The Match Factory Girl – Matchstick (Wo)Man

Thoughts On: The Match Factory Girl (Tulitikkutehtaan Tyttö) (1990)

A somewhat plain and unremarkable woman that works in a match factory hopes of a better life.

The Match Factory Girl

The Match Factory Girl is a frighteningly powerful film about the minor positions the vast majority of people assume in life as well as the overwhelming conflicts which come with that for some; the crux of realism. But, whilst this film is framed as a dark comedy of sorts, I certainly didn’t see it as such. Rather, there are elements of irony and a fractured sense of comeuppance within this narrative, but this never struck me as comedic. Instead, The Match Factory Girl was a poignant study of silent characterisation whereby our protagonist rarely speaks with words, rather actions, leaving elements of her persona blank spaces which we may fill in with our own biases. This sets a strong base for this narrative, one that is malleable and ambiguous enough so that the comedic elements that may be present can be interpreted otherwise. Furthermore, as well as being a study of silent characterisation, this film is an exploration of human potential. However, to discuss this further we’ll be referring to the entire narrative, so, if you haven’t seen this film and don’t want it spoiled don’t read on.

Human potential is an idea represented by the symbol of a match in this narrative. In such, people, like matches, exist in abundance; countless numbers of us born every day. Moreover, like matches, people hold about them a capacity to profoundly effect the world – to ignite and spark something remarkable. But, the vast majority of lit matches either die in the wind or do little more than light a cigarette. And the metaphor holds up when we look to people; because we are human, we have an inherent ability to do anything, but will almost definitely do nothing of major note. Granted, this is a rather cynical assessment of human potential, however, there lies an inherent truth in the analogy – we cannot all walk on the moon for the first time, we cannot all discover electricity, we cannot all run billion pound/dollar corporations. This leaves most of us striving to find more minor successes; building a home and family, following a passion, securing a happy life. And this is what we see our protagonist, Iris, struggling to find as the narrative opens.

In such, Iris lives with her mother and stepfather, working at a match factory to pay for rent. However, she goes out at night, hoping to attract a good guy, but has no luck. And it’s this introduction that sucks you into her world because it immediately exposes the basic dreams of the average person through Iris, yet holds them out of reach. We see this through her living with her rather uncaring family in a drab home; she has no real freedom or independence. However, she’s clearly working towards this with her job – a mundane one that she find no happiness in. But, without any current passion, loving family or true security and independence, she longs for a companion. So, sat in dance club, she waits for someone, for her future to hopefully brighten with the mundane luminescence of normalcy. But, because this never comes, the pressure of her inner conflicts start to become ever more poignant as she risks the level of security and independence as well as the familial bonds she has so far attained by investing her paycheck in a dress; a symbol of hope and, in a certain sense, a candle in the window calling out into the world.

With seeming serendipity, this call is answered as she’s picked up by Aarne. This initially cites the chaotically arbitrary and by-chance nature of life; it seems that so many elements have to fall together and somehow stay in place for a happy life to be constructed. But, with the themes of chance pushed to the background, irony barges its way into the narrative when Iris’ somewhat desperate yearning for happiness is interpreted as a prostitute’s proposition. This conflict crescendos as this ‘prostitute’ invites her customer to her parents’ house to drink coffee with them before being taken on a date. And it’s here where we see the collision between all of Iris’ conflicts, in turn, the destruction of not only her dreams for a better life with Aarne, however mundane (and seemingly the first true chance she has secured), but also the destruction of what she has already established in life. In such, she is left without much purpose, hope or confidence. Nonetheless, there still remains a glimmer of drive within Iris, and this is somewhat flamed when she discovers that she is pregnant. It’s here that we see all ideas of a potential future between Iris and Aarne rise to a peak again, hinting at a break from irony and back towards serendipity. But, this tease falls flat when Iris is sent the money for an abortion with the note: ‘Get ride of the brat’.

Iris spirals into a distraught state as she leaves the house, leaving her mother to find the letter. And it’s here where, accidental or intentional, Iris ends up stepping into traffic and having a miscarriage. It’s at this point that all hope seems to be gone; her parents abandon her and she is left with nothing. With thanks to her brother, Iris has a safety net of sorts. But, she only uses this to ignite – as a proverbial matchstick – her potential. The lit match is not used to start the furnaces of a significantly better life, nor is it used to light the average cigarette. Instead, the lit match is dropped on a trail of gasoline that snakes towards ultimate destruction. And we see this as Iris poisons Aarne, her parents and even a random man who propositions her at a bar –all willing to accept the inevitable consequences. With this, she throws all hope away and submits herself to the will of a society who will now put her in a cage for the rest of her life.

And it’s here where we see the power of this narrative. The Match Factory Girl isn’t just a tale of cynical and nihilistic revenge, rather an assessment of dreams in face of human potential. In such, the narrative seems to conclude that, without some sense of a dream or current purpose, potential is too easily squandered on destruction as opposed to creation. So, with people symbolised by a match stick, The Match Factory Girl is about the manufacturing of the rather strange creatures that we are; ones bound to context, past, present, dreams, memories and hopes – an honest, bittersweet and moving depiction of humanity.

But, to end, what are your thoughts on The Match Factory Girl?

