Intercut Issue Two

Page 1

issue two / static


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Issue two / static


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Intercut Editor-in-Chief Vincent Warne Assignment Editor Kira Newmark Creative Director Sariel Friedman Web Designer Vincent Warne Editors Arnaav Bhavanani Jamie Cureton Beatrix Herriott O’Gorman Kalee Kennedy Annie Ning Megan West Bryce Zurcher Financial Manager Megan West Publication Advisor A.O. Scott Designers Carina Bolaùos Lewen Lara Ellenberg Matthew Wallock Illustration Declan Moy Bishow Ezra Scott-Henning Vincent Warne


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Static Controversial Nightmares in Fly-Lo’s Kuso

Sam Leter

6

Associative Editing: Creating Connections out of Isolation in Markson, Leigh, and Gondry

Max Shooster

11

Rethinking Auteurship: Almodóvar as Pioneer

Beatrix Herriott O’Gorman

14

Letter from a Dark-skinned Girl to Hollywood

Kalee Kennedy

18

Life on the Home Front: The Power of WWII Films Told from the Perspective of Children

Miriam Zenilman

22

A,Ω.

Arnaav Bhavanani

25

“It’s always worse the second time around.”: Hollywood Commentary Brilliance in 22 Jump Street

Chip Kass

28

The Contingency of Canons

Vincent Warne

36

Rethinking Sequels in Three Colors

Julia Levine

41

Preston Sturges’ Sullivan’s Travels: A Comic Inversion of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment

Priscilla Meyer

44


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From the editor In the ever-evolving, smartphone-stimulated “screen age” we find ourselves living in, the exponential proliferation of visual content that vies for our attention grows and grows and grows, a vast cloud of information threatening to dissolve into image-saturated white noise. This deafening media static is nothing new; critiques of television rotting brains, films provoking violence, and earlier forms of art promoting scandalous or antisocial behavior have been happening for ages. Conceptually, skepticism of the deceptiveness of visual images dates back to Plato, possibly even earlier. It’s true that images, and conversations around their potential dangers, are nothing new. But the sudden ubiquity of smartphones in the last ten years, with their portability, user interactivity, and diverse functionality, has opened a new chapter of the debate. As images and the screens they live on continue to evolve with the developments in technology, politics, and economics which bring them to us, the complex and powerful behind-thescenes forces of capital are increasingly mystified, out of sight and out of mind when we sit up in bed basking in the late-night glow of a video on Youtube, or (increasingly rarely) go see a film in theaters. And among this new stream of static, it may be more important than ever before to critically sieve through the tsunami of content that threatens to drown us. We need to go beyond aesthetic criticism, beyond basic questions of beauty, and use critical thinking and voices to question the industrial sources, politics, ideologies, and taken-for- granted forms of the content we watch. User-generated media and social networks have shattered the divide between producers and consumers, and the field of criticism has widened out immeasurably, leading to, on the positive side, empowerment, and on the negative side, dilution. At Intercut, we are striving to create a space for thorough and informed criticism of film and television, in a time where we cannot afford to stop at binary judgments of films as good or bad. We live in an image world, where the entertainment industry, and media at large, is not apolitical. Nor can criticism be. The term static has taken on a paradoxical character in the age of mass communication, on the one hand connoting stasis and lack of movement, on the other, a chaotic overload of fluctuating data. Mediating between the two requires thought, effort, and precision. Join us, in cutting through the static to expose a clearer image. Vincent Warne Editor-in-chief


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Printed Paladin

by Printing

Funded Wesleyan for the S B Special A.O. Lisa Jeanine Declan Priscilla

by Center Arts C

Thanks Scott Dombrowski Basinger Moy Bishow Meyer


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Controversial nightmares in

Fly-Lo’s Kuso

by Sam Leter


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Steven Ellison, otherwise known as experimental electronic producer Flying Lotus, recently returned to his initial love for filmmaking with his feature film directorial debut, Kuso. The film premiered at Sundance in 2017 to multiple walk-outs, sensitive outcries of disgust, and critics calling it the “grossest movie ever made”. Ellison seems to be yet another misunderstood artist, whose masterful technique in Kuso has been disregarded for its buzz-creating and shock-provoking content of scat sex and bodily fluids. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of what Jean Renoir once said: “all great art is abstract.” Indeed, Ellison’s filmmaking, similar to his music, immerses us into the abstract nightmare world of his imagination. In this sense it embodies the antithesis of what a film like Damien Chazelle’s La La Land has to offer. The two films were released around the same time (December 2016 for Chazelle’s and January 2017 for Ellison’s), yet portray quite contrasting depictions of Los Angeles, the former as a Hollywood fantasy of fairy tale wonders, and the latter as a post-apocalyptic monstrosity of earthquake disarray. La La Land’s 14 Oscar nominations and Kuso’s Sundance walk-outs illustrate how general audiences remain charmed by dreams and repulsed by nightmares. Ellison’s wish to project his nightmares on screen is thus a bold and risky undertaking that has mostly been

met with controversial backlash, rather than the praise showered on films with more ‘suitable’ subject matter. While Hollywood keeps producing rather predictable films, Kuso ventures into the unknown by defying typical conventions of structure and embracing formal experimentation. In an interview with No Film School, Fly-Lo explains how film school impeded his film creativity, and how necessary it was for him to unlearn most of the conventional concepts and “rules” that were imposed on students. The podcast is rightfully titled “How Rejecting Film School Made Him a Greater Director”, as Ellison was told that his reasoning was “wrong”, and that film school “made it seem like you couldn’t do things because it was cool, just because you thought it was cool”. Defying this mindset can be controversial in itself, since it seems that everything in our contemporary time – and in art especially – needs to have a deep and profound meaning or social commentary. One can no longer just make art for fun or because it looks cool—creating and viewing art needs to have a “point”; but Kuso illustrates that pure form with unconventional logic can in fact provide its own artistic meaning. Many confused and frustrated viewers of Fly-Lo’s debut claimed that there was no rational purpose in showing such sickening graphics. Yet Kuso is pointless in the way dreams

and nightmares are pointless – it penetrates the unconscious and aspires for something beyond a didactic message. Film analysis, or even psychoanalysis, can’t always pin down the fundamental meaning of an image or dream, and in that sense, Kuso could simply exist for its visual pleasure or displeasure. In the words of FlyLo himself: “It’s an earthquake movie without the quake,” like a sensation without explanation. The nightmare/dream analogy that seems crucial to the film’s understanding (or rather lack of), is particularly vibrant in Kuso’s sense of structure. Shot in four different vignettes, the whole film assembles fragments of various worlds, mimicking the puzzling configuration of dreams and loosely finding connections between seemingly random images. As a result, the whole film takes on the feel of a collage. Some beautiful transition sequences illustrate this feeling through brief artistic compositions of moving paper cutouts, anatomical photographs, and vivisected bodies that resemble the experimental collage filmmaking of Stan Vanderbeek’s Science Friction. Black and white static TV graphics buzz throughout, as we navigate from one nightmare to the other as easily as switching channels on a TV remote. Television offers a large selection of different obscure worlds, as does our subconscious, and as does Kuso. Ellison’s use of intercuts and transitioning from one vignette to the other is especially creative, merg


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ing all these worlds together into one atrocious fantasy, instead of progressively displaying each vignette into distinct blocs. All boundaries are eliminated, giving the feeling that anything could happen in this post-apocalyptic world, no matter how gross it is. Each transition then becomes a beat in the film, preparing us for another terrifying episode of dark humor and gory visuals. These types of surreal superimpositions and collage transitions have also become a trademark effect for Adult Swim in their between-program “bumps,” often similar to Kuso in their rhythm and farcical purpose. Ellison is a longtime collaborator of the Adult Swim network, providing music for “bumps” and often releasing tracks through their “Single Series Program” music division, perfectly complimenting the network’s transgressive and absurd comedic content. That style of nighttime adult animation, in its experimental stories and visuals, is clearly noticeable in Kuso, which included the involvement of Adult Swim personalities like Tim Heidecker. Perhaps critics are only willing to acknowledge technical artistry as long as the subject matter doesn’t violate their standards of good taste. And although visions of incest, boils, feces and George Clinton’s asshole, aren’t necessarily part of the realm of accepted “good taste”, Ellison’s craft in representing such horrific content on screen seems worthy of cinematic admiration. By 8

shooting the eclectic fragments of his post-apocalyptic world on a diverse range of mediums (35mm, 16mm, Alexa, 8mm), Flying Lotus translated his creative versatility and risk for experimentation from music to cinema. Ironically, in this midst of visual techniques, Ellison was originally inspired to create this lengthy project after watching a short GIF that was circulating online of him and Thom Yorke DJing, with added comedic text. That’s when Ellison contacted his friend David Firth, the creator of “Salad Fingers” and general animator of the macabre, to help him co-write the film. Firth had previously animated the music video for “Ready Err Not” (first broadcasted on Adult Swim on Halloween of 2014) from Flying Lotus’ album You’re Dead!. The music video in itself seems to represent the true initial materialization of Kuso’s dark and surreal world, with crawling spider eyeballs, deformed bodies, and the bloody decapitated face of Flying Lotus himself - inciting Youtube to display a “Content Warning” message before proceeding to the deranged animated phenomenon. Ellison also got into graphic design, working his way through Adobe After Effects in order to illustrate his outlandish ideas, and was on the forefront of the overall production by investing a significant amount of his own money (about $400K), which enabled him to maintain his own artistic voice without falling prey to the wishes of ex-

terior production companies. Another important influence that forged Ellison’s aesthetic palette comes from his fascination with Japanese culture. Ellison claims inspiration from films like Tetsuo: The Iron Man by Shinya Tsukamoto, which includes violent sex scenes of metamorphosed power drill penises and other terrifying metal fetishisms. There are clear similarities in Kuso with the type of stop motion visual effects of bodies being consumed and transformed into gross unknown creatures. Similarly, Kuso’s style seems to incorporate the esthetics of ero guro, a Japanese artistic movement that specializes in the erotic and grotesque. The album artwork for Fly-Lo’s You’re Dead! actually featured illustrations from ero guro manga artist Shintaro Kago, in which gore and nudity are mixed in a psychedelic mismatch of decaying bodies. Yet, Ellison’s technique to bring static manga images into live moving images offers a new dimensional world of peculiarly disturbing possibilities. His personal craft, especially regarding music and sound production by scoring a significant part of the film, has lead many to compare Steven Ellison with David Lynch in his feature length debut Eraserhead – another midnight body horror film in which the director had a major role in visual effects and music. One important aspect of the film’s controversial reception is also linked to its distribution and visibility. Although Kuso pro-


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voked multiple walk-outs during its Sundance premiere, one might imagine a standing ovation if it had premiered at a smaller or more experimental/horror festival. Such a film might not be made for sensible Sundance spectators, rather falling into the sphere of what could become a cult film as opposed to a classic. Kuso is destined for a specific audience, one passionate for underground and transgressive films that don’t respect the canonic structural laws of mainstream cinema. This is the type of audience that used to be seen at Sundance, but the festival has been progressively turning towards indies with more “classical” narratives and frameworks, produced by larger film companies. Kevin Smith for example, highly doubted that Sundance would have selected his film Clerks (made in 1994 on a $27,575 budget) if submitted later in the 2000s. The cult following that Kuso deserves, however, will hopefully be possible through the acquired online distribution service of Shudder, a streaming service destined for a niche audience of gory horror and thriller film fanatics. A branch of AMC Networks, Shudder prides itself in presenting a selection of “spine tingling, and provocative films”, with a special focus on the “evocative, and dangerous” —a perfect fit for Kuso. A Sundance premiere arguably still remained the best possible marketing strategy for such a low budget project to gain media buzz. Yet the buzz misdi-

rected its focus: Ellison never had the intention to make what critics call “the grossest movie ever made”, and doesn’t want such labels to disappoint people once seeing it. Now, thanks to its outraged reception, the movie falls into a long category of controversial and provocative films that have marked cinematic history. In this regard, the Cinémathèque Française recently ventured itself into organizing a themed retrospective around the “Cannes Festival scandals and controversies”, projecting a range of provocative films from the festival’s rich selection. These included Antichrist by Lars von Trier, La Grande Bouffe by Marco Ferreri, sex, lies and videotape by Steven Soderbergh, and Underground by Emir Kusturica. What establishes the “provocative” value of most of these films is their amorality and their exhibition of sex, violence, and the baroque mixture of both. Such is the case for films like Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick and Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom by Pier Paolo Pasolini which contain gruesome scenes of torture and perverse sexuality, the latter being banned in several countries due to its graphic nudity and portrayal of sadism. What differentiates these two films and Kuso, however, is their sense of purpose – Clockwork Orange and Salò both holding political and social critiques, the first examining psychiatry and juvenile delinquency, the second criticizing fascism and political

corruption. Both forge imaginary dystopian nightmares, like Kuso, but somehow avoid the supernatural track taken by Ellison in his innovative artistic techniques and sci-fi craftiness. Perhaps what makes Kuso more disturbing than the twisted social commentaries of Kubrick or Pasolini is that it has no connection to the real world, and dwells solely in the nightmare realm where there is no hope and no redemption, even for the critic attempting to extract meaning. It would be difficult to extract any social commentary from a fellatio-giving talking boil, as such a creature could only exist in our wildest nightmares. We fear Kuso because it makes us fear things that do not exist, whereas Kubrick’s and Pasolini’s films prey on pre-existing fears. Ellison is therefore on another level of controversy, a type of surreal subconscious controversy, which makes it a must-see for its innovate perspective on controversial content. Another way in which Kuso differentiates itself from past controversial films is that it is made by and largely starring black people. This is important to Ellison, who states that “You’ve never seen black characters like this – ever!” as he aims to offer “a black perspective on things that aren’t necessarily hood movies or Tyler Perry movies or Ava Duvernay movies.” Although Kuso can be considered a horror film, it does not portray the specific horrors of the black experience, in contrast to Jordan Peele’s 9


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intentions in his captivating “social thriller/horror/comedy” feature debut Get Out (released around the same time as Kuso, in February 2017). In a recent interview on the Daily Show, Peele shared that “the truth is horrific” and that “so much of the black experience in this country has been a horror”. In Kuso however, the horror is widespread to the entirety of the ethnically diverse LA population, without specifically directing it to racism. By transposing the language of body horror into a black vernacular, the film demonstrates a new way of portraying black actors without racial stigma. Perhaps this is why the film doesn’t feel overtly political; yet by building a fantasy world and not attempting to show the “truth” like Jordan Peele, Kuso does embody social significance by creating new black acting roles. It is presenting innovative genre and content opportunities, as the Academy seems to only appraise black films such as Best Picture winners 12 Years a Slave (2013) by Steve McQueen and Moonlight (2016) by Barry Jenkins that exhibit masterful artistry and historical significance, but gather the most attention for their explicit focus on race in America. Kuso’s attempt to detach itself from this narrative makes it a boundary-breaking film, diversifying the spectrum of black acting roles, potentially preventing another “Oscar So White”. To those who say that Kuso has “no real purpose”, I 10

think the film has the purpose of making us imagine and feel disgusted by the darkest aspects of our imagination. This I find to be a pretty magical purpose, as few people have the genius or courage to go as far as Ellison does. His film is a unique journey into abstract worlds that simultaneously make us want to close our eyes in dismay and keep them wide open in awe of the surreal spectacle. Ellison states: “We’re all trying so hard to be beautiful, but the people in Kuso are trying so hard to be disgusting” (remember Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone from La La Land). May filmmaking open its arms to the disgust creeping from our filthy world, as in Kuso: “it’s all there, everything I find disgusting”.

