Postmodern Framework of Narrative Storytelling

As a filmmaker, animator and screenwriter I spend a vast majority of my time thinking about the themes of a piece rather than constructing the work itself. I have an intense desire to make honest, genuine, intelligent motion pictures that resonate with people by mirroring their daily lives. The best way to do this is to create an intricate architecture of “a home that we all have lived in”. Creating universal stories from existing archetypes is a great advantage in connecting to the core of the audience. H. Porter Abbott provides an example of such an archetype in The Cambridge Introduction to Narrative:

All national cultures have their masterplots, some of which are local variations on universal masterplots. The Horatio Alger story, for example, is a variation on the quest masterplot that speaks directly to cherished values in broad swathes of US culture. It takes its name from Horatio Alger, an enormously popular nineteenth-century novelist who published over 120 books. Most of these books narrativize the same masterplot featuring a youth (Ragged Dick, Tattered Tom), who, through born in poverty, rises by his own hard work and clean living to the highest level of social standing and often-great wealth. (Abbott 47)   

This long-standing means of slight appropriation has been to the advantage of the writer since the very beginning, however such normative stories have since been rejected by the very audience they were once written for. All while broadening the world in which we are able to tell stories; postmodernism created this new trial for writers and liberation for consumers.  The subject of these universal stories has greatly changed through the lens of postmodernism. For the first time in art history these universal stories are starting to examine what is universal in the world rather than what is universal in art history.

            Postmodernism is an important movement that rejects most of what came before it, because much of what came before it rejected certain races, gender and social class of the time from being presented and represented. Postmodernism puts an importance on creativity and the thought behind a work. The thought means little at all if it doesn’t come from a diverse perspective and awareness of the lack of such perceptive presented in history.  Postmodernist intently tries to break the long held convictions of the art world that came before their own. Breaking how we view the work, breaking how we discuss it, breaking how we judge it. Postmodernism pushes the thought of diversity and difference into the art world itself, by allowing the merit of a work to be its difference from the preexisting art world rather than it’s conformity to it. Without question we live in a unique age, past needing happy endings, past the all mighty creator, and past the per-condoned notions of good art. Postmodernism not only gives the tools to challenge art but the tools to challenge society itself.

            My work has been pictorial and often convictional to the art history I have been taught. I have made a series of student short films that focus on the genres depicted in film history, such genres as film noir, western, science fiction, medieval, romantic comedy etc. Even though I have made all of these short films it is hard to say I came up with much at all. I have always watched movies and loved history, so for me to mimic styles from film history involved little creativity and originality on my part at all.  In the last year I have challenged myself greatly over the stories I wish to tell. The amount I write and the amount of time I spend on each work has both increased, and good writing has become good re-writing.  The burden on the postmodern author is greater than other movements because the postmodern writer is no longer writing for a demographic but for the world. To have a true multi-cultural world perspective is to have great personal delusions, because one cannot know how everyone from everywhere feels and why, but it is the human experience to try.

            It’s an odd experience thinking about what artist movement you and your existing work may fall into. For me, a white male born and raised in a middle class suburban environment with deep beliefs in social and economic equality, it can get very odd indeed. Through minor meditation it is clear most of art history was created with someone in a privileged patriarchal position. White males are the overwhelming focus in a traditional study of art history, not only the dominant artistic voices but also the subject matter and intended audience. Why would I choose an art movement that rejects the very undeserved privilege I was given? It is beyond fairness and equality. It is about what art should have always been striving for, by understanding and representing all, as I am represented. Hearing personal stories of worlds foreign from one’s own made by artist in whom the stories are personal too, creates the most insightful artwork. Such as Black Girl from Ousmane Sembène, a narrative depiction of a black woman that moves from Senegal to France for work, only to be treated like a slave in this new world. This is what inspires me to make art and to share my voice, the knowledge that my voice is merely apart of the larger mosaic of the local, regional, national and global voices. However, the unfortunate truth is that these personal films often are never presented within pop culture. Fifty years after the release of Black Girl, we are beginning to see more representation of marginalized people within American pop culture by the means of the marvel super hero series Luke Cage, an adaptation of a comic book series under the same name, depicting a black male super hero living and protecting Harlem from “the man” and New York’s crime rings. Minor growth at a glacier speed, but positive growth nevertheless and the type of content that needs to be further incorporated with the future of entertainment. The only chance we can ever have to widen our own perspectives is looking into the perspectives of others as if they are our own. Personal films give the best opportunity for this to happen, but any fair representation moves in the right direction. Our own problems, our own fears, our own quality of art can all be shared and respected in postmodernism, but postmodernism only works if the world works in a fair and balanced manner.

