Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

Jurassic Park: The Movie

Photo: Universal Pictures

(Attention! Spoiler Alert!)

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 science fiction thriller, Jurassic Park, tells a linear story using continuity editing. The movie explores the ethics of scientific manipulation of nature and introduces the concept of chaos theory. The editing, done by Michael Kahn, is seamless and flawless. There are no superfluous scenes. Each scene is designed to support the story and the theme of the movie. The pacing of the movie keeps the tension building to the climax. The editor relays the story “clearly, efficiently, and coherently” (Barsam and Monahan), leaving no doubt or confusion in the mind of the viewer. Based on the book by Michael Crichton, the camera moves smoothly back and forth between situations and scenes (parallel editing), just like a book. The opening music, written by John Williams, is ominous and primitive, implying that the viewer is entering untamed territory.

The opening scene (the master scene) shows the expert hunter standing grimly by with his gun as workers unload a metal crate. This is on the Isla Nubar, 120 miles off the coast of Costa Rica. An accident occurs, and a worker is killed when the creature inside the crate is released and grabs the worker’s leg. The viewer never sees the creature. Its presence is inferred by the creature’s movements and vocalizations, the intense and horrified expressions on the people’s faces, and the scene where the injured worker is pulled from the grip of the expert hunter. The viewer understands that something predatory and dangerous was in that crate.

A “blood-sucking” lawyer (reflecting blood-sucking mosquitoes), arrives at the amber mine at Manos de Dios (hands of God) in the Dominican Republic. There is a lawsuit now against the project. A scientist (a “digger”) views a piece of amber that was just found, containing a mosquito. From his facial expression, the viewer understands that this is a rare and valuable find.

In the Badlands near Snakewater, Montana, Drs. Allen Grant and Ellie Sadler are working hard and painstakingly on a dinosaur dig. Dr. Grant is skeptical of new technology. He dislikes kids. Dr. Sadler is more flexible and is trying hard to convince him to have children with her. The scene with the fat kid is hilarious. The camera perfectly captures the changed expressions on his face. Dr. Grant shows that he has a sense of humor.

After John Hammond, the wealthy entrepreneur, arrives and convinces the pair to go to Costa Rica with him to view his “biological preserve,” the scene cuts to San Jose, Costa Rica. We see a sweating fat man (Wayne Knight of Seinfeld fame) at a café, meeting with a suspicious-acting man. It is clear that something criminal is going on. The man offers the fat man a lot of money in exchange for some “viable embryos.” The viewer does not yet know how this scene is related to the other scenes, but his imagination is captured, and he wants to know what’s going to happen next. The director is slowly laying the groundwork for the plot of the story.

In the helicopter, Dr. Grant (a paleontologist) and Dr. Sadler (a paleontological botanist) meet Dr. Ian Malcom, a theoretical mathematician who calls himself a “chaotician.” John Hammond is not impressed with his “rock star” personality. The other doctors have not heard of chaos theory. Malcolm flirts relentlessly with Dr. Sadler.

When the helicopter reaches the island, the camera reveals a lush, tropical paradise. The music becomes uplifting and upbeat, inspiring feelings of expectation and hope. There is a promise of adventure.

As the travelers are transported in a Jeep to the main center of the island, they witness huge electrical fences equipped with 10,000 volts, moats, and large concrete walls, which are meant for the “stability of the island.” If it’s just a “biological preserve,” why do they need all of this heavy-duty protection?

The Jeep stops at a truly beautiful and peaceful pastoral scene. The camera dollies in for a close-up of Dr. Grant’s facial expression. He reaches over and grabs Dr. Sadler’s head and turns it. Both of their faces show overwhelming awe, surprise, and excitement. They are looking at a live brachiosaurus! Dr. Malcolm looks awed but concerned. The lawyer gleefully says, “We’re going to make a fortune with this place!”

The camera shows a long shot of a lake with herds of brachiosaurs and other creatures. Dr. Grant is confirmed in his theory that these creatures roamed around in herds. The viewer is also overwhelmed with awe and admiration. There is no doubt that this is a splendid park that everyone will want to visit!

At the visitor center, the doctors watch a video presentation about the “miracle of cloning.” The viewer needs this information to understand the plot and the theme of the movie. Scientists in the film extracted “Dino DNA” from mosquitoes trapped in amber, but the DNA is incomplete and filled in with DNA from frogs. (The DNA, therefore, is corrupted, or mutated.)

Throughout this segment, the doctors are so excited, they break all the rules, and John Hammond cannot control them (a foreshadowing of things to come.) Overhead, we hear the announcement that the boat for the mainland will leave soon. At the same time, the doctors are witnessing a dinosaur hatching from its shell (the miracle of life.) These dinosaurs are impure, altered, corrupted, and laboratory bred. While the lab scientist (B.D. Wong) seems completely unconcerned, Dr. Malcolm is calculating in his head all the predictability/unpredictability ratios. The lab scientist reveals that all the animals are female and cannot breed because the chromosomes have been muted (implying perfection and control.) Dr. Malcolm refutes that with an impassioned speech about the history of evolution, the power of life, and the inability to contain it: “Life finds a way.” When Dr. Grant discovers that they bred velociraptors, a close-up of his face shows his mood change from elation to deep concern. Dr. Malcolm’s speech and Dr. Grant’s mood change portend danger and chaos.

