In recitation this past week, we explored the meaning of the phrase “pop nihilism” in relation to such emerging cinema of the late 1960s as Point Blank and Bonnie and Clyde, as well as observed the continuing change of the apparent American mindset of that time.
We began by viewing two clips of popular Frank Sinatra films released in the same year, 1955. The two clips were from Guys and Dolls, a musical, and The Man with the Golden Arm, a drama involving drug abuse by Sinatra’s character. This extreme contrast in characters for Sinatra, as well as the fact that one year yielded such different productions that were both so well-received, displayed the changing attitudes of Hollywood filmmakers at that time. A clear turn from morally upstanding stories to more mature and troubled themes was easily observed through the juxtaposition of these two extracts.
Next, Evan presented a slide show discussion of Carolee Schneemann’s provocative 1960s film Fuses and David E. James’ correlated article “On Fuses.” Evan high-lighted James’ commentary of the making of Fuses: Schneemann’s response to fellow filmmaker Stan Brakhage’s depiction of female sexuality in his films. The article points out that Schneemann made Fuses with similar non-narrative structure and exploration of altering the physical film (i.e. painting the film strip, scratching the emulsion, etc.) as Brakhage. It seems she was interested in adopting his modes of film making, without using the typical male gaze that she felt objectified portrayals of her sexuality. Evan also discussed how Fuses is considered proto-feminist, having been released a bit before the second feminist movement, but still inspired many women to embrace their bodies and sexuality due to Schneemann’s unabashed depiction of both male and female genitals. Lastly, Evan made an interesting connection, inspired by the conclusion of James’ article, linking the word “amateur” to “lover,” coming from a common root word for “to love.” We followed up the presentation with a discussion of what should or should not be considered pornography. Several students felt that “pornography” has a negative connotation. However, because Fuses depicts sexual acts on film, it is pornography. This doesn’t mean, though, that it is not still art.
Considering both Fuses and Scorpio Rising, Jaap proposed the idea of personal politics, and asked how Schneemann and Anger’s film utilized personal depictions or perspectives in a political way. For example, the graphic performances of Schneemann and her husband in Fuses serves something other than a scandalizing effect; it serves a political purpose or statement: something along the lines of “make love, not war.” Kenneth Anger also makes the personal political in Scorpio Rising, using his homoerotic interpretation of 1950s-60s youth and biker culture to make statements about both counterculture and appropriation of mass culture.
Clay and Catherine, then, worked together to present a summary and thoughts on last week’s reading from Jon Lewis’ “American Film: A History.” Clay focused on discussing the shift in Hollywood productions from family-friendly material to more mature content, citing this change as attempts by Hollywood to make up loss of ticket sales due to the 1948 “Paramount Decision,” which stripped Hollywood studios from their theaters, destroying the vertical integration they had established and thrived in, as well as the gradually mounting threat of television entertainment conquering that of cinema. Clay also discussed Otto Preminger and films like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, labeled with a “For Mature Audiences Only,” as helping to establish the rating system we still use to classify the maturity of distributed films. Catherine followed Clay by commenting on how American cinema was globalizing in the 1960s, as more imported films gained acclaim and success in this country at that time. She also pointed out that films like The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde incorporated not only the sex and violence, but also some of the different artistic and cinematic flairs seen in European cinema. She concluded the presentation by discussing how different styles promoted in Hollywood really caught on with audiences, citing such unique styles from Marilyn Monroe’s to Alfred Hitchcock’s. We watched the short piano bench scene from Monroe’s film The Seven Year Itch to observe this style.
We concluded class by very briefly commenting on last week’s feature, Point Blank. The class noted the influence of foreign film making on the film, and thought that the role of money in the story correlates with the shifting American mindset of the time. Jaap pointed out that there is a great lack of certainty in the film, for any fixed meaning is fleeting, at best.