Friday, September 28, 2007

Blog Entry Number 2

The second film, The Act Of Seeing, really pushed my comfort zones over the edge. You are almost literally staring death in the face. My first initial response was to look away. I have a very weak stomach and so at first it was hard to watch the film. However as the film went on I became adapted to the images and I was ok to watch them. I found it funny that everyone was so grossed out by the film yet all it was showing was the insides of a human being, what’s inside each and every one of us. It made me wonder why everyone responded to the film that way. Why is the human body something that makes us all so uncomfortable? I guess because the obvious fact that what we were looking at was dead, but the insides of the body were the same as what’s inside all of us. My guess is that because we don’t see these things every day (whereas a doctor would probably be ok sitting through this film), it makes us uncomfortable. But we become so desensitized to blood and guts from movies we watch so why is this any different? Is it because we know its real and not just makeup? I think the way the movie was filmed also played a role in making us so uncomfortable because it was just so in your face and seemed like raw footage just thrown together.

Brakhage really did a good job of making you feel like you were in the room while the autopsy was taking place. He took the act of seeing ourselves and human beings to a new level, and turned it into something that we found so hard to watch. "It is a film rigorously about seeing. It remains at a literal level of confrontation with a truth" (Testa 171). Yet because of human’s desire to watch, it was hard to look away. You don’t want to watch but yet you can’t pull yourself away. t’s almost as if he took the act of seeing, something we all enjoy doing so much, and forced us to see something we don’t want to.

I personally began to find the film interesting because you could see things that you never really get to in every day life, and learn more about the body. Brakhage’s film was a very good example of realism in the sense that it was a live autopsy portraying real life as it happened. He’s forcing the reality of death on the viewers, a topic that is so scary to many people, and that can almost be scarier then the images themselves. It gave you the sense of actually being there because we were able to see all the body parts so closely. “Brakhage's films are usually silent and lack a story, being more analogous to visual poetry than to prose story-telling” ( This is an interesting technique to use in documentaries because it portrays truth in a different sense then many other documentaries. You were forced to watch the images and your head filled in the blank space where the noise would go. Because there is no noise there is nothing breaking your concentration and nothing to distance you from what you are seeing. All you hear is the reactions of people around you. The lack of sound prevents you from knowing what is coming next. The idea that he is not telling a story is rather interesting because you as the viewer has to take it for what you think it to be. The fact that the film was silent really amplified the fact that the film goes so far out of our comfort zone because it kept the connection between you and what you are watching, whereas dialogue seems to distance you from the images. The film gave you almost nothing BUT these shots of blood and guts which the director framed strategically so that the audience would perceive the film a certain way. The part of the film that I found the most rough was the fast edits that were made. The camera did so many cuts that it became to make me dizzy and sick (though the cuts the director threw in such as the coroners coat etc., was a good break from all the blood and guts). I could clearly see what the readings this week were saying, about the contrast between red and white (the blood and the covering up of the body with the sheets, or the blood then the shot of the coroner’s lab coat).

What struck me a little though was if this film went overboard. Just as Titicut Follies it raised a few ethical issues. Was it right for Brakhage to film these dead bodies? Although the faces are so ripped apart it would be hard to try to identify them, they are someone’s sons, daughters, mothers or fathers. It would be so hard for those family members to watch this film. Know one wants to have to deal with seeing their loved one ripped open after they already have to deal with the loss of that family member. It just pushed so many boundaries and really did push the comfort level of what we are used to seeing, which I gather is the point Brakhage was trying to go for.

