Last Words

This class was not exactly what I was expecting, although my expectations were as broad as they were vague. I imagined something more along the lines of analysing specific films, finding hidden meanings and subtext not immediately apparent. That is not what this class is, and I’m fine with that. The things we learned in Film Analysis were much more applicable and useful than what I was expecting.

The choices of films really threw me for a loop, though. I had imagined Metropolis would be on the list, Blade Runner as well, but the rest of the choices I did not really expect. Beauty And The Beast was by far and away my least favourite film, which I will not launch into a diatribe about, but I enjoyed Miyazaki, Django (gasp), and Rosemary’s Baby. For the sake of future generations of ENG2300 takers, please, please leave out Sukiyaki Western Django. It was painful.

How did Tree Of Life win, guys? No one in class seemed to want to see it, the plot was plodding, and it won over the likes of The Godfather and The Shining. What a strange upset.

All in all, though, it was a good class, and I given the opportunity to go back in time and take it again, I would (Come on, we could have watched Primer or Back To The Future instead of Tree Of Life).

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A Clockwork Flop

I did not like Hugo. I felt that the film overextended its purpose, a love letter to George Melies. I appreciate his works, yes, but perhaps its  a sign of our times, I’m not as impressed by the idea of film as the characters were. It is impressive, it does allow for visual stimulation on an entirely different magnitude than theatre, but at the end of the day, I cannot appreciate it as much as Hugo.

The characterisation is too muddled, pushed aside for the purposes of praising George Melies. There were several scenes where Hugo could have easily told the truth, and not have had his notebook stolen, nor continually been hunted by Sacha Baron Coen. “I wind and maintain the clocks.” Simple little sentence. Papa George was all over the place, being mean then kind in rapid turns.The only character I ever liked was the Station Inspector (Constable?). He was an orphan, injured in the war. A rather sad backstory, but played for comic relief.

The acting and casting however, was impressive. We saw a wide range of actors, from the aforementioned Sacha Baron Coen, to Saruman (he has a name, it isn’t as cool as Saruman), to ostensibly Leonardo DiCaprio.

I have a problem with the clockwork motif, but that is, admittedly, me nitpicking. The automaton was creepy (just staring and staring, with its cold, black, lifeless eyes), and structurally, did not make sense. That key wasn’t attached to anything.

Personally, not a good film, but then again, I’m a cynic.

Spirited Away

Attempt at snarky title on temporary leave.

It’s been said by critics, audiences, and people who finished their blog before me, that Spirited Away is a great film. And I agree. The animation bright and detailed, the story engaging, and the themes emotional all make for a great film.

The animation was by far and away the best part of the picture, which is why it was chosen as our featured film for the animation techniques. The film makes great usage of CG Scenes, utilising them for difficult movement, like waves, to conserving the two dimensional door to Zeniba’s, yet remains largely out of the way for most of the film, eschewing the computer generated animation for a hand detailed photo. The setting of a supernatural bath house only aids the hand drawn imagery of swooping arches and colourful bath house construction. This bright palette is a noticeable difference from the bland modern world, and gives Yubaba’s domain that otherworldly distinction from (Um, Sen)’s own world.

The animation lends itself to the fairytale story, full of larger than life characters and more obvious fairytale tropes, like magic. Anomalously to fairytales, there are no real villains. Yubaba loves her son (she gets around to it eventually), the initially ominous Zeniba is a sweet old grandma, and No-Face was bad only because of the Bath House (I still don’t trust him, he’s creepy). But classically, the main character learns some moral lesson, and ends on a happy note.

Kairo or: I wish I didn’t have one

Watching both of the films, both the original Kurosawa and the unfortunate remake, I was struck with a boredom as horrifying as the films were intended to be.

There were all the classic horror features in the original Kairo, the brooding atmosphere, the discrepancies between the seemingly normal locales and the “scary” events, the high pitched and off key music, it is all there. But it misses the most important conceit of all horror films; sympathy. We have to be sympathetic to the characters that we are watching, otherwise we start rooting for whatever nebulous evil is attacking or viewers. Using modern films as examples, we can see the establishment of likable people. The Conjuring stars a happy family, as well as a scarred couple. The Evil Dead occurs when a group heads out into the woods in an attempt to ween one of their members off of heroin addiction. Noble goals.

