Miscellaneous Films of Interest
Revenge of the Nerds
Revenge of the Nerds. Dir. Jeff Kanew. USA: 20th Century Fox,1984.
2. Brief Description
Satiric look at Adams College, ca. fall 1984, leading to "a really futile, stupid gesture on somebody's part"-quoting the formula from Animal House (1978), the great model for all such movies. Summarized in Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever for 1995: "When nerdy college freshmen are victimized by jocks, frat boys[,] and the school's beauties, they start their own fraternity and seek revenge. Carradine and Edwards team well as the geeks in this better than average teen sex comedy." We will use the film in English 113 for the study of how college students learn the role of college students (including from films). English/Film Studies 350 students should see NERDS if they have a gap in their backgrounds in "teen sex comedy" and have 89 minutes to kill and/or wish to examine film and the social construction of social roles (to correct the MTV disclaimer, Beavis and Butthead are cartoons and satiric butts and role models).
CAUTION: Subversive, sexist, very "PI" film, with voyeurism, partial nudity, cross-dressing, drug use, a rape by deception, casual sex, suggestion of kinky sex-and, arguably, a hedonistic subtext. Eng. 113 students may negotiate alternate assignment on such ethnographical matters as time spent on work, religious life, sports, and/or "friendly fun."
3. Major Cast
|Lewis [Skolnick]: Robert Carradine||Gilbert: Anthony Edwards|
|Poindexter: Tim Busfield||Wormser: Andrew Cassese|
|Betty Childs: Julie Montgomery||Takashi: Brian Tochi|
|Lamar: Larry S. Scott||Judy: Michelle Meyrink|
|Stan Gable: Ted McGinley||"Booger": Curtis Armstrong|
|Burke: Matt Salinger||Ogre: Donald Gibb|
|Coach Harris: John Goodman||U.N. Jefferson: Bernie Casey|
|Dean Ulich: David Wohl||Clorette: Sarah Holcomb|
Groups given in Credits: NERDS, MU'S, JOCKS, and PI'S. I.e., male and female nerds, male athletes and female cheerleaders. We also see ROTC guys, the band, alumni, and a dean.
Adams College, "Home of the Atoms" (with a stylized atom for the Atom's "o"), founded 1869, with 6127 students, 58% of whom are women. It is a college, apparently, with only undergrads -- ask around for how colleges differ from universities -- and, Lewis says, "the best computer department in the country." From the palm trees, I'd place it in southern California.
5. Comments and Questions
Satire usually involves aggression, either gentle or rough, directed at a satiric butt, a target. Who and what are being consciously attacked in NERDS? Who do you think get put down unintentionally? (E.g., male satirists are usually very conscious of evils done by men in power over other men but less conscious of men abusing power over women. Any sexism the film-makers should have attacked and not endorsed? Homophobia? Ethnic/racial prejudices? [In the homecoming(?) competition, where are the Mu's for the Tri-Lam/Mu act?]) Note that all the main characters are "greeks" are "indies" ("dormies," "dorm rats") put down?
Satire usually presents itself as moral, attacking human folly, hypocrisy, andvice. Do you see NERDS as a moral film? If not, how is it amoral or immoral? Under what systems moral or immoral?
Are football and booze good and marijuana and/or sex bad? Generally, are Sex,Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll good or evil? If so, on what grounds? Does NERDS suggestthat good parties need drugs, with nerdish pot superior to jockish booze? (Counting cigarettes and booze as drugs-is there more drugs or less drug use in NERDS than in The Birds? [Real question; I haven't checked.])
A MUO student once joked, "There is no sex at Miami; we're all Catholics here." Is there any religion at Adams? Patrick Buchanan used a term from German anti-Catholic politics ca. 1870 and talked about Culture War (Kulturkampf).Where does NERDS fit into current US culture wars?
NERDS shows a relatively intellectual college, one that guys who wear pocket protectors would go to. Still-Experiment: bring a stopwatch to the screening and time how much total time NERDS spends on academic concern. Does NERDS show more or less "academics" than most college movies you've seen? Does NERDS show an accurate picture of the (non)importance of "academics" in college life? Does any movie you've seen? (Would an accurate movie entertain an audience?)
The motto in the football team locker room is, "Only the strong shall survive."Should we contrast that with the picture of Albert Einstein at the party in the Lambda Lambda Lambda house? If so, note that Einstein was an intellectual who spent much of his life working for peace ("Make love, not war" ...?). Cf. and contrast other adult role models: mothers, fathers, Coach, Dean, and fraternity executive. How many other older people appear in the movie?
