Author Archives: Maggie Purcell

Simon and Garfunkel

One of the most iconic elements of The Graduate is the use of the Simon and Garfunkel soundtrack.  It’s almost hard to ignore the ballads that play throughout the background of the film and the certain moods that they set.  Director Mike Nichols claims that while showering every morning he would listen to Simon and Garfunkel’s album before going to work, and one morning it hit him that this is the album he would use for the film.  How amazing that one of the most iconic movie soundtracks came about from singing in the shower!

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The impact of using Simon and Garfunkel was far-reaching for both the band, the film, and the film industry.  After The Graduate, Simon and Garfunkel were able to reach a much larger audience and opened them up to an older audience.  The only song wrote by the duo solely for the film was Mrs. Robinson which turned out to be one of their most popular songs.  In the case of the film, the soundtrack allowed deeper connection to be drawn to the emotions in the film.  The themes of the music complemented the film’s themes of post-college dissatisfaction and rebellion.  With the successful use of the soundtrack, the film was able to reach the status that it did and improved both Nichols and Hoffman’s careers.

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The iconic use of Simon and Garfunkel’s music as the films soundtrack has been replicated throughout the film industry following the release of The Graduate.  Perhaps even more successful than The Graduate, was Purple Rain‘s use of Prince’s music.  The film is not renowned for its plot, but rather Prince’s creative expression of music that carries the film.  Other examples of using a singular artist on a soundtrack is Daft Punk in Legacy, Kevin Shields in Lost in Translation, and Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly.  Thus simply by listening to an album in the shower led Mike Nichols to make a decision that would have a lasting impact on film to this day.

Sources:

http://www.billboard.com/articles/news/6327146/rip-mike-nichols-the-graduate-soundtrack

Penn State Response to Happy Valley

When I was researching Happy Valley online after watching the film in class, I came upon an OnwardState article reviewing the faults in the film.  The article was titled “Five Reasons Why the ‘Happy Valley’ Documentary Sucks” clearly expressing the opinion of the author, as if the bias wasn’t already apparent enough due to it being written by a Penn State student.  After reading through the article, I found on some points the author had made a somewhat valid point but others were either completely false or the clear bias the author had interfered with the message the film was trying to send.

happy valley 1

The authors first point is that: The film fails to explore, or even mention, any of the ambiguity surrounding the key facts of the case.  He then goes on to explain how the film doesn’t spend enough time addressing the events that happened in 2001, failed to accurately depict the Penn State environment, and the belief in the Penn State community that there was no institutional coverup.  In this section, I can see a lot of what the author is saying, as in a lot of the scenes (especially in the riot and crowd scene) Penn Staters are shown as cult-like and senseless.  I disagree though, that the events of 2001 were not covered enough.  In my opinion, the film was more about the reaction of the community and impact on the community than solely covering the events in the Jerry Sandusky case.

Secondly, the author states:The film only included interview clips from one student, who came off as crazy and isn’t at all representative of what most (or really, any other) students were feeling.  As discussed in class, the director deliberately chose this student as to show the extreme view point for most people who were more uncertain or in the middle with their viewpoints would be less expressive.  I also thought that the use of extreme characters in the film, allowed for no one viewpoint to be portrayed as more strong than the other; thus allowing the audience to decide for themselves what they thought.

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Next, he claimed: The film fails to disclose its subjects’ biases, and the interviewees most critical of the “Penn State culture” are presented without any sort of critical eye.  In this section he refers to Andrew Shubin who was the attorney for many of Sandusky’s victims and believes that the film failed to show that this bias impacted his statements in the film.  I’m pretty sure that in the film it was stated that he was representing some of the victims, but nevertheless some of his statements I did find false such as that everyone was aware of the situation with Sandusky.  As a student not very interested in sports, I don’t even know any of the players names so I can’t imagine that many people knew who the assistant couch was off the top of their head.  In this section, the author also critiqued Matt Sandusky’s point.  After the film, Matt received a settlement from the University and some believe that his timeline doesn’t add up.  I don’t think it is right to accuse a victim of sexual assault and say that their story is false and they are using it for money.  As shown in the film, Matt lost both his biological and adopted family and its hard to believe that he would do this all simply for money.

