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Still Dots: Top Ten

Still Dots, our year-long plunge into Carol Reed’s The Third Man is over, with an upcoming free screening of the film on 35mm serving as a cap on the thirteen months we have spent thinking about this film. While writing a long form article to sum up our experience working on the project, we couldn’t help […]

Still Dots, our year-long plunge into Carol Reed’s The Third Man is over, with an upcoming free screening of the film on 35mm serving as a cap on the thirteen months we have spent thinking about this film. While writing a long form article to sum up our experience working on the project, we couldn’t help but think back on our favorite posts from the last year. And, as many of you may be trying to catch up on Still Dots before the screening (so that you’ll be able to figure out what the heck we’re talking about) we decided to share our favorites. Here we present our top ten posts out of the hundred and two we wrote. Out of a sense of fairness and midwestern modesty, we’ve each picked our five favorite posts written by the other, as well as a few essentials we couldn’t live without.

 

Matt’s Top Picks:

Personally, my favorite posts of my own are the ones which allow fleeting, unexpected insight into characters (for example, Still Dots #38, in which we can imagine Baron Kurtz as a lover of violin music, blissfully serenading Vienna’s hoity-toity elites); which bring in other cinematic examples that I previously would have thought had no connection whatsoever to The Third Man (#54, in which the structural patterns of experimental, avant-garde filmmaking come into play); or which forced me to deal with the overarching themes and worldviews with which The Third Man is concerned (#102, which parallels Holly’s unhappy ending with the postwar plight that the city of Vienna is likewise undergoing). But I’m most partial to Still Dots #64, a still image which succinctly represents what Richard Misek would call The Third Man’s “wrong geometries”—a skewed envisioning of Vienna which correlates to the film’s postwar malaise and ambivalent moral outlook. I loved bringing in other examples from visual arts which help exemplify the distinctly distorted aesthetic of the film, but the main reason I look back fondly on #64 is because it allowed me to make a diversion that empathizes with Anna Schmidt’s character. I love Anna: she may be the film’s most courageous and emotionally genuine character, despite (or because of) her undying allegiance to a bona fide murderer and racketeer. Departing from our usual template, I indulged myself by including a still of Anna in between our 62-second intervals, and wrote a hypothetical account from Holly’s perspective of his love for Anna. Such an indulgence broke our own rules, but also allowed me to temporarily inhabit the characters of both Anna and Holly—and isn’t the ability to float in and out of other characters’ mindstates one of the metaphysical luxuries that cinema offers us?

Still Dots was also fascinating because it allowed me to see how Jeremy’s writing and opinions differed from my own. I always looked forward to reading his analyses, his intellectual dexterity and his clear, swift prose, yet if pressed I could narrow it down to five essential, must-read posts:

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Second #4836, 80:36, Image © Studio Canal

5) #79: Arriving smack-dab in the middle of my favorite scene in the movie (Holly and Harry’s lengthy, complex, philosophical discussion on the Riesenrad Ferris Wheel), Jeremy’s post juggles James Joyce and Nietzsche (full disclosure: most of my discussions of Nietzsche were based on Jeremy’s previous citations of him) while emphasizing the underlying yet decisive influence of the two men’s Catholic upbringing on their modern behavior. #79 also represents one of the few times that Jeremy and I disagreed about characters’ emotions and motivations (Jeremy has a slightly rosier interpretation of Harry Lime than I do), in illuminating, highly revealing ways.

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Second #2604, 43:24, Image © Studio Canal

4) #43: The image here is a cross-dissolve between Harry’s porter (who is about to be killed thanks to Holly’s carelessly loose lips) and Anna Schmidt. I absolutely adore dissolves (no other image could possibly be more cinematic; even a still image of a dissolve suggests the movement of the film projector), and Jeremy connects the history of this cinematic syntagm to one of my favorite directors, Fritz Lang. Even better, Jeremy raises the tantalizing possibility that something scandalous is hidden within Anna’s bedposts – though if this is the case, we’ll never know which shocking discoveries remain inside.

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Second #3224, 53:44, Image © Studio Canal

3) #53: One of the most exciting action scenes in all of The Third Man – a chase between Holly and two of Popescu’s goons – is illustrated by Jeremy through a series of stills from various, seemingly unrelated films (The Matrix, High Noon, Vertigo, Casino Royale, The Maltese Falcon, Citizen Kane). In doing so, Jeremy points out the substantial, ontological difference between the still image and the mobile one – a distinction which essentially forms the visual basis of cinema. In Jeremy’s words, “the illusion of cinema itself is the deception that lives between the film frames, that conceptual jump that transforms a series of still images into a living and moving shot, and that magic lives in the formless darkness that flashes itself between the frames.”

