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Ellie’s FTC Blog
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Dr. Campbell’s Film, Text, and Culture class has taught us all about how to analyze the technical aspects of film, and literature; and how that relates to the culture we live in. Personally, I have gained a tremendous amount of knowledge in regards to the many different components that are necessary to create a film. While understanding the importance of certain aspects of film such as acting, cinematography, and editing is an essential part of this course; I think that being able to view a movie, and see through the surface of that film to comprehend the meaning behind it, is something very special that I will certainly take away with me. Before entering this class, my view of films in general was that their main purpose was to entertain. Obviously one of the major goals for a film maker is to entertain his or her audience. However, films have the ability to do so much more than simply cause a reaction for that short cluster of time. Films, especially like the ones we have viewed in class, allow us to think beyond the two hours we spend in front of that screen, and analyze messages and meaning that the film has expressed, and how that meaning relates to our own lives.

I wanted to take a closer look at the 1994 film version of “Little Women,” and compare aspects from that movie to those in both the novel, and film “Portrait of Jennie.” One of the major themes for “Little Women,” and “Portrait of Jennie” is that of love, and loss; and how experiencing love in a deep way can profoundly affect, and influence one’s ability to follow other passions, such as Jo’s writing in “Little Women.” The scene in which Beth passes away shows the audience just how powerful the love between Jo, and her sisters really is; and how that love ended up crossing over into Jo’s writing. The scene begins with Beth lying in her bed, holding onto Marmie’s hand as she ever so patiently waits for Jo to arrive. The shot widens to reveal Jo, staring at Beth in utter disbelief. This is the first time in Jo’s life that she is experiencing a true loss. There is a realization in Jo’s eyes as the importance of this love, and loss of Beth becomes clear. I think it is interesting to note the decision that Gillian Armstrong made in spending most of the time during Beth’s speech focusing the camera on Jo. Not only was the focus on Jo, but the element of the close-up came into play as well. Although Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Jo March is not my favorite of the three adaptations, I have to admit that during this scene, there were elements of her performance that were undeniably stunning. During a scene of this magnitude, the close-up on Jo added to the impact the audience already felt over Beth dying. However, it also created a window into the soul of Jo March. The camera is positioned so that the audience is staring straight into Jo’s eyes. We are in effect seeing, and feeling every emotion that passes through her. The pain, and reality of the situation seeps through her every pore.

Bela Balasz describes the importance of the close-up in her essay named appropriately enough, “The Close-Up.”

“The close-up can show us a quality in a gesture of the hand we never noticed before when we saw that hand stroke or strike something, a quality which is often more expressive than any play of features. The close-up shows your shadow on the wall with which you live all your life and which you scarcely knew; it shows the speechless face and fate of the dumb objects that live with you in your room and who’s fate is bound up with your own…But a good film with its close-ups reveals the most hidden parts in our polyphonous life, and teaches us to see the intricate visual details of life as one reads an orchestral score” (Balasz p.314,315).

Beth expresses her admiration for Jo’s talent for writing, and it is here that we can see the parallel between the love, and bond of the March sisters, and Jo’s passion for writing. This connection between love, and art becomes even more clear when Jo enters the attic, and finds that Beth had been saving all of Jo’s writing since they were children. It is only then that Jo is able to truly express herself, and her love through her art.

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In the novel Portrait of Jennie, we are introduced to Eben Adams who is a lost soul; incomplete in every sense of the word. Because of this lack of love if you will, in Eben’s heart, he can never really fulfill his desire to create meaningful art; that is, until he meets Jennie Appleton. This book reminded me of probably one of the corniest lines in film history, and that is from the movie, “Jerry Maguire.” Tom Cruise’s character is also an “incomplete” man of sorts, and once he finds his soul mate, he tells her, “you complete me.” I found that in many ways, Jennie also served to complete Eben; and in turn, he completed her. On page 77 of Portrait of Jennie, Nathan describes the intense questions concerning the presence of true love, and how that exists between two human beings.

