Ettore Scola’s “A Special Day”

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

As an historian of fascist Italy, Ettore Scola’s A Special Day (Una giornata particulare) has always held a special interest for me. The film is set during one of the massive rallies which marked the visit of Adolf Hitler to Mussolini’s Rome in May 1938. The story is a private drama played out against the backdrop of a great public event that marked a high point of fascist propaganda. It was a day in which Rome was adorned with swastikas and fasces and thousands of Romans turned out to witness the parade of military and party organizations. For one day at least, it appeared as if all of Rome was united behind its Duce in greeting the visitor from Germany.

The story revolves around two characters, Antonietta and Gabriele, neighbors in the same apartment complex but strangers until they meet accidentally on the day of the rally. She is an overworked housewife, mother of six children, and married to a dedicated fascist party official who takes her for granted. Although she has a devotion to Mussolini, Antonietta elects to stay home in order to catch up on her chores. Gabriele is a former radio broadcaster who was fired by the regime when it was discovered he was a homosexual. They are worlds apart but get to know each other during the course of the day when the rest of the building’s residents are at the rally. She doesn’t know about his sexuality and assumes that he is pursuing her. He, on the other hand, is simply waiting for the inevitable; a knock on the door from the Italian police who will take him to the confino or internal exile—the fate of those opposed to the regime or an embarrassment to it. Despite some incomprehension a close friendship and understanding develops between them. Scola’s point is to show how during the heyday of the fascist regime, when Mussolini attempted to create a totalitarian society, alternative private worlds continued to exist even amidst the triumphalism of the fascist era.

The film is remarkable for several reasons but there are three outstanding features that make it, in my opinion, a minor masterpiece. One is the characters and the actors who play them; the second is the use of archival footage and radio broadcasts; and the third is the location—an apartment complex in Rome built during the fascist era. The film stars Sofia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni, two actors who had already appeared in several films together and were indisputably Italy’s most famous film stars in the 1970s. As Peter Bondanella notes, Scola’s genius is to use both actors against type—Loren usually played a glamor girll and Mastroianni the quintessential Latin lover.1 In this film, Loren is a middle aged woman who wears shabby clothes and ripped stockings, while Mastroianni is a gay man. Both are brilliant and their performance alone is worth watching the film.

The second outstanding feature of the film is Scola’s skillful interweaving of archival film and radio broadcasts with the narrative. The first several minutes of the film are a collage of newsreel footage made by the LUCE Institute—the regime’s newsreel and documentary arm. Much of the story is played out against the backdrop of the radio broadcast of the events of that day which serve as a counterpoint to the drama between Antonietta and Gabriele. The radio is turned on by the building’s caretaker–an old crow who spies on the building’s residents. She appears to be the only other person in the building that day apart from the two main characters. She is the sinister face of the fascist regime and at one point gives Antonietta a warning about what happens to those who associate with men like Gabriele. It is her radio which, turned full volume, provides the other face of the regime—its triumphalism. Scola’s ability to interweave historical footage and the plot is brilliant and deserves a blog entry all its own.

Finally, there is the third—and most striking–element of the film which is the location: The Palazzo Federici. The entire film is set in this one location. Built between 1932 and 1937 the Palazzo Federici serves as an example of fascist monumentality in urban design. Designed by the modernist architect Mario De Renzi, it is composed of a series of tall residential blocks linked by elevated walkways, arches, and courtyards. The architect included a few futurist touches like the tubular, glass enclosed stairwells and elevator shafts which Scola makes much us of. The most prominent feature of the complex—and one that would figure prominently in the film—is the courtyard which makes the building a “piece of the city.”2 The complex was designed to express the “tumultuousness” of city life; it covered over 15,000 square meters, comprising 650 units including 100 shops and even a movie theater.3 Scola will use these features to make the building not only the location of the story, but also a protagonist in its own right. This is clearly demonstrated in the opening scenes of the film.

As the introductory sequence of newsreel footage ends, the film cuts to a shot of fascist banners being unfurled over the balustrade of one of the elevated walkways. Out of this comes Scola’s establishing shot, a pan of the residential towers which surround the courtyard. This shot is done in such a way that it demonstrates the sheer verticality of what was considering a small skyscraper in the context of 1930s Rome. It is clearly early morning and all the windows are dark. Gradually, the lights turn on in each unit. Scola’s camera pans along one floor of the building and we see through the windows as families begin to rise and prepare for the rally. It is a shot reminiscent of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Eventually, the camera stops at one window and moves into the unit where we see Antonietta ironing fascist uniforms and preparing coffee.

