Samantha Sterman's Blog

An Oberlin course blog

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35 Up: What Happens When They Start Dying?

March 25th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

I think the ultimate fault of what we saw of the series called 35 Up is the interview style led by Michael Apted. He made a mistake by pushing his interviewees. The most fascinating part of the series was seeing footage of each of the subjects in their lives and comparing it to what we had seen before. Because Michael Apted pushed them in the interview to talk in a very harsh manner about their marriages, their failures, their insecurities…etc it felt like the subjects were being forced to see more in their lives than they actually did. Sometimes when people get in front of a camera and lie and make excuses, they are more honest and revealing than when they try to speak the truth.

Denial is a telling emotion. What we deny is what we care the most about.

If Apted has truly wanted to create chilling documentaries, he should have asked OTHER people in the families of the subjects to film them. Grit-ty.

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F For Fake: An Editing Masterpiece

March 25th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

I think I found some new friends in Marie-Sophie Dubus and Dominique Engerer, otherwise known as the editors of Orson Welles’ F For Fake. The style of editing seemed to oddly mimic my own stream of consciousness. The camera wanders and flips back and forth between complementary images, repeating the ones of most interest until it gets distracted by a new concept and putters off into the distance. That is my brain!

Anyway. It is eternally interesting to me that there is an artist in the world (or seemingly, many artists) who spends his entire career repainting paintings that have already been painted. I’m not sure why a man of such talent as Elmyr de Hory would not want to create pieces of his own. Although I am sure on some level his “fakes” were his grand creations, but I cannot imagine an artist who lacks the desire to do something unique. I assumed that was part of the definition of an artist.

An interesting piece, especially as a backwards inverted autobiography of Orson Welles, which one some level it was. The man couldn’t go out and make a film about how he thinks he is a fake or that he has made a living on fakery or that he believes everything created is fake to some extent, but used de Hory as his vehicle. Way to be sneaky Orson.

Speaking of representations of art already created:

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M is for Mysterious I assume

March 15th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized


What was most surprising about M as a film, was that the target “bad guy” was not a mystery. In fact, all the characters in the film remain constant in our understanding of them, and the only suspense is derived from the uncertain unfolding of the story/chase scenes. We assume when M is identified as a child kidnapping killer, that he is a horribly creeper, disgusting person. Now in the American understanding of mystery, we as an audience would usually find some marginally “redeeming” characteristics about the killer (such as that he is brilliant or has some master idea of how the world should work), but in M this is not the case. By the end of the film we are simply painfully aware of the killer’s neurosis and inability to NOT kill children. It is pathetic. It is disgusting. And there is no satisfaction for the audience in this man being “beaten” by the cast of good guys, because he is just so damn depressing. This is, in fact, a more accurate representation of what it feels like to prosecute a man such as M, but that’s not the point. There is a distinct lack of redemption for the characters in M, except for the gangsters, whose plan to thwart the police and find the killer on its own is the catchiest aspect of the film. Overall the film is a fantastic exploration of guilt, responsibility, authority and psychosis.


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Final Decision: Bollywood is where it’s at.

March 15th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

I recently watched an hour long documentary on the culture of Bollywood cinema in India. The film traveled to different film sets over the course of a few years following two of Bollywood’s biggest stars: Shah Rukh Khan and Manisha Koirala. Shah Rukh Khan’s devilishly attractive looks and nonchalant attitude would in American cinema, have bought him a one way ticket to an easy career of chick flicks and high budget-wasting action films. But in India, the quality of the films he does (which from the documentary, seemed like almost EVERY film that gets produced in all of India) are his top priority, as well as pleasing the widest range audience possible. The ideal of film making in India is to please the masses. As the narrator says in the film, in a country where entertainment is limited, films become the primary escape for the public. This means that genre, for the most part, is OUT. Each film employs elements of every genre, so that everyone can go to the cinema and find something they enjoy.

Manisha Koirala on the other hand, spent the first ten years or so of her career making the non-genre films that are so characteristic of Bollywood, but as her career has advanced, has now moved onto cinematic subjects of female equality, strength and traditions. Her films entice a much smaller audience, but her effect as a female figure in India is huge.

The bottom line of Indian films is that they are raw, intense and more urgent than any other cinema in the world. Films are a savior of spirit to most audiences in India, and unanimous passion for the films that Bollywood produces and its stars. Up until this documentary, I viewed Bollywood cinema as a hilarious and entertaining take on the cinematic tradition. Now I understand that there is a severe pride in the type of cinema that they make. Bollywood has more of cultural purpose than cinema of any country. Other countries generally have traditions of other art forms by which they define themselves more primarily than cinema. But for India, Bollywood is their prosperous artistic custom.

America can only dream of making films that transform in that matter. Although I think Darren Aronofsky is getting close.