“What is it which makes a man and a woman know that they, of all other men and women in the world, belong to each other? Is it no more than chance meeting? No more than being alive together in the world at the same time? Is it only a curve of the throat, a line of the chin, the way the eyes are set, a way of speaking? Or is it something deeper and stranger, something beyond chance and fortune? Are there others, in other times of the world, whom we would have loved, who would have loved us? Is there, perhaps, one soul among all others-among all who have lived, the endless generations, from world’s end to world’s end-who must love us or die? And whom we must love, in turn-whom we must seek all our lives long-headlong and homesick-until the end” (Nathan p.77)?

The universal questions that Nathan asks in his novel add to the readers existing confusion concerning the reality of Jennie herself. The film version of “Portrait of Jennie” serves to add quite a bit more ambivalence when it comes to Jennie’s existence. I think it’s interesting because, for me, Jennie was less of an actual character, and more of a symbol for the love that we all aspire to obtain within our lives. It’s impossible to define Jennie fully because in doing so, we would have to define true love, which is in all aspects, indefinable. Each human being has a different interpretation for what that love is, or should be. In Portrait of Jennie, through Eben’s love for what he perceives to be Jennie, he creates a painting of her. Both Eben, and Jo have an intense need to express themselves through their art. On page 45 of Portrait of Jennie, Eben speaks of wanting to “know what he is painting…”

“I said: I don’t think I care very much about being rich, Jennie. I just want to paint-and to know what I’m painting. That’s what’s so hard-to know what you’re painting; to reach to something beyond these bitter times…” (Nathan p.45).
All of the buildings, and bridges that Eben painted up until the point when he meets Jennie are real in the eyes of the world around him. Yet to Eben, there will always be a missing component to his works. It is through Jennie, an unknown presence to the people surrounding Eben, that completes this emptiness within his art.

“It was the most natural thing in the world. We held each other out at arm’s length and looked at each other, smiling, and not saying anything. We couldn’t have spoken…The whole sunny, sweet smelling spring morning had come in with her” (Nathan p.81).

Eben found his soul mate. Someone who could intrinsically understand him from the very depths of his being. This profound love is paralleled in the relationship between that of Jo, and Professor Bayer in “Little Women.” The scene in which Jo, and the Professor attend the Opera expresses that deep connection that they feel for one another. I think that this movie, in particular did a great justice to the bond shared between these two characters. Just like Jennie seems to be the only person capable of truly understanding Eben; Professor Bayer does the same for Jo. He leads her back to her art by convincing her that she must write what she knows, and what is in her heart. As Jo, and the Professor sit in the wings of the stage, watching the performance, they are caught between two different worlds; fantasy, and reality. The camera begins on stage with the actors in the play, and gradually moves upward to reveal a far away shot of Jo, and Frederic. At this moment, it seems like they are almost part of the scenery. When Professor Bayer utters the translation, “your heart understood mine,” we, as the audience know that he is no longer speaking in regards to the play before them; he is instead describing the reality that is occurring between them, and at that moment, he turns his head away from the Opera towards Jo, and speaks the final lines of this scene, once again repeating, “your heart understood mine.”

I must say that while I did praise Winona Ryder’s portrayal of Jo earlier in this blog, I still believe it was an odd choice of casting. Every other character seemed to fit in relation to the descriptions in Alcott’s novel. I don’t believe that Alcott’s intention was for Jo to be characterized, or viewed as “ugly” per say, however the fact that she is considered plain in comparison to her sisters in the novel makes Jo’s relationship with Professor Bayer more concrete. The reader feels like looks are not necessarily involved in the feelings that are shared between the two. I believed in reading the book, that their love was based on something beyond the superficial, and it added to my view of their relationship as soul mates. In the 1994 film version of “Little Women,” it is obvious that quite a bit was done to down play, and in many ways diminish the appearance of Winona Ryder. However, I still saw her as a great beauty, and it was difficult to see Jo, and Frederic’s relationship as not being based somewhat on appearances. The essay, “What Novels Can Do that Films Can’t (And Vice Versa),” by Seymour Chatman does a great job in analyzing the differences in how we perceive characters in novels vs. what we are given in films.

