Luhmann, Mass Media and Cinema Paradiso

Describe and explain Luhmann’s philosophy of the mass media both as it pertains to and in relation to the film Cinema Paradiso.

Niklas Luhmann was a 20th century philosopher who wrote extensively on the topic of mass media. Cinema Paradiso (1988) is a widely-acclaimed film directed by Giuseppe Tornatore which tells the story of a boy as he falls in love with cinema. I will talk about Luhmann’s systems theory in general, before looking at how Cinema Paradiso features the doubling of reality, cinema as entertainment and consensus among viewers.

Luhmanns’ Systems Theory

In The Reality of the Mass Media, Luhmann tells us that for him the term mass media “includes all those institutions of society which make use of copying technologies to disseminate communication”(2). He believes that our society is made up of three types of systems; physical systems, biological systems and social systems. Out of these three only social systems can communicate.

Our society is made up of many different systems that help to manage our society ; the legal system, the health system, the political system, the economic system etc. These systems have codes, which allow them to interpret an event in a way relevant to that system. For example, in the health system the code is healthy/unhealthy. Events happen outside of any system, but are then copied into a system through observation.

The code for the media system is information/non-information. The mass media is not interested in what is true or false, it is concerned with what is appealing or exciting. This is why so many people like to read gossip magazines. For Luhmann, the mass media speeds up our society. Once a piece of information is reported, it is no longer new. This leads to a constant search for new information. The mass media teaches society about itself through what information we deem important.

Luhmann

My own example is what happens if a person who drunk driving knocks down a cyclist. This involves the health system and the legal system. The legal system is concerned with the responsibility and punishment of the driver, because he has done what is illegal rather than what is legal. The health system is more concerned with treating the cyclist and looking at the injuries that were caused. Driving under the influence is illegal due to the results that alcohol has on the body, as studied by the health system. While the systems are functionally different and work with different codes, the systems can interact.

The mass media system is unique in that is ‘doubles’ the other systems. The legal system is only interested in what falls under legal/illegal but the mass media system can look at all of the other systems. It connects with the other systems and interprets them using the code information/non-information.

At the start of Cinema Paradiso we are introduced to Salvatore Di Vita, affectionately nicknamed Toto, who is a mischievous, cheeky, young boy. He seems to take nothing seriously, until we see him in the cinema. His facial expression and his actions are that of wonder and awe. We see him more in the cinema than anywhere else.

The cinema and the films that are shown mirror Salvatore’s own ageing process. His personal growth is always tied to the cinema in some shape or form; he smokes his first cigarette in while watching a film, he loses his virginity on the floor of the cinema, he gets his first job there as Alfredo’s replacement and he kisses Elena for the first time in the projectionist booth.

Giancaldo is a working-class village where there is no chance to gain real fame or fortune. Only money can help the people get out. Alfredo feels stuck in Giancaldo, a fate he wants Salvatore to avoid. He wants Salvatore to make a real life for himself, something he can only do by leaving.

During the screening of La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare (Luchino Visconti, 1948), we can see all three of Luhmann’s program strands. There is advertising for a new John Wayne film, then the news is shown, before finally getting to the entertainment. However, for the young Salvatore, worried about his own father in Russia, the projection booth again acts as his escape. Instead of watching the news he turns to the booth, imagining the lion’s head coming to life and roaring. This distracts him from his fears until the film begins.

Cinema as entertainment

For the people living in the small town of Giancaldo, the cinema is entertainment. For them, it is a social occasion, which everybody gets involved in. As a group they laugh, cry and shout together. To not have seen a film is embarrassing. This is what leads to troubles from locals when they can’t watch the latest film to be shown. When the cinema burns down the priest remarks “What do we do now? No more entertainment in the village, nothing”. Luckily, Ciccio wins the pools and decides to rebuild the cinema, re-naming it the ‘Nuovo Cinema Paradiso’. The entertainment is brought back to Giancaldo. Entertainment is a big part of Luhmann’s mass media system. The films are a treat for the townspeople. They are not on all the time,  this is what makes them special. It provides them with a temporary distraction from their work, without being so long that it hinders the running of their lives. Luhmann declares that “every piece of entertainment must come to an end, and must bring this about itself” (56). It is only by it ending, we can move onto newer and more exciting pieces of entertainment.

