Thea B31 - Fall STUDY GUIDE- CH 10 Ideology
a) a set of values & priorities--a body of ideas reflecting the social needs & aspirations of an
individual, group, class or culture. The term ideology is generally associated with politics &
party platforms, but it can also mean a given set of values that are implicit in any human
b) Virtually every movie presents us with role models, ideal ways of behaving, negative traits
& an implied morality based on the filmmaker’s sense of right & wrong.--every film has a slant,
a given ideological perspective that shows certain characters, institutions, behaviors & motives
as attractive….. & downgrades an opposing set as negative or repellent.
c) The tradition of classical cinema avoids the extremes of didacticism (look up this word) &
pure abstraction-- but even ‘light entertainment movies’ are steeped in value judgments.
Classical filmmakers want their movies to speak for themselves & the viewers can absorb the
ideological values without being aware of it as in Pretty Woman--1990 w/Julia Roberts &
Movies are highly variable in their ‘degree’ of ideological explicitness.
II: The three broad ideological categories most films can be classified in are:
NEUTRAL. Escapist films & light entertainment movies often bland out the social environment
in favor of a vaguely benevolent setting that allows the story to take place smoothly. The
emphasis is on action, pleasure & entertainment values for their own sake. Issues of right &
wrong are treated superficially, with little or no analysis, as in Bringing up Baby--a 1938
screwball comedy with Cary Grant & Katherine Hepburn.
The most extreme examples of this category are nonrepresentational avant-garde films like
Allures & Rhythmus 21 which are virtually devoid of ideology; their values are mainly aesthetic-
-a color, a shape, a kinetic swirl.
IMPLICIT (implies-hints at) The protagonists & antagonists represent conflicting value
systems, but these are not dwelled on, but rather ‘implied’. Nobody spells out the “moral of the
story”. The materials are slanted in a particular direction, but transparently, without obvious
manipulation as in Splash (1984 film w/Daryl Hannah & Tom Hanks--she is a beautiful mermaid
Hanks falls in love with). This film is a symbolic fantasy which explores fundamental values
about loyalty, family, work & commitment.)
*The overwhelming majority of fiction films fall into the implicit category.
EXPLICIT. Thematically oriented movies aim to teach or persuade as much as to entertain.
Patriotic films, many documentaries, political films like Oliver Stone’s JFK & movies with
sociological emphasis such as John Singleton’s Boyz ‘N the Hood fall under
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this category. Usually an admirable character articulates the values that are really important, like
Bogart’s famous speech at the end of Casablanca & John Wayne’s films.
John Wayne was associated in the public mind with ‘right-wing’ ideology. Most of his roles
were military commanders, western heroes, law & order advocates & authoritarian patriarchs. In
private life, he was an outspoken conservative, an America-first patriot who championed respect
for authority, family values & military supremacy.
The most extreme examples of the explicit category include propaganda films, which
repeatedly advocate a partisan point of view with an overt appeal to our sympathy &
In the American cinema especially:
a) the star system is often a clue to values, especially when the protagonist is played by a
personality star like John Wayne.
b) Actor stars are less likely to be ideologically weighted. Glenn Close has played villainous
characters (101 Dalmatians) as well as admirable heroines (Out of Africa).
c) Good looks & sex appeal are compelling traits predisposing us in favor of a given
character. --Sometimes an actor’s appeal is so strong that he or she can win over an
audience even in ideologically opposite roles like Tom Cruise in the right-leaning
Top Gun or the left-wing Born on the Forth of July.
d) Underdogs almost automatically win us over to their side.
e) Emotionally vulnerable characters appeal to our protective instincts.
f) People who are funny, charming, and /or intelligent are similarly wining. -In fact, these
traits can do much to soften our dislike of an otherwise negative character. -In The Silence
of the Lambs, the character of ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’ (Anthony Hopkins) is a psychotic
killer who eats his victims, he’s also witty & imaginative & we are oddly attracted to
him….at least from a distance.
g) Negatively drawn characters incorporate such traits as selfishness, mean spiritedness,
greed, cruelty, tyrannical behavior, disloyalty & so on. Villains & other repellent
characters are often played by actors who are ‘made to look’ unattractive (Robt. DeNiro in
Cape Fear). *The more explicit the ideology, the more such traits are portrayed without
Most film characters combine positive & negative traits--This is especially so in movies that
purport to be ‘lifelike & realistic’.
Some filmmakers are so technically skillful that we can be swept up by a character’s values even
when we don’t hold them in actuality. -For example, many of the positive values of D.W.
Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation are embodied in the character of “the little colonel”--one of the
founders of the Ku Klux Klan.
Thea B31 Ch 10 STUDY GUIDE 3.
Ideology is another language system in film.
a) Dialects can be ideological, editing styles--especially a manipulative style like Soviet
montage in the Odessa Steps sequence from Potemkin--can be profoundly ideological.
b) Costumes & decor can suggest ideological ideas. Even space is ideologically charged. In
other words, political ideas can be found in form as well as content.
*Absolutely study & understand this section!!
III. THE LEFT-CENTER-RIGHT MODEL In politics, the extreme leftist position would be
communism under Stalin; at the extreme right, the Nazi empire under Hitler. Both extremes are
totalitarian systems, of course.
a. Democratic Versus Hierarchical
1) Leftists tend to emphasize the similarities among people, believe that a society’s resources
should be distributed in roughly equal portions. Authority figures are merely skilled managers &
not intrinsically superior to the people they are responsible to. Important institutions should be
publicly owned. The emphasis is on the collective, the communal.
2) Rightists believe that character is largely inborn & genetically inherited. Hence, the
emphasis of many right-wingers on lineage & the advantage of coming from “a good family”.
b. Relative Versus Absolute
1. People on the left believe that we ought to be flexible in our judgments, capable of
adjusting to the specifics of each case. Children are characteristically raised in a permissive
environment & encouraged in self-expression. Moral values are merely social conventions, not
eternal verities. Issues of right & wrong must be placed in social context, including any
mitigating circumstances before we can judge them fairly.
2. Rightists are more absolute in judging human behavior. Children are expected to be
disciplined, respectful & obedient to their elders. Right & wrong are fairly clear-cut & ought to
be evaluated according to a strict code of conduct, as in Pinocchio. Violations of moral
principles ought to be punished to maintain law & order & to set an example for others.
c. Secular Versus Religious
1. Leftists believe that religion, like sex, is a private matter & should not be the concern of
governments. Some left-wingers are atheists or agnostics, although some of the most famous
have been members of the clergy, like the leaders of the American Civil Rights movement in the
1960s. Most leftists are humanists.
2. Rightists accord religion a privileged status. Some authoritarian societies decree an official
faith for all their citizens & nonbelievers are sometimes treated as second-class citizens if
tolerated at all. The clergy enjoy a prestigious status & are respected as moral arbiters. Piety is
regarded as a sign of superior virtue & spirituality.
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d. Future Versus Past
1. leftists view the past with disdain because it was dominated by ignorance, class conflict &
exploitation of the weak. The future on the other hand, is filled with hope, with infinite promise
of improvement. The optimism that typifies many left-wingers is based on the idea of progress
& evolution toward a more just & equitable society.
2. People on the right have a deep veneration for the past, for ancient rituals & especially for
tradition. Rightists tend to disdain the present as a corruption of a lost golden age, like John
Ford’s The Man Who Shot liberty Valance - a revisionist western. Rightists tend to be
pessimistic about the human condition. Many of the films of Ingmar Bergman reflect this
e. Cooperation Versus Competition
1. People on the left believe that social progress is best achieved by a cooperative effort on
the part of all citizens toward a common goal.
The role of government is to guarantee the basic needs of life--work, health, education, etc & this
can be most efficiently accomplished if everyone feels he or she is contributing to the common
2. Rightists emphasize open market principles & the need for competition to bring out the
best in everyone, as in Safety Last ( 1923 silent film w/Harold Lloyd) a classic film text of the
American “go-getter” philosophy of the 1920s. Social progress is fueled by ambition & a strong
desire to win-to dominate. The role of the government is to protect private property, provide
security through a strong military & guarantee maximum freedom, ‘at least in the economic
f. Outsiders Versus Insiders
1. Leftists identify with the poor, the disenfranchised. They often romanticize rebels &
outsiders like Bonnie & Clyde & Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Leftists are pluralistic in the
sense they respect & value ethnic diversity & are sensitive to the needs of women & minorities.
Left-leaning movies often feature protagonists who are ordinary people, especially working-class
characters, peasants & laborers.
2. Rightists tend to identify with “the Establishment”--the people in power, the people who
run things. They emphasize the importance of leadership in determining the main course of
history, as in Rambo films & Henry V. Right-leaning movies tend to feature protagonists who
are authority figures, patriarchs, military commanders & entrepreneurs as in The Searchers,
Patton & Bugsy.
