All posts by Michael Schulman

Thoughts on “Post-Racism”

It seems that for sixty years it’s been fed to Americans that racism isn’t an issue. In Color Adjustment, they show a clip from 1951 in which a host claims that there is no room for prejudice in television. And now, in as color-blind a society as America has ever been, racism is still in place.

In a 2005 interview, Morgan Freeman, one of the most well-known Black men, claimed that the way to stop racism is to stop talking about it. Stop making it an issue. And television apparently tried to do that, by portraying worlds in which there was no racism, like Julia. Frankly, it seems like a good idea.

But maybe it’s not. Color Adjustment shows that people want representation of their lives and stories, however awful they may be. The argument goes that it will raise awareness, not promote racism. It’s another fair point.

Dear White People addresses this head-on. There are color-blind characters and those who want their culture and history recognized. To them, being Black is more than just a common ancestor and skin pigmentation. There is Black culture–which is a culture of oppressed people. Oppression lead to close communities, solidarity, and bonding, as well as resentment towards oppressors. I can’t claim to know Black culture, but that is what I’ve read.

So I’ll pose a question. Which approach is better? Do we “fake it ’till we make it,” showing truly post-racial societies, with appropriate proportions of races and as few stereotypes as possible? Or do we press the issue, showing the oppression of Blacks (and other races), and forcing people to see what is happening still?

Perhaps the question is too high-minded, but I find myself unsure of how to act, myself…

Apprehension in Regards to Discussions of Racism and Stereotypes

I’m a white middle class male raised in a conservative household. I’ve said and done things inadvertently which have been rude, insensitive, or even downright racist. I’ve never intended them as such, but they’ve happened. In regards to this week’s discussion topic, I’m really rather nervous to discuss it. This whole subject is full of ways to get tangled up and say the wrong thing. And what right do I have to pretend to know the struggles of an oppressed group? No matter how much I research, read, watch, listen, I’m never going to understand a life of denied opportunities and dual consciousness. If I ever try, I feel as though I’m coming off as again rude, or holier-than-thou, or white-hero-of-the-oppressed. I can try to sympathize, but I can never empathize, not really. To pretend to, in my opinion, is to delude myself.

I don’t intend to speak for anyone else with this. If you think you can understand better than I can, wonderful, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. These are simply my own thoughts and apprehensions after years of inadvertently supporting the racist structure of this country and struggling to work my way out of that framework.

Fatherhood in Brokeback Mountain

Something interesting about Brokeback Mountain is the aspect of the protagonists as fathers. Ennis is a proud father and obviously takes it importantly. In the fireworks scene, he gets up and fights the punks because they’re being vulgar in front of his daughters. When, after the divorce, Jack comes visit, Ennis turns him away in favor of spending time with his daughters. And at the end of the film, this man, whose job was important enough throughout the film to make him abandon his wife in the past, willingly risks his job to attend his daughter’s wedding. This isn’t because he’s excited to see her married, but only because it will make her happy.

This contrasts with some of his scenes with his children before the divorce. He drops his kids with his wife when he gets called in to work. He also seems really annoyed when they’re very young and willing to pass off responsibility of them. As his relationship with Jack developed, and as he aged and matured, Ennis realized how important being a good father is to him and his children. This is likely incentivised by his own father’s rough treatment of him, showing him the lynched homosexual when Ennis was a child. It is a masculine thing to aspire to be a better father than your own, and Ennis’ masculinity is important to him.

Jack, on the other hand, has very little time on screen with his son. His main fatherly moment is the Thanksgiving scene in which he tells his son to listen to his mother. This seems more out of respect for his wife and whatever little pride he has as a homeowner than any great aspirations to be a good father. This goes along with a point I made in class about Jack being the more feminine of the pair.

The Celebration and Dogme 95

Well, if I have any one thing to say about The Celebration (1998) is that it made me more uncomfortable than perhaps any other film. Of course, the subject matter is highly uncomfortable, and that was certainly a major part of my reaction, but the Vow of Chastity made it far moreso. Going through the ten rules, it seems that the film follows all of them

Shooting must be done on location: I can’t say for sure on this one. It was a mansion in the woods. No location more broadly is really given, but the mansion certainly seemed to be real. As far as Deren’s controlled accident is concerned, this gave the film a firm grounding in reality and lent truth to the actions.

Sound must not be produced apart from images: Again, I can’t be sure since they could have had excellent editors make it seem like everything was natural, but everything sounded natural. Birds chirping, people talking, realistic sounds of cars on the road and fists hitting flesh. Knowing that this film was done with this rule in mind, every punch and slap and crash was definitely just as painful as it sounded.

The camera must be handheld: While not all of the shots were done with cameras in hands, as some were clearly from mounted cameras, any moving shots had a shaky-cam quality. The whole thing felt voyeuristic because of that. Like Helene’s boyfriend, we are not part of this family. We don’t even speak the language. We just came in at this seemingly random point in this family’s life and saw it fall apart under heavy circumstances. The handheld camera made me feel like I shouldn’t be there for this private family event.

