The Lincoln Lawyer: Personifications in a Nuevo Western Genre

 The Lincoln Lawyer: Personifications in a Nuevo Western Genre

For a moment let us consider the genre category of Crime/Drama/Thriller transposed as the Nuevo Western. The Wild West open landscape is transformed from Ford’s Monument Valley to the desolation of the Los Angeles street scape in Brad Furman’s The Lincoln Lawyer (2011). Mick Haller (Mathew McConaughey) roams the urban plain as the pseudo lawman that ultimately determines the fatalistic line between truth and justice. In Haller’s high plains, a biker gang of modern desperados hold higher moral ground than the overzealous Sheriff portrayed as L.A. Detective Lankford (Bryan Cranston). Haller must retrace his big black Lincoln tire tracks to right an unconscionable wrong in a judicial system rife with flaws and loopholes. In the Western, the spectator embarks on a journey to the edge of civilization where the threat of savages is a typified Hollywood Native American. Haller’s threat comes not from the natives on the cliffs above but the upper echelon of society. The flaming arrows are transposed into dollars that rain down on societal truth as the wagons circle to protect the innocent pilgrims that sit in Haller’s jury box. Haller is the quick draw at high noon firing rounds from the California Penal Code and staving off the attack of the corruption that wealth brings.

Expectations that are the key to genre mechanics in the Western have historically included blatant stereotyping. Similar characterization is evident in The Lincoln Lawyer. Female roles remain traditionally polarized as typified Mother in Maggie McPherson (Marisa Tomei) and Mary Windsor (Frances Fisher), or the prostitute Reggie Campo (Margarita Levieva). Supporting sidekick to Haller’s barrister gun slinging is portrayed by an expendable Frank Levi (William Macy) whose shaggy appearance is reminisce of a return from a cattle drive. Other ethnic stereotypes include the shifty fast talking Spanish bail bondsman, Val Valenzuela (John Leguizamo) and African American driver Earl (Lawrence Mason). Denigration of Earl is most evident in his lack of a last name, begging for his job, obtaining a “Clean Piece” gun, and a “Driving Miss Daisy “role for his Haller whom he refers to as “Boss”.  While the Michael Connelly novel upon which the screenplay was based may have contained some of these ethno typified references the film adaptation harkens back to a time when such egregious portrayals were commonplace. Classic Hollywood western portrayals were tolerated in what was then condoned as simple ignorance by studios and censorship boards. Today it may exist as personification exploitation within a Nuevo Western Genre.

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Applause: Advent of the Sound-Image (1929)

 Applause: Advent of the Sound-Image

Kitty Darling as Martyr for the Stage

George A. Larkins

    

 

     Applause (1929) is a unique early film using a monaural mixed sound track to produce spatial depth not typical in earlier Hollywood productions. The film presents as a melodrama backstage musical and its plot revolves around Kitty Darling, (Helen Morgan) a dancer who is past her prime, and her innocent daughter April, (Joan Peer) who is reluctantly being groomed as a bankable replacement. Groundbreaking use of camera movement in the film is a remarkable achievement; however, the acoustic spatial design will take forefront in this inquiry. Applause, in its creative use of sound, changed the industry trends of the past and laid the groundwork of future cinematic audio production. In looking at methods of film sound design, both pre and post Applause, we can gain an appreciation of the film in shaping the evolution of sound cinema.

     Director Rouben Mamoulian refused to restrict Applause (1929) to the flat dialogue recording used by Paramount and other studios. Instead, his theater background and desire to capture the essence of a bustling burlesque culture inspired him to move beyond traditional filmmaking practices. Applause was produced during a significant period (1927–1933) of the silent film to sound film transition. Prior to its release, sound production suffered from problems associated with camera noise, actor’s vocal pitch, arc lighting hum, microphone design, and projection synchronization. As a result, filming often occurred only within the soundproofed confines of the studio set. This created a sterile audio environment that Mamoulian would overcome through innovative approaches to existing recording methods. Lucy Fischer’s, Applause: The Visual and Acoustic Landscape (p. 240), describes the result, “Yet on the sound stages of Paramount’s Astoria studios Mamoulian managed to create an aurally dynamic film.” Fischer’s article also merits the fabrication of sync-sound outside the studio environment and his presentation of the perceptive auditory world that is revealed by silence. In one such scene, Kitty sits alone with only the low dialogue of two lovers speaking off screen in the hallway. This sound design is connotative to optical-image point of view. It is reasonable to consider that the spectator hears the auditory point of view of Kitty’s character. Other notable sound-image building occurs backstage as the stage show music encroaches beyond the dressing room and actor’s dialogue both on and off screen.

Mamoulian’s first directorial effort has been described in Looking at Movies (2010) as experimental by explorations in new ambient noise exercises or, “loud expressionistic sounds that overwhelmed ordinary as well as intimate conversations” (p.280). At times, Applause seems caught between these two worlds of existing staged audio and the real world cacophony of sound. The effort to replicate acoustic realism is shown in sequences such as a street scene where the raucous noise of the burlesque theater appears to pour out of its entrance door. Applause also utilized another new technique by recording two separate tracks and then combining the multi-tracks into a single mixed track. This important first step in film sound post-production would soon be adopted and improved by other major studios.  The sound recorded during filming could now be replaced by mixing audio sources that were over dubbed in a more refined and polished fidelity. It is this blending of on screen, off screen, and asynchronous sound that sets Applause apart from prior sound films.