            The problem with postmodernism is that the world is not fair and balanced. The world seemly loves hate, divide, and forced segregation. In this sense postmodernism creates more problems than solutions.  Postmodernism implies we are together, that everyone can be represented in the contemporary art scene, which is for the most part false. Many more demographics are represented today, but how much they are in control of how they are presented is to be questioned. Since we live in a world with higher hopes then goals and brighter fantasies than reality many already assume enough has been done, that the world is already universal and equally represented. But in actuality this is a product of postmodernism’s misconception, which is, the things we say are the actions we take. We say we’re accepting and diverse but the proof is limited and the pop culture news works nearly as a juxtaposition element to postmodernism universality.

            Art is responsible to change this misconception by focusing on the positive representation of marginalized stories and people, while retaining the hero’s journey and retention for good. As a writer of narrative works I find it possible problematic to dismiss story conventions while changing the nationality, gender or race of our protagonist in new postmodern tales. We must change and continue to change the typical protagonist characters of stories today, because we live in an ever-changing landscape of cultures in represented society, as well as our past of the dramatic monopoly of protagonist representation as a white male with some marginal problems. However, the part I find problematic is changing the typical protagonist while also changing the typical hero’s journey.  The hero’s journey is quite possibly the only thing that is shared and understood across cultures. As Joseph Campbell summarizes in The Hero with a Thousand Faces:

It is the hero-cycle of the modern age, the wonder-story of mankind’s coming to maturity. The spell of the past, the bondage of tradition, was shattered with sure and mighty strokes. The dream-web of myth fell away; the mind opened to full waking consciousness; and modern man emerged from ancient ignorance, like a butterfly from its cocoon, or like the sun at dawn from the womb of mother light. (Campbell 387)

 We all understand the trials and earned triumphs of a hero and life in general.  To change the protagonist and the hero’s journey construct is as effective for working towards equality, as changing nothing at all. We must give the same level of glorification, success, and victory to the new untypical protagonist as we gave to the protagonist of the past. We must find parallels of trials within the newly represented protagonist’s society, and parallels of success, but the road to heroism must be presented similarly. To take away the hero’s construct in tandem with adding new diversity to protagonist will only add to the unreachable quality of equality. If we can’t achieve equality in how we represent all people on screen, we will never reach equality in our world.

            Postmodernism is a gift that comes with a serious promise for writers of popular culture. It is a gift in a sense that nothing is taboo or off limits in the realms of the stories we tell. We can break archetypal characters, we can write for any character from any background, we can suspend belief past the credits and we can seemly curse as much as desired. But in all of this excitement, the folks that truly want to work in postmodern frameworks have a promise to live up to as well. A promise not only to themselves and their work but also to the world postmodernism implies they are projecting to and ultimately representing. It’s a promise of similarity in this great freeing wave of difference. Writers must change the world and protagonist they depict, while putting them through the familiar hero’s journey construct we all know well.  If for no other reason to prove that we all are very similar, we dream, face fears and chase aspirations the same.  

            Ending with another passage from Abbott, that speaks to this power the writer has:

Given the enormous arsenal of available resources in fiction, an author can fashion characters into representative types and combine them in such a way as to bring out vividly the moral and practical consequences of their actions. The facts all belong to a fictional world, but narrative is meaningful for us as we think and act in our own world. (Abbott 153-154) 

Once the world becomes aware of this, who knows, we all may be able to truly be postmodern thinkers after all. For now, I’ll continue to write with the intentions and thoughts expressed in this essay and hope others will do the same.

