Friday, October 30, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 7: 1975 - 1977)


 The World in 1975:

Film in 1975:

Barry Lyndon (USA/UK: Stanley Kubrick, 1975) [Criterion: "Stanley Kubrick bent the conventions of the historical drama to his own will in this dazzling vision of a pitiless aristocracy, adapted from a novel by William Makepeace Thackeray. In picaresque detail, Barry Lyndon chronicles the adventures of an incorrigible trickster (Ryan O’Neal) whose opportunism takes him from an Irish farm to the battlefields of the Seven Years’ War and the parlors of high society. For the most sumptuously crafted film of his career, Kubrick recreated the decadent surfaces and intricate social codes of the period, evoking the light and texture of eighteenth-century painting with the help of pioneering cinematographic techniques and lavish costume and production design, all of which earned Academy Awards. The result is a masterpiece—a sardonic, devastating portrait of a vanishing world whose opulence conceals the moral vacancy at its heart." MB: Stunning cinematography, especially long night scenes lit only by candles. A stunning work-of-art by one of the best filmmakers.]

Dog Day Afternoon (USA: Sidney Lumet, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Framed by great work from director Sidney Lumet and fueled by a gripping performance from Al Pacino, Dog Day Afternoon offers a finely detailed snapshot of people in crisis with tension-soaked drama shaded in black humor. When inexperienced criminal Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) leads a bank robbery in Brooklyn, things quickly go wrong, and a hostage situation develops. As Sonny and his accomplice, Sal Naturile (John Cazale), try desperately to remain in control, a media circus develops and the FBI arrives, creating even more tension. Gradually, Sonny's surprising motivations behind the robbery are revealed, and his standoff with law enforcement moves toward its inevitable end." MB: Based on real events. The ultimate sad-sack criminals who can't do anything right. Equal parts drama and humorous. Grandstanding, but stellar acting turn by Al Pacino, and an equally good, but subtle, performance by the underrated John Cazale. A good early example of our society's love of media spectacles.]

The Mirror (Soviet Union: Andrei Tarkovsky, 1975) [Criterion: "A dying middle-aged man reminisces on his own life, in turn reflecting on the past half-century of Russian history. This autobiographical poem from Andrei Tarkovsky is a stunningly sensual odyssey through the halls of memory." Rotten Tomatoes: "Using a nonlinear structure interlaced with dreams and flashbacks, director Andrei Tarkovsky creates a stream-of-consciousness meditation on war, memory and time that draws heavily on events from his own life. Tarkovsky's film alter ego is Alexei (Ignat Daniltsev), a dying man in his 40s whose commonplace interactions with his wife (Margarita Terekhova) and children summon up a host of memories, ranging from his parents' divorce to his time on the battlefields of World War II." MB: Tarkovsky is considered to be the major poet of international cinema and this is considered to be one of his best. ]

Nashville (USA: Robert Altman, 1975) [Criterion: "This cornerstone of 1970s American moviemaking from Robert Altman is a panoramic view of the country’s political and cultural landscapes, set in the nation’s music capital. Nashville weaves the stories of twenty-four characters—from country star to wannabe to reporter to waitress—into a cinematic tapestry that is equal parts comedy, tragedy, and musical. Many members of the astonishing cast wrote their own songs and performed them live on location, which lends another layer to the film’s quirky authenticity. Altman’s ability to get to the heart of American life via its eccentric byways was never put to better use than in this grand, rollicking triumph, which barrels forward to an unforgettable conclusion." MB: A breathtaking feat of ensemble acting and filmmaking.]

Picnic at Hanging Rock (Australia: Peter Weir, 1975) [Criterion: "This sensual and striking chronicle of a disappearance and its aftermath put director Peter Weir on the map and helped usher in a new era of Australian cinema. Based on an acclaimed 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay, Picnic at Hanging Rock is set at the turn of the twentieth century and concerns a small group of students from an all- female college who vanish, along with a chaperone, while on a St. Valentine’s Day outing. Less a mystery than a journey into the mystic, as well as an inquiry into issues of class and sexual repression in Australian society, Weir’s gorgeous, disquieting film is a work of poetic horror whose secrets haunt viewers to this day." MB: The costumes and mise-en-scene are gorgeous. One slips into this dreamlike film, coasting along with its languid story, as it slowly becomes quite different and stranger.]

Rocky Horror Picture Show (USA: Jim Sharman, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Rocky Horror Picture Show brings its quirky characters in tight, but it's the narrative thrust that really drives audiences insane and keeps 'em doing the time warp again. In this cult classic, sweethearts Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon), stuck with a flat tire during a storm, discover the eerie mansion of Dr. Frank-N-Furter (Tim Curry), a transvestite scientist. As their innocence is lost, Brad and Janet meet a houseful of wild characters, including a rocking biker (Meat Loaf) and a creepy butler (Richard O'Brien). Through elaborate dances and rock songs, Frank-N-Furter unveils his latest creation: a muscular man named "Rocky."" MB: The most famous and beloved cult film of all time. A fun musical crammed with zany weirdness and performed admirably by its eclectic cast. I remember the first time I saw this film I was in Ocean Beach in San Diego and as we walked up to the Midnight Screening at an independent theater there was a man over six feet tall dressed like Dr. Frank-N-Furter smoking intensely on a 3 ft bong in the middle of the busy boulevard in front of the costumed crowd and a pair of cops who didn't care one bit :)]

The Stepford Wives (USA: Bryan Forbes, 1975) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Joanna Eberhart (Katharine Ross) moves to the quiet town of Stepford with her husband (Peter Masterson) and children. The town seems perfect -- maybe a little too perfect. There's something not quite right with the suburb's women: they're vapid, unfathomably devoted to housework and completely subservient to their husbands. Joanna teams up with another recent transplant, Bobby (Paula Prentiss), to investigate the mystery of Stepford's wives and makes a horrific discovery." MB: Based on the novel by Ira Levin. Seeing this at 10, it made a huge impact on my developing consciousness as, despite its rather staid direction, it radically subverted my early patriarchal interpellation. This was around the time when there started to be a concerted effort to reverse the gains of the women's movement/feminism ultimately becoming a fully realized pushback during the Reagan Revolution. Still pertinent for our times as we are seeing a similar role back of women's rights and a new attempt to culturally cultivate Stepford Wives . Remade in 2004, but feel free to ignore it.]


The World in 1976:

Film in 1976:

Carrie (USA: Brian DePlama, 1976) ["Carrie is a horrifying look at supernatural powers, high school cruelty, and teen angst -- and it brings us one of the most memorable and disturbing prom scenes in history. In this chilling adaptation of Stephen King's horror novel, withdrawn and sensitive teen Carrie White (Sissy Spacek) faces taunting from classmates at school and abuse from her fanatically pious mother (Piper Laurie) at home. When strange occurrences start happening around Carrie, she begins to suspect that she has supernatural powers. Invited to the prom by the empathetic Tommy Ross (William Katt), Carrie tries to let her guard down, but things eventually take a dark and violent turn." MB: As a constantly disappointed fan of horror, this is a film that hit hard as I identified with the struggle of Carrie (even if I am different and my struggles were different). I remember my friends leaving the theater and I was still sitting slack-jawed in my seat, profoundly stunned. Easily one of the best Stephen King adaptations (along with Kubrick's 1980 The Shining). Remade in 2013, but I never saw it.] 

In the Realm of the Senses (Japan: Nagisa Oshima, 1976) [Criterion: "In the Realm of the Senses (Ai no corrida), by the always provocative Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, remains one of the most controversial films of all time. Based on a true incident, it graphically depicts the all-consuming, transcendent—but ultimately destructive—love of a man and a woman (Tatsuya Fuji and Eiko Matsuda) living in an era of ever escalating imperialism and governmental control. Less a work of pornography than of politics, In the Realm of the Senses is a brave, taboo-breaking milestone, still censored in its own country." MB: In the realm of startling portrayals of the dynamics/complexity of human sexual desire, this is a masterpiece. It will leave any viewer challenged, but for those that have been gifted (or cursed) with the uncontrollable lust and shared intensity of complete attraction & desire for/with another, you will understand the seismic forces being represented, even if you never took it this far.]