In a sequence that Scola will use often throughout the film, we follow Antonietta through her labyrinthine apartment as she wakes up her six children and husband, Emanuele, played by Canadian actor Richard Vernon. The scene is chaotic as the family scrambles to get into their uniforms. It begins badly for Antonietta who chastises her daughter for putting on lipstick, finds a pornographic magazine in her son’s bed, and rows with her husband who gave that picture to his son. Scola’s tracking shots clearly bring out the claustrophobic atmosphere of the apartment which is too small for the large family. It is a maze of rooms and doors which seem to have no discernable floor plan. Everything seems to lead to the cramped and untidy kitchen. The apartment is disorienting, a reflection of the similarly mazelike building of which it is a part.

The scene then shifts to another striking sequence in Scola’s film—the emptying of the building as hundreds of men, women, and children spill out into the courtyard in their fascist uniforms on their way to the rally. It is a dynamic scene which makes effective use of De Renzi’s architecture especially the tubular, transparent stairwells and the walkways through the courtyard. The impression is that of a giant ant colony. As the crowds make their way to the street they are cheered on by the caretaker who is largely ignored.

Scola makes much of the two apartments which reveal the different worlds inhabited by Gabriele and Antonietta. When Antonietta’s mynah bird escapes from its cage and lands on Gabriele’s window ledge we enter his apartment. In contrast to Antonietta’s cramped living quarters, filled with family heirlooms and old furniture, Gabriele’s apartment is orderly and tidy with modern furniture and works of modern art on the walls. Scola will make much of one painting which hangs near the door and draws a puzzled look from Antonietta. Later on, Gabriele’s last act before being led out by the police to exile is to carefully wrap the painting and put it under his arm. On the floor of the apartment are laid out the footsteps for the rumba dance which Gabriele demonstrates to a clearly embarrassed Antonietta who becomes conscious of her frumpy dress and broken slippers.

In contrasting the apartments Scola is making a commentary on the broken lives left behind by fascist propaganda. Antonietta, as it turns out, is in a loveless marriage to a man who “knows only how to give orders.” She surrounds herself with the artifacts of domesticity—faded family pictures, diplomas, and hand me downs. The apartment also has its share of kitsch—souvenir albums of Mussolini and a portrait of the Duce made of buttons as well as vulgar fascist publications and cartoons. Gabriele, on the other hand, surrounds himself with culture—modern paintings, records, and stacks of books one of which, Dumas’ Three Muskateers, he gives to Antonietta who is barely literate. The impression though is of a sterile environment which provides little consolation.

Throughout the film, Scola will make use of the building’s features. Stairways, corridors, doors and windows are utilized abundantly. In one shot we see Gabriele making himself an omelet through one door, while Antonietta watches him through another. Most prominent of all is the courtyard which is almost always present through the large windows of the apartments. It is here that Scola reveals the truly fascist nature of the De Renzi building—it is designed for surveillance. In modernist architecture windows are used to represent lightness and transparency but here they are a means of obliterating the private world. As Gabriele and Antonietta become closer, they take steps to avoid this surveillance (especially from the caretaker who makes it clear that she has her eye on the pair). Rather than walk down the stairwell and through the courtyard, they begin to use the roof and the boiler room (where Antonietta bangs her head on a pipe). The courtyard clearly belongs to the regime—those who are outsiders are left to find their way through the alleys and tunnels of the building’s interior.

It is here that Scola’s brilliant use of the building is fully realized. The director is able to at once demonstrate both the fascist and anti-fascist potential of the Palazzo Federici and of modernist architecture in general—a style that can be both liberating and repressive at the same time. When the fascists return home, they are once again greeted by the caretaker, and once again they largely ignore her empty, bombastic exhortations. Antonietta, who has clearly been changed by her encounter with Gabriele now sees the courtyard in a different light. As night descends on the city, she is the only one who notices a lonely figure being escorted by two policemen through the courtyard and out the arched gate of the complex into exile.

