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Issue 12,  July 6, 2009     —      Wider Screenings, Disney's Family?

In this issue:   FEATURE: Steve Pavlina, How to Build Your Power   Guy Finley, Ten Causes of Needless Heartaches   Sharon Elaine, Write Your Own Affirmations   Verusha Singh, If Pigs Did Fly   Chuck Gallozzi, Unlocking the Power of Words   Julie Cohen, Networking is Not a Dirty Word   Sally Tippett Rains, Get Going!   Wider Screenings, Disney's Family?    Events   Reviews   Earlier issues   Submit Article

                                                        with Robert Cettl www.widerscreenings.com    


Disney’s Family?
Experiences, Ideals and Ambiguities of Childhood Innocence


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The dynamics of human inter-personal relationships may have made for some of the most memorable and enduring of cinema’s treasures but there is one aspect of human social interaction which has provoked filmmakers into some of their most emotionally affecting and personally revealing work: sexual socialization.  As environmental factors impacting sexual maturation have a conditioning affect in addition to biological drives, the cinema of inter-personal development seeks to dramatize the dualism in what Romantic poet William Blake expressed so eloquently as the transition from innocence to experience.

  In Sergio Leone’s violent, epic gangster saga Once Upon a Time in America, for instance, a teenage boy has bought a small dessert treat not for himself but to give to a girl in exchange for his first sexual experience.  However, this boy is left alone for some time waiting and his eyes are torn between the door the girl is behind and the dessert treat he holds in his hands: divided between the temptations of a boy and a man.  There is an innocence in his dilemma, but it is the incipient yearning for experience that gives it added poignancy.  Yet, in that lure of sexual curiosity can be a perversity that makes innocence sinister: hence the boy in The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea who has drilled a hole in the wall in order to spy on his mother’s bedroom activities.

But, just as the Oedipal affect of familial circumstances on sexual development is stressed in film so is the sense of deterministic socialization.  Hence, Pretty Baby examined the life of a teenage girl (Brooke Shields) whose childhood is spent in a New Orleans brothel where she lives with her whore mother (Susan Sarandon).  Inevitably, her sense of adult womanhood is heavily socialized in terms of this home environment: her rite of passage into adulthood being her first client and the loss of her virginity for money an act she accepts as a natural given of the world she inhabits: social determinism denying her an individualized self-actualization.  Often it is similarly ambiguous and qualified conceptions of childhood socialization into experience rather than celebrations of innocence which are the dominant concerns in adult-oriented films about the maturation process, from the boy shouting for his idolized hero to return at the end of Shane to the conscious deliberation of the child to remain forever innocent in The Tin Drum.

For contrast, it is interesting to note the distinction between depictions of childhood in films made for adults and films made for children / families.  In the latter, typified by what has come to be known as the Disney ethic, childhood innocence is idealized.  Although the main message behind these films may be positive, similar portrayals in adult-oriented films are cautious and even negative regarding innocence – here, childhood innocence is an illusion held in contrast to the sheer monstrousness of the adult world which must inevitably consume it to the point where in, say, River’s Edge, teenagers have been so amorally warped by their socialization that they think nothing when one of them kills a friend: the complex and morally ambiguous state of “experience” consumes whatever pure “innocence” may have existed to begin with – “experience” is the inescapable reality to which all are socialized.

No consideration of themes of childhood innocence in modern populist cinema would be complete without mention of Steven Spielberg.  The hit family film E.T the Extra-Terrestrial idealizes innocence to the point where children have the last vestige of humanism, protecting a benevolent alien from the adult inhumanity that would see it dissected.  Yet, as an adult, Spielberg is aware of the escapism inherent in his conception of innocence, so much so that, some twenty years later, the robot child in A.I. Artificial Intelligence is programmed with an unconditional love for his mother, indicative of what the film considers innocence, but which is revealed finally to be a perfect but virtually delusional state.  The progression in Spielberg is striking for the director’s reluctance to fully relinquish the conception of an absolute innocence even in the face of cynical despair.  However, A.I as a project was initiated by the cynical Stanley (Eyes Wide Shut) Kubrick and only inhered by Spielberg at a later date.

The vast discrepancy evident between so-called safe family fare and more adult considerations reveals that what is commonly considered “innocence” is actually a multi-faceted deliberate construct rather than a true state of being: an interpretation of childhood.  However, the alternative “experience” with its fatalistic inevitability is often so unrelentingly despairing as to make a return to a fabricated innocence a desired state, hence both the consistently popular nature of innocuous family entertainment and its ultimate thematic insignificance to an adult audience: insignificant because it negates the qualities which distinguish the dramatization of the maturation process and its symbolic transition from innocence to experience in true adult-oriented cinema – ambiguity and irony.   ###



A Relationship Movie Made for Vindication

(an extract from Robert Cettl’s book Film Tales: Movie Trivia in the Age of DVD)
   
At this point in her career, in the midst of the Vietnam War, actress Jane Fonda had appeared in a photograph in Newsweek, sitting on an enemy anti-aircraft gun under the headline “Hanoi Jane”.  The moniker stuck and would dog her as she started to re-establish her career in Hollywood.  Her public position on Vietnam made her a much despised figure and crippled her career in the mid 1970s.  She could not find work, for fear of theatre owners facing political demonstrations at a film she might be in.  Irony came to bear quite strongly thus when she was offered the role in a romance involving a disabled Vietnam veteran, Coming Home, directed by another outspoken critic of the Vietnam War, Hal Ashby.  The film was considered anti-American but was also one of the first films to explore the romantic and sexual life of disabled people.  An unusual relationship picture it was also accepted into the Cannes Film festival where it drew rave reviews for its performances.  Indeed, come time of the Academy Awards, both Fonda and co-star Jon Voight won Oscars, Fonda considering hers a private political vindication of her efforts to raise public consciousness about the War and about the need for political activism.


Wider Screenings
columnist Robert Cettl has a B.A (Hons) in Film Study from the Flinders University of South Australia, which included an international scholarship to the University of Southern Illinois in the USA.  He has post-graduate qualifications in Librarianship and Information Management from UniSA.  In addition to popular DVD reviewing, his writing for McFarland (one of the leading American publishers of film non-fiction) has been collected by such as Yale University Library and the British Film Institute.  His forthcoming work for this market (for release in 2010) is Terrorism in American Cinema: a comprehensive analysis of terrorism as a genre from fears of PLO inspired homeland attacks in Black Sunday to the outright denouncement of the Bush War on Terror in W.  His previous work includes the above extracted Film Tales, now on sale and coming soon as an ebook through Inkstone Digital and Amazon Kindle in association with No Limits.  For analysis and commentary on individual films mentioned in this column (and hundreds of others) and for updates on the latest Hollywood hits and choicest DVD releases, Wider Screenings is now on Twitter.  Any @ reply will be duly answered – there are no automated DMs or tweets.  If tweeting, please mention film title in tweet: requests for films/DVDs to be reviewed are welcomed and given priority.  Free print copies of Film Tales can be won in the tweet ‘n win Film Buff Quiz.  First tweet request being incorporated into Wider Screenings is a retrospective of actor Warren Oates beginning with the film Cockfighter, a seldom seen look at cockfighting in the Southern States and a film still banned in England.





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