Tuesday, July 18, 2017

On Hooper-As-False-Front Theory ('Poltergeist')

Now that the particulars of John Leonetti's interview have caught like wildfire at various internet publications, it might be time to address the issue.  I do not wish to try to prove my stance with any bits of evidence, I just wish to chime in on what may be a general disregard of the talents and abilities Hooper shows, and a possibly unnuanced opinion of "the director," or Spielberg and Hooper's working relationship.  The details of the two filmmakers' "contract" I cannot go into or presume to speculate (it would be even more of hearsay than the account of Hooper-as-front we have), but, with a blind eye turned to the rumor mill, I have what I have to go on, which is the film, the gray zones of a work of intense collaboration, and Hooper's word thus far.  I maintain the film feels like a Hooper film, and the nebulous zone of a "Hooper set taken over by Spielberg" or a "Spielberg film imposed upon by a powerful, distinctly voiced metteur en scene," especially when both are on set every day (or not), can lead to more natural "movements," or flow (of power), on set, than that suggested by Leonetti.  And if it were this "Gentleman's Agreement," would this not suggest a less hard and fast setting of boundaries, with Hooper holding considerable bargaining chips as a capable studio director at that point?  As I said in a previous post, Spielberg proves such a strong "practitioner of tropes" that it's hard to imagine anyone else executing them.  It's also a major dismissal of another creative voice present, being capable of inspiration reaching, or even falling short but aspiring to, a "Spielbergian sensibility."  Whether it is a matter of Spielberg coming on set to edit Hooper, or Hooper coming on set to edit Spielberg, the fickleness of the Gentleman's Agreement is beyond the line of sight.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Unexplained Natural Phenomena (and Interior Winds) in Hooper's Films




An earthquake-like tremble suddenly shakes the funhouse and the incongruous chandelier of this funhouse "glass room" (that I don't believe we see during the course of the funhouse ride).  We could have added the trembling chandelier when David in Spontaneous Combustion merely stands underneath to this post, in direct rhyme to this scene.





Friday, June 30, 2017

THAS: 'Poltergeist,' A Walk-Through, #7, Part II

Cont. / PART I

But the storyboards for the Tree Attack sequence are presented here, illustrated by Richard Lasley, in a rough but almost shot-for-shot approximation of the eventual shots set-up on the day of shooting.  This, of course, is rough, but the outline is invariably there, the main message being communicated in these illustrations being an all-caps, "Shoot the mechanical FX from ALL ANGLES."  We of course do not have the initial shot of the sequence, a slightly overhead dolly shot over a blanket-covered Robbie, followed almost immediately by the start of the tree's attack.




Some shooting schedule snippets, as a treat.  This sequence was shot about midway through the 60 day shoot, and 10 days passed between shooting the tree's bedroom attack and the parents' outside rescue (as well as the rest of the mud-covered sequence).  The day before the tree scene - Day 35 - they were shooting the breakfast scene and Tweety's wake, scenes for which I would assume Hooper had a complete sense of control over.

I had gotten a little lazy toward the end of my last post of the "Walk-Through" and began throwing out random accolades without much insights.  Let's just say that the initiation of the tree attack leads to a sequence of truly wild, unkempt imagery, moving at a headlong pace and a deranged rush.  The difficulty of bringing the tree to life utilizing animatronic technology of the time would render the ghoulish articulated menace of Richard Lasley's storyboards nigh impossible to recreate, so what we do get is a faceless puppet, with improbable cage-like broom arms.  The effect is not seamless, but the puppetry is satisfactory as a nightmarish simplification of the tree as grimacing bogeyman.  More to the point is the arch quality of the scene, the fantasy so absolute - or non-absolute - that the arrival of the parents at the door is like a witnessing of patented absurdity, the close-up on their bodies rushing into the door frame actively closing them off from the understandably dissociating madness before them.  This is a common trope of horror films, for which moments of horrific spectacle are matched with arch and existentially degrading shots of the horror of witnesses.  Spielberg is much too earnest to disclaim the rights of his characters to themselves, to judge so authoritatively on their existence the way a maker of rhetorical horrors does (with the exception, maybe, of 1941 and its slapstick montage, proving again that horror and comedy are bedfellows of the body genre; still, Spielberg's images of absurdity are merely a confirmation of shot-reverse shot as trope of comedy, not as an extension of the camera as determiner of existential status).



