Monthly Archives: July 2015

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Film Favourites: Jaws (1975)

Gabby: I like many others have a huge love of Jaws. Now I know two guys with a similar appreciation with the film; my pal a Sol Ott who might be the biggest Jaws fan I know, as well as my pal Shaunn Grullkowski. So guys, we are all big fans of Jaws! What are your histories with the film? What was the first time you watched it and has your relationship with the movie changed since?

Sol: I guess I have the easy going parenting style of the early 80s to thank for my first viewing of Jaws – I’m not sure exactly when because it’s my very earliest movie memory, but I watched it with my parents when I was between 3 and 4 and apparently loved it immediately as it was all I wanted to watch for the next couple of years. I don’t remember finding it particularly scary (probably because I didn’t understand death) – I responded mostly to what I perceived was the heroism of Roy Scheider’s character, Chief Brody (I remember fantasizing about seeing a shark and running up and down the beach yelling at everyone to get out of the water), and the adventure of the second half.

As I got older I began picking up on the finer nuances of the story and Brody’s character in particular – how he deals with his personal fears, small-town politics and urban vs. rural masculinity issues. Now I think I appreciate it most for being such a great example of the serendipitous nature of filmmaking – it’s a weird sort of miracle how what I’d consider to be a perfect movie came about from a production riddled with so many “mistakes”!

In short, it was love at first sight and that love has only grown deeper and more complex over time – 30 years later it’s still my favourite movie!

Shaunn: Jaws is one of the few movies I can think of that are better than their source material. I recently got a book deal, my first book will be out Dec 2nd. It’s a sci-fi piece but I’m also a big film guy, and my personal relationship to Jaws, is that it, in my opinion, is the perfect American movie. Not best, maybe, but just perfect.Jaws7_002Pyxurz It’s the only movie I can think of that works for everyone. It’s something I try to think about when I write. I tend to skew weird, but it’s always in my head that for art to really be good, it should be accessible. The more people that can enjoy it, regardless of education or background, the more effective of a piece it is. It’s something that I’m not sure Spielberg ever really hits on again, but who really could? Not saying he’s been doing impossible to touch highbrow art pieces since, but Jaws is so special. I’m always super stoked when I can show it to someone for the first time. It’s something I wish I could do all the time. I love turning people on to things.

Gabby: My first experience with Jaws was only a few years ago. Of course I had seen bits of it and heard the theme song and seen t-shirts with the movie poster on it a great many times. But I hadn’t actually sat down to watch it properly until 2011. I wanted to see it so much, but I wanted the perfect Jaws experience which I managed to organise for myself. In my old house we had a front room with a big screen TV and I waited until I was all on my own in the house and sat myself down to watch it. I was totally absorbed by every second of it. I think the suspense is some of the most effectively created suspense in any horror/thriller. It also is just technically so brilliantly made it is hard to pick out just a few elements of it to compliment without gushing. I have seen it many times since that first experience, including a screening of it this year at the Prince Charles Cinema in London. Jaws is really worth a cinema experience if anyone can manage it. As there are so many elements to talk about with this film, let’s pick up on what Sol said.

What do you think the character of Brody brings to the commentary that is going on with the desire to keep the beach open through greed? How do you reflect on his character in response to representation of on screen masculinity; and what do Quint and Hopper bring to that theme of masculinity?

Sol: Brody’s involvement in the beach remaining open is interesting because, though he is blamed by both himself and Mrs. Kintner I don’t think we as the audience ever hold him particularly accountable. Jaws-Banner-1024x576He was so clearly pressured into acquiescence with the unspoken threat of losing his job that it’s more a commentary on how capitalism has ultimate authority, even over the authority of “The Law”, than an indictment of Brody.

This dynamic also plays into his rather unique brand of masculinity. On the face of it he should be the very picture of manliness – a New York City cop – but in many ways he is the least “manly” character in the movie. He is unable to stand up to Mayor Vaughan and his cronies, he’s irrationally afraid of the water and he’s almost childlike in his incompetence aboard the Orca. I’m sure he’d take the lead if he, Hooper and Quint took a field trip to Manhattan, but he’s a fish out of water (groan) in pretty much every context he’s in throughout.

