Harry Robertson on whether the film can ever be the rightful property of its creator.
In 1997, George Lucas released the Star Wars “Special Edition.” Since then, he has refused to make the original cut of Star Wars available commercially, stating on several occasions that he simply wants the earlier versions to “disappear.” The matter of how the changes in the special edition alter the films is one that I will not go into. I would instead suggest that anyone interested simply google the phrase “Han shot first” and work their way through the thirty four million results.
The subject I wish to address is whether it is acceptable for Lucas to deny people access to his earlier creation. Fortunately, this is a subject that Lucas himself is pretty clear on: upon recently being asked why he hadn’t released the original cut, he responded with “Grow up. These are my movies, not yours.”
The phrase “my movies” is crucial. To assume that these films are the sole property of George Lucas suggests that one adheres to “auteur” theory – that a film is created via a realisation of the director’s vision alone. This concept originated with mid twentieth century French film making, and was largely tied up with persuading people that film was a form of art – critics of film as an art form often refer to the fact that film has no sole “artist” during its creation. Auteur theory presented a counter-argument: that the director was the artist, and the film was his work of art.
If one accepts this argument, then George Lucas is thoroughly within his rights to withhold the original cut. It may not be particularly kind to his fans, but there is no obligation for an artist to display his work publicly.
Unfortunately for George, Star Wars is not exactly a shining example of auteurship. There is considerable evidence to suggest that Star Wars (Episode IV: A New Hope for those who acknowledge the existence of the prequels) was saved from utter mediocrity by a team of editors, brought in after Lucas fired the original editor. Lucas himself re-wrote the entire story multiple times during attempts to fund the film. It does not seem too far-fetched to assume that within this stage of re-writing, outside parties may have had an influence on his decisions with regard to the plot.
With any film it seems dubious to credit the director with sole artistic input. Camera operators, editors, even the actors themselves can add to a film in ways the director may never have thought of. Lucas was a relatively unknown director at the time of Star Wars’ release, and as a result, people had considerable influence over him. As his fame grew, people lost their ability to challenge the “great” George Lucas. By the time of the prequel trilogy, Lucas actually did have full artistic control over his films – the result was the absolute train-wreck that we know as Star wars: Episodes I, II and III.
For George Lucas to deny the public access to his earlier films is frankly insulting to everyone else involved in the star wars films. The films are not “his” movies, they are the work of a talented team who created something brilliant together. George Lucas is not an auteur, he is a lucky movie-maker who struck gold. Applying the theory here is downright destructive for anyone who cares about the preservation of film as an art form.
Connor Sherwin asks whether Tarentino’s Django satisfies our demand for bloodshed and brutality.
The recent release of Quentin Tarentino’s Django Unchained has sparked controversy, uproar, and admiration since its debut onto our cinema screens. Enjoyable? Yes. Profitable? Definitely. The question we should be asking, though, is “Why?”
Why do we expose ourselves to such savage violence, embracing its immorality and bloodthirstiness? Blaming “popular culture” seems overdone and frankly unconvincing. A far more entertaining argument is to consider the witchcraft of Tarentino himself, most prominently in the comedic, dripping glaze of satire that smoothes over the extreme gruesomeness. One key catalyst that has sparked this satirical exuberance within Tarentino’s work lies in his choice of actors. In Pulp fiction it was Jackson and Travolta, we now see the emergence of Christophe Waltz. Waltz plays a perfectly delightful bounty hunter who would happily take you out for dinner, treat you to a delicious cheese soufflé, buy you champagne and then blow your head off for desert. Tarentino’s marvellous script-writing abilities coupled with some incredibly adept actors mask the violence in a thin veil of acceptability.
While the horror in Django resembles more of an accident in a Heinz factory than reality, this does not allow for detachment from the explicit nature in which it is applied. The emergence of Django coincides directly with the shootings in America, putting forward the age-old question of whether entertainment based on violence has a direct impact on “real life” behaviour.