Movie houses during the introduction of sound film utilized a single audio source to present the monaural movie disc recording. Typically, it could be placed behind the screen to convey the voices as emanating from the actors. This single source approach may explain why the production by Mamoulian relies upon variable loudness of the dialogue and off screen ambient noise to create depth. The monaural sound field exists as a singular vertical plane as opposed to the widened horizontal plane that is present in multi-channel stereo recording. The only means of producing spatial depth in a single channel audio track is to adjust the variable loudness of source tracks. When we consider that real world sound approaches us from all directions, which is all encompassing, it becomes clear how important the audio presentation is to the cinematic experience.  Mary Anne Doane outlines in The Voice in Cinema, “The place in which the signifier manifests its self is the acoustical space of the theater” (p. 323). The spatial dimension of sound in Applause brought the audience one step closer to verisimilitude in cinema. If screen realism was restricted by flat images then sound realism was equally limited by monaural single-track recording. Just as deep space composition adds dimensional reality to the optical-image, the multi-track recording widens the dimensional reality of the sound-image. The techniques that Mamoulian used to create the sound-image in Applause may seem simplistic compared to today’s sophisticated 9.1 surround standards. However, they would have been quite exhilarating, perhaps even slightly unsettling, to audiences that had only just begun to adjust to the flat dialogue audio of “Talkies”.

     Applause manages to create a universe within the screen despite the bumpy tracking of early film camera movement and sometimes abrupt audio level discontinuity. As a result of the bold direction of Applause, other films, such as Gold Diggers (1933) and Citizen Kane, (1941) would benefit.  Further advancing the foundations of deep space composition and acoustic design resulted in a seamlessly integrated, pure optical-sound image would provide a truly satisfying film experience for the spectator.

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

    Barsam, Richard., Monahan Dave. Looking at Movies: an Introduction to Film, New York:

W.W. Norton & Company, (2010) Print.

Doane, Mary Anne. “The Voice in the Cinema: The Articulation of the Body and Space”,

Film Theory & Criticism, Braudy, Leo., Cohen, Marshall. New York: Oxford

University Press, (2009) Print.

Fischer, Lucy., “Applause: The Visual and Acoustical Landscape”, Film Sound: Theory and  

                    Practice. Belton, John., Weis, Elisabeth. New York: Columbia University Press

(2009), Print.

 


Bazin and Object Image Ontology

Bazin and Object Image Ontology

Chavet Cave rendition: 30-35,000 years old

George A. Larkins

 

Is it possible for the image of an object to embody the essence of its nature of being?  Andren Bazin (1918-1958) poses that question by his historical survey of aesthetic and psychological developments in pre-cinematic arts. His exploration of the exquisite and distasteful within nature is rooted in the perseverance of those established arts concerned with representing the intrinsic breath of the model.  Additionally, mans psychological desire for the formal reproduction of nature and to master perspective within time and space are conjoined with this aesthetic subsistence of the image. On examining the stylistic and technological developments from the plastic arts and correlating them to cinemas early adaptations and developments, Bazin has created a foundational basis from which advanced theoretical film formulas have emerged. In revisiting the basic structure of Bazins ontological theory we may find that the true intention is not to have the last word, as some later theorists would have us believe, but rather to open discussion for a question that poses no end to the means.

An understanding of aesthetic valuation is required to appreciate the position of Bazins ontological theory. This may best be summarized in the particular strength that an artistic medium possesses and its ability to amplify its content. It becomes a question of whether an art utilizes its form to maximum efficiency, once full potential has been recognized the limitations of a given art form can be quantified.

Bazin historically traces the object image as a personification of the living being to ancient Egyptian civilization through the preservation of the deceased through mummification and iconic statuary. As civilization progressed to a point where humans understood that an actual physical object could not contain the deceased living essence, it became acceptable to pose remembrance on the object or image as the visual or textural substitute for the being whom it was meant to represent. As Bazin states in Braudy & Cohens, Film Theory and Criticism  (2009) “No one believes any longer in the ontological identity of model and image, but we all are agreed that the image helps us to remember the subject and to preserve him from a second spiritual death” (p.159). This petrified form of the living being in two dimensional or three dimensional depiction suffered from two primary deficiencies. First, the representation lacked the element of motion. Secondly, the artwork was conceived and executed through the eye, mind and hand of another human being and the subjectivity associated with such artist.

True artistic physical representation of any object image requires accurate perspective. Primitive cave renditions of hunters and prey show the discord in perception of scale of an artist to an actual event. Whether the artist simply observed or participated and engaged the animal would skew the remembered proximity in the rendition of the event. The paintings of man and beast upon the cave wall contain neither landscape, nor boundary in which the subjects could be measured against. The free floating object images as a result could at best form only rudimentary scale. The missing elements of a frame and background were required in order to establish a common denominator on which to scale an objects image.

