Film Analysis was my first class in Spring Semester 2020. When this class ended in mid-March, our world was about to spiral down into a pandemic lockdown that has done more to change the political structures and the psychologies of global citizens than any other event in my lifetime. This was one of my favorite classes. It was a classic evaluation of analyzing the context of motion pictures and how their unique visual form of artistic expression can be discussed. My professor was the best one I had during my Master’s classes. He had a nerdy and intellectual understanding of the industry that was much appreciated. With this essay, we are going to study the positives of the class and a handful of negatives. Like the two earlier classes discussed here and here, you start to see a pattern on how these classes that are supposed to be based around the idea of critical thinking, analysis and educational study quickly morph into reading articles on social activism and extreme politically left-wing thought.
Like the previous classes, the early weeks of the class actually study the content which the course describes. The first two weeks are the introduction to film analysis and a discussion on film genre. As any film studies student will tell you, both of these subjects are key to any deeper understanding of the film industry. It is important to understand film analysis from a critical thinking perspective and how different individuals perceive the themes and ideas portrayed. Film genre is important because every person has particular type of films that they prefer to watch. So going over these categories as a “refresher” with the educational research attached was refreshing.
The first section of this class that led me to start questioning the content was Module 3 on Film Authorship. Later in my educational career, I actually take a class on the concept of authorship in general which will get a much deeper dive later. This module discusses the debates that the educational establishment has about the idea of authorship. It was fascinating but my first experience with social indoctrination that has nothing to do with the subject of this course occurred within the chapter of the book that was recommended to read. Film and Television Analysis: An Introduction to Methods, Theories and Approaches was written in 2015 by North Texas Film Studies Professor Harry Benshoff. This book comes back later into this course as the modules go by. The problem with the book is not his analysis. Like most educators, he makes an important point about the idea behind authorship. But this Amazon reviewer also hits the nail on the head with why I had a particular problem with his overall analysis. The book often abandons film analysis for social justice promotion. As THE GHOST OF OLD J.B. points out,
“I wanted a book on film analysis -- and got a politically fueled lecture. I'm aware that Hollywood is 99.999% "hard left", and I'm aware that most films are trying to make some sort of social, cultural, or political statement. This goes without saying if you're a movie buff. Lastly, I'm also aware that the ability to analyze film and TV has zero to do with politics, and everything to do with psychology, and being able to train your brain. I wanted a lesson on how to read into what I view in a different manner. I wanted exercises, methods, suggestions, and results. But aside from a hint of methodology, this book has very little to do with such things. So much of this book is how depictions of almost everything we see can be reduced to western imperialism, race (as well as racial supremacy) and the LGBT struggle against the oppressive "hetero-normative" patriarchy.
Frankly speaking, I feel this book suffers from an inappropriate title. Calling it "Film and Television Analysis: An Introduction to Methods, Theories, and Approaches" pales in comparison to the title it should have been given: "How Everything Written For The Screen Can Be Tied To The Evils Of America, Capitalism, Imperialism, And Straight White Men" -- Now THAT'S the book you're going to read!”
He is absolutely right with this analysis.
The educational “research” only gets worse from here. During Module 4 on ‘Gender and Film’, the second paragraph of the article, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema written by Laura Mulvey begins like this.
“The paradox of phallocentrism in all its manifestations is that it depends on the image of the CASTRATED WOMAN to give order and meaning to the world. An idea of woman stands as lynch pin to the system: it is her lack that produces the phallus as a symbolic presence, it is her desire to make good the lack that the phallus signifies.”
Do you think it is going to get better from here? Well, if you are in the mood to read about sexual organs, than Yes. If you are looking for a psychological analysis of a film not based in ridiculous Freudian concepts and simplistic thought patterns, than the answer is No. The problem with analysis like this is that it subjects the idea of ALL OF FILM HISTORY into a concept that woman exist to satisfy the ‘male gaze’ which men appreciate and allows them to protect or sympathize with that woman and become heroes through virtues like honor or sacrifice to prove their good nature. Like many educational articles, it is filled with words that make the author appear intelligent like fetishistic scopophilia and psychoanalytic terms (Dear God, Freud again!). Castration is written WAY TOO MANY TIMES. Her film analysis picks and chooses films that fit into her point of view. She completely dismisses the concept that while women maybe on screen to be objectified by men (See any Michael Bay movie), this is still a small minority of the actual films that are being produced. The word “fetish” appears a lot because all men apparently have one. The article is feminist bullshit that engages more in attacking masculine culture than doing any actual film analysis.
Module 5 is on Race and Film. The article assigned was called “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. This module was actually very interesting. The documentary 13 by Ava Duvernay opened my mind to ideas I had never considered about the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that led to the ‘freeing’ of the slaves. This article is absolutely correct about the evils of the Drug War and how it has led to more incarcerations of African Americans than any other race. Her analysis of the Republican Party in the 1970s and 1980s using the fear of “blacks” with a new ‘get tough on crime’ Southern Strategy is based on historical truths. She also puts the blame where it belongs, on the U.S. government instead of our present-day fixation on individual actors who have become the “terrorists” of the 21st Century. Mentioning the fact that Bill Clinton of the Democratic Party also ran on “tough on crime” laws is also an important analysis. But I disagree with her on two important points. First, she said this is a symbol of a racial caste system. This is where her argument loses some of its legitimacy. If this was the case, why are poor rural people of different race also targeted heavily by the police? To me, this is more of a class-based problem than a racial one. Second, what the hell does this have to do with film analysis? There is not one mention of a film inside of the article. Am I reading a well written treatise on the evils of the drug war and the impact it has had on African Americans or am I reading an article about how these injustices are portrayed on film? Unfortunately, it is the first one. This article would be more appropriate for ethnic, anthropological or political studies. Why it was put into my film analysis class is a question I cannot answer.
The sixth module was fascinating. For this one on Immigration and Film, two articles were assigned. The first was “From Immigrants to Ethnics: The Italian Americans” by Humbert Nelli. This was a deep historical look into the economic and cultural reasons why Italians started fleeing their homeland and coming into the United States. While the article is an interesting historical analysis, it was probably more appropriate for a history class than a film one. But the background is given to explain the film that was assigned in this module. Nu0vomondo which was released in 2006 is a fictional historical film about an Italian family’s journey to the new world of the United States in the early 20th Century. Like Duvernay’s 13, this was the only other movie assigned during the class that I had not previously seen. The film is a fascinating look into a historical time that is not often shown in films. The educational article attached comes from the novel by Barbara Alfalo called “The Mirage of America in Contemporary Italian Literature and Film.” Specifically, it focuses on three films: the above mentioned Nuovomondo, the documentary The Last Customer and the novel Vita. This article actually does dive into a proper film analysis of the aforementioned film above. The quote that America is an “ideological mirror” reflects many of the dreams that immigrants felt upon imagining their new lives in the U.S. The United States will reward you through your own hard work and self determination.
So Part 5 did not have some of the same ridiculous over-the-top ridiculous research as the previous module examined in Part 4. Counting the one egregious exception, the biggest problem was the need to explain historical circumstances or social justice problems inside a research article instead of actually analyzing film which was supposed to be the purpose of the class. This is also the reason why you are starting to see the backlash against this type of teaching. No matter what type of “studies” class you take, it all seems to point in one ideological direction.
Until next month! Enjoy!
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