3 Paragraphs on Chicago 10

      One of the significant themes in Chicago 10 is the undermining of authoritarian power by making a joke out of it. This is done in the courtroom as Abbie and his group make fun of the judge and prosecution, and their “charges”. By doing this, it causes the judge and prosecution to appear unethical (the judge appears to be authoritarian and bias), and causes the jury to sympathize with Abbie. The same theme presents itself as the protesters try to undermine the power of the city of Chicago, and the government in general who support the war. The protesters make a joke out of the city’s authority by prompting an unethical overreaction by the police department when protesters refuse to leave the park, or approach a statue. By doing this, the protesters show the unethical nature of the police, and government in general. 

      Chicago 10 may be considered a “post-modern documentary”, containing a non-linear narrative, a mix of several genera, elements of high and low brow culture, and blurs the line between fact and fiction. Chicago 10 demonstrates a non-linear narrative as it frequently switches back in forth from old clips of the actual protest, old clips of Abbie and his group touring various cities, newer clips of Abbie and his group, and animation representing the trial. It mixes several genera through its use of animation, documentary, news, and other genera. The film may be considered highbrow in the sense that it is a documentary about 1960s protest, but at the same time may be considered low-brow in the sense that the protesters are childish and the courtroom animation contains a lot of lowbrow humor (such as when Abbie’s group tricks the judge into admitting a mistake to the pronunciation of a name that he actually pronounced correctly). Lastly, the blur between fact and fiction is an inherent trait of all documentary (since the people doing the documentary choose what to include in the film), however, the use of animation in this film blurs fact and fiction even further.

      The use of animation was artistic in Chicago 10. The use of animation in the courtroom allows humor to be much more effective since animations allow hyperbole and aren’t supposed to be taken as reality.  Through humor, the director is able to reflect how Abbie undermined the power of the judge to get the favor of the jury. This is artistic because this parallels with how the protesters were able to make a joke out of the police’s power and gain the favor of the public(as discussed above). Without animation, the director would be unable to use humor to make this parallel. 

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3 Paragraphs on Weekend

     One of the significant themes of Weekend is Roland and Corrin’s  ignorance and apathy towards others. This theme occurs early on in the film as Roland gets into a fight with someone over a car dispute which was clearly his fault. Roland shows no remorse for the other driver and violently chases him away. He and Corrin continue there apathy towards others as they cut in line during the traffic scene, and light one of the characters on fire later on. They watch two drivers who crashed, leading to a man’s death, as if it was entertainment. This theme is meant to illustrate our apathy and ignorance towards the needs of others in our culture. 

    Weekend is a commentary about upper class “bourgeoisie” culture; where certain characters or situations represent certain aspects of our own culture. For example, Roland and Corrine are highly materialistic. In one scene, Roland and Corrine crash their car and a burning man emerges. Corrine screams not for the man, but for her ruined purse, reflecting our value for material items in a capitalistic society. Weekend also commentates on how our political views are shallow in our culture. When Roland and Corrine ask for a lift, they are asked in return a political question about their views. Although they always answer wrong, the person asking the question embodies the opposite of  what their view is towards the issue, suggesting their political commitment is shallow and merely an excuse to isolate others. The same thing happens in the tractor car scene. The tractor man and car driver have a lot to argue about (the person who died and whose fault it was) and call each other fascists and communists, but are able to put a-side their radical beliefs and argument just so they can segregate Corrine and Roland by calling them Jews. This reflects how in our society, political views are superficial and merely a way of isolating each other.  

      The longeurs in Weekend exist to alienate the audience from the film by making the film more like real life. This is done in the traffic scene where Roland tries to cut in line, and in the garbage men speech scene. Both of these scenes are incredibly boring for the audience, just as waiting for traffic would be in real life, or listening to one of these monotone speeches from a garbage man. By making the film more like real life, Godart is able to make commentary about real life through cinema. If the film did not imitate some of the features of real life (such as nothing happens lots of the time), then the message of the film may not be directly related to the audience or society. The benefit to the viewer is not in entertainment value, but to understand life through a new point of view and to understand Godart’s critiques of our society.      

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3 Paragraphs on Psycho

     One of the main themes in Psycho involves portraying women as stereotypes, such as women as sexual objects, or women as thinking with their emotions while men think with logic. In the film, Marion is frequently shirtless and is constantly being watched by her boyfriend, the police officer, and Norman. Norman disregards Marion as a person, and acts upon his lust in the shower scene, then cleans up the mess and throws her out. Women are also portrayed in the film as thinking with her emotions, as when Marion sees the money on her bed, she can not resist the urge to take it. She is nervous (as opposed to calm and collected) when asked questions by the policeman and Norman, and because of this, gives poor answers. These answers lead to the policeman’s growing suspicion and allows Arbogast to track her down, as she used a fake name related to her personal information. Norman, on the other hand, tries to give logical reasons to Arbogast’s investigation (although in vain), Arbogast investigates through logic, and Sam tries to come up with logical reasons for why Norman killed Marion in there conversation.

