Final Paper

            In addition to all of the high-grossing and popularized movies with star-studded casts that we so frequently hear about, there exists a very different type of film, documentary film.  Documentaries are unique films due to their different purposes, methods of production and organizational and visual styles.  While a commercial fiction film may typically be created with the intent of reaching a large fan base of potential viewers and generating large revenue from the film, a documentary film will be created with the intent to share information about historical, cultural or contemporary events with its viewers.  Documentary films are also typically made on much smaller budgets than average fiction films.  British documentary filmmaker, John Grierson, first coined the term “documentary” back in the 1920’s.  Grierson also described his film creations as “presenting the real world with greater imagination than a standard newsreel” (Pramaggiore & Wallace, 2011).  Two films that come to mind when discussing documentary film are Brett Morgen’s, Chicago 10 and Kirk Frasier’s, Without Bias.  Chicago 10 tells the story of the Yippees, a group of protestors who staged the famous Vietnam War protests in the city of Chicago during the 1968 Democratic National Convention, and their subsequent court case.  Without Bias recalls the life of former University of Maryland Basketball star Len Bias, whose life was tragically cut short only a few days after being drafted into the NBA as the result of a drug overdose.  Both Chicago 10 and Without Bias should be considered to be documentaries due to their journalistic realism, presentation of a real world issue and their use of documentary rhetorical strategies.

            As Chicago 10 tells the true story of the events surrounding the Vietnam War protests during the Democratic National Convention in 1968, a very strong sense of journalistic realism is created for the audience.  The film includes numerous film clips from 1968 of Abbie Hoffman and his fellow Youth International Party members discussing their plans with local news reporters for rallies and marches that they were planning to make during the Democratic National Convention.  Director Brett Morgen also included actual video footage of what exactly was going on during a number of the marches and rallies that the Yippees were leading.  The footage shows numerous instances of the groups of protestors congregating together in public areas, only to have their peaceful protests broken up by the Chicago police force.  These news and film clips help to bring the audience into the action and essentially gives them a first-hand look at such an important event from the past.  In addition, the counterculture of the time period is put into perspective for the audience, as Morgen includes footage of some of the speeches being delivered during the anti-war rally at Grant Park.  The original footage of these events helps to create a very realistic and informative feel for viewers.  Next, Chicago 10 effectively meets the criteria for a documentary film by shedding light on a real world issue, which in this case, were the protests and eventual riots which broke out, as well as the trial for the eight men who were blamed for the outbreak of violence and rioting that occurred following a number of their demonstrations.  This issue holds a particularly important significance to American history, because it was a highly popularized trial at the time.  Much of the popularity stemmed from the charges of conspiracy, inciting to riot, as well as numerous other charges pressed against the Youth International Party members, who only organized these anti-war events with nothing but good intentions in mind.  The film deals with the unfair treatment of the demonstrators at the hands of the police, who according to the footage were seemingly always eager to begin shooting tear gas and pepper spray into the crowds, with the occasional nightstick attack included as well.  Jim Emerson has stated, “At some point in the preparations for the protests, the organizers said they realized that they wouldn’t have to do a thing to make their points—that the mere presence of so many anti-establishment civil-disobedients in Chicago would prompt a reaction from the authorities that would reveal the truth to the world.  When CBS anchor Walter Cronkite announced on television that the Democratic National Convention was convening in what was, in effect, ‘a police state,’ well that’s the way it was.”  (Emerson, 2008)  By this, Emerson is explaining how the elements in the film effectively portray Chicago as a police state at the time of these protests and also how these same elements exposed the authoritative entity of the city as being very unfair towards the demonstrators.  Finally, the use of unconventional postmodern documentary form helps to establish Chicago 10’s role as a documentary film.  Tim Dant revealed his take on postmodern documentary filmmaking by stating, “Because of the perceived indexical truth-value of the film, the audience is drawn into an everyday reality that seemingly does not need questioning.  There is a sense of co-presence between creator and viewer that gives the viewer the sensation of being both here, now, looking at the image and there, then, looking at what the image represents or revokes” (Dant, 1999).  Morgen delves into the realm of postmodern documentary film by including animation depicting the actual events that occurred, at numerous points in the movie.  The animation is used to recreate the trial for the Chicago 8, with an accurate representation of the mistreatment of the defendants during their trial.  It also serves as a way to draw the interest of the audience in a way other than continuously showing film footage of these events.

