Brokeback Mountain

The outcome of the scene where Ennis attempts to retrieve Jacks ashes from his family to carry out his final wish of having his remains scattered throughout Brokeback Mountain conveys a crucial message. Firstly, the ambience of Jacks parents’ home, in addition to the demeanor of his parents reflects an extremely monotone and stark tone, which is an immediate indicator of the hostility Ennis is about to face. After presenting the purpose of his visit, Jacks father counters his request stating that Jacks ashes will be scattered on his home plot, ultimately denying him of this wish. This denial demonstrated another example of the lack of control that was present in Ennis and Jacks relationship and the restraint they faced numerous times throughout their time together. Despite being dead, Jack is still being controlled by an outside force.

Another aspect of this important scene exists in the interpretation of Jack and Ennis’ shirts. Since Ennis is denied the ashes, he instead walks away with a memory of their relationship in the form of clothing. Upon further investigation, it is apparent that the meaning of this memoir is tremendous. The literal intertwining of the shirts obviously represents their relationship, however the blood also depicts the death of Jack, and the placement of the shirts outside the closet reflect Ennis’ newly gained acceptance with his homosexuality. Lastly, the shirts are left hanging on the door along side a picture of Brokeback Mountain relaying the idea that their relationship is a thing of the past, and currently existing solely as a memory.

The film effectively interweaves subtle messages within the settings, actions and objects making the effect of the film more meaningful than just the immediate face value.

Color Adjustment

Response to Color Adjustment

Marlon Riggs’ thought provoking documentary, Color Adjustment, presented various credible arguments about the portrayal of African Americans on television. One of the most intriguing inquiries posed in the film was the idea of defining the positive image of African Americans on film. If they are portrayed as lower class families struggling in a repressed society with no career opportunities, does this realistic and relatable simulation find more applause than one where a whitewashed upper middle class African America family is thriving? It is also crucial to identify the audience for this question as the answer to this most likely varies based on the spectator’s role in society.

This discourse relates to our class discussion on whether any representation is better than no representation. I personally think it is dangerous for such a popular medium such as television or any other forms of media to be responsible for molding the identity of a group of people. This holds especially true in early history when the two separate races were not integrated and for many, the only interaction and relation Whites had with African Americans was what they were exposed to on television. When entire groups of people are categorized by a few characteristics, it can often lead to the formation of a stereotype. If the traits are negative, the result is detrimental. For this reason, I have a hard time agreeing with the phrase “no press is bad press.”

Response to Color Adjustment

While watching Color Adjustment I found it incredibly interesting that some of the first groundbreaking African American shows on Television, like The Nat King Cole Show and The Cosby Show, were somewhat troublesome because rather than representing black culture accurately, they whitewashed African American daily life so it carried to white audiences. I thought this was especially interesting in the context of the Cosby Show because in the film they discussed how the Cosby Show represented a false reality by presenting the idea that many African American families were living in luxurious home and were being given great career opportunities, when it reality this was not the case at all and inequality was still a very prominent issue in society. The world that the Cosby Show portrayed on screen existed for some African American families but this show was very much an attempt to assure viewers that racism and the income gap between whites and minorities had dissipated even though in actuality many African Americans were still struggling against oppression, as evident in shows like Ray’s Place which aimed to address these issues head on rather than sweep them under the rug and pretend they did not exist. Even The Nat King Cole Show, which was universally viewed as a great program because it allowed an African American singer to showcase his musical skills and have creative control over his show, still was problematic because it ignored the racism that was running ramped in society. After watching this documentary I was amazed to see that African American shows that were seen as groundbreaking and revolutionary still didn’t depict an accurate portrayal of African American life because the networks felt their priority was to please white viewers over represented reality.

Another part of Color Adjustment that I thought was interesting was the way in which archetypes change over time and characters that were either idolized or despised during the run of the show can now be seen in an entirely new light due to a change in social values. One example of this was prevalent in the All in the Family clip from Color Adjustment  in which Rob Reiner’s character argued with Archie bunker over the freedom of immigrants and the disenfranchised. In this clip Rob Reiner’s character is portrayed as an archetypal hippy figure whose primary concerns are fighting “the man” and advocating for social justice. This is evident by Rob Reiner’s disheveled, free spirited look and the fact that his nickname on the show is meathead because Archie considers his progressive ideas about racial equality and liberalism to be inane. When this show initially aired in the 1970s Archie’s character was idolized because he represented a racist american mentality that many individuals embodied during this time, but as time progressed and society became more political and racially conscious Archie’s character become a villian who represented many white american’s racist view of minorities while Meathead’s character become more reasonable because his message of equality embodied the mindstate that many Americans have come to possess . This just goes to show that as society progresses our view and values will change accordingly and led us to lookup to new, unlikely heroes that we may have never considered to be heroic before

Birdman and Representations on Screen

During class I keep thinking of the recent film Birdman during many of the discussions we’ve been having.  It’s been relevant in several situations, most notably during our conversation on Monday about the burden of representations that you yourself cannot control.  Is it better to be represented poorly by someone who doesn’t belong to your particular demographic, or not be represented at all?  Is it better to have bad press rather than no press?  We talked about it briefly as it pertained to black representations in T.V. as white producers would be responsible for churning out popular content involving the gross stereotyping of black people.  We also talked about it in the context of homosexuality in film, where the mere transition to any representation at all on screen was enough to be considered a step in the right direction – even if homosexual characters were better characterized as caricatures.

