Monday, September 23, 2013

Invasion of the Body Snatchers- 1956- Directed by Don Siegel

           Created in a time of intense paranoia due to the cold war, Invasion of the Body Snatchers seems to capture a tension amongst Americans, a tension that was encouraged by propaganda and impending threats of national takeover. Set in the town of Santa Mira, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a classic science fiction film that does what good sci-fi movies do; invade our fears and minds to visually portray our nightmares before us on the big screen. Opening scene, a hysteric man pleading with doctors to listen to him because he is not crazy, eyes bulging with sweat covering his face, he also claims to be a doctor. This scene sets the tone right away, drawing us in to the chaos of the moment, then the film cuts to the set up. We are taken back to a few days prior, where we learn that the hysterical man is indeed a doctor, Doctor Bennell is returning home after attending a conference to find out that the people of Santa Mira have been impatient to see him. He eventually finds out that some his patients have a growing concern regarding some of their own family member, they claim that they are not who they seem to be; a child in fear of his mother, a wife certain that her husband is not her husband, however, their appearances are not altered in any way. Dr. Bennell is skeptical at best and doesn’t quite know how to deal with his situation. Later the doctor is on a date with an ex girlfriend Becky Drescoll, who just so happens to have a similar situation as other Santa Mira citizens, in that she fears her uncle is not himself. Their date is interrupted when there is a report of a miscellaneous body found in a home. The doctor and his date arrive to the house, where he examines the body, a motionless being with no distinct physical features. Very curious, so the doctor has the residents keep an eye on the body over night and ask them to call him if anything strange happens. And of course something strange happens; the body takes on the likeness of the man in the house, taking over his life upon falling asleep. The doctor is made aware of the situation and now accepts that the problem is very real. Dr. Bennell attempts to contact the authorities but has no luck in that all the phone lines are busy.  Later the doctor and Becky visit a friend’s house where he discovers large seedlings in a green house that start to hatch and grow into human forms that resemble Becky, himself and the man and wife of the house. It’s time for action, the doctor plans to escape town but winds up trapped in his office by some of the citizens who have now been converted to their new self. They attempt to convince the doctor and Becky that converting is no big deal and that they should stop resisting the inevitable and just fall asleep so that their bodies can be taken. The doctor and Becky attempt to escape town again, this time they are being chased down by an angry mob of invaders, they get away for now into a cave along a mountainside. In a moment of poor decision the doctor leaves Becky in the cave in order to see if the invaders were close, she falls asleep and is converted. The doctor eventually escapes the mob and makes it to the crowded freeway, screaming and yelling all over the place about the impending danger of the invaders. He is brought to a hospital and what to you know, we are right back at the beginning and Dr. Bennell is pleading with the other doctors to listen to him. Whether the doctors believe him or not the invasion has begun and fear has taken over Dr. Bennell.

Invasion of the Body Snatchers drops the viewer right into the madness and then builds up a convincing story about alien invaders taking over the planet one person at a time through seedlings that hatch and morph into a person’s likeness. A slow take over that blows up into an epidemic causing mass hysteria and chaos. Not an easy plot to film and make believable but this film was completely enjoyable and even fun at times. The sets and actors weren’t over done and campy, in fact it all blends nicely, adding to the believability factor of the film. Like some of the other films we have watched in this class, the premise of mob rule comes into play, this time however it was to convert a character not kill them, it is the fear of being outnumbered or outnumbering that has become a tool that is effective in these movies, it provides an us versus them aspect that the viewer can grab on and relate to. Another interesting aspect of this movie was the direct interaction and dialog with the audience, at times Dr. Bennell provides insight through an overdubbed narrative or looks intensely into the camera to make eye contact with us as if we are right there with him. Overall, Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a great science fiction film that addresses a lot of deeper social issues and fears of the time, disguised as an alien invasion film.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Atomic Café- 1982- Directors- Jayne Loader, Kevin Rafferty and Pierce Rafferty

