Wednesday, December 28, 2005

A Creature Feature of Colossal Importance

Despite having state of the art special effects, King Kong is a real throwback to early cinema. It emphasizes what going to the movies in the 30s was all about, the spectacle of it, the ability to see things you could not see anywhere else. While the interest seems to be waning, this is still what going to the movies is about in the present. In a time when we're seeing this drastic shift toward home video instead of going to the movie theater, it is very important for a film of this scale to be released, something that Spielberg also displayed in the less successfully realized War of the Worlds. The two disaster films differ in that Kong is a perfectly executed movie on all fronts: the characters, casting choices, visual effects, music score, a beating heart and even a suitably somber conclusion.

A good portion of the film’s first hour is dedicated to fleshing out the characters and as a result there is a multitude of main characters who feel important and interesting and relatable. The inspired casting of Jack Black in the megalomaniac role of Carl Denham pays off handsomely. He gives it just enough humor and humanity to avoid being singled out as the film’s villain; instead he is an entertainer who succumbs to a villainous ideology that he exhibits taking the blame. Surely Peter Jackson sees some of himself in this character. Last year Naomi Watts proved that she was not afraid to look silly doing preposterous dance moves in I Heart Huckabees and similarly goes for broke as an out-of-work vaudevillian performer. Adrian Brody is also effective as the chivalrous writer who must convey both yearning love and unimaginable fear with the briefest of facial expressions. And of course there is the mighty beast himself who is a visual marvel in his execution and a tender achievement in his characterization. In short, anyone who really loves going to the movies must buy a ticket for King Kong and thank Peter Jackson for doing his part to keep the movie houses in business.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Love is a Burning Thing

With just over a year between their release dates, Walk the Line is inescapably stuck in the shadow of Ray. This is very unfortunate because it is a better flowing film and the two lead performances by Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon as Johnny Cash and June Carter are of equal brilliance to Jamie Foxx’s, maybe even better. The opening 15 minutes are the film’s weakest but this is due to the regrettable obligation of the biopic that it include the isolated traumatic incident from the subject’s childhood that would continue to haunt and influence him through the rest of his life. Even The Aviator had to succumb to a brief childhood scene before plunging headlong into a contained portion of Howard Hughes’ life. Walk the Line follows a similar formula and chooses to center its story on the sliver of Cash’s life pertaining to the rocky beginnings of the beautiful love story between him and June Carter. Like Ray, The Aviator and other good biopics of late, the film is not exclusively laudatory of its subject and is uncompromising in its depiction of Cash’s disrespect and apathy toward his first wife and children.

Unlike Taylor Hackford, who littered Ray with color saturation and old-fashioned editing techniques like wipes or intros and outros, James Mangold executes understated direction that never calls attention away from the two lead performances. Phoenix and Witherspoon are thrust mercilessly onto front stage with no safety net. Rightfully so because these are two of the strongest performances of the year and probably the most even-balanced and complementary pairing since Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt in As Good as it Gets.

Early on the film establishes that two of Cash’s defining qualities were the conviction he had for the words he sang and his desire to sing to someone. This is repeatedly conveyed through the direction of the musical numbers which surprisingly are framed predominantly in close-up. Crowd shots are sparse; most sequences consist of shot/reverse-shot patterns of Cash interacting with his target, whether it is a record producer, a Folsom prison inmate or the love of his life, June Carter. Phoenix and Witherspoon play these concert scenes with such energy and passion that the spectator can intrinsically sense that it is their own singing voices, even if it had not been so heavily publicized in the marketing.

In addition to the fantastic music and educational value, Walk the Line is one of the most genuine love stories of the year and the performances are truly exceptional. If anything, the film could have been about five minutes longer to reward the audience with more musical sequences in the last third; “Ring of Fire” feels criminally abridged. Perhaps the film’s biggest weakness is also a back-handed compliment, the musical numbers are so exquisitely executed and performed that the dramatic scenes feel less effective in comparison. This is too bad because Phoenix gives a full performance with some scenes that surely call upon the personal experience he had with his own brother.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

John Sayles: Crafting the American Foreign Film

In 1997, writer/director/editor John Sayles released the movie Men with Guns. The film garnered immediate attention as it represents one of the rare cases in American cinema where an American director has filmed a movie almost entirely in a foreign language. In his study on bilingual film, Joshua L. Miller suggests that “Sayles is the most prominent American filmmaker to write and direct a film predominantly in a language other than English.” (Miller, 122) Sayles himself is quick to acknowledge that his situation is not quite as unique as it sounds, “there’s Michael Radford, for instance, who did Il Postino. He’s a British guy directing a movie in Italian from a book that was set in Chile where people spoke Spanish, and that worked fine.” (Ulin, 49) Regardless of exact historical examples, it is unquestionable that Men with Guns serves as a distinct milestone in the hybridization of Latin American and American filmmaking.

The first question that must be addressed is what it means for Sayles to be American and making this almost exclusively foreign film. While it is nothing new for an American production to be filmed in a foreign country or to deal with different cultures like Schindler’s List or K-19: The Widowmaker, the difference is that Sayles was adamant about filming the movie in its ethnic language. There is some English spoken by a pair of American tourists but the majority is spoken in either Spanish or a bevy of different Indigenous dialects like the Kuna spoken by the Mother and Daughter in the opening scene for instance. The film is also shot entirely in Latin America, with a cast comprised of actors who adhere to the ethnicity of their characters. The set was virtually English free as Sayles communicated in Spanish with everybody on the crew except for the cinematographer who was Polish. (Ulin, 52)

This leads us to ask what this means for the film ethnographically. Ethnography is a branch of anthropology that deals with scientific description of specific human cultures, often based on a lengthy and comprehensive study of the subject. Traditionally, the term Ethnographic filmmaking has been used to refer exclusively to documentaries like Nanook of the North (1922) and Chronique d’un Été (1961). Writings on ethnographic filmmaking first became prevalent in the 1970s with an exclusive focus on documentary and even now, studying fiction films as ethnographic is infrequently explored territory. Sayles is not representing the cultures in a manner that would satisfy established guidelines for documentary representation but he is dealing with people and place in a manner that purports itself to be more honest than something out of Hollywood cinema. A brief overview of his career, particularly since the mid ‘90s, will reveal a trend of Mexican characters and locations scattered throughout his work. In Lone Star (1996) he dealt with issues of culture and ethnic clash in a Texas town; in Casa de Los Babys (2003) he returned to Mexico to shoot a film about third-world adoption by American women; and in Silver City (2005) he created a political satire/thriller that featured a controversial subplot about immigrant workers. We must question if this common theme is indicative of an urge to represent the Mexican culture respectfully and accurately or if it is something more fetishistic about him wanting to flavor his films with Mexican semiotics. Men with Guns will be the primary focus of this study, but it is very difficult to talk about that film without mentioning Lone Star, the film made directly before it that featured many similar themes and also represents his most significant success, both critically and financially. That he would follow up his biggest American success with what is essentially a foreign film speaks volumes about his interests as a director. His technical competence as a writer, director and particularly as editor is also a quality that cannot be ignored when discussing his work.

One of the early works that acknowledges film as part of the ethnographic field of science is Ethnographic Film by Karl G. Heider. Published in 1976, Heider attempts to explain how the two fields can work together to yield results. In his writing he concedes that to an extent we can see all films as being ethnographic because they are about the observation of people or at least made by a person with intent to represent something in a particular manner. (Heider 5) He acknowledges a few fiction films that he feels are effective representations of specific cultures and sub-cultures but for scientific purposes he only investigates documentaries under the ethnographic lens. Heider decrees that there are inherent differences between an ethnographer and a filmmaker that cannot be bridged, the main issues being how data is analyzed and presented.

