Breaking expectations

Perhaps no filmmakers represent as great a break from expectations as a trio of filmmakers with the independent filmmaking spirit—Martin Scorsese, Spike Lee, and Oliver Stone.

In his work in Raging Bull (1980), Martin Scorsese uses a metaphor to create a style. This tale is of a man whose aggression was so great that prizefighting was simply an extension of his life. The metaphor Scorsese borrows is from opera. Many nineteenth-century operas included a ballet within the opera. Using the music from Verdi's La Forza del destino, Scorsese opens the film with LaMotta (Robert De Niro) prepping for a fight. There in slow motion the beauty of the physical movements of arms, legs, and body become ballet-like. The emphasis in this section of the "ballet" is on beauty. Later, as LaMotta actually fights, the shift is to physical clash and brutality, but the way in which the action in the ring is filmed, makes it another phase of the ballet—the combat phase.

Scorsese's metaphor set to Verdi's music creates a layer of meaning to LaMotta's life that pushes the story beyond the biography of Jake LaMotta, champion middleweight, to the battle of the titans, the gods, the kings so often invoked as the central subject of opera. Here Scorsese's stylistic choices break the expectations that Raging Bull will be a boxing film about a famous boxer, albeit flawed as a human being. By breaking our expectations, Scorsese creates a modern opera, the equivalent of Verdi's La Forza del destino.

Spike Lee also challenges expectations in much of his work. In Jungle Fever (1991), a film with a distinct style, Lee portrays the world of two families—an African-American family and an Italian-American family. The catalytic event is an interracial love affair between an African-American man and an Italian-American woman. The style of the film is far from documentary. When two men speak to one another, Lee photographs them from a heroic camera placement, midshot. Only the background moves.

This stylized shot forces us to think about what they are saying rather than engaging us by what we see. Later, the main character's visit to a crack house in search of his brother is akin to a series of Hieronymus Bosch paintings. Again unreality, but the power comes from the sense of how far from reality the house's occupants want to be. What we expect from Spike Lee in Jungle Fever is a sexual exploration of stereotypes of black men and white women; instead what we get is a meditation on racism, on family, on love, and on responsibility. By using a highly stylized approach, Lee undermines our expectations and provides us with a much greater experience.

Oliver Stone has always relied on a powerful style. Using pace, a roving camera, and an excess of close-ups, he has clearly used style to press his editorial view—war, politics, and controversial issues in American history. He is not a director who layers the case, as does Fred Wiseman in his documentaries. Instead, Stone uses style to promote his view of the case. His style is so effective that the only question the viewer can ask is why every advertiser in the country doesn't line up to hire Stone to direct their commercials!

We expect Oliver Stone to carry on this tradition of staking out an editorial position of force. In Natural Born Killers (1994), however, he so broadens the definition of stylistic choices that we no longer know what to expect from Oliver Stone. How can a filmmaker known for excessive style find a style even more excessive? Given the subject matter—young killers on a killing spree, followed and exploited by the media and, in turn exploiting the media—Stone anticipates the tough question of identification by using an MT style, cartoons, sitcom format, as well as mixing a black and white newsreel look with an overly decorous color. Natural Born Killers is awash in style. And yet we are both offended and moved by this post-modern visitation to medialand's today in the USA. Using the story thread of the rise and fall of two young lover-killers, Stone uses style to create a satire on the American relationship with guns and violence. Few films have more effectively used a surplus of style to create a new interpretation on the American dream and the American nightmare. By moving beyond our expectations of excessive style, Stone outdoes himself. He finds a style suited to his view of the subject.

Film Making

Film Making

If you have ever wanted the secrets to making your own film, here it is: Indy Film Insider Tips And Basics To Film Making. Have you ever wanted to make your own film? Is there a story you want to tell? You might even think that this is impossible. Studios make films, not the little guy. This is probably what you tell yourself. Do you watch films with more than a casual eye? You probably want to know how they were able to get perfect lighting in your favorite scene, or how to write a professional screenplay.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment