Bruno started class by going over the details for the next assignment: It has to be 4-5 pages and is worth twenty five percent of the grade. Bruno stressed the importance of clarity in the paper. He does not have to agree with the argument, but it must be clear. We must argue the thesis and make sure to properly cite two sources. It should be formal writing and therefore not opinion-based. We are to choose one of the four topics on the prompt. Bruno then went over each of the four topics. He wants us to cover the narrative, the context, and the aesthetics of the film for the argument. A student asked a question about the dates that are acceptable to choose a film from – Bruno said definitely not to pick anything from the 1990s. Bruno also went over the paper formatting. If we want to use an image, we can do so at the end of the paper. (Do not stick it in the middle of the paper.) Also, if we would like to reference an image or movie clip, we can post it here, on the blog. Bruno added that we should not just talk about one scene, but about the whole film. He let us know he is making himself available for any appointments if we have questions about the paper, which is due on March twentieth.
Next, we talked about the 1976 film Bacalhua by Adriano Stuart. “Bacalhua” means codfish. This film is a parody of Jaws and relies on the viewer having already seen the American film to understand the jokes, most of which are references to. It follows the same structure as Jaws, although the production value is very low. They did not have much money, hence the use of a codfish rather than a shark in the parody (although this decision certainly works at a humorous device). The film is a commentary on the blockbuster genre. Bruno introduced a clip from it and we saw the satire at work. It was noted that Bacalhua was released just a year after Jaws, which certainly must have added to its pieced-together appearance. Still, it was an impressive parody.
Then Bruno introduced Scott, who presented on Star Wars and the article “Star Bucks” from Easy Riders by Peter Biskind. Scott began his presentation talking about George Luca s and his disapproving father; Lucas wanted to pursue filmmaking but his father was wary and not supportive. Scott showed us a clip from a scene in Star Wars that closely mirrors real life – Luke wants to pursue his dreams as well but does not have the support of his father. Scott quoted the article, which explained that George Lucas was obsessed with making money and finding a way to please the audience, believing that if he pleased the audience then he would make more money, and he equated money with power. Also, he wanted to make the simple bubblegum plot that a lot of audience members would enjoy. This changed how movies were made. He disagreed with the then-current culture of film in which violence, drugs, or sex were a part of the film. He believed that audiences should not have to think very hard, but instead follow a simple plot line and enjoy themselves. Scott also talked about how before the film was released there was a screening for the filmmaker friends of Lucas. They criticized Lucas’ film for being too low art. They believed that he should develop the script and the characters more so that the film would be more artistic. However, one fellow filmmaker, Stephen Spielberg strongly disagreed and told Lucas he would make upward of one hundred million on the film.
Scott went on to explain that although Star Wars did turn out to be a big blockbuster success, George Lucas had a negative experience making the film and was sure it would fail. His crew refused to work overtime and the characters in the film were ridiculed. He promised himself that he would never direct another film again. Of Course Lucas went on to make hundreds of millions from the film and the various licensing he had acquired – notably for action figurines and dolls that people would go on to collect. The studios had not thought of the potential for money –making such aggressive merchandise – creation could have, and Lucas changed Hollywood and did go on to direct other films.
Next, Scott talked about how people drew metaphors from the film. One proposed metaphor was the Vietnam War. Another metaphor idea cast Darth Vader as Richard Nixon. Lastly, and the metaphor that Scott mentioned most extensively, was that directors like Lucas (perhaps metaphorically “Luke” ?) and Stephen Spielberg are the good guys in the Empire of Hollywood and the studios and the more artsy directors were the bad guys. Indeed, Scott pointed out, Lucas and Spielberg forever changed Hollywood. Lucas was and is a director that was more focused on the visual and the imagery. He did not care about meaning in the script or dialogue. He just wanted to make people happy. Audiences no longer craved the movies that were close to theater productions. Audiences wanted Blockbusters. This continues today as the more artsy movies win Academy Awards, blockbusters like the “Ironman” continue to make millions. We all clapped after Scott’s presentation.
