Topic Proposal: Blair witch project

For this Persuasive Media Analysis assignment, I would like to take a shot at the Blair witch project. The overall goal of the film, other than the ultimate death of all those filming it, is to make the audience think that the Blair Witch is an actual thing. This Movie tries to blend fiction in with reality, making the movie into more of a documentary gone wrong rather than what is it, an act of fiction. Most shots are framed in the first person and have a shaky feel to the camera to support this.

I would like to study this film in more depth to better understand the sensation around it when it came out, as it did trick a large amount of its viewers into thinking that the cast died and that the Witch is real. Hence why there are several websites explaining now that the characters are in fact, alive and were not killed by the witch

I think this film will be a perfect way of blending in what we have learned in class with a media, as it uses tools such as sound design and ‘Mise en Scene’ that we have been learning about to create a persuasive and true feeling horror.

2/25: Morris Facilitation

Morris’ article, The Anti-Post-Modern Post-Modernist, is set to be an interview between Errol Morris and Homi Bhabha. Errol Morris, a film director, is a producer of numerous documentary films that are based on non-fictional stories, such as In Cold Blood, Dr. Death, and Thin Blue Line.

One of Morris’ most notable documentary films was Dr. Death. This film talks about a physician who was sentenced to death by electric chair after being suspected for the murder of his private patients. The most interesting part of this article was that Morris interviewed the titular “Dr. Death” and was intrigued with the fact that this physician was claiming innocence, even though there were five witnesses who testified against him. Unsurprisingly, “Dr. Death” was convicted of capital murder, which further intrigued Morris to create a documentary about such a scandal.

The next documentary produced by Errol Morris was Thin Blue Line, but it was criticized by numerous film reviewers because they thought that film was more of a re-enactment of Randall Adams’ conviction rather than an actual documentary. According to Homi Bhabha, an interviewer who grew up in Bombay (home of traditional pioneering documentaries and Bollywood), Morris’ films were described to be non-fiction feature films instead of a documentary, which explained the reviewers’ criticism.

The trailer for Thin Blue Line tells the story of a man by the name of Randall Adams who shot and killed a DFW police officer, Robert Wood, and was convicted of that horrific crime. The true motive for the murder was when Adams got pulled over by Wood, he shot the officer out of fear of being confronted by the officer. So, Randall pulled out his gun and shot Officer Wood multiple times and drove away from the scene of the crime. During the introduction of the interview, Bhabha mentioned that Adams was released from prison after serving more than 12 years on death row. It was very surprising to the Dallas community, including the assistant district attorney, that Randall would be the first on death row to be released from prison because of the film’s release.

In The New York Times, Morris quoted that “if you want to believe some things, then we often find a way to do so, regardless of evidence to the contrary. Believing is seeing and not the other way around.” The film director wanted the audience to believe what they see onscreen, while watching the film. Bhabha described the director’s films to be his “disturbing works of truth, history, and art” because of Morris’ habits of wanting to produce non-fictional features onto the big screen and his idea of using cinema verite (truth cinema). For example, there are actually some people who gave up their limbs in order to collect their insurance policies, while filming Vernon, Florida. Mutilating people to look the part as a person without a limb is one step too far for a film director, which was a long time before many film producers began using green screen and CG effects. As punishment, Morris got beaten by the son of a mutilated person, thus teaching him a lesson.

Facilitation on Nicholas

by Cody Goggins

In the “Domain of Documentary” written by Nicholas, he brings forth Documentaries in order to examine them. To see what they are made of and how they are driven, viewed and used in our society. With Documentaries, they are given three formal definitions to be used and interpreted.

The first being Documentaries as an institutional practice. Essentially stating that in order for a filmmaker to get their point across by any means necessary. Even if that means manipulating the evidence in order for them to create the best possible argument. This can be seen in Katie Couric’s gun control documentary where she posses a question during an interview with several pro-gun people and there is a palpable silence in the room before the scene cuts and a revolver is being loaded. This was an example of recontextualization as in the original before editing one of the interviewees responds almost immediately. Now, it’s a recontextualization as if she allowed the interviewee to answer in her documentary it would’ve opened the door for a discussion or argument in this case but since she didn’t it was never allowed. Which in turn got her point across which is the whole point of documentaries as an institutional practice.

The second definition is through text; Corpus of Texts (as the text calls it). It revolves around informational Logic. Thus requiring a representation, argument and/or case about the purpose of the film whether it be about gun control, food shortages in 3rd world countries or teenage pregnancy and its consequences. With that being stated on how documentaries are structured in that sense it would lead to the actual documentary in 4 steps for the whole thing. 1st being the establishment of the documentary (what it’s about), discussing what it’s about in its current context in the world, the background of it, and then the conclusion where a solution is offered towards fixing the problem the documentary is about if there is one to fix at all. A great example of this being the Super Size Me documentary that we watched parts of as a class and the entirety of in our own time.

