For this, our last close-up of Holly and our second to last post in this series, I thought it apropos to look through the close-ups we have seen of him so far. If, as Charlie Chaplin is quoted as saying “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot,” then perhaps this trip through our memories of Holly will be as harrowing as it is nostalgic, but here it is. Holly Martens, This is Your Life. Click on any of the photos to link back to the original Still Dots post which featured them.
Here, in one of our first posts, a lackadaisical Holly Martens meets Harry’s now-dead porter, who tells him that Harry is dead: either “already in hell” (while he gestures upwards towards the sky) “or in heaven” (while he points downwards). Our poor Porter would soon meet the same fate (by way of Holly’s big mouth) but this close-up on Holly marks his real entrance into the film’s narrative–the many deaths of Harry Lime.
Now, determined and hatless, Holly presents himself in a strikingly similar fashion to today’s frame. This shot could almost be a closer shot of today’s still, and similarities in lighting, styling and setting (both of these shots take place at Harry’s grave in Vienna’s huge Zentralfriedhof–literally central peace garden) suggest that they may have been shot on the same shooting day. In both frames, Holly seems to be taken with a sense of anguish–and though today’s funeral may be a stronger version of that same emotion–another strong dissimilarity exists. Holly’s gaze in today’s frame is millimeters off from the forbidden lens of the camera, while this earlier funerary moment draws his focus downward, toward the body being interred before him. While his anguish was once directed at his friends death, it is now directed higher and wider. Holly’s distaste is no longer for Harry’s death, partially because he pulled the trigger which caused it, but now is directed at the whole of the world–a world in which he feels obliged to shoot his oldest friend. We will return to these two funerals more a little later, but now:
Holly, now in a totally different realm of story and space, seems to have changed little. His petulant investigative style is supremely ineffective on Dr. Winkel, sitting camera left. But sitting in this tchotchke-stuffed space, Holly’s presence manages to draw in more aspects of culture and religion in Vienna than it does secrets of Harry Lime’s life or un-death, and gives Holly countless opportunities to exercise his American exceptionalism, calling the man wink-el instead of the Germanic vink-el.
Here, Holly is on a reprieve from the noir world of murders and secrets, and is standing in Anna’s apartment, helping her rehearse and reminiscing about Harry. As we reminisce about this moment in our analysis, a sort of meta-nostalgia, we can take note of the differences in Holly’s “look” throughout these stills. Notice how dark his hair appears here, versus the almost blonde locks he sports above. His outfit seems almost identical from moment to moment, but perhaps the white shirt – tie – sweater – jacket combo serves as a de facto uniform for American authors gallivanting through Europe. Either that, or the broke writer has sold the rest of his clothing, and is down to his last good suit. Whatever the situation, his suit, sweater and all, never leave him throughout his journeys, only varying by the presence of the fedora.
Fedora-clad again, Holly has walked back into the noir mystery of this story, his brow furrowed and his look (down at an inquisitive and accusatory child with a ball) almost identical to the look he gives a pesky cigarette above. If it is true that the eyes are the windows to the soul, then Holly hides his soul well with these deep downward gazes and his low-brimmed hat. His expression, mirrored by the more frantic father beside him, seems to connote the beginning of realization of the horrors that may befall him. As he is accused of murder and chased through Vienna by the mob that now surrounds him, Holly may be realizing that he bit off more that he can chew.
In this moment, eyes opened once again, we see another change in Holly. He has gone from lackadaisical literary lackwit to dick-tracy-esque pseudo-detective and now, with Calloway’s explanation of Harry’s horrid deeds, he is again transformed–this time into a skeptic. He has certainly not made his full transition yet, but his trust in the inherent goodness of Harry Lime is beginning to waver. Were Harry to walk out from behind a wall, Holly wouldn’t be able to shoot him dead as he has just done, but he also has no inkling yet (and neither does Calloway who is lecturing him from off-screen) that Harry might still be alive. In a sense, this scene marks Holly at his most jaded, since as far as he knows, he can do nothing and has uncovered nothing through his investigation–nothing except an undeserved murder for Harry’s porter. Holly, in this moment, is close to packing it in and heading back stateside, leaving all of these worries behind him. Yet there still lies within Holly, a little of the silly scribbler who walked into our story, and that romantic, adventurous, American spirit will keep him in this city long enough to get reeled into the middle of things again.
