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gigi

Funerals on film

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I'm about to start my PhD on iconic funerals of the 60s and 70s in the US. I'm specifically looking at how these events mediate national memory.

More widely, I'm interested in the representation of funerals and mourning across popular culture - both factual and fictional. These can be personal or social and can be obvious - for example Bobby has some archival footage of RFK's funeral at the end - or more subtle, eg. Spike Lee's When The Levees Broke is a prolonged eulogy shaped by a New Orleansean performative approach to death & mourning. This may also not be apparent in the first instance, or even intentionally incorporated into the film - JFK can be seen as a public exclamation of grief, and a nation's continued attempt to understand a traumatic event. Abel Ferrera's The Funeral looks at family structures but also represents a character based approach to the social rites of funerals.

Any ideas, people? Would be nice if you could give a brief description and/or analysis rather than just a list of titles. Not that I'm trying to get you to do my work for me, just gives me more to go on and hopefully kick start a critical discussion.

Thanks :)

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Well, the first one that came to mind was Vito Corleone's funeral in The Godfather. The mourning at his funeral seems to be left to the women of the family, although there isn't much of that shown. For the men, it's more about power struggle - Vito is barely cold, and yet different members of his "family", and the other mafia "families", are using his funeral to set up their future positions in the mafia hierarchy.

Don't know if this is the type of stuff you are looking for, but I hope it helps.

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I was going to say "The Funeral" but then I saw you already had it. Then I was going to say "The Godfather". The ones that are springing to mind are not exactly current - e.g. Ordet, but I'll keep it turning over and see if I get any.

Obviously though there's "4 Weddings and a Funeral"

Oh and "Shooting Fish", and that James Bond one where he ends up in the casket.

Did you mean good films?

Matt

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Some random thoughts:

Death at a Funeral comes out in November in the UK. No idea what it will be like, but some of our north American friends might know it.

The Queen has some connection to some iconic funeral or other, I seem to recall! (though not an American one)

Matt's comment about Shooting Fish made me think of the wonderful Big Fish, which contains a death and I think a funeral.

Once Upon a Time in the West

Road to Perdition, Gangs of New York

Elizabethtown, High Fidelity, About Schmidt, The Constant Gardener, Syriana, Monster's Ball, What Dreams May Come, The Upside of Anger

Breaking the Waves

The one in Garden State sticks in my mind, though I can't recall why at present. I didn't think much of the film, so maybe it was an awful funeral.

Not sure that The Corpse Bride quite counts...

[edit: Sorry, just realised you want description and analysis, and all I'm doing is randomly listing films that I seem to remember include a funeral. My brain's not up to it right now, but maybe my suggestions may prompt others to comment!]

Edited by Tony Watkins

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One funeral scene that always sticks in my mind is from Peter Mullan's Orphans, in which the eldest brother refuses help from anyone after rejecting his brothers (whom he views as disgraces) and instead tries to carry his mother's casket all by himself -- with predictably disasterous (and humorous) results.

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Jenny - funeral scenes in general. My PhD is quite focused (the Kennedy's, King, Malcolm X, and Elvis), and am interested to broaden out this discussion to more general representations of funerals.

Tony - lists still help as way of refreshing what I've seen, and as pointers as to where to go. I'd completely forgotten about Breaking the Waves and that's a fab funeral scene. Though a brief description - like Ball's & Orphus' posts - is extremely helpful (you've definitely captured my attention with that description of Orphans and will add to rental list).

Ashamed to say that I've been a film student officially for 10 years now, unofficially much longer, and I STILL haven't seen The Godfather ::blush:: What's worse is that I've seen 2 & 3... film blasphemy!

4 Weddings and a Funeral is a not bad film. Not great, but as romcoms go, it's pretty decent. Anyway, lot to be said about imagined communities and the move away from traditional family and towards friendship networks as the central force in defining identity. It could be read as a conservative move back towards the family: the complete individuals are those that are married, the gay men ultimately end up dead/alone. OR it could be read as a confirmation of new social structures as more liberating, fulfilling, and encouraging self-reflexivity and personal growth - though I would add that there is almost a strain of paranoia running through it that the single people won't find that 'perfect other', which indicates how firmly rooted and normalised traditional family values are despite our awareness that alternative lifestyles are a perfectly valid option. The funeral, particularly because of the dramatic melancholia of the poem recited, walks a fine line between honouring the gay relationship and reiterating the aforementioned paranoia. I would say, though, that theirs is perhaps the most credible and strong relationship in the whole film, largely due to the two very fine actors in these roles.

