Six Stills from Six Silent Films

A few weeks ago I posted images of six films I screened in my History of Cinema class at Queens College. As part of the final exam, students were to name five of the six films and provide the country of production and, if appropriate, the avant-garde movement.

Here are the answers:

Anemic Cinema

Anemic Cinema

Celebrated artist Marcel Duchamp produced this film using a spirograph and other graphics that rotated on screen. Like much of Duchamp’s work, the film was a Dadaist work that utilized word play. In this still, the text translates to “If I give you a penny, will you give me a pair of scissors?” According to Katrina Martin, however, Duchamp is playing with colloquial French expressions and this actually translates to “If I give you a penny, I will give you a fuck.”[1]

The Man with a Movie Camera

Man with a Movie Camera

What can I say about this film? There are two items in the picture, a man and a movie camera, so I figured that would be easy. I was also looking for an image from this film that would show off two influential art movements in the Soviet Union: montage and Constructivism.

The challenge was to find a still that had montage within a single shot. Montage generally edits two shots together to create a specific and deliberate meaning, but I can’t show that in a single still. This one demonstrate the ability of montage to show “editing” within a single shot. Moreover, Constructivist integrated machinery into everyday objects, including the human form.

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Not to spoil too much here, but in this still, Alan reacts to seeing Cesare in his room. He is terrified. In this shot, Cesare’s figure casts a shadow against the wall on the right side of the frame. The set of the room is highly stylized. It is not shown in classical Renaissance perspective, but instead has very sharp angles. This approach to composition was common in German Expressionism.

Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror

Nosferatu

This is another German Expressionist film but from 1922 and directed by F.W. Murnau. The shadowy composition is again present here and is there to cast a sense of terror. Moreover, anyone who has seen this film will forget Count Orlock’s appearance. It has to be one of the most chilling figures in cinema.

Un Chien Andalou

Un Chien Andalou

This is the seminal surrealist film, produced in France, by future film icon Luis Buñuel and celebrated painter/sculptor Salvador Dali. Early in the film is perhaps one of the most unforgettable images in cinema history: the cutting of a woman’s eye. The film rejects any narrative causality and instead follows the logic of dreams, as surrealists were wont to do.

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans

Sunrise

Yes, it’s another film by a German filmmaker, F. W. Murnau. But this film was produced in the United States, not Germany, and was stylistically similar to Expressionism, although it was made well after the movement had its hey-day in Germany. This still is from the first third of the film. The man, played by George O’Brien, is about to kill his wife, played by Academy Award–winning Actress Janet Gaynor, and make it look like she accidentally drowned. You can see the compositional similarities between this image and that of the still from Caligari. Also, O’Brien’s posture is not unlike that of Orlock in Nosferatu.

Students in my class will undoubtedly noticed that I absolutely love this film, easily one of my favorites, and some would remember it because I swear I heard a few people crying at the end of the film. As what is perhaps the last silent film made in Hollywood, it might just be the best.


  1. Martin, Katrina. “Marcel Duchamp’s Anemic Cinema.” Studio International 189, no. 973 (February 1975): 56.  ↩
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“History of Silent Film” Final Exam

MEDST143 Sp2013 Final Exam Stills.001

Do you fancy yourself a fan of silent film?

This was part of the final exam in my silent film history class. Can you give the title, country, and the associated avant-garde movement?

I’ll reveal the answers in a subsequent post.

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History of Cinema, 1880-1930, Spring 2013 Syllabus

The syllabus for History of Cinema I, 1880–1930, at CUNY Queens College, is now available on my professional website.

From the course description:

A survey of international film history from the beginnings of public film exhibition to the coming of sound. This course covers early motion picture technology, the development of narrative and editing techniques, and the growth of the studio system and national cinemas around the world.

I am absolutely thrilled to teach a semester-long class on only silent film. Some students will probably feel otherwise, but it will be a worthwhile challenge to excite them about film when it was new and full of limitless possibilities.

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Take a Summer Course with Me

I’m teaching a summer session course at Queens College. The course is Media Studies 300W: Media Criticism. My version of the course will cover current issues in media technology and will focus on a limited number of topics. There will not be any overwhelming amount of material to memorize. Instead, we will read and respond to some very engaging issues in today’s media and technology environment.

This class satisfies the all-important writing requirement, but instead of stretching it out over fourteen grueling weeks, we will be condensing the class into six weeks. And because it’s summer, it will be more relaxed than it is during the fall or spring semesters.

Students will not need to purchase a textbook. We will be using the online research databases, available for free for all registered students, and the open web.

