Sunday, March 29, 2009

Group Post #4 - Nik, Sam, and Michela

Contempt is a movie with a dynamic sexuality, and a movie with a strong inclination to narcissistic display. Do you agree that the scene with Camille and Paul celebrates desirability by utilizing the "visual dimensions" that Bersani and Dutoit discuss in their article "Forming Couples: Godard's Contempt"? Does the fact that Camille's whole body never occupies the screen disrupt the classical cinema's conventions about female sexuality? If not, what effect does this use of negative space create with respect to the sexuality in the film?

In their article "Moving Pictures," Silverman and Farocki discuss the concept of "high art" in the recreation of Rembrandt's Nightwatch as interpreted by Jerzy in his film-within-a-film. How does this painting translate into "filmic terms," and do you agree with Silverman when he says that the mobile camera "releases figures from their frozen poses" and thus invades the high art? In addition, how does the purity of the art that Jerzy is recreating contrast with the raw sexual passion inherent in the lives of the actors and filmmakers (and mainly Jerzy) off set? On a different note, what did you think about the way Godard purposefully offset the diegetic sound of conversations and the visuals of people speaking, creating a disunity between auditory and visual and disorienting the viewer?

In "The Gaze and the Limit", Restivo asserts that L'Eclisse "posits a gaze that exists on the 'far side' of the visual field presented." How does this change the way we perceive the film as a whole, and specifically the relationship between Piero and Vittoria? He also asserts that the "eruption of the gaze is in some way related to the disruptions of stable subject positions within the world" of the film. How does this translate to the diegetic portion of the film (such as when Piero and Vittoria make out in the brokerage) and the final sequence of the film, in which the diegetic structure and focus of the gaze are completely disrupted through the disappearence of the film characters? How does this figure in with our definitions of "traumatic" and "sublime"?

Monday, March 16, 2009

Writing Workshop in Media Studies

Thursday, March 19, 6:00-7:30 pm
J.W.Wilson, Room 203

Because film and television are so familiar to us, we are used to watching them for entertainment instead of with a critical eye, and we run the risk of writing reviews instead of the analytical pieces required for Brown courses. This class is aimed at undergraduate students in media studies classes, especially those who are new to writing about visual media. We'll start with an exercise designed to help you take the sorts of notes during a film or television screening that will be helpful when writing analytical essays. Then, we'll talk about the different writing forms with which you may be asked to work (close analysis, historical or generic studies, ideological explorations, etc.). We'll talk about working with visual artifacts and the necessary translation of visual media to written language. Finally, we'll look at some common media studies writing errors and their solutions. This interactive session will run for 90 minutes. For more information contact

Group #3: Adam/Stephen/Will

This past week we studied documentaries, and their relationships, similarities, and differences to other film forms. Here are a few questions we came up with to help you think more about this subject:

What makes a film a documentary?

How and why does a documentary rely on conceptions of "reality," and how do they achieve this status?

What point is Kiarostami trying to make at the end of Close-Up with the whole "bad sound" scene (as they're trying to record Makhmalbaf and Sabzian)? Does this heighten the reality of the scene? Is it just an artistic show? Also, what effect does the music later in the scene add?

What does Dabashi mean when he says that "Kiarostami has opened the way to radical dismantling of the structural violence of 'meaning,' upon which is predicated such metaphysical surrogates as 'history,' "tradition,' 'identity,' and 'piety.'" (67) Do you agree with this statement? If so, how does Close-Up achieve this?

What does it mean when actors play themselves in a film? Does it make it more "real" or believable? Are they still even acting, or recreating?

In relation to The Thin Blue Line, do the stylized "recreations" cheapen the source material and factualness of the film, or do they help add to it? How also do the interviews affect us the viewer and the film at large?

What is the obsession with epistephilia that documentaries have? How does this differ from narrative films?

Is it truly impossible for a documentary (or any film) to show the objective truth and appeal to authenticity?

Does the fact that most of Battle of Algiers is obviously staged and made within the realm of classical film style impede its appeal to authenticity and realism, even though most of the sets used were authentic and many of the actors were actual participants in the revolution? Is this any more or less true than with Close-Up or The Thin Blue Line?

What does Nichols mean when he says that “Something is at stake. Namely, our very subjectivity within the social arena.” (194) Why do documentaries have this effect? How does this differ, or does it, from narrative film?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Questions for Group 2! Courtesy of Stassia, Sean and Bladi.