The expert hunter confirms their concerns when he says, “They should all be destroyed.” The viewer recognizes him as the man with the gun in the master scene. He explains that these creatures are calculating problem-solvers who are always watching and waiting and testing the fences to get out (a foreshadowing of the future.) The hunter is a realist who has seen these creatures in action.

At lunch, John Hammond goes on and on about the significance and legacy of his theme park, and the lawyer goes on and on about the lucrative investment. Dr. Malcolm is appalled and points out their “lack of humility before nature.” He calls them careless exploiters who did not earn the right to use this technology. As a result, they have no understanding of what they have created and take no responsibility for the results. The theme of the movie is summed up nicely here when he says that the handsomely-paid Jurassic Park scientists were so caught up in “whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think whether or not they should.” And Dr. Grant and Dr. Sadler back him up about the unpredictability of the result (foreshadowing what’s about to happen.)

The chaos elements begin to reveal themselves: the grandchildren arrive, who are knowledgeable city kids but vulnerable in this environment; a tropical storm is imminent; and Dennis, the disloyal fat man, hacks into the computer system in order to implement his nefarious plan.

When the basic tour begins, Dr. Malcolm remarks that the huge gates to the park remind him of King Kong. Richard Kylie narrates information about dilophosaurus, describing it as a deadly creature that spits poison into the eyes of its victim (foreshadowing later events.)

The scene cuts to a conversation between Dennis and John Hammond. Dennis has financial problems, which is why he is willing to sell dinosaur embryos for money, and John Hammond responds that people should pay for their mistakes (foreshadowing future events.) When his plan is in place, Dennis makes a fumbled explanation of going to the vending machines, steals the embryos, and exits the building.

On the tour, the scientists have not seen any dinosaurs except the tame and sick ones. There is an illusion of order and peace. When the storm hits, however, the chaos begins. The park systems begin to shut down, including the cars containing the scientists, the lawyer, and the children.

The best segments in the movie, in my opinion, are the scenes involving the T. Rex and the car. The editing is seamless and flawless. There is no indication anywhere that the T. Rex is not real. The acting is superb, revealing the absolute terror and horror felt by the children. The children come face-to-face with the creature, as indicated by this photo (T. Rex point of view):

As the T. Rex terrorizes the group, every character is suddenly confronted with his own mortality and feelings of powerlessness. There are several shots where the T. Rex and a character come face-to-face and even meet each other at eye level (the eyeline match cut.)

The cowardly lawyer leaves the children alone and gets his comeuppance in a dramatic scene that reveals how powerless humans are compared to these creatures.

The viewer cannot help feeling glad that the lawyer got his just reward because he just wanted to exploit these creatures for profit. The editing here is a marvel of technology because it looks absolutely real, with no obvious separation between the physical scenery and the artificial creature.

When Dennis leaves the park and gets stuck in the mud, he loses his glasses and the shaving cream canister containing the embryos. When he meets the dilophosaurus, he treats it like a dog, calling it stupid, asking it to fetch, and remarking, “No wonder you’re extinct.” He has no respect for the power and danger that have been unleashed. The creature meets him face-to-face in the car, after outwitting him, and kills him. Dennis gets his just reward, and the embryos are lost forever in the mud.

As the characters deal with varying life-threatening situations, Dr. Grant protects and rescues the children, thereby learning that kids are not so bad after all. The characters learn that everybody is necessary in a survival situation, no matter their age or gender. John Hammond realizes that human life is more important than leaving behind a fantastical legacy for the world. Dr. Malcolm is proven right. And the hunter learns that weapons are not enough against a calculating predatory creature that was able to outwit him.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 22, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

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The Time Warp

In the early 1980s, before our daughter was born, my husband and I decided to attend the local revival of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. At midnight sharp, we were sitting in the audience at the old, art deco Millbrae Theatre in Millbrae, California, anxious for the movie to start. It was fun to look around the theatre at the many strange costumes worn by Rocky Horror fans. But, watcher beware! Once the movie started, we were pelted with candy, rice, and popcorn, and squirted with water from squirt guns, as fans reacted to various scenes in the movie. That was the fun of the revival – interacting with each other and the movie.

That couldn’t even happen nowadays because the Fun Police would be out trying to shut it all down. Kids are missing out on a lot of clean, harmless fun!

At that time, there were old, art deco theatres in just about every town along the El Camino Real, the main business artery that courses down the San Francisco Peninsula. I remember the red plush seats and elegant, red velvet stage curtain in the old Millbrae. I was fascinated by the gold gilding on the intricate art deco interior designs. Sadly, most of these theatres have been demolished or closed down.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) has always had a large cult following of people who just want to have a good time. The story is quirky, the characters and costumes bizarre, the music lively and entertaining.

