That Movie Experience: La La Land

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Why La La Land was my favorite movie of 2016.

When details surrounding La La Land were first released I, admittedly, was not too interested. A musical about an unfulfilled jazz pianist and an aspiring actress chasing their dreams in the unforgiving city of L.A. seemed like the type of film that could quickly bore all types of movie-goers…

As the opportunity was presented to take a trip to a nearby theater and watch the film, which at this point, was already being pegged to win best picture, I sat in my seat and thought about what other musicals I had watched. Deep in thought, questioning if I had taken the time to watch such classics as, Singin’ in the Rain, West Side Story, or even Les Misérables’, I realized that musicals were indeed a major hole in my film repertoire. In other words, my first experience with musicals was La La Land, a film that I fully anticipated would put me to sleep by the time the first big number ended.

Well I was wrong…

The lights dimmed, the shuffling of the audience ceased, and the film began. From the first frame, I was hooked. Never did I think that a traffic jam on the 101 could be so captivating, to the point where, I wished I could join in on the action and dance atop of my piece of junk Honda Civic, or  that watching a jazz pianist play with such virtuosity could make me desire the same ability.

But was the impact that the film had on me really constructed through the spectacular spectacle of the music, performances, directing, lighting, etc., or was there something more, something that lingered deep inside my own experience, something that suggested familiarity and a significant note of pure relatability. As I left the theater and drove home, singing “City of Stars” the whole way, I couldn’t help but think about what had transpired in my own life rather recently.

Before…

As if it were a bizzaro version of La La Land, I was playing music when she walked in, but instead of Piano I wielded a guitar, and attempted to sing. It wasn’t long until I realized that she was someone I wanted to get to know better. She had a sense of humor like no one else, a contagious laugh, an engaging intellect, and a smile that, though cliché, lit up the room.

We loved each other’s company and were content with simple nights of movie-watching. Constantly, we ventured off and explored the little area of the world our pockets permitted us, however, regardless of location or activity, being together was always enough…

Fast forward to…

A month prior to my viewing of La La Land, my relationship with her unfortunately deteriorated. Through its conclusion, there was an established understanding, made clear through our equally shared affection for one another, that life was taking us in two different, individually necessary, directions. I was going left and she was going right. I was going to school in New York and studying screenwriting while she, at the same time, was in Virginia studying accounting. We were two people with our own uniquely individual goals that would, through accomplishment, give us a powerful sense of self-satisfaction, fulfillment, and approval.

When I watched Sebastian and Mia, in the third act of the film decide to, as Seb puts it, “Wait and see” about their relationship. I couldn’t help but recall a similar conversation that I had experienced when my own relationship ended, one that that ultimately concluded with a parallel sense of melancholy.

Yet it was this melancholy; my own, which held an interpretable  meaning that alluded my recognition, or better yet, was blatantly ignored for hopes that this new reality would suddenly become untrue. Was I just sad about losing somebody I loved or was it that the dreams we had planned out together, ones that looked not at the present, but rather the future, had become completely trapped in a world of what could have been? I’ll say both…

So…

Never before had the words of a movie character jumped, with such haste, off the big screen and into my life…”Wait and See”… As corny as it sounds, Sebastian’s idea of “Waiting and seeing” gave me a much needed dose of comfort, reassurance, and even encouragement. Not only did it suggest a type of hope that could make me forget the still fresh break up, it also suggested that to dwell on the heartache would be unfavorable to the existence of my dreams and the potential that resided somewhere inside of them. To “Wait and See,” means, to me, putting in time to watch something happen; whether beneficial or detrimental…that of love or separation, success or failure. It’s that chance to see experiences and have them move through “us” like emotions, to the point, where we are changed, affected, and heartwarmingly touched.

Then it hit me, a thought-provoking revelation, all thanks to La La Land. Having been in my relationship was a perfect practice of “waiting and seeing.” The two of us, didn’t really know each other, but regardless, decided that we should give it a shot and see how it goes. I would be lying if I wrote that being with her didn’t change me, that the experience of connection and love didn’t affect me in an enormous way because it did. This idea, that seemed so fresh; “waiting and seeing,” was something that I’d been practicing for a long time, but was clearly oblivious to.

With this new-found recognition, moving past the looming melancholy seemed to be something I could attempt without fear…and here I am, in school, studying to achieve my dream of being a screenwriter, knowing that it is all in reach if I “wait and see.” Maybe She and I will run into each other and just like the end of La La Land share a quick moment, a quick smile that recognizes our past, but also our paths moving forward. To be honest, I hope for that moment.

And while La La Land hasn’t generated a new passion for musicals, it gave me something, I feel, is much more useful. The film gave me a needed realization, understanding, and ability to grow. A movie I thought was going to put me to sleep became a moving piece of art that completely changed my life for the better…

 

-Reddmond Perone

 

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Classic Film Review: Umberto D. (1952)

After WWII, Italy’s social, political, and economic infrastructure was fundamentally devastated. The once vibrant country, after war-time bloodshed, had become a space characterized by impoverished working-class citizens who struggled to make ends meet. With this contextual understanding, Umberto D., a film focused on exploring the plaguing issues surrounding Italy, becomes jam-packed with engaging subtextual meaning.