-Dr. Paul Baxa

History Department, Ave Maria University

Citations:

1 Peter Bondanella, Italian Cinema: From Neorealism to the Present (New York: Continuum, 2000), 367-368.

2 Alfredo Carlomagno and Giuseppe Saponaro, Mario De Renzi, 1897-1967 (Rome: Edizioni Clear, 1999), 29.

 3 Ibid.

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Made for Each Other: Comparing Howard Hawks’ Two Great Comedies

September 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

In the past week, our Great Directors course has screened a handful of screwball comedies, including Frank Capra’s “It Happened One Night” (1934) and two from director Howard Hawks, “Bringing Up Baby” (1938) and “His Girl Friday” (1940). Students appear to have warmed up to “Bringing Up Baby” more, and who could blame them?  The conflict between Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant produces some of screwball comedy’s greatest set pieces–Hepburn’s ripped dress, Grant in drag, and the couple’s serenading of a pet leopard to the tune of “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Baby.”  Yet I am sure “His Girl Friday” is Hawks’ better film.  Its dialogue is sharper, the performances, especially from the supporting cast, are better, and shot for shot, “His Girl Friday” realizes more completely its various conflicts.  “Baby Up Baby” has its dinosaur bones and a feline antagonist.  But the mise-en-scene of “His Girl Friday” is richer.  The barbed exchanges of Walter Burns (Grant) and Hildy Johnson, superbly played by Rosalind Russell, are made sharper by the weapons of the newsroom.  However antiquated the newsroom technology of “His Girl Friday” appears to us today, the telephones and typewriters are ideal correlatives for the violence that can done by a “free” press.  They are banged upon, yelled into, even destroyed as when Russell pulls out the cord of the phone midway through a conversation.

Most recently, “The Social Network” (2010) presented an amoral universe through the objects of our contemporary digital landscape.  Characters sat at computers, sometimes in pairs, but often alone, clicking at shifting images, “like”-ing their lives away, like figures from Plato’s cave, mistaking shadows for reality.  In that universe, an amoral antisocial borderline psychotic could be king.  In “His Girl Friday,” Hawks captures that same mean-spirited business of gossip and reputation by juxtaposing the tangled wires of telephone wires and shouting voices with the smiles and double-takes of Grant and Russell.  Hawks makes perfectly clear that a journalist is as deadly as the hangman, as evidenced by the presence of the scaffold just below the newsroom’s offices.

 And let’s face it:  as charming as Grant is in his turn as paleontologist in “Bringing Up Baby,” his performance as the manipulative snake in Walter Burns is more memorable.  Such a role was dreamt up on the set of “Baby,” when Grant, jealous at the fun Hepburn had as that story’s comedic puppeteer, whose schemes to delay the marriage produced that movie’s dramatic tension, pushed Hawks to give him a juicer role next time around.  The role of Burns in “His Girl Friday” certainly gave Grant some juice.  Unlike the role of Dr. Huxley, Burns gives Grant a character with volition, a will of his own.  Understandably, Hawks’ decision to cast a woman not a man in the role of Hildy is often credited as the film’s stroke of genius.  But it is Grant’s presence as the plot’s architect that makes the film work as well as it does.  His schemes, delivered by the anxious numerous ticks, shifts, and phony put-ons, show him to be an equal to his female counterpart in Russell.    In “Baby,” Hepburn’s character is too remote from Grant’s to make the conclusion believable.  The conclusion of “His Girl Friday” makes better sense, not as a reflection of “real life,” but as a destination for two equally-matched characters.  By focusing on two and not one machiavels, Hawks builds “His Girl Friday” on the conflicts of equals, not, as is the case in “Bringing Up Baby,” on opposites.

That difference is one of the reasons why many audiences prefer “Bringing Up Baby” over “His Girl Friday.”  Though less believable, the Hepburn/Grant relationship satisfies our sentimental ideals about courtship and marriage.  Opposites can learn to get along and live happily every after!  “His Girl Friday” satisfies no such optimism.  Divorced once, Russell/Grant will try again.  They belong together and deserve one another.  Their comedy of remarriage resists the easy allegorization of opposites–represented in “Baby” as the contrasting images of the dinosaur skeleton and the leopard–and instead pairs together a more perfect, and disturbing, union of snakes.  We admire their collective wit and ingenuity but we wish them a happy and long life together at the expense of their future victims.  In the end, the venom of their courtship–so effective as an expression of the war of the sexes–contaminates “happily ever after.”

– Dr. Mark McCullough, Assistant Professor of Literature
Ave Maria University

 