Tarentino claims that his work is directly is intended as entertainment, and entertainment alone. The unfortunate implication of this statement is the rather unfavourable light in which it shows the human race. Surely you cannot gain pleasure from the sight of nomadic brutality? Yet we do – Tarentino’s consistent box-office success proves that excitement and gore are what really get us going. Are we twisted? Messed up? Perhaps not all the time, but for some reason when the lights go out and images flicker across a screen, we change into apelike creatures with a fascination for violence. We carry on indulging in a feast of immorality, destruction and death on the big screen. Maybe we have become desensitised, and neutralised from the acidic nature of violence. Years of opposition to violence in film have passed from Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange to Hooper’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, both of which look positively reserved when it comes to Django. The slowly increasing portrayal of brutality and anarchic destructiveness has paved the way for Tarentino to indulge his conscious thoughts onto our screens, thanks to his own messed-up reality and the influence he has gained from the Cinema of a past era.
The morals of society have surely changed over the past 50 years, with cinema soaking up the juices left behind, adopting new theories and devising new forms of film to entertain and shock. The capacity to shock will always make a work of art sell – what is disturbing is simply the lengths to which Tarentino must go to shock us. Shock, excitement and utter horror have shaped the cinema experience for generations, and Django is the inevitable conclusion.
Barney Trimble considers the logistics of a good remake.
On the 19th of April, the original Cabin-in-the-Woods film will be remade. The first Evil Dead is often rated among the cream of B-movies, as well as instigating one of the dominant sub-genres of horror. It is, therefore, of little surprise that a remake has finally come about. However, recreating such a successful film comes with high expectations and risk, as well as going in the face of those who believed the franchise to have reached its natural conclusion.
Sequels have been scorned for many years. In Back to the Future 2, Marty McFly sees a cinema advertising Jaws 19. Nowadays we are being faced with a glut of upcoming superhero films, with ten films in development based on Marvel comics (of which only two feature protagonists who are yet to have made their big screen debut). However, as saturated with sequels as other genres may be, no other genre has been dominated by sequels, prequels and remakes as much as horror. While the most notable culprits are the Friday the 13th (twelve films) and Nightmare on Elm Street (nine films) sagas, they are far from being the only guilty parties. In fact, almost every reasonably successful horror film has been given a slew of sequels. Even Warwick Davies’ Leprechaun series managed six, going on seven, although by the time they reached Leprechaun: Back 2 tha Hood it may be fair to question their status as horror films.
While sequels may be looked over with a suspicious eye, the remake is a completely different beast. Offering a fresh start as well as a fresh perspective, it provides fans of the franchise with a new look at the original, and in most cases best, film, as well as appealing to film goers who would otherwise be put off by having not seen the rest of the series. The downside is that in creating a remake, you effectively disown all that preceded it. As a result, an unsuccessful remake can spell the end of a franchise.
So what are the chances of Evil Dead having a successful reincarnation? Much of the original’s success fell down to the two main brains behind the franchise, Bruce Campbell and Sam Raimi. Both appeared to have moved on since The Army of Darkness in 1992; Raimi was given the Spiderman franchise to toy with, while Campbell secured a succession of TV roles from Autolycus in the Xena universe through to Sam Axe on Burn Notice. However, the two have been good friends since the beginning of their careers and so a professional reunion was never off the cards. In fact, Campbell made it public knowledge that there had been discussion of a fourth Evil Dead film all the way back in 2007, long before it was officially announced in the summer of 2011. Therefore, it was clearly a decision that was not reached lightly. This in itself is grounds for optimism as any potential pitfalls should in theory have been well discussed.
Capturing the cult appeal of the original presents considerable difficulty. I recently attended a screening of the original trilogy at a cinema in London, known for attracting cult audiences, and the enthusiasm that greeted every quote was incredible. The recipe for developing such a following remains largely a mystery. Snakes on a Plane attempted to create a cult classic, but came off as trying too hard. While in theory Raimi and Campbell of all people should know the magic cult formula, replicating it seems to be as evasive as discovering it. Consequently, there is no guarantee that the remake will appeal to the original fans. There is also the complication that neither have returned to their original roles and are instead working predominantly as producers. In their places, Fede Alvarez is making his feature film debut as director and Jane Levy (Suburgatory) taking the lead as Mia, a female Ash-like character.
However, this could very well work in its favour. It is clear from both comments made by Campbell and Raimi, as well as the trailers, that this will not be a shot-for-shot remake. There are certain elements that are being kept in, most notably the infamous tree rape scene as well as the Necronomicon itself, but according to Campbell the similarities amount to “five new kids who are going to have a really bad night”. While that may be the case with the story, the spirit of the film seems, at least on the cover, to still be intact. The use of relatively unknown actors and director as well as the steadfast refusal to use CGI, relying on purely physical effects instead, should lessen fears from fans that it would be contaminated by being the focus of such media and public attention. The trailer also suggested that Alvarez is taking a different approach than the original, giving it a much more professional view than the B-movie feel of the original, while maintaining its bloody-thirsty style.
