Night of the Living Dead

I had never heard of the film Night of the Living Dead by George A. Romero. I was able to watch the film via Amazon Prime, and had to take a different approach. I had to remember that I wasn’t watching this for pure enjoyment, but to analyze it deeper and in a somewhat historical context. The film came out in 1968, shortly after the Civil Rights Movement and amidst the Women’s Rights Movement. It had been little over two decades since the end of World War II. I knew of these historical events when I initially sat down to watch.

I found that the film relied heavily upon music to create dramatic effect, especially when character Barbara Blair has a major acting part. Overall I thought the film played a lot on controversy. There was one African American character, Ben. Ben was alone with Barbara Blair, a white woman. I was surprised because I had believed that to be very bold to have a black man “alone” in a house with a white woman. Additionally, Ben is the only one who seems to commit inhumane acts of violence. Annoyed and frustrated with Barbara Blair, he slaps her across the face. He also shoots Mr. Cooper, who was still healthy and alive, out of anger and retaliation. The irony surrounding Ben, is that he is trying to survive and help those around him. He does this by burning the dead. This resembled a reverse lynching, especially when one of the burnings occurred under a tree. At the end of the film, we find that Ben is the only survivor, but is killed as a result of possibly misunderstanding. Yet, after death we see the white officials continuing their brutality against Ben with how they drag out his body.

The women in the film, all white, are portrayed as incompetent. Judy, another character, is depicted as being the cause for both her and her boyfriend, Tom’s, death. Lastly, radiation. The reason why the dead were coming to life and attacking the living was a result of radiation. I thought that perhaps this stemmed from the realization of how deadly radiation is and spreads and the guilt from World War II.

After doing some research, I learned that critics believe the film to critique American society in the 1960s, politics from international Cold War, and domestic racism. With my observation I can believe this, especially the racism and Cold Was aspects. I learned that George A. Romero was an influential pioneer in the horror film genre and is considered to be both an icon in and the father of zombie films. From an early age, Romero was into films. His father was a commercial artist and he attended Carnegie Mellon University. This information helped put somethings into perspective, but overall, I found the subliminal history and meaning relevant to how all films have subtle hints to historical events and time.

Lone Star

The film Lone Star directed by John Sayles, truly hit home for me. While the film is about a historic time in Texas, much of the conversation and plot are still very much relevant within today’s political climate. Generally I do an overview of the whole film in a historic context. Due to the didacticism within Lone Star, I am choosing to single out specific historic subjects that the film touches upon.

I can admit, that I struggled to distance myself from the film. Unlike the previous films, this film was more tangible to me. The film was in English and focused on a subject I knew more about. The technology that went into creating the film was more modern and clearly had the resources to enhance lighting and quality. These attributes, I’m sure, played a part in my struggle to historically analyze the film.

I re-watched Lone Star several times. I began to think about how the film is considered historic. From a person who has partial roots in Texas and is from the United States, I looked at the politics. The issues that were present in 1990s, are still present now. Issues of racism, segregation, and policing are still present in Texas and other states throughout the country. I saw how the issues mentioned above were being addressed within the film and how these same issues are seen and referenced today. Today, we think we have grown from the more “in your face” portrayal of racism and policing. Yet, as we can see through the Black Lives Matter Movement, these issues are not subsiding. At the same time, they aren’t fully being addressed either.

From another standpoint, I looked at how the other films differed in how I was able to see them as history. I noted the need for subtitles. From there, I realized that these events in history weren’t entirely tangible for me, but they may be for someone else. Having not lived in some of these places, it was easier for me to see the historical aspect of the film. Those films were teaching me about a place and time in history that was unfamiliar to me. A time where I wasn’t even born. Moving along, I noted that the previous films had different goals in what they wanted the viewer to understand. The first set of films were more documentary-styled. I can always view a documentary film as historical. Those types of films are more in your face. The quality and the lighting enhanced that feeling of seeing the film as historical. The way the light hits certain people brought out different sets of emotions and angles to perceive what is happening. As we moved into a more story-based historical film series, I still needed subtitles and further research to understand the context.