Life as Art: The Two Escobars

August 8, 2011 § Leave a comment

Sometimes the only judge for a good movie is the emotional experience we go through as the characters on film overcome trials and fight for a dream that might only be real to them. This emotional experience is also the reason I love watching old soccer highlights. Seeing a player score a goal that is seemingly impossible, seeing how all the stars of the futbol universe have to be aligned for the ball to edge it’s way into the corner of the goal, and then seeing the grand celebrations that follow with players jumping on top of each other mixed with the occasional acrobatic maneuver always gives me goosebumps. Finally, I’ve found a documentary that combines the emotions of players with the emotions of sports competition, creating a compelling narrative of a real-life villain and hero. The documentary is a part of an ESPN series named “30 for 30.” Within this series is a documentary titled “The Two Escobars” which follows the lives of Adres Escobar, famous Columbian soccer player, and Pablo Escobar, the infamous leader of the deadly Medellin Drug Cartel. Although these men led very different lives, both die fighting for a “dream” of what Columbia could have become.
One of the things that this specific documentary does so well is show the connection between sports and culture. Soccer, arguably the world’s most popular sport, becomes a connecting factor between these two Escobars and their means of reaching out to the Columbian people. Pablo Escobar gains the hearts of many by using his cocaine money to build soccer fields in the slums of Columbia, indirectly providing for many of the world’s greatest soccer players by giving them the oppurtunity to begin their careers in local tournaments. In a different way, Andres Escobar uses his soccer skills and fame to help the impoverished of his society and stay out of the trouble that Pablo Escobar’s cocaine business has brought to Columbia. This documentary poetically places both of these men in the same story line and uses soccer as the thread which weaves together their stories to the lives of every Columbian in the 1990’s.
Recalling the death’s of the Escobars leads to a question about honor and servitude. After Pablo Escobar is gunned down by another political party, the poor of Columbia come out in droves to mourn his death. This socialistic society saw Escobar’s drug business as the only means of giving the poor an equal leg to stand on and to fight against the huge social gap that seems to be prevalent in most Latin American countries. One of the most telling images is when a viejita goes to Pablo Escobar’s funeral and cries over his coffin, calling him a “savior” and grieving as if she has just lost a member of her own family. Andres Escobar’s own death tells a completely different story. After losing in the World Cup and embarrassing himself on a world scale, Andres decides he must be a positive image for the Columbian people who have so much to be ashamed of at this time. His death, at the hands of people who Pablo Escobar might have been able to control, show that even Andres’ own life was somehow protected by Pablo’s drug money. Sadly, as Andres’ former coach recalls, Andres was killed by the society he was attempting to renew.
Even though I know very little about Latin American politics and the whole drug business, I can say, I know sports. As a sports lover, I enjoyed this documentary profoundly. I think the directors of this documentary picked a perfect story line to show this relationship between the struggles of a team and the struggles of country. With interviews from Andres’ team mates and interviews from Pablo’s hit men, one comes to perceive the deep familial relationships that are formed on a sports team and in a business where everyday could mean life or death. The sports highlights do not take away from the drama of Pablo’s drug cartel. The soccer games act as an art form, imitating the short-lived financial prosperity of Columbia and the extreme violence that plague’s every aspect of Colombian society.
Perhaps the most compelling point of the documentary is the reminder that both Escobars attempt to achieve their dreams for noble reasons. Pablo’s cousin recalls that Pablo decided to begin his crime ring in order to “steal from the rich and give to the poor.” Andres’ family also remembers that Andres wanted to use his natural talent and charisma to affect Columbia and create a national image of his country that bespoke honor and integrity. Pablo’s divergence from good and Andres’ tragic death show life’s true drama: sometimes, good does not overcome evil. Overall, the documentary’s message seems to be this: one can either live a life of hope, or one of destruction. Sadly, in this story, the life of hope ends far too soon.

~

Mercedez Gonzales is a sophomore Literature major/ Latin minor at Ave Maria University.

Review: Downton Abbey

July 27, 2011 § Leave a comment

Now, my brother knows I have a certain affinity for British accents and umpire waists. So, when I got home determined to read books and practice Latin, of course, as it is a brother’s duty to distract his sister from her intellectual pursuits, he introduced me to a PBS series “Downtown Abbey.” Now, it looks as though my translation of The Gallic Wars may have to wait.


“Downtown Abbey” follows the Crawley family, a well to do family trapped in a period of change and progress, most notably exhibited through their installation of electric chandaliers and the “demonic” telephone. Moreover, this series brilliantly depicts the downfall of social class structures while avoiding a overt sympathy towards the maids and butlers of the Downton Abbey. The Crawley’s are in danger of losing their family’s hold of the estate as Lord Crawley has 3 daughters and no sons and his nearest male blood relatives were killed on the Titanic. Underneath all of this drama lies a smaller social structure made up of the Crawley’s maids and butlers. These second-class citizens become aware of the family’s conundrum and work to keep the house in tip-top shape in order to help Mary, the oldest of the Crawley daughters, attain a husband.

