Valella 1 Daniel Valella 5 October 2009 The Techniques of Méliès, Porter, Griffith, and Eisenstein in Eternal Sunshine of the

Spotless Mind Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is a film rife with cinematic techniques innovated by film pioneers Georges Méliès, Edwin S. Porter, D.W. Griffith, and Sergei Eisenstein. While these early filmmakers worked mostly without sound, their contributions remain actively important in the modern world of motion pictures—evidenced clearly by Gondry’s homage to each. The mise-en-scène for which Méliès is known, the pans and tilts within Porter’s parallel editing style, Griffith’s irisand insert-infused intraframe narrative, and Eisenstein’s dialectical montage all have their place in Eternal Sunshine—yet Gondry’s employment of each technique differs quite a bit from that of the early films and their directors. Méliès’s A Trip to the Moon (1902) showcased its ex-magician filmmaker’s appreciation for on-screen “tricks” and scene composition. The film’s mise-en-scène (its lighting, staging, costumes, makeup, acting styles, props, and set design) is most memorable: large crowds of eccentrically dressed denizens—their prodigious white hats, their long canes, and their pointed umbrellas and spears emphasized by the motionless stare of the camera—make way for the even more peculiar props. We see the rocket-ship fired from a cannon atop a bulky platform of wooden planks, smashing into the eye of the elusive “man on the moon”; we see the now faraway earth, the fast-moving meteoroid, and the personified stars of human faces that characterize Méliès’s everlasting passion for

and her offbeat renditions of Mr..Valella 2 creating the ultimate fantasy and exhibiting it on screen for scores of mesmerized moviegoers. To this end. the Chinese restaurant frequented by Joel and Clementine. As well. Eternal Sunshine’s lighting is of particular importance: nearly every indoor location—Joel’s apartment. and one with boggling plastic eyes above a shelf) augments the film’s theme of detachment between mind and body. Gondry was set on blending the fantastical with the real. Potato Head add a great deal to the film’s outlandish tone. Like A Trip to the Moon. one atop her television set. though. Inc. One scene. her bohemian trinkets. Her array of conspicuously unnatural hair colors. creating dark visual spaces that appear far less theatrical. The famous giant crack next to Joel and Clementine also adds a bit of realism to the scene. in fact. While the vast majority of cinematographers choose to light rooms from above in order to attain maximum depth of field. her seeming obsession with skulls (one on the skeleton sitting in one of her chairs. Eternal Sunshine features almost no such lighting. and Mrs. includes a mirror that— . the park lamps and headlights of cars on the nearby highway provide a great deal of visibility. Much in line with the mise-en-scène of A Trip to the Moon. her oddly shaped lava lamps. among others—appears purposely and realistically dark. Furthermore. but whereas Méliès’s primary interests lied in the captivating “magic” he could put on celluloid. in addition to serving as a symbol for the characters’ fractured relationship. are Clementine’s kooky possessions. rather. Eternal Sunshine can be called a fantasy or science fiction film. the now-classic scene in which Joel and Clementine lie like angels on the iced-over Charles River has very little artificial lighting. and the office of Lacuna.

Gondry edited scenes in parallel to switch back and forth from the world of Stan and Patrick to . half of them still clear. for example. reminiscent of Edwin S. watch one scene and then the next). just before we see the robbers in the woods with their newly acquired cash—yet another example of Porter’s parallel editing. So. we see a group of people square dancing in a room. the two events are concurrent in filmic time (in the plot. intercut with the workings of Joel’s mind—half the memories erased. they occur simultaneously). though. Without question.Valella 3 when Joel looks into it—shows a human skull in place of Joel’s face. An important difference between the parallel editing of The Great Train Robbery and that of Eternal Sunshine. shows Stan and Patrick attempting to operate on Joel’s brain with a necessary cord unplugged. One sequence. we see a woman encountering the station attendant lying on the ground. The Great Train Robbery. Porter managed to compress time by positioning back-to-back different scenes depicting simultaneous events. the viewers. many scenes of such memories are juxtaposed with scenes exhibiting the realworld events of the plot taking place at the same time. immediately after we see a posse of thieves seize bags of money from one of the train-cars. shot. Later in the film. Porter’s style in his 1903 classic. is the intended purpose of its use: while Porter edited scenes in parallel to demonstrate concurrent events within the same realm. while the theft scene comes before the station scene in real time (we. Because a great deal of Gondry’s film focuses on the memories that travel through Joel’s mind. Perhaps more important than any other cinematic technique in Eternal Sunshine is its parallel editing. the peculiar nature of the sets in A Trip to the Moon manifests itself within Gondry’s work.

