Director Martin Scorsese made a remake to this psychological thriller film of “Cape Fear” released in 1961, to starring Robert Di Nero, Nick Nolte, Jessica Lange and many more in his 1991 film.
In which Robert Di Nero plays a convicted rapist called “Cady” who seeks vengeance at his former lawyer Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte), as he blames him for his 14 year imprisonment. Now he’s released, he stalks the Bowden family to teach Sam and his family a lesson or two…
Above is the opening credits for “Cape Fear”, which I will begin a textual analysis on how Martin Scorsese has used camera, mise-en-scene, sound and editing to express certain themes for his psychological thriller film.
So to begin with the sound perspective of water running is played from the start when the logo of Universal Pictures appears, then fades into a shot of moving water. Instantly, the audience are thrown off because usually you would be able to hear the iconic sound played when Universal Pictures is on screen, but because it isn’t, the audience are made to feel anxious. As a result, the audience can infer that the film is like no other, in the sense that it is completely different to any other thriller films; meaning that they will have high expectations for “Cape Fear”.
Then as the moving water fades in from black, the non-diegetic soundtrack music begins to play with very strong and powerful sounds of instruments, which automatically entice the audience’s attention to the white typography text that fades in. As the credits are in italics, the audience feel as if they are in a trance because the typography moves with the water.
Next, continuity editing is present when a large black bird appears (centre framed) and moves to the left of the screen. Here, the audience can connote that the bird is attacking it’s prey and by getting closer to the screen, it’s prey must be the audience. Therefore, it gives the impression that the antagonist in the film is dangerous as they will go after anyone in their path to get whatever it is that they want; the audience become fearful of this particular character.
Moreover, as the bird’s wing wipes the typography text off-screen, the second credit appears almost simultaneously afterwards, which can suggest that these actors in the film are linked together by something. Thus, the audience can infer that because the bird does this, perhaps it’s indicating that a mystery unfolds in “Cape Fear” as blackbirds are symbolic for secrets and mystery.
The tense music that plays as the title of the film fades in from the moving water background, leaves the audience intrigued to find out what’s going to happen; which the superimposition uncovers an extreme close up shot of someone’s eye. The audience can see clearly that this person is agitated by the way the shot emphasises the restlessness of them looking back and forth in a wide-eyed way.
It’s significant to note that the title “Cape Fear”doesn’t follow the Rule Of Thirds for the reason that although it’s the main object of focus due to the importance placed on a film’s name, it’s centre framed which goes against the rule. I think the Director wanted to divert the audience’s attention to the eye that appears in the lower section of the screen. As a result, emphasis is then created on this character’s fear, in which the audience engage more into the sequence because they begin to question themselves about what’s going to happen.
But then the film returns back to the eerie music it started with as a credit appears on the left of the screen, fading out to another credit appearing in the centre and the same for the last credit on screen to the right. This makes it seem like there’s a distraction of some sort, where the audience are excited at one point, to next feeling clueless; suggesting that the film will make the audience experience many emotions due to possible plot twists.
The audience are introduced to the antagonist of “Cape Fear” at 1:32, when the water reveals a man looking quite villainous by the way in which his eyes are shut, not looking at the character; metaphorically representing how he is immoral, not understanding his own evil actions committed. So as the close up shot has a short duration, the audience are left with very little detail about this man, only that he is malevolent, this creates a mysterious atmosphere surrounding his character. The sound adds to this idea because it’s quite raucous and shrill, reflective of the damage/destruction the antagonist of the film can cause.
The audience see the antagonist again, but this time less clearer as the shot of him is superimposed with water, where the reflection blurs and hides his face; an indication of how the antagonist is preventing himself from being seen. This reinforces the theme of secrecy and mystery because the audience are left guessing information about why the man is concealing himself and for what reason; perhaps he is hiding from the truth being exposed on something bad he has done.
Furthermore, the thriller genre is established through the use of shadows in the next scene which represents the evilness of the antagonist, mainly because shadows symbolise a darker side to humanity, and because it creates a foreboding atmosphere. In which the audience feel apprehensive because of the potential harm this character can cause to others.
As a mysterious object falls down, the screen is filled with red and because the opening credits have taken place at this location of a river/lake, the audience can imply that the red represents blood; hinting at the film having a gory aspect to it, where characters may experience trauma. So the colour red having negative connotations, works well with the setting of unclear water, because it portrays the message of fearing the unknown, to the audience.
Then, once the Director’s name fades out, a close up shot of eyes appears, still in the red filter; reinforcing the idea of blood and danger. But then, as the music plays an instrument with a powerful beat the colour changes to looking like the shot has an X-ray effect to it. Therefore, the audience are made to feel like something bad is going to happen to this person, who is revealed to be a young girl dressed in white. Which the audience can imply the connotations of her white costume, expresses her vulnerability, innocence and purity, giving the impression that she will be the protagonist of the film and thus in danger of the evil antagonist.
As this character beings to speak, the soundtrack music that was previously playing fades out and the small amount of dialogue used as the camera zooms from the close up shot of just her eyes, to revealing the whole of her face (medium shot), creates suspense as the audience want to continue to watch the film in order to find out what will happen to her.
However, before her face is revealed a black and white filter is used to reinforce to the audience that the film centres around the battle between good vs evil, which is evident through the colour white representing good as the female character is presented in, whilst the juxtaposing colour of black is expressed through shadows to exhibit the darkness and evilness of the male antagonist.
Therefore, I find that using a small amount of dialogue in the opening credits is effective in making the audience feel tense and also excited to see the events that will follow in the film; whilst the montage editing gives clues about certain props/places that will become relevant later in the film.