Human ability to render accurate perspective was aided by a technological apparatus that both created the boundary frame and objectively quantified the spatial point of view. The camera obscura developed in the 15th century used a glass lens to project an image on a surface. The objects within the image appeared horizontally inverted but could be traced by an artist with an exact perspective. For the first time the temporal perception of the human artist removed from the depiction, although the image was still traced by the human hand. The pursuit to perfect perspective and realism of the object images within that space was enabled and mastered during the Baroque art period which began in Rome in 16th century. It would take a little more than two centuries for the still photographic camera to solve the human influence question by completely removing the artist from rendering the image by hand. The still photographic camera captured the image object within space objectively.

If the spatial mastery had solved the visual problem of perspective then its counterpart of literature equally satisfied the psychological requirement for a temporal time sequence and movement within time. The evoked imagery of written text within the mind creates a method to visualize object motion in space and time consistent with the narrative. These two cornerstones of the established arts are described by Angela Dalle Vacche in her book Cinema and Painting   (1996) as “painting, by definition a  spatial art in contrast to the temporal orientation of literature” (p.84). Painting and literature are both seen to elicit the formula for Bazins ontological hierarchy of the plastic arts, each augmenting to its fullest potential the content within its form.

Bazin differentiates the cinematic object image from all other established arts. The basic essence of which is preserved within its concrete photographic spatial coordinates. Marco Grossi explores Bazins space based theory through his article Rohmer’s Les amours d’Astrée et de Celadon as a systematical synthesis for Bazin’s space-based adaptation theory (2010) according to Bazins 1967 essay quoted in the essay “Above all, cinema is the completion in time of photographic objectivity, its existence precedes its essence” (p.3). Also, an explanation of how the object image within the perspective constraints on screen manifest the essence of their being “The geometry appearing on screen reproduces the relations among the objects inserted in real space: these relations are at the same time physical (i.e. visible) and abstract (spiritual) – in other words, the spatial relations among the actual objects caught by the camera manifest their essence” (p.11). If the still frame photographic image petrifies the essence of the image objects, then it is fair to state that the cinematic motion and deep space composition sets free the essence through time and space within the projected cinematic universe.

Andrew Tudor book Theories of Film (1973) discounts Bazins work as hypocritical in its exposition of spatial realism. The proposed schism in Bazins theory being whether the object and image are identical versus whether the object and image share a common denominator. Tudor claims that according to Bazin, an identical object and image lays bare the objective world while object and image sharing a common denominator lays bare the artificial world. According to Tudor, any claim of systematic aestheticism by Bazin would be flawed by the differentiation. In an empirical attempt to back up his argument Tudor proclaims that both Kracaur and Bazin are “Refusing the Fence of relativism as they gallop blindly into the ditch of essentialism. Unwilling to admit the rightful subjectivity of our aesthetic judgments, they dodge the subsequent hail of non-problems by recourse to non argument” (p.115). The fence of relativism defined by Dictionary.com (2011) as the “theory that knowledge is relative to the limited nature of the mind and the conditions of knowing” (Oct. 2011), would have Bazin corralled, roped and tied into admitting that there is no reason to question what we do not already understand. While the ditch of essentialism defined as the “philosophical theory ascribing ultimate reality to essence embodied in a thing perceptible to the senses” (Oct. 2011), is traversed by at minimum two of the five senses, the sense of sight in the cinematic object image and by sound and the sense of hearing in cinema. Arguably, the sense of touch could be added as viewing of emotive object image has been known to evoke physical reaction in the spectator. A quickened pulse or raised hair on the arms and neck in addition to turning away from the screen in revulsion are some of the physical reactions noted. It may be then be construed that Bazin not only leaps Tudors fence of relativism but bridges his ditch of essentialism. To further bolster Bazins position on the object image differentiation, it is important to remember that Bazin construes that cinema is a language. Cinematic language is an evolving system. Should it ever become a dead language, as in the Latin, wherein it could be submitted to post mortise examination, the concrete rationalization posed by Tudor might hold some merit. In that the single word within a language may hold differentiated meaning, so it is with the object image and its relation to the similar and common denominator argument. The human brain is quite capable of differentiating the objective world from the artificial world as well choosing when not to substitute one for another.

In conclusion, while the established arts, most notably painting and  literature, satisfied the desire in man to master technological perspective and psychological temporal movement, it was the cinematic apparatus that brought motion and photographic objectivity to the object image. Bazin has shown that cinematic art over the established arts has allowed the object image essence to be re-presented through movement in time, photographic objectivity and  spatial relations of those objects or beings. Bazin has also established that the language of film is still being formed and is open to interpretation.

September Twelfth

 

September Twelfth

George A. Larkins

 

The corridor stretched endlessly as he made his way along it. Moving slowly, he followed the color coded signs that pointed all but the most confused towards their intended destinations. His was the hospital cafeteria. It had been twelve hours since he had eaten, still there was no desire for a meal, his mind and his stomach seemed disconnected. Perhaps it was the thought of comfort that food brought or the need to surround himself with other human beings. The people passing by him had expressed worried looks of contemplation and an occasional brave smile. They drifted  past as he made his way, like ghosts from a dream.

