Post 1968-American Cinema.

Post 1968-American Cinema.

Film Techniques

Techniques in the filming industry, such as cinematographic techniques like the movement of the camera, as well as a choice of shot, can influence the meaning and the structure of a film greatly.

Question 1: Auteur Renaissance: unusual and unexpected Hollywood viewing experience

In 1971, Robert Altman produced a movie called McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Altman, just like in many of his other movies, demands attention from his audience, especially through his filming techniques. For example, the setting of the movie is as no other commonly witnessed in other western movies. The photography for the film for example, is extremely gloomy and dark, the town is dirty, filled with puddles, grime and mud. The town seems to have unstoppable snow fall. Unlike many other western movies, this film is set in a foggy Pacific Northwest, not in a desert, which contributes to the morally ambiguous and murky atmosphere of the film; all these interact to come up with an atmosphere that is quite brooding. These setting effects seem deliberate on the part of the director to come up with a movie that demands attention.

The composition of the film is as well interesting. The movie is largely anti- western, so to speak. This is because there are no heroic characters as one would expect to find in a western film. Instead, the director creates a weary frontier that is full of immigrants. The movie’s sounds are also unique as they do not emulate the common western tunes similar films use. Altman instead chose to utilize Leonard Cohen’s music largely in the film. The characterization of the movie as well draws one attention to the film. This is because it is not common for a western movie to lack real heroes. Altman chose to have characters that have the ability to keep the audience interested without having to be heroes in the film. 

Terrence Malick, just like Robert Altman has the ability to command attention for a film through the filming techniques. He directed a movie; Badlands in 1973that has characteristics almost similar to the movie by Altman. One of the main ways in which this director keeps the attention of the viewers glued to the screen is by the use of scenery. The movie’s setting is that of a fairy tale set outside time. Though the film was based on violence, Malick felt it appropriate to maintain a fairy- tale sensation to it, what with the mountainous scenery and beautiful sun settings. The effect of this was a violent film with a dreamy quality of a fairy- tale movie. While watching Holly and Kit travel across South Dakota’s open lands for instance, the scenery of the mountains and the setting sun keeps one glued to the screen.

The composition of the movie as well was unique. This is because the movie was largely fictional, but it also depended greatly on the real- life events of a real- life murder spree that occurred in 1958; Charles Starkweather and Caril Fugate, his girlfriend, were involved. Malick also utilized unique sounds, and failed to do so in some other scenes, to reflect a number of appropriate moods and to show the disconnectedness that the main characters experienced with their environment. For example, we hear the gunshot that kills Holly’s dog as a punishment for being intimate with Kit. The characterization of the movie is the most appealing. For one, Holly is a very unusual naive little girl. She witnesses her boyfriend killing her father and does little to resist or stop the murder. She instead helps Kit lynch the house and runs away with him. It is also not very common to have the main characters act as narrators of a film; Malick however, utilizes this unusual technique by appointing Holly to be the movie’s narrator. Holly is very naive and oblivious of the violence around her.

Question 2a: A Woman under the Influence (John Cassavetes, 1974)

Ivone Margulies is one of the many critics of the movie A Woman under the Influence, by Cassavetes. Ivone feels that the director failed in his attempt to make his main character Mabel have a dual character; that of a crazy woman, and that of a functional mother and wife. She feels that his choice of the main character fell short of exploring an important contemporary issue by turning his idea into an exploration of his own romantic ideas. Ivone argues that it is common to find at least one peculiar character in each one of Cassavetes’ movies. In A Woman under the Influence this character is Mabel who is very odd, tries hard to please, to be selfless but in the long run looses her self.

