Call#: PN1993 .H457
Baird, Robert. "The Startle Effect: Implications for Spectator Cognition and Media Theory." Film Quarterly. 53.3 (Spring 2000): pp. 12-24.
Humans (and animals for that matter) possess a startle reflex. Objects abruptly entering our visual space or loud noises can cause us to recoil. At the most basic level this is likely a hard-wired evolutionary adaptive mechanism which helps protect us from potential dangers in our environment. But this reflex has also benefited filmmakers, stage directors, and other entertainers as it is used to shock and thrill audiences. The "startle effect" has become such an ingrained part of horror and suspense films that we take it for granted. Baird very aptly explores both the formal conventions of the startle effect in film and what implications this may have for theories of spectatorship. Although "startles" have often been dismissed as being juvenile and representing crude sensationalism, Baird shows through formal breakdown of famous "startle" scenes such as in Alien (1979) the skill and craft required to create effective startles.
Dempsey begins his review by comparing Roeg’s film to the source material, Daphne du Maurier’s short story. He blames the film’s “creaky plot” on Du Maurier, who (he claims), “specializes in romantic sludge” (39). Dempsey understands that the film’s weak plot is not the fault of Roeg, so he is not too harsh in his criticism of Roeg’s handling of the plot. He states that, “too often the gears grind when Roeg tries to shift from this old-hat storyline to the subtext of fear and uncertainty that he has built into it” (39). Dempsey actually compliments Roeg for creating a fascinating film from a plot, which he is admittedly not fond of. The saving grace of the film, according to Dempsey, is Roeg, more explicitly, his style. Dempsey writes that, “Roeg’s style pitches us headlong into [John and Laura’s] disorientation” (40). Dempsey allocates most of his review to explaining of Roeg’s style, which Roeg achieves through editing. Dempsey goes so far as to compare Roeg to the famous Russian montage filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, because Roeg too “lean[s] heavily on editing for his effects” (40). The effect that Roeg produces with montage is the same effect described by James Palmer in his essay, “Seeing, Believing, and “Knowing” in Narrative Film: Don’t Look Now Revisited.” Using montage, Roeg “undercut[s] our total allegiance to reason” (41); in effect, making us mistrust out vision the same way that John mistrusts his. Roeg’s use of montage has the opposite effect of Eisenstein’s, undermining the action, instead of reinforcing it. Dempsey describes, “Roeg’s montage does not say that two shots are connected; it says that they might be” (41). The idea of not knowing, of being forced to puzzle it out, is the essence of Don’t Look Now and is the same theme discussed in Palmer’s essay.
Dempsey’s review, unlike any other analyses of Don’t Look Now that I discovered, features an in-depth analysis of the love-making scene, which is probably the most well-known scene in Don’t Look Now. He argues that, the intercutting of sex shots with shots of the couple getting dressed, “makes the sense doubly erotic-yet also melancholy” (41). We get the sense, from the intercutting, that, “no matter how intense their love or how satisfying their sex may be, John and Laura still cannot save themselves” (41)...