Cinematic Storytelling (4)

Below is yet another example of narrative paintings. This one by Wes Christensen and titled “John’s Dilemma.” As strange as I know this will sound, the painting above brings to mind two films: The Conversation and Raging Bull.


Notice all of the straight, rigid lines – the walls, the shelves, the books, the television, and even the sculptures. This reminds me of Harry Caul’s personal environment in The Conversation, a movie that came out of Francis Ford Coppola’s interest in repetition through symbols of the circular.

To quote Jennifer Van Sijll in Cinematic Storytelling,

“What is being repeated is man’s emotional weakness represented by deceit and betrayal…

Harry is a surveillance expert. His outer person is symbolized by the linear. He is rational, technically competent, detached, and remote. Coppola gives him clothes and a physical environment made up of straight, elongated lines.

Harry’s job is dependent on the circular spinning wheels of the tape recorder. As long as he stays detached from their content, he is competent and stable.”

Harry, of course, gets drawn into the emotional lives of his subjects, which is his undoing, as the surveillance expert becomes the surveillance subject. There’s a scene toward the end where he tries to change the outcome and enters the building of the man who hired him. According to Jennifer Van Sijll in Cinematic Storytelling,

“He enters a building that is linear on the outside, but circular on the inside – just like Harry. Once inside, he is confronted on the circular stairwell by corporate thugs. Below him is a floor tiled in a circular pattern. Once ejected from the building, he is safe again. He walks along the linear structure almost disappearing into its gray lined walls.”


In Wes Christensen’s painting, did you notice the image on the TV set, which is from the Psycho Shower Scene?

Midway into Raging Bull, we see Jake La Motta try to fix his television set. He’s begun to lose his way mentally, and he’s become increasingly paranoid of those around him. Scorsese uses the intermittent TV signal to illustrate Jake’s intermittent sanity and escalating mental agitation.

When his wife enters and kisses Jake’s brother on the cheek, Jake’s paranoia is set off and the TV goes completely haywire.

To sum it up – if we are to take from all of those straight, rigid lines that John, like Harry Caul, is perhaps a rational, technically competent, detached, and remote individual, then the image on the television tells us that there is something very disturbing at the core of his “dilemma.”

And in fact, the other man looking at the television set appears to be quite disturbed with his hand covering his eyes.

Or… perhaps John’s just not having any luck with his garage sale.

– Mystery Man

In his own words, Mystery Man was “famous yet anonymous, failed yet accomplished, brilliant yet semi-brilliant. A homebody jetsetting around the world. Brash and daring yet chilled with a twist.”

MM blogged for nearly 4 years and tweeted for only 4 months, then disappeared – mysteriously.

The Story Department continues to republish his best articles on Monday.

Here, you’ll also be informed about the release of his screenwriting book.

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