Author Archives: Lauren Eckert

Interesting Facts about Bell Labs and Odyssey from an Archivist at Bell Labs (My Dad)

So my father has worked at Bell Labs for over 20 years and runs their historical archives. As you may remember, Bell Labs was one of the companies that worked with producers of 2001: A Space Odyssey. to develop unique props for the film. My father was able to provide me with some interesting materials and facts regarding the company’s relationship with Kubrick and Odyssey.

Bell Labs was was responsible for the picture-phone unit that Dr. Floyd uses to call his daughter from space in the beginning of the movie. Arthur C. Clarke (author of The Sentinel) knew John Pierce, who was an engineer at Bell Labs most known for inventing the Telstar Satellite and his science fiction writing. Clarke worked with John Noll, another engineer at Bell Labs, to design the prototype of the unit. A couple mockup drawings are depicted below. Noll and Pierce had sent the drawings as well as a four-page memo of how the scene should be depicted to the producers of the film and never heard back from them. It was not until years later when they saw the film that they realized their designs and script had actually been used!

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What is even more interesting, however, is that Noll almost got into trouble for submitting the Bell System seal to producers who then displayed the seal outside of the video-phone booth in the movie (shown below). AT&T accused Bell System of violating a consent decree, which outlined that the Bell System could only cover domestic telecommunication. By depicting the logo in a space station in the film, it was implied that the System worked in space, which violated the consent decree … crazy right? Fortunately, they were able to settle the dispute.

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The picture-phone unit in the film was of course fabricated, but it was modeled off of technology that did exist at the time. I was able to snag a picture of the actual prototype of the first picture-phone, which my dad has in his office (shown below). If you look towards the upper left of the phone, you see a camera lens that closely resembles HAL, however this is only coincidental. To the right is a photo of one of the picture phone’s engineer’s, L.H. Meacham, using the phone to speak with its other engineer, A.D. Hall in 1964.

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Furthermore, the song HAL sings “Daisy Bell” as he is dying, was synthesized by distinguished scientists Arthur Kelly and Carol Lochbaum at Bell Labs. Matt Mathews coded the accompaniment. Though computer-generated voice was being tested by other companies at the time, these two scientists’ work was considered the most advanced. Arthur C. Clarke actually came to Bell Labs to listen to the song. The sound bite below is the recording that Clarke heard at Bell Labs. It was coded on an IBM 7094 computer in 1961.

 

It is interesting how Odyssey depicted a precursor to modern technology. In one of the articles from 1993 that my Dad passed on to me, Research Vice President of AT&T, Arno Penzias, mentioned that it was important to realize that the actual technology in 2001 would most likely not be as “artistically interesting” as depicted in the film. He goes on to say that we will continue to experience the:

“celebration of a very interesting and productive connection between human beings and the information expertise that makes life better and more enriching.”

Penzias may have not foreseen the rapid advancement of technology that seemed to kick off around 2000, but he was definitely correct on the strengthening relationship between humans and machines. It is entertaining to look back at comments such as his when modern technology allows us to FaceTime with others at anytime, anywhere from the palm of our hands.

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Sources:

I obtained this information from my Dad who works at Bell Labs Archives, and also a Bell Labs news publications from April of 1993 that John Noll passed on to my Dad for me to refer to for this post.

http://home.williampoundstone.net/Kelly.htm

http://www.wide-eyed-webs.com/instation/daisy.html

No TRUE Villain in “Unforgiven”?

I came across a video on YouTube of an interview with Clint Eastwood on the creation of Unforgiven (clip below). I was very intrigued when he mentions that when he initially read the script for the film, he could not decipher who the hero was. He explains that he initially thought Little Bill was the hero, which is plausible when you consider Little Bill’s “violence isn’t the answer” motto and persistent no-firearms-policy to keep peace in the town. However, it is difficult for the audience to maintain this level-headed, peacemaker image of Little Bill, when he continues to act in ways that contradict the persona he has created for himself (e.g. beating up unarmed men). At first, I deemed Little Bill an intentionally evil man who wears a fake front, but what Eastwood says next in the interview really got me thinking:

“…the characters all have a point of view. Even though he [Little Bill] was the villain of the piece, he had a point of view. He thought he was right, doing the right thing. And that goes with every character in it”

