Johnny Guitar (Nicholas Ray, 1954)

Vienna: I’m sitting in my own house, minding my own business, playing my own piano. I don’t think you can make a crime out of that.

One of the most striking scenes in the film is the one in which Vienna (Joan Crawford) is playing the piano on the stage in her recently emptied bar while Emma (Mercedes McCambridge) and the rest of the townspeople question her about the whereabouts of the Dancing Kid’s (Scott Brady’s) gang and accuse her of collaborating with them in the bank robbery.  Vienna is in a white dress and she is framed alone against the red wall of the room; she is innocent and unprotected yet simultaneously self-confident and strong.  Opposed to this image is the long shot of Emma and the others in black, standing, waiting impatiently in the middle of the room.  Alternating shots visually mark the tension between them.  The two sides never mix; Vienna is friends with the outlaws and she is against violence and crime, whereas Emma, the sheriff and the other lawful townspeople are eager to condemn and judge her in the name of justice.  In general, this sharp distinction between the two opposing sides is made visually prominent: they physically occupy different spaces, are often framed separately and wear contrasting colours.  Even though Emma and the others enter Vienna’s, they always stay intact as a group and never occupy more than the limited space that Vienna delicately controls.


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