The Death of Cinema?

Anne Friedberg writes about most of the advancements in the technology of cinema since its inception.  She talks about how movies, television and computers are all viable ways to find entertainment, but are “losing their medium-based specificity.”  This brings to mind the many similarities between the cinematography of video games to movies.  Like how Grand Theft Auto is shot just like a film or sports videogames, especially the more recent ones, mimic live games on television.  

She mentions the three things that she believes most transformed the televisual experience.  These are the VCR, cable and the remote control.  This article is a little dated but I’m under the impression that had the DVR been around then, it would have been included.  In my opinion, no other technological advancement has influenced our experience more than the DVR, for allowing us to take advantage of all that television has to offer without the inconveniences of time schedules and commercials.

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Psychoanalysis/ Spectatorship/ Sexual Difference

Christian Metz points out a major difference between cinema and all other forms of art.  While a sculpture or a painting may evoke a strong emotional reaction, they are restricted to the solitary sense of sight, and while an orchestral piece may bring forth tears, it also targets only our auditory sense.   However, cinema uses two senses, being both visual and auditory.  The two senses combine to make the audience feel as though the film were real, or at least realer than a book or drawing.  The desire to see and hear brings out a passion in the viewer that they supposedly would not get from other media.  I don’t know how the audiences during the Silent Era reacted to their films, at least not firsthand, but I am willing to bet that they also viewed film as the closest representation to reality, much like the photograph.  And this was with only vision in the equation.

Laura Mulvey, on the other hand, deals with the attitude that cinema exhibits toward women.  She claims that most Hollywood films are made by men and ultimately only portray man’s perspective.  She says that all women in film are either fetishized or punished, in order to control and objectify them.  Another way that film controls and objectifies women is through its three layers of “gaze”.  This “gaze” comes from the characters, the cameras and the spectators.  I guess now that a woman has won the Oscar for best director, we can put this theory to rest.  By the way, I did not feel like The Hurt Locker and Big were out of my grasp because they were directed by women.   And I don’t think that Penny Marshall is secretly a man either.

Mary Anne Doane also talks about the role of the female as a viewer of cinema.  She also speaks about the “gaze” of the viewer.  She refers to the relationship between the female in the audience and a male onscreen.  Women may say that they are more attracted to romance, but a hot guy will usually elicit some sort of objectification from the opposite gender.  While we men are waiting for the beautiful woman to appear throughout the new James Bond movie, the women are exposed to Daniel Craig all film long.

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Corporeality, Sensation, History, and Spectatorship

Tom Gunning writes about how, in the early days of the medium, films were based on visual spectacles and wonder, like the famous “Grand Café” screening, which allegedly caused its audience to scream in fear as the image of a train kept getting closer and closer to them.  While this may have occurred in such a dramatic fashion, there is no doubt that they were blown away by the technology, much like how we react to 3D films like Avatar.  So many entertainment-based technological developments have happened in the past hundred years that we take for granted the awesomeness that is moving pictures.

Linda Williams, in her piece ‘Film Bodies: Gender, Genre and Excess’, explains that there are three types of “Body Genres”, which are basically movies that cause strong emotional reactions, yet are critically ignored.  These are the ‘Weepies’, or melodramas, horror and pornography.  Melodramas elicit tears, horror films frighten us and pornography turns us on.  Nevertheless, these genres are not generally considered important or intellectual.  Williams says that these films are important because they are vehicles for our innermost anxieties.  I agree more with the general consensus that these films should not be considered so important unless they carry some other characteristic besides stimulating our senses.  I love most horror movies, but I don’t respect them as great films unless they possess some deeper meaning, like The Shining or 28 Days Later.   I enjoy watching gross-out horror films, like The Hills Have Eyes or Freddy vs Jason, but am not compelled to take them seriously as works of art.

Vivian Sobchack has a different take on films that try to bring forth a powerful emotional response.  She considers our human biological responses to film, like how our senses and our brains are manipulated by the pictures on the screen and the sounds emitted by the speakers.  This is the same manipulation we feel during a moving song or painting, but I think that movies attack our bodies with even more force because they incorporate twice as many senses.

