Things I Learned From the Movies Blogathon: On the Topic of Human Sexuality

Pre-Amble

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Now, I know that sounds like a dissertation title. However, the approach I’m planning on is a bit freeform, personal, and as all encompassing as I can be with such a huge topic.

I will limit myself somewhat as the nuance and intricacy of human sexuality this could be a much, much longer piece than it already is.

Introduction

The other day was National Coming Out Day. I didn’t post anything specifically about the day because as fate would have it I was actually doing quite a bit of other writing on that day. What I wanted to say on that day was probably more appropriate on a day like today then on the actual day.

A day such as that is not an appointment to be kept, to be either taken advantage of or passed over. It is a day of recognition, of noting those who have taken the step and come out; a day of sharing stories and support. When I was in the closet to the world I kept thinking some specific date or deadline would force my hand. It never did. I wasn’t ready until I was ready. So that was my message for the day: it’s not a compulsory day but rather a day that can be used to show those in struggle that it’s safer than they imagine to take that step.

Usually the blogathons I’ve signed up for have either been review-oriented or could be more academically approached. This one is different because it’s inherently personal, and the topic I selected made it impossible to stray from being candid. It’s about what you have taken away from seeing a movie. Frequently that thing may not even have been the intention the film has but no two people ever see the same film.

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Some of these films are LGBT films, some aren’t, but all make a singular point I didn’t take away from other films. Hopefully in underscoring many of these films I have a diverse cross-section. The pride flag is a rainbow for a reason: it’s all-inclusive and highlights differences. Too often underrepresented groups want the whole of their identity enveloped in a character or two, which is an impossible ask. We’re past the point of being merely stereotyped. Characters have to be themselves and not representative of all subsets and subcultures.

The Films

Where I Learned: A Little More About Myself Than I Wanted To

This Boy’s Life (1993)

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This Boy’s Life was a film I first saw on cable while in Brazil. I watched it with my uncle. It’s a captivating story of Toby (Leonardo DiCaprio) living with an intolerable stepfather (Robert De Niro), finding his voice as a writer, and trying to make it out of a toxic home life.

I was a teenager when I saw it and not entirely self-aware. At some point in the film the character of Arthur (Jonah Blechman) is introduced. Being set in the 1950s with the kind of character DeNiro is the homophobia directed toward him is quite overt and something he just has to deal with. This was probably the first film wherein I was consciously smitten with a male star and I identified with Arthur’s plight all the more for it, but I was self-conscious about it. So when the famous scene where Arthur steals a kiss on Toby’s cheek while they’re singing comes about I felt defensive. I felt as if my facial expression was readable or else some of my thoughts were. I felt the need to say something to cover.

“I’d punch him!” I blurted out.

My uncle without hesitation said “You don’t have to do that. You just say ‘I’m not like that.’”

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I was still a while away from admitting I was like that even to myself much less out loud, but the film and scene are important for a number of reasons. In that scene you can actually look at it a few ways: there is of course the obvious viewing it as a romantic overture. However, they are close and having a good time. Arthur is wordlessly expressing his gratitude of having someone to sing with. By midcentury homophobic fears had sufficiently strangled men showing affection for one another in verbal ways much less physically was verboten. And in that second reading it’s almost more important, but the lack of judgment that Tobias shows at that moment is important in and of itself and it’s a hallmark of many of these films either in isolated scenes or as a whole.

Where I Learned About: Coming Out of the Closet

Ellen (TV 1997)

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Yes, it’s a TV show but there are plenty of movies on the list, calm down. This was the first coming out I was ever conscious of. It was probably where I became familiar with the phrase and its meaning. I already liked this show, so I was curious to see how it would go, especially since it was announced beforehand. I think it went brilliantly.

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The sad reality of TV especially on a sitcom, where constancy is prized, it was too big a change for the show and maybe for the country as a whole at the time. I’m glad to see where we, ABC, and the Walt Disney Company has come since then.