The film, set in post-war Rome, follows Umberto Domenico Ferrari, an elderly man, who, despite his landlady’s wishes, is trying to retain his rented apartment.  Without any family, friends, or feasible job; Umberto and Flike, a companion pup, must maneuver through the unforgiving streets of Rome to discover new means of survival. Will Umberto and Flike, in a city devoid of visible compassion, find a way to maintain some senses of self-dignity, or will they let the pitiless Roman reality swallow them up into an impoverished oblivion? Only time will tell…

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Directed by Vittorio De Sica, Umberto D. is a captivating film that fully transports a viewer into a post-war Rome. Not only does De Sica immediately present Italian social/political insufficiencies, he manages to make them dominate thematics throughout the film.  Opening with a wage-demanding protest, one that is ultimately thwarted by military intervention, De Sica presents “the world” of post-war Rome through the rallying gaze of angry working-class men and, at the same time, showcases their relationship to the greater government entity. It is this very sense that, in many ways, seems to set up a thesis for the entirety of the film: Is it possible for someone with compassion to exist in a world that is utterly compassionless?

Juggling this thematic narrative, De Sica constantly paints Umberto as one of the last remaining citizens who consider the greater social climate. For example, Umberto promises to help a young maid find out which one of the Italian soldiers is the father of her soon-to-be child. Additionally, Umberto’s experience at the dog pound showcases that he is wielding a particular sense of awareness that seems to be unlike any of the other men and women around. After poking his head into a small room, Umberto asks a dog pound employee, “is this where you kill them?” Not only is does this scene stick with the audience, it suggests that Umberto, as opposed to everyone else, is taking a general interest in the fate of something other than himself (Something that is ruptured by the end of the film).

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At the end of the film (no spoiler’s necessary), De Sica presents Umberto with an easy choice that could make all the problems go away. The decision is devastating but is also full of humanities dark realities. The decision made causes Flike to distance himself from his Umberto. De Sica employs a series of long shots to suggest literal, emotional, and symbolic distance. There is a sense of heartbreak in this scene and it is only intensified by the swelling music.

Though the film ends with a sense of character uncertainty, it seems as though an interpretable path has been set out for Umberto and Flike. The film doesn’t offer any systematic solutions to the social happenings of 1952 Italy, but it does maneuver through the presented themes as if they were in an ideological conversation: compassion and faith vs. disillusionment and depression. And while, as stated before, the film ends with a clear pathway set, it appears that it is the audience’s job to pick whether or not Umberto and Flike are on the side of compassion or disillusionment.  Umberto D. concludes with something defined, but at the same time, forces the viewer to determine what has been defined (that makes sense in my head at least).

Overall Vittorio De Sica’s, Umberto D. is a great Italian neorealist film. The film has a plethora of memorable moments, characters, and ideas. The film can be viewed as a simple story concerning a man and his dog, but, at the same time, asks that the audience be present in the experience of Umberto, Flike and 1950’s Italy.

-Reddmond Perone

The Politics of Complacency: Douglas Sirk & Melodrama

Filmmaking is constantly evolving; style, genre, and even, interpretation go through particular periods in which their already established significance is reshaped. Melodramas, with a superficial viewing, can be perceived as merely movies with informing musical cues; the theatrical substance associated with an ever-growing 1950’s bourgeoisie. However, The interpretation of Douglas Sirk’s melodramas; All That Heaven Allows (1955), Written on the Wind (1956), and Imitation of Life (1959) through the auteuristic manipulation of the foreground, background, and overall mise-en-scene, can reveal formulated social commentaries regarding complacent politics of race, gender, and sexuality.

The 1950’s was a period in history where men and women worked within their distinct social responsibilities. Moving out of the World War II era; a brief moment in time where the lines between genders roles were seemingly blurred, society successfully transitioned into a period of containment. Barbara Klinger describes the 1950’s cultural landscape as, “a time of …apparent complacency.” (8)  Images commonly associated with the 1950’s, such as a woman cooking over a hot oven,  her fedora-wearing husband trekking into the office, and their eventual dinner-table reunion, showcase a clear display of consensual complacency, as well as the automaton-like nature society was embracing. Additionally, this newly found complacency within the bourgeois regarded gender, sexuality, and race through specific binaries that found each to be established as black or white.  In other words, there was no changing the social patterns that were perceived as normal and acceptable.

Douglas Sirk’s melodramas, working through the 1950’s cultural landscape, have been recently reconsidered as works of a skillful auteur. Regarding the relationship between things, Sirk considered that “Objects in the mise-en-scene…embody [a] social critique.” (Klinger 9). Much like an author carefully constructs meaning within a novel through the minute details, actions, or dialogue, Sirk is working through a similar sensibility, one that utilizes the mise-en-scene to represent decodable ideas revolving around social commentary. For example in, All That Heaven Allows, Sirk, by utilizing the mise-en-scene, surrounds the characters with distant trophies, ornaments, and statues to evoke a presentable richness but at the same time, an internal emptiness. This can specifically be noticed moments before Cary and Harvey leave on their date. Sirks decision to include such objects, though simplistic, can only warrant conversation, one that considers interpretable meaning and its plausible relationship to a larger social emptiness. In this case, Sirk is allowing his eloquent mise-en-scene to articulate ideas regarding complacent attitudes of the 1950’s bourgeoisie. In many ways Sirk’s mastery over the mise-en-scene alludes to upcoming narratives and thematics of his films; All That Heaven Allows, being no exception.