Next Bruno asked us to define blockbuster. One student said that the blockbuster must appeal to a vast audience, as opposed to arts/independent films that are generally more critically acclaimed, but much more difficult to understand. Another student volunteered that blockbusters are usually films that feature heroes and are movies that everyone can relate to – they feature universal stories. We agreed that blockbuster films are movies that are simple. You can summarize them simply. Another student said that they are more about spectacle than artistry. Bruno said that each scene in a blockbuster is a “big” scene with spectacle, that blockbusters are crowd pleasers, with intensive marketing to make them more popular. We discussed the symbiosis between television ads and movies. Television ads have to draw people in, in just thirty seconds, so blockbusters must have action packed thirty second clips available. We touched on the economic relationship between the toy companies, the studios, television stations, and newspapers. We also talked about saturation –when a movie comes out, it is released everywhere, so that everyone can see it, boosting opening weekend numbers as much as possible. Another student mentioned the importance of volume and sounds in blockbusters, which lead to the importance of having quality sound systems in the movie theaters. Bruno expanded on this saying that as Blockbusters get more and more popular, movie theaters have to draw and entice audiences with more technology – he gave the recent 3D movie Avatar as an example.
We talked about how films in the blockbuster genre continue to follow the narrative structure and also produce spectacles in each scene. One student brought up that Lucas was using Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey structure- a hero narrative – as most blockbusters do. Bruno mentions that he does not connect with this film because the more action and spectacle scenes he sees, the more bored he gets. We talked about the depth of characters in blockbusters (or lack of). The less specific a character’s traits are, the broader the audience appeal and ability to relate to said character. The more specific the character has been written, the smaller the audience that will be that will be able to relate to him/her. A huge audience related to Luke Skywalker because his character was so one dimensional.
Another student argued that Star Wars is the perfect escapist film. He made the argument (contrary to the reading and what we would later discuss in the same recitation about the political implications of the film) that the film has no metaphors to relate it to real life, and that this makes it enjoyable.
Students then engaged in a conversation on why Darth Vader is “cool.” Even though he is an evil villain, students argued that he comes across as likeable. Other students argued the opposite. The students talked about how they view Darth Vader differently when he reveals he is Luke Skywalker’s father. Bruno argues that Darth Vader’s mask makes it hard to read his expressions. Yet other students disagree and believe his expressions come out in his iconic voice. The class discussed the Princess Leia character. The students argue different things, that she waited to be saved like Rapunzel, or that she took action into her own hands. The class also discussed the journey of Han Solo and how at the beginning of the movie he is very selfish but at the end he turns into a caring, giving, not so selfish person. We continued to discuss how distinct the characters’ appearances are and if that made them popular toys. Also we discussed the binary created by the film of the good (Luke Skywalker) and the evil (Darth Vader), with no grey in between.
Now Bruno asked us about the political implications of the film and we talked about how Darth Vader is the only character played by a black actor, James Earl Jones, that he is dressed all in black and wears a black mask, and is evil. As another political implication, one student pointed out that the Jedis are rebels that fight against the dark Empire. This would seem to imply that Lucas was denouncing imperialism. Also, the student pointed out that Princess Leia is also fighting a war with the rebels to free her people. But Bruno pointed out that Lucas may have not wanted to make the film about anything political. It could just simply be a modern, futuristic, fairy tale, since not many details are given about why the empire is bad or what the rebels want. A student mentions that Obi Wan Kenobi is like a martyr for his cause. He references the line, “You kill me and I’ll come back a thousand times stronger.” He relates this to Martin Luther King and JFK and how they were killed but their causes got stronger and prevailed. Bruno then asked, “where does the word ‘Jedi’ come from?” We learned it means “historical film” or a period piece from Japan. Bruno asked us to think about the word “Jedi” and its roots in Japan. This led us to talk about World War II. Bruno introduced a clip from The Triumph of the Will, a Nazi documentary showing a rally for Hitler. This clip eerily shows that Hitler’s troops parading looked strikingly similar to the Empire troops parading in Star Wars. Bruno wanted us to think about what the similarities mean.
Finally, we ended class and went off to Spring Break!