Them& CloverfieldFM2Section CAmerican Film –Comparative Study
Genre in Context• Aims• This presentation will focus on genre andcontext by looking at a case study of thescience fiction genre and investigating how ithas changed since the 1950s by consideringthe films Them! and Cloverfield
Them!• Them!• Directed by Gordon Douglas• (1954)
Them!• A 1954 black and white science fiction film aboutmans encounter with a nest of ‘radiation-giganticized’ (really big) ants• One of the first of the "nuclear monster" movies,and the first "big bug" film, Them! was thebiggest money maker for Warners in the year ofits release.• It was nominated for an Oscar for Special Effectsand won a Golden Reel Award for Best SoundEditing.
Them!• When Them! began production in 1953, it wasoriginally going to be in 3-D and WarnerColour.• During pre-production, tests were to be shotin colour and 3-D. A few colour tests were shotof the large-scale ant models, but when it wastime to shoot the 3-D test, WBs "All Media" 3-D camera rig malfunctioned and no footagecould be filmed.
Historical Context: The Cold War• The Cold War was the continuing state ofconflict, tension and competition that existedbetween a number of world powers, includingthe United States, the Soviet Union, China,France, Britain from the mid-1940s to theearly 1990s.• The conflict included costly defence spending,a massive conventional and nuclear arms race,and numerous wars.
The conflict was expressed through;• Military coalitions• Espionage• Weapons development• Invasions• Propaganda• Competitive technological development,including the space race.• Costly defence spending, a massive conventionaland nuclear arms race, and numerous wars.
Key Dates• Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki(August 6 & August 9, 1945)• World War II ends (September 2, 1945)• Berlin Blockade (1948–1949)• Korean War (1950–1953)• Vietnam War (1959–1975)• Cuban Missile Crisis (1962)• Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989)• The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991
Film making in the 50s• The spectacle approach to film-making, ColdWar paranoia, public fascination with OuterSpace, and a renewed interest in sciencesparked by the atom bomb lent itself well toscience fiction films.• Martians and other alien menaces weremetaphors for Communism, foreignideologies, and the misfits threateningdemocracy and the American way of life
The Communist Subtext• The film is offers a clear metaphor for the‘Communist menace’• Dr Medford explains how:• ‘The ants are the only creatures on earth,besides man, who make war’. They are‘ruthless and courageous fighters … chronicaggressors, they make slaves of those theycan’t kill…They have a talent for industry,social organisation, and savagery’.
The Communist Subtext• The ants (Communists) ‘infiltrate’ the LosAngeles drainage system, there multiplyingunseen and preparing to attack
Key Films of the Decade• The Day the Earth Stood Still• Invaders from Mars• Godzilla• Them!• The War of the Worlds• The Time Machine• Tarantula• It Came from Outer Space• Creature from the Black Lagoon• The Thing from Another World• The Beast from 20,000 fathoms• Forbidden Planet
What were people worrying about inthe 50s?• Consider the key features of the Cold War.• How would these things have effected day today life in this period?• What would the general public have beenworried about?• Try to think of some scenarios that may haveoccurred at the time. E.g. A new single manmoves into your street – who might he be?
Key Characters• Dr Medford• Pat Medford• Police Chief Ben Peterson• FBI Agent Robert Graham
The Opening• A young girl is found wandering in shock in theNew Mexico desert by state police.• They find that the trailer that she was stayingin with her parents and sibling had beendestroyed.• A lone print found in front of the little girlstrailer is sent to the FBI inWashington for identification.
Key Genre Convention• It is a typical genre convention that the film isshown from the perspective of the authorityfigures.• They are usually seen to be investigating andattempting to solve the problem before thegeneral public either find out or come to toomuch harm.• Describe how authority figures are showndifferently in each of the three clips.
Authority Figures• The story is told from the perspective of theState Police/FBI/Government Doctors.• Each area of authority is portrayed slightlydifferently.
Key Genre Convention• A key convention of the genre is that initiallythe “monster” stays hidden.• We see this clearly with the first attack.• The policeman goes out behind the door andwe only hear the monster.
Key Questions• What is the “monster”?• Where has it come from?• What is it doing? Feeding? Attacking?• How do the characters react / feel about themonster?
