Zodiac: David Fincher’s Commitment to Historical Accuracy

As we discussed in class, David Fincher is a director that has a great attention to detail and this stands true for his work on the film Zodiac. Zodiac is based off of a true story of the Zodiac killer, who tormented Northern California for years.

Here I have linked in an article that goes into how realistic the Zodiac film was and discusses its historical accuracy: http://www.indiewire.com/2018/04/zodiac-david-fincher-accuracy-true-events-1201948258/. Below, I have posted one of the actual Zodiac letters. It is nearly identical to the one shown in the film and the language is the same as well. Fincher did not alter the details that were crucial to the actual crimes the Zodiac Killer committed.

Fincher even went as far as to dress the actors that played the murder victims in the same clothes the real victims wore the night they died.

This article also provides an excellent video clip, which layers Fincher’s film with actual interviews from the Zodiac case. I have linked it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lb75EkzE24k. The realism and accuracy in this film is extremely impressive, yet quite disturbing at the same time. I think that is one of the major reasons the film is as powerful as it is.

Do the Right Thing: Still Reflected in the News

Someone shared this post on my Facebook timeline and I thought it was very relevant to the issues we discussed last week related to Do the Right Thing.

The link to the article is here: https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/04/15/602598119/black-teenager-shot-at-after-asking-for-directions. Unfortunately, it is not that uncommon to see something like this in the news. I thought this case was particularly relevant because it points out some of the serious flaws present in many Americans today. Fortunately, the African American boy that was shot at in the article was not injured, but it is still a heartbreaking event nonetheless.

The boy knocked on the door of a woman’s house to ask for directions to school, as his phone was not with him. Immediately, the woman who answered the door assumed he was trying to break in. It is troubling that so many people have a racist mindset such as this one and it reminded me of many of the characters in Do the Right Thing. The situation further escalated as her husband came downstairs with a gun and the young man had to run for his life.

The escalation of pulling out the gun reminded me of Sal pulling out the bat in Do the Right Thing when Radio Raheem was playing his music. A completely absurd overreaction based on racial profiling and discrimination.

On the tape, you can hear the woman who answered the door says “why did these people choose my house?” This idea of the black community as separate and lesser, as “these people” is unfortunately a view that is still held by many, whether it be consciously or subconsciously. A young boy should be able to ask for help or ask for directions without fearing his life.

 

Exploring Digital Light with Stephen Prince

Prince begins his article, titled “Painting with Visual Light” by discussing the evolution of cinema and the prediction of modern cinema by cinematographer Leon Shamroy. As new technology emerged,visual effects seemed to be a lot less special to the viewer.

Cinematographer Marvin Rush was set on expanding creative opportunities by taking digital out of the bubble of visual effects and making it more of a concept than anything. He advocated separating visual effects from “fantasy effects”, as he believed they were much more than that. Digital effects can be seamless and reminiscent of real-life as well. They don’t have to be crazy fight scenes, explosions, or evil creatures. The film Forrest Gump is a great example, where visual effects are primarily used to enhance reality, such as the ping pong match or Lieutenant Dan’s missing legs. Which is easier? Recreating reality or developing a fantasy world?

Prince also discusses composting, where two effects in film are layered to create a final image. Before the digital explosion, composting was done with an optical printer. According to Prince, Citizen Kane, on of the feature films, had over 50% optical composting. It can also be seen in Star Wars films such as The Empire Strikes Back, which I have linked a Vimeo clip of here: https://vimeo.com/78956520. Digital composting, on the other hand, allows for finer detail and more precise manipulation of the shot. It is a process that now requires many members of a film’s team and goes into postproduction as well.

The picture in the article from King Kong in 2005 demonstrates how digital composting uses matte paintings, mini models, the digitally created gorilla, and lighting on the actress to create a more realistic visual image.

Digital lighting is achieved through local or global illumination methods. Local uses key light, back light, fill and rim lighting, etc. Global, on the other hand, does not require individual light sources. Digital lighting can be performed on anything, such as the food in Ratatouille, to make it stand out or appear more real. In addition to realism, digital lighting can also help tell a narrative.

Is it possible that the digital image goes too far in terms of manipulation? Does this threaten the integrity of film?

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ending of Do the Right Thing

Do the Right Thing was very inconclusive, which I believe is very reminiscent of solving the racial crisis of today. Many would like to believe that racism no longer exists or is a problem, yet there are scenes from Do the Right Thing  that unfortunately do not look that different from today’s reality. Police brutality against African Americans is active and many people have turned to violence to fight back.

