Ashes and Diamonds (1958, Andrzej Wajda)

A Poetic License To Kill

*This is a Spoiler Review*

In my conquest to explore the gems that span across the ever impressive World Cinema, I am often drawn to that of Central and Eastern European films. Having explored the brilliance of Czech New Wave, I was introduced to a group of filmmakers known as the Polish Film School. A group of directors active between about 1956 to 1963, often dealing with Polish identity with a complex history in the wake of WWII. The first film I have chosen to see from this group was recommended to me by a friend**, and that is Ashes and Diamonds. After a little research I discovered this film to not only be one of Scorsese’s favourites, but also considered Francis Ford Coppola’s favourite film of all time! And so,* if you are looking to watch it, I was able to rent it from Amazon for £2.99.

A Brief Synopsis

This 1958 film, directed by Polish director Andrzej Wajda, is based on a novel from 1948 written by Jerzy Andrzejewski. It follows the story of Maciek, who is a young resistance fighter, ordered to kill the Communist leader, Szczuka, in the final days of WWII. As the film progresses, Maciek falls in love with the enchanting Krystyna, which starts to dissuade his intentions of continuing a life of assassination and running from enemies. Although, it may have been tempting for him to start a new life with her, he regrettably goes on to kill Szczuka, and abandons his chance of starting over, choosing a life of violence which inevitably brings him to being shot en route to his escape.

So What did I think?

Wajda has a very serious command of visual storytelling. To say the cinematography in this film is a complete visionary masterpiece is simply an understatement. The cinematographer, Jerzy Wojcik is perhaps the greatest of unsung heroes in this film. Within the mise en scene of the film, Wojcik illustrates themes such as the doomed fate of characters through cinematography. A moment I found particularly striking was in the finale; a party of merry countrymen and women dance to a Polish Waltz and Krystyna is forced to dance with them. The camera is positioned laterally to them, slowly tracking backwards. Krystyna’s life is slowly being realised as one without Maciek as more of the set around the frame is darkened, revealing A claustrophobia inducing shot as the brightness mid frame lies in stark contrast do a darkened frame. Krystyna’s life is being swallowed up by an inevitable darkness. This is only one of the many understated decisions with cinematography that further visualise the state of the characters and the fate that awaits them.

The second strongest element to this film, in my opinion, would have to be some of the performances on behalf of the cast. First off, the character of Szczuka played by Waclaw Zastrzezynsky. The antagonist of the story, is characterised in a very morally ambiguous manner, playing a rather sympathetic villain. Although his regime and ideals are considered to be wrong through the perspective of the 2 lead assassins, Wajda carefully knits in Szczuka as a sympathetic father longing for his long lost Son who has radically gone against the regime he has struggled to fight for his whole life. There is an ora of mentality from the filmmakers that shed’s politics and War in a negative light. It provokes the thought that despite the main character Maciek having a duty to kill someone, has every intention of not doing so, it’s not supposed to be satisfying as the spectator when he finally gets around to shooting Sczuka. 

The complexity of Polish nationality is clear here, different ideologies seem to seep into one another as good and bad play second fiddle to a very War torn country, not quite recovering from a war. This is highlighting the ashes left from the likes of the Warsaw Uprising which is very fitting for the title; Ashes and Diamonds.  Instead of glorifying the murder of the antagonist, we are instead made to feel sympathy for him. We know that the act was not a good one right after Maciek shoots his pistol. In Szczuka’s last dying breath, he embraces his killer. Maciek is left there with a dead body in his arms as celebration fireworks blaze up into the sky, masking the gunshots. It is a bitter and morbid moment, which has been excellently crafted, through the poetic nature of the mise en scene e.g. the fireworks lighting up the sky and reflecting into pools of water that surround Maciek as he seals his fate and runs away. A strong light projects onto Szczuka’s lifeless body. A haunting element that feels well built up to as the last act of the film crescendo’s to a finish.

Adam Pawlikowski plays the role of Andrzej- Maciek’s superior officer. If I didn’t know any better, I’d bet that this character was a strong influence on the likes of the James Bond archetype that would precede this film in a few years. The role is handled with precision as this character has laser focus, cut throat attitude, all business, and dutiful, whilst looking suave at the same time, which makes him a perfect contrast to Maciek. Maciek is played by Zbigniew Cybulski.

Cybulski is clearly the superior Star in this film. He develops a very memorable performance with an iconic look, with those dark shades and a personality that beams from the screen. He has a magnetic chemistry with the love interest and has a very dynamic contrast to his counterpart, Andrzej. This character is able to add levity and moments of comedy to the scene often if it seems like it needs energy to break it up. As a strong Beatles fan, this film was recommended to me after being told that Cybulski’s iconic shades had influenced the look of Stu Sutcliffe, which was a nice touch. There is no doubt that this actor is very James Dean-esque, in his look, and acting style. His ability is not limited to this however, as he attaches very nuanced elements to his performance particularly in his attitude towards Krystyna, in the way that he is able to romance her. Cybulski even had the ability to make scenes interesting when they may have otherwise seemed dull. For example, when he is chatting to the Innkeeper at the Hotel about their love for Warsaw, the dialogue is arguably uninteresting, yet, through his acting ability, a sort of magnetism makes their dialogue feel more important. A testament to how Cybulski’s performance has been greatly revered even by today’s standards.

