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FLM100 Introduction to Film Anat Pick

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1 FLM100 Introduction to Film Anat Pick a.pick@qmul.ac.uk
Welcome back. Anat Pick Office hours: Fridays, 3-5pm or by appointment

2 Recap… Film history + conceptual tool kit
American film history until the mid/late-1950s. Key concepts in Film Studies. Both elements are a precondition for a good textual analysis of film. The general idea of the course is to alternate between film history classes charting the history of American film up to the mid-1950s and more general lectures looking at important key concepts in Film Studies. The seminars will be a forum for discussing key moments in film history (and key films) through the lens of the key concepts, with a dialectic established as more and more key concepts come into play. The rationale behind introducing you to these key concepts is that a clear understanding of each is a necessary precondition for good textual analysis (i.e. understanding what is seen and heard on screen). In this respect Introduction to Film is designed to enable you (by the end of the year) to make sharp, informed, cogent readings of key films and film sequences.

3 Recap: what we have covered thus far…
film text; this semester looking at some other elements of the film text but also some issues of context; then after reading week a case study on a contemporary film.

4 Assignments Sem 1 Assignment 1: diagnostic essay.
Assignment 2: classical Hollywood cinema essay. Sem 2 Assignment 3: student-led seminars. Assignment 4: MES essay. Assignment 5: Summative academic essay on Lone Star. Assignment 2 – hopefully you got useful feedback and are were in a position to act on this in your third assignment; if the feedback indicated that you should work on your writing we hope that you will pursue this by taking advantage of either the college or school writing support services. Assignment 3 –we will return by the class on Jan 27th

5 The key concept to be explored today and next week is censorship
Thinking about censorship requires thinking about what can and can’t be shown within a particular time and place. Anthropologists note that all human societies have taboos: name some? Prohibition: cannibalism; incest; adultery; bestiality (animal-human sex); Regulation: Halal and kosher diet; obesity; smoking. All of these are delineations of limits and of acceptability. And, yet, society also inevitably breaks taboos and challenges regulation; examining censorship helps us to focus on areas of culture where humans are struggling to define themselves. Moments of censorship point to the fault lines and contradictions in any particular social realm. This week: censorship in general terms; next week a more in-depth look at a particular example, The Production Code.

6 Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), editor of Charlie Hebdo
The last two weeks have been especially poignant. The killing of 12 journalists in Paris has reignited discussions on free speech, and its limits. We live in a society that values individual freedom and freedom of expression. The rallying cry of Je suis Charlie/ I am Charlie that emerged after the Paris attacks is both a sign of how important many people feel about free speech (even if they dislike the caricatures in question), but it should also make us think c=more critically about such a show of unity (that has potentially nationalist and even racist overtones). How many people believe in freedom of speech? There is, however, always a tension between individual freedom and social good and restrictions may sometimes have to be made in order to ensure a safe and fair society. Even if we accept that a commitment to freedom of speech is an important aspect of a civil, democratic society, there are also some things that presumably we would wish to ban - child pornography, for example. Stéphane Charbonnier (Charb), editor of Charlie Hebdo

7 What do we want not to see? The contradictory nature of censorship…
Censorship is a strange thing: the things we ban are also, perhaps, muted reflections of our innermost fantasies. Sex and pornography are a case in point. In modern western society there has long been a taboo about showing the erect penis. For example, access to images of it were banned outright in the early twentieth century; hardcore pornography featuring erections has only been permitted from the 1960s and then only to be screened in private clubs; the arrival of home video in the 1980s and more recently the internet has made the erection easy to access (and exchange over instagram…) for those that way inclined. Paul Morrisey’s Flesh (1968) was the first to show an erection on screen, though this within the somewhat demarcated realm of the art film. Sexual imagery: The image of an erect penis (I’ve censored the image used in previous years…). Violence: violence against children? Against animals? The desecration of corpses? Paul Morrisey, Flesh (1968)

8 Video nasties (1980s) Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)
These were part of a list of 74 films compiled in the early 1980s in the UK, containing films considered to be excessively violent. In some instances, the production companies were tried for obscenity. The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification) regulated films, but videos were unregulated and a market for extreme cassettes developed. The list of “nasties” mainly included low budget horror films (many of them Italian or American), including cult classics like: I Spit on Your Grave, Cannibal Holocaust, Driller Killer, Last House on the Left, The Evil Dead (not prosecuted). Cannibal Holocaust (Ruggero Deodato, 1980)

9 Tobe Hooper, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was banned by the BBFC but not classed as a video nasty. This film is now part of MoMA’s permanent collection and is generally considered a masterpiece of popular art. Other examples: A Clockwork Orange (1971) was not, in fact, banned by the BBFC but removed by Stanley Kubrick himself. What all these examples of sex and violence illustrate are the shifting boundaries of acceptability and representation.

