The Complete Permeation of Ideology in Life

This video talks about the existence of ideology in general and uses visuals from film, specifically superhero and serial killer films, to assist that. I find it interesting how ideology is described as a perspective that is specific to the individual, being fed by the individual experiences of a person while also feeding directly into the experiences that individual has in a recurring cycle. As humans, we are trapped within our own experiences and perspectives, making it very difficult, if not impossible, to completely understand how our ideologies compare with the ideologies of others. If people are unable to see the effects of their ideology and other people are clearly able to see how certain ideologies affect them, a rift forms between the two people. Ideology informs language and decisions in everyday life. Because of this, everything that exists and happens has some sort of ideology behind it. The language we use to communicate is built on perspectives of the people who created it and popularized it. The people in power make their decisions based on their ideologies, which leads to injustice. The fact that people’s experiences are limited and different from each other on the individual level, creates ideologies in everyone and about everything. I found it interesting what the video said about every sign having an ideology with it. The words, the message, and the purpose of the sign are an ideology in themselves. It made me think about the signs and words that appear in films and what they mean. Specifically, I thought about the clip we watched in class from They Live (1988). As Roddy Piper put on the glasses, he saw the messages that the signs and words around him were really saying. He saw the ideologies existing within the words and the messages innately. However, it is important to note that Piper was looking at these words through his own eyes and with his own ideologies and the film as a whole was made by people with their own experiences and ideologies attached to them. Ideology has permeated life so thoroughly that observing and dissecting ideologies of another person is affected by the ideologies of the observer.

Experimental Film

Experimental film is a reflection on the form of a film and the pieces that create the experience of a film. Innovations in film form are used as an expression of aesthetics and ideas. Tom Gunning believes that film started as a speculative, feeding the audience’s desire to see something. He also believes that speculative of film has had a strong impact on the development of avant-garde and experimental film. Experimental film uses speculative to draw attention to the film form so that the viewers will look at it with a different perspective from typical narrative films. As film grew into a form of artistic expression, similar to other forms, it began to inquire about formal properties that make up the medium. In doing such, the properties of the medium are emphasized over the content of the film itself. Properties commonly explored in experimental film include light quality, the motion of objects on screen, and the combination of sound and visuals. By inquiring about these themes, experimental films also explore the ways in which we see and hear things.

There are two main formalist strategies implemented by experimental films that challenge the viewer’s preconceived notions of film, causing them to think critically about the formalities of film and how they perceive them and form ideas around them. The first strategy is abstract film which uses formal elements of a film to create something that is completely nonrepresentational of reality. In doing so, abstract films may explore the rhythm of the film, and the effects that objects and color have on a viewer. Being abstracted from reality, these films show how film form itself affects individuals and how film form creates a film without the presence of a narrative, or realistic images and sounds. The second strategy is narrative experimentation. Some experimental films use at least a loose narrative, especially since they are made in a time-based medium with a beginning, medium, and end. These films explore the relationship between narrative and form and the idea of time. With an experimental narrative, the audience is not spoon-fed a story. Instead, they are presented with information in reference to time and space, allowing them to create their own ideas about what they are seeing and why they create those ideas based on what they are seeing.

Experimental films take forms in different organizational constructs. In some cases, films are completely abstract, drawing reactions from the fact that they defy realism. Other experimental films follow a strict formal pattern. In any case, experimental films can be divided into three types of organization. The first organization is associative. Associative organizations create psychological and emotional resonances with the audience. These films are designed so that the viewers will create a relation between what is being experienced and how they are reacting to that. Metaphoric associations link together objects with each other to generate an idea or an emotion. Symbolic associations use isolated objects to generate abstract ideas, whether new or already assigned to those discrete objects. The second organization is structural. Structural organization uses formal principles rather than association or narrative to engage the audience. These formal structures are the elements used to make or show a film such as a projector, camera, camera lens, film, and others. The third organization is a participatory experience. In a participatory experience, engagement relies on the placement of the viewer and time and space in which the experience is exhibited. The audience is immersed in the experience beyond just viewing allowing them to see, hear, and feel in a new light.

