Today, despite a temporary change in rooms, we began the new term for 'Communicating', and today's seminar began with a quick debreifing (more details available via UniHub, of course) of the term, the subjects (including History, Documentaries, Westerns and a number of others to study in the coming weeks) and the assignment (a visual essay, a piece where we talk about a film/group of films and analyse in video form. Appearing on camera is optional).
On the note of essays, we then watched one from acclaimed director Martin Scorsese (Mean Streets, Raging Bull, Kundun, Hugo) where he talked about old B-Westerns and their deeper meanings, such as political commentary (one being an allegory for the McCarthy communist witch hunt prevalent in the 50s). In pairs, we quickly discussed our own choices for a visual essay: me and my partner decided to go for director Christopher Nolan, whose films are very smart in both their writing and plotting, and have a running theme dealing with the characters' psychologies (The Batman trilogy, obviously, with childhood trauma, Insomnia dealing with guilt and The Prestige dealing with revenge and duplicity).
Then, in the lecture, we watched Oliver Stone's (JFK, Nixon, W.) acclaimed 1986 war film, Platoon, starring Charlie Sheen (Red Dawn, Wall Street, Men At Work), Willem DeFoe (Spiderman, Boondock Saints) and Tom Berenger (Gettysburg, Major League, The Gingerbread Man), which deals with a young soldier's experiences at the height of the Vietnam War in the late 60s. The film is unapologetic in its visceral and realistic tone and presentation, characters often commiting reprehensible acts on both the Vietnamese and their fellow troops in the name of patriotism and victory, Sheen's character often torn betwenn the two. In fact, an attack on a Vietnamese village, and the murder of a number of the townsfolk there causes a rift in the group, which leads to backstabbing and betrayal throughout the second act.
Afterwards, we touched on the subject of History in film (and issues such as representation, bias,, stereotypes, the concept of 'truth' and 'accuracy' as it pertains and if often contested when it comes to discussing these films) and on the controversy that has accompanied a number of Stone's films, including but not limited to political agendas (some critics accuses him of leaning in a certain political direction, thus tainting his films and their genuine honesty/accuracy to the actual events), bias (JFK showing Presindent Kennedy in a positice light, despite many questions and issues surrounding his administration, such as government affairs and the race movement), skewing history and artistic license (The Doors famously got a lot of flack from the actual band members who questioned Stone's choices during the making of the film).
To close off, today's lecture was fairly standard, and given its the first of the new term, I really can't hold that against it as everyone is getting back into the swing of things. However, the second half dealing with history was where things picked up and became much more interesting, the question of History being portrayed in film is one I, as a big History buff, find quite fascinating, and certainly look forward to its exploration next week, and Platoon certainly was an ideal choice to get the ball rolling, as it was based on Stone's own experiences during the real conflict, giving an added 'punch' that many war films often lack.