10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

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What is 10 Cloverfield Lane? A spiritual sequel to Cloverfield (2008) is perhaps a just definition. Although, whilst Cloverfield was found-footage alien horror set in New York, this thriller is an utterly different beast (pun intended). Nevertheless, whilst the resemblance between the two films may be sparse, 10 Cloverfield Lane is arguably the better film.

The story begins with Earth seemingly under attack. Michelle (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) does a formidable job as the story’s heroine. After an argument with her partner – Bradley Cooper’s pleading voice vanishing before we register it’s him– Michelle is involved in a car crash. Upon regaining consciousness, she finds herself trapped in an underground bunker with Howard.

Howard is a character that, the less said about, the better. John Goodman is brilliant, simultaneously frightening and a hurt teddy bear. His intentions for Michelle are never made clear, remaining a mystery until the third act. Credit due to the writers – including Whiplash‘s Damian Chazelle – who here conjure up a narrative brimming with unnerving suspense, adding a couple of great twists along the way for good measure. Though it’s Goodman who makes Howard truly come alive. Howard’s interactions with Michelle are fraught with tension; his facial tics when seemingly unable to call Michelle a “woman” is one of several standout moments from a subtly terrifying performance.

Dan Trachtenberg’s direction is understated, yet wholly commendable for his first feature film. Under the production eye of J.J Abrams, he creates a wonderful 40’s war-time atmosphere within the underground bunker. Simple, but effective, shots include a lovely interaction between Michele and other “guest” Emmet – a young man who is her only company sans Howard.  Trachtenberg delivers a simple back-and-forth shot of both characters conversing softly on either side of a wall; a moment of warmth and invite amidst their terrifying reality. There is no mistake of over-direction, and the film is edited almost faultlessly. Every lingering shot of Howard at the dinner table, as Michelle’s eyes grow more nervous, exists to ratchet up the ambiguity within the quandary our protagonist finds herself.

The story builds incredibly well. However, the final act does seem a little rushed. It’s like Trachtenberg and Co. wanted that grand finale, but perhaps ran out of the relatively small budget (approx. $10 million) to present us a clearer, lengthier look at what is now occurring above ground. Make no mistake though, the ending is highly entertaining; a shocking barrage of surprising reveals – yet somehow it just can’t match the intriguing character study and oozing tension of the bunker. Of course if a sequel is to come, which it sure gives the impression of, then the ending indeed sets one up perfectly.

10 Cloverfield Lane is a smart Hitchcockian thriller. Whilst the ending may be not to everyone’s tastes, when the action is underground in Howard’s bunker, the film tells a story of brilliant character drama, great mystery, and tightly-woven suspense.

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DISSERTATION – Resetting The Day: Exploring Time-Travel within Science Fiction Film in a Post-Pong World

Abstract

This project entails an analysis of three Science-Fiction films released in a post-videogame world, between 1972 and 2015: The Terminator (1984), Inception (2010) and Edge of Tomorrow (2014). It focuses on how time-travel works inside their narratives, what the consequences are- philosophically, psychoanalytically, conceptually etc. – of time-travel, and whether the invention of videogames have influenced them and how. Through in-depth research from theorists and scholars into the Time-travel narrative, Time theory/philosophy, psychoanalytical examination of the time-travellers, Videogame influence and more, this work looks at how the films play with these key aspects and how they reflect both literary works and societal concerns and anxieties. In Chapter 1; a discussion on The Terminator regarding it’s narrative, false mantra, and reasons for it’s popularity with audiences of the time. Chapter 2 is an analysis of Inception, focusing on it’s remediation of videogames and it’s societal commentary of a new virtual age. Within Chapter 3 on Edge of Tomorrow, we dive deep into what time-travel is meant to represent within the film’s narrative, stronger videogame remediation, and the affect of ‘new media’. This project shows us that analysing Time-travel means a deeper insightful understanding of these films narratives – a narrative that has become increasingly popular through the simple human desire of wanting to revisit the past to alter our choices. Furthermore, we see how film is remediating to evolve for a new digital world, now increasingly evoking the medium of videogames in an attempt to capture the affect of an interactive, immediate art-form. Ultimately we can understand that our time-travel machine is -as of right now- cinema itself.

 

Introduction

My dissertation will focus on the popular ‘time-travel’ narrative of films in the Science Fiction genre. By exploring Time-Travel within several films, I will analyse the logic behind the narrative, the themes brought about by time-travel, including discussion on how time is represented, comparisons between how films approach the subject of time-travel, paradoxes, and how these film shows the flexibility offered by the narrative. Also, my research will delve into philosophical questions on what Time is, and how we perceive Time. In addition, I will analyse how Videogames have impacted the Science Fiction genre, with main focus on the time-travel narrative. My work will discover how some of these ‘time-travel’ films have re-mediated Videogames, in form and narrative, and how convergence between games and film have altered the Sci-Fi film landscape after the invention of Pong in 1972, the first arcade game that brought Videogames into our mainstream culture. Using theorists (Grusin, Shaviro, Bolter, Adorno etc.) I will look at how New Media, in particular videogames, have altered the Science Fiction genre, and how the ‘virtuality’ of new media is an important discussion that is affecting the films we see today. In a time where we crave immediacy and interactivity from our entertainment more than ever, I will discuss how games are affecting film, and how ‘time-travel’ is synonymous with videogame narrative, hence how game theory, known as ‘ludology’ is an important component to understanding the way these films operate. In the 21st Century, now more than ever Science Fiction films are hitting the ‘reset’ button, and this work will dive into what it truly means to “try again” and change the future.

Matthew Jones & Joan Omrod’s Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games, and Steven Sanders’ The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film are sources that will be a great starting base to my discussion on how my Science-Fiction films present the time-travel narrative within their stories. The first book is an all-encompassing look at time-travel, with analytical essays written on popular media that use the narrative in multiple ways. This first source is wonderfully up-to-date, having been printed July 2015, and has been clearly been written with the mindset to offer a look into a popular narrative that the authors preface by saying “they could not find a single book written about time-travel in media”, even though clearly not because of lack of popularity. Sanders’ book is a more philosophical look at Science-Fiction Films, and should prove invaluable for time theory study.

Looking at the remediation of videogames in some of my chosen films, Matteo Bittanti’s “The Technoludic Film: Images of Videogames in Movies” and Richard Grusin’s essay DVDs, Video Games, and the Cinema of Interactions” are both hugely informative studies on how the aesthetic and narrative form of videogames are influencing what we see in 21st Century Time-travel films. These sources are focused on explaining the ‘techno-ludic’ genre, and how the ‘interactivity’ and ‘virtuality’ of videogames are becoming implemented more and more in cinema today. I will touch upon the elements of videogames that immerse us, and ‘ludology’ or game theory is a useful component to understanding why films are taking notice of the feeling we have when playing videogames.

Focusing on the future of cinema, what is the impact of our ‘new media’ on the time-travel film, the Science-Fiction genre, and cinema in general? Steven Shaviro’s Post-Cinematic Affect, Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment and Jay David Bolter & Richard Grusin’s Remediation: Understanding New Media should all help in answering that question. Focusing on the ‘post-cinematic affect’, and the dialectic’s between old and new media, this literature is key to analysing the broader impact of how film is looking to the way society is being entertained and captured by media in the modern day in order to stay relevant and up-to-date in an ever changing entertainment world.

In my research, I will take theoretical approaches from theorists such as Freud to look at the psychoanalytical aspects of time-travel, Thomas Elsaesser on genre theory including ‘mind-game’ films such as Inception – which has time-travel inside a person’s mind- and Steven Shaviro’s thoughts on the ‘post-cinematic’ context of my chosen films. Meanwhile, theorists Grusin,  Bittanti and others use a ‘new media’ theoretical approach to answer how film is being impacted by videogames in aesthetic and narrative form; Bittanti exploring ludology and knowledge of game form in order to show the connections between what we play and what we watch, and some striking observations between how much modern cinema is borrowing from videogames.

To conclude the work, I will discuss the possible future of film in a world of new media, of interactivity and immediacy, and how cinema itself is our present day time machine.

 

Foreword

What is Time? Time is a part of our reality that can’t be quantified; it can’t be argued with; it’s merely a construct of our lives and the universe around us. Everything is bound by time, and time never stops. It endlessly hurtles on, affecting us and the world we live in. Time is a measure where events can be put in chronological order from past to present, and it measures the duration of events and every single event in between. Time ages humans, it ages the creatures of our world, and it is the definer for what’s considered young and old. As the Oxford Dictionary defines Time: “The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole” (2016).

There seems to be two opposing theories where Time is concerned. Isaac Newton’s realist view is that time is a fundamental structure of the universe, or as it’s more commonly known- the Fourth Dimension, that is after the three dimensions of space that us humans live within. Because of course we do not witness time in our reality, we merely know of its existence by staring at a clock, for example. We perceive time; we don’t physically see it. As Rynasiewicz explains, Newton “did not regard space and time as genuine substances (as are, paradigmatically, bodies and minds), but rather as real entities with their own manner of existence as necessitated by God’s existence (more specifically, his omnipresence and eternality)” (pg.1).

The second prominent theory is, in the mind-set of Gottfried Leibniz, that time is a fundamental intellectual structure- along with space and number– where humans are able to compare and sequence events. This theoretical approach tells us that time is not an event, or even a thing and therefore cannot be measured or travelled (Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, 2016).

Now, of course, this dissertation will be discussing Time-Travel, hence this latter theory will be put aside for the sake of allowing the possibility of not only Time-Travel being possible in film and a fictional world, but even our own reality. Newton’s theory, or Newtonian Time, is a far more optimistic view of time; it’s a theory that opens up our world and the possibilities of humans being able to actually effect Time, and that is a quite wondrous outlook. If Newton is correct, it means that in our future the possibility of Time-Travel could be utterly achievable. If Time-travel were to be invented, it would shake the very nature of our reality. Of course, there would be an immense amount of potential problems with the ability to travel through time, some of which will be addressed in this work.

Time to begin.

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Is The Future Not Set?  The Terminator (1984)

 

“Time is a flat circle.”

In the critically acclaimed Season One of television crime drama True Detective (2014), this is how philosophical character Rust Cohle (played by Matthew McConaughey) theorises how time operates. This hypothesis is the logic and basis used in countless time-travel films and it’s derived from an object entitled ‘The Mobius Strip’. Discovered in 1858 by German mathematicians August Ferdinand Mobius and Johann Benedict Listing, ‘The Mobius Strip’ is the name for an object with only one surface and one boundary. In simpler terms, a loop or ‘flat circle’ (Polster, Steinke, pg.13).  Two of the three films in this study use this time-as-a-loop theory as the basis for how time works within their science-fiction worlds. The Terminator (1984) is the first of them that will be analysed.

Known as a sci-fi classic, directed by James Cameron, The Terminator tells the story of a cybernetic humanoid machine that gets sent back to the past from the future to kill a woman named Sarah Connor. In 1997, Skynet (a computer system) becomes self-aware and begins a war with humans, exterminating almost the entirety of the human race.  By 2027, Skynet’s machines are running amok across the planet as pockets of human resistance fighters’ battle for their existence. The leader of the resistance is a man named John Connor. As he is the ultimate threat to the machines victory and would actually end up defeating Skynet by 2029, the machines decide to send a Terminator – a machine that looks human, or more accurately ‘human tissue over cybernetic endoskeleton’- to kill John Connor’s mother, Sarah. This would result in John never being born, therefore securing the machines victory instead. Realising the machines’ plan, the resistance send a human man, Kyle Reese, back in time to protect Sarah from the Terminator, and ensure her survival and the survival of her unborn son. Within the film’s fictional world the catalyst for time-travel is a mechanical time-machine; a transportation device that sends both machine and human back to the past to alter events which in turn alter the future. So for example, the machines want to send a Terminator to stop Sarah giving birth to her son, so it makes clear that if she does indeed get killed, John would never exist. However, there is a great theoretical issue that arises when time is travelled. This problem is what is known as the Grandfather Paradox.

The Grandfather Paradox is derived from an imaginary anecdote that postulates if a man was to return to the past to kill his biological grandfather – thereby preventing his birth – how could the man even return to the past if he was never born? How can you alter the past without altering your own existence and the very fabric of normative reality? This paradox “was represented by the rationalists among science-fiction fans as an argument against the possibility of time travel” (Penley, pg.119). This brings up theorist Gilles Deleuze’s struggle with time as a concept in cinema, and the belief that past and the present can co-exist, side by side. This co-existence Deleuze theorises about time-movement is best exemplified by cinema itself; it’s “the one-twentieth century art form that comes closest”, Radowick interprets (1997, pg.39). As Haim Bresheeth explains in his paper entitled ‘The Flexibility of Narrative Time: Time Travel in Science Fiction Cinema’, the “Deleuzian flexibility of time – that can be “subordinated” and “bifurcated”; the movement of time – emerges with great clarity during the second period of the cinematic Sci-Fi genre, from the 1980’s onward” (pp.3-4). If Deleuze’s theory is correct, the Grandfather Paradox is negated by the understanding of time as being able to be split, where there are multiple timelines running in parallel with each other. This is known as a “multi-verse”, or a parallel universe.

In Steven Sanders’ The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film, writer William J. Devlin believes The Terminator indeed espouses this “branching universe metaphysical model”, where John Connor’s actions can in theory potentially create new timelines (pg.112).  However, whilst this is entirely possible, a casual loop timeline makes far greater sense because Connor already exists in the future that we are presented. At no point does the spectator ever witness an alternate timeline, therefore Devlin’s theory is nothing more than a guess; whereas this analysis later will provide evidence for my loop theory.  It’s my belief that in order to avoid the Grandfather Paradox entirely, the Terminator cannot succeed in his mission to kill Sarah. Sarah and her son have to live, in order for her son to even send Kyle Reese back from the future. Hence the closed loop; or a ‘Predestination Paradox’. This paradox occurs when a time traveller is caught in a loop of events that “predestines” him or her to travel back in time. “A time traveller attempting to alter the past in this model, intentionally or not, would only be fulfilling his role in creating history as we know it, not changing it” (Wiki Definitions, 2016). That is truly Kyle Reese’s raison d’être.

Along with a potential number of paradoxes firing it’s narrative, the film also raises psychoanalytical questions about what occurs when John Connor from the future sends his junior soldier (would-be father) Kyle Reese back in time to impregnate his mother Sarah in order for him to be born, before the Terminator kills her. Sigmund Freud, in his psychoanalytical studies -along with psychologists in general- all view time as a linear concept where our present behaviour and our present selves are intrinsically driven and informed by the first event in our lives: birth. Psychoanalysis looks at this linear timeline of a person’s life using a “cause and effect” model, where issues of causality, change, process, and behaviour are brought to the fore. Sigmund’s ‘time-travel’ is based in this theoretical field where humans all subconsciously yearn to return to the womb, so to speak. In ‘The Uncanny’, Freud writes:

 

“Neurotic men declare that they feel there is something uncanny about the female genital organs. This unheimlich (un-homely) place, however, is the entrance to the former Heim [home] of all human beings, to the place where each one of us lived once upon a time and in the beginning. There is a joking saying that ‘Love is home-sickness’; and whenever a man dreams of a place or a country and says to himself, while he is still dreaming: ‘this place is familiar to me, I’ve been here before.’ We may interpret the place as being his mother’s genitals or her body. In this case too, then, the unheimlich is what was once heimisch, familiar; the prefix ‘un’ [‘un-‘] is the token of repression.” (Freud, pg.245)

 

In The Terminator, John Connor’s existence requires this return to the womb, and a return to the ‘Primal Scene’- Freud’s term for the first time a child witnesses their parents having sexual intercourse. Unlike in Back To The Future (1985) though, where Marty must witness his father and mother lovemaking in the past to secure his existence, John Connor himself does not return to the past, instead sending his deputy Kyle Reese to return to the womb, and in turn become his father and enable his existence. In Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, that tells the story of Oedipus, a man who would become king of Thebes who unwittingly fulfils the prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother, here we have John Connor returning – not personally, but figuratively in Kyle Reese’s embodiment of him – to the origin of his creation. However, unlike in the story of Oedipus Rex, The Terminator’s narrative means John Connor can, metaphysically speaking, be himself and his father all at once. As Constance Penley describes in her article on the film: “That such a fantasy is an attempted end-run around Oedipus is also obvious: John Conner can identify with his father, can even be his father in the scene of the parental intercourse, and also conveniently dispose of him in order to go off with (in) his mother” (Penley, pg.121).

After viewing a play of Oedipus Rex in the late 1890’s, Freud coined the term ‘Oedipus Complex’ that describes how every child has repressed desires to have sexual relations with the parent of the opposite sex. This theory could be easily considered as a subtle driving force of The Terminator’s narrative and plot, and clearly shows the psychological aspect to time-travel in the film along with the similarity that both stories are told over a 24 hour period. As Aristotle’s Poetics suggests is one of the three rules (unities) of drama or perfect tragedy (although never acknowledged by Aristotle himself, merely an observation of Greek drama) – The Unity of Time: “The dramatic time of the action [should] not exceed one day” (Hochman, pg.261).

As discussed earlier, The Mobius Strip and the circularity of time is evident in the story. For example, John Connor is a warrior in the machine-future, and was only taught to be by his mother, who herself was taught by Kyle Reese, a man from the future with knowledge of how to fight the Terminators. In turn, Reese learned everything he knew from his commander, John Connor- which returns us right back where we started. Kyle never existed in the time of Sarah Connor, he is purely from the future, but without him, John Connor would not exist. To put it simply, Sarah’s and Reese’s existence is a definite, but John’s is variable to the point where it cannot be otherwise the Grandfather Paradox would arise.

Apart from the Terminator and Kyle Reese travelling back in time, a symbolic object is the only other clue we have that we are in a loop timeline. Kyle is in possession of a photograph of Sarah at the Mexican border, soon before she would give birth to John. This image also happens to be the last image of the film, and constitutes what is Sarah’s inevitable escape from the Terminator. However, we see this photo near the beginning of the film, but of course for Sarah (and viewers), this hasn’t happened yet. Thus the story, at its conclusion, comes literally full circle. As Zizek describes it: “To be present as a pure gaze prior to one’s own conception” (Zizek, pg.22).

