The Exorcist (1973)

This was one of the films that was at the very bottom of my to-watch list. I’m serious, the last thing I wanted to see was a film about a 12 year-old girl who has been possessed by the devil; talk about nightmares! But when it’s assigned for class, you’re obligated to watch it. Plus, I mean, isn’t college partly about experiencing things a bit out of comfort zone? (And no, I’m not talking about unsafe things or events, but rather ideas.)

It’s really hard for me to watch a film from the 1970s now and NOT think about the role women play in the film and their relationships with the world (and men) around them. But then again, this film begs you to read it in that light. Come on, the (single!) mother Chris MacNeil (Ellen Burstyn) is a famous and successful film actress. She leads a life of luxury, one where she can employ two or three people to do the everyday chores around the house. Remember when the detective comes to ask if she remembers if she was to receive any packages or visitors the day the director Bruke died? “I don’t know, Karl usually takes care of all those of things.” (More or less what she said, but you get the picture.)

So not only does Chris live in a well-furnished house that she rents while filming her movie, but she has an extremely happy and close relationship with her daughter, Regan. Regan is Chris’s world, and there is nothing in the world she wouldn’t do for her. (The film is a testament to that.) But then the strange things start happening, and I’m not talking about the devil entering Regan’s body.

Paralleling this story is that of Father Damien Karras. He’s a priest, good-looking, maybe in his mid to late 30s, and isn’t completely sure of his faith anymore. Part of this comes from his guilt for his mother’s death. It’s mentioned that had Damien become the psychiatrist as a lay person, he could have afforded comfortable living arrangements for his mother. It isn’t until after his mother’s death that Damien is asked to perform the exorcism.

This film isn’t really about an exorcism or the devil, but rather an awareness and anxiety of women’s awakening sexuality. This really isn’t a revelation in the film studies world, but I had no idea this (and other themes as well) were underlying the film. Not just an anxiety of female sexuality, but of female independence. Remember Chris and her conversation with the detective? The moment she says that Karl takes care of the things around the house, like the mail (AKA stereotypically a “woman’s” concern), the detective gives a face that renders like disapproval. When Chris asks him if he wants her to call Karl back, he says no, that it “doesn’t matter.”

The thing that struck me about the devil inhabiting Regan was every obscene thing it said had to do with sexuality. While saying a sexual obscenity once or twice is bad, there are many other evil and awful things the devil could say. This constant reference to sex and sexual aggression makes sense when one remembers that Regan is 12 years old, just at the verge of womanhood. So, essentially what I derive from this is that female sexuality is shocking and evil, in a sense. Remember what sets Damien off when talking with the devil is that his mother is in hell having, er, relations with many men.

While the film is interesting and brought much more than I thought it would, I don’t think I actually like it. I just wish blockbusters like this existed nowadays. (Or maybe I’m too narrow-minded in thinking blockbuster = superhero movies.)

William Friedkin is quoted as saying he wasn’t “aware of any far-reaching social problems” in The Exorcist. This baffles me because it seems that for someone working on it for at least a year would begin to notice these things- I mean, you’re living and breathing this project. Unless it’s subconscious; I’m not sure. Regardless, the social problems are there and they’re glaring.

 

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Knife in the Water (1962)

My second Polanski film, and it wasn’t my choice. But I’m glad it was my second one. A few years ago I watched my first Polanski film, Chinatown (1974), opting for some quality Jack Nicholson time instead of studying for the next day’s Algebra 2 & Trig test. (Surprisingly I got an A on that test; what does that say?) 

Ohio State’s Film Studies major requirements include a Senior Seminar. After finally finishing up my undergraduate thesis on the women in Robert Altman’s 1970s film, I wanted a somewhat relaxing final semester and take classes I enjoyed. But then I saw it, this semester’s Senior Seminar: The Cinema of Roman Polanski. 

Really? I just finished writing a thesis on the New Hollywood maverick I found to be the most consistently feministic and now I have to take a course on perhaps one of the darkest directors of the period? Needless to say I was not excited. But hey, it’ll add to my knowledge of the period.

After the first few assigned readings and the introduction to the course, I knew I was not going to be a Polanski fan. We will see what the rest of the semester brings, but for now, I sort of enjoyed Knife in the Water (1962). 

