Category Archives: Recitations Jaap: Logistics

Jaap’s Recitation 5/2

Apologies for the tardiness! Finals week and all.

Jaap started off the recitation by showing us a clip from the original movie Tron. Although a couple of us in class were scoffing at how ridiculous it looked, Jaap was quick to remind us that it was the very first film that used actual CGI, which in retrospect was pretty great, particularly the sound design that went with it that really made the crappy models come to life.

We discussed the ethics surrounding the advent of CGI, and how the previous stigma of everything in front of the camera being real and true had been shattered with its invention.

Jaap then compared the clip to another clip from Speed Racer, a present day film that used a lot of CGI. The topic of 3D was brought up. A majority of the class really disliked 3D and felt like it was cheap and that it added nothing to the value of any films. One person said that good cinematography can do anything that 3D can without having 3D involved. Some speculated that 3D was just a passing phase and that its novelty would wear off fairly quickly.

After the Stephen Prince presentation, we talked about Zodiac and how even it(being a film rooted in realism and involving basically no elements of fantasy or sci-fi) employed the use of CGI to replicated buildings and such. We then went around the room and talked about our favorite and least favorite films that we’ve seen in class and wrapped a wonderful semeseter.

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Jaap’s Recitation 11:00 4/25

We began the recitation by reviewing all of the important information pertaining to the final paper of the semester and its due date.

Next, we watched a clip from J.J. Abram’s 2011 film Super 8 and discussed the role of technology and nostalgia within the film. We discussed the paradoxes that present themselves in the films recreation of an era of American culture through digital means as it creates an appearance of more modern era of cinema while trying to capture the essence of an older one. The class also discussed the relation of nostalgia to fandom as it presents itself in the film, not only in regards to the characters fandom of films, but J.J. Abrams fandom of Steven Spielberg, to whom the director fills the film with homage.

Next, we discussed the dynamics of participation and interactivity in films and how they differ. We discussed how participation is external to the work and how interactivity brings the audience closer to the work, as well as how these two methods of experiencing narratives have grown dramatically through the advent of DVD special features (in regards to interactivity) and social networking (in regards to participation.) In relation to this idea, we viewed a clip from The Animatrix, a 2003 film that, through interactivity, grants viewers a greater understanding of the film The Matrix’s narrative.

Finally, we discussed Tom McGowan’s article “Left on Mulholland Dr.” and how it offers a broader understanding of the David Lynch film. The classed discussed our opinions of McGowan’s argument that fantasy driven by desire masks the trauma of reality and that reality is characterized by trauma, as evidenced by the film plot. In relation to this we discussed the relationships between fantasy and desire in the film as well as what in the film is reality if anything is, coming to the conclusion that the film requires several viewings to understand. Concluding the recitation, we discussed the relationship between acting and reality in regards to Mulholland Dr, and even Super 8, noting that when the characters act it seems much more naturalistic.

Japp’s Recitation 9:30 (4/04)

We started the class by going through our papers and what we can do to improve on our next one.  The main issues that came up were a redundancy of ideas and quotes that didn’t support them.  I got the sense that the papers were not extraordinary.

The first clip we watched was from Michael Moore’s The Awful Truth.  The clip was a comedy sketch routine of Moore interviewing people from rich and poor groups.  He asked them fairly menial questions, which made the wealthy look stupid.  The clip was pretty skewed, as Moore has been criticized for with all of his films.  He only shows the “enemy” when they’re down.  This was considered an independent film and we talked about how we defined that genre.

We found that The Awful Truth was independent because it had no big studio presence, a low budget, and it didn’t play to all audiences.  It also had a mode of production that didn’t belong to the mainstream media.    That was due to its radicalness, something that was rare in cinema.  It was completely liberal in a time when America was much more conservative.

We tried to break down these ideas of independence and radicalness.  Perhaps the idea of an independent movie encompasses larger movies as well because of their content or context.  And are Michael Moore’s films really radical if the only people who watch them are already on his side?  Regardless, Hollywood was divided into three new waves of filmmaking.  Left, Black, and Queer were defining radical cinema.