So, will Evil Dead resurrect the franchise and bring the thrills of the past to the next generation or will it suffer the same fate as many of its characters? Personally I believe that there is more cause for excitement than worry. The presences of Campbell and Raimi in the background should be enough to keep it loyal to its roots, whilst allowing it to take on its own identity under Alvarez. Treading the line between appealing and appealing to newcomers can be very tough. Whatever the outcome, though, it will be a bloody, messy and high-tempo affair, which will should make for a pretty groovy remake.
Ally Gibson sets the standard straight when it comes to defining the ‘horror’ film.
True fear in a film is a very rare occurrence. Scare tactics come and go, and therefore get easier to watch with each “scary” film witnessed. As a result, when somebody recommends watching a ‘horror’, I tend to refuse. The genre of ‘horror’ now describes a number of films, including ‘thrillers’, ‘slashers’ and even some ‘crime’ films – many of which do not deserve the title.
I have a simple test for the classification of a true horror film: having seen it once, I must never want to see it again.
This isn’t fright: it’s pure terror at what I have seen, and usually that has nothing to do with Zombies or mass murdering chain-saw wielding psychopaths. Unfortunately, this requires exceptional talent from the director and actors. The ability to induce actual horror in an audience is a rare talent limited to a handful of people in the history of cinema.
Darren Aronofsky is one of those exceptional cases. If you have seen his most recent film, Black Swan, you might assume that his brand of “horror” comes from unpleasant images mixed in with some loose suggestions of psychological trauma. You would be very wrong. Black Swan is not his attempt to induce horror – it pales in comparison to his earlier work, such as Requiem for a Dream, in which he mercilessly subjects the audience to a film of such horrific imagery that watching it becomes almost painful. I can recall many scenes that have affected me so deeply that I cannot even entertain the thought of watching them again.
Aronofsky selects four characters: two young lovers, their friend, and an elderly lady. We then watch as over the course of a hundred minutes he takes their lives apart. The film is masterfully made – little tricks, such as constantly reducing the average scene length as the film goes on, accompanied by a musical score that slowly accelerates over the course of the film, show that Aronofsky knows exactly how to make people uncomfortable.
If you are looking for fear, my best advice is to find a film that is not described as “horror.” The characters of Requiem for a Dream are just so depressingly ordinary that we could see ourselves switched into one of their places with nothing more than a small twist of fate. If we cannot truly believe in the horror then we can only be taken in by scare-tactics – and that isn’t horror – it is surprise, which subsides by the next evening at the latest. In Requiem for a Dream, we can not only believe in the horror: we can almost see it happening to ourselves. However many times a monster jumps out at me in a film, I’ll have forgotten about it within a few hours, something unlikely to happen with Requiem for a Dream.
Alex Cochrane-Dyet examines the impact that the attack on the Twin Towers has had on the American film industry.
Ten years ago the prominent American historian Taylor Branch spoke of a possible ‘turning point against a generation of cynicism for all of us’. The image that circulated around the world of the North Tower’s glass window being penetrated by the tip of American Airlines Flight 11 had such a profound effect on the American psyche that within weeks it was being spoken of as a defining historical event. In the light of the succeeding Global War on Terrorism, Global Recession, and Arab Spring, which have all been linked back to this initial terrorist attack, this early forecast of 9/11’s impact may well have been correct. Yet, twelve years on from that unforgettable day, no major cultural works have appeared that capture our new, post-9/11 world. One might expect that given Hollywood status as America’s major cultural industry, an iconic film would have emerged to define the era; however, 9/11 has not provoked a seismic change in the film industry.
