The Lady From Shanghai is one of the great classical film noir, which was directed by Orson Welles in 1948 and he adapted it from the novel called If I Die Before I Wake by Sherwood King in 1938. The theme of this movie is about conspiracy and murder, it tells a story of the intrigues between several characters and finally to the terrible collective madness and death. Even though this film only takes 87 minutes, every scene composition and camera movement, including the movie lines is unforgettable and memorable to me. For example, the surreal view of grotesque close-up, Chinese theatre montage, the crazy house nd so on.
Moreover, after watching The Lady from Shanghai again and again, I always have brand-new feelings and different understand of it. This essay will mainly focus on some specific scenes in this film that I found is tasteful and meaningful. It is can’t be denied that The Lady from Shanghai is a typical film noir–tough guy, a femme fatale, violence, death, madness, conspiracy, visual design with expressionist taste, even the self- explanatory narration of the male protagonist Michael is also the most typical film noir representative elements. First of all, the ocean opening scene.
At the very beginning of this film, we can see the ocean opening scene along with boosting music and the subtitles on the screen flash. It is hard to tell the movie is about an intrigue, violence and death story. However, did not last long, with a huge wave coming toward the lens, the music turns into the gloomy tone and film starts to appearing on the screen is the gloomy bizarre urban landscape in Los Angeles. As far as I am concerned, according to the comprehensive view of the entire movie, there is a strong moral effect behind the opening scene.
As the art of film, which shows all the elements n the screen (including visual and aural) are signed with a strong directivity and the directivity of these elements come together to some kind of chemical reaction. So in addition to the picture and sound performance exhibited by the external image, the more important factor is to explore the significance of these combinations behind the external form implied. Then come back to the ocean opening scene, the combination with the sea and inspirational melody mean a lot to the audiences. It might be free, lonely, vast or dangerous and so on.
However, there are only a few within the numerous meaning is closely ssociated with the movie. It is obviously that the answer is clear after watching the whole movie, in my opinion; the ocean imagery here refers to the spirit of colonialism in the film. Secondly, the shark tale scene. As the movie began at thirty forty-nine seconds, Michael tells a fable about sharks in the dark deep sea try to eat each other and the whole ocean for the “savage beast” provides a fundamental performance space. Michael says, “You could sell the death reeking up out of the sea.
I never saw anything worse until this little picnic tonight. ” His shark tale just as the death of prophecy hanging over these onspirators. In my opinion, the boat on the ocean is the symbol of dangerous in this film, just like the sea full of sharks and they are the sharks that kill themselves. During this four-person scene, Elsa, Bannister and Grisby sit on the same side, the shot switches between Elsa and Michael several times. Although Michael could get out as an outsider, but the other side as Rosalie Knight (in the beginning of the film, he gave Elsa princess named Rosalie), he wants a Romance.
So a station and a switch can represent the position of Mike clearly. The most interesting hing is before this scene; Elsa already predicted this unchangeable result with a Chinese proverb “Human nature is eternal. Therefore, one who follows his nature keeps his original nature, in the end” as bedding for the whole story covered Isaiah mystery. In general, people consider the sea adventure should be romantic and poetic. Nevertheless, as a great classic film noir, The Lady from Shanghai has the high pursuit and it would not satisfy the vulgar Hollywood style, which is the ordinary plot.
For example, Rosalie confused Michael and the reason why he decided to go board is he falling in love with her. However, Rosalie just wants to use Michael to get rid of her husband. In one word, everyone has the own purpose. Therefore, when the main characters for various selfish reasons to come together in the same boat and each with his own axe to grind brings the very subtle complex chemical reactions into the film. Thirdly, the Chinese theatre called The Lady from Shanghai, there’s only one scene that mentions to Shanghai, which is Elsa tells Michael she has been worked in Shanghai.
At the end of that scene, she says “you need more than luck in Shanghai” and that makes this line unique and meaningful. However, what makes Shanghai so special in this movie and it is still hard to tell the connection with this movie. According to the shooting time of this movie in 1947, we know the historical background of World War II was over two years and the whole world is gradually returning from World War II. There are many parts of the Third World countries still at the wartime and China is also during the Civil War.
