Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Slapstick Comedy: A Critical Book Analysis


The slapstick genre hones in on situations concerned with a: “defect, ignorance, or mistake” (ibid 88) and by continuously using them to produce comedy, ultimately, the genre ends up fetishizing these subjects. 

As part of the penultimate year studies of my BA (Hons) in Film and Screen Studies I had to author a critical analysis of a published critical film text, as part of a larger Film Theory and Criticism portfolio. 

Additionally, the chosen texts had to adhere to the larger focus of the portfolio, which in my case was silent cinema and Harold Lloyd. Ultimately, this assignment and the portfolio as a whole was awarded a first.



A Critical Book Analysis

This critical analysis will look at Slapstick Comedy, an American Film Institute anthology of essays edited by Tom Paulus and Rob King. The aim of the book is to assert: “A theoretical and theorized awareness of the politics of slapstick comedy’s difference as a form of film practice” (Paulus et al., 2010:4). 


Slapstick Comedy

The anthology is comprised of fourteen essays each with their own author and which are split across three sections, Part One: Originality and Adaptation, Part Two: Mechanics and Modernity and Part Three: Bodies and Performance

However, due to the sheer breadth of the book’s subject matter, this essay will instead focus on two chapters only: “Slapstick Skyscrapers: An Architecture of Attractions” by Steven Jacobs and “Uproarious Inventions: The Keystone Film Company, Modernity and the Art of the Motor” by Rob King. 

Specifically, these two chapters will be examined because they are connected by a common thematic focus based around particular fetishized iconographies that recur in slapstick comedies. Fetish in this sense being: “an excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing” (Oxford Dictionaries).

While the primary focus will be on the contributions of King and Jacobs, reference will be made to other chapters.

In “Slapstick Skyscrapers,” Jacobs’ explores slapstick comedy’s exploitation of the skyscraper and explains that:

“the skyscraper can be considered an: 'architecture of attractions'” (Jacobs 2010:160). 

The physical design and layout - the architecture - of the skyscraper is important because, as Jacobs goes on to explain: “High-rise buildings had become synecdoches of the metropolis, the image of the skyscraper city providing a locus of early twentieth-century modernization” (ibid 153). 

On set of Look Out Below (1919), the skyscraper visuals of the silent comedies were achieved by utilising forced perspective, as illustrated in the filming location above.


The idea of the skyscraper visually representing modernity explains at least half of its appeal to silent comedy:

“Tellingly, Buster Keaton adopted the skyscraper as an emblem of the era in his Three Ages (1923). To establish the modern episode in this film, which also comprises scenes set in prehistoric times and Ancient Rome” (ibid 155). 

However, the adoption of the skyscraper was especially prevalent for its master exploiter, Harold Lloyd. Lloyd’s screen persona was very much built around the modern go-getter image popular in the 1920s: 

“Lloyd’s comedies became a much more precise mirror of the 1920s than Chaplin’s or Keaton’s” (Brownlow, 2007:13). 

However, as Jacobs tells us, in addition to the visual iconography of modernity, Lloyd discovered another element of the skyscraper he could exploit - the attractions - and which Jacobs explains he did in the last twenty minutes of Safety Last! (Dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor, USA, 1923).

“Climbing the building and encountering a series of obstacles, Lloyd transforms the architecture into a vertical stack of thrills in which the protagonist finds himself clinging to ledges, decorations, flagpoles and clocks” (Jacobs, 2010:162). 

As Jacobs explains, by its very nature, the skyscraper had truly mammoth possibilities in terms of the scale of its attractions: 

“the structure of the skyscraper answers perfectly to the structure of a cinema of attractions: on every level, another program, another encounter, another gag; on each floor, at each strata, a fragmentary 'montage of attractions.'” (ibid 160). 

Indeed, the slapstick/thrill comedy’s continual exploitation of the skyscraper for perilous situations and thrills, as exemplified in Safety Last!, demonstrates this, as well as ensuring that the skyscraper became: “the thrill comedy’s fetish object” (ibid 162).


Harold Lloyd's most famous climb that started a new trend of thrill comedies.

King goes one step further in his chapter and argues for a larger technological exploitation and absorption of new technologies into the slapstick comedy: 


“One of the things for which Keystone is best remembered is, indeed, mechanical and spectacular surprise, 'super stunts' featuring the haywire tin lizzies, out of control police wagons, somersaulting planes, and other contraptions in which the studio’s films abounded from the mid-1910s on.” (King 2010:115).


King’s ultimate goal is to show how slapstick’s absorption and representation of new technologies allowed the genre to shake off its initial working class audience and open up to a wider mass appeal audience: 

“Integrating the spectacle of modern machinery into slapstick’s carnivalesque ethic of pleasurable disorder, Keystone defined new images of technology that appealed across class boundaries; but it also surrendered the assertions of working-class identity that had previous accompanied such disorder” (ibid 131).


To illustrate this point, King looks at the Keystone film A Submarine Pirate (Dir. Charles Avery and Sid Chaplin, USA, 1915), a film which, at the time of release, boasted having filmed on a real US Navy Submarine and which promoted all the technological wonders therein: “its interior bristling with gears, levers, dials, wheels and other contraptions” (ibid 125).


A Submarine Pirate (1915), starring Sydney Chaplin and with an early appearance by Harold Lloyd.

However, King points out that while the technology may have been dazzling it also denoted an element of danger: 

“there was indeed exceptional public interest in “submersibles,” albeit not for reasons that had much to do with comedy. The sinking of the ocean liner Lusitania by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 had provoked a widespread outcry which, while it did not precipitate American entry into the war, nevertheless fostered US government support for new defense programs and boosted public anxiety about the nation’s military preparedness” (ibid 124). 

Ultimately, though, what made the use of a weapon of war acceptable for the audience, or at least desensitised the sinister attachments, was the way in which it was treated in the film. Its acceptability is drawn from the fact that the submarine is operated by a slapstick character and this allows for a: “central confrontation between clown and machine” (ibid 126) that invites: “the spectator to view the submarine not as an instrument of war, but as a source of technological amusement” (ibid 126). 

