Reflexivity In Film

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LIT 106, Intro to Film Prof. Benamou Short Essay Assignment September 23, 1996 Reflexivity In Film Awareness of film as a process and not just a finished product seems to have been around since the very beginnings of film. Buster Keaton, for example, used this idea in his films, therefore making the audience aware of the illusion of film. His somewhat unconventional methods included looking directly in the camera, playing with the two dimensionality of the screen, etc. However, most Hollywood features didn't use such methods, but would rather stick to creating a complete illusion, whose purpose was just the opposite of Keaton's, to keep the viewer completely involved in a film, so all the work and the technology behind it stays hidden. This Hollywood style is still in practice today in most commercial cinema, while the style associated with Keaton (which is termed reflexive) is used rarely: in experimental films and off-beat comedies, still. One of these comedies that use reflexivity is Ferris Bueller Day Off, a typical 80's film by content, but very original by style. The film's style becomes obvious early on, when as soon as the other characters are off screen, Ferris addresses the camera. The viewer is drawn in and spoken to, so as to feel as one of the characters and not a mere spectator. This technique which is used through out the film also makes the audience, aware that these are not events from real life, but rather scenes form a movie, meant to entertain, not show a "slice of life." The understanding of the illusion is enhanced very early on, with the use of titles to compliment Ferris' words on "Faking out Parents." As he gives his tips to the viewers, they are typed on the screen, as in an educational video, once again, reminding the audience that this is "just a movie," that had to be made, just like we are aware that an educational program had to be made. Similar to Keaton's films the reason for drawing the attention of the spectator away form the illusion and into the reality is not an end in itself, but rather a way of enhancing the comedy. As Ferris says a word and then corrects himself, the word is crossed out, creating a humorous effect. The use of the camera as another one of the film's characters continues on through numerous other scenes, such as when Ferris comments on Cameron, in the restaurant, in the bathroom, at the beach, and when caught by the principal near the end of the film. This last example is particularly reminiscent of Keaton's style in Sherlock Jr, as Ferris gives us a what-am- I-to-do-now look when the joke is over and he doesn't see a way out of the situation. Similar to this is the end of Sherlock Jr, when Keaton follows the film within the film until finally he gets stuck as well, giving the viewer that bewildered look, which provokes laughter. In addressing the camera, Ferris goes further than Keaton did, in actually forming an interactive relationship with the audience, asking a question about the car, pausing, as if to wait for our response and than saying "Neither would I." Another way that Ferris Bueller Day Off parts with Hollywood convention, and therefore illusionism is by its use of framing. For example, right after Ferris changes his attendance record, there is music, and the camera is stationary, pointing at the floor, showing only his feet jumping in and out of the frame. Such a positioning of the camera, reminds us as an audience that the frame is a very limited area, and therefore our vision is limited as well, showing us only what the director wants to see. Such a device once again is the cause for reflexion (even if very short lived - until the next gag). While most of Ferris Bueller Day Off is self-reflexive, aware of its own illusion, there are a couple of moments in the film, where it becomes aware of itself in terms of other films. The evidence of the other type of reflexivity can be seen in references to Dirty Harry, when the principal's secretary tries to get on his good side by comparing him to the movie hero. There is a less direct reference to the James Bond movies, when Ferris says: "Bueller, Ferris Bueller"While subtle, both of this references enable us to place this film in a category of other films, to recognize it as just another product and not a reality, that illusionist cinema convinces us it is. Similarly, there is a scene where Ed Rooney, the principal walks into a club, and there is music playing in the background. The whole atmosphere of this scene, which is created by the music and the camera angles is one of a detective film, once again informing us that this is a movie. Of course, the mistake that principal Rooney makes, later on, is the punchline to this already humorous setup. In a way all the technology that Ferris uses to create a complete illusion of his sickness can be related to the film itself and all the technology that goes into making it. Basically, by the special effects, Ferris is fooling everyone, just like film, as a medium does. While this might not have been the purpose of the film, it certainly fits in well with other reflexive devices which are used throughout the film. From the restaurant scene on, the film starts using a new reflexive device. It is one where everyone but Ferris and possibly some of his companions are frozen, or just not aware of the action or the dialogue. The first of such sequences happens in the bathroom of the restaurant, where Ferris once again addresses us, the audience. However, as soon as he leaves, the shot, we see that his father was in the background all along, however he didn't hear any of this. Later, outside the restaurant, the father is within the shot having a conversation with some business partners, while Ferris is above him, frozen in pace, facing forward, together with Sloan, while Cameron is standing with his back to the camera. There is a simultaneous conversation going on between the three of them as well. This scene I believe was the most reflexive, since it makes the audience wonder of its relationship to the rest of the film and the reasoning behind it, since it is a very unconventional shot, even compared to other conventions broken in this film. Yet another example of reflexivity in this film can be seen when the baseball game which Ferris and his friends are watching live, we can see them on the TV screen first, and then full blown on the film screen. This change of shots from one to the other, undergoes a change in quality from the slightly blurred to the clear. Such a scene is important in its showing of the different media, causing reflection on the fact that we are watching just a story in the film medium. The big musical number near

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