REFERENCES Plante, Chris. “Kuso is the grossest movie ever made”. The Verge. 25 January 2017. https:// www.theverge.com/2017/1/25/14380160/ kuso-review-sundance-2017-flying-lotus Renoir, Jean. “Renoir on Renoir: Interviews, Essays, and Remarks”. Cahiers du Cinéma. Fusco, Jon. “Flying Lotus on How Rejecting Film School Made him a Greater Director”. No Film School. 17 July 2017. http:// nofilmschool.com/2017/7/flying-lotus-kuso-how-rejecting-film-school-made-him-agreater-director-podcast Piper-Burket, Emma. “Sundance 2017 Interview: Kuso”. Sundance. 27 January 2017. https://www.rogerebert.com/sundance/sundance-2017-interview-kuso http://www.bumpworthy.com/ Leight, Elias. “How Flying Lotus Made The Grossest Midnight Movie of The Last Decade”. Rolling Stone. 19 July 2017. http:// www.rollingstone.com/movies/features/ how-flying-lotus-made-the-grossest-midnight-movie-of-the-last-decade-w492731 Smith, Kevin. Interviewed in “Official Rejection” documentary film, directed by Paul Osborne. 2009. https://www.shudder.com/about-us Beumont-Thomas, Ben. “Flying Lotus on his gross-out movie debut, Kuso: ‘You’ve never seen black characters like this – ever!”. The Guardian. 21 July 2017. https:// www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/21/ flying-lotus-on-kuso-youve-never-seenblack-characters-like-this-ever Niazi, Amil. “We Talk to Flying Lotus About ‘Kuso,’ One of the Most Disgusting Movies Ever Made”. Vice. 11 February 2017. https://www.vice.com/en_uk/article/ wn7ev4/we-talk-to-flying-lotus-about-kusoone-of-the-most-disgusting-movies-evermade Noah, Trevor. “Jordan Peele – Examining All Sides of the Black Experience in “Get Out” – Extended Interview”. The Daily Show. 16 November 2017. http://www. cc.com/video-clips/v7ko9u/the-daily-showwith-trevor-noah-jordan-peele---examiningall-sides-of-the-black-experience-in--getout----extended-interview Idem to (9)


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Associative Editing: Creating Connections out of Isolation in Markson, Leigh, and Gondry by Max Shooster 11


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How can you tell me the rom-com of the century was heavily inspired by a film whose very spine was essentially a long rant on the impending apocalypse? Well, in a recent Indiewire interview, Kaufman explicitly praised Leigh’s controversial 1993 film, Naked, going as far to say that he “wish[es]” he could make it, but knows that he could not. And, upon closer inspection of the source material, it becomes more and more apparent that the film’s influence on Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) is rather obvious. *** Listing the similarities right of the bat: ranging from the more contentious opening credits sequence where a love-conflicted and tormented adult male figure drives in the night to an emotional score; or, the resemblances of character dynamics between Jeremy (Crutwell) who attempts to steal Johnny’s potential partners as compared with Patrick (Wood) who attempts the same with Clementine (Winslet); to more on-the nose appropriations where even the names seem to insinuate homage-inspired tactics e.g. (see) ‘Joel’ for ‘Johnny’ as a sort of nod of the head; and, quotes like : “Isn’t that just one of Joel’s self-fulfilling prophecies?”. *** But, it’s rather where these two films depart that I find most intriguing, and which will be form the basis of this article. At first glance, one could make 12

the inference that Eternal Sunshine is simply ‘a more optimistic’ Naked, and that is certainly the case. In fact, in the director’s commentary, Gondry states that the final three repeating shots of Joel and Clementine frolicking on the wintry beach “give a more optimistic feel.” But, it is here, in these last few moments, where I argue the film goes so wrong. In this article, I hope to specifically analyze the formal content of these two films’ endings to explore how one of the few things that Gondry’s film doesn’t appropriate makes it—arguably—a lesser piece ideologically. Besides the somewhat more empty appropriations listed above, these two films tackle a lot of the same ideological themes. Through associative editing, we learn that both protagonists are simultaneously running from their pasts, and yet possess a stark fear of their futures. In Naked, Johnny treasures the ‘present’ but acknowledges it as an illusion of time/space. He recognizes that reality possesses an instantaneous velocity forever thrusting him into the next impending instant. In Eternal Sunshine, Gondry argues that Lacuna Inc.’s ignorance of temporal continuity is highly problematic. And, the film rightly builds the argument that memory erasure is a weak be-all-end-all solution, as those who forget are prone to simply repeat mistakes. In spite of all of this build-up, however, the final three, repeating shots of Eternal Sunshine completely disregard this

argument. Focusing too much on the influence of Nicolas Roeg’s signature ‘fluidity of time,’ the film gets lost in its own recursive structure. Clearly, the extra few months Gondry received after the film’s release date got pushed back were enough to let him get carried away with an attempt to root the film in a science-fiction realm, than in using film form to articulate what exactly the film is arguing. Leigh has stated, “The final end is…a function of not only what happens but what needs to happen thematically for character as well as cinematically, the visual.” For Gondry, however, while his film may be accurate visually—it most certainly isn’t accurate to his characters. Leigh is known for his unobtrusive camera movement, and yet this lasting shot is so powerfully conspicuous. He’s able to mold his style to what best fits the character’s progression. The same cannot be said for Gondry, here. The strained relationship between content and form diminishes Eternal Sunshine’s ideological stance. The content says, ‘I acknowledge that I’ll grow to dislike you. But, I’m ok with that because—right now—I love you.’ But, the form suggests something entirely different. It suggests that they’re doomed to erase each other’s memories ad infinitum. And, so ultimately, Gondry isn’t concerned with immersing us into the world of Joel Barish as much as he is with immersing his audiences into the playfully stylized


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world of Michel Gondry. Formally, the endings of these two films couldn’t possibly be more different. One is a long-tracking shot that ends on a cut to black; the other is a single, relatively static shot— repeated three times -- that fades to white. So, looking further, it’s quite possible that in attempting to remove itself from its parenting influence the film suffers because, ultimately, they are both trying to say the same thing. This ‘sameness’ is aptly given in Johnny’s dialogue itself: “I have an infinite number of places to go. The problem is where to stay.” He simultaneously needs the domestic space, and yet he despises it for what ‘they stand for’ (i.e. “boredom”.) This fear stems from the same anxious place that Joel fears his relationship with Clementine will fruitlessly blossom. Leigh further states, “things are presented as they are, and hope lies in the audience… It’s not what happens to Johnny, it’s what is happening to you that’s the thing.” Eternal Sunshine had the potential to reach this position. In both works, through associative editing, we establish a firm relationship with the characters and begin to understand their struggle. The mish-mashing of editing perfectly melds with the conflicting nature of the characters. But, in Gondry’s ill-advised final decision, Eternal Sunshine’s confrontational dynamic with the audience is lost. We—the audience—are conflicted, just as the

form and content are conflicted. However, I argue that David Markson’s experimental post-apocalyptic 1988 novel captures that feeling better than Gondry’s film, even if it doesn’t make a direct connection to it. Wittgenstein’s Mistress presents a portrait of a conflicted, tortured woman who believes that she is the last living being on Earth. At one point, she’s even compelled to create her own version, ‘Greek,’ to reconfirm her status as her own entity. This is similar to the way that Johnny in the film Naked encounters metaphysics. Kate’s metaphysical obsessions don’t make her ‘more’ human. It’s our reception of her struggle that makes us as readers more human. An anonymous blogger put it aptly, when they said, “it’s not so much about solipsism as posited, but solipsism as felt.” The quality of ‘Associative editing,’ as described above, is not limited to film form. Kate’s mind moves subject to subject by associations just as Johnny thrashes himself across London, and Joel collides with a succession of memories in Naked and Eternal Sunshine respectively. All three works utilize ‘associative editing’ to build their arguments. And, this accumulation of associative parts serves as a very special form of existence—for the characters, but even more importantly for the audience. More often than not, associative editing is used to create some form of connection. A connection between writer and

reader, film and audience. More interestingly, this type of connection is exactly what the characters of these three works lack. And so, although each character suffers from a fear of isolation, through associative editing, out of their isolation we—the audience—develop a connection. Because this tool is so crucial to each film’s argument, for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind to so lazily tamper with film form in the final scene, diminishes everything the film has been building towards. Our connection no longer matters. These characters and their struggles are confined to the screen. That is the ultimate loneliness.

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Rethinking Auteurship:

Almodóvar as Pioneer by Beatrix Herriott O’Gorman

Pedro Almodóvar, the Spanish writer and director has been making films since the 1970s. He began his film career in the wake of Franco’s death and the historical context of his emergence coloured the films he made. He is also a queer filmmaker and makes films that feature queer actors, queer characters and queer narratives. While queerness is not a defining feature of his films, it is certainly an integral and consistent theme in his body of work. I want to stake the claim that Pedro Almodóvar 14

is an auteur, using my own set of criteria that includes historical context and identity exploration. I also hope granting Almodóvar ‘auteur status’ will provide historical precedence for upcoming filmmakers trying to make their mark on cinema’s global stage. The two films that I believe most clearly showcase the elements of Almodóvar’s visual, thematic and narrative style are Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (1988) and Volver (2006). Spanning almost twenty years, Almodóvar’s unique vision remains

intact. These films present very different sides to Almodóvar and demonstrate the range of genres and editing style he employs while also showcasing many of the key elements that have come to define an Almodóvar film. One of the criteria I value is the social impact of a filmmaker within their specific historical context. Almodóvar’s career is greatly significant within the historical context of Spain and landscape of post-Fascist Europe. He started making films at the end of the Franco dictatorship and


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in moving to Madrid in 1967 got swept up by the wave of anarchistic art and punk sensibilities. When he started making films in the seventies they were heavily influenced by the social movement ‘Movida Madrilena’ and his films – which from his first feature Pepi, Luci, Bom Bom… dealt with gender, class and sexuality – starkly contrasted with the strict Catholic censorship that had been enforced in Spain during the previous decades under Franco’s rule. I believe it is necessary to consider filmmakers in relation to the political climate of their time and the geographical location where they are making and centering their films. While neither Volver nor Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are particularly politically charged, it is worth noting that a revolutionary spirit informs his entire body of work and is particularly notable in his early films. Another set of criteria I invoke to base my argument on is the relevance of the filmmaker as a facilitator of conversations about social justice issues. In this way Almodóvar is a true pioneer. He has discussed throughout his career a desire to provide a voice for “Spain’s marginalised groups”, which includes Spanish women. Almodóvar has been making films about the strength, resilience, and solidarity of women since the 1970s, and with his most recent film Julieta (2016) has continued to forefront the stories of women. He is a director who writes women in complex

ways and gives them due time on screen. The melodramatic acting style he expects from his actors in no way detracts from the nuance of their characters. This is especially evident in both Volver, which details a period of time in the lives of women across three generations, and Women on the Verge, which features multiple women who come in and out of each other’s lives while they deal with problems left for them by various men. In Women on the Verge, while the topic of certain men dominates a lot of the conversation between women, it is actually their relationships with each other and other women that takes precedence. Pepa is distressed that her ex-lover Ivan has left and the film’s narrative revolves around her endeavour to work out where he’s really going and with what mistress. Candela is brought to Pepa’s door because of fear as a result of her sexual relationship with a Shiite terrorist. The two women are brought together by flawed men. The film has a causally-driven narrative with a plot that is propelled forward by the obstacles placed on the women by men but the narrative is given warmth and humour by the female relationships it prioritises. I think what makes Almodóvar’s films most compelling is their fixation on women as survivors. Almodóvar does not portray women as victims but rather as autonomous agents who are capable of overcoming great obstacles. He is a prime exam-

ple of director who can represent people he does not share lived, embodied experiences with and do it with tact, intellect, compassion and empathy. In this way he overcomes one of the obstacles of representation that is particularly prevalent in cinema at the moment, and in conversations about the film industry. He is an example of how to do it right – a model many directors working today should attempt to emulate. In Volver, all of the characters on screen are women except for the one male character who spends less than fifteen minutes alive on screen. Similarly, in Women on the Verge, the cast is primarily made up of women. The latter film ends on a lingering shot of a conversation between two women who played no significant role in each other’s life throughout the film (one was asleep for the majority of film’s action) but who have bonded nonetheless by the end. In this example, Pepa and Carlos’ fiancé are established as friends through composition; they are placed side-by-side in the frame, and by their matching bright red attire. These two visual cues link the characters in ways that remind us of the strength and importance of female friendship. Almodóvar has a distinct and recognisable visual style, which has been defined by critics and celebrated by MoMA and the BFI in two different retrospectives. There are several key features of Almodóvar’s visual style, which recur in all of his pictures and establish cohesion. His sur 15