The Man Who Fell to Earth (USA: Nicolas Roeg, 1976) [Criterion: "The Man Who Fell to Earth is a daring exploration of science fiction as an art form. The story of an alien on an elaborate rescue mission provides the launching pad for Nicolas Roeg’s visual tour de force, a formally adventurous examination of alienation in contemporary life. Rock legend David Bowie, in his acting debut, completely embodies the title role, while Candy Clark, Buck Henry, and Rip Torn turn in pitch-perfect supporting performances. The film’s hallucinatory vision was obscured in the American theatrical release, which deleted nearly twenty minutes of crucial scenes and details. The Criterion Collection is proud to present Roeg’s full uncut version, in this exclusive new director-approved high-­definition widescreen transfer." MB: Bowie is perfectly cast at this point of time in his life, emanating a natural alien-state and intense curiosity. His metamorphic personal mythos became forever entwined with the imagery of the film.]

Rocky (USA: John G. Avildsen, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone), a small-time boxer from working-class Philadelphia, is arbitrarily chosen to take on the reigning world heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), when the undefeated fighter's scheduled opponent is injured. While training with feisty former bantamweight contender Mickey Goldmill (Burgess Meredith), Rocky tentatively begins a relationship with Adrian (Talia Shire), the wallflower sister of his meat-packer pal Paulie (Burt Young)." MB: Stallone hit all the beats with his screenplay for this film and fully fleshed out the archetypal role he was seemingly born to play. The popularity of this timeless story and the continuing cultural impact is demonstrated by its continuous rebirth (now as part of the Creed films).]

Taxi Driver (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A must-see film for movie lovers, this Martin Scorsese masterpiece is as hard-hitting as it is compelling, with Robert De Niro at his best. Suffering from insomnia, disturbed loner Travis Bickle (Robert De Niro) takes a job as a New York City cabbie, haunting the streets nightly, growing increasingly detached from reality as he dreams of cleaning up the filthy city. When Travis meets pretty campaign worker Betsy (Cybill Shepherd), he becomes obsessed with the idea of saving the world, first plotting to assassinate a presidential candidate, then directing his attentions toward rescuing 12-year-old prostitute Iris (Jodie Foster)." MB: Three filmmakers hitting their early peaks at once: Paul Schraeder's dark screenplay about a disillusioned and alienated vet disgusted by what he sees as the grime of the city. Martin Scorsese, most known for his gangster films, portrays a sociopath of another sort and puts his manic camera style to great use in portraying a constantly moving story. Robert DeNiro, transforms a role that could have been relegated to B movie ham-fisted, silliness like the Charles Bronson Death Wish  reactionary revenge films. DeNiro literally embodies the toxic nature of entitled white male alienation and elevates into one of the most intense characterizations ever. The continuing influence of this film is clearly demonstrated in the recent controversial Joker (2019)]

The Outlaw Josey Wales (USA: Clint Eastwood, 1976) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Recreating the essence of his iconic Man With No Name in a post-Civil War Western, director Clint Eastwood delivered the first of his great revisionist works of the genre. Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) watches helplessly as his wife and child are murdered, by Union men led by Capt. Terrill (Bill McKinney). Seeking revenge, Wales joins the Confederate Army. He refuses to surrender when the war ends, but his fellow soldiers go to hand over their weapons -- and are massacred by Terrill. Wales guns down some of Terrill's men and flees to Texas, where he tries to make a new life for himself, but the bounty on his head endangers him and his new surrogate family." MB: This was a startling film for Eastwood to make as he was most identified with the hyper-violent, no-nonsense, hyper-individualistic, amoral killers of the Sergio Leone Dollars Trilogy (1964-1966), American westerns like High Plains Drifter (1973) and reactionary police revenge thrillers like Dirty Harry (1971). While Josey is clearly a "man-of-action" and on a revenge-seeking mission, what is unique is the surrogate family that becomes attached to him throughout the narrative and becomes more important to him. You never saw Eastwood's libertarian fanatics identifying/bonding so closely to a diverse and un-traditional family set, it was almost as if the character had a sense of empathy and recognized the benefits of strong collectives! We would see glimmers of similar representational work in Unforgiven (1992),  Million Dollar Baby (2004) and Gran Torino (2008).]


The World in 1977

Film in 1977:

Annie Hall (USA: Woody Allen, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Filled with poignant performances and devastating humor, Annie Hall represents a quantum leap for Woody Allen and remains an American classic. Comedian Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) examines the rise and fall of his relationship with struggling nightclub singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). Speaking directly to the audience in front of a bare background, Singer reflects briefly on his childhood and his early adult years before settling in to tell the story of how he and Annie met, fell in love, and struggled with the obstacles of modern romance, mixing surreal fantasy sequences with small moments of emotional drama." MB: A masterpiece of the modern romance/comedy. Woody Allen is the most unlikely romance star, but pulls it off convincingly (in a nebbish way), Diane Keaton was so effective in her role she set off a fashion trend based upon her unusual outfits.] 

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (USA: Steven Spielberg, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Close Encounters of the Third Kind is deeply humane sci-fi exploring male obsession, cosmic mysticism, and music." IMDB: "Two parallel stories are told. In the first, a group of research scientists from a variety of backgrounds are investigating the strange appearance of items in remote locations, primarily desert regions. In continuing their investigation, one of the lead scientists, a Frenchman named Claude Lacombe, incorporates the Kodály method of music education as a means of communication in their work. The response, in turn, at first baffles the researchers, until American cartographer David Laughlin deciphers the meaning of the response. In the second, electric company lineman and family man Roy Neary and single mother Jillian Guiler are among some individuals in Muncie, Indiana who experience some paranormal activity before some flashes of bright lights in the sky, which they believe to be a UFO. Roy becomes obsessed with what he saw, unlike some others, especially in some form of authority, who refuse to acknowledge their belief that it was a UFO in not wanting to appear crazy." MB: Easily one of the best films from the most consistently popular directors of the 20th Century. It seized upon the contemporaneous obsession with the possibility of alien visitors and injected intelligent characters/dialogue and vibrant images/soundscapes.]

House (Japan: Nobuhiko Obayashi, 1977) [Criterion: "How to describe Nobuhiko Obayashi’s indescribable 1977 movie House (Hausu)? As a psychedelic ghost tale? A stream-of-consciousness bedtime story? An episode of Scooby-Doo as directed by Mario Bava? Any of the above will do for this hallucinatory head trip about a schoolgirl who travels with six classmates to her ailing aunt’s creaky country home and comes face-to-face with evil spirits, a demonic house cat, a bloodthirsty piano, and other ghoulish visions, all realized by Obayashi via mattes, animation, and collage effects. Equally absurd and nightmarish, House might have been beamed to Earth from some other planet. Never before available on home video in the United States, it’s one of the most exciting cult discoveries in years."]

Saturday Night Fever (USA: John Badham, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Boasting a smart, poignant story, a classic soundtrack, and a starmaking performance from John Travolta, Saturday Night Fever ranks among the finest dramas of the 1970s. Tony Manero (John Travolta) doesn't have much going for him during the weekdays. He still lives at home and works as a paint store clerk in his Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood. But he lives for the weekends, when he and his friends go to the local disco and dance the night away. When a big dance competition is announced, he wrangles the beautiful and talented Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney) to be his partner. As the two train for the big night, they start to fall for each other as well.MB: A literal cultural juggernaut, it made a superstar out of John Travolta, it set off a disco craze that consumed the nightlife of America (and beyond), and its soundtrack was one of the highest selling releases of the time (also making superstars of The Bee Gees). I remember my mom packing up a car full of 13/14 year olds to see this at a local drive-in. She quite clearly didn't understand how adult this film was and that the film was much more than a simple 'dance competition' film.]

Star Wars (USA: George Lucas, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "A legendarily expansive and ambitious start to the sci-fi saga, George Lucas opened our eyes to the possibilities of blockbuster filmmaking and things have never been the same. The Imperial Forces -- under orders from cruel Darth Vader (David Prowse) -- hold Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hostage, in their efforts to quell the rebellion against the Galactic Empire. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford), captain of the Millennium Falcon, work together with the companionable droid duo R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) to rescue the beautiful princess, help the Rebel Alliance, and restore freedom and justice to the Galaxy." MB: For a SF fan like me this is more fantasy than SF, but this initial film by Lucas is brilliant and successful in a way that others can only dream of. Immersing himself in Joseph Campbell's study of world mythology The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), tapping into his film school viewings (Kurosawa's 1958 The Hidden Fortress is the most obvious), observing a fanatical attention to detail and providing an expansive vision for the overall scope of the eventual series, he created the most successful and beloved American movie series. Please you Star Wars fanatics, if you have seen this film, please choose another one ;) If you haven't seen it, wow, you are in for a treat.] 