The film’s overall story is rather excellently constructed, with heavy themes of violence and its negative implications. I gathered a difficult glimpse into the complex and moral ambiguousness of the national leaders at the time of a Post-War Poland. I felt strongly compelled to sympathise for Maciek and Krystyna and their doomed love story. This film was able to capture my imagination in many ways particularly the poetic license taken in the comparison of crushing coal to German occupied Poland. Poland is the coal that will either crumble into ashes from the pressure or it must birth a diamond. The characters in this film are subjected to the same crushing pressure. The War and the German occupation has reduced many of the buildings to dust and ashes, in a world where people need to rise above and shine amongst the aftermath of the conflict . There is no doubt that this film felt meaningful and complex in how it positions the character’s relationships to each other, in its cinematography, and in its general craftsmanship. It proves itself to be brilliantly engineered. This film is definitely something that would deserve a re-watch as I know I have probably missed several moments of genius, and there is no doubt that Wajda offers something very valuable to the Cinema.

Creativity Project

Synopsis:  getting high on creativity.  

How important is the influence of recreational drug use in recreating our interpretation of colour, shapes, and sounds? do we peek into a new dimension in which we can create? Or are we spiralling into a void of cataclysmic understanding?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVgPLzZ69no

This a short film I had created during quarantine, I wrote, filmed, and edited it together within about three weeks.  It wavers between an experimental idea that is partially a documentary that tries to ask a question yet it is also has a visual narrative. It has no dialogue per say but rather leaves more of its interpretation up the viewer. It is very much a compilation of images alongside music in many respects but this is not to say that a film that heavily plays with montage cannot have any merit in narrative story telling however non-linear or disjointed it may feel. I feel it is attempting to create  an atmosphere. This atmosphere is otherworldly, even psychedelic. In the first minute of the film I have tried to capture a mundane muted atmosphere, until the influence of recreational drug use starts to take place.

The girl in the film is my girlfriend. This idea started from a dissertation she was doing which involved a question.  Does recreational drug use have an influence on creativity? And so we decided to make a short film that illustrated this question. During the filming process I had let it evolve into different ideas. The plan waste film her with a bouquet of flower, some paint, and a blank canvas. What could she do with these at her disposal in exploring creativity. Taking the flowers and cutting them up, putting them through her hair, throwing them at a blank canvas, then taking the paint and illustrating something. I explored the idea of colour explosion. Going from ammeter brown/grey colour palette to creating a set with every dimension within the frame being a kaleidoscope tapestry, whilst a multi-coloured lamp flashes through random colours, a disco light projects shapes and colours of great variation and fairy lights droop down around her. I wanted to illustrate a near, sickening amount of colour. Too much of a good thing. A child who’s eaten too many sweets. 

I felt that the use of kaleidoscopes helped in influencing our creativity. A scientist on homescience.com explains that “kaleidoscopesare used to enhance our vision in some way. Vision depends on light, and optics are used to control light by reflecting or bending it so that we can see in different ways. Kaleidoscopes use mirrors to reflect light into beautiful shapes and patterns”. Perhaps having these tapestries in the background added to the otherworldly atmosphere I attempted to create. 

The film goes on to show the subject looking directly into the camera in a hazy peaceful moment. Its as though something has been achieved and a resonance has been accomplished. It feels self-reflexive. She looks onto the viewer happily, the experimentation is complete. Then it cuts a shot of her looking at the camera lying down, the music swells, there is anticipation, she looks to the viewer with more contempt now, perhaps a dissatisfaction. There is a sense of danger as the drug use goes to a different level. There is then two overlapping shots in the final section of the film. One half is close up shots of her painting and the other, a slow motion, medium shot of her face from a low profile side angle. She’s smiling and in a wondrous state. I edited this in this way to highlight a distortion of time between how she may be perceiving something compared to its actuality. The final shot where the credits are shown is a few seconds showing a plate that had all the paint on it being washed, it is on loop going backwards and forwards. This final shot was poignant because it has something to say about the actuality of the question raised in the synopsis. Was this whole experiment really a glimpse of delving into another world of creativity? Or was it a pointless exhibition from the beginning? Like the messy swirl of colour endlessly getting washed on repeat in the final shot. Was creativity really being explored? Or was that just because it felt as though it was in the moment? At the end of the experiment, we are kind of just washing around a mess of colour and not achieving anything.

In this experimental film, I wanted every part of the experiment to carry through. This meant that the project was started with little planning, and the question of recreational drug use in accomplishing creativity had to outreach not just the subject’s creativity but also have an influence on the creativity involved in the filming, editing and overall creation of the project as whole. This was in order to have a cohesive level of experimentation from the planning stage to the publishing of the film.

Ranking ALL Star Wars Films (Yes even the ones people don’t know about)

Never again will the world see another film franchise as big as Star Wars. The O.G. powerhouse franchise has more sequels, prequels, pre-sequels, spin offs, books, magazines, games, toys, and just about every possible item with a Star Wars sticker slapped on it than we can even comprehend. I may be the billionth person to do this list but as a self confessed expert I will give my opinion, please feel free to tell me why I am wrong. The Star Wars community are famously quite the heated bunch and often. do disagree.

please note: this list will include every official Star Wars film released Canon and Non-Canon. All 9 Episodes of the Skywalker Saga. The two Disney spin off movies. Those two Ewok films everyone tries to forget about. Star Wars the Clone Wars; the Film. And of course, the Holiday Special.

Also a big shoutout to the TV Shows: Star Wars the Clone Wars, Rebels, and of course The Mandalorian. Some of the best Star Wars content we have seen in recent memory.

15. Caravan of Courage; An Ewok Adventure (1984) [1/10]

This film… imagine the scene. Arguably the most perfect trilogy to come out of Hollywood, nothing could’ve been a good follow up but anything would’ve been better than this. A cheesy straight to TV cash in for kids. There’s not much to say about it other than the ever detested/loved Ewoks disappointed enough of us that most of us were able to forget about it. You do start to wonder how it came to be, having been written by George Lucas himself. Perhaps its best if it is left behind in the annals of Star Wars history.

