The Roxy: Living Long and Prospering
By Timothy Ruppert
In place of the inimitable Dr. William Covey, and after a year of crisis and uncertainty for us all, I have the unique opportunity to welcome you to Volume 7 (Spring 2022) of The Roxy, the annual film and media studies journal published by and for Slippery Rock University. During Dr. Covey’s well-earned sabbatical, I have enjoyed the benefits of working on this latest installment with wonderful colleagues and ever-spirited students, and I cannot hope to thank these superb people sufficiently. My greatest appreciation goes to the English department’s chairperson, Dr. Danette DiMarco, for her inestimable guidance and tireless support. My gratitude as well to Drs. O’Connor and Stuart, as well as to Cameron Blair, Peter Korman, and Christian Skinner for their help and kindness. As always, our students have shown true alacrity and talent throughout the preparation of this present volume. Under the leadership of Rachael Robinson, our staff—including Zoe Brown, Harold Domville, and Jack Dolinger—has shepherded the many fine contributions to this volume into print. They are astonishing young people whose vision proves commensurate with their ability. Even as COVID-19 and its pernicious variants seem to militate against our students’ aspirations, The Roxy staff epitomizes what Spock asserts in 2016’s Star Trek Beyond: “We will find hope in the impossible.” Happy reading!
The Arduous Task of Experimenting
By Raymond Holloway
Will the outcomes of an experiment always be successful? To answer this question, the individual who is conducting an experiment will not always be guaranteed success. The experimenter will either not reach the desired outcomes or reach the desired outcomes but may decide there is still room for improvement. In the films Polar Express (2004) and Waltz with Bashir (2009), two techniques were employed in the film making that can be considered as experiments in the field of animation. Based on previous statements, the utilization of these experimental techniques in these films may result in the filmmakers reaching the desired outcomes, but there may still exist room for improvement. As a result, the individuals involved in making these films understood that there will exist some advantages and disadvantages when employing these innovative techniques.
Based on the fact that motion-capture technology can be seen as an experimental technique in the field of animation, the individuals involved in making Polar Express understood that there will exist some advantages and disadvantages when employing motion-capture technology in this film. To identify some of these advantages and disadvantages, we can examine one of the most intense scenes in the film, during which “the Hero Boy meets a hobo traveling atop the train and then rides on the hobo’s shoulders as he skis across the train cars” (Rehak 172). In this particular scene, Rehak states, “The Hero Boy’s performance was assembled from data recorded from a child actor on the shoulders of a stuntman, spliced with another motion-capture ‘take’ of Hanks’s performance as the boy” (173). As a result, the motion-capture technology assisted in the development of a relationship being established between live-action reference and digital animation. As we watch this scene, we may see the previous statement as an advantage of utilizing the technique of motion-capture technology because the motions that are captured by the multiple characters in this scene help develop the feeling from the audience that Hero Boy and the hobo are actually demonstrating movements reminiscent of movements typically demonstrated by skiers. For example, the motions captured and displayed by the hobo include his spreading both of his skis out to provide himself with more balance. Additionally, both Hero Boy and the hobo bend their knees to get more power when jumping over the gaps between train cars. Overall, the advantage that presented itself in this scene helped to establish an interesting dynamic between live-action movements and the remaining digital animation involved in creating the rest of the scene.
On the other hand, the audience viewing this particular scene in Polar Express might also observe other interesting elements that may collectively assist in establishing a disadvantage of utilizing the technique of motion-capture technology. As we watch and listen to the conversation between Hero Boy and the hobo, several items jump out at us. For example, several of the motions demonstrated by the hobo seem to be overexaggerated, like when he was laughing hysterically at the Hero Boy’s opening comment. These overexaggerated motions demonstrated by the hobo were compounded by the times when there were exposures recorded of the hobo’s face being brought to a large perspective from an audience’s perspective of the scene. Additionally, the Hero Boy seems to demonstrate a lack of emotion based on the fact that the audience can basically only see his mouth moving up and down when he speaks, along with some accompanying movements of his eyebrows and other facial features at times. These examples help establish a disadvantage of utilizing the technique of motion-capture technology, namely, that not all the captured motions resemble reality when the film was sent to RenderMan to generate the finished images. As a result, this disadvantage relates to the concept of the uncanny valley, which is a term developed to describe “the problematic nature of simulations that come close but fall just short of the real thing” (Rehak 173). Based on this concept, multiple elements in this particular scene of Polar Express are very close to but do not exactly portray real-life movements.
The technique of motion-capture technology is important to the film’s story because the utilization of this technique allows us, as the audience, to see that Hero Boy appears to demonstrate more emotion and facial movements as he gets closer to the point when he decides to truly believe in the spirit of Christmas. More specifically, as mentioned previously, Hero Boy seems to demonstrate a lack of emotion during his conversation with the hobo while on top of the train. Eventually, after being chosen by Santa to receive the first gift of Christmas, the utilization of the technique of motion-capture technology results in Hero Boy portraying significantly more emotion and facial movements as the interaction between him and Santa continues. As a result, all of the various emotions and facial movements seen during the entire sequence from the Hero Boy picking up the bell and to when Santa decides that he can keep the bell helps establish the one theme that is most important to this film: the wonder of life never fades for those who believe. I believe that the filmmaker chose animation to discuss the topic of the importance of believing because I think that a film that attempts to recreate this story by containing only live-action movements displayed by actual human actors could not build and establish this same theme throughout the course of the film. Based on the previous statement, we receive this message of continuing to believe in something, no matter what, in a more dramatic and convincing way through the use of motion-capture technology combined with digital animation in this film.
Based on the fact that the use of Adobe Flash cutouts in combination with classical animation can be seen as an experimental technique in the field of animation, the individuals involved in making Waltz with Bashir understood that there will exist some advantages and disadvantages when employing this technique in the film. To identify some of these advantages and disadvantages, we can examine one of the most action-packed scenes in the film that features one of the conversations between Folman and a former soldier. The soldier describes one of his experiences as an active member of the war going on around him. When this former soldier explains how he took drastic measures to obtain the weapon of his desire to combat the opposing forces, certain movements appear to accurately portray real-life movements through the use of Adobe Flash cutouts in combination with classical animation, slicing each drawing for this scene into hundreds of pieces which were moved in relation to one another. For example, the pieces that were moved to create the image of the soldiers firing their guns in the junction against the opposing forces appear to resemble typical movements displayed by soldiers when firing weaponry. More specifically, the images of the soldiers pulling the triggers of their weapons and of the weaponry recoiling against their shoulders appear to accurately portray the same movements demonstrated by actual soldiers when firing guns.
Additionally, the sequence of movements demonstrated by the former soldier when obtaining the weapon of his desire in that particular moment seem to resemble an actual waltz. After escaping out of the area that the soldiers inhabited, he crosses his feet and spaces his movements out as if he were actually dancing to the rhythm typically used for waltzes, all along firing his weapon in various directions. As the audience views these movements, they may realize that the filmmakers want to communicate a glorification of violence on the soldiers’ parts. The technique itself does a fantastic job in not making this former soldier’s movements seem contrived for a purpose; his movements, reminiscent of a dancer performing the waltz, seamlessly integrate within his other movements of firing his weapon in all directions. This entwining of dance movements with the Bashir posters on the surrounding buildings give the film its title. More importantly, the accurate portrayal of several real-life movements yield an advantage for the film.
The audience viewing this particular scene in Waltz with Bashir might also observe other interesting elements that collectively establish the disadvantage of utilizing the technique of Adobe Flash cutouts in combination with classical animation. Throughout the scene, as the audience views each of the soldier’s faces and the face of the former soldier who speaks about the experience, the audience may believe that they cannot detect any trace of emotion or facial reactions from the soldiers. In other words, all of the soldiers’ faces in the battle sequence, as well as the face of the former soldier, seem almost to resemble video game characters’ faces because all of the soldiers display nearly the same exact face throughout the entire sequence, never signifying any difference in facial movement until they either speak or move to another location within the setting. However, even though I am labeling the item described in the previous sentence as a disadvantage, this particular item might be unconsciously seen as an advantage for some viewers because those who have had prior experiences with war, perhaps affecting their lives in a negative manner, most likely do not want to see the true emotions displayed on the soldiers’ faces in the previously described scene. Additionally, the audience also may form the observation that the actual movements of other features, such as the arms and fingers, appear to be quite rigid and confusing. For example, there were certain instances when the former soldier would raise certain fingers up for no apparent reason or display other odd movements of his hands or arms entirely. All of these examples mentioned above help establish a disadvantage in utilizing the technique of Adobe Flash cutouts in combination with classical animation, and this disadvantage is that not all motions displayed by the characters or figures in this animated film seem to resemble reality.
The technique of using Adobe Flash cutouts in combination with classical animation is important to the film’s story because the utilization of the technique allows us, as the audience, to not fully understand what the characters in the flashbacks are feeling or what types of emotions they display. More precisely, we have the opportunity to determine what types of emotions we think are portrayed by certain characters or figures in particular flashbacks or scenes. Based on the previous sentences, the audience might not fully understand the theme or the most important topic being illustrated within the film; however, as the film progresses, we better form our own ideas of what the film seeks to convey to the audience. As a result, the one subject of most importance to Waltz with Bashir is the idea that an individual truly does not understand the ramifications of what is taking place until one can view the effects or the results of the current situation. More specifically, in this film, I believe that Ari Folman has immense struggles in remembering the events from the war in which he participated because he could not envision the effects or the results of the war on both himself and the communities of people involved. To illustrate this point, consider the scene when Folman is almost in something of a dream; as he and some fellow soldiers arise from the ocean after bathing and observe the effects of recent events pertaining to the war, I believe that his confusion or misunderstanding of the ramifications surrounding the war prevent him from recalling the actual reality of the events that occurred in his dream. This one dream leads Folman to pursue more and more information in order to revive his memories, and all the interviews and flashbacks that occur within the rest of the film represent the effects or the results of the war through which he lived. As a result, by the end of the film, I think the filmmaker uses animation to discuss this subject matter because he wants to let the audience receive the information that Folman truly now understands the ramifications of what went on around him during the war.
Through the employment of the featured experimental techniques in the films Polar Express and Waltz with Bashir, the filmmakers involved in creating these works understood that there may be some advantages that arise as a result of reaching the desired outcomes; however, these filmmakers also understood that there may exist some room for improvement in regards to making animated films resemble reality as much as possible. Based on my discussion of how the two techniques were employed in each of the films, the discussion of the disadvantages for each of the techniques reveals how the filmmakers could have improved their respective products if modifications of the actual techniques enabled them to do so. As a result, the outcomes of using these experimental techniques may have proven successful from the filmmakers’ perspectives; however, the constantly growing and adaptive nature of the field of animation tells us that there always will be possibilities to improve as the field of animation seeks evolves through new animation tools that amplify certain practices established through classic animation.
