This is a research paper I wrote in college which I am surprisingly proud of. Plus it highlights the important of the Hispanic population and various aspects of the US, including media.
Like most television shows, telenovelas got their start in Mexico by adapting popular radio shows, mostly from Cuba, to fit the new medium (Venegas). Now celebrating over fifty years on the air, telenovelas have gained a new popularity due to their distinct nature. America’s Hispanic population consists mainly of Mexicans, and most telenovelas watched in the United States are produced in Mexico. The telenovela market has grown exponentially, with more than 2 billion watchers world-wide (Hecht). One of the biggest networks airing telenovelas is Univision. Univision is a Spanish speaking network, predominantly serving the Hispanic population of the Americas. It is the fourth most watched network in the United States, and its programming consists mainly of telenovelas. However, the country that popularized telenovelas for the Latin world was Brazil, with many of their series dubbed from Portuguese to Spanish, or their plot lines being recreated. Aside from the extreme melodrama that telenovelas have brought to the “small screen,” these Hispanic versions of soap operas also give insight into many social problems that people face on a regular basis, and forces them to confront them, making people come back five-nights a week to watch these shows religiously.
Telenovelas have set themselves apart from soap operas by having some very obvious differences. While most soap operas run for years, telenovelas play around 150-200 episodes over the period of one year. This short period of time in which telenovelas run allows for viewers to look forward to a definitive ending and see the story through while allowing them to be able to move on to the next storyline (Hecht). John Hecht argues that broadcasters like the system that the telenovela schedule has set up for them because it allows them to forget about the time slot that the telenovelas are filling up, since they know it will bring them consistently high ratings during that time due to their popularity. They are also cheap to produce, costing producers around $20,000-$80,000 an episode and selling for about 30% above their production cost to networks, making producers a hefty profit (Hecht). Televisa is the top producer of telenovelas worldwide. It has sent shows to over 50 countries and it has made over $100 million dollars in revenue so far just from its exports to Univision (Hecht). The telenovela storyline has become so popular that many American networks, have turned them into their own version of weekly shows. Colombian hit, Yo soy Betty, la fea was turned into the network hit on ABC called Ugly Betty. The show was produced by actress Salma Hayek, who got her start on telenovelas, much like other breakthrough stars like Antonia Banderas and Ricky Martin (Venegas). Similarly, many American shows have been turned into the Spanish melodramas, such as “Gossip Girl,” which now has its own time-slot in Univision and is set and produced in Mexico.
With this population having the purchasing power between $240 million-$300 million, the market for what the Hispanic-American population wanted was growing exponentially (Venegas). American television broadcasters and producers started to realize how important it was to have the U.S. Latino population find its own niche on television. When Televisa launched the Hispanic network, Univision, in 1986 there was finally more Latin American television to compete with the other networks in the United States (Venegas). Because Televisa is based in Mexico, most of the telenovelas that are broadcast are sent out from Mexico. This has also opened the doors for other countries to produce their own telenovelas set in their own countries and create competition for other shows. Countries like Colombia and Venezuela became some of the biggest exports of telenovelas and created shows so popular that they were broadcast on predominantly Mexican and Brazilian television stations (Venegas).
Having these shows broadcast in the United States allows for the constantly-growing Hispanic population to have a large influence on the culture that television impacts. However, the glossy portrayal of the characters in these telenovelas have been criticized for not allowing for an accurate interpretation of the Hispanic population. The stereotypical telenovela usually revolves around the “bourgeois society” of the countries they are set in, which is unlike the majority of the Hispanic population that is watching these shows (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). These telenovelas represent the “unfulfilled material aspirations of its audience” and promote consumerism to an extreme and contrasts it with other characters that don’t have the same availability to material goods (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). On the other hand, the themes discussed in these episodes were usually showing actual social issues, such as gender and race equality. It is argued that “within certain limits, the telenovela is a vehicle of innovative, provocative and politically emancipatory popular culture rather than a mere instrument for the reproduction of capitalist ideology and consumer desires” (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). While the telenovela is not a perfect representation of the standard of Hispanic life, it does give the viewers the ability to ask questions through the subjects of the shows. For example, in the telenovela Sin Senos no Hay Paraíso (There’s No Paradise without Breasts) a woman is raped and decides to have an abortion. Not only is the title of the show a commentary on the pressure that society puts on body-image, it also confronts a controversial social topic of pro-choice in a safe public environment that’s socially acceptable.
Other than that, the structure of the show is usually based on a leading couple, and a story motivated by class structure and promoting social mobility (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). There is also a clear difference between networks and their styles. While the popular Mexican telenovela is described as bland, the innovative Brazilian telenovela is described as being tough (Venegas). This means that the Brazilian telenovelas brought a more passionate and straightforward attitude, while the Mexican storylines weren’t as complex. The Mexican telenovela keeps the storyline pretty traditional with the main couple overcoming obstacles, usually set up by one main antagonist, and ending the show together, such as Corazón Salvaje (Wild Heart). The Brazilian telenovela follows multiple storylines that don’t necessarily deal with one or two central characters, but an array of them such as Celebridade (Celebrity). Both styles, however, keep the melodramatic structure of the genre which called the attention of the audience.