Again, such as with the skyscraper, the idea of a slapstick-fetishized object emerges:

“In effect, the submarine’s technology becomes a fetish, precisely analogous to Marx’s definition of commodity fetishism as a displacement of desire from human relations onto material objects: substituting for the memory of the Lusitania which contemporary movie-goers surely brought to their experience of the film” (ibid 126). 

This rationalisation, or muting of a machine’s other more real-and-sinister-implications, only happened because the slapstick comedy, as a filmic funfair or Coney Island, again un-rationalised it: 

“If Keystone and Coney shared a vision of the world as a crazy machine, then this was not because (or not merely because) that vision exploited technology’s commercial possibilities as a new source of amusement, but, more importantly, because it played a key role, across a range of cultural practices, in transfiguring the experience of modernity and modernization. At Keystone as at Coney, the image of the world as a crazy machine was a fetish for the modern era, in which cogwheels, levers, and gears meshed to such exhilarating ends that there remained not the slightest gap for confronting the costs of a mechanized environment” (ibid 127).

King concludes that It was exactly this exploitation of a safe fetishized image of technology, presented by slapstick as a “crazy machine,” that allowed the genre of Slapstick to be heightened and acquire a mass appealing image: 

“In effect, technological spectacle redeemed physical comedy for a cross-class audience: when once genteel critics had been offended by slapstick’s 'vulgarity,' they now were able to celebrate the “ingenuity” of its mechanical devices” (ibid 122).

This theme of fetishism which Jacobs and King discuss is especially valid in the study of a genre that draws its name from another “crazy mechanism” – the slapstick, which Tom Gunning, in his chapter “Mechanisms of Laughter: The Devices of Slapstick,” (somewhat un-academically referencing Wikipedia) defines as: 

“a club-like object composed of two wooden slats [hinged at one end] so that, when struck, it produced a loud smacking noise” (cited in Gunning, 2010:140). 

The slapstick then, while being inherently symbolic of the genre: “the slapstick undoubtedly gives its name to the dominant genre of silent comedy, because of the high degree of physical violence – slapping, bopping, and especially ass-kicking – that many comedians cultivated.” (ibid 140), is just another fetishized object of the genre. 

Annotating Slapstick Comedy in the Student Union. Photo: Day 80 of my 366 Project 2012.




Indeed, the more you examine it, and apply the arguments of Jacobs and King, the more you can see how many elements of the genre are in fact fetishized. Above and beyond skyscrapers and machinery, the genre is littered with fetishized iconographies of particular recurring characters: 

“The films were a harvest of scamps, demonic children, dumb clucks, gargantuan bullies, cockeyed Romeos, depraved bumpkins, menacing fatties, lecherous matrons, doughy-faced innocents, lolling Bathing Belles, and insanely incompetent Keystone Kops.” (Suffrin 1987:21). 

Even narratives and gags recur: “a seemingly endless recycling of gags and scenarios – even whole story treatments – that define the first three-and-a-half decades of American film comedy” (Bean 2010:236). 

Something else which is interesting to note is that the genre is a good couple of years ahead in its fetishism of grotesques, that would later form a major component of the iconographies of German Expressionism and its later American imitations: “Screen comedy was dominated by grotesques!” (Gill et al., 1992). 

Judging by slapstick’s obsessive ability to fetishize its constituent parts, fetishism obviously forms a huge component of slapstick’s appeal and success.

In fact, we can even go one step further and say that if the genre did not fetishize its constituent parts it would not be funny: 

“Critics generally agree that nothing in nature is in itself comic; it depends on a spectator's appreciation of some kind of defect, ignorance, or mistake” (Hume 1972:88). 

The slapstick genre hones in on situations concerned with a: “defect, ignorance, or mistake” (ibid 88) and by continuously using them to produce comedy, ultimately, the genre ends up fetishizing these subjects. 

It can be further argued that while this process of fetishism helps the genre to produce its comedy, the theme of fetishism can be considered more important to the genre than its ability to produce humour: 

“Sennett considered the Bathing Beauties primarily as a “beautiful break” and decided that their physical activities did not necessarily have to be fast and funny. Indeed, the girls were generally portrayed as beautiful, healthy, young bodies in motion, diving into the ocean or playing a ballgame at the beach.” (D’haeyere 2010:210).

Therefore, the spectacle and exhibition of an object is more integral to slapstick comedy than that object’s potential for humour. 

Mack Sennett's Bathing Beauties.

In this respect, the genre also obtained a humourless, sexual fetishism which, before the Bathing Beauties, the genre had been devoid of: 

“The Beauties were selected to look like a multiplication of a single type of actress: a young, white, lively, and athletic girl, with a pleasant face, an attractive smile, and a beautifully curved, short body.” (D’haeyere 2010:208).

Fundamentally, the genre is built upon the idealization of fetishism and it is this: “excessive and irrational devotion or commitment to a particular thing” (Oxford Dictionaries) which is what provides the genre with its distinctive nature. 

Building on Jacobs comments about how: 

“the structure of the skyscraper answers perfectly to the structure of a cinema of attractions: on every level, another program, another encounter, another gag” (2010:160), slapstick comedy as a genre is therefore not, as has long been held, a presentation of vulgarity: “Sight-gag and slapstick comedy…were essentially a matter of violence” (Everson 1978:267), but an architecture of fetishistic attractions.

While the arguments of King’s and Jacobs’ chapters are insightful, particularly in conveying a view of slapstick’s presentation of fetishism that has been barely touched upon, their arguments are perhaps not as ambitious or as wide ranging as they could have been. 

A case in point is the assertion that has been presented in this analysis' discussion of fetishism. True, it is an offshoot from what King and Jacobs said in regards to fetishism, however, neither of their arguments are as wide ranging to propose the idea of fetishism as being something that is, in fact, integral and inherent throughout the whole of the slapstick genre. 

However, as can be seen in this writer’s assertion of fetishism being an integral part of the genre, King and Jacobs certainly provide a strong stepping on point for further theories to be proposed about the slapstick comedy genre; which, unless you are talking about figures like Chaplin; Keaton; Lloyd or Laurel & Hardy, has been relatively devoid of any intricate theoretical analysis. 