I called the above shot a great camera move, but failed to mention how the cut of the film elides the travel from one part of the house to another, from the children's bedroom upstairs to the downstairs kitchen, creating the furious motion of this scene.  It is great cutting, the sort of collapsing of time and space that characterizes those mainstays of pop entertainment, the comic or the film cartoon, in which markers of representation, repetition, and rhythm allow for natural barriers to be collapsed.  Spielberg's comic book plotting allows for these diverse displays of place, action, and motion, and so the dynamic editing exhibited in all his previous works, but then again, no one internalizes the attributes of a house or interior as much as Hooper does, and the use of the panel glass in close-up - not as a sensual marker, but as a marker of place (for glass on a door clearly means it leads outside, meaning a kitchen door or patio door) - points to this sort of strong familiarization and ideation of the home, its layout, its attributes, and particular(itie)s.

I also lapsed on posting screenplay excerpts, so here is a bit of a catch-up:



DIANE: "STEVEN, HURRY!!"

The exterior portion of the scene begins with a wide shot providing exposition of the twister, the one that will eventually come tearing through their backyard and rip the tree out from its roots.  It's a surreal and evocative image, suburbia suddenly a grim gothic landscape, lightning effect casting it in a subdued strobe, wind and rain kicking things up convincingly, only slightly marred by the available effects of the time resulting in a somewhat dodgy,  image-degrading optical twister imposition.

At the very bottom of the image, we see Steven and Diane coming rushing onto the back patio.  Steven slips and slides, though there isn't much to suggest the strong winds that will appear in the next shots.  I imagine it was a bit of directing: "Craig, slip and slide a little bit! There's a storm!"



I like how extensively this film was prepped, such that the details of the set are represented with 100% accuracy in the storyboards - such as the backyard overhang's poles that Steven and Diane are directed to grab hold of when rushing out into the storm.  Then again, this was Day 44 of shooting.


Of course, this is supposed to be due to the force of the storm that has beset their house: it practically blows them back, as depicted in the illustration.  Naturally, this is a hard thing to communicate without the proper velocity of wind aimed at the actors, so there is a tasty morsel of Craig T. Nelson valiantly "stage-techniquing" his way through the "storm" as he makes his way to his son, gripping onto the poles for dear life, perhaps just to keep from slipping, but more likely trying to sell to the mostly non-existent gales.


Dana's purpose in this moment is a welcome bit of bemusement, allowing for a certain sort of wry polyphony: the teenager, naturally, acting not in uniformity with the adults, but stopping short of going outside into the muck.  She instead peers out the window to involve herself from afar.  Teenage pragmatism and self-interest win out, her two shots arch and funny, acting as a welcome contrast in perspective from the selfless parents.  She serves similar purpose in the "Contact" sequence in the living room, and in the climax.


 ROBBIE: "Help me, Dad, help me!"
STEVEN: "Robbie!!"

JoBeth Williams also deigns to play up the fact of the storm, as she is a committed film performer, and why not, cinema is all about the fantasy, the suspension of disbelief, and much of movie special effects history is predicated on this fact that audiences will buy into an illusion, one that is, by necessity, not real or ever a perfect simulacra.  She fares better, as she's got a proper wind blowing against her face, more feasible in these single shots of her alone.  Hooper makes the most of these shots to capture the same visceral sense of a distorted world as he does in the grungiest moments of Texas Chain Saw, the wind, rain, and outsized display of desperate emotion from Williams prompting curving, off-center images placing Williams as a helpless figure.  She is caught within almost a prison of confining, diminishing vertical limits that keep her from her child, her arm reaching out to the empty space before it.

DIANE: "Please, hurry, be careful!"


"MOMMY!"

Now this sequence with Carol Anne being abducted is another simplification of a scene that, as written, would probably require too much attention to too many details, in the midst of an already incredibly complicated centerpiece effect: the sucking of the room's objects into a transdimensional portal located in the closet.  The clown doll was supposed to hold a sinister agenda, resisting the winds and grinning in place as Carol Anne is sucked into the hole (a neat concept).  Carol Anne was supposed to grip onto her blankets, introducing a more tangible suspense aspect, as the portal begins to suck harder and the tucked sheets begin to slip out from their hold.