The Cinematic Eye of Caravaggio

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio lived an intense life, during an intense time in human history. People were persecuted and martyred for their beliefs. Different was a problem; much of the work from the Baroque era is urging people to go back to the tried and true Catholic religion. All Italian artists from this era were guilty of working on religious pieces at one time or another. The Church saw painting as an opportunity to persuade the masses, who often couldn’t read, the lessons of the scripture through pictorial means. This means many painters would paint religious paintings because that is what they could sell, not necessary what they wanted to paint. Many positives came from this, such as a tremendous increase in the amount of artwork being commissioned to artist by the church and allowed certain Baroque painters to be able to reach great fame and prestige in society within Life. Caravaggio is not one of these artists however his major works were religious paintings with moral dilemmas, similar content to all the other artist of the time. With one important difference, the religious paintings from Caravaggio survive today as Caravaggio paintings, not a religious painting. Present day artist still find Caravaggio extremely important, as director Martin Scorsese why; “this is very stark Caravaggio very powerful very strong very determined light and this is the kind of thing we were trying to do” (Graham).   A true stand out from the Baroque era. I believe this is because Caravaggio had the vision of a modern day Director of Photography, 300 plus years before the first photo was taken.

            Caravaggio stands out to us today amongst the many other terrific Baroque artists because he stood out in his day as well. Caravaggio truly had his style, which he nurtured and perfected over the course of his life. Even in the face of adversity of moving around, Caravaggio stuck to his vision and aesthetic. He often received flack from the church because of his opposition to the idealized forms of the renaissance. He painted Jesus sickly green for his Entombment of Christ painting, and he modeled Mary Magdalene in his Death of a Virgin off of a prostitute model. He had an astonishing skill of interweaving the religious content with his own morality and message.  Caravaggio’s realism was criticized by the church, and championed by the perceptive.  Time has only created a greater depth in the layers of understanding these works. As any good DP, Caravaggio had a master understanding of human assumptions and emotions as well as how to provoke these pictorially. Below this is shown, with the Entombment of Christ on the left and the Death of the Virgin on the right.

Entombment of Christ

Death of a Virgin


            Caravaggio isn’t credited with the invention of dramatic lighting but he should at least get mentioned, and possibly credited. Being a pioneer of film noir photographic style, controlling heavy contrast lighting and shadow before the invention of electricity or film noir.  Looking back at a Caravaggio’s works through the lens of film history, feels oddly correct. Clearly there is a major time gap between the two. 300 hundred years after Caravaggio’s death, films began being made, nearly 400 years after his death digital movies began to be made. Even through it is completely impossible, when looking at a Caravaggio, it feels as if this painter knew what was ahead, as if he had been a cinephile for years. Delusions aside, Caravaggio would have had no way of knowing about film or us. But we still study him, and employ his tactics today, which is the part that emphasizes the genius of Caravaggio. The man basically created a how to DP guide to shooting and framing a dramatic scene with every painting he did.  Let’s begin Caravaggio’s DP master class with perfect lighting for the scene.




David with head of Goliath

The Calling of St. Matthew

            Above are two paintings from Caravaggio; the one on the left is David with the head of Goliath and the one on the right is the Calling of St. Matthew. Both of these paintings are strong examples of Caravaggio’s Chiaroscuro technique, which is the play of the light and shadow in a composition, often implying a predominant light source coming in at an angle (Editors). This lighting aesthetic was used with a heavy hand in film noir, and is mimicked in contemporary cinema quite delicately by various directors of photography such as Emmanuel Lubezki. Emmanuel Lubezki tries to use natural lighting constantly throughout his films, often using magic hour to light his scene. Magic hour, or golden hour, is a photographic term to describe the small amount of time of day that the sun is close horizon line but before the sky has gotten dark or too light (Understanding). Shooting at this time creates long, harsh shadows and fanatic colors emitting from the sun that is already set. The look Mr. Lubezki is able to capture comes from an understanding of Caravaggio’s Chiaroscuro. As it seems Caravaggio knew about the most dramatic time of day as well, the time photographers, like Emmanuel Lubezki, fondly call magic hour. Many of Caravaggio’s paintings that use Chiaroscuro in the composition that seem to also represent this time of day, the time the light is strong, at an angle and magically touching everything in the scene. This brings us to Caravaggio’s manipulation of light and arrangement of other elements to direct the focus of the viewer.