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f. International Versus Nationalistic
1. Leftists are global in their perspective, emphasizing the universality of human needs
irrespective of country, race or culture. They often refer to “the family of man” as a more
appropriate perspective than the narrow limits of the nuclear family.
2. Right-wingers tend to be strongly patriotic, often regarding people from other countries as
vaguely inferior. “Family, Country & God” is a popular slogan in many right-wing societies.
American director, John Ford’s epic westerns are fervently nationalistic--Wagon Master, My
Darling Clementine & Fort Apache to name three. Right wingers believe that criticism weakens
a nation, making it more vulnerable to outside attack.
g. Sexual Freedom Versus Marital Monogamy
1. Leftists believe that who you have sex with is nobody else’s business. they often accept
homosexuality as a valid lifestyle, as in Gods & Monsters (about the last days of the British
director James Whale, who was openly homosexual), Philadelphia & they reject attempts to
regulate sexual behavior among consenting adults. In the area of reproduction, leftists
emphasize privacy, personal choice & non interference. Birth control--including abortion as well
as contraception--is regarded as a basic right.
2. Rightists regard the family as a sanctified institution & anything that threatens the family is
viewed with hostility, as in ford’s The Grapes of Wrath. Premarital sex, homosexuality &
extramarital sex are condemned. Right wingers tend to oppose abortion, which they consider a
form of infanticide. Heterosexual monogamy within the institution of marriage is the only
acceptable expression of sexuality as can be illustrated by most American mainstream movies
before the 1960s.
*Even ideologically explicit movies don’t hit on all of these value structures, but virtually
every fiction film deals with some of them.
IV. CULTURE, RELIGION & ETHNICITY
Cultural generalizations--like most generalizations--are true most of the time, but there are many
exceptions, especially in the arts, which often go against the grain in terms of generally accepted
cultural norms. Japanese movies, like Japanese society in general, tend to be ideologically
conservative. Third world filmmakers are often left-wind in their orientation, championing the
cause of the poor, the forgotten & the despised.
Every nation has a characteristic way of looking at life, a set of values that is typical of a given
culture. Films with an ethnic slant are generally mounted in a realistic style to depict the
authentic textures of everyday life & usually dramatize the tensions between the dominant
culture & the beleaguered values of a minority community. Boyz ‘N the Hood is a powerful
coming-of-age drama set in the mean streets of the black ghettos of Los Angeles. At 22 yrs
Thea B31 Ch 10 Study Guide 6.
of age, director, John Singleton made this debut film on a small budget & was the youngest
director in history to be nominated for an Acad. Award in directing.
a. Because of England’s glorious literary heritage & international preeminence in the live
theater, British movies tend to be strongly literary, with an emphasis on polished scripts, literate
dialogue, urbane acting & lavish costumes & decor. There is always The Other--a *counter
tradition that’s dialectically opposed to what might be considered the dominant strain in a
culture. The counterculture of filmmaking in Britain is represented by a left-wing school of
filmmaking that emphasizes working-class life, contemporary settings, regional dialects, loose
scripting, a more emotional method-oriented style of acting & a strong antiestablishment
b. The cinema of Sweden is dominated by the austere Lutheranism that underlies the psychology
of many Swedish movies--especially those of their greatest filmmaker, Ingmar Bergman.
An added complication of any ideological analysis involves period & historical context. Amer.
films made during the Depression in the 1930s reflect many of the left-wing values of
Roosevelt’s New Deal. During the turbulent Vietnam-Watergate era (roughly 1965-75), the
American cinema became increasingly violent, confrontational, antiauthoritarian. During the
Regan era of the 1980s, American movies turned to the right, like American society in general.
Many movies made during that period emphasize military supremacy, competition, power &
Religious values involve many of the same complexities. Like Roman Catholicism, even though
purported to be universal, Catholic churches are radically different from country to country.
These differences are reflected in their movies.
The 1960s was an era of intense political turmoil, not only in America, but also much of Western
Europe. Feminism--also known as the Women’s Liberation Movement, was one of several
militant ideologies that emerged during this period. “Cinderella Syndrome”—Pretty Woman
During the heyday of the big Hollywood studios--especially the 1930s through the 1950s--the
status of women within the industry was dismal. There were no women in the upper echelons of
management. There were some women in the areas of screenwriting, editing & costuming, but
only in the field of acting did women enjoy a degree of prominence. After all, it was simply not
economically feasible to exclude women from in front of the camera. Even female stars were
treated like second-class citizens during the big studio era. Males got top billing, female stars
had shorter careers as they were felt to be ‘too old’ for leading roles once they were past forty.