            Without Bias aspires to journalistic realism through the telling of the story of Len Bias’ life.  The film includes many family photos of Bias to document his life from birth and childhood into his teenage and adult years.  It also includes extensive footage of his high school basketball tapes, as well as footage of his playing days at the University of Maryland to document what a force Bias was on the basketball court.  The game footage and highlights, paired along with commentary about Bias’ playing days from select sports analysts and reporters definitely begins to develop a journalistic aura around the film.  Local sports reporters who knew Bias on a personal level, such as Michael Wilbon, in addition to numerous national sports reporters of the 1980’s reminisce about watching Bias play ball as a young man.  Interviews with Bias’ mother, father, siblings, friends, former teammates and coaches also give the audience a look at his life as not only a basketball player, but as a person.  Then film presents an opportunity for the interviewees to share personal moments about Len’s life off of the court in a very similar fashion to the way a journalist would share the information in the paper or in a magazine.  Another way in which the film aspires towards journalistic realism is through the replaying of newsreels from both local and national news stations that broke the story of Len Bias’ tragic death.  It gives a different perspective of how Bias’ death was received by the media at the time.  Without Bias deals with the very real life issue of how an aspiring basketball star that showed so much promise had their career and life tragically cut short.  The film goes deep into the widespread effect that Bias’ unfortunate passing had on the sports world and the nation, but also the effect that it had on the Maryland and Boston communities.  Since Bias was born in Maryland and eventually went on to attend the University of Maryland, his passing was very sad and tragic news for the whole area to hear.  Boston was also shocked and in awe once the word of his death broke, because their hometown Boston Celtics had just drafted him with the second overall pick in the 1986 NBA Draft, only a few days prior.  As Bias’ death was caused by a cocaine overdose, Without Bias also deals with the real world issue of communities being affected by illegal drugs.  A segment of the film focuses on how the cities and towns near Len Bias’ hometown were plagued by drugs.  That is followed by a segment that highlights the work of Len’s mother, Lonise Bias, in becoming a very vocal anti-drug advocate in memory of her son.  Towards the end of the film, the audience is shown video footage of Bias’ memorial service in the University of Maryland’s Cole Fieldhouse, showing just how great the outpouring of support from the communities was towards the grieving Bias family.  With all of these different emotions being displayed on the screen, from the happy times of a young Bias during his playing days in a Maryland jersey, to the sad times of a community mourning his passing, Kirk Frasier effectively deals with this real world issue and the legacy that Len Bias left behind.  Finally, the film represents the “talking heads” strategy of documentary filmmaking.  Throughout the film, the audience is introduced to family members and friends of Len Bias who are interviewed and give verbal testimony about Len’s life as a man and as a basketball player.  Many people close to Bias give detailed information, which helps to paint a picture of the man’s life for the audience. 

            Chicago 10 and Without Bias are both undoubtedly very powerful documentaries for a number of reasons.  Both films effectively convey a sense of journalistic realism to the audience.  During both films, the audiences are given sufficient background information of each topic, with Chicago 10 explaining the origins of the Yippees and their mission and Without Bias detailing the early life of Len Bias and his rise to basketball stardom.  Archival footage is presented in both films, giving each movie a very authentic feel.  Both films also touch upon a real world issue.  Chicago 10 touches upon the significant cultural, political and historical impacts of the Vietnam War protests of Chicago in 1968 and the eight men who were charged with inciting a riot after one of the demonstrations turned violent.  Unlike Chicago 10, there is no political import that is highlighted in Without Bias.  Without Bias touches upon the cultural and historical impact of one of the most promising young sports figures in the world having their life tragically ended by a drug overdose.  These two films also differ in the method of documentary forms that they use.  Chicago 10 is considered to be more of an unconventional documentary due to the use of animation in the film.  While this is not very common, it adds another dimension to the film that draws the audience’s attention to the events being described.  Without Bias is done in a more conventional form by using the “talking heads” rhetorical strategy.  People with extensive knowledge about the life and death of Len Bias give powerful verbal testimonies that tell his story.  Those interviewed make authentic assertions about Bias both on and off the court, in life and in death.

            While documentaries are not the most popular forms of film, they certainly make a case for the most unique.  They allow people to watch and gain real knowledge about a real world issue.  Chicago 10 and Without Bias should be considered to be documentaries due to their journalistic realism, presentation of a real world issue and their use of documentary rhetorical strategies.

