Call for Abstracts Mad Max and Philosophy Edited by David Koepsell and Matt Meyer The Blackwell Philosophy and Pop Culture Series Please circulate and post widely. Apologies for cross posting. To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at email@example.com Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial […]
Should I send something in for this? I’m interested, and i have something to say about this fantastic franchise. All they can do is say no, right? My situation will not have been upheaved, if I get rejected, right?
There are few movies that feature the suburbs before the 1950s. Most movies, up to that point, were about city-living, because for most people, that was where the excitement was. All the action happened there, and the suburbs and small towns were places to escape from. You couldn’t have a life in those places. At least, not an interesting one. After the second world war, the suburban population exploded thanks to programs like the GI Bill, which allowed white people to buy homes away from the city, and the massive funding of the highway system, which allowed white people to flee the cities, and still be able to reach the places of work they left behind
While the GI Bill’s language did not specifically exclude African-American veterans from its benefits, it was structured in a way that ultimately shut doors for the 1.2 million black veterans who had bravely served their country during World War II, in segregated ranks.
If you want to discuss themes of conformity, existential angst, boredom, dullness, ennui, and escape from any of those issues, then you need to set your story in the suburbs, with its endless miles of strip malls, identical pastel housing, well kept patches of lawn, and daily rituals of pleasantness. The suburbs, in the movies, are used to represent stability, order, the status quo, and the mainstream. In other words, normalcy. In the ‘burbs, one day is much like the next, the unexpected doesn’t occur, and change is not encouraged.
The suburbs are often shown as unexciting places that are meant to be escaped from, or unexciting places into which some excitement falls, and the members of the community must deal with the repercussions, or the members of the community must fight off the encroachment of some thing, or someone, in order to keep the status quo, in order to return to “normal”. Many Horror movies set in suburbia followed the standard formula of something from the “outside” disrupting stability, and needed to be defeated.
The reason why Horror works so well in suburban settings, is because of the underlying sense of the suburbs as a safe space,. The suburbs were established as a place away from the “darkness” (i.e. PoC), and sins of the city, but in horror movies, the suburbs are invaded by something dangerous, that is either masquerading as a member of the community, like Fright Night. Sometimes the horror comes from within, when a disruption is caused by someone rebelling against a community which insists on controlling its members through authoritarianism, (The Stepford Wives), murder (Suburbia), or in one particular short story by Robert R. McCammon, He’ll Come Knocking At Your Door, being sacrificed to nameless gods, in exchange for good fortune. The theme is that the good fortune of living there comes at a price. It can cost the inhabitants their autonomy, their sense of individualism, or their lives.
The suburbs were created as a way to escape “the other”, (known as “White Flight”.) The suburbs themselves were supposed to be free from the encroachment of the violence, and incivility, and crime that white people were told, by the mainstream media, had overtaken the cities. What the residents did not take into account was that because of the inter-connectedness of American society, the decline of cities would eventually lead to the decline of the suburbs, as well. And, as PoC gained access to the suburbs, during the 80s, which was the height of the Slasher film era, those white people who could afford to leave, ran away to the ex-urbs, (a district outside a city, especially a prosperous area beyond the suburbs),leaving their poor white cousins behind. Since a system had already been set up, so that housing values declined with the “encroachment” of PoC, these white people were now trapped in these supposedly safe, but declining areas, being invaded by the poc they had been told they needed told to escape from, and unable to afford to leave.
In the early years of suburban movies and shows, the suburbs were a utopia, and saw the residents engaged in melodramas, or kids adventures, such as Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, and Peyton Place, but as television moved into the 60s, the movies, and shows, started hinting at the darker underbelly, as in the movies of Douglas Sirk, and shows about non-conformity, like The Addams Family. In these, the suburbs are shown to be a deceptive environment, where dark things could flourish behind its walls, like pedophilia, and domestic violence. It is not the actual environment of the suburbs that produce feelings of horror, and disquiet, but the people who live there. What kind of human beings could live in this boring, carefully arranged world, with its identical homes, and territorial picket fences? Apparently the kind who are hiding secrets.
This may seem obvious), but suburban horror is known for being made in spaces where people are, but a film’s tension comes from where people are not. Slasher movies, in suburban environments, focus attention on hidden, dark, out of the way spaces, like abandoned houses, empty schools, and even deserted streets at night. The 1978 Halloween, for example, took place largely at night, and the streets and neighborhoods are curiously empty. There is the sense that other people are around, but they are locked away in the well-lit houses, where they don’t answer their doors to people in distress. Several times, in the movie, Laurie Strode, the movie’s Final Girl, yells for help in the middle of the street, or hammers on doors, to no response. For most of the runtime of the movie, she appears to be entirely alone in this environment, as she frantically dashes from house to house.
And there are secrets here, too. Secrets that eventually come back to disrupt the lives of the inhabitants. This is the premise of The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, in which the sins of the parents are visited upon their children, in the form of a dead pedophile, on which they’d enacted vigilante justice, by burning him alive in a school basement. Their sons and daughters are systematically murdered by this angry ghost. Angry ghosts are also the motivation behind hauntings, in movies like the 1982 Poltergeist, in which the Freeling family are haunted by ghosts in their brand-spanking new, suburban development, which was built on a cemetery from which none of the bodies had been removed. The ghosts in the Amityville Horror from 1979, go back even further, as the movie posits that the house was built on Native American burial grounds. The metaphor here is that the suburbs are not as historically, or emotionally, sterile or pristine as its inhabitants are led to believe. This land has a backstory, and its foundation is built over a dark, and malignant, underbelly.
Sometimes, these stories are cautionary tales, about distrusting people, and usually follow a standard formula of something from “outside” infiltrating this peaceful space, and masquerading as one of its inhabitants, as in 1985’s Fright Night, in which a teenager becomes convinced that his new neighbor is a vampire, or that there is some form of corruption growing within it, like Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds, in which an ordinary looking menace is hiding in plain sight, or just living in the suburbs itself is the danger, in movies like The Stepford Wives from 1975, and 2007’s Disturbia.
A classic “the horror comes from outside” story is Steven Spielberg’s 1976 Jaws. Amity is a small New England suburban town, that is visited by an avatar of death, in the form of a mindless killing machine, a Great White shark. The town’s new Sheriff, Martin Brody, himself an outsider, along with a local boat captain, and a wealthy marine biologist, have to destroy the shark to restore order, because, according to the Mayor, no tourist will visit a Summer town where they can’t swim at the beach, and without tourists the town can’t survive. The presence of the shark threatens to throw the entire economic system into disorder, and destroy the town. Along with an intrusion from an indifferent outside force, such movies also included trash talkin’, about cities, as hellish landscapes, filled with crime and poverty. In one scene, Martin Brody explains to Richard Dreyfuss’ Matt Hooper, the reasons why he left the city:
Brody : [Drunk] I’m tellin’ ya, the crime rate in New York’ll kill you. There’s so many problems, you never feel like you’re accomplishing anything. Violence, rip-offs, muggings… kids can’t leave the house — you gotta walk them to school. But in Amity one man can make a difference. In twenty-five years, there’s never been a shooting or a murder in this town.
The idea of the suburbs, as a safe haven from the death and disorder found in cities, didn’t get it’s start in horror films, but it was one of the reasons used to get White citizens to buy into the value of living so far from the it. That nothing ever happened there was part of the appeal. Brody’s postioning of Amity as an innocent, place that is free of danger, is thoroughly ironic, considering one of his kids is almost eaten by the shark.
Because Horror films, (and real life), have shown us that terror and death will come for us all, and cannot simply be escaped by driving further away, across some water, or in the movie, It Follows, in the water.
In It Follows from 2016, several teens living in the declining suburbs of Chicago, are hunted by an avatar of death that is transmitted via sexual activity. The beautiful, but listless, Jay has already experienced tragedy with her father’s death, but after a sexual encounter with a young man who is not who he claims to be, she finds she is being stalked by an invisible, powerful entity, whose only purpose is to kill her. She can stave off death by having sex with someone else, thereby passing it on, but she will never escape it entirely, because just as in the real world, one cannot pass off death to another to save oneself, nor know the hour of one’s death. The film’s theme is based on the existential angst, that comes to the young, only after they begin to realize their own mortality.