“The interesting theoretical point to be made about evaluative descriptions in verbal narrative is that they can invoke visual elaboration in the reader’s mind. If he or she requires one, each reader will provide just the mental image to suit his or her own notions of prettiness. But the best a film (or theater) director can hope for is some degree of consensus with the spectator’s ideal of prettiness” (Chatman p.452).

Part 2:
Amanda’s Blog:
“Reality is defined as the state or quality of being real; a real thing or fact. The term reality, in its widest sense, includes everything that is, whether or not it is observable or comprehensible. Reality in this sense may include both being and nothingness, whereas existence is often restricted to being.
Perceived reality, on the other hand, is the “reality” that we perceive directly around us with our senses. Perceived reality is not the same for everyone, it is based on the explicit information received and processed by the person. As explicit information is received, it is processed in order to integrate it with the information that your other senses are gathering.”

Amanda’s Blog helps to examine the reality of the character Jennie in Robert Nathan’s novel. In today’s world, we think of reality, or something that is real as something tangible…something we can see, and touch. This was one of the mysteries involved in Portrait of Jennie. A young girl who appears from another time period is usually something we see in a science fiction film. However, Nathan’s descriptions of Jennie, and her interactions with Eben made the reader examine this aspect more closely, and think about the limitations we place on what is considered to be “real.” Amanda also discusses the difference between reality, and perceived reality. Many believe that Eben’s relationship with Jennie was perceived. It was interesting reading the novel, and then watching the film, because there was a part of me who just wanted to label Eben as “crazy.” However, there was another part who wanted so much to believe in Jennie, and her validity. Here are a few quotes I found concerning the subject of reality:

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~“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” (John Lennon)
~ “To understand reality is not the same as to know about outward events. It is to perceive the essential nature of things. The best-informed man is not necessarily the wisest. Indeed there is a danger that precisely in the multiplicity of his knowledge he will lose sight of what is essential. But on the other hand, knowledge of an apparently trivial detail quite often makes it possible to see into the depth of things. And so the wise man will seek to acquire the best possible knowledge about events, but always without becoming dependent upon this knowledge. To recognize the significant in the factual is wisdom.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
~“In the American metaphysic, reality is always material reality, hard, resistant, unformed, impenetrable, and unpleasant.” (Lionel Trilling)
~“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” (Albert Einstein)

Que Onda’s Blog:
“While Reading Portrait of Jennie I came across a quote which immediately struck me: “Art should belong to the masses.”…”Art can have meaning only to the creative spirit itself.”(50) I am concurrently doing a study of Pablo Nerudas Odas Elementales which in their very nature seem to coincide with the “Art should belong to the masses” idea. They are a collection of Odes to every day things, but through metaphor they transcend the very things they are describing. It is fascinating to see Arne Kunstler seemingly contradict himself in the same way that Morris’ interviewees do in Gates of Heaven. Personally I believe that art is both personal and for the masses. It is hard to imagine that anyone will ever react the same way from, or draw the same emotion from a piece of art. Our experiences are too different.”

I agree with Que Onda’s assessment that “art should belong to the masses.” He also discusses the importance of interpretation in regards to what we as individuals take away from a piece of literature, or a painting, or a documentary, etc… Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women is a perfect example of just how many different interpretations can be taken away from this classic piece of art. Some may argue that the novel’s theme was one expressing the importance of family; especially that of the female in this role. Others may believe that Alcott was a feminist beyond her time; giving voice to a strong female character (Jo) in order to express female superiority. Regardless of what people think; the fact that this novel has transcended time, and given so many different types of people something to walk away with, makes it a perfect example of good art. My mistake, in first being introduced to this novel many years ago was stereotyping it, and not looking beyond the title to see what it really had to offer. On the surface, this novel is about “little women.” However, there is no one target audience for this book; as we learned in one of Dr. Campbell’s classes when he read us the many names of people who have been affected by this novel.