14. Ewoks: The Battle for Endor (1985) [2/10]

Unfortunately for some, it was not all forgotten. A sequel, and a second go at trying to adapt the Star Wars property more to kids. A strange off-beat story that was unbelievably written by George Lucas once again. I was just glad they killed off a bunch of people at the start that were annoying. The only saving grace was that this one was a little bit more sure of its identity as a film and wasn’t afraid to be a little darker. But it was a little too little and lot too late. make sure to give it a watch if you want to visit an obscure pocket of the Star Wars Universe that not many people visit but besides that? not much to say about it.

13. Solo: a Star Wars Story (2018) [5/10]

Woah, what to say about this film. Not only was it the only film to ever fail at the box office, but it was released at a time where all of the Star Wars fanbase had a bitter taste in their mouth from Disney forcing a new slate of movies down their throats. No one wanted to see Han Solo’s origin story, some people may be upset at this positioning in the list as it can be a rather fun adventurous film at points. But it is unmistakable that the original direction of the films was squandered by directors being fired. The overall film shows glimpses of unfinished ideas and a lack of clear thought through character arcs.

Some highlights for me however were Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover’s performances as Han Solo and Lando Calarissian. You can tell they were passionate about adding to the lore of the characters. seeing a young Han Solo meeting Chewie was pretty funny too, and that new Millennium Falcon design? mind blowing.

12. Star Wars TV Holiday Special (1978) [5/10]

Yes here it is, perhaps one of the strangest follow ups to a huge Hollywood film to ever exist. Coming out a year after the original movie this was supposed to be one of those classic Holiday specials seen on TV with guest celebrities, music and generally a fun time, but everything in this completely misses the mark.

Awful acting, strange reused footage, creepy animated segments, a four armed cooking show, Princess Leia singing THAT Holiday song, Mark Hamill’s terrifying post-car accident face, and even Chewbacca’s Grandfather? Getting off to VR porn? Forever sketched in the back of my mind. This is slowly becoming a cult classic among Star Wars historians and if you are a die hard fan, you HAVE to see this. Not only because of how obscure it feels, and how trippy it makes you feel, but it is one HELL of a time. a perfect representation of its so bad its good.

11. Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones [6/10]

Finally we have the first of the actual Skywalker Saga episodes. This movie is in the middle of the unforgettable Prequel trilogy which was off to a rather shaky start in the previous episode. Hayden Christensen enters the field in a performance that has been the subject of years of laughter from his line of hating to sand, to that strange moment where screams about killing those kids. This movie has some strong points from the final battle which just had a billion lightsabers which I just stanned as a child. Ewan McGregor is constantly a strong point in the prequel trilogy. The CGI may have not aged well but was very groundbreaking at the time, and how could we forget the awesome battle at the end with Count Dooku played by the legendary Christopher Lee. It is a shame it has so many boring Politics scenes and flat dialogue.

10. Star Wars The Clone Wars (2008) [6/10]

I struggled to find a place for this movie in the list, I appreciate George Lucas alongside the magnificent Dave Filoni trying to dive into the animated side of the Film industry. Once again Lucasfilm broke new ground in film making, and that definitely shows. Perhaps, if it wasn’t for some of that clunky dialogue Lucas is known for and a rather annoying Ashoka Tano, it wouldn’t have struggled as much. As I write this in 2020, the Clone Wars TV show is some of the best star wars content EVER, and makes me love Ashoka a lot now so perhaps I look back at this one with rose tinted glasses.

9. Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace (1999) [6/10]

The film that couldn’t live up to the hype. The longed for follow up blockbuster since the original trilogy that fans had clambered for years. George Lucas was at the helm as director once again and a star studded cast to follow from Liam Neeson to Sam L. Jackson. This was not the film that any fans had expected going in a complete 180 degrees direction than what fans had come to know about Star Wars from the Shakespearean dialogue to kiddish Jar Jar jokes and drawn out boring politics. However, i’d argue that regardless of the film’s quality, nothing could’ve lived up to the hype that would follow up such an iconic trilogy. Furthermore, this film pioneered in the world of CGI and Darth Maul igniting his lightsaber to the Duel of the Fates is pretty awesome too.

8. Star Wars Episode 9: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) [6/10]

Ahh finally, the highly anticipated climax to a story spanning over 40 years. The end of the SkyWalker Saga imagined by a stubby nerd from California in the 70s all the way to the biggest Franchise in the World being produced by Disney. The last slate of films perhaps had seen a bit of a decline at the Box Office with frustrated  fans, and a lack of a clear direction, perhaps this film was a little too unorganised and confusing in trying to stick the landing and perhaps the task was too large to tackle but this film just lacked clear direction, themes, and identity. Nothing can sum up the thin veil that covered up the Disney money grabbing monster that fans had long since theorised about than when than its opening crawl read; “Somehow Palpatine has returned…” the clear thought through auteurship of Lucas was gone and the lazy and random plot points of a corporate generated industry was now how Star Wars would be seen.

I will argue though that as a die hard fan of Star Wars you will surely appreciate how it celebrates the legacy of Star Wars and is a fun time too. With plenty of call backs to the original trilogy, a ton of fan service, and a satisfying end to Kylo Ren were the some of the highlights for me. as a Star Wars fan how could I not love seeing Chewbacca finally get that medal.

7. Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi (2017) [7/10]

There you have it, the most controversial of all the Star Wars films and the sole reason behind why most people have made these lists in the first place, it is the Marmite of the franchise. Either you think it is a bold new direction for the series, transforming what Star Wars means, or you think it completely disregards and destroys everything people loved about it, is hard to know.

