I rambled on about scenes last Monday, so I thought I’d give mood/atmosphere a go.
There are certain movies, shows, and books that just have this “feel” to them, like Dazed and Confused. It exudes 70’s chill. No cell phones or computers or Twitter…just hanging out in a field, getting high and drinking some beer. I’m getting nostalgic and I wasn’t even alive in 1976.
And what would Wuthering Heights be without the moors? The ghostly setting is a character itself and it makes the psycho love affair/obsession/insanity even creepier. There are about a trillion movie adaptations of the book, but check out the 1939 version, definitely worth it. Laurence Olivier and Merle Oberon are great in this (and holy crap, they’re beautiful people).
Tennessee Williams was a master of mood (IMHO) – every play of his I’ve read had this pervasive air of dysfunction and desperation. I went through this major TW phase in high school, devouring everything of his I could get my hands on and I think one of the things I enjoyed most was the squirm factor, this sense of tension that hung in the air.
While on the subject of plays: ‘Night, Mother by Marsha Norman. The movie adaptation was *okay* but the play was much better. It’s about a woman who tells her mother one evening that she’s going to commit suicide that night. The entire play is these two women, as the daughter calmly goes about her nightly chores and the mother tries desperately to talk her daughter out of it. It’s been at least 15 years since I’ve read this and I still remember the way my insides were clenched. It was almost like stumbling onto a private moment I wasn’t supposed to see.
Alfred Hitchcock is another master. I saw Marnie when I was a kid and for a long time afterward I associated Tippi Hedren with scary because I couldn’t separate the actress from the character. It was the flashes of red that freaked me out, which sounds so silly now that I think about it, but Hitchcock kinda made me feel like I was losing my mind right along with the main character.
Same with Vertigo – the whole movie left me dizzy and disoriented. My mom gets uncomfortable when there’s large gatherings of birds (I was always secretly pleased as a kid because Tippi Hedren was being terrorized, it was like my revenge or something). My mom is also (as are plenty of other people) afraid to go into the water because of Jaws.
Mood and atmosphere can really push a piece to a whole new level and it’s the little things that add up. In ‘Night, Mother, I don’t think the conversation would have been so powerful if there wasn’t the eeriness of the daughter’s calm and decisive demeanor. And the expansive, stormy moors added to the explosiveness of Catherine and Heathcliff’s relationship in Wuthering Heights.
It’s about consistency. The mood should still be there, even when individual scenes are pulled out, like in Jaws when Quint, Brody and Hooper are drunkenly singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” They’re having this moment of camaraderie and relaxation, but there’s still this underlying tension like there is the entire movie.
So long live mood and its ability to pull us in and change the way we look at things.
**I had a scene or two I wanted to post, but embedding isn’t working correctly, so 😦