Repository for the projects of Michael McVey, filmmaker.

Posts tagged “Analysis

An Analysis of Reebok’s “Terry Tate Office Linebacker,” from Skiffleboom.com

Michael McVey
Introduction to Mass Media – VMA 111
Advertisement Analysis – January 11, 2010

Bunker Hill Community College

Reebok’s Terry Tate Office Linebacker Super Bowl Commercial

*Please note the original commercial video has been taken down.  This longer, alternate version contains the same elements.*

Product recognition
There is no specific product mentioned during this ad. The real product recognition is the Reebok brand name. In this regard, the ad does not telegraph the Reebok logo, but infuses it subtly, allowing the humor to take center stage. The ad entertains, attracting attention. At the end of the sixty-second spot, the ad prompts the viewer to visit Reebok’s website. The ad reveals the website as a product – having enjoyed the sampling, audience members can watch more Terry Tate online. This “product” encourages participation; cleverly netting several million viewers into visiting what is essentially Reebok’s interactive catalogue.

Differentiation
There is no specific mention of comparable products during the commercial, but the phrases “Paradigm breaking,“ “outside the box thinking,” “increase in productivity” are used. There is a notable difference between the intensity of Terry Tate’s “extreme work ethic” with that of his co-workers. As Tate is a symbolic representative of Reebok in the commercial, one can infer the Reebok brand is more intense than the competition.

Association
The ad associates an extremely aggressive work ethic with the Reebok brand name. The ad also associates high intensity and increased performance with the juxtaposition of football and office environment. The Reebok brand is seen as having powerful, no-nonsense effects on the mundane. The ad suggests Reebok apparel will turn an ordinary office into an efficient, thrilling machine.

Participation
The ad assumes a certain amount of Reebok brand familiarity. The logo and mention of the Reebok brand is not apparent, nor is any specific product mentioned. The true participation happens at the end of the commercial. The logo and copy “Watch more Terry Tate Office Linebacker Reebok reebok.com” appear, enticing any viewer who enjoyed the commercial to view more at the company’s website. According to USA Today, the website had over 7 million hits from the initial airing.

Redundancy
The Reebok logo is subtly featured in several shots of the commercial. It is featured in narrative cutaways both on a mug and on a plaque. The Reebok logo is featured on Terry Tate’s jersey. The end of the commercial features the logo prominently displayed on the screen, along with the Reebok website. The word Reebok is spoken only twice during the sixty-second spot. This memorable and popular ad originally aired during the 2003 Super Bowl. The campaign was aired repeatedly, featuring the same character, for several years. The ad was notable for prompting over 7 million “webisode” downloads from Reebok’s website after only one Super Bowl airing.

Source: USA Today

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“The Birth of a Nation” – Racism in Early American Film, from Skiffleboom.com

Michael McVey
History of the Moving Image- VMA 115
Bunker Hill Community College, Charlestown, MA
The Birth of a Nation Response – February 25, 2010

The Birth of a Nation:
Describe a scene you find disturbing. What specifically makes it disturbing? Think in terms not only of the characters, but also of the specific shot sequence and the relationship the image creates.

Election Day and Results Sequence: 1:48 – 1:53

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The election sequence from “The Birth of a Nation” is an incendiary account of shifting social and political power during Southern Reconstruction. The sequence narrowly characterizes class and race relationships with broad stereotypes. Griffith portrays historical events with one-dimensional characters. These characters disturbingly polarize the conflict’s complexities into simple good and evil. We begin with the title card:

“Election day. All blacks are given the ballot, while the leading whites are disfranchised.”

Both black and white voters line up to vote. A white man, presumably a carpetbagger, takes ballots from black voters. Black soldiers flank the man, keeping the crowd orderly. When white voters attempt to vote, they are denied. Soldiers aggressively shove these men out of line with their rifles. We cut to Dr. Cameron and his son Ben leaving their Piedmont home to vote. We cut to black and fade in on Dr. Cameron attempting to vote. He is denied and aggressively ejected. From this short scene, we infer that all Southern white voters were denied their rights from Unionists and Carpetbaggers, backed with military muscle. The use of these broad, unnamed characters and actions nurture resentment in the viewer towards the blacks. The use of these broad stereotypes is propaganda, influencing the audience to feel that blacks with power are unjust and malevolent.

