Category: film studies

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The Gump Effect: Deep Fakes and the Last Ethics of The Real

In the late 1990s I remember coming across an article in a film magazine, I’ve forgotten which, about the special effects in Forrest Gump.   The movie, as you will recall, is noteworthy for the realistic integration of special effect shots.  The landmark Oscar-winning effects were perhaps most famous for the scenes which integrated Tom Hanks’s titular character into a kind of Baby Boomer cultural scrapbook, including archival footage of presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford.  Those scenes were not perfect, however, as the effects directors acknowledged, and lag behind the more clever effects of the film like erasing Lt. Dan’s legs.  The tiny imperfections when the mismatching voiceovers don’t quite match the lips of JFK and LBJ draw attention to the effect itself as a gag.  Back in 1994 we thought it was a flaw and gave effect a pass because this was, after all, both a gag and something novel.  

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But the truth, as the article explained, was much stranger.  It reported that there was a conscious decision to not make those scenes too realistic.  There was something of a ethical choice on the part of the film makers.  They wanted to think of the scenes as a special effect, to draw attention to the forgery itself, and not in some way as altering the historical record.   Was it Jean-Luc Goddard who said it was a moral dilemma deciding where to put the camera?  It’s a remarkable statement and rare to hear about such ethical considerations from a special effects department, because the object of the dilemma is the concern about tinkering with reality itself.  The deep irony, of course, is that motion pictures themselves are technologies of illusion, so what was the significance of their hesitation?

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Rain Man vs. Joseph Campbell: Beyond the Hero’s Journey

Yet we are trained by the stories of this self-styled individualism, its attendant self-obsession over personal wounds and desires that must be faced. As if stories were there to serve only a private therapeutic function. This basic level of selfish heroism is in fact a fantasy. And perhaps, I suppose it could be argued, a necessary one in some respects because it is itself a bulwark against an unbearable reality of our own foolishness, our own meaninglessness, our own boredom, the slow tedium of everyday life. We are, perhaps all, in fact becoming Walter Mittys – or perhaps a better more recent example is Sam Lowry from the film Brazil – one of the quintessential American heroic tropes. We’re all timid bored milquetoasts trapped in an addicted consumer-driven neoliberal dystopian nightmare who increasingly rely on heroic fantasy to cope with reality becoming more and more unbearable.

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The Souls of White Folk in Three Films

Most dramatic fiction these days takes places in a world of the color blind, unconscious to the racial contours of society, as if race were incidental, and certainly showing no thought on the character’s behalves of their own whiteness. Here I to look at three films to show a kind of time lapse of a similar racial story tropes, separated by about twenty-five years and all having Sidney Poitier as a symbolic touchstone. These three films all touch a kind of inflection point in white racial awareness in their respective eras – Get Out, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner (the boilerplate for these type of movies) and Six Degrees of Separation. These dramas don’t present one-stop answers, nor are they meant to, but they do demonstrate and dramatize the contours of the problems of whiteness with different levels of fledgling racial self-awareness.

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History, A Pain: Unlikely Cases for Keeping Racist Statues

History is a pile of bones, and even if offensive, should perhaps provoke us and shake us from the amnestic waters of late capitalism, which by its own design wishes to maintain the façade of reason, order, and omnipotence making us all feel the helpless consumerist torpor. Shoppers don’t want to be bothered by statues of Puritans restraining the mohawked red menace. It’s a historical fissure breaking through the postmodern simulacrum revealing the truth of our world. Racist statues pierce the veil of McWorld, exposing its menace. One cannot understand the history of his nation without understanding that its history can be measured in red, brown and black bodies. Both in flesh and wood.

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Prisoners of Time: John Hughes and the Cultural Unconscious

At the same time it leaves open the question that perhaps we ourselves are not the bastions of enlightenment that we think we are, but are much the product of our cultural time.  I suspect every generation believes that they are the ones who have it all figured out.  Until they start to be replaced by a new generation and start to long for the good old days.  But the acceptance of this mutability and ambiguity leaves open the consciousness  possible directions for the future striving for the wokeness of self-knowledge.  A future in which, inevitably, future generations will look back at us as prisoners of this time and see us for the barbarians we are.