Final Blog Post

I really learned a lot more in this class than I expected to. I had always watched movies, but after taking this course, I feel like I can really appreciate the value a movie has. I feel like I can look at a film and analyze it stylistically and thematically.

My favorite movies we watched in class in no particular order were Contempt, Modern Times, Spirited Away, and A Clockwork Orange. I felt like these films all had a great balance between stylistic importance, diagetic importance, and thematic importance. These films all opened my eyes to how different elements of a film can come together to send a message, usually sent by the director. These films also made me realize how political filmmaking is. All of the films we watched in class had some sort of inspiration behind them that had something to do with current events, or history, or personal trauma of the writer. My eyes are now open to the world of possibilities and inspirations that go into making a movie.

Particularly, I found it interesting to discuss a certain topic in class, and then have an example of that topic in the film we would watch. All of my favorite films in this class also helped to bolster down our lessons in my head. For example, for Contempt we studied shot spacing, and the brilliant shot spacing of the film really helped me to understand the lessons.

Also, watching foreign films in this class inspired cross the actual borders of film into other countries and cultures. Since watching Yojimbo, I watched several other Kurosawa films, and since watching Contempt, I was inspired to use another french film for one of my papers.

All in all, I really appreciated the values that this class has to offer. I learned a lot about all aspects of film, and even improved my writing and organization skills, from the three papers.

 

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Spirited Away

There is no better film to introduce oneself into Japanese anime than Hayao Miyazakis’ Spirited Away. The first time I saw this film, I instantly noticed the similarities between it and Alice in Wonderland. That means that the film is filled with themes of being on your own. This film is often overlooked in terms of its thematic brilliance, because of its stunning visuals, but the motifs and symbols in this film are really what make it great. One thing that I noticed this time I saw the film was how Chihiro is wearing the headband that Zeniba made for her when she walks off with her parents at the end. This shows how that even though her parents have no recollection of it, Chihiro went on an incredible adventure. Going back to the “being on your own” theme, when Chihiro first enters this new strange world, she is utterly on her own. Her parents are turned to pigs, and she is still able to rise above this and eventually save her parents and escape. I think Spirited Away is really a tale of resilience and adventure in its purest form.

Another difference I noticed from the first time I had seen this film was the stunning animation. I remember it being fine, but considering the film is hand-drawn animation, the image of the film is flawless. The motion is always in sync, and the film just looks better than most other animation I have seen.

All in all, Spirited Away is a tale of pure adventure and fun. It will blow you off your feet and make you feel like a kid again with its themes of self-reliance, resilience, and confidence. These themes are easy for viewers to identify with, and maybe that’s why everyone seems to love Spirited Away, oh and don’t forget the stunning animation.

Hugo

Hugo, the inspirational tale of an orphaned child who attempts to unravel a great mystery in order to give closure and to connect with his late father, is most well known for its huge budget and masterful use of special effects. However, the film does in fact delve into older special effect techniques, as an homage to Georges Melies. For example, the train crash, as we watched, was done through a model, and the automaton was not done through effects, it was actually made. There’s always something interesting about a Martin Scorsese movie, and when it comes to Hugo, the topic of discussion is the marvelous style that the movie has through its special effects and cinematography. In my opinion, the film is   style over substance, and apart from the effects, it doesn’t really wow me. The acting and character progression, in particular, were two plot elements that I think could have been done better. Hugo and Isabelle were annoying and not likable, and the comic relief that the train inspector provided was unnecessary. The progression of the characters was also confusing. Isabelle and Hugo become best friends instantly, and seemingly for no reason. Georges Melies and his wife are the only interesting characters. The sequence where Melies explains his movie making career, and all of his previous works are shown on screen, is probably the best part of the entire film. The tinting of Melies’ old movies combined with the narration Melies provides makes this scene one of the most rememberable scenes, too. It is the most colorful part of the film, and it doesn’t even use CGI. From start to finish, Hugo is a decent film. It provides most of what an audience is looking for in excitement, fun, and a stylistic edge. however, It lacks the substance of a great film.

Pulse

Besides the clear difference that the Japanese Pulse is a much better movie than the American one, there are other differences that are found when one delves into different aspects of both films. The Japanese version, first of all, has a much slower pace, and uses this as a means of spreading horror rather than the American version which uses jumps and ghosts jumping out of the shadows to scare the audience. The Japanese version dwells on this idea that technology is dragging everyone towards depression, so the horror of the film is a depressing horror; people are not getting killed by a monster, but rather are losing their will to live. Then the cinematography and music play on this theme. The shots are drawn out and long, and the music is very subtle. This creates a somber, and almost depressing tone. Kiyoshi Kurosawa creates this duality between theme and cinematography which comes together quite nicely.

