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Still Dots #34

Second #2046,34:06, Image © Studio Canal On Tuesday, Jeremy described the home of Dr. Winkel (that’s vink-el) as “tchotchke-stuffed”; even Holly himself disparagingly notes that the good doctor has “quite a collection of…collection.” Holly is in Winkel’s apartment following up a lead: he’s learned from Anna the name of Harry’s former doctor, who (according to […]

Second #2046,34:06, Image © Studio Canal

On Tuesday, Jeremy described the home of Dr. Winkel (that’s vink-el) as “tchotchke-stuffed”; even Holly himself disparagingly notes that the good doctor has “quite a collection of…collection.” Holly is in Winkel’s apartment following up a lead: he’s learned from Anna the name of Harry’s former doctor, who (according to various testimonies) just happened to be strolling by at the time of Harry’s death. A number of things throughout this scene suggest Winkel’s villainy, or at least his highly suspicious character: he’s carving a turkey at the very moment that Holly arrives and asks about Harry Lime (the glinting blade of the carving knife, shown to us in close-up before we even meet Dr. Winkel, makes a fairly clear symbolic association); he owns a shrill little black dog that, if not the same one that Baron Kurtz clutched in his paws earlier in the film, at least looks exactly like it; he tries to shoo Holly out the door basically as soon as he arrives, claiming he has guests waiting on him; he evades Holly’s questions with remarkable poise, claiming that the evidence regarding Harry’s death was simply too insubstantial; and, maybe most incriminatory for Holly, he corroborates Baron Kurtz’s suspicious account, contradicting the porter’s agitated testimony. In today’s still, an over-the-shoulder two-shot identifies us with Dr. Winkel, as we coolly observe Holly’s seemingly calm interrogation. Holly has entered alien territory (Winkel’s apartment) playing the role of the dogged vigilante, but this is Winkel’s home after all, and he manages to control what happens therein: he wrests the authority of knowledge away from Holly by refusing to offer him any concrete, telling evidence.

Last week, we took a look at the significance of objects (magnified via close-up, or in this case medium close-up) in the history of cinema, from an emotional, visceral, conceptual, and psychoanalytic perspective. Conveniently, Still Dots #34 reiterates the prominence of non-living objects on film, though this time from a more Marxist perspective. Herr Winkel is indeed defined by the preponderance of trinkets and souvenirs he owns: whereas many Viennese folks after the war relied upon the black market in order to procure and sell goods (in other words, for mere survival), Winkel’s apparent economic superiority allows him to waste expendable income on items he doesn’t need. (Compare the feast Dr. Winkel is preparing when Holly arrives to the small bag of tea Anna offered him earlier in the film, which she says was thrown to her onstage by a British audience member.) Thanks to some canny mise en scène and ominous low-key lighting, all of these possessions take on a sinister air, poised and ready to strike like the stuffed birds in the dining room of the Bates Motel.

Norman Bates' experiments in taxidermy, from "Psycho" (1960) Image © Universal

We’ve brought up Marxist dialectics before, but Winkel’s wealth and the arsenal of possessions he’s built up in order to flaunt his cushy lifestyle raises the theory once again. (We’ve also brought up Citizen Kane numerous times; doesn’t Winkel’s proclivity to buy a superfluous number of items, essentially creating an archive of his own extravagance, mirror Charles Foster Kane’s obsession in buying and owning everything around him, people included?) Lest one think Marxism has no place in The Third Man, it will eventually become clear that the movie offers a sickened (though light-footed) critique of how capitalism, with its underlying philosophy that the attainment of goods and wealth is the clearest marker of an individual’s value, dehumanizes us and replaces peaceful coexistence with cutthroat competition. (Capitalism is, in fact, the motivator that has indirectly led to the police’s investigation of Harry Lime.) Doktor Winkel’s wealth, especially in contrast to the lives led by, say, Harry’s porter or Anna Schmidt, demonstrates Marx’s principle that “it is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness” (The Marx-Engels Reader, W.W. Norton & Company, 1978; 4). As a doctor, Winkel would presumably lead a life of comparative wealth that would inspire him to value that economic superiority above all else, thus allowing him to maintain the political and economic machinery that elevated him to his superior social position in the first place. (Without giving away any spoilers, it’s interesting that the conspiracy in which Winkel, Kurtz, and others are embroiled is clearly working against the medical establishment—in other words, Winkel is forced to betray his profession for what he seems to consider the more valuable endpoint, namely the accumulation of wealth.)

It’s convenient, too, that the trinkets which loom behind Holly in Still Dots #34 are crosses denoting Christianity. Most likely Dr. Winkel is Roman Catholic, as that’s the denomination most prevalent in Austria since the Habsburg Empire (especially following the mass emigration of Jews out of Austria from 1938 to 1941, followed of course by the Holocaust during the Nazi regime). One wonders if Winkel is a devout Christian or if he simply treats its iconicity as yet another consumer good. In either case, the linkage between consumerism and religion raises Marx once again, as the theorist famously compared the alienating effects of both by deeming religion the “opium of the people” (54; emphasis in original). In Marx’s view, religion serves the same purpose as capitalism by isolating human individuals from each other and instilling egoism and self-worth as man’s primary motivators: religion “has become what it was at the beginning, an expression of the fact that man is separated from the community, from himself as other men. It is now only the abstract avowal of an individual folly, a private whim or caprice” (35; emphasis in original). To be sure, Winkel has isolated himself from his community, devaluing human life (as we’ll eventually see) for the sake of economic gain. While Winkel’s ruthless self-importance derives more from capitalism’s greed than from the insulating effects of modern institutionalized religion, it’s still telling that the props so prominent in today’s frame conflate the two processes which (according to Marx) have alienated human beings from each other as well as from themselves. Of course, Holly’s not thinking about all of this as he questions Dr. Winkel about the death of his friend; he may find the doctor’s memorabilia tacky, but for now he has no reason to believe that the perfidy he’s mixed up in goes any further than the possible murder of Harry Lime. By the end of The Third Man, though, the Moloch of capitalism will make itself all too clear to Holly, our poor, naive scribbler of mass-produced paperback Westerns.

Over the absolute length of one year — two times per week — Still Dots will grab a frame every 62 seconds of Carol Reed’s The Third Man. This project will run until December 2012, when we finish at second 6324For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.