The Glass Menagerie(1987)

In the film interpretation of Tennesse Williams, “The Glass Menagerie” director Paul Newman tells the story of a Tom (portrayed by John Malkovich) who longs to escape his stifling home, where Amanda Wingfield(Joanne Woodward) his mother an old southern bell worries about the future of his lame older sister Laura(Karen Allen). The film takes place during the 1930’s and is a film interpretation of a memory play and therefore is no more than Tom (who is both the narrator and a character within the play) recounting events which have already transpired and reflected on his own choices. This story expresses to the audience that our memories remain with us and our past haunts us.  

The cinematographer Michael Ballhaus uses color to affect the mood of the film. With the use of low-key three-point lighting, Ballhaus uses a warm fill light which contrasts with the intensely saturated blue key light. The blue key light gives the film a dream-like quality. The warm fill light also has an important effect for it is what adds to the vintage look of each frame and further emphasizes that the story takes place in the past.   

Ballhaus also uses dolly shots repeatedly to achieve the desired effect. Throughout the film he uses the dolly shot to pull in closer to the characters as the conversation at the start of each scene gets closer to the root of the conversation, giving a more intimate atmosphere that allows for the audience to better see the subtle facial expressions of the actors and empathize with the characters which they portray.  One key moment in which the dolly shot was used was near the fifteen-minute mark of the movie where the plot catalyst begins. When Amanda enters the apartment the camera begins with a wide shot while Laura is on the typewriter and as the conversation gets deeper to the root problem the space within each frame begins to shrink making the room seem smaller as Amanda reveals to her daughter that she has discovered she has dropped out of business college.

Ballhaus also uses close-ups to create intimacy. At several points in the film, Amanda goes on about her life as a young woman back when she had numerous,”gentlemen callers,” waiting for her hand in marriage. As Amanda reminisces about her past and tells her children about the many options she had for male suitors, she fantasizes exploring the possible outcomes of her life had she not chosen their father who had abandoned them, leaving them struggling to get by. As Amanda tells her story the blue light grows slightly more intense sending the viewer into the daydream along with her.

By the film’s conclusion, the apartment only becomes darker for Tom has chosen to not pay the light bill, and instead use the money aid him in joining the Merchant Seamen. This intensifies the atmosphere created by the low-key lighting and as Tom leaves the apartment one last time with Laura and Amanda, who are backlit visible as silhouettes, it emphasizes the sense of abandonment as Tom leaves his family like his father did.

By the end of the film, although years have passed, Tom cannot escape the guilt he feels for abandoning his sister Laura with his genteel of a mother. Memories are often the biggest consequences left by the choices one makes, it is a scare on your mind whether that memory is good or bad, and like a tattoo, it shall mark you, forever.   

The script was written well, thought out and executed well. I have no complaints about the acting. And the cinematography was excellent and I think Michael Ballhaus did a fantastic job in manipulating the mood of the audience using the camera.I give this movie 8 hoots out of 10 and highly recommend this movie, I think anyone can appreciate this amazing example of storytelling.


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