Thursday, June 02, 2011

John Doe Footnote

(A follow up to the previous post - expanding a bit on some of the remarks about Meet John Doe. This comes from the paper that belongs with the images in this post.)

To quote the last post: "I think Capra tries to take a look at how fascism works. I think this is quite explicit at times - the big John Doe rally in the rain strikes me as a fairly deliberate parody of Triumph of the Will - or at least, of Nazi iconography" - here is what I mean:

The rally has all the trimmings of a big Nazi rally - huge crowds, radio mics and reporters, cameras and lights and hoopla - but all this imagery is undercut. The rally occurs in a torrential downpour - neither the bright daylight of the daytime scenes at Nuremburg, or the dramatic torchlight of the night scenes. John Doe arrives, passing like Hitler through the masses waiting for him, but unlike Hitler, with almost no fanfare. No one recognizes him as he passes through the crowd; Capra shoots his progress from a long distance in one shot, emphasizing his anonymity. Only when he reaches the stage does anyone recognize him. He then stands in front of the crowd, in front of a microphone, expected to speak; Capra frames him alone on the podium, in shots that do recall Riefenstahl’s shots of Hitler, but to opposite effect. Doe is alone, isolated (like Hitler in that, too), but with the opposite of Hitler’s commanding gaze and presence. He looks down, his face is desperate, and of course, he is sopping wet - a dripping, downcast man who doesn’t know what to say. The crowds are not arranged in ornaments, at least not in the lighting Capra provides - they are a sodden mass of people, obscured by umbrellas and hats and newspapers held over their heads, the whole thing swallowed up in mist and rain and darkness. The whole rally is a farce - the whole story a very complex mass of fraud and delusion, cynicism mixed with misapplied idealism, and this its point of collapse. Capra makes superb use of the imagery of Nazi propaganda, and of mass ornaments, undermining them, to expose the sordidness of the rally, not to mention the Nazis.

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