Wednesday, 3 November 2010

“What would you say if I said I hadn’t seen Evil Dead 2 yet?” - “I’d think you were a cinematic idiot and I’d feel sorry for you.”

Bruce Campbell as Ash.

Saturday night in screen one at the Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh was one of those special film outings: eagerly anticipated, enthusiastically enjoyed and remembered fondly: Sam Raimi’s 1987 horror comedy, Evil Dead 2. I do feel sorry for anyone who wasn’t present to appreciate this fantastic piece of cinema.

The title of this post refers to the scene/passage in High Fidelity when Rob tries to elicit advice from Barry about the likelihood of a person seeing said film after they had said they hadn’t seen it yet, (actually a thinly veiled analogy for whether Rob’s ex-girlfriend will sleep with her new man). During the screening of Evil Dead 2 at the Cameo I couldn’t help thinking of Barry’s description of the film; “it’s so funny, and violent, and the soundtrack kicks fucking ass!” This is indeed true, I can’t think of a better way to summarise the films cult appeal, but the sheer pleasure that myself and the other cinema goers got from seeing it on the big screen (some for the first time, lucky swine’s!) warrants a more in-dept discussion of the many instances of greatness that the film has to offer.

For starters the film was screening at midnight on the eve of Halloween so the large audience in attendance were bound to be the kind who have seen it several times before and maybe own it on DVD, therefore there was a level of familiarity with certain scenes in the film. To begin with the mere presence of Bruce Campbell on screen as reluctant hero Ash, garnered a palpable sense of good will from the crowd, laughing during the re-cap on Evil Dead when he reassures his girlfriend Linda that they will be safe for their romantic evening in an abandoned cabin in the woods. A personal pleasure for me was the transparency of the technology: the magnetic wavy lines visible due to presumably a film-to-video-to-digital transfer. Knowing that this was the best copy available somewhat added to the cult nature of the screening.

For those unfamiliar with Evil Dead 2, I’ll give a brief plot synopsis: man unleashes evil from beyond the grave and defends himself and other temporary inhabitants of a cabin in the woods, from the relentless onslaught of possessed demons and (normally) inanimate objects. This doesn’t sound like it would be particularly funny, but Raimi, Campbell et al managed to strike the right balance between horrific violence and slapstick comedy (more on slapstick later). Raimi literally employed any and every camera technique you can think of to enhance the otherworldly nature of his subject matter. When I say camera movement, I don’t mean simple dolly or zoom shots, but the actually strapping of the camera to ropes, planks and body parts in order to get the right shot. When Ash wakes up, face down in a puddle in the woods at dawn the shot is framed from above, as though observing Ash from the tree. Suddenly the camera spins and pulls away, in a movement that thematically mimics the twisted events of the previous night. Another inspired (or perhaps sadistic) shot is that of Ash being dragged backwards through the forest, being thrown in the path of branches and bushes. For this shot Raimi tied Campbell to the back of a truck facing the camera, and had him literally driven backwards. In order to have the right amount of foliage, Raimi had spare branches thrown at his lead actor; throughout the film Campbell shows amazing willingness to be put through a veritable mill of tough stunts and physical comedy.

One particular scene involving such physical comedy is what has become known to fans as the “Who’s laughing now?!” scene. Set in the kitchen, after Ash’s now possessed hand has attempted to strangle him, it sets about trying to kill him by any means necessary, giggling demonically throughout. The scene is pure slapstick, as Campbell smashes plates off his head and throws himself to the floor. Raimi has expressed his love for The Three Stooges, but the scene also resembles both Laurel and Hardy type pratfalls and Loony Tunes cartoons, demonstrating the films tone perfectly – the exaggerated performance in reaction to horrific events: the logic of, you have to laugh otherwise you’ll cry. The commitment Campbell shows to throwing himself about is on par with Donald O’Connor’s famous clowning in Singin’ in the Rain when he sings ‘Make ‘em Laugh’.

See 'Who's laughing now?!" scene, here.