Lord Crawley, arguably the most becoming of all the characters in the series, sympathizes with his “help,” yet sticks with business and is clearly concerned with the maintenence of his estate and retaining his fortune. Mr. Carson, the first butler, reflects Lord Crawley’s concern, as he acts as a mediator and father over the rest of the butlers and maids. These two father figures and their respective family structures show the separation of these two social classes but also, a certain degree of similarity. Mr. Carson does not deal with his own children, rather, he mediates feuds and supposed thefts with other adults who are under his supervision and authority. Presiding over equally petty arguments and situations concerning his three daughters, Lord Crawley carries all of the concerns of his family’s finances, progress, and even the looming war in Europe on his shoulders.

Throughout the first season of “Downton Abbey,” the Crawley’s, their maids, and butlers learn to cope with the women’s right movement in England, the movement of a dead Turk, and the movement of the “help” from one social class to another. This show exposes the origins of many modern cultural problems and also shows how society changed with such velocity in the 20th century.

Believe me, I know that this is a film blog, but, in light of the Netflix invention, I think that a tv series that can be watched “on demand” qualifies as worthy of just as much consideration as many of the films on “Instant Watch.” Thus, in the spirit of “Downton Abbey,” I submit to the Netflix “sign of the times” and wait in suspense for season two.

~

Mercedez Gonzales is a sophomore Literature major/ Latin minor at Ave Maria University.

Film Review: X-Men: First Class

June 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

When one hears the words “X-men,” a host of images and associations may scroll through their mind. For some, it’s the colorful comics that began back in the 60’s with Professor Charles Xavier and his gifted youngsters, others may remember the excellent cartoon adaptation of the same comics that ran in the mid 90’s; still others may think, with equal parts approval and vitriol, of the film series begun in 2000 by director Bryan Singer and continued by Brett Ratner (X-Men: The Last Stand) and Gavin Hood (X-Men Origins: Wolverine). This summer, the X-series is getting a prequel/reboot make-over with Matthew Vaughan’s X-Men: First Class. With Singer involved as both a story creator and producer, First Class carves in excellent niche in the mythos begun while also allowing for a new direction moving forward, something the film series has needed since the bland, inconsistent Origins: Wolverine.

Beginning with the same opening scene as the original X-men, First Class wastes no time in introducing the figure of Erik Lehnsherr, who will come to be known as the villainous Magneto, as a small boy in a concentration camp. Erik, a young Jew, is also a “mutant,” a being who’s genes are the key to the next stage of human evolution and allow him, and those like him, to do extraordinary things. However, Erik’s ability to manipulate metal draws the attention of the sinister doctor in the camp, Sebastian Shaw (played with brilliant menace by Kevin Bacon), who has his own interests in young Erik’s future. Half a world away, young Charles Xavier, another budding mutant with the ability to read others’ minds, makes the acquaintance of Raven, an outcast whose mutation covers her natural skin in blue scales unless she is taking the appearance of someone else. Charles is fascinated by Raven, much like Shaw is of Erik, because of the growing emergence of mutants among the populace and she is adopted as his “sister.”

The film then flash-forwards into the early 1960’s, with Charles (James McAvoy) a young doctoral student working on mutation and Erik (Michael Fassbender, easily the star of the film) a Nazi hunter who is seeking the villainous Shaw for vengeance, being brought together by Agent Moira MacTaggert  to help stop Shaw and his cronies from igniting nuclear war between the United States and the U.S.S.R. Along the way, Charles and Erik recruit a number of young mutants to help them in their struggle and stop Armageddon from breaking out.  As disaster begins to draw nearer, it becomes clear that Erik and Charles, despite their close friendship and similar dream, are fast becoming ideologically opposed as to how mutants should integrate themselves into normal society. Caught between this feud are Raven (Jennifer Lawrence) and Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) whose mutations make fitting in much harder than the others.  As the team struggles with their external foe Shaw and the internal battle with themselves, it becomes clear that something must give before the world is destroyed.

X-Men: First Class succeeds where the most recent previous installments have failed, by creating well-rounded, flawed characters who are not above reproach or admiration. McAvoy and Fassbender create two of the best representations of human character in any comic book adaptation thus far, and their Professor X and Magento truly do echo Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.  Helping this is the film’s sixties setting which brings to mind James Bond and the Civil Rights movement, and Vaughn expertly captures that ethos. The younger cast is likewise full of interesting young actors who do a good job of creating realistic characters. It is really only the villains, save for Bacon and January Jones’ Emma Frost, who are bland and flat. We learn almost nothing about the others or their motivations for supporting Shaw, but the film is so smooth and slick, that it really doesn’t matter. Vaughn, no stranger to the comic book genre, having done 2010’s Kick-Ass, seems to recognize where the talent lies in his cast and does a great job with keeping the three best actors (McAvoy, Fassbender, and Lawrence) onscreen for the majority of the film. If a sequel is produced, and the film like any good action picture leaves it open, it would be wise to create a set of villains as interesting as the heroes.

