Film Reflection No. 1

Conflict and Community in Cinema
Dr. Bianco: UNST 410 / 510

Summer 2006


The following questions are meant to stimulate creative, critical, and insightful thinking related to the films we've seen so far and the readings and other materials that have accompanied them.  It is extremely important that you do not confuse this assignment with a film review or summary.  I was watching the movies right there in the room with you.  I do not need to know what they were about, nor do I really want your personal opinion about them, unless you can be very specific.  For example, the following is a fairly useless, meaningless, uninspiring paragraph.
I thought Blood In . . . Blood Out: Bound by Honor was awesome.  It is about two half-brothers and their cousin, who is half white, half Mexican.  Each goes his own way.  Most of the story is about Miklo, the one who is half Anglo, and his life in prison. It was really interesting to watch, and I felt like it really gave me a sense of what life is like for Mexican Americans in the ghetto.  I grew up knowing people like that, and the experiences seemed very real to me.  Miklo had a hard childhood.  His father beat him.  Then he found a new father figure in prison.  I can relate to this. My father left my family when I was young. I ended up being raised by my grandfather.  So this story really hit home with me.

Think about it.  Does that paragraph tell any of us anything we don't already know?  Sure, there's a little bit of the personal anecdote in there, but overall, how original and intriguing does the writing sound?  

The main rule of thumb to keep in mind when writing for me is that I have been reading student papers for longer than most of you have been alive (at least it seems that way), and I do not like to fall asleep while reading.  Nor do I want to read the same, old thing.  You need to try to capture my attention, keep me interested, and, above all, don't just feed me the same old lines. I will challenge you if you bore me, waste my time, plagiarize, tell me something I already know, tell me something that is all too obvious, or, in essence, not reach down into the depths of your soul to (a) speak truth to power and (b) convince me.  

So, something a little better might read like this:
"I may be white on the outside, but I am brown on the inside!" declared Miklo, the half-Anglo, half-Mexican Vato Loco gang member, pounding his fist to his chest, his crystal blue eyes glaring with intensity, anger, and passion. Miklo, like many of the other characters in Blood In . . . Blood Out: Bound by Honor, may come from poverty, rejection, and disenfranchisement, but his sense of loyalty to his familia (whether the gang on the street or the gang in the joint) transcends color. In fact, I think the truth is that poverty, rejection, and disenfranchisement (not to mention discrimination from all sides) left Miklo alienated from "proper society," finding his community within the familia of la ganga.  I haven't lived this exact life myself, but I know the feeling, because I, too, have lived outside of "proper society," rejected by those who were supposed to love and accept me.  I, too, have found my familia, my community, in places where one does not usually expect to find people like me. In those places, one will find the abandoned, the forgotten, the ignored: the "have-nots," relegated to the sidelines of a society in which the "have-gots" make the rules and control the definition of "community" and "family values."

  1. Choose one of the following topics to write about as you react to, or reflect on, the films we've seen in class.  For extra credit, you may write two.  
  2. You must use MLA format for the paper (see Paper Format).
  3. Each reflection must be no longer than two pages, double spaced, not including a cover page and Works Cited page.
  4. At the very least, your Works Cited page should include the MLA-style citation for the film(s) you are writing about.  You can find all the information you need about a film at and plug that info into the Citation Machine to retrieve the MLA-style citation.
  5. Your paper should have an introduction, body, and conclusion, and be edited, revised, and proofread - so be sure to follow instructions on the Writing Process.
  6. You should not tell me the movie plot or otherwise summarize it; however, it is fine to allude to those features of the plot that help you make your point.
  7. Do not write a review.  My interest is in how the movie(s) relate to the subject of this course: conflict and community and how film (and other forms of art, like poetry, music, and dance) are used to express that conflict.
  8. E-mail me the document as an attachment by Friday, July 21, 5 pm, firm (automatic point deduction if late).
The Topics (remember: pick one, unless you need extra credit; then write two)

1.    In Roger & Me, one of the upper-income, still-employed people at that Roaring Twenties party made a comment about how the current era (presumably the era of reduced reliance on the manufacturing sector and an increased reliance on service and technology sectors -- and on outsourcing) is like the Industrial Revolution all over again.  He also said, drawing an analogy between an automobile and a human worker, "You gotta get up in the morning. Start yourself."  I also showed Devil's Playground because I wanted to showcase what happens to these Amish kids who have only an 8th grade education and no real marketable skills, when they set out into the non-Amish ("english") world to experience rumpsringa.  Some might look at them (so many of whom fall prey to drug trafficking and addiction) and make a similar comment, that is, that they just need to get up and start themselves.  This idea seems to be persistent in American society: that if people just buckle down and work hard, they'll make it.  Do these films suggest this idea may not be realistic, that it is more of a dream than a reality?  If so, how and why is it so hard to just "get up and start yourself"? Or, is the gentleman at the party right?  Are people just too lazy and lacking in industriousness, falling prey to temptation out of weakness?   The Amish feel that in a good community, one needs to give up the idea of being an individual.  Is this, perhaps, the problem?  Can we have individuality and the pursuit of individual freedom and happiness while at the same time having economic security for all?  Discuss.