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prising and deliberate use of colour is of special note. In Volver he contrasts the muted, brown colour palette of La Mancha with a saturated, colourful palette in Madrid. One could interpret this as an attempt to show how life in this region (Almodóvar’s own place of origin) is plain and uninspiring and Madrid is a city full of life and exciting possibilities. This contrasting colour palette exemplifies Almodóvar’s attention to detail. He often employs vibrant colours in his films, particularly primary colours and especially red. You can see red everywhere in his work. In Volver it shows up as Paco’s blood, Sole’s car, the costumes and the peppers Raimunda chops in the kitchen; similarly in Women on the Verge, the telephone, the costumes and the gazpacho. In some cases, red may be used for its symbolic value, as a colour connoting lust, danger, violence and passion, but if nothing else it establishes a striking and memorable mise-enscene. Another formal technique of Almodóvar’s that appears frequently throughout his films is the use of reflections. He often frames female characters in mirrors and windows, perhaps to draw attention to the voyeurism of the male gaze and the idea that women are constantly under surveillance. He uses reflections to expose emotions that characters themselves do not wish to divulge. In one scene in Volver, the reflection of an image of a spinning wind turbine is imposed on Sole’s face as she drives through La Mancha in 16

the dark. This could be interpreted as communicating how domestic abuse and male violence towards women is cyclical in this region of Spain. Women are also shown in reflections in broken glass in Women on the Verge, when Marissa’s face is scene in the shards from Pepa’s window. Another formal technique that is indicative of Almodóvar’s visual style is his varied and interesting use of camera angles like extreme close-ups of seemingly mundane tasks, and overhead and/or crane shots. These identifiable stylistic motifs confirm Almodóvar’s unique cinematic vision and his auteurship. I believe Almodóvar’s place within the canon should be cemented by the fact that he is a precursor to many young directors like Céline Sciamma, who are now making films revolving around traditionally marginalised characters. He laid the ground-

work for directors like Sciamma to take the risk of placing queer, poor and socially deviant characters at the forefront of their movies and proudly concretizing their deserved role as protagonists. His film’s involving queer characters don’t rely on uncertainty or guilt about a character’s queer identity, which is refreshing. There is no reliance on the ‘coming out’ narrative to simplify queer characters and reduce them to that process of removing themselves from heteronormative societies. They reject social norms without explaining or justifying their choices. Almodóvar creates micro-climates where queer bodies are allowed to live fully without the glare of the heterosexual gaze and marginalized bodies are prioritised as storytellers. While this fact may not be particularly evident in the two films I have chosen – films that centre on female characters, as marginalised mem-


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bers of society but not necessarily queer people – that was a deliberate choice to avoid categorising Almodóvar as queer filmmaker. His films are simply ‘queer’ films because he himself is queer and many of his characters are too. He subverts expectations of what art films, festival films or serious dramas are supposed to include or revolve around. The narrative features and visual style of Almodóvar’s films are always provocative and controversial. His films are entertaining and he has articulated numerous times before that audience enjoyment is his primary goal when making a film. His films are kitsch and do not shy away from including pop-culture references. One could argue his films deal with stories and people that do not allow for pretension or emotional distance. The kitsch aspects of his films could be because of the influence of Hollywood melodramas or Spanish and Latin American telenovelas – he has made stories and characters and clothes and makeup that could be considered ‘trashy’ worthy of critical attention. He is transgresses boundaries in a way that identifies him a trailblazer and undeniable inspiration to young directors everywhere. Defying classification is the mark of an icon, and I believe Pedro Almodóvar’s films do just that. I would describe the films of Pedro Almodóvar as complex, multi-faceted, fun and controversial. Many his films are ensemble dramas with comedic elements.

Some are romances or have romantic subplots, but his films rarely fit into any one defined category; they are varied in tone and content while maintaining stylistic and thematic consistencies. Almodóvar keeps us on our toes and reminds us that we don’t need to rely on genre conventions to make and market an enjoyable and successful film. While Volver is very clearly a family drama, the dark humour of its script is undeniable; the presence of untameable wind, fire and the supernatural also allows possible horror film parallels. Women on the Verge is simultaneously a black comedy, a drama, a thriller and a caper. There is the threat of terrorism, suicide and homicide, which makes it tense and suspenseful, and there is a chase-sequence involving a taxi and a motorcycle which would seem more appropriate in an action film. Because of Almodóvar’s defiance of genre norms none of these tropes seem out-of-place here. I don’t believe art of any medium can exist in a vacuum, and it is negligent to prioritise aesthetics over all else. We cannot ignore the rampant sexism, queerphobia, racism and xenophobia present in some of the greatest films of all time. Some of the most revered classic films are incredibly problematic and I believe we need to start valuing directors for more than just their technical skill or visual style, but for their commitment to using film as a medium to project the stories and styles of people his-

torically ignored or victimised in the world and in film history. Almodóvar, intentionally or not, is a political director, and we need to start thinking of auteurs like him as integral to the canon, particularly the canons that serve to educate and inform young filmmakers. In addition, I think his films Volver and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown are worthy of canonization because they represent different time periods across his long and illustrious career, they both encapsulate his major and recurring narrative themes, they highlight his distinct visual style and they feature references to cinema history and canonized films of different eras from across the globe.

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Letter from a D a r k - s k i n n e d Girl to Hollywood by Kalee Kennedy


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Dear Hollywood, What does a black girl look to you? More specifically, what shade is this black girl? You’re most likely picturing a girl with light skin. Representation of lightskinned black girls is plentiful and valued by several demographics. This tide of casting has been incredible for the light-skinned girls that watch the media and see powerful and beautiful representations of themselves. For dark-skinned girls, like myself, we cling to these actresses and characters finding them as adequate representations for the time being. Only when these girls age do they find problems with the lack of representation of their complexion. In the last year of television of film, there have been an upswing of black female characters representing monoracial aspects of blackness. These characters are without a doubt identifiable as black through the darker shades of their skin tone. Yet, these characters are portrayed by actresses that are biracial – possessing both black and most often white attributes – with lighter skin. On the other hand, your producers and casting agents place these biracial actresses in roles that are befitting of a darker skinned actress. These producers, also, appear to value the ease of marketability of lighter skinned actresses resulting in less expo-

sure for darker skinned actresses. Your actions are slowly redefining what black girlhood and black girl magic is to the greater public. If it goes further unchecked, the monoracial black girl will become extinct in the media’s eyes. If you were to ask a young dark-skinned girl what young actresses exhibit black girlhood to her, she would list Zendaya Coleman, Amandla Stenberg, Yara Shahidi, and Kat Graham. All extraordinary actresses with amazing abilities beyond acting, but all fair-skinned biracial actresses frequently engaging (or engaged) in roles calling for monoracial actresses. What bogles my mind is that in the past, darker shades of black girls were represented to younger audiences and gave representation to these audiences. Growing up 90s and early 00s, television had greater representation of the different shades and tribulations of a black girl. With shows like Moesha and The Bernie Mac Show, many had no qualms finding someone who looked like themselves. The only drawback from these representative characters were the fact that these girls weren’t seen as desirable and weren’t marketable as desirable. With how things are progressing, a desirable black girl with agency cannot look like me as your actions have dictated. Your decisions have unconsciously put dark-skinned black girls at war with themselves because the attractive, desired, and

successful black girls are the ones that look more white than black. When you give characters of dark complexion to those actresses of a lighter shade, there is a distinct message you are sending to that segment of the black community. You’re saying that we don’t exist. We are not meant to be seen other than as we are. The communities outside are own aren’t ready to see us as desirable heroes. It affects the community you’re trying to give power. It’s a progression that is doing more harm than good to the whole community. In the black community, the hashtag, Black Girl Magic, has been warped and redefined to include women that don’t look like our majority. We have categorized our heroes to not look like us because you don’t recognize that they even exist. It’s a pained feeling when I talk to young black girls and they have a long list of black actresses they recognize as their heroes, but those heroes are light and half white. The essence of Black Girl Magic should be a representation of all the complexions black women possess. There is beauty and magic in all the shades and the beauty standards perpetuated by a white dominant media further victimizes us to the system you try to rebuke. In no way is this meant to be a takedown of these actresses, but they aren’t the only people out there that can represent the different shades of blackness. It becomes especially difficult when Amandla Stenberg, most notable for her role as Rue in The


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Hunger Games, is cast as Starr Carter in the upcoming film adaptation of the novel of the same name, The Hate U Give. Although the book forgoes describing Starr in great length because casting for the film was done ahead of the book’s publication, it’s quite difficult for the black community to contend with a biracial actress playing the role. How can a biracial actress portray themes that have been perpetuated by darkskinned young women? Part of me wants to attach blame on Stenberg, because it’s not really her place to take an opportunity from a dark-skinned actress that can convey this message without the privilege of being light-skinned. Yet, at the same time, you approved and chose her to represent this character. Why strip away as little opportunity from young dark-skinned actresses to play a potentially monoracial character? But, I can’t help to wonder with Stenberg’s reinforced vigor in activism and the importance of representation in the media, did she ever stop to wonder what her acceptance of the role means? Also, how do you choose when to look at girls like Stenberg and say, “oh she’s black” and turn around and say “no, she’s mixed” with her casting in Where Hands Touch. The film chronicles the struggles biracial children faced under Nazi oppression in Germany. I urge girls like Stenberg to recognize their privilege in the veil of colorism and you, Hollywood, to do what’s right for the community and not for your wallet.

As you seem to redefine blackness and what it means to be successful being black to fit your new view, I can’t help to wonder the greater weight that puts on the shoulders of these biracial actors representing monoracial characters. I had read a letter Alfred Enoch (How To Get Away With Murder) had penned to his younger self as part of magazine where he addresses what his presence on television serves to the greater black community. What I find interesting of the letter in general is the context, Enoch is biracial Englishman who starred in an American television as a biracial character. To the audience and the character, he is unaware of his status as a biracial presence because he was raised by his black Caribbean mother, yet the world of the show and subsequently the audience views him as monoracial. Yet, the show dedicates itself to accurately defining the character accurately to match the actor’s biracial status. These set of writers are able to avoid pushing a negative theme that plagues young black girls. The show further exhibits a monoracial actress in a monoracial role, Aja Naomi King as Michaela, providing accurate representation for a subset of the community that deserves everything and not half measured steps. If you were to adopt this mindset, it would both enrich the artistic content and line your pockets with more green. At a time where there is a growing need for diversity and

inclusion in the arts, it is important that there are stories available that connect and show we’re more alike than we think but also celebrate difference. Let’s celebrate our Skai Jacksons, Michaela Coels, Jessica Willimams, Issa Raes, and Diamond Whites as much as we treasure and expose their lighter counterparts. I’m looking at you to give opportunity to creators of these communities to provide the characters and shows that represent all shades of colors. As the public receives diverse representation let’s make sure that the representation is truly diverse.

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Life on the H o m e Front: The Power of WWII Films Told from

the

P e r spective o

f

Children by Miriam Zenilman 22


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From Saving Private Ryan (1998) and Dunkirk (2017) to Schindler’s List (1993) and The Pianist (2002), World War II films are all the rave. Whether the films depict narratives of soldiers fighting battles or Jews trying to survive the Holocaust, audiences seem to be fascinated by stories of people pulling through hardships despite all odds, especially with the backdrop of a devastating war. The films that seem to take a backseat, however, are those that focus on children on the home front. Films that depict gory battles often receive critically acclaimed reviews for their accurate portrayal of battle and realistic representation of historical events, while ones told from the perspective of younger people and center around their own struggles during war don’t seem to gain the same momentum among audiences, despite the fact that many of them also receive enthusiastic reviews from critics. Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk has grossed over $520 million worldwide, earning nearly $188 million domestically and $337 million in foreign sales, and Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan similarly grossed a total of $481 million, with $216 million in domestic sales and $265 in foreign ones. However, Thomas Carter’s 1993 home-front film Swing Kids only grossed $5.6 million in total, clearly not garnering nearly as much attention as its battle-heavy counterparts. Of course, films depicting war are crucial as well; it is of utmost importance that people

understand the horrors of war, which have been glorified in the past. Praised for various facets, including historical accuracy, Dunkirk depicts the British evacuation of Dunkirk, which took place in 1940. The film does not focus on the characters’ backstories; it merely shows what they were undergoing during the evacuation. It shows the chaos that surrounds the soldiers and the seemingly helpless situation. The film is undoubtedly powerful; even though viewers don’t know much about the characters, they empathize with them throughout the duration of their struggles and become emotionally invested in their survival. Still, there is something about watching children gradually lose their innocence in the course of a war that is enticing to audiences; no one wants children to grow up sooner than they have to, and it is interesting to watch how they come to terms with the changes with which they are faced. Thus, the films that portray children on the home front are just as powerful as ones that focus on other aspects of WWII, as they depict both undertones of the war and the loss of innocence that often accompanies coming-of-age films. While war films that feature intense battle scenes do showcase what war is like, home-front films are able to focus on both war and its effects in the long term. One example of this is Oorlogswinter, directed by Martin Koolhoven. Short-listed for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language

