American Beauty Controversy

*SPOILERS ALERT*

When you watch a film that is intended to be controversial that has an inner meaning which each of us finds to be different depending upon our gender, situated culture and cultural experiences; you may feel uncomfortable being subjected to it in a room full of your peers. Audience response is dictated by situated culture, the company we share will decide how we react, feel and respond emotionally to the characters. When I first watched this film in the presence of my peers and teacher in class, I was in all honesty indifferent to it. I felt nothing for Lesters demise or for any of the other pieces I will express strong opinions to on this blog. It was only after I watched it on my own did I establish an emotional connection with Lester and Ricky, and relate to them in multiple aspects of the way their lives were portrayed. Originally I didn’t understand why Colonel Fitts shot lester at the end until I had watched it again. I then understood his struggle against acceptance of his true nature which reminded me of the debate of one’s sexuality; whether it is nature or nurture that decides it. American Beauty obliquely suggesting that we are who we are and no matter how hard we can try to mask our identity; our true colors will always shine through.

I could imagine watching American Beauty in a cinema is much like being at home alone with the surround sound on, you are completely immersed in the world that is the directors vision, whereas watching it in a purely educational paradigm somewhat censors your emotional connection with the film and characters. Our upbringing will axiomatically affect our perception of film, in this example the characters initially represent that of a normal, middle-upper class family all bound by the vices and troubles we ourselves have experienced. Girls of my generation may have been raised to believe that the celebrity culture is indeed a model to which they should base their lives upon and respond with a sense of relation and empathy for Jane. An oppressed husband or wife will most likely respond similarly to Caroline or Lester and their pursuit of happiness, and all of us can take note of Ricky’s appreciation of beauty in everyday scenarios. He uses his camera to capture these moments, he said that:

“It’s like God’s looking right at you, just for a second, and if you’re careful… you can look right back…”

I found that quite powerful, it reminds me (and indubitably other members of any audience regardless of cultural experience) of similar moment in life where I have witnessed something beautiful, even if that beauty is oblique and obscured by the mask of it being just an ordinary, everyday item e.g. a plastic bag floating in the breeze. I believe this method of having his camera as a narrative function is an extremely effective way of telling a story, it lets you see life from Ricky’s  point of view and highlights the moments that are significant to him. An example of this is when Jane is sat at her desk and Angela is doing a strip tease in the foreground and Ricky ignores her to focus on Jane’s smile which is in the reflection of her mirror. Though we may not all go around filming women through their windows at night, our cultural experiences (especially in the UK) have set an almost list of guidelines for conventions of teenagers that is, quite frankly, our interest and fixation on sex. I believe that scene challenges this social stigma coupled with my generation.

Some members of the audience may have had an upbringing surrounded by family and friends that abuse narcotics, or indeed use them themselves. Their response could be to relate to the freedom and outer-body experience that substances like marijuana provide. In juxtaposition to the aforementioned culture, people belonging to the higher end of the class system which I maintain is still in practice regardless of the supposed “equality” of this day and age may respond negatively to this film. This is because their endeavor and struggle to achieve such a status is being regarded as pointless and not the true way to achieve happiness, for that it is only gained by being happy with yourself and the none materialistic things you already posses. Family being the focal point of American Beauty in my opinion and family being a thing that in some shape or form we all possess.

Gender will ultimately dictate individuals understanding of the characters portrayed in this film. A female audience (especially of my generation) may relate more to Jane and her insecurities about her appearance, this reinforced by the medias influence with celebrity magazines that axiomatically and almost categorically state everything that it is to be a modern day woman. Men might find this film inspirational in the sense that it encourages us to be a little bit more like Lester, that we should break free from the aforementioned confines of the ordinary life and pursue what truly makes us happy. From my experience and the excessive amounts of Disney films and “family specials” I watched as a child; I was raised to believe that we all have happy endings. Girls may have had the same coupled with the added pressures of being made to conform to the aesthetic qualities and fashions of the rich and famous. We are slowly beginning to realize that we won’t all be rich and famous celebrities, we are all being drawn into the alternative “family life makes you happy” way of life. This notion is being challenged by American Beauty and in my opinion disproved by the mask they had to wear to disguise their hatred for one another… life is clearly not a “codec moment”. Elderly and middle-aged women may relate to the character Caroline for her whole “woman power” vibe with her running about pointlessly shooting guns and committing adultery to make herself feel better about the fact that she has been oppressed. Caroline’s battle is against the lifestyle of the ordinary/ model housewife, this can be related to by the majority of the elderly female audience, as well as the act of her suppressing her suffering in solitude in order to yield and don the mask that is normality for the benefit of the rest of the world.

