Far From Heaven vs. The Blind Side

Ideology can be defined as a system of beliefs, values, and opinions. More in depth, our textbook, Film: A Critical Introduction, states, “Ideologies shape the relationship between an individual and culture, influencing ideas about family structure, gender and sexuality, faith, the function of work, and the role of government, among other things” (pg. 310).  Amongst these concepts, race and social class have become a pivotal factor in many of the movies released today. One of the movies we have previously examined, Far From Heaven, displays a vast realm of beliefs and values depicted through the characters. One of the overarching principles carried out throughout the course of the film is the intertwining ideologies barraging the racial differences of a black and white women, as well as the barrier between their social classes. The Blind Side, directed by John Lee Hancock, is film we have not considered throughout this course, yet tackles some of the same ideologies behind race and social class as well. Although each movie relates to the same ideologies, they are portrayed in a different light throughout the plot of each individual film. In this paper, the comparison as well as differentiation between each movie will be discussed through the ideologies of race and social class.

Far From Heaven, directed by Todd Haynes, is centered around a 1950’s housewife, Cathy Whitaker, as she seemingly watches her perfect life begin to fall apart. Cathy is married to Frank Whitaker, a successful executive at Magnatech, and is depicted amongst her peers as the perfect trophy wife and asset to his company. The family maintains status through their wealth as well as the social dominance that tags along with it. When Cathy walks in on her husband having intimate relationships with another man, her world turns awry. She is filled with an abundance of emotions, including shame, and tries to cover up the incident for fear of judgement amongst her equally elite peers. With this dilemma, another complication arises. Filled with confusion and grief, Cathy finds consolation in her African American gardner, Raymond Deagan, which is considered to be social taboo in their time. Her unacceptable friendship with Raymond soon leads to a shared romantic desire for each other. Their secret relationship causes them to be socially scrutinized due to an obvious race and social barrier between the two, depicting the ideologies behind race and class.

Similar to the ideologies rooted in Far From Heaven, John Lee Hancock’s, The Blind Side, focuses on the social views of class and race as well. Based on the true story of a Baltimore Ravens offensive left tackle, Michael Oher’s remarkable story tells of a young African American boy taken in by a wealthy white family. Michael Oher is from a broken family living in the inner city housing projects and is later taken into foster care. By a stroke of luck, he is asked to play high school football, yet still insists on being homeless. Walking in the bitter cold to the school gym in which he sleeps, Michael is approached by a wealthy white couple, Leigh Anne and Sean Tuohy, whom he eventually ends up living with. In the film, the ideology behind their social stature is sometimes looked at as “better” than other classes, such as the poor inner city people that Michael once lived with. Once in the hands of the Tuohy’s, Michael is pushed to play football and ends up playing on a University level. Though Michael’s story has a positive and successful outlook, he is constantly seen having to be guided by his new “mother” throughout school and football practices. The ideology of white supremacy in relation to race is blatantly evident throughout the film.

In reference to a previous statement, ideologies are said to “shape the relationship between an individual and culture.” Both movies are centered around a predominantly high class societal setting with their own prospective relationships played out in each. Yet, these relationships as well as the outcomes that come with them are different. When incidents in Cathy Whitaker’s life force her to go against social norms, her world is, in a sense, reshaped and she is faced to deal with the consequences. This ideology of the “perfect” upper class family entails a beautiful home, modest children, and a pure and excellent marriage. Frank and Cathy feel the need to cover up Frank’s homosexual desires for fear that his business will fail if the public found out. This shows how society frowns upon anything outside of the social norm; in this case, anything outside the standards of their social class. At the end of the film, Cathy grows to accept Frank’s desires and they end up in a divorce. Frank inevitably defies social conformity and winds up with another man.

