All posts by Christine Shanahan

8 1/2 as a Postmodernist Film

In class, the question was raised whether or not 8 ½ (1963) is considered a postmodernist film. Given what a wide category postmodernism is as a school of thought, placing the entire film under the umbrella of postmodernism seems dangerous and potentially misleading. However, there were certainly elements of postmodernism in the film that, I would argue, were the driving forces of the film as a whole.

When discussing postmodernism on Monday, both in terms of the chapter in UFT and the Jameson piece, the conversation centered on whether or not films produced today can be completely original and whether or not they can point to a specific truth. Metanarratives, as we discussed in class, point to specific rules that govern the world and inform the decision-making in society. Modernists see metanarratives as influential to their work; such truths not only can be obtained but also can adequately be translated to screen. However, as UFT explained, “postmodernists are dubious of such concrete ideas” (UFT 121).

I believe that much of the existential crisis that Guido faced in 8 ½ drew on this tension between the existence and nonexistence of metanarratives. As Guido stated towards the beginning of the film, he sought to make a film that offered a solution to a problem, that offered a universal truth, that created a metanarrative; through film, Guido believed he could make sense of the absurd world. However, as the film progresses and Guido delays making any definite choices on casting or even script structure, it becomes clear that he is unable to articulate any metanarrative. At the screen test, a producer calls Guido’s script vague and superficial; this is clearly the exact opposite of what Guido is trying to attain. Thus, by showing Guido’s struggle, and ultimate failure, to make a film that showcases any metanarrative, 8 ½ points to the hopelessness at understanding the world in terms of a universal truth. Thus, the central narrative (for lack of a better word) of 8 ½ is postmodernist.

“Towards a Third Cinema” by Fernando Solanas and Octavio Getino

In this article, the authors begin by stating that films dealt with effect, not cause. There was a belief that revolutionary cinema cannot exist before revolution. With this in mind, the authors set out to establish third cinema, which aimed to break from these norms and transform the masses into a revolutionary group of people.

Before divulging into the goals of third cinema, the authors give a brief overview of what came before it. The type of films described above fall under first cinema, which predominately came out of Hollywood. These films sought to generate ideologies such as neocolonialism and capitalism. The viewer of these films is a passive consumer. Second cinema was in reaction to this first cinema. From what the authors wrote, I gathered that second cinema was “art-house-esque,” in that they were attempts at independent film. However, second cinema was generally devoid of politics. Second cinema also operated within the System’s (meaning capitalists) distribution chains, causing it to fail as a movement. Third cinema (or cinema of liberation/guerilla cinema) arose when artists and revolutionaries began working together. Their meeting ground of the political and artistic vanguards was the struggle to seize power from the enemy.

Oftentimes in first cinema, imperialists and capitalists sought to create images of reality. These images, according to the authors, rarely reflected the actual reality. Instead these images created inaccurate stereotypes of those oppressed in order to justify oppression. Third cinema sought to deconstruct these images of reality and construct narratives that were actually true. Documentary, the authors declared, was the main basis of revolutionary filmmaking, and thus an intrinsic genre in third cinema.

In order to be successful, filmmakers needed to establish their own voice that sought to create a transformative worldview. In the middle of page 931, the authors include a quote from Marx which reads: “it is not sufficient to interpret the world; it is now a question of transforming it.” By creating their own distinctive revolutionary voices, filmmakers could do just that.

At the bottom of 931, the authors include a quote that I feel best summarizes the goals of third cinema. It reads: “The effectiveness of the best films of militant cinema show that social layers considered backward are able to capture the exact meaning of an association of images, an effect of staging, and any linguistic experimentation placed within the context of a given idea. Furthermore, revolutionary cinema is not fundamentally one which illustrates, documents, or passively establishes a situation: rather, it attempts to intervene in the situation as an element providing thrust or rectification To put it another way, it provides discovery through transformation.”