This brings me onto Luhmann’s theory of redundancy and variety (Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems,134). In our society we want both of these. If we have a favourite television show, we like to know that it will be on the same channel, at the same time, on the same day of the week, but we want there to be different content each time. In The Radical Luhmann, Moeller defines it using democracy as an example by stating that democracy becomes stable because it allows for instability: “governments change, but the system thereby remains intact” (91). In Cinema Paradiso we see desire for both redundancy and variety in the cinema-goers. They want to be able to watch a film in the cinema, at set times, on set days, but have a different film to watch each time. The viewers have their routines: there is one man who repeatedly falls asleep, there is a man who continually spits on those from the balcony and the children always sit at the front. Alfredo tells Salvatore he works nearly every day of the year, a continuing task that he has to perform. The people of Giancaldo want to see a new film as often as they can. While there is redundancy, the latest film provides them with the entertainment. When Salvatore goes to get Part Two of Catene, Ciccio says he can just replay Part One, but this isn’t what the audience wants.

For Salvatore, the cinema is a way of escaping his worries. It is his slice of heaven. Our first view of the projection booth shows it with a spotlight coming from somewhere high in the room outside the shot, casting a shaft of light onto Alfredo and his equipment. This gives the booth a divine feel, reinforcing the idea that it is Salvatore’s sanctuary. In the Cinema Paradiso he can take a break from his own reality and join the reality of the film through his imagination. In The Reality of the Mass Media Luhmann agrees that this entertaining, saying “it is extremely tempting to try out virtual realities on oneself” (59-60).

The Doubling of Reality

The film doubles the reality of Salvatore and Alfredo’s lives. The film in many places seems to predict what will happen in the rest of Cinema Paradiso.

The first film that we see playing in the Cinema Paradiso is Verso la Vita (1936). It was directed by Jean Renoirand features a group of poor people hoping for a better future. In the clip we see, Vassilissa saying to Wasska: “One day everything will be ours, we’ll go away together… to live the good life.” This is exactly what Alfredo hopes for Salvatore. At the end we see that by Salvatore fulfilling this dream of Alfredo’s. They have both won.

During the film the narrator tells us the fishermen must endure “12 hours of  blood and sweat to take home the bare minimum required not to die of hunger.” This shows the poverty of the people. After the film is over there are men being told that “Here you work from dawn to dusk … and no questions about pay.” The poverty of those in the film is contrasted with the workers outside the cinema. It merges the reality of the film with the reality of Giancaldo.

The fact that Alfredo and Salvatore are in a film, talking about and quoting films, makes Cinema Paradiso postmodern. Television shows such as The Simpsons are very postmodern because they make many references to films, books and even other television shows. For us as viewers, the film is separate from our lives, we know that these characters are only actors playing out a role. However for a short while, we are supposed to buy into the fictional reality of the plot. Luhmann says “the mechanism of generating the text must not appear again in the text itself” (57). If we were to see a crew member in the film, we could no longer take it seriously, and it would lose its entertainment value. The films the characters of Cinema Paradiso talk about are in our world. We can go and watch these films. These numerous references to other films blurs the lines of reality. It places the story line somewhere in between reality and fiction.

When Salvatore takes over from Alfredo, we see him mimicking Alfredo’s actions. When Salvatore is in trouble later on, he quotes Alfredo. The film becomes self-referential by doing
this. Salvatore keeps invoices how Alfredo did, he eats out of a tin that looks very like Alfredo’s, he put up posters in the booth like Alfredo did. Salvatore’s imitation of Alfredo repeats what we originally saw Alfredo doing.

At the end of the film, it is Giuseppe Tornatore that works as Salvatore’s projectionist. This cameo makes Tornatore both a character and the director: both fiction and non-fiction.

Consensus among viewers

Luhmann says that viewers do not have to agree on what they have watched, they are perfectly entitled to their own opinions. After the screening of La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare the audience is leaving, chatting among themselves about the film:

“Nice film. That young man worked so hard”

“Why did he go and buy that boat?”

“Idiot! You didn’t understand anything”

Everybody is different. Certain things in a person’s past may make them react to a piece of film differently to the person sitting next to them. It depends on, but is not limited to the personality of the viewer: their likes, dislikes, past and current situation.

However, the people of Giancaldo nearly always react as a whole to the films. When they watch Catene, most of the audience are crying. We are shown all types of people dabbing their eyes. The films are seen as social gatherings, and we repeatedly watch the audience members reacting in very similar ways.

Luhmann’s system theory regarding the mass media is easily applied to Cinema Paradiso. We can analyze it regarding the doubling of the mass media, cinema as entertainment and the consensus of audiences. Cinema Paradiso is a film about the greatness of film. It’s many references to other works make it easy to talk about in the sphere of the mass media.

Works cited

Books

  • Borch, Christian. Niklas Luhmann. New York: Routledge, 2011. Print.
  • Luhmann, Niklas. The Reality of the Mass Media. Trans. Kathleen Cross. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996. Print.
  • Moeller, Hans-Georg. The Radical Luhmann. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Print.
  • Moeller, Hans-Georg. Luhmann Explained: From Souls to Systems. Chicago: Open Court, 2006. Print.

