Cinema Displaying Cultures

         Like their creators, films are often given a specific point of view. In particular, it appears that the culture of a country often permeates the film itself. Concepts such as nationalism, a country's economic philosophy, and regional differences do not stop at the individual but instead may find themselves transmitted in the creation of a film. It is this concept of displaying a country or region's culture that is apparent in many of both today's and yesterday's films.

         One movie that is representative of this trait in films is The Birth of a Nation. Directed by D.W. Griffith, it is an example of how a director's regional identification can influence their selection of a film as well as the selection of scenes to include. According to Cook, although the literature upon which The Birth of a Nation was openly racist in how it depicted the Reconstruction period, D.W. Griffith had possessed since childhood a romantic concept of the American South and the Civil War. However, this view of an oppressed Confederate South during Reconstruction was representative of how many individuals felt considering the recent history of the Civil War at the time of the film's release in 1915. Scenes in The Birth of a Nation also display an uncommonly given cause for the Civil War. The prologue of the film states that the Civil War was not caused by Southern slave owners but instead insists that the blame would be more appropriately placed upon the original New England traders who had brought slaves to America. While based on literature already in existence, D.W. Griffith was the only one in the production who possessed a vision of what the movie encompassed, which lends to the idea that The Birth of a Nation was at least partially based on a combination of Griffith's view of the American South and its treatment post Reconstruction. From the work of D.W. Griffith in The Birth of a Nation, it is apparent that the film itself is a regional perspective of how some individuals in the culture of the American South came to view Reconstruction in their uncommon way.

         Another example of how culture can be reflected in a film is given in another film viewed in class, Battleship Potemkin. The creation of this film itself is an example of the culture that it reflects, as Battleship Potemkin, directed by Sergei Eisenstein in 1925, was made as a tribute of the twentieth anniversary of the Russian revolutions that later would result in the creation of the U.S.S.R. There are several characteristics in this movie that are indicative of the film's culture, such as the attention to a need for worker unity and the opposition of the tsarist regime. Battleship Potemkin displays the sense of rebellion against authoritarian figures that was indicative of Russian culture at both the time of Battleship Potemkin's production and the time in which it is set. The film was not only a celebration of the Russian revolutions to which it was created to commemorate but also a reflection of the ideals that were highly prized in the Soviet culture, such as the unity of workers against poor conditions, a public rejection of authoritarian (tsarist) sources, and the concept that the socialist rebellion could sway even loyal members of the military. This is evidence that Battleship Potemkin is a reflection of the cultures that were prevalent in its country at the time of its creation.

         Another country that has recently been experiencing a display of its culture through film is Japan. While it is easy to reflect upon the work of Kurosawa in displaying Samurai culture in films such as Seven Samurai (1954), there is also a reflection of modern Japanese culture in some films such as Lost in Translation, directed in 2003 by Sofia Coppola. In this movie the culture of Japan is shown in a method most easily understood by Hollywood; through the eyes of westerners who see such a culture as strange and foreign. Even in a modern setting, Lost in Translation shows that there is a distinct difference between Japanese culture and the rest of the world. An example of such a difference is the immensely polite nature of Japanese businessmen that is shown many times through the film. Another example that is prevalent through the movie is that Japan as a culture is moving at a blistering pace; one that the two American main characters find it difficult to relate to It is through the eyes of these two American main characters that the Japanese culture is most apparent in its uniqueness. However, as this film is an American production, one must look to the characters themselves as representatives of American culture. While Lost in Translation is not portrayed in America, the characters of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob (Bill Murray) are themselves examples of American culture in their fear and apprehension to the foreign culture they have been thrust into. In addition, their lack of identity is a sharp contrast to the Japanese around them who move with deliberate purpose. While many interpret culture to be merely showing the settings and actions of a group of people, this film shows that culture is something beyond merely architecture or technology but can also represent how a people often think or feel in similar circumstances.

         As it can be seen from the examples given, there is a substantial amount of proof that film is often used as a method of interpreting and understanding the culture of the countries that it reflects upon. All over the world film can display the culture of countries and peoples that without film may never have been able to be viewed with such attention to detail. Whether displaying the ideals of a group of people or the characteristics indicative to their nature, films will always be showing aspects of culture in one way or another.

James Amundson

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