JUMPCUT Week 2

An enjoyable although somewhat draining week at JUMPCUT draws to a close.

The week began with confirmation of my role throughout the production and I am delighted to be acting as sound recordist, along with boom operator Ross, and also as sound editor during post-production. Although post-production is the area I am most enthusiastic about and have the greatest ambition to pursue a career in, I am very excited about the challenge of learning about recording location sound. Whilst I gained a great deal of knowledge and insight into recording theory at university (BEng Electronics with Music at GU and MDes Sound for the Moving Image at GSA – both fantastics courses!) I don’t have a great deal of practical experience in this field and I look forward to working in the high pressure environment of a professional film set.

I met with mentor Dougie Fairgrieve who, with over ten years of experience in the industry, has already been an invaluable source of knowledge and has made the leap from reading the script to preparing for the shoot a little less daunting. Next week will involve getting to grips with the equipment  and going on tech recces to assess the suitabilities and practicalities of locations. 

I also got an extended tour of Savalas from dubbing mixer Micheal MacKinnon as well sitting in on a session of a BBC comedy which was an great insight into the day to day workings of a working post facility.

My approach to film making thus far has been somewhat academic and purely from a creative point of view and so the greatest challenge I have found is being part of the professional production machine which until now has been totally alien to me. Budgeting and liaising with other departments has been a difficult and eye-opening experience but I am fortunate to be working with some very talented young people who are all excelling in their specific roles and have made my job a whole lot less stressful. We now have a big name in Brian McCardie attached to the project and the film is shaping up to be something we can all be proud of!

Advertisements

JUMPCUT Week 1

This week I embark on a new challenge in my career as I participate in JUMPCUT Summer Production Company, a training programme for emerging Scottish production talent. I am super excited to be based at Film City Glasgow for the next two months where we will be producing a low budget short film in conjunction with Sigma Films whilst learning from industry professionals and gaining invaluable professional experience.

Already I have been privileged to meet some highly esteemed professionals including director Zam Salim (Up There) and producer Paddy Higson (The Magdalene Sisters) who, amongst others will be mentoring us throughout the process and I especially look forward to working closely with Savalas in their post-production dubbing theatre.

The rest of the crew, who I have been getting to know for the past few days are a really talented and enthusiastic bunch and it’s great to be working with with people from a wide range of backgrounds and skill sets. We now have a fantastic script to work from and I can’t wait to start helping bring it to life.

http://jumpcutfilm.wordpress.com/

http://www.filmcityglasgow.com/

http://www.savalas.co.uk/

http://www.sigmafilms.com/

 

Stars

“The star is not simply a performer, but a figure with particular associations of glamour and charisma.” (McDonald, 1995, p.80)

Similar to the auteur or genre, the name of a star brings with it expectations and associations in regards to cinema. Audiences find comfort in familiarity and an actor who a person is familiar with and admires may act as a vessel with which to ‘latch onto’ when experiencing or seeking out a film. A viewer may be attracted to a film because they admire the acting abilities of the star, or because they recognise the quality of his previous films. However, the admiration of a star goes beyond admiration of just his or her acting abilities. More so, it stems from the viewer’s ability to connect to, or idolise the star on a personal level, or the iconographic persona generated by the star.

“…audiences are motivated to go to see stars by the desire to complete the puzzle of the star’s image.” (McDonald, 1995, p.86)

Indeed, stars are often propelled to demi-god status and are seen as otherworldly beings who, through the vehicle of cinema, can directly affect our emotions, thoughts and desires. But rather than a piece of music, text, painting or even film directors themselves (which can all do the same thing) the star has a face and bodily presence that we can physically see, aspire to and be fascinated by. Humans naturally desire to connect with these powerful figures, understand them and transcend towards them, even in past civilizations where people would semi-worship the preacher as he could communicate with God. Audiences will continue to watch a star to try to understand, or simply be in awe of, their mystery.