If you have ever wondered why so much cloth is wasted making oversized shorts for young US males-note shorts in NERDS and apply the Law of Fashion that the styles of the current generation can recycle those of 2-3 past but must differ from those of the immediately previous generation. (The difference can be trivial: e.g., N0-4 can all wear baseball caps, but N3 will wear them backwards and N4 sideways-and then guys go bareheaded or wear some hat out of Dr. Seuss.)
Note very well the final sequence, at the pep rally. At the beginning, the center is the Jocks, with Gilbert alone and outside, and rejected and abused. Then Gilbert is the occasion for a confrontation between the Coach and the Dean-and then what happens? Look for an imaging here of Erlich's modification (to get the chemistry right) of a formula from Northrop Frye: at the end of a romantic comedy, "A new and better world coalesces around a central couple."
Note very well the "choreography" of the sequence, and the composition of shots, especially the one with Gilbert with the microphone screen center and front, with U.N. Jefferson behind him, a line of Tri-Lams behind him (backs to camera),and the Jocks in the rear, elevated, with Coach in center and marked by white along with the red. Note the "join us" scene in this sequence and the buildingof that new and better world-with the Jocks on the outside.
Is it oddly appropriate that nowadays J. Goodman is a working stiff in Roseanne, T. McGinley a con artist and gigolo in Married...with Children, and A. Edwards an E.R. physician?
The Birds. Dir. Alfred Hitchcock. USA: Alfred Hitchcock Productions/MCA Universal, 1963.
2. Brief Description
Summarized in Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever for 1995 as Hitchcock's attempt "to top the success" of Pycho (1960), "with this terrifying tale of Man versus Nature, in which nature alights, one by one, on the trees of Bodega Bay, to stage a bloody act of revenge upon the civilized world." Stresses film's twisting "the harmless" (birds) "into the horrific while avoiding the ridiculous." Finds The Birds perhaps Hitchcock's "most brutal film, and one of the cinema's purest, horrifying portrayals of apocalypse."
3. Major Cast
|Mitch Brenner: Rod Taylor||Lydia Brenner: Jessica Tandy|
|Cathy Brenner: Veronica Cartwright||Annie Hayworth: Suzanne Pleshette|
|Melanie Daniels: "Tippi" Hedren||Mrs. Bundy: Ethel Griffies|
San Francisco, initially, then Bodega Bay, CA.
5. From David A. Cook, A History of Narrative Film, 2nd ed. (1990)
After becoming one of the three major shareholders in MCA, Hitchcock produced all of his films for Universal. The first of these, The Birds (1963),was nearly three years in preparation and at the time of its release seemed to many an exercise in pure technique....it concerns a savage assault by the millions of birds in the vicinity of Bodega Bay, California, upon the human population of the area. The special effects (consisting of 371 trick shots) by Hitchcock and Ub Iwerks (1901-71), one of Disney's greatest animators, are remarkable, as is the menacing electronic soundtrack produced and recorded by Reni Gossman and Oskar Sala. But the film is slowly paced until the bird attacks begin en masse, and it has an oddly formal quality. Today, critics are inclined to see The Birds as forming the third part of a trilogy with Vertigo and Psycho, which posits a world gone speechless and numb through the dislocation of human feeling. Although the bird attacks on the town are spectacularly rendered through classically structured montage, the overall mood of the film is no less stark than that of The Wrong Man.
6. Comments and Questions
How is The Birds both similar to and different from other "portrayals of apocalypse" with which you are familiar? (E.g., Independence Day, the vision of nuclear holocaust in Terminator  and 2, Testament, Threads, The Day After, the end of Dr. Strangelove.)
How is The Birds both similar to and different from the classic "creature feature" from The Creature from the Black Lagoon to Kong and Godzilla movies to Them!, Arachnophobia, The Giant (1) Claw, (2) Gila Monster, (3) Spider Invasion; The Attack of the (1) Giant Leeches, (2) Mushroom People, (3) Swamp Creature-and finally (4) Killer Tomatoes?
What motivates the attack by the birds? What does it at least correlate with?If it goes with "a world gone speechless and numb through the dislocation of human feeling"-how is this expressed through the plot and imaged in what we see on the screen? If we have the right to imprison in cages, kill, cook, and eat birds, do they have the right to retaliate?
For English 113 and/or cultural studies students: For people in a town named for an Italian grocery store, but the people of Bodega Bay seem to dress quite formally. What else might be different from the way we might see Californians on screen today?
Would they smoke and drink booze as casually as they do in The Birds? Indeed, how does The Birds compare with Revenge of the Nerds for casual drug use?