Barry Bostwick (Brad Majors) and Susan Sarandon (Janet Weiss) play a naive, “square,” straight-laced couple whose car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Forced to take refuge at Dr. Frank-N-Furter’s house, they are reluctantly exposed to the twisted, bizarre characters who live there.

Tim Curry plays the transvestite scientist, Dr. Frank-N-Furter, who is experimenting with creating the perfect male sex symbol (Peter Hinwood). The theme of the movie is pursuing “absolute pleasure,” which reflects the overriding social theme of the 1970s.

One of the most memorable scenes in the movie is the musical number, The Time Warp. Here’s where the audience gets up out of their seats and starts dancing in the aisles!

Enjoy! And don’t let the Fun Police spoil your fun! They are already trying to shut down Christmas this year.

Dawn Pisturino

October 11, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Colorful Moments in Early Black-and-White Horror

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, black-and-white masked ball scene.

Most people think of the silent film version of Phantom of the Opera as a black-and-white film but, in reality, there were a number of color scenes in the movie.

As early as 1895, methods had been invented to inject color into scenes, but these “additive color systems” used processes that were tedious and time-consuming: hand-coloring, stenciling, tinting, and toning. They were only used on a limited basis. Tinting and toning gave the best results and were used by D.W. Griffith. Prismacolor and the Handschiegel Process fall into this category.

In 1915, the Technicolor Corporation invented a two-strip process, and this was incorporated into select scenes in Phantom of the Opera, 1925.

Lon Chaney in Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in technicolor.

Whether the black-and-white scenes or the color scenes are more frightening depends on the individual viewer. I personally like the light and dark contrasts of black-and-white film in horror movies because it feels moodier, creepier, and more akin to the darkness of evil. (Think about the original Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, and The Wolfman and how different they would look in color.)

Color films, in fact, did not really take off until the late 1930s due to the expense. And producers expected big returns on their money. It wasn’t until the 1960s that color became the norm. Now, watching a black-and-white film seems to be a treat reserved for film buffs alone!

The Unmasking Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in black-and-white.
Masked Ball Scene, Phantom of the Opera, 1925, in early technicolor.

Which do YOU prefer?

Dawn Pisturino

October 5, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

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Godzilla Rules

After the bombing of Hiroshima, filmmakers became obsessed with sci fi movies that exposed and speculated about the harmful effects of radiation poisoning on humans and the environment. Giant, monstrous creatures produced from radiation exposure became a popular theme, particularly in Japan, where the original Godzilla was born in 1954. A whole series of movies featuring Godzilla and sundry other monsters followed. Even today, remakes of the Japanese originals remain popular. And merchandise sales of T-shirts, toys, and other items remain strong. Godzilla even earned his own pop song:

Blue Oyster Cult – Godzilla
Godzilla original movie theme, 1954.

Godzilla Rules!

Dawn Pisturino

October 2, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

16 Comments »

The Magic of Hollywood Technology

Photo: New York Daily News

Every new technological invention seems like “magic” at the time, whether it’s the invention of moving pictures, sound technology, radio, color film, widescreen viewing, television, digital recording, or the latest computer-generated imagery software.

The crude stop-motion special effects used in the original King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack, 1933) were considered phenomenal at the time. The innovative makeup used in Frankenstein (James Whale, 1931) and The Mummy (Karl Freund, 1932) amazed audiences in the 1930s. The color film technology used in The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming, 1939) seems as brilliant and fresh today as it did back in 1939. The movie scores written for Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965) and The Godfather (Francis Ford Coppola, 1972) have become classics. The cinematography in John Ford’s classic westerns has inspired future generations of young filmmakers.

When Orson Welles produced Citizen Kane (Orson Welles, 1941), he introduced a whole new way of designing sets, filming the action, mixing sound, and narrating a story. His innovations influenced future directors (Lewis 158-161; Barsam and Monahan, 397-401).

John Ford’s The Searchers combined Technicolor with VistaVision widescreen technology to produce a visually stunning movie. Widescreen technology forced theater owners to upgrade their screens, just like the invention of sound technology forced them to upgrade their sound systems (Lewis 249-250; Barsam and Monahan 216-217; Widescreen Museum, 1).

The noir genre used chiaroscuro lighting and key lights to create a dark, brooding atmosphere. Movies such as The Maltese Falcon (John Huston, 1941) explored the dark side of human nature and became popular for their grittiness and realism. When night-time film was developed, cinematographers were able to film at night (Lewis 183, 203; Barsam and Monahan, 96).

Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg, 1993) paved the way for new special effects technology, especially animatronics and computer-generated imagery. The editing techniques produced a flawless, seamless action film that blurs the lines between reality and fantasy (Lewis 373-374; Barsam and Monahan, 58-59).