The sign’s pointed to the beginning of the cafeteria line and he followed it’s direction, he got in line. In front of him, a group of nurses quietly chattered something about plans that they had made for this weekend. They spoke of how they would need to be changed, arrangements would need to be made. The words drifted in and out of his mind as he began to feel the shudder and grasped the chrome tray rail to steady himself. He moved along and noticed the food. It was not the usual desire to satisfy hunger, but the colors, the textures and the smell of it. Reaching out he chose an orange from the fruit display, it just seemed happy somehow. Next, he drew a cup of hot coffee because it was morning and that was routine and routine was good.

He absently handed a bill of some denomination to the cashier and took the change without counting, trusting that he would not be cheated, not this day. Sitting alone at the table, he cupped the coffee in his hands and the shudder grew stronger. Not like the shudder he could feel when a cold was coming on, that external chill that warns of an oncoming fever. This shudder was deeper, it emanated from his core. The dining room took on a fish-eye lens distortion as his eye’s welled with tears. The diners eyes all were glued to the endless looping video of the towers crashing down.

In the room upstairs his wife was lying in the hospital bed. She had experienced hell over the last twenty-four hours. He had never known that she was so strong or that her body could endure so much. She had lost a lot of blood near the end and the reality that they could lose her had hit him hard. When she could take no more, they had sedated her. She was stabilized and resting, they had said he should take a break and he followed their instruction. He would return to stand vigil beside her soon, but for now, he was in limbo. His mind retraced the years they had spent together and the plans they had made for the future. The clock on the wall played tricks, one moment not moving at all and then suddenly an hour. It was time to return to her.

He entered her quite darkened room and moved towards her reaching out and stroking her forehead. She breathed softly and he sat in the chair beside her, resting his eyes but not sleeping. Five hours passed and she began to stir. She momentarily began to panic being unaware of her surroundings, then she saw him and relaxed her mind. He reached for the water beside her bed and placed the straw in her mouth, she sipped. “Are you awake?” He asked. “Yes” she replied weakly. “I have something to show you” he said as he turned away and reached down picking up the bundle. Her eye’s widened and a smile crossed her lips as he turned to place the newborn baby in her arms. The small fingers grasped her mothers hand as he looked at her and said “She is one day old today.”

Poem: MIRROR OF ME

Psycho – Alfred Hitchcock:  Cinematic Still Frame

MIRROR OF ME

George A. Larkins

Reflection of judgment, you mirror me.

Bird eyes penetrating what I was then , glassy, vacant, watching, waiting and not unlike you.

 Always within me, controlling, consuming and devouring all that she has she created.

Your fear stems not from the blade, the slash, the stinging strings.

 Nor the draining dead eye circling black into the murky depths of unknown. The hole of horror inside your soul.

The breaching of some primitive divide is the darkness that sings to you. Rocking and swaying in the way she once held me.

Disruptive spheres of masculine and feminine culminating in psycho-sexual fury. Punishment comes to one who dare stand in her light.

Mirrors of internal conflict trapped within circling shards of the maternal profane. I am within her as she is in me.

Voyeur along in my deed and filth and stupidly assume that you remain unsoiled. For you become the she, the I, in our world of black blood and white terror.

All the while she spreads her inky black stain within the mind you call sane.  There is no resolve, no happy ending to the tale.

Claw at air as you struggle to escape her trap. Her limbs shall enfold you as a vine creeping around your spine. It is Mother who decides that you may not leave or go free.  

A maze with no end, a lock with no key.  She is a mirror of you, She is a mirror of me.

Poem: OF MOTION

Nude Descending Staircase – Marcel Duchamp

Oil on Canvas

OF MOTION

George A. Larkins

Whirring, spinning at twenty four frames per second.

Trapped in two dimensional form.

A world of speed, a world in motion.

Static form holds no contest.

The brothers cubist struggled in vain.

To push the canvas beyond its limits.

Light and shadow emulating function.

Mechanical periphery.

Once gods that harkened the multitudes.

Now overshadowed by the luminary.

Destined to the musty galleries.

While in plush decorum of darkened hall they gather.

 This new eye. This infernal contraption of of reels and of motion.

 

Film Review: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011)

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

George A. Larkins

   In David Fincher’s ninth directed feature film’ “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” (2011) audiences are rewarded with the best and worst from one of the top Directors of our time. The film is part one of a trilogy based on the best-selling book series. Billed as, “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas” bad Santa Fincher delivers murder, rape, corruption, violence and adultery all stuffed in a forty year unsolved mystery stocking.

Perhaps, more intriguing than the mystery plot is the interaction of the primary characters Lisbeth, the titles namesake, and Mikael, a middle aged discredited journalist. An unlikely pair, they are opposites in Sweden’s social spectrum. Through Mikael’s investigative journalism and Lisbeth’s cyber sleuth skillset they are drawn together through the magnetic force of the technological age.  The resulting consequence is a series of tension filled sequences that keeps audiences polarized and guessing.