Understanding The Terminator’s events as a cyclical timeline (excluding the sequels which make events even more twisted and complex) actually is the film’s narrative undoing. The famous mantra for The Terminator has always been “The future is not set.” In Terminator 2 (1991), it’s “No fate but what we make”. This optimistic outlook to the future is the film’s guiding light, and we as viewers truly would like to believe that we have the power to change our own fate. Unfortunately, in this case, the mantra is a lie. For as we can see, if John, Sarah, Kyle and the Terminator are on a casual loop timeline, then fate has already been decided. Sarah can never die before giving birth to John. John’s existence is certain from the very beginning of the movie, because he is alive in the future. This casual loop would be set to repeat itself over and over again- ad infinitum. As spectators to the story, once we understand how time works in this fictional universe, we can know that the Terminator will never succeed in its mission. Furthermore, nothing symbolises fate more than the photograph of Sarah that John hands to Kyle Reese.  Ultimately, this story is all about fate, and there could only ever be one outcome.

In the film, “Time is not perceived spatially, as zones spread along a line, themselves immobile, but as movement, change and transition: the present turning into the past, the future turning into the present, but also into the past” (Bresheeth, pg.9). Delueze theorises that a photograph, or film is a “time-image”, so in The Terminator, the photograph of Sarah becomes the key to understanding the entire narrative’s time logic. Throughout the film Kyle Reese has flashbacks looking at Sarah’s picture, almost like he has been there before; because he has. Bergsen calls this illusion of déjà vu ‘paramnesia’ (Bergson, p.137). Thus, “our actual existence, then, whilst it is unrolled in time, duplicates itself along with a virtual existence, a mirror image. Every moment of our life presents the two aspects, it is actual and virtual, perception on the one side and recollection on the other. . . Whoever becomes conscious of the continual duplicating of his present into perception and recollection … will compare himself to an actor playing his part automatically, listening to himself and beholding himself playing” (Bergson, pp.135-8).

Ultimately, The Terminator‘s time-travel story and characters drove the film to success and eventual sequels. So does The Terminator‘s narrative, along with the time-travel genre as a whole, speak to us as humans?  Floortje Sprenkels -using Andrew Gordon’s thoughts- believes so. Whilst there can’t be any strong arguments made for this film having any videogame elements per-say, there is most certainly a societal, human connection that reflected people’s anxiety’s of the future in the 80’s. It can be argued that this is the reason why the time-travel genre rose in popularity amidst this angst-ridden time. As Sprenkels explains:

 

“Gordon ascribes this sudden popularity and growth also to the political and economic crises shaping this decade (caused by the tensions of the Cold War and the political and social unrest of the Vietnam War), creating a flight mentality among society. Time travel films are then the perfect means for expressing this desire, speaking to “our nostalgia for the past, our dissatisfaction with the present and our dread of the future.”  For the time travel narrative can allow the viewer to project their fantasies and desires onto it and create new realities. The overall dread of the future in society and the belonging negative Hollywood vision of the future, are probably most famously illustrated in James Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator. This film tells the story of a future that is dominated by artificial intelligence machines, attempting to exterminate the entire human race. The future is bleak and rotten, and one of the main characters has to travel back in time in order to save the human race in the future.” (Sprenkels, pp.12-13)

 

Therefore, through close analysis of narrative, understanding the timeline structure, a focused look at key objects in the story, psychoanalytical subtext, the theory that time can be past, present and future simultaneously, along with the societal context of the 80’s which would lead to the rise of the time-travel genre, is abject to the comprehension of The Terminator.

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Virtual Time Travel: Inception (2010)

 

“An idea is like a virus; resilient, highly contagious.”

In Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster Inception (2010), Dom Cobb (played by Leonardo Di Caprio) is the leader of a team of mind-hijackers that plant ideas in their targets minds, thereby altering their actions for the gain of whoever hired them. In order for an idea to be planted in the target’s mind, Cobb’s crew must enter their subconscious whilst their sleeping within a sedated dream-state. They then navigate the target’s mind through mazes of the team’s design until they reach a point where the idea can be successfully planted so to naturally evolve and become the target’s real-world action. That is inception. The deeper the crew venture into the target’s mind; the further down they go, the more likely inception will be achieved. “Downwards is the only way forwards”, as Dom explains.

Inception follows Cobb as he takes on “one last mission” to gain access to the United States to see his children again. After being forced out of the country on the charges that he may have murdered his wife Mal (Marion Cottilard), he finds himself in a desperate state, willing to do anything to be reunited with his kids. Then Saito, a shady Japanese corporate mogul, approaches Cobb with a job. He wants Cobb to infiltrate and manipulate the mind of Robert Fischer – heir to the Fischer-Morrow conglomerate that will soon monopolize the energy industry- and induce Fischer to break-up the business for the personal gain of Saito, a competitor. Once the mission is complete, one phone call from Saito will reward Cobb with what he desires most. Cobb accepts the job, and his crew get to work.

Not time-travel in the typical sense, Inception compresses time and focuses on “temporality, duration, memory and aging” (Burnetts, pg.234). Rather than physical time-travel to a different time period/location, the film is about travelling through the subconscious mind. As explained in the film, time moves more slowly whilst we’re dreaming. Within Fischer’s dream, Cobb’s crew must travel through his mind, battling Fisher’s projections (“subconscious security”, Cobb calls the virtual bodyguards) in an attempt to reach the inception point. Facing this difficult mission, Cobb decides to go deeper. That is: a dream within a dream within a dream. Three layers and three mazes to guide Fischer through. The deeper they go, the more time slows in the virtual world. In the real world, time operates as normal. In Inception, Cobb explains “Five minutes in the real world gives you one hour in the dream world.” By this math, each subsequent layer they move into, time moves twelve times slower. In real-time, on a 10 hour flight from Sydney to Los Angeles, that means they have approximately: one week in the first dream, six months in the second, and ten years in the third.

This narrative is made possible by a fictional future technology named the ‘PASIV’ device. With the appearance of a bulky, silver briefcase, the device is opened up to reveal a sci-fi piece of equipment, with long, thin tubes branching out from the centre of the briefcase where lies a capsule with a strong sedative and a large white button. Once the tubes are inserted into the veins of Cobb and his crew, the button is pressed and the sedative is released into the crew’s bloodstreams, sending them into a deep dream-state. “Taking place in the dream-space of characters, time is not so much traversed as compressed and virtualized by the PASIV technology”, Burnetts explains (pg.235). The technology allows them to tap into Fischer’s dreams psychologically.

However, the technology has it’s risks, which Cobb explains to his new tutee, Ariadne (Ellen Page) before the mission. In order to perform inception, an ‘architect’ is needed. As the newly appointed architect, Ariadne must create the three different worlds of dream layers that Fischer will enter. She is the ‘dreamer’; who has ultimate power of creating and modifying the virtual world of which they will enter. But there is not ultimate freedom- as Cobb warns, the worst thing you can do is create places drawn from one’s own memory. The reason is, as Cobb mentions, because doing so risks no longer being able to distinguish reality from the dream. Cobb has experienced this himself, and a large part of the narrative focuses on his struggle with an ‘idea’ that throughout the film undermines the Fischer mission and Cobb’s own sense of reality. After the suicide of his wife, who Cobb performed inception on, he continuously sees Mal popping up within the dream-worlds, endangering him and compounding his guilt towards her death. Freud’s mention of the ‘uncanny’ and “involuntary return to the same situation” is clear here, and it’s these memories that prevent Cobb from moving on. In order for Cobb to be free, he must learn to stop feeling guilty for Mal’s death, and confront the memory of his wife once and for all.

   Inception is a narrative driven by the psychology that one can implant an idea in the mind of an unaware subject in a way that the subject believes it was their idea. Whilst it may seem preposterous and completely fictional, perhaps –in some sense- this psychology is based firmly in reality, too.  Adorno’s Dialectic of Enlightenment includes a chapter entitled “The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception” which provides a discussion on how our culture industry uses very similar tactics in order to deceive and persuade us to consume more. In the 21st Century, capitalist industries bombard us with targeted advertising, attempting to enslave us to the system upon which we are bound. Because of course, Cobb and Saito are not morally right in their actions. They ultimately trick Fischer into believing he wants to dismantle his father Maurice’s company. Therefore, Cobb is the deceiver, and Fischer is the deceived. Adorno’s arguably pessimistic view sees the culture industry as the deceiver: “films, radio and magazines make up a system which is uniform as a whole and in every part…..culture impresses the same stamp upon everyone” (Adorno, pg.120).

However, even if we as a society are being deceived by the culture industry we can still be aware of the potential negative influences that it has on our lives. Just as within Mal’s dream, where Cobb and her live for several decades, growing old together, Cobb is still aware that what they are experiencing isn’t real. It’s not reality, therefore it cannot be true happiness. It is simulated truth; simulated happiness, a simulated time – which arguably is what our culture industry incepts in us. As Ben Aguinaga explains:

 

“Happiness, for Adorno, seems to be the pivotal factor influenced by the culture industry. He carefully describes how the magazine stands take into account every type of person and, thus, how those magazines are designed to bring about the happiness and enjoyment of every person that peruses the stands. The thousands of television channels are specifically designed to cover the diverse interests of the American population. So, it would seem that the culture industry, as Adorno understands, is primarily geared towards satisfying the population.” (Aguinaga, pg.29).

 

Ultimately, my belief is that it’s our choice to decide whether we choose to believe the seemingly dire view of Adorno, or we choose to believe our reality is based upon true happiness. In Inception, whist Cobb chooses to be self-aware that he’s growing old with Mal inside her dream, Mal consciously chooses to believe her dream is reality. That idea becomes so powerful within her mind that even once she wakes up with Cobb -both younger in reality as time is stretched in the dream-state – even in the real world she continues to believe she is dreaming; so she kills herself in the hope of waking up. Alas, she of course does not, and Cobb is forced to escape the U.S. on his wife’s murder charge.

In the film, time is not so much traversed as it is simulated, distorted and elongated in dreams. However, as Burnetts points out, whilst “the story of Inception differs significantly from time-travel films, its plot is in fact quite similar, in as much as the film is about characters that cross temporal and spatial divides in order to intervene in a predetermined turn of events” (Burnetts, pg.236). Everyone in the story, including most importantly Cobb, Mal and Saito, experiences this time-distortion upon entering the dream-state, and upon leaving they are once again their younger selves. The whole PASIV system is like a high-tech hallucinatory device, where its subjects can enjoy (Cobb and Mal growing old together) – or endure – incredible amounts of time in dream-states; the worst of which is ‘Limbo’, where Saito is subjected to as a result of dying in the 3rd Dream Level, which cannot be woken up from by dying within the dream. Time in Inception is “not only subjective and personally endured, but also relative; an unfixed and unstable experience of duration that cannot be fully objectified and measured. The dream-spaces [of the film] share a different ontology to those of the time travel genre while articulating its concerns with change, continuity, escape and return” (Burnetts, pg.238). That differing ontology refers to how reality is shown by the film and accounted for its spectator, especially the crucial understanding between “character perception and externally rendered events and locations” (Burnetts, pg.238).

Similarly to The Terminator and Kyle Reese’s character, Cobb has flashbacks of past memories of his wife and children. These memories are an embodiment of Cobb’s guilt of incepting his wife and abandoning his kids, which complicate and problematize the spectator’s vision of reality. In the dream-state, artificial simulation combines with memory, which contrasts with the typical time-travel environment where the past and future is are utterly self-contained and completely external. In Inception, external environments once we enter a dream can no longer be trusted, because they are not real. As Ariadne experiments in the dream-world of Paris, she has the power to manipulate the environment, changing her surroundings at will with the power of imagination and her own internalized memories. In the dream-state the laws of time, physics, and our real-world no longer apply. Inception’s distortion of time means the clear distinctions between the past, present, real and virtual are blurred. As when Cobb visits Mombasa to recruit an alchemist (the sedative creator), an old man who supervises a room of “dreamers” -who spend more time in the dream-state than reality – explains: “The dream has become their reality. Who are you to say otherwise?”

‘Mind-game’ films like Inception or the more recent Mindscape (2013), starring Mark Strong and Taissa Farmiga, are good examples of how cinema is moving forward into a more virtual, interactive, instantaneous world of media and society in general. In Mindscape, for example, Mark Strong plays a detective in a near-future world who can solve crimes by entering the mind of a victim. Through time manipulation within the victims’ memories, he can view and access their view of the crime. So are these mind-game films a somewhat evolution of the time-travel narrative? Arguably so. Thomas Elsaesser notes that these films are a key “tendency” in contemporary American cinema (2009, pg.13). Mind-game films share “art-film” qualities with the “New Hollywood Film”; they tend to employ special effects and complex premises, with loose narratives and unstable characters, like Cobb in Inception, and are “more ambiguous in their rendering of clearly externalised worlds” (Burnetts, pg.238). Therefore, Elsaesser determines:

 

“Mind-game films, we could say, break one set of rules (realism, transparency, linearity) in order to make way for a new set, and their formal features- whether we examine them from a narratological angle, from an ontological, epistemological, psychopathological, or pedagogical perspective (for all of which they provide credible “entry points”)- represent a compromise formation, which is itself flexible, adaptable, differential, and versatile: not unlike it’s ideal (implied) spectators” (2009, pg.38).

 

This narrative is a reflection of media and society today. Elsaesser discusses flexibility and linearity, where words such as those can refer to both entertainment and spectators. Steven Shaviro coined the term “post-cinematic”, used to describe how cinema has given “way to television as a “cultural dominant” a long time ago, in the mid-twentieth century; and television in turn has given way in recent years to computer and network based, and digitally generated ‘new media’”.  He continues by stating “film has not disappeared, but has been transformed over the past two decades from an analog process to a heavily digitized one” (pg.1). Inception can be viewed as post-cinematic cinema, where the mind-game narrative and focus on unstable memories and distorted time all simultaneously amalgam to create a film that taps into the insecurity, isolation, alienation and detachment from society –the real-world– by entering into the world of dreams and the virtual; not dissimilar to how society have become ever-connected – tethered even- to their myriad technological devices, and virtual lives. How capitalism and ever-rising consumerism is shutting us off from reality, tempting us and planting seeds in our minds for the endless barrage of advertising of products that we “need” to make us “happier”. This is the “post-cinematic affect” it can be seen that Shaviro refers to: cinema today that is a mirror to society as a whole, down to how we feel in the modern world.

One of the most popular forms of entertainment today, annually making more profits than film, are videogames. By 1972, arcade game Pong (Atari) – that resembled table tennis, with two “paddles” running up and down both sides of the screen and a “ball” that would have to be successfully hit back and forth – would launch videogames into popular culture. Videogames have, of course, one key difference to film. They are interactive: they hand over control to the “player”. As games have grown into a mainstream media, it’s not difficult to understand why cinema is remediating the medium in various- often subtle– ways. ‘Ludology’ (or ‘game theory’) is an important aspect when discussing the way films attempt to remediate games; the videogame is often a combination of narrative storytelling and game design. Henry Jenkins explains how the relationship between games and story is a question that still divides “game fans, designers and scholars alike” (pg.118). In his essay “Game Design and Narrative Structure”, Jenkins explains the schism he witnessed whilst attending a Game Studies conference: the ‘self-proclaimed ludologists’, who believe focus should lie on game-play mechanics; and opposing them the ‘narratologists’, who are interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media.  Inception, if analyzed closely, shares many traits of a videogame’s gameplay elements and structure within its narrative.

Firstly, the PASIV device itself is like a virtual-reality console. The people hooked up to the machine are “dreamers”, who are just like “gamers” in a multiplayer simulation. The futuristic technology emulates interactive gaming, where players are mentally submerged in the virtual world of the game, and the “virtual space” on which the game is displayed – a TV, monitor, Smartphone etc. As Burnetts points out, “the physical integrity of the time travel hero as he crosses different dimensions is split here between body and mind, where the latter is freed here from its usual physical and ontological constraints and permitted to exercise the full extent of imagination and memory” (pg.242).

Not simply just invoking gaming technology, Inception’s environments are just like “levels” in a game. The first level is ‘Reality’. The second is the ‘Van Chase’ through a rainy city. Third is ‘The Hotel’. Then comes the ‘Snow Fortress’, and finally ‘Limbo’. Furthermore, as when gaming, having familiarity with a level and good timing means the more likely the player is to succeed: in the film time is a key theme- it is what Cobb’s crew use to know when they need to complete their mission within each level by. It’s a literal race against time by the climax of the film, once things inevitably have gone wrong, but above that there is the timing of the “kicks” – a sharp, harsh force that wakes a dreamer up. Cobb’s crew are in three levels down, which means one “kick” is required per each level. Arthur, Cobb’s right-hand man, is in charge of strategy and organization of the mission, and ultimately he must improvise a “kick” at the film’s climax to successfully wake the rest of the crew up from the lower-dream states. Unlike John Connor in The Terminator, or Doc Brown in Back To The Future (1985), the brains behind the operation does not merely orchestrate the action or trigger it, but instead are an integral part of the story and are too valuable as a “gamer” to just sit back and let everyone else play. Arthur gets to play too, thus “foregrounding a spatialized logic as opposed to the more temporal variations of the traditional time travel film” (Burnetts, pg.242). Therefore, unlike most Time-Travel story-worlds, which are “set as a constant against which time is a variable”, Inception “is like a videogame in its rendering of heterogeneous levels within which the mission takes place” (Burnett, pg.242.).

This remediation that Inception has of ‘gameplay’ design whilst also conforming to Hollywood narratological conventions is cinema’s attempt at maintaining relevance in the modern day of new digital media. As Bolter and Grusin explain:

 

“Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media” (pg.15).

 

Inception is a nod to time-travel films such as The Terminator, where we have Fischer’s relationship with his “disappointed” father as the typical linear oedipal narrative: his conflict with his dad, then his acceptance of him under the fake idea that Cobb planted, upon which his story concludes by him assuming his father’s position as head of the Energy Company. Themes of reconciliation; Cobb with his children, Fisher with his father, of redemption; Cobb redeeming himself from the guilt of his wife’s death, of getting Saito stuck in Limbo for several decades- and many more classical Hollywood character actions – make it clear that the film utilizes a literary approach in aspects to its narrative.