This is the reason for why this book analysis has focused on King’s and Jacobs’ chapters, because of all the chapters their chapters, connected by a common theme, provide the deepest and most refreshing exploration of the genre.

The Slapstick Comedy anthology provides many other interesting insights on the genre: whether it be Bryon Dixon looking at the origins of situation comedy in the British Music Hall or Barry Salt’s chapter on the stylistic influence D.W. Griffith had on slapstick or of the originality of Charlie Chaplin and the imitators he spawned in Jennifer M. Bean’s chapter or the similarities that Eileen Bowser draws between Mack Sennett’s and Henry Ford’s production and business methods. 

However, if you want to understand the fundamental nature and mass appeal of Slapstick Comedy then the chapters by Jacobs and King are required reading!



Bibliography

Paulus. T and King. R. eds. (2010) Slapstick Comedy. New York: Routledge. 

Vance, J. and Lloyd, S. (2002) Harold Lloyd: Master Comedian. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Incorporated.

Everson, W.K. (1998) ‘Comedy’. In: American Silent Film. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc, pp.260-280.

Hume, R.D. (1972) ‘Some Problems in the Theory of Comedy’. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 31, No. 1, pp. 87-100.

Suffrin, M (1987) ‘The Silent World of Slapstick (1912-1916)’. The Threepenny Review, No. 29, p. 21.

Oxford Dictionaries [Online]. Available from: http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/fetish?q=fetishism#fetish__4



Filmography

Safety Last! (1923) film; Dir. Fred C. Newmeyer and Sam Taylor. 70 minutes. USA: Hal Roach Studios, Pathé Exchange.

The Submarine Pirate (1915) film; Dir. Charles Avery and Syd Chaplin. 14 minutes. USA: Keystone Film Company. 

Three Ages (1923) film; Dir. Edward F. Kline and Buster Keaton. 63 Minutes. USA: Buster Keaton Productions.

“American Masters” Harold Lloyd: The Third Genius, 1992. [Online] Available from: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z60yZd9MTes&feature=BFa&list=PL8314099849315292&lf=plpp_video

Monday, 24 November 2014

Little Girls and Their Daddies: A Review of Lynne Ramsay's Gasman


At first glance, the film appears to be social realist and, while it is social realist, I would argue that it is less social realist than a film like Andrea Arnold’s 2003 Wasp, for example, which leans closer to being a Dogma 95 style of film. If anything, Gasman is representative of reality, but only through a combination of film form that gives that representation a dream like quality.

Little Girls and Their Daddies is a film review I wrote back in 2010 for the short film Gasman, this was done for a (second) first year Film and Screen Studies assignment, as part of my BA (Hons). Together with its companion piece The Complete Metropolis: An Analysis of Two Publish Reviews, this comprised one assignment in which I had to demonstrate my understanding of film reviewership and analysis.

As I mentioned in The Complete Metropolis, the writing style is very clunky, as I was still mastering my understanding of English grammar at the time. Here I have only minutely polished the original review that was intended for a Sight and Sight/cinephile readership.

Being a first year assignment, most of the technical problems were forgiven in favour of how I actually applied my learning in this and it's companion analysis assignment, both were ultimately awarded firsts.  


A Review of Lynn Ramsay's Gasman

In Lynne Ramsay’s 1997 short film Gasman one thing is clear: there is an elephant in the room or, as Ramsay would have us believe, just off frame. Ramsay’s arrangement of mise-en-scene throughout the film always seems to be slightly and deliberately off the mark, as if there is something more lurking just outside the frame and outside the immediate narrative that is being presented. In fact, Gasman is a fine example of how sometimes it is what you do not see that can be more truthful than what you do see.

The protagonist of Gasman is Lynne (Lynne Ramsay Jr) who along with her Brother Steven (Martin Anderson) is being taken by their father (James Ramsay) to a work Christmas party. However, Lynne is somewhat surprised to see the addition of two other children, a girl Lisa (Lisa Taylor) and her brother Robert (Robert McEwan), who their father also takes.

Lynne (Lynne Ramsay Jr).



The film begins with each member of the family seemingly fragmented into their own little world. The husband is quiet and troubled; evidenced when you see how many cigarette butts there are in his ashtray, the wife (Denise Flannagan) is ratty and disdainful; especially towards a kiss from her husband, the son appears troubled with something of a destructive quality; as evidenced when he crashes the toy car into the sugar. 

In fact, Lynne is the only one of them, while still in her own separate world, who appears to be happy. This fragmented quality again creates the sense that there is something more just outside the frame. The fact also that it is not until two and half minutes into the film that we see the first face adds further to this. As a spectator we have to piece the visual clues together in order to understand and see what the problem is. This is always a sign of good filmmaking and even more so in Gasman.

At first glance, the film appears to be social realist and, while it is social realist, I would argue that it is less social realist than a film like Andrea Arnold’s 2003 Wasp, for example, which leans closer to being a Dogma 95 style of film. If anything, Gasman is representative of reality, but only through a combination of film form that gives that representation a dream like quality. In fact, I would go one step further and argue that the film has a fairy-tale like quality. As, indeed, this is established early on as in when Lynne quotes The Wizard of Oz: “There’s no place like home.” 

What Ramsay has done is construct a film which is representative of a little girl’s naïve outlook upon the world. The film, however, shows Lynne’s transformation from this naivety towards the bleakness of reality. It is a troubled bleakness which already grips her mother, father and brother and which is superbly visually emphasized through the cold impoverished imagery of the film's setting, as when Lynne and her father are walking along the abandoned railroad, this is very suggestive of an impending collision and, indeed, that is exactly what Lynne gets.

A film about that life changing event that kills the innocence of childhood and gives birth to the cynicism of adulthood.



In regards to performances particular praise must be aimed towards those of the children. All the children, especially Lynne Ramsay Jr, do a remarkably better job than certain older child actors did in the first couple of Harry Potter films. However, I am not sure if this is due to Ramsay Jr’s skill as an actor or to Ramsay Sr’s manipulative skill as a director. 

