Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Shaft: A Badass Minority

Shaft is cool because is a badass. I think that is Shaft was white he would still be cool. A good example of this type of cool is Bruce Willis as John McClane in the Die Hard series. McClane and Shaft are both typical tough guys from law enforcement. They also both bend the rules and break laws in order to take out the bad guys for the betterment of society. McClane also does everything to save his daughter, much like Shaft rescues Bumpy’s daughter. Both men are heroes because they take out the bad guys, but unlike Batman or other superheroes they are not displayed as having good morals.

Shaft is also cool because he is a minority being successful in a white man’s field (law enforcement). President Obama is cool because he is a minority that has found extreme success in politics, a white dominated world. President Obama will go down in history as the first African American president, he will always be looked up to and respected for this feat. It doesn’t matter if his presidency is extremely successful or not; he will still be cool because he was the first minority president.

Is Shaft cool because he’s black or because he’s a badass? The answer is both. Shaft is cooler than Obama and McClane because he embodies both types of cool in one man. Being a successful minority badass is twice as cool as just being a successful minority or just being a badass. People or characters that have both these types of cool are used in lots of films because their coolness is so attractive to moviegoers. A modern day Shaft is Denzel Washington as Frank Lucas in American Gangster(2007). Although Lucas is a gangster and definitely not a part of the law enforcement field like Shaft, he shares the same exact same cool as Shaft (minus the cheesy jive lingo).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Can Ya Dig It?

Shaft(1971) was one of the first black films to do well in the box office. I think it is great that Parks was able to break down barriers in cinema that prevented prior black filmmakers from reaching success. I think the main reason why Shaft was so successful is that it appealed to the black audiences instead of trying to reach white audiences. Although Shaft was a huge success, I don’t necessarily think it was a great movie. It was just one more in a long line of exploitation films ridden with sex and crime, only the writers, directors, and actors happen to be black. Shaft remains an important film because it created a market for more black films to be produced, not because of its quality. The best part of the movie was the funk music by Isaac Hayes that won an Oscar for best music, original song.

So the question is why Shaft did so well in theaters. The simple answer would be because John Shaft is cool. He’s a private eye and a total badass. He’s a “sex machine” and a bit of a gangster. Shaft never loses his cool from beginning to end. He starts out walking down the street making traffic stop for him. The movie ends with him saving the day, and making Vic Androzzi clean up the rest. Not only can he beat up other gangsters and throw them out windows. He seems to have control over white men too, at least over Vic Androzzi. I think this idea that a black man could be himself, be gangster, and be successful in a white dominated law enforcement industry is why John Shaft has become such an icon.

John Shaft is definitely cool, but is he moral. As the theme song states, “he’s a complicated man.” I think the argument could go either way; there is plenty of evidence supporting both sides. Shaft did execute several mafia members and slept around with lots of prostitutes. His ventures in gangster life make us think that Shaft is an immoral man that’s motivated by money, sex, and his own ego. However, there are several small scenes throughout the movie where we see Shaft as a kind individual. He gives a young boy some money for food, and pays the woman whose door he breaks down. Most importantly, I believe that Shaft is willing to help Bumpy find his daughter because she is innocent. Bumpy is one of Shafts enemies and I don’t think Shaft would be willing to help him just for the money. Overall I think that Shaft is a moral person that is helpful to those who are innocent, but shows no mercy to the gangsters or mafia.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Drugs in Film

Easy Rider is an American classic about the 60s counterculture movement. The film has many memorable scenes about the use of the drugs. Drug use became prevalent in the 60s, and Easy Rider brought it to the big screen. It not the first film to show drug use, but it is certainly one of the most famous.

My favorite scene from the movie was the one where Billy, Wyatt, and George are sitting around the campfire smoking marijuana. They are obviously high because they can’t stop laughing, and enter a discussion about UFOs. There are tons of other movies and television shows with of people passing around marijuana and talking about random things that don’t make a whole lot of since. A good example of this is That 70s Show. In every episode there is a scene where the camera pans around the table to each person as they laugh and make random comments in a smoky room. Another classic film about marijuana use is Reefer Madness. It is an interesting film because it portrays marijuana use under the pretense stated in the forward that it is a menace to society.

