The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

the adventures of baron munchausen

released: 1988

directed by: Terry Gilliam


written by: David Botros


Disclaimer: I have not seen any of the earlier adaptations, one of which was made in a war-torn Germany.

What I am basing my impression of the story on is this one film, which is actually …

Stories within stories.

Hard to describe linearly, so I will leave it at the title:

A series of adventures, one fantastical scene after the other.

Weird to me that I’d never heard of this one before, considering how mind-blowing the visuals are.

Each character is wonderfully unique.

Standouts include Robin Williams! as the Moon King – a floating head trying to escape from its body’s subhuman desires.

Hilarious, heartwarming, and thought provoking, everything we’ve always expected and loved about Robin.

Those highbrowed themes of mind over matter, imagination overcoming reality, or even grappling with the acceptance of one’s death are all handled with such childlike giddiness.

The charm is just undeniable.

Also Uma Thurman’s in this; weird and cool to see her pre-Pulp.

Although the sets and costumes and technical wizardry are enough to keep you entertained …

It lacks the comicality of something like Princess Bride or another of Terry Gilliam’s films (something about a python and holy pail?) …

I see myself appreciating this one more over time, but not sure if I’ll want to revisit it.

Found myself admiring the mechanics behind the filmmaking instead of being wrapped up in the wonder of it all.

Not sure if this is meant for kids or adults or the both of them.

Regardless, a theatrical treat worthy of your consideration.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

Black Narcissus

black narcissus

released: 1947

directed by: Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger


written by: David Botros


Before I describe the film, allow me to briefly address the title.

Black Narcissus is the name of a perfume, Narcisse Noir, by Caron (pronounced kha-roń – it’s French).

Its aroma is sweet and its name suggests seduction beneath midnight moonlight.

Which is incredibly relevant to the film –

A film about, of all things, nuns.

Nuns who seek to set up a convent in the far mountains of the Himalayas near Darjeeling.

It took me the first half hour to realize what the movie was really going to be about; by that I mean the dark allure promised in the title had yet to kick in.

Until then, I was perfectly satisfied with simply staring in awe at the colours on my television screen.

Powell and Pressburger have a way with treating the eye with these extravagant colour palettes that nearly overwhelm you to the point of horror –

And believe you me: there is horror in this picture.

I may be wrong here but I genuinely believe Stanley Kubrick took one look at Kathleen Byron’s face and told Shining star Jack Nicholson just, just do this (if you’ve seen either film you know what I’m talking about).

Same with A Clockwork Orange; there are many similarities in the insane asylum levels of cleanliness that just make you feel dirty inside.

The rhythm in the editing and camera positions are operaesque.

The sounds of far-off drums and a constant windy breeze put me on edge.

I shan’t say much about the story but the style lends itself greatly to the characters’ dilemmas.

If there is one complaint I have it is that Mr Dean, a man who gives new meaning to “he’s an absolute hunk,” comes across as a little corny and out of place.

At least when compared to Sister Ruth and the other fabulous performances onscreen.


It’s a dark musical without (overwhelming) darkness or (lyrical) music.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros

Postman/Force of Evil

Out of the Ashes

the postman always rings twice (1946)
directed by Tay Garnett

force of evil (1948)
directed by Abraham Polonsky

March 31, 2021

The Second World War altered the American landscape in more ways than one, not least of which was the Hollywood system and its relation to the movie-going public at large. A period of political, cultural, and economic bedlam, the years following the troops’ return home marked a drastic change in the film industry, never to recapture the Golden Age of classicism which reached its peak in 1946 – for better or for worse. Studios which had dominated the production, distribution, and exhibition of their product with monopolistic rule for over 20 years were suddenly pressured into adapting their business model to appease government antitrust laws, declining box-office numbers, and a new audience; an audience reawakened by the horrors of war. They called for a modern cinema, and movies, which have always reflected the spirit of their times, responded appropriately with film noir. Characterized by a brooding atmosphere felt in both the narrative and visually stylized look of the pictures, this emerging stage in film history explored heretofore restricted subject matter deemed too crass or morally degrading for ticket-buyers. The consensus seemed to be, If they can handle the tragedies of lost lives or the difficulties of repairing uprooted families, surely they can cope with a little on-screen violence. In fact, the exclusion of such daring material would be unnatural or at the very least insincere; in much the same way habituation develops from mere-exposure, the public had been irrevocably attuned to calamity. What this essay aims to underscore is how the tumultuous cocoon-phase of Hollywood between 1946 and 1950 spawned an exciting new breed of motion pictures that captured the nation’s current of unrest. Using two films of the era, The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) and Force of Evil (1948) as examples, we will examine how the previously upheld standards of classical filmmaking including modes of production, content, and mass reception were tossed into upheaval, confirming cinema’s symbiotic relationship with contemporary history.

Prior to World War II, Hollywood films were under strict regulation when it came to what they could and could not display. The Production Code (or Hays Code, as it was commonly referred to, after its first chairman Will H. Hays) laid out in great detail any and all taboo subject matter, forcing directors to either creatively film their way around sensitive issues like sex, immorality, or violence, or simply not make the picture. This was to decrease risk of offense and ensure maximum attendance, as the goal of the studios has always been to cash in the biggest possible cheque. It is no wonder, then, that in 1934, when a synopsis of James M. Cain’s novel The Postman Always Rings Twice was submitted to the Production Code Administration for authorization, the story was deemed unsuitable for an adaptation. A tale about a wife who seduces a drifter into an adulterous affair only to use their “love” as a plot to kill her husband and take over his business could never gel with the board of censorship, no matter how hard they tried to clean it up. Regardless of the PCA’s rejection, MGM bought the rights to the film 12 years prior to its eventual release. It was only after another of Cain’s script-to-screen adaptations, Double Indemnity (1944), proved highly lucrative, not to mention the affect caused by the war to the industry which allowed such a movie to be released in the first place, that Postman was granted the go-ahead. The extended, uncertain preproduction is a testament to the unsettled state of Hollywood in the years leading up to the board’s reevaluation of its acceptability. A conflict between “divergent censorial bodies – that is, the conservative morality of the PCA versus the liberal ‘New Deal’ political propaganda agenda of the OWI’s Bureau of Motion Pictures” (Biesen 44) during wartime created a demand for some new stasis. Audiences were already adjusting to the overtly patriotic violence of propaganda films, opening doors previously barred, potentially allowing non-war films to explore more mature matters. Instead of filmmakers adhering to the Code, it was the Code’s turn to adapt to unprecedented times. Even after such an arduous journey to production, Postman does not stray too far from the moral obligations of classical Hollywood. In the words of New York Times critic Bosley Crowther:

The long hesitation of the 'Hays office' to permit a motion picture to be made from James M. Cain's plain-spoken novel ... is proved an unnecessary caution by the film which came to the Capitol yesterday ... Actually, there is nothing so sensational about the story 'The Postman' tells. It is strictly a crime-and-punishment saga, and it has been told on the screen before.


While the theme of murder-for-profit is slightly risqué, as well as visual accentuations of Lana Turner’s sensuality which play up the characters’ immediate sexual tension, the criminals are ultimately paid their due by fate; the title itself refers to the postman’s habit of ringing twice to signal the arrival of mail, just as justice, if not served the first time in a court of law, will find a roundabout way to fulfill its duty.

Pairing Postman and Force of Evil we begin to see similarities in the presentations of both interior and exterior locations and how they differ from the longstanding tenets of classical form. Whereas earlier Hollywood films were shot almost entirely on studio lots, imbuing the scenery with immaculately-lit artificiality, the post-war cinematic era leaned into a grittier, heavily shadowed mise-en-scène. The use of real sites made the social problems tackled by film noir tangible; even the deliberate casting of a man like John Garfield who stars in both films and grew up poor in the slums of New York adds to the authenticity of his performance. Had Force of Evil not featured daunting imagery of a barren Wall Street and the rocky hellscape of the waterfront, the picture would lose a significant part of its appeal. Furthermore, much of Postman’s action was shot out-of-doors, and any scenes in the jail, courthouse, or lunch-stand were given “all the tough-grained texture of actuality” (Crowther). It is also interesting how the two films compare in terms of budget; Postman, released in what was till then the most financially successful year in Hollywood’s history, was very much a studio project, fully backed by big-time executives in the tradition of the producer-unit system. However, a great deal can change in two years. As Jon Lewis writes in his essay on the Hollywood blacklist, three major events occurred in near-simultaneity following the Second World War: “the shift in population out of the big cities (prompting a decrease in revenues at the studios’ first-run deluxe theaters), the Justice Department’s rekindled interest in breaking up the studio trusts, and the development of a competitive audiovisual pop culture on television” all served to threaten the “stability and profitability of theatrical motion picture exhibition” (4). The fragile state of the industry loosened the grip of the larger studios, allowing “a new generation of socially minded filmmakers” (Neve 393) like Abraham Polonsky to gain a foothold in the business. These were the filmmakers who had gone through the Depression and the New Deal, granting them a unique viewpoint when it came to telling stories. Money was certainly low, and directors often turned to independent producers for funding (Force of Evil was produced by Enterprise Studios, one of the executives being Garfield himself), but a new degree of authorial control had been unshackled, as evidenced by the visual novelty of the films.

More important than the decision to bring reality to the screen via genuine location filming is how the filmic world reflects and deepens the characters’ inner struggles. A staple in film noir is the presence of a moral battle, usually held between the upright figure of the law and the hard-pressed doer of evil, although the criminals often wrestle with their own actions as it pertains to their principles. Look to the beach scene prior to Cora’s death in Postman; the same wide, overcast expanse where her and Frank shared many a romantic night out has become the site of a trial to test their love. Cora leads Frank to the far reaches of the ocean until she is unable to swim any further, leaving him the choice to either let her drown or half-carry her back to shore. Frank saves her, solidifying their devotion to one another, only for Cora to die on the ride home in a totally out-of-left-field car accident. A similar conflict is felt in Force of Evil as Joe wanders the skyscraper-lined streets of Manhattan, dwarfed by the city, weighing his allegiance to the mob with the love he holds for his innocent brother, Leo. Crowther’s view that the artistry of the writers and actors is what elevates an otherwise melodramatic tale into “a sincere comprehension of an American tragedy” holds true on both accounts. Films following the war couldn’t help but be influenced by the paranoia felt all over the nation. The industry had learned how great a role cinema played in issues beyond sheer entertainment; a certain responsibility had been assigned by the war and with tensions rising between Russia and America, politics bled into the frame (Neve 391). Polonsky’s picture is drenched in this claustrophobia, and unlike the cliché Hollywood ending of peace on earth and good will towards men, Force of Evil concludes quite abruptly, leaving the viewer with a sense of uneasy melancholy. In fact, we do not witness either of Garfield’s characters’ demise, though we are certain of their fate. Postman fades off of Frank’s sweaty look of delirious glee, comforted by the fact that he will be executed not for Cora’s death but for the murder of her husband, an emotion echoed in the isolated surrender of Joe in Force of Evil who settles on turning himself in, burdened by the guilt of the loss of his brother.

