Falling Leaves – Narrative & Theme

Thoughts On: Falling Leaves  (1912)

Hearing that her older sister will die from illness when the last leaf falls from her garden tree, a young girl naively tries to save her by stringing up leaves to branches.

Falling Leaves

Falling Leaves is a poignant early short by the first woman to ever direct a film, Alice Guy Blaché. Blaché’s first film is of course La Fée aux Choux, The Cabbage Fairy (1896). This is such an important film as it is arguably the first narrative picture ever made. Secretary to Léon Gaumont, the French cinematic pioneer whose films where heavily influenced by the early Lumière brother style of film, Blaché made her first film as a departure from almost all that had came before it. In such, The Cabbage Fairy tells a story instead of showing a simple event in the world…

This story is the novel translation of an old European fairy tale that says baby boys are born in cabbage patches whilst baby girls are born in roses.

Because there is this arc, this point made by a very simple plot, The Cabbage Fairy qualifies as a narrative film. The only contesting film that qualifies as a narrative picture that possibly proceeded The Cabbage Fairy is The Lumière’s, L’Arroseur Arrosé, The Sprinkler Sprinkled (1895).

This is the famous gag in which a boy steps on a rose, stopping the flow of water so that an unsuspecting adult looks down the nozzle, allowing the boy to lift his foot and spray him in the face. What qualifies this film as a narrative movie is both the contrivance of the event, the fact that it was staged, and its simple plot. These elements of plot and construction are what distinguish the first narrative films from the likes of L’Arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat (The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station) and La Sortie de l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (Workers Leaving The Lumière Factory in Lyon).

These films arguably have plots and so can semantically be called narrative pictures. Moreover, these events are somewhat constructed, again, semantically awarding these pictures narrative status. However, the way these two elements of the films interact in the documentary-esque Lumière pictures do not give rise to a cinematic narrative message. In such, watching a train come into the station does not symbolise nor comment on anything through its ‘plot’ or ‘contrivance’ – we can say this with confidence as this was not the Lumière’s intention. However, both The Sprinkler Sprinkled and The Cabbage Fairy have an intention belying their story in narrative subtext. The Sprinkler Sprinkled makes a point of character; it describes the boy as devious. The Cabbage Fairy, however, has a much more complex narrative message. The idea of boys coming from cabbage patches and girls from roses distinguishes the genders, making a novel point on not just one devious boy, but an archetypal boy, all boys, as well as all girls. Whilst there isn’t an intricate complexity to this point on gender, it is a much more poignant and profound narrative message, intentionally so, than The Sprinkler Sprinkled. This cites the great significance of Blaché’s first film even if it doesn’t win the label of ‘first narrative picture’ as it’s an evolving stride in narrative story telling.

With the Lumière’s first narrative film, there is plot and character, whereas in Blaché’s we see a more complicated approach to theme and narrative message. It’s these films’ essence coming together that gives rise to cinema as a respectable higher art form as there is an establishment of its capacity to entertain over long periods, not just provide quaint projections of the everyday, as well as a capacity to inform, to question as well as intellectually and emotionally engage. This is what the best films of all time manage to do and so we see the seeds of Persona, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Citizen Kane, Tokyo Story, Vertigo, Goodfellas, The Wizard Of Oz and so much more in the first two narrative films ever made. It’s with a focus on Alice Guy Blaché, however, that we can push into the heart of these films and really question what makes movies resonate with us, and we’re going to do this with one of her most important films after The Cabbage Fairy, Falling Leaves.

A point that has been made by many, most notably Martin Scorsese, is that there’s a difference between story and plot. In an interview with Jon Favreau, he says:

I just found that over the years I was more drawn to […] the films that I […] constantly re-visted or saw repeatedly […] not because of plot but because of character and a very different approach to story. For example, talk about Hitchcock, we see his films in the 50s as they came out, Strangers On A Train, Rear Window all the way up to Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho. But, I think over the years the films of Hitchcock that I enjoy watching repeatedly, The Wrong Man for example…

Scorsese then goes on to talk about a small moment in The Wrong Man that defined Hitchcock’s ability to play with perspective, a moment that influenced the production of Taxi Driver. He then says:

I find that that is more interesting to me […] I saw Rebecca maybe 10 times, 14 times, but at a certain point I said […] for me, the style [of] Hitchcock is only in the sequence [where] Mrs. Danvers shows […] Rebecca’s room to Joan Fontaine. For the rest of it,  I know the plot and it’s not interesting anymore. 

(To see the full segment of interview click here). What Scorsese is clearly picking up on here is the difference of viewing experience people have between films. Hitchcock is such a sterling example of this as he made pictures that were, on paper, not that special. If you look to North By Northwest and Strangers On A Train, you see heavily plot-centric films that tell a story tantamount to the Lumière’s, The Sprinkler Sprinkled. In these films, a plot just plays out for around 100 or 135 minutes which entertains you, but does little more. However, Hitchcock could really brings these films to life with his direction which is what elevates the viewing experience. Nonetheless, for me, the likes of The Lady Vanishes and Rear Window are much better films that I can re-watch endlessly. Like Scorsese says, this is largely because of character. In such, the films resonate with me personally – just as The Wrong man does with Scorsese. Character isn’t the only element of this, however, as there is also theme. A monumental factor of why films can speak to us comes down to the subjects or themes they focus on. To me, Rear Window deals with isolation, speculation and perspective in a very poignant manner. So does The Lady Vanishes, but with added elements of levity and comedy. In such, I like the story, the narrative, the complex whole, of Rear Window and The Lady Vanishes more than North By Northwest or Strangers On a Train. This is because Hitchcock manages themes, direction, character and plot in a resonant manner, subjective to me.

This is such a relevant subject when we discuss Alice Guy Blaché as she capitalises on this element of story over plot in her approach to narrative. A great example of this is undeniably Falling Leaves.

In this short story very little happens in terms of plot. We open with a sister being sick with consumption (tuberculosis). When the doctor examines her, he only gives her a short period of time to live, the time it takes for all the leaves to fall off of the tree in her garden. Taking this assessment literally, the younger sister ties leaves to the tree so that they can never fall. However, in doing this a bacteriologist shows up to treat her older sister with a cure. Three months later she is back to her stable self.

At face value, this plot is a rather weak one. As a modern audience, we’d expect many layers of conflict and character development to be injected into this story to make it viable. However, Blaché constructs a timeless narrative with such cinematic confines through a precise focus on characters, projecting a social and philosophical point. In such, she uses the little girl as a thematic point of connection to the audience. The sister thus represents naivety in face of death, one that can hold onto hope. This is of course symbolised with her tying leaves to tree branches as a misunderstanding of the true gravity of her sister’s situation. When the bacteriologist with a cure cuts the narrative to a sharp happy ending, we don’t feel cheated though. This is because there is relief and levity in the prevailing of blind hope, one that instils the audience with a warm positive perspective of concepts of fate and mortality. This is what Blaché achieves through theme and character. She builds a philosophical premise that implies some level of purpose and unity in the world, one constructed by people and modern medicine. As a result, the warmth the audience is made to feel is a trust and hope in society and people. We are made to feel that we are not alone, that hope, no matter how naive, may pay off.

Whilst you may still argue that this is a weak narrative in comparison to films such as Ordet–which is an undeniable assertion…

… the weight and significance of Falling Leave’s narrative is still evident in the feelings it may conjure in an audience. This is the true test of any movie and thus the qualifying factor of a great narrative. In such, I do not hesitate in saying that Falling Leaves is a great picture.

The significance of Falling Leaves to both filmmaker and audience is then in a lesson of how great narratives are built. Alice Guy Blaché teaches us that the films that resonate with people, the films that stand the test of time in front of an audience, are those that incorporate theme into their story. With a focus on narrative in this respect, character and plot work together to produce rounded stories, films that have an ability to philosophically and emotionally speak to an audience on a personal and profound level.

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Dogtooth – Behaviourism & Social Exchange

Thoughts On: Dogtooth

The story of a three children raised in a house they can never leave under the ludicrous, world-dictating rules of their father.

Dogtooth

One of my favourite films of all time, Dogtooth is a picture that uses, like no other, absurdity as a device to project the most poignant of truths. It is under the theme of childhood and growing up that Lanthimos has constructed a narrative I cannot surmise in simple terms. At best, I can say that this is a mesmerising filmic experience, one injected with a philosophical awe and emotional befuddlement. One the surface, this film is little more than discombobulated farce, but if one steps into Lanthimos’ world, sees the film in the right light, then this becomes one of the purest and most articulate films ever. It must be noted here, however, that this is certainly a film many won’t like, won’t get and will never have the patience for. For me though, this film resonates so deeply as it seems to embody my kind of thought processing – one that aims to be mechanical and without confines. Dogtooth then represents the epitome of ‘personal favourite’, leaving me fighting a lost battle with some as I praise and try to explain it. So, to anyone who has seen this film, you have been warned; you may completely disagree with me, hate the movie, like it in a different respect. But, to those who haven’t seen the film, definitely give it a go before reading any further as I’ll be going through the film in its entirety.

Ok, to dive into this film, I will have to draw upon my old psychology lessons to give you a crash course in a few concepts – those being conditioning and a wider idea of social exchange. John B. Watson, an American psychologist – arguably one of the most important – established of an approach to psychology called Behaviourism. This branch of psychology is best defined by its assumption that people’s experiences define them and so the world’s stimuli build and dictate who we are as people. This simple statement gives rise to an idea of conditioning. One of the most famous examples of this is of course Pavlov’s Dog…

As you may already know, this experiment manipulates a dog’s innate reflexes in favour of a trainer or psychologist. As you see in the first image, a dog will salivate when they see/smell food. This is simply because salivation is the dog’s biological prep for eating (saliva breaking down food and lubricating passageways). What the second image demonstrates is that a dog will not salivate when hearing a bell because there’s no biological reason to. However, if you continually ring a bell whenever you feed a dog, you pair the active and inert stimuli in the dog’s mind. What this teaches them is that the bell equals food and so you better get ready to eat. After a prelonged exposure to this routine, you will be able to just ring a bell without food and still have a dog salivate. This seems like a very basic idea, one that you could have guessed without even hearing about the experiment, but, as Watson inferred, this is a profound realisation.