The Conversion of St. Paul

The Crucifixion of St. Peter


            Above, once again there are two religious paintings from Caravaggio. These two paintings are on two different saints and should work as spotlights for the church into these saints’ lives.  On the left we have the Conversion of St. Paul and on the right is the Crucifixion of St. Peter.  These two men have very different stories, both deemed important by the church, and both on Caravaggio to express visually. These stories had been depicted before and after Caravaggio, but non-done with such of an intense focus on the subject at hand. First off he puts us in the moment of both stories, not the moment before or after, but rather the most important moment of the story. In the painting of St. Paul we are given many lines that lead us to St. Paul, the horse’s hind legs and lifted front leg both lead us back to the Saint on the ground. The servant’s eye line would lead us back to St. Paul, but most obviously, we are given the divine light casted down the whole composition upon St. Paul. All of these elements seem natural as if this is how it might have looked while retaining the fictional focus on the saint in which these paintings are about. I would ague that the composition of focus is even stronger in the Crucifixion of St. Peter, while also having minor focus on subordinate details. We see the three men hoisting up St. Peter, who is upside down on the cross. How these three men are composed is fascinating, because not only is Caravaggio using their forms to keep the focus on St. Peter but also depicting the “the physicality to crucify a man, the trouble one must go through” as iconic director Martin Scorsese points out in this piece (Graham). This control of focus allowed Caravaggio to explore primary and secondary stories in a signal frame. To achieve this clear focus on subject, pristine staging and blocking have to be done first.      

Supper at Emmaus

            To demonstrate the last pillar of Caravaggio’s Director of Photography master class I have added Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus the left and the Taking of Christ on the right. I have picked these paintings to explore Caravaggio’s commitment to naturalism, not only in his still life and figure elements but also in his staging of these renderings. In the Supper at Emmaus we step into the scene, there is a spot at the table open for the viewer. Caravaggio is staging his light source and secondary figures to draw focus to the main subject, Jesus. There is stark shadow on the wall behind Christ’s, the shadow surrounds the form of Christ as it also casts a halo like shadow on the wall.  Everyone in the frame is looking at Christ, as if he is the mist of saying something very important. A lot of emotion and gesture also represent the importance of this scene, and all of these gestures lead us back to

The Taking of Christ

Christ in the middle of the canvas. The final painting I am going to discuses is a personal favorite, the Taking of Christ.  A similar odd correctness to the instant mentioned before, because it always looks like a film still to me. I can clearly decipher that it is indeed a painting a not colloid or digital data, regardless, it still feels right out of a camera. The viewer is roughly at eye level with Christ and all the other figures in the painting. The vast majority of the figures and motion conveyed by their gestures are leading the focus to Christ, with the notable exception of the man on the left edge with his hands up in a pleading fashion. This figure helps us get to the secondary details of this scene, most importantly the reaction to Christ being taken. It seems tense, verging on violence. The tight staging implies a mob type scene where no one is ready for Christ to be taken away. This has a liberating juxtaposition with Christ himself, extremely passive amongst the ciaos. Jesus’ hands are folded; his body is relaxed leaning with the pushing of the crowd. In this painting we are given multiple perspectives on the event of Christ being taken, while never losing the vibrant focus on the man himself, Christ.  Also it would be an amazing mid-shot in a 70mm ultra widescreen format. Picture it; wouldn’t you go see a Caravaggio film? Martin Scorsese would be at the primer.          


Work Cited

AgendaStevePaikin. "The Glory of Caravaggio." YouTube. YouTube, 18 June 2011. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

Graham-Dixon, Andrew. "Martin Scorsese Interview 2005Broadcast : Andrew Graham-Dixon." Martin Scorsese Interview: Andrew Graham-Dixon. Andrew Graham Dixon, 2005. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. "Chiaroscuro." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, 13 Oct. 2015. Web. 07 Apr. 2016.

"Understanding Golden Hour, Blue Hour and Twilights | PhotoPills." PhotoPills. N.p., n.d. Web. 08 Apr. 2016.









Rush to Ron Howard

The title is the only word I’ll be able to write that will do this film justice, so Rush Rush Rush.

            Ron Howard created an immersive story space and believable tone through a collection of rapidly cut gorgeous reaction shots. These reaction shots were at work for the story of the film, not a specific character, setting, or car. These reaction shots draw in more characters then the story has actually introduced. Moreover these shots give the cars that fueled the rivalry characteristics of their own. In these shots you don’t see cars, what is shown is their personalities. It seems even in these cars, made of some metal rubber and fuel the rivalry burns. The engines scream at each other before the start, the tires squeal on the corners, and the drivers continue the screaming after the race. However Mr. Howard did do more with his director cap than personifying inanimate objects.  He brought life to the cast that filled up the background, the extras.