Suspiria (Italy: Dario Argento, 1977) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The blood pours freely in Argento's classic Suspiria, a giallo horror as grandiose and glossy as it is gory. Suzy (Jessica Harper) travels to Germany to attend ballet school. When she arrives, late on a stormy night, no one lets her in, and she sees Pat (Eva Axén), another student, fleeing from the school. When Pat reaches her apartment, she is murdered. The next day, Suzy is admitted to her new school, but has a difficult time settling in. She hears noises, and often feels ill. As more people die, Suzy uncovers the terrifying secret history of the place." MB: Influential giallo film, stunning visuals and sound build the terror. Remade and re-visioned by Luca Guadagnino in 2018 - if you watch the 1977 version and 2018 version - I would accept a response for each one.]

That Obscure Object of Desire (Spain: Luis Buñuel, 1977) [Criterion: "Luis Buñuel’s final film brings full circle the director’s lifelong preoccupation with the darker side of desire. Buñuel regular Fernando Rey plays Mathieu, an urbane widower, tortured by his lust for the elusive Conchita. With subversive flair, Buñuel uses two different actors in the latter role—Carole Bouquet, a sophisticated French beauty, and Ángela Molina, a Spanish coquette. Drawn from the surrealist favorite Pierre Louÿs’s classic erotic novel La femme et le pantin (The Woman and the Puppet, 1898), That Obscure Object of Desire is a dizzying game of sexual politics punctuated by a terror that harks back to Buñuel’s avant-garde beginnings."]

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - October 28, 2020

Biagetti, Samuel A. "The Road to Civil War: Class Conflict and Constitutional Crisis in Stuart England, 1603-1650." Historiansplaining (September 28, 2019) ["Struggles between chief executives and legislatures are dominating the news on both sides of the Atlantic, as Americans debate impeachment and the UK is engulfed by a Brexistential crisis. Most of the terms and precedents for these struggles go back to the 1600s and King Charles I's efforts to govern without the support of Parliament, which led to political backlash, civil war, and social upheaval from the halls of Westminster to the smallest peasant farmsteads."]

Collins, K. Austin, et al. "Ballad of the Coen Brothers." The Film Comment Podcast (September 26, 2018) ["“In their films—especially Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There, No Country for Old Men, A Serious Man, and Inside Llewyn Davis—there’s always the sense that the deck is stacked against us and that we’re the authors of our own misery, a doubly discomfiting, Camusian view that perfectly matches their aesthetic approach, an overwhelming omniscience that results in a kind of bravura melancholy,” Michael Koresky writes in his feature about Joel and Ethan Coen’s The Ballad of Buster Scruggs in our September/October issue. This week, Koresky, FSLC Editorial and Creative Director, moderates a special Film Comment Podcast featuring three more Coeniacs in conversation about the brothers’ dazzling 30-year-plus body of work, from greatest hits to lesser-known ballads: K. Austin Collins, film critic at Vanity Fair; Aliza Ma, head of programming at Metrograph; and Adam Nayman, Toronto-based critic and author of the new book The Coen Brothers: This Book Really Ties the Films Together (Abrams)."]

Critchley, Spencer. "Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next." New Books in Politics and Polemics (October 19, 2020) ["America is in a Cold Civil War, between people who see each other as threats to the country — but themselves as patriots. How can that be? They are patriots of two nations. In Patriots of Two Nations: Why Trump Was Inevitable and What Happens Next (McDavid Media), national media commentator and presidential campaigns veteran Spencer Critchley shows why our current hyper-partisan division has been inevitable since the founding of the United States, as has the election of Donald Trump or someone like him. That's because America is actually two nations occupying the same territory. The two nations have different worldviews: cultures, values, and ways of understanding reality itself. One nation — the dominant one — is descended from the Enlightenment, and the establishment of reason as the ultimate source of authority. But the other is nation is descended from the Counter-Enlightenment, and it has never stopped believing in the primacy of faith, tradition, culture, ties to the land, and ethnic identity. Because the Enlightenment worldview is so dominant, the Counter-Enlightenment largely has been forgotten by history. But as Critchley reveals, in many ways it's more active now than ever — and the failure of many of us to understand it is a crucial source of our division. Uniting the two nations will require that they finally do see and understand their different realities. This book shows how we might still be able to make that happen — and why we must, if democracy is to survive. Spencer Critchley is a writer, producer, and communications consultant with experience in journalism, film, digital media, public relations, advertising, and music. He is the Managing Partner of communications consulting agency Boots Road Group."]

Dano, Paul and Richard Ford. "Wildlife." The Film Comment Podcast (October 29, 2018)

Espaillat, Adriano, Maggie Mueller and Jaromy Floriano Navarro. "'They Wanted to Take My Womb Out': Survivor of Medical Abuse in ICE Jail Deported After Speaking Out." Democracy Now (October 26, 2020) ["An independent medical review team has submitted a report to Congress on a lack of informed consent and “disturbing pattern” of questionable gynecological surgical procedures at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, after an account from a nurse whistleblower in September prompted congressional and federal investigations. At least 19 women, most of whom are Black and Latina, have come forward to allege they were pressured into “unnecessary” gynecological treatment and surgeries — including procedures that left them sterile — while they were detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. We speak with Jaromy Floriano Navarro, a survivor of medical abuse and neglect at Irwin who was the original source of the information about medical abuse by Dr. Mahendra Amin that was eventually included in the whistleblower report. “From day one that I met Dr. Amin, he said, 'OK, you need surgery,'” Navarro says. “They were really trying to do the surgery on me, for whatever reason. They wanted to take my womb out.” We also speak with Dr. Maggie Mueller, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern Medical Center who was part of the independent medical review team that produced the new report, and Adriano Espaillat, Democratic congressmember from New York who visited the Irwin County Detention Center in September as part of a delegation from the Congressional Hispanic Caucus."]

McAfee, Noëlle. "Feminist Philosophy." The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (June 28, 2018) ["After a brief account of the history of feminist philosophy and various issues regarding defining feminism, the entry discusses the three main sections on (1) approaches to feminist philosophy, (2) feminist interventions in philosophy, and (3) feminist philosophical topics. Feminists working in all the main Western traditions of contemporary philosophy are using their respective traditions to approach their work, including the traditions of analytic, Continental, and pragmatist philosophy, along with other various orientations and intersections. As they do so, they are also intervening in how longstanding basic philosophical problems are understood. As feminist philosophers carry out work in traditional philosophical fields, from ethics to epistemology, they have introduced new concepts and perspectives that have transformed philosophy itself. They are also rendering philosophical previously un-problematized topics, such as the body, class and work, disability, the family, reproduction, the self, sex work, human trafficking, and sexuality. And they are bringing a particularly feminist lens to issues of science, globalization, human rights, popular culture, and race and racism."]

Quiroga, Rodrigo Quian. "Neuroscience Fiction." New Books in Neuroscience (September 10, 2020) ["In NeuroScience Fiction (Benbella Books, 2020), Rodrigo Quian Quiroga shows how the outlandish premises of many seminal science fiction movies are being made possible by new discoveries and technological advances in neuroscience and related fields. Along the way, he also explores the thorny philosophical problems raised as a result, diving into Minority Report and free will, The Matrix and the illusion of reality, Blade Runner and android emotion, and more. A heady mix of science fiction, neuroscience, and philosophy, NeuroScience Fiction takes us from Vanilla Sky to neural research labs, and from Planet of the Apes to what makes us human. The end result is a sort of bio-technological “Sophie’s World for the 21st Century”, and a compelling update on the state of human knowledge through its cultural expressions in film and art. Dr. Rodrigo Quian Quiroga is the director of the Centre for Systems Neuroscience and the Head of Bioengineering at the University of Leicester. His research focuses on the principles of visual perception and memory, and is credited with the discovery of "Concept cells" or "Jennifer Aniston neurons" - neurons in the human brain that play a key role in memory formation."]