Sirks auteuristic methods must also concern his ability to create, arguably the most important aspect of a melodrama, the aesthetic.  All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life, all work through similar apparatuses. As stated by Bordwell and Thompson, the melodrama is presented by “Psychologically impotent men and gallantly suffering women [who] play out their dramas in expressionistic pools of color…” (314). Sirk’s melodramas are not attempting to recreate the subtleties of natural life; a responsibility that neorealism filmmakers cultivated. Instead, Sirk’s melodramas are hyper-realistic representations of the 1950’s bourgeoisie reality. Moreover, Sirk’s melodramatic aesthetic utilizes a wide variety of embellished musical cues and emotional highs that reveal, to the audience, significant plot point developments. This can explicitly be observed in Written on the Wind when Lucy, cloaked in dark blue expressionistic lighting, finds a gun under Kyle’s pillow, or when Marylee walks in on Mitch strumming the ukulele. The lighting, clearly unrealistic, helps to build the visual aesthetic melodrama needs, as a genre, function.

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By understanding Sirk’s auteurism, as well as the social landscape of the 1950’s, maneuvering through the politics of melodrama becomes much more accessible. All That Heaven Allows follows a relationship between Carey and Ron. The new-found romance is the talk of the town, simply due to the fact that Cary is an older woman and Ron is much younger. The film is obsessed with objects; objects that are idealized, like televisions, the objects within the mise-en-scene, as well as, the object of social norms. As stated before, objects fill the room, yet they appear to serve a superficial function, a reminder of mindlessness, boredom, and even artificial company. It is even suggested that to cope with her husband’s death, Cary should invest in a T.V., to, as is stated in the film, “Keep busy.  Interestingly enough, Sirk seems to juxtapose the artificiality with shots of blooming trees, almost as if he is trying to compare the differences between the two. The comparison seems to comment on the 1950’s artificiality; the patterns of living, objects of affection, and reasoning for affection. Sirk brilliantly takes this critique and parallels a similar theme alongside Ron, Carey, and the gossiping town. While romance between a young man and older woman would be considered taboo, through the norms of 1955, they decided to break away from the artifice of society and follow what feels natural.

Written on the Wind also appears to be assessing particular artificial aspects of the 1950’s social foundation. Following the customary traditions of the melodrama genre, Written on the Wind presents a mentally impotent man, Kyle, who is constantly being surpassed by his friend and business ally, Mitch. The two male protagonists fall in love with Lucy and, like most films, drama inevitably runs its course. Sirk, throughout the movie, is keen on exploring the expected roles of men and women; so much so, that the evaluation leads Kyle to his death.  Due to the gendered politics of 1956, Written on the Wind dares to explore the “familial social definitions of masculinity.” (Klinger 23).  Kyle is victimized by his history of being, in many ways, less of a man than Mitch; inlying the matter of being castrated in a patriarchal social order. Examined in the bar fight, Kyle, an alcoholic, is seemingly defeated by some random drunkard. By being punched on to a table, Kyle ultimately becomes part of the background and, inherently, part of the mise-en-scene. Shortly after this happens, Mitch, after landing a knockout punch, defeats the same drunkard. It appears Sirk does not want Kyle to regain any sense of his male dominance, but rather suggests a different way of thinking and seeing.  This new point of view employed by Sirk, “Protest against the realist convention and the ideology it upholds.”(Klinger 24); meaning that Written on the Wind, by being a melodrama, is commenting and critiquing the problematic understanding of masculinity. By framing masculinity through the melodramas over-stylized, hyper-realistic, and emotionally high aesthetic, a viewer gets to witness a gendered illogicality of the 1950’s social order.

Feminism is also a topic Sirk explores, specifically, through the dance sequence. Starting with a high angle shot that pushes into the estate’s window, the camera appears as an all-seeing eye. Initially, the camera, still in its authoritative position, presents an extraordinarily gendered conversation about football; ultimately concluding with one of the women stating, “I’ll never know who’s got the ball.” As the words fade, Marylee, clearly unaccompanied, moves into the frame. Sirk, with just one shot, has made a profound statement in relationship to womanhood. The authoritative, nearly judge-like, angle of the camera allows for a viewer to consider the perceived normality of female behavior and, in many ways, psychology. Next is a medium shot of Marylee, in the background, entering into a dark room; she is shrouded in darkness as if her intentions are untrustworthy or maybe unclear. Shortly after, Sirk presents a series of shots, all of which consist of Marylee dancing. The suggestive dancing acts as an outlet for Marylee to express her sexual frustration regarding Mitch and the rest of society. The standout sequence, “beautifully exemplifies the sexual thematics of the film: frustration and impotence.” (Klinger 25). By placing sexual themes through Marylee, it appears the Sirk is, once again, breaking away from the dominant ideology of the 1950’s.

