- What is the importance of cinematography and or editing in communicating issues of power, poverty and conflict in the films you have studied for this topic? (35)
For this topic I have studied Fernando Meirelles’ 2002 film “City Of God,” Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film “La Haine” and Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film “Chungking Express”.
Meirelles’ “City Of God” represents the issue of conflict through the cinematography. In the opening scene you see close ups of a knife being sharpened on a rock, black outs are used to cut between shots of the knife with close ups of musical instruments, showing that the Brazilian music is diegetic. These fast paced edited shots represent the people of Rio de Janeiro as people living on the edge of a knife, not knowing whether they will live or die. This use of cinematography shows the important issue of conflict within urban stories, and what it is like to live in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
Another example of the cinematography being important when portraying the issues of urban stories is in the scene where we see Rocket and Angelica on the beach. A low angle is used to capture the ‘Runts’ as they walk towards the two, this angle shows that the kids have power over Rocket and Angelica. The little fish eats the big fish, this is representative of life in the favelas I know this because in the documentary ‘Favela Wars’ you are informed that children at the age of 10/11 are given guns and that they have this ‘kill or be killed’ attitude; “I saw the other guys do it, so I did it too” this is a quote from an interview with a teenager in prison talking about his crime, contextually showing the theme of descent into violence, in urban stories.
As well as cinematography and editing, mise-en-scene is also important to communicate issues of power, poverty and conflict. In this particular scene we see Lil Zé invite the Runts to join him and his gang to a rooftop barbeque, as long as they join him in a fight between them and the police, showing conflict through the narrative. A low angle is used to capture the Runts walking up the stairs to Lil Zé, capturing them ascending into power through the cinematography. A midshot of Lil Zé is then captured, showing that he is still in power at this point. A high angle is then used to capture the Runts as they reach the top of the stairs; a dutch angle is then used to capture Lil Zé talking to the Runts. We see the Runts gain power through the mise-en-scene, close-ups and low angles revealing Lil Zé handing them all guns. A low angle is then used to capture one of them showing the others how to point and shoot a gun, as he shoots it in the air the fast-paced editing and music from the opening scene begins; the Runts having guns links with the contextual issue of children in the favelas being armed at a young age.
Meirelles selected unknown actors in order to create verisimilitude within City of God. Wong Kar-Wai’s 1994 film “Chungking Express” didn’t use unknown actors to create verisimilitude; he used two famous stars, Faye Wong and Takeshi. Cinéma Vérité and verisimilitude can be seen within the scene where the characters Faye and Cop 663 are walking down the streets of Hong Kong, captured through the use of a wide shot and tracking shot. Diegetic sound of the surrounding environment can be heard adding to the verisimilitude style. You can see through the wide shot that people in the street are watching and looking into the camera’s watching the stars.
Chungking Express uses cinematography to represent the issue of power, through the reoccurring motif of time running out. During the first narrative, the character Cop 223 is captured through the use of a wide shot, showing him sitting in the restaurant ‘Midnight Express’ as he waits for his ex-girlfriend May to come back to him. Close ups of ticking clocks, and expiry dates on cans of pineapples Cop 223 buys, show the reoccurring motif of time running out through the cinematography and mise-en-scene as well as the theme that everything has expiration dates. Hong Kong remained in power until 1997 where they were ‘handed back’ to China; the people of Hong Kong were used to Westernised culture and having a choice and were worried about what will happen when China takes over in three years, linking to the reoccurring motif of expiry dates and time running out, captured through the use of cinematography and mise-en-scene to portray the theme of power.
Mathieu Kassovitz’s 1995 film “La Haine” communicates conflict through the cinematography and editing within the opening scene. In this scene we are introduced to one of the characters Saïd, who is captured through the use of a mid-shot after the title sequence containing real footage of the Paris riots. The mid-shot of Saïd zooms into a close-up capturing him with his eyes closed, then you see him open them, suggesting that the film is trying to open the eyes of the audience to how Paris really is. A close up of the back of Saïd’s head is then captured, with a zoom out into a wide shot and pan revealing police standing, armed in riot gear outside a hospital, where the character Abdul is being treated- Abdul is a real life character involved in the Paris riots. The wide shot shows the distance and conflict between the youths and the police.