 

     Editing in Psycho is primarily done to reflect the characters inner feelings. In the scene where Marion feels like she’s being followed, the camera quickly switches back and forth between Marion, the road, and her rear view mirror. This reflects her paranoia, as she constantly needs to check her surroundings to make sure she is not being followed.  In the conversation with Norman, the camera cuts reflect the mood of the conversation. The cuts are slow and regular in the beginning since the conversation is calm and relaxed, however, the camera cuts become much more rapid and aggressive as the conversation progresses and Norman feels exceedingly threatened. In the scene where Arbogast confronts Norman’s mother, the camera zooms in while being moved backwards as Arbogast falls down the stairs. This camera trick (the trombone shot) keeps Arbogast in focus while reducing the field of depth, creating an unsettling effect similar to the unsettling feeling Arbogast feels as he falls down the stairs. 

     The camera in Psycho is personal for two reasons, it reflects the characters feelings (as stated above) and it usually has a particular point of view (I will be focusing on this element in this paragraph). Frequently in the film, the audience is forced to take Norman’s point of view. This occurs in the conversation with Marion, as Norman watches Marion undress, and as Norman’s mother attacks Marion and Arbogast. By doing this, the audience is further emotionally invested in the film, and may even feel a sense of guilt for the killing of Marion and Arbogast, or a sense of disgust for Norman’s cold personal murder. In the end of the film, when Norman’s dead mother turns around to confront Lila, the camera is shown from Lila’s pov. This, again, is meant to draw more of an emotional reaction (fear) from the audience. 

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3 Paragraphs on Far from Heaven

One theme of Far From Heaven involves sexual roles. Frank is forced to uphold traditional male roles of the 1950s. These values include being macho and subversive towards women, and liking the opposite sex. However, Frank doesn’t agree with these values, and is unable to express his true self unless he risk being ostracized. This illustrates the conflict of sexual roles and free expression in the 1950s. This theme of conflict between traditional roles and free expression may be extended to gender and racial roles in the movie as well.

Far From Heaven represents multiple clashing ideology’s. One of these ideologies involves Cathy’s place as housewife. Cathy is required to serve her husband, clean the house, entertain guests, and look pretty. Although she willingly does these things, she is not satisfied with her role, and she eventually divorces from her husband. Another one of the clashing ideologies in Far From Heaven involves “white supremacy”. Raymond Deagan displays traits uncommon of a black male at this time, being literate, having an education, and showing a romantic interest in a white woman. Because of this, he is ostracized to the point where he must move.

The film conveys two messages to the 2002 audience. First, it highlights the progress that has been made thus far since the 1950s. People are no longer persecuted based on their gender, sexual orientation, or race to the extent as in the film. However, the film also reminds us of these issues and that much work still has to be done. Women still earn less then men for the same job, unemployment is 7% higher for African Americans than it is for the average population, and gay rights are not recognized in many states. It never hurts for a movie to remind us of these issues.

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3 Paragraphs on Zero Dark 30

One of the main themes in Zero Dark Thirty involves torture. In the film, suspected Al-queda militants are tortured and humiliated. The torture is graffic, however, it is shown to work since the militants produce useful information. This theme of torture can be viewed as a statement on the effectiveness of real life torture (although the effectiveness of this statement will be described below).

Zero Dark Thirty may be considered auteur cinema, and represents the directors artistic vision. It, however, is not journalism. The artistic vision in this film is for the movie to be pro-America or a feel good movie for audiences. It tries to capitalize on Americans feel good attitude about catching Bin-Laden, and tries to reinforce these themes ( while at the same time, encouraging Americans to go to the theater and increase sales of the movie). However, because of this idealized artistic vision, it may not be considered journalism as it lacks objective facts. One of these holes in the film is the inconguency of the torture in the film being depicted as successful, when the torture conducted by the CIA was not.

Zero Dark Thirty appears to show how the US government displayed incredible resolve to catch one of the hardest to find terrorists in the world. In the film, America must overcome obstacles such as getting information from people which information is hard to get, tracking down hard to find people, and finally finding and raiding Bin Laden’s compound. Essentially, America is the hero. However, the real picture (not depicted in the film) is much blurrier. In truth, the torture was not effective, as CIA director Michael Morell admits. The act of torture in itself is the most immoral thing one may do to another, especially when no good is obtained from it. It brings America on the same moral level as others who torture. These facts/opinions are left out of the film so the film may cast an idealized “artistic” (and money making) version of the truth.