His main point of contention seems to be that filmmakers are more readily able to manipulate the truth through shot selection, composition and juxtaposition in order to heighten the effect of the film’s narrative. He bases this on the belief that anthropologists, as scientists, are more trained to present the truth as accurately as possible rather than presenting it as entertainment. This claim can be argued as biased, suggesting that films widely acknowledged for taking cinematic liberties like Nanook of the North have dominated his assessment. This is not the case with all documentary films but it has to be acknowledged that contemporary examples of the situation are very much prevalent, most famously in the work of Michael Moore. Heider does understand that with the different mediums we must employ suitable means of critical scrutiny, suggesting that film “cannot be judged on the basis of whether or not it has omitted things. Rather, it must be judged on the appropriateness of what has been included and how it has been handled.” (Heider 12)

The active role of the ethnographer influencing the subjects and more importantly the presence of video equipment, are touched upon lightly. He uses the term ‘camera consciousness’ to refer to instances of the camera’s infraction on natural behavior like people looking directly at the camera, body stiffness or exaggerated mugging. (Heider 54) The issue of camera intrusion and filmmaker interaction is studied more thoroughly in Peter Loizos’ 1993 overview of the subject, Innovation in Ethnographic Film: From Innocence to Self-Consciousness, 1955-85.
Loizos explores the idea of filmmaker as active participant and explores the question of whose voice is it that we are hearing in ethnographic films: the subject or the ethnographer? He utilizes the example of filmmaker Jean Rouch and some of his personally participatory films to explore that question. Rouch is often noted for his empathy but the most innovative quality is his approach to collaboration with his subjects. He found it very important to have them behave as active creators in the narrative as well as having them voice their reflections on the process, a technique employed most famously in Chronique d’un Été where he incorporated footage of the subjects watching a test screening of the documentary at the end of the final cut of the film. His films are marked heavily by his desire to accentuate the camera as apparatus and the power that it gives the investigator to create and to engineer situation and response. Rouch felt it was important to understand “that realities are constructed and meanings always change as contexts of interpretation change… presence of the camera, like the ethnographer, stimulates, modifies, accelerates, catalyzes, opens a window.” (Feld 16)

Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s exploration on representation of Third World countries and citizens in film in Unthinking Ethnocentrism uses some of the same ethnocentric qualifications of documentary and apply them to fiction films. While it is not suggested that fiction films can carry the same weight as documentaries can ethnographically, a certain agency is inherent to representation of ethnicity in fiction films. “Films which represent marginalized cultures in a realistic mode, even when they do not claim to represent specific historical incidents, still implicitly make factual claims.” (Shohat 179) This mentality accentuates the importance of Men with Guns. Continuing on this trajectory, the significance of realism in Third World films is stressed, “Many oppressed groups have used ‘progressive realism’ to unmask and combat hegemonic representation, countering the objectifying discourses of patriarchy and colonialism with a vision of themselves and their reality ‘from within.’” (Shohat 180) The text feels it is important to stress the compatibility between realism as a goal (representing the qualities of the story in a truthful manner) and realism as a style (lessening the viewer’s awareness of the film’s constructs).

Fatimah Tobing Rony explores similar ground with The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle, stating that the category “describes a relationship between a spectator posited as Western, white, and urbanized, and a subject people portrayed as being somewhere nearer to the beginning on the spectrum of human evolution.” (Rony 8) This sentiment is echoed in Sayles’ depiction of the Mother and Daughter inhabiting Cerca del Ciel as somewhat mystical and otherworldly in their simplicity and virtue. Rony is also open to considering fiction films as ethnographic and details a lengthy analysis of King Kong (1933) and its ethnographic implications. This specific case is strengthened by the fact that the story of King Kong is about a group of ethnographic filmmakers intruding on a tropical island. Even more important is that the filmmakers, “[Merian C.] Cooper and [Ernest B.] Schoedsack were well-known ethnographic filmmakers, producing and directing both Grass (1925) and Chang (1927).” (Rony 159) The text bolsters Shohat and Stam’s idea that Third World representation can be inherently perceived as real in the concise assertion that “the telling of history is linked to the telling of stories, both textual and cinematic.” (Rony 194)

In the case of Men with Guns, Sayles is not making a film that is overtly formalistic but there is heavy use of editing techniques, particularly through flashbacks and montages employing non-diegetic music, which call attention to the filmic process. Sayles also chooses not to ground the situation entirely in realism by purposely keeping the location of the events anonymous and inserting music from various different regions of Latin America to keep things vague. Yet, the film stands as an infinitely more honest representation of Mexican people than the majority of Hollywood films that deal with the subject due to the decision to cast ethnically specific actors and shoot in regional dialects. (Miller 137) Comparatively, Sayles takes his time to capture the atmosphere of the Latin American locations and its inhabitants through lengthy, deep focus shots of landscapes and long takes that allow extras to serve as non-speaking characters flavoring the background. Take for instance the shot of Dr. Fuentes (Frederico Luppi) walking on the street after the meal with his daughter. From an interior we cut to the sidewalk and get a shot of a man crossing the street with a child on his shoulders and a brief overview of the city street before panning to Dr. Fuentes walking down the street. The purpose of the shot is not confined to showing the lead character walking from location to location but takes time to showcase the world of the city around him foremost. At other times we get shots of indigenous people picking berries or burning fields for crop rotation interspersed throughout the narrative. These shots are filled with characters we never see again and serve no ostensible purpose to the plot as individual characters.

One sequence in particular stands out from the rest of the film: the cane cutting scene that appears around the 21 minute mark. This elongated sequence is presented in the middle of Dr. Fuentes’ initial journey with no explanation or commentary on the practice. The act is presented as self-evident, needing no preface or afterthought; it exists purely as cultural flavoring. In John Sayles’ audio commentary track on the DVD, he explains that this is an authentic sequence of local inhabitants doing their job as normal. He recounts that they were filming a scene in a classroom when he and the crew overheard the loud noise of men cutting cane. Expeditiously, they stopped filming in the school and asked the men if they would mind being filmed while they went about their work. The men complied and were paid as extras for a half-day’s work which he believes was probably more than they would get paid in a week. This sequence is directed artistically with lyrical editing and beautiful shots of leaves and grass flying through the sky but it is impossible to ignore the ethnographic implications of the camera’s quiet observation.
In contrast, the extended driving sequences showcasing grandiose shots of majestic vistas work both as cultural flavoring and formalist filmmaking. While they exist to ground the film in a location that feels real and habitable, they also call attention to the editing process through montage and employment of non-diegetic music. It is also to be noted that the editing is also obstructing the realism of the locale by connecting places that may be miles apart in reality.

The foremost reason to address the editing when discussing Men with Guns is because Sayles himself serves as editor on a large quantity of his films and thus extends his authorial voice slightly further than other writer/directors. The editing is also significant in that it accentuates Sayles as a filmmaker who is aware of generic conventions and how to manipulate them. Just before the travelers arrive at Mondelo #4 – “Community of Hope” there is an exhilarating sequence in which Domingo, the Soldier (Damián Delgado) tells Dr. Fuentes to pass the truck of soldiers on the road. Fuentes’ action of pressing down on the accelerator is synched with the start of a lively musical track which concludes when they pass the truck, to which Conejo, the Boy (Dan Rivera González) exuberantly exclaims “What a ride!” The scene where Dr. Fuentes steals the gun while Domingo sleeps also illustrates a mastery of the format. Precise timing is employed during the shot/reverse shot pattern of Fuentes examining the gun and then returning to the sleeping Domingo every time Fuentes makes a slight noise with the barrel or hammer. Each time Domingo is still sleeping peacefully and the editing plays with our expectation that he has awoken because the cuts do not follow Fuentes’ eyes looking back to Domingo but rather are motivated by the sound of the gun.

The most important role that editing plays in the film is its segue into flashback sequences. Throughout the narrative we are being transported back in time to events in the lives of Dr. Fuentes, Domingo and Padre Portillo that have had profound effects on their lives. These temporal shifts are marked by sound and color techniques not seen in the rest of the film. Dr. Fuentes’ flashbacks are presented in black and white with almost entirely muted diegetic sound. In the flashbacks of Domingo and Padre Portillo, the color is saturated and adorned with a golden tint contrasting the natural look of the present tense. To properly appreciate the significance of these stylistic devices we must consult the editing in Lone Star. Lone Star’s most defining technical characteristic is its approach to flashback through its time shifts that appear seamless and unnoticeable. This is achieved through in-camera transitions that pan from one time period to another without cutting between shots. For example, a shot will begin with one character in present time standing in a bar and then pan over to that character’s father sitting in the same bar thirty years earlier. Sayles believes that “A cut is very much a tear. You use a cut to say there’s a separation between this thing and that thing.” (Sayles and Smith 230) The editing in Lone Star emphasizes the theme that the past is still very much a part of the present and repeatedly connects the two time periods.

In Men with Guns, flashbacks are initiated by ‘tears’ and furthermore, they are emphasized by changes in color and sound. The flashbacks in this narrative are introspective and personalized which we interpret to mean truthful whereas the flashbacks in Lone Star frequently begin with one narrator and end with another suggesting a shared approach to history. Having the flashbacks so physically different from the present in Men with Guns creates an unbridgeable distance between the two time periods. This emphasis on change of time and place lends itself to the film’s redemption narrative. While each of the three characters made mistakes in the past that continue to haunt their lives, these events are portrayed as dead and not continually flowing like in Lone Star. Because of this distinction, the characters’ journeys are able to be represented as ultimately redemptive. By the film’s conclusion, Padre Portillo has given himself up as a sacrifice, something he could not bring himself to do in the past; Dr. Fuentes has finally acknowledged the repercussions of his willful ignorance; and Domingo finally gives up being obtusely stubborn and uses what little medical skills he learned in the army to help treat the sick people in Cerca del Cielo.

