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Thoughts On: Kiki’s Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便, 1989)
After coming of age, a young witch ventures to find her place in a new city.
Kiki’s Delivery Service is a simple, yet heart-warming tale from Studio Ghibli that was the first to be distributed in partnership with Disney. The aesthetic approach taken in this film is predominantly a showcase of classical near-realist animation that is similar to that seen in Castle In The Sky (especially with the capturing of European landscape and architecture) and so may have been recognisable to Western audiences as a product of the ‘Japanese Disney’ (which Studio Ghibli is so much more than). There is nonetheless a strong sense of the elements – especially the wind and the weight of gravity – throughout Kiki’s Delivery Service that clearly mark this as a uniquely Ghibli film. Furthermore, there are common tropes of Japanese anime, such as the mahō shōjo, the magic girl, integrated into this story that are strongly bound to the film’s cultural context. So though, aesthetically and commercially, Kiki’s Delivery Service feels somewhat Disney-esque, this has an overt Ghibli stamp of quality and character.
Looking at the narrative of Kiki’s Delivery Service, we can see one of the most prominent Ghibli tropes executed in almost iconic fashion: the strong female protagonist. In many ways, this film is aimed almost solely towards young girls as a tale of independence and growth. And we see this articulated through numerous female figures, female-centric themes of freedom and meaning and, as attached to this, symbols of femininity such as pregnancy, birds and flight.
Superseding almost everything concerning femininity and drama in this film, however, is subtlety. In iconic female, or feminist, films, for example, Thelma and Louise, physical conflict is emphasised as to comment on the strengths of women in juxtaposition to the portrayal of the strong man; he who can fight off a 100 bad guys at once. This is a trope that is becoming increasing more familiar when we look to modern American blockbusters such as Avengers, Logan, Star Wars and Mad Max: Fury Road that sell the idea that ‘women can kick ass too’. Contrasting Kiki’s Delivery Service to these male films with females carved into them leaves Miyazaki’s narrative with an overwhelming sense of genuity that the mentioned films (and many of those alike) lack. And this sentiment is true of the multiple levels of Kiki’s Delivery Service, from the formal to the aesthetic to the narrative to the subtextual. Manifested at each of these levels of analysis is a natural and genuine sense of femininity and conflict. And it is this that lies at the heart of this narrative’s affecting abilities; there is no sense of manipulation, only story.
The story that is told with this wonderfully natural tone is one of discovering how to become a unified, functional adult. In such, this narrative sees Kiki go out into the world and act as the best person she can possibly be; she sacrifices her time and energy for others and in turn finds a place in a new community – and this point is made with contrast to the many ‘stuck up’ girls Kiki encounters. Kiki’s journey to sustain this higher being is detailed through the founding of her Delivery Service with her witchcraft seemingly representing naivety. We can come to understand Kiki’s powers as deriving from childishness because of the joy they represent and the imagination that they project; consider flying as a joyous act and talking to her cat as almost having an imaginary friend. But, what we see as Kiki’s powers become a functional job is her abilities beginning to wane. In such, she not only loses the ability to fly, but her talking cat becomes a normal cat.
At this point the her three mentors, one young, one middle-aged and one old, become more significant. In such, Onso, the pregnant baker, comes to represent responsibility and her job; Ursula, the young artist, comes to represent self-discovery and independence; and Madame, the elderly lady, selflessness and compassion. These are three traits that Kiki bares from the start of the narrative, but once she finds her stable job, she becomes fatigued in these respects. These three figures then teach her how to be taken care of – Onso looks after the sick Kiki – how to desire – Ursula and Onso seemingly spark Kiki’s interest in Tombo – and how to accept payment for ones work – not only is Kiki payed by her mentors, but she gains friendship and care.
Having learned these things, of the social push and pull, give and take, of her core personality traits, Kiki’s fatigue begins to wear away. However, she can only again fly when she has to save Tombo. This act of accepting another’s compassion, of following ones own moral compass and risking oneself signify Kiki’s growth and unification as an individual because she realises that who she is is not trapped within the domain of her own body and mind. What Kiki learns by the end of her story is that, to become an adult, one needs to split their being into other people and thus live with their community, friends and family as horcruxes, or soul containers, of their true being.
This conception of one’s self as fragmented amongst others is a profound and classical idea that mirrors the notion that true social living is about sacrificial acts forming a network of exchange; if we give our time and energy to deliver someone’s mail, we nurture an environment in which everyone, in a way and to varying degrees of intensity and distance, takes care of one another. What adds greater depth to this assertion of Kiki’s Delivery Service’s narrative is the fact that a symbol of naivety – flight – is returned to Kiki once she has learned this whilst she remains deaf to her talking cat. What this suggests is that naivety is a gift and a reprieve that we must earn by sacrificing ourselves to preserve someone else’s naivety whilst an over-active imagination is a kind of childishness that will not support a practical (non-artistic) person. After all, the complete opposite of naivety is hyper-awareness, or over-imagining, which leads to anxiety, dread and stagnation. Such an idea is referenced through Kiki losing her powers; she is overwhelmed by the reality she perceives as a new adult and stumbles into an artistic or spiritual block. This is because she hasn’t yet fully accepted the give of the ‘give and take’ societal structure around her and so only sees the demands of society, not its charity.
Once Kiki naively blocks the looming existential vacuum that is being (which can be defined as consciously and slowly dying once we pass our prime or enter adulthood), she not only realises greater meaning in life as attached to friends and family, but can enjoy being. And such is one of the greatest tricks our minds play; we forget the dangers and potential disasters of being itself and manage to live fulfilling, joyous lives (when we don’t stop for a moment with fear, depression and anxiety).
In capturing and articulating this beautiful and melancholic truth, Kiki’s Delivery Service transcends the average coming-of-age film by not focusing on the winding path that a pre-adult must walk, but the ultimate goal before their eyes. Moreover, this narrative transforms the idea of being a witch, almost as Dreyer does with Day Of Wrath, giving new meaning to ‘selling your soul’. If you have not seen this film, I then wholeheartedly recommend it. If you have, what are your thoughts on all we’ve talked about?
Who Is Cinema For?
La Vida Loca – Change/Futility
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Thoughts On: Cinema & Its Audiences
Today we will be looking at ourselves as those who consume film.
Who Is Cinema For? This is a question I’ve been asking myself quite a bit recently, and whilst there is one definite and obvious answer (everyone), this question opens up many avenues of thought which ultimately have us turn to the century-old question: what is cinema?
The invention of moving images is for everyone as a consequence of it being a commercial, mass produced art of engineering born out of an industrialised age. However, whilst cinema was born as a commercial trick and a feat and tool of scientific interest, it became an art. But, in becoming an art, cinema did not, and could not (for films are too expensive to make), become an entity for the privileged few. The cinema of common definition – the films that could be seen in theatres or at festivals – has then always bore a tension between art and entertainment. And thus cinema has conservatively evolved, by virtue of its capitalist features, as a somewhat democratised art, fuelled and funded by audiences, culture, studios and artists. This does not mean that all audiences see all kinds of films, however. Rather, a person’s view of what cinema is is often defined by genre preferences and marketing; we seek out the films that we think we will like and we watch the films we are put into contact with. This may leave the average person having seen all of the films they thought to be interesting on Netflix or in the theatre whilst they are in a constant search for the next cult horror film. (‘Cult horror’ can be replaced with any niche genre that people who have an interest in films form an affinity for).
