All posts by Christopher Kelly

Revisiting Indiana Jones

Watching Indiana Jones for the first time in class since I initially saw it as a child was an interesting experience because it essentially caused me to re-evaluate whether all my favorite childhood films were also filled with dangerous stereotypes and problematic content. Like Indiana Jones, there are other films I have recently revisited to watch for a second time in order to find out whether these films which I was enthralled by as a child were still as entertaining and enjoyable to watch as an adult, and unfortunately in doing so I found that many of my other childhood favorites, namely Major League and The Last Samurai, also were filled with racist content and scenes. The racist issues in Temple of Doom are easy to see: In the second scene of the film Indiana Jones, a white hero, falls from the sky into a Indian village where he is welcomed as the town’s savior and is asked to save their sacred stone along with their children. Right off the bat it becomes evident that there is a pro-colonialist message within the film that is suggesting that in order for the village to thrive and remain safe there needs to be a white foreign presence and this message only becomes stronger as the film progresses and the colonists actually come and save the villager’s children at the end by helping Indiana to fight off the Kali Cult. As a kid I was completely oblivious to these concepts and was simply enthralled by the cool visual effects that Spielberg employs throughout the film, like the mine cart chase scene, but after watching this film in class it’s become evident that Spielberg’s portrayal of Indians as either helpless or religiously dangerous is incredibly problematic because it sends the message to future generations that we either must fear different cultures or try and help them because they are unable to help themselves. I thought that maybe Temple of Doom was an outlier in this regard, but after rewatching parts of Major League and The Last Samurai its clear that there is a pattern of racist misrepresentation within hollywood that still is continuing to this day. In Major League this racist stereotyping comes in the form of the player Pedro Cerrano, a black latino baseball player who relies on voodoo rituals to give him the power to play well and is deeply entrenched in spirituality. Pedro’s character is clearly suppose to be a caricature of a foreigner whose religious customs are alien to American society and he is often mocked in the film because of his cultural practices. The Last Samurai also features a message that is racial problematic because Tom Cruise’s character, an imperialist, is captured by Japanese Samurais and then adapts their culture and takes on the challenge of having to preserve their way of life, which is incredibly confusing because it sends the message that a white man is once again need to come to the rescue and solve societal problems. Before I never thought much about the messages these films were sending and just enjoyed them for their action sequences and story lines, but after discussing the implications of these misrepresentations I’ve realized that films like these can instead be dangerous because they lead us to develop unfair stereotypes and views.

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

Constructing a new western narrative

While watching Brokeback Mountain I couldn’t help but see glimpses of the archetype of the old west hero within the personality of Ennis Del Mar, which led me to believe that one of the aims of Ang Lee’s film is to construct a new western narrative that differs greatly in subject matter and themes. One of the aspects of the film that led me to believe this was the way in which Ennis acts around Jack during their trips together. Ennis’ cold and emotional detachment is visible in the aftermath of their first night together in which Ennis wakes up and rides off without saying anything to Jack. This act is one that is featured in countless old west classics  in which the hero rides into town, finds himself a love interest, and then rides off into the next town with little emotion shown throughout the entire ordeal. The difference between Ennis and a loner old west hero like Clint Eastwood’s character Josey Wales is that unlike Josey Wales Ennis isn’t able to keep up the emotional detached facade that many cowboy’s have and breaks down crying in an alley way after he leaves Brokeback and realizes that he has left his true love. I think by showing this scene Ang Lee is attempting to deconstruct the stereotype that western heroes have to be macho beings who feel no pain because the simple act of showing a grown cowboy hunched over crying in an alley shows that even the macho men in cinema feel deeply and have more emotional depth than we typically give them credit for. I thought that this was a powerful cinematic choie because typically the only time we see a western hero express emotional or show vulnerability is when he is seeking revenge or is angry, but here the director uses the loss of one’s love interest to try and create a new western narrative in which the protagonist hero is a loner who, although strong and macho, feels emotional pain and prioritizes love over revenge or justice.

