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26 de Enero, 2007

At the Movies - Falling Down

Categorized under At the Movies With Nezua! , Full Analysis , Hipnotismo , Medios | Tags:

UPDATE: To skip to beginning of analysis, click here.

grafik by Nezua THIS NEW CATEGORY may have been an obvious choice, but I suppose I have been leading up to it. Fusing my experience as a graduate of El Ivory Tower de Pelicula (NYU Film/Tv) as well as my time working in the field, augmented with my thoughts and always-expanding understandings of the experience as a so-called colorized-type Amerimexicano, I bring to you the brand new, blockbuster, syntho-buttery delicious category: At the Movies With Nezua! For your delight, I have spent days creating the most exhaustive commentary, analysis, and discussion of the Joel Schumacher film Falling Down, starring Michael Douglas to be found online.

I do this to finally make concrete the idea that often can be found in my writing: that mainstream media plants destruction and hurt into the heart and minds of those who grow up absorbing it. Especially in regards to ethnicity. Although as I go on in this journey, I find that so many share the same story. Women in almost horribly ubiquitous and invisible fashion. (Or maybe that invisibility is simply part of how accustomed to it I had become.)

I assure you, amig@, At the Movies With Nezua will be both fun AND annoying! But that's a night at the movies with Nezua, after all, carnál! Our goal here is to create a space where we lay bare the workings of these spells, of these weapons, where we can unspool the conveyer belt that adheres to the swiftly shifting gears of a tiny, spiny, rotten avacado-engine heart. Let a Googler look up the film and read of the subtle (and not-so-subtle) messaging. Then watch the film. The more of us become more practiced in the reading of the visual medium, the less likely we are to be hypnotized. That is one gift above all others that I took away from my time in Film; perhaps the greatest skill to be had from such training: the ability to see past the edges of the set.

img Recuerde, I did not always have the defense against these films that I do now—that of critical thinking, narrative and filmmaking knowledge, and an adult sense of skepticism. This is why we must be oh-so-very careful when we sit children down in front of even the most seemingly fun movie. As parents or caretakers or brothers or sisters or friends, we must be better at decoding media than those under our care. The messages slip by our own guards, and zero home, like perfectly-aimed arrows. There is no shield, and you have seen the children's eyes when they gaze upon a screen. They open wide, the defenses drop, the smile softens, and the messages take root. I hate to say it, but most adults are not much different. And perhaps you'll agree that as innocuous as a night out at the movies or an evening on the couch in front of the DVD player is, there is no more (potentially) dangerous invader to a home or a heart than a well-crafted story.

Note: Broadband bias contained. Many pictures below the cut. Dialup users will explode. I did optimize them for lowest possible size, but I tend to prioritize the aesthetic quality, given a choice. Note 2: This is not a short read. Interesting, I hope. But not quick.

img Another point, an important point, I'd like to make before I look at this film is that it was once one of my favorites. There are a few ways to say "bad film." This is one that can entertain, is well directed, well-written, well-acted, and appeals to the mainstream middle-class White male. I suppose once upon a time, I was trying hard to be in that room. But now, the experience is not the same. Nevertheless, I can appreciate the many ways in which this movie is plausibly appealing or entertaining. What a person who might not otherwise consider it has to keep in mind is that by defnition, most of us live in this Main of the Stream. To be surrounded and talked to by an endless procession of movies and shows that appeal to a White Male for the most part puts him in the Laughing Seat, and the rest of us are forced to squirm into any notch or niche we can squeeze ourselves. Unless we are sleeping, in which case we may not feel the pricks that protect that center seat like a velvet, electric, barbed-rope.

As time goes on, there are more niches. And as the population becomes more and more diverse, more and more specialized shows, magazines, and bodies of music can be found. This "multiculturalism" is being framed by some today as corrosive to our nation. Probably by the same types who made this movie. But for people outside the mainstream, this "multiculturalism" makes us happy. To know we can buy magazines that talk in the words of our nanita's language, or that speak to our self-images, that reference our versions of history—you begin to walk down a street that leads home. But to be lost in sea of stories that use your face or your father's face, or your mother's for the villains? That is not home. That is hell.

I often casually reference the idea of how the media hurts the person of color (in this and most films we must include gays and women). But this can happen in more than one way. One way this happens is because of the memes and ideas it reinforces in the "White" person (Male) watching it. Another is the secondary effects that has upon People of Color out in the world (and gays and women), when acted upon by those agents who have had their views reinforced at every turn and thus feel innately justified.

Another way is when assimilated/semi-assimilated people of color watch and absorb the mainstream culture—which hates them—and are forced to choose...assimilate and hate myself? Or hate this messaging system/this constant attempt to denigrate me and my people? I think most would choose the latter. But the choice is not there. It is not that simple. After all, who verbalizes that? Who, raised in mainstream culture, even recognizes all the ways in which they are assigned their seat?

Finally, it's a movie everyone is watching. Or it's a movie everyone laughs at. Or it's an actor you liked in X. Your friends watch movies, and they like them. Most humans want to fit in with the people around them.

At least until that threatens to tear them down the middle.

art by Nezua

img A Note on style: This may be tempting to read as a logical shotlist. It nearly is. For the most part, it is linear and representative of the sequence of shots. But I may not have covered every single scene, nor do I promise the frames are in perfect sequence, although I took serious notes! If I throw a frame out of sequence, it will be intentional, and to accomodate the conversion from film to discussion on a page of this type. The priority is you understanding (or just me clearly communicating, that is) the point of this page, not necessarily in an adherence to the script's order.

Sometimes in conversation or these kinds of talks one may hear "you are parsing too much." But oye! Not a cherry pit appears on screen that is not intended to affect you (save the frequent camera crew reflection in a glass door type of incident). This I studied. This I did. This I know. Although I imagine most readers of blogs are pretty media-savvy vat@s, I say this because of my own arc. Even aware of media, I used to entertain the notion—buying into the Art Director's skillz—that a background might (sometimes?) be as-is. Real life. Or just populated with random objects. That was before I became parts of fueds between a D.P. (me) and an Art Director, in a struggle over the Director's ear and creative lean. Now I know that every item is deliberated over, and all springs from the Director's interpretation of the script.

Remember that while I stop these shots and break them down, in the film many roll by very quickly. A viewer will just see an insert shot, a man laughing at a silly piece of graffiti. The viewer may not have experience breaking down images and metaphors. But that doesn't matter to their absorption of the message. A good metaphor will work as it is supposed to even when you don't know that you see it. A properly used metaphor does not have to be consciously noted or deciphered for it to stamp the deeper level. That is the point of film.

Also, images reference a collective "image pool" that is common to a culture. They never stand alone, and apart from any already-entrenched notions. That is the point of using images as symbols. That is why you cannot use a cross, or a broken cross, or a banana peel, or a gas mask without conjuring forth an entire network of interwoven emotions and historical account and beliefs. A good filmmaker can reference these clusters of feeling at will. They are tools in the filmmaker's hands, and you may not always see the outline of that which is leading you along.

FALLING DOWN is a story (supposedly) about the decline of America as seen through the eyes of an "average," middle-aged, hard-working, suburban/outer city White man. It works on a few levels. At times I will speak of a conscious narrative and an unconscious one. The Conscious Narrative, as I use the phrase, will take notes on the cinematic and narrative elements that add up to show us a man breaking down much as his society is. He is a part of that breakdown as well as a cause of it as well as a reaction to it. Bill Foster is on the edge of both madness and awareness. He is meeting the ultimate disillusioning and disenchantment and dissolution of the American Dream, to which he gave full and total allegiance. He is also losing his mind.

The Unconscious Narrative, as I use the phrase, is not always unconsciously wielded, but sometimes I think it is. What I mean by this is that under and along with the first narrative I speak of, there are the messages that women are superficial, weak, ineffective creatures; that Blacks are criminals, pawns, and a threat to America's fiber; that Asians are either smart and by the side of the White Male, or Otherly conniving overcharging storeowners (also weak and easily dominated); that Latinos are thugs and women-haters, also a threat to America's fiber and cultural makeup; the usual nasty hype about Gays; that a privileged attitude is normal, that misogyny is normal, and some others. At times this is purposely achieved. And I offer the benefit of the doubt to these writers that at other times they are just writing women, for example, as they think of them and see them.
The front cover lets us know that our protagonist is "an ordinary man at war with the everyday world." "Ordinary man" is key, as is "the everyday world."

The back cover blurb sums up the theme as "Are we falling apart?" and tells us the protagonist is"slipping over the edge" and "ready to get even" with the "pressures of big-city life" that "can anger everyone."

MEET YOUR (ANTI)HERO, BILL FOSTER. We first see him becoming very agitated as he is stuck in a traffic jam. The scene very consciously references the opening of Fellini's 8 1/2. In the Fellini film, the man finally floats up, up, and away—out of the traffic jam that is pressing in upon him. In Falling Down, this scene serves as an introduction to the theme of the film. As a study of cinema will teach, a viewer will see the theme laid out very barely in the first ten minutes of a well-made American movie. It will often be done in one phrase, or one image. Or it may be made repeatedly, on different levels during this window of time. The intent is to prepare the viewers mind for understanding that theme as it plays out. This makes for a full emotional and mental experience of that theme.

NOTE: the Conscious Narrative is that Bill is freaking out because he is simply boxed into his car on a hot day. It represents his inner turmoil, of course.

Slowly, his pent up angst is bubbling free. He begins freaking out. Sweating. A fly crawls on him, the windows won't open. He swats at the fly with a rolled up newspaper. The sounds of honking and laughter and angry chatter assault him. He grows increasingly agitated, feels trapped. These are all elements of the theme, some direct metaphors.

A POV shot from Bill's car. In the film, the camera PANS RIGHT and then TILTS DOWN the American flag down to the car below it. Here, we see a bus with the word "Bus" visible in case we need to be reminded that we are seeing a bus. Who is sitting "on the back" of that bus? A Black boy and girl. Can we possibly see a Black person on the "back of the bus" (labeled BUS to trigger the historical phrase) and NOT reference the Civil Rights movement? To make the allusion complete, we see a Black girl who throws a paper airplane, and the shot moves on and leaves her arm high, and her smiling triumph burned in our mind as if she is cheering. "Fist in the air in the land of hypocrisy" are the lyrics that come to my mind, from Rage Against the Machine. That music is not playing. But we all understand the triumphant gesture. When you add the American Flag directly under the two Black children, it says a lot. Especially in the context of Bill watching all these scenes "locking him in" or "trapping him" or "closing in on him." Civil Rights struggle? Giving more power to minorities? Who's next? Is there room for Bill?

Note, we shoot them both with a Low Angle, up from underneath, giving them a sense of might and the feeling that they are above Bill.

 

ANOTHER POV shot. This is the girl right in front of Bill. She glares at him. Directly at him. We see her in a shot that ZOOMS in slowly, and in which the camera wobbles first over to almost center the girl's blonde/fair doll, and then, back to the Brown little girl's face. Each time this happens, the next insert shot is a maniacal, grinning, Garfield® doll. They are paired. This is to add a threatening feel to her, and possibly to speak of the danger of a certain type of child growing up in our midst. Note the College sticker on the window. That's where she'll go one day, to enter the system and gain power. What is missing from this description, of course, is the pace of the cutting of the shots, which causes them to rain down upon Bill like a hail of stones.

The blonde doll in her hands may be just to let us know/remind us that this girl is Brown. Not Fair. Not Euro, like our Hero, Bill Foster. It may also be read that this girl is appropriating culture, using a toy that is "meant for someone else."

A POV shot, and they are coming fast and furious. The editor, adept at his craft, is tightening the edit, raising the suspense, communicating Bill's agitation and fear.

