Category Archives: Week 7: (3/6): Behold

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.

Bruno’s Recitation 3/7 (4:55)

Bruno first began the class by discussing the requirements of our midterm essay. He gave tips such as how to use introduction wisely. We are supposed to write as if  he hasn’t seen the film. It should be decent summary of the plot.  He reminded us that it is supposed to be an argumentative paper but to watch out for diction in the way we state personal opinions.  Bruno also told us to pay close attention to grammar and sentence structure.  We can use blog as support for paper but we must remember to cite 2 sources.  These sources can include other outside sources and all sources must be cited properly. He reminded us to email with questions. He also quickly reminded us that since we only have four to five pages, not to mix the four topics that were given as choices.

Bruno then decided to begin class with a fun fact.  In 1976,  in Brazil, a film called “Bacalhau”( meaning codfish)  was released. This film was a parody film of “Jaws”. It was considered of  low value production. The film reenacts many of the famous scenes of “Jaws” and assumes audience has seen the original film. It replaces the Jaw narrative within Brazilian atmosphere. We then watched the film’s parody of the beach scene in Jaws. Bruno  explained that the structure of the film criticizes the “Blockbuster” film and high value productions.

We began the reading presentation on Kael’s text, “Why are Movies So Bad? Or, the Numbers?”,  and  then went into a discussion of the text and “New Hollywood”. We defined the “New Hollywood” period as the period after World War II. We went back to “Jaws”. We discussed how Jaws defeated the old marketing strategies and how studies could then make films for a universal audience. Jaws was also first film to use television networks to advertise itself. It was the start of massive advertisement for films. We then went into Kael’s argument of why the blockbuster is so bad. She argues that blockbuster era is bad because “people in charge of making movies don’t really care about movies”(Kael 2).  The author discusses lack of artistic integrity involved in filmmaking today. According to the author, the film no longer belongs to one creative person. Instead, media conglomerates own the distribution. The idea of a franchise becomes very important; It become huge product line that functions in selling the movie even more.

Then we discussed the emergence of licensing deals. For example, George Lucas took on television deals. In theses deals, syndicated films started being sold  to television networks.  We went over Kael’s idea that executive heads don’t even have time to watch films. It is the people who are deciding what films are made.

We then had the reading presentations. This covered the text discussing George Lucas, Star Wars”, and his relationships with other directors at the time. We discussed George Lucas, Scorsese, and Coppola. The presenter went over Lucas’s childhood. He had a rough childhood; he experienced a lot of bullying and strict relationship with father. We then heard of  his inspirations in the early beginnings of his film career. In his scholarship for film-Intro to Old Hollywood- he confirmed his hatred for studios. He went on to make “Graffiti”( which took 16 years) and Star Wars( which took 10 years).

With “Star Wars” he wanted to introduce basic morality. He had great success with “Graffiti” and received a large amount of money to produce “Star Wars”.

During this long stretch of time he had a falling out with Coppola. Coppola initially  approached him about doing Apocalypse Now, but Lucas was too invested in Star Wars. Coppola on the other hand, did not have much faith in Star Wars;

Lucas worked on script for 2 years. His characters were based on everyday people. However, upon showing his friends what he had made so far, they weren’t impressed. We then went over Scorsese’s problems with “New York, New York” and the spending of Lucas’s money. He spent a lot of money on effects. We talked about his attitude on set. For many, he was a cold, and offensive director. During this time Lucas became depressed; the crew didn’t agree with him and teased him.

Our class then discussed first screening of Star Wars and how it did terribly. The final product however earned millions and continue to earn millions years later in rentals.

We then went into a discussion of “Star Wars” effect on the film industry. –Scorsese believed that the film ruined Hollywood. Kael asserts that Star Wars is responsible  for bad movies today. We then questioned, did Star Wars ruin the movies?

