Category Archives: Academic Paper

Uncle Boonmee Intersects With Pan’s Labrynth

Academic Paper

Worlds Real and Metaphysical


Larry Gleeson


In the two films, “Pan’s Labyrinth,” by Guillermo del Toro and “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” by Apichatpong Weerasethakul, both directors take on the challenges of exploring the inner worlds of memory and imagination and how these components are ultimately an expression of the self’s reality. In his influential 1975 essay, “The Apparatus: Meta- psychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema,” French theorist Jean-Louis Baudry compared cinema to the lights flickering on the back wall of Plato’s cave— an illusory shadow show from which we need to liberate ourselves. Apichatpong thinks exactly otherwise. His cinema cave is dedicated to recovering a repressed history, healing pain, and connecting our spirits with others.” Although still influenced by the aesthetics of the Old Thai Cinema with long takes Apichatpong takes on much larger risks in his metaphorical storytelling techniques combining human and animal, carnal with the marvelous and the surreal with the sublime. On the other side, Guillermo Del Toro uses fantasy with a plethora of traditional “fairy-tale tropes—the testing of the heroine in her encounters with monsters and ogres, the forest as a liminal space between worlds, fabulous creatures such as fauns and fairies who guide the heroine on her journey toward becoming a princess—or, in the context of the film, towards death and transfiguration,” (according to Clark and McDonald in their paper, “’A Constant Transit of Finding’: Fantasy as the realization in Pan’s Labyrinth.”) to navigate the politics of war and nationhood during a bloody civil war. Both approaches to tackling experiences – often repressed due to emotional and psychological scarring – have transformative power in their cinematic expression with the potential to assist and aid the disturbed psyche.

Andre Bergstrom in his “Cinematic past lives: memory, modernity, and cinematic reincarnation in Apichatpong Weerasethkul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” states “In both its individual impact and cultural functions, cinema fulfills many of the same roles in modernity that spiritual practices – such as rituals, visions, conceptions of the afterlife, prayer, and meditation – have fulfilled and continue to fulfill across a wide spectrum of societies, serving as a connection between the individual and a larger, even transcendent, view of the world….Brazin (from his famous essay on the “Ontology of the Photographic Image,” italics, mine) suggests that cinema goes even further in linking temporal representation, through memory, to a spiritual concern with the role of subjectivity beyond death.” (Bergstrom)

Uncle Boonmee, opens with a text box that reads “Facing the jungle, the hills and vales, my past lives as an animal and other beings rise up before me,”  as diegetic sounds of crickets and birds chirping and the visual of daybreak reveal a silhouette of a grazing, horned bull. Much like the scene from Pan’s Labyrinth, this scene sets the tone for the rest of the film as the insects and the natural setting provide a setting for the film to deliver its message of life and the transitions to and within the life after. The dark gray hue provides a veil between the two worlds – this one we see and the metaphysical world we don’t see with just our vision – as the insects and chirping bird sounds help facilitate a transformative experience with a supernatural feel.

For example, when the silhouetted bull comes into view it as if he is human. In a sense, he is as he represents one of Uncle Boonmee’s past lives. Soon we see he is tethered to a nearby oak tree. This is a long take and is reminiscent of Old Thai Cinema aesthetics. The diegetic sound of his heavy breathing and shuffling hooves add to the bull’s powerful presence as the camera moves in for a close-up. The bull frees himself and makes his way down into the pasture transforming from a black silhouette into a massive gray bull moving away from the camera. A cut is made on action to a wide shot of a verdant pasture with a majestic mountain range in the background. The bull is shown crossing from right to left until it gets to the center of the frame when a cut is made and the camera still shooting wide but with only half as much space between. The camera tracks the bull now galloping in a pan until the bull exits frame left into a wooded area.

In his interview, “Learning about time: an interview with Apichatpong Weerasethakul,” Ji-hoon Kim discusses with Apichatpong his examination of the jungle and how it relates cinematically. The next sequence of shots take place in the forested area and provided a spirited experience of the bull snorting and plodding in the creek.  Most of these shots are high angle. A reverse angle shot shows a man coming into frame and tracks him until he takes the bull by the lead back in the direction he entered the frame. Uncle Boonmee is about the final days of a rural Thai man, Boonmee, who is suffering from kidney failure. Boonmee has the ability to remember his past lives and shares the trek to where all his past lives life began with his dead wife’s ghost and the return of his lost son in the form of a monkey ghost. Ultimately, Apichatpong is providing a cinematic experience with the spiritual significance of memory while preserving time.