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Where I Learned: Bisexuality is Real, Lust Can Make You Crazy, And How To Love The Femme Fatale

Basic Instinct (1992)

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Firstly, I must apologize that it needed to be phrased as such. Sadly, there is a stigma that exists that there is no such thing as bisexuality. Everyone’s path to self-discovery is slightly different. Mine included a time when I identified myself as bisexual. Growing up tremendously quiet and withdrawn in certain social situations most of my deductions about my true identity was all based on the internal battle with no real experience to draw any definitive conclusions from. In that time I experienced that stigma first hand. No sooner had I identified myself as bisexual I got the “lecture” in an online conversation about needing to decide, and you “can’t have the best of both worlds.” It was a rude awakening. When it came time when I had to face if I could make real emotional and physical commitments one way or the other is when I learned the truth for sure, no one’s ultimatum was going to do it for me.

Having been someone who always accepted that a duality is not only possible but real suspension of disbelief was easy in this film. The hurdle I really had to get over, involved what I learned most about how lust, and the adrenaline rush that Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) feels is what makes his character so vulnerable.

Before I ever watched a long-running horror franchise in full I saw this, it may be the first villain I ever embraced, thanks in large part to Sharon Stone’s performance. She fully embraces the femme fatale role.

Where I Learned: About the True Toll of AIDS

And the Band Played On (1993)

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For the most part I never fell victim to any falsehoods about HIV or AIDS. Magic Johnson’s announcement coming in my formative years was quite helpful. However, the mysterious, terrifying, and most tragically inactive (from a Federal Government standpoint) I was too young to realize what was happening. This film enlightened me.

Where I Learned About: Persecution in a Bygone Era

Paragraph 175 (2000)

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In outlining a dogma of hatred there has to be a public enemy number one designated. In the Nazi regime that target was the Jewish people. The Nazis were by no means singleminded in whom they considered enemies of true Aryanism. Estimates of Romani, or Gypsies as the more commonly referred to, deaths range from 220,000 to 500,000. Marzahn was the first concentration camp used for Gypsies. Many then went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Chelmno, Belzec, Sobibor, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, Dachau, Mauthausen, and Rävensbruck.

The documentary Paragraph 175 takes its title from the German Criminal Code at the time that discussed prohibitions on homosexuality. Since the persecuted could be of either gender and of any race or creed there aren’t precise statistics. However, documentation of state-sanctioned ostracism, arrest, and murder of homosexuals in the Third Reich following the edicts of Paragraph 175 are documented.

Such as:

  • Banning of Gay organizations like the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft run by Magnus Hirschfeld
  • Banning scholarly writing on Homosexuality and sexuality in general.
  • There were 100,000 people arrested as homosexuals; 50,000 were sentenced.
  • Homosexuality in any form was outlawed, but as per usual in these historic incidents the brunt of the force of said policies fell upon gay men.
  • The Gestapo compiled a list of homosexuals and forced many to conform to the “German Norm”

Where I Learned About: More People See False Morality

Léolo (1992)

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

False morality is not an exclusively North American phenomenon, but we do have our own special brand. This was underscored in specificity as something other have noticed in this film where students never learned the English words for “those things” in class.

The topic comes up as Léo introduces us to their school’s guide to English; the omnipresent John and Mary. The schooling they were receiving was still very recitative and in this litany of body parts that the francophonic children learned there was a glaring absence: reproductive organs. Yet, Léo, and some of his other classmates had begun to discover these parts of their anatomy had other functions that were heretofore unknown to them.

So immediately Léo is complaining about the injustice of forced ignorance. In the guise of sheltering the children and preserving their fleeting innocence they are left to discover sex between “ignorance and horror,” as Léo says. And with no demystification from anyone elder in their life how else can this discovery occur. Surely, for some the repercussions of this will be minimal, but for others who knows how much of a negative impact this had on their development.

Where I Learned About: Transitioning

Transamerica (2005)

Transamerica (2006, IFC Films)

Aside from learning not to expect true greatness to be recognized by the Academy, even when nominated; this film opened my eyes on the emotional toll a person will pay when undergoing gender reassignment. Before and after the fact there will be grieving over lost time, opportunity, reclaiming identity, striving for a new future while incorporating a difficult past.

Aside from Felicity Huffman’s brilliance there is so much to experience and feel in this film.

