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The Uses of Imagery and Narrative in The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra[1]

The Uses of Imagery and Narrative in The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra[1]

In order to achieve an exemplary example of an elliptical narrative[2], co-creators Robert Florey and Slavko Vorkapich utilize strong, simple symbols and communicative signs.  At the very beginning—in the cast of characters—the future ‘star’ is introduced, (and therefore, defined) literally, by a star shape–while the number “9413” is used to introduce the ‘extra’.

Further, the suggestive, odd camera angles and light play on the buildings and cityscape of Hollywood appear intimidating and menacing.   While viewing this film, one is reminded of the presentation of the modern city in Metropolis (1927)[3]which, not unlike The Life and Death of 9413…–features the struggle of an individual against a non-personal, social machine; and also like Metropolis, main characters seem to become automatons or robots.  For example, “9413” comes to Hollywood excited and enthusiastic about his talent and prospects—only to have all of his individuality removed at his very first Hollywood meeting—where, as his number is written on his forehead—he learns to jump and move exactly to the precise commands of the ‘head man’s’ every gesture and mere twitch of his fingers. (As do the other extras—“13” and “15”).  “9413 “is now–not unlike Georgy and Freder in Metropolis–a mere ‘cog’ in the (Hollywood) machine.

Further, the image of the steps (ladder) to the pinnacle of ‘success’ (a sign and symbol that is immediately recognizable)–and “9413’s” fruitless attempts to reach the top–reveals all an audience needs to know in order to comprehend his frustrations and despair.

Other signs of ‘success’ include: a bright star which flashes suddenly in an obviously man-made sky;’ dollar signs and dollar bills; a barbershop pole; shots of applause and nods of approval; a shoe shine; shots of nightclubs and higher-priced restaurants; a sign that reads “casting today”–while signs and images of failure include a board/menu of cheap, cafeteria food; rent and utility bills being shoved under a door; the word ‘no’ emphasized by lighting on the aforementioned sign that–once extended–reads “no casting today” (italics mine).

Lastly, the manipulation of a single image–that of film–by Florey and Vorkapich is both telling and unique to a “Hollywood” tale.  Success and achievement are symbolized by flowing strips of film, while failure and despair in Hollywood is exemplified by an abrupt film cut (essentially, the excising of “9413’s” Hollywood presence) and how the film strips (at the end of both “9413’s” Hollywood career AND his life) morph into a  ‘forest’ of misshapen, grotesque claws or trees.  As claws, the twisted film strips serve as a metaphor for “9413’s’” futile, vain clawing at success, while as a metaphor for trees, they represent the withering of his ‘trees of life.’

[1] Florey, R. & S. Vorkapich. [Directors], The Life and Death of 9413: a Hollywood Extra, [USA:FBO], 1928.

[2] Jan-Christopher Horak, Lovers of Cinema: The First American Film Avant-Garde 1919-1945, (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press) 46.

[3] Lang, F. [Director], Metropolis, [Germany: UFA], 1927.


About ageer370

I'm in my final semester as a grad student of media studies, I'm also 'Mom' to my 15-year-old autistic son. My interests are film history--its analysis and criticism; the art of rhetoric as well as cultural history from about the Edwardian period to the present.


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