Contemporary Hollywood Cinema

E.T/Back To The Future


Week 5

E.T and Back to the Future are films synonymous with imagination and the glory of fantasy. Both films explore a regression into a childhood fantasy and place emphasis on nostalgia, separation and, fundamentally, destiny.

In E.T the relationship between the alien visitor and Elliot is a poignant crossing of barriers and evokes a deep sense of emotion and desire for tolerance from the empathetic audience. There exists a certain inside/outside distinction, literally between the two worlds/galaxies and species of the alien and the human, but also in relation to the complex relationship of mainstream society, and the friendship between a little boy and an alien he is fighting to send home. It affects on an unconscious and similarly even a pre-conscious level, and emotion becomes a qualified intensity. E.T and Back to the Future both display a profound difference between what is childlike, and childish. The role of the child in general is supreme in both films; Elliot get E.T home, and similarly, Marty has to get back-to-the-future, with each protagonist successfully accomplishing these feats despite their young ages and subsequent obstacles. 


Place and landscape are also very important aspects of these films; travel, and transportation from one world to another forms an underlying basis of the narrative structure, even though in E.T this is implied and in Back to the Future we actually see Marty McFly go back to the 1950’s. This obsessive cultural temporality is incredibly poignant; we see E.T’s fascination with the modern world, raiding the fridge and watching television, and similarly Marty’s relationship with the Hill Valley of his youth, and that of his parents. In this way, time is malleable and transformative, despite both protagonists hailing from different worlds in different times, they are able to form substantial relationships and connect to those around them. The paradox in these films is how they classify and deal with the concept of temporal fate and destiny; in class we talked about how E.T makes one nostalgic for a childhood they didn’t have, and in the same fashion Marty goes back to a childhood/teenage phase that in essence created him. What’s also interesting about the latter reference is that though Back to the Future portrays time/fate as a interchangeable sphere, it also shows the barrier of embodied sexuality of the human subconscious through the fabric of time-even though Marty subconsciously sexually desires his mother, he is quick to put his emotions in check. In the end, both films portray the subtleties of the organic childhood fantasy with a conviction that urges the audience to re-assess their own childhood, and childhood fantasies.



Heaven’s Gate


Week 4

Heaven’s Gate is an interesting film to say the least, for a number of reasons. This film differs greatly from the plethora of other 70’s auteur films we have showcased. Myth paradoxically becomes reality, and the cinematic experience is challenged by the spatial temporality of the pace of the film, and consequently its ability to connect and establish relationships with the characters within.

This film is laden with stunningly beautiful cinematography, but this emphasis on the visual has the affect of transforming the narrative into a set of tropes…the over-extended scenes are worthwhile in terms of their visual content and composition (for example the Harvard square scene) but fail to add anything more. The length of such scenes consequently alienate the audience because there is an inability to connect to the characters or the narrative. One could liken these cinematographic traits and shots to the stylistic direction of Terrence Malick, but unlike Malick, the length and style does not aid, but rather it detracts from the film as a whole. In Heaven’s Gate both the visual and the narrative structure of the plot can be separated into the foreground and background of the character’s emotions; in reference to Robin Wood’s analytical passage in ‘Hollywood from Vietnam to Reagan…and Beyond’ it is like ‘watching a painter create a large fresco..the fresco, if the wall was extended could theoretically continue indefinitely.’ In this way, Heaven’s Gate challenges spatial temporality, as every moment within the film reverberates, especially in regards to the politics and myths of the American West. This film allows for conceptual expectations, but does not fully satisfy the criteria to do so, as the diagetic temporality  is paradoxically very linear. In the end, the structure of the film alters the audience’s traditional perception of history, as each scene and shot ceases to be a linear succession and instead becomes a transitional series of moments that have been super-imposed one on top of the other. 

Easy Rider/Straw Dogs


In this week’s reading there was much discussion and debate on the pathos of failure in relation to Easy Rider and Straw Dogs, and how they represent a transition within Hollywood, in which the cinematic experience is altered to cater to a pleasure-seeking audience. In this way, Hollywood had become an audience-orientated cinema rather than an auteur pleasure. In both films we are asked to question the traditional concept of American freedom and what this manifestation entails- getting out, freedom and the hedonistic desire for the pursuit of freedom. The death of George, for example, symbolizes the importance of this culture of freedom as he always spoke of it, and his demise leads the other characters to disorientation. 