Our second presenter then spoke. He described early film industry and writing in 1980. He stated how it went from qualitative to quantitative. In the blockbuster era there is no incentive to innovate. We are satisfied with  “cookie-cutter” movies that are doing well. He then brought us into a discussion of  the relationship between art and popularity; how do they feed into each other? He explained that the directors and studios are big artists.  He said as viewers we are “being enamored with the name instead the actual art presented”.  As a class we confronted the question of reaching a renaissance in filmmaking, and whether we are still in a blockbuster era. We agreed that we are ad used examples such as the film “Green Lantern”, starring Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds.  We praise the independent productions, however this blockbuster system we live in allow for these films to be made.

We then went into discussing the film (Star Wars)itself. We looked at the transitions between scenes. There were many “page turning” effects. Also Lucas included amazing, quick scenes with no actual content that just served the plot structure. We discussed the politics of Star Wars and how they were revolutionary. We also touched on Professor Guerroro’s theory that the film was highlighting racist undertones in film and society, with the robots being sold and acting as the “black” sidekick to the main characters.

We finished with talking about the live personalities that the characters reflect and its intended viewer audience. Han and Luke’s relationship reflects Coppola and Lucas’s.  We questioned whether Lucas intended for kids to see it.

 

Jaap’s Recitation 3/7 12:30 – 1:45

In Jaap’s 12:30 – 1:45 recitation, we began the class by briefly going over the midterm essay assignment. We discussed the logistics of the paper as well as the possible topics we could explore.

Following this, we dived into the material for the week with a presentation on Biskind’s article.  Primarily, the presentation looked at Steven Spielberg and George Lucas in addition to touching on other directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola. We discussed the careers, philosophies and personal lives of these directors, and examined their lasting imprint on the film industry.

After this presentation, Jaap initiated a discussion of Thomas Schatz’s article, which led to a larger talk of what was and was not a blockbuster. Jaap introduced Schatz’s concept of a “New Hollywood” and the major conditions (Shift to independent movie productions/changing role of studios/introduction of malls/commercial TV) and characteristics (Star value/production values/reward-risk factor (marketing through TV)/presold films/lived-in world of Star Wars) that marked this time in the industry.  This idea also gave rise to new kinds of films: movies that had a high-concept that could be succinctly described, sleeper hits that were less expensive, and alternative or independent cinema.  Jaap then screened a scene from the James Bond film Goldfinger. The class debated if the film was a blockbuster as it was released before Jaws, which is generally praised as the first blockbuster film. We seemed to come to a consensus that it fit into the confines of a blockbuster, but did not signify the shift towards producing a number of blockbusters as Jaws did.

Jaap then posed the question of why we continue to return to these films, and the class made a number of good points about why franchises and sequels exist for films like Star Wars and Jaws, which still resonate even decades after their initial release. Star Wars in particular was the focus of the conversation, as we mentioned at length how the universe feels not only lived in but has been so fleshed out in other mediums like novels and video games that the franchise has a number of points of entry for fans. We did also focus on some of the issues of a film like Star Wars, such as the possible racial implications of Darth Vader’s outfit or the way droids are treated in the Cantina, but the topic also circled back to the subject of blockbuster popularity. Jaap mentioned the pitches for films like Jaws and Alien, and also showed us the posters for these films that were meant to instantly grab viewers.

Finally, we ended class with a presentation Kael’s article, during which the presenter took a modern approach to the points of the article. Focusing on why movies are bad in modern times, the presentation covered the convoluted system of production and writing credits currently in place, as well as discussed briefly how Hollywood staples like the Black List of scripts and actor influences have aided or proved a disservice to the moviemaking process.

Jaap’s Recitation 3/7 (11:00)

We began the recitation by viewing a clip from The Sound of Music and proposed the question of whether or not the film could be considered a blockbuster. To help better understand the question and come to an agreed upon answer, we next had a presentation on Schatz’s article “The New Hollywood”. Following the presentation on Schatz, we discussed his opinions of what form a blockbuster and what he considers to be the three stages of Hollywood. These were the time periods of 1946 to 1955, 1956 to 1965, and 1966 to 1975.