“Receiving the returns. The negroes and carpetbaggers sweep the state.”

We cut to the interior of Silas Lynch’s Piedmont headquarters. Lynch is the mulatto protégé of Reconstruction authority Austin Stoneman. Lynch’s mixed-race staff rushes election results into the office. The title card declares, “Silas Lynch is elected Lieut. Governor.” Stoneman is elated when Lynch presents him with the news, and Stoneman’s daughter Elsie joins them. She is fancily dressed.

The title card reads, “Celebrating their victory in the polls.” We cut to an exterior shot of an all-black Unionist army marching through Piedmont, joyously greeted by an all-black crowd. We cut back to the interior of Lynch’s headquarters. While Austin Stoneman speaks of the election, we cut to a medium close-up of Lynch staring lustfully. We cut to a medium shot of Elsie as she sorts white paperwork. We cut back to Lynch. He covers his genitals with a black hat as he stares. We cut once more to Elsie. It is clear that the newly elected Lynch has designs on Stoneman’s daughter. Stoneman seems oblivious to this aside.

Lynch walks outside, and is immediately embraced by the all-black crowd. He is hoisted onto their shoulders and paraded about. We cut to Stoneman observing from inside, pleased with the victory. We then cut to Elsie, who stands alone in the room, looking exposed. We infer from this scene that the newly elected Lynch is a devious character. Lynch’s leering is juxtaposed against a marching army of black soldiers, eliciting fear of a black takeover of traditionally white properties. For Stoneman, the mulatto character of Lynch represents a bridge for race relations, but Griffith suggests his (and possibly all mulattos) motivations are animalistic and devious. In the wake of Lynch’s sexual intonations, Elsie’s delicacy is amplified through the lingering shot.

“’The little Colonel’ relates a series of outrages that have occurred.”

Ben Cameron sits in his home with his father and friends. A candle burns in the foreground, representing the smoldering hatred of the White southerner during Reconstruction.

The title card reads “The case was tried before a negro magistrate and the verdict rendered against the whites by the negro jury.” A crowded courtroom scene establishes the shift in power. An all-black jury and a black magistrate free a black man accused of a crime – the white victim’s family looks despondent. The camera iris focuses on the magistrate, yelling fervently. The ‘not guilty’ verdict polarizes the courtroom. The whites and the ‘faithful’ blacks are outraged by the verdict. The black defendant shakes hands with the jury. The scene exudes collusion and injustice.

We cut back to the Ben Cameron relating the story. We cut to the exterior of the courthouse, where black soldiers treat the white victim’s family with hostility. We cut to a shot of soldiers brutalizing an old man. These black soldiers are clearly villainous.

The title card reads, “Even while he talks, their own faithful family servant is punished for not voting with the Union League and Carpetbaggers.” The “faithful” family servant’s only discernable characteristic is his steadfast loyalty to the Cameron’s. Having voted against the Unionists, two deceitfully friendly blacks lure the servant to the woods. Several black soldiers ambush the servant. The soldiers bind him to a tree and lash him for his faithfulness. We fade out.

We cut to the servant’s quarters, where an elderly black man searches for his friend. When the elderly man stumbles upon the black soldiers beating the servant, he intervenes. A soldier murders the old man in cold blood. The soldiers all run away in cowardice. We cut back to Ben Cameron relating his stories. We see clearly from these cuts that Griffith is employing parallel editing. The iris closes in on Cameron, who dramatically stands, as though he has reached his breaking point. The camera cuts to the servant, beaten and bewildered, he runs from frame. We cut back to the Cameron’s. The stories deeply move the group, and they stand together, unified by their disgust.

The title card reads, “The faithful soul enlists Dr. Cameron’s sympathy.” We cut to Dr. Cameron, Ben’s father finding the servant in the woods. We cut back to the Cameron home. The servant relays the events to Ben Cameron, who looks furious. The candles blaze in the foreground.

These scenes shockingly suggest that blacks are incapable of dispensing justice properly. The black magistrate, while only briefly portrayed, comes across as a zealot. All the black Union soldiers are portrayed as cowardly, vicious torturers. We infer that blacks are duplicitous from the way the servant was lured into an ambush. Though Griffith doesn’t cast the servant under the same evil light as the other blacks, his is still one-dimensional. His defining characteristic seems to be an acceptance of his place in the old Southern hierarchy.