10 “New French Extremity” (late 1990s & early 2000s)
A wave of French films from the late 1990s and early 2000s, dubbed, the New French Extremity by critic James Quandt. Jonathan Romney extended the category in his piece in the Independent, “Le sex and violence.” Romney wrote of Baise-moi: “Among the New French Extremity's most graphic and confrontational texts is Baise-Moi (2000), a self-consciously trashy exercise that is closer to the mode of triple-X porn …than to art cinema. Co-directed by novelist Virginie Despentes (adapting her own bestseller) and former porn actress Coralie Trinh Thi, the film follows two angry women on a revenge spree of sex and murder: often described by critics as a hardcore Thelma and Louise, it could also be seen as a female rewrite of Les Valseuses, Bertrand Blier's scandalous-at-the-time 1974 picaresque about two jovially macho thugs” Baise-moi. Certificate. 18 No-one younger than 18 may see an 18 rated film in the cinema. No-one younger that 18 may rent or buy an 18 rated video or DVD. Some cuts were made (between seconds removed). An uncut version has been available from Arrow Film since In France the film was initially banned, but the ban was defined by a number of cinemas, and the film was later released. * See also Gaspar Noé's 2002 Irréversible. The BBFC gave it a 18 certificate, uncut. “Among the New French Extremity's most graphic and confrontational texts is Baise-moi (2000), a self-consciously trashy exercise that is closer to the mode of triple-X porn…than to art cinema”— Jonathan Romney Gaspar Noé's 2002 Irréversible. Baise-moi (Despentes & Trinh Thi, 2000)

11 Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999)
We have become more relaxed of late, with an erection shown in the late 1990s in the French film, Romance, and in the 2006 American film Shortbus, which was given an 18 certificate and a mainstream release (the opening sequence shows a man giving himself oral sex). Romance (Catherine Breillat, 1999)

12 Shortbus (John Cameron Mitchell, 2006)
Shortbus was given an 18 certificate and a mainstream release (the opening sequence shows a man giving himself oral sex). It is worth flagging up, then, that the things we wish to ban/show change over time and any examination of questions of censorship must be placed carefully in their social, cultural and political context.

13 “Pressure group complains after New Yorks IFC Center flouts the film’s NC-17 rating, saying the explicit drama is suitable for 'mature, inquiring teenagers’” New York's IFC Center is flouting the film's NC-17 rating, which specifies that children under the age of 17 should not be permitted entry. The move has been criticised by media watchdog the Parents Television Council, which argues that Abdellatif Kechiche's tale of sapphic passion is unsuitable for younger viewers. "On behalf of the 1.3 million members of the Parents Television Council, whose mission it is to protect children from sex, violence and profanity in entertainment, I am deeply distressed to learn of your decision not to abide by the MPAA guidelines for the motion picture rating NC-17," wrote the council's president Tim Winter in an open letter to the cinema. "At what age, or what unascertained maturity level, will a child be denied entry?” (http://www.theguardian.com/film/2013/nov/01/new-york-cinema-blue-warmest-colour)

14 Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine, 2012)
In the US Spring Breakers received the "R" rating by the MPAA (for strong sexual content, language, nudity, drug use and violence throughout). In the UK, the film was rated 18. The BBFC states the film contains: “hard drug use, strong sex, sexualised nudity, violence & language.” ________ Spring Breakers Casting: TV innocents in lead roles. Selena Gomez of Disney Channel’s “Wizards of Waverly Place”; Ashley Benson of ABC Family’s “Pretty Little Liars”; Vanessa Hudgens of Disney’s “High School Musical.” There are a number of ways to understand this film, one of which argues, idiotically in my view, that the film is a critique of the vapid youth culture of today. The nudity, violence, and drug-taking of this film are seen as ironic commentary on the state of today’s hedonistic youngsters. In fact, what this film does is, I think, far more interesting. It’s a film that (bar one non-explicit sex scene) has no sex in it at all. It sets up an ominous highly sexualized atmosphere in which we fear the worst could happen (an atmosphere where women in particular are vulnerable), but, in fact, bad things do not happen. I read Spring Breakers not only as an innocent film, but as a film about innocence—an genuine and non-ironic homage to adolescent culture and to pop culture as well.