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Why Irma Vep Makes Movies Stars Look Like No Fun At All

March 15th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

Maggie Cheung is a huge star. She has been in dozens of films, played countless glamorous roles, and charmed viewers with her subtle, introverted character processes. And yet with all the force Maggie has riding behind her career, she was picked for the self-portraying role in Irma Vep, probably the least flattering critique of the film industry since The Player. The reason I find the choice of Maggie Cheung (to play the star cast into the fray of a fading French director and his unruly crew) to be so strange is the social role she falls into as a character in the film. With Maggie Cheung’s reputation, it is surprising that she would show up on set in the first scene as a timid, uncomfortable figure who seems to hold no connection to any of the work she mentions from her past. Similar to José Mirano’s (the director who replaced Vidal in the film) impression of Maggie’s place as his Irma Vep, Maggie Cheung playing a doe-eyed and confused Maggie Cheung seems like a betrayal to her cinematic background.

Then again, maybe that is the point. Maggie Cheung’s role can also be interpreted as a tool to better display the raging disorganization, egos, and falsity of the “modern” French cinematic art films. She is the new, while Vidal is the old. The reason they bond over their separate, yet out of sync, phases of success as film icons, and the artistic blocks they both experience as their careers continue and peter out. We follow Maggie’s bowed head and darting, insecure eyes throughout the film, through different situations of isolation, until she finally abandons her “art” for a big budget film in the US. Some story.

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Assayas and Kael: The Common Thread

March 8th, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

Director Oliver Assayas said in an interview with reverse shot online, “To me, writing about films was a way to explore how cinema functions and how I fit in.” in response to questions on what he gained from writing for the Cahier. The theme of exploration and experimentation in film through writing about film is a common thread in many cinematic critics, including my personal favorite, Pauline Kael. Kael worked through the conflicting emotions of heartfelt, childhood-defining “trash” cinema in her essay Trash, Art and the Movies. There is significant thread between the attitudes of these two writers and their statements, as well as their open-mindedness in the face of “trash”. Assayas broke the former traditions at the Cahier of solely writing upon French art films by expanding his journalism to American horror films and Chinese B cinema. He attempted to expand the readers of cinema journalism (AKA filmmakers) to accept other formulas, rather than just the anti-formula formula, of filmmaking as successful cinematic endeavors.Kael honed in on the cultural importance and ritual nature of “trash” cinema, and its necessity to film-goers with even the most refined tastes.

The importance of “trash” cinema is something very difficult to pinpoint, especially from a scholarly perch. There is an honesty and a clarity to “trash” cinema, which has fascinated me for the same reasons it fascinated Kael and Assayas. The trash of the time seems to reflect a country’s current concerns and artistic head space. Such as all the apocalyptic films being produced since the 2000’s began. It seems America in particular has become painfully aware of our own impermanence and become obsessed with our threatening expiration date as a country. Wall-e. 2012. The Day After Tomorrow. I Am Legend. Zombieland. The Road. The list goes on and the films vary from utter common trash to “trash” cinema. We can find a pure form of expression in these types of film because they are at some level about the human behavior and psychology of our current state. What is art if not expression of mind?

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In Time for Change

March 1st, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

What was John Cassavette’s Shadows going for? A film that aesthetically and attitudinally (it’s a word) slips into the New Wave crash of reorganized pacing, characters, and continuity, also mysteriously relies upon other art forms for its structure and innovation. In a way, Michael Bay is the epitome of film. Don’t shoot me! What this means is that films that center around high definition, pace varying shots (i.e. slow-mo of Megan Fox’s abs) and visual effects and techniques (i.e. our class’ beloved explosions) are using the tools which cinema and no other art provides. Therefore, vis-à-vis, it is such “simple” films that are inherently the purest of cinema. I will also point out how silly it is to consider block buster films “simple”, since the amount of work and creative effort being produced by everyone except for the producers, director, actors and writers, is immense and admirable.

The line posted at the end of Shadows simultaneously tied the film up in a manner pleasing to the audience, as well as lost a good amount of the film’s authenticity in the process. It was pleasing because it gave an excuse for the film’s erratic behavior and incongruous emotions. At the same time, the excuse it made implies that the film’s structure and experimental style could not hold up on its own and needs the reliance of a musical reference to jazz for the film to hold water. The useless question we could ask as film critics is whether it matters that the film relies upon our fundamental understanding of the nature of jazz and its “lack of rules”. Does it matter that we are uncomfortable with films without rules? Or maybe the rules that have been created are the standards which enhance the art of filmmaking itself, like harmonics. This is not to say that films can’t be stupid, pointless wastes of money *cough cough Michael Bay*, but it means that the standards we have come to accept and appreciate in film may have deeper roots in our understanding of pleasurable art than we common believe. No one likes atonal music. Maybe we aren’t supposed to like atonal film making either?

In summation, I think the title card shown at the end of John Cassavette’s Shadows was necessary, informative and broadened my understanding of the film as a whole. It’s the assumption that art film has to be at its very core original which doesn’t make any sense. Stealing inspiration is the best way to make better art.

And for your consideration…

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An Exploration of Creation

February 21st, 2011 by Samantha Sterman · Uncategorized

I’ve now created a blog. This is a very experimental experience. WOAH.

This Should Not Exist

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