Audience Manipulation

Discussion in 'Archived Threads 2001-2004' started by Dome Vongvises, Aug 16, 2001.

  1. Dome Vongvises

    Dome Vongvises Lead Actor

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    It's become a common thing recently to accuse movies of blatantly manipulating the audience into expressing certain emotions. For example, the movie Patch Adams is often accused of being such a movie. Another movie is Pearl Harbor. I would like to hear imput from members of this forum about this topic. What particularly interests me is what exactly constitutes audience manipulation and what are some examples. I would like for the same people to also try and come up with examples in movies of no manipulation, but nonetheless creates an effect out of the audience. I'm bringing this thread up simply because it seems every film review, here or not, takes up a cynical, snobby tone.
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  2. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    This thread will have to go to Movies.
    But I'll still answer here. [​IMG]
    ALL FILMS manipulate, but whether it's INTENTIONAL or not is the difference. For what it's worth this applies to all the arts.
    An artist can simply try to express themselves and if it clicks with the audiance then they will feel certain emotions about the art, even though the artist put no conscious effort into doing that. Art in this manner can sometimes be genius, but it rarely clicks with more than a small minority due to it's inherent exclusitivity.
    Or the "artist" can throw all self-expression out the window and think of nothing but trying to make the audiance feel certain emotions. Especially emotions that will make them lots of money. In films this usually means flat characters, simplistic stories, etc. since all the focus is simply on a series of varied emotional moments for the audiance.
    "You hate this guy. You like this guy. Bad guy wins and you are sad and hate him more. Good guy puts it in his face and wins it all, you are now very happy. Good-bye."
    You can feel those feelings even with "good" art, but with the cheap, manipulative versions the creator has stuck with tried and true emotional hot buttons or images. I may or may not be able to get a debate going by saying Descartes was a modern existentionalist, but I sure as hell can stir up trouble by taking a side on abortion, either pro or con.
    However, the "best" (IMHO) form of art involves the skillful use of manipulation to help tell the artistic and/or philosophical story which is your primary goal. In this case, you do want to be audiance aware, or better said as audiance sympathetic. You don't want to bore them, confuse them, etc. except when it's called for to emphasize some point.
    You are trying to COMMUNICATE some ideas and ideals to them, so you must be thoughtful of how what you are saying sounds to them. This awareness surfaces as a form of manipulation, but not the sloppy, heavy-handed, self-serving type.
    Rather than "pushing" the audiance, herding them to the emotions you want them to go to, you are instead waving a flag, showing them the direction you are going, leading them passively. This means that if they don't like the direction they can more easily refuse to go that way (and thus won't identify with what you are saying). But it also means that the emotions and story will ring more true and honest if you let them move there on their own account.
    This third method is the true craft of art, it steps far beyond the other 2 because it is a balance between both concepts. Anyone can just slap paint on paper and say "you just don't get it" and we can't really argue with that. And those people with some training, yet perhaps very little artist intent, can fairly easily paint the sort of picture you will like or hate, simply by the subject they choose if nothing else.
    But the ones who don't sell-out to the audiance, that still try to express themselves, yet without totally forgetting the audiance, they are the true geniuses.
    Obviously this is my opinion on the subject.
     
  3. Doug D

    Doug D Stunt Coordinator

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    my two cents:
    almost all movies manipulate people. USUAL SUSPECTS? NORTH BY NORTHWEST? PATCH ADAMS? yep, yep, and yep.
    Movies that do it badly, or with obvious mechanisms, or at the expense of the logic of the film, are generally what I think people mean when they say "manipulative".
    A good example: putting a dog in peril or killing a dog. Guaranteed to elicit a response, but usually cheap.
    Another good example: over-the-top string music.
     
  4. richard plumb

    richard plumb Stunt Coordinator

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    What I find the most annoying personally, is where I recognise pre-meditated attempts at emotional manipulation, but I still succumb to it. That gets me mad at me.
     
  5. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    I admit I've never really understood this particular criticism of movies.
    I'd like to hear some examples of deeply moving movies, where the audience was NOT manipulated.
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  6. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

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  7. Bryan_ZZ

    Bryan_ZZ Stunt Coordinator

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    I'll second Greg on Eyes Wide Shut. My wife and I walked out of the theatre knowing we had just been through an intense presentation, but had to talk about what we thought it meant. I'm sure alot of people had different takes on that one. IMO, that makes for a great film, with no slant one way or the other.
    Bryan
     
  8. Dave Morton

    Dave Morton Supporting Actor

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    I walked out of the theater after seeing Natural Born Killers feeling a bit violent, having the urge to smash something. When I was walking out of the isle in the theater, someone pushed me and I was about to get in that persons face, until I figured out that I knew the guy and was goofing around.
    Go figure, I'm basically a pacifist!!
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  9. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    Yes, all movies have a certain degree of audience manipulation in them.
     