In My Own Private Idaho, we saw a comment on gender in America.  In this film, gender was cultural and was paired with rules and standards.  The movie really played with these standards, subbing one for the other.

Boys Don’t Cry had the opposite ideology with Hillary Swank’s character playing a woman searching for a hetero-normative family structure with another woman.  These films represented queer filmmaking and finally pointed out this culturally relevant topic.

 

Ballots, Bullets, or Batmen: can cultural studies do the right thing? by Andrew Ross

Andrew Ross opens the essay by recognizing the nation’s evolving need for a tougher hero to represent them in cinema.  They traded in their Easy Riders for Dirty Harry’s.  This was the beginning of a new era; the nineties.  And as the country transitioned into the decade, there seemed to be several cultural shifts.  In the summer of 1989, there were different groups looking to be defined in their culture and acknowledge their histories.  In particular, Ross highlights the strong African American pride in America’s Youth.

With this, racial tensions in the country grew as well.  This was a summer with numerous hate crimes paired with an inability to recognize racial issues by the government.  That summer, as Americans tried to adapt to a new future, they adopted the Batman and African symbols to represent them in their ever-changing history.  Much of Ross’s writing focuses on the clash between pop- culture and history and the politics these things brought to cinema.

There was a growing multi-cultural nationalism forming in the U.S. and the Bat symbol and Africa symbol would come to define it.  As Ross says, Batman was the mythical identity and the African Continent was the African American identity.

The two big movies of that summer, coming out of the search for a new American identity were Batman, the invisible political comment, and Do the Right Thing, the blatant one.  The two films seem worlds away, but they were both relevant to the changing times of the country’s youth.

Batman was almost a condescending view on race, albeit unintended.  There is only one Black character and he’s an insignificant one.  Andrew Ross comments on the scene where the Joker breaks into the museum.  It seems to be a form of minstrel show with the Joker in white face and playing “jungle music”.  The Joker later says that the only thing he wants is for his face to be on the dollar bill.  The ultimate white fear is for the Black man to replace him in history.  Batman also paralleled the Klansman as a white aristocratic male wearing a costume to hide his guilt for breaking the law.

Later, the Batman comics got an over-hall and became geared towards adults.  They were grittier but still lacked any real Black presence.

Do the Right Thing however, was the complete opposite.  It was a direct comment and was released at a critical time.  It followed relevant crimes against Blacks, the hit of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power, and the first Black governor elected.  Even the title could be seen not necessary as an answer to the racial issue, but a reformulation of the issue.  Do the Right Thing also addressed the racial pride as generational.  Older African American generations have lost respect from the younger ones.

And while the film’s White presence was neutral, it also contained a destruction of white property as a means to keeping Black property.  It was a masculine, tough, active response to the racial tensions.

Both of these movies together created a new identification for America’s African American youth.  African- American could now be broken down.  The African part represented an acceptance of history and the past as in Do the Right Thing.  The hyphen was the bridge to America.  It married the African history to an American one defined by tough heroes who would always win, just like Batman.  America got two cinema polars to address the nation’s issues at a critical time.

3/21 Jaap’s recitation 12:30 – 1:45

Jaap opened up the class with a clip of Rocky, and postulated to the class that there is a racial subtext to the fact that Rocky’s ultimate adversary, Apollo is black and clearly labelled as the antagonist while Rocky is white and is who the audience naturally sides with. Some people in class agreed. Others were a little more skeptical.

One person astutely pointed out that boxing is a sport that is often dominated by the working class of it’s time, be it the Irish, Black, and now Hispanic races. Said person argued that at the time of Rocky’s release, the boxing world was dominated mostly by Black athletes and the choice of having Apollo be black was more likely to be a reflective of the time, rather than racist.