In the context of Birdman, the main character, Riggan, is obsessed with recapturing the fame that he once had on screen playing a famous superhero (called Birdman).  He struggles to accomplish a level of sophisticated popularity by writing, directing and acting in a stage production, but he is constantly antagonized by a younger, stronger and more fit version of himself wearing the Birdman suit.   What Riggan is dealing with here is the desire to define his own existence in the entertainment world.  He wants to put his own image of himself out to the public, and gain a more desirable level of fame that he himself can come to terms with.  Riggan’s attempts to represent himself through entertainment are beaten and battered into the dirt at almost every corner – he can’t get a smooth production of his show at any point during the previews.  In one particular instance, he finds himself locked out of the theater in just his underwear after he had stepped out for a minute or two to have a cigarette.  In a crazed effort to get back into the theater in time for the final scene of the production, he marches straight through Times Square in front of hundreds of onlookers.  Within minutes, he is caught on dozens of outstretched camera phones, and he has unwittingly just starred in a youtube video that will go viral in a matter of days.

The irony is tangibly thick – despite his best efforts to avoid meaningless fame on screen, he is thrown right back into the midst of reluctant celebrity status.  Representation is funny in that way – no matter how hard you try to present your own image, or the image of those around you, the dominance of popular opinion will easily break the delicate path towards self satisfaction.  It feels this way with social justice in film – in spite of deeply emotional and concerted attempts to correctly and fairly represent the opinion of those who have failed to hold a voice, there will always be a more dominant effort to crush that movement and feed consumers what they want to see, and what they’re comfortable seeing.

King Kong in Inglourious Basterds

Quentin Tarantino’s films typically have a break in the action where some characters point out something interesting — something that kinda makes you say, “wow! I never thought about it like that!” Here are some examples:

  1. Kill Bill vol. II (2004): Bill talks about how Superman is different from all other superheroes in that he must put on a costume (Clark Kent) in order to blend in with society, whereas Bruce Wayne must put on a costume to become Batman. LINK
  2. Pulp Fiction (1994): the “Royale with Cheese” scene comes to mind. LINK
  3. Django Unchained (2012): the scene where Candy talks about craniology, or phrenology, being the justification for enslaving Africans. LINK
  4. Reservoir Dogs (1992): You could say the opening scene where the men are talking about tipping is a scene which fits this mold. LINK

In Inglourious Basterds (2009), Tarantino brilliantly compares the character of King Kong to the story of the Negro in America. LINK. The comparison is absolutely fascinating and I would’ve loved to have brought it up during class, but the actual comparison didn’t fit with the King Kong article we read and I didn’t want to derail the conversation. Regardless, I highly recommend you watch each of these clips. They’re very entertaining and it’ll probably take you less than 15 minutes to watch them all.


“People…love action, Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit”

Watching it for the first time this weekend, Alejandro Inarritu’s Birdman (2014) is what I would call the definition of a film major’s movie. Filmed in incredibly long takes and minimal cutting, Birdman has done what I have seen no other filmmaker do since Hitchcock’s Rope, although, unlike Rope, Birdman felt very little like a stage production even though, ironically, it was about a stage production. This was prevented by jumping through time much like the human brain, which is what most film’s do and what stage productions fail to do realistically. The one liners in Birdman simply blew me away in terms of film stereotypes and film language. When Sam (Emma Stone) confronts Riggan (Michael Keaton) at the thirty minute marker, she says that he doesn’t like twitter and doesn’t have a Facebook and that because of this he “doesn’t exist” and he doesn’t matter. In this day and age with technology being such a big part of our communication process, it is hard to get by without some sort of relationship with the internet. This line also points to the fact that so many people become famous through social media sites like this that because Riggan does not have one, he isn’t important and literally does not exist in the social media realm.

Another great line was when there is a voice overlay of Riggan speaking as Birdman telling the older, grown up Riggan about what audiences want to see. He says, “people, they love blood. They love action. Not this talky, depressing, philosophical bullshit” and I think this draws attention to the direct comparison between moviegoers who go simply for entertainment and stimulation and moviegoers who go for well-made films and relevant messages. This scene includes an incredible amount of special effects and animation that is fast-paced and widely entertaining and confusing, which makes it captivating; a satirical backdrop for the line about action film.

