Final Essay


Steven Williams


Final essay

15 December 2013




In 1898, Briton J. Stewart Blackton produced a film entitled Tearing Down the Spanish Flag. The film lasted only a few seconds, and it portrayed a Spanish Flag being ripped from its mast to be replaced by the stars and stripes. Blackton was using American nationalism fueled by the Spanish-American war to capture his audience and he was successful. Today, in 2013, American cinema is dominated by nationalism, whether it is in films like The Hurt Locker and Black Hawk Down, or films outside the army genre like Man of Steel.  American cinematography is most often made for the American audience, so it makes complete sense to see nationalism in Hollywood.  Rarely do you see films that question American ideology.  Two films, however, that give us vantages of American politics outside our usual perspectives are Chicago 10, directed by Brett Morgan, and Argo, directed by Ben Affleck.  Chicago 10 is a documentary that uses both real footage and motion-capture animation to tell the story of eight protesters at the Democratic National Convention of 1968 and their trials after what started as rallies, turned into violence. Argo is Affleck’s telling of the 1979 mission, devised by the CIA, to rescue the 6 American embassy workers who went into hiding after Iranian revolutionaries captured the US embassy. While these films differ in genre and style, they both look at America’s role in global affairs and whether we belong in certain situations.

            To fully understand Chicago 10’s dialogue on America and our foreign relations, it is essential to understand the context of the film. In 1968, America was at war in Vietnam.  Over 15,000 US troops had been killed and LBJ approved the sending of more troops, peaking the US forces at 549,500 soldiers. Large populations of Americans were against US involvement in Vietnam, and it is that opposition that sets the stage for the film.

 Brett Morgan began his work on Chicago 10 after the US became involved in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Morgan felt there was not enough opposition to aggressive US actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and felt he needed to show today’s youth just how powerful their voices can be. Chicago 10 is primarily footage from the actual rallies in 1968.  Morgan wanted to show the rallies and the trial exactly as they were without any distortion. No cameras were in the courtroom at the time of the trial, so Morgan improvised by using court documents and motion-capture animation. Using this animation, Morgan was able to design cinematic shots and angles that better dramatized the events that took place in the courtroom. Examples of this are his angles on the judge, Judge Hoffman.  All the shots on Hoffman’s character are looking up at him, thereby demonstrating his superiority and authority in the courtroom and his being the physical embodiment of the law. Morgan also uses this animation to define characters like the police officers.  He gives them dark lens masks with low brims to establish them as the dark, ominous enemy in the film. Morgan decided to use motion-capture animation because he believed it made the trial seem more experiential than just a historical reenactment.

            Argo, like Chicago 10, can only be entirely understood through the history that surrounds it.  In 1941, allied forces invaded Iran, which was a neutral country in World War II, to control its oil fields for Soviet use. During the invasion, the allied forces forced the abdication of Iran’s ruler, Reza Shah, as well as its elected Prime Minister, Mohammed Mossadegh. Reza Shah’s son, Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi, took his place, and he turned Iran into a dictatorial state. Over 30 years later, the Iranian people overthrew Pahlavi and in his place put Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who became the supreme leader of the Islamic state.  Mohammed Reza Shah Pahlavi took asylum in the US because he feared for his life, and the Iranian people demanded his return so he could be tried on various charges. This history opens the film and allows the American audience to understand another country’s point of view, or at the very least, its perspective.  Argo, while not 100 percent accurate, tells the story of a crippled America with very few options on a world stage. Affleck made a typical Hollywood movie while including Hollywood itself in the film.  Further, he causes the viewer to question America’s involvement in the Middle East during the time in which the film is set, and aims to thereby cause the viewer to question America’s involvement in the Middle East today.  When the film was released, two of the former Iranian hostages called for diplomacy with Iran versus military action.  They discussed Carter’s military attempts to rescue them and how those attempts ended with bloodshed, while negotiations and diplomacy are what led to their coming home.  They spoke directly to the Obama administration, saying the American people don’t know or understand their role in creating anti-Americanism in Iran and what we can do to restore our relations with Iran through peaceful measures.

            Both Chicago 10 and Argo take events from America’s past and relate them to Americans today through a non-nationalistic lens.  Chicago 10 looks at the war in Afghanistan and encourages today’s youth to take a stand against the US’s involvement there.  Argo looks at problems with US relations in the Middle East today and communicates to the viewer that the root of these problems is America’s past decisions.  Both films ask us to step outside our nationalistic paradigms and search for peace in confrontation.  While they convey similar messages, they are very different movies.  Argo is a thriller designed to engage the American audience.  It uses hired actors, location filming, and a written script to tell a non-fictional account of what transpired.  Chicago 10 is entirely historical and is more of a documentary than a thriller. It uses only footage taken at the time of the events or looks at the written account of the trial for dialogue. Chicago 10 is aimed at a younger audience and is far more of an auteur film with its use of motion-capture animation.

