‘All You Need For A Movie Is A Girl And A Gun’ explores the practices and conventions of film-making through the use of ‘mise-en-abime’. It is a film about re-making Visconti’s ‘Ossessione’, but it is not always clear which events happen in the real world, which happen in the film world, and which happen only in the imaginations of the characters. The film draws heavily upon the European arthouse tradition. 


The title of this film is a quote which is usually attributed to Jean Luc Godard, despite his insistence that it was actually D. W. Griffith who said it first. Nevertheless, the major influence on the style and the ideas in the film is the Austrian film-maker, Michael Haneke, whose films I was studying at the time. The purpose of making the film was to explore meta-cinema, to explore mise-en-abîme: the film within a film. On the subject of meta-cinema, the philosopher Noel Carroll makes the point that, “[i]n some cases, it is the very point of avant-garde films … to lay bare reflexively the structures that make the normal narrative motion picture what it is. These moving pictures are examples of meta-cinema; they are films about films.” (Carroll, Noel, (2008) The Philosophy of Motion Pictures, Oxford, Blackwell, p.143)

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(Reposted below for archival purposes)

All You Need For A Movie Is A Girl And A Gun

About the film

The purpose of making All You Need For A Movie Is A Girl And A Gun was to explore meta-cinema, to explore mise-en-abîme: the film within a film. On the subject of meta-cinema, the philosopher Noel Carroll makes the point that, “[i]n some cases, it is the very point of avant-garde films … to lay bare reflexively the structures that make the normal narrative motion picture what it is. These moving pictures are examples of meta-cinema; they are films about films.” (Carroll, 2008, p.143)

Mise-en-abîme is the predominant theme of the film, and, before progressing any further it is important to outline the specific meaning of the term and the different ways in which mise-en-abîme can occur in a film. The most complete definition of mise-en-abîme is given by Susan Hayward in her book Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (2000) and it was this definition that was used when conceptualising, planning and realising the film. Hayward writes that, “[mise-en-abîme] occurs within a text when there is a reduplication of images or concepts referring to the textual whole … [it] is a play of signifiers within a text, of sub-texts mirroring each other. This mirroring can get to the point where meaning can be rendered unstable and in this respect can be seen as part of the process of deconstruction.” (Hayward, 2000, p.230-231)

Hayward goes on to describe three ways in which mise-en-abîme can occur in films. The first instance of mise-en-abîme is the film-within-a-film. Films such as Michael Haneke’s Code Inconnu/Code Unknown, 2000, contain a storyline in which one of the main characters is a film actor. Thus there are sequences which refer us back to the fact that we are watching a film through the use of the film-within-a-film story. By showing us the filmmaking personnel and apparatus (actors, crew, sets, film cameras, sound recording equipment, post-production sound studios, etc.) the conventions and practices of film-making are exposed and the spectator is briefly exposed to the artificiality of film construction.

Hayward’s second instance of mise-en-abîme is one that occurs through the narrative of the film-within-a-film. A second layer of reduplication can occur in the film-within-a-film if that narrative mirrors the narrative of the main film. This effect is used in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, 1981, in order to render cinematic the alternate endings of the book. But perhaps the most complex and multi-layered instance of this type of reduplicated narrative mise-en-abîme is created by Charlie Kaufman in Synecdoche, New York, 2008.

Lastly, Hayward considers that the mise-en-scène itself (or certain aspects of the mise-en-scène) can be used to reduplicate the images and ideas of the filmic whole and become a third instance of mise-en-abîme. This occurs when objects within, or aspects of, the mise-en-scène reflect the characters’ motivations, desires, fears or personalities (or other aspects of the whole). An example of this is given in Peter Greenaway’s The Belly of an Architect, 1985, when Stourley Kracklite comes to believe his stomach pains are the result of his being poisoned by his wife. Kracklite makes multiple photographic copies of the belly of Caesar Augustus’ statue, (believing Caesar Augustus to have been poisoned by his wife) and we see these copies spread out and parts of the belly marked up in red. This third instance of mise-en-abîme is where the mise-en-scène can take on deep symbolic or metaphorical value and can add many layers of depth and subtlety to a narrative. An excellent example of this type of symbolic or metaphorical mise-en-abîme is used when Neville gives Mrs. Herbert the pomegranates towards the end of Peter Greenaway’s The Draughtman’s Contract, 1981.

All You Need For A Movie Is A Girl And A Gun explores all three instances of mise-en-abîme, and it is my intention here to outline the ways in which they occur in the film.

Beginning with the first type of mise-en-abîme, the film-within-a-film, this is clearly evident in a number of scenes. It is referred to in scene two when it is established that Peter is a film director who is making a remake of Visconti’s Ossessione, starring himself, his wife, Julia, and another actor, Chris. Although not evident until the end of the film, scene three is not a scene from the film, but from the film-within-the-film. We are not able to hear Chris and Julia’s argument, but the oblique and rather cryptic exchange between Chris and Julia at the end of the scene (Julia: ‘Do I look like a cook?’ – Chris: ‘You deserve to be a lady’) is taken directly from Ossessione, and this is revealed to the audience at the end of the film in scene eight.

