MIDTERM ESSAY PROMPT
ALPHEN POSTMEYER GRAYGS
Mrs. Jaa-Haji, Film Studies
Scores judged out of 100
Study a film of biographical or autobiographical nature. Write 9-11 paragraphs in accordion style on how the film portrays a character, whether it is biased or not, and how we can be lead to believe certain characteristics by cinematography, shot angle, color balancing, musical score, or any of the other cinematic tools we’ve discussed in class. Reference Snow’s Art in Optics: Cinematics are the New Memor or Leshay’s Fractured Narrative for quotations. Cite ALL sources.
“Truth? I don’t try to tell the truth in my movies. I try to lie as hard and as fast as I can. I try to make my lie so wild they’ll
never find me. Because undoubtedly they do, the audience. They always find you out there in your garden of lies. And how
they judge you? Well that’s just a matter of how much and how long you entertained them.”
– BV Horacek, director of A Song for Archer
2x Winner of the Academy Award for Best Orig. Screenplay
Human survival is often the subject of great movies. Sometimes humans must survive wars or aliens or large amphibious monsters which are sort of aliens too. Other times they have to survive other humans, greedy humans or angry humans. And maybe the greatest story of all is when a human has to survive some time by themself. In director Jen Hanson’s biographical film Those Dark Seven Days, one human must survive this last sort of challenge: a week trapped without anyone knowing where they are, and director Jen Hanson makes sure we believe the main characters Jake and Mikey are good people through her use of point of view, camera angle, and the soundtrack, up until the bitter end. Here I will compare the movie, the behind-the-scenes footage, and some parts of the original biography that inspired the movie to show that survival can show real character just like a movie can.
Firstly, I will explain the point of view of the movie, which is from the perspective of Mikey. Mikey falls into the center of the school where there is a hidden courtyard or something that is not on any plans. You don’t find out that it is not on any plans until a flashback when Mikey and his friend Jake who were planning on breaking into the school are talking with one of the school’s janitors, who is sort of their friend called Warren. Because it is Mikey’s POV (point-of-view), sometimes you believe Warren is actually the movie’s bad guy, but if you read the book, you know this is a true life story and that Warren is just a janitor and that Mikey was hallucinating without any water and drinking dew and urine only. In Abbott Crystal’s book A Brother Down which inspired this movie, he says, “Jake and Michael were always plotting this and that. They’d made friends with our janitorial service in off-hours at school, feigning personal interest to gain access to their routes, plans, keys, tools, and good nature. As near as they could be at fourteen, they were practiced, if somewhat inadequate, con-men, a trait that haunts Michael even now.” (Crystal, 61) This quote proves my point that the boys figured out how to raid the school because of Warren, and also that Warren wasn’t the bad guy, but maybe they were.
Additionally, because the movie is set in Jake’s POV, we believe that something terrible has happened to Mikey, which is why even when Jake is suffering the worst of his tortures in the courtyard, he never once blames Mikey, because he assumes Mikey is hurt or dead probably. In the movie, at about 13 minutes, we see the boys on top of the school. There is a wide pan of the surrounding landscape, the cars going by, and the beauty of nature. I would like to point out something I noticed through the movie and that is something we learned in class called ‘template referencing’, when director Jen Hanson uses this same shot about five times as the movie goes by. Since we are in Jake’s POV at all other times, this is an interesting director’s choice for shots, which probably means the passing of time or the beauty of nature but in my hypothesis, I believe it is a way of setting up the twist which I will explain later when I talk about the behind-the-scenes footage which really tells a lot.
The last thing that makes it important that the movie is set in Jake’s POV is that the viewer really believes they are Jake kind of. There is no escape for Jake, from the hunger or the animals or the school at all, and sometimes director Jen Hanson spins the camera like Jake is dizzy or something and Jake never has to say I am sick or hungry or something. In Adrienne Leshay’s Fractured Narrative, there is this quote, “The screen is also our eyes. Whatever action passes there, our brain does in part. If a telephone suddenly comes into focus, if the room suddenly spins or goes dark, we understand as an audience because we’ve gone through that before: a process called visual empathy, one of the filmmakers most important and efficient tools, because it allows her to explain in a gesture what would take ten gestures to say out loud.” (Leshay, 116)
Next I will explain how camera angle is used by director Jen Hanson to show a bias. Because we talked in class about how an angle of the camera can be up, down, or even, I watched the movie and counted each time it changed and it seems like any time the camera is facing Jake the camera is under him and up at him, which might mean it is from the raccoon’s perspective or because Jake is a hero but we know he is not because of the ending but here is the crazy thing: all of the behind-the-scenes interviews with Mikey are shot facing down on him. In Leshay’s Fractured Narrative, there is this quote, “Peer-to-peer scenes, scenes when the characters are exchanging ideas, should be shot eye-to eye. This indicates without much directorial work that the characters are building opinion of one another. Think about an interview. This is the quintessential even exchange. If it were shot from the interviewee’s knee, it would be from the perspective of a child, and so whatever the interviewee says is inflated with the air of, or tone of, experience towards adulthood. The opposite is also true: a camera angle facing down on a character is an oppressive force, as though the eye were that of the parent, with the associated disapproval and power innate to its position.” So it is clear from this angle that director Jen Hanson feels like the parent of Mikey in her interviews and the child of Jake in the movie, or at least makes him a hero, which could be true, but what is strange is that the book by Abbott Crystal who is Jake’s brother, was actually referenced in Mikey’s trial and when it came time for a witness, Abbott was called, because he thought there was something fishy in Mikey’s testimony. (1) This is considered a bias in conclusion because even though director Jen Hanson doesn’t say out loud that she believes Jake’s side of the story, she chose to use his POV and also sets the camera angle below him and above Mikey.