Another commonality of film noir is the “femme fatale”, a figure fully embodied by Lana Turner’s character in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although attempts were made to downplay her steamy presence on the silver screen such as dressing her all in white as opposed to the seductive black generally associated with the lady temptress, Turner’s aura (no doubt dialed up by the camera’s gaze) is nonetheless a symbol of feminine power. This became a trend in the genre in large part due to women’s conflicting roles at the time. In his chapter on Leave Her to Heaven (1945), another identifiable deviation from the Production Code standards of classicism, Michael Renov describes the “double bind” felt by women across the country while their sons or husbands were fighting overseas. The tug-of-war played by the ad agencies and film propaganda during and immediately following World War II pulled the “wife” side towards manual labour, essentially stating, “‘If you women don’t take jobs in the factories, schools, hospitals and offices across America … we will lose the war’” (Renov 229); meanwhile, the “mother” is told to “‘bear children, especially sons, dutifully and in large number, [or else] the American way of life for which so many suffered and died will be seriously threatened’” (Renov 231). The average female audience member was torn between two massively crucial duties; she was relied upon by her country to satisfy demanding yet opposing positions, and after all this what was the reward for her hard work and allegiance? She was fired from her job to make room for the incoming soldiers. Confusion, relief, and resentment boiled beneath every domestic home; it is understandable, then, once this image of the independent woman, her sexuality a rival to the men in her life, appears on the scene, the women in the audience are not appalled by her devious schemes, rather they find themselves identifying with her. Cora’s actions are not driven by a desire for romantic freedom or even money per se, but it is her “longing for financial independence by way of sexual initiative that makes her so threatening to traditional phallocentric authority” (Boozer 21). Once again, sentiments felt by the real world have a way of projecting themselves onto the screen – or maybe it’s the other way around.

The repercussions to the Red Scare political climate were felt as much inside the film industry as they were outside. Hollywood was changing and it knew it. Investigations were being led by the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) to root out any members of the film community who, no matter how fleetingly, were at one point associated with the Communist party. Films were prohibited from promoting any socialist ideologies, although what makes film noir stand out in cinematic history is its ability to mask touchy views on society or politics with the hardboiled style of crime fiction, dodging accusations of potential treason. Still, no one was safe. Polonsky and Garfield were both blacklisted; Polonsky, who was a dedicated Marxist, pleaded the fifth and was subsequently forced into anonymity. Garfield eventually died of a heart attack not too long after the release of Force of Evil due to governmental pressure, though he was never a Communist (Neve 395). The studios, on the other hand, sniffed out the potential for profit amidst all the trials and finger-pointing. “What the studios discovered,” writes Lewis, “was that self-regulation in compliance with HUAC and grassroots pressure to make less political, less meaningful films enabled them to better control the industry workforce and to exploit the increasingly international postwar theatrical marketplace” (6). The admittedly tough yet fertile period of film noir, where opportunities to explore previously restricted issues of social relevance had finally caved in, gave way to an “‘optimistic portrayal of the American way of life’” (Neve 393) in order to capitalize on the foreign demographic. One need look no further than the box office results of Force of Evil to see how quickly the genre declined; the film tanked amidst mostly positive reviews. Crowther put it well when he said, “[I]t reeks of greed and corruption and it ends in death and despair. But for all its unpleasant nature, it must be said that this film is a dynamic crime-and-punishment drama, brilliantly and broadly realized.” While it is true that one of the reasons why these gris melodramas tapered off into the 50s was because those associated with making them had been, for the most part, banished or tainted in the eyes of the industry, America as a whole was emerging from its post-war fugal state into a period of suburban prosperity. A new idealized portrait of the masses had taken over, and, as it’s always done, Hollywood packed its bags and followed suit.

As evidenced by The Postman Always Rings Twice and Force of Evil, the Second World War played a major role in altering the classical standards of Hollywood’s production, content, and relation to sociopolitical issues. The widespread precariousness that overshadowed the country manifested itself not only in the scripts and style of film noir, but how these movies were made and, even more importantly, how they were perceived. Lana Turner’s perverse sporting of a white bikini (a colour linked to purity) and John Garfield’s stone-carved face bottling in that expression of frayed anxiety deep in his black eyes are portals into that era. They speak to yesterday’s leftover trauma and today’s uncertainty of what tomorrow holds. Looking back, we are privileged to see how each piece fits into the bigger picture, how certain values are abandoned for new ones and new ones carry on until they become outdated in their own right. Looking forward, however, we are as oblivious to what will linger or fade as the industry executives were in 1945. What we can hope for is a period of film history, no matter how brief, as rich and evocative as film noir.


Biesen, Sheri Chinen. “Raising Cain with the Censors, Again: ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ (1946).” Literature/Film Quarterly 28, no. 1 (2000): 41-48.


Boozer, Jack. “The Lethal Femme Fatale In The Noir Tradition.” Journal of Film and Video 51, no. 3/4 (1999): 20-35.


Crowther, Bosley. “At Loew’s State.” The New York Times (December 27, 1948): 14.


Crowther, Bosley. “THE SCREEN; ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice,’ With Lana Turner in a Star Role, Makes Its Appearance of the Capitol.” The New York Times (May 3, 1946): 2. always-rings-twice-with-lana-turner-in-a.html.


Lewis, Jon. “‘We Do Not Ask You to Condone This’: How the Blacklist Saved Hollywood.” Cinema Journal 39, no. 2 (2000): 3-30.


Neve, Brian. “Hollywood and Politics in the 1940s and 1950s.” In The Classical Hollywood Reader, edited by Steve Neale, 389-398. London: Routledge, 2012.


Renov, Michael. “‘Leave Her to Heaven’: The Double Bind of the Post-War Woman.” In Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film & Television Melodrama, edited by Marcia Lindy, 227-236. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1991.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​


Baptized in the Blood

carrie (1976)
directed by Brian de Palma

November 30, 2020

Carrie showed me something beyond its film facade: it showed me a thin line that divides love and fear. Now maybe this is old news, maybe it’s not even true to reality, but it’s a feeling that resonates deeply and sincerely. Love and fear … two neurotically charged emotions, each with the potential to lead to self-destruction. Of course in this story, self-destruction means destruction, plain and simple, with all the accompanying fiery spectacle one expects when watching a movie. Forget filmmaker – Brian De Palma is a true moviemaker; he embraces the junky, crude, surface-level connotations of that label and, as he did with Phantom of the Paradise, elevates them until they become an art-form in their own right. Love and fear … I can’t help but believe those are the two beating hearts of Carrie. She longs for love yet fears her own ineptitude. Based on the novel by Stephen King, the simplicity of the plot recalls the timelessness of fairy-tales; one might imagine stumbling upon Carrie’s road to perdition in a leather-bound copy of the Brothers Grimm, albeit in a slightly more historical setting than a 70s American high school. It is this guttural simplicity that makes the film a classic. Love and fear, fear and love … let us explore the dark depths of Carrie a little deeper.


