Week 9 – This is Morning in America?
Recitation began with a discussion of the Todd Haynes short, Superstar. The short tells the story of singer Karen Carpenter and her struggles with anorexia nervosa. What makes the film especially unique though, is that it tells this story through the use of Barbie dolls.
The film was largely distributed underground and passed around in bootleg form. This was due to the Carpenters not approving of the film and declaring it slander. The film was reactionary and meant to be educational, like a PSA, and used to exploit the problem of sensationalism in the media. The class commented on the opening scene and how it was shot like a horror film. Other horrific aspects of the film included the use of Holocaust footage interspersed into the film in quick flashes. These flashes make the viewer uncomfortable with what they are watching and this feeling is only increased by the film’s subject matter.
The simplistic dialogue of the film was at first mocked by the class but we later realized that this only exemplified the notion that the film was like watching children play with dolls and speak in simple terms. It brings to light the depressing realization that eating disorders and the like are in the minds of young children and this is mainly caused by the media.
The discussion then moved to that of the types of films that were being produced in the eighties and the “Age of Reagan”. Most films were shaped by ideology and/or technology. Films became less and less focused on theme and story and more on becoming pure entertainment. War films like First Blood were reactionary to the fact that the US had failed in Vietnam and this also lead to the use of “hard bodies” and prominent masculinity in films. Nothing exemplifies this more to me than the meeting between Arnold Schwarzenegger’s and Carl Weather’s characters in Predator.
The testosterone and manliness just jumps off the screen. The flexing of the two men’s biceps is completely unnecessary yet strangely awesome. This scene is pure 80’s.
The “hard body” concept was further explored when Bruno played a few scenes from Scorsese’s Raging Bull. This film is an example of a “hard body” that is justified. The body of a young De Niro as Jake LaMotta is athletic and appropriate for the film. The audience is first introduced (minus the slow motion shadowboxing opening) to LaMotta as an old, fat man struggling to recite a written speech.
The film let’s the audience know how this “hard body” ends up and that it doesn’t last forever. This is another aspect that makes the “hard body” a little more justified and acceptable in the context of the film.
Finally, we discussed Body Double, co-written and directed by Brian DePalma, and it’s strange and confusing ending. The phrase “the camera lies 24 times a second” perfectly describes this film as the audience is often left wondering is what they’re seeing is real or a lie in someway. The film lives up to its name and makes use of body doubles both literally and figuratively. Holly Body is Gloria’s body double when Jake Scully watches a beautifully silhouetted woman dance around and eventually pleasure herself. Jake’s director is the figurative double of the actual film’s director, DePalma, and is self-deprecating in a way.
The film is extremely intertextual, with a movie being filmed within the actual film and Jake playing roles within roles (some that he isn’t even aware of until later in the film). There are multiple stories (and realities it could be argued) running concurrently in the film (these include the vampire film that Jake stars in, the murder mystery Jake becomes involved in, and the “film” that Sam creates).
The film is told through the eyes of Jake. This is evident through the many POV shots from Jake and how as Jake is confused as to what’s really going on, so is the audience. Jake points out at one point that “[he] like[s] to watch” and this is what the film is largely about. Watching and it’s consequences. Whatever Jake sees in the film seems to always turn against him and harm him in some way. He attempts to see his wife which leads him to catch her cheating on him. He sees what he thinks is Gloria dancing and this involves him in a murder plot.
The scene above, the class decided, is what really clues into the audience what the film is about. That one scene completely destroys any illusions that were previously established by the film that the audience is in fact watching a film. It breaks the fourth wall by being SO extreme in the way the camera twirls around Jake and Gloria and by how Jake really overdoes it with the kiss. Like Jake says shortly after, he “almost fuck[s] [her] at the beach”. The films is aware that it’s a film and so now is the point that it can openly begin deconstructing itself. Another shot that quite openly deconstructs the film medium is the last shot of the film that is literally just, as Bruno put it, blood and boobs. It is the two things that sell; sex and violence. The last shot puts these two together, shoves it in the audience’s face, and asks them if they’ve had enough.