Perhaps Eastwood is alluding to the idea that while Little Bill fills the role of the villain in the film, he may not be intentionally permeating evil. It is apparent he has good intentions, but his perspective of what is necessary to fulfill his duty of protecting his town may differ from that of an outsider. Through an outsider’s eyes, Little Bill’s beating of unarmed men may seem like an act of self-fulfilling rage, but perhaps Little Bill thought it was in the town’s best interest to publicly use fear and pain to demonstrate the repercussions of threatening the town’s safety. Notice that Little Bill is more likely to inflict pain on others in a public demonstration more so than when not in public (e.g. When he decides whipping was not the proper punishment for the men who hurt Delilah, there were not enough people around for him to feel the need to use fear and violence as a warning tactic. Instead, he implements an alternate, more humane punishment). While at the surface his actions often come across as malevolent, this may be due to his unique perspective of what is “right.” If good intentions do lay underneath, does this make him a true villain?

As Eastwood mentions, this concept applies to the other characters in the film as well. Each has an idea of what is “right,” but due to circumstances beyond their control, different perspectives give the characters differing ideas of what is just. Will’s character is the obvious illustration of a man with good intentions, but whose point of view alters his actions. It is very clear that Will yearns to leave his corrupt history behind him, but his desperate need for money to support his family forces him to kill against his will. Later, as a means of respecting Ned and avenging Ned’s death, he feels the need to shoot Little Bill and anyone who may have been even loosely involved. To an outsider, these actions seem anti-heroic, but again, it really depends on perspective.

Even English Bob may not be considered a true villain. Indeed, we learn that he used to kill innocent Chinese workers, but maybe he is similar to Will in that he is trying to leave behind his troublesome past. Perhaps he truly wants to evolve into a noble man, and he views bounty hunting as a respectable, noble profession — even if the killing itself is not done in a manner that is typically deemed fair.

Ultimately, the question arises of what constitutes a true villain. Does a true villain need to have what are conventionally considered evil intentions and evil actions? Or can someone’s actions — actions that are generally considered evil — be justified by someone’s unique perspective on what he or she personally believes is “right?” This blurred distinction definitely separates Unforgiven’s characters from typical black and white western roles. Maybe “Deserve’s got nothin to do with” death because everyone has a different perspective on what truly makes someone evil enough to be killed.

The Cacophony Society — the Real-World Project Mayhem

I was reading through a interview with Chuck Palahniuk (Author of Fight Club), and was very intrigued by a group in Portland, Oregon known as The Cacophony Society, which inspired Project Mayhem in Fight Club. The group consists of ordinary people who want to break free from the conventions of society by pulling pranks and stunts. The society has no rules/regulations, and its mission is to “make life more interesting” through “unusual experiences.” The members thrive on risk, collaborating with others, and “creating” rather than “consuming” culture. The society has chapters in major cities across the U.S.

Some of the society’s past pranks/events have included:

  • Burning a 40 ft. wooden man in the dessert on the summer equinox
  • Dressing in formal attire and having parties in underground sewage drains
  • Midnight bridge climbing
  • Painting billboards in neon colors
  • Joining PETA (People Eating Tasty Animals)

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Palahniuk deemed Cacophony an integral part of his past. In another interview, he explains the friendships he formed with the members of the organization due to a shared passion for challenging identity and risking safety. He had a thirst to build rich experiences with genuine companions, as he often found himself referring to experiences with what he calls “air friends.” “Air friends” are acquaintances that you meet at work, school, etc., and your relationship with them is solely based on the fact that you occupy the same space or “air” as them for extended durations of time.

This concept mirrors the single-serving nature of society that the narrator brings up in Fight Club. The lack of meaningful relationships or compassion towards others was very prevalent in the film, shown through dry conversations between the narrator and his boss and the corrupt practices of his insurance company. The narrator obviously yearns for deeper connections with others, so he initially joins different support groups for people who share common problems. Aside from making an effort to avoid Marla, perhaps the narrator decided to leave the support groups and create Fight Club and Project Mayhem because he longed for relationships beyond his newfound “air friends.” Even though he met with the different support groups each week and interacted with the same people, he did not share anything in common with these people other than the air they were breathing. Fight Club and Project Mayhem allowed him to bond with people who shared his same passion for rebelling against society and challenging cultural norms.