We might argue that the set-up is just as important as the pay-off, if not more so. I’d like to propose that this entire movie is a build-up for one scene – more specifically, one moment. Before unpacking that crucial point, however, the preceding majority of the film deserves equal recognition. From the very opening shot there is an undercurrent of unease, even when nothing particularly disturbing is happening on-screen. Perhaps it is the way editor Paul Hirsch jumps straight from black into the bright mundanity of a girls’s volleyball game (along with the awareness from the movie’s poster that things aren’t going to remain so peachy) that catches the viewer off guard while simultaneously luring him/her in. Dollying in to a close-up of our lead who appears upon first glance just as uninteresting as her surroundings, Carrie White’s big introduction is a screw-up; she fails to hit the ball and gets scolded by her peers. Clearly this has happened before. Straight away we understand what will drive the rest of the plot; this is the story of a black swan in disguise, bullied by her more femininely empowered, stereotypical peers (and parent). The only two ways this story can end is in accepting one’s inner self, or revenge. As we will soon see, Carrie accomplishes both.

Smash cut to a squirm inducing opening credits sequence. Melodic strings play over foggy slo-mo footage of the volleyball girls showering, changing, play-fighting. De Palma has led us into the ladies’s locker room without our consent. The male gaze is undoubtedly at play here, pushing us to a series of fetishized shots of a naked Carrie, so tight on her skin we don’t know whether to turn away in embarrassment or absorb it like a sponge. Water and steam cascade down her leg; the music suggests isolated bliss. Then all the life-altering forces of reality come crashing down as the clear water turns a dull red. She lifts her hand, the music is replaced by the droning noise of the shower-head, and I feel just as shaken as Carrie. There is a clear emphasis on blood from the beginning, which is made all the more stark by the use of white – white walls, white underwear, white skin. Blood holds many powerful meanings; it denotes the pulsing elixir of life, the fragility of the body, the sacrificial key to salvation – each of which is played out over the course of the film. In this moment blood means natural maturity. It ought to be free from any extraneous implications as this is purely biological, but Carrie is unable to comprehend it. For her, and, thanks to De Palma’s intimate camera placement, for the audience, this is terrifying. Begging for help from the other girls prompts further humiliation. They stone her with tampons and towels, screeching “Plug it up! Plug it up!” At last, their own menstrual rage has found an outlet.


From here the rest of the plot is basically written in stone. The girls are reprimanded by Miss Collins, igniting two different reactions from Sue, a smartly compassionate Amy Irving, and Chris, the delightfully bitchy Nancy Allen (frequent collaborator and future (ex-)wife of De Palma’s). Sue feels guilty for her participation in the locker room incident (her face when Miss Collins rattles her shoulders is one of immediate regret), leading her down the path of active repentance by convincing her popular athlete boyfriend Tommy (William Katt with the most flamboyant set of blonde curls you’ve ever seen) to do the unthinkable: take Carrie White to the prom. Meanwhile Chris and her boyfriend, a young doltish John Travolta, scheme their own terrible antithesis of Sue’s act of good intention: shame Carrie White in the most morbid way possible. There is an air of dread over the entire movie. Cutting between Carrie’s home life (which will be discussed shortly), Tommy chasing her down partly against his will, and Chris executing her devilish plan makes for a rivetingly simple structure for a film. Add to this a few occasional glimpses of the supernatural – the same way some girls take to books to understand their changing bodies, Carrie seeks the answer to why objects have a habit of violently erupting in her proximity – and the movie takes on the impression of a ticking time bomb. Final destination: prom night.

A trademark of monster movies is a fear of the monster. Carrie complicates this particular trope by establishing its monster as the protagonist, our anchor of empathy. And here is where Sissy Spacek shines. She navigates this role with the utmost precision, morphing from helpless victim, to radiant princess, to shell-shocked executioner, and I believe her every step of the way. Most memorable are those wide eyes. Who can forget that green stare, projecting innocence and frailty, caution and desperation, betrayal and loss? Is it any wonder why Hirsch cuts from an extreme close-up of her eye to the catapulting fire-ball that was once Chris and Billy? The total lack of make-up or flattering wardrobe only heightens the joy we feel when she shows up to the dance, clad like a teenage Cinderella. Think of the scene when Miss Collins takes her to the bathroom mirror and speaks to her reflection. She literally points to all the potential beauty hidden behind that shy epidermal layer, lifting her hair, accentuating her cheekbones, applying an imaginary stroke of mascara. We the spectators long for this reawakening because we too can visualize it. But De Palma is always careful not to give the audience too much hope; the camera zooms into a close-up of Miss Collins’s face, and our spirits fall as her expression changes from optimistic to wary. Good things don’t just happen to unpopular schoolgirls.


The real tragedy of Carrie is the squashing of a sixteen year old girl’s right to feel loved. Everywhere she turns leads to pain. Not even the sheltered sanctuary of home can provide her the comfort she needs. A vulnerable soul like that needs the warm embrace of mother. One look at the White household and we know that was not an option for young Carrie. The production design by Jack Fisk and Bill Kenney captures what must have been a painfully lonely upbringing. The exterior is a desolate ramshackle island, the kind of house parents tell their kids to steer clear of. (Judging from the bicycle boy who weaves in and out of the trees taunting Carrie as she returns home from school, this was likely the case.) The interior is even more foreboding. Dark save for the ominous flickering of candles, dirty while being full of “clean” imagery, an Old Testament altar rather than a 20th century suburban residence. Two images in particular stand out: the dinner scene, when Carrie’s mother throws water into Carrie’s face, extinguishing the candles and casting The Last Supper into shadow; and that small statue of Christ, a supposed symbol of relief in the punishment zone, surrounded by cobwebs, pierced with arrows, eyes that glow an ugly yellow.