The cinematography and character positioning represent the issue conflict. This can be seen in the scene where characters Vinz, Hubert and Saïd are in the bathroom in Paris. Through the use of a wide shot and use of mise-en-scene of mirrors, Saïd is positioned in the middle of Vinz and Hubert. This positioning can be seen throughout the film as the conflict between Vinz and Hubert arises.
I think that the use of cinematography is important when communicating issues to the audience as it represents characters, themes and concepts in different ways. However, I don’t think that cinematography and editing are the only things to rely on when communicating issues within urban stories, as the mise-en-scene also helps represent/ communicate these issues.
Section C – Single Film: Close Critical Study.
“Fight Club uses cinematic means to produce a fantasy which is also a serious exploration of masculinity”. How far does this statement capture your own response to the film?
The cinematic and thematic exploration of the undervalued blue-collar workers of America in “Fight Club” is an expression of the results of the suppression of masculine, animalistic and natural elements within modern society. While viewing the film the consideration the audience makes alongside the protagonist “Jack” (whose identity is questionable) appears to be questioning whether it is right to fight against this society of anti-masculine individuals who strive for materialism is really an emotional struggle.
We see that Jack experiences the consumerism of society while he is struggling with insomnia (created by the addiction to materialistic items in his apartment) through the sequence are fast-paced close-ups of popular items such as Starbucks cups, Crispy Creme Doughnuts and moreover a shot of his American dollars. These are noticeably crumpled and not at all patriotic with the logos not facing the framing. This focus upon materialism suggests a masculinity dealing with the feminine love of shopping coupled with the anonymity that American city dwelling brings. The idea that this could be anywhere in America is suggested with a memorable close up of stickers bearing “Hello. My name is _____” that evoke a response of loss of direction and identity within the audience. The anonymity and IKEA-catalogue based sequences we see Jack experience in his hallucinations are also a possible schizophrenic embodiment of this lack of any true identity or even his individuality hinting that arguably his importance as a man is being tested.
“Fight Club” embodies the idea of Nietzsche: the idea of a superman being possible is alluded to in the ever-repetitive doppelganger/split-persona of Tyler appearing in a subliminal flicker at the side of the frame throughout the first few scenes. This demonstrates the power that Tyler has over Jack’s mind, and it gets ever more present as the film progresses. It becomes more apparent when we see him in a tracking shot at the airport on an escalator, almost as if the camera shows a preference to following his movements rather than Jack’s. This is because we see this side of the masculinity of the main characters split personality being the alpha male, also displayed when the camera tracks his movements from behind and in front as he is surrounded by a crowd in the basement. “Project Mayhem”, the needless fight of violence and terror, is powered by this dominant figure, giving the audience clues that this individual does not let himself be owned by possessions unlike Jack, and regards himself as his own.
Also seen in the masculinity of the postmodern traits of the film is the reference to a rape scene in “A Clockwork Orange”, as the eerily similar, exaggerated disorientation of angle of Tyler after beating up government officials is reminiscent of a more sinister, evil scene from a film about anarchy. This instils a sense of fear in the spectator, as the masculinity of this man appears to be turning into something more power-hungry and fascist. The intertextual reference to ‘A Clockwork Orange’ also confirms the postmodern significance of this film as it generates so many questions but ultimately and superficially fails to answer them.
The film also displays a radical array of misogynistic traits through the character of Marla, an anagram of the word “alarm” and met with the sound of sirens and non-diegetic influences of danger. This gives us the idea that the main character Jack is so terrified by this femme-fatale and disturbed by her appearance that his masculinity is challenged. In a neo-noir style, we see the framing of Marla introduced sinisterly via shadow and with her hat obscuring half of her face dominating the screen, she also gives the impression of power as it convinces us through the low-angle. Her character is also, while present during a scene in which the self-help group has to reflect and meditate, blurred in the background, while Jack thinks when we are catapulted into the frantic hallucination of Jack in a cool-blue icy cave, in his head, is interrupted by Marla smoking (that demonstrates further the hybrid of noir genre incorporated), she is clearly more dominant. It’s as if she is the masculine one, she uses the word “slide” and this dialogue perhaps provokes the idea of Jack’s deterioration leading from here into the audience’s mind. When we next see her in the crosscut back to the church-style environment, it is Jack who is blurred and unimportant.
