Saturday, 2 March 2013

Week 17 (Tues 19 Feb - Communicating)

In the seminar, we returned to the subject of Authorship, beginning by selecting a favourite writer/director/producer and how they have a stamp/recurring element(s) on their work: In my case, I chose acclaimed film maker Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather, Apocalypse Now, Bram Stoker's Dracula), his works often using the theme of family (obviously in Godfather, playing a core part of the series as we watch the Corleone's gain and loss of criminal power), age/life (both Dracula and Jack deal with this as both titular protagonists are younger than they appear, and bring up questions about life and what it means), and the darker parts of man's nature (Apocalypse Now is about the insanity of war, The Conversation deals with invasion of privacy and paranoia, Dracula with lust and sex, The Rainmaker with legal corruption).

After, we discussed what is the actual importance and weight of a term like auteur:
  • Marketing/familiarity (directors can be as bankable & famous as big actors)
  • The legitimacy of film as art and film makers as artists, the same way authors and craftsmen (painters, architects, sculptors) are viewed.
  • Expectations (certain directors tend to work predominantly in certain fields i.e. Scorsese: crime, Hitchcock: thrillers, DeMille: sweeping, vast epics).
  • For study (recurring elements, motifs, themes, character types etc.)
And the issues such a concept as this presents when trying to analyze/discuss it:
  • Film are a collaborative project, comprising of many peoples' work (lighting, sound, special effects, set design, costume & props, editing, actors, writers, producers)
  • Not every director is out to make art or groundbreaking films (what are called 'Hired Gun' directors, who are hired much like their crews and casts, to make a quick money-maker and get a paycheque themselves i.e. Les Mayfield, Stephen Herek, Betty Thomas, Raja Gosnell)
  • Creativity vs repetition and lack thereof of the former (Tim Burton often being criticized for these reasons i.e. the gothic look, the frequent casting of Johnny Depp & Helena Bonham Carter, Danny Elfman's music constantly utilizing choirs and having a manic feel).
  • The studio imprint (Disney being a prime example, most of their works being family friendly and light hearted, and often having a fantastical, whimsical feel, especially their adaptations of classic stories, which tend to be more straightforward and less dark i.e. Little Mermaid, Aladdin, Snow White, Tarzan)
Later on, in the lecture, we watched Nine Queens, an Argentinian crime film that dealt with two con men who try to sell bogus stamps to a visiting politician, sort of a contemporary take on films like The Sting. Being Spanish myself, I didn't have to rely on subtitles like others in the room did, though the South American way of speaking. fairly fast. did throw me off a couple of times, and not every word was traditional Spanish. To its credit, the film did have a number of darkly comic moments that are unmistakably Hispanic, the two leads had decent chemistry and played off each other well, and given that a story like this could've gotten overblown, indulgent and maybe had more action set pieces, they pulled it off on a limited budget and with no type of cheap thrill-ride gimmick thrown in there. Nine Queens would go on to be remade as the American film 'Criminal' in 2004.

After, we took a look at the subject of World Cinema, introducing it via a brief extract of a short, directed by the Coen Brothers, for a stereotypical American going to the cinema and being persuaded to go watch a foreign film, and despite the subtitles and deep themes, found himself really enjoying it, playing int to the idea of assumptions about foreign cinema:
  • Foreign from Hollywood conventions (both in presentation and in its themes, ideas not often tackled by the more whizz-bang mentality of America)
  • Intellectual, less commercial and not sharing in 'American Values' (the American Dream, a man can do anything, begin from nothing etc.)
Also, we looked at this inverse, with Hollywood's affect on the world, especially one very famous case of a big film that caused a few stirs. It involved James Cameron's romantic historical Titanic (1997), which had an international cast of actors, a Canadian director, it was shot in Mexico and had its premiere in Japan, but more important in this instant was some of its impact: In Afghanistan, people would gather in secret to watch the film, which had been banned by the strict Taliban government. In Japan, the people viewed it as a virtue of 'gamen' (a stoic ideal) and even In  Turkey, the people were reminded of one of their own films, Bandit.

Breifly touching on what is 'national cinema' (how the country's state, politically and culturally, can affect a film, as well as its resources and the size of its studios, casts and crews), when then divided into Argentine cinema, which had enjoyed a resurgence in the early 80s after the end of the military dictatorship (and censorship), films like 'La Noche de los Lapices' and 'Los Pasos Perdidos' talking about events and crimes committed by the regime and its brutal reign, including kidnapping, murder and organized violence. In the 2000s, the industry was given another boost, with young new film makers like Trapero and Brelinksy mixing both art and popular entertainment in films like Nine Queens, which offered both social commentary on the impoverished state of suburban life, as well as some comedy and drama for normal audiences, and which itself owed a debt to American crimes, especially those by people like David Mamet and Quentin Tarantino, whose films were also defined by similar ideas. Capping off, our assignment for the week (or two, since next week is Reading Week) was to go and watch a foreign film and look up some foreign articles about Cameron's Avatar and what kind of impact it made over there, much like Titanic had all those years ago.

In conclusion, the authorship angle was not that much furthered beyond what had been discussed, except unpack a few things (as well as being one of the few occasions where I can bring the director of Flubber, Les Mayfield, into a serious academic discussion) and then, they were fairly standard and things most people would've thought of when the topic was brought up, as for the idea of National Cinema, it's the stronger of the two as not only did we cover a lot more ground, but even integrated some interesting trivia in here, especially with the stories surrounding Titanic, and the brief divergence into Argentine history and how it played into their films was an interesting bit of 'meat' in the lecture and provided some interesting context for these films and what they told the stories they did.

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