Federico Fellini in his film 8½ refers to a philosophical problem of the artistic crisis. The main purpose of this motion picture is to capture the feelings of the creator and the challenges he faces. Fellini’s film is self-reflective in many ways, because it tells a story of a director Guido Anselmi, who tries to make a film, but cannot find inspiration to start it. To describe Guido’s inner world, Fellini uses several techniques, one of which is the “open structure”.
The concept of open structure is based on the absence of some traditional components the beginning and the conclusion. Guido appears on the screen without any background. The first scene, in a traffic jam, shows a man who releases himself from a car that is slowly filling up with smoke, and then flies into the sky. The viewer can fully realize the symbolism of this scene only after watching the whole movie. The open structure enabled Fellini to concentrate on the issues he wanted to discuss, not on the linear development of the script. The narration is interrupted by Guido’s fantasies, dreams, and childhood memories, which bring understanding of what is on Anselmi’s mind. On the contrary, Guido’s words do not give any relevant information about his feelings or the movie he is going to film. In accordance with the concept of open structure, the movie does not have a narrator. All the philosophical thoughts are expressed by Guido’s critic, producer, wife, lover, actress that is waiting for the role, and others. Therefore, if the real main character were to be defined, it would be the process of creation itself. To connect the seemingly disconnected parts of the film, Fellini uses components of the mise-en-scène, like the contrast of the opposites that Guido has to incorporate in order to achieve harmony.
8½ became a renowned masterpiece due to the themes it referred to and the filming techniques that were used. The concept of open structure helped to create a many-sided movie, and the unifying elements joined the scenes into a solid narration.
John Schlesinger in his movie Midnight Cowboy explores not only the cowboy myth, but also a much broader idea of the American dream. Joe Buck, as the quintessence of a provincial man, truly believes in both myths. However, his life in New York makes a total mockery of these beliefs and ideals.
Cowboys traditionally symbolize masculinity and courage. Joe Buck is deeply influenced by this image created by Hollywood actors like Gary Cooper and John Wayne. Still, Buck plans to use his cowboy outfit to become a male prostitute. Thus, from the very beginning, the “American cowboy” myth is satirized. When Joe sits on the bus to New York, a lady on the radio regrets the death of Gary Cooper, her ideal man. Through this detail, the director assumes that the cowboy myth is as dead as its creator. The inconsistency between Buck’s hopes and the reality creates a strong satirical effect. He felt that he would make an easy fortune in New York, instead, he ended up homeless and without any money. Joe planned to attract women with his masculine appearance, but he succeeded in becoming relatively popular only among homosexuals. Buck’s sudden impotence in bed and involvement in gay sex ruins what was left of his masculinity. John Schlesinger uses the obvious difference between the image in Buck’s head and life in a large city as an example of contrasting the mindset of a villager and a city dweller. Joe’s refusal of this image, when he throws away his outfit on the way to Florida, is combined with his self-recognition as a New Yorker, not a Texan. By this evolution of Buck’s mind, Schlesinger establishes absolute untenability of the “American cowboy” myth and the American dream itself.
To conclude, symbols and settings are used to create a contrast between the myth and its implementation in reality. By using satire, Schlesinger shows how disastrous an erroneous belief can be, especially if it is based on popular images, not on real life.
The image of a typical hero changed tremendously from 1940 to 1972, when the movie Play It Again, Sam written by Woody Allen was filmed. The main hero, recently divorced Allan Felix, admires the main hero of the movie Casablanca, Humphrey Bogart. Allan strives to be like him, ignoring the fact that times changed and his efforts are useless. The very idea of masculinity is now different and what was highly recognized in the past has lost its value.
Allan realizes the distinction between him and Bogart. He would like to be as confident, physically strong, attractive, and charming as his counterpart. Unfortunately, his personality is absolutely opposite. Clumsy and hesitating, Allan does not attract even his wife, who leaves him with a big fight. To restore dignity, Allan goes on blind dates, but he is afraid to show his inner self, so he copies Bogart’s moves and phrases. And here lies the substantial difference between the two of them. Bogart was a hero and Allen, who only copied him, was, in fact, a fraud. The perception of masculinity of the early 1970s is expressed by Linda, when she suggests Allen should just be himself for women to love him. Bogart is, actually, a questionable example of masculinity, as only a few men can reach this ideal image. The perception of a man has moved from a romantic hero to a real person that can feel and express all kinds of emotions. Allan falls in love with Linda mostly because he does not have to pretend while she is around. Their relationship majorly looks like the scenes from Casablanca and Allan manages to escape from this movie only when he repeats its final scene in life.
The difference between Bogart’s and Felix’s world-view lies in seeing men as human, not abstract heroes. The role of someone else’s example in our lives should not be exaggerated and achieving personal happiness by blindly following this example is completely impossible.
Akira Kurosawa’s Ran is obviously similar to the play King Lear by William Shakespeare. Both pieces of art investigate the theme of abandoned and betrayed fathers. However, Kurosawa did not exactly follow Shakespeare’s plot. The setting was changed to the16th century Japan, which, in this way, required several adaptations.
Most of these changes were determined by the traditions of that time and Japanese culture in general. Hidetora, King Lear’s counterpart in Ran, does not have daughters, but has three sons. This change resulted from the new setting. Women in feudal Japan held a low social position and could not inherit any power from a clan leader. Hidetora understands that he has to pass his leadership to his sons. This action is accompanied by the arrow test, which substitutes the love test in King Lear. Still, Japanese mindset changes the meaning of this test. King Lear wanted to make sure his daughters would love him, he is concerned with emotions and the bond between father and daughters. By the example of three arrows being broken only if separated, Hidetora tries to persuade his sons to strengthen the bond between them, so that harmony is preserved. Such neglect of emotions is typical of Japanese culture in general and was especially evidenced in the 16th century samurai tradition. It was appropriate of samurais to suppress their feelings. This resulted in another distinctive feature of Kurosawa’s film. In Shakespeare’s play, the characters make long emotional speeches, and in Ran the inner world of the heroes is shown by their actions, while the dialogues are short and reserved. Being a samurai, Hidetora represents a warrior culture, thus receiving a background. The reputation of a samurai is based on his past deeds. 50 years of tyranny over his neighbors reduce the level of tragedy in Hidetora’s lot, but without such past he could not be recognized as a representative of medieval Japan.
The changes implemented by Kurosawa resulted in a significant transformation of the original plot. However, the director aimed at creating a similar, but not exactly identical piece of art. Therefore, his alterations are fully justified, since they adopt Kind Lear’s idea to the 16th century Japan.