Subculture in America pt. 2

When taking the time to consider the film Absolute Beginners and its depiction of the Notting Hill riots as a kind of rock opera compared to the novel’s depiction of a darker, more somber toned version of events, we see the conflict of image vs. word. Consider MacInnes’ descriptions: “Quite decent, respectable people they seemed, too: white-collar workers and their wives, I expect, who’d probably been out to do their shopping. Well, they saw the lads get in the Spades’ car, and drive it against a concrete lamp-standard, and climb back in their handy little delivery vans, and drive away” (246). The crowds of white collar workers, quite civilized, escalating racial violence. “Then came another incident–and soon, as you’ll understand, I began to lose count a little, and, as time went on, lose count a bit of what time was, as well” (247). The narrator’s loss of time seems to be a loss of existential identity in the temporal landscape–but it is not silly. The crowd is searching for violence. For a subject to exact violence upon.

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“Well they weren’t disappointed long. Because out of the Metropolitan Railway station–the dear old London Transport, we all think so safe and reliable–came a bunch of passengers, and among them was a Spade” (247). The subject to be brutalized. “A boy of my own age, I’d say, carrying a holdall and a brown paper parcel–a serious-looking kiddy with a pair of glasses, and one of those rather sad, drab suits that some Spades wear, particularly students, in order to show the English people that we musn’t think they’re savages in grass skirts and bones stuck in their hair” (247). What is to be made of the image of this poor victim, so much in contrast to the vibrant silliness of the film’s West Side Story-ish portrayal of the Notting Hill riots?

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I remember an American movie from 1979–The Warriors–a film based on Sol Yurik’s dark novel about gang warfare. The film became a greatly exaggerated version of the book, a musical or fantasy, if you will, as the director felt no one would allow him to make a direct adapation. Hollywood lore posits violence and rioting broke out in response to the film despite its fantastic tone. Fear of glorifying gang violence on the bigscreen became a talking point in the media even though the Warriors depicted gangs of mimes on roller skates, rednecks in overalls, and a weirdo who wore beer bottles on his fingers. This fantastical version of gang warfare in New York sparked fear and debate about how violence should be depicted on screen.

Whether or not this ultimately affected the 1986 adapation of MacInnes’ Absolute Beginners is certainly worth debating, but the spectacle of seeing rioting, the imagery of gang warfare displayed as an actual dance number, allows us to wonder.

America’s subcultures in the late 70s and 80s were marked by fear and violence. Gangs prowling the urban America. To show the reality of this on the bigscreen would be to glorify it–or so people believed.

 

Works Cited

MacInnes, Colin. Absolute Beginners. Allison and Busby, 1980.

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Parallels from This is England and the United States

Watching Shane Meadows’ This is England was shocking to me because of how relevant the content of this movie is today. The movie depicted Britain in 1983, but I saw so many parallels between that society and the society that we currently live in.

Combo was able to gain followers by playing off of the fear and anger that some of the characters, especially Shaun, felt. This technique is nothing new, but it is effective and it continues to be employed throughout society. In this last election Donald Trump played off of the fears and anger that white working class America was feeling, and it worked. Many people voted for him because they believed that he would bring change for that group of people without even understanding what his policies would be. Instead, many people focused on the rhetoric that Trump used and his promises to “make America great again.” This became Trump’s slogan, but at what cost? Does making America great mean splitting up families? Does it mean denying women their rights to choose? And does it mean that the white man will continue to sit at the top with no opposition? I want to be clear that I don’t think everyone who voted for Trump is racist or misogynistic, but when Trump was elected president all of the hateful rhetoric that he spewed throughout the election became legitimized. The same thing happens in the film, especially through Shaun’s eyes. Combo took them to a rally where hateful and racist rhetoric was used, and it became validation for their actions because other people felt the same way.

I think one of the hardest scenes to watch in this film, other than Combo beating Milk, is the scene that depicts the skinheads’ violence against children who they believe are from Pakistan. Grown men threatening children because they are a perceived threat is completely unacceptable. I also thought it was inappropriate that just because of their skin color and their clothes that these children were automatically “pakis.” I think that these children could have been from any culture but that it would not have mattered. All that Combo and his group saw was that they were not white. This scene disgusted me because Islamophobia is still something very real happening today. Just the other day I read a news article that talked about the rising rate of violence against Muslims in the United States. It hurts me to know that Muslims are being targeted simply because people fear or disagree with their religion.

The realistic nature of this movie was disturbing because it still resonates in society. I have always been told that we have come so far and that soon racism is going to be a thing of the past. I used to believe that, but now I am not so sure. As I said earlier, I don’t think that everyone who voted for Trump is racist, but I do think he validated that behavior. Seeing someone who acts in that manner and spews hateful rhetoric has opened the door for people who are racist to be more open about it. This is England has so many parallels with our society that sometimes I wonder how much progress we have actually made.

This is England. Directed by Shane Meadows. Warp Films Limited, 2006.