Middle aged men may relate to Lester for his struggle against the buttoned down, domesticated, house pet lifestyle he led at the start of the film, whereas men of my age may relate more to Ricky (or even idolize his humble and relaxed attitude towards life), for we ourselves should all appreciate the true beauties in life and not pursue the false, ‘perfect’ women like the character Angela represents.The preferred reading of the film American Beauty is that we should be more carefree in our approach to life, to free ourselves from the confines of social obligations and conventions that confine us to this consumerist lifestyle. Being products of this lifestyle obsession does not entail happiness, it restricts us to the mundane chores and obligatory tasks inherent within this way of life, making generic and repetitive tasks that we are meant to perceive as interesting (e.g. gardening) seem enjoyable.

This enjoyment is outmatched and far surpassed by the act of breaking free of these confines and restrictions, following your dreams, buying the car you always wanted or trying something new will make life more interesting. Spontaneity is a dying art from society due to the combined integration of government and media influence of the moral values we are to uphold to benefit ourselves in the long run, health, fitness and the ideology of the perfect human is portrayed in this film. We are expected to be perfect, to get breast implants, to cover over our private family lives and relationships with the mask that is deception with the veil of normality. American Beauty challenges this by outlining these issues in society and showing that true happiness comes with being comfortable with ourselves. An example and juxtaposition of this is the character Fitts and his denial of his true identity and the resulting anger and ugliness that proceeds it, perhaps relating to societies denial of accepting the fact that we are all hiding who we really are. Another preferred reading of this film is that the baser morals of family values should be paramount to our focus in life as opposed to material possessions.

The negotiated reading, given the specification of the preferred reading, I would say is that controversy and difference in opinion arises in the audience’s perception of the latter. As per my preferred reading; the controversy lies with the idolization of material possessions because as I stated in my preferred reading; in order to break free of this mundane lifestyle, you follow your dreams, but this can (and in today’s society) will entail the vast expenditure of money which links in directly with the lifestyle of being a consumer. The dream car is an indictment of this:

“This isn’t life! This is just stuff! And it’s become more important to you than living!”

Surely the act of him buying the Firebird was a blatant contradiction of his enlightenment. Another controversial issue is Lesters ultimate decision to become health conscious and his endeavor to “work out” after a conversation he overheard between Angela and Jane about his fitness in which Angela said

“ If he built up his chest and arms, I would totally fuck him”

This challenges my preferred reading because not only is Lester trying to impress Angela by trying to be what she wants him to be, but also in the process he is masking his previous feeble identity with his new reformed state.

“Uh Oh,Mom’s mad. (Bench presses). I’m going to wail on my pecs and then I’m gonna do my back”- Lester.

A quote from a related film “Fight Club” from Tyler in regards to men being ‘packed into gyms’ in the pursuit of what society believes to be the ideal man is “self improvement is masturbation”, a quote that defies Lesters endeavors and boils straight to the core of what women like Angela are trying to portray as true masculinity.

The oppositional reading to this film is that blackmail should not be used as the tool to accomplish our dreams, this of course supported by Lester’s ultimate demise that could be interoperated as a blunt form of natural order and justice in a yin-yan paradigm in which for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Another (alternative) view is that material possessions do entail happiness, Lester was happy with the possessing of his dream car, Caroline was set free by the purchasing of a firearm and Lester was also influenced by the taking of marijuana. Marijuana also linking in with addiction and vice which is also portrayed by his consumption of beer, and Caroline’s act of adultery (all of which made them happy). American Beauty is one hell of a film and can be interoperated in so many ways, write a comment if you find any other reading to this film.

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Playing Cards of Sound and Editing

Editing and sound in film can be thought of as two playing cards balanced in perfect equilibrium; the absence of one collapses the other, they are integral to the structure that is film. The absence of film leaves nothing but the audio to contextualise the plot, and indeed the narrative, and vice-versa, however the non-inclusion of sound is perhaps more pressing, and one could only contextualise the narrative based solely on the mise-en-scene in its entirety. A perfect indictment of this scenario can be accomplished by muting the audio on a film; one cannot simply establish anything beyond what is presented. Without subtitles; it is far more difficult to comprehend the intentions of the characters, and we rely purely on facial expressions, actions, characters visual mannerisms and visual narrative. One advantage of film is indubitably editing; the theme of the film can be portrayed purely through editing techniques. Take now the alternative; that is to avoid looking at the screen, and focusing purely on the dialog. You will note that the characters intentions, and the mood/ feel of the events that would be occurring on the screen are still very much apparent, another way to think of this is radio; and how descriptive dialog, dialect and recognisable sounds can tell a story on their own.

