Violence in American Cinema

May 22nd, 2010

After reading Bernstein’s article, “Perfecting the New Gangster: Writing Bonnie and Clyde”, I thought about Hitchcock’s career and how he was a big influence on the films made in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as the surprising ending of Bonnie and Clyde. Also, I realized how he how his work changed to accommodate the new youth culture that wanted to see something different in cinema that their parents have never seen before, violence. Hitchcock’s early works had extreme levels of suspense and irony but no violence. This all changed with Psycho (1960), which later became one of the most defining films of modern cinema in America. This film went on to influence many filmmakers around the world, including Francois Truffaut, who had a big impact on the screenwriters and the director of Bonnie and Clyde. The shower sequence in Hitchcock’s film forever changed the course of American cinema. The use of violence can be further seen in Hitchcock’s penultimate film, Frenzy. That film is about a serial murder/rapist. I do not think there ever could be a more violent subject matter. Even the scenes where we do not see the violence but are left to imagine what was going can make anyone cringe just as much as the last scene of Bonnie and Clyde.

The Young Cinemas

May 13th, 2010

The late 1950s and early 1960s spurred a creative frenzy in filmmaking around the world. The youth culture and urban leisure-class defined that generation of filmmaking. National film schools sprouted in Scandinavia, Latin America as well as the Middle East and the cohort of directors of this time were mostly in their 30s. With their extensive knowledge of films, these filmmakers turned the industry upside down. Fashion, music and sports became distinctive in these films. To boost the economies in almost all of these once floundering countries co-productions between different countries and erotic films became a must-have. International film festivals began to develop; governments were sponsoring their states’ flurry of new directors and their projects. Filmmaking techniques and technologies were becoming modernized. Cinema was thrust into bouts of realism and overt politicizing. Styles such as the New Wave, Left Bank, Kitchen Sink, Neorealism and Direct Cinema took over the industry to bring it to new heights and levels of thinking.

France Before & During WWII

May 4th, 2010

I find it interesting that the flexibility and the freedom that filmmakers in France had was a result of a weak studio system because of the Great Depression. I find it remarkable that during times of war, the film industry in almost every country set their sights on making fantasy films. However, French filmmakers’ new found autonomy came at a cost, working sometimes literally for nothing as their studios tried to drive each other out of business. Poetic Realism seems similar to film noir with the often intense romance in the beginning of the film and the disillusionment at the end. The stark contrast of this French style would be that it has simple plots, impoverished characters and severe environments. Unfortunately, when France became occupied by Germany the sovereignty gained in the 1930s were lost by the 1940s by films becoming censored or indefinitely halted. The only positive event was that producers from Italy were able to help this country’s industry and in turn became influenced by the Poetic Realism that helped made Italian Realism what it was. The worst part of the Occupation was the discrimination of Jews in the film industry.

Jean-Luc Godard ‘From Critic to Film-Maker’

April 28th, 2010

Reading this article made me understand how some of his works, such as Contempt, Breathless, and My Life to Live were inspired by those before him. When I think of those films it reminds me of a film by Eisentein, Potemkin. I love his passion about expressing oneself as a lover and maker of film. I find it to be beautiful that he just knew he loved film and decided to just make his own, but not just anything, something technically innovative. I loved his comment on cinema seizing life. When I see an old film with one of my favorite actors that has passed away, the film immortalizes who that person was to me in that moment because it gives you a sense of who he or she was.

Film History: An Introduction 3rd edition – ch 15 Thompson and Bordwell

April 16th, 2010

Even though I love how the United States has a mixture of social policies, like capitalism, laisse faire, and some socialism; I don’t’ like how it tries to push western policies down other countries throats and decides that other social policies in other super powered countries are just simply wrong. I find this to be hypocritical. What was worse, from reading this chapter, was learning how it subjected its major film talent (writers and directors) because of their communist beliefs, which they are entitled to under the First Amendment. I view the HUAC hearings as a major dark period in the United States for the film industry, as well as history in America as a whole. I am not surprised that with the citations against communist filmmakers, the American cinema began to plummet.

Naeisha Rose

Senses of Cinema by Tom Ryan

April 7th, 2010

After reading Senses of Cinema: Douglas Sirk, I found this director to be really fascinating. I found it interesting that he used deus ex machina for melodramas, even though that was a style often used for ancient comedic Greek plays.