• Amongst the adults, several children aredirectly affected by the invading ants.• Children represent the future – the nextgeneration.• Attacks on them in the film reflect increasingfears about how our present day actions(those in the 1940s/50s) will affect futuregenerations.• In “Them!” this fear is ofNuclear weapons.
Gender Representation• Life for women was very different in the 1950s• They were supposed to fulfil certain roles,such as a caring mother, a diligenthomemaker, and an obedient wife.• Stereotypically, when a women foundthemselves in distress she always needed herhusband, the man, to save her.• The Equal Pay Act of 1963 required equalwages for men and women doing equal work.
Fear & Loathing in the USA• What other fears are present in the films?• The unknown• Government secrecy• The use/effects of nuclear weapons• Attacks from an “enemy within”.• Dr Medford “ A fantastic mutation probablycaused by lingering radiation after the first atomicbomb.
The final moments• How does it end?• The army is called in to rescue two small boys from theant’s nest. They defeat the ants using a combination offire and bullets.• Dr. Harold Medford reveals that the ants were probablyevolved due to nuclear weapons testing in the desert.• Is there a resolution?• Medford states: “When man entered the atomic age heopened a door into a new world. What we’ll eventuallyfind in that new world, nobody can predict.”
CLOVERFIELD• Released 2008• Directed by Matt Reeves• Produced by J. J. Abrams• Written by Drew Goddard
Key Characters• Rob (The “hero”)• Hud (The camera man)• Lilly (Leaves in helicopter)• Marlena (Bitten, explodes)• Jason (Rob’s brother – the first to die)• Beth (The “princess” saved from the collapsedtower)
The disclaimer• The film is presented as if it were a video filerecovered from a digital camcorder by theUnited States Department of Defence.• The film begins with a disclaimer stating thatthe following footage is of a case designated"Cloverfield"• It is said the tape was found in the area"formerly known as Central Park".
Inspiration• J. J. Abrams said he thought of the film afterbeing in a toy store in Japan.• "We saw all these Godzilla toys, and I thought,we need our own [American] monster, and notlike King Kong. I love King Kong. King Kong isadorable. And Godzilla is a charming monster.We love Godzilla. But I wanted something thatwas just insane, and intense."
The Name• The film was titled Cloverfield from the beginning, but the titlechanged throughout production before it was finalized as theoriginal title.• The films final title, Cloverfield, is the name of the exit Abramstakes to his Santa Monica office• Greyshot, was proposed before the movie was officially titledCloverfield. Greyshot is taken from the archway that the final twocharacters take shelter under at the end of the movie.• Reeves said that it was decided not to change the title to Greyshotbecause the film was already so well known as Cloverfield.
Intertextuality• The creative team (particularly J.J. Abrams)are all great lovers of science fiction and sothe film is really an “homage” to classic filmsof the genre.• There are a number of subtle references to“science fiction” throughout the film.
Intertextuality•Throughout the filmreferences are made to arange of other ScienceFiction films.•This poster from Escapefrom New York inspired thesevered head of the Statueof Liberty that features inCloverfield
Intertextuality• At 00:21:28 when the characters shelter in asupermarket Hud exclaims, “It’s alive!”
Context• Cloverfield is a film that belongs to the ‘age ofterror’• It was produced at a time when the westernworld had become obsessed with the idea of“terror” “terrorism” vital “the terrorist”• The film can be considered as “symptomatic”of the fear and paranoia created by theBush/Blair administration
Context• Most obviously the film has some striking visualsimilarities to the events of 9/11 which tookplace in 2001.• The attack on twosuch prominentfigures amongstthe New York skyline is echoed inthe film.
• Initial News Reports• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vfYQAPhjwzA&feature=related• Amateur Footage used by CNN• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CV0BVZG1j7E&feature=related• Amateur Footage• http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bavn4T26jcw&NR=1
• These key images from “Cloverfield” directlyreflect the real life footage from 9/11
• Q. What is the significance of attacking keylandmarks in New York?• A. These landmarks are symbolsof America and its cultural identity.
The Opening• The opening 25 minutes of the film followingthe “everyday” lives of a group of wealthy 20somethings living in New York.• We’re encouraged to see them as overindulged and self absorbed.• We see the complacency of their spoilt lives,oblivious to the “terror” that awaits them.