Films

  • Catene.Dir. Raffaello Matarazzo. Titanus Distribuzione, 1949.
  • Cinema Paradiso. Dir. Giuseppe Tornatore. Miramax Films, 1988. DVD.
  • La Terra Trema: Episodio del Mare. Dir. Luchino Visconti. Compagnia Edizioni Internaionali Artistiche Distribuzione, 1948.
  • Verso la Vita. Dir. Jean Renoir. Arthur Mayer & Joseph Burstyn, 1936.

How Ingmar Bergman uses landscape in ‘Wild Strawberries’

In this post I will be looking at how Scandanavian director Ingmar Bergman uses landscape to help portray meaning and themes in his film Wild Strawberries (Smultronstället).

Isak Borg

Professor Isak Borg, played by Victor Sjöström, seems to be simply too logical when dealing with matters of the heart, and this has led to him leading a very solitary life. Sjöström wrote and directed the 1921 film The Phantom Carriage, a film in which Sjöström  himself played the main role of David Holm. The Phantom Carriage also deals with a troubled man examining his life.

Isak Borg takes a scientific approach to everything, and this has led to him having strained relationships with his family and friends. The film follows Professor Borg evaluating the decisions he has made in his life, and looking back at his past. Like Ebenezer Scrooge, he is haunted by his past, present and future choices. The landscapes in this film acts as the backdrop for this introspective journey.

Bergman himself was sick in hospital at the time of writing this script. Facing death forces many people to review their lives and assess the choices they have made. This film has autobiographical qualities for Bergman.

Isak's luxurious house

The film opens with Professor Borg sitting in his study, in what is a very large and decadent house. He is obviously wealthy, and even though he is surrounded by pictures of his family when he talks about them there is no emotion, he is merely describing who they are. He does not tell us about their personalities, only their place within his world. At the start of his drive to Lund, his daughter-in-law Marianne point this out his coldness to him. She talks about the money that she and her husband, his only son Evald, owe him. It is ruining their marriage. This has no effect on Professor Borg, who says “A promise is a promise. And I know Evald respects that.”

In this film dreams play an essential role in Professor Borg’s maturing process. In these dreams Isak cannot escape what he can ignore while awake. The first dream he has involves him walking through an empty town, where eyes are watching him and the clock has no hands. He is small and vulnerable. A hearse goes past, and hits a lamppost, knocking the coffin to the ground. The body inside the coffin is Professor Borg, and it forces him to face his own mortality.

Subconscious messages

Professor Borg takes Marianne to the house where he spent his summers as a child. He fondly remembers this time with his large family. The house is overlooking a lake, surrounded by trees and fields. It’s idyllic landscape reflects the loving memories that Isak associates with it. He sees a vision of the girl he was once in love with, Sara, sitting in the bushes. Sara acts as a ghost from his past. She will end up marrying his brother, an event which probably triggered his bitter attitude regarding relationships. The Isak that Sara talks about is so different from the old Professor Borg we are confronted with. There is a young girl who interrupts his thoughts, ironically she is also called Sara – played by the same actress too. She and her two friends join Professor Borg and Marianne on their journey.

Sara at the summer house

When driving along in the countryside, they are nearly crashed into by an arguing couple, Alman and Berit. They are constantly insulting and belittling each other. This unhappy pair represent how Professor Borg has let the relationships in his life turn to ruin. His marriage was also a failure, they make him think about his wife Karina. After a violent outburst by Berit, Marianne leaves them on a stretch of road by a forest. These two also serve as ghosts from his past, more specifically from his marriage.

They then reach some beautiful scenery when Professor Borg talks about where he had his first practice. The middle of the film signifies the middle of his life (Erikson). It symbolizes a time when he was happy, and the landscape reflects upon this; the sun is shining, the road winds through the hills, with many trees either side, and water in the distance. The place he so affectionately remembers is the place with the nicest landscape so far. Along this road they stop at a petrol station, where we meet a couple who are delighted to see him. They reveal how popular Isak once was. He ponders “Maybe I should have stayed here.” He may have moved on and become a wealthy and respected professor, but it would seem he has sacrificed his family to do so.

Professor Borg is in “good spirits” over lunch. The group eat overlooking the impressive coastline. As Isak opens up so does the landscape. He becomes less bitter and less reserved the further along they get in their journey. Derek Malcolm sums it up in the following way “its characters pass through a natural world that seems at odds with their own impermanence but whose beauty also seems somehow to instruct them” (theguardian.co.uk).

Borg over lunch

The interior of Isak’s mother’s house is similar to his own. She is very blunt and forward in her approach, and we see how alike both of these Borgs are. She talks about their large family, but how none of them come to visit her. She is a ghost of the future, what he will become unless he reforms.