Experimental films can be expressive or confrontational. They aim to communicate a message to the audience or to simply shock the audience by generating a direct response to what is being shown. Although typical films are used to express certain ideas like experimental films, they are made to be foremost entertaining. Experimental film is primarily an innovation meant to generate a reaction from the audience by calling attention to the elements that make a film. Experimental film is a form of art in which the human desire for insight is related to directly by the elements of film form rather than through the medium of a story or depiction of an alternate reality. It’s like poetry rather than prose, meant to be perceived and interpreted by the audience within themselves, on their own terms. These experimental styles challenge audiences and challenge preconceived concepts of traditional film and affect how film evolves as a whole. Innovations used in experimental film work their way into mainstream film, thus influencing all viewers eventually.

Does experimental film aim to simply generate any reaction from the audience? Does it aim to generate a specific reaction from the audience? Is experimental film meant to be entertaining? Is experimental film a more valid form of art than mainstream film?

“The Gleaners and I”: A Depiction of Art and Life

The Gleaners and I (2000) follows Agnes Varda as she comes across scavengers and reflects on what it means to be a “gleaner”. It’s a very personal and diverse concoction of people sharing their stories and why they do what they do. We get perspectives from farmers, prominent individuals, professionals of law, young people, and impoverished people all spelling out for us the scavenger lifestyle and how it connects with the rest of society. The Gleaners and I (2000) is mainly organized developmentally as Varda segues from the poor people of France gleaning crops to law professionals explaining legislation to artists talking about their unique style to even herself collecting souvenirs.

Varda takes a somewhat explorative position as she travels through France interacting with gleaners of all kinds and learning about their lifestyles. As she discovers these people and listens to what they say, she discovers what it means to be a gleaner beyond just scavenging for food or supplies. She learns that gleaning is a human reflex of people searching for things that they need. The impoverished glean because they need food. Artists glean to recycle objects into their art and satisfy creative desires. People glean because of what they believe about waste. People glean because they need fun. People glean because they need to save money. As Varda deals with old age, she gleans for comfort and shelter from the fear of time running out. As a filmmaker, Varda gleans images to create something collective from things that exist separate from each other.

Because of this, Varda also takes a reflexive position, showing that the very act of making this documentary about gleaning requires gleaning. In the film, there is a short segment talking about Marey, a pioneer in chronophotography. In this early capturing of images in a sequence, Marey gleaned motionless images in such a way to collectively show motion as art, science, and spectacle. Now over 100 years later, Varda is gleaning images using a handheld camera not only to form motion through still images but to form an idea from the many different stories of people in their wildly different lives.

Largely, The Gleaners and I (2000) portrays art as a form of gleaning. It starts with a painting and ends with a painting, and shows many alternative forms of art in between. Her documentary not only serves to inform or enlighten but also acts as art and is structured like an art piece. It’s a stream of consciousness flowing from idea to idea like paint strokes to make a bigger picture:  that gleaning is an expression of need and want and an important part of art. On an even larger scale, gleaning is an important part of life for all people in infinitely different ways.

 

What do you think is the point that Varda is trying to make with The Gleaners and I (2000)? Do you think Agnes Varda was trying to make a statement about waste from a persuasive position? Do you think gleaning is an important part of art?

The “Dinner Table” Scene as a Narrative Tool

I came across this video essay on Monday. It goes over how the “dinner table” scene adds to the narrative of a film. The “dinner table” scene, or any scene with characters eating at a table, is not a spectacle, in fact, the idea of watching people eat around a table sounds boring. However, it is commonly used in movies as a storytelling tool. When something deviates from our preconceived notion of eating with others, it stands out and has a larger impact on the audience.

In Citizen Kane, there was a montage sequence of Mr. and Mrs. Kane eating breakfast together in “dinner table” scenes. As time progresses, the relationship between Kane and his wife becomes tenser. We learn that Kane spends too much time working on the paper. We see how Kane’s initial method of deescalating conflict with his wife ceases to work and fades away. The “dinner table” scenes advance the plot, develop a relationship, and show us a conflict in the film. At first thought, the “dinner table” scene seems drab or unimportant, but it is actually a very effective tool for entertainment and creating a narrative.

