I will be watching all 10 nominees from 1937 before I move on to the next year. The goal here is to watch them and have an internal discussion among them to try to piece together a “history” of the year. Let’s get to it.
Dead End, a 1937 slice-of-life, riches-and-urchins film is a masterful adaptation of stage-to-screen because the theme works with light hands. In an attempt to backdrop ostentatious wealth against abject poverty, Dead End neither attempts to comment on income inequality nor class politics. Instead, the film, basically confined to a single stage (with a few side rooms, as physical asides) tells the story of a couple of chipped kids with no discernible past and, as the story would lead a reader to believe, no future either. Yet we, presumably not destitute, can connect with these kids because for every “stage” in our own lives, there exists at least one kid who has been beaten down by his milieu. Dead End works in that mysterious middle ground of unintentional brilliance, of unassuming aloofness.
The viewing object – the screen – held enormous weight in early Hollywood; no home video existed and the audience needed to see perspective projected onto it. That said, a screen by itself is not perspectival, so in order to create depth, a cinematographer will use different lens widths and size through distance. This technique is not new and not unique to film. Some artists intentionally bastardize perspective to trick the mind, others unintentionally misuse equipment and shift perspective from the normal human eye’s perspective and either ruin a scene or create some modernist brilliance – cohesive and contentious. Dead End exists somewhere in the middle of intentional because of its adaptation from a play written for the stage and unintentional because the available film equipment in the 1930s limited a director/cinematographer’s options. Continue reading