30/11/2016

Gone With The Wind - Why Women Don't Exist Part 2

Thoughts On: Gone With The Wind


The journey of the pernicious, self-indulgent and often sour Scarlett O'Hara from child to adult that accounts her struggle in the South during the American Civil War.


I love this film. Gone With The Wind is without a doubt one of my favourite films of all time. But, before getting into why I have to clarify the title of this post. If you are familiar with the blog, you'll know that the Virtue Series is a collection of essays on the films connected to my screenplay, Virtue's Ploy - which is not only available on the blog, but other places we'll get to in the end. In Virtue's Ploy there is not only references to Gone With The Wind, but also Villeneuve's Enemy. These references are made under themes of women and the protagonist's perception of them. If you want that detail further clarified check out the screenplay. Nonetheless, I only bring this up because this post is connected to another I did on Enemy a few months ago. So, if you like that film and want further details into all we'll talk about today, please check out...


On a final note, the post on Enemy is justified to be apart of the Virtue Series, but because I wrote it so long ago, the only links to it will be through this post, not the Virtue Series page. Ok, so whether you clicked that and came back or just jumped to here, let's get on with things...

The primary reason I can watch this 4 hour picture time and time again is simply down to the character of Scarlett O'Hara. I have this strange affinity for her presence in each scene, something we won't try to explain with a therapy session, but the mechanics of the story. The reason why this affinity is strange is quite obviously because Scarlett is not a very nice person. She is very much the anti-hero of this film. However, Scarlett isn't an anti-hero in the same way Batman or Deadpool is. These stark anti-heroes are clearly labeled as such because they do good things through unorthodox methodology. Batman, like Deadpool, is a vigilante, they both seek out their own form of justice. Unlike Batman, Deadpool is an awful lot more ruthless, killing bad guys with a smile. But, because there is an undeniable bad guy in the narratives of Batman and Deadpool and it is their goal to quash them, they are good guys by default. This earns them the status of hero. Their reluctance to accept this term and do things in a restrictive and dogmatically 'good' way, makes them anti-heroes. What Deadpool and Batman make clear about Scarlett O'Hara is that she's not really a reluctant do-gooder. She wants love, she wants money, she wants a good life and is willing to step over anyone to get to it. This, from a romantic's point of view, makes her an anti-hero as she fights against looming bad guys: dissatisfaction, discontent, disappointment, mundanity. But, from a more rational point of view, Scarlett stepping over everyone, using people she professes to love (Melanie) just to be close to the person she really yearns for (Ashley), is the bad guy. Scarlett acts, very much so, as if she is the bad guy of this narrative. What this implies about my 'strange affinity' for Scarlett is that its probably tantamount to my liking Alex from A Clockwork Orange, The Joker from The Dark Night or Patrick Bateman from American Psycho.

In my opinion, likeable bad guys and anti-heroes are basically the same thing. This is because to write likeable bad guys, you have to rationalise their goal of evil. For example, Patrick Bateman. His goal is to lash out at the world because he is so often ignored. (For a more in-depth analysis of American Psycho click here). Because his presented goal somewhat resonates, he's not a strict bad guy. The same can be said for The Joker. He wants chaos for chaos's sake and so decides to fuck with Batman in a perpetual game of destructive cat and mouse. All likeable bad guys are the anti-hero of their own narrative. Great bad guys are then just on the side of a narrative we're not seeing things from. In other words, The Dark Night from The Joker's point of view would be just as effective (though, with an alternate meaning) as it is from Batman's (presumably of course). This is exactly why likeable antagonists and anti-heroes are the same thing. Their only difference is in how we see them - as dictated by a narrative's perspective or lead character. Nonetheless, if Scarlett is less like the anti-heroes which are meant to defeat evil and is more like antagonists who are meant to defeat the good, why doesn't she fit in with The Joker, Patrick Bateman or Alex from A Clockwork Orange? The key differences between Scarlett and these clear bad guys who we happen to like is that we see her 'evil journey' from her perspective and under the guise of romance. This transforms the capacity by which we like her. We like The Joker because he appeals to a more darker side of our morality. Whilst Batman leans toward control and structure, he leans towards chaos and anarchy. Who is right, who is wrong? It really depends on the mood I'm in when you ask me. And this is why I can be emotionally manipulated to be on Batman or The Joker's side. However, Scarlett doesn't lean on a darker side of my morality like The Joker because of key themes such as romance making up her narrative. Sure, both characters are self-absorbed and destructive in a very childish way, but Scarlett is like this to essentially to poison the waters around her. The key distinction to be made between Patrick, The Joker, Alex and Scarlett is that the former three are nihilists with undertones of absolute destruction; they want to destroy the world and maybe themselves in the process - all for a good laugh and/or cry. Scarlett distinguishes herself from these bad guys because she means to poison her social atmosphere as to conserve her own social bubble. She wants to see other's suffer so she can be happy - and this is why her core incentive is to steal Ashley away. Scarlett, unlike The Joker, Patrick and Alex, doesn't want absolute destruction, she only wants to poison the waters around her whilst she swims untouched.

So, after comparing Scarlett to both anti-heroes and likeable antagonists, we can see that she's neither here nor there. She's got traits of an anti-hero in her being a romantic vigilante willing to do anything for love. However, there is no ultimate good, or external collective she's helping by doing this. Her self-absorbed nature makes her a little more like likable antagonists, but this is sullied by her lack of destructive will that lies at the core of many of these nihilistic, anarchistic, figures. Where does this leave Scarlett? Well, she's simply somewhere in between, a paradox; neither good, bad, kinda good or kinda bad, just... a bit of a asshole, but one we like nonetheless. Having established this, we come to the interesting question of why we still like her. Because her not being an anti-hero or likeable bad guy leaves us without any justification for this, it's only by asking why we like her that we can see the depths to her character.

At risk of being labelled sexist, I think the key reason why we like Scarlett and can't see her as someone tantamount to The Joker or Batman, is that she's a woman. Because of this, her goals are constructed upon different themes; ones of romance and love. If we look at the majority of the teens in the first act of Gone With The Wind. we see a bunch of 16+ year olds that want to mesh genitals. From the opening conversation between Scarlett and the ginger twins to Scarlett's first confrontation with Ashley, everything is about falling in love, getting married, such and so on. This is all anyone talks about - young, old, man or woman. However, this all changes when true physical conflict is injected into the film: the war. The men hoot and holler as they run to their horses and go join the cause whilst the women start worrying about who's coming back. The obvious commentary throughout the film on violence in the form of war is then that it's mainly for men. Scarlett always finds herself entangled in the mess, but as a clear outsider - and this is where the conflict comes from, where the drama in this iconic image derives:


In such a commentary, we see an essential designation of priority: men want to indulge chaos, women want to preserve whatever it is they have. Both do this in hope of one day reintroducing peace, but this difference in approach is key as it explains the dichotomy of human preservation. Our species needs men and women, more importantly, their differences. The war effort is a good example of this. The men fight to stop their way of life (yes, this is owning slaves and so on) from being changed. The women hang back to preserve this way of life as best as they can. We see this idea mimicked throughout traditional relationships between men and women and all it is, is the expression of our evolutionary roots as hunter-gatherers. Men go out to capture the deer whilst women take care of the settlement. This relationship between the two halves of our species has kept us thriving as it exploits a universal paradigm of yin and yang, defense and offensive. In the same way you can only win a basketball game by defending your own hoop as well as attacking the opposition's, species can only survive within the natural paradigm of competition in this world by defending themselves and their territory as well as consuming other organisms and their land.

What on Earth does this say about Scarlett O'Hara's character? Quite simply, this explains that the reason I've been unable to define her as an anti-hero is that I've been using male characters as defining bodies of the concept. The truth is that Batman is the hunter and Scarlett the gatherer in the realm of anti-heroes. To define the term all the better, I think it then makes sense to take away the divisive caveat of Batman serving the collective and Scarlett being more selfish. This is because both are anti-heroes in the respect that they are striving towards a goal a traditional hero would, but with unorthodox philosophies, and the only thing splitting them apart is that Batman is metaphorically going to hunt the deer whilst Scarlett maintains the village. Seeing both characters on equal, but varying, grounds we can now better explore why we like Scarlett.