Perhaps the most disturbing element of this sequence is the technical craftsmanship. The innovative use of symbols to create subtext makes the film potent propaganda. Carefully staged scenes, clever set and costume design, and innovative editing techniques made the film’s simplistic views entertaining and digestible. “The Birth of a Nation” was a new form of entertainment propaganda in 1915. This is exceptionally disturbing, considering that these are not the film’s most cartoonish and unbelievably racist stereotypes. That award goes to the scene that caps the election sequences:

“The riot in the Master’s Hall. The negro party in control in the State House of Representatives, 101 blacks against 23 whites, session of 1871. An Historical Facsimile of the State House of Representatives of South Carolina as is was in 1870. After photograph by ‘The Columbia State.’”


Montage and Juxtaposition in “Battleship Potemkin” – Odessa Steps Sequence, from Michael McVey, Skiffleboom.com

Michael McVey
VMA – 115 History of the Moving Image
Prof. Douglas Pastel, Bunker Hill Community College
Writing Assignment #2 – Montage/Juxtaposition/Sequence

Pick a short sequence of about 10 shots from Battleship Potemkin or Man With a Movie Camera and discuss in detail how it illustrates what the “camera eye” together with editing show that no other medium or human perception can see.

Battleship Potemkin
The Odessa Steps Sequence (47:37 – 48:02)

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During “The Odessa Steps” sequence of Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, a civilian crowd runs down the staircase from Cossack gunfire.   Among them, a small boy runs down the staircase with his mother.  Cossacks shoot from the steps above.  In the panic, the boy is shot.  He falls.  His mother continues in the chaos.  Bleeding, he calls out to her.  The mother realizes her boy is gone.  She stops and turns into the crowd.  She sees her boy.  He reaches out his hand, then collapses.  The mother stands against the oncoming mob, her face aghast.   The mob kicks and tramples the boy’s lifeless body.

This short sequence opens with a tracking shot.  We dolly alongside the mother and boy as they race down the stairs.  The shot begins nearly static – trimmed right to the moment the camera begins to move.  This camera movement stirs fervor.  The camera descends to the bottom right, keeping mother and son centered amidst the crowd.  It is as though we are running alongside them.  This is a very dynamic shot with strong vectors.

The vectors transition smoothly as the shot cuts to the blazing Cossack guns.  The gun barrels fire to the bottom right; they serve as index vectors.  The spatial geography is clear with these two cuts.  The Cossack faces are obscured.  This static low angle shot is anonymous and menacing.  We draw a direct connection between the gunshots and the fleeing mother and son.

Matching vectors, we cut to a static medium shot of the running son and mother.  The boy collapses on the stairs, splayed out center frame.  His mother continues running, unaware her boy has fallen.  Since the cut is juxtaposed against the gunfire, we know immediately he is shot in the back.  The image is impactful within the film’s context:  an innocent boy falls victim to brutal political violence.

A new cut maintains the descending vectors.  We return to our original tracking shot: the camera dollies alongside the mother running down the crowded stairs.  The rushing camera dolly gives us a sense of urgency.  The panic overwhelms her awareness.  She doesn’t realize her son is gone.

We quickly cut to a static close-up of the boy.  Blood streams down his face.  Blinded, he screams for his mother.  This is the first shot of the sequence not adhering to the right-descending vectors.  This gives this insert a jarring feel, as we cut back to the original tracking shot.

The camera dollies alongside the mother running, descending vector.  She realizes her son is gone.  She slows to a halt, as does the camera movement.  The crowd descends around her.  She turns around.  We cut on the turn.  This creates a natural in/out point for the next shot.

We cut to close-up of the mustachioed mother.   Harbor behind her, she turns and faces camera.  She looks away from escape back towards violence.  The mother’s face widens horrified.  She sees her son!

We cut back to the static close-up of the bloody boy.  He reaches out for his mother, screaming.  He collapses, dead!

We quickly cut to a close-up of the mother horrified.  She raises her hands to her head!  This reaction shot emphasizes the impact of the boy’s death.  The cut happens quickly, but the mother’s shock amplifies the blow.

We cut to an extreme close-up of mother.  Her eyes widen.  She is helpless, mortified.  She calls out to her son.  This shot fuses his death with parental empathy.  Each close-up is larger and more affecting.

