Monday, April 15, 2013

The Manipulation/Stifling of Emotion in Film and the Media

Last year, I became a film studies minor here at BSU, and I must say, learning about technical strategies and effects in films has really opened my eyes to how they affect the viewer.  If someone were to ask you why a director made a certain lighting choice in a certain scene of a certain film, you would most likely reply something like "in order to give such and such a mood to the scene," and that would be the end of it, right?  You might have a different opinion, but that would my answer.  It never dawned on me before, however, how such effects really manipulate the viewer's emotions.  It's just the next step in the cause > effect chain, but I'd never taken it that far, even being such a movie fanatic for so long.

To demonstrate this manipulation of the emotions by technique, I'll present an example from a clip of Robert Wise's 1947 noir film Born to Kill.  The part I will be referring to is specifically from about 4:00-4:40 in the video below.

The video shows all of this, but in case you didn't watch it all, the part from 4:00-4:40 takes place directly after a man and woman are murdered by the woman's boyfriend of sorts for "stepping out" on him with said man.  The woman seen peeking in through the doorway is an acquaintance of the murdered woman, simply trying to return her dog to the house.  When she peers inside, she is met with the sight of a man's hand connected to an unseen body, and a woman's legs, the rest of her figure laying in shadow, also unseen.  They are obviously dead.  Page 109 of Wes D. Gehring's book, Robert Wise: Shadowlands, references this technique, saying, "In cinematically reducing the victims to mere body parts, Wise has metaphorically permeated the sequence with the torment of a horror-film dismemberment, without the gratuitous violence of the Saw series."  This sentiment has stuck with me over the past few days.  It is really true that, by showing the audience only the hand and the pair of legs, Wise makes them seem less of people and more of objects, like the dismembered limbs of numerous modern day hack-em-up horror films.  This view of them will give any viewer an eerie, gruesome, even macabre feeling to accompany the scene, something that could not be done if the camera were to simply reveal two dead bodies laying on the floor.

The whole concept reminded me of the "Independent Media in a Time of War"video that we watched in class back in February, and its mention of how the media refuses to show us the more gruesome images of war, the twisted, burned bodies, the serious injuries, especially when they're children.  Based on how I've demonstrated that the effects in this scene of Born to Kill make the outcome more macabre, just as gruesome photos of war already are, and incite emotions in the viewer, it becomes clear that the media is trying to avoid inciting similar emotions in its audience.  It seems a simple point to make after so much speculation, but does everyone completely agree with it?  Any objections?  What are your thoughts?


  1. My first instinct here is to believe that the media censors the horrible violence that happens in war, particularly wars that our country is invested in, to keep us (citizens) "in the fight." If people really knew how terrible war was, I believe that most of us would be inclined to get as many of our troops back into the US as soon as possible. Interestingly, I noticed that I was seeing some really graphic images of the bombings in Boston when that was happening. Why would they show us those images but refrain from showing us graphic images from Afghanistan?

  2. I hadn't really thought about it before the way John puts it, but that's an interesting point and I guess it does make sense.

    We watched a really horrible video filmed during the holocaust of people using bulldozers to push bodies in to mass graves in English 444 a couple weeks ago. At the time I wondered why I had never seen that before and I think its just too awful, but I don't think the news programs are protecting us from the horrible things that happen because like John said, they had no problem showing gruesome photos from the Boston bombings. I think when you think about the troops in the Middle East we really do not want to know whats actually going on over there so why would they show us?