There is a short-lived ‘Amazing Grace’ quality to the initial reactions to 9/11: once Americans loved irony and took refuge in that distancing strategy but now they are earnest and authentic; once they were fragmented into various political and social identities but now they stand united; once they loved movies where tall building exploded or burned to the ground but now they don’t like those so much. But then again, yes they do. Video rental stores might have placed warnings on some films – ‘in light of the events of Sept. 11, please note that this product contains scenes that may be disturbing to some viewers’ – but violent movies continued to top the most-rented lists. One group of films that emerged after 9/11 was a new type of asymmetrical war film featuring American troops deep in enemy territory, surrounded by IEDs and hostile locals. Films such as The Hurt Locker (2008) or The Kingdom (2007) are amongst the most acclaimed of these. But whilst ‘The War on Terror’ has provided material for several extremely powerful films, they ultimately blend into the seemingly endless action movie genre, as though the stock war film has simply been updated to suit a contemporary audience: a new setting, a new enemy, some new weapons, a few new filming techniques, but nothing seminal. Whilst such films can perfectly capture the atmosphere of a particular war, they are too limited to capture any change in the consciousness of American society.
There have been the historical dramas that have tried to capture the event itself. Oliver Stone’s United 93 (2006) is perhaps the best known of these, a real time account of the events on United Flight 93, one of the planes hijacked on 9/11 that crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania when passengers foiled the terrorist plot. United 93 did poorly in the box office, criticised by some for commercializing a fresh wound, by others for failing to capture the scope of the 9/11 attacks. Ironically, Cloverfield (2008), a film in which New York is blown up for a big screen thrill, was far more successful – perhaps suggesting that the US audience is not so sensitive to the ideology that lies behind its movies, so long as it gets to see huge explosions. Certainly, the most sophisticated post-9/11 film produced, Cosmopolis (2012), an adaption of the prominent US author Don DeLillo’s novel, was a complete failure. We have now reached the stage, such as in Ted (2012), where it’s the jingoistic reactions provoked by 9/11 that are being cynically mocked, with a teddy bear telling the American celebrity Norah Jones, who is of vaguely Indian ancestry, ‘thanks for 9/11’. It may be that the initial estimates on the impact 9/11 had on society were too enthusiastic.
There have been implicit links to 9/11 in a variety of ways throughout the last decade of American cinema. The constant use of plane crashes in films is one of these, present in War of the Worlds (2005), Snakes on a Plane (2006) and Flight (2012). In Avatar (2009) the destruction of the towering and symbolic Tree of Eywa by American aircraft can easily be interpreted as a metaphor for the destruction of the Twin Towers and successful counter-strike by the tree’s inhabitants would appear to support America’s aggressive response. There have even been comparisons between Voldemort and his Death Eaters to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in the Harry Potter films. To a certain extent though, it may be that we are reading 9/11 into films. Voldemort sprang from J. K. Rowling’s imagination well before 9/11 and the best-known terrorist-themed movies remain ones made before 9/11, including Air Force One (1997), True Lies (1994), Patriot Games (1992) and Die Hard (1988) and Fight Club (1999). Overall, it seems that post-9/11 cinema is a cut-and-paste version of pre-9/11 cinema; we are simply look at the same material through a different prism.
Released fifty years after the first ever James Bond film, Dr. No, the franchise’s newest instalment, ‘Skyfall’, explores how the world has evolved in the last half century. Symbolised by the new Q, a young computer genius played by Ben Whishaw, who tells Bond ’I can do more damage on my laptop in my pyjamas than you can do in a year in the field’, ‘Skyfall’ depicts a shadowy picture of contemporary life in which asymmetrical espionage is conducted between individuals and organisations, rather than between different nations. Information leaks, CCTV, and cyber threats replace forgery, steakouts, and the threat of war. But whilst the film recognizes our global, technological age, Sam Mendes’s film also acknowledges the past – a scene shot in front of Turner’s painting ‘The Fighting Temeraire’ in the national gallery revealing a nostalgic side to Bond, who gets out his vintage Aston Martin and returns to his isolated family home in Scotland for the film’s climax.
As well as the usual car chases and explosions, ‘Skyfall’ has an emotional maturity and depth that has been lacking all recent Bond films, other than Casino Royal. With MI6 under attack as Raoul Silva, a former MI6 agent, launches a personal vendetta against M (Judi Dench), the film explores Bond’s relationship with his boss when his loyalty is put to the test. With traditionally strong performances from Judi Dench and Daniel Craig, the additions to the cast were equally impressive: Ralph Fiennes seamlessly slotted into the world of MI6; Naomi Harris, playing bond’s fellow operative Eve, lit up the screen with her sharp interchanges with Bond; Ben Whishaw is sure to become a fan favourite after his witty and compelling display; but it was Javier Bardem who really stood out with his consummate, award-worthy interpretation of the new Bond villain. His psychotic, mercurial personality was far more effective in unnerving the audience than any amount of brute strength might.
