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.

 

“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.

Nashville (1975)

Initially posted on my school’s film club movie review site, I wrote this review about Nashville. I thought it’d be nice to post it on here since over a year ago I wrote about the upcoming release of the Criterion DVD of Nashville.

Were there to be a number one rule about Robert Altman, it would most likely be something along the lines of: one should not watch one of his films only once. Someone like Altman mandates multiple viewings. For some people, that’s too much commitment for there are other movies we must give our attention to. Yet here I am, multiple viewings later, writing this review for Nashville.

Altman’s style requires concentration, thought, and keen observation. For some viewers, he’s tedious and not worth the time because “there isn’t anything going on in the film.” However for others, like myself, Altman is a sigh of relief. With his long lens shots and overlapping dialogue, Altman trusts the viewer to use his or her senses to interpret what is happening and what it means. With that being said, it is nearly impossible not to see or hear something you didn’t notice in the previous viewing. It is with every rewatch I am more blown away by Altman’s technique of directing. I honestly have no idea how a director can put that much in one movie in a short frame of time that I notice a new line or prop piece that adds to the film’s various layers, especially considering Altman’s technique of using the script as a blueprint and allowing his actors and actresses to improvise. I am forever in awe.

But enough with the fangirling and on to the movie. As the trailer says, Nashville follows the lives of 24 characters. “That’s a lot of characters so listen closely.” Not only listen but also watch very closely as well. Each of these 24 characters is unique and holds some sort of personality was rife in the 70’s, ranging from Jeff Goldblum’s Easy Rider-esque unnamed “psycho freak” to Ronee Blakley’s “adored” country singer Barbara Jean. There is such a wide range of characters that it is impossible not to find one person you consider funny or interesting. There are many aspects of Nashville that one can focus on because of its structure. It does not always follow the same person through every event that happens to them. Instead the viewer is expected to fill in bits and pieces about what happened to the character, and that is what Altman expects and needs from the viewer. Nashville is wonderful in that, as writer Joan Tewkesbury says, it can only exist as a film because it literally moves through time and space; climaxes and plot points common in other films that could be written and described are absent from this film.

So what do I have to say about Nashville? I have so many things, let’s be honest, but I will keep it fairly brief. First off, it is funny. Oh my god is it funny. You have so many people from different backgrounds that that in it is amusing to watch. Underneath that, Nashville is layered and complex. There are certain aspects of the film that I’m drawn towards, such as the treatment and actions of the women in the film or the behaviors of the patriarchal country singer Haven Hamilton. But above all what interests me the most is the core basis that connects every single person in this film, and that is politics. American politics is exemplified by the Hal Phillip Walker campaign. Nashville was made in 1975, just before the Watergate scandal leaked but in the midst of growing disgust for American politics. However, the campaign car reminds the viewer, and the city of Nashville, that we are all involved in politics. This is essentially the basis: everyone in this film is involved with the Hal Phillip Walker campaign in some way that it affects their everyday lives.

Nashville, the capital of country music, equates to any small town in America. The people of Nashville are the people of 1970’s America. For viewers today, it is a glimpse of what the world was like in 1975. Altman himself said that he directed what he saw happening in the world, not as he viewed it. So it may not be surprising to learn that I recommend this film for any person, especially those who are serious about film. It is a film that, for me, is hard to give a good, run down review for so much of it is dependent on how much and what you observe. You may grow to love or hate Altman, but either way you will see a different approach of what film can be.

Film Review: “Short Cuts” (1993)

I’ve been debating whether I should write a review on this movie, but, in the end, I decided it would probably be for the best. I purchased Short Cuts a few months ago when I was buying all the Robert Altman movies I could find. My good friend said she really liked it so I figured that I would probably enjoy it as well. And I guess I sort of did? Not really? I’m not sure? Which is the reason why I’m writing this post I guess.

Some people equate this movie to Nashville or say at least it’s similar to Nashville; I do beg to differ, and not just because there is no singing in Short Cuts. Perhaps my first and foremost reason is the treatment of women in the film; certainly Robert Altman is making a comment on women in society in Nashville, but in Short Cuts it almost disturbed me. Perhaps the fact that Short Cuts was made in the 1990’s and much closer to today (though, if you look at it, it’s a 21 year difference. I mean these people didn’t have cell phones).