The religious element is, for me, the strongest point of personal relation to this film. Growing up in a house where the crucified Christ and the painfully affectionate figure of the Madonna rest on nearly every shelf and wall, this movie is not too far from reality. An important distinction to note is that, unlike Carrie, there is no fear associated with my Christian beliefs. I am not repressed, I am not forced to pray, I am not scolded through biblical prose. I am fortunate to have grown in a loving household, with parents who mean nothing but good will when offering moral guidance. At the same time I am not oblivious to the realities of the less fortunate. How close could I have come to feeling how Carrie feels, entrapped inside her own body, surrounded by iconographic reminders of her flawed nature as a young woman, as a human being? Christianity is a core part of who I am, but so is the way in which it was delivered to me. I remember being told to pray as a kid, to read my Bible every day, to thank God for all He’s done, and, yes, to ask for forgiveness after lying, insulting my brother, or whatever other petty things children do that constitutes as sin. And again, I must reiterate, it was done out of love – not fear. Growing older I am able to understand and appreciate the depths of my beliefs with a little more clarity; an opportunity Carrie was never afforded.

Piper Laurie’s performance as Margaret White is the final nail in her daughter’s coffin. Like Carrie, she too undergoes a transformation by the end of the movie, but we are aware from the very beginning that something horribly dark lives underneath that holy veneer. Unlike Carrie’s watery green eyes, Mama White has the blackest irises I’ve ever seen. The singsong depth of her voice recalls that of a radio preacher warning the masses to repent for Judgement Day; it never wanes, not even when her child pleads for help on bended knees. The moment that stuck with me most takes place in the attic, near the end of the film, when she breaks down into manic tears. Laurie doesn’t blink. Her face is plastered into a pearly white smile, cheeks and neck wet, the lighting sparse. Coming after the climax at the school dance (which has been saved for last), Missus White’s confession is all the more harrowing as she recounts the pleasure she felt surrendering to the filthy act which birthed her daughter. “I liked it,” she says; “I could smell the whiskey on his breath.” It comes as no surprise then that the same woman who locks Carrie in the cupboard, who scolds her for committing Eve’s sin, gently follows her through the house with an upraised knife, Psycho style. The black costume is replaced by an angelic white, further underscoring the demonic smile and deranged dance she does before being plunged to death by kitchen cutlery in an orgasmic relinquishing of the soul. And in his big reveal, De Palma relishes the slow dolly back from her resting expression of peace, framing her as the sacrificial lamb. Was Mama right all along? Was she only trying to protect her offspring from the horrors of the world? Was she not right in saying, “They’re all gonna laugh at you”?

Which leads us to the pay-off. From the moment Tommy pulls up to the “Dance Among the Stars” themed high-school ball, to the same exterior shot of the doors closing on a blazing building – I was mesmerized. Without a doubt my favourite sequence of any De Palma film. Carrie arrives in her hand-crafted pink dress (credit to Rosanna Norton, costume designer: a combination of pure white and evil red) to the amazement of all her classmates. We are unsure whether they are baffled by her newfound beauty or merely shocked at her appearance to a social gathering; not just any social gathering, but the most important social gathering a teenager can dream up in his/her Hollywood head. Having already established the impending sword of Damocles, a bucket of pig’s blood perched directly over centre-stage, De Palma employs Hitchcock’s “bomb under the table” technique to transfix us to the screen. Transfixed I was. Sparkling glitter, strobing lights, a slow guitar – all reflected in the child-like disbelief of a girl who’s yet to have her first kiss. I felt drunk just watching her dance with Tommy, the camera low to the ground, circling the two of them in an awkward embrace, gradually picking up speed until the room becomes a blur and there is nothing left but a dizzying haze of ecstasy as their lips meet and all of mother’s warnings disintegrate to fairy dust. After Tommy convinces Carrie to vote for themselves as prom king and queen, a moment that rings like a death toll, we believe that they should win, only to see that the ballots have been rigged by Chris and her goons regardless.


The announcement is made, and time slows down. A haunting orchestral score cues onto the soundtrack as a radiant Carrie parts the student sea. Tears shine in her eyes. A spotlight beams onto her gleaming face. Her purest display of happiness is almost unbearably sad for the viewer. De Palma sadistically prolongs her walk to the stage, while simultaneously pulling back the curtain on Chris and Billy hiding beneath the stairs, and a giddy Sue here to see her good deed brought to fruition. Once positioned in front of an applauding audience, the sweeping music is replaced by a Jaws-like staccato. We watch helplessly as Sue comes to the slow realization of what’s really going on. The camera tracks along the rope leading from Chris’s hand to the bucket over Carrie’s head. Eye-lines cross every which way; Sue catching Chris, Miss Collins apprehending Sue, Tommy watching Sue get locked out of the gym, and Carrie emotionally thanking her peers. Just when the tension becomes intolerable, the rope is pulled and down comes the guillotine. De Palma plays the moment in dead silence save for the sloshing sound of the blood hitting Carrie’s body. It is this absence of music that makes the impact so deafening, so defeating. No one can bear to look away. Still without any sound, one of the other girls breaks into hysterical laughter, and all the pointing and screaming and humiliation from the opening comes rushing back to Carrie in a kaleidoscopic nightmare. Unblinking eyes show years of repressed emotion coming to such a palpable boiling point that it soaks the screen until the lights burst and the film takes on an angry red hue. She doesn’t move. With only a close-up of her darting glances we witness the blood-drenched, fiery massacre of her school. The sexual frustration from the locker room returns a hundred-fold. Gone is the innocent damsel in distress; Carrie moves through the chaos like a ghost, her pace slow and deliberate, flames building in her wake. It is absolutely surreal, yet believability is never strained, precisely because of the careful filmmaking – excuse me, moviemaking – that paved the way for this moment in cinematic history.


