Final Paper: Harsh Realities of Ideologies

           The purpose of a film is not only to entertain the viewer, but also to inform him/her. Movies often incorporate views that are structured by the time period in which the narrative takes place. According to Maria Pramaggiore and Tom Wallis, authors of Film: A Critical Introduction, “these systems of beliefs, values and opinions, also known as ideologies, derive from deep-seated feelings about the world and about human society, and therefore, are not necessarily bound by the rules of logic” (310). Todd Haynes and Tate Taylor, directors of Far From Heaven and The Help respectively, undoubtedly integrate these principles into their films. Far From Heaven discloses the life of a typical housewife, Cathy Whittaker, who discovers that her husband, Frank, is homosexual, while she also develops feelings for an African American man, Raymond Deagan. The Help, on the other hand, follows a newly educated author, Eugenia ‘Skeeter’ Phelan on her journey to write from the point of the maids, who are in charge of raising white children. Both movies validate similar racial and gender ideologies of the 1950’s and sixties that shape each of the plots.

            Racism plays a tremendous role in both films. In each movie, the racial ideology was that white people were superior to black people. First, in Far From Heaven, Cathy faces scrutiny from her family, friends, and community for interacting with Raymond. When rumors spread about the two spending time together, Eleanor Fine, Cathy’s best friend, refuses to even engage in a conversation with her. Even Frank, who has to hide his homosexuality from the public, judges Cathy for interacting with a black man. Eventually, Raymond’s daughter pays the price when a few white neighborhood boys attack her because they do not approve of her father’s relations with a white woman. Raymond declares to Cathy, “I’ve learned my lesson about mixing in other worlds. I’ve seen the sparks fly. All kinds.” Clearly, interracial affiliations were not acceptable during the fifties, and anyone who was involved in such relationship would be punished. The black population was constantly belittled and treated unfairly. This same racism occurs in The Help. In fact, it acts as the foundation of the entire movie. The New York Times states that this film is, “about a vision of a divided America that is consistently insulting and sometimes even terrifying” (Dargis). The film takes place during the civil rights movement, as black people started to gain liberties. Each maid involved with helping Skeeter write her book tells of the horrendous stories that come from working for white families. For example, white employer Hilly Holbrook starts a movement to build outdoor bathrooms for the black maids because, “they carry different diseases.” People often claimed these ridiculous ideas to be true due to their extreme racist beliefs. The Caucasian population was able to force black people off the bus, brutalize them, talk down to them, and limit their job opportunities because they were “superior”. In both films, the black women were working maids. They answered to the white owners of the houses and raised their children for them. There were paid below minimum wage and received no benefits. Clearly, in both movies, the black population was taken advantage of due to the ignorance of the white characters, which mimicked the opinions of many during the fifties and sixties. Another common ideology is the difference in gender roles featured in both films.

            The role of women in Far From Heaven and The Help mirrors that of the time period. The white male suppressed women, similar to the dominance of Caucasians over African Americans. Typical roles for women included cooking and cleaning – if not completed by a maid -taking care of the children, planning fundraisers, and looking pretty at all times. In Far From Heaven, Cathy chooses to stay with Frank, even after seeing him with a man, because of his oppression. Frank also asserts his dominance over Cathy when he strikes her, subsequent to a failed attempt to be intimate with his wife. Anthony Oliver Scott of The New York Times pronounces that, “Frank’s misery transmutes, all too easily, into cruelty directed at his wife” (A 50’s Picket Fence Around Love). Basically, he acts out towards Cathy due to his anger and inability to accept his sexuality. Even after this event, Cathy has to cover the bruise to keep up with her “perfect” appearance as a mother and housewife. Movie critic Roger Ebert agrees that Far From Heaven confirms the conventional values of the time when he says, “[It is] a movie that knows exactly what mainstream values were in 1957.” On the other hand, Skeeter, in The Help, is not the typical girl of her time period. Her role challenges that of women in the sixties. First, she went to school with hopes of becoming a journalist. Careers that were available to women during the sixties included nursing, reception, teaching, and writing. Although not many ventured out into the working world, as seen through Skeeter’s group of girl friends, she still wanted to make something of herself. Second, Skeeter was not interested in the idea of marriage, as she explained to her dumbfounded mother. Despite society’s expectations at the time for a female to marry, Skeeter was more interested in working on her book. In time, Skeeter starts to date Stuart Whitworth, who does not approve of her book and breaks off the relationship because of her association with the black maids. Another character that feels the dominance of her male counterpart is Minnie. After she bakes a pie for her former employee, Hilly, filled with human feces, her husband is outraged and beats her. Domestic abuse was common due to the view that women were inferior. Overall, these female characters are forced to live in a male dominant world, where they must answer strictly to the demands of the men. Skeeter differs from Cathy however because she does not succumb to the pressures of society.

