Morpheus Descending

A Song is Born

Max Ophuls’ LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI is a sort of Italian answer to A STAR IS BORN. While, like SANS LENDEMAIN, it isn’t up there with the Divine Max’s post-war work, it does have its share of passion and poetry, and features plenty of memorably eccentric bits of technique.

Ophuls starts with a spiralling iris-out from a spinning gramophone record, before tilting up to a cyncial movie producer, who starts talking almost straight into the lens, almost like an Ozu character.

Cutting back to the gramophone once more but with the camera now spun 180 degrees, Ophuls now tilts up to an agent, also talking almost into the lens.

The next scene gives us a whirlwind tour of a film studio, with the camera rocketing around at speed as assistants try to locate a missing movie star. You can really feel the weight of the giant blimped sound camera as it swerves round corners, even spinning 360 degrees as a character circles a room before exiting from the door he came in by.

Then we’re tracking through walls in the manner mimicked by Kubrick (a big Ophuls fan) in THE KILLING and LOLITA, and then we get MY FAVOURITE BIT —

The Experiment

Morpheus Descending

Our heroine (the legendary Isa Miranda) has attempted suicide, and lies on the operating table awaiting some kind of potentially life-saving operation. Gloved hands turn a SPECIAL VALVE and an anaesthetic mask descends from the ceiling. Ophuls does what many directors would do in such a situation — he shows us the heroine’s POV as the smothering instrument descends towards her face. This is in line with those subjective camera shots we see in many hospital movies from the ’40s on — wheeling along on a gurney, looking at the ceiling, that kind of thing.

The Mask

Mask

But Ophuls does something else, something maybe only he and Sam Raimi would do — he cuts to the POV of the mask itself, descending towards the heroine’s face until she is pushed into a blurry smear.

Awake

The Woman in White

The Fog

And in the midst of that blur, the central flashback can begin…

(LA SIGNORA DI TUTTI is now available on DVD in Italy, and they’ve actually included English subtitles!)

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7 Responses to “Morpheus Descending”

  1. Raul Ruiz is the king of bizarre POV shots. At one point in Les Trois Couronnes du Matelot we see the POV of the bottom of a character’s shoe!

  2. And the classic from-inside-the-mouth shot! POV epiglottis?

  3. I think you left out the best part! Doesn’t she scream “No!” as the mask engulfs her?

    I actually rate this movie very high among Ophuls’ work.

  4. False Memory Syndrome, troublesome in real life, stimulating in the movies! You have your own remake going on in your head, sir. I just double-checked, although she DOES shake her head faintly as the mask descends.

    It’s possible there’s a different edit out there, I guess.

    I put it second only to Liebelei in the pre-war work I’ve seen, but I still prefer all the post-Exile films. But it’s still GREAT.

  5. She doesn’t scream no, she whimpers for her mother right before the mask blurs her out…

  6. Steve Elworth Says:

    I love this film and they are so many amazing scenes. One amazing thing is that usually these kinds of POV signal the character as narrator and that the character will survive the narrative. The second does not occur here and the film ends with a printing press printing her death. The technology of representation and creation of the feminine is foregrounded throughout the film as in much of Ophul’s work. The strangest of the operating rooms POVs is found in Powell and Pressburger’s A matter of Life and Death

  7. Absolutely. There seems to have been a whole tradition where oxygen masks are placed over the patient’s eyes in a POV shot, possibly starting with AMOLAD. In the Ophuls, it’s a full-face mask therefore this trick makes sense.

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