As new ways of looking at cinema emerged, directors such as Jean-Luc Godard experimented with discontinuity editing, juxtaposition, and freestyle filming of movies. Dennis Hopper used some of these techniques in his movie, Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969), which brought the 1960s counterculture to the big screen. The extreme editing of the movie pared the story down to its bare bones and forces viewers to draw their own conclusions (Lewis 289-291).

Advanced technology, combined with the vision and creativity of directors, cinematographers, screenwriters, and other members of the crew, will continue to enthrall audiences around the world—as long as they can produce a solid story to go with the overwhelming technological effects.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Ford, John, Dir. The Searchers. Perf. John Wayne. Warner Bros., 1956.

Hopper, Dennis, Dir. Easy Rider. Perf. Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper. Columbia, 1969.

Huston, John, Dir. The Maltese Falcon. Perf. Humphrey Bogart. Warner Bros., 1941.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Ryder, Loren L. “The Story of VistaVision.” The American WideScreen Museum. 2006.

       <http://www.widescreenmuseum.com/widescreen/vistavision.htm.

Spielberg, Steven, Dir. Jurassic Park. Perf. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard

       Attenborough. Universal, 1993.

Welles, Orson, Dir. Citizen Kane. Perf. Orson Welles. Warner Bros., 1941.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

February 6, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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London After Midnight (1927)

London After Midnight (known also as The Hypnotist) was a 1927 silent film starring the master of disguise, Lon Chaney, as Professor Edward C. Burke. The last known print was destroyed in the MGM vault fire of 1967. Consequently, it is a highly-sought film that would command a high price if a precious copy were found. Many people believe a private collector secretly harbors the last print in a secure vault somewhere in the world. Wishful thinking?

Rick Shmidlin reconstructed the film from stills for Turner Classic Movies. It premiered on Halloween, 2002.

Synopsis (Spoiler Alert):

Five years after Roger Balfour’s death is ruled a suicide, his abandoned estate is usurped by a gruesome duo: an older man with scraggly hair and wicked sharp teeth, and a sinister-looking young woman in a funereal long gown. Professor Burke, who investigated Balfour’s death, is re-engaged to investigate the couple by Sir James Hamlin, Balfour’s neighbor. Coincidentally, all the people living at the Hamlin estate were suspects in Balfour’s death.

When bizarre and unusual things begin to happen, however, suspicion turns on the ghoulish occupants of the Balfour estate. The neighbors whisper that they are the living dead and murdered Roger Balfour.

Professor Burke hypnotizes Sir James Hamlin and uncovers the truth: Hamlin murdered Balfour and made it look like a suicide after Balfour forbade Hamlin from marrying his daughter. The ghoulish couple turn out to be Professor Burke and a stage actress in disguise. Mystery solved!

Courtesy of Monster Madness 78 on YouTube. Length: 46:40 minutes.

Lon Chaney as the vampire.

Dawn Pisturino

September 20, 2021

Copyright 2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Marilyn Monroe in “Niagara”

** Spoiler Alert **

The 1953 film Niagara, directed by Henry Hathaway, stars Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, and Jean Peters. The traditional honeymoon site, Niagara Falls, provides the backdrop for murder.

The music accompanying the opening titles is dark, foreboding, and powerful. The first scene of the movie is a wide camera shot that captures the powerful and majestic Niagara Falls, sporting a rainbow (a symbol of hope). The camera shifts to the right, revealing Joseph Cotton walking along the bank of the river. Compared to the falls, he looks small and impotent. He seems unhappy, lost, and alienated. Indeed, he delivers a monologue to the falls, extolling their strength and power, and decrying his own weakness and failure. It’s a strange scene that gives the viewer the impression that his character is mentally unstable and may be contemplating suicide.

This is an example of how the setting, music, character, camera angles, contrasts, and symbols act together to create impressions in the mind of the viewer. Indeed, Niagara is almost Hitchcock-like in its overall design and presentation.

The viewer soon realizes through her actions and body language that Cotten’s wife, Marilyn Monroe, does not love him. She, too, is unhappy. She deliberately does things to rile him up and explode into small episodes of violence. She implies to another honeymooning couple that her husband is mentally unstable and capable of violence and self-harm. She pretends to worry about him whenever he has gone somewhere alone. But this is all a ruse, because she has a lover, and the lover is planning to kill him.

In the colorized version, Marilyn Monroe stands out from the crowd by wearing stylish, colorful clothing. She carries herself as if she is looking for a good time. She is described by her husband as a bar tramp. Although he loves her, he blames her for the loss of everything he ever had. He strongly suspects she has a lover. In fact, he sees her as out-of-control—just like Niagara Falls. But he is too weak and impotent to leave her.

It is hard for the viewer to feel sympathy for either of these characters. Marilyn Monroe is too scheming and conniving. Joseph Cotten is too weak and unstable.

When Joseph Cotten disappears and a body is found in the river, it looks like the two adulterous lovers got away with murder. When the detective takes Marilyn Monroe to the morgue building to identify the corpse, they walk through a dark and forbidding corridor before they come to the body, lying on a gurney in a cold, sterile room. When the detective turns on the light above the body, the truth is revealed. Marilyn Monroe cries out, faints, and ends up in the hospital. The viewer believes the enormity of her crime has struck home. The viewer soon finds out, however, that her husband is still alive and it is the lover who is dead.

