A Knife in the Water: Editing

Knife in the Water: Editing
Paul Fischer
Portfolio, Cinema Studies

The cuts in Knife in the Water are mostly long, and luxurious, or they seem to mix sporadically with the jazzy soundtrack to build tension. Polanski’s shots, as discussed in mis-en-scene, are carefully crafted, and the editing helps to impart the sense of sweltering heat, the lazy privileged day, and the ambitions of two rivals spiraling out of control.

As the hitchhiker wades through rushes, which cross him in sharp, interweaving lines, the jazz is fast, and distracted (5a). A fight breaks out between the sailors soon after, quick shots follow in succession, until the exasperated hitch hiker runs off, with the others following him.

When the boat slowly sails across the lake, Polanski offers long, establishing shots, accompanied by slow music and long shots of the sailors wasting time, lying around or examining a map. As the intensity of the music and action in the movie pick up, along with the tension between the characters, the cuts become shorter and more hectic. At the end of the movie, as the wife confesses her unfaithfulness, the shots relax again, slowing and focusing on establishing elements (the car, trees) instead of the actors.
A characteristic of the film is Polanski’s use of an actor or object to frame his shot, focusing the shot while still exposing the audience to all elements of the scene. This is critical to his development of the fighting men. The tensions that slowly build up are emphasized by Polanski’s flawless grasp of depth and spacing, which he uses extensively to translate the emotions of anger and competition in the film. He is able to use one actor as a sort of reflector, the surprise on the husband’s face imparts a cinematic value that the audience might perceive as coming from the back of the hitchhiker’s head.

A Knife In The Water Annotated Article

Paul Fischer
Knife in Water Portfolio Annotated Article 

Knife in the Water (1962)

Screen: Poland’s ‘Knife in the Water’:Drama Involves Three Persons in a Boat

Published: October 29, 1963

THE odd sort of personal hostility that smolders in many men who have trouble asserting their egos in this complex modern world is casually, cryptically and even comically dissected by the probing camera of Roman Polanski in his “Knife in the Water,” which opened at the Beekman yesterday.

This is especially skillful in this film, filmography was central to ensuring that the themes of masculinity and marital strife are portrayed using only three actors (these tensions can be seen in nearly every shot except 2a, an establishing shot, and 7a-e, which show the three relaxing and enjoying the day). The stellar performance of all three actors, especially the writer who obviously had experience in silent film (the shots of just the forehead and eyes that exude menace, 5a and 17a), also are critical to delivering the film’s message.