As for The Queen... I could write 35000 words on this. In fact, I kinda have.

Edited by gigi

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Re 4 weddings - recently re-watched it and didn't enjoy it half as much as I did when it first came out. It all seemed like rather veiled anti-marriage propaganda to me this time around.

Matt

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Yi Yi ends with a funeral. Although the trappings are Buddhist (I suppose), the emotions are purely human.

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Re 4 weddings... It all seemed like rather veiled anti-marriage propaganda to me this time around.

Can propaganda be veiled?

Beth - thanks - definitely interested in funerals from different cultures.

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: Can propaganda be veiled?

I think so, but haven't the time to explain it just now.

one for another day maybe

Matt

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This thread reminded me once again of the wonderful writing by Thomas Lynch, poet and undertaker from Milford, Michigan. And to my horror I have discovered that at some point in the past I've lent my copy of his The Undertaking to someone and never had it back. All those marginal notes! Oh woe!

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I've just googled it, it currently makes for light bedtime reading in my house. Thanks Tony, looks great!

I'm beginning to develop a rather morbid reputation. I'm house-hunting at the moment and saw a place that backed onto a cemetery, a friend of mine commented "it's fate", another said "you can do primary research".

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Funnily enough, it's processions that I'm particularly interested in as they represent a transitionary moment in the individual's status in relationship to the social network.

That reminds me: Trilogy the Weeping Meadow has one which is also a sort of homecoming that's quite impacting.

Thanks for that, Jenny.

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Vanaja has a Hindu funeral, at least the lighting of the pyre, involving some one of a low caste.

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oooh! Yes! Good one! Although that's technically 'an offering', but yes, hmmmmmm... interesting... *goes off into the corner to ponder on this a while*

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Gigi, such great news to hear you are embarking on a PhD. The world needs more informed writing by such interesting/interested people. My mind instantly jogged to the first chapters of Adam Lowenstein's book Shocking Representations in which he relates trauma studies to film theory. It is compelling to think that we have tools available that can critique the representation of trauma in film, though it is so rarely done with any fervor. I got a stack of articles that apply memory theory to Renais' portrayal of the Holocaust if you are interested, lost of tidbits in there that could apply easily to funerals.

But some of my favorite funerals:

The Barbarian Invasions - A lot of people found this film to be nihilist, too much Quebecois snark to be of any value. But I think the film chronicles a movement towards death. All the characters come to explain and understand the death of its main character in terms of movements and changes in their own lives (academic, theoretical, physical, sexual, etc...), making the actual death a stunning closure having doppler effect through these various mental and sexual histories. It seems that Arcand was interested in representing a truly post-Christian ritual of mourning, a way of dealing with death unmoored from what these characters see as the pretensions of modernity. But what actually happens is everyone simply discovers a great sadness, and this (perhaps) unwitting irony is what makes it such a great film about death. Even Arcand can't really outrun the denouement of his best character.

Dead Man - I am not familiar enough with William Blake to understand all the nuances of this film, but the funereal scene in this film is totally epic. If you get it figured out, please share it with us. It is rife with ritual.

Harold and Maude - As far as mourning is concerned, I love the faux-mourning of Harold in the cemetary scenes. Douglas Coupland even used the term "Harolding" in one of his book titles, such a neat little word picture. You said: "it's processions that I'm particularly interested in as they represent a transitionary moment in the individual's status in relationship to the social network." Harolding seems to be the practice of identifying with this transitionary moment rather than the dead person or the funeral goers.

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The entire second half of IKIRU is centred around, well, not exactly a funeral, but some sort of gathering related to the central character's death, along the lines of a wake or tribute.

Amen about HAROLD & MAUDE - lots of funerals!

Don't know how you feel about Julie Taymor's latest, but twinned funerals to the song "Let It Be" comprise one of the strongest sequences in ACROSS THE UNIVERSE.

The funeral in WAKING NED DEVINE is terrific - a fake funeral for a living man, pretending to be a dead man, who listens to his own eulogy.

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