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Politics and Film Introduction Senator Jimmy Stewart filibusters for justice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science.

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Presentation on theme: "Politics and Film Introduction Senator Jimmy Stewart filibusters for justice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science."— Presentation transcript:

1 Politics and Film Introduction Senator Jimmy Stewart filibusters for justice in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). Artemus Ward Dept. of Political Science Northern Illinois University

2 Hollywoodlands Portrayal of Politics Real World v. Reel WorldThere is a tension between actual political practices in the real world and their portrayal in pictures. Cinematic practices and imperatives give rise to a reel world view of the politics. In this course introduction, we will discuss some basic cinematic practices. During the course we will discuss how these practices affect our impressions of politics.

3 Cinematic Practices & Imperatives It is a visual medium and therefore image is privileged over all other forms. Film-making is a business. The goal is to make money and therefore films will tend toward the largest common denominator. As a result, formulas and practices have developed over the years, such as the infamous happy ending and the use of music and special effects to induce audience reactions. Charlie Chaplin as The Tramp. In 1919 he founded United Artists with Actors Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks and filmmaker D.W. Griffith.

4 Censorship In Mutual Film Corp. v. Ohio Industrial Commission (1915), the U.S. Supreme Court held 9-0 that films were not protected under the 1 st Amendments freedom of speech and press clauses: The exhibition of moving pictures is a business, pure and simple, originated and conducted for profit... not to be regarded, nor intended to be regarded… we think, as part of the press of the country, or as organs of public opinion. As a result, state and local governments could practice prior restraint against films before their release. Under government and interest group pressure, the motion picture industry adopted the Hays Code (1930) to police itself. By 1935 or so, the industrys Production Code Administration (PCA) began supervising every facet of a film and only issued its seal of approval if a picture was free of objectionable material. The Code proved economically beneficial to the industry as films were no longer censored, the code provided positive publicity, and safe films such as the popular Shirley Temple pictures cleaned up at the box office. Will H. Hays, Jr. was the chairman of the Republican National Committee and campaign manager for Warren Hardings successful 1920 Presidential run. Harding named him Postmaster General. Hays later served as the first president of the Motion Picture industry ( ). Johnny Weissmuller with a nude showgirl in Glorifying the American Girl (1929).

5 The Hays Code The Production Code enumerated three "General Principles": No picture shall be produced that will lower the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the sympathy of the audience should never be thrown to the side of crime, wrongdoing, evil or sin. Correct standards of life, subject only to the requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be presented. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, nor shall sympathy be created for its violation. Specific restrictions were spelled out as "Particular Applications" of these principles: Nudity and suggestive dances were prohibited. The ridicule of religion was forbidden, and ministers of religion were not to be represented as comic characters or villains. The depiction of illegal drug use was forbidden, as well as the use of liquor, "when not required by the plot or for proper characterization." Methods of crime (e.g. safe-cracking, arson, smuggling) were not to be explicitly presented. References to "sex perversion" (such as homosexuality) and venereal disease were forbidden, as were depictions of childbirth. The language section banned various words and phrases that were considered to be offensive. Murder scenes had to be filmed in a way that would discourage imitations in real life, and brutal killings could not be shown in detail. "Revenge in modern times" was not to be justified. The sanctity of marriage and the home had to be upheld. "Pictures shall not infer that low forms of sex relationship are the accepted or common thing." Adultery and illicit sex, although recognized as sometimes necessary to the plot, could not be explicit or justified and were not supposed to be presented as an attractive option. Portrayals of miscegenation were forbidden. "Scenes of Passion" were not to be introduced when not essential to the plot. "Excessive and lustful kissing" was to be avoided, along with any other treatment that might "stimulate the lower and baser element." The flag of the United States was to be treated respectfully, and the people and history of other nations were to be presented "fairly." "Vulgarity," defined as "low, disgusting, unpleasant, though not necessarily evil, subjects" must be treated within the "subject to the dictates of good taste." Capital punishment, "third-degree methods," cruelty to children and animals, prostitution and surgical operations were to be handled with similar sensitivity.

6 Ratings However, Hollywood soon faced increasing pressure from both television and foreign films. The Court overturned the Mutual Films precedent in Burstyn v. Wilson (1952), thereby prohibiting state and local governments from banning films due to their content. The Code was revamped and ultimately scrapped in favor of a rating system promoted by new industry head Jack Valenti. The system began in 1968 and has remained in effect, with slight modification, ever since. Jack Valenti was an aide in the LBJ White House. He ran the MPAA from

7 Film Structure The story has to move forward. The structural formula is: -- The Set-up establishes the main character and dramatic situation. -- The Act I Plot Point features the main characters primary story decision, in opposition to the antagonist. -- The Mid-Point is the moment when the main character is forced into the antagonists world, thereby redefining the story premise, this time by the antagonist. -- The Act II Plot Point is the lowest point in the story where the main character has been defeated by the antagonist and lost his motivation. -- The Ending is where the main character realizes a deeper understanding of his struggle, and summons up the courage to defeat the antagonist.