What Pavlov’s experiment proves (to a certain degree) is that your biological functions, who you are, is a product of experience and external stimuli and so can be manipulated in any way. Examples we see of this everyday are in the training of dogs. This practice of conditioning is what allows trainers to get dogs to defend homes, not shit all over the place and obey orders. However, it must be noted that the kind of conditioning utilised by trainers is often operant (also referred to as instrumental). The conditioning represented with Pavolv’s dog is classical, not operant. The difference between the two is all to do with innatism. Pavlov’s dog unconsciously salivates and has no conscious learning from experience – such makes his conditioning classical. But, when you rub a dog’s nose in their shit or give them a treat for chasing a ball, you are operantly conditioning them. This is because there’s a reward and punishment system in place whereby the dog can consciously learn and develop certain behaviours. This phenomena is exactly what is referenced in Dogtooth with a dog’s training being something of a sub-plot.

The subtext of this should be transparent enough with this:

However, this is something we will return to. The crux of the first part of our crash course in conditioning is something said by one of the dog trainers:

Dog’s are like clay; you just need to mould them.

What this statement (as it goes on) mimics are John B. Watson’s most famous words:

Give me a dozen healthy infants, well-formed, and my own specified world to bring them up in and I’ll guarantee to take any one at random and train him to become any type of specialist I might select–doctor, lawyer, artist, merchant-chief, and, yes, even beggarman and thief, regardless of his talents, penchants, tendencies, abilities, vocations, and race of his ancestors. I am going beyond my facts and I admit it, but so have the advocates of the contrary and they have been doing it for many thousands of years.

This defines the entire motivation of the parents in this film; an adherence to behaviorist philosophy. They believe that they can take their 3 healthy children, bring them into their own specified world and raise them to be whatever they desire.

Behaviorism, however, is only half of what you need to grasp to understand this film. By understanding classical and operant conditioning, you can come to terms with the plot of the film and the surface of subtext, but, to truly step into Lanthimos’ world, you have to come to terms with social exchange also. Social exchange theory is a concept mainly utilised by marriage and relationship counsellors. The basic point made by this theory is that relationships work and are quantified by a positive and negative exchange of actions. In short, if you’re late to pick your wife up from some place, you’ve thrown negative points into the relationship pot. As a consequence of this, she’s not too happy with you and might snap at you later on, throwing more negative coins into the relationship pot. This can go on and on, resulting in arguments, fights, disagreements and maybe the destruction of a relationship – all because you were late to pick her up one time. However, this tiny event shouldn’t snowball out of control. By saying sorry, making her dinner or watching a movie she likes, you throw positive points into the relationship pot. This stabilises things, allowing the relationship to continue on good legs. This management of positive and negative points is thus exactly what a relationship is. That is, this exchange is the crux of every relationship you have – whether it’s with a passing stranger, your boss or nephew. This, like conditioning, is another profound concept.

What social exchange theory outlines are the mechanics of every moment of human interaction. Despite this being such a simple equation and means of understanding human interaction, people don’t seem to grasp it and this idea is not given the spotlight it deserves. What I mean to imply here is that there are so many problems in our lives and in the world that are dealt with semi-consciously, seemingly without an understanding of other people. This is because social exchange as a concept is something we all understand, but only subconsciously. Moreover, we often let the self-centric crux of this idea blind us. What I mean to suggest with this is that social exchange theory is such a prevalent and purposeful concept as it demonstrates that all human action is for the purpose of survival. The only reason we do things is to stay alive. Beyond this, we fight to live a life full of those positive points as they are an indicator of social success. In such, you see the purpose of sustaining social interaction in being a maintenance of ones chances of living with a crowd of people as help. However, as touched on, there is another wider form of survival – one that just means to survive as an individual. This inclination is what drives people to be anti-social and also explains why some can find purpose in a solitary life, or one where they’re a dick to everyone. What is demonstrated by societies across the world in the way they behave is that there’s not an open discussion of this as a fact of human behaviour. This is what I personally believe to be the hurdle we’ll overcome as a global society to welcome a new age of thinking and living. This is because we will understand each other, won’t act on blind emotion and constantly be confused as to why people are the way they are.

Nonetheless, social exchange is pivotal to Dogtooth as this narrative is, in essence, a lesson in its mechanics. In fact, almost all of Lanthimos’ films demonstrate this lesson. The absurdity in them is there to directly project the positive and negative points being thrown between people. A great example of this in Dogtooth would be the scene where the eldest daughter fights the son over the aeroplane…

In the simplest terms, the oldest daughter wants this toy and so does the brother because of the high value placed on it by the parents. They fight for this as an expression of this want. The brother, being bigger and stronger, is liable to win this fight. Knowing this, the older sister throws the toy where neither of them can have it…

… as a further expression of her anger in defeat she then slices open her brother’s forearm…

… making the due punishment of her mum worthwhile – at least, easier to take. This, outside of Lanthimos’ world, is fucked up; signs of insanity. However, to comprehend this absurd reaction, you only have to recognise that it is meant to be a clear projection of social exchange in the event of an argument over possession. In such, this event represents something as banal as your wife picking up the remote and changing the channel as she walks into the room – saying nothing to you and just putting on whatever she wants. The argument that you spark is tantamount to the older daughter throwing the aeroplane away as it makes the prize, the TV, out of everyone’s reach. The crescendoing argument culminating in a fight that has her storm off to bed is then pretty much the arm slicing – the punishment of a lack of sex being soothed by the fact that you get to sit back and watch whatever you want all night.

This clarity of social exchange is the eloquent crux of Dogtooth. However, when we bring this psychological theory together with ideas of conditioning, we can push deep into the fibres of this narrative.

As we’ve established, this film is essentially about parents trying to train their children to be the adults they desire. By paying attention to the social exchange of the narrative, we can come to terms with the oldest daughter’s arc that ends up with her escaping.

What this opening, a recorded lesson teaching the children the ‘meaning’ of words, introduces is the control of the parents. They literally shape their children’s lives by taking from them a concept of motorway or sea to replace it with more banal and confined ideas of the wind and an arm chair. This restricts the children’s conception of the world to their house and the natural elements that run through it that the parent’s cannot control. In such, it is implied that the children will never know what a country is, what the globe is and how civilisation has developed to inhabit it. This all seems to be commentary on the role of a parent. It is essentially your job to prepare a small human for a shade of the world. What this means is that you are shaping them into a truck driver, a banker, a writer, a stripper. This, to all parents’ relief, is only partly true. Parents kick the motor into gear in the early years of a child’s life and by the time they’re a teen, they should be starting to drive on and shape themselves without you. Nonetheless, the importance of a child’s formative years cannot be overlooked – and this is what the parents in this film have a death-grip on. They never want to let the kids go. The conflict this stirs is articulated by the game the youngest daughter proposes after the   ‘lesson’. She wants to play a game of endurance where whoever can hold their finger under a hot tap for the longest is victorious. This game is a nice demonstration of something I picked up on in Jackass.

The essence of Jackass and content alike is its demonstration of a child’s will to kill their self out of boredom. It seems that all children, teens especially, have this self-destructive streak in them which allows them to test personal boundaries and grow from duress as well as get a spark of existential friction in coming close to death as a means of knowing they’re alive. This is the essence of the siblings holding their fingers under the hot water – a symbol of their agitation and yearning for space to grow. What this then conveys is their core conflict of growing pains – the fact that they feel the hands of their parent’s moulding them. This, of course, is true for no one more than it is the eldest daughter. This is why she’s so curious, always listening to her mother ‘talk to herself’ in her bedroom.

Before we can move on with her arc, however, the film introduces us to Christina.

This security guard has an agreement with the father to have sex with the son every week or so (for money). This is all part of the father’s need to distract the children. He biologically manipulates his son by providing him Christina. This comes to be understood on a more thematic level later in the narrative after Christina is found out to have given the oldest daughter video tapes. Because the father cannot trust her and won’t let anyone into the house, he has the son choose between his two sisters who he wants to use. He of course chooses his older sister. The only reason, beyond sexual preference, I can see for this is a power play. As touched on, these two have a competitive nature between them – the aeroplane scene being a good example. The son using his sister to essentially just cum is his way of asserting dominance. She recognises this and doesn’t like it. This is why she says, after they’re done, ‘you do that again, bitch, I’ll rip your guts out’. After this line she makes a reference to ‘clans’, saying that she ‘swears on her daughters life’ that if her brother has sex with her again his clan won’t last long. This is such a pivotal line as it shows that both siblings have thoughts of having their own families and leaving the nest. This all underlines the early scene with Christina. By the dad supplying her to his son, he’s subduing his inclination to procreate and so is preventing and controlling the possibilities of him building a family. It’s having said this that we have to then question the title of the film, Dogtooth.

It is explained to the children that once their dogtooth (a canine) falls out, their body is ready to face the dangers that lurk beyond the house – dangers like a cat…

However, they can only leave the house the car, and may only learn to drive when their dogtooth grows back. This is such an insane premise because, a) an adult’s canine tooth shouldn’t fall out, and, b) even if it does, it won’t grow back. This is what implies that the father has absolutely zero intentions of ever letting his kids go. There is further evidence for this in the song he sings as the oldest daughter clips his toenails.

I lost you and my spring departed

Filled with sorrow the stars and the birds cry

Grey is dusk and grey my soul

And all is sorrowful because you are lost

Where are you now, my love

Where are you roaming

For all this time

Where are you now, my love

I searched and searched for you

Yet I do not find you

These lyrics hold three levels of subtext. The first is an implication of why the parents have done all they have to their kids. In such, you can see these lyrics as an exposition of the fear the parents hold of letting their children go. This is a basic reading of the song in general, but when you consider this image…

… we can dig through to another second level of subtext. The parents have told their children that they have a brother on the other side of the fence. This may be another lie; a means of the parents controlling the kids and holding them to a certain standard. An example of this would be in the image above. The son speaks to his brother saying that he washes the car better than he ever has. In such, there is an intangible competition that the parents may have introduced with an idea of a brother existing beyond the fence. This is strengthened when the parents construct a lie of the mother being pregnant with two children and a dog. This has two purposes. The first is to tell the kids that their dog is coming back. The parents need to lie here as the children will question where the dog was and where it came from. The mother giving birth is a way of jumping past this, implying some kind of magic. What you will also find though is that this a commentary on the traditional family. The mother’s singular purpose is to bring life into the world, whereas the father brings all material things into the home. This is a detail of the narrative which opens up its assessment of childhood to a wider context. Nonetheless, the second reason for the parents constructing the lie of two twins and a dog coming to the house is to warn the kids that they better behave or they’ll have to share their rooms and toys. We can infer from this caveat, ‘behave and I won’t give birth to siblings you have to share a room with’, that the mother was never planning to have a child and so probably has a habit controlling children with ideas like this. This may be what the brother on the other side of the bush is.