Rippon, Gina. "Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds (Vintage 2020)." New Books in Gender Studies (October 27, 2020) ["For decades if not centuries, science has backed up society’s simple dictum that men and women are hardwired differently, that the world is divided by two different kinds of brains—male and female. However, new research in neuroimaging suggests that this is little more than “neurotrash.” In Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds (Vintage, 2020), acclaimed professor of neuroimaging, Gina Rippon, finally challenges this damaging myth by showing how the science community has engendered bias and stereotype by rewarding studies that show difference rather than sameness. Drawing on cutting edge research in neuroscience and psychology, Rippon presents the latest evidence which finally proves that brains are like mosaics comprised of both male and female components, and that they remain plastic, adapting throughout the course of a person’s life. Discernable gender identities, she asserts, are shaped by society where scientific misconceptions continue to be wielded and perpetuated to the detriment of our children, our own lives, and our culture. Gina Rippon is a British neuroscientist and feminist. She is a an honorary professor of cognitive neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre, Aston University in Birmingham, England. In 2015 she was made honorary fellow of the British Science Association. Rippon has also sat on the editorial board of the International Journal of Psychophysiology, and is a member of the European Union Gender Equality Network, belongs to WISE and ScienceGrrl, and the Inspiring the Future intiative."]

Subissati, Andrea and Alexandra West. "Violent Visage: Eyes Without a Face (1960)." Faculty of Horror (March 30, 2019) ["Andrea and Alex unmask Georges Franju’s 1960 masterpiece Eyes Without a Face and peer into the damaged landscape of a post-World War II France, body modification and why sometimes, father doesn’t know best."]

Walzer, Michael. "A Foreign Policy for the Left (Yale University Press, 2018)." New Books in Intellectual History (October 20, 2020) ["In my old age, I try to argue more quietly, though I still believe that sharp disagreement is a sign of political seriousness. What engaged citizens think and say matters; we should aim to get it right and to defeat those who get it wrong. I understand the very limited impact of what I write, but I continue to believe that the stakes are high. – Michael Walzer (2018) These thoughts, from the preface of A Foreign Policy for the Left (Yale University Press, 2018), reflect the understated wisdom of a highly regarded 85-year old political theorist, Michael Walzer. His many books include the influential Just and Unjust Wars, and others mentioned in this interview including: Thick and Thin – Moral Argument at Home and Abroad, Spheres of Justice – A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, and Obligations: Essays on Disobedience, War and Citizenship – the last one being published in 1970 at the height of the divisive Vietnam War era when Walzer was teaching at Harvard. Much of the material for Michael’s books derives from his long affiliation with Dissent magazine – he apprenticed as a young leftist partisan under the prolific Irving Howe whose writing, social role and politics helped shape the young Walzer. Evidence of Michael’s current and ongoing political engagement, as well as the clarity of his thought and seriousness of his message can be seen here: ‘A Note on Racial Capitalism’ from Dissent in July 2020. In his note Michael references K. Sabeel Rahman’s Dissent article ‘Dismantle Racial Capitalism’ in his first paragraph; a month later two scholars write ‘A Reply to Michael Walzer’ from which comes: ‘A Reply to Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò and Liam Kofi Bright’. Professor Walzer published his first Dissent article in 1956 which provides some timeline context for one of the first questions in this interview about whether the Hiss-Chambers testimonies before the House Committee on Un-American Activities (1948) might represent the opening confrontation of our polarizing culture wars. As you will hear, Michael thinks it could date back further; and shares a few thoughts on teaching at Harvard in the sixties, and pivotal moments in his career as a young leftist partisan. He comments about scholars like Rawls, Nozick and Geertz; and offers opinions related to our current polarization including a recent Rolling Stone article, the origins of resentment, engaged citizenship and voting, 9/11 and its aftermath, justice, ‘complex equality’, ‘formative’ books and a poet. An overview of Michael’s life and work, Justice is Steady Work – A Conversation on Political Theory (Polity Press 2020) with Astrid von Busekist at SciencesPo (originally published in French) out soon. Michael Walzer is professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, and editor emeritus at Dissent magazine. Professor Walzer studied on a Fulbright Fellowship at Cambridge and completed his PhD in government at Harvard University."]

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Rachel Kemaholo - A Justice System of Injustice: Causes of Wrongful Convictions in the United States (ENG 102)

 A Justice System of Injustice: Causes of Wrongful Convictions in The United States

The criminal justice system, when done right, is a system that delivers justice to people who commit crimes. It is a way of establishing and retaining order. On the contrary, wrongful convictions is the imprisonment of those that have not committed the given crime. From 1972 to 2016, prison populations in the United States had risen from 300,000 to 2.3 million--  holding 25% of the world’s prisoners despite the U.S being 5% of the world population(13th). This raises questions as to why so many people are imprisoned, many of which are answered in Ava DuVernay’s Netflix series, When They See Us.  The film is based on a real story about five 14 to 16-year-old black and brown boys— Antron McCray, Kevin Richardson, Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana, and Korey Wise. Famously known as the Central Park Five, they were wrongfully convicted of raping a white female, Patrisha Meili, who was jogging in Central Park on the night of April 19, 1989. DuVernay targets the causes of issues within the United States criminal justice system such as false confessions, eyewitness misidentification, police/prosecutorial misconduct, forensic evidence, inadequate defense counsel, and indigency. Throughout the film, one can analyze how the Central Park Five boys were forced to become men in the hands of an unlawful criminal justice system. The film’s portrayal of injustice highlighted the need for reform.

When They See Us’ opening scene takes the viewer back to New York in 1989-- giving an imagery of how the Central Park Five ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. The boys were on their way to Central Park, along with roughly thirty other boys for what they thought would be a fun night. Upon arrival, a group of boys, excluding the Central Park Five, were beating up a bystander and committing various misdemeanors. The police soon arrived and took in as many boys as they could for unlawful assembly, reporting that they were “wilding.” Around the same time, although completely unrelated, Patricia Meili was severely beaten, raped,  and left in critical condition. With the press wanting answers, the public uneasy and investigators wanting to close the case quickly, drastic measures were put in place. The film gets intense as DuVernay captures the pressure within the interrogation rooms as detectives coerced the minors into giving up a statement-- anything that could link them to the rape scene. A study conducted by Shapiro on the causes of wrongful convictions stated the following:

An individual may submit a false confession for a multitude of reasons such as: 

[d]uress, coercion, intoxication, diminished capacity, mental impairment, a misunderstanding of the law, fear of violence by the police, actual harm by the police, the threat of a harsh sentence if a confession is not given, and a misunderstanding of the situation (904).

Most of the listed reasons above contributed to the false confessions discussed shortly. According to the Innocence Project, 29% of DNA exonerations involve false confessions and 69% involve eyewitness misidentification. False confessions can be hard to decipher in court, especially when the statements are signed by the defendant (person on trial). The nervousness of the defendant may be viewed as guilt to a jury and aid in the conviction. In cases where defendants gave false confessions and went to trial, there was  higher chance of conviction despite all other evidence proving their innocence. Ultimately, the verdict lies upon whether or not the jury believes there’s guilt without reasonable doubt (Schapiro 905). In the interrogation rooms, detectives coerced false statements-- suggesting to the boys what each of the suspects were doing and correcting them when crime scene details weren’t matching up. The minors were beaten, yelled at, and questioned for nearly 28 hours without lawyers or guardians present. After rehearsing and recording their false confessions, they were coerced to sign the statements with the misguided promise that they could go home after. Also known as eyewitness identification error, Schapiro claims that people can choose who they think is the right suspect when officers are encouraging them-- making them confident in their answer (902). This is evident as the boys began identifying each other as witnesses to the crime without ever meeting each other.  Officers even went as low as to threaten Antron’s father’s job if he did not “talk sense” into his son and get him to lie. 

