We started class by going over the assignment due for next week. Jaap then showed a clip from the movie Marathon Man. He described that it is a 1970s conspiracy thriller film starring Dustin Hoffman as a sedistical doctor/dentist that gets involved in a murder mystery. We watched two scenes. The first is when Laurence Olivier tortures Dustin Hoffman and continuously asks him “Is it safe?” We identified this as one of the most controversial scenes of the decade. We discussed the film in relation to North By Northwest and the way they have similar plot structures. Jaap described the concept of a “McGuffin” as a plot device that is important in the movie but doesn’t move the plot forward. We don’t know what the “it” refers to and its not supposed to be important, it is just intended to move the plot forward. We then discussed why The Conversation ended with Jean Jackman destroying his entire apartment rather than when the murder mystery is resolved. We determined that the muder mystery is a McGuffin and it just is there to move the plot forward. It is instead the process and the character’s paranoia and obsession with the audiotape and solving the mystery even though it may not even be real that is the driving theme of the film.
Jaap then gave an overview of the readings for the week. He pointed out the fact that Copolla reintroduced genre to Hollywood. In movies like Head from the 1960s there is no real plot structure. In the 70s we have a return back to genre and and particularly with The Godfather, a return back to the gangster genre. In this we recall the gangster genre of the 30s, the dissolution of American dream, and the disunion of the family. Jaap further pointed out the influence of the new wave movements.
We talked about the movie Blow Up as the inspiration for The Conversation. Blow up focuses on the visual image whereas the conversation focuses on sound. We discussed how we see similarities between the two in terms of media and paranoia. Both characters form obsession and addresses a person’s moral duties and responses to when you see something like murder happen. We discussed how both films puts the viewer in the seat that we, too, are looking for something in the sound or pictures. We question the relationship in these movies between image and reality and sound and reality. There films address personal paranoia not with government and agencies. These films show that there can be manipulation of our perception and of our media. Further as we move into the 80s, Jaap pointed out, the relationship between media and surveillance was questions. Technology became distrusted and started to represent a distopia. Technological evolution and development was supposed to be positive, but if we look at something like the Titanic, which was a celebration of modern technology, we quickly lose our trust in it.
We further talked about The Godfather as the first new blockbuster and how Paramount changed their distribution system. The Godfather Part II introduced the sequel to Hollywood- and now we cannot think of Hollywood without having sequels.
We talked about the Oberman article and the important shifts in American life that he pointed out that effected culture and the cinema. People began to question American life, the government, the corporations as a result of a lot of secrecy and lies particularly the Watergate scandal, the war in Cambodia, the political assasinations of JFK, Robert Kennedy, MLK and their ambiguity and vagueness. These were unresolved and justice was not being done. There were also the brainwashing experiments and torture of US citizens.
We watched two clips from All the President’s Men, a film about the two journalists who revealed the Watergate scandal. The opening sequence situates the Watergate break-in. We looked at the way paranoia is represented and created here, particularly visually and in terms of sounds. We talk about the idea of the “Deep throat” and how he says don’t follow up on the media. In this scene we see that there is a distrust not just of technology but of journalism, television, etc. Visually this deep throat character is dark, he is a silhouette in a dark garage surrounded by frantic flashlights in the beginning. There is an extreme contrast between dark and light cinematography. We don’t really know who to trust.