If this rings true, if people only look for specific films they like and watch what is put in front of their faces, the cinematic diet of the average person who loves, or just likes, film is a microwave meal with a weird concoction of their own design on the side. So, if cinema is for everyone, and most people see cinema through such a lens, what is, speaking generally, cinema?
It would be pointless to try and construct a specific definition whilst we are speaking so generally, but it seems quite evident that cinema is defined by pleasure and attraction. In such, the democratic answer to what is cinema? would fall somewhere along the lines of: cinema is moving pictures of various genres, but mainly the ones you like, starring the actors you know and like, that form stories that transport your imagination or rattle your senses a little. This is the kind of cinema that you will see reviewed across the internet, on television, in magazines, newspapers, etc. As we all could recognise though consuming this content, films are judged on their predictability, actors and how they make us feel. There are probably a few more specifications – many reviewers will delve into direction and aesthetics also – but these are what most reviews hit upon. This implies that cinema is generally judged and perceived as basic entertainment that can sometimes strike you with whispers of profundity, but is mainly centred around ideas of celebrity and sensory manipulation.
There are two key problems with this definition of cinema. The first concerns scope. For most people, all the films they see are pretty familiar; almost all will come from Hollywood and/or their own country of origin. But, when cinema is allowed to be defined by often one culture, for example, American culture – more specifically, American culture as filtered through Hollywood studios – it becomes very easy to see it as one specific entity. And in regards to the prevalence and influence of American culture on cinema, with cinema as a Hollywood product, there is no wonder why most people see it as just plain entertainment. Though this isn’t universally true, the American film industry has always operated as an entertainment business. Great art has come from American cinema, but often under the guise of being entertainment. For example, we could look to the films of Disney and Pixar – which we have delved into in almost exhaustive depth with the Disney series. Though there is depth in the stories that are told by these companies, these films are generally considered family movies that entertain. At most, people will know of ‘hidden meanings’ in these films (as well as a plethora of other Hollywood classics), but, the idea of a ‘hidden meaning’ in a film is itself a mere novelty – at least, this is how its presented and consumed. When cinema is defined by one culture and its perception of film – as is the case in the modern day with Hollywood largely defining what cinema is – the idea of cinema, film or movies becomes watered down to a useless dogma.
The problem with familiar film consumption is then that, simply put, the potential of cinema is not demonstrated or realised. If you then put a Russian silent film, a 50s Swedish picture, a Bollywood and a Nollywood movie in front of a cult horror purist, their idea of cinema would be challenged greatly. This is because they’d see a kind of cinema defined by vastly different individuals, cultures and time periods than that which they’d be use to. Resultantly, they’d have to alter the way in which they watch these movies and so would also have to alter the way in which they see cinema. If anything, questioning cinema in such a way would provide the opportunity for a more genuine general definition of cinema to be formed, one that would ultimately reflect the potentials of cinema, not just our expectations. And this itself (if the average audience member saw film with more scope) is so important because we would give cinema and filmmakers the opportunity to evolve and expand within the ever evolving definitions of cinema; we’d, in all hope, get films born of a much more vast set of rules and conventions: unfamiliar and new films.
There is nonetheless another problem with the way in which cinema is perceived. Whilst the virtues of widening the scope of cinema are limited to an idea of greater freedom and potential in cinema, seeing greater depth in moving pictures would transform the whole art (as we consume it, not necessarily as it is created) into something far more profound. As a result, we’d not just get new films, but see film to be so much more than entertainment; we’d see cinema for what it truly is and can be.
Art, if we were to squeeze out as simple, yet accurate, of a definition as we could, is communication that requires some kind of window or frame to occur. For many arts, such as dance, opera, theatre and stand-up comedy, this frame is a stage and a crowd of sorts. Other plastic arts, such as painting, sculpture, architecture and film, need specific materials like stone, wood, canvas, celluloid or a virtual version of these things manifested with a computer. With these tools or environments as frames for communication between and artist and their audience, we can understand art to merely be an exchange of ideas. When we come to cinema and consider that this communication is mainly perceived as the exchange of fun stories or stories that emotionally effect you or liven your imagination, we can see little meaning attributed to the communication. In such, the art, the communication, of cinema is only defined be its ability to waste time. However, by changing the way in which we see the depths of cinema, we can see the art to fill time with more than emotional experiences, but genuine and articulate experiences of meaning.
To see cinema as a medium of storytelling in which the communication is meaningful heightens the importance of the form. And, through this, films would not be judged by their ability to waste time or fill it with various forms of emotional masturbation, but actually say something of worth; not something we think needs to be said or would like to hear, but something that is determined and given worth by the film’s artist, culture and temporal context.
Before we go into unnecessary depth, it should be simply stated that there is a problem with the way we generally see cinema as entertainment that comes out of Hollywood. It is because we don’t see cinema with some understanding of its genuine scope through seeing films from different cultures, time periods and of different or experimental forms, that cinema is defined as basic entertainment. And it is because we do not see depth and importance in cinema’s ability to tell stories that this entertainment is primarily reduced to meaningless emotional manipulation. However, why, if cinema is so vapid and masturbatory and we – people in general – are not so simple-minded, should so much money and time be spent on its consumption?
This question can be perceived as a rhetorical one that would grant the assumption that I think we should all spend our lives watching every film ever made and contemplating their infinite depths endlessly. This would be a rather pointless assertion to make as most people don’t watch that many movies and haven’t the time to study them. This makes it acceptable to a degree that people perceive cinema as entertainment. However, if it makes sense that cinema should not be defined so simply, we are left turning back to our initial question of: who is cinema for?
If cinema is more than basic entertainment, then is cinema just for the few who go to university or college to get a Phd in the subject? Is cinema only for those who have seen 100s of movies from all over the world? Is cinema only for those that have made films? Is cinema only for those who can write about its depths? Should there be tests put in place to question our film knowledge before we are allowed to see movies unsupervised?
These are all terrible questions. Cinema’s virtues are found in its ability to entertain and appeal to endless cultural and individual sensibilities. Cinema should not just be a form of intellectual and historical expression – at least, I wouldn’t be too interested in cinema if this is all that it was. Cinema, in my view, is the greatest art people have yet invented because it is one that is so naturally consumed, yet, with time, patience and attention, can also be incredibly profound and an effective educational tool. As a result, cinema can and should be for everybody. There is nonetheless the issue of ‘everybody’ defining cinema as a lesser than it is.
To see cinema as ‘just entertainment’ is like using the internet to just watch porn and fail videos, using fire just to destroy stuff or using wood just for toilet paper. Using the internet I assume that practically all people (whilst they watch the odd fail video or bit of porn) educate and better themselves – even if this is just Googling the definition of a word you didn’t know, finding a news article or reading a paragraph from a Wikipedia page. So, just like we use the internet as an multifaceted tool, just like we use wood to make books, buildings, furniture and a plethora of other constructs and just like we use fire to melt metals, cook food and create a myriad of other things, we should be using cinema as a tool to better and expand ourselves. People already do this in some way or another with documentaries and television shows that teach them something. However, generally speaking, TV and the internet – whilst they are moving picture machines and where we watch many of our documentaries – aren’t cinema. Cinema is a term we reserve for narrative and non-narrative moving pictures–films or movies–not singularly attached to the internet or TV (this means that TV moves and Netflix originals are still cinema – even if they are usually pretty bad examples of the form). Not utilising cinema – the things you see in a theatre – as you do the internet, wood or fire is the precise issue which I’m attempting to detail. In short, the ways in which we generally interact with cinematic stories is too simple. We often do not use cinema to better or broaden ourselves. This is because most see cinema as without much scope and with almost no depth.
To reverse this is simple. Almost no one uses libraries like Will from Good Will Hunting; we all have the resource, but fail to use it optimally. This is ok – we’re all only human. However, most still perceive, and maybe sometimes use, libraries as important tools; we see books as culturally and intellectually important artefacts. As a result, we think of books as things we can learn from – whether they are narrative or non-narrative, fiction or non-fiction. Why do we not see cinema in the same respect? Why do we not generally see cinema to have an inherently powerful capacity to teach and communicate before accepting its entertaining and more basic features as we do with books? Is it because films are so affecting and intoxicating to the point that all we consider them to be is pleasure things? If so, does it not then makes sense to again ask the question: Who is cinema for? Without wanting to say everyone and thus demean cinema, and without suggesting any laws or actions be put in place, shouldn’t cinema be for, and thus be defined by, those who make some attempt to see its wider scope and greater depth; who, even on the odd occasion, take it seriously and defy the demeaning definition of ‘just entertainment’?
Without wanting to meander on, I’ll leave this subject with you and your thoughts. Is there more to be seen in cinema than what is generally perceived? Can you, yourself, better use cinema as a tool that, whilst it entertains, also gives insight into history, culture and more general ideas of humanity?
Finding Nemo – The Family Circle Of Trust: Dory
Kiki’s Delivery Service – To Sell Ones Soul
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Thoughts On: Finding Nemo (2003)
It has been a while since the last post, but today we continue our look at Finding Nemo.
In the previous post on Finding Nemo, we looked at the opening and its idea that, with freedom comes danger. And in recognising that this narrative is focused on building a family circle of trust, we see that the core conflict of this movie concerns the fact that the individuals that make up a family – for instance, children – need freedom to grow. This is why trust becomes pivotal in a family circle. However, as is questioned in the opening: What happens when tragedy strikes and a father’s ability to trust is eviscerated?
As we could imagine, a family circle is broken down and so needs reconstruction. And so this is what Finding Nemo explores. There are three major stages to Marlin’s quest in this respect; he must confront the loss of his wife, his lost sense of adventure and his lost son. What we will be doing today is exploring Marlin’s reconciliation with the anima, the female archetype: Dory.
A traditional, nuclear family is structured around a mother, father and, below them, children. In adhering to this idea, we find the opening of this story gives reason for this structure with the mother, Coral, being cautionary, warning Marlin of the dangers of freedom whilst he, the adventurer, embraces the danger. This equilibrium is shown to be the near-perfect equation for the family before the barracuda attacks. So, with Marlin embodying both Nemo’s mother and father as he raises him alone, he struggles to find a balance – as represented by his over-anxious (almost neurotic) nature. This disharmony – as we will explore in greater depth later on – leads to Nemo’s capture, and so has Marlin trail his way to…
… Dory. Dory is a classical device: the hero’s accomplice or guide. As in all adventures, Marlin has been called out of his known world and into the unknown. However, just like Frodo doesn’t go to Mordor alone, Marlin will search for Nemo with Dory. With Dory as the accomplice, her role isn’t just to provide help or impart wisdom – at least, not directly. Dory will test Marlin and, by fate (the hand of the writer), the two will grow together. So, in a way, Dory will help re-construct the family circle of trust by inadvertently re-assessing the roles of the anima and animus as the head of the family.
One of the most ingenious aspects of Dory’s character is then that she has short-term memory loss. To anyone who has followed the blog for a while or who has an interest in experimental filmmaking, the name Maya Deren will be familiar to you. Deren’s most famous film is Meshes Of The Afternoon.
Rife with symbolism, but wrought by a complex relationship between space and time, Meshes Of The Afternoon seemingly explores loss and confrontation in a relationship. One of the most expressive and unique aspects of this film is the manner in which it uses time as a formal device. Giving insight into this, Deren herself articulated her idea of female and male perceptions of time in the posthumous documentary, In the Mirror of Maya Deren.
What I do in my films is very distinctive. They are the films of a woman and I think that they’re characteristic time quality is the time quality of a woman. I think the strength of men is in their great sense of immediacy. They are a ‘now’ creature. A woman has strength to wait because she has had to wait. Time is built into her body in the sense of ‘becomingness’. She sees everything in terms of the stage of becoming
This quote (which can be heard heard in full here) explains her films as projecting a woman’s sense of time through waiting and through expanded time being compressed into a small frame. Deren goes on to imply that this sense of time that is unique to females may be inherent to them because of their biology (she references pregnancy later on), and so Deren’s statement on time is essentially that the anima, the female archetype, is defined – in a way – by a wider understanding of time than a man.
This idea speaks incredibly well to our concept of Coral as the cautionary maternal figure – she who has to think ahead of herself for the sake of her children – and Marlin as the adventure – he who concentrates on manipulating the now. With Marlin becoming a neurotic mother, he thinks too much about the future and entirely loses contact with his idea of ‘now’. But, when he meets Dory, he finds a female figure who is completely opposed to Deren’s conception of the female perspective; she has no grip of waiting and the future. This grip was lost because Dory lost her idea of the ‘now’ for so long (she has had short-term memory loss for so long) that she doesn’t have an idea of the long-term past. As a result, Dory has lost the male perspective of time (a projection of the animus – the ‘male’ attribute within females) for so long that she has also lost her female perspective. There is then both disharmony in Marlin, whose anima (as represented by his perception of time) is out of control and in Dory, who, because she is so bound to the now, doesn’t seem like a functional person. She then breaks all expectations of a female accomplice as she doesn’t remind the male of his hubris and stupidity like, for example, Hermione does throughout the Harry Potter series.
This representation of males and females in stories, whilst not a scientifically derived idea, resonates with the nuclear family because the female has her inadequacies and the male his, but, together, they form a functional union. When we look to the pairing of Dory and Marlin, we have two dysfunctional individuals who, speaking about Dory, have no grip on time and, looking to Marlin, tries to control time too much. Separated, they seem to be doomed to wander in an ocean of either timelessness or constant, deranging ticking. Together, however, it is implied that the two can maybe mute each other’s faults instead of emphasising them.
