Body Double (1984) Review and Discussion

Brian De Palma’s 1984 crime drama, Body Double, offers an intoxicating mystery that is saturated in sexual metaphors and themes of voyeuristic pleasure throughout. We are first introduced to the protagonist, Jake Scully, played by Craig Wasson, when he has some sort of panic attack due to claustrophobia while lying in a coffin for his starring role as a vampire. Due to his fear of small spaces, his acting suffers, causing him to be fired from the film. When going home to see his girlfriend, he catches her in bed with another man; the audience can only view the man’s body but not his face. His face is not important, as the abilities of his body and the sexual imagery are more important during this scene as he overpowers the abilities and control Jake has over his own body. Towards the very beginning of the film it is known that Jake is insecure and feels as though he has no power or control over his body.

He soon befriends Sam Bouchard, played by Gregg Henry, who he meets in an awkwardly humiliating acting class. After struggling to perform during the acting class, Jake opens up to Sam about his current life problems, including not having a place he feels comfortable staying at, considering the apartment which he lived belonged to his girlfriend. This is particularly important because this represents Jake’s lacking stereotypical male dominance, as does the vampire character he plays; the extremely feminine vampire makeup only exaggerates Jake’s femininity as to suggest weakness. Jake is at the lowest of the low, and Sam then offers him to stay at the house he is house sitting for. Although Jake is impressed with the gorgeous observatory-like building, which he is staying in, he is more impressed by the beautiful woman neighbor who Sam encourages Jake to peep at through a telescope. Decked out in jewels and fancy lingerie, the mysterious woman puts on a “show” every night, slowly removing her clothes and dancing erotically. Sam informs Jake that this happens every night like “clock-work.” Jake becomes mesmerized, watching her every night as if he was the predator and she was the prey. This is the first moment when Jake is in control; peeping through this woman’s window and viewing her at a vulnerable state is feeding him, he cannot get enough. Jake takes comfort in this scopophilia; voyeurism is fulfilling his sexual desires, yet he does not have to face the complicated shame he has about his body. She is not only a vision and a spotlight for erotic gaze for the male protagonist, but also for the audience who assumes the role of the protagonist upon viewing the film. The mesmerizing neighbor, Gloria Develle, played by Deborah Shelton, plays a controversial role in the film, as she is created simply to be a sexual object, an image of physical perfection and nothing more. The audience never truly learns about Gloria’s life, her passions, her feelings; her image and her sexual appeal are the extent of her characters. She serves the male protagonist, as Gloria is the Eve to Jake’s Adam; she was created for him.

Jake’s fascination with Gloria continues, as he soon begins following her wherever she will go. Even this allows Jake to possess her, she is being stalked and investigated, and she has no choice in this matter. She had bought new underwear when she was out running errands and she threw away her old ones while out in public, which led Jake to take them out of the garbage. This gave him a sense of ownership over Gloria; the intimacy of the just-worn underwear seems inappropriate for Jake to possess. Although Jake is the more dominant character because of this need for ownership, Gloria also acts as a subject for anxiety for Jake, as according to Freud, she acts as a threat of castration, which alludes to her mystery for Jake. Jake wishes to figure Gloria out, hence him spying on her and stalking her, because her strong sexual presence is intimidating and frighten Jake. Once she has served her purpose as sexual property, she is murdered, which Jake witnesses while he was spying on her through a telescope. She is no longer necessary.

After having watched a pornographic film exhibiting a famous adult actress, Holly Body, played by Melanie Griffith, Jake realizes that she dances the same way Gloria would when he spied on her. Holly Body is even more literally depicted as a sexual image, an erotic spectacle if you will, considering her career is based on that entire concept. Jake meets Holly Body to confirm that she was in fact hired to pretend to be Gloria and dance with the blinds open in order to seduce Jake and keep him watching. This manipulated Jake into being a witness to Gloria’s murder, as he had watched it happen all through that telescope. Although Holly Body is an erotic spectacle, even her name says it all; she is still depicted as powerful in some sense. Despite being hired by a man, she was able to control Jake’s actions, even though it had originally seemed like Jake’s peeping was the only thing he was in control of. Gloria on the other hand, was exploited sexually just to be brutally murdered in a scene where an electric drill was used as a visual metaphor for a phallus. Nothing is subtle about this scene, as the audience watches Gloria’s perfect body be mutilated, her bloody vividly spilling out of her. This scene satisfies the audience’s pleasure of looking, as the intimacy of Gloria’s body has been exploited for the last time. Using a more current term in horror cinema, “torture porn” strongly represented in films such as James Wan’s 2004 mystery horror film Saw, is present in this scene as it feeds the audience’s wish (whether conscious or not) to view the woman as an object and a fetish.

Some less important scenes to the plot still act as a reminder from De Palma of the recurring sexual themes throughout the film. A scene where a man is feeding a woman a hot dog directly next to a giant hot dog statue is obviously intently phallic, as the man dominates the woman yet again. Metaphors and suggestive imagery are present throughout Body Double, making the audience be aware of and crave to partake in scopophilia of exploitation the human form, more specifically the female form.



