51 Fragments of a Wandering Mind

51 Fragments of a Wandering Mind

Dustin Rosemark

17-LomoKino-Super-35

Review Written: George A. Larkins

Memories are akin to fragmented bits of organic data electronically coursing through the synapses of the human brain. To dream, to recall, to reflect, these abilities all rely upon drawing from the well of personal human experience. In the Dustin Rosemark film,  51 Fragments of a Wandering Mind (2014), an equivalent of an intimate and interpersonal journey of an individual’s memory has been obtained in a cinematic form.

The immersion is immediate with no precursory title sequence or distracting graphical elements. A juxtaposed image space is formed through the use of a lomograhy film camera with abrupt frame jumping, cuts and a discourse that emulates the nonlinear workings of a human memory. Furthering this phantasmatic body effect is the employment of dust, hair and scratches that are engrained in society as memory cues from the 1950’s era home movie. Audiences are subconsciously trained to recognize this effect as remembrances of past events. Light leaks and lens flare, also utilized, have been given a place in public image absorption as a dream signifiers which promotes the desired effect of audience grafting and synchronicity. A wider concentric range is developed between the visual and the audible. An unseen narrating vocal image is presented which hovers above flickering celluloid images. It is a diegetic talisman divulging the methodology for the journey which the viewer is about to embark upon. The narrator is introspecting and mirroring personal reflection causing the same to occur within the viewer. Once the journey has begun the audience is restricted between the narrow crevasse of observance imagery and the lateral dimension of sound image. Traditional narrative or plot escape routes are denied and create total envelopment in a reflective experience. Ambiguity is forefront to success in the effect of grafting with a guided psyche.

A journey is traveling from point A to point B and possibly returning to point A. Traveling is motion and the mind is a camera recording the people, places and events along the way. The journey changes the traveler and Mr. Rosemark’s film leaves the indelible impression that we all share similar experience. Is it possible to walk in another person’s shoes, step into their mind, and experience another individual’s life memories? Cinema is as close as we can come to such transcendence and 51 fragments of a wandering mind is a film which will allow us to do so.

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Wreck It Ralph: Championing Western Ideology through Anti-Western Speciesism.

Wreck It Ralph: Championing Western Ideology through Anti-Western Speciesism.

WIR_Widescreen_Heros_Duty

Walt Disney World visitors in the United States often come away from one its most famous ride attractions singing the jingle chorus, “It’s a small world after all… (repeat)”, as an anthem of world harmony. This inquiry examines a recent animation feature in critical analysis of western ideological political persuasion against the trepidation of anti-western terrorism threats, as depicted through speciesism, by modern era Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Walt Disney Animation Studio’s Wreck it Ralph (2012) directed by Rich Moore provides a visual thrill ride through multiple game worlds of a video arcade. Its surface text features the sugary frosting of a “quest for self-awareness and personal fulfillment”[1] narrative covering a broader theme that western society stands interconnected within a social hierarchy under a constant threat. The western ideology presented reflects as both a post-capitalist and pro-democracy model which creates an idyllic solution to anti-western political regimes and extreme fundamentalist ideology through speciesism mass extinction. In post-human cinema terms, individuals who comprise such societies are rendered as less than human and mere pests to the grand design of a democratic capitalist system. This solution divides of the human race into “us and them” and fosters fear of the other on a subliminal level of intertextuality which may adversely affect both young and old audience members.  A critical analysis of propaganda history of Disney animation, animation plasmaticity and speciesism in Japanese manga will be used to support the argument of a super-modern schism between western and anti-western ideologies in Wreck It Ralph.  As the 800 pound gorilla of global animation media entertainment the Walt Disney Animation Studios must possess some awareness and responsibility for socio-political underpinnings of such harmful entertainment on an impressionable world audience. If Walt Disney Animation Studios intention is to produce such sugar coated confections for global audience consumption then equally the disquisition of this film scholar, as Thomas Lamarre alludes, “is then to scrape away the candy coating and to expose the truth.”[2]

Wreck It Ralph consists of five distinct worlds as follows, an external game arcade, “Fix It Felix” game, “Heroes Duty” game, “Sugar Rush” game and an internal game central. The title namesake Ralph (John C. Reilly) grows tired of his defined role as a “Bad Guy” in the “Fix It Felix” game world and seeks peer acceptance through the goal of obtaining a golden heroes medal. He electronically transports to a New York Central Station based game central through which he enters a military game world, “Heroes Duty” where the main objective is to kill “Cybugs” and win the medal. This breech of game worlds unleashes an egg laden cybug into a candy land based race car game “Sugar Rush” where it burrows beneath the surface to nest. The action results in a swarm attack causing mass disruption within “Sugar Rush” and potential demise of the entire arcade universe.

Western ideology of democratic systems in peaceful coexistence is reflected by an interconnection of the arcade game worlds which supports general meaningful individual participation by self-determination within respective game cultures. Oppositional, a singular insect speciesism of cybugs is assigned to anti-western totalitarian state governments and extreme fundamentalists imposing religious societal truth doctrine. In anti-western society the denouement of individual purpose is replaced by indistinguishable personism through an alignment to a centrality of power in the form of dictatorship or extremist religious oppression. This exemplar of mass personism reveals itself within Wreck It Ralph as an invasive species that escapes from the war zone of “Heroes Duty” and infiltrates the “Sugar Rush” game. Following infestation of the new game world the swarm emerges and obtains metamorphosis through the ravenous consumption of everything within its path until it is wholly eradicated.

The historicity of Walt Disney animations war time propaganda is well documented, as 1940’s cartoon characters such as Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck advocated both patriotism and anti-fascism. These traditional forms of propaganda have since been considered ineffectual as a result of fragmentation in global media.[3] Disney’s former mode of propaganda operated through specifically illustrating enemy leaders or nation states such as Adolph Hitler or Japan during World War II. In the modern era, the enemies of western democratic states hide behind national posturing and rhetoric or shift between underdeveloped countries as rogue terrorist organizations.  Parallel to the emergence of this new faceless enemy is the rise of a saturated mass media which reaches within once impenetrable anti-western nation states and erodes blind obedience through sparking internal identification and self-awareness.

Gerard C. Raiti, in his 2007 essay, argues that “If Disney were to make propaganda now, it would need to satisfy national needs, thereby abandoning the current needs of the individual. Hence there were no mainstream animated American propaganda after September 11 and the War in Iraq.”[4] I would concur that in the aftermath of the attack on the world trade center Walt Disney Animation Studios aimed at the needs of individuals through emphasis on family and community in feature films such as, Lilo & Stich (2002) and Brother Bear (2003). While Raiti suggests that propaganda has disappeared from Disney animation I would argue that it now presents in a super-modernist globalized form. Within Wreck It Ralph is a dark new teleology which expands on the former exposition as “Propaganda’s mainstream definition is one of audience manipulation towards an ideology.”[5] It is through the assignment of anti-western mass speciesism, as related to Japanese manga, that Walt Disney Animation Studios evolves past grievances attributed to the use of propaganda as “Propaganda uses stereotypes of the ‘home’ or the ‘other’ in ways which inadequately represent differences. Irrespective of degrees of nationalism and the rise of individualism within a global identity, a post-Second World War awareness exists that labels propaganda as malevolent.”[6]

The early Disney propagandist films were produced and governmentally sponsored partially as a result of financial distress brought through over expenditures on production of Fantasia (1940). To sustain profitability for the company Disney employed an assembly line approach to his animation studio. This new Fordism method resulted in “creating a dialectical tension that informs the early history of animation, a dialectic that centers on the energy of the onscreen characters.”[7]  Disney used this energy to great effect in the animated shorts that preceded feature films. Old propaganda methods aimed at influencing a national mass market audience have evolved on a global scale in a western ideological battle for the hearts, minds and pocketbooks of potential consumer markets as driven by capital transnational media conglomerates.

Anti-western speciesism in Wreck it Ralph is grounded in the theory of plasmaticity in animation.  The fluidity of the line in animated subjects moves beyond stretch and squash plasticity and into the realm of “primordial forms and life force.”[8] Within the space between graphic novel frames or 24 frames per second of celluloid animation, “The animal or animaloid characters summon and channel a technical force. As a consequence, a technical force is now experienced as an animal force, as vitality, as life itself.”[9] In Wreck it Ralph, as a high definition digital animation, this life force is compressed into 60 frames per second thereby exponentially increasing its teleological plasmaticity and raising its materiality to a level of excess as demarked in super-modernity. Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein’s critical early inquiry of the Disney animation subject found “The plasmaticity of animation conjures forth the experience of a primordial life-force, which encourages animation to put a folkloric, mythic, animistic, and pantheistic spin on evolutionary scenarios.”[10] Like the cybug burrowed beneath the surface of “Sugar Rush” this primordial force of speciesism will breed a destructive and false evolutionary coding within the subliminal minds of the audience.