Simultaneously, however, it’s also an embracing of new digital media; videogames in particular. The film’s narrative is complex, flexible, structured like gameplay, evoking virtual reality technology, and it’s clearly been created for a 21st Century audience. The film is meant to be watched and re-watched in order to uncover all its secrets. Its narrative is a virtualization of the time-travel genre, where instead of the common classic time-travel structure of linear time and related causalities (Cause and Effect), Inception somewhat remediates new digital media’s form to create a re-imagining of time-travel for cinema; time-travel for a new spectator who has grown up in a digitized world. A world where time no longer needs to be traversed physically, but can be traversed mentally. The “mind-game” film is a showing of a performance of skill, memory, and timing, very similar to the experience of playing a game without having the power of interacting yourself.

Finally, we reach the end to Inception’s story. Cobb is reunited with his children at long last, but Nolan quickly focuses on Cobb’s spinning totem – his instrument that shows him that he is still in someone else’s dream if it never topples – and yet it spins and spins. The shot lingers there for a little, and then the screen turns to black. The audience never sees if Cobb’s dreaming this scenario or it’s actually reality. Maybe it doesn’t matter- after all Cobb does not stay to see if the totem will topple. Cobb is finally free of his guilt for Mal’s death; maybe that is enough. Either way, Nolan could be seen as playing with his audience just as we play in our everyday lives. In this world of social media and new digital technologies, humans are increasingly becoming lost in our virtual worlds. Worlds that –in reality- don’t really matter that much.

Nolan’s Inception presents Time as which “essentially folds into itself, and can no longer be can conceived of in terms of an ongoing progression of unfolding events, a condition that requires the subject to more or less gamble with the certainties once ensured by time-travel, and derive faith from whatever provisional reality he or she currently inhabits in his or her present” (Burnetts, pg.246).  This reflects Cobb’s choice at the end of his story, and at the end of Inception. He is deciding to have faith in his current environment, in that moment, and is gambling that he truly is back in the real world by not watching his totem fall. This gamble, this faith, is what us humans today place in our technology today. We live in a society of networks, constantly connected to each other at all times. We place so much import on Facebook, and Twitter, and so on, because they are meant to make us feel closer to our friends and family -even people we don’t know- than ever before. My argument is that, whilst our new world presents us with advantages, it also arrives hand-in-hand with disadvantages. Everyone has almost become a performance of themselves, where social media presents the illusion – the idea– of intimacy, but inevitably can never achieve this. Humans will always keep a part of themselves locked away, and we will always need to interact with one another physically to create true meaning and true connection. Nolan’s ambiguous ending is the ultimate reflection to what society feels like in the modern day; a paradigm shift of ultimate proportions as we play with a virtual world that, if not careful, we can get lost in. Just as Time is at a disconnect with Reality in Inception, we spend ever-increasing amounts of time on our screens, disconnecting ourselves from reality; and for better or worse, that is the truest statement about society today.

 

ALL YOU NEED IS KILL

 

Resetting the Day:  Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

 

“Live. Die. Repeat.”

That’s the other name for Doug Liman’s sci-fi summer thriller Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Based on the book All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, the film is set in 2061 and tells the story of Earth under attack by seemingly-invincible aliens called Mimics. Every army that has faced them in battle have perished, and the Mimics are edging ever closer to wiping out the entire human population. Major William Cage (played by Tom Cruise) is tasked with being part of a ground assault in France against the aliens – but he has no combat experience, wrongly ordered into battle by the Head of Humanity’s ‘United Defense Force’(UFD), General Brigham (Brendan Gleeson). What follows is a suicide mission where Cage finds himself in an unwinnable battle with the Mimics, and he gets killed within minutes of landing on the French coast. However, instead of death, Cage finds himself caught in a time loop where he has to relive the past day from pre-battle to being back on the beach fighting the aliens, over and over again. Though as he repeatedly dies and tries again, Cage’s fighting skills improve and he and a female warrior, ‘The Angel of Verdun’ (Emily Blunt), edge ever closer to beating the Mimics.

In the ‘Afterword’ within Sakurazaka’s novel, the author writes:

 

“I look down from above and say, ‘After all the time I put into the game, of course I was going to beat it.’…The ending never changes. The village elder can’t come up with anything better than the same, worn-out line he always uses………I’m just an ordinary guy, and proud of it. I’m here because I put in the time. I have the blisters on my fingers to prove it. It had nothing to do with coincidence, luck, or the activation of my Wonder Twin powers. I reset the game hundreds of times until my special attack finally went off perfectly. Victory was inevitable.” (pg.199).

 

This quote makes it abundantly clear that games were a huge influence on the story, and were a huge part of Hiroshi’s childhood. Unlike The Terminator, or even Inception, we have proof from the creator himself that this story is set-up just like a videogame, and has been forged by his game-playing experience. Knowing this makes our discussion instantly more accurate.

Firstly, an analysis of how Time and Time-Travel are displayed in Edge of Tomorrow. Where The Terminator also operates under a time loop, one that spans from 1984 to 2029 (forty-five years), here the time loop spans one day. Every time Cage is killed by a Mimic he wakes up at dawn the previous morning back at Heathrow Airport, the U.K operating base of the UFD. On the first day prior to the day of the invasion, Cage awakes there after he gets tasered unconscious for trying to escape General Brigham’s orders. At the airport he is confronted by Major Sergeant Farell (Bill Paxton) who informs him that he has been demoted to Private and has been charged as a deserter. After failing to convince Farell of the truth of his horrible situation, Cage is assigned to ‘J Squad’, a team of army members for the UFD.

On this first ‘try’ in battle, Cage – despite his incompetence and complete lack of combat experience- manages to kill a large Mimic; a lightning fast, blue, tentacled extra-terrestrial. However, using a mine to achieve the kill, he also kills himself. As the Mimic is right above him at that moment, it gets blown apart and it’s blue blood soaks Cage as he gets burnt to a crisp from the mine explosion. The blood falls into his wounds and devastated body as he’s killed. Cage suddenly wakes up back at Heathrow the previous morning. From this point forwards, the confused Cage tries to convince Farell and anyone else to heed his advice that the mission will fail and thousands of soldier will die, but alas; no one believes him. That is until, on one of many time loops, Cage encounters ‘The Angel of Verdun’ (aka “Full Metal Bitch” to her comrades); a female soldier who earned the name after taking down countless Mimics in battle. Cage and her meet on the beach, and she witnesses his ability to know the future, dodging Mimics and saving her life. It’s then when she tells him to “come find me when you wake up.”

This female war hero is Sergeant Rita Vrataski. Vrataski takes Cage to see

Doc. Carter, a physicist and confidant. After a short presentation we learn that the Mimic that Cage killed, of which blood is inside him, is called an ‘Alpha’. Carter explains the Alpha is like the Mimics ‘nervous system’ which is connected to the Mimics brain, known as the ‘Omega’. The Omega controls all Mimics, but more importantly, it has the ability to control Time. Vrataski informs Cage that anytime an Alpha is killed, the Omega resets the day, and is then able to see what the human enemy is going to do before they do it- hence the Mimics seemingly impossible advantage. As Vrataski and Carter explain in unison: “…And an enemy that knows the future, can’t lose”. However, when Cage was infected with the Alpha’s blood, he seized control of the enemy’s ability to reset time, so therefore now has seized the enemy’s advantage. Vrataski actually had been infected with an Alphas’ blood previously to Cage also, but lost the power when she had a blood transfusion performed whilst in surgery post-battle. This was the reason she was able to defeat so many Mimics at Verdun; earning her that name. Time-travel in Edge of Tomorrow therefore is triggered and allowed through biological means – rather than technological as in most Time-travel narratives.

   “First and foremost, Liman’s story is itself a direct expression of the video-game experience. Forced to relive the same day ad infinitum, Cage [then] trains with famous warrior, Rita Vrataski, as well as memorizes the tactics of his enemies”, Nick Shager explains. Similarly to Inception, memorizing events and timing actions are of paramount importance to Cage. Therefore, “consequently, his situation directly emulates action-oriented video games, in which success is predicated on replaying the same scenarios over and over, both in order to hone one’s skills and also to learn enemies’ pre-programmed patterns of behaviour” (Shager, pg.1). Whereas a movie such as Inception may have been inspired by games like Sim City (Maxis, 1989), Minecraft (Mojang, 2011) and other world-building simulations, Edge has clearly taken note of the popularity of Halo (Bungie, 2001), Army of Two (EA, 2008), and other action games – as author Sukurazaki described were a large and influential part of his childhood and the reason for All You Need Is Kill’s existence. In his thesis entitled “The Technoludic Film: Images of Video Games in Movies (1973-2001)”, Matteo Bittanti suggests how the “convergence between cinema and videogames led to the emergence of a new film genre, the Technoludic film. Technoludic is an umbrella term that is to describe films that incorporate videogames in their narratives and visuals” (pg.7). By Bittantis’ explanation, Edge of Tomorrow is most certainly part of that genre.

Philosophically speaking, this narrative of rebirth and reincarnation, is very similar to both The Terminator, Inception, and many other Time-travel stories. Whilst the very essence of this topic can viewed as a remediation of videogame trial-and-error gameplay, it can also be analysed through more academic terms. The Terminator is an Oedipus Story with elements of Freudian psychology, Inception is arguably a social commentary, so where does Edge of Tomorrow lie?

Frederic Nietzsche, renowned German philosopher, believed in ‘Eternal Recurrence’ or the ‘Eternal Return’; that is, the concept that the universe is recurring, and everything that has happened will happen again. The concept is based purely in physical reincarnation, and does not delve into the supernatural. Found in Indian and Ancient Egyptian philosophy, the ‘Eternal return’ views Time not as linear, but cyclical. This being the case, both Nietzsche and Deleuze seem to be in agreement where the philosophy of Time is concerned. Soren Kierkegaard’s version of eternal return, who calls it “Repetition” in his publication of the same name, is a good descriptor for Nietzsche’s Notes on the Eternal Recurrence explaining his thoughts on the infinite repetition of life and the universe:

 

“Fellow man! Your whole life, like a sandglass, will always be reversed and will ever run out again, – a long minute of time will elapse until all those conditions out of which you were evolved return in the wheel of the cosmic process. And then you will find every pain and every pleasure, every friend and every enemy, every hope and every error, every blade of grass and every ray of sunshine once more, and the whole fabric of things which make up your life. This ring in which you are but a grain will glitter afresh forever. And in every one of these cycles of human life there will be one hour where, for the first time one man, and then many, will perceive the mighty thought of the eternal recurrence of all things:- and for mankind this is always the hour of Noon” (Nietzsche, 1911).

 

Edge of Tomorrow, like Groundhog Day (1993) or Run Lola Run (1998), is the epitome of a cyclical, repetitive narrative. In fact, it is arguably one of the most video-game inspired films ever released, being simultaneously the filmic representation of gameplay– whilst also playing with Nietzsche, Delueze, and even Kierkegaard’s philosophies on Time. As Jay Dyer describes: “Simply put, the film is a presentation of Nietzsche’s eternal return, which is a restatement of the ancient view of cyclical history.  The rise of Christianity and biblical, linear history displaced the older, wherein man was viewed as trapped in a never-ending wheel of reincarnations and rebirths” (Dyer, pg.1).

In a world before the birth of Christ, the Ancient Greeks and Ancient Egyptians were known to believe in concepts such as rebirth, hence ceremonies such as mummification, which was “considered integral to one’s afterlife. The mummified body provided a place for a person’s ‘ba’, or spirit, to return to the body after death” (Museum of Science, 2016). A comparative theory is eulogized by Major Sergeant Farell when escorting Cage to his army bunk, where J. Squad await. A stern Farell tells Cage: “The good news is there’s hope for your, Private. Hope in the form of glorious combat, battle is the great redeemer, the fiery crucible in which the only true heroes are forged.” Farell implies war and death as Mans’ opportunity for redemption; that to fight is to bring hope. Therefore, the ultimate objective when trapped in this cycle that is deemed to repeat itself ad infinitum, is – as Dyer believes- “transcending the cycle altogether” (pg.1).  This is in stark contrast to the unseen cyclical narrative of The Terminator, where instead of Time being set in stone and fates already decided from the beginning of the story, Edge of Tomorrow’s Time Loop is utterly variable and the narrative is completely determined to show us, the spectators, that Cage can change the future through his actions of learning through repetition. In The Terminator, John Connor was always destined to live, but William Cage in Edge isn’t, and nor is any of ‘J. Squad’ – or more importantly Rita, his eventual love interest.

In terms of other Time-Travel Science-Fiction film that experiment with this concept, we have – to name one- Triangle (2009). In Triangle, a mind-boggling horror sci-fi thriller, our protagonist Jess (Melissa George) is the single mother of an autistic son. She decides to take a boat trip out into the ocean with several friends, but a storm wrecks their boat, causing them to board a passing ocean liner. On board the deserted ship, one of Jess’ male friends notices a painting of Greek King Sisyphus, son of Aeolus (the ship’s name in the film), and he explains the King’s story- how Sisyphus was punished for self-aggrandizing and deceitfulness by being forced to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to see it roll back down again, repeating this action for all eternity. This ultimately ends up being an analogy of Jess’s punishment for not accepting the true fate of her son. Triangle, like Edge of Tomorrow, utilizes this concept of Time being a causality loop, and the only way to escape is for the protagonist to face their inner most fears, re-incarnating themselves in the process.

At the conclusion of Edge of Tomorrow, Cage finally is able to defeat the Mimics and break the cycle of repeating his day over. By locating the Omega, the Mimic’s brain, he kills it and by doing so kills all the Mimics. However, once again he dies himself defeating the Omega, but somehow the Omega’s blood seeps into his dying body just like before with the Alpha, and Cage once again regains the power to reset the day. This time, when the day resets, Cage does not wake up at Heathrow Airport, but earlier the previous morning when Cage was arriving in London via helicopter. News awaits on landing that the Mimics are defeated. The cycle has been broken.

Edge of Tomorrow is easily the most identifiable remediation of videogames in cinema today (that isn’t actually based on an existing videogame licence). Of course, interactivity is the key exemption. As Geoff King explains, this fact can be a positive though, as interactivity means “the loss of one key source of the appeal of narrative cinema: the enjoyable process of having the balance of events taken entirely out of our hands”. That a film like Edge of Tomorrow can have “carefully balanced and organised tension and suspense; of wondering what exactly is going to happen or when without being able to influence it at all”, whereas a videogame cannot. (King, pg.54). Regardless of this however, as Leon Gurevitch explains, “the implication that interactivity implies a differentiated path from early games not suitable for cinematic analogy is problematic in suggesting that the interactive function is opposed to the cinematic” (pg.186).

Just as in the early days of cinema, when Steven Bottomore coined the term “train effect” to describe how “audiences supposedly ran hysterically from early cinema projections of oncoming trains”, Edge of Tomorrow can be seen a contemporary example of cinema for spectators that are “craving for ever new visual stimuli [which has] often characterised the process of cinematic spectatorship” (Gurevitch, 2010). Upon inspection and analysis, the ever-increased merging of videogames and cinema is clear to see, as Gurevitch sums up:

 

“At first glance the film and game industries are clearly separate and distinct entities. Not only do they involve different production practices and business models but they also produce separate and distinct products. However, there are also now more and more overlaps. While Hollywood has edged closer to a system of ‘transmedia storytelling’ with an audiovisual form that is increasingly computer generated, the emergent global gaming industry has continued to develop a photorealistic aesthetic that in turn places ever more demands upon the quality and nature of the narrative form which accompanies it…Over the past three decades gaming has not been exempt from the drive toward ever new forms of the spectacular audiovisual stimuli that Bottomore argues always drove cinema.” (Gurevitch, 2010).

 

If The Terminator is a classic time-travel story, and Inception is a re-invention of time-travel for a new world of virtual and digital media, then Edge of Tomorrow is the epitome of both. Where narrative is informed by literary scholars and philosophical musings on Time, whilst utterly embracing – even more so than Inception– the world of the present and future, where film-makers are recognizing the immediacy and mental excitement and immersion that can only be experienced in an interactive medium like videogames; therefore forging a film in Edge of Tomorrow that breaks classical film narrative and provides the spectator with an experience that is as close to the feeling of game-playing as we may have witnessed. It’s almost harking back to the days of early cinema, or as Tom Gunning described henceforth “The Cinema of Attractions”; an experience that “directly solicits spectator attention, inciting visual curiosity, and supplying pleasure through an exciting spectacle” (Gunning, pg.16). So is cinema itself destined a quasi-return to the past, into a world of audio-visual stimuli? That may just be the case; devices like the Virtual Reality headset Oculus Rift releasing in 2016 promise to shock and awe us at the possibilities of where our entertainment world could venture next. That in this modern world, we may have become lost in technology that disconnects us, but simultaneously this technology may also be our redemption; our hope.  Edge of Tomorrow is truly a cinematic experience for an audience that appreciates and understands why games are so popular today, while providing film-lovers with a time-travel narrative that excites and entertains; further blurring the line between film and new digital media.

 

 The Final Word

 In a post-videogame world, this work has looked at three Time-Travel films, beginning in the 80’s. As Tom Shales explains, from 1979-1985 most time travel films failed at the box office. The Terminator, which has been discussed, was successful. However, as Andrew Gordon explains (partly quoting Tom Shales), “the only one to hit it really big was Back to the Future, a phrase that almost sums the eighties up, and partly because the movie made time-travel a joke, a gag; a hoot. We are not amazed at the thought of time-travel because we do it every day.” Gordon continues by describing how Shales called the 80’s ““The Re-Decade”; a decade of replays, re-runs, and recycling of popular culture, epitomized by video recorders and videocassettes” (Gordon, pg.31).

This remediation has become increasingly prevalent as time has moved forward; after all every medium is inspired by other mediums. As videogames drastically changed the entertainment landscape, it also changed cinema. The Terminator does not have any substantial video-game elements that we can make a strong argument for, but instead a societal mirroring of the anxiousness of the future can be seen for the rise in popularity of the time-travel genre. Moving to the 21st Century, though, videogames are making their mark. For Inception, where for director Christopher Nolan, games are the virtual worlds of Dom Cobb and his team, a place which creation and imagination are let to run rampant across a dream-state. Or in Edge of Tomorrow, where the author of the original novel clearly states his inspiration for the story from playing action videogames as a child, employing the same repetitive trial and error nature to what would become a cinematic experience that is arguably the closest we can ever come to having the videogame affect on a cinema screen. As Matteo Bittanti’s research finds: “There is a merging of languages, narrative strategies and genres, as videogames influence films and vice versa” (pg.7).

