Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Mediocre Review of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

     Milos Forman's 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest spotlights a questionably troubled man thrust into a  mental facility under the charge of an unsettlingly level-headed nurse. Jack Nicholson, who plays the protagonist (or antagonist, even) R.P. McMurphy, plays the role of the is-he-or-isn't-he crazy man surrounded by a handful of other patients in the facility that really blurs the line of political correctness. 
     Chief, the (not really) deaf and dumb oaf of a Native American man, steadily proves himself to be McMurphy's right-hand man throughout the film. Two thoughts: One, did they really need to play into the racial stereotype and cast a Native American man for that role? And two, "Chief?" Really? I'm curious as to what purpose that served in the plot of the film beyond the aesthetics. Believe me, I'm all for tasteful, historically accurate racial portrayals, but it felt like that was sort of just thrown in there. 
     And while I'm up on my equality soapbox, I wish there was more equal representation in the film in general. Were all of the ward's guards intentionally cast as black men? I'm really interested in how this contributed to the film. Reaching further, the film made light of serious mental illness, but I realize we can chalk it up to mirroring McMurphy's attitude toward the subject. But, to play devil's advocate, his lightheartedness gave the character an element of innocence and inclusiveness when he treats his ward-mates as they were any other bloke on the street.
     While McMurphy brought a welcomed contrast  to the eerily structured going-ons in the facility on Nurse Ratched's watchful eyes, his antics during his time spent in the ward made it difficult to root for or sympathize with him. It felt like Forman spent half of the film building relationships and showing the patient's progress with the help of McMurphy, only to have it crumble apart in the later half as he oversteps his boundaries. For instance, the basketball scenes were cheery and optimistic. McMurphy's patience with his peers was relatively heartwarming and gave us viewers a hope that he could make best the time he was forced to spend there. But then he'll have another one of his schemes like sneaking in women or commandeering a school bus full of mental patients. In the end, this was obviously his undoing, and I struggled to feel one way or another toward it. 
     I realize that not all films are accurate, productive, or even relatively politically correct, but I still feel like Cuckoo's Nest often falls short and there are too many disconnects from the reality of the situation the character's are in. Even though this film is decades its senior, I'm glad to see shows like Orange is the New Black spotlight the reality of the life of inmates and their relationships without being too strange, ignorant, or even sometimes offensive. I find the former hard to take seriously, and the latter refreshing. You can still make a humorous, emotion-provoking film out of a a gruesome or morbid premise without the exhausting stereotypes and tropes. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid Review

           A film that fantasizes (or even romanticizes) the life of living on-the-run, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is probably best known for winning the hearts of its audience with its stunning cinematography, especially for its time. Having won both the Academy Award and British Academy Award for Best Cinematography, the critical reception was clearly just as well received. 
A recurring scheme used by Conrad L. Hall, Director of Cinematography for the film, was the omittance of certain variables in the film. Perhaps most notably was how the main antagonist, the mysterious horse-mounted gang chasing Butch and Kid throughout the film, remained faceless. Although the distanced menace was a constant recurrence in the plot, they remained just that: distanced. “Who are those guys?” This theme was arguably foreshadowed in the introductory scene in the movie where the (presumably) opponents in a game of blackjack remained faceless or in the shadows. Does the anonymity of the antagonists or opponents add to the feeling of threat in these scenes? The latter example might just be speculation, but the just-out-of-view pursuers throughout the film certainly was intentional. Whether that be a choice made by Cinematographer Hall or the film’s Director George Roy Hill, of course, is up in the air. Bottom line, the distance (far-off filming) and lighting (shadowing or lightening of certain characters or factors), was intentional scheming in the cinematography of the film.
In the same speculative vein, I found it interesting that while the theme of traveling is pervasive throughout the story, the Hill made the choice of omitting the scenes when Butch, Kid, and Etta escape to Bolivia and instead shows up still photos of their travels with cheerful music. Why were those scenes left out? On that note, I think it’s important to note that the mood suddenly became optimistic with the change in music and scenery between the original setting and the opportune land of Bolivia. This wasn’t something that I was really in tune with during the screening in class, but one student pointed out that the lighting once the trio made their landing was significantly brighter (or maybe this could be interpreted as more washed out? Clean, fresh start, perhaps?), and bright is often associated with the positive or optimistic. I feel the need to keep reiterating that this is all speculative, but then I remind myself that all of these factors are really open to interpretation, aren’t they?
To move the topic back to camerawork, one scene that particularly struck me is when Butch and Kid come under fire while escorting their employer through a canyon somewhere in the middle of the film. (I’ll try to be more specific in a later draft of this review!) After the poor guy gets K.O.’d, the remaining duo crouches out of sight in the bushes. What I think was very intentional here was that the two are very zoomed in on at this point and neither the audience at home nor the movie’s characters can see what is going on outside of this narrow field of view. This adds to the suspense and uncertainty of the situation and— ahah! – once again our attacker or antagonist’s face is omitted. (Admittedly, the gunman are eventually shown, so this isn’t a completely fluid tie-in.) The idea here is that the director could have taken the route of showing us a zoomed out or more wholesome view of the scene, but instead chose to limit our view to the perspective of the victims.
In summary, the idea of omittance really rung with me when reflecting on Buch Cassidy, and with being prompted to review the cinematography of this film, I’m really starting to pick up on these intentional schemes in camerawork and lighting.