The next point is:What is presented as a cross-section of the Penn State community isn’t really a cross-section at all.  In this section he again points out how the film uses extreme viewpoints, which I have already expressed was used because these are the people that actually have opinions on the issue and would want to share.  Similar to Stories We Tell, Happy Valley didn’t intend to portray one side of a story but rather get a wide variety of versions of the same story.

His final point is that: the Story isn’t Over.  I believe that this is simply a result of time, either the filmmaker could have waited 10 more years and still not have potentially had all the facts or presented the film when he felt it was in its entirety.

A separate complaint I have of the film is that though it slightly addressed the idea that this wasn’t just a Penn State problem and that child sexual abusers can be anywhere, I don’t think it did enough to emphasize this idea.  It constantly questioned how this could happen in a place like Penn State, but didn’t acknowledge that this abuse, sadly, happens everyday all over the country and goes largely unnoticed.  Perhaps at the end of the film when Sue Paterno was trying to raise awareness more emphasis could have been placed on this fact.  I believe this would have allowed the film to offer a greater social impact and not just a reflection on the situation at Penn State.

Source: http://onwardstate.com/2015/06/16/five-reasons-why-the-happy-valley-documentary-sucks/

Dear Zachary

stories we tell 2

While watching Stories We Tell I began to notice similarities in the film to another documentary that I had previously seen, Dear Zachary.  Similar to Stories We Tell, Dear Zachary focuses on someone close to the subject of the film making a movie about that person’s life.  It utilizes a similar setup in which the director allows the friends and family members of the subject of the film to talk about their experiences and memories of the subject.  This allows for the different perspectives of the subject to come through, in the case of Dear Zachary the film focuses on Andrew Bagby.

 

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Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father was made by Kurt Kuene, a childhood friend of Andrew Bagby.  It was made after Andrew was murdered in Latrobe, Pennsylvania with the apparent culprit being Shirley Turner, a woman that Andrew had previously been seeing.  It is best not to go into the film knowing a lot, but rather to go in blind and experience it fully.  However, be advised that the film is terribly sad and you will definitely walk away feeling sickened and sad.

stories we tell 1

The similarities between the two films revolve around the way in which they were shot.  Both allow for the friends and family members to build up the subject of the film and to show the different view points that each person has of them.  I also thought it was interesting how in Stories We Tell it seemed that Sarah was using the film to discover who her mother was, and in Dear Zachary the film is used to tell Zachary who is father was.  Overall, I think both films are interesting insights into how we describe people and tell their stories, but the production and direction in Stories We Tell was definitely better than that in Dear Zachary.  I think some of the subtleness that was in Stories We Tell could have been utilized in Dear Zachary, but all in all I still highly recommend the film.

Sources:

http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/a-true-crime-story-that-puts-the-victims-first

The Problem of “Rewriting” History

While re-watching Lincoln in class the other day, I kept thinking about the historical inaccuracies in the film.  I understand that the film needed to change things in order to have mass appeal but I still feel like the rewriting of history causes many problems. First, most people don’t know a lot about history and gain a lot of their knowledge of it from popular media.  Through films, such as Lincoln, and various popular television shows people think they are learning the truth about history.  However, much that is shown is either dramatized or simply created to express the director’s vision.

HOLLYWOOD, CA - NOVEMBER 08: Actor Daniel Day-Lewis (L) and director/producer Steven Spielberg arrive at the "Lincoln" premiere during AFI Fest 2012 presented by Audi at Grauman's Chinese Theatre on November 8, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images For AFI)

HOLLYWOOD, CA – NOVEMBER 08: Actor Daniel Day-Lewis (L) and director/producer Steven Spielberg arrive at the “Lincoln” premiere during AFI Fest 2012 presented by Audi at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on November 8, 2012 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images For AFI)

This is an issue though, for Steven Spielberg’s version of history is not accurate and now the general public believes it to be true.  Historical accuracies are overlooked for dramatic appeals.  Even when the things that do occur in the film actually happened, such as Lincoln saying ““I am president of the United States, clothed in immense power, and I expect to you procure those votes.”, the context, manner in which it was spoken, facial expressions cannot be historically known.  Thus the acting is also used to interpret history in a certain way.