Marlon Riggs and the Documentary as a Jump-Start for Social Revolution (2017)

With film comes opinions, and with opinions come controversy. This often is a reality when it comes to documentary filmmaking, because one person’s perspective on reality may differ from another’s. With this being said, certain social issues crave the needed attention society is choosing not to provide, such as the neglect of LGBTQ issues present within the black community, brought to attention by documentary filmmaker and poet, Marlon Riggs in his 1989 film Tongues Untied, leading to quite the fuss. As Tongues Untied is a film with alarming and unconventionally graphic commentary and visuals, it is no surprise that fuming right-wing conservatives had something to say (Petty 416). Due to the fact that sensitive issues such as these have not quite been publically discussed as thoroughly and unapologetically before, an uproar ensued. Because of this, consciousness of blackness in the LGBTQ community began to creep into the limelight. Documentary filmmaking has the power to bring normally quieted social issues to light with the use of vivid imagery of real life events and emotional intent, birthing a strong reaction and increased awareness.

marlon riggs pic

“I was mute, tongue tied by shadows and silence. Now I speak, and my burden is lightened, lifted, free,” Riggs says himself in a particularly dark yet liberating scene in Tongues Untied. In this long take we see the director himself, standing in front of a black backdrop. There is no music. The only things present to stimulate the audience are Riggs’ face and voice, his eyes hyperfocusing into the camera making eye contact with his audience, the very people he is expressing his struggles to. The scene starts as a close up, slowly zooming into an extreme close up shot, emphasizing every feature and expression present on Riggs’ face. His words are haunting, and his face matches that, giving birth to a scene filled with emotion and pain. An audience connects with a scene so pure and real. Just a man, his camera, and a message, no special effects or elaborate editing are necessary. With scenes like this, which are present throughout the film, emotion exudes through poetry, as gay, black men express their anger, fear, and obligated silence they have endured in their lives. Riggs’ film acts as a rebirth, a new age. “Tongues Untied is truly a breakthrough documentary, for it penetrated ‘the walls of silence by which oppressive norms and taboos erase any ‘evidence of being’ among black lesbians and gay men’ (Mercer 22)” (Petty 417). The way in which Riggs “penetrated the walls of silence” was shocking to many, as the neglect of gayness and blackness was revealed in an explicit way. Extreme close up shots of the mouths of both white and black men spewing unsettling profanities targeting the gay and black community flash in-between scenes of gay, black men illustrating their stories of pain through poetry. The audience sees these obvious villains’ faces uncomfortably close to the camera, their eyes hidden as if to give them an inhuman quality. Strong editing is what makes these scenes so profound; the audience listens to the exquisitely real poetry while scenes of pure hatred are inserted aggressively and surprisingly, interrupting their stories just as this hate had interrupted their lives.   In some of these intimate scenes, the men are not saying anything; the audience sees their facial expressions exuding hurt, while the only thing audible is evil. “We need strong black men,” and “I don’t want them around me or my kids,” are just some of the sayings that echo in the background, as if to mimic how this hate has echoed in their lives, producing a sort of meta, or self-referential moment.

Although Riggs’ message is arguably clear, people still focused on the shock factor of the explicit nature of the content rather than the shock factor of the negative experiences of gay, black men. During Pat Buchanan’s 1992 election campaign, he had accused President Bush of using taxpayers’ money to pay for “pornographic art,” referring to a scene in Tongues Untied. But what was interesting about this situation was that the clip mentioned portrayed nudity of white men, the original controversy having nothing to do with the meaning behind the entire film (Petty 416). This only emphasizes Riggs’ point; LGBTQ struggles and neglect in the black community are brought to the public eye. Although it is necessary for the content to be understood in regards to the social issues that are attempted to be exposed, the focus of male whiteness makes Riggs’ message that more important. He speaks about how at one point in his life he craved being with white men, as they were the only “flavor” that interested him. If a black man looked his way he would not pay him any attention, without even a question as to why he was this way. As he talks about this saddening fact of internalized neglect of diversity and his own race, images of only white porn stars flash on the screen, not a black man in sight, making the audience understand why Riggs was so drawn to them. As the audience listens and watches, they get a glimpse of just how hidden gay, black men truly were in the media during this time, which led to a form of internalized racism and self hatred. Soon the audience sees eerily racist images of black men in porn, many suggestive of slavery, it being obvious that there were no positive black idols of sexuality for these men to relate to. Riggs begins to describe himself as invisible, an alien unseen, and even calls himself racist slurs. As he is narrating this, a wide shot image of himself walking alone on the sidewalk in public midday slowly fades away, as to literally illustrate how invisible he feels. Editing choices such as these truly cater to the emotional aspect of the film. “Thus, Riggs’ own experience, and those of black poets, becomes universalized as metaphorical constructs of black gay identities. This leads to a proliferation of voices and gives the video its sense of polyphony,” (Petty 418). The way the visuals and the audio are married to each other gives the film a sort of musical vibe, the use of poetry creating lyrical hints throughout (Petty 418). Often the audio and the visuals are connected in clever way, the visuals acting as a metaphor for the poetry, the poetry that is so rich in feeling and despair.