A noteworthy moment comes when Keaton speaks with the production critic (Lindsay Duncan). I believe this to be a  critique of art critics, more specifically those who bash or promote works of art based on the popularity, history, money, etc of the artist rather than for the work itself. While this reporter is a female with probably the most power in the entire film, other females represent the lower side of the totem pole. For example, Lesley (Naomi Watts) is almost raped on stage in front of an audience and she asks a coworker, “why don’t I have any self respect?” which is interesting because of the inserted word “self” when she is complaining of a male coworker taking advantage of her. Laura (Andrea Riseborough) responds with the line, “you’re an actress, honey.” The two share a moment and Laura praises Lesley and before long Riggan walks in, praises Laura, and leaves. She is left glowing with the admiration of the male star. The two females then make out. This pokes fun at female representation both in film and in the entertainment business.

Along with many other significant moments, I enjoyed the film’s use of method acting for Mike Shiner (Edward Norton). It was a subtle, but serious way, to show the consequences of method acting. Mike gets drunk on stage in front of a full audience, he abuses Lesley, he can only get hard in character, and he orders a tanning bed. Riggan even later says, “That’s you Mike. You’re Mr. Natural.” Cinematic realism then plays into the mix with Riggan pulling the trigger on himself, blasting his nose off during his opening night. He ironically has to wear a face mask of plaster and bandages that look like Birdman’s mask and that image is the last we see of Keaton.

The Burden of Representation in “Color Adjustment”

Recently in class the discussion was brought up if any television show or film has been able to or could potentially be able to accurately depict the many facets of life as an African American. The conclusion was no because there is always some criticism from someone who cannot see their own story in a show or film. This is the exact problem with the burden of representation. How much are we obligated to show. After watching Color Adjustment, I started to think that maybe these shows weren’t un realistic but rather just the story of a certain person or group of people. Most of the criticism they received was that they did not do justice to all areas of the black experience, which in some cases (such as the portrayal of the ghetto) can be a problem, this overarching issue can be attributed to the burden of representation and its inability to touch upon all facets of life for an African American. Color Adjustment also talks about these shows promoting stereotypes which is one of the problem’s outlined in Mercer’s piece Dark and Lovely, he expands upon the representation problem by saying that when things are shown often, they may be seen as typical and therefore lead to stereotypes. This is a common problem still seen in todays media.

Color Adjustments Today

First and foremost, I found Color Adjustments to be an extremely well made documentary that  and incredibly relevant issue with modern television. Furthermore, the fact that the film was released in the early 90s makes matters more interesting since the last 25 years have seen multiple attempts to accurately portray African Americans on screen.

I thought it was wild to see clips from Amos and Andy. The show was originally quite popular on the radio dating back to the 20s,  but white actors played black. When the show hit the air in 1951, Black actors took over their rightful parts, even though those parts were self-depreciating and perpetuating of social stereotypes. While the show did not last, it was eventually shown again in 2012… perhaps because the country was ready to address the racial issues perpetuated in the media in the previous century. Today, one of TV’s biggest hits is a show called Black-ish. The show, like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or the Cosby Show, tackles a more contemporary approach to upper-middle class Black families. Black-ish, which follows the Modern Family slot, tries to create a sitcom society that addresses the nuclear family from the black perspective in a similar fashion to its time slot predecessor. The problem, is that the Black characters are still treated as black… Why? Because entertainment is a business and the industry labels African Americans with particular attitudes. Sure, shows like the ones mentioned above treat the characters humanely, place them in recognizable settings for both races, and offer respect to the leads… but they still focus on the fact that they are different than their white counterparts. THAT right there is the problem and it is a problem that Hollywood LOVES to perpetuate.

The only way we are going to move into a post-segregated society fully is when entertainment and society start looking at both races as one in the same, or unique for their own, ineffable reasons that don’t need to be explained. We don’t satirize white characters to the same extent that we do for Black characters. Of course, there are moments when satire is funny and necessary to point out the absurd and obvious. Satire is its own genre and often succeeds in addressing problems (though it too perpetuates the stereotype by doing so). The fact of the matter is, it’s really up to us, as the next generation of media story tellers, to treat African Americans in the same light as White characters… not only that, but perpetuate what this country is founded on… E Pluribus Unum. From many one. There are a ton of examples of films/shows treating blacks and whites the exact same and that is an excellent start. And there is always room for historical films/shows like Twelve Years A Slave or Mad Men which address history (hopefully so it will never be repeated) – but media needs to move forward. That doesn’t mean Spider Man needs to be black or Shaft needs to be white… it means that the only thing that should matter is story and characters… whether they are black or white should never be the issue. It’s a dream to think it’s possible, but I really believe we are already headed in that direction. Just look at Furious 7… the cast is a great mix of latin, black, and white and it just raced to 800 million dollars at the box office in 12 days. Why? Because they are a family, no matter what ethnicity they come from. That’s where we need to head.