…and you have no suspicion that death, which has been making its way towards you along another plane, shrouded in an impenetrable darkness, has chosen precisely this day of all days to make its appearance, in a few minutes’ time, more or less…
— — — Marcel Proust — The Guermantes Way
In Suburban Horror, the suburbs can be infiltrated by something dangerous, that may be masquerading as a member of the community, as in the movie Fright Night, from 1985. Jerry Dandridge is a vampire, able to successfully blend into the suburban environment, by simply conforming to the manner of dress, rituals, and behavior of its inhabitants. He is handsome, polite, charming, and friendly, introducing himself to his neighbors and accepting, and extending, invitations. His house is well taken care of and he causes no disruptions. He fits right in, thereby not arousing suspicion, except from a single teenage boy, that no one believes. Not because no one believes in vampires, but because Jerry laughs at people’s jokes, and wears turtleneck sweaters. Witness the scene when Charlie calls the police to investigate Jerry. The detective visits Jerry’s home and finds no signs of disorder. The lawn and hedges are nicely kept, the garbage is taken out, and the “gardener” says Jerry is away on a business trip. The horror comes from the idea that this “safe” place is harboring a creature that is only pretending to be human. It is especially telling that this movie was released in the 80’s, at the height of the AIDs crisis, as Jerry Dandridge is also a metaphor for another hidden monstrosity, the “predatory gay man” with his pretty face, loyal male hangers-on, and effete European mannerisms, who moves to the suburbs, so he can “infect” the children.
The suburbs are a stand in for conformity and authoritarianism. Sometimes suburbia doesn’t just produce, or expose, darkness, but actually IS the horror. Homeowners Associations, with their stifling and authoritarian rules about the length of the grass on one’s lawn, the color of one’s home, how many Christmas lights can be used, and/or the number of cars that can be parked in one’s driveway, eliminate any forms of individual expression, in favor of suffocating monotony. Obedient wives, toxic masculinity, and forced camaraderie are the norms illustrated in the film, The Stepford Wives. Based on the satire by Ira Levin, the movie takes place during 70’s First Wave feminism, as Joanna, a successful photographer, moves to the well to do town of Stepford Connecticut, with her husband and children. She grows increasingly frightened of her neighbors, and her gaslighting husband, who tells her there is nothing for her to fear. The horror in Stepford Wives is not the death of Joanna’s body, (although that’s part of it), but that she can see the death of her sense of self, through the deliberate destruction of her individuality. By the mid-70’s, the suburbs had received a reputation as the place where a woman’s dreams go to die.
As more PoC could afford to move into suburban areas in the 80’s, a siege mentality set in, as the residents believed their territory was being encroached upon, which partially accounts for the glut of slasher films released between 1980, and 1989, and all of the other suburban invasion films released along the same timeline, which pictured the suburbs being invaded by violent beings of all kinds, from aliens (Critters), to serial killers (Freddie Krueger), to creatures of folklore (Gremlins), that came there to kill, rape, or create disorder.
What the residents failed to take into account, and still do, was in fleeing the cities, they simply carried all of their pathologies with them, engaging in the same activities, from which, they were attempting to flee. After all, you cannot run away from yourself.
It’s a cheesy old adage, but it’s true. Wherever you go, there you are. What does it mean? It means that if you don’t like yourself, or you haven’t made peace with yourself for things you’ve done in the past, you will be dealing with that baggage forever.
You may even be cursed to make endless movies about it.
Today, director David F. Sandberg took to Twitter and YouTube to drop a fun little 17-second clip of our favorite kid-by-day, hero-by-night crusader, Captain Sparklefingers Shazam! The super short sneak peek has Zachary Levi returning to form (literally) in the red suit and gold boots… only we can’t see any of it because it’s so…
May was such a freaking busy month for me. But beyond that, it was also just a very big career boost for me in terms of who I got to talk to and how widely my work was shared and read! Last month, I got to talk to… a lot of very cool people. I […]
One of the great things about the SCP archives, is that its a kind of shared world anthology, and ordinary people people get to practice their writing skills. Not all SCPs are terrifying, hostile, or sneaky (that’s just my personal interest). Some of them are just beautiful, adventurous, thrilling, happy, and yes, sometimes even tragic. Here are nine of the most popular tragic SCPs.
SCP 682 The Inevitable End of All But Me
This one really got to me. I don’t think most people follow the idea of immortality to its inevitable non-end, and dreams of immortality are something indulged in only by the very young, (usually after they have had their first existential crisis), because as a person gets older, their thoughts about being on this planet forever, are definitely going to change. SCP 682, that unkillable Reptile, finds out exactly what it means to live forever.
SCP 1762 Where The Dragons Went
The first time I heard this one, I didn’t fully understand what it meant, but subsequent viewings brought a real sense of pathos. This isn’t just about the destruction of another world, but the part humanity played in that destruction.
SCP 1342 To The Makers Of Music
This one brought tears to my eyes, too, and is a little hard to describe, but its the story of the encounter between Voyager One, and the sentient avatar, of an alien species.
SCP 4999 Someone To Watch Over Me
In the SCP, no one ever dies alone, and one could do worse, than meeting this SCP, at the end of their life…
SCP 1609 The Chair
We’ll talk about the Global Occult Coalition at a later date, but basically, not all SCPs are dangerous, or even hostile, and one of the reasons that the SCP secures, contains, and protects, is so horrible things like this don’t ever happen again…
SCP 451 Mr. Lonely
Its one thing to wish for invisibility, but have you thought through all of the consequences of what happens, when nobody can acknowledge your existence? What happens when that works both ways?
SCP 1337 The Hitchhiker
This is yet another instance of why security and protection are the SCP’s watchwords. The SCP keeps anomalous objects and people close, not because they don’t want to destroy them, but because attempting to destroy something, without fully understanding it first, could trigger something much, much, worse.
SCP 2273 Major Alexei Belitrov
This is a long one, but well worth the listen. At first, you think perhaps, this is an alien invasion story, but its something very different, with a very different ending. I enjoyed this one a lot.
SCP 1192 Timmy
I thought this one was deeply heartbreaking. Its about a bird that believes its a little boy named Timmy.
Here’s an incomplete list of the things I looked at, sometimes loved, sometimes liked, or simply tolerated this month:
Army of the Dead
As much a s I complain about him, I do actually like Zack Snyder’s movies, and Man of Steel in particular, although I will roll my eyes at certain scenes. I’ve been looking forward to this movie, since I heard of it, expecting it to be great fun. It was, along with some added notes of pathos, and a couple of surprises. Like all of Zack Snyder’s films, there were a lot of great moments, a few good ones, some just okay ones, and sometimes moments of frustration, where I could do nothing but feel exasperated. The plot is a typical Ocean’s 11 style heist, only with added zombie.