Advertisers take advantage of the time that the telenovelas are played as well. Unlike soap operas, telenovelas are played during primetime, allowing for all members of the family to be involved in the series. Because most of the viewers are in a family atmosphere and are Hispanic, most of the products advertised are specific to the needs of the Hispanic-American family, such as advertising Inglés Sin Barreras (English without Barriers) which teaches English to Spanish speakers. Some advertisers were also aimed at younger audiences as well, or events and products that everyone in the family could simultaneously enjoy (Venegas). During Christmas time in Miami, the Christmas-themed Park, Santa’s Enchanted Forest, often advertises during these times as a family-friendly activity. Some of the advertising also showed the assimilation between the Hispanic and American culture due to the vast differences in advertising during that time slot compared to English-speaking channels. Televisa was also looking to appeal to the third-generation Spanish viewer, one who speaks English, but have a Spanish speaking family and watches Spanish television, so they are therefore familiar with telenovelas (Venegas). Through Univision, Televisa is able to reach a wider Hispanic audience (Venegas). However, these channels are also concerned with catering to the different Hispanic cultures in America, therefore, many of the stories have themes that apply transnationally. Cristina Venegas says that the narratives have international subjects which appeal across cultural boundaries making the series identify with the various Hispanic groups in the nation. Many of these subjects are often centered on leaving family behind for more life opportunities, a common theme in immigrants’ lives from any country.
Michael Rodriguez argues that telenovelas allow for educational messages to be sent to the family as a whole and bring certain positive messages to Hispanics that are not expressed in other forms of entertainment, such as pursuing a higher education and making responsible life choices (Jacobson). It is also argued that telenovelas bring positive health messages to the viewers (Kane). Hispanic-Americans are one of the “nation’s most uninsured, under-resourced and — increasingly — unhealthy segments of the population” and they are also the most unemployed culture in the United States. Telenovelas have often tied in health problems into the plotlines, bringing light to an issue that is often left unattended for most Hispanics (Kane). Other common story arcs are popular for most of the Hispanic population, because many of the plots include important topics such as migrating to other countries and losing touch with family members (Jacobson). This is a theme that not only Hispanics, but any immigrant can relate to, opening the opportunity for telenovelas to relate to a wider audience than just Hispanics. Other important social issues that are discussed, such as in Yo soy Betty, la fea, are sexism and class status. This show depicts the life of an average looking girl trying to succeed in the fashion industry. While she must at first confront the issues of her looks and how hard it would be for her to progress in the fashion industry, she must also face the problem that she is a woman trying to get ahead in a patriarchal world. The underlying issue that the show presents is that she cannot use her looks to get ahead in the industry, like many of her female counterparts, and that she must use other skills. This show not only presents the idea that being unattractive is a great disadvantage for females in the workplace, it also presents a positive message to Hispanic girls, and girls everywhere, that they can use their intelligence to become successful. Telenovelas continued to point to female-oriented topics that were uncommon to discuss in other mediums, such as birth control (Pérez). They also give women the chance to see their roles being played out in a family dynamic where the female was the more dominating figure of the family (Pérez). Telenovelas are “used as a way of communicating and as linkage among women of different generations” and have produced a solidarity between Hispanic women (Pérez).
It should also be pointed that telenovelas have changed since the 1960’s to the 1990’s in themes and central plotlines thanks to their short running time, a transition that would not be so easy to make with a decades long soap opera that must have coherence in the storyline (LaPastina). The more recent telenovelas have dealt with more modern topics, such as single motherhood (LaPastina). The themes that are often represented in telenovelas are social issues that are the most popular during that time. For example, in the 60’s telenovelas were more concerned with bureaucratic corruption because there was more exploitation by the government during that time (LaPastina). On the other hand, there were some subjects that were distasteful to talk about. In Brazil, racism was never mentioned because of the desire to present Brazilian culture in an idealized way (LaPastina). Because the birth of the telenovela, even in radio, came from the serialized novel from 18th century England and France, the topics that were later represented in radio and television were pretty similar to those that were represented in the literature in the sense that there were some things people didn’t mention in literature, which have been kept traditionally taboo, such as race (LaPastina). When melodramas transitioned to radionovelas to a pre-Castro Cuba in the 1930’s, some subjects were left out to keep in theme with the original medium (LaPastina). By the 1960’s, most telenovelas were adaptations of literary novels and markets started producing their own stories that attracted a particular audience to influence the local economy (LaPastina).
When telenovelas started gaining more North American influence, producers and networks started demanding more explicit material to satisfy the less conservative population (Pérez). They were looking for more sex on screen involving multiple partners (Pérez). This caused for shows to be more sexually explicit and defying the institution of marriage, placing less value on committed relationships and more value on promiscuity (Pérez). Pre-marital sex became more prominent on screen as well, which was a representation of the society changes of the time (Pérez). Telenovelas were changing to fit in all of the elements that were considered appealing during the time that they were being aired, and this only attracted audiences more. Similarly, female characters started to become less domesticated and erase some of the male stereotypes as well in order to fit the modern view of the world and remove traditional perspectives. However, there was still a difference in generation, while some of the younger viewers felt that the plotlines were meant to be exaggerated and were able to appreciate the telenovela for entertainment’s sake, most of the older generation felt that they had been in situations similar to those depicted on the shows (Pérez). This illustrates that, despite the discrepancies that there were in some of the viewers, telenovelas allowed for a wide spectrum of personalities to enjoy the content.
