Apocalypse now Blog post

One of the main themes in Francis Cappola’s Apoclypse Now is the immense toll that war has on a person’s psyche. The scene where Willard and the crew encounters a small civilian boat while traversing Nung River perfectly encapsulates this idea. A minute into Chef’s inspection of the seemingly harmless civilian boat for weapons, Mr. Clean freaks out and kills almost everyone on it.  War has caused Clean to become so callous to death and violence that he becomes incredibly paranoid and does not think twice about machine gunning a whole boat’s worth of innocent people. The people on the boat did nothing to suggest that they were a threat. Yet due to Clean’s extreme paranoia stemming from his damaged psyche, he does not read the situation properly that and decides that machine-gunning down potentially innocent people is the best course of action. Chef finishes his inspection of the boat and finds no weapons, only animals. After it was assumed that Clean had killed all the civilians, Chef finds a young woman who’s injured, but can be saved if taken to a nearby friendly outpost and administered medical treatment. Instead of saving her, Willard climbs aboard the boat and shoots her in the face.  Trying to save the woman would distract him from his mission. War has influenced him to hold no value for innocent, human life. The “mission” take precedence over innocent human life. Therefore, Willard saw it fit to eliminate the “distraction”.

One of the reasons many people consider Apocalypse Now a masterpiece is because of its brilliant incorporation of sound. The scene that best exemplifies the sound in Apocalypse Now is when Kilgore and PBR crew deliver a napalm strike on the villages. Instead of using non-diegetic sound (sound that the audience can hear but the characters on screen cannot) like most other films, the classic song, Ride of the Valkyries is played over the speaker of the helicopters. The PBR and friends supplement the music with the sound of machine guns and exploding napalm missiles.  By using diegetic sound as apposed to non-diegetic, the scene becomes exponentially more intense and epic.

Although some would argue that addition of the Playboy USO show in the 2001 “redux” version of Apocalypse Now does not improve the original film and instead detracts from it, if one looks deeper it is clear that the scene has underlying symbolism and is not purely eye candy. The scene highlights the differences in the American and Vietnamese culture. While U.S. soldiers go absolutely insane and fawn over playboy models ,the Vietnamese are disciplined and preoccupy themselves with only things that can help them prevail in the war.

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Weekend Blog Post

Weekend

One of the Main themes in Jean Luc-Godard’s film is violence. However, this violence is not the usual type of violence that we’ve discussed in other films for this class like Psycho, The Shining, or Zero Dark Thirty. For example, when Paul’s sports car collides with a tractor and supposedly dies in the wreck, the camera cuts to shots of Paul lying in the crushed vehicle. However, instead appearing motionless and dead, he can be seen expanding and contracting his chest in order to inhale and exhale. Additionally, the tractor driver he collides with is more concerned with the fact that Paul’s car damaged his tractor than the tragedy of a person dying. Paul’s girlfriend is preoccupied with bragging to the tractor driver about how wealthy her and her supposedly dead boyfriend are ,rather than experiencing any kind of normal kind reaction to death .  People attitude towards death is violence is very odd in this film.

                Social context also plays a major role in Weekend. In this film, literally nothing makes rational sense. Animal deaths are portrayed as more grotesque and serious than Human deaths.  Human deaths are so obviously fake, it’s comical. Godard uses unorthodox film techniques to challenge Hollywood standard of movie making. The film is supposed to be treated as art cinema. For this reason, Godard also makes the narrative very uneven and leaves unresolved conflicts.

                Although one could argue that Godard uses these odd techniques in an attempt to alienate the audience and remove them from the film, this is in fact false. Instead he uses blatantly fake blood and deaths for comedic effect. This film is really a black comedy at its roots and should not be treated with any sort of realism.

Extra Credit

Over the summer, I saw the Seth Rogen directed film This is the End. Although the film doesn’t take itself that seriously, it definitely challenges conventional Hollywood film techniques. The most notable one being, that all the actors use their real names for their characters and play an a exaggerated version of themselves. I thought this was incredibly unusual, as the only time you see actors playing themselves on screen is in short cameo appearances. This is the only film I’ve seen where the entire film centers around real life actors portraying their own personalities.       

