All Posts By

Doug Weatherford

Dr Roger Mcfarlane lecturing on O Brother Where Art Thou? at BYU International Cinema

From Coens to Homer: Mythological Adaptation in O Brother, Where Art Thou?

By | News

Joel and Ethan Coen’s O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000) advertises itself as an adaptation of The Odyssey. Dr. Roger Macfarlane (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters) is just as interested in exploring the ways in which the film does not line up with Homer’s epic poem as in the ways in which it does. 

But, before jumping into epic poetry at last week’s IC lecture, Macfarlane talked about another text that O Brother, Where Art Thou? is adapting: Preston Sturges’s Sullivan’s Travels (1941). Sullivan’s Travels is one of the great comedies from the classical Hollywood period. It follows a director of second rate comedies who is trying to convince his producers to let him make a film of social importance. They claim that he doesn’t know suffering so Sullivan sets out on a journey to learn what life is really like outside of his protected, affluent bubble. The film he wants to make is titled, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Macfarlane pointed to one instance, besides the title, which serve as points of contact in the Coen Brothers’ film to Sturges’s: the cinema. In Sullivan’s Travels, one of the climactic scenes is of a group of prisoners brought into a church to watch a film. This image of prisoners entering a darkened theater is mirrored in the Coen Brothers’ film when a chain gang shuffles in to watch a movie in an actual theater. This visual match clues viewers into understanding O Brother, Where Art Thou? through the themes of Sullivan’s Travels—a film which Macfarlane highly recommended viewers also see this week at the International Cinema.

There are a few gimmes for reading O Brother, Where Art Thou? as an adaptation of The Odyssey. Firstly the character names overlap. George Clooney plays our main character named Ulysses Everett McGill has Odysseus’s Latin name, and the two characters are very similar. Penny Wharvey-McGill (Holly Hunter) also mirrors Penelope. Others diverge quite a bit though, such as Menelaus “Pappy” O’Daniel who does not fit with the Menelaus character in The Odyssey. John Goodman’s character wears an eyepatch and is very similar to the cyclops, Polyphemus, they are even maimed in similar ways with burning pieces of wood. The sirens are also a straightforward adaptation with singing women luring the men away from their quest and leading them to be killed. 

While many of these elements line up nicely, Macfarlane observed that the film also contains a number of less direct adaptations. Such as, “why is there a bust of Homer in the background of the ‘Pappy’ O’Daniel character introduction?” and “Who is the blind railroad man? … He matches Tiresias visually but not thematically.” 

One less obvious adaptation of Homer is the use of the song “Man of Constant Sorrow” sung by Ulysses and his pals in the film. The song’s title is a reference to Odysseus’s name, which is a pun on the verb in Greek meaning “to suffer” or “to cause suffering.” Additionally, during The Odyssey, Tiresias tells Odysseus that before he can find rest, he needs to carry an oar in land far enough to find a people who do not recognize its use. There he needs to establish a cult of Poseidon. Macfarlane read this instance as the referent for the music in the film generally, because the music is all from outside of Mississippi and more akin to the music of Appalachia.

Lastly, Macfarlane pointed to one of the most discussed aspects of the film, its digital color-grading, a process that has since become ubiquitous. O Brother, Where Art Thou? was the first feature film to be entirely, digitally color corrected. The use of digital filters turns an otherwise intensely green Mississippi into a dusty depression era setting steeped in images and ideas from the past. Macfarlane read this not only as a visual aspect of the film but as a type of adaptation as well. Homer likewise was dealing with the past when he wrote The Odyssey around 740 BC referring to events in the Troyan war that took place over four hundred years earlier in 1184 BC. Homer is writing an ancient tale and similarly the color correction of the film acts a method of distancing and mythologizing its narrative in a nostalgized past.

