critical Response paper about the Blow Out related to two articles about the movie

I upload the requirement argument that the Essay should follow ( pattern) under “Critical Response Paper.doc” The Movie title is He Got Game and I upload the article that related to the movie. Thank you for your time
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_race_and_reappropriation__spike_lee_meets_aaron_copland__american_music_winter_2000_article__gabbard_.pdf

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Critical Response Paper
you will compose a 3-5-page Critical Response Paper that outlines and engages the arguments of
an article or supplemental reading that we have covered this semester. In other words, pick any
piece outside of Film Art that’s posted in the Readings section. You will be asked to explain the
questions the author(s) pose and how they come to the conclusions they do. Be critical and pay
attention to the rhetoric of the arguments:
•
•
•
•
Draw out the salient points of the arguments, and, if possible, illustrate these points with
concrete examples drawn from a film or group of films if it’s a genre study (but
remember: this is a response to the article, not the film).
How did they convince you or not convince you?
Think about what they are not saying: What other points or connections might or should
they be making?
Finally, remember that this is your paper, your analysis: be certain to engage the authors’
ideas, but be even more certain to provide your own insights into the topic at hand.
Use these questions to help you formulate a claim—a specific and arguable response to aspects
of the text that you are responding to. DO NOT simply summarize the text. You will briefly
summarize the article to familiarize me (your reader) with the ideas you are discussing, but the
focus of a response paper is your argument. Be sure to organize your thoughts in a logical
manner and to include quoted evidence from the text to support the claim you make. But be
careful not to overquote so you sacrifice your own perspective and individual set of ideas.
Whatever you choose to focus on, the response must be critical, not simply a description of
your own personal feelings about the essay. The response paper consists of your close
examination of the text and the questions in the text that most intrigue you. It does not need to be
a fully structured and argued essay—it should, however, pull together your thoughts about
particular issues in the text.
Your overall goal is to advance your reader’s level of understanding by revealing to me a
deeper aspect of meaning. This would be something that confirms a given interpretation, enhances
it, makes it more complex, or challenges it.
Race and Reappropriation: Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland
Author(s): Krin Gabbard
Source: American Music, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 2000), pp. 370-390
Published by: University of Illinois Press
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KRIN GABBARD
Race and Reappropriation:
Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland
At the beginning of He Got Game (1998), written and directed by Spike
Lee, the credit sequence contains an unusual juxtaposition. In two
consecutive title cards the American composer Aaron Copland (19001990) is credited with “Music” and the rap group Public Enemy is listed for “Songs.” These credits link a composer widely associated, perhaps inaccurately, with the American heartland to an urban, highly
political rap group. A correspondingly diverse set of images appears
behind the credits sequence. Usually in balletic slow motion, young
Americans play basketball in a variety of locations, including pastoral landscapes in the Midwest and concrete playgrounds in the inner
city. Behind the title card with Copland’s name a young black man
dribbles a ball along the Brooklyn Bridge, perhaps an acknowledgment that both Copland and Spike Lee grew up in Brooklyn and that
they may have more in common than audiences expect. Throughout
the credits sequence the audience hears the steel-driving clangor of
Copland’s “John Henry.” Although this composition is among Copland’s more dissonant works, it has an appropriately portentous quality, not unlike the beginnings of many big-budget American films.
Copland, in fact, specialized in the auspicious, often opening his compositions with grand gestures, even fanfares. He was also familiar
with the conventions of film music. He wrote soundtrack music for
Of Mice and Men (1939), Our Town (1940), and The Red Pony (1949), as
well as a few short films, and his score for The Heiress (1949) won an
Krin Gabbard is professor of comparative literature at the State University
of New York, Stony Brook. He is the author of Jammin’ at the Margins: Jazz
and the American Cinema and Psychiatry and the Cinema. His current project is
a book, tentatively titled Movies, Music, and Men.