In short, Scarlett's 'unorthodox philosophy' that drives her towards a traditional heroine's goal is that she is no bullshit woman. Like Deapool, who shoots the man who tried to kill him in the end of his narrative instead of putting him in prison, Scarlett knows how she feels and cannot be contorted by basic ideas of honour and 'doing the right thing'. Just like Deadpool can run out of fucks for Ajax, Scarlett holds very few for Melanie, Rhett and Ashley. What this says about us liking these characters links back to a darker side of our morality. A moral is, in short, a concept hijacked by stupid assholes. Those who use the term like, 'he is a moral man', and never imply that morals are incredibly subjective things. Morals are just the way you see right and wrong. No matter how many people try and put down rights and wrongs down in a book as some kind of moral dictionary, no one can introduce dogmatism to this concept. We decide in each passing moment what is morally right and wrong. We often think morals relate to others, but they don't. We only think of morals in terms of other people to save our asses from getting told off by them. By opening up the term 'morality' to a very subjective and fluid view of what is right and wrong for you only and in a specific moment, we can comprehend the idea of a darker side to morality. What falls under this shadow is often 'selfish' views of right and wrong. In other words, Scarlett sees love as something right in her world. She wants this morally good thing in her life in a completely self-absorbed fashion however. This then defines love to her not as being able to let someone go because that's what's right for them, but defines love as someone being there for her, doing what she wants, such and so on. Whilst this, on paper, is a fucked up view of love, it resonates. The evidence for this is the fact that Scarlett resonates. She is, on paper, fucked up. But, we like her nonetheless for the exact reasons outlined: we hold a darker, more selfish set of morals.

The true paradox of Scarlett's character is the that she can appeal to us on these terms. She holds selfish morals, ones that, in theory, don't give a shit about us, but we like her nonetheless. The whole reason why we hate bullies, evil geniuses and bad guys is that they hold selfish morals that do not consider us. We hate those how seem to hate us. We dislike or disregard those who dislike or disregard us. Why, if Scarlett's morals are tantamount to this, do we like her? Such is the paradox. But, it can be explained.

It is here where we delve into the true depths of why we like bad guys and anti-heroes from time to time. We are all inherently selfish. We see this in the concept of, 'we hate those how seem to hate us'. Very few of us are Gandhi (I doubt Gandhi was). Very few of us are truly pacifistic - especially in a social and emotional sense. Sure, people can appeal to the idea of not hitting someone back or not responding to their vitriol with equal malice. But, what kind of idiot actually loves those who hate them? This is hyperbolic bullshit. Don't love those how hate you, just ignore them - it gets you to a better place. Why? Because some people are assholes and will never change. No matter how much you love some people, they will always fuck up and try to hurt you; this is a simply truth in the world. Everyone recognises this in their core which is why we are all selfish. We do this to preserve ourselves. To love unconditionally is to commit suicide - emotionally and/or physically. With this selfishness comes an inherent self-centricity. If all we do is to preserve ourselves, is to survive, then we perceive the world from an irrevocably self-centric perspective. All we do and see is in relation to ourselves. This makes us selfish and ultimately (maybe rightly so) alone in this world. Before you start crying, this is not a bad thing; it's just the way things function. The upside to this futile disconnect is, representatively, movies. What Gone With The Wind says to us on a societal and existential level is that we can look at other assholes (from a distance) and see ourselves in them. We like Scarlett because she is a no bullshit woman and we wish we could be that too. Sure, we recognise that she'd probably brush us aside for her own personal gain, but what overrides this is a sense of connection, of vicarious experience. We watch Scarlett and she resonates with us because she lives the fantasy that the dark side of our morality wishes we would indulge more often. The same may be said for all anti-heroes or likeable antagonists. What makes Scarlett a special example (with me being a man) is that she implies that, whilst men and woman are different, they do have this connection. I like Scarlett as a female anti-hero - and such is the significance of the film to me. She appeals to this concept of me being alone, of women not existing in a philosophical sense, but still implies some intangible connection of selves that is emotionally and intellectually engaging, not to mention, entertaining.

The last note on Scarlett's character throughout the film is to story tellers. Scarlett O'Hara is a great character to study as she changes how one may see anti-heroes. What this does for her narrative is allow the construction of a unique cinematic experience and message. Gone With The Wind, through Scarlett, is all about perseverance and is a justification of fighting for what you want through a female anti-hero. This is what makes the picture unique and its narrative one people constantly return to. It's all down to the emotions by which this message is given; we're told of there always being another day, but from the mouth of an asshole - and we feel great hearing it. This is masterful story telling; the manipulation of emotion, character and story to put forth a point you've never experienced in such a capacity. This is the beauty of Gone With The Wind and is exactly why I love it. But, added to this, it is a great lesson in how to tell great stories with unconventional characters.

Lastly, to find out why this film is apart of the Virtue Series, check out Virtue's Ploy on the blog, or better still, pick it up from Amazon as an ebook for free if you're an American customer...


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The Sword In The Stone - Cinematic Rules

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28/11/2016

The Sword In The Stone - Cinematic Rules

Thoughts On: The Sword In The Stone


With help from the all-powerful Merlin, young Arthur stumbles toward greatness.


I've always liked The Sword In The Stone, it holds a simple yet wondrous story expressed with a tone somewhere between that of Alice In Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty - though, with a much stronger sense of character. And it's the characters in this film that really sell the simple plot. From Arthur, to Ector to Mim to Merlin, each character holds perfectly embellished traits that, whilst lacking nuance and great depth, work concisely with the simple narrative not made up of much more than a few meandering magical lessons. In such, we see the compartmentalised set-pieces of the film working with the loud character work to produce a great story with a plethora of memorable beats. This is not much of a surprise though as this is a Disney film. Almost all of the classics are no more than 80 minutes long, but manage to pack as much of an adventurous punch as a Lawrence Of Arabia, Star Wars or Lord Of The Rings. To clarify, the comparison here isn't of the quality of the films - isn't to suggest Lawrence Of Arabia can really be judged with much objectivity against The Sword In The Stone. The comparison is there to suggest that the major beats of a sprawling adventure as captivated by the likes of 3 hour pictures are tantamount to those captured by an 80 minute animated feature. What this says about Disney films speaks for itself. There is a masterful abbreviation of what could easily be narratives hours and hours long. How do Disney manage this? In short, there is a sacrifice of narrative verisimilitude for complete narrative responsibility. What these two terms I just made up suggest is that verisimilitude, things seeming real, provide a lot of your story as given. To clarify, let's take these films as examples...

    

(We've covered all of these on the blog, so click the images if you're interested). What links these three films is that they're all loosely based on true stories. Whether its the life of infamous gangsters of prisoners or the Vietnam war, each film has a pre-decided context. This context provides the screenwriter parameters they have to stick to - or at least nearby. In such, we see a class of narrative verisimilitude in these films. Screenwriters must present these events/characters as if they're real happenings or people - as is they're obligation. I chose these three films, however, to make clear that narrative verisimilitude doesn't mean you have to make boring movies that stick true to a premise or context. Without going full-blown Inglourious Basterds, these films create cinematic stories from what could have been documentaries. That means these films are a great representative of this concept of narrative verisimilitude as they fit nicely between the two extremes. On one end are films such as Fruitvale Station.


There is a clear attempt in this film and those alike to give you a grounded and realist story, one that uses verisimilitude, things seeming as real as possible, to hit you with the emotional crux of and purpose of the movie. Moving away from films such as this you come to movies such as Jason Bourne or District 9.



