Essay: Film and Perspectives on History Film Remains

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¶ … Film and Perspectives on History

Film remains in the subconscious of culture as a means of expression and storytelling to the public. Many people see film as a much-needed form of entertainment while others see it as art and a way of conveying a message to the public. Filmmakers use the medium as a means of expressing their ideas and view of the world whether it is an original story or an historical event. The trouble with filmmakers using history as a genre to appeal to the mass audience is that most times the view of history is skewed to fit the status quo perception of the event. Fortunately filmmakers like Spike Lee, Gary Ross and William Wyler have brought it upon themselves to attempt to make movies that tell a history in the correct framework of historical context. As the paragraphs below will examine with the three films of The Best Years of Our Lives, Seabiscuit and Malcolm X, these filmmakers worked to bring the stories of historical events to light and used different film techniques to accomplish this feat. However, the trouble with such history in the movies is that many people belief the filmmaker over the historical account. This is troubling as much as filmmakers try to bring the truth to the screen; most times they are presenting their own opinion. Jane Tompkins elaborates on this idea with the following quote:

The idea that accounts are perspectival seemed to me a superior standpoint from which to view all the versions of "what happened," and to regard with sympathetic condescension any person so old-fashioned and benighted as to believe that there really was some way of arriving at the truth. (732)

She furthers the discussion by offering the opinion that by looking at history from a certain perspective is indeed changing the perception of that event for that person's perspective. This slowly over time and word of mouth can completely wipe out the subject matter of history. She goes on to remark that one does not need to belief anything anyone says that in fact by questioning the facts, people can arrive at truth.

This paper will explore the truth and fiction of the above-mentioned films and look at the different techniques in which the filmmakers chose to tell these stories to the public. In this day and age the real danger is that people will actually believe the fiction as truth. This paper works to establish a foundation for people to discover not only the value of history but to look beyond the images found in film's historical portrayal.

The Best Years of Our Lives

It is the hope that sustains the spirit of every GI: the dream of the day when he will finally return home. The Best Years of Our Lives is the story of three World War II veterans as they return to their hometown. But for each man, the dream is about to become a nightmare with new realities of post war life.

The film begins as each man is finding a way home after being away at the war and the three later find themselves on the same military flight across the country. What makes this flight interesting is the fact they are flying in a war bomber with an open view of the country below. This effectively puts each man on equal ground and status but it also reminds the viewer what the men were fighting for in the first place. In many ways, such a view of the world remains a reminder of just how small we really are in life. This view from above can seen as symbolic as being god-like and euphoric which only foreshadows "the fall" these men are about to take getting back to reality. This opening is also bathed in light and this tool paints a feeling of peace for the viewer. The lighting technique remains very important to this movie as to aid in timing the suspense and resolution of conflict.

In film lighting is used to emphasize the story and create drama when necessary. This is done effectively done for this film due to the rich contrast between light and shadow. There is no color symbolism used, as it is a black and white film however, lighting plays an integral role of establishing the plotline and economic divide between men. For instance, the wealthier of the G.I.s, a banker in is his older life lives in a penthouse apartment but this only reinforces to the viewer what they already know because every time the viewer sees this character he is bathed in light and light tones. In contrast, the navy, handless man is from a middle class family and the viewer sees him in darker colors.

Lighting is also used when establishing each characters adjustment back into civilian life. Each man seems comforted by the bar scene and drinking instead of facing what is at home. These scenes pertaining to the banker's drinking problem are shot very close up and with dark backgrounds. This emphasizes his descend into the pit of despair or his inability to cope with his new surroundings. As he starts to get more intoxicated, his surroundings blur and become unrecognizable. This reflects exactly how he must appear not only to himself but to also his family. To further back up this notion, the handless navy man also has worries that his girlfriend will not accept him as husband material because of his disability. He, too drowns his sorrows but only briefly as much of how his scenes are shot reflect is overall positive attitude toward the situation. These scenes are close up and bathed in light. They are also many times outside which is symbolic of him accepting his surroundings. In many ways, he is better off than the other two who are whole men. Captain Derry has similar romantic concerns as he is in the middle of a loveless marriage. His first few days are spent looking for his wife around town. His concern over the situation is not as dramatic is the viewer would hope but also shows he is complacent due to the fact he may not be prepared for a divorce. These scenes are also shot brightly. He makes up for his non-chalont manner toward his wife by being the one guy the others can turn to. He feels compelled to help out especially when it comes to paying for things. It is not out of flaunting his situation, not like the banker but more out of a need to be needed by others. In many ways, he is the one who has been left behind the most.

Seabiscuit

Seabiscuit is the name of the horse and the true story of his racing career and the men who made that possible. Because for much of his racing career the horse was considered undersized and therefore the underdog, this movie is considered a feel good film for today's audience. The movie takes place during a time of the American economy at its worst, during and after the Depression. The movie effectively paints the picture of how bad things were for people by using a grey color scheme and grey urban settings. The only time the viewer sees color such as reds and browns are in the context of the rich or the businessman's home. Seabiscuit's costume is made out of red material to reflect his strength but to also bring into light the symbolic reason of use of red. It is a bold color as much as he is a bold, powerful animal. Red is also the color associated with stop signs but Seabiscuit goes against this meaning by being unstoppable. Still it is not only the horse that makes the story but the atmosphere and action dramatized through key moments of cinematography. The camera focuses a lot on the racetrack and other elements of the racing industry. This in turn builds the story and gives the viewer images in which to build the historical context.

The movie builds on the framework of the history by also almost using the same technique as Lee in Malcolm X The director of Seabiscuit however does not look to his own time period for contrast and reinforcements for moving the story along. Instead he looks to the time period to establish a flow and rhythm by utilizing newspaper and newsreels of the time period. This makes the viewer experience more authentic and comforting than other historic films. By using these snippets of true vintage film clips documenting the time of Seabiscuit's career only reinforces the truth of the story portrayed. It is artfully presented to the audience as a drama with docudrama accents. By viewing the clips interspersed with the drama of the story, moves the events forward and allows the viewer to suspend any misconceptions they may have of this era in American history. The newsreels also give the drama more creditability and strength when the… [END OF PREVIEW]

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