When making films Marshall will involve everyone in the decisions that are made in the film. “There is something he does that combines choreography with costume, light characters...he’s so great at piecing those things together.” He works with everyone and people trust him to create a successful outcome and for this reason I think that he is an auteur. As people believe in him, they are confident that he will create the right final decisions. I also think he is an Auteur because in his films he has a very personal style. He will usually work with musicals or something to do with the stage. He also is very interested in is dancing due to his background in the theatre. This comes across in his films and he will work with the actors not just as a director but as a choreographer as well. I feel that it is this technique and theatrical style that makes him not just a director, but an Auteur.
I am going to be exploring how Rob Marshall shows reality in his surreal worlds in his films. I will be looking at three films directed by Marshall. My focus film is Chicago, and my two related films are Nine and Memoirs of a Geisha. It is in these films that I will focus on how he portrays reality and surreal world and how he links them.
Rob Marshall was born October, 17, 1960 in Madison. As a young boy he started making his own films, including a parody of “The Brady Bunch”. He worked with his sisters and he asked his friends and school teachers to acts in his homemade films. He soon became more interested in dancing. He trained in jazz and ballet and in 1980 he left his university for a year to join a touring company of “A Chorus Line”. Marshall became a lot more experienced and talented in dance and continued to land parts in musicals such as “Zorba” and “The Rink”. Graciela Daniele who then trained Marshall more, choreographed all these and he soon became her dance captain and assistant. His dance career abruptly ended when, performing in “Cats”, he suffered a back injury which ended his final appearance on Broadway as a performer. Instead he found himself choreographing, firstly in regional theatres then progressing onto Broadway.
He did not find himself wanting to be a director and even when he was directing his first small screen film, Annie, he said “ film was the further thing from my mind, and the first time I was supposed to call the word action I couldn’t even do it because it felt so unnatural…so I just mumbled OK go.”. After the success of Annie and winning a primetime Emmy for Best Choreography and being nominated for Best Directing, this led him to his next film ‘Rent’. When in a meeting with Miramax about the new film he stopped them and said “ before we do that, can I just talk about Chicago?” they thought that Marshall’s original concept for the film would work on the big screen
This leads me on to what I am investigating in this presentation. Marshall took the original idea of a staged Chicago and changed it so he believed it would work on the screen. He knew that cinemagoers did not believe that in reality people burst into song, therefore he needed a way to make the musical element of the film seem realistic. So instead of trying to take the theatre away from the musical he has made the musical numbers figments of the delusional lead characters’ imagination, who is dreaming of her life as a star on the stage. By doing this it gave the songs in the films context. In this clip we Roxie transform herself into a musical star in the place of Velma Kelly.
Marshall took the original idea of a staged Chicago and changed it so he believed it would work on the screen. He knew that cinemagoers did not believe that in reality people burst into song, therefore he needed a way to make the musical element of the film seem realistic. So instead of trying to take the theatre away from the musical he has made the musical numbers figments of the delusional lead characters’ imagination, who is dreaming of her life as a star on the stage. By doing this it gave the songs in the films context. Marshall background in theatre has been very influential in his films. This is a quote from Rob Marshall which shows how much theatre and cinema can link with each other. “ I’ve always imagined when I’m choreographing a number, or directing a number, what would it be on film first. That’s my normal process for theatre. I’ve always done it via film and then I’ll create that for the stage. So now I don’t have to do that!” To explore Marshall’s technique further and how he manages to create smooth transitions between the real and the fantasy world I am going to look into the opening sequence of Chicago. In the very first shot in the film Marshall has established the concept for the film which makes it believable on the big screen where so many have failed to do in the past. The first shot is of Roxie Hart’s eyes. In the following 15 seconds we see ‘CHICAGO’ in lights on the screen. This shows the whole concept of the film, that the surreal world is seen through Roxie’s eyes.
There are many element to this sequence which makes it work. Firstly, Marshall has used specific camerawork. The very first shot shows an extreme close up of Roxie Hart’s eyes. Here the audience can assume that this character is going to be important in the film. Marshall has only shown the eyes and nothing else. To me this symbolized the time and place we are about to see, where people believed whatever they saw. Therefore they could be very susceptible to lies. By only seeing the eyes and also from her not blinking or moving created an intensity to the opening. It is very unnatural to have a shot which is as close as this, therefore, it felt as if we are about to be entered into a place which is unusual to the world we know and are used to. By creating this feeling when the audience is shown the musical and dancing it may feel unnatural to us but we know that it makes sense in this unnatural world we are being shown.The camera then pans slightly to the left and zooms into her right eye. This shot shows the importance of composition because the pupil and iris are at the centre of the screen and are perfect circles within each other. I felt that this was like a camera lens showing us ‘Chicago’, which again brings us back to the fact that this world is seen through Roxie’s eyes. The sequence becomes very fast paced and Marshall has used a STEADY CAMERA to follow Velma Kelly around the set. He shows us her every movement which gives the feeling of it being very rushed because he is having to move from places and objects very quickly. This helps the viewer to feel the manic atmosphere of backstage at the theatre and therefore we feel more involved, like we are there with them.