More work on the subject of fiction filmmaking considered as ethnographic filmmaking needs to be done in order to state conclusively if Men with Guns can be considered in this stratosphere of classification. As of now it can be said that Men with Guns is a fiction film that exhibits ethnographic qualities. While it certainly displays the shell of an ethnographic film (white man with a camera comes to a foreign country and films native people), he is still using mostly professional actors and telling a fictional story, despite it being one very familiar to the people of these areas. A more traditional ethnographic film about very similar subject matter is Nettie Wilde’s 1998 documentary, A Place Called Chiapas. In this, Wilde travels to Chiapas to document the Zapatista uprising in Southern Mexico in response to the unsettled way of life that erupted as a result of Mexico’s incorporation into the free trade agreement. Most detrimentally, free trade allowed cheap corn to flood into Mexico from the United States, causing the Peso’s value to drop drastically. The Zapatistas revolted in an effort to regain control of the land and the lives of the citizens being oppressed by the military. Incidentally, a large portion of Men with Guns was shot in Chiapas during the end of the Zapatista revolution. Although Sayles specifies it was mostly for monetary reasons in the DVD audio commentary, the real-life events inherently change the location and the behavior of the extras as they can relate so closely to the events being portrayed in the film.

In addition to ethnographic qualities, the film stands as an important piece of history because of its innovative existence as a hybridization of American and foreign film. Even if Sayles feels like it should not be an issue to film and write about other foreign cultures: “If you’re qualified to watch it and understand it, you’re capable of writing it. It’s not a big leap to look at another culture and say, Here’s what I understand, here are the things that are common to everybody.” (Ulin 53) One of his intentions with Men with Guns was to open the possibility for people to create more products of this type. How successful he has been at achieving this goal remains to be seen.

As for the question of what the Mexican subject means to Sayles, his humanistic character portrayals seem to indicate a reverence and admiration rather than a fetishistic curiosity. It is also important to consider Sayles’ influence on the communities since he is introducing film production to some people who have never seen a film or a television program before. Can this act be construed as Sayles practicing a form of colonialism on the indigenous people? In one sense it is true that he is imposing a new form of culture upon the natives, however, he is doing it in a constructive and participatory manner. When he returned to Mexico to shoot Casa de los Babys he was keen on getting the native inhabitants involved in working on the film in various technical areas and insisted on casting as many locals as extras as possible. This is indicative of a desire to incorporate the community rather than to conquer.

The DVD of Casa de los Babys contains extensive behind-the-scenes material and in a segment entitled “On Location with John Sayles,” he explains that he first learned Spanish while he was living in Chicano neighborhoods in Santa Barbra. This initial interest was a matter of necessity as he was doing research for a novel he was writing about Spanish characters. Clearly his interest blossomed as his work over the past fifteen years has frequently employed Latin American subject matter and locations. Since he tries to portray the characters as three-dimensional and intelligent, tries to retain an honest representation of the culture and makes an effort to incorporate indigenous people into the world of filmmaking, it can be declared that he is approaching his subject with empathy and not as the incomprehensible other.

Works Cited
Loizos, Peter. Innovation in Ethnographic Film: From Innocence to Self-Consciousness,
1955-85. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.
Heider, Karl G. Ethnographic Film. Texas: University of Texas Press, 1976.
Miller, Joshua L. “The Transamerican Trail to Cerca del Cielo: John Sayles and the
Aesthetics of Multilingual Cinema,” in Bilingual Games: Some Literary Investigations, edited by Sommer, Doris. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
Rony, Fatimah Tobing. The Third Eye: Race, Cinema, and Ethnographic Spectacle.
London, England: Duke University Press, 1996.
Rouch, Jean and Steven Feld. Ciné-Ethnography. Minneapolis, MN: University of
Minnesota Press, 2003.
Sayles, John and Gavin Smith. Sayles on Sayles. London, England: Faber and Faber
Limited, 1998.
Shohat, Ella and Robert Stam. Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the
Media. New York, NY: Routledge, 1994.
Ulin, David L. “John Sayles.” Bomb. 63 (Spring, 1998): 45-53.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Bewitchingly Beautiful Adaptation

I am always a sucker for a good British “Heritage” film, especially when it’s a romantic comedy/drama. Pride & Prejudice is no exception, it delivers on all accounts: rooting in iconic literary material, copious shots of far-reaching landscape, meticulously reconstructed architecture, thespian staples Brenda Blethyn Dame Judi Dench as well as an engaging, episodic narrative.

Director Joe Wright refuses to merely present a bland retelling of a story already proven to be a sure-fire winner with audiences over the past two centuries. Instead, Wright injects the film with overflowing energy and vivacity. Wright manages to make the audience feel like they are watching real characters in a real time and place, not just a flaccid simulacrum of 19th century English countryside. He achieves this largely through an abundance of camera movement, particularly zooms, something rather unorthodox for a period piece like this. Miraculously he manages to render a film true to the source material without modernizing it or making it flashy and distracting. The roaming steadicam shots plunge the viewer headlong into the hustle and bustle of ballroom dances in a way that feels natural and realistic without drawing attention to how meticulously choreographed the scenes are. Close-ups are used modestly. The film is more interested in long shots and long takes that let the action unfold uninterrupted further luring the viewer into an illusionary transportation of time and space. Never does it feel like we are seeing minute slivers of studio design with bare walls and technical equipment waiting on the other side. The set dressing is absolutely bursting at the seams.

We can contrast this approach with Scorsese’s cold, overly composed, stilted adaptation of The Age of Innocence to fully appreciate the effects of Pride & Prejudice. The steadicam shots certainly owe a great deal of debt to the master filmmaker but this literary adaptation is much more inviting and engrossing than his admirable but aloof staging.

Of course the bold direction and elaborate design would be empty without skilled actors to inhabit the roles. Fortunately, the cast is all more than qualified, headlined by the spunky Keira Knightly, the doe-eyed Matthew MacFayden and the ever-graceful Donald Sutherland. Complete with an understated and lovely conclusion, Pride & Prejudice is one literary adaptation worthy of its exalted source material.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Leavin' Town

As sad as it is for me to report, the bad buzz surrounding Elizabethtown is by and large a pretty accurate assessment. Up until now I’ve enjoyed all of Cameron Crowe’s movies this misstep is particularly painful after his incredibly solid one-two punch of Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky at the beginning of the decade, two films listed at the top of my favorite films in their respective years. Unfortunately the problems on this film spread far and wide. There are a few instances where Crowe achieves his trademark synthesis of music and film that result in sheer beauty but these are only fleeting moments that temporarily make us forget what a bloated, sloppy, mess of a movie this is.

The brunt of the public’s criticism and initial resistance to the film will probably land on the performances of Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst and this is somewhat justified but not entirely. As with almost all of his performances, Orlando Bloom very much looks the part and for this he does deserve credit, but not enough to disguise that he cannot always act it. His absolutely dismal comic timing made me wonder if the originally cast Ashton Kutcher might have been better fitted for the role. Kirsten Dunst is rather annoying and the attempted accent does not make matters any better but before things delve too deeply into bashing beautiful people, it must be acknowledged that the characters are inherently lacking in themselves. We’ve seen examples of very skilled acting from Bloom and Dunst in films like Black Hawk Down or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Cat’s Meow so we know that great performances are attainable.

With the characters of Drew Baylor and Claire Colburn, Crowe has scripted his two least interesting and engaging lead characters in his career. In Bloom, Crowe is clearly fishing for a performance on par with John Cusack or Tom Cruise in their heyday but what he does not take into account is that he first has to script a character as personable and sympathetic as Lloyd Dobbler or Jerry Maguire. There are some moments of reprieve in as we are treated to a forceful cameo by Alec Baldwin in the beginning and a great ten-minute segment where Susan Sarandon is given the chance to really act instead of being relegated to hamming it up during trite intervals of supposed comic relief.

There are a few nuggets of nice ideas here that are trapped in a film that will not allow them to meet their potential. Particularly nice is the “last look” voice-over and the conflict of burial versus cremation, but neither are given the chance to grow. The “last look” is especially disappointing in that it has the potential to exist in a heartbreakingly poignant scene but is squandered on the light-weight frivolity here. The movie is not a complete fiasco and only a partial failure. We still get the excellent scenes with Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly,” Elton John’s “My Father’s Gun” and the climactic “Freebird” that instill hope with Crowe’s next film he will find himself more concise and back on track.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

September Round-Up

9/9/05 4:40 at the Union Square United Artists - Green Street Hooligans

Entertaining at times but completely undeserving of a theatrical release; would have been much more effective as a rental or an HBO world premiere. If you absolutely can’t resist seeing it in theaters, a brilliant performance by former-Undeclared star Charlie Hunnam legitimizes the trip to the Cineplex. Barely recognizable from his days as a pretty boy drama student in that wonderful Fox sitcom from 2001, his performance oozes charisma and ferocity. The subject matter of unruly Soccer hooligans and their sub-culture is interesting enough and the pub-heavy London setting is richly absorbing but some redundant dialogue, poorly scripted voice-over and overtly melodramatic domestic scenes hinder any chance it has from rising above a Lifetime version of Fight Club.

