Monday, September 15, 2014

Answers to Questions by Joey, Paloma, and Jiny

3.  Williams says that David Griffith, creator of "Birth of a Nation," is often considered the father of American cinema, and that his racism is seen to detract from otherwise impressive work that greatly advanced movie-making.  Precisely what advancements did Griffith make that were so important to cinema?  Do you think they can be separated from his politics and viewed as admirable, or do you believe racist rhetoric was an essential and fundamental part of his success? - Joey

While watching Birth of a Nation, I could definitely see how advanced the film was for its time, in regard to technology and cinematography. There are many ways in which Griffith's film advanced film and cinema in Birth of a Nation; for example, the Jesus figure appearing to come out of the crowd at the end of the movie was particularly notable, using 3D-esque technique and a color sequence, which is extremely impressive for 1915. I would also argue that his controversial/racial statements were advancements in cinema. The film was made only 50 years after the civil war, when many directors/writers had not yet written about that time period. 

I would agree with both of Joey's remarks: both that Griffith's politics can be put aside and Birth of a Nation would still be a remarkable film for its time and also that his racism/controversiality was crucial to his success. I don't think the film would've gotten as much press or attention if the film hadn't been so controversial or so soon after the Civil War. His racist rhetoric, while perhaps not admirable, contributed to the film's success and generated a lot of discussion and heat soon after the Civil War and prior to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s.

Williams mentions how, “melodrama has been classified in film studies as a sentimental genre for women…” (17).  Do you agree with this statement? Explain why or why not. Does melodrama appeal more to one certain gender? In addition Williams talk about the idea of  “pathos and action” (25). Do you believe that Melodrama can include both pathos and action, and how does this relate to the issue of gender? - Paloma

I would somewhat agree with Williams' statement. Melodrama is definitely feminized. Williams frequently discusses how crying is essential to melodrama's success, and quotes Franco Moretti on the "'excess' femininity of tears" (31). Crying is typically viewed of as typical for females and atypical for males, even though it is essential to melodrama (both happy crying and sad crying). I do not think, however, that melodrama appeals more to one certain gender. Maybe this is ignorant of me, but I think men can appreciate melodrama just as much as women. Both genders can find melodrama funny and ridiculous, even if it is emotionally feminized.

I also think melodrama definitely includes both pathos and action. Melodramatic stories swim in emotion in that they capture the viewer/reader and makes them feel for the main character (often the victimized hero). For example, I bawled my eyes out at the end of Titanic, especially at that last scene with the wedding *sniff sniff*. Melodramatic stories usually peak at the action sequence and I think melodrama needs both pathos and action to be successfully melodramatic. While I may agree in this case that the movie Titanic and more emotional melodramas appeal more to women, I also think that there are other types of melodrama that appeal to men. 

1. Is it ironic that the "villain" in Mickey's Mellerdrammer is the white clansman? Or did Walt Disney do it on purpose? This was created in 1933, a time when racism was still abundant in the country, so what message was Disney trying to get across to his audience? - Jiny

Well, Mickey's Mellerdrammer is a play on Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin. The villain in the story is Simon Legree, which is a white character in Stowe's novel. So I'm not sure that Disney did this on purpose, I think he was simply paralleling the play. However, I think there is something to be said about white characters playing black characters by putting on black face. This is also done with the actors in Birth of a Nation, and I think it was interesting that Disney decided to show the preparation process for Mickey playing Uncle Tom (blowing up dynamite and having it explode in his face, making his face black). I think Disney was, more than anything, trying to make fun of Uncle Tom's Cabin and point it out as humorous, which is why the entire play goes to pieces when the "bloodhounds" get out of control and why a lot of the actions of the characters are exaggerated. While racism was definitely still present in the country at this time, I think Disney was trying to make a satire of the play, pointing out its ridiculousness and perhaps making a statement about the country's current views concerning racism.

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