 

 

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Nine Queens – And The Plots Thickens…

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Nine Queens – And The Plots Thickens…

Quick Thoughts: Nine Queens (2000)

Made by Fabián Bielinsky, Nine Queens, or, Nueve Reinas, is the Argentinian film of the series.

Nine Queens

**A CHANCE OF SPOILERS***

Nine Queens is an immense crime thriller and, in a certain sense, heist film. With a perfect script, some good direction and some great acting, this film brilliantly balances plot and character to take you on a exhilarating ride. But, what really struck me when watching Nine Queens was the intense plotting. Without spoiling anything, this film is about two swindlers trying to sell some incredibly rare stamps as to get rich quick. In such, it intermittently teases you in a whodunit fashion as you question where the next turn or double-cross is coming from. I have to admit that I guessed the final twist in the first 10 minutes, but what this script does so well is feed you so many different possibilities and hunches. So, whilst I did correctly presume the final twist, I also had about 3 or 4 hunches at the back of my mind too – all of which fell subservient to the actual experience of watching the film unfold. Nine Queens then serves as something of a tutorial on how to approach plot-heavy films and keep an audience invested in the present moment instead of thinking about the next beat or conclusion.

The second you establish your narrative as one with themes of betrayal and crime, an audience is immediately fighting to be 10 steps ahead of you. To combat this, you can constantly mislead your audience, having them think that the culprit is one person one moment and another the next – essentially having them question themselves, not just the film. You see this in a vast plethora of whodunits, however, this isn’t exactly what Nine Queens does. Whilst it reminds you of the fact that someone may betray someone throughout the narrative, the core theme overshadowing this is chance itself – and chance is the primary antagonist of conspiracy. In such, we are often made to think that there may not be a ploy between the two main characters, instead, that they are both stumbling from random one event after another, their physical conflicts insurmountable – all of which keeps you focused on their struggles and so the character side of the narrative.

The plot of Nine Queens then serves as both a distraction to the characters and audience, giving it such a strong sense of pacing and energy. But, what truly elevates this film above the average thick-plot crime thriller, is the manner in which this deceptive plot adds subtext to the characters’ personas. This then raises themes of comeuppance whilst formulating a commentary on the idea that ‘everyone out there is trying to fuck you over’.

However, I really don’t want to spoil this movie for anyone who hasn’t seen it – even though I probably have already. So, my final words are that Nine Queens was a fiercely entertaining movie that I’m curious to watch again to see if the plot holds strong. But, I turn things over to you. Have you see this movie? What are your thoughts?

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Every Year In Film #6 – Buffalo Running

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The Match Factory Girl – Matchstick (Wo)Man

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Every Year In Film #6 – Buffalo Running

Thoughts On: Buffalo Running (1883)

Our focus on Eadweard Muybridge continues with a look at a later example of his work depicting an American Bison in motion.

Buffalo Running

This post is, in short, a continuation of Every Year In Film #4 where we looked at Eadweard Muybridge for the first time through his ‘film’, Sallie Gardner At A Gallop. This was of course followed by a look into the history of projectors, so that we can now finally touch on the first movie projector, Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope, and delve into how this device fits into the history of his career.

The zoopraxiscope was invented by Muybridge as a reaction to the critique of non-believers and sceptics who would satirise his work:

The zoopraxiscope was then used in his lectures around the world to give his images the illusion of motion. This would not only add weight and verisimilitude to Muybridge’s photography, but would popularise it, making his findings widely accepted. The device would function by focusing light through glass discs with his photographs painted on:

As you’ll notice, not only are these ‘photographs’ painted silhouettes, but they are also distorted. The reason why this is the case was because, when the actual photographs where projected, they were stretched, tall and thin. To combat this, Muybridge would have his photographs painted onto glass (sometimes this would be done in colour) so that they were shorter and wider. When these images were projected, they would then appear to capture the natural dimensions of, say for instance, a horse.

The discs would then be loaded into the zoopraxiscope with a shutter before them – we explored why shutter have to be used in Every Year In Film #2 – and then projected to be 5 or 7 feet tall onto walls and screens.

On a side note, the word ‘zoopraxiscope’ is seemingly a strange name for this device. The reason for this name comes down to its Greek derivation. Zoo- is a combining form meaning living being. Praxis means action. And scope means to view. So, zoopraxiscope essentially means ‘view the action of living beings’. This term was used by Muybridge as opposed to his original title, zoogyroscope. With ‘gyro’ referring to meat in Greek, we can easily see how ‘zoopraxiscope’ is a better term.

But, returning to the note of the photographs being painted onto glass, Muybridge’s projections weren’t really films. At best, you could then consider them animated cartoons or loose representations/interpretations of reality. Remembering this, when we see his films projected like this…

… we aren’t seeing Muybridge’s work how it’d originally be shown – a better example of this is the first animated gif of a horse running. Films like the second example would have been generated using Muybridge’s photographs at a later date. An example of this would be our film today:

This pretty astounding, yet simple, motion picture was made in 1883 during a prolific period of Eadweard Muybridge’s as he worked at the University of Pennsylvania. It was shot in the Philadelphia zoo and, as the title suggests, it depicts a buffalo running. During his time studying in the university, Muybridge produce over 20,000 individual images of hundreds of different subjects ranging from people in a studio…

… to animals in the zoo…

And he published all of these in 1887 in a portfolio called, Animal Locomotion: an Electro-Photographic Investigation of Connective Phases of Animal Movements. These works went on to influence many painters and filmmakers over the years – but, this is a subject we’ll return to at a later time. What we’ve left out is how Muybridge ended up at the University, obsessively producing these works.

