Ghost Dog as Satire

Ghost Dog had a lot of satirical elements in it, mostly about gangsters.

Obviously, the gangsters are awful–and they know it. They’re old men whose glory days are far behind them. They’re undignified. One of the bosses needs a hearing aide and still has to shout everything. Louie could barely manage to write a small enough message for Ghost Dog. His buddy in the apartment was flailing around trying to catch a bird for over a minute. The boss of this mafia was talked down to by his landowner since he’s 3 months behind on rent. One of them even says that at least they get to die like real gangsters. In Louie’s final shootout scene, he overdramatizes it and Ghost Dog even calls him out on it.

Then we have Ghost Dog. He’s a fat Japanophile that takes himself way too seriously, believing himself to be a protector of some ancient, better way of living. When he moves in a fight, the film is edited to make it look like he’s making afterimages with fades of the last few frames, and they add in “whoosh” noises. He twirls his guns before holstering them. Everything he does is over-the-top samurai, and juxtaposed with the city, he’s ridiculous.

Last is the cartoons. So many major actions in the films reflect cartoons. Paralleling their actions with the unrealistic caricaturized antics of the cartoons further points out how completely absurd and unrealistic the action of the film is.

To me, it all points to a message about not taking things too seriously, and to beware of romanticizing things.


We spoke briefly today about the genre of blockbuster films. I just came across this interesting article which speaks about how Titanic (1997) secured its record breaking 200 million dollar budget, and the trials and tribulations that came along with getting it made–including PCP laced lobster chowder which sent 80 crew members to the hospital (allegedly laced by a disgruntled chef).

Here’s the link to the article:

Black and White in Ghost Dog

One of themes that developed during the course of Ghost Dog (1999) was race and equality, largely conveyed through both dialogue and the mise-en-scène. Jim Jarmusch often used the clash between black and white color to evoke this theme. Examples include the black and white chess pieces that occurred frequently, the vanilla versus chocolate ice cream, and the cartoon professor (white) contrasted by the Felix the cat (black). The analogy of Ghost Dog to a black bear, which was hunted for standing out, was also of particular note when discussing the racial theme in the film. A comparison of two different shots in the film, helps further evoke this theme. The first shot was a close up of a white pigeon bleeding out on Ghost Dog’s pavement rooftop after mobsters came to his home. The second shot is almost exactly the same, but this time it is Ghost Dog himself bleeding out on the pavement, dressed in all black. These two shots reveal much of what  Jarmusch is trying to communicate thematically in his film.

Ghost Dog – The Way of the Samurai

Really enjoyed this film. I’m quickly becoming a huge Jim Jarmusch fan. Every single one of his films I’ve seen has been replete with revisionist tendencies. One this is for sure, he isn’t shy to show the worst of America’s history.

Some comments….

  • Jarmusch gives new meaning to bird’s eye p.o.v. shot
  • Not sure whether his dissolves within a still frame is a shout out to Scorsese who utilizes it all the time and who traditionally thrives in the stereotypical “Mafia” film, or a manifestation of “live life like a dream”. Works both ways.
  • An instance of true wit: The mafioso types finish criticizing black rappers and Native Americans for their self-given and spiritual names only to call for “Slick joey, rags, and a whole other assortment of nicknamed mafiosos”.
  • I’m still trying to figure out the inclusion of all those cartoons. It certainly infantilizes the mafia. Whether it’s making a comment on violence within tv culture i’m not sure. However, in the getaway car, after Ghost Dog has been killed, the cartoon is of a cat and mouse (I’ve forgotten their names) squaring off with larger and larger revolvers. It certainly seems like a visual metaphor for the affects of violence.
  • The incoherence created by the separate languages seems to me a positive note within the film. People from separate backgrounds may bond without common language. However, one cannot ignore the fact that the two factions pitted against each other are from different “worlds” per se, and speak from separate traditions. They certainly don’t get along. I’m curious as to people’s opinions on this matter. Couple this with the unfinished boat upon the roof.
  • The little girl, Perlaine, seemed to me a play on the traditional love interest associated with the genres included within Ghost Dog.
  • Loved that Gary Farmer almost reprises his role in Dead Man in a contemporary setting. He has the same line “stupid fucking white man”.
  • All in all I’m loving Jarmusch and his white shock of hair. If you’re looking for a fresh take on stale genres he is your man. Only Lovers Left Alive is the only way in which vampires should be considered cool.

