42/Far from Heaven

 

In Brian Helgeland’s 42 and Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven, the ideology of the time and setting in both films compare and contrast in strikingly similar ways, such as through sexual orientation, race, and gender issues.  In 42, the main character Jackie Robinson, played by Chadwick Boseman, paves the way for African Americans to play Major League Baseball.  Robinson is thrown into the spotlight where he struggles with racist teammates, fans, and even managers.  The film tracks his career from the minors to the majors as well as all of the internal and external battles he faces both on and off the diamond.  Haynes’ Far from Heaven is set during the same time period; however, it focuses on the tribulations of a high-class Connecticut family.  The themes involved in Far from Heaven center around sexual orientation, race and gender, while 42 is more racially charged and full of the struggles faced by African Americans. 

 

            Helgeland’s 42 accurately depicts what not only Robinson was facing, but what his race was facing during the time period.  The ideology during this time was in no way accepting of a black ballplayer.  Helgeland created a storm around Robinson that included angry mobs, racist fans, and unforgiving teammates and players who he would constantly have to put up with.  Helgeland had to balance two incredible things in the film, America’s pastime and an era of racism.  Film Comment describes the task that the director or 42 was faced with.  “Director Brian Helgeland’s struggle comes in balancing the intricacies of a baseball game with a very uncomplicated chronicle of barrier-breaker Jackie Robinson.  We follow Robinson’s rapid ascension through the minor leagues and into the bigs through a series of encounters with alternately enlightened and bigoted ballplayers, managers and fans. America’s postwar racism seems to fall along geographic lines—most (not all!) people south of Brooklyn have serious bones to pick with Robinson’s inclusion, and the Dodgers slowly form a protective shell around their star rookie.” This protective shell is where the film’s “feel good” ideology about racism and accepting people as equals comes into play.  42 places Boseman in a horrible, unforgiving environment, only to have the horrible folks around him develop into forgiving people.  Racism is not an easy concept to simply incorporate into a film, yet Helgeland does that and more as 42 tracks the progress of not only Robinson as a person, but baseball fans and players as people too. 

 

Far from Heaven also features the development of characters dealing with racism, and includes issues regarding gender and class in a middle to upper class society.  The beliefs that come from Far from Heaven are negative towards African Americans, women, as well as homosexuals.  The Film Journal commends Haynes’ ability to create a story true to the time period, with all of the racism and hatred that went along with it.  They write, “What Haynes does that makes this film special is facing the issues exactly as a filmmaker of the time would likely face them. Not only does his style reflect the period, so does the films moral code. It is a nifty trick, but not as nifty as the way the film becomes more than an experiment – it becomes a truly moving story of one woman’s struggle for self-definition.”  This woman, Kathy Whitaker, is at the center of the storm of every hate filled scenario in the film.  Between her being portrayed as a typical stay at home wife, and her marriage to a man living a lie in regards to his sexuality, she is made the focal point of the film’s ideological lesson.  To make things worse, Kathy Whitaker is also looked down upon for being seen out in public with an African American.  Her relationship with Raymond Deagan (see fig. 1) is what brings the film’s ideological lesson together in that love and compassion trumps the cloud of stereotypes and social norms.

 

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            42 and Far from Heaven both capture the development of societies living in a prejudice era.  Both films challenge racism head on through the tribulations of the main characters in each film, Jackie Robinson and Kathy Whitaker.  The leading, differing factor in these two films is simply the types of hatred and scenarios in which the main characters are faced to live through.  Robinson is faced with breaking the color barrier during a time where a black man on a professional baseball diamond was unheard of.   He faced racism from a large part of the nation, whereas Kathy Whitaker only experienced racism in a small Connecticut town.  Whitaker also had to deal with a dilemma involving her husband’s sexual orientation, which was severely looked down upon in her 1950s society.  According to Bright Lights Film, Director Todd Haynes said, “We followed those narrative steps while laying evidence of the values attributed to that self-knowledge, that growth, that realization, against the viewer.”  Their goal was to use Whitaker as the focal point of discrimination in order for the audience to see that her growth signified the development of people seeing each other as equals.  Despite the difference in level of national attention in which Robinson and Whitaker received, their circumstances were quite similar as far as them being helpless in a world of odium.  They both made personal decisions in their lives, which society disagreed with.  However, the message of both film reigns true in that racism and hatred can be overcome with willpower and strength. 