Where I Learned About: Differentiating Sexual Identity and Orientation

Prodigal Sons (2008)

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For those who like axioms this one stuck out to me as I was seeking to learn more about what the transgendered experience is like, when being asked about why it is some people who have gender reassignment have heterosexual relationship and some have homosexual relationships, one woman answers perfectly and made me understand the magnitude of that journey; to paraphrase what she said: look in a mirror and ask yourself does what you see match how you feel inside? Most people will say yes. Look around and who are you attracted to.

That’s it. That is the difference between sexual identity and orientation. I have not in my life ever felt that specific emotion when looking at myself in a mirror. I never felt torn against myself for the very skin I was living in. I felt isolated, conflicted emotionally, and at war with where my mind and eyes would wander, and with whom I sought to be closer with amorously and amicably, but not something that fundamental.

Wherein: I Re-Examined a Film with the Topic of Sexuality in Mind (and Found a Road Less Traveled)

The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

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After being reminded of the fact that the character of Buffalo Bill was a controversial one in the LGBT community took offense to – on a doc about it and I believe The Celluloid Closet (below) does touch on it. There were angry protests and signs about how the film seemed to vilify a transgendered person. When watching it with this in mind, I came away unconvinced, and not just because of my axiom of needing to understand that one character does not a whole demographic represent.

Bill’s situation is exacerbated by two factors: he was not given the go-ahead for surgery in psych evaluations and he specifically has sociopathic and psychopathic tendencies. Bill reacts violently and irrationally to the circumstances facing him. A vast majority won’t.

Looking at the film focusing merely on the aspect of sexuality there is no evidence, as it is played in this one film, that Clarice Starling is a heterosexual woman, aside from the assumption we’re societally conditioned to have that everyone is “straight unless proven gay.”

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To my mind this dubious, and nebulous nature of her sexual orientation is underscored by her subtle disregard for being objectified by men while jogging around the FBI’s training compound.
So if we’re viewing the film through a prism of presumed sexuality, and as I see it  there are heterosexuals, one lesbian, and one man longing for a sex-change. There are characters across the spectrum.

Where I Learned: Sometimes Film Theory Has To Go Away

Thelma and Louise (1991)

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Learning film theory can be dense and difficult to most. However, there is a value to it and learning to analyze in terms of interpretations that may not even even have been made by design. It can be the only to enjoy some filmmaking styles like certain New Wave films or works of magical realism. However, never is this subject harder to learn than when you just disagree with a theory.

I fully understand the visual cues and character roles and attitudes that lead those to argue that Thelma and Louise becomes a lesbian tale by proxy. The reason I don’t buy it is because I cringe at the notion that any movie that includes an “I don’t need no man” sentiment is promoting lesbianism (Frozen) or the very sexist attitude that treats lesbianism as a choice whereas being a gay man is a sentence.

Thelma and Louise is many things: flawlessly structured, brilliantly acted, a masterpiece, a tremendous feminist statement, up there with The Accused but it’s not a lesbian story. Not to me.

I fully get and support the notion that due to a lack of representation individuals in the LGBT community can cling to characters that were not designed to represent us, and that is a healthy and normal thing, one instance from my childhood that comes to mind is Flower in Bambi.flower

Ma Vie en Rose (1999)

Where I Learned: Being Comfortable Can Change How You See the World

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Cinematically speaking, in the opinions of most, children are seen as lower beings on the totem pole. Too often children are societal afterthoughts when decisions our leaders are making now are molding the very world they seek to inherit. So there can be a great amount of coddling and shielding in film and society. However, those with a sensitivity, understanding, and appreciation can make changes, insights and be of help.

Ma Vie en Rose tells a tale of a common childhood activity, cross-dressing, through the eyes of a character who takes it to an uncommon degree and finds more comfort and joy in it than most. Even with social norms varying from country-to-country, this film being set in France doesn’t change many of the reactions to this.

The beauty seen in the world through the eyes of its protagonist is a breath of fresh air and can be an eye-opener to many about acceptance as opposed to tolerance.

