Blog Directory CineVerse: November 2013

Like taking candy from a Baby Doll

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse delved into a film that was a powderkeg of controversy back in 1956: Baby Doll, directed by Elia Kazan. The movie was rife with pschological subtexts, symbols and themes. Here's a recap of our group discussion:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN CONTROVERSIAL FOR ITS TIME?
·       It was condemned by the Legion of Decency, yet also approved by the production code administration (PCA; Hollywood censors).
·       It was given a provocative marketing campaign with a salacious poster and trailer.
·       Usually, women of loose morals and characters who violate moral codes of society have to be punished by the end of the film—the only person punished at the conclusion of Baby Doll is Archie, not his wife.
·       The film somewhat explicitly suggests female desire/arousal and female sexual fulfillment: she says she’s “ticklish,” which is code for sexually aroused; consider how Silva plays footsy on her stomach, suggesting genital stimulation.
·       She and Silva sleep in a crib, insinuating a “robbing of the cradle” and taboo sexuality.
·       A sexually free woman and sensual female would have been deemed a threat to the patriarchal society of the 1950s.
·       Baby Doll represents a new kind of woman for 1950s America and Hollywood movies: a woman who refuses to sexually satisfy her husband and be his cook/maid, and a female who prioritizes her own sexual gratification over her husband’s.
·       The film exposes the double standard prevalent in pre-1960s Hollywood films: when married characters in these films cheated, it usually wasn’t considered a big deal; it was more of a casual fling (consider The Seven-Year Itch). Yet, when a wife cheated, it was a serious offense unless her husband was a murdering psychopath or a scumbag deserving of punishment; in these cases, adultery by the wife can be considered justified.
·       Ultimately, audiences and religious types would have found the following points, quoted from Michele Meek’s outstanding essay on this film (visit http://www.tennesseewilliamsstudies.org/journal/work.php?ID=109),  most controversial about Baby Doll:
·       “What offended audiences was not merely the portrayal of an affair but the depiction of a woman’s sexual arousal.”
·       “Baby Doll challenges its audience with characters who are neither purely good nor blatantly evil. Author and director “were deliberately flouting the time-honored concept of providing compensating moral value to balance the material that was questionable in code terms” (Palmer and Bray 142). Such ambiguity muddies the morality of the story: without knowing who is good or evil, there is no way for the audience to identify if or how “good” wins in the end.”
·       “Williams does not show her ‘falling in love’ in any conventional sense” This lack of “love” not only makes moral restitution in the film’s conclusion impossible but, perhaps more significantly, also presents female sexual desire as independent of love.”
·       “It seems the film’s implicit challenge of the domesticated woman’s role and its explicit portrayal of female sexual desire presented an antiestablishmentarian perspective, and it was this that provoked the greatest fury. Baby Doll was released at an important juncture in American culture. Superficially, marriage and motherhood were considered “the only genuinely valued activities” for women, “every woman’s sole destiny”. A sensual woman was seen a threat to the sanctity of the nuclear family. In Hollywood films, there was no indication that women could simultaneously be sensual, successful and respectable.”
·       “The film’s depiction of the voyeur-husband who must peep on his own wife identifies the audience with the inadequate ogler and, as such, emasculates the gaze of the viewer as well. The subsequent disruption of Archie’s impotent gaping by his female object sets a satiric tone for the film, mocks the audience’s peeking into their lives, and portends the larger theme regarding women’s roles addressed in the film.”

HOW DID BABY DOLL GET APPROVED BY THE CENSORS YET BANNED BY THE LEGION OF DECENCY?
·       Keep in mind that the PCA (film censors) required “poetic justice” by the end of the film for characters who commit immoral acts.
·       Kazan convinced censors, however, that a sexual infidelity never occurs in the film, which carefully covers its tracks and never really shows any sexual activity onscreen. However, what is suggested on- and offscreen makes it fairly clear to audiences that Baby Doll and Silva have sex.