This past week we saw both an example of a Classical Hollywood text, Gilda, and one which ran as an example of a “counter-cinema,” in Godard’s Weekend. The theoretical texts we read all served as critiques of the Classical form and offering both a theorization and conceptualization of a form that could stand as a reaction or “counter.”

Metz and Mulvey discuss, at large, the importance of the spectator's identification through the three modes offered by film. Mulvey claims that watching a movie implies "identification of the ego with the object on the screen through the spectator's fascination with and recognition of his like". Godard's Weekend is an example of a film that maintains attack against the ease of spectator identification. How does a film, such as this, influence the spectator's perception of the film? Also, are there any specific readings you have that serve as points where the spectator's possition is complicated?

Mulvey goes on to say that the woman, "[Either she] must gracefully give way to the word, the Name of the Father and the Law, or else struggle to keep her child down with her in the half-light of the imaginary." How does this quote parallel a character like Norman in Psycho as child and a casualty of the imaginary Mulvey addresses? In regards to Mulvey's argument of "woman as bearer of meaning, man as maker of meaning", is the ending of a film like Taxi Driver (where Betsy's gaze and string of questions engage Travis) some kind of flaw in the argument that sees gradient of meaning to be lop-sided?

Brian Henderson seems to believe that Godard’s use of a tracking shot, which serves as a “species of long take,” “repudiates ‘the individualist conception of the bourgeois hero.” He goes on to say that “his camera serves no individual and prefers none to another.” Can this be attributed to Godard’s avoidance of “depth,” and the resulting “flatness” of the film? Why is this flatness privileged by Henderson, as Godard extends beyond this within the film? On page 60, Henderson seems to celebrate that like “the method of montage,” Godard’s sequences offer points where “what is done in one shot may be undone, or complemented, by another.” Is this reading of Godard’s text contradictory to his previous point of "flatness" or do you believe Godard’s camera-style to be at work within “the method of montage”?

In films considered Classical Hollywood Cinema, such as Gilda and Vertigo, theorists like Mulvey find that women function from a position of objectification, whereas, men are given a privileged subject positioning. Do these films target the male spectator as their audience in order to reinforce male identification with the narrative protagonists? What about the already constituted subjectivity of the individual spectator? Do individuals other than heterosexual males (women, gay men, etc.) problematize the systems and codes of classical Hollywood visual pleasure?

Finally, Mulvey, Wollen, and Henderson (who emphasizes that “the flatness of Weekend must not be analyzed only in itself but in regard to the previous modes of bourgeois self-presentment”) seem to seek but constrain their arguments for a different mode of cinema that serves as a “counter” or reaction to the dominant mode. What are the implications of revolutionary film making as serving in relation to the dominant mode of representation? Can these reactionary methods actually work to subvert the hegemonic values of classical narrative cinema, or as reactions can they only serve to legitimize and strengthen the dominant form?


Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Long Take


I honestly don't think the long take is dead. I don't think it'll die any time soon either. After all, in my opinion, it is one of the most interesting types of takes. I admit that I like the apparent chaos of montage, with its the juxtaposition of conflicting images, but sometimes I like long takes because they give you this weird false sense of security. I think it is because when you are watching long takes you get immersed into the movie, with this false feeling that what we are watching might be real, although in the back of your mind you know its not. Long takes make you feel as if you were watching something actually go on, the framing of the scene being the limits of what you can watch, just as a voyeur looking into a peep show. I don't think that long takes make the viewing experience any more "real" than any other take, but it does make you more aware of your limitations as a viewer (which in its own way, might be more real).

When we are watching a film with very little cuts, the first thing I notice is how elaborate the planning of that scene must have been. After all, one mistake means much more in long takes than short takes. I don't know if this works with everyone, but I become more aware of cuts and takes in long takes than in the typical short take scene. I think it is because it just appears so much more work to coordinate everything and so much more rare to see the same scene in different angles. I just become so much more aware of pans and zooms, and everything has to be so smooth and pretty for it to work... It is definitely a calmer kind of take than montage, and I think that depending on the purpose of the film, the long take would work perfectly in enhancing a kind of feeling or emotion.