The Shining Blog post

One of the main themes in the Shining is that of the supernatural. In the film, Jack’s son,  Danny, and the   hotel chef have psychological abilities, which are referred to as “the shining”. Both can communicate via telepathy, as evidenced in one of the first scenes, where Hallorann telepathically offers Danny ice cream, when The Torrences first arrive at The Overlook Hotel.  The whole supernatural aspect of the film increases the overall scariness and shock factor. For example, where Danny has a telepathic vision of the elevator overflowing with blood, as this is one of the scariest moments in film history.Even after seeing the film multiple times and knowing what to expect, that scene still frightens me.

Mis-en-scene plays an important role in making The Shining as scary it is. Putting a troubled family in a haunted hotel in the secluded, snowy, mountains of Colorado is the perfect premise for a horror film. Couple that with the fact some of the characters have supernatural , psychological ability, and you have the winning formula for a scary horror-suspense flick.

Although The Shining is absolutely a good movie and definitely delivers some scary moments, some of the acting throughout the film is rather lacking. Two of the most notable examples are Jack and his wife Wendy. Wendy does not make a great contribution to the film. Writer Stephen King makes a interesting comment about Wendy When talking about the film-version of his book, he says “Shelly Duvall as Wendy is really one of the most misogynistic characters ever put on film, she’s basically just there to scream and be stupid and that’s not the woman that I wrote about.” Though not as bad Shelly Duvall, Jack Nicholson does not do an exceptional job portraying Jack Torrance. He’s shallow and simple. The viewer gets the impression that he is crazy right at the start of movie. He should of portrayed his character with a bit more ambiguity and finesse, so the viewer doesn’t get the impression that he’s crazy from the get-go. There should be a gradual fall towards insanity as the film progresses.

Citizen Kane Blog post

One of the main themes that is prevalent throughout Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is the clichéd notion that money does not buy happiness, friendship, or love. Charles Foster is portrayed as rich newspaper publisher who lives in a luxurious palace/castle. After two failed marriages, Welles’ spends the years following in total isolation. The only people he interacts with is his staff. Although, he lives in the lap of luxury and has all the resources in the world, he is depressed and lonely. He sacrificed his marriages, which represent love and happiness, for money (his newspaper business).  

                Many critics and casual viewers alike regard Citizen Kane as one of the greatest films in the history of cinema. This strong opinion of the film stems of the film stems from the fact that it is a cinematography masterpiece. One of the most notable pieces of cinematography that Welles’ utilizes is the deep focus shot.   The deep focus shot allows the viewer to see everything in an image clearly. In other words, everything in the foreground, middle ground, and background is not obscured and totally in the field of view . The scene that is often cited as best utilization of this camera technique is where Kane’s mother discusses with Thatcher about the prospect of sending Charles off to live with him. In the scene, Thatcher and Kane’s mother can be seen the foreground, Kane’s father can be seen in the middle ground on the right hand side, and young Charles can be seen in a window in the middle of the room, playing outside in the snow. This cinematography gives an underlying symbolism. Charles is seen through the middle window playing the background because he is the center of the conversation. Charles’ mother and Thatcher are on the same side of the room because they are in agreement that it would be best for Charles to leave. Kane’s father is on the complete opposite side of the room because he disagrees with his wife and Thatcher. He does not want Charles to be sent off.

                Although many argue Orson Welles’ deserves most of the credit for the masterpiece that is Citizen Kane, cinematographer Greg Toland should get more credit for his work because the brilliant cinematography is what propelled the film into greatness.  Proponents of giving all the credit to Welles’ would argue the introduction of method acting is more important and is a bigger contribution to the art of cinema rather than the groundbreaking cinematography. Although both of these aspects were important contributions, the revolutionary cinematography absolutely takes precedence over the acting. Had this new type of cinematography not been introduced in this film, the film would not be considered a classic. If you take the method acting out, the film is still considered a classic because the cinematography is that good.  

