Black And White In Colour – Satire, Poorly Thought Through

Quick Thoughts: Black And White In Colour (La Victoire en Chantant, 1976)

As I was unable to find a film by an Ivorian director, such as Roger Gnoan M’Bala, today we will be looking at a French film shot entirely in the Ivory Coast for Cote d’Ivoire’s place in the series.

I’m quite torn on what to think about Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Black And White In Colour. I thoroughly enjoyed this film as a satirical black comedy, and it is made quite well, but, its approach to its subject matter was poorly handled.

Black And White In Colour is about a group of quirky French men and women – a geographer, two shopkeepers, a prostitute, an alcoholic, etc. – settled in Cameroon around 1915 as WWI begins. This predominately European conflict of course spread across the globe and, in turn, pushed the Germans who occupied Cameroon (what was then referred to as Kamerun) into conflict with the French, also the Belgians and British as they invaded the region. The result of this was the Germans eventually surrendering and German Kamerun being split into French Cameroun and British Cameroon. Cameroon would only gain independence 15 years before this movie’s release in 1976.

As the settlers first learn of WWI and this conflict with the Germans develops, Black And White In Colour chooses to ridicule the French settlers – and this is done quite amusingly – before skipping through the training and the battles that, of course, involved the exploitation of native Cameroonians. For a film that has an ultimate point that is anti-war and critical of colonialism, Black And White In Colour sheds no sympathy at all for, nor does it even propose a substantial thought towards, the natives. In such, the manipulation, pain, death, torture and enslavement that the Cameroonians and other regional Africans faced is only ever briefly referenced, and characters spend almost no time thinking about this, whilst jokes are made about an idiotic shopkeeper slapping his native servants. There are a few hints of racial commentary with a mixed race relationship developing between a Frenchman and a native woman, but this is entirely overshadowed by the fact that this is a dark comedy and a war film. What’s more, this film’s resolution concerns the Germans and the French sides befriending one another whilst the natives look on at their absurd celebrations with exasperation (which is the only emotion that the native characters are really given). So, whilst the French are ridiculed throughout, if the point of this film was to comment on colonialism and war, then this is a huge failure, one that very lightly utilises and references history.

So, whilst I enjoyed this film, its decision to utilise real-world history is its biggest flaw and, ultimately, something that this story really didn’t need. If this was a more ambiguous story with a somewhat anonymous context, and so akin to Africa Paradis or The Gods Must Be Crazy, in turn, clearly a speculative film primarily for entertainment’s value, then this film’s merits would shine through. However, as it is, this is a fun movie that wasn’t thought out very well at all.

 

 

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Saturday Night Fever – Two-Headed Coins

Thoughts On: Saturday Night Fever (1977)

A nineteen-year-old paint store worker’s life takes a turn when he finds a new dance partner.

I was way too young when I first saw this movie; I must have been around ten, and was expecting a movie about a disco dancing competition – one with a lot of Bee Gees songs – after seeing a trailer. For the first 5 minutes or so, this is what you get, but, beyond this… not so much. As you could expect, ten-year-old me was quite surprised at the dark depths to which this movie dares to burrow. And re-watching this today after not having seen this in years, I was struck even more by Saturday Night Fever as this is still a darker movie than I was anticipating it to be. (However, this may be due to me watching a different cut of the film when I was younger, though, I can’t be sure of this).

With one of the greatest and most iconic soundtracks of any movie… ever, and with aesthetics and a style that helped further popularise disco world-wide, it’s impossible to say that this film isn’t a classic. Added to this, Saturday Night Fever goes under many peoples’ radars as one of the most affecting and poignant “lost teen” movies. The archetype of this genre of film that most will refer to is of course Rebel Without A Cause. After this, however, it is very easy to jump to The Graduate and then all the way up to the 80s and the John Hughes movies. Skipping past the bulk of the New Hollywood era, however, we all miss Saturday Night Fever, which, in my view, is a much more darker and grimier, also less melodramatic, version of Rebel Without A Cause. In such, this film delves deeper into the angst and fear of having to confront oncoming adulthood without being given the tools or the means, by ourselves and by our upbringing, to stoically and successfully do this. For this, Saturday Night Fever certainly affects me more than any other “lost teen” movie that I can bring to mind.

With Rebel Without A Cause, I’ve always felt that the teens were a little too childish, and with The Graduate, the angle of painting the protagonists as bumbling, immoral and stupid certainly works, but, it just doesn’t resonate so well with me. Conversely, Saturday Night Fever really embraces the darkness that can reside within ‘adults’ moving out of their teens. And though this story is based on a fabricated magazine article and, in turn, a fabricated idea of the 70s teenager and the ‘disco scene’, it seems to capture a realistic balance between self-awareness, naivety and stupidity in its characters. Because of this, when all the expected questions and themes are raised, they seem to be materialised genuinely. For example, what do I do about the dead-end path that life has set before me? What do I do about my dumb-ass friends? What do I do about my neurotic parents? What do I do about my inadequate and useless self? Many of these questions are answered for John Travolta’s Tony before he asks them. However, when Tony does go ahead and begin asking these questions, he does so with a facial expression or an action before speaking.