Hidden Families and Class Conflict in Bong’s Parasite

By | News

“We often think of class conflict as a product of distance but in Bong’s films this sense of class conflict is a product of both distance and connection or closeness.” Dr. Marc Yamada (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters) addressed a full crowd eager to learn more about this year’s Academy.Award.winning film and Bong Joon-ho’s latest picture Parasite (2019). Yamada situated the film in what he called the “post-Crazy-Rich-Asians moment” (referring to the 2018 romantic comedy). That film, which was screened last semester at the International Cinema, focused solely on the glamour, style, and extreme wealth of a few in Asia. Other films look at the flip side of the coin, like the film that won the Palme d’Or the year previous to Parasite’s win, Kore-Eda Hirokazu’s Shoplifters (2018). Parasite has often been compared to Shoplifters not just because they were both the recipient of one of film industry’s biggest honors, but because they both explore themes of the economy, class, and the family. 

Yamada began by giving the background of Korea and Japan’s economic success over the last century. The rise of both was due largely to state sponsored capitalism. Their governments would pick out a few main companies to sponsor and make the centerpieces of the nations’ economies. In Japan these companies are called keiretsu, in Korea they are called chaebol. Some of these chaebol such as Samsung and Hyundai are well known even outside of the region. 

Because of the massive economic growth of these nations in such a rapid period, the structure of families changed in turn. Families today in Japan and Korea are characterized by the distant, salaryman father who provides everything for the family and a wife who does everything possible to help her husband continue to perform well at work while doing the same for their children and their schooling. Kids are supposed to work rigorously in school so that they too can become these kinds of effective workers when they grow up. The family then acts as an extension of the corporation, which is itself an extension of the state. Yamada said, “The idea of family as an extension of the corporation, or even the family as corporation, is really key in South Korean culture,” and pointed to the central role of the chaebol.

Yamada also noted the ways in which chaebol, while being owned and operated by a single family, will keep the different divisions separate from each other. Each works for the corporation but only works within their respective fields. Normative families follow suit and families members have become increasingly separated from each other in these two nations. This of course is true on a large scale but exceptions are sure to occur.

One such exception, and even a challenge to this normative state-extension family, is the central family in Shoplifters. What seems to be a fairly regular, poor family is revealed to be entirely self-constructed: the family members are not biologically related. Yamada read this organic family as a critique of the normative, top-down structure. 

Parasite in turn offers a critique of the ways in which chaebol have created an elite class within South Korea. Likewise one of Bong’s previous films, Snowpiercer (2013) depicts a post-apocalypse where all of humanity is stuck on one perpetually moving train. The train has become stratified according to class with the rich up front and the poor in the back. Despite the forced distance between them, the upper-class passengers require the lower-class passengers to work dehumanizing jobs in order to sustain their opulent lifestyle. It is the distance but also the proximity of members of the different classes that leads to the film’s conflict.

Parasite, Yamada suggests, is engaging in these themes of economy, family, and class. The film centers around two families, the wealthy Parks and the poor Kims. The families are separated by the differences in their houses, the houses’ placements in the city, as well as their respective lifestyles. However, they are interdependent. The Kims rely on the Parks for jobs and financial security while the Parks couldn’t sustain their way of life without the Kims as their workers. Their proximity is also emphasized in them both having incredibly common surnames and similar family structures as well (father, mother, older daughter, and younger son). Look for, Yamada suggested, ways in which proximity and distance is visually manifest in the film such as stairs, the interior design, and the architecture. It is often in these locations that Bong’s unique tone of comedy and drama plays out. One thing Yamada noted near the end of his lecture was how this mixture of comedy and drama can make many viewers uncomfortable. The violence of a comedy is often reversible, but in a drama or horror it is not. Bong’s violence, showcased near the end of the film, is a great example of how he can make something so sinister so funny and something so funny so sinister.