Furthermore, the foundation of Cacophony was built upon “creating culture” through “unique experiences,” which reflects Fight Club’s mission of opposing the consumer-driven lifestyle that encompassed society. It is very appropriate that the fictional organization in the movie was based off of Cacophony, because there is no better way to rebel against society than to create a new society with opposing values and practices. Additionally, the materialism depicted in the film left many of the characters numb, and incorporating extreme actions in the movie similar to Cacophony’s outrageous and dangerous ceremonies allowed the characters to “challenge their identities” and truly feel raw fear and adrenaline.

I would recommend checking out the clips below for more information about The Cacophony Society and Chuck Palahniuk. (Skip to 19:50 of the second clip to see the interview with Palahniuk).

**Skip to 19:50 in the clip below**

Sources:

  • http://www.dvdtalk.com/interviews/chuck_palahniuk.html
  • The clips above

The “Agonizing” Process of Creating “Stories we Tell”

After viewing Sarah Polley’s care-free, easy-going attitude during Stories we Tell. I was very much taken aback when I stumbled across an article outlining how strenuous the filming process was for Sarah. While her situation is unique — creating a film of others essentially piecing her past together without interference — the relaxed and confident demeanor portrayed as she directed her family members and occasionally laughed along with their side remarks seemed genuine. In reality, her persona was masking some deep-rooted anxiety.

Sarah was filming Stories we Tell during the period between her first and second marriage — a troubling transition between two different chapters of her life. Even though the documentary is raw and without a script, it took five years to finish filming, primarily due to Sarah’s anxiety. She took a break from filming Stories we Tell when she became too overwhelmed (most likely from simultaneously dealing with an elusive past, troubling present, and ambiguous future) to create Take This Waltz, a comedy about a couple ending their relationship. Perhaps Sarah was looking for some comedic relief, especially by adding an element of humor to a situation very similar to her own. The article quoted Sarah explaining:

“I asked the NFB if I could take a hiatus and in the hiatus I made Take This Waltz, and it was literally to do something I loved and clear my head. To be actually excited and interested in something as opposed to dreading every day. Stories We Tell was a really agonizing difficult process and Take this Waltz was just joy. The NFB allowed me to take a year and make another film and then I came back to it with fresh eyes.”

Furthermore, Sarah explains the debilitating nature of hearing an “outpouring of raw emotions” from her friends and family, and having to endure listening to each interviewee’s account of her mother’s death time and time again.

“Even though I wasn’t going through it emotionally when I was sitting there — I was very objective and distant about it — I think it got under my skin and made me quite depressed. . . . I just really needed to get away from it.”

Perhaps the style of her documentary underscored her traumatic past even more; while it was her mission to convey the importance of listening to multiple accounts when learning about the past, I can imagine the lack of a single truth to be relatively unsettling, especially in the context of such a personal issue.

Lastly, Sarah mentions her controlling personality, and that she was so focused on planning out the details of the film that she was often “not in the moment.” This leads me to question if her lack of interjections during the interrogation process was entirely an intentional strategy to avoid bias, or a product of her mental distance throughout the filming process. This sensation is ironically very similar to the quote from Alias Grace that is used to set the stage for the documentary:

“When you’re in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all but only a confusion, a dark roaring, a blindness … it’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all, when you’re telling it to yourself or to someone else.”

In the midst of her depression and whirlwind of emotions and creative thought while making the documentary, Sarah was not only stitching together the stories of her friends and family, but also creating a new story of her own. Despite the “agony” she suffered while creating Stories we Tell, and the physical sickness she experienced as she awaited the first reviews of the film, Sarah expresses that creating the documentary forced her to constantly reevaluate what she was doing, and was therefore a very rewarding experience.

Sources:

http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/movies/2012/10/05/sarah_polley_doc_stories_we_tell_when_blood_is_thicker_than_gossip.html

 

The Howard Beale Show as the Framework of Modern Advertising

After analyzing the format of the Howard Beale Show in Network, I came to the conclusion that the various segments relate to the basic framework of a typical advertisement. This theory does seem valid, because just like advertisements, the Howard Beale Show was designed to appeal to the masses. Below, I have outlined how each segment mirrors the components of a conventional advertisement.