Looking forward, the future of entertainment is a world of possibility. For now though, Shales believes “Television is our national time machine”(Gordon, pg.31). It’s true that staring at the screen is like peering through a looking glass to past, present and fictional future. Therefore, Time-Travel narratives present spectators with an ability to see that what we would all love to be able to control: Time. Cinema allows us to suspend disbelief for a couple of hours and provides us with a window, a mirror unto our world, a mirror unto our time. That mirror reflects ourselves and society back at us, and in turn allows us to see who we are, what we are, and what makes us human. That we are simultaneously nostalgic and futurist. Perhaps, regarding humans and time, everything is connected:

“To be is to be perceived. And so to know thyself is only possible through the eyes of the other. The nature of our immortal lives is in the consequences of our words and deeds that go on and are pushing themselves throughout all time. Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” – Somni-451, Cloud Atlas (Mitchell, 2004)

In addition, we can understand that Science Fiction is a genre that presents possible realities based on science that we know today. The genre is rooted in our current reality, and has therefore been shaped by our past research; thus affecting our future reality. Therefore ‘fiction’ now, could very well turn out to be ‘fact’ someday. However, until physical time-travel is invented – and maybe it will be -we already have our metaphorical time-travel. As Thomas C.Wall explains of Charles Deleuze’s two-volume study of Cinema:

Cinema 2 describes the recovery of cinema’s lost ‘secret’, the direct presentation of that to which only language, not perception, is adequate: time. Beginning with Yasujiro Ozu, cinema presents time, not movement, and only the fact of language is equal to its presentation. As the image is not the presentation of an action, ‘what happens next’ no longer matters, and that which is directly presented is not even, *stricto sensu*, seen. The sensory-motor link is broken and action becomes irrelevant. Movement no longer ‘measures’ time but is folded into time.” (Wall, 2004).

Whatever your personal beliefs, my argument- along with Deleuze and Shales – is that the invention of cinema and the moving image is possibly the greatest time machine of all.

 

 

Bibliography

Adorno, T. (1989) Dialectic of Enlightenment, Continuum Publishing: New York

Aguinaga, B. (2012) ‘A Critical Analysis of Inception with Respect to the Culture Industry’, Accessible Online: https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:WH0SJF3WBgkJ:https://baylor-ir.tdl.org/baylor-ir/bitstream/handle/2104/8360/Thesis%2520PDFA.pdf%3Fsequence%3D1+&cd=10&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us

Bergson, H. (1975) Mind-Energy: Lectures and Essays (trans. H. Wildon Carr), Westport, Greenwood Press

Bittanti, M. (2003) “The Technoludic Film: Images of Videogames in Movies (1973-2001)” in Master’s Theses, Paper 2206, Accessible URL= http://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3202&context=etd_theses

Bolter, J.D., Grusin, R. (2000) Remediation: Understanding New Media, Cambridge: MIT Press

Breesheeth, H. (2016) “The Flexibility of Narrative Time: Time Travel in Science Fiction Cinema”, Accessible Online: http://www.academia.edu/1275815/_The_Flexibility_of_Narrative_Time_Time_Travel_in_Science_Fiction_Cinema_

Deleuze, G. (1989) Cinema 2: The Time Image, Trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Roger Galeta, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press,

Devlin, W.J. (2008) “Paradoxes of Time-Travel in The Terminator and 12 Monkeys“, in The Philosophy of Science Fiction Film (ed. Sanders, S.), Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky

Elsaesser, T. (2009) “The Mind-Game Film”, in Puzzle Films: Complex Storytelling in Contemporary Cinema (ed. Buckland, W.), Oxford: Blackwell

Freud, S. (1919) The ‘Uncanny’, in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Volume XVII in (1917-1919) An Infantile Neurosis and Other Works, by Strachey, J., Strachey, A., Tyson, A., Toronto: The Hogarth Press Limited

Gordon, A. (2010) “Back To the Future: Oedipus as Time Traveler” in The Worlds of Back to the Future: Critical Essays on the Films (ed. Sorcha Ní Fhlainn), Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc. 

Gunning, T. (2007) “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, It’s Spectator and The Avant-Garde”, in Film Histories: An Introduction And Reader (ed. and written by Grainge, P., Jankovich, M., Monteith, S.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Grusin, R. (2006) ‘DVD’s, Videogames, And the Cinema of Interactions’ in Ilha do Desterro, Issue: July/Dec (Winter/Summer), Florianopolis: Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina

Gurevitch, L. (2013) “Cinema, Video, Game”, in Cinematicity in Media History (ed. Geiger, J., Littau, K.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Hochman, S. (1984) McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of World Drama, USA: McGraw-Hill Ltd.

Horsley, J. (1999) The Blood Poets: Volume 2- Millennial Blues: From Apocalypse Now to The Matrix, Lanham: Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Jenkins, H. (2004) “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, Cambridge MA: MIT Press

Jones, M., Ormrod, J. (2015) Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games, Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc.

King, G. (2002) ‘Die Hard/Try Harder: Narrative Spectacle and Beyond, From Hollywood to Videogame’ in Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, ed. by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska, London and New York: Wallflower Press

Mitchell, D. (2004) Cloud Atlas, New York: Random House Publishing Inc.

Nietzsche, F. (1911) The Complete Works of Friedrich Nietzsche: The Twilight of the Idols or How to Philosophise with the Hammer, The Antichrist Notes to Zarathustra, and Eternal Recurrence, Vol. 16 of Oscar Levy Edition of Nietzsche’s Complete Works (in English), New York: Macmillan, Accessible URL: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eternal_return#cite_note-8

Penley, C. (1990) “Time Travel, Primal Scene and the Critical Dystopia”, in Annette Kuhn (ed.) Alien Zone: Cultural Theory and Contemporary Science Fiction Cinema, London: Verso, pp. 116-127

Polster, B., Steinke, G. (2001) Geometries on Surfaces, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Rodowick, D. N. (1997) Gilles Deleuze’s Time Machine, Durham: Duke University Press, 1997

Rynasiewicz, R. (2014) “Newton’s Views on Space, Time, and Motion”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Accessible URL = http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/newton-stm/

Sakurazaka, H. (2004) All You Need Is Kill, (trans. Reeder, J., Smith, A.O.), Tokyo: Shueisha Inc.

Shaviro, S. (2010) Post-Cinematic Affect, Ropley: O Books

Sprenkels, F. (2013) “Face Your Future, Fight Your Past: Studying the Time-travel Narrative as a Genre and as Desire”, Accessible URL: http://dspace.library.uu.nl/bitstream/handle/1874/279875/Bachelor%20thesis%20Floortje%20Sprenkels%203488268.pdf?sequence=1

Wall, T.C. (2004) “The Time-Image: Deleuze, Cinema, and Perhaps Language” in Film-Philosophy, Volume 8, No.23, Issue: July, North America: Edinburgh University Press, Accessible URL= http://film-philosophy.com/index.php/f-p/article/view/791.

Zizek, S. (1996) The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matter, London: Verso

 

Netography

Burnham, D. (2006) Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646–1716) Metaphysics – 7. Space, Time, and Indiscernibles, in The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, URL: http://www.iep.utm.edu/leib-met/#H7  

Accessed 5th March 2016

 

Dyer, J. (2014) Edge of Tomorrow: Esoteric Analysis

URL: https://jaysanalysis.com/2014/06/09/edge-of-tomorrow-esoteric-analysis/

Accessed 9th March 2016

 

Gurevitch, L. (2010) The Cinemas of Interactions: Cinematics and the ‘Game Effect’ in the Age of Digital Attractions, in Senses of Cinema, Issue 57, Dec.

URL: http://sensesofcinema.com/2010/feature-articles/the-cinemas-of-interactions-cinematics-and-the-%E2%80%98game-effect%E2%80%99-in-the-age-of-digital-attractions/

 

Mummification Description

URL: http://legacy.mos.org/quest/mummyegypt.php

Accessed 9th March 2016

 

Predestination Paradox Definition

URL: http://terminator.wikia.com/wiki/Predestination_paradox

Accessed 10th February 2016

 

Schager, N. (2014) Edge of Tomorrow: The Pinnacle of Video-Game Cinema

URL: http://www.vulture.com/2014/06/edge-of-tomorrow-pinnacle-of-video-game-cinema.html

Accessed 9th March 2016

 

Time Definition

URL: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/time

Accessed 10th January 2016

 

Filmography

Back to the Future (1985) Directed by Robert Zemeckis, USA

Edge of Tomorrow (2014) Directed by Doug Liman, USA

Groundhog Day (1993) Directed by Harold Ramis, USA

Inception (2010) Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA

Mindscape (2013) Directed by Jorge Dorado, Spain

Run Lola Run (1998) Directed by Tom Tykwer, Germany

Terminator 2 (1991) Directed by James Cameron, USA

The Terminator (1984) Directed by James Cameron, USA

Triangle (2009) Directed by Christopher Smith, USA

 

Gameography

Army of Two (2008) EA

Halo (2001) Bungie

Minecraft (2011) Mojang

Pong (1972) Atari

Sim City (1989) Maxis

Avant-Garde Film and Experimental Video Critical Essay: An Analysis of Rhythm and the ‘Human Condition’ in A MOVIE (1958) by Bruce Connor and Window Water Baby Moving (1959) by Stan Brakhage

In this essay, I will analyze two avant-garde films entitled A MOVIE (1958), by Bruce Connor, and Stan Brakhage’s Window Water Baby Moving (1959). I will look at and discuss how both employ unconventional narrative structures to show the human hearts’ endless cycle. We will understand how Connor utilizes found-footage from numerous sources to display human nature and societal evolution on a grand scale, whilst Brakhage uses a handheld camera and highly subjective editing to show the love of a family unit.  Focusing on the import both filmmakers’ place on rhythm of movement and human emotion, I will argue how both films present us with the circle of life; encapsulating the ‘Human Condition’ in both medium and imagery, in an effort to join their art with our heart.

 

Firstly, we should ask, what exactly is Avant-Garde? Avant-Garde refers to being outside the norm, but the norm of what? As Michael O’Pray writes in his book Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes, and Passions, “If we do acknowledge an avant-garde then we need to discover what it is the avant-garde of” (2003, pg.3). Historically, he explains that the term “’avant-garde’ was originally used to describe French painting of the early decades of the 19th Century. It represented an aesthetically and politically motivated attack on traditional art and its values.” The term originated within the military, where there ‘avant-garde’ denotes “an advanced group forging an assault on the enemy ahead of the main army”, and was borrowed for use in the Art world in a time of socialist politics. Therefore, when the subject turns to cinema, who -metaphorically-speaking- is the ‘main army’ and the ‘enemy’? As O’Pray suggests, “The main army could be the ‘true’ idea of cinema and film itself and the enemy, the dominant traditional cinema. Or the main army could be mainstream cinema, and the avant-garde it’s advanced group foraging for new techniques, forms of expression and subject-matter.” Ultimately though, there seems to much disagreement as to what ‘avant-garde’ truly connotes towards cinema. Ian Christie, perhaps rightfully and ambiguously remarks, it’s “an essentially contested concept, always open to dispute and redefinition” (1998, pg.453).

However, we can be fairly certain Avant-Garde filmmakers are operating and working outside of any studio system, free from the constraints of anyone else’s interference upon their artistic visions. This makes them truly outside the norm of Hollywood, but furthermore outside the aesthetic and narrative bounds of even independent cinema. Writer Murray Smith adeptly points out the fundamental differences, saying: “The avant-garde is an ‘artisanal’ or ‘personal’ mode. Avant-Garde films tend to be made by individuals or very small groups of collaborators, financed either by the film-makers alone or in combination with private patronage and grants from arts institutions. Such films are usually distributed through film co-operatives, and exhibited by film societies, museums, and universities” (1998, pg.395). Arguably, Avant-Garde film-making being more ‘personal’, means more ‘heart’; the director’s own humanity, emotion and message to viewers has the ability to be far more potent than mainstream Hollywood cinema- which is influenced by many.

bruce-conner_a-movie_1958

One example of an Avant-Garde filmmaker is Bruce Connor, a renowned American artist who has worked in experimental film amongst sculpture, painting and more. Released in 1958, his first and potentially most famous film, entitled simply A MOVIE, is a short experimental collage film that seams together clips and snippets of found footage; showing a wide range of various imagery from soft-core pornography, B-movies, animals, car accidents, ocean and underwater scenes and short sequences of violence and war. According to Kevin Hatch, in his essay on Bruce Connor, he explains Connor “held unorthodox ideas about the possibilities of cinema even before he began making films himself.” In 1957, the year before A MOVIE was released, Hatch describes how Connor wrote his gallery in New York with a suggestion: “New horizons, Unexplored territory” (Connor, 1957).  Apparently, explains Hatch of the film, “some 180 shots make up the film’s twelve minutes, in addition to sections of leader and a number of titles. The film divides roughly into three sections, in accordance with its soundtrack of three of the movements of Ottorino Respighi’s sweeping “Pines of Rome””(Hatch, 2012). Rather than simply being ‘A Movie’, the title itself is almost a misnomer, or perhaps a perfect disguise, because the unconventional narrative within the film creates a complete vision that is far greater than the sum of it’s parts.

When seen as a whole, just as experimental film critiques mainstream cinema, this film seems to analyze – and arguably critique – the human condition (or our very nature) and society itself. The film begins with a clip of a partially nude woman sitting removing her stockings, inter-cut with a misplaced “THE END” inter-title that occurs throughout, quickly followed by a much longer sequence of what seems to be a chase scene between cowboys and Indians. As Hatch’s description completely encompasses, “the first section seems to offer a premature climax, interleaving a chase scene from a Hopalong Cassidy western with shots of a speeding horse-drawn fire truck, an elephant stampeding, military tanks on the move, a locomotive’s spinning wheels, and 1920s/1930s style race cars colliding; the section ends with a spectacular mountainside car crash, capped with a title stating “The End”” (Hatch, 2012).  Therefore, within this first section the main focus seems to be an amalgam of movie clips and footage from potential wildlife documentaries, with an already clear focus on themes of violence and war. Ed Howard describes the first section as ” a rapid-fire montage: […] it’s speed, pure and simple, and the racing, speeding object hardly matters in comparison to the overall impression communicated by the montage” (2008). From this first section it’s clear Connor is already, as Howard believes, “exposing the most basic workings of cinema here, intuitively grasping that he can cut together very different material and still achieve something that “feels” right because its editing has the proper rhythms” (2008). The fast, fluid editing indeed means that as a spectator the image- at least to begin with- is almost meaningless; instead precedence is placed on the affect and fluidity that the film achieves with it’s quickly established sense of fast-paced rhythm. In an interview with Paul. J. Karlstrom, Connor would later explain of his vision; that was, to create “the tremendous, fantastic movie going in my head made up of all the scenes I’d seen” (Connor, 1974). Or as Ed Howard describes the film, “it’s like a catalog of the cinema’s sensationalist devices, all of them blended together with little regard for their origins” (2008).

The seconds section begins with images of tribeswomen carrying heavy loads atop their heads, interjected with the ‘MOVIE’ inter-title (which also runs throughout the course of the film), followed by a longer sequence of a blimp, before showing a scene of two tightrope walkers balancing high above New York City. William Moritz and Beverly O’Neill remark on how “Conner’s judicious choice of sound excerpts enhances the drama inherent in each found scene” observing, “in the tight-rope walking sequence . . . the fear the acrobats will fall is allayed by the music’s [Respighi’s second movement’s] delicate, mysterious tones emphasizing the moment’s truly magical and gravity-defying properties” (1978). As the second section continues, matched by the “more ponderous strains of the second movement of Respighi’s symphonic poem” (Hatch, 2012), we get teases of soft-core pornography and phallic imagery with a nuclear submarine firing off a missile, causing a nuclear explosion. As Howard rightly notes, “the film’s general arc is towards more and more devastating images, even as the soundtrack becomes bombastic and stirring, its epic grandeur clashing against the images of starving children, dead soldiers, and the distinctive mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb” (2008). By the halfway point of the film, distinctive key themes are heavily apparent; the clips are mostly filled with death and destruction whilst occasionally interspersed with lighter subject matter such as speed-boating and men racing on humorous bicycles. We notice how sound and editing is providing rhythm, whilst imagery focuses on the destructive side of humans- arguably the humorous clips occasionally cutting in are a metaphor for the happy, optimistic side of human nature even whilst in the midst of war and death.

At around seven minutes in, the third section starts. The theme of war and death continues, with bomber planes dropping their payloads, the Hindenburg crashing to Earth in a ball of flames, an Africa girl shaking seemingly suffering from illness, and a public execution taking place as crowds’ jeer. As the film comes to a close – and an argument could be made for a fourth section before the final shot- we are given an abstract final sequence of a scuba-diver underwater, as they finally enter and disappear into the depths of a sunken boat sitting on the ocean floor. The screen once more turns to black, with one final glimpse at sunlight filtering through from underwater. Here, A MOVIE concludes. So what is A MOVIE about?

Hatch believes that ultimately, “A MOVIE is a film that singularly resists verbal description: its sequencing refuses summarization as a story, while its diversity of images confounds any straightforward formal analysis” (2012).  However, Bordwell explains that “in only 12 minutes, A MOVIE leads us through a range of emotionally charged ideas and qualities. It also creates a distinct developmental thread” (pp.376-81, 2010). The development thread he speaks of is as he explains later in regards to how the devastation and war imagery become increasing more notable, similarly to Howard’s analysis. From my analysis, I believe this film is about the ‘human condition’ and the evolutionary cycle. Humans, by their very nature are destroying the planet; Man is the beginner of War. Personally, I feel Connor is not only critiquing mainstream cinema with a menagerie of various clips that could be any action sequence of any Hollywood film -in showing how powerful editing and rhythm can be over imagery- but perhaps our own very way of living. Humans love to consume and use and disregard, always exploring for new places and new people to conquer, and perhaps in the end, Connor is showing us that that is the ongoing repetitive nature of the destructive side of the human condition. Though, just as the scuba-diver is swallowed by the unknown wreckage in uncharted territory, Mother Nature will reclaim what is hers, always and forever; ad infinitum.