It all comes back to Stanford, the man who funded his first experiment. In 1882, Dr. J. B. D. Stillman writes a book for Stanford that analyses Muybridge’s The Horse In Motion without crediting him. As a result of this, Muybridge was deemed a plagiarist and his funding and papers were revoked by the Royal Society Of Arts. Back in court, though this time not for murder, Muybridge filed a lawsuit against Stanford – but this was dismissed.

This saw Muybridge seek new sponsorship which eventually landed him in the University of Pennsylvania and allows us to jump back up to 1887 where Muybridge has published his work. It is from this point on that he travels again, lecturing on his works with the aid of his zoopraxiscopes. A significant series of lectures that Muybridge conducted was during the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893. The Exposition was a celebration of the 400 year anniversary of Columbus’ arrival to the ‘new world’ in 1492. In such, it was a 6-month-long fair that over 27 million people attended where a Zoopraxographical Hall was constructed for Muybridge’s lectures.

And this hall can in fact be considered the first movie theatre ever made.

Following this, Muybridge continued lecturing and released two famous books, Animals In Motion and The Human Figure In Motion after claiming control over his negatives. He later died in 1904 due to prostate cancer.

With his legacy solidified in film history, Muybridge is widely remembered to this day through books, films, music videos, plays, memorials and statues. And this has ultimately deemed him the title, the Father of the Motion Pictures.

 

 

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Black Narcissus – The Reflective Void

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Black Narcissus – The Reflective Void

Thoughts On: Black Narcissus (1947)

A group of nuns face psychological conflicts in their new Himalayan convent.

Black Narcissus

Black Narcissus is a slow burning thriller and a compelling exploration of self-censorship–both in terms of behaviour and thought. In such, this narrative sees a group of nuns move into a ‘palace’ in the Himalayas, one which will now serve as their new convent. Once here they are told of a group of brothers who also tried to spread their religious teachings to the village surrounding the palace, but quickly failed, upped and left. What’s more, this ‘palace’ used to be one ‘of women’ – the sultry implication being quite transparent. And this reflects itself through the village people, who are somewhat calloused, yet hard working and seemingly happy as free and undevout figures. When dropped into this area, the group of nuns are stunted by both their freedom and isolation. And, as in The Shining, isolation isn’t always so good for people.

Before delving into this, I’ll say that the pacing of this film isn’t great. But, the worst elements of this narrative are the rigid performances and dialogue. This stiffens the complex characterisation of the main figures, cheapens the minor characters and drags out the run-time quite a bit. On an upside, the set-design, special effects and cinematography in this film are quite impressive despite being dated – which solidifies Black Narcissus as a lasting classic. The most intriguing aspect of this film, however, is the subtext of the story – and this is what we’ll continue to explore.

So, left with their own thoughts and overwhelming clarity – as represented by the mountainous landscape – it becomes obvious that these nuns think and act as they do with a lot of aid from their now lost surroundings: a church full of other sisters. It then becomes an inevitability that the sisters will either become like the uncle of the man who sent for them, a man who simply meditates on the mountain, day and night, or become like Mr. Dean, an impulsive and loose English man who lives on the mountain. This is all reinforced and embellished by the metaphorical title, Black Narcissus.

Narcissus is of course a flower also known as a Daffodil and a myth that follows a beautiful man who stared at his own reflection, fell in love with himself, and eventually died having never stopped staring. The relation of this to this narrative is on the grounds of the self-reflection that the nuns have to endure. In such, they think themselves pious and pure – or, at least, if they act in the way they are taught, they can be. When they have to stare this characteristic in the face, there comes conflict; they are almost transfixed by their own identity and the questions it poses. What adds complexity to this title and narrative is the idea of a Black Narcissus. Black of course implies darkness and a Black Narcissus is also a kind of flower. However, in terms of the metaphor, this black, this darkness, implies a void within the Narcissus – the nuns. This void allows them to peer into their pasts and into their deeper emotions that they restrain and hold back. And such drives the conflict of this film.

Black Narcissus then seems to be a tale that, in certain senses, critiques religious thought patterns. We see this through the fact that the nuns’ convent is not a success and that they have to escape from the mountain having failed to acclimatise. This lack of adaptation may, and has, been interpreted as a colonialist theme; one that comments on India’s recent independence from Britain in 1947. However, when looking at the narrative from the characters’ perspectives, which is undeniably the focus, it becomes much more obvious that the lack of adaptation seen in this narrative says more about the beliefs of these nuns. After all, Mr. Dean, a British man, lives in the village and stays there after the nuns leave. The idea of a Black Narcissus, a compelling void, then comments on the nuns’ inability to hold onto their beliefs out of the context of a church – and without the authority of superiors.