The Opening• They lack an adequate sense of crisis• Rob would rather pursue some managerialposition in Japan, home of Godzilla, than get it onwith Beth, clearly signposted as ‘the one’.• This is a portrait of decadence, he has it all andyet he is unsatisfied and craves more.• Some critic’s have commented that “their self-absorption that invites the day of reckoning”. Inother words, it evokes a time before 9/11 – whenthe western world had become “complacent”.
The Media• Presenting the film as “found footage” stressesthe self-absorbed existence the central group ofcharacters.• The continuous filming of the day, particularly inopening of the film highlights not only theirvanity but also raises the issue of an increasingobsession with the media.• The western world’s obsession with constantlydocumenting their lives through social media isclearly commented on here.
The Media• ‘People are going to want to see this. They aregoing to want to see how it all went down.’• This is the response of Hud, to the question ofwhy he doesn’t stop recording and concentrateon running.• This is clearly a reflection of the increasingamount of amateur footage used to recordhistoric events.• “History” is no longer the realm of the televisionstudios.
Look at following images:• Does the use of handheld camera inCloverfield raise questions about the intrusivenature of the media?
Look at the following images• What is the significance of the handheld camera?• The filming style is fitting with the current trend of affordable digitalcameras and camera phones being used by the public to recordevents.• What role does the media play in the film?• We live in a world where the media invades all most every aspect ofout lives. It therefore seems fitting that only through the media dothe characters discover what is happening to them.• New, portable technology – digital cameras & telephones allow thenrecord the events as they happen.
Baudrillard & Postmodernism• Is it acceptable to record a man suffering inthe last moments of his life – simply becausewe all have access to recording equipment onout mobile phones?• Does the film present a world obsessed withthe media itself and show us an insight into a‘Baudrillardian nightmare’ come true?
Key Elements• A sudden attack on unsuspecting innocentNew Yorkers.• Confusion ensures and no one is clear aboutwhat has happened or what will happen next.• Significant American landmarks are destroyed• The action is captured by the public onamateur equipment.
Gender Representation• Marlena is a particularlystrong female character• She saves Hud fromthe spiders• Beth however is a stereo-typical “damsel in distress”.• She is even rescued fromthe top of a “tower”.
Gender Representation• The males Rob and Hudare men of action• Rob is clearly the leaderof the main characters• Rob seeking out his love, Beth• Hud is determinedly recordingthe terror on the video camera
The Monster: Female?• Perhaps the monster itself may be consideredfemale as it seems to spawn fleshy spiders.• If so this suggests a monstrous female andtherefore females are represented as destroyersand alien.• It could be argued that the female monster isbringing destruction to an essentially peaceful,young society and it is the men in the film wholead the action against its rampage.
The Monster• Cloverfield’s monster is effective preciselybecause we never really see it• It remains in our peripheral vision and seemsto be mutating, changing, multiple and yetperhaps still one.• It embodies the notion of “terrorism” and the“terrorist”• It is a “weapon of mass destruction”
The Monster• The monster is irrational, without meaning,murderous and incomprehensible.• It is the perfect personification of howWestern culture regards the terrorist - it is amyth of evil• Like the terrorist it neither can nor should beunderstood.
The Monster• The monster not only spawns but infects, asdemonstrated through the unpleasant death ofMarlena.• This fear of contagion can be seen as anotherimage of the terrorist – the fear that the terroristideology will spread (even on American soil) andthat there is no way to stop this ideology once itinvades.• It is something that like the creature, remainshidden inside until revealed with drasticconsequences.
The Military• As the monster rages through the streets it isattacked by US soldiers without any apparenteffect.• We see images of soldiers shooting at a targetthey do not understand, do not try tounderstand and cannot defeat.• The only solution the army can respond with,is the so-called “hammer down” tactic ofcarpet-bombing all of New York City.
The Military• As an image of terrorism the monster cannotbe affected through conventional militarystrategy - something which can be seenas parallel to the problematic wars inAfghanistan and Iraq.• It is something that is invisible for larger partsof the film and again this parallels the USAsview on the terrorist – a hidden enemy.
