Aside
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As historians, it is important to study films because they are primary sources. Just like diaries and other primary sources reflect the world in which they were written, films reflect the society in which they were made. It is vital for films to reflect society because that is what makes them appeal to their viewers; people relate to films. Thinking back to the first full film we watched, Amarilly, people could relate to her because she was a poor girl who was struggling to work her way up. She found love and then finally succeeded, along with her husband, in achieving upward mobility. Amarilly was very symbolic during her time because many Americans, especially immigrants, desperately yearned for upward mobility in order to fully grasp the American Dream.

Films also convey messages. Think of all the times a character has stared straight into our souls during a vehement monologue. Dr. Welky never fails to urgently ask us “Who’s he talking to!?” The answer is always “the audience.” General Patton’s speech is the most recent example. Characters like Patton and John (the black man from Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner) are appealing to us to make a decision, take a stand, or to adopt views similar to theirs.

Other ways films convey messages is through propaganda, which is obviously very common during war time, especially the Cold War. Films are able to subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) portray the enemy as bad and convince the people to support the war cause. Not only do films provide a negative portrayal of the enemy, they provide the opposite of American soldiers as seen in Sahara. These factors not only shape public opinion, but they also reflect society’s (often subconscious) need and desire to have the two sides of war reinforced while getting an inside look of what war is like.

Genres of movies and their turn out rates are important to study because they are indicative of popular culture. In our most recent example from class, Western movies rose because there was no longer a “west” but Americans still had inklings of Manifest Destiny. Then, Western movies gave way to superhero movies. Today we relate to urbanized heroes much more quickly than a guy in a cowboy hat, on a horse, toting a pistol (Batman’s toys are much, much cooler). Also, it’s important to look at turn out rates for films. Did a film do poorly in the box office merely because of lack of publicity or was it because of lack of interest? Furthermore, if it was caused by lack of interest, what led to the lack of interest? Perhaps the film didn’t show Americans what they wanted to see.

Films are historic mementos that provide us with a vast array of knowledge about the past. By watching and interpreting movies with the benefit of hindsight, we can learn so much about the history of America and American citizens. We can learn about American’s reactions to events at home and abroad. We can learn about American ideals at different times throughout history. In every history class I’ve taken, it’s always been emphasized that there is more to history than just 

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Gender and Tyler Perry

We had a brief discussion about Tyler Perry films in class this week and the main focus was on the racial ideas presented in his films. However, Tyler Perry also presents some strong gender ideas as well. In Why Did I Get Married? (2007), a film about four married couples who are lifelong friends, the husbands play the antagonist.

 

From left to right: Diane and Terry, Gavin and Pat, Sheila, Mike, and the sassy Trina, and Marcus and Angela.

Marcus has had an affair and can’t hold a job. Terry (played by Tyler Perry) is unhappy about his wife’s powerful career as a lawyer. And finally, there’s Mike. Mike has always been verbally and physically abusive of his wife Sheila. The couples are preparing to go on an annual couple’s retreat to Colorado. Mike invites his mistress, Trina. When Mike, Trina, and Sheila board their flight, Sheila discovers she is too heavy to fit into one seat and the flight attendant says they will have to buy an extra ticket. Mike declines this offer and forces Sheila to drive to Colorado alone. Three of these husbands are hurting their partners. Something holds Tyler Perry back from presenting all of the men as bad. Gavin, who plays the husband of Pat (Janet Jackson) is a good guy. After recently losing their baby, Gavin constantly remains supportive and open during his grief while Pat shuts herself off from him and immerses herself in work.  Another positive male role is Troy who is Sheila’s knight in shining armor, literally and figuratively. When Sheila makes it to Colorado there’s a brutal snowstorm. She stops at a police station to ask for help and Troy tells her she’ll have to wait till morning and he’ll drive her up the mountain. Troy also feeds her and gives her a warm place to sleep for the night. Troy ends up being the man who shows Sheila that she is beautiful and deserves to be treated with the respect that her husband Mike has denied her for so many years. In the sequel, Why Did I Get Married Too? (2010), the roles are reversed and women play the antagonist. Diane has an affair with another lawyer, Pat wants a divorce and refuses any kind of settlement with Gavin, and Angela is a raving lunatic who stalks Marcus’s every move. Still, Perry refrains from depicting all of the women as negative. Sheila, who is now married to Troy, is constantly supportive of him even when he cannot find work. Sheila also is there for Mike, who has been diagnosed with cancer, and takes him for his chemotherapy treatments (this almost serves as a negative depiction because it appears that Sheila is having an affair with Mike). What do Tyler Perry movies, especially these, say about gender? Why does he choose not to depict all of the men in the first film as bad (same with women in the second film)? Is he simply trying to portray the reality of marital situations (particularly spouses) gone awry, while still providing a silver lining, or is there something more to it?