We cut to a wide shot of stampeding crowd.  The camera crosses the 180-degree line and flips vectors.  We are jarred, uncomfortable.  The hysterical crowd pours down the steps.  People shove brutally, more people are shot and fall beneath stampeding feet.  This cut-away emphasizes chaos surrounding the dead boy.

We cut to static close-ups of the boy’s lifeless torso.  Feet step over.  We cut to a second close-up of the bloodied body.  A man’s foot steps directly on the hand.  The hand moves reflexively!  Is the boy still alive?  By suggesting the boy may still be alive, these quick inserts make the scene more appalling.  The terrified mob tramples his limp body.

We cut back to the mother’s horrified face.  This extreme close-up delivers horrendous shock and empathy.  We are given a full-frame of facial expression.  Juxtaposed with the confusion of the mob and violent imagery, this close-up mirrors our own disgust at the events.  We empathize with the expressive mother against the faceless, violent hoard, and unknowingly succumb to some brilliant propaganda.

This sequence demonstrates film techniques that circumvent certain limitations of human perception (sans acid).  Within the context of the scene, we are able to change our point of view.  Instead of perceiving an event from one specific perspective, we jump around to multiple viewpoints.  We are not limited by the physicality of the camera itself.  Our “camera eye” can be placed in a raging mob without being stampeded.

A film can observe details that are otherwise overlooked, or juxtapose to unrelated images or scenes to create new context.  A film can bolster or downplay emotions with close-ups.  Reaction shots effect and define how emotions are perceived.  Human perception is limited spatially – it is difficult to observe multiple individuals with only two eyes.  Film can manipulate time.  In addition to changing frame rates, editing can manipulate time in a way human perception does not.  As we cut back and forth between mother and son, are we watching simultaneous reactions broken into two parts?  Or are we seeing the characters in real time?

Film can strongly illustrate psychological drama and the inner workings of characters.  Film narrative can be reliable or unreliable, linear or fractured.  With spatial and temporal restrictions lifted, filmmaking gives people new ways to tell stories as well as share experiences, emotions, and observations.


Scene Breakdown: “The Seven Samurai” – Heihachi’s Funeral, from Michael McVey, Skiffleboom.com

Film as Art
Week 09 – Choosing Shots to Tell the Story, Assignment 9
By Michael McVey – April 22, 2010
Bunker Hill Community College – Charlestown, MA

Watch The Seven Samurai. Choose one scene and list each shot in it.
Identify what kind of camera angle was used (such as a wide shot, medium shot, close-up), any camera movements (dolly, pan, zoom, tilt), and a description of the action occurring in the scene (the movement of the actors, and so forth).

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The Seven Samurai – Heihachi’s Funeral

The samurai bury Heihachi after he dies during a raid. The farmers and samurai mourn his loss. The wild Kikuchiyo galvanizes the village with Heihachi’s flag. At that moment, bandits attack that village.

Low-angle, Long shot of the hillside. Encircled by villagers, the samurai bow before Heihachi’s grave mound. The wind blows.

Low-angle, Medium long shot of samurai. This a zoomed shot at the same angle – the samurai perform the burial ritual.

Low-angle, Medium long shot of Kikuchiyo, framed left. This is an even closer view, same angle. The camera tracks Kikuchiyo as he plunges Heihachi’s sword into his grave, then sits, despondent.

Return to Low-angle, Long shot of the hillside. The samurai and farmers kneel before Heihachi’s grave mound.

Medium, Low-angle shot of Kambei and Gorōbei, with Heihachi’s sword in the foreground. The two samurai speak of Heihachi and the hard times to come.

Medium, Low-angle shot of Rikichi and the farmers kneeling at the grave. As the farmers mourn, Rikichi breaks down and hugs the dirt, crying in despair. His actions accidently lead to Heihachi’s death. The camera pans left, following Rikichi as he snaps.

Return to Low-angle, Medium long shot of Kikuchiyo, framed left. Kikuchiyo yells at Rikichi to stop crying. The camera tilts as he stands.

Low-angle, Long shot of the hillside. Kikuchiyo yells at everyone to stop crying. He runs down the hillside.

Medium long shot, panning right to left, tracking Kikuchiyo. Kikuchiyo runs through the village.