Since 1843, Shanghai of China started to open; it became the frontier where the western countries begin their massive colonization to the distant and mysterious oriental. In the most prosperous period of colonialism, with the high maturity of the marine technology, rich resources and mysterious oriental culture is also attracting a large number of settlers stationed here. Shanghai began a frenzied period of development and the most fashionable merchandise, culture and entertainment are he. In spite of the film gathered here.
In the early last century, colonialism gradually toward to the end. When colonialism toward to the post-colonial and colonial settlers left is the infinite pain and hangover-like decadence and loss. In my opinion, Shanghai is a term that gives Western people special meaning, because they made a fortune here, lose self here and finally bogged down in the quagmire of the colony here. Therefore, Shanghai is no longer a name of the geographical term, it also represents a symbol: a symbol of a kind of strangeness and a symbol of a new kind of freedom would fade at the end.
It is like a symbol of ambiguous relationship with post-colonial era colonies and colonists. For example, after Michael broke the legal farce and we can see the montage of shots when he escaped to the Chinese Theatre in Chinatown. Michael was completely abandoned in a strange ircumstance when he run away from the ridiculous old regime and come to the place where messy language mixed with weird theatrical performances. However, the ‘stranger’ environment seems easy for Elsa because she knows the language well.
As a result, Elsa is the lady from Shanghai symbolizes her characteristic in this film— Passionate, mysterious but full of danger, the most important is she can’t ever be trusted. Finally, the crazy house scene. At the end of the movie, Bannister, Elsa and Michael– the three protagonists come together again. The crazy desire and instinct to survive finally led the main haracters ran to the finish. This space is filled with the mirror; the mirror constantly reflected their self-image. Michael is like being in the crazy house with a surreal dream and meanwhile, the face of Elsa is no longer that kind of pretty.
Due to the failed plan, the situation that is out of control completely exposed the nature of Elsa and she coldly accusing Mike why not tries to understand her. At this time, her face even looks fearful and pitiful. Furthermore, Orson illustrates us the self-reflection through the mirror in the hall and it should be the climax of The Lady from Shanghai. In this hall with numerous mirrors, we can see the inner world of characters by division, copy; overlap the countless images of the mirror.
However, we can’t see Mike in the mirror. Even though Michael was involved in the conspiracy, Orson borrowed a mirror that excludes him from the conspiracy. Now, Michael is just a person who tells Shark Tale, not the shark. When Elsa and Bannister pull the trigger and shot down each other, Michael has become a witness and opened the lights in the house. Elsa fell to the ground while Mike has walked straight up to the corner of the room and he is back to Elsa, as well as the camera. The camera uses elevation angle way to shoot.
Therefore, we can not only see Elsa lying on the ground, but also see the whole body of Mike in the corner. It is a completely non-narrative expression in this scene and this kind of depth effects can show Michael’s outsider position clearly by the stage drama. In the meantime, Michael says “we can’t lose either, only if we quit”, we can see there is an unbridgeable gap that Orson made between Elsa and Michael, one is in the painful crawl world and the other is stand in the world. In other words, they are in two different positions during this scene.
When Elsa struggles and she cries for his pity “Come back here. Michael? I don’t want to die”. The shadow of the fence under the early morning sunshine cast the body of Mike and he feels confused again. But this time, he gets out of this crazy house and Elsa is not a siren any longer, because without ocean she lost her charm and magic. The final scene of this film is Michael leave the crazy house to the empty street and his monologue starts “everybody is somebody’s fool, the only way to stay out of rouble is to grow ol… This is my favourite part in this movie, even just few lines.
Compared to the first romantic scene when Michael meets Elsa in the street, the final scene is too lonely to makes me feel sad and heartbreak. Moreover, the poignant contrast makes The Lady from Shanghai meaningful and successful. In addition, as far as I am concerned, a great classical movie should be like this: it can resonate with the audience and also leaves space for them to think at the end. In conclusion, although The Lady from Shanghai is an old film noir that shot in 1947.
However, the plot and cinematography still draw my attention. After l analysing the four scenes, which is opening ocean scene, the shark tale scene, Chinese Theatre scene and crazy house scene in the essay, I found that even though the story of this great movie is simple and easy to understand, the theme of The Lady from Shanghai still worth audiences to think deeply and also watch again and again. Furthermore, it is not only is a classical movie but also like a book that people can collect and you will have different feelings every time you read it.