While Disney was hard at work perfecting the mechanics of animation the Japanese illustration master Osama Tezuka was developing animated creatures which operated outside meta-narrative form through manga. The introduction of dancing dog soldiers, caged tigers, playful pigs and amassed bird forms in which “the transformation of racial others into cute nonhumans” resulted in “a sort of ideological operation or abstract at work, a decoding and recoding of international relations into species relations.” [11] Tezuka’s work also presented an exaggerated morphing of cuteness in humanoid and animal characters. Wreck it Ralph relies on this neotany in main character Vanellope (Sarah Silverman) through accentuated baby features of ”a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements”[12] This reverse evolution in the animated character “entails a surplus or excess that crosses species.”[13] The manga based plasmaticity of neotany in game characters within Wreck it Ralph includes advanced properties of social Darwinism and racial stratification which are unleashed as a dominant force by exclusion of the individual and species relation coding of the cybug swarm in a “bio-political construct.”[14]

These evolutionary scenarios are twofold, first concerning social Darwinism in multi-cultural game worlds and secondly as post-humanism in anti-western speciesism. Firstly, the public sphere of game central space is akin to western society’s cultural diversity found in educational and social institutions. This evokes a harmonious democratic universe in which multi-cultural game characters interact by communicating in various languages following which they return to their kindred home games social strata. The evolutionary development of the arcade in Wreck It Ralph also creates a social hierarchy in which the game worlds are rendered obsolete as they become outdated or out of order. Within game central the characters of one such technologically obsolete arcade game “Q-Bert” are depicted as homeless members of the game world society. The life force of these game characters is paired with the emotional fear of death, as an announcement in game central warns, and if characters die outside their game they do not regenerate.

This supports a survival of the fittest concept in social Darwinism as the newest, fastest and highest graphics capable game worlds will replace older, slower and lower bit rate games. Indeed, “Fix It Felix” faces the doom of an out of order designation when it is discovered that Ralph is no longer part of their game. Other social concerns such as whiteness of the four main humanoid characters in comparison to ethnographic depictions of other game characters or fascist referent to the mind control elicited in “Sugar Rush” by King Candy also plague the surface text.

However, it is the assignment of a singular speciesism of anti-western ideology and its mass eradication that should elicit primary concern. Transference of the faceless enemy into the form of an insect, feared for its biting and stinging by children the world over, moves the animated subject into a post human realm. Symbolic of anti-western doctrine is a giant light beacon which when emitted inextricably draws the cybug swarm in the manner of moths drawn to flame. This irrepressible attraction parallels both dictatorship mass personism and allegorically the mass pilgrimage to the centralized Kaaba in Mecca.

The cybug is demarcated as an evil incarnate which must be destroyed in a referent symbol to the faceless enemy which racial war has historically perpetuated. A major perceptual flaw in speciesism is its lack of recognition for individuals that may be victims of the vacuum of political oppression or attempting to survive and who peacefully practice their faith under the harshness of an extremist religious regime. The intrinsic western ideological belief of individual sovereignty is subverted by speciesism assignment in the stereotype threat of overbroad social identity. Disney’s political correctness in non-assignment of cultural or racial denigrating cartoon renditions no longer applies nor alleviates todays super-modernized decoding and recoding of speciesism and its mass extinction. If the premise that all human beings are created equal holds true then the social or ethnic cleansing, as observed  in Wreck It Ralph through speciesism, “may be viewed as reductive, exclusionary and harmful to those whose stories are erased.”[15]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography:

 

Bukatman, Scott. Poetics of Slumberland. Berkely and Los Angeles: The California

Press. 2012. Print.

Lamarre, Thomas. “Speciesism, Part III: Neoteny and the Politics of Life.”

Mechademia, vol. 6, {2011}: 110-136. Accessed Mar. 21, 2013.

Lochhead, Judith. Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought. New York; London:

Routledge, 2002. Print.

Riati, Gerard. “The Disappearance of Disney Animated Propaganda: A Globalization

Perspective” Animation, vol 2, {2007} 153. Accessed Apr. 12, 2013.

 

 

 


[1] Gerard C. Raiti, The Disappearance of Disney Animated

Propaganda: A Globalization Perspective. 165.

[2] Thomas Lamarre. Speciesism, Part III: Neoteny and the Politics of Life.  112.

[3] Raiti, 160.

[4] Raiti, 166.

[5] Riata, 166.

[6] Riata, 166.

[7] Scott Bukatman, Poetics of Slumberland. 108.

[8] Lamarre, 117.

[9] Lamarre, 114.

[10] Lamarre, 130.

[11] Lamarre, 117.

[12] Lamarre, 125.

[13] Lamarre, 126.

[14] Lamarre, 133.

[15] Judith Lochead, Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought. 6.

Fractured Hard Bodies: Rocky, Rambo and the Expendables.

Fractured Hard Bodies: Rocky, Rambo and the Expendables.

Ronbo

Time slips away and leaves you with nothing mister but boring stories of glory days.”

 Bruce Springsteen

There are summer tours which prepackage former music pop stars in an effort to capture revenue from an aging demographic. The audience is required to suffer through the artists’ latest work before being rewarded with the bands classics tunes. Featuring a cast of former stars, The Expendables, (2010) directed by Sylvester Stallone acts as a summer tour of aged cinematic action heroes from the Reagan era of the 1980’s. The former hard bodies conventions that propelled these stars have been rendered obsolete and been replaced by the more formidable verisimilitude of violence as spectacle.

Rocky, (1976) and, First Blood, (1982) directed and starring Stallone spawned a bifurcation in the hard bodies cinema, a movement that relied on fear of potential Fascism “ in the Reagan era, with the resurgence of an increasing militant, vociferous and powerful Right, the Fascist potential forcing itself to recognition,”[1] through its glorification of the male physique. Rocky Balboa, the simpleton character, relies on physical prowess over intellect to pursue his goal. Rocky, as a boxer, is only flesh and blood and thus emotionally subjected to elations and self-loathing as determined by his fallible physical being. This humanistic limitation is visually reinforced as Balboa trains by pounding away on bloodied sides of beef in a meat locker. John Rambo, while initially rooted in physicality, possesses the extension of weaponry which provides him an emotional shield. Rambo gains emotive invincibility though lending agency to the familial object of the material world of knives, guns, explosives and machines. This key differentiation is further magnified in conjunction with political intonations in the Stallone franchise sequel films, Rocky IV, (1985) and Rambo: First Blood Part II, (1985).

The year 1985 marked a second term of presidency for Ronald Reagan in the United States. It was clear that the cold war had effectively been a victory for the U.S. as evidenced by the dissolution of the Soviet Empire into breakaway republics such as Georgia, Croatia, and Kosovo. Reagan bolstered the U.S. military with a buildup of defense spending while promoting the global influence of democratic institutions and capitalism. Despite its position as leader in a New World Order, the U.S. was still haunted by its defeat in Vietnam; the Stallone films confront this specter of the past through cinematic fantasy.

The Regan Era has been described as merging politics with cinema in both cultural and ideological representations. Stallone’s films exemplify this notion in their admonishing the virtuosity of the U.S. soldier, exposing corruption of U.S. government, and vilifying the Russians. Robert Sklar observes the political influences of Rambo, First Blood Part II, “at the deepest levels of ideology and fantasy, The United States refused to concede that it had lost the war in Vietnam; through violence and masculine strength, defeat could be redeemed, rectified, transmuted into victory on other, larger fields of battle.”[2] The victory which Sklar denotes comes through exposing the North Vietnamese regime as a puppet state of the U.S.S.R. If the U.S. defeat in Vietnam resulted from Russian support of North Vietnam, mirrored in the U.S. support of Afghanistan in its war with U.S.S.R., then it stood to reason that U.S. victory in the cold war equated to a protracted victory in Vietnam. While a political analysis of backroom brawls by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in third world countries, as an alternative to mutual assured destruction, is beyond the scope of this inquiry it may serve as a political foundation for the films discussed.