Image result for an imitation of life  Shifting to Imitation of Life, another film that communicates via mise-en-scene, camera movement, and critiques on racial identities, one can notice, again Sirks auteurism. Positioned in the background of the mise-en-scene, a majority of the film is an African American maid, Annie, who is struggling to maintain a relationship with her race-denying daughter. Meanwhile, at the forefront, Lora Meredith, an aspiring actress, attempts to create a life of luxury by participating in various Broadway plays and movies. Even with just a basic understanding of the plot, it becomes apparent that the more socially conscious narrative of the film would be centered on Annie and her struggle with racial identities. Despite the fact that Annie is often seen associating with a plethora of maids and butlers; all of which find a defined spot in the opulent-looking background of the film, it is her story that, through Sirk’s auteurism, cannot help but find a place of chief importance.

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Imitation of Life’s racial conversation, visually, alludes to the types of identity, equality, and binary obstacles that plagued the 1950’s. In other words, Sirks directing was visually capturing “current” cultural inequalities and at the same time, maneuvering through their complexities via the genre of melodrama. When Sara-Jane meets Frankie near the end of the film she is once again confronted by 1950’s racial discrimination. A medium shot, stating the sequence, shows Sarah-Jane as she anxiously awaits her boyfriend.  Frankie, a shadowy figure in the background, quickly approaches. Sara-Jane rushes over to Frankie and, together, they both stand in the distant expressionistic shadows.  Sirks decision to have the medium shot grow into a long shot is, perhaps, alluding to the fact that there is a recently discovered cultural distance between the two characters (Frankie being white and Sarah-Jane being black). The next shot is a medium close-up of Sarah-Jane and Frankie; however, after a quick pan left, Sarah-Jane is reflected through a window of a bar. The mirrored image of Sara-Jane seems to evoke an idea concerning the unstable image; something that becomes exceedingly apparent when one recalls her own identity struggles. As Frankie, just seconds later, exclaims, “is your mother a nigger?” Sirk pans right and reintroduces Sarah-Jane into the shot. By utilizing this pan, Sirk forces an immediate, in your face confrontation of the 1950’s racial binaural reality. As the sequence continues, Sarah Jane, through another reflected shot, begins to get assaulted by Frankie. The refection of Frankie slapping Sarah Jane is a powerful image on its own; however, its significance is only elevated when considering that Sirk seems to be suggesting ideas about the instability within identity, as well as the flipped reality of what Sarah Jane ultimately desired.

Sirks ability to critique the 1950’s social climate and at the same time, confront it with auteurism, can be attributed to the mise-en-scene. Klinger describes, “mise-en-scene as a site that generates commentary…” (22). Using the previously detailed sequence; Sirk’s lighting, alleyway-setting, and mirror-usage, all work in unison to present an evaluation of what lies, “beneath the surface” (Klinger 22).  Imitation of Life,  through Sirk’s direction, appears to be merely an imitation of 1950’s complacency (Lora Meredith’s narrative) and at the same time, an imitation of the period’s racial struggle (Annie/Sarah Jane’s narrative) that can be thoroughly explored and assets via the mise-en-scene.

The ending of Sirk’s melodramas are considered, “false happy-endings” (Klinger 23); concluding with the death of a character who has experienced some sort of superficial and interpretable turmoil.  In the case of Imitation of Life, Sarah-Jane rushing to her mother’s funeral showcases a narrative conclusion but in many ways, also articulates the cost of racism through mise-en-scene. While it could be understood that Sarah-Jane, as she mourns over her mother’s casket, has finally realized the importance of her mother, the non-happy ending would permit that underneath the superficiality of the bouquets and mourners, Sara-Jane has finally accepted her societal circumstance. She is African American and has felt first-hand; the ramifications of racism are unavoidable. In many ways, the ending of Imation of Life is not wrapped up with a tightly knotted bow-tie. The reality is that there could be another story to tell; the lives of every character, by the end of the film, seem to be in a place of indecisive ambiguity. By not letting anyone fulfill the desire to know what happens next, Sirk suggests that these issues are currently haunting the 1950’s social agenda.

All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life are capturing specific attitudes of the 1950’s and casting them through Hollywood lenses, auteuristic sensibilities, and masterful mise-en-scene. Social critiques, commentaries, and concerns, are presented to audiences through the melodramatic aesthetic and at the same time hidden through that very system. Often the landscape of society influences art and it appears that Sirk’s films are heavily influenced by the politics of identity. It also appears that not many other films were attempting to work through these types of differing logics.  Sirk stands out as a director who constantly let the societal views take shape within his films.

Douglas Sirk was able to take the genre of melodrama and turn it into a field of political/ social conversation. By utilizing the endless possibilities of mise-en-scene, camera movement, and character arcs, Sirk presented the 1950’s audience with, at times, subtle critiques of what was lying beneath the surface of a complacent major reality. His films took on a particular self-aware style that allowed for such cultural explorations to feel as though they were, indeed, true explorations of ideologies. All That Heaven Allows, Written on the Wind, and Imitation of Life are all films that appear as ordinary melodramas full of clichéd emotions and plot points; however, upon a closer look, the films are seemingly packed with mise-en-scene that fuel interpretable meanings. The films, mise-en-scenes, and meanings all attempted to bring a new conversation to the world of the 1950’s.