Here, we are tightening up on the frame. ECU they say, Extreme Close Up. IT is a low-angle, so you feel the boy's laughter (a Black man to-be) up close, and in the context of Bill's agitation and claustrophobia.

The scene ALSO shows two "Guys" on a cell phone, a Latina woman smearing lipstick over her scowl reflected in a side-view mirror in which we get to feel the glare of her intense concentration/angst.

AFTER we cut to a quick shot of another fair-skinned child, we sandwich back to this shot. The Black child is no longer laughing. Now he is looking down at Bill with a Direct Address (right to camera), dark brown eyes still and strong, as if judging or weighing you.

As the other children laugh now, neither he nor the Brown girl in the car with the fair doll are laughing. They sit and watch bill squirm in the growing heat.

A bumper sticker we cut to twice in the editing sequence above, where Bill is being pressed in upon by all these threatening moments and feelings. It shows when the shots are cutting quick, right before he busts out of the car and begins walking. I save it for last because here is your theme, dropped in tidy.

Bill is a victim of the system, and he will die for our nation's sins. It reinforces what so many scenes tell us: somehow, this killer is blameless. A martyr, even.

 

This is a shot of PRENDERGAST, the cop who tracks down Bill Foster eventually. He is played by the ever-affable Robert Duvall.

This is our other White Male protagonist. I won't go into his character yet, but we see him for a moment in this scene, sitting a bit more patiently in a car stuck in the same traffic jam as Bill Foster was a moment before.

He looks to see a sign on the side of the road as he waits.

 

POV: Prendergast. This is the sign that overlooks the area of the traffic jam. The Duvall cop looks up at it and laughs. It seems like he is laughing at the graffiti on the sign. But other things are at work.

Sign: A Brown-eyed/copper-skinned girl looks down from on high. Next to her is the word WHITE, although the "E" is mising. (We see later it is indeed "White.") Maybe it's "Whitney." Maybe it's "Whitish." But given the mix of Black and White face Close-Ups we've just been peppered with, a viewers mind is now oriented on race, and given the amount of skin showing and all other factors, it is likely to read as "White."

On her right is a word we cannot make out. Is it "tan?" Maybe, maybe not. But she is in a bathing suit looking rather bronzed.

A graffiti-man is crushed inside the woman's cleavage yelling "HELP!!"

These images should be read in the context of the intro scene provided above. They come directly after many images telling us the future will be changed and experienced and framed by the many different minority children around "us."

This quick seemingly inconsequential sequence serves to reinforce the meme that the Average White Male is being squashed, edged out by sex/breeding of the non-White. It also serves to frame women as objects, which they are in this film.

Gaze closely from your roadside seat. Laugh, like Prendergast?

We see that Bill's license plate reads D-FENS, and this not only notes the Department he works in, but his role as a defender of the Average (White) Man's space and authority and privilege.

This moment serves to both intrigue us, tell us he is now unpredictable—despite his buzz cut, white collared shirt, and briefcase—as well as endear us to him. Who doesn't love a protagonist who says to hell with breathing exhaust, pops open his door and walks away from the whole mess? When the man behind him yells "Hey! Where are you going?" Bill Foster turns briefly to say "I'm going home!"

We don't know yet that he lives on the far side of the moon.

   

Bill Foster calls a mother and her child, but hangs up after standing silent in the face of her "Hello? Hello?"

   

The first place Bill stops in is a KOREAN CONVENIENCE STORE.

Meet MISTER LEE. He speaks broken English. He grunts. He arches his back slightly and scratches his polyester-clad belly. You see him here rubbing his neck. He is always rubbing, scratching...is he getting himself off, or cursed with a rash? Whatever it is, it subtly makes him feel sleazy, and dirty. When he speaks, he pulls his lips down into a frown. Not visible in this particular shot, but in others a bit wider of the same man, we see American flags behind him. Also, the shot of Bill from the side shows us American flags in a pencil can on the counter. Again, the theme is reinforced. Who is this foreigner to set up shop here?

Bill needs change, and asks for some, but the grocer abruptly and pointedly shuts the drawer and tells him he has to buy something.

 

Bill takes it in stride. For the moment. But it pisses him off. And we are meant to ride along. To justify violence and racism and typical American ignorance and exceptionalism and xenophobia (not the same as Racism), these moments appeal to very privileged attitudes like "I should be able to get change from whom I want and when, and I should pay what I want for any product."

Note the BLUE sheen in his eyeglasses. We will return to this.

Mister Lee has a sense, maybe about this character. Either way, he watches suspiciously (and from a sidelong glance) as the poor, overworked, sweaty White Man huddles into the cooler and caresses a Coca-Cola against his tired forehead. We see Mr. Lee watching, and we know by the shots and Michael Douglas' reaction that he feels intruded on by the man's glare.

Theme reinforced. Foreign elements intruding on the White Male's ability to live a comfortable,deserved life and enjoy those things he has worked so hard for.

The film does this a lot. Once the viewer is inflamed by having tiny privileges denied, he/she is to cheer on this "common man's" rejection of such obstacles to a well-enjoyed American life. We are to at least minimally approve his refusal to "take it anymore," as he beats up people, insults them, rocket-launches them, shoots and stabs them. It's true that the movie bills him as "falling down," and acting "psychotically," but the way his dialogue is written, and the scenes shot, you are to be feeling vindicated for someone finally standing up to all these annoyances that enlightened people don't make a big deal of.

   

Some how, very cleverly, the film often manages to pull off a sympathetic vibe for him. (If you are the target audience, and don't bump up against any sharp edges). It is done by tapping into these very mainstream, lazy, elitist, crude views. It does this with a clever joke or sympathetic action or feeling in Michael Douglass' performance at just the right time. (There is also the matter of Bill's daughter, who will be introduced once we need a bigger counterweight for sympathy, but that doesn't come yet.)

Bill asks how much for the soda, and is very dismayed at the answer of "85 cent." He mutters, fumes, "But that doesn't leave enough for my phone call!" Suddenly, we must think of that little girl on the other end of the line that he did not speak to yet, but only hung up before he was brave enough to try and call back (and realize he needed more change). We, too, are frustrated. This father (we are guessing) must call home!

Bill insults the storeowners way of not being able to pronounce English language sounds ("Fi' cents? What is "Fi"? Some good ole Come to My Country You Don't Even Have the Grace to Speak My Language, etc) tells him his prices are too high, brings up the Korean War and how indebted Korean Storeowner should henceforth be to America. The Storeowner begins to get a little freaked out and reaches for his bat, growling like a guttural animal, "Go, now; no trouble, no trouble!"

Poor thirsty sweaty, hot, tired Bill Foster wrestles the bat away from him, though, and of course, overwhelms the little Asian (now emasculated) man. Tells him O Yes, there will be trouble. And humiliation. For daring not to pronounce the "v" sound as Grateful, Korean Americans should; for trying to make a profit like every other American in business, for telling the White Male Bill Foster to leave the premises. We never forget that this film is completely aimed at the Middle American, working, White Collar, White Male. And many of these complaints over trivial inconveniences have been accumulating inside some of these men. They have no redress and are told they are wrong for being offended. They demand the restoration and respect of their privilege. That is how you can end up with people cheering this sort of thing.

 

Given my current focus and awareness, it proved very uncomfortable to watch these scenes. I'm glad I had a purpose, because I planned on making this post when I turned it on. Watching now was sort of like that experience where you go back to a childhood film hoping to recapture the magic, but instead see only artifice. Not to say Falling Down is not well-made. Unfortunately, it is. That's how it works, though. It holds up on many cinematic technical and screenwriting mechanics levels. But being where I am now, and knowing what I know—after both school and working in Film/TV as well as my current ethnic studies and awareness—suddenly, the film seems nothing but a hateful weapon of potential art. I am no longer that child who, like a sponge, soaked up such ignorant and dangerous hipnotismo.

Here is the champ, about to hit a home-run. He pontificates, lording his violence and morality over the fallen Asian man. This is a speechy moment where he threatens to bat the soda-bomb across the airspace between the two men unless the grocer gives him the price he wants. He tells him "I'm standing up for my rights!"

When Bill Foster has the man on his back on the floor and cringing; after he has swung his bat and smashed various displays, goods, and items, costing the grocer hundreds of dollars at least; after forcing him with a bat over him to charge him what he wanted in the first place, the scared man says "Take the money! Take the money!" But Bill is shocked! How dare he insinuate that he is the ladrón! He lets him know this, and "bargains" a price from the terrified man threatening to slam a soda into his face.

Bill Foster is the righteous, put-upon Average American man, fed up with things like bottles of aspirin at the corner store that cost $5; with a world where you can't understand other people talking without making effort; where you can't make out with a cold can of sugarwater without being spied on; where the soda you decide costs .50 is being sold for .85. Where a stolen baseball bat makes that world into one you can afford to live in the way you like.

Bill Foster gingerly rings open the drawer and makes change. Showing that he is paying (his own price), and not stealing. He makes a show of it so we can see how "honest" he is. Drops in the bill, close up, takes changes, takes soda, leaves. This is reinforced later when the Japanese American cop takes Mister Lee (who files a police report) away from the Robbery division, because he suddenly realizes that there was no theft at the scene (baseball bat doesn't count).

   

THE OFFICE. We see Prendergast. His Crazy Wife calls him (again). She is freaked out. She wants him home. Now. She seems irrational, but we don't know yet why she is this way. She reads as emotionally unstable. Prendergast looks around him furtively to see if a coworker is nearby. Clearly, he catches hell for his relationship to his wife.

The picture clutched to Prendergast's wife's chest is not a casual prop. It is a photo of her daughter, who is dead. We do not yet know this is what drove her over the edge. Also, the locus of the woman's mental instability is somehow never really pinned on this, which would render her sympathetic, rather than ridiculous and annoying. Prendergast later frames his loyalty to her based on what she sacriced to him to have this child—her figure. And so, it never feels like she is forgiven for going crazy.

Also revealed at this time, but not shown here is that Prendergast is the butt of many jokes at the office, and seen as a pushover. We also know that he doesn't have to weather it much longer. This is his last day. But on this day, the ribbing is especially intense.

 

It is significant that HE is the one we see staring at the photo of the girl's face at length. When we see the wife, it is as shown, here. The picture is assumed. Just as it is assumed that she feels the same way. But in a film, emotions are most strongly drawn from what we SEE. And so the weight of our understanding always rests with Prendergast, instead of his wife, who ultimately is there to help highlight Prendergast's character arc, and not as her own character.

As his wife grows increasingly shrill, Prendergast damns the workplace torpedoes and whips out a musical globe and sings along with it.The song is "London Bridge is Falling Down." Diogetically (this means within the context of the narrative), it references the location that Prendergast's wife is pressuring him to move to, for his is quitting his job and moving for her, we learn. Another use of this song is to reinforce the "falling down" theme. One possible Non-diogetic interpretation for the use of this song is that it is associated with the 1013 burning down of London Bridge in an attempt to to divide the invading forces of Danish king Svein Haraldsson. (Invading forces of course fits right into the theme of this film).

You know Prendergast's singing ritual is something already established to soothe his wife. She begins to calm down. You sense that something is wrong with her emotionally. Prendergast is our hero, for being so nurturing. Especially after watching another White Male in a Tie be so vicious to another human.

   

Part of the criticism, notes Wikipedia, against this movie has been that it relies on conventionally stereotyped roles of ethnicities. This claim can be countered, Wikipedia further posits, by pointing to the other roles. They argue that okay, true, Mr. Lee the grocery owner is stereotyped, but there is an articulate Asian co-worker. So it balances out. This is ridiculous. (NOTE: May, 2007: Wikipedia, always shifting, has read my analysis, and since, deleted their claim of balance)

The intelligent, well-spoken cop role of Prendergast's co-worker does nothing to treat Asians fairly, it does not compensate for the Korean grunting, scratching, scowling, shifty-eyed role. The Japanese policeman (here pointing out the difference as he corrects the White Male who asks him to translate Korean) is simply another stereotype.