The narrative also relies on its use of cinematography to relay certain ideas through stylistic and mise-en-scene elements. Almost pornographically shot in a grotesque way is the footage of Jack turning up to his office beaten and bloody, with close-ups of his bruises after his decline into fighting that suggests that the main character has traded his addiction of self-help groups and materialism for the exhilaration of fighting as a form of release. The film also closely explores elements of homosexuality by referencing the experimental style of directors like Kenneth Anger, as we see that the fetishising of objects and improving the body of the men has elements that arise in “Fight Club”. It could be suggested that Jack is in love with the idea of Tyler, and therefore we are greeted with the notion that he is in fact homosexual or may have deep emotional struggles with such tendencies.
Furthermore, the response at the Viennese Film Festival to the film was an angry one of shock and concern over the films fascist, Nazi style links. The sequence in which we see Tyler and Jack stealing a liposuction factory’s human fat and processing it into soap to sell to the rich delivers a haunting message that there are still Nazi-style thoughts born of a generation in need of a disciplinary style of life to stop their masculinity going downhill. The cinematic means used to portray Jack’s early obsession with self-help groups, such as shot-reverse-shot from his close up face centred in the middle of the frame looking solemn, and then to a list of self-help groups not unlike a religious scroll, back to his face, and paired with organ, church style non-diegetic sound express the vulnerability of his addictive nature. This foreshadows his steady decline into being open to fighting and causing mayhem because of his easy transfixion’s with things.
Furthermore, the theme of gender confusion is embodied in the role of Bob, an ex-fighter who was once an alpha male, now resorting to crying at a self-help group and suffering from testicular cancer that physically and mentally feminises him. The viewer’s response is an automatic pity when Jack uses ironic dialogue that injects a hybrid of comedy into the film and we feel sorry for Bob. This emotive response is also strong in our fear that Jack will continue to gradually deteriorate as we see him jeering and fighting alongside the “Project Mayhem” gang – the division between Tyler, the alpha male, and Jack, the less superior character by means such as a phone booth window, trees, furniture and other characters suggest a fighting battle between Jack and his other persona. Because we see this vulnerability in Jack that lacks the usual American ego of a masculine male, we see that the masculinity he craves and worships is in fact slightly evil.
‘A’ Grade Exam Response
Section B – Experimental and Expanded Film/Video
How has your experience of experimental and expanded film/video liberated your sense of what film spectatorship can be?
Admittedly my initial reaction to experimental film embodied exactly its catalyst behind the creation of it: my viewing as a spectator was an uneasy one, because I was not being told how to think or react to it. Without the body of work consisting of simple techniques such as back-story to hint to how I should perceive the genre, or in many cases dialogue, it left me bereft of the usual mainstream or even independent spectatorship of film I was used to that provided clues to how I should receive the films.
In the case of Andy Warhol’s experimental body of work, I suddenly began to appreciate the poetic relationship between visual and sound that is not always distinct in less avant-garde films, as I found that they were more of a feeling than a narrative. The 1966 film “Chelsea Girls” opposed the sanitized, deeply censored era of the time with its references to sex that the film industry ignored normally. This film, with its revolutionary split-screen techniques furthered the cinematic progress irreversibly, as did his film “Sleep”. With six hours of a man asleep shot in monochrome black and white stock that later influenced a film of David Beckham asleep, I found it refreshing how Warhol dodged categorization by pairing very “highbrow” films reminiscent of the type found in an art-house with utter trash cinema, the very epitome of pop culture. For his lack of snobbish outlook, I appreciated the concept and feel of his films exceptionally.
On the other hand, a film I did not enjoy was Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising”. I could see that the fetish of objects displayed to the audience through the tracking of items on a table had later influenced the visual elements of “Taxi Driver”. I could understand that with its energetic pace and hidden hints of homosexuality, its underground success in the 60s was part of a revolution in cinema that could not have progressed without in some ways being taboo. Perhaps the problem that I found was that the spectator was addressed too vaguely, too much in a culture of highbrow for me to fully appreciate while viewing.