In a remarkable and dramatic scene, Joseph Cotten confronts his wife in a bell tower. This bell tower is a solid building that plays music by request. It represents the strength and solidity of marriage. But the bells are silent now. The room is shadowy and filled with contrasts. The camera looks down from between the bells, making the characters look small and insignificant. The scene tightens as Joseph Cotten struggles with his wife and murders her. He leaves her lying on the black-and-white parquet floor and runs off. The camera lingers on the body for a few seconds, then cuts away, showing Joseph Cotten trying to get out of the locked building. He finally comes back to the body and picks up his wife’s lipstick, a symbolic act that he still loves her.

The police also know that Joseph Cotten is still alive and murdered his wife. He steals a boat, kidnapping Jean Peters. The boat falters and begins drifting toward the falls. Waves wash over the boat, throwing Peters and Cotten around. No matter how hard they try, they are powerless against the waves. The acting here is so realistic, it feels like it is actually happening.

Joseph Cotten tries to sink the boat. He allows Jean Peters to climb onto a wet rock in the middle of the river. She struggles and uses all of her strength to climb onto the slippery rock. The camera cuts back to the boat then back to Jean Peters. She watches, horrified, as the boat goes over the falls. The camera uses a wide shot to show the boat falling down Niagara Falls. Compared to the falls, it looks like a wooden toy.

A helicopter appears to rescue Peters. The camera juxtaposes between Jean Peters and the helicopter. The scenes become shorter and the juxtaposition quicker. She struggles to get into the chair that is sent down from the helicopter. Will she make it or fall into the river? She makes it into the chair. She is rescued.

The final scene of the movie is a wide shot of Niagara Falls. Acting as judge, jury, and executioner, justice has been done.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 11, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

4 Comments »

How Technological Innovation and Competition Shaped Hollywood

Carl Laemmle, founder of Universal Studios

Motion pictures developed during the Golden Age of American innovation, expansion, and wealth.  The motion picture industry was forced to keep evolving due to ever-increasing technological advances and fierce competition.

Advances in photographic techniques and equipment paved the way for motion pictures.  Thomas Edison invented the “first projected and screened moving pictures” (Lewis 3) in 1896.  This tallied with the general shift to industrial progress all across the country.  People began leaving the farms and moving to the cities.  Without this shift, the movie industry could not have survived (Lewis 3-4).

The first conglomerate in the motion picture industry was the Motion Picture Patents Company Trust, overseen by Thomas Edison in 1908 (Lewis 4).  Modeled on the Henry Ford system of assembly-line “standardization and efficiency” (Lewis 4), it controlled “production and distribution of American movies” (Lewis 4).  But the conglomerate failed.  Independent innovators—like Carl Laemmle— who had challenged MPPC’s monopolistic practices in court and won, eventually moved to California (Lewis 21-23).  By 1915, “80 percent of all the films made in the United States were produced in the Los Angeles area” (Lewis 23).

Laemmle introduced multi-reel motion pictures to the industry, which allowed longer and more complex movies to be produced (Lewis 21).  Characters could grow and change; complex stories and plots developed; and the process of organizing and delivering narratives refined (Barsam 68-69, 122-160). 

The studio system developed during this time, based on “standardized and professionalized policies and procedures” (Lewis 46) that satisfied Wall Street investors and the bottom line.  Exclusive contracts made with stars, directors, carpenters, and other key people, were an efficient way to increase profits (Lewis 46).

The development of sound technology helped studios make films that were culturally “more modern, more lifelike, and more central to the evolving American experience than their silent counterparts” (Lewis 92).  But this new technology demanded new equipment and production methods that required a large layout financially.

Western Electric produced the first successful sound system in 1924.  Named Vitaphone, the sound-on-disc technology was first adopted by Warner Bros. in 1925.  The brothers were counting on sound to bring their operation into the big league.  Other studios tried to purchase shares in Vitaphone, but Warner Bros. was more interested in licensing the technology to studios and theaters (Lewis 96-97).

The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson and released in 1927, was produced as a hybrid of silence and sound.  Its success (the film completed two runs) caused Warner Bros. stock to skyrocket “from $21 a share in 1925 to $132 a share in 1927” (Lewis 97).  In 1929, at the first Academy Award ceremony, Warner Bros. was specially honored “for producing The Jazz Singer, the pioneer outstanding talking picture, which has revolutionized the industry” (Lewis 98).

Fox introduced Movietone in 1927, a system that was more adaptable to on-location shooting (Lewis 98).  In 1928, Paramount, Loews, First National, and United Artists signed contracts for sound-on-film technology from Electrical Research Products, Inc. (Lewis 98).

After the Wall Street crash of 1929, many of the theaters which had taken out loans to convert to sound were bought up by the Hollywood studios, giving them even more control over exhibition, production, and distribution.  Studios became less competitive and worked together to protect the industry as a whole (Lewis 99).