The authors then divulge into the roles that one has within third cinema. As a filmmaking process, third cinema democratizes it. Thus, everyone is expected to be familiar with all equipment. The continuity of making third cinema rests on an underground base structure with a loyal audience. Without an audience, third cinema loses its purpose. Furthermore, unlike first cinema, the audience of third cinema films is expected to be active. They are no longer spectators, but rather actors. Those who watch third cinema films are transformed into revolutionaries.

The end of the third to last paragraph of page 939 best summarizes the power of third cinema. It reads: “The filmmaker feels for the first time. He discovers that, within the System, nothing fits, while outside of and against the System, everything fits, because everything remains to be done. What appeared yesterday as a preposterous adventure, as we said at the beginning, is posed today as an inescapable need and possibility.”

I will also post my discussion question that I thought of for this article. It is: Based on my reading of the piece, third cinema sought to mobilize the masses to enact change that would alter their lives completely (i.e.: no longer operating under neocolonialism and thus no longer subjected to U.S. bourgeoisie capitalism). Do you think this type of third cinema still exists today?

Netflix and Progressive Television

At one point in Color Adjustment (1991), someone (I unfortunately can’t remember who) commented that TV is a sponsored medium. The speaker made hand motions indicating that because of this, society progresses at a faster rate than TV shows in dealing with race. This got me thinking about Netflix. Because it does not rely on ads, Netflix has the freedom to be as progressive as it wants; the success of a show relies more on the content of the show itself than ad sponsors. A show such as Orange is the New Black demonstrates how a show that is not completely white washed and focuses predominately on women and their relationships with one another, both gay and straight. It is the only show I can think of where the number of women dramatically outnumber the men and where the problems at hand do not revolve around a guy. That’s pretty impressive to me and demonstrates how without the constraint of ad sponsors, shows can really be bold and progressive.

Another Netflix show that came to mind was Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which was released in March, was initially met with almost universal praise. About halfway through watching the season, I realized how amazing it was that like OITNB, this show does not rely on straight white males in its central cast. In fact, there isn’t a single straight white male in the main cast of the show. Instead, the core of the show is comprised of women and a gay black man.

After a few weeks of total praise, however, many people came forward and criticized how the show deals with race. I’ll go ahead and say that personally I love the show and didn’t find the race stuff to be offensive. I also recognize, however, that I am a white girl watching the show, so none of the race issues addressed directly related to me or my identity. The show did in fact deal with a lot of race issues. The gay black character Titus gets a job as a werewolf waiter at a themed restaurant and finds he’s treated better in costume than as an ordinary black man in New York City. The main character Kimmy has a romance with an Asian immigrant and in fact choses to be with him over a white man. The upper-class socialite Jacqueline is revealed to actually be Native American and only posing as a white woman in order to get ahead in society. And there was this image at the very beginning of the show, when Kimmy and three other women were rescued from an underground bunker:


I personally found these things funny, subversive, and stimulating. These jokes or story lines were bold and daring to me, offering an edgy perspective that not many other shows are willing to offer. To many critics, however, it was blatant racism. If you Google “unbreakable jimmy schmidt race,” countless articles come up with people complaining about how the show handles race. Here is a link to one of the articles: One of the show’s stars, Tituss Burgess, called the race controversy “ridiculous” in an interview with the Huffington Post ( On the one hand, one could argue that of course he is going to say that publicly, he wants to keep his job. On the other hand, it is possible that he genuinely thinks the controversy is ridiculous. I personally would like to think that if he found the race to be handled in too insensitive of a manner that he wouldn’t choose to associate with the project in the first place. Perhaps it’s idealistic, but I like to think that people stand up for their values, even at the cost of a job.

Additionally, it does bear importance to say that the show was originally developed for NBC and then sold to Netflix because NBC executives did not think it would fit in with their midseason lineup. In an interview, co-creator Tina Fey said she was more than happy to move to Netflix because she wouldn’t have to worry about low ratings, as one does on network TV (and, as we saw in Color Adjustment can make or break shows that address race head on, such as Frank’s Place). All of this is to say that Netflix definitely seems to be a home to shows that want to be bold and go against the status quo of what we see on regular TV. It seems that through Netflix, shows can be just as or perhaps more progressive than society.