            Social Ideologies can be verified or challenged, as seen in Far From Heaven and The Help. Racism is a huge factor in developing the plot for both films. White supremacy over the black population is clearly depicted through the scrutiny that Cathy and Raymond’s friendship faced and also within the horrible treatment of black maids during the sixties. Black men and women faced horrible beatings, assassinations for involvement with the civil rights movement, and extreme accusations. Aside from racism, all women during the civil rights era were plagued with male dominance. Women were only granted the chance to work certain jobs, and carry out what their husbands entailed on a daily basis. It was also common during the time period for husbands to abuse their wives. While the vulnerable character of Cathy Whittaker confirmed these gender roles in Far From Heaven, The Help tested them with its character of Skeeter, who preferred to do and say what pleased her. Both films mainly established the social ideologies that came about during the fifties and sixties. Exploring the mainstreams of the time makes for a dramatic film, and reveals the harsh realities of our nation’s past.

 

Work Cited

Dargis, Manohla. “‘The Maids’ Now Have Their Say.” The New York Times. 9 Aug.

            2011. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

Ebert, Roger. “Far from Heaven.” RogerEbert.com. 15 Nov. 2002. Web. 13 Dec.

            2013.

Pramaggiore, Maria, and Tom Wallis. “Film and Ideology.” Film: A Critical Introduction. 3rd ed.

            Boston: Pearson Allyn and Bacon, 2011. 310. Print.

Scott, Anthony O. “A 50’s Picket Fence Around Love.” The New York Times. The New

            York Times, 8 Nov. 2002. Web. 13 Dec. 2013.

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Chicago 10

In Chicago 10, the protesting Yippies were often viewed by the public as “messy”. Despite this opinion, they still received copious amounts of attention from the media. Throughout several occasions in the film, cameras could be seen crowding around the Yippies that were being indicted. The media definitely helped the group gain notoriety throughout the nation. Without airtime, I do not think the group would have been as well known to the public.

Chicago 10  is a postmodern documentary that depicts the viewpoint of the Yippies during their indictment. The unusualness of the film comes from the intertwining of real-life film and animation. Also, the film is biased because it takes a “side” on the issue at hand. By making the film from the perspectives of the defendants, it highlights the police brutality during the demonstrations, as well as the racism during the time. It also incorporates the humor of the defendants, and their unusual tactics.

Although I do not believe the animation was completely appropriate for the courtroom, it complimented the humor of the subjects in court. The Yippies often called the police “pigs” and had uncommon methods to handle confrontations. For example, when the police attempted to clear the Yippies from the park, many began throwing rocks at their vehicle. Another incident that established the men’s lack of seriousness occurred when Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin showed up to court in Judicial robes, clearly mocking the judge. During this scene, the animation was perfect for stressing the childishness of the men.

Experimental Films

In Meshes of the Afternoon, the female character falls asleep and dreams of herself walking into her house, chasing a person cloaked in a hood with a mirror for his/her face. The scene occurs several times, each time a she finds objects in different places. For example, the first time she enters her house, a knife is in a loaf of bread. The second time, the knife is on her stairs. Eventually, it leads to her death by her own hand. Although it may seem that this film is merely running through a scene over and over again, it is actually examining the subconscious of the human mind. In her dream state, the female lead character relives the dream, mimicking the mind’s conscious decision to re-evaluate situations “to death”. Humans have a tendency to do this, in turn “making something out of nothing”, or making a situation that means nothing into something significant.

