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ENGL 1105 Film Studies

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ENGL 1105 Film Studies

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Course Code: ENGL 1105
University: The University Of Adelaide is not sponsored or endorsed by this college or university

Country: Australia

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How is power and injustice portrayed through mise en scene in films relating to the German expressionist film movement?Through the films: Metropolis (1927) and Blade Runner (1982).Please talk a bit about marxism and how it is part of these films too.

German Expressionism is a creative movement that originated in Germany and reached the pinnacle in the 1920s in Berlin. This creative movement encompassed a plethora of fields like architecture, painting, dance, culture and films.
Expressionist films are very symbolic and stylized. Expressionist films are characterized by non-realistic geometrical angles. Designs are painted on floors and walls to represent shadows, lights and objects. Expressionist films included themes of madness, betrayal, insanity that were triggered by the experiences of the First World War. Expressionism was in direct contrast against realism and expressionist films like Metropolis (1927) and M (1931) was a reaction against realism. The director of these films took the help of extreme deformation in expression to portray the emotional conflict and the working of the mind rather than depicting the external emotions of a person. The two genres of filmmaking that were influenced by Expressionism, include horror film and film noir. German Expressionist films employed music and sound as opposed to dialogue.
Mise-en-scene is a French word that is used to describe the technique of telling a story through cinematography and stage design. Mise-en-scene is associated with two film genres that are German Expressionist films and Poetic realism. The technique of “Chiaroscuro” was employed in expressionist films. Chiaroscuro is a technique of lighting wherein light and darkness is controlled to achieve an illusion of depth. The Metropolis is a good example of an expressionist film. Expressionist films are characterized by oblique camera angles, distorted bodies and settings that are almost gothic to look at. According to Andrew Dix, mise-en-scene can be divided into five elements that includes settings, costume, lighting, props and acting.
Power and injustice is portrayed through the workers who live amidst squalor in a place that is underneath the ground. All the buildings in this place lacks colour and is identical just like the workers in the film. In sharp contrast to this, the “upper class” affluent people of the society live above the ground where there is a prevalence of opulence and beauty. These people are completely unaware of the misery of the people living below the ground. Blade Runner examines the notion of what it feels like to be a true human especially from the perspective of replicants who are considered merely as commodities. The workers are portrayed just as an extension of the machine, which is portrayed through the mise-en-scene. Right from the clothes of the actors, to the lighting, to the doorway’s structure, all create a sense of repression and the dehumanization of man. The placement of the two clocks in the film is symbolic of the two classes of society, the “upper class” and the “lower class” who exist in different zones. The clock that is placed at the bottom counts off the time in ten hour increments for the workers, thereby implying that its readers only have basic numerical skills. The clock that is placed above has a twenty four hour system. This is meant for the use of engineers and other educated people belonging to different strata of society and reflects a sophisticated mathematical concept unlike the basic numerical skills that is portrayed in the clock placed below. In addition, the clock is positioned at a higher level thereby signifying a privileged position unlike the workers who are bereft of benefits and privileges. The relative dimensions of the clocks are also very pertinent. The clock which is placed at a lower level has a greater mass which graphically reflects the crisis of capitalism. The position of the two clocks in the film symbolizes the internal mechanism of the metropolis, which is a utopia for those people who are at the top and a dystopia for those people who are in the bottom.  The futuristic cityscape in Blade Runner becomes an important device for representing the relationship of power between people and also for representing social division that is prevalent throughout the film. The arrangement of a low and high dichotomy affects the inhabitants of the city to the core wherein they become less humans. The higher a person, stays, the higher is their social standing. The working class live below the ground and their surroundings are dingy. This is in sharp contrast to the dwelling conditions above. Zhora’s death symbolizes social injustice and the dehumanizing effect of hyper- consumerism and globalization.