The false confessions presented by the Central Park Five were a result of police and prosecutorial misconduct. Investigators who practiced unethical interrogations and immoral doings should be regarded as criminals.  Tens of thousands are wrongfully imprisoned  yearly (Rogers 693), while the very same corrupt people that are supposed to deliver justice get to walk free. 48 minutes into the film, lead prosecutor Elizabeth Lederer notices some red flags in the case that Linda Fairstein, the assistant district attorney, presented to her. Elizabeth noted that the stories of the boys were aligned up until the actual rape of the victim, in which none of them confessed to the rape but rather accused each other. Linda then claimed that the “evidence” was still valuable because it makes the boys all look guilty considering they all mention one another as eyewitnesses. At this point, both Linda and Elizabeth notice the red flags but don’t do much to seek the truth. Elizabeth is focused on how presenting this case will look to a jury, while Linda is focused on closing the case and giving the public answers quickly. Jamala Rogers, who has worked with prisoners for over 45 years, argues that the common misconception regarding prosecutors is that they are just supposed to prosecute defenders. She claims that their job instead should be “truth seekers” (692). Citizens should be able to trust that both the people representing them and the opposing side should want nothing but the truth. Instead, it seems as though being right and winning the case was more important as noted in the Central Park Five case. Misconduct is seen throughout the film and not once did someone point out that this case was circumstantial and inconclusive: no murder weapon, no DNA, statements from the confessions weren’t making sense, and the boys clearly didn’t know each other (except Yusef and Korey) yet Linda was convinced they were guilty from the beginning. 

The assumption of guilt is first seen in the term “wildin” that was written in the initial police report as  mentioned by one of the teenagers. Wildin’ or wilding is a slang term used when doing something extreme or daring. Linda’s acknowledgement of this word led to her utilization of racial slurs-- calling the boys animals. She wasn’t the only one, however. News reporters labeled the boys as wolf packs and gangs, claiming that they came from a world of crack, violence, guns, ignorance and welfare. People of color (poc) have been portrayed as savages and animalistic behaviors for centuries  so it is no secret they receive longer sentences for crimes in comparison to their white counterparts. In 1982,  Richard Nixon’s war on drugs and law and order had a simple target-- black people. Nixon’s advisor admitted that if they got the public to associate black people with drugs, it would be easier to vilify them on the news. Presuming guilt towards poc when the media already portrays them as animals, murderers, drug abusers and rapists makes it easier to incarcerate them which is what happened to the Central Park Five. Donald Trump even paid $85,000 on a full page newspaper ad calling for the death penalty upon the boys. (13th). All the above prejudice can influence a jury decision and lead to a wrongful conviction.

Wrongful convictions in 45% of DNA exonerations had to do with forensic science evidence. A collection of hair samples, saliva, semen, or fingerprints can be utilized in a court of law to determine innocence or guilt (Innocence Project). The issues involving forensic is that prosecutors tend to look for evidence that incriminates the defendant, rather than ones that prove their innocence. Misconduct also occurs when evidence is hidden that could potentially influence a jury verdict. In the United States, there has been over 2,000 exonerations with roughly 20% being exonerated by DNA .  Part of the reason for all these exonerations is that forensic science has improved over time. On the contrary, evidence can be misused, misplaced, or unreliable yet still lead to convictions. Forensic science is also often disregarded by the jury in comparison to false confessions, eyewitness misidentification and testimonies. The jury is most likely to believe a confident testimony over science (Schapiro 897, 903). During the Central Park Five trial, semen was found at the crime scene that did not match any of the boys. Prosecutors attempted to hide this evidence but failed. A singular hair that “looked” like the victim’s hair was found on Kevin’s pants. No hair analysis was performed, yet the jury could make their assumptions. Furthermore, the confession tapes presented in court were highly edited as Elizabeth admitted to tampering with it. Forensic science had been disregarded and evidence had been misused. No matter how hard the defendants fought, it seemed useless when their guilt was already assumed. 

The criminal justice system is a game of the rich versus the poor. If you’re rich, you can post bail and leave and if you’re indigent, you have to stay and serve the time. More often than not, people of color serve longer sentences due to indigency (13th). In a high profile case in 2020, a white ex-officer, Derek Chauvin, was charged for the murder of George Floyd, a black man, in May. Derek posted a bond of $1 million in October and is currently free until his trial in March 2021 (NBC). Indigent people don’t have the luxury of roaming the streets as they await a conviction; they have to wait in a jail cell like a criminal despite the possibility of  innocence. Indigent clients can also receive wrongful convictions as they don’t have access to the best lawyers which leaves prosecutors on a higher pedestal. Without proper comprehension of the subject matter, incompetent lawyers can overlook misconduct done by prosecutors and assume their client is guilty because they don’t know how to properly defend them (Schapiro 911).  Of the 5 lawyers defending the boys, only one of them was a criminal defense lawyer; the others were divorce lawyers, activists or former cops. During the trial, the prosecutor’s only strong lead was the conflicting  confession tapes, yet they presented a thorough, strong case that moved the jury. Despite the defendants’ stance on their innocence and evidence presented in court, the jury seemed to have disregarded it and labeled them guilty. The boys got sentenced to 5 to 15 years in prison and served 6 to 14 years. The justice system had failed them. 

After giving up their childhood and early adulthood to the system, they were left having to rebuild their lives. Their convictions were acquitted in 2002 when the real perpetrator, Matias Reyes, confessed to the raping of Patricia. Not only did his confession accurately describe the crime in comparison to the boys, but his DNA matched the semen that was found at the crime scene. If justice was carried out throughout the trial process, five boys would have avoided years of criminal and racial injustice. The only conclusion to draw is that the United States’ criminal justice system needs reform. Despite many causes, the underlying issues are: eyewitness misidentification, forensic science, false confessions, police/prosecutorial misconduct, indigent clients, incompetent lawyers and racial injustice. Finding the proper solution is crucial in establishing trust between the people and those who swore to honor and protect. Each case needs to be treated with the same level of scrutiny and fairness, not just high profile cases. With the help of organizations such as the Innocence Project and the National Registry of Exonerations, thousands are able to seek their innocence. 


13th. (USA: Ava DuVernay, 2016)

“DNA Exonerations in the United States” Innocence Project.

“Derek Chauvin, Ex-Officer Charged in Floyd’s Death Released on $1M Bond.” NBC4 Washington. (October 7, 2020):

Overturning Wrongful Convictions Involving Misapplied Forensics” Innocence Project.

Rogers, Jamala. “Prosecutorial crimes and corruption: The (white) elephant in the courtroom.” St. Louis University Law Journal. (Summer 2017): 691-693

Schapiro, Erin. “Wrongful Convictions: Not just an American phenomenon?: An investigation into the causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, Germany, Italy, and Japan.” Emory International Law Review.  (2020): 897-911

When They See Us (USA: Ava Duvernay, 2019)

Thursday, October 22, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - October 22, 2020

Bulkin, Nadia, Mike D. and Tyler Unsell. "A Dark Song." The Horror Pod Class (April 18, 2019) ["Today we are talking to one of our favorite horror and weird fiction authors, Nadia Bulkin! We discuss a really great movie that she turned us on to on Netflix called A Dark Song. Specifically, we discuss the concept of the Sublime and how it interacts with horror fiction."]

Castillo, Monica. "Cuties." Roger Ebert (September 9, 2020)

Haenel, Adèle, et al. "Portrait of a Lady on Fire." Film Comment Podcast (October 1, 2019) ["Eugene Hernandez, FLC’s Deputy Director and Co-Publisher of Film Comment, is joined by Film Comment Editor-in-Chief Nicolas Rapold to discuss Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which the magazine is presenting at the festival. ... Then we go to last night’s Q&A for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, featuring writer-director Céline Sciamma and stars Adèle Haenel and Noémie Merlant. Moderated by Amy Taubin, they discuss a David Lynch-esque approach to sound design, the similarities between directing and painting, how art consoles the soul, the costume design, and (spoilers!) the film’s final scene."]

Isaacs, Bruce. "The Art of Pure Cinema: Hitchcock and His Imitators." New Books in Film (September 28, 2020) ["The Art of Pure Cinema: Hitchcock and His Imitators (Oxford University Press) is the first book-length study to examine the historical foundations and stylistic mechanics of pure cinema. Author Bruce Isaacs, Associate Professor of Film Studies and Director of the Film Studies Program at the University of Sydney, explores the potential of a philosophical and artistic approach most explicitly demonstrated by Hitchcock in his later films, beginning with Hitchcock’s contact with the European avant-garde film movement in the mid-1920s. Tracing the evolution of a philosophy of pure cinema across Hitchcock’s most experimental works – Rear Window, Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, Marnie, and Frenzy – Isaacs rereads these works in a new and vital context. In addition to this historical account, the book presents the first examination of pure cinema as an integrated stylistics of mise en scène, montage, and sound design. The films of so-called Hitchcockian imitators like Mario Bava, Dario Argento, and Brian De Palma are also examined in light of a provocative claim: that the art of pure cinema is only fully realized after Hitchcock."]