Although much of the documentary is oozing with pain and deeply ingrained feelings of being outcast, there are plenty of scenes, which offer comic relief, as to balance out shame and pride that is felt within the gay black community. In a scene exhibiting gay, black men sassily snapping their fingers at each other, one man proclaims, “Don’t mess with a snap diva!” This scene is very much staged, as these men give a lesson to the audience on different kinds of snapping via a “grand diva rap.” The audience is first introduced to snapping through a wide shot of a group of men, then jump cuts to medium shots of individual men educating the audience on different types of snaps, such as the “Point Snap!,” the “Mini-Snap!,” and the “Classic Snap!.” There are titles written on the screen specifying the different snaps as well as a message saying “courtesy of The Institute of Snap!thology.” The construction of the visuals along with the audio of a jazzy sounding bass let the audience assume it is okay to laugh a little, as this scene is not taking itself so seriously. Part of the successful impact of Tongues Untied relates to its ability to be able to covey a message involving pain, politics, emotion, and history while still keeping some scenes lightweight. Since not all people can relate directly to the subject of the documentary, it is important for people to be able to relate to some aspects of the film, which is why the comedy interlaced between the serious poetry and imagery just works. In this scene, these men are portrayed as free and confident, as they are the only people present within the scene. There are no flashing images of racist or homophobic figures in between the shots of the gay, black protagonists, nor are there echoing slurs aggressively dominating and belittling their free nature. While this scene of snapping variety may serve as comic relief, Riggs finds ways to construct a lighthearted scene still rich in emotional and political intent. Some of the more politically charged scenes show detailed images with upfront themes of racism, homophobia, and neglect, such as imagery of black pornography possessing blatant intent of slavery performing as a fetish. “The Snap! Can be as emotionally and politically charged as a clenched fist; can punctuate debate and dialogue like an exclamation point, a comma, an ellipsis; or can altogether negate the need for words among those who are adept at decoding its nuanced meanings (“Black Macho” 392),” (Petty 420). Although these Snap! divas may come across as sassy and comical, them and the snaps themselves represent a symbol of rebellion and opposition to the society and the system that has quieted their confidence and their pride. Other scenes show these men “voguing,” a form of dancing, in groups, completely letting go of insecurities and fear. These groups, in some cases called “houses,” often in drag culture, celebrate their bodies, acting flamboyantly and expressing themselves with every part of their body. Riggs took these scenes, often wide shots, of liberation and slowed them down, distorting the movement of their bodies, as to appreciate the freedom felt by these houses. Marcos Becquer describes voguing as a way to appropriate the dominant popular culture while also incorporating “African diasporic practices and gay-identified attitudes,” (Petty 425). Riggs’ use of voguing in his documentary emphasizes his urge for acceptance and awareness of gay, blackness within mainstream society, as voguing represents a concoction dominant culture, African culture, and gay culture. His sluggish and exaggerated portrayal of voguing, emphasizing the movement of every limb, is perhaps a proposal for mainstream society to appreciate the beauty and elegance the gay, black community contributes. Riggs uses dominant popular culture in a more direct way to illustrate the neglect of gay, black men by inserting clips of famous, black stand-up comedians expressing hatred for the community through homophobic jokes. Clips from the likes of Eddie Murphy and Spike Lee’s School Daze (1988) are inserted back to back, as to have an ongoing list of black influencers in pop culture who use homophobia as a casual tool for entertainment. Eddie Murphy talks about how while performing on stage he has to keep pacing back and forth so the “faggots” will not be able to get a great look at his bottom. The crowd erupted in laughter, seemingly okay with, possibly even delighted by, the homophobic joke. The montage of clips also includes visuals portraying violence against gay, black men. Essentially Riggs gathered evidence of black men spewing hatred towards gay, black men, possibly suggesting a correlation between violence and how the mainstream media represents gay, black people (Petty 423). The fast paced clips, one after another, really create an obvious point of view, Riggs showing the audience what they might not have noticed before. Not everyone will be able to relate to Riggs’ personal struggles, so he decided to send a message through what a large amount of people would be able to relate to. Riggs wants people to wake up, and really absorb the content that they are force-fed every day, and make them question how this treatment could be okay.

Riggs’ efforts did not go unnoticed, the controversy finally opening up a discussion. Riggs was able to create a revolutionary piece of gay, black content, changing the typical boundaries of documentary filmmaking. He had extended the limits of documentary filmmaking set by his predecessors, such as William Greaves, St. Clair Bourne, Henry Hampton, Louis Massiah, and Carroll Parrot Blue (Petty 417). There are even questions as to whether or not Tongues Untied is truly documentary, as rather, it can be considered a “mediation” of the lives of gay, black men. In Tongues Untied, Riggs decided to use performance as a way to document reality, whereas his previous film, Ethnic Notions, included traditional interview scenes, making for a more conventional film. Tongues Untied throws conventional structure in the garbage, as Riggs is not only the director, but a performer as well. The emotional intent and dedication to breaking a pattern of silence, as well as breaking the traditional mold of documentary filmmaking, could be the push that got this film to be recognized and talked about. This film is unapologetic self-expression at its finest, Riggs injecting his own reflections on serious topics such as childhood sexuality, the fact that he is HIV-positive, and racism. However, many men in the film reveal their own life journeys, making the film factual like a traditional documentary and distancing itself from an autobiographical piece (Harper 71).

Documentary filmmaking can captivate audiences enough to create open discussions about normally quieted social issues with the use of stimulating visuals and emotional themes, birthing a viral reaction and increased awareness. Marlon Riggs’ ability to break the mold in documentary filmmaking caused people to open their eyes and ears, and whether or not they were positively captivated by his shameless revolt, people woke up. His surprising use of nudity, blatant exposure of racially offensive and homophobic language, personal tragedy, and artistic vision led to an impactful piece. I believe that shock value is not always authentic, but in this case I think Riggs used shock value in a meaningful and necessary way, as to say he is no longer fearful; he is angry and proactive. I am astonished by Riggs’ courage to not only break the silence and challenge the mainstream media’s portrayal of gay, black men, but also his courage to reinvent what documentary filmmaking is.

Works Cited

Harper, Phillip Brian. “Marlon Riggs: The Subjective Position of Documentary Film.” Art Journal 54.4 (1995): 69-72. Web.

Petty, Sheila. “Silence and Its Opposite: Expressions of Race in Tongues Untied.” Documenting the Documentary, Grant & Sloniowski, eds. Wayne State Press, 1998.

 Riggs, Marlon T. “Notes of a Signifyin’ Snap! Queen.” Art Journal 50.3 (1991): 60. Web.