WHAT’S THE PROOF THEY ARE ENGAGING IN SEXUAL ACTIVITY?
·       We see Silva’s hands run across her body, but the hands fall out of frame before they would presumably reach her legs/private areas.
·       Silva tickles her with his foot, simulating genital foreplay.
·       They retire to her crib for a nap; the nap isn’t shown in full, but she says her “daddy would turn over in his grave”.
·       After they awaken, Silva remarks that she is different, “grown up suddenly,” and she says she feels “cool and rested for the first time in my life.” The implication is that she has been sexually awakened and liberated; she has achieved orgasm and consummated the earlier teasing.

WHAT’S IRONIC ABOUT BABY DOLL?
·       It’s not overtly sexually graphic in what we’re actually shown.
·       She’s not even a minor or “jailbait.”
·       Silva is more interested in revenge than sex.
·       We don’t know what’s going to happen “the next day”. Baby Doll’s closing quote is, there’s “nothing to do but wait for tomorrow and see if we’re remembered or forgotten.” In other words, her future is wide open, but now that she is a sexually liberated female, how will she be viewed by men in society? There’s no certainty that she will end up in a relationship with Silva.

WHAT DOES ARCHIE’S HOUSE REPRESENT?
·       It stands as a symbol for Baby Doll’s psychological, sexual and physical development. Most of the rooms are empty because she hasn’t been “filled up yet” as a sexually and intellectually satisfied woman.
·       The one room that is filled is her bedroom, with its crib, toys and children’s phonograph, symbolizing her arrested state of development, immaturity, na├»ve nature and relative innocence.
·       The barren, fragile attic could represent her feeble, uneducated mind, which needs to be reinforced/bolstered by knowledge and experience.

OTHER FILMS BY ELIA KAZAN
·       A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
  • A Streetcar Named Desire
  • Viva Zapata!
  • On the Waterfront
  • A Face in the Crowd
  • East of Eden
  • Splendor in the Grass
  • Gentleman’s Agreement

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No CineVerse meeting on Nov. 27

CineVerse has just learned that we will not be able to meet on Wednesday, Nov. 27 due to the Oak View Center building closing early for the Thanksgiving holiday. "Breaking the Waves," originally scheduled for that evening, will be rescheduled for a future date in January 2014 (to be announced soon). We regret this inconvenience, but our group has no control over the changing schedule of the building.

CineVerse will reconvene on Dec. 4 with "Quartet" and continue in December with "Broken Blossoms" on Dec. 11 and "Holiday Affair" on Dec. 18.

Just a reminder that our group also will not meet on Dec. 25 or Jan. 1 due to the holidays.

Happy Thanksgiving, movie lovers!

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Jailbait cinema

Sunday, November 17, 2013

On November 20, CineVerse will explore a film once banned by the Legion of Decency: “Baby Doll” (1956, 114 minutes), directed by Elia Kazan, chosen by Len Gornik.

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Still the fairest of them all...

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Yesterday, CineVerse members got to indulge their inner child and partake in "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," which produced a pretty lively discussion on the film's merits and influences. A summary follows:

HOW WOULD THIS FILM HAVE BEEN INNOVATIVE UPON ITS RELEASE IN 1937?

·       This is the first feature-length animated film in history. Previously, animated movies were shorts that typically ran prior to the main attraction.
o   This project was dubbed “Disney’s folly” because it wasn’t believed that audiences would watch a cartoon for more than a few minutes, or that adults would find them interesting at feature length.
·       Cartoons were considered kiddy fare with cruder animation and less story and character development prior to this. Snow White created a whole new world of characters, color, motion and emotion—consider how terrifying the lost in the woods sequence is, or how somber and sad Snow White’s death scene is.
o   In fact, many horror filmmakers have named Snow White as a major inspiration in their movies.
o   Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, for example, opens with a foreboding dark castle with a single lighted window, similar to the Wicked Queen’s castle.
·       It was one of the few movies made in color at a time when black and white dominated—so it would have been doubly impressive in its lively, multi-dimensional animation and its chromatic Technicolor brilliance.
·       It’s regarded as the first official movie “soundtrack”: before, soundtracks were comprised of renditions of songs featured in a movie; this one is the first to include original recordings as they actually appeared in the film. It was also the first commercially issued film soundtrack album.
·       It employed Disney’s innovative multi-plane camera, which creates the illusion of depth and three dimensions by placing several animated cells and drawings on different planes that are shot at the same time by an overhead camera.
·       It featured realistic human movements and rotoscope-drawn figures like Snow White hat are modeled on actual live actors.