9/17/05 1:00 at the 19th Street Loews – Lord of War

One of my most anticipated releases of the fall and sadly one of my biggest disappointments. This is not to say Lord of War is a bad movie, not in the least, it’s just a decent movie with some spectacular scenes scattered throughout. The brown-brown hallucination scene in particular stands out as one of the more memorable scenes from this year. Sadly the film is bogged down by a narcoleptic voice-over from Nicolas Cage that intrudes on the soundtrack at an alarming frequency. Cage’s delivery isn’t half as charming and entertaining without simultaneously seeing his entire charismatic persona on screen. The movie also follows the Goodfellas formula a little too closely and I think the film would have benefited from a pared down approach focusing on a more contained temporal space as I found myself very restless during the first 45 minutes of excessive exposition. Although limiting the scale of the story would limit the epic character study the film is attempting to achieve and it cannot be ignored that the ending message is a powerful one. The opening credits deserve special attention for being an extremely inventive and entertaining title sequence that also manages to incorporate the film’s dominant theme in some 3 minutes of screen time.

9/18/05 10:15 at the 19th Street Loews – Proof

Hard to find much to say about this one other than that it’s a pretty solid crowd pleaser with great acting. The film plays things pretty safe, and that’s a virtue, it doesn’t try to overreach its boundaries and is content with retaining the intimacy of the stage play rather than trying to expand its issues and locations. Anthony Hopkins turns in a characteristically flawless performance riding strong on his Errol Flynn-like international accent and his twinkling blue eyes. Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal also give sterling performances that make this very “chatty” screenplay spring to life with engaging characters. Wont find anything groundbreaking here but it’s a guaranteed good time at the movies.

9/23/05 2:20 at the Union Square United Artists – Thumbsucker

An incredibly strong ensemble of disparate actors buoys this coming-of-age narrative that can’t quite compare to the bevy of accomplished performances. Not a weak link out of the entire cast: Lou Pucci, Vincent D’Onofrio, Tilda Swinton, Keanu Reeves, Vince Vaughn, Benjamin Bratt and Kelly Garner; all give layered and personalized performances. It is apparent that all the actors have taken their roles very seriously and capture painstaking detail in fleshing out their characters. Vince Vaughn’s frumpy jacket during the debate conference is an unforgettably hilarious and honest choice of costume design. However the film itself feels even more heavily medicated than the lead character and thus it lends itself to self-indulgence by way of excessive slow motion and general lethargy.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Constantly Buggin'

9/4/05 1:15 at the Angelika – Junebug

Director Phil Morrison makes a strong and self-assured feature debut that has a very distinct personality unlike anything I’ve seen in recent memory. Junebug explores the dynamics of a dysfunctional family in North Carolina during the coinciding events of the last stages of the daughter-in-law’s pregnancy and the older brother’s return after 3 years of absence to introduce his South African new wife to the family. Morrison tells the story by blending realism and formalism into a peculiar concoction that feels fresh and unexpected at every turn. The South African wife, Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), happens to also be in North Carolina on business, investigating a potential art client. The client is an elderly, mentally challenged southern painter who draws peculiar pictures of civil war reenactments with emphasis on racial injustice and enlarged genitalia. These scenes between him and Madeleine play out like a documentary peering into the mind of this confusing and intriguing character. But then there are flashy opening credits, obtrusive musical cues and fade outs that call attention to the structure yet somehow these contrasting approaches manage to coexist rather than combat each other.

Junebug has a languid pace that moves slowly and surely which unavoidably makes the 107 minute running time feel seat-shiftingly long. So while repeat viewing do not sound immediately irresistible, the characters are all so carefully constructed and vibrant with so many minute nuances that I still have a hankering to see it again with hope of uncovering more about these ambiguously complicated people.

The actors are all fit for the challenge of their richly sculpted characters and embody them fully, even Ben McKenzie of The OC fame as the younger brother. He perfectly uses his standard glaring-out-the-corner-of-his-eyes look during a pivotal scene where his eyes get to such a degree that we assume his iris must be facing the inner workings of his skull. Of course if anyone stands out, it’s the beautifully naïve and quietly observant Amy Adams in the role of the young wife in labor, Ashley.

9/4/05 7:10 at the Union Square United Artists – The Constant Gardener

I am one of about 15 people who still haven’t seen Fernando Meirelles’ City of God but get a sense that The Constant Gardener is very similar in its admirable quality of being a highly entertaining thriller while incorporating a global awareness to the background. Think the exotic and unfamiliar locales of The Bourne Identity/Supremacy movies with an added social and political commentary. In The Constant Gardener, Ralph Fiennes stars as Justin, a British diplomat whose wife is brutally murdered while working in Africa. Justin becomes obsessed with uncovering the truth behind the murder and embarks on a heedless journey to expose a conspiracy. Fiennes gives a brilliant performance and is more expressive with his eyes alone than most actors can convey with their whole performances. His reaction to learning about his wife’s murder in the beginning is both unforgettable and unexpected. The film manages to balance itself as both a satisfying Saturday night at the movies that can attract the younger audience with its stylish filmmaking as well as the older audience with its thought-provoking substance that never becomes too didactic to alienate the younger crowd.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

In the City of Blinding Headlights

So I’ve been back in New York for almost a week now and even more embarrassing than my blog writing sabbatical is that I’ve only been to the movies twice. Once for my first viewing of the 1958 French film noir, Elevator to the Gallows directed by Louis Malle. An exceedingly entertaining crime story which was very interesting in terms of its clear influence on Goddard’s future forays into the genre that began as an American product appropriating a French title and soon became fondly emulated by the French themselves.

Yesterday I made it to my first contemporary release which happened to be the crowd pleasing and surprisingly critic pleasing, Red Eye. While I might have benefited by seeing it without high expectations from its high rating on, I still managed to find it to be an entertaining, campy, thrill-ride not unlike the similarly gimmicky Cellular, although not quite as fun as that self-consciously goofy beat-the-clock thriller. It’s more than a bit difficult to talk about Red Eye without giving away the fun of the element of surprise aspect so integral to the film’s enjoyment, much applause to Dreamworks for its limited teaser trailer.

Wes Craven wisely under directs the film and creates a great claustrophobic feel using limited and restrained camera moves, relying more heavily on aural stings in the soundtrack to illicit the occasional cheap jump in the film’s first and second acts. When we get to the third act and the film ventures into more familiar Craven territory, he manages to keep things fresh by quietly commenting on this fact with a fun vocal nod to Scream and a sly time-of-day reversal during the standard genre climax.

It’s also nice how heavily the film relies on the actors’ performances with large portions of the film feeling like a stage play, both a good and bad thing. Rachel McAdams naturally conveys a balance between sensibility and charm and fear and helplessness. Cillian Murphy relishes his role and looks to be having a lot of fun, especially when he is “going through the motions” required of his character toward the end. The supporting passengers are nicely handled and understandingly appear no more obtrusive than they need to be in order to serve their plot purposes.

Wes Craven also deserves recognition for dealing with very touchy subject material and manages to gracefully sidestep unpleasantness in a story housing a myriad of landmines.

Hopefully I’ll be able to fit in more movie watching and blog writing but with classes starting I may have squandered fertile opportunity in these past two weeks of inactivity but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for the weeks to come. If not I have some poorly written Silent film papers to coast by on if things become really dire.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Securing an Excellent Future: Time Traveling Teens of the 80s

Over the four-year span between 1985 and 1989, two films were released revolving around the innovative concept of male teenagers traveling through time to better the future. The two films in discussion are Back to the Future (1985) and Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989), both comedy/teen-film/science fiction/fantasy hybrids whose unconventional protagonists are ‘slackers’ given the efficacy to travel through time and alter history. The title characters of Bill & Ted are considerably more dimwitted and stereotypically slackers of the wasted adolescence sense than Marty McFly, the lead of Back to the Future. Bill & Ted also exhibits a satirical and goofy tone in comparison to Back to the Future’s earnestness and endearing sentimentality. In Back to the Future, Marty is flung back to 1955 and unintentionally embarks on a quest to rectify the mistakes of his parents’ youth, thus ensuring a more favorable future for his family; whereas Bill & Ted are sent hurtling through different periods of time in an effort to pass their history final enabling them to one day create the rock music that will save the world.

Both films proved to be enormous hits spawning franchises comprised of sequels, animated series and video games. Considering the immediate and immense popularity of Back to the Future, it is easy to contest that Bill & Ted is merely piggybacking on its success with an easy cash-in formula. While it is no question that surely Back to the Future influenced Bill & Ted’s creation (in addition to the success of Fast Times at Ridgemont High’s star slacker Jeff Spicoli) there is the unavoidable issue of the two films being birthed during the specific time period of the mid-to-late 1980’s. From a teleological standpoint, three predominant themes can be discerned within both texts: slacker sub-culture, 1980s politics, and rock-and-roll.

