Module B: Witness Syllabus: This module requires students to engage in a detailed analysis of the text…respond imaginatively, affectively (emotionally) and critically. Explore and analyse particular characteristics of the text… Topic Sentence Witness, directed by Australian director Peter Weir, made in 1985 combines a crime story with a love story, creating a dual narrative. Introduce question… Plot * This dual narrative film is set in 1984, in Lancaster, Philadelphia. * Amish members Rachel and Samuel Lapp are visiting the city after Rachel’s husband death, when Samuel witnesses the murder of a policeman. As Samuel is a witness, he is needed to stay with the police in the city, to help the investigations, forcing the conservative family out of their comfort zone. * After Samuel identifies the murderer to the protagonist John Book, the criminals then find out that Book has this information, and try to kill him. * Book hides out in the Amish community, so they don’t find him. * When book’s car crashes into the bird house on arriving at the Amish farm, it symbolises the two worlds colliding, which is very effective in visually showing the purpose and theme of the film. Book develops a relationship with Samuel, acting as a father figure, and an intimate relationship with Samuel’s mother, Rachel. Although in the end they are forced not to be together, as they are from such different backgrounds Characters Empathetic characters are essential in any film. They must identify similar problems to the audience’s lives. At the beginning of the film John Book is presented as a hardened police detective, who is very focused on his job, with his world full of aggression and corruption.
Although the other side of Book slowly emerges and the film progresses, and he appears warm to Samuel and Rachel, and we see his soft side as he falls for Rachel, and becomes comfortable in the Amish society. By the end, the audience sees him go back to his old ways, as his gun comes back out, and him comfortably smoking with the police. At the commencement of the film Rachel Lapp is portrayed as a humble widow, who has recently lost her husband, as the film opens with the funeral. She seems very devote to the conformity of her culture. Although, a degree of intimacy with Book creep through, as her relationship with him deepens
Samuel Lapp, Rachel’s son, represents innocence in the film. Yet he is soon exposed to a violent crime, and his innocence is lost forever. This is evident when Eli attempts to explain to Samuel that the Amish don’t believe in killing people, Samuel says he would “only kill a bad man”. When asked how he would know if the man is bad, he replies “…I have seen it” The two elements of the plot, the love story, and the crime story, make up the genre. Genre A genre is a film type that can be identified based on the content and atmosphere of the film.
Witness doesn’t conform to one particular genre, but uses elements from crime thriller, and romance, as Weir has manipulated the elements from both genres, to contrast the crime thriller sharply against the romantic scenes in the film The crime thriller genre is shown through the American stereotyped corrupt cops, for example the gun is a symbol of this genre. It is a symbol of Book’s world, and a threat to the Amish, shown as Rachel handles the gun with hate, and Eli tells Samuel to “Not touch the unclean thing”, quoted from the bible, and that no human should take anther human’s life
The romance genre is shown in a very powerful and refreshing way. For example particularly in the shower scene, the desire for love is shown less obviously, and more innocently, then in most common films. These two genres create a clash of cultures theme throughout the film. Themes + LANGAUGE FEATURES * Witness is a film about clashing of two ideologies. These ideologies are those of the Amish, and of the modern English (Englisch), as the Amish ideals are in direct contrast to the American consumerist ideas. The two worlds come together when Book drives Rachel to her father in law’s house, Eli, which is shown through the visual contrasts and juxtapositions Weir uses throughout the film. * For example many of the images use incongruity, which is the placement of things side by side that aren’t usually seen together – this shows the two worlds colliding, the clash of cultures. * For example 1. Samuel and Rachel in their black Amish clothes against the backdrop of the modern police station.
Costume is an important film technique, as it shows the contrast between Book and Rachel. 2. Costume is also evident in the ‘plain scene’, where Book is wearing Amish clothes, which are Rachel’s dead husbands clothes, and Book says, “How do I look? ” and Rachel responds by saying “You look plain”. This is seen as a compliment, and her accepting him. 3. The incongruity and crash of worlds is continued to been shown with Book with his gunshot wound being placed on an old fashioned Amish table, and a close up is used, and with McFee in is suit, in the barn (costume is used). . It is further shown in the diner scene, where Samuel and Rachel are wearing their plain clothes, and praying in a busy city diner (a two shot), 5. as well as when the police are walking towards the Amish farm, we see the black figures contrasting against the serene farm (full body shot). 6. Finally it is shown then Book is fighting with the cops, and there is guns and cows in the same scene, contrasting. * The biggest issue that highlights the clash of cultures is the relationship between Rachel Lapp and John Book.
They are very different people. Rachel refuses to accept the violence that now surrounds her because of the murder and Book, and she blames Book, saying “I just don’t like my son spending all this time with a man who carries a gun and goes around whacking people”. * Their relationship develops through the movie, and she is torn between her feelings for Book, who is dangerous, and different to what she is used to, and her responsibility to the Amish rules, her family and the church.
