Thursday, December 18, 2014


Feelings can really get in the way sometimes. Sometimes, all anybody wants to do is run away from their life and whatever they are feeling at any given moment. But films provide an escape without any running. By watching a cathartic film, the viewer is transported into someone else's problems, feels the release of said problems after experiencing them with the characters, and by the end of the movie it is as though their own problems have disappeared. A movie with mimesis doesn't quite have the same effect on the viewer's heart, but does have a similar effect in their mind. In representing the real world, whether it is for the sake of social change or simply for the sake of imitation itself, a memetic film provides food for thought as an option to escape the surface of the real world by looking deeper. The films Almost Famous, American Beauty, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind all exemplify both of these ideas. The three movies not only provide catharsis and mimesis for the viewer, and do so through a variety of film techniques.

In Almost Famous, the main characters go through a lot. To make everything feel more personal to
the viewer, a lot of the film is very closed form. In particular, the scene on the bus after Russell and William have been picked up from the party is very immediate to the viewer due to its closed form nature. Everyone is singing, everyone is rejoining each other through music, and nobody is upset anymore. This can feel very cathartic to a viewer. For most, it is the favorite scene of the movie. The function of the music is to bring everybody together, and as an audience member, being able to go through this experience of finding their friends again through the music along with the characters, this scene is very touching and cathartic. The emotional appeal of the music is also there, making the whole scene feel upbeat and happy, despite coming after a low moment. An interesting choice that was a part of this scene was to bring the background music more into the foreground of the scene, pulling everything together and making everyone a cohesive whole. Another very cathartic moment in the movie is
when Penny discovers that Russell, who she thinks is in love with her and who she is in love with, has bet her company in a card game in exchange for fifty dollars and a case of beer. She is very hurt by this information, and William immediately feels ashamed for volunteering it. This scene is very pertinent to some who have gone through something similar, finding out how much they are really worth to someone they thought they loved. The shot is kept tightly framed to keep her close to the audience, and it is a reaction shot to what William has said. Her tears, and her wiping away the tears, keep the movement in the scene minimal, but it is just enough to bring the viewer to the edge of tears with her. But knowing that someone else understands the feeling of rejection, the viewer will feel relieved despite the intensity of the scene. Now, while there is intensity in the film, there is also a sense of lightness, everyone acting with a devil-may-care attitude, without having a care in the world. This is where the mimesis comes in. The girls that trail after the band refuse to call themselves groupies, and say very adamantly that they are Band-aids. They are honestly just really, really big fans of the band, and they are following the band because they love it. It is unclear from the movie whether or not there are actually people like that, but even if there aren't, this aspect of the film is mimetic. The girls
get to follow the band everywhere, get to go to the same parties, hang out with the same famous people, be a part of all that comes with being a part of rock. The music genre itself feels free and uninhibited. In this shot with Penny, it shows how her life as a Band-aid is full of warm colors and comfort, but her expression shows how even her life, which may seem ideal, has its problems. The dominant contrast of the empty glass and the bottles of alcohol in the foreground add to that feeling of unhappiness in the shot. The band doesn't treat the girls very well, and that is the part of the mimesis of this film that begs social change. The movie uses the girls to portray how women are often used in the entertainment business, and that underlying current throughout the film provides a critical look at the world of entertainment and inequality. The movie Almost Famous makes the viewer can feel at home with the band while still questioning their morals. This makes for not only a cathartic film to wipe away all worries but also a film that makes the viewer question the real value of entertainment. 