Film must be in colour – special lighting is not permitted: The film was in color, and the fact that everything seemed to be half in shadows indicated to me that there was no special lighting added in. Again, this added to the feeling that I was watching something real happening, not a film, which made the action that much more uncomfortable.

Optical work and filters are forbidden: It could be that any editing was done brilliantly, but the only editing I noticed at all aside from transitions were a few cuts within scenes.

The film must not contain any superficial action: No one died, all of the violence felt naturally evoked given the characterization of the participants, and every hit looked and sounded completely real. As mentioned with the sound, this made me that much more uncomfortable, as now not only are these seemingly real characters being hurt, I know the actors are actually being struck, as well.

Temporal and geographical alienation are forbidden: There were no temporal references, really, aside from perhaps the datedness of Christian’s cell phone and the style of cars. If it weren’t for the cell phone, I don’t think I would have been able to tell when exactly the film takes place. With the phones, I can believe that it was the late 1990’s, and certainly no later than the early 2000’s. This also kept the film close because these kinds of things absolutely happen. Michael’s racism and sexism exist. People sexually abuse their children. It is absolutely a modern and relevant issue, if not incredibly prominent.

Genre movies are not acceptable: Frankly, I have trouble identifying a genre for this movie aside from “drama.” There weren’t many indicators of well-known patterns for me to follow, so every event was a surprise.

The film format must be Academy 35mm: The film wasn’t made digitally, that much I can tell from the quality and cigarette burns at the cuts. I can’t say what exact film it was made on, but I have no trouble accepting that this was it.

The director must not be credited: I didn’t see all of the credits, and didn’t think to take note of what I did. I know Vinterberg made the film, but I don’t know if he was credited in the film itself.

In sum, this film took an outrageously uncomfortable and completely plausible concept and pushed it on us in a style that made it feel like we were watching real people go through this and that we shouldn’t be watching them. It was immersive and real, much moreso than many of the other “realistic” films I know.

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.

Ripper and Mandrake in Dr. Strangelove

I love the names in the film. General Ripper is, appropriately, revealed to be Jack D. Ripper, and his obsession with bodily fluids reflects the manner in which the historical Ripper committed his crimes. Another that comes to mind is the British Mandrake. Perhaps the least hegemonically masculine men in the film, his name is the union of “Man” and an alternate word for Dragon, a highly masculine mythical creature with typical traits reflecting masculinity taken to the extreme. Meanwhile, Mandrake is averse to conflict, speaks in a higher tone and has a more “urban” vernacular and accent. Not to mention he is rather short and well-groomed. The juxtaposition of his name and his character is really amusing, opposed the appropriately-named and much more hegemonically masculine Ripper. Really a very interesting comparison and conflict between the two, and their ends! Ripper takes the “coward’s way” and kills himself, while Mandrake has to assert his authority and force the other man to allow him to do his duty.

Bazin and Deren

Reading Bazin’s “The Ontology of the Photographic Image,” it’s apparent that he’s talking about Deren’s controlled accident. On page 313, he says “The objective nature of photography confers on it a quality of credibility absent from all other picture-making.” Of course, Deren says as much with the line on page 151, “the reality of a tree confers its truth upon the events we cause to transpire beneath it.”

Of course, Bazin also finds photography “objective.” As we’ve discussed in class, I think many of us would say “hardly so!” Kuleshov, certainly, would likely have a field day tearing into this argument, and I’m sure Bazin would have plenty to say to him, as well!

I don’t think I really have much of a point here (aside from vaguely agreeing as far as his argument relates to the controlled accident), but I had to write some thoughts out somewhere.

Lola versus The World

For those of you not familiar with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, it’s a 2010 film starring Michael Cera, based on a series of comics by the same title. The plot is boy meets girl plus the hero’s journey, with a healthy amount of comedy about music and nerd culture mixed in.

On to my point, though, Scott Pilgrim uses a lot of comic book-style animation and a lot of editing techniques that reflect those of Run Lola Run. More specifically, the use of an eye-level closeup on Lola’s face while she thinks about who can help her and the phone falls slowly to the receiver. I can see in my mind’s eye a very similar montage occurring in Scott Pilgrim, when Scott needs to think fast to get out of a bad situation, and punctuated by something like the phone hitting the receiver, or a piece of trash being tossed behind him to land in a garbage can perfectly.

The use of animation when Lola runs down the stairs and in the opening credits also seems to have inspired Scott Pilgrim. Every time Scott’s love interest Ramona Flowers (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) has a flashback or explains something about about a person from her past, the film shows textless comic book panels, with her narrating. They were stills, rather than animated, but that still seems to have pulled from Lola with the flashforward clips of people that Lola bumps into.

Scott Pilgrim also makes a lot of similar choices with editing and framing. Shots at weird angles, time dilation to increase suspense, time compression to get to the action, lots of fast cuts during more intense scenes with high-tempo music, etc.

It was not received nearly as well as Lola, but it certainly seems to run in the same vein. It was just a comparison that I couldn’t help making as I watched.