This Thing Called Life

For my second participation blog, I am writing about the film My Prairie Home. My Prairie Home is an unconventional documentary focusing on the life of famous musician Rae Spoon. In the film, we gain a perspective of Rae Spoon’s life – a musician trying to make her place in the world. We learn about her family, early life, and her venture to making a name for herself in the music world. In this film, the audience gets insight into Spoon’s sexuality, gender identity and watches her continue on her path into the music world. For the majority of the film, we are watching her venture on a Greyhound bus to her next music venue.

The emphasis of using music to help express thoughts and ideas definitely allowed for audiences to connect and bond with her messages. The lyrics as well as being accompanied by her presence on screen are strong enough to make an impact with viewers. In many ways, this film is similar to another film that we watched in this class, Pina. While My Prairie Home does use verbal communication to connect with audiences, whereas Pina is very limited, the film’s strengths emerge through the songs and visual images as we follow Spoon’s journey. In Pina, the strengths of the film also emerge through visual images, songs, movements and dancing. Both of these films find other ways to communicate with audiences besides just speaking to the audience.

I found that the accompanying articles dig a little deeper into her life story, being transgender, and understanding the impact of her gender and how that has influenced who she is today (digitaljournal). Her sexuality has helped her get to the place where she is today- through bullying, criticisms, etc.

I think this documentary can fit into the poetic category. We see the speeding up and slowing down of camera footage (especially when she is on the bus), the film makes us feel emotion for her (listening to her music and videos to accompany her songs) and the film also does not rely on standard filmmaking techniques (as music and music videos are a major part of the film).

You Should Be Dancing, Yeah

Pina is an unconventional documentary that follows Pina Bausch’s dancers as they demonstrate their favorite dances. Bausch developed all of the dances portrayed, and upon performing their piece, each dancer briefly explains why Bausch’s work made an impact on them. Not only is this film portrayed in an unconventional manner, but also, Bausch’s dancing is definitely unconventional compared to what is mainstream today. Pina Bausch’s quote “basically one wants to say something which cannot be said…so what one has done is to make a poem where one can feel what is meant,” definitely illustrates the strong messages that were portrayed on screen through dancing, rather than speaking. For example, I noticed that Bausch’s dances utilized many different physical elements such as water, sand and dirt. Bausch uses these elements as a platform for expressing various emotional states. Bausch’s art attempts to interact with the observer. She believes that the artist should “ask the viewer to ‘complete’ the work of art,” which illustrates how important it is for audiences to connect with her work. We take what she is illustrating and make sense of it in our minds. Definitely, her dances are abstract which makes it somewhat more difficult for average moviegoers, but coming from a dance background for me personally, her messages come through clearly.

Pat Dowell’s article discusses Wim Wender’s analysis of Pina Bausch. Wender praises her work greatly and believes that she created masterpieces. Clearly, he felt a deep sense of connection with this documentary. Molly McQuade’s article discusses transformation and the way in which dance allows you to express the fluidity of life. Both of these pieces are very powerful and moving, and are just a few examples that show Pina can really relate to audiences.

I think it is difficult for viewers to follow a story that is not verbally explicit. Viewers have to really focus on the dancing and the dancers’ emotions to be able to piece together the message. Instead of trying to be informative in a conventional sense, the film prompts viewers to use their eyes to make sense of what is occurring on screen. Compared to other documentaries we have watched in this class, clearly this is one of the most challenging for people to connect with. Some people need a more coherent, verbal narrative in order to be able to understand what is occurring, while others can automatically connect through the dancing. The viewers are not explicitly told what to think, but rather it is a journey for them to explore on their own and interpret for themselves.

As stated on the page that explains the 4 different types of documentaries, Pina is poetic. Pina is visually stunning and emphasizes movement, colour, and rhytm, as opposed to stating facts and other information. The film also uses certain camera techniques, such as portraying the dancing at different speeds so as to make the film’s message come across. Personally, coming from a dance background myself, this film made a strong impression on me, since the medium of dance as portrayed on screen allowed me to experience a subtler, more nuanced emotional response.

When you think about traditional documentary forms, expository comes to mind. This is your standard documentary answering various possible questions and aspects of the topic. This definitely contrasts with Pina in many ways. Instead of trying to present the appearance of reality, Pina distorts reality in artistic ways, stimulating viewers’ imaginations and challenging them to see things in a new light. There were limited narrators, although the dancers do briefly explain why they feel that Pina Bausch’s dance style is brilliant. There are numerous people talking, even though it is very brief. Aside from showing the name of dancers, there are no titles that help guide the audience to know where the film is going next. Moreover, there isn’t one central narrator and none of the dancers’ opinions of Bausch’s work are presented in an authoritative manner. Even the creator of these dances herself (i.e. Pina Bausch) does not seem to have the final word on her art.