Cinema at the End of the Earth: Representing the Arctic

By | News

The Arctic is not an “empty, uninhabited space upon the margins of civilization outside of time, outside of history, and outside of modernity,” according to Dr. Chip Oscarson (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters). This week’s films, as programmed by Oscarson in his position as co-director of the International Cinema, all center around representing the Arctic. Each film takes a different approach to the subject, which Oscarson explained in turn. First, he showed a series of maps of the world. The Arctic, he noted, is often absent or completely distorted on many map projections. Oscarson then showed a map where the north pole was at the very center with Moscow, Toronto, and Reykjavik on the periphery. Geographic definitions centered on Europe or the Americas misrepresent.

Another form of the Arctic’s misrepresentation comes from mathematical projections. These are often used by corporations and governments for information about possible scientific, industrial, or political strategies. These, like the map projections, do not offer holistic understandings of the region, with its great diversity of indigenous peoples, travelers, varied landscapes, and wildlife. Oscarson suggested that film can present another way of understanding the Arctic and that the films this week were chosen specifically to offer a few different approaches.

The Arctic has been of interest to filmmakers from the early days. One such example is of George Méliès’s The Conquest of the Pole (1912) in which a group of European explorers travel to the North and meet terrible, wild monsters that almost destroy them. Here the Arctic is used as a periphery or an untamable Other to Europe’s modernity. Another important early film is the pioneering documentary Nanook of the North (1922) shot on location in Northern Canada by Robert Flaherty. Although marketed as an ethnographic documentary, in some cases Flaherty actually had his actors reenact traditional Inuit practices for the camera, even when some of those practices had long since been abandoned suggesting how even documentary film can be as much a projection of certain ideas as a record of objectively exists. 

The four films about the Arctic showing this week each show a different dimension of the region and how we are connected to it. Genesis 2.0 (2018) is a documentary about hunting mammoth tusks in Siberia. The hunters defy their people’s traditional beliefs in excavating the remains that emerge as the climate warms and the permafrost melts in the hope of getting rich. Their discovery of an impeccably preserved baby mammoth quickly awakes the interests of scientists hoping to re-create the species, a la Jurassic Park (1993) and sends the documentary around the world into thorny questions about how humans are altering the geological history of the planet. 

Charlie Chaplin’s The Gold Rush (1925) is another interesting representation of the Arctic, although it was filmed in California, thousands of miles from the Pole. This slapstick comedy began production in the Sierra Nevadas, near Donner’s Pass, but after terrible working conditions and uncooperative weather they shot the rest of the film in the studio with tons of fake snow. As a film it thematizes (and satirizes) the modern cosmopolitan subject’s relationship with space, and in terms of its substitution of the studio, for the Sierra Nevadas, for the Klondike it is an example of what Mark Sandberg has termed “place promiscuity” in film.  

Ága (2018) is set in the Siberian Arctic where the film follows an indigenous family who have continued to live according to traditional customs. This film is directed by a Bulgarian who makes what Oscarson referred to as the “ethnographic camera.” This view focuses on how these people could survive in what seems like such a demanding climate, a project not unlike Nanook of the North, but this time with less manipulation. 

Finally, Arctic (2018) is a survival film following a downed pilot (Mads Mikkelsen) who acts out our fantasy of the perfect survivalist. Oscarson suggested that these survival films are evidence of our “trying to imagine how to live outside of our ability to specialize,” as the pilot must do every imaginable task to survive without any societal or economic support. 

What unites all these films together, beyond the icy settings, is their attempt to expand our perspectives, suggest Oscarson. Understanding the Arctic helps us to better understand ourselves and the ways in which we are connected to each other and to local and planetary systems.

Could it Happen Again? Geological Perspectives on Imprisonment at Utah’s Topaz Internment Camp

By | News

“Could it happen again?” is the haunting question one must confront when studying the detainment and imprisonment of US citizens of Japanese ancestry in the United States during World War II.  According to Dr. Brian Roberts (Department of English) introducing the documentary film And Then They Came for Us (2017), 110,000 citizens and residents of the United States were imprisoned in the 1940s without trial or due process simply for being ethnically Japanese. These people, two thirds of whom were born and raised in America, were legally detained according to the government at the time. Seventy eight years ago this week, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066 which established the “assembly” camps and filled them. 

