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Archive for the ‘heybabyiwannaknow’ Category

 

                  Norma Rae (1979) features yellow, brown, and gray hues in costume and lighting, in order to present for the audience a dismal and sallow world where cotton is king and the mill consumes life like a sickness. Norma Rae Webster is frequently seen wearing dingy shirts and gray jeans that appear dirty because of their coloring, adding to the “dirty” view of mill workers held by the man she visits in Rueben’s hotel. Before he slaps her, he insults her appearance and tells her to go home to “her kind’. The scene where she smells her arm pits, cleans them, and puts on a brown shirt does nothing to improve the way she looks and she seems unsatisfied with herself through facial expression and constant fixing of her hair. There is little she can do to improve her appearance in front of the mirror, just like there is little she can do to improve life at the mill before Reuben.

             Gray coloring of the machines in the factory, in addition to the lack of natural light, add to the feeling of discomfort not only with aesthetics but also working conditions and mill life in general. As the camera pans around the factory in the beginning, workers toil under harsh industrial lighting with slanted eyes and lacking smiles. Later in the film when potential union members are gathered in the Webster home, one worker remarks about facing a brick wall all day long. This lack of light and color reiterate the absence of happiness and enthusiasm the mill worker characters possess.

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            The manipulation of camera angles in the scene where the characters Ed and Bobby are assaulted in the woods creates the fear and uncertainty of the characters real for the audience. As the two men pause on their river trip, the camera is focused on the conversation between them. When rustling in the woods audibly signals the entrance of the two hillbilly characters, the camera quickly snaps out of curiosity to the trees as if to mimic what a third member of the canoe party might do. As Ed and Bobby converse with the strangers, the camera angle seems detached, as if the filmmaker is standing a few feet away observing the obvious tension between the men from Atlanta and the men from the mountains. The angle of the camera’s shot is far enough away to show the full bodies of the men, but trees and plants obscure a full view making for a more realistic perspective considering clearings aren’t probable in an undeveloped stretch of river.

             When Ed is tied to the tree and Bobby is instructed to take off his clothes, the camera spastically exchanges between Ed’s face and Bobby’s as if to show the indecision the two men feel when determining whether or not to listen to their captors. Zooming in on Ed’s exhausted face and showing his declining breathing, the camera almost signals that he’s given permission to Bobby to strip. When Bobby removes his pants, the man chases him into the brush even further as the camera stays with Ed to show the danger of what will happen to Bobby as he runs. While the other man yells at Bobby to “squeal like a pig” after holding him down, the camera again shows the faces of the two men, this time with a magnification that shows their sweat. Throughout the horrific scene of rape, the camera’s constant panning between the two men not only shows their individual disgust and fear for what’s to become of them, but also their shared experience in the woods.

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Dialogue and action make the scene where Endicott slaps Mr. Tibbs the most important social commentary from In the Heat of the Night (1967). Despite being well into the Civil Rights Movement, blacks had still not guaranteed their equal treatment under the law, especially in the South. Mr. Tibbs slaps Endicott back with quickness and strength, suggesting to the audience that Tibbs’ refusal to be abused is a metaphor for the black community’s unwillingness to be oppressed any longer.

Endicott says, “Let me understand here, you two came here – to question me?” A white man being interrogated by a black for something that in Endicott’s opinion was none of his business, Endicott’s question represents the white question to the black community during the Civil Rights Movement. To the whites it seemed that blacks were questioning a long understood chain of authority and the status quo at the time. Challenging the white violence and prejudice was perplexing to white southerners and broke previously held notions of a black’s “place” in society, just as Tibbs’ suspicions about Endicott seemed out of line for Mr. Endicott, a wealthy white.

Endicott’s violent slap is an effort to put Tibbs in his place as an “inferior”. The film’s sound effects do a great deal to capture the power and force with which Tibbs’ entire body reacts almost instinctively to return the attack. The look of surprise on the faces of the servant and officer Gillespie are like the shocked faces of Americans as blacks struggled resiliently to be treated as equals. Endicott’s facial expression makes it clear that Gillespie, as a white man, is supposed to use his authority to shut up Tibbs’ suspicions. When he says, “what are you going to do about it”, the line is intended not only for Gillespie but for the audience, charging In the Heat of the Night with the authority of a critique of American lifestyles.

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