One of the best examples of this would be when he thinks he has lost his job, and returns to the paint shop only to have it given back. Merely looking at the workers who have been employed at the small shop for years upon years, we hear him scream: is this all I’m supposed to amount to? And this is after he enthusiastically accepts a minor raise from his boss. The juxtaposition of these two events then says a lot about how Tony is growing and developing without any guidelines or knowledge of what to do – and largely because he’s only ever critiqued, never really praised, which leaves him drowning in between two choices of either transitioning into a void of self-contempt in which he begrudgingly accepts the life-long job at the paint store or an empty well of vapidness as a small-town disco hero that sleeps around and jerks off with his friends. However, reflecting upon this, this narrative utilises his relationship with Stephanie, who is trying to find a path in the world with more open eyes, but, ultimately, an equal sense of haphazardness.

Time and time again this narrative pulls up parallels like this that formulate this core theme of ‘lost’ by juxtaposing two sides of the same coin, creating a seemingly useless two-headed coin with no tails. Without a thesis and an antithesis, there can be no synthesis. Translated into the “lost teen” genre film, this means that two lost teens do not make an adult. At least, this is how those around Tony seem to view themselves and life. And so, without transformation and without preparation for the road ahead, the characters of this narrative, as is suggested by Tony’s boss, are just waiting to be fucked by the future.

As poignant and expressive as this idea is, we do find such a suggestion in a film like The Graduate with its iconic ending. However, Saturday Night Fever ends with hope and with an implication that these two sides of the same coin, Tony and Stephanie, can transform into something that is more than just a symbol for chance; something that doesn’t rely on the unlikely probability that everything will be fine. And so it’s this that reaches out of the screen whilst Saturday Night Fever plays. This is then a film about escaping escapism and the feverous Saturday night which we live for to die upon; the night in which we become a zombie with abstract dreams and a synthesised, soporific buzz. For the daring choices of plot and character that are used to project this story, Saturday Night Fever is certainly more than a classic in my view.

Before we end, I’ll note that this post speaks pretty well with the previous post on Inside Out in being about the exiting of teenagehood as opposed to the entering of it, so check that out. But, with all of that said, I’ll leave things with you. What are your thoughts on Saturday Night Fever and all we’ve covered today?

 

 

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Inside Out – The Reconciliation Of The Fractured Self

Thoughts On: Inside Out (2015)

Stepping inside the head of a girl transitioning into hard times, we get to see her world turned inside out.

Inside Out is perfect in a way that kind of tingles. With beautiful animation, great direction, good editing, but a masterful story, Inside Out is one of the greatest animated films I’ve ever seen. Its every moment pulsates and reverberates with an understanding of the Disney-Pixar craft, and so its no surprise that it projects one of their most articulate and touching narratives of all time. Whilst this isn’t subtextually as complex as, for example, Monsters Inc, Inside Out manages to balance its deeply metaphorical side with its more accessible side. Thus, as most people could tell you, Inside Out is a film about growing up and embracing the wide range of human emotions. However, there is nuance and more to this story than just this, and so this is what we’ll explore today.

For practically all of modern human history, societies have found a means of representing one fundamental idea: the fractal nature of the individual. Ancient societies, such as the Mesopotamians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, represented this through polytheism, a belief in multiple gods and goddesses. In Roman mythology, Cupid was the god of desire, Mars was the god of war and Vulcan was the god of fire. There are a plethora of other gods, including the 12 central and a myriad of other peripheral figures, that all represented different aspects of humanity and society. With these three examples, however, we can see expressed three central human attributes: violence and aggression, love and affection, and creativity and malleable change. Furthermore, we have an example of a fundamental representation of the idea that people, and in turn societies, are made up of separate, even individual, compartments that, only together, make a cohesive, functional whole.

As time progressed many societies converged upon one God, relying on monotheism for meaning and a unifying force in the individual and amongst the masses. Abstractly and non-universally, this implied a change in humanity whereby we took control of ourselves whilst maintaining an idea of a literal higher power and purpose. This higher concept, this God, for many cultures, was a guiding force that gave people the freedom and free will to live as an individual who could, to a degree, lead their own life. No longer did it then seem that Mars would embody societies and drive them towards war. However, with a belief in a literal God remained a concept of embodiment; i.e, the devil, demons or evil embodying someone. And thus there still remained an idea of fractal societies and people existing through forces of evil, good and shades in between. But, as time again progressed, God became ever more abstract and less literal. This signalled to some that society was breaking down. It is at this point that we begin to approach the 20th century where Nietzsche declares that “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him” in his 1882 collection, The Gay Science. This idea of “God is dead” deeply worried Nietzsche, which is seemingly why he proposed that we have to become supermen and in turn gods ourselves.