8 Sequencing The Structure is further fleshed out through sequencing: 1. The main character faces a strong moral dilemma in achieving a goal. 2. The antagonist poses opposition, both morally and to the goal. 3. The main character confronts the major complication, but proceeds into the story. 4. The story moves into a new world, and the main character makes an achievement. 5. The antagonist takes control of the story, sets the counter-plot in motion. 6. The main character moves forward, believing himself to be victorious, but finds the antagonist to be equal and opposing. 7. The main character restates the goal, with renewed conviction, but experiences his first setback. 8. The antagonist spins the counter-plot forward, and achieves momentum against the main character. 9. The protagonist experiences defeat at the hand of the antagonist, and loses his moral strength. 10. The protagonist loses the will to achieve his goal, but resuscitates his motivation and moral strength. 11. The protagonist restates his goal and summons up his moral courage. The antagonist restates his mission to destroy the protagonist, as well as his motivation and courage. 12. The protagonist and antagonist prepare for confrontation, but the protagonist experiences an epiphany of moral courage that gives him what it takes to defeat the antagonist. The story resolves with the protagonist understanding his life with renewed meaning and understanding.

9 Montage French for putting together. An editing style where the audiences attention is drawn to the camera, editing, and filmmaker. This is in sharp contrast to the classical Hollywood continuity system where the camera, editors, and filmmaker never draw attention to themselves. Developed by 1920s Soviet filmmakers, particularly Sergei Eisenstein, to create symbolic meaning. For example: –Tonal montage: a shot/scene ends with a sleeping baby to induce an emotional response from the audiencein this case calmness and relaxation. –Intellectual montage: a shot/scene ends and the next one begins to get the audience to thinkfor example the transition from Mount Rushmore to a sleeping car of the train to the train entering a tunnel in Alfred Hitchcocks North by Northwest (1959) – spoiler alert! Do not watch the clip (right) if you have not yet watched this movie! However, we often think of montage as a series of short shots edited into a sequence to condense narrative. It is usually used to advance the story as a whole (often to suggest the passage of time), rather than to create symbolic meaning as it does in Soviet montage theory. The Push it to the Limit montage in Scarface (1983) is a classic example as is the sports training montage South Park parody in the Asspen episode.

10 Mise-en-scène French for setting the scene. In contrast to montage, mise-en-scène is a filmmaking style of conveying the mood and information of a scene primarily through a single shot with lighting, décor, lenses, depth, camera framing and movement, etc. Rope (1948) is an extreme example (see above clip). After the first cut in the opening sequence, the rest of the film is one continuous shot!

11 Auterism Auterismor author theory is the idea that films should reflect the authors (filmmakers) vision. There is often a tension between the filmmakers intent and the audiences interpretation. For example, Francis Ford Coppola intended The Godfather to be a critical indictment of law and lawlessness in America with the mafia as his vehicle. Instead, critics and audiences totally missed this point and saw it as valorizing the mythic family and the self-made man. Indeed the mafia loved the film and it helped revive old mafia customs such as kissing the ring. A new generation of gangsters have adopted the film as a kind of blueprint or how-to guide in amassing power and empire-building in America.The Godfather This is not unlike the modern KKKs reaction to D.W. Griffiths critical The Birth of a Nation (1915) – a landmark film based on Thomas Dixons 1905 book The Clansmen: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. The film played a major role in helping revive the Klan and provided a kind-of valorizing template for their 20 th century anti-civil rights activities. For example, the first post-civil war Klan never burned crosses, but the book and films portrayal of the practice resulted in the practices adoption by the modern Klan. Justice Sandra Day OConnor explained this in her majority opinion in the landmark cross-burning case Virginia v. Black (2003), where the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a state law criminalizing cross-burning on free speech/expression grounds.The Birth of a Nation Virginia v. Black D.W. Griffiths The Birth of a Nation (1915).The Birth of a Nation Snoop Doggs The Doggfather (1996).Doggfather

12 Course Themes We think of presidents as strong, powerful leaders of the executive branch and perhaps American politics in general. Yet, those that have occupied the office are merely people with issues, flaws, and problems like everyone else. Are these flaws reflected in the political decisions they make? Do popular films that depict presidents portray them as strong leaders or merely flawed individuals?

13 Course Themes The press is often referred to as the fourth branch of government. Their special role in American government is explicitly spelled out in the First Amendment: Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom…of the press. If we expect journalists to investigate the political process and inform the public of the truth, should journalists be held to a higher ethical standard than others in society? Should journalists be able to compromise ethics in favor of truth-telling – even if they engage in questionable moral or legal behavior?

14 Course Themes At the end of World War II, America engaged in a new form of spycraft through the establishment of the CIA. The modern nuclear realities of the Cold War led to new clandestine efforts to protect America from WWIII. If the CIAs ultimate goal is to keep America safe, should there be limits on CIA activity? What are the implications of a governmental agency that does not wage war in the traditional military sense? Should the CIA be above the law in order to secure the greater good?

15 Conclusion Movies reflect powerful narratives/myths (whether author or audience driven) that influence our reactions to issues we meet in real life, including legal issues. Perhaps politics is best viewed as one more narrative/myth competing for audience acceptance. Indeed, what is political has become an increasingly porous concept. Is politics the province of specialists or is It a consciousness that permeates all of American culture. We can think of motion pictures as legal texts in the same way that we think of constitutions or case-law books. Each can teach us something about a culture. Alfred Hitchcock on the set of Psycho (1960).

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