Author Archives: isaachgreen

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Jaap’s Recitation, 4/4, 11:00am *Repost

We began this weeks recitation talking about our papers and some common problems amongst them. Jaap stated that many of the papers had similar problems in their direction and in their bibliographies. He encouraged us to

  1. Specify a thesis
  2. Create a dialogue with the text using many quotes rather than just one
  3. Analyze the films rather than summarize them

Then we watched a clip from Michael Moore’s The Awful Truth. The clip included Moore speaking to a studio audience about the wealth divide in America in a childish way, stating that three people hold the same wealth as 250+ countries and, “we could kick three peoples’ ass”. The studio audience ate it up. My reaction to this part of the segment was that I didn’t really think this film was creating an effective dialogue or line of thought but, instead, open the floodgates to an ” Occupy Wall Street”esque generalized complaining/animosity. We discussed whether this was “independent” or “radical” filmmaking.

Our first presentation was about niches in independent cinema. According to it, indy films are often catered to middle class white audiences. Black independent filmmakers have shown through films like Do The Right Thing that they can generate revenue without reproducing white cinema. I wondered if black filmmakers have ever been successful in generating revenue via “white” cinema if there really is such a thing. The crossover potential of queer cinema was also discussed and it was stated that it had vast crossover potential in terms of the people who would be interested in watching. Many interested not in gays but in Avante Garde themes are captivated by films such as My Own Private Idaho, which opens with a graphic depiction of the life of a distraught homosexual teenager. Our second presentation addressed gender roles in film. Many independent films challenge gender roles but are often subject to falling into the troupe of creating a false sense of progressive social thinking in their portrayals of homosexuality. An example of this which was shown in class was the “Boy in a Dress” scene in To Wong Foo, which showed stereotypical drag queens as archetypes rather than people.

Three Days of the Flight of the Condor, “Bring Me In”

This clip is taken from the beginning of Sidney Pollack’s Three Days of the Condor. The film addresses nostalgia, paranoia, and cynicism at different moments in different combinations during it’s 118 minute runtime. It juxtaposes an apparently straightforward, honest, and intelligent Joe Turner (Robert Redford) with a crooked organization, the CIA. This clip is our first real introduction to the greater entity that the CIA is portrayed as in this film. Turner’s detailed description of his co-workers make him seem more human and personal. In including Turner describing his female co-worker’s fears and antics, Pollack shows us that the corruption does not extend to all levels and that at some level, the CIA is actually just like a normal organizations. Pollack shows us that these are the people who are effected, the normal people are the ones that are dead. The people we have just seen killed are the human beings and the dispassionate phone operator who refuses to acknowledge the urgency of Turner’s situation and chooses instead to interrogate him is an arm of a larger machine.

Formally, the clip shows Turner trapped, caught between two sleek machined metal bars and behind glass. The world outside keeps moving, obliviously, as we see pedestrians lackadaisically strolling by on the right of the wide anamorphic frame while inside the phone booth, Turner becomes more and more tense. Conversely, the operator sits at a sprawling control desk with the world at his finger tips, visually represented by a map of the world in the background. The operator’s eyes never stray from his controls, this is business as usual for him and he just won’t react. The system doesn’t react, it exists as it is and acts upon you. This scene says visually what another bureaucrat eventually says in a later clip.

“Today it’s oil right, in ten or fifteen years food, plutonium and maybe even sooner. Now what do you think that people are gonna want us to do then… Not now, then, ask them when they’re running out, ask them when theres no heat in their homes and they’re cold. Ask them when people who’ve never known hunger are hungry. You wanna know something? They won’t want us to ask them, they’ll just want us to get it for ’em”

The killing of Turner’s co-workers, which the film opens with, and the CIA’s unemotional response are the reality of this line of thinking which was so pervasive in both the film and politics of this era.

Gates of Heaven: A Photograph of Life and Death Framed by Music

Erol Morris’ Gates of Heaven covers countless angles on a seemingly uninteresting story. In doing so, Morris unearths a truth about a community. The film, released in 1978, uses the voice of it’s characters to expose their opinions on the ethics of the disposal of pets. Through speaking about their dead pets and the way they should be treated, Morris’ subjects reveal deep-founded views on the nature of life and death as concepts. After speaking at length on the specifics of the issue, many of Morris’ subjects began to shift linguistically toward larger questions at hand; leaving out the words “pet” and “animal” from their opinions. Had Morris chosen to cover a cemetery meant for human beings and had he discussed with his subjects funeral rights for say criminals or some other kind of controversial subject relating to mankind, his views would have been taken on heavily by his subjects and overthought. What comes of Morris’ choice of subject matter is that people talk plainly and honestly about a subject; somehow forgetting that is pertains not only to themselves but to everyone they love and hate.

Morris’ film explores what death is and who it effects, it’s tagline being “death is for the living and not for the dead so much”. He compares two types of pet cemeteries and without narration, subtly suggests that the viewer make certain  inferences and connections if not about the nature of life and death, then at least about the way that these people perceive the subjects respectively. In what I can only remember as an odd point in the documentary, after running the gamete of angles on the pet cemetery business and pet’s rights to proper funerals, Morris expands his view. Suddenly, we are discussing stereo equipment with a long haired, smooth talking, 20 something who seems as careless as he is all-knowing and god-like. He describes his music, his influence, even his equipment saying “I got a stereo system aside from a recording system… It’s a uh… It’s a pioneer SX 1010… and it’s a hundred watts per channel which is very powerful and on some occasions… I’ll take my speakers and I’ll put em outside… and you can hear it, it goes through the whole valley and uh, you can hear it from miles away…”(1:17-1:43) The man’s music echoes across the valley and we notice that the pet cemetery is just below his hilltop abode. His music floats through the cemetery and into the graves and we are left to listen as the dead and the living do.

This film would be of interest to the class as it is both in method and in subject matter hyper-mental. The parallels are endlessly expansive and beautiful and all seem to complement the voices, visuals, colors, and characters. This is an honest portrait of the human condition; painted by the residents of a small town in California and curated by Erol Morris.