Del Toro also illustrates alternating parallel worlds in Pan’s Labyrinth while attempting to depict and deconstruct the harshest of realities in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War. Roger Clark and Keith McDonald state in ‘“A constant Transit of Finding”: Fantasy as Realisation in Pan’s Labyrinth,”  “Ofelia gains access to a transformative world in which fantasy acts both as an escape and also as a means of making sense of her situation.” (Clark, McDonald pg. 5) The scene where Ofelia enters the labyrinth is a prime example. The scene is shot in dark colors of violet and medium blues to contrast as it creates a subliminal, spectral backdrop. The film hinges here on this scene as the diegetic sounds of a creature or creatures scurrying around awaken her as she slowly comes out from under her covers with a lunar light essence. At a low angle close up her toes reach for the rug by the bed when a creature scampers across her toes. She recoils back under the covers as the edit takes place eventually switching to her point-of-view of the faun creature. His appearance is at once fearsome and fantastical.

Through Ofelia, we learn the importance of finding resiliency in the face of adversity. Her estate reality and her forest fantasy are juxtaposed much like adulthood and childhood and on a larger, a nationhood perspective, a juxtaposition between a competing democracy and dictatorship. In addition, the film represents “an important addition to the literature of childhood itself, exploring as it does the intersection of childhood, war, masculinity, and monstrosity that Del Toro began representing in an earlier film…” (Clark)

In her “Lullabies and postmemory: hearing the ghosts of Spanish history in Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (El laberinto del fauno, 2006) Irene Gomez-Castellano states “’Mercedes’ Lullaby” serves as a structuring leitmotiv of the whole film and as an allegorical device that subtly extends the meaning of Ofelia’s individual story to a national realm: that of the Spanish history of the twentieth century, its traumatic past and its historical process of forgetting and remembering its origins.” (Gomez-Castellano) del Toro vividly displays this notion early on as  Captain Vidal, a Spanish military officer, begins his morning routine of shaving. The scene opens with a close-up of a refined-looking hand with smooth and toned skin. As the camera pulls out a rather rustic room is revealed briefly before the camera pushes back into a nicely carved razor handle in the Captain’s well-manicured hand. This sets the tone for the rest of the scene.

The Captain is meticulous about his uniform, his boots, and his appearance. He is the embodiment of the Franco regime and its repression. His arrogance is not only displayed in his hygenic physicalities, but it also becomes blatantly apparent in his verbal complaint to Mercedes about the coffee being burnt. He strokes Mercedes’s shoulder in a semi-sexualized manner after vocalizing his displeasure while requesting she look into it. Mercedes recedes smoothly and relays the Captain’s remarks to the servants in the kitchen who refer to the Captain as a dandy and a “hussy fussy.” Mercedes fills a tub for Ofelia. The camera cross-cuts to Ofelia being directed about the evening’s dinner party. Ofelia quickly escapes with her Crossroads book and its illusory world of magic as an escape to the traumatic world of the estate. The non-diegetic music score augments the visual world and assists Ofelia to feel her past and to come to terms with it.

Similarly, Jonathan Romney states in his review, “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives,” that “If, as Apichatpong suggests, cinema can be a means of erasing consciousness and the past, its more exalted function is to reconcile – to bring together past, present and future (“I have no concept of time anymore,” says Huay). And in a similar vein to Del Toro’s cinematic backdrop, the Spanish Civil War, Apichatpong’s modern Thailand had experienced high political tension surrounding immigration from Laos and it appears in the scene with Boonmee’s sister-in-law, Jen, and her suspicion of immigrants as killers and smell.  (Romney)

While Pan’s Labyrinth, doesn’t dell as deeply into the metaphysical realm of reconciling past, present, and future as Uncle Boonmee, it does attempt to represent a differing aspect of memory: one is chronological time represented by Captain Vidal’s pocket watch and the other being the illusory myth and its erasure of chronological time represented by the faun, the labyrinth, the underworld, and Princess Ofelia. In the end, we see a dying Captain Vidal asking Mercedes, as she holds the Captain’s baby boy in her arms, to remind the boy how his father died. Mercedes refuses to break the hold and the perpetuation and the legacy of violence. Thus, Spain has been freed from the past. (Gomez-Castellano)

Del Toro allows Ofelia to sacrifice herself in order for her baby brother to have a life free from the harsh memories of the past as Ofelia refuses the faun’s request to pour a drop of her brother’s blood.  This causes Ofelia’s real death. Yet, briefly, Del Toro allows for the assimilation of worlds with Ofelia the Princess of the Underworld, dying in the space between worlds. This visual unites Ofelia’s real world and her kingdom. Mercedes hums a lullaby and an image appears in the book of Ofelia at a Royal Court.  Likewise, Apichatpong toward the end of Uncle Boonmee e manipulates time and space.  Tong, the monk can’t sleep and has violated his vows visiting the hotel room of Jen and Roong. He showers and puts on civilian attire. Jen invites him to go with her to get food and takes his hand. Tong looks back and the camera reveals the three of them still sitting on the bed. This is Apichatpong’s way of saying the material world and the spiritual world, are not far apart. (Gomez-Castellano)

In conclusion, both Guillermo del Toro and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, illustrate memory and imagination as an expression of the self’s reality through their film’s respective characters, Ofelia and Uncle Boonmee. As the films are set in differing cultures, the representations are also differing. Del Toro’s film utilizes myth juxtaposed against real-time while Weerasethakul juxtaposes the metaphysical aspects of past, present, and future. Furthermore, both films make use of social commentary on troubled individuals within dominating nationalistic parameters of their respective countries. Spain is in the Civil War and Thailand is under enormous political pressure due to Laotian immigration Interestingly enough, Uncle Boonmee contains strong spiritual overtones while Pan’s Labyrinth is steeped in strong violence and harsh reality. Yet, the respective characters suffer from thematically conflicting maladies. Ofelia suffers from a spiritual malady while Uncle Boonmee suffers from a physical malady. Nevertheless, in closing, both films represent each respective individual character’s own self reality.