By the way, I'm convinced Hooper chose that white, wicker headboard.  He loves his coiling, tendril-like shapes and decor of efflorescence to intimate the presence of the supernatural (see Eggshells and Djinn).




The pragmatic aspects of this scene come into focus as it goes on.  In an effort to dynamize a set-piece taking place on the gimballed mock-up of an ILM stage, the filmmakers decide to shoot it from simply all angles, with a distorting wide-angle lens to represent some sort of crossing over into a new uncanny realm of unreality.  It's perfunctory decision-making, but effective.  The harsh high-key lighting also pushes it even further into an otherworldly place, as conceived by the script.




The idea of the gradually intensified suction of the portal is, again, an effect not entirely seamless.  Carol Anne is suddenly being sucked in so that she's horizontal to the ground while things around her are still rolling slowly on the ground.  Artifacts bump into the camera, suggesting some sort of Harvard Sensory Ethnography Lab for the Supernatural.  I'm not sure what the preponderance of glittery sand being sucked into the hole is, or what seems like chopped-up leaf and dirt particles, possibly remnants from the previous tree attack.  But this is nitpicking, as the scene works incredibly well when not looking too closely, due to the details.  The sound design inserts the honk of a rubber toy when it falls to the ground.  The mundaneness of children's objects under that harsh light makes every toy seem strange and unnatural (perfect for its send-up of middle-class comfort and consumerism).  The unidentified particle matter and glitter I mentioned is both another way to sell the illusion (of sucking winds) and the uncanniest thing of all: that which we don't know sits on the floor or clutters the corners of our rooms.  Who knew there could be so much dirt and lint - and stardust? - hidden underneath everything we can see in a children's bedroom, only to be revealed when sucked out of all its contents?  Creepy, and makes me want to clean my place.  What looks like bugs on the wall near the back, on the right, also always creeped me out, though I'd assume now they are tape or poster shavings.





(SCREAMING)




The clown doll finally goes, I suppose a nice touch to sell the fact of the increasing force of the suction.  Despite my earlier searching for lapses in the logic of the effects, this is an essentially flawless bit of illusion-making.

This ILM footage seems to have been shot at a certain frame rate, also, as the footage is intensely sharp and, to make the suction seem otherworldly, is shot in a subtle slow motion.


I love the logical leaps the script and FX make: the objects are being sucked into the closet, but they are clearly not all being "accepted" into the ghostly dimension.  They are clearly visible laying like abandoned rubble in the blinding light of the closet, while the portal seems to exist somewhere "around" them, emphasizing the fact of two different physical planes.  In a more superficial, thrill-seeking film, you'd have the clown doll not be rediscovered in the closet, suggesting it got "pulled in" to the other dimension.  Its reappearance in the final act would come as an eerie shock before it finally comes to life, having been contaminated by "The Beast."  Sorry for that nerdy little foray into Poltergeist fan fiction.



I don't have much to say about these images in the children's bedroom.  There is way too many of them, I'd say.  This shot above, taken from behind the headboard, sways just a little too conventional.  It could easily have been left out, with the brunt of the drama carried by the comparatively excellent shot of Carol Anne in close-up, from her left, being pulled in and peering behind her in terror, in a way seeming like she's almost looking at the camera, or at us (the shot immediately before the above headboard one).  We feel her terror in that shot, in our gut.  The above shot is almost comical without being intentionally so.

Two children in danger leads to the following fantastic shots of mud and molasses and wet branches:

"Mom!  Mom!"

This scene was approximated by the storyboards, but the reality of the on-set props and animatronics would, of course, lead to lots of culling and reshaping.  They knew they had to get the idea of the tree consuming Robbie in there, so inserted is this close-up of the tree's almost sphincter-like mouth, with Robbie being slid in (or slid out, then the film reversed).


 
 
"Help me! Help me! Help me!"