But I shall reiterate; a film is comprised of visual and auditory cues, video can only stand alone if accompanied by subtitles or have visually representative scenes of the progression of narrative, and audio can only stand alone by being thoroughly descriptive, though this is regarded as radio and not film.

Take, for example; the Lord of The Rings extract that has been provided as a focal point to my analysis (see at the bottom of this article); auditory cues such as the rattling of swords, gusting wind and the crackling fire coupled with the dialect of the characters is more than enough for one to assume that it is a medieval/ ye old’e style of film. One can also assume by the dialog that it is of an ‘adventure’ genre (coupled with the aforementioned sounds present in the start of this extract), one can also establish that it is a mixed genre with ‘action’, the amalgamation of which creating ‘action-adventure’, this can be found by the sound effects utilized approximately mid-sequence in which clearly depicts a battle scenario.

Another noteworthy and easily comprehensible fact, and in terms of purely visual narrative; is the inclusion of a ring, that ties in with narrative function, to which is the key aspect of the film, and indeed the purpose of the quest and the item the somewhat stereotypically sinister looking ‘evil’ characters are intent on apprehending/ acquiring. It is also blatantly apparent that they are some kind of supernatural beings/ creatures. If one were to listen purely to the audio; this crucial and vital element would otherwise be overlooked, it is impossible to conceive the function and power of the ring.

Taking a step back, and analysing the purpose of sound in relation to film; I would say its primary function is to invoke an emotional response from the audience, to be informative and to supply a backbone for the visual narrative, to enable the audience to anticipate elements of the film in terms of imminent occurrences and to create tension or indeed any atmosphere the director wishes to envelop upon his audience. In my opinion; most of these attributes of audio can be accomplished purely through music, the inclusion of dialog is purely to assist in the progression of the plot. If I were to create a tangent to the initial question, being that of a subdivision of sound; then I would conclude that narrative can be achieved through a combination of music and film. For example; a music video can invoke an emotional response from its audience, this could be achieved through a combination of entertainment and an incremented narrative, designed to capture the audience and to incorporate a kind of equilibrium of the track itself and the journey the footage is taking you on.

Relate this now to the extract of footage, and the tracks included. From purely focusing on the tracks used, coupled with the footage, it is easy to assume that the adventurers are clearly in imminent danger through the melancholic and ominous music.

On the other hand; editing techniques such as the Kuleshov effect, which enables the editor to create an implied connection of interiors and exteriors despite geographical location, can be utilized in such a manner as to connect/ intertwine related shots that also shows progression of plot or narrative. An example of this within the extract is when one of the Nazgul appears from the darkness in a very wide shot, the camera then cuts back and forth between the creature and Frodo. The juxtaposition of Frodo’s frightened expression alternating in a quick cut fashion with the Nazgul’s clear intention of combat beautifully personifies the Kuleshov effect.

LOTR Extract

The Gadget Show Magazine Review

I would conclude purely based upon initial inspection that the Gadget Show magazine is primarily focused on advertisement, consumer information and generally technology related subject matter (ergo the name “Gadget Show”). Advertisements included will appeal to both children and adults alike, I’m basing this assumption upon the demand for these “gadgets” and the encompassing age range that is inherent with them. A clear example is a T.V; it is safe to assume in this first world country that we reside in that the general population are inclined to believe that a TV is a necessity, a bare essential if you will. Look now at the population of the UK in its entirety, considering the mass quantity of the public buying devices (in this case a TV), it is pretty safe to say that anyone can pick up this magazine and instantaneously find a so-called “gadget” and have an undying urge to purchase it, despite the fact that it will appear antiquated when compared to the inevitable launch of a ‘superior’ product. The process cycles until they die poor, but with a great selection of skip worthy so-called gadgets that in this countries ever developing technological advances would be considered “a good door stop” in about a year’s time.