Evil Dead 2 demonstrates a clear character arc in the transformation of Ash from traditional alpha male hero, to well-adapted demon slayer. As with the classic action film, our protagonist must overcome escalating challenges in order to save the day, and in the process he changes physically. Initially dressed in blue denim shirt and jeans, Bruce Campbell’s prominent chin and dark hair signal his seemingly Hollywood leading man masculinity. Once he has experienced the trauma of killing his demon girlfriend, and taking a chainsaw to his own hand, his appearance is understandably rough around the edges with ripped shirt and bloodied face. Eventually the horror of the evil dead expresses itself more forcibly on him, as he armours himself, replacing his hand with the chainsaw that claimed it, and eventually strapping a sawn off shotgun to his back. The final change comes when Ash is faced with evil made physical, and the shock creates a streak of white hair above his ear. Since the release of Evil Dead 2 and the sequel Army Of Darkness (1992), these different manifestations of Ash have become subjects for collectable dolls, making available to buy: ‘Ash’, ‘Evil Ash’, ‘Medieval Ash’ and ‘S-Mart Ash’, further capitalising on the films cult appeal. The term ‘cult’ is perhaps too big to discuss fruitfully here, but it goes without saying that the screenings time and place seem to confirm its status. Only the fans or extremely curious would venture to the cinema at 11.15pm on a Saturday night to watch a horror-comedy.

Time is a playful element in Evil Dead 2, as Ash sees a figure remarkably similar to himself in the pages of The Book of the Dead, prophesising that he will fall from the sky to save the people of medieval times from the evil that pervades their land. This page from the past predicting Ash’s future means that his adventure won’t be over after evil has been overcome. Instead the audience gets a hint of Army of Darkness at the end of the film as Ash is framed centre - having shot a winged beast out of the sky the armour clad knights cheer him as their saviour, to which Ash’s response is that brilliant movie cliché, the hero’s wail: “Nnoooooooooooooo!”

All this made for pure joy in the cinema that night. A collection of film fans familiar enough to bring a certain amount of participation to the experience: cheers and whoops during the montage of Ash armouring up for a fight, culminating in the much imitated and parodied (see Spaced, TV, Edgar Wright) “Grooovy” line. Just as with the screening of Fred C. Newmayer’s Safety Last! Starring Harold Lloyd at the Filmhouse earlier this year, this was for me, event cinema. The particularity of a single or limited screenings, coupled with an awareness of the rarity of its appearance on the big screen. I couldn’t help thinking of Sontag’s lamentation The Decay of Cinema (1996), an essay in which she decries the increase of television and other viewing options. In it she claims that in order to truly experience a film you have to be ‘kidnapped’ by it, taken over by the size of the screen, the darkness and the communality of the auditorium. This was the feeling I had seeing Evil Dead 2. Despite the obvious special effects: the visible seams in Ted Raimi’s costume as possessed granny Henrietta, the far-from-seamless transition between actor Denise Bixler as Linda and her latex counterpart. None of that was important; in fact it was refreshing not to be watching a CGI heavy, uncanny, overblown farce. Or as Nick Roddick in Sight and Sound recently wrote, about watching Bullit, (Dir, Peter Yates, 1968) ‘The result is far more exciting than the thrill-a-minute movies that have cluttered up this summer’s schedules’.

Next time you see a late night or one-off screening scheduled at your local cinema – actually go to it! Don’t just think about it, do it, you will be rewarded for your enthusiasm for cinema.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Adventures at the London Film Festival

The Nine Muses.

Yuliya Aug as Miron's wife Tanya in Silent Souls.

Last week I boarded the train and headed southwards to England’s bustling capital to check out a selection of films screening at the festival. Choosing films based on the websites description is always a difficult enterprise as even the best recommendations are tainted by the bias of the individual programmers who selected them. They love the films, but will I? Then again, the spirit of a festival is to take a chance and see something you wouldn’t ordinarily see - relish the risk, rather than playing it safe. My choices were based on an attempt to not see American independents; I’d seen a lot of those at the Edinburgh International Film Festival. As much as it pained me turn down the chance of seeing Will Ferrell play it straight in Everything Must Go (Dir, Dan Rush) I was rewarded with some quietly brilliant films. In the end my choices turned out to share similar themes, perhaps a result of the inherent fine-tuning that my tastes have undergone.