In dividing Carrie into set-up and pay-off, we fatalistically remove any hope for the young girl at its center. Perhaps there really was no question about love and fear – only the inevitable damnation of a doomed soul. But we moviegoers like to hope. We like to believe there is good in all of us, bullies and victims alike. All one must do is repent and —



Just … let me breathe for a moment … there was a hand, and it – it came out nowhere …

Never mind. I take it back.

Carrie White burns in hell.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​

Draughtsman’s Contract

Framing a Murder

the draughtsman's contract (1982)
directed by Peter Greenaway

December 8, 2020

In much the same way Hollywood loves making movies that both glorify and critique the making of Hollywood movies, Peter Greenaway’s 1982 film The Draughtsman’s Contract lavishes in the romanticism of classical perspective, placing it on an idealist pedestal while also dissecting its role in how we perceive the world around us. Presented in an overtly theatrical manner, this costume-comedy murder-mystery erotic noir makes a clear statement on the presence of the frame by the very act of “drawing” attention to itself. Greenaway is encouraging viewers to question what they see, and, in so doing, tackles the seemingly insurmountable beast known as the ideology of the visible – a term Jean-Louis Comolli explores in his aptly titled essay “Technique and Ideology.” Comolli, painting the history of renaissance perspective in broad brushstrokes, claims photography and cinema are the apex of representational modes of reality. His primary concern is that critics and general audiences may see the camera as “‘a passive recording apparatus’” (144), whereas Comolli asserts that its mechanical properties are inherently ideological. Although there is not a single camera to be found in this film’s period setting (a near farcical exaggeration of 17th century English aristocratic country life), a great deal is said on the follies and repressed dangers of film’s idiosyncrasies. In exploring the use of depth of field, framing devices, and (occasionally) visible subjects in The Draughtsman’s Contract through this lens of ideological perspective, we the audience gain a self-reflexive awareness of our participation as viewers not only to the silly unravelling of a murder plot, but to the greater hegemony filmic reproduction maintains over the human eye.

From the opening credits alone, The Draughtsman’s Contract declares itself as a fabricated window into upper-class society, unashamedly aware of its filmed state. Look to the transparently staged vignettes of these noblemen and -women, dressed in the most outrageously flamboyant evening attire as they woodenly stand or sit in total servitude to the camera’s line of sight – at times going so far as to look directly into its lens. There is a high degree of artificiality to the world on-screen; strategically planted fruits and candles in the foreground, a paneled backdrop oftentimes as black as masking drapes, and a heavy emphasis on symmetrical blocking such as the twins lifting their glasses of wine in comedic unison. Even more overwhelming than the musical harpsichord and operatic vocals wavering in and out of the atmosphere is the dialogue, a sort of music unto its own. It is stilted to the point of incomprehensibility and Greenaway provides no segue. Viewers are plunged head-first into this extravagant facade, forced to either play catch-up or get left behind. The effect this has is unlike many other films which aim to draw their audiences into the story rather than distance them. Instead of relying on the seamless illusion of continuity editing and the convincing mise-en-scène one has come to expect in a narrative picture (not to mention the true purpose of exposition which is to enlighten the audience, not befuddle them), all the plot-heavy information is sprawled out in the first ten minutes in flowery lettering between literal calligraphy detailing the credits. All of these peculiarities may seem to be solely aesthetic techniques in opposition to Comolli’s interest in the politics within the technical fabric of cinema, but it is this careful on-screen choreography that reveals its inner workings. Calling attention to the filmmaking is a Brechtian stain on the white sheets of realism, and in a medium “where we are primarily concerned with seeing, with satisfying the scopic drive mobilized within each spectator, disturbances to the spectator’s vision are precisely what implicate and activate his gaze” (185).

Where the film most obviously acts as an index to Comolli’s stance on the ideological nature of perspectival machines is in the drawing sequences. The same way some would argue the scientific neutrality of the camera renders it pure of ideology, a vessel to the filmmaker’s subjective ideas, so too one might be inclined to believe the perspectiva artificialis of renaissance painters and draughtsmen is a technique void of a larger influence. “‘The most excellent manner of painting is that which imitates the best,’” writes da Vinci, “‘which renders the painting most similar to the natural object that it represents’” (162-163). While this is certainly the draughtsman’s goal, to replicate the grounds as precisely as possible, the very act of framing the house in the manner he deems subjectively superior to any other restricts the eye to this particular view.  In other words, one man is organizing the entire world’s line of sight. Immediately after the contract is agreed upon by the two parties (Mr Neville and Mrs Herbert), a voice-over dictates the strict scheduling and conditions under which the twelve drawings are to be created; livestock must be herded out of sight, windows are to remain closed, wet sheets laid out on the bushes – and an allotted timeframe each day so as to preserve the shadows. This is ideology of the visible in action. Anyone admiring Mr Neville’s drawings five, ten, twenty years after they are completed (which, by the end of the movie, turns out to never have been the point) will not see all the decisions made to reach the final product. We the audience, seated on our deified thrones beyond the fourth wall, actually watch these proceedings take place, and it in turn makes us question the mechanics behind the same moving images that brought up the questions in the first place. The greatest example of this reawakening is in the cuts between the landscape and the drawing. Two identical views: one real, one replicated. Here is where Comolli believes the eye of the spectator becomes enslaved to the instrument of replication, rendering it obsolete. That single cut from what the camera sees as a manicured garden to what the camera sees as a half-finished pencil drawing of that manicured garden is “the precise moment that the triumph of monocular perspective as a system of representation … seems to be assured” (163). Comolli goes on to say that “it is at this very moment that the eye abruptly appears as neither entirely unique, nor entirely irreplaceable, nor particularly perfect” (163), because it is fooled into believing what it sees to be true. Funnily enough, it is Greenaway’s hands that seal his authorial presence while revealing our spectatorial fate in the film, being both the director and true artist behind Mr Neville’s drawings. To further disrupt this verisimilitude, Greenaway cleverly weaves the pieces of a murder puzzle into the wire-grid frame by orchestrating a seductive undressing of Mrs Talmann in the garden. The clothes she leaves behind are chaos in the order Mr Neville seeks to create, but he, like the spectator, is blind to what they signify until it is too late.