Avant-garde films, “require a different set of skills for interpretation” according to our textbook. Meshes in the Afternoon, an avant-garde film, also calls for these skills. Being a surrealist film, the textbook also states that it, “rebells against narrative form.” Throughout the experimental film, only music is heard. Surrealist films have no common techniques, only the single common use of Surrealism throughout.

Due to the feminist theme throughout Meshes of the Afternoon, credit should be granted to Maya Deren. I strongly believe that if Alexander Hammid was the true genius behind the film, there would be no arguments about how the film presents feminist ideas. The main character lives in a male dominant world. The only way she sets herself free is through her own suicide. When the film is interpreted this way, I give Deren all the credit.

Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty portrayed torture reasonably. Realistically, it showed how gruesome the practice can be with its demonstration of water boarding and other tactics. It also revealed that sometimes, torture can be a means of gaining information. I do not think the film portrayed torture in a positive light in any way. It only demonstrated how it was used and the effects that came from its employment. 

A Film Auteur uses style and technique to take control of a film that’s based on a narrative or idea that they did not create. Kathryn Bigelow falls under this category due to her similar methods in her films. Despite her femininity, she is still able to display war realistically. Even though her main character, Maya, is a female, it does not take away from the meaning of war and the practices they used. She still successfully explores the horrors of the war on terror. She always displays these elements in other films. In particular, The Hurt Locker is another movie that follows a character through the challenges and findings of the War on Terror. It forces the viewer to decide how they feel on the issue.

In Zero Dark Thirty, the main character, Maya, displays no feminine qualities, negating the view that the film is Feminist. First, she does not emotional about the first torturing she witnesses by Dan. Most women would not be able to handle this savagery. Next, at no time during the film does Maya find a love interest, which is common for female characters. She is too involved in her work, and becomes obsessed with finding bin Laden. In no way does Maya act like an innocent, vulnerable girl. She has goals, and works extremely hard to achieve them without showing any ladylike characteristics.

 

Weekend

Weekend, directed by Jean-Luc Godard, often over exaggerates certain actions to highlight themes. The struggle of classes is a theme that comes up often. Corinne and Roland speed past a tractor accident where a farmer killed the driver of a nice car. The female passenger is yelling at the tractor driver who killed the “love of her life”. She says “It makes you sick that that we’ve got money and you haven’t… You’re pissed off because we fuck on the Riviera and you don’t… I bet you don’t even own [the tractor] and it belongs to one of those rotten unions or some fucking cooperative”. She acts as though the contrast between their social classes caused the accident. This mimics how the wealthy felt about the poor during the time period. Naively, they blamed the issues on the poor.

The Classical Style “exhibits four important traits: clarity, unity, goal-oriented characters, and closure” according to our textbook. This is typically viewed in Hollywood Films. Weekend fails to incorporate any of these elements. Although two main characters, Corinne and Roland, are present the entire movie, they do not have any goals. Most of the movie they are just driving around doing absurd things and finding themselves in absurd situations. The cause and effect of the film is not continuous. The moods of consecutive scenes contrast greatly and confuse the viewer about how they should feel so they do not feel truly drawn into the story. The visual techniques are awkward and do not enhance the storytelling. Instead, Weekend would fall under the category of “International Art Cinema”. The plot of the film is completely random and on several occasions Roland even announces that they are in a film.

Godard strategically employs sound in Weekend in awkward ways, like interrupting characters or not fitting the mood of a scene, which distances the viewer and forces them to think about the scene in a different way. The most prominent example is one of the first scenes, where Corinne is speaking to Roland about an orgy she took part in. The music grows louder and louder until you cannot hear Corinne talking anymore. This leaves the viewer to question what is going on. Even Corinne’s voice is monotone and unfitting for what she is describing. This is done on purpose to take away the erotic aspect.  Godard often likes to keep his viewers on their toes to make sure that they do not miss any major themes. Because sound plays a tremendous role in keeping with a certain emotion, he makes sure to utilize it in ways that do contrast with the mood.