In fact, Ramsay comments on the audio commentary track that the party in the film was an actual party which she organised and then filmed. But, at the end of the day I’m sure it is both a combination of Ramsay Sr’s skill as a director and Ramsay Jr’s skill to immerse herself in a world of make believe; it seems real talent runs in the family.

With Gasman, there is a sense that perhaps the film is somewhat autobiographical of Ramsay’s own life. The fact that she has used her own family members as the cast, and a protagonist who shares the name Lynne, are all suggestions to be in favour of this theory. But, while the film might not be based entirely on an episode in Ramsay’s life there is still a sense that the theme of the film, the loss of innocence, does come from Ramsay herself. The fact also that she both wrote and directed the film adds further leverage to this line of thought.

While the film might not be based entirely on an episode in Ramsay’s life there is still a sense that the theme of the film, the loss of innocence, does come from Ramsay herself.



But, whatever the story behind the film, one thing is clear: this is a film about little girls and their daddies. The motivation of Lynne throughout the movie is her father, as in the beginning when she snaps at her mum: “No, I don’t want you to help me” but is only too eager to run to her father: “coming daddy!” She is a daddy’s girl who has that status threatened and by the end disappointed. There is a sense that Lynne’s world of a young girl has gone past the point of no return and one step closer to adulthood.

Overall, Gasman is a film which is a remarkably polished piece of filmmaking, made on a shoestring budget. The fairy tale quality which Ramsay has created is something I think she should have pushed further but, none the less, still works in establishing visually the young Lynne’s outlook on the world. This is a film which every adult can identify with because, on one hand, it’s a film about that special childhood status of being able to sit on your daddy’s knee. However, the elephant in the film is, ultimately, what the film is about on the other hand. It’s a film about that life changing event that kills the innocence of childhood and gives birth to the cynicism of adulthood.




Postscript

This review was produced as one half of a film reviewership assignment; as such, you can also read the review analysis that I authored: The Complete Metropolis: An Analysis of Two Published Reviews.

The Complete Metropolis: An Analysis of Two Published Reviews


Newman’s argument hinges upon how the film has been unjustly mistreated by figures that never got to see the original version or who were aware of a longer version, but damned the film regardless. He compares this to the similarly ill-treated cinematic releases of Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, USA, 1982) and Brazil (Dir. Terry Gilliam, USA, 1982) but whose later, purer versions were ultimately critically acclaimed.


I like Fritz Lang's Metropolis, who doesn't?

You would have to be crazy not to be at least a little intrigued by it!

However, I also pride myself on the fact that I was lucky enough not to see the film until the release of the 2010 rediscovered complete version of Metropolis, so I first experienced it as it was originally intended by Lang. 


I saw it at the Little Theatre Cinema, Bath and it was a hugely enjoyable experience - £7.20 well spent!



A couple of months following the screening at the Little Theatre Cinema I had to produce an analysis of two published reviews for a Film and Screen Studies assignment, as part of the (second) first year of my BA (Hons), and  The Complete Metropolis made for the perfect focus. 

What I have presented here is that very analysis.

What I have presented below is basically the same as what I originally submitted back in 2010. I have gone through and polished the writing slightly, as I was only just getting to grips with my understanding of English grammar at the time, so my writing style is very clunky throughout. 

Additionally, I have employed the wrong academic method for referencing throughout, which I do not bother to correct here. I also have not bothered linking this new post to the reviews and articles discussed, as I have been having some trouble locating them using the original urls, so you will just have to take my word for it.

Ultimately, the piece does not come to any real clearly stated conclusion, but does make a strong point about the freedom and potential available to bloggers, I believe it was the incentive of this point that first got me thinking about starting my own blog. 

In all truth, if I was to thoroughly polish this analysis, I would just rewrite it from scratch, but I am not going to do that, as it stands as testimony of how I have developed as a cinephile and an academic.

Being a first year piece of university work, most of the analysis' technical shortcomings were forgiven in favour of how I actually analysed the two reviews. Ultimately, this piece of work was awarded a first.

I hope you enjoy reading it or that it serves of some productive use...


An Analysis of Two Published Reviews

This analysis will concern itself with the deconstruction and evaluation of two film reviews. One review, from Sight and Sound, is written by Kim Newman; while the other is by Bernardo Villela and comes from the blog of FilmSnobbery.com

Both reviews detail the 2010 re-release of the rediscovered and reconstructed Metropolis (Dir. Fritz Lang, Germany, 1927) or, as some advertising materials have referred to it, The Complete Metropolis

Throughout this analysis the reviews will be compared and contrasted with one another; as well as to the views of various other reviewers and film theorists.

The trailer for the 2010 release of the recently rediscovered complete version of Metropolis.

The Complete Metropolis is a cause for celebration with Kim Newman’s review. The review is the issue’s cover story and, as such, has its front cover adorned with the iconic image of the robot. As director Oshii Mamoru comments: ‘Metropolis is one of those rare movies in which one of its characters happens to epitomise the essence of the movie itself.’ (Oshii, Remake Remodel Cityscapes and Robots p. 19).

Gold and gleaming, like an Idol, the robot embodies the presence of a monumental film that everyone, even if they are not knowledgeable about silent cinema, is at least vaguely aware of.


Sight and Sound, Volume 20, Issue 10.

Next to the robot is the headline: ‘Metropolis Reborn’ and under which resides the film’s year of release 1927. But the lack of further information such as the director’s name or even a brief blurb elaborating on the headline indicates that the readership of Sight and Sound will immediately know this film and why it is on the cover.

In addition to this, the magazine’s subtitle: ‘THE INTERNATIONAL FILM MAGAZINE’ and the fact the magazine is published by the British Film Institute demonstrates this is a magazine for the film academic or cinephile. The Newman review is what Timothy Corrigan would class as a critical essay; being something that: ‘falls between the theoretical essay and the review. The writer of this kind of essay presumes that his or her reader has seen or is at least familiar with the film under discussion’ (Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film p.11). 

Indeed, the review is a full five page spread, three pages of which comprises the review, and the overall word count of this piece would vastly dwarf that of a review appearing in a periodical.


The famous robot in Metropolis.