One of the questions that has been picking the brain of many an X-Man fan since the film’s announcement is: is this a prequel or a reboot of the franchise? The short answer is both. The film does fit into the mythos of (at least) the first two films that Singer directed in a rough fashion. Helping this is two surprise cameos that are sure to please fans of the film series. However, the film does deviate from certain points of the film’s histories and excludes The Last Stand and Origins: Wolverine entirely. While a tad frustrating, and partly due to the rights of certain characters being co-owned by Fox and Sony, First Class is definitely the best of the X-films and does a great job of pulling minor characters to the forefront and utilizing them as well as, if not better than, some of the bigger name characters like Wolverine, Cyclops, and Storm. First Class seems to herald a new direction for the X-Men onscreen and if it is any indication of what’s to come, it is a path that fans can get behind.

~

Steffen Kellen is a Junior literature major at Ave Maria University

A Second Look at “The Social Network”

June 12, 2011 § 1 Comment

The Social Network is a masterpiece—but its brilliance lies not only in its realistic portrayal of the “internet generation,” which Joseph Donovan notes in his review, but also in its profound critique of this generation. The structure of the film is that of a biopic, chronicling Mark Zuckerberg as he creates the social networking site, Facebook. Donovan is right that the film contrasts the new, “internet generation,” represented by Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker, with the old school generation, represented by Eduardo Saverin and the Winklevoss twins. However, this contrast does not privilege the new generation over the old, but rather points out the problematic aspects of the new generation.

Understanding Zuckerberg’s character in the film is essential to understanding the film’s portrayal and critique of Generation Y because Zuckerberg functions as a microcosm of that generation. In the opening scene, Zuckerberg and his girlfriend, Erica Albright, are having a conversation (or more accurately, she attempts to have a conversation with him), but he repeatedly fails to genuinely listen to her. This dialogue, or lack thereof, is the first indication that Zuckerberg lacks the ability to communicate with other people. Afterwards, Albright (not surprisingly) breaks up with him. The reason Albright breaks up with him is not really “because he is obsessed with Harvard final clubs,” as Donovan claims, but because he is rude, disrespectful, and contemptuous, all of which can be seen in the first scene of the movie. Zuckerberg responds by slandering her on his internet blog. In one of the later scenes of the film, Zuckerberg approaches Albright, but it does not even occur to him to apologize. Saverin, watching them from afar, assumes that Zuckerberg apologizes. When Zuckerberg returns, Saverin tells him, “Hey that was great. That was the right thing to do. You apologized, right?” The difference between the two men can be clearly seen in this scene, which characterizes Saverin as having a sense of respect and manners that Zuckerberg sadly lacks. Throughout the film, Zuckerberg wants to be popular and cool, but he does not realize that his rude and impersonal behavior towards others prevents him from being included in social circles. He thinks as Albright tells him, that people don’t like him because he is a nerd, but it’s actually because he’s a jerk. Unfortunately, throughout the film, he tragically lacks the insight to acknowledge this truth. As a result, he doesn’t focus on changing his disparaging attitude towards others, but rather on trying to be “cool.”

Later on, when Zuckerberg and Saverin are at a business meeting for Facebook, Zuckerberg’s rude behavior towards the prospective business partner costs them the business deal. Saverin, by contrast, shows excellent interpersonal and communication skills in that scene and throughout the film. It is deeply ironic that in the movie, the founder of Facebook, a social networking website that is supposed to be a channel for communication, is unable to communicate well with others. This irony is one of many which indicates that despite its progress in communication technology, the internet generation, like Zuckerberg, has regressed in its ability to communicate with others.

The other characters who represent Generation Y, such as Sean Parker and Tina (Saverin’s girlfriend) are like Zuckerberg in their lack of substantial, wholesome relationships with others. The scene that introduces Parker, in other words, the first impression the film provides of him, shows him as waking up after a one-night stand with a student from Stanford University. They start asking each other basic “get to know you” questions, a temporal irony soon to be followed by another ironic moment. She holds it against him that he slept with her without knowing her name—but she does not even know that he does not go to the same school as her. Through this irony, the film points out that they are both at fault, or as the old adage goes, it takes two to tango. Then Parker, in response to the girl’s comment that he does not know her name, shows her that he actually knows basic facts about her, but that’s all they are, facts. He doesn’t really know her.