Film, Oorlogswinter, or Winter in Wartime, is a 2008 Dutch film that tells the story of a teenager named Michiel who gets involved with the Dutch resistance by helping an RAF airman evade capture by the Germans when his plane is shot down in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands. Throughout the film, audiences watch as Michiel gradually comprehends the gravity of the mission he has taken upon himself to complete. There is no mention of the Holocaust; Jack, the airman, discusses the war while he converses with Michiel, but his endeavors are hardly a focal point of the film. What is crucial to the movie is Michiel’s development; the backdrop that features World War II is merely an addition to the film rather than the most significant part of it. The theme of Michiel’s loss of innocence begins its development as the boy watches people associated with the resistance killed. It culminates toward the end of the movie, when he discovers the betrayal of a loved one and decides he must end the traitor’s life in order to save Jack’s. This takes place after he had already watched his father get lined up against a wall and shot, and at this point he finally understands the brutal realities of war, without even fighting in a battle. Because of this, the fact that Michiel comes to grasp what war means while in the comfort in his own town, audiences can relate. His young age generates a type of empathy people can only feel toward children. He was an ordinary teenager who 23


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was unaware of what he was really getting himself into. If his character had been a soldier, it would likely have taken him a shorter amount of time to understand the ugly actuality of war, and audiences may not have been able to develop such a strong connection to the character. Furthermore, even home front-centered films that aren’t well-liked by critics send powerful messages to audiences, ones that cannot be achieved through narrative arcs of even the best movies focusing on battles or the Holocaust. Take the 1993 film Swing Kids, for example. While not lauded by reviewers, the movie tells a meaningful and heartbreaking story: German teenaged boys try to reconcile their love for banned swing music and the growing power the Nazis hold over Germany in the late 1930s. While forced to participate in Hitler youth, friends Peter and Thomas abhor Nazi ideology and simply want to dance to swing music, immediately gaining the approval of viewers. However, over the course of the film, while Peter continues to reject Nazi propaganda, Thomas begins to fall prey to it. But given that the audience has gotten to know Thomas, it is difficult to suddenly spurn him. The portrayal of the impressionability of teenagers works in the film’s favor; viewers understand the angst that comes with coming of age, and with the setting of Germany in the midst of WWII, it is even easier to understand the hardships the boys are 24

facing. Swing Kids’ contribution to the plethora of WWII films is of great significance in this respect; audience members gain perspective on the effects of war that is different from that of soldiers or people targeted by the Nazi regime. Something that appears to be unique to these types of films are their dedication to fleshing out character development. Dunkirk is an action movie; we barely get any information about who these men were before the war began, so we don’t know how the war is truly impacting them. However, Swing Kids gets into who these characters are and what is their psychology. Viewers get to see Peter’s internal struggle with Nazi Party’s increasing hold over Germany. His father was killed off before the start of the film, but his influence on Peter is still evident, as the latter justifies his opposition to the Nazi regime by citing this occurrence. We get to see his horrified reaction to Thomas’ gradual switch to the Nazi’s ideological stance, and we also get to see how that stance is able to appeal to Thomas. In war films that focus on the battles fought in WWII, we can still see how soldiers are reacting, but we don’t get this truly personal perspective into their lives since they are on the battleground. We can hear them tell stories about what their lives were like, but we don’t get to see it with our own eyes like we can with Swing Kids. Character development and character psychology also

play crucial roles in Winter in Wartime. As previously stated, a key theme in the film is that of Michiel’s loss of innocence. This motif is given more substance since viewers are able to see his development from a naïve child to someone who has been forced to grow up quickly due to outside circumstances. Michiel’s character development is tied directly to his psychology, as we get to see what he is experiencing in his life on the home front that forces him to take on such a responsibility. We are able to get this depth because Michiel is at home; we don’t get to see what soldiers are experiencing mentally and emotionally to such a degree in battle scenes. The stakes are clear in war films. Audiences understand that soldiers are placed in life-anddeath situations, and we empathize with these young men. However, in home-front films, we are able to get psychological depth of characters. What is so valuable about these films is their portrayal of the far-reaching impacts of war. The war could not have been won without the soldiers fighting for their countries, but they are not the only ones who were impacted by the bloodshed. Home-front films depict true events while simultaneously showing audiences how people who were not being killed on the battlefield or persecuted for their identity still struggled throughout the duration of the war, and their experiences shed light on various facets that cannot be underscored in other films.


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A, Ί . by Arnaav Bhavanani

I age. A projector cranks up. Noir, pop, clot, cut; an adage, golden-white plasters against the lonely drywall. I see the world redefined, the past culturing into a different frame of light. Invention engines the well-thumbed manuscript. Blood in black hair looks so different in red and black. The past crackles, I remember to breathe again. Scorsese’s bulls calmly tap leaden feet on metal mats; soft shot in gray, a lonely dance amongst hordes. Muscles glow, stomachs knot against sweat; tightened, sharpened by the pull of an age sweating technicolor.

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Would we ever love chiaroscuro without the colored eigengrau? Nolan and his ink’d manuscripts of solar mist collide above flags bleached white. International waters, alien territory. Equipment, metal lost in flight, reels all lost in creaking motion. Would we love the lone men’s battle cries, forked echoes, if we knew not a mottled present? Once a flash atomic, a burst of color podiumed a fallen country. A man remembered a Greater childhood amongst silent dominoes of gray, the masses listened. Fritz and eerie overtures. The calm innocence of a child, melodic, clattering, slips and slaps of film roll against drum roll. A game of elimination murdered by invention, noir children lost to imagination. A lack of color spinning into white. As lines and pores begin to etch, I see my films in snapping color, losing memory’s spectrum. Try to imagine the cold knife of Oskar’s eyes without a piercing blue or green infiltrating the ghetto where the hum and hack of memory against the pictured walls are softening. Deafening. I watch the noir of voices metal-brushed, placards 26


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held up for me to hear the words I cannot see. Ah, gum-toothed irony. I ponder; luminescent orange, tip dying ash onto the floor. As an ancient oak I spread across the linoleum sky. A younger mirror gazes at me from across a doubled distance. Like the pulsing death of Marion, eyes of color and glass separate me from this century. My gnarling fingers scratch the typewriter. Ink collides, a bare canvas, an infinite sky. I hear the Juden spell out their names, cloaked in snowflake ashes. Dust clambers down from the heavens to their crumbling homes and coats. I remember the films that made my age a reel of newborn motion. Slow, Chaplin, armed with bayonets and monochrome. Stoppered explosions, silence, the strange love of maniacal laughter. It is there I lie, out of time, atop my shrine, legs up on plastic, an eye glazed with lashes, another rotting color, a clockwork orange, wound in a gilded age, turn the page– THE END, with a crackle in black.

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“It’s always worse the second time around.”:

Hollywood Commentary Brilliance in 22 Jump Street by Chip Kass Recently, some freshmen asked me, a senior Economics major and Film Studies minor, for film recommendations. They expected something significant in the canon of film history. They expected something international or classic. Something that they had never heard of. My answer was the antithesis of what they expected: 22 Jump Street. “Oh, you mean 21 Jump Street?” one of them asked. I meant what I said. In 2014, Columbia Pictures released a sequel to a movie that no audience knew they wanted in the first place. 21 Jump Street writers Jonah Hill, Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman and directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller created an incredibly original and uniquely genius film transcending the apparently absurd premise to comment on current patterns and issues in modern Hollywood. No audience member expected perfection out of 21 Jump Street, and the sequel had even lower expectations. Instead of letting that constrain the film in any way, the creative team channeled these expectations and the industry’s stig28

ma about movie franchises into their narrative and humor in order to put Hollywood’s franchise culture in a twisted, if not hilarious, focus. “All They Do Now is Recycle Shit from the Past and Expect Us All Not to Notice” In 2008, only a year after the release of his breakout movie, Superbad (2007), Jonah Hill was tapped by Columbia Pictures to develop a script set in the universe of the 80’s television program, 21 Jump Street, set in the modern day. The original television show saw undercover police officers infiltrating high schools to solve crimes and featured a very young Johnny Depp. As Nick Offerman’s Captain Hardy explains in one of the opening scenes of 21 Jump Street, “We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the 80’s and revamping it for modern times. You see, the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all not to notice.” It was this kind of self-referential humor

that delighted audiences when it was released, but the film’s initial announcement was received with lukewarm reactions. Neither audiences nor Columbia Pictures themselves were sure what to expect from the film. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, coming off of the 2009 animated movie, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, made the film with only an estimated $42 million. For comparison, Ted (2012) was released three months later on an estimated $50 million. Meanwhile, The Avengers (2012) was released between the two comedies with a $220 million budget. Columbia had fairly standard expectations for a comedy such as 21 Jump Street and was not entirely hopeful for its franchise potential. In November of 2009, Channing Tatum was announced as Hill’s co-star for the film and press began to pick up steam. Joining the cast were many notable comedians, Rob Riggle, Jake Johnson and Nick Offerman, up-and-comers, Brie Larson and Dave Franco, and the legendary actor and rapper Ice Cube. The


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film opened to an impressive $36 million dollar domestic opening and eventually garnered a worldwide gross of over $200 million. A film that no one expected to succeed or to entertain the masses controlled the box office and received a Rotten Tomatoes score of 85%. One day after the film’s release, Sony Pictures, Columbia’s parent company, announced that a sequel to 21 Jump Street was on the way, courtesy of the original film’s production team. 2013 brought many announcements surrounding the film, such as casting, the entirety of principal photography, the film’s June 13th, 2014 release date and the film’s title: 22 Jump Street. “You two sons of bitches are going to college!”

If Sony and Columbia did not initially see the franchise potential in 21 Jump Street, they certainly realized it before its release. The studios probably saw advanced copies of the films and immediately saw dollar signs. The final scene of 21 Jump Street saw Hill’s Schmidt and Tatum’s Jenko receive their new assignment from Ice Cube’s eloquent Captain Dickson: “Since you two cowboys love to drink booze, smoke weed with kids, and fuck anything with a big ass in jeans with low self-esteem, I’m gonna send you to a place where all that shit is allowed… You two sons of bitches are going to college!” Schmidt replies, “Yes!” while Jenko replies, “No!” Thus, the plot for a sequel was born. 22 Jump Street sees our heroes assigned to a new case

at a college, under the general premise of, “Same identities, same assignment,” as noted by Captain Dickson. Schmidt and Jenko are sent back undercover as Doug and Brad McQuaid, respectively, at the fictitious MC State. There they are to investigate the school’s drug scene to end the supply of a new synthetic drug, “Work Hard? Yes. Play Hard? Yes.” Also known as, “WHYPHY”. Their mission, as Captain Dickson repeatedly tells the boys, is to, “Infiltrate the dealer and find the supplier.” The film brought back many of its humor from the first film. Where 21 Jump Street excelled at portraying a realistic, if slightly absurdist, high school life, 22 Jump Street expertly brings to life many common college experiences and tropes. 29


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Audiences are very quickly introduced to the humorously hyper-realistic approach to college humor in 22 Jump Street during the boys’ first couple of days at school. Jenko and Schmidt unpack their room in a montage of uniquely college dorm objects, such as pop-up hampers, beanbag chairs, comforters that they, “will not wash for the next six months,” and “super high-tech police gear”. The boys also enjoy classic college experiences such as coed bathrooms, in which Schmidt is, “Not gonna take a shit the entire time,” that he is there, and improv shows, at which Jenko suggests to the troupe objects like, “Tampon!” and, “Boner!” Schmidt even performs an uncomfortable, sarcastic impromptu slam poem in honor of the victim. Despite the ridiculous nature of Schmidt’s slam poem, the audience within the film takes it completely seriously. The division between “fratty” and “artsy” students in college is also explored heavily in the dynamic between Jenko and Schmidt. All of these genuine experiences felt by millions of college students everyday help to root 22 Jump Street in a mostly realistic cinematic universe. Within the franchise’s universe are the absurd traits that provide a large portion of the films’ humor. Ridiculous stunts performed by Channing Tatum and the introduction of digital graphics help to heighten and distort reality in a distinctly Jump Street manner. During the film’s 30

second act, Jenko and Schmidt are kidnapped by a frat as they begin to enter the tripping phase of an intense dose of WHYPHY that they had ingested. The boys are launched into a tripping sequence on a green screen in which Schmidt is in a dark and hellish landscape with “Higher” by Creed playing, while Jenko is found in a world of rainbows and Lamborghinis with “Ass-N-Titties” by DJ Assault playing. Extremely unrealistic scenes such as this and the ending helicopter sequence help to ground other hyper-realistic scenes, such as Jenko’s spring break concert fight and the football scenes, within the universe. Lord and Miller used the typical and formulaic comedic narratives to provide the backbone of the film’s story. All of the commentaries on Hollywood that will be analyzed would not be possible without the college crime plot. But within their solid frame, Lord and Miller use their canvas to paint a moving picture exploring today’s Hollywood culture and its effect on the movie industry. “You guys look like you are the stars of a cop show called Hawaiian Dads” From 22 Jump Street’s absurdist humor came the underlying heart of the film’s true source of humor: an acknowledgment of the film’s absurdity. Lord and Miller’s self-referential humor bits runs the full spectrum between subtle and overt me-

ta-humor. Often, subtlety in the film’s self-referential humor pokes fun at the film’s pure existence as a film. Lord and Miller often feature overtly generic brands and locations, such as “Cerveza” brand beers, and spring break in “Puerto Mexico”. Even during the football scenes, the quarterback, Zook (Wyatt Russell), barks generic cadences. Whereas a quarterback in a real football game would shout something like, “Blue, 18, Hike!” Zook instead shouts, “Color, Number, Hike!” Although these bits would not necessarily be consciously noticed by every audience member in each viewing of the film, the help to establish the film’s acknowledgment of its own existence. From that baseline, Lord and Miller continue to reference the movie in the context of being a movie, such as when Jenko and Schmidt report to their new base at 22 Jump Street, across the street from their old home at 21 Jump Street. When they marvel at the new church and how much bigger it is, Schmidt says, “That’s convenient,” and Jenko responds, “Yes it is convenient.” Schmidt sometimes calls out Jenko for performing preposterous stunts, saying things like, “I’m not like fucking Spider-Man!” when he cannot do the same stunt. Jillian Bell’s villain, Mercedes, tells Jenko and Schmidt that they, “look like the stars of a cop show.” Jenko and Schmidt investigate an arm tattoo supposedly looking


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like a bazooka on a football player named Rooster (Jimmy Tatro) only to find that his tattoo is of his high school mascot, “The Red Herrings”. Even Jenko acknowledges this humor by saying, “That’s a really out of the box high school mascot.” Naming an application of a plot device after that plot device itself does much to break through the fourth wall. Also, when Jenko and Schmidt first arrive at their new headquarters at 22 Jump Street, they are making observations about the new base when Schmidt describes Captain Dickson’s office as, “A giant cube of ice.” These more overt references to the production and cast of the film serve to keep the audience aware that the film is just a film. What started with minor uses of meta-humor by Nick Offerman’s Captain Hardy in 21 Jump Street became the entire medium through which Lord and Miller sought to make their commentary on Hollywood in 22 Jump Street. Much like NBC’s Community (2009-2015), any fictional story not set within the medium that it seeks to make commentary about must acknowledge that the story itself is a product of said medium. Community made frequent acknowledgment of its existence as a television show, for example, through references to “bottle episodes”, in order to make commentary on the state of television. 22 Jump Street had to do the same in pursuit of a similar goal aimed at movies in modern Hollywood.