In conclusion, I think it is important to examine the power of elements that are not necessarily “real” in the terms that our culture would like to safely define them. Beth’s passing in “Little Women” shows us that while a person may not be present in the literal sense, their souls can still live on, and influence the world that they left behind. It is this intangible force that can bring us hope, and give us the inspiration to follow our dreams.

Link to Que Onda’s Blog: “The Purpose of Art.”
http://blogs.elsweb.org/onda/2007/07/19/the-purpose-of-art/

Link to Amanda’s Blog: “Reality versus Perceived Reality.”
http://blogs.elsweb.org/amandanutt

July 24th, 2007 at 4:55 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

http://www.hbo.com/docs/programs/coma/index.html

Here is a link to the HBO site that talks about the documentary “Coma.” There is also a video preview of the film on this site as well.

July 23rd, 2007 at 9:41 am | Comments & Trackbacks (2) | Permalink

I wanted to talk a little bit about a documentary film I saw over the weekend on HBO. The title of the film is “Coma,” and it’s a gripping account of four people who have endured severe head injuries, and the struggles that face them, and their families. The film maker, Liz Garbus follows each of these patients at JFK Medical Center as they try to recover. In watching this film, I couldn’t help but compare it to the Errol Morris’ films we viewed in class. I previously posted about the differences between films such as “The Thin Blue Line,” and “Gates of Heaven,” vs. others like “Super Size Me,” and “Farhenheit 911.” “Coma” is in complete contrast to all of these films. There are no reenactments, no background music to influence a certain mood, zero narration, and the interviews are rare as well. There is simply a camera, which serves as an extra pair of eyes for the viewer to look through as we are taken on a journey through the ups and downs of what happens in the lives of these four amazing human beings. This film affected me greatly, and in my opinion it was the simplicity of it that made it so powerful.

July 23rd, 2007 at 9:39 am | Comments & Trackbacks (3) | Permalink

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July 23rd, 2007 at 9:15 am | Comments Off on picture | Permalink

The only two documentaries I can recall seeing prior to the Errol Morris films we saw in class were “Fahrenheit 911,” and “Super Size Me.” Errol Morris kind of opened my eyes to the complexities involved in producing such a film. While I found both “Fahrenheit 911,” and “Super Size Me” to be very interesting, and entertaining, I can also understand now that while they are all classified as documentaries, there are monumental differences in the way all of these film makers choose to go about expressing their message, and point of views. Both Michael Moore, and Morgan Spurlock seem to center their films in many ways around themselves. In Spurlock’s case, in attempting to prove that Fast food (McDonalds in particular) was unhealthy, he involved himself in an experiment for a month I believe, where all he ate for breakfast, lunch, and dinner was McDonalds. While there were interviews with other people, several of whom believed they were overweight, and unhealthy due to the affects of fast food; the film was based primarily on the film maker Spurlock; and the changes that he underwent as he filled his body with unprecedented amounts of trans fats. The pictures of themselves on the front cover of their films are very telling. On the other hand, the cover of Morris’ “The Thin Blue Line” features a photo of Randall Adams. In fact, Morris is no where to be found in any of his films. He is, in many ways an objective observer along with the rest of his audience. By the end of “The Thin Blue Line” we are all for the most part convinced of Randall Adam’s innocence; however, unlike Moore, and Spurlock, Morris was not blatant in revealing his bias. He focused on the people in the case, and let them piece together the puzzle of what actually occurred. In this way, Morris did not have to come right out and tell the audience, “Randall Adams DID NOT commit this crime!” But by simply divulging the facts, as well as false aspects of the case in an objective way, the audience could come to their own conclusion about what really happened. I think that the methods used by all three film makers are certainly very affective…just look at some of the results. Through Errol Morris’ film, Randall Adams was able to walk free after 12 years in prison; and “Super Size Me” made such an impact, that McDonalds decided to rid the world of the extra large, extra unhealthy aspect of being able to super size value meals…that’s pretty impressive.

