To begin class, we went over the new class guidelines, which you can find on this blog. One most notable change is that summaries (like this one) are due before lecture on Monday, not before recitation on Tuesday; this change gives professor Zinman a chance to look over them before recitation. Also included is a reminder to be aware of the language we use on the blog: Both unnecessary swearing and unhelpful or noncritical comments (“I love this film!”) should be taken elsewhere.
To begin the academic portion of recitation, we watched a clip from T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G (available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihTynFLMy2Y), followed by a clip from Midnight Cowboy (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MQSdi-UfGrU) and talked about how the two clips both play with the senses: T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G makes you think about what you’re hearing, as one begins to hear words other than “destroy” as the clip goes on, while Midnight Cowboy forces you to consider what you see and whether or not it is real. This clip (and film) are noticeable because it is often seen as the turning point in American film, where the counter-culture and avant-garde became a part of the mainstream, as evidenced by the film winning the Best Picture Oscar. Notably, some critics, including Roger Ebert, picked up on how the psychedelic drug visual effects in this clip are already dated, having been used in less commercial and under-seen films before. Regardless, the link between a commercial film like Midnight Cowboy and underground film like T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G. is indicative of a changing American mindset at the time.
After this, we discussed the two readings, beginning with Stephen Cook’s Stargazer and Warhol’s Chelsea Girls. Cook calls the film one of Warhol’s last experimental films and also his first real step into the mainstream, bringing up the question of whether Warhol sold out to the mainstream of if the mainstream came to counter-culture. Particular attention was drawn to the fact that the 12 reels could be projected in any order, as no direction was given by Warhol. Furthermore, the line between acting and real-life is blurred, as actors are aware that they are on camera but are not given any roles, so Cook (and the class) discuss how this creates an ambiguous state of whether “actors” or acting or not, and the morals of scenes such as the one we watched in class. This ties in with the ideas of making the political personal and vice-versa–was Warhol trying to make a statement? If these actors being themselves make us discuss morals, has the personal then already become personal.
Chelsea Girls, we concluded, is also an assault on the senses the same way both T.O.U.C.H.I.N.G. and Midnight Cowboy are, forcing us to question our cognitive habits because there are two reels being shown at once and soundtrack that toggles between the two scenes.
The next reading, What Made Us Right, focuses on the creative producer and how at that point film lost its artistic qualities to industrial and commercial ones. While film as an artistic statement relies on the director and his vision, as a producer begins to takeover, such a vision is lost and any kind of statement intended–such as the ones that are clear in the avant-garde films above–is lost. This arguably was a large part of the creation of Head, where Bob Rafelson realized that his counter-cultural roots had been usurped by having created one of the biggest pop groups at the time, and Head was an attempt to destroy that. Did Rafelson sell out, or did the mainstream come to him? The failure of Head, a film with an avant-garde, disembodied narrative, suggests the former. Either way, the notable quotation is that “Studios went from shaking their head in incomprehension to nodding their head in incomprehension,” uncaring about what made sense as long as it made money, which, by this time, with the success of Midnight Cowboy, it could.
A discussion of Head and its politics and themes followed. The class was divided on whether the film’s execution was deliberate and meaningful or poor, be it by intention or not. Whether the film, which claims to be anti-war, actually is or is not varied largely from person to person, as did the idea of whether counter-culture went mainstream or mainstream went counter-culture.