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Monday, May 9, 2016

Let's Get Critical: Part II

Last week, we launched Let's Get Critical—a three-part series highlighting film criticism generated as part of BAM Education's Young Film Critics program. After the jump, immerse yourself in writing on 1973's American Graffiti and 2013's Fruitvale Station.

Photo: Photofest

American Graffiti (1973)
Directed by George Lucas

Jake Fenniman, Junior
Bay Ridge Preparatory School

Photo: Mariel Kon
American Graffiti (1973) was written and directed by George Lucas and produced by Francis Ford Coppola. (It was produced with a mere $777,000 dollar budget and managed to gross $140 million.) The film has a strong early 1960s coming of age theme; we meet best friends Curt (Richard Dreyfus) and Steve (Ron Howard) on the last night of summer. Curt doesn’t want to go to college while Steve wants to separate from his girlfriend for the time being and go to college. As the movie goes on their ideas swap, and at the end Curt leaves for college while Steve decides not to go.

The film’s soundtrack is mostly the early years of rock and roll of the mid-late 1950s (Bill Haley & His Comets, Elvis Presley, and Buddy Holly). It influenced other films like The Lords of Flatbush, Cooley High, and the television show Happy Days. American Graffiti established the idea of the summer blockbuster, but it wasn’t until Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) that the concept took hold. American Graffiti was said by David Fincher to have inspired the look of his Fight Club and Attack of the Clones.

In 1995, the United States Library of Congress deemed American Graffiti "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" and selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry.

American Graffiti was successful, inspirational, well made, and had fantastic music. It struck a chord with me—having a brother that has recently left for college, and now I’m looking for a college. I will probably lose a bunch of my friends when we go our separate ways, which is somewhat similar to how Steve was losing his girlfriend over the span of a night. I won’t waste the time, I’ll just enjoy it.

Photo: Photofest

Fruitvale Station (2013)
Directed by Ryan Coogler

Solamon Quigley, Junior
Brooklyn High School of Music and Theater

Photo: Mariel Kon
After watching Fruitvale Station, I had many feelings going on in my head and my heart. In my opinion, the movie’s objective was to make us see and understand the main character, Oscar (Michael B. Jordan), as a person and not just the victim of a tragedy. The filmmakers didn't show him as a perfect and happy man; instead, it showed us his bad and good characteristics, making him more human and easier for the audience to relate to. The chemistry between him and his family felt real, almost like my relationship to my own family. We see Oscar’s sadness and anger, but we also see him as a dependable, strong character, someone who will do anything to protest the people that he loves.

I also love that the movie covers a very brief period of time, the last 24 hours of Oscar’s life. I believe that this structure helps send a message to the audience about how time works in our lives. I also loved that many of the shots in the film were from Oscar’s point of view. This also made it easier to relate to his life. As a filmmaker, I loved the cinematography, and I must say that the use of sound really grabbed me. This movie taught me that silence can be just as strong as a diagetic or non-diagetic soundtrack. Silence can produce an emotional response that is just as powerful as dialogue and music. I watched this movie a few times, and my opinion has not changed at all. Although it is not a film for everyone, Fruitvale Station has much to teach us about the value of life, family, and time.

Blaine McIndoe, Sophomore
Professional Performing Arts School PPAS

Out of all the amazing movies I watched in the Young Film Critics program, Ryan Coogler’s Fruitvale Station has to be my favorite. Since this movie was the first full-length movie we watched, it made it the obvious choice to write about. The strong choices of the director were enough to convince anyone that this movie is great, but there are a few more things that make this movie special.

The way the story was told itself is reason enough to make this movie great. The director chose to simply show us the last 24 hours of Oscar’s (Michael B. Jordan) life, up to his death. More than any documentary film could, this made him more human. Fruitvale presented Oscar not as a saint or a victim, but simply as a normal guy with normal flaws. He is just like the rest of us, and that means that what happened to him could happen to any of us. It made him relatable, which makes him a tragic hero.

Photo: Mariel Kon
The subtle use of the camera foreshadows trouble, while normal life was unfolding all around. The hand-held shots made it feel like the audience was walking through every moment of the story with Oscar drawing us immediately into his world. One moment in particular that really caught my eye was at the end, when the mother and the daughter are in the shower and the mother has to tell the daughter that her beloved father is dead. We never actually see or hear the mother say it; we just see the daughter looking up at the mother with big eyes, and then the screen goes black. This reinforces the idea that the moments that are not shown often really have the biggest effect sometimes. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that even though we know what’s going to happen, the filmmaker and the actors keep the tension high throughout the film.

You don’t exactly walk away from Fruitvale Station with a lesson, or even a specific desire to go out into the world and change things. It simply shows what happened, the little moments that made this ordinary man’s life seem extraordinary. This movie made me happy to be alive, and as cheesy as it sounds, it made me appreciate life more; after all, who knows when you might be living your last 24 hours?

Stay tuned for part III of this year's Young Film Critics series, featuring reviews of 1933's Zéro de conduite.

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