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So-Called “Great Films”

When you think of a “great” film or a “classic,” what comes to mind? For me, I think of Gone With the Wind, Wizard of Oz, Casablanca, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, The Mummy, Frankenstein, etc. It’s funny that I consider these films to be great or classic… since I’ve never seen any of them (yes, even Wizard of Oz). Yet these films are so deeply ingrained into society as great that even I know they’re great. What makes these films so great, though? The 2013 Oscar winners and nominees list also boasts a few films that may one day be revered as classics, such as:  Life of Pi, Django Unchained, Lincoln, Les Miserables, Flight, etc. What makes them great? Why do certain movies win Oscars and live forever, while some are immediately thrown into the wind? Furthermore, who gets to decide that certain films are great? It can’t be based simply on box office performance. The film industry is an enigma. I personally believe that all films (with a few exceptions……) should be or have the potential to be great. I’ll give any film a chance, which is why I have a neverending list of favorite movies. This is a rather short journal entry because I suppose my real purpose for is that I am on a quest for your opinions on what makes a great movie and what prevents other movies from becoming great. It’s a burning question for me and I’m so focused on finding an answer that I’ve become very preoccupied with this subject. What do you think?

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Shaping the Atmosphere at Home

During the 1940s, the film industry played a vital role in the portrayal of World War II. For those who were not on the battlefield, the cinema provided essential information about the overseas war zone. Films helped provide answers to these burning questions: Why was America fighting? What was it like? Who was doing the fighting? Answers to these questions are vital and, depending how they are portrayed, can either rally support or dissent of the war. One of the most typical movies of the World War II era that proficiently answered these questions while gaining civilian support for the war was Sahara.

Set in the Saharan Desert, three American soldiers lead by Sergeant Joe Gunn battle dire thirst and Nazis[1]. Sergeant Joe Gunn is easily the main character of the film; therefore, he is very important. The name Joe indicates the idea of “average Joe.” Sergeant Joe could easily be a viewer’s brother, uncle, or neighbor. The last name Gunn indicates that he is strong and powerful. Tons of propaganda is delivered via simply the name of the main character. Through Sergeant Joe Gunn, the film conveys familiarity as well as safety; you know Joe Gunn and he’s going to protect you.

During wartime, it is important to rally support for the troops. One way to do this is to name a main character Joe Gunn. Another way is to blatantly depict the soldiers as good men. The sergeant is a good leader; he is fair, determined, and strong. The other soldiers are also depicted as such. Furthermore, when they encounter French and Sudanese soldiers, they exhibit compassion and camaraderie to these allies when they elect to take the men with them rather than leaving them to perish in the desert.

Further propaganda is displayed when the American troops team up with a few members of a British Army regiment. The British are barely discernible from the Americans; they display the same courage, intelligence, and determination. During a war, it is always important to portray allies in a positive light. Positive portrayal of the British Army helps guarantee American approval of our alliance with Britain. Also, it would be very detrimental to the alliance if Britain were to see us project them negatively.

            Along with the positive representation of allies comes the crucial negative representation of our enemies. In Sahara, the enemies are German Nazis. The troops shoot down a German plane and take its pilot prisoner. The German is depicted as arrogant and obviously foreign in that he claims not to speak English. He is also depicted as sneaky and untrustworthy because, when searched, he has several hidden weapons on his person. It is further proven that he is untrustworthy and dangerous because he actually speaks and understands English and tries to thwart his captors’ plan for combat against the Nazis.

In the necessary representation of the soldiers as strong and determined, yet vulnerable, the Saharan Desert proves to be an excellent plot device. Of course, water is hard to come by and the troops are no exception to this severe lack of water. However, they use their wit and drive to find water. They find a well, but it is dry. However, they persevere and eventually locate another well, although it is barely producing water. Clearly, although the Americans and their allies are strong soldiers, they still are in need of help and support from the homefront.