Far From Heaven

In Far From Heaven, it is not hard to distinguish that the black race was looked down upon. For example, despite the obvious connection between Cathy Whitaker and Raymond Deagan, the entire town definitely does not approve of the “friendship”. Even Cathy’s best friend, Eleanor, is appalled that she would spend time with a black man, and refuses to speak with her about it. At the end of the film, Raymond himself even says, “I’ve learned my lesson about mixing the two worlds”. The two worlds in this film are strictly white and black. The white citizens in this film enjoy many luxuries, even having black people as their own maids. On the other hand, the black population faces scrutiny throughout the entire film from their so called “superiors”. Because of the relationship between Cathy and Raymond, three white boys end up attacking Raymond’s daughter. It is clear that the white people during this time thought highly of themselves compared to any other race, and would not allow for two races to mix.

Gender ideology is huge in Far From Heaven. The masculine role in the family is also the head of the family, no questions asked. This film makes that rule pretty clear. Cathy, a typical housewife of the time, spends most of her days cooking, cleaning, taking care of the children, and, the most important, satisfying her husband, Frank, with whatever pleases him. If Frank wants to spend another night at the office, he does without any objections from Cathy. The male figure was portrayed as smarter, more educated, and all around better, while the female figure was repressed to the house and always had to look the part. When Frank strikes Cathy, she cannot fight back. Instead, she chooses to let it go and cover the bruise with makeup. Even Eleanor cannot persuade her to tell of what is going on in the house. It is Frank’s home, therefore, Cathy must act perfect and pretty at all times. This theme of male supremacy is evidently shown throughout Far From Heaven.

Haynes utilizes mise-en-scene, through lighting, to depict Frank’s uneasiness with his sexual orientation and his growing distance from Cathy. The first time Frank is seen in a gay bar, the lighting is dark and mysterious. Obviously, he is just coming to grips with his sexuality, and still feels uneasy about it. The darkness in the room is edgy and leaves the viewer feeling anxious. Shadows are cast across Frank’s face, and clearly he is feeling guilty about being there. The growing strain in their relationship is obvious when Frank is unable to intimately perform. In that scene, the lighting is extremely dark,

Casablanca

From the beginning of Casablanca, Rick attempts to stay out of the politics of war. This independence mimics the United State’s attempt to stay neutral during WWII. Even Rick’s bar acts as a place of neutrality. His decision to intervene occurs when Ilsa, his love and the one that got away, asks Rick to aid her and her husband in fleeing the country. If Rick helps Ilsa, he is also helping her cause, which is the battle against the German Nazis. Because of his claimed neutrality, he battles with himself about whether intervening is a good idea. Eventually, he decides to help the couple, and even shoots a Gestapo officer. Like Rick, the United States eventually gets involved in the war due to Pearl Harbor.  Both parties prefer to remain impartial, but in the end decide to take action.

According to the textbook, “most filmgoers choose movies they would prefer to see without reading any reviews…because films can be categorized according to genre.” Most films that fall in the same category possess similar qualities, allowing audiences to vaguely know what they are about to see.  This quality is extremely important because viewers enter a film with certain expectations of certain genres. Casablanca is depicted as a romance, drama, and war movie. Moviegoers of this film anticipate that it will then include a love story that is intertwined with the harshness of war and a dramatic storyline. Without genre, people would have no clue about what they are paying to see.

Genre is exceptionally important to the viewer solely because they interpret films based on their expectations. After viewing films of the same genre, people use comparisons of films in the same category to decide how successful the film was in keeping with the theme. If a viewer enters a romance movie, they look forward to seeing a love story. Imagine going to a Romance film and seeing Western conventions on screen with no main love interests. Viewers would be outraged, and the film would most likely receive horrible ratings. Many people go to movies that their friends claim are excellent, therefore, if moviegoers are disappointed, they will let other moviegoers know. This makes genre extremely significant to viewers.