His use of mise en scene and baroque visual style reminded me of Orson Welles’ filmmaking. While reading Ryan’s essay about Sirk’s work, I constantly thought of a Welles’ film. When Ryan states that in Sirk’s work ‘you just see reflections’ or “the trauma of the world around”, and how a home that is supposed to be a haven becomes a prison, it reminded me of Citizen Kane. Kane’s mausoleum of a home, Xanadu, is not a sanctuary but a place to shut himself out from the rest of his world. The character’s story is told in reflections by those that he left a mark on. Also, he was traumatized by his loss of a childhood.

When Andrew Sarris’ described Sirk’s work as ‘fanciful and improbable’, I thought of another filmmaker that I tried to relate to his style with. I thought of Hitchcock whose films are often called improbable due to his constant use of red herrings.

When Ryan stated that Sirk’s work was often critiqued for its use of storylines that dealt with the failure of the American bourgeoisie, this reminded me of the slew of Italian films that dealt with life issues that upper class people in that country were facing during the 1950s and 1960s. Such films include: La Dolce Vita and Le Amiche (The Girlfriends).

What I like the most about this article on Sirk was the discovery that he made one of my favorite films, Imitation of Life (1959). Now I am looking forward to watching the film again to see his distinct way of filmmaking in the movie.

                                                                                                                                                                         Naeisha Rose

Yasujiro Ozu and the Japanese Film System

March 18th, 2010

I find the Japanese film system and one of its premier directors, Yasujiro Ozu, to be exceptionally unique. This was, especially true since Japan was one of the “Third World” countries that entered the film arena during the technical height of filmmaking, when other nations already established their particular styles. I was amazingly surprised to learn that when Hollywood began to send an influx of its films overseas, destroying other national cinemas, like Italy’s, that a small island nation like Japan had a more stable film industry than Britain even before WWII. Also, the cadre and producer approaches in Japan were more ahead of its time than the Hollywood studio system. I think of it as similar to the auteur approach that became popular in the 1960s and 1970s because of the free reign and originality that Japanese screenwriters and directors exhibited during the 1920s and 1930s.

I liked how the Japanese were able to incorporate what they learned about other international film industries and filmmakers, yet still keep their own national identity. They were able to open their doors to other nations’ film and still maintained the popularity of the country’s own films, like the chambara before the war. However, I was disgusted with some of General MacArthur’s SCAP programs during the Occupation. The forced censorship of the Japanese film styles, as well as the imposition of American themes by a leader of the FREE WORLD, was beyond contradictory. Nonetheless, I was happy that the program did help the tenant farmers, gave women more rights and created universities.

What I like the most about the Japanese film industry was that it produced such an interesting film director in Yasujiro Ozu. He made films on his own terms. He was not afraid to make daring films by using unheard of techniques. He did not simply make films about his life, but observed others and created movies about their plight. His use of shomin-geki was interestingly similar to that of a neorealist, but what interests me the most was that he never sticks with any one film style. He uses one method and then completely abandons it on a whim; for example, his 360 degree approach a shot/reverse shot for one film would be discarded for a film about picturesque landscapes. His stories about children, or salarymen were later forsaken for stories about modern women and white collar individuals.

The most fascinating thing I find about Ozu was that he followed film conventions on his own terms, like a true auteur. He did not immediately start making talkies because it became the norm in films, but because it added to a particular story he was trying to tell. He didn’t use color in his films when other filmmakers jumped at the chance for this new standard, but because he saw something new and intriguing that he could do with it. This is why I think he is an incredible filmmaker, and I can’t wait to get familiarized with his work.

 Naeisha Rose

Film Noir Reader, Vol. 1 Ed. Alain Silver & James Ursini – Paul Schraeder’ Notes on Film Noir (1972)

February 28th, 2010

The film noir is considered one of the finest film styles, but sadly it has been severely overlooked in American cinema. These mostly small budget films were made between the 1940s and early 1950s. Unlike the categorized film genres that were classified by traditional sets and conflicts, film noir was a style known for its crafty use of tone and mood. Nevertheless, the most distinctive feature of film noirs was its dark depictions of American life.

Film noirs were released around the end of World War II and were influenced by gangster films of the thirties, French ‘poetic realism’ by artists such as Carne and Duvivier, melodramas by Sternberg and German Expressionist films. Film noir not only managed to capture the essence and atmosphere of these films, but they were able to smoothly merge them together. These films were cynical, dark, and hopeless in nature. The people within these films were sardonic, disillusioned and corrupt of heart. The themes were fatalistic, harsh and most of all more realistic then the films before it.