American Music
Winter 2000
© 2000 by the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois
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Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland
371
Academy Award. Portions of the soundtrack music for Our Town can
even be heard in He Got Game. 1
He Got Game takes place during the few days when Jesus Shuttlesworth (Ray Allen) must decide where he will attend college. The most
sought-after high school basketball player in the nation, Jesus is recruited by a large group of college coaches, many of whom appear
as themselves in the film. Even his girlfriend, Lala (Rosario Dawson),
is involved with an agent who wants to profit from Jesus’ decision.
Jesus’ father, Jake Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington), is in a state
penitentiary serving a long prison sentence for killing his wife in an
incident of domestic violence when Jesus and his sister, Mary (Zelda
Harris), were children. The warden (Ned Beatty) tells Jake that the
governor, who is a graduate of “Big State,” wants Jesus to attend his
alma mater and that Jake may have his sentence reduced if he can
convince Jesus to attend Big State. Carefully watched over by prison
guards in plainclothes, Jake is taken to a sleazy motel on Coney Island where he must overcome the enduring bitterness of a son who
still blames him for the death of a beloved mother. At the motel Jake
becomes involved with a prostitute (Milia Jovovich), who returns to
her home in the Midwest after she makes love to Jake. At the climax
of the film, Jake challenges Jesus to a game of one-on-one basketball,
telling Jesus that if the father loses, he will permanently stay out of
Jesus’ life. If Jake wins, the son must sign the letter of intent for Big
State that Jake carries with him. Jake loses the game and is taken back
to prison, but the next day Jesus announces at a press conference that
he will attend Big State. The warden, however, tells Jake that since
he did not actually get Jesus’ signature on the letter of intent, the governor may not honor his promise to reduce Jake’s sentence.
The opening sequence of He Got Game, with a multicultural cast of
basketball players that includes young white women as well as African American men, does not actually racialize the music of Copland,
in spite of the fact that the legendary John Henry was black. But about
ten minutes into the film, after the principal characters have been introduced, Spike Lee is more didactic in mixing Copland’s music with
images on the screen. When Jesus and a group of black youths arrive
on a court at night and begin a vigorous game of full-court basketball, the soundtrack music is “Hoe-Down,” the final movement of
Copland’s 1942 ballet Rodeo. Spike Lee has made a powerful statement
by combining images of young black men playing basketball with
music written by the one composer in the classical tradition considered by many to be “the most American.” Writing in the New York
Times in anticipation of the centennial of Copland’s birth, Anthony
Tommasini referred to the composer as “Mr. Musical Americana.” 2
Copland’s music, especially a composition as robust as “Hoe-Down,”
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372
Gabbard
can signify the American spirit at its most positive. Wit, energy, spontaneity, romance, bravado, optimism, and grace all seem to emanate
from the music, as if Copland’s dancing cowboys transparently express the soul of the American people. These kinds of associations
have more to do with the reception of Copland’s music than with
anything intrinsic to it, but Spike Lee has made the most of commonly
accepted associations by linking “Hoe-Down” with exuberant young
black men on a basketball court. In a move that would have pleased
Ralph Ellison, Lee may be asserting that these African Americans
youths are as uniquely and thoroughly American as anything that
Copland’s ballet music might signify. For Ellison, African Americans
are most themselves when they improvise and play changes on the
bricolage of American culture. And Lee has said, “When I listen to
Aaron Copland’s music, I hear America, and basketball is America.” 3
But just as Lee has made the obvious statement-African Americans
are American-he is also stating the inverse-Americans are African
American. Like Ellison before him, who said that being truly American means being somehow black, Lee has made his assertion knowing that many white Americans cannot accept it. So long as this remains the case, even flawed films such as He Got Game deserve our
attention.
The Invisible Signifier
In his choice of Aaron Copland, Spike Lee may also have sought to
reverse the familiar Hollywood practice of using the invisible and “inaudible” sounds of black music to accompany the actions of white people.4 As composers of film music frequently point out, if audiences listen too closely to the background score, something has gone wrong.