           Fear is a very powerful tool and at the dawn of a nuclear revolution during the cold war the United States attempted to stay one step ahead of its adversaries by creating and expanding the use of nuclear weapons, arms capable of destruction previously unseen in recorded history.  The unknown nature of the new nuclear beast left many soldiers and citizens with questions and concerns on the after effects of nuclear exposure. So throughout 3 decades the United States pumped out military and civilian, nerve calming propaganda films and cartoons to reassure that although there were apparent dangers associated with the use of nuclear weapons, including the use of these weapons on the U.S by enemies like the Russia, that safety after exposure to nuclear radiation could be obtained. The truth was that nobody really had any truthful idea of what these aftereffects really included. The Atomic Cafe collages these propaganda films, television shows and news reels from the 1940’s through 1960’s and portrays an over confident, young nation determined to police the world with elements of fear and total destruction; creating an international sense of “if you’re not with us, you are against us”. The film shows U.S propaganda cartoons aimed towards informing children in a fun way on what to do if you hear or see “the explosion”, a “Duck and Cover” cartoon with a playful turtle that retracts into his shell when he hears the bomb go off. It is the use of clips like “Duck and Cover” that gives us an understanding of just how well the U.S kept its own citizens in the dark while mentally guiding them into an ignorant sense of national pride. A personal favorite propaganda campaign ran by the U.S during this time is one that encouraged citizens to keep their mouths shut, a loose lips sink ships type campaign that established a type of paranoia that one of our own neighbors or fellow citizens could be a spy for our enemies and working against us. Another interesting aspect of The Atomic Cafe is how the U.S used fear and paranoia amongst the population in order to expand production and consumerism, for instance a family would definitely need to buy a lot of necessary supplies for their fallout shelter in order to keep their family safe and fed while the world outside is being destroyed by the demonic hand of the enemy.

The Atomic Cafe is a very interesting documentary with a sole purpose of exposing the public to the unspoken elements of fear and paranoia implemented onto the citizens and soldiers by the United States during the era of the cold war. These real life happenings almost seem movie-like due to just how absurd some of these scenes are today, for example the part of the film where U.S soldiers are out in the field advancing towards the nuclear bomb detonation site seconds after detonation just seems insane. Because it is! It seems unreal that some of the aspects of the documentary actually happened and really provides eye opening content that leaves you questioning the government and its decisions to this very day. Overall, The Atomic Cafe is a great documentary that uses the absurdity of ignorance, fear and destruction to effectively demonstrate just how hazardous the U.S and the world can be to its self and its own wellbeing.    

Monday, September 9, 2013

Frankenstein- 1931- Director James Whale

The desire to create a new life consumes Dr. Henry Frankenstein, his plans to reconstruct the new life out of the remains of the dead pushes him into seclusion, away from his family and bride to be. Dr. Frankenstein and his assistant Fritz, go as far as digging up a corpse from a freshly buried grave site and go on to steal an abnormal brain from the University. Dr. Frankenstein is obviously determined to get the human remains by any means necessary. His odd behavior and seclusion strikes a growing concern amongst his family and friends, so his fiancé and friends decide to show up unannounced to Frankenstein’s lab. To add to the tension it just so happens to be on the dark and stormy night Frankenstein is preparing his collaged corpse to rise from the dead, as Frankenstein is about to begin the process they knock on the door and demand to come in, out of the storm. After failed attempts to convince him to come back home they begin to call him crazy. Dr. Frankenstein decides to show them just how crazy he is and begins to raise the puzzle piece cadaver into the stormy night sky allowing the lightning to dance with the corpse for just a few moments. Upon lowering the body everyone can see the hand begins to move and Dr. Frankenstein screams “It's Alive!” Shortly after Dr. Frankenstein and Fritz attempt to confine the monster in a locked room, Fritz scares the monster with a lit torch and the fear of harm seems to change the monster’s behavior. It is from this point on the monster becomes harder and harder to control, even over powering Fritz and killing him when left alone with the monster. Dr. Frankenstein seems to realize that the monster must be destroyed and attempts to drug him in order to kill it. Believing that the monster is dead Dr. Frankenstein goes back home to get married, he soon learns that the monster not only survived but escaped the lab and has been terrorizing people along the riverside, even killing a little girl by throwing her in the river. Soon the monster finds himself in the Frankenstein residence and is eventually face to face with the doctor at a nearby mountainside, they begin to fight and even with a torch, Dr. Frankenstein is knocked out. The monster carries Dr. Frankenstein to the top of a windmill and throws the doctor off the windmill but the doctor has his fall broken by one of the windmill blades. It is around this time that an assembled mob of citizens looking for vengeance on the monster that killed the little girl show up, they help Dr. Frankenstein while starting to burn down the windmill with the monster a top of it. There is a great shot of the windmill burning in the distance at this point and it feels like the moments after a storm, a clutter of devastation with an overtone of solace. The final scene is quite strange; it is a shot of the Frankenstein maids are bringing a resting Dr. Frankenstein a glass of wine to celebrate but the glass is then intercepted by Baron Frankenstein, Dr. Frankenstein’s father, and then they toast to the future. The end.