            Both Chicago 10 and Argo are films that ask the audience to question American ideology and our way of life.  In cinema, viewers are asked to “suspend disbelief” and step into the world provided by the director. The classic Hollywood style is to invite your audience into a world more stable than the reality in which we live.  It takes a good director to effectively draw an audience into a world where its own country might be the problem or one that calls the audience to question its life style.  Both of these films show how the decisions our country makes regarding our relations with countries across the globe can come back to eventually affect our own citizens and often result in violence. Nationalism may still reside in films today, and probably always will, but when films make us question who we are, they have the power to spread ideas, the power to change.












Clark, John. “Chicago 10 isn’t a conventional documentary” NY Daily News (2008) Accessed December 12, 2013,


Rogin, Josh. “Former hostages seize Argo publicity, call for diplomacy with Iran” The Cable (2013) Accessed December 12, 2013,


Scott, Ian October 20, 2013 “International Relations on Screen: Hollywood of American Foreign Policy” e-iIternational Relations








Inception out of class writing

Two things really jumped out at me my second time through the movie; hidden allusions and foreshadowing in the film, and the plot itself makes more sense with the whole lingo thing. Most important was my understanding of the use of tokens in dreams. Cobb states a token cannot be used by anybody but the owner. However, he uses his dead wife’s’. I noticed my second time through in dreams, Cobb had on a wedding ring while in what was believed to be reality his hand was barren. At the end he has no wedding ring on which would lead me to assume he is in reality. But i might just watch it a third time.

Three Experimental Films and Avant-garde Cinema

This week we viewed three separate films. An Andalusian Dog by Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel, Meshes of The Afternoon by Maya Deren, and Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story by Todd Haynes.  We watched these films all in light of Avant-garde cinema. Avant-garde cinematography is experimental films, films that push the boundaries of cinema and oppose the usual practices in contemporary film making. Films like these, while strange, are designed to be viewed very critically and are usually hidden with different meanings and interpretations.

An Andalusian Dog is a perfect example of a Surrealist film. The film is almost like a dream with no real logic or sense behind it. The film is in a way exploring the mind as it introduces random images and sounds. Meshes of the Afternoon is as well a Surrealist film. The short picture is representative of a women’s torture or oppression with her finally taking her own life at the end. Lastly Superstar: THe Karen Carpenter story is  a mix of different avant-garde styles but focuses primarily on an abstract theme. The barbie dolls allude to Karen’s desire to look perfect and Haynes uses the dolls to portray her decreasing health by shaving the doll, distorting it.

After seeing these films i found it difficult to really categorize them into different styles of Avant-garde. However, I believe Meshes of the Afternoon is much more than a surrealist piece. The film is more abstract as it focuses more on objects and emotions through the girl and what she is seeing. The characters in the film are completely stoic and all feeling in the film is done through images and sound. While it does seem to appear as a dream I believe the film is taking place in the girls thoughts and her decline into madness.



Zero Dark Thirty and Auteur Cinema

Zero Dark Thirty, directed by Katheryn Bigelow, tells the dramatized story of the united States manhunt for Osama Bin Laden for his killings on September 11th, 2001. The film follows Maya, a young CIA officer, who’s dedicated her life to finding Bin Laden. Through espionage and torture tactics, Bin Laden is found to be hiding in a compound in Pakistan. The film portrays the raid of the compound and the Killing of Bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty was nominated for a number of awards and won many as well.

Bigelow depicts torture tactics the CIA may or may not have used in finding Bin Laden. (probably the former.) Many critics have either applauded or shunned Bigelows torture scenes for different reasons. Many believe these scenes are an example of Bigelow’s auteur style. These critics believe Bigelow uses an artistic style to question the morality of torturing in return for security.

The film by many is considered our countries resolve to 9/11. However, i viewed the film as something that draws attention on American ideology and how little we know that occurs for our safety. The films depiction of torture reminds us that this is a war and in war is there ever really a “good side”. The film allows some to step back and see just what our country is capable of and the things we will do behind closed doors. The film doesn’t condemn nor uphold our country’s actions, it simply allows the audience to see just where our standard of living comes from.