Long shot to Medium, tracking the movement of Kikuchiyo run through the village and into the samurai’s quarters. The camera pulls back as Kikuchiyo enters the building and pans left as he grabs Heihachi’s flag, then scrambles outside.

Long shot, low angle. The camera tilts up as Kikuchiyo climbs the thatched roof.

Wide shot with Samurai in the foreground, and Kikuchiyo on the roof in the distance. Kikuchiyo plants the flag in the thatched roof. The samurai see the flag and turn towards it.

Close-up on Heihachi’s flag. The flag stands tall, waving in the fierce wind.

Return to Low-angle, Long shot of the hillside. The farmers and samurai all turn to the flag.

Medium shot of farmers. The male farmers jockey for position, fixing eyes on the flag.

Return to Close-up on Heihachi’s flag. The flag waves.

Medium shot of farmers. The female farmers look on, teary eyed.

Extreme close-up of flag. The camera tilts down on the flag’s symbols.

Medium close-up of farmers. Tears roll down the farmer’s cheeks. One farmer kneels in the foreground, the others stand in the background, mourning.

Return to Low-angle, Long shot of the hillside. The village stands together, staring at the flag.

Return to Extreme close-up of flag. Again, the camera tilts down on the flag’s symbols.

Medium shot of Kikuchiyo on the roof. Kikuchiyo sits, cradling himself under the flag. Something in the distance suddenly alarms him.

Wide shot of the distant hills. Bandits on horseback gallop over the horizon.

Return to Medium shot of Kikuchiyo on the roof. Kikuchiyo alertly stands and runs to the roof’s edge as the camera pans left, tracking him. He announces the bandit arrival to the village. “Goddamn! Here they come!”


A Scene from “Casablanca” – Rick Helps the Bulgarian Couple, from Michael McVey, Skiffleboom.com

Film as Art
Week 08 Logical Storytelling, Assignment 8
By Michael McVey – April 21, 2010
Bunker Hill Community College – Charlestown, MA

Watch Casablanca. Chose a scene and identify what the hero wants. Choose one scene from the movie and describe what it is about by using Mamet’s method of analysis in one short paragraph. (What does the hero do in this scene to try and get what he wants?)

Casablanca: Rick Helps the Young Couple

About an hour into Casablanca, Rick helps a young Bulgarian couple desperate to reach America. Rick’s objective in the scene is to quietly facilitate the young couple. He needs to keep his help secret, to maintain his reputation. Rick does not want to see the newly wed Bulgarian girl forced to trade sexual favors for an exit visa. Rick sympathizes with the couple’s predicament – he does not want them to experience the pain of a compromised relationship. There are a few steps Rick takes to accomplish his objective.

Rick needs to secretly secure money for the couple’s exit visas. Rick enters the room and makes contact with the roulette dealer – a dealer who works for Rick. Rick straddles up to the young Bulgarian man. He advises the man to bet on 22. Rick needs to communicate with the dealer to fix the game. Rick repeats himself so that the dealer hears. The dealer correctly interprets Rick’s tone and look: roll a 22. The dealer rolls 22, and the man collects. Again, Rick advises the man to bet on 22. The dealer understands Rick’s unspoken orders. The man bets and wins. Rick succeeds in getting the Bulgarian couple enough money to exit Casablanca.

Rick’s second objective is to keep the whole affair quiet. Rick tells the man to cash out his chips and leave permanently. The man complies. Rick asks the dealer how they are doing? The dealer replies that they are down a couple thousand, and he winks knowingly. Since the other witnesses and participants work for Rick, the transaction remains secret. The Bulgarian woman approaches Rick and hugs him gratefully. This jeopardizes Rick’s objective of keeping his sentimental actions quiet. Rick coolly ends the hug and tells the woman her husband is “just a lucky guy.” He downplays the potentially emotional scene, keeping the whole affair quiet. Reputation intact, Rick succeeds in both helping the couple and maintaining secrecy. This scene is very efficient in handling Rick’s objectives. His goals are clear without being obvious. Rick’s true character is revealed, and the scene becomes more emotional by having characters conceal their emotions.


A Scene from “The Terminator” – Sarah Connor Watches Reese’s Interrogation Tape, from Skiffleboom.com

Film as Art – Bunker Hill Community College
Week 04 – Character and Dialogue, Assignment 4
Michael McVey
February 25, 2010

The Terminator
Sarah Connor watches Kyle Reese’s interrogation tape.

