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The Royal Tenenbaums Essay

According to Mike Crisp, editing “comes in a category some where between nrain surgery at one extreme and tiling the bathroom at the other”.(Orpen 2003, 16) French director claude Chabrol compared editing similarly, to doing the washing up: “Script writing is like cooking. Shooting, the part I enjoy the most, is like eating. Editing therefore is, well, the wasing up.” (Orpen 2003, 16) The following essay will analyze mise- en- scene,editing and sound from the Wes Anderson film, The Royal Tennenbaums (2001). The scene is about three minutes long, it comes across the audience two-thirds of the way into the movie. It marks the turning point of the movie as Richie’s suicide connected the family once again, despite Royal’s previous attempts.

The scene starts off as the crew left the detective’s office. Margot Tenenbaum’s secrets are revealed – she had been smoking since age twelve, had various marriages and currently having an affair with Eli Cash. Being secretly in love with her his entire life, Richie locks himself in the bathroom and attempted suicide.

Richie was framed as the central figure of a medium close up, it is a personal shot of eye to eye level. Starting by removing his wrist bands, he slowly cuts off his hair and beard. The process is sped up by jump shots. The discontinuous editing is abrupt; it reflects Richie’s emotion instability. With every jump, it gives the viewers a hair raising sensation that foreshadows his suicide attempt. “Needle in the Hay“ dominates the scene as it covers up any background noise, such as the sound of the running tap, or snipping of the scissors is heard. It accents the ritualistic quality of Richie’s transformation. As he takes off his sun glasses, it jumps to a over the shoulder shot, that is when we realize he is looking into a mirror. In this point we realize that it was a point of view shot, and that Richie is looking at himself. He gave up shaving just after one stroke and whispered the only sentence spoken in the three minutes – “I’ll kill myself tomorrow.” (The Royal Tenenbaums 2001) Then an image of the past Richie appeared briefly in contrast to his clean shaved head.

According to Barry Salt, “it is impossible to address film editing without editing without examining the point of view shot or structure”, and that a point of view shot “is simply a good way of securing audience involvement, and so it is really in need of no further explanation.” (Orpen 2003, 21) Edward Branigan suggests that there are three elements distributed the shot. (Orpen 2003, 21) First of all, the establishment of a point in space – Richie in the center of the frame, in a medium close up. Secondly, the glace where the camera shows a brief image over Richie’s shoulder, indicating that he is looing into the mirror. Thirdly, the temporal transition where a jump cut of the past Richie appears for a brief second as a flashback. (Orpen 2003, 21)

Next, the camera closes up on his hands playing with the razor blade. Followedvby a series of rapid jump cuts that create a montage of flashbacks of his pet falcon Mordechai, when he first saw Margot as a child and when he first saw her as an adult after his exile. Margot’s significance is accented by her repeated appearance in the flashback; for a longer period of time with each jump, despite the compilation of numerous jumbled up images. In the final shot of the montage, she is shown in a longer duration, at the bus stop walking towards Richie in slow motion. Moreover, a static buzz is added to the music, overlapping “Needle in the Hay” in the background. According to director Wes Anderson, the separate audio track shows the “flashback in Richie’s mind, kind of an electrical thing.” (The Royal Tenenbaums 2001)

The scene changed to a point of view shot of Richie looking at his wrists after he’s slit them open, blood running down the sink. As the music volume builds, he slowly sinks to the floor. The camera switches to the other side of the bathroom, acting as an observer. The soundtrack comes to a sudden stop as Douglas opens the door and discovers Richie’s unconscious body. The camera pans down to the floor then back to Douglas’ face. He opens his mouth as if he is going to scream, but no sound was heard. The music then resumes as Richie is being sent to the emergency room. It adds to the sense of chaos out side the hospital as the Tenenbaums all rush to the hospital. It finally comes to an end as Margot arrives.

The blue tinted lighting mostly sets the mood of the scene, the unnatural lighting adds to the eeriness of the incident. The point of view shot that shows Richie’s bleeding wrists over the sink sends a stronger message to the audience as the red blood contrasts the cold blue lighting. Warm colors such as reds and yellows are used in the scenes before, as shown in costumes like the tracksuit Chas wears, and their red brick house in New York City. The vibrant colors paired with low kay or high ratio lighting communicates optimism, slightly excessive in the character’s brightness. High key or low ratio lighting is used; this helps to absorb the viewers into Richie’s sorrow. Although he later turned the bathroom light on, it does not brighten up the mood at all. It creates a spot light that only shines on his face, focusing on his facial expressions and the sadness in his eyes. Moreover, the background is relatively plain in compare to the rest of the set, for example, the fancy wallpapers in the apartment. The bathtub that sets off steam accentuates the strangeness of the scene.

As K. J. Donnelly suggests, “music works as a subtle medium of manipulation, which, while not consciously registered, undoubtedly exerts a considerable influence on film audiences”. (Donnelly 2005, 16) The use of “Needle in the Hay” as the background soundtrack primarily sets the mood for the scene. It also adds to the intensity of desperation that Richie expresses. “Your hand on his arm” hinting his heartbreak due to Margot’s marriage with Raleigh and affair with Eli Cash. (Metrolyrics.com 2014) Lyrics such as “So leave me alone “and “I’m taking the cure so I can be quiet” are thought to be related to suicide. (Metrolyrics.com 2014) More so as singer and composer Elliot Smith, who suffers from depression, stabbed himself to death two years after the film was released. (Pelly 2012, 14)

This mise- en- scene is highly significant to the movie, because it sparks off change in the Tenenbaum family – Richie confronts Margot about his feelings, Royal lets go of Etheline, Etheline accepts Henry’s proposal and so on. The film resumes to a lighter tone after the incident, even the death of Royal is presented rather light heartedly.

Throughout the movie, the Tenenbaums are usually shown doing the same thing, wearing the same outfit with few exceptions. Wes Anderson . Richie Tenenbaum sports a head band, polo shirt, wrist bands and shades even after his glory days as the brilliant tennis player “The Baumer”. (The Royal Tenenbaums 2001) He had been living on a boat for a year, trying to hide his love for his adopted sister Margot, but it was not enough. His decision of cutting off his hair and beard shows his determination to completely disassociate himself from her. The montage of his flashback is primarily composed with the images of his falcon Mordechai and Margot Tenenbaum – the root of his self destruction, the things that he loved. They both represent a paradox in his life. He believes that birds should be free, but is heartbroken when the falcon did not return. Margot represents forbidden love, and at the same time a possibility of true love. Raleigh telling Margot in the hospital “you nearly killed your poor brother” further confirms her being the primary reason of Richie’s suicide. (The Royal Tenenbaums 2001) (1428 words)

Works cited
American Empirical Pictures. “The Royal Tenenbaums.” Digital video, 2001. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pyBB7y8fDU (accessed 16 Mar 2014). Donnelly, K. J. The spectre of sound. London: BFI, 2005.

Metrolyrics.com. “Elliott Smith – Needle In The Hay Lyrics | MetroLyrics.” 2014. http://www.metrolyrics.com/needle-in-the-hay-lyrics-elliott-smith.html (accessed 16 Mar 2014). Orpen, Valerie. Film editing. London: Wallflower, 2003.

Pelly, Jenn. “Unreleased Elliott Smith, Deerhunter on Kickstarter Comp for Open Source Project CASH Music.” Pitchfork, 1March 2012, 2012.

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