As a consequence of their abnormal perceptions of time, Marlin and Dory act in entirely exaggerated ways (considering their presence as the anima and animus of this story). This is realised almost immediately with their encounter with the trio of sharks.
Dory clearly has no concerns whilst Marlin is on the brink of an aneurysm. In a way here, Dory is infantalised and made out to be a naive child. This is so because her time-frame of being is so far in her past that it probably reaches into childhood. Marlin, too, is stuck in his past (the night in which his wife and children were taken from him), but this has expanded his view of time forward and kept him from seeing a brighter vision of the future with more naive eyes as Dory does. (The commentary on tragedy and misfortune here is that events of these kinds can radically shift your idea of space and time – which, itself, is quite profound). Because of their conception of time, the idea of the strange unknown that the two venture into is then exciting for Dory – vegan sharks seem like nice guys – but daunting for Marlin, so much so that he becomes a self-fulfilling prophet by triggering the fish-eating shark within Bruce.
What this emphasises is that Dory was, ultimately, correct in her ambivalence and that Marlin was wrong for attempting to control everything. As a result, Dory is already becoming the female accomplice who, like Hermione, teaches the males of their hubris and short-comings despite her initially seeming like the complete antithesis of this traditional archetype. As a result, what we see developing in this story is a strong relationship between the traditional (ideas of the nuclear family) and the non-traditional. Such is common in almost all Disney and Pixar films that see families comprised of unexpected individuals form. However, specific to this story, we are seeing Dory instil ‘male’ characteristics into her and Marlin’s relationship; she is the one who thinks on her feet and embraces the ‘now’ of adventure in this sequence, not Marlin.
This, again, happens in the next sequence in which Dory teaches Marlin how to “just keep swimming”. This allows them to venture into darkness and confront the monsters that loom below. However, this is where Marlin begins to evolve: he is becoming an adventurer again…
… and we see this perfectly with Marlin smiling in the face of death just as he found serenity staring into the endless ocean in the beginning of the film. The light that Marlin then sees by coming so close to death is then that he can wrestle with monsters in the unknown and come out alive – he, like Dory in the previous sequence – can think on his feet, lead and survive.
Let us not forget Dory in this sequence, however. As we learned previously, she can read. This is a rather questionable element of this story and, in some respects, a clear ex machina. But, Dory reading also reverses the idea that she is just naive. Though she is trapped in her past, she retains functionality and so manages to take what she learned in her past and bring it to her present. And to take a more poetic perspective, Dory being able to read is her being able to translate symbols of the past – writing that carves thoughts of the ‘now’ into material being that will, likely, outlast thought – into the present. With Dory reading whilst Marlin fights off the monster, we then see the roles of the previous sequence shift as the unknown becomes ever more (predictably so) dangerous. So, in parallel to the adventure of this story becoming more predictable, so does the relationship between Dory and Marlin; they assume more traditional roles. And, of course, the ultimate expression of this is Dory’s first character change; she begins to remember: P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney…
This repetition of course gets on Marlin’s nerves, and so it is at this point that Marlin attempts to abandon Dory.
It is here that Marlin believes he has become a unified and self-sufficient; he believes he has grown and is not in need of help – especially from someone as faulted as Dory. However, this is where the pair encounter the moonfish…
If we cast our minds back to the previous post again, we’ll remember that Coral, Marlin’s wife, is thematically linked to the moon with this beautiful transition:
We would certainly be stretching the metaphor without good reason in suggesting that Coral is brought back to life in this sequence. However, the sympathy that the group of fish show towards Dory, and the manner in which they mock and guide Marlin whilst being male, speaks a lot about the femininity of the moon that we explored previously and the fact that Dory is there to help and, herself, guide Marlin. After consulting the moonfish, which Marlin initially believes he knows more than, Dory then has to chase after him with important information.
Just like Dory lead Marlin into the darkness to find the mask, and just like she helped him escape the sharks, she wants to guide him through this trench here. But, Marlin’s confidence has been boosted since he defeated the shark – he has embraced his own animus – and so he chooses to ignore Dory; his ego pushes the anima to the side.
So, as with the sharks, Marlin’s over-anxious ego gets himself and Dory in trouble. However, Marlin is somewhat aware of this environment of the stinging jellyfish because he, himself, is a cautious clown fish that lives in an anemone. So, seemingly embracing the naive sense of adventure that Dory demonstrates, he then decides to make a game out of their escape.
Their adventure is becoming ever more dangerous, however. It then seems like this is the consequence – maybe the punishment – for Marlin ignoring Dory and not forming a relationship with the anima. And this is a recurrent idea; Marlin is constantly punished through others for his downfalls whether it be Nemo being captured or Dory being stung.
However, embodying the traditional hero, Marlin is willing to sacrifice himself to rectify his mistakes, and, for this, he is seemingly rewarded with a bit of luck.
So, after their encounter with Crush and their ride along the EAC, Marlin is confronted by the recent past. Dory wants to ask for directions, but Marlin refuses. After asking “what is up with men and asking for directions”, implying that the fault of the adventurer is that he thinks he can do things alone, Marlin decides to trust her – because, after all, this…
… along with the absence of his son, is the symbol of lack of trust (in turn, the dysfunctionality of a family circle without trust).
And so now, after Marlin lets Dory ask for directions, we have the archetypal sequence, the belly of the beast sequence, that we see in countless tales – the most obvious being Pinocchio. So, just like Pinocchio learns his lesson after visiting Pleasure Island, but nonetheless he has to enter the belly of the beast, so must Marlin. In such, he must not just gain a conceptual understanding from his mistakes, but act out the lesson he has learnt…
… and thus he actually has to let go and trust that things will be ok – or, rather, that he is capable enough to descend further into the belly of the beast and emerge by virtue of his newly unified being. And this unified being itself is represented by his reconciliation with the anima: Dory. What Marlin then learns here – what he integrates into his being – is that he can trust Dory’s intelligence, both her ability to miraculously read and talk to whales, as well as his ability to confront chaos; he does not understand these things, and neither do we, but with trust in each other and themselves, the two prevail. And thus, we get this image…
Again the moon motif emerges as Marlin realises that Dory is right; that she is his guide. The whale fluke below the moon then seemingly plays on the double meaning of fluke (meaning whale tail and lucky escape) by referencing the relationship between chaos and the heroic couple that is recurrent throughout this story; one is conquered by the other, the heroes overcome chaos, for example, they escape the belly of the whale, partly out of luck or destiny, but also because they are guided by something transcendent of themselves. This image implies that the transcendent being is the moon, possibly as a mandala symbolising Dory and Marlin’s union, but also an icon connoting the guiding anima.
Having come this far into chaos and danger, Marlin’s determination is unshakeable – he begins to independently become the adventure, leading Dory along the final stretch of their journey – and his reputation is allowed to precede him. So, just as he was granted a lucky pass after saving Dory from the jellyfish, he is also granted one here (as a consequence of his heroic actions with Dory, which, through story, have spread across the ocean) with his encounter with Nigel, who delivers him to Nemo….
