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Higher Learning Comparative Analysis

In: Film and Music

Submitted By vivianml
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For my Final paper in this class, I have decided to do a comparative analysis between the movies Higher Learning and Smoke Signals. I will briefly summarize each movie in a few paragraphs and then I will discuss the similarities and differences between the themes in each movie before I discuss overall comparisons between characters, filming techniques used, and racial stereotypes. "Higher Learning" takes place at the fictitious Columbus University, where the producer makes use of a Christopher Columbus statue to suggest a racist atmosphere. Still, he does this effectively during harsh, well-observed opening scenes that capture different attitudes of white and black students on campus. A white students' pep rally is given a frightening intensity. A young white woman clutches her purse tightly when she finds herself in an elevator with a black student. The two groups' different musical tastes present an amusing contrast and a great use of sound design which is described in our textbook American On Film by Benshoff and Griffin. Mr. Singleton creates a lively air of expectation as his half-dozen main characters settle into their dorm rooms and the battle lines are drawn. John Singleton's film, Higher Learning, about the racial and sexual prejudices that color life on a college campus turns out to be an involuntary example of the same small-mindedness it deplores. Everyone here, from beer drinking white fraternity boys to rap-loving, marijuana smoking black students harassed by the campus police, can be judged at face value. Everyone is exactly what he or she seems. So a bow-tie-wearing professor is arrogant but wise. Surfer-girl blondes are airheads and casual racists. Lesbians are sensitive and kindly. Nice guys wear condoms. The film, Smoke Signals, directed by Chris Eyre deals with the lifestyle of Native Americans living on an Indian reservation in Idaho. The main characters Victor and Thomas grew up together on a reservation. Thomas is a nerd who enjoys telling stories that have no interest to anyone. His parents died in an accidental fire in 1976, he was saved from the fire by Victors father Arnold Joseph. On the other hand Victor is a tough kid that never got over the fact that his father left his family when he was young. After ten years of suppressed anger, Victor gets news that his father has died. He is given the opportunity to travel to Phoenix, Arizona in order to collect his father’s ashes and personal belongings. Victor does not have much money and is forced to travel with Thomas who offers his life savings in order to help fund the trip to Arizona, on the condition that Thomas is able to go along on the trip. Arrangements are made and they set off to Phoenix, where they encounter many challenges together. Victor nurses resentment against him, but Joseph is understandably more open-minded, since the man did, after all, save his life. There are a few flashbacks to help explain the older man, and although they're brief, they're strong and well done: We see that Arnold is more complicated than his son imagines, and able to inspire the respect of the woman he was living with in Phoenix. When they return to the reservation, both Victor and Thomas have found new respect for each other as well as for Arnold Joseph. A theme that I observed in both movies was the idea of self-identity. The two main characters that I thought depicted this theme the most were Remy, the white misfit who is picked on by his African American roommate, in Higher Learning and Thomas, a goofy out of place Indian American who does not “fit” the persona of a tough stoic Indian, in the film Smoke Signals. These two characters are similar in some ways and very much the opposite of each other in other ways but are still going through a lot of the same things. At the beginning of Higher Learning Remy doesn’t really know where he belongs in the different groups of college students on the beautiful Columbus University campus. Remy finally falls into the clutches of skinhead Aryan supremacists and it seems as though he is pressured into practices he does not believe in. In the movie Smoke Signals Thomas is seen as a nerdy Indian boy with big glasses and stereotypical braids. Victor is somewhat embarrassed to be seen around him and in the bus on the way to Phoenix he tells Thomas that he needed to put a stoic face on, take down his braids, and change his shirt. The main similarity between these two characters is that they had to change themselves to fit in and feel accepted in front of their “peers”. The main difference between these two men is that Remy holds onto his new identity and ends up with nothing in the end, while Thomas decides for himself that he does not want to make the change and Victor eventually accepts him for who he is; a funny, story telling, braid wearing Indian American who happens to be a very good friend. Both movies had small underlying themes as well; fire in the movie Smoke Signals and the American flag in the movie Higher Learning. A house fire was shown in the beginning of Smoke Signals, which we found out later was ignited by Victors father, and then at the end of the movie the camera scales away from a burning trailer and smoke is seen over the mountains in Arizona. In Higher Learning a band is playing at the beginning of the movie while the camera is on an American Flag at a low angle; at the end of the movie the camera zooms in on the American Flag. Both of these themes depict importance and symbolism to the movies they represent. Benshoff and Griffin, discuss several elements of film. There are five basic aspects of film, and I was able to see a little example of all five in both of these movies (p.4). In the beginning of both movies you see examples of cinematography with the placement of the camera and the angles at which the Flag and the house fire were filmed. In Higher Learning sound design is represented in several different ways. At the beginning of the movie when the students are all moving into their dorm rooms, whenever the skinheads were filmed rock music was being played and whenever there were any African American parties rap music was being played. In Smoke Signals there were some aspects of sound design but not as much as Higher Learning. I think that having the right music playing at the right time is a very important aspect of any movie and can set the audience into the right mood. In both movies there were aspects of literary design with the title of the movie Smoke Signals relating to the theme of fire throughout the movie and the word “unlearn” at the end of Higher Learning, which also ties into the title of the movie. In my opinion, John Singleton, the producer of Higher Learning, really took stereotypes to the extreme. If you are white, then you hate people of color. If you are a feminist, you are instantly a lesbian. If you are black, you are a fast runner and/or you do drugs and if you are a cop then you pick on every ethnicity that is not white. There was not much in Smoke Signals dealing with racial profiling and stereotypes other than the incident on the bus with the two white men. One of the things that shocked the audience while watching Smoke Signals was the comment made by the policeman after Victor gets into an accident. In almost every movie we watched in this class this semester, cops are portrayed in a bad light. I feel as though one of the worst cop experiences was in Higher Learning and one of the best cop experiences was in Smoke Signals. Higher Learning and Smoke Signals are two very different movies dealing with distinctive aspects of life. Higher Learning deals with college life and getting along with groups of people with different views. Smoke Signals deals with two men who learn to get along despite distinct differences. The most important aspect of both these movies is in the end when two main characters in Higher Learning and the two main characters in Smoke Signals learn to look past their differences. In Smoke Signals, Victor’s dad dies and Victor learns to really enjoy Thomas’ company… it took the death of his father to realize he has a very good friend looking out for him even if he thinks he doesn’t need looking out for. In Higher Learning, Kristen and Malik deal with a shooting at Columbus University and instead of walking away from each other, they shake hands and realize they are not so different after all. In conclusion, I decided to do a comparative analysis between Higher Learning and Smoke Signals so that I could talk about the many differences as well as the distinct similarities. There was an overall theme of self-identity that could be seen in both movies along with similar aspects of film design. I really enjoyed both of these movies and the way that everything came together in the end. I feel as though the characters in both films grew into something better and I give both these movies a “thumbs up”. References
Benshoff, Harry M. and Sean Griffin. 2009. America on Film: Representing race, class, gender, and sexuality at the movies, Second edition. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0113305/ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0120321/

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