Noting the way I was able to view previous films, enabled me to find that in order to truly analyze and interpret Lone Star. If I wasn’t from Texas or the United States, how would I have perceived this film? There was a lot going on. As a historian, I loved how Sayles was able to incorporate so much. From the angle as an outsider, it was clustered. I would have felt the same way I did when watching Battle of Chile. This film required me to need subtitles and it felt chaotic. This was being filmed during the downfall of democracy, so it made sense to have that chaotic feel. At the same time, it made analyzing hard because I was constantly trying to figure something out. This is the same vibe that Lone Star emits. Race is already a heavy subject, especially when dealing with multiple races. We have the African Americans, the Native Americans, and the whites. We see the struggle to accept people who are different from you. We witness the threat of a police state on a community. We are thrown into various portrayals of boundaries from immigration to interracial love to incest. If you can’t link the notion of boundaries through each relationship, then things can get lost and messy.

There are a lot of avenues to choose from, but I specifically wanted to look into the boundaries theme. There are many forms of immigration that occur within the film. The more obvious forms of immigration are illegal immigration, where within the film sneaking over the Mexican-Texas border is discussed, and legal immigration, where Mercedes declares that everyone working in her café has their green cards. However, there are much more subtle displays of immigration. Toward the beginning of the film, we see Hollis, Sam, and Fenton having a conversation in a bar. They are discussing politics, or rather the lack of wanting to assimilate. Fenton is talking about feeling like a minority and essentially advocating for white supremacy, in my eyes. However, he is interrupted by Sam who acknowledges that Mexicans were on that land first. Within this conversation, we are invited to take a step back and see that the whites are immigrants too. They came from their previous states to setup home in Texas. We can also consider Mexicans as being partial immigrants in the sense that they were once colonized by the Spanish who came from Spain and the Native American people are a nomadic group. Between mixed-Mexicans and the Native American people, these two groups are now seen as the problem. The Natives are casted to a reservation instead of living within the town. If we can look at these groups in a historical lens, then the same can be done for African Americans.

When Texas became an official state, slavery was permitted. African Americans were forced to migrate into Texas for slave labor. In 1865, Texas was the last state that enslaved people heard that they were in fact free. A migration to the North and West, known as the Great Migration, occurred. Some African Americans moved westward, and stopped in Texas. Looking at the African American community, we can question how many of them were forced “migrants” and how many chose to move during the Great Migration?

The film takes us deeper. There is a history within interracial love and incest. At one point, interracial marriage was outlawed. When it became legal, there was still hesitation. Today, people can marry whom they want, but there is more of an influence from family than society. In a way the boundary of interracial love has evolved. On the other hand, incest was once common. In doing my own ancestry, I have close cousins marrying and I’ve come upon instances where siblings married. Now, there are laws in which incest is prohibited. There are states who are lenient when it comes to certain types of cousins, but for the most part, incest is both legally and socially unacceptable. I believe Sayles toils with the boundary of interracial love and incest in order to drive in on the theme of boundaries and how society and personal can sometimes clash. We don’t have to understand people’s choices, but in some ways, we have to accept their decisions as their own.

Lone Star is an overall great film with both mystery and drama.

The Chess Players

This film, directed by Satyajit Ray, is very similar to both Ceddo and Perfumed Nightmare. The film is about British Colonialism in India. Set in 1856, the British are trying to encroach upon the life and culture of those in India. Watching the film; however, the point of views seems to be of that of the British. The poorer classes of India’s culture seem to be on the outskirts, not really a focal point compared to other films. The focus seems to be more on that of India’s aristocracy.

Being that the film’s title has “chess” and the characters play chess, I believe that chess is the allegory to Indian society. Everyone seems to be looking in and down. No one seems to be questioning what is going on around them or how to really prevent the tides from turning. Going into the village, the working class is seen playing a game of cock fighting, but the people don’t stop to look around. Distraction does not seem to come easy.