Prendergast's co-worker is just the well-assimilated and Smart Japanese Type, while the balding, polyester-clad, beastly Mr. Lee snarls in almost every shot and is meant to cause us to recoil.

Here he is weirding us out whilst the refined and authoritarian Japanese man oversees his strange ways.

   

TELEPHONE. Bill calls the woman and child again. The line is busy, though. She is already on the phone.

In this scene, while she is on this call (again I stress: she is busy, occupied), the mother fills a watergun for her daughter, who takes it outside to play. This comes just after a ECU on the framed photo of Prendergast's (Blonde) daughter. The shot that follows it is the dangerous territory of the gang members. If you don't think these edits and implications aren't well planned out, you don't understand media. Me, I see can see the writers and director doing high-fives on some of these calls. They work well!

This use of gun handed to the child by the parent is speaking to the theme of growing violence in America, and how the adults are complicit in inducting the children into it. The fair dead child intercut with gang activity highlights who is in danger and from whom.

. Note the BLUE color of the gun. We will return to this.

   

CARRYING the grocer's bat, Bill foster walks through a part of the city he never would, normally.

A great shot. One of my mis favoritos, in terms of Art Direction and narrative expressed through props. Sure, it's way over the top, but it's such a strong image. It builds tension for the incoming scene. Here, it will highlight the part of the Conscious Narrative that tells us America is being rotted by many elements—one of them, gang violence.

As this story is based in Venice (I was born in Venice), we know it is in Los Angeles, and thus, these eses patrolling their territory are probably not Irish, or Finnish.

Bill walks into a parklike area and takes off his shoe. The place is empty, there are tags on the concrete. He is told he is in gang territory, and he sneers at these vatos, being as condescending as possible. He is unmoved.

This paints him as a brave man in the film's context, and he looks down upon these two circling aggressors from his perch. He mocks the concept of gangs having territories, mocks their graffiti, gives no respect at all that he might be a lost letter in someone else's lexicon for a moment and that he should listen for language. But that is his character. He is above all that. He reinforces the anti-multiculturalism happening today (and when the film was made) by telling them "Maybe if you wrote it in fuckin' English, I could fuckin' understand it."

Yet, he then attempts to "be reasonable," barely straining out his disgust. This is so the watcher can agree with him later when he claims that he tried to treat these thugs with respect.

 

This park reads as a pretty, untouched area of the city that has been appropriated by these Latino gang members. It is another symbol of losing culture/land/"America" to those elements pointed out in the first traffic-jam scene.

Bill, and men like Bill, can't even sit down in a park anymore without these criminals extorting and accosting them.

This is a favorite camera moment. Where they circle him like sharks, and the camera glides behind them, circling. It's nice, works well.

A reader has pointed out quite astutely that the concrete is the front steps to a house. Yet another sign of the American Dream being ruined by the crime and advancement of the Brown.

Ese gets intense, demands a "toll," pulls a knife (but you knew it would be a knife!) which ends up (like the bat) in the hands of the Unstoppable Unbeatable Strongest Element in the Stew, Bill Foster.

It is important, and not accidental, that Bill Foster takes all his weapons from the situation around him. This not only says he is adaptable, it takes some locus of blame off of him, and reinforces the "violent, rotting land" that America is within the context of this film. The fact that he takes the weapon forward into the next scene is adept storytelling, raising the stakes, increasing the drama and tension and inevitable moment of climax.

White Male uses Korean's weapon to defeat Latino aggressor.

He gets to tell them that he "Tried to treat [them] like a man," but we see that sure didn't work.

This is another scene where we are to cheer on th Conservative White Male for finally standing up to these pinche gangbangers.

Boy, they look pretty silly now. One conservatively dressed White Dude in the outlands with a short bat, and these two toughies run willy-nilly, forgetting all about their car, just scrambling directionless in panic.

Bill mocks them as they run. "You forgot the briefcase!" It is lines like this that inform the audience to laugh with him, and to feel strong with him.

   

TELEPHONE.

Bill calls the woman, and the child—who turns out to be his daughter, after all.

We begin to identify part of his conflict. This is the element that makes him human and sympathetic. His arc of wanting to get home for his daughter's birthday. We don't understand, as an audience, why he can't see her, but everytime we see him speak to his wife, we get a little more of the picture. Something went wrong. He seems like an okay guy. Yes, he does the quiet stalker thing, but then when his ex-wife gets a note of genuine fear in her voice "It is you, isn't it?") he quickly soothes her. He laughs in a self-deprecating way. "Yeah...it's me."

He reminds the woman that it is "Adelle's birthday..."


At this point, and for a while, Bill's wife simply refuses him access to his daughter. You don't know why. You are not given any facts on it. As a viewer (I admit, I am a male and a father), you begin to empathize with Bill simply because his ex-wife does not articulate a clear reason why he cannot even talk to his little girl. When he earnestly asks how she is doing (and you can hear that he misses her), the mother says, unkindly, "She's doing just fine without you."


This withholding a reason from the viewer is not accidental. This is so we can begin to bond emotionally with Bill, who will need our alliance if we are to justify his behavior in even the minimal amount that an Anti-Hero requires.

   

Later, the gangbangers come back with guns and a car. They hate on the only girl in their midst, telling her to SHUT UP! (that's the running joke in that scene, and we are even supposed to laugh when two vatos gang up and yell at her in perfect synchronous timing). As I said, the women in this movie are passive characters, and serve as props for the men's actions for the most part. This movie is extremely misogynistic.

These vatos scope out Bill, and open fire on him, carelessly spraying the entire area with bullets as they try to hit him at a payphone. But Bill walks on water, in a manner of speaking, and defies physical laws by remaining untouched in a crossfire of bullets. Instead various random people are wounded/killed. Driveby amateurs to the end it seems, these gangbangers not only miss our protagonist, they steer out of control, and crash the car in a dramatic head-on collision.

As Bill approaches the downed Latinos, who are pretty messed up in pools of sangre de la cabeza he comes to a standstill in front of a mural that will not register in the conscious mind, unless you are aware of the Martyr theme, as first conveyed with the "He Died For Our Sins" bumper sticker in the opening scene.

Directly behind Bill, in this shot, is Christ. As we know, these choices are not casual, nor accidental.

 

Bill Foster stands over the wounded men. Dig the low angle. Standing in judgment, he is not only the Martyr, but God Above.

Now we the fallen Latino man, his hair undone and splayed about. He looks effeminate with his hair all about. He looks rather vulnerable and scared. Emasculating and feminizing males in this movie to denigrate them is common.

The Latino, like the Korean, is now at the feet of the White Man.

Vato certainly looks powerless, and unlike Brave Bill, he begs for mercy when a gun is pointed at him.

Bill shows some mercy and after first missing completely, pumps a round into the man's immobile leg.

It is of note that he missed once. He can't look expert at any of this stuff. It makes him seem a "victim" of the system, then. Driven to violence, certainly not prone to, or practiced at it.

 

Bill walks away with the gangmembers' guns and his own briefcase. The visual tells us that he can choose to go either way, yet. He has not yet passed the Point of No Return. On one hand, an artillery. A bag of berzerker. On the other, a job, taxes, a time-clock, Saran-Wrapped lunches to put into a small fridge in the office.

He carries violence further into his arc. We began with a bat. He is now toting a small gun shop.

   

Prendergast resigns. But the BOSSMAN has to give him the obligatory Think it Over Before You Quit speech.

You can tell Bossman cannot stand Prendergast. Even before he tells him so. That is because the Boss fella is a true AlphaMacho male, and Prendergast is but a Wimp. In fact, the Boss is boxing a heavy bag when Prendergast enters the office! In this shot, he is "taking the gloves off."

As he talks to him standing, while Prendergast is sitting facing him, Bossman has his fly and pants open, and is standing tall and confidently tucking his shirt into his pants. I don't think it needs further comment that Prendergast is being emasculated here, and the role of the Macho Man being revered, on top of that.

Prendergast is our true Protagonist. He is the White Male that is All Those Things That Bill Foster is not. He is comfy around Minorities (works with them after all, and is close to a Brown woman, his partner!), he is accomodating to women....like his batshit wife. He seems to let everyone poke and push at him. He lets his boss unload on him.

   

THE BUS STOP. And poor Bill Foster is subjecting himself to it because he just wants to "go home." When he left the gang turf, he threw the bat and shouted "Clear a path! I'm going home. You hear me? I'm going home!!" or something close to that. It's intended to be a Spine-Chills-Cheer moment. One of my past best friends would use that line in life at times. We loved this movie. He was a very cool, writer cat. And I had no idea of all the things this film was telling me every time I watched it. I had not yet gone to film school, worked as a cinematographer, or "remembered that I was Mexican."

Bill now has the knife that the gang member pulled on him. When he picks it up, he makes it clear that (again) he is not of this violent world. He doesn't know how to use it, tries to twirl it (butterfly knife) and mumbles "how do they do that?"

Now he is at the bus station, and surrounded by all the gross, urban, poor folks. This is one of those dregs fouling up the 'hood, and while he is Euro-American (White), you will notice he is the one who will " Work" for food. The others seem to be just lounging. So there are a couple things being said.
This Mexican cat is holding bags of...something in the air. Trading them? Selling them? The camera uses his motion to PAN RIGHT to...
These two characters in the background. We see the "WE ACCEPT FOODSTAMPS" sign, and then we TILT down to:
 

A Black man sitting on the street, who, ahem, needs help to get to his feet.

The bus arrives. People clamor to get on.
Bill makes his way forward, standing tall in the sea of brown people. The camera places him above them, but...

...they "crowd him out."

And we again reinforce part of the theme. That all these other elements are crowding out the average, conservative, White Male.

Bill leaves and keeps walking. The suspense of the conscious narrative is better served by his slow moving across the map that Prendergast is figuring out.

 

When Prendergast needs to brainstorm on where Bill Foster is headed, who does he talk to? His partner, Sandra? No! The Smart Asian, of course.

   

THE PARK.

We enter a second park (if we count the Ese Park as the first). Again we appeal to a certain "Bill Foster" point of view. The park is crammed with many threats and our narrative follows the Bus Stop with an intensification of progression.

There's the homeless vet, pressuring you for food. He is wrapped in the flag that permeates this film.

In between every shot of the "threats" are shots of children playing, Bill Foster watching, or a few teenagers chilling and playing music on a guitar and dancing.

Note: this child's shirt echoes the American flag motif.

 

Here is one of the inserts. A sign that says "We are dying of AIDS" and it looks like this person of the "We" group is dying at this very moment. The choice of red for the bandanna is, of course, not accidental. It's a visual wound around the head.
Two cops come and grab these homeless people who are rifling through the trash looking for food or whatever they can make use of.
 

Bill is surrounded by People of Color. This shot works on more than one level, as many of the shots do. This is where we begin to understand that Bill has a pain inside him that has to do with his child. There is a running theme in this movie of a lost daughter that I find very poignant.

This shot serves to place him alone and isolated as a White Male, and also as a Father. It is this father who has been cut off from his daughter that helps to render him sympathetic at all.

Bill is "accosted" by a homeless person. This homeless person is very quick-talking, towers over Bill, and follows him with an obvious con-job story. Homeless people are painted as liars (who tell you they haven't eaten for days as they munch on an apple and holding food very lackadaisically, as if it is a third dessert) and grifters who really don't need food, but just feel entitled to "some money."

