Thursday, January 30, 2014

A Closer Look: Midnight Cowboy (1969)

       Midnight Cowboy, set in New York, depicts the journey of one young man searching for his place in the big city. New York is depicted as a city in which sex is open and liberated, and drugs and petty crime are rampant. Joe, the main character, is a young man who leaves Texas in search of a better life, utilizing what he feels he is best at, sex. Throughout the film flashbacks help the viewer contrast rural and urban spaces. In the rural spaces we see sex being repressed and punished, where as in the city it is liberated. Lastly in Mennel’s chapter, The City as a Queer Playground, she points out the homophobic undertones of the film.
            In Midnight Cowboy, New York is depicted as a city in which sex is very open and plays a large part in the culture of the city. Throughout the film we see many women who take advantage of Joe. Joe is expecting to come to New York and get paid to have sex. However he is very unsuccessful in doing this, the first women he has sex with starts to cry when Joe asks for money, leaving him exploited. In addition, the first thing the viewer hears on the radio when Joe enters New York is a group of women discussing their sexual preferences. This again paints New York as a very sexualized place.
            The contrast between rural and urban spaces comes in the form of flashbacks, leading viewers to draw conclusions about how each society handles sex. Throughout the film, Joe has flashbacks to his time in Texas. The flashbacks include what seems like his girlfriend being gang-raped as Joe is forced to watch, she is then sent to a mental institution. This is contrasted with Joe’s current living situation in New York in which sex is not a big deal, simply a means of pleasure for the women. This may be why Joe chooses to leave Texas, not wanting to be in a place that is so restrictive on what he feels he is best at. Joe marginalizes himself in an attempt to fit in with new lifestyle of New York. In one of the first shots of New York, Joe is walking around in a crowd. Dressed like a cowboy, surrounded by sleek looking New-Yorkers, he looks lost and out of place, this shot does a great job of contrasting an average looking rural male and the hustle and bustle of a modern day city.

            In Mennel’s chapter, The City as a Queer Playground, she discusses the homophobic undertones of the film. Mennel talks about the relationship between Rizzo and Joe. Mennel discusses how many of the characters reference Rizzo and Joe as being gay together. However Rizzo constantly uses offensive and homophobic words in order to distance himself from this notion. Many of the films made at this time had similar homophobic undertones.

A Closer Look: Cloverfield (2008)

            Cloverfield follows a group of friends as they fight for their lives while an unearthly creature attacks New York. Cloverfield is a disaster movie, set in a post 9/11 society. In his novel, Disaster Movies: The Cinema of Catastrophe, Stephen Keane discusses the elements common to the disaster film genre. One of the main elements he discusses is the idea of disaster films addressing issues of society at the time, also called zeitgeist. Cloverfield attempts to do this, dealing with an attack on New York, post 9/11.
            Cloverfield is an entertaining ride, however at times it lacked authenticity, leading to a somewhat overwhelming, yet intriguing experience. The use of the handheld camera puts the viewer right in the action, allowing them to experience the situation simultaneously with the characters. While this is very entertaining, at times, the constant swaying and shaking of the handheld camera was taxing on ones body. The plot has some rather obvious holes, including the survival of the camera and longevity of the characters, surviving everything from stab wounds to helicopter crashes. However the film did not lack excitement, with constant action, special effects and quick cuts, the film kept viewers guessing and intrigued. Overall the special effects along with the use of the handheld camera provided for a fast-paced, enjoyable viewing experience.

Stephen Keane discusses how disaster films address the climate of society at the time. Cloverfield was released in 2008, the climate of the United States, post 9/11 could be described as paranoid and somewhat uptight. Keane calls this idea zeitgeist. Zeitgeist is the idea of art reflecting the time of the culture in which it was produced. Throughout Cloverfield many similarities can be seen between the shots in the film and some of the images during that horrific day in 2001. One example is the shot of smoke rising from skyscrapers in the distance at the beginning of the film. Another is when Beth’s apartment building leans against an adjacent skyscraper. Cloverfield does a good job of relaying the paranoia of society at the time, in the film, when the attacks first occur citizens yell, claiming it was a terrorist attack before anyone knew what was truly going on.
Keane also discusses other disaster movies, including Volcano, Independence Day, and Armageddon. Cloverfield is most similar to Independence Day, in that they both deal with Earth’s interaction with unfriendly Aliens. Keane suggests that Independence Day does not follow the traditional disaster movie formula, as only the first third of the film deals with the actual disaster. Keane argues that the final two thirds of the film follow a science-fiction plot formula. It is similar to Cloverfield in its addressing of the climate of society, Keane says that in light of the 1995 Oklahoma City Bombing, Independence day elicited somewhat of a strange reaction due to its violent nature combined with its proximity to the actual event. This may be why Cloverfield was delayed until about 7 years after 9/11.


A Closer Look at: Lives of Others (2006)

The Lives of Others, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, highlights the struggles of life in Stasi-controlled, East Germany. The film focuses on a playwright’s attempt to create change, and the Stasi’s attempts to suppress such change. Donnersmarck highlights the internal, moral struggle caused by the external pressures of East German society.  Individuals were forced to find a balance between their personal lives and their relationship with the State. The Lives of Others highlights the consequences of this relationship being thrown out of balance.  Ultimately, Donnersmarck shows that personal relationships are more important to the well being of an individual.
In order to fully understand The Lives of Others, one must understand the situation in East Germany in 1984. East Germany was under a socialist regime, known as the GDR. This regime was controlled by a secret police, known as the Stasi. The Stasi controlled all aspects of life, from the food people ate, to the clothes they wore, to the entertainment they saw.
The first character introduced is Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler, he works for the Stasi and comes off as being extremely loyal to the State. He is given the task of watching Georg Dyrman, a popular playwright. His job is to make sure Dryman isn’t committing any crimes against the state. Dryman is loyal to the state until one of his friends, a fellow artist, commits suicide after being blacklisted. This drives Dryman to write an excerpt on how the GDR covers up the statistics on suicides, a clear violation of GDR law. Wiesler knows this yet does nothing to stop it. Eventually Wiesler’s superiors catch wind that Dryman is the author and use his girlfriend, Christa Maria Sieland, an actress, to turn on him. They go to Dryman’s house to retrieve evidence. As they enter the house, Christa Maria, overcome with guilt, runs in front of a car, committing suicide. However Wiesler had already hid the evidence. He is fired and Dryman goes free. Dryman, after the wall falls, finds out what Wiesler did for him and dedicates his new book to him.
Both Wiesler and Christa Maria struggle balancing personal relationships with their relationship to the State. Wiesler’s time spent observing Dryman’s relationship with Christa Maria leads to him turning his back on the State. Early in his life, Weisler made the choice to value the State above those close to him, every night he goes home, he is alone. He longs for the type of relationship that Dryman and Christa Maria have. This desire for human interaction leads to his corruption and causes him to betray the State, not reporting Dryman’s crimes.

Christa Maria does the opposite. She choses to turn on the man she loves, Dryman, in order to maintain a good relationship with the State and continue her acting career. However this proves deadly as she cannot take seeing her relationship with Dryman fall apart and Dryman go to jail. Christa Maria turning her back on Dryman, forgoing her personal relationship for the well being of the State, leads to her eventual suicide. Overall Donnersmarck shows that personal relationships are more crucial than the relationship one has with their governing body.

Director: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Writer: Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Stars: Ulrich Mühe, Martina Gedeck, Sebastian Koch