One such camp, the Topaz Internment Camp, was located only about an hour and half from Provo just outside of Delta, Utah. Some have pointed out the parallel between these camps and those used by the Nazis, and while Roberts said that in many ways they are not analogous, the American interment camps nevertheless “bore a milder resemblance to the Nazi camps to the degree that these camps were set up by a government which overtly favored white people. And that was unabashedly using racial and ethnic background as a logic for rounding up scapegoats.” 

Many of the prisoners at Topaz, Roberts pointed out, found a deeper connection with the geological formations of the area than they did with their fellow US citizens who sought to profit from their detainment. The stark geology surrounding their new home came to play a major role in many of their lives. The arts and literature journal established by the prisoners printed an article expressing amazement at the fact that Topaz Camp was located on the ancient bed of Lake Bonneville. Many of the prisoners became interested in the shells and fossils that could be found in the soil around the camp. Shells of ten-thousand-year-old snails were used to create jewelry and ornaments; some of the prisoners saved these artworks and even decades later pronounced them to be some of their most precious possessions. Trilobite fossils, half a billion years old from the bed of the even more ancient Cambrian ocean, could also be found in certain places nearby and were used by some prisoners to make personal effects such as ink stones. One prisoner carved the words, “four hundred and eighty million years” into the hollow of his ink stone from which he would ink his brush for artistic calligraphy. 

The artistic creations and geologic interests of these prisoners have been praised as evidence of these people’s resilience. Roberts agreed that they were indeed resilient and should be praised, but warned that such a focus acknowledges the tacit approval by citizens of the United States exercising their racial prejudice by imprisoning their neighbors and fellow citizens. The prisoners, Roberts suggested, found more kinship, courage, and loyalty in the fossilized remnants of ancient aquatic invertebrates than they did in the people who shared their language, nationality, and culture. 

Since the end of the Japanese-American internment in the late 1940s, all three branches of the government have issued formal apologies for these actions and thoroughly condemned such unlawful behavior. While it was pronounced legal at the time, these camps have been recognized for how heinously they trampled the rights of citizens and human beings. 

“Could it happen again?” During Donald Trump’s campaign for president, he advocated for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” and defended these remarks by saying, “Look at what FDR did many years ago and he’s one of the most respected presidents.” In his own words, an elected president of the United States has looked to a completely and utterly condemned, illegal practice as a blueprint for acting out his own religious discrimination. The answer to the question of “Could it happen again?” seems to be “Yes, but not if we stop it.” Roberts finished with this plea, “May we today and in the future find the courage to be better patriots than the invertebrate snails that comforted the prisoners at Topaz. To be more loyal to the rule of law than the trilobites that scuttled half-blind at the bottom of the Cambrian Ocean. May we be ethical enough that those who experience the brunt of prejudice today will not find their best companions in the mirthless laugh of geology, but in ethical solidarity with their fellow citizens and their fellow humans.”

Everybody loves Banksy, Right?

By | News

“Would Banksy have been as well known and liked twenty years ago before social media?” asked Dr. James Swenson (Department of Comparative Arts and Letters). Because Swenson was lecturing on Banksy Does New York (2014), a documentary about the well-known street artist’s installations, he felt that the lecture should be interactive, just like Banksy’s work. To begin, he shared a photo of his fourteen year old nephew, who upon hearing that his uncle would be lecturing on Banksy responded, “Banksy? I know him.” Swenson, shocked, asked how he didn’t know anything about art but still knew Banksy, and the boy responded, “I follow him on Instagram.”

Banksy’s art, according to Swenson, does not emerge from a vacuum. He is the progeny of other artists who similarly stretched the definitions and conceptualizations of art. Swenson pointed to Duchamp’s Fountain as one seminal work that challenged the idea of art; as Duchamp described it, the work is completely anti-retinal meaning that the art is not produced for its aesthetic qualities but purely as a concept. Similarly, László Maholy-Nagy’s Light-Space Modulator is a work of mechanical Bauhausian sculpture, but the artwork is not the sculpture, rather the gallery itself becomes the work when the light and sounds projected onto the walls when the mechanism is turned on.  