When looking at the historical accounts and images, we can tell that archival resources were used. Knowing a little about archives and records from my own genealogy research, I am familiar with many records being held by British archives and that other more local records are generally accessible to those who speak the native language of the community. This can attest to why the perspective seems to favor that of the British. Ray likely had to use records available through the British archives due to his inability to speak the native language of the location in India in which his film takes place. It’s also possible that these records don’t exist.

Looking back to the previous films, I can see how different angles on colonialism can be perceived. Ray depicts colonialism being influenced by the lack of knowledge of a culture. The General is asking Weston about the Indian culture and about Wajid Ali Shah, who was the leader in India during the time. The General’s lack of knowledge is his excuse in demanding the British take over. Weston, who loves the Urdu culture seems to be at odds. He is British by birth, but his anthropological interests have hi,  wanting to educate and learn about the Urdu people. Yet, in the end, the British prevail.

Colonialism & Invasion

Watching both Ceddo directed by Ousamane Sembene and Perfumed Nightmare directed by Kidlat Tahimik, gave me a much deeper insight on colonialism and invasion in cultures that I don’t often learn about. I’m going to first focus my analysis on Ceddo and then switch over to discussing Perfumed Nightmare, and in the end, tie the two together.

Ceddo follows a tribal community who is being affected by the spread of Islam. While some of the community wants to preserve their old customs and traditions, others are willing to submit to the laws of the Islamic religion. We watch how a series of events effect the relationships. This view on history puts colonialism in a whole other perspective. I know from my education that parts of Africa were colonized by the Europeans. I didn’t realize how Islam also impacted these people and how the impact drastically changed whole communities.

Perfumed Nightmare, is a much more narrative film. We watch how history affects and shapes society. The film is a semi-autobiographical account of Kidlat’s experiences. We watch how Filipino goes from idolizing Western culture in regards to technology, to then rejecting the rapid advancements within his own society.

The films reflect post-colonial thought in a way. The films reflect how the producers views colonialism and invasion of thought on one’s culture. For much of human history, colonialism seems to be an occurring act. The British were one nation who had control of much of the globe as far as territory go. Yet, these films go deeper in looking at events in history that are not as commonly talked about. Ceddo analyzes the impact of Islam on a Senegalese community. Perfumed Nightmare analyzes how people can be infatuated with different cultures, without necessarily wanting those cultures to encroach their own.

Hiroshima Mon Amour

I was captivated by the black and white images and the lighting. I was drawn by the erotic nature of the film and how it forced me to question the overall message. How did the two relate? A French woman and a Japanese man. What did these two individuals have in common? What brought them together? Why are they so mysterious? We never truly know their names.

I realized that I never learned of the couple’s names when the final scene played. She called him “Hiroshima” and He called her “Nevers.” I felt like there was significance here. I turned to the internet to conduct a brief search. Both names are names of cities. Hiroshima, we know, is a place in Japan. More specifically, it is the place where the United States dropped an atomic bomb. Nevers, or Nièvre as it is known in French, is a place in France. Like Hiroshima, during  World War II, Nevers was subjected to a lot of bombing and its people suffered. Now understanding this, I view the couple as one of mutualism.

He, Hiroshima as I will refer to him as, and her, whom I will refer to as Nevers, both shared a common experience during the War. Though the effects that resulted from the bombs were different, each person could relate to the other in some manner. Overall concept of the movie seems to have to do with memory and forgetfulness. Throughout their brief relationship, the two talk a lot about these notions. Nevers, in the introduction, talks about what she remembers from Hiroshima, but Hiroshima says she does not remember. Pictures, moving and still, flash interlude on the screen of the places Nevers speaks of. This segues into a scene where Nevers and Hiroshima are lying in bed.

In the beginning of the film, the two discuss the effects of the bomb that was dropped in Hiroshima. We are reminded of the effects of radiation such as losing hair, but are also reminded that the chemicals are invisible to the eye. This sense invisibility and anonymity translates over to the victims. Like Nevers and Hiroshima, whom I self-named, the victims of the bomb were not all identified or identifiable. We learn that Hiroshima was enlisted into the Imperial Japanese Army, and his family was in Hiroshima on the day the bomb was dropped.