All of the spectacle is there. I especially liked the first fifteen minutes, which were some pretty awesome action -packed scenes, along with the title scenes, featuring the fall of Las Vegas, which kind of reminded me of the hilarious opening scenes of the first Zombieland film, only less funny. This however, is not a fun/laugh riot sort of movie, although it does contain the requisite jokes that must be present in all zombie movies. Yes, there is a zombie tiger, her name is Valentine, and she is as awesome as promised in the trailer. There’s a lot of death of course, some betrayal, some great one-liners, and lots of shooting, so the movie had all of the expected things from the genre, but I was still mildly disappointed at the end, mostly because some things I wanted to happen just didn’t, and there was, of course, the required rape threat moment, which is handily dealt with by the other characters. This is something that used to bother me in Zack’s films, but another thing I noticed about such scenes, is that the guys who do it, always die horribly, as if Zack is punishing such characters. There’s a backstory in there somewhere because:
Something which needs mentioning is the relationship between the lead character, Scott, played by Bautista, and his daughter, Kate. Knowing what I know about Zack Snyder’s backstory, this relationship takes on special significance, and I had the distinct impression that he created her character as a tribute to his late daughter, and the conversations they could have, or should have had, and I found myself unexpectedly tearing up! Scott seemed like a stand in for Zack himself, which was kind of heartbreaking. Scott is a touchingly flawed character, who is brave, when it comes to guns and shooting things, but runs away from difficult emotional entanglements, and that cost him his daughter’s regard. It’s interesting to me that some of the character’s decide to take on this heist, not for themselves, but to benefit others. The movie also touches on a lot of other themes, like social media, parenthood, friendship, sacrifice, and the American border camps that existed at the time. You spend just enough time with these characters that you care when they die. One of the more touching moments was watching the German safe cracker, Dieter, a skinny, nervous, white dude, bonding with Vanderone, Omari Hardwick’s traumatized ex-soldier. I wasn’t expecting that, and I thought their relationship was lovely and surprising, especially since it was happening right under my nose, and I didn’t really see it until a second viewing.
Is this worth the watch? Yes! Its not a bad film. It has all the gore you want, some interesting zombies, some great zombie shooting action, zombie biting action, Tig Notaro hamming it up, (I loved her!!!), and lots of explosions. The zombies themselves are interesting, as you get two flavors for the price of one, the fast, thinking zombies, called Alphas, and the slow mindless Shamblers. For those of you who require just a little more emotional substance, it has just enough to make the movie interesting, but I did want a little bit more. I guess I will get more, because the movie is set up for there to be a whole franchise, including an animated pre-quel, about Dieter, all of which will air on Netflix, in the coming year.
I finally got around to seeing this, after putting it on my watch list, some time ago. I was expecting more angst than comedy. I was expecting more darkness, and drama, but the movie claims to be a light comedy, and it actually is, and I found that refreshing. I see why so many people liked this movie. It was smart, and sweet, and deeply resonant ,at least for me. I decided to take the plunge, and watch it this weekend, after I saw a trailer of the two lead characters having a “complimentary” fight, which heavily reminded me of a scene from the movie, Sorry to Bother You.
Its about two best friends, Molly (played by one of my favorite actresses, Beanie Feldstein) and Amy, on the cusp of graduating from high school, who decide they need to go buck wild for their last day/night of school. (These are two of the cutest friends in filmdom. I loved watching their relationship and spending time with the them.) Molly decides she needs to do something wild and crazy, after she realizes that some of the other kids managed to get into Yale and Harvard, just like her, while doing the one thing she refused to do, which was have lots of fun. As there will be a number of parties the night before graduation, Molly decides she and Amy need to attend, and that Amy should put the make on that hot skater girl she’s been eyeballing all year, and that she should let the class vice president know she’s infatuated with him. The two of them have a series of wild adventures while trying to make it to the party. It’s essentially the plot of the 90s movie, House Party, for white girls, so it has less violence.
I kinda fell in love with all these silly characters, and the school was not unlike the school I attended, (a small, arts school, in the Midwest, which only had a graduating class of about fifty people!) You can tell this movie was written by women, because all the girls talk so much like girls. In fact, all the teens feel like how teens actually might seem. Sure, there are cliques and rivalries, and some people are more dramatic than others, but over all most of the students get along and/or like each other, or at least, try to. I kept expecting something really embarrassing, or horrible, to happen to the characters, because I like to fret, but the most horrible thing to happen was the party being interrupted by the police, after Molly and Amy have a difference of opinion. My favorite character however was Gigi, and her friend Jared, who were like the movie’s spirit people. Gigi kept showing up everywhere, and being really, really strange, yet oddly supportive, of the lead duo, even though she spiked some fruit she gave them, with a hallucinatory drug, and their reaction was one of the movie’s highlights. I’m still not entirely clear about GiGi being a real person, and not an hallucination herself!
This movie was a lot of fun, and if the director, Olivia Wilde, comes up with something else, I’ll be happy to give it a look-see. I watched this on Hulu.
Cells At Work
OMG!!!! This series is sooo cute! If you liked the movie Osmosis Jones, (and I did), this is just like it, but in anime series form. I remember watching Osmosis Jones with my little sisters, and explaining to them that the movie was a simulation of how the human body actually worked, and really enjoying those conversations because it was one of my favorite films. Cells at Work takes this one step further, by following the lives and adventures of the blood cells in the human body. This series is based on the Manga of the same name, and features a red blood cell, who keeps running into a hard-core white blood cell, whose job it is to kill germs in the body.
I love the way all the cells are depicted here, with their personalities suiting their function in the body. The T-Cells are helpful, the white blood cells are hard line warriors, the red blood cells are kind of naive, but the highlight of the series is watching these cells fight off intruders to the body, and mapping that with how the body actually treats germs. I had no idea what this show was about, until I saw a doctor on Youtube, who was asked to review the series. The series is basically teaching kids Human Biology 101! It talks about different diseases attacking the body, and how the cells might deal with them, while including a touch of drama, with the cell’s relationships to each other. Some of the episodes address medications, venereal disease, and yes, vaccines, so its a little more in depth than Osmosis, and I loved it. I haven’t finished the first season yet, and there is a second season. The show airs on Netflix.
The Personal History of David Copperfield
Let me get out in front and state that I have not read this book, although I have read some of Dicken’s other works. It s basically the story of David’s life, and the rise and fall, and rise and fall, of his fortunes, as a young man living in Victorian England. Dev Patel turns in a great performance, although at least a couple of the other actors outshine him, because all of the characters are very, very strange people. I mostly liked this movie, but since I never read the book, I can’t speak as to the accuracy of the plot ,and although I’ve enjoyed other books by Dicken’s I have no plans to read this one. The casting for this movie is …inspired, and true version of totally colorblind casting. They really just went after the best actors for these roles, completely disregarding race or color, although I do wish there had been more Asian actors, as Gemma Chan would have been a delight to watch. I just like seeing Asian actors in European historical films, I guess.
I have mixed feelings about this movie. I really wanted to like it ,and its got some great moments in it, but ultimately I walked away dissatisfied. Although, I understand some people really liked it, it didn’t really work for me, beyond the first,and maybe the last, fifteen minutes, which I thought were awesome. I feel like the movie mad a number of missteps that could have been rectified if they’d just let Hiroyuki Sanada’s character, Scorpion, carry the entire film. I have nothing against Lewis Tan, but I don’t think this was the best vehicle to showcase his talents. I thought his presence was entirely unnecessary, especially since he wasn’t in any of the games I played. I think his character was made up for the movie.
Another character who was in the games is Kano, and I do think there is such a thing as there being too much of a good thing, because he could have shut up at any time, and I would have been relieved. He’s not a bad character, although he is a villain, but he just talked too damn much, and I kept wishing he would just be quiet. I liked the other characters okay, and I enjoyed seeing Liu Kang, Jax, and Raiden, for sentimental reasons, abut I didn’t get any emotional connection to any of them, and the movie could have spent less time with Cole and given us more of the rivalry between Sub Zero and Scorpion. My favorite character was Kung Lao, but the movie didn’t do anything interesting with him, as far as the plot, and I was disappointed at how his character arc played out.
I guess this version is as much worth watching as the original film, even if its only for the first fifteen minutes. I probably won’t watch it again, although its not a “bad” film. I just wanted more from it than I got, and your expectations may be different.
Zack Snyder’s Justice League
This is a movie that deserves its own post. I was never one of those people who were loudly clamoring for the Zack Snyder cut of this movie. I liked the first edit okay, but I feel this was the better film, as it incorporated more of the director’s authentic vision, and I don’t hate Zack Snyder. Really!
I watched it, and I genuinely liked it, but the reasons why are complicated, and tied up in my current distaste for Joss Whedon, so I’ll have to get back to y’all on this one, but I will say, that I enjoyed this immensely. Even if I wasn’t one of the people calling for its release, I’m good with it.
