Call#: Van Pelt Library HD9970.5.C483 U655 2006
In this article, James Agee writes a review in high praise for Jean Vigo’s daring experimentation and messages of “Zéro de Conduite.” He begins by warning the reader to not watch Vigo’s film if he or she is affronted by experimentation in film and other mediums. He then mentions that the role of Vigo as artist is to simply open the spectator’s eyes a little bit wider. After a quick summary of the plot, Agee decides that full enjoyment of the film depends on the subjective perception of each viewer, and admits that he too shares many of Vigo’s “obsessions for liberty and against authority.” He then relates the ways in which Vigo’s film is a revolutionary expression, namely the lack of any sort of constructed “diagnosis and prescription,” which can be taken to mean linear plot line, as well as the “liberating force” of its whimsical, mischievous, childish humor and trickery. Agee eventually describes what he sees as Vigo’s “trick,” that being the ability to blur the distinctions between objective and subjective, reality and the fantastic, with technical style and innovation. He decides that all the “levels of reality” presented are equal in value, but interconnected, an aesthetic point of poetic perception. He makes a point of stating that he does not take Vigo’s tactics to be unconventional, but rather simply expanding the audience’s concept of film with different strategies. He reinforces the role of the audience as sympathetic to the rebellious boys, who are portrayed sentimentally as creative, wild, beautiful children, while the teachers are portrayed as grotesque caricatures of authority. The article ends as Agee mentions a few of his favorite scenes from the film, particularly the sacrilegious “slurred” motion parade of the boys out of the dormitories, which he likens to the newsreel shots of the liberation of Paris.
Although Agee may have been a biased reviewer, as he shared many of the same political instincts as Jean Vigo, his analysis of the film is nevertheless an excellent description of its subversive, anti-authoritarian tendencies. By pointing out the lack of a cohesively constructed plotline, with a problem and solution, Agee references Vigo’s truest subversive and anti-authoritarian act as not solely the content of the film, which is obviously anti-authority, but structure of the film itself. By producing a film that makes the audience feel uncomfortable about the differences between fantasy, the dreams of children, and the reality of the daily life of the school, Vigo takes an anarchist step towards questioning the basic nature of how we perceive our reality outside of the theater. Additionally, Agee deliberately mentions some of the film’s subversive content, particularly the whimsy of the students, as avowedly anti-establishment, since it is their childish humor and fancy that in fact does disrupt the alumni gathering at the end of the film, leaving the children victorious. Another specific example would be the boys’ parade out of their dormitories, a very anti-Catholic/anti-organized religion parody that subverted social and cultural norms, not just political ones. In general, Vigo's liberating portrayal of childhood instincts directly confronts the rigid, dummy establishment of teachers and adulthood.
Citation: Agee, James. "Films." The Nation. 5 Jul. 1947. 23-25.
unfortunately, I do not have the URL for where I accessed the article, but I do have a pdf copy if you would like me to send it.
Call#: Van Pelt Library--4 East--Temporary Location Annenberg PN1998.A3 W467 1983
Thompson points out that Wellman did not shy away from making drastic changes to the screen play, which was inspired by the gangster novel Beer and Blood. For instance, Wellman “loved using children to introduce his characters” (111), and insisted that the opening scene portray moments from the gangsters’ childhood. In shooting those scenes, Wellman used a combination of early 20th century stock shots of Chicago and new footage, in order to create a credible visual scene.
Most notably, Thompson points out that in directing the film, Wellman drew inspiration from his personal life. This is particularly true for the film’s infamous “grapefruit scene,” in which Tom Powers smashes a grapefruit in the face of his girlfriend. According to Thompson, Wellman was in the midst of his unstable marriage to Marjorie Crawford. Thompson recounts how each morning, the couple ate a grapefruit breakfast together, and Wellman would imagine throwing the food at her. Wellman added the grapefruit scene to the film in order to vicariously live through Powers’ actions.
Furthermore, Thompson points out that initially, Cagney was not cast for the role of Tom Powers. He was originally granted the secondary role of Matt Doyle. However, Wellman, acting on instinct and at the urging of a number of writers, including production chief Darryl F. Zanuck, became a major advocate for making Cagney into the story’s protagonist.