Porter had his camera pan to the left to show the robbers’ getaway from the train into the nearby woods. Gondry uses a jagged pan to the right early in his film to show Clementine and Joel’s cognitive recognition yet vast spatial separation from one another in a Montauk diner. creating the illusion that they are quite close to each other—but only after Gondry switches to a wide shot of Joel and pans right to a wide shot of Clementine do we notice their great distance apart. For several seconds.Valella 4 the world of Joel’s mind. was unheard of in Porter’s time. Griffith in his grand opus. we see alternating close-ups between the two characters’ faces. Intraframe narrative.W. Such a utilization of parallel editing most likely would have made no sense to moviegoers in 1903. coated with anger and distress. as well as to show them crossing swampy shallows to mount their horses (which stand outside the original frame). Gondry’s sophisticated use of panning. the camera pivots between the faces of Stan and Patrick when they discuss their very different girlfriend situations—and. Birth of a Nation (1915). Just as Griffith looks closer at . unlike Porter. in another scene. the camera pivots between Mary’s face. and the tape player she holds while listening to the memory erasure procedure she (for obvious reasons) had not remembered. For example. Similarly. So. has its place in Eternal Sunshine as well. for which The Great Train Robbery became famous upon its release. Eternal Sunshine also makes use of pans and tilts. Gondry uses pans and tilts to illustrate emotional intricacies within his characters. Porter used panning to surprise his viewers. of course. However. whose panning served mainly to demonstrate physical space and motion. first used by D. we have no idea there are horses nearby until he pans slightly to the left and reveals them to us. but viewers understood it (and embraced it) a century later with no problem.

and his shifting wig—Gondry emphasizes. The . switching from an establishing shot of Charles Sumner across the table from Austin Stoneman to a close-up of Sumner. Gondry employs Griffith’s trademark iris and insert shots as well. moments in Eternal Sunshine that would otherwise be overlooked. as it focuses on the unique acting style of Kirsten Dunst’s Mary while remaining loyal to the position and sound of Mark Ruffalo’s Stan within the same frame. as one sequence in Eternal Sunshine presents all of Joel’s memories through an eye-shaped focal point. while Clementine looks with bewilderment from the right background. Please never mention their relationship to her again. card that reads “Clementine Kruczynski has had Joel Barish erased from her memory.” Sergei Eisenstein’s technique of dialectical montage also features prominently in Gondry’s film. A scene toward the end of the film—in which Mary’s face is shown in the right background. in focus. his face. while Stan’s face stays blurred in the foreground as he professes his love for her—is another good example of intraframe narrative. his cane.Valella 5 the details of his scenes—moving from a wide shot of slaves working in the fields to a medium shot that shows them picking cotton. through intraframe narrative. Like a simile. transitioning from a medium shot of Ben Cameron holding a boll of cotton to a close-up of the cotton boll itself. while another shot shows nothing but the Lacuna. immediately afterward is a close-up of Clementine. Joel stands shyly in the left foreground of the frame. Eisenstein’s dialectical montage juxtaposed two seemingly unrelated images and made clear a strong ideopolitical connection between them. Inc. A great example of intraframe narrative in Gondry’s film is the scene in which Joel attempts to hide from Clementine at the Montauk train stop: first. her face shrouded in confusion over Joel’s skittish demeanor.

Griffith. parallel editing. Gondry’s shot of the child Joel’s hammer-smashing of a dead bird is followed immediately by the shot of a dove fleeing from the treetops above—illustrating the duplicity of war and peace. and altered by a modern visionary like Gondry—that further the success and influence of the cinema and that make a beautiful. emphasized. . in Eisenstein’s film.Valella 6 cross of the priest and the sword of the officer in Battleship Potemkin (1925).W. multifaceted film like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind the meaningful work of art that it is. both are weapons—albeit of a different kind—that carry great power and can create immense devastation. has the greatest connection to Eternal Sunshine. and the disabled are rapidly intercut with shots of the tsar’s armed troops—the tormented. whose pioneering contributions to cinema continue to influence the greatest filmmakers today. and Sergei Eisenstein. children. it is these cinematic techniques—when drawn upon. Without a doubt. for example. Just as Eisenstein’s shots of women. Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind owes a great deal of its artistic craft to George Méliès. pan and tilt. can be seen as opposites but also clones of one another: while a cross may not be typically used for violence. fearful faces of victims intercut with the boots and guns of the military forces—bring to light the bifurcation of innocence and cruelty. as a sword typically is. as well as of life and death. Battleship Potemkin’s sequence at the Odesa steps. and dialectical montage. though. Gondry’s film is unimaginable without expressive use of mise-en-scène. D. Edwin S. intraframe narrative. Porter.

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