The two quotes at the end of the film suggested two very different approaches to violence and reflected the ideas of some of the characters in the film. Martin Luther King is quoted in support of peace and Malcom X is quoted suggesting that violence can be self-defense and an intelligent answer at times. After the quotes are presented, there is an image of Martin Luther King and Malcom X together, the same one Smiley was trying to sell on the streets.

The contradictory quotes with the visual of the two men pictured together is confusing for a reason. Lee does this to reflect the reality of racial tensions. There is no clear solution. One can not stand by and do nothing but fighting back with violence is also not the answer. These are the two major ideologies presented in the film and ones that it appears the characters try to follow to some degree. The mayor advocates peace and tries to break up violence when it occurs, however it doesn’t change anything. When characters use violence, Radio Raheem ends up dead. The mayor tells Mookie to “do the right thing”, but it seems that no one really knows what the right thing is. Different people have different ideas of what is “right”, therefore no extreme end of the spectrum will ever be the right thing. Each ideology has its own faults. Violence, chaos, and racism seem to prevail regardless of which one is practiced.

This movie really delivered for me on a moral and emotional level, perhaps more so than any film we have watched so far in this class. Throughout the film, I found myself disgusted with racist remarks and slights made by certain characters, but also incredibly disappointed by the turn to violence that many other characters took. Honestly, I never saw a clear solution and that’s such a huge problem that we face today. What can we do? When people are scared of the people that are supposed to protect us and are turning against each other, there is no easy answer. However, we must think about this issue thoughtfully, and this is one of the many important things that Do the Right Thing challenges us to do. 

Scorpio Rising: A Prelude to the Music Video

Scorpio Rising is a 1963 experimental film staring Bruce Byron as Scorpio, who appears to be the leader of a Nazi-like biker gang.

One of the things I found noteworthy while watching this film is how it appears to be a prelude to music videos. There are various songs dispersed throughout the film that correspond to the images on the screen. To me, the songs cut up the film and tell separate, yet interconnected stories and touch on different themes, whether it be longing, love, rejection, rebellion, or torture. To the best of my knowledge, music videos weren’t big until the 80s, so to see this style in a film from the 60s was very interesting. It really shows how elements of past film culture can be incorporated into modern day film and art. I have included a clip that shows this below, where some of the “Jesus imagery” begins in the film. You can see that as the song talks about “the way he shuffles his feet” and “how he goes walking by”, we see the biker’s feet moving along with crosscutting to sequences that feature Jesus walking. There are many connections between the words of the  song and the images on screen that give it a music video feel.

Below, I have linked an article from the website “Senses of Cinema”, which touches on the music video aspect of Scorpio Rising and also does a great job of analyzing the film in more depth. I think it’s worth a read as it analyzes the film without being too subjective, allowing the viewer to still draw their own conclusions.

Article 1 “Senses of Cinema”: http://sensesofcinema.com/2015/cteq/scorpio-rising/

I also found another article that I think is really helpful in dissecting the film, linked here: https://walkerart.org/magazine/a-listeners-guide-to-kenneth-angers-scorpio-rising.  It features each of the songs used in the film and goes over some common themes of the songs and how they were relevant to the film. The author of the article also points out that all of the songs in the film are love songs. I definitely noticed this about the film, but didn’t realize that EVERY one of the songs was a love song. The use of love songs over imagery of hate, rebellion, and crime is a very ironic parallel and it almost makes the events taking place on screen seem less severe. For example, at one point in the film, there is a lot of Nazi imagery, but playing along with the imagery is a song about love. What do you make of this combination?

 

 

Conventions, Formulas, Myths, and Expectations: Recognizing and Analyzing the Elements of Film Genre

Film Genre- The Film Experience:

Before I begin discussing this week’s readings in more detail, I wanted to start with the basics.

Our book defines genre as a category or classification of movies that share similar subject matter, settings, iconography, and narrative and stylistic patterns. The elements of film genre include conventions, formulas and myths, and audience expectations. The Film Experience introduces six narrative movie genres: Comedies, Westerns, Melodramas, Musicals, Horror Films, and Crime Films.

One thing I thought about while reading this week was why certain genres attract different individuals? One’s taste in film genre could be compared to taste in music. Is there a reason for the discrepancies in taste? Is it just that different people like different things or is it deeper than that?

Something that is important to note about genre is that it provides an expectation for the viewer. The Film Experience goes into more depth with this. When you go to see a comedy, you expect to laugh. When you see a horror film, you expect to be scared. When you see a crime film, you expect a lot of theatrics and action shots, and so on. Although films within genres can be totally different and unique, there is typically an underlying expectation for films within a genre. The elements of film genre, as discussed in the text, reflect on this idea.

