Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Life Lessons

     In the short film Life Lessons by Martin Scorsese, the iris effect is used a few times in seemingly arbitrary places.  But from watching the film a second time, after already knowing what it's about, I came to a conclusion that this effect is used to focus on things, places, and people where the protagonist, Lionel Dobie, is sharply attuned in his life.  There is an iris effect when we see his paints, which is clearly a focal point in his life, and when we see him standing alone in his studio; symbolizing his narcissism -- which we see later in the film from his inability to tell Paulette, his assistant and love interest, simply that her work is "good," out of fear of tampering his artistic integrity.
     Other places we see the iris effect is when Lionel see's Paulette for the first time after her trip when he picks her up in the airport.  It centers in on her and becomes slow motion -- the time drawing out longer than it probably actually is.  Paulette is one of Lionel's obsessions, just as his painting and his ego is.  We see the iris effect once again on Paulette's foot, before Lionel says he feels a strong urge to kiss it.  Not only does the iris effect represent his obsessions, but his obsessive impulses; painting being one of them.  He feels an enslaving urge to paint when he feels repressed or convulsing with emotion.  Then at the very end, we see the iris effect when he's at his opening gallery and meets a new women to whom he offers a job as his assistant.  And thus begins the cycle all over again, arising from a brand new obsession.


  1. The iris effect can be analyzed in many different ways, like yours with Lionel's obsession with his art and muse, his sexual desire, the vicious circle that he is trapped in, etc. I appreciate that you got right into it, laying all the cards out and letting us pick which one we want. You have a specific aesthetic, but show us a lot of different sub-aesthetics that are left to interpretation. What do you think the ultimate use of the iris effect? Desire, obsession, a cool effect, all of the above? Good job Karenna!

  2. Great post! I can really tell you paid attention to how Scorcese used this effect. My main question is, WHY specifically did he choose this effect? If he used it for so many different things, what about it is significant other than Lionell being "sharply attuned to" it? What kind of feeling is it trying to evoke, and how aesthetically does it tie in to the rest of the film? Wah!

  3. CLARIFY: It's clear that your post is going to be about the use of the iris effect in the film. I'm wondering - would anyone reading the post not in our class know what you mean by iris effect?

    VALUE: Very smart to stick to just one element and explore it more in depth. You give most of the example of the use (I think there may have been one more in there somewhere in the film, but I could be wrong and you got them all). You also told us how you think this effect is functioning - putting our attention on things that he is focused on.

    CONCERNS: Even though you give us all the examples (or almost all) you breeze through them without going in depth enough with them. When you give a film example you should describe the scene and the effect, then explain how it is functioning and how this is helping to prove your central idea. It may seem like you are going overboard in explaining - you are not. Good critical analysis is thorough and specific. You probably do the most explaining with the mention of her foot.

    I think it's essential to give a very brief explanation when you use terms like "iris effect." I also think it's a missed opportunity that you did not include and reflect on what Scorsese said himself was his motivation (which was in the assigned reading). It would have actually helped to back up your idea, I think. Or perhaps you could have said "this is what he stated his intention was, but this was the effect for me as the viewer" which might be interesting.

    Overall the post is pretty short and sparse. Even when you pick just one element I expect you to be in depth with your analysis.

    SUGGEST: I would recommend you also give a brief synopsis of the film plot so that any readers unfamiliar with the film can still follow your post and analysis.