Far From Heaven challenges the standards of class by rebelling against the terms that the social class abides by; whereas, The Blind Side takes on the stereotypical social class role. Louis Althusser, French philosopher, describes ideology in terms that “individuals are always already  subjects”(pg. 106). In relation to the film, this means that we have an engraved view of certain things which tells us how the subject should be looked at based off previous knowledge. In The Blind Side, Michael Oher lives in the inner city projects. Our ideology tells us that based off this fact, he “must” be African American, poor, and from a broken family. In the movie, Michael is shown as uneducated and inferior towards higher classes. Ideology also tells us that because Leigh Anne Tuohy is a wealthy white woman, she “must” be humble and intellectual. In the film, she is depicted as a savior who rescues a destitute African American boy. The storyline of the movie follows the stereotypical roles that society places on different social classes. Leigh Anne is shown throughout the movie constantly guiding Michael in school work and helping him with football. By following these preconceived ideals, The Blind Side conforms to the ideology that society places on social class.

In terms of race, both films play the role of white supremacy; yet, both films portray the subject differently. In Far From Heaven, the relationship between Cathy and Raymond proves to be a critical problem amongst their peers. A review in the Cinèaste clearly points out the racial barrier stating, “Raymond’s friends make it abundantly clear that he has stepped too far over the line. White-skin privilege means this: if Cathy’s friends ostracize her, life tragically can go on, but Raymond and his daughter face economic ruin and personal danger not only from racist whites but from their own black community” (Sklar pg. 39). When Raymond is affiliated with a white woman, his own race even attacks him. This shows the extent of this barrier between white and blacks in the 1950’s and proving them as “different”. Cathy is also seen bundled up in clothing while talking to Raymond as some sort of disguise to mask the implausible relationship between the two. White supremacy is clearly evident in a scene in which Cathy is talking to a friend, Eleanor. When Cathy tells of Frank’s homosexual affair, Eleanor is extremely comforting and non judgemental; yet, when Cathy then speaks of Raymond, Eleanor resents her and claims it is not right.

In The Blind Side, white supremacy can be shown through scenes such as Leigh Anne’s lunch date with her friends. In an article from The Village Voice, it states, “Blind Side the movie peddles the most insidious kind of racism, one in which whiteys are virtuous saviors, coming to the rescue of African-Americans who become superfluous in narratives that are supposed to be about them” (Anderson 2009). When speaking of adopting Michael, one of her friends asks, “Is this some sort of white guilt thing?” Another friend then states, “Aren’t you worried? He’s a large black boy sleeping under the same roof”, hinting that he may rape Leigh Anne’s daughter, Collins. Though this role of white supremacy is carried throughout the film, Michael Oher is not treated with disrespect, but more with acceptance, unlike Raymond. Michael is welcomed by his new siblings as well as all the people he meets and is praised for his football talents. He earns fame and spotlight when committing to University of Maryland, which would be highly unlikely back in the 1950’s. This shows the evolving ideology of race considering the backgrounds of each film. Far From Heaven is based in the 1950’s where it was highly uncommon for blacks and whites to interact, whereas The Blind Side takes place in the 1990’s, where it was undeniably more acceptable for racial integration.

The purpose of this paper was to discuss the differences and similarities between the ideologies of class and race in Far From Heaven and The Blind Side. Each film shows the social views of the interaction between different social classes as well as black and whites. Far From Heaven shows upper class having to maintain a certain social status, whereas The Blind Side takes to the stereotypical roles that society places on different classes. Regarding race, Far From Heaven depicts African Americans as unable to interact with whites, whereas The Blind Side is more accepting and integrated. Both movies display a certain set of beliefs, values, and opinions, displaying an overarching ideology in each.

Bibliography

1.) Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatus (Notes Towards an Investigation.” (n.d.): 106. Web. 14 Dec. 2013.

2.) Anderson, Melissa. “Saintly White People Do the Saving in The Blind Side.” The Village Voice. N.p., 17 Nov. 2009. Web. 11 Dec. 2013

3.) “Far From Heaven.” Cinéaste 2.2 (n.d.): 39. JSTOR. Web. 11 Dec. 2013.

4.) Wallis, Tom. Film A Critical Introduction. By Maria Pramaggiore. N.p.: Laurence King, n.d. 310. Print.

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Inception

Inception is a great example of the current concepts of film economics and modern cinema. The film had many scenes that exhibited new technology, such as the hallway fight scene with the changing gravity. Inception had an extremely high budget due to the technology and special effects. I believe Inception should be considered a blockbuster due to the advanced special effects and the extreme hype it received.

