READING RESPONSE for 9/27/2010

Fuller – Chapters 4,5,6

Coming from New York City, I never really considered the differences between large and small town audiences, and their wants and needs. I always thought about blockbuster films as a universal interest that all people could relate to. Since I am not biased against films based in the countryside or in non-urban areas, I did not see any reason to consider differences between these audiences.

Thinking about it now, particularly after reading more of Fuller’s book, I realize that a difference in geographic and sociocultural setting could make or break someone’s enjoyment and understanding of a motion picture, particularly in the early 20th century when understanding of different cultures wasn’t as readily available as it is today. Today, we have television to show us other worlds through the Travel Channel, the Food Network, Discovery, the History Channel, and other mostly documentary channels, not to mention narrative shows. Even if we come from small towns, large cities are no longer foreign to us and we do not live completely separated. Travel is now much easier to achieve as well. Back then, I imagine it was much harder to go into cities and experience their world. Many people lived in closed off communities, and did not have everything at their fingertips.

I believe that this is why there was such a dichotomy between the films people liked, particularly the church-movie scene. In a gated town community filled with a more homogenous group of people with religious fervor, some movies may not have been considered acceptable. The church-movie phenomenon was a response to the thought of many mainstream fiction films to be distasteful and unsuitable for the good Christian audience. In cities, since there was a much more heterogeneous population with varying interests, religious, faiths and cultural backgrounds, there wasn’t this same taboo in showing certain types of films. In the nickelodeon era, this lack of censorship in what was shown at many movie houses, as well as the audiences that were drawn to the films, made people believe that the movie houses in the cities, particularly in New York, were of lower value and cultural significance than those in small towns.

Fuller mentions how this changed when producers and film magnates began to realize that the film audience in the cities were much broader than just the lower class. They began to establish “new, more upscale movie theaters and customers.” (p. 99) This is visible proof of the split between large and small town audiences, since this large change did not translate to small towns. The small town audience started being considered the less sophisticated viewership as film audiences in urban areas began to include middle and even upper class groups.

I think that today, film audiences in large cities are still thought of as more sophisticated, especially in commercial centers and richer parts of these cities. Also, independent cinemas are considered the ones with more sophisticated audiences that are open to less commercial films, and most small towns do not have independent cinemas; take Middlebury as an example. The cinema world has learned to congregate in large cities, though movies portray all worlds, and this is presented in many ways. One way that cities have become the hub of movie culture is through film festivals. International film festivals are held in cities around the world, such as New York City, Cannes and Toronto, and these festivals give out prestigious awards and are many times the first to show films. Small towns do not have the draw or international influence to have these festivals, and their audiences are no longer considered the more sophisticated like they were in the era of the nickelodeon.

READING RESPONSE for 9/22/2010

Amelie Hastie – Louise Brooks, Star Witness

It’s interesting to think of “the star” as both the character and the actor. When one is taken by a character, one imposes their attributes on the star who is portraying them. This makes the star more attainable to the fan: when they are connected with a character that is not physically there, they have an air of attainability in reality. “The star is at once ordinary and extraordinary, available for desire and unattainable.” We see them on the screen and can relate with them, but we will never be able to actually have them in our arms. We can fall for a character and a movie star, and we can dream about them, but the chances of ending up with one are extremely slim.

People can assume what they want about Hollywood stars, and this is somewhat attributed to the fact that the stars can choose to omit what they want from their real life persona, or how they portray themselves. In some cases, stars sometimes associate themselves with characters they play, particularly in fan fiction. Louise Brooks blurred the line between her character, Lulu, and her real self. We have talked about the ability to immerse oneself in a film or medium, and it is the same with actors who get extremely into their characters. For fans, the line gets blurred between character and real person, and they may think that their favorite movie stars are more like their favorite characters than is the case.

READING RESPONSE for 9/20/2010

Silence of the Silents – Altman

We always think about soundtracks to current films that add to the ambiance and sound design of the telling of the narrative, but we do not often think about the sound design of silent films. Each silent film was presented with different sound as no two live shows can be the same. There weren’t tens of people working on the sound design or mixing and adding non-diagetic sound. ALL of the sound was non-diagetic. Though we do not normally think about it, the movie LISTENING experience of early viewers is an extremely interesting topic worth mentioning.

One thing that struck me most in Altman’s article about sound and music in silent films and the role it played, is that early audiences were equally annoyed by babies crying in the audience and sound disrupting the movie watching experience. When one is fully entranced in a narrative, it is jarring to hear sounds coming from reality that interrupt the full immersion that one hopes for in the movies. Whether in 2010 or 1920, audiences are alike in their annoyance at non-diagetic sounds getting in the way of their movies. The music that is played during films is an important part of the experience, but can sometimes not work with the plot or story that is being told, especially if the music is not composed specifically for the film. We may be watching a silent film and have romantic music playing during a shooting scene or chase scene and feel completely detached from the film. This shows how important sound is, and why it is bizarre to have blind pianists playing during a showing of a film.

