Arts & Entertainment

Scene Discussion: Out of the Past

Martin Scorsese

Lesson time 02:23 min

Martin analyzes the visual language of this scene from Jacques Tourneur's Out of the Past, explaining the director's use of light and shadow. Martin discusses camera tilts and Robert Mitchum's performance in this scene.

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Topics include: Scene From Out of the Past (1947) Directed by Jacques Tourneur


I'm a great admirer of Tourneur's films. So here you see an extraordinary example of it in terms of the use of light and shadow, and the subtlety of his visual language, particularly in the next cut here. Dark and shadowed, he looks down. The camera simply tilts, and you realize there's a body there. It cuts back up, full light on his face. Now the camera stays behind the see-through curtain, tracking to the right. And really, the whole scene becomes about the way Robert Mitchum moves through the shadows and the light and how he "cleans up," quote unquote, this horrific scene, so to speak. This scene is something, again, with the shadows, very strong shadows. One of the key elements in this film is how-- well, it's the epitome of cool, in a way. And it's processed through Mitchum. You know, young people have seen the picture, and suddenly turned and say at the end, boy, that's the coolest film I've ever seen. It's restrained, and yet extremely powerful and rich, as opposed to the camera moves, for example, in 8 1/2 or the very bold use of movement and color in Vertigo This seems to be the opposite. If anything were to become iconic of film noir, this picture is it, obviously. I think I was five years old, and I saw this in a theater. I was concerned. I think it was on the bottom half of a double bill on a re-release of Bambi, actually. And both were RKO releases, so it could be. And I remember my aunt who had taken me to see Bambi. I was complaining that this film was going on too long. And she told me to be quiet, because she was really enjoying it. But I'll never forget the body being put in the closet and the impression it left on me, the picture, because of the use of shadows and light. I think it may have been the first true noir that I saw-- five or six years old, inadvertently.

About the Instructor

Martin Scorsese drew his first storyboard when he was eight. Today he’s a legendary director whose films from Mean Streets to The Wolf of Wall Street have shaped movie history. In his first-ever online film class, the Oscar winner teaches his approach, from storytelling to editing to working with actors. He deconstructs films and breaks down his craft, changing how you make and watch movies.

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Martin Scorsese

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