All posts by Jacob Knopping

RW, Revived by Lessig

Lessig starts off with an analogy, describing how the elite spoke in Latin during the Middle Ages, while the masses did not. Instead, they spoke in local, or vernacular languages such as French, German, and English. Today, according to Lessig, text is today’s Latin, and the masses use different forms of media (TV, film, music, music videos). Relevant to this discussion, Lessig also writes about Read/Only (RO) and Read/Write (RW) technologies. RO technology is a one-way interaction, seen as an extension of older forms of communication, such as newspapers or books. RW technology, however, is a more dynamic, two-way interaction. An example of RW technology includes remixes, or the creative “mashing” or re-creation of music and videos to produce variations/re-interpretations of original material. Because of the tehcnological age we now live in, “you can do

almost for free on your own computer” (1086). Essentially, economic barrier that once limited the masses from performing remixes has been removed given the digital age.

According to Lessig, the remix makes arguments “far more effectively than could words.” Rather than asserting the truth, a remix is able to show it. He makes the argument, that it is the usage of familiar, original content that gives remixes their power. As explained by Victor Stone in an interview, “When you hear four notes of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution,’ it means something” (1088).  Lessig also uses examples of a remix of George Bush, titled “Hard Working George,” and a remix by the band Negativland, which faced legal action after using tapes of Casey Kasem from the band U2. In response, Negativland said , “Why did we have to use the actual original…the actual thing? Well, it’s because the actual thing has a power about it. It has an aura. It has magic to it. And that’s what inspires the work” (1088).

Furthermore, Lessig argues that remix creates two good: community, and education. Remixes occur in a community of remixers, members of which create in part for one another. He uses the example of people who create anime music videos, discussing Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh!. Creators of these videos aim to both learn and show off, according to Lessig. Shifting more towards the discussion of education, Lessig writes “‘Entertainment’ is separate from ‘education.’ So any skill learned in this ‘remix culture’ is ‘constructed oppositionally to academic achievement” (1090). He continues to argue that “internet-based learning is learning driven by found interests” and that kids learn more effectively when they work with something they feel passionate about, as is the same for adults.

Discussion Question: Lessig views using remix technology drives community, and is an important educational tool. In the context of Lessig’s argument, what role should media, specifically remixes, hold in the academic environment now and in the future?


Ethnographic Cinema in King Kong and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

In “King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema,” Rony discusses the portrayal of native or “exotic” people, specifically relating ethnography and cinema in the context of King Kong (1933). Rony writes that the “Ethnographic is seen as monstrous because he or she is human and yet radically different.” When describing the savage depiction of the Skull Islanders in King Kong, Rony writes, “[they] are dark-skinned, fierce, lustful, and yet childlike, afraid of guns…[and they] are represented as the most Savage of men.”

Like King Kong, Stephen Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) , as mentioned in Chapter 15 of Understanding Film Theory, portrays foreign culture as primitive, unsophisticated, and savage. The most glaring example comes when Indiana Jones, Willie, and Shorty arrive in an Indian village by an emergency raft. The Indian villagers wear robes, sandals, and live in huts. The villagers put there hands all over the three characters as if they are of a higher existence. Indiana explains that the food they are given is “more food than these people eat in a week.” They also hold the belief that Siva sent them there and believe in a magic stone. Although the villagers are seen as primitive people, the Thuggees in the Temple are seen as violent savages. At dinner, these people eat: leaches from the belly of a snake, beetles, eyeballs in soup, and monkey brains. Later in the sacrifice scene, their worship of Khali is perceived as tribal, violent, and demonistic through the ripping of a man’s beating heart out, the drinking of blood, and the misty, red lighting achieved from the lava fire.

The representation of Indians in the film are reminiscent of the natives from King Kong and other stereotypical ethnographic films, problematically contrasting foreign people from Westerners as being violent, primitive, and barbaric.

Societal Perspective in Brokeback Mountain

In Brokeback Mountain, the mise-en-scene, specifically the framing and location of two specific shots, reveals the societal view of the relationship between Jack and Ennis.

The first person to discover the homosexual relationship between Ennis and Jack was their boss, Joe Aguirre. He does so through an eyeglass, and a shot of the film gives us this perspective. This is representative of the judgmental view of society on homosexual relationships at the time, as Jack and Ennis are almost literally put under a microscope. In addition, Aguirre is looking down on them from his higher point in the mountain.