Regardless, people have strong opinions on this one. I have attempted to extinguish the flames by putting it in the middle of the list, whilst I enjoyed the beauty and boldness of the film along stunning performances and fun action, I just am still trying to come to grips within Johnson’s way of dealing with Leia and Luke. I’ll not say anything more to spoil things but we can’t deny that this film may have been responsible for the Boycott of Solo: A Star Wars Story and perhaps putting a final nail in the coffin which was lowered seven feet under a cemetery of die hard fans hopes of a trilogy that would delicately preserve the characters of the original trilogy.

6. Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of The Sith (2005)  [7/10]

Its gonna be nothing but praise from this point. Yes George Lucas struggled a bit in his second go around in Star Wars but OMG did this movie not disappoint in any shape or form. All the problems faced in the rest of the Prequels were extinguished, no Jar Jar, Christensen put out a stellar performance with Natalie Portman compared to Ep.2, no boring politics. Lucas knew exactly what his style was at this point, every line of this film has become iconic and created a legacy on the Internet, this is probably because my generation was the perfect age to see this that as soon as we heard of reddit meme pages, we couldn’t stop showing our love for it in our nerdy adult life. Brilliant action from the beginning, dark themes, an intense roll into setting up the original movie, iconic villains, a brilliantly cheesy tale about space wizards and family and legacy and love. I’m taking the high ground on this one.

5. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2018) [7/10]

The number 5 and 6 spots are quite interchangeable to be honest. This film I really enjoyed. Fans were just starting to trust Disney with their baby and this one needed to succeed and man did it succeed. There may have been some issues with story arcs and character development due to too many chefs spoiling the broth but this in my opinion a textbook formula in making a fun Star Wars side quest. Excellent characters, like K2SO and Jyn Erso, super fun call backs to the original film, enticing villains and incredibly groundbreaking reintroductions of actors who are no longer with us. Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin was resurrected better than anyone could have ever done and we also got to see Princess Leia in her prime just before Carrie Fisher passed. There’s a lot in this one. And no one can forget that amazing fight scene that showed Darth Vader in a way we had never seen him before. The Franchise was looking so promising at this point, re-sparking that much needed magic.

4. Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens (2015) [8/10]

I have a feeling some people may think this one is too high up on the list. I get that, this movie is safe, it was the first of a new era of Star Wars, now out of the hands of Lucasfilm for the first time. JJ was more than competent to carry on the legacy. Yes it carried a lot of the same beats on from Ep.4 but this film is one of the biggest ever box office films of all time, whilst bringing back all of our favourite memories from the original trilogy and creating a brilliant new trio, a super cute new droid and one of the strongest villains of the 21st Century, in Kylo Ren.

The hype for this film paid off in a massive way and its strength lies in its willingness to strip back the meaning of these films to what they were originally and bring them to a whole new generation. To me, these films have been on a constant decline since this point.

3. Star Wars Episode 6: Return of the Jedi (1983) [9/10]

This one was definitely my favourite as a child watching them on VHS, but here we go, to no surprise the original trilogy steal the top three spots. Call me a traditionalist if you wish but in my eyes, and probably most people’s eyes, the original trilogy are and forever will be untouchable. The third instalment of this trilogy sees the big climax to the most epic films to ever be produced at the time, changing American cinema forever. The ending of Luke’s journey as a true hero, the romantic connection between Han Solo and Leia, the wonderful side characters from Lando to Chewbacca, and the redemption of Darth Vader, this is exactly how you wrap something up in a perfect bow. That something being a tragic story of glory, battle, family, heartbreak, perseverance, triumph over temptation and evil. The legacy of this trilogy was cemented forever and what a perfect way to end it.

2. Star Wars (1977) (later titled: Star Wars Episode 4: A New Hope) [10\10]

Here we go. Well, one and two was such a toss up, both so good in their own ways, but how can you even fault the O.G. film? The movie that started it all. The movie that spawned a new era of blockbuster films in Hollywood. It reminds me of an Oasis of Water in a dessert, all things surrounding it come to it to be nourished. As does any new Star Wars material, coming back to its source of greatness in Star Wars, a very high bench mark to start things off and is rarely met.

This film was somehow miraculously crafted by a young and hungry director, in many ways an indie film. A far out gamble taken on him that paid off in a way no one could’ve predicted. No one saw this film coming. Not Alec Guiness, not Harrison Ford, not 20th Century Fox, not even George Lucas himself. Every element of this film is etched into our lexicon today, the force, a lightsaber, the Millennium Falcon. I don’t believe there to be a film that ever captured people’s imaginations quite like this. A perfect marriage of soundtrack, colour, new waves of movie magic, characters, and at its heart, a pure and simple story about answering your destiny.

despite the funny dialogue, and the little mistakes still found today, it’s all the little imperfections that make it even more perfect, it’s all in the character of it. A beautiful quirky seed that would grow into something super special, and a big part of my childhood.

  1. Star Wars Episode 5: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) [10\10]

The King of the hill. A very common place for most people’s lists. This film is one of the few to be considered better than the original. That’s a very difficult thing to do, in fact its not un normal for movies coming out nowadays that if a sequel is better they will refer to it as an Empire Strikes Back. But why? This film takes the magic of what Star Wars was and took it in a truly bold direction, darker and braver and more high risk. At this point the whole world had fallen in love with Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, R2, Threepio, Obi Wan and Darth Vader, add in the excellent parts of Lando and Emperor Palpatine, Boba Fett and Yoda and you have the most awesome group of characters gracing the screen.