Works Cited

Naremore, James. “Films of the Year.” Film Quarterly 2011: 34-47.

Kim, Ji-Hoon. “Learning About Time: An Interview With Apichatpong Weerasethakul.” Film Quarterly 2011: 48-52.

Clark, Roger and McDonald, Keith. “A Constant Transit of Finding: Fantasy as Realisation in Pan’s Labyrinth.” Children’s Literature in Education March 2010: 52-63.





Posted by Larry Gleeson


LOS ANGELES, CA – Upon recommendation by the Sound Branch Executive Committee, the Academy’s Board of Governors voted Thursday (2/23) to rescind the Sound Mixing nomination for Greg P. Russell from “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” for violation of Academy campaign regulations.  The decision was prompted by the discovery that Russell had called his fellow members of the Sound Branch during the nominations phase to make them aware of his work on the film, in direct violation of a campaign regulation that prohibits telephone lobbying.  An additional nominee for “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi” will not be named in his place.  The remaining Sound Mixing nominees for the film are Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth.

“The Board of Governors’ decision to rescind Mr. Russell’s nomination was made after careful consideration,” said Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs.  “The Academy takes very seriously the Oscars voting process and anything – no matter how well-intentioned – that may undermine the integrity of that process.”

The Board determined that Russell’s actions violated a campaign regulation that unequivocally prohibits telephone lobbying.  It states that “contacting Academy members by telephone to promote a film or achievement is expressly forbidden, even if such contact is in the guise of checking to make sure a screener or other mailing was received.”

The members from each of the Academy’s branches vote to determine the nominees in their respective categories – actors nominate actors, film editors nominate film editors, musicians, composers and lyricists vote the nominations for song and score.

During the nominations process, all 456 voting members of the Sound Branch received a reminder list of film titles eligible in the Sound Mixing category in order to vote.

The nominees for Sound Mixing are:

Bernard Gariépy Strobl and Claude La Haye

Kevin O’Connell, Andy Wright, Robert Mackenzie and Peter Grace

Andy Nelson, Ai-Ling Lee and Steve A. Morrow

David Parker, Christopher Scarabosio and Stuart Wilson

Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Mac Ruth

The 89th Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 26, 2017, at the Dolby Theatre® at Hollywood & Highland Center® in Hollywood, and will be televised live on the ABC Television Network at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.  The Oscars also will be televised live in more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

# # #

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a global community of more than 7,000 of the most accomplished artists, filmmakers and executives working in film. In addition to celebrating and recognizing excellence in filmmaking through the Oscars, the Academy supports a wide range of initiatives to promote the art and science of the movies, including public programming, educational outreach and the upcoming Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is under construction in Los Angeles.



Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. – Globally

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Warner Bros. Entertainment. Inc., originally founded in April of 1923, is a broad-based entertainment company, headquartered in Burbank, California on Warner Bros. Studios lot, a 142-acre parcel that houses one of the eminent production and post-productions facilities on the planet, selling its good and services in all major global marketplaces.


In addition, Warner Bros. Studios Facilities oversees the research and development, United Kingdom-based, Warner Bros. Studio Leavesden, a 160-acre production facility that has served as the site for many acclaimed Warner Bros. European productions including the eight Harry Potter films. It is also the home of the Warner Bros, Studio Tour – London, The Making of Harry Potter, a publicity, brand awareness generator. It is one of the most popular UK tourist attractions since opening in early 2012. Warner Bros. and is considered to have one of the most successful brands in the entertainment industry. Warner Bros. Entertainment. Inc. is a fully integrated Time-Warner Company, publicly traded with 89% of its shares held by institutional and mutual fund owners.


Initially, Warner Bros. consistently utilized a standardized approach to its production systems and marketing efforts with a production facility with specific job components made up of raw talent until the vertical disintegration (an impediment to coordination handed down by the US Supreme Court) of the Studio System had run its cycle by 1960. It was the end of the Golden Age of filmmaking and an organizational change was looming.

Warner Bros. shifted to a glocalization strategy with standard operating procedures and adaptation strategies when needed to meet objectives as the rise of television in the 1950’s and the cultural shifts of the late 1950’s and the 1960’s caused a paradigm in viewership. It wouldn’t be long before, Warner Bros adopted a divisional structure where functions were grouped together to meet the needs of their respective products, markets and geographical regions.