Then, of course, there are different types of Documentaries. Examples being Band of Brothers could be considered a historical documentary, while a documentary about how Trump won the 2016 election could be an informational documentary. There are many different types or “modes” as the text calls them for documentaries but they can still overlap each other and be compatible with one another. The two examples just used are an example of that. Both historical (although recent history, it is still history for one of them) and both informational. Link below for the Trump doc.

The final definition is through the viewers. How our psychology when watching a documentary and how that is exploited by a filmmaker make a documentary so much more powerful/influential. One such way is to give motivation. Mostly through realism, an example of this being the Beaches during D-day; specifically Omaha Beach. Link below if you haven’t seen the scene.

Moving on another way they do this is through “teach a lesson” within the documentary whether it involves history or anything else. A good example of this being in The Big Short

In short, the final definition for Documentaries is how exactly to affect the audience and influence them in order for them to learn from the documentary. In whatever manner that may be.

As for the core of what Nicholas was getting at; it is all about knowledge. The knowledge that comes from the documentaries we see, no matter where or what format they’re in. What we learn and subsequently “know” and how we use that “knowledge” we have. Where is our “knowledge” from and can we trust it? Knowledge then becomes a source of a guilty pleasure and can be manipulated.

More Thoughts on Bordwell’s Levels of Meaning

To follow up on today’s discussion of meaning, here are some additional thoughts by another blogger on Bordwell’s levels:

1) ‘Referential’ meaning. In order to make any sense of the narrative of a film the spectator constructs a concrete world out of the ‘diegesis‘ – the world presented in the film – and the ‘fabula‘ – or ongoing story – which takes place within it. The diegesis can be either ‘extratextual’ – that is, it refers to a real world existing, or which has existed, outside of the film (for example present day Los Angeles, or the 18th Century Paris) or ‘intratextual’ (a world which exists only within the film, such as  the future world of a science fiction film or the fantasy world of a mythic past). At this level, the audience draws upon their knowledge of film conventions, their fundamental conceptions of causality, space and time, and their knowledge of the real world (recognising, for instance, The Statue of Liberty and why it would be out of place rising up out of the sand of a beach). Understanding at this level is the minimum requirement for comprehension.

2) ‘Explicit’ meaning. The spectator assigns an abstract conceptual meaning, or ‘point’, to the diegesis and fabula they have constructed, and this point may be validated by specific textual cues.  A film might have a particular ‘moral’, for instance, which the protagonist learns as the fabula unfolds. The film could have an overt political message, for instance in the films of Oliver Stone or Michael Moore. At this level the film is deemed to have something to say. Again, this level would fall under the general category of comprehension.

3) ‘Implicit’ meaning. Further ‘up’ the levels of abstraction brings us to the construction of covert or symbolic meanings or ‘themes’. Meaning at this level is taken to be implied or ‘spoken’ indirectly. Implicit meaning is  more likely to be a subject of dispute between critics and spectators, and spectators may draw upon extra-textual evidence – such as interviews or references to previous films by the same writer or director – to support their claims. Generally this level of meaning is consistent with referential and explicit meaning though it could contradict those if the referential and explicit meanings are taken to be ironic (as in Paul Verhoeven‘s Starship Troopers, 1997). Where the former two levels of meaning are constitutive of comprehension, implicit meanings are the beginning of ‘interpretation’ proper.

4) ‘Symptomatic’ or ‘repressed’ meaning. Referential, explicit and implicit criticism assumes the film ‘knows’ what it is doing and the spectator is uncovering intentional meanings. Symptomatic or ‘repressed’ meanings are those the writer or director might not be consciously aware of and may be the result of the psychological (often taken to be psychoanalytical) obsessions on behalf of the creator, or the result of economic, political or ideological conditions in the wider social world. Symptomatic or repressed meaning may run counter to referential, explicit or implicit meaning but this time without irony: as such they are a site of even greater discursive dispute than the previous forms of interpretation. Symptomatic reading is the ‘highest’ form of interpretation – at least as far as critics and academia are concerned. It’s also the most open to conscious or unconscious abuse.

Again, these move from more to less concrete, and the level of the media critic really begins at “implicit” and moves outward. At that level of abstraction, the critic must make an actual argument supported by evidence, as opposed to simply describing what we see in front of our eyes. It also will likely require reference to and incorporation of materials beyond the text: other articles, readings, sources, and sites that help support the argument the critic is making and clarify it.