It seemed that a new equilibrium had been reached; Marlin had reconciled with the anima and has by now seemingly conquered adventure by reaching Nemo, but, tragedy has struck again. In such, this equilibrium is destroyed; after being pushed out of the surgeons office, he leaves Dory despite the fact that she becomes a more complete person with him (she can remember things) and he a more complete person with her. But, without Nemo it seems like there is no point in sustaining the new circle of trust that Marlin has set the foundations for.
And it’s here where we will end things for today. We still need to explore the idea of adventure in greater depth and then look at Nemo’s role in this narrative, so look forward to more parts looking at this film. However, for now, what are your thoughts on Finding Nemo, especially in regards to all we’ve covered today concerning Dory.
End Of The Week Shorts #28
Who Is Cinema For?
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Today’s Shorts: Fire (1996), Queen (2014), Rise And Fall Of Idi Amin (1981), Nude On The Moon (1961), Our Trip To Africa (1966), Arnulf Rainer (1960), A Nightmare On Elm Street (1984)
With its release, Fire proved to be a very controversial film, and for obvious reasons: this is about questioning and breaking tradition as guided by ones own personal choices. Moreover, this was one of the first Indian films to explicitly depict homosexuality (though, this isn’t the single stress of the narrative).
Shot with enchanting romantic lighting, an immersive soundtrack and some strong satire, Fire is an affecting story about decisions of desire and will. Whilst the commentary on family structure is a little contrived and the rebuttals to ideas of duty aren’t too convincing, the strengths of this narrative lie in its very clear message concerning freedom (and, in a way, this film became a symbol of free speech in Indian cinema).
Overall, this is a very strong film and, arguably, a significant cultural artefact of Indian cinema.
Tremendous. Phenomenal. A flawless piece of entertainment. It’s not a Tarkovsky picture, but, by God, this a masterpiece of some sort that has left me buzzing with joy.
Queen is, in a way, a comedy-adventure, but more so a film about a new-age or modern pilgrimage where the naive and sheltered enter into a world of chaos, danger and hedonism to emerge a greater, enlightened person. In such, this is a film about freedom and discovering ones own strengths and abilities as an independent person. This is not a new concept and, whilst this does break many of the traditional Bollywood picture conventions, nor is this a non-formulaic film. However, all that it does, it does perfectly. And Kangana Ranaut is certainly the shinning light of this movie.
There’s not much more to say than that this is a new personal favourite and a film I can’t recommend more.
As the title suggests, this recounts the rise and fall of the tyrannical Ugandan dictator who ruled during the 70s, Idi Amin. Though this accurately references many historical facts, Rise and Fall of Idi Amin is best seen as an exploitation film as it does not necessarily take its subject matter seriously, rather, gratuitously depicts murder and violence whilst a caricature of Amin provides something close to comedy. There is no point in discussing ethics when a film is classed as an exploitation picture, but suffice to say that this is more a highly critical piece of absurd, melodramatic political satire than a biopic.
As an exploitation picture, this is quite engaging and is even pretty well designed. The plot flies by and the cinematic language is often precise. However, the performances are weak and this isn’t helped by the bad sound design. Ultimately, however, this is tonally… challenging. Some sequences make you want to laugh, others not and the rest are hard to take seriously. So, though this is engaging, now I have to write about it, I feel a bit lost.
Nude On The Moon is a strange movie that finds itself somewhere between soft-porn and a 60s sci-fi picture. However, this is not necessarily either one of these things, instead, it’s a nudist film. These first emerged in 30s to promote the nudist, liberal, health-centric lifestyle, and because censorship laws changed around the 50s, they were revived and merged with the exploitation and erotic picture.
Nude On The Moon is both a narrative, promotional film that comments on the ‘rat race’ and a bachelor’s life as well as an erotic picture that has you watch two ‘astronauts’ take pictures of a nudist camp on the moon (it is so clearly in Florida) for about 40 minutes straight. In such, this just a very weird look into film history that, though it is bogged down by bad acting, a repetitive soundtrack and mediocre direction, is basically passable as a cult film experience.
Without diegesis, a strict and cohesive space, narrative or atmosphere, Our Trip To Africa seems to bring a discordant vision of an African safari vacation to the screen. In such, without any synced, or particularly sensical, sound this depicts various snippets of hunting scenes spliced into voyeuristic shots of African natives. The lack of harmony and the radically disparate ‘spaces’ (which are implied through montage and sound) in this film seemingly comment on the travelogue and ethnographic film, insinuating that the documentation of such trips has little to do with the land being visited, nor the people and animals that exist upon it. Our Trip To Africa then seems to be a film that is designed to alienate and make you feel uncomfortable in a way that the director may feel that this kind of footage (exploitative hunting videos and travelogues) should be viewed inherently.
If cinema is light and darkness is this, a ‘flicker film’ that alternates between white and black frames, cinema? Moreover, if cinema is sound and silence is this, a slalom between white noise and silence, cinema?
These are two questions that Kubleka means to ask by reducing cinema to its most fundamental components and testing them. In such, the expressive nature of a more full and traditional kind of cinema is stripped away as we’re forced to ask if this can mean something to us. The question this then raises is: Are we, the audience, willing to accept this as cinema by giving it meaning, or maybe seeing meaning within it?
The follow up question to a negative response would then be: Why? And so, in a way, this becomes a less annoying constructivist film that has us question our beliefs on cinema without meaning to put us through dozens of minutes, or many hours, of pain. As a result, this one may be worth the watch.
A Nightmare On Elm Street is a pretty good movie – but, more so, a classic cult horror full of iconic imagery. Looking past this, and the sometimes awkward writing and mediocre acting, there is trouble beneath the surface of this movie.
In essence, we can think of Nightmare On Elm Street to be much like (though, the book and the movies would come out at a later date) Stephen King’s It with dreams being the dark place from which personal horrors reflecting ones of confrontation with evil archetypes (who mirror parents and internal anxieties) emerge. With a lot of potential subtext to play around with, seeing Craven’s on-off direction mainly focus on spectacle and gore is somewhat disappointing as this movie lacks in both the narrative and character departments.
Ultimately, A Nightmare On Elm Street is part fun and, as a consequence of a lack of concentration, part pretentious. Nonetheless, an engaging watch.
Every Year In Film #27 – The Story Of The Kelly Gang
Finding Nemo – The Family Circle Of Trust: Dory
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Thoughts On: The Story Of The Kelly Gang (1906)
In this post we will be looking at the birth of the feature-length film.