Some of the topics we’re going to address include…

  1. Cinema in the Digital Age
  2. Cable Television and Cord Cutters
  3. Beware of Big Data
  4. Is Google Evil?
  5. Intellectual Property and Digital Media
  6. Open Media and the Commons

The class meets Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings, 5:30 — 7:45 PM, between June 4 and July 16.

To enroll, visit Summer Session website. Be sure to enroll in section 5833.

Update

This class has been cancelled.

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It’s All Digital Now

This semester’s History of Cinema course concluded with the contemporary Hollywood entertainment economy. One of the themes we continually encountered was Hollywood pursuing spectacle and scale in order to remain relevant. This contrast with what we have seen throughout the semester with emerging cinemas relying more on New Wave priorities of stylistic experimentation and character development.

One of the main topics we covered was the new exhibition technologies of 3D and Digital Projection. While these have been around for decades, and for over a century in the case of 3D photography, the new push for faster frame rates seem as a new way for Hollywood to separate itself from other cinemas from around the world.

David Bordwell has recently covered the campaign for 48 frames per second—double that of the traditional sound film frame rate of 24 frames—led by Peter Jackson and James Cameron as a way to eliminate the artifacts visible in their digital-effects-heavy films. I won’t repeat everything he has to say in that illuminating article but I found a few points relevant for our discussion.

  • In order for theater owners to adopt new hardware, there needs to be a viable path to recovering those costs with profitable software. It’s hard to imagine filmmakers with a better profit potential than Jackson and Cameron.
  • By pioneering new projection technology, it will be hard for other filmmakers—both within and outside of Hollywood—to match them in terms of spectacle.
  • Bordwell is right when he points out the 48 fps debate overlooks the entire issue of story. It’s not that the two are mutually exclusive. It’s just that they are almost working with an entirely different medium than other filmmakers.

We have seen in various other nations numerous attempts to foster a strong national cinema. International co-productions and complex financing arrangements were such methods, but while they might have matched (or approached) the scale of a Hollywood film, they rarely accomplished any sustained success. What had worked was making films with a strong personal vision, complex characters, and drawing on rich sources such as history, politics, or philosophy. These films might not have yielded immediate financial successes, but films like these kinds fostered a strong sense of national identity and also became the hallmarks of international cinema. I tried to screen films of these type throughout the semester.

As filmmakers chase the apex of digital realism, we should not let the digital revolution foreclose what made the cinema, not just entertaining and spectacular, but an international art form.

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Unsettled Spirits in Raise the Red Lantern

Third Mistress in Raise the Red Lantern
Third Mistress in Raise the Red Lantern

There’s so much to cover with Raise the Red Lantern (1991), a film I screened in this week’s History of Cinema class. There is the film’s historical portrayal of Chinese feudal society in the early twentieth century. The particular depiction of misogyny is also instructive because it reveals a great deal about the treatment of women in this polygamist family. However, for this review, I want to discuss the way the film’s style portends the fatal ending and that endlessness of the women’s subjugation.

Warning: Spoilers are afoot

Think of the film as depicting a cycle.

First, we see the new mistress coming to the home and being introduced to the older mistresses. As we see each one, we understand that each mistress almost perfectly represents a generation of women. We know little of the Second Mistress other than her desire to bear a son for the Master. The Third Mistress, on the other hand, was at one time a working opera singer. The Fourth Mistress, as a university student, stands as the most ambitious of them all. Each one is more professionally and socially accomplished than the previous one. However, each of these “generations” are compressed into a matter of years, although the actual length is indiscernible.

Second, the Master’s physical absence throughout the film amplifies his power, especially compared to the mistresses, servants, and even Doctor Gao. The Master is conspicuously absent for most of the film. The film employs a variety of tricks to obscure him, such as cutting away at a key moment, having objects block or screen him, or simply framing him from a great distance to render him indistinct. Such techniques give him a spiritual quality that makes him almost immortal.

Third, the film foreshadows the ultimate doom for two of the mistresses. When we see the Third Mistress on the roof of the building, which will be of great narrative significance in the film’s penultimate scene, she resembles an apparition. Her red dress contrasts with the blue sky and monochrome stone structure of the house. As the wind blows and she sings, she has a ghostlike quality. This not only a sign of her fate but also a manifestation of women whose spirits are unsettled. Fourth Mistress punctuates the spiritual tone of that scene when she later confides with First Mistress, “This place is haunted.”

Haunted, you say?
Haunted, you say?

Finally, after the Third and Fourth mistresses’ fates are sealed, we see a Fifth Mistress join the house. She is presumably the youngest of them all.1 As the cycle begins anew, there are some unsettled ghosts in the house. Fourth Mistress attempts to “unleash” Third Mistress’s ghost by lighting her lanterns and playing a gramophone recording of her singing. Moreover, Fourth Mistress has apparently gone mad. Her life is spared but the trauma of witnessing, and to some degree causing, Third Mistress’s death. But the house and its generations of tradition continue undisturbed. The film suggests that there will be no end to this cycle.