“Sybil: The Soothsayer” and the Promise of a Better Reality

The “Sybil: The Soothsayer” segment on the Howard Beale Show is meant to portray the notion that society yearns for a glimpse into the future, perhaps to eliminate the anxiety of uncertainty and to keep aspirations alive for an idealized reality that lies ahead. Advertisement are similar in convincing the consumer that a certain product or service has the ability to provide this aspirational state. Advertisements are meant to highlight a need, whether existing or fabricated, and how a specific product or service can fulfill that need. Similar to “Sybil: The Soothsayer,” advertisements provide a sense of comfort that a current dissatisfaction will be overcome, and an idealized reality lies ahead. A more obvious example of this type of marketing can be seen in weight loss ads, which ensure that your “idealized state” can be achieved in the very near future.

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“Skeletons in the Closet” and the Life of the Elite

“Skeletons in the Closet” was meant to represent audience members’ desires to escape the detriments of their current lives by listening to the misfortunes of others, namely celebrities. Modern advertisements with celebrity endorsers somewhat portray this concept. Aside from providing more credibility behind advertisements, utilizing celebrity endorses shows the audience that celebrities have mutual misfortunes and needs, whether it be a remedy for acne, weight loss, etc. When people view these testimonials, recognize the struggles of public figures, and associate the success of celebrities with the product/service solving these setbacks, they are enticed to make a purchase in the hopes of escaping their struggles and experiencing the reality of celebrities’ lives.

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“Vox Populi” and Conforming to the Majority

The “Vox Populi,” or popular opinion segment of the Howard Beale Show represents peoples’ desire to not only listen to perspectives that resemble their own, but also the yearning to remain in synch with a larger community. This strategy is very similar to the methods many advertisers employ. Ads are obviously designed in a way that appeal to the needs and beliefs of the majority of a specific target audience, but also underscore the necessity of a specific product or service in fitting in among society. For example, the commercial for Bumpits (a plastic piece inserted into the hair to give the illusion of more volume) emphasizes the belief that all women allegedly desire and look better with more voluminous hair. Whether this notion is true or not, the commercial is meant to persuade women to believe that in order to fit in and obtain approval from others in society, they must purchase this product. Both the “Vox Populi” and commercials for products similar to Bumpit manipulate individuals to conform their individual desires and needs to what is portrayed as popular opinion.

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“It’s the Emmes Truth Department” and Deceitfulness

The “Emmes Truth Department” most likely depicts news stories in a fictional light in order to appeal to audiences. Such practices allows the audience members to hear only what they would like to hear and protects them from any type of news that would upset them. This deceitful nature is very present in the advertising industry as well. The benefits and quality of many products and services are often fabricated and exaggerated. Commercials and advertisements are designed to reflect what people would want to hear (e.g. “Loose weight easily and fast,” “xyz product is the #1 choice as voted by doctors,” etc.). By solely conveying what consumers want to hear, consumers are at risk of potentially wasting their time and money buying sub-par products, and even putting themselves in danger if the side effects of certain products are unclear. These ramifications are similar to sugar-coating news stories — the audience remains uneducated and potentially vulnerable to the harsh realities of the world.

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“Mad Prophet of the Airways” and Masking Individual Thinking

Howard Beale provided an outlet for audience members to express their anger, but he also essentially dictated what the audience should believe in. The audience enjoys his segment because they can outwardly express emotions, but these emotions do not involve any type of personal thinking or formation of unique perspectives. Similarly, advertisements are created to influence consumers’ opinions on a product or service. The ultimate goal of advertising is to induce sales by showing a product/service in a positive light and ensuring it is easy for the consumers to choose a specific product/service over those of competitors. Because advertisements dictate how consumers should view a product and aim to trump any existing perceptions, they are very similar to the underlying goal of Howard Beale’s segment.

Although some of my explanations may have been a bit of a stretch, I do think the Howard Beale Show adequately reflects consumers’ dangerous relationship with advertising.

