Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

The Outrage: Stereotypes and archetypes

  •   link

    Ugetsu

    Rashomon is founded on the interactions of six characters, who are, from their lack of names, we assume to be archetypes. But one thing that they are not are stereotypes. As Martinez (p.52) points out, the main characters are written subtly against type (at least in some interpretations of their actions). The Bandit, the Wife and the Samurai each act at times contrary to what you would expect of a stereotype of their name. The Priest who is struggling with his faith and the Commoner who shows unexpected insights into human nature which goes beyond his cynicism would I thought not have been common types of characters in stories or films of the thime.

    The Outrage, on the other hand, seems quite happy to focus on the characters as stereotypes. The Preacher who has lost his faith. The cynical Conman. The fainting Southern Belle. The macho strutting Mexican Bandit. The proud Southern Gentleman with a yellow streak. In the final version of the story, which unlike in Rashomon we are encouraged to think is the truth, all three of the characters demonstrate the most negative of the stereotypes usually associated with these types. The Mexican bandit is shown to be panicky and cowardly, a bit of a comedy figure. The Southern Gentleman is all talk and no action. The Wife is a nasty shrew who worst of all, is shown to be white trash at heart. And as if to conform even more to stereotypes, the Preacher at the end seems to find redemption, and the honest if flawed Prospector is happily forgiven his one transgression – the lying Conman is quietly forgotten. It all seems designed to reassure the audience rather than (as with Rashomon) to disturb and cause disquiet.

    As Martinez points out, this is highly problematic in many ways. For one thing, the portrayal of the Mexican bandit is borderline racist, at least by todays standards, which is ironic as the character earlier on makes an eloquent plea against the racism shown by the justice system against him. The Wife in The Outrage is a much less ambiguous character than in Rashomon, she is either pitifully weak, or truly nasty and vicious, seemly combining the worst characteristics of Southern gentry and white trash. The film is far more misogynistic by almost any criteria than Rashomon. The film also, in giving us a life history of the wife, draws a more explicit class element to the film. But whereas this may have been intended to highlight the hypocrisy of Southern manners, it instead seems to suggest that it was her white trash roots that made the Wife into such a hateful person.

    And yet the scriptwriters and directors had a reputation as liberals (at least by the standard of the time). Yet they make a film which seemingly panders to the prejudices of the audience.

    One explanation may be, as Martinez suggests, that they were attempting to raise issues of class, racism and sexism in the film, yet somehow this misfires. In setting Rashomon in a far distant, almost mythological part of Japans past, Kurosawa was clearly trying to distance himself from direct reference to contemporary issues, but simultaneously, to force the audience to confront the deeper truths the various versions reveal. The choice of a western setting for The Outrage is also something of a mythological setting, albeit one much closer and more recognizable to our own time, but in using such clear stereotypes the film draws us away from the notion of the characters as archetypes, and so seems to narrow the scope of the film, rather than widen it, as may have been the intention. Instead of making us question our prejudices on class, race and gender, it instead confirms our worst prejudices.

    Given the previous and later work by Ritt and the Kanins, it does seem to me to be unlikely that this was their intention in making the film. Did it therefore go deeply astray somewhere in the making? Or perhaps in giving us their interpretations did they fall into the trap Kurosawa laid in which we interpret the truths according to our own deeper, unspoken prejudices?

      link

    Amnesty11

    Interesting discussion Ugetsu. The American West, as we all grew up with it here in the States, has always been a fairytale. But I think it has often been portrayed in a very hokey way. Ritt fell into that mid 60’s Western trap (does anyone know WHY the Western was the Be All and End All theme in the late 50’s and 60’s?) and it didn’t serve this story at all. I think Ritt, who did make superb movies before and after this, somehow got lost in trying to satisfy an American mentality.

    all three of the characters demonstrate the most negative of the stereotypes usually associated with these types. The Mexican bandit is shown to be panicky and cowardly, a bit of a comedy figure. The Southern Gentleman is all talk and no action. The Wife is a nasty shrew who worst of all, is shown to be white trash at heart. And as if to conform even more to stereotypes, the Preacher at the end seems to find redemption, and the honest if flawed Prospector is happily forgiven his one transgression – the lying Conman is quietly forgotten. It all seems designed to reassure the audience rather than (as with Rashomon) to disturb and cause disquiet.

    I think that all of this was true in Rashomon as well. I didn’t think Ritt’s version was much more over the top than Kurosawa’s in this regard.

