The televised phone call from the Zodiac (1969)

when watching the film, I was skeptical of the authenticity of the events and how true this telling of the Zodiac killers story is to reality despite the great level of truthiness the film carried. Though I can’t validate much of the movie I was able to find a recording of the actual televised phone call between Sam (the self-proclaimed Zodiac) and Melvin Belli (played by Brian cox)

watching the actual footage makes the reality of these terrible events tangible. To what extent dose a film maker have a responsibility to accuracy of a film and on the flip side how much creative liberty can he take before the truth of the events are obstructed? Were there any scenes in the film that you doubted actually happened the way they were depicted in the film?

Traumatizing Realism in Zodiac

David Fincher is known to be a perfectionist when it comes to creating his movies. He will film hundreds of takes until he gets the perfect take, just like what he imagined it to be like. In Zodiac, Fincher filmed an insert shot of a book falling on a seat for tens of takes until it fell just right. Furthermore, Fincher and his team worked extraordinarily hard to make the 2007 film as realistic and close as possible to the real events surrounding the Zodiac killer. While his films benefit from this demand for perfection and realism, at what point does realism become too real? In a Film Radar interview (  a survivor of one of the real Zodiac killer’s attacks, Bryan Hartnell, describes just how realistic the scene in Zodiac was to the real attack. “What they’ve captured on the film that you see when Cecilia is being stabbed, that’s the flash I saw happening”, Bryan describes. He continues to reveal that the entire scene was essentially exactly what happened in real life, so realistic that it creeped him out. For the average viewer, this realism is beneficial, allowing the story to be told as close as possible to the truth. However, for the survivors of such attacks, these scenes could bring back horrible memories. There have been many movies, both recently and in the past, that have been criticized as being insensitive to the survivors of the real events, as they either bring back traumatic events or show events they would rather keep private and in the past.

At what point is it ok to film/release a movie based on real events. What is the film creators duty when it comes to reconstructing real events for films? When are realistic films too realistic? Are there any historical events that should be left alone?

Source Evaluation, Review of Manohla Dargis’s Article on Zodiac (2007): “Hunting a Killer as the Age of Aquarius Dies” and other thoughts about the Zodiac Killer

Dargis wrote this article  in 2007, around the time the movie was released. Therefore, I believe it delivers great insight on how David Fincher’s <em>Zodiac</em> was initially received. This is interesting because it was one of the first all digital films. The article can be found here:


The digital aspect of the film seemed to have no bearing on the author’s opinion of it. This is an excellent and glowing review of Fincher’s movie. It is detailed and gives examples  that illustrate the author’s thoughts. However, there is not enough criticism and too much plot summary. It seems like it could double as an ad for the movie.  The author focuses  on Fincher’s attention to detail. He focuses on the movie’s accuracy to the depicted time period.  Also, he describes the mise-en-scène well.  The author does not mention this, but I believe that the digital aspect of this film gave Fincher the ability to be detailed oriented and look into the past. His visual effects can be found here: 


My favorite paragraph is here:

The story structure is as intricate as the storytelling is seamless, with multiple time-and-place interludes neatly slotted into two distinct sections. The first largely concerns the murders and the investigations; the second, far shorter one involves Graysmith’s transformation of the murders and the investigations into a narrative. ~ Manohla Dargis.


I believe this paragraph describes the whole movie well. There is a scary, horror aspect to this film. Then it launches into an investigative film. Lastly, it focuses on the Graysmith’s life after the investigation. It fleshes out him as a character further. The movie then focuses more on Graysmith’s condition during the investigation. He quits his job and writes a book while his home life slowly degrades.

The Real Zodiac Killer 

After the movie, I wanted to know if Arthur Leigh Allen was actually the Zodiac Killer.  So, I decided to examine the works of internet sleuths. Here is a current website dedicated to finding the Zodiac killer:

The have a pretty convincing article that points to a man named Gaikowski because the letters GYKE can be found in one of the Zodiac letters.  Also, Gaikowski looks more like the victim’s description of the killer. Also, in 2002, the FBI took a DNA test of the stamp of one of the letters and found it does not match Arthur Leigh Allen. However, it turned out the DNA was from the top of the stamp. So it still can be allen:


David Fincher’s Obsession with Detail in Zodiac

There seems to be two fronts on which Fincher dished out his meticulous deditication to making everything perfectly the way he wanted in Zodiac (2007). The first being during the production phase. Fincher would be able to control the shots through mise-en-scene and cinematography. Getting the framing and the lighting just right, having the right depth of field, and getting the actors to do the right thing (1989). I found a great example that illustrates Fincher’s attention to detail during production by showing every insert shot in Zodiac:

The other way that Fincher controlled the small details of his film was through digital effects in post-production. Fincher strived to make his film look as realistic as possible. Ironically (and very much against the philosophy of Christopher Nolan), he chose to use digital effects over practical effects to accomplish that. I found some (unfortunately very low-res) special features that breaks down the use of digital effects in Zodiac:

These video show the surprising extent that digital effects were used in this film. They also, however, serve to justify this use for certain cases. For instance, the shooting of the couple at the beginning of the film. To do that as practically and realistically as possible, Fincher would have actually shoot people. No one, obviously, can do that. So to film that scene and have it look as realistic as possible, he had the blood resulting from the bullet wounds be inserted digitally. And not just the blood showing on the skin, but it splattering on the seats of the car. This was his way of making this scene look real, because it really did happen. These effects could easily, as in Speed Racer (2008), look fake. But the post-production team worked meticulously to make them look real. And they do. That’s why it is so surprising to see how much digital effects are used in Fincher’s films.

This makes me wonder through, which ideology is better? Fincher’s or Nolan’s? Maybe the perfect balance probably lies somewhere in between.

The Future of Cinema

After our class Tuesday, I was left with a question: what does the future of cinema look like? I know this class has really opened my eyes up to the amounts of innovation happening in the film industry. It’s crazy to thing that in a relatively short time, special effects in film have transformed from something like this,  with obvious cuts that look silly and unrealistic now, to this, where special effects are used to literally bring an actor back to life to play a role.

Here is an article outlining several more technologies that will continue to change the way special effects are used in film:

(note: I don’t mean to be clickbait-ey, but look at #6! Do we really want to live in a world where computers write screenplays?! Scary stuff…)

Special effects are the most obvious area for innovation, but there are also many changes happening in the way that movies are actually viewed. This article from just thirty years ago predicted that movies will no longer just be viewed in theaters, but will be accessible with just a click. We all know how accurate this prediction is, as Netflix accomplishes this for more than 125 million users. What Ebert couldn’t have predicted, however, is that nearly anyone from any part of the world would be able to watch any movie on a device that can fit in your pocket. Watching a film has become more accessible than ever, which in my opinion is a pretty positive innovation. This article talks about how companies are using this mass accessibility to actually crowdsource what films people actually want to see. I have no idea if this is good or bad for the future of cinema, as sometimes mass support doesn’t really result in the best outcome.

Here’s one final article that has some industry experts weighing in on what they believe the future of cinema will be:

If there was anyone to have a good guess of what the future of the film industry will be, it would be people like Lucas and Spielberg. But who really knows? I just know that I am looking forward to the innovations that are bound to happen in the years to come.

The Identity of the Zodiac Killer

The principle suspect in both the book Zodiac and its film adaptation of the same name, Zodiac (2007 Fincher), Arthur Leigh Allen, was heavily implicated as the Zodiac Killer. The film’s closing credits make note that Allen may have been exonerated by a partial DNA mismatch. I’ve linked a story from the San Francisco Weekly disputing this story.

It is also worth noting that the handwriting matches which helped stop the investigation into Allen, courts of law have been mixed as to whether handwriting analysis can be considered as substantial evidence. I’ve linked an interesting article discussing this.

I’ve embedded a series of interviews concerning him from the Special Edition of the film Zodiac. As a forewarning, I found this a bit disturbing. The descriptions are at times graphic.


In Defense of Arthur Leigh Allen, there is no clear evidence he is guilty. The most important thing to remember when discussing whether Arthur Leigh Allen is that all evidence against him is purely circumstantial.

I’ve linked to stories with several other potential suspects:

Earl Van Best, Jr.:

George Russell Tucker:

Louis Joseph Meyers:

For even more, visit:

All-in-all, I doubt the Zodiac killings will ever be solved definitively. I’ve attached a sketch artist’s sketch of the Zodiac Killer and a picture of Arthur Leigh Allen to help you draw your own conclusions.