Tongues Untied, Marlon Riggs (1989)

Cinema Verite Research

Cinema verite is a genre of filmmaking that celebrates the simplicity and authenticity of reality through the obscure eye of a lens. Film was born in the late 1800’s in France from the inspiration of Edison’s Kinetoscope, which displayed moving images in a box (Rabiger 37). Auguste and Louis Lumiere enhanced Edison’s technology, combined with the functions of a sewing machine, and created the first hand-cranked camera. This led to the first films consisting of 50-seconds and scenes of the natural occurrences within the lives of people surrounding the Lumiere brothers. Their film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1986), authentically exhibits people waiting on a platform for their train to transport them; its simplicity elegant and beautiful, yet the naturally flowing allure of a mundane moment such as this had never yet been captured. This new immortality brought to a scene of life has been called “the present eternal.” Cinema verite is spontaneously brilliant, as its magic can never be pre-produced or planned. The 1975 documentary, Grey Gardens, directed by Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hovde, and David Maysles, is an exquisite piece of film that is a prime example of unpredictable imagery and emotion that can arise when cinema verite filmmaking is put into action. Although its concept is simple, a film about the life of two relatives of Jackie Kennedy, Edith Bouvier Beale and Edith Ewing Bouvier Beale, living in the Hamptons, New York, whose unpredictably come to life when the camera is pointed at them. These ladies had no direction or sense of authority while being the subject of this film, and possibly because of this fact, cinematic magic was made. Although cinema verite illustrates real life, perhaps the filming of this documentary contributed to the exaggerated eccentricity of the Edies. This in no way means authenticity was not captured though, as the unexpected swagger these women exuded only represented their personalities, and their lifelong battle for attention and wishes of fame. In a scene where Little Edie, as she had been nicknamed, is speaking directly to one of the Maysles brothers, she confidently expresses the reasoning behind her outfit, or as she calls it, “costume” of the day. In a centered medium shot, the camera slowly pans toward whatever article of clothing Little Edie is pointing at and describing, Little Edie herself seeming to be the director of the scene. She talks about how her mother wishes she worn a Kimono, which caused them to have a fight. Little Edie tries to exude cockiness in this scene, as if her outfit choice was absolutely superb, yet the audience gets a sense of tension when she brings up what her mother would have wanted. There is so much emotion and longing for attention within these women and the directors fabulously capture this with extreme close up shots of their facial expressions, and simply allowing the camera to naturally pan and follow their lead. This necessary sense of spontaneity has been questionable in other documentary filmmaking however.

Robert Flaherty, a director famous in the 1920’s, has been time and time again questioned for his biased and objective motives during his documentary filmmaking process of films such as Man of Aran (1936) (Rabiger 43). Flaherty has been slammed for putting together a family whom he thought was photogenic, as opposed to shooting an authentic kin. He had also focused Man of Aran on the Aran Islanders’ historical issues with nature while neglecting their important stresses of abuse within an outrageous social system. What here lies is a case of an artist, one with aesthetic preferences, a soft spot for the treasures of boyhood, and interests that outweigh necessities. These qualities that Flaherty possesses does agree with cinema verite, which led to controversial intentions and an unauthentic finished work. Flaherty’s work brought up questions of truth in documentary filmmaking, this rose a debate whether anything can be completely true if there is a camera involved. Flaherty was blind to his own personal theoretical assertions in terms of narrative preference and creative explorations in terms of aesthetics, which results in his films lacking in truth.

Although cinema verite involves simplicity, even in terms of limited equipment, which includes a hand-held camera, it also “indicates a position the filmmaker takes in regard to the world he films” (Mamber 1). When it comes down to it, the filmmaker should not have a strong position, he or she should be there to simply document an uncontrolled reality, often a reality that is hidden behind the scenes. Although film is an art form, cinema verite involves almost no artistic insight. After footage is shot of “real” people in an uncontrolled environment, the director may edit the video in order to accurately display how he or she witnessed it, any more than that may be manipulative and unauthentic (Mamber 3), which is why Robert Flaherty’s work is so controversial.

Dziga Vertov, a Russian filmmaker active in the 1920’s, has stated that, in relation to cinema verite filmmaking, “there was no one truth, that editing could serve to support any truths (or lies) that one wished” (Mamber 5). Vertov’s standpoint argues that there is always in fact influence of the director. Perhaps the same reality could be told in more than one way, which is contradictory to the definition of cinema verite, but maybe these grey areas are unavoidable. In the documentary film High School (1968), directed by Frederick Wiseman, there is a scene exhibiting some sort of sex “education,” a word that should be taken loosely in this case, assembly in front of only male high school students. A male gynecologist gives a crude speech about sex to these male students, making extremely inappropriate jokes bragging about the hymens of his patients, and even using the slang term, “cherry.” His cocky attitude and “cool guy” approach made the teen boys erupt in laughter, the audio very aggressively capturing their enthusiasm, clearly hyping up the gynecologist’s ego. This is filmed as a medium shot, but as his speech continues, the camera zooms in to a close up, capturing the emotions of pleasure and satisfaction on his face. The camera pans back and forth between the students and the gynecologist. This raises the question, was it necessary for the camera to zoom in on facial expressions, is that implying something? Does the director want us to notice a change in mood in this man as these young boys praise him, or is he being a ham for the camera? Although this scene is superb and shocking, these choices, as well as Vertov’s points, are all things to be noticed.