Discussing as a class what we thought the definition of a blockbuster was, and whether films like The Sound of Music (1965) and Star Wars (1977) were Blockbusters or not, we looked at Schatz’s rules that a blockbuster film must meet. These were that only star vehicles with solid production value stood a chance at the box office, that a hit at the box office requires a lot of upfront spending on marketing and production, and that it must be marketing of several different types of media and entertainment.

On the topic of High Concept films, and how they simplify the ability of marketers to streamline marketing campaigns, we looked at the now iconic poster for Jaws (1975). Additionally we looked at how Jaws started setting the stage for the age of blockbusters that was to follow, especially in that the film was presold as a novel, as well as how it proved that franchising was a viable option for studios to incorporate into their business strategy.

Following our discussion of Jaws, we discussed whether or not it had actually started the trend of the blockbuster considering the big name franchises that had preceded it, for example the James Bond franchise. After watching the opening scene of the James bond film Goldfinger (1964), the class discussed if movies like the James Bond series, should be considered blockbusters. The recitation concluded with a presentation on Pauline Kael’s article “Why Are Movies So Bad? Or, The Numbers,” looking at examples in trailers for blockbusters such as Alien (1979).

Bruno’s Recitation-March 7th- 2pm

Bruno started off recitation on 3/7/12 by discussing the midterm assignment. He suggested that you meet him ahead of time because is next office hours are Monday, the day before the paper is due.

Some suggestions about the midterm paper:

  1. write as clearly as possible
  2. make sure your argument is stated very clearly
  3. the body should develop your argument using sources
  4. must use atleast two sources from the readings
  5. this is not as informal as a blog post.
  6. Try not to use judements of value (I love this film!)
  7. Can use the blog to post related stills or clips
  8. No title page

Then we saw a clip of a 1976 Jaws parody, known as Bacalhou, or “Codfish.” The film by Adriano Stuart, was obviously of lesser quality than Jaws, and was meant to be funny to highlight the concept of the “blockbuster,” the New Hollywood, and profit. Using Jaws made sense, because everyone at the time knew about it.

We further discussed blockbusters in the film industry. Blockbusters were not only defined by having intense special effects, but also by having a big star name, like Jack Nicholson, attached to it. In many ways, blockbusters were a big move from great film to great spectacles. Through blockbusters, stars became hot commodities, and the plot of a movie became more important to its success than development of the characters. It became more about making a lot of money from movies, instead of creativity; if you could describe a movie in 25 words or less, people would go and see it. The rise of malls and multiplexes added to the rise of blockbusters, with people going to see more and more movies, and the money being made from them becoming greater.

Then we had three reading presentations:

1)    Malory on the Schatz reading:

This reading defines New Hollywood, which starts post 1975 with the collapse of studios and the end of the classical era. The entertainment industry at this time is fragmented and New Hollywood as a lot of new ideas. Advertising became more influential, with really shocking promotional photos, including an infamous poster of Jaws. It became difficult to distinguish quality from commercial. Independent films were no longer lucrative for investors. This was a very important time because it shaped Hollywood as we know it today. The plot of movies became much more important to its success than the characters. With plot driven films came the replacement of a character, with a big star. At this time also came film rentals, VHS, and TV. New Hollywood was interested in making money from films, and not take risks that could make a film’s quality better.

2)    Dom on Biskind

George Lucas advertised Starwars as being exhilarating for younger kids. Dom explained that the main character of George Lucas’s films like Luke Skywalker, do not go through as much change as the secondary characters in the films. Luke is an “”empty vessel,” which makes him an easy character for anyone to relate to. Then Dom showed us a clip of a critique on Starwars, which highlights the underdeveloped characters.