 

Let us consider the first of this target audience; a rich and lonely upper class adolescent with no more friends than an isolated turnip in a box, in space. His/her parent(s) will do anything to appease him/ her, and axiomatically when he/ she sees something, the kid gets it as a form of over compensation from an abject paucity of parenting skills, and the kids constant state of abeyance from not having any friends. Then again; I could also deduce that said child could be so over-encumbered with technology that he is regarded as ‘cool’ for the best part of his childhood, but upon reaching puberty he will establish that his gadgets are as worthwhile and pointless as the aforementioned turnip in terms of him having any sexual contact for the foreseeable future. I would deduce that this child would most likely be male, with no other competing siblings/ demonic spawn, most likely has an imaginary friend to compensate for his lack of human contact, is upper or upper-middle class and is generally spoilt. A child that owns a tablet, “smart” phone or any other handheld portable electronic devices will inevitably break it, which implies that unless they are stealing cables from industrial estates and selling it to scrap dealers; the kids parents obviously have disposable income.

 

To support this theory, I would like to point out that the cover states “50 must have gadgets”, the price of these items range from 200 to 1300 pounds. The language used inside portrays a certain sense of naivety in terms of what it must be like not to have a money tree growing out of their behind, it uses terminology such as “only” and “as little as” before stating some ridiculous price tag.

 

Another target audience is of course the “mid-life crisis” group. They have disposable income, they are generally middle or upper-middle class, drive a middle of the range sports car, have a hairline that recedes as quickly as they draw money out of their account to buy elaborate new technology to be “down with the kids” and are most likely single. I would also safely assume that they were of a white British ethnicity.

 

I would say that this magazine (in general) is aimed at the UK population, given the fact that its made in Britain; for White Males either aged 8-15 or 40-50 and generally for the middle, upper middle or upper class. I would say the terminology and language used appeals more towards the technologically adept population, or indeed the older age range of this target audience. The vocabulary used is somewhat extensive, or at least I would consider it a modicum at best when compared to more prestigious magazines.

Nutmeg High

A few hours had passed after consuming the recommended amount of nutmeg which I had purchased from the local shop. Such disastrous consequences to be had from a substance defined as legal, such hallucinogenic properties to be found as the key to a new awakening of my deep, inner subconscious. “A legal high” I thought to myself as I led smiling to myself in my bed. It figures, due to the paucity of psychotropic antics which I was eager to experience and yet until now eluded me.

As I waited with my eyes shut I began to produce an internal monologue of my feelings and current state. “I feel quite alright” I thought to myself. I began to debate the legality of the substance, calling it “an abomination and indictment of this countries legal system”. How could a drug with such severe side effects and adverse effects including visual and auditory hallucinations be legal and readily available to any and all who walk into the store in a society which demonizes marijuana. Marijuana being a drug with defined medicinal benefits with no chemical addiction or long-term effects.

“Perhaps it is you who is broken”

“Perhaps… however this does not explain the general ignorance or failure to recognize both sides of the debate. It is as though they entered the court with a pair of fluffy pink earmuffs to void them of the responsibility of having to uphold their supposed democracy… wait, who was that?”

I opened my eyes. In the corner stood a skinny, skeletal scoundrel that I can only describe as Gollum’s less vertically challenged brother. He stood by my door, his ribs overhanging, his eyes shrouded and as dark and reflective as a black mirror. A mirror which if one were to gaze into for long enough, one would be able to enter a realm of enhanced perspective, an ecstacy fueled vision of the forgotten realities of the habitual drug users. Too stoned to comprehend, and too mindless to remember… I find a pen and paper helps. The mans skin was a pasty, translucent white and crawled with black, snakelike veins. His jaw locked open as he trembled with oozing black liquid which meandered around his teeth.

A few minutes passed, all awhile I stared back asking him simplistic questions in a futile effort to provoke some kind of response. I questioned him, I asked his name, his origin and why he had joined me on such an auspicious night. He remained silent. I decided not to pursue this further and so rolled to my side to ignore him. I began to close my eyes, my mind began to drift onto seemingly more pressing matters such as what state I would be in the next day.

“If I just turn my head to the side… and shut my eyes…”

Suddenly I became subject to a deathifying scream of such amplitude that it shook me to my very core. The moment I ripped open my eyes, it was gone. I looked at the man again as he stared vacantly back, the intensity of my glare began to make my eyelids heavy. I decided once again… to drift off and… fuck sake!

The man belted another piercing scream, this time giving away his foul intent; to prevent me from delightful slumber.