    I just watched most of The Outrage again though, and on second viewing, appreciated it more. Although Newman will always be Paul Newman (as in THE Paul Newman) – and to my mind can never play a Mexican bandit without it feeling farcical. (He played Butch Cassidy so well, but he was playing Newman…) still there were a few scenes that captivated me more the second time around.

    I am intrigued by the character of the wife. The film was supposed to be set in 1870, a few years after the civil war. As in most wars throughout time, women stay home while men go off to serve. Often, women are often depicted in novels and film as becoming stronger, more independent while the men are off serving in the military. The wife’s character is a woman from another class who is clearly aware that social standing, even in Southern society, doesn’t count for much if you are a coward and a wimp. (Whether on the battlefield or in bed. Clearly, she thinks that in both venues he could have stepped it up a bit.)

    Again, even though Bloom’s acting was more theatrical than filmic, I thought she captured the trapped woman of age very well. The character was conniving, yet for the time period, manipulation was the only power available to her and even accepted by males of all classes (dirty filthy trash and rich white trash…sorry don’t have the quote in front of me but loved that line!). The fainting was a classic Southern Belle tactic, and both men turned back to look at her, practically sighing with resignation (“there she goes again”). So clearly, fainting was an accepted form of stopping men in their tracks, and therefore an accepted manipulation.

    I felt for her, considering that fainting (going practically dead) and raging (all out screeching) were the only ways of “being heard,” of having a voice in the Southern Society to which she was born. To me, she was strong, using all of the resources she was allowed to use during that era. Her husband had probably made very clear to her over and over again that his standing in society (no matter how cowardly he truly was) would always and forever be above hers. I am keen on protecting women who seem trapped, maybe because that is a situation I have been in and had to defend. But that’s where Kurosawa is a master, right? I felt for her, so my perception of her is entirely different than most.

    I didn’t like the typical American “pat ending.” However, It was a highly regarded film of the time, and I think it woke up the mind of the American public a bit.

    BTW, I didn’t recognize Lawrence Harvey as the same actor who played the lead role in Frankenheimer’s Manchurian Candidate! Now there’s another film to love!

      link

    Ugetsu

    Amnesty

    I think that all of this was true in Rashomon as well. I didn’t think Ritt’s version was much more over the top than Kurosawa’s in this regard.

    I think the point Martinez is making, and its one that hadn’t occurred to me until I read her book, is that in Rashomon the characters do subtly defy stereotypes, sometimes in quite mysterious and unsettling ways.

    To give a comparison, the Wife in Rashomon seems the demure, loyal Samurai wife, but in the last two versions unexpectedly turns vengeful and wicked towards her husband. In terms of ‘stereotype’, this would have been completely unexpected to the audience who would assume she would always choose loyalty over her private feelings. Like all the characters in Rashomon, we are given little or no backstory, so the shift from stereotype is unexpected. In The Outrage, on the other hand, the Southern Wife acts in various capricious ways which conform to that particular stereotype, and the script goes to pains to provide a backstory to explain why she behaves as she does which if anything seems to reinforce her stereotype by ‘explaining’ it rather than by broadening out her character as I assume was the intention. In Rashomon the Wife is mysterious and opaque to us in a way the Southern Belle can never be.

    For me, this is one of the reasons Rashomon keeps its spell over the audience long after its been watched, while I feel The Outrage never achieves this resonant quality. I think in this case Martinez put her finger on one of the ways Kurosawa and his scriptwriters achieved this effect.

    I just watched most of The Outrage again though, and on second viewing, appreciated it more. Although Newman will always be Paul Newman (as in THE Paul Newman) – and to my mind can never play a Mexican bandit without it feeling farcical. (He played Butch Cassidy so well, but he was playing Newman…) still there were a few scenes that captivated me more the second time around.

    I came across this quite interesting short history of the film – I hadn’t realised that Newman was actually quite proud of his performance and seems to have been quite hurt by the criticism.

    However, It was a highly regarded film of the time, and I think it woke up the mind of the American public a bit.

    You reminded me to check up the Movie Review Query Engine to see what contemporaries thought of the film – I had thought it got mostly bad reviews. It does seem that they were a mixed bunch, the NYTimes gave it a sort of equivocal thumbs up. It seems that its more in hindsight that it was badly received.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Stereotypes and archetypes? I think that’s a brilliant way to summarise the main difference between the two films, and I would definitely agree with it! Rashomon remains more ambiguous, or at least less in-your-face, despite the fact that, as Amnesty points out, it too can be a little over-the-top — but crucially, I think, in a more controlled and subtle ways.

