Avant Garde and Experimental Films in U.S.

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After World War II, Avant Garde and experimental films began to reemerge.  The availability of 16mm equipment made experimental filming more popular and accessible for nonprofessional filmmakers.  At this time, many universities in the United States created departments for film and production.  There was a drastic increase in the experimental film culture. 

The works of many popular experimentalists such as Willard Maas, Marie Menken, and John and James Whitney, began to circulate.  Even though the U.S. government and various private foundations was in favor the fine arts, most filmmakers funded their work through either their own money or from a patron.

By the 1960s, the United States became a leading nation in Avant Garde cinema.  An infrastructure was developed to support Avant Garde cinema.  Distribution for independent film companies was also widely expanded.  After the Film Makers’ Cooperative in New York was created, all films were accepted regardless of the quality.  This really made it easier for all the smaller film companies to get their work out.

The French New Wave

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The New Wave emerged in France after World War II, during the late 1950s.  It was very popular amongst youthful audiences.  The New Wave created innovations in both form and style within the film.  It drew many characteristics from Italian Neorealism and prior film traditions.

Jean-Luc Godard was one of the most influential filmmakers of the New Wave.  Godard redefined traditional film structure and style by moving towards a more fragmentary, collage structure.  He would often add various elements such as advertisements, comic strips, or street scenes that have little or no connection with the actual narration of the plot.  Godard infuses detective novels with philosophy or avant-garde art.

Godard strayed away from conventional film techniques.  His compositions are not centered.  His first film Breathless, which many critics identified Godard with, included hand held camerawork, jerky editing, and jump cuts.  Godard was also able to create shots that seem amazingly flat which became an influential innovation.

Hitchcock Interview with François Truffaut

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Suspense is one of my favorite elements of cinema.  Alfred Hitchcock was a master of suspense.  He is able to capture the human reality of a scene and its dramatic effect without the use of a narrative or dialogue.  He is able to drawn the attention of the audience away from whatever is happening outside of the stage and make them focus solely on the events within his films.  Although Hitchcock was a very creative technician of using form, he believed that the most important aspect of film making was clarity.  The true meaning of the film is lost when it is said rather than shown, because the viewer mostly perceptive what they see.

Alfred Hitchcock is a very well rounded filmmaker who exceeds at creating images, shots, and scenes.  He commands all the aspects of his film, from the elements within the film to his own distinctive concepts to the editing of the soundtrack.  Hitchcock’s unique film style leads the audience through a tunnel of emotions.  It includes a little bit of everything, a sense of humor, abstract feelings, and intense drama.

I found it interesting that Alfred Hitchcock, a man who excels at filming fear, is quite fearful himself.  I think that this fear is connected with his childhood experience of punishment whenever he did something wrong.  This shows that if you have a strict upbringing, it will carry through to adulthood.

Douglas Sirk

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I think that many great things such as films and music do not receive the reorganization that they deserve until much later on.  I once saw a video documentary on the Godfather.  I’m sure that the majority of the people that saw the first Godfather consider it as a great gangster film.  However, when it first came out there were many negative reviews.  I guess perhaps different generations of audiences differ in their taste of what makes a good film and a bad film.

I think that Douglas Sirk’s visual style is very similar to Orson Welles in that both of their techniques were influenced by their interest in painting.  It’s ironic that he denounces Hitler’s ideals while his wife is a great supporter of the Nazis.  It is also quite ironic that even though Douglas Sirk was a man with a very clear vision of what he wants his films to include and the audiences to see, he lost sight of both eyes.

I am impressed with Douglas Sirk’s courage and determination.  He continued with his style of melodramas even though many people did not appreciate or find his films interesting at the point of his career.  He stood his ground and stayed true to his style of expression because that was what interests him, gotta respect his strong attitude.

Yasujiro Ozu

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Yasujiro Ozu was a Japanese film director that created a very unique style of cinema.  Although Ozu’s films were known to many as being “very Japanese,” Hollywood films had greatly influenced him.  Ozu received inspiration from the social comedies of Charles Chaplin, Enst Lubitch, and the gag comedies of Harold Lloyd.  He invented the unique concept of mono no aware, an awareness of the nature of reality.  Ozu infused the concept of mono no aware in his films to define the essence of Japanese culture.

His films are mostly character driven, rather than using language and sound to show drama, Orz’s films focus mainly on the close up of an individual’s expression or gesture. He would only film from low heights, which really restricted the camera position.  However, this allowed him to draw the audience’s attention into the dramatic emphasis on the conversation of the actor.  Ozu used shots of static objects as a way to switch between scenes.

Many of Ozu’s films were balanced by both a traditional way of thinking with a modern style of filming.  Ozu’s films infused comedy with drama in a very pure and expressive way.  He was able to capture elements of life such as personal reflection and the inevitable passage of time.  I think that Yasujiro Ozu was a very unique and spiritual man.  I feel it is a shame that he was drafted twice to participate in the war.