The advancement of film color technology took much longer to complete.  Although several companies had developed color technology, it was not until 1916 and the creation of the Technicolor Corporation that a viable color system was developed.  In 1932, Technicolor process No. 4 (a three-color system) became the industry standard.  Technicolor Corporation exploited its success by requiring studios to rent their cameras, use only Technicolor camera operators and makeup, and send their films to Technicolor labs for processing.  In spite of its success, however, “only 1 percent” (Lewis 102) of films were produced in color as late as 1936.

The development of color television in the 1960s spurred movie studios to finally convert to color so that TV could be used “as a second-run venue for their films” (Lewis 102).  Computer technology has brought the movie industry even farther, allowing studios to digitally create characters or an entire movie (Barsam 111-114).

Competition and technological advances have shaped the development of the film industry.  These advances spurred competition and forced movie studios to adopt the new technologies and work together in cooperation to maximize profits.

Dawn Pisturino

December 13, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

                                                                                                                                         

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How “Citizen Kane” Challenged the Hollywood Studio System

Charles Foster Kane played by Orson Welles.

Citizen Kane was made in 1941 during the height of the Hollywood studio system.  Orson Welles was a well-known theatrical actor and director by then.  He brought his theatrical vision and independent imagination to Hollywood, but the standardized operations of the studio system did not allow for too much independent creativity.  Studio movies had to reflect the look and feel of each individual studio.  Welles was unable to deliver on this and earned a reputation for being unreliable and difficult.

Even today, Citizen Kane stands out as an unusual movie.  The script was written along the lines of a news story/detective story.  In the beginning, a news reel summarizes the life of a dead media mogul.  But an enterprising journalist wants more.  He wants to understand the real man and embarks on a journey to find out, intrigued by Kane’s last word, “Rosebud.”  This kind of “parallel narrative structure is the first thing most viewers notice” (Lewis 158).

Using this kind of narrative supports Kane’s character as a hardcore newspaperman.  It seems perfectly natural to explore his life through this kind of device. (Welles had also used the news story device very successfully in his radio adaptation of War of the Worlds). 

Charles Foster Kane is a conflicted character in the sense that he longs for his lost childhood (represented by the snow globe), on one hand, and enjoys the authority and power that his wealth affords him, on the other.  He tries to control the events and people around him, to his own detriment.  He is a tragic Shakespearean figure who gains everything—and loses everything.  Welles supports this conflict through the narrative and the composition of his camera scenes.

Throughout the film, Welles carefully stages nearly every scene using depth-of-field choreography and cinematography, reflecting his vision and theatrical experience.  Lewis uses the childhood scene, in which a deep-focus camera shot shows the young Kane outside playing in the snow, as an example.  Inside, he is still framed by the window in the background. His father is stage left, protesting his wife’s action.  Stage right, and looming larger in the scene, Mr. Thatcher (the banker) and Mrs. Kane (the mother) are signing the papers which will sign away young Kane’s childhood forever (Lewis 159).  It’s a brilliant and powerful scene.

Welles was a master at composing black-and-white camera shots using chiaroscuro lighting (deep contrasts of dark and light) (Barsam 180) and German expressionism (Lewis 159).  His sets are often large, exaggerated, and overblown, especially Xanadu.  The inside of the castle reeks of funereal sadness and gloom.  Hoarding priceless artworks and zoo animals cannot lighten the darkness.  Kane’s world is empty, twisted, and dark—like the character himself.

Welles’ camera is not stationary.  He uses the camera to make creative transitions and keep the story going.  When the journalist first meets Susan at the El Rancho, the camera leaves the Thatcher Library and rolls over to the roof of the El Rancho, where it points down through the skylight onto Susan.  The viewer feels like he is eavesdropping on a private conversation.  Despite this intrusion, Welles has met his goals “to simulate a theatrical look (blocking actors . . .) and to create a realist aesthetic (an artistic conception . . .) through composition in depth” (Lewis 160).

Welles uses low-angle shots to make characters appear larger.  Reflections in glass and mirrors include more characters into the scene and reveal their reactions.  He uses a brilliant montage of scenes in the beginning of the movie which transition into one another, creating new scenes.  Welles also included a combination of both live and dubbed sounds into Citizen Kane, drawing on his radio experience (Lewis 161).

 Citizen Kane defied the parameters of most studio formula movies because it is a piece of art.  It has become a classic film that has influenced generations of independent filmmakers.  And it is a true reflection of the master himself— Orson Welles.

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

Welles, Orson, Dir. Citizen Kane. Perf. Orson Welles. Warner Bros., 1941.

(The character of Charles Foster Kane was based on newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.)