 

The Graduate vs. Titanic

After viewing The Graduate, I knew that I had seen a movie with a very similar plot centered on coming of age, familial rebellion, and fulfilling parental expectations. After muling over a myriad of films for several weeks, it finally dawned on me – Titanic! When analyzing the films side-by-side, I found similarities in the overarching themes and character development. Though 30 years apart, the parallelism between these films is truly amazing.

Meeting Expectations

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When comparing Ben to Rose of Titanic, it is easy to identify the harrowing expectations each of their families impose on them. Ben’s parents groom him and present him in a way that highlights his accomplishments and depicts him as the ideal son to their friends. They expect him to marry Elaine, attend graduate school, and perpetuate the materialistic lifestyle that he was raised in. Similarly, Rose has been coached by her mother all of her life on what it means to be a proper young lady in society. She is arranged to marry for wealth, and she is expected to be present and pleasant at lavish dinners. Both Ben and Rose object this luxurious lifestyle, and have no interest in living the lives their parents are painting for them.

Loss of Control and Blank Stares

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Both Ben and Rose lack control of their lives; just as the airplane takes Ben on a journey he does not wish to embark on (back home to be subject to the expectations of his parents), Rose is trapped on a ship, pulling her to a life she does not wish to live. Both yearn for a deeper meaning to life, but are forced to go with the motions and listen to what Rose refers to as “mindless chatter” among their materialistic and vain families. Rose even states that she, “…saw [her] whole life as if [she’d] already lived it,” underscoring the notion that her fate is already determined by someone other than herself. The result – Ben and Rose feel empty, helpless, and discontent, as shown by the drawn out shots of the two blankly staring in their forced environments.

Drowning

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It is interesting to note that while Ben finds solace floating above water — above the expectations and the life his parents have planned for him — Rose looks to escape the confines of the floating ship and her meaningless lifestyle by taking her life and jumping under the water’s surface. Nevertheless, both Ben and Rose are quite literally drowning in their parents’ expectations. Ben’s parents disapprove when he shows hesitation to attend graduate school, just as Rose’s mother disapproves when Rose shows an interest in Jack over her arranged fiance or straying from the pristine image she is forced to uphold.The ship can also serve as a metaphor for the pressure Rose is facing, as the weight of it sinking pulls her down and nearly drowns her. Neither seem to have a voice among their families in both films. Ben is unable to speak in the scuba suit that his father insisted he wear, and Rose nearly takes her life because dead or alive, no one seems to hear her. The lack of fulfillment and meaning in their lives leaves both of them nearly lifeless.

Rebellion

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While it is ambiguous if the relationships between Ben and Elaine and Jack and Rose are based on love, rebellion, or a mix of the two, both couplings emit a sense of betrayal against their families. Elaine’s parents would of course never support the marriage of Ben and Elaine after news of the affair surfaced, just as Rose’s mother would never approve of Rose marrying a third-class freelancer. Furthermore, Ben’s relationship with Mrs. Robinson was founded on rebellion as well, as any form of love is completely absent between them. The stringent expectations outlined for both Ben and Rose encourage them to break free and literally run from the confines of their parents’ wishes.

The Significance of Cars

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One last detail that I almost overlooked was the symbolism of cars in both movies. Ben has his first meaningful conversation in the car with Elaine, as they are both far from the suburbs, and Ben is finally behind the wheel of his own life. Similarly, Jack and Rose make love and confirm their relationship in the automobile on the ship, representing that together they have the control to steer their lives in the directions they wish.

The parallelism between the two films remains even at their conclusions – in both cases, rebellion does not lead to eternal happiness. Ben and Elaine are on a bus bound for the life they can’t seem to leave behind, and Jack dies from hypothermia, leaving Rose alone and heartbroken. Both films do not tell us how one can successfully paint his/her own life.

Lisa’s Wardrobe

While watching the film, one of the details that I had a difficult time analyzing was Lisa’s wardrobe. In one of the first scenes of the movie, Jeff quite bluntly states that he is looking for a woman who is more passionate about traveling and living a spontaneous lifestyle than the newest style of dress. He even points fun at Lisa directly by mentioning the fact that she will never wear the same dress twice. I was almost certain that the next time we saw Lisa, she would be completely transformed — either in less ornate attire or even in pants — in order to win Jeff’s heart. However, when Lisa returns to the apartment, she is again wearing a very formal dress and sophisticated jewelry. In fact, we watch her undergo four additional wardrobe changes, each of which consists of a dress and her signature pearls. It is not until the very last scene where she is seen wearing flat shoes, jeans, and a borderline masculine shirt. I couldn’t help but ask, why did Lisa wait until after she had secured Jeff’s heart to mold her wardrobe to his liking?