“Two can play at this game”

I decided to establish a new perspective, I stood thinking to myself that the man led in bed looks rather disgruntled, noticing that it was actually me. I stepped closer to myself to see pale white eyes surrounded with curling black veins as I smiled and began to hysterically laugh. The man in the corner continued to scream as I pondered my new self.

“Is my new perspective the product of a memory lodged in my subconscious and brought to life by this drug? Is this temporary construct the result of an opened memory from the countless times I had seen this room from this angle, amalgamated with countless others including my time spent looking in the mirror which has provided a scale accurate map of my own features? Had I really watched that much Lord of the Rings?! Am I dead?! No… the man in the bed looks very much alive.”

I then decided in my infinite wisdom to don a pair of fluffy pink earmuffs which I happened to be holding. I turned to a free-fall through a portal of spiraling blue, glass shards. I was stopped by the abrupt sound and feeling of my face impacting my pillow.

“My new perspective is a thing of the past”

I said to myself.

I was now unable to hear the man in the corner of the room. My eyes were closed to avoid further witnessing this terrifying apparition in an attempt to get some much-needed rest. Without opening my eyes I saw myself generate from a flash of clinical white light. I was now led lifeless while wearing a white gown and the earmuffs in a white padded room desolate of any objects or distinguishable features. I was able to see myself with my eyes shut, an omnipresent perspective which I seemed to have no control over. I felt an unnerving presence followed my rippling vibrations that resonated my bones as I felt it draw nearer. Then I saw it. It’s mouth gaped across the entirety of its face with serrated white teeth protruding asymmetrically, it had no eyes, hair or nose, only stretched skin with indents where its empty sockets lay. He knelt next to me and began to move his chaffed lips, the cool chill of its breath shot goosebumps across my neck and further instilled a morbid feeling of death which accompanied its presence.

Its whispers continued, undefined by my muted ears until a single word broke the silence. A word that even today induces an icy chill down my spine; “fear”. It’s voice was a grainy crackle which shocked me to my very core. My closed eyes ripped open to reveal a glaze of black decorated with electric blue and yellow lightning which covered any white surrounding my matt black pupils. This word drained every ounce of blood from my body, leaving a resting pale skeleton with a stretched skin canvas clinging to it. My world was plunged into darkness, and so ended the first night of the promised three-day trip.

I should add that I do not recommend trying nutmeg for the intention of hallucinating. The risk outweighs the result. I am not responsible for anyone trying this themselves and do not condone doing so.

 

 

H O P E

“It’s time.” Those words echoed in the deathly silent room, a room bathed in clean, clinical white embellished with novelty art illuminated by piercing shards of sunlight which emanated through the metallic blind. I gripped my mothers hand as the nurse wheeled a mobile bed into the room, positioning it adjacent to mine. They lifted me onto it, the cold sheets felt muted, dulled by the cocktail of pain medication and adrenaline my eight year old body was subject to.

My mother walked along side still firmly gripping my hand as I vacantly stared at the passing lights overhead. I was told that the surgery was high risk, they informed me for the second time in my life that I would never walk again prior to admittance. I led daydreaming of the time I spent being wheeled around town at the age of four. My mum did this to spare me the pain of walking on my fused ankles and ever present pain of spinabifida. I recalled the smooth texture of the wet, reflective paths as the caster wheels of the bed slowly turned. She would often run to see me smile and maneuver me over the bumpy topography of pebbles to hear me hysterically laugh, my voice juddering with every motion of the pram as I gazed up at her laughing along. I looked into her eyes as I asked when I could see her again. She smiled through trembling lips and assured me it wouldn’t be long, that I was going to sleep and that I would not remember a thing. Behind her passed paintings of equal size and of near identical aesthetic. They sported the same modern art vibe one would use to describe the artistic capabilities of a young child. I felt mildly critical of the art until I saw it.

The bed turned another corner, revealing a wall sized piece that now stood beyond my feet as the nurse continued to walk me closer to the double doors at the opposing end. The painting was an amalgamation of broad, vibrant colored strokes entwined with the ominous presence of darkness. The juxtaposing light seemed to breach it as a bright light would pierce a shadow. For the first time, in that one moment of my brief existence, I felt hope. My mums words sent a chill down my spine as the double doors flew open; “good night, God bless…” And with that I felt her hand slip away and saw the now distant painting fade away with the silent swing of the doors.