“It looks cool, but it’s just so wasteful!” One of the running gags overtly referencing the production and the studio behind the film is concerned with “the department’s” budget, which is a placeholder for the film’s budget. As mentioned above, Lord and Miller made 21 Jump Street on a $42 million budget. Oddly enough, 22 Jump Street received only a small budgetary increase, totaling approximately at $50 million. Nevertheless, Lord and Miller decided to use their platform to comment on Hollywood’s tendency to throw money at their franchises. Throughout the film, characters reference their department’s budget increase. In taking advantage of the sequel title “22 Jump Street”, the Jump Street program receives a brand new headquarters across the street from their old base. As soon as they enter the new headquarters, now located in a Vietnamese Church, rather than a Korean Church, Jenko remarks that the new base is, “Way more expensive for no reason.” Captain Dickson makes reference to the “big ass raise” that he received to, “babysit [those] two fuckers again.” Even compared to the model of the Korean Jesus from 21 Jump Street, Vietnamese Jesus is decked out in gold and jewels or as Captain Dickson describes, “just dripping swagoo.” When Jenko and Schmidt unpack their room and display their police gadgetry, Schmidt says that

they were given, “Carte Blanche with the budget, motherfucker,” (Jenko will eventually think that they have “Cate Blanchette with the budget”). Later in the film, Captain Dickson reveals that the department had run out of money. “We got that expensive chase in the beginning, that expensive equipment, this fucking office. This looks like some shit Iron Man would have. Shit’s expensive. I got on $800 shoes and you can’t even see the motherfuckers.” Not only does this incident bring to light the many ridiculous expenses often used in big-budget films, but it also brings about one of the most hilarious scenes in the film. The highest concentration of budgetary, meta-humor comes when Jenko and Schmidt, in a high-speed, helmet-shaped golf cart, are chased by the villainous Ghost (Peter Stormare) and his gang in a much larger and more powerful car across their campus. As this chase comes just on the heels of Captain Dickson’s lecture on the budget, Schmidt says, “We can’t destroy any more stuff. We can’t waste any more of the department’s money.” The bad guys then proceed to smash through an ATM, sending cash everywhere. Jenko, who is driving, comes to a fork in the road and asks Schmidt which way to go, to which Schmidt responds, “Whichever way is cheaper!” Of course, for comedic purposes, Jenko chooses the “Meditation Sculpture Quadrangle” over “Parking Lot B”. Schmidt then 31


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says, “You could have gone to a parking lot and you went to the sculpture garden. Do you know how expensive that is going to be?” As they proceed through the sculpture garden, Ghost and his goons trash multiple of the statues. Jenko observes, “It’s like they are trying to hit them. I mean, it looks cool, but, I mean, it’s just so wasteful!” Finally, Jenko decides to lose them in the robotics lab, while an overhead camera gives a shot of the top of the building while audio of chaos, complete with a Wilhelm scream, is heard. As the two cars break through the side of the building, Schmidt exclaims, “Oh no! They broke everything!” Jenko replies, “There was a lot of expensive stuff in there!” This whole scene seems to portray the never-ending battle between studios and filmmakers over budget disputes. The bad guys, or the directors, are happy wasting the department/studio’s money. In this expertly shot chase sequence, Lord and Miller are able to provide self-deprecating commentary on the contemporary Hollywood director and providing some commentary in support of studios who invest too heavily in a project and must cut costs late in the process. The first reference to the budget, in fact, comes during Captain Hardy’s early monologue. In explaining why the department was continuing the Jump Street program, he says, “We’ve doubled [Jump Street’s] budget. As if spending twice the money guarantees twice the profit.” Although 32

the Jump Street films found success without doubling the budget for the second film, per se, the same cannot be said for most other franchises, both action and comedic. The Iron Man franchise increased its budget by over 40% between Iron Man (2008) and Iron Man 2 (2010), from $140 million to $200 million. In comedy, the Hangover franchise saw incredible budget growth over its trilogy. Between The Hangover (2009) and The Hangover Part II (2011), budgets were more than doubled from $35 million to $80 million. Thus, in addressing the ridiculous budgetary increases made by many high profile Hollywood studios, Lord and Miller begin their final approach to the crux of their commentary on today’s Hollywood culture. “So now this department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.” As mentioned before, few audience members or studio executives predicted the success of 21 Jump Street and its franchise potential. Even its hook for the second film, “You two sons of bitches are going to college!” was predicated on an expectation that 21 Jump Street would not, in fact, receive a sequel despite setting one up narratively, thus humor. With this idea that the narrative of the franchise serves the financial prospects of the franchise, Lord and Miller decided to use that very narrative to comment on this phenomenon. As Captain Hardy notes

at the start of the film, “So now the department has invested a lot of money to make sure Jump Street keeps going.” The film had opened with a chase sequence ending in a failed mission for Jenko and Schmidt. But Captain Hardy explains, “Well, the commissioner’s convinced this debacle happened because you weren’t doing the same undercover student thing you did the first time… Do the same thing as last time, everyone’s happy.” The character of Hardy is generally represented as a stand-in for Columbia and Sony, telling the filmmakers to do the exact same plot as last time, but with a bigger budget. 22 Jump Street is filled with references to pursuing the same case/narrative because they know they can find success with that formula. The Hangover trilogy had completed during the year before 22 Jump Street was released and each movie found success despite never altering the narrative structure of its films. The amount of variation, other than the locale for the film, is minimal. Lord and Miller, not wanting to run into the same traps as The Hangover Parts II and III, while also probably getting orders from above to do the same as those movies, found that they could find appease both by addressing that conflict in the film’s content and commentary. One of the easiest ways that Lord and Miller create a basis for this commentary is through the use of references to other famous movie franchises,


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such as Schmidt’s complaint that he isn’t Spider-Man, above. Another example comes during the final chase scene of the film when Schmidt comes screeching into a hotel lobby in a Lamborghini screaming, “Tokyo Drift!” and as he calms down saying, “That was way too fast and pretty furia little bit too furious.” Of course, Schmidt is referencing the Fast and the Furious mega-franchise, famous for its formulaic films, ridiculous stunts and both massive budgets and box office earnings. Channing Tatum’s Jenko even makes a reference to one of Tatum’s failed franchises, White House Down (Emmerich, 2013). When Jenko and Schmidt are in Hardy’s office, Jenko suggests, “What if we actually went into the Secret Service and like tried to protect the White House?” Schmidt responds, “I don’t think that would work,” to which Jenko says under his breath, “I thought it would be a good idea.” White House Down was a complete financial and critical failure at its release, one year before 22 Jump Street. This reference almost serves to ground the Jump Street franchise in the world where not all franchises are massive successes. Lastly, there is some cross-franchise humor in the form of cameos from three members of the Neighbors franchise. First, Dave Franco, who starred in 21 Jump Street, appears briefly in the sequel, in jail after getting caught dealing in high school by Jenko and Schmidt. Craig Roberts, who played a pledge in the

frat in Neighbors (2014) called, “Assjuice,” appears for no more than 20 seconds in 22 Jump Street as an artsy student who says that he and his friends are, “Not into the whole frat party kind of stuff. We like to sit around, drink some good wine, and talk about some important stuff.” Roberts plays the antithesis of his character in Neighbors. And finally, Seth Rogen, the headliner of the Neighbors franchise, appears in the credits sequence as a replacement for Hill as Schmidt in a future sequel (but more on that in a couple paragraphs). The humor of the appearances, not to mention Roberts’ commentary on his own character, is highlighted by the fact that Neighbors was released barely over a month before 22 Jump Street. Lord and Miller also display their franchise awareness through their commitment to maintaining continuity throughout both movies, including that of the television series’ universe. Most people are not even aware that there was actually a canonized spin-off series about the character Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco). 21 Jump Street featured appearances by original series stars Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson and even Johnny Depp as their original characters, Doug Penhall, Judy Hoffs and Tom Hanson. 22 Jump Street continued this trend with appearances by Grieco’s Booker and Dustin Nguyen’s Harry Truman Ioki. 22 Jump Street also features appearances by stars of the first movie,

such as Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, and Caroline Aaron. Further, 22 Jump Street manages to work in new cameos for new celebrities, such as Patton Oswalt, Diplo, and the amazing Queen Latifah. Cameos have become staples of the modern movie franchise. Through cameos, filmmakers can garner the audience’s affection, or “crowd-please”. With the cameos, though, Lord and Miller seem to enjoy this franchise trope and only subvert it slightly when Queen Latifah’s character says that she is from, “Straight outta Compton”, but her husband, played by Ice Cube (of NWA, who made the song, “Straight Outta Compton”), is from North Ridge. Although the directors have fun with 22 Jump Street’s cameos, they tend to take them more seriously as this is one of the ways that they can be sure the audience is entertained. The most significant expression of Lord and Miller’s is their use of sequel humor. References to another numbered Jump Street address actually began in 21 Jump Street, when Captain Hardy mistakenly tells Jenko and Schmidt that they are being assigned to, “Jump Street. 37 Jump Street”. This, of course, elicited laughs from the audience, but it also serves as the basis for one of 22 Jump Street’s greatest bits. Humor arises when the heroes are first assigned across the street from their old headquarters at 21 Jump Street. As they enter their new base, Jenko says, “Maybe next year, we will be back across 33


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the street, just next door,” as the camera pans to show a construction site with a sign saying, “23 Jump Street Condominiums: Coming Soon”. Lord and Miller bring this sequel humor home during the credits sequence, in which they showcase 49 possible future Jump Street movies. The general theme for the potential sequels is that Captain Dickson continues to send Jenko and Schmidt undercover at new schools, such as “23 Jump Street: Medical School” or “27 Jump Street: Culinary School”, which features a cameo by Bill Hader. Some of the sequels continue franchise awareness, such as “Jump Street: Generations”, featuring the appearance of Booker and Ioki, or “34 Jump Street: Return of the Ghost”, featuring the return of Peter Stormare’s Ghost. Some sequels get into studio referenc34

es, such as “29 Jump Street: Sunday School”, where Seth Rogen replaces Hill as Schmidt, saying, “No one’s gonna fucking notice,” and calling Tatum, “Jenkins,” rather than Jenko. Hill returns as Schmidt in the next movie, “30 Jump Street: Flight Academy”, though, remarking, “What’re you talking about? What contract dispute?” The sequence also features another reference to Tatum’s career outside of Jump Street, when Schmidt, rather than Jenko, exclaims, “Yes! Finally something I’m amazing at!” when they are sent to “38 Jump Street: Dance Academy”. Also of note, this massive credits montage features non-movie franchise items and spin-offs, such as a Jump Street video game, action figures, and merchandise, all of which include references to the films. Through this sequence,

Lord and Miller have brought the audience’s attention to the ridiculous franchise culture that has been established in modern Hollywood. Studios are bound to keep throwing money at these franchises as long as they are financially viable. Eventually, the plot will not actually matter to the films, which will instead focus on spectacle over substance. Thus, by “revealing” all of the future Jump Street films that will happen, they get to shoot the studio in the foot and stifle potential success within the franchise in the future. When Lord and Miller developed 21 Jump Street bases on Hill’s screenplay, they never intended to turn the movie into a franchise. Unfortunately, Hollywood got its hands on the property and essentially forced the directing duo to remain on board. Thus, with the platform they were


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forced to perform on, Lord and Miller created a commentary on the platform itself for all of their audience to enjoy. “A Film by Phil Lord and Christopher Miller” Though for much of modern storytelling, meta-humor has usually been seen as a fringe art, the subversive humor theme has begun to gain recognition in Hollywood. People enjoyed Matthew Broderick addressing the audience directly in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) and audiences got a kick out of the fourth-wallbreaking nature of the final chase scene of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974), but this postmodern school of humor was not established as mainstream until very recently. Deadpool (2016) followed in the footsteps of its comic book source material and explicitly referenced the filmmakers and stars of the film. Deadpool, who was played by Ryan Reynolds, asks his roommate, Blind Al (Leslie Uggams), if she thinks, “Ryan Reynolds got this far on his superior acting method?” In February of 2014, just months before the release of 22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller directed The Lego Movie, which would also take a look at meta-humor as it reveals that the movie being watched is actually just in the imagination of a child (Jadon Sand). Will Ferrell even plays both an animated and a human character within the story. Still, the only film to really use this technique to its advantage

for a greater purpose is 22 Jump Street. With their sequel, Lord and Miller chose to make clear their disappointment at the current state of Hollywood. A culture in which society’s most prominent stories are determined by formulas designed to maximize the entertainment industry’s profits is no culture at all. Is Universal ever going to let the Fast and the Furious franchise die, or will Vin Diesel and a CGI Paul Walker be racing cars in space 50 years from now? They never intended 21 Jump Street to a franchise instigator, but if they were going to sell out and double down on their own creation, they are going to address their grievances with Hollywood within the narrative. Interestingly, Lord and Miller have joined multiple franchises since the release of 22 Jump Street. The Lego Movie’s universe just released its third movie, Lego Ninjago (2017) and Lord and Miller have been tapped to direct the direct sequel to the original Lego Movie, set to be released in 2018. Sony also signed Lord and Miller to write and produce an animated Spider-Man movie, also being released in 2018, based on the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales. Most significantly, Disney and Lucasfilm hired Lord and Miller to helm their upcoming Star Wars spin-off about a young Han Solo. All was not well in the world of big-budget, franchise films, as Lord and Miller were fired off the

project almost halfway through filming and replaced by Ron Howard. The studio cited creative differences when they announced the split. Perhaps, Lord and Miller did not exaggerate their disdain for studio filmmaking in 22 Jump Street. Perhaps, they could not work within the formulaic system at Disney and Lucasfilm and could not stay with the project. Then again, perhaps 22 Jump Street was just a movie and was not attempting to provide commentary on Hollywood. Maybe Lord and Miller never expected some 21-year-old college student to write an essay on the significance of their film’s humor. Maybe this whole paper is ridiculous. But wouldn’t my ignoring of the film’s significance be Lord and Miller’s point? And if no one noticed Lord and Miller’s point, what would even be the point of the film? Anyway, this has been, “An Essay on 22 Jump Street by Chip Kass”.