 

           

Helgeland’s 42 and Haynes’ Far from Heaven differ slightly in their representation of the ideology in each film, however; they both convey the same message about overcoming the hatred and racism in society.  42 challenges racism by showing Robinson in all aspects of his life, instead of just his actions on the field.  This decision helped capture the hearts of audience members and evoked emotion out of them as they witnessed Jackie’s internal and external struggles with his race.  Similarly, Kathy Whitaker deals with folks looking down upon her being seen in public with an African American man.  She only differs from Robinson in that she also has to deal with another situation regarding her husband’s sexual orientation.  The ideology in both films is successfully presented and developed before it undergoes a change.  Although Far from Heaven doesn’t feature a transformation of the ideology in Whitaker’s small town in Connecticut, it illustrates that there’s hope for a change in the future.  Both films collectively show hope for society’s future in terms of making hate and discrimination a thing in the past.  

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Inception

In my opinion, while watching Inception this time around, I picked up on the editing techniques and special effects much more.  Especially in the scene when Cobb is talking to Ariadne in the outside cafe, in which the street carts and windows start blowing up.  The slow motion effects combined with the significantly decreased rate of shots per second really made the scene original.

Inception certainly falls into the Blockbuster category as the film takes “large scale production” to a whole new level.  The filming techniques utilized when they are in dream mode were done so well that I felt they could only be realistically possible when a ship turns on its side.  The camera angles bring an entire new meaning to the word original, which really helped the makes out at the box office in my opinion.  People love originality!  

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Chicago 10

Brett Morgen’s Chicago 10 fails to follow the conventional documentary style format, as it transitions from real footage to animation on numerous occasions.  It’s obvious to see how Morgen took the approach of siding with the protestors as all the interview footage of Abbie Hoffman and others really set up the audience with a preconceived notion.  That notion was that the protestors were going to rally peacefully and not violently.  Even with the peaceful buildup, the real footage always kept the viewers on edge, as the actions of mass amounts of people can certainly be unpredictable. 

 

John Grierson, who created the term “documentary,” believed in principles that a movie needed to have in order for it to be considered a documentary.   He believed materials “taken from the raw” were much more effective than some fictitious scene made up by a director to resemble an event that actually took place.  Grierson felt that a documentary needed to be as true to the event as possible and felt that actors just could not simply portray an event as truly as it should be portrayed.  Chicago 10 follows these principles for a good portion of the film, certainly excluding the animated courtroom scenes.  That’s what many critics could not manage to get over while watching Chicago 10, as they felt the animation detracted from the events that actually transpired outside the Democratic Convention.  If you look at the film from Grierson’s perspective, Chicago 10 should certainly get some recognition as a documentary, due to the large percentage of the movie that was actual footage.

 

The use of animation was not artistic and not appropriate for a film covering that kind of an event in our nation’s history.  Animation is typically used in films for a younger audience including children and young adults.  Since the material in Chicago 10 is neither suitable nor comprehendible for a young audience, the animation is useless.  It is true that the animation brings a unique facet to the documentary, however, at what point is being unique worth blurring the message the film is trying to get across?  Brett Morgen could have executed the documentary successfully with additional interviews or more shots of the actual protests, instead of animation for an unfit audience.   

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Meshes of the Afternoon

Meshes of the Afternoon, directed by husband and wife duo Maya Deren Alexander Hammid, centers around both the realistic and dream world of the main character.  The main character, who happens to be the same woman who directs the film, seems to lose track of what is a part of her dream and what is actually happening.  Her vulnerability in the film stems from the elusiveness of the creepy cloaked man with a mirror for a face as well as the emptiness of the home she keeps re entering.  Maya Deren’s inability to catch this cloaked man gives the audience the impression that she’s in trouble, which in turn keeps them engaged and left in suspense until the very end. 

           

            Meshes of the Afternoon includes three of the four main structures that an avant-garde or “experimental” films typically follow.  The first of those three structures is the film having a “broken, disjointed or non existent narrative.” Meshes of the Afternoon seems to have the bare bones of a narrative but there doesn’t seem to be any sense to the plot line.  The audience never knows the true motives from any of the three characters in the film.  The other structure the film exhibits is an antagonistic style.  The ending is very harsh and depressing.  And the last of these structures that was pretty evident is the focus on the technical aspects of the film.  A lot of the film focuses on special effects such as the key turning into a knife and then a multitude of other objects as well as the mirror flashing as the strange figure’s face. 

 

            Meshes of the Afternoon, to me seems to work both for and against feminism in my own opinion.  It works in favor of feminists as the main character is a woman and the same woman directed the film as well.  This shows that a woman can not only act or be on camera, but can also fulfill other important roles such as film directing.  This underground film also works against feminism as the woman is shown in a vulnerable state for the entire duration of the movie.  She is constantly under threat of the man she is attempting to catch, as she neither knows who he is or if she is dreaming or not.  This type of role doesn’t seem like the one a feminist organization would want to be promoted as it projects the female figure in a vulnerable spotlight. 