The point is, I never felt any sympathy for these characters. They actually annoyed me. Harue went on and on about how lonely she was, despite the presence of someone that genuinely seemed to care about her. And then she becomes disturbingly happy over a voyeuristic ghost, which should assuage her fear of being alone, right? No, she commits suicide. Junko undergoes a similar ennui, despite having Michi kindly watching over her. To me, these people are as lonely as they are because they’re just too selfish to notice anyone else. This doesn’t involve technology.

And then there was the whole confusing “Hades ran out of space” debacle. Fine. Then they manifest inside computers, which means they’re made of… electrons? Photons? Reasonably, one of those two. And no, I won’t accept “ectoplasm” as an answer, because ghosts have inconsistent properties. Sometimes they have mass, other times they don’t. When people turn to ash, they emit radiation (most likely gamma, which are photons) to create those shadows. If they are photons, then they don’t have mass, how can the afterlife overfill? If they do have mass, how do they move throughout the internet? Are ghosts simply information? Why are they so ill defined? Yes, I’m nitpicking, but only because the ghost motif appears to be a lazy excuse to convey the medium of “technology bad”. And after HUM2305, I’m just tired of hearing about how technology is bad.

I Couldn’t Think Of A Clever Title

So please accept this meta title instead.

The Western is a genre that is as worn as the Man With No Name’s boots. We all know the story. A mysterious stranger rides into town on a Tuesday, stays for a week to clear out the riffraff and save the town, then rides out on Friday. He’s always gruff, stoic, and cold, but only is as such because some action in the past that he needs to move past. He saves the woman, who is typically harassed by men (whether or not she is paid for it) and treats her with respect. The characters are two dimensional and easily predictable. The villain is suitably evil, and there’s always (read) always a idiosyncratic bartender or the like that aids the hero. Furthermore, the hero goes through some tribulation during the film, be it a kidnapping, or breaking of hands, etc. Despite this repetition, the genre still has classics: Anything by Sergio Leone, Django, Django Unchained (Set in the South, yes, but I’ll get to that) are all great movies and easily worth viewing.

The fascinating thing about Westerns, though, is that the genre has transcended the setting. There are plenty of great Westerns that aren’t set in the American West, yet still contain all the hallmarks of the genre. Django Unchained is the most recent example, but my favourite is easily Joss Whedon’s Firefly. Set in space in the far future, it contains elements of the classic Western: there are horses and guns, yes, but also spaceships and lasers. And still, Malcolm Reynolds, the protagonist, is a stoic and cold character with crushed ideals. There’s a… lady of the night with a heart of gold, and tons of trials and tribulations. For all intents and purposes, it is a Western. In space. A Space Western.

Good show. Definitely watch it.

MeFausto

First of all, I did not really enjoy the movie. It dragged. There were a good thirty minutes that easily could have been left out, with little detriment to the film. Being a re-imagining of the tale of Faustus, the film enters that dangerous territory of hit-or-miss. And for me, it missed; I prefer the more succinct original version. Though to be fair to the film, the ending was sufficiently German. Happy endings are for schwächlinge.

That aside, the scene I’m analysing is the Villa Wedding Scene, wherein Hendrick is married to some German whose name I never caught. I apologise. I particularly enjoyed the opening, establishing shot, that shows the Villa behind a set of iron bars. Obvious imagery, Hendrick living in a gilded cage, nonetheless effective. The camerawork throughout the scene, leading up to the arrival of the general, is highly reminiscent of traditional love scenes: the bride and groom walking down the stairs, the tracking shots, people watching quietly. It serves as a ironic reminder of how twisted Hendrick’s life is. He isn’t marrying for love, but marrying because the Nazi party, perhaps subtly, told him to.

The final reminder that the Nazi party is truly in charge is the arrival of the General. On a night that should be all about the bride, (and I guess the groom) all activities stop for the general. All eyes are on him, and he even just strolls into their home, gives his approval, without being prompted, and departs.

The sound in the scene was deceptively extra-diegetic. We are shown shots of a band, but the instrumentation in the band did not even remotely match the music we were hearing. In the middle of a muted trumpet solo, the alto sax player was hamming it up. Definitely faking it. Film was terrible about that.