To help you draw better conclusions, I’ve attached compelling evidence that Ted Cruz is the Zodiac Killer.

As a final note, the misspellings and strange grammar in the Zodiac’s cryptogram are not unusual as is shown by the Kryptos Sculpture at the CIA’s headquarters.

Doing the Right Thing 25 years later (2014)

I found an entertaining and in-depth article in The New Yorker that chronicles a screening of this iconic Spike Lee film on its 25th anniversary. Several prominent figures in the motion picture industry give their thoughts on how the film and the concepts it depicts have aged over time. Several reflect on the emotions they originally experienced when the film debuted. Patrick Harrison, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s director of New York programs, recalls the high-energy introduction of the film: “Who is this guy? Who is this director? And who is that hot chick dancing in the credits?”

“Fight the Power” is the omnipresent soundtrack of the evening. The author remarks on its lasting energy, even 25 years later. Jokes are made on the subject of Spike’s spandex bike shorts, and the author’s recollection of the environment is lighthearted and warm. Danny Aiello, the actor that portrayed Sal in the movie, recalls being entirely unaware that the movie was political in nature. It was simply “a beautiful film” to him until the rather charged finale. While the environment is never anything but friendly, obviously some questions pertinent to race dynamics are asked. Danny Aiello is asked whether he’s ever had white people congratulate or compliment the actions he takes toward Radio Raheem (smashing his radio at the very least, arguably setting into motion the sequence of events that killed Radio Raheem). While the answer was “no”, he recalls how he’s been congratulated for the actions of his character in another film where he “throws a Puerto Rican off a roof”. People were more horrified by the actions of his character than anything.

The film is hardly a picture of unity between the contentious communities it depicts. When asked if the film represents the genuine experience of some of the actors, the general consensus is that it does. Luis Ramos remarks that when he grew up in the area, the cultures of other nationalities were as foreign to him as any place he’d never been. “You’re forced to grow up with each other in New York City. And learn. And that’s something that ‘Do the Right Thing’ captures really well. ” The main theme of the film, according to him, is “You’re all in this together… Until you’re not.”, which is a broad stroke that pretty accurately depicts the action during the riot at Sal’s.

Other actors had to rely on their own personal inventiveness to align with Spike’s vision. Radio Raheem, arguably one of the most important characters of the film, is portrayed by Luis Ramos. He had this to say about his experience: “I’m going to tell you a secret. I was not this young black kid from Brooklyn. I was a thirty-five-year-old from Atlanta. So that was the secret, of me capturing my young black manhood—I was fakin’ it, man.”

The iconic dance scenes that Rosie Perez executes to open the film weren’t originally set to Public Enemy. According to Perez, they were originally supposed to do 60s style dancing, and that the transition to Public Enemy happened during aSarah Larson particularly grueling day of work.

“Freakin’ eight hours later, this freakin’ man had me still dancing. I had tennis elbow, my knee was swelling. So I forgot about the lyrics, the original words—you know, Elvis, John Wayne? To me, it was all Spike, Spike, Spike, I hate you, I hate you, I hate you!”

The article provides a fascinating “behind the scenes” of the making of the film, and confirms that its staying power continues to be its exploration of contentious race relations. These themes are ever present in current society just about everywhere in the world. The time since the original filming allows for the more important and vivid memories to be distilled out of the actors and creators’ brains, and certainly provides for an interesting read.

Do the Right Thing: Police Brutality and Ideology

Although it’s been nearly 30 years since Spike Lee made Do the Right Thing, the film is still relevant today; unfortunately, it doesn’t feel as though much progress has been made in the last few decades regarding racial tension and police brutality. This article details some of the racially charged events in the 1980’s that inspired the film, especially the 1986 Howard Beach Incident, in which a confrontation outside a pizza parlor resulted in the death of 23-year-old Michael Griffith, who was hit by a car after being chased into traffic on the Belt Parkway. The film is also dedicated to the families of Eleanor Bumpurs, Michael Griffith, Arthur Miller, Edmund Perry, Yvonne Smallwood and Michael Stewart, who were all black New Yorkers killed in the recent years before the film.