However, the most important aspect of the film noir was the people behind the camera. German and eastern European expatriates were great technicians behind the scenes of the film noir. These filmmakers were capable of using simulated and expressionistic lighting on convincingly genuine-looking sets with chiaroscuro. The hardboiled Hollywood writers that had backgrounds in pulp fiction or journalism also helped developed the style. The characters these writers created were tough, narcissistic, amoral, sometimes romantic, but mostly they were unredeemable. Some of the notable writers and technicians of film noir were Fritz Lang, Billy Wilder, John Brahm, John Alton, Ernest Hemingway, James M. Cain, and Raymond Chandler.

Film noir can be distinguished by its three overlapping phases. Its first phase takes place during the wartime period of 1941-1946. The protagonists of these films were private eyes and lone wolfs. This point in film noir consisted mostly of a lot of talk and little action. The post-war second phase of film noir 1945-1949 focused on street crime, corrupted politicians and the routines of cops. This phase was less romantic and featured more realistic urban looks. The final phase of film noir, 1949-1953 had characters that were psychotic or suicidal. They were more neurotic and instable than before. The hero of the earlier film noir phases became more like the villain and vice versa. More importantly, this phase got to the spirit of film noir: society’s displeasure with the loss of integrity, honor, heroics and lack of psychic stability among Americans.

                                                                                                                                                                                               Naeisha Rose

Naeisha Rose

February 9th, 2010

Andre Bazin, What Is Cinema? Vol. II

–  Trans. : Hugh Gray (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971)

An Aesthetic of Reality: Neorealism (Cinematic Realism and the Italian School of the Liberation)

I was compelled by Bazin’s article. Last semester, I took a course called, Italian Cinema and Fashion. That was why I related to some of the subjects he brought to light – such as Italian neorealism, Rossellini, the effects of the Second World War on Italian Cinema, the use of unprofessional actors in these films, the typecasting of actors, and the reaction of the American audience to these works. Still, I could imagine it would be hard for anyone to connect completely to this article, like myself because, unless you have seen all of these films or know all of these directors/actors from the different countries he mentioned, it was challenging to make a mental and visual association of the topics he discussed.

Although I took that course, it was the only course I took on the subject. Rossellini was the only director whose work I was familiar with from the article, and of the cited Italian films Paisawas the only one I saw and was able to correlate with some of the topics Bazin focused on. Yes, I studied Italian Cinema, but I learned about films and directors from this country from a broad spectrum of genres, eras, influences, and themes. Due to technical difficulties in that class, I did not see Cabiria. However, I did see Nosferatu (not an Italian film – German), in a different class so I could identify with that one.

The Second World War had a great impact on Italian Cinema. The films of this era and the postwar era were slightly darker in tone, but often kept their humor. Justifiably, these films did deal with the war and how it changed the lives of Italians, but moreover, they dealt with who these people were before, during and after the war. These films did not tell sob stories, they dealt with the inner dilemmas these people had to contest with at home, with each other, and their country which was at ruins. More importantly, filmmakers like Rossellini conveyed powerful emotions in these films naturally by using the film style of neorealism and unprofessional actors. These two elements created an authenticity and sentiment of realism that was never seen before in film. The characters in these films had an unwavering level of humanity that people could bond with.

Due to the war, Italian films were not distributed to the United States. Still, the reaction to neorealism was phenomenal. In my opinion, American filmmakers realized they had to step their game up artistically in this medium. The glitzy Hollywood films that came out during this era looked like fluff compared to the neorealist films that were being produced in Italy. This era of Italian Cinema dealt with real issues plaguing families, problems in relationships and the inner turmoil of the soul.

On the topic of typecasting, I felt that I truly understood Bazin. Sometimes, it is the public’s as well as the studio system’s fault if an actor gets typecast. When people envision or relate to the actor as only one type of character he or she does not get to show their range. For instance, I know some might disagree with me over this actor, but there are a few incredible movies that he starred in that were genuinely poignant (one darker than usual for him), however he is often given roles as an outlandish comedic character. The actor is Jim Carrey. The films are The Cable Guy, The Truman Show, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. In these last two films, I felt he should have really got an Oscar nomination or award for them. The last two films, where Carrey showed restraint as an actor, which he often does not or was not allowed to in other roles, showed his depth as an actor. I think it’s a shame he does not get to do that often.

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