Both Easy Rider and Straw Dogs are cauldrons of masculinity and violence, and one can go as far as to argue that they romanticize violence. There is a certain undertone of a trapped, animalistic violence that engulfs morals, goals and identity. There exists a contrast of violence between cultures and classes; we can see this in the way David for example appeals to the American justice system because of its self-serving qualities. In this specific example the culture and class system exposes violence much more blatantly. In this way, freedom and violence are inexplicably linked counterparts, where one is only able to exist with the other. Image 



Week 2:

Roman Polanski’s film Chinatown is a fine example of the quality of cinematic language and style of the 1970’s era film noir; in reference to Noel Carroll’s reading ‘The Future of Allusion: Hollywood in the Seventies (and beyond)’ one is immediately drawn to the discussion of pure cinematic values, values in which the style of filmmaking becomes a ‘substance’ on its own. Carroll argues that such allusions are structured to appeal to a certain type of cinemagoer, and that film becomes primarily a heterogeneous tissue of reference to other films. In Chinatown we see these references in visual detail, in which each scene is stylistically constructed with an intended symbolism. By the 1970’s filmic style had become an inherent component of the film conceptually as a whole, and thus in both Chinatown and Obsession we see a perpetuated and intentional illusion for the spectator and a visual mastery over the narrative. Both films evoke certain textual and visual narratives that complement one another, enhancing the relationship between the visual aspects of the film and the dialogue along with it. In terms of the visual, color becomes a paramount aspect. Carroll talks a lot about the effect and use of color in Chinatown; what would seemingly be a very mundane aspect of the film, in fact color sustains a large part of the film noir quality of the scenes in the film, adding to the suspense of the archetypal crime thriller, or as Carroll calls it ‘hard-boiled detective’. ‘The world of the hard-boiled myth is preeminently a world of black and white. Its ambience is that compound of angular light and shadow; Polanski carefully controls his spectrum of hue and tone in order to give it the feel of a film noir, but it is nonetheless color with occasional moments of rich golden light.’ In this way the film is transformed from the traditional thriller and takes on qualities that re-define space, color, and temporality that broaden the viewer’s experience.



Badlands/2001 A Space Odyssey

Week 1

Both Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey and Terrence Malick’s Badlands portray the dichotomous depiction of the protagonist as the classical ‘hero’ and as the vessel for the narrative of the film. In 2001, our protagonist is characterized merely as a metaphor for mankind in its most distilled form. He is stoic and unmoving, and the viewer watches him grow and evolve throughout Kubrick’s visually stunning narrative. There exists a curious irony in the way in which the protagonist does not possess individual characteristics or display a classical development of character in possessing his own agency. In this way, 2001 A Space Odyssey is not so much about the characters, but rather the visual odyssey as aptly depicted in the title.

In a similar fashion, the romantic and tumultuous relationship between Sissy Spacek and Martin Sheen’s characters in Malick’s Badlands evolves along the linear thread of their travels from place to place, punctuated by the violence that leads to their eventual demise. The film portrays a sense of faded destiny; the lack of emotional response to the deaths that occur as a result of the protagonists’ relationship is a warped dis-illusion of the classical ‘hero’ narrative as mentioned previously. Paradoxically, though Sheen and Spacek are void of emotion as they carry out their destructive path, the viewer experiences a profound loss for the archetypal ‘American hero.’ We desperately want Kit to be the hero, but his lack of development means he does not fully flesh out the requirements to be one, yet nor does he fully encapsulate the role of the villain either. Thus, he is a suspended individual, and instead acts a metaphorical symbol for a transitional American youth. The muted emotional responses from Kit and Holly make it impossible to establish a tangible connection with them; their glassy and detached personas of the archetypal ‘murderer’ and ‘his lover accomplice’ are degradable as the film progresses. Malick places them in the position to be the new and updated ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ but purposefully does not establish enough justifiable character growth to fulfill these roles.


What is so interesting about the main protagonists in Badlands is their inability to perceive or portray any extreme emotion, whether it be the lackluster experience of Holly losing her virginity, the lack of remorse in murdering several people, the perplexing calm that accompanies their violent actions, or most pivotally the void of passion or love in their relationship. Though they play the part of being in love, there exists an asexual ontological presence to their perception of the classical depiction of infatuation and obsession. In this way the director subverts the classical emotions of the runaway love story and re-designs the emotional response as a kind of illusion. Even the emotion of nostalgia is only semi-tangible; as a viewer we try to enforce the conception that Kit and Holly are children playing this runaway romance as reality, but in actual fact Kit is most likely 25 years of age, and Holly similarly probably only 15. They live in their tree-house like a modern day Peter Pan and Wendy, but all the while are ruthlessly murdering people.

Returning to 2001, the absence of character emotions means that cinema is left to fill the gaps, and we see just that, with both films displaying a visual prowess in describing their respective journeys/odysseys. Neither film is focused on dialogue, rather they place emphasis on the visual description of the narrative; for example in 2001 the various long plain scenes and in Badlands the drive into the sunset across the majestic desert emptiness. In this way, there is no need for words, as emotional experience is conveyed through the visual, and thus one can argue that the visual is as much a central character of both narratives alongside its human protagonist counterpart.