Similarly, when Saverin and Zuckerberg go out for drinks with two fellow Harvard students, they hook up with them. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg’s ex-girlfriend is at the same restaurant, having a conversation with her friends. The film contrasts mature, grounded Albright enjoying a night of good conversation and fostering true friendships with others, with the superficial sexual activity that Saverin and Zuckerberg engage in. This contrast points out the vacuity of the internet generation’s interpersonal behavior. But more significantly in terms of its artistic value, the film makes this critique without deviating from its narrative trajectory and without diluting its realism because these one-night stands and hook-ups are a part of the college culture where Facebook is born. As Zuckerberg says, referring to his vision of Facebook, “I’m talking about taking the entire social experience of college and putting it online.”By using a setting that naturally lends itself to this kind of subject matter, the Social Network conveys a thematic message that organically grows out of the story itself— and that is one of the film’s strokes of brilliance.

The Social Network also has an incredible unity, another stroke of brilliance. The previously mentioned hook up and one night stands scenes are paralleled by the Harvard fraternity parties (known as final clubs), where everyone is getting drunk and hooking up. In one of those scenes, there are guys rating women based on how hot they are. One of the women at the party walks by, pauses, and says in an offended tone, “That’s my roommate.” Through comments such as these, the film shows that the guys’ actions are denigrating to women. Similarly, Zuckerberg at one points compares women to farm animals and Albright reprimands him for it later on. In this way, the film does not simply portray the reality of what’s happening in these party scenes, but also makes a critical comment of it, giving the audience insight into the significance of these actions.

The Winklevoss twins, like Saverin, provide a telling contrast for Zuckerberg. Unlike Zuckerberg, who does not have much human connections, the twins have a strong fraternal relationship, despite their differences and conflicts. Their deferential attitude towards the Harvard University president, despite his lack of amiability, shows their respectful, kind character in contrast to Zuckerberg’s rudeness. It is also worthy to note how they spend a majority of their time—they row crew, a team sport. The Winklevosses show that they are a part of a team both off and on the field when they meet Prince Albert at a social reunion after a race and offer to introduce their teammates to him. Zuckerberg, on the other hand, is not a team player. In the film, he betrays his business partners, the Winklevosses by stealing the idea for Facebook from them, and moreover, he betrays his best and only friend, Saverin.

Donovan, in his review, misinterprets Saverin as a “tragic figure” of “success in the old system, a young person that did not catch on to the rebellion of his generation, and tried to climb the ladder of life through traditional means of business.” Since Saverin represents the “old” generation, to misinterpret him is also to misunderstand how the film portrays this generation. It is true that Saverin succeeds through traditional means, but the film at no point portrays Saverin as a “tragic figure” for doing so. On the contrary, the film actually portrays Saverin as one of the most admirable, redeemable characters in the film precisely because he possesses the qualities of the “old” generation, such as the ability to communicate with others and most importantly, to be a good friend. The same cannot be said of Zuckerberg, who knowingly allows Saverin to enter into a business deal where his shares are eventually diluted to less than 1% and takes him off the masthead of the website, which originally cites him as co-founder. Meanwhile, Zuckerberg enters into a business partnership with Parker, who is part of the cool, internet generation. Later on in the film, Parker throws a party where drugs are being dealt to minors and the police finds out, he puts the image of the company at risk. By contrast, Saverin is conscious about the law on several occasions in the film, generous, and a loyal friend of Zuckerberg, standing by him when no one else did.

By the end of the film, Zuckerberg is “successful” in the new system; he catches onto his internet generation and galvanizes it, becoming the youngest billionaire in the world. But he has lost Albright, his girlfriend, and Saverin, his only friend. Zuckerberg may have 500 million (Facebook) friends, as the tagline of the film points out, but he has no friends in real life. Zuckerberg may feel superior to those of the “old” generation, which is especially shown in his attitude toward the prosecution lawyer in the legal settlement scenes, but the movie suggests that he is not. The Social Network indicates that despite his intellectual superiority to his peers and to the “old” generation, he is far behind them when it comes to knowing how to treat other people and how to have relationships with others. In other words, he is deficient in what matters most.