Newman’s strength is in taking a film that is 83 years old and then makes it relevant and something worth watching for the audience of today. Newman’s argument throughout asserts that: ‘the iconic film experienced by audiences worldwide as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis has been a long way from what its director originally intended’ (Newman, Remake Remodel p.17.) and, as such, has been unjustly treated and not properly appreciated over the decades because of this.

A figure that he uses to illustrate this mistreatment is that of another great contributor to science fiction, H.G. Wells: ‘The New York Times hired H.G. Wells, no less, to review the paramount version (which had opened in London) and ran his grumpy, splenetic, resentful, beside-the-point tirade’ (ibid. p.17.).

Newman’s argument hinges upon how the film has been unjustly mistreated by figures that never got to see the original version or who were aware of a longer version, but damned the film regardless. He compares this to the similarly ill-treated cinematic releases of Blade Runner (Dir. Ridley Scott, USA, 1982) and Brazil (Dir. Terry Gilliam, USA, 1982) but whose later, purer versions were ultimately critically acclaimed. While these: ‘epic dystopian visions somehow invite this sort of treatment’ (ibid. p. 17.), their later director’s versions received critical acclaim and The Complete Metropolis is no exception to this rule.


The Complete Metropolis poster.



Newman’s pieces of background information, scattered throughout, largely detail the reasons behind why the film was originally truncated and how the footage was rediscovered. While this information may already be known to the reader, its inclusion is warranted because it further reinforces Newman’s argument for viewing The Complete Metropolis and why the complete version is a better film: ‘All things considered, the restored Metropolis is a different film from the one discernible in a multitude of versions since early 1927. Its scenario crafted by Lang’s then wife Thea von Harbou, now almost makes complete sense.’ (ibid. p. 17.)

Finally, Newman allows the film to have a context today by comparing it to reception of an equally ambitions and recently released science fiction film: “Wells’ withering attitude to Lang’s film probably resembles the way contemporary science-fiction writers feel about Avatar.” (ibid. p.17). This comparison allows the reader to understand, if they did not already, what a monumental film Metropolis was when it was first released. Newman is using the context in which Avatar (Dir. James Cameron, USA, 2009) was released to recreate the kind of context that Metropolis would have been released and received in.


Newman’s style throughout is typical of the film academic, in that, his structure is free flowing and his style of writing is constantly at ease especially in his referencing of other texts. Newman is confident that his reader will know what he is talking about but, at the same time, still supplying enough information to fill in the gaps if they don’t. While the review is catering for a cinephile readership, Newman still provides enough information for a non-cinephile to discern his arguments, judgement and recommendation for the film.

Newman, it seems, has written a critical essay, but one which he still wants a non-cinephile to be able to get their teeth into; otherwise why would he bother contextualizing the film for today’s audience?



From the opening sentence of Villela’s review: ‘The first thing that needs saying is that there are conventions that need to be acknowledged if you are going to venture out and watch this or any silent film’(6), this is a review targeted at an audience who are not familiar with the conventions of silent cinema. If we are to follow Corrigan's view that: ‘a review aims at the broadest possible audience, the general public with no special knowledge of film’ (Corrigan, A Short Guide to Writing about Film p.8.), then Villella’s review is one which is designed to be accessible to any demographic: ‘Accordingly, its function is to introduce unknown films and to recommend or not recommend them’ (ibid. p.8.).


An original Metropolis poster.



This is exactly what Villella is doing by immediately introducing and explaining the cinematic context in which Metropolis was produced: ‘Silent acting, for example, is by its very nature more demonstrative and over-the-top’(6), he is justifying its perceived absurd style in comparison to the more realistic representation of contemporary cinema. While Villella’s opening sentence may not be exactly snappy it does immediately hook the reader with intrigue. It also allows them to feel comfortable by conveying a smooth transition from the accepted conventions of contemporary cinema to the very different ones of the silent period.



While Villela does go on to discuss the performances of some of the actors, the film’s original score, and especially the reconstruction of the film, he fails to justify why the modern spectator should go and see The Complete Metropolis.


New York City + The Tower of Babel = Metropolis



It’s all very well claiming you can go and: “see it sharper and more clearly that you’re likely ever seen it before” (6), but to a modern spectator, the majority of which have no interest in silent cinema, this is not incentive enough.

Really what Villela needs to do is give Metropolis a modern context and make it relevant for today, such as Newman did with the allusion to Avatar being today’s equivalent of Metropolis. Overall, Villela has written a review that offers some interesting observations of the reconstruction but, ultimately, feels incomplete.

However, attached to this review is an additional article, written by Villela, entitled: Why a New Cut Matters. This article again explores The Complete Metropolis and it is in this that Villela certainly leans closer to contextualizing it for an audience of today. But, again, he still does not achieve this! While, he does emphasize the importance of why a rediscovery can be interesting : “we always knew there was something missing, there should be something endlessly appealing about newly found cuts of films to any enthusiast of cinema” (7), he fails to justify why anybody, other than a film enthusiast, should go and see it.

On set photograph from Metropolis, Fritz Lang is on the far right.



The only likely people who will look at the Film Snobbery blog are film buffs, but for anybody who happens to look at it and is not a film buff: will they really be won over into going to see The Complete Metropolis?

Even Newman’s review went the extra mile of justifying why the reader should go and see it. However, if you are to follow what Warren Buckland has to say: ‘The reviewer’s judgement, writing style and decisions about how much background information and condensed arguments to give the reader, is determined by the projected readership and perceived character of the paper of magazine’(Buckland, Teach Yourself Film Studies p. 155), then Villela has done nothing wrong.

However, to go one step further, surely the format of a blog and freedom of expression it allows warrants a deeper exploration: ‘Bloggers have the advantage over print film reviewers in really free speech: they have no professional responsibilities, or policy interventions to deal with.’ (Fishers, On Critics: Bloggers without boundaries p.19).

Surely, this is the kind of freedom any film reviewer would want?

However, Villela seems not to have realised this and it’s ironic to think that Newman’s review still carries a lot of weight even after it’s been through the hands of an editor, unlike Villela’s. Not only has Villela not done any justice for Fritz Lang’s intended version of Metropolis, he has conformed to the stereotype of the blogger as an ‘amateur’ and has not championed the format of the blog as being something truly unbound and full of potential: ‘The best blogs are defined by this quality: they occupy a space between journalism and academia, between disciplines, between film and other cultural forms, offering a new type of criticism’ (ibid, p.19).