In response to women’s reaction to Hollywood stars of the 1940s and 1950s, Jackie Stacey (1994) offered several ways in which a person may ‘interact’ with a star:

  • ‘Devotion, ‘adoration’ and ‘worship’, simple admiration and awe of the star and their abilities which is rooted in ‘homoerotic attachments’.

– ‘Transcendence’, the desire to become the star.

  • ‘Aspiration’ and ‘inspiration’, the using of the star as a role model to better oneself.

(McDonald, p.92)

However, this does not necessarily explain why someone may respond to one star in one of these ways but not another, or why a star may appeal to one person, but not another. The ability to stir emotion in an audience is not always down to the ability to relate to the character of a film alone, but also the ability to relate to the actor portraying that character on a personal level (or at least the persona that we perceive)

It was suggested in class that this may explain the popularity and reasserted star status endowed upon Robert Downey Jr. since his troubles with substance abuse in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Indeed, in many of his later roles such as Tony Stark in Iron Man (Jon Favreau 2008), Paul Avery in Zodiak (David Fincher, 2007), and Harry Lockhart in Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (Shane Black, 2005) he portrays highly charismatic, although certainly flawed characters, often with alcohol abuse problems. If we sympathise and are inspired by the plight of the man Robert Downey Jr. then we may relate to and sympathise with the characters that mirror his own life. There is a sense of genuinity to the acting and an increased believability towards the characters. On the other hand, the characters may appear contrived or unlikeable if they were portrayed by a different actor, perhaps one who has a ‘clean-cut’ public image.

Star status may be generated not from insight into the actor’s personal life or personality but from the lack of such insight and the mystery and curiosity that this generates. As Paul McDonald notes, stars “seem to reveal the truths of their selves within a public forum”. In many cases, we have little information of the real person behind the star and celebrate them, not for the actor themselves but for the characters which they portray. An audience desires to understand the enigma which creates these celebrated characters.

What McDonald describes as “truths of themselves”, are in fact perceived truths and truths of a constructed perception of the star – an image – rather than personal truths. Rather than the star revealing them, it is the audience which creates ‘truths’, fabricates them. Humans naturally crave heroes, preachers and inspiration and will perceive and mould a star into what they want them to be.  In the modern world, art and entertainment are the instant and accessible ways by which we can be directly affected emotionally and the faces and personalities which possess this power are the ones who are given ethereal status.

 

Bibliography

Paul McDonald, ‘Star studies’, in Joanne Hollows and Mark Joncovich, eds., Approaches to Popular Film (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), pp.79-97

Jackie Stacey, Star Gazing:Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship (London and New York: Routledge, 1994)

Extract from Richard Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Stars and Society (London: Macmillan, 1986).

Male Gaze

“Ultimately, the meaning of woman is sexual difference” [1]

 Castration anxiety stems from psychoanalysis studies conducted by Sigmund Freud in late 19th century. Freud described this as a literal, but subconscious fear of castration from a (male) child when encountered with the realisation that the opposite sex (usually his mother) has different, or seemingly castrated genitalia.

 The male subconscious mind has two methods of suppressing this fear or anxiety: fetishism, a fixation or obsession on a particular object (particular body part, for example); and voyeurism and sadism, a fixation or obsession on the actions of a female and a pleasure in the punishment or forgiving of these actions.

 As Netto explains [2], a modern revision of Freud’s theory moves away from a fear of literal castration, rather a fear of separation, or alienation from the opposite gender. In La Jette (Marker 1962) the protagonist fetishisises the image of the woman to suppress his fear and reject his knowledge of their inevitable separation. Netto notes that the image of the woman is made a fetish-object for the audience also, in that we are repeatedly shown it, to reinforce this idea. It becomes a representation of the protagonist’s lust and desire for the woman, and not of the woman herself.

 According to Mulvey, women may be presented on film as objects subjected to both fetishism and voyeurism and sadism. A passive female character may be presented solely in a scopophillic sense for their beauty or “to-be-looked-at-ness”. Or a female who takes an active role will be subject to scrutiny from the gaze of the active male characters and audience.