In this film, along with Titicut Follies, the directors used quite a bit of extreme close up and close up shots, I think to make a point and emphasize what they are showing. In Titicut Follies I think that the extreme close ups on the faces and the mouths of those talking helped to emphasize what the inmates were saying and their emotions. His filming technique allows you to feel as if you were actually there when all this was taking place. “The "rhythm and structure" of Wiseman's films pull the viewer into the position and perspective of the subject” ( In The Act of Seeing, I think the close ups were to really emphasize what we were seeing and further push us out of our comfort zones. He zooms in uncomfortably close to the bodies to give the viewer a totally different approach then just passively watching the autopsy take place. By going so close it forces you to really see the body, since the parts are completely filling the screen. I did find it neat though that at some points Brakhage would frame a shot so that only part of the body was shown just beyond the coroner’s lab coat, so to maybe give us a break from seeing so many close up shots of blood and guts. Similarly, Wiseman used this technique of framing one of the inmates on half the screen singing and the film the inmate was watching behind him on the other half of the screen. In both films there was a wide variety of different types of shots the directors used which both contributed to the effect the directors were going for and helped to emphasize the sense of the real.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Blog Entry Number 1

The first film, Titicut Follies, I found a little dry. I found it hard to watch because it was hard to understand some of the people talking, the camera moved around a bit and the story line was a little dry. It was hard to see what Wiseman was trying to get at, especially because at parts it was hard to tell who was an inmate and who was a guard. Also the part where they shove the tube in the one man’s nose made my stomach turn and I had to look away.

By the end of the film I could sort of tell what Wiseman was trying to go for. As stated in Barry Grant's article, "the idea of the movie came out of the absolute sense of shock about what Bridgewater was about...and the film works to evoke a similar response in most viewers" (Grant 239). I was appalled by the fact that the doctors kept saying that the cure for the inmates was more medicine, especially when the doctor said "we should increase his tranquilizer dose". I was appalled by the fact that the patients kept trying to tell the doctor they were fine and all that the doctor could say was that they must be crazy to think they are sane and so their medicine dose should be increased.

The movie did a good job of portraying truth in the institution, and showing what we, as outsiders, do not see on a daily basis but what is going on behind the walls of the institution. However one is to pose the question of ethics here and whether or not Wiseman had the right to film these patients who could not give consent themselves. "...Titicut Follies typically shows us disillusioned and shattered people treated impersonally and disdainfully...the image of Jim being forcibly shaved metaphorically suggests the conforming pressures of institutional processing" (Grant 251). I feel that the patients were exploited in this film because they were shown at there most vulgar point, many stripped of their clothing and taunted by the guards. "The force-feeding of Malinowsky and the insistent filming of the naked Jim are particularly vivid instances of this 'tactlessness', so pronounced in Titicut Follies" (Grant 249). Although yes this is a good film because it brings awareness to the issue, I feel that consent should have been given by family members etc. (I may be wrong and Wiseman MAY have gotten consent not sure). Also, the article we read said that there were several suicides later that year so it makes me wonder if the film did anything to bring awareness because nothing seemed to have changed.

We also talked about how the film undermines the expert (doctors etc). I feel that it did a little because at times I couldn’t even tell who was a doctor or guard and who was a patient because they patients seemed so knowledgeable (talking about the war, politics etc). “Wiseman has a unique style of filmmaking. His films seldom utilize any predictable or overt narrative structure. He does not interview his subjects, nor does he narrate or comment on what happens. This style of filmmaking is often referred to as the observational mode” ( His style is just that, an observation of what is happening in the institution that people are unaware of. Direct footage that is shown as it happens displaying real life without any interuptions. I think that Wiseman has an interesting film style, and his lack of interviewing and commenting on the events allows the truth to unravel in real time without any interuptions, and allows you to draw your own conclusions because he does not himself comment on the footage. Because Wiseman just went into the institution and started filming with no set agenda, he was able to capture real life events as they happened, thus portraying truth in its entirety. Although Wiseman edited it out of order and probably manipulate the footage to his advantage (edited in a way that makes the doctors seem worse then maybe they are?), the film overall did display the truth of the institution to the world. Wiseman has been quoted in an interview saying “I think I have an obligation, to the people who have consented to be in the film ... to cut it so that it fairly represents what I felt was going on at the time in the original event” ( In this sense we see how the film was a representation of what he saw when he was in the institution and how this documentary is a portrayal of realism. He didn’t force an idea on you but rather allowed you to draw your own conclusion (although yes he may have given us limited footage to work with). Although I think that interviews could have been beneficial to give the viewer some back story and, as some people in class said, humanize the inmates, I feel that his approach was a good technique to use in a documentary that is meant to show truth as it happens.