– Reddmond Perone

 

Works Cited

Boredwell and Thompson. Film History: An Introduction. 3rd ed., Mcgraw-Hill 2010

Klinger, Barbara. Melodrama and Meaning: History, Culture, and the Films of Douglas Sirk.          Indiana University Press, 1994.

5 Albums That Film & Film Score Fans Might Appreciate

5 Albums That Film & Film Score Fans Might Appreciate

The best way I can sum myself up is that I’m an obsessive fan of storytelling, specifically film and its related art forms (television, comic books, video games, etc.), and I’m an obsessive fan of music. So I guess it makes sense that I would be an obsessive fan of film scores too. Composers like Hans Zimmer and John Williams have made a lot of music that is very near and dear to me. However, their work is specifically written for films. What about music that sounds like it could be a film score, but is actually just a regular album, produced independent of any film or other form of media? In the interest of introducing people to what I think are amazing records that sometimes don’t get talked about too much, as well hearing myself talk, here are 5 albums that not only mean a lot to me, but also have a sound that is closely related to the sound of film score music

 

  1. The Who- Quadrophenia

This one is definitely the most well known on this list. Released in October 1973, this album is, in my opinion, the seminal British rock band The Who’s masterpiece. A lot of people would make the argument for Tommy or Who’s Next– and I adore Who’s Next- but in terms of storytelling, album cohesion, and sheer amount of amazing music, I have to give it to Quadrophenia as the best Who album ever made. Much like Tommy before it, Quadrophenia  has a central story to it. The story of the album concerns Jimmy, a young working class man who’s a part of the mod culture in early 1960’s Britain. Jimmy has four different personalities, and each personality is given it’s own theme. This is incredibly similar to how a lot of film scores are written, where oftentimes, characters and idea’s get themes. At multiple points throughout the album, the four central themes are played, corresponding to different parts of Jimmy’s story. The use of thematic motifs is just incredible, and the rest of the music works incredibly well too, always supporting the story being told about Jimmy.

 

The Who- Quadrophenia

 

2.  King Crimson- In the Court of the Crimson King

 

A little more obscure then The Who and Quadrophenia, but nonetheless, King Crimson and In The Court of the Crimson King – which is Crimson’s first album- are landmarks in music history, since this album could be considered the first ever progressive rock album. While the genre of progressive rock does share some DNA with film scoring, particularly with an acute influence from classical music, the two are usually pretty different beasts. However, this album lends itself quite a bit more to being a film score than say, a Yes or Genesis album. I’m guessing I feel that way because the atmosphere on Crimson King is just incredible. More so than a lot of prog albums, and even the later works by King Crimson, this album is very heavily based on atmosphere and emotion. Tracks like Epitaph, I Talk to the Wind, and the title track are written in an incredibly symphonic way, and would lend themselves quite beautifully as pieces in a film score.

King Crimson- In the Court of the Crimson King (First Half Only, most of King Crimson’s music was taken off of Youtube a few years ago, as per Robert Fripp’s wishes.)

 

 

3. Flying Lotus- Until the Quiet Comes

This one is a completely different genre then the previous two albums. The Who and King Crimson are pretty firmly rooted in rock music, but Flying Lotus doesn’t make rock music. He’s a producer who makes this fascinating blend of hip- hop, jazz, and electronic music. While all of Flying Lotus’ other albums are great, this album for me is the best album in his discography. Again, like In The Court of the Crimson King, there’s this incredible atmosphere on this album. It’s like it was made for traveling New York City at night, which  took full advantage of throughout my senior year of high school, when I discovered this beautiful album. There’s nothing quite like riding through Brooklyn on the N train to this record.  The mood constantly switches between upbeat, relaxed, and contemplative, and the textures and sound are always phenomenal, and go a long way at suggesting a sort of story and atmosphere resembling something you’d feel watching a film. An important thing to note is that most of the tracks on this album are 3 minutes or less, so much like Dark Side of the Moon, the album functions more like one giant piece of music. You can easily picture a movie in your head to this music, which definitely explains why Flying Lotus has written and directed his own film, called Kuso, which is coming out July of this year.

Flying Lotus- All In

 

4. Global Communication- 76:14

This one is my personal favorite on this list. Words wouldn’t do justice what I feel when I listen to this album, but since this is an article, I’ll try my best. This album comes from the 90’s ambient electronic group Global Communication. The best way I can describe their sound is that it sounds like a mix of Aphex Twin, Tangerine Dream, and Brian Eno. So you have the 90’s electronic techno and house beats, the atmospherics of ambient music, and synths straight from 70’s and 80’s electronic artists. As for the actual music on this album, it’s this ingenious, soothing, awe inspiring, and mesmerizing mix of sounds and textures. Unlike the first 3 albums on this list, there are no words being spoken, and not even the song titles have words in them. It’s almost as if this album just fell from space, and someone discovered it, and made CD’s out of it, and released it. This is music to listen to as contemplate your life, and your place in the universe. If you love science fiction and space, as I do, I would hope you’d be able to appreciate this as the perfect soundtrack to an imaginary space science fiction film.