Where I Learned: About More Nuances of Sexuality and the False Equivalency Tranvestites Face

Dress to Kill (1999)

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For those who need simple axioms by which to live, and learn better whilst being entertained Eddie Izzard can be a great means of enlightenment. His discussion on “weirdo transvestites” and “executive transvestites” and him describing himself as a “male lesbian” are as insightful as they are funny.

Where I Learned: Stories of First Love Don’t Have to End in Tragedy or Heartbreak

North Sea Texas (2011)

Why I start with a book will soon make sense…

 

One of the defining books of my teenage years was The Bitterweed Path. It was among a select few books I read when I was visiting family in Brazil. My grandmother has accepted a trove of books in English that she had no use for as she reads solely in Portuguese and French.

It’s a wonderful tale of an unrequited, unfulfilled love at the turn of the 20th Century. It meant so much to me, in the edition I read, that I asked for it to be be specially bound like my Grandmother and aunt sometimes do. It was quite a chore for the bookbinder but still holds an honored place on my shelf. But not all stories need be like that to work.

North Sea Texas (2011, Strand Releasing)

Here’s a perfect example. After I learned that much to my surprise North Sea Texas was nominated for a GLAAD Media Award I wrote the following:

However, what North Sea Texas strikes upon, and what makes it work so well and so important is that it’s an idealistic tale. It reminds me of a debate I and a professor had about the Indian film Fire in college. His criticism of the film was that the revelation of, and the familial objection to, a sexual abuse situation was unrealistic. My assertion was “Why should it be?” If you’re trying to make a point be it societal, political or otherwise, there are times when the best way to make it is to seek out an ideal and illustrate it, rather than just illustrating that the problem exists.

 

Where I Learned: It Has Gotten Better, Or Stereotypes Used to be Much Worse

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

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Yes, the picture is an outlier, a maverick.

While you can note issues that still exist you cannot understand how the present is better without looking to the past. Documentaries like this and Reel Injun do well to highlight the way in which marginalized populations have been treated onscreen through the ages. Outliers are as noteworthy as patterns and improvements can be noted across the board with improvements and continued, diversified representations appearing frequently.

Where I Learned: You Don’t Even Need to Say the Word “Gay”

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

On the film In the Family I wrote the following:

the film could be handled differently and still work but then it would run the risk of pigeonholing itself as a gay film, or a racial film or a courtroom film, depending on how the plot unfolds. It could quickly become maudlin and melodramatic. However, in restraining its emotion, allowing it to build in its characters and its audience it creates a tremendously universal and human story that I’m sure many can relate to, whether it reflects anything in their life or not. One example of the restraint, and a litmus test of sorts for films with gay themes, is that the words “gay” or “homosexual,” or any pejorative variation thereof are not spoken. This is a clear choice it seems that underlines both the humanity of the story and the underlying hostilities and prejudices that exist.

Where I Learned: Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow

Billy Elliot (2000)

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The musical adaptation of Billy Elliot amplifies virtually all the emotion in the tale. Aside from the obvious that dancing or liking it does not determine one’s sexual orientation, this one selection closes the circle from the beginning of the post.

Billy Elliot (Jamie Bell) is not a poofter as the vernacular would state it. Despite the fact that Michael (Stuart Wells)  is not fully self-aware for a majority of the film, he is gay. Michael’s pain at losing his best friend when he goes off to the Royal Ballet School will be massive. There is no expunging it, it can scarcely be mitigated.

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Billy’s kiss on Michael’s cheek is not a pandering gesture by a character or in filmmaking terms. It’s a simple, beautiful act of friendship. One that on its own is tear-jerking but sets up the end of the film beautifully: Billy makes his professional debut. Of course, Michael is there. So glad are we that he is both happy and supporting his friend that the coincidence of his sitting next to Billy’s dad can be forgiven.

Bonus Features

A few titles, scenes, and moments that came to mind where words are a bit unnecessary; the images say it all. Enjoy!

Where I Learned: Cartoons Can Make You Feel Uncomfortable

Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988)

 

Where I Learned: It’s Real Awkward When You Get What’s Going On in Some Performances at Madonna’s Blond Ambition Tour and You’re There With Your Dad

Where I Learned: Some People Are Gay, and That’s OK

Mrs. Doubtfire (1993)

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Where I Learned: Dancing Can Be Sexy 

Look Who’s Talking Too (1990)

Where I Learned: You Will Have To Come Out More Than Once Whether You Like It or Not. Thanks for Bearing With Me!