High School was a pretty eye-widening film, as it exposed Philadelphia’s Northeast High School for its extremely questionable treatment of its students and the abuse of authority taken place there. Much of the documentary includes scenes where students are belittled and/or treated unfairly. For example, a scene exhibits a fashion design teacher having her students walk on stage wearing the garments they created for class, while she proceeds to make negative comments on their appearance like “she has a weight problem, she knows it.” Situations like this, and the sex education scene, are not favorable, which is why the school was not happy with the documentary. “The very style of cinema verite documentary made it the perfect form for an ‘enquiring and critical press’” (Grant 225). Cinema verite allows the public to see what is usually kept under wraps, which is quite moving in a situation where there is some sort of social injustice. It is interesting to realize the fact that the subjects of the film are the ones exposing the truth about themselves, rather than being exploited, which is part of what makes cinema verite so powerful (Grant 225).

It also must be considered that the filmmaker has the power to choose when to start filming, even if it is a spontaneous decision based on a favorable occurrence (Bordwell 337). Yes that is right, it is very easy for cinema verite to become biased, even if it is unintentional, which goes against the whole authenticity factor. High School would be a lot less interesting if it consisted of shots of students simply learning trigonometry or eating lunch, which likely did happen, but did not make it into the feature. It seems almost impossible that 80 minutes can be picked out from 40 hours or raw footage without some personal insight creeping in, which leads to death of neutrality. Angles and framing can also skew neutrality, as those are also decisions that can emit from creativity or political/social issues (Bordwell 337). Examples of this can also be seen throughout director D.A. Pennebaker’s Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back (1967), a documentary illustrating the events that occurred during Dylan’s 1965 England tour. Much of the documentary shows Dylan acting somewhat bratty to be perfectly honest. Dylan does not seem very appreciative or enthusiastic about much while on tour, his cocky attitude seeming to define him throughout the film. A scene shows a man trying to talk to Dylan, Dylan hardly giving him any attention as he loudly plays his guitar, the audio vividly picking up every strum, possibly to accurately show how rude Dylan is being. They talk about friendship, and Dylan seems to taunt the man, teasing him and questioning him about what makes his friends truly his friends. Dylan tells the man that some of his recent interviews consisted of “lies and rubbish.” The man starts getting frustrated as Dylan loudly plays his guitar and barely looks at him, obviously not so enthralled with the conversation. He questions Dylan’s attitude and Dylan exclaims that he has an attitude when he doesn’t like or know a person. Dylan cockily questions the man about his motive and purpose in life. This awkward encounter goes on for quite a while, and the director captures it all very well. Although the director gets both of their faces in the frame at certain points, Bob Dylan is the star of this frustratingly-cringe-inducing conversation. The director keeps his camera pointed at Dylan for quite a while, getting extreme close ups of him as he smugly furrows his brow and smokes a cigarette. The audience hears the whiny voice of the man getting more and more upset with Dylan, but the audience sees Dylan’s reaction to all of his surroundings. Now the director could have used a medium shot to absorb the emotions of both people, but rather chose to focus on Dylan. It’s hard not to pay attention to him and his pill-like behavior, and it seems as though Dylan feeds off of this attention, so was this the goal? Some of Pennebaker’s work is seemingly suggestive, encouraging the audience to feel a certain way about Dylan, whether or not that was entirely Dylan’s own doing, and this may just be an unavoidable circumstance of humanity seeping into the morals of cinema verite.

When it comes to ethics in cinema verite filmmaking, consent from the subject is one of the most important factors to consider, as that is what gives the filmmakers the A-okay to use footage (Pryluck 256). However, getting consent to use footage can be examined as somewhat manipulative. “The method of obtaining consent is stacked in the filmmaker’s favor. The ethical problem raised by such approaches is that they give the potential subject no real choice: the initiative and momentum of the situation favor the filmmaker” (Pryluck 256). Large, fancy camera equipment and a crew of people all wanting the same thing from you may seem intimidating, and because of this, subjects often give in to consent. All of this may seem harmless in goofy prank hidden camera shows like Allen Funt’s Candid Camera (1948), but when capturing more serious topics and personal lives of the subjects become the goal, this slanted form of achieving consent may be more sinister. The fine lines of ethics in cinema verite start to blur “when we use people in a sequence we put them at risk without sufficiently informing them of potential hazards” (Pryluck 258). This particular question of ethics can be present within Frederick Wiseman’s startling, yet powerful film Titicut Follies (1967). While it documents the daily lives and horrors that occur in a Massachusetts hospital for the criminally insane, the differences between exposing and exploiting start to get fuzzy. On one hand it is debatably downright necessary that the abusive conditions were brought to public attention, but on the other hand it is hard to say how much consent was given from the actual patients of the hospital, considering they are mentally disabled, some more severely than others. One particularly graphic scene focuses on a patient being very aggressively force fed through a large tube, which is shoved up his nose in a motion that is anything other than slinking. The man who stands above the nude patient barbarically pours some sort of liquid food into a funnel attached to the tube while simultaneously smoking, ashes falling onto the patient’s skin. This shot is not shy at all, the director constantly panning and zooming in to extreme close ups of the patient’s skin-and-bones body, as well as the faces of the men who are holding him down and the man who is doing the force feeding. In this particular scene, audio is extremely important, as the audience can hear that these men who are attending to the patient are just bantering about irrelevant nonsense, as well as loads of commotion happening in the background. Nothing here is private, the scene feels so exposed, easily being one of the most anxious scenes within the film. The patient is speechless, uttering nothing in this catastrophic moment. There is a sense here that the director was completely eating up this scene, the great attention brought on the graphic details of this horrendous moment never interrupted. As important as it was for this treatment to be brought to the attention of the public, perhaps the patient’s decency was not appropriately considered. This can be harmful, especially considering this mentally ill patient may not have fully understood the hazards of being exploited in this way.

