Image and Symbol > Film

The Shadow in Movies, Art, and Music


One of the main subjects of a course I took in college called Art of the Film was the use of shadows in black and white films.  Shadows are placed on purpose by the directors of these films to make the audience fell uncomfortable and on edge.  Often these shadows are where they shouldn't be and are even used as a foreshadow of a future occurrence in the movie. 

Perhaps the best at the use of shadows was Orson Welles.  Of course, he scared the whole world with his broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds as he didn't warn anyone that it was just a broadcast, not an actual event.

His most famous film, Citizen Kane, depicts a very rich man, purported to be William Randolph Hearst.  Even though he was rich and had everything he could want, he had a shadow side where he often dreamed of being a youth and sliding on snow on his sled, Rosebud.  This shows his desire to return to his carefree days and to shed all these acquisitions he is now burdened with.  The movie is full of shadows, odd camera angles and eerie music that helps to show his uneasiness.

Another film that Orson Welles starred and help direct was: The Third Man.  This post-WWII film depicted a wolf in sheep's clothing, play by him.  He was a spy who was sent to do unknown naughty things only implied by him but never actually described.  It is a very scary movie without any monsters.

Many of the first films made were monster movies.  Count Dracula, Frankenstein, King Kong were some of the favorite subjects.  People really wanted to be scared and paid there hard-earned money to go to them.  Even during the depression, there was a market for these films.  There was even use of a tesla-coil in some of these movies that would shoot a bolt of lightning across a room.

One of my favorite scary movies again without monsters was the original Cape Fear.  Robert Mitchum portrays a very nasty, mean man.  He was perfect for the role and should have one an academy award.  But, back then they only gave awards to actors playing good guys.

In the early days of television with the Alfred Hitchcock hour, The Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits there was a large amount of scary, quirky subjects.  When I went to college I took a course in high energy physics and found that the actual formula was: E = mc² + p²c², with out the "p" you have a static universe with no light.  Star Trek was a welcome relief for the ET world as it depicted a more user-friendly alien, Mr. Spock.  He was different and look weird, but was logical.

The shadow side in paintings can be found in the expressionist paintings of Edvard Munch and others of his genre.  My favorite is: The Scream. 

This painting depicts a scary, ET-like being that is, of course, screaming seemingly with great fear of something.  Some have suggested that this depicts a precursor  to the coming world wars and the nuclear age with a UFO or two thrown in.

The shadow side for music is that at-least when my parents and grandparents were growing up, naughty music that you danced to on Saturday night  (oommp pa pa).  The good music was played by the organist in church the next day.  Somber, non-joyous hymns were the preference in the churches on Sunday. 

If you listened to Jazz or blues music you were considered to be a derelict or a drug addict.  Country western was ok and some banjo playing was allowed.

Then along came Elvis and ruined the whole system.  He snuck across Beale Street with some of his buddies to see Chuck Berry and some good old rock and roll.  Later he got his own look and, as BB King said was even a passable singer.   Now it was ok to be naughty and nice. 

Then came the 60's and 70's and music became more acceptable and much more varied and fun.   Now we can listen to any kind of music we want and dance til the break of dawn.

Matt Koeske:
Hi smart_s,

Another famous "shadow" movie would be Nosferatu.

The film is actually in public domain.  You can watch it online at these links:

Although perhaps the most famous, Elvis wasn't the first white appropriator of black music.  Some of the very first jazz recordings were made by white musicians who had adopted (what they considered to be) black musical styles.  There was even a "debate" about who were the originators of Jazz.  Thankfully, the black musicians were so superior (in many ways, especially innovation), they weren't eclipsed by white arrogance and prejudice.  But early on, jazz and blues records made by blacks were sold as "race records" intended only for African-American buyers.

Ken Burns' Jazz documentary has a lot to say about early Jazz and race relations.  Some Jazz critics didn't like it because Burns doesn't give much attention to post-bop and free jazz . . . but I think these critics missed the point.  Like much that Burns does, Jazz was really about America (and especially American race relations) as seen through the lens of Jazz.  I thought it was very good.

The 60s and 70s gave us a lot of fusion movements in all kinds of music.  Some of these efforts were truly great, but there is still a distinct difference between the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin and the blues singers (like Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, or even Robert Johnson) who inspired them.  Some blues aficionados have complained that these white (often British) blues-rock musicians didn't give enough credit where credit was due.  There's probably some truth to that . . . but I have enjoyed some of the white interpretations of blues music very much.  Still, they don't really provide the same feeling as the original, pre-war, acoustic blues.  They are really two different kinds of music.

But in general, I'm all in favor of seeing the Blues as an essential element of American culture for all races.  White people overstep when they try to "steal" the Blues . . . but anyone can learn from the Blues, learn how to feel one's way through sorrow and loss into a kind of "potent grief".  The Blues is a mighty engine of creation and connectedness.


PS: I am moving this thread to the film section (although it could be in Music and Art, too).  This forum on the Group Shadow is for something very different.  It's meant as a place where the community that gathers here can look into its own darkness and try to keep consciousness and diversity in the group.  It is more of a therapeutic vessel than a forum about the shadow archetype.

Since our community is still very small, we haven't had enough time to form much of a shadow yet . . . but it will likely happen eventually, and when it does, I'd like to stay vigilant about it.

something more that I couldn't attach previously

Tesla Coil by Nikola Tesla, electricity without wires

Shades, colors in a film now are very widely used. I think that it is progress at cinema.


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