Sunday, July 18, 2010

Blue Collar Hollywood by John Bodhar

John Bodhar. Blue Collar Hollywood: Liberalism, Democracy, and Working People in American Film. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 2003.

Political history and cultural history are linked. The depiction of political events and their results in culture can be studied.

Films have presented many proletarian protagonists and depicted political and economic events that changed their lives. The author concludes that the broad manner in which films presented how politics influence characters represents the broad general discussions of society. Films opened many economic and cultures desires and emotions to public discussion and debate.

The working class is often presented in life in film, as in actual life, as part of a political and class struggle between the political left wing and right wing. Many issues of race and gender are highly political and explored in movies.

Class distinctions were often part of the narrative in movies. Character actions in these movies may not be determined solely by class yet class dictates how they live and influences their range of actions. Left leaning films tend to glorify workers and their plights. Right wing films tend to criticize workers movements and defend the capitalist system.

Silent films before the 1930s represented many ideas simultaneously. Labor leaders could be great fighters for economic justice or violent revolutionaries. These portrayals provided insights into the political debates of those times.

American films in the 1930s focused on individual feelings. Pulp fiction in magazines, by contrast, portrayed male proletarians as moody and violent.

There were films critical of wealth and how the upper class hurt the middle class. 1936 saw a large number of such films. The Screen Actors Guild was sympathetic to the national labor movement until its leadership shifted toward the right wing under Ronald Reagan and John Wayne.

John Howard Lawson argued that films often hurt the labor movement by focusing on the societal depravity of the working class and emphasizing themes showing the working class as uncooperative with others.

Movies brought more social realism to audiences who learned about social disorientation and problems facing others. Some would accuse the movie makers of showing their biases in films.

Movie making itself is a result of capitalism. Yet it is found that capitalist movie company executives approved of movies criticizing capitalism as long as they were profitable.

Today (circa 2003), labor unions and political parties exert less influence on society than they did several decades ago. Both society and movies have focused more on issues of race and gender. Films depict cultural changes from past traditions.

Many films of the Great Depression showed how poor economic times caused people to lose faith in individual liberty. Movies, though, avoided direct endorsement of the union movement even though much of the rhetoric of unions on the dangers of the status quo were consistent with many movie themes.

World War II movies mostly ignored issues of unionism. Some movies did bring more racial issues upfront and some still criticized the capitalist system.

The 1950s blacklist era still saw some films showing support for lower class economic interests. The 1960s produced more films defending womens rights and civil rights issues.

Films in the 1930s presented a “cross dressing” of movies that could appeal to both political radicals and conservatives. Sexual and material desires of characters were explored in a context that stated adultery was wrong. Men were strong and were flawed if their wives had to work, as presented in both film and society then in general. Audience attendance figures were not as good as expected for movies, such as “Duck Soup” and “Modern Times”, that criticized government institutions at a time people sought for faith in their public institutions.

Films showing gangsters and boxers presented themes of men rising above the hardships of the times on their own initiative. Some criminals in films like “I Am a Fugitive From a Chain Gang” and “Heroes for Sale” showed reputable workers and war veterans crushed by the economy who turned to crime to overcome their economic oppression.

Gangster films sent mixed messages, yet it was often the moral lackings of gangster characters that led to their downfalls. Boxing films avoided the criminal side of morality yet their depiction of men struggling and overcoming hardships only to fall from wanting too much in life. These movies did not present consistent themes that were similarly expressed by either the political left or right.

Some 1930s films such as “Cabin in the Cotton” and “Black Fury” presented working class characters with hope the future will improve who remained where they were in their working class positions.

Women in 1930s films were often shows as supportive of a male character. Their love and support often were necessary components form male characters to succeed. Darryl Zanuck of Warner Brothers claimed the film industry made 20% of its movies as “women’s pictures”, also known as “sex pictures” where illicit sex would lead to the downfall of women.

Frank Capra’s films questioned democratic society and economic inequalities. His films avoided supporting institutions such as pro-New Deal political groups or labor unions.

The Workers’ Film and Photo League of America arose in the 1930s to fight capitalism. Critics noted their films were about individuals and failed to present the scope of the problems.