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Perhaps Lisa was trying to prove a point to Jeff that she can still maintain her femininity and continue to act on her zeal for fashion while exhibiting qualities associated with his idea of the ideal woman. She quickly realizes that she can connect with Jeff by collaborating with him to solve the murder case, but noticeably arrives at his apartment in a new dress each day. She also makes it point to show him her small suitcase to outline that she is capable of picking up everything and taking off on the fly (vital aspect of a wom0770-500x281an in Jeff’s eyes), but inside the suitcase is elaborate lingerie – an item that Jeff does not seem particularly excited about. Lisa’s continuous juxtaposing of qualities that appeal to Jeff and portrayal of her true personality may represent her unwillingness to completely succumb to Jeff’s wishes and her sense of hope that Jeff can still love her as she is.

I began searching the Internet and reading through various blogs to see if others have taken note of the perplexing nature of Lisa’s wardrobe. To my surprise, most of the content I found was from women praising Lisa’s clothing, noting how relevant her style is to popular fashion during that time period. However one comment on a student’s blog at Vanderbilt did spark my interest; rather than focusing on the extravagant nature of Lisa’s attire, this blogger instead found significance in the numbe8f6c8c3457a95c0ecefe15f8abff32b0r of times Lisa changes her outfit. Jeff is seen only wearing a mundane set of pajamas throughout the movie, which contrasts greatly with Lisa’s frequent wardrobe changes. The blogger goes on to explain that this may represent a woman’s tendency to consistently change herself to satisfy Jeff. While this is a valid notion, I still think this point would have been more clearly emphasized if Lisa’s fashion choices gradually became less formal and feminine as the film goes on.

 

I was able to find significance in one of Lisa’s outfits: the flower-printed sundress. Lisa wears this dress when she spontaneously decides to climb up Mr. Throwald’s fire-escape and enter his house, which also serves as the moment in which Jeff officially falls for her seemingly adventurous personality. I did find it odd that Lisa is wearing a brightly printed sundress during the evening hours, which leads me to believe this dress was chosen for a specific reason. After pondering this notion, I realized that when Jeff first points out the set of flowers that have “grown shorter” with time in the courtyard, he mentions that he is referring to the yellow flowers at the end of the garden — the same color as the flowers on Lisa’s dress. When Jeff first makes the realization about the flowers, Jeff is fairly convinced of his theory (that Mr. Thorwald killed the dog because something may be buried in the flowerbed), and he anticipates that this is the clue that will ultimately solve the murder mystery. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thorwald’s body is not found in the flowerbed, and this theory is officially put to rest. Just as Jeff believed that the dyingRear-Blog-8 yellow flowers was the clue he had been searching for, when Lisa is wearing the yellow-flowered dress he believes that she is the woman he had been searching for. However, the yellow flowers were deceiving and did not provide him with the answers he was hoping for, which mirrors Lisa’s deceiving personality and the idea that she is not truly the type of woman Jeff is searching for.

The final scene in the movie shows Lisa in flat shoes, jeans, a button-up shirt, and no jewelry — a sharp contrast to her previous attire. Because the murder has been solved, Lisa may feel that she no longer can connect with Jeff by sharing a passion for solving the mystery, so she finally resorts to changing her appearance to fit his mold of the ideal woman and ensure their relationship lasts. We even see her switch her attention from a book about the Himalayas to a fashion magazine when Jeff is sleeping, which shows that despite her change in wardrobe, she is still unable to let go of her passions and express her true self in front of Jeff.

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I realize that some of my analysis may be a bit of a stretch or due to purely coincidental occurrences, but I do believe Hitchcock attempted to express some sort of theme through Lisa’s attire. I would be interested to hear others’ thoughts on this topic.