Undergoing the festival triple bill is a pleasure that comes around only once in a while for me, so on Friday I opted to start my day at the Vue Leicester Square, wander over to Curzon Mayfair and end at the ICA. First up, a Russian film directed by Aleksei Fedorchenko about the traditions and rituals that have survived from the Merjan folk culture, which emerged at the former Finnish enclave that was incorporated with Russia during the rule of Ivan the Terrible. Silent Souls was ostensibly a road movie, following Miron, the director of a paper factory in Neya, as he and his friend Aist set out to give his wife a traditional burial at the place where they honeymooned. Along for the ride are two buntings, the birds which Aist carries with him on their journey.

Wonderfully paced and beautifully shot, every phase of the films narrative and composition gave primacy to the ritual processes of their mission, (of sorts) to return the body to the water. There was a tenderness to the cinematography that lent itself well to the humanist activity of these two men, carefully carrying out the preparations and ultimate cremation of Miron’s dearly loved wife. Some of these were entertainingly bizarre, such as their tying of string to the pubic hair, as is the custom to prepare a bride for her wedding, others simply showed the respect and preservation of both the Merjan rituals and the integrity of the marital relationship, with it’s emphasis on the coming together of two individuals.

The buntings that Aist carries seemed to serve as a representation of the audience to an extent, quietly observing the rituals of a fading culture and inevitably effecting the actions of the men, just as any observational perspective cannot help but influence the conclusion.

At Curzon Mayfair I saw Love Like Poison, a French film directed by Katell Quillévére about a young woman struggling with the contradictions of her Catholic family, separated parents and burgeoning sexuality. Again, beautifully shot, the film focused on fourteen year-old Anna (Clara Augarde) and from this perspective showed the ill-defined boundaries between youth and adulthood. Much like Miranda July’s Me and You and Everyone we Know (2005), the notion of the child as capable of understanding sexuality more competently than the adults was at the fore as Anna encounters both her granddads desire to feel the pride of his handsome youth, and the affection from some-time suitor Pierre (Youen Leboulanger-Gourvil), who politely celebrates Anna’s fast developing body. Despite the familiarity of the themes explored by the film, the directors assured direction ensured a freshness to the narrative, and though there was perhaps too obvious a connection to Little Miss Sunshine (2006) in it’s portrayal of the anarchic grandfather exerting a last rebellion through his granddaughters public reading of a dirty poem, this only exposed the cultural differences, however maintaining the comedic affect.

Lastly on Friday evening at the ICA I saw Sandcastle, a film about a family in Singapore, fractured and coming to terms with personal and political history. Directed by Boo Junfeng, the film centres around En (Joshua Tan) an 18 year-old awaiting military conscription, who discovers the hidden alternative past about his parents, when his ageing grandparents hint that his late father was more radical than his repressed mother has led him to believe. Prior to the screening, actor Joshua Tan introduced the film and asked the audience to consider the film more as a coming of age tale than being deliberately political. Nevertheless the emotions felt by En as he discovers more about his own identity are effectively balanced with the gradual revelations of his parents’ involvement with anti-conformist protests. The film is also very touching and funny, particularly about the generational gap that can often come with regard to old and new technology. En’s look of disgust at the PC his Mother’s boyfriend buys him while he’s waiting for his Mac to be repaired brilliantly captured the sense of the frustrated adolescent, who feels like they know more than their elders.

In parallel with En’s journey of self-discovery is that of his mother’s (played by Elena Chia) facing up to the person she once was, and the new strict etiquette that she lives by. The scenes between mother and grandmother were particularly affecting, as the younger generation learns to let go a little, and that responsibility doesn’t have to be a burden based on tradition and respectability. I really enjoyed the tone of the film, which was meditative at times, and paced to gradually reveal what En sets out to discover.

