We started off recitation by going over the midterm essay assignment. Bruno took us through each of the topics and gave tips as well as clarified the topics and took general questions from the class. After these preliminaries we watched a clip from Bacalhua (which translates to “Codfish” in English), a 1976 Brazilian film by Adriano Stuart. The film is a low-budget parody of Jaws, the highly successful blockbuster from 1975 directed by Steven Spielberg. The clip we watched in recitation depicted almost the exact scene from jaws that we watched in class except the shark was replaced by an exceptionally fake codfish. Bacalhua is commenting on the overacting and the spectacle-based nature of blockbuster films such as Jaws. The film works on the assumption that everyone has seen Jaws and mocks the blockbuster by recreating the general plot with a significantly less frightening sea creature. Bacalhua’s low production value could be explained by its release in close proximity to Jaws, but production value aside, the film illustrates how the idea of a blockbuster is rewritable because the story is so malleable and more about spectacle than artistry.
The student presentation portion of recitation focused on Peter Biskind’s “Star Bucks,” in Easy Riders. The presenter highlighted the interesting parable between George Lucas’s life and a scene from Star Wars. Apparently Lucas was supposed to go into his family business but was reluctant, much like Luke’s resistance to helping his uncle with the harvest. The article illustrated how Lucas was more interested in money from films than art. Unlike many other filmmakers of the time he was uninterested in culturally subversive or socially significant filmmaking and more concerned with films that would make people happy. He knew what audiences wanted to see more than what filmmakers wanted to make. Lucas achieved exactly what he’d hoped from his filmmaking career: he made billions of dollars in merchandise, sequels, etc. and reformed the purpose of filmmaking in America.
New Hollywood consisted of the move from character driven plots to blockbuster and later in class we explored the meaning of a blockbuster. These are the general characteristics of a blockbuster that our recitation section came up with:
- Appeal to a wide range of audiences (a universal story)
- Complex narratives cannot exist
- Plot becomes a succession of spectacles (big scene after big scene)
- A focus on marketing (t.v. ads, merchandise, etc.)-media conglomerates own distributors (creates atmosphere that supports the film. Ex. Good criticism in newspapers, t.v. ads, etc.)
- Saturation booking (designed to recoup production costs quickly by opening a new film simultaneously in thousands of theaters)
- Restructuring the space of exhibition (revamping the theatres to accommodate specific audio capabilities, etc.)
- Multimedia production (video games, toys, merchandise)
These are just some of the characteristics that define a blockbuster. We also discussed what makes blockbusters so popular. After Star Wars Hollywood praised the hero’s journey/monomyth plot structure in films. The characters can be underdeveloped enough that one can easily identify with them and the plot is malleable enough to be applied to multiple scenarios.
We ended our recitation with a discussion of the underlying political aspects of Star Wars. Firstly, there are underlying racial commentaries within the film, for example: Darth Vader (the antagonist) has a black costume and is voiced by a black actor while everyone else in the film is white. There is also an undeniably familiar political tone to the film (rebellion army fighting for freedom against an oppressive empire). The class concluded with a clip from Triumph of The Will, a film documenting a Hitler support rally and the class was asked to draw comparisons to Star Wars.