2.    The Grapes of Wrath and Raisin in the Sun share some common themes related to community.  One of these is ideas about property and wealth.  In Grapes of Wrath, the preacher makes a comment that in the old days, land belonged to a people by virtue of their having been born, worked, and died on it.  The entire film is a lamentation of what happens when big corporations come in and take over sharecroppers' land.  Land becomes a commodity, and people are just labor (human capital). In Raisin in the Sun, the African student, Asagai, says (speaking about the $10,000 insurance check the Younger family is fighting over), "Oh, my!  Aren't we full of despair? Something's wrong in this house when everything depends on something [a $10,000 check] that might not have happened had a man not died."  Two other themes that are pervasive throughout the two films are the strength of the mother figure and the role of spirituality and "decentness."  Contrast and compare how each film grapples with the issues of property and wealth and the role that the mother figure and spirituality play in family and community struggles to remain whole in the face of economic disaster.

3.  In Raisin in the Sun and in Blood In . . . Blood Out: Bound by Honor, the male is presented as a somewhat fragile character.  One gets the sense that the men have been beat down over and over again.  No matter how tough the men are when they are with their friends, around family, they seem to oscillate between feeling small and ashamed or enraged and violent.  If you recall, in Roger & Me, one of the laid-off auto workers ended up in a psychiatric hospital; however, we don't know much else about any of those workers' lives.  In the fictionalized Avalon, we see the family go through some rough spots over time.  One thing we didn't get to is a scene in which the Krichinsky brothers' brand-new, fancy, multi-story department store burns down.  Despite this tragedy, though, we really never see the men in this Russian immigrant family lose their spirit or fall victim to self-destructive forces, like we do in the other films.  Do you think this is because director Barry Levinson wanted to create a "feel good" epic -- or do you think the potential fragility of the male is a true-to-life phenomenon that can be explained in socioeconomic terms?  Discuss.

4.  Blood In . . . Blood Out: Bound by Honor contained some overtly symbolic allusions which, while rather obvious in many ways, may still be interesting to discuss.  For instance, in one of the early scenes when Miklo goes to meet Montana in his cell, Montana is reading Wretched of the Earth.  Then there is the whole "apple" symbolism.  First, Big Al gives Miklo that shiny green apple; next, after Miklo tries to offer Montana his pork chop, Montana grabs the apple instead and says (speaking of Big Al), "I don't want his pork chop; I want his life!"  When Miklo goes to Montana to pledge to him to do whatever it takes to become a member of La Onda, Montana uses the apple as a prop while discussing loyalty and the feats Miklo must perform, ceremoniously thrusting the apple back into Miklo's hands.  Another symbolic gesture comes in washing -- when Miklo washes his hands after killing Big Al, and then toward the end, when he scrubs his hands with the soap mold after arranging for Montana's assassination.  As he's washing his hands, he says, "Montana was my real father."  Keeping with the same biblical symbolism is the repeated shot of the palm tree, which both opens and closes the film.  What do you make of these allusions?

5.  In Blood In . . . Blood Out, Miklo comments on how crowded LA has become during his time in prison and attributes the crowding and declining conditions to "all these illegals."  Even as an ex-con, he seems to see himself as one step higher than the new immigrants.  In West Side Story, the Puerto Ricans are the new immigrants, and their gang, the Sharks, is vying for control of the streets from a rival gang, the Jets, who consist of second-generation immigrants -- Poles, Italians, and Irish.  These groups make up the "second wave" of immigrants and even though by the time of this film (mid-20th century)  they were more "assimilated" than the new immigrants, they were still more marginalized than the first-wave immigrants, who came from Northern Europe (England, Denmark, Germany, Norway, etc.).   All of these groups lived in what sociologist like Herbert Gans referred to as "ethnic enclaves," a phrase closely related in meaning to the early sense of "ghetto."  Immigrants from certain countries move into neighborhoods with people from back home, so that "Little Italy," "Little Russia," "Little Poland," and so on develop.  Journalist Jacob Riis referred to Harlem as "Africa," and wrote a chapter called "The Color Line" in his famous 1890 book, How the Other Half Lives (you can read this fascinating chapter and others at Why do tensions develop between new immigrants and other marginalized groups?  This phenomenon is something we will see even more of in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing.  Rodney King's plea of "Can we all just get along?" seems to echo throughout Blood In . . . Blood s repeated message that Hispanic-on-Hispanic, Black-on-Black, and even Hispanic-on-Black violence is what "they" (The Man) want.  Logically, it seems that groups that have struggled would be understanding and welcoming of new groups trying to work their way up the ladder of the American Dream.  But it seems like this is rarely the case.  In fact, the reality is almost the complete opposite.  Discuss this intergroup strife within the context of immigration and different ethnic groups' striving to achieve the American Dream.

I need help with this assignment!