In this weeks recitation, we discussed the film Body Double that was screened in Tuesday’s class in addition to clips from Robocop, Rambo, and Back to the future, all in relation to the 80s Blockbuster. We also had presentations on the readings with Jonathan and Lauren on Sklar and Thompson on Robin Wood.
The class started with a scene from Back to the Future where Doc is testing out his time machine and then attacked by Libyans. It is brought up that it portrays the Libyans as the bad guys even though we learn that Doc stole nuclear material from them.
The conversation moves to Rambo and the question of what properties are unique to the 80s Blockbuster. In these films, we see the everyday man doing the impossible, an emphasis on the American middle class, and a focus on technology. In Rambo, technology was shown as evil with Rambo himself triumphing over technology, whereas in Back to the Future, technology is shown as utopian: exciting and beautiful. In Body Double, we see a focus on media technology and how it can change perception.
Jonathan and Lauren then present the Sklar reading. We hear about Hollywood and the Age of Reagan, the discussion of Hard Body vs. Soft Body, the synergy of hardware and software, corporate synergy, and the rise of consumer oriented films. Then the question is brought up: what was quality film? The auteur age had disappeared with Martin Scorsese as the only auteur to have success in the 80s (with the noir genre.) We hear about Multiscreen venues coming along and the Blockbuster as the type of film everyone wanted to make, leading to the divergence of what people wanted to see and what was known as great, as many films that did well were not critically acclaimed. There was a return to the Great Depression and WWII pop culture, giving us heroes and adventure tales like Indiana Jones and Star Wars. Films were no longer based on well known books but rather went the other way around: films were made into books, games, and other tie-ins. There is a parallelism of film and politics. Unfortunately, along with the adventure tale and the hero comes the racism and misogyny from the past. They show a clip of Arnold Schwarzenegger in Commando to showcase the “Hardbody”- big bulked up guys controlling the movies in the 1st years of Reagan’s term in office. There is clear attention to the male figure as a symbol of an unstoppable force against the “other.” In the later years, we see the rise in popularity of the “Softbody” in films like Twins which shows the comic discrepancy between the hard and soft body. And eventually, Home Alone showed us that a young child as the main character could lead to box office success. Jonathan and Lauren also show a clip from Big, showing the infantilization of male figures. They explained that In these later years, people no longer were afraid to deal with the Vietnam war, so they didn’t need big strong men to be symbols of protection.
Jaap then goes over the main differences of the 80s Blockbuster: new gender relations, new problems, new patriotism, new business strategies: brought in with the multiplex (With 30 different screens, the audience has more choice), and new marketing (franchising, idea of multimedia.)
We then watch a clip of Robocop where the main character is hunting a gang and gets shot to pieces. It is brought up that the film shows some self awareness, like Body Double does. The question is posed: is Robocop a hard body? The theme of castration is pointed out: he has a hard body but not hard enough and only becomes the more traditional male hero as a machine. The film continues to showcase the theme of technology: with the fusion of technology and humanity.
Thompson then presents the Robin Wood reading. We hear about films in the pre-Reagan time with Carter, which was a period of recuperating and recycling plots. Unlike films that get more complex with each watching, the 80s marked the advent of children’s films marketed for adults in terms of simplicity, like ET and Star Wars. They are liked by all, clearly fictional, effective as reactionary, and keep you from questioning anything but what happens next. They take you on a journey, in contrast with Blade Runner, which didn’t do well at the time as it was too dark and “sophisticated” but was well received critically. It is suggested that re-assignment of roles in Star Wars keep people from feeling guilty in identifying the bad guys because they are removed from race, gender, and humanity in general. We hear the comparison of nuclear anxiety to “the force” because both involve the existence of a greater power, beyond control.
The last few minutes of class are spent discussing Body Double in terms of Wood’s reading. Unlike an escapist blockbuster, Body Double tries to bring awareness of how films are constructed and how that makes us feel. It contains extremely clear references to other films, telling us that nothing is original anymore and makes us aware of the techniques being used. The gaze of the film is 1st person, so it seems like the viewer is the one watching. The director wants to make you aware you are watching, that you are the voyeur. The film’s comment on the media is brought up: the ability of media to distort reality and the the question of what is real? The film brings up the idea of post modern aesthetics as well as the question of taste.