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The Gesture: Adding Hands as a Means of Expression

Some artists have concentrated on human hands as subject matter because they too are very expressive. It is no surprise that the deaf communicate using their hands or that hands are used as a pivotal part of body language for humans, the way dogs use their tails. Our hands are also our primary way of experiencing touch. Touch and emotion typically combine in romantic love, even romantic love depicted in non-explicit sexual form. There are many artists and photographers who spent their whole careers on faces and/or hands without feeling any need to use the rest of the body. Hands are that expressive.

City of Angels:
This is the American remake of the earlier German language film, Wings Of Desire (directed by Wim Wenders, 1988). In the German version, a male angel falls in love with a circus trapeze artist and becomes a mortal to join her. In the American version, the woman was a cardiologist played by Meg Ryan. Bruno Ganz was the angel in Germany whereas Nicholas Cage played him in the American one. I prefer the German version, which won the Cannes Film Festival's top prize. My sister prefers the American version. Most viewers of both films divide in similar fashion so there is no unanimity of opinion.

The man is standing behind the women again. This time her head is tilted towards him. The eyes of both are closed. In a departure from Titanic, however, notice the emphasis on the hands. His hand is touching her and she is touching herself as if she wants to hold the sensations inside herself. She probably cannot see him yet; she may only be able to sense him, to sense that he is there as her angel.
The rest of the cover image is of the other angels of whom Cage is one. There are no clothes showing on Ryan but this seems to be done so as not to clutter the image instead of to appeal to some lascivious male book/video/DVD salesman! In fact, she looks very pure in this image. We also see both of their faces in a three-quarters view which gives us more expression than a profile shot would. The German film version is currently not available.



The Piano:
Although the film itself was in full color, the cover image is in sepia tones. This is an artistic choice and in this cover makes the image simpler and sparer. Simplicity and a sense of the spare are good to aim for when one is presenting a very compelling image that does not need any other effect to detract from its impact. Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunter are two powerhouse actors, both in this film and on this cover. It is a historical set in New Zealand. Hunter's character is gradually seduced by Keitel's character and the main instrument of seduction is her piano, also featured on the cover, which her husband (played by the equally powerful Sam Neill) left to rot on the beach when she arrived to fulfill their arranged marriage. Their eyes are down or closed. However, Hunter has an expression of sheer yet quiet delight on her face. Her hand and arm have come up to touch him in response to his touching her. Notice that you can see only a bit of her clothing but this is to contribute to the simplicity of the image. The clothing blurs to pure light, which provides a far more pleasing separation of images.



The Age of Innocence:
I cannot read this author, Edith Wharton, as I find her prose impenetrable. However, the Martin Scorsese film version, with Daniel Day-Lewis as the leading man, is a knockout. Although the other characters are good, this is his movie. He brilliantly captures his character's love for the woman he can't have and his resulting pain. Although I love all of Day-Lewis's work, this is my favorite. Notice the way he dominates the cover image. We can see more of him than anyone. He is married to Ryder's character but in love with the already married, but separated, Pfeiffer character. Notice the grace and passion in the gesture of his hand and the total absorption in her on his face. He is totally covered in clothing but that is his big problem in the movie: his extremely restrictive, wealthy society has him all contained, buttoned-up and under control. Only Ryder has her eyes wide open in this image because only she is incapable of true love and thus capable of seeing the situation clearly. Out of the three characters, she is the manipulator who does not believe in the self-sacrifice aspect of love.

Scorsese is a very artistic director so I am not surprised to see he went with a very artistic image process. This image is a photo transfer. The photograph itself was transferred to a textured piece of expensive watercolor paper. This gives the image a wonderfully diffuse effect that could not be achieved on photographic paper. One can tell it is a photo transfer by the green frame that runs around the image. That's what the process leaves behind.


Ever After:
This is a feminist version of Cinderella with Drew Barrymore cast in the leading role. She saves herself from any crises in the movie and even manages to save the prince once. The cover focuses almost entirely on her since it is her story. The prince is shown but there is much less of him and he appears besotted with her rather than her being desperate for him. Not only are their heads touching but he is also caressing the side of her face with his hand. The old-fashioned looking border, which frames the image, indicates the fairy tale aspect. This is a beautiful cover which really draws your eye in the video store.

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