Lighting is key in the whole film to create the link between the two worlds of musical and real life. In the first shot of her eyes we can see a glint of light in each eye and as the camera focuses on the right eye the more circles of light appear around the iris. This is done to link the image with the opening title ‘Chicago’ but I think that it could also represent the light appearing in Roxie’s mind and her dream of being on stage surrounded by theatre lights. Also the title ‘Chicago’ is made up of orange lights which are conventional on Broadway signs, but some are missing and broken. This connotes that it is not new and fresh anymore and possibly the fact that things are going to go wrong when Roxie makes a life in show business.The lighting is relatively low key which creates shadows around her eyes. This could connote that she is hiding in the background at that no one really notices her. By creating relatable characters that the viewer has sympathy for helps us believe the world we are looking in on. Consequently we are more willing to believe the more surreal aspects of the film.
Marshall has revolved this film around his background in the theatre and on Broadway and his whole life has been based around the stage, whether dancing, choreographing or acting, then he turned to directing on the screen. I felt that he could relate to making this film because he has taken ‘Chicago’ from the stage to the screen and this is similar to what he has done in his career.The first editing technique used is at the very beginning when it fades from black onto Roxie’s eyes. I felt that the fade in is similar to curtains opening in a theatre and it could symbolise Roxie’s start on the stage but it could also show Marshall’s connection with the stage.The pacing of the sequence is fast and yet Marshall has used some shots that last roughly 13 seconds. This is very unconventional but Marshall makes it work due to his camera techniques of following the characters.
Rob Marshall said this when talking about the opening sequence of Chicago. “ There is an energy and a pacing, and the pacing exists in the scenes as well as the musical numbers.”For the audience to believe the musical numbers are part of the life of the film and not just an addition then the link between the scenes and the musical numbers has to be seamless. “He understands how to seamlessly integrate the elements of music, dance, storytelling, character, design and that’s part of what makes him so effective a director of musicals because he has that sense of when to really heighten something and when to pull it back in.”the opening of Chicago it starts with diegetic sound of a slow, drawn out trumpet. There is then a dialogue, “5,6,7,8” which allows the pace to increase to an upbeat level which fits the atmosphere of the scene.By using only diegetic sound in the first sequence and by making the first musical number something that is happening for everyone to see and not just in Roxie’s head, it allows the audience to get used to the musical aspect of the film.
He has had to link Roxie with Fred Casely and Velma performing and make their lives link if the transition between real life and Roxie’s fantasy life are to make sense. To introduce the audience into the musical side of the film, he has started with a number which is performed on stage by Velma Kelly in a real situation.Marshall believed that where directors went wrong in creating musicals is that “a director will direct the scene naturalistically and then the choreographer will direct the musical numbers in a different style.” This is where Marshall had the upper hand because he has had the experience of being both a director and a choreographer. He worked with not just the actors but he showed all the dancers how their part was going to fit in with the narrative. Therefore in Velma’s first performance, he has created movements and actions which are similar to Roxie’s in a contrasting situation. There are a few examples above of the what the two characters do together which helps link the jump between each camera shot.
Chicago was a risky challenge for Marshall because audiences were not that used to musicals being big screen movies. The movie musical ‘Moulin Rouge was released a year earlier and this received outstanding box office results and made just under $180 million worldwide. Marshall was not phased by this competition, in fact he embraced the fact that it had changed audiences perceptions of movie musicals being unrealistic and not for the big screen.With help of this and of Marshalls efforts to create a film which was believable in both the real life and the surreal, musical world, they created a box office success of over $300 million worldwide by 2004.
The clip starts with the title sequence ‘NINE’ in quite small, white font in the centre of the screen. When we see this title we hear a faint sound of a movie reel coming to a stop. It is these elements that Marshall has include that link film and theatre together and therefore creating a smoother transition between the real world of making a film and the surreal world of fantasising about the people around Guido.For the first 16 seconds of the sequence we hear nothing but a few diegetic sounds such as the door opening, Guido’s footsteps and the lights turning on. This is quite a long time for there to be little sound, and it gives the impression that Guido is finally alone with his thoughts. This is then interrupted by a short line of dialogue from a man, then bells start to chime. I thought that this dramatic contrast from almost no sound to sharp, loud bells which showed the abundance of thoughts in his mind. This change of sound keeps the audience focused on the scene and when it changes to a surreal musical number the contrast is not that unexpected.The title fades out into black and a small tint of blue light fades onto the screen. When the door opens the blue stage light aluminates the door. The previous scene was shot in black and white so this is the first bit of colour we see. I felt that the blue created a dull and sad atmosphere and after the poignant speech Guido gave in the previous scene, this light represents him and his feelings. There is very low key lighting, at times you only see a silhouette of Guido. This adds ambiguity about his character but it also could signifies that he does not know who he is and therefore we can not physically see his whole character. As he walks further in, more lights turn on. These artificial light are the only source of light in the scene and this gives an unnatural feeling towards the theatre. The door is closed behind him, I thought this represented Guido being locked in physically but also in his mind, as he cannot escape from his work.By shooting this from a distance, an extreme long shot, and in the bottom right corner of the scene, it represents what Guido feel about himself. He is struggling, as a director, to create his film and these scenes that are in his mind are similar to Chicago where the audience is let into his world and his thoughts. This is then interrupted by a short line of dialogue from a man, then bells start to chime. I thought that this dramatic contrast from almost no sound to sharp, loud bells showed the abundance of thoughts in his mind.