Ghost Dog Reaction

I don’t quite know how to think about this film. I enjoyed it as a whole, I thought it had a good soundtrack, messages, and in general was a good film. But we are studying genre at the moment, and that is why we watched this film, so I’m wondering how to classify it. I think there was a lot more of the traditional “mobster” movie feel than anything else. There was certainly some aspect of samurai, but I saw Ghost Dog more as an assassin than a samurai, like a bounty hunter. I heard a lot of stereotypical “Italian Mobster” things throughout the movie like “forget about it”  and their names a long the lines of “Vinny the snake” seemed like they were making fun of mobster movies, could this film be classified as a satire?

I thought the quotes that came in throughout the film were the most “samurai movie” aspect of the film. I particularly like the quote “large matters should be taken lightly, while small matters should be taken seriously.” I thought the film had a lot more to do with race than samurais.

I thought it was interesting how the cartoons that the mobsters were watching usually had to do with something that had happened or was about to happen.  Especially the early shot of Betty Boop flagging the pigeons like Ghost Dog did. Like I said in my previous post, I am a big Simpsons fan, and I saw all those Itchy and Scratchy episodes before, and this movie gave them new meaning.

What genre do you think this film goes into?

Ghost Dog, Cartoons, and the Lack of Authorities

After Ghost Dog stole the second car, something struck me as strange: where are the police? Clearly, the low socioeconomic setting as well as the presence of the mob indicates that even if there were a police presence in this city, they would probably be corrupt and horribly racist. Nonetheless, it struck me as odd that there wasn’t a single policeman to be seen, despite the number of people who had been shot, houses that had been broken into, and cars that had been stolen. Shortly thereafter, as Louie was driving back to the city, he was pulled over by a policewoman for speeding, the pettiest of crimes in the whole movie. Louie’s dying fellow mobster commented “how come when your in the city, you never see a single cop?” (I jotted that down in my notebook and it’s more likely than not a paraphrase of what was actually said, but the sentiment remains).

This could be a bit of a stretch, but I actually think the answer to the where are all the police in the city lies in recurring presence of the cartoons. Each of the cartoons shown, minus Betty Boop waving a flag at all the pigeons in the beginning (which was graphically matched to Ghost Dog’s actions soon after), showed some sort of competition and violence between two cartoon characters. These cartoons all possessed certain Western elements to them, especially the presence of guns. Additionally, and perhaps more to the point, these types of old-timey cartoons operate in a lawless world. The cartoons shown in Ghost Dog struck me as familiar, although I can’t place the names. They all did, however, remind me of the Road Runner cartoons I watched growing up, where Wiley Coyote was constantly chasing Road Runner, who in turn dropped anvils on his head (Tom and Jerry is another cartoon that has this antagonistic set-up). In Road Runner, there was never any sort of authority figure that looked into the fact that someone was being crushed by anvils. These characters, like the characters in the cartoons in Ghost Dog, existed in a lawless society. Similarly, the world Ghost Dog created was a nearly lawless society. People could shoot each other without any fear of being thrown in jail. There was such a lack of authority that the mobsters didn’t even have to bribe the police in any way. They simply weren’t there. I think the presence of the cartoons hints at the lawlessness of society; the world Ghost Dog is in exists as the ugly side of that cartoon world, where lawlessness and violence is just as abundant, but this time actual human lives are at stake.

There is a ton of graphic matches made between the cartoon world and real life in Ghost Dog. Towards the very end, we see the cartoon characters pull out large gun after large gun until their weaponry is the size of the earth and they end up destroying it. I think this is intended as a sort of warning; now that Ghost Dog, the only one with a sort of moral code, or at least sense of loyalty, is gone, the world could deteriorate very quickly. The audience is left with a glimmer of hope that Pearline will take up his post and restore an ounce of sanity and good to the otherwise insane world. The cartoon at the end, however, seems to predict that the world is bound be destroyed by all the violence and lawlessness in society.