To consider film as a study in symbolism is to invite a clash of modernist predetermined secular beliefs, in combination with one another, in an effort to derive new meaning, “The search for “something else” is the essence of symbolism. In this case, the narrative theme stands for an ideological meaning.”[3] This inquiry seeks to explore enmeshments of the traditional tropes of sexuality and violence as separate entities within cinema. Rocky and Rambo, as physical icons, infuse the spectator with a heightened level of phallocentric empowerment. This grafting of spectator onto character is achieved through scopophilia as “taking other people as objects, subjecting them to controlling and curious gaze.”[4] Narcissistic tendencies within scopophilia harken the spectator to don the mask of the hard bodies’ character “the cinema has structures of fascination strong enough to allow temporary loss of the ego while simultaneously reinforcing the ego.”[5] While the spectator body sits awash in passivity an alternate ego derives pleasure, or envy, through inhabiting the idolatrized human form. Characters, Rocky, and Rambo, are each unified in the embodiment of self-sufficient or rugged individualism further enabling the surrogate hosting for the alternate ego. The hard bodies mask acts as an externalized shield enabling fantasy conquest through possessing super-human strength and endurance. Rambo moves beyond the limitations of flesh and blood as a master of the machines of weaponry. This extension of physicality is visually extricated by a sweeping tilt which begins at the tip of his oversized knife blade then slowly trails up his arm, accentuating a vein bulging biceps muscle, and ending on his doleful facial expression. Rambo shifts the visual pleasure derived from objectifying the female form of “Woman as Image,”[6] to the phallic representation of weapons for destruction. The phallic symbolism may be considered both as sexual or metaphysical.  The later of which, is to occupy and displace generating completeness and lack, in accordance with the binary signifier derived in the context of Lacanian theorization. It could be argued that the entirety of Rambo’s character is representational in sexualizing the acts of violence. The doomed relationship with the female lead is transitory and superseded by the broader context of sexual inference.  As an example, Col. Trautman, (Richard Crenna) verbally instructs John that he will be “inserted” and “extracted” from the jungle, akin to denotations of the primordial jungle as representing the womb in Heart of Darkness.[7]  Once Rambo is deployed he penetrates the enemy encampment and completes his mission with a fiery explosion. This metaphor may have subconsciously appealed to audiences as a gratification model of a sexual-warrior hybrid.

Stallone’s film, The Expendables, has shed rugged individualism in favor of the buddy system. This enables Stallone to delegate the brunt of physical stunts as may be required due to his age. The nakedness of the hard bodies’ character is now hidden and only revealed in darkened rooms as a tattoo covered icon of past glory.  Comedic relief in the form of ‘one liner’ jokes harken back to the golden age of hard bodies’ film. Violence is often restricted to darkened set environments with quick paced editing of fight impact close up shots. This raises violence to the level of fetishized spectacle as the female leads are now reduced to domestic violence and torture emblems. The narrative and goal oriented plot is similar in its use of government conspiracy, rescuing the ill-fated, and vigilante violence to evoke justice. The warring faction shifts from the U.S.S.R. in Rambo, to an “enemy within” form of capitalistic greed, controlled by a corporate drug CEO, in The Expendables. Sequel production is set to rapid fire with The Expendables 2, (2010) and The Expendables 3 (In Production, 2012). In the modern era Vietnam is a tourist destination, celluloid violence rages on and endless bullet casings litter the celluloid landscape while the hard bodies’ characters of the Regan era proved, in Rambo’s prophetic word, “Expendable.”

Bibliography

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. U.K: Blackwood’s Magazine, vol. 10000, February, 1898.

Mulvey, Laura. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” in Film Theory & Criticism, 7th edition, edited by Leo Braudy & Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Sklar, Robert. Hollywood in the Age of Reagan, Moodle Posting.

Wexler, Joyce. “Writing About Violence in a Secular Age: Conrad’s Solution.”

College Literature 39, no. 2: 98-109. 2012. (accessed February 3, 2013).

Wood, Robin. Hollywood from Reagan to Vietnam…And Beyond. New York: Columbia

University Press. 2003.


[1] Wood, Hollywood from Reagan to Vietnam… and Beyond, 151.

[2] Sklar, Hollywood and the Age of Reagan, 345.

[3] Wexler, Writing About Violence in a Secular Age, 106.

[4] Mulvey. Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema, 713.

[5] Mulvey, 714.

[6] Mulvey, 715.

[7] Conrad, Heart of Darkness, 1.

The Exorcist: A Horror Freakshow


The Exorcist: A Horror Freak Show

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Mrs. MacNiel and Regan

 

Disgust, shock and revulsion were the reactions expressed by movie patrons as they exited the theater. They absolutely had to tell their friends, many of whom could not fathom such abominations, and most decidedly would want to see it also. This is an old story. The film was, Freaks (1933), and similar scenarios had played out in any number of circus and county fair, “freak shows”, dating back over a century. Exploitation in all manner of maladies and malformations of unfortunate humans and other such oddities have generated public curiosity, for perhaps, as long as the public has existed. It is upon this heap of human suffering and indignity, on which, The Exorcist (1973) builds its stature as a, pre-blockbuster era, Hollywood mega-picture.

Today, the film is considered by some as an early essay in realism horror. However, it also presents a convoluted vision of western culture, and more specifically, a disintegration of conventional American society. Some examples of these “freak” or contorted conventions, once formerly banned under censorship restrictions as imposed by the Product Code Administration, include blasphemy upon Christianity and Catholicism. The affront to Christian morality is exhibited in both verbal desecration and iconographical defiling of religious objects. The American family unit is portrayed as in dissolution. Its father figure both absent and uncaring, the single career mother is consumed by material wealth, while the child exists in a world of magical thinking. There is a notion of extreme class division, with little middle ground, as a chasm between rich and poor that exists within western capitalist society. This is depicted through both the bourgeois social strata of the MacNeil’s and the dehumanization of the poverty stricken Father Karras. The MacNeil’s can afford the best medical care for Regan, (Linda Blair) and yet, Father Karras, (Jason Miller) is forced to leave his mother in an ill begotten state institution. Hypocrisy of western medical science is displayed through physicians who smoke cigarettes and are unable to find a cure. They sit powerless in board meetings and despite the litany of testing performed can only suggest “witchcraft” as an alternative. However, the most disturbing of these cinematic sideshow attractions is the sexualizing and profanity used in the exploitation of a minor. Vincent Canby’s review stated, “They’re getting their kicks out of seeing a small girl being tortured and torn, quite literally”[1], also noting that audience members were inattentive if, “the tormented child on screen was not vomiting bile at the priests, masturbating with a crucifix, screaming obscenities about the young priests dead mother, or, for fun, turning her head 180 degrees to the rear”.

I recall the fervor that surrounded the film’s release in 1973 as a sentiment of catching a glimpse of the unspeakable rather than praise of its stylistic form or production value. Indeed, it was the gross out special effects, which generated excitement and interest in the film. The plot was only of a secondary concern. The public’s strong desire to peer inside the darkened tent and ogle the cinematic oddities resulted in mass box office receipts. It was so financially successful that the film is considered a catalyst of change in American Cinema, Thomas Schatz states, “The Exorcist pushed the logic and limits of the genre to new extremes, resulting in a truly monstrous hit and perhaps the clearest indication of the emergent New Hollywood”.[2]

Realism elements found in The Exorcist aided in its nominations for ten Academy Awards in 1974. This honor was rarely bestowed within the horror genre and the film won two Oscars, one being for Best Sound Design. It is not the cacophony of guttural vocal effects, but rather the absence of sound, as noted by this viewer, which adds to the pseudo realism. The aural depth of the silence creates a spatial perceptual void that positions the spectator for the auditory onslaught of bumps, thumps and the demon voices emitted from the possessed child. This use of silence had previously proven an effective style technique in the film M, (1931) directed by Fritz Lang.

A secondary stylistic form is creative camera movement and its use creates a perceptive discord in the spectator. This occurs during the sequence that Mrs. MacNeil, (Ellen Bertyn) and Lt. William Kinderman, (Lee J. Cobb) are discussing the death of Jack Dennings, (Burke MacGoweran) who has been found with his neck twisted completely around at the bottom of the stairs outside Regan’s bedroom window. The director uses multiple dollies out in a rotational series of cross cut shots, which break the 180 degree rule. This form denotes an unraveling of the fabric within the rational centralized content being discussed in the dialogue. The rational logic is that the murderer would have been a “large strong man” in order to account for the body’s condition. Mrs. MacNeil and Lt. Kinderman are visually separated from the explainable core of their conversation and into a realm of uncertainty. The irrational conclusion being exposed is that Regan, as demonic surrogate and possessed of super human strength, committed the murder. This unexplainable implication is slowly disclosed entirely through use of camera movement.

The Exorcist helped to formulate a pattern through which “New Hollywood” could build audience excitement and attendance. The film was based on a bestseller novel and generated a wide public interest and controversy. The film studio possessed the desire to repeat the success of The Exorcist in the future as they continued to lure patrons into the darkened tent of curiosity.

 

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

 

Canby, Vincent. “Why The Devil Do They Dig ‘The Exorcist’?” The New York Times,

January 13, 1974, accessed January 18, 2013.

Shatz, Thomas. “The New Hollywood.” In The Film Cultures Reader, Edited by Graeme

Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002).


[1] Vincent Canby, “Why the Devil Do They Dig ‘The Exorcist’?,” New York Times, January 13, 1974, 107.

[2] Shatz, “The New Hollywood,” in The Film Cultures Reader, ed. Graeme Turner (New York: Routledge, 2002) 190.