My least favorite scene in the whole movie is the acid trip in the cemetery. Rick mentioned that no one is capable of capturing a good acid trip on film much like it is practically impossible to capture the perfect dream sequence on film. I think that dreams and acid trips should be left out of films because they can never relate to everyone. They deal with perceptions of the conscious and/or subconscious, and no two people are alike when it comes to things are perceived and processed. Many people have tried to capture an acid trip from the third person perspective, for example Syd Barrett’s documented acid trip. This documentary form is always boring because everything is occurring within the mind and not much can be seen from an external perspective. Another failure of a trip on film is animated hallucinations, the best example being Alice in Wonderland. The chesire cat, the Queen of Hearts, and army of cards are just a few examples of the ridiculous characters that show up in this fairy tale based off of hallucinations.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

What's cool about hippies?

Easy Rider (1969) is a movie about the counterculture movement of the 60s and the prejudice that still existed in the South. The road genre allows the film to depict the multitude of cultures that existed within the United States. The journey begins in California and ends in the Deep South. As Billy (Dennis Hopper) and Wyatt (Peter Fonda) embark on their quest for freedom, they are first met with hospitality at the farm and the commune. The further south they venture, the more difficulties they find. Eventually they are eventually murdered by the rednecks in a truck. The South is portrayed as a place fearful of progress and the unknown.

The film presents the counterculture movement very accurately because it was filmed during the time period that this movement was taking place. The movie is also interesting because the two main characters Billy and Wyatt portray different aspects of the movement. Billy fills the role of the stereotypical hippie. He smokes marijuana constantly, and is interested only in sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Considering that sex, drugs, and rock and roll are known as the trifecta of cool, you would think that Billy would be the cool character in the movie, but he’s not. Billy is not cool because he is constantly anxious, and never shuts his mouth. Billy’s incessant rambling and his haste make him very obnoxious.

Wyatt, on the other hand, is quiet and removed. I believe that Wyatt represents what is truly cool about the counterculture movement of the 60s. He represents the quest for truth, peace, and freedom. Wyatt does participate in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but that is not his purpose and goal. He is tempted to stay at the hippie commune because they are attempting to create a free and peaceful utopia that he is looking for, but he decides to continue onward with Billy to explore America. One of Wyatt’s most famous quotes is “You know Billy, we blew it.” Wyatt realizes that they failed from the beginning because they set out on an adventure that focused on the glory of money and drugs instead of peace. I think that Wyatt embodies the cool that existed in the counterculture of the 60s with his reflective and loving attitude.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cool Culture of the 60s

Blow-up (1966) is an interesting film because it displays cool not through the main character, but the people that surround him. Thomas is a photographer that runs around all over London with out ever accomplishing much. The film allows us to see the changes occuring in culture at that time period that make the 60s so cool. For example, one evening while Thomas is wandering about he walks into a Yardbirds concert. There was a complete change in style of music during the 60s as well as fashion (also shown in the movie) and various other aspects of culture. Although the movie takes place in London, a very important city for the 60s, the same changes were occuring in many other places during this time period.

The changes that took place in the 60s covered all areas of art, especially music. The most notable and also British form of cool new music in the 60s has to be the Beatles. The Beatles were trendsetters throughout the sixties from their first album Please Please Me in 1963 until their last album Let It Be in 1970. The group started out with a rock and roll style, but experiemented with and mixed various genres together. As the Beatles career progressed, their style evolved. They continued to create new sounds and unconventional effects that would forever change the music industry. In Blow-up, the group of anarchist mimes represent the 60s sentiment that it was necessary to break outside the box to find beauty. Although the mimes were not trying to be cool, they were the coolest people in the movies because they were doing whatever they desired.