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is an excellent choice for a discussion on the usage of music in films. Given that the premise of the film revolves around the affect of music on an individual, it is rather appropriate.

As everyone has probably mentioned, extra diegetic music plays in the background whenever Alex believes he’s in control. For instance, when he successfully enrolls in the Ludovico programme, “Pomp and Circumstance” plays. Other classical music plays consistently in the background, as during the scene when Alex beats down and intimidates his crew.

The interesting part of the main theme (written by Walter Carlos, pioneer of the Moog Synthesizer) is that it incorporates the “Dies Irae” theme of the Catholic church, which is not only a chant for the dead, but also indicative of dread.

Beethoven is a common theme of the film, most obvious in the “Ode To Joy”, which is instrumental in Alex’s rehabilitation. The 9th, first associated to Alex with absolute joy and ultraviolence, is “subverted” in his mind, gradually shifting his association with violence to that of a sickening distaste. Beethoven’s Fifth also makes a small cameo, in the nameless writer’s doorbell tone, also indicative of anger, revenge, and dread.

I am slightly disappointed that Kubrick left out the 21st chapter of the book, which entirely changes the perspective of the novel, transforming it from a cyclical, nihilistic story, to one of maturation.

Contempt

So, yeah, Contempt. French New Wave films. I can see this being a polarising film; personally, I wasn’t a fan. I simply disliked the progression of the plot, which seemed thin. But that’s neither here nor there, and I won’t talk of it here. Except to say that Camille was just terrible.

The cinematography in the film is hard to critique. It was rich with complex techniques and interesting angles and lenses. We discussed different focuses in the scenes, such as the introduction of Jeremy Prokosch, or that really weird theatre scene. That theatre scene bothered me.

Space and time were frequently distorted in Contempt, as I’m sure we all noticed. I found the ability of the cinematographer to warp space so was impressive. Every scene in the apartment was focused to exaggerate the distance (figuratively and literally) between Camille and Paul. I particularly enjoyed the strategic use of props and set to always position something between the two, be it a wall, or, most notably, a lamp. The lamp scene not only put a prop in between the two, but also panned the cameras, creating more of a feeling of separation than normal. (An impressive achievement).

One last note, the tale of the Odyssey that Paul would constantly discuss mirrored the events of his own life. He was the titular Odysseus, Camille was Penelope, and after several cuts from Jeremy to the statue of Neptune, we could easily say that Jeremy is Neptune. Paul even proposes a theory that Penelope simply ceased to love him, which sounds familiar, having seen the movie.

Yojimbo (And Also a shoutout to A Fistful Of Dollars)

So, Yojimbo. I liked it. It was well paced, had good comic relief, and a satisfying ending. I preferred A Fistful Of Dollars more, but I admittedly have a weakness for anything involving Ennio Morricone, whose music is unnaturally good.

That being said, the discussion about Yojimbo. There were several very clever mise-en-scene moments that really caught my eye; most notably, the difference between the ronin (we can call him Bill) and the rest of the town. Bill is the only person who consistently does not slouch, contrasted with the townspeople, who are always stooped over. This really works twofold, both to denote the heroism of Bill, and the oppressive environment of the town. It also emphasizes the toady nature of the townspeople. The other costuming I noticed was that the townspeople, and the thugs, wore predominantly striped clothing, and multiple layers. This is again contrasted to Bill, who wears a single. darker, solid article, with a flower esque pattern.

Bill’s hair is also different than anyone else’s. The natives to the town all have a hairstyle that… well, it’s not so much a hairstyle as it is a forehead style. The thugs, if I remember, did not have such prominent foreheads, a subtle touch to differentiate the fighters from the gentile.

Lighting effects, this being a Japanese film, should also be noted. The use of slats and bars as backdrops gives the set a more 2 dimensional effect. In those scenes especially, the focus was on horizontal action, the characters moving across the screen, not towards or away from. There wasn’t as much attention to depth of field. There were several attempts to thematically use natural lighting, such as candles or heftier fires, but in my opinion, it didn’t work. No way a candle could produce that much light, not to mention the lack of flickering.