 

 

REFERENCES

Dant, Tim. Material Culture in the Social World: Values, Activities, Lifestyles,

Philadelphia: Open University Press. 1999.

Emerson, Jim. Review of Chicago 10, rogerebert.com (February 28, 2008). 

http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/chicago-10-2008/

Pramaggiore, Maria and T. Wallace. Film: A Critical Introduction. Boston: Pearson

Allyn and Bacon, 2011.

 

 

 

Out Of Class Writing – Inception

I believe that Inception fully embodies the current conceptions about film economics and technology.  One reason are the money figures that were involved with the creation and screening of this movie.  Inception was made with a $160 million budget and generated over $800 million at the box office.  The budgeting for the film was so high due to the amount of technology and special effects used in the movie.  Inception should be considered to be a blockbuster due to the breathtaking special effects, such as the scene where the city is transformed from a flat landscape into a cube, and the tremendous success it had at the theaters.

Week 12 Blog Response Post – Three Experimental Films

In the film, Meshes of the Afternoon, the audience is given a look into the realistic and dream worlds of the main character.  The main character is a woman who is beginning to have trouble differentiating between her dreams and her reality.  In her dreams, the woman is spending her time chasing a mysterious cloaked man who has a mirror for a face.  As she continues to follow this man, she enters and re-enters her house numerous times, but ultimately fails to ever catch the hooded man.  This leads the audience to believe that the woman may be in trouble, keeping them in suspense throughout the film.

In Meshes of the Afternoon, we see how many structures of Avant-grade cinema are used.  For example, one of the structures which stands out in particular in the film is how the story is told in the form of a “broken narrative.”  Despite what we see in the film, there really is no complete sense to be made of the plot.  Although the audience closely follows what the different characters in the movie are doing, they are ultimately left confused, as the true motives of these characters is never revealed.

I believe that the film is feminist for a number of reasons.  For example, the film closely follows the actions of a female main character as she follows a presumed man with a mirror for a face.  In addition to having a female main character, Meshes of the Afternoon was also directed by a woman, Maya Deren.  I believe that these things show that women are all the more capable to both act in front of the camera and work from behind the camera, as men are.

Week 14 Blog Response Post – Chicago 10

In Chicago 10, we see a very high emphasis placed on the difference between non-violence and violent militancy.  As we are first introduced to Abbie Hoffman and the rest of the “Yippies,” we are given insight into the world of non-violent political activism.  It is revealed that The Yippies are a group who look to peacefully protest the Vietnam War by holding numerous rallies and marches.  While they come bearing good intentions, the city of Chicago does not agree with their actions and on numerous occasions, sends the Chicago police to break up the rallies that are being held.  On some occasions, the people leave willingly but on other occasions the police begin to shoot tear gas into the crowds of protestors and in a few cases, begin to get into physical altercations with protestors, hitting them with their nightsticks.  This shows just how unfairly many of the Vietnam War protest groups of the time were being treated.

Chicago 10 is a documentary film, who despite having numerous animation scenes, is still a documentary nevertheless.  The film gives an accurate recreation of the events that occurred during the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The audience is given a detailed background of the origins of the Yippies and their plans to protest the Vietnam War.  The scenes are split between animation and actual footage of the events that occurred.  This innovative way of explaining what happened gauges the audience’s interest in the film by switching between the two.

I believe that the animation used in Chicago 10 was appropriate in the film when considering the events being depicted in the animation.  Since the film tells the story of the 60’s counterculture movement, the animation uses bright and very bold colors, which had been adopted by the peace protestors and counterculture as one of their symbols.  The counterculture of the time was also very much interested in new and innovative things of their generation and the animation used can be seen as an innovative way of making a documentary.  I believe the animation accurately represented the fashion and hairstyles of the time, as we can see by the brightly colored suits and clothing being worn by the defendants during their trial.

 

Week 10 Blog Response Post – Weekend

In the film, Weekend, we are first introduced to Roland and Corinne.  It is revealed to us that both Roland and Corinne have plans to kill the other in order to become the sole inheritor of all of Corinne’s father’s money.  This film can be considered to be “anti-Hollywood” as the film was purposefully poorly acted and the plot of the film is often times very hard to follow.  The film is also well-known for its great alienation techniques, a mainstay in most French New Wave films.