Following a hilarious clip of Eddie Murphy’s standup about Italian’s seeing Rocky, we were given an excellent presentation of the racial undertones of Batman. The presentation detailed how, had certain batman villains been black rather than white, it would have been so blatantly racist that people would have spoken up. The Joker’s costume for example, is in clear resemblance of a ghetto pimp suit.

After another informational presentation about black exploitation in film and an exposition on the meaning behind sweetback, we watched the intro scene of Malcolm X. Jaap informed the class that although well put-together, many critics deemed the introductory scene as unnecessary and unrelated to the rest of the movie. The class however, unanimously agreed that the scene very much added to the rich-ness of Malcolm X’s character, and seeing him in his environment when he was younger made him more relatable as a genuine human being.

Jaap’s Recitation – 3/21, 11:00-12:15

We dove into discussion after watching the last few minutes of Rocky, with Jaap asking us why this clip, or the film as a whole, would be significant to Guerrero. Naturally, the first answer was the possible racial subtext, and one or two students proceeded to point out aspects such as the excessively patriotic imagery in the fight, the positioning of a white hero in an epic battle against a powerful “black threat,” and the fact that everyone roots for Rocky – not just we, the audience, but the spectators in the film – and no one is really on Apollo’s side. The idea of this racial subtext was challenged by other students who held that Rocky is simply the story of a guy from the ghetto who pulls himself up and accomplishes something great, even if he doesn’t win, and the portrayal of a black man and his team as very successful serves to argue against it. However, we also recognized that the casting of Rocky’s entire team as white and Apollo’s entire team as black, must have been intentional and had some racial considerations, and it may be worth noting that in the sequel, the opponent and his entire team are Russian – a certain enemy of the US at the time of its release.

After watching a video of Eddie Murphy’ stand-up routine about Italians seeing Rocky and being super racist, we had a student presentation on the Andrew Ross reading. It focused on some of the racial aspects of Batman, especially the presence of the Joker, who, in his white-face, could be said to represent “black crime,” which Batman, a very white Protestant, Puritan Enforcer-esque character fights against. In the discussion following, we did a lot of comparisons between Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and that of Tim Burton, in which it is a little hard to see the intentionality in touching on race or other social issues, especially considering its whacky, carnival-like tone. In Nolan’s take on the superhero’s story, social issues, such as poverty, crime, and corruption are much more in-your-face, and there is certainly something gained in the freedom to compare, examine, and exaggerate in the context of a fictional American city, rather than trying to set it in a real one.

We then watched a few minutes from the beginning of Spike Lee’s Malcolm X, which Jaap told us was criticized for being too long, and spending too much time on the background and minute details of Maclolm X’s life, or at least Spike Lee’s version of it. So Jaap posed the question of why he made this choice to focus on smaller, less extraordinary aspects of the overall story, much like he did in Do the Right Thing. The class seemed to pretty much agree that this was done in order to make us see him as an individual, because the film was the story of him as a person – not just a documentation of his activities, accomplishments and struggles as a black leader and an important figure in American politics. This was especially important in making the film both more accessible and more interesting to non-African Americans, because all races can connect to the personal story of one man’s struggle against an oppressive force.

We closed out the recitation by discussing Jaap’s question about why we thought Mookie threw the trashcan through Sal’s window towards the end of the movie. Although some people thought it was simply his move to express his anger, and embody his giving up on the sort of awkward, racially-dueling position he was in as an employee at Sal’s, most of us recognized the strong possibility that Mookie did it to try to direct the crowd’s anger towards the Pizza shop, and thus, away from Sal and his sons, who it looked like the crowd was moving in on to attack.

Jaap’s Recitation 3/21 (11:00-12:15)

We began by discussing new requirements regarding the in-class presentation, which are now limited to five minutes and require discussion points to posit to the class.

