Make History With Film Schools

Cleveland Ohio has a long history in film. “The Christmas Story” released in 1983, was shot in Cleveland although the story claims Indiana. Cleveland is home to Paul Lynde and other TV and film stars as well as the Wicked Witch of the West in the all time favorite movie, “The Wizard of Oz.” It was also in “The Phil Donahue Show” when Phil Donahue first introduced talk-TV with his show. Also, the creators of the man of Steel, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster first became friends in Cleveland – maybe this is where they came up with the story of Superman. Among the other movies and sitcoms that were filmed in Cleveland are “Spider-Man 3” and “The Drew Carey Show.” It’s noteworthy to mention that mini-series and sitcoms have been birthed and shot in this fantastic metropolis.

Needless to say, with its interesting film history, Cleveland film schools are at the top of the list of some of the nation’s finest. Cleveland students at the Cleveland Film Connection, get to have a taste of award-winning courses in both film and television. This school is very popular for its mentor-apprenticeship programs which pave way for creating lifelong industry networks. Whether your goal is to become a film director, screenwriter, camera operator, editor, producer or any of the many other jobs that exist in this exciting field, you’ll be fulfilled and rewarded at this Cleveland film school.

Cleveland State University, with 16,000 students offers 200 degrees with one of them Bachelor of Arts in Film and Digital Media. In this course, students are taught about the concepts of digital communications, broadcast media as well as film techniques. With unique training in the entertainment industry, there are three facets: media studies, film and digital media. The Cleveland State University wishes to develop the future of filmmaking, and it is doing this by utilizing both classroom instruction and hands-on experience.

The Cuyahoga Community College District in Cleveland, Ohio is yet another entry on the list of the finest Cleveland film schools. Being the oldest community college in Ohio, this school is host to approximately 50,000 students on a yearly basis. In September 2009, this Cleveland college opened the Center for Creative Arts. Housing this school’s Film and Digital Media program, Arts program and Recording Arts program, it takes pride of a 3,000 square foot facility and three digital film laboratories. Of course, the fact that this shares space with a division of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, it is without a doubt that this will be ideal for anyone who wants to make it big in this exciting film business.

‘That’s Entertainment’: Making Meaning in Films

The cinema has become, perhaps after television, the most popular form of visual entertainment in the modern world. Every night, millions of people sit down to watch either a film on TV, a film on video, or else a film on the silver screen, at the cinema.

Cinemagoers walk away from film theatres satisfied with what they have seen, or disappointed, with some taking a sort of neutral view of the film’s quality. All, however, have been in communication with the messages put forward by the film.

Unlike printed text, which uses the word, or music, which utilizes sound, the medium of film uses several different ‘tracks’ to reach its audience. These are image, music, dialogue, noise, and written material.

These five are mixed by the film’s producers to form a ‘language’, though this is not the language of the word, the sentence or the text, but the language of the sign. All five are projected out to the audience, and each of the five constitutes a sign, a signifier, for something else. The language of film is the language of semiotics, the language of the sign.

The term ‘signifier’ is used to denote the physical form of the sign. In a film, this could be a smile, a red traffic signal, dramatic music, a shout, or the words of a letter someone is reading. Each signifies something, represents something else.

A smile might signify happiness, joy or love, but it might also signify a triumph of some sort for the person smiling. Everyone knows that a red traffic light means ‘STOP’.

Dramatic music could mean that something important is about to happen. A shout usually signifies danger or pain of some sort, but that might depend on the context in which the shout is heard. Finally, the words of a letter someone is reading on screen use the semantics of language, English, French, or Arabic, for example, in ways that we are familiar with. The word ‘dog’, for example, in the English language, represents the canine species so familiar to pet lovers, and that despite the fact that there is absolutely nothing ‘dog-like’ in the letters of the word D-O-G. The word is also a signifier.

These examples of signifiers and the things they signify, the signified, using real items, the referents, point to several important features of the language of the sign. For the signifiers to represent something to on an audience, they must be sufficiently universal to be fully and quickly understood by everyone watching. A green light that stops the traffic would puzzle everyone.

However, it is worth noting that film makers can use these ‘universals’ to some effect. If a person who has just lost a race smiles into the camera rather than frowns, the audience may be alerted to the fact that something out of the ordinary is happening; that the person intended losing the race, for a reason that might become apparent later in the film. In a letter, the word ‘DOG’ might turn out to be code for ‘SPY’, for example, and this points to yet another facet of the sign, that the context in which it appears helps determines its meaning.