Still people have criticized the popularity of telenovelas because of the melodramatic content which is often looked down upon as poor entertainment (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). Scholars have argued that telenovelas promote an uneducated entertainment system and present extreme ways for people to deal with situations (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). The problem with this is that some people have blurred the line between what is real and what is exaggerated and many people have taken the melodrama of the shows and applied it to their own lives. While some of them recognize that these series have brought about issues that are relevant to the society and are important to talk about, they argue that these issues are not dealt with correctly through telenovelas because of the exaggerated plots and acting which makes it difficult for some to seriously consider these problems as real-life issues and not just a theme to move the story forward (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar). The government of the countries where these shows are produced have also benefitted from the messages that they are sending because the population feels that they have a way to express themselves. The government structure has allowed for an open expression of television and networks, and has also brought a large amount of revenue due to the popularity of the shows. While these shows have not directly influenced government policy, it has influenced people’s opinions making them more involved in government decisions. Government structures are able to use those time slots as well to advertise their own products (La Pastina, Rego, Straubhaar).
Over time, telenovelas and soap operas have developed as different genres. Antonia LaPastina says that in 1986 the telenovela was defined in Hollywood as “a popular art form as distinctive and filled with conventions as the Western produced in the United States.” They have provided the Hispanic community with an outlet, not just in the Western world, but internationally, that was not available to them before. And it has led other people an insight into the Hispanic culture. As actor Antonio Banderas said “Latinos are hot, and we are not the only ones that think so…we have the greatest art, music, and literature” which could explain the worldwide phenomenon that telenovelas have created (Dávila). The genre has also overcome the boundaries of being a primarily female fascination, and has given all members of the family a slot on primetime television which has allowed a solidarity within the Hispanic community and family structure. These melodramas have also exploited social and political issues which have allowed the Hispanic community to face issues that would have otherwise stayed silent.
Dávila, Arlene M. Latinos, Inc.: The Marketing and Making of a People. Berkeley, CA: U of California, 2001. Print.
Hecht, John. "Telenovela Market." The Hollywood Reporter. N.p., 26 Sept. 2006. Web. 09 Apr. 2014. <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/telenovela-market-138873>.
Jacobson, Rebecca. "The Power of the Telenovela." PBS. PBS, 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-power-of-the-telenovela/>.
Kane, Jason. "Telenovelas Provide Platform for Public Health Messages." PBS. PBS, 25 Jan. 2012. Web. 10 Apr. 2014. <http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/encrucijadas-public-health-and-telenovelas-at-a-crossroads/>.
LaPastina, Anthony. "Telenovela." The Museum of Broadcast Communications - Encyclopedia of Television - Telenovela. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Apr. 2014. <http://www.museum.tv/eotv/telenovela.htm>.
La Pastina, Antonio C., Cacilda M. Rego, and Joseph D. Straubhaar. "The Centrality of Telenovelas in Latin America’s Everyday Life: Past Tendencies, Current Knowledge, and Future Research." Global Media Journal. N.p., Mar.-Apr. 2003. Web. 09 Apr. 2014. <http://lass.purduecal.edu/cca/gmj/sp03/gmj-sp03-lapastina-rego-straubhaar.htm>.
Machado-Borges, Thaïs. "An Ethnographic Approach to the Reception of Telenovelas: Some Reflections on Research Methods." Revista Da Associação Nacional Dos Programas De Pós-Graduação Em Comunicação. E Compós, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http://www.compos.org.br/seer/index.php/e-compos/article/viewFile/190/191>.
Pérez, María. "Cultural Identity: Between Reality and Fiction A Transformation of Genre and Roles in Mexican Telenovelas." TELEVISION & NEW MEDIA 6.4 (2005): 407-14.
Tufte, Thomas. "Telenovelas, Culture and Social Change - from Polisemy, Pleasure and Resistance to Strategic Communication and Social Development." (n.d.): n. pag.Portal Comunicacio. Web. 7 Apr. 2014. <http://portalcomunicacio.cat/catunesco/download/tufte_telenovelas.pdf>.
Venegas, Cristina. "Land as Memory in the Transnational Telenovela." Spectator 19.1 (1998): n. pag. Print.
The 1980 Academy Award winner for Best Picture, "Ordinary People," has consistently been a highly acclaimed and respected piece of American cinema. Many professors, some of mine included, still study this film, not just for its technical achievements, but also for the strong character arcs (and lack thereof) that are represented in this film, proving that a great movie can come from much more than just a good plot, but also amazing characters. While I agree that this movie has been a huge influence who where movies have gone today, I also had a hard time enjoying the movie because one of the characters, Beth (played by Mary Tyler Moore), is very frustrating to watch. Moore's portrayal of her was incredible, but I could not get past her cold nature towards her son.