Curtis, Scott. Animation. Rutgers University Press,
An In-Depth Look at Rear Window, Battleship Potemkin, and Citizen Kane
By Isabella Jones
Film is one of the most prevalent forms of media in our culture today but is not often held in as high regard as other popular forms, such as written literature, visual arts, and even some forms of music. Modern culture has made this assumption because the cinematic art form is still young, and it seems as if mastery of it cannot be achieved; additionally, it is produced for and consumed by the masses. This assumption, however, is false. Through film analysis, a focused and active viewing of movies to discover meaning, a film viewer can derive just as much meaning from John Hutson’s film The Maltese Falcon as they would Ernest Hemmingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea. The argument could be made that greater meaning can be taken from films than from older media forms because they were created in a more relevant culture. Citizen Kane can be more closely related and understood by Americans today than, say, The Canterbury Tales. Of course, some themes and elements of all literature (that is, books, films, music, and so forth) transcend time and can be adapted, but some of the meaning is lost. Film, like all forms of media, is not independent of its cultural, historical, and social context, but rather draws from these influences to give a deeper and more profound meaning that makes the audience interact with it by questioning the ideologies presented, both directly, through plot and dialogue, as well as indirectly, through the artistry of the cinematography. The more overt methods of creating meaning—types of angles, montages, composition, lighting—implemented by filmmakers makes certain films “classics” and noteworthy of not only awards but of intense study and a true appreciation of the art form. Three such films are Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein, Citizen Kane by Orson Welles, and Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock.
Any good film will implement a variety of shots and angles for novelty. A great film will use these different shots and angles to propel the plot, themes, and emotions in the story. Consider Battleship Potemkin by Sergei Eisenstein. In the second act of the film, “Drama on the Quarterdeck,” Eisenstein implements a series of closeup shots to correlate images, thereby creating a strong negative emotion toward those images. Closeups force the audience to focus solely on whatever the object is. In the case of Battleship Potemkin, the focal objects of focus include a crucifix held by a priest and a sword in the hand of the tyrannical commander. The commander has ordered several unruly soldiers to be placed underneath a tarp and to be fired on by other soldiers. “Dear Lord! Make the disobedient see reason!” cries the priest at the scene, just as the camera cuts away to the commander saying, “Fire right into the canvas!” The camera shows the faceless soldiers below the tarp, the conflicted men who are to fire on their brothers, and the contrite soldiers who stand by watching. Then it cuts to the priest beating the crucifix in his hand, and then back to the commander fidgeting with the hilt of his sword. The only closeup shots in this sequence are of the crucifix and the sword hilt—clearly, the cinematographer wants the audience to pay close attention to these. By highlighting these two objects, he signifies their equalness. Eisenstein employs synecdoche: the crucifix stand in for not only the priest but for religion as a whole, and the sword represents the commander as well as the government, as he is its enforcer.
Eisenstein not only equates these two objects, but he very clearly expresses to the audience how they are to feel about them. While most of the men on Potemkin are sorrowful or conflicted about the execution of the soldiers beneath the tarp, both the commander and the priest hold oddly cheerful and anticipatory sneers. These equivocations and sentiments make sense given the context in which Eisenstein created his film. Battleship Potemkin was released in 1925 to commemorate the 1905 Russian Revolution, during which institutions such as the monarchy and religion were diminished or eliminated while communism was born. Because the government and religion were seen as tools used to oppress the people, both were demonized in Battleship Potemkin. In his analysis of Battleship Potemkin, Bill Nichols points out that the Soviet audience would remember that “the function of religion under the tsars…[was a] part of the state’s political machinery” (145). The audience would already harbor negative emotions toward these institutions, so to connect these two ideas emotionally would not take much for the original audience. The use of closeups in this sequence brilliantly does this and achieves the goal of not only having the audience continue to despise religion and the tsar’s government but to feel proud of the soldiers who stood up against them and for the current system. In a very real way, Battleship Potemkin is a form of propaganda for the Soviet state.
Another film that implements closeups is Citizen Kane, but a more distinctive technique is the way Orson Welles composes his scenes. Composition refers to what is placed in the frame and how. Something important to remember about film is that the cinematographer purposefully places every prop and sets every actor in a certain position for a very specific reason; it is just a matter of knowing why. Many scenes in Citizen Kane show zany furniture, loads of knick-knacks, even statues and jigsaw puzzles—all by choice. One pivotal scene in the beginning of the movie does not have as much
An In-Depth Look at Rear Window, Battleship Potemkin, and Citizen Kane“clutter” as the other scenes, but the composition of the frame is complex and vital to the theme and plot of the film. Toward the beginning of the film, we see Mrs. Kane giving Mr. Thatcher guardianship over Charles Kane (in the foreground and in the right corner of the frame) while Mr. Kane frets over the arrangements (in the middle ground and to the left of the frame). Most interestingly, Charles Kane is in the background of the frame but centered, playing in the snow but visible through the window. Charles is not necessarily the subject of this scene; rather, Thatcher and Mrs. Kane are, as they occupy the foreground. Yet Charles is centered in the frame, making the viewer pay attention to him. This placement seems odd until the end of the film when the viewer discovers what Rosebud really is, namely, his sled from when Charles was a boy.
The importance of Charles Kane play with Rosebud in this scene owes to the fact that this is the first and last time we see Kane truly happy and unburdened, truly loved. For the remainder of the film we watch him struggle to be content, to love and be loved, to not become what he hated (which, in the end, he did). This revealing of Rosebud, the thing Kane desired most with his dying breath, also unveils the film’s theme. Citizen Kane is a critical review of the wealthy business tycoons of early twentieth-century America, particularly the infamous yellow journalist Willian Randolph Hearst. Kane, like those figures on whom he was based, was rich beyond measure, manipulative, scandalous, and ultimately unfulfilled. The fact that Kane in his last moments wanted a sled from childhood, despite all the riches he had, demonstrates to the audience that money does not buy happiness, and the materialistic, capitalistic mentality that many Americans had would still leave them empty in the end. Welles Citizen Kane challenged the social and political mentality of the times, producing a vision that was counterculture for its day.
Citizen Kane, like most great films, asks the audience to be introspective with the content given to them. Rear Window by Alfred Hitchcock is much the same in this aspect. Hitchcock, however, goes a step further. He not only has the audience contemplate the circumstances of the protagonist but puts them in the shoes of the protagonist, quite literally. A very subtle but poignant visual technique used in Rear Window is that much of film is shot from the point of view of L.B. ‘Jeff’ Jefferies, the main character. As he spies on his neighbors, inserting himself into their private lives, the film shows the vantage point of Jefferies’s rear window, as if the audience were Jefferies. What Hitchcock accomplishes with this method indicates that the Jefferies’s moral dilemma also applies to those in the theater.
The moral dilemma in the film as involves “rear window ethics,” that is, whether it is right to pry into the intimate dealings within others’ lives. In her analysis of Rear Window, Elizabeth Cowie says that the film “disrupts our identification not only with the characters but also with the cinema’s look as a distant, mastering vision. Hitchcock’s film is about a gaze that finds itself seen; embodied and desiring, it is a gaze implicated in the scene” (537). As audiences watch films, they are privileged with looking in on the secret lives of others. Most viewers of Rear Window would think Jefferies is wrong to peep on his neighbors but are glad he does anyway, as they too get to watch. Hitchcock holds a mirror up to the audience through filming from this “second person” point of view, showing the audience that they, too, are filled with the same sneaky desire as Jeff: to want to know even if it is none of their business.
As Jeffrey Geiger and R. L. Rutsky write, “Context is, therefore, crucial to the analysis or interpretation of any text. Understanding the context that surrounds and permeates a film helps provide a framework for analyzing that film, it also reminds us that films are never culturally or ideologically neutral, but are informed by the complex historical, social, and economic forces of the times in which they are created” (12). Battleship Potemkin, Citizen Kane, and Rear Window all had messages to share with their audiences, whether in support of the dominating culture’s ideologies, as in the case of Battleship Potemkin, or in critique of it, as in the cases of Citizen Kane and Rear Window. With the film Battleship Potemkin, Eisenstein wanted not only to praise and commemorate the rebels of the Russia Revolution but also to demonize the theology and government of the old tsar’s regime. Understanding this context and the political aim of the film makes the symbolism not only clearer but more powerful. Likewise, understanding the context
of 1930s to 1940s America and the rise of contemporary capitalism helps to elucidate Citizen Kane. Not only does the similarity between Charles Kane and William Hearst become more apparent, but the importance of Rosebud and the desire for simplicity becomes underscored too. All of these films are intensely tied to the historical and social context of the times in which they were created, but some meanings within the films transcend those limitations, and the main point of Rear Window is without a doubt one of them. With information always at the ready and social media allowing anyone to look into another’s private life, we know today that Hitchcock had a very serious and real point, namely, that often it is just better to mind your business. These important themes and concept presented by Rear Window, Battleship Potemkin, and Citizen Kane would not have been successfully conveyed masterful uses of film techniques, nor would they matter now without a proper analysis of cinema as an art form.
Cowie, Elizabeth. “Rear Windows Ethics.” Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds. W. W. Norton, 2013. pp. 518-38.
Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds. Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd edition. W. W. Norton, 2013. pp. 1-16.
Naremore, James. “The Magician and the Mass Media.” Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds.
W. W. Norton, 2013. pp. 320-40. Nichols, Bill. “Film Form and Revolution.” In Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Geiger,
Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds. W. W. Norton, 2013. pp. 136-55.
Metamorphosis: Change through Adversity in Jurassic Park, Train to Busan, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
By Isabella Jones
Blockbusters and mainstream movies are often written off as artless, seeing as their intended purpose is to bring in a revenue. While true that the blockbuster is made to produce a profit, it is not necessarily factual to say that these films cannot incorporate complex themes that challenges their audiences to think and act (like all good art does). With this being said, many do still have common tropes like the use of a sympathetic hero with a heavy emphasis on individualism. The Norton Reader Film Analysis 2nd Edition’s introduction considers “the fact that we know many real life problems cannot be attributed simply to villains, or solved by individual heroic action, [but this still] does not change our belief in individualism, or our satisfaction in seeing this belief affirmed. Thus, this belief in the moral force of individual action appears simply to be a fact, rather than a cultural and historical belief that can be questioned and analyzed” (Geiger and Rutsky 10). Individualism is central in many films, even if it is only autonomy over oneself, the ability to become someone new. In the films Jurassic Park, Train to Busan, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, we see the concept of becoming a new person in the face of crisis, both internal and external, through foiling characters who choose to react differently, emphasizing each one’s autonomy as well as the message the filmmaker wants to get across. In each of these films, the filmmaker uses specific techniques to create a more realistic crisis, making more tangible the seriousness of the situations and the changes undergone.