Bill, being a fair man reacts to being told "you don't need both of those bags; gimme one" by agreeing, and giving up his briefcase. The conning, lying, Homeless Person yells with indignance to only find food inside the briefcase.

 

The choice of bag of guns over the loss of his briefcase is a progression in Bill Foster's madness, or rather, a sign of his choice that leads away from the life that has disappointed him so much, and into one of violence and darkness.
 

WAMMY-BURGER.

Bill stops into a "Wammy Burger." We reinforce part of the theme of this tale, that of a violent (and corporate) culture. Violence is also foreshadowed by the sight of the blue car. The only car we've seen (and recently) that looks like this one is the wrecked gangbanger's car.

The ubiquitous American flag flies high.

Whammo! Note the boxing gloves on the mascot! The theme of violence is brilliantly woven through every scene, and on every level, as a theme ought to be conveyed.

In this scene, the aggressor is twofold: Corporate America, and the inability for a decent working (White) man to get a burger when the hell he feels like it. This latter complaint is what predicates the entire Conscious Narrative. Bill gets pissed off because he wants a breakfast item, but it is not even five minutes past the cutoff time, and he is being denied. So it is both Corporate America encroaching upon the Little Guy, it is a loss of some royal sort of privilege that would entitle a person to make their own rules about what time lunch is served and the grills are scrubbed and cleaned.

 

Yet another Everyman complaint is tapped into. Bill buys a burger and it looks limp, soggy, dry—nothing like the juicy ad, which Foster points out, thus garnering the audience's Junk Food Indignance empathies.

As in the Korean Deli, Bill feels he has the right to terrorize people because a situation in life would require his patience or understanding...or just a choice to shop for goods elsewhere.

He's the anti-hero, but he is written to vindicate the target audience's frustrations. Prendergast is not the Real Man, after all. Not until he....

 

STREET. Now back outside, making his way across the city, Bill finds a crystal ball that he can give his daughter for her birthday. It clearly catches his eye and he immediately attaches significance to it. We are reminded of the soothing London Bridges globe.

We see later that Bill's home movie memories include a horse that he tried to seat his daughter upon, oblivious to her fear and screaming that she didn't want to get on it. Maybe this is the one she would have wanted, say Bill's eyes.

While shopping he sees his Black Twin, being hauled away by the cops. The man is Black, but not looking like most of the Blacks in the film. This man is impeccably groomed, and dressed in slacks and a crisp white shirt—just like Bill. While Bill has been laid off from his job, this man has been denied a loan after being a bank's customer for seven years. Bill identifies strongly, and as the protesting man is shoved into the back seat of a cop car, he looks at Bill and says "Don't forget about me." Here is, again, your White Everyman being crushed by corporate interests, one of the Conscious threads in this film.

WAMMY BURGER: Prendergast's partner Sandra communicates in a few ways that she is really going to miss Prendergast as a partner. They worked well together, you can see this from their interaction. Prendergast keeps needing her attention in various ways, whether it is their planned lunch, or phone calls where he is trying to track down Bill Foster, as he makes his way across the map. She seems happy to give it, but is always pressed to obey her new Male partner.

Sandra is rendered a passive, helpless character, even though a cop! In this shot, her new partner, a co-worker she already knows well, is obnoxiously waving his watch in her face to let her know it's time to go. This dynamic was especially annoying for me to watch. It made no sense that she took this clown's constant gibing. What a role model for a girl to watch. This man was constantly her Master, telling her how long to talk, when to go, when to move, how to be a cop. The day wasn't over, her last day as Prendergast's partner. Yet she was throwin in with this fool. Another way in which the film showed its hate for women was to make Sandra oddly subservient to this jackass.

It was meant to play as humor, but there was nothing really funny about it.

   

STREET:

Bill walks by a mural of a dark skinned man being romantic/sexual with a lighter-skinned woman. The pole bisects both them and our vision as it moves to frame Bill.

He stops on the corner to dab sweat from his head. He walks on.

   
LEATHER STORE: Bill finds the one joint where the screenwriter can be sure to let us know that our main character is a good guy. Just a guy. Not a racist, no. He didn't open fire on those wounded Latinos because they were Latino, after all. He did it because they started a war when they wouldn't let him sit on the concrete. He didn't ridicule the Korean Grocer because he was Korean, per se. He did it because the soda was 35 cents too much. Bill is not a vigilante, as his new friend thinks, doing a Travis Bickle-like cleaning of the streets, or anything. Just tryin' to get home.
We know this by meeting an extreme, freakish, N*ziEmulator charater who attempts to bond with Bill, a bond that Mr Average Fed-up Middle America repulsively rejects. This man was listening to a police scanner, so he has been following the crimes of Bill Foster. The Notzi thinks Bill Foster is a hero. It's a quick and dirty way the screenwriters have of addressing the very real complaints a conscientious person might have watching People of Color targeted so obviously. They also really show a hate for gays in this scene, both painting gays as persecuted, as well as disgusting. The film does this a lot. Pretending to be virtuous while layering on the hate. This allows the viewer to feel good about being a watcher, and remain comfortable in many ugly views. While it's true that the anti-gay views are mouthed by a despicable character, these views are given screentime, and the homosexual lifestyle is shown either cliched (five seconds of femme begging chestly butch in the store not to fight), or as a repulsive thing (equated with prison rape).

The Notzi, feeling he and Bill are on the same "side" asks him, why did you do that? Meaning, why did you tell the cops I wasn't here? And the Notzi spells it out for the back row: "You are just like me! We're the same, me and you!"

You can see the SS outfit, and the gas mask in the center of this shot. There is light coming down from above, as the room is underground or appears that way, as if a bunker. Much clouds of dust fill the air too, as the Notzi speaks glowingly of his empty Cyklon gas cannister ("See? It's been used!" he gushes).

This scene really pours it on thick so we understand that despite the fact that Bill is now officially a murderer, he's still a good guy. He's not one of THOSE characters. Those Ign'ant Racists. That is not what is behind his fear of Brown people and cultural change.

What's this? The very repulsive man spits. "Faggot shit?" And he viciously smashes Bill's present that he was trekking all the way across town to bring his daughter.

Bill screams when the glass breaks. "Noooooooo!"

There are swastikas in almost every shot, creepy closeups of mannekin heads dressed in Nazi regalia and staring at Bill. The Notzi Fellow gets upset when Bill rejects his attempt to bond, and tries to handcuff Bill. He pants in his ear, simulating prison rape as he uses the handcuffs to confine him.

Bill stabs him with the butterfly knife, but the progression is not done playing out. He has to up the ante, after all. He's already fired a round into the leg of a wounded man. Now it's time to shoot one dead.

Just before Bill shoots this ugly character, there is a nice, tight shot of Public Enemy #1, from a poster. (Not the band.) This is not a POV shot, just an insert of him glaring at the viewer; just an emotional reminder.

Hey, here's a murder we can all get behind. Killing H----- by proxy.

It is from this point forward that Bill's right eyeglass is cracked. A break in one lens or in a mirror image will often signify mental disturbance or madness.

   

Under a blazing BLUE bug light, Bill calls his wife and lets her know he plans to kill her, but not in direct words. He zings one out to Latin America on the side as he ruminates on the legality of wife-killing in "certain parts of South American countries." He tells her his wife that he is "out of contact," now, and "on the dark side of the moon."

In this film, this electric shade of BLUE is the color of pending VIOLENCE and a state of madness.

   

HIGHWAY: We finally see the entire phrase next to the girl in the green bathing suit, as Prendergast tracks Bill Foster's steps with his partner. Does it feel dismissive or derogatory? WHITE IS FOR LAUNDRY it says. I bet Bill wouldn't appreciate that.

Again, we frame women as objects. And this comes, notably, just as Prendergast begins to close in on the killer. With his partner, who is a woman.

STREET:

Sandra, although apparently a healthy, able human, is forever relegated to a weak position of being questioned as to why she is not a "officer-esse" from the NeoNazi, pushed around by her idiot new partner, or toting her purse around everywhere she goes. The director (Joel Schumacher) makes sure to keep her adorned with this purse. She wears it all day and it feels like a prop. It doesn't hang well on her ever.

Just look at her posture in these shots. It says "I am ineffective, weak, scared, useless." And she must be, because Prendergast leaves her behind while he scrambles off to get a look over the peak of the hill.


Think about it.

As if this wasn't enough, when they finally, do get to the house Bill has been angling for the entire day—his ex-wife's home—Sandra gets shot and is left on the ground, as Prendergast picks up her gun and goes after the bad guy! Whew. Good thing he was there, that's all I can say.

As I said, all women in this movie are props that enable the men to live out the action and establish their beliefs and desired outcomes.

   

ADELLE'S TV.

The world in which Bill Foster lives is a dying one. It is being eaten apart by violence and crime and lack of good services, by People of Color, by corporate greed (he was no longer "economically viable" to his employer, the Department of Defense), by women.

 

This is the violent culture that has birthed Bill Foster. It is what he laments and becomes. The screenwriter and director show us a violent cartoon that his daughter watches, herself a symbol of the youth going bad.
Adelle Foster laughs at the violence, shoots at it with the water pistol her mother filled for her.
   
CONSTRUCTION DETOUR: Bill confronts a working man who is sitting on the ground guarding people away from a hole in the street. After forcing the man to admit (by showing him his gun) that there really was no purpose to the street work or detour; that the state is just blocking traffic and doing construction to "justify their budget", he pulls out a rocket launcher and decides to blow up the site.

 

Of course, in perfect character, Bill does not know how to operate such a piece of weaponry. How could he? He only works for the Department of Defense, and is not acquainted with these notions of weaponized violence.

Good thing there's a little Black kid on the scene!

The Black Kid of course knows how to operate a rocket launcher. Why not? He watches TV!

This idea that the child knows how to operate this weapon serves two purposes here. It ties Black people to crime, and it reinforces the Conscious Narrative, that the Nation is so increasingly violent that a child knows how to use military equipment.

Bill fires, and the rocket flies into a dark hole in the street. They both think it is a dud...
...until it explodes down the street.
 

The child says "Cool!" and Bill Foster looks at him with a mix of wonder and disgust. This is, again, to show how nasty the country has become, to tie Brothas and Sistas to it, and to place this Average White Male outside of it, only a victim, and appalled by this child's amusement of it.

This part really amazed me. What a whopper. Looking at his kid as if he is to blame for the rocket launcher that Foster stole from the man he has just shot—and then fired into a manhole. He is visibly put off by the kid's excitement. He steals, rants, murders and explodes indiscriminately (though to his logic it is all justified, you'll remember) and somehow we are to feel his hands are clean.

   
There is a golf course scene I won't go into except to say it once again bolsters the Middle Class complaint that the rich are eating up the land with thier golf courses. Bill gives an old man a heart attack and then laughs as he lies there dying. "Now you're gonna die with that silly hat on. Don't you wish you let me walk on your precious golf course?"
   
It's important to note that women are the cancers on the Men's lives where they appear in this film. The anti-hero, Bill Foster has been prevented from seeing his daughter by his Ex-Wife. He lives with his mother, who tells the police that Bill blames her for losing his daughter, for getting between them. Prendergast's wife nags at him, and even though she has lost her mind from losing a child, Prendergast frames it as her "losing her figure."
   

Again we see that Bill is a Christlike figure, a martyr. Here, he has cut his hands climbing a barbed-wire fence that guards a plastic surgeon's property, and has a bloody palm.

Also working in this scene to gain our sympathy is that he thinks the blood is from the little girl, and he gets terribly scared thinking he had hurt her.

This is another scene for the Middle Class Working Man who marvels over the sort of home that being a doctor of vanity can bring.