Samantha Hudspeth

The Third Man (late response)–Meghan

Well, this is really late but I am going to post it anyway. I wrote my response in my head after class last week and I think I convinced myself that I had already posted a response (oops!). Anyway, I thought our discussion at the end of class last Thursday (when we were talking about whether or not we liked the film or the book better) was really interesting. If I remember correctly, it was about a 50/50 split between who liked the film better and who liked the book better (give or take a few votes). I would like to defend my reasoning for liking the book better (not because I thought I was under attack, but simply because I think it is interesting that the film came first and I was still a fan of the book).

Initially, for some reason, I was under the impression that the book came before the film. I think this happened because I read the prologue a week or two before I read the actual book and I completely forgot that the prologue says the film came first and was the “completed” version. Perhaps, this influenced my opinion on liking the book better than the movie–but let’s ignore that because I have some specific reasons I liked the book better. In general, I am not a big movie-watcher and prefer reading or watching short TV show episodes (this, of course, could also influence why I liked the book better).

Anyway, the main reason I liked the book better is because of the insight that we get into the character Martins. Though the film had many interesting depictions of what was going on with Martins, I really enjoyed the kind of “split personality” that was present in the book. Martins had a few different personas that he put on in the book and I thought it was hilarious that he pretended to be Mr. Dexter so he could have a place to stay for free. I felt a lot more in-sync with with Martins character and I liked that we could see what he was thinking throughout the novel.

Also, I thought Calloway was an effective narrator for the story. His narration gave the novel more of a “detective story” feel, and I thought that was kind of fun. I think having the film narrated by Calloway would have been an interesting touch, but then that would have made him a more central figure in the film than he was.

I also thought the relationship (or lack thereof) between Martins and Anna was a lot more problematic in the book. This is something that Eric discusses in his blog post Rollo’s Problematic Relationship, so I will not spend too much time here. Martins continues to make crazy rationalizations in the book on why he and Anna should be together. He does not accept her rejection and cannot come to terms with the fact she does not want to be with him. I don’t think this was as obvious in the film–and maybe it wasn’t supposed to be since the film came first.

I guess what I am trying to say is that I appreciate both the film and book as separate entities, but it is difficult for me to see them as the same story. I guess this makes sense because, ultimately, they really are different stories. I think the novel is more humorous and provides an interesting perspective of the characters. I think the film is certainly artistic and demonstrates a lot of motion and emotion that is not necessarily seen in the novel (specifically with the prater wheel scene). After reading the book, seeing the film, and discussing both in class, I am still a bigger fan of the book. As I said, I appreciate the artistic elements of the film, but I like being able to interpret the characters and visualize them in my head rather than watch them be created in front of me. Maybe this is weird.

Audience Complicity

Simon Cropp

Apparatus theory is a film theory that gained popularity in the 1960s and 70s, and while it has many names attached to it–Althusser and Lacan for example–it is Jean-Louis Baudry’s “The Apparatus” that provides perhaps the strongest singular position on apparatus theory.

The theory itself is Marxist in nature–and it maintains an audience complicity with what is seen and absorbed from the film screen. For many of the theorists who explored cinema through apparatus theory, the audience would largely be made up of the proletariat, and the film would likely have been constructed through the institutional forces of the capitalist superstructure thus perpetuating the ideological foundations of those in power.

For Baudry, the film becomes much like Plato’s allegory of the cave. The viewers are transfixed in a dark place, haunted by images on a screen they cannot fully understand, but the viewers forget themselves in this moment. They become part of what they see on the screen. No longer is the viewer his or herself, but now he is transfixed on the screen–a piece of the ideology at play (Baudry 111).

Our discussion of The Third Man in class on Thursday led me back to Baudry’s view of film and apparatus theory. The spectator as a prisoner to ideology was a powerful concept to me when I first came across it, and I consider this theory to be at work in interesting ways when Martins meets Lime at the Prater amusement park, and they take their infamous Ferris wheel ride. I searched for this theory during class, but it had been too long since I had studied it. I needed to go back and read Baudry’s article again, but as I went over the text, the connections came back.

The director Carol Reed positions the camera at the base of the wheel early in the scene, so we, the viewer, are looking up at the massive structure. This framing is very much in line with Baudry’s apparatus theory–we don’t often realize how complicit we are–as viewers–with the film’s ideological functions. Reed positions us at the base of the wheel with all of Lime’s “dots.” We don’t realize this is happening, especially if we are the intended viewer of this film–the ones who saw it originally. Locked in a dark theater with a massive screen looming in front of us.

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It is not until Reed takes us to the top of the wheel, puts us into the position of power with Lime that he subverts the ideological function of the film industry’s hegemonic role in culture. Reed’s positioning of Lime’s monologue against the proletariat, but also positioning Lime in such a negative light–literally and figuratively–creates an inverted ideological structure of the powerless assuming a role of the all-seeing eye.

In the case of this scene, and with Baudry’s apparatus theory at our disposal, what becomes fascinating, is the viewer functions as the film’s third man. We are complicit now with Martins, and whatever ideology he takes from his time with Lime is the ideology we inherit as well.

 

Works Cited

Baudry, Jean-Louis. “The Apparatus.” Communications, no. 23, 1975, pp. 56-72. Duke University PressSummon, cameraobscura.dukejournals.org.unco.idm.oclc.org/search?author1=Baudry&fulltext=The%20Apparatus&pubdate_year=1976&volume=&firstpage=104&submit=yes. Date accessed 22 Oct. 2016.