            Within the major race scenes of this film a multitude of spectator reaction shots were intercut with the actual race day events. This brought a terrific atmosphere to this picture being painted for the viewer of the race days. This decision of close up audience reaction shots made the subject feel naturally close standing near you, are you at the race? These techniques provoke you to be more invested in the race by time the race has started. This is because you have just been exploring the race day, and waiting with the audience for the last hand full of minutes. Now with the investment of your time you can feel completely immersed in the race because the film reminded their audience of the beautiful voyeurism of audiences. Most often people are drawn to what the surrounding population is drawn to, Howard is very aware of this. By having every attendee that is cut to drawn to this race we become drawn to the race. All of these things happen before the races even start but only represent a fraction of the film. However with these short instances the story is able build anticipation, and take hold. This doesn’t exist in the majority of the film rather just in the moments that are building to next awaited milestone event.

            What does exist the entire film is rivalry, and what comes with rivalry driven films is the montage.  To build up the severity of the rivalry the viewer must see how badly both sides want “it”, whatever it may be. This inevitably will lead to some sort of montage training sequence, which is a great way to rely a lot of information at once. However it is tricky for montage to be executed without a cliché feeling at this point in cinema history. Rush had me fall in love with montages all over again, but a new, changed montage that I have reaccepted into my life. Ron Howard shows how the montage can work for the filmmaker while being coherent, sexy and a Rush for the viewers.  I see this film as a truly astounding step in contemporary filmmaking and representation of how far the human nature is willing to go, subject or director.  

Darjeeling Limited from Wes Anderson

First off I must make the disclaimer as the critic in this piece, that I have been a Wes Anderson fan much longer than a writing critic. In this vain I will start off with the commonly stated problems of Wes Anderson films, then move to how I interrupt Wes Anderson, specifically in Darjeeling Limited. One of Mr. Anderson’s more personal films, and excluding his most recent Oscar nominated piece The Grand Budapest Hotel, one of my personal favorites.

            There have been multiple visionary directors who create stylized works so unique it doesn’t come off as very narrative to some. Provoking those to entitle these directors as art directors who direct. This is often said about Wes Anderson, and is meant to be an insulate of sorts to the story and the overall feeling of narrativity in the piece. This is because art directors handle the look of the film more than the story and direction in which it takes. Art directors are charged with creating the world in which the story can live but not the actions in which it takes. So calming the director is an art director who directs, is suggesting the events and order in which these events happen create a lack luster appeal for the common viewer.  From this reasoning I have presented it becomes rather clear why this clam has been made towards Wes Anderson. Mr. Anderson creates heavily stylized gorgeous films that constantly are playing with color, perspective, space and depth, all things an art director would be very conscience of.  Secondly Mr. Anderson employs rather anti-climatic events and a bizarre cast of characters to bring his stories to life. Often allowing the mundane to dictate the way the scene goes and an episodic approach to the causation from scene to scene. Meaning the adjacent scenes that follow one another are meant to be seemingly unlinked, un related events, similar to the realistic causation of life rather than narrative. Often in a piece with high narrativity the scene’s events directly lead the story to the next scene’s events, having a chronological order creates a story with normalization. So the question is, can mundane events told out of normal narrative discourse, still be a fantastic film.

            The Mundane, in a world of drama, can often be the most captivating. Even in a film that breaks many liner conventions in story telling, he maintains his manipulation of the story world superbly. By creating many micro- narratives that exist more outside the visible story world than in, produces a high level of inquisitive narrativity. A woven fabric of characters that are all connected in some way is presented to the viewer, as an abstract painting does, leaving the viewer to connect the larger into whole narrative. However in our main characters we get a detailed rich shared character backstories through these secondary set of rarely seen characters that are ambiguously described. This gives great detail to our main characters by association. We learn how these characters present themselves, who they surround themselves with, mostly who does these characters think about. In the realms of demiurgic value, these visual cues as an observer, can describe the characters more as humans then typical film characters.  The act we put on for society encompasses all things visibly associated with us and how we act or what we say in conversation. But what goes forever unknown is the inside thought and feelings of the individual, what is their ambitions, fears, and desires. This film shares this information but not in the traditional sense, no character confines in the audience or their brothers. But through the actions of who these brothers are trying to reach out too or reminiscence about, we learn where their desires, fears, and ambitions lie.