I did find that the linear narrative of “Food” by Svankmajer, with its eerie addressing of themes such as consumerism, materialism and cannibalism easier to view, perhaps because, even if it gave me an unflattering sense of the human race being like machines, it still evoked some emotion.
Likewise, David Lynch’s “Eraserhead”, inspired by his dull and lifeless time in Philadelphia, gave me a nightmarish feel through the almost lazy pace of the film, non-personal mise-en-scene within his grey apartment and setting of an industrial, abandoned zone that had connotations of disfigurement. The strong elements of male sexual imagery with the worm at the beginning spookily similar to the idea of sperm and the theme of irresponsible sex leading to the mutant baby made me shudder. Furthermore, the minimal dialogue that suddenly collapsed when Henry said, “where have you been?” strengthened my reaction as the spectator wholly because it was the lack of speech leading to it that heightened its anguish. This film may have directed me wondering negatively behind the purpose of life, but it did evoke a matter of playing on my mind afterwards because of its haunting nature.
I found that in experimental cinema, stop-motion film was my least favourite, as I doubted its ability to suggest neither meaning nor reaction out of me, perhaps because the connotations that lie with me as a contemporary viewer are inspired by Keane’s “Bedshaped” music video, and I would only watch that and appreciate it because of its audio.
Enjoyable films such as “Koyaanisqatsi”, referencing Warhol’s breakthrough in post-modernism during the technique of filming people gazing hauntingly into the camera, breaking the fourth wall resulted in me expanding my knowledge on how cinema progressed with such avant-garde cinematic and thematic techniques. In contrast, whereas “Koyaanisqatsi” took a thoughtful few years between 1975 and 1982 to produce, I found “Bodysong” entirely slow-paced and devoid of the same meaning. Whereas “Koyaanisqatsi” had used the relationship between visual and sound in a manner that poetically embraced the rhythm of classical music, “Bodysong” dealt with random but similar images that didn’t fit together quite as well. For instance, the footage (that was found in archives rather than purposely filmed) displayed childbirth, something that is seen to be beautiful, in a grotesque way, and then went on to noisily expose themes such as bullying with clips from over the world. Having become annoyed with the off-beat, childlike repetition of the music that I was not accustomed to as a viewer, I noticed that everything I was seeing at the beginning were things not to be seen with the naked eye. Although I appreciated the concept behind it, I could not help but challenge the mundane and boring style by wondering if perhaps the audience does not wish to see these things usually left free of exposure. Regardless, it did evoke a reaction.
However, the linear narrative of “La Jetee”, which I found pleasing to experience as a spectator accustomed to plot and dialogue, was altogether put together in a surrealist style I recognised as someone who is used to mainstream viewing, and it perhaps did not play on my mind as much as the others due to its philosophical approach being engulfed by narrative. Whereas in the other cases, I had to really think about the films.
Finally, my favourite of all to watch was the 1992 film “For Marilyn” by Stan Brakhage. This film, filled with fast-paced shots of beautifully placed framing, mixed rhythm and light to demonstrate aesthetic enjoyment as a whole. As the other films had displayed asynchronous sound in some cases, or limitations of dialogue, I found that my response to this film as a viewer was extraordinarily liberating, as the silence of the work meant that the fleeting, rhythmic flickers of hand painted stills were the music instead. After enjoying the techniques used that involved the images to be ran through a camera reel for artistic effect, I could only say that my response to this type of experimental film blew my mind in that I had to think for myself rather than be spoon-fed. The liberation of my sense of what film spectatorship usually requires such as a plot, narrative, dialogue, sound and smooth editing gave me a sense to be free of these ideals and respond just how I felt suited it.
‘A’ Grade Exam Response Guidance
• Answer each question directly/stress the key points
• Use key words from the question: repeatedly throughout
• Make it clear what films will be discussed at the start: directors + year
• Refer directly to key sequences using detailed analysis and film language to refer to key scenes (mise-en- scene/framing/lighting/sound etc)
• Give a ‘personal response’ (ie: for me/ I believe/in my opinion/the second time I watched it/with further viewing)
Summary of Recommendations:
- Answer the question as asked
• Less is sometimes more: structure an argument and choose examples carefully for maximum impact in relation to the question
• Bring macro and micro analysis into this paper; extending on the last point, detailed reference and discussion is always better than general description.