A shout heard at a local football match might mean only that a goal has been scored, in a battle, that someone has been mortally injured. Within different contexts, however, a universality must apply. If it does not, that particular use of the signifier would appear either inappropriate, or misleading.

Finding meaning from apparently meaningless events is a very human trait, and the effect discovered by Lev Kuleshov in the 1920s in the former Soviet Union, and after whom it is named, is that two shots shown in quick succession in a film, one after the other, are not interpreted separately in the viewer’s mind. They are interpreted as being causally related. A + B = C, in which A and B are the two shots, and C is a new value that is not originally included in the two shots.

So, for example, if the first shot is of one showing bombs dropping from a plane, and the second shows a village in flames, the audience will assume that the bombs hit the village and destroyed it.

This accords with that peculiar characteristic of humans; their quest for meaning in otherwise meaningless items. This has its equivalent in language too. Two sentences that appear one after the other will invariably be treated as being causally connected, even though there may be nothing to suggest that.
A: The bombs fell from the plane.
B: The village was completely destroyed..
C: It would be assumed here that the village was destroyed by the same bombs that dropped from the plane. What works on film sometimes works with language too.

In today’s films, this is used to great effect, and is reminiscent of film director, Alfred Hitchcock’s advice to would be film-makers; “Don’t tell, show.” This seems to suggest that the five ‘tracks’ of film language are more powerful when used together than merely the spoken word on film. Even Shakespeare commented that, ‘the eye is more learned than the ear,’ suggesting that we do indeed learn more from being shown than being told.

In the well known series of James Bond films, for instance, the utter ruthlessness of the villain, be he a megalomaniac or a drugs baron, is depicted not so much by words about him, but rather by scenes showing an unsuspecting former confidant of his coming to a grizzly end in a tank full of piranhas or something equally distasteful and spectacular.

That he is devious in the extreme is shown in the early sequences by the friendly and urbane hospitality he shows to the hero of the hour -007.

The scenes in which he shows his true colours, come as no surprise to an audience expecting some exotic, high-tech form of brutality from Bond’s adversary.

Those of us who have seen all those films know exactly what to expect and are never disappointed. In a sense, the ‘language’ of the film extends a communication to us over several films, and to that extent, James Bond films may be said to be formulaic and predictable. Giving the public what they want, however, works at the box office; sequels sell.

In terms of what the audience bring to the film-theatre, I suppose by far the most important is expectation, the anticipation that what they are about to see on film is the same as what they expect. Trailers, adverts and the almost innate knowledge of the modern cinemagoer regarding the stars as well as the producers coalesce to ensure that all the industry’s blockbusters make money.

More unconsciously, audiences bring what has been called the ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ to the performance and while this is more in evidence and more necessary for audiences watching live performances on stage, it is still a vital part of an audience’s participation in the cinema. Some film theorists point to the fact that a three-dimensional image, with depth and field, is projected onto a two-dimensional screen and yet still perceived as being three-dimensional, as evidence that an audience is willing to suspend some of their disbelief. The technology of the film industry giants is so extraordinary though as to render this statement quite meaningless.

In the film ‘The Lord of the Rings’ for example, the appearance of enormous mammoths in the midst of thousands of fearsome looking orcs does not really require much suspension of disbelief; everyone watching this wonderful film is well aware that such creatures do not exist anywhere on the planet. Where disbelief must be suspended initially is in entering Tolkien’s world of dragons, dwarfs and hobbits. The total universe of Middle Earth is more subtly projected. An inability to be fully engrossed in this world may interfere with any enjoyment gained from watching the film, or may prevent that person from seeing the film in the first place.

Art is not nature, art holds a mirror up to nature, or so we are told, but it is the holding and in the choosing what part of nature is mirrored that makes film so fascinating and meaningful. The people watching the film in the splendid isolation of the darkened cinema enjoy a form of entertainment in which this one-way communication operates, only bringing to the scene what they can: their participation in the culture in which they dwell, and their wish to know that they are not alone in this world.