Thoughts on Ghost Dog

Jim Jarmusch directed Ghost Dog (1999) and played around with different genres, which relates to our discussions of genre theory. He created this hybrid of the two genres, Italian American Gangster and African American Gangster, that are talked about in Chapter 2 of Understanding Film Theory.

Ghost Dog

Italian American Gangster

Semantics- mafia/mob, violence, Italian accents, gold chains/watches, white tanks, smoking cigars, guns, family ties

African American Gangster

Semantics- inner-city, rap, chains, violence, low-income, racism, guns, gangs

I am curious, what were the other genres (if any) that were also included in the film?

The two different types of gangsters in this film are meant to mirror each other. I believe this shows the changing of time. The Italian mob  men, like Louis, represent the old, classic gangsters who are very old-fashioned. The African American gangsters represent the new image or identity of gangsters in the 90s. The changing of time was brought up many times throughout the film.  Ghost Dog says to Louis, “Everything is changing around us”. Also, one of the Italian mob men mentioned that Ghost Dog killed like “the old way- like real fucking gangsters”. I just noticed a constant mention of the “old way” and “change”. I’m not sure what the exact message is of this, but Ghost Dog said towards the end of the movie that people should “stick with the ancient ways”.

Reoccurring themes:

Racism, Equality, Animals (birds, bears, dogs), Asian culture, Literature

One thing I never really understood the meaning of throughout the film was Louise watching cartoons. I understood towards the end that the cartoons mirrored what was going on in the movie, but I was wondering if there was another deeper meaning for this? Thoughts?


Peter Sellers is Dr. Strangelove

A week after watching the fabulous Doctor Strangelove (Kubrick, 1963)I was left with a number of fantastic thoughts in my head about the film.  Every shot had something interesting that I liked, every joke had some type of humor that I could understand and relate to, and there were even some surprisingly solid action sequences to keep my brain alert and focused.  What stood out to me the most, however, was an outstanding performance from Peter Sellers, something we briefly touched on in class last week but really (I think) needs to break the surface of conversation more than just once.

Seller’s performance wasn’t limited to one or two very impactful scenes, it was dispersed gradually over the course of the entire film as a sort of satirical glue that kept the mood light in the face of apparent seriousness.  Of course, he also wasn’t limited to just one character, as we saw him perform wonderfully as Group Captain Lionel Mandrake, President Merkin Muffley, and as the iconic Dr. Strangelove himself.  What Sellers accomplished with all of these three characters was a perfect, diametrically opposed perspective from the perspective of the character he was conversing with at the time.  As Mandrake, Sellers plays a light-hearted spritely British captain who functions almost as a counter-point for the surly, cynical and insane Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper (Sterling Hayden).  This opposing character structure is hugely instrumental in providing a balance that keeps the satirical mood in place the way it should be.  The reason General Ripper’s perspective seemed so ridiculous to us was because at every point that Ripper would make a dark, brooding comment on the clear and present danger of the Communists, Mandrake would react in such a way that reduced the paranoid negativity to a simple, perhaps even endearing grumpiness, and then he would proceed to try to make Ripper feel better by keeping a positive attitude.  In his role as President Muffley, Sellers would accomplish the same effect, though playing the opposite side this time.  This time Sellers would be providing the dark seriousness that Ripper provided, and it would be his character’s dark realism that General Buck Turgidson (George C. Scott) would provide a comical balance with, once again forging the satirical effect.  Finally, in his culminating role as Dr. Strangelove, Sellers becomes responsible for the absurdity that rounds the film off, playing a handicapped German Nazi doctor (or general or scientist or something I really don’t know) who fights back the urge to refer to himself, President Mandrake, as Adolf Hitler.