However, I do not think that this is the case, plain and simple. It makes sense that the parents utilise the brother in this respect, but I believe that he also implies the hidden truth of these lyrics:

I lost you and my spring departed

Filled with sorrow the stars and the birds cry

Gray is dusk and gray my soul

And all is sorrowful because you are lost

Where are you now, my love

Where are you roaming

For all this time

Where are you now, my love

I searched and searched for you

Yet I do not find you

These lyrics imply that the parents have lost a child already – maybe this is the brother on the other side of the fence. This makes so much sense as it fills the biggest hole in this narrative; what are the parent’s motivation? It seems to be that they lost a child, one that ran away…

… and never returned. This would explain why they are such control freaks when it comes to their three children. We see strengthening evidence this inference (the parents losing a child) in a small scene where the dad is at his office. His work colleague asks him about his wife and he restates that she had an accident and that she is confined to a wheelchair. The undertones of this imply a reason as to why the work colleague never sees her and the father is always in the home. But, there is subtext of loss in the way the father provides this excuse. Maybe the wheelchair is a euphemism for the loss of their child. However, beyond theories of lost children, the parent’s freakish relationship with control implies a cycle. As we know, the oldest sister ambiguously escapes in the end of the film. Whilst there are questions of what happens to her – questions we’ll later raise – the purpose of the narrative seem to imply a cycle of loss. The parents can’t help but loose their children to the world as they simply grow away from them as the oldest sister does.

Having delved into what dogtooth actually means, we know understand what the parents’ intentions are and the cycle their inner conflicts of loss invigorate. They mean to keep their children as children – perpetually so – so that they may enjoy a familial existence with perfect children until they die. What is thus the overshadowing force of this film is the parent’s inner conflict. They don’t want to move on in life, they don’t want to loose their children. In such, they want to keep a hold of representations of their existence – ones that continue past their deaths. In such, what overshadows the narrative is the parent’s existential predicament. This predicament is one most probably felt amongst most parents. It is the faith and pride felt in a child as an extension of yourself. What we see across the vast bulk of this story, through the parents, is then the building of motivation for the oldest daughter to leave because of their overzealous fixation on controlling her. There are then three major elements that urge her to leave. The first is a discomfort. We have already touched on this with the opening tap scene. The kids are bored out of their minds and want to test their boundaries, want to feel pain, want to do something. This is why they put their fingers under the tap, knock themselves out with anaesthesia and fight one another. What this draws upon is the first major element of the film, behaviourism. What we see in respect to the children’s discomfort in the home is a culmination of routine and conditioning. They are made to live in a world defined by their father’s rule. This is an idea referenced many times throughout the film with the children learning new words, words like ‘zombie’ and ‘pussy’ – the subtext of this should be transparent enough. We see further references to the dad’s world building having effect with the cat scene, but also its later consequences. The younger daughter is the most gullible of the children. Late at night, she hits her brother with a hammer and claims a cat did it. Why she does this is a question I’m not sure I have the answer to. The only one I can offer come with this scene…

The dad plants three fish in the pool for him to catch and everyone to eat (presumably). When the youngest daughter comes across them, she calls to her father telling him that there are two fish in the pool. When he’s ready to catch them he tells her that there’s three fish, but she suggests that maybe one more appeared. In this small moment we see that she has been completely sucked into the dad’s constructed world. The hammer scene with the cat may be a violent extension of this. Maybe she believe her own bullshit so much, or maybe she’s pandering to her dad. There is also the possibility that she used the cat as an excuse to hit her brother – why, I’m not sure. In the end, this moment is up for interpretation.

Nonetheless, the point I was making is that there are many elements in this film that demonstrate the contrivance of the world the children live in. And within in this the children feel discomfort and such is a major aspect of the oldest’s character arc. She feels the behaviourist construction and contortion of her parents and does not like it.

Another element of the oldest daughter’s character arc is social exchange. As we see throughout the film, there is a fight for dominance. Again…

However, for thematic cohesion, the central question of social exchange falls under the guise of sexuality. As we’ve touched on, the father uses sexuality to control his son and manipulate the children’s expectations of life. What this snowballs into, through Christina, is a nasty build of negative social exchanges. It all starts here…

Christina, as established, is used by the father and the son. Despite her getting paid, she’s not comfortable with this. Feeling the weakness of being used as little more than a cum bucket she asks the son to go down on her. He doesn’t want to do this. We can assume that this is because he doesn’t see the point; he doesn’t get anything from her feeling pleasure and doesn’t want to change the power dynamics of their relationship. To feel some sense of power and respect in this house Christina then turns to the older daughter, knowing that she may exploit her for oral pleasure…

… however, this eventually backfires…

In seeking greater stature, more positive points of social exchange in this household, Christina opens herself to a relationship that the oldest daughter may eventually exploit her by asking for the videos. Before we can finish this point on social exchange in the character arc of the oldest daughter, we have to pick up on the third and final element of her character arc.

This last element is about curiosity. The oldest daughter distrusts her parents, she knows that something is going on in this house. This is why she listens in on her mother as she’s on the phone and later seeks it out. Moreover, this is why questions what the porn tape was and decides she must see one one of these foreign tapes. This is something set up early in the narrative with the family watching old tapes of themselves as a entertainment. This transforms forms cinema, art, a means of communicating between people, into a banal means of introspection. We see this many times throughout the narrative. The children never watch real movies, just recordings of themselves – something that arguably negates the whole concept of films. Moreover, when they listen to music, their ‘granddad’ singing, their father translates the words from English into something that fits his narrative. Another example of the confining of art can be seen here…

Just like the son can play the guitar (one singular and repeating riff) he can paint too. However, his painting seems to be confined to self-portraiture–maybe painting his father. And so again, we are seeing art being used in futile contexts. Instead of being used as a means of exploration, communication and so on, art is reduced to a mere skill or distraction. This is true of painting and music as well as the video tapes, which is what brings us back to this…

Out of curiosity, the oldest daughter gets hold of some tapes and watches them. As we later find out through her repeating phrases from the films and acting them out…

… she watched Jaws and Rocky IV. (Are there better films to introduce you to cinema?).

These films aren’t just fun references, however, the oldest daughter’s curiosity has paid off with a link to social exchange again. What these films teach her is that the underdog can win…

… and that animals, even the scariest of all, can be overcome by the average Joe…

I believe this is what invigorates her and gives her the courage to think about leaving the house. This demonstrates the significance of the oldest daughter giving herself the name ‘Bruce’. Not only is this a reference to Jaws (the shark being Bruce) but she has a name where she has never had one before – at least not to our knowledge. Thus, we see in this scene a key milestone in her personal growth. However, something stunts this. Not only is she found out…

… with a sparkling example of dark humour, but, the consequence of her curiosity inadvertently leads to this…

What we are reintroduced to here is ideas of social exchange, again, meeting themes of sexuality. The control and subjugation of the father in a sexual sense is the final straw for the oldest daughter. This is so significant as it begins to explain why, thematically, the oldest daughter runs away. As we touched on, the parents put themselves into a cycle with their control. Just as they maybe drove away (maybe just lost to maturation) a child before the older daughter, they are driving the children they have with them away too. The sexual undertones to this thus point to idea of ‘clans’ and the children having families of their own. The older daughter runs away because she feels like an adult, one who shouldn’t be punished (operantly conditioned) by her parents. This implies that the same thing will happen with the two younger siblings if the parents continue with this control – especially in a sexual sense. It must be emphasised here, however, that the implications of sex are not only to do with a control of ones body and children, but also existential fulfillment. By the parents keeping their offspring as perpetual children they are holding onto their life in another body – a form of existential propagation. However, in doing this, they also stunt the children’s own propagation of self. In such, the parents stop the kids from living and continuing their life on through their own children.

This is the crux of the snowballing negative social exchanges. What we see out play between parent and daughter in subtext is an existential battle questioning ones own existence. This is arguably the crux of many disagreements between late teens and their parents. With the control they demonstrate over their children, parents are (though it seems like trivial teen moaning) dictating their life and existence. This is the truth of growing up with a terrible social exchanges with your parents – and this is precisely what Dogtooth stands as a transparent commentary on.

Before we can leave the film, there is one more thing to break down and understand. The oldest daughter only leaves the home having taken out her ‘dogtooth’…

What this draws upon is the poignancy of this image:

The father’s conditioning has worked. If the oldest daughter truly felt free, she would just leave the house, not bust her face open as to adhere to her dad’s rules. What we then can’t forget here is the subplot of the dog’s training…

The father says, having given up looking for the oldest daughter, that he’s going to pick up the dog that should have been trained by now, tomorrow. What this juxtaposition of conditioned growth between the oldest daughter and the family dog implies is that the dad has always been in control and that the lessons he constructs in his world are long-lasting. What this ultimately does is leave this image as a final question to the viewer…

This image not only asks us what the oldest daughter will do having escaped the house, but it ask how will she do it, how will she live. If she has been conditioned successful (to a certain degree) by her dad, will she end up constructing a household much like he did? Or, will she learn from her parent’s insanity and maybe not do as they did to her to her own children?

I think the true question here is: does she have a choice?

This is the commentary on childhood that Dogtooth makes. It makes the powerful assertion that our childhoods profoundly effect the way we grow up and who we become – especially as parents. It has us question if we’ll ever be able to break the cycle of our parent’s upbringing. What’s more, this film asks, as I alluded to before, if people, we, society, will ever grasp ideas of both social exchange and behaviorism as the profound psychological phenomena that they are. This seems to be the case as the only way the oldest daughter, who will probably escape this trunk and start a new life, will be able to raise her kids productively would be to comprehend how fucked up her childhood was because of the insane application of behaviourist theory her parents subjected her to. What’s more, understanding who she is and why under behaviourist terms may allow her to reverse or at least comes to terms with herself. This is all so important for her kids. By remaining only semi-consciously aware of this concept of behaviourism she will take her negative social exchange system she developed with her parents and continue it with her children. In such, by not comprehending the ways her parents destroyed the relationship between themselves and her, she will end up applying the same destructive emotions and approaches to her parenting. Is this what she’s doomed to do? Is this what all people are doomed to do?

Such seems to be the question of the film’s propagating wave of a logo…

In conclusion, Lanthimos paints a profound picture of childhood and questions how we may overcome it, for the sake of our children, with psychological ideas of conditioning and social exchange theory. Now you see the film in this light, what are your thoughts?

 

 

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Performance – Into The Mirror

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Performance – Into The Mirror

Thoughts On: Performance (1970)

Chas, a ‘performer’ in a gang who specialises in violence meets his apparent antithesis in Turner, played by Mick Jagger, through a malicious twist of events.