I also watched the first three episodes of:
I didn’t finish this series, and there are some things I wanted from it that I’m not getting, but its okay. I like the animation style, and unlike some reviewers, i was okay with all the fantastical elements in the plot, like robots, were-bears, and general magic. Its the kind of stuff I like in a movie, although I wish it were live action. Like most anime, your liking of this will depend on what you want, vs. what you get.
The trailer for Chloe Zao’s The Eternals just dropped. It has an epic feel, kind of like the new Dune, and its a gorgeous looking film, unlike some of the other MCU movies. How different it is from the other MCU films remains to be seen, but I liked this trailer okay ,and I hope the movie lives up to this promise. I also wonder how they’re going to square the existence of The Eternals, with what happened in The Avengers. ( I have heard that in the comic books, Thanos is, or was one of The Eternals, and yes, half of them died during The Snap too, but this is just a rumor I heard.)
Yes, the very same Thanos who snapped half the universe into oblivion in Infinity Gauntlet (and more memorably on screen in Avengers: Infinity War) is actually a member of the Eternal race. And a member of their opposing force, the Deviants. It’s very complicated.
Its interesting to see Disney hiring other types of directors, besides straight white guys, which is refreshing. They can hire those guys to do movies about straight white heroes, but I feel they’re doing the correct thing here, by hiring women and PoC to direct films about other types of characters.
Movies I’m looking forward to:
The Hitman’s Wife’s Bodyguard – This looks really funny. I always like when Salma Hayek does comedic roles, and Morgan Freeman and Antonio Banderas are in this, too.
The Green Knight – More Dev Patel, because I’m alright with watching him do anything, in a movie.
Snake Eyes : GI Joe Origins – This looks like what Mortal Kombat should have been. Its interesting to see Hollywood catching on to the idea that Americans want to see Asian Action heroes. Now if we could just get Hollywood to cast them in things other than martial arts action films….not that I mind this, but I want to see them in Horror movies (John Cho) and dramas (Steven Yeun), too.
I grew up listening to a little bit of Old School country in our house. Once again, this would be Mom’s fault, because she fell in love with Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. We listened to their music, and even watched any movies they made. I, of course, always had to be extra in all things, so at some point, I branched away from my Mom’s tastes, going on to explore Country artists, like Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash, and then eventually to the new stuff that came out in the 80’s like Dwight Yoakam, and Lyle Lovett.
I haven’t gotten away from listening to Country music, though. Now, I’m listening to fusion styles, like Gangstagrass, and Hick-hop.
Streets of Bakersfield – Dwight Yoakam
I was a huge Dwight Yoakam fan when I was in college. I always take a little time to listen to a few of his songs, that I’ve added to my phone’s playlist. I was inspired to make this post after spending most of Saturday evening listening to some of Yoakam’s old hits on Youtube.
The Gambler – Kenny Rogers
I don’t think y’all understand how excited I was to hear this song in the new trailer for Army of the Dead. I learned all the words to this as a kid, and even watched the movie franchise. I loved his music from a visual standpoint. I could imagine being one of the people in his songs.
Jace Everett – Bad Things
Remember the show True Blood. It was one of those things like Game of Thrones, that was really huge when it was airing, but people immediately stopped talking about, once it was off the air. What’s up with that? Well, I loved the show’s opening theme.
Chris Isaak – Wicked Game
I remember hearing this song in college, and watching the video. I hadn’t heard this one in a really long time, but Saturday, I was going through Country music songs on Youtube, and was reminded of how much I liked this, when it was released.
Johnny Cash – Hurt
One of Cash’s last songs. I’ve always had tremendous respect for this man, especially after reading up on his career. He was an incredible man, and a magnificent artist. This is the song that aired in Logan, the movie featuring Wolverine’s swan song, and it was such an incredibly appropriate for that character, and fits both him and Cash perfectly.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
I “discovered” Patsy in college, and I just fell in love with her voice, which was so smooth and soothing. It also doesn’t hurt that she happens to sing in my musical range.
Urban Country – Gonna Need A Grave
These guys I just discovered, although I suspect they’ve been around for a minute. They heavily remind me of Gangstagrass.
Gangstagrass – Long Hard Times To Come
These guys I discovered when I was looking around for the theme song to the TV series Justified. All of their music is this good!
Teddy Swims – I Can’t Make You Love Me
I’ve always loved this song. It’s a great song to cry to, and everyone has done a cover of it, but Teddy hits this one out of the park. I had never heard of him before, so this unexpectedly soulful, and sweet, performance really surprised me.
Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
I feel like people forgot that Tracy ever existed. She was awesome. She was doing some really groundbreaking stuff, in the 90s, and I just think Black people need to get back to her, and listen with fresh ears, and get her name back out there.
When you deal with racism day in and day out, it takes a lot to surprise you. The excuses that racists will come up with to justify their racism are fantastic. When I logged onto Twitter and watched a @sweetsky66’s TikTok I didn’t get angry at all. Admittedly, I laughed so hard when I heard…
During the past few years, I’ve been paying closer attention to the images filmmakers use to tell their stories. Film is a time intensive media, in that the filming itself needs to take place within a certain amount of time, after which, the images are edited, to happen within a certain time frame. To that end, filmmakers use every tactic in their visual dictionary to tell the story, as expediently as possible, which means there is almost no wasted imagery. If it’s on the screen, especially if its a recurring image, or a prominently featured one, then there’s usually a purpose behind it, and it’s something the director wants you to notice.
I wrote earlier about how the composition of people and objects within the frame, tells the audience which things are of primary importance. This is just as true of things like set design and the objects themselves. When directors use the objects, and the design of the set, to help push the narrative, set the tone and location, denote themes, and character, this is called, “visual shorthand”. The point is to give the viewer a large amount of information without anything having to be said.
For example, in early television shows, one visual shorthand of the Western, was the sight of tumbleweed. Despite that these specific plants can be found all over the US, their image is so associated with the Western, that when its seen in any other context, the audience still knows what it means, and the images of lonely cowboys, saloons, and wild shootouts, are automatically invoked.
Here’s a primer on some of the recurring symbols used in the language of film:
Doors and windows often have multiple meanings, depending on the context in which they are shown, but most of the time they represent portals to another world, or sometimes an emotional setup for the story. If you see the camera, or characters, moving through doorways, or windows, in interiors, its not just a change in scenery, but sometimes means a change in the story is about to happen. Notice if the camera is moving from the outdoors to the indoors. That could mean that we are about to get a glimpse into a character’s interior thoughts, or find out something new about their motivation. If the camera is moving from indoors to outdoors, that could mean a change in a character’s circumstances, such as they are now free of some emotional confinement, or have solved some problem that has given them new life.
Is the person moving through the door, to another interior space? What does that mean within the context of the story? Has there been a change in a character’s circumstances? Sometimes, if characters are using doors between interior spaces, this means they are changing their mind about something, or are of two minds about a subject of great importance to them. One clue is to look at any discussions being had just before, or after, an entrance.
Interiors are considered places of safety, which is how they are used in most narratives. In Horror movies, the horror comes from the disruption of the safe space, through invasion from an external threat, in home invasion movies like The Strangers, or the threat is internal, in haunted house movies like The Shining.
In Horror movies, if a character is indoors looking out they are being shown as being in a safe place. Usually, characters who are inside looking out, want to stay inside, and do not want to go out. In a scene from the movie It Follows, Jay is being stalked by a death avatar. She and her friends, run to another friend’s Summer home. When they get there, we are inside with Jay, as she looks out the giant picture window, in the middle of the room. The lighting in the room is warm and yellow, and Jay feels safe, as her friends move around the room behind her, but she is still nervous, as both she, (and the audience) peer out the window, where it is getting dark, and objects are not quite seen. She is vulnerable outside, because that’s where the creature is. In fact, pay close attention to this detail, while watching the film, because every time Jay sees the creature, she is often in what she believes is a place of safety, at school, at home, in a hospital, or in a car. She is always looking out of windows, until she is forced outside by the invasion of the monster.