It is this identification with the characters in the film that hinders their critical appraisal of it. Bertolt Brecht knew it and took steps to avoid it, but Hollywood revels in it. More identification with the leading character/s sells more tickets. Leave the critical theorizing to Media-studies courses at university. ‘Not a dry eye in the house’ is what every successful film director aims for.

Suspense, letting the audience know something that the person on screen does not know, is one of the many devices used by skillful directors. The screams heard when the woman is stabbed in the shower in the Hitchcock classic; ‘Psycho’ were probably nothing to do with the amount of pain being inflicted by the knife. Audiences cannot really imagine that. The screams were caused by the shock of the situation; the extreme levels of identification with the victim, the feeling of the powerlessness of either the victim on-screen, or the audience off, unable to stop the attack.
Why then do people go willingly to see a film they know, even hope, will terrify them?

They are experiencing something out of their total range of experience, and doing it in comfort too. They are alone, even in a packed cinema. Cinema is not a community event, it is an individualized one. In the cinema, the audience is held enthralled, in a way that is rarely possible watching the TV or a video on TV. The film on the big screen cannot be stopped. The drama unfolds with or without your presence, and few people leave in the middle of a film. That’s entertainment!

Jon Jost, Independent Film-maker – Stagefright

Jon Jost, independent film-maker. The early films

9. Stagefright

‘Stagefright’ (1981) is very different from the other early Jost films. The reason for the difference is two-fold: firstly it was originally made (in shorter form) for German TV, and Jost has adapted his methods to suit the medium, and secondly the subject under examination, the theatre, is examined in close-up, rather than, as in the pervious two films, through its effect on society at large.

The film looks different because it is all shot in a studio with actors performing against a black background. The emphasis, therefore, in on expression through the human figure, which both suits the TV medium and reproduces the methods of the theatre. In fact, since we are made constantly aware that we are watching actors performing, and since the camera does not move, watching the film is almost as much like being at the theatre as like being at the cinema.

The film has no plot, and like ‘l, 2, 3, Four’ and other early shorts, the sub-text is in essay form. The argument has four stages: an introduction, an exposition, a climax, and a conclusion. The introduction is a short history of human communication, and, like everything else in Jost’s films, it can be read on more than one level. Firstly we are made aware that the subject being illustrated is communication as part of the evolution of mankind. Secondly we are aware that the story is being illustrated by actors, and that developments in communication have also taken place in the theatre. And thirdly we are aware that what we are watching is a film, another area in which developments in communication have taken place.

The film opens with a dance representing birth. It can be seen as the birth of mankind, and, in the way the dancer communicates through the use of her body, as the birth of human communication, and of theatre. The following sequences illustrate, visually and aurally, the refinement of this process towards communication through language. First we see the human face, which communicates states of mind through its expressions, then we close in on the mouth, and the extraordinary range of sounds it is capable of making. Then comes the addition of vocal sounds, and finally, as the image cuts back to reveal the full-length naked figure, we hear the first word of the film: ‘Human’.

The next sequence follows the development of language, first with a figure clad in a toga reading Latin from a book, illustrating the birth of Western civilisation, the written word, and costume, and then, as letters proliferate wildly on the screen, the arrival of printing. The latter scene is the first with no human figure in it, showing that language has now taken on a life of its own; and the power of this new medium of communication is shown in the next scene: we see a close-up of a text, and, as it is read aloud, drops of blood-red ink fall on the pages, eventually obscuring the words.

So far, other than “Human”, not a word of English has been spoken; we have been looking at forms of communication in relation to their source and raison d’ĂȘtre – the human being – without being distracted by meanings.

The next scene, in which a cabaret hostess welcomes us to the show, marks the beginning of the exposition. We have followed the evolution of language into an important arena of communication: the theatre; in other words, as we sit there watching the performance, into our immediate situation.

The film then takes us through a medley of theatrical entertainment, while at the same time entertaining us with a medley of trick photography. The emphasis in these scenes, in both form and content, is on trickery, illusion, and falseness, showing how, in the world of show business, actors are used to create characters and images which effectively prevent any real person-to-person communication from taking place.

In a scene commenting on cabaret we watch conjuring tricks, while the camera is performing its own conjuring tricks by showing two characters, one shot from a low angle, and one shot from a high angle, simultaneously.

