Thursday, March 29, 2007
Films that focus on the process of production inquire about themselves and, generally, the cinematic institution the extent to which films are commodified. Ever since entertainment came to mean mass entertainment, even films became bedeviled by capitalism. Each production is funded and that being so, it has to do well at the tills in order to make returns on investment lest a non-entertaining production flops and the production may lack break-even returns. This implies that productions solely devoted to artwork may be found too eccentric to popular taste and, eventually, fail to attract viewers. Productions, then, cannot venture into experimentations as they need to appease only that which draws in an audience. The productions’ dependency on the demands of the viewers will stunt the artistic and creative growth of people behind production and entertainment will always be tied up to the requirement of raking in money more than committing the production into art.
8 ½ and Hollywood Ending, both self-reflexive films, are valuable to watch because they can somehow push the limitation of films as primarily committed to earning money. This is because the considerable experimentation self-reflexive films do to themselves is an artistic process, and yet these films can sometimes join the mainstream of films fueled by mass entertainment objective. They do not necessarily sacrifice art for lone entertainment value, although I do not have an idea whether these films did well at the box-office. Still, by the fact that they are produced with all their unconventional trends, the producers have willingly taken the risk of producing alternatives to movies today that are mostly no more than visual feasts. 8 ½ is about a womanizing director suddenly struck by an artist’s block. No matter how he tries, he cannot engage himself to create a film. This seeming pointlessness is the very point of Director Federico Fellini’s film: that even nothing may be a material to a genuine artist. It might have occurred to Fellini that even geniuses like directors may be endangered from creative barrenness, and in turning to the story of a director experiencing difficulty in the process of production, he was able to produce 8 ½. In another case, Hollywood Ending is also about a director with optical disability. It became a challenge for him to show how he envisions a film despite his visual impairment. This non-traditional plot is so removed from the those of the dominant genres we are exposed to and pay to watch. Even so, it was produced because it has a statement to tell: that reflexive films are a step ahead of the mainstream movies in that they are already nitelligently commenting on film whereas the rest are still trapped commenting on the overly-explored world at-large.
The “let’s put on a show” plot in several musicals is a movie within a movie and as such, a musical number is not only comparable to the film containing it as an artistic or creative process but also considerable as self-reflexive. A film within a film is one of the trends of self-reflexive films; that being the case, the production of songs and dances is a separate world altogether from the larger universe that is the mother film. The show to be put on is a distraction from the narrative; it is entirely removed from the plot and is a plot all its own, only less imperfect since the songs and the dances are choreographed. The production of a musical undergoes an artistic or creative process since every step of a dance or every line to be sung is a product of artistry or creativity. The musical as an inherently reflexive genre shares the same characteristics with films as being acted (since choreographed) and as being projected as an entertainment fare (since amusing to the audience). The reference to the entertainment industry makes any musical an agent of the post-industrial notion of entertainment as a commodity that must really entertain to become a box-office hit.
Jane Feuer’s “The Self-Reflexive Musical and the Myth of Entertainment” presents the ideas informing musicals with myths of spontaneity, integration and audience. The myth of spontaneity refers to things that are unrehearsed or natural, such as every instance wherein spontaneous and energetic singing in Singin’ in the Rain comes about all of a sudden in direct rupture of the plot. The episode of “Moses Supposes” best exemplifies this point in the film: Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor employs room furnishings and tools to create a dance. This is one type of an array of prodcution numbers wherein performers make use of properties within reach but may be intended for other purposes but for this particular movie end, to create the imagined universe of the musical number. In “Moses Supposes,” the room furnishings and tools were placesd there but other than for Kelly and O’Connor to dance with but used anyway since they form the material out of which the imaginary production number may be realized. Without props at-hand, they can just simulate props employing their very body as tools, just like in mimes.