This stretches beyond a simple critique of religion, however, when we consider that the idea of adaptation is central to the narrative. In such, the commentary provided by this narrative is that the Black Narcissus, he or she who is compelled by their own inner complex, cannot, or at least finds it hard to, adapt to worlds that do not reflect outwardly who they want to be within. And in this respect, I think the vast majority of people are ‘The Black Narcissus’ to a certain to degree; we all find it hard to change and be put in situations or contexts that seem indifferent to ourselves (which maybe validates the interpretation of a colonial critique in this narrative). The impulsive, the ignorant and the entirely sheltered seem to be able to adapt as they either keep their darkness, the void within them, locked away, or entirely exposed to, and reflective of, their surroundings. Those who mediate between the two extremes find this adaptation difficult and are ultimately left yearning for some kind of stability or a replication of the past.

To conclude, it is this complex assessment of belief systems and senses of self that make Black Narcissus such an intriguing film. So, have you seen this movie? What are your thoughts on how these ideas further comment on people through this narrative?

 

 

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A Bug’s Life – The Collective Individual: How Family Movies Work

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A Bug’s Life – The Collective Individual: How Family Movies Work

Thoughts On: A Bug’s Life (1998)

Flik, an eccentric and inventive ant, attempts to save the colony he belongs to by finding warrior bugs to fend of the oppressive grasshoppers that threaten them.

A Bug’s Life is not only one of Pixar’s most underrated films, but also one of their most impressive. I’ve never understood why it fell so low on many peoples’ lists, averaging just above the likes of Cars and Monsters University. Some of this may stem from the fact that it followed the astounding Toy Story, and some of this may come from the release of Antz a few months beforehand (a good video on this topic can be found here). However, judged holistically, A Bug’s Life has a subtle, not entirely unique, yet undeniably strong narrative, compelling characters and some beautiful aesthetics that are, in my opinion, only out-done by the likes of Finding Nemo whilst rivalling those captured in WALL-E. And the aesthetics are what make this film primarily so impressive. Looking back at this almost 20-year-old film, you will find a mesmerising miniature perspective captured by Lasseter and his team, one that was, in its time, pretty revolutionary. If you only look at the technological jump between Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, this is strikingly obvious…

In fact, A Bug’s Life is a huge jump ahead, both in terms of scope and technological details of lighting and textures, on Pixar’s behalf. What they do fail to capture, however, is the emotional poignancy of the Toy Story premise. But, there are incredibly few narratives out there that you, just by reading their synopsis, can get a sense of how emotionally impactful they’ll be. This is true of all three Toy Story films; tell kids and adults alike about childhoods and lost toys and you’re likely to get a few of them blubbering. Nonetheless, A Bug’s Life takes the themes of community and friendship that were featured in Toy Story and really blows them up into something more intelligent, rather than emotionally impactful. And this is a hugely redeeming factor of the story. However, before getting into this, it has to quickly be said that the score for this movie is tremendous, as are the voice performances – especially that of Kevin Spacey as Hopper. Both of these produce a joyous, sometimes menacing, atmosphere that locks you into the narrative entirely.

But, let us now take a closer look at the story of A Bug’s Life. As mentioned, this narrative is centred on themes of friendship and community – as in Toy Story, Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, The Incredibles, Cars, Ratatouille, Inside Out, WALL-E – in short, basically all of Pixar’s feature length films. The reason why this is the paradigm of Pixar’s films is simply because it is the way that almost all family films are constructed. As the title, ‘family film’, suggests, movies that fit into this genre or class must appeal to a wide audience made up of many different individuals. Whilst the best way you may talk to teens is to depict rebellion, fun, adventure and discovery, this isn’t really the best way to talk to adults as they often seek out more mature, niche themes. However, all of these themes – rebellion, fun, adventure and discovery – can appeal to anyone if angled right. With a teen movie, you’d often set up the conflict to be in spite of the protagonist with them having to actively seek out fun and adventure as an act of rebellion, haphazardly discovering new things along the way. A more family orientated film, however, would include more perspectives and differing shades of conflict. In such, the film would not just be about a teen rebelling, instead a whole group somehow coming together and persevering. And it’s through this that there can be a debate of conflicts had. For example, in A Bug’s Life, Flik wants to escape and prove himself in the bigger world – just as many protagonists in innumerable family films do. However, he has to bring this experience back with him to the ant colony and continue to learn. And such allows the debate between individual rebellion and a collective perseverance to be engaged.

The fact that this is so starkly explored in A Bug’s Life is what makes the narrative somewhat remarkable in comparison to the many other Pixar films that feature this paradigm. In such, a film like Finding Nemo, Brave or Toy Story is about a protagonist going out into the wider world – often with a person at their side – before returning to their smaller world in the end with lessons learned. This focuses the narrative of these films on the growth of individuals as they are separated from their core group, instead of inducing a debate across a whole group of people in the initial smaller world of the narrative. But, whilst this isn’t an inherently bad thing, the theme of family and collectiveness isn’t so much explored in these films, rather, themes of friendship and individuality are. Again, this isn’t a bad thing. But, the fact that A Bug’s Life takes these themes and explores them in a different light makes it quite an interesting study into a wider paradigm of Pixar and family films. In such, A Bug’s Life ultimately explores the relationship between the collective and the individual.

