Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Yr3 Week 20 (Thurs 12 Mar - MDA3200 Film Theory - Ethics)

Today we began looking at Ethics in film. Note however, there is a difference between ethics and then morals, contrary to how the two are commonly meshed together. Morals are eternal, something that is indoctrinated into us by the rules and values around us, whereas ethics are basically, the active choices we make recognition, realisation and reflection, as the mantra goes).


Of course, it's fitting we move onto ethics given that it does tie back into Post Theory, which we've been discussing in recent weeks. Something levelled at prior, more philosophical schools of thought was ta the were repressive, negative models with a lot of talk but not much substantial evidence, and so cognitivism came in, and began to talk more about the practical side of film making and asking more midlevel questions relating to elements such as genre (known as Piecemeal Theory). There can be a synthesis/relationship between the old and new schools, given some of the areas are similar or have a link (systems vs people, semiotic vs cognitive, the economic/determinisitc vs. the production pragmatic, the nonhuman vs. human agency), but there is a clear shift.

So, getting onto ethics, when it comes to film, there is the professionalised/routine ethics, where you do something contractual, and is more complicit, closer to morality than the active challenging of regular ethics, and then there's the more pragmatic kind, which requires active thought in order to solve the issue for example, the pragmatic is whether to pay someone high or low wages, and then the ethical question is if either is the right/fair thing to do. We watched an extract from Wim Wenders The State of Things (1982) a dramedy dealing with a troubled film production and how a producer harangs a director with constant problems, like when they run out of film stock and how does the director solve the issue of getting an important shot in.


Of course, the real demonstration of the idea of ethics came with watching the Pier Pasolini short film La Ricotta (1962), dealing with a film shoot of a production of the Easter passion, and what life is like on set. We have an exploited extra who doesn' get to eat, a pampered actress and then somewhat indifferent crew who just want to get the thing done, and then decide t just muck around and torture the extra by taunting him with food and drink.

In the seminar, we discussed the film in more detail, both in terms of its critique of the indifferent and stuffy bourgeois of 60s Italy, and how unethical their treatment of the extra was, ignoring him or even taunting him while they themselves were able to enjoy a veritable banquet as he literally died before them. This then led into more a look at the differing portrayals of film sets, such as the nicer kind is Fancois Truffant's La Nuit Americane (1973), which was more about the communal and family dimension of filmmaking, whereas Living in Oblivion (1995) by Tom Dicillo was a little more scathing,looking a the stress and hijinks on the st of an American indie film and how a director could not control his main actor. However, one can still wring ethics here, such as questions of how the directors treat those around them, or how much control/say should an actor have on set.


Today's session was rather brisk, in part due to a time crunch as everything happened in the afternoon as opposed to being spread out like prior weeks. Despite that, it was interesting to really stop and think about ethics in more detail, as well as really distinguish it from morals, which so often the two get fused together in day to day conversation. In filmmaking, being so much a group/team based type of creative medium, the choices made are paramount to everyone, and even the slightest hiccup or bit of poor judgement can have disastrous repercussions. Be it pay, feed, hours, even the mood on set, decisions have to be made and made thoroughly to create the best environment possible, and I know that all to well from experience.

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