What we're witnessing with the shot above is Robbie's descent into possibly a fate worse than death.  It is rather horrifying if you focus on the shifting of the sentient tree limbs in the foreground and the disappearance of Robbie in the background.  This is both a practical and an artful shot, not represented in the storyboards.  To fully represent Robbie's plight, we focus on him alone (rather than the storyboards' approach, always shooting him in relation to the approaching of his dad), caught in an ever-slipping consumption, having him fully in frame then fully disappearing.  It's really all they need (plus the shot of the tree's mouth), no actual shots of a fully-articulated tree puppet needed.

"He's coming!!!"

Hooper further identifies the unit in his structural poetry, the shot above merely a variation on the wider shot of Diane reaching in the rain before it.  Shot from the same angular construct, with the same lens length, but now a close-up.  She still reaches out irrevocably before here, still the wooden beams act as vertical limits to her horizontal reaching out.  She is still an impotent vertical construct of her surroundings, despite the aspirational, cross-shaped reach of human arms.

ROBBIE: "Mom! Mom! It's taking me in!"

As stated, a fully articulated tree was not to be, and this was something probably realized quite quickly, quite smartly, quite early on.  The faceless, emotionless monster was the way to go, and so all the filmmakers needed was to make a still tree as grotesque and forbidding as possible. Thus, arching boughs and twisting limbs are used to fill up the frame, setting up the primary shot of Robbie awaiting rescue.  One need only attain shots of Robbie, at different distances, but from this one angle, to communicate the scene.

STEVEN: "Robbie!"
DIANE: "He's coming!"

ROBBIE: "It's hurting me!"

Now this sequence is what I am speaking about when I talk of naturalized, uneditorialized frames.  The scene has been whittled to a few potent, evocative images, and allowed to stew and circulate between them, such that meaning is derived simply from an aestheticization, a network, and a repetition.  Diane, to Steven, to Robbie, all with their own decisive shots.  Steven's struggle is in a tight and truly unmanageable close-up, the image characterized by its murkiness and its disinterest in clarity, only pure, visceral aesthetics and an emotional transference to his circumstances.  There is no narrative, or character, or emotional note in the shot (is it even Steven?  One could barely tell if out of context), it is merely the use of the cinema to place us in a spot of true emotional imbalance, free of the mooring aspects of a more narratively-unified scene (or film).  Thus it is even closer to our emotions than the manipulations of any tear-jerker because this is as close we get to raw, unfiltered image, particularly in a Hollywood blockbuster.  It evokes a response from us only due to the physical fact before it, not any particulars of narrative.  It is only the blood, sweat, and tears that we see, that we witness: the rain, grime, and mud.

DIANE: "Steven, hurry!!"

ROBBIE: "Dad, help me!"
DIANE: "Hurry!"
STEVEN: "Hold on!"
ROBBIE: "It's taking me in!  It's taking me in!"

If we can just quickly mention the words of Robbie's repeated refrain: "It's taking me in," a slightly explicit way to word it, but I suppose a completely literal description of circumstances.  The sheer amount of times he is made to repeat that creates something of a cognitive rupture, such that it begins to take on the sexual violation aspect of these events, an aspect that will soon extend to Tangina's description of the Beast's desire for Carol Anne's "life force," as well as, of course, Diane's molestation by a ghost in the climax.



DIANE: "Hold on to him!"

Above, an incredibly vivid image of such precise optical precision that it has to be Hooper.


Here are the leaf particles that are seemingly thrown into the room and sucked into the closet.  I suppose they do come from the storm, through the broken window that no longer bears any impact on this room beset by an even greater threat, in a blinding white light that seems to contrast the darkness and stormy night that characterizes the struggle outside.  Carol Anne is in a completely different realm now, even though the struggle is happening a mere 10 yards away, outside the window that, in these shots, lies just outside our view (clearly it just doesn't exist on the ILM reconstruction of the bedroom, though).


A rack focus.  There are a lot of random shots in this scene that strike me as mere filler, as if Hooper figured he'd just suggest any boiler-plate shot for this effects-heavy set-piece harboring a number of considerable limitations to his imagination.

The close-ups on Carol Anne are truly the focal energy of this scene: the monster just out of sight, the blinding and featureless light that will consume her is represented on her face and her terrified glance that is practically at us.






The tearing apart of the otherworldly headboard, the easier suspense alternative to the slipping bedsheets, the headboard that will appear fully reconstructed in the climax scenes.  Haha.