This poetic documentary not only managed to strike an emotional chord with me, but also allowed me to become more open minded when it comes to experimental documentary films. I would highly recommend Pina to anyone who is ready for a deeper movie experience.

Hey Victor!

We’ve had the opportunity to view some amazing films regarding how Aboriginals are portrayed in films. As a sociology major, I’ve read numerous readings and watched documentaries that go into further detail on the circumstances around how Aboriginals were treated. I have prior knowledge on residential schools, and although the films we viewed in class didn’t go into specifics on the residential schools, it did further my knowledge to show me more about how they were treated before they were put in these schools. Smoke Signals has to be my favorite comedy that we’ve watched in this class. It does break stereotypes, but it does not portray much information and history about the treatment/issues they faced. Thomas’s character though adds the happiness and comedy that this film needed, otherwise it would not have been as enjoyable. Victor is on a hunt to collect his fathers belongings after he’s passed away, so his character is more frustrated/angry.

Relating this film to the Reel Injun, which we watched in class, I’ve noticed a lot of similarities. The Reel Injun points out how Aboriginals didn’t wear feathers or ride horses. In the film, we see them drive cars, and have long hair. I felt that a stereotype that I’ve noticed in most of the films that we’ve watched in class is Aboriginal’s having long hair, and I think this stereotype is presented in the film. Victor’s does fulfill the stereotype of men being fearless warriors. We see Victor on 2 occasions act fierce. We see him first punch Thomas when he was younger. We also see him have a confrontation on the bus with strangers who were insulting him. He confronted them but did not use physical violence. But, these scenes show that he does not back down and will acknowledge when something is wrong.

We do see them on the reserve, and we see them both leaving the reserve for the first time. The Reel Injun discusses the idea of being confined to the reservations. But, the film counters this as they do leave the reserve without any difficulties.

I don’t think this film shows the full stereotypes. For example, there are no horses or drunk Indians present. Overall, I really enjoyed this film. I have watched this film before back in high school, and it definitely refreshed my memory. Although it does not provide much detail about their history, it does give viewers a sight of their living conditions/living on a reservation. Aside from that, it does not provide viewers with much insight into their situation.

The “Not so Stereotypical” Aboriginal Film

As a student with a Sociology major, I have studied the history of residential schools in several of my classes. Learning about what went on in the residential schools has always filled me with sadness and continues to do so, whenever I think about it. Rhymes for Young Ghouls is one of the films that features residential schools and displays some of the things that took place there. The film illustrates the effects of colonial domination and the awful treatment that Indians faced by the white folk and the higher members of the residential school. We learn at the beginning of the film that the main protagonist – Aila, has had a hard life. Aila’s mother commits suicide, her father goes to prison and Aila is forced to live with her alcoholic uncle, who sells drugs for a living. However, when a white agent comes and takes their drug money and forces Aila into a residential school, she fights back and in the end gets her revenge and her money back.

Has this film changed my opinion and knowledge on Aboriginals? In some ways it has. Aboriginals have historically been depicted as inferior when compared to white folk and to some extent this film perpetuates some of the common stereotypes (e.g. the drunk Indian, the drug addict etc.) but at the same time, the film also breaks with the stereotypical depictions as Aila and her 2 companions sneak into the residential school to get her money back. In the end, she enacts revenge on the school by filling their water tank with feces, preventing the government agent from chasing after her. This example demonstrates that there are situations where aboriginals do win (especially given that the specific movie situation is probably intended to be taken in a metaphorical sense). This depiction of the “fictionalized revenge fantasy” shows how negative the residential school system is in Canada, and how people were able to get around it.

In her own way, Aila also breaks the stereotype of the “drunk Indian,” as we never see her drink or do drugs. She collects the empty bottles and wears a mask over her face while everyone else is smoking. In a way, she represents the hope for the future.

            I’ve been exposed to this idea before, so my perception of colonization of Canada and the first nations stereotypes has not been altered all that much. I knew that there were many problems regarding residential schools, but the movie allowed me to put a human face on the suffering involved. The one scene where Aila gets her hair cut and is put into isolation made a strong impression on me – especially given that I know that this type of dehumanization is only the tip of the iceberg, since, in reality, abuse in residential schools ranged from “harsh beatings and sexual attacks by teachers to children being forced to eat their own vomit and shocking students in a homemade electric chair” (Carleton 2014). To that end, I’ve also seen another Aboriginal film that discusses the abuse and rape incidents in residential schools in more detail- We Were Children.