3)    Morgan’s  on Kael

The Kael reading discusses why movies are bad now, and the element of being spectacles. The movies are not being run by artists, but by business people who are only interested in making money. A films success began to be based on the amount of money it made, and not on the quality of the film. This makes it easy to predict what kind of movie is going to be successful. The only risk put into a film became going over budget, and so people who would not go over budget were hired instead of better artists.  Artists’ integrity is lost because after negotiations are done, the artist is demoralized. They have lost so much creative power. The essential argument of this reading is that the people in control are not the artists and this takes from the quality of the film.

We further discussed throughout recitation the actually meaning of blockbuster. The term is actually talking about numbers, or how much money a film is making. It refers to actual busting or breaking of a block because of the amount of people coming to see the movie and standing in line. We talked about sleeper hits, which are when low-budget films make a lot more money than expected, or are advertised more through word of mouth.

Jaap’s Recitation 3/7 (12:30)

On Wednesday in recitation we began by going over the midterm essay assignment, talking about possible topics and going over logistical questions. After that, Jaap briefly introduced Peter Biskind’s article and then turned the class over to the presenters.

The presenters went through Biskind’s article and discussed some of the personal history of the “film school generation” which included Spielberg, Scorsese, Lucas, and Coppola. After they presented, we all discussed whether or not these men had ruined movies and tried to explain why they had such an incredible impact on cinema. After we discussed Biskind’s article, Jaap led the class through Thomas Schatz’s artice and listed the many different conditions that combine to make a movie a blockbuster. Some of the things we discussed were the value of a star in a leading role, multimedia platforms and crossover appeal, and the advantages of having an easily understood concept (Spielberg’s comment that a good film can be described in twenty-five words or less). Following this conversation, Jaap showed us a clip from Goldfinger, and asked us whether or not the movie should be considered a blockbuster. Convincing arguments were made for both sides, such as the fact that the film was based on an already successful book and featured lots of action. To the contrary, it was pointed out that Goldfinger came out before the concept of a blockbuster was really discussed, and that it only happens to fall into the category retrospectively.

From there, we talked about Star Wars and Jaws and tried to figure out why these particular movies have kept audiences riveted for so many years and continue to resonate with people decades after their initial release. It was brought up that Star Wars especially creates a world that provides an escape for viewers and keeps people wanting to come back to it because it’s both exciting and comfortable. Similarly, it was pointed out that these stories are all pretty classic tales, easily described in few words, just in different settings. With this said, Jaap showed us the original posters for both Jaws and Alien, which was pitched as “Jaws in space,” and pointed out the utter simplicity of both marketing campaigns. We briefly discussed the idea of racism in Star Wars and whether or not it is a valid critique. The character of Darth Vader was used as the most obvious example of potential racism in Star Wars, along with the droids and their characterization in the “bar scene.” Finally, there was a presentation on Kael’s article that explained why movies are so bad. We ran out of time to finish discussing the article. but the presenter elaborated with very good points as to why modern screenplays are less than fantastic for the most part.

Jaap’s Recitation, 3/7, 11AM

Recitation began with  Jaap going over details for our upcoming midterm essay. He explained the topics we could choose from and further explained what was expected from our essays.

After this, we watched a clip from the film The Sound of Music. When the clip was over, Jaap asked us if we thought the movie should be considered a blockbuster or not. The class’ reaction was mixed. The film does not fit perfectly into the categories that define a blockbuster according to our readings for the week, but it still has some of the elements. For one, the film is based off a musical (which is based off a book), meaning that it already had an audience prior to its release. Second, the film made a lot of money, which seems like the whole point of a blockbuster. In the end, the class could not come up with a clear answer. I think the fact that we were unsure whether The Sound of Music was a blockbuster or not points out that some of the New Hollywood trends had been emerging for some time. Someone later in recitation said he thought new hollywood was a response to a changing American social structure, so maybe the change in Hollywood was natural and inevitable. Because we could not pinpoint an exact answer, we moved on to our student presentation to help shape the meaning of the “blockbuster film.”