Far From Heaven Blog Post

                One of the main themes in Far From Heaven is racism in the late 1950’s. Racism is ultimately one of two factors that pushes Frank over the edge to end his marriage with Cathy. Because Cathy was spotted in public with a black man, he is pushed to file for divorce. This is actually incredibly ironic considering the fact that Frank was also participating in a relationship that was considered unacceptable during that time period, a relationship with another man.   Frank’s racist feelings towards Raymond can be compared to a black person holding racist views of another minority. It’s simply not rational. How can you (as a black person) hate another person because of the color of their skin while you were enslaved, persecuted, and shunned for the same exact reason. The hypocritical example can be applied to Frank’s racist views.

When Cathy catches Frank kissing another man,  Frank says “I can’t.” “I don’t.” “What?” “You see…uh, once, a long time ago…a long, long time ago I had…uh…uh, problems.” This quote perfectly encapsulates the ideology in the late 1950’s. Instead of accepting homosexuality, people during the late 1950’s saw gay people as “having problems.” This ideology is further evident in the scene where Cathy takes frank to a “Conversion Therapist” in an effort to convert him into a heterosexual. This proves unsuccessful, as Frank ultimately divorces his wife and leaves in order to  have a relationship with another man

Far from Heaven shows much progress we have made as a society in terms of social issues. The film accurately portrays the stigma or taboo attached to romantic relationships between two people of the same sex during that time period. This strongly contrasts today, where it is generally socially acceptable to be gay and a person can openly participate in a homosexual relationship without dangerous repercussions. The acceptance of gay marriage is evident in the fact that some states in U.S. actually have legal gay marriage and some of the most popular shows on television revolve around gay couples (a.k.a modern family). In addition, it is now socially acceptable to for a white person to participate in a romantic relationship with a black person. This strongly contrasts the film, where Cathy is shunned by the community and Raymond’s daughter is assaulted for having a romantic relationship with a member of a different race.

Final Essay: Genre and Social Commentary in Psycho and American Psycho

In Alfred Hitchcock Psycho, a secretary in a real estate office, Marion Crane, steals $40,000 from her boss and attempts to skip town. Because of her greed, she is ultimately murdered by a serial killer with “multiple personality disorder”, Norman Bates. In Mary Harron’s American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is a narcissistic investment banker who only cares about material items and his reputation. His extreme obsession with materialism leads him to hate everyone and everything. This intense loathing of the world pushes him to become a serial killer.  These films challenge conventional Hollywood filmmaking techniques and essentially redefine the genre of Horror because of their unique serial-killer protagonists and the identity crisis that drives the characters to become killers.  Although accomplished through different means, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Mary Harron’s American Psycho also provide a stark social commentary on the downfalls of materialism and the dangers of the lust for wealth.

Prior to the creation of Psycho, your run-of-the mill, horror-flick, serial killer would be either a disfigured, ugly monster or an introverted, awkward stalker. However, “Psycho was Hitchcock’s anti-thesis to many of the larger than life Technicolor thrillers …that preceded it “(Kendrick). In other words, Hitchcock rejects the Hollywood film standards of the early 1960’s/late 1950’s in Psycho, by creating the character of Norman Bates. Unlike his predecessors, Norman Bates, played by Anthony Perkins, is portrayed as a handsome, charming, and suave man. Hitchcock “wanted audiences to be able to sympathize with Bates and genuinely like the character, so he made him more of a ‘boy next door’” instead of an oafish brute (Leigh).  Bates charming persona is captured in the still frame below, from the scene where he has a lengthy conversation with Marion.Norman 2

Although superficially, Bates comes off as good-looking, charismatic, normal guy, he has an extreme case of multiple personality disorder, a mental disorder in which  “two distinct and relatively enduring identities or dissociated personality-states alternately control a person’s behavior” (manual of medical disorders). In, Norman’s case, the alternate personality that controls his behavior is that of his mother.  When Norman was a young boy, his mother brainwashed him into believing that “sex is evil and that all women (except herself) are whores” (Princeton.edu).  When his mother becomes romantically involved with another man during Norman’s adolescence, He is overcome with jealousy and murders both of them. He “develops dissociative identity disorder (a.k.a. multiple personality disorder) assuming his mother’s personality, repressing her death as a way to escape the guilt of murdering her” (Princeton.edu). This idea of a dual identity singlehandedly redefined what a horror film serial killer could be and thus, revolutionized the genre.