The reason I enjoyed it though had more to do with the mise-en-scene than anything else. In contrast to the film’s psychological, the setting was so peaceful and relaxing that I wanted to jump in the screen and hop on board with them! (That is until they start arguing and I realize who I am with.) 

Other than that, the film seemed more interested in proving one’s masculinity to another more than anything else. And that’s something I could really care less about. The wife hardly talks but when she does, it can be interesting. I remember something along the lines of, “You want to stay up and study but your roommates want to turn out the lights.” Having seen her husband call her a whore, you’d think she wouldn’t have been a serious student.

But overall I didn’t think the film was terrible, but it wasn’t my favorite. 6/10

“Saturday Night Fever” (1977)

There are quite a few films on my to-watch list this summer, most of them being films from the 1970s in order to better situate myself in the period of Altman’s golden period of filmmaking. The goal in watching these films is to view and analyze women’s roles in the films and how they are portrayed. This, in effect, will either help support or disapprove my stance that Altman’s portrayal is much more pro-woman than any of the other films or filmmakers in the New Hollywood period. So keep that in mind as you read this write up and any of my write ups on films from the 1970s; these write ups are essentially references for me when I write my paper.

On the social realism aspect, Saturday Night Fever was fantastic. This film is anything but a simple and fun dance movie. You think there will be a typical, formulaic romance between Tony (John Travolta) and Stephanie (Karen Lynn Gorney)? Wrong. Stephanie sees herself as older and a bit better than Tony. Despite her warming up to Claire De Lune in the dance studio, Stephanie does not know a thing about high class culture. Instead she aspires to it and pretends to be it whenever she is with Tony. Obviously this is not Tony’s area at all, a 19 year-old Italian boy living in Brooklyn who goes to the disco every Saturday night.

It is clear to the viewer that Stephanie is not one of the Manhattan people. Her lower class dialect is just one of the giveaways that she is a wannabe. Later she admits to Tony that she was living with the guy she works with because he could help her “get somewhere” in the office. Before that she was alone and didn’t know what she was doing. This brief scene shows that this woman who says and pretends to act like she is older and more independent than Tony isn’t. She has to rely on a man to help her in the office, rather it is an exchange for sex. Essentially she is not a positive portrayal of women.

Even though Stephanie tells Tony that she does not want to date him, Tony still thinks that he will someday win her. The night they win the contest, Tony blames Stephanie for taunting him. He ultimately takes her into the car and tries to rape her. Fortunately Stephanie escapes and goes home. Early the next morning Tony goes to her place in Manhattan to apologize. She tells him that she doesn’t usually let her attempted rapists come in her home, but eventually lets him in to talk. The film ends on a note that could indicate romance or friendship, but I believe it communicates more of a friendship.

While Tony lusts after Stephanie, Connie lusts after Tony. She is the push aside girl who Tony is not nice to. Throughout the movie she wants to date Tony and ultimately sleep with him. The time she gets her chance, she doesn’t have any protection because it is her first time. This indicates that she is uneducated about sex and birth control. Tony stops everything and she loses her chance. Towards the end of the film, Connie is drunk and with Tony’s friends. She says that she wants to sleep with them; Tony tries to keep his friends from her but they tell him that he could care less about Connie. So Connie gets in with Tony and his friends and they drive to the bridge. In the backseat Connie and Tony’s one friend start to have sex; it is obvious Connie is only doing it to make Tony jealous. When she sees he doesn’t care, she yells that she doesn’t want to do it anymore. Yet Tony’s friend says that he’s going to do it and does. Connie continues to cry and yell that she doesn’t want to do it anymore; once the one friend is done, the other goes in the back to rape her. Once they’re done they go play around on the bridge. It is very obvious that Connie is disturbed and upset. All Tony does is turn and ask her if she’s proud of herself because now she’s a c-word.

That scene and the scene where Tony tries to rape Stephanie did it for me. In terms of women in the film, they are not humans but sex objects. When they don’t get permission, they keep going (or try to, at least). This film came out the same year as 3 Women, the main film of my paper, and in comparison to Saturday Night Fever, 3 Women is much more positive. In here women are very much stuck in patriarchy, in the city, whereas 3 Women the women break from the system and are located in the desert. Whenever I think of 3 Women, I can’t help but think of Varda’s comment about 3 Women being dangerous to women. Perhaps Altman is not exactly in sync with exact second-wave feminist criteria but in terms of what is being released in the same year (Saturday Night Fever, Looking for Mr. Goodbar), it is a huge step from the representations of women in those films.

