7 April 2012

CINEMATIC SPACES: Part 1 - THE CORRIDOR (A Video Essay)



The corridor is a substantial iconographic facet of the horror film, working entirely as a claustrophobic space from which there is commonly no escape. Though the corridor is strongly concomitant with the horror genre, it is an iconographic constituent that recurs across numerous genres (including notably gangster, science fiction and the western genre) and it is a conceivably an orthodox site which in many ways is a shared cinematic space. The corridor is seldom presented as an image of optimism but is one that invokes feelings of dread, captivity and even death. In many cases, walking down a corridor not only serves to generate dramatic anxiety, given the loneliness apparent, but it usually means some kind of confrontation with the unknown. Barton Fink draws much of its disquieting temperament from the art deco corridor of the Hotel Earle in which the writer Barton Fink becomes an unending denizen. The corridor in the film seems to function as a divergent character, taking on a life of its own and later when Munt (John Goodman) charges down the corridor with a shotgun, the walls of the corridor rage and pulsate, producing biblical phantasmagorias of a fiery Hades. In Road to Perdition when Michael Jr. goes to fetch his father for evening dinner, his reluctant walk down the corridor to call his father is filled with a familiar dread that we associate with children confronting the monster in fairy tales. In other words, Tom Hanks is the monster; the hypocritical hit man. If the corridor is a space easily suited to the horror film then you can see why it is deployed so effectually in the science fiction slasher Alien. The opening sequence of Alien as the camera tracks through the ghostly spaces of the lonely spaceship and down the corridors to reach the crew is a pattern that later Alien films would have to emulate. The contest between the Alien creature and Ripley eventually becomes isolated to the claustrophobic corridors of the ship. Neither is the corridor is a modern cinematic occurrence. The tradition stretches back to the 1940s and the studio films. Take for example, the definitive noir template that is Billy Wilder’s mordant Double Indemnity. When Barton Keyes with his ‘hunk of concrete’ pays an unexpected visit to Walter Neff, his departure from the apartment coincides with the arrival of Phyllis who hides behind the door of the apartment. Suddenly, as Keyes walks back to Walter for a match for his fat cigar, it seems as if the murderous lovers have been caught out. All of this staging between the characters takes place within the space of the corridor outside Walter’s apartment. For that moment, the corridor space becomes laden with doom: a familiarly redolent noir idiom. In his 1955 film East of Eden, director Elia Kazan reimagines the corridor as a realist space – a barrier between the disaffected Cal and his estranged mother who runs a brothel. For Cal, the corridor, which leads to his first encounter with his mother, is a violent one and yet it is also a space filled with trepidation. The corridor as a realist space is taken to its dramatic excesses in Sam Fuller’s 1963 film Shock Corridor, transforming into a battleground for 1960s socio-political issues such as race. The corridor as key cinematic space endures to resonate in contemporary Hollywood cinema. Christopher Nolan’s Inception features an audacious fight sequence in a gravity defying revolving corridor, which was built as a full scale set. The postmodernity of Inception advances the corridor as virtual one, a projection of our dreams.

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