Sources:

https://my.vanderbilt.edu/wgs272/2013/01/298/

 

On the Waterfront: Terry and Fences

In class, we had discussed the importance of fences and enclosed spaces in “On the Waterfront” in emphasizing the notion that the mob essentially “traps” people in a world of corruption. I decided to revisit some of the scenes of the movie to see how fences specifically influence and represent Terry’s character development.

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The screenshot above was pulled from the scene in which Terry first initiates a legitimate conversation with Edie. We have learned that Edie has been sheltered from the reality of the corrupt world all of her life, and that she therefore represents both innocence and morality. This scene may represent Terry’s first step in crossing over to the free and stable society on the other side of the mob’s “fence.” Their conversation leading up this point has consisted of superficial small-talk surrounding Edie’s appearance when she was younger; however, once the conversation is brought over to the fence, Edie begins explaining the importance of “patience and kindness,” which are ideals most likely prominent on the other side of the barrier. As depicted above, if Terry continues to build his relationship with Edie and begins to make realizations about his corrupt society, the alternate and almost utopian world on the other side of the fence is right at his fingertips.

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The mis-en-scene in the screenshot above evokes similar symbolism. Terry is visibly on the opposite side of the fence/cage as Edie, and there also seems to be some sort of cross-like figure behind Edie’s head. Clearly, the fence serves as a barrier between Terry and the morale, kind world that Edie is a part of. During their conversation, Terry asks Edie to go out for a beer with him, which shows his desire to break through the barrier and leave his corrupt world behind.

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The screenshot above follows directly after Terry has a conversation with Father Barry about coming clean with Edie regarding her brother’s death. It is interesting to note that prior to making the decision to confront Edie, Terry was behind the fence – the barrier to morality. Once Father Barry instills in him the importance of being honest and breaking away from his forced loyalty to the mob, he finds his away outside the fence where he confesses to Edie. In other words, he has broken away from the corruption, and while he makes Edie upset, he is one step closer to entering her world.

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The last symbolic fence that I took notice of was in one of the last scenes of the film as Terry confronts the mob leaders. In the background, it is clear that Terry had to pass through a unique fence structure; this action represents Terry officially leaving his corrupt lifestyle behind and putting his morale values over his loyalty to the mob. After seeing a shot of the entire dock (seen below), this fence seems very strategically and intentionally placed to make this point, as the fencing is not included along the entire dock.

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Overall, I am incredibly fascinated by the thoughtful mis-en-scene in the film, especially the symbolic value of fences. This class has really opened my eyes to the small, but often incredibly significant details that directors and producers include in films to emphasize the overarching message. Zeroing in on these strategic choices really enhances the film-viewing experience.

Subtle Symbolism in The Philadelphia Story

Whenever I watch a film for the second time, I notice even the most subtle of details or symbolic elements that I had previously overlooked, and The Philadelphia Story was no exception. Despite the fact that I had to resort to re-watching select clips on YouTube (the movie was not available for free online in its entirety), I was able to glean several instances of notable mis-en-scene and cinematic choices that I had not picked up on before. While some may be more obvious or plausible than others, I wanted to share my findings.

My first realization is associated with the first scene of the movie (above), and I am very surprised how I initially missed this distinct cinematic choice. In this scene, Tracy and Dexter have a falling out, and we can determine that their altercation signifies the end of their first marriage. What I had failed to notice before was the complete absence of conversation in their interaction. In fact, it is filmed in a manner very similar to that of early silent movies — with dramatic music and exaggerated actions and emotions. Given one of the central themes of this film, this style make sense. The film’s primary takeaway is the importance of meaningful conversations within a successful marriage in which both parties understand each other’s faults and ask probing questions to help each other grow; the fact that this scene includes absolutely no conversation shows how Tracy and Dexter were previously incompatible and the extent to which they both needed to experience a period of learning and growth to establish a healthy, mutually beneficial relationship.