   

 

 

THE OFFICE: If you know Robert Duvall, you know just what kind of nice guy he can play. And we like him. We feel for him, because he is a wuss at the office. And everyone picks on him. Movie-watchers love nothing quite so much as watching the pushover get his cojones all in a line.

But how does he do it? By finally putting his wife "in her place." Sure, she's going off the deep end because their daughter died (too old) of S.I.D.S.; sure, he lets everyone in the office insult him, push him around, play practical jokes on him. But his wife nags. And who encourages him to stop "taking it" from her? His female partner. In this way, women are used to oppress women. It all looks okay to see Sandra egging Prendergast on and laughing into her hand when he finally "gives it to her," until you remember that the story is written by a man (Ebbe Roe Smith), edited by another man (Paul Hirsch), and directed by yet another man (Joel Schumacher).

For the most part, we have liked Prendergast. He's kind at first, seems affable, shrugs off hurtful barbs. Are we now supposed to love him? Yes. When he gets macho with his wife and finally stands up (telling her "And have dinner ready when I get home,") she almost trills with acceptance, and gives him a "yes sir" type of response. You feel that with just a little stern and patriarchal command, her mental entropy has been stalled.

Just after Prendergast barks at his wife and tells her to "shut up, just shut up" and such, the office erupts into cheering. It is not in response to his phone call. But that is how it reads to the viewer. You are in mid-reaction to his finally standing up to somebody, and suddenly all his office workers—those people who always disrespected him and loathed him—are clapping him on the back, cheering, and putting a party hat on him. The surface scene is a surprise goodbye party. The message is push women around, treat them like garbage, and you are on the right track.

One of the rewards of his spousal-contempt and surprise party is a stripper on a cake. Prendergast, being above the average man, demurs. He has to leave, to catch the crook. One man asks "are you afraid of women," and then Sandra's cartoon-obnoxious new "partner" says "have you ever seen his wife?" and then, at THAT point, when Prendergast's wife's honor has been tread upon by another man, he rushes valorously to aid her by punching this guy in the jaw, dropping him. Another mark for our pushover. Nobody disses my old lady but me.

We are very proud of him.

 

   

ADELLE'S HOME.

Now Bill is at his old home. It is where his wife and child live. They have fled, as he has called and let them know how close he is. The color BLUE reappears as he delves into his memories....


As we watch his home movies with him, we see that even though he always meant well, he has never been well. He is a control freak who can't see that his child is hurting or scared. He is wed to his idea of a good time. Yet we are to feel for him, because watching this, he turns away from the screen with self-loathing and regret.

And as a symptom of madness, well...they choose one that resembles a common human failing. For we are all capable of falling into a selfish and heedless habit of insisting that our way is The Way from time to time, even if it is not best for all, right? So Bill Foster is not even a "wack job" per se. Just someone who got too caught up in his own idea of happiness at the expense of those around him.

   

THE PIER.

Note the BLUE sheen, again, in Bill's glasses.

Here is only the redeeming part of Bill Foster's character. Here he finally gets to see his little girl, who is having her birthday party today. Bill has been made sympathetic by his searching for her gift and finding it—only to watch it be broken—by asking to speak to her on the phone, by gazing at other girls who are with thier mothers. Despite his failings, we know he misses his daughter. Adelle cries for her father with joy when she sees him. "Daddy! Daddy! Mom, it's Daddy!"

Bill's ex-wife plays a two-dimensional yet conflicted character. She has completely cut him off from his child, and cannot even defend that decision when the police question her on why she did it. So she looks vindictive and we feel a bit of sympathy for Bill. Yet, later we learn that he was actually abusive, at least in tone and controlling behavior, when we watch his home movies with him. He never gets physical, but you can see his ideas of a good time are bigger than his love for his family. He lacks empathy and gets mean and bossy and scares his daughter, but doesn't seem to see that. So we eventually understand that there may have been good reason for the Order of Protection, but for most of the movie, we see the mother as mean, and perhaps frivolously so. The writers need to perpetuate this confused motivation so that we see Bill as human and having feelings. But they do it in a lazy way. And of course, at the expense of a female character's development.

Prendergast shows up. Of course, the White Male Authority figure takes care of business and tells the mother and little girl to run for safety while he uses his female (shot) partner's gun to get the bad guy. We empathize with Prendergast for the most part, and here, he finally and fully becomes a "Man," as he risks his own life and limb, swaggers; and on his very "last day" as a cop solves a mystery and loses his cherry by shooting a killer through the heart.For a movie that is supposedly speaking against violence, it's an interesting way to resolve the problem.

Prendergast even begs Foster not to make it end badly, to just hold on, and come meet the cops, his backup, because they're some "good guys."

The epiphany of the anti-hero who finally realizes he is not the Hero.

Bill Foster incredulously says "I'm the bad guy?" It's always been my favorite part, to see him realize this. It is also the tale of the Average White Male who gives all to the system and finds he has been used. How did that happen? he asks, and he speaks for all the disillusioned Average White Male Americans who feel that after all they have done, after all they have bought into, they are yet losing their places, their moral authority, and are not even allowed to complain, for the baleful eye of society's judgment rests on them as if they are somehow to blame for all of it.

art by Nezua

img I FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT to remind a reader once again that I once loved this movie. Think of the messages, coming fast and furious, one after another. Movie after Movie, weekend after weekend, year after year. This is just film. These ideas are also proliferated in many other ways. And that is often what it means to absorb "mainstream culture." This is why I sometimes call it hipnotismo, why I say people and myself have been hypnotized.

Depending on a person's self-identification, awareness of media manipulation, amount of media absorbed, and of course, conscious effort, a person in everyday life will be harboring the results of absorbing these types of messages to different degrees. They will think using them, and act upon them. I am one who knows. I also know that stepping beyond them requires recognizing them first.

I must add that while it is good to come to awareness, the size of your mainstream movie collection may shrink in proportion to your accumulated ability to see through and behind the messages. A trade, I suppose.


UPDATE: Our amigo El Generál has a great video from youtube on the effects of absorbing the mainstream media's messaging for some.
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Comentarios (71)


Profesora Cero dijo:

GRVTR

Excellent post & I love your tone. LOL at many clever locutions in here! :-)


Ill Do Chay dijo:

GRVTR

A most excellent essay, nezua. Thanks so much. I admit I enjoyed that movie when I saw it. I am in the target audience, and in fact used to work in department of war. So many details in a movie, and so little time to see them consciously. I think I'm going to enjoy At The Movies.


Chimakwa dijo:

GRVTR

Thank you much for this. It's so easy to swallow this kind of social commentary without thinking about it, even when I'm actively trying to notice my lenses and think around them. Getting the benefit of your cinema theory experience only makes this more fascinating. I hope you write lots more of these.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

GRVTR

thanks, all. damn thing sucked the life out of me for days. amazing how many things you can get from a movie you watch only 89 times.

good to know it's coming through! good to get something actually valuable out of that education. ;)


Thin Black Duke dijo:

GRVTR

Excellent. This is just what I've been looking for. Looking forward to more.


Sylvia dijo:

GRVTR

Wow, Nezua; this critique was phenomenal. I loved the way you treated the screenshots -- the lighting, the color, the specific close-ups...and to think we absorb these images everyday without picking up on the signs. I loved this; thank you.


Rafael dijo:

GRVTR

I can not help, for some reason I can not explain, but remember the scene In The Heat of the Night where the effeminate white rich man slaps the Sidney Portier character and quickly get slapped back and then the white man pleads with the sheriff to protect him. Like it or not, that was one hell of a movie.


Kai dijo:

GRVTR

Very nicely done, Nezua. Disentangling all those messed up threads must have been torturous. Then again, if this flick was once among your favs, all those messed up threads were knotted up inside your own head, so it was important for you to disentangle them.

The film's casual attempts to counterbalance the weight of its consistently racist worldview by crudely inserting isolated "but some of my best friends are..." visual and narrative wedge-moments is particularly insidious. Just like the final realization of the protagonist's psychotic tendencies, wherein the viewer is invited to thoughtfully stroke his stubbly white chin and profoundly declare, "Ahhh, young grasshoppa, you see he had it in him all along, that's how these awful things that you read about in the news happen", simultaneously feeling superior to such unfortunate behavior while magnanimously sympathizing with the madman's flawed but understandably frustrated humanity. It basically tells the audience, "We all have a touch of crazy inside us, but fortunately you have it under control, until you don't, because honestly who doesn't feel this way in a world increasingly infested with weird brown savages crowding in on our upstanding way of life!" It really is a pretty malignant message, a sly invitation to sociopathic violence.

I saw the movie when it came out, with a young Iranian woman, and though we couldn't put our finger on the reason, it actually didn't work for either of us at all. We found ourselves shaking our heads saying, This is whack! And so damn slow! Yeah yeah we get it, he's mad as hell and isn't gonna take it anymore, let's lose the artsy pretense and cut to the chase and blow shit up until he dies. Seriously, that was our reaction. But I never realized just how nefarious the whole thing is and why I was so dissatisfied with it (i.e. we were not the audience being appealed to), I just thought it was too slow or something like that. Now I see a host of reasons for our discomfort. So thank you.

Anyway I'm looking forward to more socially-conscious cinematic deconstructions, this is brilliant stuff amigo...

Peace.



nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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True, Kai. I did it to help myself see the outlines very clearly, as well as for the other reasons. I have a lot of "favorites"...so maybe I can pop in some others and have a headstart on seeing through the imagery and devices. No matter what, tho, it takes multiple viewings and a bunch of notes.

Your second graf really nails it. The film is such an innocent seeming piece of fluff until you distill that grain of truth. And hearing peoples' previous reactions to the film is very helpful, too. Media is a powerful tool and treat. And we as a people are saturated and half alive in that world. Of course, our government is more aware of this than we are, for the most part. Why they frame all the death and horror going on as "images on our television screens"...why they forbid fotos of caskets and such.

When you stack up films with TV with social discourse as commonly framed with the images we all rely upon for the public marketing world combined with fashion and all the other symbols and stories we absorb, it is really quite understandable how the citizenry turns into a mass of zombies ready to be commanded, heart to head to saluting hand. In today's world, it convinces me that part of teaching critical analysis to children must, by necessity, include a means to decode the vocabulary of cinema and the language of all media and visual reference.

Thanks a lot for your words, and feedback. Clearly, with the amount of work it takes to do one of these, they won't be a frequent type of post, but the reaction is satisfyingly worth the work. I am mulling over my next choice already.

--

thanks to the rest of yas for ya feedback, and for reading, as well.


spotted elephant dijo:

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De-lurking to say thank you! I only saw a few minutes of this movie, and it made my stomach hurt. At the time I couldn't quite say what, besides the violence and humiliation, was wrong.

I know it was a lot of work, but I hope you keep this series going. Seeing the screen shots analyzed like that is really powerful, and helpful to those of us who don't have any training in film.


yo soy Horsedooty! dijo:

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HI it's me again changing the subject. Has anyone seen the movie 3 Burials of Melquiades Estrada? Tommy Lee Jones and Julio Cesar Credillo (as Melquiades) and Dwight Yoakam. It is about life on the Texas border in modern days.

yo soy Horsedooty!


COLORADO BOB dijo:

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An FYI :

Good news for Tubers: Today in Davos, YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley said that the site will soon start sharing revenue with its users:

"We are getting an audience large enough where we have an opportunity to support creativity, to foster creativity through sharing revenue with our users," Hurley said at the World Economic Forum. "So in the coming months, we are going to be opening that up."