Global Communication- 9:25

 

5. Russian Circles- Geneva

 Perhaps the most abrasive album on this list, this album was released in 2009 by the post rock group Russian Circles. Their music is a perfect blend of the styles of post rock and post metal. Think Tool meets Explosions in the Sky. You get the hard rocking drums and heavy guitar and bass, but you also get a lot of atmospherics and melody. The songs on this all go beyond 4 minutes, with the last two tracks being 8 and 10 minutes long. These guys really like to play with epic, long form structures, and it shows. The music is expertly crafted, and the way moods and textures are used throughout the album makes this one of the best post rock/metal albums I’ve ever listened to. The band also really like to switch between and mix beauty and ugliness, and darkness and light. You hear both fury and tranquility, and tension and catharsis. This is very evocative music, and hopefully conjures up very evocative stories and visuals in your head as you listen. I can easily imagine an action packed film or video game being scored with this type of music.

Russian Circles- Fathom

 

And there’s the list! While The Who and King Crimson probably won’t be scoring any films anytime soon, and Flying Lotus already has done film score work, I would kill to hear what Global Communication or Russian Circles would do with a film score. I should also mention that I know for a fact there’s a ton of beautiful albums that I skipped over that could easily be included on this list. With these 5 artists, I tried to go for artists people knew for the first two albums, and then for the final 3, I tried to get as broad a range of music as possible. Because I’m nice, here’s a few bands and artists that I thought about including: Tortoise (jazzy post rock), God is an Astronaut (post rock with some heavy and electronic elements), Lights Out Asia (electronic blended with post rock), Lights and Motion (essentially, soundtrack music for imaginary films. An overdose of pretty guitar, pianos, and strings), Aphex Twin (electronic, obviously), Tim Hecker (experimental ambient), Hammock (ambient post rock), Loscil (ambient electronic), Benn Jordan (ambient electronic), ISIS (yes, that’s an actual band. They’re post metal, they’ve toured with Mogwai and Tool, and they’re incredible), Neurosis (sludge metal with a lot of experimental elements, they essentially created the blueprint for post metal), Opeth (progressive death metal), Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree (progressive rock/metal), Bonobo (jazzy, soulful house music, mixed with other electronic styles), Deru (ambient electronic), Tycho (electronic music, like a much happier Boards of Canada), and Meniscus (post metal). Hopefully someone in the film, TV, or video game industry gets a clue, and gives any of the artists mentioned in this article a call.

-Paul Hoti

The Relevance of Intellectual Montage: Post Eisenstein

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The Relevance of Intellectual Montage: Post Eisenstein

Sergei Eisenstein managed to take the unexploited potential within the film medium and through various theorizing, create specific montage techniques that truly showcased the power of movies. The techniques that Eisenstein created have influenced many filmmakers in their endeavor to produce significant concepts, emotions, and, above all else, art. The most prevalent, noticeable, and suggestive of Eisenstein’s methods, one that many Hollywood filmmakers have resorted to using, is that of the intellectual montage. Eisenstein’s intellectual montage has helped shape resonant meaning within Hollywood’s most beloved and highly rated films.

Before discussing how the intellectual montage has captivated Hollywood, it is first necessary to detail what a montage actually is. A montage, as described by author Aristides Gazetas, is “The creation of a sense or meaning not proper to the images themselves but derived exclusively from their juxtaposition.” (120)  Gazetas quote explains a process of editing that allows viewers to feel some sort of interpretational sensation.  An intellectual montage, worked through similar association, takes the concept of juxtaposition and pushes it to create thought provoking metaphors for the viewers to react to. By linking one meaningful shot with another meaningful shot, a resulting third meaning is ultimately conceived metaphorically. The third metaphorical meaning acts as a device that allows the audience to arrive at new conclusions, conclusions that perhaps would not be considered without the intellectual montage.

As a director, Eisenstein utilized the intellectual montage to create metaphorical meanings within his own films like Strike and Battleship Potemkin. The images presented in Eisenstein’s films thoroughly show how commanding an intellectual montage can be. In Strike, Eisenstein shows the viewer an excessively aggressive military attacking/killing its own civilians.  The shot, on its own, presents an overwhelmingly intense image but it becomes clear that Eisenstein is not satisfied with the singular meaning.  To create his metaphorical meaning, Eisenstein cuts away from the violent mise-en-scene of civilian murder and immediately decides to show a cow being slaughtered, imagery which displays equal brutality, but assertively, generates an especially evocative thought. The metaphorical meaning Eisenstein created through the combination of the two shots shows something conceptual, a concept that connects the slaughter of humans to the slaughter of cattle.  Eisenstein, in Battleship Potemkin, directs a very similar type of intellectual montage, one that, again, showcases the potential strength of the intellectual montage.  