The most successful composers find subtle ways to supplement the
action on the screen, often playing to cultural assumptions of which
audiences are scarcely aware, certainly not while the film narrative is
in full gear. This convention is at its most benign when an unseen African American singer provides a romantic atmosphere for white lovers. Clint Eastwood used this convention in Play Misty for Me (1971),
when he appropriated the voice of Roberta Flack to enhance the love
scenes between his character and Donna Mills’s, and then again twenty-four years later in The Bridges of Madison County (1995), when the
songs of Johnny Hartman provided the precise degree of romance and
masculinity that Eastwood’s character might otherwise have lacked.5
Similarly, in Groundhog Day (1997), when Bill Murray romances Andie
MacDowell (in a small-town location that includes virtually no black
people), the soundtrack includes Ray Charles singing “You Don’t
Know Me” and Nat King Cole crooning “Almost Like Being in Love.”
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Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland
373
In a more sinister use of the voices of blacks to signify something
other than black subjects, a film will make a menacing group of youths
seem even more menacing by playing rap music on the soundtrack
even if all the youths are white. Andrew Ross has pointed out that in
Batman (1989) the Joker is played in white-face by the white, middleaged Jack Nicholson but that the character arouses white anxieties
about black youth by speaking in rappish rhymes and spray-painting graffiti on famous paintings in a museum while prancing to the
funk of the artist then known and now once again known as Prince. 6
In all of these films, diegetic or extradiegetic music says what the filmmakers are unwilling or afraid to say with images. While Eastwood
and the makers of Groundhog Day engage in “permissible racism” 7 by
benignly associating African American artists with intensified romance and sexuality, the singers are acknowledged only in the end
credits, their black bodies kept off screen in order to maintain the centrality of white characters. In Batman, director Tim Burton and his
collaborators have avoided charges of overt racism by not showing
black hooligans on the screen, but they have made the Joker more
threatening by linking him to African American musical performances
that are despised by many white Americans.
In He Got Game, Spike Lee has essentially reversed these conventions. Instead of using black music as a supplement for white characters on the screen, Lee allows the music of a white composer to enhance the playfulness, grace, and masculinity of black youths on the
basketball court. Lee may even have supposed that the early scene
with “Hoe-Down” would be widely excerpted outside of its original
context. Even for those who do not know the plot of the film or the
identity of the ballplayers, the meaning of the scene is clear. When I
have presented the shorter, spoken version of this essay, I have made
the case for Lee’s reversal of standard Hollywood practice most forcefully by showing that scene. There are surely any number of academic
presentations on Lee, Copland, and/ or film music that have made or
will make use of the same scene. By simply bleeping out the one use
of the word “shit” on the soundtrack, the clip could even be a useful
teaching tool in a grade-school music appreciation class. This would
bring the music of Copland home to a generation of American students more in touch with black urban culture than ever before. But
even this scene must be understood in the larger context of He Got
Game, of Spike Lee’s other films, and of Aaron Copland’s career. By
combining the music of Copland with images that do not immediately appear apposite, Lee has made viewers think about new sets of
associations. By tracing out an even larger group of associations, this
essay is in effect continuing the work of the film. Ultimately I have
little interest in what Spike Lee actually knows about Aaron Copland.
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374
Gabbard
I am much more interested in how racial, sexual, political, and musical discourses play off one another in and around He Got Game.
Constructing America
As the theorists of postmodernism have argued, sounds and images
do not adhere to grand narratives but circulate freely among systems
of meaning that escape the conventional boundaries of academic disciplines. And as the new musicology has suggested, musical meaning has as much to do with listening communities as it does with wellestablished attempts to “anchor” it in reassuring discourses. 8 Spike
Lee has made several attempts to anchor the compositions of Copland to specific meanings at crucial moments in He Got Game, often
lifting music out of its more familiar context so that it can signify in
new ways. In the “Hoe-Down” sequence, however, Lee follows traditional practice and casts Copland as an “American” composer in
the most positive and unproblematic sense. But Copland’s identity
as Mr. Musical Americana becomes highly problematic if we examine his own story.