The American version does no such thing. There is no harmony between any different aspects of the film with the theme of technological takeover, and this makes the audience confused and annoyed with the films mediocrity. In fact, the film does such a poor job of getting its point across, that the writers had to insert this one character at the end of the film “Zeigler” to basically ruin the entire mystery of the film. On top of that, the film just relies on gruesome and unnecessary death scenes, and does not tie all of its points in to make a statement like the Japanese version does.

On top of that, Kurosawa’s Pulse does not have any gruesome death scenes; its death scenes are sad and bizarre, not agreeing at all with the typical norms of horror. The Japanese Pulse relies on so much more than scaring the audience to be a good film, while the American version only has a few scary scenes to offer its viewers. 

Week 11 Blog Post – Blade Runner

Unlike most film-noir movies, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner takes place in a futuristic, dystopian wasteland. Just as discussed in class with Django Unchained, this film seems to be a combination of two different genres. It is a film-noir mystery, having much in common with older film-noir masterpieces of the 1940s and 1950s, but it also has a sic-fi spin on it, and the combination of the two genres in one film work together to create a unique picture.

The cinematography of Blade Runner is very characteristic of film-noir, using smoke, side lighting to create shadows, and framing to create suspense, and to draw interest from the audience around the mystery. Ridley Scott sets almost every scene of the film at night, and does this to create the eerie, unsettling effect that the film-noir genre aims to create. Scott also uses weather to create a dreary, dark, damp diagetic world; it is always raining, and there is always heavy fog. Finally, the lighting is shined from the side in most shots, creating silhouettes and shadows among most of the characters, especially with scenes in alleys or dark places like that. This is also commonplace for film-noir, reminiscent of The Third Man and basically the whole catalogue of Humphrey Bogart films.

Despite all this talk of film-noir, Blade Runner is considered by some to not even be a film-noir. Truth be told, it is a hybrid film, combining the cinematography of film-noir with the plastics of science fiction. The film takes place in a futuristic, dystopian wasteland, where technology is very advanced. Flying cars, or “spinners” are omnipresent throughout the film, and the costumes and outfits are far-fetched and futuristic. Plus, the technological effects, which where extremely advanced at the time, still influence and set the benchmark for science fiction films today.

Week 10 Blog Post: Django

After watching two different takes on the same story, I could not help but compare the two to the two versions of Yojimbo we watched. Both show the influence of westerns on Japanese filmmaking and vice versa, and both sets of films are associated with Quentin Tarantinio (Bizzare, greusome westerns seem to be his style). I also could not help but notice the effect that sound played on the two new films we watched. In Django, the use of diagetic and extra-diagetic sound really characterized it as a western film, along with the set design and plastics. In westerns, the story and acting are not what leads the film, and thats why it is easy to take the same story and make two entirely differnet films out of it like we watched this week. The diagetic sound was mostly loud gunshots or tense, short conversations with little dialogue, and there was little real character development. The extra-diagetic sound was really what played key; the loud and dramatic music would que every time something intense would occur. The next part of the film which really put it in the western genre was the set design, and the framing. Westerns always have broad shots of the desert, while a lone cowboy walking through it, and maybe the sun is setting, casting a shadow on a ghost-town. These stereotypes are omnipresent in Django, however, they were not really stereotypes at the time.

In Sukiyaki Western Django, the elements are generally the same: stoic, yet intense acting, dramatic music, and broad shots of the landscape and town. This pattern is what allowed the first film to be remade with a Japanese twist. It was not neccesarliy the story that changed, but rather everything else, just keeping the plot and the western aspects of it. Thus, these two films are strikingly similar to eachother even though they were made nearly fourty years appart, because of the consistent keeping to the western genre.

Week 8 Blog Post: A Clockwork Orange

Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange is a renowned film, known to have a great cult following, and that is probably because of how bizarre it is. It combines the themes of rape, murder, conspiracy, anarchy, and government betrayal and possesses ironic and contrasting music such as classical music and synth music. All of this madness is packed into a hectic two-hour block, and thus derived is the bizarreness that is associated with this film.

However, of all of the plot elements of this film that can be analyzed to reveal its purpose, there are just as many elements that can be analyzed simply by observing the films sound. A Clockwork Orange uses both diagetic and extra-diagetic sound to send messages. For example, the diagetic singing of a happy song, “Singin’ in the Rain” by Alex serves as a contrast from his violent actions during that scene. The same can be said about the extra-diagetic sounds, in this film, such as the playing of Beethoven while a woman is raped. I think the use of this sound is ironic, and shows the eagerness and genuine happiness Alex feels while he is about to do a violent act. Also, Beethoven’s 9th symphony begins to play every time Alex is monologuing, or when he is enjoying himself, while it never plays when Alex is in jail, showing his detachment from violence and crime.