When looking at both, Strike (1925) and Battleship Potemkin, (1925) the captivating ability of the intellectual montage becomes exceedingly apparent. The captivation that an intellectual form of montage carries, forces audiences to interpret cinema in new and exhilarating ways. Eisenstein details, in his work entitled Film Form, “…Emotional principal is universally human.” (82).The assessment of intellectual montage by Eisenstein appears to show the relevant relation between emotion and montage. It is clear, through Eisenstein, that intellectual montage has the ability to generate emotion, something that congruently, encourages the development of meaning. Creating an effective intellectual montage allows viewers to have an emotional reaction, something that allows a films interpretable meaning(s) to resonate. It is this attractive valuation that still acts as motive for filmmakers to create their own intellectual montage post Eisenstein.

Directors attempt to construct avenues of meaning within their films through the same intellectual montage style that Eisenstein theorized and engaged with. Alfred Hitchcock’s films North By Northwest (1959) and Psycho (1960), juxtaposes specific images in efforts to create the third meaning Eisenstein’s theory particularized. Nicholas Haeffner, in his book entitled, Alfred Hitchcock states, “…intellectual montage is used in Hitchcock’s films to plant an image in the mind of the audience which isn’t necessarily on screen” (37) Applying Haeffner’s analysis to North by Northwest, perfectly showcases the use of Eisenstein’s theory of intellectual montage. Hitchcock, at the end of the film, presents the viewer with a train cabin mise-en scene; where the male protagonist lifts the female protagonist onto the bunk bed. The following shot brings the viewer outside and shows the train entering into a tunnel.  By juxtaposing these two shots, Hitchcock is able to intellectually convey the idea of sex, rather than simply presenting or stating it. The symbolism of a train entering into the tunnel acts as metaphorical device, much like the image of Eisenstein’s cow slaughter worked through a similar set of associations. Hitchcock, in Psycho, again showcases his understanding of the intellectual montage during the famous “shower scene”. Haeffner, states: “Hitchcock took extreme care to avoid showing the knife touching the body… In a supremely effective display of Eisenstein’s principle of intellectual montage, the knife entering Marion’s flesh and the wounds, and the blood coming from them are in the imagination of the audience.” (38) While the images that Hitchcock initially presents imply a specific type of viciousness, the intellectual montage stems from capping off the violence with an evocative shot, one that shows a mixture of water and blood running down the shower drain.

The metaphorical meaning within intellectual montage can also be seen in films that were made in later decades as well. One of the most notable and influential directors, to utilize the intellectual montage, is Francis Ford Coppola. Coppola’s 1972 film, The Godfather applies Eisenstein’s theory of the intellectual montage but at the same time, elaborates on it. The montage comes at the films climax, specifically, “The Baptism Murders”. Michael Asimow & Shanonn Mader, authors of Law and Popular Culture: A Course Book, discuss “The Baptism Murders,” by stating, “The sequence is a powerful one, for Coppola is contrasting images of birth and death. The meaning that spectators glean from the contrast is that Michael Corleone is a hypocrite.” (167). To showcase the hypocrisy referenced by Asimow and Mader, Coppola starts the “The Baptism Murders,” with Michael observing the baptism of his son. Coppola quickly cuts away from the religious event and brings the viewer to various Mafia goons preparing to assassinate rival Dons/associates. Already, in the very early stages of the scene, the essence of an intellectual montage has been crafted and is considering curious ideas about religion and hypocrisy. Coppola enhances the montage by juxtaposing images of Michael agreeing to be baptized with the disturbing images of murder. The viewer knows that Michael is the one responsible for the deaths of the rival Dons/associates and partnering that concept with that of baptism works to create the much desired third meaning, a meaning that is layered with hypocrisy. Michael’s façade of a moral catholic is contrasted with him being a vindictive mafia man. This intellectual montage shapes a third meaning, that suggests the baptism is less about religiosity, and more of a metaphor that speaks to Michael fully accepting a life of crime and violence.

The inclusion of intellectual montages in cinema is a powerful tool that allows audiences to interpret and create new meanings. In relationship to Eisenstein, and the power of the intellectual montage, Thomas Elsaesser & Malte Hagener detail, in their book, Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses, “It was film’s efficiency in delivering vivid sense impressions…that rendered it so powerful as a medium.” (172). The quote by Elsaesser and Hagener, similarly align with the theory of Eisenstein. The films looked at, are elevated by the interpretable meaning that the intellectual montages work convey. The metaphors that audiences are able to recognize and translate in many ways, add an extra layer of sensation to films. Had Coppola not adopted Eisenstein’s theory of intellectual montage, “The Baptism Murders,” would not be a much-admired scene, but rather a selection of shots that ultimately feel flat and hollow. The intellectual montage acts as a tool of elevation, working to elevate perception, sensation, and meaning. With this elevation, compelling ideas can be considered, to the point, where the intellectual montage can have a lasting effect on the audience.