My fourth and final film at the festival was The Nine Muses, perhaps an essay film, though it could be considered docu/fiction too. The unclassifiable nature of the film was one of its many pleasures. Directed by John Akomfrah, this was a re-telling of the mass migration to post-war Britain, combining elements of archive film, quotation from The Odyssey, literary readings (as voice-over) from such sources as Beckett, Dickinson and Shakespeare, music extracts that ranged from pop, through tribal to classical, and newly shot footage that symbolically demonstrated the feelings of migrants on their arrival in Britain. Slow in pace, but tightly edited, the layering of images, voice and music conveyed the overall theme of loss, explored via memory. Akomfrah, who attended the screening and discussed it afterward, described his reasons for the using the extract of ‘The Nine Muses’ from The Odyssey. Intending to weave the narrative of the migrant’s journey, Akomfrah argued, based on not only testimony’s gleaned during research but his own family’s that this journey is literal, emotional and figurative as the individual adjusts to the new climate, culture and questions of assimilation or appropriation of new norms and values. I felt that the decision to create a tapestry of cultural influences combined with archive television (which included interviews with migrants and angry British natives) was a more meaningful and lyrical method, than a straight documentary might have been.

Akomfrah talked of his desire to understand and make use of the literary texts that had come to influence him, saying that he loved Beckett, but why? And how had this influenced his previous work? With its strong focus on memory and trauma, The Nine Muses clearly answers these questions, demonstrating the fluidity and variety of culture and influence.

Overall, I enjoyed my time at LFF; somehow I managed to see four films of high quality that expressed to me the important themes of memory, family, time and place.

Friday, 1 October 2010

A Slacker's Review: Scott Pilgrim Vs The World.

Above, L-R: Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Johhny Simmons, Ellen Wong, Alison Pill, Mark Webber.

Scott Pilgrim Vs The World (2010) Director: Edgar Wright. Starring Michael Cera, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, Kieran Culkin, Alison Pill, Jason Schwartzman.

Edgar Wright continues his focus on the slacker as protagonist in this pastiche of video games, the Indie music scene, super hero movies, and generally everything pop cultural. Just as Tim and Daisy in Wright’s Spaced (TV series, 1999-2001) were twenty-something’s, portrayed as lazy, partially employed, preoccupied with ‘Scooby Doo’ style adventures referencing everything from Pulp Fiction to Grange Hill, so too do Scott and his friends do very little between each bout of battle of the bands, with their own Sex Bob-Omb and as Scott faces each of his opponents. The plot is simple: Scott Pilgrim (Michael Cera) is twenty-three, between jobs and living in Toronto with his gay roommate, Wallis Wells (Keiran Culkin). He’s dating a seventeen-year-old catholic schoolgirl called Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) but really wants to abandon his ‘fake’ nearly platonic relationship for the new girl in town, Ramona Flowers, (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). His problem is that in order to do so, he must defeat her seven evil exes, who are all intent on destroying Scott and controlling the future of Ramona’s love life.

Bryan Lee O’Malley’s original graphic novels, on which the film is based, are witty and energetic, drawn with an awareness of Manga-style naivety and Indie-comic book cool. The film follows the aesthetics of the books to the letter, mostly mimicking exact frames and panels, in some scenes the transfer from page to screen adds little, as in the ownership diagram in Scott and Wallis’s apartment, (though it must be said that adding little isn’t to be taken negatively, it simply demonstrates the brilliance of O’Malley’s work). In other scenes Wright really displays the seamlessness of the adaptation to the screen medium, the fight sequences are deliriously entertaining, blending video game choreography and bombastic cartoon-like action (see Scott being thrown 100 metres in to air by Lucas Lee (Chris Evans). Fans of Cera might be tiring of his repeat performances as the shy, awkward, nerdy but nice guy in everything from Arrested Development to Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, but in Scott Pilgrim Cera’s character has an unintentionally oblivious edge, and he sticks closely to O’Malley’s creation. Scott is not a perfect gentlemen, he’s lazy and lacks compassion for the relationships he has left behind including the drummer in his own band, Kim (Alison Pill, continuing to be impressive since Pieces of April), his ultimate victory comes from realising how he has wronged the people in his life. That sounds very saccharine when summarised in such a way but Wright avoids sentimentality through the clever distance that the film’s intertextuality provides. In fact, despite the call to action that Ramona’s exes provide for Scott, it is arguable that his innate slackerdom remains intact even as each victory is won, by the use of exaggerated video game fantasy sequences, which literally transforms Scott and his friends from ordinary inactive young adults into kick-ass super fighters. By defining action in these terms, both O’Malley and Wright have continued to characterise both the 20th and 21st century twenty-something as entrenched within the pop-culture they view and participate in. Just as in Spaced, Tim’s paranoid anxiety over his ex-girlfriend is played-out as a Resident Evil style zombie shoot-em up, or Daisy’s futile efforts to remain gainfully employed take her to a restaurant kitchen institutionalised by the Nurse Ratched-like manager, Scott moves from semi-active, bass-playing platonic boyfriend of a high-schooler, to hero of the beat-em up, collecting coins as each evil ex is defeated. The problems of the video game playing slacker can only be solved when made equivalent to the pop-culture that they absorb.