Masculin-Feminin: Political Impact on Counter Cinema

 

Masculin-Feminin: Political Impact on Counter Cinema

godard

The year is 1966. The French Nouvelle Vauge has spawned many new directors sparking an inferno of creativity in film making in the global cinema arena. Of those that will remain, notably Truffaut and Chabrol, cinematic pursuit leans toward more affable filmmaking and a commercially viable product. In contrast, Jean Luc Godard’s counter-cinema filmmaking in Masculin-Feminin receives a harsh criticism at the New York Film Festival in the United States. The films ideological emphasis over narrative structure makes it a cinematic achievement that is overshadowed in the U.S. by political tensions of the era. The historical period of its debut resulted the missed opportunity in the U.S. to recognize what is today considered by many as a counter-cinema masterpiece.

The surface text and primary characters of Masculin-Feminin include two males, and three females, who are coming of age in Paris in the year 1965. The relationships between Madeline (Chantel Goya), Paul (Jean-Pierre Leaud), in the lead roles, Catherine (Catherine-Isabelle Duport), Elizabeth (Marlene Jobert) and Robert (Michel Debord) are explored in varying degrees of romantic interest. Paul’s romantic pursuit is towards Madeline. Roberts’s romantic pursuit is towards Catherine. An implied relationship also exists between Madeline and Elizabeth. In classical cinema these relationships would be fulfilled or negated by any number romantic cliches  The counter-cinema treatment of these relationships is errant and wavering with no firm resolve. Godard plays with these individuals introspect, or lack thereof, through responses to survey questions. The survey is conducted by Paul and meant to reflect personal, political and social attitudes of French youth culture in the 1965 time frame  Paul interlaces the survey with questions to the women about sexual intimacies elicited for his own satiation. In turn, the women reflect questions back to Paul and in an effort to ascertain his character. This blending of objective data gathering with personal agenda will create an existential crisis within the film.

In counter-cinema, creating disruptions for the spectator between the film surface text and ideological substructure is a primary practice. Goddard creates in Masculin-Feminin a textural universe of discord and social ambiguity that is a non-story. He achieves this partly through building on some techniques from his prior work. This cinema tactic is adapted from Bertolt Brecht and stage play tradition. The Brechtian method proposes stripping down an art form in an effort to reveal its underlying structural framework. As in Vivre sa vie (1962), the film is a sectionalism and is to be presented in 15 acts as indicated in the opening title and chapter slates. This in keeping with the Brechtian method creates a distancing effect or empathetic severance from the characters. Godard’s manipulations of these slates create disorder and further the effect of distancing the spectator from the narrative.

This new style of filmmaking is explored by Peter Wollen’s article, “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vest D’Est”. Wollen outlines seven oppositional traits between classical form and counter-cinema. The Brechtian method in counter-cinema is classified by Wollen in what he refers to as the seven virtues and sins of cinema (418). Analytical lines of demarcation as outlined by Wollen and identified in Masculin-Feminin are presented as follows.

Narrative intransitivity or gaps and interruptions, episodic construction and undigested digressions (419). Godard employs the use of disruptive mechanics including placards, non-diegetic audio and images. Sequences include placards 4 and 4 A, 1965 that removes the numerical symbols leaving the number 9 and “The Children of Marx and Coca Cola“. Audio disruptions include rifle shots, non-diegetic radio tuning and narration. Image disruptions include shots of consumerism and non-sequential imagery.

Foregrounding or making the mechanics of the film/text visible and explicit (420). The use of foregrounding is observed in the projection sequence. Paul suddenly exclaims that the film they are watching is in the wrong format. He races around to the back of the building and recites codes from an international projection manual. No foundation has been provided as to his knowledge of cinematic procedures.

Multiple Diegesis are heterogeneous worlds or a rupture between different codes and channels (421). The film presents foremost as a sociology documentary, but also a romance and political commentary. These channels fracture the single diegetic formula used in classical cinema form as favored by Hollywood.

Estrangement or direct address, multiple and divided characters and commentary (419). Masculin-Feminin divides the characters by their opinions on sociological questions posed to them. They are errant and undecided never giving a firm answer to the survey posed. Catherine gives direct address to the camera during her answers to the poll questions.

Godard may employ one means as a divergent strategy to elicit another thematic element. This enables a directive channeling through active spectatorship. Ideological interpretations are imparted through constructivist engagement with the individual spectator. While it is beyond the scope of this inquiry to provide a complete analysis of the films counter-cinema techniques, it can serve to identify some elements of causation for the disdain with which the film was received in the U.S.

The historical context of the film’s release was one of turbulence between the U.S. and France. Production filming of Masculin-Feminin in Paris occurred at the end of 1965 during the Presidential election process. Charles de Gaulle, incumbent and post WWII General, claimed victory and held high world power aspirations for independent France. During 1966, breakdowns in political relations between the U.S. and France were occurring. The U.S. involvement in Viet Nam was highly unpopular with the French people and government. Four days following the March 7, negotiations between President Lyndon. B. Johnson and De Gaulle. N.A.T.O. Headquarters and all equipment were ordered to be removed from France within one year. France soon officially withdrew from N.A.T.O. and began negotiations with Russia on nuclear research. During the interim, the U.S., France, Soviet Union and China were all continuing nuclear weapons testing. This heightened tension of the nuclear arms race and the Vietnam conflict bolstered an atmosphere of anti-communism in the U.S.A. France was no longer viewed as an ally but instead as a potential threat under the influence of communism. Social and civil unrest also began in 1966 in the U.S. through the formation of anti-war protests and demonstrations. The classical cinema form provided a social normative environment through resolving plot summaries with a conclusive often pleasant ending. Counter-cinema by comparison would have been considered unstable and potentially suspect to the incitement of radicalization of youth culture.

It was under this political climate that Masculin-Feminin made its U.S. premier at the New York Film Festival in 1966. Bosley Crowther, film reviewer for the New York Times criticized the film in his September 19, 1966 article. Crowther begins in painting Godard as a non-conformist out to blindside the audience, “ … the doggedest of the old new cineists in France had his first whack at the audience of this year’s festival last night”. This reference to a stubborn or tenacious persona of the director parallels the U.S. attitude toward France during the film’s release. Crowther continues “Mainly it seems to be a movie happening, in which Mr. Godard can play whimsical and sometimes comical stunts, not leading to any clear conclusions as to the stability of youth.” Crowther seems uncomfortable with the disruptive non-classical form presented and lack of resolution. Crowther also personally affronts the director in stating “He himself, as a motion picture maker, seems to have little more concentration-span than that of his saucy, good looking youngsters. Who evidently have none at all.” Goddard’s film’s cinematic social conduct and refusal of France to conform and bend to U.S. and N.A.T.O. compliance appear reflected by his opinions.

Masculin-Feminin ends with Paul’s off screen death, the determination of suicide or accident is undisclosed and irrelevant. Paul’s physical death wanes in comparison to the ideological impetus which he impart. His message then results from an existential crisis ascertained in his dialogue at the end of the film. The cinematic experiment in sociological survey breaks down. The film seeks to present truth in French youth culture, which is an impossibility. All that can be presented is fleeting mortality, for as Godard states in a Cahiers Du Cinema interview, “one is filming the moment of death at work”. Cinema only captures the moment of existence as time is continually moving forward. The conclusion is that sociological study is tainted by the cognitive influence of drafters and administers of polls.

The opinions recorded in the film are transitory and dead from the moment they are ascertained. The ideological concept of Paul’s truth can never come to fruition and even his unborn child, the legacy of truth seeking, are in left in doubt. This is conveyed in the brutal final scene through Madeline’s consideration of a self-administered abortion by curtain rod.

In conclusion, according to Peter Grahams article “”Cinema-Verite” in France””, the “Two essential qualities of the good Cinema Verite or compilation film are artistic honesty and the courage of one’s convictions.” (p. 34). Godard’s Masculin-Feminin fits this definition through innovative use of cinematic devices and perseverance in counter-cinema filmmaking. The film’s ideological context did not rise to recognition in its U.S. release due to the social and political climate.

Bibliography

Crowther, Bosley, New York Times (1923 to Current file), Sep 19, 1966, ProQuest Historical

Newspapers: The New York Times; (1858 to 2008) P.57.

Graham, Peter, “Cinema Verite in France, Film Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Summer, 1964), pp. 30-

36. University of California Press.

Wollen, Peter “Godard and Counter Cinema: Vent D’Est”, Film Theory & Criticism, Braudy,

Leo., Cohen, Marshall. New York: Oxford, University Press, (2009) Print.

Ozu and Oshima: Beyond the “Tradition of Nostalgia”.