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Zero Dark Thirty

Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty centers around the hunt for the #1 most wanted terrorist in the world, Osama Bin Laden.  The film’s themes center around the illegal torturing that actor Jason Clarke and Jessica Chastain partake in to get answers from terrorists suspected to know information about Bin Laden’s whereabouts.  Another theme in the film is the highlighting of the true risk that was involved in the operation from day one.  Only Chastain was 100% that Bin Laden was in that compound, which helped create tension for the audience as they debated going through with the raid.

 

Auteur cinema is certainly obvious in Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, especially if you’ve seen her other films such as The Hurt Locker.  The Hurt Locker’s plot centers around a three-man Explosive Ordnance Disposal team in Iraq during the war in 2001.  Her two most popular films, Zero Dark Thirty and The Hurt Locker, both involve the terrorist attacks that occurred on 9/11.  In film terms, her works both involve war, violence, as well as national security.  So her niche for directing certainly falls into this war category in which she’s been so successful. 

 

Zero Dark Thirty certainly “Hollwood-ized” the actual events that led up to the raid on Bin Laden’s compound.   It’s hard to believe that one woman (with only 12 years experience) convinced every other agent who claimed to be 60% sure that Bin Laden was living there to go through with the attack.  Other “Hollywood-ized” portions of the film include the beards, the tobacco chewing, and country attitude of the Seal Team 6 members as well as the torturing that the various terrorist suspects underwent.  Any kind of event that actually happened in real life will be criticized for not being completely accurate in film version, so I don’t hold Bigelow responsible but rather the Hollywood culture. 

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Weekend

In Jean-Luc Goddard’s Weekend, several aspects of French New Wave are incorporated, which make this film a textbook example of what a French New Wave film should consist of.  There are several themes throughout including intertextual references.  These intertextual references include the paintings shown like the “Old Master” hanging above the tub while Connie Durand takes a bath.  Other intertextual references include some of the movie titles from the 20s and 50s that include Battleship Potemkin and The Searchers

 

The social context of Goddard’s Weekend can first be analyzed by the location, as the film is set in France.  The film’s plot is based around two characters, Corrine and Roland Durand, in their journey to collect the inheritance of Corrine’s dying father.  Typical societal traditions would say that their actions were completely frowned upon, however, they do it anyway.  Since Weekend is different than the typical Hollywood film, and Goddard intentionally attempts to distance us from emotionally attaching ourselves to the film, we feel less compelled to challenge the actions of the main characters.  By doing this successfully, audience members have more of an opportunity to analyze the social context and situations featured in the movie. 

 

Goddard successfully distances the audience from the film (verfremdungseffekt) through music usage, makeup, as well as soundtrack noises.  There are several instances in which the music being played is completely unfit for the scene.  There are also instances in which random noises are played during emotional scenes to ensure the audience doesn’t become emotionally entrapped.  Some of these noises include accordion music, plane engines and honking horns.  The bloody faces of victims are purposefully featured wearing fake looking blood for the same reason.  Some victims are also featured laying there breathing quite obviously, especially during the tractor/car accident scene.   Another distancing factor is the fact that the main characters keep claiming they are “in a film” and “not in reality.” 

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Far from Heaven

White supremacy proves to be one of the main themes in Todd Haynes’ Far from Heaven as Cathy Whitaker’s marriage is broken up in part by her relationship with an African American.  The town gossips about her being seen about town with this black man, Raymond Deagan, on a mere two occasions.  Once this information gets back to Cathy’s husband, Frank Whitaker, their marriage goes downhill fast.  This combined with her husband’s denial about being gay result in the divorce of Cathy and Frank. 

 

Two of the main forms of ideology in Far from Heaven stem from race and gender inequality.  The existence of African Americans is barely noticed, as whites talk about blacks right in their very presence.  These scenes are meant to establish the ideology that whites are the superior race in town.  Gender inequality is also obvious to see, as Cathy and her girlfriends are seen sipping daiquiris and discussing sex, while her husband Frank works hard days at the office.  Her always being seen in a dress and Frank always being in a suit also plays into this inequality, showing that Cathy is merely a housewife while Frank provides all the family’s income. 

 

Sexual orientation and race are two ideologies in the film that seem to clash together in ironic fashion.  Frank Whitaker, who struggles with an internal battle regarding his sexuality, finds it repulsive that Cathy has been seen in public with a black man.  How can Frank be racist while his sexuality is probably just as frowned upon in a 1950’s society?  It’s ridiculous for him to dislike Deagan because he’s black and also expect to feel acceptance for his sexuality.  Sexual orientation and race were both seen as the prominent factors that decided if you were in the “norm” or not in society during this time period.  Frank Whitaker is out of the “norm” in regards to sexual orientation, yet remains steadfast in his views upon race, which earns him no sympathy in the eyes of the audience. 

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