Color Adjustment

This was a very powerful documentary with a lot to process.  Taking us through the evolution of race in Television was very eye opening. The film stated that TV tried to be non-prejudice, but what we saw was very racist. Starting with Amos ‘N’ Andy and working it’s wayto much more modern things, it seems that race has very often been portrayed incorrectly.  It seemed like people could be accepting of African American’s on TV, but only if they were “made to seem more white.”

It seemed like there was tension during the civil rights movement and the shows on TV showing African Americans. I thought the most powerful part of the film was when they would cut between shots of people be sprayed with hoses and attacked by dogs, then would cut to Bewitched, or something that had no content having to do with race.

I thought the character and TV show that had Archie Bunker was interesting. Here was a man who was clearly racist, and his family disagreed with him at times, and the studio audience was laughing very much at his racist jokes. I hope that during the time he would be seen as as much of a villain as he would be today if that show aired.

Richard Dyer’s “White”

Though lengthy, I found myself engaged with this article throughout the entire thing. The information was relevant, true, and well supported. Dyer’s main purpose is to use Simba (1955), Jezebel (1938), and Night of the Living Dead (1969) to prove that whiteness is related to order, rationality, and rigidity while blackness is related to disorder, irrationality, and looseness. However, he also makes clear that these films attempt to contest white domination and expose the idea that while white people hold power, they are materially and emotionally dependent upon black people.

To introduce his thesis, Dyer explains that “whiteness” isn’t generally seen as anything in particular because nobody studies the majority, proving that studying minority groups makes it seem like they are not part of the norm. He says that whiteness had a property to be everything and nothing, making it a hard concept to grasp. The only way to study whiteness, is to also study minorities so there can be a comparison. When talking about cinema, white people must be divided down into groups such as “English middle class” or “Italian-Americans” and if they aren’t, they are just considered “people” rather than “white people.” Dyer brings up that mainstream cinema should be analyzed in the context of the “commutation test,” attempting to put a black actor in a white role and see how well it works. Dyer asks the question, what does this say about whiteness if a black man cannot play a white role?

Simba: Dyer explains that this film shows the binarism between black and white and that this is represented through mise-en-scene, lighting, sound, and action. Also, the editing of the film is used to calm and stress the viewer in direct correlation to what is shown on screen. This can be seen in the meeting scene on page 828. Dyer later explains that there is a repeated failure of narrative achievement by white characters creating a sense of white helplessness. On page 831, he rounds up with a quote that reads, “Simba is, then, an endorsement of the moral superiority of white values of reason, order, and boundedness, yet suggests a loss of belief in their efficacy.”

Jezebel: Dyer explains that compositionally, black people generally begin scenes by being on camera first and also act as a dominant image in each scene, interrupting moments where the viewer is watching white interaction. They do not serve a very dramatic function but play an essential role. Here Dyer begins his belief that black people have more life than whites because they are more natural and white people are too caught up on thought. To show this, Dyer shows the growth of Julie, the white female protagonist, throughout the film. Julie starts out as wild and free, her inner blackness as Dyer calls it, and ends the film with very little movement. She asks her black maid, Zette, to see who has come to visit and the camera follows Zette as she runs around and is lively while Julie is still and calm and lifeless. As a final punch, Dyer talks about the singing scene at the end of the film and how only specific feelings can be expressed through black people. He gives examples of frustration, anger, jealousy, and fear and says “there is no white mode of expression” for these “pent-up feelings” and they can “only be lived through blacks.” He then sums up with, “The point of Jezebel is not that whites are different from blacks, but that whites live by different rules” (834).

Night of the Living Dead: Dyer makes a nice segue to begin this film’s analysis by saying, “If blacks have more life than whites, then it must follow that whites have more death than blacks” which in this film, is very true (834). All the zombies are white people and living whites are mistaken for them frequently. Dyer then makes the comment that the film may be a metaphor for both white people and the USA in general. The main character is named Barb, she has pale skin and blonde hair and has the same name as the best-selling American doll. Dyer notes that you can kill the zombies through their brain. Another hint at the white obsession with thought and knowledge rather than emotion and body. The protagonist of this film and it’s sequels is a black man. This says that blacks are in control of their bodies and can survive alone while whites have no control over their bodies unless they are zombies, and in that case they hunger for white brains.

In conclusion, Dyer really makes no conclusion. He instead brings up a question on why glamour lighting in Hollywood is fitted for the white female. It is designed to make her transparent, almost hiding her flesh and blood. Because of this, blacks are more difficult to photograph. He also says that the white ideal that embodies all heterosexual men is the white female.