All this is of course thrillingly entertaining, right down to the smaller comic touches, such as Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza) ability to self-censor with an black cross appearing over her mouth when her anger at Scott elevates to cursing. Each of the actors is excellent, but Kieran Culkin, Ellen Wong and Anna Kendrick (as Scott’s sister, Stacey, rated ‘T’ for teen) deserve special mention for pretty much stealing the show from Cera.

Scott Pilgrim Vs the World is gleefully funny, with Wright proving that further to Hot Fuzz, he is more than capable of handling proper action and shit.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Dear Cinema

I haven't blogged in a while, recent essay deadlines have kept me away from sprawling notes about the cinema, but tonight I write because I feel impelled to.
My reading of late has tumbled into the subject of cinephilia, having looked at Susan Sontag's The Decay of Cinema, reading Nick James's editorial in Sight and Sound this month seemed unusually prescient to my studies in general, one of those moments in research when you feel strangely clued in to current debate. I've also been thinking (and talking) a lot about choice. Mark Cousins recent column on the subject in the aforementioned magazine posed the question of how we are ever to decide what to watch, when so much is available to us.
If cinephiles aren't 'as special as we like to think we are' (James) and we have too much choice, is one cinematic experience (dare I use the word) de-valued in relation to the next? I may say that I saw a rare print of a Renoir, but that will be countered just as quickly by "ah, but did you see The Limits of Control?" How can I begin to convey to you how wonderful it was to see Safety Last! at the Filmhouse tonight?
This is what I really want to talk about. I headed out to the cinema with the Edinburgh sunset behind me and a spring in my step. I always get a self-conscious feeling when I walk about listening to music on my Walkman, I'm aware that tuning in to my own private soundtrack is akin to scoring my own movie in real- time, but as everyone seems to have this experience I'll let that go for the moment. I strode up the hill to the cinema in anticipation of seeing a classic of the silent age, and having bought my ticket, chatted to the usher and found my seat I looked back to check out the audience and the projectionist's booth.
The film has been restored from an old print and it was the new 35mm print that I saw projected in Cinema 1 tonight. Evi (the usher) told me that she doesn't like the digi-beta copy they have been screening in the smaller theatre, and this information further enhanced my excitement (or simply the myth) of the film experience.
Having seen not enough silent films and never having seen a Harold Lloyd comedy, I could only imagine how my expectations would be met. Knowing that Lloyd et al did all their own stunts, no wires (that I could see) and no stunt doubles was simply amazing to see. The climatic climb up a sky scraper with the famous clock scene was remarkable, and the audience was laughing and letting out sighs of fear with me! Harold Lloyd had such an expressive face, and each gag is so well timed, I don't want to gush too much so I'll just say it was a joy.

This is the crux of how I'm feeling at the moment, I don't feel I can put my finger on what it was to be in the cinema tonight, watching that particular film, call it magic if you like (maybe I will come to that) but when everyone clapped as the curtains closed on the screen, I felt present with my fellow film fans, and elated that each of us was still smiling and chuckling. Maybe you have had a similar experience, when you really felt the communality of the film experience? I had the same thing seeing Singin' in the Rain in the same screen and there's really nothing like it.
I'm glad I chose to see Safety Last! tonight, it was a tough decision, but it paid off, the reward of collective 'cine-love' as Sontag would call it. I wonder when I'll feel the same way again?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

A Post about The Host.

