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Archive for the ‘jessiedowns’ Category

Polarization in Matewan

Matewan tells the story of coal miners’ attempts to unionize and their struggle against the Stone Mountain Coal Company.  Throughout the film Sayles shows the conflicting viewpoints of the miners and the company men.  Several scenes jump from the miner’s and the company men’s perspectives, contrasting their points of view. The tension between the company men and the miners intensifies as Hillard, a young miner, is murdered. John Sayles makes use of unexpected camera angles in order to build tension in this scene as well as demonstrate the various perspectives on the murder.

As some of the young miners try to steal coal, some of the company men arrive and open fire. The company men manage to catch Hillard, and as they threaten him, Danny watches from behind a boxcar. The camera in this scene cuts back and forth between the perspectives of one of the company men, and what Danny sees. Rather than show the Company men encircling and threatening Hillard from afar, providing the audience with the perspective of a third party, the camera provides the audience with the perspective of one of the company men.  In contrast, Danny can only see the men’s feet from his hiding place, which emphasizes his naivety and his inability to understand the entirety of the situation. Sayles forces the audience to experience Hillard’s murder form either the perspective of Danny or one of the company men and in doing so the audience realizes the polarization in the town.  By cutting back and forth between perspectives demonstrates the conflicting viewpoints while at the same time build tension and demonstrate the complexity of the situation in Matewan.

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In the opening scenes of Norma Rae, Martin Britt attempts to establish Reuben’s role as an outsider in a small southern town. Although the situations and the dialog initially suggest Reuben’s differences from the group, Britt’s blocking choices more dramatically convey this idea. Reuben is not merely separated from the workers because of his ideas about unionization and his education. Britt stresses their differences by placing physical barriers between Reuben and the workers.  When Reuben visits Norma’s house seeking a place to stay, Norma’s father answers the door and the camera shows his perspective rather than Reuben’s.  Throughout the conversation, the camera shows Reuben through a screen door. By viewing the scene form the father’s perspective, the audience understands how wary the workers are about allowing outsiders into their lives, while emphasizing Reuben’s exclusion.

The physical separation from the workers reoccurs throughout the film. When Reuben waits outside the factory, the camera shows Reuben watching the factory workers through a chain link fence. These shots juxtapose Reuben and the workers, while showing the ominous presence of the factory. While Reuben desperately seeks to find a way into the worker’s lives, the workers are trapped in their situation and cannot seem to find any means of escape, because “This is the only job.”

Although most directors rely upon the narrative itself to explain a character’s situation, Britt made use of blocking. By keeping Reuben separated from the workers physically, Martin Britt evokes the idea of exclusion and entrapment. These shots are relatively simple, but they drastically impact the audience’s perceptive on the oppressive nature of the working class’s situation as well as their views of unions.  Reuben cannot reach the workers without the outside help of Norma Rae, just as the workers are incapable of escaping the factory or even their difficult domestic lives without someone else’s leadership.

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Portraying Weakness

In the movie Deliverance, four men on a canoeing trip are thrown into a dangerous and nightmarish situation. After the group’s first night on the river, Ed slips off into the woods to try and hunt. While this scene may appear to be very simplistic at first, it allows the audience to examine Ed as an individual and the action that takes place establishes conflicts that reoccur later in the film. Although the group’s trip had already begun, Ed’s travel into the woods is the first real encounter with the wilderness.

The inclusion of this scene could easily be questioned, because at first it appears to add nothing to the narrative, but it introduces Ed’s role in the film. As Ed begins his journey into the woods, he is forced into a more barbaric role. The camera shows Ed stalking through the trees, and peeking through the leaves, which evokes the image of some predatory animal. Yet once Ed tries to shoot the deer, the camera shows a close shot of his face, and this reveals Ed’s true nature. Initially this shot shows how wide Ed’s eyes are, which conveys how frightened Ed is to be in this role. As the scene continues and Ed begins to tremble, it is clear that Ed does not possess the ability to take another’s life. After seeing Ed fail to do something as basic as hunt, the audience brands Ed weak and once he falls, he also seems to be completely incompetent.