The Reel Injun documentary illustrates many examples and situations that relate to what was shown in the film Rhymes for Young Ghouls. In Reel Injun, they discuss the myth of a fearless warrior. Clearly, Aila is fearless as she fights to get her way and doesn’t back down even if it results in her getting hurt or in trouble. The film also suggests that a lot of natives were confined to reservations. This is present in the movie as she does not leave the area of her reserve. This confinement however is not necessarily a universal truism, since in the film Smoke Signals which we watched in class, we learn that the 2 protagonists of the film, Victor and Thomas, travel off the reserve to visit Victor’s dad’s home as he moved off their reserve years ago and has now passed away.

I agree with the point made by the Carleton’s reading, where he says that “Rhymes for Young Ghouls is less about reconciliation, per se, and more about vengeance as a means to deal with colonial trauma” (Carleton 2014). If anything, “Rhymes for Yong Ghouls” as much as whites today would like to forget about colonialism and move on with their life in a “let’s all get along” sort of sentiment, the violence of colonial domination cannot be erased in a simple way.

She’s a Super Freak, Super Freak

The fact that ‘comedy’ is definitely one of the most popular genres and a favorite among movie watchers should not come as a surprise. After all, who doesn’t want to get a good laugh? We have watched some very funny and outright hilarious films, but one that stood out to me the most was definitely Little Miss Sunshine. I have heard nothing but great reviews about this film so I was extremely excited to have the chance to finally watch it in class. Although there was some dark humor present in the film, it also featured some hysterical and heartwarming moments. Alan Akin even won an Oscar for his supporting role as “the grandfather” – probably my favorite character of the film. For those of you who haven’t seen this film, it’s about a family coming together to drive 8 year old Olive Hoover, played by Abigail Breslin, to have her chance to shine in a beauty pageant. She has practiced very hard to get to this point, so her family did not want to disappoint her. The Hoover family is definitely very unique. There’s Sheryl (Olive’s mother), Richard (Olive’s work-crazy father), Frank Ginsberg (her suicidal uncle), Dwayne (her ‘vow of silence’ brother), and Edwin Hoover (her drug addicted grandfather). The family travels in a broken van all the way from Albuquerque to California, where they deal with encounters that are both difficult, as well as downright hilarious. In the end, Olive ends up having her moment in the spotlight and performs an unexpected and risqué routine, that involves stripping down into a tight outfit and dancing provocatively.

The quote “Life is one fucking beauty contest after another… do what you love, and fuck the rest!” is certainly an inspirational line and definitely stuck out to me when it was said in the film. Olive loves to dance and was so happy to be performing. She did not care if she wasn’t as pretty as the other girls or if she was bigger than them. She did what she loved and didn’t care about the audience’s reactions. She danced her heart out, even though the audience of the competition was outraged by her dance moves. The head of the pageant told Olive’s family to take her off the stage. But, when her family saw that she was enjoying what she was doing and was having fun, they came on stage and joined her mid routine. Olive wasn’t trying to fit into society’s standards; she was simply doing what made her happy. No one really believed that Olive had a chance of winning this competition and her brother was worried about her embarrassing herself on the stage. Olive was confident though and insisted on performing.

There is definitely sexual humor presented throughout this film. Grandpa Edwin Hoover was educating Dwayne on the fact that he should get as much “action” as he can. He also taught Olive her provocative dance moves. The ideological framework is providing a “do what you love and fuck the rest” sort of attitude. Clearly, her sexualized dance moves are a proven example of this ideology as she is doing exactly what makes her happy and does not care if she is not considered beautiful. Clearly, her grandfather has a sexual mind as proven by the dance moves that he provided for Olive.

There’s also a moment of Bathos, when the grandpa dies – which could be considered an instance of dark humour. For the characters in the movie it was a sad moment and everyone in the family was upset. Then, when the nurse comes into the room and instructs them to fill out his death forms, they decide to wrap up the body and shove it back into the trunk of the car, bringing it to California with them since they are running late for Olive’s performance. This serious/sad moment instantly turned hilarious and ridiculous at the thought that they are going to have a dead body in the back of their trunk and bring it with them. They shove the dead body through a window, and the family on the other side of the window catches it. Later in the movie after dedicating her dance her grandfather, Olive hilariously explains that the dead body is in the trunk of their family van. Relating back to the ideology of the film, Olive is doing what she loves and wouldn’t have been able to get to this place if it wasn’t for the help of her grandfather.

A Heart That’s Still Bleeding

Although all of the films that we viewed in this class on the theme of gender and sexuality were very touching, there was one film in particular which really impacted me. This film being, The Normal Heart. To be perfectly honest, I had little prior knowledge on AIDS. I did know though that it was an epidemic killing millions of people in the world. I have never cried so much in one film – the person beside me kept handing me tissues because I felt so upset, frustrated, sad, and most importantly, disappointed that no one stood up and tried to make a change. No one that is, except for Ned Weeks – Mark Ruffalo’s character. He was a man who would do anything to fight for equality and try to change the situation. Despite him having a team that is frustrated and annoyed with his actions, he is doing all that he can to help the one he loves – Felix Turner (Matt Bommer’s character).