Perhaps the biggest and most obvious negative force throughout the film, and one of the main sources of conflict, is Beth. She is clearly resentful of her son, Conrad, for being emotionally unstable after the death of his brother, Buck, the son that Beth seems to prefer although perhaps just because he fit the picture perfect family scenario. Throughout the entire movie, it is evident that Beth has been trying to get her picture perfect life back to normal after her son’s death. However, Conrad is still clearly affected by this due to the fact that he experienced the death and partially blames himself for it, which leads to his suicide attempt. This prevents Beth from going back to her normal life, and she is clearly bitter over it.
On the other hand, her husband Calvin, feels that the best way to move on from this is to talk about it rather than ignore it, seeing as to how it still affects their son greatly. Throughout the movie, Calvin seems to be putting in his best effort to connect with his son and appease his wife, who insists that Calvin is “indulging” their son too much by focusing on his problems. Calvin wants to understand Conrad without upsetting his wife, although it is also seen in the movie that he still has some unsettled feelings about the death of their son Buck, which he may have put aside for his wife. Calvin seems to be stuck in the middle wanting to please both his son and wife, but is struggling since he cannot do both simultaneously. Calvin, has generally been one of the positive forces in the movie.
In one scene, Beth and Calvin are away from their son during a holiday for a vacation, which Beth suggested to get some time for just the two of them. By this point in the movie, Calvin has tried getting closer to his son by attending a therapy session with his psychologist and expressing some open wounds about Buck’s death. He has also attempted to get his wife to join him in the therapy sessions, but was denied when she said that she didn’t need any.
The scene starts off showing Beth getting a hole-in-one during a golf game with their friends, and then suggesting to Calvin that they take more vacations involving golf. Once Calvin mentions that their son Conrad might enjoy that, Beth is immediately annoyed saying “do you do that on purpose” referring to Calvin bringing up their son during conversations. She says that he is still being controlled by their son even when they are 2,000 miles away, after trying to ignore the conversation entirely, but Calvin insists. During this scene, Beth is evidently upset because she feels that she cannot see things beyond her point of view and that she shouldn’t be blamed for that, or for anything else that has happened. While Calvin is just trying to explain to her what Conrad needs from her, but she seems to refuse to see it. When Calvin tries to explain that perhaps their son feels that Beth hates him, Beth automatically turns the tables and blames the son for trying to manipulate Calvin against her. This scene is one of the only time that Calvin confronts Beth about her disconnect from the family, from reality, and from all emotions.
These two opposing charges play a huge role in manipulating the audience to see that conflict that Beth has when it comes to accepting Conrad’s problems and Buck’s death. As Calvin points out in a later scene, Beth “can’t handle mess.” It is perhaps best showed in this scene where Beth practically breaks down at the sign of confrontation about her life and how she has handled things since the death. This scene has also been placed there to manipulate the audience into seeing that Beth has been the main source of negativity throughout the movie and to get the audience to see that she is unable to see anyone else’s needs but her own.
This scene also sets up the ending very nicely as one of the final scenes of climax in the movie. While Conrad has his scene of climax after finding out about his friend’s suicide and working out through a lot of emotion in a cathartic therapy session, Beth doesn’t seem to have worked out her emotions during her scene of climax and remains stuck on the one idea that has been haunting her mind the entire movie which is that of the perfect life. She is stuck wanting to blame anyone but herself and she has a problem connecting to her son and husband still. The next scene, however, is the climax scene for Calvin, where he realizes that he can no longer deal with Beth and her detached nature and lack of love.
The golfing scene allows for the two main opposing charges in the movie, the husband and wife, to show the biggest problems in the situation are to the audience and sets it up as a way for the story to have a climax where these two charges final confront and lead us to the ending scenes.
If you have not seen Ordinary People, I would highly recommend just on the merit that it is a classic and important piece of cinema and one of the best character pieces in Hollywood.
In Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Longfellow Deeds is given a large fortune through inheritance, which he is later accused of spending senselessly, and is taken to trial by a distant relative who feels entitled to the money. He is accused of being mentally unstable and incompetent to handle such a large fortune. Throughout the movie, Longfellow is presented to the audience as a smart and wholesome character, while the other characters in the movie see him as naïve and unapt to handle the real world. He ends up surprising most of them, including Babe Bennett, who regretted her part in building the rumors that led to his tarnished reputation. At court, her words and the accounts of many others, were used to build the case against him. This scene, along with the rest of the movie, is a typical example of classic Hollywood cinema.
At this point in the movie, Longfellow is facing a deep depression due to the accusations against him and, unlike the rest of the movie, is seen mainly sitting still and extremely quiet. This helps the audience understand his emotional state, and contrast it with the rest of his actions. He is also always placed in the center of the frame, and Frank Capra, the director, does extreme close-ups of his face, much more than any other character. This allows the audience to focus more on Longfellow’s reactions in this scene than any other character, and it also calls attention to the fact that even though Longfellow is generally quite in the beginning of the trial, the audience is mainly invested in his reactions.