Male stars like Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, John Wayne continued to play leading roles into their
60s, but opposite much younger women (sometimes 20-30yrs younger)—made them look more
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Women were treated as sex objects. Their main function was to support their men, seldom to
lead a fulfilling life of their own. Certain characteristics were regarded intrinsically “masculine”:
intellect, ambition, sexual confidence, independence, professionalism--all of these traits were
generally presented as inappropriate & unseemly in women.
Certain Hollywood genres were more hospitable to women-love stories, domestic family dramas,
screwball & romantic comedies, musical & women’s pictures--usually domestic & melodramas
emphasizing a female star & focusing on “typical” female concerns such as getting (or holding
onto) a man, raising children, or balancing a career with marriage.
Today there are about two dozen female directors working in the mainstream Hollywood film
industry. The range of female roles has broadened considerably since the 1960s. Thelma &
Louise, Alien, etc.
VI. Gay liberation-“coming out” films, Civil Rights Movement
The Gay Liberation movement drew much of its inspiration from other revolutionary groups of
the 1960s, especially Feminism & the Black Liberation Movement.
Homosexuality is commonplace in the arts & entertainment fields, where it isn’t regarded as
relevant to talent. Bisexuality is even more common. In the larger society, however, the
hostility toward gays has been so strong that most artists--especially actors--have gone to
considerable lengths to conceal their sexual identity. Bisexual film stars like Marlene Dietrich,
Cary Grant, Errol Flynn & James Dean were regarded as straight in their own day. Very few
people, outside of show business, knew that Montgomery Clift & Rock Hudson were gay. Such
public knowledge would undermine their credibility as romantic leading men, they believed.
Look at what publicly coming out did for Ellen DeGenres & Rosie!! In this day & age, probably
most of us don’t care what lifestyle they choose. We mostly oppose having it flaunted in our
Before Gay Lib, homophobia, like racism & sexism was widespread in the cinema. Gay men
were characteristically stereotyped as “sissies” & “Pansies.” Lesbians were portrayed as
mannish “bull dykes.” In some of the earlier heterosexual films, homosexual undertones were
implied. Most characters played by Elisha Cook, Jr & Peter Lorre in The Maltese Falcon are
gay. Other movies w/gay subtexts are Ben Hur, The Outlaw, Rebel Without a Cause, Spartacus
& others. After the ‘60s, movies dealing overtly w/gay themes became more common,
especially in Amer. & Europe. Many of these movies portrayed gays as deeply neurotic, sex-
obsessed & self-loathing. Often they ended with the gay character committing suicide. Such
important movies as Dog Day Afternoon, Cabaret, Sunday Bloody Sunday, Working girls, La
Cage aux Folles, Longtime Companions & Philadelphia are multi-dimensional in their treatment
of gay characters.
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The camp sensibility is especially associated with the culture of male homosexuals, though it’s
not their exclusive province. Female heterosexuals like Mae West, Carol Burnett & Bette Midler
are strongly campy in their work. Camp delights in artistic excess, anything artificial kitschy &
florid--like the cult classic The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Camp frequently uses theatrical
metaphors: role-playing, hammy performances & life-as-theater comparisons. Lavishly gaudy
costumes & sets--anything in really bad taste are also campy.
A movie’s tone refers to its manner of presentation, the general atmosphere that a filmmaker
creates through his or her attitude toward the dramatic materials. Tone can strongly affect our
responses to a given set of values. Tone can be elusive in movies--especially in those works in
which it deliberately shifts form scene to scene---ie: David Lynch’s Blue Velvet, we can never be
sure of what to make of the events, because Lynch’s tone is sometimes mocking, other times
bizarre & occasionally terrifying.
A film’s tone can be orchestrated in a number of ways:
*Genre--epic films are generally presented with a dignified, larger=than-life importance. The
best thrillers are usually tough, mean& hard-boiled. In comedies, the tone is generally flip,
playful & even silly.
*Voice-over narrator can be useful for setting a tone that’s different form an objective
presentation of a scene--a double perspective on events. Voice-overs can be ironic, (Sunset
Blvd) sympathetic (Dances w/Wolves), paranoid (Taxi Driver) or cynical (Clockwork Orange-
narrated by a thug)
*Music is a common way to establish a movie’s tone (banjos/harmonica-westerns--not big city
folks), rock n’roll different from Mozart or Ray Charles.
In Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, the Ital. Amer. scenes were accompanies by Frank Sinatra songs
whereas the African-American scenes are underscored by gospel & soul music.