So the script's rendition of Carol Anne's disappearance into the closet light is much more violent!  The monstrous portal is supposed to notch it up one more level, pulling Carol Anne and the bed into it at the same time, the frame slamming against the doorway and so essentially impact-thrusting Carol Anne into the mouth.

The filmmakers opt for something much gentler, with Carol Anne being whisked into it by finally letting go of the headboard.  This leads to my favorite continuity error, which is Carol Anne having a portion of the headboard in her hands, despite her clearly letting it go completely, without breaking it.  Also, the Carol Anne wig on whomever they got to do this stunt.


The beds only now come flying, in sequence, after Carol Anne has been fully engulfed by the light.  They flip up and blot out the light, effectively ending the scene.



 ROBBIE: "Hold me, Dad!"
 DIANE: "Hold on, baby!!"

(SCREAMS)

 STEVEN: "I got him!  I got him!"
ROBBIE: "My leg!"


ROBBIE: "Dad, my leg!"


ROBBIE: "Dad, my leg!"


ROBBIE: "Help me, Dad!"





The above is an interesting image, foreshadowing the birth imagery that will come later with Diane and Carol Anne.  I'm pretty sure this is pretty incidental, though.  Still, the vaseline look from the wet lens and Robbie's awkward fetal position and movements, within a cradle of earth, highly read of a natal moment.

 (Love Dominique Dunn's willingness to play this for laughs, her dumbfounded expression a perfect display of the callow mind of youth.)

Dana finally books it and joins her family outside.


 DANA: "Look! Mom! Dad! It's a tornado!"

It's actually a one-two punch of tearing down the image of the teenage girl, from her candid astonishment a moment before, to her doing an impromptu bit, pulling her nightshirt down after briefly flashing the camera, due to the storm winds which she would have been more prepared for if she had stepped a foot outside in the first place.  I'm not blaming her, and I find the moment makes me identify with her even more.  She is the only one who cannot seem to handle these events with the almost superhuman (or movie-world) propriety of her parents and even her siblings.  I suppose Robbie also gets the rude end of the stick, going through so much but without exiting the events with any heightened sense of self (although Spielberg does write a tiny little arc for him, going from scaredy-cat to brave, in that he rips the clown apart and throws a corpse off their station wagon with no qualms in the final scene of the script.  Hooper, though, knows not to use him in such a cheap way).

 DIANE: "It must've just skimmed us.  There wouldn't be a house left if---"
 STEVEN: (realizing) "Carol Anne!"
 DANA: "I left her upstairs!"

Dana, you idiot!  I just wish one of them would have said that.  So really, it's all Dana's fault... (I know that's far from the truth, if you think about it fairly).

I'm very glad they cut some lines from this moment, such as Dana calling it a "night twister!"  Also the bizarre notion of Robbie piping in about Carol Anne at this moment.  I could also just imagine a Spielbergian shot where we do a circular pan around Diane's face to her profile foregrounding the broken upstairs window.  She turns her head, cue a rack focus to the ravaged window frame: "My god!"

But no, instead, we have this absurd landscape shot that is littered with tiny, ridiculous humans trying to make understandable the not understandable.  We have Dana's inadvertent, relatable impropriety... and we have this wide shot that puts humans in their place, puny beings of folly, their drama not the be-all, end-all of existence.  It is much preferable.


Spielberg, as mentioned, does dynamic editing and plotting as a constant in his career.  He does visual and editorial jokes.  There is something of that flavor bestowed to Poltergeist, in the fastness with which it moves and the extremeness of its events.  But never, not in the gallows humor of Sugarland Express, or the caricatured hysteria of 1941, does his sense of slapstick entail such an entomological disdain...


 ... as to adjust Spielberg's snappy movements with a wide-angle lens that places his characters as if under a microscope.  These characters, in their most extreme moment of suffering, are suddenly insects to observe.  The humor Hooper finds in pain and anxiety is not sadism or inhumanity, but a recognition of it as a universal condition.  If one person has to go through it, then many people probably have, and there is no reason to favor one story over the millions of others.  Thus, all human beings made equal, they can be leveled off by treating his subjects like insects the same; as subjects of study, not of privileged importance as "movie characters," the "best of humanity," people you'd like to crack a beer with, or anything.