The character of the ‘slacker’ has come to be associated with the Generation X culture, an image fostered by Douglas Coupland’s novel, “Generation X,” (1991) and Richard Linklater’s film, Slacker (1991). Generation X has often been distinguished as a generation raised more out of publicity than actual cultural behavior and it is difficult to determine exactly when this generation was established, much less what it should be called. The members of this generation have long been characterized as struggling to find an identity. Not surprisingly there have been numerous terms used to define the cultural movement including: the “13th Generation,” the “Why Bother? Generation,” the “Cocktail Generation,” the “Invisible Generation,” and the “Baby Bust Generation,” in response to the Baby Boomers and the subsequent and surprising decrease in birth rate in the mid-to-late 1960s.[1] There has also been much debate over what years define the applicable period for the birth of Gen Xers but most will concede that the years between 1960 and 1975 are approximate enough. Geoffrey Holtz cites the advancements in birth control, abortion and surgical sterilization as some of the prime factors in the downward trend in child birth: “During the seventies 10 million people made sure that they would never have another child. America’s love affair with its children was, at least for now, a thing of the past.”[2]

Generation X has come to represent the pinnacle in the broken-home movement, “1975 saw a million married couples split up, with more than 1.1 million children touched by the social phenomenon.”[3] The theme of divorce and family dysfunction is extremely prevalent in Back to the Future and more obliquely so in Bill & Ted. In the latter, both Bill and Ted appear to have been raised in single-father households. The absence of their birth mothers is never explained but divorce and parental apathy is assumed. While Ted has only his stern and distant father who threatens to exile Ted to military school, Bill has to deal with his father’s new wife, a fresh-out-of-high school beauty who used to share a class with the boys. The familial disharmony presented here is never remarked upon and hardly rectified by the film’s end as the two fathers’ appear at Bill & Ted’s history presentation and smile approvingly amidst their shock, but the only implied effect this will have on their paternal relationship is Ted escaping the murky depths of military school.

Back to the Future considers the role of family more optimistically and secularly. Initially, Marty accidentally ruptures his parents meeting and subsequent falling in love, causing the potential finality of his being “erased from existence” as a result. Ultimately, Marty’s dabbling with fate turns out favorably as he is given the supreme ability of teaching his father (as a teenager) some important life lessons that result in a more pleasant existence for his entire family when he manages to return to 1985. In a moment of supreme irony, Marty’s father in 1955 says goodbye to his son with, “I want to thank you for all your good advice. I’ll never forget it.”

In contrast to the film’s frivolous nature, Bill & Ted are delivered a more serious mission than Marty considering the fate of all mankind rests in their unlikely hands. While Marty’s journey is one of parental-discovery and contained improvement, Bill & Ted are sentenced on the path of self-discovery so that they can eventually instill peace and tranquility upon the world. In both situations, none of the time-traveling teens consider their mission with as much magnitude as the situation should dictate.

Ambivalence and disregard for society are two frequently used characteristics to describe the slacker. The term ‘slacker’ had existed in the vernacular long before it became associated so intricately with the Generation Xers. In fact, “it was used primarily to describe soldiers who put forth the minimum effort or conspired to do even less than that.”[4] Lynnea Chapman King cites a look at the term from a more applicable viewpoint:
The dictionary defines slackers as people who evade duties and responsibilities. A more modern notion would be people who are ultimately being more responsible to themselves and not wasting their time in a realm of activity that has nothing to do with who they are or what they might ultimately be striving for.[5]
This definition marks the eventual actions of Bill, Ted and Marty McFly as very problematic within this context of slackerdom. As a result, we can look at the three teenagers as reformed slackers as both films begin with them embodying the slacker mold by virtue of their almost exclusive interest in making rock-and-roll music contrasted with their minimal concern for the institutions of school and family. Within the first ten minutes of Back to the Future, Marty is immediately belittled by his principle for being a slacker who will never amount to anything.

This is a sentiment that has been constantly shoved upon the Generation Xers whose experience with futility has been accentuated by their holding witness to the growing divorce rates, failure of Vietnam and subordination of the position of Presidency by way of scandal, ineffectiveness and assassination. It is no surprise that the Generation Xers have adopted the strategy of “always hedge one’s bets, hold back a little... It’s all right to invest oneself in something as long as you realize that there is nothing really to invest.”[6] Marty and Bill & Ted embody this notion through their lackadaisical approach to music production. When Marty’s girlfriend urges him to send a demo tape of his band to record companies, Marty whines, “What if they say I’m no good? What if they say get out of here kid, you’ve got no future. I just don’t think I could handle that type of rejection.” Bill & Ted echo an even more defeatist approach by not even attempting to learn to play their guitars. For the majority of the film, they are more than content playing “air guitar,” a facetious act that will always yield favorable results and completely eliminates the possibility of failure.

When it comes to altering history, these slackers do not always act as safely as one might hope they would. Bill & Ted consistently goof off throughout the many time periods, whether it be indulging in an old-fashioned barroom brawl or dressing up in knight’s armor and emulating Star Wars. Not to mention that they entrust Ted’s 10-year old brother to watch over Napoleon while they continue gathering up other historical personalities. Marty exercises more understanding of the situation’s severity but nevertheless makes questionable decisions like jeopardizing the possibility of making it to the town square on time by letting himself get goaded into playing one more rock-and-roll song at the high school dance. That marks the first in a series of questionable decisions concerning his extremely finite chance to return home to 1985: not only does he play one more song but he takes the time to change his clothes before making it to the meeting point, “What, did you think I was gonna go back in that zoot suit?” Lastly, Marty awards himself only ten extra minutes to go back and attempt to save Doc’s life. Even though he prefaces with the insightful statement “I got all the time I want, I got a time machine,” he still decides that a mere ten minutes should suffice.

Carelessness aside, Marty does manage to save Doc’s life and once again we see the influence of youth on his elder. In 1955, Doc expresses a similar sense of gratitude as Marty’s father did regarding the impact Marty has had on the past, “You’ve really made a difference on my life. You’ve given me something to shoot for.” Here we return to the contradictory prospect of the slacker being given, and accepting, the ability to exact change on the community. This idea of the everyman being elevated to a position more esteemed than would be expected of him and managing to make a distinct impact on society is comparable to figures that could be found in both American politics and rock-and-roll cultures of the time period these films were released: most precisely, Ronald Reagan and Bruce Springsteen.

Ted V. McAllister has compared Reagan’s surprising ascension to the role of presidency to the plot of the Hollywood film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), “we find a hard-working, patriotic citizen, called out of private life to serve in the far-off capital.”[7] This can be directly related to the role of Marty McFly, who is an average teenager temporarily called into the role of time traveler to make some minor changes to history before being returned home to reap the benefits of his labors. The image of Ronald Reagan even plays a role within the film. First we see that the local movie theater is playing Cattle Queen of Montana (1954) and his name is displayed predominantly on the marquee. His name is mentioned again, this time verbally, when the skeptical Doc Brown of 1955 asks for the president of 1985 as proof of the future: “Ha! Ronald Reagan! The Actor! Then who’s vice president? Jerry Lewis?”

These satirical jabs at Reagan’s public image can be taken a number of ways. If they are to be construed as playful, they can be correlated to Reagan’s image of populism. Around the time of Marty’s age, it has been purported that the youth “were quick to embrace the stability that Ronald Reagan represented… Reagan was hailed as a return to normalcy after a decade and a half of turmoil.”[8] Marty might be proud to say that Reagan is his president and find it disheartening that the future president has not been taken seriously yet. There is also the element of Reagan’s pro-family relations agenda and the similar theme to the film. One of Reagan’s desires was to rectify what he believed were assaults on the family created by past governments, “not so much because they had espoused cultural or moral values but because they had caused inflation and bracket creep.”[9] Economics is certainly an element in Back to the Future, particularly displayed by the ending’s refurnished view of the present. Andrew Gordon illustrates this notion: “Marty’s story overcomes, through fantasy, the 1980’s fear of the loss of upward mobility in a period when the middle-class family was losing ground after twenty-five years of almost unbroken economic improvement.”[10]

It could also be construed as a more subversive reference to Reagan’s initial call for a return to fundamentals by his repeatedly referencing Puritan values and John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill,” ideology.[11] Back to the Future suggests that a simple return to fundamentals is not remedy enough; instead the youth of the generation must physically go back and redefine the fundamentals if the country is destined to survive. While these readings can border on the tangential, politics is certainly present as a sub-text within the film. Aside from the references to Reagan, there is an ongoing, background sub-plot involving an African-American elevating from waiter to mayor of Hill Valley. Once again an ordinary man being called up to duty, however this time he is an African-American emerging out of an unforgiving time period.

Similarly, Bill & Ted are average teenagers who are destined to save the world with rock-and-roll and therefore align themselves slightly more with Bruce Springsteen than Reagan (interestingly enough Springsteen’s saxophonist, Clarence Clemons has an uncredited cameo as one of the leaders of the future, providing a direct connection to the musician). Grossberg explains, “the site of Springsteen’s popularity: to celebrate simultaneously one’s ordinariness and to assert one’s fantastic (and even fantasmatic) difference – the ordinary becomes extraordinary.”[12] Although it can be criticized that Bill & Ted are below-average Americans, they still emulate the Reagan formula of being called up to duty by a higher power in order to change things for the better. There is no mention of Reagan in the film but his timely education budget cuts in 1987 may have some influence of the depiction of high school and its dim-witted students. Although the ultimate message may suggest that the youth of America will be able to find alternate ways of learning, even if the school institution is not adequate enough. Interestingly, Marty describes his trip as “educational” when he bids farewell to his parents in 1955.