Momma Mia and Feminism

While watching Momma Mia I noticed many scenes that exemplifies a feminist message and advocated for feminist ideals, but many of these scenes were later negated by classical hollywood narrative choices that made the overall message of the film difficult to understand. One of the first feminist messages the film had was evident within the scene when Donna led the women of the island in a dance number that was set to the tune of Dancing Queen by Abba. In this scene Donna rallies the women of the island and gets them to all dance on their own, an act that I perceived to be a statement to the men that women do not need a male in their life in order to be happy. I thought that this dance number, along with Sophie’s gesture of having her mother give her away at the wedding, was suppose to convey that Sophie and Donna were doing fine on their own and didn’t need a patriarch in the family to provide for and financially support them, but this idea is completely tossed aside at the end of the film when Sam proposes to Donna and she accepts his proposal. To me this was obviously necessary because in order to make a film appealing to fans of the romantic comedy genre you as a filmmaker have to implement a happy ending that gives the audience hope and leaves them feeling happy when they leave the theater, but by doing this the filmmaker negates the earlier message of being self-reliant and instead promotes the idea that having a patriarchal figure within a family is the only way for a family to be whole.

Having said that there are characters in the film who retain their feminist values by turning patriarchal constructs like the male gaze on its head by taking back the power from men and proving that they are in control. One character who does this is Tanya. During the Does Your Mother Know dance number Tanya is being pursued by the young bar tender on the island and the way he is shot serves to make him and the men who dance on the beach the objects of desire that Tanya teases by toying with their emotions. This scene is important because rather than being a scene in which men gawk at a women they find attractive it becomes a scene in which an older worn gets a man to chase her around and in doing so she retains the power within the scene because the gaze shifts from her to the man.



Celebration and the flaws of Dogme 95

Let me preface this by saying Celebration was by far the most uncomfortable film I have ever seen. As many other people have pointed out, the film began as a portrait of a dysfunctional family and quickly spiraled into a incredibly dark drama about sexual abuse that was difficult to watch and even more difficult to analyze because it was tough to look past the shocking subject matter and try and understand what the director’s goal was, but after reading the  Dogme 95 piece I was able to derive meaning from this disturbing film and as a result better understand what motivates a director to follow the Dogme 95 filmmaking path. One of the scenes that struck me the first time I watched the film was the one in which Michael beats the waitress. When I first saw this scene it felt incredibly real and made me cringe because I thought the way they shot it made the violence look like it was actually happening and then after reading Dogme 95 I realized that this scene felt real because it was real: the actor actually hit the woman while they were filming the scene. This discovery made me sick to my stomach knowing that a director not only allowed a woman to be beaten for his production, but in fact encouraged the actor to assault the woman just to make the film seem more realistic an authentic. This is where I think Dogme 95 oversteps a boundary and transcends being an art form to become a twisted ideology because it creates an environment that values realism over creativity and imagination. By having all real action occurring in the scene the director is abiding by rule number 6 of Dogme 95, which is the film must not contain superficial action, which in theory would create a better film because the action and events taking place n the scene were actually occurring, but when a director actually implements this rule into their film as director Thomas Vinterberg does in the beating scene in Celebration you are left with a huge ethical dilemma because you are endangering cast members and degrading a woman in the process. This is why I think Dogme 95 is a flawed filmmaking system because in its pursuit of cinematic realism it ignores basic human ethics and tries to discredit the regular filmmaking system as inauthentic simply because it doesn’t ascribe to the realism rules that Dogme 95 directors believe make a film more genuine.