Ozu and Oshima: Beyond the “Tradition of Nostalgia

            “I depicted the changing relationship between parents and children and how the family system collapsed in Japan”. (Ozu, 1960)

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These words from the iconic director of early Japanese cinema denote a social system that is morphing from a traditional model into something as yet unfamiliar. Throughout its history, from the period of the Tokugawa Empire in the mid 1700’s, Japan has developed as an isolated, and “homogeneous”,[1] society which placed a high value on strong government supported by a stable family model. As the empire evolved into an imperialist regime, these traits followed, and helped to shape the creation of a Japanese national cinema. During the 1930’s, “Studios were ordered not to feature jazz, American dancing, or scenes that might undermine respect for authority, duty to the emperor, and love of family.”[2] Complementing the family model are the extended social connections found within the school and workplace, “Both are almost foster homes; traditionally far less impersonal than their analogues elsewhere”.[3] These foster groups are interdependent, yet may have been subject to disruptive forces occurring in the core family traditions of birth, love, companionship, loneliness, and death. If, as Ozu denotes, the Japanese family system suffered collapse, it may have resulted in a weakened national social identity as reflected in the national cinema. This social identity may also have affected the younger generation of the post-World War II period through evoking radical change in the passive role of the individual within the collectivist culture. It is the focus of this study to consider the cinematic works of two directors as reflective indicators of Japans national and international social identity during the period of this transition.

Firstly, I would like to consider that Yasujiro Ozu created a “Tradition of Nostalgia” which helped to create and preserve a filmic sense of national identity. This was primarily achieved through the subjective cultural representation of the Japanese family in dissolution. The second consideration is that in 1959, Nagisha Oshima began to produce “Japanese New Wave” film, also known as “Nuberu bagu” film. Oshima represented a younger generation and his films were influenced by his exposure to global cinema. The Oshima film, as a counterpart to European “Nouvelle Vauge”, and Western “New Wave” film, moves beyond, the “Tradition of Nostalgia”, and into a more radicalized form of cinema. The films of Oshima exposed Japan’s modern culture by exploring youth dissentient over the subtle family melodramas presented in Ozu’s films. The release period of 1959 to 1967 denotes a cinematic transition from the “Tradition of Nostalgia” into “Japanese New Wave”. These two monumental periods amalgamate the importance of Japanese cinemas in both national and global cinema studies.

Japanese cinema is steeped in two traditions, the jidai-geki or historical film, and the gendai-geki or films depicting contemporary life, the latter of which Ozu’s bijou movies are more aligned. The cinema produced by Ozu and Oshima, which was not readily exported to the West, appears to have lagged in early academic film consideration compared to other movements.

Perhaps it is best to begin by tracing Ozu’s trajectory in terms of his life events. The director is described as a quiet man who never married; he lived with his mother until they both departed within a few months of one another in 1963. It is unclear what role, if any, Ozu’s father played in his life or how it may have affected the subject choice of his films. He was extremely disciplined in his craft and was noted as enjoying strong drink following the days’ shooting schedules. In 1923, according to David Bordwell, Ozu began an apprenticeship at Shochiku studios where his training as assistant camera man and assistant director included shot composition, scriptwriting, and plan continuity.[4] Ozu’s career was interrupted at different times by his deployment in Japan’s military service. In October of 1937, Ozu assumed the role of foot soldier in the war with China and the invasion of Nanking. The capital city fell to the Japanese after fierce fighting and many civilians were killed. This battle is the subject of the arguably propagandist film produced in China, Nanking (2007). This historical documentary style film highlights the severe brutality that was imposed on Chinese citizens by Japanese forces. In an interview, Ozu recounted his desire, during the battle, to capture on film the sound of falling apricots and image of small floating white flowers of a nearby tree following the nearby explosion of mortar rounds.[5]

The experiences that Ozu encountered in war may have profoundly impacted his personal philosophy on life. His commentary on the absurdity of war is evident in his post war statement, “I feel like I began to think positively through the war. I wanted to cry out from the bottom of my heart that every existence is fine as it is!”[6] One can only speculate as to the effects his war experience, and witnessing, what has been described as “the rape of Nanking” had on him. As a filmmaker, however, he observed enough chaos existing in ordinary life that he rescinded the need for overtly false drama. It is reasonable to assume that his exploration of domesticated dwellings and the everyday people that inhabit them provided some therapeutic haven to psychological trauma imposed by his military service. Following his discharge from service, Ozu moved deeper into films depicting the complexities in the meaning of life, such as, The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1939), through the calm, stable and controlled settings which he created. This film depicted the home front “women’s picture” scenario of a wife’s acceptance of the husband’s military deployment. The film script was censored and pulled from production due to violations of the “1937-1938 Home Ministry Code”.[7] The script and film were later revived and produced by Ozu in 1952.

Once again, in 1941, war interceded in his filmmaking career and he was deployed to Singapore to produce films for the war effort. The imperialist “Home Ministry Code” of Japan cultivated a national audience, and discouraged certain film imports in a strong vertical integrated studio system of production, distribution, and exhibition. Cinema content was controlled in large part by government censorship and more specifically by military censorship during relative spans of wartime and occupation. Film production was considerably reduced, due to a rationing of resources between the years 1942 to 1945. During this time, Ozu produced the Kinema Jumpo award winning-film, There was a Father (1942), which was hailed as a national policy film. This film used a method of character development to bolster an ideology of a national tradition in self-sacrifice and acceptance of one’s military rank. Ozu was captured and remanded to a prisoner-of-war camp before returning to his native land following Japan’s surrender to the United States in 1945. On his return, as an older director, Ozu resumed making films centered on the Japanese family under the scrutiny of the occupation censorship. It was during this period, as Japan underwent its rapid evolution from imperialism towards a more westernized form of parliamentary government, that the “Tradition of Nostalgia” served both the national audience and occupational censors. Ozu’s films provided a haven of cultural nostalgia for national movie patrons, while also satisfying the social identity perceptions of the occupation censor board.

The body of work produced by Ozu is extraordinary. It includes fifty-three film releases between 1927 and 1962, with most being black and white and thirty five of which are silent films. It is not only the number of films, over the thirty-five year period, but rather the developed continuity in thematic, character, and stylistic form which makes them extraordinary. These three strands are interwoven and create a strong filmic identity of the cultural reference within the family, school, and work groups that served the collective society. Through the periods of imperialist expansion by colonization efforts in its War with China, World War II, and Post-War Occupation periods, the films of Ozu helped to preserve a historical reference of Japan’s national identity.

The primary theme in Ozu’s films center on vicissitude within the family by placing an emphasis on examining its subtle changing dynamics. Ozu families matched the ordinariness of Japanese middle class bourgeois lifestyle. The generational discourse can be found therein, “Often a parent is missing, dead or absconded, and the one remaining must rear the children. The dissolution of the family, already begun, is completed by the marriage of the only or eldest child or the death of the remaining parent.”[8] The family in crisis is not handled as overtly dramatic but with a quiet resolve and acceptance. Examples of these melodramas within the text are found in Floating Weeds (1959), “The rest of the syuzhet is built around three melodramatic climaxes”.[9]

Early films recount a pre-modernist era with images of parental homes, “They live in a traditional samurai-style villa and are connected to a variety of Buddhist images, including ceremonies at the time of and one year after the father’s death. Meanwhile, the mother moves about with a caged myna bird and a potted orchid (traditional hobbies) and a picture of father.”[10] The films other iconographical elements include; tatami mats and pillows, close neighbors, kabuki dance, scroll painting, caged birds, tea ceremony, meals, and religious objects. Places once visited and family photographs play an important role in the remembrances of the characters’ lives. Often times, agency is imparted on the still life insert shot object, “When viewers look at the shot of the vase abruptly inserted into the scene, they cannot help staring at it. They are forced to think about the meaning of the vase and interpret it. For Ozu-san the vase in the moon light is an image of purification and redemption.”[11]

The recurring nature of these thematic elements may have evoked a connectedness with the closed national audience. The frequent recasting of actors, in varying roles, also helped to foster identification with the audience. This continuity created a familial sense for the spectator longing to escape to perceived normalcy from the uncertainty of tumultuous periods that faced the nation. It should be noted that the “Tradition of Nostalgia” is less concerned with antecedent representation than acting as a progenitor to coming change. Geist supports this argument by stating “Evocations of traditional Japan offer comfort, but never solution” they also “never point ‘back to Japan’, but always to the future, even when the modern world seems bleak, or, as in Ohayo (1959), where ‘television threatens to create ‘100 million idiots’.[12]

The second strand that comprises the “Tradition of Nostalgia” is that of character. It is primarily through use of character that Ozu imparts the larger ideological messages of his films. Characterization is consistent as “The father or brother is typically shown sitting in his office and the mother or sister doing the housework or serving tea to guests that are always appearing in the Ozu household, the children often study English and the daughter of house can type in English.”[13] Situational events between similar character family members recur in varied form from picture to picture. The family dissolution often results from the daughter leaving the family as in, Late Autumn (1960). Bordwell notes that, “Akiko Miwa and her daughter live happily together, three businessmen, old friends of the family, decide to help Ayako get married.”[14] There is an emptiness that exists around the characters in conjunction with the narrative that “gives the characters no past or childhoods, little expository fleshing-out and still less psychological motivation.”[15] How the characters reach decisions are masked by their subjective mental states. This seems to evoke certain frustrations in some film scholars more accustomed to the cause-effect and goal oriented classical cinema or the ambiguous art-cinema character. The dedramatization permits an openness with the character and hence a strong suture vessel for the spectator. The character existence, similar to a porcelain vase, is filled with the spectators’ own experiences equated to the on-screen events being portrayed. This “drawing out” of the spectators’ internal perceptions through character representation entwines the second strand within the “Tradition of Nostalgia”.