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by Vincent Warne 36


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Anyone who has ever considered themselves to be a cinephile, one who is passionately obsessed with movies, has likely entertained, or even cherished, the idea that they have “good taste.” The notion of taste, while multifaceted and nuanced in its own way, ultimately comes down to selectivity. One watches and enjoys certain movies, which get put into the category of “good movies,” and ignores or dislikes others, which are categorized as “bad movies.” Over a long period of time, this pattern of selection forms the basis of any individual cinephile’s taste, which they may then wear as a badge of honor, a beacon of their own individuality and uniqueness as a shrewd and intelligent film-watcher. “Good taste” becomes an essential tool for engaging in conversation with other cinephiles about which films they have or haven’t seen, or which directors they like and dislike; the kind of conversations that film people live for and everyone else finds insufferable. There are a number of social implications to taste worth going into— like how taste is often constructed along gender, class, and race lines. And the social pressures of “taste,” which often favor a certain kind of masculine, auteurist approach to film consumption, can be exhausting. Would I go as far as Pauline Kael, who declared that the auteur theory was “an attempt by adult males to justify staying inside the small range of experience of their boyhood and adolescence—that

period when masculinity looked so great and important but art was something talked about by poseurs and phonies and sensitive feminine types?”1 Maybe not quite—in the years since the 1963 article, the politics of film criticism, cinephilia, and auteurism have undergone enough shifts to complicate her straightforward diss. But I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that notions of “good taste,” and the auteur-obsessed conversation style by members of the film community which it provokes, carry with them a residue of the sort of masculine posturing that Kael denounces; the fetishization and brandification of auteur directors, the currency of obscurity, the limiting of discourse into name-dropping. This is of course not always the case, and not exclusive to film, but it does capture a certain type of film climate not unfamiliar to college campuses. Whatever else may be true of taste, selectivity is ultimately its core factor, and this raises the question of where the selection comes from in the first place. The individualized locus of “good taste” subscribes to an ideology of self-oriented agency which belies the external, institutional factors that ultimately determine everyone’s experiences with movies. Though there are numerous complex reasons people may gravitate towards certain films more than others, the underlying factor for every film-watcher’s viewing habits is availability. To like and dislike

films, one must be aware of them, and be able to see them in the first place. And this problem leads to the questions that this article will actually be dealing with, namely: how are notions of “good taste” formed, and what underlying factors influence the process? One of the most influential determinants of viewing habits in classrooms, theaters, and at home, are film canons, forming both the base and superstructure of availability. Film canons exist in many forms, but the most distilled examples are the dozens of lists of “The Greatest Films of All Time,” most famously by Sight and Sound and AFI.2 These expansive lists can, and often do, provide a starting point for any aspiring cinephile. Usually topped by Citizen Kane, Vertigo, Tokyo Story, and other “unimpeachable masterpieces,” these lists can open any young filmgoer’s eyes to a dazzling world of movie magic, and set the precedent for their own personal lists of favorites. But the general similarity of the “Greatest of All Time” lists speaks to the self-reinforcing quality of the film canon. The “Greatest Films of All Time” will be re-watched, remain in circulation, and provoke critical conversations in perpetuity. It’s a feedback loop, a closed circuit that has largely sustained itself for decades with only minor changes. And the gatekeepers (critics, artist, academics) who shape these lists with their “good taste” in turn shape the “good taste” of the viewing public, 37


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some of whom go on to be gatekeepers themselves and reinforce the cycle. The consequences of this model, of critical gatekeepers choosing which films to enshrine in canons to be consumed and internalized by the next generation of gatekeepers, is a vast limiting of the films that people watch, and a repositioning of the agency of “good taste,” from viewers to gatekeepers. But in fact, the agency lies beyond the gatekeepers. Because in order for a film to be slotted into the category of “good movie” in the first place, it has to be seen. The true locus of power, then, is in the higher echelons of distribution, where decisions are often made around focus testing and profit margins. Depending on its distribution, any film may be seen by a few or a lot of people; if it fails to reach an interested audience, it may toil in obscurity indefinitely, waiting for the day when it might be rescued and re-entered into circulation in the public consciousness. Especially in pre-digital era, the materiality of film reels ensured that a specific film had to be shown at a specific place at a specific time; if the right gatekeeper never saw a certain film, it may never be seen again. Same goes if gatekeepers saw a particular film and, for whatever reason, didn’t like it enough to champion it. No matter how intuitive one’s “good taste” may seem, it is inseparably contingent on whatever films one has seen throughout their life, which (until recently, at 38

least) was contingent on film distributors and circumstance. Of course, modes of distribution have changed drastically over time, and viewing habits along with them. The most tectonic shift in the business of film distribution, until the advent of digital streaming, was the rise of home video, giving viewers a new level of agency over the films they watch, and when and how they watch them. And no company better epitomizes the canonizing power of home video than the Criterion Collection, which specializes in “important classic and contemporary films” marketed to savvy cinephiles who are willing to pay premium prices for the company’s extensive releases. Over the years, the quality of Criterion’s library and enduring popularity among cinephiles has made their brand a de facto canon in and of itself. Once a film is enshrined in the prestigious company of Criterion’s numbered spines (counting among their ranks classics from the silent era until now) it has entered into a canon that guarantees an audience of critics and casual fans alike. Criterion, often described as “film school in a box,” is essentially positioned as a beacon of “good taste,” which audiences are happy to bask in and absorb the benefits. And they’ve certainly been successful gatekeepers, doing some incredible work restoring classic films and promoting lesser-known works, bringing each to a wider audience. Their monumental reputa-

tion is well-deserved. And their relatively recent streaming platform Filmstruck has an excellent library of films from the collection, many of which have never been released on DVD. But, for all the good they’ve done, Criterion isn’t immune to the material forces of the world. They are, after all, a company— and a company must make a profit at the end of the day. Profit demands an audience; Criterion has to release movies that, theoretically, somebody will want to see. And hopefully enough people for Criterion to make their money back. Criterion generally navigates this push and pull between crowd-pleasers and more obscure fare successfully. For every Breakfast Club or Wes Anderson release, there’s a Sweet Movie or Stan Brakhage box set. But the correlation between accessibility (in terms of distribution) and accessibility (in terms of a film’s perceived challenge or difficulty to a broad audience) is not always so straightforward. Take, for example, Jean-Luc Godard.3 The popular image of Godard is as the 1960s critic-turned-filmmaker enfant terrible poster child of the French New Wave. Godard’s New Wave films, as the familiar narrative goes, blew open the formal possibilities of film and left the landscape forever changed. His run of early films from Breathless to Weekend borrowed from tropes of American filmmaking and sent them through a postmod-


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ern blender, creating a fun and free-wheeling anarchic corpus which would influence everyone from the New American filmmakers to Quentin Tarantino and Wong Kar-wai. The reverberations of the New Wave à la Godard persist even today with Frances Ha and Gueros being two memorable recent examples, and more are sure to come. Criterion has enshrined nearly all of Godard’s New Wave films in their library, ensuring the canonization and enduring popularity of his work and status as a Cinema Icon™. The problem is, Godard has been consistently making films for over 40 years after the New Wave subsided, and they’re arguably even more formally radical and politically vital than the celebrated 10-year period that gets all the attention. You’ll only find two post-New Wave films in the Criterion Collection— Tout Va Bien (1972) and Every Man for Himself (1980). Each of which appropriately draws attention to the relationships between commerce and film production, an increasingly prominent motif throughout Godard’s career. For a brief—but by no means comprehensive—sampling of the effects that Criterion canonization has had on Godard, I’ll mention some figures drawn from the popular film database Letterboxd. Of the top 15 mostseen Godard movies, 13 are available on the Criterion Collection, the only exceptions being the recent Goodbye to Language

3D (2014) and Le Petit Soldat (1963), another New Wave film. A Married Woman (1964), one of the strongest of his New Wave films, remains overlooked at spot 19, likely because it is not on the Criterion Collection and has been difficult to track down on video until recently. Meanwhile, the further down the list you go the less accessible the films are (again, both in terms of availability and challenge, or difficulty of sitting through). Some films, like 1987’s King Lear (which New Yorker critic Richard Brody declared the greatest film of all time,4 a gatekeeper championing that hasn’t yet caught on) don’t even have DVD releases. Of course, part of the problem is the increasingly demanding difficulty of some of Godard’s later work. But even something as relatively watchable, and essential, as Le Gai Savoir (1969) sits low on the list, which will hopefully be rectified by the recent Blu-ray release by Kino Lorber. All of this is to say that distribution has played a substantial role in the public’s perception of Godard and his films. And it’s an issue that bleeds from reception into production. How would the film landscape of today be different if more filmmakers were influenced by Wind from the East (1970) or Six Foix Deux (1976) instead of Breathless (1960) and Band of Outsiders (1964)? And what future films are we missing out on by the continued obscurity of Godard’s most vital work? The sheer amount of work God-

ard’s films do in deconstructing the grammar of film images and their relationships to money and power could push the discourse of cinema ahead ten years if impressionable filmmakers got their hands on some of his work. But for the time being, we may have to settle for the pithy echoes of the French New Wave’s detached “cool.” Jean-Luc Godard is a famous and successful white male filmmaker, from a wealthy family of Swiss bankers. I say this not to diminish his accomplishments, but to acknowledge that, as far as choices of subjects go, I have focused on one who is particularly “privileged”. I could have just as easily devoted an article to truly overlooked and underseen filmmakers like Kidlat Tahimik, Mrinal Sen, or Ildikó Enyedi, which would not only send me deeper into the feedback loop of “good taste” posturing I’m already on the verge of, but would be also missing the point. The myopic canonization of our friend JLG leads to a larger and more important question: if a filmmaker as prominent and privileged as Godard can slip through the cracks, who else we are missing? And why? Godard is just one small example of the influence Criterion wields, itself just a smaller example of the way that distribution and economics shapes film culture as a whole. The tiny islands of cinema we are given piecemeal access to are actually icebergs, connected below in a submerged continent of cinema that dedicated film lovers can 39


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bring to the surface with enough time and hard work. This article is far from exhaustive, and will hopefully be the beginning of a conversation rather than any kind of conclusion. The subject matter of physical media releases is already dated, and will only continue to be so as the streaming landscape continues to evolve. One can hope that the new distribution platforms generated by the internet will lead to greater visibility of important overlooked films and filmmakers; time will tell. In the meantime, if there’s anything to take away, it’s the importance of thinking twice about what “good taste” really means. Because when it comes to films, taste is never an act of spontaneous generation, it comes from somewhere—somewhere where commerce plays an unavoidable role in what is seen and unseen.