She cannot bridge the divide between the cultures – Book can’t join the Amish, and she cannot leave because she is tied to her community This theme is especially shown in the dancing in the barn scene, when Book is trying to repair the car, and ‘Wonderful World’, by Sam Cooke is playing on the radio. The lyrics say what is in their hearts; saying that love will conquer all, even thought hey can’t be together. Key Scenes They both stop dancing and appear about to kiss when they are interrupted by a disgusted Eli. What is harmless fun in Book’s world is the opposite in Rachel’s world.
Low key lighting, shot reverse shot and increased cutting rate is used to convey this clash of cultures. Camera Technique| Definition | Effect | Low Key lighting | * Describes the quality of the lighting on the set, and the illumination and the intensity of the lighting | * The scene opens with low key lighting, soft and shadowy, that sets a romantic mood, and contrasts to the previous scene that showed Daniel and Rachel sitting on the porch swing, with its painful squeaking acting as a metaphor for their relationship. The low key lighting has the effect of being diffused and shadowy, with low illumination, and heavy shadows, with an atmospheric quality. | Shot reverse shot | * Consists of a sequence of 3 shots| * Goes between Rachel and Book’s faces * This builds the sexual tension between the characters, as it shows both their expressions. * In turn his builds our understanding of the growing of their relationship * Shows us both their expressions clearly, and their reactions to each other | Increased cutting rate| * This is when the rate of cutting between shots is made faster | * It is used as Eli’s voice breaks Book and Rachel’s romantic moment, and he speaks in German to convey that what is happening is very inappropriate * As Rachel walks back to the house, the increased cutting rate emphasises Eli’s fear that Rachel’s behavior may mean that she will be ‘shunned’, according to the ‘Ordung’. * One of the most important scenes that shows this relationship and culture clash is the farewell scene. * This scene is the high point of Rachel and Book’s romance. * Rachel runs over to Book and they share a passionate goodbye kiss, where neither is prepared to speak, but they both know they can’t be together. The camera stops on Rachel’s bowed head while she contemplates her next move. She turns down the lamp and places her cap on the table, symbolising her temporary rejection of her Amish values. Weir uses a back profile shot, limited dialogue, a close up, and ‘Mise-en-scence’, to convey this height of their relationship and this stage in the film. Camera Technique| Definition | Effect|
Back profile shot| * Shot from behind | * This shot of Rachel taking of her cap is taken from the back, symbolising her leaving behind the Amish constraints, even briefly * This shows us how strong her feelings for Book must be, if she is willing to leave the Amish in the past | Limited Dialogue | | * Weir uses visual imagery through camera angles, and doesn’t rely heavily on dialogue to tell the narrative * Without the use of dialogue, he communicates complex ideas and emotions using visual juxtaposition, showing the differences between the protagonist’s worlds * They know that they cannot be together, and there is no more words left to say about how they feel, as nothing they say will change anything| Close up| * A film shot when only one part of the object or person is seen on the screen, usually a head, or head and shoulders| * A close up is used to capture the moment as they kiss passionately and desperately * Shows us how passionately they are in love with each other | ‘Mise-en-scence’ – Music, lighting & Setting | * Mise-en-scence: Overall design of the scene | * The emotion is one of joy, as they finally, mingled with sadness, due to their mutual realisation that Book must leave. * Jarre’s music captures this confused state very well * The soft music becomes lighter and brighter as they embrace * Even the setting, at dusk, is appropriate to this stage of their relationship |
In the commentary, Weir says “If the audience don’t know how these characters feel about each other by now, then I haven’t done my job very well! ” In contrast, the Crime Thriller genre is shown in the scene where Samuel is at the police office with Book. Samuel’s innocence is contrasted against the violence and corruption of the police, when Samuel, bored with the number of suspects he has seen, wanders through the police office. He sees a photograph of the murderer in a newspaper article. Point of view shots, close ups, and music are used in this scene to support this. Camera Technique| Definition | Effect| Point of View Shot| * Position from which an action or subject is seen.
The camera becomes the characters eyes, and sees things from their point of view | * The camera is at the same height as him * This has the effect of giving us the impression that we are looking at things anew, and innocently, as he is| Close up| * A film shot when only one part of the object or person is seen on the screen, usually a head, or head and shoulders| * When Samuel is in the police office, he goes up to the cabinet where the trophies are, and there is a newspaper article * The camera moves to a close up, containing little or no background, and enables the director to show emotions and reactions| Music| * | * Most of the music heard in the film is composed by Maurice Jarre * Music comes up as Samuel sees the picture and the music replaces the background SOUND * It is heavy, and is designed to created anticipation and suspense * The music builds as Samuel points to the image, then there is a musical overlay that builds the tone and changes the feel of the scene * This builds fear in the viewer, making them tense, with a longing for what is about to happen |