  10. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I've never understood this criticism. An artist is attempting to 'manipulate' my thoughts or emotions?
    Well, but of course.
    And the flipside: when confronted by a work from an artist that seeks an objective stance - often defined by the long take, long shot school of filmmaking that characterizes the work of Hou Hsao-hsien or Ozu or late-era Dreyer or Edward Yang - people respond that it left them "cold" or "uninvolved" or (the most hilarious) "nothing happens".
    Ahh, and then you long for some of the ol' 'manipulation', dontcha? [​IMG]
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  11. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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    I always thought the best moveis were the ones that made you feel or think:
    2001 A Space Odyysey
    The Godfather
    Born on the Fourth of July
    Seven Samurai
    Nixon
    Dead Man Walking
    JFK
    Malcolm X
    Schindlers List
    Donnie Brasco
    Platoon
    Saving Private Ryan
    ....and such.
    People I know say I watch to many "heavy" movies, but thats what I prefer.I like eye candy every now and then too, but would rather view films with deeper meaning.
    I agree most art attempts to make you feel something-I never listen to classical music with other people-Mozart has brought tears to my eyes so many times(If anyone repeats this.... [​IMG] ).
    So its not just film but art in general. Music,paintings,stage(which I dont care for) or whatever.
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    [Edited last by JonZ on August 16, 2001 at 10:05 AM]
     
  12. Jeremy-P

    Jeremy-P Stunt Coordinator

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    I think the word manipulation has a negative connotation, so we only use it when it's fairly obvious and cheaply done. The role of the director is to basically manipulate the audience into believing in whatever world he's created in his head, but there's no excuse for the clanging sound effect for a cheap scare in a horror movie or the shifty eyed villain closeup shot. Those kind of things are just cheap IMO.
    One bad attempt at audience manipulation i remember recently was in "Rules of Engagement" where Spoiler: a little girl who was shown injured in the riot, and who the audience was made to feel sorry for early on, is later shown in the crowd, shooting at the american soldiers. It ended up insulting me instead of moving me.
     
  13. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Moderator
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  14. Greg_Y

    Greg_Y Screenwriter

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    One of the worst recent cases of overmanipulation has to be the bookends to Saving Private Ryan by Mr. Syrupy-Sweet himself, Steven Spielberg. Or as one critic described them, "the hilariously offensive old-man-in-the-graveyard scene."
     
  15. Rob Willey

    Rob Willey Screenwriter

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    Roger Ebert made a good point in his review of The Deep End. Lots of movies manipulate by keeping information from the audience that the characters have, but not revealing it to the audience until the end. I consider that a cynical manipulation.
    Hitchcock made a career of just the opposite. He would let the audience in on information the characters don't have. I think that type of manipulation is non-cynical and shows a lot more respect for the viewer.
    Rob
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  16. Rich Malloy

    Rich Malloy Producer

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    I don't know, Greg. I kinda agree that it's one of those short-hand buzzwords that takes the place of real film criticism (of which there are only a handful of practitioners).
    The bookends to SPR might be criticized for attempting to provoke an emotional response to which the viewer simply doesn't respond, i.e., you know what he's going for, but he doesn't actually get you there. If anything, it's failed manipulation.
    (Now, I disagree and I believe those bookends are intended to provoke a much more ambivalant response than their critics suggest, but that's beside the point.)
    Likewise, I've read many posts in this forum describing very emotional reactions to scenes in Braveheart. Now, I don't happen to experience any flood of emotions while watching that movie, but others certainly do. Nonetheless, the creators of the film are trying to manipulate particular emotions, and they are either successful or unsuccessful. Provoking ideas or emotions is what it's all about. But it's the methods of manipulation that may be criticized (or praised); not simply the will to do so.
    Back to the original point of this thread - Pearl Harbor. It's a movie that wants to make you laugh, cry, love, blah blah blah. But the execution is so hamfisted and sophomoric that we're left rolling our eyes. The problem, however, is not that it tries to manipulate those emotions; the problem is that it goes about it so ineptly.
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  17. Ken_McAlinden

    Ken_McAlinden Producer
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    I agree that all movies are inherently manipulative. I would also assert that the majority of documentaries I see are more manipulative than the typical melodrama. That being said, I think what people normally react to as "manipulation" is just manipulation that is unskillful or too blatant. The filmmakers who are never accused of being manipulative are the best manipulators of all.
    Regards,
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    [Edited last by Ken_McAlinden on August 16, 2001 at 01:15 PM]
     
  18. george kaplan

    george kaplan Executive Producer

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    Perhaps Eyes Wide Shut is a film that doesn't manipulate the audience. Unfortunately, I don't know, because the WB certainly manipulated (i.e., censored) the film and I refuse to see it until they remove their manipulation.
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  19. Allen Hirsch

    Allen Hirsch Supporting Actor

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    Edwin hit the nail on the head, IMHO.
    It's blatant manipulation if, instead of evoking genuine emotion, I find that I'm rolling my eyes at the "effort" put forth on the screen - usually because it's such emotional manipulation that's so offensive and blatant that I want to scream or laugh - NOT the reactions they were going for, to be sure.
    Worst recent offender, IMO: The Patriot.
     
  20. Morgan Jolley

    Morgan Jolley Lead Actor

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    I think that audience manipulation is sometimes misconstrued for good artistry (but most times it isn't). In Psycho, when the girl is getting stabbed, there are dozens of shots in that one scene, and this makes the audience get a feeling for what the girl is feeling, which is a confusion and terror mix. The music also adds to this, being that it is a very annoying and disturbing sound. Some films do this more blatantly and require little thought to figure them out, and that is when a movie is bad. That why I didn't like The Patriot. Yes, the main character had motivation, but it wasn't just for the freedom of the country, which is what a true patriot was motivated by during the war. Some movies make the viewer think about what a character's motivation is, or make you think so that you get a true understanding of the character. A great example of this is Citizen Kane. You get an idea of the character's entire life throughout the film, and it's shown in an artistic manner. By the end of the film, you understand why the character did what he did at the beginning of the film, and that is why so many people like it so much.
    I do think that movies have become less artistic, and that is why audience manipulation has become more apparent and more movies have become bad.
    [Edited last by Morgan Jolley on August 16, 2001 at 07:00 PM]
     

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