Impact of Neorealism

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I think that the neorealistic movement greatly contributed to the film industry because filmmakers used cinema as a way of expression from the view of the ordinary people.  Neorealism was revolutionary style of cinema which both influenced and inspired a unique wave of experimental filming techniques. The actors create a more truthful performance since they are nonprofessionals.  The movements and camera angles are extremely free because the filming does not take place within a studio.  The topics are realistic because the films focuses can social and economic problems such as poverty and unemployment after World War II.

I think that the manipulation of films by the Nazi, Fascist, and Communist government during World War II was a very clever way to create strong feelings of nationalism while at the same time, glorying or justifying imperialism.  Military films often glorify war by portraying the death of a soldier as a great service to their country or if the soldier survives, he will achieve glory and fame. The use of propaganda to unify a nation through the film industry shows the powerful influence of cinema when used effectively. 

The history of World War II provides many topics for controversial films.  The use of women and children as victims of post war atrocities can create much tension between various nations and introduce a feeling of hatred and rage.  On the other hand, I think neorealistic films provide an honest theme to the devastation left from the postwar era.

Paul Schrader, “Notes on Film Noir” and Janey Place, “Women in Film Noir”

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The genre of film noir emerged during and after the World War II era.  These films drew elements from delusions of warfare, post war realism, German expressionism, and traditional style of writing.  After the war, film industries in Hollywood began to show a very different side of American life.  They depicted society in a more pessimistic mood.  This included problems that related to crime in the streets, political corruption, and physiological violence. Film noir was a favorable genre for many directors, screenwriters, actors, and artists.  Many film industries were able to put together very creative films with previously forbidden themes.

The protagonist’s personalities were mostly sardonic, sinister, or delusional.  The place of meeting mainly occurred in docks, piers, or alleyways.  The actor’s face is usually blocked out by a shadow as he speaks.  The environment is given more emphasis to show the hopeless mood and pathetic attempt of the character’s struggle.  Nothing he does can actually change the future.

Film noir portrayed women as ruthless and cunning.  Women use their attractive sexual appearance in order to manipulate the man for money, freedom and power.  This is very different from the traditional roles of women where they were seen as weak and innocent, having to depend on the man for survival.  The image of women in film noir is fearless and independent; she will achieve her goal no matter what she may have to do.

Lady Eve

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I thought that Preston Sturges’s Lady Eve was a brilliant film of romantic comedy.  The plot of the story seemed simple at first; a group of professional gamblers trying to hustle a rich and innocent young man.  However the story soon becomes much more interesting when Jean falls in love with Charles.  Their personalities are very different.  The character of Jean is deceptive while Charles is very naive.  The plot further thickens when Charles discovered that Jean was a con artist and breaks her heart.

The best part of Lady Eve, for me, was when Jean decided to change her identity into a noble and sophisticated lady simply known as Eve.  Eve’s personality was very humorous and likeable.  She was able to blend in with the upper class crowd easily.  Charles’s cluelessness and clumsiness provided the film with much laughter and glorified the role of Eve by making her more graceful and alluring.  Charles was so happy to see Jean at the end because compared to Eve, Jean seemed like an angel.

 Throughout the entire film, the character of Jean/Eve was definitely in control.  Wherever Jean/Eve went, she was the center of attention and commanded the environment around her.  Overall, I enjoyed watching Lady Eve.  Although I usually dislike watching romantic films, Lady Eve was a great combination of romance and comedy.  I think that the use of silly and witty dialogue was the major element which appealed to me the most.

Public Enemy

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Crime and gangster cinemas are one of the most popular and interesting movie genres to watch.  It includes a wide variety of real life elements that many people could relate to.  The idea of having nothing to acquiring everything is just like a dream that doesn’t seem realistic to many people.  In the movie Public Enemy, we can see two young kids (Tommy and Matt) that were surrounded by bad influence and a problematic society.  As they mature, they commit greater and become more arrogant.  Even though Tommy had gained much wealth, his older brother Mike refused to spend any money that Tommy gave to their mother.  Tommy’s destructive lifestyle and behavior cost him his best friend and eventually his own life.

Gangsters can be viewed as either a hero or a criminal depending on which side you are on.  To the police and people who are self righteous and favors order, gangsters would be criminals of society.  To people who seek freedom and dislike how the government and the society is ran, they might see gangsters as a group of individualists.

To me, the most exciting thing about gangster lifestyle is doing unlawful things and not getting caught.  During the part where Tommy and Matt drove an oil truck to steal beer from a liquor warehouse, I felt really excited because what they were doing seem really dangerous and I thought that they were going to be caught, while at the same time I also wanted them to succeed.


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