Weekend and Social Context

Weekend written and directed by Jean-Luc Godard is a black comedy that tells the story of a married couple Roland and Corinne. Both Roland and Corine plan to kill the other while both of them are having affairs. The film follows there journey to see Corinne’s dying father to gain his inheritance. On their way the two run into a number of crazy, fictional, and violent events that define what the movie is. The film is Godard’s best for The French New Wave films and is well known to this day. Weekend and the French New Wave were an opposition to classic Hollywood movies while having a leftist support within the film itself.

     Weekend uses a French New Wave design of film making that contrast with traditional Hollywood film making. Weekend rather than invite the audience into the film’s universe remains dissonant with no real on going plot and no depth in the characters. Weekend uses inter textual references from novels and films reminding the audience they are just watch a film. Along with this Weekend uses things like fake dead bodies, clearly alive, to again keep the audience from suspending disbelief and placing themselves within the movie. The French new wave wanted the audience to step back from the film and use a critical eye. Bad acting and overbearing sound are other elemetns of the French New Wave keeping the audience critical of the film.

     Godard uses sound and bad acting as tools for the French New Wave style. French New Wave films keep the audience critical of the film because the film never becomes an ongoing story. There’s no real plot, no build up or climax, no protagonist and antagonist, no real aspects of Hollywood film. Scenes were the music is louder than the dialogue is there top keep the audience focused on anything other than what is happening. This goes for the bad acting as well. The point of these scenes are to draw the audiences attention to other things in or throughout the scene/shot. The French New wave, while entertaining, is an auteur style of film making that Godard exemplifies in Weekend.


Far from Heaven and Ideaology

In Far from Heaven, directed by Todd Haynes, we follow Cathy Whitaker a stay-at-home mom living in the 50’s who’s world and marriage slowly fall apart throughout the film. The major themes this movie looks at are race, gender roles, sexual orientation, and social class. The film made in 2002 was a major hit and won a number of awards including 4 academy awards. Haynes filmed the movie in a fifties style most similar to that of Douglas Sirk.

Far from Heaven takes a look at American ideaology during the 1950’s. The film first protrays the gender role of women in the 50’s. Cathy role as a women is to stay at home and make herself pretty for her husband. This is shown even more clearly when Cathy teachesher dauhghter to act as a women should. Next the film portrays sexual orientation as Frank is homosexual and tries to deny it throughout the film. Lastly the film shows race and social class as Raymond, an African American, and Cathy’s love is forbidden and them even beeing together is cause for outrage.

While America has greatly changed since the 50’s, Far From Heaven to this day can teach us lessons as well as keep us weery of making similar mistakes. Today there are still remnants of this ideology in parts of our country. However, the movie helps one realize there may be problems with the ideology we live in now. Do we hold all races as equal? Are we accepting of all sexual orientations? And do we still find a social class in 2013? Far from Heaven highlights mainstream values during the 1950’s in a protest against them. We see Cathy in a way freed at the end to do what she chooses rather than be a product of her culture. Far from Heaven invites the viewer to do the same and see just how imperfect today’s ideology might be.

Genre and Casablanca

        Casablanca directed by Michael Curtis tells the story of Rick Blaine, his love for Ilsa Lund, and his part in protecting what’s left of the French resistance during WWII. The film while being a great story doubles as a propaganda tool used in 1943. America had just joined the allies in WWII and anything people watched could be used as propaganda. The story in the film reflects Americas decision in joining the war. Rick appears neutral at first in the movie but as the film continues we see he fought for the loyalists in the Spanish civil war and he eventually comes to the help of the french resistance.

       When released Casablanca was most likely assumed as a classic Hollywood love story. However, Curtis mixes a number of genres in the film and ends the movie with a not so Hollywood ending. While the film is most closely associated with the genres of Classic, Romance, and Drama, the story is full of surprises and scenes that fall into none of these. An example of this is even at the very beginning of the film we see an espionage plot unfolding as well as gun violence and murder. Another aspect of the film that falls out of these categories is the watchful spotlight looming above the city, setting a tone for a more action filled movie.

     Casablanca, due to its propaganda purposes, can be overlooked as a work of art. The movie is based of the stage play Everybody comes to Rick’s. However, Curtis heeded no attention to this novel in working on the film and merely looked at pictures as a reference to the story. In other words the vast majority of this film is original and was deliberately made by Curtis to test the ideas of a romance film and become a film that encompassed a number of different genres and emotions. Not only was this artistic, but Curtis appealed to a larger audience by making the film more than what it may appear at a quick look. The movie won three academy awards and even to this day is recognized as one of the best films ever.