Cinema – Helping Us Understand our Society One Social Construction at a Time

In many of my previous posts, I have paid a lot of attention to alternative cinema and its importance in divulging things that traditional cinema does not. I have also paid homage to a popular genre and mainstream films. I have been very specific in my analyses, but for this post, I want to broadly talk about why cinema, in all of its forms, is important regardless of its under-represented or over-represented medium.

Throughout my college career, I have been an avid feminist and I tend to view almost all films with a feminist lens. I discuss so passionately in my bio why I believe thinking critically about cinema is important. Well, if my other posts haven’t done it for you – this one will. Whether we realize it or not, cinema is an invaluable tool that can inform us about the world we live in.

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In the realm of feminism, cinema has often played a large role in perpetuating gendered social constructions. Have you ever wondered where women get unrealistic expectations in relationships? Start with the rom-com. They reveal a romantic world that is often inaccurate and gives women and men unrealistic gendered expectations of relationships.

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Next, it is important to note what role women and men play in the majority of films. Most of the time, women are the damsel in distress and men are there to rescue/save them.

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In other cases, men seduce the woman and all is well. This asserts a social construction as men = superior and women = inferior/subordinate. This common perpetuation of gender norms in film has a big part in how society understands gender. To this degree, it’s not good. But!! If you are able to point out these stereotypes, then cinema becomes a tool to help deconstruct norms and understand how these unequal power relations came about in the first place.

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Don’t fret, though. Progressive and recent films like the Kill Bill series or especially, Mad Max: Fury Road (2015) not only contain strong female roles that subvert patriarchal norms, they also critique patriarchy.

 

So, films are not just here for entertainment, they are here to give us profound insight about the world we live in.

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I Drive, Therefore I Am

In cinema, there are many objects and symbols that contain profound meanings. For example, the house acts as its own character and plays a crucial role in some horror films like, The Amityville Horror (1979). One particular, powerful and profound symbol in cinema that I find to be fascinating is the automobile – think: The Fast and Furious franchise, but there’s much more to it than that.

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If you really think about the deeper meaning of the automobile outside of cinema, it represents a device of freedom. Now, putting that meaning into place in the cinematic world, there are so many ways the automobile can function and there are many different meanings it can take on. One of my favorite films where the automobile is represented in interesting ways is Two-Lane Blacktop (1971).

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In this film, the automobile shares a very important relationship to the road. Considering the time this film was made, the vehicle and the road serve as a space to explore an existential America. Dennis Wilson, Laurie Bird, and James Taylor play amazing roles as counter-culture hippies looking for their purpose in 1970’s America while driving their 1955 Chevy, drag racing fellow existentialists and hippies for cash.

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Additionally, a common misconception about cars in movies is that it is usually gendered macho or masculine. In the case of the Fast and Furious movies or Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985), for example, this is true; however, it’s not always the case. The most fascinating part about cars as a symbol in film is how the car itself can transgress cultural and gendered norms and reimagine and even regender its meaning. In this case, I’m thinking about one of my all-time personal favorite car films, Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill! (1965).

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This film is all about badass girls and their badass cars. In this movie, the car takes on the role of a weapon and through a feminist perspective, a device for liberation.

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So not only does story, style or content matter in film studies, it’s also important to look at symbols and objects that take on specific meanings in profound ways. In this case, the automobile is a universal, fluid and culturally specific device that can add a lot more substance to a film. Go figure.

Reimagining The Past – Why Found Footage Films are Important

A fellow student asked this profound question in class today, “what is the value of history if it’s always being questioned?” This lead me to think about the topic of found footage films or collage films. No, I’m not talking about the fictional found footage films like The Blair Witch Project or the Paranormal Activity franchise. I’m talking about already filmed accounts of our history put together in conjunction with other, disparate images and video clips.

One remarkable found footage film that comes to mind as an example is Jen Proctor’s A Movie (2010). You can watch the full film here. This film is a remake and influenced by Bruce Conner’s A Movie (1958) and both films have very different messages.

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Where Conner’s film explores human fascination with violence, the gaze, and sexuality, Proctor is a bit more new aged in that it reimagines the raw past of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Both subject matters contain profound messages regarding the human condition and our visceral anxiety about our world. Mixing actual events with disparate images is an artistic practice that should not be ignored. Indeed, it may seem like a disrespectful rendering of history, but in actuality, it is a subjective point-of-view that creates an alternate perspective of unstable memories of tragic events and encounters. These films are certainly something to keep in mind when wanting to refer back to the past or review the past with a different lens.

Zombies EVERYWHERE!!!

In spirit of Halloween, I am going to flip the script (no pun intended) and discuss the raging trend behind a very over-represented genre (and one of my personal favorites): the zombie apocalypse subgenre.

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So why are zombie films and TV shows so dang popular? Well, one could say that they are entertaining, thrilling or frightening, but there’s much more to their existence beyond how they entertain/fascinate us.