There is an explicit attempt in these film to sell the fantastical stories and characters with verisimilitude. We see this in the way things are shot in a handheld, documentary-esque style and how they're thematically linked to real life situations. Moreover, these films are tied down in terms of their realism through the implied confines of physical law. District 9 is a far-reaching example of this because of... aliens... but, the way the concept of an alien contact is handled grounds the plot, sinking you into a cinematic space whereby you can ease into a mind-set whereby the unfolding events make a lot of sense. In this, we see that these films seem real because they appeal to our biases of what can and cannot happen, of what can be considered real and what can be dismissed as fantasy. Most crucially, few rules of physical law or human behavior are explicitly broken in films such as District 9 and Jason Bourne despite the obvious fact that they're just films. We see this kind of verisimilitude sweeping through cinematic fantasy more and more through comic book blockbusters. Because this is something we've picked up on before, I won't dwell. However, grounding fantasy is an approach, with merits and downfalls, to telling poignant stories - ones reliant on realism and the subtly contorted everyday.

Having touched on examples of films with varying narrative verisimilitude, we can begin to look the other way. This is where we come to Disney...




As is obvious, these films aren't trying to ground things, to make them seem real, to imbue their narratives with all of the aforementioned verisimilitude. To understand the profound beauty in all of this, I think its best to break cinema and story telling down to a ridiculously fundamental level.

Stories are things happening, are a movement through space and time, from an A to a B. Why do we tell stories? I'm sure there's no singular reason, but one that makes most sense is that there is a perception in all of us of space and time. Because we are alive, because we're all conscious with eyes in the front of our heads, because we live our lives through our own little stories, we like to tell them. This communication of our own personal perception (a.k.a story telling) is not only a way to relate to others, but a way to convey in the most existential sense the idea that we exist. If stories are a projection of the fact that we can perceive, then having to tell them to others is a means of proving this, of saying to others that we can perceive, that we do exist. In such, we see through a wonderfully pretentious looking glass at the inherent poetry of making up stories. However, there's more to stories than telling the people you live with what happened today at work. Stories have evolved beyond the past, the slots of spacetime we have experience. Because stories are a projection of our mind's perceptual eye, they are attached to concepts of not just memory, but foresight, wishes, dreams, imaginings. That is why the majority of stories we like to hear aren't about everybody's last 24 hours. We not only tell each other of the things we feel, the things we hope will happen in the future with a plethora of what ifs and maybes, but we make up completely tangential things. Great stories tellers branch away into true stories of other people, stories like that in Fruitvale Station, and continue to move further away from this, taking context and changing it slightly, giving the likes of Full Metal Jacket, further, Jason Bourne, further, District 9, further, Dumbo, The Little Mermaid, The Sword In The Stone. Now recognising this paradigm, there's two things we have to understand aren't happening. The first is that there's not an evolution from the likes of Friuitvale Station to The Sword In The Stone. These are two different forms of story telling, no one is better than the other - it's all about story, rarely just form. The second point of conjecture is that this movement from the realist to the fantastical isn't a true movement. In my saying, 'we make up completely tangential things' I wasn't being all to expressive. In truth, these stories, the Full Metal Jackets, Hercules, Lawrence of Arbias, are no different from hearing about someone's day.

This is a key point to remember about story telling. No matter how much nonsense you make up, you can never express more than what happened to you yesterday, ten years ago, two months ago. Moreover, you can never tell someone more than what happened to them yesterday, ten years ago, two months ago. This is a scary concept as it turns the idea of story telling being an existential communication of us existing on its elbow. This concept implies that when we speak of mermaids, spies and aliens, we are merely talking about our simple recognition of the world around us. We can only personify memory, fantasy, the world we see; we turn our fears and dreams of being trained in combat, weaponry, being able to fight the world into Jason Bourne. We turn fish into projections of teenage angst. We turn worries of societal interaction on a macrocosmic level into aliens landing in South Africa only to be forced into slums. In such, we are seeing the manipulation of the world around us into what we already know, into our everyday - all through themes. To further clarify with District 9, the film doesn't just refer to apartheid through its plot, but refers to themes of family, isolation, loss and depression through its characters and wider narrative. In this we are seeing the translation of fantastical sci-fi into events we see on the news into things we experience in our everyday; it's aliens, to apartheid, to the people we're watching the film with, those we couldn't bare see subject to the themes presented to us. What this movement from fantasy to the everyday suggests is not only a parallel between the human imagination and mundane perception of the everyday, but our inability to comprehend true fantasy. This is where the existential themes come back in. With Fruitvale Station, District 9 and Dumbo, we're essentially telling ourselves the same stories we've heard a million times with different words printed on the sheet. These films talk to us in emotion, in themes; they only resonate because we already have glimpses at these 'realities' and the presented emotions. This conceptually darkens the world around us, entrapping our perceptual gaze to what's 4 feet in front of us and 2 hours behind. Furthermore, when we're telling people these stories, we're not only talking in a language of emotions already experience, but emotions they already know. We are pushing the same 5 or so buttons in our brains as an attempt to tell other people that we also have those buttons. And it's this that convolutes the idea of communication through story telling. Are we simply shouting into a void, pretending we are heard and can hear what reverberates in the vacuous nothingness we try not to perceive when we tell these fundamentally identical stories all about ourselves as no different from anyone else?

Casting aside the existentially rhetorical aspects of story telling, let's hold onto the bare roots. Story telling is an attempt toward communication that is all about ourselves - an emotional projection centred on our experiences. If, for reasons tied to confounding existential isolation, stories make us feel good - feel some sense of security - why do things seemingly tangential to all we know (fantasy films) work so well when grounded, realist films are so much more direct in their communication? It's here where we focus in on The Sword In The Stone.




With this film being so poignant, so fantastical, we essentially come back to the initial question of how Disney create such impactful, but abundantly abbreviated stories. To answer a question of why a film about becoming a bird, fish and squirrel before a king works, we need this question as it brings us back to narrative verisimilitude. As mentioned, Disney films do not have a focus on making things seem real - this has never been where they have found success. They're success is in magic, is in their approach to narrative responsibility. This idea is somewhat opposed to narrative verisimilitude. Whereas realism is in large part a way of giving your film structure and rules, narrative responsibility is about creating those rules yourself. There is an abandonment of realism for a cinematic space that you must control and present as a new shade of reality - one suitable enough to communicate a story utterly dependent on human emotion. This is what Disney do so well, they create they're own cinematic rules. All filmmakers do this to a certain degree, they balance verisimilitude with their own ideas of what can work. There is a plethora of varying examples by which filmmakers do this, the most fundamental example is simply how films are shot; they never appeal strictly to how we view the world otherwise all films would be continuous POVs with no cutting and very little happening. More complex variations on this creation of a cinematic space comes into realisation with animation, drawing characters; birds, that can speak, that were boys just a second ago - fictional-ish ones subject to legend, myth and then a plethora of fantastical contortion. Despite the myriad of convoluting revolutions the story of King Arthur had to take to become The Sword In The Stone, it doesn't take a genius to watch this film - we give it to our children to keep them quiet for a while. Without delving into how this is kind of crazy when you look at things from a philosophical perspective abstract of humanity, this says a lot.

This crazy story works because the rules broken, the rules made up, have a thematic point to their construction and likewise destruction. In other words, we readily accept the nonsense that this film is on paper because of an inherent comprehension of subtext that even children get. And its in this idea that we'll see why Disney films are so poignant, are filled to the brim with as many memorable moments as films two or three times their length. To get into why we're going to have to appeal to a slightly more confusing film...


In truth, Inception is a film thousands of times simpler than The Sword In The Stone. The reason why it seems so complex, however, is that we think we have to understand it all - moreover, it wants us to. In such, I mean to say that the film wants us to understand its rules of dreams, levels subconsciousness, such and so on. (Click here for a post on how ridiculous Inception's rules are). The Sword In The Stone has much more complex premises than Inception though. For example, talking fish, transformation, shrinking cutlery, dragons, swords that decide kings... the list goes on and on and on. However, despite the plethora of confusing elements in this film that would be unfairly subject to an ass-ripping by a cinematic nit-picker who watches too much CinemaSins, there's an understanding of it - we all get this film. Why? Because it doesn't explain itself. It implies magic and allows us to all go along with the movie. Inception is simpler yet more confusing because it won't say magic. (Neither approach is better than the other, it must be noted). What this says about Sword In The Stone and fantastical films in general, is that they talk in subtext that is emotional. We see the point in the crazy sequences like the magic battle through themes, through character, through implied ideas that Mim is malicious and Merlin, whilst easily roused up, is intelligent. Such is the point of the film. It's all about brains, not brawn, making the world a better place. Each sequence echos this point and so we don't need explanations of how magic works, of fate, wizards, medieval society, such and so on.