 

And as to A Fistful Of Dollars, I have to say it is definitely worth a watch, although I recommend Sergio Leone’s magnum opus, Once Upon A Time In The West, over Fistful. It has Charles Bronson instead of Clint Eastwood, but hey, for some, that may be a plus.

Beauty And The Beast

So, tonight, our blog posts are about Narrative, which, for a fairy tale, is very apt. Because this fairy tale was fraught with narrative. And narrative issues. We start off with Belle’s father randomly discovering a hidden castle in the middle of an apparently enormous forest (that never shows up in the scenery of the town) and wandering around, partaking in the food there. I can forgive this, it is after all, necessary to set the plot in motion. We almost watched Goldilocks, but no, the real issue here is Belle’s father picking up a rose. By some arbitrary decision of the Beast, touching roses are punishable by death… Or getting one of his daughters to take his place. Which also is fairly arbitrary.

Belle goes to take her father’s place, but instead of being sentenced to death, as Beast dictated she would be, she is kept alive, pampered, and then asked to become the Beast’s bride, every night, to which she says no, every night. I get the feeling we’re supposed to know that Belle is really nice and humble, but there is no characterisation to get us there. And there’s no way the Beast could know how nice she is, as he decided to spare her whilst she was unconscious. The only conceivable reason he would have spared her is that she’s pretty. It is her defining, and only, characteristic. Her name means beauty. She’s compared to her sisters via parallel montage, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the females in the world are horrible as well. Even worse, the sisters are constantly trying to make themselves beautiful, which the movie consistently reminds us, Belle already is.

And as for the Beast being a good person, he really isn’t. He’s nice to Belle, yes, but she is beautiful, and that’s an excuse in this universe. He sentenced Belle’s father to death, over a rose, the importance of which is never explained. Why are roses so special? The Beast may be nice to Belle, but from what we’ve seen, he overreacts and threatens people to death over his garden. He also keeps Belle spirited away in a magical forest, and “allows” her to visit her father for one week, only when he’s dying. She is his bloody prisoner, and this is Stockholm Syndrome.

The horse is also another example of lazy plot construction. The Beast has a magical teleportation glove that allows Belle to travel untold distances in the blink of an eye, as well as a mirror that allows anyone “pure of heart” (which he isn’t, though he can use it in the film) to view anyone else, at untold distances. So why does he send the horse to pick Belle up? She can obviously teleport back, and he could have used the mirror to check on her, rather than sending the horse. The only reason I can see that the horse would be sent is plot convenience, just so Avenant and Ludovic could appear at the Beast’s castle.

Not to mention that Belle betrays the Beast’s trust in every way imaginable in her week away from him, the least cogent part of the movie is any scene with Diana’s Pavilion. First off, and this is more of a pet peeve, the bourgeois of France before the French Revolution did not know who Diana was off the top of their head.

Now then. The Beast was transformed, as such, by spirits taking revenge on his parents. Not because he’s prideful and was mean to an enchantress who punished him for his sins, using rose motifs as his punishment, not because there’s some lesson he must learn, but because Shakespeare’s Puck was bored. That is an eleventh hour cop out. But! They also supply him with magic, a castle, an intelligent horse, and riches. Do these spirits know how to punish people? Was this film the true punishment?

Diana is somehow connected to these vague spirits, and by shooting Avenant, he becomes the new Beast. Which doesn’t make sense, was the first Beast shot? No. Why is Diana important, again? I thought it was spirits. The more disturbing aspect is that this Beast curse acts in the exact same manner as the cursed video from The Ring. The only way to free yourself is to pass it on to someone else, who may not even deserve it. The former Beast, apparently a Prince, looks the same as Avenant. He stole Avenant’s face. Which does not disturb Belle in the slightest, because she apparently loved Avenant as well, but refused to marry anyone until she found a Prince that looks like Avenant who also used to be a Beast but is now simply magical, and can fly. Because we’ve already thrown good writing to the wind, why shouldn’t he be able to fly? And Ludovic escaped this horrifying fate because he was afraid of going into the Pavilion. Surely that isn’t fair? He did, after all, have the same intentions as Avenant.

I just don’t even.