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The film also changes facts in order to better fit its message.  For instance, the race to the 13th Amendment was not portrayed accurately at all.  The film went even so far to change the voting record in the film, with it showing that Connecticut representatives voting against the Amendment, when in actuality all four congressional representatives had voted in favor of the amendment.  The fact that something as simple as this was changed for the film unsettles me because it shows the liberty that was used in choosing details.

lincoln 3 Lincoln from “Birth of a Nation”

There is some value in viewing historical films such as Lincoln because it allows the greater masses to gain some sort of historical knowledge, as there is some truths in the film.  I think the thing that bothers me the most about historical films, is that it allows history to be portrayed by those making the film, not as it occurred.  This allows for so many different interpretations, take for instance Lincoln in “Gone With the Wind” and “Birth of a Nation”.  Their Lincolns differ greatly from Spielberg’s and show that history is distorted to use the desired message.  I think that it diminishes the actual truth of the time and makes me question what will be “rewritten” about our time period.

Sources:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/29/learning-history-at-the-movies/?_r=0

http://mic.com/articles/26646/lincoln-movie-review-10-ways-it-distorts-history#.o38chD0VY

Fight Club: Why the movie is better than the book

I read Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club a couple of years ago but had never seen the film until we watched it in class.  I was immediately much more enthralled in the story and the characters than I had been when reading the book.  This got me thinking, because I tend to think that the book version of a story is better than the movie version, why was Fight Club better as a film than as a novel?

For one, the story was able to flow so much better visually than in print.  The novel was rather disjointed and at times I thought it was hard to follow.  Perhaps, this can be traced to the fact that Palahniuk said he had not planned out to have two alter-egos of the same person portrayed as the same character.  Since the film makers knew this going into the film, they were able to drop more subtle clues that viewers can pick up subconsciously or consciously on.  This makes the ultimate revelation that Tyler and the narrator are the same person more believable.  It also allows for people to rewatch the film over and over again to reanalyze the clues leading up to the reveal.

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Also in relation to the convoluted writing in the book, is the film’s decision to romanticize the movie.  In the book, Marla’s character wasn’t as well developed and the relationship between Marla and the narrator was not as emphasized as in the movie.  I think by shifting the focus to make the film more romantic, allowed for greater depth to be added.  It brought together the film better, especially at the end, with the idea that the “man has reached a point where he can commit to a woman”.  I think that Marla also helped to add to the psyche of the narrator, especially through Fincher’s decisions such as having Tyler styled similarly as Marla and Marla replacing the penguin in the narrator’s psyche.

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The addition of Marla as more of a significant character, also lead to the changing of the ending.  In the novel, the narrator shoots himself to get rid of Tyler and ends up in an asylum that he believes is heaven and hints at the fact that Project Mayhem will continue.  This is in sharp contrast to the film’s ending that shows the buildings collapsing and the narrator returning to sanity and getting to be with Marla.  This shift in endings brings the story to a close better, and reflects the romanticizing of the story and brings together a better close to the narrator’s storyline.

fight club 1 fight club 4

Finally, I simply think that the visual media allowed for the story’s anti-consumer culture message to be conveyed better.  Through Fincher’s direction, different logos and aspects of consumer culture were better highlighted than simply stating them in the novel.  Even subtle choices, such as in the scene when Fincher shoots from the inside of the fridge, are used to show how people’s lives (especially aimed at men) are driven by the consumer needs and other basic needs are overlooked.

Overall, I enjoyed Fight Club better as a film rather than as a book.  I wonder if someone who had seen the movie first and then read the book would find similar issues as I did, or if I was more biased by reading the book first.  In all, I believe that through Fincher’s direction Fight Club was able to portray its messages better in film version.

 

http://edition.cnn.com/chat/transcripts/palahniuk.html

http://www.cracked.com/article_20287_5-movies-that-improved-book-according-to-author.html

Research and Impact of 2001: A Space Odyssey

After watching 2001: A Space Odyssey I was taken back by the incredible visual affects that were achieved without the use of CGI that is so prominent today.  The film essentially defined the space look that is now prevalent in films.  One of the reasons that 2001 was able to have this lasting legacy in science fiction film is due to the level of scientific research that went into creating the look of the film.  During the time that Kubrick was determining how to put his vision into reality, NASA scientists were working to put man on the moon.  This forced Kubrick to create technologies in the film that were far more advanced than that which NASA was using, in case NASA succeeded at their mission before the release of the film because this could cause Kubrick’s vision to appear outdated or simply just wrong.  Thus increasing the drive to make the technology in the film as advanced as possible through advanced research.

