- Observations on film art - http://www.davidbordwell.net/blog -

One more on THE DEPARTED

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s entry that the same issue of American Cinematographer (October 2006) reports that Scorsese and Michael Ballhaus worked a cross motif into the architecture, lighting, and set design of The Departed. “These crosses, which the crew dubbed the ‘X motif,’ appear whenever a character is in mortal danger,” explains the article’s author Stephen Pizzello. He quotes gaffer Andy Day: “We even had grips and electricians saying, ‘Hey, we could put an X here!’ Michael was always very excited if someone found another place to put an X. He and Marty did it partly as a homage to the great noir films, and also to create a sense of imminent doom” (p. 47).

Two comments: (a) I noticed it a couple of times; I wonder if viewers catch it explicitly or sense it intuitively? (b) Ballhaus says that it refers to a motif in T-Men, which I confess I never noticed. But the same motif was used in Howard Hawks’ Scarface (1932), as Hawks himself explained in interviews. It’s quite heavily stressed in that film, most memorably during a sequence in a bowling alley, when a pencilled X records a strike just before a crook is gunned down on the lane!