An oppressive mood is set by the harrowing film score created by Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails” in collaboration with Atticus Ross. Reznor and Ross create a sound-image that gets under your skin as a haunting undercurrent that sweeps you along. Having worked with Fincher on “The Social Network”, they are unquestionably the latest rising dark stars in the sound design. The emphasis on editing rhythm, builds a level of awareness and expectation that is shattered by the use of unexpected devices and unique instruments. A prime example of this is the inner core rage emitted from Lisbeth on the escalator following her encounter with an assailant.

Fincher who is no stranger to excess violence and gore, as witnessed in his other films, “Fight Club” and  “Se7en” has matured in providing some restraint in graphic portrayal and relying instead on building meaningful suspense. When he does deliver the goods, it is with a one-two punch that leaves the audience reeling from shock and disgust.

The protagonist Lisbeth Salandar (Mara Roony) remains an enigma throughout the film, the most insight we are given to her non-conformist anarchy comes from the techno-oozing ink stained title sequence. Presumably, this nightmare dreamscape depicts the inner workings of the dragon girls mind and represents the impenetrable recesses of her hard shell exterior. Lisbeth is constantly backed into a corner, and after much dehumanizing abuse, attacks and bites back with all the ferocity of a penned dragon. Her resilience and exacting revenge elicited cheers from the audience seldom seen in modern placated spectators. The triumph she claims is as much for abuse suffered by women everywhere as it is for her herself.

In David Fincher’s ninth directed feature film’ “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” audiences are rewarded with the best and worst from one of the top Directors of our time. The film is part one of a trilogy based on the best-selling book series. Billed as, “The Feel Bad Movie of Christmas” bad Santa Fincher delivers murder, rape, corruption, violence and adultery all stuffed in a forty year unsolved mystery stocking.

Perhaps, more intriguing than the mystery plot is the interaction of the primary characters Lisbeth, the titles namesake, and Mikael, a middle aged discredited journalist. An unlikely pair, they are opposites in Sweden’s social spectrum. Through Mikael’s investigative journalism and Lisbeth’s cyber sleuth skillset they are drawn together through the magnetic force of the technological age.  The resulting consequence is a series of tension filled sequences that keeps audiences polarized and guessing.

An oppressive mood is set by the harrowing film score created by Trent Reznor of “Nine Inch Nails” in collaboration with Atticus Ross. Reznor and Ross create a sound-image that gets under your skin as a haunting undercurrent that sweeps you along. Having worked with Fincher on “The Social Network”, they are unquestionably the latest rising dark stars in the sound design. The emphasis on editing rhythm, builds a level of awareness and expectation that is shattered by the use of unexpected devices and unique instruments. A prime example of this is the inner core rage emitted from Lisbeth on the escalator following her encounter with an assailant.

Fincher who is no stranger to excess violence and gore, as witnessed in his other films, “Fight Club” and  “Se7en” has matured in providing some restraint in graphic portrayal and relying instead on building meaningful suspense. When he does deliver the goods, it is with a one-two punch that leaves the audience reeling from shock and disgust.

The protagonist Lisbeth Salandar (Mara Roony) remains an enigma throughout the film, the most insight we are given to her non-conformist anarchy comes from the techno-oozing ink stained title sequence. Presumably, this nightmare dreamscape depicts the inner workings of the dragon girls mind and represents the impenetrable recesses of her hard shell exterior. Lisbeth is constantly backed into a corner, and after much dehumanizing abuse, attacks and bites back with all the ferocity of a penned dragon. Her resilience and exacting revenge elicited cheers from the audience seldom seen in modern placated spectators. The triumph she claims is as much a representative of victory for physical and sexually abused persons everywhere as it is for her herself.

Missing the Boat: PCA racial neglect surfaces in Lifeboat.

George A. Larkins

April, 25, 2011

Missing the Boat: PCA racial neglect surfaces in Lifeboat.

Canada Lee as Racial Sterotype.

            The Production Code Administration (PCA) began as an industry self regulating review board in 1929. It existed, in part, to provide regulation over the Motion Picture Producers Distributors of America (MPPDA) in response to pressures from political, religious, and moral groups. During it’s tenure it allowed for the exhibition and exploitation of African Americans as a subservient class. The portrayals of African Americans in early Hollywood film appear as inherently racial in nature. This oppressive sociological segregation according to Thomas Cripps may be traced to slavery or a “social substitute for bondage” (19). The 1944 film Lifeboat and performance by Canada Lee (Charcoal, Joe) provides a unique opportunity to explore the issues that led to and perpetuated this trend in American cinema.

Annotated Bibliography

            Robert Maltby presents a thorough review of the Production Code Administration formation in Genesis of the Production Code and it’s accompanying Documents (1995). In his essay the various religious and political influences that shaped the drafting are explored. Key elements that called for the protection of race and the omission of that protective language are provided. The article does not provide any justified reason why the final draft removed the protective language in regards to race.

Thomas Cripps provides a groundbreaking account of black film history in Slow Fade to Black (1977).  Historical topics covered include early Black Cinema as a response to the misrepresentation of African Americans by Hollywood studios. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) protests to negative stereotypical characterization and examples of such in the film Lifeboat. The book does not provide an in depth analysis of the black or white emotional responsiveness to the exhibited characterization.

