In Which D.W. Griffith is Maybe Feminist and Maybe Not Racist (Except He’s Totally Racist), The Battleship Potemkin Shows Up Again, and I Actually See Newly Released Movies
Happy Valentine’s Day, everybody! I’m in the second week of my Silents class. We started the week talking about D.W. Griffith’s film Broken Blossoms. If you don’t know what the film is about…eh, I’m not going to do a plot summary. Just Google it. I discussed how the film can be considered feminist by the guidelines of feminist theory, because it shows how women of the era and of the lower class are dominated by the patriarchy and given no real means of escape from that dominance. For modern viewers, it’s harder to accept the film as feminist, because Lucy (Lillian Gish) is an idealized idea of a virginal, innocent girl, not an actual woman of complexity or depth, and because she’s depicted as weak in the film, too weak to save herself or stand up to her abusive father. So, again, if you watch the film, it’s feminist based on ideas out of feminist film theory, particularly those of Laura Mulvey on melodrama, not based on modern ideas of empowering women in media. Don’t watch it and come at me yelling about “That movie ain’t feminist, IDIOT. That girl weak as hell!” Because yeah, I know, it’s got its problems. The film also attempts to be anti-racism by making a Chinese man the hero and a white man the villain, but again, for modern viewers who see the hero being referred to as “The Yellow Man” and “Chinky”, it’s a lot harder to see it as anything but racist. The film’s attitude towards Asian people and women certainly seem outdated, but in Griffith’s defense, they are obviously positive in intention. He clearly thinks women deserve better than the treatment they get, and he clearly sees value in Eastern ideals. Whatever racism and sexism is in Broken Blossoms is more of the ignorant kind than the outright hateful kind, which makes it a tolerable watch.
In contrast, I finally bit the bullet and watched The Birth of a Nation for the first time, and…man. Whoo, boy. My feelings on The Birth of a Nation and the excuses given for it are heated, too strong to put into the middle of this thing, so I’m actually going to make a separate post for that sometime soon, hopefully this weekend, so people can actually reblog and reply to it, because I’d really love to have some legitimate discussion and debate on that one.
We also talked about Battleship Potemkin, which if you recall from a few weeks ago, I already wrote about in my first course. This time I talked about how montage is central and key to the development of the narrative and story of Eisenstein’s film, a view I hold true to all films, in fact. There’s the saying that a film is written three times: when the script is written, when the film is shot, and when the film is edited. How an editor chooses to edit a film has a huge effect on how the audience will interpret the story and its characters. The same footage edited in different ways can create entirely different versions of a story. That’s why any one trying to make a great film needs to have a great editor, because a great editor will know how to make your footage tell the story you want it to tell.
That’s it for school talk this week, but I did see some new films that I can tell you about. I caught two of the major Oscar nominees, Nebraska and Captain Phillips. Nebraska was very good, and felt very familiar to me and my experiences with visiting family in the Midwest (Missouri and Kansas). I thought Bruce Dern was great, Will Forte was great, it struck the right balance of humor and drama — the one aspect that really didn’t work for me was Stacy Keach’s character. Compared to the reality and familiarity of the rest of the film, that character felt false, drawn too broadly as the film’s “bad guy”. My enjoyment was also tempered somewhat by the projection of the film, which when I saw it had a big yellow circle of discoloration in the middle of the screen, which is a shame, because otherwise I liked the photography. Also, the screening I was in had several groups of elderly people in it, and man, they would not shut up. Old people, listen, you’re great, but you’ve been alive long enough to know not to talk at the movie theater, so don’t do it. Captain Phillips I watched at home on DVD, which probably lessened the impact of the film compared to the theater experience, but it was a still well-made, tense film. It didn’t inspire any strong opinions in me, though, so that’s not a great sign.
As for actual newly released movies, I saw The Lego Movie, which was great and which I highly recommend. I don’t want to talk too much about it for fear of spoiling some of the unexpected moments, so I’ll just say that there are some story elements near the end that I didn’t care for as much as other viewers might have, but I understand why they happened and how they reflect the overall themes of creativity and imagination and individuality, so the film was in no way ruined by it for me. Anyway, just go see it. Don’t worry about 3D though; I didn’t see it in 3D and didn’t see any reason to regret that decision. Seeing it in 3D actually seems like it would be awfully nauseating, given how fast the movie moves and how much the camera moves. I also saw the new Robocop, which I hadn’t expected to go see, but ended up going to as part of a friend’s birthday, and honestly, it was better than expected. It does a good job of changing the target of satire from issues of privatization and corporate corruption in Reagan’s ’80s to issues of post-9/11 privacy and drone warfare in our current world. I’m not going to go so far as to call the film great, because it does have its problems and its shortcomings, but I thought it was an entertaining film. And remember, “It’s not as good as the original” doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie, and really isn’t the best way to think about remakes in general if it can be avoided.
Big post this week, huh? Well, I hope you enjoyed it, and look out for that Birth of a Nation post coming soon, because I’d love to hear what some of you have to say on the topic. That’s it for now, so be good, everyone.