As said, this subject is one that has been widely explored in many stories and in many different forms. And the climax of many of these films often sees a large group rise up against their oppressors – as the ants do against the grasshoppers in this narrative. This is paradigm particularly prevalent in any movie featuring some kind of battle, revolution or war. However, the film that comes to mind as the most blatant expression of this trope has to be A Bug’s Life. In such, this narrative utilises such a trope to point out the absurdity of a ruling minority that exists in the real world. However, despite the absurdity of such an idea, this is a state of normalcy throughout the world; despite notions of democracy, socialism and communism, we all exist somewhere in a triangular hierarchy with very few at the top of things. The reason why this is the case must come down to the fact that there is an inner conflict in all people between surviving as a group and surviving as an individual. In such, almost all people want to life/don’t want to die. This is a self-centric urge within us all, but it extends to others; we do not want to see those close to us die and we do not want to see all of humanity blip out of existence around us. This is all because we need others so that we may live our lives. After all, how could I have typed this essay without a huge company manufacturing my computer for me? How could I have eaten this morning without hundreds, if not thousands, of people working to produce the milk and cereal that went into my bowl? What this says is that there is an incredibly strong bond between motivations for all people to live collectively and individually. However, these things are not one and the same.

A film I saw recently was A Bride For Rip Van Winkle – which also explores the themes we are discussing now. And, to delve into minor spoilers, one of the revelations a character reveals in this narrative is that she likes to buy things and spend extraordinary amounts of money because she can’t bear to live in a world were she has to accept how kind people are around her. This is a pretty profound notion and a complex commentary on an idea of money, exchange and, in a certain sense, capitalism. We like to isolate ourselves within a crowd, to a certain degree, so that we don’t disappear into, or become entirely reliant, on it. And this is the illusion we conjure with money. The metal, paper and digital figures that we all exchange daily mean, in a certain sense, nothing. And if you choose to see them as such, if you choose to take money out of the equation of me eating cereal this morning, things become overwhelmingly utopian. Out of some unneeded kindness, hundreds or thousands of people worked to provide me with a meal that I didn’t even savour or enjoy that much as I ate it – which is pretty unnerving. But, because I claim ownership over that bowl of cereal, because everyone exchanges money, there is no weight of the collective on my back; because I paid for that bowl of cereal, suddenly I am somehow providing for myself.

This is the tension that is poignantly explored in A Bride For Rip Van Winkle, but also in A Bug’s Life – just from a different angle. Because the Grasshoppers intimidate the ants into giving them food, they in turn think that they are the top of the food chain. The reality is, they can not only be eaten by birds, but that they wouldn’t be alive without the ants providing their food. The commentary made by the ants rising up against the Grasshoppers is then that there is an overriding idea of a collective that can easily quash a tyrannical individual; money and hierarchy is just an illusion we construct and hold on to. However, is this really the case?

The fact is: no, not really. Flik essentially destroys Hopper. And I don’t mean this in that he lured him toward the bird (who you could then say actually killed Hopper). Flik destroys Hopper by uniting the colony against him. This says that the collective doesn’t really destroy the individual, instead, one individual destroys another with the collective at their back. As a result, the means that we represent this power in society (through hierarchy and money) are seemingly valid. And you can see that this paradigm of individual leaders exists both the real world and across many family films; it only takes one. In the real world, this one leading figure may be a Genghis Khan, Napoleon, Muhammad, Gandhi, Hitler or a Lincoln. All of these figures united whole nations and radically changed the world, and their names ring through the annals of history all because of this tension between the collective and the individual; they stood up and individually represented the collective. This says that collectives need some kind of triangular hierarchy because deadly risk is always an element changing the world. But, if there is one courageous person willing to die for a cause, others will often follow. This is the Spartacus effect. However, it mustn’t be forgotten that, without the real Spartacus standing up first, this phenomena doesn’t exist.

This is what we see in A Bug’s Life, and the reason why I chose this film to discuss such a paradigm is that it says a lot about ourselves through the guise of the family film. As mentioned, almost all family movies have this conflict between collective and individual motivations, and so often resolve themselves with individuals bringing a collective together. We then seem to be so drawn to these movies as they discuss and emotionally appeal to our own existential conflicts between living as an individual person, but also as a cog in a wider system. These movies that we then watch with our parents, children, brothers, sisters and other loved ones become a currency much like money. Just as money smooths out and simplifies the exchange of goods and favours, family movies act as some kind of dampener of collective living. In such, instead of having to stand before your entire family and entertain them with stories and your intellect, you can all sit back and let the hundreds of employees at Pixar do it for you.

A question this leaves us all is, is this right? Should money be done away with? Should Pixar movies? Instead of throwing money at our ‘problems’ like Jordan Belfort in Wolf Of Wall Street (however minute), should we learn to say thank you and be more appreciative? Instead of shutting the kids up for 80 minutes with a Pixar movie, should we sit them down and talk to them ourselves? My position falls somewhere between the two extremes. Money introduces a lot of order into the world that I wouldn’t want to see gone, but maybe we are a little too obsessed with ideas of individuality and making it on our own in life (when such a thing is basically impossible). And Pixar movies aren’t something we need to deprive children of, but a little more care and attention wouldn’t go amiss.

Before we end, it then has to be said that A Bug’s Life is a hugely remarkable archetype of the family film that directly speaks to its thematic paradigms – which maybe suggest that this movie needs a bit more recognition. However, I’ll now turn things over to you. What are your thoughts on all we’ve covered today? Is there more to be said about the topics we’ve picked up on?