Here, we see the completion of that last transition. In his only smile (at least within the confines of Still Dots) Holly seems to be letting go of childish things. As Matt wrote in this post, “This is a different Holly Martins than we’ve seen before: if our poor cowboy has been, as Jeremy said on Tuesday, “sitting squarely on the fence” regarding Harry Lime’s guilt, he’s now faced with incontrovertible evidence that proves his longtime friend’s barbaric crimes . . . The Holly we see in Still Dots 58, in other words, is a man who’s become convinced that his best and oldest friend is a monster.” This smile is not one of a child’s guileless joy, but is instead a smile of release–an ironic laugh where he should be crying as he realizes the evil for which his friend Harry is responsible.
Now, post realization (and drunk as a skunk to boot) Holly goes through another stage of grief, this time changing his motives completely, and legitimating his time in Vienna through one person: Anna. With a decision in this scene, indicated by Holly’s oscillating POV gaze, he chooses romantic love over the fleeting joys of lust and flirtation that (literally) dance before him, buys a bouquet of flowers, and resolves to go confess his love to Anna. Of course, as we will find out more deeply in Still Dots’ final post on Thursday, this attempt at romance will fail and Holly may indeed be left wondering what brought him on this fool’s errand to Vienna in the first place. Whatever the cause, his forlorn gaze down at the whiskey glass in front of him is telling, and Holly finds alcohol an apt fortification against the pain associated with the realities of life.
After a close-up hiatus, due mostly to the appearance and prominence of the film’s other main character–Harry Lime–Holly now stands face to face with his oldest friend, fearing for his life. Harry has just intimated that he ought to shoot Holly and throw his lifeless body from the top of the Ferris wheel they now occupy. Imagine how rough this moment would have been on the happy-go-lucky Holly who smiled his way through Still Dots #6 above. Now, a threat mostly unthinkable at the outset,does not bring Holly to tears, but leads him to hug tightly to the gondola’s frame, preserving his life over his longest friendship. All of the innocence in Holly’s character has been burned off and he is now the detective he always romantically imagined he was, facing off against a dangerous smuggler and holding his own. One wonders if this too, might be a moment in which Holly might wish he’d never come to this city, and never burned off the gentle kindness that pervaded the scribbler’s silly notions.
Here Holly’s alliances switch–his misplaced and unrequited love for Anna has overcome the nostalgic love he once bore for Harry. This look of determination and the cold hardness in his eyes is the signification of this shift. Holly has just decided to sell out his best friend for the woman they both have loved, whether she likes it or not. Of course, Anna will play no part in this scheme, tearing up the passport she is given, but for Holly the shift in relationships has already occurred. He has made the decision to abandon Harry, and he will not renege on it. We are getting ever closer to a Holly willing to do the unthinkable deed he has just done. Holly isn’t ready yet, but he is closer (he has just uttered “he deserves to hang, you proved your stuff. But twenty years is a long time – don’t ask me to tie the rope.”).
Suffering from his last case of cold feet before the plunge, Holly has just been shown something unseeably awful. Bundled up into himself, nearly disturbing his perfect detective/academic/author costume, Holly is ready to descend, ready to throw Harry under the bus, ready (almost) to shoot him. It will take the killing of Sgt. Paine to truly push him over the edge, but this frame shows distaste more than any before, causing an almost visceral reaction (Holly looks like he might be sick). Whatever he is staring at, off in the dark distance, he is thinking of how Harry must fall.