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3 Paragraphs on Casablanca

One of the main themes of Casablanca is the growing influence to become politically active. Rick at the beginning of the film refuses to take sides in the war or even talk about it. As the film develops, Ricks desire to support the allies becomes stronger and stronger. Casablanca itself, represents this theme as it is originally in the middle of a dessert, isolated from the war. However, military presence increases in the city as the war escalates. This theme was also reflected in the broader context with the US at first not wanting to go to war.

Casablanca incorporates many genera’s into one cohesive film. The film begins with a newsreel, and transitions to a spy movie, then a propaganda film as the Nazi’s shoot dead one of the fleeing men without papers. From here, the film goes back and forth rapidly between numerous genera’s throughout the rest of the film. One of the more dominant genre’s however, is the propaganda film, as elements of this may be seen throughout the film. This is because the propaganda message may be conveyed through other film genera’s, since it also doubles as a theme.

Normally in classical Hollywood, the male deals with struggles of independence while the women deals with struggles of dependence. This is the opposite in Casablanca. In the film, Rick struggles to maintain independence with regards to who he supports in the war. At first he is independent, however, he eventually succumbs to favor the allies. In classical Hollywood, the man should remain independent, not like Rick. Lisa, on the other hand, struggles to remain dependent on Rick, the man she loves. She tries to remain impartial towards Rick and Laszlo, however, she eventually chooses Rick. This puts her back decision defies the conventional Hollywood role since women aren’t supposed to be choosing men. Men are supposed to chose women in traditional gender roles.

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Final Paper

     Avatar, one of the highest grossing movies of all time, to many viewers on the surface may seem like a science fiction or fantasy. It involves space travel, highly sophisticated technology, and many other staples of the genre. Why then, according to some critics, should the film be more akin to a western. Westerns involve cowboys and open field, such as those found in Giant, right? Although it would appear that Avatar and Giant are two completely different films, they actually contain numerous similarities. They both share elements of the western genera, share similar ideals, and follow the Hollywood form. However, they also differ in several key ways such as social context, technology, and marketing.

Before discussing the similarities and differences in genre between Giant and Avatar, it is first important to define genre. A genre is set of characteristics and norms common to a certain type of film. These common characteristics and norms may be split up into two groups; conventions relating to the setting, and conventions relating to the themes (Rick Altman).

     Giant, as far as setting, represents the prototypical western. The setting of a “prototypical” western involves a large wide open field somewhere in the mid-west sometime between the late 19th and early 20th century. The open field is often unforgiving and dangerous, and the main character is a strong masculine cowboy. Like the prototypical western setting, the setting of Giant centers around Bick’s huge house on a half-million acre wide open ranch in dusty Reata, Texas, during the 1920s (and on). Bick is the masculine (and hard headed) cowboy who ranches on the dangerous field, which contains rattlesnakes and leads to the death of Luz. It in no way deviates from the prototypical western as far as setting. Avatar on the other hand, differs greatly from the prototypical western in its setting. It is set in the mid 22nd century on a lush distant moon called Pandora in another galaxy. The main character, Jake, does not represent the prototypical cowboy, as he is a disabled marine.

The themes of Giant and Avatar, however, are much more similar to each other and the prototypical western. The common theme of a prototypical western involves an individual’s ability to overcome the wilderness and the balance between his independence and his obligations. In Giant, Bick overcomes the wilderness through his cattle ranching. He struggles to maintain his independence as Jett’s rising oil industry threatens to overtake Bick’s traditional ranching, and is torn whether or not to sell some of his land and his way of life. Avatar also demonstrates these themes. In Avatar, Jake is sent into the wilderness of Pandora’s jungles, and struggles to survive. He later develops a mutual relationship with the wilderness (overcoming it), and the natives. Jake struggles to maintain his independence after the humans start logging and mining. He is obligated to support the humans who have provided him with his Na’vi body (and physical independence since he is disabled), however, Jake wishes he could support the Na’vi who he has grown close to (his moral independence). In the end, Jake chooses to support the Na’vi.

     Giant and Avatar, independent of their genres, also embody similar ideals such as the corruption associated with greed. In Giant, Jett tries to work his way up from a cattle ranching hand, and, by a stroke of luck, finds oil. He works hard to develop the land and becomes rich. As a result of his wealth, Jett becomes more corrupt, condescending, nasty, and less hard-working. This eventually leads to his downfall and the collapse of his company as he gets drunk and makes a fool of himself at his own party. Jett and his company can be akin to the Resource Development Administration (RDA) in Avatar. The RDA are condescending towards the natives, and will stop at nothing to obtain wealth (in the form of unobtainium). Like Jett, the RDA’s greed gets the better of them as they attempt to remove the natives, and their agency is removed from the planet.

