Sunday, 7 April 2013

Week 30 (Tues 20 Mar - Communicating)

Today, we returned to the subject of Quality Television, and breifly went over what we felt made 'Quality TV' (Subject Matter, Style, Visuals, Artistic Merit, Innovation/Subsequent influence, writing/depth of the show) and then discuss an example of what we felt qualified as such: Mine was the acclaimed 1993 animated show Batman: The Animated Series.

Why? First off, the writing and stories the show told could be enjoyed by both children, who would enjoy the action, gadgets and villains, and adults, who could appreciate a lot of the themes and deeper ideas the stories would present. Examples include 'See No Evil', which deals with divorce and the lengths a father will go to to see his child, 'Perchance To Dream' questions the fundamentals of Batman, and examines what his life would've been like had he not lost his parents, and 'Heart of Ice' reinvented Mr Freeze and made him a tragic villain, a man who tried to save his wife, but the self-interests of his company and the wants of 'big business' turned him into a monster, the businessman who did this being no better than he. Then there's the art style, which owes a huge debt to the 1930 and 40s with its Art Deco design work, an obvious nod to the classic Fleischer Superman cartoons of that time, and gave the series a cinematic and dark quality not commonly found in animated shows, and finally, it's influence/innovation: BTAS was of the symbols of the '90s New Wave' of television animation, where studios were investing more money and time into their animated shows, a trend started by DuckTales, Mighty Mouse and The Simpsons at the tail end of the 80s, and carried on by X Men, Animaniacs, Tiny Toon Adventures, Beavis and Butthead, King of The Hill, Talespin,  South Park, Spiderman TAS, Darkwing Duck and Goff Troop among countless others. Plus, BTAS paved the way for other DC Animated shows, such as Superman, Batman Beyond and Justice League, knwon as the DC Animated Universe.

After this, we quickly touched on the ideas of 'Do people enjoy something irrespective of quality' (a lot of summer blockbusters sacrifice character and story for visual spectacle, and such film makers as Michael Bay, Paul W.S. Anderson, Roland Emmerich and Renny Harlin have made their fortunes through that. Plus, many comedies use lowbrow humour/cheap jokes to get a laugh out of the audience) and the concept of 'demographics' (target audiences, who is it for/aimed at?).

Later, in the screening, we watched the classic 1952 western High Noon, starring Gary Cooper, which deals with a small town sheriff who has to battle a group of bandits he once put away after the town refuses/does not want to help for various reasons. While the villains are fairly one-note, textbook Western thugs, complete with black hats and scowls, they are not the focus but rather the dilemma and desperation of Cooper's character as many of his friends and people he has helped desert him in his hour of need, and it definitely is heart wrenching to see this kind of betrayal, and the performances from its capable cast really sell it.

Then, in the seminar, we looked at the Western as Myth and Ideology, which can be broken down into three periods (usually between 1849-1900, and set west of the Mississippi): The Exploring of the West (films usually dealing with the frontier, wagon trains and pioneers), The Taming of The West (Living out there, the introduction of railways, cattle trains etc.) and The Settling of The West (Towns and cities are established and the formation of the societies within them). Usually, the films in this genre deal with themes and ideas of 'All to Play For', Man against the vast Country (the contrast of the big space vs small people), defining what a person is to themselves and what they mean, and questions about duty and responsibility, especially questions of law, justice and vengeance, which run throughout Westerns. And from a political standpoint, it has been argued that Westerns are very Right Wing, accused of racism (especially toward Native Americans/'Indians') and the frequent casting of white men as heroes (though High Noon seems to be on the opposite end, the townspeople being an allegory for the fear and paranoia of McCarthyism).

As for the actual chronology of Western cinema, it can be broken down like this:
  • 1903: Great Train Robbery - First major Western film. Western stories have already existed in mediums such literature before this (notably in 'Dime/Pulp' Novels, the precursors to comic books).
  • Pre WW2: Very black and white stories and characters, usually a morality play.
  • Post WW2-Mid 50s: Reflection on the times, with questions of 'redundant heroes' and ethnicity, Indians now getting a more sympathetic portrayal as opposed to just being murderous savages.
  • Late 50s: 'Delinquent' Westerns, usually dealing with younger protagonists ('Messed-Up Kids).
  • 60-70s: The Anti-Western, stripping away a lot of the glamour and good vs bad, and presenting a darker, morally ambivalent, violent West. The Oppression of minorities by the 'White' settlers comes more into prominence. Also heyday of the Spaghetti Western, which birthed the careers of Clint Eastwood and Sergio Leone among others.
  • Late 80s-90s: Revival, both commercially with the likes of Young Guns, Silverado & Tombstone, featuring a lot of big stars and icons, and critically, with the likes of Unforgiven and Dances with Wolves.
Then, we examined the concept of the 'Controlling Idea', a single sentence that can describe a piece (value+cause, put simply) i.e. High Noon: Justice prevails, even when it has been abandoned, Groundhog Day: Happiness comes from Unconditional Love, Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind: Love triumphs, even if you don't want it to. And on that note, we were asked to go away, think of a film and figure out what its controlling idea was.

To conclude, I felt that today's session were pretty interesting, the former because we really got to discuss a lot of different concepts and approaches on the same subject, and see what it means to different people, and even the question of 'do people like something even if it is bad' is an interesting one and I hope, maybe someday, we can examine that further because it's really fascinating, and as for the latter, I was surprised at how much there was to dissect and examine when it comes to Westerns. I was familiar with Anti-Westerns and certain icons like Eastwood and Wayne before, but I never thought it was so broad and diverse (many I think, view the Western in the stereotype of the showdown and the saloons and the cowboys, never really going beyond that really looking into them).

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