It's because of this silent undercurrent in the story that it has structure that is both comprehensible and poignant despite the overlying veneer of craziness. In other words, it's the rules established by the film, through a taking of cinematic responsibility, that it can be so simple. Instead of searching for verisimilitude, the film speaks to us in ill-defined but transparent ideas. It's this juxtaposition of the simple rules, the basic themes and story, with the vastly imaginative sequences and plot that compound the 80 minutes of The Sword In The Stone, that have it be as vast and sprawling as an adventure that relies on true stories, verisimilitude and someone elses rules to tell its story. What Sword In The Stone says about animation and fantastical cinema of this kind is that its tantamount to slang. Proper speech patterns much like stories leaning further towards reality, verisimilitude, have rules: they are usually longer form and more complex despite their ultimate transparency. Such is Inception. It's longer than The Sword In The Stone, it's more complex, but when you understand the rules it becomes very transparent. Slang on the other hand, like more fantastical films, is of shorter form, is reliant on the audience bringing a certain amount of understanding tothem - and for this can be more complex despite its transparency. Once seeing the two kind of films in this respect you can contextualise them with archetypes of story telling. With Inception you essentially have something tantamount a good physics class. You are dealing with abstract concepts that you're supposed to accept as apart of reality told with very technical details that can be incredibly hard to comprehend. With The Sword In The Stone you have something tantamount to a good joke or comical story. This is a highly emotional A to B, heavily reliant on reflex (laughter), but ia often nonsensical, almost always functioning with an understanding that 'this is comedy, it's not real life'.

Such a dichotomy speaks expressively to the construction of stories through our approach to the rules of its world. The Sword In The Stone is a great example of cinematic fantasy and how to construct it. Moreover, it is a lesson in the fact that the rules you make up must be tied to a theme or a point. Just as this is a film about brains vs. brawn, so is each scene and sequence. This is why they work, this is why rules can be broken; they are there to glaze the familiar, the same stories we bellow into empty existential voids, with an illusion of the new, of something we haven't seen or heard before.

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26/11/2016

Endgame - Conspiracy

Thoughts On: Endgame: Blueprint For Global Enslavement

Alex Jones' political and historical endeavour to expose the corruption of the elite few and their ploy to enslave the world.


As of now, with this post, I have put out over 175 entries, I have covered over 100 films, published 6 screenplays and...

... I have something I need to open up about.

This is something I've never been quite explicit about. Not explicit and up-front enough.

This has to change.

I've decided to speak the truth on what I actually think.

I have a firm belief in people, in this world, in our past as a species. With this belief comes a responsibility, a responsibility to both myself and all of those I manage to come into contact with. We are very clearly guided by a broken system. We have been for a long time. Corruption is a deep wound in our society. And government, globalists and liberal media exploit this. They are the inherent evil that establish themselves as the elite, that skew a capitalist structure poisoned by greed and socialist lies to breed nothing but a fascist regime whereby the dictators of our lives become the vast expression of the acutely malicious, vein, vindictive and bloodthirsty heathens sent from the sable depths of a seething hell that wants nothing more than to rise and consume all that is good on this Earth.

Recognising this, I want to make a call to you, a call that--I'm joking.

Ok, despite my assing around, I have a respect for this film. I have a huge amount of respect for Alex Jones too. I can't listen to or take him seriously, but I respect him nonetheless. As I've said many times on the blog, I'm not one for politics. However, beyond politics are ideas, and beyond ideas are people. I have an interest in that middle ground - the ideas - and conserve some amount of respect for the latter; people. When looking at politics you often see a dogmatic divide, one labelled left and right, conservative and liberal. I like Alex Jones on the basis of his conservatism and how that fuels his character. His objection to change, to globalisation, bigger government, such and so on puts him in a mind-set I think speaks quite well to this political dichotomy of left and right. With liberalism, you often see a push for change. In terms of the things brought up in this film (globalisation, eugenics and so on) this change is quite a scary proposition. This is where the root of conservative objection comes into play. There is an objection to the convolution of boarders and government for fear of corruption, power vacuums - things going wrong in general. In the same respect, there is a fear of A.I, technology, social engineering - all in the hands of the wrong people. I think we can all understand these fears and so comprehend conservative ideas. In recognition of this, I find respect for Alex Jones. He essentially sees something he doesn't like and objects to it in a way I can only see to be genuine (though slightly crazy). And when people are genuine, when they have succinct conviction and don't mean to harm you, they become acceptable. You may disagree or not be on the same page as them, but you often manage to respect them. This is how I see Alex Jones. However. whilst we're talking about a film of his, I don't want to talk much about politics or the film's grievances. I'll get into why after a quick review.

Endgame is clearly a very opinionated film that is easily dismissed as conspiracy. It attempts to transcend this with its incessant conviction and technical facade, however, there are major faults in this on two levels; the argumentative and philosophical. We'll put the latter on hold for a while and touch on the way we're presented with evidence by Jones. In short, there's a lot of assumption and not much evidence, in this film. Sure, there are references to newspapers, legal documents and so on, but the veracity of them as evidence for Jones' points are very questionable. This is what gives the film the strong tone of banal conspiracy theory. However, I won't delve into trying to disprove, prove, counter-argue or explain the absolute plethora of just... stuff... that is thrown at us with this documentary. This is primarily because I have no idea what I'm talking about in this respect. I won't pretend that I comprehend global politics even slightly - all I do is talk shit about movies. This is why I won't/can't talk about politics extensively in respect to this film. Moreover, I don't think this kind of thought or political endeavour is for the average person. In the same respect we leave boxing to Ali, Tyson and Pacquiao, I think we should leave governmental conspiracy to Alex Jones. This is a convoluted proposition as it suggests politics should be left to a select few - which is arguably anti-democratic and/or elitist. Nonetheless, I hold this perspective on politics in general. How can we say democracy truly exists when most of us really don't know what we're talking about? We don't really know what a king's, president's, prime minister's job is. We don't know what goes into their everyday. We don't fathom how a country works. I doubt many people running it do, but that's only because we're all human. There's simply too much to society, the system far too complex, as to run it perfectly or even have an idea of how to do this when we all have to live our own lives and have a general lack fucks to give. For this reason, I stray from true political beliefs. I hold ideas and uneducated opinions, but I try not to take them too seriously. Yes, this is a lazy position, one that accepts the state of the world as a futile inevitability, but, as I said, I leave Jones to fight the good fight, to engage in his InfoWars.

Having gone through all of that, we can delve into the interesting aspects of this movie: the thought processes behind it. To get into this, we'll pick up on the second major downfall of the documentary; it's philosophical approach. This is why I respect, but don't really listen closely to the things Alex Jones says. He jumps to the crux or the conclusion of his points without really delving into the issue. The most prominent example of this is his speculation on eugenics near the end. He postulates that because Nazis, Mao, Stalin, chemicals and so on that the Bilderberg people are going to create A.I that will enslave us all. There is no attempt in here to break down what eugenics are, how it's not necessarily an evil death-cult-creating concept of oppression. Sure, there's example of this in history and if we bring A.I about, we're going to be thrust into a very precarious time whereby humanity could just go all Terminator Judgement Day, but isn't fucking around with technology what we kind of do best? Strict conservationism around this idea of A.I and transhumanism (people evolving with technology, transcending what we are now) makes you pretty boring. And I think that's the major argument for liberalism - it's fun. You get to think about sci-fi ideas, utopias and other romantic shit. Conservatism is a bit more pragmatic and... well... conservative. Nonetheless, the approach to these ideas, conservative or liberal, needs weight, and with that comes a philosophical argument, one that breaks a complex issue down into comprehsibly human terms. There is no explanation as to what Alex Jones thinks or wants beyond a few trigger phrases such as 'good', 'evil', 'right', 'wrong', 'power', 'individual', such and so on. Because of this, he makes no cohesive arguments as to what's wrong with A.I. He implies that governments will use it to enslave us... but again, this has no weight. This leaves him with little pragmatic sway and a weak thematic connection with his audience; one that is completely reliant on political beliefs brought to the film. What this does is render the film pointless in some respects - especially if it is a political call to action. It becomes a film for those who probably already know about Bilderberg, who think the government is corrupt and that we have to fight to stop oppression. Jones is then rallying a group of his own people, a kind of fan service or virtue signalling, by alienating on-the-fence or opposing viewers with intellectually flat arguments and philosophical advocations.