The music is heartbreaking and glorious, the relationships between all the characters is so dynamic it has you on the edge of your seat, the action pieces are truly groundbreaking and breathtaking, the biggest plot twist in movie history, the somber but hopeful ending, the perfection of this film is not nearly done justice in words. It is literally an orgasm of sight and sound. It is the reason I first got passionate about film. When I see it today I truly am transported back to being a child again and that is a testament to this films ability to truly capture magic on screen, and so, it gets the number one on my list.

And that is my list finished. As a film student, there is such a massive world of Cinema to get accustomed to and as much as I may appreciate a Tarkovsky film or French New Wave, none of that was able to quite clearly capture the magic of film like some of the movies I have mentioned here today. Star Wars may have been the biggest part of my childhood and that does lead me to ponder whether or not it has influenced me in any way as a 20 year-old film student, and honestly? Of course it has.

Written by George.M.McBurney

Why has going to the Cinema been likened to dreaming?

  In this essay I will argue that both dreaming, and cinema-going is a form of escapism from reality. I aim to explore different theories of psycho-analysis from Freud to Mulvey and how it links to the visual experience of film. I will discuss apparatus theory and how it treats cinema in its purest form of ideology. I can exemplify these points by analyzing certain films and citing specific shots in order to prove this with such films as Strange Days (Bigelow), Santa Sangre (Jodorowsky), and Psycho (Hitchcock).

  The definition of dreaming is “the succession of images, thoughts, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep” (Oxford Dictionary).  It is undeniable that this is a similar experience in cinema-going. As an audience member, we willingly subject ourselves to being put in the dark and escape our own lives to jump into the world of another. In essence I can argue that both are forms of escapism. We watch films in order to feel, to learn, or even to discover something about ourselves. Freud came up with many theories in relation to dreaming which we can link to film theory, for example, Freud’s obsession with the unconscious is very interesting. He hypothesized that the unconscious mind was “a borderless psycho-social realm” (Lear, 2005) in which we can only interrogate through Freudian slips or in dreaming. The world of film and that of psycho-analysis are inextricably linked due to their dual birth at the end of the 19th Century and the visual experiences that Freud theorized about both took from and drew upon film.

  Anthony Storr writes about how Freud theorized that dreams were composed by deep, infantile thoughts deemed unacceptable by society and the emerging dream is a “compromise between censorship and direct expression” (Freud,1920). Freud described the mental process, or ‘dream-work’ (incidentally the name of a film production company) by which the dream was modified and rendered less disturbing. Our censorship from these sub-conscious thoughts is reduced in sleep and so the unconscious thought bleeds through. In the stage of ‘dream-work’ this information is displaced, condensed, and then lastly, represented in visual images. This stage essentially, censors, compromises, and then edits itself to the final product of the dream. Upon realizing this, it is unquestionable that film does the same. As a filmmaker, purpose is found in creating a piece that both aims to relate to the audience member and to make them evoke a deep emotional reaction, whether it be tears, fear, happiness, disgust, anger, or tranquility. (Anthony Storr, 1989).

  Theorist and Psycho-analysist, Jacques Lacan, built on Freudian theory. He explored the concept of the unconscious being structured as a language. The mind was structured by the imaginary, the symbolic, and the real. According to him, humans transcend the first stage of primary narcissism between 6 to 18 months into the ‘Mirror Stage’. This is when “the infant begins to recognize their image in the mirror, and this usually results in pleasure. The child initially confuses its image and tries to control/play with it before recognizing that the image is their own- a reflection of themselves” (Sean Homer, 2005). Ideologies in film debate the cultural significance of film, is it a product of its time? Or is it responsible for shaping the discourse created by the masses? Often in films, we find ourselves in a self-reflexive state, we can watch something that reflect who we are and what we feel, just as the mirror does to the child.

  In Post 70’s psycho-analysis, Jean-Louis Baudry, championed Apparatus Theory in that he maintained that cinema and the central position of the spectator within the perspective of the composition is ideological. He theorizes that the cinema goer is ‘passive’. “Viewers cannot tell the difference between the world of cinema and the real world… they identify with the characters on screen so strongly that they become susceptible to ideological positioning” (Ponsford, 2014).  Baudry goes on to link the cinema going experience to dreaming himself due to the viewer’s inactivity and passivity, they can experience the film as if it were reality itself. 

  Strange Days is a movie directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by James Cameron in 1995. This Science-Fiction follows the character of Lenny played by Ralph Fiennes. Its set on the verge of the Millennium. Lenny is a black-market dealer of “SQUID” Discs, these are recordings that allow a user to experience the recorder’s memories and physical sensations and essentially their memories. In a sequence 50 minutes into the film, Lenny is given an anonymous disc, he puts the set on and plays it, it cuts to a POV shot of someone sneaking into a woman’s hotel room. They stalk her from the window before breaking and entering, then in the same shot, they hit her and handcuff her to a rail. Lenny who is very disturbed by this, shifts uncomfortably. Cutting again to the POV and this character puts a SQUID set on her head as he starts to rape her so she can watch herself being raped. Lenny panics as he is powerless. The woman is killed as a result of this and Lenny starts to be physically sick after what he has just seen.

  This movie is very metaphysical, in that it is very aware of itself, essentially as a viewer, we are watching characters, watching other characters. In the sequence I have chosen there is a rather blatant exploration of the character’s internal thoughts and feelings being externalized as the Sci-Fi element serves as a pathway through which they can experience each other’s memories in the form of these ‘discs’. Lenny is the spectator, he, like the spectator of cinema, is willingly subjecting himself to the ideological positioning of a passive viewer just like Baudry once theorized about cinema-going. Lenny upon viewing is made to feel something as we would in a film. This experience in Strange Days is like that of dreaming as both are mechanisms of escaping reality.

