Friday, April 13, 2007

Scene Gems: Understated Seduction Attempt in 'The Spanish Prisoner'



Here's a real curiosity that has become one of my favorite films. David Mamet's The Spanish Prisoner is a modern noir with a lot of familiar elements. There's the flawed hero wrongly accused, the femme fatale, and the guy who appears to be a friend, but is actually much worse. Macguffins also abound.

This film seems to occupy a strange place in a strange land. If you are familiar with Mamet (Spartan), you will recognize his repetitive and rhythmic style of writing. The otherworldly way people talk here puts the movie in a parallel world that looks normal, but feels somewhere else. What you won't recognize is the zero profanity count in this film--something none of his other films can claim.

I also like how low-key the entire film is. This scene is a perfect example of this. Office temp Susan (Mamet's wife, Rebecca Pidgeon) has taken a liking to good guy Joe (Campbell Scott). Here she displays her intentions both with her words and body language. Since this is a noir, nothing can be taken at face value (note the timing of the phone call), and this entire film is about misdirection. Also notice the use of dissolves and shot lingering that creates a slower, more deliberate pace.

Mamet's camerawork uses depth well, and this scene is a great example of framing (Susan is literally inside a frame at one point) and the use of the close up in contrast to the wide shot. When things are more personal the camera gets closer, when Joe loses interest, things widen out. Simple techniques like these can really have an impact. This film has a lot of that, sleepy as it may appear.

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