Last Post- Its Been Real

I chose to take this course because I needed an English credit and I love watching and analyzing movies. I thought that I might as well take a class on something i already did every time I walked into a movie theater. I was blown away by how much I didn’t know went into movies (generally I just focused on acting, storyline, lighting, and setting before the class) and how shallow my knowledge of movies really was.

My favorite films we watched were Modern Times and Spirited Away. I’d never seen a black and white or silent film before, so I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed the Chaplin film. With Spirited Away, I had watched it as a child and enjoyed looking at it through an analytical viewpoint this time around

My least favorite films were definitely Yojimbo and The French version of Beauty and the Beast. While I recognized their cinematic merits, I just could’t really get into the stories or characters.

The thing I learned most about in the class was movie sound, both diegetic and extra-diegetic. Anytime I watch a movie now I’m always listening to the backing track and analyzing how the director is trying to frame the scene and make the audience feel.

Overall this was a very interesting and instructional class, and I walked away with a new appreciation for older movies and a newly analytical mind for film in general.

Now I can be even more annoying to my friends during movies!


Week 11- There Were No Blades In This Film

Ridley Scott uses elements of Sci-Fi and film noir to create a thought provoking and entertaining film in Bladerunner. 

The setting itself is purely science fiction, and as an iconic movie of the 80’s, Bladerunner set the literal stage for future movies of that genre. One that comes to mind immediately is the city in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. This is especially apt due to the presence of flying vehicles, crowded streets and skies, an overabundance of neon lights, and a sense of gloom often emphasized by rain. The very first image we get of 2019 Los Angeles is dark buildings and imposing skyscrapers emitting spurts of flame. This already lets us know that this perceived future is not a happy place and sets the tone for the rest of the movie. As the dark music gives way to more grandiose music, we are then (not so subtly) shown the glowing Mayan-temple like building in the center of the city, where we can assume much of the plot will stem from.

As far as the film noir aspect, this film definitely falls under that category as well. The gloomy city scape with dark, dirty alleys, the constant rain and apparent lack of sunshine, and the interplay between light and shadows are all characteristic of film noir, especially American style. The plot also follows the type, with the reluctant hero (Ford) called on to do the work of the higher ups, given enough details to do his job, but not enough to realize the bigger picture. Ford himself is donned with the classic trenchcoat, permanent scowl, snarky wit, and personality flaws generally associated with the heros (often times detectives or police officers) of these types of films. There is also the influence of the femme fatal, or “fatal woman”, although it could be argued that there were actually three.

Just as the movie’s futuristic synthesized jazz backing track suggests, Bladerunner is a mixed genre piece, fusing elements of film noir into the backdrop of a science fiction dystopia.


The Western- Spaghetti and Sukiyaki

Django and Sukiyaki Western Django both fall under the well-known Western genre, and while they both take certain liberties in the plots, it is pretty safe to say that they follow the Western formula to a tee.

It is a common motif in Westerns for the main characters to be introduced from the back, their faces hidden. This is true of Django, Sukiyaki Western Django, and even in Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars. This is common because in Westerns, the protagonist is usually morally ambiguous and mysterious, following his own agenda. So it is part of the idea of keeping the mystery alive that the characters are introduced with their backs to the camera.

On setting, the two films definitely differ in extremes. In Django, the colors are washed out and the landscape is presented as dirty and desolate. The costumes vary in shades of brown, black, and grey, with the only noticeable variation being the red scarves worn by the small antagonist militia. The only refuge in terms of color and life (and pretty much everything else) in the entire film was in the saloon, where the women are dressed in gaudy, over-the-top clothing and walls are in similar fashion. In contrast, the costumes and setting in Sukiyaki Western Django are colorful and draw attention to themselves. This comes as no surprise, as the story focuses around the Reds and the Whites. The two warring groups have very distinct color schemes that they stick too. Also, along with the overt use of color to show allegiance, the costumes convey an effort to mix the clothing of traditional westerns with the designs and clothing styles of cultural Japan, creating a very surreal costume design.

Django is also very downplayed in its presentation. Physical movements are concise and unadorned with flourish, whereas in Sukiyaki Western Django, the whole point is to exaggerate, as it is a spin-off, satire, and critique of the genre. Dialogue, too, shows much difference between the two films. Django maintains its reserved style in its skimpy dialogue, favoring a monotone voice for the main character. Also, as many of the actors didn’t actually know English, the film was dubbed. In Sukiyaki Western Django, the dialogue is the opposite, with exaggerated inflections.

Overall, it is evident that Django attempts to stay true to the genre, while Sukiyaki attempts at creativity within the confines of the Western style.

A Clockwork Orange- Glad I saw it once, but that is quite enough

The film A Clockwork Orange utilizes both diegetic and extra-diegetic sound as a large way of conveying meaning in the story.

For most of the film, when there is extra-diegetic music, it is usually classical and more often than not Beethoven. Our first experience with this interesting music choice is during the almost-rape scene. First off, the women’s screams of terror along with the classical music backdrop creates a strong juxtaposition. On one hand, you have this barbaric and graphic act that’s about to take place. On the other, you have music that is cultured and deemed as high-society. This is a trend that continues throughout the film, such as when Alex launches a surprise attack on Georgie and Dim.

Classical music is most famously used as an indicator of when Alex is feeling in control of a situation, or when he is in his groove. The moment something happens that throws off his “plan” the music stops and we are brought into the real world of consequences along with him. A scene that masterfully melds the extra-diegetic and diegetic is the hectic sex scene where the entire experience is fast-forwarded. The music makes the scene seem more comic than romantic, and the speeding up of the scene adds to the idea that its “all part of the plan.”