Marshall portrays reality in his surreal, musical numbers by placing in characters in situations and setting which feel natural to have musical elements in them. For example Guido goes back to his film set as a place to think and his musical numbers then become part of the set and he will climb it and interact with it. This creates a more natural environment for the unusual concept of bursting into song to be in.
Memoirs of a geisha was different to nine and Chicago but I chose to study it because all three films, on way or another, showed rivalry between woman in show business. With the others I have explored how Marshall links the real world with the surreal but with this film I will investigate how he portray the duties of being a geisha compared to how the women normally live. Rob Marshall is aware that the transitions in a film are very important because if the film does not flow smoothly from one scene to another then the audience will feel as if they are only watching a film instead of being part of their lives. Marshall has mainly used water to create these seamless transitions because not water connotes the protagonist, Sayuri, and one of the very first things said about as a child was that she was like water. By doing this Marshall is linking her past life as an ordinary child and her current life as a Geisha.
In this sequence Sayuri is taken to a place that she doesn’t know. Marshall has created the sense of tension and worry by using a hand held camera when travelling in the cart. This makes the surroundings distorted because of the movement and it makes the audience feel like they are there with the characters.He also wanted to create a sense of mystery about the life of a Geisha so he has shot some parts through fabrics or beads. This gives the sense that we are looking in on their world and we are discovering this journey with Sayuri. This helps show the two distinct worlds of her old life and her Geisha life. Marshall is creating the smooth transition from this jump by easing us into this new by shooting it from behind various materials. This almost gives the audience a sense of security because there is a physical 4th wall separating the audience from the characters.
The life of a geisha is to dance and perform for others. Marshall worked with Japanese actors when filming Memoirs of a Geisha and most of them did not speak English until they started the script. Therefore Marshall had to find a way to communicate with them not just through the translators. He found that his choreographing skills came in useful when filming because he was able to communicate to the actors through the dance of a Geisha. In all three films I have found that Marshalls background on the stage has helped him create his films.
To conclude Rob Marshall has successfully portrayed reality in the surreal worlds he has created because he has used techniques to make the transitions from one world to the other smooth and seamless. He has also taken aspect from his own life and put them into his film. for example in Chicago and Nine he has used his experience on the stage to create realistic narratives on the stage in the film. also in Memoirs of a Geisha he has had to use his choreographing and directing skill together to create the art form of being a Geisha onto the screen.
Rob marshall presentation
To me its helpful when its a surreal space or a slightly altered space so the audiences can digest the singing.“There is something he does that combines choreography with costume, light characters ...he’s so great at piecing those things together.” Kate Hudson (American Fashion Designer in Nine)
Born October 1960, Madison. As young children him and his sister would make home movies. Soon became a talented dancer but this career was cut short due to a back injury.
Annie was his first small screen film. Directing was the further thing from his mind.“ film was the further thing from my mind,and the first time I was supposed to call theword action I couldn’t even do it because itfelt so unnatural…so I just mumbled OKgo.”
“ I‟ve always imagined when I‟m choreographinga number, or directing a number, what would it beon film first. That‟s my normal process for theatre. I‟ve always done it via film and then I‟ll createthat for the stage. So now I don‟t have to do that!”
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qh6xb hsbC8IClose up of Roxie‟s eyesExtreme close upScreen fills with „CHICAGO‟
“ There is an energy and a pacing, and the pacing exists in the scenes as well as the musical numbers.” “He understands how to seamlessly integrate the elements of music, dance, storytelling, character, design and that‟s part of what makes him so effective a director of musicals because he has that sense of when to really heighten something and when to pull it back in.”
Velma Kelly Roxie Hart• She slaps her thigh. • Fred Casely slaps• Pulls in a man by his Roxie‟s bum. shirt • Pulls in Fred by his tie.• Climbs Steps • Climbs stairs.• Hands above head • Hands above head on• Hands grab mans door. arms • Hands grab bed frameThe police appear at the Skips time, start ofback of the room. downfall.
A year earlier Moulin Rouge was released and had a box office worldwide gross of $179,213,434 (Worldwide). Chicago was helped by converted audiences which created an overall box office of $306,776,732 (Worldwide) (2004).
Here is a sequence from Nine where the protagonist, Guido, performs his first musical number. The main elements that I thought created a sense of place and character were;Sound Lighting Cinematography•Movie reel •Blue stage lights •Extreme longcoming to a stop. •Low key shot•Diegetic •Artificial
“Transitions to me are very important in filmsbecause otherwise you feel the stop andstarts of scenes and its important for me to atleast try and attempt to find seamless ways ofmoving in and out of scenes.”
Hand heldcamera.Marshall has shotthrough beads to createa sense of mystery.