Cult. Change & Comm Tech Essay 1: Cinema/Film
Many young people today are learning about their world through electronic means – radio, television, video movies, computer games, virtual reality games and the Internet. In particular the visual environment of the electronic media is greatly attracting the print media in all its forms. How many children read comic books these days? Most would rather watch cartoons, or play arcade games or hand-held video games. We will be focusing on cinema and how it has culturally played a role in society.
The 1990s have been a significant time for film and video. Nineteen ninety-five was the one-hundredth birthday of the movies (Film theory and criticism, 1985). In 1996 the movie Independence Day became the fastest and largest grossing movie of all time, replacing Jurassic Park (1994) at the top of the list (Film theory and criticism, 1985). Video stores have proved that they are here to stay, so much so that now all feature films are made in such a way that they can be easily adapted to both video and television.
Films and videos are rarely a simple record of what the camera sees. The reaction of audiences may vary according to what part of the world they are from, together with their customs and beliefs, when and where the film was made and set, and the ability of the film makers to lead the audience to a “willing suspension of disbelief” (Films in our lives, 1953) so that when the audience watch the film they are to think that what they are watching is actually happening rather than being played out by actors. Films tell stories about people – the way they live, behave, think, feel and interact. They show us in pictures, actions, words and sound what the world is like, was like, or might be like – or what the director’s particular view of the world might be. The film and video cameras provide us with a lens to look more closely at ourselves and our world (Films in our lives, 1953).
Some clear examples of this is, shortly before the film Fatal Attraction appeared in 1987, the AIDS epidemic had led to mass media warnings about the dangers of unprotected sex (Readings, Cinema). In the 1980s, growing numbers of American men were feeling threatened by successful, financially independent, career-minded, sexually active single women. That is why when you see the film Fatal Attraction, the film shows horrible consequences after a married man has unprotected sex with a single career woman and the movie’s career woman is also shown unsympathetically (Readings, Cinema). It is now understood how societal attitudes at the time of a film’s making influenced its content.
The World of Apu, a 1958 film from India shows two young married couples that are clearly in love but they never kiss. Censorship regulations in India at the time prohibited kissing, so they had to show affection by other means (Readings, Cinema)
Audiences sometimes take the view that they are watching simply to be entertained. Many children in particular take this approach with film, video and TV. Their approach is largely a passive one where the viewer does not think about, and is not critical of, what is being viewed. Once viewers understand that filmmakers work under forces that influence the shape and content of the finished films, viewers are less likely to misjudge a film for not exploring a political, religious, or sexual subject in greater depth when that may not have been an option (Understanding Movies, 1976). Viewers who know when and where a film was made and under what conditions are also more likely to notice when filmmakers follow conventions and when they depart from them. They are more likely to understand how the film’s budget may leave out certain options and how the available filmmaking technology and the audio and visual presentations of competing media and electronic entertainment may influence the film (Understanding Movies, 1976).
Novels and other print forms of narrative are usually the work of a single author, and are then read by an individual, however films are the result of the work of many people with different ideas and philosophies, and the films are viewed by many people at the same time. This ability to impact quickly on a large number of people is a feature of the media in general. In film the filmmakers strive to create the right mood and setting to allow the audience to identify with the characters and their situations. If this is achieved then the filmmakers can influence out thoughts and ideas through the construction of the film. Some filmmakers target films at particular audiences but they can never be certain about the reaction to their film because different audiences expect and enjoy different things.
Crocodile Dundee, an Australian movie made in 1986 and starring Paul Hogan, deliberately targeted both the American and Australian markets (Reading and viewing film, 1998). The movie opens with a beautiful American reporter, Sue Charlton (played by Linda Koslowski), talking on the phone in the foreground, with the magnificent Sydney Harbour and Sydney Harbour Bridge in the background. The first half of the movie follows Sue Charlton in the Australian bush where she meets Michael J. “Crocodile” Dundee (Paul Hogan), and the second part of the movie follows the “uncultured” Australian as he survives in the biggest city of modern America, New York (Reading and viewing film, 1998)
The movie was deliberately made to target the Australian market, with Paul Hogan’s character and wit making fun of a wide range of obviously identifiable Australian characters and trends, while at the same time the film targets the American market with an appeal to Americans’ expansiveness, respect for wealth and sense of self-importance. Dundee also makes fun of American stereotypes, enhancing the film’s appeal for Australian audiences.
