Monthly Archives: March 2012

Boobs and Blood: Bruno’s Recitation 3/28 2:00

In Bruno’s recitation last week, we covered a lot of ground: Reaganism, Hitchcock, and of course, everyone’s favorite word: tropes. At the beginning of class Carly asked a thought and discussion provoking question: Did anyone else find Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story funny? At first, we were hesitant to answer but ultimately many of us decided that Haynes’ use of melodrama, appropriation and horror were actually pretty hilarious. Others, though, were slightly offended that some viewers found Supestar comical. Later in the discussion, Morgan mentioned how “badly” Hayne’s script is. And yes, we concurred, it is bad, and clearly intentional.

Was Karen victimized or villainized in Haynes’ depiction of her? How does Haynes’ represent Hollywood and the media in relation to his characterization of Karen? She seems vulnerable, naive, and impressionable thus, giving the evil record company the role of the villain. He puts the lives of those wholesome Carpenter kids “in his hands”, which, we decided made Karen a victim rather than  a villain or a dumb teenager.

Now, onto Body Double….there were mixed reactions. One person stated, “Narrative cinema at its best is like pornography”. Another called Body Double “the worst movie ever”. Then the discussion moved onto the importance of intent in film analysis. Morgan called intent, “the bedrock of satire”, which I think is pretty spot on. Here, intent is essential in analyzing Superstar. Don’t we need to question intent in order to better distinguish satire? Is intent always necessary in film analysis? These questions were a continuation of last week’s discussion on the director’s intent.

De Palma’s allusions to Hitchcock were impossible to miss; Body Double is an homage to the original auteur filmmaker. Why is Hitchcock alluded to so often? Is it because of his innovative contributions to camerawork? Or his directorial style?

Though, Body Double was clever in its satirical elements and allusions to Rear Window and Vertigo, as well as its commentary on Hollywood culture, it’s still just about boobs and blood, an exploitative, voyeuristic roller coaster.

 

Recitation, Jaap 3-28

We started with a clip from Back to The Future and discussed how the film fit into the characteristics of the two readings from Sklar and Wood. We agreed that technology obviously came through as very strong and largely depicted in the film, and talked about the ways in which it could be considered a “hard body” film. There were also mentions of the Libyan terrorists in the film, which was interesting to think about in considering today’s foreign politics.

We followed up with a presentation on Robert Sklar’s reading. Sklar talks about the emergence of synergy between media and the government and film industry. This was illustrated in the removal of the Paramount decision, allowing the companies to merge with so few policies in place to regulate them. Sklar presents some differences in the ways 80’s films were made and the way films were made prior to that.

80’s films drew from old B-movies rather than novels or things of that nature. He also describes the “Hard Body” image as a method to minimize the loss of Vietnam. We discussed the possibility of opposing sentiments in films like First Blood, where Rambo is shown shooting all the computers in the police station in the last scene of the film. We then discussed the Regan Era and the Age of Hollywood. We discussed how it wasn’t just Washington and Regan influencing the movies but also vice versa; a different kind of synergy altogether that brought about, through political action, more freedoms to the film industry that promoted the industry.

We referred to the phenomenon laid out by Sklar and summarized them as:

1)    New Gender relations- “Hard Body”/ “Soft Body”

2)    New Technologies- VCR/ Cable

3)    New Audiences- more family oriented (and more broadly reaching)

4)    New Production- Blockbuster/ Multimedia appeal (i.e. spinoffs in new media form)

5)    New Marketing- emergence of multiplex- films going culture, enabling audiences to watch films of any taste at any time of day.

6)    New Rhetoric- The lack of critical significance in the films being made, although there was a presence of political undertones.

We then watched a clip of Robocop, which prompted the class to consider the relationship between humans and technology. We also pointed out the indulgent special effects that were characteristic of the 80’s. We discussed the way in which masculinity was reaffirmed by technology and that brought about a discussion on the role of women. The male characters, we found, are powerless without woman and depend on them heavily, depicting a sense of castration and woman as sexual objects.

We closed with a presentation on Robin Wood’s reading. There is a relation of old Hollywood values with the fact that there are so many sequels made during this time. He suggests that children and old people only need slight variations to what they’ve seen before to be entertained. He presents the six aspects that make these films work as childishness, special effects, originality, nuclear fear, fascism, and the restoration of the father. In resurrecting old Hollywood values there was also a resurrection of things such as Racism and Sexism.

