Elia Kazan’s film East of Eden attempts to explore the relationship between father and son, Adam and Cal. Cal is desperately seeking love from his father, but he just turns away from Cal and leaves him upset. Conflicts arise between the two and this tears them further apart from each other. In the sequence, Kazan applied non-diegetic elements and various visual techniques to show the tension between Adam and Cal. Apart from that, Kazan also applied different mise-en-scene arrangements like lighting and blocking to reflect the emotions of each character and to illustrate Cal feels distant from his father and bring up the problems caused by “the generation gap”. With the use of all these film techniques, Kazan’s film has also demonstrated an understanding of the classical Hollywood style at that time.
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Kazan has used non-diegetic music to create suspicion in the film, and particular camera angles to reflect the bond Cal and Adam. Within the clip, it can be seen that aggressive music is used when Cal is telling Aron that their mother is still alive. The director used music as a way to illustrate the conflicts between the brothers, which are significant to the film narration. Burt suggested that this is the climactic scene in the film, and the music has successfully filled the explosive potential of the story plot (1994, p.185). Non-diegetic music has been extensively used in different parts of the film, and the repetitive use of music helps illustrate the emotions of the characters to the audience. In the clip, “complex harmonies” and “thudding chordal figure” are used to bring out the explosive nature of the climax scene (Burt, 1994, p.186). With the use of background music and lightings in the clip, the director has been able to bring suspense to the audience, and it becomes a clue to what will happen next. At the same time, non-diegetic music has been used for the entire sequence of Sunrise (1927). Due to the silent nature of this film, the emotions of the characters cannot be brought out through the tones of dialogues. In that case, storytelling has to rely on the use of orchestral music. Also, the director applied a canted framing, which means a slope is formed within the frame (Bordwell and Thompson, 2010, p.490). Kazan used this technique to capture the scene when Cal left heartbroken after being rejected by his father. A similar slanted camera angle has been used at the beginning of the film when Cal is trying to confront his father about his mother’s death. It can be seen that when the tension between Cal and Adam arises, the director used a canted frame to capture the scene, as a leitmotif to show the distrust between the two throughout the film. The slope could be seen a metaphor of their relationship, indicating that their relationship is unstable.
Mise-en-scene arrangements are also evident in the clip. Kazan has put different components into different scenes and he arranged them in a meaningful way. In terms of blocking, it can be seen that Cal often stands further away from other characters and the camera. For instance, in the scene when Cal tries to explain how he got the money to Adam, they stand at diagonal corners, with Adam standing closer to the camera. In an interview, Kazan explained that Cinemascope was used to put Cal at the corner of the frame so that he would look tinier than other characters (Young, 2001, p.203). This technique is used throughout the film in order to show that he is powerless in front of his father. Similar settings can also be seen when Cal’s brother is confronting with him, a medium shot of Aron standing in front of Cal. After that, it switches to a long-shot, and we could only see the shades of the two characters. Burt suggested that the light settings have made their appearances barely recognisable (1994, p.188). The darkness has created a feeling of fear in the film, and the staging of the scene has also shown Cal’s emotional changes, from frustration to anger. As mentioned, the director often put Cal at the corner as he was portraying him as a kid (Young, 2001, p.203). However, when Cal is confronting his brother, he stands on the bench under the tree, indicating a regain of power. At that point, it demonstrates a mental change in Cal, as he is trying to act maturely.
The sequence has also illustrated the dominant features of the classical Hollywood film style. According to King, classical style is analysed in two aspects, film narrative and editing techniques (2002, p.4). A typical Hollywood film usually shows how the main character finds a solution to his problem (Bordwell, 1986, p.18). In terms of narrative, East of Eden presents the story in a linear timeline, with Cal struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with his father. It can be seen that the sequence leads audience to the climax of the story plot, as Cal faces an obstacle when he is attempting to resolve his own issues, thus he expresses his long hidden jealousy towards his brother, indicating a breaking change in the relationships between each character. Therefore, the sequence fulfils the “struggles for problem solving” part of the Hollywood film plot, as suggested by Bordwell (1986, p.18). In the clip, it can also be seen that the director applied continuity editing. This editing method involves point-of-view shot and shot/reverse-shot, which has been used since the 1910s (Bordwell, Straiger, & Thompson, 1985, p.194). An example of the point-of-view shot is that after a medium shot that shows Adam asking Cal how he got his money, Cal looks at Abra, and a medium shot of her is shown. The camera is placed at Cal’s visual direction, and it shows that Cal is getting courage from Abra. Meanwhile, throughout the movie, shot/reverse-shot is often used during conversations between characters. This gives a clear view of each character, and it allows audience to see their facial expressions clearly, which is an important element of a melodrama. Maltby suggested that James Dean in East of Eden was a method performance that combines psychoanalysis and melodrama, which constructs “realism” and showing expressive emotions at the same time (1995, p.263). Compared with Sunrise, James Dean has a more natural performance. Because of the film nature, actors in Sunrise have to exaggerate their expressions to illustrate the whole story.
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In conclusion, that sequence in the film East of Eden has brought the story plot to the climax point, with the use of various visual techniques and scene arrangements. Non-diegetic music and canted frame can be found in the sequence, which are used to build up the tension between Cal and other characters. In addition, Kazan has used staging and lighting subtly to reflect the feelings of each character. Classical Hollywood styles like continuity editing and exaggerated acting can also be seen in the sequence, which are the main features of the Hollywood films at that time. The techniques that are used in the sequence can also be found in other parts of the movie, and this shows that they are essential in constructing the whole structure of the film.
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