FSFF has previously drawn attention to two pieces of Perkins’ hugely influential work which are freely available online:
- ‘Same Tune Again! Repetition and Framing in Letter from an Unknown Woman’ (originally published in CineAction! no. 52) republished online by Danish film studies journal 16:9 (September 2003) and accessible HERE.
- ‘Moments of Choice’ [on film directing] (originally published in The Movie, ch. 58, reprinted in Ann Lloyd (ed.), Movie Book of the Fifties, Orbis, 1982) republished online by the Australian journal Rouge (issue 9, 2006) and accessible HERE.
Here’s an excerpt from the essay with relevant hyperlinks added by FSFF:
Anyone who wants to write usefully about You Only Live Once has to build on the work of George M Wilson. A chapter in [Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986)] makes a systematic presentation of the movie’s narrative strategies, and a detailed reading of key images. Wilson shows how Lang’s picture is designed to educate its viewers in the manipulability of the image, and to demonstrate the power of the film sequence to deceive us by obscuring key points in its story and by soliciting preferred readings that the content of the images may not in fact guarantee. The achievement that Wilson uncovers is the more remarkable in that it occurs not in an illustrated lecture but in a fiction movie, one that works to powerful effect within its genre of social protest melodrama.
Wilson’s essay opened my eyes to You Only Live Once, a movie that I had previously found opaque because, apart from its evident social project, I had not seen a purpose in its meticulous design beyond that of giving power and plausibility to a noticeably contrived tale. In what follows I take for granted the main lines of Wilson’s argument in order to develop some remarks on Lang’s mise-en-scène in two representative sequences.