Just look at this roll call of uncomprehending humanity that lines up (too late) at the little girl's door.  Each are absurd in their own way, seen underneath that lens, Dana the clueless cherry on top.  It is no wonder Hooper's camera fixes on Robbie, the only one who knows something truly unnatural is up.



A gentle, subliminal pull-out accompanies their efforts in this shot:

 DIANE: "Carol Anne! Baby! We're coming!"
DANA: "Carol Anne!"






Dana moves a final article, then crosses the frame, cuing a slow push-in towards the parents in the closet.

I'm going to try not to make too much of this, but I have always found the following moment irreconcilably strange - irreconcilable, but in an excellent way.

One can imagine the way it would play out as scripted: a slow push-in as Steven muscles his way through debris.  It is his hand which the camera slowly creeps up to as he reveals the little girl's pink blanket that presumably hides her lifeless body underneath.  It is his hand that gently pulls the blanket down to reveal, not Carol Anne, but merely the clown doll.

The scene plays out differently.  Firstly, the push-in does not emphasize Steven's excavation of the pink blanket, his masculine "handling" of the situation.  Instead, it aestheticizes the parents' reaction to the pink blanket already revealed.  This puts the parents at an even keel, no gendered difference to the two's handling of these circumstances.  Secondly - and this is the thing that makes this moment so strange for me - is the parents' reaction to the body.


It is way too theatrical, way too presentational.  Rather than ripping the blanket off the body immediately, they set off on this weird countdown where they commiserate first the idea of unveiling the lifeless body of their child... 




Then, whereas in the script Steven "gently removes the blanket," Diane is made to rip the blanket off like the culmination of their grievous countdown.


It's a bit ghoulish, and I'm not sure who is so off-kilter enough, Spielberg or Hooper, to suggest such an approach.  Call me biased, but Hooper would recognize the noncommittal side of death, seeing the fine line between that final state of things and the magic trick that is our living without really realizing it, our lives like the quick substitution of our lifeless bodies and a mocking stand-in, while Spielberg would delight in such depraved behavior in the manner of Indiana Jones getting the shit scared out of him before making a quip to Alfred Molina's corpse.  So it could go either way.

The laughing is also weird.  

 (Laughing.)

(A laugh of relief.)

Love JoBeth Williams body-slamming the doll.


"I'll go check the ktichen."

Finally, Dana showing an inkling of personal responsibility! And desire to act, which I, naturally, always believed she had in her.

"NO!  No, I'll do it!"


The film is very dutiful to the script here, outside of the substition of the clown doll with a tiny, wind-up toy robot.  

But look at these excellent wide-angle lens uses!  Those distortions are amazing and they rhyme so well!

 STEVEN: "I'll check the kitchen. You check your room."




"Carol?"

Steven only says "Carol" here.




Now this below is a fancy shot that snakes through the hallway in anticipation of Diane's own snaking - that is, it makes the curves of the hall a moment before Diane herself will enter those same curves.  It creates a very striking effect that I can only attribute to cinema scientist Hooper, and Spielberg only on his best days.

DIANE: "Baby?"

STEVEN: "Carol Anne?"


Well, here's a real-time peak into my mind: I never noticed that each character simply checks one room each in this scene.  My mind always told myself they were jumping around in a very thorough search of the entire house.  Now there is no logic being lapsed here - there are only really these areas to check, besides the communal areas.  But it does point out an issue of editing too much, trying to make things too dynamic by chopping up footage and parallel editing.  My brain was tricked into thinking much more was happening than actually was.  I am sure I am not alone among all the viewers in Poltergeist's history in thinking there is a manipulation happening here, even if you do notice these characters, as they're being intercut, never actually move anywhere, or these are actually the same shots chopped in two.  Anyway, point is, I would not see an issue in leaving Dana's shot in the bathroom as one, and Steven's shot in the kitchen as one.  Then again, I wasn't in the editing room, and this probably made it more exciting, maybe even a more accurate rendition of these events.




 "Carol Anne? Sweetheart?"
 "Baby?"
(Offscreen) STEVEN: "Diane!"