We then discussed these things in the context of other 80’s films such as the Fascism in Robocop, the role of the father and castration in Body Double. Then we closed with an open-ended question on what De Palma was aiming to do with a film like Body Double. Was it satirical or was he only seeking to make a film with the culture of the time.

Bruno’s Recitation-3/28, 3:30-Stevo

We open our discussion on “Superstar”, the gnarly short by Todd Haynes. Some folks in class found it to be funny or ironic, while others took it more in the vein of a serious, informational goof and a spoof. Bruno went deeper, touching on the nature of the dialogue; the lack of subtext, the disembodied voice, etc. We arrived at the conclusion that the voice matches the characters, whom are depicted as Barbies, a doll that symbolizes an unreachable perfection.

We segued into the two types of film appropriation and its role in “Superstar”. I recall being completely dumbfounded, as I did not understand the meaning of the word. I am a dumbass. Bruno, as always, was merciful enough to give us some insight. The appropriation of material in “Superstar” includes the use of Barbie dolls as characters, the actual story as a biopic of sorts, the music/concerts by The Carpenters, etc.  Appropriation of style can be seen in its  educational/informational format and even its use of campy horror sensibility in the “dramatization”. What a riot!

Next, it was Julie’s turn at the podium. She had a look in her eyes that said: “I’m going to kick everyone’s ass with this presentation”. She did, but only after going over the Sklar reading. She went over how the Reagan era basically shone through in the movies of the time, namely action flicks, which exemplified good war values, superheroes, adventures, and bodies coated in KY Jelly to look like extremely sweaty action is actually taking place.

Julie proceeded to show perhaps the greatest video on the YouTubes: “Rocky and Rambo Montage” (which, surprisingly, only has 92 views).

The whole class cheered, laughed, cried…

Julie then drove the hard-body image home, saying its use was to fix the masculine dilemma of not being all that awesome at fighting wars and such in real life.

Next, she taught us the importance of Home Alone, and how its success at the box-office went to show that ideology belongs on the back burner and whatever it is that makes money will always be the most important aspect.

Julie concluded her talk by asking if there was any connection between the franchise/sequel movies of today (Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games) and politics? What ensued was a heated argument about The King’s Speech and Perez Hilton.

Bruno shows a clip from Raging Bull (whatever that is). He asks us, “How does this movie reinforce and complicate the hard-body image?” Matthew answers, plain and simple and correctly: “We see the before and after conditions of Jake LaMotta’s body.” He is a real man with a real body. He does not have lubed-up pecs. It’s da troof, yo.

We then go through the checklist given in the Wood reading, that is, the main focuses of 1980’s Hollywood or whatever.

1.Childishness

2.sfx

3.imagination/originality

4.nuclear anxiety/fear of the end of the world

5.fear of facism

6.restoration of the father

We watch the end of E.T. I weep gently to myself.

E.T., in this ending scene, tells Drew Barrymore’s character to “be good”, that is, “Behave yourself, girl! Don’t get pregnant, etc.!” He then gives what can be interpreted as patriarchal power to Elliot. He is now the man of the house. It’s like something out of The Bible.

Now we talk about Body Double (one of Patrick Bateman’s favorite films). The film is just one big goof and a spoof on what Hollywood thinks we enjoy. We talk about how the last shot of the film is not only a boob, but a boob covered in blood, which sums up every American’s fascination with movies (right?)

Week 9 (3/27): This is Morning in America?

Last week we discussed depictions of law and order, resistance, and themes of racial and social justice, public and private art in Do The Right Thing, They Live, and Batman. For this class, we focused on the following:

• the perverse idealization of the male and female body in ’80s films.

• how changing technologies around film—notably cable television, home video, and VCRs help shape moving image culture.

• how De Palma’s use of mise-en-abyme helps to destablize the “real” film’s meaning.

• how De Palma’s appropriations of Hitchcock explode the contexts of the films he borrows from, in order to re-evaulate or even devalue their mechanics and the “classical” status assigned to them (by replacing them with material even more perverse and explicit than Hitchcock’s), and to comment on the ways that Hollywood reuses narrative tropes, generic conventions, and character arcs.

• and how the ideas of postmodernism, and especially appropriation shifted our critical understanding of how cinema makes meaning.

• the Cold War’s crisis of masculinity, and the consequent interest in/focus on the male body

• how mediated images commodify the female body

• postmodernism’s collapse of master narratives, hierarchies, history, and high/low culture.