This excerpt is particularly fundamental to my argument. Significantly, Wellman was responsible for putting Cagney into the role of Tom Powers. As noted in other annotations, Cagney is credited with adding an intensity to The Public Enemy that transcends the screen. Without this last minute switch, the role of the main gangster would be far less memorable.
Additionally, as Thompson notes, Wellman played a heavy hand in shaping the film, taking great care to add a sense of legitimacy and believability to the gangster drama. The ability of Americans to identify with Tom Powers can be largely attributed to Wellman’s efforts. His nuanced editing engendered the empathy that viewers felt for the film’s characters.
In his article, Christopher Shannon focuses on the transformation of the Irish-American gangster in Hollywood cinema. He uses James Cagney as a model, comparing his performances in Irish-American roles to those of his contemporaries.
Shannon observes that Cagney’s role of Tommy Powers differs significantly from other Irish-American gangsters. He compares Powers to Rico Bandello in Little Caesar and Tony Camonte in Scarface, and recognizes that while Powers’ character shares a similar temperament with his cinematic peers, he is far less stereotypical in terms of substance. Instead of focusing on materialistic individualism, Powers traverses the hierarchy of the underworld due to “loyalties forged in childhood” (52).
In fact, Shannon notes the emphasis that Wellman places on Powers’ childhood, commenting that it is fairly unusual. Wellman dedicates several opening scenes to portraying Powers’ neighborhood, offering the audience a comprehensive glimpse into Powers’ background. Wellman’s “extended photo essay on a city neighborhood” (52) paints a largely negative picture of the childhood. Significantly, the shots center on beer, saloons, and Salvation Army trucks.
These initial scenes bear much significance for the argument of my paper. They are brief looks into an environment that seems to be anything but nurturing for a child. The audience is able to understand the social and psychological reasons for Powers’ gravitation towards crime. He is a product of an unwholesome environment. Essentially, to the audience, Powers is perceived as a victim of circumstance. And, because viewers are able to explain Powers, understanding him on a psychological level, they empathize with him, and feel sorrow for his ultimate downfall.
Call#: Van Pelt Library PN1995.9.G3 S65 2004
Jim Smith’s book offers analytical critiques of some of the most influential films that shaped the genre of gangster cinema. In his study of The Public Enemy, he points out the film’s unique focus on the social and economic ills surrounding American life in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Smith evaluates the psychological nature of Tom Powers, explaining that the audience is allowed to experience Powers’ childhood. He notes that viewers are able to meet Powers as a young boy, observe his familial relations and, in one scene, even catch a glimpse of an interaction with his largely absent father. Smith emphasizes the importance of this scene, claiming that the cruel beating of Powers by his policeman father is an indication of society’s fruitless attempts to force younger generations to conform.
He also comments that Powers’ introduction to the audience as a child is particularly important. The audience experiences the “formative” (33) incidents of Powers’ life. Those experiences are intended to have explanatory power, offering real rationale as to why Powers develops a somewhat hostile and rebellious temperament. Thus, The Public Enemy, according to Smith, is a film “genuinely attempting to examine the process whereby people are led into a life of crime” (33).
Notably, Smith reviews the importance of other childhood interactions, particularly the relationship between Powers and Putty Nose. According to Smith, Putty Nose guides a young Powers into a life of crime. This demonstrates that society bears some responsibility for Powers’ subsequent development into a gangster. As Smith notes, “for an individual to be responsible to his society, society must be responsible to the individual’ (34).
This piece would be particularly constructive to my paper, because it explains Tom Powers’ psychological and emotional background. The audience is able to identify with certain aspects of Powers’ childhood, and consequently, specific qualities of his character. A viewer can see him or herself reflected in Powers. Thus, significantly, Smith’s writing shows how the film’s depiction of Powers’ childhood humanizes him, depicting a gangster as an unfortunate product of his social and economic environment, rather than as a cold-hearted, removed, and unexplainable social phenomenon.
Gideon Bachmann’s interview covers several Fellini films and discusses his process in making a film. Fellini admits to often being the inspiration for the main characters in his films. He agrees that there are loose references to his life when his films are within a specific stretch of time and cover certain contexts. He says he gives to the characters in his films to establish a more accurate representation of real life. Fellini talks about fascism as a type of strain on his childhood. American films were a relief as a child, because they were a break from the lies of the church and the fascist dictatorship. He called reality “completely falsified” under fascism. As a child, he was forced to confine to the fascist ideal and lost all freedom and honesty. He had to avoid things that were forbidden. Fascism had a way over most children his age, who believed that war was the key to living and they dreamed of dying in war.