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V For Vendetta – Part 2: Pointless Narratives; Empty Messages

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V For Vendetta – Part 2: Pointless Narratives; Empty Messages

Thoughts On: V For Vendetta (2005)

A terrorist ploys to overthrow a dystopian British fascist government.

V For Vendetta

V For Vendetta is a movie, like Watchmen – another adaptation of an Alan Moore graphic novel – that I never liked. This is because of its terribly pretentious tone, one clearly dragged out of a disinteresting comic book. I know a lot of people will completely disagree with this, but I find it hard to see what others see in films such as Watchmen and, more pertinently, V For Vendetta. All in all, I’m just not a fan of V For Vendetta’s characters, its writing, its aesthetic nor its story arc.

The best and most simple breakdown of what really gets under my skin about V For Vendetta and movies alike was put fourth by Slavoj Žižek in this video here:

At the 9:20 mark Žižek says…

I hope our viewers have seen a movie, I think about ten years ago it was popular: V For Vendetta. I will not go into the story. The point is that in the end there is a revolution in England, some imagined England… the crowd… breaks through the police barrier, penetrates the British parliament, the people take over… and… the end of the film. My idea is that, sorry for this vulgar expression, but it expresses precisely how I feel, I would like to see–I would sell my mother into slavery–to see a movie called V For Vendetta Part Two.

Žižek goes on to ask what these people would do with this power – how would they restructure, what their plans are to re-shape the world – all before going on to talk about larger social paradigms. Nonetheless, this is a problem you see with a lot of movies; everything builds towards a dumb conclusion. One of the most egregious examples of this is a movie I covered a long time ago, In Time, a post that’s essential point on blind morality could be directly translated onto V For Vendetta. In such, like in V For Vendetta, within In Time we see a politically motivated uprising across a narrative, one that is concluded with anarchism masked with some underdeveloped sense of equality and democracy. This is so frustrating as the movie essentially builds towards a grand notion or point, one that falls flat on its face.

An interesting question you may raise here is then one on the ending of movies themselves. Why are they so important? Why, if the ending is weak, do we deem an entire film terrible? I’ve heard this question posed before with intentions of pointing out the absurdity of judging an entire narrative on the final few moments. However, this kind of reaction to a movie is a pretty reasonable one – one that holds an important lesson to writers.

As we have discussed a few times before, there is such a thing as an Infinite Story. The Infinite Story is simply a recognition that there are no beginnings, nor ends, to stories until we give one to them. In such, why does Stars Wars start here…

Why not start here…

Then again, why not start thousands of years in the past, finding the origins of Jedi, exploring the establishment of colonies… it goes on. A plot line is merely a microscopic segment of what can be an infinite story (as Disney and Hollywood big shots are determined to make very obvious to us all). The task that a filmmaker is then faced with, knowing they have to fill around 120 pages of white paper, is: how do I choose a (relatively) small segment of time to spotlight? The answer is: find a story that has a point, that is self-justifying. We see this idea translated to the first Star Wars with an end that, with basic analysis, concludes the journey of a hero proving himself…

We are content with this end because the narrative of Star Wars, that we just sat for 2 hours to get through, clearly had motivation from the get-go; it now makes resounding sense why each moment of the narrative had to be put on screen. Non-endings or weak endings say that a filmmaker didn’t have anything to say, that they were wasting our time. However, how do we define ‘weak endings’?

The answer seems to be in the idea of a narrative building towards something: you have to have a point. The best way to then think about a narrative is almost as an essay; you are using an allegory to develop points and build towards a conclusion that is nuanced and complex, though understandable, with thanks to the paragraphs preceding it. Weak narratives don’t have a point – or, at least, they don’t have a worthwhile one. Just having a point isn’t enough, however. This is an idea best conveyed by Terry Gilliam as he critiques Schindler’s List…

Whilst I wouldn’t say that all movies need entirely ambiguous endings, like that of 2001, moreover, whilst I would say that there is a place for straight-forward and comforting movies, it’s very clear that the most poignant, complex and lasting narratives play a bit of a trick on us. This trick can be best explained by looking for a moment at an already mentioned figure:

Many will quickly say that Kubrick is a genius, I myself have probably said this many times, but, what are our grounds for this? Of course there are his masterful movies, but, they, like the public perception him, were meticulously managed with a whole lot of smoke, special effects, mirrors and darkness. In such, a huge reason why Kubrick as a man remains an interesting and compelling figure to this day probably has a lot to do with his elusivity – a point that Malcolm McDowell, among others, have made before. And this idea bubbles over to his films. As Gilliam says, 2001 defies definition; you could just as easily say it is about a trillion things as you could say it means nothing.

The point that we can then take away from Kubrick is that ambiguity in movies, especially with your endings, is a tool through which you, yourself, can say an awful lot more than you ever could with words, images or speech. With ambiguous symbolism, you plant an idea, an idea that, as is said in Inception, can be infectious. And this infectious idea is exactly what Gilliam describes when he outlines the power of an ambiguous ending. Without doing anything but planting that idea, you are saying so much through your thinking audience members as they will start to bring meaning to your movie instead of you supplying something that will not have the nuance, access point or perspective that many will be seeking.