The appreciation and distribution of rock-and-roll music plays an integral role in defining the personalities of Bill & Ted and Marty McFly. Both films introduce their lead characters in strikingly similar fashion: playing guitar so loudly that their amplifiers explode. It is explicitly reiterated that Bill & Ted change the world because of their rock-and-roll music but it is also suggested obliquely that one of Marty’s great contributions to history changing is jump-starting the rock-and-roll movement of the 1950s. On stage at the dance, Marty takes the opportunity to introduce everyone to “Johnny B. Good” causing a blowout of celebration on the dance floor and inspiring much livelier and athletic dance moves than during the previous song. Ultimately he goes overboard with 1980s style heavy metal guitar moves and showboating which eventually frightens the initially enthusiastic audience. Before this happens, there is a brief shot of the band leader, Marvin Berry, calling his cousin “Chuck” to make sure he hears the music. The inference here is that Marty inadvertently inspires Chuck Berry to write his classic rock-and-roll song. However, what, if any, sort of repercussions this has on the future is never explored. While Marty wisely decides to play a song that would be written relatively close to the time period he is currently residing in, one could assume that Chuck Berry might not wait the full three years until 1958 to write it if he is directly inspired enough in 1955. There is the distinct possibility that Marty must have changed the face of rock-and-roll music, however slightly, by introducing the song prematurely.

Bill & Ted’s contribution to rock-and-roll is given considerably more weight. We are told that their music will bring about universal harmony and turn the world into a much better place but the one scene in which Bill & Ted visit the future, the image is not necessarily as reassuring as it has been prophesied to be. The future is presented as robotic and innocuous. While there is certainly a mellow atmosphere and ethnic diversity is represented favorably, the location seems somewhat suffocating and cold. More disconcerting are the hoards of inarticulate people lined around the cave expressionlessly playing air guitar in synchronization and wearing nearly identical futuristic outfits giving the future a Fascist tone. “Ironically, this undermines the subversive appeal of rock music, which is no longer individualistic in the future but soulless.”[13]

This returns to the fundamentally different tones regarding the outlook of the future within the two films. Bill & Ted is politically charged in that it addresses the growing concerns about dumb youth and the growing power of rock-and-roll music by making light of these concerns and creating a sardonic future in which the conservatives’ worst nightmare is realized. Back to the Future is sociologically charged in that it responds to growing divorce rates and the apathetic youth image by presenting an optimistic and fairy-tale like representation in which the mistakes of the past can be amended in order to bolster the sacrament of family and make way for an encouraging future. A cynical view could still construe the ending of Back to the Future as a grim warning against the preceding actions since Marty is whisked away to the future to rectify the problems that his own children will be facing. Here we have the problematic image of Marty having to save his family again, including the implicit message that he is responsible for this by turning into a lousy parent himself. However, the film presents the scene in a largely comedic way giving the impression that this should be construed more as another exciting adventure that can be solved as easily as the first. While the family may not be entirely immune at the film’s conclusion, the McFly family is represented considerably more stable than those of Bill & Ted. Both films clearly respond to a time in American history when the future of the world was very much uncertain due to war, family breakdown, school reform and an overwhelming sense that things were getting worse, not better.

Bimes, Teri. “Reagan: The Soft-Sell Populist,” in The Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic
Conservativism and Its Legacies, edited by W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003.
Gordon, Andrew. “You’ll Never Get Out of Bedford Falls: The Inescapable Family in
American Science Fiction and Fantasy Films.” Journal of Popular Film & Television 20, no. 2 (Summer 1992) 2-11.
Grossberg, Lawrence. “Rockin' with Reagan or the Mainstreaming of Post-modernity.”
Cultural Critique 10 (Fall, 1988): 123-49.
Hanson, Peter. The Cinema of Generation X: A Critical Study of Films and Directors.
Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002.
Heclo, Hugh. “Reagan and American Public Philosophy,” in The Reagan Presidency:
Pragmatic Conservativism and Its Legacies, edited by W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003.
Holtz, Geoffrey T. Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind “Generation X”. New York:
St. Martin’s Griffen, 1995.
Hunter, IQ. “Banality as Saviour: Bill & Ted and The Matrix,” Filmhäftet 121 (May
2002) . (5/3/05)
King, Lynnea Chapman. “Generation X: Searching for an Identity?” Post Script – Essays
in Film and the Humanities 19, no. 2 (2000): 8-16.
McAllister, Ted V. “Reagan and the Transformation of American Conservatism,” in The
Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic Conservativism and Its Legacies, edited by W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham. Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003.
[1] Lynnea Chapman King, “Generation X: Searching for an Identity?” Post Script – Essays in Film and the Humanities 19, no. 2 (2000): 8.
[2] Geoffrey T. Holtz, Welcome to the Jungle: The Why Behind “Generation X” (New York : St. Martin’s Griffen, 1995), 19.
[3] Holtz, 26.
[4] Peter Hanson, The Cinema of Generation X (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, Inc., 2002), 61.
[5] King, 13.
[6] Lawrence Grossberg, "Rockin' with Reagan or the Mainstreaming of Post-modernity," Cultural Critique 10 (Fall, 1988): 138.
[7] Ted V. McAllister, “Reagan and the Transformation of American Conservatism,” in The Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic Conservativism and Its Legacies, eds. W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003), 49.
[8] Holtz, 194.
[9] Terri Bimes, “Reagan: The Soft-Sell Populist,” in The Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic Conservativism and Its Legacies, eds. W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003), 70.
[10] Andrew Gordon, “You’ll Never Get Out of Bedford Falls: The inescapable family in American Science Fiction and Fantasy Films,” Journal of Popular Film & Television 20, no. 2 (Summer 1992): 8.
[11] Hugh Heclo, “Reagan and American Public Philosophy,” in The Reagan Presidency: Pragmatic Conservativism and Its Legacies, eds. W. Elliot Brownlee and Hugh Davis Graham (Kansas: University Press of Kansas, 2003), 21.
[12] Grossberg, 133.
[13] IQ Hunter, “Banality as Saviour: Bill & Ted and The Matrix,” Filmhäftet 121 (May 2002).

Monday, August 15, 2005

Grizzly Weekend

Over the weekend I saw one of the best films released in 2005 and I’d dare say one of the best documentaries in recent years. The film is Grizzly Man, a brilliant documentary that takes full use of the medium and creates a “video essay” that asserts how powerful a technique this can be. The film gives us a view into the life of the late Timothy Treadwell, an animal rights activist who spent 13 summers living in the Alaskan wilderness with Grizzly Bears until his tragic death at the hands of a grizzly bear in 2003. Treadwell filmed himself during his later summers and left over 100 hours of footage behind with him. Prestigious German director, Werner Herzog, has sifted through this footage and compiled it along with newly created interviews to create an intimate character study at a depth unobtainable by fictional narrative filmmaking. I was initially concerned the documentary might vulgarly take advantage of his death but to my great relief it chooses not to sensationalize his demise but rather explores his life. Despite having evident respect for Treadwell, Herzog is not afraid to portray the darker side of his life and does not shy away from Treadwell’s many weaknesses. We also learn a lot about Herzog himself, as he narrates the documentary and injects his personal beliefs on a couple of occasions creating a very personal piece of work.

In related news, I also rented two recent, rather mediocre films made by talented writer/directors: Bright Young Things (2003) – Stephen Frye and Silver City (2004) – John Sayles. Bright Young Things was entertaining but slight, with a charismatic lead and fun supporting roles by a horde of celebrated British actors. It proved to be mildly interesting in terms of its role as a British “Heritage” film – literary adaptation, verdant landscapes, upper class social comedy, episodic narrative, familiar British actors, painstaking detail in recreating early 40s time period and an emphasis on spectacle.

Silver City was sadly a disappointing bore, made all the worse in comparison to Sayles’ strong work in films like Sunshine State and Lone Star. The most glaring problem is the incredibly poorly chosen lead character played by Danny Huston (The Aviator). Huston could make a good smarmy journalist as a side character but having him elevated to lead is just too much responsibility for this type of character. A much more palatable choice would have been to switch his character with the brief role played enthusiastically by Tim Roth. However all the blame can’t be rested solely on Huston’s misused shoulders, there are a few other major flaws, particularly the meager editing, done by Sayles himself, who lets scenes run on far longer than they should. There are also some issues with tone, the film can never decide if it wants to be a satire, a political indictment on the Bush office or a modern day All the President’s Men-type mystery. While I am often a big fan of genre distortion, as my Brian De Palma love attests, the dissonance between scenes in Silver City is more annoying than enticing.