  1. It seems significant to note that Fourth Mistress’s downfall begins on the day she turns twenty years of age. 

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A Star Wars Musical? Never Say Never

In Tuesday’s History of Cinema class, I discussed some ways that Hollywood franchises spawn entertainment vehicles beyond movies. One such vehicle is the Broadway musical, such as the 2008 Shrek: The Musical Broadway production. In an off-the-cuff remark, I said, “At least, there hasn’t been a Star Wars musical.” One student proved me wrong.

Although Star Wars: The Musical is not a Broadway show, produced in conjunction with George Lucas, LucasFilm, or 20th Century-Fox. It is a work produced by fans of the franchise, available for free download.

File under: Never say “never.”

(Via Ryan Hecht.)

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Memory and Imagination in The Mirror

Andrei Tarkovsky's The Mirror (1975)
Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror (1975)

Earlier today in my History of Cinema III, I screened one of my favorite films from last spring’s version of the same class: Andrei Tarkovsky’s The Mirror. I remember sensing that last year’s students enjoyed the spatial and temporal puzzle of the film. This year, I don’t think they enjoyed it as much.

The film is indeed challenging. It lacks any substantial screen time for the protagonist. Instead, we only hear a disembodied voice. However, we see Margarita Terekhova for the majority of the film. And, if I may spoil the film a bit, she plays the roles of the protagonist’s wife Natalya and mother Maroussia. This is a common strategy in the film, and it certainly was not done due to budgetary concerns.

Memory and Imagination in The Mirror (1975)
Memory and Imagination in The Mirror (1975)

There are many big themes in the film, including mortality, family, history, and even Russian society. The protagonist’s relationships with his mother and wife are perhaps the most important as they are both embodied by the same person in most of his memories. However, the two themes that struck me when I first saw the film and continue to inform my interpretation are memory and imagination. As the protagonist dies, he reflects on his life and the important people and events. As spectators, we see all of the events from his perspective. This is why we see actors playing multiple roles, as his association between them is so close that his subjective consciousness can’t distinguish them.

We also see how certain motifs recur throughout the film, such as the 1935 fire, the departure of his father, the red-headed girl he adored when he was a boy, and the Leonardo da Vinci monograph. All of these recur throughout the film in strategic places as he tries to make sense of his life. In each of them, he is able to explain them against his own memory of them and his grasping with what it means now that he’s approaching the end of his life. We can see his concern with legacy when he considers his son in nearly all of his memories, as he remembers himself through his son’s body.

The students either seem confused, bored, or underwhelmed by this representation. It’s also possible that I oversold the film, when I compared it to Persona. I screened the Bergman film earlier this semester, and it was a hit.

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The Revolution Will Change Everyone’s Lives: One Way or Another

This evening Brooklyn’s Light Industry screened a rare Cuban film, Sara Gomez’s De Cierta Manera [One Way or Another] (1974). I had seen this film back as an undergraduate at UCSB, in Donna Cunnigham’s Film History: 1960 – Present class, well over a decade ago. Earlier this semester, I had wanted to screen this film for my own film history class, but a couple of factors made that difficult. First, I could only find a worn out VHS copy, which it lacked the image sharpness that I so vividly associate with seeing first this film. Second, I had booked two films for the day: this and the celebrated Memories of Underdevelopment. There simply wouldn’t have been time to screen both. I gave students the opportunity to see the film tonight for extra credit. One student took me up on the offer.

One Way or Another blends documentary footage with a narrative sequences. This was one of the most common stylistic qualities of post-Revolutionary Cuban cinema. Filmmakers utilized this strategy to locate the personal impact of the Revolution on ordinary Cubans. As the title suggests, the Revolution was going to change everyone’s lives…one way or another.

Yolanda and Mario argue during their combustible courtship.
Yolanda and Mario argue during their combustible courtship.

In this particular film, we see the social challenges of the Revolution through two institutions: organized labor and the schools. In the opening sequence of the film, we see a tribunal for Humberto. We learn later in the film that he is being judged for loafing, as this scene is repeated. Loafing in Revolutionary Cuba has consequences since it threatens productivity and also solidarity.

We also see the social impact of the Revolution in the schools. A few delinquent students, who are unaccustomed to formal education, complicate the educational mission of the Revolution. Moreover, their parents are also uneducated and ill-equipped to supervise their children’s education. Without education, the Revolution cannot adequately lift children out of poverty.

