Watching Marriage Story, it’s clear that Noah Baumbach has taken a side in the perennial debate of New York versus Los Angeles. “There’s so much space!” multiple characters tell Charlie (Adam Driver) in the hope of convincing him to see the virtues of the city. Charlie, a New York theatre director, is faced with the prospect of moving to Los Angeles in the course of his divorce from Nicole (Scarlett Johansson). The film chronicles their attempts to navigate divorce across two coasts while co-parenting their son, Henry.Read more
Saving Films and the Importance of Archiving
Figure i. Gaumont/Odeon, Jordan Well 1931-1999 (Smith 2014)
I used to have a vague awareness that there were such things as lost films, but I had assumed that this was generally due to mismanagement or accidents. I was not aware of the issues around old film stock decay (Allen et al. 1987), and the implications for the urgency of archival work. Even with films that are considered to be safe, with the evolution of digital media distribution, I assumed that the majority of films were available to view legally. With advances in technology, the future of archiving is perhaps unclear. For archivists, the question is how we save the films of the past while ensuring the film of the present is preserved for the future.
The archival of film is an essential part of maintaining our cultural history and ensuring it is accessible for future generations. Film is a visual, auditory cultural record we can use to evaluate moments in history. It can inform us about the values, culture, and even fashion of a particular time. The power of film goes beyond the information, as it connects with our emotions, with film also being shown on transatlantic immigration ships to America, to prepare those immigrating for their new home (Jones 2012).Read more
Pink Flamingos and Good Bad Taste
Figure i. Pink Flamingos (Waters 1972)
“To me, bad taste is what entertainment is all about. If someone vomits watching one of my films, it’s like getting a standing ovation. But one must remember that there is such a thing as good bad taste and bad bad taste.”– John Waters (Harrington 1997)
As the director of a film that features incest, bestiality, topped off by a finale where the lead character eats dog excrement, it may seem strange that John Waters draws a distinction between good and bad taste. However, Pink Flamingos (Waters 1972) is a mediation on taste, class, and camp, and undoubtedly important in filmic history. The film was influential and impactful, not only for its content but for the way it was distributed. Ultimately, no one filmmaker has intentionally explored taste in a more prolific way than John Waters, and Pink Flamingos represents the apotheosis of his engagement of the subject through film.Read more
How does Disney Solve a Problem Like Song of the South?
Figure i. Song of the South (Foster and Jackson 1946)
Song of the South (Foster and Jackson 1946) has long since been a thorn in the side of The Walt Disney Company. While the CEO, Bob Iger recently announced the entire Disney film library would be available for streaming on their Disney Plus platform, they have recently announced that Song of the South will not be included (Bakare 2019). The company have had a moratorium on the distribution of the film since it was last released in 1986. The film is controversial and has been criticised for its depiction of race in its historical setting (Singer 2016).
However, Song of the South is not the only Disney film that has been criticised for its depiction of race. The same announcement also revealed that Disney would be removing a scene from Dumbo (Sharpsteen 1941) that has been considered to be racially-insensitive (Harp 2019). Other, newer, entries in the Disney canon have been denounced for their representation of race. Aladdin has been criticised for its orientalist depiction of the Middle East (Bitchmedia 2017), and Pocahontas has been criticised for the way it portrays the historical figure Pocahontas (Nye 2015). So why is Song of the South such a problematic film for Disney, to the extent that they have all but disavowed the film?Read more
Suspiria and Psychoanalysis
Figure i. Suspiria (Argento 1977)
While psychoanalysis is directly mentioned in Suspiria (1977), the relationship between the film and psychoanalysis is more profound than the textual. The psychoanalytic theoretical framework can provide us with a further and more in-depth understanding of the aesthetic, narrative, and esoteric themes in Suspiria.
Defying the usual narrative sensibilities of film, Suspiria (1977), is often compared to a dream or a nightmare. The lush but unusual visuals, the intercutting of the scenes reminiscent of dream logic, and the abrupt ending all point to more similarities with the dream state than the waking. The study of dreams is inextricably linked to psychoanalysis. One of the most important theories on dreaming was proposed by Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, who proposed that ‘the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind’ (Freud 1900 cited in Nagera 2014).Read more
The End of the American Nightmare?