Steven Spielberg is a well-known filmmaker whose films are just as recognized as he is. One of his monumental successes is Jurassic Park, a 1993 film that made a staggering $951,000,000 during its initial theatrical run. Jurassic Park fits the mold of the blockbuster perfectly, even down to the emphasis on individualism. This film is filled with rugged individuals, and the plot dramatizes the consequences of their autonomy. As Ian Malcolm, a chaos theorist asked to investigate the park, puts it: “Your scientist were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” This statement sums up the central conflict of Spielberg’s film and creates an overarching theme and dilemma of responsibility. Was it responsible to recreate dinosaurs after they went extinct? Who really is responsible for the chaos that happens? Is it John Hammond for unleashing the monstrous power of the Jurassic Age, or is it Dennis Nerdy for messing with the computer systems while trying to make a profit? Responsibility and the question of whether to take it or not is presented in many ways unique to each character. These characters and their responses tell the audiences not only what they are like, but plainly show what happens to people like them. A foil (when two characters starkly contrast one another) is developed between Alan Grant and Dennis Nedry to demonstrate how responsibility and the choice to embrace it can have varying effects. Dennis Nedry, theantagonist in Jurassic Park, sets off the main conflict by messing with the computer systems as he tries to steal dinosaur DNA from Hammond. This act alone quite clearly shows the audience he is irresponsible. Alan Grant, the story’s hero, is one of the more responsible characters. Still, he fears responsibility in the form of having children. When faced with the choice to be responsible, Grant and Nedry respond differently. When the hurricane hits the island, Nedry could return the DNA and forfeit his plan. Instead of acting responsibly, he races out into the storm to try to make the boats. This attempt ends disastrous for him; his ultimate fate is to be devoured by a Dilophosaurus. Grant, on the other hand, chooses responsibility by watching out for Hammond’s grandchildren, Tim and Lex, as they navigate the wilderness of the park. In the end, Grant grew and was no longer afraid of the responsibility of children.
The characterization and foil created between Grant and Nedry helped build the internal conflict that brought about change for the audience. The use of CGI and animatronics helped build the external conflict that created the change. It is one thing to say that a Tyrannosaurus Rex. roaring two inches from your face, might challenge your ability to take responsibility for another person’s child; it is a completely different, and much more frightening, scenario when it is seen on the screen with full surround sound. Arguably one of the most infamous scenes in film is the first time we see the T. Rex. Before it even is on screen, its immense presence is made known to the audience and the characters. The camera zooms into a close-up shot of two cups of water beginning to shake. The scene jumps back and forth between shots of the cups and close ups on the those in the cars as the builds. The intense silence is broken when Lex asks where the goat went; its leg is dropped on the sunroof and the children gasp and shuffle away. We see the massive head of the beast, but not in all his magnitude. Lawyer Donald Gennaro abandons the car and runs to the bathroom, prompting Lex to whisper in fear, “He left us, he left us.” The T. Rex breaks through the fence and roars as it pauses next to the cars. Lex stupidly pulls out a flashlight, drawing the creature to them and so putting them in danger. It attacks their car, flipping it over, nearly killing them. Grant and Malcolm jump into action, and the situation gets so intense that Grant comes face to face with it. For the majority of the movie, Grant leads Tim and Lex through the rugged and dinosaur-infested terrain of the park, effectively placing him in the role of ‘dad,’ protecting them and getting over his fear of parenting. The use of CGI and animatronics makes more real the danger the characters face and shows just how difficult taking responsibility in a crisis can in fact be. The realism of the danger effectively lets the audience know that Grant makes a difficult choice in being responsible but also shows the reward of it, as the end of the film shows Tim and Lex nestled against his side because they trust him. By the end of Jurassic Park, Spielberg has shown his audience that every action has consequences, and it is far better to take responsibility, even in the face of fear, as the result is better than if you do not.
Much like Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Yeon Sang-ho’s Train to Busan places its characters in an extreme crisis situation to show what each character does with their autonomy, and, similar to Grant and Nedry, Yeon creates a foil between two of his characters. The plot of this film centers on a Seok- Woo, a hedge fund manager, who failed his relationship with his wife and is failing his daughter, Soo-an. As he takes her to Busan, a breakout of zombies occurs in parts of Korea and, even worse, on the train. Seok-woo and Soo-an, as well as the other passengers, have to survive on the train without being infected and try to make it to Busan where there is a safety zone. The outbreak creates many dilemmas for the characters, but a central concept that is struggled with, especially by Seok-Woo, is self-sacrifice. When the outbreak first starts, the passengers yell for Seok to shuts the door on two uninfected passengers, a pregnant woman and her husband, leaving them on the side with the zombies (even though they just helped him and his daughter). He lets them in when Soo-an says she knows them, but the husband, Sang-hwa, is furious. Throughout the film we see Seok-woo struggle with the decision to put himself in danger for the sake of others and by doing so the theme that Yeon wants audiences to consider is brought to the surface. In times of crisis, when being selfish makes the most sense, what should we give of ourselves? At one point in the film Seok even tells Soo-an that “at a time like this, only watch out for yourself.” Just like Jurassic Park, Train to Busan sets characters against each other in their autonomy to demonstrate what happens when you choose to be self-sacrificing.
Interestingly enough, Seok is not a part of the foil Yeon sets up; rather, he views it from the outside and, like the audience, must decide which of the two men he wants to become like. Sang-hwa, the humble husband, demonstrates for Seok, and for the audience, what self-sacrifice looks like in the face of crisis. Throughout the film he brawls with zombies to protect his wife, the elderly, children, and in general anyone not infected. In the end, he dies a heroic death, fighting back a horde of zombies while fighting the infection inside of him. Yong-suk, the rich businessman, shows what it looks like when someone uses their autonomy selfishly. Not only did he keep Sang and the others out of the safety car, but he sacrificed three people (the train attendant, a teenage girl, and the conductor) in his attempt to get away from the zombies. As Seok watches everyone’s behavior, he must reconsider his previous stance on only looking out for yourself. In the end Seok sacrifices himself to save his daughter and Sang-hwa’s wife, Seong-kyeong. Although every character who was self-sacrificing died, they did so with honor, and were loved and thought well of afterward. This is made know to the audience by Soo-an singing her talent show song, “Aloha Oe” from Lilo and Stitch, as she and Seong-kyeong walk through the dark tunnel toward Busan. Soo-an sang this song for her father, and, as her journey comes to an end, she remembers her father in a loving way, despite the issues they had at the beginning of the film.
Instead of CGI and animatronics to create a terrifying crisis, Yeon Sang-ho used costumes and professional dancers to get the equally frightening effect of zombies. The professional dancers were able to contort themselves in odd and seemingly unnatural ways to get a zombie-like movement. This effect is used throughout the film, creating a sense of crisis when the hordes of zombies appear. One particular scene in which the crisis is very evident is when the train makes its first stop in Daejeon; the passengers think that the government soldiers will protect them from there on out, only to find that the soldiers too have been infected. Seok, Soo-an, and another man decide to break off from the group because of special intel Seok got from a friend in the military. In a wide shot we see a lone soldier down the hallway. The two men run toward him. The other passengers ride down the escalators, and, at the bottom of the steps, they see the shuffling boots of the soldiers. The shot comes in from a wide shot to a medium shot of the back of the soldiers heads. One of them turns around and his eyes are opaque and his face is covered in blood as he snarls at them; they are zombies. The infected soldiers rush at the uninfected passengers who, in a frantic rush, must run up the stairs and get back to the train. The scene flips back to Seok and the homeless man, still heading toward the lone soldier. Seok learns his friend cannot contact his men. A close-up shot of the soldier shows he is injured but infected; he whispers in terror, “Help me.” From behind him a zombie soldier crashes on the floor and writhes before rising and pouncing on the other soldier, biting and infecting him. Out of nowhere a whole horde of snarling zombie soldiers floods the hallway. Seok runs toward his daughter to see a zombie coming up behind her. She is saved when Sang-hwa punches it and Seong-kyeong leads her to safety. Even in a moment of panic he chooses to be self-sacrificing. The audience and Seok are given a chance to really see how hard and dangerous it is to choose to be this way, especially with the anxiety-inducing frenzy happening in the background and all around them. The costume makeup of the zombies and their creepily artful movement makes the external crisis much more frightening and propels the internal crisis of becoming someone who is self-sacrificing that much more impactful.
Unlike Jurassic Park or Train to Busan, Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind does not put its protagonist in a life-or-death situation to create a crisis; rather, the film renders an emotional/mental crisis to bring about changes within the principal characters. The dilemma and central question of the film is about choosing to love. This seems like an odd statement or problem to be faced with, but the protagonist, Joel Barish, must decide if he wants to remember his past lover (Clementine Kruczynski) or if he should forget her through a medical procedure. As he is shown their memories, he sees all their fights and lack of chemistry, but he also sees the good memories. Joel has to decide, even with all the painful memories, if Clementine is worth loving. This question also involves the audience. Joel, like all protagonists, has autonomy and needs to decide which he will do. Unlike the first two films discussed, the foil presented is not two diametrically-opposed characters but rather a spectrum of commitment to love. Clementine chose to forget completely and does not learn that she even had prior memories until the end; she had completely forgotten. Mary has also forgotten, but her desire for Dr. Mierzwiak remains, and, after the revelation of their previous affair is made clear to her, she digs up the truth of her past love. Unlike Clementine, she does not return to her first love; instead, she turns to Stan. Joel had begun to forget, but, as soon as he realizes what that really means, he fights the procedure, hiding his own memories for their protection. He returns to Clementine and does not abandon their relationship. Although Stan never had his memories erased yet still chose to love Mary despite her complicated past.
The foil presented in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is unique because it is not a strict ‘foil’ per se. The circumstances of the characters differ vastly: at the beginning of the film, most of the characters choose not to commit to love; by the end, although hurting and knowing there’s a lot of emotional wreckage to work through, they are committed, but in different ways. The audience is then forced to ask themselves what would have taken place had these characters given up on love. Interestingly, the film’s ending is not clear; we are not made to believe that Joel and Clementine will work out, nor are we convinced that they will fail. This is a common occurrence in indie art cinema, a form often presenting ambivalent endings that leave the audience to draw their own conclusions. These conclusions are often influenced by each viewer’s individual experiences. Still, the theme of the film is not tainted, as the point is that love is worth committing to regardless of anything that may happen, even if that means the possibility of failure.
Joel has a mental crisis as his memories of Clementine crash around him. The audience is made to understand his pain and anxiety through the editing techniques used. One such scene is near the beginning of the film when Joel first realizes he does not want to go through with the procedure. The memory starts out with him and Clementine lying on an icy lake andlooking up at the stars. Joel sighs, “I can die right now, Clem. I’m just so happy. I’ve never felt that before.” Clementine snuggles up to his side, and, as she sets her head on his chest, he says, “I’m exactly where I want to be” as the camera rests at a medium shot of both of them. The angle abruptly changes to a medium-high angle, and they now lie in the middle of a busy street, pedestrians walking briskly by. A spotlight rests on the lovers. Joel immediately recognizes something is wrong. As he calls Clementine’s name and sits up slightly, the camera snaps back even further out, making them appear smaller in the spotlight as people appear and disappear into the shadows. The shot changes to a medium shot of Clementine as she is dragged backwards into the dark. Now alone, Joel yells for the procedure to stop. He finds her again in another memory in the snow and drags her along. The following scene comprises a sequence of snippets of their memories; as they run through, the memories disappear. Throughout the film, objects in the memories pop out of existence as each memory is erased. Consequently, the audience understands the finality of the disappearance of these memories, a vanishing that makes Joel’s frantic running and efforts to hide Clementine seem more dire. This also shows that Joel has changed and become someone who chooses love. The editing technique in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind adds to the film’s sense of crisis and underscores the consequences of not choosing love, namely, significant loss. Still, by the end of the film, Joel has exercised his autonomy to become someone willing to try. Jurassic Park, Train to Busan, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are all considered mainstream media or blockbuster films because of their popularity. As a result, these films may often be written off as not having depth or as not being worthy of study. This is false. All three of these films provoke a mental or physical response from their audiences, inviting viewers to exercise their autonomy, much like the protagonists. In Jurassic Park, the importance of taking responsibility, even in a crisis, and the consequences of such a choice is made apparent. In Train to Busan, we see the vitality of self-sacrifice in a crisis. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind highlights the importance of choosing love, even if one is unsure of the outcome. All of the protagonists in these films do not exhibit these characteristics at first, but, as they learn from those around them and from the situations they find themselves in, they apply their ability to change and to better themselves.