In a very similar manner, Ennis’s wife is physically distanced from Jack and Ennis when she sees them kissing by a glass door. She too observes from a significantly higher vantage point, when combined with the screen door, putting the two men under a judgmental lens.

Comparing two scenes in Brokeback Mountain

Both Delmar and Twist had a scene where they asserted their masculinity, and both scenes had shared similarities between them. For Delmar, this scene came when two men were using disrespectful language in front of his daughters at a Fourth of July picnic. Delmar started a physical fight with the two men, with fireworks going off in the background.

In the other scene, Twist yells at his father-in-law who tries repeatedly to turn on football during Thanksgiving dinner. His justification for why his son must not watch is that his mother spent many hours making the meal and that it would be disrespectful to her to watch the game.

In both instances, Delmar and Twist assert their masculinity, but in the context of defending women important to them–Delmar’s daughters and Twist’s wife.

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.

The Cinematography in Dr. Strangelove

The first noteworthy takeaway I had after watching Dr. Strangelove was the phenomenal cinematography and mise-en-scène in the film. The choice to produce the film in black and white is an interesting one, and it adds a few elements to Kubrick’s work. Given the subject matter, moments of narration, and overall style of the film, the black and white shooting is reminiscent of an old newsreel. Additionally, the black and white contributes to the film from an aesthetic point of view. This style of filmmaking allowed Kubrick to creatively use shadows, and create a film noir tone for the viewers, particularly during the shots of General Ripper and others smoking cigars. The low angle close ups on General Ripper while he is smoking (which occurred several times during the film) parallels with his power position throughout the film.  The subtlety of Kubrick’s mise-en-scène can be seen during many moments of the film, most of which play on its satirical nature. For example, during the battle at the military base, there is a sign that reads, “Peace is our Profession.” On a similar note, the bombs in the aircraft toward the conclusion of the film read “Hi there” and “Dear John,” making light of a serious situation. These subtleties of the mise-en-scène contribute to the satirical humor seen throughout the film, and combined the other elements form one of Stanley Kubrick’s most impressive cinematographic films.

Tarantino as a Classic Auteur Example

When considering the merit of the Auteur Theory, it is important to consider a concrete example that supports the concept, namely, Quentin Tarantino.  Throughout his career, Tarantino has had complete control over films and his heavily involved in every aspect of filmmaking. As for his aesthetics, Tarantino has a unique stylistic tone that cannot easily be matched. Known for long, intense dialogue, humorously dramatic violence, and frequently nonlinear scripts, Tarantino undoubtedly has a signature mark. A well known common theme throughout his films is the revenge plot, exemplified in films such as Kill Bill, Inglorious Bastards, and Django Unchained, among others. Other recurring elements include: similar camera angles and shots (car trunk POV shots, mirror shots, close ups on lips and feet, etc.), the usage of black and white, violent awakenings, and dance scenes, Mexican standoffs, opening definitions, recurring props (samurai swords, record players, televisions) and more. Furthermore, Tarantino frequently uses the same cast members and technical crew. Some of the actors that have appeared in Tarantino films include Uma Therman, Samuel L. Jackson, Christopher Waltz, and Michael Madsen.  Tarantino himself has also had multiple cameos in his films, similar to Alfred Hitchcock in the past, but traditionally to a greater capacity.

Tarantino is able to produce significantly different and unique films each time he produces one while still maintaining common threads throughout, which not only elevates his status as both an outstanding director, screenwriter, and producer, but as an auteur as well. If looking for an example of a director being the true author of a film in support of the auteur theory, look no further than Quentin Tarantino.


Observations from Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine”

One of the first elements I noticed in Truffaut’s “La Nuit Americaine” was the abundance of the color red at different times in the film. There were various times where the color really dominated the shot, in an intentional yet subtle manner. The crane, red car, and smaller objects such as the jack all were a bright red, standing out in particular shots. The choice of red could represent themes of lust, passion, and love, as well as the breaking of relationships and the resulting anguish. Although it could be easily overlooked, I enjoyed this detail in the film.

A major theme that began to develop over the course of the film was the contrast between real life and film life, and specifically, which takes dominance in one’s life. There are many usable quotes during the course of the film that illustrate this. One such quote occurs when Alphonse is talking to Julie, “Life is more important than films. Ferrard is wrong.” Furthermore, the contrast between the life of actors and everyone else is apparent in the discussion of kissing being an actor’s equivalent of a handshake.