Kenny, Glen. "Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas." New Books in Film (September 30, 2020) ["For the thirtieth anniversary of its premiere comes the vivid and immersive history behind Martin Scorsese’s signature film Goodfellas, hailed by critics as the greatest mob movie ever made. In the first ever behind-the-scenes story of Goodfellas, film critic Glenn Kenny chronicles the making and afterlife of the film that introduced America to the real modern gangster—brutal, ruthless, yet darkly appealing, the villain we can’t get enough of. Featuring interviews with the film’s major players, including Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, Made Men: The Story of Goodfellas (Hanover Square, 2020) shines a light on the lives and stories wrapped up in the Goodfellas universe, and why its enduring legacy is still essential to charting the trajectory of American culture thirty years later. Glen Kenny is a long-time film critic based in New York. He currently writes for and the New York Times."]

 Scahill, Jeremy. "'Trump Is Not the Root of the Problem, He Is a Product of American Imperial History.'" Democracy Now (October 19, 2020) ["Donald Trump ran for president in 2016 with a mixed message of attacking the legacy of the Iraq War and U.S. military adventurism, while simultaneously pledging to commit war crimes and promote imperialism. As we look back at Trump’s record, Jeremy Scahill, co-founder of The Intercept, says his flouting of international norms and bullying of other countries is in keeping with how U.S. presidents have long behaved. “Donald Trump is not the root of the problem. Donald Trump is a product of American imperial history,” Scahill notes."]

---. "Jeremy Scahill on Trump’s 'Homicidal' Pandemic Response & What’s at Stake in November Election." Democracy Now (October 19, 2020) ["As President Trump campaigns in swing states that are also coronavirus hot spots, The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill argues he is directly responsible for the poor U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed almost 220,000 people in the country so far and sickened millions. “I don’t know how else to describe what Trump has done except homicidal,” says Scahill, host of a new seven-part audio series that examines the Trump era."]

West, Stephen. "Hannah Arendt - The Banality of Evil." Philosophize This! (November 1, 2019)

Monday, October 19, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - October 19, 2020

Clarke, Kristen. "Dark Money & Barrett Nomination: The Link Between Big Polluters & the War on ACA, Roe & LGBT Rights." Democracy Now (October 16, 2020) ["During confirmation hearings this week for Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett, Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island opted not to ask the judge any questions. Instead, he gave a 30-minute presentation on how right-wing groups, including the Federalist Society and Judicial Crisis Network, use dark money to shape the nation’s judiciary. We air excerpts from his presentation and get reaction from Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law."]

Fairfax, Daniel. "A Stranger in the Hotel: Jean-Pierre Oudart and The Shining." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020)

Karaan, Abraar and Martin Kulldorf. "Herd Immunity: Is It a More Compassionate Approach or Will It Lead to Death or Illness for Millions?" Democracy Now (October 15, 2020) ["As coronavirus cases increase across much of the United States, the Trump administration has reportedly adopted a policy of deliberately letting the virus infect much of the U.S. population in order to attain “herd immunity” — despite warnings from the World Health Organization against such an approach. We host a debate on the contentious issue of herd immunity and how best to confront the virus with two Harvard medical experts: epidemiologist Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University and one of the lead signatories of the controversial Great Barrington Declaration arguing for an easing of lockdowns, and Dr. Abraar Karan, an internal medicine doctor at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and at Harvard Medical School who has worked on the COVID-19 public health response in Massachusetts since February."]

Kern, Laura. "Scare Tactics: Senseless Violence." Film Comment (May/June 2018) ["The loss of hearing or sight (or more) can trigger the ever-potent drama of survival against the odds"]

Scahill, Jeremy. "Trump Has Incited White Supremacists & Emboldened Police to Act Outside the Law." Democracy Now (October 19, 2020) ["As the 2020 presidential campaign enters its final two weeks, we look at the past four years of the Trump presidency with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill of The Intercept. His podcast “Intercepted” has just released the fourth chapter in a seven-part audio documentary titled “American Mythology,” which critically examines the Trump presidency and places it within a larger historical context. Scahill says Trump has empowered white supremacist vigilantes and given permission to law enforcement to act extrajudicially to enforce a racist status quo, but he cautions that “Donald Trump is not an aberration of U.S. history or some anomaly, but he’s a very overt representation of many of the absolute most violent, destructive, racist, xenophobic trends in U.S. history.”"]

---. "Trump’s Xenophobia Is Horrific, But U.S. Immigration Policy Has Always Been Racist." Democracy Now (October 19, 2020) ["In Part 2 of our discussion of the Trump era with The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill about his new seven-part audio documentary “American Mythology,” he examines how Trump’s xenophobic immigration policies have been a “methodical, surgical operation” to make life miserable for both current and prospective immigrants, including asylum seekers fleeing violence. He also notes that while Trump’s policies have been particularly vicious, “this country has had a racist immigration policy for a very long time, and it’s bipartisan.”"]

Nothing at Stake from Criterion Collection on Vimeo.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

ENG 281 Fall 2020 (Week 5: 1973 - 1974)

The World in 1973:

1973 in Film

American Graffiti (USA: George Lucas, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "One of the most influential of all teen films, American Graffiti is a funny, nostalgic, and bittersweet look at a group of recent high school grads' last days of innocence. On the last day of summer vacation in 1962, friends Curt (Richard Dreyfuss), Steve (Ronny Howard), Terry (Charles Martin Smith) and John (Paul Le Mat) cruise the streets of small-town California while a mysterious disc jockey (Wolfman Jack) spins classic rock'n'roll tunes. It's the last night before their grown-up lives begin, and Steve's high-school sweetheart, a hot-to-trot blonde, a bratty adolescent and a disappearing angel in a Thunderbird provide all the excitement they can handle." MB: I think this film is superior to Lucas' megablockbuster Star Wars (1976). This film was hugely popular and influential setting off a a continuous cycle of these type of nostalgia films & TV series to this day. It was the inspiration for the long running and hugely popular TV series Happy Days (1974 - 1984).]

Badlands (USA: Terence Malick, 1973) [Criterion: "Badlands announced the arrival of a major talent: Terrence Malick. His impressionistic take on the notorious Charles Starkweather killing spree of the late 1950s uses a serial-killer narrative as a springboard for an oblique teenage romance, lovingly and idiosyncratically enacted by Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek. The film introduced many of the elements that would earn Malick his passionate following: the enigmatic approach to narrative and character, the unusual use of voice-over, the juxtaposition of human violence with natural beauty, the poetic investigation of American dreams and nightmares. This debut has spawned countless imitations, but none have equaled its strange sublimity." MB: Innocent/naive, all-American girl, meets affable, near-do-well, entitled (in his mind) white boy. What could possibly go wrong? Seriously, this is a beautiful film, with an engaging style, that is kind of magical despite its subject.]

The Exorcist (USA: William Friedkin, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "The Exorcist rides its supernatural theme to magical effect, with remarkable special effects and an eerie atmosphere, resulting in one of the scariest films of all time. ... One of the most profitable horror movies ever made, this tale of an exorcism is based loosely on actual events. When young Regan (Linda Blair) starts acting odd -- levitating, speaking in tongues -- her worried mother (Ellen Burstyn) seeks medical help, only to hit a dead end. A local priest (Jason Miller), however, thinks the girl may be seized by the devil. The priest makes a request to perform an exorcism, and the church sends in an expert (Max von Sydow) to help with the difficult job." MB: Adapted closely from William Peter Blatty's novel of the same name. This is one of the very first mega-blockbusters that set off the eventual studio obsession with films that will make all of their money for a year (also Jaws and Star Wars) and ignoring films that are independent or aiming for artistic excellence. Reportedly people were passing out and throwing up during the film. I can understand that, as when it came out I was 8 yrs old and indoctrinated into a fundamentalist Christian worldview in which I believed demons were constantly seeking to steal my soul. When I watched it again 25+ years later as a grad student and non-believer, it still shook me (you may not believe still, but those grooves in your consciousness are still there). This film, along with others, no doubt was influential in the growth of the ongoing Satanic Panic. A masterpiece of sound effects that are a large part of its impact! Countless films and TV series have been inspired by this film.]