All in all, I think the use of sound reflects Alex’s feelings throughout the film as he changes from a powerful person into a weaker, more submissive person. However, at the end of the film, when Beethoven’s 9th symphony is played, and Alex smiles, “I was cured, all right”, It means that Alex is now back to his violent ways. The sudden return of Beethoven at the end shows Alex’s real emotions, and that he has not been cured of his ultra-violence.

Week 7 Blog Post

Not only is the shower scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho one of the most famous scenes in all of hollywood, but it also helped shape the modern genre of horror and suspense. Hitchcock was so ahead of his time in terms of suspense and tension, and his films greatly support that statement. This shower scene, in particular, is a prime example of the mastery Hitchcock has in crafting and editing horror scenes. Janet Leigh’s character is first seen in the shower, and several shots of decent length are strung together slowly to perhaps show the audience that not all is right. Then the silhouetted figure is revealed through the shower curtain. The scene still progresses slowly, but suddenly, the audience can feel the rising tension. When the shadowed figure draws the curtain, all the tension is relieved as the figure begins to stab away at Leigh with a knife, and the eerie music is cued. Instantly, the audience sees a contrast in the length of the shots; during the build up, they are long and drawn out, once the shower curtain is drawn, they alternate back and forth between the shrieking Leigh, and the shadowed figure. Hitchcock creates this sudden change of pace within this scene to freak the audience out, and to traumatize them. Almost similar to the baptism murder scenes in The Godfather, where the murders happen so quickly to instill a sense of trauma, Psycho also shows the death of Janet Leigh’s character in such sporadic speed, that the audience is left confused and bewildered, especially since it was the main protagonist that was killed less than halfway through the movie. Now imagine how this scene totally went against all of the Hollywood “code” of the time, and how it really inspired a break from the normal framework of plot in the horror and suspense genre.

Week 6 Blog Post

As we all must know by now, Jean-Luc Godard’s Contempt is a movie not really based totally on a plot or a narrative through line, but it is based on an idea and relies on mise en scene to propose that idea. First of all, the films title is Contempt, which means hatred or disgust towards something, or believing one is superior than something else. Perhaps, Godard uses this as a title to show the contempt Camille feels for Paul and the estrangement of their relationship, or maybe Godard is showing the contempt of American producers and the clash between commercialism and art. There are so many elements of this film that can be deeply analyzed including the cinematography, and the mise en scene, that really show how this movie is all about contempt and not necessarily about a strong plot.

The first scene in the movie shows Paul and Camille in bed together and one continuous shot shows them in conversation. Godard intentionally messes with the tonality of this scene by changing the tint from dark yellow to bright back to dark blue. Instantly, after one scene, we see that this film will use cinematography and mise en scene to lead the movie rather than a plot.

Later in the film, when Paul and Camille are fighting and arguing in their apartment, we can really see how tumultuous their relationship has become through the cinematography. The shot design places each character on an opposite side of the room separated by a wall, or something else. This shows the strain in their relationship; they are no longer together, they are separate. The same goal is achieved in this scene, when Godard creates a deep contrast between the foreground and the background, also creating a ton of space between the characters, showing how apart they have grown.

 

Week 5 Blog Post

This week we watched Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo and Sergio Leone’s A Fistful of Dollars, because the two movies have one same theme, and many similar aspects that are presented to the audience in very different ways. The major theme between the two would probably be the violence and death that follows the main character, a bounty hunter. The “similar aspects” of the films refer to the plot structure and story, and what “Presented to the audience in different ways” means is simply that each of the respective directors used genre, mise en scene, costumes, sets, makeup, and other plastics to create two very distinctively different films from the same story.

Kurosawa’s Yojimbo is set in 1860 in Japan and involves a rogue samurai who creates war between two rival gangs. Leone’s spaghetti western A Fistful of Dollars is about a lone stranger who does the same in a Mexican town. However despite having the same premise and many of the same sequences, The two films distinguish themselves through the mise en scene. In Yojimbo, all the male characters have swords and all the female characters wear heavy Japanese makeup. All of the characters wear clothes and act in a way that resembles the time of the setting. Kurosawa uses the plastics to distinguish this movie from A Fistful of Dollars. In A Fistful of Dollars Leone uses the vast “Mexican” desert as the setting, the sets are much more complicated, and all the characters have western attire complete with a pistol. Basically, Leone uses the plastics in his film too, but to send a different message than Kurosawa. Leone uses the spectacle of a spaghetti western to create a movie based more on style and action sequences, while Kurosawa’s Yojimbo seems to be more about the substance of the plot and the driving of the story.