Cinema verite style filmmaking is in my eyes beautifully simplistic, but perhaps an unattainable goal. I do not believe there is a way to record real life without inducing one’s own thoughts and biases into the work. Nor could anyone be exactly like his or her truest self when completely aware of a camera in his or her face. Existentialism will always win when it comes to this particular battle. Although techniques within this genre are often controversial and contradicting, overall cinema verite aims to honor the realism that is not always visible in society from a quiet and unbeknownst perspective.


Works Cited

Bordwell, David, and Kristin Thompson. “High School.” Film Art: An Introduction. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1990. N. pag. Print.

Grant, Barry Kieth, and Jeannette Sloniowski. Documenting the Documentary: Close Readings of. Detroit: Wayne State Univ, 1998. Print.

Mamber, Stephen. “Cinema Verite : Definitions and Background.” Introduction. Cinema Verite in America: Studies in Uncontrolled Documentary. Cambridge: Mass., 1974. N. pag. Print.

Pryluck, Calvin. “Ultimately We Are All Outsiders: The Ethics of Documentary Filming”. No1 ed. Vol. Vol. 28. Illinois: Illinois, 1976. Print. Journal of Univ. Film Assoc.

Rabiger, Michael. “Documentary History.” Directing the Documentary. Burlington MA: Focal, 2015. N. pag. Print.



Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back, D. A. Pennebaker (1967)

Grey Gardens, Albert Maysles, Muffie Meyer, Ellen Hoyde, David Maysles (1976)

High School, Frederick Wiseman (1968)

Titicut Follies, Frederick Wiseman (1967)





The Top 5 Underrated Films Within the Last 10 Years and Color Block Yourself-ie: Cheat Your Own Self Portrait Article

Hello!  So here are bits and pieces of something I wrote for an assignment involving pitching ideas for an online magazine.  I had a lot of fun writing these and I thought it was relevant to my blog because of the list of underrated movies.  I hope people agree with and appreciate my recommendations!  The DIY article is a bonus for the blog!!


Author: Bianca Piazza



For Movie Friday

The Top 5 Underrated Films Within the Last 10 Years: The Sleepers that Deserve More Attention in the World of Cinema

Hard Candy (2005): Ellen Page plays a relentless teenage girl who meets an older man online in this thriller with an interesting twist

We Need To Talk About Kevin (2011): A thrilling dive into the psychological debate about nature versus nurture

Megan is Missing (2011): A realistic found footage horror/drama that will make you aware of whom you talk to online, and reconsider the true definition of a stranger

Wetlands (2013): This German “dramedy”, based on the novel with the same name, delivers a heavy dose of graphic humor as well as intense emotion and fantastical imagery

It Follows (2015): The indie horror of the year brings a new and exciting idea, reminiscent of The Ring (2002), to the horror genre that will shake you to the core

Pitch and Article:

For DIY Thursday and Art and Design

Color Block Yourself-ie: Cheat Your Own Self Portrait

While discussing the style of color blocking and the selfie trend with a friend, we came up with the new DIY idea of an easier way to create an artistic self-portrait, for both the artsy enthusiasts and the not-so Picassos.

The idea is to take a photo of yourself and print it out, the photo being the “blank” canvas for you to go crazy and paint/draw over using any medium of your choice. The photo provides guidelines for you to either follow for a more realistic portrait, or to break for a more Cubic take on the idea. I have painted a self-portrait before, and the medium I used was makeup. Makeup may not have strong pigmentation to paint over a photo, but makeup mixed with a medium of higher pigmentation, such as acrylic paint, will deliver a beautiful array of texture and depth! Although the idea sparked from color blocking, there are no rules; blended watercolors, soft pastel tones, or the elegance of realism can be applied to this fun and glamorous project. Materials such as makeup, nail polish, acrylic/oil/watercolor paint, crayons, pastels, colored pencils, you name it, can be applied to your creation. I decided to do this fun DIY activity myself. Here are my results.


Bianca selfie


Here’s my selfie, also known as my blank canvas!

Work in Progress:

wip selfie

The Final Product:

final selfie

I slightly enhanced the photo of the final artwork with a filter to enhance the bright colors the camera and lighting were not capturing.

For my color-blocked selfie portrait, I used acrylic paint and watercolors, which made up a large majority of the piece, but I also used a tiny bit of pen and eye shadow. Here at Redesign Revolution, we want to see what you create, so go on Instagram and hashtag your work using #colorblockyourselfie and #redesignrevolution!!!

Wetlands (2013) Film Review and Brief Summary/Analysis: 3.5/5 Stars


Where did I first hear about Wetlands?

I saw Wetlands on Netflix while browsing for a movie to watch.  The girl with the crazy hair and the vibrant poster caught my eye, so I decided to look into it.  It seemed like a strange and crazy movie, with a rather bizarre plot description I might add, which is right up my alley.  I had no idea what I was in for…


Alright, right off the bat, I have to say that this movie is definitely not for everyone, especially people with weak stomachs, and is extremely NSFW.  But do not leave my blog just yet!!!!  Do not worry, I will keep the brief summary, and review tame.  But for real, I cannot stress this enough, this movie shows some deeply grotesque images that are not for the faint of heart.  If you are planning on eating some candy and popcorn during this movie, do yourself a favor and just don’t.  Under all of the raunchy and shocking material is the honest story of a lost and unique girl.

