Chapter 4, The Hollywood Sign; Robert B. Ray, “The Thematic Paradigm” (365-385)
One. What is the debate about films in the history of US cinema?
Either movies are an opiate to drug the minds of the masses so they are distracted from the hegemony, the powers at be, or movies are “populist” in that they champion the interests and concerns of the common man and aim to be subversive to hegemonic forces.
Americans who debate this get caught up in an either/or fallacy. The answer to the question above depends on what kind of film.
Two. What are character and plot archetypes in films?
A character archetype could be the following:
The Wise man
The Pollyannaish Do-Gooder
The Nosy Neighbor
The Needy Parasite
Man on a Quest, AKA The Searcher
Here are some plot archetypes:
Buddy films, bromances, frenemies, odd couples, and other variations
Battles between good and evil
Conquering the evil witch, stepmother, earth mother, the evil woman, the psycho woman, etc. (dreamed up by sexist patriarchs, it is suggested on page 367)
Battling the Sea Monster in Jaws, Moby Dick, The Host, etc.
The Struggle to Return Home or to Find a Home
A Battle between two more or less equal forces
Consummation, an obsession that results in death (often a love story)
A lot of these archetypes exist in the viewers’ collective unconscious and are absorbed without being articulated.
Three. What is a postmodern movie?
Postmodern refers to many things:
One, the film makes references to other films and modern cultural artifacts like the discussion of fast food in Pulp Fiction.
Two, the film makes references to the film industry or becomes self-referential in a way that creates a meta view of the film itself. By meta, we mean we are thinking about the way we are thinking about the way we are viewing the film.
Three, the film stylizes violence and romance in a way that is more ironic than sincere. In this regard, postmodern refers to an attitude, usually subversive about the conventions of our society.
Four, the film is iconoclastic in many ways including the blurring of lines between what is conventionally perceived as high and low culture. The mixing of these cultures is a trademark of the postmodern film.
Fifth, the film refutes the notion that there are new films and new images; rather, there is the deconstruction of past films and images and this deconstruction serves to give us an oppositional view of the world rather than a conventional one. By recasting existing cultural codes in new contexts, the filmmaker is double-coding (369).
Four. In what way are movies metaphors for larger cultural concerns?
Invasion of the Body Snatchers, ostensibly a monster movie, was really about the paranoia of Communist infiltration in the 1950s.
Godzilla was about our fear of the mutations that might occur in the Nuclear Era.
Five. How do we “read” the film Batman?
We must look for intentional and unintentional signs, metaphors, archetypes, and cultural signifiers.
One sign is the shift from old Jack Nicholson Joker the villain with a purpose to the new Heath Ledger Joker the Nihilist who simply wants to make people suffer for suffering’s sake. Why? Because the audience sees a world that is more evil than in past eras. And this evil is that there is money in giving to people’s hunger for seeing violence. We don’t question success as a box office hit the way we might have in the past; therefore, our increased tolerance for violence is a sign of our moral decay.
Robert B. Ray, “The Thematic Paradigm” (377)
One. What type of contradictions do Americans have that inform the type of movie characters they want to see?
Americans are ambivalent about community. They want community, but they also want radical individualism.
Americans want freedom and individual initiative, but they also want the comfort of belonging that results from conformity.
Americans want to set their roots in a place, but they also want to wander and explore the frontier.
Americans want to give that “home-cooking” friendly innocence to their neighbors, but they also want to protect themselves from The Other, the stranger, Los Otros.
Americans want to be natural, but they also want to be civilized, enjoying all the consumer trappings of the “successful.”
Two. What is the outlaw hero?
A man-child, a person who never grows up, is the preferred hero. We mythologize childhood with innocence and wisdom. We are fleeing maturity and part of this flight is the Hunger for More, a childish notion of the good life. Our youth cult makes us demonize the old man so that the Wise Old Man is now the Crazy Old Man.
The outlaw hero is a misogynist, a misanthrope, and an iconoclast. He dislikes marriage, people in general, and society’s rules. The outlaw hero embodies our anxiety about civilized life, how the conformity of it will kill us and extinguish our individuality.
The outlaw hero is afraid of many things but most of all he is afraid of himself. He is running away from himself.
The outlaw hero is a skeptic who is skeptical, even disdainful, of any ideology that is presented to him.
The outlaw hero does not adhere to any system for tackling problems; rather, he is improvisational, using ad hoc solutions for any crisis he faces.
The outlaw hero engages in the unorthodox and clashes with some superior who prefers convention. We see this dichotomy in the Sheriff and the Deputy.
The outlaw hero is a reluctant hero and often feels displaced; he is therefore a misfit.