An Interview with June Edwards, Former SRU Professor and Miniature Designer for A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Conducted and Transcribed by Peter Korman on March 23, 2021
I was wondering if you could just explain what it is that you do.
Well, I had been a professor at Slippery Rock University since 2002 in the Art Department. I was a design professor, and I moved that into graphic design before I retired in January of 2018. I also [taught] art education courses at Slippery Rock, so those are my two main interests, but, on my own, I got into this movie work through my friend Kathy Borland. She was the art director for Mr Roger’s Neighborhood for the last ten years of the production.
I met Kathy because we were both teaching in Pittsburgh, at one of the public schools, and she had done a lot of movie work (she worked on the movie The Silence of the Lambs and a lot of the big movies that were shot in Pittsburgh). She got me into this movie work, and I also helped her when they asked her to touch up some of the puppets, the castle, a tree. The one major project was the actual neighborhood [set], which was housed in the [Fred Rogers Productions] headquarters on the South Side. When they installed it in the headquarters, they had chopped off a lot of one end of it, maybe two whole feet, because that was where the camera would zoom in. So there weren’t that many houses back there; there was mostly just foliage, and to fit it in the headquarters, they chopped off those two feet. The thing was full of sawdust and was all jumbled around, and so we went in, we touched it all up, and put it back together again.
So when they started making the movie, [Fred Rogers Productions] wanted people that were familiar with the different artefacts to be working on it. I was not in the union, and I hadn’t worked much in the movies, but I was able to secure a position to work on some of the miniatures for the movie.
Have you worked on any other film productions before this?
Well, I worked at the Pittsburgh Public Theater on the paid crew a few times. Actually, not as much movie work as stage setting. I worked at the Children’s Museum, touching up different artefacts. I helped to create one of the installations. I did a lot of digital artwork for this one installation called The Attic. So, it’s not as much movie work as just odd stuff here and there.
Now that you’re retired from Slippery Rock University, what kind of art-related things are you doing with your time?
Well, I do a lot of drawing. Some of my personal artwork was based on the Carrie Furnace and a lot of industrial machinery and architecture in Pittsburgh. I really am drawn to that kind of imagery.
Since retiring, I moved out of that and I’m drawing and sketching more things in my neighborhood that I haven’t really exhibited much because… You know, I think the pandemic really threw a monkey wrench into everything, so…
I was wondering if [the pandemic] has affected the way you’ve been operating lately.
Yeah. Well, this whole Spring [I’ve] been focused on trying to get the vaccine and get my family members vaccinated. I’m a little more “computer-literate” than [some] other people, and I know I can help out, so my sister and I were working hard in securing the vaccinations. It’s been odd, the different things you have to do. I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal, just like everybody is.
I’m with you there!
Is there anything you’re hoping to get into once things start getting back to something resembling “normal” again?
I just hope to put more time into the artwork I’m creating. I did spend a lot of time making masks, trying to design a mask that I liked. Maybe focusing more on mixed media work ([bringing] different types of media together). Right now, I’m very intrigued with nature (the compositions that can be created [by nature]). I might get back to machinery again and that type of subject matter.
So, I’m curious as to how you were approached for the movie A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood. I mean, it sounds like you were already well-acquainted with some of the right people, but what was that process like when you were approached for that month or so of work?
My friend Kathy was the one who told me about it and wanted to know if I was available. I’m not sure what the process was, but there was a miniature producer, and either she contacted me or I contacted her. You know, movies are so complicated, there’s so much going on with the different crews that are put together. It was a whole different crew for the puppets, and a different crew that created the castle and the tree, and all those different things. It was really an amazing production.
Mostly I worked on the miniature neighborhood and the cemetery, but another crew was creating the miniatures for all the other miniature scenes (I think there were a total of [around] nine different scenes for this movie). There was New York City, Pittsburgh, the airport, Jerry’s house, the loft area. The talent that went into the miniatures in this movie was just phenomenal.
There is a lot of impressive miniature work in the film. When I watched it, I was a little taken aback by how much was created for it and how authentic it all looked.
It really did. I can say that with the neighborhood we created, the Fred Rogers [Productions] company was so generous. They were willing to lend the real neighborhood.
Yeah, and everybody was like, “Wow, that’s great!” But then you think about it and go, “Nope, I’m not gonna—” Because in a movie, you ship things back and forth, and so you can imagine how things can get damaged. So, they allowed us to come in and actually examine it all. We took the glass off the top of the display case to match colors and take close measurements of the arrangement.
So, everything in the film was completely recreated from scratch?
Yeah, from scratch.
That’s really impressive.
They used some kits on the show back in the day that are still made today. They’d buy the kits, and sometimes just use part of it and add other things to invent a different kind of structure (which happened in the show a lot, when the miniatures would be modified to [reflect] what Mr. Rogers was discussing or doing). We would paint [the structure] so it looked just like what was in the show.
So, you were mostly involved with the work on the cemetery and neighborhood miniatures?
Yes, those were the two things I focused on. We were done with our [work] in about a month, or a little less than a month. The other crews worked on New York City, Pittsburgh, and the other locations, which were so much more complicated. New York City had to be rigged to light up. Those crews had to work longer because there was so much more to do.
What was the actual work like during the month or so that you worked on the film?
The first part of it was going down to the [Fred Rogers Productions] building on the South Side and making notes and taking photographs and trying to get as much information as we could so we could match each building and the layout. We also looked at pictures because the neighborhood changed over the years. What we were looking at was near the end of [the show’s] production. The movie was all about Tom Junod– the movie isn’t about Mr. Rogers at all, it’s about Junod’s experience with him in , so we had to look at photographs from that time period. These photos were key to our production because some of the buildings in the display were not there when Junod was interviewing Mr. Rogers.
The castle and the tree were… The tree was standing in the WQED lobby, and the castle was there too, and sometimes it would get bumped when people walked by. It would start to fall apart. They’d call Kathy and they’d call me, and we’d go over there and we’d staple it and try to piece it together in such a way that… Well, it was very dusty and very faded, and it was just really tough to keep this thing together. So we were glad when it moved to the Heinz History Center, and that’s where they are. The movie crews went there and examined everything to create a beautiful replica.
At what stage in the process were you brought in?
It was around mid-September 2018.
When I was brought in, things were underway already. The cities were already being made, and people were already working. A lot of the research was already done about the houses and which kits to buy. And believe it or not, you can still buy those kits if you wanted to make one of the houses from the neighborhood. You can still get them all, except for one. We couldn’t find one kit, but they found the house it made on eBay, so they got as many [of it] as we could find so they could be taken apart to create the kit.
The miniature crew (I think there were eight or nine people) were such a talented group. They’re just phenomenal. They based the miniature cemetery on the Allegheny Cemetery, and we recreated the houses that surrounded it, and some of the parts of the cemetery, like the crypts, were just bought (though most of the grave markers and taller obelisks were handmade). We put a zombie in one of the crypts! You can’t see it in the movie, but we know it’s there, so that’s what counts.
All in all, it sounds like you had an extremely positive experience on this film. Would you ever consider doing anything like this again?
Oh, definitely. It was great.
My part in the production was… I would say a bit minor when I look at all the other skilled artists that were creating things for the movie. I did have to create some houses from scratch, and it was really fascinating to determine how I would build some of these miniatures in a way that perfectly matches the originals when possible. Compared to some of the other people on the production, I was just one minor part of the production.
I mean, most movies are stitched together by a lot of people with minor parts in a production.
Yeah, that’s very true. Everybody’s part is essential.
Especially with what you were doing, where there was a lot of effort put into recreating some of this stuff and also making sure it photographs well.
The miniature producer has had a lot of experience with these miniatures. Her name is Katrina Whalen, and she is based in New York (she worked on Wonderstruck, another movie that had a lot of miniatures in it). She was a joy to work with. She was making everything happen, which was good because there were a lot of things to do (researching what the cities looked like, the go-between person for the director and the rest of the creative team, etc.). She was just wonderful.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your day to speak with me today.
No, this was wonderful. It’s so exciting and interesting, all the things that can be done with miniatures, and that Pittsburgh has so much talent in that area too. It’s a pretty big city for some movie work. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of movies shot here. It’ll come back strong. It will. There’s so much talent here with movie work. I don’t expect to do a whole lot more movie work, because one of the things you need in that industry is energy, and I’m retired and I don’t think I could keep up, but it was great to have worked with all these people and to see the talent that’s here.
The Persistence of Storytelling in a Digital Age
By Anna G. Potter
The rise of digital filmmaking illustrates humankind’s continuous interaction with art and technology and should be viewed as an innovative medium for storytelling rather than as inferior to traditional celluloid filmmaking. As technology continues to evolve, people find new ways to meld art and technology. Digital filmmaking reflects the current digital age by presenting new aesthetics, processes, and a highly accessible medium for storytelling. However, the rise of digital filmmaking poses important questions about artistic preference, the preservation of stories, the democratization of art, and the loss of shared experience.
Art is continually evolving with each new generation and our developing technology. Digital filmmaking is simply another example of a new artistic medium born out of humankind’s interaction with technology. As digital filmmaking gains more popularity in both the film industry and in the public arena, there is an increasing polarization between filmmakers who staunchly defend the tradition of celluloid film and those who promote digital film. Those who defend celluloid film mourn the loss of its unique aesthetic: celluloid film is its own visual language and cannot be replicated or replaced by digital film.
There is a certain expertise associated with celluloid film, and defenders of this medium fear the loss of knowledge involved in this filmmaking process. In the documentary Side by Side, one celluloid filmmaker described the process as “painting with the lights off” (Side by Side). While digital film has made certain aspects of filmmaking easier, some directors argue that there is a loss in aesthetic quality. However, where there may be loss, there is also gain. During an interview in Side by Side, filmmaker George Lucas argued in support of digital filmmaking, stating that it is “just another tool” that provides a different, not inferior, aesthetic (Side by Side). Lucas highlights the innovations in film that could only be gained through the digital medium, such as the use of color correction tools. Originally introduced in commercials and music videos, color correction tools have become a standard part of digital filmmaking, adding dimension to the new digital aesthetic. Defenders of celluloid film argue that digital colorists require less skill than traditional directors of photography, thus categorizing digital film as a lesser art form than celluloid film. However, equating complexity with art is misleading. Utilizing technology as a tool to ease the creative process does not negate the need for skill but rather creates space for developing new skills, processes, and aesthetic values.