My Date with Nitrate at The George Eastman House’s first ever “The Nitrate Picture Show”

Upon reading everyone’s (fabulously written) posts about their experience at The Nitrate Picture Show, I became fearful of even writing a post about my own experience with nitrate. Not because of the wonderfully detailed and precise words that evoked how they felt as the colors washed over them and bathed them in complete awe and almost ecstasy, but because what drew my breath away was something much different.

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“Sherlock Jr.” (1924)

After the festival I worried that I did not have the ~correct~ nitrate experience, and, because of that, I must not be a true film lover. After banishing my insecurity aside, I reminded myself there is no such thing as a “right” experience; each viewer brings his or her own thoughts and experiences into the theatre with them, and this was my experience.

Before I go any further, I’d like to briefly digress to one of my favorite films, Sherlock, Jr. About twenty minutes into the film, Buster falls asleep whilst running the film projector at the local movie theatre. While he sleeps his ~dreaming ghost~ self emerges from the real Buster. As his ghost-self watches the movie, he ends up projecting the people from his life onto the characters in the film. On the screen he sees his rival with Buster’s girl. Angered, Buster goes up the film screen and literally walks right into the film. From there perhaps one of greatest special effects ever takes place as the scenery continuously changes on the screen, leaving Buster unable to get into the scene he needs to be in.

I had always found this scene hilarious and quite desirable. I mean, how fun would it be to literally jump into the film of your choice? However I don’t think I completely understood its seeming effortlessness until I saw nitrate projected. Once I saw nitrate, the joke and the basis of the gag made so much sense, as film on this nitrate stock was so lifelike that it felt like you could literally walk right into the screen and be another world! In other words, what was struck me about nitrate was its ability to depict lifelike, realistic images of people, objects, background, basically anything! This connection for me instantly clicked when I saw a deep focus shot of a hallway in Black Narcissus; I felt like if I got up from my seat and decide to pull a Sherlock Jr. moment, the back of the Dryden Theatre would extend into the depths of the deep-focus cinematography and take me into the creepy home of the nuns in the Himalayas.

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“Portrait of Jennie” (1948)

When I say lifelike, I do not mean like the creepy Blu-ray ~real life~ quality, but this tangibility that one feels in real life but providing a luminosity that only the magic of the movies (or more appropriately nitrate) can offer. It seems so simplistic and ridiculous to pinpoint nitrate’s close depiction of life because we have blu-ray and 8K; but believe what you have read, it is quite true that there are hardly words to accurately describe nitrate. So many times during Portrait of Jennie I wanted to reach out and touch Joseph Cotten’s gorgeous face because it felt genuinely possible. So much so that just imagining doing so would release the feelings of physical touch. It’s quite amazing, actually. (Here is where I will admit that I was having quite a love affair with Joseph Cotten throughout that entire film. Be warned now: Joseph Cotten on nitrate is quite dangerous).

There were so many moments like this where I would see objects and I could imagine reaching out and feeling its texture: the scratchiness of Samson’s wool coat in Samson & Delilah, the cool slickness of Gene Tierney’s blue satin shoes in Leave Her to Heaven, the tiny dip in Carole Lombard’s scar in Nothing Sacred. These touch-sensory objects gravitated me into the film in a way I’ve never been before.

I found myself questioning my observations and awes with each film I saw, questioning if I am a true film lover because I’m NOT obsessing and talking about the range of the colors and hues. Rather I’m so focused on its real life quality! I mean all I had read before was about nitrate’s tonal quality and its ability to bring the colors to life. Was I missing the point of nitrate and mixing it with watching film prints in general? Yet I didn’t remember ever stopping for a moment during a 35mm film to think about how lifelike the image was, how I could easily reach in and wipe the sweat off of an actor’s face if I wanted. Just with that alone, I would think that it means I am seeing a difference between nitrate and safety stock!