Marianne talks about her problems with Evald: she is pregnant with their child and Evald does not want a child. He tells Marianne he was “an unwanted child in a hellish marriage”, and that he cannot do that to a child. Marianne and Evald’s problems are a direct result of Isak’s own skills as a husband and as a father. Marianne is the ghost of the present, she helps him to save himself.

The rain arrives

Bergman uses pathetic fallacy. The storm that Marianne and Isak predicted has arrived. The rain starts to fall just as Isak starts to have another bad dream. He is sitting in the strawberry patch at the summer house. His childhood Sara tells him he is now an old man who will die soon. She talks about how she will marry his brother, and Isak breaks down, saying how it hurts him. She runs barefoot through the tall grass, collects the baby and goes inside. A sense of impending doom surrounds the house; the sky is dark, the wind howls, the music is eerie and the flocks of birds are gathering. The dream then takes a turn for the worse, when the Professor arrives to get his award, he is told he is incompetent, and that his wife has accused him of being ruthless, callous and selfish. The examiner, Alman, leads him from the intimidating, high-ceilinged classroom out into the woods. They walk through wilting and dead foliage. He is facing how he acted as a husband, and is repenting for it. He is tortured with the image of his wife cheating on him, he stands by the trees watching her in the clearing. That landscape, along with Alman’s presence, also shows us how his marriage had failed.

His final, and ultimately most joyful scene is the final scene where the walks through a blooming meadow, hand in hand with the Sara of his childhood. They walk through the rich forest until they find his parents relaxing by the water. This image is the one which finally brings him to peace with his life.

The lake at the house

Bergman uses the landscapes in Wild Strawberries to reflect upon the inner workings of Isak’s mind. He uses nature to help him come to terms with the poor decisions he has made. As he thinks of happier times, the landscape that surrounds him becomes more vibrant. When he has bad dreams he is depicted in depressing areas such as an examination hall or a deserted street. Professor Borg’s reflective experience has been mimicked in the landscapes of the film.

  • Bergman, Ingmar, dir. Wild Strawberries. AB Svensk Filmindustri, 1957. 
  • Cuccinello, Glen. “‘Bergman and Dreams’ at Harvard.” Journal of the University Film Association 30.4 (1978): 47–48.
  • Flower, Dean. “Ingmar Bergman’s Autobiography in Film.” The Hudson Review 42.2 (1989): 330–336.
  • Malcolm, Derek. “Ingmar Bergman: Wild Strawberries” The Guardian. The Guardian, 10 June 1999.
  • Scott, James F. “The Achievement of Ingmar Bergman.” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 24.2 (1965): 263–272.
  • Steene, Birgitta. “Images and Words in Ingmar Bergman’s Films.” Cinema Journal 10.1 (1970): 23–33.

Shadows in Horror Films: Fear of the Unknown

The fear of the unknown is one of the most natural and instinctive fears that we have. I will talk about how directors use the shadows to help create panic in the audience.

Being scared is one of our most natural instincts. We are scared of what we don’t understand. Shadows represent this fear as we wonder what is lurking within them. The power of the human imagination can make us believe highly irrational thoughts are true, especially when we don’t have much information about the situation. Shadows in their nature are obscure, which raises our suspicion and creates a feeling of fear. From a young age, we are taught to fear certain things. Fear is an important tool to keep ourselves safe. Our parents try to teach us the importance of our own safety and we learn to fear anything that may threaten this. We are told not to be out after dark or wander off alone. This idea is reflected in Fabiansson’s work; “Children are taught to be afraid…to be careful of the unknown and fearful of strangers.

These fears continue into our adult lives. Even though we may be scared of different things as adults, we still get scared of the unknown. If we are in another person’s house at night and there are noises downstairs, we don’t know what the sounds are and we get a little nervous. However, if we were in our own house at night and heard a noise downstairs, we could tell whether it was the dog, the dishwasher or the heating etc. There is no unknown in our own house, so we aren’t scared.

In his essay Fear Itself, John Hollander talks about the different types of fear. He distinguishes a fear of the unknown e.g. a fear that there is no afterlife, whereas a ‘nameless fear’ is “fear induced by some unknown object.” Shadows represent the unknown. If we see a shadow moving across a wall, it is very difficult to see what, or who, is creating the shadow. Even if the shadow is defined, we still have no more information about the object than its shape. Hollander talks about the “meta-fear of disorientation” which is when we do not know what exactly is scaring us, or whether we should be scared of it in the first place. He says having a fear of something is not the same as the fear that it may turn out to be something else.