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Moving onto our second film, another Avant-Garde filmmaker is the renowned Stan Brakhage. In 1959, Brakhage directed Window Water Baby Moving.  A twelve minute experimental short, the film documents the birth of Myrrena, Brakhage’s first child with then wife Jane Brakhage – now Jane Wodening. The first thing to note is how revolutionary it was at the time to have a film showing the act of giving birth. As Roxanne Samer explains, ” prior to the 1950s childbirth was for the most part off limits as subject matter for filmmaking” (2011). The film is indeed incredibly graphic, including extreme-close up’s of the female vagina contracting. Even to this day, it’s striking how raw and unfiltered the images are. Amos Vogel indeed says that: ” The cinema has treated birth as a guilty secret of mankind, a mystery to be kept from the impressionable young, a clandestine medical event reserved exclusively for physicians” (2005, pg.258). But once the 1950’s arrived, Brakhage “began testing censorship laws and the public’s tolerance by making their own films of the event” (2011). However, troubling the censors was not Brakhage’s main motivation for film his wife giving birth. Apparently he, like Bruce Connor before him, had a certain objective for his films; “from the beginning of his career as a filmmaker” Brakhage was “interested in healing the rift between art and science” (Clark, 2004).  Window Water Moving Baby is a good representation of his thought process; the film is about childbirth and procreation- a biological event captured through the medium of film. As mentioned, prior to the 1950’s, childbirth was rarely captured, even though childbirth is the very origin of our existence. Brakhage clearly wanted to remove the “scientific” qualifications for viewing such a vision of life and creation, and create art to show biology and the human body in action; art itself.

Upon viewing the film, firstly we notice the distinct lack of any sound. Brakhage himself wrote a letter upon which he describes his reasoning behind the choice saying “the more informed I became with aesthetics of sound, the less I began to feel any need for an audio accompaniment of the visuals I was making”. Writing in 1966, he remarks: “I think it was seven/eight years ago I began making intentionally silent films…I now see/feel no more absolute necessity for a sound track than a painter feels the need to exhibit a painting with a recorded musical background” (1966, pg.49). Window Water Moving Baby was in fact his first silent film, in a time of “change and growth” in his career, as he moved onto a ‘lyrical’ film aesthetic (Sitney, 1974). Sound excluding, the film still manages to have incredible impact, visual rawness and a rhythmic heartbeat.

Once the title swiftly disappears, we see quick cuts of Jane, nude and with pregnant belly, stepping into a bath filled with water. We see Jane’s smiling face as she’s kissed by her husband, who we also see partially nude. The film’s editing keeps a quick pace, cutting back and forth from close-ups’ of Jane’s belly, to her breasts, then showing her vagina seeping blood. As the film progresses, so does the focus on her vaginal opening as her baby is slowly about to be pushed out. The film is certainly reminiscent of a science documentary, but is kept more art filmic through the imagery of kisses shared between Stan and Jane, and close-ups of her screaming in agony as the baby is thrust out of her body. Near the end of the film, as the baby is born into this world, we see the umbilical cord and amniotic sac shown. The film does not shy away from the true wonder and complexity of the human body, the doctor even going as far as to cut open the amniotic sac so we can witness what stipulates as the life and energy for the once-growing foetus. Throughout the film, Brakhage’s handheld camerawork is incredibly personal, showing us a whole gamut of human emotion; from the gentile nature of how Jane gets in the bath, caring for the baby inside her, the love shown between her and Stan through physical touch, then reaching a climax with the pain that is suffered as Jane gives birth, until finally the serene calmness and joy at holding her baby for the first time. Brakhage’s highly subjective direction contrasts with Connor’s use of pre-existing film clips- the former is the human condition in the microcosmic sense of a family unit; the latter is human condition on a global, historical, evolutionary scale.

Similarly, to A MOVIE, Brakhage’s Window Water Moving Baby is all about rhythm, which is what he uses to describe what his idea of what an Image is.  Using Charles’ Olson’s poetry, he writes: “Of rhythm is image. Of image is knowing. And of knowing there is a construct” (Sitney, 1974).  For Brakhage, the image is “the very beat of the heart”. Viewing film in this biological, rhythmic way is what Avant-Garde filmmakers seem to place a huge import on; hence their rejection of conventional narrative because, as Sitney explains, narrative has a “beginning, middle and end” and as Brakhage points out, “the heart has no definitive beginning or end when viewed in the endless cycle of reproduction”, therefore rationalizing that with narrative “the heart can no longer be represented rhythmically” (Sitney, 1974). This rejection of narrative is, in and of itself, a rejection of the cultural default commercial film. French filmmaker and critic Germaine Dulac emphasizes this, believing “the expression of a [cinematic] movement depends on its rhythm. Rhythm in itself and the development of a movement constitute the two perceptual and emotional elements which are the bases of the dramaturgy of the screen” (pg.47, 1932). Of course, in commercial film editing plays a huge role in how we feel and our affected by visual imagery, but here, the editing and flow of the imagery takes precedence over the actual images themselves, which is why A MOVIE works even whilst the images are seemingly utterly random. German-American filmmaker Hans Richter echoes Brakhage in his thoughts, explaining that “At the mercy of ‘feeling,’ reduced to going with the rhythm according to the successive rise and fall of the breath and the heartbeat, we are given a sense of what feeling and perceiving really is: a process – movement” (pg.22, 1924). Which, not coincidentally, is a word in the title of Brakhage’s film: Moving.

In conclusion, similarly A MOVIE and Window Water Moving Baby are the epitome of what Avant-Garde cinema represents. Whilst both filmmakers choose contrasting ways of displaying the ‘Human Condition’- Connor’s found footage grand-scope vs. Brakhage’s deeply personal gritty handheld view- both result in rhythmic creations with unconventional narratives that resemble Gunning’s “Cinema of Attractions” (2007, pp.13-19); opposing the structural confines, societal pandering and external studio influences of mainstream cinema. Ultimately, as Richter refers to, they are both films about a process. That is, in A MOVIE the cycle of the human condition where we destroy the Earth and often times each other- in short a retrospective on societal and human evolution; and in Window Water Moving Baby a look at a woman’s journey of giving birth- at the beginning of human existence, to start the circle of life all over again.

Together, they are encompassing of the ‘human condition’, from the biggest to the smallest sense.

 

Bibliography

Bordwell (2010) Film Art: An Introduction, 9th edition, McGraw-Hill

Brakhage, S. (1966) April 1966 letter to Ronna Page, in Brakhage Scrapbook: Collected Writings 1964-1980 (1982), (ed. Robert A. Haller), New York: Documentext

Christie, Ian (1998) ‘The Avant-Gardes’ and European Cinema Before 1930’ in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (ed. Hill, J., Gibson, P.C.), New York: Oxford University Press

Conner, B. (1957) Letter to Charles Alan in Alan Gallery Records, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC. Available at: https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-film-preservation-board/documents/movie.pdf

Dulac, G. (1932) “The Avant-Garde Cinema,” in The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism (ed. Sitney, P.A.), New York: New York University Press

Gunning, T. (2007) “The Cinema of Attractions: Early Film, It’s Spectator and The Avant-Garde”, in Film Histories: An Introduction And Reader (ed. and written by Grainge, P., Jankovich, M., Monteith, S.), Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press

Hatch, K. (2012) “A MOVIE” adapted from “Looking for Bruce Conner”, Cambridge: MIT Press, Available at: https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-film-preservation-board/documents/movie.pdf

O’Pray, M. (2003) Avant-Garde Film: Forms, Themes, and Passions, New York: Columbia University Press

Richter, H. (1924) “The Badly Trained Sensibility,” in The Avant-Garde Film: A Reader of Theory and Criticism (ed. Sitney, P.A.), New York: New York University Press

Samer, R. (2011) “Re-conceiving Misconception: Birth as a site of Filmic Experimentation” in Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media, Issue No. 53, Summer, Accessible URL: http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/jc53.2011/samerMisconception/

Sitney, P.A. (1974) Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde, New York: Oxford University Press

Smith, M. (1998) ‘Modernism and the Avant-Gardes’ in The Oxford Guide to Film Studies (ed. Hill, J., Gibson, P.C.), New York: Oxford University Press

Vogel, A. (2005) Film as a Subversive Art, London and New York: Distributed Art Publishers/CT Editions

 

Netography

Clark, B. (2004) “Brakhage, Stan. Telling Time: Essays of a Visionary Filmmaker” Review, in Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, Volume 5 Number 3, December Issue, Accessible URL: https://blackboard.lincoln.ac.uk/bbcswebdav/users/dmeyerdinkgrafe/archive/brakhage.html

Accessed 25th April 2016

 

Conner, B. (1974) Interview with Paul J. Karlstrom (August 12, 1974), Oral History

Program, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington,

URL: https://www.loc.gov/programs/static/national-film-preservation-board/documents/movie.pdf

Accessed 25th April 2016

 

Howard, E. (2008) “A Movie/Report”

URL: http://seul-le-cinema.blogspot.co.uk/2008/08/828-bruce-conner-shorts-movie-report.html

Accessed 25th April 2016

 

O’Neill, B., Moritz, W. (1978) “Fallout—Some Notes on the Films of Bruce Conner,” Centre for Visual Music, in Film Quarterly, Vol XXXI, No. 4, Summer 1978.

URL: http://www.centerforvisualmusic.org/library/WMConnerFallout.htm.

Accessed 25th April 2016

 

Filmography

A MOVIE (1958) Directed by Bruce Connor, USA

Window Water Baby Moving (1959) Directed by Stan Brakhage, USA

 

Multiplexed: Contemporary Hollywood Cinema Critical Essay

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What kind of concept of the hero/heroine do we find in the contemporary superhero film and how does this relate to the genre’s political/ideological messages?

 In this essay I will be discussing how the heroes of Iron Man (2008) and Man of Steel (2013) are linked with the superhero genre’s political/ideological messages. Using theories and observations from scholars and other sources, I will argue that these two films continue the genre’s love of promoting patriotism and American capitalist ideals under the Hollywood machine. Through a close analysis of both film’s protagonists, I will focus on how both characters alike uphold bourgeois society whilst fighting for “freedom”, with Iron Man falling under the classic hero archetype and Superman presented as a messianic figure.

 

Iron Man tells the story of gifted engineer Tony Stark, a “genius billionaire playboy philanthropist” who, after being attacked in the Middle-East, is stuck with a piece of shrapnel close to his heart. To save himself, Stark devises and builds an Iron suit which he then dons to fight evil as superhero Iron Man. Set in a post 9/11 world, the film snugly fits within the mould of the superhero genre that seemed to take off shortly after the devastating attacks in New York, which would start a war that continues to this day. Ever since, the superhero genre has become increasingly popular grossing billions of dollars at the box office. For the Hollywood film industry, Robert Grey explains, the “first decade of the new millennium”, will be remembered as the ““superhero” decade”. Why the genre has become and maintained its huge popularity is clearly up for debate, as Grey infers; potential theories include spectators’ “desperate attempts for escape [from reality], to an honest yearning for real-life heroes.” He continues to elaborate that “one such theory is that the notion of the word ‘hero’ has evolved since the attacks of 9/11 and their subsequent fallout. Joseph Campbell, the literary scholar who outlined a hero archetype from the mythology of numerous cultures, defined a hero as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself” (pg.1).

So who is Iron Man and what does he represent? Writer Anthony P. Spanakos believes that the character, along with other myriad superheroes of the 21st century, is an embodiment of “post-September 11 fantasies of self-preservation”. However, Spanakos does note the enemies faced within films such as Iron Man is not so much the ‘Other’; as in the unknown, but instead an enemy which we do know: the “Military Industrial Complex” or more simply, our own government. “The heroic struggle is to offer an alternative patriotism by defending what is just against official versions and representatives” (Spanakos, pg.15). That is Iron Man; a man turned superhero who works outside the law to bring his own personal justice to criminals both domestic and international. The scene that shows Stark’s mental transformation to Iron Man is when he arrives back in America after escaping his terrorist captors. Sitting down with a burger in front of a room full of eager journalists, Tony says: “I saw young Americans killed, by the very weapons I created to defend and protect them. And I saw that I had become part of a system that is comfortable with zero accountability”. Iron Man reflects the American people’s distrust at their government in the time after 9/11, where the argument of whether the war with the Middle-East should have ever been started. It was a time of fear, anger and insecurity towards the state. So was born an alternative form of patriotism, one that mirrors a society that no longer believed the government stood for what the American people believed, as Spanakos refers to in his essay.

Of course, the astounding irony of a character like Iron Man is he is simultaneously being presented to us by conservative Hollywood that wants the status-quo to remain; the exact converse of the fantastical idea of alternative patriotism or “freedom” that Iron Man is meant to represent. As Spanakos points out, these post-9/11 Hollywood blockbusters “deliberately contest an officialist and simplistic version of patriotism and disqualification of the other, presenting awareness of the other as central to finding one’s authentic self and struggle. They do this by showing the global superpower’s tendency to both exploit and colonize the other, while identifying an authentic patriotism with recognition of the other” (pg.15). This is best exemplified in the scene when Tony Stark travels to Afghanistan to give a presentation on his newly developed Jericho Missile weapons system. With his confident demeanour, Stark says in his presentation speech: “They say the best weapon is the one you never have to fire. I respectfully disagree. I prefer the weapon you only have to fire once. That’s how dad did it, that’s how America does it, and it’s worked out pretty well so far”. Unfortunately, Stark’s ignorance and arrogance towards the Other – here being his Middle-Eastern buyers- results in catastrophic consequences. Possibly reflecting Americans’ false sense of security post 9/11, Stark discovers what happens when he unwittingly puts his weapons in the hands of the enemy, and gets attacked by the very weapons which he created. From that point onwards, Stark’s outlook on the threats from the Other that face America change, upon which he decides he will take justice in his own hands instead of leaving it to the government to act. Ultimately though, Stark must work with the American Government, mostly in the form of his friend Colonel. James Rhodes; so even Iron Man is never truly free.

Superheroes as characters also change, as does the enemies they face, to reflect the changes in society and the world as time progresses. As Thomas Schatz explains, Iron Man “actually had been a politicized figure since the comic-book hero first appeared in 1963, initially doing battle in Vietnam, and was revived for the Gulf War in the 1990’s”.  The 2008 film, Schatz says “updated the action to Afghanistan, retaining a hip-ironic, comic-book mentality toward the war and the military-industrial complex” (pg.202). Tony Stark is a wealthy man; a good capitalist whilst the film itself plays on war’s grim reality with an overly-simplified black or white; good or bad mentality – that still allow the good capitalist Americans to be just and victorious.  Make no mistake, it’s pure fantasy, or as Schatz describes it – a “put-on” with “juvenile geopolitics”. Yet, as angered New Yorker writer David Denby notes, “more Americans will see this dunderheaded fantasia on it’s opening weekend than have seen all the features and documentaries that have laboured to show what’s happening in Iraq and on the home front” (pg.1). It’s clear Hollywood blockbusters and the superhero genre present fictitious solutions to real-world problems, and ultimately “the success of the ideological operation is always testament to failure, since ideological representations would not be necessary if indeed there were no trouble in the system, if indeed all’s right, as ideology claims, in the world.” (Ryan, Kellnor, pg.65).

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Zack Snyder’s 2013 blockbuster, Man Of Steel, is very similar in how the film and it’s hero Superman sends a political statement and ideology supporting American values, patriotism and capitalism. As Aamir Hussain explains, “although not explicitly stated in the film, Superman allegedly fights for “truth, justice, and the American way.” By emphasizing the religious and philosophical roots of its titular character, The Man of Steel reminds us of America’s heritage and many of the values we hold in high regard” (2013).

Superman/Kal-El (or alter-ego Clark Kent), the character, has always been somewhat of a Christ-like figure in popular culture. Unlike Tony Stark, Kal-El is no man; he is a god. He flies, has heat-vision, and has impossible strength. In his character analysis, writer Graham Michael says: “Clark closely resembles the Judeo/Christian worldview with obvious connections to a Messianic figure” (2013).  He explains that some parallels between Kal-El and Christ are “Clark being a child of two worlds; he has two fathers (earthly and other worldly); he changes almost every earthling he comes in contact with (e.g., Pete Ross, Lois Lane, the Corporal, etc.); Clark begins his mission to save the world at 33 years of age; and the sacrificial love he has for those on Earth and the love for his own kind” (2013). Superman is arguably a reflection of America’s history and most widely-felt beliefs in religion. Therefore, in a genre that is steeped in patriotism, Hussain describes the importance of a Christian (Biblical) message; “these references to Jesus are also reflective of America’s heritage, since our Founding Fathers were strongly influenced by Europe’s Enlightenment and its Judeo-Christian tradition. They envisioned an enlightened society governed by science and rational thought, but also highly valued the presence of morality in creating a more perfect union.” Religion is a large part of American society, hence the reason for Hollywood to push these ideals to spectators who accept and embrace this world-view. Similarly to Jesus, Superman is a symbol of hope. In the film where Superman has been captured by the government and is being interrogated by Lois Lane, Kal-El explains the infamous ‘S’ on his costume literally means “hope” in Kryptonian.

However, as Shaun Carleton points out, “despite its optimistic rhetoric, Man of Steel provides little real hope for those living in today’s troubled world” (2013). In his book Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age, Dan Hassler-Forest thinks that contemporary superhero films are in dire need of harsh critique. He argues today’s superhero films are in fact some of the “clearest articulations of the many contradictions, fantasies, and anxieties” of neoliberal capitalism (2012, pg.3). Just like Iron Man, Man Of Steel is not an exception to what seems to be the rule of the Hollywood superhero film; that is often “obsessed with end-of-the world disaster narratives which assert that there are no alternatives to capitalism” (Carleton, 2013). So is Man Of Steel simply capitalist propaganda? Arguably yes, as is a lot of our entertainment. Of course, naïve ideological notions would have us believe that any of us can be apolitical, but that is simply not true. “A nation exists“, Slavoj Zizek reiterates, “only as long as it’s specific enjoyment continues to be materialized in a set of social practices and transmitted through national myths or fantasies that secure these practices” (1993, pg.202).