Violence and Invisibility in Brokeback Mountain

In the case study section of Understanding Film Theory, there is a quote about Brokeback Mountain (2005), in which the author states “I am unaware if a single review of Brokeback calling the leads what they are—a sad statement on the invisibility of bisexual experience and the level of biphobia in both the mainstream and gay media.” (196). This quote struck me as interesting when I first read it, and after watching almost all of Brokeback in class, it is easy to contextualize it. The idea of “invisibility” of the bisexual experience was interesting to me. Most obviously, Ennis’ resistance to seeing Jack anywhere but Brokeback points to the need for secrecy in order to have any kind of relationship.

Additionally, however, I thought the incorporation of the masculine identity spoke to the invisibility and taboo nature of two men engaging in a relationship. The use of violence as a signifier of masculinity was especially interesting. To me, this also points to how masculine and queer theory can be intertwined. During the Thanksgiving scene at Jack and Lureen’s house, after turning the TV back on to the football game, Lureen’s father asks Jack “don’t you want your boy to grow up to be a man?” The necessity for sports, especially a sport that lends itself to violence, as a qualification for being a man struck me as interesting. It was an easy way to categorize Lureen’s father as a stereotypical heterosexual man, and thus an antagonist to Jack’s alternative sexual preferences. At the conclusion of the scene, Jack is able to regain control of his house. The most telling part of their power dynamic came at the very end, when Jack took over carving the turkey from Lureen’s father.

Furthermore, the allusions to violence between Jack and Ennis were interesting. Whenever they were intimate, they each faced an inner struggle that externalized itself in near violent rages. Even when they hugged, both Jack and Ennis had a tight grip and their bodies became noticeably stiffer. This violent, animalistic nature juxtaposed against the fact that they were two men falling in love. The tenseness and anger trapped in their bodies points to the taboo nature of their relationship; they both know that what they are doing is not considered right by the hetero-normative society they live in. At one point this violence does boil over when Jack lassos Ennis; their ensuing playful wrestling ends with Ennis punching Jack. Thus, while the movie is not overtly brutal, the tenseness and hidden rage within Jack and Ennis points to a certain type of violence. This violence demonstrates the inner turmoil of the characters as they attempt to reconcile with the near invisibility of bisexuality in their world.

Is “Gaze” Applicable to Masculine Theory?

Last week, a major focus on feminist theory was the objectification of women in film through the three male gazes. While not all of feminist film theory focuses on “the gaze” or how to reverse it, a good portion of the scholars we read discussed the gaze. Not all scholars were as thorough about discussing the gaze as, say, Mulvey, but could not avoid mentioning it in some capacity. This points to the pervasiveness of the male gaze in film.

I found it interesting, then, that the male gaze was seldom discussed in the chapter on masculinity. Obviously the male gaze would take on a different persona. The camera’s male gaze, for instance, would not be as prominent, as the camera’s male gaze was predominately utilized to show fragmentations of women in order to objectify them. However, that still leaves two gazes: the male protagonist and audience

While the male protagonist gaze and audience gaze predominately deal with how a man will look and act around a woman, I believe they are applicable to masculine theory. In Steve Neale’s piece in chapter 10 of Understanding Film Theory, he writes that “in order to divert any homophobic or homoerotic feelings, the male body is defaced in some manner as a way of relieving the sexual tension. This can also apply to male friendships on screen.” This “defacement” of the male body occurs in order to distract from any voyeuristic pleasure on the part of the audience. To me, this implies a heterosexual male audience gaze. If the voyeuristic pleasure took into account a heterosexual female audience or homosexual male audience, then detracting from the voyeurism wouldn’t be necessary. Additionally, the need to undermine any sexual tension between male friendships because they run the risk of exuding homosexual tendencies implies a heterosexual male gaze.