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Topic Idea

I would like to write about some of Woody Allen’s earlier works and his use of genre, auteurism and realism. In particular, I want to utilize Annie Hall, his most universally admired work, Zelig, his commentary on the human condition, and The Purple Rose of Cairo, in my opinion, his most creative project.

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The Auteur Theory and Modern Directors

The auteur theory expresses the director’s unique fingerprints on his work, which I guess I have taken for granted, being a citizen of the 21st century.  Personally, I can not imagine a world where people and critics do not give sufficient credit to the artistic presence in film directors. 

In his 1972 essay, The Auteur Theory, Peter Wollen states that there are main schools of critics concerning the auteur theory: “those who insisted on revealing a core of meanings, of thematic motifs” and “those who stressed style and mise en scene.”  According to the former, you can see a constant core of beliefs along with recurring motifs and incidents.  To the latter, you can recognize a director from identifying the same visual style and tempo in each of their films.

Andrew Sarris says in his essay, Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962, that, according to the theory, the director is reflected in three ways: technique, personality and interior meaning.  Technique represents the “technical competence of a director as a criterion of value.”  Personality is reflected through “the visual treatment of material rather than through the literary content of material.”  Lastly, the interior meaning is “extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material.”  Sarris goes on to equate the personality with the soul, meaning only what distinguishes an individual from others.

Given that each of these essays was written decades ago, I figured that I would plug some modern directors into the theory.  David Lynch, for example, is a great director who made movies that can easily be identified as his work.  The actors in his films are usually unimportant and the plots are often confusing or incomprehensible.  But, thanks to his authorship, comprised of his technique, personality, and use of interior meaning, these movies become disturbing and insightful.

While reading these pieces, I immediately thought of the recurring themes in Quentin Tarantino’s movies.  He consistently reuses settings, such as bathrooms, car interiors and bars.  Tarantino also appreciates the themes of drugs, violence, unrealistically cool men and strong women.  His style isn’t solely reflected through plot elements.  He also has a penchant for off-screen action and extreme close-ups.

Finally, the Coen brothers can be identified not just by their use of fat men with large personalities, like John Goodman or James Gandolfini, but also by their use of scenery. They portray plenty of open space, often dwarfing the characters residing there, like the desert in No Country for Old Men, the snow in Fargo or the forest in Miller’s Crossing.  Concerning the interior meaning of their work, we can guess that this represents the characters’ powerlessness over their own fate.

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Dr. Caligari and Full Metal Jacket

Much like at least a few of you, I have Professor Luckett’s Monday class on Kubrick films.  So, while reading Siegfried Kracauer’s essay, From Caligari to Hitler, I was immediately reminded of that class’s most recent viewing, Full Metal Jacket

Kracauer points out that it was the intention of Mayer and Janowitz, the Austrian co-authors of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, to have their film symbolize the authoritarianism of post-war Germany.  Kracauer proceeds to point out that their movie is a foreshadowing of Hitler and the rise of the Third Reich, which is a pretty eerie conclusion.  According to Kracauer, Dr. Caligari represents the wartime government in Germany by standing for “unlimited authority that idolizes power” and “violates all human rights and values.”  This leaves the unwitting somnambulist Cesare to represent the “common man, who under the pressure of compulsory military service, is drilled to kill and be killed.” 

So, this is all disturbingly similar to what happened in Germany almost 30 years later, but that last quote reminded me of the American military’s boot camp on Paris Island in the first half of Full Metal Jacket.  Please don’t misunderstand me; I am not comparing the American military to the Nazis, even concerning the war in Vietnam.  I am merely pointing out that when there is a draft and ordinary citizens become trained killers with no fear of death, it is akin to an act of hypnosis.  Kracauer parallels Dr. Caligari’s use of hypnosis to Hitler’s manipulation of the masses, but where does it end?  Any sense of nationalism or cultural identity could then be categorized as authoritarian sensibilities forced upon the people in order to make them slaves of the government.  This is pointed out later, when Kracauer says that in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, the opposite of the tyranny represented by the doctor is not freedom but rather the chaos exhibited by the expressionist artists who designed the unsettling set.  So, it turns out that without a certain amount of tyranny there is anarchy and without some anarchy there is pure tyranny.

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