Dialogue/Narration over Sequences

What strikes me about this question is its relation to some of the inquiries made in Question 3 during the last paper assignment. Narration over a sequence of shots presents an overall, omniscient-feeling thread that ties them together. Take the beginning of Sunset Boulevard for example: the main character narrates across the first few shots, giving us the sense that he is the storyteller--he's the one that knows everything about what is going to take place. In this faceless voice, we see power and clear knowledge. Another movie that does this well is The Shawshank Redemption, the story being narrated throughout by Morgan Freeman's character. What he brings to the sequences that he narrates is a wise, seasoned voice that we come to know as the voice that knows the prison too well. When this voice is given to Freeman's character of Robbins', we see a clear shift of knowledge of omniscience. While Robbins' character is new and experiences the unknown of prison, Freeman's character knows everything--and this narration speaks well of it.

In terms of dialogue, it gets tricky, as the presence of dialogue happening between cuts seems to separate the visual from aural--forcing the spectator to match them correctly. When the two characters are not on screen at the time, the spectator is forced to now perceive two pictures--a dialogue and the action being presented on the screen. Unless I've misunderstood the question--and I wouldn't doubt it--the practice of dialogue flowing between cuts is quite common in a lot of different scenes of movies: wouldn't it just be a regurgitation of shot/reverse shot or different shots of the same conversation. Alternatively, the question could be referring to dialogue presented as an additive, in which case my previous observation stands. Take if you will one of the Ocean movies--Ocean's Eleven/Ocean's Twelve/Ocean's Thirteen--I can't pick out a certain scene, but you'll come across the characters running through a plan in their heads, and while they have a dialogue about it, the screen will cut to different facets of the plan--sneaking into corridors as Clooney's character may remark about how to get into the casino/museum/etc. In this way, the dialogue has the same effect as the narration--empowering the voice and giving it an authority over the visual experience.

That's my two cents--and just to also clarify on the "death" of the long take--is somewhat true, as it seems to have shifted into a more gimmick style of shooting, however much I delight in the scenes in Cloverfield and Children of Men when long takes are utilized. Cloverfield itself--acting as many long takes, had a distinct feel even outside of the shaky camcorder style used: the method of chronicling the ever-intensifying and ever-constant action on screen reflected well on the movie--and it complied with Metz's observation about the interruption of action that other techniques like montage could have enabled. Whether the film is better for it, one can wonder, but its goal seems to be a heavily consistent stream of drama, and it succeeds in that very well.

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Long Take in Modern Cinema

In response to part of question 2, I think the long take is definitely not “dead”. Plenty of recent movies have taken advantage of the long take, like Children of Men, Cloverfield, and Atonement. But as you suggested, our approach as audiences to the long take seems to have changed. Perhaps this is a result of “MTV Syndrome”: we are used to cuts every two seconds in an action sequence, and we want to feel like we are tossed against the currents of the story. One of the most frequent complaints I heard about Millenium Mambo was that “nothing ever really happened”. However, I found this statement to be relatively untrue: there were plenty of plot points to follow, though the mixed-up linearity of the film and often lack of cues made it difficult at times. I think that the real problem was that people found it particularly difficult to get involved in the story because of the camera’s passivism. Usually, we are accustomed to having a camera bring us closer to action than we could normally come, and place us in the direct line of fire of the movement, action, plot, and dialogue. When the camera remains mostly static, as was the case in Millenium Mambo, we feel uncomfortable because we feel like we are restricted. We desire to know what is happening up close, particularly when the action in the scene is not happening within the confines of the frame. Bazin mentions how the long take increases the reality of the scene, which can certainly be said to be true. However, perhaps that is just the problem. As an audience today, we seem to want cinema to give us an escape from, rather than a re-admission to, reality. Thus I think that while the long take is definitely not dead, it has definitely evolved in the ways that it is effectively used in modern mainstream cinema.

Group #1 - Ashley, Zack, Alex


Was the transition to narrative cinema bridged by the inclusion of "drama" into filmmaking practices? Is "drama" an inherently embedded aspect of cinema?


Beyond the stylistic implications of the long take, but do directors sometimes use these long takes as a means to demonstrate their proficiency and or expertise in coordination of mise-en-scene, blocking, and moving/tracking cinematography? Are they trying to prove something?

Is the long take dead? Is it dying? Modern peoples' attention spans are shrinking, so do contemporary long takes necessitate more densely packed drama and action?


What is "slippage", and how does it affect spectatorship? Does "slippage" affect the relationship between the apparatuses? How do intentional and accidental slippage variably affect the film? Does it matter? How do we know whether a certain part of "slippage" is intentional or not?


How do dialogue and/or narration during a montage affect the overall style and feeling of the sequence?