American Beauty feels more like realistic cinema than Almost Famous, probably because very few people have actually gone touring with a rock band but many people live in a little suburban neighborhood and are stuck in a boring, dead-end job. This film is also more mimetic than cathartic, since it gives the viewer a lot more to think about than it gives them emotions they would like to experience. At the very beginning of the movie, there is some cutting to continuity with establishing shots to show the simple little street, with its stereotypical little families that are all hiding dark secrets. One of the images shown in the cutting to continuity shots shows Carolyn Burnham in her
garden, with her matching shears and shoes and the perfect red roses she is cutting. She looks as typical a suburban mother as can be - loosely framed with a nice lawn and a minivan, nice makeup, cutesy apron and a little basket for the roses. She is even being friendly, waving to the neighbors. After seeing this altogether too-perfect image, the viewer is then shown how nothing that looks this perfect can actually be this perfect. This image can symbolize most of the movie - a boring, seemingly perfect family that actually has rotting roots of affairs and lies, like the American Beauty rose. The perfection juxtaposed with the horror within also gives the movie an impersonal, open form feeling that causes more mimesis than catharsis throughout. Anything that involves the neighbor boy, Ricky Fitts, is mimetic. He doesn't see the world the same way everyone else does. He watches everything through the lens of his camera, and yet he is the
most grounded person in the film. Ricky makes the viewer think a little harder about everything they see, and everything he sees throughout the film. The kinetic symbolism of him raising or lowering his camera is him raising and lowering the shield between him and the rest of the world, which he usually has up. Here, he is also symmetrically framed between Jane's and Angela's heads, showing how he is thought of as either crazy or amazing throughout the film. When the viewer sees him, they are forced to wonder how he can possibly see things so differently from everyone else, but when he explains it to Jane, the audience understands a little more how even though people that seem very different at first are different from everyone else, it's not necessarily a bad thing. And it's not like he doesn't have feelings. He changes how the viewer sees Jane, just by loving her. She is closed off from everyone at the beginning of the film, but as it progresses the audiences sees her coming out of her shell more and feeling a more personal connection with her. In one scene where
she and Ricky are together and he is filming her, she mentions how much she hates her family. This is a very intimate setting, and the way that the shot is handheld and grainy and is all just one take of her talking to the camera and the person behind it makes it intimate to everyone. Even though the dialogue is very juvenile, the feelings hit home. Something about how innocent being a teenager is makes it feel more personal. Also, the way that she is framed dead center even when she moves around and how it zooms in on her face when she is talking gives the viewer a sense of how Ricky is so devoted to her, and that also makes the scene feel more intimate. All of American Beauty feels close to home, because the viewer doesn't know whether or not their next-door neighbors have secrets as dark and as dirty as the ones in the film. But the movie does also provide feelings to work through and an odd sense of relief when those feelings have run their course.

The only truly formalistic film out of the three is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. True, American Beauty has its formalistic moments, but at heart it is realistic. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is a story told in reverse, though the film itself is still running in linear order. And, of course, it is about love. The audience gets to watch the couple fall back in love as Joel's memories are erased, moving backwards through their entire relationship. Essentially, the entire film is a series of flashbacks that are also running in backwards order. The last scene to get erased is the day they met.
It has the two of them together on a set of stairs leading to the beach, and she goes up and steals some of his food right off his plate, like they already knew each other. Clementine, with her bright name and her colorful outfits, brings life to Joel's gray world. Here, framed symmetrically and side by side in a dialogue shot, the difference in their personalities is painfully obvious. Even the things they talk about seem far too different. How could two people as dissimilar as these two possibly get along? But they do, and this memory, rather than being awkward, is looked back on with fond remembrance for that day they met and shared some food. The viewer may be remembering the story of how they met their significant other, or the promising meetings of a new partner than grew to be sour and unpleasant memories as time went by. However, in the context of the movie, this scene in particular is heartwarming. Another scene that causes the viewer to recall a lot of memories and feelings is when
Joel and Clementine go out to the ice for the second time in the movie but the first time in their relationship. The shot remains a close-up, whereas before (or after, depending on the perspective of the timeline) the shot was the iconic aerial shot to show them flat on their backs on the cracking, thin ice. But here, where their relationship, though just beginning, was still solid, there are no cracks to be seen, and they are sharing a nice, quiet moment alone on the frozen river. This may bring to mind memories of a similar excursion where the viewer had never felt happier, or, conversely once again, a memory that was very nice at the time but now may be wished to go away. Much of this movie depends on the perspective of the one watching it and whether or not they have been hurt by love in the past. But this film does have a mimetic aspect to it. Clementine and Joel both go to get their memories erased. In this helpless-feeling high angle shot of Joel, the viewer is left to feel
uncomfortable and, though perhaps not confused as they have seen why he wanted to go through with it, a little thoughtful. Is there really any relationship that absolutely nothing but negativity was gained from? Should erasure actually be an option, would anybody want to go through with it? In society, many people may do something like this as a rash, quick decision, but that doesn't make it a good one. The viewer has to question the society of the film and the society of today, all because of the movie's questions of whether or not someone should be erased. By the end of the movie, it would even seem that erasing someone from their memory has no effect on true love. But Joel and Clementine agree to try again, and that is inspiring to any failing or failed relationship.

Almost Famous, American Beauty, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind provide not only a lot of feelings but a lot of deep thought to sift through once they are over. All three of the films are very cathartic, dragging the viewer along through thick and thin with the characters and giving the viewer different experiences to replace the problems they are feeling in their everyday lives. But the films also provide a lot to think about with their portrayals of everyday life and hopefully inspirations to people to make social change. These three films are excellent examples of how something as simple as a movie can be well-made and thoughtful and feeling. Movies are a very good vehicle to promote things like social change to the world. Movies also always are there to offer a way for anybody to feel better about their own life by slipping into someone else's for a bit. Movies simply have their own special magic to transport people to different places and different times.