Scene four begins with the suggestion that Chris and Julia have murdered Peter, and scene three was intended to prime the audience for this suggestion. In fact the scene is another scene from the film-within-the-film, but this time the audience is left in no doubt when we hear Peter’s voice offscreen, the inverted clapperboard marking the end of the shot, and Peter walking onscreen. Scenes six, seven and eight, the final three scenes of the film, refer the audience to the stages of production, editing and exhibition. In scene six we see the film-within-a-film film crew being directed by Peter, for he has decided to stage a scene in which Julia has to shoot Chris. This scene is being staged by Peter purely for his own amusement (or possibly revenge) as those familiar with Ossessione will know that there is no such scene in the original film. The purpose of scene seven is to reveal the editing process to the audience, as Dziga Vertov did so expertly in Chelovek s kino-apparatom/Man With A Movie Camera, 1929. The illusion of montage is revealed in the shot/reverse-shot sequence in which it turns out that what looked like Peter shooting Chris is in fact Peter enacting in fantasy the revenge that he was unable to make Julia carry out for him. This use of the classical narrative device of shot/reverse-shot is one of only two instances of its use in the film (the other being in scene eight), and it is quickly revealed to be fraudulent (or perhaps to be truthful, as it reveals montage to be the lie that it is). The absence of shot/reverse shot and the preference for sequence shots forces the spectator to ask questions about whose viewpoint the film is being shot from: for in the sequence shot we are not sutured into the narrative. As Hayward points out, when we are confronted with a shot, “the spectator starts wondering whose point of view it is and who is framing the image. The image starts to show itself for what it is, an artefact, and illusion and in so doing threatens to reveal film as a system of signs and codes. What relieves this exposure of film’s signifying practices and sutures the spectator back into the illusion … is the reverse shot.” (Hayward, 2000, p.383) The predominance of sequence shots in the film, the frequent absence of character point-of-view shots, creates an uneasy spectator; one who is forced simultaneously to confront the illusion of film and their own voyeurism.

The second instance of mise-en-abîme is explored in the mirroring, or reduplication, of the narratives of the film and the film-within-the-film. This occurs in the film as the relationship between Chris, Julia and Peter mirrors the relationships between Gino, Giovanna and Bragana in Ossessione, and/or Frank, Cora and Nick in The Postman Always Rings Twice. The point of the reduplication of the relationships is to render unstable the narrative of the film, to the point that the audience will find it difficult to tell which scenes occur in the ‘real’ film and which occur in the film-within-the-film. This again forces the spectator back to the illusion of film construction as the film again refuses to suture the spectator into the narrative. The narrative is further rendered unstable by the refusal to adhere to what Noel Carroll calls erotetic narration. The plot itself is vague and the meanings ambiguous. Should we infer from scene one that the whole story is an escapist fantasy made up by the woman in the chair reading the book? Did Julia shoot Chris? Who is it that is telling the story that we are watching – whose story is it? The film tries to resist a traditional reading based on an understanding of the causal chain of events, or by asking questions that it will later answer.

The third instance of mise-en-abîme, the symbolic mise-en-scène, is explored firstly in scene one where we see Julia reading The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although the significance of the novel is not clear until scene two, as this was the novel on which Ossessione was based. In scene three we hear some lines from Ossessione, but again this is not made clear until scene eight when the mirroring of the dialogue becomes apparent. Scene five opens with Peter watching the first American remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1946, as he takes his phone call we hear in the background Cora and Frank plotting Nick’s murder. This both refers us back to scenes three and four when we supposed that Chris and Julia might have been planning the same event and also involves an inverted reduplication of imagery as in scene five it is Peter who is plotting (or fantasising) Chris’ murder. In scene six we see for a few moments a film still of Jessica Lange as Cora from the second American remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice, 1981. A poster for Michael Haneke’s Code Inconnu, 2000, is evident in scene seven, which refers the audience not only to that film in particular but to the whole idea of mise-en-abîme. The poster is also intended to indicate that many of the stylistic choices that were made in the film were strongly influenced by the films of Michael Haneke, and by Code Inconnu in particular. Lastly, we see Ossessione itself in scene eight.

Bibliography

Baudry, Jean-Louis (2004) ‘Ideological Effects of the Basic Cinematographic Apparatus’, In: Braudy, Leo & Cohen, Marshall (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 6th Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.355-365.

Baudry, Jean-Louis (2004) ‘The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in the Cinema’, In: Braudy, Leo & Cohen, Marshall (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 6th Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.206-223.

Carroll, Noel (2004) ‘Jean-Louis Baudry and “The Apparatus”’, In: Braudy, Leo & Cohen, Marshall (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 6th Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.224-239.

Carroll, Noel (2008) The Philosophy of Motion Pictures, Oxford, Blackwell

Deleuze, Gilles (2004) ‘The Origin of the Crisis: Italian Neo-Realism and the French New Wave’, In: Braudy, Leo and Cohen, Marshall (eds.) Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings, 6th Edition, Oxford, Oxford University Press, pp.242-250.

Hayward, Susan (2000) Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts, London, Routledge.

Lawrence, Amy (1997) The Films of Peter Greenaway, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press


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