 “…(investigating the woman, demystifying her mystery), counterbalanced by the devaluation, punishment or saving of the guilty object.” [1]

 This is demonstrated in Rear Window (Hitchcock 1954). When we are first introduced to Lisa (Grace Kelly) she is presented as a a figure of beauty. Her face is framed in soft focus, she wears extravagant dresses, and largely has no real substance. She is made a fetish-object for the gaze of the audience, but not for her boyfriend Jimmy (James Stewart) who is mostly uninterested and dismissive of her beauty. It is not until Lisa takes an active role in the narrative, in climbing into the neighbour’s apartment and being in danger -being ‘punished’ – that Jimmy is attracted to and interested in her. He takes on a sadistic perceptive to her, as do the audience.

 In scenes from  Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988), and Gilda (Cahrles Vidor, 1946),  each female character is subjected to a fetishistic and sadistic male gaze. The cartoon character of Jessica Rabbit in Who Framed Roger Rabbit is portrayed fetishistically to the point of parody with her highly exaggerated features and seductive nature towards the male character Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins). However, she is also subject to a sadistic gaze as she plays the role of the ‘femme-fatale’ and is actively victimised or ‘punished’ within the narrative of the film as she attempts to save her husband. This sadistic gaze comes from the pleasure of seeing an inner conflict, trauma or emotion in the female character. This is also apparent in Gilda when the title character (Rita Hayworth) meets Johnny Farrell (Glen Ford) for the first time. Initially Gilda is portrayed as an object of beauty and seduction and special attention is directed to her features (notably her hair and shoulder). When the male characters leave her facial expression and mannerisms change drastically.  We no longer see her as merely a distraction to the male characters but as an active character with context and intent, although she is clearly troubled. As we later find out, Gilda and Johnny are former lovers and are hiding this fact from Gilda’s husband. Although Gilda and Johnny are both ‘acting’ in this scene and deceiving her husband, it is Gilda who we are looking at. If we are watching Johnny then we are watching him looking at Gilda, and it is Gilda who we are left with when the scene ends.

“To be naked is to be oneself. To be nude is to be seen naked by others and yet not recognized for oneself. A naked body has to be seen as an object in order to become a nude.” [3]

 Referring to John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, parallels can be made between the male gaze in cinema and the nude oil painting. The subject of a nude is nude, to be seen that way. They are seen fetishistically and only in that way. Being nude acts as a masquerade for their true identity or intentions. It is only when they are naked i.e. unaware that they are being seen, that we see them for who they are. However this, even going back the story of Genesis, brings with it connotations of voyeurism, sadism or shame. 

 Similarly in cinema – at least certainly in the case of femmes-fatales such as Jessica Rabbit, Gilda or Lisa- woman appear ‘naked’ when we see them for their true selves, and their true feelings and intentions. We sadistically gaze upon their vulnerability, pains and emotions. They are ‘nude’ when they are portrayed as representation of themselves and objectified as images or icons that we may gaze upon fetishistically. As Jessica Rabbit aptly summarises, “I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way”.

 

 

 [1] Laura Mulvey, ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’, Screen 16, no.3 (autumn 1975): 6-18.

 [2] Jeffrey A. Netto, Ph.D., 2000. ‘Psychoanalytic Film Theory’, Film Theory Pages. Available at: <http://www.nettonet.org/Nettonet/Film%20Program/theory/psycho_theory.htm>

 [3] John Berger, 1975. Ways of Seeing. (London: British Broadcasting Corporation and Penguin Books)

 [4] Noah Berlatsky, 2012. ‘The Master and John Malkovich’,  The Hooded Utilitarian. Available at:

<http://hoodedutilitarian.com/2012/06/the-master-and-john-malkovich/>

 

 

Genre

“Genres are dependent upon audiences for both their existence and meaning.” [1]