The lighting in this scene also lends itself to build the characters’ profiles. Those rooting for Longfellow are lit brightly, while those accusing him are darker have more shadows cast across their face. Their acting also adds to the classic Hollywood style, due to their exaggerated outbursts and overstated facial expressions. For example, when Babe decides that she wants to testify in favor of Longfellow, she acts in extreme dismay and displays explosive emotions. Furthermore, there are multiple angles where the diagonal lines draw attention to the main character of the shot, while showing the other characters involved. Such as when the psychologist is presenting his case against Longfellow, we see that he is the only one facing the audience while the judges are seated in a diagonal line that leads to the psychologist. Additionally, Babe is often brought into focus by lighting her entire face, allowing the audience to see her expressions clearly. There are also many scenes where she is shot slightly from above, giving the sense that she is in a vulnerable state.
In the tradition of screwball comedies, there are also a lot of comedic techniques used to entertain the audience, such as the constant use of hyperbole. Towards the end of this scene, Longfellow starts defending himself more and the accusation of playing his tuba randomly and applies it to others in the courtroom by saying that everyone has a kink that helps them concentrate. We then see multiple examples of people doing things that would be considered weird, such as “doodling.”
In the end, Longfellow is found competent to keep the money and do what he wants with it.
When preparing to film The Queen of Versailles, Lauren Greenfield believed that she would be filming the story about a couple, Jackie and David Siegel, building the biggest single-family home in the United States. The mansion was to be called Versailles, mirroring the extravagant palace in France. While filming was underway, the financial crisis of 2008 hit unexpectedly, changing not only everything for the Siegels but also everything about Greenfield’s vision. When talking about her filmmaking, Greenfield says that she “looks for people that reveal our cultural values.” And that theme is definitely clear to viewers watching this film. Throughout the documentary, there is a sense of abundance. Nothing is enough for the Siegels. However, there seems to be a clear discrepancy between the way that the Siegels are portrayed and perceived by the audience and the way that they perceive themselves. While every documentary strives to tell some story and show some message, non-narrative documentaries, such as this one, usually let the subjects do the speaking. The end result is that the audience ultimately ends up seeing the story through the subjects’ perspectives. However, Greenfield effectively paints a greedy portrait of the Siegels, contrasting the successful one they have of themselves, which not only gives a satirical view of their story, but also epitomizes the view that most Americans have of the notorious “one percent.”
The first impression the audience gets of the Siegels is in the opening sequence. As shown in Image 1, the first image of David Siegel is him readjusting his gold rings. Soon after, there is a wider image that reveals Siegel sitting on a gold throne with elaborate designs. Then the audience sees his wife, Jackie Siegel, who is clearly much younger than her husband. All of this paints an image of them from the beginning as being lavish and slightly ridiculously so. Because Greenfield’s background is in photography, she takes pictures throughout the movie, which also help to portray this image of the subjects. She describes her photography as “often a sociological look at American culture.” In this opening scene, the audience sees the first example of this, which is shown in Image 2. This image perfectly captures what the rest of what the movie will be about. This couple, with a 30-year age difference, wants to show off their wealth in the most obvious way possible: by purchasing objects that no one else would likely be able to afford. They want people to see their extravagant lifestyle, but are unaware of how their privilege gives audiences a completely skewed perspective. Greenfield uses that blissful ignorance to her advantage in the rest of the film.
As the opening sequence continues, viewers see an array of family portraits. Many of them are family photographs, which are not completely out of the ordinary. Mixed in are clippings from newspapers and articles describing Jackie as “Having it All” and David as “the Magic’s man,” letting the audience know that not only are these wealthy people but they are also powerful and known. Included are increasingly ridiculous clips reflecting the Siegels’ lifestyle when the filming started, such as a photograph of Jackie as a Grecian goddess with her children, shown in Image 3. There is footage of the family inside of a private plane, where the audience sees how big the family is as well, and footage of Jackie trying on a gown and twirling in it, in classic queen fashion. Some of these images are contrasted with David working, such as doing business on the private plane, and the audience starts to get the sense that the more excessive of the two is Jackie, who simply says that she put her trust in her husband when she married him. Then, as the sequence is ending, the audience sees the name of the film: The Queen of Versailles. This name seals the deal in portraying the Siegels as people of unnecessary abundance. While the name is appropriate to the movie because the Siegels themselves were the ones who decided to base their mansion around the French Palace of Versailles, what they do not understand is the ironic, but entirely fitting, situation that they have placed themselves in. By naming the movie “The Queen of Versailles,” Greenfield is drawing clear parallels between Jackie and Marie Antoinette, who ultimately brought herself, her family, and her country to financial ruin during the French Revolution. What Greenfield later reveals in the movie is that the Siegels had to stop construction on their mansion due to the recession and David’s timeshare empire in debt by millions of dollars. However, Jackie, similar to Antoinette, remains blissfully ignorant to the whole situation and continues to spend, driving her family deeper into the hole.