Wetlands is a German film based on the partially autobiographical novel by Charlotte Roche and was the world’s best selling novel in March 2008.  It is a bold, bawdy, drama directed by David Wnendt, produced by Peter Rommel, and written by David Wnendt and Claus Falkenberg.  Helen, our leading lady and narrator, played by Carla Juri, is an eighteen-year-old girl who chooses to stray from the typical social norms.  The first words out of her mouth are telling the audience that she has had hemorrhoids ever since she can remember and that she never thought she could tell anyone about it.  She then begins to talk about how her mother had always stressed bathroom and genital hygiene, ever since she was little.  Shortly after that there is a flashback to when Helen was just eight years old.  Young Helen, played by Clara Wunsch, was standing on some sort of ledge, short enough to jump from, and her mother, played by Meret Becker, held her arms out to catch her.  Of course little Helen tried to jump into her mother’s arms, expecting her to catch her, but her mother purposely let her fall to the concrete.  Poor little scraped up Helen looks at her mother in confusion, and her mother tells her “Don’t trust anybody.  Not even your parents.  Better a scraped up knee now than a broken heart later.”  Helen now says that she experiments with hygiene, also known as choosing not to have good hygiene at all whatsoever in any environment ever.  Whether it is rubbing her, um, lady parts on a dirty public toilet seat, trading freshly used tampons with one of her only close friends and “blood sister” Corinna, played by Marlen Kruse, or taking a razor to her body hair roughly on her dry skin, Helen does not seem to be fazed even a little bit when it comes to poor hygiene habits.  To me, the opening to the movie is quite brilliant because at just six minutes into the movie we understand that Helen was raised unconventionally and how she decides to go against everything her mother taught her as a form of resentment and rebellion.  This sets the basis for the rest of the movie and allows the audience to better understand her emotional pain, extremely atypical behaviors, and just why she stands out from the crowd so much.

wetlands bathroom

We begin to learn that her depressed mother is not the only one who raised her questionably.  While visiting her father, Alex Milberg, she mentions that he often hurts her without realizing it.  The movie then pans to a flashback exhibiting Helen’s father accidentally slamming the trunk of his car on her hand.  This scene was obviously a literal version of her father causing her pain, but it was also a metaphor for her feelings of neglect caused by her father her whole life.  Helen does not seem to care about many people, but she very much cares about the broken relationship of her parents.  They divorced when she was young, and ever since then she has desperately wanted them to get back together.  While shaving with a slightly damp razor one day, Helen quickly, and rather violently, starts shaving the dry skin on her legs and her pubic region, when she accidentally slices open the skin where her hemorrhoids remain.  After a scream of bloody murder and a failed attempt at going to school with blood dripping down her legs and peering out from under her skirt, this act lands her in the hospital, which is the setting for the majority of the movie.  She sees this as the perfect seed for a plan to get her parents to visit her in the hospital at the exact same time and magically fall back in love under the dreamy florescent hospital lights.  She uses her charm and cherub-like face to get what she wants, persuading her naive nurse, Robin, played by Christoph Letkowski, to make the arrangements.  She later says in the movie that she has always wanted to have a child of her own, but she has had herself sterilized in order to stop the vicious cycle of her family.  She says that from her great grandmother, to her grandmother, to her mother, to her, all of the first born daughters of the family have been “neurotic, deranged, and miserable.”  This is incredibly sad because she must have gotten herself sterilized in a rage of anger and emotional pain.  Aside from her active sex life and casual drug habits, Helen’s hobby is growing avocado plants which she considers to be her own little family.  I believe that caring for these little avocado seeds is her way of nurturing new life.  I think she translates her feelings of neglect and emptiness from her lack of a loving childhood into love for the plants.  Although she cannot give birth to a child of her own, she tries to find ways to express her motherly nature, while still holding onto her tough and wild exterior.  Helen even has a hallucination in the hospital where she gives birth to an avocado plant, which was strongly a symbolic representation of her inner turmoil about wanting a family of her own in comparison to her growing avocados.  Helen’s little brother, Toni, played by Ludger Bökelmann, also exhibits this crave to nurture as a result of an empty childhood; he is a quiet little boy who will become furious if anyone dares to touch his precious teddy bear.  We do not know much about Toni, but I see the similarities between Helen and him in that respect.  Although Helen does not let much of her soft side show on the outside, the audience gets an inside look into her shocking memories and thoughts as her narration guides us through her life.

wetlands helen

After watching this movie, while I was still in complete and utter shock, I looked up some other people’s opinions.  Some thought it was brilliant, some were repulsed by the vulgar scenes.  Someone was so completely disgusted that he/she cut up the Netflix DVD with a pair of scissors, completely willing to pay the twenty dollar fee for damages (that is a bit extreme in my opinion).  I think Wetlands is a film that does contain a load of shock value, but also has an immense amount of substance.  I believe that her extremely appalling and distasteful language and behaviors are all a cry for attention, relating back to her parents.  So people who think there is absolutely no reason for the gross content, should look a bit deeper .  Although I will admit, some scenes were quite unnecessary and objectionable simply for the sake of being objectionable, leaving me annoyed at Helen to be completely honest.  It is filmed beautifully, portraying a dreamlike and fantastical aura at times, while also emitting a quirky and comical vibe paired with alternative sounding music that fits Helen’s personality perfectly.  Her flashbacks to her childhood, and scenes portraying her daydreams are saturated with deeply traumatic emotion and bright colors which entice the audience and allow people to sympathize for her and appreciate her as well.  Carla Juri does an exquisite job of effortlessly portraying the tortured, yet free, soul of Helen, forcing the audience to feel things for her.  I think Helen is one of those characters I could not picture being portrayed by anyone else.  Overall, Wetlands is completely unforgiving, disquieting, and an intense movie-watching experience.

Is Wetlands worth watching?

If you are easily offended, and are not into crazy arthouse films, maybe you should skip this one.  If you are like me and are a person who enjoys all kinds of movies, including foreign films, and does not mind a little shock value here and there, I say go for it; overall it is a totally fun movie!!