            Berys Gaut’s essay Identification and Emotion In Narrative Film (1999) explores the relationship of the “spectators emotional response to film” (201). The strength of the essay is offering a new approach to existing cognitive theories in viewers emotional responsiveness to film. Gaut’s article does not discern racial cognitive interpretations, which could provide insight into black and white audience’s differing emotive response’s to negative racial portrayals.

Production Code Administration

            The film Lifeboat certainly contains racial discriminative elements that may have been avoidable had the PCA included protection from willful offensive treatment of race. The review process for the film Lifeboat addresses censorship concerns only in relation to the group and individual moralistic behavior of white passengers. In contrast, the review poses no restriction or objection to the negative racial tone and immoral acts imposed on the sole African American character. Furthermore, the PCA allowed for a continued representation of the stereotypical socially denigrated Negro at a time when movie viewing was approaching its peak attendance on a national scale. For both black and white audiences such portrayal evoked the capacity to do harm. The moral fabric of American society should be constitutionally based on the premise that all men and women are created equal. The PCA failed to follow it’s own underlying principle of disallowing creation of entertainment that does harm to human beings in lowering the moral standards of those who see it .

The 1930 code drafting was claimed to be necessitated by the advent of sound in film production. In Richard Maltby’s essay “Genesis of the Production Code”, the development process is a series of drafts culminating in a pamphlet entitled “A code to maintain social and community values in the production of silent, synchronized and talking motion pictures” (33). An additional  document referenced as “Reasons” for the code was adopted at the same time and was only distributed internally to the MPPDA until 1934, after which it was distributed with the code pamphlet. This “Reasons” section was developed as a separate document in an attempt to conceal the Catholic influence of Father Daniel P. Lord’s involvement in it’s drafting (40).

The “Reasons” attempted to bridge the schism that divided Catholic leader Father Daniel P. Lord and Jason Joy, director of the Studio Relations Committee (SRC) versus Irvin Thalberg, representing the nine Jewish majority owned studio heads. The primary argumentative difference is whether the viewing of motion pictures influence’s broad moralistic and spiritual values or if it is merely a form of entertainment.

Maltby’s account of the October 4, 1929 meeting of the MPPDA board of directors contains Jason Joy’s explicit language that “Willful offense to any nation, race or creed” (33) shall not appear in motion pictures.

      Joy’s final draft of January 1930 reflects his initial intent, however, the defining comments in regards to race have been removed “The motion picture, of necessity, must satisfy the yearning that every person from every walk of life has for mental recreation, relaxation and stimulation. It must not entertain part of the people all of the time and all of the people part of the time, but all of the people all of the   time. Entertainment has also cultural and inspirational values and so important an element as the motion picture must consider the foundation on which it is built”(39).

            Clearly, Joy’s original language would have provided a basis for equal protection in regards to race, while his final draft favors a broader scope that is more subjective in nature. Attached as an exhibit to Joy’s draft was Lord’s “General Principles” which recognized the moral importance of entertainment that can prove harmful or helpful to the human race. In his draft Lord states, “It enters intimately into the lives of men and women and affects them closely; it occupies their minds and affections during leisure hours, and ultimately touches the whole of their lives. So correct entertainment raises the whole standard of a nation. Wrong entertainment lowers the whole living conditions and moral ideals of a race”(41).

If wrong entertainment includes racial stereotype of second class citizenry, then it can be reasonably be assumed that such characterization in Lifeboat would be willfully offensive to race.

Thalberg’s subcommittee drafted it’s own set of “General Principals” reflecting their opinion in the pure entertainment aspect of motion pictures. Their principals were in keeping with studio’s desire for less restriction on content. The draft stated, “People see in it a reflection of their own average thoughts and attitudes. If  the reflection is much lower or much higher than their own plane they reject it” (35). The studio head committee members rejected the notion that cinema could be ”an essentially moral or immoral force” (35). Thalberg’s draft conceded that it may be objectionable to show the branding of humans or animals.

Maltby’s essay “The Production Code and the Hay’s Office” reveals that the majority of Lord and Joy’s drafts were condensed and omitted racially moral language in favor of restrictions on sex, crime and violence. The notable retained language was, “No picture should lower the moral standards of those who see it”(43). and “natural law is understood the law which is written in the hearts of all mankind, the great underlying principles of right and justice dictated by conscience” (44).

            Lifeboat was produced nineteen years following the release of the controversial film Birth of a Nation (1915). The later film sparked outrage by the NAACP inciting demonstrations. In Boston, according to Edward Campbell Jr. “Soon after the film began, one protester threw an egg at the screen. In all, it took two hundred police officers to clear away the demonstrators” (59). By 1942, the NAACP, having received no protection by the PCA, managed to procure a meeting with the studio executives. They were promised change in “depiction of Negroes on screen in keeping with the changing times” (Cripps, 376).