    In my view, the biggest enigma in The Outrage is the Mexican bandit, or rather Paul Newman’s performance as him. Somehow it is both totally over the top and ridiculous, as well as absolutely brilliant. I just can’t make up my mind whether to laugh at Newman or praise him! I can understand why he would have been proud of it, as the TCM article tells us he was.

    The woman is of course also an enigma, but in a different way. It was very interesting to read your reaction to her character, Amnesty! I dislike the theatricality of Bloom’s acting in the film, but I would agree with you that she is one interesting character and, as I suggested in the other thread, probably the very key to the film’s meaning.

    Amnesty, you also asked if any of us know why “the Western was the Be All and End All theme in the late 50’s and 60’s”. Well, I don’t really know, but my understanding is that the genre has from its very beginnings been a very integral part of the process of constructing and maintaining an American national identity. As for why it came back so strongly in the 50s and 60s, I would hazard to guess that World War II had something to do with it (the world had changed, so an updated identity was needed), as had certain very popular individuals like Louis L’Amour who, I think, began publishing in the 50s, and whose works were used by many filmmakers. This new wave of westerns took an increasingly different approach to the genre than the earlier works had, basically assimilating the darker tone of WWII influenced genres like film noir, which had already started the process of probing into the question what went wrong and allowed something as terrible as WWII to happen. This new direction with the western ultimately led to what would later be called the revisionist western, so there was new ground to cover, making the genre artistically interesting. At the same time, film studies as a serious academic subject was also emerging, and I think the western (as a nation builder) was one of the popular early subjects of study, again pushing the genre forward and increasing its popularity.

    The Outrage is, I think, very much part of this artistic, academic and cultural development.

      link

    Ugetsu

    Vili

    In my view, the biggest enigma in The Outrage is the Mexican bandit, or rather Paul Newman’s performance as him. Somehow it is both totally over the top and ridiculous, as well as absolutely brilliant.

    Perhaps this is something for the females in this forum to comment on, but following Martinez (p.50), I think one of the curiosities of the performance – given that this is Paul Newman we are talking about – is just how dirty and unsexy the character is most of the time. In most of the scenes in the wood he is quite filthy, looking more like a peasant that a heroic bandit. While Mifune was also sweaty and dirty, he undoubtedly had a strong animal magnetism and had the decency not to wear too many dirty layers of clothes.

    In plot terms, this is a vital distinction. We can believe that the Samurai Wife may well have been overcome with an entirely inappropriate level of passion and lust for the Bandit as Mifune. While in The Outrage its very hard to believe that whatever her relationship with her husband, the Southern Wife could ever have become overwhelmed with lust over the Mexican Bandit. This removes one of the levels of ambiguity from the film, making the only question being whether she is so bored and disgusted with her husband that she’d run off with any man who crosses her path, no matter how awful he appears. Rashomon is much more complex than this.

    Once again, this seems to have been a deliberate plot decision made by the film makers of The Outrage which I find quite inexplicable.

      link

    Amnesty11

    Yes, I agree Ugetsu.

    While in The Outrage its very hard to believe that whatever her relationship with her husband, the Southern Wife could ever have become overwhelmed with lust over the Mexican Bandit. This removes one of the levels of ambiguity from the film, making the only question being whether she is so bored and disgusted with her husband that she’d run off with any man who crosses her path, no matter how awful he appears. Rashomon is much more complex than this.

    In fact, I have never found Newman sexy. He is beautiful to look at, but that’s a very different experience than sex appeal. I find him too perfect in a certain way and actually, lacking in that true “outlaw” appeal — he really has no edge to him in any film I can think of.

    I did find him appealing in a comic way on second viewing of the film. But there was never a time when I found his filthiness to be attractive. His character tells the wife that she “has never made love like this, out in the open” and how wonderful that is. I kept thinking, yes of course! I would do that in an instant with half naked Tajoumaru, but with sweaty, gross, overly-clothed Carrasco, never! It seems Ritt mistook grime for animal magnetism.

    I can’t help but think that Ritt used every card in the stack to make a Hollywood rainmaker film: 1.) The Wild West (Americans are so comfortable with that background. Yes, I agree Ugetsu, a mythology too recently created, and the movie would have come closer to Kurosawa’s masterpiece if it had been set a kind of fantasy American landscape – so that we couldn’t make such close associations to the era 2.) Mega super star cast 3.) Low risk script (have a nice pat ending) and 4.) Good ole Christian values – the preacher returns to his flock, his faith renewed (that very odd ending shot of preacher, prospector baby and donkey — good god it’s practically Mary, Joseph and Jesus walking down the streets of Bethlehem!!) I mean bottom line, it’s Hollywood.