When filmmakers embark on the laborious journey to make a film, one of the most craved outcomes is that of meaning. Eisenstein’s theory of intellectual montage still remains relevant in connection to how meaning is achieved in cinema.  By utilizing this form of montage, filmmakers are able to shape metaphors that elevate movies. Two Hollywood filmmakers, Hitchcock and Coppola, directed some of the most well-known movies to ever be put to film and interestingly, they both managed to take Eisenstein’s theory and integrate it into their respective work. Having intellectual montages in film allows the natural meaning to be significantly elevated to a point where new meaning is derived. Utilizing Sergie Eisenstein’s specific theory of intellectual montage helps to create resonant metaphorical meanings in film.

-Reddmond Perone

Works Cited

Eisenstein, Sergei. Film Form. New York & London: A Harvest/HBJ Book, 1977. Web.

Elsaesser, Thomas, Malte Hagener. Film Theory: An Introduction Through the Senses. London: Routledge, 2015. Web

Gazetas, Aristides. An Introduction to World Cinema 2d ed. Jefferson, North Carolina:                                                      McFarland & Company, Inc, 2008. Web.

Haeffner. Nicholas. Alfred Hitchcock. London: Routledge, 2004. Web

That Movie Experience: The Superhero Movie Takeover

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A Defense of Superhero Film’s Takeover of the Movie Theater

In today’s world, there’s a feeling that superhero blockbusters have taken over the multiplex, and that this is a detriment to the artistic and cinematic world. But how often do you hear a genuine defense of these kind of films that goes beyond “It’s just popcorn fun!”? There’s a maxim that’s been expressed quite often on the Internet, and it goes “Superhero’s are our modern myths.” I wholeheartedly agree with this. Like, 110 percent. However, I feel like there’s something more here that is much less talked about than even that idea of superhero’s as modern mythology.

Recently, I’ve been thinking about this idea of art, including film of course, as a form of therapy. I like the idea that watching something is going to help me understand my own problems, or at least, let me empathize with a character who is going through the same things that I am. I guess this is the reason why I have a tough time with shows like The Office and comedies in general. This is probably why I prefer Louie over Seinfeld, and why I’ll most likely never get into It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.

  The goal of a comedy is to make people laugh, and that’s fine. But when I sit down and I want to watch something- and concurrently, when I want to write something-I’m oftentimes looking for something a lot more meaningful. I want some kind of catharsis, or meaning, or anything like that, much like Reddmond- the guy who runs the site this is being posted on- went through when he watched La La Land. And while this sounds very silly, I completely get that from a lot of superhero movies.

I think there’s something very powerful with seeing someone do the right thing in their world, and overcoming their own personal demons, and that’s literally like, a good 90 percent of superhero stories right there. Superman. Doing the right thing. Batman. Overcoming personal demons (or giving in completely, as some Batman stories spin it, where Batman accepts how fucked up he is, and decides to work with it. That’s a story of self acceptance., a very powerful theme in and of itself.) Spiderman. A beautiful combination of those two big themes.

To perhaps be more specific, lets take a look at my favorite superhero film that isn’t about a man who dresses as a bat. Captain America: Civil War. On my Letterboxed account (that I just got this year thanks to a recommendation from someone I know), it’s listed as “My Favorite Film”, next to the 3 Christopher Nolan Batflicks. I don’t know how embarrassing that is, but anyway. Cap: Civil War. It came out the same year the same year as the most divisive American election in modern history. Now, why is that important, or mean anything? Well, because Civil War is literally all about what it really means to do the right thing, and how human beings go about trying to do the right thing, and how oftentimes, “the right thing” can mean two COMPLETELY different things to different people. Isn’t that perfect for American politics today? When so many people in America disagree with each other, yet at the same time, think they are 100 percent in the right?

And it doesn’t stop there. If you’ve ever been in a really nasty, bitter fight with a friend, I can guarantee you’ll be able to empathize with the story of Civil War, which see’s Captain America and Iron Man, and all (well most. Thor and The Hulk aren’t in the film. They’re briefly mentioned though.) of the Avengers at each others throat, fighting tooth and nail for what they think is right. Isn’t that just fucking cool!!?!? Or I don’t know, maybe it isn’t cool, if you find guys wearing suits of power armor beating the crap out of each other is too corny or childish.

I do sometimes get in a mindset of “Wow, the shit I love most really is kind of corny and childish. Like really? There’s THAT much meaning in watching two action figures in human form trying to talk politics to each other, and then beating the crap out of each other.” But wait, fuck that. Because when Tony Stark and Steve Rodgers and all of the Avengers talk politics, to me, its right up there with the best of any political drama. And when the action scenes come, and the Avengers fight, it looks and feels just as good as any of the action films made, like, ever. And when Tony and Steve fight at the end of the film, it feels just as cathartic and powerful as anything Shakespeare ever wrote. (and that, right there, might be the dumbest line in this article. Is this even an article?)

Anyway, yeah, I love my superhero stuff. Watching and obsessing over these kinds of films I feel like gives a form of therapy to many people. I just have had yet to see superhero films seen through this light on the Internet, and as such, here is this article…thing. Now, the argument over whether or not it really is a good thing that superhero films HAVE become so dominant in cinematic culture, now that, is an argument for another day. For now, I just think it would be cool to think of superhero films in this light.

-Paul Hoti