Like most Cuban films of the time, there was a mix of personal narratives in the film, which were fictional. As the film documents the tribunal and the challenges of the labor union, we see it through the character of Mario. Mario accuses Humberto of loafing at the hearing. When the tribunal scene is repeated towards the end of the film, we don’t understand why Mario testifies against Humberto, as we see that they are friends throughout the film. However, we learn in the moments following the second instance of the tribunal that Mario struggled with the decision to “rat out” his friend but ultimately decided to do so for the sake of the Revolution. Mario’s internal conflict makes for a more nuanced view of the Revolution. While Humberto’s decision to loaf, by staying with a young woman, hurt worker productivity and solidarity, it required Mario to betray his friend.

Throughout the film, Mario courts Yolanda, a young, educated and independent school teacher. It is through her character that we see the challenges in the schools. Her education gave her the opportunity to teach children, but she is constantly frustrated by the inability of her students to learn and behave appropriately in the classroom. (Believe me, I can appreciate her frustration.) In perhaps one of the most touching moments, she admits her frustration when she describes the cycle of a young girl going through school until the sixth grade, who then marries and has her own daughter who will go to the same school for her own sixth-grade education. Her soliloquy is punctuated by a scene of young black girls in short white dresses dancing provocatively in the village. This image contrasts with Yolanda’s own dress and gestures that, by comparison, characterize her as a schoolmarm.

The most direct consequence of the Revolution in this film is the urban redevelopment projects, which were common not only in post-Revolutionary Cuba but throughout Latin America and even some cities in the United States. A recurring image is the razing of the slums, which were being replaced by shiny, modern housing units. The wrecking ball that demolishes the old blighted housing reminds us of the immediate change that the Revolution brings. However, it is the rapid pace of change that the film takes most issue. It is clear that some Cubans were unprepared for the Revolution. This is despite the seemingly good intentions of the Revolution’s architects, who were curiously never represented in the film.

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Big Majority Excel on “History of Cinema” Midterm Exam

The students in my History of Cinema III class at Queens College took their midterm exam last week, and as I did last spring, I am publishing the aggregate results here.

I was very impressed with the way students performed on this test. Fifty-seven percent of students scored a B or better, and nearly a third of the entire class of seventy-one students scored an A.

History of Cinema III Midterm Exam Aggregate Results
History of Cinema III Midterm Exam Aggregate Results

The mean score for the test looked a bit low for my liking but it was consistent with a large lecture class. Students averaged a 74.25, a “solid” C. The median score was a little better at 81. I’d tell you who got that score, but that’s not allowed.

There was a significant difference this year. Three students scored 100% on the exam, which did not happen last year. Also, there were a lot of students who scored either 98% or 99% on their exams, too. That made me very happy!

Students were given two hours to complete their exam, and it appears that many of them finished in less than an hour. The average of the best three scores, 0:58:40, was very close to the average time of 0:57:38 that the 71 persons who took this exam.

History of Cinema III Midterm Exam Letter Grade Results
History of Cinema III Midterm Exam Letter Grade Results

The letter grade distributions skewed heavily towards the top and bottom grades. Almost a third of the class scored an A, but a troubling high portion of the class, 14%, failed the exam. On the bright side, 57% of the class scored an A or a B. Clearly, there were some students who did very well.

History of Cinema III Midterm Exam "Time vs. Performance" Results
History of Cinema III Midterm Exam "Time vs. Performance" Results

And finally, I have an obsession with recording how students perform against their time.

The only metric I didn’t use was attendance since I haven’t been coding the sign-in sheets yet.

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Framing in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

As we discussed in class, the framing in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul almost entirely contains the characters in a confined space. One of my favorite instances of this is when Emmi and Ali are waiting for their order to come at the restaurant where “Hitler used to eat.”

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

After one of the most uncomfortable waiter-and-diner scenes imaginable, the camera framing moves from medium close-up to a long-shot. Emmi and Ali are very small, and they are dwarfed by the dining room’s structure. I see this as a way of expressing the insurmountable social circumstances that Emmi and Ali are going to face after their wedding. This is not going to be a socially sanctioned relationship. The subsequent scene reinforces this. Emmi calls her children to announce her matrimony, to which they react with utter disgust and contempt.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Do you recall any other scenes where the framing or staging expresses the difficulty of Emmi and Ali’s situation?

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Framing in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

As we discussed in class, the framing in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul almost entirely contains the characters in a confined space. One of my favorite instances of this is when Emmi and Ali are waiting for their order to come at the restaurant where “Hitler used to eat.”