The rest of the chapter discusses the changing definition of masculinity. However, it does not discuss whose “gaze” is considered in the shifting masculinity. Do men go from “beefcakes” to vulnerable to meterosexual for the sake of a male audience or female audience? Or both? It was interesting to me the absence of a more in-depth analysis of gaze that accompanied these shifts considering the prominence of gaze concerns about gaze in feminist film theory.

Feminism and “Other”

After reading Mulvey’s article, I couldn’t help but think of the concept of orientalism. I’m pretty sure someone brought it up at the very end of class on Monday, and I think it’s an interesting and important discussion. In case someone hasn’t heard of orientalism, it’s a Western way of depicting Easterners; it’s done in a very demeaning way that makes people from Eastern countries (such as countries in Asia or the Middle East) seem either primitive or sexual in nature (or oftentimes both). It is a means for Westerners to define themselves because they are not this weaker “other.” These patronizing depictions were also used to justify colonization of the eastern world.

In her article, Mulvey writes that “woman then stands on patriarchal culture as signifier for the male other, bound by the symbolic order in which man can live out his phantasies and obsessions through linguistic command by imposing them on the silent image of woman still tied to her place as bearer of meaning, not maker of meaning” (Mulvey 716). Essentially, Mulvey argues that women in films are defined by the fact that they are not a man; women are painted as “other.” Women are therefore only in a film to satisfy the male protagonist and to act as a passive spectacle that he can return to every so often between his moments of action. Thus, women cannot move beyond two-dimensional passivity because they are defined purely as “not a man” or “other.”

In the next section, Mulvey discusses how technology advances over the years that led to the Hollywood studio system have contributed to the limited roles women in film can play; technological advances have reinforced this “otherness” and made it mainstream. Mulvey points to avant-garde cinema as a way for women to break out of this constraining mold. However, Mulvey notes that “a politically and aesthetically avant-garde cinema is now possible, but it can still only exist as a counterpoint” (Mulvey 716). To me, this means that Mulvey sees avant-garde cinema as an avenue women can go down both in front of an behind the camera in order to showcase more dynamic female characters. However, this does not mean that avant-garde cinema completely breaks away from the studio system. Instead, the use of avant-garde cinema to portray women as more than “other” is still seen as an exception or “other” to mainstream cinema. Thus, while trying to break away from the studio system that reinforces the patriarchal culture, avant-garde cinema is still in conversation with it.

First and Final Frames

I came across this video today. It’s a bit unrelated to what we’ve been discussing in class lately, but I thought you guys would all enjoy it. I’m sure a lot of you have seen it circulating around the Internet as well, but I thought I’d just post it here just in case. Also, Dr. Strangelove is featured!

Hope everyone has a good rest of break!

Here’s the link:

Humans of New York as Photographic Performative Documentary

I don’t know about anyone else, but after our discussion in class today and looking over the text on performative documentary once more, I can’t help but think of the popular site Humans of New York. Performative documentary seeks to showcase the subjectivity and emotion that certain individuals or groups feel. While I haven’t seen Paris is Burning, I can gather from what was said in class that the purpose of the documentary was to shed light onto an otherwise marginalized group of people (cross-dressers living in New York). I think this desire to highlight individuals and their unique experiences is at the heart of performative documentary. In the article, Nichols writes: “though sharing the preference for the local, the concrete, and the evocative, performative documentary also generally insists on the dialectical relationship between precisely this kind of richly and fully evoked specificity and overarching conceptual categories such as exile, racism, sexism, or homophobia.” What is so special and different about performative documentary is the desire to shed light on otherwise marginalized groups that do not necessarily fit into the “master narrative” of history. Furthermore, this style of documentary comes at a time when technology is more readily accessible to the masses. In the 1980s and 1990s, people could start affording cameras and using them; at this moment in time, there was less of a reliance on those who dictate the master narrative to also produce the films that reinforce the master narrative.

