House of Cards (1947)

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*. Good luck finding information on this one. As of the date of this post it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page yet. Nor does the director Joseph Vogel, whose only film I believe this is.
*. I don’t have much I can add to the brief liner notes provided with the Kino DVD. Vogel was born in Poland in 1911 and came to America in 1927. He was mainly known as a painter. He acknowledged being influenced by the surrealists.
*. The link with surrealism is obvious. We begin with a man lying in bed, which introduces the possibility that the whole film is a dream. The various actions we’re witness to, like the murder scene that takes place later, play out like dreams as well, with the figures looking like sleepwalkers or dancers.
*. The film takes the structure of a loosely-linked series of vignettes that recall Buñuel and that make you think that 1947 is a little late to be coming to this particular party.
*. There is the suggestion of a narrative. At some point earlier it seems the Man killed a woman (I say earlier only because he is clean-shaven in this scene, whereas later he has a dirty growth of beard). The murder is being reported in the papers and the Man is on the run, if not from the police then from inner demons.
*. The images, like all dream imagery, are ambiguous. They might be threatening and sinister, but perhaps not. It’s hard to say. Figures appear like those from an alternative pack of tarot cards (the house of cards of the title?): a man sitting on top of a ladder reading a newspaper, a woman at a telescope, a pair of fencers and a blind man, a dancer, a mourning woman dressed in black leading children away.

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*. The ambiguous nature of these figures is reflected in the Man’s relation to them. He is an observer. The film begins with him looking out of a window at a group of children. We cut back to him half a dozen times and each time the shot of him watching from the window is different, while his point of view remains the same. As with the scene where he looks through the telescope and sees an eye looking back at him, our normal sense of perspective has been reversed. Instead of there being an image created out of several different enjambed points of view, it is the observer who is fragmented and indeterminate.
*. That the film concludes on the deck of the Griffith Observatory has some significance then, though it’s also just a great place to shoot a movie (it would appear most famously in Rebel Without a Cause).
*. Along the way there are a few attempts at odd visual effects, none of which work because they’re not filmed very well and it’s very hard to see what is going on in any of them. One suspects Vogel wasn’t quite sure what he was doing.
*. I don’t think this movie is coherent enough or strong enough visually to set itself apart from a lot of other (earlier) experimental filmmaking, and this probably explains why it’s not as well known. I don’t think there’s any correct reading or explanation to it, but the viewer creates their own meaning depending on their own personal background and point of view. How many people are looking out of that window? All of us.

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