DIANE: "Did you find her?"
 STEVEN: "No... I've looked everywhere! This is crazy!"


 DIANE: "Oh my-- My God."
 DIANE: "The swimming pool..."
 "THE SWIMMING POOL! The SWIMMING POOL!"

Following that raw display of hysteria and crazed emotion from Diane, the scene again rushes forth with deranged energy, a distant tracking shot capturing the puny humans still trying to restore the sanity they have since lost.  The camera tracks with equally deranged interest and a mordancy of that previously mentioned director-entomologist.  Jerry Goldsmith's score, too, takes on something akin to a cornet snickering in your face.  It's true derangement, which is something that has made Poltergeist such a horror classic for the ages.

 DIANE: "Be careful, honey!"
DIANE: "Steven!"

Diane's simpering and distant calls of encouragement to Steven fly in the face of the strong mother we've become accustomed to.  We know she'd get into the mud in an instant for Carol Anne, but this scene is Hooper in accursed mode, really needling the characters and us with the absurdity of these actions and human passions - for they still refuse to comprehend the strangeness of everything happening.  If there's any point at which Diane deserves a ribbing, it would be at this moment where she tells her husband to "Be careful" while he swims in a mud pit for the body of their daughter, while she stands on the sidelines.

I only joke so casually about Diane's character to show that there are multiple perspectives at work in Poltergeist, multiple layers of syntax, or of audience address.  This distance and rhetorical regard, communicating at different levels to us, is something that is exhibited in Hooper's every film, something less represented in the monolith-like storytelling of Spielberg tradition.  Hooper's films comment, always.  They dictate their own (complicated) worldview(s), not just the characters'.  They are a part of this world, not just a fabulization of it.





Goldsmith's score is working overtime here, extra deranged for Steven's futile search through the muddy, gross runoff, mysterious and spooky for Robbie's lone discovery.  Steven's pool search is a truly bravura piece of mad filmmaking, a true display made of simply watching Craig T. Nelson bob in and out of disgusting water while Goldsmith's brasses galumph and blow out your eardrums.  Craig T. Nelson + dirty water = Cinema.

 CAROL ANNE (VOICE ONLY): "Mommy! Mommy! Mommy!"


The complex family dynamics are left off the table, though another bit like this - having her dropped unceremoniously into the muck - for Dana to play would have really reinforced a certain slapstick function of hers throughout this scene, risible it may be.

 STEVEN: "Nothing. Nothing!"

ROBBIE: "Mom! Mom! Mom!"

(Hearing Robbie's calls:) "Thank god... Thank god."

"Mom. Mom. Mooom!" (repeated)

 DIANE: "What? What?"
 DIANE: "What, what, what??"
CAROL ANNE (Voice): "Mommy!"
 DIANE: "Oh, Carol Anne!  Thank god!"
 DIANE: "Baby!"
 DIANE: "Baby, where are you?"



Again more precise use of wide-angle frames, the shapes and geometries of the walls and squares backgrounding Diane almost like she's trapped in a Picasso painting.

  DIANE: "Carol Anne?"
ROBBIE: "Mommy, come over here! Mommy, mommy, come over here!"
DIANE: "What?"
 DIANE: "What?  What is it?"

 DIANE: "What, baby? Shh."
 ROBBIE: "Carol Anne! Carol Anne!"
ROBBIE: "Carol Anne!"
CAROL ANNE (From TV): "Mommy! I can't see you, Mommy!" 
 CAROL ANNE (OS): "Where are you?"


CAROL ANNE (Distant): "Mommy!"


I am glad they didn't stick to the script's rendition of this scene, with the slow push-in toward the television, not to mention a fade out after Diane faints.  The single shot of Diane and Robbie that pans over to the TV as she reaches out to it is effective and much more poetic.

 CAROL ANNE (Distant): "I can't see you, Mommy!"
 CAROL ANNE (Distant): "Where are you?"



With the introduction of three new characters, it would be a good time to note my curiosity about how the casting process was for this movie.  Beatrice Straight is a beacon of elegance and dignity, and they way she fits this role is quite fascinating, for it's not exactly self-evident... yet she takes to the role like a glove, obviously relishing it.  I for one can say for sure that William Finley was cast in the Martin Casella role before Spielberg nixed that casting.  Whether that would have given off a distinctly different feel to the movie is anyone's guess, as Finley need not always be deranged.  But it certainly would've made the film feel more "cartoonish," as Finley has a look certainly larger than life.  One can only imagine his bugged out eyes during the steak scene.