In the last scene of the film, Marilyn, one of the assistants in the legal settlement Zuckerberg is in as a result of stealing the idea for Facebook, makes a comment that contradicts Albright’s comment in the opening scene. Marilyn tells him that he is not really a jerk; he is just trying so hard to be one. At first, it was puzzling to understand why this comment was put in the film (perhaps the filmmakers were afraid of being sued by Zuckerberg and wanted to end on a positive note?) because it is at odds with the consistent portrayal of Zuckerberg as a jerk throughout the entire film. Nevertheless, it does not actually present a challenge to the previous characterization of Zuckerberg. First of all, Marilyn herself even says that she assumes that emotional testimonies in these legal settlements are 85% exaggeration. Moreover, there was not only emotional testimony at the settlement, but also evidence and when weighed against Marilyn’s comment, the evidence proves her judgment to be erroneous. However, Marilyn’s comment, albeit mostly inaccurate, points to something true about Zuckerberg. The final scene, which is a conversation between Zuckerberg and Marilyn that includes the said comment, suggests that Zuckerberg is not completely bad. In this scene, Zuckerberg notices that Marilyn hasn’t had much to eat, saying with genuine concern, “All you had all day was that salad. Do you want to get something to eat?” As they are talking, he says, “Farm animals. I was drunk and angry and stupid,” referring to when he compared women to farm animals on his blog. Through this comment, the film indicates that Zuckerberg finally has some remorse and realizes that what he did was wrong. Such instances in the film suggest that Zuckerberg has some potential to grow, or perhaps, that by the end of the film, he has already done so.

Ultimately, the Social Network raises important questions about technology and challenges viewers to question how they use technology. It does not imply that having a Facebook profile de facto makes someone superficial nor that everyone should go deactivate their Facebook accounts after watching the film. Albright is portrayed as using technology and has a Facebook yet she is one of the most substantial characters in the film. Instead, the film challenges viewers to ask themselves, how do we use Facebook and technology in general? Do we use it a la mode Sean Parker, who says “We lived in farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet,” foregoing real life? Or do we spend most of our time living real life, like Albright?

-by Shirley Anghel

shirley.anghel@avemaria.edu

Film Review: Bridesmaids

May 21, 2011 § Leave a comment

Another summer movie season is upon us, which means a great many surprises and disappointments await the theater-going public over the next four months. We’ll see giant robots, superheroes, and randy, drunken partiers by the bucketful until we beg for the smaller indie-fare of the fall and winter season. In that final category falls the latest Judd Apatow effort:  Bridesmaids. Co-written by current Saturday Night Live cast member Kristen Wiig and directed by well-known comedic director Paul Feig, the film nonetheless carries the signature Apatow mark of a raunchy but heartfelt film that leaves its viewers with their sides split and hearts warmed from the combined efforts of all involved.

Bridesmaids is the story of Annie (Wiig), a woman who’s reached her unfabulous 30s and is sharing an apartment with a creepy, British brother and sister pair, finds herself on call as a recreational sexual partner for a man who likes to conclude their activities by lovingly telling her to get lost, and her dream of opening a bakery crushed by the country’s recession. The only person who seems to get her is her girlhood best friend, Lillian. Unfortunately, Lillian just got engaged and asks Annie to be her maid-of-honor and assist in planning the wedding. After unveiling the rest of the bridesmaids-to-be, Annie makes the acquaintance of Helen, Lillian’s new, rich friend who makes it clear that she is out to be the top dog of this wedding. Hilarity ensues as poor Annie moves closer and closer to her breaking point as Helen attempts to outdo her at every turn as Lillian’s big day moves closer. Throw in one charming, Irish policeman to warm Annie’s cold love life and the recipe is set for comedy gold!

Much of the focus on Bridesmaids has been on whether or not a comedy of this type can work. Weddings, and the chaotic lives of the women involved, have been the subject of romantic comedies since film began, but never has it been the subject of a raunchy, R-rated comedy. That territory is generally considered to be a “boys only” club, dominated by such buddy films as Superbad, Wedding Crashers, and The Hangover. Wiig and Apatow’s latest effort is seeking to elbow its way past the stereotypical viewpoint that women can’t be funny and prove that they in fact can.


However, such an argument is, in my opinion, a stupid one to be having in this day and age. Women have long proven that they can carry their own weight in comedies, and be just as funny, awkward, and neurotic as their male counterparts. The real focus of attention should be whether or not Bridesmaids is going to redefine the so-called “chick flick” genre? And in this reviewer’s opinion, it certainly seems likely too. Many of the characters in the film have their correspondents in buddy film tropes, but they are legitimately funny in their own right. They don’t need to be compared to their male peers, because they’re able to hold their own as a characters. They face problems not unlike those faced in male comedies, but in their own, unique, feminine way. And you know what? It works for them, and the viewer should have no problem laughing uproariously, even if they do have a Y-chromosome. Not only that, but the themes that the film is built upon, namely, that the people in our lives move in and out but we will always have someone there when we need them, are something that both genders can identify with. My recommendation is to ignore the sexist-baiting and go see this incredibly heartfelt, though raunchy, comedy.

~

Steffen Kellen is a Junior literature major at Ave Maria University

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