The Holy Mountain (Mexico: Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1973) [Abko Records & Films: "The scandal of the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky’s flood of sacrilegious imagery and existential symbolism in The Holy Mountain is a spiritual quest for enlightenment pitting illusion against truth. The Alchemist (Jodorowsky) assembles together a group of people from all walks of life to represent the planets in the solar system. The occult adept’s intention is to put his recruits through strange mystical rites and divest them of their worldly baggage before embarking on a trip to Lotus Island. There they ascend the Holy Mountain to displace the immortal gods who secretly rule the universe." Weird Movies: "The Holy Mountain plays like a cut-up version of the world’s sacred texts. If you tore out pages from the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita, The Golden Bough, and a dozen other esoteric works from the Kabbalah to Gurdijeff—throwing in a couple of sleazy pulp novels for good measure—and put them together in a giant cauldron, stirred them up and pulled out sheaves at random and asked a troupe of performance artists, carnival freaks, and hippies tripping on peyote to act them out, you might come up with a narrative something like The Holy Mountain. Here, the cauldron is Alejandro Jodorowsky’s skull, and the stirrer was LSD, and an ex-Beatle gave the director and master visual stylist a small fortune to bring any elaborate and depraved fantasy he could dream up to shocking life. The singularly bizarre results—the pure, undiluted essence of mad Jodorowsky—are unlike any film that has ever existed before, or ever shall be, world without end." MB: Truly a unique and weird film. It is also an incredibly subversive and perverse film. Lastly, it is a savage anti-authoritarian film inspired by the esoteric spiritual/mystic traditions of the world (also some groovy Tarot imagery). John Lennon was a major backer for the film and it caused riots at the Mexican premiere (Jodorowsky had to escape through a back bathroom window). I screened it for 40 people at the college and it provoked long discussions afterward. If you open up to the film, you will not forget it.]

Mean Streets (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Mean Streets is a powerful tale of urban sin and guilt that marks Scorsese's arrival as an important cinematic voice and features electrifying performances from Harvey Keitel and Robert De Niro. A slice of street life in Little Italy among lower echelon Mafiosos, unbalanced punks, and petty criminals. A small-time hood gets in over his head with a vicious loan shark. In an attempt to free himself from the dangers of his debt, he gets help from a friend who is also involved in criminal activities." MB: This is the impressive start of one of the most important American directors of the latter 20th Century and his string of influential films about the NYC gangsters he grew up around.]

Papillon (France/USA: Franklin J. Schaffner, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Convicted murderer Henri Charriere (Steve McQueen), known as "Papillon" for his butterfly chest tattoo, is transported to French Guiana to serve his sentence in a work camp. Determined to escape, Papillon forms an unlikely relationship with the frail but notorious forger Louis Dega (Dustin Hoffman), who reluctantly joins in the attempt. Despite the harshness of solitary confinement, brutal conditions and constant threats of betrayal, Papillon leads a desperate escape off the island." MB: A very engaging narrative based on historical events. Thrilled my 8 yr old anti-authoritarian heart and it was very enjoyable on a recent re-watch. The two leads are perfectly cast!] 

The Spirit of the Beehive (Spain: Victor Erice, 1973) [Criterion: "Víctor Erice’s spellbinding The Spirit of the Beehive (El espíritu de la colmena), widely regarded as the greatest Spanish film of the 1970s. In a small Castilian village in 1940, in the wake of the country's devastating civil war, six-year-old Ana attends a traveling movie show of Frankenstein and becomes possessed by the memory of it. Produced as Franco’s long regime was nearing its end, The Spirit of the Beehive is a bewitching portrait of a child’s haunted inner life and one of the most visually arresting movies ever made." MB: I first watched this film when I heard Guillermo del Toro cite it as an influence on his film Pan's Labyrinth (2006).]

The Sting (USA: George Roy Hill, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and director George Roy Hill prove that charm, humor, and a few slick twists can add up to a great film. Following the murder of a mutual friend, aspiring con man Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) teams up with old pro Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) to take revenge on the ruthless crime boss responsible, Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). Hooker and Gondorff set about implementing an elaborate scheme, one so crafty that Lonnegan won't even know he's been swindled. As their big con unfolds, however, things don't go according to plan, requiring some last-minute improvisation by the undaunted duo." MB: In my mind, easily one of the greatest "long-con" movies. Headed by two superstar actors and a giant cast of supremely talented supporting actors. This film from the beginning picks you up and you ride as if you are on the crest of a giant wave thrilling to the speed & beauty of the narrative all the way till you reach the shore.] 

The Three Musketeers (USA: Richard Lester, 1973) [Rotten Tomatoes: "An adaptation of the classic Dumas novel, this film tells the tale of aspiring swordsman D'Artagnan (Michael York), who arrives in Paris with hopes of joining the royal guard. After clashing with three musketeers, Athos (Oliver Reed), Porthos (Frank Finlay) and Aramis (Richard Chamberlain), he joins them in fighting the forces of corrupt Cardinal Richelieu, led by Rochefort (Christopher Lee). When Richelieu attempts to undermine the queen, D'Artagnan and the musketeers must thwart his plans."]

Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (Germany: Werner Rainer Fassbinder, 1974) [Criterion: "The wildly prolific German filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder paid homage to his cinematic hero Douglas Sirk with this update of that filmmaker’s 1955 All That Heaven Allows. A lonely widow (Brigitte Mira) meets a much younger Arab worker (El Hedi ben Salem) in a bar during a rainstorm. They fall in love, to their own surprise—and to the outright shock of their families, colleagues, and drinking buddies. In Ali: Fear Eats the Soul, Fassbinder expertly wields the emotional power of classic Hollywood melodrama to expose the racial tensions underlying contemporary German culture."]

Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (USA: Martin Scorsese, 1974) [Rotten Tomatoes: "After her husband dies, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) and her son, Tommy, leave their small New Mexico town for California, where Alice hopes to make it as a singer. Money problems force them to settle in Arizona instead, where Alice takes a job as waitress in a small diner. She intends to stay in Arizona just long enough to make the money needed to head back out on the road, but her plans change when she begins to fall for a rancher named David (Kris Kristofferson)." MB: A great, well-acted, female- led, working class character study. I remember even as a 9 yr old boy, this film really resonated with me. Inspired the popular hit TV show Alice (1976 - 1985).]

Black Christmas (USA: Bob Clark, 1974) [Criterion Channel:"In 1974, a low-budget nightmare filmed in Toronto was unleashed upon theaters and revolutionized horror cinema. A now-legendary film among genre aficionados, the groundbreaking BLACK CHRISTMAS was not only the first slasher film, it also remains one of the most terrifying. The college town of Bedford is visited by an unwelcome guest this Christmas. As the residents of the Pi Kappa Sigma sorority prepare for the festive season, a stranger begins stalking their house. A series of obscene phone calls makes it clear that a psychopath is homing in on the sisters with nefarious intentions. And though the police try to trace the calls, they soon discover that nothing is as it seems during this horrifying holiday." MB: Another one I saw in the theaters at 9 years old. You must be wondering about these film experiences at such an earlier age. Most Fridays or Saturdays I would walk a few miles to the neighborhood theater for that week's double feature. Ahhh, the 70s, no one ever carded me for a film until I was 18 years old ;) I remembered this one as being great horror fun and recently I re-watched it for Spooktober with some trepidation. I was worried it might not have aged well. I had nothing to fear. Even with my adult analytical mind, I enjoyed and appreciated this film. Unique for later slashers, the female characters are complex and fleshed-out (not just caricatures). In other words they are not just there for a T & A show. Hugely influential on the sub-genre that sprang up through the mid-70s through the 80s. Remade in 2019].