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“Portrait of Jennie” (1948)

Whatever the case, and whatever this means about my experience as a film viewer and lover, all I know is that I was sucked in. I was sucked in and became a believer in the difference of nitrate. I think the film that affected me the most in this way was Portrait of Jennie. I don’t know if my words could ever eloquently evoke the emotion like Nitrate Diva did in her beautiful post, but it was very much along those lines. While I never cried myself, there were so many shots that just moved me beyond words, images that became ingrained in my mind that I do not think they will ever leave me.

Sometimes before I go to sleep at night, I search through my imaginary knapsack of images I collected from the nitrate prints I saw in Rochester. I marvel and relish them because I’m not sure the next time I’ll see a nitrate film. Once I finish with them, I become more ambitious and dream about images from films I’ve seen that I know would look exceptionally beautiful on nitrate: Kim Novak’s Madeline profile shot in Vertigo, Rita Hayworth’s “Put the Blame on Mame” dance number in Gilda (or just Rita Hayworth in general), Scarlett promising herself she will never go hungry again in Gone With the Wind, Buster Keaton’s wild and unruly hair in The General, Laura and Alec on the rowboat in Brief Encounter, the medium close-up of Joan Crawford in the beginning of Mildred Pierce, Barbara Stanwyck lightly tugging on her handkerchief and crying at the end of Stella Dallas; so many shots from films that I find I need to stop myself or I’ll burst. I cannot believe this is what the typical moving going audience saw when they went to the movies. How lucky they were to see films in such a glorious, stunning, and lifelike medium.

If there is only one thing I can say about nitrate, it is that it brings the movies to life.

Power in “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street”

One of the three sections I wrote for my paper on the similarity of “The Apartment” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in their critiques of excess among the elite.

Power is central to both The Wolf of Wall Street and The Apartment; Scorsese continues this critique from The Apartment to The Wolf of Wall Street by paralleling the mise-en-scène of their workspaces. Both Consolidated Life Insurance Company and Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm convey the sense of security and professionalism to the common person. This façade is depicted in the beginnings of both films: The Apartment with its documentary-like footage of the Consolidated Life Insurance Company building and voiceover narration of statistics and The Wolf of Wall Street with the confident TV commercial of the Stratton Oakmont Brokerage Firm. Inside the buildings’ floor plans and offices are set up quite similarly. Wilder and Scorsese both set up their protagonists in the center of the frames with a repetitive, monotonous set up. However, in contrast to symmetric and orderly set up of The Apartment, The Wolf of Wall Street is much more chaotic with the various (male) employees flailing their arms. Like the floor plans, the offices for higher associates are much larger and roomy than the general office floor space. These offices are set apart from the common area and are made for one person: the higher the person, the bigger the room, or, the bigger the office, the bigger the jerk.

However these are only façades of the companies. The faux professionalism covers up the true and excessive behaviors of the employees. The main difference between The Apartment and The Wolf of Wall Street are their protagonists. In The Apartment Wilder wants the viewer to sympathize with C.C. Baxter because he is an ordinary person who lives within his means, whereas in The Wolf of Wall Street Scorsese wants the viewer to laugh at and be angry with Jordan Belfort because he is so excessive and selfish. However, Wilder does not drop critique of human excess. Throughout the entirety of The Apartment Dr. Dreyfuss tells C.C. Baxter to “slow down” and “grow up.” Baxter is a scapegoat for Wilder to drive this critique on the excess of higher associates, like Sheldrake and Kirkeby, to ridicule and bash them. Scorsese conversely uses his critique much more subtly because his main character is the excessive character of The Apartment. Both films essentially comment that those in power are too excessive.

Examples that sum up this idea of power are the parties that occur in the films. For The Wolf of Street, just about everyday is party and excess day, but it is clear that Scorsese had the office Christmas party from The Apartment in mind when he filmed his scenes. The office Christmas office party explicitly intermingles the common office space and the separate offices, both areas containing lots of drinking and philandering. At one point the phone operator Sylvia is seen doing a striptease for the employees on an office table. In comparing this party with the party scenes in The Wolf of Wall Street, the similarities are striking. In The Wolf of Wall Street the parties consist of people drinking, hooking up, and dancing on tables. The only real difference in The Wolf of Wall Street is the lack of romance in its scene plot line and the women as prostitutes than employees. Overall power in these films is not presented as professional, but rather faux and devious.