Music is also used as a foreshadowing mechanism. When the minister is walking through the prison, Pomp and Circumstance is playing. This is a notorious graduation song, and I immediately assumed that Alex would be freed from the prison, or “graduate” from his current situation.

Week 7 Blog Post

For this week’s assignment, I chose the rotating hallway/floating elevator scene in Inception. This scene utilizes editing and cuts in a very unique way. Through Nolan’s direction, we are able to see what is happening on both levels of the dream world.

The cuts emphasize the movie time, which is unique from pretty much any movie time portrayed in any other film. Every time something happens in the raining city, it affects the reality in the hotel. The editing is done in such a way that we see everything happening in montage form. There isn’t too much mis-en-scene used because that wouldn’t be efficient use of screen time. If mis-en-scene were used exclusively at this point of the movie, it would be almost impossible to follow the relationship between the two dream layers.

Some more spectacular editing is evident in the actual rotating hallway scene. Christopher Nolan is famous for not using greenscreen technology to capture the effects in this movie, and this scene is no exception. This scene has less cuts and creates suspense in the mis-en-scene.

Week 5 Blog Assignment

Yojimbo, directed by famous Japanese director Kurasawa, takes elements of various film styles and weaves them together in a narrative that is both traditional yet distinctly influenced by American Westerns. This movie also inspired the American film A Fistful of Dollars, which starred Clint Eastwood and followed the original plot closely.

It is obvious when watching Yojimbo that there is much influence from the American Western genre of film. A mysterious stranger arrives in a lawless town, only to become entangled in their affairs. He seems to have a chip on his shoulder and has no qualms about killing anyone who gets in his way. The lighting is used to flatten the landscape, creating a feeling of desolation. Also, while the costumes, names, and language were completely Japanese, the dialogue was translated into the English generally used by those in the Texas/Mexico territory around the “Western era.” This was evidenced by the presence of casual words like “ain’t” and “guy.”

While Yojimbo and A Fistful of Dollars shared an almost identical storyline and screenplay (save for the costumes, setting, and implicit culture differences) there was one aspect that struck me when comparing the two films. The main character in Yojimbo, while not a bad guy, was not a good guy by any means. He didn’t even really fit into the mold of the reluctant anti-hero. He seemed all to eager to practically tear down an entire village, and had no real reason for staying and wreaking the havoc that he did. He was honestly the lesser of three evils. Even in his grand moment of heroism (saving the man’s wife) he seems not to do it out of compassion, but merely out of convenience. He doesn’t end up liberating the village, just practically demolishing it.

This seems to be less of the case in A Fistful of Dollars. This may be due to the American expectation of a redeemable main character that one can ultimately root for and tie to the greater good. The way the main character is presented, you feel more like he is intentionally doing good as opposed to doing it out of his own search for a good fight. As stated earlier, this may be due to the fact that the American audience responds well to heroes and selflessness.

One major character similarity, though, was the apparent disregard and unimportance of money to both main characters, which I believe speaks more deeply about both characters than much of their actions.

Week 4 blog assignment

La Belle et a la Bette  is one of the various incarnations of the Beauty and the Beast fairy tale, sharing similar elements with other versions but standing alone in its interpretation and presentation. However, it stays true to classic fairy tales in that each character is hyperbolic in their personalities and actions, there is an overarching lesson that is achieved by the end, and there is a fairly happy (and a little weird) ending.

The director, Cocteau, was practically obsessed with fairy tales and the way they were told by different people and in different periods. This is evidenced in his surrealist take on the beast’s castle, which is really the main setting where it is most utilized. He also tried to convey the circular aspect of fairy tales, of the way cause and effect play out to create a story that could be considered timeless. Much of the film’s conflict sprung up from either greed or the pursuit of material security. The causes were not so much events in the story, but personal attributes of the characters that really drove the plot. Because of selfishness, the sister’s were nasty and prideful, treating Belle like a servant probably throughout her entire life. Minor greed was the cause of the son’s debt, which came back to financially devastate the family later on. And finally, the father’s ambition for money and status led him to being lost in the woods and getting himself indebted to the Beast, which set the stage for the true plot of the movie.

On the opposite spectrum, Belle’s selfless and humble nature led her to ask for merely a rose. This was the real reason she felt compelled to take her father’s place. The characters in the movie acted as if it was her fault and she deserved whatever punishment she recieved, but by the end you realize that her selfless request still had far greater success than any of the other character’s endeavors. The sisters remained poor, and the other love interest was transformed into another beast.

Another aspect of the narrative of this movie is its circular nature in dealing with the central lesson: It’s what’s on the inside that counts, and the pursuit of superficial happiness will leave you with nothing. We were never told how the beast came to be, and throughout the movie I wondered when that would be brought up and what role that information would play in the movie. But the director only hinted to it throughout the movie, giving us snippets of the truth that came to completion at the end. It was shown that the beast had countless riches and magic powers at his disposal, but as the theme suggests, he was not happy. He could create a beautiful necklace from thin air, but could not change his face. At the very end, you see Belle’s other love interest shot with an arrow, turning him into another beast. This was because he was trying to get to the riches in the pavilion. While this illustrated the main lesson of the story, and answered the question of how the original beast came to be, it also left a definite loose end to the story. I believe that Cocteau left it there as a testament to the circular nature of fairytales, how there is always someone in need of the same lesson over and over again.