• appropriation of style and appropriation of material.

• the extent to which appropriation is linked to deception, as David Bordwell argues.

Screenings:

Rambo: First Blood Part II (George P. Cosmatos, 1985)

Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story (Todd Haynes, 1987)

Body Double (Brian De Palma, 1984)

Robert Sklar’s “Hollywood and the Age of Reagan” presentation summary

The most important aspect of Sklar’s reading is the idea of synergy.  Synergy is the combination of two or more things or when two or more things work together.  When these two things work together they tend to enhance each other.

Synergy was extremely present in 1980s Hollywood.  There was synergy between the government and the film industry.  The film industry was greatly affected by the government, as the Reagan administration loosened regulations on businesses and studios, causing synergistic merging.  Studios began to merge with each other and other companies from different media (like the Time Warner combination).  The government was very much affected by Hollywood as well.  Reagan called his Strategic Defense Initiative “Star Wars” and he called the Soviet Union the “evil empire.”  Also, just the fact that Reagan was a former Hollywood actor shows how much the film industry has seeped into the United States government.

There was synergy between technology and the film industry.  In the 1980s most people had VCRs, video games, and cable television.  Technology influenced Hollywood greatly.  Video games sparked ideas for movies and cable television created a new stream of revenue for studios.  In turn Hollywood affected technology.  Movies sparked ideas for video games and gave channels such as HBO something to run.

Sklar also writes about how the 1980s were different from previous eras in film because most of the popular movies were drawn from B movies from the time of the Great Depression and WWII.  This is a reason that Body Double was interesting in relation to the decade in which it was made.  This film seemed to be aware of the shift in Hollywood towards B movie plots.  It made a parody of B movies while at the same time drew its own plot from other films.  Jake Scully is acting in a B movie at the beginning of the film.  Throughout Body Double De Palma pulls various scenes and plot points from old Hitchcock films, such as Rear Window.  He brings back Scully’s B movie shoot at the end of the film which I believe shows his awareness of B movie influence on 80s films and puts it in a comical light.

Sklar writes about the “hard body” image that was emerging during the Reagan Era.  This “hard body” film category is, in my opinion, another example of synergy.  It combines film with U.S. politics – The Vietnam War and the inaction of the Cold War caused a loss of masculinity in the U.S.  This feeling among American men combined with the film industry resulted in films such as Rambo.  Like Professor Zinman said during the lecture on Tuesday, Rambo was a cathartic opportunity to win the Vietnam War.  The odd thing about Rambo though is that it seemed at parts to be anti-synergy.  The synergy of film and technology proved to be beneficial for the film industry, yet the scene we watched on Tuesday showed Rambo blowing up all the computers with his machine gun.  But I guess it makes sense at the same time, because if you parallel technology with the Soviet Union like Professor Zinman talked about in the lecture, both caused great feelings of hostility in the 1980s.

I added the Ronbo poster because I felt it perfectly illustrated the idea of synergy in the 1980s.

Bruno’s Recitation- May 21st 4:55

Bruno began class by showing us the first scene from from Marlon Riggs’ 1989 documentary Tongues Untied. The film itself discusses black homosexuality. The scene showed two men dancing together, and Bruno as well as others in the class suggested that the imagery evoked the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, who explored the theme of the human body (particularly the male’s). Because this film was partially funded by the government as a public art venture, Bruno then left the discussion with questions regarding the issues of public art: Who owns it? Who has the right to condemn it, boycott it, or demand it be removed?

Next was our reading presentation. This week’s piece written by Andrew Ross dealt with the issues of racial identity brought up in the 1989 films Batman and Do The Right Thing. Each film represents a different sect of society, Batman being the white representation and DTRT representing the black representation. In the scene shown in class from Batman, we see the Joker terrorize a museum with his crew of hoodlums. Ross claims that this scene is particularly interesting in how it represents black society without showing a single black person in the film. Joker’s posse are seen painting graffiti and listening to “jungle” music, which are stereotypical characteristics of African-American culture. However, all of the members of the posse are clearly Caucasian. Ross suggests this was a strategy used by Burton to not come off as racist, in which case he creates a invisible racial identity. Do The Right Thing does just the opposite, depicting the African-American Community. However, Ross concludes that it still fails to represent the ENTIRE black community. Ross suggests that Batman is a film depicting “white people problems” whileDTRT is a film depicting problems dealing with the black community and racial issues. We then began to discuss Ross’ (and our own) analysis ofDo the Right Thing.