The camera and editing techniques, employed within an Ozu film, complete the final strand of theme, character, and style. Yoshida Kiju explains that very early works by Ozu and his contemporaries, in the late 1920’s, were often influenced by Hollywood “not only in terms of cinematography and lighting, but also for storyline, gags, acting style, and actor’s body movements”.[16] Despite these initial conventions of western cinema practices, the young director soon developed a trend which represents the unique characteristics of an Ozu film. Most notable is a low angle camera shot utilized in the shooting style which forms a familiar image. This quintessential point of view in Japanese society is used in conjunction with eye-line match and creates a marker of national identification. The mise-en-scene low tables, sitting pillows, and Tatami mats, are staples of the Japanese home, and can also be considered as traditional symbolism of Japan nationality.

Moving camera practices were considered by Ozu to be a representation of the director’s authorial commentary. The use of pans, tilts, dolly, and tracking shots were rejected by the director in favor of the static shot with balanced frame. Doorways, windows, and screens are often used to create a frame within the frame. These stylistic practices produce an inverse of the “action film” wherein the image and its cause-effect meaning is thrust upon the spectator. Instead, “When Ozu relinquished, one by one, most of the grammatical elements of cinema, obviously he sacrificed a great deal – most of the means, in fact, and through which film directors ordinarily express themselves”.[17]

This ambiguity in camera shooting style is paralleled by a rejection of film editing conventions. The films do follow a subtle narrative course, but the potential for directing narrative interpretation through editing is avoided. Preferences lean toward the use of linear straight cuts over dissolves, or fades, “One reason was the editing, a process of selection, is so fraught with opportunities for editorializing. Editing, as has been pointed out often enough, offers the director his last and best opportunity to interpret the material. But as we have seen, Ozu did not want to interpret: he wanted to present”.[18]  What Ozu had developed was a stylistic image, in a narrative form, through ambiguous camera and editing technique, which is non-imbued by directorial comment. While early experimentation with stylistic Hollywood techniques were quickly abandoned by him, as stated, “Eventually, he excluded all of these and achieved that famous image that resembles a still photo.”[19] The tradeoff for Ozu’s sacrificing of conventional production techniques was that he gained a refinement in advanced balanced composition and framing. Ozu also refuted advancements in cinema technology through continuing black and white film production long after color film stock was available to him, “He started using color very late and never used widescreen or cinemascope.”[20] The “Tradition of Nostalgia” created an illusion of the contentment for a surrendered society engaged in nation rebuilding. While the cinematic surface represented a setting of peaceful tranquility it also may have masked the voice of restlessness in a new generation that grew hungry to shed oppression of the former occupation.

The new trends of the transnational era of filmmaking, during the early 1960’s, had an influence on modernized Japanese cinema. One of the rising star filmmakers that incorporated stylistic form of “nouvelle vague” directors, such as Jean Luc Godard, was Nagisha Oshima. Controversy surrounded the early political issues found in Oshima’s films. The fourth film produced by Oshima, through Shochiku studios, was entitled Night and Fog (1960). This film was so politically overt that the studio was forced to retract it only a few days after its release. This decision caused the director to part ways with the production company that had first brought him recognition by its release of, Cruel Story of Youth (1959).

To compare the works of Ozu with Oshima’s first notable film is paramount to contemplating the porcelain vase before and after it has fallen from its pedestal and shattered. The family model found within the “Tradition of Nostalgia” era is now completely eradicated as its foundational structure has disintegrated. In its place rises a somewhat disturbing image of self-servitude, lack of traditional values, and absolute disregard for authority.

The nonexistence of thematic consistency in Oshima’s films provides the opposite of all the comfortable familiarity of his predecessor. These films fall into generalized genres of crime, drama, and soft porn. In fairness to the director, Oshima’s career path follows the transnational filmmaking trend of cultivating a youth demographic structured around commercial profitability. In doing so, Oshima readily abandons any responsibility to provide his audience a narrative based upon absolute meaning, opting instead for stories of multi-hypothetical variances. Nowell-Smith states, “It is just that once the hypothesis is formulated its consequences are pursued with a rigor that makes few concessions to ordinary audience expectations”.[21]

Modernized characters, such as the four male students in Sing a Song of Sex (1967), are errant and rebellious with grandiose fantasies of rape and murder. The fantasies are blended with sequences that depict the acts potentially being carried out. There is no firm cause-effect established in this blurring of the characters’ subjective and objective reality coding. The parents in Oshima’s films are rarely mentioned and have little or no positive bearing on the radicalized youth generation. This movement of “Nuberu bagu” also borrows from European and Western cinema movements in its use of documentary footage. In Cruel Story of Youth (1960), this character technique displays the ineffectual protests of students to the American Japan Protection Treaty, a remnant of the post-World War II occupation. The male and female protagonists are ambivalent to this political effort and are instead narcissistically enveloped in their own self-gratification exploits. The young couple is repulsed by members of the former generation and through racketeering and sexual extortion of older businessmen seeks to advance their own fortunes for engagement in frivolous pleasure seeking.

The stylistic camera component in Oshima’s films raises the camera to a western point of view. Moving camera is often utilized and combined with frenetic editing that imparts a directorial influence on the audience. A heightened non-diegetic sound perspective is provided to evoke emotive response in similar fashion to new European and Western film movements. Unlike Ozu, the new films of Japanese cinema are designed to impart an auteur vision of social commentary.

The “Tradition of Nostalgia” served a useful purpose, in providing a haven of Japanese culture for national patrons, and a complacent image of a surrendered society for occupational censors during its tenure. The movement retains its importance in preserving historical references of traditional and modernized images through Japan’s post World War II transition. At its conclusion, in the early 1960’s, the “Tradition of Nostalgia” created by Ozu was replaced by the “Nuberu bagu” film. The definitive shift away from family-oriented cinema towards rebellious youth films provides a marker for the social changes occurring within Japan through the 1960’s. As the shadow of occupation slowly lifted from Japan, an undercurrent of repressive anger, vexing of intervening authority, sexual deviancy, and resentment of apathy in the older generation, bubbled to the cinematic surface. The previously cultivated audiences, raised as children under the occupation known as “MacArthur’s Children”, were summarily dismissed by the youth culture as ineffectual to change. As a reflection of social identity, it may be considered that this new generation stripped away the veneer that Ozu’s “Tradition of Nostalgia” had provided, and in doing so, it revealed the repressive desires which had existed unseen within Japanese society. The centuries of strong governmental rule and strict social hierarchy of family, school, and work were replaced with a degree of individual freedom that had never before been experienced.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Films:

Ozu. The Flavor of Green Tea over Rice (1939), There was a Father (1942),

Floating Weeds (1959), Late Autumn (1960),

Oshima. Cruel Story of Youth (1959), Night and Fog (1960), Sing a Song of Sex

(1967)

Guttentag Bill, Sturman, Dan. Nanking (2007)

Bibliography:

Bordwell, David. Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema. London : British Film Institute ;

Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1988.

Fernandez-Armest0, Felipe. “The World: A History”, London: Prentice Hall, 2010.

Geist, Katherine. “Ozu and the Nation”.,Theorizing the Nation, edited by Vitali,

Valentina ., Willamen, Paul. London: British Film Institute, 2006.

Kiju, Yoshida. Ozu’s Anti-Cinema. Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies:

University of Michigan, 2003.

Nowell-Smith, Geoffrey. “Oshima Revisited” Film Quarterly, Vol. 64, No. 2 (Winter

2010), pp.  19-23. Accessed November 16, 2012.

Richie, Donald. “Ozu”, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1974.

Thompson, Kristen., Bordwell, David. “Film History: an Introduction”, Boston:

McGraw Hill, 2010


[1] Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. “The World; A History”. (London: Prentice Hall, 2010), 659.

[2] Kristen Thompson, David Bordwell. “Film History: An Introduction”. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2010), 229, 232.

[3] Donald Richie, “Ozu”. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974), 1.

[4] David Bordwell, “Ozu and the Poetics of Cinema”, (London : British Film Institute ; Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, 1988), 10.

[5] Yoshida Kiju, “Ozu’s Anti-Cinema”, (Ann Arbor: Center for Japanese Studies: University of Michigan, 2003), 40.

[6] Kiju. 2003, 40.

[7] Bordwell, 281.

[8] Richie. 1974, 8.

[9] Bordwell. 1988, 355.

[10] Katherine Geist, “Ozu and the Nation”, in Theorizing National Cinema, Vitali, Valentina., Willamen, Paul.  (London: British Film Institute, 2006), 120.

[11] Kiju. 2003, 80.

