Film Theory Fall'10

December 14th, 2010

Blog Nine: After-Images

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December 13th, 2010

Blog Eight: Camping At The End Of The World

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Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp” illustrate the components that make a horrible film a highly amusing and entertaining one.  Sontag argues “it’s good because it’s awful.”  A camp film is captivating to the viewing audience because of its poor inclination and satirical societal values.  One cannot judge camp films based on relevant societal values, rather as a viewer, one can enjoy the film for what it is – an unintentional parody.  Sontag also states “Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation – not judgment. Camp is generous. It wants to enjoy. It only seems like malice, cynicism. (Or, if it is cynicism, it’s not a ruthless but a sweet cynicism.) Camp taste doesn’t propose that it is in bad taste to be serious; it doesn’t sneer at someone who succeeds in being seriously dramatic. What it does is to find the success in certain passionate failures.”

When I think of camp, the first movie I recall is Mommie Dearest.  I can literally watch this film over and over again without growing tired.  It’s such an awful movie; one can’t help but to absolutely love it.  Paramount Pictures released Mommie Dearest as a drama in 1981, however they soon starting promoting the film as an unintended comical satire.  Paramount Pictures began to promote the film with the following phrase: “meet the biggest mother of them all!”  Every aspect of Mommie Dearest is object of ridicule.  The editing is terrible; there seems to be absolutely no awareness of time, the narrative is lacking, as well as the acting.  Faye Dunaway’s performance is not convincing at all, she’s dramatic and overacts in every scene.  She washes her face with ice cubes every morning, treats her child unrealistically, and is a compulsive neat freak, which makes the movie so enjoyable.  One of the best scenes is when Joan yells: “no more wire hangers, ever!”  This phrase is part of our media culture; everyone knows it and it is treated as a sardonic quote from a camp film.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Seven: Critiquing Theory

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Weddle argues that he is paying for mere film theory, as opposed to film production or something more “hands on.”  In my opinion there are two sides to film studies: one being theoretic and the other being the more hands on experience.  Weddle goes on to argue that the problem with film theory is that many of the authors and film theorists use difficult to understand language.  Their theories are composed of specialized language that only a highly educated person would understand.  This is why many of the theories are somewhat complex.  I agree with Weddle, some theories are difficult to understand, especially because of the language the theorists choose to write with.  If the theories were somewhat written more comprehensively and with less jargon, more people would find interest in film theory, because it is an enjoyable and highly well cultured topic to know about.  My concerns with studying film theory is that I might not fully understand a theory, and I will have a misconception of what that particular theory is trying to say or achieve.  The most insightful theory I came across was probably Wood’s theory of female repression in a patriarchal world.  I had very little knowledge of horror films being so insightful when pertaining to our societal hierarchal roles of females and males.  This theory completely changes perception towards horror films, I thought horror films were made just to scare an audience, but I learned the theoretical aspect behind it and that there’s so much more to it a horror film than just the “horror” part.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Six: What is Real, Anyway?

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According to Bazin when regarding realism, films are not the precise duplication of reality.  When filmmakers create films, it can be subject to a reenactment or a rebuilding of its reality.  Bazin also argues that the continuity of shots in a film is a “straight forward valid representation of reality.”  Bazin thought that almost no editing in a film made it authentic and a clear representation of realism.  As I mentioned in my midterm paper, “Bazin’s theory of cinematic realism depicts a difference between factuality and realism.”  A film does not need to reproduce reality one hundred percent in order to embody realism.”  Kracauer argues that “the filmmaker is often obliged to stage not only the action, but the surroundings as well… this recourse to staging is most certainly legitimate if the staged world is made to appear as a faithful reproduction of the real one.”  (FTC, 153.)  Both Bazin and Kracauer agree that in order for a film to mirror realism, it does not have to replicate it 100%.  The filmmaker can take it’s own interpretation of realism and incorporate it into the film he is producing.