Charles dijo:

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You misread one point, badly. You describe the scene for the first gang confrontation as a "pretty, untouched area of the city that has been appropriated by these Latino gang members." Not really. That's a spot just NW of downtown, it's a derelict area, a former residential neighborhood that was torn down, if you look closely he's sitting on a concrete stairstep of a house that was razed. The location is another symbol of the American Dream destroyed. If you know that area (I used to drive past it every day) you'd know that it was an old middle-class Latino residential neighborhood, now "lost" to decay, decrepitude and gang turf fights. The Latino gangsters are trampling on their own heritage. I assure you this was a deliberate choice by the filmmaker.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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I don't see that as misreading one point "badly," charles. One single scene can read as both appropriation of pristine land/pushing the White Male out (as much of the theme does) and still read as the "American Dream" threatened and destroyed. Your point about the concrete being front steps is a good one.

Your idea about the Latino gangsters "Trampling their own heritage" is separate. This will not read as such to the average American viewer. These symbols are more broad than your intimate knowledge with the area, or feelings about gangsters. These cartoon depictions of gangsters and the conflict filling this version of America are to be read by the average movie-going American. These symbols are arranged for a Bill Foster mindset. Look over all the symbols and metaphors discussed in this post. The level of specialized knowledge that you allude to would not make sense in context.

I do not think Schumacher intended to portray the Latinos as "Trampling their own heritage." That is not the slant of the movie. Look over the entire theme and plot.

The point about the concrete chunk being a home is relevant, and fits in very well.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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Thanks for letting me know, Spotted Elephant! And I know what you mean. That's the thing about media. We may feel our belly react to things our mind cannot discern. Despite The Decider giving intuition a bad name with his poorly-defended Decisions, the belly's signals can be very useful. (like when I shut one of His speeches off early cuz i'm gettin ill...)


Democommie dijo:

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Hola, Unamex:

Brilliant work, hombre.

Unfortunately, I will never again be able to view Leni Riefenstahl's, "Triumph of the Will" without wondering if there is some subtext contained therein.

Adios, for now.


Zardoz dijo:

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First off, you are a great writer with a good understanding for film (anytime a person makes an accurate comparison to 8 1/2 it's like flashing a badge of certification). This was a fantastic read. I think you made your points well and backed it up with sufficient evidence to make your hypothesis plausible. However, since this is a work of fiction, there are always going to be different interpretations.

A caveat, I haven't seen this film in 10 years, at least. But like you, I remember really liking it. While reading your review, I started thinking about the movie, Fight Club, and the different social messages thought to be conveyed in the film that became a topic for great debate. Indeed, when I clicked on the wikipedia link you provide, Fight Club is mentioned there as well.

I think both films are not so much political in their social commentaries, but rather psychological. In each, the protagonist goes through a series of events where he is gradually losing control of his own life and control of the world around him. By attempting to regain control, craziness ensues. Now this is where philosophical differences can occur. Is the world causing the man to "fall down" or is it something within the man that is making the world and himself "fall down"? Personally, I believe the latter.

I think the racism is not so much the social commentary of the film but rather a byproduct of the protagonist's rage and sense of helplessness. I don't believe the camera here is being objective but taken from the point of view of a man who has lost control of his own life. Depression and rage makes you see the world through glasses that are fogged causing one to see the world differently.

When watching these type of movies, I think it is important to realize that there are more logical errors in the Bill Foster's point of view than correct assumptions. The film isn't saying the world has gone to shit but rather Bill Foster's mind has gone to shit. All he can see is the worst in everything. Fight Club is a better movie, in my opinion, because it gives hope since the protagonist is able to recapture his sanity whereas Bill can't conquer his downward spiral.

Once again great work, Nez. Now I gotta go rent this movie again. Who knows, after I watch it, I might wind up agreeing with you.


Democommie dijo:

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Senor Nez:

I saw about the end of "Falling Down" (the last 5 minutes or so) several years ago and then the other night I saw the scene with the two gangbangers--that's my exposure to the film. I remember thinking that it was non-redemptive in any way that I understood. I have often watched films with friends and then, while talking to them about the film, come to realize that they simply didn't see a lot of the movie. I think it's partly the "gift" of ADD that allows me to be hyper-focused on flickering images; but it's also the part of my mind that does look for the imagery that, at first, might seem only incidental to the story. Thanks for letting me know it's not that crazy.

Zardoz:

If we learn nothing else in our time here, we really should try to understand that we can control nothing, except our responses to the stimuli we receive (and that only imperfectly). The desire for control is fear-based and is the root cause of most conflicts. The two words I would love to be able to obey when it's not my business is, "Walk away". There are enough things I can work on, inside me, that I needn't waste my time, or attempt to usurp the power that orders the universe. Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox, now. Namaste.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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Zardoz, the point of view you ask the viewer to isolate and deem unwise is not given an "outside" frame with which to deem it unhealthy. The film itself is framed with these messages. The antihero skates at the thin line of being blamed and blameless, but he too in the end is forgiven for being a martyr.

Here's a very obvious example of what I mean: Prendergast's woman-hating is not the psychotic Bill Foster's view! It is the filmmakers'. I could give many more, actually, but I think there is ample evidence of my points made herein.

I would be interested to see how it reads when you give it a current viewing. And then read this again. Regardless, I am going to give it an edit and I will make just a few things clearer, as I have grabbed some more stills and taken a few more notes.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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jeje...thanks democommie! it's the velveeta commercials you really want to ware.


Rt Hon McAdder esq KBE dijo:

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hullo again. Message from the Empire here.

I've always disliked this film. The stereotypes were pretty obvious back whan it was released as well.


Crash is pretty much the same kind of junk. The movie is totally unreal.


Desert Chicano dijo:

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I need to watch this flick. Good post carnal!


Democommie dijo:

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UnaMex:

I asked the General to have you review "South Park The Movie--Bigger, Longer, Uncut", next, but y'know what--I'll do it myself. I think I can deal with sorting out the semiotics in Cartman's diatribes and figure out what it is about Trey Parker's fears that makes him keep whacking Kenny, over and over and over, again.

BTW:

Is that really purty lady in "Like Water For Chocolate", the one who is immolated with her forbidden lover at the end, is she a witch? That was my take.

Buenos Noces


SeattleDan dijo:

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Brilliant commentary. I haven't seen the film, but I can see it's appeal, as we live in the world of Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly who tells us all the time that illegals are here to take our jobs, and we all get calls offshore calls from outsourced phone solicitors. As white guys, all we can say is where are the jobs? Why cant you all learn to speak English?

I took my son to see South Park the Movie when he was too young. I ended up having to explain much more than I should have had I been a better parent. (Though my wife was delighted to know that the overarching theme was the hunt for the clitoris).
Now he is old enough to explain more stuff to me.

Having read this, I'd love to see Nez's close reading of "Blade Runner", which among it's many levels, deals with multicultaralism. And is probably a better movie.


Heraclitus dijo:

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This is an excellent post, Nezua. I saw this movie on videotape in high school. I remember liking the killing of the Nazi, but not much else. The friend I saw it with thought that the taunting of the dying golfer at the country club was a bit too much. Since I had already worked a couple of summers mowing grass and such at a country club golf course, I wasn't so sure.

My only question is, what do you make of the presence of both all the racism and misogyny, and the anti-corporate message? The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but it does seem like a strange combo. Any thoughts?

Again, a great post.


Heraclitus dijo:

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By the way, that's easily the best "we have to hold your comment in moderation" message I've ever seen.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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SeattleDan, I like your idea of Bladerunner. It's such a well-worn movie with many public critiques, I'd be a bit intimidated to take it on, but perhaps I could bring another angle. Either way, I may take that challenge.

--

Heraclitus, thank you. Perhaps the "bit much" was a jolt from a poor seam between the odd joining (as you also point out directly) of racism and fear of multiculturalism inside the same man as someone who acts violently on a complaint (loss of land to golf clubs and the elite) that is often heard on the lips of liberals, often of that same crowd? Does it feel wrong? Forced?

And to take that into your next question, maybe the confluence of motivations in one character was to provide a vehicle that could fit within it the most clowns?


seattletammy dijo:

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? Does it feel wrong? Forced?

mi esposo is enraptured with this movie- I've gotten so into it after many viewings - But the film does illustrate so many cultures, Edward J Olmos bending little orgami animals??? and slurplin' noodles?

Tonight we watched the 100 one hit wonders on VH1. All new production to us.... until SeattleTony told us it was produced 5 years AGO!

Sigh.

we're so old.



patriotboy dijo:

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Great post.

One of my commenters pointed me to a short documentary called A Girl Like Me. I think it should be seen by everyone who reads your critique. I've added it to the post I wrote directing people here.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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thanks, 'mano. i'll scribble that one down right now.


Miss Cellania dijo:

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Wow. You've taken the feelings I had while watching this years ago and explained it all so logically. Yes, they wanted us to see the world from the character's eyes, but half the audience doesn't "get" that, and a lot of the other half see the world in the same manner already.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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Miss Cellania, thanks. Right on.

My original thesis was simply that a glut and a consistent one, of movies appealing to this point of view to one degree or another will harm young people seeing that this point of view is so prevalent and prevailing, ultimately. They are only given certain choices of views in such limited presentations. Additionally, I do see these movies as both indicative of many current social views as well as a means of perpetuating them. So any comment that these notes I take on messaging are "only representing Bill Foster's point of view" squints through too small a lens, in my opinion.

To address the point you reference, yes—my issue is that the denigrating frames with which these Types move is interwoven seammlessly with the filmmakers' own frames so that there really is no effective separation between the (constantly-justified) "psychotic" views of Bill Foster and the audience's orientation.

Por ejemplo: How are we supposed to feel about Latino Males, after this? Both obvious choices are shown (both linked and identified by the long, black and shining hair tied back); both sneering; both in your (the White Male's) face—the aggressive body language of Sanchez in the doorframe still I didn't-quite capture above is really great, and really syncs up with the knife-pointing vato)—both "taking over territory" of one of our White Male protagonists? (One with land, another with the case Prendergast wants to solve.) There is no distinct and separate frame to stand in and say "Well, Latino Males are, perhaps, not here to take over territory in one threatening form or another?" There is no place. This spreads a notion wide, and it does it on multiple levels.

A young person absorbing this, a person without strong means of other identification or critical media analysis tools (or even if he does have them) sees himself, or his father—or at least how his people are perceived by the rest.

Finally, with this particular movie, we pretty much look down on everyone aside from the White Male. Him and the bright, affable Japanese cop. Man, he sure was cool.

So there is one example of what I mean when I disagree that the racism is confined to the "Bill Foster" character, along with a practical application to my original point.

These themes run across and over diogetic lines and make their way to us despite what we think of the story.


George Smiley dijo:

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Interesting that our reads of how this film works are so similar, yet our conclusions so different. I have always seen the film as seen almost entirely through the (delusional) eyes of Douglas's character. However, I have never seen that character as even remotely sympathetic. (This may be because I despise Michael Douglas, and assume that anyone who would cast him *must* want the character played by him to be hated by the audience.) Seen in that light, Douglas's character is a straight up replay of Travis Bickle, and is quite similar to DeNiro's reprisal of that role in The Fan. Both of those films are, however, superior to Falling Down, which is a movie that I have never liked (except for the golf course scene). Actually, now that I think about it, I've only walked out on two movies, ever: Wall Street, and The Game -- both films with the excrescent Douglas in leading roles.


Rambimbo dijo:

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Very nice deconstruction, which I enjoyed reading.

I did not see this movie because even at that time I thought it was making the poor, put-upon, white male seem like a martyr. As a SWF, I've spent 25 years in a white collar job with exactly these kind of guys, and their sense of martyrdom, which is really a sense of entitlement, is almost comical to see. They really do think that life owes them a reward simply for "working hard and playing by the rules" -- as if life really is that simple that it can be defined by a basic formula. When life sucker punches them as it inevitably does all of us (i.e. their wife leaves, their daughter takes up with a lout, someone undeserving person gets promoted) they become perpetually outraged, and blame it all on EEO and political correctness and the media and all those aliens we allow into this country. I certainly wasn't about to spend my hard earned entertainment dollars on a movie celebrating these kinds of guys. Thanks for confirming my initial doubts about this movie.