Today we will be talking about a somewhat innocuous subject, but one that is full of open ends and ambiguity: film length. In the modern day, there are, generally speaking, three classes of film. There’s the quick 80-99 minute picture; the simple, sometimes independent or low-budget, romance, thriller, horror, comedy or action movie . These are the movies many people look out for and find on lists such as “Incredible Movies Under 100 Minutes”. This idea of the ‘easy’ film implies a lot about our attention span and the way in which we watch films. However, let us return to this idea later. The second class of film is the average 110-130 minute picture; anything around 2 hours. This is not the shortest kind of film, but it’s easy to accept and sit through with expectations of a higher budget, professional production with a star cast, a bit of CGI and, most importantly, a fleshed out and rounded story (or else it’ll get the common critique of, ‘it could have had 15-20 minutes shaved off of the end). Thirdly, we find ourselves in the ‘a little long’ to the epic or ‘really long’, but ‘it needed the time’ movie that will push past the 2 1/2 hour mark and possibly over the 3 hour one, too. This is a class of film that we expect a lot from and may have to psyche ourselves up to go into; these are huge action, sci-fi blockbusters with destruction, romance, war and some kind of basis in a book, well-known myth or a pre-existing franchise.
These three categories of film imply the kind of tolerance levels and expectations that audiences hold. Let it be said, however, that we are speaking unscientifically here. (I nonetheless assume that the above generalisation will resonate). It is clear with these three types of film that we are talking about Hollywood pictures, genre movies or the kind of films that would pop up on Netflix for general consumption. The 80-180 minute window of an expected run-time is then designed around a decades-old formula derived from market research and audience conditioning. What is not included in this window, say for instance, the short film, says a lot about how cinema has changed over time.
When we think of short films in the modern day and the context in which we see them, though many would see shorts in film festivals, we come straight to sites such as Vimeo and YouTube. There is no real commercial market for short films (outside of music videos and advertisements) any more – especially when we think back to the early silent era and compare the lucrativeness of the short film back then with the short film nowadays. The short film is what amateur filmmakers use to practice or showcase their skills (though, with cheapening technology, the idea of a cheap feature-length movie makes far more sense in such a respect). We then see these movies on Vimeo or YouTube because they are free and easy to access. However, do we think of the 5-20 minute short film as a ‘short film’ or a ‘YouTube video’? (We could also question if we see early silent films as films or YouTube videos as this is where we see them, but, let’s not stray onto such ground).
Such a question demonstrates one of the ways in which film length and audience perception has shifted in the last decade or so. For the average person, the vast majority – maybe ever the totality – of their ‘short film’ watching time is spent on YouTube. Thus, the internet has come to dominate the idea of short films and transformed them into few second clips to videos – and both terms come with clear connotations. Whatever happened to the 20-40 minute short film though?
The answer is seemingly simple: TV. In the 1930s the average Hollywood genre film, for instance, the iconic Universal horrors, were around 70-90 minutes. This spoke true of many feature films of this time. However, from the 1920s onwards, many engineers and technicians were beginning to conduct practical experiments with different forms of television broadcast. And by the late 30s, TV was becoming more and more of a looming inevitability. As a consequence, it is thought that the average movie was extended from around 90 minutes in the early 30s to about 120 minutes by the 1960s as a result of TV (whose programmes, as we all know, are about 20-30 minutes long, dependent on ads). This is a paradigm that remained true for decades.
So, in the modern day, ‘short films’, anything from a few seconds to a few minutes, are adverts, music videos or clips from the internet – we do not really consider this cinema. Moreover, longer short films, 20-60 minute mini-movies, are television – also not cinema. So, ever more increasingly in the modern day, the idea of cinema is confined to this 80-180 minute window – more specifically, a 90-120 minute window. However, why, to the average person, are only the moving pictures that last between and hour and a half to two hours cinema? What has this got to do with the technological innovation that is cinema? What has this got to do with the art that is cinema? What has this got to do with the cultural artefact that is moving images?
Confronting these questions can leave us pretty lost. And to add the the frustration, you can’t just ask Google ‘Why are movies 90-120 minutes?’, and get a satisfying answer. As we have discussed, movies are this length, in part, because of television and movies. However, this also has much to do with the three key components of cinema as a commercialised art: production, exhibition and the audience. Studios making movies for profit would like to spend the least money possible and get the most money back. This is why films such as The Blair Witch Project are significant in film history and we still, to a degree, feel its significance in the cinema to this day. The Blair Witch Project was a low-budget horror that made millions, and what followed it for many years was not just the paranormal horror, but many variations of the cheap found footage movie that could be shot with low production value, but make a lot of money. Thankfully, we seem more and more removed from this kind of filmmaking as we move deeper into the 2010s. However, The Blair Witch Project (along side the slasher before it, the exploitation movies before that and the decades of low-budget sci-fi and horror B-pictures before that) represents the studios wanting to make the shortest, cheapest movies they possibly can whilst still being able to make money. This is one reason why films are between 90 and 120 minutes; cinema, at this length, is differentiated from TV, but only by a small (monetary) margin.
Second to this, we have filmmakers to consider. They know, and have known for over a century, that they can only make certain movies of a certain length. In such, you’re dreaming if you think you can put an epic, experimental and original 300 page script about homosexual martian kings who wage war against the gods of the universe in inter-galactic hyperspace on a producer’s desk and expect a billion dollars to make it. Often working within the confines of a studio, filmmakers then make certain films of specific lengths for obvious reasons. If we take the recent example of A Cure For Wellness, a highly unconventional, 146 minute, R-rated, high-budget, surreal drama, we clearly see Gore Vorbinsky – the guy who made 3 of the most commercially successful movies ever, the first Pirates Of The Caribbean movies – being allowed to make a movie that would almost definitely not make its money back. (It cost 40 million to make and made about 26 million in the box office). This, as we know, is a rarity, which not only implies much about why movies are often between 90 and 120 minutes (this has a lot to do with the studio), but also why certain types movies have predictable run-times; filmmakers and studios know what has a commercial draw and so will not overwhelm their audience, nor expect much from them.
Moving on to exhibitors, we come to another key and definite reason why movies are the average length that they are: screenings. Whilst the importance of screening has waned somewhat with the advent of video, DVD and now the internet, this is still an incredibly key factor. Distributors and exhibitors want to show as many movies as they can in a day. This is because, generally speaking, ticket prices are not set in accordance to how long you spend in a theatre, rather, just your entering – this is called uniform pricing. As a result, a three hour movie costs just as much to see as an 80 minute one – which is actually a kind of miracle. Surely a more sensible business model for the film industry would be to charge audience members $10 for an hour in the theatre. That way, their epic movies would be guaranteed to make more money… or would they?
Uniform pricing is both a tradition and a safety net for the film industry. By making higher quality, longer movies more expensive, lower quality, short movies would be alienated. This would force a monopoly in which 2 or 3 huge studios could produce billion dollar all-day, 12 hour movies. And if cinema was re-defined under such terms, and accepted by audiences, how could lower budget film producers survive? In a way, uniform pricing ensures that all movies are seen as equal by audiences. Moreover, this ensures that cinemas don’t have to be policed and set-up in a fashion that makes sure that people don’t pay for cheap tickets, but sneak into a high-priced movies. And added to this, exhibitors are given a degree of security and an ability to set prices in accordance to their facilities rather than the films they have access to.