The Significance of Editing

In films, we can see the importance of mise-en-scéne and cinematography quite easily because these incorporate everything within the frame that we are focusing on. Does editing hold the same significance as these factors? The characters, the colors, and the props are all bits of information that are relayed to us directly through the mise-en-scéne and cinematography. Editing is defined as “the process of selecting and joining film footage and shots” — Timothy Corrigan and Patricia White, The Film Experience, 168. It is essentially taking different manifestations of cinematography and mise-en-scéne and putting them together. Knowing this, editing takes on paramount importance as it pieces together shots and footage in meaningful ways using cuts, transitions, and other things.

Editing can be broken down into different elements. Each element creates meaning in its own way by changing the way that the film is experienced by an audience. A cut is “the join or splice between two pieces of film” (Corrigan and White, 168). Cuts are the simplest and most common forms of editing and consists of many different types that create feelings about the film or assert an idea. Transitions are the join of two separate pieces of film with the use of some embellishment that also adds meaning to the film. This video talks about different types of cuts and transitions.

Another element of editing is the continuity style. Although it is not necessary or guaranteed, many films use a continuity style in order to orient space and time. They do this to give their film verisimilitude, which “is the quality of fictional representation that allows readers or viewers to accept a constructed [world] as plausible” (Corrigan and White, 180). By having spatial and temporal patterns, the film becomes something that is believable when we are watching it. A common use continuity editing is the eyeline match. A character is shown looking somewhere off-screen, then the camera cuts to another shot with a new subject. As viewers, we assume that the character was looking at what we saw in the second shot. Based on this edit, we can form spatial relationships between characters and objects as well as ideas about the significance of the character’s glance. In this clip from Star Wars: Episode 1, Obi-Wan Kenobi looks at his lightsaber off screen, then it cuts to his lightsaber. This mixed with his obvious desperation, we form an idea that he is planning to do something with the lightsaber to get out of his current situation, which he does.

Editing’s relationship with time is also important for creating meaning in a film. For example, sometimes the scenes of a movie will not be shown in chronological order of the story. When this occurs, typically there will be some sort of external cue through editing. Flashbacks might dissolve in simulating a character’s memory. Some sequences in films are not explicitly located in any part of the story timeline. This ambiguity is sometimes used on purpose for descriptions, psychological depth, and others. Duration also plays a part in the audiences viewing experience. A film tells a story that has its own timeline but is shown only in the runtime of the film. The length of the story and the length of the movie are almost never the same lengths, therefore it is important in editing to manipulate the duration to make the story flow and feel like its happening in its own timeline. This is affected by pace and rhythm. How often movie cuts can be measured by the average shot length (ASL). ASL helps determine the pace of films. Films take on different paces depending on what type of film they are or what kind of feeling they want to give off.

All of these elements put together are very subtle and go unnoticed when discussing the important parts of a film. However, editing creates so much meaning that basically none of the films you see today can exist without it. Not only is it necessary to put together films that we see, it is important in commanding the way that the viewer is seeing the film and interpreting it. What do you think is more important as a viewer, things like mise-en-scéne and cinematography or editing? As time has passed, the ASL of films has dropped. In your opinion what could be the cause of this trend? Is continuity something that you pay close attention to when watching a film?

Factors of Cinematography Telling a Story

Hou Hsiao-Hsien directs his films in a way that is somewhat lost to western pop-culture that especially contrasts with Hollywood productions we are accustomed to. The Assassin resembles poetry more so than it does to a novel. It is common for western films to be plot-driven, feeding the audience information that guides them in the story’s narrative, but The Assassin gives the audience an abstraction of events and characters, leaving them to find the story for themselves. In this article, he claims that The Assassin doesn’t need to be plot driven because it is driven by things like landscape, setting, nature, characters, and details. The audience does not need a hand fed plot to find pleasure in watching his films. They can find it in these things much like a reader enjoys their poetry.