I look forward to reading more of your deconstructions.

Yes, the size of my mainstream movie collection has been shrinking!


Democommie dijo:

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Nez:

I was listening to Terry Gross on Fresh Air this afternoon, interviewing Guillermo Del Torro about his new film, "Pan's Labyrinthe". The movie sounds interesting but he sounds VERY interesting. I will have to look up his filmography. Keep up the seditious work.


Biff Spaceman dijo:

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I thought this was a well thought out argument but I interpreted the film differently no doubt due to my paleness and David Lynch overexposure. (doppelganger). My thought was that the mirrored protagonists both lived in imperfect worlds, tainted by unreality via the media and status quo, with their link being the wives.

BF is on a suicide mission, and by extension so are the white middle class conservative types barely hanging on as the world changes around them. After being fired from his job, he continues to pretend to go to work until he can no longer maintain the fiction. BF finds the monsters he has put in his head, the monsters of the white middle class that drove white flight to the suburbs and out of "urban" areas. At the same time he finds those white monsters of his tribe-the nazi guy, the privileged white guys (plastic surgeon), crooked government and golfing retirees (AARP commies). BF becomes the spreading madness. The (black) man outside the bank is a version of BF; rejected by a system to which he subscribed and foreshadows BF's confrontation to come with the police/system (and meant to show that BF is not a racist jerk, but a sexist and classist jerk). The black kid represents the counterpoint to BF's childhood (and return to childhood/good old days), whose jaded knowledge shocks BF.

BF's wife lives in the reality of GP, embracing the world rejected by BF (and GP's wife) in his suburban world, where he had retreated to his childhood in his mother's house. BF's wife is a victim who has taken action by embracing the world and now must again take action. GP's wife is in BF land, hiding in the house afraid of "ethnic" people who might kill him.
GP lost his child and is retiring so that he can take his emotionally damaged wife to retirement in Phoenix (white flight). He has chosen to reject his job/identity and the "urban" life and embrace the white flight to the suburban refuge. His kindness is taken for weakness at work as BF's abusive nature was seen as appropriate discipline in that milieu. Where GP works there is token multiculturalism and gender equality but no more than a token amount-the boxing white conservative dick wagger is in charge (the stripper at the retirement party, the callous dismissal of the victims of BF's rampage).

Most of the cop shop scenes are in a cubicled, fluorescent lit office that bleaches everyone's tone. GP and his colleagues have no power (committed to a system that disenfranchises them) and rarely take any stand beyond complaint and snark, which I took to be a kind of "liberal paralysis" caused by "political correctness" and the bureaucracy (the mayor's office). For him to successfully pursue his journey he must travel along the same but parallel path as BF, think as he does, but not become tainted by BF.
When GP confronts his wife, he does it in as loving a way as he can. BF's confrontation is much more sinister but only implies that he is going to kill her. But BF sees the fear and terror he has wrought and realizes that he (Defense) is not the wronged hero defending What Is Right And Good but, like the US, has become a bully pushing (ethnic) people around and wondering why they hate and fear him. His suicide by cop is his way of slaying the monster he has become by submitting to the system that rejected him in the manner he dealt with on his rampage.
I thought the efforts to make BF seem reasonable are the trick: the status quo is a suicide pact for BF, who is rejected by the system he loves as he is rejected by his (supposed to be) subordinate wife. GP must overcome having given in to the irrational and take some measure of control, not just against his wife, but as a symbol of irrationality and fear due to suburban isolation.

Hell, if you read this far... just a different thought. I appreciate the work you've done here and on Jesus General, too!


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

GRVTR

hola george...well, as much as you detest douglas, i do think he is meant to be likable. his mischievous little-boy smirk, and his "hasta la vista, baby" lines are clearly meant to tickle us.

travis bickle had hope, believe it or not. "one day a real rain is gonna wash all this scum away," his dream for the prostitute, wanting to save her....

Bill Foster has nothing but breakdown, as i see it. no hope. one big difference. plus paul schrader is brilliant. taxi driver is a real work of art. this is technically well made. but not art. i guess that's part is subjective, tho, eh?


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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yes, rambimbo, despite the "antihero" status, i do see this film as validating those kinds of beliefs and behaviors. that's why all the justifications and laugh lines are built on notions of privilege.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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Biff that's a great narrative you've built.

however i don't see it doing much to counter the critiques i've made about symbols perpetuating racism, or the two-dimensional characters, or the justification of the Average White Male's rage at losing privilege and feeling encroached upon. Those symbols and metaphors still read, even if we frame things your way. which is a very thought-out and interesting way, no doubt.

ps, david lynch was one of my favoritos even before flim-flam school.

--

democommie, i am very excited to see that film. i have been since i saw the art from it. some stills. looks very wild, something i might be able to really get into. we'll see.


George Smiley dijo:

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Nezua,

I just want to emphasize that I'm not arguing with your interpretation. It may well be closer to objective truth than my own very subjective response. One possibility is that the film is meant to be seen in different ways by different audiences... if so, it's more cynical than even your analysis suggests. And I think Pan's Labyrinth is a genuinely great film, the yin to the yang of Brazil.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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George, I got ya. And you're right. Such calculation would be a chilling thought.

Brazil! An old favorite. Wow. I'm even more psyched to see the film now, if that's possible.


Christopher dijo:

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"My only question is, what do you make of the presence of both all the racism and misogyny, and the anti-corporate message? The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but it does seem like a strange combo. Any thoughts?"

Well, one thing that occurs to me is how often anti-semitic culture casts Jewish people as the rulers of the world.

You know, the ZOG, the wealthy Jewih Banker, that kind of thing.

More broadly, a narrative that pervades a great deal of conciously racist thought is this idea that white people are objectively better then other folks, but that these other folks have somehow gamed the system in order to come out ahead of their betters.

In other words, that a white insitence on playing by the rules allows cheaters to beat us.

In modern American racism, there's often a sense that somehow the bad folks have invaded the system, climbed to the top, and then changed it to screw over white people.

In that context, I don't find anti-corporatism to be entirely surprising.

Also, it seems like it may be signifigant that Douglas' character is laid off by the government, rather then by a privately owned corporation; It seems to me that in racist narratives it's more likely to be the government that has been corrupted by non-whites then corporations.

It's a choice that narrows the scope of any anti-corporate ideas the protagonist might have.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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Christopher, I agree it is definitely significant that Bill Foster has been laid off by the govt. I just wasn't sure in what ways. You make a good case for your ideas here.

The idea that an "insistence to playing by the rules" will allow the "Cheater" to win fits in well with the story's arc. After all, in Bill Foster's very first interaction in the film, he says (as he brings the Korean shopkeeper to the floor) "I'm standing up for my rights." So he is saying "I'm not playing by these bullshit rules anymore," as well. and he doesn't for the rest of the film. It is very clear that he thinks these "types" of storeowners are cheating, that the construction crew is cheating, that the the Wammy Burger is "cheating" with their fake advertising, that the plastic surgeon is cheating the Dream, the homeless guy is cheating (lying, even); that we are to see the acceptance of FOODSTAMPS as exactly the kind of cheating your line of thinking here suggests the gov has been "corrupted" by. So the idea fits in well, as I see it, with the overall narrative. Good call.


Kai dijo:

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On the anti-corporatist front, I'd also add that Lou Dobbs calls himself an anti-corporatist. Just like Gap adds are about flower power, peace, love, and understanding. Just like today's pop artists all "keep it real" and Fight Club is subversive. In other words, it's a classic appropriation of anti-establishment hipsterism by the establishment itself, stealing the symbols of coolness while draining them of their actual meaning. In short: it's a lie.

I mean, Bill Foster is not anti-corporate in any way that I can discern, he's just pissed off that real life doesn't look like an episode of Leave It To Beaver and he needs a macho hook with which he can sell his ridiculous sniveling petty weakness. As far as I can see, that's all there is to it, forget the other distractions; because if life looked like the Cleaver family there would be no suggestion of anti-corporatism or other ideological smokescreen. Life isn't going your way? Welcome to life, Mr. El Stupido, only a privileged little brat would find this so upsetting. The rest of the world deals with bigotry and hunger and disease and war and human rights abuses and depraved exploitation, but little white boy is upset, waaaa! The faux-rebelliousness of racists is just pedestrian misdirection intended to mask the fundamental adolescent immaturity of the emotional state they're acting out.

Hehe, I think ya got me going, Nez, look out! ;-)

Peace.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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kai you got me laughing like xp when he busts out his junk. so true, es verdad, simón...

thanks for the breathafresh


lizvelrene dijo:

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That was fabulous. Would love to see more.

We forget sometimes that with all of the time, all of the manpower, all the eyeballs and all the editing that goes into every second of film - nothing happens "accidentally" in a movie. Nothing. Every character was carefully cast, every background image was carefully selected. The final result doesn't always convey what they wanted it to convey, depending on the ineptness of the production, but the ingredients are never an accident and can't be dismissed. I love this kind of analysis and there are so many destructive messages in our media that desperately need to be picked apart.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

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thanks lizvelrene. i may have scoped out my next film to do. and more importantly, the "types" of films i want to cover. with reason. more on that soon.

yes...on your point about the many eyes: film crews are like a temporary city, a subsociety. i've thought of this often. the amount of attention and energy committed by so many, to enacting an illusion. it's a small hyper-powered world existing only during a limited orbit. from PA to Producer, i see no other product (save perhaps the modern-day Imperialist Ideology) that is worked on by so many people with such intensity in order to produce such a seamless alternative to reality.


Flewellyn dijo:

GRVTR

This was an amazing analysis. I had seen the things you describe before, when I saw the film, but this lays it out so well and so clearly, tying it all together, that I must defer to your insight.

One thing, though: when I first saw the film, I did not believe that the racist, sexist, and overall reactionary elements of the film were pernicious and evil things, simply because I thought the film was a satire. I was well-acquainted with the "everyman hero" genre of films, and thought that Falling Down was a cutting, incisive parody of their cliched themes and tropes. After all, I thought, if you want to show how destructive a particular cultural myth can be, pushing the viewpoint opposite the one you want to assert, and pushing it so hard that it falls to pieces, is both time-honored and effective. I thought that I was viewing a film equivalent to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal, satire both subtle and deadly precise.

It was not until I saw the end credits, and the name "Joel Schumacher", that I realized my error. I was already familiar with his ouvre through such films as The Lost Boys, and knew that Schumacher wouldn't know subtlety if it came up behind him and bit him in the kidneys, if you'll forgive the paradoxical metaphor.

You see, sadly, and frighteningly, I think Schumacher set out to create a serious "everyman hero" film. This was before he had gone completely off the rails as a director, so he still had some art about him, but he was incompetent enough to make his film so over the top that it became self-parody. I would forgive the film its sins in ostensibly promoting the viewpoints you articulated so well above, just as I forgive Swift for supposedly promoting the notion that we should eat the children of the poor, if and only if it really was meant to be a satire. But accidental self-parody does not grant immunity, in my book.

This really destroyed my enjoyment of the film, because I was faced with the brutal truth: what I had thought to be my personal holy grail of film, a true Swiftian satire, was in fact the product of incompetence, not brilliance.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

GRVTR

Hola Flewellyn. Thanks for commenting and adding that.

I agree. The idea that this is satirical is ruined by the fact that it does not "meet in the back." As you say, there are areas you can look at that do not hold up under the weight of an analysis that seeks to forgive based on some brilliant exposing of ubiquitous cultural myth, or set of cliched themes.