Quint and Hooper bring their own different commentaries on masculinity. Quint is very much the rural man’s man – strong, handy, capable, loud and full of bravado – but, at the same time, his immaturity betrays his insecurity and you can imagine he has a rigid comfort zone that he doesn’t like to stray from. Hooper is somewhere in the middle – he’s a spunky little guy, academic and from a wealthy background, so he doesn’t fit the classic idea of “manly”, but he is the only character that seems to be in his element wherever he is.

All in all three very different portraits of masculinity which perhaps (though I’m not sure this was intentional), when taken together, add up to a “complete man”.

Shaunn: I think the best way for me to organize my thoughts is to correlate each of the three leads to a particular war/era.

Quint is obviously WW2. He’s the archetypal “man” of that era. Let’s face it, Quint could butch up a John Ford flick. Jaws_081Pyxurz-1024x536He still has an obvious sensitivity, as Sol eluded to, but it’s that sort of “Death in the Afternoon” lonely sadness that differentiates his emotional stance from that of Hooper and Brody. A bloggier type might refer to Quint as hysterically masculine, but I think it’s more of an idealized type of man (although flawed) that’s a running theme in Spielberg’s work.

Hooper is the modern man, the Vietnam/Post-Vietnam reaction to the Quint type. Although he’s a scientist, I feel like he reads as an artist-type, someone whom you don’t have to wonder about his feelings, as he puts everything on display. I think it’s interesting how he and Quint develop a relationship based on similar-but-still-very different experiences. It reads as a father and his adult son finally coming to grips with the fact that they’re essentially the same person at their core; despite how they present themselves.

Brody is really the hardest to nail down for me. I like to put him in the Korean war category, although age-wise, I’m not sure that quite works. But as shorthand, I think it’s appropriate, inasmuch as he’s the bridge between the two. Brody is the man searching for his identity, in the same way that Korea is a sort of forgotten war. Brody also shares traits with both Quint and Hooper, while never really coming down on one side or the other. Brody’s main motivator seems to be fear; 24_Jaws-1024x577like other men of that era I feel that he’s afraid of not living up to the Masculine ideal (Quint) while also being afraid of the sensitivity and unguarded nature of the modern man (Hooper.) I still feel there’s a weird vulnerability to Brody that’s kind of a vestigial issue carried over from the book (re: Ellen and Hooper’s relationship), but we’re talking the movie, and that book as terrible.

To pin it: I see the three of them as the evolution of masculinity in America. I also like how the three of us, coming from three different countries all see it slightly differently.

Sol: That’s a great interpretation – I wasn’t considering how these three different portrayals of masculinity came together as a thematic whole but I think you nailed it. Particularly your take on Brody who I personally relate to the most – growing up in a rural fishing town there’s still some pressure to live up to that old-school Masculine ideal and being a naturally sensitive kinda guy (with an artsy father “from away”), I always felt a little stuck between two worlds myself.

Gabby: These are great answers both of you. It is an interesting dynamic to compare their personalities to put that in contrast with the wars they may have been closely associated with. I think it is definitely a film with a thematic link to how generations have changed and what that means for the modern man. I love that idea of the three of them coming together to form the complete man as it were. They really show a unity. Jaws-1024x576Maybe then if you put those threads together you have this idea that with a unity between different ages, you will most likely come up with the best solution. Rather than to just go with the first and most powerful person who stomps his foot in the sand (when it comes to closing beaches or anything else). Teamwork is a really big part of the film and we see that as individuals these men are not going to succeed, but together they can pull off something incredible.

I like the fact you bring up sensitivity. As I think allowing the men to have moments of it, they become much more rounded characters than you would expect from a movie called Jaws, or many Hollywood films. It also goes a long way to help show that when men express their feelings we can connect with them and we do not judge them, as some might think. What do you think these fears, vulnerabilities add to the film?