With its painstaking market research including social attitudes Warner Bros. produced programming for television and home entertainment with global market products in its international promotional mix. Television, radio, newspaper, billboards and magazine advertisements are used to promote and advertise. Sponsorships and product placements are additional revenue generators.

In addition, Warner Bros. produced feature films for new international viewer markets in international joint ventures. Warner Bros. utilizes distribution agents and subsidiaries throughout its global markets to distribute not only its television, home entertainment and feature films but also a myriad of DVD, Blu-ray, digital content, comic books, animation, video games and broadcasting.


Warner Bros. Consumer Product division oversees the licensing of the intellectual property rights of Warner Bros. Entertainment library of film and television, maintains a commitment to increase and strengthen the power of its core brand recognition using extensive marketing research and analytics through promotional marketing, retailing and creative merchandizing within a vibrant network of global offices in strategic, demographically analyzed locations in Asia, Europe, North America and Latin America. Warner Bros. Consumer Product division also monitors for product counterfeiting and content piracy.

Warner Bros. is primarily in the consumer markets and industrial markets. However, in 1941 the studio was brought into the government market in producing the geopolitical drama/thriller Casablanca at the behest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt long before the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility had taken center stage.

The Warner Bros. library consists of over 7000 feature films, 5000 television programs with tens of thousands of episodes and nearly 75,000 hours of programming. As new viewers are discovering classic films, the product life-cycle of classic films are being altered as new technologies enable restoration of damaged or improperly stored film archivals.

With a direct strategy, Warner Bros. Pictures produces and distributes approximately 18-22 films per year and is a global leader in marketing and distributing feature films in over 120 territories either directly or indirectly while maintaining offices in over thirty countries. Utilizing a business strategy that minimizes risk and maximizes capital and productivity, Warner Bros. finances or co-finances its films while keeping the global distribution rights. Furthermore, Warner Bros. takes advantage of its comparative advantages in marketing and distribution with films financed by third parties in what is often a highly capital intensive industry.


For example, New Line Cinema founded in 1967, is a well-established purveyor of quality, mainstream films as well as niche market films. In 2008, New Line Cinema became a subsidiary of Warner Bros,  with all the practical benefits of a strategic alliance, maintaining its own separate business dealings in development, production, marketing and distribution.

New Line produced The Lord of the Rings, the Oscar Award-winning film trilogy, which generated a combined worldwide box office of nearly $3 billion with an additional $3 billion in consumer products and home entertainment revenue. As mentioned throughout the course, companies in a vertically integrated structure often coordinate and share certain responsibilities. While New Line and Warner Bros. are separate entities they do coordinate with Warner Bros. to maximize business efficiencies. New Line’s 2016 films are being distributed through Warner Bros.


As a sign of Warner Bros. Pictures success, 2015 marked the ninth year in a row it surpassed box office revenues of three billion dollars. In addition, 2015 marked the fifteenth consecutive year that its international and domestic gross receipts exceeded one billion dollars each. No other entertainment studio has ever achieved such a feat.

Another component of Warner Bros. success is its Home Entertainment. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment manages video games, home video and digital distribution to maximize current and next generation distribution scenarios including Blu-ray, DVD, streaming, transactional video-on-demand and delivery of theatrical content to online and wireless channels. Also, it is a substantial publisher of third party and internal video game titles.

Like its Pictures Division, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment led the industry with a nineteen percent market share through its subsidiaries Warner Horizon, Blue Ribbon, Warner Bros. Animation and WBTV.

Warner Bros. Television Group produced over seventy series for the 2015-16 season and oversees and grows the entire Warner Bros. portfolio of television businesses including production worldwide, broadcasting and traditional and digital distribution. Furthermore, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment worked across all platform including the digital, broadcast, pay-per-view and cable to remain the industry and category leader.


Warner Bros. Animation is yet another division of Warner Bros. and is one of the leading animation studios in the entertainment business with an organizational culture made up of a highly creative roster of animators, artists and storytellers working on global products under the scrutiny of long-standing business analysis to discern what products will yield the greatest revenues.

Warner Bros. Animation is home to the animated library containing the popular Looney Tunes, DC Comics, Hannah-Barbera characters and MGM animations. With concept testing, the animation studio is also at the leading edge of technology with its prolific use of computer generated imaging, 360 degree cinema and the exciting new virtual reality technologies as the studio attempts to create an affordable product design with cost-prohibitive technologies.

That’s all folks!


