My video essay is a montage of movie characters watching movies, exploring film’s meta-relationship to itself. In other words, my video essay examines how cinema writes itself and imagines its spectators. In these clips, a film shows characters watching movies and being affected by them. I established several parameters for finding and choosing clips. First, I selected films that depicted its characters watching movies in the theatre space itself, not at home on the television. I did not want to show film characters watching television shows. Also, the characters are watching real films. A number of movies employ the device of characters watching a fictional movie, such as Inglorious Basterds or Last Action Hero. The Purple Rose of Cairo does use this as well, but I am showing the scene where she watches Fred Astaire’s Top Hat. Establishing these limitations allowed me to specifically focus my video essay on certain aspects.
The first part of the montage is characterized by the theatre as a trapped, oppressive space. I use Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear, Taxi Driver and Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko. Cape Fear and Taxi Driver share performances by Robert De Niro where his character attempts to keep the other characters within the uncomfortable theatrical space. In Taxi Driver, De Niro brings his date to a pornographic film. His, date , a straight-laced Republican is disgusted by these graphic depictions of group sex and leaves. In Cape Fear, a family outing is disrupted by Max Cady, the father’s enemy. They are seeing John Ritter’s Problem Child, a wholesome family comedy. Max infiltrates the nuclear family’s innocent day out with his raucous laughter, intentionally ruining their day. They can either remain trapped or leave, letting Cady win. The pressure is too much, and the family soon walks out. Donnie Darko, on the other hand, presents The theatre becomes an otherworldly space in which his inner demons trap him. The cinema screen becomes a literal portal into another world, a symbolization of what many describe cinema as.
The second section shares characteristics of male and female spectators sharing the cinema space in romantic pursuit. In The Great Waldo Pepper, Diner, and The Outsiders the male spectators are distracted by the female spectators, who are enamored with and watching the film. Both Diner and The Outsiders depict teenage or young adulthood in the 1950s as uninterested spectators more interested in socializing. The male characters all try to push the romantic boundaries with their female dates. Clips from How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Just Friends address the idea of female spectatorship. Within these romantic comedies, the gender binaries of film-going are made clear. In How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days they are watching Sleepless in Seattle, and McConaughey says that it is his favorite film. Kate Hudson is perplexed by this, since Sleepless in Seattle has been designated as “chick flick,” no real man would or could like this film. In Just Friends, they are seeing The Notebook, one of the most prevalent modern weepie. The joke in Just Friends is that the male Ryan Reynolds’ character is competing for the affection of a girl with the kind of guy who can relate to a woman because he is sensitive enough to enjoy The Notebook. Both How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and Just Friends perpetuate the ideal that male spectators should remain steadfast in their masculinity and remain unaffected by these “lesser” female sentimental melodramas.
The third section depicts cinematic affect at its most heightened and romantic. These are the cinephiles at their most enraptured, men and women of all ages. This is signaled formally through their framing. They are often alone, and even if they are next to someone their body fills the screen. Physically, their eyes are wide, fixed firmly on the screen, mouth agape. These spectators are in no way distracted. The sequence of The Green Mile demonstrates how films have personal meanings and are interwoven into time and personal history. Before he dies, this character wants to watch his favorite film one last time. The film is incredibly important to him and an experience he must have once more before his final hour. The framing of this scene, such as the light of the projection superimposed on his body, suggests this strong unity between person and filmic experience. The smoke rising and swirling within the projection’s light gives off a heavenly glow, framing his head like a halo, romanticizing the film-going experience while signaling his impending death. The clip from Public Enemies depicts mimetic affectation as Johnny Depp’s character, a gangster, looks to Rhett Butler as a model of his masculinity. In the subtlest of gestures, Depp tilts his head in tandem to Rhett Butler’s on screen. Cinema Paradiso is a love letter to cinema, and perhaps the strongest and most memorable example of the love of cinema, or cinephilia. The film ends on a spectator weeping at cinema’s exquisite beauty and its magical depiction of a simple kiss.
By joining a variety of films, which span across different genres, languages, and film eras through montage juxtapositions, I wish for the viewer experience the unity and the joy that the movie-going experience and cinephelia brings, especially demonstrated in the last sequence. The viewer, like the characters within the film who are enraptured by what is up on the screen, should mimic that sense of appreciation and wonder for the cinematic apparatus’ power of expression. While I have offered my explanation for putting together the video montage, it is up to the viewer to interpret it for themselves. This is not a video essay in the sense that it uses voice over illustrates a piece of writing, it is more of a montage and a super-cut, albeit with a thesis behind it. I hope that others can view this and feel their love for cinema as much as I do.
By Caroline Madden
Caroline hails from the home state of her hero Bruce Springsteen. Some of her favorite films are Amadeus, King Kong, When Harry Met Sally, Raging Bull, The Godfather, Jaws, and An American Werewolf in London. Her absolute favorite will always be The Lord of the Rings trilogy. 70s/80s era Al Pacino and Robert De Niro are her faves. She blogs even more about her film obsession at cinematicvisions.wordpress.com.