Other targeted audiences fall into definite categories. In recent years we have seen the re-emergence of the “teen pic”. Films about teenagers and young adolescents placed in dangerous or unusual circumstances who fight against huge odds and succeed in becoming mature people as a result of the unplanned journey of self discovery (Reading the screen, 1984). In films like Encino Man, Romeo and Juliet, Sister Act 2, The Big Steal, The Delinquents, Muriel’s Wedding and Black Rock, the central characters are easily identifiable teenagers facing issues with which modern-day teenagers can sympathise – establishing a personal identity, authority, love, under-age drinking, teenage sex and pregnancy, abortion, violence, the role and breakdown of the family, and so on (Reading the screen, 1984)
Every film reflects a particular way of looking at the world and either supports, questions or criticises a particular way of behaving. These values are best revealed by a careful examination of the themes of the movie and how they are expressed through the words and deeds of the characters or the symbols associated with them (Films in our lives, 1953).
For example, the movies of Clint Eastwood, such as Dirty Harry or Unforgiven, often question the role of violence in protecting or threatening society. In the Dirty Harry series the main character Harry Callaghan uses a .44 Magnum revolver (the most powerful handgun in the world) to symbolise violence and its effects on society (Film theory and criticism, 1985).
War movies often use the same setting to make different points about right and wrong, or the individual’s place in, and responsibility to, society. For example, Schindler’s List examines the difference two men make to a whole cultural group in a particular time (Film theory and criticism, 1985).
During the American involvement in Vietnam and shortly afterward, there were few American movies about the war. Those that were made, such as the Green Berets (1968) with John Wayne, supported American involvement (Readings, Cinema). After American military involvement finally ended in 1972, some of the war’s pain began to recede into the dimness of time and American public opinion increasingly questioned the wisdom of U.S involvement (Readings, Cinema). Then filmmakers with doubts about the war began to make movies critical of it. Born on the Fourth of July (1989) is a film that criticizes the American war effort and questions the gap between patriotism and justice, where Tom Cruise’s character provides a stunning contrast to John Wayne’s lead in the Green Berets. These films could not have been made during or immediately after the war. They would have been considered unpatriotic during the war and too painful to watch and therefore too uncommercial shortly after it (Reading and viewing film, 1998).
In every era, political climate influences the choice and depiction of subjects. Another example is seen during the cold war period, from the late 1940s to the early 1980s. Such American movies as Red Dawn (1984), shows Soviets and Cubans invading a small Colorado town, and Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) portray Soviets as untrustworthy and treacherous. Rocky IV (1985) also reflects the political mood through two boxing matches between representatives of the Soviet Union and the United States, and it’s not surprising which political system the movie champions (Readers, Cinema). All these movies exalt Americans and encourage nationalism while demeaning the Soviet system. In contrast, since the increased cooperation between Russia and the United States in the 1990s, few such anti-Russian American movies have been made (Readers, Cinema).
In conclusion, it is the values that exist within the movies, and the values held by the characters in the movies, whom we see as heroes and villains that help us to question our own motives and actions. All films try to influence our thinking and behaviour in some way by presenting us with views or alternatives to certain ways of behaving. It is up to us to recognise, reflect and act upon those views rather than be influenced mindlessly. At the same time we need to be aware that film may reflect or shape values and that values change over time.
1.Rosenthal, Newman Hirsch, 1953. Films in our lives, Melbourne, Cheshire.
2.Marshall Cohen, 1985. Film theory and criticism, New York, Oxford University Press.
3.John Izod, 1984. Reading the screen, Harlow, Longman York.
4.Louis D. Giannetti, 1976. Understand Movies, Englewood Cliff, Prentice Hall.
5.Graham Eather, 1998. Reading and viewing film and video texts, Reed International Books, Port Melbourne, Australia.
6.Cultural Change & Communication Technologies, 2000. Cinema, Readings.