This type of oblivious spending is epitomized in another scene towards the end, when Jackie is planning a Christmas party and goes to Walmart to buy gifts for the kids. As she is filling up the cart with more gifts, David’s voice is overlaying the footage as he says that it is “hard for her to cut back, she is still impulsive.” At this point in the documentary, David has shown constant stress over the apparent demise of his empire and is millions of dollars in debt with the banks. Jackie, while somewhat aware of the situation since she does recognize that her husband has told her not to spend money, does not seem to be as concerned about it and is spending frivolously. She is buying things in an exaggerated amount, which is shown in Image 4, where she has four full carts of gifts solely for her children and even the dogs. As she is shopping, everyone seems to be telling her that it is too much, including the housekeeper, but she continues buying regardless. Greenfield uses the informative style of documentary filmmaking to show the struggle that the Siegels are going through as a sort of depiction of how the recession affected all Americans, but also a cautionary tale about how overspending, or spending money that doesn’t exist, is what led to this recession. David continues commenting on Jackie’s spending by saying that she “collects everything, she can’t just have one thing, she has to have many, she can’t just have one child, she has to have seven,” which further shows the different worlds in which these two closely related people are living. This is also shown in Image 5, when Jackie returns from her shopping trip and they are unloading the car. As they are about to put away the bikes and the audience sees how many bikes there already are, Greenfield perfectly captures visually the comments that David was making about Jackie.
The rest of the sequence continues to show the rift between David and Jackie in regard to their financial situation. As David sits in the corner of the house making comments on the state of the banks and why they are failing during this recession, Jackie is hosting a Christmas party that, while still extravagant, is a huge cut back for the Siegels. However, David doesn’t seem to be as affected by the cuts as Jackie is; she is running all over the house constantly making comments on how much they’ve had to change, such as not having a party planner to help them with the event. On the other hand, David is sitting by himself in a corner talking about how his debt went from $19 million to $3.2 million without any good reason and how “this is the reason the banks are in trouble.” To further contrast David and Jackie’s positions, Greenfield intercuts an interview with David into the footage of the party where he says “nothing makes me happy anymore.” Meanwhile, Jackie is saying that she “just wants her friends and family to be happy.” The shot, seen in Image 6, is very different from the rest of the sequence that the audience sees, which enhances the contrast between Jackie’s reality and David’s reality. In this shot, he is also sitting on a chair rather than the throne that he was on at the beginning of the film, further representing his financial and emotional demise.
“[Documentary film] survival has depended on a public culture that promotes learning as a crucial part of the film experience” (Corrigan, White 257). Greenfield has definitely taken a position where she wants to teach, or at least inform, the audience with this story. While the movie had a different purpose when filming began, it took a new turn once the recession hit giving Greenfield the opportunity to tell a story that could relate to the rest of America. When asked what made the characters relatable to others, Greenfield said “everybody is familiar with the way financial problems can cause a lot of tension in the household, so they're kind of like everyone else in that sense.”
Darren Aronofsky is an auteur. Even without a clear visual style, the themes in his movies revolve around getting into the head of the characters, and possibly the audience too. Hope you guys enjoy and please leave some comments telling me what you think!
Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker is successful in depicting the unease and tension of war. Amy Taubin describes the movie as “a totally immersive, off-the-charts high-anxiety experience from beginning to end.” The majority of the movie is shot on a shaky cam to depict the restlessness of soldiers at war, and the quick editing mirrors the agitation of the situations they are placed in. The movie also accurately portrays the soldiers’ perspectives rather than just the events going on around them. The audience is given a glimpse into a soldier’s psyche during a time of war and experience things as they might. Bigelow, along with editors Chris Innis and Bob Murawski, created a claustrophobic environment that forces the audience to feel the discomfort of battle, which was exceptionally represented during the scene of a sniper duel between Iraqi guerrilla and the Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) team that we follow throughout the movie. This scene’s editing embodies the disorientation that the characters experience and the disquiet that an ironically quiet situation can cause.
The scene begins when a group of Iraqi guerrilla starts attacking James, Sanborn, and Eldridge, all part of an EOD team, along with a group of military contractors. They are being shot at from a distance and retaliate against the enemy snipers with their own sniper tactics. However, the battle is prolonged over a few hours and the soldiers are restricted to their positions until the threat is over. This scene is one of the most uncomfortable and restless to watch due to the characters’ clear desire to move from their positions and the seemingly endless wait for the battle to end. Throughout the movie, Bigelow effectively uses the technique of elongating and shortening time, making certain things appear as if they are happening faster or slower than they actually are. In this scene, she uses this method to represent the ceaseless wait in-between action. Image 1 shows one of these instances, in which Bigelow zooms into a shell casing from a bullet that was just fired as it falls on the ground and slows down the shot dramatically so that it takes a lot longer to fall than it normally would. As this bullet falls, one of the enemies has just been shot and killed. Bigelow’s decision to place this shot here when someone was just killed, rather than showing the dying man, allows the audience to experience death differently, and perhaps more heavily, than in the movie’s other scenes. It also represents the possibility that the soldiers, who have just killed this man, are also affected by his death more than they may have time to realize.
Additionally, that Bigelow slows down this shot not only represents how long the battle is taking, but also the lengthy time lapses in-between the action. By continuing to zoom into small details, Bigelow is able to accentuate the wait of the battle and highlight the tension. In Image 2, we see a fly land on Sanborn’s eye, but he is unable to swat it away. Placing this shot here, not only shows the passing of time, but also irks the audience. We feel their discomfort, as it is uncomfortable to watch. Bigelow continues to use this method in other shots such as Image 3, where we see what looks like the beginnings of a small tornado, and yet the soldiers are unable to move from their positions. This shot continues to affect our perception of time. These characters have been sitting here so long that the weather is starting to change. It also mirrors the possibility that anything could happen at any moment.