The deep divide between digital and celluloid film invites the question of how artistic preferences develop and if they are malleable. Celluloid film has been the default in the filmmaking industry since the beginning of film as an artistic medium, but, as technology evolves, so must art. Art divorced from the technology of its age runs the risk of becoming irrelevant to its audience. Now that celluloid film is no longer the sole means of producing movies, it is important to examine how this developing medium—digital filmmaking—reflects modern society. Perhaps one of the most incisive examples of digital film’s relevance to modern society is its alignment with postmodern philosophy. Director Martin Scorsese raises this issue in Side by Side, expressing his concern that younger generations do not believe anything they see on the screen because of digital technology’s ability to manipulate reality (Side by Side). This postmodernist tendency to doubt reality and truth is pervasive in digital filmmaking. In contrast, filmmaker James Cameron dismisses this concern by questioning what is considered “real” in filmmaking (Side by Side). Cameron’s point is that art—in any medium—is itself detached from reality. Digital filmmaking, while advanced in its ability to convincingly manipulate reality, is no more or less detached from reality than celluloid film. Both mediums present a version of reality to their audiences, not reality itself.
The democratization of filmmaking due to the accessibility of digital film is a widely shared concern in the film industry. As Campbell et al. underscore in Media and Culture:
Substantially cheaper and more accessible than standard film equipment, digital video is a shift from celluloid film; it allows filmmakers to replace expensive and bulky 16-mm and 35-mm film cameras with less expensive, lightweight digital video cameras. For moviemakers, digital video also means seeing camera work instantly, instead of waiting for film to be developed, and being able to capture additional footage without concern for the high cost of film stock and processing. (227)
These practical advantages of digital film open the door for filmmakers with a varying range of expertise. While this high accessibility is not necessarily negative, it leaves a vacuum in the art world. The concern is that without filmmaking experts, there are no true tastemakers. A lack of experts in the filmmaking industry means that it is the audiences, not the filmmakers, who decide what is worthy of consumption.
Defenders of celluloid film feel a loss not only in aesthetic value and expertise, but also in shared experience and communal space. The shift from celluloid to digital film has affected people’s interaction with art and entertainment. As cinematographer Michael Chapman remarks in Side by Side: “In a way, cinema was the church of the twentieth century” (Side by Side). Chapman highlights a time when going to the movies was of immense cultural importance, a practice that has slowly waned with the advent of new and more accessible technology. This is due large part to the internet, as Campbell et al. write: “The biggest challenge the move industry faces today is the internet. As broadband internet service connects more households, movie fans are increasingly getting movies from the web” (226). It is now common for audiences to watch movies on third or fourth screens (laptops or cellphones), taking away from the communal experience of going to a movie theater. As communal spaces such as movie theaters become less common, virtual viewing spaces continue to grow.
While virtual spaces lack the shared experience found in physically visiting a movie theater, they do provide an opportunity for in-depth dialogue about arts and entertainment among a diverse audience. The opportunity for global connection provided by the internet opens up a space for a shared dialogue about popular culture, especially films. Social media platforms have become places for sharing film viewing experiences and facilitating discussions. Film-rating websites such as Rotten Tomatoes, Roger Ebert, IMDB, and Meta Critic offer forums for movie reviews and commentary generated by laymen and connoisseurs alike. These online forums also keep the public updated concerning what is popular, making the film industry an increasingly democratic one by allowing any and all to participate in a dialogue about film. This new kind of virtual film community certainly differs from the communal space of a movie theater, but, in some ways, virtual communities offer deeper connection. Rather than sitting in a movie theater with mostly strangers, participants in virtual film communities get to know each other as individuals through exchanging opinions, expressing passion, and, ultimately, sharing the experience of storytelling through digital film.
The loss of shared experiences and communal spaces popularized by celluloid film is keenly felt by the entire film industry, but, as with every new generation, art must adapt to meet the interests and needs of its audience. The film industry’s focus is now split between two avenues, as Campbell et al. explain in Media and Culture:
One path is that studios and theaters will lean even more heavily toward making and showing big-budget blockbuster film franchises with a lot of special effects, since people will want to watch those on the big screen…The other path involves inexpensive digital distribution of lower-budget documentaries and independent films, which probably won’t get wide theatrical distribution anyway but could find an audience in those who watch at home. (227)
In the current digital age, filmmakers must carve out new communal spaces and shared experiences, both virtually and physically, for their audiences. As people increasingly interact with arts and entertainment in more isolated settings, digital filmmakers can become successful by finding their niche audiences online rather than producing blockbuster films.
A practical concern about the switch from celluloid to digital film is archival. The film industry is well-versed in the preservation of celluloid film, but digital film is more difficult to store, especially as technology rapidly evolves. Campbell et al. illustrate this point in Media and Culture: “Both independent and Hollywood filmmakers have to contend with issues of preserving digital content: Celluloid film stock can last a hundred years, whereas digital formats can be lost as storage formats fail and devices become obsolete” (228). The transient nature of digital formats emphasizes celluloid film defenders’ arguments against digital filmmaking. Director Christopher Nolan expresses this very concern in Side by Side when he says, “There are no archival formats worth anything in the digital realm that you would put any stock in” (Side by Side). Preservation is a crucial practice in any artistic medium, and, if digital filmmaking is to continue to succeed, it must find a secure way of archiving data. For filmmakers who support the push toward digital mediums, the problem of archiving is simply one of innovation.
George Lucas shared his belief that “there’s too much digital information out there not to figure out a fool-proof way to store it forever” (Side by Side). Essentially, people will find a way to preserve what matters to them.
There are some digital film critics who feel a greater sense of urgency toward the preservation of film. In an article published in Art Forum, Nicola Mazzanti writes that “the public cultural sector and the cinema industry worldwide are rushing toward an extremely dangerous future in which digital-born works—be they movies, television shows, or artists’ videos—are doomed to disappear forever” (Art Forum). Mazzanti’s alarm-raising is not unfounded. While awareness of this digital predicament increases, plausible solutions do not. As digital storage systems constantly change, it is more difficult to inventory the multitude of digital film produced each year. Mazzanti underscores this conundrum: “Digital preservation requires constant, regular migrations from one storage medium to another: Data tapes and hard disks are relatively short-lived, and the technologies that support them evolve constantly and obsolesce; operating systems and file formats change with predictable regularity—and the storage system must adapt” (Art Forum). Without committed research, funding, and practical solutions to the problem of digital storage, society risks an enormous loss of data.
Storytelling is an inherently human practice, and while the mediums we use to tell stories continually change and evolve, the impulse to tell them remains the same. The tension between celluloid and digital film is not a new one, but rather a continuation of the tension between the traditional and the innovative. Digital film is simply an evolution of the film medium, and with each evolution there is both loss and gain. Celluloid filmmakers mourn the loss of their unique aesthetic, process, and archival system while digital filmmakers pave the way for advanced digital effects, accessibility, and diversification while facing the unique challenge of digital storage.
Campbell, Richard, et al. Media & Culture: Mass Communication in a Digital Age. 12th ed. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2015.
Mazzanti, Nicola. Art Forum, vol. 54, no. 2, 2015, https://www.artforum.com/ print/201508/nicola-mazzanti-54973 Accessed 16 Jan. 2021.
Side by Side. Directed by Christopher Kenneally, Company Films, 2012.
Navigating in a Networked World
By Christina Puffinburger
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and danah boyd portray and debate various topics concerning visual media and digital literacy in Updating to Remain the Same and It’s Complicated. While each addresses issues from different perspectives, both discuss topics where commonalities emerge, specifically the importance of understanding modern digital trends in reference to surveillance and privacy. In this sense, the ability to be literate in digital and visual media is significant. Boyd attempts to inform an adult audience about the importance of the networked world teens are involved with, stressing how we should revel in it rather than fear it. Chun, however, argues that users engaged in digital media adhere to the equation that habit + crisis = update, implying that we should accept a loss of privacy in order to maintain a personal publicity.
This essay discusses various issues from both perspectives of the authors as well as from my own. The issues include: who controls (or should control) media; why visual and digital literacy is important for citizens to have; and how fans, blogs, vlogs, YouTube, and other new media practitioners impact the world in a meaningful way. In addition, this essay will address the current state of technology in association with the need for people to understand how they are active participants in networked publics.
Consider what boyd states in It’s Complicated: “Networked publics serve as publics that both rely on networked technologies and also network people into meaningful imagined communities in new ways. Publics are important, not just for enabling political action, but also for providing a mechanism through which we construct our social world. In essence, publics are the fabric of society” (201). Both It’s Complicated and Updating to Remain the Same depict examples of how users (or consumers) of various platforms control the media. I believe no other entity besides the consumer should be in control of the media because, as human beings, we strive to make honest connections in an effort to find truth. According to boyd, “Teens have grown sophisticated with how they manage contexts and present themselves in order to be read by their intended audience” (43). Teens often employ various mechanisms to feel in control of their profiles. For example, boyd cites that many teens use a celebrity’s last name as their own in social media to establish that they have authority over their own personal spaces (46). While some adults do not understand the desire to fabricate a last name or to maintain some sort of privacy online, teens do so in order to dictate how they will be perceived.
A similar example pertains to teens intentionally bypassing surveillance mechanisms, in the same way that Mikalah discovered that she could control her own space by deactivating and reactivating her account, allowing her to oversee who could contact her during designated time periods (boyd 70). In this sense, the bypassing of surveillance was a mechanism of control. Since the publishing of this book in 2014, various social platforms such as Facebook have created customized settings that allow users to have even more control over who views certain posts, whether a profile is public, and even who has the opportunity to see future posts.
Teens strive to create and maintain spaces of their own. It’s Complicated demonstrates how teens choose which social platforms to utilize in an effort to maintain personal autonomy. From 2006 to 2007 when MySpace was incredibly popular, Facebook also gained notoriety. Some users preferred MySpace because of the customized options, while others preferred Facebook for the simplistic nature of the platform. No matter the choice, each created an online culture of its own (Boyd 168). Today, MySpace is practically obsolete while Facebook remains popular. However, a shift has occurred in that a large portion of adults are Facebook users. To obtain a sense of privacy which had been invaded by the new consumers, teens have shifted towards other platforms like TikTok and Snapchat. For this reason, we, the users of popular platforms validate that we control the media: “Taste is not simply a matter of personal preference; it is the product of cultural dynamics and social structure” (169).
Chun’s text offers different perspectives surrounding the issue of who controls media. To begin to address this question, one must first consider habits in addition to the crises we encounter and that these encourage the constant need to update. Surveillance is an important topic in Updating to Remain the Same. Referencing Edward Snowden in Citizenfour, Chun states, “the private is now public, we are always under possible surveillance” (133). Snowden’s whistleblowing highlighted the idea that we do not control media but that the media controls us. She argues that surveillance is funded by the state and by private means, yet habit is publicity (95). Through habits, users become their machines, thereby enabling machines to dictate what is controlled.