It can be said that genre films are ‘manufactured’ or designed to fit a purpose. Much like how a film can be made within the ideas of the auteurism of a particular director, with which a spectator can relate to, so too can it be done with genre. A viewer may have a favourite genre of film and will have an expectation or demand of what they want a film to do – to make them laugh, cry or be frightened, for a few simple examples. A film will be judged, therefore, against the viewer’s pre-existing expectation based on their knowledge or idea of the genre of which it is defined by or marketed as. A film labelled as a horror which doesn’t make the audience frightened is likely to be received poorly, and disappoint horror enthusiasts, despite what other qualities the film may have. Evidently, this has been used by film industry marketers to sell as many cinema tickets as possible by making sure that the ‘right’ audience is coming to see the film. Most cinema-goers prefer familiarity when deciding to see a film, and do not want to be disappointed.

That being said, unexpected genre ‘shifts’ can give a film extra dimensions and meanings. As Grant explains, Peckinpah’s Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia (1974) is initially set up as a western, complete with horses, guns et al., before cars, motorbikes, jet planes and other technologies are shown, revealing the film’s contemporary setting. This has the effect of applying certain elements of the western genre to a film which wouldn’t be considered a western under normal circumstances. Themes of redemption and ‘gunning down outlaws’ make us view and think of this more modern action film as if it were a western.

In addition to this, many films, particularly modern ones, do not fit into only one genre, but often utilise ideas and iconography found in several genres. Sci-fi films Blade Runner (1982) and Dark City (1998) both have elements of film noir (the complicated, troubled anti-hero), westerns (the idea of the lone hero’s struggle) and romance. Bring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia and Joel and Ethan Coel’s No Country For Old Men (2007) may be considered ‘Neo-Westerns’ as they combine elements of classical western films into a modern action film.

These all, however requires the viewer to have a previous knowledge and familiarity of the relevant genres, to understand the implications being made.

It can be difficult, however, to determine what actually constitutes a particular genre and how we should categorise them. More specifically, what constitutes the ‘limits’ of a genre, for example, when does a thriller become a horror? As Andrew Tudor [2] notes:

“…we must first isolate the body of films which are ‘Westerns’. But they can only be isolated on the basis of the ‘principal characteristics’ which can only be discovered from the films themselves after they have been isolated.”

He offers the solution:

“Genre is what we collectively believe it to be.”

It is virtually impossible to categorise a genre film without reference to other similar films. A pure, non-subjective starting point is non-existent, and even comparison to a ‘classical’ genre film is unreliable due to evolution of films and genres throughout the years. It is more useful to identify recurring tendencies and social ideologies towards genres and use these as reference.

Genre critic Lawrence Alloway suggests the term ‘iconography’ for familiar, recurring elements found in genre films which have deeper meanings, culturally and historically, beyond those simply in context to a particular film. These may be anything from a stereotypical character to a familiar mise-en-scene or cinematography style. An example of this is the ‘creepy child’ which has appeared in countless horror films such as Village of the Damned (1960), The Omen (1976), The Shining (1980) and The Ring (2002). These are particularly effective, not just in the context of the film, but because of the universal agreement that creepy children are generally considered pretty terrifying and unsettling (Partly thanks to these films themselves!). The presence of one in a film will most likely instantly define it as part of the horror genre.

Certain iconographies may be suspect to cliche, however, and even parody. Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles (1974) or Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) are both ‘self-aware’ of various iconography found in genre films and reference these for comedic effect. This also requires the audience’s knowledge and familiarity of genre and iconography.

[1]  Extract from Barry Keith Grant, Film Genre: From Iconography to Ideology (London: Wallflower, 2006).

[2]  Andrew Tudor, Theories of Film (London: Secker and Warburg, 1973), p.139.

Editing

“Kuleshov’s principle started from the idea that each shot is like a building block and that each shot derives its meaning from its context.” [1]

The Kuleshov effect implies that a shot only has meaning in relation to the shots either side of it. A close up shot of someone’s emotional reaction for example is meaningless (or is at least uninteresting) unless we know the context of their reaction. We must be given a reason to emphasise with them.