This play on blindness versus perception is personified by the strangest element in the film: at times when he is least expected, a naked man painted head to toe in some natural pigment will intrude upon the frame. His first sighting is hardly noticeable, almost an error on the part of the crew for letting such a caricature climb onto the set and pose over the garden rooftop where the aristocrats dine just ten feet below. Although his presence is never explained, and at times even unacknowledged by those who inhabit the movie-world, this living statue may serve as a thematic bridge between the two-dimensional reality on-screen and life as we know it off-screen. The use of depth of field, for example, which is meant to immerse the viewer into a deeper trance of believability (although André Bazin and Jean Mitry differ on this point, Comolli sees it as a crucial factor to the “illusion of the third dimension” (172) which can be employed to varying degrees according to the filmmaker’s will), is instead another tool of disruption. As we sit and laugh at the powdered men in wigs who are oblivious to this human pest, reveling in our all-seeing eye and possibly drumming up their lack of awareness to be a scathing critique on the ignorance of the aristocracy, we are unconsciously reminded of those things which ought not to be in sight. Just as Mr Talmann walks right past the camouflaged nude in the background, the spectator accepts the visible as the most important, the only important, part of cinema – right up until the very last shot. Spitting into the face of a deceased Mr Neville is not only a crack aimed directly at the high class and their ridiculous solemnity towards art, but at the audience which has come along for the sheer entertaining value of it all. In his own crude way, the living statue is reminding the audience of cinema’s true origins. As Comolli writes: “The cinema thus owes its existence to the reciprocal reinforcement of an ideological demand (‘to see life as it is’) and an economic demand (to make it a source of profits)” (168); two brutally depressing truths which coincide with Mr Neville’s contract. He is there to capture twelve moments in time, but solely for his own financial and Freudian satisfactions. Gone is the “magic of the movies,” the mystical aura that surrounds original creativity. What the The Draughtsman’s Contract has shown us through frames within frames is the only three things this world has to offer: sex, money, and murder.

If there’s anything to take away from Greenaway’s style and how it relates to Comolli’s theories on ideology, it’s artificiality. The disruptive filmmaking techniques which abound in The Draughtsman’s Contract are a delightful shock compared to the homogeneity of today’s movie market. It is a movie about seeing, about spectatorship, about being a witness to something perverse – feelings the average ticket-buyer may not realize he/she has become desensitized to. Yet for as much as both Greenaway and Comolli seem to encourage a heightened scrutiny of the medium, one cannot help but leave the film with one question: would it be better to turn a blind eye to the invisible rather than risk having one’s eyes poked out by a fiery stick as a result of having seen too much?


Comolli, Jean-Louis. “Technique and Ideology: Camera, Perspective, Depth of Field.” In Cinema against Spectacle, translated and edited by Daniel Fairfax, 143-193. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2015.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​

Celebration, Florida

The Mold Behind the Wall

a brief overlook of celebration, florida

February 11, 2020

The first murder in Celebration, Florida took place in November of 2010, 14 years after the red ribbon was cut and the doors were opened to those who had auctioned for a place to live. Although the grim details shall remain unmentioned, for such a twisted occurrence to take place in the primmest of fairy-tale communities speaks to the darkness behind Celebration’s utopian facade. This is not the only sign, however. Starting in 2016, citizens who belong on Celebration’s Condo Association have been defending a lawsuit against the Town Center Foundation (and one member in particular) which calls for action dealing with the millions of dollars required to maintain Celebration’s crumbling walls and leaky ceilings. Residents claim this is the fault of the “man in charge,” Metin Negrin, the autonomous figure who owns the property; Negrin, meanwhile, points to the many years of poor management in reserve funding as the cause (Hitt). And, situated behind it all as an ironic reminder, is this idealistic 1950s backdrop of suburban America, designed by some of the nation’s leading architects. Was the very idea of such a locale flawed from the beginning, or did this catastrophe arise out of a tension between the power and the people? By tracing the town’s evolution, from concept to current situation, and analyzing its design in terms of aesthetics versus practicality, it is clear that in today’s critical atmosphere Celebration stands as a disingenuous artifact of the past.

Celebration's pitch-perfect history is marred by two murders; one in 2010 with its own dark secret, and another brutality in 2020.

First, some context as to how such an idea was born and its attempted resolution of mass suburbia. Following World War II, the dominant mode of city planning in the United States revolved around single-family homes and “mixed zoning that separated residential, occupational, and consumptive spaces” (Bartling 44), creating this general sprawl that reflected the nation’s social and political environment. Some critics such as Lewis Mumford have compared this homogenous neighborhood to mass production; a factory that spits out the same home for all, creating a self-enclosed loop that promotes “escape” to the nice, isolated town (Bartling 45). In reality, this uniform style killed any sort of diversity within the community, even going so far as to dictate its demographic – Celebration’s estimated population in 2020 is 93% white (World Population Review). What arose as a solution came to be called New Urbanism, a planning theory that prioritized humane scale and experience above all. It introduced vibrancy and individuality to otherwise unvarying public spaces. On paper, this is a positive change – one that encourages communal interaction. Unfortunately, as is evident in the case of Celebration, “while seemingly appealing on the surface, [New Urbanist claims] are strongly based on a sense of exclusion and social withdrawal” (Bartling 46). What is perhaps most confounding is how a design that affirms its position against suburban sprawl, a community that manages to unify many distinct architects with unique visions, can still claim to be diverse and humane when it is owned and operated by a single entity that controls every aspect of its built environment. Funnily enough, while this is not too far from the Disney empire’s overarching monopoly in today’s culture, it was Uncle Walt himself who originated the idea of Celebration many years ago.