But, it has to be said at this point that there are thresholds – all of which are different for individual people. In such, there is a point where your narrative becomes so ambiguous that it starts alienating your audience – a point at which they will dismiss it as pointless. For many, this threshold is surpassed with experimental films. Whilst I often try to exercise my threshold by watching experimental films, ones that ask you to bring a lot to them and formulate your own answers to take away, I’d say that I do have a threshold that can be crossed – one that often is by structuralist films like Wavelength. And what this says about the idea of ambiguity is that you can go too far. This in turn establishes a spectrum. On one end you have movies that have little to say, but will often nonetheless explain this to you in arduous detail – you find this a lot in horrific kids’ films. Coming away from this, you have shitty, cookie-cutter Hollywood movies with the most banal happy endings. Stepping further away, you may come to complicated, though still reassuring films like those by Spielberg – Schindler’s List being an example. Also in this realm you’ll find movies like Psycho that, if you chop of the last scene which explains all, you’d have a near-perfect movie. But, jumping to the complete opposite end of the spectrum, we would find the pointless (in my opinion) experimental movies like Wavelength, Empire and Eat. Getting past the pointless experimental films, you will find more intriguing examples; infamous films such as Un Chien Andalou. Moving further away from this extreme, you will begin to find movies like 2001 – which represents a sweet-spot that holds ambiguity, yet also some hint of answers. Also in and around this, you find the open endings – like those seen on many Coen Brothers films. Coming closer to the middle, we have movies that do not need to explain themselves thanks to some pure cinematic storytelling – all varying in their profundity of course. And beyond this, we start to stray towards grounds covered.

But, there is a nasty zone that we have not yet discussed. Somewhere near the middle of this spectrum stretching from complete ambiguity to patronising explanation, you will find movies like V For Vendetta and In Time. Not only do these movies have so much of nothing to say, but they build up these half-baked narratives towards an ambiguous end that acts as a bell saving the screenwriter from a vicious and seemingly inevitable KO. In such, movies like V For Vendetta are imitating the paradigm seen in 2001 without any true sense of how it functions.

On a side note, the title V For Vendetta could not be a better title for this witless movie which has to explain banal things to us. If you read this title out loud in a dumb voice, you’ll see exactly what I mean: “V is for Vendetta”. Why do we have to be told what this symbol means? Why would you explain your movie in such a vapid way anyhow? Wouldn’t a Guy Fawkes symbol of sorts be more articulate? Honestly, one of the most unintentionally ridiculous movie titles ever conceived.

Back on track, Kubrick builds 2001’s narrative, allowing us to believe that he is always purposefully leaving out something. This is why, when we see the Star Child, we are flooded with hopes for some hint of exposition. But, we don’t get it; it’s only teased. And such is Kubrick’s masterful illusion: he makes us believe his films are ingenious. By saying this, I don’t mean to disillusion anyone, or claim that Kubrick’s films have no real substance. This use of ambiguity may have been knowingly employed by Kubrick; maybe if you got to know him and asked him what the movie meant he could give you all the answers. Contrariwise maybe, like Lynch, Kubrick had no strict and set-in-stone notions or intentions, instead, only a will to conjure some unconscious truth. Nonetheless, we can still consider his use of ambiguity as a device to understand that there is untold power in this kind of open ending. Moreover, considering Kubrick’s approach, this is exactly what V For Vendetta, and many films alike, fail to capture.

The lesson you can then learn from recognising the huge flaw in V For Vendetta is that a writer must balance their ability to say something profound with their deployment of ambiguity. This is all because, no matter how smart and profound you and your ideas are, explaining this to people in a movie is a difficult thing. It has to not only be done with imagery, not 1000s of pages of dialogue, but also in a short-hand form that can be expanded into those 1000s of pages of dialogue by a willing audience member. So, whilst there is an art to explaining things to people, cinema, in narrative form, seems to be best suited for conveying emotions and ideas. Remember this, remember Kubrick’s face and films, and you may have the tools to create a V For Vendetta that’s downfall isn’t an impossible Part 2.

 

 

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Shorts #5

Today’s Shorts: Happy Feet (2006), Napoleon Dynamite (2004), Broken Blossoms (1919), Spider-Man (2002), A Bride For Rip Van Winkle (2016), An American Werewolf In London (1981), Surf’s Up (2007), It’s Such A Beautiful Day (2012)

An ingenious concept, brilliantly directed with beautiful imagery and some astounding action set-pieces. The songs are great and the narrative is imbued with a tremendous sense of rhythm and pace. Moreover, many of the characters are well realised, providing multiple moments of hilarity.

The only down-sides to this narrative are the tone and subtext. Firstly, the tone is pretty cheesy and sometimes a little hard to swallow, intermittently capturing the worst sides of a malconstructed musical. Secondly, this film is a broad critique of religious fundamentalism, ignorance, pollution and over-consumption. In such, it is a meeting of Footloose and every movie about the teenage plight – all with political undertones. Without saying anything profound, this commentary comes off as a little reaching, not to mentioned cliched.

Nonetheless, this is a pretty brilliant film and a good watch.

Very amusing. A great exercise in eccentricity, weirdness and unconventional characterisation – all captured with a proficient directorial and cinematographic approach; it’s shot well and it looks good.