There is, however. a strength to this kind of filmmaking that, again, I respect - and kind of enjoy/support. This film very much mirrors how Alex Jones engages in debate. If you look at an interview he had with Pierce Morgan in 2013 (link here - P.S one of the best interviews ever) you see that Jones doesn't really want to engage in 'debate', much rather a monologue or rant. This is not really a bad thing. A great debate is a complex exchange of succinct points that build towards one truth - one that is usually somewhere between the two opposing sides. Conversely, Alex Jones is a great advocate of the monologue through his approach to 'debate'. Morgan tries to approach things almost as a lawyer, only asking questions he knows answers to, not talk to Jones, but to the audience (as if they were a jury). This is not really a great form of debate. It's much more tactical and personal than a simple exchange of objective ideas. It's variations on poisoned debate that make 'great debates' a true rarity. For this reason I think it's more responsible for someone to seek out monologues, to view singular sides of a debate at a time. No, you shouldn't just watch Alex Jones if you want to engage in a cohesive political discussion. You should seek out many differing opinions to try to grasp the subject from many angles. Debate is not a great way to do this. And in saying debate, I simply mean trying to get all of your information from one source. Let each opposing/varying source shout their monologue at you so you can come away with what you think is of worth. This is what the documentary at hand does. It tells you all it can without interruption. It's your job to find the counter-points, to work out what is right and what is wrong. This only furthers why I won't go into the specific politics of this film - I shouldn't be a source anyone listens to - not at all. The best takeaway of this movie though is definitely the advocation of the monologue through Jones' style. This is what makes him the seemingly genuine person he is, but also what makes the documentary work as a narrative piece. There's a flow to this documentary and you can very easily be swept up by it in a way that is tantamount to entertainment.

This is great thing to recognise as a story teller of any kind. To inform is often to entertain. The best example I can give is stand up comedy. As Joe Rogan says, a great comedian gets on stage and thinks for you. This is the crux of comedy in my opinion. Comedy is not really about fact and fiction, it's about emotion, about letting go of intellectual discourse with subconscious reflex. The great comedian thinks for us because we literally let them channel into our unconscious system through ideas. It could be Jim Jefferies talking about a vibrating egg up his ass or Eddy Murphy screaming about G.I Joes, poo sharks and busted eyes in the bathtub, but we let these comedians, through theme, channel into how we think, forcing laughter out of us. Whilst the latter examples are emotional ways of a comedian thinking for you, there's also intellectual ones. It can be Bill Burr's commentary on feminism and the wage gap with comparison to the Titanic or Joe Rogan on Egyptians, pyramids and dumb people, but with this interlectual comedic embodiment, the stand up artist is feeding us conceptual points and making us think of them in the same way as they do - as is evident by ensuing laughter. This paradigm of embodiment is the same in all arts. We allow artists to emotionally manipulate us to translate, through screens, canvases or off of stages, ideas; to make us think their way for a while. This is the crux of why I support the monologue as a form of argument - it doesn't involve a fight over attention and it frees an artist/speaker to be as expressive and succinct as they can manage. Moreover, what this concept of the artist thinking for you says about many forms of public communication is that you have to entertain. A huge factor of embodiment is resonation. This is why I make the point with stand up comedy. Whether there is an emotional or intellectual approach to this communication, the subject/audience must be put into a trance, they must be convinced that the words of the comedian are worth taking in. To do this there must be an establishment of both dominance and weakness. In other words, the comedian must communicate he is like you, but also a little bit better than you, for you to listen to him. After all, why would we listen to someone we have no chance of understanding and/or has nothing to say? By them being like us, we know we can understand them. By them being somehow better than us, we know they're worth listening to. Knowing this as an artist or entertainer, you can begin to see the mechanics of informing.

With Alex Jones presenting himself as the everyday middle-American, a religious man who loves freedom and family, he attempts to put himself on our level. With his aggressive assertion of conspiracy he also attempts to show himself to be worth listening to. And such is the flow and draw of his monologue-like-narrative outlined. It's all about us sharing a space somewhere between him stepping into our shoes and us stepping into his. This is the reason I bring up this film. It is a great demonstration of a very powerful narrative voice, but a simultaneously immersive narrative. Whilst I wouldn't say this is a particularly good film, this is quite a significant one under the guise of conspiracy theory and politics because these are such divisive concepts. Alex Jones demonstrates, imperfectly, how to go hard and most definitely not go home with this idea. His powerful narrative voice is one that engages us into insane ideas that you shouldn't take too seriously unless you're up for some serious shift in perspective (that may be utterly misguided) but also cushions the blow of these crazy theories with character you can find yourself respecting. Of course there are many that might think Alex Jones is just crazy, ridiculous and annoying, but I think this film has a lot to say about story telling in general. This film is ultimately a lesson in absurd character work and constructing a far-fetched plot/narrative meaning. Focus on conviction, on the the mechanics of informing and its symbiotic relationship with entertainment, and you may just be able to produce a narrative that both says something and has an archetypal character that begs to be delved into. Seeing Endgame in such a context, I can't help but respect this film.






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24/11/2016

The Last Warning - Where Did Superimposition Go?

Quick Thoughts: The Last Warning

A 1929 silent mystery set in a theatre haunted by the murder of a prolific actor.


The Last Warning is a film I can't help but recommend. I'm not a fan of mysteries however. As is evident in this film, mysteries have a heavy focus on plot, on pushing onto the next beat and revealing the next twist or revelation in a story. There's nothing bad about this. It's simply an approach to story telling that I don't like too much. I prefer stories centred on character, subtext and other pretentious things. Despite all of this though, The Last Warning is a monumental example of late silent filmmaking. Moreover, with Paul Leni helming this picture, we see the huge influence German Expressionism had over American horror/mystery movies. The expressionistic style is evident in the set design, the compact frame, lighting and the strong compositions. All of this creates a warm tone that draws you into the film, immersing you into the narrative. This is second to the direction though. There are so many inventive shots that play with perspective in a way you hardly see outside of the silent genre. In this, I mean to say there's the use of swinging camera, juddering POV, sweeping moves toward pictures, under curtains and a plethora of other things. This produces a directorial style that is very much like Hitchcock's. The reason for this is in the use of the camera as a character, as an observer trying to get the best view of this unfolding plot. For all of this, I'm ultimately left with a question of where did this go? Where has this succinct focus on playful direction gone? I think the answer lies in both the period this film is in and the director himself. Silent films had a heavy focus on direction, on the camera telling the story. Add to this the explicitness of the German Expressionist style brought by Leni and it becomes almost inevitable that the camera will become such a prominent figure in the film - and in films like it. Furthermore, what seems to have contributed to the move away from this style of direction is the transition into sound. And this is a double-edged sword. What this influx of sound technology gave us were films with a focus shifted onto narrative - those I have a preference to. Because of this we see the simple stories of the silent era as a world apart from what we have now. Over the last almost 90-ish years, there has been a cinematic focus on telling a story almost tantamount to a writer's focus, with what's in the frame as the crux of a film. In the silent era, through German Expressionism, Soviet Montage and French Impressionism, the cinematic focus was much more photographical with a focus on the frame itself - the camera telling the story. What this led to was the height of silent era as perfectly represented by films such as The Last Warning. My favourite example of this is in the opening of the film - in the use of superimposition. In other words, layering images on top of each other. This is a such a great technique that has slowly withered away with the introduction of colour and concentration on character and narrative. Superimposition requires a lot of negative space in the frame, something afforded with black and white photography which explains why it doesn't fit into the style of modern films. But, superimposition provides such a great effect that's not only astounding, that produces awe-inspiring images, but has the ability to layer meaning to a scene.