With Freud, who was greatly influenced by Nietzsche, seemed to come an answer to this proposition. Freud brought back, into mainstream thought, the idea of the fractal nature of the individual. He did this by suggesting, not that gods controlled us and our emotions, but that our unconscious and subconscious mind did. And in this hazy realm of non-consciousness came three abstract personalities – what some would call gods. These were the ego, superego and the id. Without wanting to delve too deeply into these concepts, Freud, having resurrected polytheism’s essential understanding of humans as fractured beings, gave us new tools of self-expression. However, over the 20th century Freudian and Jungian psychology faded out of popularity.

In the latter half of the 20th century, however, Paul Ekman proposed the concept of the “6 Basic Emotions”. These, as you may know, are fear, disgust, happiness, sadness, anger and surprise. (He also proposed a seventh, and that was contempt). Ekman was not the first to propose a list of core or fundamental emotions, but, it was his list that seemingly stuck. Thus, in the modern day, we usually describe ourselves through emotions as opposed to gods and our unconscious (though, both of these ideas remain relevant, and even important). This has its positives and negatives, much like polytheism, monotheism and psychoanalysis do, and they manifest in society. However, much like societies before ourselves had to make the gods happy, walk righteously under one god, reconcile with their childhood or confront their shadow, we have to manage our emotions. And thus we find ourselves at the narrative expression of this idea through Inside Out, which, who knows, may be a significant marker of thinking in our day and age in the future (much like many of the Pixar and Disney films could be).

When we now take a look at our main characters, they may seem a little more important and profound than you’d initially assume…

However, let us take a step back. Ekman proposed that there were six or seven core emotions. Why are there only five represented here? The truth is, there are many theories and many different numbers concerning core emotions. It was decided, by Pete Docter and with Ekman’s aid, that five would be the right amount of emotions for the sake of simplicity. There are nonetheless many more emotions expressed by this film than these five. For example, we get contempt and nostalgia through a combination of the references to memory with sadness and anger. And, most important of all, this film lets surprise be represented physically in Riley’s inner world.

Surprise, the discovery of the new, can lead to creation…

But, taken badly, surprise leads to destruction…

All of this is of course dictated by the unknown world. Thus, surprise will come to be one of the most important ’emotions’ of this film. This is because this is a coming-of-age story in which Riley moves into her transition away from childhood and into adulthood. This movement is catalysed by, in essence, life happening.

Life, seen through a responsible adult’s eyes, is not all fun and games. This is because life is made up of chaos, entropy and a lot of forces trying to do you harm. To confront life, you must prepare for the unexpected by constructing a flexible, evolving tool kit with which you can cope with almost anything. And this is indeed maturity; it is letting go of life as a dream, of life as seen through a child’s eyes; a life filled with almost constant joy thanks only to naivety and parents.

As an adult, you must construct your own happiness whilst dealing with the chaos of life. This is represented by Inside Out through our look into the parents’ minds:

There are a plethora of things that these two images tell us, but there are two key ideas that we’ll pick up on. The first is that adults have a different panel to a child’s: each emotion has their own controls. Secondly, there is nonetheless someone in the director’s chair in centre. Unlike with Riley, however, Joy is not in control in the parents’ mind. Instead, sadness and anger are.

This is one of the most expressive and pertinent ideas in this entire film. Whilst we are told, by the end of this film, that joy alone cannot rule a person’s mind, it is here that we are told that more daunting emotions must take control. So, whilst we’d all like to think that we’re lead primarily by joy in life, most people aren’t. As we have discussed, life is difficult and it forces us to forge our own happiness and create a tool kit with which to confront it. Contrary to what a child would believe, to confront the world, you can’t just be positive. This doesn’t mean that positive thinking and the whole branch of positive psychology is null. However, it does mean that, reprising a Jungian idea, people must embrace their shadow and dark side. The mother is shown to do this by letting sadness be her guiding emotion whilst the father utilises anger. Interestingly, sadness is then attributed to an imaginary image love…

… and anger an imaginary hockey game…

Whilst these are jokes based on the personalities of the parents, this also reveals how these core emotions, as negative as they seemingly are, function. Starting with anger, we see a form of destruction that can also create something positive. Anger is then, in a certain sense, what Riley channels when she plays hockey…

… and we hear this to be true when Anger has to take over as this game starts. In this respect, anger is shown to motivate competition and the joy it offers. So, whilst Anger will play his part in the protection of Riley and her sense of self, he is not just darkness, but a combination of the good and the bad. However, whist Riley’s dad is an influence upon her, much like Anger is, anger doesn’t play a huge role in this narrative. Instead, the conflict throughout is between Joy and Sadness.

