Tuesday, September 23, 2014

M. Scorsese's Life Lessons


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Color. Emotion. Music. These are the three words that can easily describe Martin Scorsese's short film Life Lessons. In the movie, we meet a painter Lionel Dobie who (like a stereotypical middle aged artist) has his inspirational muse Paulette. The girl wants to leave him, however, he is able to pursue her to stay, as she is the only one that can make Lionel stay inspired  and  paint. Though everything changes when Paulette comes back, at the beginning we are still introduced to the fact that Lionel has an artistic crisis and is not able to paint. A story is centered around him trying to maintain the balance between his feelings for Paulette and the meaning of her stay for Lionel.


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What really strikes out in the movie is the camera movement.  When there is a scene with a dramatic scent,  camera moves. One example is when Dobie comes to pick Paulette in the airport. They reach the blue truck, and Lionel tries to pursue Paulette to stay with him. There is nice transitional swing around Dobie while he is talking. We stay motivated and the main driving element stays on Dobie.


The portraits of the characters determine the tone they bring to the movie as well. Firstly, Dobie is not a likeable character. The way he looks, dresses, talks, acts, does not really help to sympathize with him. We feel more for Paulette. Her wish to become a better artist and her trying to figure out if it's worth doing. Although Lionel is the main character of the of the piece, he is quite antagonistic and that is really reflected if we think about the tone of the movie: artsy, unprecedented.

The quick montages, added in the editing with Lionel painting, also contributes to the unity of the film. Through the specific color mixing, through the passion level Lionel gives to the work, we can easily identify whether he is sad, or anxious, or inspired. That earns the answer why we still stay with Lionel through the entire film, why it's his story, and asserts why the movie is about Lionel and what drives him in his art.

The soundtrack/musical background that is being used in the movie also reflects a lot of Dobie's emotions. Music genre switches from popular pop to classical/opera songs that is a parallel between Lionel being powered up and inspired to paint, or emotionally devastated and sad (like in the shot him in the armchair just looking at one point). Usually,  the music is in parallel with the montage of him painting, so these two cinematic tools fulfill and empower each other pretty well.


Another tool that I believe is worth to mention: the space and set's supplements chosen to use in the specific scenes. Lionel's apartment is pale. Colorless. It contradicts with the colorfulness that drives the movie forward. At the same time, it adds the better view to the characters and their relationships to the things they are doing in the movie in the first place. In addition to that, we also see how the space intensifies and takes out the pressure of the dramatic moments. Like the huge bathroom and Paulette and Dobie talking before the birthday party, and in the couple of moments at the party, also in the bathroom, but this time a couple of times smaller bathroom and the topic is much more dramatic.

The nice switch in the movie happens when we realize how Paulette starts to use an advantage she has. Paulette starts to manipulate Lionel. Shot design, color, camera movement, music and tone - everything switches up when in the story Paulette rebels against Lionel: she takes the guy home, she leaves Lionel with policemen... They become more Paulette revealing. More close-ups, more distinct color (like red); however, the story does not jump and does not become hers. It becomes a bigger motivator for Lionel's behavior.

Story is finished by Paulette leaving and Lionel finding a new muse. It holds the rhythm. Through showing us,  but not telling, Scorsese reveals the continuation of the story. Lionel hasn't changed as a character, but he has learned a valuable life lesson that everything sooner or later comes to the end. That it what happened to his obsession with Paulette.