On the other hand, if a character is outside looking in, they usually desire to be inside, either because they think being inside is safe, or because they are the antagonist, wanting to disrupt the lives of those already there. Looking inside, from the outside, often represents desire and longing. What is desired is whatever is framed through the window. What is the person or thing seeing, and is what they are seeing, something they want for themselves, or something they wish to take? Someone looking through a window at a beautiful woman, could means they are coveting that particular woman, but if the woman in the window is a mother with her family, then whoever is watching her may be craving safety, stability, or motherly love, because that’s what she represents.
Depending on what type of windows someone is looking through, the people inside may be trapped, or imprisoned, a visual often used in ghost stories. A shot of an opening window or door, while it is dark outside but the room is lit, means invitation, and/or welcome, which is not always positive, especially in Horror movies. If the interior is dark, but it’s sunny outside, that can mean emotional release, and/or physical freedom.
Another way that doors and windows are used is through Framing, and how people are composed near, or around them. For example, in the movie Crouching Tiger, Li Mu Bai and Yu Shu Lien are often shown speaking close together, but always framed through doors and windows, which shows that the two of them are emotionally confined, and that their relationship is constrained. Sometimes they are being viewed in a semi-indoors state. There are four walls, but the doorway has no door, and the windows are just open spaces without glass, or coverings. The two of them are contained within an interior, but not really, because the doors and windows are wide open, and they can walk free at at any time. They don’t have to remain indoors, if they don’t wish to, which indicates a relationship, where the two of them want to be together, but are deliberately keeping themselves apart. This semi-open room is also a visual depiction of their conversation, during scenes where Mu Bai is almost about to confess his love for Shu Lien, signifying how close they are to freedom from these false constraints.
Contrast those images with Rainer Warner Fassbinder’s 1974, Fear Eats the Soul, in which an older German woman falls in love with a young Black man from Morocco. Everyone in their environment questions their relationship, and the couple is often filmed through doorways, and windows. Their love is confined to a series of small interiors. They are not free to be who they are, or express themselves, and the settings show this constraint. So, within the context of some stories, doors mean confinement, but if the doors, the room, or the windows are open, that means its a situation people can escape from, but choose not to. And pay attention to the size of the doors and windows, because the smaller they are, the slimmer their chances of freedom. When doors and windows are present, but completely closed, then they are a barrier, sometimes representing disagreement between two people, competing philosophies, or that a person feels trapped..
Bars/Horizontal and Vertical
Vertical bars represent barriers, or constraint, usually of an individual. Any form of vertical bars, set close together, is a sign that the character is trapped or imprisoned in their situation. Any set of vertical bars can act as a barrier between the character and the viewer, or the character, and other characters, like the vertical bars of a staircase, or pillars in an otherwise open space. If a person is seen by the camera through a screen, or vertical bars, it means the person is emotionally constrained, or feels that way. If the bars are between two or more people, it is usually an indication of disagreement, that they are rivals, or otherwise in opposition to each other.
In the television series Lovecraft Country, a character named Ruby is often shown through sets of vertical bars at the beginning of the series. She is alone, and in a situation she dislikes, so what these bars mean, within the context of her story, is confinement, that she feels trapped by her circumstances, and can see no way out. Even when she appears to be free to do as she chooses, the bars are a barrier, indicating that she is afraid to leave, or take advantage of her situation. Later in the series, she is no longer being shown through bars or screens, meaning she is no longer afraid, and has decided to embrace her circumstances.
Horizontal stripes are representative of a particular genre of film, recalling the black and white noir films of the forties. Window blinds, are usually what’s used to make the effect, which is supposed to let the viewer know that they have entered a world of dark characters, and black and white thinking. Think of movies like Bladerunner and Dark City. Horizontal bars are often cast using lighting, and sometimes represent conflict, or attraction, especially if they stretch between two characters, such as the kissing scene between Deckard and Rachel in Blladerunner. When you see horizontal bars stretching between two characters, that symbolizes, their connection to each other, that these characters are equals, or exist under parallel circumstances.
Mirrors can represent that an individual is emotionally divided, or living a double existence. This was used to great effect in the movie Us, where there are several scenes involving mirrors. One of the characters is looking at herself in a mirror, while she cuts across her face with a pair of scissors. In truth, the woman looking into the mirror is the double of the woman she just killed, a woman who was vainly fond of getting plastic surgeries, and her double’s use of the mirror in this way, is a mockery of what the dead woman did in life. In this case, the mirror is representative of a very literal double existence.
In the 1976 version of Carrie, there’s a scene where Carrie stares into a mirror for some time before breaking it. This represents that she is fractured, or her personality has been twisted. There is a double self and the cracked mirror is a symbol of her inner anger and frustration. On the outside, she appears to be a typical Prom going teen, but in truth, she is a vengeful “outsider/victim” with hidden skills, who later, murders her classmates. When you see characters looking into broken or cracked mirrors, it means that person is also broken, or that there is anger and rage underneath their smooth/placid surface.
Mirrors also represent vanity. When you see a character looking into a mirror, notice what type of mirror, and who is looking. Is it a woman looking into a hand mirror, or is it a full length mirror, that shows her entire body? Are they standing or sitting? For example, cisgender, male actors are rarely shown looking into mirrors, while sitting down, unless the subject of gender conformity is the movie’s primary theme, as in the 2005 movie, Kinky Boots, where the actor (Chewitel Ejiofor) is performing the role of a transgender woman. His character, Lola, is shown sitting in front of mirrors, applying makeup, or having discussions about gender. (Straight, cis-gender men are always shown standing, while looking into mirrors.)
You also see this when a character believes they are in one type of situation, but upon closer inspection, such as in a mirror, they find their situation to be much more precarious. For example, they may believe they are in a normal environment, because that is what the mirror shows them, but the mirror indicates to the audience that supernatural, or demonic forces, of which they are unaware, have invaded this safe space. This is often used as the basis for the “bathroom jump scare” in Horror movies.
Supernatural forces, (or sometimes just regular people), can use mirrors as doorways into our worlds, as in movies like, Mirrors, Oculus, and the movie, They, in which the opposite occurs, as a young woman passes through a mirror, to discover that there is a dark, and terrifying world behind it. In that sense, the mirror itself represents a double world. In the movie, Mirrors, the image seen in the mirror is the other world, and the person seen in it, is a backwards version of the viewer. These other worlds are almost always malignant, and the beings that inhabit them, and who look like us, are dangerous to the people of this world.
Blood can mean many things, depending on the plot of the story. If the plot involves young women, it represents childbirth, or menstruation, and/or a sign that a girl has reached womanhood status. In Carrie, the titular character has her first period, at the beginning of the film. Having never been informed about it, Carrie reacts with panic and terror, and is bullied by her classmates, and abused by her mother. What, for many women, is simply a normal right of passage, becomes for Carrie, a rite of trauma and shame. She has become a woman, but no one respects that, and she isn’t allowed to be one, as she is infantilized by her mother, who beats her for it, and by her peers, who still bully her, the way they’d done since they were children. Blood is the catalyst for everything that happens in the film. When one of her classmates humiliates her, by dumping a bucket of it on her at her Prom, a callback to the earlier scene where she was bullied after getting her period, it prompts the blood soaked Carrie to go on a psychic killing spree, eliminating her entire graduating class. In this scenario blood also means passion, rage, and revenge.
Blood can be seen as a sign of sexual maturity for female characters, or as an indication that sexual activity will, or already has, occurred, as in the movie Ginger Snaps, when Ginger’s first menstruation attracts the attack of a werewolf. After she survives the attack, her behavior changes dramatically. Her mother is congratulatory, but her sister, Bridgette, is alarmed, because Ginger becomes violent, sexually aggressive towards the boys at her school, has an unprotected sexual encounter with a boy in her class, and kills a teacher and a classmate. In this case, blood symbolizes predatory maturation. Ginger has become a maneater, in every sense of the term.