Another example related to media control pertains to how Chun describes the evolution of Friendster.com and how the site relied upon the authenticity of its users. However, termed as the “Fakester Genocide,” the company began deleting fake accounts once users started creating bogus profiles. Management felt that the fakesters were “undermining the theoretical premise that grounded the site” (112). This led to the demise of Friendster.com because users felt that management was asserting authority over authenticity, leading to the assumption that they, the users, were not in control, but that the site was.
Visual and digital literacy is important for all citizens, especially today. Technology constantly redefines people. To successfully navigate an evolving environment, the need to utilize a technological compass is necessary. At the same time, people influence the technology in their surroundings. According to Boyd, “publics provide a space and a community for people to gather, connect, and help construct society as we understand it” (9). Many digital users aggregate together online to form a semblance of community. With the increase in online networks, it is critical for citizens to be aware of their surroundings online, to obtain some sort of digital literacy.
Adults have criticized the internet for its perceived impact on youth. Fear is a byproduct of the unknown. Adults have scrutinized video games, social media, and technology in general due to a lack of understanding digital literacy. According to boyd, “Each new cultural shift, media development, or emergent technology reinvigorates anxieties about youth safety…A moral panic takes hold when the public comes to believe that a cultural artifact, practice, or population threatens social order” (105). To alleviate their concerns, adults who feel negatively toward technology should educate themselves about a new media development, thus avoiding unnecessary judgment.
Digital literacy is also critical when faced with cyberthreats which continue to increase in severity each year. In It’s Complicated, boyd recollects meeting teens who could not recognize spam and cites the Anonymous hacktivist group who were able to compromise servers (177). To simply have digital literacy does not exactly equate to technological literacy; however, being immersed in visual and digital media can assist users in distinguishing a valid email from a phishing email.
As Chun demonstrates with her depiction of the events that occurred in Steubenville, it is imperative to understand the various motives behind why some people are willing to upload certain content that is otherwise kept private. She asks the following: “What can and should privacy do in an era in which the most important binary is not between public and private, but rather between open and closed, between shopping malls and gated communities? How can we build a genuine ‘public safety?’”(102). Highlighting a concern for the safety of all users, Chun asks if there is anything that we, the users, can possibly do to prevent online harassment. Without a foundation of visual and digital literacy, users will fail to understand that what is published online stays forever. We must understand what is at stake in terms of online media so that we can better protect ourselves.
Fans, followers, blogs, vlogs, YouTube, Zoom, and other new media practitioners impact the world in various ways. Boyd’s opinion is that these media technologies primarily have a positive and meaningful impact. While some debate that social media and technology cause users to become addicted, boyd finds that it is “flow,” allowing users to become “euphorically engaged” (80). Citing flow as the creative state, boyd believes this to be essential state of mind for successful leaders.
These media sources also help youth to actively engage in self-expression. Boyd describes the positive impact social media has had to shape the lives of youth, especially because of the online space that seems to provide them with solace, companionship, and sometimes as an outlet for dealing with trauma. Amanda Todd’s various YouTube videos describing her depression as a result of her struggles with harassment and self-harm are all examples of how technology enables users to reach out to connect with others who may be experiencing similar problems. Although Todd’s videos generated hateful comments which furthered the harassment, boyd believes that we should not assume all media (or videos) generate bullying because generalizations distort the truth.
Chun describes Amanda Todd’s story but casts a separate assessment of her interactions as an online practitioner. What she refers to as “the epistemology of outing” (a form of knowledge concerned with exposing secrets), Chun finds that the use of notecards which say what Amanda does not verbally speak signifies a need to disclose private information publicly.
While these YouTube videos affected thousands of viewers, they also reveal another truth that is not implicitly stated. Todd’s videos, in addition to Mowry’s, reveal that the video makers engaged in self harm as a result of being outed in one way or another (154).
Another example how media has impacted the world pertains to Kony 2012. Chun describes the Kony 2012 documentary and the effect it had on viewers all over the world. Because of the human desire to form connections, strengthened with the fame of celebrity appearances, the film garnered widespread popularity. Fans emerged and participated in the movement in an effort to try to capture Joseph Kony because they felt they had control over the situation. However, after watching the documentary, and as Chun mentions, the film itself does not provide much historical context (29). Instead, the producer seeks to evoke human emotion by casting his young (innocent and oblivious) son and by broadcasting images of sad captured children in poor conditions. Russell also aims to empower his viewers by making them feel as if they have the power to help capture Kony through sharing the story on social media. Though Kony was not captured in 2012, the documentary portrays the capacity that media has to influence and empower users.
Pertaining to identity and how teens navigate online, boyd states, “A context collapse occurs when people are forced to grapple simultaneously with otherwise unrelated social contexts that are rooted in different norms and seemingly demand different social responses” (21). I believe this quotation represents the modern struggles that youth (and all citizens alike) encounter when struggling to update to remain the same. From phishing attacks to cyberporn and bullying, it is essential to acquire a form of digital literacy to avoid becoming subject to the aforementioned.
As Chun succinctly states in the conclusion of Updating to Remain the Same, our online is immersed in a complicated binary of privacy and publicity: “This book is a call for us to develop public rights, rather than accept the notion that if one is (unwittingly exposed, one is then forever denied protection. Rather than ‘consent once, circulate forever,’ we need to find ways to loiter in public without being attacked. We need a politics of fore-giving that combats the politics of memory as storage, that fights for the ephemeral and fights not only for the right to be forgotten but also for the right not to be stored in the first place” (172). Whether it is implicit memory or explicit memory, habit can be rethought to better accommodate the affordances that daily challenge our society. Technology will continue to evolve, and we should not be afraid of new digital or media, as we are all participants in networked publics.
boyd, danah. It’s Complicated. New Haven: Yale UP, 2014.
Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. Updating to Remain the Same: Habitual
New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2017. Navigating in a Networked World
Art Cinema: Not for the Weak of Spirit
By Rachael Robinson
The term “art cinema” represents a definite and revered expanse of films, but for those who are unfamiliar with it, this film genre can be rather difficult to elucidate due to all of the significant aspects that embody art cinema. However, the various tropes that distinguish art cinema films from other films are successfully exemplified in David Bordwell’s “The Art Cinema as a Mode of Film Practice.” Bordwell narrows down the complexity of art cinema into three quintessential factors: realism, ambiguity, and authorship (560). These factors are usually present in art cinema films, yet sometimes they are less prevalent than others, depending on the director’s vision. The realism in art cinema films is portrayed through certain themes or aspects such as psychologically-complex characters, illusion versus reality, erotic undertones, violations of time and space, a “rough shape” to the overall plot, and the general lack of cause-effect narratives and goal-focused plots, which are common in 1950s standard Hollywood films (Bordwell 561-562). Regarding the authorial presence in art cinema films, Bordwell explains that “the author becomes a formal component, the overriding intelligence organizing the film for our comprehension” (562). This may refer to various film elements ranging from director cameos in the films, a film as a chapter in a series of a director’s films, or any personalized touches synonymous with the director—some of these films may even be semi-biographical in nature. Altogether, I will explore the two art cinema factors of authorship and realism in the films Through A Glass Darkly, 8 ½, and The Double Life of Veronique, respectively, along with how these films are pristine examples of the concept of art cinema.
Ingmar Bergman’s film Through A Glass Darkly includes multiple elements of realism, as noted by Bordwell. From a broader perspective, the setting of the plot aligns with Bordwell’s theme of a roughly-shaped itinerary, which is more realistic than the cause-effect film outline of major Hollywood productions—the story takes place during a family vacation, of sorts, on what appears to be an island. Also, the protagonist Karin is clearly psychologically complex, given that she suffers from a form of schizophrenia. One specific scene that highlights both Karin’s troubles as well as the overall presence of realism takes place when she wakes up and wanders the house, alone, as a foghorn sounds in the far distance. The viewer does not know why she wanders—supporting the idea that Karin is psychologically complicated, and her motivation for every performed action is not explicitly apparent to the viewer. Instead, the viewer simply regards Karin as she is overcome by a silent woe, hearing mysterious voices whispering in the dilapidated wallpapered room, glaring out a window, almost as if she fears something, although there is nothing overtly threatening in view. Karin then stands in the center of the room, kneels down, and rubs her thighs in what appears to be a sexual manner; this is a clear example of the presence of eroticism in the film as well, which adds a heavier sense of realism than standard Hollywood films at the time. The eroticism in the film seems linked, in a sense, to mind and spirituality, as if sexuality were an otherworldly, negative force that hinders mental wellness or religiousness. This notion is obviously represented through Karin and Minus’ relationship, which practically ends in a joint destruction of both characters—Karin falls into a deeper state of mental malady while Minus is overwhelmed with a feeling of shame and indignity.
Concordantly, that same scene also excellently reflects the authorial presence of Ingmar Bergman in the film. As I mentioned, Karin listens intently to the whispering wallpaper, glancing almost alarmingly out a window on the opposite wall—the sea and the sun are clearly visible. Given that he was rather dubious towards his personal relationship with God, Bergman may be trying to represent a questionable, omniscient and godlike presence through the sun, which appears to be watching Karin through the window—the foghorn may act as an otherworldly being as well, beckoning her to the wallpapered room. Also, we see a significant zoomed-in camera shot of Karin’s face as she leans her head against the wall, listening to the whispering voices. Bergman was well-known for his close-up shots of characters’ faces and how these shots revealed a certain deep psychological trauma, of sorts. It is clear during this scene, and even throughout the entirety of the film, that Karin is extremely troubled; she is isolated, hearing mysterious voices, and seems to have a very tentative relationship with spirituality. Overall, Bergman utilizes various facets of realism and authorial presence to support his film’s message, all of which corresponds to the values of art cinema.
Likewise, there are numerous displays of realism in Federico Fellini’s 8 ½. The entire plot follows the making of a film—which coincides with Bordwell’s art cinema principle involving a rough, not particularly linear plot—and the viewer is able to delve into the psychological complexity of the protagonist Guido, who reflects a deeper sense of the human condition. Throughout the film, Guido obviously has problems involving his relationship with women; Guido is highly prone to fantasy, aimed towards multiple women at a time, yet he has trouble maintaining his already-existing relationships, such as his marriage to Luisa. One particular scene that depicts Art Cinema: Not for the Weak of Spirit both Guido’s troubled relationship with women as well as the general presence of realism occurs in a flashback to Guido’s childhood in which he visits La Saraghina on the coast with his schoolmates. It is clear that the boys’ goading of Saraghina to dance is unpermitted or even sinful, and Guido, especially, is punished due to this occurrence. However, it is clear the mysterious Saraghina resonated with Guido for the rest of his life—perhaps he thinks she is somehow the “ultimate woman,” or some unattainable, complex being. Guido’s fixation on her is undoubtedly portrayed in the scene in which he asks his mistress, Carla, to put on makeup like a prostitute; her makeup is done eerily similarly to Saraghina’s. Overall, the character Saraghina reflects the realism themes of eroticism, and the flashback to Guido’s childhood depicts Bordwell’s idea of illusion versus reality, given that Saraghina appears at random points throughout the film—which also defies space and time.