HOW DOES THIS FILM ESTABLISH THE TEMPLATE FOR NUMEROUS DISNEY FEATURE-LENGTH ANIMATED MOVIES TO FOLLOW?
·       Like many stories adapted into later Disney films, it’s a storybook, fairy tale yarn involving an orphan who is threatened by some villain (who’s often a female), befriended by wild animals, and whose wishes come true at the end by being rescued by a prince or knight.
o   Later films would include child protagonists who are traumatically separated from their parent (e.g., Pinocchio, Dumbo, Bambi, The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast)
·       The lead protagonist is a young, pretty, virginal girl (typically lacking any sexual or titillating characteristics) who must suffer trials and tribulations and some kind of life-threatening/life-changing transformation before she can get her Prince Charming: the same formula applies to Sleeping Beauty, Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and the Princess and the Frog.
·       She is often accompanied by forest animals, scene-stealing comic relief characters (e.g., Dopey, the Genie in Aladdin), and a feisty foil who becomes a hero (e.g., Tinkerbell, Grumpy, Meriwether in Sleeping Beauty).
·       The villain in these films is usually somehow threatened by this young female protagonist, who has the ability to take away the villain’s power/prestige (a scenario which plays out in The Lion King, Aladdin, Hercules, The Jungle Book, the Little Mermaid, and Snow White).
·       As Roger Ebert put it:
o   “Walt Disney's shorter cartoons all centered on one or a few central characters with strongly-defined personalities, starting with Mickey Mouse himself. They lived in simplified landscapes, and occupied stories in which clear objectives were boldly outlined. But when Disney decided in 1934 to make a full-length feature, he instinctively knew that the film would have to grow not only in length but in depth. The story of Snow White as told in his source, the Brothers Grimm, would scarcely occupy his running time, even at a brisk 83 minutes.
o   The most important continuing element is the use of satellite and sidekick characters, minor and major, serious and comic. A frame is not allowed for long to contain only a single character, long speeches are rare, musical and dance numbers are frequent, and the central action is underlined by the bit characters, who mirror it or react to it. Disney's other insight was to make the characters physically express their personalities. He did that not by giving them funny faces or distinctive clothes (although that was part of it) but studying styles of body language and then exaggerating them.
o   Disney's inspiration (was in) providing his heroes and supporting characters with different centers of gravity. A heroine like Snow White will stand upright and tall. But all of the comic characters will make movements centered on and emanating from their posteriors. Rump-butting is commonplace in Disney films, and characters often fall on their behinds and spin around…I think Disney did it because it works: It makes the comic characters rounder, lower, softer, bouncier and funnier, and the personalities of all seven Dwarfs are built from the seat up.”

WALT DISNEY IS CREDITED FOR BEING A CONCEPTUAL INNOVATOR RESPONSIBLE FOR SEVERAL KEY FILM AND ENTERTAINMENT FIRSTS, INCLUDING:
·       The first successful synchronized sound and picture cartoon (Steamboat Willie, in 1928).
·       The first feature-length animated movie.
·       The first film to use multi-channel surround sound systems (Fantasia).
·       The Circle Vision filming technique, which enabled the shooting and projection of movies in 360 degrees.
·       The development of an optical printer that allowed animation and live action to be combined (The Three Caballeros, 1945).
·       His invention of the multi-plane camera (previously mentioned).
·       Disney’s Studio was the first ever to provide regular color programming for TV (Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color).
·       Family theme parks (Disneyland, Disneyworld) and the first switch-back/interactive crowd lines (instead of straight lines) as well as the first dark rides and fully enclosed attractions.
·       The first indoor shopping mall (Main Street, USA at Disneyland).
·       Audio-animatronic figures, featured at Disneyland.

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Take a bite out of the big apple of animated features

Sunday, November 10, 2013

On November 13, CineVerse will return to its current monthly spotlight, Triple Talent Pioneers: Filmmakers who directed, wrote, produced (and sometimes starred in) their movies with a tribute to Walt Disney by viewing and discussing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” (1937, 83 minutes), directed by William Cottrell, et al. Plus, enjoy excerpts from a documentary on animation and filmmaking pioneer Walt Disney.

