Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Week 16 (Tues 12 Feb - Communicating)

In the seminar, we returned to the subject of documentaries, going over the types again (see previous week's post for more details) and from that, we went into our group exercise, where we had to name a strength and weakness of each type of documentary:
  • Poetic: (Strength)-Creative visuals. (Weakness)-No investment or interesting narrative, just pure spectacle.
  • Observational: (Strength)-Seeing the entire event from inception to eventual termination. (Weakness)-like Poetic, no investment or interesting narrative, just pure spectacle. 
  • Expository: (Strength)-Additional information/tidbits for the audience. (Weakness)-Might spell out the message/idea when the footage can do that just fine.
  • Reflexive: (Strength)-Honesty and depth, making the piece more profound and self-aware, giving it more of a 'life'. (Weakness)-the audience questions the validity of the film and what is its 'point' in existing if it itself isn't sure.
  • Participatory: (Strength)-Pro-activity, the documentary having a more direct influence and effect on its subject matter. (Weakness)-There is a lot of bias and potential skewing of facts and other viewpoints may be demonised.
  • Performative: (Strength)-Relatability, entertainment value from the figure. (Weakness)-Once again, bias and skewing.
To further this, we looked at some excerpts from various documentaries, including Aileen, as well as Andrew Marr's History of Britain and the iconic 30s piece Night Mail, and thought about how they approached their material and what techniques they used (Aileen had participatory, Broomfield being a frequently seen character on screen, and playing up the stereotype of the naive 'Briton abroad', History of Britain was more expository, with Marr narrating over stock and archival footage of Britain after the Second World War, and asking questions about what is 'Britishness' today versus that of the past, and Night Mail had the narrator describe the train using a poem while we saw it going around the country, leaning towards the Poetic).

Then, in the screening, we watched Orson Welles' thriller, Touch of Evil (1946), dealing with a war of attrition between a corrupt detective (played by Welles himself in his overweight days) and a Mexican official (played by Charlton Heston) in a small border town. The film drips with atmosphere, thanks to great camerawork and use of lighting and shadow and thus emphasizes the divided and dark nature of the people in the town, as well as Welles, despite his size, being an imposing screen presence, playing off his gruffness and scowling with the slimmer, more upbeat Heston (despite obvious fake tan, even in a black and white picture!). What's more, the use of the protagonist's wife creates suspense as we wonder what the local ruffians will do to her in the motel, sound often being used to emphasize her surrounding and the questionable people nearby.

After, in the lecture itself, we discussed the concept of authorship (or Auteur Theory), a concept developed by French critics after WW2, when there was a huge deluge of American films being shown back to back, where they began to notice recurring styles and patterns by certain directors. Traditionally, they fall under two categories: Hitchcock (who have recurring visual and stylistic imprints and tricks) and Howard Hawks (where the recurrence is more to with themes and characters), the former including people like Terry Gilliam, The Wachowski Brothers, Tim Burton and Zack Snyder, while the latter is more common, boasting names like Steven Spielberg, Barry Levinson, Robert Altman, Christopher Nolan, Robert Stevenson, Ken Annakin and countless others.

We moved on to talking a little more about Welles himself, a prodigy who already had accomplished a lot by 26, including successful imaginings of Shakespeare, starring in the popular radio series The Shadow, the character being the grandfather (in his native pulp novel form anyway) of modern superheroes, made the infamous War of the Worlds broadcast and filmed Citizen Kane. Something of note is that Welles often likened his works to the tale of the Frog and The Scorpion, a simple fable about betrayal and backstabbing, a theme common among Welles' work (such as in Touch of Evil, where the law turns on Heston's character).

To close off, today was one of the best I've had thus far in this course, the second half being extremely immersive and the ideas of authorship and the ways some use it was extremely fascinating, especially when you think of how many directors there are across many genres and how, despite face value differences, you can find common elements, both visual and thematic in their works, and learning more about Welles was an added bonus as, though I was familiar with him (partly due to my being a fan of The Shadow character) and had seen Kane the previous year, I was surprised at what he had done and how high he set the bar, especially stunning given that we're all young film makers who want to make it big and have great films to our name, and that he did all that at such a young age, and more, is astonishing. And we got to see Cottis do magic. What more could you ask for?

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