I wouldn’t go so far as to call the work that Humans of New York produces performative documentary in and of itself; I’m sure there are problems there in terms of the different theories behind photographs vs. films. However, I do see a lot of parallels between the two. Both possess a desire to showcase marginalized groups and give a glimpse into their subjectivity. Overall, HONY gives a smaller look into the subjectivity of those photographed. But, at its strongest, the captions of the photos have emotional stories of one’s past or one’s aspirations. HONY seems to, in part, seek to challenge the master picture (or narrative) that people have of New York and instead demonstrate how diverse New York actually is.

Also similarly to performative documentary, as was mentioned in class, the subjectivity lies in both what is being presented and how a viewer interprets the images. Certainly looking at the comments on images, one can see how the viewer is given the freedom to draw their own conclusions on the stories presented before them. We as the viewers are not usually shown the question that the person I asked, nor are we always shown everything they say; sometimes we are only given a line or two from the subject of the photo, and are left to draw our own conclusions about what they mean. Like performative documentaries, this can lead to multiple interpretations given our own perspectives and biases.

Wes Anderson Parody and Auteur Theory

I’m sure a lot of you guys have seen this video that was posted on YouTube two days ago. I thought it really related to our discussion of auteur theory. For one, many of the elements employed, especially the camera work, was spot-on for Wes Anderson films. It was so interesting to see a premise that distinctly fit the sci-fi/action genre be completely transformed to the point where I wondered if this was made into a feature length film, would it still be considered in the action genre? Or would conventions that are so typically used in Wes Anderson films cause it to fall under a different genre?

More interestingly, at the end, I was reminded of the fact that Wes Anderson himself wasn’t actually involved in making this parody trailer. The fact that someone who had clearly watched a ton of Wes Anderson films could not only identify what elements make something so characteristically “Wes Anderson” and then apply them to something completely unrelated points the signature style Wes Anderson has created for himself. Auteur theory for sure has many problems, some of which we addressed in class. But, as this parody trailer demonstrates, elements of auteur theory, such as the ability to identify a director’s signature style, are clearly active in the film industry today.

Stam and Film Adaptations

For me, if I hadn’t been told that Maqbool was an adaptation of Macbeth before watching the film, I would never have realized; I think this speaks to a certain tension in film adaptations that Stam suggested but did not explicitly state. I believe, though may not have much evidence to back it up, that adaptations that are explicitly named after the novel and seek to follow the novel as closely as possible in terms of setting, time period, character names, etc. are the adaptations that cannot move past the “fidelity” comments. Those are the adaptations that people lament did not stick close enough to the book. Major blockbuster franchises like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter fall into this trap.

However, if one were to take the narrative structure of those films (a la Tordorov) and change the setting, characters, time period, etc., then I believe they would not face nearly as much criticism. Before reading the Stam piece, I didn’t even realize that Clueless was a modern-day adaptation (at least at the time of release) of Jane Austen’s Emma. Admittedly, I have never read Emma, so I wouldn’t be prone to identifying it as such. But, the reviews of Clueless don’t focus on the fact that it’s a loose adaptation; they instead focus more on the film itself. If someone were to do an analysis of Clueless vs. Emma or Maqbool vs. Macbeth, I think people would be more likely to focus on the transformation and transmutation elements that Stam discusses just by virtue of the fact that the books and movie adaptations do not share the same name. Instead of lamenting the fact that a film adaptation skipped over a specific plot point or wrote out a character, those that do not share the same name of the books they are adapted from can instead be seen as interesting takes on a story; they are less tied to the spatiotemporal bounds of the book and instead can showcase how a specific narrative is transformed and mutated when basic elements such as character names, time, space, and culture are changed. In short, I believe film adaptations can best succeed when they rely more on the themes of a certain novel than a straight interpretation of that story.