[12] Geist. 2006, 125

[13] Richie. 1974, 13.

[14] Bordwell. 1988, 360.

[15] Bordwell. 1988, 71.

[16] Kiju. 2003, 17.

[17] Richie, 1974. 113.

[18] Richie, 1974. 160.

[19] Kiju, 2003. 32.

[20] Kiju, 2003. 32.

[21] Geoffrey Nowell-Smith, 2010. “Oshima Revisited”, Film Quarterly, 64., (Winter, 19-23).

“Shadows” of the Beat

“Shadows” of the Beat.

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Be Cool Daddio, you got to dig the beat, go with the flow.

Every generation has its subcultures. Currently, in 2012, one can point to the followers of Electronic Music Festivals fueled by improvisational DJ‘s such as Skrillex or Rusko. In the late 1950’s it was the “Beat” generation that stood against the constrictions and conformity of the post-World War era generation. The beat was short for beatnik, the group typified by its wardrobe of black turtlenecks, sweaters, berets and cigarettes. These men and women renounced work attire and ladies fashions, inventing their own stylistic trends not only in clothing but also through literature, music and film.

If you were beat, you would most likely be reading from a dog eared copy of Jack Kerouak in some smoky café or grooving to the bebop of hot jazz music in a club. Both mediums broke from traditional conventions in art through allowing a free forming process of creativity. The “flow” was a psychological spigot that elicited an uninhibited stream of consciousness. The literary and music results produced an effluent unrestricted by revision and real cognition. Modernist exemplar of the flow can be observed in freestyle battle rapping made popular by Eminem in the film 8 Mile (2002).

John Cassavetes film Shadows (1959) builds on flow from the beat era in constructing a film with a sense of immediacy.  The narrative drops in on events as they are occurring and lends no agency to protagonists and offers no defined closure. Editing moves in rhythms that are syncopated in accordance with a pseudo realist scenario. The camera lens acts as a participant by placing the spectator as an intimate observer. Interior scenes are rife with extreme close ups of characters speaking in your face as might be experienced at a crowded cocktail party. The film stands as a precursor to French new wave cinema and films of renoun such as Goddard’s Breathless (1960). It was well received in its European release before returning to U.S. art cinema circles.

Black Widow: Not Just One of the Boys.

Black Widow: Not Just One of the Boys.

Black Widow cowers in Fear

The representation of Natasha Romanoff a/k/a Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in The Avengers (2012) paints a feminist portrayal of a super heroine rooted in anti-communist rhetoric of the cold war. In 1964, following President Kennedy’s assassination and increased paranoia of Soviet nuclear missile strikes, the Russian super-spy made her first debut. She was first presented as antagonist to Iron Man in Marvel Comics, Tales of Suspense (1964). She is a mortal human, her enhanced abilities liken her to an X-Men mutant, they are; slowed aging, enhanced immune system, peak athletic condition, hypnosis, extensive military, martial arts, and espionage training. Black Widow defects to the United States. In doing so, she brings Eastern European enticement to interact with Daredevil, Spiderman and Iron Man, the super heroes of a democratic youth readership. The physicality of her costume is one of taboo, skin tight black leather with bust revealing underclothing evokes a Germanic dominatrix. Early in her career she enlists, through her sexuality and perhaps hypnosis, Hawkeye, the archer extraordinaire, to her aide.

Here marks a distinction of Black Widows persona from classical Hollywood feminist roles. Her choice in aligning with Hawkeye as her ally reveals both Black Widows power as well as her flaw. Unlike some classic submissive female protagonists, she creates a self-imposed impenetrable armor over her heart, thus she becomes incapable of lowering her guard toward the object of her affection. This sets up internal conflict in her yearning for Hawkeye, indeed, she exploits this devotion while divulging and tricking Loki into believing she is willing sacrifice all to save her beloved. Such uses hypnotic trickery over simple minded males through feminist allure, in addition to advanced tactical weapons skills, is what make Black Widow an Avenger team player. If we consider, that Black Widow’s character is rooted in the Specter of the cold war, which is a mythical enigma, perceptibly lacking a soul and devoid of conscience. Then we may define her femme fatale traits in cinema character portrayal. In The Avengers this places her above male subjugation, as opposed to say Tony Stark’s trophy girlfriend Pepper Potts. Potts possesses all the independence of a modern woman, yet remains an self imposed isolated princess locked away within Stark tower. Tony emptily promises Pepper that one day “We will build a tower that says Potts on the outside”. Ultimately, Black Widow must be subjugated in a manner that punishes her for her rogue feminist portrayal. The Hulk, as big green rage-aholic personification of male domination hunts her down like prey and leaves her cowering and fearing for her life. She is clearly shaken by the ordeal, but later forgives him when he has changed back to the mild mannered Doctor Banner. This vacillation is not unlike battered women’s syndrome, in which, the woman may refuse to leave an abusive situation. Preferring instead to adhere to magical thinking that perhaps her Dr. Banner will not have another “Incident”. It appears that fear is the line of demarcation that defines the feminist glass ceiling in super hero world. It sends a message that women may be kept as trophies in Stark Tower (Pepper Potts) or that they are cunning and manipulative (Black Widow) and must be controlled though intimidation. The Avengers is an excellent film, as an informed viewer, I hope that you will consider the role of feminist portrayal that it imparts to the spectator.

Orson Welles: Between Setting and Character

Orson Welles: Between Setting and Character

     George Orson Welles began his early career in theater and quickly rose to fame with his Mercury Theatre radio broadcasts. As a director auteur in cinema, Welles is partly defined by the stylistic settings and character portrayals of his films. Three films that demonstrate these elements are, Touch of Evil (1958), Citizen Kane (1941), and The Magnificent Ambersons (1942). Through identification and comparison of these films, this essay will present evidence that it was Welles’ theatrical approach to film that provided his distinctive mark on cinema. The inquiry will argue that it was the applying of theatre form to film, by partitioning the setting or stage from the character or actors, which creates a dynamic tension in Welles’ films. Additionally, Welles’ auteur qualifications will be supported in specifying trends of cinematic technique across genres.

The following are some of the secondary sources that may help shed light on this inquiry. Peter Bogdanovich, a longtime friend of Welles, conducts a series of poignant interviews in his book, “This is Orson Welles”. A second source of insight into Welles’ career, and auteur status, is James Naremore’s book, “The Magic World of Orson Welles”. This source covers in depth many of the films directed by Welles.  In “Despite the System”, written by Clinton Heydon, the rebellious origin of Welles’ reputation as a les enfant terribles in Hollywood is explored. This source also provides references to the connection between Welles’ theatre background and his films. Mike Prokosch’s article “Orson Welles” covers stylistic methods and compositional insight into many of Orson Welles films. His detailed scene analysis will be helpful in defining the visual cues that distinguish an Orson Welles film. The article explores Touch of Evil in the areas of setting and character  development and presentation.

At first glance, these two aspects of setting and character may appear unified due to Welles’ skill in blending cinematic techniques. Specifically, methods he uses include long tracking shots, low camera angles, and deep space focus combined with lighting design, and fast paced editing. However, deconstruction of the three films reveal distinct properties that merge in a cinematic synthesis and propel Welles’ mythical persona. The exterior setting in the drama, mystery, genre film Citizen Kane is a gothic castle. The castle’s interior reveals a great deal more than its intimidating edifice. As Naremore states, “In the climactic moments, the camera glides forward over Kane’s possessions, a collection that looks like an aerial view of a metropolis” (56, 57). This interior crane shot of Kane’s castle is more personal, as it enshrines all of the deceased Kane’s worldly possessions. Kane’s empty stage or space, according to Mike Prokosch, “is left as the only permanent reality (29)”. It appears as though an emphasis is being placed on the material setting that distinguishes it from the character of Charles Kane. This attention to the setting was carefully contrived by Welles in pre-production. Heydin cites actor Joseph Cotton’s autobiography memoir, “The largest wall of Orson’s office was covered with rows and rows of sharply defined drawings” (60). This detailed creation of setting which the characters inhabit can also be observed in Touch of Evil.

While an urban environment setting in crime, noir, genre films may not be unique, the level of consideration to detail that is used to create Touch of Evil’s Los Robles is highly stylistic. As Naremore states, “Welles’ skill is obvious, his vision of Los Robles is at once more stylized and more specific than usual studio expressionism”(158). Touch of Evil opens with a two minute and fifteen second long tracking crane shot beginning with a close up of a ticking time bomb being placed into the trunk of a car. Naremore describes the shot as, “…rising in the sky, arching over dark roofs and neon signs, then drifting backward ahead of the car to present gradually the town of Los Robles”(158). This opening scene marks an advancement of Welles’ ability to establish a film setting. The earlier use of surveying the material possessions in Kane has expanded in revealing an entire societal structure as portrayed by Los Robles. Prokosch references the setting, “This town is a piece of visual nightmare poetry, a metaphor of essential threat and corruption, which tells more about the meaning of action than any amount of dialogue or character exposition” (34). Although the setting in Touch of Evil is a populated exterior, and the setting in Kane is an empty interior, both may be considered as the backdrops for characters who will act within Welles’ compositions.