Chicago 10

Chicago 10 exemplifies the ” sex, drugs, and rock and roll” counter culture of 1968. Chicago 10 tries to show the American counter culture through the light and humorous characters and scenes in the documentary. The film is focussed around the anti- war protests stemming around the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The director, Brett Morgen, expresses this peace movement of sex drugs and rock and roll through the anti-war activists and especially through the Yippies.

Chicago 10 is put in the category of a documentary film. Although it presents some slight unconventional techniques, it is still a documentary, which serves to re-create an actual event, life story, or era. The film is based off the actual events that occurred in 1968 during the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. The Yippies, a group formed by anti-war activists, set out to spread a peaceful message about America’s opposition to war. The documentary switches back and forth between animated scenes and real scenes. The use of the animation spreads light on the topic and allows the viewers to be interested and engaged in the film.

 The use of animation in Chicago 10 was artistic and appropriate given the material discussed and the cultural moment. The film makes use of switching between real characters and animated characters. I think the use of animated characters creates a less serious tone, which in a sense can be positive. The director tries to portray the anti-war activists as non-violent and peaceful protestors, so by using animation, it gives the characters a less stern appearance. Brett Morgen took the trial scenes that were not caught on camera and re-created them in animated form, which allowed him to portray and exaggerate the emotions and feelings of the actual characters. 

 

Three Experimental Films

One of the most dominant themes in the film Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story is the feminine gender role. Throughout the film women are shown as struggling to satisfy the stereotypical perfect body image of a woman. Karen even goes so far as to starving herself  to fit this typical vision from society. The Barbie dolls shown are examples of this unattainable body image. Women look to the dolls on this display and feel as though they have to fit this image which is seemingly unrealistic. These dolls serve to hint towards the ridiculousness of society and enhance this underlying theme.

Our focus this week is avant-garde films, which are supposed to be experimental and underground. Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story uses abstract focus on objects, such as seeing the dolls rather than real people, making it an unconventional Hollywood film. Another avant-garde film we discussed was An Andalusian Dog. This film goes against the has no traditional narrative, which does not conform to typical Hollywood films. In the film Meshes of the Afternoon, the director uses segments of dreams and reality to the point where the viewer can not tell which is which, making it a great avant-garde film.

The characters in Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story are portrayed as Barbie dolls, which hint at feminism. This bold move shows the hidden nature that women are “supposed” to look like a doll based off society, which is not very realistic. Haynes utilizes the Brechtian distanciation, or alienation effect, in his film. I think that even though he tries to put distance between fantasy and reality, the viewers are still able to identify the characters and become engaged in the film. The social message does not only relay in the movie, but also plays out in the real world. We see people today starving and harming themselves to fit this certain role that society has put on us, which in the film, eventually leads to Karen’s death.

 

Zero Dark Thirty

One of the ongoing themes in Zero Dark Thirty is the portrayal of torture. Torture was represented in such a way that many thought the film tried to show that torture “worked”, which created much controversy. Bigelow uses water boarding, starvation, and sleep deprivation in scenes to portray the wide scale torture amongst the prisoners. Using this type of torture, the oppressors hope that they will able to get answers and information to complete their goal, which is to find Osama Bin Laden.

Zero Dark Thirty stands out from other films because it is considered an “auteur” film, and even more so, Kathryn Bigelow can be considered an auteurist herself. Bigelow goes against the social convention of other films in that she is a female director while at the time males dominated the industry, and that she created an action film, whereas films were predominantly of artistic nature. Her film, Zero Dark Thirty, shows many unique techniques and methods, such as using night vision effects, and phone recordings during the collapse of the Twin Towers. Her uncommon touches make the film unique and realistic.

Zero Dark Thirty can be seen as a more nuanced statement about the moral costs of vengeance. The September 11th attacks caused those affected to become vengeful and supportive of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden. The attacks united the nation as one in creating a common factor among all involved. This common factor is the scornful feelings against the terrorists and nation who attacked us. This can be seen in Maya, who’s friend died during a bombing. Maya becomes more motivated in capturing Bin Laden than ever because the loss of her friend made the events more relatable.