Superman originally emerged in 1938, a time of “Depression-era anxieties and fascistic fascinations precipitating WWII”. A noble alien refugee from Planet Krypton, Superman was a “colourfully benevolent power-fantasy” that “the American popular imaginary embraced”; a character who operates on “hope and trust despite his fearsome alien powers” conforming to the superhero mythos, that is, to “dance with the Dark Side of democratic virtue” (Treat, pg.104).  Superman’s transformation from a menace treated with upmost caution and suspicion, to a messiah figure – a narrative of the original comics that Man Of Steel retells – is as Thomas Andrae explains, “maintenance of ideological hegemony during the crucial institutional shift from entrepreneurial capitalism to the state-regulated monopoly capitalism of the New Deal”, that “culminates in what becomes a major convention of the comic books: social evil is transmuted into personal evil” (1987, pp.124-38). This narrative is best represented in a scene approximately halfway through the film, when Superman agrees to be taken captive by the army, where we see the cautious nature between the humans and Kal-El. In a locked interrogation room standing on one side of a one-way glass mirror, Superman – sensing the distrust and fear of the Army General standing on the other – softly says: “You’re scared of me because you can’t control me. You don’t. And you never will. But that doesn’t mean I’m your enemy”. This is the beginning of his transformation in the eyes of the wary government, as he makes it clear he means humans no harm.

Man Of Steel is a clear representation of not only a story that harks back to a character born within the Depression era, but also shows us how post-9/11, the superhero film has become increasingly dark in aesthetic and moral nature; undoubtedly a sign of the cynical times. An example of this is the final battle scene near the film’s end, where Superman is forced into a position where he must choose between letting villain Zod murder a family, or kill Zod and prevent their deaths. The brutal neck snap that Superman performs on Zod angered many fans, who claim that Superman does not kill. Whilst that point is debatable, it’s clear that the screenwriters created an ending that indeed is far more cynical than the light, airy fun of the Christopher Reeve films. By forcing Superman to make a horrible moral choice, Zack Snyder creates a Superman who is fighting in a modern world that is steeped in decisions that divide opinion; George Bush’s choice to start a war after 9/11 being the most obvious reference. Closer in tone to The Dark Knight (2008) than the Superman films of old, Man Of Steel however still at least presents us with a superhero character that, up until that morally questionable ending, “remains our utopian all-American archetype of virtuous self-restraint” (Treat, pg.104-5). Superman is the ‘hope’ to Batman’s ‘fear’. Therefore, Iron Man lies somewhere in the middle ground, leaning towards fear as “contemporary superhero-worship favours” more flawed, morally ambiguous “Super Antiheroes” (Treat, pg.105). Again, superheroes and films change to reflect society today’s troubles.

Reaching our conclusion, we therefore can realise that it is no coincidence that superheroes and the superhero genre flourishes in times of war and great anxiety, fear, anger and sorrow. This is the reason why post-9/11, “more comics-based superhero movies have been released than in all the prior years combined” (Treat, pg.105).  The concept of the superhero is born from our desires as a society to fight for what we believe in and stop our enemies from becoming victorious. Whether it takes the form of a Christ-like messiah in Superman, or a metal-suited technology-powered Iron Man, these characters are forged for a simple purpose: to allow us to escape our regular, ordinary lives and imagine a world where we all have the power to fight for truth and justice. The superhero is a vision of hope, ‘people power’ and patriotism.

Wherein – as discussed – ironically lies conservative Hollywood’s true objective. That is, they create entertainment that fulfils our desires and fantasies to appease us; giving us what we want to make us feel content with the bourgeoisie and the status quo of society. As Zizek suggests, we trade “being the change we want to see in the world” as Ghandi once said; for “the freedom of passivity” that the system wants for us (2008). All for the sake of our insatiable human thirst for enjoyment. The very being of the Superhero and the countless movies, comic books and other media that star them is merely to flirt with the idea of freedom; whilst ultimately showing us we have none.

Nevertheless, we can hope.

 

Bibliography

Andrae, T. (1987) “From Menace To Messiah: The History and Historicity in Superman”, in American Media and Mass Culture (ed. Lazere, D.), Berkeley: University of California Press

Gray, R., Kaklamanidou, B. (2011) The 21st Century Superhero: Essays on Gender, Genre and Globalization in Film, Jefferson: McFarland and Company

Hassler-Forest, D. (2012) Capitalist Superheroes: Caped Crusaders in the Neoliberal Age, Alresford: John Hunt Publishing Ltd

Ryan, M., Kellnor, D. (1988) Camera Politica: The Politics and Ideology of Contemporary Hollywood Film, Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Schatz, T. (2012) “Movies and a Hollywood Too Big to Fail” in American Cinema of the 2000s: Themes and Variations (ed. Timothy Corrigan), New Jersey: Rutgers University Press

Spanakos, A.P (2011) “Exceptional Recognition: The U.S Global Dilemma in The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Avatar” in The 21st Century Superhero: Essays on Gender, Genre and Globalization in Film (ed. Gray II, R. and Kaklamanidou, B.), Jefferson: McFarland and Company

Treat, S. (2009) “How America Learned To Stop Worrying and Cynically ENJOY! The Post-9/11 Superhero Zeitgeist”, in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies, Oxford: Routledge

Zizek, S. (1993) Tarrying With The Negative, Durham: Duke University Press

 

Netography

Carleton, S. (2013) Another Capitalist Superhero: A Critique of ‘Man of Steel’

URL: http://rabble.ca/news/2013/07/another-capitalist-superhero-critique-man-steel

Accessed 1st April 2016

 

Denby, D. (2008)  Unsafe: “Iron Man” and “Then She Found Me”

URL: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/05/05/unsafe

Accessed 1st April 2016

 

Hussain, A. (2013) The Man of Steel Represents American Values

URL: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/aamir-hussain/the-man-of-steel-represen_b_3446785.html

Accessed 1st April 2016

 

Michael, G. (2013) Man of Steel: Character Analysis

URL: https://faithfilm.wordpress.com/2013/07/16/man-of-steel-character-analysis/

Accessed 1st April 2016

 

Zizek, S. (2008) Žižek, the Dark Knight of Post-Marxist Sociology

URL: http://seattlest.com/2008/09/09/zizek_the_dark_knight_of_postmarxis.php

Accessed 1st April 2016

 

 

Filmography

Iron Man (2008) Directed by Jon Favreau, USA

Man of Steel (2013) Directed by Zack Snyder, USA

The Dark Knight (2008) Directed by Christopher Nolan, USA

 

Documentary Film Theory – Critical Essay

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Critic Paul Arthur has expressed unease at the contemporary documentary use of what he calls ‘grossly manipulative dramatic structures and effects of a kind usually associated with classical Hollywood’ (2003: 5). Construct an argument regarding the use of drama and fictional techniques in the contemporary documentary film.

In this essay, I will be analysing two contemporary documentaries: The Imposter (2012) and The Cove (2009). Critic Paul Arthur has stated his dislike for contemporary documentaries use of ‘grossly manipulative structures and effects’ liken to Classical Hollywood film. I will discuss his thoughts regarding my two chosen documentaries, in agreement that they are ‘manipulative’, and that Hollywood narrative structures and effects are used that make them so, but argue that this does not have a negative impact on contemporary documentaries.

 

The late Paul Arthur, a film historian, scholar and critic, is well known for writing about American avant-garde cinema and documentaries.  In 2003, Arthur wrote an article in Cineaste’s Fall Edition entitled ‘True Confessions, Sort of: Capturing the Friedmans and the Dilemma of Theatrical Documentary‘(pg.5).  Discussing Capturing The Friedmans (2003), Arthur looks at the number of ways the film is ethically questionable, due to how it- similar to other ‘cutting-edge documentary practitioners’ such as Michael Moore and Steve James- ‘trafficks manipulative dramatic structures and effects of a kind usually associated with Classical Hollywood’. I will analyse two films that could be considered manipulative.

Firstly, I will discuss The Imposter.  The Imposter tells the story of the 1997 case of the French identity thief Frederic Bourdin, who impersonated Nicholas Barclay, a Texas boy who disappeared at the age of 13 in 1994.  The story is told through interviews with the Barclay family and Bourdin, archive television news footage, and re-enacted dramatic sequences.

The first formal feature of the film I will mention is the structure of the story. Over the past couple of decades, there has been a growing trend of documentaries utilising the thriller structure. For example, The Imposter takes a more Classical Hollywood structure, wherein information is drip-fed to the audience, teasing us slowly with more information until the story reaches it’s climax and all is revealed. The Imposter may well be a documentary, but it’s also a thriller. The film builds and builds until the very end, and as an audience you’re left dying to know what the story’s conclusion will be. So is this formal structure manipulative?

If we are looking at it from an emotional point of view, then absolutely. Just like a Hollywood film such as The Bourne Ultimatum (2007), the audience is taken on a mysterious, exciting journey. The film begins with a home video made by Nicholas Barclay, with him talking about his sister’s room. Text on screen then informs us of the boy going missing in 2004, and after we cut to an emotional mother breaking down on screen. Soon after, Grandma Barclay is shown upset. The film pulls you in instantly with this show of emotion, as it’s a natural human response to care when someone is hurt. Furthermore, the concept of a disappearance I believe is intriguing and exciting to us as viewers. The sense that this person could still be alive, and is out there somewhere, is a tale of hope, and as humans we want to have hope; it’s in our nature to never give up, especially when it comes to the people we love and care for.

The story then begins from 3 years and 4 months after Nicholas’s disappearance.  As we get deeper into the film, re-enactments of the events that occurred pop up quite often. In fact, these dramatic sequences are complimentary to the story, in that they show the audience through visuals the situations Frederic Bourdin, identity thief and imposter, got himself into to transform into Nicholas Barclay. The question is: are these dramatic re-enactments vital to telling the story? This is where matters become subjective and entirely based on what we want from a documentary film. Paul Arthur argues that these techniques are ‘manipulative’, and from a documentary we should expect them to ‘exude and distill important ethical consideration as part of their bedrock experience’ (pg.7).

    The Imposter is manipulative in it’s back-and-forth storytelling. By being told in such fashion, the audience is taken on journey that is told from multiple points of view, the most important being Frederic Bourdin. If from the start of the film we were told that Bourdin was an identity thief, and was wanted by Interpol, it’s unlikely we would have cared for him at all. We would dislike him from beginning until the end. It’s the fact that the story is told in this drip-feed method that makes us at first sympathise with him, and even by the end, because we see why he steals identities – for want to be loved he claims; a very basic human need that he supposedly never received-  we never can truly despise him. On the other hand, we have the Barclay Family, and the same applies here. If at the beginning we knew the family were possible suspects for the disappearance of Nicholas, we would not be as emotionally invested in them and completely on their side as we are with the film told the way it is. As it is, in the end we are suspicious of the family, through flaws in their story such as the inability to tell the imposter had different coloured eyes to their son, or his clear foreign (European) accent. Both sides of the story are shown, and ultimately our opinion of both parties are altered at the conclusion. Our emotions are toyed with and we as an audience are manipulated.

However, does this fact mean that we are no longer hearing the truth? Does manipulation negate the positive effect of a cinematic structure and dramatic sequences?  As Arthur says, it’s an ‘ethical’ discussion. I admire how he states: ‘ I myself have never been completely certain what the documentary filmmakers responsibilities are or how to recognise when they have been successfully negotiated’ (pg.7). This shows that none of us can be truly certain as to what a documentary is supposed to do, or how it should be told. Art in it’s very nature is subjective.

Nichols says that documentary suggests ‘fullness and completion, knowledge and fact’ (pg.1).  The Imposter has a true story and tells it well. If the structure was changed and the re-enactments removed would it still allow us the knowledge of the truth (or however close to the truth the film can get)? Undoubtedly, yes. But it would not be as intense or exciting. Should a documentary be thrilling? No, but is not the point of any story, fiction or non-fiction to be told in a way that intrigues us? I believe so. The Imposter is told in the most fascinating way possible. The film may manipulate it’s audience, but that does not mean it wonders away from the truth. At the conclusion, we know the characters in the story, we know what events occurred from interviews with everyone involved, and we know the story of Frederic Bourdin. I don’t believe a change to structure, and drama sequences mean that the truth is lost. Simply, the truth is accentuated; amplified.  As a viewer, I enjoy to be emotionally altered by the end of a film or documentary. Furthermore, by telling the story this way it makes us more aware that Bourdin is not evil. To a certain degree, I think we all like to have a different viewpoint on something we judged earlier. This is what is so similar with The Imposter to Classical Hollywood: we have the characters and we have their story arcs; characters grow and change over the course of a film. The Barclay Family turn from victims to possible suspects; Bourdin starts off sympathetic child and ends Interpol’s Most Wanted Identity thief and criminal, and a private investigator is left to figure out what really happened to Nicholas Barclay, who to this day has not been found.

the-cove

The next film we are discussing is The Cove. The 2009 film is about the questionable and frankly brutal practice of dolphin hunting in Japan, in a town called Taji where an isolated cove is fenced off from the public where dolphins are killed. This Academy Award winning documentary is a call to action to stop the mass dolphin kills, change Japanese fishing practices and to inform the public about mercury poising from dolphin meat.

A cross between a spy thriller and Ocean’s Eleven-esque espionage movie, the documentary introduces us to Rick O’Barry, a former dolphin trainer and activist on his quest to shed light on the dolphin hunting operations in Taiji, Japan. He joins up with film director Louie Psihoyos (co-founder of the Ocean Preservation Society) and team in tow to try to film what happens in the isolated cove, but is met by local police and the fisherman with anger, intimidation and are even shadowed by locals at all times of the day. The film makes it clear how unwanted O’Barry and his team are, and the challenges they are up against in getting video evidence of what goes on in The Cove.

What’s clear from the outset is once again the topic that is being presented is ripe for cinematic thriller treatment. Being such a controversial matter, dolphin hunting is banned in many countries but in Japan still takes place. The fact that the film team is placed in a hostile environment makes for scintillating entertainment: the story is set up like a heist film of sorts. Again, the film is highly cinematic, using an easy to follow narrative structure, and visual techniques derived from narrative Hollywood film. This seems like the trend for modern documentary filmmaking.

For the past 15 years, there has been an explosion of documentary films being made for cinema exhibition. The reason for this is simple: more people are attending the cinema to watch documentaries. This popularity has been suggested to have stemmed from these documentary’s use of the Classical Hollywood film structure, formal techniques and visual effects. In turn, these populist techniques are attempting to guarantee success at the box office. But by travelling this path into entertainment for the masses, are documentaries losing their integrity that Nichols and Arthur refer to?

Again, I don’t believe so. Nichols describes this new contemporary cinematic form as films that:

“retain the persuasive qualities that first distinguished documentary but do so with unashamed borrowings from the repertoire of the fiction filmmaker, such as individuals who possess star quality, point of view shots to build character identification, flashback, suspenseful dramatic structure, subjective interpretations of past events or states of mind, re-enactments that may depart from historical record, and powerful musical scores” (2007, pg.82).

Understandably, in this modern age, an audience’s needs are different from what they were 20 years ago. In 2008, a study found that the contemporary documentary is tended to be being watched by viewers of ‘Art House’ Films, rather than the general cinema-going public (Hardie, 2008).  These viewers usually consider themselves more informed than the average citizen, so it’s this small demographic that is interested in the more challenging subject matter these documentaries show, compared with mainstream entertainment products.  The genre definition of a documentary has not been broken by films like The Cove, so much as they provide simply a rethinking of established modes and conventions. If a film is unlikely to make money, then it will cease being made: Classic Hollywood-style documentaries are a product of this landscape of cultural change. This rethinking is what is allowing for the survival of the documentary.

The Cove begins with a voiceover from director Louie Psihoyos talking about how he wanted to obtain the preceding video on-screen legally, as we watch a group of men at the back of a truck at night in night-vision clearly frightened as to what is about to unfold. The film is shot handheld, and as an audience we immediately feel the suspense and the fear, similar to watching a found-footage Hollywood film. The shaky-cam visual style is used in countless horror and thrillers- it gives a film a grittiness and grounding in reality. That first-person perspective is enthralling, placing the viewer in the midst of the action. Furthermore, knowing that this is not actors playing roles, makes us feel the stakes for getting caught are even higher and real.

However, this is not the beginning of the story in a chronological sense. This could be argued as manipulative. The reason being we have not had any introduction before this point as to what this documentary is about, we are just thrown from the start into a dramatic (but real) sequence that actually occurs much later into the story. This is known as ‘In medias res’- Latin for “in the midst of things”- which is a literary and artistic narrative technique that relates a story to a midpoint, instead of the beginning.

This means our attention is grabbed instantly, where it may not have been so with the actual sedate introduction to the story post-opening credits.

The film’s credits sequence shows night-vision surveillance footage of the Taiji area and the fisherman secretly working away. Today, we live in a ‘Big Brother’ society, where everything is monitored, so it needs no explanation as to why the unmediated ‘raw footage’ is considered to today’s viewer as inherently truthful, and well-known about. Our perception of the unmediated camera as a signifier of truth is undeniable. We now have the technology to make our own documentaries with our smartphones. The Cove is a perfect example of how ‘surveillance culture’ within the form of a cinematic documentary seems to get closer to the truth than most of film culture.

Yet, Stella Bruzzi, author of New Documentary, makes another valid point: “Most practitioners recognise, by now, that documentary film can never offer a representation of events that are indistinguishable from the events themselves” as the process of filming will alter the subject forever (pg.74). This being the case, I believe the argument of whether we are being ‘grossly manipulated’ by new theatrical documentary (and indeed older documentary pre-1990’s) with certain Classical Hollywood filming form is all a little misjudged. The argument should be: does the filming process uncover as much truth as possible? I believe both The Imposter and The Cove do so.  All documentary, whether raw unmediated footage or an edited production, is in actuality always guilty of being ‘tampered with, and organised, ‘reality” (Cousins, Macdonald, pg.5).

Using The Five Modes Of Documentary Representation, a leading methodology devised by Bill Nichols as an attempt to identify a set of criteria for how documentary film functions, The Imposter and The Cove would both be a mix of Interactive, Performative and Observational styles. The other two modes are Reflexive and Expository, which could be considered to factor in these films also, although far less. Therein lies the problem with Nichols’ theory. While rigidly structured, these modes of style are not finite definitions. They are not mutually exclusive. Even Nichols himself views them to be somewhat loose and subject to re-interpretation because they are tied to formal developments within documentary history (pg.32-74). The point is that documentary is a difficult genre to define, so therefore approaching it like a Classical Hollywood film seems to be the most attractive- to the viewer and financially for the creators- method of creating a documentary film.