A good technique used by filmmakers is to create a clearly defined shadow, with an inhuman or unrecognisable shape to create confusion. This lack of information is difficult for us to handle so we try to fill in the details ourselves. The shadow is clear enough that we can’t mistake the shape, but because the shape is unrecognisable it scares us. Even though we try, we know our ideas may be nothing like the reality, so try to think of all possibilities. As we go from one thought to the next, fear makes us think irrationally and also allows us to believe these thoughts are true. We can only know what is there when it is revealed. Filmmakers frequently use shadows because the human imagination conjures up what is most terrifying to each person. This is an intelligent method because if they had to create a monster, they would be isolating the audience that isn’t scared by that monster. It is a simple, yet highly effective way to evoke fear. Cinemas help to exaggerate any fears the audience has. The darkness, the loud noises, the huge screen and the crowd atmosphere overwhelms the senses. There are thousands of films that use this technique, but I will just mention a few.

The opening scene of the 2001 film Monsters, Inc. shows the basic idea behind shadows as a tool to terrify us. It shows the character Thaddeus Bile creeping into a boy’s bedroom. We notice that it is only after the parents leave and turn off the lights that this happens. This enhances the idea that there are things lurking in the dark. A shadow flashes across the screen, then as the monster stands over the bed, we really believe he wants to hurt the boy. We can only see his glowing eyes in his silhouette. Yet when the child screams in terror, Thaddeus also screams, and then falls around the bedroom. Suddenly all the fear we had for him disappears.

File:Thaddeus Bile Scaring.jpg

Oren Peli’s Paranormal Activity is another film where shadows are used to create panic. In this film we never see the monster, and it is never revealed to us. During the 20th night we hear the creature coming up the stairs, and then we see its shadow on the door of the bedroom. It is unnerving because we can’t see the creature, and wonder how it even has a shadow if there is no solid figure in the first place. The fact that it has footsteps and the ability to drag Katie out of bed indicates it has enough physical presence, but no form that is visible to us. This leads us to come up with our own ideas of what it may be, yet this proves so difficult because we are provided with severely limited information.

Freddy Krueger’s character in Nightmare on Elm Street – both the 1984 film and the 2010 remake – uses the shadows to scare his victims. In Wes Craven’s 1984 version of the film, Tina’s death is a perfect example of how shadows are used. Just before Freddy Krueger appears, his hatted silhouette appears on a fence. He then emerges and walks towards Tina. A flicker of light reveals his disfigured face before he is in darkness once again. His arms appear twice as long as they should be, and his deformed face creates a strange shape to look at. Tina runs away from him, but he suddenly appears in front of her and she bumps into him. This serves to make Freddy part of the shadows. He represents the darkness. In the 2010 remake, directed by Samuel Bayer, Kris’ death is the remake of Tina’s. Both of the boyfriends can only stand by helplessly as their girlfriends are being slashed to death. Kris goes out to find her dog and she finds it slashed in the garden. Freddy is standing in the darkness, yet the blades he used to kill the dog glisten with blood. He then chases her around, again using the shadows. The fact that we sleep at night in dark rooms adds to this effect. Whenever the characters encounter Freddy they are dreaming, and dreams are never like how the world really is. Things can happen in dreams that don’t happen when we are awake, and this makes Freddy extra terrifying because he isn’t bound by the rules of reality like the rest of us.

Any person will fear what they can’t understand, it’s natural. We’re all rational and like to explain things because explanations take the fear out of the unknown. However, shadows only give us a warped representation of what the thing is. Shadows are used by directors to manipulate this fear of the unknown. All horror directors use images that are supposed to frighten us, and using darkness and shadows is a very popular way to do this.

Works cited

  • Charlotte Fabiansson – “Young People’s Perception Of Being Safe – Globally & Locally”
  • John Hollander – “Fear Itself”
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street
  • Paranormal Activity
  • Monsters, Inc

Postmodernist techniques in the horror films ‘Scream’ and ‘Halloween’

Here I will look at the postmodern techniques in Scream and Halloween; how they relate to each other, other horror films and the horror genre. 

The term ‘postmodern’ is generally taken to mean something that literally comes after ‘modern’; even newer, fresh or up to the minute. It normally challenges views or traditions of the ‘modern’ era, and proposes new ways of thinking.

Postmodernism is now a term most commonly used for films, television shows, art and literature that reference other works; they can be obvious parodies or very subtle similarities. They may be missed by those who don’t know what is being referred to. While it won’t take away from the audience’s joy, it produces a feeling of being ‘in the know’ for those who do understand the reference. Some postmodern shows include Family Guy, The Simpsons and South Park.

The films I will look at are the Halloween, and Scream. Halloween was released in 1978 and directed by John Carpenter. Scream came later, in 1996. It was directed by Wes Craven and makes many references to Halloween throughout. Both films are ‘slasher’ films, where the killers wear masks, carry knives andmainly target teenagers in high school.

