A Pointedly Blank Recap

Well, we started class in as good a place as any to begin: with some context. The 1960’s in America were fraught with turmoil: Vietnam, civil rights, the women’s lib movement, free love, a rediscovery of Nietzschian principles, and, in a headier realm, the duality between the individual and the institution. In the film world, change was also coming about in a literal way. Vertical integration was no longer allowed, meaning that big film companies couldn’t hold onto a monopolizing system of involvement with a film or an artist from beginning to end. Beyond that, television had overtaken the American household, necessitating some kind of revamp within Hollywood to keep people coming to the theaters. This resulted in a shift of content becoming increasingly explicit in nature. The problem, however, was that up until this point, films had been expected to fit into a margin of appropriateness deemed suitable for all audiences: the rules were made for the lowest common denominator, and no delineation between age or maturity of viewers existed. When “The Moon is Blue” and “Rebel Without a Cause” were released, they were screened without the endorsement of the MPAA as they were beyond the restrictions of appropriate material. Despite uncertainty that the films would garner any kind of box office success, they did well even without MPAA support. We then watched a clip from Mike Nichols’ 1966 film “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” as it demonstrates the shift from Hollywood’s glorification of the American family unit to a focus on and appreciation for the grittier side of great performance. This all came in the wake of a 1956 decision allowing films to use the words “hell” and “damn,” IF deemed relevant and not excessive. This also yielded the category within the MPAA of “for mature audiences only.” This demarcation allowed for films to be released with increasingly explicit content. That simple disclaimer allowed for a marketing gestalt shift; suddenly all content didn’t need to be appropriate for all audiences, just for the age group the MPAA rendered suitable, and television assumed the moral responsibility previously held by the cinema. At this point we began a discussion of “Fuses” – a large majority of the class, including myself, seemed underwhelmed and generally found the film boring. It seems important to take the film within a greater context: in it’s time, it was shocking and revolutionary in a way that it perhaps is not today. Someone then brought up the concept of scopophilia, or the love of looking, that makes “Fuses” intriguing. There’s something about sheer voyeuristic pleasure that will always be interesting to us. The class largely agreed that the film was overwhelmingly aesthetic/visual in nature, and adopting a somewhat dirty feel, not in the subject matter but in the treatment of the film (the underexposure, the painting with browns and yellows, the grain). We then finally discussed whether or not the beauty of the people involved in the sexual experience changes our viewpoint as an audience – how would the film change if the protagonists were uglier? We then got around to talking about “Point Blank” – a film that many in the class found inconsistent in both tone and performance. The protagonist remains largely motionless for the majority of the film, in a debatably nihilistic way. There was some debate as to the narrative structure of the film – was it a dream/deja vu, or was it a straight narrative about a man that escaped death in an unlikely way? The consensus seemed to be that if the film was a dream, it stood as a clever piece of filmmaking, and if not, it really amounted to not much more than a shitty action film. And that was last week’s class, in an overly verbose nutshell.

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