    I’d like to believe that Ritt was making a wholesome effort to due justice (or pay homage) to Kurosawa or to the original short story itself. Who knows? The producers may have made him change the ending, the slant, the very purpose of the film — afraid their audience couldn’t handle the dizzying ambiguity that Rashomon so brilliantly creates in the mind of the viewer.

    The Hollywood system has consistently dumbed down re-makes of wonderful, thoughtful Foreign films in every decade because it doesn’t trust the “homeland” audience to understand anything more subtle than a car chase. I think I will give Ritt the benefit of the doubt and trust that he had the best of intentions but that the studios at last had the upper hand.

      link

    Ugetsu

    Amnesty11

    The Hollywood system has consistently dumbed down re-makes of wonderful, thoughtful Foreign films in every decade because it doesn’t trust the “homeland” audience to understand anything more subtle than a car chase. I think I will give Ritt the benefit of the doubt and trust that he had the best of intentions but that the studios at last had the upper hand.

    Its very nice of you to give him the benefit of the doubt! This is, I think, one of the frustrations of analyzing films compared to other branches of the arts. You never quite know if what you are seeing is a deliberate creative decision or whether it is due to something more mundane like an interfering producer or even something quite technical. I can’t recall the film, but one of the Nouvelle Vague films jumped from colour to black and white in a way which apparently encouraged many a film critic to discuss the deeper meaning of this switch. Apparently the reason was that they just ran out of money for colour film half way through!

    In this way I think its sometimes easier to look at Kurosawa’s films in that he is one of the few film makers who seems to have been able to put in place his own vision, at least after Drunken Angel. Ozu was another, but unfortunately it seems that Mizoguchi’s films were far less ‘pure’ in this sense.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: We can believe that the Samurai Wife may well have been overcome with an entirely inappropriate level of passion and lust for the Bandit as Mifune. While in The Outrage its very hard to believe that whatever her relationship with her husband, the Southern Wife could ever have become overwhelmed with lust over the Mexican Bandit. This removes one of the levels of ambiguity from the film, making the only question being whether she is so bored and disgusted with her husband that she’d run off with any man who crosses her path, no matter how awful he appears.

    This is an excellent point, and something I hadn’t thought of. It certainly makes quite a difference, now that I think of it!

    Amnesty: I’d like to believe that Ritt was making a wholesome effort to due justice (or pay homage) to Kurosawa or to the original short story itself. Who knows? The producers may have made him change the ending, the slant, the very purpose of the film — afraid their audience couldn’t handle the dizzying ambiguity that Rashomon so brilliantly creates in the mind of the viewer.

    I have bad news for you, Amnesty: the ending was like this already in the Kanins’ play, so unless the producers forced the project on Ritt or specifically made him keep the ending, I don’t think there was much studio influence here.

      link

    Ugetsu

    To expand a bit more about my point about the problem of the Mexican bandit not being as attractive as Mifune as the Bandit, it occurs to me that this is a fundamental difference between the two films. In The Outrage, we are presented with four alternative versions of the truth. In Rashomon, we have four stories, but an almost infinite choice of ‘truths’. Every one of the individual versions in Rashomon is open to endless interpretations of the characters of each witness. Perhaps most famously, the Samurai Wife is boundlessly enigmatic, but in different ways all four of the main characters are likewise enigmas. Why is the Bandit so anxious to incriminate himself? What was the Wife feeling when she surrendered to the Bandit? What made the Samurai stare at his wife with such hate in his eyes? Why was the Woodcutter so scared to admit he saw what happened? The Outrage attempted to give us the answers, and in doing so told us so much less about what happened in that grove.

      link

    MurderousInk

    A very interesting thread!

    For your interest, some find Kurosawa’s Rashomon, especially the framing story at the Gate Rashomon, is stereotypical in characterization, compared to the original short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. You can read the English translation of the story here;

    In a Grove

    http://www.feedbooks.com/book/4205

    MI

      link

    Ugetsu

    MurderousInk

    For your interest, some find Kurosawa’s Rashomon, especially the framing story at the Gate Rashomon, is stereotypical in characterization, compared to the original short story by Ryunosuke Akutagawa. You can read the English translation of the story here;

    I’ve read that comment several time in reviews, usually put something like Rashomon is ‘not as thematically rich’ as In A Grove. I find that strange, as the story itself is so bare-boned and minimalist (but very striking). The other source, the story set within the Rashomon Gate is really just a ghost story. I’ve always thought that sometimes that sort of comment is intended more to impress people than to make a sensible point, ‘oh, that movie is good, but really, if you have read *insert name of obscure book*, you’d know its really not all that original‘.

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!