In her essay ‘Recreational Terror: Postmodern Elements of the Contemporary Horror Film’ (available through Jstor), Isabel Pinedo names five characteristics that are present in the postmodern horror genre; violence, violation of boundaries, irrationality, lack of narrative closure and a bounded experience of fear. I am going to use these as a formula for analyzing both Scream and Halloween.

Violence

Halloween is not a film centered on violence. Most of the film consists of Michael stalking his soon to be victims. At the start we see six year-old Michael stab his sister to death. But do we really see him killing her? Because of his mask, we never see the knife penetrating the skin; we are only given the impression of it. When Michael escapes fifteen years later, he stabs and chokes his victims in a variety of ways. We always see Michael killing the women in the film, but never see the men die. While there is violence in Halloween, it is not particularly overt; we never see any cut up bodies, and there is barely any blood shown.

In Scream, there are frequent, bloody deaths, which are far more gruesome than those in Halloween. The opening sequence is also a murder scene. Casey Becker and her boyfriend Steve are tortured before being killed. Steve has been heavily beaten, bound to a chairand placed on Casey’s back porch. It is here that he is violently slashed to death. His wounds are clear to the audience, and there is a lot of blood. When Casey tries to run away she gets stabbed several times, before being hung in a tree and cut open, exposing her insides. At this point, the film has already showed more blood, guts and gore than the whole of Halloween.

Violation of Boundaries

In Halloween, Michael Myers crosses the familial boundaries by killing his own sister. The fact that Michael is only six at the time is even more horrifying. Even though Judith should be in charge, it turns out she is the one who needs to be protected. He also breaks many physical boundaries; the injuries that become inflicted upon him would kill any normal man, but it cannot stop him. He is shot six times by Dr. Loomis but he survives. This is especially terrifying because it seems nobody can stop him.

The main boundary that Scream crosses is the boundary between film and reality. The obvious references to several popular culture films blur the lines between the characters being in our reality: aware of these films, with their own criticisms and opinions of them, and them being in their own horror film, separate from our world.

Both of the film’s murderers break violate the victims personal boundaries with their violent acts towards them. They also break moral boundaries and legal boundaries as they go on their killing sprees.

Irrationality

Irrationality is a key theme in Halloween. We all want to know why Michael acts the way he does. He has no clear motive, but we are able to link it back to his Judith; he wrote ‘sister’ on the back of his asylum door and returned to his family home after he escaped. He also steals Judith’s gravestone and places it over Annie’s dead body. The person with the most rationality is Dr. Loomis. He is only taken seriously by the audience. Dr. Loomis describes Michael by saying “this isn’t a man…” If Michael really is as “evil” as Dr. Loomis describes, we should be very scared that he is free.

In Scream, the irrationality takes the form of the killer. Throughout the film we wonder why all this is happening, and who could be behind it all, whereas we know exactly who it is in Halloween. This is enhanced by the police presence as they are trying to find out what we want to know. Motives and people are questioned throughout the film:

Everybody’s a suspect! – Randy

When we find out it is Billy we are surprised, even more so when it’s revealed that Stu is his accomplice. We find out Billy’s mother left because his father was having an affair with Sidney’s mother, and Billy has been struggling to cope since. However, this does nothing to excuse their actions. When questioned about his motives, Stu reacts almost-comically, saying “peer pressure”.

Not having any reasoning capabilities creates a terrifying monster because without rationality, they cannot see what they are doing is wrong, and it’s very unlikely the monster will stop.

Lack of Narrative Closure

In Halloween, we are left with no closure. After being shot and falling from a balcony, Michael has managed to survive and escape. He is still out there and able to carry on hurting people. This film is one of the best to apply this technique. At the end of the movie the theme music returns as we are shown several shots of the films locations. Over the top of all this, we can hear Michael’s breathing. He could be anywhere, in any of these locations. Michael is anywhere he wants to be.

This does not apply to Scream so much. Our questions are resolved when Billy and Stu confess to Sidney that are responsible for the killing but are going to frame Sidney’s father. They are overheard by Gail Weathers, who creates a tell-all news story once they have been killed. Everybody will know what happened. Billy and Stu are both dead which satisfies the audience because they were so anxious to be the only ones left alive.

Bounded experience of fear

Isabel Pinedo likens watching a horror movie to a rollercoaster, saying that in horror films “fear and pleasure commingle.” We use our rational minds to distinguish the movie from our everyday lives, and keep the two separate. Both Carpenter and Craven ask us to suspend these rational thoughts for the duration of the movie. However, when we leave the cinema, we aren’t looking around for a crazed killer in a mask.