The Americans and their allies are not the only soldiers in the desert who are battling dehydration. There is also a much larger group of Nazis in desperate need of water. The quick witted Sergeant Gunn and his men formulate a plan to lure the Nazis to their well in a ploy to defeat them and gain control of the area. Their plan is successful and the Nazis descend on the well like wild animals, which furthers the negative representation of the Germans. During this “battle” the Nazis are clear losers although the Americans and their allies suffer a few casualties. This provides a semi-accurate representation of war while also placating Americans at home. Of course Americans will die in war, but they will always die heroic deaths during battle and their enemies will always undergo greater casualties.

By watching films like Sahara today, we understand America’s great need to understand the events occurring overseas in the war. It makes perfect sense that Americans would want a sense of the faraway land in which their loved ones were fighting, the nature of the fight, and who we were fighting against. Although the film industry was (and still is) a great supplier of propaganda (and we typically view propaganda as inherently bad) it helped keep the homeland peace during World War II through films such as Sahara. Without war films like Sahara, Americans would have had little to no understanding of their allies (friendly British, French, and Sudanese soldiers who are very similar to us) and enemies (arrogant and dangerous Nazis). Without the propaganda provided by these films, Americans also would have been less supportive of the war. Certain messages such as those of soldiers being strong and determined, yet vulnerable, lead people to support and admire them while at the same time, wanting to help them in any way possible. It is safe to say that without the film industry, the atmosphere in America during World War II would have been vastly different.


[1] “Sahara (1943),” IMDb, accessed October 27, 2013, http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0036323/.

Aside
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As patronizing as they can be, chick lit, chick flicks, and women’s films can be really good movies. Love, friendship, and emotion are what characterize these genres. If only it were socially acceptable for men to indulge in these themes, maybe we could just call them “films.” 

But, I digress. In class, we talked about how very few chick flicks (which nowadays are also known as romantic comedies) overlap with women’s films. However, one of my top ten favorite movies is a chick flick and I strongly believe that it also falls into the category of a women’s film. 

On the surface, and definitely the cover of the DVD case, Legally Blonde looks like a ditzy chick flick. A blonde girl, Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon) from Beverly Hills gets dumped by the man of her dreams, Warner Huntington III, and formulates a plan to get into Harvard Law School in order to get him back. So what if Elle has big blonde hair, wears too much pink, and has a chihuahua? 

Elle Woods is a joke to a lot of people, including her own parents. She manages to get into Harvard and soon realizes law school is hard and getting Warner back is also going to be hard. 

Elle becomes determined to do this law school thing. Not for her parents, not for Warner, but for herself.

Elle gets serious. She hits the books, makes good grades, and gets to intern at a top law firm, along with Warner and his new fiancee. 

Elle uses her girly-ness to her advantage in the case they work at the law firm. She gains the client’s trust and gets the alibi, which is a feat no one else could have accomplished. Furthermore, she promised the client she wouldn’t tell anyone her alibi, and she keeps true to her word. Elle also helped win the trial by providing some important knowledge about hair care.

Another thing Elle gains during her internship is attention. She gains attention from Warner (he wants her back), her sleazy professor (who tries to convince her to sleep her way to the top, which she refuses),Warner’s fiancee Vivian (who wants to be her friend), and from a guy named Emmett (who Elle eventually marries at the end of Legally Blonde 2).

When Warner approaches Elle and tries to take her back, she realizes that after all this time not being good enough for him, it was really Warner who wasn’t good enough for her. 

Elle is extremely empowering. She shows women that they can do anything they want (like become a lawyer, a predominantly male field) and that it doesn’t matter if you’re not good enough for someone, as long as you’re good enough for yourself. Elle also teaches that you must stay true to who you are; use your individuality and quirks to your advantage and don’t change for anyone. 

Legally Blonde is clearly a film that classifies as a chick flick and as a women’s film. At first it depicts a ditzy, superficial sorority girl, who, throughout the film, becomes self-empowered and learns to be true to herself. 

