film101/ film analysis discussion/ 2 complete paragraph


You do not need to respond to all the readings for a given class, as long as your comments reveal a strong and in-depth reading of one of the texts. Commenting on two texts for a particular class is considered one post.In approximately two paragraphs, cover some of the following:What is the main or central argument?How does the author make this argument? (Working through specific examples, and/or other authors and their terms and concepts?)What are the key terms, concepts, or distinctions used in this argument?In what ways is/are the argument/s or particular claim/s surprising, counterintuitive, or perhaps even problematic?How might we see parallels to contemporary examples or issues?In what ways might the author’s claims require a reexamination or response? 2 complete paragraph / 400-500 wordsfilm: Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988), 131 min.

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MSCR 1100: Film 101
Class 7B: Masculinity & Action Cinema
The Film Experience
Chapter 11: “Reading about Film: Critical Theories and Methods”
Contemporary Film Theory
Claude Lévi-Strauss
narratology: the study of narrative forms
Structuralist theorists reduce narrative to its most basic form: a beginning situation is disrupted, a hero takes
action as result, and a new equilibrium is reached at the end.
questions the rational methodology and fixed definitions of structuralism.
includes many areas of thought, form psychoanalysis to postcolonial and feminist theory.
a position of critique, asking us to reconsider the truths and hierarchies we take for granted.
Structuralism attempted to be systematic with empirical observation by looking for transhistorical patterns to
which specific data would fit. Poststruturalism, in turn, questions structuralism’s assumption of objectivity and
the disregard for cultural and historical context.
Jacques Lacan: imaginary (images), symbolic (language), real (trauma that cannot be directly represented).
The Mirror Stage: The young child sees herself in the mirror and begins to understand herself as a
separate being in the world, with an individual identity.
Apparatus Theory
explores the values built into film technology through the particular context of its historical development.
argues that an individual who stands in front of a Renaissance painting or watches a classical Hollywood
movie is “subjected” to the apparatus’s positioning and understands his or her “subjectivity” or sense of self
in predetermined conditions.
Jean-Louis Baudry
“The Apparatus:
Metaphsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema”
Plato, The Allegory of the Cave
Baudry uses this to imply a transhistorical drive toward the apparatus; the shadow play in the cave is
“a desire which haunts the invention of cinema.”
Freud, Regression
The desire for undifferentiation
The two most noted examples are the oral stage (for the mother’s breast), in which someone
obsessively eats, smokes, talks, etc.; and the anal stage, in which one is obsessively neat or sloppy.
The Major Analogies of Cinema and Dreaming
• Inhibition of Movement (“chained” in our seats like Plato’s prisoners)
• Lack of Reality Testing (For example, in dreams, we need to “pinch ourselves,” In Inception, they use
a spinning top.
MSCR 1100: Film 101, 7B. 2

An Imagistic Medium (However, unlike films, dream images tend to be incomplete, foregrounds
backgrounds, figures in voids, and overlaying figures and places, dream images no not “map” onto a
visual space coherently).
A Dark Room
A More-than Real Impression of Reality (Cinema is an expression of a desire, an impression of reality
imbued with affect. It is an artificial psychosis, and hallucinatory, because of the dreamer/viewer’s
undifferentiation, she identifies with characters on screen.)
A Tendency to Efface the Distinction between Perception and Representation (Lack of distinction
between active/passive, interior/exterior, undifferentiation of bodies, and this underlies the desire for
Queer Theory
Queer film theory critiques and supplements feminist and psychoanalytic approaches, allowing for more
flexible ways of seeing and experiencing visual pleasure than are accounted for by the binary opposites of
male/female, seeing/seen, being/desiring.
Cultural Studies
Reception Theory
Reception theory focuses on how a film is received by audiences, rather than on who made a film or on its
formal features or thematic content. It implies a theory of audiences as active rather than passive.
They may react from the position the text slots them into—the dominant reading; offer a negotiated reading
that accommodates different realities; or reject the framework in which a dominant message is conveyed
through an oppositional reading.
Star Studies
In addition to analyzing how a star’s image is composed from various elements—film appearances, promotion,
publicity, and critical commentary—theorists are interested in how audience reception helps define a star’s
cultural meaning.
Race and Representation
Representation in:
1. the aesthetic sense, whereby we may speak of representations of African Americans in films of Spike
Lee versus those of Gone with the Wind
2. the political sense of standing for a group of people, as an elected representative does.
Yvonne Tasker
“Dumb Movies for Dumb People:
Masculinity, the Body, and the Voice in Contemporary Action Cinema”
How would we account for the undoubtable marketability of the male body in the 1980s?
These films and stars exemplify, in different ways, a tendency of the Hollywood action cinema toward the
construction of the male body as spectacle, together with an awareness of masculinity and performance.
They also play upon images of power and powerlessness at the center of which is the male hero.
Suffering—torture, in particular—operates as both a set of narrative hurdles to overcome, tests that the hero
must survive, and as a set of aestheticized images to be lovingly dwelt on.