When you saw Jaws nowadays a lot of people who haven’t seen it, or even some that do will think shark movie. Yet we notoriously hardly see the shark. I think this is a testament to how well the suspense is built up in the film. Do you have any favourite moments that stand out in terms of dealing with the shark? And what about the quieter and maybe less talked about moments that you love?

Sol: The great thing about the fears and vulnerabilities of the characters in Jaws is how they serve to add both to the movie’s depth AND it’s horror. It’s got all of this great character stuff that makes it more interesting and complex than your standard horror fare and, because they’re not all invulnerable “manly men”, we get to be afraid WITH the characters instead of just FOR them, making for a more sympathetic and frightening experience.

As for the object of that fear, there are so many great ways Spielberg shows it without showing it – one of my favourites is the night scene where two fishermen attempt to catch the shark from a pier and it pulls the whole thing down. The piece of the structure we know is attached to the shark essentially becomes the shark and when it turns around and starts bearing down on the guy in the water it’s one of the most intense and terrifying scenes in the movie.

And there’s a great quiet moment I just noticed during my last viewing. Near the beginning when Brody is strolling through the idyllic streets of Amity we hear a bird chirping that adds to the perfect quaintness of it all. Brody hears it too and just gives this subtle look of acknowledgement that I think says a lot about how much this cop from New York City appreciates his new home.

Gabby: I really agree with you there Sol. Sharing those moments of binding and fear with those characters really pulls you into the film. What about you Shaunn?

Shaunn: I guess the question is is Jaws a horror movie? XXX JAWS-MOV-410.JPG A ENTI usually say it is, because I’m not super-well versed in horror. So, Jaws becomes my default “favorite horror movie” whenever someone asks. But, when I think about it, I’m not sure it is, any more than say, No Country for Old Men. I’m probably not the first person to say it, but Anton Chigurh is basically the shark from Jaws. Neither of them have any emotional investment in their victims, which is usually the main motivating factor of the killer in a horror movie. Obviously that’s not the case in Zombie or Vampire movies, generally, but Neither the Shark nor Chigur seem to be motivated by their own survival like monsters tend to be (feeding, protecting their homes, etc.) Chigur, and the Shark just *are*.

To me, they both just represent nature clearing the slate, or God’s wrath, or instruments of karma, or whatever semi-ethereal delivery of retribution you might subscribe to. The thrust of the movie, to me, besides the relationship to one another, is the idea of a person being able to overcome their environment; to dig in their heels against their creator(s) and become a rational agent in their own existence.

For quiet scenes? I always liked the scene with Martin and Ellen where Ellen is correcting him on the North-Eastern pronunciation of “yard.” When he goes into the “the yahd, not fah from the cah.” I always found great. Like Sol’s scene; it kind of reinforces Brody’s possibly un-severable (sp?) tie to New York, and kind of foreshadows how he can’t assimilate enough to get the townies to trust him. Just that little exchange really spells Brody’s perpetual alienation out to the viewer and Lorraine Gary is so goddamn good.

I had the opportunity to see it in the theater recently, and the movie is a flat out miracle. It’s 40 years old, I’ve seen it dozens of times, yet I’m still completely with it start to finish.Jaws56_kindlephoto-87659178 Also the new and younger viewers at the theater were completely into it. A movie where literally anything could have made it come apart at the seams, and yet everything works, and it always will.

Gabby: I want to briefly add that if anyone has not read it, there is a fantastic BFI Film Classics book by one of my favourite writers/critics Antonia Quirke, which I highly recommend. To add to what you said Shaunn, when I did get to see it at that cinema in Leicester Square last year I got to appreciate the fact that it is just flawless. In fact, I really want to go re-watch it right now.

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The Drawing Board: Brave (2012)

When Brave was first released, I was quite surprised by the way I was hit by the film, which was largely to my connection to the protagonist, Merida. Bradley Lange is new to the film and we have a discussion on it to see how the film stands up a few years later.

