Every Moment in the Universe: An Analytical Analysis of Pull My Daisy
In the opening credit sequence of Pull My Daisy-a film co-directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie and written and narrated by Jack Kerouac-the lens captures the aesthetics of a home. It is in mild disarray with articles of clothing on the furniture and artwork lounging around like an overstayed guest. Yet the atmosphere remains curiously carefree and improvisational, like the roots of the scene's jazz music soundtrack. Presented in a pan shot the camera sweeps a room in the painter's loft; in the still of the morning the frame focuses on a circular table, well lit and with objects about it like an abstract still life before giving rise to a bustling woman and the scene that followed.
Repetition is a powerful tool across mediums; it is used in this film and is presented both subtly and blatantly. "Early morning in the universe" (Kerouac, Pull My Daisy 21) is the phrase that begins the [abstract] prose poetry that is Kerouac's narrative. And although it may seem that the universe relates to an endless void, it is rather a solid frame of reference. As though what is normally referred to as "the center of the universe" [the apartment in this case] is the universe in its entirety. Such is supported by the camera techniques applied throughout the film. Kerouac specifically incorporates the universe twice within the narrative and on both occasions, and as a circle implies a whole, a complete entity, Frank proceeds to represent the universality of the phrase with a 360 degree pan. The apartment is the universe, and the characters are its only inhabitants. And although small segments of the world outside [of the apartment] are seen, the audience never ventures there, but is immersed in the musings of the characters, while the characters are lost within themselves, their questions and their imagination.
The way Frank edited the piece let alone his composition of the frames themselves shows a deliberate effort to reinforce Kerouac's words, such as by the aforementioned example. And in addition; the character's feelings, thoughts, their secrets and unique personality traits are manifested through Frank's angles more so than any other element, including the narrative itself. These overt revelations of the characters were made possible by the way Frank incorporated symbolism into something as simple as his choice of the angle to carry meaning and representation.
Frank, as is noticeable early on in the piece, chooses medium shots to dominate in telling the story. It separates the viewer, making them feel like an unseen observer, this is a characteristic of many of Frank's films and photographs as he himself has expressed a feeling of being an outsider and observer of the world around him. More important than the apparent consistency of medium shots are the invaluable close-ups, without which, any analysis would disintegrate in strength and validity, and become a cornucopia of propositions and guesses rather than an analysis of the purpose and a conclusion. Ergo, the close-ups were some of my favorite moments; they gave me insight into the characters and what they weren't saying and what Kerouac didn't mention. I derive that the wife, who exhibits an initial distaste of the behavior of the beat poet's lifestyle represents the middle-class ideology and opinions [towards the beats] for she later displays a blatant rejection of them.
The wife was neutral and passive with the group but when the bishop arrives she greats him and his mother and sister with infectious warmth that glows with her admiration for him, for she is the one who invited them over to her and Milo's home. She lowers her guard while everyone greats one another and situates herself at the table. The bishop's mother and sister sit on the couch, in addition to already being physically isolated from the group they are forced to sit farther apart when Allen awkwardly sits between them. The camera embellishes their discomfort by providing close-ups on the group's laps and hands, the mother's face is also framed alone and she seems the most distant of all, whether she feels ostracized by the group or if she finds her situation purely banal is unclear, I would support the former, however, by her efforts to insert herself within the group's activities when-after music is mention-she stands and requests to play the organ.
The Wife's content is short lived as Gregory immediately starts to question the bishop, not maliciously, however for he seems honestly curious but he also seems intoxicated. The questions and the state of her husband Milo's guests embarrasses the Wife, a close up of her and Milo while one of the beats asks a particularly superfluous question shows not only their personal discomfort situation but between them their body language and behavior towards one another would suggest their displeasure or even resentment. This suspicion is later confirmed during the second 360 degree pan, which allows us to see the entire universe of the room and the internal mentality of the characters. The Wife internally expresses her discontent with Milo and then we are presented with a cut-away where we see her physically hit him, but we are back to the table in time to hear, "unrequited love's a bore." The image of her violent outburst was a glimpse into her mind envisioning the act. To see Milo's tall motionless frame in the background against the Wife in the foreground, their images set against one another also juxtaposes the ideology the character's represent.
Although I found the use of light to be uncoordinated and was unable to attribute it as a purposeful depiction of art I was keenly aware to the use of sound and music. In addition to Kerouac's narrative adopting unique qualities for almost every character, significant choices were made for the music and its entrances and cut-offs. Each group of characters had their own theme music that [usually] accompanied their entrance and it had an impact in the perception of the character, for there was a correlation to their personality, whether positive or negative to the energy and style of the music.
As Frank's first film there is a stunning correlation to his photography work, although Pull My Daisy is more classically framed, the action and emotion which he captures are unique. Although this film may represent realism in the sense of the raw example of Beat Culture of the deliberately realistic quality that was Frank's known style, viewing this film was an intentional abstract adventure to viewing content that was realistic.
--Marina Coddaire, 2010.