Throughout the movie, there is also never a clear idea of when the soldiers are going to be attacked. Innis said that when editing The Hurt Locker she wanted to make it feel as if it were a horror film where “a bomb could go off at any minute, but you never know just when it’s going to happen, so the ideas of Hitchcock — about making your audience anxious — were influential for us when we did the editing” (Idelson). That is particularly clear in this scene, where the time intervals between the gun being fired are always different, but the audience is constantly on the edge as we wait for what we expect, but can never be fully sure, to be coming. This is also a truthful interpretation of what the soldiers are experiencing, because they never know when they are going to be attacked either. The audience is stringed along on this journey with the soldiers and we are dropped into this world of unease just as they are.
While there is not a lot of movement in this scene by the characters, the shots are all still very shaky, which increases the discomfort that both the audience and the characters are going through. The majority of the shots in the movie are constantly moving, yet they also all have action. However, this scene breaks that rule. The contrast between the camera’s motion and the lack of motion of the characters was successful in heightening the anxiety. It also accentuates the characters’ body language, which is extremely tense and still. They are all in compromising positions, and have lost members of their teams, but must remain prepared for the next attack that might be coming their way. Therefore, they are restrained to their statue-like positions. The camera’s shakiness also adds a realistic element to this scene, along with the rest of the movie. Documentaries often use hand-held cameras, which result in a shaky image. But it also gives a realistic, rather than stylized, perception of an event. Bigelow uses this technique to add to the idea that this is a realistic portrayal of war. Innis and Murawski said that editing this movie was much like editing a documentary, and that they kept the effects to a minimum to make it look natural rather than artificial (Innis). Any shots, such as Image 1, that break away from that still heighten the effects and do not take away from its realism. This is similar to Leni Riefenstahl’s documentary Olympia, where she goes from showing diving in one uncut and realistic shot (Image 6) to showing more manipulated shots of the divers (Image 7). This method did not take away from the realism of the sport, but instead added a new perspective.
We also have the opportunity to look at things through the soldiers’ perspective, which is consistent to the shakiness of the camera. In Image 4, we see Sanborn’s point-of-view through the scope on his gun. This view is also very shaky, and the transition between looking at him and looking through his point-of-view is seamless. This shows that Bigelow is successful in showing a real view of war. Aside from this shot, however, most of the scene uses discontinuous editing, which restricts the audience from ever being fully certain of where the characters are. We see multiple shots of the building, seen in Image 5, where the enemy snipers are attacking from, but we never get an idea of how far it really is. We understand through context that it is far enough that they need sniper guns to attack, but there is never an establishing shot that lets us determine the distance. There is also never a perception of just how long the battle takes. It appears to be taking hours, but we are not sure of the time span. It is possible that the altercation doesn’t last as long as it is portrayed, but it is shown this way to depict how the characters experience it.
The sound adds another element of distress to this scene. Throughout the movie, the audio level of the dialogue is a lot lower than the action, such as explosions and gunshots. While this is realistic to what gunshots really sound like, it is not constant with how other movies traditionally portray these loud sounds. While other movies do make sure to show that gunshots are louder than dialogue, they adjust audio levels to make the sound gap smaller. However, the action in this movie is much louder than any other part of the audio, and it becomes almost deafening to the audience as well as the characters. Bigelow also amplifies the sound of the smaller details she focuses on, such as the falling shell and the fly, which just keeps adding to the tension in the scene. There is also an eerie sound in some parts of this scene, and also throughout the movie, which add to the terror element of the movie. It also gives the audience another factor where we can experience this world of war. Caroline Phillips said that the “diegetic sounds in the sequence were the dialogue and the sounds of the environment,” which shows that even without dialogue, or maybe especially without dialogue, we live what these characters live.
Bigelow and her editors take the audience on a ride where we catch a glimpse of war and what soldiers experience. The editing in this scene breaks a bit from the rest of the movie, but still uses techniques that primarily function to show the characters’ experiences and the realities of war. Bigelow is successful in manipulating time in such a way that we are never fully aware of the actual time lapse, but we still feel restless for the long wait to end. Her use of sound increases tension and intensifies anxiety. And the constant movement of the camera makes the audience’s desire for the characters to move almost uncontrollable. Innis said that “editing this war film felt like a war itself.”
Woody Allen said that when he paired with cinematographer Gordon Willis to work on his new film Manhattan, he wanted to give “a great look at New York City, which is sort of one of the characters in the film” (Gould). The film’s mise-en-scène makes it clear that a lot of Allen’s direction was done to show New York as a leading character in the movie, one that affects the other characters’ lives. The long tracking shots allow the audience to experience the city’s settings. The underexposure of the shots gives it a dark comedy vibe and accentuate the drama that protagonist Isaac struggles with. Throughout the movie he has the idea that people put themselves in situations that make their lives more complicated than they should be. Once Isaac comes to the realization that this is something he does himself, he heroically runs through New York City to see his beloved 17-year-old Tracy and asks for forgiveness for leaving her. This scene exemplifies the techniques that Allen uses to epitomize the city and Isaac’s emotions.
