Formalism and Realism

I thought the reading for this week was super interesting because of the the contrasting views between formalistic and realistic film theories. Before I took this class, I would often say that my favorite types of movies were the ones with very linear, grounded plots which kind of falls in line with the realism theory of film. When we read André Bizan’s “Myth of Total Cinema,” it made me wonder about the point of film and what we’re supposed to get out of it. I would always claim that movies were simply for enjoyment, and a lot of prepubescent young girls, I thought my life would play out like a romantic comedy where the meet cute with my soul mate would be told at our wedding. I would use the film as a “model” of my own life because that’s what I could easily get out of it.

However, as I continue to learn more about film and what it should or should not do for viewers, I’m beginning to appreciate a formalistic theory of film. I think what’s really appealing about film now through this perspective is what was mentioned in the reading where we can “look at Romeo through Juliet’s eyes” and vice verse. I think that is super worth noting in film because getting to see those up close details really helps sell a story in a more convincing way. When you pay attention to the nitty gritty details of a film instead of just the story, you can notice how much more story is told than just through the dialogue/narrative.

I’m not 100%  sold on either view, and I think they both have some merit. I wonder what theories we (unknowingly?) used viewing the different films we’ve watched throughout the semester. Do you think you know which you’ve used when watching things like The Grand Budapest Hotel or Batman Begins? Do you think you’ve used the same theories through the semester? Do you think it’s movie contingent? Follow up: do you think any movie can be viewed through only one of the film theories or do you think that’s not doable?

 

Holy Sh!t I Loved Holy Motors

I’ll start by saying that my notes from this movie are all over the place, and there was a lot of profanity in them every time something different happened because I was so confused. However, I absolutely adored the movie and the confusion it caused me. As Professor Zinman mentioned, the movie never explains itself. We’re never really told why Monsieur Oscar is doing what he’s doing or what he gets out of it. He is paid at the very end of the movie from Céline, but then, as she leaves, she puts on a masks and seems as if she’s doing something she doesn’t necessarily want to be doing as well, and we don’t know why.

Every time I wanted there to be a narrative to follow, and even sometimes when I thought I had found a narrative to follow, the rug was pulled out from under me. Art cinema is often meant to cause you to think and try to “expect the unexpected.” As someone who likes to write and create (typically linear) stories through improv, I didn’t expect to like a film where I couldn’t easily follow a plot. Yet, the other aspects of the film were so enthralling that I did not care that there wasn’t a linear plot. We were able enough to follow M. Oscar from appointment to appointment, even though those did not particularly make a lot of sense.  That gave me enough “narrative,” or structure really, to follow that I was able to just watch the movie for what it was, even with no real narrative.

Throughout my notes, I posed several questions to myself and to the ether as I tried to understand what was happening. Some of them include:

Are people paying to have M. Oscar do these appointments? Are they specific events they want acted out, and that’s what he does? If M. Oscar is being watched (there are references to cameras and such), to what extent is this voyeurism acceptable? Is it okay because it’s paid for and thus consented to? Was the beginning of the film’s purpose to make us, the viewers, voyeurs? What was Leos Carax implying when he had the one of the limos say, “Men don’t want visible machines anymore?” Is that a critique on the excessive use of modern technology and the societal desire to make technology simultaneously as big and small as possible (i.,e bigger screens but smaller/lighter processors)?

This is  a lot of questions, but like, I loved this movie. I want to watch it again, not because I really expect to understand a lot more from it the second go round, but because I genuinely enjoyed it and the confusion it caused me.

Effective Gleaning in America

In this NPR article, “Gleaning A Harvest For The Needy By Fighting Waste,” Linda Tozer talks about how billions  of pounds of perfectly good, with perhaps minor physical deformations, get left on farms either because of machine-error or because of said physical deformities. With such waste, it is wonder how, as a society, we still have people going hungry and dying from starvation. However, Linda Tozer says that even though there are communities of people who work together, a big issue arises in that no one is “lined up to take the vegetables.”

This poses an interesting question: do nonprofits benefit from taking this supply of food that is readily offered? Why would they ignore something that seems so helpful? Is there something more complex that the average person doesn’t know about that would make the difference?

Linda Tozer’s community, Society of St. Andrew, gathered 18 million pounds of food in the year prior to this article, and yet still so much went and continues to go untouched.

 

 

Story Telling Narratives and Improv

I have been a part of of Georgia Tech’s improv comedy troupe, Let’s Try This!, since Summer 2015, and in being a part of this troupe, I have learned a lot about the concept of story structure and narrative. One of the first things I was taught as a new member was about Dan Harmon’s story circle. (Click here for a more detailed version)

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The basic breakdown of the story circle is as follows:

  1. You
  2. Need
  3. Go
  4. Search
  5. Find
  6. Take
  7. Return
  8. Change

In Tom Gunning’s paper, it is discussed that narrative and film go well together because of film’s ability to “show” things. To me as an improviser, one of the most compelling things to “show” is the breakdown of a character’s journey through time and space. Dan Harmon’s story circle breaks that down into 8 simple steps every character can follow to adhere to a narratively and structurally solid storyline.

Perhaps a more interesting concept though is how avant-garde films drastically sway from what is perceived as a normal story structure. While it is possible to eventually breakdown most avant-garde, it is a bit more complex than perhaps breaking down a film like Finding Nemo (Andrew Staton and Lee Unkrich, 2003) or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Chris Columbus, 2001).