MSCR 1100: Film 101, 7B. 3
Richard Dyer: in a world “of microchips and large scale growth (in the USA) of women in traditionally male
occupations” the adoption of such tones suggests that the ‘values of masculine physicality are harder to
maintain straightfacedly and unproblematically” (1987: 12).
“Within the action cinema the figure of the star as hero, larger than life in his physical abilities and pin-up
good looks, operates as a key aspect of the more general visual excess that this particular form of Hollywood
production offers to its audience. Along with the visual pyrotechnics, the military array of weaponry and
hardware, the arch-villains and the staggering obstacles the hero must overcome, the overblown budgets, the
expansive landscapes against which the drama is acted out, and the equally expansive soundtracks, is the
body of the star as hero, characteristically functioning as spectacle” (233).
If anxieties to do with sexuality and difference are increasingly worked out over the male body and its
commodification as spectacle, then there seems to be two dominant strategies in the action cinema:
1. images of physical torture and suffering
2. comedy
The hero’s excessive masculinity, is subjected to humiliation and mockery at some level (237).
“If muscles are signifiers of both struggle and traditional forms of male labor, then for the many critics the
muscles of male stars seem repulsive and ridiculous precisely because they seem to be dysfunctional, ‘nothing
more’ than decoration, a distinctly unmanly designation. The body of the hero may seem dysfunctional, given
a decline in the traditional forms of labor that he is called on to perform, but also essential in a last stand,
operating as both affirmation and decoration” (239).
“It is perhaps the failure of work, the lack of effectively with which his efforts are greeted that, as much as
anything, allows an understanding of the cynical vision of the populist hero that emerged in the 1960s and
1970s and which is crucial to the characterization of John McClane in the two Die Hard films” (240).
In both films, John McClane has no official place, as a stream of officials and bureaucrats insist on pointing
out. “By and large the hero of the recent action cinema is not an emissary of the State or, if he is, the State is
engaged in a double-cross, as in Rambo (1985). The hero may be a policeman or a soldier but he more often
than not acts unofficially, against the rules and often in a reactive way, responding to attacks rather than
initiating them” (241).
Die Hard 2 (Renny Harlin, 1990)
In the following scene at the beginning of the film, it doubles down upon, and makes explicit, the
contemporary technologies that challenge the hero’s masculine agency.
Sharon Willis
“Mutilated Masculinities and Their Prostheses: Die Hards and Lethal Weapons”
“Because popular films read, consume, and even offer partial analyses of fantasies and anxieties circulating
in the social field, they are always ambivalent, and their address to us is ambivalent. If we recognize that films
may tell us what we are really thinking about—are really anxious about collectively—then we have to assume
that we do not automatically understand these anxieties any more than the film do, because surely the
unconscious is at work in the social field as well” (58).
We need critical reading strategies that remain alert to our own seductions. [A poststructuralist argument.]
Generalized crises of authority: Both Die Hard and Lethal Weapon offer curious and excessive rewritings of
a plot familiar to us from westerns: “the hero is a lawman—uncontained by marriage—whose renegade force
is unleashed by a woman’s disappearance or the threat of her disappearance. As in westerns, the relationship
of the hero to the law is unstable—does he represent it, or does he become it?” (28)
MSCR 1100: Film 101, 7B. 4
The hero’s relation to the law turns on the question of whether or not he can, or must, embody it—quite
literally; that is, on whether or not his body can be the law, whether the law is written on the body. In each
case the crisis of authority combines with masculine sadomasochistic spectacle in the context of bonding
with a black man: the film’s strongest form of closure (28).
What these films put forward as the central figure of masculinity in crisis is really white heterosexual
masculinity desperately seeking to reconstruct itself within a web of social differences. The opposing terms:
1. femininity
2. black masculinity
3. male homosexuality.
Paul Smith: “the pleasure proffered in action movies can be regarded, then, not so much as the perverse
pleasure of transgressing given norms, but as at bottom the pleasure of reinforcing them” (33). Willis argues
that these films require both moves: “And this requisite suggests a pleasure in repeating the instability of the
‘law’ in order to maintain it” (33).
These action films treat sexual and racial difference as unproblematic, as already managed. But they also come
through as incoherent, racial issues are pushed to the periphery; the erotic center is also the site of aggression:
the white male star.
Die Hard rewrites the western, as a disaster film. It redistributes the anxiety through the disaster motif, projects
it onto the scale of the building.
The foregrounded combative male body “appears simultaneously as a machine of destruction and as
constantly eroded and mutilated flesh; it is both hyperphallicized in its straining muscularity and feminized
as it is placed in the masochistic position” (40).
Die Hard’s most persistent image: the shattering of glass—computer screens, office windows.
Holly is not an equal adversary; “she is visually and thematically constructed as a phallic career woman who
cuts her husband down or out of the picture” (43). In the end, her voluntary name change signals her
submission to marital law (43).