Margulies points out that the director of the film had the intention of blaming Mabel’s condition on patriarchy that was repressive. She sees eccentricity in this film as contiguous, to rational and mundane behavior, other than antithetical. From the slap that Nick gives his wife so as she can end her hysterical pose is read by Ivone as Cassavetes’ aesthetic stance. She does not feel that Cassavetes is an accomplished movie director. This is evidenced by her claims that his work reflects a major collapse of the differences that occur between being and acting. To her, person and character of his film were constantly crossing over each other, resulting to the extinction of any efforts to locate the borders of the film’s performance text.

Question 2b: Examine and explain the most significant techniques Cassavetes uses

Cassavetes defied numerous conventions usually followed in Hollywood, such as visual and story presentation, two of the most important components of a Hollywood film. The normal films usually run for a maximum of 2 hours, and have a structure, containing the beginning, the middle of the story and the end. Cassavetes instead defied these conventions and produced a film that was long, 2 and half hours long. He also deliberately held the essential plot points from the audience unlike most movies. The director also spent an incredibly long time screening scenes that most movies would avoid; scenes that did not have anything in particular going on. Such scenes left the audience with the burden of working out the meaning of the scenes. The director also did not bother with motivation of his characters; instead, he put a lot of his focus on emotional and moral disintegration of the characters, captured through the continuous filming of the physical performance.  For example, there are a lot of close- up shots, and other movements of the characters within their homes. To challenge some of the judgmental attitudes of the viewers, he made the movie depended on a shorthand from real- life events. He did not condense certain incidents like most directors would do or can them. This mode of directing films according to John is boring, and he chose to direct a movie that broke from such a boring pattern and produce a film that created a competition with the viewers to stay ahead.

Question 3: Representing Indigenous cultures in their own right

Most movies available about Native Americans portray a picture that is in many ways misleading; most of the times people believe what they see and hear about Indians from these movies. The movie by Chris Eyre, Smoke Signals, of 1998 however, is a movie void of such stereotypes. Indians are in most cases depicted as blood thirst warriors, with no sense of humor at all. With such stereotypes, it has become easier to identify with the Indians portrayed in such movies as Dances with Wolves, and Little Big Man, that it is to identify with the real Indians. The movie by Eyre however, displays a group of people who are open hearted, who are had a very notable sense of humor. What are missing in this film, are the frigid Indians every movie depicts and the blood thirst Indian always in war in similar films. This movie is by far one of the most accurate reflections of a normal or contemporary Native American society that has ever been filmed. With such truthfulness therefore, the film can be used to denounce the image of Native Americans that has been largely created by most Hollywood films.

Eyre uses a number of stylistic and narrative strategies to develop most of his arguments. Victor, for example, releases his father’s ashes into the river to signify the release of anger he experiences. The river into which these ashes are released expands from streams into torrents to represent the energy of victor that has just been released. Victor also cuts his hair to symbolize how sorry he is of how he has been behaving. He repents his abusive toughness he has been portraying for the last eight years by shaving his head. Thomas also uses a number of styles while narrating his stories to reflect the intensity, and the importance of the narratives. For example, when he narrates of the story of how people were persecuted in the 20th century because they were Indians, his tone changes into a grave one.

Question 4: Representations of race and gender

Arthur Penn directed a movie in 1967 known as Bonnie and Clyde that broke many taboos. The movie represented gender issues more than it did race issues. This is because the movie was about Clyde Barrow, a robber, and Bonnie Parker, who was a waitress initially. The two meet when Clyde tries to steal Bonnie’s mother’s car. Bonnie is impressed, and she decides to join Clyde in crime because she is bored with her job. It represents gender issues in that women are treated the same as men are. Bonnie is an accomplished bank robber just as Clyde is. She can handle a gun just as well as her male partner. The movie presented the woman as someone who can handle herself just like a man, unlike many other movies that depict women helpless. To pass across the massage effectively, the movie utilized a number of visual and sound strategies. For example, crime is displayed in the movie as something that is alluring and related to sex. This is shown when Clyde represents his manhood by brandishing his gun, which Bonnie strokes suggestively. The sounds of the movie also change continuously to show a change in scenes, or change in emotions. For example, from the scene where Buck flees the police bullets to the one showing the slow dance in Louisiana, the sounds change to take up a tone that is more sober when compared to the quicker, gayer sounds played during the opening scenes.