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

After one of the most uncomfortable waiter-and-diner scenes imaginable, the camera framing moves from medium close-up to a long-shot. Emmi and Ali are very small, and they are dwarfed by the dining room’s structure. I see this as a way of expressing the insurmountable social circumstances that Emmi and Ali are going to face after their wedding. This is not going to be a socially sanctioned relationship. The subsequent scene reinforces this. Emmi calls her children to announce her matrimony, to which they react with utter disgust and contempt.

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul
Ali: Fear Eats the Soul

Do you recall any other scenes where the framing or staging expresses the difficulty of Emmi and Ali’s situation?

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The State

Today we saw two films: Daisies (1966) and The Red and the White (1967). As we discussed, in both films, the state becomes an important concept that we hadn’t yet seen in our films. More or less, the films of the European New Wave, such as Breathless, Cleo from 5 to 7, and Persona, and the American ones, particularly are more or less about personal experiences. But since the films in Eastern Europe were made under a starkly different political system than Sweden, France, and the United States.

Daises
Daises

One of the reasons you saw a film as daring as Daises in the 1960s was because of the lead up to the Prague Spring in 1968. There was a degree of liberalization happening in Czechoslovakia that made for a brief period of innovative filmmaking. However, as Thompson and Bordwell explain, the movement was short lived and many of the films made under that regime were banned after the Soviet suppression in 1968. Nevertheless, the state was a subject in each of these films. However, in no time do you see any explicit references to the state in the film, perhaps with the exception of the old men the sisters take to dinner.

As for The Red and the White, we are beginning to see some of the patterns of what makes the film great. You see the cruelty of the armies battling each other. You see the lack of focus on a single character. You see the anticipation of brutality in each scene, as it unfolds and then we pass on to another. And, of course, you see the camera function as an witness to all of the battle between an amalgam of people fighting in the Russian Civil War.

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The State

Today we saw two films: Daisies (1966) and The Red and the White (1967). As we discussed, in both films, the state becomes an important concept that we hadn’t yet seen in our films. More or less, the films of the European New Wave, such as Breathless, Cleo from 5 to 7, and Persona, and the American ones, particularly are more or less about personal experiences. But since the films in Eastern Europe were made under a starkly different political system than Sweden, France, and the United States.

Daises
Daises

One of the reasons you saw a film as daring as Daises in the 1960s was because of the lead up to the Prague Spring in 1968. There was a degree of liberalization happening in Czechoslovakia that made for a brief period of innovative filmmaking. However, as Thompson and Bordwell explain, the movement was short lived and many of the films made under that regime were banned after the Soviet suppression in 1968. Nevertheless, the state was a subject in each of these films. However, in no time do you see any explicit references to the state in the film, perhaps with the exception of the old men the sisters take to dinner.

As for The Red and the White, we are beginning to see some of the patterns of what makes the film great. You see the cruelty of the armies battling each other. You see the lack of focus on a single character. You see the anticipation of brutality in each scene, as it unfolds and then we pass on to another. And, of course, you see the camera function as an witness to all of the battle between an amalgam of people fighting in the Russian Civil War.

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Virginia Woolf forces Hollywood to Grow Up

As we saw this week in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Mike Nichols, 1966), Hollywood began to accept films that took greater risks in favor of the expensive epics it was releasing in the 1960s. As we discussed in class, with the explosive popularity of television in the 1950s, the roadshow film was Hollywood’s most profitable. Thompson and Bordwell note that almost all films released in the 1960s earned less than a million dollars at the box office[1].

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf provided Hollywood that opportunity. It was based on a respected Edward Albee play that opened in 1963. It also drew great criticism from the same Catholic establishment that had pushed for the Production Code thirty years later. Lastly, it also gave Hollywood the opportunity to release films in a different ways.

Many in Hollywood anticipated that the film would For months before its release in Los Angeles and New York in June 1966. Critics were worried that the language in the film would be too much for movie audiences. However the language did not seem to offend many who saw the film in its early days. One fifteen year-old patron, who attended with his mother, quipped about the language, "I’ve heard worse," but another patron did take note of "all that drinking, from the very beginning to the very end"[2].

Since the beginning of film exhibition in the United States, film censorship was an all or nothing proposition. Either a film was released to all audiences or it was available to no one. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was unique in that it was released for "Mature Audiences" only. In fact, Warner Brothers had added a clause in its contract with exhibitors that it would not admit children under 18 without a parent.[3].