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My next observation is associated with the screenshot above, which was pulled from the scene where drunken Macaulay is interrogating Dexter about his feelings for Tracy. Right as Macaulay inquires, “Do you still love her?”, we obtain this view of Dexter’s house, which displays a model of a ship and the shadows of what seem to be a miniature woman and man in the background. As we learn throughout the film, boats represent the relationship between Dexter and Tracy. In fact, at the end of the film, we learn about a boat that Dexter had named “True Love,” which is “only comfortable for two people” and is described by the two as “yar.” Boats obviously represent a significant aspect of their previous relationship and allow Dexter and Tracy to speak in their common language. Perhaps the boat and shadow figures in this scene represent the couple and their “true love” and allow the audience to draw a conclusion on their own to Macaulay’s question, “Do you still love her?”

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While I have to admit that my next observation may be a bit of a stretch, I decided to share it, as I find it incredibly interesting. When Macaulay and Dexter are conversing at Dexter’s house, the background displays three animal heads mounted above a fireplace along with three trophies –one of which is noticeably larger — on the mantel. While I had dismissed the idea that these objects held any type of significance at first, I decided to explore this mis-en-scene further when I saw that Macaulay literally pauses in conversation to stare at these animal heads. Perhaps these three animals represent the three men “going after” Tracy. Throughout the film, it becomes apparent that one of the men (Dexter) is more fit for Tracy, followed by Macaulay and then George. Does the larger trophy next to the animal head on the far right represent Dexter and his victory in establishing a marriage with Tracy in the end? Is it purely coincidence that there are three animals, three trophies, and three men? Everything is placed in a scene for a reason, right?  Just some food for thought.

Ultimately, while the plausibility of some of my findings may be questionable, I definitely think there are intentional and subtle details in The Philadelphia story that are very easy to overlook. Even after replaying these scenes several times, it did take me a bit of time to take notice to these details and establish these inferences. I can only imagine how many other symbols and cinematic choices I would take notice to if I had the ability to study the entire movie in this level of detail.

The Ambiguous Role of Women in “The Grapes of Wrath” Film

In class, we had briefly touched upon Rose of Sharon’s role (or lack there of) in the film. We all seemed to agree that she was primarily portrayed as a background character starved of any form of character development. I almost felt comfortable concluding that the overarching theme and message of the film would have been unscathed had she simply been left out of the picture. Although one of the most iconic moments of the novel — Rose of Sharon offering her breastmilk to a dying stranger — was left out of the movie, I was determined to identify the significance of her character as well as women in general within the context of the film.

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In a sharp contrast to Capra’s portrayal of women as strong, intelligent characters, Ford depicted Rose of Sharon as weak and naive. When her husband mysteriously disappears, she suggests that maybe he was “off to buy textbooks” with the intention of returning, representing either a state of denial or extreme naïveté. At the end of the film, her pregnancy had her reduced to no more than a lifeless rag doll, as she had to be carried up on to the car after leaving the government camp. Rose of Sharon was not the only woman portrayed as innocent and vulnerable. During the dance at the government camp, a series of young women were asked to dance, but their mothers refused to let them speak for themselves and essentially shooed the young men away to protect their precious daughters.

After examining these events carefully, I have come to two conclusions:

  1. There is a massive contradiction in the film concerning the depiction of women and Ma Joad’s monologue at the conclusion of the film.

As the Joad’s drive away from the government camp at the end of the movie, Ma emphasizes that the power of the people, especially the strength of women, allow the poor to prevail against the corrupt capitalist system. Her statement is very perplexing given the overall portrayal of women throughout the movie. Her lecture already seemed somewhat out of place, and when considering her words in correlation with the weak, naive Rose of Sharon and other voiceless women, her argument is very unsubstantiated. the-grapes-of-wrath-18

2. Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy may have been the most symbolic aspect of her character.

Rose of Sharon’s pregnancy and fatigue can be considered a metaphor given the time period of the film. Pregnancy symbolizes reproduction and life, which were both suppressed by corrupt capitalism. Due to the arid climate and the forced evacuation of people off of their land, it was next to impossible for crops to sustain life and for families to support themselves through the reproduction of fruits/vegetables. Starvation and death were common, as families hopelessly traveled miles to find work only to be subject to unfair wages, poor living conditions, and inhumane treatment. Rose of Sharon’s suffering through her pregnancy can represent the inability to maintain and produce healthy, fruitful life because of the constraints imposed by corrupt capitalism.

Still, the role of women in the film is ambiguous and contradictory. I would be interested in others’ thoughts and interpretation of this subject.

Sources:

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