Claire’s Knee

This week as a response to Mulvey’s Film Theory I thought it would be interesting to examine a film steeped in the concept of the male gaze Claire’s Knee written and directed by Eric Rohmer. The film is essentially a study of male desire and borderline pedophilia. It is steeped with sexual tension, and Rohmer clearly places the viewer into the position of a voyeur.

The film begins with a man named Jerome on vacation at a lake in France. While there he is reacquainted with an old friend, a woman named Aurora who is a writer. Also vacationing by the lake is a common aquaintence of Jerome and Aurora, Madame Walter and her daughter Laura. As the story progresses Jerome begins to develop an excessively close relationship with the fifteen-year-old Laura. As Jerome and Laura’s relationship progresses Aurora becomes interested in the dynamic for her next novel. Aurora then asks Jerome to keep her updated on the twos relationship. However, upon the arrival of Madame Walter’s second daughter Claire Jerome’s focus shifts. There is a significant change in the film once Claire arrives, all attention shifts as the camera begins to shy away from Laura and refocus on Claire.

This is really when the narrative begins to take shape, as Jerome’s desire becomes completely fixated upon Claire’s knee. In one scene Claire is on a ladder collecting fruit from a tree when Jerome first takes notice of her beautiful knee, and the camera cuts to a POV of his gaze focused upon it. The simple act of focusing upon the knee without the girl’s knowledge creates a hyper-sexualization of a rather tame portion of the female body. Claire becomes solely an object of Jerome and the viewer’s desire. Jerome turns into a voyeur longing for her knee, but rarely engaging with the girl, instead he often just looks at her from a distance.

The culmination of the film occurs when Jerome offers Claire shelter from the rain just after having told her that he witnessed her boyfriend cheating in a local town. Claire is of course sobbing from the traumatic news, and as the two sit under a shelter across from one another the scene is charged with sexual tension. The fascinating part about the scene is that Claire is oblivious to the air of sexuality present, however it is very plain to Jerome and the audience. We clearly are connected to Jerome’s desire, (the male desire) within the scene. Claire and more importantly her knee are the entire focus of the heightening  level of lust. The precedence set earlier of Jerome’s attraction to the girl’s knee makes your gaze constantly drawn back to it even during wide shots. As Jerome makes his move slowly and assertively placing his hand onto Claire’s knee there is a build up and release of tension. The viewing experience in itself becomes a sexual act, almost a perversion because Rohmer has successfully exploited the male desire to such a high degree.

It must be assumed that Rohmer was familiar with Mulvey’s theories, and possibly created this film as a response to the ideas themselves. Regardless, the film can be viewed from two different perspectives; on one side it may be simply a work of male chauvinism, a voyeuristic story about a man with a knee fetish. On the other hand, it may be a statement about the objectification, by manifesting on the screen how abhorrent, and senseless the male obsession with the female body can be. It shows just how carnal humans are.

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Ali

Mohamed Ali is arguably the most notable boxer to have ever entered the ring and when a movie chronicling his life and boxing career comes out the hope is that it will capture at least a glimmer of the grandeur of his career. Ali (2001) took up this impossible challenge by coming at it from an interesting angle. It diverges from the traditional boxing movie framework to some degree focusing much more on Ali’s life outside of the ring. The film has a clear political message and aims to change any negative views of the man, the myth, the legend that is Mohamed Ali.

The film portrays Ali as a civil rights activist as much as a boxer. The man was a fighter both in and out of the ring. The boxing surprisingly comes second to the fight for his peoples’ rights. His relationship with Malcolm X and conversion to the Muslim religion is highlighted, and it sheds great light on who Ali really was and is. For the younger generation such as myself the film makes the issues of the past more real than something from a textbook and shows some of the lesser-known moments in Ali’s life and career. Although he had an interesting life, the picture is just like every other Hollywood biopic, it presents an altered version of the character, and is only moderately interesting.

