I love movies. I have loved movies all my life. I grew up on them. When I was eight years old, I managed to convince myself I would make movies when I grew up. Now I am in the process of getting a degree in Film Studies. I write about film more than ever before, partly because I have to for my classes, mostly because I enjoy it, because I have something to write about. Sometimes it helps me understand the film better; sometimes it helps me understand myself better.
I created this blog as a place to showcase my work, and also as an incentive to keep writing reviews, analyses, and essays over breaks, when there’s no one here to grade me.
I have tried many times, and failed, to explain in a coherent manner why it is that I love films. Here is my best—and most coherent—guess.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Do the Right Thing (1989) Analysis

In Do the Right Thing, writer/director/actor Spike Lee chronicles the lives of working class Brooklyners in the ethnically diverse Bed-Stuy area over a 24-hour period, on the hottest day of the summer. Lee gives a sense of the film’s energy and aggressiveness as early as the opening credits. As Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” blasts, sound and images are combined into a brilliantly edited sequence filled with bright colors, attitude, and anger. Shot by long-time collaborator Ernest Dickerson, the film seems about ready to burst with its palette of strong, saturated colors and emphasis on bright fiery reds and warm oranges and golds that create a visual representation of heat. As temperatures escalate, so do the conflicts between characters; tensions flare up and ultimately explode in racial violence.

Lee treads the fine line between the personal and the political, making his singularly unique characters more than just stand-in representatives for their class and race, but at the same time refusing to focus simply on the individual, instead reflecting on the wider social tensions that come to shape the characters and their actions. From the first shot of the film, a closeup of a ringing clock and Samuel L. Jackson’s character’s first words—“Wake up!”  (which also happens to be the closing line of Lee’s previous film, School Daze)—it’s obvious the director is pleading with the audience as much as the characters to open their eyes and see the urgent need for interracial respect and understanding. Lee’s is a clear, level gaze at American politics of race, from a distinct, African American perspective. His films pose questions that evade easy answers; he offers no solutions. By the ambiguous ending of the movie, it is up to us to decide what “the right thing” is.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Harry Langdon: The Elderly Baby

If Laurel and Hardy were grown men who acted like children, Harry Langdon, the most helpless, immature, sexless, timid and downright stupid of all the silent clowns, regressed even further, becoming, in effect, a middle-aged baby, seemingly retaining, by some dogged self-abstraction, the obliviousness and immunity of an embryo to the outside world. His most characteristic gestures and roles, among them the main characters of Frank Capra’s Tramp, Tramp, Tramp and The Strong Man, both released in 1926, combined the masculine and the feminine, the adult and the child. Langdon’s innocence and pathos infuse every frame of film, heightened by complete intellectual blankness to most of what surrounds him. A master of the slow burn, every action and reaction he ever emitted on screen betrays a truly infantile perplexity.

Even his makeup created a strange mixture of discordant opposites—the white powder and dark, heavily outlined eyes—that turned him into a combination of clown, infant, and hermaphrodite. Layered over an obviously adult face, the childlike getup resulted in what James Agee called the look of “an elderly baby” or “a baby dope fiend.” His outfit, made up of round, battered soft hat turned up at the brim, tight jacket with the top button fastened, the others unbuttoned, spreading open ridiculously at the hips, baggy trousers and awkward, oversized shoes, only heightenaed the childish absurdity and inadequacy of his characters, who were completely unfit for the world of men—and especially of women—and incompetent at adult social behavior.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Censoring Cinema: Hollywood's Production Code

“Suspicious of a flickering amusement that mesmerized the commonest of folk and the dullest of immigrants…, reformers of all stripes viewed the motion picture as a gateway to personal damnation and social deviance… the motion picture medium, if left to its own devices, was more liable to pollute and degrade than refine and uplift,” Thomas Doherty writes in Hollywood’s Censor: Joseph I. Breen & the Production Code Administration (32). These were the sentiments that led the film industry to adopt the Motion Picture Production Code in the 1930s, a form of self-censorship that regulated film content for over three decades. “Just as a single lustful spasm in a brothel might sow the seeds of disease and dissipation,” the author continues, “a brief session at a nickelodeon might undo years of educational guidance and moral instruction” (32). But the reasons behind adopting and enforcing the Code were varied, ranging from morality to economics, from religion to the need to protect the industry from government censorship. The effects the Production Code had on film content were as diverse as the reasons for adopting it. Although the Code was never considered unconstitutional—because films were not protected under the First Amendment until 1952—the document undoubtedly encroached on the motion picture industry’s right to expression and free speech.