Frankenstein is a short and to the point film that dives into the oddities of post mortem context and excites our imagination when the cadaver is brought to life with a mixture of science and circumstance. This adventure into the unknown is exciting and terrifying, the disclaimer at the beginning of the film is a nice touch that not only builds up anticipation and sets the viewer up for a scare but also gives us insight now into just how cutting edge this movie was in 1931. The film as a whole is well shot with interesting set designs and costumes that help visually tell this tale, and the cast is strong with Boris Karloff as the monster. Overall it is easy to see why Frankenstein has become such an iconic horror/ science fiction movie; it simply takes us into the mysterious and unknown while giving our imaginations and psyches plenty to play with.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Metropolis – 1927- Director Fritz Lang

Metropolis, a silent science fiction film set in the futuristic city of Metropolis, a robust city buzzing with prosperity and technology. Skyscrapers, flying cars, monorails, it’s all there, but Metropolis has a dark side. Deep below the shiny façade of Metropolis lays a mechanical beast. Huge gears, motors, cogs and lights that are constantly demanding the attention of a human’s touch. The sets used in this film are creative and add emphasis to the uneasy, futuristic feel of the movie, the shots and angles are well coordinated and make for effective imagery throughout the film. The monotonous tone of the workers slowly but rhythmically shuffling their feet into and out of the machines, visually depicting individuals becoming products of the machine remains a relatable and effective tool that resonates well into modern day.

Metropolis stands as a city divided, Workers man the machines and live below the city, they turn the knobs and bolts, remain poor even though they work 10 hour shifts drenched in manual labor; they are not seen as individuals but as replaceable parts of the machine. Then there are the Suits, white collar, business types that live a much different life, they have money, they are clean, well dressed and live in a state of fear, fear that they may be demoted to a worker status. The one thing the that these two groups share is the fact that they are all are under the command of one very powerful man, Joh Fredersen, the pseudo king of Metropolis. The separation of rich and poor is so vast that Fredersen’s own son Freder is completely unaware of the conditions the workers live in and finds himself in the belly of the beast after falling victim to temptation upon seeing an attractive young lady whom he attempts to follow. Freder’s unexpected visit to the machines is eye opening, as he witnesses workers sacrifice their lives to the seemingly blood thirsty machine. The special effects used in this particular scene of the machine taking on a demonic form and eating sacrificed workers to relieve pressure must have been terrifying in 1927, not so much in 2013 but still very impressive and effective for the time.  After witnessing such a disastrous event Freder pleads to his father to do something about the workers conditions but refuses to take any action. Freder’s compassion towards the workers overwhelms him and he vows to take action however possible all the while attempting to get closer to that enticing woman. Freder goes back down to the machines and takes the place of one of the workers and discovers a paper with a map.  Joh Fredersen takes notice of his son’s actions and has him followed, discovering the same map that his son found, Fredersen seeks the advice of an inventor named Rotwang. The map leads to the discovery of a brewing revolution by the workers that are being lead by Freder’s love interest, Maria who insists to the workers that a mediator will arrive shortly to help bring solidarity between the two groups and insists that they remain patient. Joh Fredersen insists to Rotwang that he must make his newest invention, the Machine-Human, resemble the likeness of Maria and destroy her reputation amongst the workers. Rotwang uses Joh Fredersen’s moment of weakness against him and implements his own sinister plan to destroy Freder. Maria is kidnapped and is subjected to an electro shock procedure in Rotwang’s lab that replicates her appearance onto the Machine-Human. At this point there is another interesting use of concept and imagery, the use of geometric compositions in the frame provide a very surgical and precise tone during the transformation of the robot into human; it is intense and suspenseful, full of flashes and special effects. Shortly after the transformation is complete chaos ensues as Rotwang’s plan starts to come to fruition. The workers are raised into frenzy because of robot Maria’s speech inciting the workers to revolt and destroy the machines, the workers indulgently start to destroy and dismantle the Heart of the Machine leading to a back up of pressure that begins to flood the chambers of the machine along with the streets of the underground. Amongst the chaos Freder and the real Maria gather the children of the workers and abandon the crumbling city just in time. Freder and Maria are met by the enraged crowd and assure them that their children are safe, and redirect crowd’s rage towards the robot Maria who mislead the workers in the first place. The crowd finds the robot Maria and burns her at the stake like a witch, revealing her robot body to everyone. This is the point of the film where the pace of the movie really picks up and provides emphasis to the rushing of the ongoing mob rule of destruction. Freder ends up fighting Rotwang at the top of a building, where Rotwang eventually loses his balance and falls to his death. Freder serves his purpose as mediator and reveals the final message of the story, the interpreter between the head and the hands is the heart; the head being the father, the hands being the workers and the heart being Freder.

This film was interesting for many reasons, while dealing with science fiction themes that seem to tap into our imaginations such as human eating machines and human-like robots, Metropolis also addresses social dilemmas such as large financial gaps between the rich and poor, how the poor are treated in social settings along with the ramifications of a mob rule social uprisings. The story of Metropolis taps into social and technological fears, which holds prevalent and thought provoking to this very day. Metropolis is abstract while remaining tangible, it provokes the imagination while staying planted in reality, it plays perfectly with the science fiction theme of taking something too far, bending it until it breaks and dealing with the aftermath.