Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Hit Me With Your Best Shot: A Streetcar Named Desire

Watching A Streetcar Named Desire is a tumultuous experience.  Seemingly from the first scene of the film there's this flow of lull then discord, lull then discord, lull then discord.  Tennessee William's words are powerful, and you can see that Elia Kazan knew that the more flashy the direction the more it would detract from the piece itself.  Kazan's direction is masterful in its seeming simplicity.  Yet every shot and every edit is meticulously chosen, so they string together into a perfectly executed maelstrom of a film.

My favorite shot was a tough choice because I selected SO MANY I loved of Vivien Leigh's Blanche DuBois (they can all be found at the end of the post).  The shot that struck me the most doesn't involve any of the leads.  It involves the flower-seller and the way she haunts Blanche during her final breakdown:

The composition of the shot is quite obviously beautiful, but it's the symbolism that I love.  The woman at first comes to the Kowalski's door selling her wares, and Blanche pushes her away.  The woman stays, however, right outside the gates, in the shadows.  She creeps ever closer with her calls for 'Flowers!' getting ever louder. It's a nice parallel to the chaos of Blanche's mind.  She guards and chooses her actions so carefully and keeps all the negative thoughts and memories pushed far off into her brain.  Yet they creep ever closer, their calls leading her ever closer to destruction.  

My second favorite shot is when Mitch (Karl Malden) and Blanche first meet and your regular over-the-shoulder shot suddenly turns Lynchian with a close-up of Mitch's yelling face with Blanche obscured in the background.  It's a wonderfully jolting experience and yet again parallel's Blanche's vacillations between calm and sedate to crazy and feverish.  I was tempted throughout the film to call Harry Stradling's photography subjective towards Blanche, but there seem to be only glimpses of us entering her perception of her environments.

There are also a plethora of shots where Blanche is turned towards the camera cowering from a Stanley staring at her, confused by her actions, much like so:

I love how in each shot you know that Stanley can only see her cowering from him, but we see Blanche thinking of her next move.  The viewer can see her calculating how she should come across, and Leigh is so good at emoting every thought that enters Blanche's brain.

My other choice shots:

Kazan's camera loves Marlon Brando.  And with good reason.  Just look at his first full frame to himself:

God he's beautiful, and so perfect as a Tennessee Williams lead.  So many of Williams' men are these brutish hypersexual animals, and Marlon Brando looks and acts the part with such vivacity.

Check out other 'Hit Me With Your Best Shot' entries over at Nathaniel R.'s The Film Experience


  1. Great post!

    really loved what you said about the camera's relationship to Blanche and i honest to god have never thought of that before (in terms of what Stanley is seeing versus what we're seeing.)

    plus, i almost chose that second shot ;) but in the end I'm never as drawn to the Mitch character as the other three. I'm normally very caught up in Brando & Leigh but this time through i was all about Kim Hunter.

    what an acting dream movie though, all around.

  2. The acting is such an embarrassment of riches, and I'm so thankful for it!

    I saw that you were quite obsessed with Kim Hunter. I have to say that I noticed her this viewing more than I ever have before. Even reading the play Stella--to me--always played second fiddle to Stanley and Blanche but I think Hunter raises the character to the same level of her co-characters. Amazing!

  3. The first time I saw this movie I was 14 and the "flores para los muertos" lady literally gave me nightmares. Williams could do such things with a mere placement of words in the right spot. Even when I read the play, the "flores" line gives me chills.
    Nicely called!