Might the Californians come across more religious in a remake? Less clean cut?
The Little Mermaid
The Little Mermaid. Dir. John Musker, Ron Clements. USA: Disney, 1989. Ron Clements, John Musker, script. Music by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman.Based on Hans Christian Anderson's story, "The Little Mermaid." 82 min.
2. Brief Description
Animated musical comedy/fantasy version of Anderson's story. Described in Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever for 1995: "Headstrong teenage mermaid falls in love with a human prince and longs to be human too. She makes a pact with the evil Sea Witch to trade her voice for a pair of legs. . . ." Musical numbers: "Under the Sea," "Kiss the Girl," "Daughter of Triton," "Part of Your World," "Poor Unfortunate Souls," "Les Poissons."
CAUTION: See Comments and Questions below and note that Mermaid doesn't investigate The Laws of Romance but helps propagate them. English 113 students must see the movie, but those who dislike militant Disney may substitute in their writing a project on the commercialization of Romance on TV and/or book covers in the book section of our local Krogers or, for those with more literary interests, a report to the class on feminist reworking of Romance materials in, e.g., Marion Zimmer Bradley's The Mists of Avalon-or other options from the syllabus.
3. Major Cast (Voices)
|The Little Mermaid, Ariel: Jodi Benson||King Triton: Kenneth Mars|
|Sea Witch, Ursula: Pat Carroll||Sebastian the Crab: Samuel E. Wright|
|Scuttle the Sea Gull: Buddy Hackett||Louis: Rene Auberjonois|
|Prince Eric: Christopher Daniel Barnes||Flotsam & Jetsam: Paddi Edwards|
|Flounder: Jason Marin||Carlotta: Edie McClurg|
|Seahorse: Will Ryan||Grimby: Ben Wright|
Undersea Kingdom of King Triton and land kingdom of The Prince.
5. Comments and Questions
As a thought experiment, accept The Little Mermaid as a very nicely done, totally typical romantic narrative, and try to infer from it The Laws of Romance.
Whose point of view do we get? How do Ariel and the Prince meet? Why do they fall in love?
What royal work gets performed in the two kingdoms we see? (For obvious reasons, there couldn't be literal paperwork in King Triton's kingdom, but what bureaucratic work gets done in the land kingdom? What ambassadors get received or taxes collected either place? Any issues of defense or conquest? Sanitation projects?)
What blocks the happiness of The Little Mermaid? How are the blocks overcome?
Is the Sea Witch a major political threat? Since we don't seem to learn much of her program for revolution, rebellion, coup, or whatever -- why is she so clearly the villain? Would it change things if King Triton were octopoid, Ariel still cute, and The Prince as fat as the elderly Henry VIII or as Alfred E. Neumanesque as the current Prince of Wales?
What sacrifice must The Little Mermaid make in this version? (Even if you don't know other versions-how do you think she'd feel after walking a day on those new legs and feet?)
"A fish may fall in love with a bird -- but where will they live?" is one old expression; another is Amor vincit omnia: Love conquers all, in the sense of "everyone" and in the sense of "everything." A third old expression is Amor insanus brevis est: Love is a brief madness. What are we to assume of the love of The Little Mermaid and The Prince? Were they conquered and driven mad by love; or will their loves conquer all-their different species, different cultures-and they will "all live happily ever after"? Continue considering Mermaid as if you were a realistic Mermaid or Prince. Do you get what you want? If you do, consider the old saying, "Be careful for what you pray. The gods are malicious and sometimes give us what we ask for." The Mermaid has given up everything, so she desrves living happily and joyously ever after, right, with a Prince who is perfect? Will she get that? Guys-Would you like a wife who has given up everything? Whom you owe happiness until she dies, and your own perfection until you kick off.And when you find that long, beautiful red hair you love, clogging up the royalsink-again!-and you can't say a word...not one freaking word..."
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet. Dir. Franco Zeffirelli. UK/Italy: BHE Verona Productions, Dino de Laurentis Cinematografica, 1968. Distributor: Paramount.From the play by William Shakespeare.
2. Brief Description
From Video Hound's Golden Movie Retriever for 1995: "Young couple share love despite prohibitive [?] conflict between their familities in this adaptation of Shakespeare's classic play. Director Zeffirelli succeeds in casting relative novices Whiting and Hussey in the leads, but is somewhat less proficient in lending air of free-wheeling sixties appeal to entire enterprise."