Whilst some may feel the film lacks a proper Bond girl, and there are some improbable events in the plot, this ‘Skyfall’ is definitely one of the best Bond films ever made. Brutally realistic yet humorous, wistfully looking backwards whilst glaringly modern, the same formula with unexpected twists, make sure you don’t miss this film – when you need a break from studying get down to the Picture House, and buy a ticket in advance because it’s sure to be busy.
See ‘Skyfall’ at City Screen York now.
York Student Cinema is a society run by University of York students and shows three films per week in P/X/001, with only a £3 entry free. Anyone can come along so check out their timetable online and get a bunch of friends together when you want to go. Highlights this term include Ted, The Dark Knight Rises, Taken 2 and Emma Watson’s new film The Perks of Being a Wallflower in week 9. To get the very latest releases you’ll want to head to the Picture House in York, which is situation next to Revolutions Bar on the high street. As well as Orange Wednesdays and student concessions, the Picture House runs a student Slackers Club in association with E4, which is completely free to join and offers its members exclusive screenings every month of brand new E4 shows, classic movies or even a preview of a film yet to be released at absolutely no cost. To see what’s coming up next join their Facebook page. For those more discerning film viewers try out one of their Discover Tuesday nights that showcase a diverse and influential range of films and documentaries. For anyone who wants to try something different, their Culture Shock evenings showcase the best in cult and genre cinema.
With all of the year’s most anticipated films being released this winter, make sure you don’t miss out – whether you take advantage of York Student Cinema’s fantastically low prices or visit City Screen Picture House in town. The new Bond film, Skyfall, is being released in October starring Daniel Craig and Javier Bardem, and with Sam Mendes at the helm it’s sure to be a success. In December, The Hobbit Part 1: An Unexpected Journey will finally find its way onto cinema screens, with the exciting additions of Martin Freeman and Benedict Cumberbatch to the cast. Despite its financial setbacks and filming delays, it is expected to be the highest earning film of the year and might well claim a host of awards. In independent cinema, this year will see the highest grossing independent film of all time: Cloud Atlas. Written and directed by Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix, V for Vendetta) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Paris, je t’aime), the film premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and received a ten-minute standing ovation.
There is a feast of good films awaiting; if you’re a discerning student you’ll be able to see them all, and at a very student price.
It might be expected that the first film in what Hollywood hopes will be a multi-million dollar franchise to replace the Twilight and Harry Potter series would follow the standard blockbuster formula and contain the usual Hollywood cliques: star-crossed lovers meeting amidst a whirlwind of danger and violence, the forces of evil being vanquished by the forces of good, despite the odds, and individual heroes and heroines overshadowing the bigger picture. Thankfully, The Hunger Games largely steers clear of these exhausted themes, and even satirises them. Whilst certain criticism is fair, for instance the inevitable gaps in the film as a result of translating Suzanne Collins’s best-seller onto the screen, or the toning down of violence necessary to achieve the 12A rating, it is clear that The Hunger Games is far more mature than many anticipated. A dystopian film that explores a government’s use of gladiatorial combat to control the population, The Hunger Games has provoked feminist and political debate.
Simply becoming a box-office success despite its female protagonist, The Hunger Games takes the standard action film in a new direction. Similar to Twilight, The Hunger Games is delivered from the first person perspective of a young woman – Katniss Everdeen. However, having been thrown into a gladiatorial area, Katniss emerges as a strong, active, independent and complex character, more interested in staying alive than pursuing love interests and not a swooning flower waiting to be courted by her perfect man. Whilst some critics have argued that her athletic build is unrealistic considering her impoverished upbringing, her proficiency at hunting and archery is crucial in establishing her as a character capable of exhibiting masculine traits rather than passively blending into the background as so many female characters do on screen.
One area that bewildering provoked initial criticism from fans is the casting of certain characters, notably Rue, Thresh and Cinna, with African American actors. It seems Rue was a particularly popular character amongst the readership of the book and many fans felt her ethnicity had been altered deliberately in the making of the film for political reasons. This is not true – Rue is explicitly described as having dark skin and black hair in the novel. Since the film is set hundreds of years in the future it depicts a certain level of ethnic mixing which should be praised, not attacked by racist fans whose minds are incapable of imagining a cute, innocent child unless she is white.