Coming Out (Part 2) by Troye Sivan

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Short Film Saturday: The Heights (SC Featured)

It’s been too long since I did a Short Film Saturday. This short doc that first aired on Sportscenter, and I just watched it for the first time. It links into a vacation I just took (to Williamsport to the Little League World Series), which is only a small reason for my recent hiatus.

It shows not only the importance of youth programming but also how increased interaction between police and their communit can affect change. Enjoy!

Review: Bestiaire

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Bestiaire

This is a film that qualifies for this year because, though I heard of it last year, I had no legitimate chance to see it. I learned of it through a coming soon postcard while I was in New York, the soon it was referring to was not while I would be there.

What’s interesting is that I was anticipating seeing another documentary free of significant dialogue prior to this one, but when I saw this pop up on Netflix instant I had to jump at it.

Bestiare plays out like a non-fiction version of Le Quattro Volte inasmuch as the structuring of the very slight, and completely open to interpretation, narrative is nearly invisible. The description of this film on Netflix is appropriately stripped down there are extended sequences of static shot either of animals observing humans, vice versa or sometimes they seem to be staring right at us.

Some of the shots are framed beautifully to convey either claustrophobia or just how nestled some animal enclosures in the modern world are be they farms, ranches, zoos or what have you. As I mentioned, it doesn’t insist upon deciding for you what the interpretation of the film should be, believing instead that the audience is the ultimate arbiter of meaning.

I found the film very effective in places with some great cuts and angles that underscored a harsh indifference. The incessant rhythmic banging of a zebra against a wall, or the frantic pacing of an ostrich, and the, to me, disquietingly laid back work of a proficient taxidermist were scenes that really shocked me out of the lull that this hypnotic film can get you into.

It’s not a long film but it is deliberate. I would qualify it as experimental, and I think more times than not the scenes work, so I believe a 6/10 is fair for now.

Review: Leviathan

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Leviathan

You’ll note that in my review of Bestiaire I stated that it was not the first doc of its kind I was anticipating seeing. The one I thought I’d see first was this film, Leviathan.

Why that came first boils down to chance, but I am glad I saw it first. Both these films have similar constructs in that they’re documentary features with no narration, and practically no dialogue of any significance. Both deal, in part, with the interaction of modern man with animal kingdom, but Leviathan offers a more focused, kinetic, at times dreamlike, other times haunting, look at the subject.

If one were to enter the film completely cold, and watched all the credits through to the end, virtually the only tidbit of information left out of the synopsis was that fisherman were given cameras and told to shoot with them.

The location comes though the end credits, and as nebulous and surreal as some of the early images of the film are, you soon start to see what’s happening.

The most impressive things about Leviathan are: first, the sound design, which more so than the images most of the time, drive home the uneasy balance between monotony and danger of the job. Second, how the Bible passage at the beginning sinks in after it’s done, as does information disseminated in the end credits.

Without knowing what to expect precisely, I found myself retracing certain visual passages and started coming to grips with what I had just seen through the lens.

Leviathan, much like the aforementioned film Bestiaire, is not for everyone, but it is certainly a unique experience and it’s a more immersive, less observational take of this particular documentary niche.

7/10

Mini-Review: 9.79*

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history, and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series does is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories; and traces the trajectory of the events, themes, and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps, and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time, and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding anecdotes is one that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove, and everyone was seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Mini-Review: Branded

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Branded

Out of the recent Nine for IX series this is the one film that takes on a rather broad subject: marketing female athletes. It takes a chronological look from the early days of the first athletes to sign endorsement deals in the still very sexist world of the ’70s through to today. While many of these titles excel in part due to their truncated nature (50+ minute stories formatted for an hour-long TV slot) this one could’ve dealt with more time. I would’ve welcomed the overlap of discussing Sheryl Swoopes, or delving into the Martina Navratilova/Tracey Austin rivalry more.