Will Smith was definitely a miss cast for the role of Ali. Smith never once conveyed the arrogance with which Ali was so famous for. Smith delivered those lines in a half serious manner, which completely alters the character. Ali was a loose cannon and although the film attempted to capture that it failed miserably. Whether it was poor directing or just the simple fact that Smith could not meet the demands of the role is uncertain but he was outshined by several of the leading characters. Visually the film was uninventive. The fight scenes were dull, lacking tension or surprise. Throughout the duration of the film there wasn’t a single moment that felt inspired, it merely delivered the story in an economical and traditional manner.

Ali had an incredible career, but the filmic depiction of it left much to be desired. It would be refreshing to see a Hollywood biopic that varies from the monotonous constraints that have been established. As a boxing film Ali wasn’t much better, it lacked the sense of excitement we have come to expect from the genre. Ultimately it was a civil rights film with a bit of boxing sprinkled in, and sadly was not a very interesting one at that.

Upstream Color

Pigs, parasitic worms, paper chains, and orchids, Shane Carruth’s Upstream Color has many people saying simply “What the Fuck?” And it is not hard to see why. The main narrative is outlandish to say the least, but it is the style in which the film is presented that baffles the mind. From start to finish it challenges the viewer’s mental capacities, and is a picture you truly must see to understand. It is a story of love, loss and self-discovery.

The film is broken into three different chapters each characterized by a distinct cut to black. In the first chapter, we are introduced to a young woman named Kris who is put into some kind of hypnotic state by a man who feeds her a mysterious white grub. The man uses his control over Kris to steal all of her possessions, and essentially her life. In an interesting turn of events, the grub Kris has ingested turns out to be some form of parasite that a pig farmer removes from her and transfers into a small pig. This first portion of the film is about the loss of one’s self. The idea is that we are all broken people, and when you strip away our jobs, homes and belongings we are left searching for something. It is not clear exactly what, but that is where part two of the film comes in.

In the second portion of the film Kris meets a man named Jeff, who through subtle clues, it is revealed has experienced the same infection and theft Kris has. He is as equally broken and lost, and the two fall in love. As Jeff and Kris’s relationship progresses their lives are closely paralleled with two pigs on a farm. These are the two pigs that contain the parasitic worms transferred from their bodies. This second portion of the film is about a search for inner self. The two use one another to probe within themselves and discover what they have lost. Jeff and Kris slowly uncover traces of what has happened to them until they are finally able to locate the pig farmer known as the Sampler. Kris shoots the Sampler, and discovers a box filled with images of the people he has sampled, each one is attached to a photo of a pig. The couple gathers all of the previous victims together at the pig farm, which leads us into part three.

The third segment is brief but powerful. It is about the finding of oneself. Kris takes over the pig farm and is reunited with the part of her she has lost, which is now embodied in a small piglet. In the final shot Kris holds the pig close and the two are at peace, truly happy for the first time in the entire picture. If this all seems more than a bit confusing that is ok because it is. However, if the narrative is viewed symbolically rather than literally some understanding can be found. The pigs aren’t really pigs, they are embodiments of our inner selves. The grub is something purely human which links us all together, sin, or brokenness perhaps. At no point should a physical representation be taken solely for what it is otherwise you will be left perpetually scratching your head.

On top of this bizarre and highly metaphoric narrative, the film is structured in a very unique way. Time is never given any firm grounding, as it is unimportant to the story. Further, there is little to no exposition; Carruth has faith in his viewers that they do not need to be babied. He allows for, and expects, assumptions from the audience. To watch the film is an interactive experience because you constantly must be looking for subtle clues that guide the way. The editing is also disjointed, there are enumerable jump cuts and the occasional match cut giving it a muddled almost stream of consciousness feel. At several points we will see the same character at two or even three different places and times in a single sequence.

Upstream Color is something far from the norm of traditional American cinema, and the themes I have identified only begin to scratch the surface of this highly complex film. Carruth claims that he was attempting to create a cinematic experience that explores the idea of subjective realities, and it seems he has succeeded. The film can only be explained in a subjective manner. What is the worm? Why is each victim linked to a pig? I have my own interpretations, but so will everyone else, and it is likely they will vary greatly. No one is right or wrong, everything is relative.