Weekend

Weekend, directed by Jean-Luc Godard is a comedy that tells the story of Roland and Corinne, a married couple. While each of them are having affairs, they plot to kill each other. With Roland and Corinne driving to see Corinne’s dying father in hopes of claiming his inheritance, the film escalates quickly to violent car accidents, one of which they were in. The camera shows bloody bodies and damaged cars. Godard uses fake violence done to people and real violence done to animals. This could be used to show his realization of the dominance that humans have acquired over the past generations.

Jean-Luc Godard’s film making design can be seen to contrast traditional Hollywood film making. Weekend contains no real plot and lacks a depth in character, which goes against the typical Hollywood films which are known to invite the audience into the films focus. I feel that Godard’s goal was to intentionally go against the social norm with his use of unrealistic themes, disoriented music, lack of goal oriented characters, and not so great acting.

The audience is somewhat alienated by Jean-Luc Godard’s film method in Weekend. He does this to show his artistic ability in other areas through the use of his odd music and acting techniques. Usually in a Hollywood film, the music should relate to the different scenes and emotions of the character but Godard goes against this and throws in irrelevant and chaotic sounds to get a different point across. This can be seen in the scene when Corinne is talking about her sexual experiences on the beach. For such a deep scene, the music should be more lax and low but in the film the sound is chaotic and loud, sometimes even overriding Corinne’s voice.

Far From Heaven

One of the most dominant themes portrayed in the movie is heterosexual supremacy. As shown in the film, Frank and Cathy are the “perfect” couple, idolized by many especially in Frank’s business inquiries. Yet, Frank has been keeping a secret from Cathy that he has had homosexual relations before. Homosexuality in the movie is portrayed as some type of sickness, and Frank resorts to doctors and therapists to help treat it. Cathy also looked at it as curable and supported Frank, constantly telling him he will get better and telling him she is proud of him for seeing a doctor. Cathy hid it a secret from her friends, for being homosexual would be seen as embarrassing. Modern views today say that homosexuality is not a disease nor curable, which is proven by Frank’s inability to love Cathy and winding up with a man at the end.

Ideology can be described as a system of belief, values, and opinions. Typical Hollywood films incorporate ideological transmissions such as race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, class, and nationalism. The most dominant ideologies in Far From Heaven are race and sex orientation. The ideology regarding race is that whites are dominant and “normal”, whereas blacks were dehumanized and considered unnatural. When Raymond develops a romance with Cathy, he is ostracized, his house is vandalized, and his daughter is attacked. On the other side, Cathy’s life is also destroyed for associating herself with such a man. She was looked at as foolish and in the wrong.Frank is expected to play the heterosexual masculine role, and when having homosexual urges, feels it is an unnatural sickness. The ideology of what a man should be expected of, which is heterosexual and masculine, causes Frank as well as Cathy to look at homosexuality as socially unacceptable and needed to be fixed.

Sexual orientation and class can be shown as a correlated pair in “Far From Heaven”. Frank Whitaker is a wealthy business man struggling to keep up with the social constructions that society wants him to be. He is secretly hiding the fact that he is a homosexual man because in a high up society, being homosexual was frowned upon. Frank is an executive at Magnatech and Cathy is his “trophy” wife. They are expected to withhold the “norms” that society pins to them in order to keep up with their successful reputation. Cathy and Frank try to hide his problem from the public for fear of damaging their reputation, and instead of acknowledging and accepting it they try to fix it by seeing a therapist. The negatives seen in homosexuality compared with the expectancy in someone’s class go hand in hand in “Far From Heaven.”

Casablanca

In the film, Casablanca, one theme that readily comes to mind is the difficulty of neutrality. The movie takes place in the midst of World War II when the U.S took a neutral stance. This had an effect on the characters in such ways as Rick not even talking about the war or politics anymore. As the U.S abandons neutrality in December of 1941, Rick has a shift in his views due to his increasing sympathy for the Allies. Another example is Ilsa’s torn love between the two men who love her, for she wants to be neutral between them. When finally having to choose between Rick and Laszlo, she makes Rick choose. Casablanca shows to prove that neutrality is unsustainable.