Hollywood was undergoing a once-in-a-generation change at the time. The Production Code had been one of the most stubborn institutions of the American Film Industry. Former MPAA chief, Eric Johnson, had argued that the Code was necessary to avoid states and localities instituting their own censorship boards. However, the new MPAA head Jack Valenti had taken a different view than his predecessor. He saw the Code as an impediment to the industry’s survival. This was a conflict between old and new. In the film industry trade Moving Picture Daily, Martin Quigley Jr. declared the "Code is dead."[2]. It remains one of the great Oedipal ironies in film history as it was his father, Martin Quigley, who co-author the original Code in 1930.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf helped inaugurate a new era in film history. New York Times film reporter and critic Vincent Canby asked, "how can producers make admittedly adult films without alienating a mass audience that includes children?"[4]. Hollywood’s answer would be to segment its mass audience. The growth of television and the changing American culture forced many media industries to segment their audiences as a way to survive in the new 1960s media landscape. Radio did so by creating music formats, and magazines did so by specializing instead of reaching a mass audience, such as Time and the Saturday Evening Post once did. Hollywood segmented its audience by age, and by doing so, a new sophisticated cinema would emerge in the United States.


  1. Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2010.  ↩

  2. Canby, Vincent. “Public Not Afraid of Big Bad ‘Woolf’.” New York Times, June 25, 1966.  ↩

  3. “‘Virginia Woolf’ to Be Shown As a ‘For Adults Only’ Film.” New York Times, May 26, 1966.  ↩

  4. Canby, Vincent. “Valenti Is Facing First Film Crisis.” New York Times, May 28, 1966.  ↩

Works Cited

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Virginia Woolf forces Hollywood to Grow Up

As we saw this week in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf (Mike Nichols, 1966), Hollywood began to accept films that took greater risks in favor of the expensive epics it was releasing in the 1960s. As we discussed in class, with the explosive popularity of television in the 1950s, the roadshow film was Hollywood’s most profitable. Thompson and Bordwell note that almost all films released in the 1960s earned less than a million dollars at the box office[1].

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf provided Hollywood that opportunity. It was based on a respected Edward Albee play that opened in 1963. It also drew great criticism from the same Catholic establishment that had pushed for the Production Code thirty years later. Lastly, it also gave Hollywood the opportunity to release films in a different ways.

Many in Hollywood anticipated that the film would For months before its release in Los Angeles and New York in June 1966. Critics were worried that the language in the film would be too much for movie audiences. However the language did not seem to offend many who saw the film in its early days. One fifteen year-old patron, who attended with his mother, quipped about the language, "I’ve heard worse," but another patron did take note of "all that drinking, from the very beginning to the very end"[2].

Since the beginning of film exhibition in the United States, film censorship was an all or nothing proposition. Either a film was released to all audiences or it was available to no one. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf was unique in that it was released for "Mature Audiences" only. In fact, Warner Brothers had added a clause in its contract with exhibitors that it would not admit children under 18 without a parent.[3].

Hollywood was undergoing a once-in-a-generation change at the time. The Production Code had been one of the most stubborn institutions of the American Film Industry. Former MPAA chief, Eric Johnson, had argued that the Code was necessary to avoid states and localities instituting their own censorship boards. However, the new MPAA head Jack Valenti had taken a different view than his predecessor. He saw the Code as an impediment to the industry’s survival. This was a conflict between old and new. In the film industry trade Moving Picture Daily, Martin Quigley Jr. declared the "Code is dead."[2]. It remains one of the great Oedipal ironies in film history as it was his father, Martin Quigley, who co-author the original Code in 1930.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf helped inaugurate a new era in film history. New York Times film reporter and critic Vincent Canby asked, "how can producers make admittedly adult films without alienating a mass audience that includes children?"[4]. Hollywood’s answer would be to segment its mass audience. The growth of television and the changing American culture forced many media industries to segment their audiences as a way to survive in the new 1960s media landscape. Radio did so by creating music formats, and magazines did so by specializing instead of reaching a mass audience, such as Time and the Saturday Evening Post once did. Hollywood segmented its audience by age, and by doing so, a new sophisticated cinema would emerge in the United States.


  1. Thompson, Kristin, and David Bordwell. Film History: An Introduction. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2010.  ↩

  2. Canby, Vincent. “Public Not Afraid of Big Bad ‘Woolf’.” New York Times, June 25, 1966.  ↩

  3. “‘Virginia Woolf’ to Be Shown As a ‘For Adults Only’ Film.” New York Times, May 26, 1966.  ↩

  4. Canby, Vincent. “Valenti Is Facing First Film Crisis.” New York Times, May 28, 1966.  ↩

Works Cited

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Wordless Secrets in Persona

Gee, how did Swedish films ever get a reputation for being more sexually permissive than, say, American films?

After class, two students brought up two good points about Persona.

  1. The David Cronenberg film Spider (2002) has a similar narrative device of a character with a split personality. Watch it, although I might have just spoiled it for you. Sorry.
  2. Here’s the trailer for the film.