As is implied initially through Riley’s mother, Sadness seems to be a kind of understanding or empathy; it is only by empathising with someone that can you be compassionate, and it is also only through understanding that you can learn to let things go. We see this manifest itself with this later, crucial moment:

Sadness, through empathy and understanding, manages to raise Bing Bong’s spirits. By accepting his despair, instead of suppressing it through positivity as Joy would suggest, Bing Bong soon manages to move on and again be happy. This is one of the core elements of Riley’s final lesson:

What develops from this reconciliation between Sadness and Joy in Riley is both the ability to let go and be weak, but also be strong again. This is so important because, with only Joy, life becomes deluded, and this is made clear with the expansion of this core memory…

… to include sadness…

However, letting go and being weak before regaining strength as a means of maturing, is signified best through one key moment: Bing Bong’s death.

To grow up and accept that sadness, in a certain respect, must run your life, you must first learn what it means to let the things that need to be let go, go. Bing Bong’s death is then the realisation that Riley is no longer a child, which can be a difficult thing to endure, but it is nonetheless something we must all go through. We can assume, because her ‘headquarters’ is run by sadness, that Riley’s mother also had to learn how to let go for the better. Conversely, her father would have had to learn how to control his frustrations and turn them towards positive creation. (Or, at least, these would be their core, defining lessons in life; we all must learn how to control all of our emotions). However, with Riley learning a similar lesson to what her mother had to have, we see her accept that there is something that can flourish from the destruction and challenging of self.

There is conflict along this road of maturation with Joy refusing to let Sadness take control, and such leads to the decimation of Riley’s personality:

But, this destruction of personality only eventually leads to the growth of something new and better:

Thus, the judgement and questioning of her core being, and ultimately its deconstruction, is what teaches her that, from darkness, essentially comes a brighter light than one she has ever seen before.

Coming towards a conclusion, what we ultimately see with Riley maturing into a more complex and stronger person is the reconciliation of the many parts of her fractured self. This story is then a meta-narrative constructed over thousands upon thousands of years that ultimately sees all the gods that rule over, and the subconscious elements that reside with, the human complex come into peace, ready to confront the ominous beast that is reality, as someone moves closer towards adulthood. For this, Inside Out is not just a masterpiece, but a truly significant story of our times in my view. However, with all of that said, what are your thoughts on Inside Out and all we’ve covered today?

 

 

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Of Love And Other Demons – Dissonance Persecution

Quick Thoughts: Of Love And Other Demons (Del Amor Y Otros Demonios, 2009)

Made by Hilda Hidalgo, this is the Costa Rican film of the series.

Of Love And Other Demons is a slow and contemplative film that explores and questions the concept of forbidden love through a 13-year-old Sierva (handmaid), María, that is bitten by a rabid dog. Assuming that she is infected by evil, priests have her sent to a commune to be cured. Here her upbringing – she was raised by black maids and so elements of their culture and language have been embedded into her – and her looks – her long red hair – become the catalyst for conflict. This conflict is predicated on an emotion that is hard to describe; it is a blend of disgust and jealousy, but neither term is accurate enough to define the phenomena put to screen. The jealousy is encapsulated by the nuns seemingly fearing and being wary of her striking looks and in turn persecuting her for this. And the disgust comes from their aversion to the “negro” influence that is about her – also the rabies which she is soon cured of. Again, these terms aren’t an accurate means of describing exactly what occurs in this narrative. The best way to surmise the events in this story is to reiterate the title, Of Love And Other Demons. To equate love and compassion – that which María represents through her upbringing and eventually attracts through her looks – to a demon is to use superstition as a facade through which other unspoken inner complexes can be projected. In such, whilst it is implied, it is never said that the characters persecuting María merely do not like other cultures, are afraid of a disease that they do not fully understand, and nor do they like the sexuality that she inadvertently represents. There is then a clear dissonance and sense of confusion, or disharmony, that the characters in this narrative symbolically absolve by confronting and destroying, not their own prejudices and complexes, but the stimuli – the person – that triggers them through an exorcism.

Of Love And Other Demons is then a narrative not just about the persecution of an innocent girl because of religious dogma being bent around prejudice, but is an allegory about this archetypal “dissonance persecution” in society. For this, Of Love And Other Demons is an intricately woven film that, though it drags its feet just a little, is worth seeing.

 

 

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