Whilst I don’t love it as much as some would (considering that this is a cult classic) I enjoyed Napoleon Dynamite. The comedy is quite one-note and I probably wouldn’t see myself watching it again, but aren’t sorry for finally getting around to seeing it. On a final note, I suppose the greatest thing that this narrative has going for it is its capacity to project the strange, madcap and unconventional in a profoundly, and somehow, normal light. In such, by the end of this narrative, you don’t have a clear grip on what is normal, what makes sense, who is a nut-job and how things should function in the world surrounding Napoleon. Instead, you just sit back as the credits roll with resolve, kinda happy knowing of this crazy place and its weird characters.

Though D.W Griffith is spectacularly bad, at best, just plain awkward, at depicting other races and cultures, Broken Blossoms is a pretty incredible film. So, looking past the constant use of ‘Chink’ and ‘The Yellow Man’, you can kind of see Griffith’s ongoing attempt to make up for A Birth Of A Nation in this narrative.

Beyond this, seen as a highly romantic melodrama, Broken Blossoms has a poignant narrative, moved along by compelling characters and a powerful tragic climax. However, I’d very readily concede to the idea that this is an overly melodramatic film that can, at times, fall past romanticism and into some other creepy and rather awkward realm. So, depending on how you approach this film, you’re likely to come away with something quite different to many others.

One detail that cannot be disputed, however, is the technical approach in the direction, editing and photography. With strict and disciplined cinematic language (sometimes a few too many title cards) this narrative is imbued with a modern sense of articulation. And all of this is given great energy and pace by brilliant editing – especially in the third act. But, the best detail of Broken Blossoms – by far – are the close-ups. I honestly doubt you will find better textured and emotive close-ups in all of cinema–they are extraordinary.

So, all in all, it’d be difficult to recommend Broken Blossoms to everyone. Nonetheless, this is an exceptional silent film.

Very distinctly a movie made in 2002. Nonetheless, Spider-Man is… d-d-d-damn good. I think it just falls below Spider-Man 2, but has all that made the second great present within; everything from the playful direction, to the strong characterisation, to the rich joyous tone, to the immersive atmosphere.

The only things you could nit-pick out as bad would be a few bits of action that, as said, distinguish this movie as one made in 2002 – also, bits of acting do this too. The only detail of Spider-Man that somewhat stuck out to me, however, was the cinematography. Simply put, this isn’t the best looking movie – especially during the first act. The lighting seemed too hard and the colouration gave the film a very light and cheesy aesthetic that didn’t play well with the the already near-cheesy tone set by the script.

Despite all of this, re-watching Spider-Man was a great experience – and this is still way up there as one of my favourite superhero movies ever.

A Bride For Rip Van Winkle is uncannily excellent. Technically proficient in almost every single way, the story is what truly shines from this film. In such, it is a profound dissection of human bonds and the manner in which we interact.

Having watched the almost 3 hour director’s cut, I’d have to say that some sequences were a little too far stretched. However, this was something of a minor pacing issue as every detail of the longer version does eventually come together. And, as mentioned, this all builds to a powerful commentary on human interaction in the modern age. Through a meandering and seemingly plot-less narrative we are then lead to explore themes of isolation, distrust, betrayal and, eventually, an overwhelming, almost alien, sense of communal harmony.

However, words couldn’t do this narrative justice, so make sure you find and watch this one.

Unexpectedly amazing; surprisingly stupendous; quite brilliant.

An American Werewolf In London is great play with a classical story and archetypal premise, one that creates a very unique blend of comedy and horror. Whilst there are huge tonal inconsistencies produced by the two conflicting genres, this is clearly the experiment that John Landis means to conduct throughout this narrative. Moreover, though this blend of genres isn’t fine-tuned and crisply executed, this film has such an idiosyncratic character – one that is almost perfect in its own way. The only detail that is somewhat disappointing is the up-and-down quality of the sound design. But, beyond this, the idiosyncratic texture of this narrative overlaying the blend of American cinematic sensibilities and British aesthetics and acting (acting which isn’t too good) resulted in a giddily good experience.

So, add to this the great design work and practical effects and you have a quintessential horror film that needs to be seen by everyone.

Utter genius. Surf’s Up is not only the best penguin movie ever made (if such a genre can be claimed to exist) and probably Shia Labeouf’s best movie, but one of the best animated American films ever conceived.

With phenomenal performances all-round and a perfectly executed premise – one that has latent brilliance written all over it – Surf’s Up gets better every single time I re-watch it. Every minute detail of animation and ‘camera work’ has very clearly been meticulously created, conjuring wondrous aesthetics and an almost absurd amount of verisimilitude for a cartoon mockumentary about surfing flightless birds. I urge anyone who hasn’t seen this recently to re-watch it just for the small bits of animation – the way a log rolls, the manner in which characters act when not the focus, the way waves roll and water spurts.

Beyond this, Surf’s Up is smart, witty and without an whiff of being just a kid’s movie. I could go on to praise this film for thousands of more words, but I’ll end with a final recommendation: go see this movie.

Phenomenal. Basically perfect.

It’s Such a Beautiful Day is a powerful surrealist exploration of mental illness, time and existential being through an abstract narrative whose ability to navigate emotional peaks and troughs is entirely astounding. In such, this film blends experimental aesthetics with simplistic animation to convey complex ideas in the most direct and articulate manner, producing a wondrous and entirely unique cinematic experience that I will certainly be immersing myself in time and time again.

 

 

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