Aside from finding those areas (some are explained above), it is also sometimes as simple a matter as looking at how the character is written. I know when I'm watching a character that the writer, director, and actor want me to cheer, versus when I'm watching a man they want me to find ridiculous.



belledame222 dijo:

GRVTR

awesome. (settles back happily with the popcorn and rewinds to take it in from the beginning).


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

GRVTR

thank ya belledame222! i'm glad i could make you put down your axe for a second.


belledame222 dijo:

GRVTR

>My only question is, what do you make of the presence of both all the racism and misogyny, and the anti-corporate message? The two aren't mutually exclusive, of course, but it does seem like a strange combo. Any thoughts?>

It feels like yer basic right-wing lumpen-to-middle nativist "populism" to me, actually, (hey, blaming the "international bankers" is a classic) and is something we're probably going to be seeing a lot more of this next while, as the neocon Empire "falls down" & (if) the neolib, equally corporate "alternative" continues to be no bloody use at all. these are the people who vote Constitution party or Pat Buchanan or don't vote at all, but exercise more and more elaborate survivalist fantasies; this is Mel Gibson, too, really, in a way, or would be if he weren't like supra-rich. this is the "Quiverfull" movement, and Minutemen, and the people who just fantasize vaguely in that direction ever so often. This is where the brownshirt meets the road. this is the shit you want to watch out for.

ugh. actually, this reads like "inside the MRA's head." never did see this one. really chomping at the bit to see it now, i tell you.

seriously, besides everything else, is there -any- movie with Michael Douglas in it where he does not make me want to beat him senseless with a live lobster? No. No, there is not.


belledame222 dijo:

GRVTR


>More broadly, a narrative that pervades a great deal of conciously racist thought is this idea that white people are objectively better then other folks, but that these other folks have somehow gamed the system in order to come out ahead of their betters.

In other words, that a white insitence on playing by the rules allows cheaters to beat us.

In modern American racism, there's often a sense that somehow the bad folks have invaded the system, climbed to the top, and then changed it to screw over white people.

In that context, I don't find anti-corporatism to be entirely surprising.

Also, it seems like it may be signifigant that Douglas' character is laid off by the government, rather then by a privately owned corporation; It seems to me that in racist narratives it's more likely to be the government that has been corrupted by non-whites then corporations.

It's a choice that narrows the scope of any anti-corporate ideas the protagonist might have.>


>On the anti-corporatist front, I'd also add that Lou Dobbs calls himself an anti-corporatist. Just like Gap adds are about flower power, peace, love, and understanding. Just like today's pop artists all "keep it real" and Fight Club is subversive. In other words, it's a classic appropriation of anti-establishment hipsterism by the establishment itself, stealing the symbols of coolness while draining them of their actual meaning. In short: it's a lie.>


Also good points.

ugh. can you say "fascism," kids? I knew you could!!

after all, it -was- National -Socialism-, theoretically at least.

yeah, it doesn't have to make sense; as we see, all one has to do is push the "you been WRONGED" button in the soft place, give 'em a little ol' razzle-dazzle and hey presto! you've got a romance.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez dijo:

GRVTR

yes...michael douglass does tend to evoke the "live lobster" beatdown urge, i must agree...


John dijo:

GRVTR

Wow. I followed a link here from pandagon and am really impressed. I remember seeing this movie when I was much much younger.

Thanks for blogging!
Cheers
John



Lava Lady dijo:

GRVTR

Yes, yes, yes. I saw this film long after it was in the theaters - It looked like trash to me, but I was curious about it. Watching it as satire made it palatable, but I knew that it wasn't intended as such and that was chilling.

I'm thinking of bringing the introduction to this post to my video store to explain to one of the guys there just why it matters to me if and how "brown people" are portrayed in films (a matter of disagreement between us - no surprise, he's a white guy, gets to see himself depicted in myriad ways, not so for me).

And all of this reminds me to come back some day and respond to your post about "half white"-ness.


silver dijo:

GRVTR

brilliant... i found this movie really irritating to watch, even before i took six years of art history/film studies/politics & pop culture classes in university. as a woman, the female characters in this film made me so angry at them, and i wasn't much better pleased by the male characters. you do a solid, thoughtful analysis here.

i think one of the most insidious things about this film is how it sort of ritualistically absolves viewers of their complicity with systems of oppression because they aren't "as bad" as Foster, therefore they "aren't racist." it takes racism and misogyny and figures them as extreme, then locates them in characters that are clearly insane, allowing for the acceptance of more subtle forms of discrimination possibly at work in the viewer. those forms are, as illustrated by Duvall's character, merely what the White Man is entitled to.

the Japanese cop *is* cool, but he's also the very model of what a "good" (i.e. assimilated and law-abiding) immigrant "should" be, and how he should behave.

anyway: this blog rocks. you're on my "must read" list, now. :)


abw dijo:

GRVTR

Heraclitus, certain white people that are leftest, liberal, and libertarian are often both racist and misogynistic, even though they are often anti-corporate. They only get this way when their livelihood is at stake. Does not seem all that offbase to me. Ditto to the poster that felt Crash was not all it was hyped up to be as well. To someone that mentioned The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-it came off as a bit paternalistic to me. Kinda like I been there before with Mississippi Burning. One of those films where the good white man saves the day for helpless, hapless people of color. Really, the films are not that terrible, just not all that progressive as they are hyped or believed to be. None of them. Not Falling Down, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Taxi, etc.


abw dijo:

GRVTR

Heraclitus, certain white people that are leftest, liberal, and libertarian are often both racist and misogynistic, even though they are often anti-corporate. They only get this way when their livelihood is at stake. Does not seem all that offbase to me. Ditto to the poster that felt Crash was not all it was hyped up to be as well. To someone that mentioned The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-it came off as a bit paternalistic to me. Kinda like I been there before with Mississippi Burning. One of those films where the good white man saves the day for helpless, hapless people of color. Really, the films are not that terrible, just not all that progressive as they are hyped or believed to be. None of them. Not Falling Down, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Taxi, etc.


abw dijo:

GRVTR

Heraclitus, certain white people that are leftest, liberal, and libertarian are often both racist and misogynistic, even though they are often anti-corporate. They only get this way when their livelihood is at stake. Does not seem all that offbase to me. Ditto to the poster that felt Crash was not all it was hyped up to be as well. To someone that mentioned The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada-it came off as a bit paternalistic to me. Kinda like I been there before with Mississippi Burning. One of those films where the good white man saves the day for helpless, hapless people of color. Really, the films are not that terrible, just not all that progressive as they are hyped or believed to be. None of them. Not Falling Down, The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, Taxi, etc.


WHITE COLLAR DUDE dijo:

GRVTR

That has got to be the worst interpretation of a film i have ever seen, you are reading into it to much, god you talk about being hypnotised? Your still under dude...


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez Author Profile Page dijo:

GRVTR

your comment is worthless. you hope to deride an analysis that took this much work, education, experience, and time with two sentences rife with poor spelling? if you think you have done anything but make yourself appear silly, WHITE COLLAR DUDE, then i honestly feel bad for you. practice these drive-bys in themirror or something before you take them out on the blogtown. save yourself the humiliation, thnx.


Tim dijo:

GRVTR

Nicely composed, and some interesting takes on things up there! I use this film in a literature/composition class I teach, so finding more commentary on this film is always a plus. I tip my hat to your thoughtful and interesting analysis. Good stuff.



paranoid idiot savant dijo:

GRVTR

haven't seen this movie in years. super interesting analysis. i've not formally studied visual media as you have, but ever since i read "tv: the plug-in drug" in my college years i have been looking at tv/movies/video games etc with a new and uneasy appreciation and respect for their power and potential for intentional or oblivious use, misuse...a real pandora's box.

as near as i remember, the whole experience of the movie was sort of like watching a split screen for me. i felt like i was seeing everything from different points of view simultaneously, but the overall experience for me was, this is a very sad movie on a lot of levels. my subjective point of view is colored by: the experience of watching multiple loved ones succumb to psychosis; the experience of being an inner city teacher of "white" race in a "predominantly non-white" community; a victim and witness to multiple incidences of black on white agression including being disabled by a group assault by "non-whites" or "brown people"; of being classified and pigeonholed and stereotyped and accused of being a racist because of the color of my skin; of trying very hard all my life to be a "good" white person, ie not a racist, living in moral inventory mode and trying to be sensitive and sometimes failing badly; of identifying with the feelings of many of the characters while recognizing the tragic ramifications of the behaviors those feelings lead to.

there is a song at the end of kevin smith's "dogma" by alannis morissette, a song from God's POV, how he watches us from on high being so clueless and cruel and childish, and how He (She) loves us still, even tho the things we do break His(Her)heart. this movie reminds me of that song.

to me, the film falling down came across as a rohrschach (?) test (one of those ink-blot things psychiatrists use, i think that's a rohrschach test?) and made me think about how our perceptions of the world around us are as much or more about what is going on inside our heads as they are about what's really going on around us. reality is subjective!!!!

ten or more years after watching that movie, these are the impressions it leaves with me. i can't remember if my immediate reactions to it were different when i was watching it. i only watched it once.

i was aware that filmmakers use a "language" and you can begin to know what is going to happen by camera angles, certain light etc but your excellent analysis really expanded my understanding of this exponentially. scary that so many are COMPLETELY unaware of how this art/communication form affects one's thought processes. if every consumer of audiovisual media was educated about this, how would it change our society, economy, etc? the possibilities totally boggle my mind. kinda puts that "thou shalt not create graven images" commandment in a whole new light. even back in the day somebody (Somebody) was aware of the awesome power of audiovisual communication.

that snapping noise you heard is my brain spraining. let me go put some ice on that while i attend to less lofty things: an ice storm is approaching and we are very prone to power outtages here so i have to bring in firewood, find candles, feed up the chickens, and all that other mundane crap.

thanks for the mental workout, it was really great.


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez Author Profile Page dijo:

GRVTR

thank you for your thoughtful comment, and for sharing some of your life story with us.

i think it is definitely a valid message to take away from the film, that of the many realities. i think that is a valid lesson to take from any story, now that i think about it. a story is an analogy, a way of telling two stories, just as this does. two at least.

yes...i am very glad for my education and study and awareness of visual media and the ways it speaks to us. once armed with that, it can never quite work the same way on you again. and not only that, you can work it to your own will. and use that power to counter the many harmful message out there.

what sort of saddens me the most about the whole "race" thing is that it hurts everyone at once. until we cease and negate the harm being done behind the notions of "colorism"/white supremacy, etc, we all suffer.

i think you are right about the graven image metaphor. or rather, it rings true, the insight you propose. very interesting.

thanks again for reading and commenting.


Rumbero1 dijo:

GRVTR

Nezua,
Thank You so much for the total breakdown, that was really intense! I am just going into the film production program at ASU and your analysis was right on point, and very funny too. I wonder if you have read Latino Images In Film by Charles Ramirez =Berg, University of Texas Press Austin, it also contains a brilliant deconstruction of this movie. I must say though you took it all the way out. I loved the way you illuminated details in various shots and some underlying meanings too. Somehow it reminded me of the Cathedral in Barcelona by Gaudi, you gots to keep writing dude.
Gracias Mil,
E.J


nezua limón xolagrafik-jonez Author Profile Page dijo:

GRVTR

EJ! i really appreciate all that. please enjoy your work with film (i know i still do), and thanks for your words and the recommend! i'm jotting it down for sure.

and dont worry. very little could stop me from writing! i'm sort of afflicted with it.


abw dijo:

GRVTR

Nezua, the people critiquing the analysis of your film are not observant enough.