The amount of responsibility that Sellers had in this movie was pretty unbelievable, especially considering how incredibly the movie turned out.  I guess the point that I want to make is that In the midst of numerous discussions about auteurship and the role of the director in the vision of the film, what makes any film great is big-time execution from big-time actors.  I give Stanley Kubrick a 10/10 for casting Sellers in this multifaceted role, because I’m really not sure that the film would have been as good without him, and while Kubrick scores an A+ as Dr. Strangelove’s Brigadier General, Sellers gets an A++ as the film’s Sergeant.  Every stage of the film is dependent on a classy performance from Sellers; every major hard-hitting satirical moment revolves around him as its nucleus. Really just phenomenal.

Blair Witch Project: Playing with the Apparatus


In a classic masochistic effort, I decided to watch a horror movie the other night. Armed with pop-corn, a beer, and several deep breathing exercises, I turned on what I had heard to be a great ride – Blair Witch Project (Daniel Myrick/Eduardo Sanchez, 1999). From what I had heard, there was a distinct realism in this film’s approach that made it so revolutionary, and I had been told numerous times from the mothers of my friends that they walked out of the theatre in 1999 thinking they’d truly just seen found footage of a historical event. What could possibly bring this level of terror to a bunch of clever, educated people in a movie theatre?

It was pretty easy to tell while I was watching exactly what these people were reacting to. The shaky camera captures the world around it as a grainy, pale shadow of itself, contributing to a growing sense of dread before we even know the terrors that lie ahead. Most of all, it makes the footage feel truly authentic, as the characters are armed with the same technology that a pedestrian film maker would be armed with – a jarring realization to make when you find yourself sitting in a 12 dollar theatre seat with a 8 dollar jug of popcorn on your lap. The perfectly borderline-amateur cinematographer and her crew are making a documentary about the Blair Witch, a legend surrounding a small Maryland town, and naturally they want to find footage in the woods where this Witch supposedly lives. I noted immediately that in this sense, right off the bat, this horror movie becomes a movie about making movies, notably exploiting the strength of the documentarian, which is in his/her aggression towards uncovering and revealing the reality of something – a reality which we know in our study of theory is inherently limited by the mechanical capabilities of a camera. These limits define our sense of horror throughout the film, as what we interpret to be the “reality” that these characters are facing is really only what the camera chooses to reveal.

Further, it is interesting to think of this film as a reaction to the campiness and glossiness of many films (not just horror) that were produced in the decades preceding the millennia.  We talked about this aspect a little in class, about how it could potentially be seen as a revisionist genre of sorts, with this attitude of “hey look at us make 240 million dollars off of a 60,000 dollar budget while you struggle to make 10 million off a 50 million budget.”  It seems like realism is often the film world’s reaction to cinema that has become too predictable and too surreal to even have a shot at borrowing reality.  Maybe it’s better just to hit hard and fast with your own vision as Myrick and Sanchez did with The Blair Witch Project if you want to bring about change in the film industry.  After Blair Witch, we saw the ascendancy of shaking and candid cameras in the early 2000’s, culminating (in my opinion) with the Paranormal Activity franchise, which saw budgets around 15-30 thousand dollars produce hundreds of millions in return, as movie-goers were brought to their knees in terror at the simplest oscillations of a few cameras in a dark house.  Pretty brilliant stuff if you ask me.  I really think The Blair Witch Project can be looked at as a significant moment in film history in which the word “reality” was truly ringing in people’s heads as they walked out of the theatre (and hid under their bed for a few days).

The Auteur Theory

I might be arriving a tad bit late to the party but nonetheless a couple comments on Auteur Theory

  • Whether or not an actual theory, this discussion seems to me pretty self-evident. Each director has a personal vision of the world – to what degree that vision extends is another matter – and as such their filmmaking decisions, preferences, and interests will reflect this vision.
  • The need for consistency in actors makes little sense to me. What purpose this serves I am not sure unless the actor, like mise-en-scéne, camera techniques, motifs, etc., serves to reflect patterns in the artists work. Even so this add-on seems contrived.
  • That’s about it with Auteur theory