Moreover, Fellini’s authorial presence in 8 ½ is extremely prevalent, given that the film is somewhat autobiographical. Apart from the fact that the film portrays completely real aspects of Fellini’s life, such as the science fiction rocket-ship-and-apocalypse film and Fellini’s interest in Jungian dream-psychology, there are multiple alternate themes that carry through the film’s premise. One scene that comes to mind involves Guido’s bombardment by countless characters, including the three old men and the actress who desperately wants a part in the film; this scene represents Guido’s writer’s block, and it also acts as a window into Fellini’s outlook and general anxiety surrounding the creation of a film, given that the scene is extremely hectic. It is worth mentioning that, as Guido talks separately with each person about the film, one after another, Guido is quite ambiguous and hardly finishes a discussion. This open-endedness depicts the state of mind of a director experiencing writer’s block—it is a representation of anxiety and the accompanied, prompted stalling of the director. Altogether, Fellini’s heavy influence in 8 ½ works to replicate his own humanistic ideals, and the film also translates his experiences as a director along with the hardships that go hand-in-hand with that profession.
Finally, we find multiple themes of realism in Krzysztof Kieslowski’s film The Double Life of Veronique. Most prevalently, there are erotic themes throughout—tied to a sense of grief, perhaps—as well as the general idea of the existence of a premonition-double of a person, which violates the rules of time and space. A sense of illusion versus reality is predominant throughout the film as well. One scene that reflects this idea is toward the very end of the film, when Veronique converses with Alexandre, who created puppets of two women—she asks if one of them is her, and he says yes. The puppets are a clear representation of Veronique and Weronika, the latter being the puppet that is essentially the beaten back-up, lying on the table in an eerie, deathlike fashion—which is an obvious portrayal of the dead Weronika. The viewer may simply interpret this situation as Alexandre being inspired by Veronique and her double-life debacle, or one can question the role of Alexandre, who seems to be rather manipulative, perhaps even malevolent, toward Veronique.
One may also sensibly consider the possibility that Alexandre—who writes a story based on both Veronique and Weronika—is exploiting Veronique, just as David exploits Karin’s schizophrenia in his writings in Bergman’s Through A Glass Darkly. Alexandre’s manipulation of Veronique is hinted at when they talk for the first time at the train station. Alexandre admits to Veronique that he lured her to the station through enigmatic mailed items and mass trickery, and he claims to have done it simply to see if she would fall for it. Finally, Alexandre’s puppet-master profession may even be a metaphor for his power over Veronique and her life, and, because Veronique leaves Alexandre’s residence at the end of the film and returns to her childhood home, it is reasonable to conclude that Veronique senses Alexandre’s deviousness and wishes to escape the relationship. Altogether, the ambiguous purpose and role of the character Alexandre, along with the mysterious premise of the doubles Weronika and Veronique, along with the puppet theme, work collaboratively to support the realism-focused idea of illusion-versus-reality theme in The Double Life of Veronique.
Concurrently, Kieslowski’s personal life obviously had an effect on the film’s premise. One of the most prominent examples of Kieslowski’s authorial presence lies in Weronika’s heart problems, which Kieslowski also experienced and later died from. It is likely that Kieslowski pondered the heart-attack-as-a-premonition idea personally, and he translated it into his film by utilizing the death of Weronika as a forewarning to Veronique to be more careful with her personal health. Many viewers likely witness the personal reflections of Kieslowski and his views on heart problems, sudden death, and the afterlife in the scene in which Weronika is singing on stage and dies from a heart attack. The shot captures the disturbed and worrisome crowd as they frantically rush to the aid of Weronika. The camera is placed on a pendulum wire for this particular shot, and drifts above the heads of the crowd—this can easily be a representation of a soul passing on to the afterlife.
Kieslowski’s belief in the existence of a soul after death is also depicted in the scene in which Veronique glimpses a boy reflecting a mirror into her room from a faraway window. Even after the boy stops, the golden light remains on the wall. Veronique inspects the area that was illuminated by the golden light, and the shot tilts as she looks up and directly at the camera, as if she looks at someone standing beside her. Therefore, the light may be a depiction of Weronika’s soul and a forewarning, especially considering that this light prompts Veronique to dig through the garbage and retrieve the shoestring-containing letter that she threw away earlier. Veronique later compares the shoestring to her EKG reading from her previous hospital visit and pulls the string taut so it resembles a flatlined heart monitor.
Overall, it is obvious that the spirit of Weronika tries to communicate with Veronique about their shared heart condition, and Weronika attempts to aid Veronique in evading the same fate that befell her. Also, the following scene—filmed from the bottom of a grave—features Weronika’s family members and Antek throwing dirt on her coffin. This is a somber yet touching representation of the death of a loved one, as well as the toll it takes on friends and family members. It is definitely possible that Kieslowski often pondered the effect of his death, given that the lives of many of his family, including his own, were cut rather short. All in all, the general depiction of Kieslowski’s personal life occurrences, as well as his beliefs concerning the afterlife and the existence of the soul, are both prevalent and vital to this art cinema film.
Altogether, art cinema as a film genre is nearly as ambiguous as the complex themes that it so often tackles. Bordwell defines the main principles of art cinema as realism, authorial presence, and ambiguity. There are numerous varied examples of realism and authorial presence in the films Through A Glass Darkly, 8 ½, and The Double Life of Veronique. Overall, it is clear that realism and authorial presence meaningfully affect the plot and message of each film, as well as tie them to the wider conventions of art cinema.
Bordwell, David. Poetics of Cinema. New York: Routledge, 2008.
The Double Life of Veronique. Directed by Krzysztof Kieślowski,
performances by Irène Jacob, Phillipe Volter, Miramax, 1991.
8 ½. Directed by Federico Fellini, performances by Marcello Mas
Through a Glass Darkly. Directed by Ingmar Bergman, performances
by Harriet Andersson, Max Von Sydow, Janus Films, 1961.
By Raisa Rogers
The genre of neo-noir is easily distinguished and unique from other film types. From the camera angles and contrasting backgrounds of the shots to the characters with specific roles and personalities, neo-noir creates dark and suspenseful stories to follow. Body Heat (1982) and Blue Steel (1989/1990) are two neo-noir films that depict the aspects and attitudes of neo-noir quite well.
The defining characteristic of neo-noir film involves that which is dark and dangerous. Neo-noir films will often do close-up shots of weapons or villainous characters to create suspense and add to the rising action of what is happening or about to happen. Likewise, other camera shots will be through something, such as shadows, blinds, or moving objects, to somewhat obscure the main subject of the shot. Neo-noir films focus on violence, weapons, smoking, drinking, promiscuity, money, and drama. Weather, like pouring rain, also contributes to the dark atmosphere of neo-noir. The characters follow a similar composition; there is a main character, an enemy—known as the femme fatale or homme fatale—and the opposite of the enemy. While the characters do vary from film to film, most neo-noir films contain myriad parallels.
Body Heat fits very well into the genre of neo-noir. The main character, Ned Racine, is a Florida lawyer who is quite terrible at his job. The story begins when he meets the femme fatale, Matty Walker. Matty is a beautiful woman with a lot of sex appeal who seduces Ned. Through smoking, drinking, and sex, Matty manipulates Ned into killing her husband and uses Ned’s reputation as a bad lawyer to position herself as the sole beneficiary of her husband’s wealth. Ned believes that he and Matty are in love and does not realize he is being played until it is too late. Matty is a criminal mastermind who manipulates everyone in the film. She takes the identity of a friend she went to high school with, and when the friend finds out, she confronts Matty. Matty, however, blackmails her to keep her quiet and pays her off, promising that, when the plan is over, they will split the money. Matty and her friend, introduced as Mary Ann Simpson, could be seen as doppelgängers: Matty is the evil one and Mary Ann the good. They are also easily mistaken for one another because they look extremely alike. Through yet another plot twist, it is subsequently found that the woman thought to be Matty is actually Mary Ann Simpson, who stole her high school friend Matty Walker’s identity. She ends up killing the real Matty and stages an explosion that marks her as dead and sends Ned to jail. By murdering the real Matty, Mary Ann’s faux identity as Matty is safe. The ending of the film shows Matty, the real Mary Ann, sitting on an exotic beach relaxing in the sun.
We see aspects of neo-noir in Body Heat in many other ways as well, including the fact that Matty functions as a femme fatale. But the film also epitomizes neo-noir conventionalities through its backgrounds and camera movements. Throughout the film, the camera often focuses on where individuals are smoking; the smoke also obscures the faces and setting. During promiscuous moments, the camera focuses on sweat or shadows. The idea of forbidden love ties in to the suspense and nebulous nature of neo-noir. Ned and Matty cannot stay away from one another, eventually deciding to kill her husband so that they can be together. But the femme fatale has a plan of her own, and the male protagonist is ruined. The femme fatale uses sex as a tool and weapon to get what she wants. Even when Ned begins to catch on that something is not quite right because she used his bad reputation to forge a will leaving her the sole beneficiary, she talks him around, sleeps with him, and gets him back under her spell. A major part of neo-noir is the necessity of chaos and mystery, using dark elements and confusion to create the plot.
Blue Steel, unlike the majority of neo-noir films, has a female main character, Megan Turner. The film begins with close-up shots of a gun, dark and dangerous. This style of camera use is also one of the defining characteristics of the neo-noir genre. In neo-noir films, the camera will often focus on, whether from far away or very close up, the weapon at hand. For example, when Megan shoots the burglar in the grocery store, the camera focuses on her gun shots and the man’s gun flying through the air as it lands in front of Eugene. Eugene could be considered an homme fatale, and Nick Mann possibly as his doppelgänger. In the beginning of the film, Nick questions Megan’s capability as a police officer, while Eugene treats Megan well and takes her out to fancy dinners. Once she realizes Eugene is the one killing people and leaving the bullet shells with her name carved into them, the roles change. Eugene is obsessed with Megan and believes they are kindred spirits; he believes that she is his good doppelgänger. Eugene subsequently uses his white-male privilege and the fact that there is no concrete evidence other than Megan’s word to continue to torment Megan. Megan continually tries to arrest him and prove that he is the villain, but no one believes her. The absolute turning point for Nick is when Megan asks him if he believes her, and he says yes. He takes care of her when Eugene shoots her best friend and lets her go back out into the field to track Eugene down. He is the only person who believes her and tries to help her.
This film also uses the camera to catch frames of the characters’ faces. For example, when Megan and Eugene shoot at each other in the street, the camera will show a closer shot of their faces instead of a wide-pan shot of the street and shootout. When Eugene gets away once again, he ends up in Megan’s apartment where Megan and Nick later enter while he hides in the bathroom. Megan and Nick then begin to have sex as Eugene, losing his mind in the bathroom about it, is shown through shadows and darkness that help also to highlight his gun. Furthermore, neo-noir catches the almost otherworldliness of the villainous characters. Eugene takes bullet after bullet after bullet yet somehow manages to live, getting away from Megan and Nick multiple times. In Body Heat, everyone suspected Matty from the start, and Ned even figured out her plan, but she still got away with it in its entirety. Neo-noir uses the main characters’ rise and fall to create the ways in which the femme or homme fatale manipulates the story.