The Emmy winning film shows how it took way too long for the government to try and step in, despite Ned trying to get their attention. It wasn’t only Ned trying to get their attention. He had help from Dr. Emma Brockner, a doctor who was stuck trying to help fix this problem and find a solution by herself. The government tried to keep them quiet, then offered a small sum to assist them.

Mark Ruffalo is portraying a gay man, when he himself does not identify as gay in real life. Several of the main actors however are gay in real life and so initially I thought that Ruffalo was not the best choice to portray a homosexual man. Ultimately, I was proven wrong and the romance between Ned Weeks and Felix Turner is as believable and vivid as any other.

There definitely were some stereotypical behaviors of homosexuality portrayed in the movie. For instance, the film glorifies the fact that gay men are comfortable being naked around each other and that all men have multiple partners. Specifically, the film partially follows Bruce Niles, portrayed by Taylor Kitsch, whose partner dies from AIDS in the first 20 minutes of the film and throughout the film, we see Kitsch with multiple partners, some of which also die. Also, another stereotype present in the film is the fact that only gay men seem to be diagnosed with AIDS, whereas in reality there are countless heterosexual women and men who have been diagnosed as well.

On the other hand, the film also undermines some stereotype around homosexuality. Ned Weeks for instance, did not portray a ‘typical’ i.e. effeminate and flamboyant gay man usually present in mainstream Hollywood movies – he was very aggressive to try and get his way. Further, stereotypically, we believe that the government is concerned about all citizens and trying to find the best solution to solve problems. Clearly though, in this film, the government is portrayed as homophobic and does not want to get involved.

The film definitely brings attention to the AIDS epidemic and puts a human face on such a problematic issue. The film in a way urges us to try and help find a cure.

Larry Kramer’s powerful article, 1,112 and Counting – A historic article that helped start the fight against AIDS, throws many statistics and provides an emotional response to the AIDS epidemic. Kramer ranted about every issue regarding this epidemic: what is the government doing? Why isn’t everyone running scared? These questions were also evident in the film, when Ned tries to get the attention of the government, who couldn’t care less and do not want to get involved. Although this film portrayed the AIDS epidemic in a way that makes it sound as if only gay men can have this, it is nevertheless a very powerful movie that informs viewers and puts a human face on the AIDS epidemic.

The Normal Heart

My emotions are still flying even an hour after watching The Normal Heart. This film made me cry to the point that my contact was starting to move around due to my tears. The person sitting beside me handed me 2 tissues since she saw I was sobbing.

To be honest, I didn’t know much about the AIDS/HIV epidemic aside from the fact that it occurred and still is around today. This film was presented in an excellent way to tackle such a difficult and touchy subject. It made the audience feel so connected to the characters. From the very beginning when the first man died, I was tearing up. And he had only been on the screen for about 15 minutes. It was amazing how much of an emotional connection I had for these characters.

Mark Ruffalo- What a brilliant actor. I have been a fan since I saw him in Shutter Island. He was fantastic- he portrayed every emotion and made me feel whatever he was feeling. I’ve seen him in more serious roles, but in this role, he definitely let his guard down. He portrayed a gay man, even though he personally isn’t gay. He is one of the few in the cast who is not gay.

Julia Roberts- Ahh, a well known actress to all. We all know she is brilliant. She also was extremely convincing as a doctor who’s life had been confound to her wheelchair after being diagnosed with Polio when she was young. There was one scene in particular where she let her guard down and was so convincing that all I wanted to do was stand up and clap and tell her “I’m with you girl.” This scene was when she was facing the team and one of the Mayor’s people. She said they could have her files have her work and she did not want to do this in the first place (referring to the fact that she got stuck trying to help all of the men with AIDS).

Matt Bomer- This was the first time that I have heard this name. It’s a shame. He is so talented. After checking him out on IMDB, I’ve noticed he’s actually known to many. Not only is he extremely handsome, but what a talented actor. I read online that he lost 40 pounds when his character was dying. He was so devoted to his character. I felt such an emotional attachment to him, and when he died, I was sobbing and used up all of my tissues.

It’s a shame that we have not solved this problem. It’s been years and we have not found a solution. This is saddening. This film will stick with me for a long time, and I recommend this film to everyone. It really opened my eyes and made me want to make a difference. I am pleased to see that it won some Emmy awards as well as other notable awards. Overall, I am still tearing from this film. Amazing cast. Amazing plot. Amazing portrayal of such a difficult subject. 10/10