I have been (along with my fellow students) going through a process of articulating the why's and how's of our chosen areas of research. In fine tuning a proposal for my dissertation I have become frustrated in continually 'pointing' towards theories and work done by others, that I am not yet an authority on. The question that leaps from that is of course, will I ever be an authority on anything?! In being bogged down with this I sought solace in the Cinema, the place that is of course the inspiration and fascination that fuels all my interests and passion to begin with. I went to see Up in the Air (Dir, Jason Reitman) on Tuesday afternoon, a time of day I particularly like to be in the cinema because the auditorium is usually very quiet and I get to be alone with the screen. It's a strange kind of worship, one that I related very much to Terrance Davies poetic description of screen in his film Of Time and the City (though the cinema is a presence in most of his previous work too).
I don't really want to discuss the film; I liked it, though I can place it in a category of 'epiphany' movies when the central protagonist has some revelation about the way they should be living their life. In this case demonstrated with cliché and musical montage! Being in the cinema though - that was lovely, like going home and getting into slouchy clothes. Each screen is different though and I was in cinema 1 at Cineworld, which is laid out as a traditional half collosseum, so that when I sat in the middle seat half way down the rows I was facing straight on with the screen, unlike in other cinemas when some area of a stage or exit sign can be seen in relation to the screen. Relating directly to it's surface, I could see a few scratches on the screen too and this was something that almost improved the experience for me. Far from ruining the illusion that is highly sought after in film, the imperfection of the projected experience had the effect of bringing me closer to the mechanics of the cinema, appreciating all the combined elements that comntribute to the place I prize so highly.
This is a comfort, as I seemed to conclude, a year and a half after one of my film professors asked us new students whether we thought studying film will ruin it for us; that in fact I feel enriched by a more full awareness of all that encompasses the ' thing' that is film.

With this in mind, films I have watched since last Sunday;
The White Ribbon. Michael Haneke
Histoire(s) Du Cinema. Jean-Luc Godard.
An American Werewolf in London. John Landis
Sexy Beast. Jonathan Glazer
The Host (Gwoemul). Bong Joon-Ho.
Amadeus (Directors Cut). Milos Foreman.
28 Weeks Later. Juan Carlos Fresnadillo.
Funny People. Judd Apatow.

Sexy Beast and The Host I watched as a double bill on Wednesday night, the former being a film I had intended to watch for a long time and the latter being one of my favorite films. centers around the Park family, and particularly Gan- Du, whose daughter Hyun-Seo is captured by the chemically mutated beast that emerges from the Han river one sunny afternoon. Unlike other monster movies that build tension by leaving the revealing of the creature to the second act, in The Host, the camera loves the giant tadpole/slug beast, following it as craches around on land terrorising people as the laze on the grass enjoying the sunshine.
Gan-Du is first introduced to us, asleep in the food kiosk owned by his father. He is a slacker, lazy and inept, his hippyish blond hair marking him out as a non-conformist to the action of everyday life. It was with this perscpective that I re-veiwed The Host on Wednesday, focusing on the characterisation of Gan-Du, his father, brother and sister.
Despite being portryed as lazy in the first instant, Gan-Du is quick to act when the beast begins to trample over the peaceful inhabitants of the riverside. Alongside an American man, he picks up slates and a traffick sign to attack the creature, even after he witnesses its ferocious roar as it devours both an overweight civilian and the American hero.
It is the tension between action/inaction and comedy/tragedy that makes the film such a captivating watch. Gan-Du's brother, Nam-il is derided by their father for failing to acheive success despite being college educated, something that Nam-il has a sense of bitterness about also, "I sacrificed my youth for the democracy of this country and they won't even give me a job".
Combined with this, Gan-Du's sister, Nam-Joo is a competitve archer; we see Gan-Du and Hyun-Seo watching her compete on television before the creature attack. Her problem however, is the inability to let go the arrow in time to make a winning shot; she leaves the competition with a bronze medal, for being too hestitant to act. Hie-Bong, the father, attempts to uphold some sense of honour, even if this expresses itself in trying to bribe officials in order to escape and rescue Hyun-Seo.
The family's ecape from quaratine is set to jovial acordian music, a tone of farce and comedy, rather than tense action scene, in keeping with a previous scene in which, greiving at the loss of Hyun-Seo, the family collapses on the floor wailing and weeping. It's tragic, but then somehow it all becomes hilarious, as though one kind of excess simply mutates into another.