World War II saw the interests of government and the movie industry being similar. The labor movement supported the war. The public focused more on the war and movies reflected this. The government also directly encouraged movie studios to produce patriotic films, and the studios complied. Some films still presented the flight of working people. Still, movies of social realism were less prevalent in the 1940s compared to the 1930s. Films for women such as “Tender Comrade” involved the need for women to remain loyal to their men at war and to the nation. Many films presented the glory of going to fight in the war. The horrors of war were minimalized.

World War II literature, culture, and society renewed a focus on individual liberties and less control from government and society. Labor unions lost strength and found diminished public support. The strong public war time support of government ended.

Post war movies depicted both characters respectful of society and characters angry at society. Greater sexual overtones existed in society and film as men returned from war to start families. Elizabeth Peck observes the issue of wife beating was not wiedly publically discussed in the U.S. between 1900 and 1970. No sociology journal considered family violence until 1969.

Women in postwar films such as “Best Years of Our Lives” and “Pride of the Marines” were presented as giving up personal desires for family goals. War veterans in films insisted on faithful girlfriends. Films shows the path towards betterment of life was through marriage and a working husband.

Some films made by leftist filmmakers challenged capitalist notions. The blacklist of filmmakers reduced the numbers of such films.

A lesson from the ethnic hatred of the Nazis was that Americans should not tolerate ethnic hatred. Post World War II films such as “Crossfire” examined prejudice against Jews. Movies such as “Home of the Brave” examined prejudice against African Americans.

The 1950s saw society rejecting communism and seeking patriotism. Religious films such as “The Ten Commandments” supported religion which in turn bolstered public support for all American institutions. Many movies showed working class males as violent and as antiestablishment rebels.

“Salt of the Earth” was a pro-laobr 1954 mvoie where an active union wins its struggle. It did not do well in attracting a large audience.

Movies such as “A Raisin in the Sun” focused more attention on the problem of racism in American society.

Movies in the 1960s and 1970s depicted questioning of society and the birth of the women’s liberation movement, which appealed to leftists, as well as law and order film that appealed to conservatives.

Labor unions were seldom positively portrayed in 1980s movies expect for “Norma Rae” and “The Molly Maguires”.

Government actions were increasingly questioned in 1960s and 1970s movies. A number of films questions that policies for war veterans, such as “The Deer Hunter” and “Coming Home”.

African Americans began being portrayed as dominant her images rising against lower class disadvantages in 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s movies such as “Shaft”, “Do the Right Thing”, and “Jungle Fever”.

The author concludes that liberalism and individualism have been dominant forces in much of American mass culture. Other views, though, received wide audiences.

It should be noted that many films have “multiple meanings”. Institutions and political positions can be complicated and criticized simultaneously, especially in a democracy. Even a study of Nazi films found “multiple meanings’ despite the limited ideologies that the Nazis allowed to be presented.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Theory and Technique of Playwriting by John Howard Lawson

John Howard Lawson. Theory and Teaching of Playwriting. New York: Hill and Wang, 1960.

This book is of interest to both playwrights and screenwriters. Originally published in 1936, it established many of the ideas adapted by early screenwriters and screenwriting text authors.

Lawson believes that drama has undergone changes. It arose from tales with significant meanings to stories where authors presented their ideas of critiques of characters, ethical decisions, or emotional problems. While plays are often written with a profit margin in mind, the stories must be something that audiences will pay to view and appreciate. Audiences will likely expect to see something with action building to a climax.

Theories of drama can be traced to ancient theaters in Athens, China, India, and Japan. European and American theories of drama have emerged and evolved from those theories.

Sartre presented existentialist ideas examining the ironies that life is both absurd and tragic. This has been explained by several writers attempting to find a purpose in life in an existential environment.

Social criticism is the aim of some writers. Some have explored the absurdities of life. Some have explored the torments of life.

Some actors have interpreted their roles according to the Stanislavsky method where they explore the psychological and sexual emotions of their characters. On the other hand, some actors have deliberately rejected this method of expressive acting.

