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.

Is It Really All That Fun?: A Comparison and Contrast of the Beginning and Ending of “Cabaret”

Here is a post I wrote last summer comparing and contrasting the beginning and end of “Cabaret”

Moviefellas

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It has been at least three months since I first watched Cabaret and the ending of that film still haunts me. It’s such a contrast compared to the opening of the film: light, cheery, carefree, exciting, dazzling, exhilarating. How it got from point A to point B is the rest of the film. I’m so intrigued by the beginning and end of the film that I decided it would be a perfect choice for my first post in my series: A Close Look at a Scene.

THE OPENING SCENE

Let me begin by saying first and foremost: I absolutely love Bob Fosse. Granted the only other film I have seen of his is All That Jazz but personally I think if you’ve seen one film and you love it, that director is for you. That is the case for me with Bob Fosse and Carol Reed. The film opens to a black screen…

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