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In order to achieve the necessary level of detail that Kubrick helped to achieve in his films, he recruited a team of astronomical artists, aerospace engineers, aeronautics specialists, and NASA employees.  Kubrick wanted to have the film based in fact and had filmed a prologue to the film, which was ultimately cut due to the long running time of the film, that contained about 20 scientists discussing space travel, evolution and aliens.  In order to build HAL, Kubrick contacted IBM to design the computer system.  IBM responded by saying that a computer with that degree would have to be a computer into which the astronauts went, instead of interacted with.  This did not settle well with Kubrick, for other companies at the time were striving to work within NASA’s need of smaller computer sizes.  In the end, Kubrick went with IBM’s design because he liked the idea of creating another character.

The space station from 2001 and the real International Space Station (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/2001_anniversary.html#.VvAzaRorK1s)

The space station from 2001 and the real International Space Station (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/2001_anniversary.html#.VvAzaRorK1s)

Thus, much research was done to make 2001: A Space Odyssey look as advanced as possible.  What I found most interesting in doing this research was a page on NASA’s website that expresses their support of the film and the innovations that were inspired by the film.  The space center from the film has a real-life counterpart now, though its appearance differs.  The use of computers in space crafts has become essential now as well as the in-space entertainment imagined in the film which now includes phones, DVDs, iPods, computers.  What I found most interesting was the similarity between the scene with the astronaut running in the space station, and that in 2007 astronaut Sunita Williams ran the Boston marathon while aboard the International Space Station.

Computer technology used in space currently

Computer technology used in space currently

Right: runner from the film Left: Sunita Williams running the Boston Marathon aboard the ISS (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/2001_anniversary.html#.VvAzaRorK1s)

Left: runner from the film
Right: Sunita Williams running the Boston Marathon aboard the ISS (https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/2001_anniversary.html#.VvAzaRorK1s)

Sources: https://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/dec/11/sci-fi-films-2001-space-odyssey-science-fiction

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/main/2001_anniversary.html#.VvAzaRorK1s

http://www.wired.com/2015/08/amazingly-accurate-futurism-2001-space-odyssey/

http://sciencefiction.com/2014/12/21/lost-prologue-2001-space-odyssey/

On the Waterfront: Boris Kaufman

boris kaufman

One of the most renowned aspects of On the Waterfront is the intense neo-realistic cinematography accredited to the esteemed cinematographer Boris Kaufman.

Kaufman was born in Bialystok, Poland on August 24, 1906.  He was the youngest of 3 brothers, with both his older brothers David Abelevich Kaufman (pseudonym  Dziga Vertov) and Mikhail Kaufman going on to be successful in the film industry in the Soviet Union.  After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Poland regained its independence and Boris along with his parents moved to Poland.  He then moved to Paris to study at the University of Paris and worked with French director Jean Vigo on a number of projects.   He then served in the French army against the Nazis.  After France fell to the Nazis, Kaufman escaped to Canada and eventually the United States in 1942.

Due to his Soviet ties, Kaufman was not permitted to work within unions in Hollywood initially.  So, he spent several years doing U.S. and Canadian documentaries and government films before being allowed to make films.

His first Hollywood feature film was On the Waterfront (1954) for which he won an Academy Award.  The film established Kaufman’s style of stark, naturalistic black-and white photography.  Kazan had selected Kaufman due to his roots in documentary film making because he believed he could inject realism into the film and use the Italian neo-realist style of filmmaking.  He was also responsible for convincing Kazan to film On the Waterfront completely on location.  Some have argued that through Kazan had showed by testifying his anti-Communist stance, he was able to bring in Kaufman who had Soviet ties.

on the waterfront 2

Following On the Waterfront, Kaufman made a series of other films including his Oscar-nominated work on Baby Doll (1956), his use of color in Splendor in the Grass (1961), before entering into a series of films with director Sidney Lument which included work the films: 12 Angry Men (1957), Long Day’s Journey Into the Night (1962), The Pawnbroker (1965) and many others.

Kaufman retired after working on Otto Preminger’s Tell Me That You Love Me, Junie Moon (1970).  He then died in New York City in 1980.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/movies/person/96891/Boris-Kaufman

http://www.cinematographers.nl/GreatDoPh/kaufman.htm

Grapes of Wrath Legacy on Book Censorship

Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath was released in 1939 to immediate success across the nation.  However, there were some who thought the ideas presented in the novel warranted it to get banned in several places across the nation.  One such place that sought to ban the novel was Kern County, California which was the exact location that was the endpoint of the Joad’s migration.  People from this county thought that the novel portrayed them unfairly and made it seem like the people there were doing nothing to help the migrants.  In August 1939, the board of Kern County, California banned Grapes of Wrath from libraries and schools in a 4-1 vote.