In a scene commenting, perhaps, on psychological drama, we see a young actress, in full-face and profile simultaneously, standing dumbly and nervously as two men, perhaps the director and producer, smother her with advice and instructions. The actress has no voice of her own, she is being manipulated by others, and the only thing which is genuine about the whole scene is the thing they are trying to eliminate; her stagefright.

In a scene commenting on the theatrical performances of statesmen three actors don masks of politicians and act out the kind of hand-shaking routines we see in TV and newspaper pictures. This scene makes two points: it exposes the public image-making of statesmen as a branch of show business, and it shows actors having to act out roles imposed on them by people with political power.

Every now and then during these scenes an actor doing an absurdly exaggerated James Cagney impression walks across the screen saying: “No wonder there are so many casualties.” And every now and then a hand holding a camera reaches down from the top of the screen and takes a photograph of us, the audience in whose name the whole bag of tricks is being performed.

The film’s climax is a sequence in which the cheapest trick in show business, the custard pie in the face, is rendered grotesque and terrifying by being shown in extreme slow motion. We see every detail as the pie flies through the air, hits the actor in the face, and begins to fall away. This is a very long take and its effect is deeply disturbing.

The action which is normally supposed to make us laugh is now seen as a vicious and humiliating assault on an actor whose suffering is all-too apparent. He looks as if he is being injured, and, indeed, psychologically he is. As with the scenes of the exposition we are being asked to question the relationship between actors and ourselves. Who are actors? What is being done to them, and, through them, to us? Why are we sitting watching? And who is controlling it all?

Then suddenly the film cuts to the famous newsreel footage of a Vietnamese peasant being shot through the head. We see more of it than is usually shown on TV: the man falls to the ground and blood fountains from the wound. At the same time there is a scream on the sound-track, and the film jumps out of alignment, as if it is about to break. The effect creates a powerful shock, a shock which should make us think and force us into an awareness of the film’s message.

The meanings are many. The sudden intrusion of a chunk of reality throws into perspective the artificiality of the rest of the film, and, by implication, of all forms of show business. While people, including ourselves, flock to theatres and cinemas to be entertained and distracted by artifice, wholesale slaughter is going on every day in the real world outside.

The fact that the film appears to break, or come adrift from the screen, both adds to the visual shock, and suggests that the medium of film cannot accommodate reality. It also disrupts our attachment to the screen, reminding us that this is no mere cinematic event.

Finally, a parallel is being drawn between the actor being ‘shot’ with the custard pie, and the peasant being shot with a bullet; a parallel which suggests that both men are being manipulated and made to suffer by forces beyond their control

‘Stagefright’ ends with an explicit statement of its message, or at least, part of its message. This is presumably because, being originally made for TV, Jost saw an opportunity for his film to reach a wide audience, large numbers of whom would probably not make head or tail of it.

The message is delivered by the actor doing the exaggerated Cagney impression: a device which reinforces the message by its conspicuousness as a means of holding our attention. The actor, who has already been established in a choric role with his repeated line: “No wonder there are so many casualties”, comes close to the camera, as if taking us into his confidence, and says (approximately):

“You see, to communicate you’ve got to entertain. The great playwrights, like the Greeks, and Shakespeare knew that, but today intellectuals seem afraid of it, as if to entertain was to cheapen, and this leaves the way open for cheap entertainment, I mean entertainment with cheap intentions.

“Those with access to an audience have a tremendous responsibility, which is often abused.

“Everyone wants to be somebody, and in this wonderful world of the theatre they get a chance, but as often as not they betray it to someone else.

“They say theatre holds a mirror up to society, but as often as not it’s a vanity mirror.

“The bard said, ‘All the world’s a stage’, and maybe it is, but what they don’t tell you is that all of life is stage-managed. You got your TV, radio, theatre, films, and pop music; it’s all divertimenti kids, all divertimenti.”

Then the actor, obviously thinking the shot is finished, relaxes, drops characterisation, and takes his hat off. Then Jost walks in front of the camera and speaks to the sound man: “Did you get it?” “Is the camera still rolling?” says the confused-looking sound man. “Are you still filming?”

Then, one by one, Jost turns out the studio lamps and the film ends in darkness. This ending, of course, breaks the cinematic illusion, reminding us that everything we have seen on the screen has also been stage-managed, by Jost himself.

* All quotes, from the films and the interview, are approximations taken from notes made immediately after seeing the films.