The Cove is told through the eyes of Psihoyos, and it has been argued that the film is highly biased and some of the Japanese people interviewed were lied to about what film they were to be a part of.  Some critics say The Cove is heavily one sided, and the opposition don’t really ever get to respond. I agree to a certain extent. At the end of the film, after a suspenseful couple of hours culminating with Psihoyos, O’Barry and crew succeeding in placing camouflaged cameras at the Cove at night illegally, we are joyous at the sight of the whole team bringing their video evidence to a committee hearing on dolphin hunting. The film ends though, with a sombre propaganda-esque call-to arms with a black screen displaying text that reads: “The Taiji dolphin slaughter is scheduled to resume every September” followed by “Unless we stop it.” So the biased approach of the film could be questioned, but it succeeded in getting the attention Psihoyos wanted.

So is the search for truth elusive? If The Cove and The Imposter and every film ever made is subjective, then that means we will always be manipulated, no matter what. Unbelievable proof of this is the Lumiere Brothers La Sortie des l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (famous film of workers leaving the Lumiere Factory) which since it’s first screening in 1895, it was found that five takes had been made for the same shot for the film (Godmillow, pg.8). It was staged. Which makes it clear that even from inception, documentary film has been rife with subjectivity.

In conclusion, we can safely agree with Arthur; that contemporary documentary is ‘grossly manipulative’ to an extent.  Contemporary documentaries like The Imposter and The Cove are pandering to a larger audience through use of Classical Hollywood film form, easy to understand narrative, and flamboyant editing and visual style.  However, Arthur’s unease at this new cinematic documentary is misplaced. His unease implies that pre-1990’s documentaries were giving it’s audience the truth, which is like the idealised fallacy that is ‘direct cinema’. The direct cinema movement wanted to capture “life itself”, or a “fly on the wall” documentary as it’s more commonly known (Nichols, pg.110-112). Nowhere in documentary history is there evidence of a filmmaker truly avoiding subjectivity. As Grierson puts it, “You photograph the natural life, but you also, by your juxtaposition of detail, create an interpretation of it” (pg.23). Ultimately, contemporary documentaries are no different from older documentaries, they are all subjective. So Arthur and any other critics of contemporary documentaries should stop thinking documentaries have ever been unbiased and objective, but instead realise subjectivity is part of human nature and thus is part of all non-fiction film: that is truly “life itself”.

 

Bibliography

Arthur, P. (2003) True Confessions, Sort of: Capturing the Friedmans and the Dilemma of Theatrical Documentary, in Cineaste: Fall Edition, New York: Cineaste

Bruzzi, S. (2006) New Documentary: 2nd Edition, Abingdon: Routledge

Cousins, M., MacDonald, K.(eds.) (2006) Imagining Reality: The Faber Book of Documentary: 2nd Edition, London: Faber & Faber

Godmillow, J. (2002) ‘Kill the Documentary as We Know It’, in Journal of Film And Video, Issue: Summer/Fall

Grierson, J. (1973) ‘First Principles of Documentary’, in Nonfiction Film: Theory and Criticism (Ed. Richard Barsam) New York: Plume

Nichols, B. (1994) Blurred Boundaries: Questions of Meaning in Contemporary Culture, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press

Nichols, B. (2007) ‘Documentary’ in P. Cook (ed.) The Cinema Book 3rd Edition

London: British Film Institute

Nichols, B (2002) Introduction to Documentary, Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Nichols, B. (1994) Representing Reality: Issues and Concepts in Documentary, Indianopolis: Indiana University Press

 

Netography

Hardie, A. (2008) Rollercoasters and Reality: A Study of Big Screen Documentary Audiences 2002-2007

URL: http://www.participations.org/Volume%205/Issue%201%20-%20special/5_01_hardy.htm

Accessed 15th December 2014

 

Filmography

Capturing The Friedmans (2003) Directed by Andrew Jalecki, USA

La Sortie des l’Usine Lumière à Lyon (1895) Directed by Lumiere Brothers, France

Ocean’s Eleven (2001) Directed by Steven Soderbergh, USA

The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) Directed by Paul Greengrass, USA

The Cove (2009) Directed by Louie Psihoyos, USA

The Imposter (2012) Directed by Bart Layton, UK/USA

Film Art Essay

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Choose three films from any country and any time.  Only one of these films is allowed to be a mainstream commercial Hollywood film.

Explain how your three chosen films address, apply, use and/or otherwise interact with your two chosen artistic media (painting, drawing, comics, videogames, and architecture).  What does this interaction tell us about the specific cinematic nature of film?

In this essay I will be discussing how three films have been influenced by two other artistic mediums. I will analyse two films in relation to the interactive art form of videogames: Run Lola Run (1999) and The Raid: Redemption (2012). In addition, I will look at how painting is used in The Thomas Crown Affair (1996). Through close examination on how these other art forms are addressed, applied and used within their respective films, I will argue how videogames and paintings can be the driving force behind narratives and metaphorical visual imagery, and how when mediums combine the specific cinematic techniques and essence of cinema is accentuated.

 

In the early 1970’s, a new artistic medium was invented: the videogame. The first arcade game was Computer Space (1971), but Pong (1972) is widely regarded as the arcade game that launched gaming into mainstream popular culture. Videogames, like film, were moving images, except for one key aspect: interactivity. Unlike film, games are actively played, not just passively observed. Gonzalo Frasco’s introduction of ‘Ludology’ or ‘game theory’ is an important aspect when discussing the medium, as games are a combination of narrative storytelling, but also game design. In his essay, “Game Design and Narrative Structure”, Henry Jenkins explains how the relationship between games and story is a question that still divides “game fans, designers and scholars alike”(pg.118). Speaking about a Game Studies conference, Jenkins describes the schism: on one side are the ‘self-proclaimed ludologists’, who want to focus on game-play mechanics; and on the opposing side are the ‘narratologists’, who are interested in studying games alongside other storytelling media.

For the purpose of this essay, I will be looking at both sides of this argument. Re-mediation and convergence are constant themes throughout art history, and to deny the links between games and film post-1972, for example, would be incredibly close-minded. As McKenzie explains, both digital media and post-structuralist theory teaches us “no genre, field or work is unique and self-contained: each is a specific yet fuzzy combination of other things that are themselves diverse and non-unique. In short: what makes something unique is not so much it’s make up, but its mix-up” (pg.118). Therefore, by analysing film that has two artistic elements in its ‘mix-up’, it stands to reason that the specific cinematic nature of film will be then be exemplified and accentuated.

Run Lola Run, directed by Tom Tykwer, tells the story of a young, red-haired woman named Lola (Franka Potente). In a breath-taking race against the clock, she must obtain 100,000 German Marks in twenty minutes to save the life of her boyfriend, Manni (Moritz Leibtreu). The key aspect to the story, however, is the fact that it’s told via three possible scenarios. Manni is a small-time criminal, and he owes money to his boss, Ronnie. Having lost his bag of money on a train to a homeless man, after being scared off the train by police, Manni calls Lola and begs her to find him enough money to pay his boss. From that moment on, Lola’s story is divided into three ‘runs’. Similar to ‘lives’ in videogames, she has a set number of chances to complete her ‘run’ and make the right choices in order to acquire the cash for Manni. As Margaret Grieb explains: “like all games, the film has rules: if a character breaks the law, they must die- in a game rules can’t be broken to win” (Grieb, pp.157-70).

That statement isn’t completely true, though. Geoff King discusses how ‘cheating’ is “a process that has become institutionalised in the gaming world” (King, pg53.) With the aid of ‘cheats’ (in a form of a ‘secret’ code or an exploit of some kind), gamers can avoid death and break the rules. Of course, all sense of achievement and suspense when playing is lost when cheating, just like in real-life. However, in comparison with Run Lola Run, there would be one level of satisfaction from playing this way: “it permits a faster passage through the game” and it “saves much of the need to keep repeating sequences because you’re avatar has died” (King, pp.53-54). This is exactly the narrative that is presented in the film: a repetition of events, with different decisions made each time, and twice Lola ‘dies’ and has to begin again. Of course, because of the specific cinematic nature of film, we are not in control of Lola and her decisions like in a videogame. Which is the largest factor differentiating game from film: games may have ‘substantial’ interactivity, but King explains that that means “the loss of one key source of the appeal of narrative cinema: the enjoyable process of having the balance of events taken entirely out of our hands”. He adds that interactivity comes at the cost of losing “carefully balanced and organised tension and suspense; of wondering what exactly is going to happen or when without being able to influence it at all” (King, pg.54).

Similar to multiple-choice, narrative driven games like The Walking Dead (Telltale Games, 2012) and Heavy Rain (Quantic Dream, 2010), Run Lola Run presents us with various paths, except here we can only watch what choices Lola makes. In addition, the film is much like an old-school platformer, such as Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega, 1991). Sonic famously starts with three lives, and levels are usually a matter of trial and error. This repetition of trying and trying again until you make the right action, movement, or decision is key to Run Lola Run’s narrative. Lola’s first run concludes with her reaching Manni too late, the consequence being Manni robbing a supermarket for money. Lola then joins her boyfriend in the robbery, but as they try to escape they are cornered by police. The ‘law’ has literally been broken, and Lola is shot by the police. She dies, wakes up and must try again. Margaret Grieb describes the film as the “transposition of the repetitious video game format onto cinema” (2002, pg.158).

The specific cinematic nature of film is exemplified with the speed of Twyker and Mathilde Bonnefoy’s editing: “Their experimental use of frantic, switching camera angles, along with jump cuts and temporal distortion serve both to build tension and to emphasise the point that Lola is literally, breathlessly, running out of time” (Thompson, pg.4). The closest thing games have to this specific quality of film story-telling, is the ‘Cutscene’ or FMV (Full Motion Video). These short videos are usually interspersed into a game’s narrative, like in the action-adventure Uncharted (Sony, 2007-2016) series. Uncharted 2 (Naughty Dog, 2009) “[broke] new ground in art, animation, and acting, effectively bringing the player into an interactive movie instead of just an action game” (Mellisnos, pg. 205). Yet games still have a narrative-gameplay disconnect: simply because the vast majority of a game is under your control, and so is the camera.  Therefore, you could never truly replicate the frantic, fast-paced breathlessness of Lola’s situation whilst in the midst of game-play; hence the use of the cutscene.

“Interactivity is almost the opposite of narrative; narrative flows under the direction of the author, while interactivity depends on the player for motive power”, Ernest Adams argues (2007, pp.260-262). It’s clear that game designers agree to at least some extent. That’s why game narratives almost all employ the cutscene; to seize back control from the player so the author can tell the story they created. Tykwer emphasises the specific cinematic ability of film when recalling the concept of resolute human desperation against the unstoppable flow of time in Lola’s character and story. “The picture of a woman with flame-red hair running and running and running, desperately, resolutely. This picture is pure cinema: motion and emotion, no other medium can convey these things in quite this way” (2004, pg.107).

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The second film in discussion– which the late film critic Roger Ebert described as a “visualized videogame” – is The Raid: Redemption (Ebert, 2012). Filmed in Indonesia by Welsh director Gareth Evans, The Raid: Redemption is first and foremost a martial arts movie. Ebert describes the film’s setup deftly: “There are two teams, the police SWAT team and the gangsters. The gangsters have their headquarters on the top floor of a 15-story building, where they can spy on every room and corridor with video surveillance. The SWAT team enters on the ground floor. Its assignment: Fight its way to the top, floor by floor” (2012).

The film’s narrative is similar to old 80’s style platformers like Elevator Action (Taito). Rookie cop Rama (Iko Uwais), and his SWAT team of superiors must proceed level by level, ascending the building as the countless enemies get increasingly difficult to defeat, with mini-boss battles, and at the top sits the villainous crime boss Tama (Ray Sahetapy). Like progression in a videogame, Rama is constantly hindered by the appearance of a new ‘enemy type’ on different floors. Each floor has its own “feel, look, choice of weapons and end boss”, reviewer Rude Obias explains (Obias, 2012).

Also similar to a first-person shooter, or beat-em-up games like Street Fighter (Capcom, 1987), is that the film’s narrative doesn’t care much for backstory or character development. It’s akin to a hyper-realistic videogame, down to the simple game mechanics of simply killing wave after wave of bad guys. However, this in no way implies the characters are not strongly defined, even if simplistically focused upon. Evans supplies us with just enough information to know we should care for our protagonist. In the opening scene, we see Rama kneeling towards Mecca in his early morning prayer. He kisses his pregnant wife on the belly goodbye before he leaves. From these two small moments, the audience knows our protagonist is a good man; he’s religious, and a caring husband. It’s truly simplistic cinema in every sense.

What truly elevates the film, however, is the action. Action that, like Run Lola Run, never loses momentum. The action scenes are martial-arts wonder; balletic, brutal and beautiful. Evans editing, pacing and direction mean that, unlike the videogames that are so engrained in its structure and design, The Raid: Redemption’s cinematic nature provides the audience with a film that is a flow of fights and fists that are captured so deftly, we don’t need to be in control. Giving us control would only mean a poorer experience.  Side-scroller Kung-Fu Master (Irem, 1984) may have the same structure, but it does not feel the same as watching The Raid. Luke Kenney humorously explains: “This movie makes video games look like boring emotional dramas, and it’s only “cut scenes” feature machetes” (McKinney, 2012).

If Run Lola Run is the cinematic version of a multiple-choice game, then The Raid is cinematic storytelling of the linear game. Costikyan argues that: “The story is the antithesis of game. The best way to tell a story is in linear form. The best way to create a game is to provide a structure within which the player has freedom of action” (2000, pp.44-53).  But my response to that would be: why can’t we have both? Games like Uncharted prove that interactive-movie style, story-driven linear games work incredibly well. Likewise, Run Lola Run proves -like the 2015 blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow– that the ‘reset and try again’ multiple chance/scenario narrative in film also can provide a great cinematic experience.

There are two fight scenes that standout in The Raid. The first is a hand-to-hand battle between SWAT Sergeant Jaka and crime lord lieutenant ‘Mad Dog’. The fight begins much like the side-on viewpoint gamers are privy to when playing ‘beat-em-up’ games like Tekken or Dead or Alive. However, unlike in those games, the camera moves around the fighters, moving low and high to capture every angle of the bone-shattering action. The editing is quick and deliberate, but the fight is captured clearly, where every contact made can be witnessed.

The second fight is between Rama and his brother Andi, versus ‘Mad Dog’; a three-way spectacle of the Indonesian martial art of ‘Pencak Silat’ – the fighting style used throughout the film. The combination of the action, cinematography, non-diegetic sound effects, and musical score gel together to create a work of cinema art. Almost all critics agree of the quality of the fight cinematography of this film, Business Insider even hailing this particular battle “The Greatest Martial Arts Fight Scene Ever Filmed”.

As Papazian and Sommers surmise; “Clearly though, the American Film Industry has mined the video game industry since at least the 1970’s for both stories and storytelling modes”. More frequently, film is “adopting mechanics of digital storytelling and gameplay, such as clear-the-level plot structures and try-die-try-again movement through the story” (2013, pg.10). The Raid and Run Lola Run are two perfect examples of this, whilst possessing what makes film cinematic: non interactive, narrative-driven works of motion, emotion and sound.

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Moving away from games now, we will analyse The Thomas Crown Affair (1999). Videogames have no comparison to this film, but the medium of Painting does- in a well-utilised Art Gallery heist story. Paintings, unlike film-or games- are still images. “One of the main differences between a painting and a piece of film is the illusion of movement” (Eggertson, pg.4.). In The Thomas Crown Affair, paintings are used both as a visual metaphor to the action and characters on screen, and as a plot-device. The film revolves around titular Thomas Crown, a multi-millionaire with a dalliance for thievery. In his most ambitious robbery yet, Mr. Crown (Pierce Brosnan) sets his sights on the $100 million San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk (1912) by Oscar-Claude Monet, located in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The opening scene begins with Crown in a therapy session, answering questions on trust and his feelings towards women. Intercut with this is an extreme long shot of the Earth, as we quickly zoom downwards towards New York City, and the cab that holds Crown, seemingly having left the session. Arriving at the Museum of Art, he walks inside and sits down in front of the painting known as Noon: Rest from Work (After Millet) (1890) by Vincent van Gogh. Pulling a pastry from his briefcase, he admires the art; a picture of two farmers sleeping on freshly-cut hay in the middle of a yellow field, shadowed from the midday san by a haystack. Crown’s friend and gallery Security guard Bobby approaches and asks why Crown likes the Gogh painting so much, when to the right of Crown hangs the far more valuable Monet’s San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk. Crown acknowledges the beauty of the Monet, but simply replies: “I just like my haystacks, Bobby.” This whole conversation turns out to be a ‘red herring’. The film uses paintings not only for visual appreciation of art, but as narrative plot devices, in this instance the Gogh painting is just a distraction for both Bobby and the audience. Which is why when Crown carries out his heist, it’s a shock to everyone that the Monet is the picture he steals, not his beloved ‘Haystacks’.

As Crown escapes, he passes a painting that we also briefly noticed earlier, before his talk with Bobby. We then see it again at Crown’s apartment. The oil painting is 1946s’ The Son of Man (1946) by Belgian Surrealist painter Rene Magritte. It shows a man in an overcoat and bowler hat standing in front of a low wall; beyond is sea and overcast sky. The man’s face is mostly obscured by a large, hovering green apple. Magritte explains the meaning behind the art: “It’s something that happens constantly. Everything we see hides another thing, we always want to see what is hidden by what we see. There is an interest in that which is hidden and which the visible does not show us” (Magritte, pg.172). By the film’s conclusion, we realise it’s a metaphor for Crown’s character: untrustworthy, mysterious, and never truly revealing himself to anyone.

The Son of Man is not only a metaphor for Thomas Crown, but a metaphor for the film’s narrative; never revealing it’s secret until the very end, only for it to present us with a new mystery at its conclusion. In the final ‘heist’ sequence, metaphor becomes reality: Crown becomes Son of Man complete with Bowler Hat and overcoat. Decoy’s donning the same attire roam around the Museum, drawing security guards away from the real Son of Man. The decoy’s carry the same brown briefcase, filled with countless photographs of Son of Man. This climax is an incredible assault of artistic mediums: photographs, paintings, and finally – in the form of Thomas Crown- life truly imitating Art, as Art imitates life. We come full circle, through the cinematic nature of film.