The banning of the book was supported on one side by the local Associated Farmers who opposed organized labor.  Bill Camp, the leader of the Associated Farmers recruited Clell Pruett (pictured below) to burn the book.  Interestingly enough, Pruett had never read the novel but only heard a radio broadcast about the book.  After reading the novel years later, Pruett said he had no regrets about burning the book.

grapes of wrath 1

On the other side in Kern County was a local librarian named Gretchen Knief who was working to keep the book from being banned.  While risking her job, Knief petitioned to the board to overturn the ban, but was ultimately unsuccessful and the ban stood for a year and a half.

grapes of wrath 2

Following this ban, The American Library Association passed the Library Bill of Rights to ensure that American citizens have the right to such information.  The Library Bill of Rights is:

The American Library Association affirms that all libraries are forums for information and ideas, and that the following basic policies should guide their services.

I. Books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment of all people of the community the library serves. Materials should not be excluded because of the origin, background, or views of those contributing to their creation.

II. Libraries should provide materials and information presenting all points of view on current and historical issues. Materials should not be proscribed or removed because of partisan or doctrinal disapproval.

III. Libraries should challenge censorship in the fulfillment of their responsibility to provide information and enlightenment.

IV. Libraries should cooperate with all persons and groups concerned with resisting abridgment of free expression and free access to ideas.

V. A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.

VI. Libraries which make exhibit spaces and meeting rooms available to the public they serve should make such facilities available on an equitable basis, regardless of the beliefs or affiliations of individuals or groups requesting their use.

Adopted June 19, 1939, by the ALA Council; amended October 14, 1944; June 18, 1948; February 2, 1961; June 27, 1967; January 23, 1980; inclusion of “age” reaffirmed January 23, 1996.

It’s interesting that a book (and film) that many consider to accurately portray a period in American history caused such a stir in the place that the novel took place.  It shows the impact that the novel had, in helping to establish the Library Bill of Rights, in allowing information to all people regardless of local or national attitudes.

 

Bonus: Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band singing The Ghost of Tom Joad

 

Sources: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=95190615

http://www.ala.org/tools/first-library-bill-rights

http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/librarybill

How Capra made “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” Timeless

As with all of Capra’s films, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sets forth his populist ideals of the championing of the everyman. However, the film goes even further to make the story applicable to anyone at anytime. Even now over 75 years later, the film’s themes still feel relevant. So what does Capra do to make the film appear to be timeless?

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Sure there are some aspects of the film that are dated, but the overall message that it entails, the championing of the everyman, overcoming political corruption, are still valid today. In order to do this, Capra keeps nearly every aspect of the political scene in the film vague. The state from which Senator Paine and Jefferson Smith come from is never mentioned. Political parties are never mentioned either. Thus people watching the film could see as though whichever party they supported was the underdog, the Jefferson Smith. This also allows the film to appear timeless because by not aligning with a party it does not tie itself to particular party ideologies of a certain era. The issue centralizes on the appropriations bill that the Senate is trying to pass, but it isn’t even the entire bill that causes fraught just the line-item in the bill that would support the fat cats at the top. This signifies that the sole fight in politics is not between the two parties but rather between the corrupt and those with integrity.

The only real politicians that the film alludes to are the Founding Fathers’ and Abraham Lincoln. This is not to implicate political leanings but rather to show the basis of which the country was founded and the integrity that was intended.

Mr-Smith-Goes-To-Washington-6

What makes Capra’s films so relevant today is that he managed to put forth a political message without actually indicating any real political issues. He makes the battle of Washington not between parties but between honesty and corruption.

Sources:

https://thedissolve.com/features/movie-of-the-week/571-in-mr-smith-goes-to-washington-frank-capra-stood-u/

https://thedissolve.com/features/movie-of-the-week/576-the-politics-press-star-and-legacy-of-mr-smith-goe/

http://wamu.org/programs/metro_connection/14/10/17/remembering_when_mr_smith_came_to_washington_75_years_ago