If you’ve ever had any doubt that movies influence, look no further than to consider the effects of this month’s movie, Gasland (Fox, 2010). It is difficult to imagine how a propaganda film that presents such a complex technical topic to a public audience could garner much interest, let alone stir so many in our nation toward irrational fears. However, as we have noted in our past commentaries, fearmongering is a great way to attract attention and to create public unrest.
Regarded by cinema historians as ‘the best propaganda film of all time,’ and a film that continues to inspire violent debate, Triumph of the Will linked Riefenstahl forevermore in the public record with fascism and Hitler.
—Felicia Feaster, Turner Classic Movies
Neither is there anything to be gained by ignoring her skill as a filmmaker, her place in film history, or her influence. Rather, we hope that this retrospective . . . will contribute to a discussion of the unsettling power of cinema and the relationship between documentary and propaganda, as well as the complex but crucial interplay of aesthetics and ideology.
—Leni Riefenstahl • UCLA Retrospective, UCLA Film and Television Archive
Throughout this year as we examine the theme of propaganda, it is useful to introduce a few simple concepts along the way that can help us to see why a film may fit into this theme, and if it does, to decide whether or not its communication succeeds in its intended influence given its design. Defining propaganda can help us with the first task, so that is where we will begin. Continue reading Propaganda: Activating Flawed Ideologies
The 2018 Golden Globe Awards, hosted by Seth Meyers, aired on Sunday Jan 7, live at 8 pm EST on NBC. (live-streamed online for the first time.) The all-black red carpet of this year’s Golden Globes, the black outfits of attendees and Time’s Up pins, were designed as visible protest against the abuse of women in Hollywood.
The Golden Globe nominees in the Motion Picture category are shown below, with winners highlighted.
Best Picture — Drama
- Call Me by Your Name
- The Post
- The Shape of Water
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Picture — Comedy or Musical
- The Disaster Artist
- Get Out
- The Greatest Showman
- I, Tonya
- Lady Bird
The collapse of Enron and the conviction of its accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, mark a critical juncture in American business and political life. Not only the accounting profession but corporate America as a whole—and those charged with regulating it—must now confront what has been learned, what is at stake, and what can and should be done to restore public confidence in the integrity of the markets.
—Bigger than Enron, Frontline 2002
Before we watch the documentary film, Enron, The Smartest Guys in the Room (Gibney & Kliot, 2005), let’s assess our knowledge of the Enron scandal.1 Do we even remember the rise and fall of the Enron Corporation very clearly? After all, a new generation has emerged since the company’s December 2, 2001 bankruptcy. And, noting the date, did some simply discard that news, since we were then, and are still, adjusting to the devastation resulting from the bombing of the World Trade Center towers?
Comparing the Enron Case to 9/11
We can compare the two events in time, but maybe very little else to compare otherwise. Of course, the collapse of Enron was earth-shaking to many people around the world who had invested in the company and had faith in its positive pronouncements. And, it was earth-shaking to others who had benefited from Enron’s philanthropic largess.
However, were lives lost? Were there lasting injuries? Unfortunately, we must answer “Yes” to both. Continue reading Injustice Served at Enron, AA&Co: The Roles of Michael Chertoff and Sherron Watkins
Filmed in Wiesbaden, West Germany, this month’s movie, Martin Luther (Pichel, 1953), received Oscar nominations in 1954 for Best Cinematography, Black and White, and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black and White.
As one of the producers of this movie, the Lutheran Church in America’s presence suggests a protestant bias, although we expect an unbiased historical accounting from its statement as part of the credits at the beginning of the movie,
This dramatization of a decisive moment in human history is the result of careful research of facts and conditions in the 16th century as reported by historians of many faiths.
Often described as “a humble German monk,” Dr. Martin Luther (1483 – 1546) was also a gifted scholar, having attained the highest level of university education. He served as Professor of Theology at the University of Wittenberg for his entire career, and as a Catholic Augustinian Priest until his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521. Continue reading Dr. Martin Luther: Persuader–and Not Simply a Humble German Monk
Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle.
—Thomas Jefferson to John Norvell, 1807
Over the last several months, we have watched a number of movies that have served as catalysts for discussion on the topic of persuasion. Via Blossoms in the Dust (LeRoy, 1941), we learned about the work of Edna Gladney, and how major and lasting social change can come about through the activism of a passionate person acting alone. Most certainly that person acted within the context of her world at the time, thus one could argue that it was a village that produced the outcome (Clinton, & Feinman, 1996) or that the person didn’t really do it without help (Obama, 2012).
If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business – you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.
One may, of course, proclaim that same message for any positive human achievement since Adam and Eve; and, further, we are intensely aware that many powerful ideas and actions have come from within the ranks of people who have benefited from American citizenship. However, the same “unbelievable American system” has also produced scores of others who were not persuaded to take action to move humanity to a higher level. So, it seems that those achievements of some individuals involved something beyond that village or simply the American system. Continue reading Are You Persuaded to Join the Herd?
George Cukor carefully avoids the obvious effects in telling this story of a husband (Charles Boyer) attempting to drive his wife (Ingrid Bergman) insane; instead, this 1944 film is one of the few psychological thrillers that is genuinely psychological, depending on subtle clues —a gesture, an intonation—to thought and character. Boyer and Bergman are superb, and Angela Lansbury makes her debut as a cunning cockney maid. It’s also one of the few films to expand the use of offscreen space, not simply to the sides of the frame, but to the areas above and below the image as well. With Joseph Cotten and Dame May Whitty.
—Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
In this month’s movie Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), Charles Boyer’s character, Gregory Anton, sets out to enact a well-planned strategy of deceit, to gain the possessions of a famous opera singer. He almost succeeds because his wife, Paula, is such an easy victim of his treachery. Her vulnerability comes from being a female ingénue, having grown up in the opera singer’s (i.e., her aunt’s) London household.
Mind control is an interesting concept. This terminology most often conjures up notions of intrigue, sci-fi, destructive cults, MK Ultra, and maybe thoughts of Jason Bourne. In describing Patty Hearst at her trial, her defense team highlighted Hearst’s terror and the abuses of her captivity, suggesting that she may have been drugged into a “disordered and frightened” state. The idea that many believe about her circumstance is that she was brainwashed, “also known as coercive persuasion or manipulative thought reform” (Morabito, 2014, Apr 15), and developed what is known as “Stockholm syndrome,” a mind condition where she unconsciously abandoned her own prior belief systems and took on the mindset of her captors (Jameson, 2010).
What does it mean to be brainwashed? Continue reading Propaganda, Mind Control, and Engineering Public Opinion
Now and then, we must re-visit our history to know what we’ve gained in our progression of movie-watching. When we began our film exploration in January 2010, it was simply that, an exploration. However, even then, we looked at films that revealed important ways in which the movie and the spectator interact to construct their stories and to reveal their biases.
Since then, that exploration has evolved into a somewhat more systematic treatment of our focus of study. Through the use of themes and the occasional “film on film,” we are developing a better vocabulary for talking about our movies, and a better understanding of various aspects of film communication. Continue reading The Use of Images in Persuasion: Miracles and Magic in Montage
Those of us who watched the Golden Globe Awards this week, or heard about the event after the fact, know that in accepting the Cecil B. DeMille Award, Meryl Streep gave an impassioned speech. Without naming names, most likely everyone in the world knew the context and the individual about whom she spoke.
But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good; there was nothing good about it. But it was effective and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh, and show their teeth. Continue reading Impassioned Speeches: Edna Gladney and Meryl Streep