You can watch the trailer here (mildly NSFW):

Ask Me Anything (2014) Film Review: 3.5/5 Stars

ask me anything

Where did I first hear about Ask Me Anything?

The other day I went on Netflix to browse and see if there was anything new and interesting to watch, and this was literally the first thing I saw on the home page.  I thought this would be a cute comedy/Rom. Com. to watch.  I figured it would have a light and whimsical vibe, which was what I was in the mood for at the time; I was sort of wrong.


Ask Me Anything was not exactly what I thought it would be.  You know that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover,” well that is exactly what I did.  The short plot description Netflix provides compared to the movie poster led me to believe that this was going to be a comedy filled with fluff.  I literally thought I was about to watch a movie that resembled Love Actually, especially considering the poster reminded me of the poster for Love Actually.  And don’t get me wrong, Ask Me Anything has several comedic and snarky moments, but this movie has a deeper meaning and darker aura than I was expecting.

Ask Me Anything is a somewhat amusing, and quite bleak, drama directed by, written by, and also based on the novel, Undiscovered Gyrl, by Allison Burnett.  Britt Robertson plays Katie Kampenfelt, a troubled, recent high school graduate who, while taking a gap year between high school and college, writes a blog about her life as suggested by a school advisor.  She decides to change a few details from her life in the blog so that no one can figure out her true identity.  At the beginning of the movie, Katie announces through her blog that she is currently involved with a 32-year-old community college film professor, named Dan, also known as the ever so charming, Justin Long.  Oh yeah, and both of them are already in relationships.  By this point, we are about five minutes into the movie, and the audience already has a taste of what her character is like: selfish and careless.  I believe her sassy and reckless behaviors are a result of her own insecurities and loneliness from a complicated home life and lack of many friends.   She lives with her mother and her mother’s snide but caring boyfriend, while also visiting her former sports writer, current demotivating, borderline alcoholic father and his mousy girlfriend throughout the movie.  Blowing off calls from people here and there, and cheating on her high tempered boyfriend are just a few examples that demonstrate Katie’s little respect or value for the people she encounters in her life.  Although to Katie, Dan is special and she believes she has a true emotional connection with him.  Katie puts up a front that she is tough and doesn’t need anyone, but in reality she unhealthily craves attention from Dan.  She uses her sexuality to keep him around, showing her desperation to be with him even when he subtly attempts to end their affair.  He even moves without saying goodbye to her; if that isn’t a hint, I don’t know what is.


Before Dan moved, Katie got a job working at a book store, but when her loving mother and her mother’s snarky, mustached boyfriend tell Katie that her boss, played by Martin Sheen, is a convicted sex offender, they force her to quit.  She soon after gets a phone call from Paul Spooner, an admissions officer, played by Christian Slater (Heathers nostalgia), from the college which she deferred a year from, coincidentally asking her if she needs a job.  Katie takes the job as a nanny for his and his wife’s newborn son.  Katie is given access to a car, a Volvo to be specific, for her nanny duties.  A very excited Katie calls Dan telling him that she can now come visit him, which causes him to be taken off guard considering he thought moving would be the obvious end of their relationship.  Although Dan stays on her mind throughout most of the movie, she eventually partakes in a new scandal…you guessed it, an affair with Paul.  Katie’s slight obsession with these men distract her from her own true priorities and self esteem issues.

What is truly wonderful about Ask Me Anything is the fact that almost every character is very important to the plot and only enhance the core reasons as to why Katie is so troubled and has issues chasing after (mostly older) men who will only hurt her in the end.  From her school advisor who is only in the movie for a few minutes, to her only female, mischievous, and carefree friend, Jade, to the depressed voice of reason, Joel, every person in Katie’s life plays a role in either helping her or hurting her.  The varying  people that impact her life allow her to grow and eventually make mature decisions that will alter her life forever.  Although I did not read the novel, I have read that the movie stays true to the book, which is always a plus.  The film mostly relies on character development to keep the structure in tact, which, for a movie of this genre, is perfectly okay.  It’s not necessarily filmed in a unique way or anything, but the script and variation of personalities the audience experiences throughout the film are impressive.  Britt Robertson’s performance may warm and break your heart all at the same time.  Robertson genuinely becomes Katie as she portrays her haunted soul, sarcastic attitude, and carefree exterior beautifully.

christian slater

One of my complaints is that there is not really a climax in the plot.  The audience is kind of just along for the ride as Katie makes mistakes from beginning to end; there is not necessarily one moment that explodes with shock or action.  Although, there is a small twist ending which in my opinion, sort of came out of left field.  Twist endings are something that really captivate me as a lover of film; some are mind blowing and have me screaming at the screen in pure excitement, and some are duds that make absolutely no sense and also have me screaming at the screen, but in anger (cue Enemy).  To me, a good twist ending is crafted so there are clues the audience could have picked up on throughout the movie that come together like a perfect puzzle in the end and have you saying “OHHHHHHHHHH.”  This one did not really do that for me.  The twist is nothing compared to that of The Sixth Sense or anything; it is not completely shocking, and I did not quite see the reason for it, but overall it was interesting.  There are a few hints throughout the movie, but after I watched it, I thought to myself “well okay then.”  Overall, Ask Me Anything is a delightfully gloomy and sarcastic coming of age drama that will make you feel as though you deeply understand and relate to Katie Kampenfelt and the endeavors of growing up.

Is Ask Me Anything worth a watch?

If you appreciate quirky indie dramas and/or coming of age films, then you will most likely enjoy Ask Me Anything.  

You can watch the trailer here:

If you are a movie buff and are interested in my reviews and in talking to me, please feel free to comment, follow, and express your opinions!!  It would mean a great deal to me.  Let’s get a discussion going!