The PCA code review file of Lifeboat contains a series of objections in regards to  language, nudity, violence, and mob behavior. All inferences are individually directed towards the immoral behaviors and actions of Caucasian characters. Joseph Breen, the enforcer of the code in Hollywood, in his letter dated September 23, 1943, questions the advisability of the line “We weren’t a mob when we killed him.” This cognitive awareness by the PCA of the influence on viewers of mob violence only serves to amplify the disregard of the African American.  Instances of derogatory types and stigmas in Lifeboat, according to Cripps, were acknowledged by the producer Darryl Zanuck, who “fretted over making the Negro role an “assistant steward” who sings, recites psalms, “boogies up” a song, and admits to being a pickpocket” (378). The assistant steward position was regarded as no more than a janitorial position and in charge of a commissary on a boat with no supplies.

The PCA also missed other key opportunities to take corrective action in regards to Joe’s character. According to Donald Bogle “ The passengers symbolize specific elements in a full democratic society” (139). If this notion can be accepted and as Daniel Leab denotes “Joe should logically be on screen more than he is. When the survivors vote on various decisions, Joe abstains for no discernible reason” (127) then Leab’s theory that he never actually becomes part of the group has deeper sociological implication. This portrayal may be construed as representing the African American as a non participant or as being excluded from white democratic society.

Blatant depictions of racism in earlier films may be less discernible in Lifeboat, however, the subtle nuances of second class citizenry that “Joe” represents are clearly evident. This unflattering portrayal of the  African American is arguably equally, if not more, offensive than southern old plantation celluloid depictions. Negligent actions and behaviors on the part of the PCA , Hollywood Studios, and to a greater degree, the Federal Government to protect and equally represent all U.S. Citizens could plausibly be considered as causing harm.

The inaction to protect the white movie going public may have caused a counter-affective effect. Gaut states “to identify affectively with him is to imagine feeling what he feels”.(205) In presenting a false representation of one dimensional stereotype characters, the white viewer is denied an opportunity to connect empathetically.  White audiences as a result could adopt racial misconception and possible prejudices resulting in lowering their internal moralistic standards. The black spectators of such films likewise may, as Gaut defines “identify epistemically” (205) believing that they too are denigrated, individually and in society, resulting in an emotive response of repressive anger from being publicly exhibited as second class citizens.

The persistent willful misrepresentation of the African American race may have furthered mistrust of white controlled institutions designed to protect and provide equal treatment, namely the PCA and the United States Federal Government. Having been recognized  by the fourteenth amendment as United States Citizens in 1868 and being granted voting rights in 1870, African Americans were deserving of said protection. The preoccupation by the elitist oligarchy that was the studio system and the Production Code Administration with sex, crime, and violence, ultimately overshadowed the potential moral servitude of the code and constituted failure.

Larkins 8

Works Cited

            Bogle, Donald. Toms, Coons, Mulattoes, Mammies & Bucks. New York: Continuum

Publishing, (1994). Print

Breen, Joseph. Letter to Col. Jason Joy. Sept. 23, 1943. Lifeboat file. MPPA Production

Code Administration Files. Reel 21, Microfilm Collection, History of Cinema, Series

1; Hollywood and the Production Code, Oakland University , Michigan.

Cripps, Thomas. Slow Fade to Black: The Negro in American Film 1900-1942. New

York: The Oxford University Press, (1977). Print

Campbell, Jr., Edward. The Celluloid South. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee

Press, (1981). Print.

Gaut, Berys. “Identification and Emotion In Narrative film”. Passionate Views: Film,

                 Cognition, and Emotion.  Plantinga and Smith. Baltimore: The John Hopkins

University Press, (1999). 200-216. Print.

Leab, Daniel. “From Sambo to Superspade: The Black Experience in Motion Pictures”.

Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, (1975). Print.

Maltby, Richard. “Documents on the Genesis of the Production Code”. Quarterly Rev. of

                 film & Video.  15.4 (1995). 33-63

Maltby, Richard. “Genesis of the Production Code”.Quarterly Rev. of film & Video. 15.4

(1995): 5-32

Maltby, Richard. “The Production Code and the Hays Office”. Grand Design: Hollywood

                 as a Modern Business Enterprise, 1930-1939: The History of  American Cinema,

                Volume 5. Balio, Tina. New York: Simon & Schuster, Inc. (1995). 37-72. Print.

Babyface (1933): Production Code Administration Influences

George A. Larkins

January 24, 2012

Baby Face: PCA Review File

The Production Code Administration censorship board classifies Baby Face (Alfred E. Green, 1933) as a sex film. Primary morality issues include the portrayal of a woman using sexual prowess to “sleep her way to the top”. The fear of a negative impact on society’s impressionistic young female audience members required sweeping censorship changes by the PCA. The final scripting and released film are significantly changed in an effort to meet the PCA requirements. A first example of the extent to which censorship shapes the final film, arguably venturing into the areas of scriptwriting and directing, are evidenced in a 5/12/1933 entry entitled only as “Memorandum for the Files” (p. 33-36). The original memorandum addresses four proposed areas that Joseph Breen deems necessary for revision. Most notable are the third and fourth proposals wherein full revision of character dialogue, actions, blocking, editing cuts and fade in/fade outs are drafted. The contriving of a final moralistic scene appears to be original scriptwriting on the part of Breen. Although the original scripted memorandum drafted by Breen was never sent, it is also stated that “Most of the suggestions were incorporated in a revision” (p. 33). The entry leaves one to question the defined role of the censor and whether Breen asserts his influence and aspirations beyond that role.