The link between genre films and how they relate to the social and political context they derive from has long since been a generative topic of discussion. This piece will discuss Robin Wood’s theory of the ‘American Nightmare’ in relation to The Last House on the Left and then if we can still see an American Nightmare in later films such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
The end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s was a turbulent time in American history. While the optimism of the early sixties began to fade with events such as the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and the beginning of the Vietnam war, it was extinguished by 1969, when the Manson family murders took place. Events like the Kent State shooting, where the National Guard opened fire on protesters (History 2018), further challenged America’s self-concept. For a country with a core belief in optimism expressed through the sacralised American dream, it was a moment of crisis.Read more
The Love Witch and Female Narratives
Women led films seem to be having a bit of a long overdue moment, solidified by the release of Captain Marvel, just in time for International Women’s Day. We can point to this as progress albeit progress that is long overdue; finally, after 20 movies, Marvel is releasing a film with a woman as the central character. However, when we look at the stories these films are telling, are the narratives about women for women, or do they just feature a female lead character in place of a male, telling stories that are more of the same? We could even ask, why does this distinction matter?
That’s not to say that people aren’t telling stories about womanhood through film outside of blockbusters released by Disney. Film 4 have programmed a slate of female-focused films to coincide with International Women’s Day. While many great films are being shown, one stood out to me as an example of a movie that centres women in every frame – Anna Biller’s 2016 The Love Witch.Read more
Realism and Bicycle Thieves
Figure i. Bicycle Thieves (DeSica 1948)
“Viewed in this perspective, cinema is objectivity in time” (Bazin 1967).
In the first few weeks of this module, the viewing that generated the most interest for me was Vittorio DeSica’s Bicycle Thieves (1948). It might seem strange that I have chosen to focus on this movie, as my first reaction to viewing the film was ambivalent. While I appreciated the importance of the movie and its contribution to cinematic history, my engagement with it was distanced and academic. It didn’t evoke a strong emotional reaction in me, which slightly unnerved me as one of the things I knew about the movie through cultural osmosis was that it was a sad, tragic film. I questioned myself; had I missed an integral part of the film? Was there something wrong with me?
Likewise, when I was first introduced to the realist school of film theory, I struggled to consider the value of cinema as an empirical, objective medium where reality can be totally replicated on screen. For a medium as constructed as narrative film, I saw it as ingrained with the subjectivity of those controlling the camera, calling the very notion of realism into question in that what is reflected was not objective reality, therefore for me, there was a flaw in the central thesis.Read more
Under The Silver Lake – Review
The sinister underbelly of Los Angeles has been explored in popular culture over and over again, with countless musicians, filmmakers and artists putting their spin on the tale of what lies beneath the glossy veneer of the city. No matter how many times the story has been told, we’re still interested in the idea that there’s a dark side to la la land. Under the Silver Lake is David Robert Mitchell’s neo-noir take on this subject matter
In this story, we’re propelled into the dark side of the city with Sam (Andrew Garfield), whose encounter with his neighbour Sarah (Riley Keough), leads Sam to investigate her mysterious disappearance. Desperate to find out more, Sam journeys through the weird world of Los Angeles to uncover what happened.Read more
The House That Jack Built – Sitges 2018
The House That Jack Built was the first film I saw at Sitges film festival. I have to admit, it wasn’t really on my list of must see films, and I suppose it’s worth mentioning that I am most definitely not the target demographic for this movie. I bought my ticket more of out of a sense of morbid curiosity rather than general interest, and this is the context I’m reviewing the film in.
Lars Von Trier’s latest movie purports to be an exploration of the relationship between violence, destruction and art, told through the confessions of Jack, a prolific serial killer with a predilection for art created through murder. I found it to be an empty shell of a movie, one that is a feat of endurance to get through not because it’s gruesome, but because it’s boring and introspective to the point of being a navel-gazing exercise in narcissism.Read more