Balio, Tino. “Film Quarterly.” Film Quarterly, vol. 49, no. 1, 1995, pp. 50–52. Hollywood TV: The Studio System in the Fifties

Fell, John. “Film Quarterly.” Film Quarterly, vol. 39, no. 4, 1986, pp. 56–57. “Inside Warner Bros. (1935-51)

Introduction to Global Business by Gaspar, Arreola-Risa, Bierman, Hise, Kolari, & Smith, FIRST EDITION

POKORNY, MICHAEL, and JOHN SEDGWICK. “Profitability Trends in Hollywood, 1929 to 1999: Somebody Must Know Something.” The Economic History Review, vol. 63, no. 1, 2010, pp. 56–84. New Series,

Birth of a Blaxploitation

Posted by Larry Gleeson

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song

The birth of Blaxploitation began with Melvin Van Peebles’ Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, with initiating a new black identity and reached its zenith with Gordon Parks, Jr’s. Superfly.  In its purest form, blaxploitation gave these filmmakers voices to explore the prominent social and cultural issues and characteristics, including police brutality, prostitution, illegal drug distribution conspiracies and attempts by law enforcement officials to establish control and maintain order in large, inner-city, urban environments in their respective films, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, and Superfly, while using creative license in themes, costumes, props and soundtracks to shape characters.

At their peak, exploitation films were dominated by American International Films and by hungry directors eager to exploit popular cultural and social trends often resulting from sensational news stories. Most scholars consider Roger Corman to be the father of the exploitation film. Corman came to light in particular with his early 1960 adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe tales. Audiences were hungry for these classic stories and Cormon capitalized with three successive films. Other examples of early exploitation films were Child Bride (1938), depicting older men marrying much younger women in the American Ozark Mountains and the classic Reefer Madness (1936) depicting the foibles of drug use, and Sex Madness (1938). Audiences ate these films up and box office revenues swelled. Shortly, thereafter, Orson Welles shocked the world with his radio show spoof, “War of the Worlds.” Soon, the advent and fascination with Space spawned a new style of the science fiction genre with the  “Flash Gordon” films and “Invaders from Mars.”

These films were cheaply made and had low production values. After the Paramount decision in 1948, the studios were looking for profits. As a result, the Grindhouse cinema emerged further exploiting audiences with biker films and beach films. Marlon Brando starred in the first widely released biker film, The Wild Ones (1953). A series of low budget motorcycle, hot rod and juvenile delinquent films followed in the remainder of the decade. Filmmakers engaging in making and producing exploitation films did so initially without the full support and  financial backing of the major film studios. However, if a director made a profit, the studio would support the next venture. (Hammond, 2006)


The 1960’s brought Corman and the production company American International into the mainstream exploitation film market. Most scholars consider Roger Corman to be the father of the exploitation film. Corman came to light in particular with his early 1960 adaptations of Edgar Allen Poe tales. Audiences were hungry for these classic stories and Cormon capitalized with three successive Poe adaptation films. American International profited on the conservative element of Hollywood with its beach party films showcasing the California Surf subculture with seven films between 1963 and 1966 despite the proliferating Civil Rights Movement.

As the political climate evolved and protests of the Vietnam War began so did the Black Power movement.  (Harpole, 2000) Black Power attempted to overcome the racial oppression experienced by African Americans and sought to nurture and establish an autonomous identity for African Americans. (Harris & Mushtaq, 2013) In 1971 Melvin Van Peebles wrote, directed and produced a landmark film, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, sparking a new genre of blaxploitation films. (Christian, 2014) Usually set in large, urban areas the films had anti-establishment heroes and contained graphic sex, gratuitous violence and open drug use, blaxploitation films were generally action films made for black audiences with black actors in leading roles and more often than not were written, directed, produced and crewed by blacks. (Hammond, 2006)


Van Peebles funded Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song himself under the guise of making a pornographic film performing his own stunt scenes including the graphic sex scenes himself. He enticed the popular rock n’ roll band Earth, Wind and Fire to score the title track and released the soundtrack before the film to promote audience interest. The film’s questionable subject matter led to a minute two theater release.  For example, the opening scene depicts a female prostitute taking the boy’s virginity and while doing so calls out “Sweet Sweetback,” due to the boy’s penis size and sexual prowess. (Wikipedia, n.d.)

Technically, Van Peebles utilizes the jump cut effectively in providing visuals to support the film’s narrative with Sweetback quickly becoming an adult starring in live adult sex shows with gender identity issues. Also, Van Peebles is providing a sense of social commentary consistent with the political environment in 1970-71. In the film the police have decided to politicize the arranged arrest of a black male to appease the police captain’s constituents with the intention of releasing him for lack of evidence after a short questioning and holding period. However, the plan goes off kilter when the police team spot an intoxicated young Black Panther, arrest him and decide to brutally assault him in front of Sweetback. In disgust, Sweetback retaliates and savagely beats the officers to a pulp primarily with the aid of his handcuffs.