Dawn Pisturino

December 20, 2017

Thomas Edison State University

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Easy Rider: The Movie

Easy Rider

Easy Rider: The Movie

by

Dawn Pisturino

Any analysis of Dennis Hopper’s 1969 movie, Easy Rider, must be made within the context of the 1960s, or the analysis may become distorted. The 1960s were a turbulent and unique period in American history (this writer was fourteen years old in 1969). Under the influence of the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and the Civil Rights Movement, the country was at war with itself. Fear of nuclear holocaust drove much of the “live for today” counterculture rebellion. After all, if humans are going to die anyway, why go to work? Why conform to the established social order? It’s much better to have fun and do what you want while you still have time.

Easy Rider has been described as a modern hippie road trip movie, but more than anything else, it is a biker movie — and hardcore bikers still try to follow the route taken in the movie. There are numerous websites and blogs on the Internet describing this route. Some of the locations used in the movie (such as the cafe) no longer exist. But the Spirit of Route 66 is alive and well, and enough stretches of that famous and infamous road still exist to bring Easy Rider back to life.

Peter Fonda (Wyatt, after Wyatt Earp) conceived Easy Rider as a western (Seitz 2-3; Schneider 1). The characters ride their choppers (metal horses) through the southwest, camp out in Indian ruins, and make occasional references to cowboys and Indians. (Peter Fonda may have been giving a nod to his father, Henry Fonda, who starred in a number of westerns). Wyatt and his cohort, Billy (after Billy the Kid, played by Dennis Hopper), are motorcycle-stuntmen-bikers-turned-drug-dealers who score a big cocaine deal and use their ill-gotten riches to travel across the country to New Orleans. (In a real Hollywood western, they might have been performers in an Old West Show who turned outlaw, struck it rich, and turned into aimless drifters).

The classic Hollywood western celebrates American freedom, expansion, and rugged independence (Lewis 247-248; Barsam and Monahan, 103). But as civilization spreads across the western wilderness, the heroes in these movies become the alienated outsiders. Easy Rider celebrates this freedom and rugged independence and decries the loss of personal freedom and individuality found in an urbanized and commercialized society.

The movie was billed as a story about a man who “went looking for America and couldn’t find it” (Dirks 1). The problem with this obvious hype is that there is no indication in the movie that this is their goal. The characters always confirm that their goal is to get to the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans in order to have a good time. In fact, Billy gets pretty hostile when it looks like his plans will be delayed. The people they meet, and the events they experience along the way, are completely random and unplanned.

The characters complain throughout the movie about the hostile reactions they receive to their long hair and grubby clothes. (In most westerns, the established town folk snub the outlaws, gamblers, drifters, and prostitutes in their towns, to the point of violence). As the movie progresses, the long hair becomes a symbol for people who are different, alienated, and marginalized from mainstream America.

Dennis Hopper is remembered now as one of the auteur directors of the New Hollywood era (Lewis 289). “Made for a mere $375,000 and earning an astonishing $19 million in its initial release in 1969, Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider made clear just how important the youth audience would be to a Hollywood recovery” (Lewis 289). Another $1 million was spent on licensing the music for Donn Cambern’s contemporary rock and pop score (Fisher 3), the first movie to incorporate culturally popular music (Ebert 2003 2; Schneider 2). This established a standard that moviemakers have used ever since.

The movie was born out of the low-budget motorcycle movies that appealed to young people in the 1960s (Ebert 2004 2; Ebert 1969 2). Roger Corman’s 1966 movie, The Wild Angels, also starring Peter Fonda, used some of the same creative devices, such as nondiegetic sound, that were later used in Easy Rider (Dennis Hopper, 1969). The LSD-trip cemetery scene in New Orleans, which uses “super-fast edits, jarring sound effects, Catholic prayers, and shots of the Virgin Mary” (Schneider 3), shows a young girl reciting the rosary and parallels the rape scene in The Wild Angels (Roger Corman, 1966), where the audience hears a young girl singing a Christian hymn. By combining elements “of the teen biker picture . . . , the French New Wave . . . , and cinema verite” (Lewis 290), Dennis Hopper brought the nonconformist counterculture onto the big screen while remaining independent of Hollywood interference and conformity.

Cinematographer Laszlo Kovacs revealed that Dennis Hopper wanted to use natural lighting as much as possible (Seitz 3), but portable halogen lights were used at night, especially for the campfire scenes (Fisher 2). The campfires and the flicker were simulated, using “a stick with a little flicker effect” (Fisher 2-3). To shoot the  motorcycle travel scenes, an Arri camera, using 50-speed Kodak film, was mounted on a 1968 Chevy Impala (Fisher 2). The Mardi Gras scene was filmed using Bolex 16 mm hand-held cameras, creating a disorienting and psychedelic effect (Fisher 3). The entire movie was filmed in a loose style to convey a “feeling of freedom” (Fisher 4). The shooting was largely improvised, shot according to what felt right to Kovacs at the time (Fisher 2). “Rapid flashback/flash forward transitions” (Seitz 3) are used frequently between sequences. “Long, slow establishing shots transition the environment from nature to city over the course of the movie” (Seale 1). The pacing is uneven, reflecting an improvisational style, and jump cuts create a jarring effect (Dirks 1). Very little make-up is used, there are few meaningful props, and the costumes are natural and realistic, incorporating “traditional patriotic symbols with emblems of loneliness, criminality, and alienation — the American flag, cowboy decorations, long hair, and drugs” (Dirk 1). Much of the dialogue is improvised, especially in the cafe scene (Lewis 290).