  The Classical Hollywood horror genre often explored themes of internal thoughts not deemed acceptable in society. Freud referred to these as repressed thoughts. These would manifest with classical monsters like the werewolf symbolizing the male’s aggressive, animalistic tendencies or the Vampire symbolizing unwarranted sexual desire.  Santa Sangre, a film by Alejandro Jodorowsky in 1989, explores a lot of Freudian theory, the plot involves a man in an institution looking back on his scarring days of his Mother losing her arms and having him as a replacement. This Avant-Garde piece explores Freud’s idea of the Oedipus Complex. Within it lies a very metaphorical visualization of the main character’s inner thoughts and feelings being externalized. In a scene that involves him playing the piano for his Mother shows her ultimate control over the movement of his arms and so this is representative of his imprisonment that he feels towards her, and his inability to separate his body outlines his passive, defeatist nature. Often in dreams, states Freud, “after which the dream-work has taken place, we can then study   the resulting dream and denote meaning” (Creed, 1998).  Often in film, as the spectator, we are in a position where we can take our own meaning from a film in that our ideological positioning allows us to be objective by escaping our own reality in order to learn something new be it, a spiritual, cultural, or social lesson.

  It is questionable to ignore significant contributions of psychoanalysis to film without looking at one of the most culturally important films released, Psycho by Alfred Hitchcock, released in 1960. The film is a terrifying observation into the character of Norman Bates and his psychopathic personality. It is again another good example of when a character’s internal becomes external. in the last act, it is revealed that he has created the idea of his Mother as an alternate personality. In the cellar, he is revealed to be wearing his Mother’s clothes and wig, at this point it is clear that he is a true psychopath, now when Norman finds a woman attractive, the jealous, and possessive “Mother” personality kills them. Through a practice of psycho-analysis, we find that it is the deranged jealousy Norman felt towards his deceased Mother that brought these repressed, internal feelings to his external actions of murder. “This conception of repression fixed with the distortion of the dream in relation to repressed, psychical matter, we can gain analysis of what the dream supplies” (Edar, 1920). In dreams it is possible to unlock even the most unthinkable of thoughts from psycho-analysis just as Psycho attains.

  Laura Mulvey theorizes that the cinema-goer is in a place of being active and sadistic. However, there is a strong argument for the opposition to this, in that Baudry argues that the individual is in a place of passivity and able to disassociate from one world to another. Unless it is of a lucid nature, the concept of dreaming creates a coextensive alignment with this. In both instances, dreaming and cinema-going can be mutually paired as functions of escapism and having the ability to make an individual learn something new about oneself. Both experiences ideologically position us to a point where we are reflective, challenged, provoked, and ultimately made to elicit emotion.

By George M.McBurney

Bibliography

  • Creed, B. (1998) ‘Film and psychoanalysis’, in Hill, J. and Church Gibson, P. (eds) The Oxford Guide to Film Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press
  • Freud, S. Eder M.D. (1920) Dream Psychology: Psychoanalysis for Beginners. The Floating Press
  • Homer, S. (2005) Jacques Lacan. London: Routledge
  • Lear, J. (2005) “Freud”. Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939: Psychoanalysis. Series: Routledge philosophers
  • Metz, C. 1974) Film Language: a semiotics of the cinema. New York: Oxford University Press
  • Mulvey, L. (1989) ‘Visual and other pleasures: Language, discourse, society’. Macmillan; the University of Michigan
  • Mulvey, L. “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema.” Film Theory and Criticism: Introductory Readings. Eds. Leo Braudy and Marshall Cohen. New York: Oxford UP, 1999: 833-44
  • Ponsford, N. (2014) “Film Theory and Language”. Media.Edu
  • Storr, A. (1989) Freud. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Filmography

  • Psycho (Alfred Hitchcock, 1960, US)
  • Santa Sangre (Alejandro Jodorowsky, 1989, Mexico)
  • Strange Days (Kathryn Bigelow, 1995, US)

Analysing A Scene from Straight Outta Compton and its significance with Race and Representation

Straight Outta Compton (2015, Felix Gary Grey, US)

As part of this blog alongside Reviews, Commentary, and Opinions, I want to display some of my own work including projects and essays. This essay tasked me with analysing a scene from a film of my choice and how it relates to theories of race and representation.

Analyse ONE scene from a film of your choice focussing on ONE of the approaches: affect theory, postmodernism, queer theory, feminist film theory, the concept of national allegory, or cinema and race. Consider how the chosen theory might help us to better understand the specific details in the scene and its overall effect.

Straight outta Compton (US,2015) directed by Felix Gary Gray. 1H:04MIN- 1H:10MIN Cinema&Race

I have chosen to analyse a scene from the film Straight outta Compton  (US, 2015) Directed Felix Gary Grey. This film follows 5 young men that in 1987 formed the rap group NWA.  They emerge from the mean streets of Compton in L.A. California. Their brutally honest lyrics about the streets bring them to  to global success, standing up to authorities and giving a voice to a whole generation of African American youth that they didn’t have before in the form of rap music. This true life story was produced by former members of the band, Ice Cube and Dr Dre. I will look at the scene in the middle of the film which is the defining moment of the band in which the police issue a warning for them not to sing their signature song ‘F*** Tha Police’. They perform the song at the concert anyway and a riot ensues as police brutality is shown. The scene comes to an end with the NWA getting arrested. I will look at the social and political significance of this real life event at the time and also the significance of releasing the film in 2015. I will attempt to discuss the issue of race and representation and it’s construction within the film and how the characters presented relate to the spectator as a whole.

