I’m studying for my Film class and need an explanation.
Ideology is a system of ideas, beliefs, and representations that fundamentally shapes how we understand the world around us. Ideologies we have discussed in class include white supremacy, capitalism, patriarchy, gender, heteronormativity, and Euro-American exceptionalism. In their essay “Cinema/Ideology/Criticism,” the French film critics Jean-Louis Comolli and Jean Narboni outline how films are “inserted” into a particular ideological framework. Some films, they argue, easily transmit and thus reinforce dominant ideologies. By contrast, others may militate against such values. For your paper, you are to compose an “critical ideological analysis” of American Psycho (USA, Mary Harron, 2000) following the basic precepts outlined by Timothy Corrigan, who writes,
“In critical writing attuned to ideology, any cultural product or creation carries, implicitly or explicitly, ideas about how the world is or should be seen and how men and women should see each other in it; the clothes you wear express social values just as the films you watch communicate social values. Whether we agree or disagree with the values expressed in a particular movie, the ideological critic maintains that these movies are never innocent visions of the world and that the social and personal values that seem so natural in them need to be analyzed” (A Short Guide to Writing About Movies, 111)
Ask yourself — do American Psycho critique or reinforce dominant ideologies, and which ones? Do these filmmakers employ certain stylistic features (mise-en-scène, cinematography, editing, and narrative organization) that allow their films to either “crack” at the seams, i.e. reveal contradictions that the films cannot fully reconcile? Or do they “attack” conventional cinematic representation at the levels of form and content? Do they succeed or fail?
Your essay must demonstrate an engagement with our readings on film and ideology. You must situate the film of your choosing in one of the categories outlined by Comolli and Narboni. Your argument/thesis will be to justify why you have chosen to put your particular film in that category.
Make sure to review the appropriate lecture slides and your lecture notes on ideology. And remember that while your essay should use formal analysis to support its arguments, formal analysis is not the essay’s primary goal, so be sure to focus on the pertinent formal features that support your argument. Your main goal is to asses how these films express ideology via their formal and narrative choices as well as the literal content they elect to include.
In addition to drawing on Comolli and Narboni, you must engage with either Laura Mulvey’s “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema” or Peter Wollen’s “Godard and Counter-Cinema.”
A strong essay will:
- Articulate a clearly formulated argument about where your chosen film falls into Comolli and Narboni’s typology. This is your thesis. You must have a thesis.
- Offer a brief summary of the film’s plot (2–3 sentences should be enough). Never assume that your reader knows the film quite as well as you do, so provide a general sense of the film’s story to help situate your reader as you lead them through your argument. At the same time, keep this short – the bulk of the paper should be spent on executing your critical analysis, not a blow-by-blow of the plot.
An example of a concise plot summary would be: “David Locke (Jack Nicholson) takes on the identity of a dead businessman while working on a documentary about the civil war in Chad. Unbeknownst to him, the man he has chosen to impersonate, named Robertson, is a gun runner who has been dealing arms to the guerrillas. As the film unfolds, Locke joins up with a mysterious woman (Maria Schneider), and flees not only his past life, but also the geopolitical intrigues of Robertson’s affairs. The film culminates with Locke/Robertson’s death during a decidedly ambiguous sequence where the cause and culprit of his killing remains unclear.”
- Provide intelligent formal analysis to support your argument. This should include a close analysis of at least one scene or sequence. Use technical language to be precise about what you’re describing, but also do not over-describe and instead advocate for what you consider most significant. Be synthetic in your formal analysis.
Here’s an example of concise, synthetic formal analysis: “Editing is fundamental to how we experience the intrigue at the heart of Rear Window. By way of a shot/reverse-shot pattern, comprised of a close-up on the protagonist, point-of-view shots, and reaction shots, the filmmakers continually show us not only what Jeff sees, but also provide us with his response. The effect is to cue us to interpret the events as he does. As Jeff draws upon increasingly intricate optical instruments (first a pair of binoculars and then an oversized telephoto lens), Hitchcock brings us closer to and thus deeper into the action, increasing the suspense as we glean more clues about the possible murder.”
- Be efficient within the page limitations of the assignment. For example, instead of beginning your essay in an overly broad way (“Since the dawn of time, man has enjoyed entertainment in many forms…”), use that space to dive into the specifics of your film and what is conceptually and formally at stake in your argument.
- Proofread and error-free.
- Use parenthetical citations, i.e. (Wollen, 418).
- NOTE: outside sources are not required for this assignment, but if they are used, they should be properly cited. In fact, the only sources you should consult are your class notes and the four readings on ideology.
Your paper is to be 5 pages, double-spaced, 12-point Times New Roman Font