The presentation was on Thomas Schatz’s article “The New Hollywood” in which Schatz discusses the emergence of blockbusters and how they changed Hollywood films. The presenter mentioned how television hindered the movie market and the need arose to come up with new strategies to make money. The film Jaws is considered to be the first to set many of the trends that would shape the future of Hollywood. Suddenly, films became marketing ploys which played into advantages such as the rise of mall movie theaters, home video revenue, and the youth culture. There was now more genre-crossing and emphasis on plot rather than characters. Movies became more like an event and cross-media commodities made films into franchises.

When the presentation was finished, Jaap zeroed in on the specific conditions Schatz mentioned which spurred on the Hollywood change: the shift to independent picture production, the changing role of the studios, the emergence of commercial TV and the changes in American lifestyle and patterns on media consumption. Then Jaap called attention to what Schatz thinks are the ingredients that make up a blockbuster movie, which are 1) a big star, 2) a lot of marketing, 3) a pre-sold picture, 4) minimal character complexity and 5) multi-media exposure.

All these characteristics of blockbuster films seem to concern everything but the content of film itself. This brings up another point that Schatz mentioned in his article which says movies must be understood simultaneously as text and commodity. The blockbuster movie became a way to make the most profit possible, profit that often went beyond the movie in the form of toys and other merchandise. Jaap used The Matrix to explain this point, saying that its movie-inspired video games extended the plot of the films. Movies became commercial inter-text, in which the content of the movie grew beyond the screen. Its branches an arm of a money-making machine.

After this, a Steven Spielberg quote was brought up. He essentially said that if a movie could be explained in twenty-five words or less, it was a hit. The example that Jaap gave us of this was how Alien was pitched by claiming to be Jaws in space. This also shows how blockbuster movies sort of fed off each other and demonstrates the way in which these movies were really a device to make profit by using ideas that clearly worked before and just re-inventing them a little to spit out again for more money.

The next thing we did was watch a clip from the James Bond movie Goldfinger. We discussed whether the film could be considered a blockbuster, even though it predates the term. There was a mixed reaction to this question. Overall, it would be safe to say that maybe Goldfinger itself was not a blockbuster, but it at least undoubtedly gave way to a chain of blockbusters. Because the film worked and people liked it, there was reason to continue the series and turn it into a movie franchise since fans would come see it.

Next, we discussed the appeal behind Bond movies, The Sound of Music, and Star Wars. Many people in class mentioned the use of archetypes and themes that are proven to appeal to a variety of audiences. There was also mention of using the combination of suspense and the known, in which, for example, an audience knows a little bit about a world but not enough so that it wants to find out more. Someone else said that some blockbuster films, such as Star Wars were like modern fairytales, which I thought was an interesting concept. Fairytales also have an essence that is timeless and appeals to many different people. Hollywood was trying to achieve that status except not for artistic purpose but for consistent and continued revenue.

To wrap things up, we had another presentation, this time on Pauline Kael’s essay “Why are Movies so Bad? Or, the Numbers.” This  summed up Hollywood’s mindset which judged movies on their box office numbers and not their filmic qualities. In her essay, Kael says that because the people who are involved in making a film do not care about anything else but the profit, the movies tend to be bad. According to her, other sources in movie quality decline are how TV deals allowed bad movies to make good profits and how TV was bad so it became easier to accept bad movies as well. Also, people were more prone to use tried-and-true methods, therefore movies depended on past successes. Because of this, original movies were really hard to sell. Movies became worse because there was a concern in conforming to moral standards and avoiding controversial themes to appeal to wider audiences for a bigger profit turnout rather than using film to express something, such as it was used during the movie counterculture movement. Lastly, the presenter showed the trailer for the original Alien and the film Breaking Away. I thought it was interesting that absolutely nothing about the Alien trailer could be taken away regarding its plot since it was just a series of shots. Instead, it seemed like a way to induce curiosity so people would come and see what the movie was about. In the Breaking Away trailer, however, there was an effort to depict a plot for a movie that probably had good character development and intellectual thought behind it.