being shaped. Much of this can be attributed to the changes in Polanski's life, with the murder of his wife, Sharon Tate. Being forced to adapt to such extreme circumstances took a depressing toll on Polanski. The setting of Chinatown itself embodies this idea, in that Polanski himself was dancing through an inexplicably new, foreign place rife with convoluted experiences and areas of darker descent.

As stated by the article “Redemption: Chinatown,” writer, Robert Towne, “had come up with the original idea for the script when a policeman told him that cops in Chinatown were told to do absolutely nothing. 'The police department looked upon Chinatown as a proverbial no man's land, ruled by customs and laws incomprehensible to them. Because the Chinese system couldn't be penetrated, the police felt it better to leave them along. There, in Towne's mind, Chinatown became symbolic of the futility of good intentions.”

The setting itself starkly addressed the notions of isolation, as the viewer follows a cop through a shadowy world of deception and deceit. A common theme through the all of these movies has been one of the character who represents the symbolic exile. J.J. “Jake” Gittes, the private investigator who becomes the story's protagonist, is no exception to this. The movies of the noir style are typically characterized by these types of exile figures, cast through the story in a lonely, desolate world. Gittes' character is an analysis of this, as he is pit against the people of a seemingly once-proud area such as Los Angeles, which has now slid into the chaotic, dark nature of the film “Chinatown.”

Much like Travis' journey through the desert in “Paris, Texas,” Gittes partakes on a journey through the seedy underbelly of the neighborhoods in Chinatown, and the moral and literal decay is evident in the grimy, hazy cinematography and music selection of the film. The world itself typifies a setting, in which the character doesn't necessarily feel fully a part of, which is evident by the title “Chinatown.” Much like the title of “Paris, Texas,” “Chinatown” draws upon the inherent difference that the character has with the world around him. Gittes' identity, in relation to the world around him, is further cemented by an injury he receives during the money, which in turn causes him to spend much of it with a giant gauze bandaged across his face.

This is symbolic of the fact that Gittes' true identity is masked from the world around him, which is just as alien to him as he is to it. Also, this is representative of the desolation that Gittes experiences, and the effect that the world has had on his character. Set in Chinatown after his life as a police officer in Los Angeles goes astray, Gittes attempts to hide a painful past by becoming a private eye. As the article Redemption: Chinatown puts it, “Gittes is at home in a world in which he can live in society yet operate according to his own rules. It isn't until he gets heavily involved in a convoluted plot involving the Los Angeles Power and Water Department, that this is challenged. Much like the detective noir movies that “Chinatown” so expertly references, the story begins at a very simple, digestible level, and takes a turn through several twists, eventually leading to a much larger plot than what was introduced in the beginning.

This noir-inspired atmosphere is brought upon by a deep immersion through the imagery set in place. As the article Redemption: Chinatown accentuates, it's in the power of the movie's set and costume deisgns, that the “stylish atmosphere of the 1930s is perfectly replicated.” Much of Polanski's early life plays a large role in the development of this scene, and stylistically, the impoverished areas of Poland and Switzerland he lived in, are captured through this meticulous attention to detail. Polanski takes an impressive attention to detail, referencing several key factors of his life and development, and the tiny ways in which they influenced the characters in the story. The cinematography captures the essence of these minute details, and the details at large, and the editing caps it all off in an expert way. The color choice of “Chinatown” paints a very bleak picture, as many earthy, grimy tones are incorporated, to give the setting a sense of dreary life. Almost everything in the story is some sort of brown, gray or green color, and the only real stark contrast to this is the usage of blue hues to accompany certain shots.

As the article states, “Brown and gray are the suits, the walls, even the Venetian blinds. The contrast provided by the bright color gives the viewer the sensation of a cool drink of water after a walk through the desert.” At the basis of the story is the control that the city has over the water supply, and the effects of such control over things such as property value. The film water in several instances as imagery to capture this notion. In particular, there's a scene in which Gittes stands alongside the ocean, peering off at its near endless expanse. The blue sky compliments the bleak brown and gray pallets that accompany most of the rest of the movie. The world that Gittes lives in, much like the drought-infliced area, as the article puts it, is “comfortable yet parched,” and constantly in a state of foreign disarray.

Standing in a similar, yet juxtaposed way, to “Chinatown” is “The Great Beauty”, a 2013 Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino. The film is centered on following the life of Jep Gambardella, a writer who penned a famous novel in his twenties, and then retired to a life of much simpler living, full of live and parties in Rome. Following his 65th birthday party, he goes on a journey through the decrepit ruins of the city of Rome, reflecting on the various aspects of his life which shaped him into the person that he is during the film. One of the common themes which has been prevalent over all of the aforementioned films is the notion of reflection, and a lack of fulfillment.

Much like the previous characters in each film, Gambardella is past the symbolic prime of his life, in a point in which the primary thing his character does is reflect. The parts of the city he walks through embody this notion of reflection, in that most of the locations are rubble, or in a state of decay, and stand in comparison to what the author is experiencing at the time. Throughout the film, much of Rome's history is discussed alongside Gambardella's, including scenes from World War II. Much like the characters prior, Gambardella's world is one that has been implied to have seen better days before the ones portrayed. The musical score and cinematography highlight the grandiose nature of Rome, and the decrepit details of its bombastic nature.

In “After the Wedding,” a 2006 Danish film directed by Susanne Bier, the characters of Jacob and Jørgen both typify, to a degree, the type of character that is exemplified in all of movies aforementioned. There's a sense, in each of the character's decisions, that there's a responsibility to do what's needed, out of adherence to a masculine necessity. Jacob originally owns an orphanage, and tends to the needs of its children, but the orphanage faces certain collapse, due to financial needs. As a result, Jacob returns to his home of Denmark, at the request of a CEO, Jørgen Hannson, who informs Jacob that if he is to return, he'll provide him with a large sum of money. Once Jacob returns, and sees Jørgen's wife, he realizes that it is a woman he fell in love with many years ago. Much like Travis in “Paris, Texas,” Jacob realizes that Jørgen's daughter, Anna, is actually his. Much like the masculine characters in the aforementioned movies, Jacob fulfills his obligation to help Jørgen, and his family, by taking them in, Jørgen's death bed.

Stylistically, these movies embody the European style of filmmaking, while referencing the classics, in style, execution and writing, of the movies which inspired them. Cinematography-wise, these films stand as examples of masterful execution of form and content. The writing also embodies the epitome of execution, as both references to movies past, and on their own.

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