July 23rd, 2007 at 9:06 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

“Psychiatrists like to meet me,“ says the subject of the acclaimed 1988 movie documentary “The Thin Blue Line.“ “Everyone comments on my sense of peace, my gentleness. I do have a sense of peace. I came 72 hours from being executed. At that point, you better make peace with yourself.“

“The man you see before you is here by the grace of God. The fact that it took 12 and a half years and a movie to prove my innocence should scare the hell out of everyone in this room, and if it doesn’t, then that scares the hell out of me.”

The above quotes are from Randall Adams. In today’s class discussion we talked about reality needing to be redeemed, and mediums having obligations. If Errol Morris had followed Kraucer’s guidelines then he wouldn’t have been able to make a very convincing documentary. Yet, through his portrayal of the facts of this case, Morris did indeed “redeem reality.” Reality is what placed Randall Adams behind bars for a crime he most likely did not commit. Errol Morris’ film is what ultimately helped to free him. Some may say that “The Thin Blue Line” was bias, and in many ways it was…from the music used, to the way the film was edited, to the reenactments. But at the core of the film were the facts which were not distorted. It’s amazing to me how a film can have so much power to influence people and cause change to occur.

Internet Sources:
Randall Dale Adams Website: http://www.journeyofhope.org/old_site/People/randall_dale_adams.htm
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Randall_Dale_Adams

July 17th, 2007 at 8:08 pm | Comments Off on Randall Adams | Permalink

Today’s FTC Discussion brought about many interesting questions. Kraucer’s opinions on what films should be was especially perplexing to me. His approach was that film makers should strive to create a film that is as close to “real life” as possible. Film is a type of art in my opinion, and I think that any artist’s goal should be to try to evoke some kind of thought, and emotion in the person/people viewing their work. Films would be very boring if all we saw were clips of real life events with absolutely no intervention on the part of the film maker. I agree with Arnheim’s view contesting the idea that a film is only complete when it has sound and color. Defining art, and especially “good art” as Dr. Campbel put it is sometimes very difficult; and many times we may need help in understanding certain aspects of films that we may not get the first time around. For example, when I first saw “Gates of Heaven” I thought it was interesting; and quite enjoyed Danny philosophy’s on life, and his guitar playing… however, I didn’t fully understand some of the deeper messages until we discussed the film in class. In terms of films as an art form, I think that as long as the film maker strives to convey some sort of meaning to their audience, he/she has done their job.

July 17th, 2007 at 7:28 pm | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

Melodrama, Pornography, and Horror. When we first began examining these three genres as a group I thought it a bit strange. What do these three types of films really have in common anyway?? I can’t really speak for the latter two, but as far as melodrama goes, I suppose you could call me an expert. Any film that evokes gut wrenching tears is probably in my film library at home. From “Brian’s Song,” to “Love Story;” “Terms of Endearment,” to “Life is Beautiful;” I’ve got them all. What does this say about me?? Maybe I need therapy…after all people shouldn’t seek out things that make them sad…should they? Stephanie D.C. Carmichael from Youngpeoplespress.net says that one reason we cry in film is because “All women want to be the Scarlet O’Hara to their Rhett Butler, and until this dream is realized, movies are our salvation.” I think that she is right in a way. Most women, subconsciously, or not want to be swept off their feet, and in truth, that doesn’t often happen in real life. I think that’s why many relationships end up failing; because women watch these romantic films such as “Gone with the Wind,” or “Jerry McGuire,” and we want that beautiful, passionate (yet unrealistic) happy ending!!! We want to have those “moments” like in “Love Story” when Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw’s character get into a fight, and then after a day of him frantically searching for her, he finds her half frozen locked out of their house crying…and he looks at her with pain in his eyes, and says “I’m sorry.” She responds, her lips quivering, “love means never having to say you’re sorry.” Just thinking about that moment gives me goose bumps! So once again, why do we cry? Is it because we, as women long for this kind of romance in our lives, and deep down we know it’s never going to happen? 🙁 I’m not sure…but I am certain that I’ll be first in line at theater for the next sappy, melodrama; tissues in hand.