Visually this scene distinguishes itself from the preceding because it is neither set in the town nor does it take place on the river. The deliberate removal of the river also takes Ed away from the context of the group and the trip. This scene is the first of several examinations of Ed as an individual and none of the other men are given this treatment by the director. It would be easy to assume that Lewis is the central character in this film from the first scenes because of his forceful nature and dominating presence. Scenes like this remind the audience that the focus should be on Ed, rather than Lewis, because it is Ed who must ultimately lead the group. This scene establishes the inner struggle that Ed faces after Drew’s murder and causes the audience to question Ed’s capability as a leader.

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Sam’s Patrol

The 1967 film In the Heat of the Night follows Virgil Tibbs’s attempts to solve a murder while struggling against the prejudiced inhabitants of Sparta, Mississippi. Throughout the film Norman Jewison carefully implemented lighting and the music in order to emphasize certain aspects of the story. Sam Wood’s patrol and subsequent discovery of Mr. Colbert’s corpse stands out in particular in this regard. When Wood begins his patrol of the town, the director conveys his sense of familiarity with the streets and people of Sparta. In these first few shots with Sam, the character selects the music and its volume is decided by the closeness of the camera to Wood. The shots of the road illuminated by the headlights and the girl through the window also provide the audience with Sam’s perspective on what is taking place around him.  These choices allow the audience to experience events as Sam would have, while at the same time allowing Sam to exert his control over his environment.

In the second half of the scene, the director’s treatment of Sam drastically changes. As Sam drives down the alley and suddenly stops, the camera quickly zooms in on the tail lights of the car, providing a very disorienting effect. When Sam gets out of the car, his radio is still playing, but the music is oddly unsettling and very out of place. Throughout the scene, Sam’s musical choice plays in the background as a sort of reminder of how familiar and comfortable the night began. This scene jumps back and forth from Sam’s bewildered expression to his lone figure in the alley. The shot of Sam from across the street calls attention to how alone and vulnerable Sam really is.  After the discovery of the body, there are no more shots that represent Sam’s perspective on things and in doing so Jewison strips Sam of the sense of comfort and ease within Sparta.  The director’s choice of angles and music throughout Sam’s patrol reveals the ineptitude of the police force in Sparta.

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Gone with the Wind follows the story of Scarlett O’Hara and her attempts to survive throughout the Civil War and its aftermath. Unlike most women at that time, Scarlett refuses to adhere to the submissive role women have been assigned. Throughout Gone with the Wind Scarlett is the subject of gossip due to her public appearances while in mourning, her management of Tara, and her enterprising business ventures.  The clash between the subservient woman and Scarlett’s refusal to comply is most effectively demonstrated through the use of comedy. Because of this sardonic approach, the audience gains an understanding of the limitations of the Civil War South and an appreciation for Scarlett’s strength, which at the time would not be expected in a female character.

Scarlett’s attendance at the Atlanta Bazaar typifies the comedic side of Gone with the Wind while at the same time establishing Scarlett’s wanton disregard for societal norms. The fact that women in Atlanta society were sure to scorn Scarlett for her decision is articulated by Aunt Pittypat, who throughout the movie is a caricature of appropriate female behavior. Yet Pittypat’s concern for Scarlett’s reputation is revealed to be nothing more than desperate self interest, showing what was truly of importance to Southern women. When Scarlett walks through the crowd to join, her stark black dress sharply contrasts with the ornate gowns of the other women, which serves to distinguish Scarlett from other women. When Rhett tells Scarlett that “we’ve sort of shocked the Confederacy,” he implies that the Southerners would rather focus on idle gossip than on the pressing matter of the war, and this desire to uphold an arbitrary standard inhibits many once the war is over. This scene is the first instance of Scarlett’s blatant refusal to conform to a certain role, and although lighthearted, it shows her strong will and her disregard for the opinions of others. These traits ensure Scarlett’s survival through the conflict, and they allow her to rebuild her life in the chaos after the war.

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