The reaction of Raheem’s murder by burning down Sal’s Pizzeria, is also a reference to black property being bruned from civil rights era and before. However, this time it is a white person’s property being demolished, creating an interesting contrast. The film also discusses themes of generational respect. Italian generation respect america, while African-Americans aren’t so respectful, much more skeptical, more interested in ancestry and roots. African youth use symbols to go back to roots when in reality they don’t understand the meaning. African insignias are worn to create unity in community.

There is also the ultimate question Spike Lee raises of doing the right thing. What is doing the right thing? Lee never fully answers this, if anything the question is reformed and asked again, thus creating a moral ambiguity. Ultimately Ross, and the class, came to the conclusion that though neither film (Batman or Do The Right Thing) successfully enters a dialog that reflects the question of cultural representation, they do say a lot about the cultures they represent.

Some students in the class had issues with Ross’ thoughts on DTRT. Some students wondered whether Lee should create a film that representation the entire African-American race, or if it’s even possible. We also had issues with Ross’ comparison ofBatmanto old black minstrel shows (white people representing black people, etc.). Could this possibly be over-analyzed. Too far perhaps? Who knows? We’re watching this now, an entirely different generation (the generation of that time) might have thought differently.

We then brought our discussion back to public art, in which Bruno brought up an essay written by W.J.T. Mitchell regarding public art, in which he states that public art has three modes of violence: 1)Art as an act of violence, 2)Art as a weapon for revolution and 3)Art as representation of violence (a war memorial, perhaps. It displays violence as it tries to denounce it).

Do The Right Thing uses all three. It is a persuasive argument meant to disrupt your ideology and make you question your own beliefs.

Ballots, Bullets, or Batmen: can cultural studies do the right thing? by Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross opens the essay by recognizing the nation’s evolving need for a tougher hero to represent them in cinema.  They traded in their Easy Riders for Dirty Harry’s.  This was the beginning of a new era; the nineties.  And as the country transitioned into the decade, there seemed to be several cultural shifts.  In the summer of 1989, there were different groups looking to be defined in their culture and acknowledge their histories.  In particular, Ross highlights the strong African American pride in America’s Youth.

With this, racial tensions in the country grew as well.  This was a summer with numerous hate crimes paired with an inability to recognize racial issues by the government.  That summer, as Americans tried to adapt to a new future, they adopted the Batman and African symbols to represent them in their ever-changing history.  Much of Ross’s writing focuses on the clash between pop- culture and history and the politics these things brought to cinema.

There was a growing multi-cultural nationalism forming in the U.S. and the Bat symbol and Africa symbol would come to define it.  As Ross says, Batman was the mythical identity and the African Continent was the African American identity.

The two big movies of that summer, coming out of the search for a new American identity were Batman, the invisible political comment, and Do the Right Thing, the blatant one.  The two films seem worlds away, but they were both relevant to the changing times of the country’s youth.

Batman was almost a condescending view on race, albeit unintended.  There is only one Black character and he’s an insignificant one.  Andrew Ross comments on the scene where the Joker breaks into the museum.  It seems to be a form of minstrel show with the Joker in white face and playing “jungle music”.  The Joker later says that the only thing he wants is for his face to be on the dollar bill.  The ultimate white fear is for the Black man to replace him in history.  Batman also paralleled the Klansman as a white aristocratic male wearing a costume to hide his guilt for breaking the law.

Later, the Batman comics got an over-hall and became geared towards adults.  They were grittier but still lacked any real Black presence.

Do the Right Thing however, was the complete opposite.  It was a direct comment and was released at a critical time.  It followed relevant crimes against Blacks, the hit of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power, and the first Black governor elected.  Even the title could be seen not necessary as an answer to the racial issue, but a reformulation of the issue.  Do the Right Thing also addressed the racial pride as generational.  Older African American generations have lost respect from the younger ones.

And while the film’s White presence was neutral, it also contained a destruction of white property as a means to keeping Black property.  It was a masculine, tough, active response to the racial tensions.

Both of these movies together created a new identification for America’s African American youth.  African- American could now be broken down.  The African part represented an acceptance of history and the past as in Do the Right Thing.  The hyphen was the bridge to America.  It married the African history to an American one defined by tough heroes who would always win, just like Batman.  America got two cinema polars to address the nation’s issues at a critical time.