3. Major Cast
|Prolog & Epilog (Chorus): Laurence Olivier||Romeo: Leonard Whiting|
|Juliet: Olivia Hussey||Friar Laurence: Milo O'Shea|
|Paris: Robert Biasco||Tybalt: Michael York|
|Benvolio: Bruce Robinson||Mercutio: John McEnery|
|Nurse: Pat Heywood||Montague: Antonio Pierfederici|
|L. Montague: Esmeralda Ruspoli||Capulet: Paul Hardwick|
|L. Capulet: Natasha Parry||Peter: Roy Holder|
|Friar John: Aldo Miranda||Prince of Verona: Robert Stephens|
4. Comments and Questions
Please take Romeo and Juliet very seriously: it epitomizes the Laws of Romance for many speakers of English.
How do Romeo and Juliet meet?
- What causes them to fall in love?
- Do they consider other options to marriage?
- Is their love like that between Romeo and Rosalind?
- Is their love of the carnal variety Mercutio assumes?
- Does Romeo consider options other than death when he thinks Juliet dead? Does Juliet consider other options?
In A Merchant of Venice Shakespeare suggests that love means one "give and hazard all"-i.e., it is a gift and an unhedged bet. Do Juliet and Romeo give and hazard all? Do the play and film suggest that they do well to do so?
Note Zeffirelli's handling of what is called mise en scene: what we see in Verona and environs. Note the dividing up of the setting into different kinds of spaces. Streets: Controlled by the young men, and the Prince, when he has his troops present; Capulet's house: controlled by Capulet; Spiritual spaces: Friar Laurence's cell and some green space near his cell where he gathers medicinal plants, the church, the tomb(?). What are Juliet's spaces? What green spaces do we see other than wherever Friar Laurence gathers his plants? Not imagery of hard bricks and stone versus anything softer. Stones versus plants.
Listen for any cheering when Friar Laurence slaps Romeo. It's happened. Why might an audience member or two cheer when someone slaps the really upset Romeo? (And why might a female voice be heard with, "Slug Juliet while you're at it?")
Look for visual suggestions of sun and heat, picking up and reinforcing (and maybe occasionally replacing) a motif in Shakespeare's text. Does Verona seem a likely place for a feud to flare? Listen for lush sound track: What might a minimalist electronic track do?
How do the visuals help make this film romantic? Would you identify with Ms. Hussey and Mr. Whiting if they were in modern dress in, say Toledo, Ohio? Would you identify with the lovers so well if they looked older? If young Whiting were replaced by young Malcolm McDowell, looking ready to play Alex in A Clockwork Orange?
Paths of Glory
Paths of Glory. Dir. Stanley Kubrick. Germany: Harris-Kubrick Productions / Bryna Productions (prod.) / United Artists (release), 1957. From the novel by Humphrey Cobb, based on an actual incident in WWI. Calder Willingham, S. Kubrick, script. Kirk Douglas, star.
2. Brief Description
A French regiment is sent into an attack on an impregnable German position. They fail, and three soldiers are to be executed for "cowardice." After a show trial, they are indeed executed, and their regiment returns to the front.The lore is that Douglas was very important in getting film made.
3. Major Cast
|Colonel Dax: Kirk Douglas (The Hero: Defends his men.)||Corporal Paris: Ralph Meeker (Executed: most dignified of the 3)|
|General Broulard: Adolphe Menjou (Head general: shorter, stocky)||General Mireau: George Macready (Dapper general)|
|Lt. Roget: Wayne Morris (boozing, reckless, cowardly officer)||Major Saint-Auban: Richard Anderson (prosecutor at court martial)|
|Pvt. Ferol: Timothy Carey (tall "social undesirable" executed)|
|Proprietor (of cafe): Jeffrey Hausner||Priest: Emile Meyer|
|Col. Judge: Peter Capell||Sgt. Boulanger: Bert Freed|
|Nichols: Harold Benedict||Capt. Rousseau: John Stein|
The trenches/battlefield, a chateau, and a village in France, 1916, during WWI: Basically, the War in the Trenches and Behind the Lines during the Battle of the Anthill.
5. Comments and Questions
How does Paths of Glory define "heroism"-both in the sense of what the word means in the film and how the film goes about getting us to accept its definition?
What is the source of violence in Paths of Glory?
How is point of view handled? When do we see shots from the literal point of view of the generals? From the PoV of the officers serving on the court martial? The executed men?
How is music used? The initial music is the Marseillaise, the anthem of the French Republic. The final song is a popular German tune. Pete Martin suggests cf. and contrast with music at end of Dr. Strangelove, and I'll add Clockwork Orange.