We saw Nanook of the North in class and though there are some staged parts in the film, it is not an indication of being a hoax or a forgery of the real representation of the film.  The film portrays Inuit inhabitants in the Canadian Arctic.  The film shows the viewer’s everyday activities practiced by some of the characters.  However, in class we found out that Nanook is not the protagonist’s real name; “Nanook” was adopted because the actor’s real name was fairly uncommon and difficult to pronounce.  We also find out that Nanook has two wives, and that his hunting instruments are replaced by more quaint ones.  Though some might argue that this might not make the film authentic, Bazin and Kracauer would both argue that the filmmaker could make some minor adjustments.  After all the film is the representation of reality through the filmmaker’s eyes.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Five: Shining Stars

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Allen talks about some of the components Richard Dyer used to encapsulate the theory of what exactly makes someone a movie star.  Dyer argues that this specific theory has a cultural and social impact on our society, and it is entirely independent whether the movies are good or bad.  The idea of a “star” and “celebrity” is then developed.  What exactly does it mean to be a star?  According to Dyer, a star is an individual who is well known for both their image and their work.  A star is a public image that contributes to our society, and it tells us about our societal values.  Dyer characterizes a star as someone who is fairly ordinary, highly talented in his or her acting ability and therefore is rewarded by our society.  Stars also show hard work and devotion, not all stars rely on luck, though some might stumble across it.  Celebrities might also have luck on their side, but according to Dyer they are paradoxically antithetical to stars.  Celebrities are individuals that are known for the mere fact of being well known.  Most of times they do not possess any acting abilities, or any abilities at all for that matter.  Though they do not contribute much to our society, celebrities share a common ground with stars; they are both known and they both define our culture.

The first person that comes to mind when I hear the word “star” is Meryl Streep.  Streep is very well known for her clean image and her work.  She is one of our generation’s best actresses; this can be proved by how many times she gets nominated for academy awards.  Aside from this obvious reason, Meryl Streep shows true passion when she acts on screen; the role she plays seems to take over her personal persona, making her an image linked to her persona.  If we take Paris Hilton for example, she does not fit Meryl Streep’s description.  Paris Hilton is a celebrity, she does not have any acting abilities and her personal life is always shared with the public.  We know Paris Hilton because of her cocaine arrests and because she carries a dog up and down the block, she does not contribute much meaning to our society and the arts.  This is the difference between a star and a celebrity.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Four: Signs, Signs, Everywhere Signs

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When somebody utters the words “run”, I immediately think of the famous scene in the film Forrest Gump where Forrest starts to run and Jenny yells “run Forest, run!” I have heard little children use this phrase without knowing where it comes from exactly.  In my opinion Forrest Gump has become a part of our culture, and it possesses a simple and inspirational message that is transmitted to its viewing public.  Though many say this particular film is highly political, I completely disagree.  It does contain political images, but those images make part of a much deeper and metaphorical picture.  As a mentioned before, the scene where Jenny yells: “run Forest, run!” is widely known throughout society, I believe it symbolizes Forrest’s triumphant race with life.  Though he wears leg braces, Forrest somehow breaks out of them and runs freely.  The whole film centers around Forrest’s life, though he is not the brightest crayon in the box, he can still live a relevant and meaningful life.  His impaired mind isn’t an obstacle, and that is ideally what the film is trying to say.

There are many messages in the film that represent strength and encouragement.  Another famous scene is in the beginning of the film when Forrest says: “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”  This quote represents a philosophical view of life, as human beings we can never predict the future, so in turn: we never know exactly what we will become or what life will bring us.  This quote might refer to our own personal choices might bring us unpredictable outcomes. When I think of Forrest Gump, a particular image sticks out: when Jenny is the only girl in the school bus who lets Forrest sit with her.  Throughout the film Jenny is characterized by being a strong, intelligent and an independent woman.  She often riots the war and questions social supremacy, in the film she punished for being outspoken and this might apply to Wood’s theory on women being repressed in a patriarchal society.  At the end of the film Jenny dies, death symbolizes a punishment for questioning male authority.  Forrest Gump has many wonderful messages and some unconscious ones as well; overall I think it’s a widely known and influential film in this society and many others.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Three: Psychoanalyze this!

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Robin Wood argues that surplus repression involves the repression of desires that could be expressed but that are treated as threatening to existing order.  What exactly is surplus repression? It is a restriction placed on individuals that repress things that go against convention.  Wood takes Freud’s idea and explores his idea of human traumas hiding in the subconscious, and coming out in other forms (symbolic forms which manifest themselves as either basic or surplus.)  Wood then takes this notion and applies it to horror films, and the representation of females during the film.  Wood argues that feminine sexuality is repressed in film so that women won’t challenge a man’s world – the patriarchal world that we live in.  In horror films, the monster is always the return of the repressed, Wood explains that horror films are what we are afraid as a society and the monster is the repressed.  Wood then goes on to say that the “dominant images of women in our culture are entirely male-created and male controlled, a woman’s autonomy and independence are denied; onto women men project their own innate, repressed femininity in order to disown it as inferior.  To sum up his argument, Wood believes that any monsters in horror films are all representation of female integrity, which confirms the theory of repression of women in a male controlled patriarchal society.