For this change in focus over the ages in films, I think this film then stands as testament to why silent films are very important to both audience and filmmakers. They give perspective on what cinema can do, shattering illusions of what we often tell ourselves cinema dogmatically is. Whether it's just the appreciation of superimposition, or other camera techniques, this is definitely a film to watch as to experience a different side of cinema you won't see so explicitly nowadays.

Thanks to James Lloyd, @CaptainJimDandy, for recommending this film to me.

For any further suggestions, comment below or send me a message at...







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Rebel Without A Cause - Triviality

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Endgame - Conspiracy

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23/11/2016

Blog News


This post is just a recognition that, as you can see, the blog has changed a little with a few alterations to the fonts, colours and so on.

Nothing significant. Not the end of the world. Just... yeah.

Thanks

22/11/2016

Rebel Without A Cause - Triviality

Thoughts On: Rebel Without A Cause

Jim, a troubled teen, spirals into calamity when trying to integrate himself into a gang.


This film is, in short, about a bunch of fucking idiots. To put it more eloquently, this is a film about growing up in trying conditions with naivety and an overwhelming recognition of the arbitrary chaos present in society and, macrocosmically, the universe. The major conflicts of this film then derive from an inability to comprehend or deal with, what is best put in abstract terms: life. For this focus on such complex yet universal themes, this film has earned the status of classic. However, this is not a perfect film. The film is extremely expressive with its characterisation and plotting because it concisely conveys its meaning, but, the hyperbolisation of both character and plot hurts the narrative in terms of verisimilitude. In this, I mean to say that the themes are over embellished, the characters overwritten and overplayed (mainly the smaller parts) resulting in an overly fantastical view of teenage issues that isn't entirely believable. To further clarify, like American Pie overplays teenage sexuality...


... Rebel Without A Cause overplays the conflicts between teenagers and their childhoods.


But, despite the hyperbolisation in the characters and plot, Rebel Without A Cause rightly deserves its place in cinematic history. The real triumphs of the film then encompass everything outside of the abandoned mansion sequence (the bulk of the third act, discluding the ending). What makes the majority of the film so great, especially the opening, is the way we're brought into a teenage perception of the world with empathy and understanding. We see Jim punching the desk, writhing with exasperation in the presence of his parents, and we completely get him. What we're being told with the opening act is then a pivotal aspect of the movie and what we'll dive into first as to get a grip on the depths of the film's meaning.

The relationship between Jim and his parents talks to the title of the movie - Rebel Without A Cause. Jim is of course our archetypal teenage rebel, rebelling against authority in its many forms: parents, school, police officers, teachers, bullies, social norm. But, whilst he rebels against these things, they aren't atom bombs, corruption, legislation, abuse, such and so on. The difference between being upset with your parents and the government is the personal and incredibly nuanced issue of mother/daughter, father/son problems. You can't protest for the change of some document somewhere to fix problems in this respect. And for this the cause of the rebel becomes intangible, essentially ceases to be. This leaves Jim rebelling for no easily perceived reason. What we're made to see with the opening and through the characterisation of Jim is, however, his cause. This is what makes this film so great - because this is quite a hard thing to do well. We see this to be the case when looking at many films with similar themes...




What these films struggle to balance, as this film does too, is action and reaction. In other words, when these movies try to delve into guns, huge parties, high stakes and a whole lot of romanticism, they loose their grip on the crux of their themes. The greater teen films are of course...




What makes these films great is their concentration on character and the confines of their plots. What this says about teen films in general is that we need verisimilitude and character to comprehend conflict - the driving force of films. Rebel Without A Cause, despite its slightly contrived climax, is a great example of this, which goes to show that the introduction is most important, that what lies beneath the title of the movie is where we find the film's worth. So, to delve deeper into Jim's situation, we simply have to see the introduction in context. What pushes Jim to get drunk, to lash out, beat the table, is a build up of many small things. It's his mother's moaning, his father's unreliability, his inability to give him a straight answer or be of any use. In short, Jim is who he is, in large part, because of his childhood and upbringing. And this is a persistent theme throughout the film. Through both Plato and Judy we are told of kids who are in a terrible transitory period between a warm childhood and colder adulthood. In this, it becomes evident that the core goal of Rebel Without A Cause is to break down the human psyche into a complex yet comprehensible equation; we are the product of our pasts interacting with our present, we are the product of how we were treated as kids, we are, in large part, the expression of things we cannot control. Jim's conflict thus becomes much clearer with this concept. His mother strives to be a huge factor of this equation of self. In short, she is controlling, she wants to determine his character and who he grows into. This isn't a bad thing, she doesn't do this with ulterior motive - she just isn't very great at it. On the other end of the spectrum is Jim's father, he is afraid of being that causal agent in his development of self. He tells him that 'you'll see when you're older' and other abstract cliches that in no way help him in his present predicaments. Jim then, without a great sense of articulation, tries to communicate this disconnect between himself and his parents. But, he can't get through to his mother that she is too much, neither can he convey to his father that he needs to man up.


This is, in fact, a huge part of Jim's character. He gets into knife fights, into the chicken race so he cannot be called 'chicken', so he isn't seen to be like his father. All of his actions are meant to be in a haphazard direction away from becoming being this...


The most poignant reflection on this paradigm of Jim growing up with these parents comes when his father says, "Choose your friends, don't let them choose you". This is said as Jim leaves for his first day of school and is a commentary on the previous scenes between Jim and his parents. The obvious implication is that Jim doesn't get to choose his parents and that such is the root of his problems. However, this suggestion is broken down with three proceeding events around the gang, the American flag and the school insignia. On his way to school we're introduced not only to the gang Judy hangs around with, but a symbol of societal formulation; people getting into groups as to add structure and hierarchy to the chaos that is a vast pool of potential big fish (high school; life in general). At school this is layered with a macrochosmic idea of groups; the American flag being raised - all before Jim steps on the school's insignia. This gets him in trouble with...


... a group of shoes - in other words, nameless, faceless masses that represent something you're not yet apart of. All of these images weigh into the thematic discussion on self-determinism with Jim and his parents. Not only is he a product of how they raised him, but also subjected to concepts of collectiveness that he also has no control over. The film then appeals to a Freudian and behaviorist perspective on the human psyche; we are blank slates controlled and determined by childhood and our environment. The conflict then built into characters from this position is all based upon a question of control. This is all surmised with the planetarium sequence:


We, along with the students, are directly told that people don't matter, that there is a confounding triviality of humanity in the vast truth of space and time because Earth will eventually be gone and mean nothing to the universe around it. This is a huge plot point of the movie, one referred to with the ending; with Plato being killed outside of the planetarium...


The composition of the above shot speaks best to the significance of this. Jim is a small figure in the frame, the planetarium gates overshadow him. It is the symbolic reference to trivial human worries that overwhelm both this shot and the characters within; Plato most. He, like almost all of the characters in this film, struggle to deal with the 'harshness' of life. I put harshness in quotes as to imply that humans attribute the adjective to an unconscious procession of events that the universe shows itself to be. It's this attribution that lies at the core of the movie. The film doesn't dwell on these existential ideas in such abstract terms though. Instead of the universe not caring for these characters, it's parents, gangs, schools, police, government. In such, we see the direct correlation between those Jim and co. rebel against and those that they wish they had some amount of control over. This control they wish they had is expressed, with corny overtones, in the abandoned mansion sequence.


