Sunday, 17 March 2013

Week 20 (Tues 12 Mar - Communicating)

In the seminar, we returned to the subject of stardom, discussing the ones we had each selected and why: I had chosen Jeff Bridges, because he has a familiar persona and character type he plays (these mellow, cool, laidback types, often having a lax-60s-hippie quality to them, like in Big Lebowski, which along with Flynn in Tron, gave him iconic roles that many people recognise and reference, something you associate with star actors (like Brando in Godfather and On The Waterfront, or Bogart in Casablanca and Big Sleep).

We also briefly returned to the subject of 'Celebrity vs star' (a celebrity, from my perspective, is someone whose fame is temporal, of the moment (like Paris Hilton or Vanilla Ice), while a star is someone who remains popular and famous even after they have died/stopped being of major relevance (like, again, Brando, Sean Connery. Anthony Hopkins, Rihcard Burton, Charlton Heston, Judy Garland etc.) and then talked about the importance and qualities of a 'star' (marketing/branding, embodies certain values, ideals or dreams and allows for different readings/interpretations).

Later, in the screening, we watched an episode of the dark-comedy-drama Six Feet Under, dealing a family of undertakers and their lives, & one of the comedy series Community, which dealt with a bunch of misfit friends at a community college who get up to various shenanigans. On that note, in the lecture right after, we looked at the concept of 'Quality Television', and how it has changed over the year as TV has: In the 1950s (often regarded as the Golden Age), 'Quality' was seen as these live television plays, written by the likes of Paddy Chayesfsky (Network, which itself satirized television of the time), and praised for offering a different experience to film given it was broadcast live and gave things a sense of immediacy and realism not found in film. Then, the late 80s-mid 90s were seen as a 'Second Golden Age', this time praised for genre-blending (like Buffy combined horror and teen drama), the producers and writers having backgrounds in other media (like Whedon (Buffy) who had worked on films like Speed, Toy Story and Twister, or Michael Mann (Miami Vice) who is a very respected film director (Last of the Mohicans, Heat, Manhunter)), and large ensemble casts of distinguished actors, which in turn allowed for episodes to have multiple stories and viewpoints going on at the same time and allowing for a lot of variety and depth: To enforce this, we watched an excerpt from the police series Hill Street Blues, noting the use of overlapping dialogue and handheld camera to give the film a realism and documentary like quality, and focusing on the different cops, indicating that we are dealing with multiple stories within the episode.

The other example was a scene from Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective, which mixes psychological drama, musical numbers and detective mystery/thriller elements together as we see the imaginings of a hospitalized author. Moving on, we turned to the subject of the channel as 'auteur', and if certain channels/companies have distinct programming, and looked at Channel 4 and HBO as examples: the former began in 1982, and specialised in both importing a lot of foreign and American shows, and making programmes not seen/made by other channels at the time, which more grim and challenging, while the latter  is a premium American channel, and they tend to make a lot of high-budget shows such as Deadwood, Boardwalk Empire and Game Of Thrones, which all have a cinematic quality to them, some going so far as to have actual film makers like Scorsese (Boardwalk) and Walter Hill (Deadwood) involved as directors and producers.

Finally, we turned to the question of 'what is quality', bring up a quote from Pierre Bordeaux about 'Art/Value is decided by the elite and those with wealth', which certainly isn't untrue, as media critics tend to be from a much higher social standing and have a much broader palette than that of your average 'Joe' who might casually watch a show just for entertainment while a critic will analyze and dissect it through and through. Our assignment was to go away and come back next week with a 'quality' show.

To cap off, today's work was fairly interesting, though the stardom seminar was a little bit underwhelming, as I wish instead of devoting so much time towards everyone discussing their favourite stars, we had instead examined the history of film stars and how the 'popular' personas changed and certain actors rose and fall accordingly, which would have greatly enhanced the historical background and context and made it feel more well-rounded. As for the lecture, it was a step up as it was really interesting to see how much television has evolved since its humble beginnings and how much the perception of 'quality' has changed and what producers and writers have put emphasis on as tastes change.

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