This interview puts forth Fellini’s opinions of fascism and it reveals the characters of his films as being forms of himself, throughout his life. The main character in his film Amarcord is also a loose version of himself. His distaste for fascism is evident not only in this interview, but also in Amarcord, where fascism is mocked and ridiculed for its absurdity.
Federico Fellini is recognized as one of the greatest talents in modern cinema, and author John Baxter has written a book--Fellini--about the director’s life. Critic Alan Bold analyzes Baxter’s work in this piece. Bold argues that Fellini’s popularity is a result of him incorporating a confessional-style into movie-making and he finds that Fellini fans--and he calls Baxter such a fan--are more interested in his personality, than anything. The filmmakers self-love was evident, when Sight and Sound magazine polled major international directors for a top-ten list and Fellini was the only one to include his own work in his list. Fellini once also confessed to being the inspiration for the main character in his film Eight and a Half.
Fellini was known for being a bully in his youth and he is presented as something of a terror in Baxter’s book. Fellini is described as an individual obsessed with himself and power. This power is exemplified by his dominant presence in a film. Fellini not only relates himself to the main character of Eight and a Half, but also incorporates personal sentiments into other films, such as Amarcord. Amarcord is frequently referred to as a critique of fascism, by Fellini himself and other critics, however Baxter’s book has a different analysis. Alan Bold mentions Fellini’s dabble with fascism in his youth. Fellini was a fascist at the age of 19 and drew cartoons for fascist magazines. Baxter’s book regards Amarcord to be more of a personal apology.
As the introduction to Alan Bold’s piece suggests, Fellini is in fact “as distrubed as the characters he creates”, because Fellini’s life experiences and personal reflections are precisely incorporated into his films. Fellini was known to make films based on the experiences of his life. His honest, true-to-life style in Amarcord, makes one have to believe that this is a story that he is familiar with. The main character is exposes the flaws of his characters, for failing to prevent fascism. However, we also learn from this piece that Fellini was once a fascist and felt he owed an apology. His attack on the indifference of the characters in Amarcord is also a personal vendetta with himself--the failure of his characters to see what was happening to their country, was in fact his own juvenile failure.
Discussing the film Drunken Angel, Kurosawa recounts, “As background to the characterizations, we decided to create an unsightly drainage pond where people threw their garbage” (156), which is an image that returns in Ikiru, although it has a different allegorical meaning. Many plot elements and images from Kurosawa’s films were taken straight from his life (a point made by Goodwin in his book ), and Ikiru is no different. Kurosawa says of the studio he began his career at, “Management theory at P.C.L. regarded the assistant directors as cadets who would later become managers and directors” (95). The bureaucratic elements in the management system at P.C.L., that Kurosawa criticizes, has echoes in the stagnant and immutable Japanese civil service in Ikiru.
Events from his life also influenced Kurosawa in the existential themes he deals with in Ikiru. Kurosawa recounts, in the chapter “A Horrifying Event,” an early scene from his childhood, when he and his brother walked around the city looking at the death and destruction caused by the Kato Earthquake. His brother uncomfortably forces him to look at the hundreds of dead bodies, but when Kurosawa goes to sleep, he does not have any nightmares. When the young Kurosawa asks why he didn’t have any nightmares, his brother responds, “If you shut your eyes to a frightening sight, you end up being frightened. If you look at everything straight on, there is nothing to be afraid of.” This message has deep significance to Ikiru, because Watanabe is only able to live when he confronts his cancer head on. When he lies in his bed at home and cries himself to sleep, when he goes with the writer to experience the decadence of modern Tokyo, he is, in effect, trying to ‘shut his eyes’ to the cancer and ignore its existence. Only when he faces it head on, does he realize that he has the power to give his limited life meaning. There are many other events in Kurosawa’s life that have relevance to Ikiru, because it is a film about life itself and the search for meaning in life. Kurosawa’s past offers insight into not only why the author chose to write about this subject, but also why he comes to the conclusions that he does.