Erotic Noir

The genre known as film noir came into being during the 1940’s and 1950’s and is largely regarded as an American genre in spite of its title donated by French critics. Thomas Schatz describes the progenitors of this genre as displaying two distinct styles: “visually, these films were darker and compositionally more abstract than most Hollywood films; thematically, they were considerably more pessimistic and brutal in their presentation of American life.”[1] Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (2002) immediately evokes the film noir genre, not only by way of its title but also in the fact that the initial sound and image comes from a clip of Double Indemnity (1944), one of the seminal works in the genre featuring cinema’s most memorable femme fatale. However, De Palma does not adhere to either of the elements that Schatz supplies for the genre. Instead it appears more in line with what the genre has come to generally (but not exclusively) represent: the plethora of hard-boiled detective mysteries that were being produced during the late 1940s and ‘50s. Films that often center on a morally ambiguous protagonist called in to work on a case that leads into society’s seedy underbelly where he must struggle against the social system to do what he believes to be right. The protagonist is usually drawn deeper into this world by a “femme fatale”, a woman who seduces him with her supposed innocence and naiveness but later is revealed to be a savvy and genuine threat possessing ulterior motives.

On the matter of genre, Schatz also says that “as one sees more genre films, one tends to negotiate the genre less by its individual films than by its deep structure, those rules and conventions which render” the genre.[2] This is one aspect that makes Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale (2002) an invigorating cinematic experience. As an auteur, De Palma’s two prominent characteristics are scrambling of genres and mimicry of his favorite directors (Hitchcock in particular).

After the introductory nods to the genre, the first act of Femme Fatale proceeds more like an erotic thriller, a genre De Palma has more experience in with works like Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981) and Body Double (1984). The film begins with a diamond heist sequence in which the femme fatale, Laure (Rebecca Romijn-Stamos), seduces a female model by guiding her to the bathroom for an erotic encounter that echoes the opening shower sequence of Dressed to Kill. It is not until the second act in which the male protagonist, Nicolas Bardo (Antonio Banderas), takes on a larger role that it turns into typical film noir. Bardo is an updated version of the cynical gumshoe from the late 1940s; the 21st century version has morphed into a cynical paparazzo. Laure, the target he is ordered to photograph, comes to fully embody the femme fatale role that was only hinted at during the first act.

First, she intellectually seduces Bardo by playing the battered, damsel in distress role, dressed in a virginal white outfit complete with scarf and black sunglasses, to capture his interest. Second, she physically seduces him in order to frame him for her supposed kidnapping. Lastly, she emotionally seduces him through jealousy in order to ensure him going through with the final stage of her plan. As the evidence mounts, Bardo sinks deeper and deeper into trouble with no apparent refuge. Similar to his film noir forefather in Double Indemnity, Bardo eventually meets his fate at the hands of the femme fatale’s bullet - although this is not where De Palma chooses to end his film. Instead, the third act transforms into a sort of fairy tale where the film noir segment is revealed to have been a prophetic dream on the part of Laure. Completely going against the generic conventions, Laure chooses a path of redemption and romance instead of greed and murder. This change of heart is accepted because De Palma has transmuted his characterization of the femme fatale, most notably by promoting her to primary character as well as visually representing her more vibrantly than the shadowy women of the classical Hollywood noir.

De Palma also voices an underlying subtext that could never be made explicit during the heyday of Hollywood cinema: homosexuality. In what can initially be taken as a throw-away scene, Bardo impersonates a homosexual in order to gain Laure’s trust. It is easy to ignore the implications of this scene because Banderas has played a similar version of this homosexual persona before, both for laughs and sincerity. However, if one is to look at the film through the classical auteur theory, we must question why De Palma would include the scene. One can conjecture it is commentary on the subliminal message sent in some of the old films where the male detective is better off on his own and his problems are all caused by the presence of a woman. It is also intriguing that De Palma comments on the genre itself by making the film noir segment the only portion to exist entirely outside the realm of reality.

Classical auteur theorist, Andrew Sarris believes that the criteria for being considered an auteur is that “a director must exhibit certain recurrent characteristics of style, which serve as his signature” as well as an interior meaning being “extrapolated from the tension between a director’s personality and his material.”[3] Both thematically and technically, Femme Fatale shares many similarities with the rest of De Palma’s oeuvre. While his allusions to Hitchcock do not feature as blatantly as say the presence of Rear Window (1954) in Sisters (1973) or Psycho (1960) in Dressed to Kill, some subtle Hitchcockian tendencies can be discerned. The clearest visual similarity is the duality of the hair colors Laure wears in correlation to the Kim Novak character in Vertigo (1958). Thematically he utilizes the “wrong man” scenario during the Bardo being framed segment, a subject Hitchcock was very fond of using in films such as The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) and North by Northwest (1959).

Another affinity to Hitchcock is De Palma’s obsession with voyeurism. This motif can be found in virtually all of his films, and Femme Fatale is no exception. Intrinsically there is the decision to have Bardo a voyeur by livelihood and by nature. The medium of photography takes precedent during key scenes in the story: Laure herself posing as a member of the paparazzi during the diamond heist, the numerous shots of the wedding photographer waiting for the sun to come out during the truck sequence as well as the film ending on a freeze frame emulating a snapshot followed by the collage of photographs that Bardo was compiling. Some of the most heavily voyeuristic sequences include Laure’s security guard secretly watching Bardo while negotiating the sale of the picture, Bardo watching Laure purchase a hand gun and the last seduction scene in which Laure performs a strip tease for another man while Bardo watches from the stairs. In these scenes, Laure’s knowledge of Bardo’s voyeurism fuels her actions; Bardo on the other hand is unaware that he is being examined; both by the direct action of the security guard and the reflexive manner of Laure watching him watch her.

De Palma’s dependence on homage is not to say he does not possess stylistic tendencies of his own, namely his revolutionary work using split-screen to show parallel action. His elaborate split-screen scenes in Femme Fatale are direct descendents of Sisters while the complicated overhead shots panning over walls of ceiling-less rooms in Snake Eyes is echoed during Bardo’s interrogation scene. There is also the reoccurring use of dream sequences in practically all his films, two of the most elaborate dreams being found in Femme Fatale and Dressed to Kill. The juxtaposition of dreams in these two is of importance in that Femme Fatale’s structure is one very lengthy dream book-ended by two reality segments while Dressed to Kill’s reality is book-ended by two lengthy dreams.

In response to Andrew Sarris’ definition of the auteur, Peter Wollen says that it is not enough to simply have recurring themes; the director “must be defined in terms of shifting relations, in their singularity as well as their uniformity.”[4] For more than twenty years, De Palma has been accomplishing variety by playing with genre conventions and invoking established auteurs within a spectrum of stories. While his creative stamp may lie most firmly in the erotic thriller, his career has encompassed war, spy/espionage, horror, comedy, psychological thriller, gangster and even science fiction. Wollen went on to describe a valuable work as being “one which challenges codes, overthrows established ways of reading or looking, not simply to establish new ones, but to compel an unending dialogue.”[5] This is certainly a fit description for Femme Fatale, a film that takes the obvious generic conventions of film noir and mixes them so thoroughly with DePalma’s auteur tendencies that it creates an amalgam that can no longer be described conclusively as a film noir, or even an erotic thriller for that matter.

Sarris, Andrew. “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Schatz, Thomas. “Film Genre and the Genre Film.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Schatz, Thomas. Hollywood Genres. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981.
Wollen, Peter. “The Auteur Theory.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
[1] Thomas Schatz, Hollywood Genres, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1981), 112.
[2] Thomas Schatz, “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 692.
[3] Andrew Sarris, “Notes on the Auteur Theory in 1962,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 562.
[4] Peter Wollen, “The Auteur Theory,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 575.
[5] Peter Wollen, “The Auteur Theory,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 580.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Genre Identification: Linda Williams and the “Gross-Out” Comedy

In Linda Williams’ article, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,” Williams utilizes the identification theories of Christian Metz and Jean-Louis Baudry in conjunction with genre theory to craft an analysis of the physical reactions the viewer has to three specific “body genres”: horror, melodrama and pornography. Two theorists that must be considered in relation to discussions on genre theory are Rick Altman and Thomas Schatz. Altman’s writing discusses genres through a semantic/syntactic scope or more simply as vocabulary versus context: the semantic approach covers the similar traits that appear predominantly in a specific genre while syntax acknowledges a similar story type to define a genre. Altman suggests that in order for a genre to be successful, “either a relatively stable set of semantic givens is developed through syntactic experimentation…or an already existing syntax adopts a new set of semantic elements.”[1] He uses the example of the science fiction genre, suggesting it exists on a foundation of science fiction semantics, but borrows heavily from the syntax of the horror and western genres. This hints at a cross-pollination between genres that has proved to be quite provocative in the field of genre theory.