READING RESPONSE for 9/15/2010

Slapstick Comedian – Krämer

It’s always interesting to see how many actors and actresses started off in theater, particularly in vaudeville in the early 1900s. There were so many vibrant vaudevillian acts that Hollywood recruiters swarmed around the show houses. Many of the actors translated well onto the screen with slapstick routines or comedy. Buster Keaton is an obvious example, and the article points out how he was so hesitant to go into movies at first. This is such an interesting anecdote taken into consideration his ultimate success in film. Audiences at that time were a huge draw to the vaudeville stage; they made up a large part of the shows with their applause and laughter. Without the audience being directly in front of them, the Keatons had trouble envisioning a successful or fruitful career.

This is one huge difference between the world of cinema and that of theater. Though both involve a certain amount of audience participation, the performers are not there while the spectators are reacting and therefore cannot draw from the audience’s influence on them during their performances. This is a very important difference between theater and film performance: the direct influence of the audience. Though fan mail and interactions make it easier for film stars to gain access to their audience, they film on set and are therefore not privy to audience reaction. I never thought about this, but it was probably a huge worry to people who were used to an audience in vaudeville to try and make it in the film industry.

Laterna Magika – Burian

I do not know what to think about this article because it was so factual and based on chronology that it didn’t really add that much insight except for the detailed description of an entire half-decade worth of performances. The only thing that I can take from this article and connect to the class is the idea of spectacle as a universal draw to a show. Toward the end of the article, Burian mentions that Svoboda’s new shows are aimed toward an international audience, and are thus less rich in dialogue and more based around aesthetic pleasure. Ultimately, what a producer or director wants is to please his/her audience.


At The Picture Show

When one thinks of the USA, one thinks of the large cities, but also of the small towns that make up so much of our culture. This is why the first chapter of At the Picture Show was so interesting. The emphasis on small town America’s relationship with the movies at the turn of the century is an extremely important one not only in understanding the way movies have progressed, but also in understanding small towns’ relationships with the world. Living in Middlebury, we see the focus on local business and production that is rampant in small New England towns. The town’s petition against the building of a Starbucks because it would be competition to local shops is a great example. This concentration on local businesses is what made people like Bert and Fannie Cook, as described in the first chapter of Kathryn Fuller’s book, successful in their endeavors to bring the movies to the smaller audiences of non-urban America. They used their personal connections with the people, as well as their support for small town societies, to get a leg up on their competition.

This is a clear indicator of how different it is to start a business like a movie theater in a small town and a big city. Still, movies are an interesting case because of how quickly the phenomenon spread in rural and urban areas alike. Within a year of the introduction of motion pictures on the big screen, it was becoming a popular form of entertainment that was in demand all over the country. Even small towns, that had typically been considered conservative or less open to the arts, were introducing film into their dialogue. Though it didn’t originally appeal to the upper and middle classes in small towns, it still gained a huge audience as both a commodity and just a medium of entertainment. I find this incredible because it shows us just how much film has influenced us into thinking differently, and Fuller’s stories give us an idea how a medium so popular today started off in the eyes of Americans more than 100 years ago.

Boundaries of Participation

I would have loved to have been alive during the days of musical performances during film screenings. When I was about 10 years old, I went to a screening of two Charlie Chaplin films at the Walter Reade Theater in NYC, and there was a live trio playing ragtime music as well as music choreographed by Chaplin himself. This added a more personal connection to the film that I cannot explain. Then again, it probably wasn’t as intense at the time because it wasn’t an uncommon occurrence and the audiences were accustomed to the music being played on the stage in front of the screen.

It’s interesting how everyone bought into screenwriting as a “get rich quick” scheme. People always think that they can easily find their way into the movie business. Many young people today are convinced that they will be superstars or famous directors in a couple of years. The media is such a lucrative business with so much mass appeal that it is easy for people to be sucked into the idea that they can make it big in Hollywood. People are still moving there by the thousands every year to see if they can make it on the screen or on set. Though some people do make it, as Fuller points out in the case of Ida Damon, it’s very interesting to actually read how many scripts were sent in and how few are chosen to be on the screen. Sometimes, the media gives false hope of the possibility of stardom which captivates audiences into being more interactive with the industry, despite the difficulty of making it.


Cinema of Attraction (Gunning)

Though I had read this article before, re-reading it after having taken a Film Theory course was extremely interesting. Early cinema seems so different and foreign to us, yet Gunning points out a lot of interesting similarities to more modern cinema at the end of his article. He goes as far as to say that “the system of attraction remains an essential part of popular filmmaking.” I think a great example of this is with the action film genre. In this genre, we are shown quick cuts without much interest in more than just flashy special effects. There is a conscious effort not to further the story line if it means taking away a five minute long “bad-ass” fight scene. While they are feature length movies with plot arcs and a fourth wall separating the audience from what is happening on the screen, there is still the emphasis on aesthetic appeal that often overrides the necessity for intricacies in the narrative.

Gunning mentions the “Lumière tradition of ‘placing the world within one’s reach’.” This is shown a lot in today’s television series. The MTV reality show I was working on this summer was one such show that had a lot of references to the audience to try to gain empathy or a connection with the girl the show follows around. There were many points in the first season where she would reference the camera, and they had many clips of her in front of a white screen explaining her inner monologue to the audience while looking directly at the camera. This acknowledgement of the audience as part of the show is something that is tied to the “cinema of attractions” and its ability to “solicit the attention of the spectator.”