However, these types of events have even continued today; some recent events practically mirror the events in the film. Radio Raheem’s death by police chokehold is uncomfortably familiar to the the 2014 death of Eric Garner (often called the “Gentle Giant”), who was strangled to death during a police takedown. Shortly after the footage of Garner’s death went viral, Spike Lee posted a compilation video of Garner’s death and Radio Raheem’s death in the film

Warning – This video is very uncomfortable and shows Eric Garner’s death.

Unfortunately, although the use of force by police is poorly monitored/documented, it seems as though police killings/police brutality has hardly improved. This website gives some easy-to-read police violence statistics for recent years. Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, 30% of black victims were unarmed, and 69% of the victims were suspected of a non-violent crime. In fact, levels of crime in a city do not even seem to have a correlation between the likelihood of police killings. Most strikingly, 99% of cases in 2015 have not resulted in the officer being convicted of a crime.

So why are we still having the same issues with police brutality that were present in a 29-year-old film? I suspect part of it is due to our society’s ideology. Beyond a police officer’s official duties, there is an ideological justification for police violence. A large portion of society expects this of police officers, and therefore gives them the authority to be violent. I recognize that there are many gray areas and case-by-case bases on this topic, but this ideology is so ingrained in our society that no matter how obviously avoidable a killing may be, someone will try to justify it. It’s admirable and important that Spike Lee steps away from this ideology to show what real experiences with racial tension and police violence feel like. It is also interesting that he does it in a way that lets the viewer reflect on their own views and beliefs without forcing them to change their ideology.


The Complete Permeation of Ideology in Life

This video talks about the existence of ideology in general and uses visuals from film, specifically superhero and serial killer films, to assist that. I find it interesting how ideology is described as a perspective that is specific to the individual, being fed by the individual experiences of a person while also feeding directly into the experiences that individual has in a recurring cycle. As humans, we are trapped within our own experiences and perspectives, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to completely understand how our ideologies compare with the ideologies of others. If people are unable to see the effects of their ideology and other people are clearly able to see how certain ideologies affect them, a rift forms between the two people. Ideology informs language and decisions in everyday life. Because of this, everything that exists and happens has some sort of ideology behind it. The language we use to communicate is built on perspectives of the people who created it and popularized it. The people in power make their decisions based on their ideologies, which leads to injustice. The fact that people’s experiences are limited and different from each other on the individual level, creates ideologies in everyone and about everything. I found it interesting what the video said about every sign having an ideology with it. The words, the message, and the purpose of the sign are an ideology in themselves. It made me think about the signs and words that appear in films and what they mean. Specifically, I thought about the clip we watched in class from They Live (1988). As Roddy Piper put on the glasses, he saw the messages that the signs and words around him were really saying. He saw the ideologies existing within the words and the messages innately. However, it is important to note that Piper was looking at these words through his own eyes and with his own ideologies and the film as a whole was made by people with their own experiences and ideologies attached to them. Ideology has permeated life so thoroughly that observing and dissecting ideologies of another person is affected by the ideologies of the observer.

Conflicting Ideologies in Do The Right Thing

Spike Lee’s film, Do The Right Thing, is as relevant now in America as it was when it was created nearly 30 years ago. Racial tensions remain nearly as high, or at least they seem to, in part because of the intense media focus on racial tensions. Roger Ebert interviewed Spike Lee in 1991 about many things but some questions specifically referred to Do The Right Thing, and many questions dealt with race relations in general.

Lee stated that the majority of the white viewers primarily identified Sal as the most sympathetic character, but black audiences viewed him as exploitative and racist while instead identifying more with Mookie. It does not surprise me that white and black people identify more with the white and black characters respectively as that has a cultural basis. Sal is certainly more likable than Pino. I did not find Sal to be overtly racist, however, simply proud of his Italian heritage just as Buggin’ Out and Radio Raheem are proud of thiers. The riot that occurs follows much conflict, but the first destruction of property occurs when Mookie throws the trash can through the store window. Mookie seems to align in his ideals more with Malcolm X than Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolence. I found that aspect of Lee’s answer somewhat surprising. The cautious reconciliation that occurs at the end with Sal and Mookie is redeeming to both of their characters, however, and serves to show that despite each of their flaws, it is possible to move beyond the differences in race.