As Bordwell observes, [2] the basis of Hitchcock’s Rear Window can be simply thought of as shots of Jeff looking out his window, his point of view, and then his reaction. As we never see an establishing shot of both Jeff, and what he is looking at, much of the thrill of Rear Window lies in the anticipation of the reaction shot in relation to its preceding action shot or vice versa. Hitchcock and editor George Tomasini often play with this idea, alternating between fast paced cuts and longer, prolonged shots in order to tease the audience and dictate the tension and relief they feel.

Editing can be used to shift the emphasis of a shot to a particular character or action. With dialogue, emphasis can be placed with either the speaker, or the listener and their reaction depending on which the director or editor feels is the most important aspect of a scene. As Orpen notes [3], in Rear Window Hitchcock often achieves this by using jarring jump cuts and close ups (often infringing the 30 degree rule) rather than use a traditional reverse-angle cut. In a conversation between Jeff and Stella, where Jeff is troubled and anxious about his relationship with Lisa, Jeff says: “She expects me to marry her”, to which Stella answers: “That’s normal.” Here, the emphasis is placed not on Stella’s statement, but on Jeff’s reaction as we cut to a close up of Jeff. This, in turn leads us to emphasize with Jeff and his view of marriage, rather than Stella’s.

Another technique is the use of long takes, a singular, continuous take with no lack of cuts, often lasting several minutes. These generally stand out as they can interrupt the pacing of the film. A recent example is Alfonsa Cauron’s 2006 film Children of Men. Two memorable examples are the four minute long car chase shot, and the ten minute long ‘Uprising’ scene, which contains a single cut.

In the car chase shot, a car is driving through a woodland road before being attacked by a large group of protesters and pursued by a motorcyclist who shoots Julianne Moore’s character who is sitting in the passenger seat. Before the ‘action’ of the scene starts we are shown a minute and a half of not very much at all. The camera rotates 360 degrees inside the car, showing all of the characters talking and joking. This helps to emphasise  the contrast between between calm and serenity, and chaos, without the need for fast paced cuts or music. The Uprising scene follows the protagonist through a war zone. The slow pacing of this scene not only gives a sense of the massive scale of the area, but adds a shocking realism to content of the scene. We feel like we are following Clive Owen’s character, hiding with him, avoiding crossfire with him, and under attack ourselves rather than just watching him and what is happening to him. Without a visual cut to distract out eyes to something else, we are constantly aligned with the protagonists and feel the same panic and claustrophobia that they feel.

Another reason why these shots are particularly effective, aside from their technical and aesthetic qualities is their apparent lack of editing. Traditional continuity editing means that the audience has developed an expectation of cinema. Anticipation of a cut that doesn’t come, or prolonged tension without relief can be terribly intense and exhilarating. With traditional action scenes like these we might have instead expected fast paced cuts and lots of matches on action (which may also have been effective), but with this irregularity and change from what we are familiar with, we are drawn further into the film.

[1] Susan Hayward (2002), Cinema Studies: The Key Concepts (London: Routledge),  p.338.

[2] David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, ‘The Relation of Shot to Shot: Editing’ in David David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson, Film Art: An Introduction  4th ed. (New York:University of Wisconsin Press/McGraw Inc., 1993) pp. 246-288.

[3] Extract from Valerie Orpen, Film Editing: The Art of the Expressive (London: Wallflower, 2002).

Auteurism

What is the author? Faucalt explains that the name of the man, does not equate to the name of the author.

“To say that X’s real name is actually Jacques Durand instead of Pierre Dupont is not the same as saying that Stendhal’s name was Henri Beyle.” [1]

A distinction must be made between the man Henri Beyle, and his pen name Stendhal, with which his body of work is associated. We may know nothing of the man himself, and need not to for it to make a difference to our understanding or appreciation of his work. However we can construct an image of the “author”, a set of ideals and stylistics which are synonymous with, and indeed, defined by his writings.

