Hello, is it Me You’re Looking For?

The scene in which the titular character is introduced in Charles Vidal’s Gilda is vital to the film. Gilda is revealed to both Johnny Farrell and the audience at the same time, and as much of the movies revolves around their relationship, this scene is invested with importance, even before it happens. The scene’s dialog, mise-en-scene, and cinematography all reveal both the character’s interiors and the plot that follow in the film, making it an impressive piece of filmaking.

The dialog in this scene is packed with meaning. Before Johnny and Ballin even enter, Gilda is singing “Put the Blame on Mame,” a song both meaningful in its lyrics—it is about a woman who’s actions lead to an earthquake—and in its foreshadowing—Gilda later sings it in the casino to get back at a possessive Johnny. Also, the first lines spoken by Gilda, “Me? Sure, I’m decent,” delivered with a glare at Johnny, reveal to the audience a past history between Farrell and Gilda. It also conveys a sense of irony on repeat viewing; Gilda ends up being indecent, both to Ballin and to Johnny, and she is met with much indecency in turn. In addition, Gilda cannot stop saying Johnny’s name. She uses it almost as punctuation, ending every sentence with a “Johnny Farrell” or a “Mr. Farrell.” This provides a nice piece of dissonance for the audience when she comments that Johnny is “such an easy name to forget.”

But how could you forget that face?

The mise-en-scene, too, makes this scene a premonition of the events to follow. There is a mirror placed behind Gilda, so when the camera switches to a wide angle view of her, the audience can see both her front and back, a nice hint at the power she finds in her sexuality. The lighting, too, adds to the importance of the scene. Johnny’s face is covered in shadow until he steps into the bedroom and sees Gilda. Then his face is hit with light, a metaphor for both Gilda’s beauty and Johnny’s feelings for her—he sees her and is reminded of both. In addition, the blocking hints at the conflict yet to come. Ballin crosses between Gilda and Johnny, but turns his back to Johnny to kiss Gilda. Gilda and Johnny do not break eye contact, so the audience is clued in to the eventual love triangle.

Fun Fact: The original title for the Shawshank Redemption was going to be "Gilda 2: Jailbreak!"

Finally, the cinematography reinforces the importance of Gilda’s introduction. Johnny and Gilda’s conversation is shown through a typical shot/reverse shot, but excludes Ballin entirely. Even when he speaks, the camera remains on either Gilda or Johnny, focusing on their reactions. Ballin has to physically enter the frame of the camera in order to get some screen time, and even then the camera still holds Johnny and Gilda in the center. It is a well crafted scene, and it sets a standard that the rest of the film, with its cheese ending and its convoluted plot, fails to live up to.



One response to “Hello, is it Me You’re Looking For?

  1. Matt,

    You offer a sound reading of the first scene in which both we as viewers and Johnny encounter our eponymous character: Gilda. Many critics refer to this type of scene–where we first meet our devious female character–as the “first look.” The male protagonist is usually dazzled by the woman, and we are dazzled along with him. Of course, Vidor offers a spin on this convention, since we know almost immediately that Gilda and Johnny share a past to which we have no access. As your group nicely pointed out, this is one of many ellipses in the film (and, arguably, is the most important one).

    Your attention to detail with respect to dialogue, MES, and editing patterns (S/RS) is admirable. As you point out, all these elements work together to foreshadow the dynamics that will play out over the course of the film. One question: anything else we can say about MES or cinematography? (Costuming? Props? Distance?)

    Nice job,

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