            This movie challenges the viewer to be able to understand the characters emotion and internal state with limited to no dialog on emotion but rather with a vast amount of visual cues. Clearly with Wes Anderson the visuals will be stunning and unique, but in Darjeeling Limited the visuals were precious. Linking scenes and characters together through objects mentioned earlier then being revisited was often employed. Wes Anderson would give us this information often in a classic Anderson close up. Often a moving tight shot on the subject, the most memorable connection of shots exists linking a perfume bottle to Jack. One of our main characters and the youngest brother of the three, whose fault drives from a woman he can’t escape. The first time we see this bottle of perfume is in the part one of The Darjeeling Limited, Hotel cheval a short film focusing on Jack and his last meet up with the girl he can’t move on from. The girl is played by Natalie Portman who creates a seductive bad girl with a immediately clear troubled past, But still has great passion for Jack. In a quick shot Mr. Anderson shows us the girl dropping a package in Jack’s very unique luggage. We won’t know what is in this package until a half hour into the Film Darjeeling Limited, once Jack discovers the package in his suitcase and opens it. He finds the bottle of perfume, which happens to be her fragrance. This creates a regression for Jack by him stooping to the level of checking her answering machine, a low point for him in this story. This huge character event in the story is really set up in the short prequel Hotel cheval. Showing off Wes Andersons fancy in setting things up to be visited much later, which is often employed in story, but often not in such a mundane way. But through this created no risk suspense we start caring or at least wondering what is going to happen to this inanimate object.  Another way Mr. Anderson stressed the visuals is keeping the camera at a distance in certain dramatic points, which prevents us from hearing what’s going on, and allows the viewer to speculate. This speculation is quite joyous, because our implications will almost go unanswered, so the sky is the limit to what is being said in these scenes. What is stressed by doing this is the action, what are the brother’s choices in these moments, no persuasion from the character, just what we see them do is what we know.

            Small events that would blow screen time get put off then put off so the audience beings to await the return of this event. With the built anticipation the event becomes much more important, and awaited. But without this building this story would be a collection of mundane loosely related events, done by three rich white privileged brothers who struggle with their own lives and their relationships in life. All of this still may be true but Wes Anderson made us care about these characters. This movie is late to it’s own events, creating it’s own pacing, and allowing much of the events to live in the story world and off screen at the same time. Movies use events to drive the plot forwards, these events seem to de rail this train.  Living off the itinerary schedule is how many liner films live off the adjacent events, that rely on each other and all move the story in the same direction, towards the end. This film lets the schedule be dropped off for a while and discover it self even if they are just backtracking. The want may be unknown at times, may change momentarily, we may not understand. All of these things exist in life much more than in any traditional film, and film is most often an attempt to mimic humanity. Humans that dabble in humanity should like Darjeeling Limited, with Hotel cheval as the appetizer.   

Cool Hand Luke

Here is a movie that regrettably sat on my shelf untouched, never opened, for at least a year or so. The story goes, I got the movie from my grandmother when I was going into college. The film immediately was given its place holding up the other opened, watched movies. My grandmother says this was one of her favorites, and not until I saw the movie could I understand why. We had a failure to communicate. Cool Hand Luke is a truly grand movie from the 1960s era, made specifically in 1967. And, forty plus years later the movie still speaks a relevant film language. The symbols in this film go beyond the dissolution of time and come out unharmed and still potent in whatever era you are viewing.

            Cool Hand Luke, as his title may suggest, has many great symbols that attract the viewer. The connections the viewer might have to the events in Luke’s life will only be furthered in dramatic value by including symbolic language.  Creating multiple layers for the viewer to follow makes them feel smart, and engaged to the narrative. To give an example of a heavy symbolic scene, I would suggest the first frames of the film. The word, “Violation”, surrounded by red, fills the screen, and it repeats, over and over. Wider now, we see it is a parking meter that is past due. Luke begins to saw off the meter polls. Snapping the parking meter’s head off, coins fall to the street. Luke continues to hydrate on rye and repeats his beheading of parking meters all the way down the street, rows of parking meters behind him are now gone. Society’s friends, the police come upon good ol’ Luke, drunk beyond speaking ability with tons of destroyed parking meters surrounding him. This is a great opening scene on its own, but the opening action tells us the symbolic tone of this man. (Also free parking, who doesn’t love that?) The opening frame, of  “Violation”, the viewer is faced with this word without knowing why? What is it coming from? The only thing the viewer really knows is what “Violation” in that context means to them. Thus the film demands on the first frame that viewers use their own symbol system to understand. The viewer has established how they feel about the word in front of them moments before they meet the protagonists, Luke, who is, literally breaking that word to the ground.