Keep this in mind as you begin to think about your Rhetorical Media Analysis proposals for next week.

Kracauer Feb.18

Less than two hundred years ago people could only dream of the moving pictures we’ve taken for granted. I found it funny that people expected film to fit the role of a better camera, such as taking still time lapse videos of a flower blooming, focusing mainly on the natural capturing of an event on physical media or the content instead of what form the film presents the content in. They could have never expected the amount of control we express through the properties of film. Kracauer presents two groups of properties pertaining to film; there are basic components that cover film’s role as a means to capture the surrounding world, and there are technical properties to film that concern themselves with our manipulation of the images captured to present another world to audinces that differs from what’s filtered through the lens(Kracauer, pp.144-145). Kracauer believes editing to be an important and distinct technical property of film and I agree, namely because it grants filmmakers the ability to play with the meaning carried behind it. This reminded me of the example discussed in class where the scene of rich, well-dressed oligarchs eating a meal could go from hungry fine dining to voracious and pig-like by cutting to a scene of pigs eating slop from a trough and back to the people gorging on wine and steaks. The properties of film yield two tendencies of the medium, realistic and formative. Early film mainly capitalized on the realistic tendency and focused on the capture of natural movement (Kracauer, pp.145-148). Kracauer gives us the Lumière brothers as an example of this. Their works mainly focused on the capture of movement other than the camera’s, which Kracauer calls “external or ‘objective’, motion” (Kracauer, p.149). Lumière focused little to no effort in telling a story and tunneled into the capture of natural scenes’ movement as his contribution to film (Kracauer, p.146).  Lumière’s popularity soon declined, and Méliès brought something quite different to the scene (Kracauer, pp.145-146). Méliès brought the realm of fantasy to film, with various works featuring landscapes that could never occur or an artistic perspective of something similar to reality (Kracauer, pp.146-148). This is where the two tendencies split. The realistic tendency convinces audiences that the scenes they’re seeing come from the natural world, and scenes are staged in such a way that not only conveys an appropriate meaning as intended by the film maker but captures the essence of being real. Opposed to this is the formative tendency, which reaches into dimensions unique to film and the way film makers can bend away from the realistic tendency and present something distinct from what’s possible to see with the naked eye (Kracauer, pp.148,150). I gathered that the realism tendency does not refer only to the capture of real-world elements, and the formative tendency is not only concerned in fantasy and Kracauer supports this as both are often interrelated and cross over each other in various films (p. 151). A shining example of this is James Cameron’s Avatar. Although it presents us an imaginary future where we encroach on the natural resources of blue humanoid aliens who live on a planet home to bizarre creatures, the world is presented in a way that would mimic a camera capturing it if it really existed. In the video down below, we’re presented by these floating rock structures that breathe life through them. Of course, these rocky tendrils are unnatural, but the rocks themselves are jagged and cracked, and the vines clinging all around them look like they took centuries to grow. Through the use of CGI, this imaginary world was made a reality, and no detail was spared in order to create a sense of ‘realism’.

It looks almost plausible!

This distinction between content and the form it’s presented in is made apparent also in art. I’ve included two trees down below, one tree lives in the realm of realism, and the other comes from the impressionist style. Notice how the realistic tree focuses detail more on the actual content, such as the light bouncing off the water or the individual blades of grass. The impressionist painting contrasts this, by focusing more on detail such as the density of paint and the type of brushstroke used for different elements of the scene. Although these two images present to us the same basic content, a tree in mid fall overlooking a body of water, how we experience them are entirely different. It’s through form developed from countless years of experimentation that artists and filmmakers alike can make an audience feel their intent.

Aneurin Facilitation 2/18

In his article, “Perceptual Realism” Stephen Prince attempts to tackle the question of is there any risk to the realism of film as technology evolves? As technology becomes more and more capable, films begin to take on this realism that he mentions many times rivals that of real life and suddenly what’s being seen on screen is now perhaps more real than it should be. Prince believes that this creates real issues for film theorists.

The first topic that Prince discusses is the power of CGI and how it has changed the movie going experience. Film theory has long held the idea that anything seen on screen is something that could be seen in the real world, CGI has smashed through that idea.

This scene from Jurassic Park is a fitting example, this is not something that someone in 2020 would ever see, yet if you were to sit in a movie theater you would believe you are seeing a real dinosaur due to the power of CGI and how digital correspondence works in our brains.

  The most impactful part of CGI may be that in 2020 we believe this is what a Dinosaur looked like, not because a scientist said so, or because we saw bones but because Steven Spielberg and his talented team are able to convince us of that through film. This is the issue that film theorists must wrestle with, no longer is film simply a viewing but it’s now something that changes us as viewers and what we believe.