This strange little film from Poland, which was one of the more popular among the 21 multi-national features shown at the First New York Film Festival last month, is the first of that lot of offbeat pictures to be presented commercially here. And it eminently justifies the interest in its acid contents and in the techniques of its young director that it stirred.
It is interesting, after Polanski’s long successful career, to see how his contemporary critics viewed him: young, new and risky. I don’t think he ever stopped pushing the envelope. In the time period, the nude scene of 19b, or partially nude scene from 12 along with the theme of adultery make the film very risque.
Using his naturalistic camera as though it were an outsized microscope set up to observe the odd behavior of three people completely isolated for 24 hours aboard a weekend pleasure boat, Mr. Polanski evolves a cryptic drama that has wry humor, a thread of suspense, a dash of ugly and corruscating evil — and also a measure of tedium because of the purposeful monotony of its pace.
The soundtrack worked well with the tempo of the film (at 2a, as well as 4a and 6a, this is evident), that could be pointed out here. The attention to cinematography is also clearly apparent, I really like the idea of the camera being a microscope for the characters because the cinematography works seamlessly with the story.
What he has done, as coauthor as well as director, is merely place these people—an edgy, snarling husband, his cool and calmly critical wife and a surly and sassy young hitchhiker whom they have picked up en route to their boat — within the controlled confinement of a trim little sailing sloop and there has them work out their aggressions and their sly sexual rivalries.
He also raises questions about motive and prescience that inspire the viewer to analyze the movie even further (right to 16a, it is easy to believe the film will ultimately be violent, instead of sexual). Also the fact that Polanski helped write the piece is obvious as the direction of the film reinforces the script and plot.
From their first harsh exchange of hostilities as they almost collide on the road, the husband and his virtually shanghaied passenger casually taunt each other and contend to show their superior skills and prowess, while the smirking wife silently observes. The husband vaunts himself as a sailor and mocks the clumsiness of the youth; the latter shows off his agility with a murderous switchblade knife.
The wife represents on some level, the good and the bad of female nature (see difference between shots 7d and 19b), at least as Polanski sees it. She looks at the two testosterone driven men fighting, and smirks to herself, and thinks they both are awful. In the end, however, her actions are by most counts the least ethical.
Comical and trifling at the outset, these rivalries between the two men appear to be no more consequential than the jostling of two hostile kids, daring one another to step over a line. And the casual goings and comings of the pretty young wife about the boat, innocently but very seductively patched in a two-piece bathing suit, appear no more pertinent to the wrangling than the picnic lunch she serves.
I think the reviewer is getting to that, in a way here. He is right of course, as he says in the next paragraph that the seductiveness of the woman reflects on Polanski’s own psychology. It is also a classic study in the slow buildup of actions to convince the viewer of a value.
But Mr. Polanski is sneaky. In carefully guarded ways, he has the competition become more vicious, the distraction of the woman more intense, until suddenly he has a situation where hostilities flare into hate and the two men vie with each other in a series of water shenanigans that thinly veil their lethal inclinations and the hideous possibilities of death.
The water (17c), like the switchblade (16a) is a symbol. One of the survival and difficult life the hitch-hiker lives, the other of a life of luxury pressure cooked by an unhappy wife. When the two collide, going head to head, the knife cuts deep.
In this situation, he flashes the chemistry of sex—the natural bestowal by the woman of her token of sympathy upon the more pathetic of these rivals and then her ultimate display of contempt for both immature male creatures. It makes for a neat ironic twist.
Especially since she is the one who ends up committing adultery, though one might say the responsibility lies with the hitch-hiker. It is probable that he planned everything from when he first saw tension between the married couple. He says, “I knew you would call me back… I’m a mind reader.”
As I say, the style is so casual and random at the start that the clambering of only three people about a sailboat tends to become monotonous. And unless one is quickly perceptive of the subtle drama Mr. Polanski is about, the use of attending their behavior may be disastrously missed.
This helps make the movie easy to watch again and again. It’ s obvious that nearly every shot and action have meaning in the film, from the setting of the lunch, to the slow escalation (5a), descalation and re-escalation of tensions on the boat. The way it is done, it’s almost sexual in form as well as content, with back and forth between friendliness and near hatred, working like a spiral to an inevitable outcome.
But the performances are engaging. Leon Niemczyk is mephitic and intense as the nasty husband, Zygmunt Malanowicz is dry and droll as the young man and Jolanta Umecka is obligingly attractive and provokingly scornful as the wife. The décor is entertaining, if you can overlook the facts that the sailing is laughably sloppy and that there are no other boats on the lake.
The acting is one of the best aspects of this film. The actors obviously are skilled, and it is easy to be drawn into their performance.
Once you realize that this is a devilish dissection of man in one of his more childish and ridiculous aspects, you should get some laughs and tingles out of it.
It is too bad about that Polish dialogue. The English subtitles are good.
Polish is a really pretty language, I never really heard it before. This is not, however, a very good conclusion to an otherwise excellent review. The review did a great job of summing up the film and also introduced some interesting new information for me
Paul Fischer 5/16/10 6:13 PM 

A Knife in the Water Critical Review

A Knife in the Water
Critical Review
Paul Fischer

The form is simple, with only three actors and shot in black and white. But “A Knife in the Water” is recognized as one of the greatest debut films in cinema history. It is a masterwork with beautiful cinematography and convincing acting led by new star director Roman Polanski. The film, while not as dark as Polanski’s later works such as “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Pianist”, shows his complete mastery of the human psyche. It primarily explores the childish feuding between two men, and a younger man’s competition for the wife.

The film style gives power to the script, which makes sense because Roman Polanski also helped to write the piece. His involvement on many different levels is apparent, benefiting the film. Its long shots of the characters relating to their surroundings makes the film’s progression organic. The conflict between the husband and the hitchhiker is brilliantly illustrated in sweeping shots on the water. The woman, Christina, is portrayed in a sensual light, further adding tension to the two men’s relationship. The misogynistic perspective of the film puts Christina on an unwilling pedestal and illustrates the traditional patriarchal society of Polanski.
Despite the origins in communist Poland, the film incorporates American Jazz throughout. Christopher Komenda’s score is mostly made up of small-ensemble jazz. This evokes the sounds of America in the 1920’s, comparing the aimlessness of the characters at sea to those of the so-called ‘Lost Generation’ during that time period. The artistically selected black-and-white filming further adds to this Film Noire atmosphere. The smoky air of the film prevails to the end when the young hitchhiker seduces the man’s wife.
Polanski’s film is a brilliant tale about relationships on the open sea. Its dramatic look at the human spirit extends beyond the Iron Curtain from whence it came.

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