Now, as leader of the troupe, I get to pick which shows we perform. When picking, I often times like to pick show ideas that do not follow the traditional storyline of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and denoument. To me, that is a bit predictable, so for an upcoming show we have, I have us doing a show where we will improvise the ending/final scene first, and then go back and create the world and story to get to where it ended.

Do you think this would work well for a screen writer/novelist? Is starting with the ending a more creative way to leave easter eggs throughout the story? Does trying to write a story without knowing the ending lead to a more chaotic and less coherent story? Can an author truly justify a character’s intentions and motivations without knowing where they want the story to end? Do you feel the opposite to be true?

 

Sound in Singin’ in the Rain

Singin’ in the Rain  (Gene Kelly & Stanley Donan, 1952) is such a beautiful film both aesthetically and musically. One of the most iconic scenes in the movie is the portrayal of Roscoe Dexter, played by Douglas Fowley, becoming increasingly flustered with Lina Lamont, played by Jean Hagen, as she continues to mess up using the microphones.

With the whole film being about how sound uprooted the status quo of the film industry, it was nice to get to watch an adaptation of the real struggles actors and directors actually faced during this transition.

Even while trying her best, we got to experience the sound messing up as she kept turning her head away from the microphone.

This was an excellent use of sound in the modern (well, 1957) movie because while they team had everything they needed to make a movie fully equipped with sound (which other than these scenes, it is), they purposefully messed with the volumes to create the experience for the viewer that the characters were experiencing. The fluctuating sound creates a dynamic that is compelling to listen to while adding in a delightful piece of humor.

It was also interesting to me that Don Lockwood, played by Gene Kelly, did not appear to have any trouble adjusting to the sound and use of microphones. I’m unsure if this was intentional, showing him to be a better actor than Lina, or if it was kind of an overlooked part because the focus was more on showing Lina as a bad actress.

Do you think having the viewer hear the sound fade in and out has aged well with time? Do we as modern viewers fully understand the complexity and innovation of the times of sound in old Hollywood, or is it now just more of a joke?

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I wanted to briefly mention that I want to be friends with Cosmo Brown. His presence throughout the movie helped keep it light hearted and less dramatic (unlike Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds — let’s not forget the scene towards the end when Kathy exclaim something along the lines of, “I’ll do it but I never want to see you again!”). His song, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is one of the most (incorrectly) reenacted dance numbers from the movie. The use of that song to help establish his character as even more of a goof than was already noticed from earlier numbers was a really fun idea. Honestly, I’m just fangirling over Cosmo. I think he’s the best character in the film

Hou Hsiao-Hsien and the Long Shot

In the article, ““We Just Did Long Takes Every Time”: Hou Hsiao-hsien on The Assassin” from filmmakermagazine.com, it is discussed that director Hou Hsiao-Hsien uses the cinematography in The Assassin to really tell the story. It’s not really a secret that The Assassin does not have a completely coherent plot, and that added on top of the average person not having an extensive knowledge of the Tang Dynasty, The Assassin is a bit of a complex movie to follow. However, Hsiao-hsien’s close work with director of photography, Mark Lee, led to some beautifully mastered scenes throughout the movie.

As the title of the article suggests, Hsiao-Hsien and Lee took long shots of almost every scene in the movie unless it was absolutely necessary to change it up (i.e., the fight scenes since the actors/actresses were not classically trained fighters). Most of the changes in depth were done in post production because Hsiao-Hsien and Lee felt that the long shot was the best possible shot for the entire movie and wanted to have that footage for almost every shot.

Hsaio-Hsien also did not want to do injustice to the scenery and locations they shot on, so barely any filters were used throughout post production, and what you see in the long shot is what you get in the long shot.

Symmetry in The Grand Budapest Hotel

In Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is apparent the mise-en-scène was done in a meticulous and purposeful way. The color hues are probably the easiest to notice, as the colors were fantastical during the shots of 1932, vibrant reds, pinks, and purples showing everywhere, while the whole look of the hotel became a bit more drab and dreary when shown in 1968. These color changes easily and effectively showed the decline of The Grand Budapest over the years, due to the war and M. Gustave H.’s decline of his true self (i.e., him becoming the exact replica of the guests he used to be able to point out).

However, I think perhaps one of the more interesting pieces of the mise-en-scène is the continual use of symmetry throughout the entire movie. This is perhaps one of Wes Anderson’s most defining characteristics as a director, and it is beautifully done throughout The Grand Budapest Hotel.  The staircase in The Grand Budapest split perfectly once you reached the concierge desk, one going left, one going right.

The same pattern followed in Madame C.V. du T.’s home. Similarly, almost every lighting piece in the background had a counterpart making it symmetrical.

Symmetry can also be found when M. Gustave and Zero are in the 3rd class sleeping car as they flee from the prison break. Even J. G. Joplilng’s brass knuckles that cause so much damage throughout the latter half of the movie are shown in perfect symmetry at the beginning.

The use of symmetry is compelling and aesthetically pleasing to view. Symmetry is also one of the only things to stay consistent throughout the time jumps, aspect ratio changes, and color changes of the film. In the midst of all of these changes that help keep the story both more clear and visually exciting, the symmetrical nature of almost every scene, especially in close ups, really help draw in the viewer and engage her into the story.