Aesthetic of Astonishment (Gunning)

I love this article because it shows how jaded we have become with effects and visual shocks. Through new technology and greater access to technological media, it is harder to create a shock effect in an audience nowadays than it was when special effects were in the distant future and film had just become a popularized medium. Throughout the years, moviegoers have become more and more desensitized to scenes with war, blood, gore, magic, illusion, dinosaurs, and other things they may not see every day. A scene where a pig flies is no longer only possible in the cartoon world. This means that we have also become less easy to shock and more accustomed to expecting the unexpected or something out of the ordinary. Even if a movie is supposed to take place in the real world, we tend to take it with a grain of salt.

During the times of early cinema, before narrative film became the norm, what was on the screen tended toward the real but exotic, and was there to produce shock effect. There were very limited means to mangle or play with the film to change it from the original reel to something different. This means that people were unaccustomed to seeing things that were out of the ordinary because something that was on the screen was something that was almost surely directly filmed from reality. We never think in these terms today, during the age of computer animation and 3D graphics, but it’s nice to look back at the days when people were more likely to be shocked by film.

The Pickford Paradox (Jenkins)

This article was a stroke of pure genius. It takes a smart man to make a connection between the flashy and two dimensional visuals of video games and the movies of the silent era. Feature films back then still held a lot of remnants of “cinema of attractions” in that they were more theatrical and had a different aesthetic quality to them than that which we are accustomed to today. Video games today have the same two dimensional quality as a set created for one of the old films, and they are also full of a great amount of physical movement. When one plays video game, there tends to be a hero that’s running, jumping, ducking, and attacking. The old school video games compared to old movies in this article are no exception. When one thinks of 1920’s movies, one thinks of Charlie Chaplin’s tramp character, but also of chase scenes and a lot of running around.

I liked what Jenkins said about the use of the frame. Video games have a tight frame to work with because we need to see all of the obstacles we are dealing with. In old movies, humans were limited within the frame, and there needed to be just as much spatial awareness in order to create a world for the audience. In the “cinema of attractions” a circus act or exotic trick could take up the entire frame, but to fit it in without moving the heavy, hard to handle cameras of the time, it was necessary to fit everything into the screen, which Jenkins compares to a Tetris game. This is an extremely interesting observation I would never have thought of myself.

Purple Rose of Cairo Original Post 9/7/2010

Two of the prompts particularly stood out to me from this week’s screening.

First off, I am interested in the movie’s reference of the act of movie-going. One very important theme that I kept noticing was people in the audience talking about their expectations coming into the movie theater. People go to see what they expect. The people in the audience were extremely jarred when Tom Baxter appeared off the screen, of course, but this statement can also be taken further. When one goes to see a movie, usually it fits into a particular genre with some unspoken guidelines. If one goes to see a romantic comedy, one tends to know what’s coming. It is generally expected that the main characters will get together at the end and that love will prevail. When this doesn’t occur, or something goes wrong, the audience feels uncomfortable. Tom Baxter said at one point, “Where I come from, people don’t disappoint. They’re consistent.” Movies are supposed to remain the same and a character only exists in his or her limited world, so there are certain limitations a movie-goer subconsciously places on a movie that seem even taboo to break.

The second prompt that interested me most was the topic of the individual experience of spectatorship. An interesting technique that Woody Allen used was the framing of The Purple Rose of Cairo, the film within the film. At the beginning, when she was completely enthralled by the film and her mind was completely fixated on it, the film itself took up the entire screen, as if we were in the film. Later, when her husband had hit her and her mind wasn’t completely fixated on the film, the shot of the scenes in the film sometimes showed the curtains on the sides of the screen and we weren’t completely immersed in the black and white movie either. This represents how sometimes we can be paying complete attention to the movie, and be invested in what happens to the characters, and sometimes our mind can wander into our own lives and the reality in which we live. Movies can be a way for people to escape from their real lives, but sometimes it’s impossible to get away completely.

In Tim Gunning’s “The Cinema of Attraction: Early Film, Its Spectator, and the Avant-Garde”, he references the willingness of early films during the period of “cinema of attractions” to “rupture a self-enclosed fictional world for a chance to solicit the attention of the spectator.” (Gunning; Cinema of Attraction; p. 230) This is exactly what the audience was not expecting in Woody Allen’s film because it disrupted the predictable flow of narrative. It took the movie-goer out of the film and back into reality, which was a jolt and something unexpected. When going to see a film with expectations, particularly when one has already seen the film, it is difficult to accept a tangent from the normal or anticipated. This is how film has strayed from the “cinema of attractions” to narrative films with a fourth wall. Though there is the element of exoticism in the film within our assigned film, it is expected to remain within the confines of the screen, unlike the “Lumiere tradition of ‘placing the world within one’s reach’.” (Gunning; Cinema of Attraction; p. 230)

I have neither given nor received unauthorized aid on this response.