Levittown, New York. This mass-produced suburban environment called for a diversification in human-scaled housing: New Urbanism.

In 1966, some months before his death, Walt Disney publicly announced a new design for what was to be Florida’s own Disney World. Three times bigger than the theme park in California, this city of the future resembled a glorified exposition, with a dedicated airport, monorail transit system, and a Sforzinda-like layout that neatly segregated labour from luxury. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT) was meant to stand as “a showcase for the world, for the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise” (Disney), constantly changing and testing modern ideas. There is no doubt that Disney’s plan relies on a capitalist structure to succeed; at the very centre are the offices and towering skyscrapers where the world is run, all other residential types branching out of this glass-and-steel hub. Similarly to global fairs, which entertained the mass public with oriental attractions, EPCOT “constructed a microcosm of human activity that reflected the tastes and preconceptions of its day” (Nelson 106), a time of expanding media and a general gaze upon the horizon. Shortly after the visionary’s passing, the plan was put aside; its scale and aspirations were simply too massive. Cut to 1984: there is a newfound rejuvenation for Walt Disney’s idea of an ideal community, now operated by Michael Eisner and Peter Rummel. A competition is held for designers, and the master plan is complete – only instead of 30-storey office towers and high-speed monorail tracks, Celebration is made to look like a Norman Rockwell postcard.

Disney's "City of Tomorrow," proposed in 1966, envisioned a new way of living, one that combined utopian ideals (unified luxury and labour) with steady scientific advancement.

Here is the first clear diversion from the original idea, which is built on a totally different notion of utopianism. Robert A.M. Stern and Jaquelin T. Robertson’s design focuses more on nostalgia than the infinite possibilities of science-fiction, fabricating this isolated slice of familiarity, away from the hustle and bustle of the contemporary urban city. In a way we have returned to this issue of mass-produced suburbanization, only at the scale of a single community. Under the label of the Disney Company, the  corporation promised “a place of caramel apples and cotton candy, secret forts and hopscotch on the streets” (Hitt). Although this caused many to flock at the opportunity of living in this private theme-park, today one thing is painfully clear: no city is perfect, and the ones which advertise themselves as so,  deceive consumers (hindsight is, after all, twenty-twenty). Albert Ross, a resident of Celebration himself, tries to understand the attraction of such a site. He claims that these dreamers “had become lately entangled with the designs of a company that controls a lion’s share of the dream business, and had opted to offer, in the realm of real estate, some of the wish fulfillment it had long traded in the realm of make-believe” (Ross 1). Even the buildings themselves, which appeared diverse in character yet unified in style, abided by codes that did not allow inhabitants to alter the exteriors of their homes (Hitt). The inside was subject to personal taste, but the outside had to maintain its pristine, unadulterated nature. Eventually this caused further problems when roofs began to leak and home-owners could do nothing to fix them, leading to Celebration’s current state of confusion and disrepair.

Celebration, Florida. An architectural callback to the 1950s; strict rules govern the maintenance of residential buildings to ensure unity.

This brings up a point about priority. Should we be so focused on aesthetics when there are far more pressing issues at hand? Negrin’s foundation, the Lexin Company, anticipates it will cost five million dollars to mend impairment, including the one million they’ve already spent (Hitt). Meanwhile, further south in the same state, houses are in danger of flooding due to rising tides and climate change. Florida’s population does not cease to grow, and instead of dedicating time and resources to finding alternative methods of resilient design, we are still stuck in the past, trying to make things look good for the sake of looking good. Visually, Celebration may be unique and interesting enough to qualify as a tourist destination. Some enjoy driving down the quiet streets and admiring Michael Grave’s Post-Office, but this is all surface glamour. When it comes to practicality, not only does it fail to support its current residents, the community is a poor example of solution-driven suburban planning for surrounding regions.


Celebration’s manicured lawns and New Urbanist dollhouses are merely cardboard cutouts for reality, ie the lack of personal care that often proceeds from corporate power. There is a reason why utopian communities rarely leave the page without eliciting one issue or another: our social fabric is always adapting in ways that are too complex to box into a single perfect town. Celebration does have its admirers, but there is no doubt its image as a “Disney dream made real” poses a risk not only for designers seeking to move away from this visual wonderland to more important affairs, but for newcomers who are unaware of the decay behind the painted walls. One billboard on the way into town featured a pair of smiling girls on a swing-set with the slogan “Isn’t this reason enough for Celebration?” Evidently, the answer is no.


Bartling, Hugh E. “Disney’s Celebration, the Promise of New Urbanism, and the Portents of Homogeneity.” The Florida Historical Quarterly 81, no. 1 (2002): 44-67. Accessed February 11, 2020.


Hitt, Tarpley. “How Disney’s ‘Community of Tomorrow’ Became a Nightmare.” The Daily Beast. The Daily Beast Company, December 18, 2019. htps:// a-total-nightmare.


Nelson, Steve. “Walt Disney’s EPCOT and the World’s Fair Performance Tradition.” The Drama Review: TDR 30, no. 4 (1986): 106-46. doi:10.2307/1145786.


Ross, Andrew. The Celebration Chronicles: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Property Value in Disney’s New Town. London: Verso, 2000.


Walt Disney. Epcot/Florida Original Film. Walt Disney Productions, 1966.


World Population Review. “Celebration, Florida Population 2020.” Celebration, Florida Population 2020 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs). World Population Review, August 28, 2019.

Copyright © 2021 David Botros​