Monday, December 15, 2014

American Beauty

 Sound played an important part in American Beauty. In all of the dreamy fantasy sequences, there is an excellent use of atonal sound to make the scene feel uncomfortable. Atonal sound in prominent in the first daydream, where Angela and Jane are dancing with the cheerleaders and Angela winds up in a spotlight. The music is very rough and has a jagged sort of feel, to show how although Lester is getting pleasure out of what he is seeing, the viewer is being reminded that he should not be fantasizing in such a way. This idea is especially prominent in the third fantasy. Angela is in a bathtub with rose petals completely covering the water, and she is saying some very suggestive things. Lester reaches for her in a way that is very taboo. His mind creating such scenes is meant to feel very awkward and wrong, a feeling that is increased with
the use of atonal music. The music in this scene in particular is very jarring, lending the feel of wrongness to the scene. Overall it is a good use of atonal sound, especially due to the fact that the subject matter itself is not something that most people enjoy thinking about.

Another good use of sound paired with images is the beginning shots and the ending shots. They are almost identical, with the exception that one zooms into the street to begin the film and the other
zooms away from the street to end the film. In the beginning, Lester's voiceover sets the tone for the whole film. He announces that he is going to die, which does sort of spoil the ending. The viewer is left feeling slightly disoriented; the movie is only starting, how could the main character already be dying? It brings up the interesting juxtaposition throughout the film. The viewer knows that Lester is going to die, and yet the film is about him coming to life. The opening shot and the opening voiceover show how Lester is at the beginning of the film as well as where he is going to end up. Life and death being side by side is an important aspect of the film. By the end, when Lester has been killed, the viewer feels
confused again. Lester has just realized what he had in front of him was all he needed. But he got shot in the head. What kind of message is that? Well, Lester goes on to say, in his ending voiceover that zooms back out of the neighborhood, a lot of important things about life. So the viewer feels validated, being told by this mystical voiceover from a god's eye shot, that life is still good. That is why using a voiceover was a good decision. It lends more credibility and weight to what is being said, especially if the shot it goes with is something to suggest the dead looking down to earth at their loved ones. That is always a powerful message to send home.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Almost Famous

In Almost Famous, the music choice is incredible. Arguably one of the best scenes in the movie is just after Russell goes to the fan's party. Everyone is sitting on the bus and singing along to Tiny Dancer by Elton John. It's a beautiful moment where the entire discordant group is brought together by and reminded of the thing they're all there for - music. The music choice for this scene was   relevant because Tiny Dancer talks about someone who is with the band but is not a musical part of it, a seamstress for the band, someone who's just there for the ride and there to enjoy herself. The character of Penny Lane is much like the tiny dancer of the song, and this is the part in the movie where William knows that he loves her but has to leave anyway. In Tiny Dancer, there is the line "Only you and you can hear me/when I say softly slowly." William only tells Penny that he needs to go home. She tells him that he is home, which is a feeling that came about as a result of listening to Tiny Dancer in particular. In contrast, when Simple Man by Lynyrd Skynyrd is playing, William is on the phone with his mother, trying to convince her to let him stay with the band a little bit longer. The first part of this song matches what's going on in the scene. "Mama told me when I was young/Come sit beside me, my only son/And listen closely to what I say." William's mother is definitely the overpowering sort of mother that fits with this song well. She also lets him stay, and there is another part of the song that says, "All I want for you my son/Is to be satisfied." William's mother lets him stay with the band because she knows it means a lot to him and it is helping him towards the career that he enjoys, which is writing about bands. She is willing to put him first, which is something that she doesn't say outright that the song says for her, which is music characterization. Both Tiny Dancer and Simple Man convey how the characters are feeling at those moments, and that is what makes them fit in the movie so well.

Compared to the music in the background of the film and the music that is sung throughout, the uses of silence in the film are important also. There is usually some sort of sound still, but it is nonsynchronous sound. For example, when Penny is dancing on the trashed stage. There is a song playing, but it has more to do with what happened immediately previous to the scene. The fact that Penny is silent makes the scene feel off, like it doesn't quite fit, and then when it's over the viewer is left questioning the purpose of the scene and what it was doing at that moment in the film. Looking back at the lyrics, it makes sense, the song is about dancing. But in the moment, it seems almost like it doesn't quite fit. This shows how Penny feels in the context of the rest of the band and how she is almost too good for them. She can dance on the stage alone and it's still amazing. There is another moment like this. William has taken Penny to the plane to let her go home, and she has a moment of realization about her feelings for him. Or so it can be assumed, because she presses her hand to the window and watches as he runs with the plane inside the airport. What is important about this scene is not how perfectly the song chosen fits with the scene but the fact that both characters are silent, letting the song tell the story for them. With the rest of the movie, this feels very natural, but it's interesting how the songs do most of the talking. The two people in this scene manage to share a profound moment in silence, one that is enhanced by the song in the background. That is how sound should happen in movies. The music makes the moment feel more real rather than cheap and manufactured, the way it can when two characters have that magical moment of realization. This was sound done right.