Banksy’s work is not about the pieces themselves, which are highly replicable and destructible. Often they are more about his power to orchestrate his audience’s reaction in real life and online. When asked who had sought out and visited Banksy pieces in the real world, a number of students raised their hands. Locally, there is one just off of Main Street in Park City and many people go find it like a real-world scavenger hunt to take photos or selfies with it. As the documentary depicts, Banksy’s genius is not in the stencils or sculptures themselves, but in the socialization that surrounds them.

When Swensen asked the audience to explain why they liked Banksy, some answered that it was in part the mystery surrounding Banksy’s anonymity, for others, the graphic quality of the works, for others it was that the art was subversive, sneaky, and even illegal. The fact that most of Banksy’s works are site-specific means that you have to go see them in the world and not in a museum (until they are sold at auction). His stencils are funny and have a social critique; many of Banksy’s most famous works are humorous interactions with the real world but positioned so that his stencils re-contextualizes the world’s objects. Additionally, these interactions, while funny, are often used to offer critiques of political movements, social injustices, and spatial unawareness. The largest number of students explained that the appeal of Bansky was that he thumbs his nose at the contemporary art world. He gives his work away for free although the owners of the buildings tagged by his art might decide to sell it or destroy it. Banksy eschews the order and haughtiness of contemporary art by making things simple to understand and pulling tricks on art collectors such as his infamous self-shredding frame that destroyed one of his prints the moment it was sold at auction.

The Good People of the Three Gorges

By | News

Still Life (2006)–literally: Good People of the Three Gorges in the original Mandarin title–was the first big break for one of China’s most popular directors today, Jia Zhangke. In his IC lecture, Dr. Steve Riep (Department of Asian and Near Eastern Languages) explained that film historians use the term “generations” to define periods in Chinese film history. Jia, like the others of the sixth generation, often make underground or independent films and use digital photography and location shooting to facilitate their low budgets. They are also interested in real life subjects as Jia is in both his documentaries and his narrative features. His films are grounded in actual problems faced in the wake of China’s rapid modernization, and his social critiques focus on the alienation and disorientation stemming from environmental, demographic, and social change. 

Still Life is set against the backdrop of the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s largest power station, on the Yangtze river in Fengjie. The dam was a project first proposed by Sun Yat-sen in 1919, picked up by the nationals, then by the Japanese occupiers, then the Americans supporting the nationalist government, then finally after Mao’s death the project was approved in 1992. Despite this seventy year period of surveying and mathematical projections, the dam’s construction caused about 1.3 million people to be relocated as the reservoir behind the dam filled. Still Life is shot on location in Fengjie as the water level rises. Riep drew attention to how often what is most significant in the frame is happening behind or around the characters rather than with the characters themselves. The rising levels of water and rubble in the film’s backgrounds command our attention and almost treat this destruction as a character in its own right.

“Who might be the ‘good people’ in this movie?” asked Prof. Riep. The film begins by following a man from Jia’s home province Shanxi who comes to Fengjie to find his ex-wife. He gets a job as a part of the city’s demolition working to dismantle the thousands of buildings needed to be raised or moved for the reservoir. Modernizing China, Riep suggested, has led to the tearing down of many old areas to relocate them and usually to replace them with more dense high-rises to accommodate the country’s urbanization. Unlike the sort of creative destruction suggested by Western modernists, these buildings are destroyed not to be replaced with anything other than water.

Riep suggested looking for commonalities among the main characters and how the inter-titles are used. The film has four vignettes with inter-titles: Cigarettes, Tea, Alcohol, and Candy. Some have read these as being poor replacements for food rations, but Riep suggests that it may have something to do with those items’ use in social lubrication in Chinese society.