In addition to POV and camera angle, I think the musical score or soundtrack really seal the deal on character bias, because director Jen Hanson picked songs during very important moments of the movie to signify certain emotions. “Music makes emotions. Music is emotion. It is literally just sound made while emotional, so how can it not convey what it is made of? Well: only if it is bad music, but even bad music isn’t bad music, it’s just emotionless music, and who wants emotionless music if you’re trying to make an emotional movie.” Herb Snow said this in his book Art in Optics: Cinematics are the New Memory on page 154 and I think this shows my point: nothing is an accident. When Jake first wakes up there is no noise, but except the sound of him moving slowly off the dead raccoon and being hurt and the song that plays next is by the New Radicals, it is called “Sunlight Streaming In”, and not all the lyrics are played, just some, which is also not an accident. Those lyrics are “Rollin into some new kind / of revelation / Hoping for a true kind / of sensation.” This song comes back later at times when Jake succeeds: when he first manages to swallow some of his boots because he is hungry and when he uncovers the school’s sewer pipe after digging down a long ways, but each time different parts of it play. In the first time when he eats the leather, it is “Have a taste / have a taste / baby / It’s grace / No waste / baby” and the chorus plays when he finds the sewer, which you’ve probably heard on the radio, and I think this is an example of what we learned, “irony”, because it is never happy that the sun is out and Jake is starving. It is always a bad thing but the song is happy, so it probably matches my hypothesis about how life isn’t fair or life is hard, and if you can get out of it, you’re good. Because the music is played when Jake is close to escaping but doesn’t, it shows through irony director Jen Hanson’s sadness that he doesn’t get out, and so shows bias that even though he did what he did, she might think he is alright.
Next I will show how the behind-the-scenes footage truly affects how the audience thinks about the characters in this movie because even though this is a biographical movie, it is fictionalized too, but the behind-the-scenes footage is not, like when Mikey is interviewed in prison. There are some parts which are just for fun like “Animal Actors” which is a clip where the animal handlers Emily and Emily take you behind-the-scenes with the raccoons and the birds that are actors in the movie and prove to you that 1) no animals were hurt but that also 2) the animals can act crazy even if they are not and even this scene is tied in because the Emily with red-brown skin shows you that Greg who is the raccoon that attacks Jake supposedly when he tries to climb out the first time is really not angry but he is acting and then she gives him a treat. The scene where they show Greg and the Emily’s and Mica Druff, the actor who plays Jake in the movie, is very interesting because you get to see how all of how Jake looks is all make-up and that Greg is just acting but then director Jen Hanson looks at the camera just once and says ‘A little perspective.’ I think that is bias because director Jen Hanson knows that this is footage for the behind-the scenes. But the important scene is the interview with Mikey who is really in prison and who is now forty-five I think and who is in for life. In his interview, as I said earlier, the camera angle is down on him, so there is bias, but if you watch the movie without watching the behind-the-scenes clips you would never know he went to jail! This proves that by including the footage, director Jen Hanson picked one of the boys ‘sides instead of showing just
‘Survival breeds hunger, but is it enough to be hungry?’ which is the byline of the movie Those Dark Seven Days.
In conclusion, I will show how the real story compares to the movie to prove there is a difference. But the book is probably biased too but because this is about the film I will stick to that. Abbott Crystal who wrote the book A Brother Down is biased because he is Jake’s brother and he wrote this book and was at the trial like I have said. It is impossible for a brother to not be biased even if he is a lawyer or a judge even though he might try to be. In the quote by director BJ Horacek, she says, “They always find you out there in your garden of lies.” A bias is just truth, but it is your truth so if someone has a different one, they see it as a bias. I did not read the whole book A Brother Down by Abbott Crystal but I saw that he always calls Mikey “Michael” like it’s his grown-up name and also that he shows only certain parts of the story. He uses different police forensics that he cites as sources because who could know what happened to Jake if Jake didn’t say?! Jake isn’t alive and so its basically a case for a detective but a detective is just making up a story that might be wrong! What if my hypothesis is correct and that Mikey didn’t actually come back to watch Jake suffer out of jealousy but that he actually did get taken to another world like he said in the behind-the-scenes interviews, because it is just his story and yes it is hard to believe because it never happened to me, but there are other people who say they have been abducted23 and maybe it was the wrong place, wrong time but either way there is a bias from me and a bias from Abbott Crystal and so how can it be wrong to say there has to be a bias from director Jen Hanson because director Jen Hanson is also a human being who basically has to be biased. In summary, through the use of cinematographic devices like point-of-view, camera angle, and soundtrack, we can see that the film Those Dark Seven Days was made with a bias even though it was biographical. And that means it could be a lie.
1 https://wikipedia.org/jakecrystal/#controversy_and_trial.html, “Jake Crystal. Controversy. Trial”. No date listed.
2 https://wikipedia.org/alien_abduction.html/#accounts, “Alien Abduction. Accounts”. No date listed.
3 http://www.abductionintime.com/transcript/allen/michael, “Michael Allen – Gone, Boy.” January 11th, 2028