    On this note, I wanted to consider what the film would have been like had it been done in a more conventional manner. For example, what if we saw the woman becoming pregnant and then deciding to either abort the child or to have it and to hate it? Would you show scenes of a doctor’s office, or a string of scenes between the mother and son? I don’t see this having the same impact as what Bergman produced. Instead, we see the internal conflict playing out in a very externalized way.

  3. There were several scenes that suggested that the two women were going to become romantically involved. There were many moments where the women embrace, but as you noticed, they never actually kiss or otherwise consummate their affection for each other.
  4. This might suggest that the two women are inextricably close, and in fact they are as close as any two persons can become. This is an early hint that they are in fact connected. What do you think?

Persona

Finally, all those references to the materiality of the film medium are there to remind us that we are watching a film. Bergman is using film to explore human psychology in a way that language is incapable of doing. That’s perhaps why we understand, on a visceral level, what the film is trying to explore, but we can’t quite put into words. Recall the Bergman quote I read before we screened the film.

wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover

I hope you see how the new waves were pushing the limits of what film could do and what it can explore. Persona makes it seem like no topic is impossible.

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Welcome to History of Cinema III

In today’s class, I introduced the scope of the class, some of the important resources, and the five keys to succeeding in this class.

The scope of the class involves examining:

  1. Emerging cinemas since the 1960s and 1970s.

  2. New Waves and National cinemas and their historical contexts

  3. The emergence of global cinema

The primary location for all course resources is the course website. Please bookmark this site and visit it frequently.

Lastly, your success in this class will depend on five requirements.

  1. Attendance and attention to each class lecture.

  2. Viewing all of the in-class and outside screenings.

  3. Completing all of the readings in the textbook and on the ERes site.

  4. Completing each assignment on time.

  5. Excellent performance on both exams.

You cannot do well in this class without diligent attention to all five.

Aside from this administrivia, I look forward to a great semester. Welcome!

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History for Cinema III is Back for Spring 2012

Pay no attention to the older entries on this course blog. This course blog will be relauching for the spring 2012 semester. Rather than being a blog for students to write film screening responses, this blog will instead feature analyses of films and elaborating on points covered in our weekly lectures.

In the meantime, you should review the course syllabus for spring 2012 and log in to our Blackboard site.

Check back after January 31, when I will begin posting relevant course materials.

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Calendar: Depressing Distance Markers

Time really freaks me out. I can’t even begin to comprehend it, yet it governs almost every (if not every) aspect of my life as a human being participating daily in civilization. Obviously, as this is late, I’m horrible at managing time. I sleep odd hours, eat intermittently, am often late to work, and stay out through all hours of the night. Most of this can be attributed to the fact that I’m 21 and have a lot of friends, but when I sit down and think introspectively, as Calendar made me do, I realize that time blows my mind. Hours pass and sometimes feel like minutes, sometimes like an eternity. Memories of years ago feel as close as yesterday, but the future seems like a different lifetime. I’ve said before in a state of melancholy that the days of the week are just depressing distance markers which I don’t really pay much mind to, but really who can keep track of days without the calendar we accept as a “truth” from birth? Bedtime, nap time, lunch time, breakfast time, bath time, time-out, time to open presents, time to get on the bus… Learned from childhood, time punctuates our tumbling through the ebb and flow of life. Calendar forced me to look harshly at how I mark time, and I realized that I don’t consciously. The use of different film effects (handheld camera as opposed to a steady shot indoors, etc) helps to mark different times in the film, as well as photographs on a calendar. I feel as if the different mediums help to distinguish between different eras well, as they’re supposed to. The time marker of when our main character pours his date another glass of wine as her queue to get up and make a phone call is also interesting because it’s the main character controlling lengths of time actively. I feel like this ties in closely with memory as discussed in Sans Soliel in that time is just a concept as is memory. Time juxtaposes memory alongside “progression” or “change” that we define and measure in “time”. To put memory along a linear path such as time is interesting because I guess it’s our only way of distinguishing between what is happening and what has happened. But if you consider a text such as the Vonnegut novel, Slaughterhouse-Five, in which time is analytically analyzed as something manmade, it’s weird to consider what if memories are only as close as they feel? My childhood memories occasionally feel like just yesterday and are powerful enough to elicit the same feelings I felt when I was living those moments, so why is it that time attempts to put such a distance between me and them? I think the director hits this spot on when the main character is reminiscing and demonstrates that he feels strongly about his past, and torn from it by the passing of time.

Works Cited (consulted, but not enough room to directly refer to without going into excessive detail)

Robinson, Anne. “Travelling eye: the elusive digital frame and the elasticity of time in art.” Journal of Media Practice 11.3 (2010): 215-229. Communication & Mass Media Complete. EBSCO. Web. 9 May 2011.