Performance

Left with a nasty taste in my mouth having been subjected to Michael Snow’s, Wavelength, I searched for another film to watch and came across Performance, another experimental film, thankfully, one that’s nothing like Wavelength. Performance splices experimental direction amongst a story of two halves. The first half of this film is pretty much a gangster film, one reminiscent of the first act of The Italian Job – but much darker and on steroids. The second half of the film turns into… something else… something that I can only equate to Withnail And I meeting Sid And Nancy – but on mushrooms. This is a mesmerising juxtaposition which created a few rare moments in which I could say nothing but, “What the fuck am I watching?”. More than this, the juxtaposition of the halves creates a perplexing, yet poignant, statement – which we’ll later delve into. Overall, this is an incredibly enjoyable film that rightly deserves its cult following. However, there are quite a few faults with the film. The major one has to be the sound design. Whilst the sound track is irrefutable and just works so well with the tone of the narrative, the ADR is awful at so many points with voices being out of sync and performances being terrible. This creates a horrible beat to almost all dialogue, emphasising hyperbolic elements of characters to an absurd degree and shattering a lot of character work. All of this merges with the experimental direction at certain points to create very iffy sequences – one example being this moment…

Whilst the screencaps are a slight exaggeration of the absurdity in this scene (forgive me, there’s a lot of movement) you can find many moments across the narrative where experimental aspects do age the film and make things very cheesy. That said, the sequence, what is basically a music video, which follows this is phenomenal.

It’s gleefully ludicrous, but undeniably expressive, allowing all the cheesy, experimental and weird elements to really shine. This sequence then best represents the experimental parts of the second half. Coming back to the opening, however, there’s a very different approach to direction taken. Whilst the second half is jarringly psychedelic, the first is disorientating. The key difference between these halves is then tonal with much of the cinematic language in the first act implying violence and deceit and that in the latter half being much more captivating and immersive. But, like the second half of the film has its cheesy moments and more poignant ones, so does the first.

This is another scene where playful direction meets bad sound design. Again, characters are made too hyperbolic and the film steeped in cheese. As Bergman demonstrates most famously…

…  to pull off this striking two-shot design, you must have a concise control of atmosphere. Bergman manages this by bringing together a subdued tone and the bold mise en scène, hence allowing the framing alone to provide the emotional impact of the shot. Roeg and Cammell, however, use the garish two-shot framing with high-pressured (slight euphemism for over-the-top) acting, which results in cheese again – all because atmosphere spirals out of control. This pivotal scene, however…

This scene is probably the most impactfully directed sequence, demonstrating a daring flurry of unconventional cinematic language that powerfully expresses character and emotion simultaneously. And it’s with these four examples that you get a general sense of the experiments that occur in this film. There are plenty of beautiful shots, in fact, it seems that almost every single one has been meticulously planned and set up, but, these shots do not always build into successful sequences. Whilst the absurdity is probably the most novel draw of this film, direction certainly cannot be overlooked with Performance.

Moving away from direction and towards narrative, Performance is a film that wrestles with concepts of identity. Whilst many films explore an idea of personage and pretense…

      

      

… Performance takes a very original approach. In terms of narrative message, this film is very much a combination of Trainspotting and Shame. In such, there are elements of drugs completely changing a person’s idea of self meeting sexuality. Taking this towards a very traditional approach to the character arc of changing identity – ones like Simba leaving his pride, forgetting ideas of responsibility and monarchy, before re-assuming them – Performance manages to conjure a hauntingly nihilistic subtext.

Chas starts the film as a gangster, but one we accept as normal to a certain degree. I think this is a major element of why we like many anti-heroes of this capacity…

They all seem so normal, almost like us, but in a different context. This allows them to become a vessel for ourselves and so sink into their narratives comfortably. Whilst Chas isn’t a likable anti-hero in the same respect Henry Hill is, we see this paradigm of sinking into the normalised murderer play out in Chas. This is what makes this moment so striking…

Not only is the imagery so strong, but, with juxtaposition, it is also a revelatory moment. It’s here where Chas proclaims that he is normal – that. without the wig and makeup, he was. This is something we’d certainly agree considering the facade of this juxtaposition…

However, beneath the surface of Chas in the first half of this movie is a murderer with sexual tendencies that seem to intertwine with his violence ‘performances’. Beneath the make-up and wig, however, Chas seems to just be a scared, drugged up and bewildered moron. This suggests two powerful things. Firstly, there is a confounding demonstration of how deceiving and dangerous ‘normal’ can seem, whereas the weird and unusual seem to be transparent as such – just weird and unusual. Secondly, there is an unusual projection of a cliched concept; truth being revealed under duress. Instead of Chas’ true colours being revealed with a gun to his head, it’s dressed in drag. In such, it’s his destructive relationship with authority that is exposed by the end of the film.

As is made clear in this sequence…

… Turner is an antithetical projection of Harry…

Despite being opposites, both Harry and Turner hold authority over Chas. He does not appreciate this as they seem to expose aspects of himself he doesn’t like – those being fear and a convoluted sense of self. However, despite this objection to authority, Chas will exist under it. This is why he remains with Turner after he drugged by him, but also leaves with Harry – to his death. This final scene, however, exposes a further layer to Chas’ authority complex. Chas seems to kill Turner so he can destroy apart of himself – that being:

However, when he steps in the car he also destroys this:

In such, we see a complete surrender to authority and fear in Chas as he may only confront those that control him (Turner) when more powerful figures show up. The core internal conflict of Chas then seems to be a struggle with abnormality. He lives at extremes; sexually, with violence, in his home with his fixation to detail, in work with violence again. Later this is exposed through an extreme transformation, one that makes Chas’ reflection clear to him. This is explained subtextually in the third act with the idea that some people aren’t happy getting to know themselves and getting rid of demons. Chas, possibly like Turner, needs his demons to survive. With this clarity comes his end.

This is the expressively confounding subtext of Performance; a reversal of a character arc of lost identity. Instead of finding oneself being the implied solution to your problems, here it is insinuated that the performance is what some people live for and desire. In such, the crucial truth revealed by this film is that some people are ‘real phoneys’, they are born to pretend, to never be comfortable in their skin. Why? is thus the question left to us, the audience. One I will also leave to you.

 

 

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Wavelength – Substance?

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Dogtooth – Behaviourism & Social Exchange

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Wavelength – Substance?

Quick Thoughts: Wavelength

A long zoom shot of a room in which next to nothing happens.

Wavelegnth

Without much reason, and having seen this title about once or twice, I decided to watch this film. All I knew going into this movie was that it was an experimental film. And when you hear experimental film, you hope for the likes of Eraserhead, Meshes Of The Afternoon, Un Chien Andalou, Entr’acte, Waking Life or The Holy Mountain. Whilst these films are for those at quite a high level of pretentious and slightly obsessed cinephile, they have something of substance to them. They are weird, absurd and hard to grip, but they have elements to them that justify the need for an audience. That is to say that they’re entertaining in a certain respect; they either stimulate the mind or senses. However, there is a whole other side to ‘experimental film’. In this realm exists films like Eat, Empire–basically anything by Andy Warhol. Into this category slips nicely Michael Snow’s, Wavelength. A huge round of applause for this dickhead. As I’ve already done it before, I won’t delve into why films like this are so ridiculous. Instead, we’ll just discuss the film for a short while and then leave you to maybe watch it and tell me what you think.

Ok, Snow talked about this film in Canyon Cinema Catalog, saying:

I wanted to make a summation of my nervous system, religious inklings, and aesthetic ideas. I was thinking of, planning for a time monument in which the beauty and sadness of equivalence would be celebrated, thinking of trying to make a definitive statement of pure film space and time, a balancing of “illusion” and “fact,” all about seeing. The space starts at the camera’s (spectator’s) eye, is in the air, then is on the screen, then is within the screen (the mind). The film is a continuous zoom which takes 45 minutes to go from its widest field to its smallest and final field. It was shot with a fixed camera from one end of an 80 foot loft, shooting the other end, a row of windows and the street …. The room (and the zoom) are interrupted by four human events including a death. The sound on these occasions is sync sound, music and speech, occurring simultaneously with an electronic sound, a sine-wave …. It is a total glissando while the film is a crescendo and a dispersed spectrum which attempts to utilize the gifts of both prophecy and memory which only film and music have to offer.

This, in my opinion, is a great example of how to sell anything of any worth as anything else of any other worth. In such, this is statement is a non-sequitur, a description of a film not shot. Whilst Snow describes his plot well enough, all his intentions have not been represented very well by his ‘art’. This all leaves this statement by Amos Vagel as something tantamount to a participation trophy:

Wavelength ranks among those films which force viewers, regardless of how they react, to carefully consider the essence of the medium and, just as unavoidably, reality.

Yes, a film like this could have anyone go on a rant about what movies should do and can do, but that doesn’t mean much. It leaves the film as something equivalent to this (maybe don’t click that). What Vagel’s statement does is make poetry out of a rock. Whilst this poem may be captivating, interesting and other adjectives, the rock is still a rock. This is a merit of poetry–of all art; it can change our perspectives on the everyday. But, a film is art itself and so it should provide said poetry – which Wavelength certainly does not.

This is my core gripe with this kind of movie – its substance is entirely in someone else’s hands. This takes the concept of a movie being down to your interpretation to an absurd level–one that renders cinema completely needless. For this, no matter what you say to me about this movie, no matter how you describe it, it is worthless. I sat through the 45 mins of nothing (not really paying attention, but I sat through it nonetheless) and so aren’t going to change my mind. However, don’t let my opinion sway you. What do you think? Am I just closed-minded and unenlightened? Or, do I just not get it? If you haven’t seen the film, check it out here…

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The Grand Budapest Hotel – Child’s Play

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The Grand Budapest Hotel – Child’s Play

Thoughts On: The Grand Budapest Hotel

The tale of M. Gustave’s who, assisted by his lobby boy, Zero, fights to retain the word of a dear and lost friend’s will.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

One of the most mechanically precise projections of Wes Anderson’s directorial style, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a whimsical, borderline absurd, but consistently captivating picture. In being such an idiosyncratic movie, it is practically impossible to find fault in the design of this narrative nor its projection. As a film that must be judged unto itself, one that can’t really be compared to many others, The Grand Budapest Hotel is arguably perfect; I can’t even summon a personal gripe with this movie. This almost impervious nature is inherent to many of Anderson’s films as it is so readily understood that these films are what they are, they do what they do, and so exist in a niche of cinema all of their own. This all implies that a developed style not only defines the rules of your film, but the rules of viewing, which puts the audience on the side of a filmmaker and, quite literally, in their world. So, as many have already and many are sure to do, I want to discuss Anderson’s style and define the major elements of his ‘cinematic rules’. Added to this, however, we’ll be exploring a philosophy of, or approach to, cinema that is exercised by Anderson’s films – one of the most expressive examples being our focus today: The Grand Budapest Hotel.