While neo-noir uses this dynamic of the fatal character against the main character in a milieu of otherworldliness, one could also argue that it exaggerates issues within society itself. For example, in Body Heat, Ned sees Matty as completely harmless because she is a woman, beautiful and soft, who makes him feel like a man. Women are often seen as small and harmless creatures, even at times less intelligent than men. Blue Steel is a better example in this respect. From the very beginning of the film, Megan is belittled because she is a woman working as a police officer. People constantly ask her why she decided to become a cop and men become disinterested upon finding out she is one. While Eugene sees something special, a brightness to her, it is because he thinks she is a stone-cold killer and would understand him. He then uses the fact that she is looked down upon to further his own agenda. He continues to get away with murder because no one will believe a female police officer or take her seriously, yet, if it were a man doing the things she does, he would not be questioned at all and probably commended for his work. At the end of the film, Megan basically collapses into a catatonic state, having to be lifted out of a car by two male police officers. Perhaps she feels exhausted after stepping into so many gender roles simply to do the right thing and prove herself when they should have just listened and believed her from the start.
Overall, neo-noir is a film genre that uses mystery, crime, and all that is dark and sinful to create greatly suspenseful stories. The moods, settings, and characters are all affected by camera placement, shots and angles, and techniques such as zooming. While very covered-up and cryptic, neo-noir is also quite explicit in terms of human poisons, such as sex, money, drugs, weapons, smoking, and drinking. Though exaggerated and dramatized, neo-noir emphasizes specific issues and intertwined themes in the main action of the mystery, chaos, and suspense of the film.
Classic Hollywood Cinema: New Perspectives on Bringing Up Baby and Citizen Kane
By Michaela Bagley
Film is an integral part of history. Historians can absorb history from documents, texts, and still pictures, but moving pictures capture all elements of the past. With film, the past is not frozen in time; rather, it transports those who lived within it back to where they once were or to where they have not been at all. Film allows a person to see the changes of time to the present.
The early decades of Hollywood filmmaking are substantial even today. These early films showcase world history in a casual way, through the stories of strangers who share laughter, become kings, and fall in love. These same stories have made their way into modern films today. These strangers on screen are forever in an endless loop in black and white.
Two films that are noted as especially influential in film history are Bringing Up Baby (1938) by Howard Hawks and Citizen Kane (1941) by Orson Welles. The following pages will discuss these Depression-era films with an eye to cinematic portrayals of both the profiteers and the poor.
Bringing Up Baby is a prominent classic American film. It features Golden Age performers such as Cary Grant, who plays the strictly-business paleontologist David Huxley, and Katharine Hepburn, who plays bubbly plutocrat Susan Vance. Bringing Up Baby represents the best of screwball comedies in the 1930s and remains a focal model of plot for myriad comedies thereafter. In this case, a man and a woman meet unexpectedly and cannot stand one another. A conflict arises which they have to solve hastily; in the end, the adventure brings them together romantically.
David and Susan meet unexpectedly on the golf course, where it is obvious that they are complete opposites. David seeks to convince the lawyer of a wealthy dowager that he, David, needs a one million dollar endowment to promote his museum. His path is straightforward. Meanwhile Susan, the plutocrat whose intelligence resides behind her witty remarks toward David, is carefree. Susan’s nonchalant attitude and wealthy status represent her economic power. Her home, her relatives—including her aunt, the wealthy dowager from whom David wants to obtain the endowment—and her manners toward people and things all show her entitlement. She is spoiled, constantly distracted, and assumes she is always right about every situation in which she finds herself. David finds himself tangled in crisis after crisis with her.
Susan conflicts with David’s main motive, but the arrival of Baby, a loveable leopard, at Susan’s doorstep causes the two people to meet again. After meeting at the golf course and then again at a party, it is clear to David that Susan’s antics are impossible to avoid, and, when Baby follows David outside of Susan’s hotel, Susan convinces David to drive with her to take Baby to Connecticut. Throughout their trip and subsequent stay at Susan’s aunt’s home, Susan verbally admits, to the audience of course, that she has fallen in love with David and that he is “the only man she will ever love.” David refuses to admit his love for Susan as he is blinded by his desire to promote the museum and wed his fiancée. When Baby vanishes and a leopard from the nearby circus escapes its cage, a mix-up takes place that suddenly changes the trajectory of both David and Susan’s lives. The two must find Baby before he gets caught.
On this mission to retrieve Baby, David and Susan learn to give way to their true feelings. Susan learns to actually take the time to think clearly enough to get them out of trouble. David learns to let loose. These changes in Susan and David help them to find Baby and succeed in their mission. It is unknown whether David ends up marrying his fiancée or Susan, but David does succeed in promoting his museum. Susan’s life remains the same. She is still wealthy, carefree, and loves David. The image of happiness over status is celebrated in this film. Love triumphs through it all. The film asserts that, in a time of crisis, love will power through. It is also important to show the audience that when you go to the movies you should leave reality for the time being and focus on what happens to the characters in the story. People don’t want to see their favorite stars suffering in a screwball comedy. They want to see these stars shining and supporting those who are deemed poorer. The screwball comedy, then, is predicated on the notion that people go to the movies to escape, and, in this case, to forget life and laugh about what it would be like to have a leopard following them around—as well as to have the fiscal resources to solve any dilemma.
Another case in point is the 1941 classic, Citizen Kane. Famed professional theatre and on-screen actor Orson Welles produced many well-recognized films that have gathered much attention from audiences and critics alike—and often this attention was initially negative in nature. And, indeed, Citizen Kane drew its share of scorn.
Citizen Kane is based loosely on the life of famous, wealthy news reporter and politician William Randolph Hearst. The film opens with the image of what could be considered a dark castle on a hill. The camera, as the narrator, takes its audience through the large corridors of the castle, to a room where the audience first sees Welles’s Kane as an old, ill, bedridden man. A word is uttered from his lips—“Rosebud”—and Kane lets a snow globe fall from his hand to the floor, where the bauble shatters. The snow globe contains a small wooden house with a snowman. A newsreel overview of Kane’s rich and political life is then shown, featuring the creation of an artificial kingdom called Xanadu. The newsreel ends and the audience sees several men in a screening room discussing what they can do to better their assessment of Kane’s life. They resolve to discover what Kane meant by the word “Rosebud.” Although the characters are unaware of the meaning that “Rosebud” holds for Kane, the audience has every chance to guess the answer before the end of the film.
There is always a window into Kane’s life, but Kane never gets to see it for himself. Beyond the newsreel, which constitutes a public perspective on Kane’s life, the audience hears, through word of mouth, stories from Kane’s colleagues and enjoys a more-established look at Kane’s early life, his childhood. We watch Kane as a boy outside his home, throwing snowballs at a roof. The camera transitions to the inside of his first home where we see his parents discussing matters with a banker named Mr. Thatcher (George Coulouris). Kane’s parents cannot keep the boy. Their new wealth convinces them to send the young Kane eastward with Mr. Thatcher. As Kane’s mother (Agnes Moorehead) agrees to sign the papers to send him away, an image appears before the audience. The mother sits closest to the camera, Mr. Thatcher sits behind her, and his hat rests on the table before them. The father (Harry Shannon) stands in the background, while Kane appears further in the background, through the window, as he plays in the snow at center screen. The characters’ positions determine their power and reveal their personalities without much dialogue. The mother is Kane’s commander while his father is essentially powerless. The three adults discuss Kane’s future without considering the child’s opinions. It is only after they have decided to send him away that they speak with him about the matter, leaving him with no choice but to obey. To understand a scene, an audience needs to look at it in its entirety: the settings, the people, and the objects. In this outside scene with Kane, his parents, and Mr. Thatcher, the snowman and the sled are all significant to the remainder of Kane’s life.
Kane gains wealth as he ages. He uses that wealth to purchase a building for his newspaper, The Inquirer. At a party, Kane’s two colleagues discuss Kane’s success but also their concerns about what is to come about the Inquirer. As the two men sit close to the camera, Kane’s reflection can be seen in the background, through the window, in the center of the screen. Kane dances with the showgirl ladies. As the man in charge of a substantial business, Kane’s appearance in the window makes him look and act younger than he is at the time.
Kane leaves the business temporarily, and, as he returns from a trip, we learn that Kane is betrothed to the president’s niece. As the workers of The Inquirer wish him well, the camera shows Kane through a window, in the center of the screen, stepping into a carriage. Kane’s excitement to be with his fiancé as he enters the carriage shows his childlike appearance in his older age. Again, as the camera then shows, Kane’s colleagues judge his decisions in his life. Kane wanted to create gossip in the news but instead got the gossip of his own life passed around by everyone. Those who Kane thought he could trust, his parents and his closest colleagues, went behind his back. Those times when Kane is not shown through the glass of a window are times when he chooses the wrong moments to ignore the right people.
Among these window-centered scenes, Welles elects to play with light and shadows to show Kane’s viewpoint. Kane is hidden by the shadows during the scenes of some of the significant changes in his life, for example, during the transfer of money with Mr. Thatcher when Kane suffered during the Great Depression and the scene in which Kane stands up and applauds Susan Alexander (Dorothy Comingore) for her less-than-terrific operatic performance. The audience watches Kane applauding while no other attendee stands for her performance. This incident shows that his opinion does not matter in the great scheme of things. The camera returns to the moment when Kane is aged and dying. It again focuses on the moment when Kane, in his last action, releases the snow globe from his hand and it shatters as it hits the floor. The impact of the snow globe as it hits the floor is Kane’s final separation from his innocence. He can never go back to his life of freedom because it is over.
If the audience has by now guessed that Rosebud is the name of the sled, they would be correct, but Rosebud is more than the sled once given to Kane as a child. Rosebud symbolizes Kane’s childlike innocence, taken from him at a young age. Welles gives the audience a choice as to whether to feel sorry for Kane. Kane appears to have everything he wants in his life. He is handsome, rich, and on top of the world in the opinions of many. Welles makes it clear that although the materials in the life of a person can create a seemingly perfect life, money and objects do not necessarily make that life happy, as there is always something missing. Kane’s happiest days were as a boy with his sled called “Rosebud,” and that time could never be returned to him. His utterance of the word at the end of his life was his last moment of keeping his innocence before it was gone forever.
Taken together, Bringing Up Baby and Citizen Kane offer
important depictions of the American aristocracy at a time of widespread
economic catastrophe. The more closely we evaluate these Depression-era films,
and others like them, the better we may understand the ways in which film unfolds
historical realities to us.
Naremore, James. “The Magician and the Mass Media.” Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds. W. W. Noton, 2013. pp. 320-340.
S. I. Salamensky, S. I. “Screwball and the Con of Modern Culture.” Film Analysis: A Norton Reader. 2nd ed. Geiger, Jeffrey, and R. L. Rutsky., eds. W. W. Norton, 2013. pp. 263-279.
Welles, Orson, and Herman J. Mankiewicz. Citizen Kane: Film Analysis. Script City, 2005.