The classic euphemism for blood, is Life. Leviticus 17:14 states “For the life of every creature is its blood”, and the phrase, “The blood is the life.”, has been quoted in vampire films since Bram Stoker first wrote the phrase. In the television series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dawn, Buffy’s little sister, is the literal embodiment of this phrase, as she is a mystical totem, that has been given life, through the use of Buffy’s blood. When a god-like being threatens to sacrifice her sister, to open a portal between worlds, it is Buffy’s blood that is required to stop it, which makes Buffy a Christ-like figure, as she sacrifices her life, using her very blood, to save the world. When Buffy’s friends ask why it always has to be blood, the vampire, Spike, paraphrases the famous quote in his answer.
Blood can symbolize a great many things in horror stories, like pain, sacrifice, passion, birth, life, death, and even humanity, as was shown in the 1982 version of John Carpenter’s The Thing. Scientists at an Antarctic research station use their blood to determine who is, and is not human, after encountering an alien that may be masquerading as one of them. When images of blood are present in a film, its not always just blood, for blood’s sake. Look for religious connotations. Look for female characters. Sometimes there’s a purpose behind it, and the viewer should examine the context, under which this occurs, to understand any deeper meanings of its appearance, although in many horror movies, blood is just blood.
Snakes represent sexual temptation, sensuality, and/or the promise of sex. Sex has not yet happened, but it might, or a character, usually a woman, desires it, or will be tempted to engage in it, but feels that it is forbidden. This symbolism comes from the Judeo-Christian story in Genesis, where Lucifer, while in the form of a snake, tempts Eve to eat fruit from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge, after which, both she and Adam become aware of their nudity, and sex, which gets then kicked out of the Garden. Since then, at least in Western media, snakes represent the forbidden, temptation, sexual desire, or sometimes, deception, since the snake in the Garden is said to have lied to Eve about what was at stake. (In other cultures, snakes may have no religious connotations at all, so this isn’t a good measuring stick by which to judge non-Western films.)
In the 2017 movie, Thelma, a young girl with psychic powers is confused about her sexual attraction to another young student, named Anja, which prompts her psychic powers to act out of control. Later in the film, Thelma attends a party, and prompted by her belief that she is falling in love with Anja, dreams of snakes climbing over her body, representing desire, and temptation for what she has been told by her parents, is forbidden. In the 2020 HBO television series, Lovecraft Country, there’s a scene where one of the leads, a young woman named Leticia, has an unspoken attraction to her co-lead, Atticus. This attraction is represented by a snake slithering out of Atticus’ pants, after their first kiss.
This euphemism for sex, is especially prevalent in music videos. The list of music videos featuring snakes is uncountable, including the above video for Megan Thee Stallions WAP, and the music video for Lil Nas X’s, Montero: Call Me By Your Name, in which the singer is seduced, under the Tree of Knowledge, by a giant snake (wearing his own face, btw), that proceeds to have sex with him. Music videos are not subtle.
Snakes can represent different things in different cultures. For example, snakes represent fertility in some parts of Southeast Asia, and in some African religions, the snake is a symbol of one’s ancestors. You should look closely at the cultural meaning, when watching international films, to understand the imagery.
Snakes in horror movies are also what’s known as a “Specific” phobia, called ophidiophobia, which means that sometimes a snake is just a snake, an image meant to evoke terror and revulsion. A “Specific” phobia is a fear of a distinct object, unlike some of the more amorphous fears, like fear of being alone, or a social fear, like speech giving. In movie like Snakes on a Plane, the snakes are just regular snakes.The most famous of these types of films is the Anaconda franchise, about hostile mega fauna in the Amazon Jungle, showing up in increasingly larger sizes in every movie. More than 50% of Americans say they have a fear of snakes, so Horror movies involving little snakes (Snakes on A Plane), venomous snakes (Vipers), mega-snakes (Ananconda, Titanoboa), and people who are part snake (Venom, Ssss), are not going away any time soon
It is said that the eyes are the windows of the soul, and this idea is the shorthand used in film, when eyes are the focus. Nowhere is this more evident than in the films Bladerunner, and Bladerunner 2049, where the symbolism of eyes is one of the primary themes. In these films, the way to tell if a person is human, is by monitoring the reaction of their pupils to emotional stimuli, or in the sequel, seeing if a replicant’s status is written directly onto their eyeball.
In Bladerunner, the determination of whether or not someone is a replicant is called the Voight-Kamph Test. The idea for such a test comes directly from normal human interaction. We all conduct our own Voight-Kamph Tests everyday, using this to determine how much respect or belief a person should be given, determining their basic character, how intelligent they are, or their emotional status, based solely on looking into the eyes, only in Bladerunner, its to determine if someone lacks humanity.
Eyes are ubiquitous in horror movies, but scenes and shots of eyes, almost always mean the same thing from genre to genre. They are the most common body image, representing thought and memory. Characters are shown looking into the distance, when remembering an event, or the camera will push forward into a person’s eye, to show they are thinking. The use of the eye symbolizes perception, the act of seeing and thinking at once, surveillance and monitoring, and psychic abilities. Sometimes actual eyes are used to symbolize these traits, or an image on a wall, or on another part of the body, like a tattoo.
Sometimes, the very first thing we see about a character, is an emphasis on their humanity, symbolized by an extreme closeup of their eyes. Each of the Bladerunner films opens with an extreme closeup shot of an eye. The 1976 version of Carrie uses a sudden, and extreme, closeup of the character’s eye, to show when she is using her psychic abilities, and in the movie Dark City, a movie in which character’s personalities are swapped for new ones, via syringe to the eye, memory and the self are symbolized by a closeup of the protagonist’s eye, in the opening scene. In A Clockwork Orange, we are shown the erasure of the “self’, when Alex, the films main character, is tortured by being forced to watch scenes of violence, after which, his body viscerally rejects violence. A closeup of his eye was the first thing we saw of his character, and by the middle of the film he has been transformed from a cruel and smirking delinquent, to a frightened and humbled nobody. He is no longer himself as we first met him.
A character’s lack of humanity can also be shown by having the audience look at the world through that character’s eyes, as happens in The Terminator franchise, where diagrams and symbols occlude the point of view shots, to show that we are looking at the world from the point of view of a machine, or in movies like Halloween, where the framing of the pov shots, indicate the relentless implacability of the killer, Michael Myers. In 28 Days Later, we get closeups of a character’s glaring, bloodshot eyes, to show that they’ve been infected with a zombie-like virus, called Rage. One of the most popular ways that we are shown that a character has lost their humanity, is by having their eyes change to an unnatural color, or lose all color so that the eye sockets look empty, as in zombie films, where opaqueness of the eyes is used to show a lack of self. The body is moving, but there is no one home.
And then there is the camera. The camera is also an eye, as it stands in for us, the audience. Where the camera is placed, tells us which characters are important in a scene, what else we should be paying attention to in that scene, and how we should feel about what we’re’ seeing. For example, in the movie Taxi Driver, Travis Bickle has just had a disastrous date with Betsy, the woman of his dreams. When he tries to contact her again, he calls her from a pay phone, in the basement of his building. As he tries to speak to her, the camera slowly moves away from him, and down a long, and empty hallway, as if uninterested in what Travis is doing. Betsy will have no more to do with him, and its pointless for us to keep watching Travis’ useless gestures to atone. Travis’ actions are pathetic, and the camera looks away, as if to spare us the embarrassment of watching him grovel, or as if we, the audience, were attempting to give him some privacy.
Sometimes the director wants to convince us of a character’s reliability as a narrator, by showing a scene from their point of view. This is used several times in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas, to show Henry Hill’s pov. His ease and arrogance as he walks into a local bar full of wiseguys, who all know his name, and the long tracking shot, used as we follow Henry, on his first date with Karen, his future wife. Both scenes serve different purposes. In one scene, we are seeing the world from Karen’s pov, which is dizzying and glamorous. She is impressed by Henry, and her thoughts are spinning. The second scene is meant to show Henry in his element. He is in an environment where he is known and respected. The camera moves are steady, and slower than in the earlier scene, to show this assurance. In fact, when we first meet Henry in the opening scene, we know what type of story the movie is going to tell us, with one lingering shot of Henry’s eyes, as he stands frozen, at the trunk of his car, looking like a deer caught in headlights.