Blazing Saddles (USA: Mel Brooks, 1974) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Daring, provocative, and laugh-out-loud funny, Blazing Saddles is a gleefully vulgar spoof of Westerns that marks a high point in Mel Brooks' storied career. In this satirical take on Westerns, crafty railroad worker Bart (Cleavon Little) becomes the first black sheriff of Rock Ridge, a frontier town about to be destroyed in order to make way for a new railroad. Initially, the people of Rock Ridge harbor a racial bias toward their new leader. However, they warm to him after realizing that Bart and his perpetually drunk gunfighter friend (Gene Wilder) are the only defense against a wave of thugs sent to rid the town of its population." MB: I remember one of those golden moments where technological innovations have a huge impact on your consciousness. My mother was the head of the media center at Mesa College in San Diego, CA. She brought home a VCR the size of a coffee table - it took two men to carry it into the house. She brought three films home. This one, Young Frankenstein (1974), and The Sting (1973). You have to remember there was no way to see a film uncut (words bleeped out or altered, scenes cut) at that time once it had left the theaters. So the neighborhood literally gathered in our living room to watch this unusual and magical (for that time) screening of these films. When I re-watched this film a few years back, I was stunned by the way this film eviscerates the American mythos of the West and its really frank portrayal of racism, misogyny and classism. The film is aided by its two charismatic comedic leads and a bevy of talented character actors. On the re-watch I was left wondering whether this film could even be made in our time. Co-written by the legendary comedian Richard Pryor.]

Chinatown (USA: Roman Polanski, 1974) [Rotten Tomatoes: "As bruised and cynical as the decade that produced it, this noir classic benefits from Robert Towne's brilliant screenplay, director Roman Polanski's steady hand, and wonderful performances from Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway. When Los Angeles private eye J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray to investigate her husband's activities, he believes it's a routine infidelity case. Jake's investigation soon becomes anything but routine when he meets the real Mrs. Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) and realizes he was hired by an imposter. Mr. Mulwray's sudden death sets Gittes on a tangled trail of corruption, deceit and sinister family secrets as Evelyn's father (John Huston) becomes a suspect in the case." MB: A masterpiece hard-boiled mystery about a private detective seeking to do right in a cold, amoral world. A truly great screenplay/mystery.]

The Godfather II (USA: Francis Ford Coppola, 1974) [Rotten Tomatoes: "Drawing on strong performances by Al Pacino and Robert De Niro, Francis Ford Coppola's continuation of Mario Puzo's Mafia saga set new standards for sequels that have yet to be matched or broken. The compelling sequel to "The Godfather," contrasting the life of Corleone father and son. Traces the problems of Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) in 1958 and that of a young immigrant Vito Corleone (Robert De Niro) in 1917's Hell's Kitchen. Michael survives many misfortunes and Vito is introduced to a life of crime." MB: Easily one of the best American films, this is an epic look at the American Dream played out through the lives of two crime bosses. Electrifying performances! You would want to have seen The Godfather (1972) first. - you could do a response to both.]

The Night Porter (Italy: Liliana Cavani, 1974) [Criterion: "In this unsettling drama from Italian filmmaker Liliana Cavani, a concentration camp survivor (Charlotte Rampling) discovers her former torturer and lover (Dirk Bogarde) working as a porter at a hotel in postwar Vienna. When the couple attempt to re-create their sadomasochistic relationship, his former SS comrades begin to stalk them. Operatic and disturbing, The Night Porter deftly examines the lasting social and psychological effects of the Nazi regime."]

Sweet Movie (Yugoslavia: Dušan Makavejev, 1974) [Criterion: "Pushing his themes of sexual liberation to their boiling point, Yugoslavian art-house provocateur Dušan Makavejev followed his international sensation WR: Mysteries of the Organism with this full-throated shriek in the face of bourgeois complacency and movie watching. Sweet Movie tackles the limits of personal and political freedom with kaleidoscopic feverishness, shuttling viewers from a gynecological beauty pageant to a grotesque food orgy with scatological, taboo-shattering glee. With its lewd abandon and sketch-comedy perversity, Sweet Movie became both a cult staple and exemplar of the envelope pushing of 1970s cinema."]

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (USA: Tobe Hooper, 1974) [Criterion Channel: "Nearly fifty years ago, five youths on a weekend getaway in the Texas countryside fell prey to a butcher in a mask made of human skin and his cannibalistic family, and horror cinema would never be the same. Violent, confrontational, and shockingly realistic, director Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE terrified audiences in a way never thought possible when it was unleashed amid the tumultuous sociopolitical climate of 1970s America. Facing a storm of controversy, censorship, and outcry throughout its troubled release, this still-potent grindhouse landmark remains unparalleled in its impact as perhaps the most frightening film ever made." MB: Some of the most haunting and terrifying scenes I have ever seen in a horror movie. Part of a wave of films that forever changed the genre, with Night of the Living Dead (1968); The Last House on the Left (1972); Halloween (1978); and Videodrome (1983).]

Young Frankenstein (USA: Mel Brooks, 1974) ["Made with obvious affection for the original, Young Frankenstein is a riotously silly spoof featuring a fantastic performance by Gene Wilder. Respected medical lecturer Dr. Frederick Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) learns that he has inherited his infamous grandfather's estate in Transylvania. Arriving at the castle, Dr. Frankenstein soon begins to recreate his grandfather's experiments with the help of servants Igor (Marty Feldman), Inga (Teri Garr) and the fearsome Frau Blücher (Cloris Leachman). After he creates his own monster (Peter Boyle), new complications ensue with the arrival of the doctor's fiancée, Elizabeth (Madeline Kahn)." MB: Gene Wilder is great as Frederick Frankenstein and Marty Feldman sometimes steals the show as Igor, but the entire supporting cast makes this a comedy classic!]

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Dialogic Cinephilia - October 13, 2020

Abrams, Nathan. "Kubrick and the Paranoid Style: Antisemitism, Conspiracy Theories, and The Shining." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020)

Abrams, Nathan, et al. "The Shining and Us – Participants to the Dossier Reflect on Their First Encounter with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining." Senses of Cinema #95 (July 2020)

"Dying in a Leadership Vacuum." New England Journal of Medicine (October 8, 2020)

Ford, Phil and J.F. Martel. "Orbis Tertius: Borges on Magic, Conspiracy and Idealism." Weird Studies #32 (October 31, 2018) ["Jorge Luis Borges's story "Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius" is a metaphysical detective story, an armchair conspiracy thriller, and a masterpiece of weird fiction. In this tale penned by a true literary magician, Phil and JF see an opportunity to talk about magic, hyperstition, non-linear time, and the power of metaphysics to reshape the world. When Phil questions his co-host's animus against idealist doctrines, the discussion turns to dreams, cybernetics, and information theory, before reaching common ground with the dumbfound appreciation of radical mystery."]

Francis, Marc. "Smoke and Mirrors: The Bio-Con Documentary in the Age of Trump." Film Quarterly (September 23, 2020) 

Griffiths, David. "Queer Theory for Lichens." Undercurrents #19 (2015)  ["The symbiotic view of life suggests that we are not individuals, and that we have never been individuals. While the traditional view of organisms (including humans) is that they are self-contained, discrete, and autonomous individuals, scientific research is increasingly suggesting that this is misleading; the view of organisms as individuals is perhaps no longer viable. This is illustrated in the symbiotic bacterial ancestry of the mitochondria in “human” cells, as well as in the contemporary symbiotic relationships that are at work in the human gut microbiota. Eating, digesting and living are impossible without our symbiotic relationships. The brief natural cultural history of lichens that I have offered illustrates these points and demonstrates that if life and nature are to be found anywhere, it is not autonomous individuals but the constitutive comminglings, involvements, and interconnected relationships that make up the ecological mesh."]

Muncer, Mike and Rob Watts. "SLASHERS Pt 7: Friday the 13th (1980)." The Evolution of Horror (October 27, 2017)

Subissati, Andrea and Alexandra West. "House Proud: Mother! (2017)." Faculty of Horror #68 (December 23, 2018) ["Andrea and Alex break down the foundational elements of Darren Aronofsky’s divisive mother! From authorship to ecofeminism to sink instillation, few stones are left unturned or unexamined."]

---. "Where is My Mind: The Stepford Wives (1975) and Get Out (2017)." The Faculty of Horror #67 (November 27, 2018) ["This month, Andrea and Alex tackle two films whose hearts lie in the darkest, most secret parts of suburban utopia. In Bryan Forbes’ The Stepford Wives and Jordan Peele’s Get Out, we follow protagonists who are socialized to make room for the privileged and examine what happens when they strike back."]