“To say that Pierre Dupont does not exist is not at all the same as saying that Homer did not exist” [1]

Whether Homer was in fact one man, or one hundred different men bears no significance on the perception of his work. We understand each of his epics to belong under the same umbrella of work and attribute them all to the ‘idea’ of the author Homer.

It must be said then, that authorship is a social construct, derived from the perception and reflection of a piece of work in relation to other works. These ‘ideas’ have an authority and truth (at least true to themselves) which the spectator may use as a crutch with which to evaluate a piece of work. As Facault observes, Christians would traditionally try to “prove the value of a text by its author’s saintliness.” In the same way today a piece of writing may be accepted or rejected solely based on the reputation of the scientist/philosopher/politician who wrote it.

So it appears that authorship has an effect on our perception of a piece of work even before we have experienced it. Authorship creates an expectation of a piece of work, based on the author’s previous work. This expectation may be based around content, theme, style, effectiveness or even quality. The work will be judged and compared against the pre-existing “idea” of the author. It may be true to the idea and will be heralded, or it may not stand up to expectations and be rejected and deemed as the ‘exception’, or it may in fact totally change what the ‘idea’ of the author is.

“Authorship has therefore recently added the promise of certain spectatorial pleasures, the cachet of cultural respectability, or cult status to the labels which traditionally typified classical Hollywood’s promotion of its films – genre and star” [2]

With cinema, Stephen Croft notes, authorship has been used to sell a film to an audience -whether the authorship belongs to the director, writer or production company – more effectively than perhaps a leading role, or genre would. Not only will the name of the autuer carry a reassuring mark of quality to the film (or perhaps not!) but a guarantee of a familiarity, unique presence and personal stamp within the film itself. Many of us will have a favourite director and we will have developed a concept of what constitutes a Hitchcock film or a Speilberg film based on what we perceive to be the uniqueness or voice of their films. For example, a Tarantino film is often instantly visually recognisable due to its ultraviolent scenes, and use of the “trunk POV shot”.

A selection of films by the director David Lynch – Blue Velvet (1986), Wild at Heart (1990), Mullholland Drive (2001), and Inland Empire (2006)  – were analysed to further examine examples of authorship in cinema. In all four films, we are presented with very strong imagery, very early on and often, initially making little sense.

In Blue Velvet we are presented with an idyllic suburban town, contrasted with close ups of insects in the ground, and a decaying human ear. (This later acts a metaphor for the seedy underground world happening amidst the picture-perfect town). Wild at Heart opens with a shockingly strong act of violence. Mullholland Drive opens with images of dancers, and a projection of Naomi Watt’s character bowing to a seemingly absent audience (which may be perceived to introduce the film’s themes of ambition, fantasy and the toils of Hollywood life). Inland Empire opens with disturbing images of human-like rabbits and a woman crying.

The juxtaposition between lighthearted, and dark, sinister scenes or images (at least in the first three mentioned films) draws the attention of the viewer to a particular scene or image and is often quite shocking. Lynch expertly plays with the audience’s senses whilst guiding us through a sea of ambiguous scenes and red herrings. It appears that he prefers the audience to be disorientated and constantly ‘one-step-behind’ and this, in turn, is what we have grown to expect.

While Barthes argues against the role of the author of a text [3], it is hard to ignore the influence the name of the director, writer or production company has on our expectation and evaluation of cinema (or the promoters who use it to sell to us!)

[1]   Michel Faucault, ‘What is an Author?’ in Paul Rabinow (ed.), The Faucault Reader  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1984), pp. 101-120.

[2]   Stephen Crofts, ‘Authorship and Hollywood’ in John Hill and Pamela Church Gibson (eds.) The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (Oxford University Press, 1998) pp. 310-326.

[3]   Roland Barthes, ‘The Death of the Author’, in Barthes’ Image, Music, Text, (Glasgow: Fontana, 1977), pp. 142-148.