The struggle of the adaptation

After reading the Stam piece on adaptation I immediately thought that anyone who chooses to adapt a film has to be truly confident in themselves because, as Stam points out, adaptations are lightning rods for criticism and judgement. Part of the reason this occurs is because when we as viewers watch film adaptations of a novel we judge it solely on whether the adaptation has remained faithful to the original and has preserved the essence of the story. This technique of judging a film adaptation may seem logical but if you analyze this process further it becomes clear that this method is flawed because in literature, “there is no such transferable core: a single novelistic text comprises a series of verbal signals that can generate a plethora of possible readings, including even readings of the narrative itself” (Corrigan 545).  Literary works are complex entities that cannot easily be characterized by one central theme or idea, which is why it is useless to judge an adaption solely on its infidelity to the original. Take Maqbool (2003) for example.  At the beginning of this film the director Vishal Bhardwaj states in the opening titles that Maqbool is based on Shakespeare’s version of Macbeth, which right off the bat causes the viewer to juxtapose the film with the story of Macbeth and judge it’s cinematic worth based on how closely the story arc sticks to the original Macbeth storyline. In the case of Maqbool the story retains many of the main elements of the story but the change of setting, shift in gender of characters from female witches to male police officers, and alterations to the dialogue. I viewed this as a strong cinematic choice because these alterations to the story of Macbeth serve to make the film more original, but many fans of Shakespeare who view this film would likely be incredibly critical of it because it doesn’t conform to the original storyline and therefore may even been seen as a failure. Herein lies the struggle of the adaptation: if you change too many elements of the story you are being unfaithful but if you adapt a text word-for-word you are viewed as unoriginal.

The struggle of the adaptation makes it very difficult for filmmakers to pull off a successful adaption because there is a overwhelming expectation that the film must stay true to the heart of the story, but what audiences sometimes struggle to understand is that when a book or play is translated onto the screen it becomes an entirely new art form and therefore such be regarded as a separate piece of work. Stam points this out on page 543 of his essay where he says, “an adaptation is automatically different and original due to the change of the medium”. I think if we as audience members were to view adaptations in this regard we would come to appreciate them more and be less critical because we wouldn’t bring preconceived notions to the film and would instead just judge it based on whether we think it is a good film that has told a compelling story.


Ghost Dog as a western

After watching Ghost Dog I tried to figure out what genre this movie would be labeled as, but I found myself struggling to identify the genre of the film simply because it drew on so many disparate forms of film making. On the surface level it clearly possesses elements of the American Gangster crime drama because it deals with the mafia and revolves around a struggle for power, but if you look past this and focus on the plight of Ghost Dog the film can be read as a modern day western that follows an aging gunslingers’ struggle to adapt to a modernizing world.

The archetype of Ghost Dog is that of the classic western hero: a quiet loner that is constantly seeking justice in morally questionable ways. This is an archetype that has been portrayed by hundreds of characters from western movie history, ranging from Clint Eastwood’s character of The Man with No Name to John Wayne’s character Rooster Cogburn in True Grit. The only difference between Ghost Dog’s version of this hero and the versions of the hero portrayed by actors like Eastwood and Wayne is that Ghost Dog is guided by a set of principles and ancient beliefs rather than a thirst for revenge. Even so, Ghost Dog still fulfills his role as a western hero because he tries to the best of his ability to create justice in a world that is becoming filled with more and more moral decay. This is evident in the scenes in which Ghost Dog reads the ancient texts aloud. During these sequences Ghost Dog condemns the lifestyles and cultural attitude that many people have developed in the modern day world, thus solidifying himself as a cowboy-like hero that is on a quest to bring justice to an amoral world.

Another scene that embodies the western genre is the duel scene that occurs between Ghost Dog and Louie at the end of the film. This final showdown is a clear allusion to the type of western shoot outs featured in classics like “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly”, but unlike its predecessors the director puts a twist on this scene by having Ghost Dog openly accept his death by refusing to fire his gun. I thought this act was really important because it shows that even though Ghost Dog had lived a violent and morally questionable life he ended it with an act of kindness, which in this case was giving Louie the Japanese book so the way of the samurai would not die with him and the philosophy he lived by would live on.