At the beginning of the scene, the Head of Police is being focussed on with a close up of his face as he lays out rules about what the NWA aren’t aloud to do. He states there is to be no behaviour that is rude, indecent, drunken, riotous or violent in nature, as he does this, there are short interspersed shots of individual members reacting to him. They look visibly contemptuous. In the next shot, the camera circles around the Officer as he states that they can’t use any vulgar, obscene or abusive language in a public place. lastly, the character states that the “performance of the song ‘F tha Police’ will not be permitted”. This song appeared on the album, ‘Straight Outta Compton’ in 1988 and is perhaps the most well known and infamous track they released at the time.  It was at one point banned from every radio station on the planet. The track was blamed by the FBI for inciting violence across the US. However, this song was born out of genuine experiences of unwarranted police brutality that band members faced due to their appearance. 

Police brutality unfortunately has had a a deep routed history in American culture, according to Leonard Moore in the Britannica article, it happened to Jewish immigrants in the early 20th Century, to Italian immigrants in the 20s, Mexican Americans in the 40s, and homosexual and transgender people in the 60s to name a few. African American communities have seen the majority of this brutality however. These interactions between African Americans and urban Police departments had started since the Great Migration which was between 1916-70. White communities were not used to this presence and their reaction was one of fear and hatred which was exacerbated by racist stereotypes that were very deeply ingrained in society and even perpetuated by things in culture such as Classical Hollywood. “The seminal film Birth of a nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915) exemplifies the type of antagonistic film representations of blackness in early American cinema, with its blackface stereotypes and unabashed venerations of the ku Klux Klan!” and so despite its historical significance it had severe racist overtones. These racist stereotypes lent themselves to the idea of an inherent tendency of criminal behaviour and so by the 1950s there was an implicit mission that Urban Police Departments had to police African Americans i.e. protecting whites against blacks. (Nama, Adilifu, 2008).

By the end of the 1980s, this police brutality was very evident, and there was a lack of people being able to speak about it. Members of the band like Ice Cube and Dr Dre were inspired to write this song after being senselessly pulled over or arrested when driving in Compton. We must consider the value of censorship in this instance as much as officials elected to ban this song due to its heavy suggestions of promoting violence and riotous behaviour, the authors were simply speaking  their truth and talking about the reality of many people’s lives. They parody the prosecution of minorities at the start of the song, “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?… Got it bad cus’ I’m brown and not the other colour”. At the start of the scene I have chosen, the Police Officer bans the song and says the first curse word in a censored way by simply saying “F”, the band replies by relaying the actual title of the song in an uncensored fashion.  Although the song was banned, this is a fictionalised version of events however this moment in the scene highlights the band’s urge to be uncensored, to promote an uncut truth that will speak to their audience much more than a desensitised version.

The next part of dialogue in the scene is a threat from the officer stating that they would be arrested for refusal of the rules that he has laid out. Within this film, as a spectator it may be difficult to understand when things are fictionalised. This film however autobiographical it may be, is also a Hollywood film that the director Grey as well as the Producers are willing to take liberties with. I would argue that this scene is more of a metaphorical retelling. The authorities that wished to censor their art were personified by this stern, old white male. There is a lot to be said about how race is being represented here. On one side we have the rebellious protagonists of the story, being portrayed by the African American band, NWA. On the other side you have the establishment, the oppressive, censored antagonist represented by a white police officer. Grey here in this is scene  is contesting the question of race and the power levels between black and white people in the USA. The levels of power between races is in Grey’s control as he positions the two different groups as opposing one another. Perhaps as an African American director, Grey realises the significance in this scene when the NWA defied rules in order to somewhat break free from a censorship held down by a predominantly White America. In an interview with Grey during the press release of the movie he states how significant the NWA were in his youth and how their music was “Such a big influence on him as an African American”. Grey has since went on to become the first African American to direct a Billion Dollar movie, and so he personally owes a lot to his influences. 

In the next part of the scene, the NWA are performing in front of a Detroit audience, as the previous song ends, the officer is in the audience looking on with distaste. The members on stage look at each other and decide to perform the banned song anyway, they do this because the crowd is cheering for it. It is clear that they are giving the crowd what they want. Grey has built this particular part of the scene to highlight the dichotomy between the establishment’s orthodox censorship and the artist’s need to push boundaries and give in to the will of the people. At this point in the scene, the crowd are clearly loud and very excited. As they perform their song, security guards are seen coming onto the stage as it cuts back to the Officer from earlier, grimacing. Suddenly gunshots are heard and the whole crowd starts to disperse, the band run off stage and the LAPD flood the stage. Paul Gormley explores how in film,  “African American people are constructed and experienced by the white cultural imagination as connoting a sense of danger to the white Western subject”. (Gormley, P. The New- Brutality Film, 2005).

The gunshot heard is off screen however its insinuated that it was caused by a member of the police as it is them who wishes to break up the concert, and the gunshots go off as they storm the stage. When asked about this incident in real life, Ice Cube stated that he believed the Police had actually used firecrackers to disperse the crowd and had blamed it on kids at the concert. This moment in the film illustrates the danger the group faced when playing their music. In the next part of the scene, the band are seen running out the stadium, only to meet a row of security, as they are taken into custody. All of a sudden a large group of people appear, roaring the title of the song and throwing things at the police force. This scene hints at several things, firstly, the negativity faced from their music, secondly perhaps how their music did in fact incite violent behaviours and lastly, it shows by the end of the scene, how a collective unified against a perceived common threat. It is interesting to note that the crowd at the concert in the film are very multi-ethnic. Grey has made it clear in terms of grouping, that the music appeals to the youth, despite their race or background. a political read of this scene is that there is a consideration of strong liberal undertones, socialism’s chaotic youth upsetting the stereotypical conservative, white, old, male, police force. A quote often appropriated to Winston Churchill is “if you are not a liberal at 25, you have no heart, if you are not a conservative at 35 you have no brain”. Grey is potentially leaning into political stereotypes in this moment, as well as producing an accurate re-presentation of the crowd at the concert. 