The 60s cultural changes first began in the arts such as fashion and music, but then developed into changes in thought and ideals. This movement can be summed up by one word: hippie. The hippies embraced the importance of peace and love. Peace and love are abstract concepts, but hippies still symbolize them. The number of movies and tv shows that reference the movements of the 60s in London and the United States are endless. Blow-up accurately shows that these cultural changes of the 60s were cool and that culture and cultural changes in general are cool.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cool Cities for this Generation

In modern times traveling is fast and easy. Epicenters of cool have sprung up all around the world even in some unlikely places. I think one of the coolest aspects that cities can have today is diversity. Here’s a list of what I consider to be some of the coolest cities currently.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates: Dubai has become one of the great centers of technological growth, attracting young entrepreneurs from across the globe. Dubai is a modern city full of skyscrapers and even a hotel that can change shapes with individually moving floors. Whether you’re relaxing on the luxurious man-made islands or attending board meeting at one thee five-star hotels, Dubai is definitely a cool place to be.

Amsterdam, Netherlands: Amsterdam is a city full of young people with a very liberal and carefree attitude. Many people choose to hang out in caf├ęs to discuss the latest art show or newest philosophy. Others choose to spend their time in the red light district enjoying the legal prostitution and marijuana. Amsterdam is also famous for their festivals of which there are over a hundred with various ethnic backgrounds.

Seattle, Washington: Seattle is becoming one of the most popular places in the United States for young people to move. Seattle has the benefits of being a large city, but also has a wide variety of outdoor activities and great weather. Sailing, hiking, skiing, and snowboarding are just a few of the things that you can enjoy. Seattle is also a leader in the movement towards green technologies.

New Delhi, India: New Delhi is a huge city full of every culture imaginable. Different languages can be heard on every street corner. New Delhi is also the home of most Bollywood productions which are becoming more prevalent worldwide. In New Delhi you can enjoy both the rich history and modern cinema.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Can Women Be Cool?

The “manic pixie dream girl” role that originated with Catherine in Jules et Jim has since become a staple of American cinema. Not all manic pixie dream girls are as violent as Catherine, but they still possess the same qualities of spontaneity, freedom, and a bit of insanity. The term “manic pixie dream girl” was first coined by Nathan Rabin after Kirsten Dunst’s role in Elizabethtown (2005). My personal favorite is Maggie Gyllenhaal in Stranger Than Fiction (2006). Another important aspect of the manic pixie dream girl is that they in some way change the male lead. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays the role of Ana Pascal, a free-spirited baker that is in trouble with the IRS. She is able to transform the stuffy and slightly OCD IRS auditor, Harold Crick. Crick, played by Will Ferrell, turns down Ana’s cookies, but in the end he cannot resist the allure of the manic pixie dream girl.

Although the manic pixie dream girl is an interesting role, I wouldn’t say that it makes for a cool character. After seeing two popular, but very un-cool roles for women in a row (the manic pixie dream girl and the femme fatale), I began to wonder if it was possible for women to ever be cool. I can think of thousands of women characters that aren’t cool, but the best example is probably Meg Griffin from Family Guy. Meg is totally lacking in any form of cool. She fails at pretty much everything she attempts and is left to wallow in her own misery. It extremely pitiful, but it somehow provides entertainment to others.

I started to think that maybe cool was gender dependent and that is was impossible for women to be cool according to the characteristics that we have discussed. Then I thought about Keira Knightley’s role in the Pirates of the Caribbean Trilogy. Elizabeth Swann is the coolest female ever. She is competent, confident, and powerful. Elizabeth captures all of these classically cool characteristics without losing her femininity. She can be rescued and rescue someone else a few scenes later. She does not have to try to shatter gender preconceptions to be cool. Elizabeth Swann is the perfect definition of a cool female. So it is possible to be cool and feminine, but it seems to me that this type of role is quite rare. Many women that are portrayed as cool are forced to take on too many masculine characteristics, for example Laura Croft: Tomb Raider. Laura Croft is cool because she kicks ass, but she does not maintain femininity.