So, because uniform pricing is a long-lasting tradition that, certainly by now, is an inescapable reality for the film industry (it’s incredibly unlikely to see non-uniform pricing accepted after decades of uniform pricing), exhibitors are forced to make decisions on what they screen based on how popular a movie is and how many times they can show it in a day. As a result, a long movie has to be incredibly popular so that it satisfies an audience’s expectations of a full, high quality show – and so gets people into cinemas in high numbers – as to balance the potential loss an exhibitor would lose through a lack of screenings. Added to this, cinemas can’t sell tickets for shows only 30 minutes long and expect to draw audiences with the uniform price of $12. After all, not only can an audience spend just as much to see the new epic Hollywood blockbuster, but they assume that longer films are of higher quality and production value. This itself implies that 80-90 minute movies are of lower quality, or at least that you’re taking a risk with shorter features as you’re going in to see a simple genre film (that is hopefully done well) or a more artsy, cheaper film (that may or may not bore you to death). But, in such circumstances you pay less time and so are more accepting of challenging, or stupid, content. And so it is through these many factors that we can see the manner in which film exhibition effects the lengths of movies.
One of the cruxes of everything we have thus far discussed, however, is audience. Audiences have been fed films in a certain format for over a century. In the earliest days, films were, as we have explored through the series, short – anything between 40 seconds and 3 minutes long for the first few years or so. Audiences would pay a few cents to peep inside a kinetoscope or would, again in America, pay a nickle to see a 15 minute programme made up of many shorts. In this early era, technology held filmmakers back; it was difficult and very expensive to make longer films. However, also in this era, distributors would buy films, paying by the foot. This, alongside the fact that audiences wanted more films of greater scope and quality, catalysed the expansion of narratives as technology developed. And thus, around the 1900s, films would be between 3 and 10 minutes long. Over time, this number rose – which is what we will return to as to discuss our subject for today – but when we move into the golden age of the silent film, the 20s, there is a strong paradigm of the feature-length movie being upwards of 60 minutes. And as we have explored, this number increased after the 30s.
There is then a world-wide tradition of cinema that audiences have grown accustomed to. So, not only are we used to movies being of a certain length, but we’re used to uniform prices, we know how long certain genre movies should be and the kind of quality that this implies. As a result, producers and distributors are in constant communication with their audience – their market. So, as much as they define how long movies are, and as a result define what cinema ‘is’, so do we. And one of the greatest examples of this would be the films of Disney and Pixar. Whilst we may regard many of their movies to be masterpieces, they are often mere 80-90 minute narratives. Working within the conventions that audiences implied they’d be comfortable with and sustaining them, keeping animation in the realms of the kids’ or family movie, Disney and Pixar provide audiences with stories that are all audiences want, but simultaneously more than they can imagine.
When we now return to our question, “Why are movies 80-180 minutes long?”, we know that the answer is multi-faceted and includes numerous potential answers – many of which we didn’t even touch on. For example, there is a clear influence of opera, theatre or books on the length of a feature film production. So, why are operas generally 2 1/2 to 3 hours long? Why are plays 90 to 120 minutes? Why do many books take 4-5 hours to read? Again, we can assume that this has much to do with an interaction between an audience’s demands and what producers, artists and exhibitors can offer. Nonetheless, these times are part of a tradition for good reason – an ambiguous, but good reason. After all, the formula seems to work.
So, now we understand why films are generally between 80 and 180 minutes long, we can begin to question the idea of a ‘feature film’. If we think about the term ‘feature film’ a minute, it is a strange one without much inherent sense. Is the ‘feature film’ featured some place? If so, why isn’t it called the featured film? Or, does the ‘feature film’ feature something? If so, what? And what has this got to do with the feature-length film?
If we ask Google for the definition of ‘feature film’, we get this:
With ‘feature’ meaning just ‘full-length’ or ‘devoted to the treatment of a particular topic…at length’, we can see that it means nothing and maybe something. Taking the second definition as our primary one, we can see that a feature film is one that is long enough to deal with a subject in satisfactory depth. The feature film is then ‘however it long it takes to tell your story’. But, as we have already looked into, this decision would be reached by both studios and audiences and so wouldn’t truly be based on just how long it takes to tell a story, but how long it would take to tell a story that satisfies artists, producers, exhibitors and their audience. And so, this is the something and simultaneous nothing that is the term ‘feature film’.
When we look elsewhere to find out what ‘feature film’ may be defined as, we will find various institutes setting a time. Both the BFI and the AFI suggests that the feature-length film is 40 minutes or more. However, the Centre National de la Cinématographie sets the bar at an oddly specific 58 minutes and 29 seconds. And added to this, the the Screen Actors Guild suggest 80 minutes as a feature-length film. Despite my efforts in research I can find little to no reason for these suggested times beyond the implication of these times just feel correct given the tradition of film length over time. And so, maybe one of the best ways to think about film length is actually through reels.
Movie reels contain 1000 ft of film, which translates to about 15 minutes. A one-reel film, is a short movie – a 10-15 comedy short that many of us would be familiar with (even through YouTube videos – which maybe implies how prevalent this format is despite us now being the in digital age). Two-reel films, which take us up to 30 minutes, implies a long-ish film (which television has now taken over). However, when we get into 3 or 4 reel films, we can begin to assume we’re in a different kind of filmmaking. And, un-coincidentally, we are approaching the 40+, or 60+, minute mark with 3 or 4 reel films. So maybe this is/was the most accurate way to define feature-length films as this implies that these films were long enough to be the main feature in a show. By extension, I think this is the best way to actually think about the idea of a ‘feature film’. Not only do we have a sensible way of quantifying things through 15 minute lengths of celluloid, but the idea that the film is becoming of a substantial enough length to tell a fleshed-out, complex story is quite irrefutable. And we see evidence for this in the way that films are structured.
Whilst you may know that we shouldn’t think of structure so simply from previous posts, many people break movie structure down in one basic way: the three act structure. With this, you have the first act, which is about 30 minutes, then the second, 60 minutes, and then the third, 30 minutes. Here, we see the idea of a beginning, middle and end given timings in accordance to their importance: set-up should be brief, conflict is the meat and resolution should let equilibrium be established just as fast as it was disrupted. We can think of this structure as informed by reels: 2 reels for the first act, 4 for the second and 2 for the last; 4 reels for the first half of the movie, 4 for the second. This gives us a neat 120 run-time; the two hour feature film. However, we can divide 8 reels by reasonable numbers and get a new distribution of structure. For example, 4 reels, one for set up, two for conflict, one for resolution. This gives us 60 minutes; a short-ish feature film. We can even modify this into 3 reels, however: one for a set-up, one for conflict, one for resolution (a basic beginning, middle, end). That gives us the 45 minutes; ample time to tell a classically structured movie. Double this and you have 6 reels and 90 minutes: 2 for set-up, 2 for conflict and 2 for resolution. And so maybe this is a more concrete reason why we call 40+ minute films feature-length movies and think about films with the 60, 90, 120 and 180 marks being significant.