Spectacle & Display (of the Male Body)
“Our gaze is most commonly situated with the camera’s—in dizzying mobility, sweeping across action scenes,
or following the characters’ motion, or pulling away to scrutinize the body from extreme or implausible angles
directly above or below it, zooming in to fragment it in detail. This disrupted and disrupting gaze raises the
issue of authority, the law, and the sadomasochistic fantasy implicated in the spectacle of the male body” (45).
At the same time, the camera allows us to “go” and see everywhere in the building.
The bodies in action are figured in a highly-stylized fashion that freezes the narrative, that recognize the
“pleasure of display” (46). This spectacle, however, involves aggression as a means of covering up or warding
off the erotic gaze, and operates within the contexts of a “crisis” of masculine authority and of the body’s
McClane’s body attains its status as law through mutilation and torment. “Spectator pleasure is split between
the sadistic and the masochistic, since we are able to identify with authority while seeing it punished in the
person of the hero” (47).
Authority & Technology
The struggle for authority here overlaps with a continual struggle for control of available technologies: “The
limitations of sight here give rise to an entire economy of prosthetics within a nightmare of complete
technological dysfunction, where an ordinary office building becomes a terrifying prison since it is virtually
MSCR 1100: Film 101, 7B. 5
unmanageable for the scale of the human body without electronic prosthetic devices—elevators, computers,
telephones, television, and video technologies” (48). This is an anxious fantasy about mismanagement, about
the failure to arrive at the appropriate measure of technology (48).
“Anxieties about racial and sexual difference are also recoded in anxieties about technology and its
management, about the security of the divide between body and machine” (54).
Mass Media
Mass media and communications technology remain central to Die Hard’s ironies. The figure of television is
charged with ambivalence: it invades McClane’s domestic space to interview his kids and thereby allows Hans
to identify him and his wife. Television also emblematizes popular discourse. (McClane chooses the name
“Roy Rogers.”)
As for the radio, “the voice is closer, truer than the eye; the radio has the greater authority” (50).
Global Capital & Social Difference
The film is fundamentally organized by a multiculturalist fantasy: “Die Hard’s fantasies about social difference,
however, are diffused as they are mapped onto figures of international cultural difference, where the central
opposition is American/foreign” (52).
This gleeful fantasy of corporate and technological destruction rehearses populist anticorporate sentiments
alongside technophobic ones in the context of international trade conflicts, with the Germans and the Japanese
as competing foreign interests (51).
To be American is to be a bricoleur, a behind-the-scenes guerrilla, a good manager of crisis, in a culture
depicted as in a constant state of emergency. The film offers the cliché of American individual initiative and
inventiveness, against German precision and bloodlessness, and Japanese regimentation and conformity (53).
Die Hard depicts a state of permanent emergency: “Despite its happy ending, we cannot forget that its picture
of a multicultural society looks like a disaster, one that brings down the house, quite literally. Within this film’s
escalating spectacle of disaster, difference becomes yet another special effect…” (54).
“Now, if films consume, transform, and shape popular discourses, they inevitably do so ambivalently, offering
up possibly progressive impulses and indicating points of resistance as well as managing resistance and
anxiety” (55).
Die Hard (John McTiernan, 1988), 131 min.
Novel by Roderick Thorp. Screenplay by Jeb Stuart and Steven E. de Souza
Bruce Willis
Bonnie Bedeila
Reginald VelJohnson
James Shigeta
Alan Rickman
John McClane
Holly Gennaro McClane
Sgt. Al Powell
Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi
Hans Gruber
Note how the film presents McClane as an “average Joe,” trying to negotiate this alienating (and castrating)
new world of computer systems, international corporations and capital, career women, and official (and
bureaucratic) law enforcement—and how these changes frustrate his ability to act and enforce his will. In what
ways is his bonding with Sgt. Powell, the black cop, presented as one of the only solutions to this “crisis”?
MSCR 1100: Film 101, 7B. 6
Note how McClane’s body, as a site of the law and action, is both hyper masculine (as sadistic and powerful)
and feminized (as masochistic and “castrated”). How might this convey an ambivalence about the fantasies
and anxieties presented in the film?
In what ways might the film suggest that to be American is to be a bricoleur, a good manager of crisis, flexible
enough to improvise, to appropriate the tools and cultural references at hand?
With these insights from Willis and Tasker in mind, address how contemporary action movies might be read
as similarly ambivalent fantasies about race, gender, globalization, science, technology, or other forces that
may pose a “crisis” to masculine agency—the ability of white men to uphold law and order through violent,
physical action. In what ways do such action films also exhibit what we might call the “frenzy of the visible,”
through rapid montage and/or mobile camera shots (actual or virtual), and what might such spectacles say
about other media (i.e. GoPro cameras, video games, medical imaging)? To what degree might the spectacle
of the male action hero be read as “erotic” in particular contexts, and how might this eroticism be displaced
onto displays of violence?
Willis, Sharon. “Mutilated Masculinities and Their Prostheses: Die Hards and Lethal Weapons.” Chap. 1 in
High Contrast: Race and Gender in Contemporary Hollywood Film. Durham and London: Duke
University Press, 1997.

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