To start, you only need to recognise a fundamental pattern that begins to construct the style of Anderson’s movies. This, as is very clear to anyone who grew up with paper and crayons, is related to the pictures we drew as children…

For some reason, all children seem to stumble upon this kind of drawing. I myself was never this talented and so would resort to stick men, but almost every child seems to draw their family by their house like this – complete with trees, an ambiguous stretch of grassland and the sun (maybe the family dog). In fact, I’m pretty sure most children, like me, never lived in a house like this–a cottage of sorts next to a tree in a field–but, they nonetheless draw their family, organised in a nice straight line, before it. Whilst this paradigm is incredibly fascinating, in relation to Wes Anderson, this seems to be where his films find their basis…

It’s wide shots like these that demonstrate the exact and flat composition a child would employ when asked to visually present some of their fist stories ever – pictures of family that define to teachers who they are. This composition is cubic and balanced, it is largely centralised with strong horizontal and vertical planes. This appeals to a fundamental human sensibility to organise things in a very mechanical way. However, what often has to be learned by a person as they grow up is a natural composition of the world…

This composition, as demonstrated by something such as the golden ratio, is hidden in plain sight, but instantly recognisable…

This suggests that beauty can be calculated mathematically. But, whilst nature often utilises complex calculation, people–children–stay away from spirals, circles and other odd shapes and appeal to the square or rectangle in their approach to composition. This is why a drawing like this is so cubic in terms of positioning and distribution…

As you can see, the tree at the centre of the drawing is the pillar of composition, it splits the sheet in half, sitting in the very middle of the page. The house and family are positioned flatly on either side to fill up the area, giving a cleaner composition due to a lack of negative space to be managed. The sun and grass are what entirely fill up the negative space – the sun being something of an add-on as it sits in the corner, a filler that doesn’t really relate to the rest of the composition so well. Analysing something as banal and basic as a child’s painting like this helps us understand two things. The first is the basic distribution of shapes by the human mind. This is clearly cubic and organised by two dimensional boxing, an approach to composition that has a hard time projecting the complex nature of a three dimensional world. The second thing that this child’s painting gives us incite into are these images…

Anderson centralises a focus of a shot and then builds the scene around that in a boxed fashion. You see this in the literal squares or boxes in many of his frames – the windows and doors on the hotels; the metal strips on the back wall. What these boxes do is organise Anderson’s shots by filling them, not in an organic manner, but a human and mechanical one – like a child may; without a firm grip of a three dimensional realm. This isn’t criticism, but the essence of Anderson’s pictures as they are all about the control he may hold over a cinematic world, hence revealing the contrived nature of cinema and exploiting it for stylistic effect.

What’s so interesting about the design of Anderson’s films is this unique nature, but also the subtle cracks in its skin that reveal influence from many greats of the past. In such, we can feel a lot of Kubrick and Bertolluci in The Grand Budapest Hotel.

We can feel Kubrick in the incredibly strong framing, zooms and some of the movement. A good point of comparison would be The Shining. Whilst Kubrick predominantly navigates the space with his steady-cam, there is his iconic use of bold composition coupled with loud zooms and sometimes rigid lateral movement – as seen when Jack enters the ballroom. Another great film to compare The Grand Budapest Hotel to would have to be Burtolluci’s The Conformist. This is famously one of the greatest exercises in style in filmic history. Throughout The Conformist Bertollucci uses strong compositions as Kubrick may, but it is his use of light and colour that act as emphatic blocks in the frame which can be seen in a film like The Grand Budapest Hotel. What this means is that Burtolluci often allows one colour to consume his screen and then chisels figures into the canvas with hard shades – the blue against black above being a good example. We see Anderson’s use of colour to be very much like this as it aids composition by drawing the eye’s focus and almost splitting the frame into a grid. It must be noted, however, that Anderson’s use of colour, whilst very stark is much softer than Bertolluci’s. In such, Anderson’s frames are much more unified and not always reliant on high contrast to be striking (though, they sometimes will do this).

Other comparisons may be made are to Bergman, Welles and Lang on the principals of mise en scène and blocking.

These are comparative elements we don’t see as strongly as the Kubrick and Bertolluci ones. However, when not shooting in a simple single or two-shot, Anderson deals with close ups on the face in a flat, yet poignant manner – like Bergman. Moreover, the reference to Welles is one granted on the basis of deep focus. Whilst Anderson’s frames can sometimes be without much depth, there is always a focus on the set design and so to express this in the shot, he often utilises a deeper focus. The reference to Lang is one that could have been made to Eisenstein or Kurosawa. This is because it is one that points out their use of sharp lines across and through the frame. These are often inhabited by many extras, but Anderson limits this to a few at most.

Another key aesthetic comparison to make has to be to silent films in general. Beyond the novel use of vignettes…

… the aspects of silent film in Anderson’s movies are primarily in the simple design we’ve been discussing thus far.

Silent films, in large part, owe their aesthetic to vaudeville and the theatre. This is because the blocking of them resembles that of a stage – everything playing to the camera in a very flat manner as well as directed to us. In turn, Anderson owes his flat style to both silent films and the theatre. You see further comparison to silent films, however, through clowns such as Keaton and Chaplin. You see these influences in the very staccato, juddered and stop-start beat of comedy present in Anderson’s films. Just like silent clowns would draw attention to their gags with this specific beat of comedy, so does Anderson.

This vast pool of aesthetic, technique and style is where we see Anderson’s personal style come from. With the very sparse and minimalistic uses of a plethora of styles, he has thus built his own. In such, Anderson has essentially took the most rigid and contrived aspects of the many auteurs mentioned and combined them into a harmoniously artificial style. This is a style with key elements of cubicly constructed framing emphasised by a strong colour pallet and then brought to life with mechanical movement. The life brought to Anderson’s frames is what truly defines his style. This is all in movement. Whether it is of the camera or characters, movement is almost always confined to side-to-side, forwards-backwards or up-down. This leaves the dimensional field of the film completely dictated by a model such as this:

Very rarely do we see any other movement that breaks these few lines of direction. There are a few moments in The Grand Budapest Hotel where we get diagonal movement, as well as a handful of shots following characters or mounted on vehicles, but whenever this is done, the camera movement is always played out in such a manner as to embellish a mechanical sense of dimension.

What we are left with having identified these elements of Anderson’s style is ultimately a question of, why? And so, it’s here where we can begin to question Anderson’s visual philosophy of cinema. There are two components of this. Firstly, there is the purely technical and aesthetic component that we have been going over. Second to this, however, the overriding purpose of Anderson’s style is in relation to his stories. And so, in the end, we will see the core of Anderson’s visual philosophy to be one that encompasses his films entirely. Before we start towards this, it must be said that this will be an inferred philosophy, one that we pick up by association, not one that Anderson has explicitly outlined. So, to start, we have to consider the beginning again.

Anderson’s films represent a visual and artistic fundamentalism derived from a crucially modern-human basis. If you look out into the world, you see this:

Most probably, you actually see something more like this:

But, there is nonetheless a unifying quality to almost all of modern western architecture, and that is boxes – a rectangular, straight-lined aesthetic. I know next to nothing about architecture, but, what is very clear about the way humans organise the world is that it’s very unnatural.

Humans are industrious and creative beings, but not in the same capacity as nature. Humans always appeal to repeatable patterns, simple shapes and measurable design. Nature doesn’t present itself in such a transparent manner. When you look at a rain forest…

… you see construction, but you do not see explicit order. The opposite can be said of people. This all points to something almost innate in the designing faction of the human mind. We need rigidity, predictability and transparency. We can learn to overcome this, but this seems to be our innate perceptual setting. This seems to be why children draw like this:

By Anderson’s design reflecting this simplistic approach to composition, he seems to be drawing upon a uniquely human understanding of aesthetic and then projecting it. This is why Anderson’s films are undeniably beautiful, but not in a manner that is at all what we’re used to. This is because over the thousands of years of producing art, the form has evolved…

There has been a movement into complex, powerful and realistic styles. Having got very far with this and then invented the camera (making all the artistic development somewhat redundant) we then moved to other places – which somewhat explains…

Nonetheless, film, a relatively new art form, has developed its aesthetic from realists (probably because cameras and films deal with reality). We can understand this by recognising that this influence has lead to cinematic beauty of this sort…

The work that has gone into producing films such as Barry Lyndon is, in certain respects, a fight against a mechanical, cubic and basic idea of human deign – that which we see best in our construction, our everyday organisation and children’s drawings. In Kubrick’s frame there is a great play with light and lines to truly convey a natural three-dimensional and tangible space. Anderson means to reverse this, to translate the likes of this…

… into a filmic style:

The visual philosophy of Anderson’s films thus seems to be a psychological commentary on people and their processing of cinematic aesthetic. Instead of dismissing the simplistic, contrived and unnatural, Anderson embraces it, fine tunes it and then projects it in a poignant and striking manner. In such, he indulges the contrived nature of cinema as an industrialised medium of art created by people.

This is a very interesting approach to cinema as it consequentially re-characterises a camera. The most significant example of this in The Grand Budapest Hotel is a shot following Gustave through the lobby of the hotel as he carries boxes of cakes in a disguise…

This is hard to depict with still images alone, but Anderson, with this shot, breaks a cinematic rule I have never seen broken before in such a way. As the camera follows Gustave and Zero, it pans left and then right to get reaction shots. But, the eyes of the actors don’t line up with the eye line of Gustave or Zero, instead, they look straight at the camera. This, very bluntly, has all reaction shots be a breaking of the fourth wall for no clear reason. And this cannot be dismissed as a mistake as Anderson has clearly directed all actors to look at the camera, not just figure out their own eye lines. To understand why Anderson has done this, you only need to realise how he’s re-characterised his camera. Instead of merely observing, invisible and distant, Anderson’s camera is a centre-piece the story is played out to. This is why all actors in this shot look to the camera and not to each other. The camera does not simulate POV, instead just demands attention. We see this throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel with actors waiting for the camera to pan to them before they continue action and everything being very clearly choreographed around its presence. Further evidence for this can be seen in the constructed design of this movie that we’ve been exploring – all done for the camera–explicitly so. We see this to be true to an absurd detail…

Even fingers have to fall into perfect composition. Gravity must serve Anderson’s camera. I have never seen any film play out in such a manner. The closest would possibly be Bertolucci’s The Conformist or maybe something like Deadpool, but these movies don’t approach an idea of contrived design or breaking the fourth wall like Anderson does. Whilst each of Bertolucci’s frames are perfectly captured and designed, he does not demand such formal rigidity from his actors and from every single detail like Anderson does. And whilst Deadpool breaks the fourth wall, this is something of a gimmick. Anderson subtly designs fourth wall breaks into his films like no other – and often without direct comedic effect. All of this allows Anderson’s films to live in a very unique niche of cinema that is so self-aware and so contrived, but successfully so.