As for the myth of integration, it refers to the interrelation with personal achievement with successful performances. The character of Debbie Reynolds is a starlet that’s the closest brush with fame is being the secret beloved of Gene Kelly. She cannot come out because that will ruin the onscreen romance between Kelly and Jean Hagen, who is obsessed with Kelly. However, she strikes double compensation when the scheming Hagen fails to carry the sabotage, and on the premiere night Hagen is asked to perform live before an audience, it is Reynolds who is exposed from the curtains she is kept, and is publicly revealed as the true love of Kelly. In the process, her revealed singing performance makes her a star in her own right.
As for the myth of audience, the successful performance answers a certain need of the audience. In the aforementioned singing revelation scene, it is only belated that the audience knows who the real singer is. Before that, the audience is made to believe that Hagen does not have an understudy because she dubs her own songs. The singing performance of Reynolds, finally exposed to the public, responds to the audience’ need for truth: that it is she, not Hagen, who is the real star.
Richard Dyer’s “Entertainment and Utopia” asserts that there is a utopian mechanism in musicals. He says that the narrative development is postponed so a utopian song or dance may emerge. When Kelly gets to kiss Reynolds as a proof of his requited love, he breaks into a dance almost in synch with the precipitation of the rain. He dances like crazy to the tune of “I’m Singing in the Rain,” a production number that postpones the logical progression of the narrative. The song and dance mark the opposition between the narrative and the utopian act or between the normal world (the plot) and that of a different order (the song and dance). The idea of utopia in musicals determines a feeling, an effect of utopia rather than the world as we know it: bound by laws and rules. When Kelly proceeds in his dancing even at the presence of a cop, Dyer has proven his point that the feeling that is a utopian effect on the lovestruck Kelly matters more than the normal, legal world Kelly and Reynolds inhabit.
Of the films screened in class, I like Gods and Monsters for the message it delivers: that there is a god in every artist. The structure and substance behind this film as well as all manifestations of the arts portray the genius that the artist is. The director, being the Supreme Being behind the film, possesses the freedom to create what he has in mind, and can pull it off especially for arts’ sake. The actors, while merely players, have the same liberation to interpret their roles. As such, an artist oozes with originality, and this is shown in Gods and Monsters. The abovementioned film tell that the artistic process is the making of a genius. It is the most salient form of man’s use of his God-given talent. In a loose extent, man practices his godlikeness whenever he engages in the artistic process. In Gods and Monsters, the artistic process remains generally vivid to the gay director despite the onslaught of age, which says so much of the genius that Whale was notwithstanding the silver hair.
Gods and Monsters is an artwork that refers to itself as an artwork; it describes itself as reflexive. It is self-aware, and therefore concerned with examining its very mechanisms more than the outside world. Films in particular become conscious of themselves as unweaving before an audience, as being acted, treated and directed, as being captured in celluloid, as being projected in silver screen. The film exemplifies reflexivity that showcases the manners of its construction and that the audience like us notices as self-referential.
While watching Gods and Monsters, the cinematic devices used informed me of the fact that I am watching a film. For one, the film played with genuine fiction. In the film, real-life homosexual director James Whale was shown to be the god of his filmmaking career. To go with his godness, the aging Whale was still active despite attacks of strokes. His time of shining in Hollywood was marked by absolute freedom as a creative worker, producing films that were unforgettable. At the forefront of these films were Frankenstein and Bride of Frankstein, which obtained life after creation, much like when the Frankenstein monster acquired life after a triumphant operation by Vincent Frankenstein. When people interpreted his movie, their reactions range from amusement to horror to ludicrousness, but what was important was that the artist as God was able to transmit his message in his films through the intercession of the monster.
The mise-en-abyme or frame within the frame is another device used in Gods and Monsters. This is true to the production of Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, which are real-life productions of Whale. These films within the film fit the idea of frame-within-the-frame. What’s more with these mise-en-abyme, they acquired a characteristic independent of their own creation: they have become immortal by virtue of their unforgettable status.
When a film bends back on to show its status as a mere media construct, the text that it is establish that it is authored and produced. Therefore, it is a representation. To know that Gods and Monsters is a representative reflexivity destroys the illusion of life and, thus, makes art seem more lifelike than expected. For this characteristic, I deem it the best example of self-reflexive cinema.