The Lasting Influence of War and Peace

By | News

Mark Purves lecturing on War and Peace at International Cinema 27 Jan 2020

“No work of art has informed my worldview like Tolstoy’s War & Peace,” said Dr. Mark Purves, professor of Russian literature. Purves focused his lecture on the history and importance of Tolstoy’s novel, which was adapted in 1966 by Sergey Bondarchuk into a massive seven-hour film. The International Cinema will be screen each of War & Peace’s four chapters separately with one showing each week. This week War & Peace: Andrei Bolkonsky begins the epic journey. 

Tolstoy, Purves observed, was already popular before the serial release of War & Peace in 1865. In this work, he initially set out to write a history of Peter the Great, but he became so enamored with the rise and attack of Napoleon he scrapped the first half of the project. Even after having written for over a year (remember he was publishing serially), Tolstoy dropped the intended protagonist. The project evolved as he continued to write and it eventually covered fifteen years of Russian history. To do so, Tolstoy used his fame to gain access to archives where he unearthed much of the forgotten history of the period. 

Initially, his novel was not well received in the West as it did not fit neatly into any existing genre. In Russian literary circles, however, it was immediately heralded as a classic for precisely the same reason. Purves suggested that Tolstoy’s genius was in his focused descriptions of seemingly small, personal moments. “For Tolstoy,” Purves said, “humanity doesn’t exist. There are only millions of [individual] human beings possessed of desires and illusions which are at war with each other and within themselves.” Rather than focusing on the tsar’s presence at a ball, for instance, the novel and film follow a young teenager, Natasha Rostova, as she first experiences the feelings of love. Natasha has little to do with Russia’s fight against the invading French dictator, but Tolstoy is more interested in the personal than the great movements of history.

This emphasis in the immediate rather than the grand leads to a sense of importance in the here-and-now over and against what Tolstoy called “The tyranny of elsewhere.” In cinematic terms, Tolstoy wants his readers to rack their temporal and chronological focus to the here and now. “God must love the little moments,” one critic wrote, “because he created so many of them.”

It is clear from the film adaptation’s runtime alone that it adheres quite closely to Tolstoy’s novel. There are several different adaptations, but Sergey Bondarchuk’s version is not only the most complete but by far the most epic in scale. The representation of Napoleon’s invasion in the film is bound to amaze any film viewer, but what is far more impressive is Bondarchuk’s further emphasis of Tolstoy’s interest in the personal. Bondarchuk, of course, emphasizes certain aspects of the novel in response to his own interests and political climate. This is particularly apparent in the film’s emphatic condemnation of hero worship, but Purves ended by saying that Bondarchuk’s interpretation, “is as relevant to contemporary audiences as it was to those watching its premiere in 1966.”

How The Godfather Saved/Changed Hollywood

By | News

The Godfather ushered in a new era,” claimed Dr. Darl Larsen, professor of Theater and Media Arts. Hollywood film studios changed their structure because of the success of Fancis Ford Coppola’s blockbuster hit, The Godfather (1972). Throughout the 40s and 50s, Hollywood studios experienced significant strength and stability, but new media such as television began to threaten their dominance as well as the more experimental and thematically frank foreign films that made their way to American theaters throughout the 50s and 60s, American audiences wanted to see things that were more complex. Foreign films were not under any obligation to self-censor sex and violence, so they were marketed towards Americans as being more titillating, although whether the content was actually more explicit is up for debate according to Larsen. American audiences were drawn to these more challenging, foreign films because of the more extreme cultural circumstances of the 60s, including race riots, the war in Vietnam, and a myriad of political assassinations around the world. Movies, they thought, should reflect the darkness of real life and the news.

Hollywood was slow on the uptake. Westerns had more or less wandered into the setting sun and musicals were soon to follow. After the success of The Sound of Music in 1965, the studios thought that they could pour money into big musicals again, but after three massive flops including Doctor Dolittle (1967), Star! (1968), and Hello, Dolly! (1969) the days of the Hollywood musical came to a close as did the doors of MGM Studios. Hollywood needed to fundamentally change in order to survive. “The Godfather was directed by nobody,” Larsen joked, “That’s not true. It was directed by a nobody.” Francis Ford Coppola, as opposed to the Hollywood directors who preceded him, went to film school as opposed to having worked his way slowly up the ladder after working every job on the lot. 