There seems to be several layers of understanding. We can question Hiroshima and his intent. We can look at how their are different ways to cope and see pain and suffering. We can try to understand Nevers’s more personal take on history. We can look at the impact and magnitude that different events within the same time period have on an individual and a community.

Medvedkin

I cannot talk about Producer Aleksandr Medvedkin without acknowledging the film The Last Bolshevik produced by Chris Marker about Medvedkin. Marker shows various clips from films that Medvedkin had produced, making close ties to the film Happiness, which I also watched. I bring this is up because shortly after Marker introduces us, his viewers, to Aleksandr Medvedkin, he makes a comical reference to the polka-dot horse in the film Happiness, that honest creeped me out.

To summarize, Medvedkin’s film Happiness, is a satirical take on the October Revolution that occurred in the former Soviet Union (now Russia). This gave way to the rise of the Russian Communist Party. The people in which Medvedkin is depicting are known as Bolsheviks, who were at one point, members of the majority faction of the Russian Social Democratic Party, which was renamed the Communist Party after seizing power in the October Revolution of 1917.

Happiness is a silent film, with inserted written slides in Russian – translated into English subtitles. Between the quirky- happy music that plays throughout the film and the written commentary, the film does what it sets out to do – make fun of the Russian Empire and the revolution. I have never seen a film quite like this, and because I know of the Russian Revolution and the major events during, I found the film comical and an interesting take on a significant point in Russian history.

Chris Marker, points out very important events that occurring during Medvedkin’s lifetime. From birth to death, Medvedkin is a witness to the changing of ties in Russia. He was twenty when the Russian Civil War broke out. He was thirty-six during the Moscow trials. At the age of forty-one he was living through World War II. When he was fifty-three, Stalin died. When Medvedkin, himself, died in 1989, Russia is on the crest of perestroika. This gave me a better understanding into Medvedkin. I understand why he created satirical films of such violent history. In order to survive, one may seek comic relief. Satirical films were Medvedkin’s comic relief that he hoped would fill the mind and soul of others who lived through such tragedy and were scarred by the horrors.

Marker’s film does Medvedkin well. He helped me to better understand Medvedkin. From learning of his time growing up and the horrors he was exposed to, to looking closely at his film work, I can appreciate Medvedkin more and understand his films slightly better. Rather than question, I was able to go back and watch the film from a lens of better understanding.

Battle of Chile, Confusion and Regrets

I honestly don’t even know where to begin. I could not get into this film. While I am accustom to watching films in subtitles, this film only distracted me. There is a lot to take in and a lot to try to understand when Spanish is not a first nor second language.

The film in many ways, was loud. The sound wasn’t as loud as an action movie that we may see in the movie theater, but it wasn’t as loud as we may watch a basketball championship game at our home either. No, the loudness stemmed from the chaos. Most of the footage was as if I were watching the end of a democracy of my country and just trying to find safety, only instead of safety, I was running further into the chaos.

I am new to the world of history. In school, we did not learn World History that incorporated Chile and it’s democratic downfall. When I left for undergrad, my history concentration was on the African Diaspora mainly in the U.S., Caribbean, and Africa – not Chile. It was my first semester of graduate school, that I heard of a coup that occurred in Chile. Now, trying to watch a film about a topic I knew nothing about in a foreign language, was just too much for me.

The silences, absence of sound, and calming moments, allowed me to collect my thoughts, but not fast enough. My eyes were constantly jumping from person to person, scene to scene. My hears were being bombarded with sounds of people voicing their opinions, to frantic screams, to gun shots. Trying to read the subtitles was distracting while the images in front of me kept luring me to figure out what it was I was looking at and supposed to be interpreting.

What I got from the film, was an understanding of chaos when democracy dies. I learned that I never want to be an eye-witness to something like that. I also learned that it is important to read history and understand world history. I am saddened that my lack of knowledge on this part of history was limited because it prevented me from understanding a traumatic event and miss out an comprehending a possibly great film.