In turn, The Assassin has become a visual masterpiece, showing its prowess in its many forms of cinematography and portrayal. An important note is the use of long shots and extreme long shots in this film. Hou Hsiao-Hsien is known to use long shots very often when directing. His use of it in The Assassin helps establish the setting of scenes in an extraordinary manner. The scene depicted below was one of my favorites.

Its all filmed on location, with no CGI, and it looks beautiful as the clouds come rolling onto the mountain behind Yinniang’s master. It is serene and natural and feels like feudal China. The vastness of the cliff they are on reflects their power and the gentleness of the clouds reflects their grace and reverence. The long shot shows the characters existing in a real world and it helps immerse us in their world all while connecting us with the characters.

Another noticeable pattern was the kind of pans and tilts used throughout the film. Almost without fail, all of the pans were very slow. This reflects the tranquility of the people and environment that this film takes place in. Although a lot is happening in the film, it doesn’t feel rushed and it matches the structure and pace of the people within the frame. In long shots, as horse riders cross a plane, the camera remains focused on them as it gently pans to the left or right. As somebody walks or speaks to another character, the pan follows the person or the direction of their speech. This reflects important parts of 9th-century Chinese culture like respect, diplomacy, and patience while matching the slow-paced, natural feeling of the setting. Ultimately it adds to the existing immersion and poetic rhythm of Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s The Assassin.

You can see it here in this clip. Another important thing to note is the stark contrast between the pacing of fight scenes and the rest of the scenes. During fight scenes, cuts are very quick, the camera is moving faster, most of the time we are seeing medium or medium long shots, and the overall feel of the movie changes from tranquility to choreographed chaos.

Another one of my favorite cinematographic decisions in The Assassin is in the scene where Tian Ji’an and Huji, his concubine, are meeting in private. The camera is shooting this scene through a curtain as a filter. As the curtain flows back and forth, in and out of frame, accompanied by the use of Steadicam, it feels like we are looking through the eyes of somebody, spying on these people. Before it is even revealed to us that this is the case, we can feel it for ourselves because of this framing. It’s a very powerful and effective use of cinematography to immerse the audience and add an extra layer of realism and style.

Do you feel like the visual aspect of The Assassin and Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s poetic touches are enough to tell a compelling story? Are movies pleasurable to watch when they are not presented with a straightforward plot line? Did you feel or learn anything about the film through factors of cinematography that were meaningful to you?

Meaning Behind the Artificiality of “The Grand Budapest Hotel”

Wes Anderson employs a unique style that permeates all of his films in which the portrayal of scenes alternates between realism and surrealism. Not only is this a quirky method that differentiates him from other directors, but it is a means of advancing the narrative of movies to be about more than just what is being shown to us. In this case, The Grand Budapest Hotel becomes more than a comical story about Zero Moustafa and M. Gustave getting into and out of trouble.

The Grand Budapest Hotel can be dissected into four layers. On the first layer, there is a girl reading a book about the hotel and visiting the grave of the author. Then we are introduced to the author in his old age recollecting his experience as a writer, specifically when he met Moustafa. Then we reach the next layer in which Moustafa is telling the young author the story about him and his connection to the hotel in the past. The story of his connections with the hotel makes up the final layer. Thus, this film is not defined by the story within it, rather it is about the telling of a story long ago, riddled with nostalgia and biases.

As a story of the past, bias, nostalgia, and misinformation seep into what we see on screen as an artificial aesthetic. It honestly portrays the way that the passing on of information affects the reality of the past. The hotel (shown below) we see in this film is not the hotel of reality, but it’s the hotel of the story. The characters are not the people from the real events, but they are caricatures of those people.

An instance of this artificiality shows in the scene where Gustave and Zero are chasing Jopling down a mountain on a sled.

In this short video, Wes Anderson talks about how he made this scene. The artificial look was on purpose. This is a story being told in layers and we are seeing the memory of events and the recollection of interactions accompanied by all their bias and misinformation. This is visually portrayed through artificial looking sets, unrealistic colors, dramatic depictions of reality, and the use of puppets and miniature sets. It represents the cracks in reality caused by memory and nostalgia and in turn the effects it has on storytelling and perception of those stories.