The insight that women athletes much choose between a vixen image or wholesome All-American girl to land deals is appreciated if rather obvious. It’s also one of the installments where one of the more memorable moments is an interview not acquired. There is a clip of Anna Kournikova walking out of an interview angered, but no new footage of her looking back on her career. That would’ve been great to put a perspective on the idea of conscious marketing decisions women make simply because her popularity at one point was so great.

That ground is well-covered by Gabrielle Reece and Lolo Jones, especially the former who does well to mention that there is a three-year window when American Olympic athletes can’t get sponsors looking their way. All in all, it’s another very solid installment of the series even if it did leave me wanting more a bit more.

8/10

Short Film Saturday: How Walt Disney Cartoons Are Made?

This is great contemporary newsreel look at how Disney creates its animated films. This was made in light of the release of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. One interesting factoid is the budget cited as $1.5 million dollars. Adjusted for inflation that’s $25 million today; I am unsure how much unionization would have ballooned that but just on raw numbers it’s an interesting tidbit. Despite its dated tone its a more entertaining explanation of the traditional animation process than I would give.

Russia in Classic Film Blogathon – Dziga Vertov: The Man with a Movie Camera in a Gyre of Time and Truth

In preparing this post I naturally watched The Man with a Movie Camera again. In doing so I was reminded of Berlin: Symphony of a Great City, which I had seen more recently but was made first. Due to that fact I got to thinking about my history with this film, and what if anything had changed in my perception of the film.

To accurately try to capture this I must go back to the beginning to where I first heard of the film. For yes, it is still my assertion that every film does have a pre-life in the mind of the viewer. This pre-life ought not effect the perception of the film in the viewer’s mind, but can and does more often than not color it. Furthermore, if I am to accurately map the trajectory of this film through time as I see it I have to go back to my beginning with it, which is in a textbook in an introduction to film history course that tries to encapsulate Vertov’s intention with his experiment.

This introduction was found in A Short History of the Movies by Gerald Mast and Bruce F. Kawin, 7th ed.:

Dziga Vertov, one of the Soviet Union’s pioneers in combining documentary footage with political commitment, experimental cinema with ideological statement, suffered similar artistic strangulation as Stalinism took hold – partly because he was a Jew, partly because his aesthetic stood for the truth, and partly because he didn’t praise Stalin enough in the last film he was allowed to make, Three Songs About Lenin (1934).

Dziga Vertov’s intense energy was evident not only in his documentaries and manifestos, but also in the name he chose for himself, which translates roughly as “Spinning Top.”

Yes, his work had quite an impact:

Vertov began by compiling footage into weekly newreels in 1918-1919, went on to edit full-length compilation films and shoot some of his own footage in 1920-22 (he called the camera his “Kino Eye”). then invented a documentary form that went beyond the reportage of the newsreel into creative journalism: a series of shorts that were called newsreels but focused on specific topics and themes. That series, which ran from 1922 to 1925 was Kinó-Pravda (“Film truth”; the French term, in homage to Vertov is cinéma vérité).

Documentary films are as old as films themselves. However, the very early documentary cinema was very literal, and would only be interested in what happened and that is all. The unseen hand theory of direction was more an iron fist.

This was the first film ever exhibited; a documentary:

Vertov clearly had other ideas in mind, and his revolutionary ideas transcend cinema as his artful treatment of real subject may predate the same concept in prose, like In Cold Blood and the birth of creative nonfiction. Did cinema beat other arts to something? I think it may have.

Next in my journey, I read some of Eisenstein’s works. He was not mum on Vertov’s works. In Film Form has some less sparkling things to say on Vertov.

With regard to the use of slow-motion:

Or, more often, it is used simply for formalist jackstraws and unmotivated camera mischief as in Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera.

And with regards to his experimentation:

The young Soviet cinema was gathering the experience revolutionary reality, of first experiments (Vertov), of first systematic ventures (Kuleshov) in preparation for that unprecedented explosion in the latter half of the ‘twenties, when it was to become an independent, mature, original art, immediately gaining world recognition.