In the final scenes, our slacker and inactive family members, now separated are called into action for a showdown with the beast. Each of them is allowed to overcome their previous failings; action instead of inaction and all fuelled by their collective incentive to avenge Hyun-Seo.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Diversion Through Jurassic Park

I woke up this morning full of thoughts about what I might write on this blog today. My enthusiasm for research and learning is at a very high level at the moment, especially after I spoke to my professor about my dissertation ideas and was told that they weren't awful! That was all I really wanted when I imagined how our chat would go, I was simply hoping that I wouldn't be told to forget all the research and thinking I had done so far. In some ways I feel as though I'm setting out to solve a problem, or at least resolve the issues that have been concerning me for the past however many years.
Thinking is all I seem to do at the moment, and this week it may have been to the detriment of my reading. I had plenty of plans for reading but they seemed to get sidelined somehow as I thought through the main themes of my research.

I've only just begun to read the texts suggested by my professor but their mere presence in my 'office' is like a calming force, re-affirming my interests and expressing far more articulately some of things I think about cinema and screens. For example, here is an extract from Anne Friedberg's The Virtual Window,
'As the beholders of multiscreen "windows," we now receive images - still and moving, large and small, artistic and commercial - in spatially and temporally fractured frames. This new space of mediated vision is post-Cartesian, postperspectival, postcinematic, and posttellevisual, and yet remains within the delimited bounds of a frame and seen on a screen.' (7)

For some bizarre reason I was thinking about this whilst watching Jurassic Park last night. Laugh all you like, but the technology to be seen in that blockbuster from way back in 1993, like many films, demonstrates the development of user interfaces that are designed to extend human vision. The scene in which Lex, a 'hacker' taps into the parks control system to turn the phones and door locks back on, first of all induces a giggle when she utters the line, 'this is a UNIX system- I know this!' but also displays a nice graphic that shows the viewer how Lex is able to 'see' the whole of the park all at once and simply click each icon to get progressivly closer to the location of the right control. For all that the graphic may be an unrealistic depiction of what a real system such as that might look like, the scene closely resembles an earlier one in which Hammond attempts to guide Sadler via a 'walkie-talkie' (I love that name) through the corridors of a bunker, using a blueprint map. Hammond acts as her eyes, and talks her through what he can see, in theory what she should be encountering in the bunker. After another dead-end is reached, good old Malcolm tells her to simply follow the pipes. Hammonds' vision, transferred to speech and mediated throught the radio transceiver is not adequate to guide Sadler and instead she relies on her own vision, likewise Lex's vision of the park is extended through a representational graphic that is mediated through the screen of the computer, being able to 'see more' she can control the environment in which she exists. That's the theory anyway.

In terms of what Freidberg is talking about, and continuing my thoughts from last week, we can think of mobile phones and the ever present iphone and soon to be released Googlephone, as devices that we are constantly in touch with that which enables us to, 'see more'. Not only do we have graphics to guide us through text mesages, music stores and a connection to the internet allowing us to get information or images wherever we are, the aspect I find so facinating is the digital camera either by itself or on the moblie phone.
You will have done this at some point and if you haven't you might have seen someone doing it, but I'm always interested in the people who record videos of their experiences as they are happening, holding up a frame through which to view that which they can see and feel in that moment. I see this a lot at gigs and concerts, people holding up their cameras/phones to get a shot of the band. I wonder if that person would have the same experience if they had surrendered their recording device and merely relied on their unmediated senses of vision, hearing, touch etc, to experience the event.
The video they record may be for the use of an absent friend, and it will be sent as information to that person, and seen through one of the many 'windows' Freidberg lists. There just seems to be a fear that if we don't capture our experiences (and this is a reference to Sontag), they won't have really happened. We want to be able to look again, after the event and examine what our experience was, to be somewhat outside ourselves, looking in.

The photograph, or rather image of a photograph above, I took when I was on the Southbank in London for the LFF. I was by myself and taking snaps of passers by in the bright morning sunlight, my attempt to capture an image of what it was like to 'be there'! I've posted it here because it captures an image of my presence though the shadow that I cast on the sand below the walkway. Thinking about the way we record our presence, and by that I mean how the individual records their presence not how the individual's presence is captured by others, I feel this photograph nicely demonstrates how I extended my vision first of all, by being able to see myself (my shadow), and then by photographing it and seeing my image cast on the sand and then framed by the window of my cameras' digital screen.