The remainder of the film is a visual adventure as Sweetback escapes to Mexico. Van Peebles montages have a powerful grindhouse effect. With Sweetback  on the run he interacts with Hells Angels, hippies and heavy industrial sites. (Craddock, 2009) Van Peebles dramatizes Sweetback’s escapes to the Mexico border with bloodhounds in hot pursuit of Sweetback’s scent. The film ends with large white titles declaring “WATCH OUT” followed by “A BAADASSSS NIGGER IS COMING BACK TO COLLECT SOME DUES…

Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song grossed an estimated $10 million dollars. $10 million was quite a sum for 1971 and as a result, the studio responsible for epic films like Gone With The Wind, MGM, hired Gordon Parks, Sr., to direct Shaft, a black inner-city type of James Bond that navigates the black ghettos and the whites’ world, in hopes of capitalizing on the sprouting black audience box-office. The film was a hit grossing a quick $12 million and establishing a blueprint framework for blaxploitation films. The success of these two films got studio executives attention and took ahold of Hollywood’s purse as it “realized the power of the black ticket-buying public, which accounted for more than thirty percent of the box office in major cities and quickly seized upon the potential profitability of the new formula.” (Seperate Cinema, n.d.) The making of blaxploitation films proliferated in 1972 and by 1976 approximately 200 blaxploitation action films were made rehashing almost every conceivable genre story line and plot with almost all using the black versus white power dichotomy. (Seperate Cinema, n.d.)

What Van Peebles started with Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song, and with the methodology Gordon Parks, Sr., perfected, Gordon Parks, Jr. in Superfly, brought to fruition a new black anti-hero that not only stood up to “The Man,” but came out victorious.  Superfly tells the story of a young African-American adult male, Youngblood Priest, who wants to get out of the underground cocaine drug business. The character Priest is portrayed by a well-grounded, Shakespearean actor, Ron O’Neal. Throughout the film, Priest drives a customized Cadillac Eldorado, dresses in high fashion, is trained in the martial arts and keeps a beautiful woman in his neighborhood and in Uptown Manhattan.


The film opens with Priest being mugged by two junkies. Priest immediately thrashes the first junkie and chases down the second after an extended foot chase.  Parks, Jr., takes advantage of the scene to provide a rundown urban setting full of decay and despair. Parks Jr. continues to provide social and cultural artifacts as the narrative arc progresses. As Priest and his partner Eddie wait for a drug supplier they are approached by three black activists demanding monies for their Black Power activities on behalf of the black brethren. Priest refuses and the drug deal is made.

In another scene, Priest and Eddie consult with members of their organization as soul musician Curtis Mayfield performs “Pusher Man.” Mayfield’s soundtrack would eventually out gross the film and is regarded by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the top 100 greatest albums of all-time. The music of Curtis Mayfield and the music of Isaac Hayes in Shaft added an element of sophistication and depth to both of these Blaxploitation films. (Seperate Cinema, n.d.)

In the final scene of Superfly, Priest has the embodiment of a sophisticated, street-wise character as he is confronted by the Police Commissioner. The commissioner has murdered Priest’s friend, mentor and primary connection ordering a lethal heroin overdose injection. The commissioner belittles Priest telling Priest that “you just want to be another black junkie….and you’re going to work for me until I tell you to quit,” as he pokes Priest in the chest. Priest has taken a bump of cocaine while the commissioner talked. Parks, Jr., utilizes an extreme close up as Priest responds vehemently with, “You don’t own me Pig and no motherfucker tells me when I can split.” The commissioner, in disbelief, counters with “who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” The camera stays focused in a dirty single extreme close up of Priest. Priest appears confident and defiant as he comes back at the commissioner with, “I’m talking to you you redneck faggot.” At this point one of the commissioner’s goons strikes Priest knocking Priest into a garbage pile.

Priest recovers, regains his footing as the shot goes to slow motion with a non-diagetic musical score coupled with diagetic grunts and sound effects. Priest grabs a trash can lid and decimates the goons in a urban martial art alley free-for-all complete with Priest launching one goon head first into a nearby rubberized trash can. The camera, still in slow motion cuts to the commissioner brandishing a pistol ordering Priest “to freeze.” The camera pulls focus on the pistol.

This is a pivotal moment. In a typical analysis, the man with the gun has the power and it holds true here as well. However, Priest has contracted a mafia hit in the event he comes to an unlikely death. Unaware, the commissioner lambasts Priest as naïve and without the financial means to carry out a “for hire” contract hit. Unknowingly, the commissioner took possession of an identical suitcase containing dirty clothes to the one filled with money. Priest only moments earlier had passed the money filled briefcase to his girlfriend posing as a bag lady. Priest informs the commissioner he’s his own man, gets in his customized El Dorado and drives off while the commissioner dumps the briefcase and sees the dirty clothes he is left with.

Youngblood Priest provided black audiences with someone that they could relate to. Having been on the opposite end of the law for so long, audiences reveled in one of their own winning out against the man. Not all blacks, however, felt this new black identity was good. Pressure groups, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) felt the stereotypes featured were decidedly negative and took away from the advances made in forming positive role models in the black community. The genre had been so thoroughly exploited audience grew weary of the cheap film making with many of the same or similar story lines and plot characteristics. Consequently, blaxploitation films came to an abrupt end.