Postscript

This analysis was produced as one half of a film reviewership assignment and, as such, you can also read the companion piece - an original film review that I authored: Little Girls and Their Daddies: A Review of Lynn Ramsay's Gasman




Bibliography

Newman, Kim ‘Remake Remodel’. Sight & Sound, 20, (10), 2010, pp. 16 – 20.

Villela, Bernardo ‘The Complete Metropolis (2010)’, 2010. [Online] Accessed from: http://filmsnobbery.com/movie-reviews/the-complete-metropolis-2010/ [Accessed 16.11.2010].


Filmography

Metropolis or The Complete Metropolis (film); Fritz Lang. 145 minutes. Germany: UFA, 1927, re-release: 2010.

Blade Runner (film); Ridley Scott. 117 minutes. USA: The Ladd Company, Shaw Brothers, Warner Bros. Pictures, 1982.

Brazil (film); Terry Gilliam. 132 minutes. USA: Embassy International Pictures, 1985.

Avatar (film); James Cameron. 162 minutes. USA: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation, Dune Entertainment, Ingenious Film Partners, 2009.

Villela, Bernardo ‘Why a New Cut Matters’, 2010. [Online] Accessed from: http://filmsnobbery.com/blog/why-a-new-cut-matters/ [Accessed 17.11.2010].

Corrigan, Timothy J, A Short Guide to Writing About Film. Westford: Pearson Longman, 2007, pp. 1-17.

Buckland W Teach Yourself Film Studies, Hodder and Stoughton Education, 2003, pp154.

Fisher, Mark ‘Who Needs Critics? On Critics: Bloggers without boundaries’. Sight & Sound, 18 (10), 2008, p.19.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

BIME a Bullet to Bite on: Videography, Volunteering, Making Mistakes and Maintaining Momentum


There are countless 'aspiring filmmakers' out there and that's all they are - aspirers. Dreamers who never actually do any filmmaking. They watch films, they talk about making their own, but that's it.

However, I do understand because I have been guilty of this myself. While I was flattered that my filmmaking tutor encouraged me to continue filmmaking, if I am being honest, I should not have waited for someone else to tell me that I should be a filmmaker, because I waited an awful long time to be given that 'permission'.

I have already wasted years of my life in which I could have been filmmaking, opposed to film-dreaming, but it's never too late to start and/or get back into the habit of doing it, which is exactly what happened to me, as I exited my penultimate year of university and headed into my summer break of videography, volunteering, making mistakes and maintaining momentum...



A screencast overview of this post (4:14).

This post has an emphasis on:

  • motivating yourself to get out of your comfort zone in order to start making films (or whatever it is you really want to do).
  • providing my freelance videography experiences as testimony of pushing and challenging yourself, regardless of the cost.
  • reconfiguring failure into a positive incentive. 
  • dealing with doubt and just getting on with something anyway.
  • getting over perfection and just delivering regardless.
  • learning from your mistakes while discussing what I have learned from mine.
  • the importance of consistent filmmaking practice and maintaining momentum, as demonstrated by the filmmaking practice I have conducted over the past couple of years.

Filmmaking outside of the box greatly nourished my overall skillset and this is why I have presented my good and bad experiences of being the videographer for the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, as testimony to encourage other filmmakers/videographers who are starting out to exercise themselves likewise - be a film-doer, not just a film-dreamer!

In many ways the summer of 2012 proved to be a hugely significant period in my life and key among the occurrences of that summer was the further development of my videography skills. I have already discussed the filmmaking practice of my academic studies in a number of posts, so here I will focus on a period where I developed my videography practice independant to my BA (Hons) degree. 

In this post and three additional posts I reflect upon the four months - sandwiched between the penultimate and final year of my BA (Hons) studies - that I volunteered my filmmaking skills to the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering a.k.a. BIME (pronounced "buy me") and the four videos I produced to help promote their cause.



Filmmaking outside of my comfort zone: Just Getting on with It at the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering


After completing my penultimate year of university in which there had been a very strong focus on filmmaking, I decided that, if I wanted to experience ongoing success, I needed to keep in shape: 

"Ultimately, after I had finished the module and received my monumental marks and feedback, I found myself with a new incentive to revitalise my filmmaking focus and to start taking my potential a little more seriously." 


Basically, if I did not do any filmmaking throughout the summer months, I knew my skills would become stale and would remain underdeveloped by the time I started my final year. I wanted to get ahead of the game so as to make the absolute most out of my final year. 

There are countless 'aspiring filmmakers' out there and that's all they are - aspirers. Dreamers who never actually do any filmmaking. They watch films, they talk about making their own, but that's it. The actual process of filmmaking is always something that gets swept very sheepishly under the carpet. The majority of aspiring filmmakers are very good at sabotaging their potential.

However, I do understand because I have been guilty of this myself. 

Just giving up and lounging around all day doesn't half make you miserable and it will turn you into an absolute misery guts to be around! From 2009 - my year of largely nothing. 




While I was flattered that my filmmaking tutor encouraged me to continue filmmaking, if I am being honest, I should not have waited for someone else to tell me that I should be a filmmaker, because I waited an awful long time to be given that 'permission'.

I have already wasted years of my life in which I could have been filmmaking, opposed to film-dreaming, but it's never too late to start and/or get back into the habit of doing it, which is exactly what happened to me, as I exited my penultimate year and headed into my summer break of videography, volunteering, making mistakes and maintaining momentum.

I took my filmmaking tutor's advice and did some more filmmaking. I did not have a film idea that was ready to go, so I got busy with being a freelance videographer. 

Get busy filmmaking or get busy dying. 

Any kind of filmmaking, it does not matter. 

Actually conducting the making of films or video content was the only way my skillset was going to be developed, opposed to wasting away in the clouds.

It's a hard climb, but nobody else is going to do it for you, so just do it!