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Examine a scene where dialog is used and answer the questions:

1) How is character revealed through the actions they take?

On a television monitor, a tape plays: Kyle Reese sits handcuffed to a chair while Dr. Silberman questions him. The camera pans left to reveal Sarah Connor watching the tape, along with Dr. Silberman, Lieutenant Traxler, and Detective Vukovich.

Silberman sits front and center, amused by Reese’s outlandish tale. He laughs at the tape with Vukovich. Both men seem oblivious to the anxiety-wracked Sarah, who nervously chews her fingernails. Traxler gives them both a look of disgust—Silberman and Vukovich are insensitive to Sarah’s mental state.

We cut back to Reese on the monitor, explaining his circumstances. The handcuffs and questioning agitate Reese. He seethes with frustration—he is not convincing anyone with his bizarre story… except maybe Sarah. We cut to close-up of Traxler, tensely chewing gum. We cut to close-up of Sarah. She looks scared.

As Reese explains, Silberman pauses the tape. He tells everyone in the room how brilliant Reese’s elaborate story is. He clearly does not believe Reese. This inappropriate action demonstrates the Silberman’s egotism. He is too thrilled with career prospects to consider the murders, and their effect on Sarah. He resumes the tape.

Reese reaches his limit Silberman’s questioning. He realizes Silberman is not in any position to help him. Reese silences him and pleads directly to the camera. He warns about the Terminator to anyone who will listen. Officers attempt to subdue Reese. His fervor suggests he truly believes his mission is to protect Sarah. The fear in Sarah’s eyes suggests she may believe him.

The doctor stops the tape and apologizes. He realizes that he should not have exposed Sarah to Reese’s fear-inducing rant. The doctor shows a fleeting moment of responsibility. He is not a very good doctor if he is oblivious to Sarah’s nerves. Sarah asks Dr. Silberman if Reese is crazy. The doctor assures her Reese is insane. Traxler and Vukovich show Sarah some body armor. They explain the Terminator is likely a man wearing such protection. Traxler gives Sarah the armor so she can feel the weight. He is assuring. Vukovich explains how PCP may have been used to inhibit pain, but before he can tell an anecdote, Traxler gives him the armor to put away. Vukovich has clearly had a lot of experience, but Traxler is focused on nurturing Sarah back from her anxiety.


Traxler warmly suggests Sarah lie down and get some rest. He covers her with his jacket. He is protective and paternal. He assures Sarah of her safety, and she falls asleep, completely exhausted from the ordeal.

2) Are large chunks of information spilled out all at once or is it parceled out?

The information is parceled out. The time travel exposition is well handled. It feels natural—Reese responds to questioning because it is his best option to protect Sarah, given his situation. Scene is written to explain back story while revealing character. Protecting Sarah is Reese’s only concern. He tries to be convince Silberman, but his story is just too surreal for the doctor.


By framing the Reese/Silberman conversation as a pre-recorded tape on a monitor, we are able to focus on the reactions of the observing characters. We get the exposition, but we also see Sarah’s emotion state.

Traxler and Vukovich split assurance duties. The perceptive Traxler is clearly the better man for the job, as Vukovich seems insensitive. They divide up the rationalizations between them, helping calm Sarah. The Dr. Silberman’s dismissal of Reese’s story also helps Sarah relax.

3) How does the writer parcel the information? –Are the speakers saying exactly what is on their minds or are they using subtext getting at what they want to say by being indirect?

At first, Kyle Reese answers the line of questioning in an effort to win allies. When he realizes that his efforts are going nowhere, Reese screams exactly what is on his mind—Sarah is going to die unless the Terminator is stopped.

Dr. Silberman explains the intricacies of Reese’s “delusion,” but is more occupied by the possibilities of his career advancement. He sees great personal opportunity, and at one point, he refers to it as a career case.

Vukovich doesn’t say much, but it is clear he is a man of experience. His attempts at anecdotes allude to this. His insensitivity to Sarah’s emotional state is characteristic of a someone used to dealing with death and murder.


Traxler’s measured, collected manner of assuring Sarah reveals sensitivity. He is a thoughtful, empathic man who has her best interests at heart. He understands how traumatic the experience must be, and brings her a few steps closer to tranquility.