Manhattan was filmed in black and white. Allen said that he made this stylistic choice because he felt that it exhibited the city’s beauty and gave him a sense of nostalgia, since that is how he remembered the city from post cards (Gould). A lot of the imagery in the movie, especially the first and last images, are just shots of the city. This portrays that these characters all live within Manhattan. In the scene where Isaac is running to meet Tracy, he goes through the city but never seems to escape it. He appears to be running around in circles, and it is never clear in which direction he is running; we never see him turn in any particular direction. This also shows that Isaac never really wants to leave Manhattan, and while he does want to have certain things in life, such as a relationship with Tracy, he is unwilling to leave New York to do so. He asks her in their final conversation to stay in New York, rather than leave to London, so that they can be together. This also points to Isaac’s struggle where he enjoys where he is physically (living in Manhattan) but is never satisfied with where he is emotionally, again showing how he creates problems for himself. His struggle is clear in this scene due to the contrast of the beautiful city setting against his anxiety and frustration over the need to reach Tracy.
Manhattan’s mise-en-scène is also affected by Willis’ cinematography. We see the city’s pace is contrasted to Isaac’s with the long tracking shots. And while the focus is wide and we see everything that is happening around his character very clearly, we know exactly where we should be looking. The camera is following Isaac’s motion only; therefore, our eyes are always kept on him. The blocking in the film also allows for the audience to focus their attention because Allen is generally always at either side of the frame rather than in the center. This composition helps the audience keep the tension that Isaac is feeling while focusing on him only. His motion is also contrasted against settings where most people are still or moving slowly, such as a park or stores; and then his lack of motion is contrasted against fast motion such as speeding cars. This juxtaposition between motions also builds the pressure that Isaac feels and builds more tension for the audience, which is rooting for him to get to Tracy. We can also see how successful Allen and Willis are in building this scene because even without us knowing that Tracy will be leaving soon, we are still nervous for Isaac and feel that there is something at risk if he doesn’t get to her right away.
Another aspect of the mise-en-scène that helps give the scene a sense of urgency is the music. Throughout the movie, the music that is composed by George Gershwin adds an entirely different level of emotion. The music is purely instrumental, including jazz and blues. This was not modern music for the time, but Allen’s use of it gives another element of the classic New York that he is trying to portray. In this scene, the music sounds almost militaristic due to the drums and fast rhythm. This enforces the idea that Isaac has a mission to go on and a goal that he needs to reach. It also helps to strengthen Isaac’s pace throughout the scene and shows the need for him to get to Tracy. The music, while dramatic, also gives a slightly comedic effect, showing off Allen’s satirical style. This is represented further through blocking when Isaac is running and he slows down to catch his breath, but the music continues with the up-beat rhythm.
The editing of this scene adds to its unique mise-en-scène. The entire scene, until Isaac finds Tracy, only has four cuts. Normally, when there are so few cuts in a sequence, the scene feels slow; however, this scene feels very fast due to the movement of the camera. The horizontal and rightward movement of the camera helps give the sense that Isaac is working towards a goal, which we know is getting to Tracy. The long shots, where we see the city constantly in the background, help accentuate the vastness of the city. Allen seems to contrast this against his character’s insignificance and the problems that bother him.
The lighting of this scene is distinct from many other parts of Manhattan. Throughout the movie, the lighting is pretty dark and the characters and settings are often underexposed, despite this being set up as a comedy. This underexposure shows that the characters are never truly revealed to themselves or the other characters, probably because they are never truly being honest. In this scene, however, Isaac is well exposed and we see his emotions clearly. This is due to his realization about what he really wants and therefore he sees things much clearer. In the darker shots, the driving force of the plot is the dialogue, which is forcefully highlighted because there is nothing else on the screen we can focus on. The dialogue is often intellectual nonsense rather than having any emotional value. In this scene there is no talking at all, however, it has more sentiment in it than many of the other scenes that are spoken. It seems that Allen uses this as a commentary on how people living in Manhattan, especially the community of intellectuals that he is involved in, are often so concerned with the abstract and unanswerable questions in life that they forget to focus on the more basic things such as their emotions. As Isaac said to Mary in the planetarium, “the brain is the most overrated organ.” It is also curious that this is the one scene in the movie where Isaac is the most expressive of his emotions, yet there is no dialogue.
Allen is known for making social commentaries in his movies, and Manhattan is no exception. The mise-en-scène of the movie is guided towards showing the city’s grandeur. Because of this, the movie has a Classic Hollywood Cinema style to it, which is really only expressed in the imagery. However, the topics and the acting are similar to Neo-realism due to its social commentary. The city’s grandeur is juxtaposed against the characters’ trivial problems, which they seem to concentrate on as a tool for ignoring more consequential matters in their lives. Therefore, Allen wants to focus on the simple beauty of New York and wants to show that the feelings he gets from it don’t have to be explained or analyzed, and they can just be felt.
Image 3: Here we see Isaac running to see Tracy. The whole image is in focus, but because we are following Isaac’s actions, the rest of the city is blurry, allowing the audience to focus on Isaac. He is also at the edge of the screen, allowing for tension and seeing that he still needs to get to his destination.