The first element of genre is conventions. Generic conventions are “properties or features that identify a genre” (TFE p. 345). They are repeated time and time again with films in a particular genre. They can be more meaningful that just simply identifying a genre. The Film Experience states that a flood can be an archetype used in disaster films to represent the end of a corrupt life and the beginning of a new spiritual life. TFE talks about how when generic conventions are put into motion, they evolve into generic formulas, which are the patterns for developing stories in a particular genre. Another element of film genre is audience expectations, as discussed previously. All of the elements of genre have a “general” format, but can expand to reflect on broader societal/cultural significance. The historical change in genre is directly reflected by the way our society and culture has changed over time.

“Cinematic Faith”- Scott Foundas:

This article was an interview with Christopher Nolan from The Film Comment, conducted by Scott Foundas.

The interview relates back to the TFE, as it shows how genre can change and evolve. Nolan had to create a new iteration of Batman and his version is very unlike the classic “comic book” story style. Genre has shifted to be more “relatable”. Nolan discusses this in the interview. He didn’t strive to make his film more realistic necessarily, but more relatable to the audience. Because of this, he says  “the streets would have the same weight and validity of the streets in any other action movie”. Nolan’s films seem to follow some general conventions and formulas, but in the interview it seems that he is looking to change audience expectations. How is The Dark Knight different from other films in its genre? What genre does it belong in?

As I discussed previously, the formulas and conventions of genre can go beyond a general level. Nolan says, in relation to his characters, “if you look at the three of them, Ra’s Al Ghul is almost a religious figure, The Joker is the anti-religious figure, the anti-structure anarchist. And then Bane comes in as a military dictator.” The conventional good guy/bad guy extends to reflect the cultural/religious conflict of our time.

I have never seen this film before, but I thought it was interesting that the Foundas discussed how Bruce Wayne begins to think of himself as the villain. He says this is a dark side of Batman that a Batman movie never really ventured into before. Does Nolan defy the genre stereotypes of the hero as well as the stereotype of Batman movies in general? I think this question will be better able to be answered after our viewing on Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Citizen Kane: Narrative Style and Kane’s Character

Narrative Style

Citizen Kane is a film about the collapse of the “American Dream”, the struggle for love, abuse of power, and the toxicity of wealth. It’s also a film with a central message: no one can ever truly know who someone is. Kane’s story is told through a series of flashbacks, which all seem to contradict each other. As the faceless reporter interviews these various figures in Kane’s life, we get a different perspective each time. Below, I have posted a movie poster for Citizen Kane, in which different characters throughout the film are shown exclaiming different opinions regarding Kane.

When we first begin these interviews, it feels as though we are going to be presented with the truth and that we, the audience, will have an inside look on Citizen Kane and who the man really was. However, by the end of the film, it is clear that the truth has not been presented. The story is told chronologically, as we know with Kane’s aging appearance, but it seems that some events are left out. Each of the storytellers is telling the story that interests/involves them and not the full truth. At the end of the film, we appear to be handed the “missing piece” to the jigsaw puzzle, with the Rosebud engraved sled. However, was this really the final piece? To me, it seems like there are still pieces missing. It’s a jigsaw puzzle that is impossible to complete. No one can ever know who Kane truly was, perhaps not even Kane himself.

Kane’s Character 

I’m not a searcher this week, but I did want to include an article I found because I found it very relevant to character analysis in Citizen Kane. Link to the article: https://blogs.psychcentral.com/movies/2011/12/citizen-kane/. When watching the story of Kane’s life as well as the stories told by others, I got that the sense that Kane could have narcissistic personality disorder. To me, he appeared to lack empathy, had no ability to love someone other than himself,  and was easily upset when things didn’t go his way/he didn’t get what he wanted. After doing a bit of googling, I found the article linked above, which shared my idea and also made some other very interesting points. It is definitely worth the quick read.

I think this theory makes sense with the idea that no one could ever truly know who Kane was. Who is the true person behind the narcissist? Is it possible to know the individual behind that shell? Does an individual exist?

In class, we were asked to think about if/why we feel empathy for Kane’s character, even if we are not rooting for him. I think the story of Kane’s childhood at the beginning of the film, the one story hat I felt I could almost completely believe, helped develop my empathy for Kane’s character. His father is clearly abusive, as he tells Mr. Thatcher (Kane’s future caregiver) that Kane deserves to be beat. The way his father speaks is verbally abusive as well. His mother seems cold and emotionally distant from her son. She tells Thatcher that Charlie’s things have been packed for a while and she says this without any visible emotion. This is unusual for a mother who is basically giving up her son and making him live somewhere else.