Sarah Connor is a nervous wreck. Her face and body language suggest she may believe Reese. She asks questions looking for support. The doctor and police officers assure her of her safety. She is too exhausted to process any more information. She accepts Traxler’s comforting words and falls asleep.


“American Beauty” – Identifying the Throughline, from Michael McVey, Skiffleboom.com

Film as Art
Week 10 – Identifying the Throughline, Assignment 10
Michael McVey – Bunker Hill Community College
April 27, 2010

Watch American Beauty. Identify the super-objective of a central character and describe this character’s throughline in detail.

American Beauty tells the story of Lester Burnham, played by Kevin Spacey. Lester is a middle-aged, unhappy suburbanite. He feels his American life is a joyless chore, and sets out to reclaim happiness. Lester’s pursuit of happiness is his super-objective.

The opening scenes establish Lester’s ennui. He has strained, distant relationships with his wife Carolyn and daughter Jane. The gay couple living next door, Jim and Jim are the only “normal” people Lester knows. Lester hates his job. At work, Lester is largely unappreciated, and is in danger of being let go by his undeserving superior Brad. Quitting this job will become one of Lester’s sub-objectives. At home, Carolyn is hypercritical and unsympathetic to Lester’s plight. She perceives him as a loser. Jane hides behind a wall of sarcasm.

Lester attends a local high school basketball game. His daughter Jane cheerleads. Lester sees Jane’s friend Angela, and is immediately smitten. Angela becomes the object of Lester’s desire, and he begins fantasizing about her.

Lester steals Angela’s number from Jane’s bedroom. He calls Angela, but hangs up immediately when Jane exits the shower. This is Lester’s first step towards his super-objective. He awkwardly attempts to contact Angela to begin a relationship – Lester associates having Angela with happiness. Sleeping with Angela becomes a critical sub-objective for Lester’s super-objective.

Later, Lester and Carolyn bicker at a party. When Carolyn flocks over to local real estate magnate Buddy King, Lester makes an awkward, honest comment. This embarrasses Carolyn, and Lester further embarrasses her with a protracted kiss in front of Buddy. Lester starts to cut loose a bit, taking another step towards his super-objective.

Lester’s young neighbor Ricky approaches him at the bar. Ricky and Lester retire outside for some recreational smoking. Lester enjoys himself and makes a connection with Ricky. He admires Ricky’s self-control and perceived freedom. Lester begins defining his super-objective based on some of Ricky’s qualities.

Jane brings Angela over to her house. Aware that Lester is fixated, Angela decides to flirt with him. Lester quickly falls into a semi-erotic fantasy. Later, Lester overhears Angela talking about him with Jane. She playfully teases Jane about her dad’s fixation. Lester hears Angela mention that he would be sexy if he worked out. Later, Lester goes into the garage, finds some weights, and works out in the buff. He is clearly motivated to get fit. Lester equates his fitness with Angela’s attraction. Fitness becomes a sub-objective, as it may result in attracting Angela, culminating with Lester’s super-objective.

Carolyn catches Lester masturbating during a nighttime fantasy. Lester defends his right to masturbate, as his wife does not service him. They argue about their mutual sexual frustration, and Carolyn brings up divorce. Lester quickly turns the tables on her, ending the argument. Lester seizes control from Carolyn and does not back down from her criticisms. This fosters the self-control needed for Lester to achieve his super-objective.

Lester starts running with Jim and Jim. He goes over to Ricky’s to buy weed. Getting high is a new sub-objective for Lester – it helps him to relax and enjoy life. Lester fondly recalls his youth to Ricky: flipping burgers, partying and having sex. Later, Lester smokes a joint in the garage while lifting weights. When Carolyn confronts him on his new social deviance, he retorts, telling her to leave. Lester’s exercise, habitual pot use, and devil-may-care attitude reflect his efforts pursuit of happiness (through irresponsibility).

Lester writes a sarcastic and biting performance review. Brad tries to fire Lester, but Lester counters by threatening blackmail and sexual harassment. Lester refuses to be a victim, turning the tables on his thankless employers. Lester gets a year’s salary as a severance package, and triumphantly leaves. Lester separates himself from the working rabble, gaining a degree of freedom.