Great filmmakers often disagree. Tarkovsky thought Eisenstein’s overemphasis on editing was misplaced, as all arts have editing; so montage, in his mind, did not define cinema, but rather time did. Art is subjective and different perspectives lead to personal and unique works. Vertov acknowledged he was experimenting in title to The Man with a Movie Camera, so as he wrote (both scripts and theory), shot and cut he too developed his own ideas.

The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

This idea took root after he had seen, and decided to respond to, Berlin: Symphony of a Great City. What Vertov seeks that’s different he states straight from the outset:

Man with Movie Camera
A 6 reel record on film
Produced by VUFKU in 1929
Excerpt from a camera operator’s diary

Attention viewers:
This film is an experiment in cinematic communication of real events/
Without the help of intertitles/
Without the help of a story/
Without the help of theatre/

This experimental work aims at creating a truly international language of cinema based on its absolute separation from the language of theatre and literature.

Author-supervisor experimenter
Dziga Vertov

With that in mind the mind instantly opens upon the start of the film. Yet it’s the creativity and positively kinetic nature of the film that makes it a unique experience. Yet, despite some of Eisenstein’s grumbling of the primitive nature of the trickery it’s not the party tricks, or the editing pattern that make this film standout, but the embodiment of statement; the visual unity created through theme that’s so clearly communicated.

Mast and Karwin put it best:

Like everyone else in society, the man with a movie camera has a job to do — his special work being to record and reveal the work of everyone else. And like everyone else in society, the man with the movie camera likes to play. Vertov allows the playful camera to dazzle us with accelerated motion split screens, superimpositions, stop-motion animation — demystifying the cinema even as it gives the audience the visual treats it came to the theater to enjoy. Grounded in daily life as much as in the theory and practice of cinema, this brilliantly reflective documentary renders cinema and life inseparable.

The only way in which the film relies on any other art-form (barring photography, of course) is in the use of music. Even upon its release it, like many other silents, was accompanied by a live orchestra. Since the silent days it has acquired many other scores to accentuate the cuts and changes in composition that this film has.

The Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

This is not to discredit the film in anyway. Music and film have always co-existed. Films need music. Especially this one cites Roger Ebert:

The experience of “Man With a Movie Camera” is unthinkable without the participation of music. Virtually every silent film was seen with music, if only from a single piano, accordion, or violin. The Mighty Wurlitzer, with its sound effects and different musical voices, was invented for movies.

This film seeks to unshackle cinema, and I feel it did, and most importantly it continues to do so as new viewers find it. For film, which relies on motion, both within the frame and in swapping those images out, the parameters must be challenged. Film was once a new toy, vibrant, irreverent and disrespected, looked down upon, and thus somewhat more unafraid to try things on for size. Yes, certain universal narrative precepts needed to be borrowed, but film needed to find its own voice with which to speak. Experiments like this one were crucial in developing that voice not only in documentary but in narrative cinema as well. This restless creative audacity is something that ought not be lost and held onto; the more fertile imaginations; the more impressionable viewers that catch a glimpse of this film the more possibilities the future of cinema has.

For that’s really what is being discussed here. Too often film history, like any history, can be bogged down in facts, dates and events that have happened without discussion the domino effect of influence that events, filmmakers and films can have. The concussive impact of one stellar film can have repercussions throughout time, and not just in the zeitgeist. The Man with a Movie Camera is such a film because it not only tests aesthetic norms and boundaries, but asks the important questions of “Why are we creating this way?” and “What can we do with it?” and most importantly it shouts “Yes, it is important and worthy and should continue!”

Short Film Saturday: A-D-Something Something

The Following Heart series will be back with part three next weekend. I previously featured Zachary Maxwell on Short Film Saturday for both his guerilla doc on school lunches and his farewell letter to Santa.

Here he discusses ADHD. As the title indicates many do not even know it stands for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder much less any actual information about how its diagnosed, and that it’s not a “trend” or a medicate-it-and-forget-it condition.

Taking a personal approach at learning about it, and what makes ADHD different than “that’s just how kids are” make it resonate more and illustrates there is a concrete foundation for those treating and managing the condition.

A-D-Something-Something from Maxwell Project on Vimeo.