            This Film has many symbolic scenes but even more objects that are symbols in their own right. These objects that are now directly linked to the narrative, act as another voice for the viewer. I will skip to a scene much later to show my favorite use of a symbolic object or prop in this film, the Banjo. Luke’s mother comes to visit him in prison in very poor physical condition. She has so much love for Luke but is giving the house to his brother. Luke doesn’t care, but seems pleased with his end of the will, a Banjo. Flash forward, Luke is locked up and news comes that his Mom has passed on. This sets up a beautiful scene where Paul Newman shows the glory of his ability as an actor, by singing a folk song while playing the banjo from his mother. He is isolated from the rest of the prisoners,­ facing the wall crying. Paul Newman doesn’t sing nor play the banjo, but in this scene he does both while giving a hell of an acting performance. The real playing and singing of Paul Newman makes this scene, because it is real. This feels so real you feel bad for staring you find yourself wanting to stand with the other prisoners, giving Luke his space. But, thank goodness you can’t look away, as you get to stay with Luke throughout this ordeal. (To see how he feels, how he reacts, and how we see the banjo now.) This is something I have seen in movies before, and I believe the banjo represents family in the southern microcosms of North America films. And, in Cool Hand Luke the banjo clearly helps Luke connect to his mother, as in a much more current example Winter’s Bone uses Ree’s dad’s banjo being discovered in the closet as that characters tie to her father, and allows her to have a sentimental moment just thinking of her father, holding his banjo, and revel her uncovered self. I think symbolism often works well as a tool for the viewer to unmask, discover the character. Cool Hand Luke establishes that connection of character honesty through symbol use very well, as well as makes me want to learn banjo.    

            If the reader is not already clear, Paul Newman as Luke is a great character, but one great character doesn’t make a great movie. However, characters that resonate honesty by acting true to the situation and the symbol in which their character represents of the scene gets pretty damn close. Cool Hand Luke has a cast of characters built off of the symbolic tone of the individual characters voice and mannerisms.  All of these individual voices create a chorus for the rural south. We are able to distinguish where we are just off the cast of characters, who work as symbols for the story in their own right.   The Captain is a Southern, porch sitting, newspaper-reading type who creates the mirage of intelligence. However at the same time, this man runs a prison, locks people away in the box for days, and orders the beating of certain inmates who don’t have their minds right. This Captain’s character has great duality in his actions and words throughout this film, which makes him a clear pivotal character, forcing the change in Luke, and at the end allowing Luke to die, to prove his point. The first time the Captain is introducing himself he says he can be one mean son of a bitch, and he certainly proves that by the end of the film. 

            The supporting role to Luke is Dragline, played truly authentically by George Kennedy. Dragline was in prison when Luke came in, and Dragline remains in prison long after Luke is gone. At first he is the antagonist force against Luke, however once Luke proves he wouldn’t break, what breaks is Dragline’s facade. After this confrontation they become best of friends, helping each other out, hustling other prisoners, finding joy in the rough workday together, with their yehaww’s and horay’s from the men that are supposed to be dreading tarring a road. Dragline kept Luke sane while he was in prison and helped him escape when Luke thought it was time. Regardless if Luke ever actually got free, the reality of the relationship between Luke and Dragline and what they do for each other and how they respect one another feels very authentic to how a prison friendship in this time might go. This authentic pairing creates quite a symbolic short hand For Luke and Dragline’s relationship, Prison friendship. By the end of the film, Dragline has gone from the biggest meanest dude in prison, beating the crap out of Luke, to a broken man crushed over Luke’s decision of splitting up during their prison escape. A heartbroken, Dragline agrees but is clearly not in support of the idea. He feels he is getting ditched by the self-punishing Luke, which is the kindest thing Luke thought he could do for Dragline in this situation. To get his friend, as far away from himself as possible. The climax scene is truly powerful because of Dragline. After Luke splits from Dragline he goes into a church, soon after cops have the place surround and they already caught up with Dragline and he has gone into the Church to plead with Luke to come out and play ball and they won’t kill him, Luke doesn’t believe this. Luke walks to the window to proclaim the Captains Iconic lines “What we have here is a failure to commutate” right before the man with no eyes takes a shot right to Luke’s chest, he is bleeding bad. The man with no eyes is a character that throughout the entire film is never given a name, just the symbol of his dark tone glasses, that no one can see into. This man with no eyes was the intimidating source for all the prisons on work. Dragline attacks the officer with no eyes who shot Luke, strangles him, four men must be used to get him off. This is clear action of the strength of Luke and Dragline’s friendship, even through the man who shot Luke is the man with no eyes, who has been built up as the scariest meanest officer. To Dragline all of these worries and cares fly out of the window as he attacks the man who killed his friend.