In the film Halloween, sexuality and gender do not really apply to the narrative of the film.  Wood claims that in most horror films the monster is the representation of femininity, however in Halloween, Laurie is the one who represents and carries out female portrayal.  As opposed to many horror films, Laurie is the only target that survives at the end of the film, and she is obviously a female.  One can shift ideas and claim that Michael Myers represents a patriarchal society and that Laurie represents females fighting against this controlling male patriarchy.  Some claim that Laurie was the only female character that survived because she was a strong woman with strength of character.  This is why Halloween doesn’t really mesh well with Wood’s theory of the repression of women, Laurie’s character is never repressed, and on the contrary she triumphs at the end and frees herself from restrain.

December 12th, 2010

Blog Two: Feminist Film Theory

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Laura Mulvey argues that films objectify women.  However, she doesn’t only concentrate on this, she digs deeper.  Her main objective is to figure out how exactly this works.  In order to do this, Mulvey looks at the story content and she looks at how it is done unconsciously.  In her essay, Laura Mulvey constantly refers to “the gaze”; the gaze pertains to the types of pleasure masculine viewers get from watching feminine images in film.  According to Mulvey, there are different types of pleasure a viewer receives from watching a film; here she goes on to argue about “scopophilia.”  Scopophilia is more of a male fetish, or an object of the male gaze.  Scopophilia unconsciously constructs a form of control over females in films.  Scopophilia promotes control by just looking at the female character; also known as “the male gaze.”  Scopophilia is sexual in nature; it advocates sexual stimulation by the act of simply looking.  Mulvey also argues that film is voyeuristic, since the female characters in films are not looking back at their viewers.  The camera constructs a point of view that side with men, and at the same times it asks women to side with it.  This creates passiveness and subliminally women agree to their own objectification.

One film that comes to mind that has a strong female heroine is Underworld.  The strong female protagonist is Kate Bekinsale. Beckinsale plays the character “Selene”, a strong independent woman who fights off evil vampires.  Throughout most of the movie fights solo, without the need of anyone.  Selene’s attire is very provocative, throughout the whole film she is dressed in tight, black leather delineating her body.  Halfway into the movie Selene falls in love with a male character and some scenes show the viewers naked images of Selene.  It seems like Underworld portrays the depiction of a strong woman, however it must use sexual stimulation to keep the viewing audience content.  The relationship formed with the male character is also a way to please the crowd, after all her love interest is the one that saves her towards the end of the film.  Reinstating that Selene’s character may be a strong one but it is up to the male whether she survives or not.  This clearly proves some sort of control over the female character in the film, along with scopophilia and voyeurism.

October 25th, 2010

Blog One: Art for the Artist’s Sake

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In the French language auteur is defined as “author”. According to Sarris, the auteur theory presents us with the notion that the director is the author of the film he is directing. The director is the creative force, and the most important part of the movie, as a whole. There are some main goals an auteur must accomplish, which are; present himself as a romantic artist, the director is the essential “text” of the film, and he must leave the source of meaning to the viewing public. To a larger extent, the most significant component of being an auteur director is to tell the public something about the world, or about the meaning of life. Talking to the viewers and teaching them is the essence of filmmaking. Many auteur filmmakers possess the ability to have a signature on all their films, once the film starts to roll, as viewers we know exactly whose movie we are about to watch.

Tim Burton is an adequate illustration of this theory. Tim Burton’s films are filled with perplex characters and wild story lines; he embellishes the living world with brilliant concepts and visualizations. His films always have a sort of mystical feel to them, his ideas are represented through obscure visual symbols. Burton’s film Edward Scissor Hands is a present-day fairy tale, which uses dark colors and symbols to paradoxically educate the viewing public essential teachings. Edward Scissor Hands teaches us that beauty is skin deep; the protagonist is the complete contrary of a handsome prince, yet is an exemplary person with a heart of gold. The characters in the film mirror our every day life struggles, giving the film an extra layer of meaning. Tim Burton gives film meaning, while mirroring life in a distorted realm. Burton also manages to do this with his film The Corpse Bride. As well as Edward Scissor Hands, The Corpse Bride is a modern fairy tale that captures the endeavor’s our society is faced with. We are presented with an arranged marriage, the classic tale of poor marrying rich in a twisted animation featuring mysterious characters and a gloomy setting (typical Burton signature.) The Corpse bride teaches us the importance of living and loving life. Tim Burton films tell us something about the world, it reflects daily life, and he makes words visually fascinating. There is always consistency in his films; he is the definition of an auteur director.

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