One of the lasting points we’ll bring up is then how this affects Anderson’s narratives. Because the story of The Grand Budapest Hotel must play around a camera, it embodies the artificial nature of classical Hollywood films to an absurd degree. We see this, as mentioned, in the acting style, but also the pin-point dialogue, the cartoonish action and clockwork-like world. However, this is all masked with a surreal authenticity of madness. And by this, I mean to point to Anderson’s insanely original plots and characters. The paradigm Anderson thus sets up in his narrative is a battle between two forces best summed up by a pivotal line in the film:

“You see, there are still faint glimmers of civilisation left in this barbaric slaughter house that was once known as humanity…”

Throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel, we see Gustave struggling to remain controlled, composed and civilised despite the calamity exploding around him – the exact same may be said of Anderson and his camera. This means that many technical aspects of filmmaking – camerawork, set design, editing, acting – are all fighting to retain composure in face of an absurd story. And it’s this fight that marks the crucial game Anderson plays to make his movies. He seems to be spilling paint onto clockwork. This means he’s injecting aesthetic chaos into a perfectly designed system. This is true of almost every element of every single one of his films, and Anderson seems to do this to pick up on the truth that belies this picture:

Whilst it is contrived, cubic and transparently manufactured, the child that made this drawing did so haphazardly, maybe blindly. He/she was told to draw their house and family and just did. This is also true of adults building cities or organising their desk. Whilst they’re fulfilling a purpose, attaining a goal, there is a chaos surrounding them that is somewhat ignored. This means that all cities eventually meet an ocean, desert, field or forest, just like all desks are approach by someone about to work. In such, there is a great arbitrariness. People could live anywhere, in any way and with no terms of structure. However, we almost all choose not to. We go to work, sit at our organised desk, earn money in an orderly fashion, all so we can drive home down roads, stopping at lights and signs, to get to our clean and organised homes where we follow routine to bed, only to wake up in the morning to start all over again. We do this while thunder storms brew and our planet hurtles through space; we do this keeping conflict and utter purposelessness at bay.

This universal management of ones life, a fight for civility and personal control is what belies Anderson’s narrative and is projected through his direction. And in such, we see his style articulated, his approach to cinema explained. Whilst universal entropy fights to tear us apart, we, like Anderson’s characters and narratives, remain composed.

 

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Scarface – The Mob Movie & The Familial Tragedy

Thoughts On: Scarface (1932)

The quintessential classic gangster film loosely depicting the rise and fall of Al Capone through Tony Camonte.

Scarface

Whilst a classical Hollywood film to an almost clichéd degree – in large part thanks to the acting style – Scarface is a thoroughly immersive and entertaining picture. Its main downfall is the stiff and aged acting style as it explicitly places this film in a specific era of cinematic history in a manner that isn’t entirely supportive. Some classic films have a style of their time that works in their favour, say for instance Gone With The Wind, but the style given to Scarface hurts its character work as it largely comes off as just bad acting. At points, this is distracting, but for the most part, this film’s narrative grips you and takes you on a ride. The most poignant sequence in this regard must be the one depicting the terror newly found automatic guns could reign upon a city. It’s after Tony secures a sub-machine gun that the film really finds its footing as a heavily symbolic and thematic barrage of fluid emotional plot points. The most iconic symbolism in this film is of course the crosses…

… a motif that haunts the narrative with an unnerving implication of an overseeing violent fate – something Scorsese famously utilised in The Departed…

But, beyond the euphamistic imagery splattered throughout the narrative, Scarface is a deeply thematic film, and so one of the most expressive archetypes of the sub-genre, the gangster film a.k.a the mob movie. It’s thus Scarface that outlines the heart of almost every single gangster film as a tragedy played out in the closed circle of a family. This thematic crux is what distinguishes the gangster film from crime dramas, crime thrillers, mysteries and film noir. Though these classes of film are very similar, sometimes in tone, sometimes in aesthetic, sometimes in plotting, the gangster film truly separates itself as a viewing experience. This is something I’ve always subconsciously picked up on. This is because I don’t much like crime movies, nor mysteries, nor film noir. In regards to crime dramas, mysteries and thrillers, this is because of their heavy focus on plot. With films such as North By Northwest, The Big Sleep and Laura, we see movies with a primary goal to reveal twist after turn, peeling back the layers of plot until we find ourselves at the end of the narrative. Whilst this is meant to engage an audience, mysteries and whodunnits simply grate on my patience. Moreover, a plot centric film’s major worth is in the first viewing – once you know the plot, there is little to return to the film for. This is the reason why I’m not so into mysteries and films alike–and the same may be said of film noir. However, there is an added thematic element to film noirs that I’ve never much enjoyed.

As dictated by their aesthetic, noirs are dark, sombre and usually fatalistic. We see great examples of the noir in The Third Man, Double Indemnity and Out Of The Past. All of these films are infamously morbid, tragic–at best, bitter-sweet. This often leaves them thematically flat to me as they speak of an existential haphazardness through their protagonists, but in a manner that is at times empty, but usually just dull. All of this suggests that I simply don’t enjoy noirs, crime dramas or mysteries as they are missing elements of character that uphold narrative.

However, with gangster films, we see the plot-centric and morbid nature of the films/genres mentioned rejuvenated with character and theme. This, in short, allows a protagonist, often an anti-hero, to imbue a narrative with greater depth and empathetic value. To understand the significance of this you only need to look to a few of the greatest gangster films ever made…

    

What makes these films so great, so timeless, so poignant are their characters. With The Godfather, it’s Michael and Vito Corleone that are the audience’s portal into a dark whirlpool of crime. The same may be said of Henry in Goodfellas, only the world we sprint through with him is a minefield of ecstasies and delights just waiting to ensnare us. Conversely, with Noodles in Once Upon A Time In America we are given a vessel of exploration. In such, it’s through him that we live the life of a boy, man, gangster and monster. It’s these crucial elements of character in each of these films that elevate them beyond basic plots and predictable motifs because of a thematic resonation with the audience; we are made to emotionally participate in these stories by empathising with the protagonists. It’s through this focus on character that we see the second unifying element of gangster films – the first being themes–those of familial tragedy. And when both theme and character come together under the guise of crime, we get the gangster film, we get highly emotional, entertaining and captivating movies.

To delve deeper into this idea of theme and character, we’ll take a quick look at two of the films mentioned. Characters in gangster films are usually one of two things; you have the Henry Hills and then you have the Michael Corleones. In such, we have the positive anti-hero and the negative anti-hero. This is a classification of character based on their personage and tone. With Henry Hill, you see a fun character who sweeps you off of your feet, but descends into calamity by the end of the narrative. He is thus an anti-hero because he is a vessel by which we vicariously experience a darker, yet exciting, way of living – leaving us almost wanting him to win like we would a more traditional hero. This leaves Henry a corrupted and semantic anti-hero, but an anti-hero nonetheless. With Michael we also see an anti-hero, but a more negative one. This is because he is more subdued in nature, embodying a darker tone. Michael is also a corrupt and semantic anti-hero because, whilst he does terrible things, he does them for what we are convinced are virtuous reasons – for family and those he loves. The main difference between a Michael Corleone and Henry Hill are thus their convictions. Henry Hill is an anti-hero closer to a Jordan Belfort.

Whereas Michael Corleone exists closer to the other extreme of the spectrum where the likes of Batman exists.

The tone of mob movies are built around these types of anti-heroes. On one end we have the fun, upbeat gangster films; Pulp Fiction, The Departed, Goodfellas, Snatch, Rififi, The Sting. And on the other we have the more sombre and serious gangster films; Once Upon A Time In America, Boyz N The Hood, The Godfather, Scarface, Mean Streets, Miller’s Crossing.

However, this distinction between upbeat gangster films, serious ones, positive anti-heroes and negative ones shouldn’t be fixated on too much as almost all gangster films are dictated by the arc of their characters and so end up in very similar places. From The Godfather to Scarface to Rififi to Goodfellas, all gangster films have a melancholic end. Whether it’s the through corruption, death or defeat, protagonists always come out of a narrative worse than they entered. The only significant asterisk to this rule would be Pulp Fiction. The reason for this is that Pulp Fiction is taken out of order so that Tarantino can provide the best tonal setting for his individual set-pieces. This reshuffling of events emphasises Juels’ implied change of character with the last scene of the movie. Whilst there is no conformation of a positive change and Vincent does later die, Pulp Fiction defies this downward and tragic third art arc of the gangster film. Looking at the plethora of films mentioned, however, we see characters meeting dark ends – and this is all because of the thematic design of gangster films.

As said, mob movies are all about family, we’ll pick up on why later, but because of this, it is a protagonist’s job to preserve or protect those close to them. Just as Tony means to look after his sister and close friends, so does Michael Corleone, so do Tony and Cesar in Rififi and so does Henry Hill. An interesting expression of this paradigm can be seen in The Departed. A huge source of conflict for Colin, who is a part of the mob…

… is his lack of family, his large house, girlfriend and dysfunctional penis. All of these details are what cause Colin’s stress and eventual breakdown, leaving him one of the most negative anti-heroes in a gangster film as he is such a failure on a narrative and thematic level. This is all convoluted by the fact that The Departed is in actual fact a half detective, half gangster movie though, so this is probably not the cleanest example to give, but nonetheless one that holds up under stress. One of the most transparent applications of familial themes has to be in The Godfather. As is stated a numerous amount of times, the whole purpose of every single one of the Corleone’s actions must be for the family, for the business that protects them and preserves their way of life. This is the struggle passed from Vito to Michael and is essentially there for reasons linked to the early gangster films and a societal disconnect inherent to gangs – something we’ll return to soon.

Whilst Scarface is a pre-code picture, one that wasn’t subject to the strict dictatorship of the Motion Picture Production Code, there is a slightly contrived moral justification of this movie provided by the opening. This justification asserts that the film does not mean to glorify the actions of Tony or his gang, instead ask the government what they can do about crime in America.

This moral rigidity means to distance Tony from ourselves and paint him as the clear bad guy that must be condemned. We see an even stronger condemnation of this sort in the era of MPPC censorship with films such as The Public Enemy. I really don’t need to outline this beyond referencing the title again: The Public Enemy. It thus becomes clear that gangsters films have a motivation built into their DNA to show the hubris of what we may call anti-heroes. Morally justifying, gangster films thus often mean to make antagonists out of their anti-heroes. This is exactly why there is a tragic dip in the end of almost every mob movie – a crucial aspect of gangster films and something of a contradiction that we will return to later.