Aristotle believed tragic plays need to be present one day or less in time in the course of the entire play. He believed audiences would wonder about details if more than one day is presented.

Drama emerges from probably scenes. Actions are derived from reversals of fortune. A sudden event, revolution, or peripeteia, changes lives of characters and sends their lives towards new directions. The directions of the characters’ lives are also changed by “anagnoris”, or recognition scenes, which is the unexpected association with friends or enemies.

Aristotle believed that actions are more important than characters. This is the basis of technical playwriting theory. Thus, truth is defined by a series of actions and is not simply defined. In plays, the actions must be dramatic rather than general.

Aristotle viewed character as the sum of numerous qualities that make character difficult to evaluate. Later theories believed character was worth exploring and that drama can emerge from a conflict of will. Character, though, must be established in how one reacts to events.

Aristotle’s “Poetics” states the writers must evaluate action, what characters think, and create revelations in how they respond. The actions are the plot. There must be unity to the plot’s contents.

In Aristotle’s ideas, characters must find consequences when they violate taboo. Later theories explored how societal pressures could create tragic stories.

Aristotle’s writings were republished in 1498. The Renaissance period was not directly aware of Aristotle’s beliefs. Horace wrote his ideans in “Ars Poetica”. He believed in maintaining the proper manners of the day. He insisted decorum should be maintained. The presentation of anything lacking decorum reduced the possibilities for actions that Aristotle believed were essential. The rules of decorum were challenged by vulgar comedies that appeared as satires in the 15th century and then by Gresset, who wrote a play depicting a murder (an event lacking decorum then) in 1740. Voltaire further challenged this with “visions” of nudity on stage.

Machiavelli wrote plays that promoted his ideas of morality, ambition, and conformity. While Machiavelli wrote about manipulative politicians, he also believed the goal of a unified state was the important goal. Ibsen and other 19th century writers noted that ethical lapses in political systems were creating societal disorders. Shakespeare noted how society was disrupted
by disturbances within the ruling elite.

Laape de Vega in 1609 stated there was no set theory of dramatic playwriting. Shakespeare is presented as writing without any sense of an established technique. The knowledge of psychology and sociology was very limited then compared to a few centuries later. Plays then did not then reflect issues of psychological drama or societal challenges. The Renaissance era saw adherence to mostly static laws, and plays reflected this stability.

Plague, disease, and a large London fire during the times of King Charles II helped create several societal tensions. Plays, whose audiences were upper class attendees, reflected growing class cynicism.

John Dryden in 1668 noted that plays should avoid recreating previous knowledge and present a new genius of ideas. This was the first historical analysis found in playwriting criticism.

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing in 1767 to 1769 argues that drama must be socially relevant and should explore the psychology of characters. Revolutionary ideals in politics and society in France and America were reflected in writings. Authors became concerned with issues of idealism and materialism. John Locke’s ideas of government representing people and of labor rights should determine property rights were repeated by American revolutionaries and French materialists that led to the French revolution.

Social realism emerged in 18th century plays that examined middle class realities. Plays focused more on relations between people than relations with the rulings class, as were common before.

19th century plays presented explorations on romanticism, especially in the earlier days which evolved towards more explorations or realism in the later decades. Romanticism represented traditional values of romantic language societies. The German middle class grew quicker than it did in other European countries and its romantic writings were critical of French classical writings. Goethe believed the soul needed to unite with divine will and thus evil could not fill a soul.

Georg Hegel believed logic emerged through disturbances in the equilibrium until a new equilibrium was reached. This is the dialectic method. Tragic conflicts could create dramatic actions leading to examinations of the will of characters. Hegel believed there was a universal will. Schopenhauer believed there was an ultimate idea. Hegel argued a rational existence could be reached. Schopenhauer argued that people are not committed to rationality. Hegel believed it could take much conflict before equilibrium is reached.

Subjective dramatic criticism gained notice in the 19th century. Issues of technique were explored as well as commentary on issues, such as debates on free will.

Victor Hugo believed romanticism and realism could be molded together.