And all of this brings us to the Holly we see today, a man we will spend little time and less dialogue with. What is made clear–through both his actions and his physical posturing–is that he is not the same man we have seen thus far in the movie. He is harsh, and cold–resentful of a world that has betrayed him and his romantic ideals of friendship, justice, goodness and (perhaps most of all) God. Holly has experienced his own Nietzschean awakening, but while for Nietzsche “Gott ist Todt” is an expression of freedom as well as collapse, Holly sees only collapse in the godless plane he occupies. I only wish we could see what happens next in the life of Holly Martens, whether he turns back (now jaded and existentialist) to writing westerns, whether he stays here in Vienna, friendless and alone with Calloway as his only companion, or whether he sets off for some other greener pastures, hoping for something that could let him forget the events that occurred here in Vienna.
Any hints that we might have to what this future holds lie only in today’s close-up. The close-up, as we have discussed, initiated the world of emotive cinema, the cinema which contained within its series of cuts and edits, a built-in narrator. Certainly there has been much attention paid to the close-up throughout movie history, be it the obsessively chronicled history of Steven Speilberg’s particular adaptation (video above), the countless close-ups that have dug their way into our collective cinematic memories, or even the close-up’s particularly notable position in the glory of Hollywood, displayed below in Sunset Boulevard‘s famous last scene. If, as Marlon Brando said, “In a close-up, the audience is only inches away, and your face becomes the stage,” then this still marks our last entrance into the historic Holly Martens theater. Though, despite the undisputed power of this shot, the shot that comes next is probably the most notable of the film, offering incredible emotional depth from an extreme long perspective.
Analysis of The Third Man’s final shot will have to wait, until Matt’s final post this Thursday, but now, with Holly attending Harry’s funeral for the second time, I cannot help but be reminded of the words of Karl Marx, who said in The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon:
Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.
This quote has cropped up countless times, most recently in a scene in Ben Affleck’s Argo, between John Goodman and Alan Arkin. But as Harry watches a coffin containing the body of Harry sink into the ground, for a second time, it seems to have played with this formula. If this funeral, which bookends The Third Man, is an example of history repeating itself in this way, then which is the farce? Certainly Harry’s death is tragic, so it would appear to be the first (fake) funeral which is our farce, with this second repetition as tragedy. But, remember, our first funeral contained within it, the body of a hospital orderly, the unlucky Joseph Harbin. Harbin may have been colluding with our gang of thuggish racketeers (Kurtz, Popescu, Winkel, and Harry) but it is hard to see his death as more deserved than Harry’s, particularly considering that he was likely murdered–like our poor porter–in cold blood. So maybe Harry’s real funeral, despite his charms, is the farce; perhaps, in a sense of ultimate irony Harry is being buried in the same grave he had dug to fake his own death. While the moment feels tragic, it is certainly ironic too. A man who cheated death has eventually led himself to it, and the extenuating circumstances that led him here make up the farce.
In the end, much has changed, and little has changed. Holly will continue to act as a moral being–if a broken one–Anna’s compassion will continue to be her guiding light. Calloway will keep fighting corruption in Vienna, even without his trusty companion. Vienna itself has not been cured, by any means. While one racketeer has indeed fallen, and his team of cronies arrested, another will rise to take his place. What has really changed, most of all, is that a little bit of charm and a little bit of evil have left the world, along with his trusty porter and the nice-guy cop who hunted him. Like this five-minute ending montage from legendary HBO series The Wire, the film’s real main character–the city–keeps moving as it has been. People have fallen on both sides of the eternal war between cops and robbers, but new figures on both sides will take their places. Vienna (and Baltimore) live on as it has and all that we have left is a tired man whose eyes bear the weight of all he’s seen. So we bid farewell to Holly to Harry, to Anna and Calloway, but know that the film’s true hero, and most complex character–Vienna–lives on to this day.
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 6324. For a complete archive of the project, click here. For an introduction to the project, click here.