Later in the evening, Lester eats dinner with his wife and daughter. Lester and Carolyn bicker, and Jane is forced to listen. When Jane tries to leave, Lester exerts authority, and Jane sits back down. Carolyn rants hysterically, refusing to quit. Again Lester exerts himself, smashing a plate against the wall. This silences Carolyn. Much of Lester’s earlier misery stemmed from his passivity. In this scene, Lester works on the sub-objective of reclaiming his familial authority. Lester exhibits more self-control, and he moves towards his super-objective.

Lester enjoys the spoils of his severance by purchasing a 1970 Pontiac Firebird. He also buys several toys. When Carolyn berates Lester yet again, Lester defuses her through compliments. He makes a move on her, and we sense a happier past. But before he can round second base, Carolyn breaks the mood, afraid Lester might spill beer on the couch. Lester cannot overcome the sub-objective of salvaging his family life. His wife’s obsession with material objects and appearances hurts their relationship. He gets angry with her material worship and chases her away. Despite acquiring material objects for himself, Lester is not happy.

We flash forward to Lester running through the neighborhood. He looks much happier and healthier. While Lester makes a health shake in his kitchen, he learns Angela will be sleeping over. Jane is embarrassed by her father’s obvious attraction to Angela, and shares her disgust. Lester calls his daughter a bitch, just like her mother. This hurts Jane, and she leaves. Lester still struggles with the sub-objective of normalizing his family relationships, which prevent him from obtaining his super-objective.

Later, Lester catches Carolyn having an affair with Buddy King. At the drive-thru Burger joint Lester works, Lester surprises the cheating couple. Carolyn sees Lester has been working a menial job, but Lester finds the work invigorating; there is little responsibility. Lester calmly dismisses Carolyn and Buddy. By cheating on Lester, she has relinquishes any authority over him. From his perspective, Carolyn’s transgression is liberating. Instead of feeling remorse or anger, Lester puts her affair in context of his super-objective. Not able to resolve his sub-objective with Carolyn, Lester is inadvertently given the liberation he needs to continue towards independence and self-control.

After Lester buys more pot from Ricky, Angela and Jane run into him in the kitchen. Angela flirts with Lester. Repulsed, Jane runs from the room. Lester flirts back, but Angela is clearly nervous, and goes to find Jane. Lester’s object of desire, seemingly the key to his super-objective, runs away from him.

Later, while working out in the garage, Lester is confronted by Ricky’s father, Colonel Fitts. The Colonel has mistakenly confused the relationship between his son and Lester. Thinking Lester is a homosexual, the repressed Colonel Fitts kisses Lester. Stunned, Lester gently rebuffs his advances. Overwhelmed, the Colonel stumbles into the rainy night. Lester’s calmly handles the awkward situation, suggesting comfort in his own skin. This grace suggests Lester is ever closer to realizing his super-objective.

Lester goes for a beer in the kitchen, and encounters Angela, sitting alone. She tells him about her fight with Jane, revealing to Lester that she thinks him sexy. Lester and Angela get intimate, and they begin kissing. Lester is within moments of having Angela, the catalyst of his super-objective. Lester takes off her clothes, and as they are about to make love, Angela tells Lester she is a virgin. At first he think she is joking, but he quickly realizes that Angela is sincere. In that moment, Angela stops becoming a fantasy and becomes a person to Lester. He covers her with a blanket and comforts her. In this moment, Lester embraces responsibility.

Throughout the film, Lester sheds the coils of societal expectation. Irresponsibility felt like the key to Lester’s super-objective of happiness. Ultimately, Lester balances out his selfish impulses with genuine care for others. He breaks through his lustful delusions to see an inexperienced, frightened teenager before him, and he gives her comfort and affection. Lester and Angela sit in the kitchen, where Angela eats. Lester asks her about Jane. Angela tells him that Jane is in love. This touches Lester. For the first time in the film, Lester is genuinely interested in his daughter. He is a father reborn. Angela asks how Lester feels. Lester replies “great.” It is this moment that Lester achieves his super-objective. He feels genuine happiness for the first time in ages.

Angela leaves the room for a moment, and Lester is murdered. His body lies on the table, a smile etched on his face. Even though the scene is bloody, there is a poetic beauty in Lester’s smile. Moments before his death, Lester discovers that honest love and affection for others is essential to happiness. Lester recovers from his journey of irresponsibility and realizes that happiness requires balance between selfishness and selflessness. His final moments are happy: Lester attains his super-objective.