REFERENCES 1. Kael,​ ​Pauline.​ ​“Circles​ ​and​ ​Squares.”​​ Film​ ​Quarterly,​ ​vol.​ ​16,​ ​no.​ ​3,​ ​1963,​ ​pp.​​ 12–26.​ ​JSTOR, JSTOR,​ ​www.jstor.org/stable/1210726. 2. The​​information​​on​​film​​canons​​is​​partially​ ​drawn​ ​from​ ​an​ ​Jonathan​ ​Lupo’s​ ​Article​​ Loaded Canons,​ ​cited​ ​below Lupo,​ ​J.​ ​(2011),​ ​Loaded​ ​Canons:​ ​Contemporary​ ​Film​ ​Canons,​ ​Film​ ​Studies,​ ​and​​ Film Discourse.​ ​J.​ ​Am.​ ​Cult.,​ ​34:​ ​219–233.​​ doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2011.00776.x 3. My​ ​turn​ ​towards​ ​Godard​ ​was​ ​inspired​ ​by​​ a​​conversation​​between​​critics​​Jordan​​Cronk​​ and Callum​​Marsh​​published​​on​​Pop​​Matters​​ titled​ ​​ReFramed​ ​No.1:​ ​Jean-Luc​ ​Godard​ ​-​​ The​ ​Political Years​ ​(1968​ ​-​ ​1979)​.​ ​I​ ​am​ ​revisiting​​their​​subject​​of​​the​​critical​​neglect​​of​​ Godard’s​ ​post-New Wave​ ​work.​ ​The​ ​article​​ was​ ​published​ ​in​ ​2011;​ ​In​ ​the​ ​years​ ​since,​​ little​​has​​changed. 4. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/godards-king-lear-at-twenty-five

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Rethinking Sequels in

Three Colors by Julia Levine

It seems as if many of the films being made in Hollywood today are in created in large part to establish iterative franchises. It would come as a surprise if a superhero movie did not feature a post-credits scene teasing stories to come, and audiences have come to accept when movies which could be one film are split into two and released separately to maximize profits, a construct we first witnessed with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2. Cinematic universes are carefully constructed for maximum future movie potential, and prequels, sequels, and spin-

offs are rampant. Endings must strike a balance between supplying enough closure to satisfy audiences and leaving enough unresolved to provide fodder for the following movie in the series. And if the first film was good, the next rarely is. In cases where profit is the only motivation, it can be difficult to capitalize on what worked before while still creating something fresh to follow it. The result is big-budget movies which leave audiences dismayed as they leave the theater because the sequel did not at all live up to the original.

whereas in the 80s each new installment of a series of movies was usually given increasingly smaller budgets, today successful sequels and spinoffs are given more money than their parent films. Profit, not quality is at the forefront, and thus if a film makes a lot of money, it is assumed that a continuation of the story will do the same, regardless of whether the narrative really merits more screen time. There must be an alternative to the cash-driven franchises of today, and perhaps we can find a model for the future in the

The sequel phenomenon was not always so prevalent, and this begs the question: “how did we get here?� It seems this trend began taking shape in the 1970s, when it became increasingly common for sequels to be numbered. Instead of being given an entirely new title, The Godfather Part II followed The Godfather. Before this time, most sequels had original names, as seen in The Pink Panther series. From this time forward sequels slowly became more abundant, and the culture of the Hollywood franchise gradually became ubiquitous. An economic shift also occurred with the sequel takeover:

past with Krzysztof Kieslowski, a man who was able to make film series with integrity all the way back in the 1990s. Kieslowski provides an alternative method of sequelization in his Three Colors Trilogy, which avoids all of the pitfalls that a traditional narrative movie series must face. In connecting the films thematically rather than through plot, a string of movies emerges in which each film can stand alone as a strong piece while being enhanced when seen as a unified whole. The Three Colors Trilogy, the joint title for Three Colors: Blue, Three Colors: White, and Three Colors: Red, does not build itself up as is 41


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expected. Rather than continuing the storyline of the previous film, each new movie has an entirely new plot, location, and protagonist. Occasionally audiences may catch a glimpse of the main characters of one film in another, but they are seen in passing, a sign that all of the people we are meant to care about inhabit the same world. This does mean however, that they need interact or that the trajectory of their stories need be connected. Instead the films are linked conceptually, the colors matching those of the French flag and meant to illustrate one of the political ideals of France: liberty, equality, and fraternity. The use of these values are not direct or moralizing. Kieslowki said in an interview that the key words were French simply because the movie was funded by French money. Despite the fact that the movies are structured around French ideals, they are not political but personal. One take on the films is that they were intended as an anti-tragedy, anti-comedy, and anti-romance. Whether Kieslowski intended such direct genre play is unknowable, but he did take several steps to give each film a distinct feeling, and the use of three different cinematographers gives each movie a unique visual approach. All of the films feature their title color prominently and the use of said color is a carefully curated feature used to drive emotional impact, permeating the scenes at opportune moments. Music is also an important aspect of these films, 42

albeit central to some more than others, and the score remains stylistically consistent as it was done by Zbigniew Preisner throughout the trilogy. Blue centers around the character of Julie in the aftermath of a car crash which killed her husband and young daughter. As she attempts to escape the past, we enter her grief-stricken world. One method of aligning audiences with Julie is through the many extreme close-ups of her face. The events also unfold in such a way that Julie’s perspective on her current circumstances becomes everything. This is especially clear in a scene where Julie sits alone in a coffeeshop, holding a sugar cube over her cup. A tight shot on the mug captures the white cube as it hits the liquid and slowly absorbs the coffee, turning brown before falling into the mug with a tiny splash. Kieslowski commented on the purpose of this scene saying, “quite simply, we are trying to show how the heroine perceives the world…We show a close-up of a sugar cube soaking up coffee to show she is not interested in anything outside…in other people, their business, in the man who loves her and has found her after a long search. She’s not interested in anything at all- just the sugar. She concentrates on it in order to be able to discard other things.” In White the protagonist is Karol Karol, who is left by his wife, and finds himself without money, a home, or friends. He works to rebuild his life and

seeks revenge for the wrongs leveled against him. The tone of the film is surprisingly humorous at times, as when Karol travels to Poland in a suitcase and ends up in a snow-covered garbage dump where, instead of expressing sadness at his grimy surroundings, he takes in his view and happily shouts “Jesus! Home at last!” The color white is, of course, used heavily over the course of the film and adds resonance to Karol’s troubles. Audiences see flashbacks to Karol’s wedding, and the scenes are bathed in a white haze with his wife’s white veil standing out behind her. In this way the color becomes a reminder of his failed marriage among the other layers of meaning it develops. Red follows a model named Valentine and focuses on her encounters with a judge who has been listening in on his neighbors’ phone conversations without their knowing. The color red, with its associations with love and blood, belies a unique intensity, and is an apt color to close the trilogy. Part of the punch of this film comes at the end (spoiler alert) when Valentine gets onto a ferry bound for England which suddenly sinks. Among the seven survivors from the wreck, audiences discover the couples from the first two films of the trilogy, Julie and Olivier from the first, Karol and Dominique from the second, and Valentine and Auguste from the third. This moment directly unites the films and binds the stories together.


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Despite their differences, a cohesive mood is carried across The Three Colors Trilogy, owing to the creative collaboration between Kieslowski, his co-writer Piesiewicz, and the other overlapping talent. In addition, small, careful details provide connections between the individual movies. One such connection occurs at the beginning of each film, when an image of technology is presented. In Blue we begin under the main character’s car, in White we are shown a conveyor belt of suitcases, and in Red the camera pans over electrical lines. Kieslowski commented on this choice, saying that “we use all sorts of things every day without even realizing how complicated these things are and potentially dangerous.” The final sequences of the films in which a character is shown crying in each one is another thread which ties the films together. Another more direct parallel is found in one scene which appears in some form in all three movies in which an elderly person attempts to throw away a glass bottle into a trash bin. This is not strictly integral to the plots of any of the films, but the different protagonists’ handling of the event encapsulates the general themes each film. While the scene creates a concrete similarity between films, the way each movie treats the sequence throws the differences between them into relief. The unique mixture of standalone elements and throughlines in The Three Colors Trilo-

gy opens up a wide array of storytelling possibilities, and one wonders why this sort of thematic series is so uncommon. The movies’ resonance as a whole does not diminish any single film, as is often the case with sequels driven by narrative. No ending can reveal too much because a completely different story will be presented in the accompanying films. While Kieslowski’s trilogy may be unconventional, and indeed each film is a piece of cinema on its own, there is no denying their cohesion. They create a rich tapestry of lives made more powerful as a unit, without making audiences feel like they are being set up and taken advantage of to sell more tickets. This is a worthwhile goal that the sequels, prequels, and spin-offs of Hollywood today should try a little harder to accomplish. Three Colors was a critical hit that made a profit but did not draw huge box office earnings. Blue and White did decently at art-house theaters and Red was the most successful of the three, receiving three Academy Award nominations and earning more than the other two movies combined. Still, its profits fall short of those expected from movies today, and as money continues to motivate Hollywood, the blockbuster machine has become an unstoppable, runaway train. Audiences will continue to receive more of the same soulless, formulaic film franchises and if viewers want better serialized stories, they won’t find them at

the theater. There is, however, hope: quality iterative entertainment is increasingly finding a home not in film but on the small screen in television. Perhaps this is where the brighter future of episodic stories lies.

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Preston​ ​Sturges’ Sullivan’s​ ​Travels:​ A ​ Comic​ ​Inversion​ ​of Dostoevsky’s​ Crime and​ ​Punishment by Priscilla Meyer Sullivan’s Travels has been called “episodic” and “unconnected,” lacking in “narrative cohesion.”1 But if viewed through the lens of Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, the system underlying the scenes becomes clear. Sturges motivates the miniature parodies of Hollywood genres, as well as the very concept of his film, by infusing them with significance borrowed from Dostoevsky’s novel. Concerned with addressing the needs of a broad audience in a meaningful way, Sturges turns to the master of the philosophical thriller, and incorporates Crime and Punishment into the weave of his film. The characters, the plot, and the very motif structure of Crime and Punishment are concealed in Sullivan’s Travels in order to consider the moral role of the Hollywood film. 44

A central question sets the plot of Sullivan’s Travels in motion and is resolved in the final scene: what response should art make to human suffering? As a movie director with a conscience, the hero John L. Sullivan feels responsible to the Masses of the unemployed to make a powerful social statement; he wants to film a novel called O Brother Were Art Thou. The pseudo-biblical tone of the tide and Sully’s naïve arguments to his producers parody sentimental do-goodism. The simplistic allegorical interpretation of the two men wrestling on the speeding train in Sully’s pilot film as “capitalism struggling with socialism,” as well as Sully’s talk of “the potentialities of film as the sociological and artistic medium it is” and of “holding a mirror up to life” make fun of the (deeply Russian) idea of

using art to change society. By having Sully exclaim “This film is an answer to Communism?”, Sturges parodies the Socialist-Realist view of art as propaganda. Sturges rejects the Soviet view of art that was first endorsed by Chernyshevsky and his fellow utilitarian “radical” critics of the 1860s; instead he adopts the method of Dostoevsky, who polemicized with Chernyshevsky not only over socialism but over aesthetics, rejecting the very idea that art is a “mirror of life.”2 In Sullivan’s Travels, Sturges solves the dilemma of


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how to incorporate important social questions into popular forms without resorting to the cheap devices Sully’s producers insist on. Sullivan’s Travels has been called “a comedy, yet darkly tragic in its third act.”3 Actually, it is both comic and tragic throughout, an effective synthesis of the aesthetics of high culture, the issue of social conscience, and the forms of popular appeal. Sullivan’s Travels is conceived as a detailed comic inversion of Dostoevsky’s own “answer to Communism,” Crime and Punishment. Sturges is known to have

been interested in Russian literature. Gogol’s Government Inspector has been recognized as a subtext for Hail the Conquering Hero, and Sturges cited Tolstoy’s ideas about art in discussing Sullivan’s Travels: “Art, Tolstoy said, is a medium for the transmission of emotions” (Curtis, p. 157). Dostoevsky’s work specifically addresses the dilemma Sturges faced: presenting serious problems in emotionally intense dramatized form accessible to all. In Crime and Punishment the nature of man and the problem of conscience are cloaked in the

popular form of a crime thriller. In the same way, then, Sturges explores his own problem of conscience as a movie maker as well as the nature of man in the popular form of a Hollywood comedy. Crime and Punishment is about a murderer, a prostitute, an unemployed alcoholic, and a suicide, “but with a little sex,” as Sully’s producers insist. Scenes of tragic poverty and human vileness involve us dramatically in what turns out to be the tale of the hero Raskolnikov’s spiritual death and rebirth through Christian love and faith. An analysis of the precise use Sturges makes of Dostoevsky’s novel reveals Sturges’ careful and deep reading of Crime and Punishment.4 Raskolnikov kills an old lady, and incidentally her sister too, by hitting them over the head with an axe. He is confused about his motivation, but we come to understand that the materialist philosophy and the socialist ideas current in Russian university circles in the 1860s make Raskolnikov test himself to see if he is a “Napoleon,” a superman capable of transcending the laws that bind “ordinary” people. “Social ideas” lead him away from his true, compassionate nature by playing on his pride in his intellectual powers to the exclusion of his essential humane impulses. Sully is a comic combination of similar problems: “social” ideas divert from his true gift as a comic director through his naïve arrogance: first he thinks he 45


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understands suffering enough to make a film about it, and later he believes he has experienced suffering by sleeping in box cars and going hungry for a few days (“The greatest sacrifice ever made by man!” as his PR man says). Sully also fails to see the condescension and futility of handing out one thousand five-dollar bills to random victims of hopeless poverty. It is a failure of understanding of social problems as well as a failure of compassion—an arrogance born of naïvete. But just as Raskolnikov’s crime sets him on the path to redemption by “taking suffering upon himself,” by setting out in his bum’s disguise Sully eventually can experience a figurative death and rebirth. Raskolnikov’s eventual resurrection is made possible by Sonya whose name comes from the Greek for “divine wisdom.” Although circumstances have forced her into prostitution, the purity of her spirit is untouched by her physical degradation. Raskolnikov meets her through her father whom he encounters in a tavern. Sturges abbreviates this: Sully meets The Girl (her namelessness gives her a symbolic dimension) in a diner. She is an aspiring actress, and there is a suggestion that she may have been forced to prostitute herself to directors while trying for a part. Like Sonya, she is pale, thin, blond—almost ethereal. The Girl’s origins—family, home town—remain mysterious; she barely exists in the real world. In Sonya Dostoevsky 46

concentrates the redemptive spiritual values of his novel: the compassion for suffering humanity represented by Christian faith. The Girl similarly represents the values of Sullivan’s Travels, as is made clear in the sports car scene when she stubbornly endorses comedy despite Sully’s insistence on social significance:

ideals is underscored in the box car scene when he refuses to turn back. She says, “Gee I like that about you, you’re like the knights of old who used to ride around looking for trouble.” Like Sonya who follows Raskolnikov to Siberia, The Girl goes with Sully on his odyssey. Both women maintain their strength and optimism in HE: Don’t you think that the face of their men’s sullen people are allergic to uncommunicativeness. Thus the comedies with death snarling spiritual power of the women is at you from every corner? counterposed to the earthly power SHE: No. of the men; Raskolnikov murders to assert his power; Sully invokes Like Sonya, who is im- his money and status. The Girl’s pervious to Raskolnikov’s ra- power through her compassion is tionalizations for his murder, The comically contrasted to Sully’s

Girl rejects Sully’s arguments unhesitatingly. Her love of him and of comedy are the forces that win out and create the happy ending; that she represents the film’s

influence in the film world when they meet and she buys him bacon and eggs; when he pities her failure to land a film role, she is indignant: “say, who’s being sor-