Brad: The big aspect that stood out to me, possibly due to me not expecting it, was the mother/daughter relationship. I felt that it really worked on an emotional level from both sides, with Merida being shown as both the bratty kid who doesn’t respect tradition while also being the free spirit that deserves to forge her own path, while Elinor was shown as the overbearing matron while also having the maternal warmth and love for her daughter. The “coming of age” aspect of Merida’s story was nicely woven into the relationship too, and again it wasn’t a one sided affair of “parents just don’t understand” (although that was there). I really felt for Elinor in the beginning even before her transformation.

I did feel though the witch character didn’t really go anywhere. She appeared as the device for the “be careful what you wish for” aspect, but then didn’t play out with any significance from there

Gabby: I love the mother/daughter relationship as well. Even though the mother is stuck in her ways of convention, she only wants the best for her child. It comes from a place of love.

I think the witch is very much linked to the spirits of the forest. We don’t know if she is good or bad at first, and the same goes for the spirits. She was lead to a certain path. Many really don’t like the bear transformation element of the film. I can see where they are coming from, but I think it allows for those character to really start to spendbrave1 time with one another without arguing, and realizing how strong their bond is and how much they really are alike. Mor’du taps into the fairytale of the film, with him representing the big evil looming over the film as a threat. The feel of the film really does fit well with some beautiful Scottish fairy-tales I have read. Especially it’s link with nature. The way the animation captures those landscapes with that gorgeous soundtrack really is magical. What did you make of the film’s take on fairy-tales?

Brad: I’m not too familiar with fairytale folklore to be able to comment from an academic perspective, but I liked how Mor’du was part of the mythology of the kingdom/family. He isn’t really seen during the body of the film but he is still very present, like you said he’s a big looming threat so when he does appear it isn’t just a random old bear, it is THE bear to end all bears. I suppose this can be seen as the typical “big bad wolf” from common fairytales, which seems to be based on the fear of the uninhabited space not uncommon in fairytales, often seen as “the woods”, and the creatures that live there (mainly wolves and witches). I’m surprised to hear that the bear transformation scene isn’t well liked because for me this was the part of the movie where it really gained its identity and drew me in. I saw it as representing the life stage transition from girl to woman where Merida begins to see her mother as something more than just the disciplinarian. In this case the metaphor extends by making Elinor part of Merida’s beloved nature which alters Merida’s perspective of Elinor and views her for who she is underneath. Then at the same time Elinor’s change into a bear is representative of Elinor viewing Merida through different eyes to see her as the woman she is becoming rather than the child that she was. Is there a rationale for why some people don’t like the bear transformation?

Gabby: It might be due to the film having a very different vibe to other Pixar films. I know it is hard but I hope that some could view it separately on its own terms. They have a trouble with the bear as it may take them further into this world of Scottish fairytale rather than a Pixar world. That has been the main feeling I have got from talking to people about it. Brave 8Hopefully they would be open to revisit it knowing what is in store. The film has some bumpy areas but I do think the themes of growth and understanding between parent and child is never far away so it doesn’t feel as though the film loses sight of that heart. What do you think of the character of Merida in terms of personality? I think there are some fantastic character traits in her especially compared to the old fashioned fairy tale princesses who are there to be beautiful and subservient.

Brad: Merida is a great character and what I think makes her work (for me at least) is how much the parents are created in a way to allowed Merida to make sense. Too often when a story is about adolescent development or teenage rebellion the parents are portrayed as different from the teenager to emphasis the generation gap or just so the parent can be a interesting stand alone character, but the problem with that is you end up with a situation where you sit back and think “how did she come from them?” Children typically are products of their parents and while the teenager usually doesn’t see it as such they are often similar to their parents in many ways (again, highlighted well with the bear transformation).