In film school, which was relatively new, Coppola studied film both practically and critically. He watched all the great American and foreign films from the festivals and learned how different lenses, angles, sounds, etc. affect audiences. Despite rather disliking the novel, Coppola was sought after to direct The Godfather in part because he himself was Italian-American and because the studio knew they needed some fresh new vision. The Godfather became the first Hollywood blockbuster. It was a book. It was a movie. It was a soundtrack. All of these elements were mass marketed to push each other for greater sales and the film opened not in hundreds but in thousands of theaters to massive critical and audience acclaim. 

Because of The Godfather’s success, the studios shifted to center more around these blockbusters or “event films.” Studios also started looking for their next directors in recent film school alumni. There would be no Jaws (1975), no Star Wars (1977), no Taxi Driver (1976) were it not for Coppola and The Godfather.

Bruce Lee’s Ligaments, Life, and Legacy

By | News

“Here are my Jeet Kune Do gloves and my nunchucks.” Dr. Matt Ancell began his lecture on Bruce Lee’s legacy and Enter the Dragon (1973) by pulling out evidence of Lee’s influence on him as a young boy. Ancell gave a brief outline of Lee’s life and works leading up to Enter the Dragon, then offered an explanation as to why this film might be screened at the International Cinema.

Bruce Lee was of European and Chinese descent but was born in America. His family returned to Hong Kong when he was still young, and he worked as a child actor while being raised by his father, a famous Opera singer. He never garnered much attention as a child actor, but nor did he ever lose the desire to make films. Because Lee got into many fights in Hong Kong, his parents eventually moved him back to America to continue his education. Lee stopped working in film for a time as he trained in Wing Chun style martial arts and studied philosophy and drama at the University of Washington.

Lee was found to be training non-Chinese people in Chinese martial arts, an affront to the Chinese community and was challenged to a duel. Because he had only studied the Wing Chun style, a very sedentary, immobile tradition, he was quickly worn out by his opponent’s fleeting movements. This fight was the impetus for Lee’s new philosophically based style: Jeet Kune Do (the way of the intercepting fist). Jeet Kune Do is characterized as a style without a style. Lee described it in an interview as, “Be[ing] formless, like water.” In Jeet Kune Do, one choses to utilize whatever would work best for an actual fight rather than sticking exclusively to one style. You can use the arm movements from Wing Chun or boxing, the leg movements from Judo or Karate, and any brawler techniques (such as when Lee rips off Chuck Norris’s chest hair in The Way of the Dragon [1972]).

Lee eventually began working in Hollywood playing almost exclusively stereotypical and subservient characters, much to his dissatisfaction. After butting heads with a number of studios and having his ideas rejected or stolen, Lee decided to return to Hong Kong, where unbeknownst to him, he was already a huge star. The TV series, The Green Hornet (1966), in which Lee played Kato the martial artist/chauffeur/sidekick, was being shown in Hong Kong under the title The Kato Show.

While Lee had been in America, the types of films made in Hong Kong had radically changed. Due to the increased violence of the 1960s riots, the Hong Kong film industry had become more realistic in its depictions of violence. No longer were the martial artists using such fancy tricks with the camera helping to avoid their failures. These new films that appeared immediately before Lee returned, featured more authentic fights that mirrored the types of violence the protesters faced under the British police force.

Lee was perfectly suited to this type of filmmaking because he truly was a phenomenally powerful martial artist. According to Ancell, Lee was just an okay actor, but he had an “incredible screen presence.” After two back-to-back record-breaking hits with Golden Harvest (a production company), Lee wrote, directed, and starred in The Way of the Dragon. Hollywood then took note of how marketable Lee was and struck a deal for a co-production between Golden Harvest and Warner Bros. for a new film called Enter the Dragon.