            This movie was much more than I expected it to be, it has sky rocketed to one of my instant favorites that I know I will return to when I need to see someone who has it worst. All the reasons I have explored build to my conclusion of enjoying this film, however in all fairness I also do have a sweet spot in my heart for movies that use a line from the movie’s dialog as the title of the movie. In this film as Luke is caught for the second time trying to run away he is beaten badly and tossed back in the prison, where Captain gives a speech emphasizing at the climax of his speech to not be like Cool Hand Luke.                        


What do we talk about? When we talk about Birdman?

Who is Birdman? Incurious?  This figure of undermined glory, waiting for the stardom to over take him. The ruthlessly passionate, the vain narcissist, the hero of a hero-less world, a long dreamer and fast doer. Ready for the reevaluation of glory back onto him. By taking the stage, by flying too close to the sun, by writing, directing, and staring in your own Raymond Carver adaptation. Letting go of what is loved to chase what seems destined. But as Amy Ryan’s character tells Riggan and every other artist “you confuse love with admiration.”(– Sylvia 43) If admiration is what the artist is striving for then love will be lost and a destiny blown,. When something real is on the line like love or other vital human emotions the will can be tested. Many even heroes live with delusions of grandeur, but maybe if you can flush those notions away then you could truly soar in the perfect median of radiant success and failure.

            Birdman has delusions of grandeur, which is a constant driving force for him throughout the movie. For him to be relevant for him to be seen as important as an Artist, this pursuit went above all, the daughter, the girlfriend, and the ex-wife. This chase for glory keeps him on quite the emotional roller-coaster ride through out the film.  One moment being energetic and vibrant like a star shooting across the sky only to quickly switch to incapable and self-loathing like dead jelly fish on a beach, with life left in the water. “You threw a kitchen knife at me… and one hour later you were telling me how much you loved me.” (- Sylvia 43) This emotional spiking nature seems to have been with birdman for some time, it is apart of his character. Riggan doesn’t want to be the birdman, but that is what he is known for. It seems if he cut away birdman from himself it would be like a bird cutting away it’s wings in mid flight. Birds are known and respected for their wings like Riggan Thompson is known and despised for his earlier birdman persona.

            Birdman loses his delusions of grandeur in the moment he decide to kill him self on stage, that very move would, in most cases, make it impossible for someone who shot themselves in the face on stage to ever receive the glory of those actions. But by the fate of a bad shot, he survives, and he is able to flush away the Birdman persona that he held on to feel purpose and to feel important. But he is no longer defined as birdman, because he threw away his hopes of grandeur, when he threw away his life.  He will never be defined as birdman, because he is Riggan Thompson that actor who shot himself on stage now. That is how the world in turns work; even the stars that shine the brightest will in it’s turn too fall from it’s graces, burn itself away until it is nothing but ashes, and through the ashes the phoenix can arise, the new man, new empire, or new hope can emerge.  

            Birdman has fantastic lessons for any artist, but better living lessons to anyone that life interests. Us humans only have so many years to live and experience what life has to offer. With that dreary remainder of life that can capture many in webs of stress of being known for one thing. Why would we allow ourselves to live in a rut, unable to make the distinction between the bad times and our current times? Life is a stage just as much as the stage where Brando bled is a stage. Only in life’s stage everyone can be Riggan Thompson, writing, directing, and the lead of their own life. With this freedom why do we live in the same roles for a lifetime? We can drop the birdman of our lives and live into a new skin, new character, and new life mindset. I believe this change of self can be done without shooting yourself in the face, just as Riggan can still swore in the sky once birdman has been flushed away.