Reaching the summit of Round Hill, Bath, that hill sat between my house and the university. An hour long walk, there and back. I never had enough money to get the bus to and from university during the holidays, so (unless I had a working bike) I walked. Over 4 years, I walked a great deal of those walks! Everyday when I was editing the BIME videos, I would have to walk from my house into university and back again. 

Fortunately, I do actually like walking, plug in some headphones and listen to some podcasts or audio plays - lovely jubbly (and the views were great), but I know a lot of people who would not even bother. 

In my mind it was simple: I could stay at home and watch some films or actually go into university and make my own ones - there's no competition. Photo: Day 111 of my 366 Project 2012.

While laziness is a major detriment, lack of self-esteem, fear-limited vision and the perfection plague are the primary reasons the world possesses so many aspiring filmmakers. In fact, these are the primary reasons why the world possess so much unfulfilled potential in any field of human endeavour!

You will only develop yourself by exercising yourself, making mistakes, learning from those mistakes, adjusting your approach and then exercising yourself some more. That's it. I'm sorry if that does not sound appealing to you, but that is the only way talent is developed and, guess what, the more you do it, the more you become accustomed to it and the more you will learn to take failures in your stride.

When you have developed the aptitude to embrace failures positively and integrate their teaching into your next approach, you will realise that NOTHING is perfect and never will be, so stop trying to make it so.

Filmmaking is a hugely messy process, there is nothing perfect about it.

One Door Opened, the submission film I helped make as part of my penultimate year filmmaking module. The making of this film and the end product were far from perfect, so much so that we had to film some pick-up shots during postproduction to insure that we made the logic of the story visually apparent. Do not even get me started on those little DV tapes - they are all kinds of imperfect! Photo: Day 103 of my 366 Project 2012.



That film idea jangling around inside your head will NEVER be perfect, no matter how long you spend thinking about it. Get it out of your head, put it down onto paper and start developing it into something you can actually make happen in the real world. 

Additionally, if you do not have any ideas and are expecting the perfect idea to jump into your head at the perfect time. Stop right now. Get a pen, a pad of paper and start  getting into the habit of generating ideas on paper.

"This is a powerful belief in beginning film students, who assume that professional film equipment will make a professional-level film" from Directing the Documentary by Michael Rabiger, the book is big, but really is worth its weight in gold! 

Lack of 'professional equipment' is not an excuse; a smartphone can be used to make a short film and basic consumer filming products are cheaper and more accessible now than they have ever been, you can upgrade later. Photo: Day 217 of my 366 Project 2012.


As I did, maybe you want to develop your technical and organisational skills a bit more before you embark on your 'masterwork'. Fair enough -  you can still keep developing your ideas while you go out and exercise your skillset in an area that is completely outside your comfort zone. 

You won't be perfect, but you'll become proficient, and that's good enough - that will elevate you from being an 'aspirer' to being a 'doer' and, ultimately, a strong self-esteem will naturally grow out of all of this exertion.

Film-dreamers specialise in making excuses.

Filmmakers specialise in making films. 

Setting the lighting levels for one of the shots in One Door Opened. Even though this film ended up being a really terrible mess, my taste for filmmaking was completely revitalised as a result of being involved in the making of it.

"Sometimes the first way you tell a story isn’t always the best way; sometimes you have to go back and retell it a different way. This understanding of how the filmmaking process evolves a story is something which builds greatly on the knowledge I have already gained from the other parts of my degree, Creative Writing with Film and Screen Studies; as well as my previous filmmaking experiences. Therefore, I believe that the module has contributed greatly to my skills as a storyteller, both in script form and in visual form. Skills that I plan to put to good use!" 
- from the conclusion of my final reflection on my filmmaking module

Going into the summer, I was set on the idea of filmmaking being a major component of my final year. I had already signed up to the Short Form Documentary Making module and planned to do some form of short film as part of the Creative Enterprise Project module - so I wanted to prepare as best I could for both of those pursuits. No excuses!


Designability - the Bath Institute of Medical Engineering, or BIME (as it was formerly known), is a charity that specialises in researching and building life-assisting technologies to improve the quality of living for as many people as possible.


"We conduct original research and develop commercial products that meet real needs. 
We advocate better technology for everyone. And believe inclusive design is the only way forward. So we work with end-users, carers and health professionals to help us understand the problem, find a solution and test it in real life situations. 
We create great looking, easy-to-use designs that go beyond basic functionality. And we partner with industry to help as many people as we can – we’ve transformed over 250,000 lives in the last 46 years." 
Designability

You can find out much more on Designability's website and you can even make a donation towards their cause.

Designability/BIME is based at the Royal United Hospital in Bath. Photo: Day 171 of my 366 Project 2012.


The position with BIME came about almost completely by chance. I was searching for a part-time job on one of the job listing websites and under the media category (the ghost town category), I could not believe it, there was a position advertised - a volunteer video producer position.

The Video Producer role was exactly what it said on the tin:  producing videos about BIME, its mission, its history and its products.

I was invited in the following week for an interview in which BIME basically said they did not have a clue about video production and that this was a very new thing for them (it was all part of a larger rebranding plan, hence why BIME is now called Designability).

Ultimately, my reply was much the same: while I did know how to make an engaging video, producing videos for a client from predetermined briefs was a completely new experience for me. However, I assured BIME that this should not worry them, because I was very actively using this summer and its opportunities to develop my filmmaking skillset.

Furthermore, I reminded them that:


  • I lived in Bath full-time, so they did not have to worry about me suddenly disappearing in the summer.
  • I held some of the highest marks of my year's filmmaking module and had been endorsed by my tutors.
  • I had access to the university's equipment (a great resource to exploit).
  • I was looking for a position in which I would actually benefit flesh and blood 'people', opposed to some faceless corporation.


Admittedly, a bit of an income would have been a benefit that summer, but I decided to devote the whole summer break to developing my filmmaking. I knew that while I might not immediately experience the benefits, the knowledge gained from the BIME position would reap its rewards further down the line.

Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and starve!

It's not official, until you put it on facebook. Photo: Day 183 of my 366 Project 2012.

I was with BIME from 24th June to 25th October 2012 and, through good and bad, my skillset flourished while I was operating outside of my comfort zone.

I discuss this overall process and the ups-and-downs of the four videos I produced in the following three blog posts and then I conclude this current post shortly after these outlines...