 

To conclude, I would like to address my scepticism on the question of “the specific cinematic nature of film”. Of course, there are attributes of film that cannot be captured anywhere else in the same way: temporal space, the velocity of speed, non-interactivity, well-balanced suspense etc. The use of cinematic techniques such as editing, cinematography, and sound are crucial for the film experience. Simultaneously, there is no denying how much cinema is a re-mediation and convergence of other artistic mediums. Noel Carrol proves the reasoning behind my scepticism on locating the specificity of the film medium: “And there’s the rub…successful theorists failed to do this.” However, she maintains: “Even if we inhabit the ruins of medium specificity, theory still has enough space in which to thrive” (Caroll, pg.2).

These three films prove that when amalgamating different artistic medium’s together, how much the specific cinematic nature of film can be improved and accentuated. Whether it be using video-game narrative structures, or paintings as visual metaphors for character study, it’s clear just how much cinema influences and is influenced by other media. It’s incredibly difficult to find true originality in art, as everything is influenced by everything else. Yet, a combination of cinematic techniques and the moving image of cinema is the reason why film continues to play a vital part in the entertainment world.

 

 

Bibliography

Adams, E. (2007) ‘Will Computer Games Ever Be a Legitimate Art Form?’ in Videgames and Art, ed. Clarke, A. and Mitchell, G., Bristol: Intellect

Caroll, N. (1996) Theorizing the Moving Image, New York: Cambridge University Press

Costikyan, G. (2000) “Where Stories End and Games Begin”, in Game Developer, Sep. 2000

Eggertson, G. (2015) “Painting with Film: Affective immediacy and temporal narrative in the cinema of David Lynch”, accessible online at: http://www.academia.edu/544739/Painting_With_Film_Affective_immediacy_and_temporal_narrative_in_the_cinema_of_David_Lynch

Grieb, M. (2002) “Run Lara Run”, in Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, ed. by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska, London and New York: Wallflower Press

Jenkins, H. (2004) “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, Cambridge MA: MIT Press

King, G. (2002) ‘Die Hard/Try Harder: Narrative Spectacle and Beyond, From Hollywood to Videogame’ in Screenplay: Cinema/Videogames/Interfaces, ed. by Geoff King and Tanya Krzywinska, London and New York: Wallflower Press

Magritte, R. (1979) Magritte: Ideas and Images, by Torczyner, H., trans. Richard Millen, New York: Harry N. Abrams

McKenzie, J. (2004) “Game Design as Narrative Architecture” in First Person: New Media as Story, Performance, and Game, Cambridge MA: MIT Press

Melissinos, C., O’Rourke, P. (2012) The Art of Video Games: From Pac-Man to Mass Effect, New York: Welcome

Papazian, G., Sommers, J. (2013) Game On, Hollywood! : Essays on the Intersection of Video Games and Cinema, Jefferson: McFarland & Company Inc.

Thompson, L. (2011) “In Praise of Speed: The Value of Velocity in Contemporary Cinema”, in Dandelion, Issue 2, Jan. 2011, London

Tykwer, T. (2004) “Tom Tykwer’s Run Lola, Run: Postmodern, Posthuman, or Post Theory”, in Studies in European Cinema Vol.1: Issue 2 by Owen Evans, [Online]: Routledge

 

Netography

 

Badkar, M. (2013) The Greatest Martial Arts Fight Scene Ever Filmed

http://www.businessinsider.com/the-raid-redemption-2013-8?IR=T

 

Ebert, R. (2012) The Raid: Redemption Review

URL: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/the-raid-redemption-2012

Accessed 14th December 2015

 

McKinney, J. (2012) The Raid: Redemption Is the Most Impossibly Awesome Action Movie Ever

URL: http://mancave.cbslocal.com/2012/07/09/the-raid-redemption-is-the-most-impossibly-awesome-action-movie-ever/

Accessed 14th December 2015

 

Obias, R. (2012) The Raid: Redemption Movie Review

URL: http://www.shockya.com/news/2012/03/20/the-raid-redemption-movie-review/

Accessed 14th December 2015

 

 

Filmography

Edge of Tomorrow (2015) Directed by Doug Liman, U.S.A

Run Lola Run (1999) Directed by Tom Tykwer, Germany

The Raid: Redemption (2012) Directed by Gareth Evans, Indonesia

The Thomas Crown Affair (1999) Directed by John McTiernan, U.S.A.

 

Gameography

Elevator Action (1983) Taito

Heavy Rain (2010) Quantic Dream

Kung-Fu Master (1984) Irem

Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) Sega

Street Fighter (1987) Capcom

The Walking Dead (2012) Telltale Games

Uncharted (2007-2016) Sony Computer Entertainment

Uncharted 2 (2009) Naughty Dog & Sony Computer Entertainment

 

List of Paintings

Oscar-Claude Monet, San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk, 1908-1912, National Museum Cardiff, Wales

Rene Magritte, The Son of Man, 1946, Private Collection

Vincent van Gogh, Noon: Rest from Work (After Millet), 1890, Musee d’Orsay, Paris

 

Classical Hollywood Cinema Essay – Critical Analysis

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‘[Classical Hollywood] Movies have happy endings because part of their cultural function is to affirm and maintain the culture of which they are part’ (Maltby 2003, p. 17). Discuss this hypothesis through an address to two Classical Hollywood films.

In this essay, I will be discussing how Classical Hollywood Movies utilise happy endings as the norm for concluding narrative. Maltby claims that these movies have happy endings because part of their cultural function is to affirm and maintain the culture of which they are part’. I will approach this hypothesis and argue whether this applies to two important Classical Hollywood films: All That Heaven Allows (1955), and Rebel Without A Cause (1955).  I will argue that while this is true in most cases, some narratives actually critiqued the conservative ideology of the Hollywood System, and while the happy ending was nigh near compulsory, occasionally films did stand against a satisfactory happy ending.

 

In his written essay entitled ‘A Classical Cinema?’ theatre director and screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr begins by using a quote from Carl Milliken in 1928 (Executive Secretary and Chief Spokesman of the MPAA between 1922-1947): “The very name Hollywood has colored the thought of this age. It has given to the world a new synonym for happiness because of all its products hap­piness is the one in which Hollywood – the motion-picture Hollywood – chiefly interests itself” (Maltby, pg.14).  This important brief statement on how The Hollywood Movie Industry operates hits directly at what even is still relevant today about movies that are churned out from the Hollywood machine. Happiness is the cornerstone to films that are made in the glamour and gloss of California.

Back in the 1930’s until the 1960’s, Hollywood went through what is known as the ‘Classical Period’ or better known as ‘The Golden Age of Cinema’. Between 1939 and 1945, World War 2 was taking place, yet surprisingly these were some of the years where Cinema was thriving instead of declining, and the key was happiness. Film has always been escapism, just like a good novel, or videogames, and we watch film to escape the negativity and the possible sadness of our everyday lives. So therefore, it is also no trouble to understand why Hollywood makes its profit as a global industry on the main theme of ‘happiness’ and ‘joy’. As a business, they are simply attracting their consumers and the culture we live in by offering us what we all want: to be happy.

All That Heaven Allows (1955), directed by Douglas Sirk, is a clear example of a Classical Hollywood Narrative. As a romantic melodrama, the story is of a middle-aged widow named Cary, who falls in love with a younger man, her gardener Ron. Starring Jane Wyman and Rock Hudson in the two leading roles, the film centers around this heterosexual couple fighting against society to make their love work. In ‘An Introduction To Studying Popular Culture’, whilst on the topic of the ‘happy ending’, a survey of 100 films in the Golden Age Period by Bordwell et al. is discussed, with its findings showing that ‘ninety-five involved romance in at least one line of action, while eighty-five made that the principle line of action’(Bordwell, pg.16). Along with romance, social order plays a huge role in the narrative of these films. This narrative style is extremely important to focus on, because it ‘describes the mode of storytelling in Hollywood’ and allows us to notice how ‘film production is constrained by such standardization’.  In simpler terms, narrative style is key in showing us the ideology Hollywood wants us to live by, while also feeding us the same rehashed formula over and over again. Similar to propaganda, which Hollywood has been claimed to have been guilty of in the past and even recently with Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper (2014), stories are told the same way repeatedly in order to keep the clearly conservative ideology of Hollywood alive. The ideology is considered to be conservative because it shows how the prevailing social order ‘is restored by the effective resolution of conflicts and the satisfactory settlement of disruptions’ (Strinati, pg. 34).  Therefore, the restoring of order in films is a message from Hollywood as to how we should maintain our own order in wider society, and keep the hope of the ‘American Dream’ alive in people’s heads. The ideology that binds Hollywood narrative together is simply a reinforcement and reflection of the ideology that drives our society: Capitalism.

Maltby says that Hollywood films have ‘happy endings because part of their cultural function is to affirm and maintain the culture of which they are part.’ So what was this cultural function? As it happens, Maltby continues by explaining about the existence of the Hollywood Industry’s ‘Production Code’. This code was ‘adopted in 1930, at first widely ignored, but then enforced strictly from 1934 by the MPDAA’, and it was a set of guidelines that had to be strictly adhered to by production companies, outlining and regulating the content and treatment of every Hollywood movie between 1931 and 1968. The code was founded because as ‘social issues became more hotly debated and movies were gaining more influence than ever’ it meant there would be threats from local censors as movies’ moral content come under scrutiny. The ‘conservative principles of the code, especially when depicting crime and sex,’ meant censors would be kept away (Corrigan, White, pg.360). Knowing of this code, it’s clear that films like ‘All That Heaven Allows’ was under this regulation, and the fact that ’85 percent of Hollywood movies featured heterosexual romance as their main plot device’ means that when given context in to how a story was required to be told in those times, shows how much influence Hollywood had over the director’s work.

In fact, All That Heaven Allows is a great example of a film that did not originally have a happy ending. ‘Originally, Douglas Sirk wanted the film to end with Ron’s downfall after he recognizes Cary, leaving it open if Ron would survive or not. Producer Ross Hunter found that ending way too “depressing” and “disturbing” for the audience and therefore decided to go with a conventional happy end – which is the one we know today’ (Imdb). The film concludes with Cary going back to Ron after surviving his brush with death caused by him falling off a low cliff while trying to get the attention of Cary, who went to his home searching for him and missed his presence on the hill near his house. Ron is recovering later, and Cary comes back to look after him. The film concludes with Cary staring out the window as Ron softly sleeps, recovering from his injuries. Here is that Production Code coming into full effect: a director has a vision that is completely removed and disapproved by the film producer, simply because Sirk’s ending was ‘unhappy’. Which then clearly proves Hollywood’s stance on happy endings: even if it comes at the cost of the art, the ideology comes first.  Maltby’s stance is easily proved correct here.  

james-dean-natalie-wood-rebel-without-a-cause-photo

Released in the same year, Nicholas Ray’s Rebel Without A Cause is another melodrama where a heterosexual romance plays a main part in its story of a young man, Jim Stark (played by James Dean), a social outcast who falls for a girl, Judy (Natalie Wood) at his new school.  While being held under arrest for ‘drunkenness’ in the local town police station, Jim meets John ‘Plato’ Crawford, a fellow teenager who shot a litter of puppies with his mother’s gun, and Judy, brought in for curfew violation, mistaken for a prostitute. Similar to All That Heaven Allows, this film is a drama that takes a strong look at problems is society, in Heaven the issues of high society was brought to the fore- the gossiping, the pandering to what others think etc.- and here we are shown the problems that are faced by teenagers and the youth growing up in society: how they are emotionally confused, possibly have parental problems (as is the case with Jim, Plato and Judy), and that they do not act like delinquents because they want to cause trouble, but because it’s a way of rebelling against all the issues they face in their lives, whether it be domestic or at school. The topic of rebellious youth was also very popular in the cinemas in the 1950’s, as more teenagers came to watch: ‘boys like working-class Plato conveyed the young as exciting, if dangerous and anti-social’ (Grainge, Jankovich, Monteith, pg. 376).

As with All That Heaven Allows, Rebel is a critique of the American Dream. It focuses on showing how even if you’re a white child, living in a big house with two rich parents in the suburbs – the very epitome of the American Dream- does not mean happiness is life. Because no matter how prosperous these people are, without structure, communication and morals, money means very little.  Jim, Plato and Judy all come from rich families, but they all are equally troubled. Jim is in the midst of a teenage crisis, driven by his father who is weak and emasculated by Jim’s domineering mother, which means Jim lacks a real role model for a father. This turns Jim to delinquency (drunkenness, car chases, fights etc.) until he meets Ray Framek, a police officer at the station, who then manages to stabilize him, and he is further changed into a man by his early relationship with Judy.

However, both ATHA and RWAC unfortunately have to struggle to maintain this critique of the conservative ideology come the films’ conclusions. This is simply down to the ‘almost compulsory’ happy ending that is the staple of the conventional narrative film, and the fact that the entire meaning behind the ‘melodrama’ genre is to show the failure of the dominant ideology (Mercer, Stringler, pg.14).  As Geoffrey- Neil Smith explains in his essay on melodrama, entitled ‘Minelli and Melodrama’:  “The importance of melodrama lies precisely in its ideological failure. Because it cannot accommodate its problems either in a real present or an ideal future, but lays them open in their contradictoriness, it opens a space which most Hollywood films have studiously closed off” (Landy, pg.273).  Hence why All That Heaven Allows conclusion feels forced and out of place: until the end director Douglas Sirk had maintained his bold critique on high society, but in the last moments his artistic integrity is pulled from his grasp, and we are handed a typical ‘satisfactory’ finale. Thankfully, Rebel Without A Cause has more luck keeping its seemingly would-be inevitable ideological contradictions – contradictions created by Hollywood’s desire to keep audiences dissolussoned by a dream – back just enough to offer an ending that is refreshingly ‘unsatisfactory’.

When looking at the journey of the film up to its conclusion, director Nicholas Ray revealed when asked what the goal of the characters was, explaining simply “Look for the father. The father(s) in the film fail to provide the adequate father image, either in strength or authority” (Eisenschitz, pg.254).  The film is as relevant as it was in the 1950s: “It typifies the ineptitude of fathers to act as responsible adults and their unwillingness to accept their teen-aged children into an adult world. Once an adult, one must let go of his or her childhood. Those who cannot make the transformation often pay for it at an immeasurable cost” (Wood, Issue 5).  On his road to manhood, Jim faces the school bully Buzz – Judy’s boyfriend- who challenges Jim to a game of chicken, which results in Buzz’s death as he gets stuck inside his car while it falls off a cliff. This is the turning point in the film, and ultimately is the catalyst to what transpires at the end of the story.

Lest we arrive at the last scenes of the film: where we discover Maltby’s claim is somewhat disproven by A Rebel Without A Cause. Because while the ending is not miserable or depressing, it almost certainly is not a ‘happy’ one. Jim gets reconciled with his father and mother, after giving up his rebellious ways in favour of becoming a strong son to his parents and a prospective husband for Judy. Their love stays intact for the ending, which continues the theme of the heterosexual romance being a main plot point that brings a resolution to the story. The climax to the film has Buzz’s friends – who blame Jim for his death – chasing Plato, Jim and Judy around a deserted mansion up in the hills of the suburbs. In the conflict, Plato ends up shooting Moose, one of Buzz’s delinquent friends, and as the police arrives he also shoots at the police as he runs away to the observatory and barricades himself inside. As the police converge on the observatory, Jim and Judy enter and Jim persuades Plato to trade his gun for Jim’s iconic red jacket, and whilst trading Jim removes the clip from the gun and hands it back to Plato. Jim then persuades Plato to come out onto the street with him and Judy, but as he still carries the gun in his hand the police, they believe he is a threat and shoot him. Therefore, it’s the relationship between Plato and Jim that ends in devastating fashion. This is the “immeasurable cost” described by Nicholas Ray, and means what would otherwise be simply another formulaic ‘happy’ resolution to a story, is instead tinged with sadness as Jim mourns the loss of his best friend. In the aftermath, Jim’s father promises to be stronger for him, and Jim introduces Judy to his parents.

To conclude this discussion, it’s clear that by knowing about Hollywood’s Production Code, we can easily explain why the Classical Hollywood films released from 1930 to 1960’s had similar narrative structure and – for the majority – had happy endings. Maltby’s hypothesis is undeniably correct in saying that Hollywood is a business that wants to ‘affirm and maintain the culture of which they are part’. Businesses by nature are profit-driven; they are an integral part of our capitalist society. Capitalism runs by making believe that if you work hard, you will be rewarded and be happy. That the American Dream can be achieved by anyone. However, Maltby is incorrect in that not every film of those times conformed to the bourgeois ideology: Douglas Sirk heavily criticises high society with All That Heaven AllowsRebel Without A Cause is very similar, depicting the rich suburbs as a place where money may be aplenty, but the youth are broken by domestic problems. Both melodramas stand out from the generic ‘happy’ worlds of Hollywood make-believe. The only difference is Sirks’ film ends contradictory to its nature through the meddling forces of Hollywood’s producers, and Rebel is able to mostly stay truthful to itself as an honest depiction of society’s youth. What is abundantly clear is that at least by the 1950’s, Hollywood’s leash was loosening, and films like these melodramas were pushing against the system; against the affirmation of our culture. These films show us a more truthful look at the society we live in, fighting against the system in which they were created.

 

Bibliography

Bordwell, D., Staiger, J. and Thompson, K. (1985) The Classical Hollywood Cinema: Film Style & Mode of Production to 1960, London and New York: Routledge

Corrigan, T., White, P. (2012) The Film Experience: An Introduction, Third Edition, Boston: Bedford/St. Martins

Eisenschitz, B. (1993) Nicholas Ray: An American Journey, London: Faber

Grainge, P., Jankovich, M., Monteith, S. (2007) Film Histories: An Introduction and Reader, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press Ltd.

Landy, M. (1991) Imitations of Life: A Reader on Film & Television Melodrama, Detroit: Wayne State University Press

Mercer, J., Shingler, M. (2004) Melodrama, London: Wallflower Press

Maltby, R. (2003) Hollywood Cinema, Malden: Blackwell Publishing

Strinati, D. (2014) An Introduction to Studying Popular Culture, New York: Routledge

 

Netography

Wood, C. (2000) Senses Of Cinema Online Journal, Issue 5,

URL: http://sensesofcinema.com/2000/feature-articles/finding/

Accessed 8th May 2015

 

IMDB Trivia Webpage

URL: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0047811/trivia

Accessed 7th May 2015

 

Filmography

All That Heaven Allows (1955) Directed by Douglas Sirk, U.S.A.

American Sniper (2014) Directed by Clint Eastwood, U.S.A.

Rebel Without A Cause (1955) Directed by Nicholas Ray, U.S.A.