Defined as a “process aimed at changing a person’s (or group’s) attitude or behavior toward some event, idea, object, or other person(s), by using written or spoken words . . . Under our PERSUASION theme, we explore aspects of persuasion in film.
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
Amazing isn’t it that Thomas Jefferson expressed such skepticism about what is reported in the newspaper. And, that was in a smaller and simpler, yet less connected world. Now, when we are better equipped to get access to information, we seem to be much more easily misled.
Through our movie this month, The Witness (Solomon, 2015), we see how an entire nation of over 300 million people—through well-known and well-practiced, but perhaps unwitting, techniques of persuasion—can buy into a common, but false, understanding based on newspaper reporting. In this case, the fake news persisted over some 50 years. Continue reading Fake News: Are You Persuaded to Join the Herd?→
The ideals of journalism are facts, confirmed sources, and unbiased reporting. It should be the mission of every news source to adhere to these principles, but the reality is that human nature interferes—opinions, emotions, and personal agendas. Thus, we are surrounded by biased media who cherry-pick sources, manipulate narratives, and report with the intention to influence public opinion. As revealed in The Witness, the 2015 documentary film about the Kitty Genovese murder, the well-renowned The New York Times is not above such questionable means (Solomon, 2015).
The Witness documentary about Kitty Genovese chronicles Bill Genovese’s quest to find out why not one of the reported thirty-eight witnesses stepped in to help his beloved older sister (Salomon, 2015). After her murder in 1964, intense grief and inner turmoil plagued Bill Genovese’s life until, four decades later, he set out proactively to find the truth. Through the course of his personal investigation, his questions multiplied exponentially—specifically those about human nature.
Bill Genovese tracked down and spoke with witnesses who had heard or seen portions of Winston Moseley’s two attacks on Kitty. The Witness shows an interview in which a former neighbor claimed to have called the police. Records of these calls cannot be found. Continue reading Where Were the Heroes for Kitty Genovese?→
It has been three quarters of a century since Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), filled its first audiences with eerie vibes that have not diminished with passing generations. Having stood the test of time due to intriguing plot, superior acting, and solid movie making, the film Gaslight continues to have a lasting impact on viewers, especially those who can apply its meaning to current events. Patrick Hamilton, a little known British playwright, wrote the original play, “Gas Light (known in the United States as Angel Street),” in 1938 (“Gas Light”, 2017), and unknowingly coined a term that has survived to become, most recently, part of American political jargon.
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.
With recent attention on the film Gaslight (Cukor, 1944), let’s not overlook its director, George Cukor (1899-1983). There is much to be learned from this interesting man who got his professional start in New York. Starting in the mid 1920’s when silent movies evolved to talkies, Cukor was called to Hollywood as a voice coach thus giving him opportunities to work his way up to the coveted role of director. A prolific career of over 60 films and an Academy Award for Best Director in 1965 for My Fair Lady (Cukor, 1964), on top of numerous other nominations, ensured that George Cukor made a strong mark on Hollywood. Continue reading George Cukor, Director of Influence→
He was the Rupert Murdoch of his day: a media baron who made millions marketing scandal, crime and crisis. He was so rich, he built a castle as a monument to his vanity. So iconic that his life story inspired the movie classic ‘Citizen Kane.’ When William Randolph Hearst died in 1951, he left future generations of Hearsts set for life—safely cushioned in the bubble of their birthright. But on the evening of Feb. 4, 1974, that bubble burst.
—Josh Mankiewicz, Dateline NBC
The documentary film, Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (2004), is a synopsis of a high-profile criminal case, which in the 1970s had most of America enraptured. The movie is worth your while for at least the following four reasons:
First is the movie’s accurate portrayal of UC Berkeley and other similar college campuses in America in the late 1960s-70s. Forty years have passed since the Patty Hearst case, yet it is strikingly similar to what is going on today. A few weeks ago, UC Berkeley was mired with violent protests against Milo Yiannopoulos of Breitbart News, a conservative media outlet (Gecker, 2017; Ross, 2017). Not only disallowing free speech on the campus, but the UC Berkeley protesters also removed metal barriers, smashed windows in buildings both on-campus and off, and defied police, who, fortunately, were able to protect the speaker from the violence.
But officials said it was a smaller group of protesters dressed in black and in hooded sweatshirts that showed up as night fell to break windows with metal barricades, throw smoke bombs and flares and start a large bonfire outside the building with a diesel generator.
‘This was a group of agitators who were masked up, throwing rocks, commercial grade fireworks and Molotov cocktails at officers,’ said UC Berkeley Police Chief Margo Bennet (Gecker, 2017 Feb 2).
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 earlier belief systems and took on the mindset of her captors (Jameson, 2010).
MoviesonChatham continues our discourse on the Spring 2017 theme of persuasion with the documentary, Guerilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst (Stone, 2004). The 1974 kidnapping of “newspaper heiress” Patty Hearst was sensational.
In California, the SLA shoot‐out seemed an event almost as gripping as a Presidential assassination. People stopped strangers on the street to ask if Patty was all right, and called friends to tell them to turn on the television. At the Student Union in Berkeley, groups gathered around monitors, staring at the incongruity of palm trees and flame. It seemed horribly ironic that such a holocaust would occur in Los Angeles. As long as the SLA had stayed in the Bay area, they managed to foil all pursuers. It was as if they were protected by a ring of sympathetic communities unwilling to help the FBI. (Davidson, 1974).
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 build their stories and to reveal their biases.