Listen carefully during initial tour of trenches by Gen. Mireau and the sycophantic officer with him (Major Saint-Auban). The general seems a compendium of cliches.His lines on there being no such thing as shell shock followed by the slap are a direct allusion to one of the low points in the career of Gen. George S. Patton, US Army (cleaned up for the film PATTON).
How is the camera used to suggest the horror and not the glory of, at least, this war?
Note the age of the soldiers: they are somewhat older than the average age of American troops in WWII and much older than the grunts in Viet Nam.
Note haggling over number of men to die and the distinction made throughout between officers and men (or curs or children with herd instinct). Note very well the idea of the French form of the Roman policy of decimation: the idea is to kill a few "to encourage the others" (that's a literal translation).
What is the effect of having the characters speak with American accents? (Does it make it easier for you to determine the characters' social class?)
Full Metal Jacket
Full Metal Jacket. Stanley Kubrick, dir., prod., co-script. UK: Puffin Films for Warner, 1987. Based on The Short Timers by Gustav Hasford. Script by Hasford, SK, Michael Herr.
(Herr is author of Viet Nam classic, Dispatches, also co-prod. of Full Metal Jacket. Kubrick is very much the auteus of this film.)
2. Brief Description/Setting
A three-act drama set at the Marine training station at Parris Island (PI), "in the rear with the gear" in Viet Nam in 1968, the Battle of Hue, Tet Offensive, 1968.
3. Major Cast
|Private Joker: Matthew Modine (The Hero: a wise-ass grunt)||Animal Mother: Adam Baldwin (Big guy with largest automatic weapon)|
|Pvt. Pyle: Adolphe Menjou (initially incompetent recruit at P.I.)||Sgt. Hartman: R. Lee Ermey (the DI at PI)|
|Eightball: Dorian Harewood (point man wounded at Hue)||Cowboy: Arliss Howard (takes command, dies at Hue)|
|Rafterman: Kevyn Major Howard||Lt. "(Mr.) Touchdown": Ed O'Ross|
|Lt. Lockhart: John Terry||TV Journalist: Peter Merrill|
|Crazy Earl: Kieron Jecchinis (Gets speech on dead VC)||POGE (?) Colonel: Bruce Boa (Col. at mass grave)|
|VC Sniper: Ngoc Le||Doc Jay: John Stafford (2nd wounded Marine at Hue)|
|Snowball: Peter Edmund||Motor Bike Hooker: Leanne Hong|
|Payback: Kirk Taylor||Hand Job: Marcus D'Amico|
|Door Gunner: Tim Colceri|
4. Comments and Questions
Translations: Gooks = Asian People (also "slants," "zipper heads"); VC = Victor Charlie = Viet Cong; ANV = Army of North Vietnam; "arvin" = ARVN = Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam. "Island" = Parris Island training camp; DI = Drill Instructor. "Semper Fi": Short for "Always Faithful" (Semper Fidelis), the USMC motto.
Note the John Wayne allusions. According to William J. Palmer in The Films of the Eighties: A Social History (1993), "Almost every literary work generated by the Vietnam War refers to the John Wayne syndrome that makes young men enlist to go off and fight American wars" (43).
Where are the women in Full Metal Jacket? Until it turns out that "Charlie is a She" (to appropriate an essay title), how have women and the feminine come through in the language of the film? Why is Charlie a woman? Sentimentality aside, why was Joker "Born to Kill" a woman?
Note troops singing at the end of Kubrick's Paths of Glory; cf. and contrast "Mickey Mouse Club Song" at end of Full Metal Jacket. We get words in "Mickey Mouse," but the song is highly ironic. It is an incredibly cool song to sing walking from a great battle; still, it suggests the USMC as an older-guys version of the Mickey Mouse Club, war as "Mickey Mouse"-and reinforces theme of the influence of John Wayne and popular culture in doing metaphoric brain surgery.
Note "Born to Kill" vs. peace symbol and any other written slogans, and oral cliches and strong lines. Joker's joke to news camera on killing people, Door Gunner on shooting women and children, and some of the cliches are from the documented history of the period. (Sign up in Stars & Stripes office says, FIRST TO GO LAST TO KNOW in big letters.)
Theory: Contrary to Kubrick's 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, JACKET says that men's killer instinct has little to do with war; when that killer instinct get going, you blow away your DI-not go thousands of miles to kill strangers. What gets men to kill is "brain surgery," suggested in initial head-shaving: John Wayne or more recent equivalents, the cliches, boot camp (from a review in The Nation).
Palmer suggests men fight and die for words; Dalton Trumbo made that point in Johnnie Got His Gun (1939). Words and images: note Rafterman with still camera, news crew with film camera.