We see an excellent take on social context being made throughout the film.  For example, we see an interesting stance being made about the conflict between different social classes in Weekend.  Goddard doesn’t aim to praise one social class over another, but rather points out the flaws of all social classes.  We see the bourgeoisie depicted as a very cold and greedy group of people, but similarly see the poor in the movie as dirty and simple-minded.  Closely following these characters in the film was made a bit more difficult as the viewers are naturally drawn to taking a critical approach to this new wave film.

As previously mentioned, the intentional bad acting as well as the sound have helped to shape Weekend into more of a French New Wave style film.  The audience is constantly left to critically analyze the film, as there is no definite plot or major climax in the story.  The sound is also used in a very uncommon and silly way, as the background music in the film is often louder than the dialogue being spoken by the actors.  I believe these things were done in order to keep the audience focused on other things that are being shown during different scenes throughout.

Week 6 Blog Response Post – Psycho

In the movie Psycho, the idea of having a psychopathic main character is introduced for one of the first times in a film.  In the case of Psycho, Norman Bates is the psychopath who dresses as his mother in hopes of keeping her spirit and memory alive, and preys on helpless victims at his motel.  Bates can be viewed as the pioneer for other cinema psychopaths, as over the years since the release of Psycho, many movies have featured important characters who were similar to Bates in the fact that they were psychotic killers.  In present-day movies, many horror films feature these “Norman Bates-like” characters.  One movie that features a character similar to Norman Bates, is The Shining, where Jack Torrance serves as the killer.  Both Bates and Torrance similarly have or develop some form of mental disturbance during the movie and then embark on maniacal killing sprees.

In Psycho, the editing plays a very important part in how the audience sees the film as whole.  One of the most notable examples of the editing in this movie is seen when Marion is driving away in her car with the money that she had stolen. As she is driving, the camera quickly cuts back and forth between a shot of Marion’s front while she drives and a shot of her rearview mirror.  In the rearview mirror, the audience can see the police officer trailing behind her.  The uneasy looks that we see when Marion’s face is shown greatly increases the suspense surrounding this scene, as neither the audience nor Marion is totally sure of what is about to take place between her and the police officer.

I believe that the shower scene in the movie is still, to this day, one of the most powerful and disorienting scenes in film history.  During the shower scene, the unsuspecting victim is minding her own business as she is approached from behind by her killer.  One of the reasons I find this scene so powerful is because the audience can see the shadow of the attacker through the shower curtain while Marion continues to go about her business with no idea of what is about to transpire.  I also find the editing in this scene to add to just how powerful and iconic this scene is.  The quick cuts from the face of a shocked Marion to the knife of the attacker to different angles of the attack, in addition to the horrifying screams of agony wonderfully come together to create this famously terrifying scene.

Week 11 Blog Response Post – Zero Dark Thirty

In the film, Zero Dark Thirty, the depiction of the September 11th attacks assist in creating a theme of vengeance against the terrorists who committed these acts.  It is presented in a way that begins to become a common factor among all people who are involved with the locating and capturing of Osama Bin Laden.  For example, many of the characters featured in the film have ties to people who were affected by the terrorist attacks, especially Maya, who loses her friend during a bombing at one of the military bases.  We see how over time, she begins to use the death of her friend as additional motivation to work harder towards capturing Bin Laden.  The losses that they have suffered made the hunt for Bin Laden more “personal” and they wanted to exact revenge against the attackers.

Zero Dark Thirty is very unique in the fact that it is an ‘auteur’ film.  There are numerous unconventional methods of film that can be found throughout, such as the phone recordings of people in the Twin Towers during the time of the attacks.  Another unique method that is used is the cinematography during the raid scenes.  A night vision effect is added to the camera to make the audience feel as if they are actually a part of the raid of Bin Laden’s compound.  In addition, first person camera views also help to create an added dimension to the raid scenes.  These uncommon elements give the film a very authentic and realistic feel.

I believe that in Zero Dark Thirty, we see as a result of the numerous torture scenes that it does in fact show that torture “works.”  The waterboardings that they portray in the film show how horrible it is to be tortured in such a manner and that it often proves to be an effective method of getting detainees to talk.  We further see how torture works once al-Baluchi is captured and brought in, as he is subjected to being tied up, stripped naked at times and starved.  Under these horrible conditions, he is left with no choice other than to cooperate with his interrogators, simply to keep himself from being tortured any longer.  I think these torture scenes were intended to show how torture “works” and how critical information can be obtained as a result of using methods of torture.