The success of Psycho and Hitchcock’s unorthodox serial killer paved the way for American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman.  Marry Harron clearly crafts the character of Patrick Bateman, played by Christian Bale, in the Norman Bates mold. Although he does not suffer from multiple personality disorder like Bates, Bateman also experiences a major conflict of identity throughout the film. Just like Bates, Patrick’s conflict of identity causes him to become a serial killer and brutally murder people for no rational reason.

In order to better analyze Patrick Bateman’s identity crisis, one needs to understand his background. Patrick Bateman is a rich, young, handsome, and charismatic vice-president of a huge investment bank on Wall Street. His fiancé , Evelyn, a beautiful and smart woman in her own right, also holds a high level position at the company. Patrick’s life revolves around dining at fancy restaurants, buying expensive designer clothing, and living in his ritzy loft in downtown Manhattan. But despite seemingly living “The American Dream”, he develops an extreme disdain for the world and people in general.  Patrick articulates these feelings in a monologue “I have all the characteristics of a human being. Flesh. Blood. Skin. Hair. But not a single, clear, identifiable emotion, except for greed, and disgust.” In this quote, Patrick realizes that his life is a hollow shell that revolves solely around image and money. He becomes callous, the only thing things that illicit an emotional response from him are attacks on his reputation and money. The only identifying factors in Patrick’s life are material. Film critic Nadine Klemens further supports this claim “Bateman is an idea and an image, but empty and void of deep identity…He cannot differentiate between products and people , consumption and affect: he’s flat superficial, and ultimately unfathomable” (Klemens). In order to satiate his newfound nihilistic inclinations and compensate for his lack of identity outside of material things, Bateman begins gruesomely murdering people.

Albeit not nearly as blatant and “in-your-face” as the social commentary on the dangers of materialism in American Psycho, Hitchcock does provide a subtle message on the subject in Psycho. The film opens with a scene of Marion proclaiming to her boyfriend, Sam, “Let’s get married.” Sam expresses interest in tying the knot, but says he cannot afford to support both of them. So when Marion, who is a secretary in a real estate firm, is entrusted with a client’s $40,000 down payment for new house, she decides to take off and leave town, in hopes of eventually using that money to support her and Sam’s marriage. While on the run, she unknowingly goes to stay a motel managed by mentally ill serial killer, Norman Bates. By the time feels overcome with guilt and changes her mind and decides to return  the money, it is already too late. Mere Moments after her revelation, Norman Bates, as “Mother”, stabs her to death. Had she decided not to take off with the money, she would of never encountered Norman Bates and would not have suffered her untimely death. Marion’s greed ultimately killed her.

In closing, Alfred Hitchcock and Mary Harron revolutionize the genre of horror through their films because of their eccentric and iconic serial killers. Both films also serve as social commentary that warns of the incredible dangers of materialism. Even more, these films not only advance the horror genre, but impact cinema as a whole by reinforcing the idea that a villain can be more than just an ugly, intimidating bad guy.

           Works Cited

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: Dsm-iv-tr. Washington, DC: American

Psychiatric Association, 2000. Print.

Kendrick, James. “Disturbing New Pathways: Psycho And The Priming Of The Audience.”

Journal Of Popular Film & Television 38.1 (2010): 2-9. Film & Television Literature

            Index with Full Text. Web. 15 Dec. 2013.

Klemens, Nadine. “The Great Depression Is Our Lives”. Busted Boomers and Identity Crises in Generation X, American Psycho and

            Fight Club. N.p.: Grin Verlag, 2007. Print.

Leigh, Janet. Psycho : Behind the Scenes of the Classic Thriller. Harmony Press, 1995.

“Norman Bates.” Princeton.edu. Princeton University, n.d. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.