Welles’ mindset was continually preoccupied with theatre; more specifically, the works of Shakespeare. Heylin states, “Macbeth, the theatrical version of which Welles liked to characterize as his greatest success, continued to occupy him even after he took off for Hollywood” (237). In theatrical arts, an actor must adhere to rules of blocking that are comprised of nine stage placements. The placements consist of combinations of up, center, down, right and left stage. The actors must also interact with props and backdrop flats provided as natural surroundings, walls, doorways, stairs and balconies. Welles creates similar theatrical spaces within the framing composition of his films.  Lighting may be considered as another adaptation from Welles’ theater background that finds its way into his films. The use of lighting in Kane bares resemblance to the lights coming up to reveal a dramatic stage set, and next reveal the actor. Cinematographer Greg Toland, credited for photography, is cited by Heydon on the use of transitions and lighting, “ …most of the transitions in Citizen Kane are lap dissolves in which the background dissolves from one scene to the next shortly before the players in the foreground are dissolved” (61). Toland explains that two separate light dimming systems were utilized for the effect, first for the setting, and the secondly for the characters. Welles’ is establishing the film setting through lighting and theatrical spacing prior to permitting the actors upon his equivalent of a celluloid stage.

Deep focus is one tool used to achieve dynamic tension between setting and character and is a method often cited in the recognition of Welles’ work. Heydon explains how the specialty lens allowed a closer connection to theatre form, deep focus, “…enabled the actors to play the scenes much as they would on stage, engaging in those long takes that were destined to become something of a Wellesian trademark” (61). Welles credits his development of this technique to Greg Toland’s skill and innovative use of the film camera. In an interview with Bogdanovich, recounts, “Some people have said that the look of Kane is a result of Toland’s photography, but all your pictures have the same visual signature, and you only worked with Toland once.” Welles replies, “It’s impossible to say how much I owe Greg. He was superb” (59).  The deep focus shots that retain Welles’ visual signature, attributed by Bogdonovich, may also result from the character placements within the setting. The compositional framing that Kane presents in the ‘barroom’ scene provides one such example. The film’s characters are placed in a triangular configuration. Jedediah Leland (Joseph Cotton), and Mr. Bernstien (Everett Sloane) occupy the right and left frame foreground while Kane (Orson Welles) dances with the chorus in the deep space center frame. Naremore describes the planes presented serve to create a dynamic tension over a portrayal of realism. “Welles uses deep focus not as a ‘realistic’ mode of perception, but as a way of suggesting a conflict between the characters’ instinctual needs and the social or material world that determines their fate” (40). Comparison of Welles deep focus trend may also be drawn between Kane and The Magnificent Ambersons, in the ‘strawberry shortcake’ scene. Three characters, Georgie (Tim Holt), Aunt Fanny (Agnes Moorehead), and Uncle Jack (Ray Collins) are pinned between the kitchen background antre and an opulent silver tea set in the foreground. Welles depicts their ‘material world’ while placing characters in the triangular perspective previously regarded in Kane. This depicts two levels of conflict, the first between the characters and the setting, and the second between the characters’ interactions.  As Prokosch notes, “The Amberson mansion encloses the characters, restricting their personal development of their relationship to one another” (30).

A further development of the deep focus trend is carried from melodrama to the crime, noir, genre as Welles finds new ways of exploiting the technique. According to Naremore, the deep focus form in Touch of Evil is still prevalent although it is now being used to accentuate the narrative. Naremore states, “Welles isn’t using mobile, deep focus shots to emphasize fateful mishaps and dual lines of action, he is editing so as to underline the ironies of the double plot” (161). In the ‘blind woman’ scene, the first shot in the motel contains Mrs. Vargus (Janet Liegh) as she reclines invitingly on the bed. This shot is purposely designed to entice a male voyeuristic tendency and is abruptly disrupted by a cut to a low deep focus shot of a Blind Woman (uncredited), and Mr. Vargus (Charlton Heston). The Blind Woman’s distorted face suddenly leers from the right fore plane, contrasting ugliness with Liegh’s sensuality. The deep focus placement of Mr. Vargus within the central left plane reduces his degree of male prowess. Flanking the two characters is a wall of compartmentalized boxes, perhaps indicative of the isolated circumstances in which the newlywed characters find themselves.  Heydon cites Welles memo to the studio on this relationship, “What’s vital is that both stories – the leading man’s and the leading woman’s – be kept equally and continuously alive: each scene, as we move back and forth across the border, should play at roughly equal lengths leading up to the moment at the hotel when the lovers meet again” (319).

A film like Touch of Evil in the hands of another director may have amounted to little more than a low budget crime film or B movie slated for second billing in a double matinee feature. Unfortunately, the film was wrested from Welles control, in the editing stage, by Universal Studios. The film then underwent six editing revisions before the general release version, as explained by Heyland “It was taken away from him because the studio had no idea of what he was doing, and why it was taking so long to do it” (307). The film making process that Welles used, which the studio disregarded, may be attributed to the earlier references to drawings by Joseph Cotton. The drawings were the physical manifestations of what Welles referred to as “Visual Patterns” (307). Cotton’s excerpt reveals that for Welles the process of making a film involved both a visual and auditory perceiving of the final product. The fact that the film was never seen to fruition by Welles in the editing process may explain why Touch of Evil has, as Heydon notes “that quality of strangeness” (324). Although, it was not edited as Welles had envisioned the production aspects of setting and character still retain his signature. Heydon explains that, “Welles had been constructing films that could not be easily recast by some other ‘dominant personality’. For all of Universal’s rejigging, the atmosphere was still Welles” (324). Despite the failure attributed to its release, Touch of Evil won the first prize at the Brussels’s Film Festival and is today considered one of Welles’ masterpieces. Through the study of his theatre background origin, and early career arc through his waning years, a deeper appreciation might be gained as to the cinematic masterpieces that are Welles’ legacy. While his wrangling with studios and maverick approach to filmmaking is the stuff of Hollywood legend, his cinematic art may as yet remain undiscovered. In examining the separation of setting and character, attributable to theatrical form, this essay hopes to have unearthed one small relic in that endeavor.

Works Cited

Bogdonovich, Peter. This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1992.

Print.

Citizen Kane. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Orson Welles, Joseph Cotton, Dorothy Comingore. RKO

Radio Pictures, 1941. Film.

Heylin, Clinton. Despite the System. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, Inc., 2005. Print. Naremore, James. The Magic World of Orson Welles. Dallas: Southern Methodist University

Press, 1989.  Print.

Prokosch, Michael. “Orson Welles”. Film Comment. Summer 1971, 28. Web. 21 Mar. 2012.

The Magnificent Ambersons. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Tim Holt, Joseph Cotton, Dolores

Costello. RKO Radio Pictures, 1942. Film.

Touch of Evil. Dir. Orson Welles. Perf. Charlton Heston, Orson Welles, Janet Leigh. Universal

International Pictures, 1958. Film.

Red Communist Hollywood: 1936 thru 1940

Morton Thompson’s Photoplay article “Exposing Hollywood’s Red Menace” begins by outlining two scenarios of exploitation used by communists to infiltrate Hollywood. In the first example, Thompson tells of a group of prominent stars that gather in the company of Ernest Hemmingway and learn of the suffering in the human condition that is occurring as a result of a lack of ambulances in war torn Spain. The stars are moved to provide financial assistance to aid the cause; unwittingly they are providing funds to a communist cause. Secondly, a famous actor is coerced by fellow thespians, under the spell of communist party, to financially contribute to certain communist anti-fascist organizations. The sense of patriotic duty and charitable contributions to thwart Mussolini and Hitler comes unraveled once Stalin signs a pact with Hitler. The Stars in both scenarios are now guilty of aiding the enemy and the Red Menace financially exploits them by extortion under threat of exposing their party involvement. If the stars resisted then other pledges would work to destroy their reputations from within the studio system. This sets the stage for the significance of the article in outlining the operations of the communist party in Hollywood between 1936 and the publication date of March 1940. Thompson cites a figure of more than two million dollars being provided to communist front organizations from Hollywood pledges during this period. While the financial fleecing of individuals was proving profitable it was the larger potential of media control and manipulation that the communist thrust into the film entertainment industry. The article explains how the goal of insertion of small scenes that had “significant” communist overtones could affect the movie going masses. Thompson states: “That little by little, picture after picture, the propaganda effect will build up until they are ready to make their move. And that move is revolution.” (p.78) The grand conspiracy posed a very real threat to a nation that was weakened from the great depression and seeking a new direction in its advancement. Once the law enforcement began its investigation the Red Menace being built on lies and deceit became its own worst enemy. The informers soon began informing on one another as the communist house of cards collapsed on itself.