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Marching to the beat of a different drummer

Thursday, November 7, 2013

"The Tin Drum" proved to be a challenging movie intellectually, but one filled with surprises and interesting discoveries, as well as fascinating images. Here are our group discussion insights, in a nutshell:

WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT THIS FILM?
  • Its tone varies: it can be funny, dark, disturbing, erotic, political and epic.
  • It’s creepy and unsettling in that it’s using a child actor in some very adult scenes.
  • It employs various cinematic techniques, including silent cinema conventions, to tell its story visually.
  • The story and characters are varied and unpredictable: this tale and central character is loosely based upon the original author’s experiences growing up before, during and after WWII.

WHAT THEMES ARE EXAMINED IN TIN DRUM?
  • Rebellion and resistance to a hostile, unfair world
  • Refusal to mature and develop; arrested development. Oscar remains in a child’s body because he doesn’t want to see things from an adult’s point of view and he protests the political and social state of affairs around him.
  • The inevitability and necessity of physical, emotional, psychological and spiritual growth
  • The horrors and brutality of warfare
  • A human being’s innate need for acceptance and love

WHAT SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS CAN YOU IDENTIFY IN THE TIN DRUM
·       Rapid political, social and technological change in the 20th century, as represented by scenes that progress from the agricultural to the industrial, from traditional to contemporary, from feudal to postmodern, as one critic put it.
·       Oscar himself stands for the country of Germany itself, and its refusal to “grow up” amidst the chaos and turmoil around him/it; he also represents a diminutive Hitler like figure who, though small in stature, has immense power (via his drum and his screaming voice)
·       Seeking shelter under the skirt symbolizes Oscar’s desire to return to the safety of the womb and leave the scary adult world
·       Many shot framings feature groups of 3, as if to suggest a trinity of sorts: the 3 ethnic groups depicted in the film (Germans, Poles and Kashubians), the love triangle between Agnes, Alfred and Jan, and the trinity of faith, hope and charity
·       The drum itself symbolizes rebellion, anti-establishment and resistance; it serves as a wakeup call to those around Oscar who are forced to listen to his dissent.
·       Oscar’s mother’s sudden consumption of whole fish could be a grotesque representation of the German people’s complicity to tolerate Hitler’s penchant for human atrocities.
·       Oscar is strange and unnatural, just like the Nazi political ideology and party is unnatural.
·       The filmmakers portray epic landscapes in many large, sweeping shots.

THIS MOVIE IS REPLETE WITH DICHOTOMIES, IRONIES AND DUALITIES. CAN YOU CITE ANY EXAMPLES?
·       Oscar is the narrator, but he is an unreliable one, and his point of view (or our point of view supposedly through his eyes), switches abruptly from first to third person

·       The film’s tone can suddenly switch between black humor, absurdity and slapstick to disturbing reality, dark surreality and twisted eroticism; this alternation in tone creates an unsettling, unnerving disquiet in the viewer, as if to remind us that these were the experiences of Germans before and during the war.
·       The movie is a bouillabaisse of images, styles and techniques: silent film techniques (like cranked up camera speeds and use of irises) contrast with epic shots; music comes on jarringly
·       Oscar is a child, yet he often engages in adult acts of sexuality and political resistance; he’s depicted as innocent yet experienced, idealistic like a child yet depraved like an adult. As one writer put it, he is both a “detached observer and a naughty prankster.”
·       Another writer states that The Tin Drum “offers us a Fellini-esque exploration of the rise of Nazism where the central character is ambivalent, destructive, grotesque, and immoral, yet…is both the perfect Aryan and the monster eliminated by the Nazis.”

OTHER DIRECTORS CONSIDERED PART OF THE NEW GERMAN CINEMA MOVEMENT
·       Werner Herzog
·       Rainer Werner Fassbinder
·       Wim Wenders
·       Alexander Kluge

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Bang the drum slowly, little boy

Sunday, November 3, 2013

On November 6, we'll kick off the November/December CineVerse schedule with a world cinema Wednesday special from Germany: “The Tin Drum” (1979; 142 minutes), directed by Volker Schl├Ândorff, chosen by Joe Valente. 

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