The First Two BIME Videos: Wizzybug @ the Bath Pageant of Motoring


In which I discuss all of the scathing mistakes I made while producing the first videos and, ultimately, how that experience has gone on to greatly benefit my overall filmmaking practice. 

This post has an emphasis on:

  • how to go about finding your observant eye and working with uncertainty.
  • advice for making yourself and your filming subjects feel comfortable. 
  • being vigilant with your time management.
  • using the right equipment.
  • not cutting corners.

A screencast overview of The First Two BIME Videos blog post (3:38).

Find out more



The Third BIME Video: The Nightlight Tray


In which I discuss how I took all the knowledge and frustration I had accumulated from the many mistakes in the first two videos and produced a third video of an exceptionally high quality.

The emphasis of this post is on:

  • lighting.
  • the importance of lighting.
  • the relative ease of implementing a lighting configuration.

Additionally, the posts offers solid endorsement for:

  • implementing effective time management.
  • planning and visualising a blueprint for a video in advance.
  • being clear on what your videographer terms are from the start.

A screencast overview of The Third BIME Video blog post (4:13).



The Fourth and Final BIME Video: A Profile of the Institute


In which I reflect upon my decision to move on from BIME and instead focus on the concerns of my final year of undergraduate university. Additionally, I detail the filming and interviewing I did for the final video and briefly touch on my transition from standard/low definition into using high definition.

The emphasis of this post is on:

  • effective interviewing techniques and advice, as illustrated by what I did.
  • decision making.
  • forecasting a schedule in regards to deciding upon your obligations.
  • investing in what really interests you.
  • investing in digital high definition.

A screencast overview of The Fourth and Final BIME Video blog post (3:02).





Filmmaking my uncomfortable comfort zone: a testimony of momentum's importance

Developing your skillset is one thing, but not stopping and consistently developing your skillset - that is equally important. 

I have already touched on the fact that the reason I volunteered as a videographer throughout the summer of 2012 was so that I would not fall into a rut during the summer break and then have to claw my way back to normality in the first couple of months of my final year

Imagine how much time and opportunity that would have wasted? 

I did not stop after completing my penultimate year, I kept going, kept working right into the beginning of my final year and because of this - getting started on my final year was not even an issue.

My momentum had remained consistent and it had become fully pumped as a result of working my way through the summer.

I really got into the swing of timetabling and exercising effective time management in my final year; precisely because I had got into the habit of doing it throughout the summer. That Wednesday was a good day! Photo: Day 304 of my 366 Project 2012.


This is the point - I did not actually start my final year, I just carried on doing what I had been doing throughout the whole of 2012.

That's the secret.

Consistently stick with doing what you are passionate about and that passion will take over; the rest of your world will fall into a system of support and your passion will become the primary focus of your life.

If you give up, it's gone.

If you live what you love, maintaining momentum becomes as easy as breathing...

Filming and photographing at Freshers Fair 2012. Project duration: October, 2012.



Helping Tom (co-creator of Fencing), film his Violence in Bath documentary project. Project duration: November, 2012. Photo: Day 324 of my 366 Project 2012.









Doing some more freelance filming at a number of events for SpaLife, my university's student media network. Project duration: January to April, 2013.

Remember This, the short film practical dissertation of my peer Matt Coot, a short film I also co-produced and exercised many of the organisational and administration skills I nurtured throughout the summer of 2012. Project duration: October, 2012 to May, 2013

Fencing, a final year documentary project about, well... Project duration: October, 2012 to April, 2013.






Filming A Machine to Listen to the Sky, the final year creative project of my peer Dan Tapper. It was an amazing inventive project and an absolutely brilliant filming subject. Project duration: July, 2013. 

EYES - my web series concept proposal practical dissertation. There is additional footage from this project that has yet to see the light of day. During my final year of university, I had an iPad Mini so I  was constantly filming left, right and centre (and I still am). Project duration: September, 2012 - September, 2013.






After EYES I took a break from filmmaking to focus on developing my writing aptitude and my blogs (and to do a lot of research). Project duration: October, 2013 - present. 

I even wrote an accidental book, I RUN NO MORE, a book that is all about finding your focus and how I found mine. There was nothing perfect about this one, I just went with the flow and wrote a huge mess. One day I may even go back, polish it up and do something with it. Project duration: February, 2014 - April, 2014. 

For the time being, I am working on my second book which has a very definite end game planned. Project duration: September, 2014 - present.



However, the filmmaking itch became too much and after nearly a whole year of being out of action, I spent the summer of 2014 filming a new documentary project on a digital SLR, which was completely outside my comfort zone. 

You can not really tell from the image above, but we filmed some of it on Round Hill, Bath. I mentioned this earlier in this post as the hill I had to climb over when walking into university. Every time I climbed over it, I used to always think, "this would make a great filming location," but I could never think up a good enough use for it, until now. 

That hill and that grass is integral to the message of the project! Project duration: May, 2014 to present.



There is another documentary idea I have developing with a projected filming start date of January/February, 2015 and I have also been developing a web series project since I first hit upon the idea in my final year of university, I am looking to film some of that in 2015 as well. 

While it does serve it's own purpose, the documentary project I filmed during the summer of 2014 has also served as a practice run for my other planned projects. 

Momentum is made up tiny pieces hammered out day-after-day, year-after-year, project-after-project. Fancy a piece?








There's a reason I have been increasingly exploring and presenting my prior filmmaking experience on this blog, I am doing on this blog what I did at BIME during the summer of 2012. I am very intentionally forcing myself to build up my momentum and using that momentum to push me out of my comfort zone.

Life is so very fleeting, so grab it with all of your passion and live it to its absolute fullest potential. It's not always comfortable, but comfort is complacency and that is just boring!

Through good and bad.

Bite the bullet.

Make many mistakes (while making some films).

Embrace your failures. 

And just keep going! 

Why not start by giving yourself a massive head start by getting the full lowdown on all the mistakes and triumphs I experienced as a budding student freelance videographer. 

To hell with maybe, just do it...

The First Two Videos: Wizzybug @ the Bath Pageant of Motoring