How could it be that Forrest Gump was able to run for years like he does in this scene back and forth across America? Of course,no one would be capable of this nor would it be possible for an actor to do this so quickly, but the power of film suspends any need for belief because in six minutes we see him do it.

This suspending of reality is something that has been happening even more Paul Walker  is an example of this. Paul Walker was an actor that starred in many of the Fast and Furious films and after his tragic death was brought back through his brother’s face and CGI to appear in one more film. This is now crossing the gap between a film and a truly emotional reaction, people who viewed all of the Fast and Furious films had built a relationship with the actors and Paul Walker’s tragic death caused them pain. His return postmortem caused an extraordinary reaction and truly did bring him back to life. This is a powerful moment in film as well as Paul Walker’s family is given the chance to see him alive on screen one more time. This emotional reaction is brought to life in the music video done by Wiz Khalifa and Charlie Puth.

The power of CGI is only growing as shown by the award-nominated film, The Irishman. In this film actors such as Robert De Niro plays a character at many different ages across decades. This suspends our idea of time and allows us to become fully involved in the story because we have seen Robert De Niro get older.

This is a short video that describes this process more in-depth and the kind of impact it may have on the film industry. 

Finally, many parts of technology have changed our lives for the better or worse. CGI should enhance our entertainment experience as long as we recognize its power. Prince warns about its influence on us and as long as we are aware of that we can keep enjoying our dinosaurs and young Robert De Niro.

For Tuesday, 11 Feb

First, if you haven’t accepted the invite to create an account on the site, please do so before class (if you think you never received it, let me know by email). Also, if you haven’t provided your top three preferences for weeks to facilitate class readings, you can do that here. (NOTE: most of the available dates have already been reserved; only the remaining available dates still appear.)

For class, I’d like you to read the essay by Kenneth Burke, “Literature as Equipment for Living” and the magazine article by James Gleick, “What Defines a Meme?” (You’re finding them in the comments in the course schedule).

As you read each, consider how the concepts of “rhetoric” and “persuasion” we discussed last week are being reconsidered to some extent in each reading: how do Burke’s idea of “equipment for living” and Gleick’s discussion of “memes” relate to the classical idea of “rhetoric” as the way symbols are used to influence others?

Response: Rhetoric and Culture

As I was reading about the difference between rhetoric and culture, I found a few interesting facts about this comparison as I drew a chart about it, while taking notes. “Rhetoric had its beginnings in classical Greece 2,500 years ago, whereas cultural studies had its current roots in Great Britain in the 1970s” (O’Donnell, 2007, p. 137). The most interesting part about reading O’Donnell’s Rhetoric and Culture, while thinking about the comparison between those two terms, is how they each have a different origin. For example, the rhetoric is actually Aristotle’s definition as he viewed persuasion as “an instrumental of social adaption” (2007, p. 140). When I saw the word, logos (“words” in Greek), this term reminded me of the various logos that I was familiar with, such as the mermaid logo for the “Starbucks Coffee Shop” and the 31 logo for “Baskin Robbins.”

Starbucks logo
Baskin Robbins logo

On the other hand, cultural studies have major concerns over television, which is a form of communicating with the audience and it is a source of social understanding. This means that numerous TV shows and films have the ability to tell the audience the story and send a message to the viewers about what is going on in our society. For example, we would watch or listen to the local news that is broadcasted on TV every night. Otherwise, there are most recent TV shows that give the audience the message about the real serious issues that are actually happening in reality. There was one episode from the TV show, Black-ish, where an African American family was watching the news about police brutality and racism still existing in our world.

For Thursday, 6 Feb

We’re still just getting started with the course, but already there’s a lot to do! First, be sure you’ve clicked on “Course Documents” above and read through at least the Syllabus and Schedule documents. Bonus points (in my mind – no actual points rendered) if you also read through the Assignment documents, and double-extra-plus-plus points (same kind) if you sign up for a Facilitation week!

To do for Thursday’s class is also the following:

  • Read Victoria O’Donnell’s “Rhetoric and Culture” chapter. As you read, try to think of all the ways rhetoric – for her, “the study of symbols and how they are used to influence” – is a part of your daily life. Where do you see symbols of all kinds – in print, image, sound, or even through the design of everyday objects – influencing you and those around you? Be prepared to talk about this in class.
  • Read Ali Almossawi’s Book of Bad Arguments, pages 3-7, 49-54, and the pages for the fallacy you were assigned today in class. For that fallacy, write down two situations (beyond the example in the book) in which that fallacy could be used. Also ask yourself, does it only apply to language (speech or print), or could it apply to something visual? If so, how might that work?

See you Thursday. 🙂