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Response to Calandar

The last movie that was screened in class was Calendar by Atom Egoyan.  This film is about a photographer and his wife that travel to Armenia to take pictures of landmarks to be used in a calendar. While the two are working on their pictures for this calendar their driver and the photographer’s wife begin to build a relationship with one another.  The photographer notices this and begins to become jealous of their driver.  Later in the film we see that the photographer and his wife have separated because of the new love between the driver and the photographer’s wife.   I enjoyed the use of flash forwards.  In these flash forward the same date would occur over and over, but with different women.  I think that this is a way of saying that you cannot change what has been done, and I find that to be a very powerful message.

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Post # 4 Calendar

The film Calendar was a lovely little drama film directed by Atom Egoyan in 1993. The story is about a photographer who is taking pictures of the Armenian landscape for a calendar. He is accompanied by his wife, who is interested in their driver for the journey. As the film progresses, the viewer learns that she continues to grow more and more distant from her husband. In response to this, the photographer returns home after the assignment to his domecile in Toronto. Upon arriving there, lonely and heartbroken, he decides to invite over women to try to find another woman to love. What i enjoyed about this movie is that I had to be intuitive and keep and clear mind. Eyogan’s use of flash-forwards kept me guessing, and questioning my own mind. I also enjoyed how he fell in love with the woman who was most like his wife. I felt the true human emotion of love, and how he could not let go of his wife. This was one of the truest and most genuine emotions ever for me to ever witness.

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Calendar (1993)

Calendar reflects the structure of time and memory coming full circle in the present. Unaware that the dates throughout the film were staged, I assumed the main character to be a lost soul consistently making the same mistake, failing or unwilling to change. My assumption does in fact connect to the film’s discourse of a failed marriage as the main character fails to realize (his) mistakes, which he ultimately reminisces and re-enacts for the opportunity to make things right, which they will never be. Calendar is the perfect example of how many people go through experiences and later reflect on their choices and actions and the loss they feel they could have prevented. The staged dates were somewhat humorous but also very pathetic and I sympathized with the male character because no matter how many dates he re-enacted, whatever he was trying to resurrect would never come to life again. My interpretation of the film is that time and the memories that occur throughout its sphere happen in the moment and therefore become permanent stamps that we cannot relive, only reflect.

Nelson, Tollof. "Passing Time in Intercultural Cinema: The Exilic Experience of the Time-Passer in
     Atom Egoyan;s Calendar (1993)." SubStance 34.106 (2005): 129-144. JSTOR. Web. 5 May 2011.
     <http://www.jstor.org/stable/3685623>.
Posted in Film Response 05/02 | Comments Off on Calendar (1993)

Calendar

Simliar to Sans Soleil, the concept of memories seems to come up when talking about Calendar.  While not nearly as frustrating or confusing as that film, Calendar is neverthless an ambiguous and somewhat hard to follow movie.  It is a movie whose basic concept is fleshed out by its style and camerawork, rather than its dialogue and narrative structure.  It focuses on a marriage that we eventually learn is a failed relationship between this couple who are on a trip in Armenia. This is something that slowly dawns on the audience as it is shown through memories.  I think what the movie is trying to say is that when things happen in life, we dont intially understand them but until later in life when we search through our memory for an answer and things seem more clear.  It’s almost like the expression, “everything is 20/20 in hindsight.”

“Atom Egoyan.” Strictly Film School. Acquarello, 2004. Web. 04 May 2011. <http://www.filmref.com/directors/dirpages/egoyan.html#calendar>.
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Egoyan’s Calendar

In Atom Egoyan’s 1993 film Calendar, we see this photographer who keeps having reoccurring memories of a trip to Armenia with his wife. We find out through these memories and clues in the present that their marriage had failed and the scenes of them in Armenia give us some first hand looks into how and why it failed. It was funny watching the first few date scenes but after a while there are clues that show that these “dates” were all staged by him and we feel for him more. We see that losing his wife has caused him to go this far for company and its not very funny anymore but it’s more of a sad thing to watch.

We also hear about him having a child with his ex wife but we never actually see this child. He’s really lost his whole family and life and it seemed like going through the memories of being in Armenia was his way of trying to figure out what went wrong and what he could’ve done differently. We see flashbacks of Armenia constantly throughout the movie which could’ve been a way of showing how that trip and his wife were consuming all his thoughts because he knew in there somewhere was when things started going wrong for his marriage.

Nelson, Tollof. “Passing Time in Intercultural Cinema:.” Muse. Substance, 2005. Web. 3 May 2011.

<http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/substance/v034/34.1nelson.html>.

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