Jean-Luc Godard: “The Spirit of the Forms”

During the second week of the 51st New York Film Festival, the Film Society of Lincoln Center began a 3-week retrospective of Jean-Luc Godard’s work.  Here is a link to the website that has a description about the event, as well as a fun trailer that features images and sounds across his widespread filmmography.  Notice the references to Week End!

Godard Tribute Trailer from Lincoln Center

Mommie Dearest (1981) Trailer

Here is the trailer for the film Mommie Dearest (dir. Frank Perry), based on the memoir of one Joan Crawford’s children.  It is widely considered a “camp classic” today, and the trailer represents Crawford in relation to her most famous character, “Mildred Pierce,” through many features.  Let me know what you make of the trailer, especially in relation to Curtiz’s film!

Example of Blog Post

Note: Hyperlinks in this blog post are links to screen shots I took of Metropolis to give insight into the cinematic choices made in the film.

Metropolis (1927):

The science fiction epic, Metropolis, is set in an art-deco inspired dystopian future and it explores the duality of technology. Technology is both a reflection of man’s noble goal of attaining perfection and a threat to the very civilization which gave rise to it. The aesthetically breathtaking mise-en-scène with the vibrant low shots of the towering city provided impetus for the former viewpoint and the eerie, surrealistic (think Moloch the sacrificial machine) diversions provided support for the later view. In the production of the film, inventive cinematography, camera tricks, and literary allusions were employed to convey character and thematic subtleties that the sparse dialog could not.

Maria, undoubtedly a reference to the Biblical Mary, virgin mother of Christ, is introduced to the viewer in a long shot of the Eternal Gardens doorway. To emphasize her virtuous nature, she is dressed in simple, modest attire despite her attractive features and is encircled by a group of children while framed in a soft halo of light imbued by an iris effect.

Maria and children

The machine man Maria has darker, more seductive makeup and more suggestive gestures, often clawing at the neckline of her frock during the incitement of the worker uprising.

Machine Man Maria

Meanwhile, Joh Frederson, the dialectic of Maria and the creator of the Metropolis, is portrayed as an emotionally deficient, logical man through clever uses of camera angles. After Freder enters his father’s office overlooking the cityscape, Joh seldom makes eye contact with his son. Instead Joh spends much of his time with his back facing the camera, and eyes averted from Freder, Josephat and Grot even while engaged in conversation.

Joh Frederson Back Turned to Son

Rotwang, perhaps the most tragic figure in this film due to his unrequited love for Hel, gives the most poignant insight into the film’s message about humanity. Besides being a simplistic, almost storybook rehashing of the class struggle as explored by Marx and Engels, Metropolis explore the limits or flaws of the machine man in the almost fetishistic combination of technology and sexuality. The decision to make the machine man in Metropolis a woman not only reflects Rotwang’s own carnal desires but the role of male-centric gender roles on the development of technology. As an aside, it’s interesting to note that at no point where any camera angles from a female character’s point of view and until the worker uprising, not a single female had screen time with the exception of Maria. The film posits that the concept of a machine man was not inherently evil but the circumstances under which it was created – the jealous rivalry between Rotwang and Joh, and the violent abduction of Maria – imbue corruption in the machine man. The created are only as wholesome as their creator. Indeed, several scenes establish Rotwang as a malevolent character, particularly the abduction scene where the camera briefly does a close-up of his face obscured by the flashlight and framed by two skulls in the catacomb.

Rotwang and Skulls

The Biblical depictions of Maria and false-Maria as both the virgin Mary and the Whore of Babylon in Metropolis serve to highlight the dichotomous view men hold of women – as either virtuous virgins or promiscuous whores with no middle ground. It comes to reason that, technology, in man’s quest to control nature, takes on the extremist views of its creators, much to their undoing.

*On a personal note, Rotwang, probably one of the earliest examples of the mad scientist archetype in film, with his exaggerated gesticulations, crazed expression and mysterious gloved hand are reminiscent of the main character of one of my favorite films – Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove.