A second notable area of significance is the May 19, 1933 correspondence to Mr. James Wingate from Warner Brothers Film Editorial by H.J. McCord. The document entitled “Changes in dialogue on ‘Baby Face’” contains both the original inclusion and censored elimination of any reference to controversial German philosophical doctrine of Nietzsche (p. 46). The entire context of the film is diametrically torn by this moral opposition and ultimately results in a convoluted conformity. The original script would have included Adolf Cragg (Alphonse Ethier) advising Lily Porter (Barbara Stanwyck) to use men to advance and exploit her female attributes in some big city. Lily Porter might have incorporated and seen to fruition Nietzsche’s “will to power” as opposed to conforming to Christian and Judaea Slave-Morality. An original scripted accolade of Nietzsche as “the greatest philosopher of all time” and quotation “All life no matter how we idealize it is nothing more nothing less than exploitation” is removed from the redrafted version. In its place is the inflection of a Christian moral servitude and the choice between the “right way and the wrong way” with dire warning that following the wrong way carries a high price. This blending of moral and philosophical positions creates a discord in the final text. The notion that the “big city” or urban dwelling is a place to stay clean and be a success opposes the typified country setting as clean and wholesome in such films as Applause (1933). In the final sequence, Lily must give up her ill-gotten material possessions and returns to Erie with her husband to begin a new life of hard work and ethical redemption. This returns her to the same place from which she began, filled with the sweat and toil of the steel mills and “men, dirty, filthy men”. The road of life has many detours and the possibility that she will find redemption in such an environment seems plausible at best. The Nietzsche foundation for her sexual independence and female rise to power are instead thwarted and vilified by the PCA in an effort to save her soul.

Sixteen Weeks

 

 

Sixteen Weeks

George A. Larkins

   The sweat beaded upon Dr. Sanborns forehead. “I don’t know what your getting at”. He spoke in an agitated tone. “Just answer the question, Doctor” replied James Giroux.

The video camera heightened the tension in the sterile boardroom. A court stenographer silently click-clacked into her alien looking keyboard, she had assumed a tantra like state, unaffected and distant. The deposition was now entering it’s sixth hour and the witness was beginning to soften up. Giroux was an expert at softening them up, he began slowly, friendly and methodical. “If you don’t understand my question, please tell me and I will repeat it for you”. “If you need a break at any time Doctor just let me know”. “Please keep your voice up so that the jury will understand your answers”. These were the ground rules. Giroux was an expert at the rules, right down to his cufflinks. The witness however, was clearly out of his element and it was beginning to show..

“Would you have performed this operation on your own wife or daughter” repeated Giroux. “I object! That is completely improper counsel!” said Mark Brent. “Are you instructing your witness not to answer the question, Mr. Brent?” Giroux’s eye’s sharply shifted and now focused on Brent, piercing, leaden. “Because I will get a court order, in fact, we can call to the Judge right now if you would like” he continued. “Answer the question” Brent instructed his client. “Well, no because..” the witness sputtered. Giroux interjected “Because you know now, that performing an exploratory laparotomy in a sixteen week pregnant mother can result in sudden death for the mother and the unborn child, right Doctor”. “That’s not what, I meant, your twisting my words” he cried, like a rabbit in a snare the witness shifted in his seat, his eyes pleading to his attorney who sat helpless aside him.

“Doctor, please describe Mrs. Jenkins for the ladies and gentleman of the jury” demanded Giroux. The Doctor reached forward to the voluminous stack of medical documents. “Doctor, What exactly is it that you are looking for?” asked Giroux, feigning a sigh. “My chart, ah, here it is. Let’s see. White female, age twenty-eight, five foot seven inches tall and one hundred forty-five pounds”. “That’s nice Doctor, now can you answer my question?” he persisted. “I thought I just did” responded the witness. Giroux, leaning ever so slightly forward and in a voice starting off at a whisper and building in intensity with each word asked the witness “What color were her eye’s, Doctor?” The paper rustled while he flipped through his chart, “That’s not listed here” he replied. “What about her hair, what color was her hair, is that listed?, Would it surprise you Doctor if Mr. Jenkins described her as having the most beautiful brown eyes and silky brown hair that he had ever seen in his entire life. That she would lie and twirl her fingers in it while she read quietly on rainy days. That he looked to those eyes as the only place he could trust to find honesty and peace in his chaos filled world. Is that in your chart Doctor?” Sanborns face went momentarily slack before he regained his composure. “No, of course not!” answered the Doctor. “I’m sure your attorney has informed you that two weeks following your failed operation, Mr. Jenkins purchased a shotgun, returned to his home and proceeded to load it with shells. He then placed the barrel of the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger.” asked Giroux. “Yes, he has informed me of that.” answered the witness with indifference. Giroux stood “I’m finished with this witness.”