Copland did, in fact, seek new ways of creating a music that was
recognizably American, even in his earliest works. Rejecting many of
the Eurocentric elements in American classical music, Copland paid
special attention to American folk melodies and quoted them in his
compositions without irony or patronizing gestures. 9 He also found
tonalities that gave his music a spacious, uplifting quality that is today considered “American” even if the same chords that seem to symbolize the wide-open plains of the American countryside can have
different meanings in other contexts. 10 (Copland’s Jewish roots have
also been connected to passages in his music, as when Howard Pollack suggests that a central motive in the Piano Concerto of 1926 hints
at “the calls of the shofar.”) 11
But if Copland intended his music to represent the essence of America, he did so in a spirit that was by no means blandly jingoistic. Especially in the 1930s his politics were well left of center, leading him
at one point to write what he called “my communist song,” a setting
for a Marxist lyric by Alfred Hayes. 12 Although he never joined the
Communist Party, his 1934 song, “Into the Streets May First,” won
the prize in a competition sponsored by the New Masses, a prominent
magazine for “the proletarian avant-garde.” 13 In writing this music,
Copland succeeded by combining a musical style that might be called
“revolutionary” with an appeal to mass taste. 14 Copland later disavowed the song, but its composition foreshadowed certain stylistic
aspects of Fanfare for the Common Man (1942). Although Fanfare was
written to bolster the morale of Americans in the early stages of World
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Spike Lee Meets Aaron Copland
375
War II, and although by the end of the millennium the piece was being used in television commercials for the U.S. Marine Corps, the
music must also be regarded as a powerful statement of the composer’s leftist sentiments. Pollack suggests that even Copland’s invocations of Abraham Lincoln, Billy the Kid, and John Henry can be understood alongside Communist Party leader Earl Browder’s efforts
to bring ultranationalist sentiments into the party’s rhetoric. 15
Nor should Copland’s homosexuality be overlooked in the consideration of a music that has been characterized as “manly” as well as
American. Keep in mind that the sounds of Rodeo and Billy the Kid
that wash over the robustly masculine bodies in He Got Game were
written for the ballet. Compared to the black athletes in Lee’s film,
the actual dancers who have performed these ballets look like gay
men in cowboy drag, which in many cases they are. Indeed, as Susan McClary points out in a discussion about the sexuality of male
composers, “[t]he straight boys claimed the moral high ground of
modernism and fled to the universities, and the queers literally took
center stage in concert halls and opera houses and ballet, all of which
are musics that people are more likely to respond to.” 16 As a gay man
Copland was surely fascinated by men who performed their masculinity in the dance, the cinema, and the opera, and he wrote memorable music for all of these genres. Pollack even suspects that there
are homosexual subtexts to much of Copland’s work:
This would include the macabre eroticism of Grohg, the portrait
of a rebel in Billy the Kid, the acceptance of difference in The Second Hurricane, and the male bonding in Of Mice and Men and The
Tender Land. Moreover, Rodeo, The Heiress, The Tender Land, and
Something Wild, all of which concern a young woman’s sexual and
emotional self-discovery, could be seen as “coming out” tales of
one kind or another. 17
Of course, it is also possible to hear much of this same music as a
“beard” to help Copland survive in a culture where Jews and homosexuals often have to pass for heterosexual Gentiles. Regardless, in
finding musical codes to express masculinity and heterosexual romance, Copland was demonstrating that he, like innumerable other
gay composers, filmmakers, and performers, was highly sensitive to
the performative nature of sexuality and gender.
Not every critic was comfortable associating a gay, Jewish leftist
from Brooklyn with the most basic sounds of America. A variety of
writers have denounced Copland’s attempts to create a uniquely
American classical music. Many of these attacks were unself-consciously anti-Semitic, such as the statement by E. B. Hill that in his …
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