“The rough cut of the movie reportedly ran over three hours, and Hopper edited it to a reasonable length by throwing out the story details and keeping the rest” (Ebert 1969 3; Seitz 3). The result is a movie that often seems disjointed and disconnected. After George dies, the excessive editing makes it appear that Wyatt and Billy are completely indifferent to his death. Questions arise, such as: What did they do with the body? Did they just leave the poor guy there? This is why, when watching the movie, the viewer scratches his head and wonders: Who are these guys? What is their backstory? Why are they doing all of this? The beginning of the film, which explains all of this, was cut from the movie. It’s the outtakes which reveal that Wyatt and Billy are motorcycle stuntmen who turn drug dealers and end up in a thrilling confrontation with “helicopters and police chasing Hopper and Fonda over mountains and across the Mexican border” Birnbaum 1). If this sequence had been included in the movie, Wyatt and Billy would be seen as nothing more than common criminals.

As it is, Wyatt and Billy are superficial characters whose lives appear aimless, lacking in any worthwhile goals. Wyatt is the more philosophical and thoughtful of the two. He is open to new people and new experiences. He smokes pot, sits back, and ruminates about life. Billy, on the other hand, is emotionally reactive, sometimes hostile, and “lives for today.” He is unconcerned about learning anything. When Wyatt and Billy are camped out in the Indian ruins with the hitchhiker, Billy shows total disrespect for the Indians who built them and appears indifferent when the hitchhiker reprimands him for it. Billy is anti-social, selfish, and self-absorbed. He smokes pot constantly as if he lives for nothing else. But while Wyatt is the idealistic dreamer, Billy is the down-to-earth realist. When he points out to the hippies at the commune that the soil is not fertile enough to grow anything, he is simply telling the truth as he sees it. When he refutes George’s conspiracy theory about aliens, he is revealing his own lack of imagination. While Wyatt sits quietly by and tells the prostitute at the Tinker Toys brothel that he bought her because of Billy, Billy drinks and carries on like a man coming out of the desert after 40 days. Wyatt examines the artwork and philosophical quotes on the walls, focusing on one quote in particular: “Death only closes a man’s reputation and determines it as good or bad” (Joseph Addison). Billy could care less. He doesn’t seem to believe in anything at all.

Here is where Wyatt has the flash forward vision of a fire by the side of the road. He seems more subdued after this, as if carrying the burden of his whole life on his shoulders. The LSD trip in the cemetery produces a profound religious experience that nobody wants. When Wyatt announces to Billy that “we blew it,” Billy’s response is that money buys freedom, and that’s what it’s all about. He cannot understand what Wyatt is talking about.

Hopper uses a lot of contrasts and juxtapositions to instill meaning into the movie. While the rancher has a solid, stable (although poor) life, the hippies at the commune seem like unstable, flighty dreamers who are barely surviving. While Wyatt and Billy are riding around minding their own business, other people react to their appearance, call them animals, and threaten violence. George, the goofy alcoholic lawyer, has a powerful father and is, therefore, protected by the town. When he leaves his home turf, however, he is ill-equipped to survive in the larger world. Wyatt and Billy camp outdoors in the elements, live rough, and feel confident that they can take care of themselves.

The movie also incorporates a lot of religious symbolism. The dead lamb at the side of the road clearly symbolizes the sacrificial lamb. The rancher and his family pray at meal times, thanking God for what they have. So do the hippies at the commune, but their prayers seem less confident and more like a plea for help. The LSD trip is full of religious iconography about death and redemption. The brothel displays much religious art, reminding the viewer to repent of his sins. The message is clear: no matter how free a person is, he or she still answers to a higher authority.

Further symbolism includes the use of the term “gorilla” to denote people who live outside of society. The hippies’ mime troupe stage is called Gorilla Theater. The rednecks in the cafe refer to Wyatt, Billy, and George as “gorillas.” This dehumanization of the characters makes it easy for the rednecks in the truck to shoot Wyatt and Billy in cold blood without batting an eye or feeling any remorse.

And here is where we find the existential heart of the movie: “we blew it.” When the rednecks kill Wyatt and Billy in a senseless drive-by shooting, they wipe them out forever. The two freedom-loving boys disappear suddenly from history with nothing to show for their lives — no property, no wives, no children, no reputations, no legacies, and no signs that they ever lived. And this is what Wyatt realizes after George dies and he reads the quote on the wall. Freedom is great, but it cannot buy immortality in any meaningful form.

STUDENTS: DO NOT PLAGIARIZE MY WORK. It will show up on Turnitin.com.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

American Cinema, Film 110

January 29, 2018

Copyright 2018 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Please contact author for sources.

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