Monday, February 26, 2007

My family's always been in meat.

I have decided to start a blog to practice writing about films. My college major is cinema studies, and my interest lies in the theoretical and the critical areas thereof. I enjoy writing about films, but have no real experience at it, so I thought perhaps it was time to start. Especially since accounting...? Is just not working out for me. I mean, I'm pretty good at it, don't get me wrong; it's just that I hate it with a fiery passion. So, here's my film blog. I was going to start out with my top five films of all time, but since those change with alarming frequency, I think it will be easier to stick to a one-film-at-a-time format.

And so I begin with The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, one of the finest pieces of filmmaking ever released. Sure, you can call it a slasher flick, or you can look at it as simply a cheesy horror movie, but really, it is a film. It is the Citizen Kane of its genre. This film terrified people to the point of protesting screenings of it. This is a film that 33 years after its release is still scaring people. In all honesty, it should be considered a classic.

And why, one might ask? Why should this mere horror movie be considered a classic film, right up there with Casablanca? Well, no matter how one feels about the horror film in general, one cannot deny that it has set a gold standard for the genre. Nobody has looked at a chainsaw the same way since 1974. That's saying something, isn't it? A common power tool, in the hands of a disenfranchised agricultural worker, becomes a symbol of rage and terror. This is the narrative P.O.V; it is made clear that the horrifying cannibal family are former slaughterhouse workers who are no longer needed, as new, more efficient (mechanical) methods of slaughtering cattle have been created. There simply is no more need for human beings to physically kill the cattle. And where does this leave the family? They are the last in line of generations of abbatoirists before them; it is the only work they've ever known, the only skill they possess. What are they to do now? How are they to survive? And what, indeed, will become of them?

And the sheer brutality... (which, contrary to popular opinion, is almost entirely off screen... most of what the viewer sees is a suggestion of violence {but what a suggestion!}) ... many people had forgotten that human beings were capable of such violence, until stories started to come back from Vietnam. The tales of the atrocities committed there had no representation in reality for many people until they saw this film. They were abstract ideas, things that most people had never seen and would likely never see. And while film violence is arguably on a completely different level than that of actual violence, since most people's limited "experience" with violence is filmic experience, and up to that point that exposure had been neat and sanitary (a punch thrown, almost visibly not connecting, accompanied by clearly fake slapping sounds; or in the case of war films, death looking immediate, painless, and blood-free), TCM brought home these abstract concepts in such a way that people could no longer ignore the fact that war is messy and ugly and painful and intense. This is a hard truth for many to face, especially after getting caught up in all the patriotism of going to war; one reason why it was so widely denounced, though in reality not a manifest function of the film.

It also set the horror standard of the final female... that one lone girl that gets away in the end. Or does she, really? Sally, while she physically escapes, will never be psychologically the same; traumatized to the core, how will she survive? She'll likely be incapable of caring for herself, of leaving her house, of holding a job; so the viewer is subtly introduced to the idea that societally speaking, technological advances are maybe not such a good thing. Everybody loses; from the lower class family who loses their livelihood, to the upper middle class kids who wind up dead or unable to function and in either case are incapable of contributing to society in a meaningful way. Subsequent final females meet similar fates: Alice in Friday the 13th, who winds up in a coma from the trauma; Nancy (Nightmare on Elm Street) seems fine and dandy in the end but we soon discover that she will never truly escape Freddy's grasp, in numerous sequels. Even more recently, there have been the series of Final Destination and I Know What You Did Last Summer films (in addition to many others, too numerous to mention) with a more modern sensibility, but which still come down to that last girl, surviving what none of her friends did. Unfortunately, that more modern sensibility does not extend to the empowerment of women; they are treated just as mysoginistically as ever, having gained their independence but lost their souls.

So Tobe Hooper's common horror film changed a great many things in movie making and viewing, and reflected significant changes in societal structure and understanding. This is why it's a classic; this is why it deserves recognition as such, and not just at fan conventions or in horror circles, but in mainstream cinema as well. Just because a film is made inexpensively, and is filled with fake blood and guts and bones and men in masks made from human skin, doesn't mean it doesn't have something important to say. Actually, that man in the human mask has something particularly relevant to say: he could be any member of American society, putting on the face that others determine he should wear. Or trying to disguise himself as his victims, residents of the upper middle class, something he'll never be, no matter what he does or how hard he works; something many members of the middle- and lower-classes can relate to. The lesson, then, is don't judge a film by its pictures and words, but by what they mean, what they symbolize, and the power they have to speak to people.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My First Time

Wow, so this is my blog now. I've never had a blog before. I'm a little nervous... And also, I don't have much to say just now. My friend Christine decided that I should start a blog and write movie reviews, because I enjoy that sort of thing, and it sounds like fun. But I have nothing right now, I just kind of wanted to start one up and try it out.

I will say that I'm currently watching the Oscars, and I'm shocked that Pan's Labyrinth didn't take the Best Foreign Language Film award, as it was the favorite by a long shot. Not that I've seen it, to be honest; I've been trying to go for weeks but just haven't found the time. Nor have I seen the German film that actually won. Or any of the others nominated in the category... These aren't the sort of thing that one's local BlockBuster Video store tends to stock. Maybe I should start a video store as well as a blog... I'm just surprised because it seemed like such a shoe-in. It still has three other noms, though, and it took two already, so hopefully it'll still be at the theater next weekend.

Well, I guess I'll come back some other time when I actually have something to say... Although I will say, be sure to visit my friend Christine's blog, Little Green Kitchen (in my links list). She's a good cook, and a good friend to boot.

Nighty night!