Details on Blog Comments

The weeks you are not posting a blog you are required to comment on two posts from your classmates.  Below are the guidelines for this assignment:

  • Read each blog post (check the dates and deadlines on the syllabus)
  • Choose two posts that intrigue you most and that you want to comment on
  • Write one comment on each post.  Your comments should reflect your understanding of both the film discussed and your classmate’s analysis
  • Comments must be at least two sentences long to receive credit
  • Your comments must show me that you are engaging in a productive discussion with the author of the blog post.  That means that you can ask a question about the post; a comment indicating whether you agree with your classmate or not and detailing why (use evidence for support); a suggestion about how to strengthen the argument; an interesting fact or story that specifically relates to your classmate’s post; your thoughts on the film and how they relate to the post, etc.
  • You must always be respectful and considerate when you are commenting.  Rude comments on the blog will not be tolerated and will be deleted.
  • While you are only required to write two comments to get full credit I will take into consideration all the comments you make before the deadline before assigning you a grade for commenting that week.
  • Each pair of comments will be worth 5 points  (15 points total)
  • All comments are due by the beginning of class on Friday

Details on Blog Posts

As part of your final grade for the course you are responsible for writing three critical blog posts throughout the semester.  (You may write additional blog posts on course-related topics for extra credit, but they must refer to specific issues or ideas discussed in class.)  In order to receive full credit for the assignment you must follow the guidelines listed below:

  • Blogs must be posted on the class blog: https://ufilmanalysisfall13.wordpress.com
  • All posts must be at least 500 words long (any less will not be accepted)
  • The post should be written in the form of a short critical essay and follow proper grammar, punctuation, and style principles–please do not use abbreviations (e.g., “wknd” instead of “Godard’s film Week End“).  In other words, formal in content and form
  • Your post should be thought out and thoroughly developed
  • You must use textual evidence (quotes from readings, dialogue from the films, descriptions of details or moments on screen) to support your ideas
  • Do not plagiarize!
  • Each blog response will be worth 20 points (60 points total) and each pair of comments will be worth 5 points (15 points total)
  • Refer to the course syllabus (available on Sakai) to see if it is your week to post responses or comments.  If your last name begins with the letter A-H, you are in Group 1.  If your last name begins with the letter I-Z, you are in Group 2.  Group 1 will write the first blog post on Mildred Pierce, and Group 2 will write the first blog post on Metropolis.
  • All posts must be submitted by *Thursday* at noon following our Tuesday screenings; this is necessary in order to allow your classmates to read through the posts and provide comments before class on Friday.  

Welcome!

This is the online blog forum for our fall 2013 undergraduate course “ENG 2300: Film Analysis” at the University of Florida.  Film Analysis begins by perceiving films as formal, cultural, and aesthetic constructs, and this blog invites students to examine the structural and stylistic elements of films.  The primary goal of this enterprise is to understand how films register and convey complex and often contradictory meanings for past and contemporary audiences.

First and foremost I encourage you to analyze films through formal considerations (narrative, mise-en-scene, genre, cinematography, editing, and sound).  However, you might also want to take into account the technological, historical, cultural, social, economic, or political contexts in which the films were produced or exhibited for audiences.  Take this opportunity to hone your working knowledge of film vocabulary and develop analytic tools for evaluating and “reading” films in relation to film history and film theory.

As scholars Richard Basam and Dave Monahan contend in Looking at Movies (2010), films embody complex forms of artistic representation and communicate to us in many ways.  Thus, detailed, precise, and inspired film analysis has the potential to enlighten and enrich our understanding about “—the artist, society, or industry that created it” (2).  The task, then, is “to recognize cinematic tools and principles employed by films to tell stories, convey information and meaning, and influence our emotions and ideas” (2).

Source:

Barsam, Richard M., and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies: an Introduction to Film. New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 2010. Print.