These kids wish for change, for family, that people and the world alike would see as they do. This essentially leaves the film questioning who are these kids supposed to turn to for help, who is at fault for this film's ending? Is it the police? The parents? The school system? The gangs? The kids themselves?

Jim, Plato and Judy certainly see that their predicament as the consequence of their parents - essentially, how they were raised and how they're currently treated. There is, however, a huge difference between Jim and his two friends. In my opinion, fuck Plato and fuck Judy. Both of these characters face similar issues to Jim: mummy and or daddy issues. But, Jim is the only character who makes an attempt to change, who has a somewhat mature approach to his problems. This is why I opened by saying that this is a film about a bunch of fucking idiots. Whilst I understand their struggle, whilst I see why they act as they do, I don't sympathise with how they behave - Plato especially. Not only is he shamefully clingy and emotional, he shoots puppies when he's angry - and all because he hasn't got any parents around him. This, whilst a difficult situation, is not a justification for the shit he does and ends up doing. I might seem like an asshole in saying this, but I'm glad he gets shot in the end. Whilst the film maybe wants us to sympathise with the teenage plight presented, I cannot to this degree. This is not just a personal perspective, it's one that is somewhat supported by the film. Whilst it implies that parents don't always listen, that teenagers are the product of things they cannot control, it also makes clear that to fix these problems you have to turn to the root of it: the disconnect between the people and their surrounding world. This reaffirms the poignancy of the planetarium as a symbol. It's essentially because the characters in this film find it so hard to face their problems, both on a large abstract level and on a smaller one, but also to communicate to their parents as well as understand their view, that they are who they are. The ending of the film is then both the fault of parent and child. But, this end isn't just Plato dying, it's the archetypal tragic climax of a troubled teen. We get to this climax through a lack of comprehension of the universal idea that we are all living trivially minute lives on a microscopic speck in this unfathomable universe. The response to this truth shouldn't be a loss of hope, shouldn't be a nihilistic justification for violent and destructive anarchy. This truth should be a great equaliser amongst all of us. I don't mean this in the basic and banal sense of YOLO and we should stick together to get through this tough, tough life - not at all. What this universal pointlessness should make clear to us all is that we are weak, we are small, we are next to nothing, but that's something we can work with. We can use this futility as reprieve, as a way of re-contextualising self-determinism. No, we can't just fly, breathe under water or spit fire due to the constraints of physical law - and in the same respect, we are the product of things we cannot control. What we are allowed however is a certain degree of control over the way we perceive things. We can choose to see universal pointlessness as just a mere fact, one that doesn't have to affect how we see the world in a negative light. Our predicament is, as I always say: control, the fantasy; control the fantasy. Controlling everything is just what we wish we could do, what we can actually control is how we see things.

However, as the film does, we won't concentrate on the greater existential interpretation of teenage problems. How this idea of being able to control the way we see things relates to Jim and co. is in the simple idea of walking in someone elses shoes. Jim can choose to see the world as his parents do and vice versa. In this, all they have to do is listen and not react to not being heard with arguments, moaning, knife fights and so on. The simplicity of this solution, whilst ambiguous, is key. The film makes it clear that what is missing from the relationships between children and parents is a simple two-way communication. Whilst the tone of the movie, being from a teens perspective, leans harder on the parents, what Jim's character arc says is that both child and parent need to change. To fight for the cause of subjective teen problems pushing young adults into calamity, ruining lives, all you need is clarity, both in how you see and how you communicate.




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Modern Times - Thematic Resonance


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20/11/2016

Modern Times - Thematic Resonance

Quick Thoughts: Modern Times

A cog trying to escape the machine, Chaplin's Little Tramp, meets an orphan girl.


In a recent post on The Great Dictator (link here) we discussed political satire and ultimately its detrimental effect on a cinematic narrative. The argument made was that what makes The Great Dictator an undeniable classic, one of the great comedies, is despite of Chaplin's politics. The basis of the argument was on the difference between philsophy and politics and how the rift between them greatly effects the way we watch a film. With Modern Times, we are essentially seeing Chaplin's The Great Dictator re-contextualised (semantically, yes, The Great Dictator came later an so would be the re-contextualised film, but you get what I mean). In saying this I mean to suggest that all Chaplin says with The Great Dictator, with his last speech most evidently...


... is an echo of what he says in Modern Times.


Both films discuss inequality (to different extremes - Jewish persecution and social inequity) as well as the societal use of machinery. This is a common theme throughout many silent films in this era because of the huge technological revolution that was the beginning of the 20th century. Nonetheless, this thematic link between The Great Dictator and Modern Times speaks volumes of all discussed in opposition to political films within the previous post, moreover, the importance of cinema as a philosophical arena, not a political one. What I mean to suggest with this is the simple importance of themes - they are there to imply subtext, to speak of inequality and machinery in Chaplin's case. However, whilst Chaplin speaks of very similar things in Modern Times and The Great Dictator, one film is much more poignant than the other. Modern Times is most probably Chaplin's greatest film. Why? He shows respect to his audience by engaging in a philosophical discussion instead of a political monologue. This seems like a trivial argument from someone who just doesn't like politics, but there is immeasurable importance in the difference between cinematic entertainment with subtle context and political satire.

The simple difference is in the ending of these films. The Great Dictator ends with Chaplin quite literally screaming the meaning of the movie at us. For this, we walk away form the movie roused, but with a sense of completion - that the film is just a simple statement, a means to an end (in certain respects - the comedy brings us back, adding substance to the narrative). However, with Modern Times there's an optimistic ambiguity that solidifies the film as an undeniably great picture because it is more a movie than The Great Dictator, it engages in story, not commentary - something of such significance it needn't really be illustrated. All of this comes down to how Chaplin engages us in his message. In Modern Times, he uses themes to relate to us on an emotional level as well as an intellectual one, which, when received, the message of the film hits much harder. And so, in the end all of this speaks to the previous post, but also to the imperative of theme, subdued commentary and to filmmakers with big ideas; show them to us, make us feel them, try not to scream them at the camera.







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18/11/2016

Cœur Fidèle - Pure Cinematic Poetry

Thoughts On: The Faithful Heart

A young woman is given up to a malicious thug for marriage, despite her loving another man, by her adoptive father


Epstein's Cœur Fidèle, or The Faithful Heart, is a phenomenal film - undeniably so. With innovative form he tells us of a simple story through verse after verse of incredibly intricate cinematic language. In being a silent film The Faithful Heart holds an inherent pure cinematic base. 'Pure cinema' is a term you'll hear most famously from Hitchcock. In being an auteur that lived through many cinematic epochs (silent, early sound through to the transformative 50s and 60s) Hitchcock holds onto an idea of 'pure cinematics' in reference to the cliched, but ever relevant, adage: show, don't tell. The reason why pure cinematics is an approach inherent to silent film comes down to that fact that you have to show your story without the assistance of sound. Whilst this assumption holds true in a broad sense, it becomes a little convoluted when you consider the importance of both dialogue (title cards) and music to silent films. Nonetheless, the simple idea that the image should tell the vast majority of your story coming from Hitchcock is a very important basis to seeing the artistic depths of cinema. However, with the great impressionistic silent filmmakers, pure cinema becomes something of much greater substance. This is what The Faithful Heart represents - a more complex idea of pure cinema. Before getting into impressionism, we'll delve a little deeper into a Hitchcockian pure cinema and then come back to sound for a while.





The unassisted image in Hitchcock's films are his way of engaging the audience. In his numerous suspense pictures, he uses objects to tell us something about character and vice versa - all to imply something of narrative movement. To clarify, I'll use one of the clearest examples from Psycho:



Here, we see the object (the thousands of dollars) being juxtaposed with character (Marion) which implies intent (she's stealing the money). And it's the intent that says to the audience where the story is going next - this is our narrative movement. This is a pivotal element of cinema we would label 'pure' that Hitchcock is famous for. However, whilst this pure form of cinema is crucial, it can be built upon. You do this through juxtaposition (showing one image after another, implying a relation) with greater subtext. The subtext of the juxtaposed images above is quite simple: Marion is taking the money for a chance to start a better life with her boyfriend. When we move towards different cinematic masters...