However, before that, it’s best to sink deeper into the elements of character and theme outlined already by focusing in on Scarface alone. What we then essentially want to ask is, why are gangster films all about family?

The simplest answer is one word: individualism. With Tony, we see a man who not only wants to rule the world, but stand atop it alone.

In such, he wants to create his own hierarchy, but recognises that he needs others around him to construct this. And it’s here where the individualist turns to family as they are the closest people to him that he can exploit – often use for emotional support or protection. Tony is such an expressive example as this as it’s stated outright and is shown time and time again that he is not a good brother or son. He’d rather control his sister than see her be happy – his hypocritical nature in this regard really being exposed by the scenes where he chases and courts Poppy. Furthermore, if Cesca is to be happy, Tony is the only one who wants to make her such. This is the true poignancy of the scene where he murders his friend and Cesca’s new husband. The commentary of this scene is on Tony’s capacity to deceive himself. He is not really a brother to her, much rather, she is a mark of respect he may wear as a badge. We can understand this to be the case by recognising that he almost wants to simply protect his sister. But, this is just how he blinds himself and justifies his actions towards her. He doesn’t truly mean to protect her, simply gain the acclaim of being a protector – which explains his unconscious motivation in killing one of his best friends. This is what marks Tony’s initial attachment to family to be all about exploitation.

There is further exploration of family through Tony and it comes with the death of his sister. Faced with the barrel of the gun his sister holds, Tony is made to see his hubris; the fact that he just uses people – even those close to him. But, with the gun dropped, the two embrace with the words, ‘you’re me and I’m you’. Cesca says this in recognition of her own individualism and rebellion, but more importantly her need of Tony. Just as she takes his money so early on in the movie, she is swept up in his height of power as he fends off cops. This moment brings the two together under more prevalent takes on familial themes, as seen throughout The Godfather, where family aren’t just the people you exploit, but co-exist with in face of the world. The tragic undertones given with the end of the film, with Tony’s and Cesca’s death, are a testament to this universal idea of family we almost all share and empathise with.

This ending will also help us clarify why Tony is an anti-hero. When he is shot, there is an undeniable air of tragedy and loss conjured. This points out a contradiction of this film and many of the code-era gangster pictures in their contrived condemnation of their characters. That is to say that films such as Scarface and The Public Enemy aren’t as moral as they’d want us to think they are because they easily create empathy for their ‘bad guys’ – something that’s not incredibly close to glorification, but definitely a humanisation. For the outright condemnation of mobsters and crime it’s clear you must turn to the detective film. But, such just points out the purposeless of a political agenda prefacing a movie. As I’ve said many times, movies are ideas, they are a form of philosophy. In a philosophical context, morals aren’t a rigid set of rules adhered to because you don’t require bounds when asking questions as absurd as, why don’t we just kill stupid people? A political moralist would not hear this question – as the MPPC codes stand as evidence for with their ‘do’s and dont’s’. But, a philosopher, a thinker, wants to hear and indulge these kinds of questions as they exposes a complex truth of human nature. This is exactly what gangster films do with their theme of family. They appeal to our understanding that those close to us are those that matter most to conjure sympathy and understanding for killers. Like it or not, this is the truth of the gangster picture: we fall for murderers. This is the complex humanity a film can expose in even the most subdued and everyday manner. Whilst we may not think about it as we laugh along to Goodfellas, there is a constant question of our attachment to family and friends overshadowing our respect for law and larger society being posed by Scorsese. The same can be said of Coppola and certainly of Hawks and Rosson with The Godfather and Scarface. This philosophical nuance is exactly why seeing Tony as an anti-hero is so important. We empathise with him for the sake of thought and emotion that is more complex than the opening cards of this film.

However, the contradiction we just pointed out segues smoothly into the next question we’ll ask of gangster films: why are they familial tragedies? We now know why gangster films are about family, but they also all have dark, down-beat endings. This is an element given by the fact that anti-heroes need to be condemned, but more importantly, by the fact that the individualist structure that anti-heroes mean to set up is antithetical to societal norm. This reveals the aspect of truth in a title such as, The Public Enemy, but also an irrevocable truth that exist beyond a film such as Scarface in the question: would you want to live next door to a Henry Hill, a Tony Comonte, a Michael Corleone? Sure, we love to spend time with them as characters in a movie, but certainly wouldn’t want to be near them in real life. The reason why is that the ideas of family we attach to characters in gangster films don’t have anything to do with us at a close distance. From afar we may empathise with Tony, but close to the gun-totting mad man, empathy and understanding don’t count for much. What this reveals is the anarchy present at the core of a gangster film that is masked by familial structure. Resultantly, it’s because Tony wants to rule the world that the world fights back and ends up killing him – and by the world, I mean to suggest society on a larger scale–which ultimately translates to you. Thus, mob movies are tragedies because of us, because of our disdain for non-democratic dictatorships in any aspects of life. All of this suggests a poignant commentary in the gangster film; one that implies that a closed and exclusive system given a lot of power will turn corrupt. This indirectly equates an unregulated and poorly managed police force or government to a gang. So, just as Tony has power, but uses it against his sister, his friends, comrades and employees, so does the system this film means to also condemn; the American judicial system that cannot put a stop to gang war.

The two fighting forces that are at play in mob movies are thus our gravitation towards individualism and family and our disdain of corruption and dictatorship. This is exactly why they are familial tragedies; there is a philosophical bitter-sweetness portrayed by these narrative arcs that expose our emotional and pragmatic attachments to order and anarchy. We like the anarchistic elements of individualism present in figures like Tony, but also those like the more mature Michael Corleone who has a better, though still fractured, relationship with family. Simultaneously, we like the order and peace of a world without the corruption of the gangster that loses perspective and control. In such, the ultimate philosophical weight of a mob movie such as Scarface is an emotional debate in ourselves as we witness a familial tragedy.

To conclude, almost all gangster films separate themselves from movies alike (mysteries, crime dramas, noires) with their distinguished projection of characters and themes. In such, anti-heroes are there to connect to the audience, providing them a unique experiences of crime and violence. Simultaneously, familial themes curtailed by tragedy are present in a mob movie to induce a philosophical debate and imply an emotional dichotomy within ourselves; one that explores the attractions and pitfalls of individualist anarchy and dictatorial peace.

 

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Rogue One – Tarkin/Cushing

Thoughts On: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I’ve already covered this film with spoilers. Today, however, we’ll be using into this film as a platform for some speculation on how cinema may change in the future – a future that involves social media, robots, VR, A.I, maybe a bit of The Matrix, probably quite a bit of pornography, a whole lot of psychedelics and so much more. So, whilst this is a long post, it should hopefully be a fun one.

rogue one 23jpg

A subject that is being much debated recently with the release of the latest Star Wars film is of course an actor’s image. To what extent do people, the actors under characters, own their body? With Cushing’s Tarkin, this is a particularly intriguing question as there are heavy elements of ethics involved. In short, is it right to use a dead person’s image? On one end of the spectrum, an outright, no, this would leave filmmakers in a precarious position where an actor’s death would destroy a film, maybe even a franchise. However, this is not the state of things – as has been demonstrated a plethora of times throughout cinematic history, for example, with Marlon Brando in Superman Returns, Shemp Howard in The Three Stooges and Brandon Lee in The Crow.

All of these actors had been revived through some means to serve the telling of a story. With the recent example of this seen in Rogue One, this pattern seems to be becoming more of a norm as we move through the years. This is for is for two reasons, the first is character and the second technology.

One of the most dominant film production companies nowadays is undeniably Disney because of their ownership of Marvel and Lucas Films – all whilst pumping out Disney Pixar animated hit after hit. It’s within the Marvel and Star Wars franchises that we’ve seen characters reduced in age and brought back to life for the sake of their universes.

With no stretch of the imagination we can see this happening time and time again in future films – ones that maybe centre of character’s back stories, characters such as Tony Stark, Princess Leia and so on. However, with Fisher’s death and Downey Jr. getting on in age, fans of these seemingly perpetually expanding universes are left with questions of the characters attached to them. Will we be able to preserve them? An initial response many would have to this questioning would be a disgusted reeling away. This brings up the ethics of using actors to tell stories. In short, is it wrong to see these actors as our play things…

… to see them as dolls that maybe come to life when we’re not looking? Whilst some may say, no, well…

As has been made clear time and time again, even by the actors he works with, George Lucas already kind of owns people’s likeness and image. In fact, a large part of what makes Star Wars such a huge franchise is the endless stream of collectibles that it produces and profits off of. In such, we see an exploitation of actors beyond their job description as ‘pretenders in front of cameras’. Whilst contracts may compensate and facilitate this, the fuelling factor of this is us, are those who buy the various trinkets and toys connected to movies.

And it’s exactly this that I want to talk about beyond ethics and the probable reality of this subject.

Being a sci-fi writer, presented with this image…

… my imagination makes leaps and bounds into the future arriving at a tantalising proposal…

No, not exactly Terminators, but robots. With devices such as Siri being only slightly impressive and easily accepted in this day and age, it’s clear that people have a developing relationship with our computers that could easily bring us to a situation depicted in Her…

But, what the advancement of animation and the digital insertion of characters into films suggest is a time where this is seamless, where CGI is so good that no one can even notice it. This means that films may not even need actors in the future – something we’ll return to. But, the initial application of this concept outside of film would be something tantamount to Siri. We would be able to digitally insert the characters of films into our computers through audio. This is something we’re already seeing with various apps that spew iconic lines of characters through simple recordings. But, with the development of this concept and technology we could all literally be in the world of Her. Instead of talking to Samantha, we could pay a little extra to talk to Darth Vader, Ferris Bueller or Ethan Edwards.

This would all suggest an artificial intelligence that can replicate a person exactly (another idea picked up on in Her). And when you bring up ethical questions of exploitation here, things don’t seem to be so consumerist and selfish. We would have the capability, with high level artificial intelligence, to literally resurrect people in an auditory realm. So, not only would the family of actors recently lost be able to talk to what would arguably be their loved one again, but everyone would have the opportunity to do this. This is a major technological possibility in the future that we’ll return to, but, first…

Not Terminators, but robots again. Just as we are developing Siri and so possibly A.I representations of people in auditory form, we are also developing robots – physical people.

What the development in the digital projection of characters in film is clearly suggesting is that we have the capacity to better represent people and their likeness. With 3D printing and developed computerised sculpting, it doesn’t seem too outlandish that we could translate this digital projection in films into physical sculptures: robots. Combining our designing powers with computerised and mechanical ones, it seems we’re hurtling towards a world where Will Smith or Arnold Schwarzenegger can be replicated precisely and allowed to walk the streets.