Karl Marx rejected that there is a permanent dialectic. He argued that people and their relationships create their awareness, which is constantly changing. Social conditions are strong factors in creating public wills. Marx and Engels argued there are causes in society, but not spirituality, that affect public souls.

Honore de Balzac criticized moral decay and corruption that destabilized society. Emile Zola was influenced by Balzac. Zola wrote on social issues in the belief that justice could be reached by perfecting human behavior.

Gustav Freytag wrote an idealistic view of drama in “Technique of the Drama” in 1963. Freytag believed plays released emotions within the audience that improved their perceptions.

Ferdinand Brunetiere saw drama existing in people’s attempts to control their environment.

Ibsen examined middle class conflicts, social pressures, how environment shapes people, and how finding one’s inner self can produce solutions.

The perceptions of a playwright affects the creativity of the work product.

Early 20th century playwrights often wrote how social instability led to psychological difficulties.

George Bernard Shaw struggled with an unsuccessful search to rationally explain social philosophy.

Constantin Stanislavski believed the inner psychology and past experiences drove characters, each with their own idealism. A character’s expressionism are portrayed not just by statements but by behavior and something lighting and/or scenery.

Eugene O’Neill wrote now hostile fates made characters angry and that their anger and useless fights lead to their fate of destruction. Eugene O’Neill believed the techniques of plays were characters subjected to fate or whim but not to their will, that psychic motivations drive characters’ actions, that actions illustrate characters, that conflict is diffuse, and that actions are repetitious.

Dramatic structure should involve conflicts in relationships. Dramatic construction involves a series of conflicts, crises, and suspense. Conflict must create crisis.

Dramatic actions disrupts the equilibrium. The climax is the greatest disequilibrium that is reached. Actions must be dramatic and must involved meaning and purpose in the conscious activity. Physical actions and dialogue compose dramatic action.

A play should have a probable and necessary theme, where actions and the theme are united.

The climax changes the equilibrium and unifies the story. The unity includes the beginning that builds to the climax with a unity of theme and action. To build to a climax, a writer must find crises and create scenes that show actions to the climax that also present the scheme of life, also called the social necessity, that limits routes to reaching the climax. An author cannot go outside the social necessity without eliminating the reality of the climax.

There must be continuity of scenes. Continuity includes dramatic exposition, which extends from plot actions, causes leading to solutions, increasing dramatic actions, conflicts leading to the climax, increasing emotions accompanying the progression of actions, a proper rhythm and tempo, should exist with building tension, scenes should link over shared interests, the tempo should grow as the story intensifies, incidents should have value relative to root actions, new forces should be introduced only with preparation for their effects, and emotional tension should buld to the moment of explosion.

The author notes the use of “cut and flash” scene transitions that move from a height of interest to a lower level of interest. This allows people to think and realize the heights in the scenes.

The audience needs to receive required disinformation to follow a play as soon as possible. The audience must know who, where, and what time the characters are and how they relate to each other. A story should begin with conflicts, the situation must be dramatic, disturbances must be presented and felt but not described, and they must increase the purpose and needs of the character.

Exposition can be broken into subordinate actions which each build to their own climaxes.

There must be a progression of increasing action that has greater complexity to the rest of the story.

A play consists of one part exposition, five parts increasing action, an obligatory part, and the climax. The exposition may consist of two or more action cycles. The second part of increasing actions is a climax that will tie the exposition to the increased actions and the obligatory scene.

Surprise is useful, but only if it moves the story forward.

Francisque Sarcey developed the exploration of the obligatory scene. The obligatory scene is where uncertainty allows the audience to then appreciate the climax.

Freytag’s theory of drama states there are five parts of a play, 1.) the introduction, 2.) the rising action, 3.) the climax, 4.) the falling or return, which is just as important as the rising action, and 5.) the catastrophe. The climax is the important unifying middle toward which, and then away from, actions builds and then increases.

Characters must relate to others and their environment. There can not be a character that stands alone. A character must progress through the story.

Dialogue must compress and expand upon action. Dialogue should be poetic.

The audience must fell united to a play. As the author concludes, “A living theatre is a theatre of the people.”