The legacy of the African-American films, however, remains positive. The assimilation of black culture into Hollywood continued in the 1980’s with the emergence of actor Eddie Murphy followed by present-day A-listers Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Samuel L. Jackson, Spike Lee and Mario Van Peebles, the son of Sweet Sweetback’s, Melvin Van Peebles. In retrospect, one can see over and over in the history of film a reflection of the social and cultural mores occurring at any point in time and space. (Seperate Cinema, n.d.)

And, Blaxploitation films are no different. As blacks emerged from the Civil Rights era and took hold of their citizenship, filmmakers, musicians and artists forged a new identity that reflected not only who they were but also their experiences that helped to define their blackness. The groundbreaking work of Melvin Van Peebles’, Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song initiated a new identity in the character Sweetback while the work of Gordon Parks Jr., Superfly, and the character Youngblood Priest dramatized it to “a larger than life” embodiment solidifying a new black identity into the history of Hollywood filmmaking.



Works Cited

Christian, M. (2014). Can You Dig It? Ebony, 116-134.

Craddock, J. ( 2009). Superfly Film Review . VideoHound’s Golden Movie Retriever , 967.

Hammond, M. a. (2006). Contemporary American Cinema . England: McGraw-Hill.

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Akira Kurosawa: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

Paper by Lawrence Gleeson.

I will be analyzing the three films, Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1957), and Ran (1985), in relation to how these Akira Kurosawa films represent men and their relationship to social structures, and to violence in reference to historical truth and to socio-economic realities. In Rashomon, Kurosawa breaks the traditional narrative mold of his earlier films with Arthouse Cinema depicting a murder of a samurai and the rape of his Lady by a bandit. The samurai is depicted as a clean cut, upright guardian as he walks carrying the reigns of the horse that his properly attired Japanese Lady rides upon in traditional ruling class attire complete with hat and facial netting protecting her delicate, porcelain-like skin from the harmful rays of the sun. The bandit, on the other hand, is dressed with tattered garb, no shirt, unshaven and a general unkempt appearance and he is frequently swatting and defending himself from the attention of big flies evidenced by his scratching and swatting at the loud buzzing of the flies. As the samurai and the Lady make their way through the woods, the bandit slowly watches like a snake watching his prey. Eventually, the bandit confronts the samurai in broad-action, sword dueling scenes and in hand to hand combats as daggers are brandished and eventually the bandit subdues the samurai and forcefully takes the Lady’s honor. (People: Akira Kurasawa)


The men this film is focusing on are men that take care of the weaker sexed women and use violence to get what they want and need. (Prince) The use of violence to protect the weak and to get what is wanted will be seen again and again in Seven Samurai, in Ran, as well as in the remainder of Rashomon, as four varying versions of the same crime are presented with one version containing a hidden secret. In my opinion, this film is a reflection of Japanese society in 1950. The Japanese samurai has been killed as democratization is the driving force behind the new society and that the new culture is at risk of becoming a society of thieves and bandits. (People: Akira Kurasawa)

Americanization has been taking place with a new constitution being implemented. Furthermore, the Japanese “sword,” the army, has been removed. It is my belief the four versions represent varying perspectives on WWII. Yet, by the end of Rashomon, an acceptance of the past has taken place and hope for the future is being put forth symbolized by the wood cutter’s willingness to trade the valuable, pearl-handled dagger he kept for himself, in return for the safety and well-being of the newborn. (Prince, The Warrior’s Camera: The cinema of Akira Kurosawa) This, in my opinion, is Kurosawa showing through the woodcutter’s action that there is there is hope for the future of Japan without the weapons of the samurai and the army.


With the 1955 film Seven Samurai, ten years have passed since the end of WWII. Japan is struggling to find it’s own identity. For the most part, Japanese society has all but turned its back on the samurai way and is leaning heavily toward a full embrace of Western ideals and economics. Kurosawa sees the ideals of the samurai as a way for Japan to embrace the past taking the strong, good ideals of the legendary samurai and reinventing the samurai as a present day, or contemporary figure as he fears Japan is losing its identity. (People: Akira Kurasawa) The film opens with the bandits coming to rob the peasant farmers of their grain and barley. The peasants can’t defend themselves and fear for their survival. They decide to hire a samurai to protect and help defend them from the marauding bandits. Interestingly, Kurosawa depicts the first samurai as out of work true to a struggling contemporary Japanese economy. The samurai prepares himself as a priest and rescues a baby from a crazed kidnapper. The kidnapper is impaled by a sword and stumbling from the hut and in slow-motion drops dead to the ground. The samurai emerges and holds the baby aloft. The samurai uses violence to protect and safeguard the baby. I believe Kurosawa uses the baby again here in Seven Samurai, as he did in Rashomon, to foreshadow a hopeful future for Japan.