15 Freedom of speech The First amendment prohibits the government from limiting freedom of religious expression, freedom of speech, free exercise of religion, the freedom of the press, or the right to peaceably assemble. The First Amendment states: “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” If we return to the example of the US: Many of the early settlers in America were members of religious sects which had been banned in England, they went to America searching for religious freedom. Of course, their own strong beliefs (and certainty that they were right) led them in turn to set up some of the most repressive societies ever seen. The most stringent controls on speech in the colonial period were controls that outlawed or otherwise censored speech that was considered blasphemous in a religious sense. A 1646 Massachusetts law, for example, punished persons who denied the immortality of the soul. In 1612, a Virginia governor declared the death penalty for a person that denied the Trinity. Much of this was discussed and debated during the writing of the US constitution as America struggled for its independence from Britain in the eighteenth century. Also, different groups and classes of people in the US (especially the capitalist middle classes) petitioned and lobbied for protection of freedom of speech to be built into the fabric of American society. The drafting and eventual adoption of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment (ratified in 1791, as one of the ten amendments to the US Constitution that make up the Bill of Rights) was, in large part, a result of these concerns. The Amendment states: Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.’

16 So, in terms of purely political or religious speech, and freedom of the (printed) press, the US experiences significantly less censorship than most other countries. For instance, a US newspaper may freely express opinions which in other places might be criminalized as ‘hate speech’, and organizations dedicated to such speech may freely march and speak in public, e.g. protests outside abortion clinics. For this reason, the websites of most neo-nazi organizations and Holocaust deniers are hosted in the United States. However, crucially for our focus of study, the freedom of speech protected by the First Amendment DOES NOT extend to all forms of cultural representation. Defined by the courts as a product (not a speech act), film was, from the outset, subject to state and federal control. Similarly, radio and television.

17 The kiss (Edison, 1896)… “disgusting!”
We will examine censorship of the cinema in the US in more detail next week when I will be talking about the Production Code Administration, a powerful censorship body that presided over all film production in the US during the 1930s and 1940s. For now it’s worth stating that I’m No Angel (1933) was made in the pre-Code era, and was therefore relatively unrestricted by the censors (at least in comparison to what would be introduced from 1934 onwards. So in the seminar you might discuss the film’s direct address of sex and sexuality, as well as, perhaps, the vagaries of Depression-era America. Here’s Edison’s The Kiss from The film is based on a well-known Broadway play called The Widow Jones and the film features the actors from the stageplay, May Irwin and John C. Rice. Herbert Stone, editor of Chicago literary magazine The Chap Book ‘When only life size it was pronounced beastly. But that was nothing to the present sight. Magnified to gargantuan proportions and repeated three times over it is absolutely disgusting. All delicacy or remnant of charm seems gone from Miss Irwin, and the performance comes near to being indecent in its emphasized vulgarity. Such things call for police interference.’ 1896.

18 Filmic effect? Do films have a moral impact on the viewer?
Interestingly, the censoring of film is driven by the belief that film has a profound effect (and potentially a negative one). This is an interesting question. And one on which Film Studies students should have an opinion. For example, Kubrick requested a ban for A Clockwork Orange because he felt it had led to copycat behaviour when a rape case in which the rapists sang ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was reported in the press. Also, the debate in the UK in 1980s about ‘video nasties’ led to the BBFC extending its control to video (and being stricter in its classification of video than film). The Jamie Bulger killing in 1993 was said to be influenced by the horror film Child’s Play (although the trial indicated sociological factors were more pressing). As people studying film presumably you wish to argue that film has an important effect (otherwise why bother studying it?) but would we want to claim that one film alone can substantially affect people’s behaviour? Sociologists tend to agree that studies show that children subjected to many violent images do display more violent tendencies. And this would be the argument of most film theory. See And a rebuttal:

19 From Censorship to rating:
From prohibition and banning to (voluntary) regulatory systems. But how voluntary is voluntary? Regulation brings into play questions of ideology, and in particular the privileging of some ideas, voices, experiences, above others. To tie things up for this week… At its weakest censorship might be too strong a word and we might be better off thinking about regulation in a much looser sense. This brings into play questions of ideology, and in particular the privileging of some ideas, voices, experiences, above others. See Kirby Dick’s This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a documentary about film censorship in America which focuses on how the ratings system shapes the content of Hollywood movies.

20 This Film is Not Yet Rated (Kirby Dick, 2006)

21 Mae West & I’m No Angel (1933)—pre-Code
Born in Brooklyn in 1893. Started acting aged 7. Her play Sex (1927) got her arrested. At almost forty, West became the biggest star of 1933. Gender & sexuality: adopting male qualities (detachment, control, opacity). Auto-erotic rather than seductive. Race: Interracial sexual attraction (Belle of the Nineties, 1934—eliminated by the Production Code). Subcultures: borrowing from African American culture, and from male gay culture. Age: unabashed aging sexuality. (In 1954, at sixty, her Las Vegas act paraded musclemen).

22 Mae West on the censors:
“Tell them they made me what I am today. I hope they’re satisfied.”


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