Most interesting in The Hunger Games are the metadramatic themes, drawn out through the imbedding of a televised event within the film. It is clear that the film inspires general political distrust, no matter what personal biases you bring to the theatre. Whilst exploring the power of television and the government’s supreme authority over the control of the medium (a particularly contentious topic in today’s world of CCTV and media manipulation) the film also exposes the contradictions that lie between the screen and reality. Katniss and Peeta might present an image of star-crossed lovers to the world in order to please the audience and win favour, in the same way that most Hollywood blockbusters do, but the reality is very different.
In the relatively brief history of cinema, certain films have been recognised as artistic triumphs from the moment they were open to public criticism. Now, Terence Malick’s The Tree of Life can be securely added to the canon of films that push beyond the limits of film media to become something altogether more personal, introspective and exhilarating than the impersonality of a cinema screen should allow.
A hugely ambitious film, The Tree of Life encompasses almost every conceivable human emotion whilst narrowly focusing on the fragmented and prejudiced nature of memory, not only as a means of recollection but also reconciliation, as Malick attempts to bring together elements of the past, present and future in a non-linear format. The entirety of existence is filtered through the prism of a single family. Not since Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey has one film attempted to cover such a broad conceptual plane whilst remaining visually unparalleled.
Regardless of intellectual merit, The Tree of Life is fundamentally a film about the progression of things. The banality of cause and effect is replaced with a movement as natural as wind. We begin with a middle-aged man, Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn), and venture deep within the recesses of his memory. From birth to early adolescence, he slowly learns to respond to the various hurdles of childhood with silent understanding. His father seems cruel but not unremitting – it was simply parenthood from a different time. Jack’s relationship with his parents and two brothers is often dysfunctional, but this is a broad study of life rather than a family portrait, and so we can recognise ourselves in the formative Jack O’Brien.
Part of the brilliance of Malick’s singular vision is the sheer scale of proceedings. From the giant, empty theatres of space to the claustrophobic intricacies of the nuclear family, The Tree of Life remains by far Malick’s most ambitious work, a profound meditation on human life that begins and ends with death, by way of the beginning of time. The nonlinear format of the film provides an alternative to the constraints of a singular narrative – rather than separate scenes chopped up with cinematic devices, The Tree of Life is a conjugation of theatrical acts. As in reality, summer days simply flow together in a totally naturalistic manner. The shining sun filtered through leaves effortlessly moves through an open window, illuminating the soft orange hair of the O’Brien’s ethereal mother (Jessica Chastain). Malick’s principle cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezski captures the immaculate tree lined streets of suburbia with soft grace. Even within the hard lines of the home, the family drama is framed by nature and beyond that, inconceivably large stretches of time and space.
Like his sophomore film Badlands, Malick’s camerawork finds the distinct beauty of everyday suburban life and uses it to create a mood that dictates and sustains large swathes of the film. Like Malick’s recollections of his own childhood in the mid-twentieth century, The Tree of Life feels almost infused with real memories of real events. Tiny subtleties lace the film – a silent exchange between two toddlers, the quiet rustling of lettuce leaves on congealed soil – intensifying each shot with a remarkably vérité inanity.
Despite the huge conceptual size of The Tree of Life, only a handful of actors are employed as anything more than characters taken from old memories. A particularly affecting Brad Pitt shines as the archetypal father figure in place of an unseen deity. In fact, The Tree of Life is the story of two fathers and their impact upon our central character. Whispered questions echoing through vast nebulae contrast with the bluntly worded exchanges between Jack O’Brien and his three sons.
Malick explores the dichotomous relationships children hold between mother and father whilst utilising uniquely beautiful atmospheric devices. The Tree of Life is as much a study of time and place as it is a meditation on growing up. Both combine to produce a microcosm of life that is unparalleled in its clarity and poignancy.
The soundtrack to the film is truly remarkable. Alexander Desplat’s original score is mixed with classical scores reserved for the monumentality of natural processes. Large chunks of the film are simply breathtaking due to the simple combination of music set to moving images. Works from Couperin and Priesner overlay colossal cosmic processes that must be seen to help us understand the symbiotic link between man and his place in the order of things.