In Halloween, we like to think that the authorities would never allow Michael Myers to escape, they would listen to people like Dr. Loomis and crisis would be averted. We trust those in charge to keep us safe from such people.

In Scream, although we are able to separate the characters world from our own, the lines between the two are blurred. They like the same movies as us, they dress like us, eat and drink like us, and are subject to the same advertising as us. If they were in a horror film, how are they aware of other horror films such as Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street? These hazy and unclear boundaries aim to set the film in our world, rather than in the realm of the horror movie.

How Scream references other horror films

I will point out the numerous references that Scream makes to other pop culture films. All these allusions make Scream truly postmodern.

  • The character Billy Loomis was named after Dr. Loomis in Halloween, who was named after Sam Loomis in Psycho. Also, the girl who plays Annie in Halloween is called Nancy Loomis. There is multiple inter-textual referencing between Scream, Halloween and Psycho. Jamie Lee Curtis was chosen for her role in Halloween precisely because her mother played the lead female role in Psycho.
  • At the start of Scream, Casey Becker, played by Drew Barrymore, is asked to name the killers in Halloween and Friday the 13th.
  • Billy’s line “We all go a little mad sometimes” is a direct quote from Norman Bates in Psycho. 
  • In a comical reference to A Nightmare on Elm Street, the janitor of the school is shown wearing a fedora and striped jumper similar to Freddy Krueger’s. The principal even refers to him as ‘Fred’. This acts as comic relief.
  • When the principle is killed, there is a close up of his eye in which we can see the mask of the killer. This is an obvious allusion to Psycho and the famous shower scene.
  • In both films, characters are sent to the ‘McKenzie’s’ house for help.
  • Randy mentions ‘Leatherface’ at one point, a direct reference to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
  • Tatum tells Sidney she is starting to soundlike something out of a “Wes Carpenter” film: a blending of Wes Craven and John Carpenter.
  • There are other minimal references made to The HowlingThe Exorcist and Silence of the Lambs as well as the characters of ‘Norman Bates’ and ‘Hannibal Lecter’.
  • During the party at Stu’s house, they all decide to watch Halloween. Randy explains the
    rules of horror films. Randy seems to be narrating Halloween and his own life, his own horror movie. Randy screams “he’s behind you!” at the screen, while the killer of his own movie is right behind him. When Dewey enters the house to investigate, the soundtrack to Halloween also acts as the soundtrack for Scream.

Both of the films are postmodern and both reference the horror films that have come before them. Both have had a huge effect of the horror movie genre and have created a new tradition in the horror genre. John Carpenter and Wes Craven have subverted and adapted the conventions to fit each of their films.

James Bond ‘Skyfall’ – Sometimes the old ways are the best

50 years after the first James Bond film, the latest installment of Ian Fleming’s Bond series brings it back to its roots.

WARNING: contains spoilers

I went to see Skyfall yesterday and I was blown away by it. The film, directed by Sam Mendes, had everything you could want from a Bond movie; fast cars, chase scenes, women, gadgets and a Bond that looks good in and out of a suit. This is not a review, but a look at the ideas the film explores.

The running theme throughout seemed to be; the old ways are the best. Bond (Daniel Craig) gains an injury at the start of the film and struggles to get back on his feet. All around him there are signs he is getting too old for his job. James Bond is ageing. Not only is Bond starting to feel bypassed, but MI6 as a whole is under investigation, having its relevance assessed. At the forefront of this investigation is Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), the Chairman of Britain’s Intelligence and Security Committee. Mallory insists that M (Judi Dench) retires, questioning her ability to run MI6. Mallory tells Bond “This is a young’s man game.”

The inevitability of time, don’t you think? – Q

We see Bond struggling with his physical and mental tests. For the first time in the Bond series, we are scared that Bond has lost his touch. He goes for his final meeting with M and Mallory, and M tells him he has passed. A collective sigh of relief can be heard throughout the cinema. Only after Bond and Mallory have left it is revealed he didn’t pass them after all…

He is sent to meet Q, who seems to personify Bond’s struggle against this new era of secret intelligence. When he first sits down with Bond, they are looking at a painting of a war ship being towed away for scrap metal. This is an obvious metaphor for Bond’s place within MI6. His posh English accent and schoolboy looks are very different from Bond’s rugged, tough and weathered appearance. When Q tells Bond who he is, Bond is shocked. “You must be joking… you still have spots.” When Bond asks Q why he needs him if technology is so important, Q says that sometimes a trigger must be pulled. The whole gallery scene is a constant tit-for-tat, each side trying to better the other.