These thoughts lead me to the requirement of more reading, so I will do just that.

As an aside, other films/T.V series I watched this week:
Nowhere Boy. Sam Taylor Wood.
Arrested Development. Mitchel Hurwitch
Climates. Nuri Bilge Ceylan.
The Gleaners and I. Agnes Varda
Shoah (first two hours). Claude Lanzmann.
You, the Living. Roy Anderson
Cloverfield. Matt Reeves.
35 Shots of Rum. Claire Denis.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

The First Tentative Steps into Blog-World.

The intention for this blog is to sketch out my ideas concerning the cinema, combining my academic research and personal thoughts. I have been studying part time for an Msc in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh for 16 months now and I only now feel like I'm starting to think like an academic - though I could be wrong about that too. Beginning a blog is something I probably should have done ages ago, I love communicating and I talk a lot, as my friends and family will testify to! I have been wary of getting my academics pursuits out in the open though and have kept them safely within the boundaries of essay writing and discussions with my fellow students. Now is the time to fully embrace online publication and be brave in this new decade, to move on (but not away from) writing with my Imperial typewriter.

This week I have read the last chapter of
Cinema 1 by Gilles Deleuze and the first chapter of Cinema 2. I continued to read After Photography by Fred Ritchin and I began reading An Introduction to Metaphysics by Henri Bergson. My reading on the side is Swans Way, the first book in Marcel Proust's six volume novel, In Search of Lost Time.

Recently my interests have been moving toward issues of analog versus digital photography and film, hence my picking up Ritchin's book which is an accessible discussion of the implications, both positive and negative, of the so called 'digital revolution'. Starting this blog makes me feel a greater acceptance of the positive side of digital developments! Ritchin picks up where Roland Barthes and Susan Sontag began in addressing the way photography has transformed the way we think about the world and how we conceive of ourselves and our lives. We have moved far passed the issue of image manipulation that began with the act of posing for the portraitist, manipulating our expression and posture for that best version of ourselves. What we have now are hundreds of different versions of our image available to view through social networking sites so that we don't need that one perfect shot, we can always upload another photograph, maybe a different pose or the same one repeated on every night out in the pub. We interact with images now, click on one and it leads you to another in a simple gesture demonstrative of the way technology develops endlessly towards convenience.

Images on the internet are like any information that's available to view, just like this blog which is another form of communication. The difference that Ritchin talks about is that we have come to expect information from the source, rather than to request it. Information is a basic right, now that so much is easily available online. This is one thing that bothers me about Facebook, that I may have 'friends' whom I don't ever interact with but I am able to view their activity and see images of them carrying on with their lives, without having to ask, "How are you?"
This is all carried out through our computers of course, we look at the screen and search for what we want, look at images and videos and have online conversations. We have an identity in the online world, conceived of through factual data; age, gender, date of birth, and through our projection of our personalities in the choices we make and personal information we put 'out there' on the web.

I checked out Henri Bergson on the advice of one of my professors, as Gilles Deleuze had based his writing on Bergsons' theories.
An Introduction to Metaphysics is a fairly intimidating title but having read some Deleuze, and in thinking about issues of perception and identity, I could almost get to grips with what Bergson was saying. How do we conceive of ourselves? That is the important question here, and I feel my concerns may be, how does the cinema conceive of us? How do we conceive of ourselves through the cinema and the various other screens we interact with?
'There is one reality, at least, which we all seize from within, by intuition and not by simple analysis. It is our own personality in its flowing through time - our self which endures. We may sympathise intellectually with nothing else, but we certainly sympathise with our own selves.'
-Bergson (8).

I'm going to have to leave these questions hanging here. In terms of our online selves and the one reality that we can truely know, Bergson would consider the internet to be a secondary, imperfect perspective, as it digests information and reduces it through analysis, 'we are not dealing with real
parts, but with mere notes of the total impression.' (24)

I hope that through this blog, my writing and my ideas improve and develop, and I appreciate any
constructive criticism readers may have to offer. At the moment I'm aware of my naivety in the face of new research and discoveries!