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Last night was bonfire/movie night. I roasted s’mores and watched the new Great Gatsby with a few co-workers. [The rest of this post will contain spoilers for those who haven't read the book or seen the movie] I’m proud to say that I noticed a lot of “the language of film.” For example, Gatsby had to help Daisy light her cigarette. Another example is that when Daisy ran over Myrtle and she flew through the air, there was a semi-close up of Myrtle’s wedding ring. It was a good movie. 4/5 stars. Would definitely recommend. 

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To Censor or Not To Censor? That is the question.

Americans today are inherently against censorship as it violates our right to free speech. But what if censorship did not exist in any form? Our culture and society would be vastly different; sex, nudism, and murder everywhere. In the 1930s, censorship arose in the film industry. Rather than facing government regulation, film proprietors developed a form of censorship that they could control on their own terms. Films changed in order to meet the new standards of “decency.” So-called evil things such as sex and crime could still be portrayed in movies but they could not be as blatant and good always had to win in the end. As we saw in class, the comedy changed as a whole. Before the codes arose, comedies served to tear down the common American values such as family, success, and freedom. The Fatal Glass of Beer, which is definitely the funniest (and weirdest) example of comedy that we viewed in class, focused on tearing apart the ideal family. When the decency codes came about, comedies sought to build up and bring together. It Happened One Night brought the classes together by pairing a rich girl with a down-and-out guy in a cliche story that parallels TItanic. Although we view censorship as an evil entity, maybe it is a necessary evil. Some of the most well known classic films were produced in the 30s such as Gone With The Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and The Adventures of Robin Hood, adhered to the “codes of decency.” Even though the development of censorship in the film industry complicated and changed things, amazing films were still produced throughout the decade that attracted vast audiences.

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I finally had a night off from work, so my roommate and I went to the premiere of Insidous: Chapter 2. The theater was packed and had a lot of the characteristics that Dr. Welky claimed are missing from the typical 21st century theater experience. People talked throughout the movie. Screamed together. Laughed together. Clapped when the old lady came back and when the little boy ran in. The movie was actually pretty scary (just as the first one) but I felt less scared because I was experiencing it with a theater full of people. 

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What Movies Provide

We watch movies because we are in search of something; something is missing in our lives. Movies provide for us many things that we may not have otherwise. The obvious provisions offered to us by movies are adventure and entertainment. However, movies can offer a plethora of other things. All of which can be found in the example of the Harry Potter films.

Entertainment is the most obvious thing we receive from movies. Harry Potter offers entertainment via humor and magic. Maybe your life is dull and boring and you just want to laugh. Harry Potter can do that for you.

Another obvious gift from movies is adventure. Through movies, you can travel to places you may never get to go to. In the example of Harry Potter, it’s because they’re not real…but that makes the adventure even better.

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Not only do movies offer adventure, they offer you someone to make the journey with. You’re not just watching Harry, Ron, and Hermione fight at the Battle of Hogwarts, you’re there fighting alongside them. Movies provide friendship. Friendship is something that we take for granted. We think, “everyone has friends. Why would that be something you’d need to get from a movie?” Not everyone has friends, though. Or even if you do have friends, you may have a falling out with them, but the Golden Trio will always be there for you.

There are more important things…Friendship…bravery…

Or maybe it’s not necessarily a friend you’re looking for, but someone to relate to. There are also sorts of characters in Harry Potter. The eccentric outcast, the (extreme) bookworm, the middle child, the timid one, the poor family, and of course, the orphan. It’s always comforting to know there is someone out there just like you.

Movies also offer bad things, but in a good way. Most movies have some sort of evil. It’s good to experience evil via movies because it’s a safe environment. As real as they may seem on screen, you don’t really have to worry about having your soul sucked out by Dementors or being killed by Death Eaters. Also, in movies, there’s always a hero, and the hero always prevails in the end.

 

That is why we watch movies. We watch purely for entertainment value, we watch in order to go on adventures to far away (and sometimes imaginary) lands, we watch because we seek companionship stronger than any friendships we may forge in reality, and we watch because evil is real and it’s comforting to see the the victory of the underdog. Movies are the easiest way to fill some void in our lives. Because all of these aspects, especially the need for adventure and friendship, are universal across time and space, I’m sure they have been the motives of viewers for many decades past and will continue to be the reason we watch movies in the future.