The perspective of Karl Marx on life, power, economics and privilege are good lenses through which to analyze and interpret films. An analysis of the film entitled, ‘Metropolis’ is often considered as an exemplary example of a dystopian film. There is a strong presence of bourgeois system throughout the film. The Marxist thought that religion is the opiate of the masses is strongly reflected in the film although there is a sense of proletarian triumph as well. Karl Marx had said that the history of all existing society is the history of class struggle. In the film, one of the characters (The Woman) says to Dennis (who is another character in the film) that, “Oh there you go, bringing class into it again.” to which Dennis replies by saying , “That’s what it’s all about if only people would – ” . This is very important because Karl Marx’s critique on capital and economics talks about the class struggle. As the struggle against one’s own self, against imperialism and against oppression is the most common theme of cinematic expression, filmmakers, movie critics and scholars noted a similar thread in the thoughts of Karl Marx. The images from this film reflect the images of the workhouses and the industrialized London of his time. In the Communist Manifesto of Karl Marx, Marx describes economic power as destroying the structures of society and replacing them with a state of conflict between the Bourgeois and the Proletariat. According to Karl Marx, all history has always been a class struggle. According to Karl Marx power from one person to another cannot be done gently and without violence. It always includes violence wherein one system overthrows the previous system. In the film Metropolis, the people of the city who live above the ground are contrasted and are in conflict with those people who live beneath the ground. This symbolism of above and below is symbolic of the difference in class. In the film Metropolis, the Morlocks, literally enslave and devour the Eloi, just as workers are devoured by capitalism.
There are three aspects of the Marxist theory in the film entitled the ‘Blade Runner.’ The film is based on binary opposites. One of the symbol in the film are the giant skyscrapers. They tower over the slums of 2019 and their fronts symbolize a reflection of upper class lifestyles.  In the film the ruling class is shown as a shining beacon towering above the working class. There is a celebration of industry throughout the film. Technology is portrayed to be beautiful as can be seen in the depiction of the pyramid shaped buildings of the oppressors. There are three political motifs in the film entitled, ‘Blade Runner’. They are race, space and class. Class is used in the Marxist sense in terms of a specific group and its relation to the means of production. The issue  of race is related with the issue of class wherein one sees that most of the industrial workers that run the city live among the swarming masses of people as opposed to the wealthy section of society. And the difference between the wealthy and elite sections of society and the poor and destitute people is portrayed symbolically in the film and is characterized by the spatial opposition of High versus Low wherein Eldon Tyrell lives high above the city in a big pyramid. The protagonist of the film, Rick Deckard, the blade runner lives ninety-two stories above the city. The police and the people who symbolize authority and power spend majority of their time in hovercrafts overlooking the city. Race and class is also related together in the film wherein the replicants when the first arrive in the city of Los Angeles, they choose to live among the masses in the streets of the city. The replicants are portrayed to be belonging to the lower classes of society and their presence is almost undetectable. Racial treatment is meted out to them by the use of racial epithets. In the film Blade Runner, one can hardly spot a “white person”. This is symbolic and refers to the act that majority of the “white people” have left Earth and have left the “inferior” races to inhabit the planet. The music too emphasizes the social strata. Whenever there is a depiction of the people belonging to the ruling class, the music is classical, soft and pleasant to listen and when there is a depiction of the proletariat then the director makes use of hectic, fast music.  In the film, Blade Runner there is a huge discrepancy between the rich people and those who are poor. Thus Blade Runner and Metropolis are examples of German Expressionist films.
Broad, Terence, and Mick Grierson. “Autoencoding blade runner: reconstructing films with artificial neural networks.” Leonardo 50, no. 4 (2017): 376-383.
Dixon, Mel. “Seeing Frankenstein and Blade runner though different eyes.” Metaphor 2 (2014): 34.
Keefer, Kyle. “Knowledge and Mortality in Blade Runner and Genesis 2-3.” Journal of Religion & Film 9, no. 2 (2016): 4.
Macarthur, David. “A Vision of Blindness: Blade Runner and Moral Redemption.” Film-Philosophy 21, no. 3 (2017): 371-391.
Miller, Alexander, Adam Fisch, Jesse Dodge, Amir-Hossein Karimi, Antoine Bordes, and Jason Weston. “Key-value memory networks for directly reading documents.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1606.03126 (2016).
Wheeler, Michael. “The Being of Replicants.” (2017).

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