     Giant and Avatar also embody similar ideals with respect to overcoming discrimination. In both Giant and Avatar, the main characters hold discriminating ideals. Bick discriminates against his Mexican workers, while Jake sees the Na’vi as “uncivilized”. Both these characters overcome these ideals of discrimination. Michal Ballard explains, “Giant is the story of one man’s journey from his domineering, racist, feudal posturing to one of genuine understanding and a readiness to accept the inexorable changes that are beyond his control” (Ballard). Like Bick,  Jake also begins to overcome his previous ideals and begins to sympathize and defend the natives. Unlike Avatar though, Giant also deals with discrimination against gender. Leslie stands up for her independence as a women, while her children want to take up occupations contrary to their normal gender roles. Bick at first, rejects the changing ideals of gender, however, he grows to accept them.  Unlike Giant, Avatar also deals with discrimination against the disabled. The RDA tries to take advantage of Jake by promising to give him his legs back if he does some of their “dirty” work for them. Jake later overcomes this discrimination by fighting back against the company.

Both films follow the traditional Hollywood form; including clarity, identifiable characters, unity, and unobtrusive craftsmanship. In Giant, Bick is a stubborn, hard-working, western cowboy with traditional values, while in Avatar, Jake is a rebellious, disabled marine trying to finish a job to get his legs back. Both characters are easy to understand, and do not act differently than they think .They are identifiable characters which the audience may sympathize with since both of them change to uphold higher ideals. Bick becomes more excepting of new gender roles and stands up for minorities, while Sully stands up for the disadvantaged (relative to the RDA) natives. Neither film skips chronologically, and neither film brings attention to the filming process.

Although Giant and Avatar are similar in genre, ideals, and form, they differ with regards how they depict their culture at the time. Giant tries to depict the change in culture over the 30 years which the film takes place. It encompasses the rise of the oil industry, growing wealth after WWII, changes in gender roles, and changes in racial/social statuses.  Avatar, on the other hand, tries to depict the American counterculture at the time, dealing with American imperialism. Bron Taylor comments “Avatar metaphorically attacks all martial, colonial, and expansionist histories” (Taylor). In the film, a wealthy group tries to exploit an underprivileged society who have a stockpile of a valuable resource. The wealthy group undermines the rights of the underprivileged, wages war on them, and this leads to mutual destruction at the end. The same can be said of American imperialistic ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan at the time of the film’s release. A wealthy nation looks to exploit a weaker nation for their natural resources (oil), wages war, and this leads to mutual destruction.

Another way in which Giant and Avatar differ is in the technology used in the films. Avatar uses many computer generated special effects whereas Giant does not. One of the effects used in Avatar involves performance capture technology. This allows the movements and facial expressions of the actors to be transferred to the computer generated characters, the Na’vi, in the film.  Avatar also uses green screen technologies by digitally creating a background in the film, and digital compositing to create the Na’vi world and environment. Peter Bradshaw remarks on the special effects use in Avatar, “The digitally created world meshes pretty much seamlessly with ordinary reality in an undoubtedly impressive way” (Bradshaw). These newer techniques are not used in Giant.

     Giant and Avatar also differ in their marketing techniques. Giant, at the time of its release, relied on word-of-mouth in order to draw viewers to see the movie. A particular movie during this time was not usually available at every theater. Avatar, conversely, employed a technique known as blockbuster. This involves heavily advertising the movie before and during its release, then allowing the movie to be seen at any theater nationwide.  This led to huge grossing sales, and encourages others to see the movie since everyone else is seeing it. Bron Taylor comments, “ Indeed, no one’s films exemplify the blockbuster, money-making film genre more than Cameron’s…Avatar, which banked $2.8 billion within the first two years after its release, 73 percent of which came from outside of the United States” (Taylor). Moreover, Avatar used horizontal integration in marketing, and sold video games, action figures, and books relating to the movie.

Overall, Giant and Avatar both share elements of the western genera, particularly similar themes of overcoming the wilderness and maintaining ones independence. They also both share similar ideals, including overcoming discrimination, and the belief that money corrupts. Lastly, both films follow the Hollywood form; clarity, identifiable characters, unity, and unobtrusive craftsmanship. The films differ with regards to social context; Giant depicting the change in culture from the 1920s to the 1950s while Avatar depicts the counter culture with respect to American imperialism. They differ with use of technology, Avatar making full use of computer based special effects and Giant not, and marketing, Giant using a word-of-mouth technique while Avatar using the blockbuster and horizontal integration technique.

References

Altman, Rick. Film/Genre, British Film Institute Publishing, London, 1999.

Taylor, Bron. Battleground Pandora: The War over James Cameron’s Avatar  

Bright Lights Film Journal. November, 2013.

Bradshaw, Peter. Avatar. Guardian News. 2013.

Classic movie review: ‘Giant’ (1956) Examiner.com. 2013.

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