So, to conclude the answer to a seemingly simple question, “Why are feature-films as long as they are?”, we could suggests that the length of movies is a time-tested decision made between artists, producers, exhibitors and audiences, quantified using 1000 ft reels of film (which now may be considered metaphors or archetypes of time signaturing) that imply a sufficient length for a movie to tell a complete, classically structured story and not be short (15 minutes like a comprehensive YouTube video or 30 minutes like a TV show), but instead long enough to be the main feature of a show.
It has taken quite a lot of consideration and definition to say this sentence, and it will require further explanation to say it properly, but, The Kelly Gang – our subject for today – is considered the first feature-length film ever made.
Before showing you the film, whilst this was over 60 minutes long, much of the film has been lost. What we are going to watch is the surviving 17 minutes with extra inter-titles and images explaining what is missing:
The most interesting thing about this film is, ultimately, its place in Australian culture and film history. Shot mainly with distant and wide framing, though a rather free and exploratory pan, the mise en scène and visual structure of this film isn’t particularly striking, nor is it expressive. However, the fact that this is considered the first feature-length movie ever made makes it significant for film historians. And the re-counting of the Kelly Gang legend makes it significant for Australian culture, an idea which we will delve into first.
The ‘bushranger’ is somewhat similar to the American cowboy. These were initially a group of convicts who escaped British penal colonies, such as Sydney, in the late 1700s, and managed to survive in the harsh Australian outback. However, the term evolved over time to imply outlaws who would often survive through robbery, taking from the land and its people as they pleased. The Kelly Gang were outlaws of such a definition; they were bushrangers. Over time, The Kelly Gang became icons for rebellion against the persecution of the police (and this is what this film captures, as you saw, glorifying its criminals to a greater degree to those in The Great Train Robbery). One of the most iconic elements of the gang and their fight against the law certainly concerns the bullet-proof armoured suit – which, it is said, the filmmakers of The Story Of The Kelly Gang actually obtained and used in the film. For a little more detail into the suit and for some novel insight into some of the fandom surrounding the gang, you may find this news report interesting.
The Story Of The Kelly Gang was made only 26 years after the gang was killed and Ned hung. So, though it contains some anachronisms (for instance, the police wouldn’t have had uniforms) and maybe some facilities, it was made in close conjuncture to the event itself. This meant that, though bushrangers weren’t as common in the 1900s as plays about them were, this film proved controversial and its topic still politically relevant. As a result this spurred audiences who, as they experienced the film exhibited with live sound effects and narration provided would apparently cheer and interact with the characters. In reaction to this police and detectives at the Office of Public Decency attempted to get this film banned. They managed this in Central Victoria, which is where the gang was situated, and would later ban the production of all bushranger films as not to glorify outlaws and catalyse a resurgence in gangs. Nonetheless, The Story Of The Kelly Gang was a very successful film and so spurred the short lived genre of the bushranger film after spreading across the world.
Whilst some people hold a question mark over the idea that this was the first feature-length film, there doesn’t seem to be much debate to be had. So far in the series, we have covered a collection of abnormally long early silent shorts. One of the earliest examples you can find of an atypically long film is certainly The Corbett-Fitzsimmons Fight. Recorded by Enoch J. Rector with three cameras, this would have come in at a collective 90 minutes (it is unclear in this film’s description if this combines the three 30 minute recordings or not). Whether or not this was 90 or 30 minutes, this was made in 1897, almost 10 years before The Story Of The Kelly Gang. However, like all films of substantial length before The Kelly Gang, this would have been sold, and likely exhibited, in sections (probably round-by-round). As a result, this is much like a film programme of similar street scenes or travelogues from the same region that exhibitors could stitch together. Whilst, in the modern day, we can imagine them as one feature-length film, they wouldn’t have been treated or viewed as such. So, if we remember the various religious films, those made by Lubin, Pathé and Gaumont, that follow Christ’s life for up to 60 minutes, these too would be shown and considered in the present day to be feature-length movies, but, they were sold and sometimes exhibited as a selection of short scenes.
Beyond these examples of long films that would be sold as a serial or selection of shorts would be numerous examples of 15-20 minute features. Two examples which we have mentioned (despite my efforts) a plethora of times already in the series would be The Great Train Robbery and A Trip To The Moon. These films, whilst they are not feature-length, can be considered feature films to a degree because they would have been the main feature in a screening. However, let us not be bogged down by semantics. The Story Of The Kelly Gang is the first known and partially surviving movie to stretch past the 40 minute mark and be sold as a feature film. So, what this film represents is the coming of the feature film and so is the initial expression of all we have been discussing in the previous few posts with cinematic language becoming more complex, stories themselves becoming rounder and better capable of handling plot and character and audiences, along with filmmakers, distributors, exhibitors and producers, preparing for longer narratives. It is then between 1906 and 1910 that more feature films would begin to sprout out of the world-wide film industry before, in 1911, they became ever more common in cinemas.
Today’s Every Year post is then simple in scope – we took a brief look at the first feature-length film – but is tricky in terms of the depths of the seemingly innocuous term: ‘feature film’. However, as we move through the series, we should have a better understanding of what cinema would begin to form into; cinema, after a few decades, would be the 80-180 minute moving pictures. But, whilst we have this vision of the future of film history, we should keep in mind the uniqueness of the silent era, which, now that the feature-length film has been born, will encapsulate a very broad idea of the moving picture – one as broad as time itself, free from television and the internet.
Before you go, the focus of this post was more on the idea of feature-length films, but, if you want to read more into the film and its makers, I found this article by Randall Berger quite informative.
The Night Of Counting The Years – Lineage
End Of The Week Shorts #28
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Quick Thoughts: The Night Of Counting The Years (a.k.a The Mummy, Al-Mummia, 1969)
Made by Shadi Abdel Salam, this is the Egyptian film of the series.
The Night of Counting The Years is, I have to admit, a film I didn’t fully grip, and so will have to re-watch. But, I certainly look forward to this. With a thick, highly immersive atmosphere dripping from every scene, The Night of Counting The Years, based on a true story, follows a young man amidst a controversy surrounding the tomb raiding of mummified bodies. This raises a rather confined familial and inter-communal drama over the possession of artefacts that is subtexually superseded by greater questions concerning the roots of ones own culture and identity. This manifests itself in beautiful, gliding tracking shots that see characters wander through the ruins of an ancient culture so far removed from themselves in time, but nonetheless connected to them, in some intangible way, through spirit. And intangibility is a key idea with this film as the mise en scène, cinematography, sound design and camera movement all work together to create this sometimes surreal cinematic space where figures and shapes wander into the screen and occupy space in a non-lucid manner.
All in all, The Night of Counting The Years is a movie that had my imagination run off on many tangents of thought concerning history (that know very little of) and ethics, but left me without much to say. This is nonetheless a movie that gripped me experientially and so would have to recommend.
King Arthur – A Downtrodden Masterpiece
Every Year In Film #27 – The Story Of The Kelly Gang
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