There is a long history of the use of eyes in film, and not just as windows to the inner life of the characters, but it is assumed, by what we see onscreen, that the audience has a soul, too.
Different forms of weather represent the moods of the characters, are a cue for how the audience is meant to feel during a scene, and sometimes, its just the weather. But since most rainfall for movies is manufactured, we can assume that there is a reason why directors may want to show it onscreen. For example, whenever there are funeral scenes in movies, and TV, the director might need to create some rain, to use as a visual shorthand, to represent the emotional turmoil of the characters, or just encourage the audience to feel gloomy. Mysteries and Horror movies want to create a feeling of dark foreboding, and this is easily accomplished via storm. In fact, this is done so often that it has become a cliche engaged in by lazy filmmakers, (ie. “It was a dark and stormy night…”)
Rain is used to represent the emotions of a specific character. Characters without rain gear, getting caught, or running through the rain, are meant to show how out of control or miserable their lives are, or to show their carefree attitude. Both of these are beautifully depicted in the 1998 movie, Gods and Monsters, starring Ian McKellan, as the director James Whale, and Brendan Fraser, as his gardener. Here, the two of them attend an outdoor party, at which it starts to rain. Whale casually strolls through the rain, stating that he won’t melt. He has not a care in the world, but by the end of the scene, after the two of them have settled into his, now soggy, open convertible, his expression is weary and depressed. Things are not as carefree as he says. What started as nonchalance, has transformed to show how miserable his life really is, and both moments are equally true. Another film that showcases the freedom and joy of getting caught in the rain, and not giving a damn, was Gene Kelly’s iconic performance in Singin’ in the Rain.
Thunderstorms, are a way to heighten tension, or drama during a particular scene. Boiling clouds are an indicator of emotional turmoil and rage. A woman who has just broken up with her boyfriend, might find herself walking through a thunderstorm, with waterlogged hair, her mascara running. If its just raining, she’s merely sad, but if its a thunderstorm, then she is actually enraged, but keeping it all in check, while the weather expresses her true feelings. It could also mean that she is resolved to her fate, or has reached a conclusion that she is unhappy with.
The thunderstorm in one of the opening scenes of The Addams Family, is used to great comedic effect, and emphasizes the drama, as the family engages in its yearly seance, to contact the ghost of Gomez’ beloved brother, Uncle Fester. The drama reaches a shattering crescendo at the height of the storm, when Uncle Fester shows up at their front door.
Martial arts, and other action movies, love to use rain to heighten the dramatic tension of a story, without using dialogue, and showcase fights. Rather than have characters give long speeches, or explanations, we know the fight is important, because its storming as a stand-in for the character’s emotions. Having a large fight take place in inclement weather is also a good way to hide stunt doubles, hide moves that don’t connect, or showcase moves that actually do, as water is flung about in huge splashes whenever a strike hits.
Sunshine means peace, tranquility, happiness, and that all is normal and right, with the world, but can also be used as a contrast to show actions that are at odds with the peace of nature, or characters whose lives, or situations are tragic and dysfunctional. The tragicomedy of Little Miss Sunshine happens against a backdrop of relentlessly sunny weather, contrasting the family dysfunction, and the terrible conditions of their 800 mile road trip, to attend a beauty pageant. The world may be normal and bucolic, but their lives are everything but. In 2018’s Halloween reboot, the first time we see Michael Myers is during a brilliantly sunny day, to contrast the darkness and evil of his character. Sunshine is sometimes ominous, as its used as setup for the horrors that follow, as the first murders Michael commits are against this same backdrop. Sun and blue skies is a sign of normalcy, and Michael (and any other horror that happen in these films) is the disruption of that. Sunshine at the end of a dark movie, represents a return to normal, that the horror is now over, and that the evil has been destroyed, as happens at the end of Quentin Tarantino’s From Dusk Til Dawn.
Weather represents that time has passed in a particular place. In places that experience seasons, for example, we can tell where we are in the story, by the weather. The weather can also be the story. The 1982 version of The Thing wouldn’t be the same without its snowy backdrop, which is such an integral part of the story, that the same story couldn’t be told without it.
Water always has a special importance in film, and one should always pay close attention to its meaning, when it its being prominently featured.
Sometimes the use of water has a very specific context, and takes on special significance, as in the movie, Moonlight, where it represents softness, and vulnerability, especially within the confines of an urban environment, where people are not encouraged to display either, and where large bodies of water are rare. Chiron, the lead character in the movie, has his first sexual experience near water, and water is an ever present motif in the film. In the language of this particular film, its related to whether or not the lead character is “soft’ or “hard”, meaning weak or tough. Whenever Chiron experiences a moment of fear or vulnerability, he happens to be near water, such as when his mother’s boyfriend teaches him how to swim.
That is symbolism unique to the theme of Moonlight. In other instances, immersion in water, or visions of drowning, could mean that a person is overwhlemed by their situation. They are literally “in over their head’. This type of imagery was used frequently, in the TV series Hannibal, where the closer characters got to Hannibal’s orbit, the more they became overwhelmed by him, and would have visions or dreams of themselves drowning.
The symbolism behind water can be tricky. It has so many meanings, that its appearance must be viewed within the context of the type of film. Water in movies, just like in the real world, takes on the shape or meaning of whatever it is within. In a Western it means life, and safety, but in a Romance, it means tears, or implied sexual activity, and desire. It can also represent birth, or rebirth after trauma, as in “washing the slate clean”. In the Judeo Christian tradition, bathing means the washing away of sin, and becoming a new person in the eyes of God.
In Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, Lady Macbeth washes her hands of blood after she participates in the murder of King Duncan, which has been taken as a sign of guilt. This is such an entrenched idea in American culture, that just the image of wringing hands is seen as a sign of guilt or anguish. In other instances, female characters will shower, after they feel they’ve been violated, essentially washing away the filth of what happened to them, or immerse themselves in a bath, to calm themselves after an emotionally turbulent event.
Pools of water represent the emotions of the people near them. If two people are speaking near a calm pool of water, that could indicate that the two are equals, about to be romantically involved, or that the two of them are of the same mindset, and there is no conflict between them. This is often the case in romantic movies, where a couple might take a walk along the seashore. However, if the water in a scene is turbulent, that could indicate that the couple is not as emotionally aligned as they seem, that they may be having domestic troubles, or foreshadowing that the relationship will fail.
From time to time, you may notice that a checkered floor is prominently featured in a movie. That’s because a checkered floor sometimes has meaning within the context of the plot, or its of significance to the mindset of the character standing on it. Since it brings to mind the game of Chess, it often shows up when two characters are on opposite sides of a conflict, having a war of words, or are trying to outmaneuver one another. If a person is standing on a checkered floor, it serves the same purpose as the mirror, indicating that the character is having inner conflict, or are of two minds about an issue.
In the above scene, Marie Antoinette is shown standing on a checkered floor. This indicates that she feels conflicted about her position, as the Queen of France, and a young woman who just wants to live her life, free of the responsibility of reconciling her two countries. She is also being pressured to give birth to the next generation of royals, but her husband will not touch her, and she is being scorned by the court, for not producing an heir. If she doesn’t have a baby soon, than her position as Queen will be in jeopardy. The conflict is internal and external, as she has been thrust into an environment where she knows no one, doesn’t always know who her friends and enemies are, and has to carefully maneuver through an environment she doesn’t understand, if she wishes to maintain her position.
Sometimes a checkered floor means a more direct conflict, like people having an actual physical fight. In the television series, Into the Badlands, two of the most powerful characters, in the first season are Quinn, and The Widow, whose ideologies are in direct opposition. The two of them have been engaging in a covert game of chess throughout the first part of the season, with moves and countermoves, which finally culminate in this fight scene, after The Widow’s assassination attempt on Quinn’s son. The fight is occurring on more than one level, as the two of them are also engaging in a war of words, as they attempt to psych each other out, and throw the other off their game.