 LESH: "What members of the household are involved?  And what are their ages?"
 STEVEN: "There's Diane, my wife.  She's 31."
 "Uh, 32, I'm sorry."
 "My oldest daughter Dana.  She's 16."
 "My son, Robert, is 8."

We can use this time to discuss the oft-debated issue of the childrens' ages and Diane as a young mother.  Also, whether Dana is perhaps not her daughter.  I used to be on the side that Diane is the biological mother of all of them.  But, it's true, her and Steven being together since she was 16-17, her getting pregnant at that time, and then raising her until now is a bit out of the ordinary.  Also the fact Steven says "My daughter, Dana."  But he also says, "My son, Robert," which leaves us open to the possibility that only Carol Anne is Diane's biological daughter.  It's not a fact I'd be a fan of, for reasons probably deeply entrenched in me, and many, who desire the attachment found in biological mother-child pairings (an unfortunate fact), but it's now a definite possibility.

 STEVEN: "Carol Anne..."
 (Lesh smiles and laughs warmly, understandingly.)
 LESH: "Carol Anne."
 LESH (leaning in to Marty, again with a smile): "5."


That kindly, motherly strain in Dr. Lesh when she reacts to Steven's mentioning Carol Anne is something I love, for it touches me deeply to see such displays of human compassion.  Who to attribute this certain sensibility to, I do not know, for Hooper has a sense of the inner kindness in people (Eaten Alive's Libby, The Funhouse's Amy, and Night Terrors's Genie all exhibit such moments), while Spielberg has the desire to ingratiate us to all characters through moments of lively spontaneity, although the streak of Lesh's compassion is not exhibited in the screenplay.  Her moment with Diane after the events of the first night, the "But I... I'm coming back" scene, is also not in the script.  I hope I am not laying myself into a trap if we do find out Spielberg added the dialogue and swayed the scenes with Dr. Lesh in this moving way, but I can say, about this scene introducing Lesh and the scene in the kitchen between Lesh and Diane, is that I believe, stylistically, Hooper was directing these scenes.

We have the fact the scene does not play out exactly as scripted.  There is no frivolous tracking shot over shelves and knick knacks.  That Lesh is not a benign, peppy academic, but something else entirely.

 LESH: "Has there been any publicity about these events?"

We have this slow and imperceptible/unassuming tracking shot, for when has Spielberg ever made an imperceptible camera movement?  We also have the strange trajectory of the shot.  It is an off-center tracking motion, coming from behind before twisting in a path that ends in a diagonal (not head-on like it was initially making itself out to be).  This is the result of a careful combination of tracking and panning motion.  This is the sort of shot that inherently must have entailed a lot of thought, thought not just about staging and movement, but about these elements' relationship with the lens.

 STEVEN: "Absolutely nothing."
 LESH: "Can you be reasonably sure of not letting any get started?"
 STEVEN: "That's the last thing the world we want."
STEVEN: "We haven't even gone to the police."
 

 LESH: "Would your family welcome...
 "... a serious investigation of these disturbances...
"by someone who can make firsthand observations?"

The angular booming shot from above, downward, possibly past a lamp or hanging fixture, is something you can find in other Hooper films (The Heisters and Salem's Lot) and a handful of Minnelli films, also.  It is a convention of theirs both know very well.

 STEVEN: "Look, Dr. Lesh, we don't care about the disturbances.
"... the pounding and the flashing..."
 "... the screaming..."
 "... the music..."
STEVEN: "We just want you to find our little girl."

The scene ends with more clear usage of wide lenses, distortions literally warping the world around the drained and demolished Steven.  While the warping around Lesh fortresses and strengthens the image of her, Steven is still trapped above and beside by the warped-frame and harshly-lighting lamp fixture.  Even the comforting world of an office of scientists seems merely there for Steven to deprecate towards, and so his face bugs out as if challenging them, the world as inhospitable as his visage, as distended and puffy as his cheeks.  Sorry Craig.