For this week’s film, I decided to watch Avalon, starring Aiden Quinn and Elizabeth Perkins. This film told the story of a Jewish family that immigrated to the United States, and it followed the family through three generations. The film contained many elements of realism, and it made excellent use of cinematography and editing to reinforce this realistic perspective.
The film began with Sam coming to America. He arrived on July 4, 1914, and was captivated by America’s beauty—the flashing lights, colors, and more. This immigration event was an important theme in this film, for it enabled the director to persuade the viewer to sympathize with the Jewish culture as they adapted to the American culture.
Furthermore, the director was able to chronicle the lives of a family through three generations and show how the Jewish values of family closeness were present in the first generation, but became sidelined as the younger generations became adults. For instance, the director used the television to help show this shift in the family views. As the TV advances in technology, the viewer can notice how family conversations and time together became more and more dwindled.
This is sadly summarized in the ending of the movie when Michael is visiting Sam in the nursing home. You see medium shots of Sam talking to Michael (who is listening attentively) and then a glimpse of a television that switches to a close-up shot of Michael’s son, who is captivated by it. His son is not paying attention to his great-grandfather, but rather, the captivating television. This reveals to the viewer that there is no hope for family closeness in the future, because Michael’s son is not interested in family discussion. Unfortunately, family ties were rapidly becoming a thing of the past.
Another example of this was when Jules and his family were all sitting at the table eating a holiday meal in complete silence. Individual close-up shots were used to show how absorbed each family member was in the TV program. Having a family conversation was the last thing on their mind. Yet, at the beginning of the film, the family all sat around a table engaged in conversation—and no television was present. Thus, the television was presented as being a destructive force to family bonding.
There were many realistic elements in this film—the cars, clothing, technology, and jobs were all reflective of the early half of the 1900’s. Even the accents reflected realism—each subsequent generation had a reduced accent compared to the previous generation. However, the most notable uses of realism were the actual tragedies that occurred toward the end of the film.
The first major tragedy was when the store that Jules and Izzy owned was completely destroyed by a fire. Cinematography was used to emphasize this scene, especially when an unsymmetrical shot was used with Jules’ face in the lower-right corner, with the scene of an American flag burning on the building (on the left). In the upper-right of the screen, fireworks were going off, marking the 4th of July holiday—the anniversary when his father first came to America. The burning of the flag, to me, represented the burning of their dreams.
Eva’s death and Sam’s declining mental state attributed to the overall depressing nature of life, and it reflected the sadness of the film’s style. All of these tragic events came together in the last 30 minutes of this film to really make viewers stop and reflect on the nature of life.