Once you start noticing the checkered floor, in movies, tv shows, and music videos, its impossible to stop seeing it. Some people like to assign hidden occult meanings to the images of checkered floors, as they were once a symbol of the Masonic Order/Freemasonry. This is such an intricate and complicated philosophy, much of it conspiratorial, that I can’t begin to parse any of it, and I won’t try to do it here, since any definition of its meaning is suspect, based on who is giving it. So, depending on who you are, you may derive more meaning from the sight of a checkered floor than I would. We will go with the simplest explanation, for now, that sometimes a floor is just a floor.
I spoke about the imagery of the “empty chair”, in my defense of M. Night Shyamalan’s The Village, here:
An empty chair in a movie scene is often meant to represent a space where someone should be. In this movie, the empty chairs, usually situated on porches, (or at dinner tables), which are, traditionally the site of familial gatherings, are meant to represent the absence of loved ones. The entire movie carries a mood of unspoken grief and melancholy, which is only alleviated by its hopeful ending. The Elders of the community fled to The Village because each one of them has experienced the tragic loss of a family member, and the point of the movie is that they cannot run away from loss or pain. The scattered, empty chairs are a constant reminder of their loss.
Sometimes, an empty chair represents an actual person, which implies a presence, as much as it does an absence. In that case, the other characters in the film will refer to the chair as a person, or talk to the chair, as if someone were in it. In the 1991 Movie, The Addam’s Family, the empty chair at the family table is meant, not just to draw attention to Uncle Fester’s absence, but the family’s anticipation of his possible return, as they prepares to hold a seance, to contact him in the presumed afterlife.
The most common usage, however, is the loss of a loved one. In the above .gif, for the movie UP, the pictured character has lost his wife of many years. He is also very lonely, and his grief, and loneliness, propel his actions for the rest of the film.
An empty chair represents a place of rest, comfort, or even conflict, depending on its placement in the scene, and the context of the film, and the style of chair. Take for example, Game of Thrones, in which the image of The Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms, is the fuel behind nearly all of the carnage that ensues, spawning at least three different plotlines, throughout its 8 year run, ending in its destruction at the end of the series. A chair in the middle of a barren landscape, with no where else comfortable to sit, represents an opportunity for respite, however a chair in the middle of such a landscape would also work well in a horror movie, as it seems distinctly sinister, but in the shape of a boulder, or a piece of driftwood, it regains its former meaning.
While a single chair implies that a character is lonely, multiple empty chairs, sitting in rows, or just next to each other, imply community and/or dialogue, or in the context of a horror narrative, a community that’s been disrupted. For example, the sight of the backs of two lawn chairs, looking out over a sunset, indicates togetherness, friendship, or marriage. Overturned chairs represent a disruption of a household, the status quo, or a community, especially if there are multiple overturned chairs. A fallen chair, depending on the style, is seen as ominous representations of illness, or death. Empty, or tipped over wheelchairs, for example, are never a good sign.
These are just a few of the symbols, and cliches used in film. Think about this as you’re watching your favorite movie, but keep in mind, sometimes, an image is just an image, and may have no particular meaning. You have to carefully weigh the images against the story, and characters, to determine if there is meaning.
Okay, this movie does look like fun, and it looks like the creators are giving us more of what we liked in the first film. I was going to check this out, regardless of what was in the trailer, but this actually looks promising!
Here’s a list of some of my favorite opening scenes. The opening scene of a film will often establish a plot, introduce the characters, setting, mood, or theme of the film. Outside of the trailer, its a movie’s first impression. I love all kinds of movies, so don’t be too surprised that there are no Horror movies on this list.
This opening scene from the second X-Men film is action packed, visually stunning, introduces the basic plot, and also a new character, and the rest of the movie isn’t a disappointment either.
X-Men: Days of Future Past
I wanted to put these two movies upfront. This is also an establishing scene of a new character, and just as visually stunning as the first movie on this list. It drops slightly behind it though, because without the theme or plot, its just a gorgeous opening action sequence. Also, the rest of this movie isn’t as good as this opening scene, and this isn’t one of my favorite characters, although this entire sequence says a lot about what type of person he is, is just loads of fun, and makes me wish I had this superpower.
Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets
You would think that this would be a great opening scene for the rest of this movie’s characters, and themes, but no. This opening has almost nothing to do with the plot or themes of the film. Its simply an introduction to the setting we’ll be visiting for the next two hours, which is fine, because this is yet another visually arresting film, but I thought it was lacking in character development, which for me, is one of the more important aspects of getting into such a fantastical film. This opening is a favorite of mine, because I’m both a huge David Bowie fan, a movie extraterrestrial fan, and a Science Fiction fan, and I feel this song was perfectly chosen for this scene.
Here is yet another sequence that introduces the audience to a very specific setting. We know all we need to know about this world, from the opening, and what type of movie we’re dealing with: SciFi Noir. This is a dark world, full of gray characters, scuttling through this rainy, urban, corporate hellscape of auditory and visual noise, or flying through it in cars. This is America’s dystopic future.
It also introduces two important characters, and sets the plot in motion, as it’s the death of the interviewer in this scene, that requires that another Bladerunner be called in. Upon first seeing this movie, these things are all a mystery, but you later learn that all of the primary components of the rest of the plot are present, like the Voight-Kampff Test, the Bladerunner, the speed and power of the Replicant, and just why they’re banned from coming to Earth.
I love this opening. It introduces the three primary characters, the basic plot, and the theme: Regret. This is the autobiographical story of a mobster wannabee, his rise, and eventual decline. This is the scene just after the protagonist and his two friends kill an actual mobster, a Made Man named Billy Batts, and now need to hide the body. Contrast the protagonist’s final statement in this scene, with the look on his face. That is the face of a man who is wishing he were anywhere but where he is….
Sometimes I get a feeling about a movie just from watching the trailer, and I have almost never been wrong when i got that feeling. Even with movies that didn’t do particularly well at the Box Office, when they were released, if it was one where I got that feeling, it would eventually go on to become a Classic, or Iconic film. I had that feeling when I first saw the trailers for Alien, The Thing, and Bladerunner. And I had that feeling for this trailer, too. Not that I’ve never been wrong, but even at a very young age, I knew what movies I was gonna love!
I remember walking out of the theater, after watching this movie, and my brain had to take a few minutes to readjust to reality. I had the unsettling thought that the “real” world wasn’t real. And I guess, I’m not the only person who felt that way.
I chose this opening scene, not becasue it’s particularly special, or well done, (although it is), but because I’ve seen a number of scenes like this in other films, and I’ve always loved them. So, when a martial arts movie starts off with some watery ass kicking, its always loads of fun for me. Martial arts movies love to do these types of scenes, because it’s a very easy way to convince the audience that the fighting is real, and that those arms and legs are actually connecting with faces and bodies! Its also a great way to make the scene feel dramatic, and important to the rest of the movie, although really, this is just a scene from earlier in the film, showcasing the lead character’s skills.
Below, is another one of my favorite movies, and of course, the opening scene looks uncomfortably wet. Slow motion ballet fight scene? Check! Fight scene in a tavern? Check! Gruesome fight ending? Check!
This has to be, hands down, one of the most awesome car chase scenes in movie history. I love everything about it, from the introduction of the lead character, and getaway driver: Baby. To the music: Bellbottoms by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion! (which I used to listen to a long time ago.) To the cutely mediocre compact car with the great gas mileage: The red 2007 Subaru Impreza!
This entire scene just slaps!
And back down to Earth, with the Intermezzo from The Cavalleria rusticana, by Mascagni, and the opening theme from Martin Scorceses’ 1980 Raging Bull, which is now considered a modern Classic. I was just a kid when it was released, so I didn’t see this until I was an adult, long after I knew this theme from other movies. There’s not a lot going on here, but from this, you know its going to be a somber tragedy, about the rise and fall of a Boxing career. This is way down here at the bottom of my list, although most of these are not in any particular order, because its really upsetting for me to watch family dramas, and I generally hate them. But I liked this intro.