Dr. Strangelove

This was my third time viewing Dr. Strangelove and like many others, I was constantly picking up on film techniques and important aspects of the mise-en-scene that I missed out on the first time around. One of the devices I noticed this third time around was the use of a non-diegetic score every time the film cut to the scenes in the bomber plane. Whenever the stakes were heightened a fast-paced military type score was heard that served to heighten the tension and create an atmosphere in which danger was immenient . Using this device allowed Kubrick to easily show the audience the severity of their Cold War situation without any of the characters having to outwardly say that the decisions they were about to make were important. Another device that Kubrick used to highlight important moments in the plot was quick zooms. Kubrick employed this technique when the message for the bombing first comes in on the plane and then features this again when the pilot of the plane is double checking the bombing request with his code manual. Using the camera in this way allowed Kubrick to create a sequence that was both visually interesting and informative.
Another cinematic element I focused on while watching the film was the coloring of the mise-en-scene. As many people pointed out in class, Kubrick shot the entire film in black and white, an artistic choice that I believe fit the subject of the film nicely. The grey landscape featured in the film is representative of the bleak outlook many had on life duing the Cold War because it was a time in which the main subjects on people’s mindset were nuclear war and death. Had this film been shot in color it wouldn’t have conveyed the seriousness of this moment in history in the way that a saturated black and white mise-en-scene does.


A film about films

The first time Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera I thought the film was just a test of new filmmaking techniques to show audiences the potential that this emerging medium had to offer, but after viewing this film for a second time I came to realize that Vertov’s creation is actually a representation of the journey that a filmmaker goes through during the shooting, editing, and showcasing process. Initially I read the shots of the moving train sequences and the mobile car shots simply as Vertov showing off new innovative shooting styles in an interesting way, but when you pay close attention to these scenes you realize that Vertov has interjected the filmmaker into these setting to show the dangers and obstacles that one must face, or be willing to face, in order to get the perfect shot. Vertov’s film is essential a film about the process of filmmaking, with each shot acting as a first hand account of daily life as seen through the kino-eye of Vertov’s camera. This becomes increasingly evident as the film goes on and the Man with the Movie Camera interjects himself more and more within the mise-en-scene and culminates with the shot of the filmmaker’s eye superimposed over the lens of the camera at the end of the film.


Another interesting aspect of Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera occurs during the scene in which Vertov reveals his film to be a fabrication of reality. One of these moments occurs in the opening shot in which the audience shuffles int the theater and we see the camera man loading film onto a camera. This shot is important because it serves as a reminder than the filmmaking process is much more complicated than simply picking up a camera and shooting: it consists of several steps and processes, such as editing and presenting it, that often get overlooked. By including this scene I believe Vertov is making a nod to all those individuals involved in the filmmaking process who don’t receive credit for their work and is acknowledging that the filmmaking process is not based on the work of one person, but is rather based on collaboration between a group of people who all share the same goal.



Run Lola Run Reaction

In Maya Deren’s piece entitled, “Cinematography: the creative use of reality” the author discusses the importance of editing by saying, “the editing of a film creates the sequential relationship which gives particular or new meaning to images according to their function” (Deren 153). This concept of using unique editing to bring new meaning to a film is a theme that’s evident throughout the course of Run Lola Run and allows the filmmaker to create a non-linear story that explores the idea that each of us has a fate that can be changed by something as simple as bumping into a woman or arrive late to a bank. One editing element the director used that I found interest was the cuts between Lola’s interactions with people around her and then the projected fate of those she interacted with. This sequence used quick cuts and a screen that says “And then…” to create a visual striking shot that also seconds as a creative way to show the potential futures that the characters Lola interacts with could have if one minor part of their day was adjusted. I think that a shot like this really embodies Deren’s point about the importance of editing because without these sequences it would be incredibly difficult to illustrate the idea that every choice we make has a consequence that can change the course of ones life. By choosing to edit the film in such a way that fragments of the future are revealed through flashes the filmmaker gives new meaning to Lola’s every action and stresses this idea that the choices we make have a ripple effect on those around us.