... we come across deeper subtext as well as variation in how it's conveyed. To delve into this I think it's important to recognise that pure cinematics is not an abandonment of everything outside of capturing images, neither is it just a movement towards surrealism or abstract imagery. To master the image you must take control of all that constitutes space and time. This means that you must control sound to create great images in the cinematic realm. It's watching films from the silent era with added soundtracks that makes this so obvious. Soundtracks can make or break even the greatest silent films. Whether it's a orchestral accompaniment live in the theatre with you or a pre-recorded score coming from a sound system, sound is the epitomal lead or rhythm guitar to editing as the bass. In such, I mean to suggest that pacing (montage, editing) is dictated by a musical concept of rhythm that manifests itself quite literally through soundtracks in great pure cinema. Through near-silence, the sound of breathing...


... through gleeful honky-tonk piano...


... or even through a sweeping score...


... you find this to always be the case with film. For the image to work, for a string of shots to convey their poignant crux, they must work with sound. We then see the first major specification of pure cinema; the clarification of this simple idea of 'show, don't tell'. You do this with recognition of Hitchcock...



... and then the reality of atmosphere existing in space and time; with sound.


Having furthered this idea of pure cinematics, we can now push it to greater lengths...


Epstein is a great representative of French impressionist cinema. The core philosophy of filmic impressionism is of a translation of character onto screen. In such, it is the camera's function to convey the emotions of a character, their thoughts, their inner feelings, providing to the audience an impression of their core personage. With this philosophy comes two major consequences of impressionistic images. The first is a trait that cannot just be attributable to impressionist film. This is the theory of photogénie. Photogénie is a concept that suggest something indicative of an observer effect in physics. When a scientist, especially when peering into the quantum realm, tries to measure bodies such as electrons, they end up effecting how the electron behaves and so inadvertently determine its state, in turn, their own measurement. This is commonly misconstrued as a woo-woo concept that somehow implies that humans are universally deterministic bodies in the universe. This is a major fallacy. What this observer effect implies is tantamount to someone trying to measure the temperature of a bowl of milk using a thermometer with an attached flamethrower. By putting that flamethrower/thermometer near the milk you are inevitably going to heat it up, hence skewing the results you read. When it comes to observing quantum particulates, your tools of measurement, though small and seemingly innocent, become that flamethrower because of the scaling. Though it seems like I just went in a huge tangent, I didn't (kind of). The observer effect in physics is present in art - in cinema. However, it is not to referred to as an observer effect, instead, by the impressionists, photogénie. The term implies that, as soon as you put a camera in front of something, the product you will get will be skewed, will be given new meaning. This paradigm is not something unique to impressionist cinema, it is a universal fact that manifests itself in the form of cinematic language. Photogénie is simply the mechanics of using a camera to produce shots that form words, sentences, phrases, paragraphs. However, what distinguishes the impressionists is their conscious recognition of both cinematic language and photogénie. This allows their shots to not just form words and simple sentences, but poetic verses. This is the great art present in impressionistic films like The Faithful Heart. Not only can we bring up simple examples of this, but much more complex ones. We'll start with a simple one:


This shot of our protagonist, Marie, has been manipulated by the presence of a director, makeup artist, cinematographer and camera/camera operator. We see this in her eyes, in the dark lines embellished by the eye shadow, the reflected lights and how they compliment the chosen camera angle as well as the framing of her eyes that accentuates their brightness and gleam through the off-centre composition. All of these elements manipulate how we see Marie as a character. The eyes are so important because they are a major tool of emoting, by emphasising them to this degree we are being told of her vulnerability, fear, her as a character that has been used and thrown around by those she has to call family. What photogénie is then all about is the camera's (and the crew behind its) ability to characterise. It is not enough to have a great actor going to work in a dark vacuum, what makes their behaviour acting, what makes it worthwhile, is the presence and manipulation of all that goes into producing an image.

A more complex example of photogénie is only made comprehensible by the second major consequence of the impressionist process and philsophy. As touched on, character is the crux of impressionist cinema. The purpose of the numerous cinematic techniques is there to express a character's perspective. It's in this that we see some of the most innovative expansions of pure cinema. By juxtaposing images through techniques such as superimposition...


... you not only add subtext to the underlying image, you transform it. This transformation is another example of photogénie. But, to comprehend its complexity it's important to see what is being transformed. The sea in the above image is representative of both change and freedom. This is set up by this sequence:


Our introduction to Jean, whom Marie loves, is by the sea as to attribute their relationship to the ebbing waves as well as the open air. In this, we see movement in the sea as, for Marie, movement away from her father and awful suitor. In this, we recognise that the image of the sea being interacting with Marie's superimposed close-up has been transformed (photogénie). However, this instance, the close-up of Marie is also being transformed. It is there to imply that she is watching, that she too is thinking of Jean as he thinks of her - implying that we see things from the characters' perspective. This is a reoccurring theme seen best in the opening:



When Marie looks out of the window, we not only get a shot-reverse-shot to imply POV, to imply that she looks out onto the docks, but we also get to see more than just outside the window. We see various parts of the docks around her, implying that she doesn't see them, only thinks of them. This is an astounding technique of pure cinema as it not only portrays a great depth of character, but is there to make Marie a truly cinematic narrator. She narrates her story through thoughts, through emotions, as conveyed through imagery, never through words. This is probably the most significant application of the photogénie theory. It gives cinema and characters alike a narrative voice - one that speaks in images. What this further does in later, more famous, sequences...




... is transform the entire space-time that is captured on film. The carnival sequence is a hectic montage that blasts a flurry of spinning shots with close-ups and POV spliced in between. In this sequence Epstein abandons almost all formal cinematic 'rules' - standards such as opening shots, the 180 degree rule and strict continuity editing. The fractured montage is all connected, however, to Marie. We see everything in such a way as to convey her perception, how she is overwhelmed by the inevitability of her being stuck with a man she despises and fears. So, like with the movement out of the window, beyond Marie's field of view, but still tethered to her perception, the carnival sequence represents a character's interior. By simultaneously transforming the space from which this perception projects from, Epstein transcends the cinematic realm and moves into a perceptual one. This is the crux of impressionism. To clarify, these are cinematic spaces:





These are the opening shots of No Country For Old Men, and they are used by the Coens to establish to the audience where this film takes place as the Sheriff narrates to us an introduction. These are spaces captured by a story, ones subject to photogénie and so transformed by their presence in a film. This creates a cinematic space, one that is there to serve a narrative. However...




... this space is not simply cinematic. Because it is comprehended by knowing that it's there to represent a character's psyche, it is a perceptual space. The key point of distinguishment lies in this connection to character, but also the 'rules' we touched on. You can convolute a cinematic space by breaking the 180 degree rule...


Kubrick, because of his directorial control, can pull this off if he wants. However, breaking the rule often results in something like:

  

A crude representation, but it'd look like Jack was talking to himself. By recognising the restrictions of things such as 180 degree rules, we can see the defining factors of cinematic spaces. They are susceptible to being broken down as they are grounded and controlled by the space they capture. If you manipulate this space wrong, images don't align. The same cannot really be said of perceptual spaces. Epstein constantly breaks the 180 degree rule in the carnival sequence, he positions his camera where it makes sense for the character. We see things abstract of angles because the setting is defined by the fact that we know it belongs to someone dreaming, thinking, feeling. We then have the difference between perceptual and cinematic spaces, an integral aspect of impressionist cinema; the final nail in briefly outlining this take on pure cinema.

It's through a myriad of techniques all derived from two impressionistic concepts of perceptual spaces and photogénie that we arrive at an evolved pure cinema. This is the telling of stories not just through images, but through an auteur possessing spaces for the sake of artistic manipulation. It is then the images that seem to have been teased into telling their own stories in an impressionist cinema. And in such, we find a beautifully poetic approach to the filmic narrative, one that only has to be comprehended for us all to start using.






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