Thomas Schatz explores another difficult distinction: the film genre versus the genre film. The vehicle he uses to explore this idea is that of semiotics, the study of signs and symbols as elements of language and communication. Schatz defines three areas for genre analysis: characteristics shared by basically all genre films, characteristics shared by all films within a given genre and characteristics that isolate one genre film from all others. In addition, he explores the separation of genre in terms of social context, “the determining, identifying feature of a film genre is its cultural context, its community of interrelated character types whose attitudes, values, and actions flesh out dramatic conflicts inherent within that community.”[2] From this we get the stereotypical characters that are symbols or placeholders that serve a specific function within the genre as well as the particular social problems that are inherent to certain genres. Schatz acknowledges that vital elements of one genre can still be found in other genres but in a different context (he addresses the presence of musical numbers in many westerns and gangster films that are certainly not considered musicals). Instead, we identify a genre through the conflict situation and the types of characters found in the story as established by the grammar of the film genre.

Linda Williams synthesizes these modes of genre distinction in order to examine their physical effects on the spectator. She writes on three genres that she describes as so excessive and overwhelming in a specific emotion that they produce a bodily sensation in the viewer. This effect is achieved visually through spasms induced by overwhelming sadness from the melodrama, fear and terror from the horror film and sexual pleasure from pornography as well as aurally through tears, screams and moans. Williams does not attempt to claim these are the only genres that evoke such sensations on the viewer, rather she isolates these three because she feels they have especially low cultural status and “the success of these genres is often measured by the degree to which the audience sensation mimics what is seen on screen.”[3] This mimicry is what Metz would refer to as the secondary identification with the characters on screen.

In terms of melodrama, Williams grounds her analysis in “women’s weepies,” such as Stella Dallas (1937) or Steel Magnolias (1989) that are characterized by an element of overwhelming pathos, often spurred by a terminal illness or an accidental death. She does not confine her examination to this gender-exclusive genre however. She makes note of an evolving trend that has created the male version of the weepie; Ordinary People (1980) is a prime example. These observations highlight a Laura Mulvey type of distinction between the male and female identification that Williams explores at great length throughout her article.
What Williams does not do is interrogate the possibility of a film belonging to more than one of these “body genres.” One of the examples she lists under contemporary horror films is a perfect subject to explore this notion, Brian DePalma’s Dressed to Kill (1980). If we are to look at it in terms of a horror, it is arguable that we can just as easily look at it in terms of pornography. Dressed to Kill certainly goes to excess in both regards: the gruesome violence of the murder scenes makes the viewer jump and scream out of repulsion while the film’s sexual scenes and dialogue are as explicit as many of the sequences found in what is considered to be traditional pornography.

If we are to look at this film through Altman’s semantic/syntactic approach, we can propose that the film is not genuine pornography because even though it utilizes semantic elements of pornography, the context of the events is within the investigation of a potential serial killer. We can also use Schatz to further dispel the idea of a pornography if we incorporate his idea that “the most significant feature of any generic narrative may be its resolution – that is, its efforts to solve, even if only temporarily, the conflicts that have disturbed the community welfare.”[4] With this in mind we can more accurately classify Dressed to Kill in the genre of horror or thriller since it concludes with the killer’s identity being revealed and being apprehended by the police, instead of a sexual activity as would be expected in pornography. Williams’ classification process enforces a more rigid structure that is not well equipped for such hybridization and films like Dressed to Kill prove to be a challenge to dissect.

Schatz proposes that “the sustained success of any genre depends upon at least two factors: the thematic appeal and significance of the conflicts it repeatedly addresses and its flexibility in adjusting to the audience’s and filmmaker’s changing attitudes toward those conflicts.”[5] One subgenre that is slowly emerging over time that fits in well with Williams’ other body genres is the gross-out comedy, or films that derive their humor primarily from bodily functions that cause the viewer to cringe out of disgust while also evoking laughter.

The gross-out comedy has long been considered as a genre primarily geared toward a teenage-male audience, thanks to teen-sex-comedies like Porky’s (1982), The Last American Virgin (1982) and Losin’ It (1983). These films all feature scenes in which sexual situations are mostly played for laughs as they frequently result in mishap and embarrassment. However, the release of There’s Something About Mary in 1998 helped expand the genre to appeal to an older audience of both males and females. Instead of the horny teenagers of the ‘80s, the lead characters are now lovelorn 30-somethings and the title character is a strong, independent female played by Cameron Diaz. The semantics were still the same (masturbation, voyeurism, embarrassment, genital pain) but the syntax was elevated to a more (theoretically) mature level.

Due to the overwhelming success of the film, an onslaught of gross-out comedies was released in the following years. However, the genre was now expanded to films that included “toilet humor” featuring scenes of excrement and urination, but sidestepping the explicit sexual element like Big Daddy (1999). That same year American Pie (1999) popularized a synthesis of sex humor and toilet humor by having characters unknowingly consume bodily fluids beginning with semen and progressing to urine and dog feces in the sequels. This trend was continued in other imitators like Tomcats (2001), Van Wilder (2002), and perhaps the ultimate example of gross-out humor, Jackass: The Movie (2002).

The most interesting advancement in the genre is the advent of the female-led gross-out comedy that appeals specifically to teenage girls with limited cross-over appeal. This can best be seen in The Sweetest Thing (2002), which also stars Cameron Diaz who has begun to serve as an identifier of the genre film. The film is headed by three female leads who realize they need to reexamine their approaches to dating in order to obtain a desirable husband, all the while featuring numerous and extensive jokes about oral sex, fecal matters and on-screen female regurgitation. Another example of the genre reaching broader appeal can be found in Meet the Parents (2000). In this case, the film is a family comedy focusing on middle-aged adults in which the topic of marriage and other mature subject matter has been injected with gross-out humor involving faulty septic tanks and feline urination.

This genre expansion in terms of gender and age relates back to Williams’ inclusion of the “male weepie.” This is part of a larger discussion about female identification that Williams explores through this as well as the emergence of bisexual pornography in which the classic rules of sexual identification have been morphed. Williams feels that these advancements are important in that they acknowledge a feminine viewing pleasure that was purported not to exist in classical gender theory such as Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Mulvey expanded upon Metz’s idea of primary identification by using psychoanalysis to suggest that the cinematic identification is exclusively male. Later works by Tania Modleski and Jackie Stacey have given examples similar to Williams that strongly persuade for the existence of a female identification. Due to films like There’s Something About Mary and The Sweetest Thing, we can firmly campaign for the presence of the female gaze in the gross-out comedy.

In order to properly define the gross-out comedy as a stable genre we must examine it according to both Altman and Schatz’s theoretical requirements. Considering the inherent role that sex plays in the majority of the bodily functions of the genre, it is equitable to say that all films of this nature must also be considered romantic comedies or at least feature key romantic subplots. Without an object of desire to lust after, the range of bodily functions available to create comedic set-pieces is greatly diminished. We can propose that the semantics of the genre frequently include sex, masturbation, teenagers, vomit, excretion, urination and bodily pain while the syntax is that of the classical Hollywood romantic comedy. The Schatzian approach would consider the films in terms of social conflict and narrative resolution: Boy meets girl, Boy loses girl, Boy needs to learn how to recover girl, and Boy wins back girl (or vice-versa as the identification oscillates).[6]

Sadly, there is a potential futility to be found within the genre. We can return to Altman’s theory of semantic/syntactic synthesis in constituting a successful genre which states that to achieve durability a genre must possess both a coherent and stable syntax and not just recurring semantics.[7] In these terms, the gross-out comedy appears more as a fad than as a genre all of its own. Seeing as its roots lie so intricately in the firmly established romantic comedy genre, the semantics of the gross-out can be perceived as responding to a popular interest during a particular period of time. With this we enter back into Schatz’s theory about the discourse between the audience and the studios suggesting the films of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s appear to be answering to some cultural desire to be grossed-out or disgusted. However, as Schatz suggests, it is likely this interest will quickly dissipate much like it did after the spout of raunchy teenage-sex-comedies of the early 1980’s.

If the genre is (conceivably) destined to last only for sporadic, brief periods of time, one must question the significance of investigating it so thoroughly. There are a number of answers to this. Most provocatively, it opens discussion on the much broader topic of laughter in general. The psychological and psychoanalytical discourse required to properly tackle a query such as how a physical reaction like the cringe that is characterized by disgust or fear can somehow be the impetus of laughter is too immense to be covered here. This field harkens back to the question of spectatorship in relation to genre.

The return to spectatorship marks the return to the central text of Williams’ “body genres.” One of the many important aspects of her article is the new approach to genre distinction: the physical effect on the viewer. In this sense, the gross-out comedy must be taken into account within a contemporary revision of her theory. The genre not only satisfies the visual, aural and low-culture requirements of her body genre criterion, the genre’s existence is fundamentally based on the act of bodily secretion and therefore must be considered as an integral member within this analysis.

[1] Rick Altman, “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 686.
[2] Thomas Schatz, “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 695.
[3] Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 730.
[4] Thomas Schatz, “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 699.
[5] Thomas Schatz, “Film Genre and the Genre Film,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 700.
[6] Linda Williams, “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 736.
[7] Rick Altman, “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre,” in Film Theory and Criticism, ed. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 690.


Altman, Rick. “A Semantic/Syntactic Approach to Film Genre.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Schatz, Thomas. “Film Genre and the Genre Film.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.
Williams, Linda. “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess.” In Film Theory and Criticism, edited by Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.