We carried on from last week on the topic of ethics, though this time we also broadened up to representation once again. As discussed before, ethics do not fold back into the commonplace 'always already', the way morals do. Rather, they invite discussion and evaluation. Sometimes, such a course of action can be labelled as 'immoral', as as a demonstration of this, we viewed an extract from The Act Of Killing (2012), which deals with ex-authority figures in Indonesia from the old military regime, and how they look back on their genocidal acts. The ethics here deal with both, internally, the men's own realisation of what they did when faced with it again,literally here as the film stages reenactments, and then externally, in the way they are portrayed. They are both killers yet also goofy, doting older men with a degree of charisma.
Branching off from that, we had a look at melodrama, a type of storytelling popularized in 19th century France, and still remains a dominant force in modern literature, film and television. I is less of a genre and more of a 'mode' that relies on suspense to generate emotional intensity and 'moral legibility', generating a response in the difference between the sides in the story. Here, desire is the driving force (most of these stories tend to be romances, where are inherently about the desire of affection between two individuals), so then this begs the questions of the ethics at play. Theorist Slavoj Zizek argued that we must be true to the 'real' of our desires, the opposition to the moral is the meeting to the challenge to the authentic, and one can easily see how this would play into the nature of melodrama.
There also exists the question of if cinematic styles involve ethics. Godard in 1959 claimed that even a tracking shot could be viewed as a moral choice (the notion of the camera as perhaps an intrusive entity). In essence, one can see where he's coming from: both tie back into choice, and the use of a particular shot like say, tracking or a dutch angle, creates a certain effect that then in turn, creates a certain type of representation to the audience. This then neatly segwayed into the question of the ethical problems of a filmmaker: he looks through a camera lens, and thus does not truly engage with the subject. He is distant, removed, almost clinical, and putting reality at a safe distance.
Lars Von Trier, no stranger to controversy and debate in what film is and isn't, demonstrated this notion when he challenged fellow Dane Jorgen Leth to recreate his famous experimental piece The Perfect Man under five different conditions. These were documented in the film The Five Obstructions, in which we viewed the second challenge where Leth recreated the dining scene in a squalid street in Mumbai, eating fine food before the poor locals.
After, in the seminar, we viewed an extract from Roberto Beignini's 1999 WW2 dramaedy Life Is Beautiful, and took to task the ethical questions raised by using the backdrop of the Holocaust as comedic ground when Beignini's character, a Jewish Italian, comforts his son by making it seem like the concentration camp is just one big game, mocking a Nazi soldier with incorrect translations for his son bout rules and candy. Certainly, one can argue the camp maybe looks a little too clean and bright when compared to historical photos, but one has to remember that this is a film, not a documentary, so story comes before the facts and as Robert McKee has often said, 'life is not story'. Furthermore, the film doesn't ignore the realities of the camps, showing the forced labour, as well as the extermination of people in the camps.
I think the take-home message is all the discussions we've had in class: that is ethics at work, reflecting on and evaluating the choices that were made and why, and it is something, even in more benign affairs, that we regularly conduct on film shoots.