Internet Source: http://www.ypp.net/fullarticle.asp?ID=43

July 11th, 2007 at 9:17 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

In contemplating yesterday’s class discussion on gender roles in film, and in our culture, I thought about the many ways in which the media uses gender roles to cause a certain type of reaction from their audience. While I still believe that women aggressors in film are often portrayed as “pathetic,” I found that film, and television in particular uses gender reversal as a sort of comic effect.
Think of most of the popular television sitcoms from the last decade. Many of them use the role of the “strong woman” as a punch line. “Everybody Loves Raymond” is one of my all time favorites but much of the comic effect comes from the central female character (Deborah) calling her husband an “idiot,” or “moron.” This is not a new phenomenon either. As we saw in “The Glass Key,” Veronica Lake’s character punches Alan Ladd in the face upon their first meeting. In watching this with the rest of the class, our response was all that of laughter. It’s a little bit odd if you think about it. What would our reaction had been if Alan Ladd went up and punched Veronica Lake…We would have all be horrified and disgusted.
This topic is very interesting, and extremely complicated when you think about all of the different ways in which gender roles are used to evoke a specific response from people. It’s almost as if, subconsciously we are all being brainwashed.

July 10th, 2007 at 9:44 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink

After our last class discussion I went home and did a little research on Ms. Katharine Hepburn…or Kate as she preferred to be called. I knew that she was considered one of the greatest actresses to ever grace the silver screen, but I wanted to find out a little more about Katharine Hepburn, the person. To be honest, I was a little surprised at how many people in the class were not impressed by her performance in “Little Women.” After rewatching it, I found it to be quite an honest portrayal of the character Jo March. I will admit that Hepburn could be loud, and maybe a little over the top at times throughout the film; however, when I read Little Women, that’s exactly how I imagined Jo to be…loud, and boisterous; not caring what anyone thought of her…that, to me was Jo March. In reading about Katharine Hepburn, I don’t think the film makers could have found a more perfect person to play Jo. She was a no nonsense woman who was her own person, and didn’t compromise her wants or beliefs for anyone. That brings me to my comparison of June Allyson’s performance in the 1949 version of “Little Women.” I don’t think that she did a bad job; however to me her performance was quite insignificant compared to that of Hepburn’s. In the 1933 film version, Hepburn completely took over that film with her presence. This is how it should have been since in my opinion, the character of Jo is the central, and most important character in Alcott’s novel. However, in the 1949 film I felt Allyson’s performance to be good, yet not memorable; even finding Elizabeth Taylor’s portrayal of Amy to overshadow Allyson. The whole film in general was not my cup of tea. It just seemed to be more of a television movie of the week than a feature film. I half expected to hear a laugh track at certain moments in the film when the movie was obviously going for comic relief rather than substance.
Anyway, back to Hepburn. I think that she is a bit like Hillary Clinton…people either love her or hate her. I happen to love her, and think that she had that special something about her acting that is hard to find in actresses these days.
If you want to see one of Hepburn’s more subdued performances, you should definitely check out the film “On Golden Pond.” The movie itself is amazing, and you will not be disappointed. 🙂

Internet Source : http://www.imdb.com/find?s=all&q=katharine+hepburn

July 9th, 2007 at 9:04 am | Comments & Trackbacks (1) | Permalink