The men in Seven Samurai, are distinctly drawn into two classes, the upper class samurai and the peasant farmers and bandits. Kurosawa depicts the samurai living almost exclusively by a code of loyalty, duty responsibility and honor. He embodies these men as transcending selfishness and individualism, sacrificing themselves to protect the peasants. In addition, he includes a peasant who was not born into the samurai class as the possibility of social mobility in post WWII Japanese society and through the samurai and the hard work, sense of duty and fighting loyalty of the peasants victory is possible. Kurosawa uses violence as abstract realism. The fight scenes are very physical, very kinetic. His use of the long lens and camera angles draws the viewer’s eye in and creates a very contemporary feel. (Giddens) Furthermore, in the final scenes, Kurosawa is linking the ideals of the samurai at the film’s end with the buried samurai on the hillside with the future of Japan. As Japan is struggling to find its identity Kurosawa is showing them a way through the abyss- the dirty, muddy fight scenes – through the surviving samurai tradition of loyalty, self-sacrifice and sense of duty. In the closing moments of Seven Samurai, the surviving samurai agree that they survived and that the peasant farmer’s are the ones who have won. Kurosawa is saying that the Japanese can have a better future if they are willing to reach for it and work for it.

With his final epic film, the Shakespearean Japanese interpretive, Ran, based on “King Lear,” Kurosawa has pulled away from such overt optimism of Seven Samurai, and the darker themes from his earlier Shakespearean Japanese interpretive, Throne of Blood, based on Shakespeare’s “Macbeth,” have taken hold. Kurosawa sees his government taking sides with huge corporations at the expense of the Japanese people. A truly authentic Japanese identity post WWII is becoming very difficult. Kurosawa has for all intents and purposes lost faith in the Japanese government and it’s chance at a more hopeful, authentic Japan based on the ideals of the samurai society. Kurosawa has seen the Japanese samurai ideals subverted almost entirely into the corporation. (Nolletti) His film Ran, (1965) is a white flag to the winds of fate – the lost hope of an independent, authentic Japan. (IMDB: Akira Kurosawa) The sons of Lord Hidetora are, in my opinion, representative of the sons of Japan after WWII. Not to be content with their individual kingdoms, each is driven to conquer, capture and unify the people by a woman, Lady Kaede who is hell bent on revenging her family’s demise at the hand of Lord Hidetora years earlier. A case can be made Japan had come full circle from the civil warring era that Kurosawa sets these films, with serfdoms battling one another and samurais waging the battles for the lord of the serfdom, much like the warriors that served the three castles and the Lord of each castle to the economic juggernaut that Japan became in the 1970’s and early 1980’s following WWII. (Prince, “Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema”)

Seemingly, Kurosawa has thrown his hands up in the air with Ran, and has reached the conclusion that Japan is fated and his efforts to see his native country return to, or even evolve into, a strong, masculine state again will not be fulfilled. Japanese suffering is just the way the world works. Kurosawa conveys this with the image of a castle burning with horsemen rushing in and killing is everywhere. Moreover, the ending of Ran, depicts Taramaru on the top of his family’s burned out castle ruins. A drastic cut pull out gives appearance Taramaru is part of the ruin and poses the adage that Justice is blind. Seemingly, Kurosawa feels modern Japan, like, the Japan depicted in Ran, is being decided on the whims of a feminized bureaucracy attempting to avenge a humiliating defeat through the economic windfalls of hue corporations. Kurosawa’s films after this period moved into dreamlike states and fantasia.

The messages Kurosawa sets forth in these masterpieces are relevant today. Economically, Japan is struggling due to a global recession, a major earthquake and a resultant three-story tsunami (possibly fate) along with a nuclear release of radioactive material occurring at the Fukushima nuclear power plants. Notwithstanding, Japan as a culture, has succeeded in maintaining aspects of the samurai culture in its work ethic and in its value of loyalty. Nevertheless, as a nation, Japan did not invite the international community to participate in assessing and containing the nuclear spillage nor in rectifying the leakage from the Fukushima Daiichi reactor. As Kurosawa elegantly, and eloquently shows, the Japanese people are a people steeped in a strong, rich and powerful tradition. One can only hope that when they need to, they ask for help in overcoming an adversary to ensure the health and survival of its people despite class differences. In closing, I believe Japan still looks to the West before it charts its course for the future – much like Kurosawa’s western genre influence in these films. And despite the great film director’s dismay, the Japanese people and the strong ideals of the samurai remain vibrant, alive as they work, struggle and fight for a better future.

Works Cited

Prince, Stephen. The Warrior’s Camera: The cinema of Akira Kurosawa. Princeton University Press, 1999.
Giddens, Gary. Kurosawa in Action. 22 July 2015 .
Nolletti, Arthur. “”Perspectives on Kurosawa”.” Film Quarterly Summer 1996: 52-54.
Prince, Stephen. “”Remaking Kurosawa: Translations and Permutations in Global Cinema”.” The Journal of Japanese Studies 37.1 (2011): 229-233.
People: Akira Kurasawa. 19 July 2015 .
IMDB: Akira Kurosawa. 18 July 2015 .