I think his childhood is very troubled and this is what leads to his troubled adulthood and the development of his personality. At the end of the film, we see that Kane has died alone, with nothing but material things. In his life, he never obtained any real meaning. Being a human being who does feel empathy and emotion, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for Kane and the way he ended up. The film is set up so we see his childhood early on and I couldn’t help but remember Kane’s childhood innocence and what could have been if his circumstances were different.

Perhaps psychoanalyzing Kane’s character goes against the central message of the movie- that we never truly know a person (and there isn’t one piece of information that will give us an answer). However, perhaps that is partially what Welles wanted us to do. The entire story of the film revolves around discovering who Kane was and the meaning behind his final words. It leaves the viewer helpless at the end of the film and accepting of the fact that Kane was just a sort of enigma. Maybe that’s all we can infer and maybe it is supposed to be left at that. Even when we see the Rosebud sled at the end of the film, though other characters are not aware of its existence, is this really some huge revelation? What does it really tell us?

Old Movie Stars Dance to Uptown Funk

After our viewing of Singin’ in the Rain, I have been watching a lot of Gene Kelly youtube videos and I came across this one yesterday. I thought it was very relevant after Thursday’s class discussion. We were talking about Gene Kelly’s influence in today’s performance culture. We also talked about which of today’s stars could be classified as a “modern-day Gene Kelly”.

This video includes clips from a variety of films, but Gene Kelly and clips from “Singin’ in the Rain” are featured as well. The video is set to Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk”, which I thought was pretty cool considering we brought him up in class as a potential contender for the modern day Gene.

It’s amazing to me that the beat of “Uptown Funk” flows so well with the movement and expression of all of these old movie stars. It’s a really well-edited video and really entertaining as well- a great tribute to old hollywood with a modern beat. Definitely worth the 5 minutes to check it out!

Video  link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1F0lBnsnkE and posted below:

 

 

 

 

Is Gravity a Feminist Film?

Hi everyone! I know we have the week off of blogging, but I wanted to share this article and start a discussion about whether or not Gravity is a feminist film.

Here is the link to the article: http://cinemachords.com/is-gravity-the-feminist-film-everyone-thinks-it-is/.

I had not seen Gravity before, but I heard discussion about it being an extraordinary film with a very strong female lead in Sandra Bullock. While I agree with both of these statements, I don’t agree with the fact that Gravity depicts a woman who is independent and who survives without the help of a man. After all, George Clooney’s character saves Bullock’s character when she is first detached and then comes to her in a vision when she is unconscious and ready to accept death. HE gives her advice in this vision that saves her life and brings her safely back to Earth.

One could argue that this advice was a construct of her own intellect, but ultimately Cuaron chose to communicate this “life-saving idea” through Clooney’s character.

Although the film had many great qualities and was overall a very powerful piece of work, this aspect of the film really disappointed me. Opie goes over other issues with the portrayal of Bullock’s character in this article that didn’t immediately stand out to me, but that I could find fault with once they were pointed out.

What do you guys think? Is Gravity really the groundbreaking feminist film that many believe it to be?

Continuity Editing and the Flashback Technique in Casablanca

As we learned in The Film Experience, continuity editing is a system of cutting used in film to maintain continuous narrative action. The idea of this technique is to create a seamless stream of events that flows effortlessly for the viewer.

This style of editing is used consistently throughout Michael Curtiz’s Casablanca. Below, I have found a short sequence that utilizes continuity editing in our first introduction to Rick’s cafe. I think the author of this clip does a great job of explaining how the style of editing allows the viewer to take in the atmosphere of the cafe and introduces the viewer to Rick’s clientele.

One of my favorite scenes in Casablanca was the Memories of Paris montage sequence. I thought the fade in that Curtiz used was very effective in creating a flashback effect, especially with the fade being white, creating a dreamy vibe, reminiscent of better times for Rick (although the end of the montage does end in his heartbreak). Below, I have posted a clip of the montage, which begins around 1:10.

I found an article by Scott Myers that explains why this flashback sequence is so effective. Here is the link to the article: https://gointothestory.blcklst.com/studies-in-flashbacks-casablanca-7e154431d19c.

An important point that Myers brings up in this article is the fact that flashbacks seem to be a “no-no” in the current Hollywood world. They can often be viewed as extremely cheesy by the audience. Why is this the case? Also, why is it that one of the most cherished films of all time utilizes this supposedly “cheesy” editing mechanism? Myers says that the answer lies in excellent execution, something that is not typically achieved in many of today’s films.

Myers says Casablanca’s montage works for two primary reasons. The first being its structure- there is a clear beginning, middle, and end. The second reason is that it gives us background on Rick and Ilsa’s relationship, which is central to the story in Casablanca.

I would like to know what others thought about the flashback sequence in this film. Did you think it was effective or did you think it came off as cheesy?