Age is no guarantee of efficiency… – Q

…and youth is no guarantee of innovation. – Bond

It seems that Bond’s world is being overrun by technology. Technology that makes him redundant. MI6 have lost a file which holds the names of agent working for them. The villain behind this scheme has hacked into the MI6 computer system, baffling everybody involved. Even the latest technology that MI6 use cannot stop this evil mastermind. The hacker warns M: “Think on your sins.” He has gained access to her personal computer, along with all the files within. Within seconds of this ominous message, MI6 is blown up. The shocked silence that follows is deafening. In a film of explosions, gunshots, trains, cars, motorbikes, helicopters, city scenes and fist-fights, the silence has more impact than any music could.

A few days later the villain again attacks M’s personal computer. She is taunted again, and told to “click here” for a prize. When she does, it links her to a YouTube video, revealing five of the identities of her agents. She is warned that five more will be revealed every week. M tries to save her agents but three of them are killed and the execution videos published on the web. This highlights another way in which technology is being used against them. Even the soundtrack predicts the end of an era. After the dramatic opening scene, we hear Adele’s voice “This is the end…”

Let the sky fall, when it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together

Bond is finally brought face-to-face with Raoul Silva, the mastermind behind the whole thing. He is a former MI6 agent who has turned to the dark side. When we are introduced to Silva he is surrounded by technology. Silva has his own island because he  tricked the locals into fleeing. The island has clearly been deserted and left to become ruin. To have all this sophisticated technology among the rubble is another great contrast between old and new. However, this time Bond gains the upper hand, all thanks to a simple tracking device.

Silva is brought back to London, but all is not as it seems. Silva has planned everything. He knew exactly how MI6 would react, and worked around it. Even Q struggles decoding Silva’s work. Everything seems to be working to Silva’s benefit.  This is when Bond takes over. Knowing that Silva wants M, he decides to stop the cat and dog game (or rat and rat and Silva puts it) and takes a whole new direction. This leads him back to his roots.

What this brings him to is something never seen before; Bond before he was an agent. He arrives at a large country house called Skyfall.  At this point we know we are being let into a part of James Bond he never wanted us to see. This is where we meet Kincade (Albert Finney) the gamekeeper at Skyfall since James was a boy. Bond explains the situation to Kincade, and the three start to prepare the house for Silva’s arrival. When looking at the weapons they have, Kincade explains every gun was sold apart from Bond’s father’s old hunting gun. Bond takes this gun for his own. It is almost as if he has asked his parents for help, and they don’t let him down. Kincade then puts a knife on the table, saying that the old ways are sometimes the best. This is the most iconic line from the film, and we then know how it will end.

Bond uses his past to fight back. It has a last-stand feel and we know this is Bond putting in his all. We see the lengths he will go to in order to protect MI6, M and his precious lifestyle. In the end, the old ways win out. Just as Kincade predicted, the knife meant the end for Silva. All the technology and gadgets can’t protect Silva when he is stabbed. Q said at the start that sometimes a trigger needs to be pulled, and technology can’t do that.

For my article on new media click here.

I only had two problems with the film; Bond as an ageing character, and the obvious product placement.

  • Bond has been saving the world since 1962, never ageing and not even shown with the same actor from film to film. As an audience we are supposed to overlook this when we enter into the cinema and the world of Bond. All of the Bond films have been set in present day times, with the technology to suit. The Daniel Craig films are set before Dr. No, so how can he be seen as getting old already? Bond as an ageless character is a game we all play along with, and the rules are not to be mentioned. This film break the rules. However, I think we aren’t supposed to focus on his physical ageing. The physical ageing acts only as a metaphor his lack of importance due to technology. I have chosen to take this view and disregard his physical ageing, and I’m focusing on his technological ageing. +
  • The product placement is very obvious in this film. The sponsorship paid for the majority of this film, before it ever hit the box office. We can no longer hear James Bond asking his martini shaken not stirred, he now asks for a Heineken. We see many people throughout the film drinking Heineken, and not in subtle ways. In the opening scene alone Audi and VW Beetles are mentioned. the Vaio laptops are seen throughout the film. There are many many more examples that I don’t have the time or desire to look at. Again this brings Bond into our world, rather than taking us into his. We don’t like to be reminded that we are watching a film. We know this brings in a lot of the revenue for the film, but is this really the whole point? I hate to see Bond manipulated in this way. James Bond is a long-running tradition with millions of fans that I know agree with my point. Don’t sell out Mendes!

Skyfall has renewed the world of Bond and MI6. While there have been changes, the newly appointed know how important it is to have field agents. Bond is important. While his support crew need to keep on top of this technology, you can’t replace Bond’s expertise with a geek at a computer. Without all the geeks at computers, Bond would not be able to do what he does, I can’t doubt that, but what good is a gun in hands-on combat? This is the meaning of the film and we are left feeling more proud of Bond than ever. Seeing part of his childhood has only served to make his more human in a world of technology, and has made him more dear to us.