Begin reading Their Eyes Were Watching God, and answer the following questions based on chapter 1-12
During the era of modernity, improvements in modes of production and working conditions with consequent changes to living conditions, social structure, economic prosperity and primacy of the individual, shaped a ‘belief in progress and development’ which provided key trope for modernist artists (Gay, 2008). It will be demonstrated that the influence of the social, political, and economic conditions of modernity as shown through the responses of four prominent early 20th century film makers. Again, it will also be elaborated how some celebrating the changes whilst others sceptical of the consequences, exposes and overarching belief in progress and development as the way to a utopian society. Finally, the belief in progress and development (in consequence to the changed conditions of modernity) is clearly communicated trough the examples of the prominent early 20th century modernist films will be verified.
Modernity is the shared human experience of enormous change to the socio-political and economic conditions of everyday life. Industrialization of production, caused by the discoveries of science and technology, generated a need of mass employment. In response, large populations of people left their ancestral lifestyles to relocate to the cities which then required the development of new human environments to house this rapid urban population growth (Berman, 2010) Greater levels of employment lead to wealth distribution and economic prosperity thereby resulting in the emergence of a middle class. Disposable income and more leisure time created both a market place and audience for the art (Gay, 2008).
Large urban populations and continually developing communication system linked people of diverse backgrounds and facilitated the formation of social movements culminating in the emergence of ‘a voice of individual’ (Berman, 2010). This changed modern world in the 19th and early 20th centuries produced hopeful expectation thus shaping ‘the idea of progress’ as the path to a perceived improved society (Walsh,1992). Artists of all genres responded to this belief in progress and due to the primacy of the individual and permission for self-expression, the arts became a platform for social comment (Wolf, 2016).
Russian film maker Dziga Vertov and German film maker Walter Ruttman both communicate their underlying belief in progress and development by embracing the impact of technology as an improvement to society, however not all modernist film initially reflects this same optimistic outlook. The films of Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera’ (1929) and Ruttmann’s ‘Berlin: Symphony of a Great City’ (1927) act as a celebration of work system changes brought about by modernity (Howe,2013). Both silent films are fast-paced, surreal montages of scenes compromises of people at work and play interacting with the modern machinery of the time. Although lacking of any storyline, the main character of these films is technology as both films act as a celebratory showcase of its capability and positive influence on everyday life (Dimendberg,1997). aaaaaa
Warnings of the dehumanization process of man becoming part of the machine as a consequence of industrialization is a key theme expressed by other modernist film makers. Due to this dehumanization process, industrial workers were experiencing increasingly anxiety, justifiably fearing that they would lose either their jobs to automation. Even if one were fortunate enough to be employed, industrial practices, as the anonymous writer notes, had “replaced man permanently as a source of energy and … installed him in a new and limitable function as a tender of machines”. In other words, industrialization was rendering workers into what the title of the article calls “Obsolete Men.” Charlie Chaplin uses humour as a toll to convey this cautionary idea via his silent movie, ‘Modern Times’ (1936). Chaplin’s tramp character is cast as factory worker caught up in machinery operating at an impossible rate. Scenes of various disasters caused by the loss of rhythm of the production line, as well as being caught up and moving inside the complexities of the cogs and workings of the machine make for a light hearted delivery of his intended warning (Howe, 2013). Fritz Lang in his movie ‘Metropolis’ (1927) communicates his criticism of the dehumanizing factory and scenes of workers moving rhythmically in sync as if parts of the massive machine, express a strong statement about mans’ enslavement to the machine (Murphy, 2007). Dehumanization was not the only consequence of industrialization critiqued through modernist films, as class struggle was also cause for comment.
Class stratification, another key motif of the early 20th century modernist film, was characteristic of the industrialized society. From the late 18th century, class had been seen, almost without question, as the key to understanding dynamics of modern world. Vertov’s ‘Man with a Movie Camera (1927) show an acceptance of class difference as footage of both films infer all classes of society interact happily together. In contrast, the key theme of the narratives of both ‘Modern Times’ (1936) and ‘Metropolis’ (1927) is the criticism of the imbalance of power between a capital class in control of technology and its labouring working class (Howe, 2013). Lang visually demonstrates this simply by the structuring of his fictitious city Metropolis; the modern city on the surface, easily interpreted as above and more civilized in juxtaposition to the underground, buried-below conditions of the working class, alluding to the idea of heaven versus hell (Byrne, 2003). Both Lang and Chaplin warn of the dangers of an increasing class division in a capitalist society as the consequence of industrialization through their works.
Although these prominent modernist film makers, as social commentators, react both positively and sceptically to the changes of society during modernity, the overarching optimistic consensus of the ‘belief in progress and development’ is indicated by the offering of utopian outcomes or ideas for solutions. Vertov and Ruttman communicate this belief in the making of these two above-mentioned films as a ‘celebration’ of modern urban life. Lang’s ‘Metropolis’ (1927) exposes his utopian ideals, not only by the main characters of the working and ruling class finding romance and then facilitating the solution to the proletarian revolution, but particularly by the concluding message “The mediator between head and hands must be the heart!” (Pommer & Lang, 1927). This suggests that Lang’s ‘belief in progress ultimately leading to a better society’, compelled him to both acknowledge the possible problems of industrialization and class struggle, and more importantly offer solutions (Smith, 2005). Chaplin’s optimistic statement “Buck up – never say die. We’ll get along” (Chaplin, 1936) as the ending of the movie ‘Modern Times’ (1936) in answer to the narrative life struggle of the working class main characters, also reveals his message of hope in the belief that progress will ultimately improve society (Howe, 2013). Both Film makers offer of a hopeful future outcome as the ending of their films, which overrides their themes of the problems caused by industrialized society and exposes their core belief in progress towards utopia.
The interpretive analysis of the discussed examples of early 20th century modernist film confirms the film makers overarching belief in progress and development as the path to an ideal society, despite the themes of scepticism of some. The influence of the social, political, and economic conditions of modernity, that both afforded the freedom of expression allowing the arts to become a platform for social comment and also provided key trope for this modernist films, is evident.