Enter the Dragon was originally billed as something of a James Bond film, where the British star, John Saxon, was to lead a team of three and infiltrate the antagonist’s island base. Of course, Hong Kong did not like seeing the British take all the credit, nor did Bruce Lee, so Lee strong-armed the production into letting him direct the opening scenes of the film which set his character as the central protagonist. What the film became is something of a genre-blending picture. Lee introduces elements of the martial arts genre, Saxon the spy genre, and Jim Kelley the blaxploitation genre. We are left with three characters working together but who approach the narrative almost as if they each carry their respective genres with them. Enter the Dragon, then presents viewers with a fascinating example of how international financing, the star system, and film genres all push and pull when making popular movies.

Just one month before the release of Enter the Dragon, Lee died. The film went on to be a huge success world-wide. Because of his unparalleled skill and charisma, Lee’s image continued in the popular imagination. Dozens of imitators immediately sprang up, leading to what have been coined as “Brucesploitation” films. His masculinized and sexualized, Asian, male body also led to a change in desired American, male bodies in film, and he is popularly known as “the grandfather of MMA” for his Jeet Kune Do style.

The Bridge, an Autopsy

By | News, Uncategorized

“When I say that word ‘bridge,’ what do you think of? I would bet you think of connection.” Dr. Nate Kramer of the Department of Comparative Arts and Letters, a specialist in Scandinavian culture, spoke about the Danish-Swedish co-produced TV series The Bridge (2011) at the regular International Cinema Wednesday lecture 20 November. The premise of this hit TV show is that a corpse is found on the bridge exactly between Denmark and Sweden. Because the body is placed right on the border and because it turns out to be two bodies—one half a Dane, one half a Swede—detectives from both have to work together to solve the case. 

Prof. Kramer talked about how The Bridge draws upon various television genres. First off, it is like a police procedural. Shows like CSI (2000), Bones (2005), and Hawaii Five-O (1968) are all American examples, but most countries also have their own police procedurals. These shows, as Prof. Kramer emphasized, are not necessarily whodunnits, rather they examine the processes. They show the autopsies, evidence collections, warrants, and legal proceedings more than the actual chase of criminals. 

Equally important in terms of the episodes’ runtime as well as audience interest is the relationship between the detectives. This is particularly true in The Bridge in which the interaction between the two lead detectives becomes a primary focus of the plot, almost more so than the investigation itself. The show draws on popular inter-Scandinavian stereotypes as Saga, the Swede, is incredibly organized, uptight, but lacking empathy, while Martin, the Dane, is relaxed, friendly, but with a messy personal life. 

The Bridge is also a good example of “Nordic Noir.” “You can think about [Nordic Noir] like the Scandinavian version of a police procedural,” but Kramer wants IC viewers to understand that there is more to Nordic Noir than that. This is also a literary genre, which has now made its way into TV and film, usually about a crime using prose that is rather plain and direct and avoiding metaphors. but, crucially, the narratives are very specifically located. Many are critiques of the Scandinavian welfare state, so their geographical specificity is key. The titular bridge in The Bridge is not just any bridge, but the very recognizable Øresund bridge. So, viewers need to understand that this bridge is not a stand-in for all bridges, nor are the relations between Sweden and Denmark emblematic of all bordering nations. 

That being said, and here Prof. Kramer asked us to forgive the seemingly contradictory statements, that “this TV show leverages the symbolic power of bridges.” While a bridge is something that normally connects, as does the Øresund Bridge, they can also serve to bisect. Bridges are places where flows can be halted, where cultures can be separated, and people searched. Tapping into this idea of connection and bisection is, Prof. Kramer claims, why this TV show has been so popular as to have four different remakes around the world: England and France, USA and Mexico, Germany and Austria, and Malaysia and Singapore. All over the world, there are unique areas that embody the same symbolic power of the bridge to illustrate the contradiction of international connections.