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As I have discussed in other posts, film is an invaluable tool that contains many profound meanings; oftentimes, these meanings stem from a direct critique on society and the issues within our society. Albeit over-represented and cliche, zombie films are no exception and tell us a lot about our feelings towards our current society.  Keeping certain societal issues in mind such as: global fear of a pandemic, terrorism, climate change, and even crumbling infrastructures in various other countries, it is no surprise that we entertain the idea of a new post-apocalyptic world that contains no government or authority and a riddance of old societal rules and structures.

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In short, so much is happening in our world around us that is creating a negative outlook of our society, which leaves many people fantasizing about a new beginning. The zombie genre demonstrates how even the most over-represented forms of cinema can tell us a lot about the world around us… Next time you find yourself amused with the notion of zombies and a post-apocalyptic world, ask yourself why. You might be surprised to realize how  popular trends of cinema, like the zombie subgenre, aren’t just for entertainment. Through cultural reflection, this particular trend gives us a profound inside-look into our own societal concerns, fears, and perhaps, our hopelessness for humanity.

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…Now that’s deep.

Skip the Hollywood Ending – Show Me the Truth

I’m usually pretty skeptical when it comes down to conventional Hollywood films. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them, I just get tired of seeing the same thing over and over again. There’s a beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, and then the big happy resolution – AKA the typical Hollywood ending. In this respect, that’s why I like to watch films that transgress conventions and challenge my expectations, so it doesn’t feel like I’m watching the same thing on repeat. One thing that I look for in watching a film is how well the film can artistically inform me about the world we live – no matter how bad the content may be.

So, for this post I want to talk about my all-time favorite film: Requiem for a Dream (2000). This film is certainly not for the faint-hearted, so if you haven’t watched it before, watch this trailer before jumping in head first.

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One of the main reasons why I like this film is because it shows us a world that is taboo. A world that contains drug addiction, poverty, and inevitable demise. You may be thinking “well that sounds awful”, but the truth is too many films make us forget about major issues that surround us and they perpetuate living life with a narrow-minded view of the world. I like films that tell me something about the world we live in and boy, does this one put the cherry on the cake.

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This film explores drug addiction and mental illness with a harsh, critical, yet authentic lens (I also acknowledge not every drug addict is like the characters in this film). The editing, mise-en-scene and cinematography is so well executed and so eerie, the film could be an anti-drug PSA in its own right. But, that is what makes this film important. Not only is it cinematically brilliant, it also transgresses conventions and does not end like a normal film would, which yes, leaves audiences depressed but most significantly  it leaves them informed.

Let’s Get Personal

You go to the movies, sit in a dark room with strangers, and for the next 90-120+ minutes, you find yourself in a different reality. As you sit with eyes glued to the screen, there may be characters or stories that you wish you could be part of, or that you wish you could be – this is often the case for many romcoms. (I am guilty of wanting to be a vampire like the ones in the Twilight saga – who doesn’t want to glitter in the sun?)

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This whole scenario, albeit fantastic and escapist, doesn’t seem to challenge us as audience members. A crucial genre of film that is never usually screened in major movie theaters is personal cinema. Other terms could be diary films, essay films, film-poems, auto-ethnographies, etc.

One notable film that comes to mind is Lisa Steele‘s Birthday Suit – with scars and defects (1974). In this 13-minute film, Lisa presents her naked body to the camera and then for the remainder of the film she shows her viewers extreme close-ups of all the scars on her body followed by the description of the incident that caused the scar and the month and year the incident happened.

This is a remarkable piece as her body is nowhere near sexualized or objectified. Instead, it is more human. Her personal disclosure of her scars and defects gives a sense of confidence. It allows viewers to understand that their own scars and defects are what makes them unique in a world fueled by conformity.

Where most fantasy or conventional films allow a destruction of the self via escapism (which can also lead to self-consciousness), personal and raw films bring us back to ourselves and allow us to accept who we are in meaningful ways. Next time you see a film where the filmmaker is pouring their heart out, don’t discount it – it might just make you feel more human.

Putting Passion to Practice – Discussing a Local Experimental Film Ogranization

Alternative cinema is an artistic practice that has been widely overlooked. As I discuss significant films and cinematic works of art, it is important to know that there are not only advocates for  alternative cinema, there are also organizations based around it. A local (Albuquerque, NM) non-profit organization, Basement Films, is one that comes to mind.

Basement Films is a wonderful film organization that holds a passion for keeping under-represented forms of film and video-making alive. I have been a member of this organization for about a year now and let me tell you, it has been an eye-opening experience. For one, this organization is the home to over 8,000 16mm films, thousands of 35mm films, and hundreds of 8mm films. Who knew that these films could still be in use?

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Not only does this organization find creative ways to keep analog film alive, they also host an incredible experimental film festival every year in April called “Experiments in Cinema” In this festival, many notable filmmakers from around the world show their work and many of these films are challenging and refreshing.

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Alternative cinema is considered an acquired taste by many, but it is important to know that there are communities out there that truly relish under-represented forms of filmmaking and have a fervent passion for keeping this artistic practice alive. Other notable organizations include:

Overall, there’s a good amount of support in this field, but the truth is – there’s still not enough. Basement Films is one of the few and important organizations, and hopefully in the bright future, more artists will look to alternative cinema and keep this artistic practice immortal.