From the brief number of reviews I’ve read on Short Cuts, I’ll admit I was surprised no one mentioned the treatment of women in the film. Rather, they summed everything up as the disconnectedness between the characters in the film. I pondered that and, while that was certainly true, it was much stronger in the relationship between males and females. Honestly, every single man in Short Cuts infuriated me. Tim Robbins, who literally throws his loyalty to his wife on the street (symbolized through the barking dog) to sleep with other women, Peter Gallagher, who destroys his ex-wife’s home when she goes out on a weekend vacation with her lover, Tom Waits, who drinks and drinks and is implied that he abused Lily Tomlin’s daughter when she was younger, and lastly, the three men that go fishing. Had it not been for them, I think I would have been able to tolerate it better. Let me give you a run down of these three lovely gentlemen: they first begin by asking Lily Tomlin if “they can have butter” just so they can see her rear end when she bends down. Then they go fishing and, what do you know, they find the body of a twenty-something year old girl who obviously had been raped and murdered. And what do they do? Well, they have no idea what the hell to do but decide that, since she’s dead already, there is nothing they can do, so: why not enjoy their fishing trip and tell the police after the trip?? Yeah, great idea. And it’s not like Altman is okay with this; he leaves the camera lingering on the floating body for a good 5 or 6 seconds with the overlapping dialogue of the men laughing about some nonsense.

Then, after the trip, one of the men goes home to his wife and makes love to her. Okay. Great. But then, when they’re finished (and after she has told him that she loves him), he tells her about the body they found. I’m not sure I can even do that scene* justice by trying to describe it for the women who plays his wife was phenomenal in my opinion. It is honestly shocking he can say all that he does to his wife right after making love to her. Her face says it all; she is in a state of shock and all she can say is, “and when did you find her?” He really does not get why she is so upset, and that’s what frightens me. It’s that whole general attitude among the men in the film where women don’t seem to be people who deserve any respect; they’re just, objects, things. Normally, I would just write it off and say it’s the movies but there are people out there like that and, yeah, that’s scary. {I’m not even going to begin with the final scene of the film; I think I’ve made my case on that bit clear.}

But do let me say this; the women in the film aren’t completely passive either. Look at the beautiful Madeline Stowe’s character: she knows Robbins is cheating on her and she finds it hysterical when he lies about “going out on the job.” But still, evaluating all the women, they realize how the men are treating them yet deal with it and stay with them.

Now, yes I agree that the whole sense is disconnectedness and it’s not just between males and females. Look at the relationship between the mother jazz singer and her daughter the cellist; that messed me up to be honest. Lily Tomlin and the little boy when he’s hit; we know Lily wanted to help him but he wouldn’t go because he’s not supposed to talk to strangers.

When I finished this film, I reminded myself that it was made in the 1990’s, a decade I really do hate and that I’m glad it’s over. But then I said, “It’s over!!! Life is different now!!” Or at least I hope? I mean, life is not as dreary and negative as it was in the 1990’s but still. It made me worried. And Robert Altman is a realist, and while I love Bob, I’m more of an escapist movie lover. But most of the Robert Altman films I love (3 Women, Nashville, The Long Goodbye) are his older movies so, to me, they are an escape. If that makes sense?

So, overall, I think it is safe to say that this was not my cup of tea, or rather a too strong cup of tea. Perhaps the best thing to say is that I don’t think I’ll be watching it again for quite awhile.

*I found a clip of that scene on YouTube if you want to watch it.

Frances Ha (2013)

I only came across Frances Ha because the night the Criterion President and Producer visited, they gave away a copy of City Lights and Frances Ha. Obviously, I knew of City Lights but Frances Ha I hadn’t heard of, also the cover intrigued me (yes, I do judge movies by their covers). I added it to my Christmas list because, why not? If I hate it that much then I will sell to Half-Price Books. Later that week, in my Netflix browsing, I found Frances Ha on instant streaming. After debating of whether I should watch that or another ~important~ film on Hulu, I decided to just go ahead and watch it.

I’m not sure what I was excepting, other than it centering around this girl Frances, but I loved it. Frances was wonderful, even though a few times I cringed at her behavior, particularly when she was having dinner with her new roommate’s friends. Being a 19 year old, I’m obviously not at that point of my life yet where everyone around me is growing up and getting married. This film is a great insight on that and what struggles there are for some people. Though I don’t think I will be stuck in Frances’ position once I’m 27.

Perhaps what struck me the most is how quickly Gerwig kills a romantic storyline; right at the beginning of the film she ends her relationship with Dan. Throughout the rest of the film one of her roommates constantly refers to her as “undateable.” Though this story is not void of a love story; the love story is actually between Frances and her best friend Sophie. Honestly, how many films out there are truly about girls’ friendships sans a boyfriend/love interest aspect? None that I can recall.

My favorite part of the film is at the very end, when Frances “finds herself” and can finally afford an apartment of her own. I could not help but smile at Frances’ smile because that is my dream: to be able to get my own apartment someday, live on my own, work at a job that I enjoy, basically be my own person. It’s a very reassuring ending because I know Frances is going to be all right.

I loved Frances Ha and I hope to see Gerwig write more scripts. She is just the writer to create characters that I want to see on the screen. The camera work and editing was refreshing; and the music too now that I think about it. It all fits this young adult state of mind, I think. Frances is still young, energetic, ambitious, and her own person. Frances Ha is going to be a film I will go back to whenever I need a helping hand in my struggle in becoming an adult, or as Frances says, “a real person.”

Below is the trailer for Frances Ha