Author Archives: degwes

2/28 Aging in Cassavetes’ Opening Night

In 1977, the same year Star Wars was setting box office records; independent film pioneer John Cassavetes released his film Opening Night. Cassavetes distinctive storytelling style brings the emotional crisis of a middle aged actress coming to terms with her age and past to life. After witnessing the death of a young fan, actress Myrtle Gordon confronts her personal turmoil’s as she deals with conflicts in her career. Characteristic of the director’s work, the film utilizes cinema-verite documentary style cinematography charting her struggle in a realistic way (Cassavetes).
In a pivotal scene the writer of the play in which Myrtle has been starring, confronts her about her inability to successfully play the role. Myrtle reveals the issues she has playing a character experiencing menopause and emotions of a much older woman then the actress is in reality. The 65 year old playwright has difficult understanding Myrtle’s inability to properly feel the role and believes she is trying to deny the fact that she is growing older. Myrtle defends her resistance to playing the role by expressing her fear that if she successfully plays the role the public will see her as an older actress and her acting opportunities will be greatly limited. She desires to bring her emotions more to the surface she believes the young girl that died in the accident encompasses.
As this scene illustrates, Myrtle’s struggle addresses fear that actresses have of aging and the limits it will place on their career. Furthermore, it conveys a universal nostalgia for one’s youth which is viewed by Myrtle as a time when she could access her emotional artistic energy easily, as age has buried her feelings deeper within. In another clip in which Cassavetes talks about the film, he rants about why people should go to see an unconventional film like Opening Night. He contends that the film is about everyone’s desire to express their emotions theatrically.

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4/24 Cinema’s Ever-Present Past

Today’s class we started off watching the opening to the Todd Haynes film “I’m Not There” raising issues of identity.  In the film multiple actors portray the legendary rock icon Bob Dylan each depicting a different aspect of his life and personality.  Depicting many facets that make up Dylan’s persona with, Cate Blanchett’s personification perhaps the most interesting of all, challenges the nature of having fixed identity. 

       Next we discussed the Jenkin’s reading discussing modern uses of technology in educational contexts.  The presentation’s overarching questions dealt with the ways technology can be used for student’s to participate in an educational environment by creating an interactive atmosphere. 

   The next presentation covered the McGowen’s analysis of David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” through Lacanian psychoanalysis.  McGowen emphasizes the distinction between the levels of fantasy and desire that film exists on.  The first part of the film exists mainly in the fantasy world of the character Betty and is characterized by positivity.  The second half is the harsh reality of the world of her desires.  Throughout the essay McGowen discusses how the film fits into the classic Hollywood cinema emphasizing the distinctions Lynch makes between elements of storytelling filmmakers have historically blended together.   

4/3 Bruno’s Recitation: Indie’s Heyday

   Our discussion of the growth of independent cinema in the early 1990s began by talking about two documentaries about the life of serial killer Aileen Wuornos.  The conversation focused on the way that America’s first “female serial killer” was discussed in the media especially in terms of gender.  Her story fascinated the media going on to inspire many different book and movie topics just as Wuornos herself prophesized in her last interview before her execution.  Her legacy raises a number of questions about the effects of her being a woman–furthermore a lesbian woman–has on the way her story is portrayed in popular culture. 

      We went on to analyze the ways in which independent films reach an audience. What does it mean to fill a niche audience opposed mainstream appeal?  What subjects can indie films explore the studio system believes would alienate a wide audience?  To illustrate this point we watched a clip from the Todd Haynes film “Happiness” in which a father character talks to his son about “cumming.”  The context of the scene that makes it even more disturbing is that the father is a pedophile unbeknownst to his family. 

  Next we talked about issues of masculinity in “Boys Don’t Cry” related to the way Brandon’s “performance” as a man effects those around him.  Brandon’s murder can largely be seen as a result of him conning those around him and insulting the masculinity of the men that commit kill him.