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Second #2976, 49:36, Image © Studio Canal

2) #49: The man who appears in Still Dots #49 will be onscreen for less than a minute, yet Jeremy nonetheless offers a convincing hypothesis that this taxi driver is in fact a cyborg. In doing so, he also raises the unsettling proposition (via Donna Haraway) that all of humanity is now cyborgized in postmodern technologization – a monstrous hybrid of man and machine. Where else, outside of Still Dots, would The Third Man raise the possibility of mass mechanization replacing humanity?

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Second #3720, 62:00, Image © Studio Canal

1) Speaking of the numerous eclectic strands that can be strung to The Third Man via a project like Still Dots, there’s no better example than #61, in which Jeremy cohesively incorporates in-depth formal analysis, the work of film scholar Richard Misek, 2D vs. 3D, the perspectival techniques of Renaissance artists such as Diego Velazquez, the novels of Orhan Pamuk, Copernicus, Galileo, Baruch Spinoza, and Einstein’s theories of general relativity and “Einstein’s Cross.” Our original intention with Still Dots was to explode the possibilities of film analysis through semi-arbitrary, microscopic constraints, which we hoped would lead down unforeseen avenues of exploration; nowhere is this better achieved than in this post.

Jeremy’s Top Picks:

As far as individual posts are concerned, certainly some shine through as stronger than others. I was particularly proud of the posts in which I managed to integrate disparate topics: Art History, Theoretical Physics, Philosophy/Theory, Literature and those posts which allow us a brief view of a character in a different light. I also, in retrospect, like the posts in which I went a little further off the deep end, so to speak–mostly the result of being unable to think of what to write about aside from a wild tangent. These are admittedly hit or miss, but a few of them rank amongst my favorites.

Among the posts I wrote, I am most proud of #61, which Matt wrote so glowingly about above, a post that manages to straddle countless disciplines without feeling too stretched (I hope). #77 is my most emotional post, and also the one in which we explain our project’s esoteric title. If this is to be a readers’ guide to those trying to catch up on the project, then I would also recommend #5, where Freud entered our co-analytic brain, and #18 where Marx came into the mix. I also prize those wild flights of fancy, #15, #31, #49, and most of all #85, where I trace the history of film all the way back to a bet made by a railroad tycoon and Ivy-league benefactor.

Matt’s posts tended to be well researched and tightly focused, with some marvelously deep analyses of cinematic tropes, historical contexts, and production history, demonstrating a tremendous force and knowledge about the film. His analysis and mine ended up complimenting each other perfectly, with his factual knowledge, graceful writing style and stylistic clarity the perfect balance to my slightly more chaotic blend of ideas. Building off of his analyses mine became stronger and more focused. I love some of his later posts, his last two #100 and the final, #102 are an amazing blend of formal and structuralist analysis, emotional potency, and devoted attention to the history of The Third Man itself (#100 goes so far as to quote the Greene novella on which the screenplay is based). I remember the first of Matt’s posts to really blow me away was #14, which largely consisted of a history of dogs in cinema. At that point, I knew that our project was growing into something good. Beyond that, as it is that time of year, I will offer my top 5 posts by Matt:

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Second #4030, 67:10, Image © Studio Canal

5) #66: this one its own flight of fancy. Beginning with the deliberately false assumption that The Third Man can be read as a horror film, Matt dances his way through the genre and makes a sharp compositional comparison between the sewer entrance Harry escapes into and the terrifying monolith that dominates Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. The included clip, from Dario Argento’s Suspira, chills me to this day.

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Second #4154, 69:14, Image © Studio Canal

4) #68: This one manages to straddle several worlds, drawing together social science, The X-Files, Dostoyevsky, The Aquateen Hunger Force, and Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man into an argument that is not only (remarkably) coherent and focused, but important as well, about our relationship with corpses. It was also praised as an “eye opener” on Indiewire.

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Second #2914, 48:34, Image © Studio Canal

3) #48: I love this post. I can’t tell you exactly why, but each connection, comment and insertion seems perfectly structured, chosen and curated and I cannot read it without watching the entire clip included, from Nicolas Roeg’s eerily beautiful film, Don’t Look Now.

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Second #4898, 81:38, Image © Studio Canal

2) #80: I love this post for the same reason that Matt loves my post (#79). It is one of the few places in our analysis where we disagree. The rich and close contextualization of a shot, one of the film’s only extreme clos-ups, can completely transform the tenor of this important scene, and Matt’s analysis adds different paths of comprehension, further enriching the scene. Plus, this post is full and complex, with inclusions of Dadaists, Borgias, and even Nietzsche.

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Second #3410, 56:50, Image © Studio Canal

1) #56: Matt takes this opportunity, the moment that Holly realizes the evils that his friend Harry has done, to elucidate the evils of capitalism and war. In one stroke he divines Holly’s wavering trust in memory and friendship and the myriad problems with the military industrial complex. At once focused on these characters, The Third Man, war in cinema, and the real-world atrocities of war, this post hits hard and ties everything cohesively together in a way that makes me happy to be involved in this project.