In 1985, George Cosmatos directed a movie known as Rambo: First Blood Part II, which unlike the Clyde and Bonnie movie, represents racism more than it does gender issues. Race issues become apparent when Rambo meets a Vietnamese girl known as Co. she wants to go to America because she thinks people have a better life when they go to the United States. Race issues emerge when the Vietnamese soldiers find her with Rambo and kill her for associating with an intruder. If she could have been helping a native, they would have not killed her. Gender issues also arise when she comes to rescue Rambo posing as a prostitute. The movie utilizes a number of visual and sound effects to make its arguments credible. Patriotism is for example, depicted by the main character when he obliges to go rescue his fellow countrymen in the face of great danger. He also indicates that he is seeking for love from his country, the same kind of love he has for his country. The most notable sound effects of the movie are the loud booms of exploding bombs and the deathly quiets. Some scenes like when Rambo is stalking his victims are marked by remarkable silence to reflect the intensity of the moment and increase suspense.

Another notable movie that represents race and gender is the movie by Quentin Tarantino released in 1994, called Pulp Fiction. The movie represents race issues largely by the use of the word nigger in a number of the dialogues. Though it might be argued that the use of this word in the movie is not meant to come out in an offensive manner, it still highlights important racial issues. The fact that a female was able to be accepted in a man’s gang also makes a very essential statement when it comes to issues related to gender. The movie just like the other movies utilized a number of sound and visual tactics. For example, violence is one of the main visual tactics of the movie. This is seen for instance, during a scene of bondage and homosexual rape in the film.

My Own Private Idaho by Gus Van Sant was released in 1991. It shows gender inequality issues when Scott picks up a girl while in Italy in search of Mike’s mum. There is a lot of imagery in this movie, for example, the speeded- up images of clouds shown in the movie, rolling past the fields is a reflection of Mike’s life.

Question 5: The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972)

This movie is one of the greatest American movies anyone can ever watch. One of the reasons why I consider this a great film is the fact that it expressed the power and the ideas of the novel from which it was based on so well. The cast of the movie were excellently selected too. The aging Don is characterized very well by Brando and so is the tormented Michael by Pacino. The hotheaded and forth ward sonny is also well represented by Caan; Robert Duvall is excellent, in possibly one of his best acting roles, in depicting Tom Hagen. In addition to the characterization and writing of this movie, the cinematography as well as the filming of the movie is excellent. Some scenes are made unforgettable by the cinematography and filming techniques applied in the movie. For example, the scene where Sonny gets killed in a toll booth is unforgettable. The equally startling scene where McCluskey gets killed is also one of the best fake shootings of all times. The opening scene as well is unforgettable, it is characterized by a slow zoom and it is long with a close up of Bonasera, the undertaker; the zoom lasts for not less than three minutes, and it serves to bring suspense and intensity. The movie is as well filled with classic lines that make the film very catching and hard to forget. The music and the sounds of the movie are as well remarkable; they are used to show different moods and emotions in the movie.


1. Cassavetes, John ; John Cassavetes : Five Films. Ed. The centurion 2004

2. Jacobs, Diane. Hollywood Renaissance. London: Press, 1998

3. Joseph. V,The five C,s of cinematography. Carlifornia: James Silman press, 1975

4. Reading Bull. 1980 DVD MGM,2005

5. 1 Ivone Margulies (1998) John Cassavetes: Amateur Director, in Jon Lewis, ed. The New American Cinema. Durham: Duke University Press, 275-306.

6. Francis Ford Coppola, The Godfather. 1972

7. Beinhart, Larry. American Hero. London, 1993

8. Coyne, Michael. Hollywood to Washington. London, 1998

9.  Leslie, Dick ‘Review of primary colors’ ;1988

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