Student Model: Film Review

The suggestive use of landscape in Peter Bogdanovich and Frederick Raphael's Daisy Miller

by Lane Jones

Fall 2008

Beginning with Daisy (Cybil Shepherd) and Winterbourne's (Barry Brown) excursion to the Chateau de Chillon, Peter Bogdanovich uses the camera to bring before us historically significant sites where the mise-en-scenes) figure forths themes analogous to the people who originally suffered at each place.

To begin with Chillon where so many political prisoners died miserably, in the early scenes, he fixes the camera on the building, emphasizing the rigid isolation that is Geneva. The shot changes perspective as Daisy and Winterbourne approach the oubliette. Daisy begins to look like a prisoner in the new perspective, clearly an allusion to the status of women in this place.

Daisy alarms Winterbourne by waking precariously along the parapet; she's teasing him and courting danger. When they arrive in the prison, Winterbourne walks ahead, reciting poetry; he turns and as he utters the word "sunbeam," the camera catches Daisy in a shaft of light. She's the brightest and most fascinating object in this field of vision.

In the last scene at the chateau, the camera follows the pair as they cross the bailey, for a few seconds it lingers on their backs as they walk past a red rose, blooming, seemingly intended, bounded by the grey stone walls. Just below the cut, our gaze lingers on the untrained thing of beauty flowering between the grim stones.

On their way to the Pincian gardens (famed since the Renaissance), Daisy and Winterbourne exit Mrs Walker's apartments. The camera picks them up form across the street and follows the figures as they walk up the winding, narrow way to the garden. Panning to the right a tall white spire comes into view. Framed against the blue sky is the symbol of maleness and patriarchy, looming over the garden where temptation awaits.

A Biblical theme is evoked in the scene where Winterbourne, having come upon Daisy and Mr Gianovelli (Duilio Del Prete), stares at the two in disbelief. The beauty and order of the garden is laid out behind him. Cut to the lovers, they are standing quite close to each other, looking out over teh chaotic city. Catching sight of hm, they turn their backs, hiding behind Daisy's parasol. Daisy has made her choice which will result in her expulsion and death.

The colosseum is the sight of many ancient struggles. Here hapless Christians were fed to the lions for the pleasure of the ruling elite. Winterbourne picks his way (I especially enjoyed the foreshadowing of the buzzing mosquito) among the dark, tomblike ruins. His attention is drawn to an Italian couple making love in an alcove. Daisy has turly fallen if she is in this place (or so he thinks).

The cemetery is a place of orderly rows of trees and white grave markers. We see daisies, a common flower, blooming unheeded in the grass. A fire smolders in the background. What are we to make of this? Daisy's last judgement? The extinction of the flame of life? Winterbourne's dying affection for the girl? I admit that I'm not sure, but as the camera slowly pulls away leaving Frederick Forsythe Winterbourne standing alone at the grave, it makes me think.

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Page Last Updated: 21 August 2009.