Question• Think back to the reaction of the governmentand the public during and after the events of9/11.• Does this film effectively convey the thoughtsand feelings of that time?
Conclusion• How has the U.S. changed in the period fromThem! to Cloverfield?• To what extent have Hollywood films reflectedcontemporary issues?• Is the Sci-Fi film a suitable vehicle forexpressing a nation’s fears?
Narrative Structure• Todorov• Equilibrium• Disruption• Resolution• New Equilibrium
Narrative Structure: Todorov• Todorov• Equilibrium• Disruption• Resolution• New Equilibrium
Todorov: Them!• Equilibrium – In the desert in New Mexico two police officersare investigating an ordinary police matter.• Disruption – Giant ants are discovered initially in the desertand then are found to have spread to Los Angeles• Resolution – The ants are defeated by Dr Medford and thegang• New Equilibrium – The characters realised that the world isnot the safe place they thought it was. They have entered“the atomic age”.
Todorov: Cloverfield• Equilibrium – Characters are introduced at a normal flat party• Disruption – Ground and buildings start to shake disruptingthe party, an unknown monster invades New York• Is there really a resolution or a new equilibrium?• Resolution– Rob rescues Beth and then they attempt to maketheir way out of the city. The army bomb New York.• New Equilibrium –It is not known whether Rob and Bethmake it out the city alive or if the monster is defeated. Itseems that New York no longer exists.
Narrative Structure: Todorov• The narrative structure of the film “…..” subtlyreflects the messages and values of the timethe film was made. The structure of the filmconforms/doesn’t conform to Todorov’s fouract structure in the following way….. Thisreflects attitudes of the time because……..…………….
Narrative Structure• 2) Vladimir Propp• Analysed folk stories• Identified 8 Key Character Roles in thesestories:
Narrative Structure• 1. The Hero• 2. The Villain• 3. The Donor (Provider)• 4. The Helper• 5. The Father• 6. The Dispatcher• 7. The Princess• 8. The False Hero
Archetypes• Hero – Not necessarily admirable but is the person whocarries the story along. Protagonist• Villain – Antagonist. Hinders or is in competition with thehero• Donor – provides object with properties that helps the hero• Helper – aids the hero in his quest• Father – rewards the hero• Dispatcher – sends hero on his way• Princess – acts as a reward for the hero and/or is object ofvillains schemes• The False Hero – Think he is the hero but is not.
Archetypes• Propp argued that characters could fulfil morethan one of these roles and that there can bemore than one of each character type• For example• There can be more than one helper – in StarWars R2D2 and C3PO are the helpers• A character can have more than one role –Obi-Wan Kenobi is both the Donor and theFather Figure
Archetypes• EXAMPLE – STAR WARS• 1. The Hero – Luke Skywalker/Han Solo• 2. The Villain – Darth Vadar• 3. The Donor (Provider) – Obi-Wan Kenobi• 4. The Helper – R2D2, C3PO, Chewbacca• 5. The Father – Obi-Wan Kenobi• 6. The Dispatcher – Princess Leia• 7. The Princess – Princess Leia• 8. The False Hero – Han Solo
Propp - Cloverfield• Hero = Rob – he is portrayed as rational and is driven by emotional need• Villain = The monster• Donor = There isn’t really a definite donor. The police provide helicoptersto get everyone out of New York but other than that there isn’t a specificperson who provides Rob an object to help him• Helper = Lily – stays with Rob to help him save Beth, and is thought to bethe only survivor. Rob and Marlena also help Rob up until their deaths• Princess – Beth is portrayed as the damsel in distress trapped at the topof the tower. She is rescued by the hero• Father – There isn’t a father figure that rewards the hero, Rob’s reward isBeth.• Dispatcher – Rob is essentially the dispatcher as he sends himself to saveBeth• False Hero – As Hud presents his documentation of the events as heroicbut really it is a hindrance to the others.
Propp – Them!• Hero = FBI Agent Robert Graham• Villain= The Ants/The Government/ Science!• Donor = The Police Department/The Government• Helper = Police Chief Ben Peterson• Princess – Pat Medford• Father – Dr Medford• Dispatcher – The Police Department/TheGovernment• False Hero –
• Dr Medford• Pat Medford• Police Chief Ben Peterson• FBI Agent Robert Graham