The film’s visual effects are stunning. One scene in particular involving two dinosaurs resounds with rippling contextual profundity. Far from Kubrick’s anthropological eye, The Tree of Life is packed with heavy emotional resonance. 2001: A Space Odyssey painted the cosmos as a silent observer to human trial and error. Malick presents the entire universe as irrevocably entwined with the individual narratives of every living thing – from the smallest strands of living matter to the complex, often misconstrued relationships between humans. The Kubrickian elements of Malick’s directorial style are unmistakable – both men contextualise a single narrative on the grandest of theatres – but The Tree of Life remains a powerful tribute to the all-conquering nature of the universe rather than the vastness of it.
Independence movements have been able to both engender support to their cause and raise awareness of their struggles through film footage, broadcast globally. Film is a powerful political tool which has helped struggles such as that of Martin Luther King to spread the global anti-apartheid message However, film has also been used by political groups and totalitarian regimes as a method of controlling its people, so as to impose their ideology and suppress independent thought. The increase in recorded footage being broadcast globally has been vital in highlighting the cause of many repressed groups and has been instrumental in uniting people to their cause. However, the ability of powerful states to manipulate this media as a political instrument has the potential to do more harm than good.
The civil rights movement in America in the 1960s has gone down in history as one of the greatest liberations of oppressed groups. The “I have a dream” speech is synonymous worldwide with the struggle against segregation and discrimination of black Americans. With the increase of television in homes, King’s speech was able to be broadcast across the western world and beyond. His inspiring words generated a frenzy of interest in the anti-apartheid movement, and were crucial in uniting people to his cause. In the decades after segregation had been abolished, film continued to spread the message of civil rights and inspire strong emotion. Films such as King (1978) and Ghandi (1982) ensured that the message of independence remained at the fore and maintained its relevance to the modern world. It has cemented the enduring importance of men such as MLK and Ghandi, who brought independence to non-liberated groups, and gave movements figureheads around which they could rally. Though these two films are about specific movements, their message of liberation will continue to offer example to and encourage the plight of the repressed.
In the same way that film can be a powerful and positive medium to spread the message of liberation and freedom, it has also been used to do just the reverse. Since its creation, totalitarian regimes have used film as propaganda to impose their absolute ideology and suppress independent thought. Film was integral to the propaganda campaign of Goebbels in the 1930s and 40s, which destroyed the possibility of independent action, or the upholding of views opposite to the tenets of Fascism. Films such as Der Ewige Jew, (The Eternal Jew) produced in 1940, dehumanised Jews in the eyes of the German people. The authoritative nature of film means that it is seldom questioned; people believe what they see with their own eyes and are less likely to question the validity of the views it propounds. There will always be a danger in film as it has the power to distort and manipulate the truth, and yet it is a medium which is so readily believed, even in today’s world.
Under Stalin’s oppressive and dictatorial regime, staged footage of popular rallies and national success stories were widely broadcast and largely believed by their people, as the medium of film provided it with a sense of authenticity. These rallied the citizens behind the Soviet mission and bolstered the image of its leader. Film was crucial to the creation of the cult of Stalin, which presented him as a near God-like figure. The nation’s film industry, which was fully nationalized, was guided by philosophies and laws propounded by the Communist Party which introduced the new ideology of ‘socialist realism’ onto the production of all films. Among the most outstanding films produced during this time was Chapaev, 1934, a film about Russian revolutionaries and society during the Revolution and Civil War. In the same way, film footage was also used as a warning against the dangers of non-conformity. During the Great Purges of the 1930s, trials of those accused of disloyalty to the party were filmed, to be then shown in other parts of Russia as a warning against independent action against the regime.
Today, film footage continues to be used by repressed peoples to highlight their plight and rally people to their cause. Video footage filmed by ordinary citizens on mobile phones was crucial to the recent independence movements in the Middle East, both in documenting the brutal acts of totalitarian regimes and inciting a desire for freedom amongst civilians. The internet is crucial in spreading sentiments of discontent and inciting a mood for change. Film footage, spread on the Internet gave people a voice to speak out against corrupt and brutal regimes.
It is in this development of the global power of the internet that we can perhaps note a fundamental development of the power of film footage. Whereas previously, dictatorial regimes had been able to suppress the production of all film footage which ran contrary to the interests of the state, film now lies in a cyber-world, beyond the regulation of any one group. The often near total control of film by the political and social elite in the first half of the twentieth century facilitated the suppression of ordinary people and imposed one ideology onto a nation. Since that time, film has become the tool of the people; a weapon of defiance which cannot be defeated or controlled.