This begins to blow ones mind even further when you bring back in resurrected characters in auditory form. Combine current robots with technology such as Siri and you have novel models of people, give this a few decades of development and, who knows, maybe we have artificially intelligent perfect replications of people.

Not forgetting George Lucas and his millions made on Star Wars action figures, we could easily imagine these A.I robots being characters from films. This all suggests that you could run around, shop and go to work with Indiana Jones or Han Solo. We would live in a world that’s an ultimate kid’s playground, all of us prancing about with John McClain or arguing with girlfriends over our Black Window robot for the 10th time in one week.

All of this seems to be the extreme fantasy implied with Cushing’s Tarkin. When we question the legalities of this all, however, we are faced with a few central questions – we’ll pick up on two. The first is clearly of the ownership of ones own body. The second is of fair use. We’ll start with fair use as it’s a rather light-hearted subject. If we could all buy the Han Solo A.I robot, would we be able to make a film with him? This is a silly question as the answer immediately seems to be, no. But, there is a major caveat that you must consider. Han Solo is an egotistical pilot with a laser gun–blaster–thing. Would this come as part of the package or would you have to pay extra for this?

This becomes an even more absurd question when you consider having Darth Vader as your robot. Maybe he couldn’t force choke you, but destroy you with a sword, attempt to takeover the world? Uhhh… would that come as part of the package? This silly line of questioning all simply implies that we could never really create an A.I robot Darth Vader as he might just find a way of taking over the world and ruining quite a few lives. But, coming back to that film we wanted to make with him in, could we get away with this? Could we use a safer, tamed down and heavily altered Darth Vader robot in a fan-fiction short? Whilst we’d be using someone else’s product, we wouldn’t really be stealing a character – which really muddies the water. This is something we’ll comeback to in a while though.

Coming back to the first central question of owning one’s body, the only way I can really see laws allowing the use of dead people’s image to spread would be to develop new laws that maybe effect us all. This means that if someone wanted to make a new movie with Ingrid Bergman in, not just make Casablanca 2, but make a completely new movie with the technology that is used to re-project Tarkin, then universal laws effecting all people would have to be implemented. This is because Bergman can’t sign a new contract and so might be exploited and sold on as a commodity not too different from Pride And Prejudice…

In other words, a public domain, un-copy-righted, artistic material. This all implies a new set of posthumous human rights meeting ideas of intellectual property to be enforced on everyone. With the posthumous human rights maybe facilitating a new Ingrid Bergman film (ignoring ethics) there could also be a change to current rights that relinquish us of a lot of our privacy and ownership.

These laws would seriously revolutionise the way we think about ourselves and privacy. Our embrace of social media coupled with governments being able to invade our privacy and control what we see over the internet (in certain capacities) may expand into a much more open and free world. That is to suggest that, just as anyone, like Google, can currently figure out almost everything about you through just Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, people may grow to know each other on a much more profound level in the future due to a collapsing of privacy. The catalyst of all of this would be developing communicative technology. Who knows when, but talking to each other mentally, telepathically, may be a thing in the future. And if you may tap into someone’s mind, you can instantaneously know everything about them and all they’ve seen. Combine this with our current acceptance of social media and you may visualise a world where image and ownership literally means nothing, where Facebook, just like the government, just like many other corporations, may actually own your image, where anyone can use anything about you because… why not? It’s not like the information would be hard to get anyway. The only question around this is if we’d be willing to give our privacy away for some great technology.

This all leads us to speculation on a time where filmmakers don’t need to cast movies. Not only would they have Ingrid Bergman, John Wayne and Peter Cushing on file as characters they could implement into any movie, they could peruse Facebook, pick up your file and use your image in their movie if they like the way you look. Moreover, they could take your public telepathic Twitter or Facebook time-line and use that to create an A.I programme to act in a movie. In fact, they could mix and match people, personalities and bodies, to a point where entirely new people are created. Maybe this is a loophole where the cinematic market doesn’t have to pay people royalties, or even give notice to ideas of copyright, privacy and self-sovereignty.

What’s even scarier about all of this is that the porn industry always leads these absurd technical forefronts – just look at virtual reality. Not only would pornographers be able to project anyone doing anything to anyone in their movies, but maybe you could. Maybe you could animate your own movies, pornographic or not, of any one of your Facebook friends on your laptop and have it be a perfect replication of reality. Insane, right? But, we can push this one step further. Maybe the porn industry decide they want to print out these projections of people as robots just like those in Hollywood would be doing with 35 year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger and 24 year-old Jennifer Lawrence. This, more than almost anything, would be a revolution in the future; a world where anyone may be your robot sex slave. Furthermore, a world where we’d be able to create the most beautiful people ever by mixing and augmenting personal preferences and then doing whatever we want to them. Again, furthermore, these robots could have personalities, perfectly matched A.I personalities to every single person on Earth, tangibly realising the idea that there’s someone for everyone. You think Samantha in Her was a good idea, just take a minute to think about that… coming home to an incomprehensibly beautiful spouse who is also the greatest friend you could ever have.

What would that do to the world? Where would ego go? Where would drive, selfishness and corruption go? What would happen to human relationships? How would children raised by the perfect AI nannies work? When would they all decide to do away with us…

This time, yes, Terminators – not just robots.

These are all great questions, but questions that have a lot more darker and confounding implications under them. Not only did we do some amazing gymnastics of the imagination when accepting the legalities of all of this, but the practicalities of creating these robots is befuddling. As implied previously with the Darth Vader bit, what would happen when little kids make Bruce Banner angry? Where do we curb these robot’s capabilities? Moreover, is everyone comfortable with the possibility of their friends putting them into a porn series where they just eat astounding amounts of dick, ass and bodily fluids from… just… hordes of tentacle bearing elf-troll things?

What this all suggests is that maybe we were being a bit too liberal in assuming that privacy laws could just melt away. But, my sci-fi writer hat is on and I have a further snaking path into the future we may all take.

I said we’d return to the complications one would face if they’d attempt to make a film with the technology present in Rogue One that projects any character we want. Moreover, we may also find ourselves into trouble if we use the A.I robot characters we may one all day own in a film, but, there is a route we may all take to hurdle these problems. This route starts with two simple things: weed and virtual reality.

I’ve talked about this previously but I think the future of cinema is in pill format. In such, I believe that over time, just as weed is slowly being legalised across the world, so will other more serious psychedelics. This will seriously hurt the pharmaceutical industry. So, in all hope, instead of hooking millions on opiates, stimulants and anti-depressants and saying all kids have some kind of minor mental defect dealt only with a handful of pills, the pharmaceutical industry may find monetary gain in psychedelics, in embracing less serious chemical endeavours. In such, there may be a tonne of research put into manipulating drugs to a point where people can basically control them. This means that people could be made to trip balls, thinking they take one specific journey. When the chemical magicians get really good at this, they’ll have to start employing screenwriters to write movies into pills. This means that we’d all pop a Star Wars pill, down a hit of Rocky, inject some 2001: A Space Odyssey or snort some Cinderella and hallucinate the movies.

Add to this insane idea, virtual reality, and we push things to a whole different level. Instead of hallucinating a film, you could psychedelically feel as if you’re in one whilst watching it through some VR goggles. This would mean that you feel like you’re flying with Superman, that you’re staring down Clint Eastwood or fighting Bruce Lee – all whilst watching Superman, The Good The Bad The Ugly or Game Of Death in the goggles.

When you combine this ridiculous proposal with all that we’ve discussed in connection with Cushing’s Tarkin, we sink ever deeper. Instead of playing games, watching movies, instead of living or running around with AI robots, we would be able to exist in literal cinematic virtual universes that we tangibly feel, that we physically believe we exist in. This all means that you buy your Star Wars pill, go home, turn all the lights off, get comfortable in your suspension tub, plug into your VR device – which may as well be tantamount to hooking up to The Matrix…

… pop the pill and… drift. You wake up on Tatooine…

… feeling the sand beneath your feet, the searing heat of the sun on your face, the wind running through your fingers, the dryness of your throat. You trek to the nearest bar looking for a drink to quench your thirst, only to stumble into a mob den ran by Hutts. Trying to back out, you bump into an alien, knocking the drink out of its… tentacle? Before you know it, you’ve been pushed over a table and into the bar, feeling the impact, your aching back and then the alien’s rancid breath pumping through its 3 mouths and into your face as it unholsters its blaster. BBBVVVVVVV. The severed hand hits the ground inches from your nose, the blaster firing, putting a hole through Greedo’s chest, Han Solo jumping to his feet, the bar in instantaneous uproar, laser fire everywhere. “Padawan!”. Obi Wan throws you a spare light saber as he parries gun fire. You catch it, rolling to your feet. BBBBVVVVVV. “Fuck, yes!”. Screaming with joy, you barrel into calamity, invincible, slicing off arms, legs, tentacles… whatever poses as a threat, bathed in goop and fluids before – BOOOOOM. Half of the bar is blown up, an AT-AT looking down through the gaping hole in the ceiling. Scrambling to your feet, ears ringing, eyes stinging, bones rattled, you can do nothing but run for the door with Obi Wan at your side, Solo coming after you, screaming something into a device, the AT-AT turrets in position, about to fire again – B-BOOOOOM. The AT-AT explodes, you barrel out of the bar with Solo and Obi Wan, blasted feet into the air as the monolithic structure collapses into the rubble of the bar. KABOOOM. About to smash down into the sand you’re suddenly left suspended. Relief washes over you, you’re alive, the AT-AT is down. Obi Wan lets you and Solo down safely to your feet as Chewy brings the Millennium Falcon back over the bar for a landing. Storm Troopers surge from all angles, bullets screaming a storm again. You sprint back out of town, traversing the short distance to the landing ship, Obi Wan and Solo at your side again, all making it up the ramp of the Falcon parrying the barrage of lasers, escaping with grins, the Storm Troopers simply left to watch the Falcon blast into hyperspace.

And that’s just the first 5 minutes of Star Wars XXIX (29). This just might be the future of cinema. But, as awesome as it sounds there’s so much more to it. You can watch the movie with friends, play along together, maybe just exist in an open Star Wars universe as whoever you want. You wouldn’t just watch Jedi’s fight, but be one in a hive mind, Matrix-like universe. And that’s just until you get bored. Change the settings, pop another pill and welcome to Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Saving Private Ryan, The Sound Of Music, Aladdin, Taxi Driver – anything.

All in all, this is possibly the implied future we see projecting from Cushing’s appearance as Tarkin in Rogue One. It takes a few elaborate leaps of imagination to get there, but tell me what you think below…

 

 

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