It's hard to believe, but after four years of writing for the Orient the time has come to say goodbye. This humble space has been my stomping ground for whatever was on my mind and I enjoyed it greatly. If you've made it through for all that time, I sincerely thank you for putting up with me.
As you probably noticed along the way, there are so many different ways that film is applicable to modern day life. That's why it was easy for me to dicuss such varied topics as climate change and suburban teenage angst in the same breath. As a dominant art form, film is unique in its ability to permeate everyday life.
Film also differs from painting and music in the attachment and connection people feel for characters onscreen. The moving image is a powerful thing, and for so many people, myself included, favorite movies are populated by close friends, confidants to turn to for guidance in a time of difficulty. In my life, Annie Hall became the lover I wish I had, earnest about her insecurity and so beautiful as a direct result. Dustin Hoffman and Lily Tomlin in "I Heart Huckabees" are the mentors I'd like to guide me through life's difficulties. Seeing Julianne Moore weeping over one of many cinematic children brings me more happiness than is probably healthy.
Yes, all these characters, as well as the offscreen personalities of the actors playing them, become a part of our lives, as Meryl Streep has become part of mine. But filmmaking is a highly collaborative art form, and countless other behind-the-screen talents like director Alfonso Cuarón, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and writer Charlie Kaufman all have the ability to get me giddy with excitement when the mere mention of their names is attached to projects.
Maybe editing doesn't make your heart race like mine. That's fine; film is great partly for its ability to give people different levels of potential enjoyment. Hollywood trains us to be connoisseurs in spectacle. The enjoyment of each image employing a full range of sound, color, light, and camera movement is considered essential for a film's success.But there are many other layers to enjoy as well.
Recently, a friend asked me, "Do you watch films differently than me?"
My answer was, "Not until I started taking film classes."
Coming to Bowdoin, I thought I knew a lot about film. I had read lots of Internet articles, memorized the Oscar winners, and seen acclaimed American films. I felt like something of a hotshot walking into my first film class. I was definitely going to minor in film studies.
Professor of Film Studies Tricia Welsch quickly took me down a couple of notches. In my first course, on Hollywood cinema, we had a dense textbook; it included every film I had ever seen, as well as movies I had previously judged to be unworthy of my time. Horror films, Westerns, slow-paced foreign films?I became overwhelmed with how much I didn't know. Maybe I'm not cut out for this film studies thing, I thought.
Though I resisted at first, Professor Welsch persisted. Then I started to get it. Films like "Red River" and "Tokyo Story" may not be your favorite kind of entertainment?they weren't on my first viewings?but the merit of the film goes much deeper than the initial entertainment value. A well-made film is a text that deserves to be mined for content; its creators deserve the respect this inquiry bestows.
Watching a film in this manner, seeking to fully understand the director's intentions rather than passing judgment on each scene, is a radically different way of seeing a movie, and ultimately more satisfying. I started liking Westerns when I watched them this way. After taking a John Ford seminar, I'm hooked for life. Sometimes learning to love something is more deeply rewarding than having that something click on the first try.
Sometimes you can dig even deeper. Films are rich cultural texts, encoded with the ideologies and opinions of their creators. The messages that exist beneath the surface may not be discursively mentioned, but they are conveyed to the viewer and have an impact on analysis and opinions.
This semester, I'm working on an independent study looking at Spanish and American films through the lens of hegemonic masculinity?the dominant way masculinity is "performed"?and makeshift communities that form between men. One film I'm using is David Fincher's "Fight Club," in which Brad Pitt and Ed Norton form fight clubs for men to beat one another to a bloody pulp. This film offers one interpretation to the question of what it means to be a man.
Though most men disagree with and resist aspects of hegemonic masculinity, they often choose to reproduce it, sometimes actively intensifying it. Within the milieu of the fight club, the men's interactions offer a variety of examples of reactions to hegemony. Societal rules are suspended in this space, as men protest against their absent fathers, consumerist culture, and emasculation through their self-sanctioned used of extreme violence in a female-free space. This only serves to intensify hegemonic masculinity here.
Through the ritual of the fight, men form communities with other men, allowing themselves to release their frustrations and validate each other's masculinity. But there is a subtext within the film, never explicitly mentioned, of homoeroticism, particularly between Pitt and Norton. This subversion of hegemonic masculinity also exists in the half-naked, sweaty fighting and the voyeurism of the other fight club members watching the proceedings.
None of these observations pass judgment on the merit of the film, but look at the messages it conveys and the open-ended questions if offers to viewers. Do you agree with the way masculinity is enacted? If you could change anything about how masculinity is performed, what would it be? Why?
Important here are the questions and the ways that looking at film encourages these thought processes. Once you begin to look at aspects of a film such as these, questions about similar topics start popping up everywhere.
"People can't be passive viewers anymore," says Welsch. "They start watching a lot of things differently. Getting people to look more carefully at what they are seeing is a big step toward getting them to think more carefully."
If I've done anything with this column, I hope that I've encouraged you to look more deeply at films and mine them for their endlessly fascinating content. Though it may take a bit more work, I assure you it's well worth the effort. That's what Tricia taught me, and I'll be forever grateful to leave Bowdoin able to see so much more than I ever thought possible coming in.