It is important to consider the scene in the greater context of the film. So far in the film the characters are  just starting to become famous, as they look out of the bus in the previous scene, a group of white parents are seen burning a pile of of their albums. In the scene succeeding this one they are in a press conference and a white reporter states how they, “glamorise the lifestyle of gangs, guns, drugs”, Ice Cube retorts, “our art reflects our reality.. freedom of speech includes rap music”. I interpret the scene as a very transformative one. Grey depicts urban, white America as hateful towards their music until they are able to express the reality of their African American culture in Compton and as a result, the hatred turns to an enquiry. However “Culture comes into play at precisely the point where biological individuals become subjects, and that what lies between the two is not some automatically constituted ‘natural’ process of socialisation but much more complex process of formation”. Stuart Hall in this quote here is exploring how culture is often complex and multi-dimensional and so an understanding of another’s collective culture is difficult to deal with in definitive absolutes. The change of attitude can be attributed to Grey depicting the NWA as the liberator of truth, positioning them and their music as opening up a dialogue that previously didn’t exist. (Hall, Stuart, 2017).

This film was released at a very important time for African Americans in two ways. The first of which was that it was released in the Summer of 2015 in light of the 87th Annual Oscars which gained major attention for lacking in diversity, and was infamously attached to the hashtag “Oscars So White”. This was because there was a lack of or no diversity at all in nearly all categories. This incident brought Hollywood’s long-standing issues of lack of representation to the forefront of conversation. Hollywood films in light of this controversy were seen in a different way and by the time of next year’s Oscars, the Academy was targeted by the media for not giving Straight Outta Compton any nominations except for best original screenplay which recognised the work of the two white script-writers, despite “Starring black actors and led by a black director” (Gabrielle M.Williams, Harvard Political Review, 2016).

The second reason the time of release of this film is relevant is how its themes of racism and police brutality were very relevant in the US at the time. According to The Guardian, the rate of “Young  black men killed by US police was at its highest rate in a year of 1,134 deaths”. It reports how young black men were 9 times more likely to be killed by an officer than other Americans. This article was released in light of an incident in Ohio where 12 year-old Tamir Rice was shot for holding a toy gun and the officer was eventually cleared by the Grand Jury. 2015 was a year notorious for a lack of diversity in Hollywood and for severe racism within the constitution. And so with regards to these factors, it is evident that the scene I have chosen is relevant in a multitude of ways. It showcases an unfair treatment towards a race. It also successfully sympathises with how African Americans have been treated in the past. Grey represents race here very delicately. He is able to celebrate the nature of his own background whilst also calling attention to the treatment it has received. By recreating a moment from 1987 in 2015 draws comparisons to modern society and how far it has come, but also how far it still needs to go. (Moore, Leonard, 2020).

In Conclusion, the scene I have chosen draws upon the main themes of this movie. It highlights the importance of the NWA in representing an untold reality of many Americans, it promotes the valuable nature of uncensored art and how that impacts society. The significance of this moment at the time ushered in a new era of music defined by a new kind of “counter-culture”. With the film being released in 2015, there was an argument do be made that it was highlighting how the kinds of challenges faced by African Americans was more prevalent than ever before with many new cases of institutional racism. It was also released in a time where the US still has traces of deep routed, national racism within its establishment in the ways of government, and even in Hollywood today.

Written by George M.McBurney

Bibliography

DeVito, Lee (August 17, 2015) The Real Story behind N.W.A.’s ‘Straight Outta Compton’ Detroit Riot. Detroit METRO Times. Article. Available at https://www.metrotimes.com/city-slang/archives/2015/08/17/the-real-story-behind-nwas-straight-outta-compton-detroit-riot [accessed 5/4/20]
Gormley, P. (2005) The New-brutality film race and affect in contemporary Hollywood cinema. Bristol: Intellect; 2005 
Hall, S. (2017). The Fateful Triangle: race, ethnicity, nation.Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
Lopez, German (May 30, 2017) Cleveland just fired the cop who shot and killed 12 year old Tamir Rice. VOX. Article. Available at https://www.vox.com/identities/2017/5/30/15713254/cleveland-police-tamir-rice-timothy-loehmann [accessed 5/4/20]
Moore, Leonard (2020) Police Brutality in the United States. Britannica. Available at https://www.britannica.com/topic/Police-Brutality-in-the-United-States-2064580/Antibrutality-campaigns [accessed 9/4/20]
Nama, A. (2008) Black Space: Imagining Race in Science Fiction Film. Austin University of Texas Press; 2008
Swaine, J., Laughland, O., Lartey, J., McCarthy, C. (31 December, 2015). Young Black Men killed by US police at highest rate in year of 1,134 deaths. The Guardian . Article. Available at https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/dec/31/the-counted-police-killings-2015-young-black-men [accessed 7/4/20]
Williams, Gabriele (February 28, 2016) Academy Awards of Merit: the Legitimacy of the Oscards. Harvard Political Review. Available at https://harvardpolitics.com/online/academy-awards-merit-legitimacy-issue-oscars/ [accessed 5/4/20]

Filmography

Straight Outta Compton (F. Grey, 2015, US)

Birth of A Nation (D.W. Griffith, 1915, US)