In Casablanca, Michael Curtiz utilizes several different genres. Directors commonly use multiple genres in their works to appeal to all audiences, but what makes Curtiz unique is that he mixes the genres together instead of just bouncing to and from different genres. He incorporates works of war, romance, adventure, propaganda, documentary, and so on together to create a constant mixing and mashing of genres. This method keeps the audience intrigued in the film while also making the film noteworthy.

I believe that Casablanca epitomizes the conventional gender roles in Hollywood. The film portrays Rick as the strong American male who is never faulty in his actions.  Ilsa, on the other hand, is traditionally considered wrong to have gone behind her husbands back. This film shows Rick as predominantly dominant over Ilsa’s say, just how traditional Hollywood films usually would appear. Also, the film shows flashbacks of Rick’s life while never showing any of Ilsa, which shows Rick’s superiority over her female counterpart.

Apocalypse Now: Sounds Design

In Apocalypse Now, one of the major themes is how in face of war, a person becomes severely effected. Willard and the PBR team become stressed and detached from reality as they move up the river. Each experience their own mental breakdown. After coming in contact with a tiger, Chef’s temper becomes shorter and he begins relying on drugs to cope. Lance resorts to drugs and wearing a mask, showing that he has had an overall change. Willard, who has already fought in Vietnam, becomes aggressively obsessed with finding his target and Chief breaks down after Clean is killed; all the characters have gone mad from the effects of war.

One reoccurring feature which plays a huge role in the set up of the movie is its sound. In the opening scene of the movie the song, The End is playing. This may confuse people, but the director uses it to show the end of Willard’s viewpoint on war. The ceiling fan which turns into the distorted sound of the helicopter blade symbolizes what Willard is hearing. We have also learned that voice overs play a huge role in presenting needed information abut the plot and characters. These voice overs are important in developing the plot as well as characters. Although a lot can be said from the boisterous sounds of the film, more importantly are the silent portions of the film. The silence in the temple is not to be confused with peacefulness, but instead a foreshadowing of Willard’s insane commands.

One common argument regarding the film is whether or not the counterculture of the time period influenced the radical switch in mind set and protesting leading to the end of the Vietnam War. I personally feel that the events that occur in Apocalypse Now demonstrated how the counterculture of the 1960’s-1970’s played a pretty relevant role in putting a stop to the war. Some may say that the counterculture was simply to enforce another materialistic American culture on the Vietnamese, but through the desires and  escapes we see Willard and his crew go through, I can say that the 1960’s-1970’s relation to sex, drugs, and rock and roll got to the characters. We see Chef and Lance abusing the use of drugs in one scene, the same type of drugs that were used to promote peace instead of warfare. With soldiers even leaning more towards the peaceful side, this caused citizens back in the US to revolt, initially ending the war.

Psycho and Editing

Psychology is seen to play a large role towards the end of the movie. After motel innkeeper, Norman, was found guilty of killing Marion, he was quickly arrested and questioned. At the end of the film, a police psychologist gives a full psychological profile of Norman. He goes to tell that Norman and his mother used to be extremely close, almost dependent on each other for company. When his mother got a new boyfriend, Norman became jealous and killed his mother and her boyfriend. After the killing, Norman became “psycho”, dressing as his mother and actually believing he was her to keep her memory and presence alive.

Alfred Hitchcock’s use of editing in Psycho was seen to cause a shift in the way people view and utilize the power of editing. At some points in the film his brilliant use of editing cause a scene to be more exaggerating and provoke more of a reaction from the audience. One of the most famous scenes, the shower scene, is shot in about thirty or so different frames. These short cuts and disorientated angles give the audience of sense of Norman’s crazed behavior. Another great example of Hitchcock’s use of editing is when Norman carries his mother down the stairs. He uses an over head shot to not only juxtapose two shots but also to disorientate the viewer and confuse them.

Alfred Hitchcock took a huge risk in killing off his woman protagonist towards the beginning of Psycho. It was very uncommon for movie producers to kill off what is seen as the “focal point” of the movie, but maybe it is to get the audience to focus more on a different character. At first Marion is seen as the main character of the film, but by killing her off the viewers allow themselves to focus on a more important character, such as Norman. Alfred Hitchcock gives the movie industry a new way of providing a movie with more suspense.