After screening a clip of the finale from Rocky, discussion arose from Guerrero’s analysis of the film in relation to his ideas of the “cinema of recuperation,” denoting a wave of films during the 1980s that featured “backlash sentiment” against racial equality by depicting a constant struggle between white and black Americans. Attention was given to the the boxing ring’s patriotic set design and usage of rousing music against Rocky’s fight against Apollo’s black “champion.” A counterpoint was made against the supposed presence of racial subtext in Rocky in that not only does Rocky fail to win the fight, but he doesn’t care because he “wins” Adrian; the film’s emphasis on Apollo’s status of “champion” rather than his race characterizes Rocky as less of a film about racial superiority and more of a film about an average man who learns to defeat a champ. However, the fact that Rocky and Apollo’s teams are visibly cast according to race suggests that the film could be interpreted in Guerrero’s fashion.

Jaap subsequently returned to Guerrero, who proposed that the presence of “soft male heroes” in films like Easy Rider and The Conversation made after the loss of the Vietnam War and Watergate suggested a demasculization of the American hero and that after the rise of Reaganism, there was an attempt to “re-masculinize” this archetype; one of these methods involved discrimination against Black people. As Ross notes, this discrimination was utilized by either placing African-Americans as an antagonistic force that needed to be dominated in Rocky or by depicting them them in isolation–noting the prevalence of films like 48 HRS that, while featuring Black characters, lacked a sense of an external Black community, as if depicting a journey of assimilation into a white community. The suggestion is then made that a film like Do the Right Thing can be seen as a reaction to films like Rocky, depicting different representations of what it means to be African-American. A clip was then played of Eddie Murphy’s standup routine, criticizing the exaggerated reactions of Italian-Americans against African-Americans after watching a film like Rocky–a routine that was in turn subject to criticism.

We then segued into the class’ sole presentation, regarding Ross’ analysis of  1989‘s Batman and Do the Right Thing. Aspects of Ross’ essay that stood out to the presenter were Batman’s depiction of a savior of white society and his subsequent equivalence to a Klansman; for Do the Right Thing, it’s the lack of police response to the climactic fire, revealing a judicial lack of interest in solving Black crimes. The issue at stake for Ross is the struggle to establish a national culture–what is “doing the right thing?” The presenter remarks that although Ross creates this distinction of National culture, he seemingly fails to define the term. The presenter then screened the trailer for The Dark Knight Rises, which dramatizes contemporary social concerns like Do the Right Thing, but in the context of a different take on the universe of Burton’s film.

In the resulting class discussion, Burton’s films are seen as more comic and whismical while Nolan’s franchise is more overt in its social criticism, showcasing conflicts of class and poverty. However, one student remarks that one shouldn’t consider Burton’s film any less reflective than Nolan’s franchise simply because its social criticism is less overt, citing Joker’s vandalism of the museum as an example. The question is raised as to the representation of race in both Batman franchises. To some, the issue of race seems to be “disguised” or rarely addressed in Nolan’s films, featuring actors like Morgan Freeman in wise, advisory roles yet, like earlier films, in isolation from a larger community. Other students remain unconvinced of Ross’ analysis of the Joker as embodying white fears of the black community, instead viewing the character as representative of a widespread social evil than one rooted in specific racial fears.

The class then moved onto the films of Spike Lee, screening a clip of the beginning of Malcolm X, made 3 years after Do the Right Thing. Jaap characterizes Spike Lee as an African-American independent filmmaker making films about the African-American community on his own terms with a black cast and crew, films where African-American characters are no longer isolated or depicted in relation to the white “norm.” When asked why Lee chose to begin his film like he does, students responded that the opening of Malcolm X not only seeks to portray the time period or the origins of its protagonist, but also a sense of identity; as Malcolm X’s father pontificates about returning to Africa and the barber scene reveals a desire to “look white,” a struggle to negotiate an African-American cultural identity within a white society is brought to light.

Jaap repeats Prof. Zinman’s earlier question of whether or not Do the Right Thing is a realistic film and/or rhetorical film, especially in regards to the ending. One student brings up Ross’ question of doing the right thing versus what one has to do, supported by the trash can scene at the film and the following ideologically contradictory quotations by Malcolm X and MLK.