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ry for who?” she exclaims. In both works, the women, though potentially sexually attractive, are explicitly desexualized to emphasize their spiritual aspect. Sonya’s frail childlikeness contrasts painfully with the trappings of her trade, and Veronica Lake, understood ordinarily as a vamp, is turned into a boy in her bum’s disguise which highlights her transparent skin and wispy other-world quality. The Girl is “not allowed even one passionate embrace with her handsome co-star” (Curtis, 157); Sully calls her “kid” and “sister.” Just as the journey of Crime and Punishment is the gradual process of Raskolnikov’s acceptance of Sonya’s faith, Sullivan travels toward agreement with The Girl’s love of comedy. Sturges completes the analogy with a seemingly trivial sub-plot Sully’s wife is interested only in money, and victimizes him just as the pawnbroker takes advantage of Raskolnikov. When she thinks Sully dead, she marries his accountant on whose advice she’d been blackmailing him. But when the accountant tells her Sully is actually alive, she hits him over the head with a vase. Raskolnikov hit the pawnbroker over the head with an axe; the money-equals-power equation at the end of the novel is presented comically in this vignette in Sullivan’s Travels. It is an important moment because with the first wife’s remarriage, it becomes possible for Sully to marry The Girl. He can then exchange his black-haired, unlov-

ing, blackmailing ex-wife for the blonde Girl and her ideals at the end of the film, just as Raskolnikov renounces the idea of power through his crime and accepts Sonya faith in the Epilogue of Crime and Punishment. While Raskolnikov’s axe murder of the pawnbroker is burlesqued and inverted by the blackmailer and the accountant, Sully’s very different crime is suggested by clothing it in the circumstances of Raskolnikov’s. The scene of Sully’s first job as a bum begins with his chopping wood with an axe at the home of two sisters. As in Crime and Punishment in which the miserly widow dominates her unmarried sister, the lustful widow dominates her spinster sister. After Raskolnikov’s murder, he has trouble sneaking out of the upstairs apartment, watching in horror as the latch he’s bolted on the inside jumps up and down and the doorbell rings insistently. Sully, trying to sneak out of his upstairs room, rattles the key in the lock unsuccessfully as the clock chimes. But Sully’s crime is not committed against the sisters, it is instead alluded to when they take him to the movies. The depressing scene is in clear opposition to the later climactic one of the prisoners laughing at the Pluto cartoon in church. Here the camera scans the audience’s turgid response to a tear-jerker, showing its universal lack of appeal—the young and the old and the lustful are all otherwise engaged. The titles of the triple bill, as we learn on

exiting, are Beyond These Tears, The Buzzard of Berlin, and Tilley of the Shadow. This last title’s biblical allusion evokes O Brother Where art Thou; Sully’s producers had protested “You want to make an epic about misery!” and, judging from the murky soundtrack which consists mainly of weeping, the film Sully and the sisters see is just that. Sully’s crime then would be to throw away his gift for comedy that delighted The Girl in Hey Hey in the Hayloft (“Of course it was stupid, but wonderful!”) to commit an atrocity like The Valley of the Shadow. The connection is established when Sully’s PR man dictates in the land yacht “Thus begins the journey into the valley of adversity,” and the phrase that makes this connection is underlined when he explains “it’s what you might call a paraphrase.” The journey Sully intended and the film he might have made are parodied by the dreadful film he sees with the sisters. Crime and Punishment is knit together by a web of motifs which function as a system of paired opposite meanings that mirror the oscillation in Raskolnikov between destructive and redemptive forces, Sturges picks out three of Dostoevsky’s most central motifs—hay and horses, water, and wallpaper. In Raskolnikov’s famous dream of the peasant beating the mare to death, Dostoevsky shows Raskolnikov’s innate Christian compassion, his ability to reject the powerful role and sympathize with the victim. 47


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The analagous redemptive force in Sully is contained in his gift for comedy and is also linked to hay and horses. In Sully’s successful film Hey hey in the Hayloft, the hero “sneezes at a horse”, “and the horse sneezes at him.” When Sully tries to escape the land yacht in the whippet tank, he is helped by a horse pulling a cart load of hay which gets between him and his pursuers. When Raskolnikov approaches the scene of his impending crime, he is shielded by a passing hay cart just then, as though on purpose, a huge ‘load of hay was passing through the gates, hiding him completely (80). Hay also appears on the floor of the first box car Sully travels in. By fateful coincidence it is there he first encounters the bum who later steals his shoes and finally steals his money. A similar fateful coincidence pushes Raskolnikov to commit his crime: he chances to find out when the pawn-broker will be home alone, and this happens in Haymarket Square. Thus Sturges links hay both to Sully’s saving and his self-destructive impulses (represented by the comedy he has made and by his desire to abandon comedy), just as Dostoevsky shows Raskolnikov’s alternation between compassionate (for the mare) and murderous (for the pawnbroker) impulses through hay and horses. Water too carries the du48

ality of Raskolnikov’s conflict It is linked to baptism, life and redemption on the one hand and to suicide on the other. At one point when Raskolnikov stops by the Neva,

ic and the tragic water scenes is a neutral lyrical one when Sully and The Girl pause on their wanderings by a lake, a scene that has no plot function but provides the Sully-Girl-water-redemption association emblematically. the water was almost blue... In Crime and Punishment, the dome of the cathedral the dirty water of the Petersburg glittered marvelously... The canals is linked to suicide; and marvelous view always left as we have seen, Raskolnikov him with an unexplained chill; himself contemplates suicide. the extravagant panorama But with Sonya’s aid he is able to seemed to have a soul choose the path to resurrection. that was deaf and dumb... His “evil double” Svidrigailov, (119). however, takes the alternate path. Having no faith or love, he com Here Raskolnikov senses mits suicide. He first considers the potential of the divine. But in the same method Raskolnikov another scene by the Neva, Ras- has rejected: kolnikov witnesses (from Resurrection Bridge) a woman’s atSvidrigailov crossed the Tuctempted suicide. She jumps into kov Bridge... For a moment the Neva, and he thinks, “No, it’s with a kind of special, quesfoul.. the water... not worth it.... tioning curiosity he looked I couldn’t” (174). The alternaat the dark waters of the Little tion between these extremes of Neva (484). suicide and resurrection, of death of the flesh or life of the spirit, is But he walks on and resolved at the end of Crime and comes to a wooden hotel where Punishment when Raskolnikov he rents a room “with worn out begins to accept Sonya’s faith wallpaper, the yellowish color while gazing out across a river. of which could still be distinIn Sullivan’s Travels, Sully’s pro- guished, but so dusty and shredgress toward accepting his own ded the pattern had disappeared” comic gifts with The Girl’s aid is (485). There is no pattern or also linked to water. When The meaning in Svidrigailov’s life; he Girl first comes to Sully’s Holly- goes out into the rain and shoots wood home and realizes he’s only himself in the temple. But Rasbeen masquerading as a bum, she kolnikov ultimately makes anpushes him into the swimming other choice, rejecting the murpool, beginning a process which der of the pawnbroker for the reaches its climax in the swamp divine wisdom of Sonya. Dostowaters where Sully works on the evsky underscores this meaningchain gang. Between the com- ful pattern through the motif of


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wall-paper. Like Svidrigailov’s hotel room, Raskolnikov’s room (which his mother calls a “coffin”) has “dusty yellow wallpaper” (37), and the two women representing the way of death and the way of life are also connected by the motif of wallpaper: the pawnbroker’s room has yellow wallpaper (17) and Sonya’s room has “yellowish, stained, shabby wallpaper” (309). Sturges alludes to this entire complex of ideas in a brilliant quick comic exchange between Sully and The Girl. They are driving in his sportscar and she still thinks he’s a “washed up” director:

The conflict and guilt in Raskolnikov cause him to be feverish and delirious throughout the novel as he oscillates between opposing impulses. Sully ech-

his worldly power. Sully finally succeeds in his quest when the bum knocks him out, steals his money and shoves him into a box car. His

oes this oscillation as he keeps returning unwittingly to Hollywood or to the land yacht, finally in a feverish and delirious state. In bed he rants about “universal The director who shot law,” Raskolnikov’s idée fixe: himself lived in the same room as the Girl; Svidrigailov lived in the “Maybe there’s a universal law rented room next to Sonya’s. The that says ‘stay put! As you are movie director, Sully’s “double,” so shall you remain /.../ tramps gives up in despair like Svidriviolate the law of nature...” gailov, while Sully, like Raskolnikov, perserveres in his suffering Raskolnikov, who is misand gains new purpose. And just taken for a tramp because of his as Dostoevsky uses wallpaper to ragged clothes, wants to prove link the nature of the characters’ that he is a “Napoleon,” repeatedrooms to their spiritual states, ly asserting that “some law of naSturges uses it as the point of ture” (260; 271) determines when contrast between the suicide and extraordinary men are born. Sully Sully. inverts this quest, seeking to lose

“powerful” identity dies figuratively in the form of the bum, who has his identification cards hidden in the soles of the boots he stole in an earlier scene. The bum is killed by a train while scrabbling to pick up his stolen booty from the tracks. In this way Sully is carried off unconscious in the box car finally stripped of all he sought to discard, and only then begins to experience true suffering. He becomes “Richard Roe,” a legal name for Everyman which incidentally shares initials with Rodion Raskolnikov, after he is sentenced for assaulting a train yard watchman. Like Raskolnikov, Sully is judged to have committed his crime in a state of

“A man that had the room ahead of me, he was always going to make a comeback. Then one day he shot himself instead. They had to repaper the room... You would never do a thing like that, would you?” “Not on your wallpaper.”

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“temporary insanity,” and sentenced to hard labor in prison. Raskolnikov is unrepentant in prison, keeping aloof from the other prisoners who dislike him. He maintains the “Napoleonic” attitude that allowed him to take human life, cutting himself off from his fellow sufferers. Sully acts similarly, insisting “but I’m a movie director! They don’t put movie directors in prison for six years! Don’t I look like a movie director?” to which his warden answers, “we had a guy here thought he was Lindberg—he’d fly away every night but he was always back in the morning.” Sturges uses flying in a comic parallel to Raskolnikov’s attempt to “rise above” the ordinary. Sully at last discovers his communality with ordinary folk in the famous scene of the prisoners laughing at the cartoons. When Sully joins in the laughter he realizes what simple human essence he shares with these “lowest of the low.” Through laughter he becomes capable of resurrection; it is important that the cartoons are shown in church. Dostoevsky understood the essence of Christianity as brotherly compassion; Sturges emphasizes the black “brothers’ and sisters’” pity for the chain gang through their pastor’s admonition. Raskolnikov’s catharsis also takes place in prison when he finally able to accept Sonya’s Christian compassion. Sturges suggests by analogy that laughter is part of our higher nature and is therefore an important part of what unites 50

the movie maker with his audience. Raskolnikov becomes capable of redemption when he finally accepts man’s divine nature, thereby renouncing his theory of the extraordinary man. Only then can he believe that he was morally wrong to kill the pawnbroker and begin to expiate his crime. Though earlier troubled by conscience, he had continued to view her with contempt. “I killed a louse,” he insists, forgetting that life was not created by man and is not his to dispose of. Raskolnikov says to Sonya, “It wasn’t the old lady I killed, I killed myself!” Sully undergoes a mock death when the bum’s corpse is mistaken for his. Sully rises from the dead when he accepts guilt for the murder of “himself.” Sully realizes how to get himself out of prison, how to resurrect himself from the dead. Wading through the swamp waters where his chain gang is working, he yells “My conscience has got me! I want to confess! I’m a murderer! I killed!” Raskolnikov’s epiphany occurs while he is at hard labor near the bank of a river in Siberia; in keeping with the redemptive water images throughout the novel, his true admission of guilt necessitates accepting the existence of man’s immortal soul, symbolically represented in Crime and Punishment by the biblical tale of the raising of Lazarus. The happy ending of Sullivan’s Travels takes place in the sky—on a plane back to

California—a comic allusion to Raskolnikov’s new faith in God. Both heroes have yet to perform the great deeds that will redeem them from the sin of pride that cut them off from their fellow man. Dostoevsky, who in his Diary of a Writer suggests that he committed a similar sin of pride while he himself was in prison in Siberia, perhaps redeems himself through his novels which he made so accessible to a wide readership through the devices of melodrama. In Sullivan’s Travels, Sturges represents his own moral dilemma in Sully’s; how can he come to terms with what seems a frivolous activity—making comedies in Hollywood—at a time of crisis? Sturges addresses his own conscience through his dearly autobiographical hero, considering what the appropriate response of film to human suffering should be. He concludes that his art can help man to transcend suffering best through laughter, and so writes a comic inversion of Crime and Punishment. But while emphasizing popular comedy, Sturges preserves Dostoevsky’s spiritual concerns and the potential of a deeper reading contained in the popular form; he gives his comedy spiritual and artistic depth. Sturges answers his own parodied question—O Brother where Art Thou?—in Sullivan’s Travels by showing us that he merely the Toscanini of the pratfall but its Dostoevsky.


intercut REFERENCES 1​. ​Film​ ​Quarterly,​​Vol.​ ​morm,​ ​No.​ ​a,​​Winter​​ 1985-6:​​a3. 2​. ​See​ ​R.L.​ ​Jackson,​ ​​Dostoevsky’s​ ​Quest​ ​for​ ​ Form​​ ​(New​ ​Haven:​ ​Yale​ ​University​ ​Press),​​ 1966:​​24. 3​. ​James​ ​Curtis,​ ​​Between​ ​Flops​​ ​(New​​York:​​ Harcourt​​Brace​​Jovanovich),​​1982:​​152. 4​. ​Fyodor​ ​Dostoevsky,​ ​​Crime​ ​and​ ​Punishment​,​​Sidney​​Monas,​​trans.​​(New​​York:​​New​​ American​ ​Library), 1968.​​All​ ​page​ ​citations​​ refer​ ​to​ ​this​ ​edition.

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