Merida is confident and intelligent like Elinor, and she was also extroverted and…(wait for it)… Brave like Fergus. hqdefault-1Also, Fergus not supporting Elinor’s discipline attempts showed how their different parenting styles could result in Merida becoming so defiant/confident/anti-authority. I think it comes down to me generally liking any character that is consistent and shown to make sense within their world, which I feel is done well with Merida. Your comment on the movie’s heart is spot on. Despite the main conflict being between family for the first act, I was never in doubt that the characters do (or could) love each other. They felt like family. If I have any criticism, it would be that the gender issue was a little forced at times. While on one hand I liked how Merida’s strength and determination is reflected well in Elinor so to illustrate that Merida isn’t an anomaly but that all women can be strong, brave leaders. This was undermined somewhat by showing all the men to be immature boys who are only interested in their silly war games and illusions of patriarchy. It would have been a bit better if the men were slightly more competent and mature so that the women’s strength was seen more as a result of their individual qualities and less as a result of a contrast to stupidity. In saying that though, I feel that both Merida and Elinor had significant individual strength so they did not have to rely on this comparison for their whole characterisation.

Gabby: I love this character so much. I first saw this movie with my younger sister. tumblr_mh1oljyGkL1rbx5m5o1_r1_500She has blonde curly hair, incredibly determined, feisty and has a huge love of nature. When I saw Merida it was like seeing a reflection of her. Even a lot of her mannerisms are so alike. Especially how Merida holds herself: her nose and face for instance. As a result I admit I am completely biased towards this film for this reason. I think I turned to her at one point and said, ‘My God, it’s you’.

To comment on your reaction to the male characters I can see your point but I really connect her relationship with her dad. Her father is a huge influence on her and has such a soft spot for her. I also really enjoy the relationship between Merida and her brothers. A question raised in my mind with this. Is it because Merida is female that maybe highlights the underdevelopment of the male characters came to light? Merida isn’t strong because she is masculine. She just wants to do things her way.

On the other hand, there are many male characters in the film that aren’t very bright and hungry for war and very violent. Do you think though that both the men and Elinor are stuck in these exaggerated roles and it is with the young female to really highlight there out dated attitudes? Both the genders are stuck in the past, whereas Merida wants to aim for the future.

Brad: I was so close to adding in a disclaimer to the dumb men comment that I love how Merida’s father is shown to be so loving, fun and kind to his family. This was a big strength that made the character very endearing. The dumbness came from his public persona, as displayed when the clans arrive, along with all the other males in the movie. Brave-Merida-At-Table-With-FamilyHe stumbles over his words, can’t get his ideas across and in the end he devolves with the rest of them, into a wrestling rumble. This aspect of him seemed to be primarily used for highlighting Elinor’s leadership qualities and clear headedness. I just think Elinor could have been portrayed just as strong without making Fergus look so dumb (in public), and in doing so I think it would have made Elinor’s character slightly better. I don’t think the underdevelopment of the male characters is a personal perception issue due to the protagonist being female, it actually exists. However, Fergus is an enjoyable character; he reaches the “good enough” level of character development.

I didn’t really have a problem with the underdevelopment of the male characters as such, just that they all seemed to have a different type of dumb as their one note (Fergus accepted). Overall I found my viewing experience of Brave to be engaging and enjoyable, I wasn’t sitting there thinking “this is good…for a feminist Disney movie”, or “Merida’s pretty good……for a girl”, it was good, full stop. The gender difference is only coming to light as I’m giving a lot more thought than I usually would due to this conversation (thank you). And even if there was a gender imbalance issue here, isn’t it a good thing that the tables are turned, where the females are the fully fleshed out characters and the males are only defined by who they are in relation to the females.

I do like your idea of the parents being exaggerated so that Merida can be the guide for the future where individuals are judged by the content of their character not by what is in their pants. It would give them permission to be their real selves, the ones we see behind the scenes in private, rather than their fake selves that we see them, particularly Fergus, be in public.

Gabby: I agree with you, I do think that the male characters ARE underdeveloped. To explain my question, I was supposing that the male characters being so underdeveloped came to light more than say a film with equally underdeveloped male characters with a male lead. It was kind of a hypothetical ponder if you like.

The characters are great to spend time with. I think that it will be one that people will be giving a second chance to down the line and I feel it will age well due to the mythic quality.princess-merida-disney-females-28011547-480-254 Without the sister connection I still would see it as a beautiful film. Have we mentioned how gorgeous this film looks? I am sure that the themes and the mother daughter relationship will connect with many viewers for years to come.